Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Summer Blues

The time has come for me to write out my current struggle a bit, because that always helps. I don't want to be self-indulgent, but it IS my blog.

I should say from the outset that I am reading a sparkling novel called Nightingale Wood, (a very witty, very art deco story by Stella Gibbons, all about people falling in real love, despite their classes) which doesn't help.  I have spent the last year or so obsessed with being in a relationship, and all that entails.  A bit more than my normal more-than-generous allotment of relationship energy has been required, due to the fact that me and my fella have vastly different levels of relationship experience.

Having finally come to believe that I am worth it, and having spent years educating myself on how to do it, I am currently more than capable of stating ad nauseum what I want and need.  However, this took me so long to learn, that I sometimes (very often, actually) fall into the trap of mistaking me articulating what I need as my partner delivering what I need.

My needs aren't crazy, or anything.  I just expect the basics from someone that I am in love with, who is also in love with me: when we are apart, call to say good morning, and call to say good night (I have had to face the fact about myself that I will NEVER think this is an unreasonable request, and I need to be with someone who can do this consistently).  Let me know that you are thinking of me.  If you have some news, share it.  Include me in your life.  Want to see me, and do so (one to two dates and two quiet nights at home per week is ideal). Keep your word.  Be honest.  Be faithful.  Communicate.  Make me feel that I am special to you by being respectful and considerate.  Tell me you love me.  In short, treat me the way that I treat you.

I am romantic enough to believe that one and one's partner should get something from each other (besides merely sex) that they cannot get from anyone else.  I think love is a bit rare, actually, in spite of the fact that I have been "in love" many times - two engagements, one rejected proposal, and one common law marriage's worth.  I have no regrets about not marrying, and that has a lot to do with the fact that (as I have come to realize in the last month) I am terrified of being taken for granted.   I have NO IDEA how to stay fully engaged with another person for years on end. NONE, but I am assuming communicating is a big part of it.  No one wants catatonic boredom to be a fixture of their everyday lives, and I am no exception. I mean, what comes between mad, passionate love, and wanting to kill them in their sleep?  And is whatever that is worth all the other?

A further difficulty for me, is that the healthiest marriage I know is between two women who were close friends (from ages 13 and 16, respectively, when they met at summer camp) until their late 30's, when they finally realized that they were in love with each other.  Thirty years later, they are still in love.  I say this is a difficulty, because I have realized 1) that they are my ideal relationship example, and 2) it is unfair to compare my relationship with theirs.

1. They (the happily married ladies, or THML) have known each other for almost their entire lives, which in the post-high-school-sweetheart era, is rare.
1a.  I have known my beau for just under three years.

2. THML have almost all of the same friends.
2a.  Thanks to my nomadic tendencies, and my travel work, my friends are all over the world. Thanks to my beau having grown up in Manhattan, nearly all of his "boys" are right here in New York, and he has an almost mob-like devotion to them. We rarely cross-pollinate.

3.  THML are both women, and therefore, have a better-than-average chance of communicating in a similar fashion.
3a.  My beau is a man, and therefore, extremely unlikely to communicate at all, let alone in a similar fashion as me.

4. THML travel all over the world together.
4a. My beau is forever taking trips/weekends/vacations with his "boys" on which I am not included (not that couples should do everything together, but I have had to face a second fact about myself: I believe that couples should do most things together).  I have finally responded in kind, by taking my own trips, and it feels good.  Still, there is a niggling  unease in the back of my brain that says, if I am always going to take separate vacations (something said beau's father is notorious for), why not just be alone?  One trip a year - a boy's weekend, or a girl's weekend, sure.  But so far, the way we do it is we go somewhere together once a year, and take multiple trips on our own (though many of mine are for work).

5. THML  have always said that from the moment they fell in love, there was no doubt in either of their minds that they would be doing their relationship.
5a.  I would say that I question whether or not I am with the right person on a monthly, if not weekly, basis.  This annoying habit is 50% by-product of my abused early life (don't repeat your patterns, Brooke!), and 50% my beau's lack of relationship experience.

6. THML believe and (remind me often) that when one is with the right person, it is mostly easy.  I think they mean this in reference to the fact that when someone wants to be with you as much as you want to be with them, everything else gets sorted out.
6a.  I think it fair to say that I have spent around half of my current relationship asking to be seen, considered, and called more. I mean, we are a year and half in, and he still can't call me twice a day or see me more than 2-3 times per week.  I would definitely not classify it as "easy," and I am willing to wager that neither would he.

