Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Batting aside the passive aggressive commentary from my boss, I left the office at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday for a nondescript "doctor's appointment." On the highway, I brainstormed answers to questions I thought I might be asked. "What brings you in?" "What do you hope to gain from this?" "What's different this time?"

Officially, this is my third engagement with a mental health professional.

The first time, I was 14. My family had just moved from St. Louis to Chicago. I'd spent a majority of the fall of that year sleeping a ridiculous number of hours per day, eating a ridiculous number of hours per day, and "falling in with the wrong crowd." My grades were appalling. I skipped classes all the time. I was sad...always. My mom set up an appointment for me with a very nice lady at the seminary she was attending. I canceled a lot of appointments in favor of hanging out with the wrong crowd, and eventually just stopped going altogether.

Shortly after I graduated from college, the same symptoms had recurred, only more severely. I started going to therapy again - gathered some strength, got some positive momentum going, got out of a relationship that wasn't going anywhere, moved into my own apartment, met someone new, and promptly stopped going to therapy. (My new therapist calls it "new boyfriend Prozac...happens all the time.") My therapist at the time made some weak protests when I explained how elated I was and how I didn't really think I needed to come see him anymore. (P.S. This really is the incorrect time to stop going to therapy.)

Take 3. Tuesday. Driving down 35W, I thought about how really, it had been a pretty good couple of weeks. Maybe I didn't need this after all. Maybe I just need a mentor or something. It's going to cost so much money. What have these engagements ever really done for me, anyway? While I sat in the waiting room, I flipped through the paperwork I'd filled out in preparation for my appointment. Over the past two weeks, how often have you felt "blue"? Had feelings of hopelessness? Lost interest in things you once enjoyed? Had difficulting falling or staying asleep? Had trouble concentrating? Poor or overindulgent appetite? I scanned my answers. Every day. Every day. Every day. Every day. Every day. Every day.

Oh, yeah.

She didn't ask me the questions I'd prepared answers to, but I physically shook as I answered the ones she did ask. She was upbeat. Real. Hilarious. Was more insightful in the first hour than other therapists have been in months while they watched me flounder around helplessly in a tepid pool of my own melancholy and charge me by the hour. If another dark-haired man with glasses says to me, "Tell me more about that," I may have a flashback and involuntarily punch him in the face.

No chance of that with this lady. #1: She's a lady. #2: She's the type who spots your bullshit, calls your bullshit, and/or shows you your bullshit. "See? Here's your bullshit. I've got it right here."

Sunday, June 07, 2009


Today is the one year anniversary of my wedding day. At approximately this time last year, I would have been sitting in the hair salon with five of the most important women in my life, two photographers, approximately a six gallons of hair spray and more bobby pins than I could possibly count (but that I would spend a substantial portion of my wedding night removing). There were butterflies in my stomach. Maybe they were small helicopters. At any rate, by the time I finally got into my wedding dress a few hours later, nervous vomiting was a very real possibility. My stomach remained in that state until the moment I saw Dan. At that moment, everything became calm. Clear. Grounded. Happy. When I took his hands and with all that I am, and all that I have, honored him as my life partner, everything else faded away.

I'd been warned to not expect my wedding day to be the best day of my life. It was the disclaimer at the end of almost every sentence, every advice book, etc. I have to say, though, that so far, my wedding day has been the best day of my life. It was beautiful, powerful and fun, and I shared it with a couple of hundred people who have seen me at my best and my worst. It was amazing beyond words.

People have a lot of advice about weddings, but they don't actually give a whole lot of it about marriage. I think I've come to understand that the reason for that is that no matter what state your marriage is in, it is a union bound in an experience that is beyond words. The reason that all those sitcoms about marriage are funny (arguably) is because a lot of those experiences have happened to a lot of people - but that's not what marriage is. There are certainly the every day annoyances of living with another human being - but that's not what marriage is.

