Author Archives: Diane Bushemi

Let Us Eat Cake

I spent most of my formative years defying my father. I was not a troublemaker, per se. I was a good student, honest, and never smoked or did drugs. No, that was not my form of rebellion.

I defied my father in the only way a do-gooder could—passive-aggressively.

I inherited his height, so I slouched. He gave me his temper, so I threw it back at him. No matter how solid I felt my argument was, he always won our verbal sparring matches. It frustrated me to no end. It triggered the irresistible urge towards defiance just so I could achieve some balance in my immature universe.

We both loved the color red, so I made that small concession in the father-daughter war. Color preference is not a choice, I figured. He never fought me for the red game pieces in Parcheesi, so he must not have adored the color as much as I did, anyway.

He was very organized and precise. How could I be anything but the opposite? From folding blankets a certain way to making Cocoa Wheats without lumps, I did none of it his way. I did not care to be micromanaged.

Then, there was cake.

“Never waste food. You can pick up the crumbs by pushing your fork on them,” he said while he demonstrated the technique. He proudly showed me the crumbs between the tines, and the resulting clean plate. “See?”

Yes, I did see. Still do, every time I eat cake.

Red plate

Dust and Detritus

Blowing dust

It has been over a year since I’ve written anything, much less posted something on The Purple Pedant. September 24th, 2013, to be precise, was the last entry. Why is that? I could leave that as a rhetorical question. But, I’ve been ushered into the “late 40’s” demographic in the past year, which has made these questions harder to resist, yet more challenging and painful to answer.

First off, when I stated that I haven’t written, that means anything I wasn’t required to write. I’ve been writing theater and concert reviews for the past year. I write policies and procedures at my job. I suppose even emails would count as writing; not all are required. Nor are all the status updates and comments I made and continue to make on Facebook. I believe I just canceled out the first sentence of this paragraph.

Rewrite: I haven’t written anything for the pure joy of it in over a year.

That leaves me with the aforementioned question dangling over my head like a Sword of Damocles. Nothing I say or don’t say will justify my word drought. I could make up something like an impressive story or alibi, but disingenuousness accomplishes nothing. In other words, I am damned either way.

Yet, I am writing now. Why should I complain or hem and haw as I look over my shoulder? Just focus on the present and future. Right? I could most certainly view it that way. But, those who ignore history and all that. It may seem like a melodramatic analogy, but it is an apt one. By all means, keep moving forward, but leave a trail of popcorn just in case you have to backtrack to see whence you came.

I spoke recently to a group of women about motivation. It is a word that vexes me. I am pulled prematurely out of sleep to the sound of its alarm every morning, and lie awake at night with a droning reminder that I ignored it for a good part of the day. It is a maddening tinnitus buzzing deep in my eardrums that won’t let up until I vow to pay proper heed to it tomorrow. Motivation is a harsh mistress; it kept me up most of the night so that I am too tired from lack of sleep to make good on my promise. And so the vicious circle continues.

The intent of volunteering to talk in front of a crowd wasn’t to find a convenient platform to whine and vent. I actually discovered several things about myself in the process. I went up on stage without a script. It wasn’t because I wanted to be real and off-the-cuff, it was because I wasn’t motivated to actually write down what I wanted to say. Not even talking about motivation could motivate me. The irony did not escape me. I had to admit that if I was to get anything productive out of this endeavor. Revelation One.

All my life, I’ve been plagued by depression, anxiety, and lack of motivation. It doesn’t matter which came first—the chicken, egg, or . . . sperm. They all feed off each other. I get depressed, which saps my motivation. Once I emerge from the darkness, I get anxiety from not accomplishing anything. I lose sleep due to the anxiety and get depressed from fatigue . . . and so it keeps going, like a holy trinity of neurosis. Revelation Two.

I am also introverted by nature. This translates to internalizing everything, including motivation. I am bursting with ambition and have the loftiest of goals . . . in my head. It is externalizing them, i.e., being extroverted, that stymies me. I can tell people what I want to do, but I don’t do what I want to do. Revelation Three. There is no denying the fact that I am middle-aged. Ugh. That hurts to admit, and is also terrifying. Which brings me to Revelation Four.

There is nothing so galvanizing for me than negative reinforcement. I make mistakes that bite me, thus, I am motivated to not repeat them (until I slack off and repeat them). I have more years behind me than ahead of me, and the ones I’ve lived are salted with regret. It is a terrifying prospect of not achieving what I desire and not living this life like I never want to leave it. Why can’t I just bring my passion with me instead of chasing it down like a moving bus that I missed by mere seconds? Sometimes, that is enough to get me going. Sometimes.

Quite simply, I need to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. The path I want to take won’t get forged if I just stand there staring at the map. And sometimes, it is okay to stop someone for help and ask for directions. The other thing that holds me back is my fear of what other people think of me, as well as being perceived as living a fantasy. She wants to be an artist? A musician? A WRITER? No one makes a living that way, much less someone as mediocre and untalented as she is. Diane is an Accountant. That is a realistic profession for an introvert. It is safe.

However, it is desperately boring and stifling, and I need to break free from it. My right brain is elbowing my left brain and jockeying for more space. There is that negative reinforcement again.

I have finally gotten to the point where it doesn’t matter what everyone wants for me. It only matters what I want for me. My closing thought to the Q&A session of my speech was ineloquent but memorable:

The older I get, the less fucks I have to give.

Onward.

Defending the death of Dexter

That was an alliteration I couldn’t resist. I could call it homage to the originator of the book series, Jeff Lindsay. But I won’t. He alliterates ad nauseam in his book titles, as well as in Dexter’s voiceovers in a misguided attempt at making the character likeable, e.g. “dear darling Dexter.” Good gracious God. All he succeeds in doing is annoying the reader—at least, this reader. Jeff Lindsay is a hack who happened upon a promising idea, and then crapped on it after the first book. Yeah, I get it. Angel-no relation-Batista is not a winged being from the heavens. Say it once, and then move on!

Needless to say, the television series surpassed the books from the very first episode. Even the worst season was by far better than Linday’s best book. I have it on good authority considering I read the first five. I have heard they go even further downhill from there. Usually, derivative works are lower in quality, such as the recent Great Gatsby, if not on par with, as was the case in Jaws.

Every episode was entertaining and riveting. The acting was all first-rate, and the evolution of the two main characters in Dexter and Deb were brilliantly portrayed by Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, respectively. All the supporting and guest actors did an excellent job, as well. Who can forget John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer from Season 4, arguably their best season? Anyone who didn’t come away from witnessing that performance and recognize his acting genius needs a time-out on Dexter’s table. I kid. The only season I was disappointed with was the following, season 5. I felt Julia Stiles was miscast and out of her element. I could not suspend disbelief that she would be driven to murder, and could even help Dexter dump body parts and act like they were making conversation while cooking dinner together. If you ask me, and you probably won’t, Claire Danes would have made a more convincing Lumen. She has the required frailty masked by steely resolve to make that character believable.

Do not read any further if you have not watched the series finale of Dexter, by the way. The “death” in my title is symbolic, i.e., the ending of the series.

Or is it. . . ?

My husband and I are both writers, and we can usually sniff out plot turns before they happen—him more so than I. Neither of us had any idea how this series would end. We both knew that it wouldn’t end well for at least one of the characters. It turned out that it ended badly for all of them. I won’t discuss the whole season. It is only the final episode that left me an emotional mess.

