Wednesday, October 05, 2011

One sad apple

Steve Jobs has died. And I'm emotional about it.

While I use a Mac, and I have an iPhone and numerous iPods, and while my iPad is the first piece of technology I can say I truly love, I cannot say I was ever a fan. Of Jobs, or even, really, of Apple.

When I got my first Mac about 7 years ago, I would tell anyone who asked it was like a quicky wedding in Vegas: You marry the shiny guy spur of the moment and spend the rest of your life trying to make it work. I'm artsy and all about aesthetics, but it wasn't intuitive to me. And I didn't like all the smug Macsters out there. And I never rooted for them as the scrappy underdog probably because they never behaved like an underdog, modeling all that same smugness.

I knew people who knew Steve and said he was an asshole. I knew someone who interviewed with him and said he was an asshole. I knew someone else who interviewed with him and loved him.

I never liked him, but I admired him. While maybe not an underdog -- and I am a sucker for the underdog -- what Jobs was to me is a true believer. And I'm a sucker for that more than anything else in the world.

Over the years, I heard more from Steve and admired what he had to say: You can't connect the dots going forward. Steve, from what I could tell, was a spiritual man who trusted his gut. And believed it fully. Wholeheartedly. "The truth is in here," he seemed to be saying. And as someone who has worked most of her life for, and with, large employers, a successful CEO saying intuition has its place in business, well, that was saying something directly to me.

Being an asshole, I think, is easy. Being the loudest voice in the room, the most certain, the one bogarting the ideas -- that's easy. But being the one who trusts his gut, the one who consistently steps off the ledge with complete faith (but not without fear), that's not easy. That takes courage.

Courage I haven't always had, but courage I every day strive to build. And as I continue to shake off the coat of someone else's life, I take Steve as a mentor, a guide to trusting that you know what you know. And that what you know has value.

Steve was true. That's my eulogy. In clean, streamlined, minimalist black and white.

Rock of ages

Chloe can’t stop thinking about the Pope. Or, more specifically, the Pope’s feet. The way they stuck out from the end of the shroud as he lay in state – his right foot slightly to the right while the left stuck straight up. It made John Paul (she feels she can call him “John Paul”) vulnerable in a way that has her weeping, sometimes uncontrollably.

Chloe is not Catholic, in fact, she has some serious problems with the Catholic church, yet she is drawn to its sense of ritual. Chloe loves a good ritual. She likes feeling connected.

In Los Angeles, Chloe studies Jewish mysticism. She is known as a quiet and serious student. She is quiet and serious because she doesn’t want her classmates to know that she is not Jewish. On Friday evenings, she shuts her door, lights a candle, puts a shawl on her head, and says a prayer. She can’t sit and do nothing the rest of the weekend, but the prayers feel good.

This is part of Chloe’s ritual.

One Friday a month Chloe goes to chanting yoga. In the hot, hot room when those around her are chanting Maha Mantras, Chloe whispers the Lord’s prayer. It’s what she knows, what comforts her.

This is part of Chloe’s ritual.

In New York she goes to St. John’s. No matter how hot the day, it feels cool in the church. She doesn’t genuflect because she doesn’t know how and feels it might signal her as a non-Catholic. What she does is light candles – she puts a dollar in the tin box and lights a candle – for her dead mother, and another for her friend who died of AIDS, and another for her grandparents, also dead, and then – with a sense of excitement that comes from tempting fate – she lights one for herself.

This is part of Chloe’s ritual.

More than anything in the world, Chloe wants a connection to God and a sense of purpose. Chloe has been looking for this her entire life. Not finding it is pissing her off.

Chloe has a deep-rooted metaphysical anger that speaks to a lack, the things we are not, the missing pieces, the holes in our souls we try to hide. The lack that circles around and becomes religion.