In the first year, here is what I think I know:

1. Marriage is not something you ARE, it's something you DO. There used to be this billboard at an intersection near my office that said "What have you done for your marriage today?" It seems sort of silly. But it's true.
2. Marriage may change things, but it doesn't change people. Some people would probably argue with me about that one, but I think that's a function of deciding that marriage is something you ARE. If it's something you DO, you are doing it with the same person that you married in the first place. That is at once very comforting, and totally frustrating. That person comes with all the things you love about them, and all of the things that irritate you about them.
3. Because marriage is something you do, and because you are the same person you were when you married this other person, care of your own self is so crucially important. Lots of people seem to think that you naturally become this pod, particularly once children are introduced. That's great if you're into it - but really, there's no need to be a pod. You can be your own pea.
4. As a companion to #3, you must have things that you and your spouse do together. Make dates. Make up silly songs that you sing to one another. Plan trips. Don't have everything centered around what you "have to do." Don't forget about "want to do"s.
5. Don't get caught up in what's next. I think this is the hardest one for me. There are so many things that I want to do - with Dan and without Dan. The sitcom version of marriage (as well as the extended family version) is that you have kids next. Boy, does that ever make something that's already complicated even more so. If you want kids, great. If thinking about kids makes you really excited, but thinking about kids right now makes the tiny helicopters come back in a bad way, it can probably wait a bit.
6. Set aside time for state of the union discussions. Where you're at, where you're going, where you'd like to go. Every day life has a tendency to thwart those sometimes, but they're really important.

I'm sure there's much, much more. I'm only a rookie after all. I do know that after a year has gone by, seeing Dan's face at the end of the day is still my favorite thing. It's home. And it's great.

Happy anniversary, my love.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Facebook List Taken Too Seriously

Think of 25 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums, no matter what they were thought of musically, that shaped your world.

No particular order of preference or impact:

The White Album - The Beatles(1968)
I really like the Beatles. I’m not a person who believes that they could crap on a record and it would be gold, but I really appreciate their really good stuff. This album is really good stuff. I probably started listening to this in summer 1994, and haven’t stopped since.

Add It Up (1981-1993) - Violent Femmes
I had just moved to Chicago from St. Louis. My friend Jessi came to visit me in October, and for the whole of the visit she had “Blister in the Sun” stuck in her head. I hadn’t made any friends yet, so my musical tastes hadn’t grown much beyond our 8th grade obsessions with Naughty by Nature, House of Pain and the like. This is one of the albums that started the expansion.

Purple Rain - Prince (1984)
Prince is what pop music should be. I saw him live in 2003 or 2004…and it was awe inspiring. He plays any instrument you throw at him, seems to have a never ending supply of energy and changes costumes faster than a speeding bullet. Also, I married my sweetheart on his 50th birthday. We have this great picture of me in my wedding dress playing air guitar to the solo at the end of Let’s Go Crazy. Totally awesome.

Pretty Hate Machine - Nine Inch Nails (1989)
I had a Trent Reznor shrine in my room…a whole piece of wall dedicated to pictures of him. He’s still pretty damn hot. I can’t say NIN really made it past my teenage angst years – though they were present in a BIG way then. I wish my parents had taken pictures of the getups my friend and I wore to their concert in ’95…long fake nails painted a deep maroon, dark eyeliner, black lipstick…it was ridiculous.

Nevermind - Nirvana (1991)
I wasn’t one of the people who cried uncontrollably when Kurt Cobain died in 1994, but I did have a giant picture of his face on my bedroom wall, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard he died, and I still love, love, love Nirvana. All of it.

Automatic for the People - R.E.M. (1992)
I used to have a goal to own every R.E.M. album, but if I had to choose just one, this might be it.

Little Earthquakes - Tori Amos (1992)
A lot of things happened to Tori Amos before and since this album. She writes about all of them. It’s raw, unabashed and sometimes very strange. She does all of it while playing two or more instruments at once. I sort of fell off the Tori bandwagon after From the Choirgirl Hotel, but I’ll probably listen to her forever.

Singles (Soundtrack) – Various Artists (1992)
I was too young to really understand Singles when it came out (or Reality Bites or any of those 20-something angst movies), but I was just the right age to lust after the soundtrack. The best song Smashing Pumpkins ever wrote was on this album, it was my introduction to Paul Westerberg – it was the growing up, branching out mix.

Big Lizard In My Backyard - Dead Milkmen (1993)
I still laugh my ass off when I listen to Dead Milkmen.

Exile In Guyville - Liz Phair (1993)
Oh, Liz Phair. It was all downhill from here. Not any real talent, to speak of, other than being kinda raunchy. She’s one of the ladies that makes it okay for girls not to feel so guilty for feeling naughty, and it’s great. Well…it used to be great.