The show’s writers took Vonnegut’s advice to be mean to their characters and ran with it. All the key players were victimized by Dexter, in some shape or form. And for that, Dexter had to die . . . in some shape or form.

When Deb was shot in the penultimate episode, it was the gun on the wall (pun intended) that a happy ending was not to be expected. Deb was injured picking up where Dexter felt he should leave off. He did not kill the Brain Surgeon—the season’s nemesis—because he realized he didn’t need to anymore and decided to go by the book and have him arrested and prosecuted. Is that character redemption I see? Not so fast! Dexter left Hannah and Harrison (another alliteration!) in their efforts to flee the country to be by Deb’s side when he got the call that she had been shot. Are you sure that isn’t character redemption? Scoff! That would be too easy.

I suspected even more so that something tragic would happen when the doctor told Dexter that everything went well in surgery. Context is important, because nothing goes well in that show, so it should not be assumed that it was just a plot device to add a little drama. A massive stroke from a blood clot left Deb brain-dead. It heralded the return of Dexter’s Dark Passenger, so the Brain Surgeon had to die. While doing a GSR test on Daniel Vogel in jail, he set it up so that Vogel, a.k.a. Oliver Saxon, would attack him, thus justifying Dexter killing him. Batista and Quinn, distraught by the loss of a detective and lover, respectively, viewed the video playback. It was apparent that they saw it for what it was—a premeditated murder in the guise of self-defense. After a few obvious questions from Batista, they declared the incident justifiable homicide. On the surface, it appeared to be sloppy writing to do away with some loose ends in the plot. But in actuality, it was showing another side to the detectives—more Batista in this case—demonstrating that sometimes ethics are situational. And some people have to die. So says “the code.”

Like he did to Camilla Figg in season 3, he felt it his duty to euthanize Deb. And that he did. I was shaking, trying to keep it together, when he held her hand and emotionally whispered “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He turned off the machine, disconnected the tube and wires, and listened for her breath to cease. “I love you,” were his last words. That is when I did a face-plant into my husband’s lap. My eyes are welling up just recalling that scene. I was devastated.

There was only one convincing path for Dexter to take at the loss of his moral compass in Deb, for which he felt responsible. He could have met up with Hannah and Harrison and lived his life the way Deb would have wanted him to. That would have been trite, out of character, and despite our desire for some semblance of a happy ending, unrealistic. He spoke one last time to Hannah and Harrison, leaving the possibility he would see them again. Then he threw the phone into the ocean to cast away any temptation to meet up with and eventually destroy them the way he did everyone he was close to. After that, he buried Deb in the same place he did his victims, as if she died at his hand, as well. But with her, he demonstrated his love and respect by keeping her whole and uncovered. Her face dissolved as it sank into the ocean’s depths in a symbolic disposal of the mask he wore for so many years.

He drove into the eye of the hurricane, and the wreckage of his boat was found the next day. The assumption was that he died, and in a way, he did. The façade, the emotional growth, as well as any possibility for more connections with humanity, died. Whether he intended to kill himself or fake his death is left for the viewer to decide. Regardless, he made a supreme sacrifice. The last scene showed him as what appeared to be a lumberjack, possibly in the upper Northwest. The cold, dark atmosphere was a stark contrast to Miami’s sunny warmth. He had a full beard, either as a disguise or perhaps to indicate that he no longer cared to maintain a carefully cultivated clean-cut and unthreatening appearance. His father’s image and voice were conspicuously absent. He sat down at a desk, and stared at nothing. His face with that mask fully removed, revealed the monster he always knew himself to be. This was the real Dexter, laid bare for the viewers to see. It was disturbing.

No one was redeemed, no one was happy. Joey Quinn became an honorable cop again during the season, and got the girl in the end. Then, she was cruelly taken away. What will happen to him? Hannah is left with Harrison. Will she be a good mother to him? Will she raise him to be a good, law-abiding person, or will he follow in her or his father’s footsteps?

What will become of Dexter? Did he mean it that he would see Harrison again? If so, would it be from afar? Dexter will continue killing, there is no doubt. But, did “the code” get buried along with the mask and moral compass, at the bottom of the ocean? There are so many questions that have a plethora of possible answers. Six Feet Under ended perfectly by giving closure to the key characters. It fit the theme and spirit of the show. The characters were surrounded by death, so too they must die eventually. The same goes for Dexter. Many fans are angry about the finale. Either they let their emotions cloud their judgment or they just didn’t get it.

On a final note, Jennifer Carpenter must at least get nominated for an Emmy. She has been overlooked for too long. Michael C. Hall should be nominated again, and actually win this time. It would be the appropriate closure to honor a terrific artistic work.

Like a Rolling Boner

I don’t read Rolling Stone magazine, but know people who do. Apparently, it is still primarily about music, along with topical issues to broaden their audience and keep the interest of their readers. I am all for a comprehensive magazine. That is why I don’t look at my husband’s Playboy with disdain. They really do have some great articles and interviews in there, especially their Political Forum. Plus, it is fun to locate the bunny logo on the cover.

Even with my musical background, I don’t usually pay attention to Rolling Stone. I might notice the cover if I pass it on the newsstand. Usually, a musician is on there, hence, the main purpose of the magazine. Dylan (whose classic song I punned in the title), Hendrix, Clapton, Page . . . those are the faces, and others of that ilk, I expect to see. Even actors have graced the cover, and that’s okay. My expectation was upset when Taylor Swift and her wind-blown hair were featured. She can barely play the sparkly acoustic guitar she was cradling in that photo, much less be presented in the same fashion as the musical icons who preceded her. Still, for all intents and purposes, she is making music, albeit mediocre at best. She is popular and Rolling Stone was catering to a growing segment of their readership. Understandable. 

I am, however, struggling with the impetus of plastering the younger, surviving Boston Marathon bomber’s face on the most recent cover. I won’t even print his name here, much less the image. Part of it is laziness; I don’t feel like pulling the photo and saving it to upload here. Also, I struggle with retaining names of Eastern origin. The other part is principle. I just won’t do it. I can’t bother myself to expend the effort to remember the pronunciation or the spelling of his name. I won’t even use it as a tag for this blog for search purposes. Why? Because, he does not deserve even an iota of energy, not by me nor by any other citizen of this country. He exposed himself to a dangerous ideology, and he acted on it. It could be argued that he wouldn’t have wrought the same havoc on his own. It does not matter. He was a willing participant, went into hiding, and eventually ran from the law. He knew right from wrong. He chose the latter, and for that, he should pay dearly. 

He certainly should not be rewarded for his despicable actions. So, what does landing on the cover of a popular, long-running magazine in the space normally reserved for actual musical greats, do? It sounds like he got his proverbial 15 minutes, and then some. He came to this country early enough to be Americanized.  He should know the magazine and its place in the annals of history. Is he shamed that his mug is splayed on a periodical that has a circulation of about 1.5 million readers, and quite possibly, could increase for this issue? Does he feel remorse for what he did after such exposure? Or more likely, does he think he has arrived and was granted the right of passage? He has been immortalized before Allah could reward him with 72 (give or take) virgins. 

Perhaps I am overstating this. Rolling Stone did put Charles Manson on a cover back during his heyday in 1970. Never mind that he was a surprisingly gifted musician (if only he got a record contract). He became famous for being a sociopath, and Rolling Stone hopped on that bandwagon. What is done is done. Somehow, this latest foray into newsworthy journalism displayed an unprecedented lack of judgment. 