7. THML were both already settled and thriving in their careers when they fell in love, leaving them free to focus as much as possible on each other.
7a. My beau is just beginning his career of choice, and is completely focused on "proving himself" and "making it," whereas I, at this very late-feeling date, no longer have any idea what I want to be when I grow up.

So, is this not easy because of these very different circumstances, or is this not easy because we aren't right for each other?

I used to sort of live by this beloved Ani Difranco lyric:
"Everything I do is judged, and they mostly get it wrong,
But, oh well.
The bathroom mirror has not budged.
The woman who lives there can tell
The truth from the stuff that they say
She looks me in the eye
Says, 'Would you prefer the easy way? Well, OK, then, don't cry.' "

I'm starting to suspect that maybe I would prefer the easy way, it's just that I have only known the hard one.

I greatly admire the fact that my guy doesn't talk about what he needs, he just gets it. In fact, he does whatever he wants at all times without burden of guilt (despite being Jewish), or over-thinking.  And why shouldn't he? He is young, and has never really had to consider anyone else. He is a decent human being, who usually does the right thing, so what's to worry about? I admire his confidence in his decisions, and his dedication to his art.  (As committed as I was to being a good actor, I have yet to be dedicated to anything to such a degree that a relationship couldn't distract me from it, and this is something I truly dislike about myself.)  Also, he almost never plans anything, preferring to just be in the moment.  This ain't my first rodeo, and I recognize that I am attracted to these characteristics because they are so different than my own.  However, the end result is that maybe my pattern (of being attracted only to people who aren't willing to participate as much as I am in a relationship) is being repeated.  I think he has a healthy sense of selfishness - the kind I have taken a decade to learn and implement; however, it sometimes feels like he is just plain selfish, and that the whole relationship happens at his convenience.  To be more specific, I often feel that I am just a component of his life - no more or less important than the other components (music, studio, job, boys, family, etc.) and if that is true, that isn't enough for me.

This review of this relationship and my place in it has come upon me for a few reasons. The first is that aforementioned boyfriend recently demoted himself in his very successful career as a supervisor at Trader Joe's in order to pursue his real love: producing hip hop.  More supportive of this, I could not be.  I am an absolute poster child for pursuing your dreams.  However, I was hopeful (and he assured me) that him working four 8 hour days vs. five 10 hour ones would create a little more time for us. It has only been a few weeks, but that has not proven to be the case.  He has much more time for music, more time for his friends, and a bit more time for his family, but our time remains un-increased. In fact, he has less time to talk to me than before, and when our schedules do allow us to talk on those three or four days a week when we won't be seeing each other, he always sounds as if he is in a hurry to disconnect.

The second reason is that for six months now, we have been discussing moving in together.  Unfortunately, as the time drew near to actually find an apartment and make the move, we both had (and continue to have) our own individual freak outs. Because he (very impressively) paid off his very own recording studio, and now wishes to actually make music in it, I have been asked to leave my beloved Brooklyn and relocate to Astoria, Queens, (where said studio is located) in order to live with him.

This is a reasonable request based on the fact that he has always commuted to Brooklyn to see me throughout the relationship, and wanting to be close to the studio is a legitimate concern. I mean, he's not asking me to move to Alaska, or anything, for God's sake.  However, I just don't care for Queens.  And more than that, I have ALWAYS done the moving/bending/accommodating in every relationship. And not only that, but none of those relationships lasted.

 I find myself questioning my own judgement and having no clue as to whether or not I am being fair to him, me, or the feelings that we share. The only thing I DO know, is that my instinct to protect myself and my independence is too strong to ignore.  Now is definitely not the time to cohabitate - nearly every time we discuss the subject we end up arguing, so it has been backburned until further notice.  And, if you believe in planetary aspects and their potential impact on our lives (which I do), the summer is unlikely to be the time to cohabitate, as well.

So, what to do? Everyone I know is absolutely fed up with one, if not many, aspects of their lives at the moment, and the months ahead have the potential to be challenging for damn near everybody.  I am simply not in the habit of doing things (or not doing them) based on fear and uncertainty, and I have to say that being unclear about the big things in my life is decidedly UNsexy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pocket Review of Feminine Woe, II

Below is an oft-postponed update that I began composing one month ago, and then abandoned while on a brief computer hiatus.

So, yet another off day found me in the stirrups at Ol' Doc Greening's place.  And, it literally pains me to say so, but the growth on my right ovary is perCYSTent.  I have spent four of my last five free days being pelvically examined in one way or another, and I have to say, the novelty has worn off.