Last Splash - The Breeders (1993)
Lollapalooza 1994. My friend’s mom insisted on picking our 14-year-old-selves up at 7:00. We missed Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys and George Clinton. We did see L7, Nick Cave, A Tribe Called Quest, and The Breeders. This album is just so good.

Lincoln - They Might Be Giants (1993)
They Might Be Giants just make me happy. They’re smart and fun and make you feel like a big kid. I like that they’re so talented musically without making you feel like your insides might burst with how hard everything is. Do you have to take everything so effing seriously all the time? No. It’s exhausting. They are great, and probably one of the reasons why I wasn’t totally dragged down by all the sad sap and angst I listened to in the 90s.

Pussy Whipped - Bikini Kill (1993)
It took me awhile to come around to Bikini Kill. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to listen to a bunch of girls screaming – until I really listened, and I realized that I recognized that noise as the noise my insides made when violated by an unwanted touch, or made to feel stupid or powerless. This is that voice, taking the power back.

Siamese Dream - Smashing Pumpkins (1993)
This album came up recently in a discussion I had with a coworker about the album as a lost art. This is most definitely one of those – an art, in my opinion, that Smashing Pumpkins never ever got back.

Dummy - Portishead (1994)
I used to turn up the base, lie on the floor and just FEEL this music. It’s still fantastic for driving at night.

Live Through This - Hole (1994)
This album was my gateway to punk. I know the music snobs will snort at that, but it’s true. Lollapalooza ’95 – Beck, Sinead O’Connor, The Roots, Superchunk, The Jesus Lizard, Sonic Youth and Hole. Courtney had lost her voice, but did manage to scream obscenities at the people yelling “Courtney killed Kurt!” at her from the pit.

Dilate - Ani Difranco (1996)
Once in awhile, I’d fall for someone, and they’d never really get how hard. This album is dedicated to those folks. “think i'm going for a walk now/i feel a little unsteady/i don't want nobody to follow me/'cept maybe you/i could make you happy you know/if you weren't already/i could do a lot of things/and i do”.

Dig Me Out – Sleater-Kinney (1997)
My friend Mary got me into Sleater-Kinney in college. Both she and them were a staple of my college-going years. I’m sad that they’re no longer around – but what a great ride.

Surfacing - Sarah McLachlan (1997)
Oh, boy. So, I had it real bad for this guy in college. Real. Bad. For years. At least one person literally threatened to slap me. It was not meant to be. I still can’t help but think of him when I hear this album, but I also just really dig Sarah McLachlan.

When the Pawn… - Fiona Apple (1999)
Fiona loves and loses with the best of ‘em. Personally, I like it when she’s pissed about it, and when she LONGS for it. I’ll never get enough of this album.

Blacklisted - Neko Case (2002)
I never really got into Neko Case, no matter how many people told me how good she was. Then I saw her live. Everyone standing in the Main Room at First Avenue fell totally silent when she began to sing, and her voice filled the entire space. You know you’ve fallen in love with music when it gives you goosebumps and that queasy feeling in your stomach. “Chimney falls and lovers blaze/Thought that I was young/Now I've freezing hands & bloodless veins/As numb as I've become/I'm so tired/I wish I was the moon tonight”

Fever to Tell – Yeah Yeah Yeahs (2003)
I hadn’t heard the Yeah Yeah Yeahs before I went to see them at First Avenue with my boyfriend at the time, who swore by them. There was Karen O, writhing on the stage, tearing at her fishnet stockings, sometimes sort of singing, but mostly just talking or breathing or making noises into the microphone. It sounds totally crazy, and I’m not sure I can adequately describe this, except to say that this album makes me feel like sex incarnate.

Sevens Travels - Atmosphere (2003)
This album welcomed me back to hip hop when I was emerging from a few years of really losing track of myself, my needs, my wants, my everything. When I woke up, there was Minneapolis – and Atmosphere.