In their defense, the article is apparently well-researched. At least, that is what I have heard; I don’t intend to read it. He is also referred to as a “monster” on the cover. That is where my support ends.  That same blurb lends a note of sympathy as a “promising student” whose “family failed him.” So now what? Are we supposed to feel sorry for him? 

I painted that with a broad brush intentionally. The powers that be must have momentarily forgotten their influence. It is not an irrational speculation that other troubled youths heading on a wayward path would see this, and be envious. For better or worse, that would be the aforementioned arrival and right of passage. “I got on the cover of Rolling Stone. Score!” Something to ponder the next time we are inclined to glorify a demon. 

What would the response be if Playboy magazine put this punk on the cover in lieu of their usual Playmate? That would be out of place, despite their excellent journalism within. Maybe they would hide the logo in his mass of curly, black hair, vexing their most determined readers to stare at his mug until the bunny was found, thus burning his image into their retinas. That’s marketing genius, right there. I guarantee that Mr. Hefner would have some explaining to do. 

Certainly, we must know our enemies and understand why they become that way, so that we—as a collective—are better armed to stop it before it starts. Knowledge is power and all that. I get it. But, it is all in the presentation, and perhaps Rolling Stone is not the one to reveal this insight, given the likelihood that the original mission of the magazine was music and advertising its star power. I don’t know why I think that. It could be their name that has popped up in a couple of tunes, maybe one rock group. Just a theory. 

Here is another one: they may gain readers with this, but they might want to avoid the loss of their existing ones if they just stick to what they know.

Relative Freedoms

On this day—September 11—eleven years ago, I spent the majority of it in front of the television watching Dan Rather report on a tragic event. When I wasn’t quietly seething, I cried my eyes out. On this day, over a decade after the terrorist attack occurred, I choose not to talk about it. So, I won’t.

What I will talk about is the collective response to the tragedy that befell America years ago. While the passion has tempered with time, the desire to hold onto that day has not. Are we afraid that if, as the old adage states, we forget history, it bears repeating? Our decisive vengeance did diminish the possibility that any violent, fundamentalist dissenter will darken our great land and attempt, much less succeed, destroying even a mere acre of it. If that truly is the case, and time does heal all wounds, why must we continue to pick at this scar?

We certainly are a sentimental lot. Hence, the reason networks in any medium—television, social, etc.—remind us to remember this day, on this day, as if we wouldn’t otherwise. Our freedom is apparently finite if we do not want to be deemed as heartless and not acknowledge this day in some maudlin way. The moment of silence is requested, quite loudly, regardless of individual beliefs or lack thereof. I prefer contemplation.

We don’t really know or understand hardship. As individuals, many of us do, depending on the circumstance. But again, I speak of the whole. As a group becomes larger, the collective intelligence decreases. That also can be said of tolerance, as well. The irony is lost on the masses; the fools suffer no fools if the freedom to abuse our Constitutional rights is compromised. The hypocrisy is loud and clear, but largely ignored.   

There are millions of people in multiple countries who are in the throes of tragedies that are comparatively equal, if not worse, than what we endured eleven years ago. The difference is that they do not have the freedom to remember tragedies; they just survive them and prepare for the next onslaught. There is no age-limit; children are not sheltered from those storms.  

The soldiers that fight to sustain our freedoms are coming back hobbled—physically and psychologically. Instead of gratitude and assistance, Veterans are thrown into a labyrinthine system that arguably expends more energy in putting up hurdles than providing much needed aid. They survive fighting one war on foreign land to be completely stymied by one on their home soil. In the midst of it all, anti-war protesters can hurl insults at them, willfully ignorant to the reality that the objects of their scorn fought for our right to call them “baby killers.”

Chicago Public School teachers have the freedom to pick up their marbles and picket in their own sandbox over comparatively petty grievances. This is happening while many people in the world have been out of work for years, or worse yet, living in squalor and sometimes dying because they don’t have the means to survive. The parents, as victims of this dispute, have their jobs put at risk to find alternate arrangements for their children since education is being denied them. Millions of people are working in worse conditions, but do not have anyone to fight their battles. All I will say about 9/11 is that eight children died that day. That statistic heightens the outrage; we have no tolerance for child mortality, and I concede, deservedly so. But yet, 350,000 children are being used as bargaining chips with this strike.  Apparently, ethics are relative and sometimes it is acceptable to turn them into weapons. We also put weapons in their hands. They strengthen our battles by holding up signs that scream our views. They have not had the freedom of time and experience to form their own opinion. But, it does not matter. We, as adults, have the freedom to decide what is for the greater good.

We are the salt of the earth with the ability to salt the earth. Perhaps we should reconsider what freedom really is.

How is that for a moment of silence?

Alice in Shame

Did you ever have one of those friends who compelled you in such a way to do things you normally wouldn’t, and then you regretted those actions afterwards? I had one, and even though we drifted apart, I fondly reminisce about her. To preserve her anonymity, I will just refer to her as ‘C’. C wanted to try most things at least once; I did not. Don’t get me wrong; I am a very curious sort. However, I am a calculated risk-taker, usually. She did not blithely venture into uncharted territory, mind you, but her carpe diem approach to life could be intoxicating. I trust you know what could happen under that influence.

We drove halfway across the country with maxed-out credit cards and no itinerary. I was given a CO2 handgun (no license needed at the time) for protection. I tried to fire it in a roadside motel room, but thankfully, the canister blew into a cloud of cool gas instead. I don’t know if there were any long-term effects of inhaling what the weapon expelled. Guns freak me out, but I felt empowered around my friend, C.

Another time, we turned an uneventful evening into a festival of firsts for her. Well, two firsts, to be precise. After consuming sugary cocktails and Pop-tarts, she dyed her dark, blonde hair red with a box of henna I had encouraged her to purchase earlier. We then ambled over to the nearest tattoo parlor, picked a unicorn off the wall, and spent the next hour getting it inked on her outer calf. She squeezed my hand the whole time; that girl had quite a grip. The artist was a dragger instead of a tapper, and that is a sensitive area, so I appreciated the pain she endured. Okay, I did not get a tattoo. I do have my limits. As an artist, I would only mark up my body with my own designs. Oh wait, I didn’t know I could draw at the time. I probably didn’t have the money. Yep, that’s it. I did put henna into my hair one time. Remember that episode of the Brady Bunch? Just picture Greg with waist-length hair and that show would have reached a new level of melodrama. Now you know why my risks are usually well thought-out. I can’t take complete credit for controlling her destiny that night. She was a doer to my thinker. She encouraged me to think about taking risks, and I thought really hard so that she would believe I was the mastermind of that evening. For the most part, though, I experienced her risk-taking ventures that night vicariously. 

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that a night spent at an Alice in Chains concert back in ‘93 would not end for us after the curtain dropped. I have always been a big fan of the band, but C had never heard of them until I asked her to go with me. During the course of the evening, she developed a huge crush on Jerry Cantrell. I can certainly see the appeal. Even now—years later—he looks like Greg Allman’s hotter, younger brother. However, I never cared for long hair on men. My older sister and I agreed on many things, but our paths diverged when the conversation turned to the hotness factor of Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon versus Tequila Sunrise. No contest there, in my opinion. Now, no hairstyle can redeem that man, but I digress. Anyway, despite Cantrell really being the creative force behind Alice in Chains, I was all about Layne Staley at the time. Apparently, I was into scrawny grunge rockers in my early twenties. There was something seductive about that dude, the voice, those intense eyes, and sultry lips. Picture Paul Newman on crack, and perhaps you will understand the allure there. I can’t stand cigarette smoking—he was a heavy smoker—but in my fantasies, he abstained while he sang his trademark growl into my ear. Sigh. 