Dr. Kelly Greening, being Irish and all, wasn't available to see me on St. Paddy's Day (my last off day), giving my devil cyst a full extra week to cease and decyst (I know-I can't stop myself), but it did not. However, being constitutionally unable to spend an off day without getting up early only to then recline in a supreme state of discomfort, I ended up at an overdue dental appointment on the 17th.  Foolishly,  I thought this appointment was for my regular cleaning; but instead, it was for the installation of a small filling (to replace the tooth enamel I have literally brushed away in my vigorous pursuit of oral hygeine).

As Dr. David Zipkowitz, D.D.S., came at me with what appeared to be a 10" long stainless steel syringe of novocaine, I hurriedly explained that I hadn't been planning on any anesthetic, and wanted to be able to enjoy the dinner of herb and dijon encrusted salmon, roasted asparagus, red peppers, jasmine rice, and sauv blanc from Bordeaux that I was preparing for my love and myself in two short hours.  As I writhed in the dental chair from the pain of the injection, he assured me the numbing sensation would wear off by then, as he was giving me a "light dose."

He lied.

Soooo, instead of leaving the office of Dr. Z with an Orbit clean mouth, and a newly confident smile, I left looking like Blair's mentally challenged cousin, Jeri, from The Facts of Life, complete with drooping mouth and a little bit of spittle.  Charlie said dinner was good, though. The wine definitely was.

I dutifully arrived at the gynecologist's office on Wednesday, March 24th, but though I am still having a lot of incystent (I know, they keep getting worse) pain and extreme fatigue, the purpose of this visit was to gather more information in order to diagnose my "irregular" cervix.  This didn't stop me from re-addressing the cyst issue while I had Ol' Doc Greening captive, though. "Whaddaya say we yank that thing out?" I asked, leaning to my right and balancing on my elbows while peering around my gown-draped legs.

She said that the "yanking" would be more like a "surgery", as it was pretty involved, and she wanted to wait still longer in the hope that the cyst would ease on down the road on its own recognizance.  This was not the answer I wanted to hear, but it seemed pointless to argue. Plus, I am concerned that my insurance will cover only a tiny portion of such a procedure.  However, having been reminded that the cyst was there, Dr. G decided (after administering yet another pap smear and a couple of biopsies) to wheel in my old nemesis, Twat Wand.  I shuddered a little at the sound of the metallic jingling as TW was wheeled across the unevenly tiled floor to the foot of the examination table.  It stood there impassively, a hulking, expressionless, stainless steel rectangle, while Dr. Greening subjected me to yet another wanding. Surprise, surprise - she found the cyst to still be in residence.  Her recommendation for how to proceed did not change, however.

As a result, I have taken the matter into my own hands and have begun engaging in meditation every morning. As part of this process, I envision a white lightning bolt of healing sent from the angels themselves directly to my girly parts.  I think it's working. In any event, the pain has subsided somewhat.  My current level of pain is more Happy Meal than super-sized-Big-Mac-combo-with-two apple-pies-for-a-dollar-sized.

  In addition to healing through meditation, I have been taking a supplement called "Natokinase" recommended by my friend, Niambi, who knows all remedies naturale. This is supposed to dissolve fibroid cysts/tumors, so hopefully it is working its magic on my little bundle (though said bundle was never diagnosed as fibroid).

Though I have believed all along that I am cancer-free, I was not heartened to hear Doc G say she had never seen whatever was up with my cervix in her 20 years of practicing gynecology.  That made me focus even more intently on taking care of myself.  I have done a good job, if I do say, but continue to struggle with abnormal fatigue. I am hopeful that I am now tired because of the debilitating allergy season that happens in NYC twice a year. Not being able to breathe properly really does affect one's rest cycle.

Happily, after many mornings of hurling mental lightning bolts at my vagine, I got the good word that all is normal in pap smear-land.  WOOT!  Now, on to more focused cyst-reduction.

Thanks so much to everyone for your care and concern and friendship.
I am very lucky, indeed.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pocket Review of Two of the Multitude of Feminine Woes

WOE I- All Things Gynecological:

For the last month or so, I have been feeling unlike myself. Symptoms include, EXTREME fatigue, nausea (especially when I first get out of bed), occasional vomiting and other tummy troubles, intermittent sharp pain in my lower abdomen on my right side, and this weird sensation that my eyes are shrinking in their sockets accompanied by a scalp-spreading heat.  In addition (and most upsetting) I have gained 10 pounds (in my stomach, only) in less than two months. It's an odd ten pounds, too - that doesn't respond when I work out or suck in my gut. I mean, it is normal for me to carry weight in my midsection, but I have yet to make a single recipe from my new Julia Child cookbook; and I normally have just the one stomach instead of three.  Very strange.