Chloe is angry and not just in the ways that everyone living in cities is angry – at late trains, crowded freeways, SUVs, and impossibly stupid people. And not just in the ways that everyone with a blue sensibility is angry – at redneck government, at escalating violence, at racism and brutality masquerading as democracy, at out-of-control, thinly masked material lust. Chloe used to think of her country as Gregory Peck – possessed of dignity and good will, if occasionally overblown. Now she recognizes her country as Chris Farley: sweaty and red-faced, killing itself with its own appetites.

Chloe has a secret – she is a born-again Christian. This also makes her angry – she is angry at being embarrassed by her faith; angry that her religion has been stolen by the Right, making her beliefs synonymous with crazy. She is angry that her religion is the faith of politics.

For 30 years, she’s turned her back on it. And looked for God in other places.

Chloe feels God: In the breeze in the high birch trees, in her memories of her mother, in laughter. Chloe feels God but worries that God doesn’t feel her. She is a conflicted Christian: She believes in Heaven, but not in Hell. She believes in the resurrection, but not in Adam and Eve. She is pro-choice and anti-death penalty. She believes everyone should marry who they want and have the right to end their lives when illness or misery become too much. After reading that sin is defined as a separation from God, she thought of the Pope’s feet.

Her separation from God makes her cry. She cries over women in Africa, over soldiers in Iraq, over prisoners in every part of the world. She cries over violence in schools, homeless animals, her own faithlessness.

Most of all, Chloe cries because her place in the world, as a modern woman, grounded in science and left-wing politics and fashion, in cynicism and fatalism and sarcasm, leaves her no outlet for her grief: Over the loss of her religion Over her need for a sacred connection

More than anything in the world, Chloe wants what was promised her: A transcendent experience, baptismal waters, eternal life, and a sense of well-being that surpasses the everyday.

So she keeps looking. Getting up, getting out, applying lipstick, facing the world.

This is part of Chloe’s ritual.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Catch me if you can

One Saturday, I was in a real big hurry, racing down Magnolia Drive, NPR on too loud, important thoughts in my head: Love money marriage Prada shoes retirement planning. Suddenly, there’s a young Hasidic boy chasing a ball in front of my car. I stop fast, real fast, squealing, people-look-up-from-their-newspapers fast. The boy? Picks up his ball, smiles and runs back to the curb.

I crave faith like that. Not the one that has me facing 100-degree Angelino heat in a black wool suit but the one that has me facing danger with a smile. I crave that one.

I always have. I’ve read the Bible four times, four different translations. I studied Kabbalah – before Madonna made it vogue. I studied yoga and meditation and drumming and chanting – anything that would get me out of my head and into some other place.

I went to a yoga retreat and could not, COULD NOT, achieve Eagle pose. Tiko, the instructor, was one of those small, freakishly wiry men of no discernible age. I was resisting, I could feel it, which made it even more embarrassing. “Carline, Carline, Carline.” I closed my eyes and tried to focus. “You lack concentration.” Well, now you’re just making me nervous. “I should not affect you. Downward facing dog!” I changed position, Tiko pulling up on my hips. “Carline. Are you breathing? The breath is your chariot to the self.” What? “Your chariot waits for you and you do not want it.” Yes I do. “Then you must be open to receive it.”

Oh, Christ, I’d done the receiving work soooo many times, open, open, open, receive, receive, receive, blah, blah, blah. “Whatever.”

“Cobra!” I slid forward, hating this one, hating Tiko, hating everything. “You must receive the practice. You do not do the practice, you receive it.”

“What is it that you want?” I looked up at him from cobra, arms straight, back arched, chest open. “I want God.”

“Then you must let God come to you. Child’s pose.”

I pulled back into a tight curl.

“Carline. Keep breathing and at the end of your life is a palm.”

I’d drifted away for a moment there. What? “A palm?” “Yes, a palm.”

I was flooded with the old familiar sense that there’s a code to the divine and I just don’t have the key. “What kind of palm? A date palm, a coconut palm, a banana palm? WHAT?!”

Tiko crouched down next to me – I couldn’t see him, but for all his flexibility his knees cracked like shotguns. I turned my head. He held out his hand.