It was a great show, and their performance of Rooster did not disappoint. I also got a souvenir that will remind me of this evening, whether I want it to or not.

I did not have to wrestle anyone for it. One of the crowd control guys was giving it to me as another hand reached for it. He pulled it away until I was ready to take it. As the crowd started clearing out, I passed by him and thanked him for the token. “You know I was giving that to you, right?” he asked with a lascivious smile. Eww. I played dumb, “Yep! Thanks again.” I made a hasty exit before he could go all Indian giver on me. I was a bit insulted. My body was worth a Hell of a lot more than a cracked drumstick. I was an Accountant, damn it. How dare he assume I was just some tawdry, cheap fan-girl? Puh! 

We were hanging out in my car after the show, wondering what trouble we could get into, considering the night was still young. At one point, I entertained C with my Layne Staley impersonation singing Rooster and Man in a Box—spot-on, in my humble opinion. The topic turned to some key “what if” questions. What if . . . Jerry Cantrell came onto you right now, even though you are engaged? I had carte blanche if Mr. Staley propositioned me, as I wasn’t dating anyone at the time. The whole time in the car, we had a clear view of their tour bus, and were sitting there waiting for a glimpse of any of the band members. Layne was not to be seen, but there was a flash of long, blonde hair at one point. 

After about an hour, the bus started moving. We straightened up in our seats as we exchanged tentative, yet eager glances. “Let’s follow them!” Do I have to indicate who said that? So, onward I drove as I followed them through the back streets. I thought the fun was in the dare, and it would peter out and end there. The burning, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach I get only when venturing out of my comfort zone came on full-force as we careened into the entrance to I-94N—heading towards Chicago. “Oh my god, we are really doing this!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe we are doing this!” I screamed. “This is so awesome,” as we giggled like schoolgirls. I pushed hard on the gas pedal, lest I lose sight of their big-ass, black tour bus. This was really happening! 

So, we get to the hotel they were staying at. We happened upon a couple of other grou . . . er, fans, who happened to know the floor, and even room numbers, the band were in. I don’t recall how they came upon that intel, but there it was. As we debated what to do next, Mike Inez—the bassist—sauntered through the lobby. He politely stopped for a photo. He really wasn’t on my radar, but who was I to pass up that opportunity. The guy had a great smile and crazy hair. The amicability of one member gave us the courage to seek out the others. 

As we stood in the elevator, C and I exchanged looks that could pass for either excitement or an urgent need to pee. As it dinged our arrival, we hesitated briefly before exiting onto the floor. Like automatons, we proceeded to their group of rooms at the end of the hall. Did we have a game plan? Of course not. We stopped in mid-stride as we happened upon an open room. We peeked into the door. Inside was a man who appeared to be their security guard, lounging in a chair and inactively watching porn. I say that because he wasn’t more “engaged,” but he was distracted enough that we could zip past his room unnoticed, like a couple of ninja groupies. Yes, admittedly, we ceased being just fans at that point. We heard voices behind door number two. Without thinking, I knocked. Then, the folly of our ways hit me, amongst other things that shone a light on our unbecoming behavior. I turned to make a hasty exit, abandoning C, and was stopped by the security dude. Dang, he was huge. “What are you doing?” he asked threateningly. Looking for inspiration, I just stared back at C. As we stalled to think up something clever, the door opened. 

That sinking feeling in my stomach came again as I stood mere feet from Layne Staley. The first thing that came to mind was, “Shit, that is one tiny dude.” He seemed larger than life on stage, but I could eat a meal off his head, and try to share it with him so he could gain a few pounds. He looked accusingly at his security guard as he asked us what we were doing there. I was ready to apologize that we made a mistake, when C held out a piece of paper and pen, and asked for his autograph. Oh, I wanted to be Down in a Hole at that point. His sexy blues looked at her hands with disdain. He then became physically agitated, held out the bottom of his shirt, and said, “Guys, I gotta get dressed.” SLAM! I guess he told us. I think, not sure. We waited briefly just in case he planned to come back out after indeed getting dressed, even though he was fully clothed already. The disappointment welled up in me as I realized we had been dismissed. I didn’t even get to share my impersonation of him. Surely, along with my cuteness, I would have risen above the ranks of his typical mindless fan. This is not how my encounter with him played out in my dreams. 

I turned my head wearily to gaze up at Mr. Horny and he looked down at me patronizingly, “See, now look what you did. Are you proud of yourself?” Umm, no, quite frankly. The ignominy sunk in hard and fast. I was mortified at what we did. Why did he direct that question at me? I didn’t ask for his autograph. I was trying to get out of there. It was all C’s fault! That’s what I told myself. I also considered that the guard was shitting his pants, because he should have stopped us from getting that close to the “talent.” He would be even in more trouble if they saw the adult movie on the bill. While his employers were snuffing the Rooster, he was choking his chicken. How irresponsible of him. 

My head was literally hanging low as we slinked back to the elevator. As it made its descent, my hot and heavy imaginary love affair with the troubled rocker cooled precipitously. “What the Hell did we just do? This is horrible. I can’t believe we would do that to someone,” I said between long-suffering sighs. C didn’t see it that way. “What an asshole. Did you see how he looked at my pen and paper like I was offering him a plate of shit or something?” She might have said that, I don’t remember. I was too overwhelmed with shame and regret. She, naturally, had a great time and would do it again, despite his “rudeness.” 

But he’s long dead, more than 10 years now. 

Yes, when Mr. Staley’s bloated corpse was found alone in his apartment, dead weeks earlier from an overdose, I thought back to what we did. What demons was he unable to exorcise? Did his obsessed fans smother him, or was he drowning in a Sea of Sorrow of his own making? My guess is that it was a combination of both, evidenced by his self-portrait in the Mad Season CD-jacket as being crucified while he sang into a microphone. His respectful, appreciative fans could not shine a bright enough light on his dark soul, so he self-medicated to his demise. 

Despite all my cognitive dissonance in what we did, I can set that aside as I tell this tale in my usual jocular, self-deprecating fashion. Levity is the best psychotropic.

Mo’ Mondegreens!

As promised almost a year ago, here is installment number two of my collection of mondegreens, i.e., misheard lyrics. Finally! I trust you have been waiting with bated breath for this. You may now, devoted reader, breathe a sigh of relief. I have come to deliver on that promise. Incidentally, Microsoft Word does not recognize the term, so my vision is currently being assaulted with the underlined red squiggle under “mondegreens.” There it is again. How dare these miscreant software developers offend my sensibilities so? Even the paperclip seems to be looking at me disapprovingly. Smug bastard.  

As last time, I am following the same format as in the famous books: misheard lyric; performer; song title; correct lyric.

Tell them all hookah, is smoking character . . . One man on the chessboard . . . and your mind is moving all . . . Have fallen softly dead . . . And the requiem’s offed his head. Remember, what the doormouth said.
Jefferson Airplane “White Rabbit”
Tell ‘em a hookah smoking catepillar . . . When men on the chessboard . . . and your mind is moving slow . . . Have fallen sloppy dead . . . And the Red Queen’s “Off with her head!” Remember, what the dormouse said.  