Also, there's this (Let's see, should I put this the delicate, Southern way, or go for the jokes?  Maybe a little from Column A and a little from Column B): Last week, I visited my "female" doctor for the annual exam of "my parts," and while she was waving what I can only describe as a "twat wand" (some kind of camera/ultra sound deal that is LONG and, well... wandy) around my uterus, she placed her other hand firmly on my abdomen (for traction, no doubt), and I said, "Ow!  Right there, where your hand is, is SO tender."

She replied, "That's because you have a cyst on your right ovary, and it's pretty large, too."  "Hmmmm," I thought, focusing on relaxing myself while she poked and prodded me like I was a pinata at a toddler's birthday party (I don't know about you, but having foreign objects inside me causes thoughtus interruptus) before finally processing what she had said and blurting, "A what?"

She went on to explain that the cyst could be functional or non-functional, but she didn't have enough information to accurately diagnose me. Apparently, the twat wand is the JCPenney version of that kind of device, so she referred me to the hospital to be examined by the Bergdorf Goodman version. That test is scheduled for next week (since I work every day until Wednesday), but in the meantime, my pap smear showed some "atypical" cells ("Which don't automatically mean cancer," she assured me) in an unusual part of my cervix.  Also, if my "relations" aren't of the gentle variety, there is a chance that the cyst can flip around ("What? Like a tether ball?" my beau asked), thus twisting my fallopian tube, which will require surgery to rectify.  Color me pleased.

Following the Bergdorfogram, I have to return to my doctor (whom I love, thankfully) for another round of scraping and examinations. The good news is, I have no STD's, no thyroid problems, no anemia, and normal blood counts.  I really don't believe I have cancer, but obviously, something is amiss (or amass, as the case may be).

 More than anything, it is just an inconvenience.  I don't like being poked and prodded (not in a doctor's office, anyway), and I have to give up three of my precious off days for all these tests.  I truly loathe going to the doctor, but would really like to know what's wrong.  Mostly, I would like the fatigue to abate.  It is very difficult to get through my six day, 60 hour week this tired.  The pain is no bueno, either.

Ovarian cysts are pretty common (especially in African American women, as my friend, Niambi, informed me. She said something along the lines of: "We black girls get those all the time. See, I KNEW you were one of us!  You need to research your kinfolk and see where you REALLY come from.") as are "atypical" or "abnormal" pap smears, but they aren't common for me, 
and the symptoms make me feel so distracted and crappy.

My dear, psychic friend, to whom I jokingly refer as "Madame Eli," did a Tarot reading for me recently, and the question I asked while shuffling the cards was simply, "Hey, Guardian Angels, why am I so bloody TIRED all the time?"   The answer was that I am "burning off karma from a pregnancy in a past life."  I looked at Eli, and said, "So... what? I'm carrying a ghost baby?"  She shrugged, and we laughed, though in truth, I had started to worry that I might really be pregnant. That's the problem with my particular set of symptoms. When I researched them, I discovered they could indicate any one of the following: pregnancy, ovarian or cervical cancer, a ruptured functional cyst, too much copper in my diet, or none of the above. Sadly, ghost babies were not mentioned.  However, as my friend, Josh, pointed out, delivering a ghost baby is BOUND to be easier than a real baby.

Other than recovering my normal level of energy and zippity doo dah, I want to divest myself of these ten pounds, STAT.  So, at this point, I'm kind of hoping that this cyst is not a baby, but is baby-sized, and that its removal will result in the immediate loss of one to two stone.  Admittedly, looking to potentially-cancerous- tumor-removal is going a bit far, even for me, who has tried every fad diet in the American oeuvre.

WOE II-All Things Weight-Loss Related:

Sidebar: My mother made sure to start whittling away at my self-esteem before I even hit puberty, and she was very successful.  Example: At the age of 14, while shopping in the "Still-N-Style," a second-hand shop in my hometown, I tried on a seersucker dress.  As I emerged from the dressing room, and gave a little twirl, the salesgirl complimented my figure.  My mother (who is not the slimmest reed in the pond) bellowed across the store, "ACTUALLY, SHE'S THE BIGGEST SHE'S EVER BEEN!"  Thus began my life-long quest to lose ten pounds.