“A palm. At the end of your life is a palm.”

A palm, a big huge hand to catch you. We are each a universe in miniature. God is becomingness. Kabbalah teaches us how to shatter without being destroyed. Your chariot waits for you and you must receive it.

The search for God is its own kind of faith – In not giving up, in believing that what you seek you will find. God knows my intention. “The leap into the arms of Christ is more difficult for some than others.”

I’m in midair.

Namaste. Shalom. Amen.

Shameful confession #12

At my job I have a security badge. I look awful in the photo. My fear is that if I continue to work here, I will become more and more that person. Around the corner from my desk is a short hallway. For many, this is just a shortcut from the elevator to the restrooms. For me, it’s the corporate version of a death march. The hall is lined with The Women, the women I might become if I stay too long. The Women are all middle-aged, single, and making the most of it (or the best of it, depending). There are five of them, in five separate cubes. Five separate cubes that each has decided to make her own.

The cubes are stunning in the “dumb-struck” sense of the word: One gal has picket fencing attached to the front of her desk and a garden-ful of potted silk hydrangeas, faux Tiffany desk lamps (even the whimsical stained glass turtle), and a length of polyester damask swagged across one wall. Another has made collages of photos of her boss’s children – pasted to wood cut like hearts and clouds, and decoupaged with inspirational slogans and plastic flowers. A third gal has created an homage to our Lord Jesus Christ. There are portraits in elaborate gilt frames; casual poses in Lucite or ceramic; hand-crayoned pages from an evangelical coloring book; and a signed photo of Mel Gibson that reads, “Thanks for sharing my ‘Passion’!” I was raised born-again Christian and this offends me.

The most chilling, though, is the most minimalist. There are very few personal items, no home décor, no mini-fridge stocked with Weight Watcher’s desserts. What gives me chills, what causes me to look away as I pass, is a simple ceramic plaque that says, “Pets are God’s giggles.”

The hall makes me woozy with its invitation to consider this 6x8 space a sort of second home and feel free to cozy it up. I’m afraid that age, missed opportunities and a few failed relationships will have me thinking that a couple of dupioni cushions or an aromatherapy candle wouldn’t be out of place at the office. Is this how it starts?

It’s not just the cubes, it’s the gals themselves, with their Oprah and their Hondas and their condos. It’s their jewelry parties. I resent them for making me aware of jewelry parties and candle parties and holiday ornament making parties and recipe exchange parties.

Yet….they do seem happy with their lives. All are overweight which could mean suppressed rage and disappointment, but in every other respect, they seem….content. So which is better? To be the happy gal in Kohl’s separates with two pugs and a condo? Or the bitter town gal with the acerbic wit and edge? Is there another choice?

I don’t know how to begin to answer that question.

The House of No

Once upon a time there was a little girl who was the

complete opposite of everyone she knew.

She didn’t like loud music

She didn’t like driving with the windows open

She loved the winter

She loved the moon

Sunny days made her tired

No one knew what to do with her.

Her parents said no.

Her grandparents said no.

Her teachers said no.

The father of the boy up the street, who was so nice to everyone, when asked if he would be her father instead of the one she had, said no.

The only time she heard yes was when she asked if she was a princess. She thought she might be because in all the books she read, the princess was the one who was denied, imprisoned, cast out, or put to sleep – things the little girl felt she knew something about. She checked in with her mother who said, “Yes, you are my princess!”

The little girl walked down the stairs, through the kitchen, out the back door, over the wall, across the busy two-lane road, up the hill and into the tall grass, where she lay down to think princess thoughts.

“Hey you! Little girl!” Her thoughts were interrupted. “You, little girl in the grass! You can’t lie there! Get up and go home!”

She looked up at the big blue sky and said, “I am a princess in the House of No.”

She was the opposite of everyone she knew.