That’s right. I butchered the crap out of these lyrics. I was reminded of that when I got the urge to sing it in the shower recently. I drew a complete blank on the correct lyrics, so sang what I thought they sounded like. Yes, I read Lewis Carroll’s classic. So, I should know better, right? Besides, I’ve heard it a bazillion times, since Grace Slick’s opus is ubiquitous as a soundtrack to let the audience know that something trippy is going on. Incidentally, I always thought this song was about drugs. “Go Ask Alice” is a famous diary from a drug-user, and there was some kind of mushroom involved. What other conclusion could I draw from that? Besides the time it was released, the lyrics sound like they were inspired by an acid trip. I suppose by association it is about drugs. Do you have a better explanation for how LC came up with that psychedelic imagery? It was like H.R. Pufnstuf in lit-form. Certainly, it wouldn’t pass for children’s fiction today. Oh wait—then how does one explain the Teletubbies? I digress.

Where is my job today?
Paula Cole “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”
Where is my John Wayne?

I don’t mean to be such a downer, but in this economy, this one isn’t such a stretch.

Been through the desert on a horse with no brain
America “Horse With no Name”
Been through the desert on a horse with no name

This might have been the product of the listener smoking pot while listening to this song, which, pretty much, is the best way to enjoy this tune.

If the horse had no brain, but did have a name, would he know? I might be able to ponder that philosophically if I wasn’t so baked.

What if I’m a mummy in these jeans of his?
Tori Amos “Crucify”
What if I’m a mermaid in these jeans of his?

Pfft. Mermaids are so 80’s. Mummies are the “it” mythical creature du jour. They are like caterpillars emerging from their cocoons into beautiful . . . zombies.   

Run amok that ill
Kate Bush “Running Up That Hill”
Running up that hill 

This is just stupid. It is beneath my intellect to even formulate a response. Puh!

He got a raisin in his shoe
Jim Croce “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”
He got a razor in his shoe

What up, bitch? I’m walkin’ on nature’s sunshine fruit. That’s right. I’m bad.

As an aside, is it just me or does the new version of the Sun-Maid girl look like she would spread her legs for anyone who found his or her way into that vineyard? Just curious.

Kiss your soul heart. I’ll take your breast away
Sarah McLachlan “Possession”
Kiss you so hard. I’ll take your breath away

Wow. That is . . . awful. As if the song wasn’t creepy enough, that crosses the line from stalker to serial killer. Thanks for tonight’s nightmare.    

I believe I saw La Bamba (jet planes)
CSN “Woodstock”
I believe I saw the bombers (jet planes) 

It was a passenger plane in which the music died, not to get technical.

Watch the freakers eat Kenneth is your, Benzedrine all wet?
R.E.M. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth”
What’s the frequency, Kenneth, is your Benzedrine, uh-huh.

Um . . . what? It sounds like their Benzedrine did get all wet, with some unforseen side-effects. Either that, or they got hit harder than Dan Rather did by the lunatic who attacked him screaming that question.

We are the priests of the temple with earrings
Rush “The Temples of Syrinx”
We are the priests of the temples of Syrinx 

Since most priests are closet homosexuals, that doesn’t surprise me. I know I know. It’s wrong. Sick and wrong!

And you steal rat meat in your Jesus Christ pose
Soundgarden “Jesus Christ Pose”
And you stare at me in your Jesus Christ pose

Maybe that’s why communion wafers taste like crap? 

Bunnies on the table, the fire is cooking
Temple of the Dog “Hunger Strike”
But it’s on the table, the fire is cooking

That doesn’t sound like much of a hunger strike to me. Don’t get me started on the fluffy bunnies. 

If there’s a barstool and your head rolls, don’t be alarmed now
Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven”
If there’s a bustle in your hedge row, don’t be alarmed now

No chance of being alarmed, of course, considering my head inexplicably became detached from my body at the mere presence of a barstool. At most, my last sentient thought would be trying to connect the dots on that non sequiter

You can tell by the way that I use my wok, that I’m a wooden man
Bee Gees “Staying Alive”
You can tell by the way that I use my walk, that I’m a woman’s man 

You get a hard-on while making kung pao chicken? Kinky.   

Grab your teeth I’ve come to take you home
Peter Gabriel “Salisbury Hill”
Grab your things I’ve come to take you home 

Said the man to his grandfather in Salisbury Hill nursing home. Totally plausible.  

The pinball wizard’s got such a super ass
The Who “Pinball Wizard”
The pinball wizard got such a supple wrist

I bet Elton John made that very observation.

Leaping lost anus
Sheryl Crow “Leaving Las Vegas”
Leaving Las Vegas 

Since a lot of people have had their asses beaten in Vegas, it is apt, albeit a bizarre way to put it.

My dad lay and poohed on my room below
Pearl Jam “Jeremy”
The dead lay in pools of maroon below

No wonder that kid lost his shit.

Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gum in your hair?
Jimi Hendrix “Hey Joe”
Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand 

To add insult to injury, the cheating bitch spat her Wrigley Spearmint into Jimi’s fro? Damn right she deserved to get shot!

In Nam’ bodies float
Jimmy Buffet “Margaritaville”
It’s nobody’s fault 

And napalm sticks to kids.

Woman shits on the water, very queer
Crosby, Stills and Nash “Wooden Ships”
Wooden ships on the water, very clear 

A floating version of a Boston plate job; that’s definitely some kinky shit. 

They come to pluck the rooster
Alice in Chains “Rooster”
They come to snuff the rooster 

Is plucking the rooster foreplay for choking the chicken? Me torture you long time, Yankee!

Feelin’ like a ham and mustard shake
Stone Temple Pilots “Interstate Love Song”
Feelin’ like a hand in rusted shame 

Huh. Oddly specific, but I suppose it would suck to feel that way. Or at least you’d feel like Hell after you drank that!

Dr. Bronner’s Manic Soap

This image of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps is probably a familiar one. They are a line of hemp-based, castile soaps that do not have any harsh detergents in it, just organic oils that are saponified into soap and glycerin. Being a natural product, it is available in whole-health and food-type establishments; it can also be found in big-box stores such as Target. The basic soap, being scented with peppermint, is gentle and tingles on the skin as it cleanses the body. It is labeled “Certified Fair Trade,” promoting its holistic purpose. Oh, it is certified, or maybe “certifiable” would be a better word. It occurred to me, as I read what is essentially a manifesto on the bottle, that the aforementioned tingle is the slight burn one feels as a holy liquid touches wicked flesh.   

This bottle of madness is a convenient, albeit unorthodox (ironic word choice, I know), delivery of the ultimate message: Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! Teach the Moral ABC that unites all mankind free, instantly 6 billion strong & we’re All-One. “Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One.” I would say you couldn’t make that shit up, but Dr. Bronner did. He needed an editor, most definitely. He had serious diarrhea of the pen. Besides that, we hit 7 billion this year, and yes, someone is counting. Also, what is up with the oddly placed capitalizations? I understand the God thing, but All-One, Children Eternal, etc.? Is there only one? Did he know something that we don’t? Apparently, and he laid it all out to his minions for some light reading while being anointed by his magically miracle soap. 

The Moral ABC is an amalgamation of Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, as well as Dr. Batty’s (I know, ad hominems won’t get me into Heaven) views that supposedly evolved from Buddhist and Jewish as well as Christian teachings. I read Kipling’s poem. Like Manson gleaning murderous intentions from the Beatles’ Helter Skelter, Doc B’s interpretation of a poem about what passes for British virtue is almost as puzzling. I say almost, because it was considered an inspirational poem. And with that, I guess the Moral ABC is meant to inspire us to be good. I am assuming he consulted the Bhagavad Gita in his research; I haven’t read it. If it is anything as vast as the Moral ABCs, I’ll pass. They make Martin Luther’s 95 Theses look like a grocery list in comparison. 