Regularly scheduled essay: In college, I did the Cabbage Soup Diet, followed by several years of low-fat eating, while keeping up a steady regimen of quad-walking and Cindy Crawford "Shape Your Body" workouts (still my fave, if you do it correctly, i.e. more slowly than she).

While living in L.A. with a beautiful roommate who is still rocking her birth weight (though she is well into her 30's) hiking and yoga were my workouts of choice (and I still LOVE them when there is time).  Spurred on by my mother's voice in my head, Birthweight's tiny clothing, and my desire to work in TV, dieting became my hobby.

I started with "Eat Right For Your Type," (eating based on one's blood type, which actually has merit), stopped in at "The Zone" (pretty sensible, really, if you're the kind of girl who likes to count one ounce of cheese and a half a glass of wine as a meal, which I, am not), lived a little "Body For Life" (works better for men than women), tried the "Abs Diet" (again, better for men), went to Weight Watchers meetings (felt like an A-hole when they would announce, "Brooke has lost five pounds, only five more to go!" and the extremely obese women around me would clap bitterly, if such a thing is possible), did an infomercial for "Core Secrets" (actually a very respectable workout, I just popped my balance ball), and finally arrived at the "Atkins Diet."

Atkins was all the carbohydrate-deprived rage about seven years ago, and naturally, I fell right into line like a lemming.  After I found a store specializing in sugar-free items, (only in L.A.) and realized I wouldn't have to give up chocolate, I thought I was all set.  To my chagrin, I discovered very quickly that sugar-free products (especially the chocolate ones) give me what I can only describe as shooting diarrhea.

As if that little side effect weren't enough, I gave up caffeine when starting Atkins, because it is an appetite stimulant. So, not only was my body in shock from eating nothing but meat and cheese, it was in total withdrawal from not receiving the pot of coffee my boyfriend and I would customarily imbibe every day. I experienced severe leg cramps due to lack of nutrients (in spite of the millions of supplements I was taking), migraine headaches, and mood swings, occasionally all at the same time.

As when my boyfriend was leaving for an out-of-town gig (a regular occurrence), and when he came to tell me goodbye at three in the afternoon, he found me in our bed with all the lights out and a damp cloth over my eyes. One corner of the bed sheet twitched discreetly, as a result of the muscle cramps in my left leg, and when he leaned over to kiss me, I burst into tears.

"What's wrong?" he asked.
No answer.
Then, trying again, he said, "I'm just going to Vegas."

 I said, "I know, but I don't want you to leave, and my head hurts, and, and, and... (voice breaks) I want a doughnuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut!"(long, Lucy-like wail) He left me sobbing into the pillow, and backed out of the room.

The next day, alone in our house, I was standing at the bathroom counter when I started to feel very odd indeed. The wave of weird started in my toes, and worked it's way up, culminating in a rushing roar in my ears. The next thing I remember is coming to on the tile floor with a cat on either side of me, alternately meowing frantically, and licking my hands. I could just hear their internal monologues,:

Oscar: "Mom, mom, wake up!"
Felix: "Who's gonna FEED us?!"

Plus side: I lost 13 pounds in two weeks. Minus column: that remains the only time I have ever passed out in my life (and since I did so in a tile and granite bathroom, I could've cracked my skull).  As a result, I decided to eschew not just Atkins, but diets in general, and love myself just as I am, sweet Jesus.

I have good days and bad with that task, and veritable instant weight-gain, doesn't help.  However, after all these years of actively trying to change my perception of myself,  I am startled at how quickly one little potential health difficulty has me responding with my same old neuroses.  Physically, I don't feel much like me, but emotionally, I recognize me all too well.  And, I am in no way motivated to have sex with that.  Or that twat wand.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pocket Review of "Julie & Julia"

My beloved embarked on a new work schedule this week - 8PM to 6AM. As a result, I will not be seeing him (other than passing in the occasional night) until mid-March, when his schedule returns to Trader Joe's' definition of normal.  At that point, we are going to take stock of our circumstances and make a decision regarding whether or not we want to move forward with our plan to cohabitate (necessitating me leaving my beloved Brooklyn for Astoria, Queens). Therefore, I reinstated my Netflix account in case I have time to kill in the coming weeks (I am also excited that it is now possible to view Netflix on demand on macs).  