Her hair was curly

Her skin was white and didn’t take a tan

She couldn’t play tennis

She liked the library

She liked to be home

She looked in her mother’s mirror. She opened a drawer even though she knew she shouldn’t and took out the light blue plastic box that held 34 one-inch lipsticks and found her favorite, In A Panic. A dark, dark red her mother told her she couldn’t wear because of her skin. She looked at herself and wrote the word NO on her forehead, in big, bright, In A Panic letters.

Later she sat with her family and ate fried chicken. She looked at them and they looked at her but nobody said anything. No one said anything about her word. No one asked what it meant. No one even told her to go to her room and take it off.

She thought they couldn’t see her. She didn’t know they just thought she was weird.

What's the plan?

In my head, it goes something like this: There’s a place. From the outside it looks as crumbling and rock strewn as everything around it.

On the inside, everything is soft and smooth. There are no sharp edges. The color is blue, the shimmery blue of sea glass and good spas. Tile floors are cool in summer, warm in winter.

Only women live here. And they spend their time singing, cooking, or making things out of bright cloth, colorful thread, and beads. Maybe they just sit. Maybe they put their feet in water.

The women who live here are done.

These women are among the hundreds of northern Afghan women who have set themselves on fire as their only means of escaping lives of misery, brutality, indentured servitude and hopelessness.

I think if you have reached the point where you douse yourself in cooking fuel, light a match, and survive, there’s nothing more to be asked of you. Breathe in, breathe out. Be safe. And never again feel rough, sharp, or hot against your skin.

I’m not naïve. I know this isn’t how it’s done. I also know I am one woman, in the west, who’s not wealthy, connected or political. But I’m also one woman, in the west, who has reached the point where I can no longer continue with this. This is where I stop: Too many things enrage me or defeat me.

At a loss for where to begin, I write a check.

Subscribing, reading, posting, listening, watching, the world on fire. So many women pushed to the ground, faces in the dirt, skirts around their waists. Dangerous daughters of Diana.

Women on fire, burning, itching, raging, clawing at the air like blind cats.

What’s the plan? Because there has to be one.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Like a marriage

Sixteen years is like a marriage, my friend said. What makes anything "like a marriage"? Time, intimacy, knowing?  Me and Doug -- 16 years, never really apart.  Ties can stretch thin, but they never break. Friend says it's like separating but not signing the papers -- you're never really apart. He was my man, my heartbeat, my every waking thought.

Sixteen years and never really apart.  I feel such clarity being able to look at the whole of something. Dougie, DEW, Doug-man -- it's like a death. How can this cornerstone of life suddenly not be the cornerstone of this life?  

The physics of separating are what I'm after. The changes in brain chemistry that have to take place to remove a consideration of 16 years.

And love. The alchemy of love -- I think it occurs in our bodies and it's what our bodies endure when the chemistry suddenly changes. Anger is easier to deal with than the slow, physical withdrawal from another person. Anger is the methadone of ending a marriage.

Withdrawal. Emma Thompson said ending her marriage was like having to break the fingers, one at a time, that were holding on. It's not even a choice to hold on -- we have to remind our bodies to let go, to retrain the reflex.

Sixteen years is like a marriage -- for sixteen years, he was my every thought. He is not now my every thought, but many, still, maybe always. Love does not shift the way we'd like it to. Anger is the false confidence, the powdery courage of the relationship bathroom. But there's always a crash -- not even the most unconscious can lie to themselves in those last few seconds before sleep. Truth comes in like the 5:34, dougdougdougdoug. Anger ends and you're left with what you know, that love is not an ever fixed mark.

This is the deal we make: We will always outlive it. 

Sixteen years is like a marriage: The pub in Bath, my hand on your knee, your hand on mine, looking out different windows.

Sixteen years: It was exquisite.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Donde esta los hombres?

People, I could eat me a big bowl of Daniel Craig. With a little tiny spoon.

I don't even really like light men. But I do like real men. Manly men. Not boys, not guys, not fellas.