I think there are 144 of them, but am not sure. He skipped around a lot. He jumped from the 1st to the 5th to the 7th, eventually to the 13th. On the back of the bottle, he miraculously got to 76, and then fast-forwarded to 144 at the bottom of the label. I won’t bore you with the details, but here are some blurbs: 

God’s Spaceship Earth (Umm . . . huh?); All One! All One! Exceptions Eternally? Absolute None! (Again with the caps and weird syntax!); Small minds decay! (I’ll buy that); Each swallow works hard to be perfect pilot-provider-builder-trainer-teacher-lover-mate, no half-true hate! (Eh, I got nothing); Thank God we don’t descend down from perfect Adam & Even to sinful sinner (Well duh, a sinner is sinful. Fucking Christ do I hate redundancy in writing); Free Speech is man’s only weapon against half-truth (Fred Phelps must use this soap); To dream that impossible dream! To reach that unreachable star! (Try making your goals a little less lofty, m’kay?)‘Til All-One, All-One we are! (For those about to rock, we salute you! Testifyyyyyy!) 

The bottle keeps rolling off my desk and quite frankly, I’m tired. I have perfect vision, well, maybe not Adam and Eve perfect, but reading that small, white print is straining my eyes. But dagnabbit, do I feel especially saved right now. What’s that parable about a blind man? Anyway. 

I trust I am not the first to write about this soap, nor will I be the last. There is even a documentary about the man, which I have not seen. That said, I figured in writing this, I should use my journalistic skills to find out more about the man behind the soap. 

Okay, so I am not a journalist. I just googled his name and clicked on links until I found a photograph: 

Why doesn’t it surprise me he looked insane? However, I didn’t expect such an uncanny resemblance to this guy: 

That’s right—Herr Döktor from The Human Centipede. Take a moment to compare the two. Scroll up, scroll down. Coincidence? 

Like your average mere mortal, I just went to Wikipedia for some background information. I can’t confirm if Dr. Bronner, born Emanuel Bronner in Germany in 1908, was really a doctor, but it sounds like he had a pretty tumultuous existence. His parents were killed in the Holocaust and he suffered shock treatments in an Illinois mental hospital after he was arrested for publicly announcing his Moral ABCs. He later escaped from the hospital, settling in California to start his soap-making enterprise. He died in 1997; I assume it was of natural causes. His surviving family has continued his legacy since then. It stated they modify the label as needed, but I find that claim suspect. 

Gotta give him credit, the guy was devoted to his crazy cause. Okay, I’m finished picking on that whacky dude. He lived a rough life, so I’ll give him latitude for that. And I have to say: His soap rocks. 

This has to be the most multi-functional product I have encountered. It is meant for cleaning the body (and soul), but it works just as well on other things. I clean my cat’s litter box with it—just a few squirts in the water are enough to neutralize the odor. I can also use it in the laundry. Because I was cursed with sensitive skin (why hast thou forsaken me with that affliction?), I can’t use artificial fragrances in my soaps and detergents. While those “free and clear” detergents do clean just as effectively as their fragrant brethren, they don’t handle pungent odors well. All it takes is a few drops of his soap with the detergent, and my laundry smells fresh again! 

I also make a sugar scrub with it and sometimes add more coconut oil for extra moisturizing. I don’t mean to imply that St. Bronner needs an abrasive substance to help scour the impiety from flesh, but there is no such thing as over-compensation in the war against evil. Plus, I do feel extra purified afterwards. 

I recommend not using the soap on your naughty bits, and definitely do not get it in your eyes. While not as bad as throwing holy water on a vampire, it is quite unpleasant. Apparently, those dirty parts of the anatomy have seen and experienced so many nefarious things, they are beyond redemption. 

I stumbled upon an additional use for this soap recently. How to start? Umm . . . I, erm, was given—AGAINST MY WILL!—a couple of glass thingamajiggies used for something unholy. Yes. God makes this iniquitous substance, so it should be okay, right? No, he did it just to test us! They were too pretty to throw away, so I decided—for the greater good—to salvage them. Nothing was working to purge these pipes, er, demonic delivery devices, of the vile contraband. Repeated soakings with dish soap, as well as numerous rubbing alcohol dips, did little to make these objects chaste once again. In a rapturous moment, it occurred to me to soak them in hot water and his hemp (the irony did not escape me) soap. Dr. B exorcised the ashes of that evil plant straight to HELL! Yay-yah! Dr. Bronner saved me from eternal damnation! Again! 

I trust this soap has even more uses, but it is a bit pricey at $9.99–$14.99 a bottle. That exorcism used up a few bucks worth alone. Perhaps I am governed by my household budget, but it seems I shouldn’t be so indulgent with my Savior’s resources. I’m sure it says that somewhere in the Bible.

Hot diggity yog-a!

I have had an on again, off again, love affair with yoga for the past 15 years. This form of exercise is excellent for the mind, body, and soul. It has a calming effect as it improves flexibility, strength, and overall fitness. Then why can’t I stick with it, usually? Yes, the time and money are commitments I am not always able to afford. Even then, I could practice it on my own. Unfortunately, there are certain activities that fair better with a group dynamic, i.e., motivating someone who is not a great self-starter, such as I. Thinking back to some of the rituals that are woven into the practice, I realized that it is the “soul” part I have issue with. 

The concept of a soul is an intangible, thus nebulous, one. I don’t believe we have physical souls, not in a religious sense. I am not biased against spirituality, per se, because it can mean different things to different people. My views happen to align more with Eastern philosophies than the monotheistic principles ever prevalent in our Western cultures. I feel there is positive and negative energy, but as is scientifically proven, it cannot be created or destroyed. Thus, we must convert what we have. We should draw on what is around us, such as nature, to enrich our spirit (life essence) to make us feel “whole.” I put that in quotes, because I really don’t know what that means, much less what it feels like to be complete.  

As I am fundamentally opposed to organized religion, I certainly don’t attend a yoga class for a ceremony. Due to a pesky little Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I seriously need to achieve a Zen-like state if I don’t want to have a premature death from some stress-related illness. But, I need to discover that on my own while enlisting help as needed. It is called inner peace for a reason; it’s private, damn it. Also, I feel rather stupid participating in some of the peculiar mantras I’ve been exposed to in different forms of yoga. 

Of all the styles I’ve tried, Vinyasa is my favorite. The poses are challenging and numerous. It is a real workout. When I leave class, I am calm and my mind clear as I focus on my body that I pushed into a delicious fatigue. Depending on the instructor, the class could be peppered with some philosophical ramblings that I must focus energy on tuning out. I get nothing out of them, and they distract me from my purpose for being there. One instructor actually read a passage out of some Taoist text. I couldn’t even follow what she was saying. I tried to listen initially, but I was in the back of the room and her voice was getting lost. I was left sitting there for five minutes, doing nothing. Could I get a refund for that portion? The hour-and-a-half class cost $18. I want my $1.00 back! Oh yeah, Namaste and all that. 