My first selection was "Julie&Julia," starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.
I chose this film for several reasons: 1) The trailer I had seen in the theatre many months ago made it look like my kind of film.  2) I ADORE Meryl Streep, as she is the finest American actress, well, ever (she is at the very least in the top five, and to my knowledge, she has never made a misstep/given a bad performance.)  3) I like Amy Adams (when I can release my jealousy and resentment regarding the fact that she was discovered doing dinner theatre in Assknuckle, Montana, or some damned where.) 4) I love food.

Being of the Southern persuasion,  I grew up with food as the centerpiece, and Jesus and football as the matched candlesticks on the table of my childhood. Food - the gathering, preparation, serving and consuming of it - is an enormous part of life in the South. In fact, I would say that outside of the SEC, storytelling, and judging others, eating is the official sport of the Bible Belt (just harken back to any news report you have ever seen detailing tornadic destruction.)

My mother was always working (sometimes two jobs to compensate for my wastrel stepmonster), and therefore, did not have much time to spend in the kitchen. However, she dutifully cooked on the weekends.  Most often, she would haul out her old chrome waffle iron and whip up a batch of Aunt Jemima's.  She did this even when we would weekend in our tent at a certain camping spot at Smith Lake that had somehow wired the trees with electricity.

Besides being a waffle person vs. a pancake person, a bacon person vs. a sausage person, and a scrambled person vs. a fried person, my mother's recipe arsenal consisted predominantly of: chili in the crock pot, vegetable soup in the pressure cooker, and Italian (emphasis on the "I," pronounced, "Eyetalian") spaghetti in the wintertime; and fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, and strawberry shortcake in the summertime.  She learned these basic recipes from my granny, and almost all of them were served with an accompaniment of cornbread.

Real Southern cornbread is made from scratch, is not sweet (as Jiffy bread is), and is baked in a pre-heated iron skillet that is sizzling with bacon grease. Both my mother and my grandmother had ceramic jars crowned with little pigs resting on their stovetops for the express purpose of straining and storing bacon grease.  Both also added a tablespoon of mayo to their cornbread batter to ensure moistness.

One of the nicest things my mother ever did for me was request recipes of a variety of friends and relatives whose cooking I enjoyed, by sending them index cards and self-addressed, stamped envelopes.  She collected these in a book for me and presented it as one of my Christmas gifts when I was in college, after I had expressed an interest in learning to cook.

Gradually, I mastered the skill of following a recipe, 
and eventually, I mastered the recipes themselves.  However, due to a lack of detail on my rainbow-colored index cards, this was often challenging. Prior to this time, my only cooking experience (barring the occasional curiosity at Mother's or Granny's knees), was a 6th Grade Home Ec class with a VERY intimidating instructor.  If memory serves, her name was Ms. Roscoe, and she was an absolute Nazi about exact measurements (I remember being sternly reprimanded for failing to level off a teaspoon of baking soda when making an inaugural batch of snickerdoodles).

All of the cooks I admired most were naturals, and as a result, they cooked intuitively.  So it was that when trying to replicate my Great Aunt Faye's Salmon Croquettes, I would come across instructions such as, "Mix the de-boned salmon with 'some' breadcrumbs, a 'little' egg, and a 'dab' of hot sauce."  Or, "These are delicious, especially when served with a 'glob' of 'white sauce'."  I remember asking my mother's friend, Mary Lou, who remains one of the best cooks I have ever known, how much onion I should add to fried squash, and her replying, "Until it looks right."

Throughout my youth, the aformentioned Mary Lou had a thriving vegetable garden.  We took advantage of this as often as possible, relishing in her fresh cabbage (so sweet, we would sit around the table and eat it raw), turnip greens, green onions, and vine-ripened tomatoes.  Mary Lou was born and bred in a very small Northern Alabama town the name of which I can't recall, as she always referred to it as merely, "the country." I ain't mad at it, though, because the country shore did learn her right. Thus was my love of food born and deeply ingrained.

All of these memories regarding cooking, food, and eating jenga-ed (You like that? Totally just made it up - but that's what happened, past experiences tumbled as if they were the wooden blocks when you remove the wrong piece in that game) through my head while watching "Julie&Julia," which is why I think it is a successful film. It is not a great film, certainly, (though had it been the story of Julia and Paul Child only, it could've been) but it does succeed.

Not surprisingly, as it is written and directed by Nora Ephron, "Julie&Julia" is a love story:  The story of Julia's love of Paris, Julia's love for Paul, Julia's love for Julia, Paul's love for Julia, Julia's love of food, and America's love of Julia.