Want One - Rufus Wainwright (2003)
This album was the soundtrack for the first time I ever visited the North Shore of Minnesota, which, in and of itself, was life changing. In addition to being a tremendously talented lyricist, Rufus Wainwright paints you right into a musical in this album, complete with full orchestra. The

Undisputed Truth – Brother Ali (2007)
You know that lost art of the album thing I was just talking about? Brother Ali proved with this one that it’s not lost at all. What’s more, he may be the best talent in hip hop today, and he’s from right here in Minneapolis, which I love.

The Entrepreneur

I'm mesmerized by a sculpture I walk past twice a week on my way to and from a class I'm taking on Friday afternoons. It's of a man, blindfolded, with a hammer in one hand and a chisel in the other. He's carving himself. His arm is raised to strike again at the rock that still comes up to his knees.

It's a powerful image - the notion of self-creation, without a road map - the self in progress. It speaks to what I would characterize as an overarching theme of my life - maybe even an obsession. This is my human condition, though it occurs to me that perhaps not everyone experiences life this way - in fact, that is a privilege to have the luxury of creating oneself, or that one might be perfectly content to live life without the constant agitation and unrest caused by a fascination with self-discovery and improvement. I suppose the piece is aptly titled and located: The Entrepreneur, standing in the courtyard of the College of Business at the University of St. Thomas. (Though my liberal, tree-hugging self loathes the association the title creates.)

I've been kicking around the idea of going to graduate school since 2001. I'm increasingly glad that I didn't jump straight from my B.A. into a random advanced degree, but now I'm just spinning my wheels, stuck in what I believe to be two distinct mud puddles:

1. FEAR. Including, but not limited to: fear of entrance exams; fear of rejection; fear of committing financial suicide; fear of being competitive with classmates; fear of making the wrong choice; fear, frankly, of leadership roles; fear of the time commitment and stress level, etc.
2. INDECISION. Once, I wanted an MFA in writing. Now that I've fallen in love with a young and growing nonprofit, and in dedicating myself to things that benefit other people directly, here are just a few degree considerations: Law; Business Administration; Public Policy; Nonprofit Management; Organizational Leadership; Public Administration

Or any combination of at least two of the above, likely requiring three years of full-time academics.

It's a funny thing about the sculpture I're not worried that the man is going to miss and take out a chunk of his leg. He has no obvious deformities indicating that he has ever missed. The self is. There's not "wrong". There just is. Your self. Your creation. What you do, and what you don't do.

I went out for drinks with two dear friends of mine after class yesterday, and we discussed this concept. How more often than we would like, our drive for ideas and accomplishments we'd like to make is thwarted by fatigue after a hard day at work, or by other priorities that come up, or by television. In an ethics class we took several weeks ago, we discussed the difficult decision of whether you continue toward your goal at any cost, or whether life happens and your goal is changed.

Do you strike again, or do you stand still?

Why is that even a question?

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Back in October, I started realizing that my comfortable married life was slowly but surely showing up on my waistline. It had been a happy, but stressful year of buying a home, planning a wedding and welcoming a puppy to the family, and one of my favorite ways of treating stress is with sugar in all of its various forms. Pants were tighter. Shirts were shorter. Worse yet, I’d stopped running.

I love to run. It makes me feel beautiful and powerful and centered – nearly invincible. I love sweating, feeling my lungs expand, wind on my face and blood pumping through my veins – all capped off with a euphoric surge of energy, not unlike orgasm. Last year, for whatever reason, I’d forgotten about all of that. So, one October afternoon, I decided it was time to get back to it. I’d run for just ten minutes today, ten minutes tomorrow…start slow, not push it. I strapped on my running shoes and hit the sidewalk. The enjoyment of this renewed pastime was interrupted by a rhythmic noise in my left knee every time my foot hit the pavement – click, click, click, click. This was no good. I continued for the full ten minutes, rationalizing that I wasn’t feeling any pain. The next day it was a little sore, but I soldiered through a second ten minute run with the same soundtrack – click, click, click. The day after that, I’d characterize my knee as in pain. No real swelling to speak of, just soreness. I decided I probably needed new shoes, to lose some weight and to do something less impactful for awhile. I got a gym membership and started the elliptical instead, with some soreness from time to time, and late last month, finally broke down and went to my sports medicine doctor. He diagnosed me with patellafemoral pain, said that my knee was in good shape and referred me to a physical therapist. He also encouraged me to pick up some core strengthening exercise, like yoga.