All forms of yoga are designed to improve flexibility, strength, as well as breath-control. Hatha is a gentle style with an emphasis on poses that promote tranquility. I guess that would explain why the instructor wanted to keep her vocal instruction soft and tender so as not to jostle us out of our meditative state. That was very thoughtful of her, but it had the unexpected result of making me giggle. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when my is in a constant state of unrest, perhaps I needed more focus. As we were in corpse pose—the most common way to end a class by lying on the back in complete relaxation—she spoke ever-so gently to us. “Close your eyes, and reeelllaaaaa . . .” No, the ‘x’ is not broken on my keyboard, nor did she get something stuck in her throat at that last syllable, she deliberately omitted it, evidenced by three more requests that we rela [sic]. Okay, I gave her that one. Perhaps the sharp sound of that coveted Scrabble tile is a bit harsh. “Shanti shAHHHNTI . . . SHAhnti.” said what? I wanted to describe phonetically the way she chanted that, or should I say, sang it. Be that as it may, it was plain goofy. What does shanti mean, anyway? I just looked it up. Peace, it means peace. Then fucking say that instead of getting all pretentious on me with a word I would never use in normal conversation. Yeah yeah yeah, Namaste

I should beware of what I wish for, I know. I get it! I got a Groupon I am currently using up at a school that promotes peace in all forms: Peace yoga, self-defense, peace-breathing meditation, peace, peace, and more peace. I’m fine with that, even if it was to basically dig out a niche in the market of this vast and popular form of exercise. Really, the poses weren’t too different from those in Hatha. What really sets it apart, I found out within a couple minutes of my first class, is the breathing exercise they practice. “Inhale wooooorrrrrrrllllldddddd. Exhale peeeeeaaaaaccceeee.” Over and over again. Yes, in the grand scheme of things it is innocuous and means well. But, it is a platitude, and platitudes annoy me. I complained to a friend that no matter how heavily we aspirate our desire and positive energy for world peace, it ain’t gonna happen in a modest yoga class. She said that it probably meant that you were supposed to wish peace for yourself. Well, then, it should be “Inhale meeeeeeee, exhale . . .” Anyway. 

I could forgive that banal, albeit stupid ritual. I could not abide my awful experience when I went to one of their Saturday classes recently. It started out strangely enough with an odd way to stretch. The instructor didn’t just pull her head to her shoulder, her head and shoulder spasmed together for two repetitions. I thought pulsating stretches went away with the Flash Dance era; they risk injury. While it looked cool when Jennifer Beals’ dance-double did it, it is much safer to ease into a static stretch. This just looked silly. As I tried to mimic her tic—which did nothing beneficial for my muscles—I felt like I was trying to do the beginning of the “Thriller” dance. You know the one. I then started to think about zombies. Since they are so popular right now, why not develop a form of yoga in homage to the mythical beasts. Zombie Yoga. Zombya. Vampire Yoga would be ill-advised. First, we’d have to get in and out of the poses faster than humanly possible. Plus, some of them have the potential to turn bloody and violent, which is antithetical to the yogi way. Zombie Yoga makes more sense. “Inhale wooooorrrrrlldddd” GRRRRRRRR. “Exhale peeeeeaaaaccceeeee.” GRRRRRRRR! Their disposition, or if the undead can even have one, can be argued both ways. Are they just chilling, or are they in a perpetual state of agitation due to their constant quest for food? If the former, it is a Zen we should strive to achieve through practice. If the latter, then it could get weird. “Inhale bbbbrrrraaaaaiiiinnnsssss. Exhale eeeeeaaaaaattttt.” Something to ponder. I’m calling firsties if a Zombya studio pops up, by the way. Nyum-nyum-brai, grr, I mean, Namaste

I can ignore the spazo-tic and just stretch my own way, so that’s what I did. I can’t ignore kids. Being a peace-promoting school, they encourage children to participate. I think that is great to introduce the wonders of yoga at an early age. Like the dojo, it needs to be respected. The evil brats I was surrounded by were obviously brought there by force by their peace-loving parents. Ironic, eh? I also commend any new mother to get back on the fitness wagon, but shit, leave the newborn at home with a sitter. My was a bit bothered from the cooing, but I figured that was my problem. What sweeter sound is there than a happy baby? A quiet one, I say. When the baby turned fussy and started crying, it became everyone’s problem. The mother spent the rest of the class in the bathroom, so our practice was accompanied by muffled cries the whole time. At one point, a photographer came in to take pictures of the students. Of course, she aimed the camera at me. Since I was sans make-up, had my hair in pigtails, and no doubt had a pissy look on my face, I certainly wasn’t photo-ready. But what could I do? My third eye visualized a missile taking her out and freeing me from her crosshairs is what I did. What the hell was she doing there, anyway?  

Midway through the class, we were in meditation pose and focused on our breathing. After several inhale worlds and exhale peaces, the instructor thankfully had us continue on our own. Ahhh, silence. When she spoke again, a kid behind me sighed, “Finally.” It was pretty funny in retrospect, but inappropriate. My sense of humor at that point was conspicuously absent. I lay blame on the frequent interruptions from my own quest for inner peace with the imps’ chatter. I know they are still fairly new to this whole ability to talk thing, but why can’t they nix the conversation for an hour? Since they will have extra years on this earth if they stick to yoga, it is a relative brief period of time that would be gone in a blink of the eye. They have their whole lives ahead of them to flap their gums. There was one hellion positioned behind me who was very ungraceful and loud as he did his poses. Thump thump thump! Cripes, a zombie would be lighter on his feet. It was seriously skunking my . I told myself that the next crash from one of his limbs would result in a warning slam of my fist right in front of him. Peace could bite me; I’d declare war on that little monster. 

The fucker had to take a piss, so of course he announced it to the whole class with a whack! whack! of his legs. I welcomed the respite from that little ball of evil, albeit briefly. When he finished, he felt it was more important to close the bathroom door all the way than not disrupt the class. Whomp! Whomp! SLAM! My shoulders collapsed as I turned to him and gave him a “really?” look. He was unphased. That is, until his father came from the front of the class to scold him in a harsh whisper. I rather enjoyed that, until I realized: You dumped your kid in the back of the class to leave us to deal with him? My said, “Bugger this. I’m outta here.” My body stayed, but my spirit took a hike as my mind plotted World War III. Kiss my ass, Namaste

Pointless mantras are bad enough, but that last experience risked souring me to yoga. It was the first time I left a yoga class more tense than when I arrived. It was beyond frustrating. Then, my friend came to the rescue with a gift of a hot yoga class.  

Hot yoga is the generic name and derivative style for the Bikram method. Due to copyright protection, only Bikram-sanctioned studios may use that name. For the others, the postures may vary but the concept is still the same. Participants perform 26 Asanas in a 105-degree room; reason being that the heat and humidity warm the body to make the muscles and joints more flexible for deeper stretches. The body must also expend energy to cool it off, thus resulting in anywhere from 500-1,000 calories burned in an average 1.5 hour class. I was excited, but due to my heat-sensitivity, a bit apprehensive. 