Meryl Streep IS Julia Child.  I say this with utter conviction, though prior to seeing this film, Julia Child was little more than a joke to me - a Dan Akroyd sketch on Saturday Night Live, a funny voice, and an excellent recipe for fresh cranberry sauce that my friend, Joel, makes to perfection every Thanksgiving.

I now realize that Julia was a revolutionary.  She changed the way we cook in America, and she was, by her own admission, absolutely fearless.  She obsessively strove to master French cooking, and she worked tirelessly to make French cooking accessible to all.  Hers was the first French cookbook ever to be written in English, and ever to be aimed at an American audience.  She was never satisfied with things as they were, but was continually improving upon them.  One example of Julia's committment to excellence in the film, is when she discovers that by slightly heating the bowl in which she is making mayonnaise, she can achieve "scientific workability." I know that NO ONE makes their own mayonnaise these days, but still. Also, hers was the first cooking show that was widely distributed, and this made her name synonymous with good food and cooking.

Meryl Streep made me fall in love with Julia Child - with her height, her earthiness, her zest, her auburn-haired frankness, her courage, her passion, her vulnerability, and her motto to "never apologize." Being 39 and still single, I can readily identify with the fact that she married slightly later in life, (especially for the time).  I can relate to her belated realization of how very sheltered she had been prior to her marriage and her sojourn in Europe, and I can definitely relate to her excitement when shopping for kitchen gadgets. I strongly indentify with her voracious appetite not just for food, but for knowledge, skill, people, fun, and experiences. Above all, I can relate to Julia's search for purpose in her life - "For so long, I have wanted a CAREER!"  she says, after finding that food is her passion. Her discovery of this purpose (and thus, herself), her utter joy of being, and her ability to transform my view of food and cooking (I now see them for the art that they are) has truly inspired me.

Stanley Tucci (another favorite actor) is superb as Paul Child, and while I have never seen film footage of the real "Monsieur Sheeld," and therefore cannot speak to how accurate his performance is, I can say that his connection with Meryl Streep is absolutely visceral.  His performance is one of moments and nuances and simplicity.  His inner monologues are stunningly clear, even with no words at all.  He is just so... constant, and loving.  Throughout the film, I found myself longing for a love like theirs.  In fact, I found myself longing (for love, a trip to Paris, brie, wine, stuffed duck, you name it) and feeling throughout this entire movie.

The blog within the blog: In an half-assed effort to correct the lopsidedness of this review, let me spend a moment on Julie.  For those of you who don't know, in August, 2002, a 29 year old woman had the admittedly brilliant idea to cook her way through the 536 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, and blog about it.  This woman, Julie Powell, parlayed this self-inflicted assignment into first a book contract, and then (obviously) a film deal.  Now, naturally we are all jealous, though she did have an actual DEGREE in writing.  Also, she herself admits that it was a fluke - she happened to be well-positioned at the beginning of America's knowledge of and interest in blogs, and she knows it. Still, having watched her being interviewed online, I have to admit that I find her harsh, dull, and utterly unlikeable.

This explains why I found Amy Adams, who portrays Julie, harsh, dull, and utterly  unlikeable in this film.  Granted, it is hard to be captivating when many of your scenes involve you sitting at a computer, typing.  However, according to my "research" (scanning three articles and watching one interview online), Amy Adams never met Julie Powell, and since Julie Powell is not immediately recognizeable to the public, I doubt Adams' choices were a result of trying to be absolutely accurate in her portrayal.  I think it is more that Nora Ephron got a very clear picture of Ms. Powell from her one meeting with her, and wrote her accordingly.

It is my opinion that Amy Adams is not comfortable playing bitchy characters, and her performance suffers as a result.  However, there were still moments to which I could relate - (Julie's anxiety about moving from Brooklyn to Queens, for instance), and the desire to forge one's own artistic identity (this was meant to be a major parallel between Julie and Julia, but due to Julie's implied sense of entitlement, it didn't land).

Julia and Paul Child positively leap from the screen, and utterly ensnare the viewer, to the point that when the plot shifts from the Parisian 40's to the New York present (OK, recent past), it is jarring.  Julie and her story line pale in comparison - a piece of limp Wonderbread to Julia's fresh, crusty, dripping-with-butter French baguette.  Still utterly worth watching, in my opinion.