Yoga. Blah. I’d tried yoga videotapes before and had been unimpressed. I found it difficult to relax enough to enjoy it, found the hippie music and skinny, ridiculously flexible chicks sort of irritating. Plus, given the fact that I didn’t even break a sweat while doing it, it didn’t feel like it was worth much of anything. Give me a good runner’s high any day over that snoozefest.

So somewhat reluctantly, a friend and I went to a yoga class this morning at the gym. A smiling, skinny, ridiculously flexible woman demonstrated child’s pose – knees bent, buttocks to heels, arms extended on the floor in front of you. Her voice was warm, accented, calm as she described the breathing process, encouraged to pay special attention to our emotions with each movement and release them in order to be fully present in the moment.

For the next hour, I really did let go. At the end of the session, sitting in our original pose, our palms pressed together in front of our chests, our instructor wished us hearts full of sunshine – in front of our lips, words of compassion – in front of our foreheads, joyful hearts. I was so relaxed - so calm and at peace – that those emotions I had been letting go of through each pose streamed down my face in tears. It was nothing short of a spiritual experience, not unlike the feeling of sitting in a church sanctuary, surrounded by others in total silence. Release.

This must be what people see in yoga. Different from the power and solitude of running, and in some ways, the exact opposite. Namaste – the light in me honors the light in you.

I think I'll be back next Sunday.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Let's face it. Things have never been quite right between us.

We've been seeing each other again for awhile now - since...what? November? A solid four months, anyway. I guess I was glad to see you, at first...but I never miss you. Isn't that strange? I never miss you.

We've had some good times. I have to admit, I loved seeing my puppy play with you for the first time...I even made a special effort this year, braving temperatures and conditions I would have ordinarily avoided just to watch her hopping through snow banks, sliding around on the ice, leaving tiny footprints behind her all over southwest Minneapolis. Or that moment, snowshoeing up on the Superior Hiking Trail - the silence, the solitude, the beauty. I thought we really had something this time.

But I'm tired.

Tired of waking up in the dark and driving home from work in the dark. Tired of layers upon layers of clothes that keep me barely warm enough when I'm outside and overheated when I'm inside. Tired of having plans ruined due to inclement weather. Tired of the sharp precursory frostbite pains in my fingers and toes. Tired of the extra weight that seems impossible to lose. Tired of risking my tailbone just to walk down the street and my life every time I get behind the wheel of a car. Tired of you hanging white-knuckled from my windowsill, creeping in through the imperfections in the original windows and breathing frigid air down my neck. Tired of shoveling, and shoveling, and shoveling.

So I'm asking you to go. Quickly. Quietly. I may be happy to see you again, but I won't miss you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

This Is Our Country.

I work for a nonprofit organization. Lots of people have a lot of misconceptions about what that means, exactly, but what it means to me is that every day, I get up to go to work for something I believe in that benefits people other than myself – though I do, directly and indirectly, experience benefits as well. I’m paid. I have fantastic fringe benefits. I have amazing coworkers. I am inspired and humbled by the young people we serve. And every year, about this time, I get to read dozens and dozens of applications from people all over our great nation who are interested in dedicating a year of their life – and in many cases, two years - in service to their country through community organizations. They make virtually no money. They have virtually no fringe benefits. All they want is to be a part of something that helps someone else.

I’ve been reviewing these applications for quite a few years now – but this year, it’s a little different. People from all over the country – not just Minnesota, not just the Twin Cities – are applying for national service here. Some of them are married. Some of them have kids. Some of them were the first in their families to attend college and are now completing Masters’ programs. Some of them are a few or several years out of college. Cynics will chalk it up to a lousy economy. I chalk it up to our President. They have heard the call to service and they have answered it. “I am asking you to believe, not just in my ability to bring about a real change in Washington, I’m asking you to believe in yours.”

It’s one thing to hope. It’s one thing to be asked. It’s quite another, as many AmeriCorps members will tell you, to live on less than $11,000 per year. But they do it. Without complaint, and without remorse. This year, as I wade through application after application of diverse, highly qualified, highly motivated, and highly inspired individuals applying to work with my organization, I am moved from hope to belief in my fellow citizens, in my country and in my President. Or, as one of my coworkers so succinctly put it: “People were skeptical, but the world really did get better over night when Obama took office.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008