Deciding to only bring positive energy to the experience, I was stoked when I arrived at the studio. I walked into the room and felt like I entered a sauna. I then thought I was screwed. But, I followed the rules and didn’t talk and just focused on acclimatizing myself to the heat while in corpse pose. When the class started, the instructor introduced me and said that I had a free pass. Meaning, the regulars get the verbal equivalent of a riding crop to their rumps if they slack off, while my only goal was to stay in the room the whole time. While the amnesty I was granted was reassuring, my competitive side did not wish me to be complacent. I got through the whole class with sitting out on only three reps (each pose is performed at least twice). There were several times that I thought I was going to pass out, and about five Asanas into it, I was hoping for a 45-minute corpse pose, but I stuck to it. The instructor told me at the end that I did a great job and she forgot a few times that I was a beginner. That was rewarding, but I didn’t need the compliment. I accomplished one of the most difficult workouts I have ever endured, and live to write about it. While the class didn’t end that way, I would have happily done so with a Namaste

And you know what? I kind of loved it. There was no ceremony, no platitudes, just instruction on how to push your body to its limits. The mind can focus only on the moment, leaving the spirit to sort things out later. As I discussed in my last post, Starting Over, I have a blocked vein that makes a lot of activities more challenging. Being a lymphoma survivor, my lymphatic and circulatory systems—those responsible for fluid movement—are sluggish. This is the most I’ve sweated in about 20 years. I looked like I jumped in a lake with my clothes on, and felt like I was internally cleansed of impurities. Going in and out of the poses left me breathless and lightheaded at times because of the blockage, so it was extremely difficult. But, I could feel that the more I do it, the stronger I will get and the less my condition will bog me down. It can only benefit me, so the time and money are worth it. As I stated in Starting Over, I am worth it.   

Vinyasa is still my style of choice, but between running and hot yoga, my mind and spirit just may show my body who is boss.

Starting Over

I run, I run,
And I run—
Till I am out of breath
Till I lose the energy that keeps me going

I run, I run,
And I run—
Till I can go no more,
Till I fall to my defeat.

But I rise up,
I take a deep breath,
And start over.

I dug out my childhood book of poetry recently, and found this little gem called “Starting Over.” Back when I wrote this, when I was 15 years old, I was surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response, as I didn’t really view it as poetry, per se. My fledgling creative self thought that all poems should rhyme, even to its own peril. It couldn’t hold a candle to my childlike ode to spring: Spring is here, let’s all cheer, for this warm day, that comes our way. I wince from embarrassment that I wrote such an infantile piece of tripe, albeit before my age reached the double-digits. Thankfully, I have improved greatly through practice, as well as maturity from life experiences that I draw inspiration for more profound topics. 

Reading “Starting Over” again 28 years after its creation, I appreciate now why it was considered poetry, and of decent quality at that. I am not sure where I got the inspiration for it, although, Manfred Mann’s “Runner” was released that same year, and I recall it being a song I was quite drawn to at the time. Still, I was not an athletic child, nor did I gravitate toward running as a form of exercise. Yet, I chose that activity to symbolically express the hurdles we encounter and the way that they can be overcome—quite simply, by soldiering on. Even years later, as a seasoned lyric writer, I can’t think of a more direct and astute way to poetically convey that. It doesn’t cease to surprise me how insightful we can be as children and young adults, as well as the clarity that our youthful, non-jaundiced eyes can see. 

Back in 2003, I wound up in the emergency room feeling like I was slowly suffocating to death. The CT scan revealed a tumor the size of a grapefruit compressing my right lung and superior vena cava. The mass was life threatening due to how rapidly that the tumor was growing. If I had waited even a week to get treatment, it would have been too late. A surgical biopsy was needed as soon as possible to determine the next course of action. It was Stage II Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; I spent the rest of the year getting chemotherapy and radiation. I responded remarkably well to the therapy, but developed blood clots from the chemo. While Heparin and Coumadin dissolved them and prevented more from forming, one left a permanent mark in the form of a scar in my subclavian vein. I didn’t know that until after I went into remission and started experiencing problems after my body started to recover from the numerous assaults inflicted upon it. 

Even though the doctors gave it a gentler-sounding euphemistic diagnosis of an “occluded vein,” the effects of it could not be softened. Every day, I feel it to some degree. The most tolerable is a numbing pressure in my head above the nape of my neck. I feel a bit winded as the blood pools in my head and face when I rise from a squat or bending over. I learned to slowly ease out of those positions to mitigate that response. It becomes problematic when my head throbs. It borders on painful when it moves down my neck to my upper back; it is debilitating when it pulses like a hot electric current down through my gluteus muscles into my hamstrings. That is when my balance is thrown off and my vision becomes blurry in my left eye (the blockage is in my left vein). A sharp, sudden noise, such as a hammer, causes a painful spasm in the connective tissue in my neck. I won’t sugarcoat this: It sucks. I got a raw deal; I feel like I sacrificed freedom and gave a piece of my happiness in payment for my life. Even when I don’t experience it physically, I am reminded of my battle with cancer every time I see the muted roadmap of collateral veins on my torso. The wondrously adaptive mechanism of our bodies designs alternative routes for the blood to find its way to the heart when the original ones don’t function properly. 

The things that cause a flare up—barometric pressure changes, excessive stress, or strain on the lower body through exercise, injury, or standing for long periods—were what I discovered on my own through processes of experimentation and elimination. I have gotten little to no help from the plethora of specialists I have seen. There is, however, a consensus on the prognosis: There is no cure or treatment for it. I was assured it should not be life threatening, but I do have to handle myself with care. I also found that the less excess weight and body fat I carry, the better I feel. Essentially, the less effort my body requires to function, the more efficiently it will operate. 

It was not serendipitous that I rediscovered this poem. I believe subconsciously, I was drawn to it. Why? Because as a response to my father’s death earlier this year and a resulting increased concern with my own health, I started running. For exercise, that is. It was also a way to cope with the trauma and the realities of my own mortality. I couldn’t run away from my problems, but unexpectedly, I found I could run them off—literally and figuratively. The physical benefits of running three times per week have been palpable. I have more energy, am leaner, and the symptoms of the occluded vein have lessened. The reason for the latter is two-fold: I have less body fat that could interfere with the venous flow; Davis’s Law states that when soft tissue undergoes stress, it adapts. My vessels are being taxed from the exertion, and just as my body built the collateral veins, it strengthened the walls in order to accommodate the additional load placed upon them. 

The less tangible effects are what got me thinking about how such a simple yet dynamic physical act can turn into a symbolic life-lesson. When I first started back in June, I could barely make a half a mile before I was sucking wind and had to slow to a walk for the rest of the course. It was a discouraging start, but something propelled me forward. After a little over a month, I was making at least two miles. I set a goal for myself at the end of August to make it to four miles without stopping. I reached that distance on August 7. I felt on top of the world. However, I have not been able to maintain that consistently. I was temporarily sidelined by travel and a couple of knee injuries, but even then, I made the effort to run at least a mile. If I didn’t, then I feared I would lose the drive and give up. While I can’t say that I enjoy running, as it is uncomfortable to exert so much effort, I have the utmost respect for it. There is something galvanizing about pushing my body to its limits. Just when I think I will hit a wall, I can set my sights on a stopping point further ahead, yet find myself running past it. Eight years ago, my body let me down; now, it is reassuring me that my mind sets the pace, and that everything else will follow. How liberating. 

I have come to a begrudging acceptance of my situation. I have no choice. There is always a possibility that a respite, if not a complete cure, could be found. Discover Magazine published an article earlier this year regarding a development in stem cell research. A San Diego biotech company designed an organ “printer” that created the first artificial blood vessel made entirely from human cells. Could that mean that something similar would be able to generate new paths to make the blood flow more smoothly in my body, thus decreasing my ordeal? Perhaps, but it may not happen in this lifetime. It is far from a guarantee, so I must play the hand that I’ve been dealt. Where it stands, there are still consequences to putting my body through the trenches. More times than not, I experience ill effects. They get less extreme the stronger I become through pushing myself. Even though I will never be rid of it completely, it is worth the time and energy. I’m worth it. 

Incidentally, I have pressure in my head as I write this, due to running this morning. Poetic, eh?