Same with Don Draper. Or do I mean Jon Hamm? Either way, crazy good-looking. Yes, the social mores of the Mad Men era were such that it was easier for men to don a suit and assume the position  -- I get that. But still.

I love a man in a suit. Always have. Take me to dinner, take off that tie, and take me to bed.

Where are all the men? Why did boys become all the rage? It's one thing to be a boy when you are one, but we've now got these George Clooney boy-men who look so good on screen, but get them walking and talking as themselves and it's all practical jokes, farts, and dufus shenanigans. I do not believe Cary Grant thought farts were funny. But I do believe that George Clooney does.

Can we call a moratorium on the Apatow male? And the androgynous teen idol who is still a teen idol at 35? I can't take Leonardo di Caprio seriously, even when I want to. Even when he wants me to, although I admittedly didn't see that Scorsese film.

It's a quality. A self-posession, an ownership. Even Woody Allen was a man (at least before 1985), albeit not one I would have slept with. But then, what do I know? I wouldn't sleep with Bill Clinton either, but I am told that if you happened to fall under his gaze, you would willingly fall under the man. He owns it, whatever it is.

I was recently in a car with my friend and her two small, kvetchy children. To keep them occupied, she started singing "Where is Thumbkin?"

Where is Thumbkin, where is Pointer, where is Tall Man...

"Aunt Caroline, do you know this song?" "Oh, not very well, sweetheart."

Ring Man, Short Man. "Where are all the men, where are all the men..."

Wait a minute, baby, I believe I do know this one.

Please let's not have Bill Clinton be the poster boy for the It Factor. More men, real men, respectful, stand up guys, with good haircuts, better tailors, and a way with words.

Who's with me?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Sleeping Beauty rolls over

Oh, when the last dream dies, it dies quickly. All other hurts have drained the senses so the fingers uncurl and the palm opens on muscle memory alone. It releases, like newspaper in a fire, up and away. Like a Macy's balloon let loose, up up and away. Like the spirits of loved ones, up up up. And away.

There's an invincibility now, a nothing to lose quality that feels almost good. Good-bye little brick house, good-bye funny french doors and camellias. Good-bye that street in that town on that river.

I will not have children in this life. 

Out loud it stings a little. Inside, I think I've known it all along.

What else do I know?

Monday, April 06, 2009

A quarter to prince

It occurred to me...having recently chatted with an old friend...I've added little to the wheelbarrow of life in the 25 years since we last met.

He now has children and a wife and must take his vacations at places we would never have considered. Like theme parks and other venues for cotton candy and stuffed whales.

I on the other hand can call my time my own. I wake when I want to, go where I want to, see whom I want to, or not. I can choose in day or out day and dinner in or dinner out day. No one is waiting for me to cook something, fix something, read something or say something.

That alone says something. Perhaps I needs to be loadin' them coals.

Perhaps the fact that I have a load of nearly exactly the same size as in college is not the ultimate life experience, particularly when that life does not also include European travel, Ibizan lovers, and the Safari Surf School. Perhaps that sense of persistent disquiet is the result of nothing weighty tying me down.

Yet the words -- tying me down -- still make me queasy. The big life fear that relationship is tossing yourself away in handfuls is a very real one. What if I get stuck with a lemon I say to myself. What if I get the Mazda Protege of men? The kind of guy no one will take off your hands?

Squeak, squeak go the wheels of my barrow.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


I've recently learned that if I keep the verticals closed and a small lamp on, I can delay the day for as long I'd like.

Why?  Why not?  SoCal sunshine is an insistent bastard.  Get up!  Get out of bed!  Run a 10K!  Do do do.  Be be be!  Be seen! Be seen! Be seen!

Some Sundays it's just not worth it.  (Alright, some Mondays it's just not worth it, either.)  But some Sundays I just don't have that much to contribute.  Some Sundays I just want to take in.  Whether it's bacon, coffee, newsprint or late afternoon amour, Sundays do need to be about receiving.

Yinday, really.