The (small) irony in this is that four friends and I attempted, and failed, to start a book club a few years ago. The book?  My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme.  At the time, we were all just too damned busy to read a book, let alone, the same book at the same time. Also, I had just stopped eating all meat but fish, and was turned off by the few pages I read, featuring "enthusiastic carnivore," Julia, describing such feats as plucking and gutting a chicken in 11 minutes flat, or a variety of ways to prepare veal (which I have NEVER eaten - just too cruel), or extract kidneys.  Since seeing this film, however, I have resumed My Life in France, and am halfway through, as I am now completely obsessed with Julia Child and everything she stands for. To that end, I mentioned that I needed Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and danged if my beau didn't order it for me from the good people at Amazon. I can't wait to plan menus, make aspic-free meals, and expand my recipe repertoire.  I have very few food rules, loving to eat as I do, but the ones I do possess are here:
1)  No aspics (generally speaking, I don't like things that have been molded, let alone things that come from hooves).
2)  Nothing that requires a key to open it (i.e. sardines, spam) I figure it's been locked away for a reason.
3)  Nothing with a head and/or eyes still attached (sardines are a double whammy).
4)  No veal (I have never been able to totally release the mental image of a baby calf in a dark cage, not allowed to even walk.)
5) No brains
6) No chitlins
7) No dogs
8) No monkeys (too close to us)

That still leaves me with about 500 recipes to explore courtesy of Julia.  And, I can totally have sex with THAT notion - (especially since I won't be having it with my boyfriend this month).

Saturday, January 30, 2010

No News is Good News

I quit watching the news over a decade ago (because Los Angeles anchors categorize naked celebrity twat as news, whereas I, do not), and broke my long-standing addiction to NPR when I could no longer stand the sound of the president's voice.  Several months ago, I took it a step further, and cancelled my exhorbitantly expensive cable subscription. Funnily enough, I only miss four shows, and two of them were no longer on the air, anyway. When the mood strikes, I watch them online, but am mostly just fine in my televisionless world.   

I realize this choice is not for everyone, but for me, cold turkey news-withdrawal has lowered my stress levels considerably.  I used to really believe in being informed (and I still do make sure I have the facts before I vote, I just don't get those facts from TV and radio), but I find that there is an intraversable amount of shit that I don't need to muck through in the average newsday. And not only do I not need to know it, it often makes me feel actively bad about myself.

These days, most of my news is filtered through Facebook stati and comments.  Sad, I know, but it works for me. I am very fortunate, and have an extremely diverse group of friends. With many of said friends, the current hot news item seems to be the death of J.D. Salinger.

At the risk of sounding obsessive, I will admit here that I have read each of his published works five times or more.  The Glass family, especially, is very real to me, and I am convinced (having read nothing about it, either way) that P.T. Anderson based the character of Stanley Spector in the film, "Magnolia" on Seymour Glass. On all the Glass boys, really. A brilliant, heartbreaking amalgam of pressure, genius, and uber-awareness.

Having never been burdened with the albatross of fame myself (only occasionally being recognized on the streets of Alabama or California from stage roles) , I have difficulty empathizing with Salinger's nearly career-long choice to utterly withdraw. For me, interaction with others, even if the interaction is comprised mainly of me observing them, is what inspires me to think and create. I can certainly understand the need for privacy, and I can also understand the urge to protect one's creative offspring. What I can't understand is devoting so much of one's energy to guarding one's existing works vs. creating new ones.

I know he reportedly wrote everyday of his life, and like everyone else, I am salivating at the possibility of seeing what the hell those Glasses have been up to.  I just believe that it takes more energy to jealously guard than to generously share.  I also feel that art is just the expression of the human condition, and those that are real good at expressin' should do so.  It is the last vestige of my Baptist upbringing, I am sure, but I definitely believe in the "Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine" principle.  Don't hide it under a bushel, no!

I have a little resentment for Jerome David Salinger - one for being so stingy with his marvelous gift, and two for making me feel guilty about the fact that I am a teensy bit glad he's dead (Don't read me like that, I mean, he did go painlessly in his sleep at a ripe old 91, and vigorously controlled almost his entire adult life to his own satisfaction), if this means I will get to learn more about my beloved Glasses.

It's too soon to call, but if J.D.'s death does lead to the release of some heretofore unseen material, I just hope it doesn't mirror my Cat Stevens experience. I love his music, and by the time I really got into him (in the 80's), he had already converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusuf, and eschewed his guitar.  I am all for folks seeking answers (Salinger also dabbled in multiple faiths and "isms" according to one of his ex wives), until it affects ME. Thirty years later, ol' Yusuf decided that God was OK with him making music after all, and released an album, "Another Cup."  It sucked. So, fingers crossed that J.D.'s light didn't dim sequestered as it was in his drafty (I have no evidence to support this, but I envision it as drafty) Cornish home.