Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Little Too Emily Dickinson Around Here

Why is it that UPS deliverymen are always so unbelievably hot? You might argue it’s the sexiness of those little brown shorts they wear in the summer, but it’s unseasonably cold here—below freezing for maybe the first time in six years of mild Seattle living—and the unbelievably hot UPS guy who just came to the door was all covered up in long pants, a jacket, and a ski cap and still he was delicious! I’m sitting in my pajamas on the couch covered up with blankets and surrounded by sexy morning essentials like a dirty coffee mug, a crumpled bag formerly containing a slice of pumpkin bread, and a pile of used kleenex, and the UPS guy waved! At me! Oh, the thrills of being a stay-at-home writer!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


On the airplane this morning en route to San Francisco Dr. Fiancé pointed out, not for the first time, that it’s time for us to get serious about making wedding plans. I refrained (not for the first time) from pointing out that I was excited about such things back in the summer when he proposed but the moment sort of... passed. I’m now just as terrified as he is of everyone we know staring at us as we say mushy things to each other in a public forum and people throw bird seed into our hair.

Instead of forcing it, why not wait until we’re excited to get married? Why not wait until a fun way of doing the deed presents itself instead of going around and around trying to force plans that don’t seem quite right? Elope to Italy and get married in a gorgeous ancient Tuscan palace? But we don’t speak Italian and if we’re making lifelong vows, I for one would like to understand what I’m agreeing to. Elope to Ireland and get married in a gorgeous ancient church? But we’re atheists. Elope to DC and get married in the Supreme Court? They don’t do that kind of thing. Get married in Iowa City the traditional way? The chapel is still closed from the June floods. Get married in Iowa City in the Old Capitol Museum? Which is doubling as the art museum since the art museum is still closed from the floods and the winter exhibit is... let’s see... portraits of Iraqi torture victims. So many options, each one providing an opportunity for anxiety, fear, and terror to sing their shrill little siren songs.

Why not just do as the Europeans do and live in sin and make cute babies who wear stripey leggings and play with wooden toys and not worry about throwing some big expensive party where we make people wear uncomfortable clothing and eat rubbery chicken and dried-out cake? Wait? What’s that you’re muttering? I can’t understand your accent... Universal what? Health what? Who gets paid to stay home raising their own children?

I suppose there are some practical considerations. Like the fact that I make 30 times less money than the man who would be impregnating me and that the state-funded health insurance I’ll be lucky to get soon only covers 12 mental health visits per year—so about a month’s worth—clearly not be enough to get me (and by extension poor Dr. Fiancé!) through the mood swings of pregnancy, if the mood swings of PMS are any indication. Dr. Fiancé's health insurance, on the other hand, covers, like fifty 'leven mental health visits, 492 massages, 12 pairs of eyeglasses, unlimited unnecessary prescriptions, and, best I can tell, anything from Crate & Barrel that would make one's stay on this planet more comfortable.

I think about my friends who can't get married just because they have the same equipment as their mate and it feels like a waste to not get married. When California passed Proposition 8 last month, I wondered what Dr. Fiancé and I would do if we had matching private bits and wanted to get married. We're both so contrary, we probably would have taken a little marriage jaunt to Massachusetts or Connecticut just to stick it to the man.

Are we dragging our heels through the wedding-planning process for the same reason we resisted watching The Wire for so long? Too many people telling us we had to, that it's the greatest thing ever, that the first few seasons are a little rough but then it gets really good and soon we'll be obsessed with it just like everybody else?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Caribbean Hot Spots

Nobody ever taught me how to go on vacation. Sleeping in, eating a leisurely multi-course breakfast, wandering down to the beach to sit on a lounge chair and read or nap or eat snacks until heading to the lounge at 5 to drink a blended margarita the size of my head—these activities do not come naturally to me.

I’m more of an anxious, thinking-all-the-time, headache-prone sort of a person. In graduate school, when both my abilities and budget for vacationing were at an all-time low, I started getting migraines all the time. They weren’t the crippling kind where you feel like an ice pick is stabbing at your eyeball from the back of your head and you throw up a lot—they were just the kind where you feel like a dowel rod has been gently nudged through your temples and like you might be the descendent of worms or moles or other subterranean, sun-averse critters who would rather be somewhere dark and peaceful and devoid of English professors.

This is to say, I was able to function, but I wasn’t a very reliable dinner date.

After trying a spate of expensive prescription drugs that didn’t work, I tried thermal biofeedback—a process in which a man who’s supposedly a doctor tapes a thermometer that’s connected to a computer graphing program to your index finger to show you that even when you think you’re calm, you’re not.

Supposedly, a 70 degree finger indicates an aroused autonomic nervous system—a body in “fight or flight” mode. Supposedly, a relaxed person’s finger is 98 degrees. Supposedly some of us are always tense, even when we’re on a beach in Mexico or otherwise deluding ourselves into believing we’re relaxed. People like us apparently need a computer graphing program attached to our finger to show us that we’re not really relaxed. If we were really relaxed, our temperaure line would be at a balmy Caribbean 100 degrees, not slumming at a Seattle summer 70.

The supposed doctor that “taught” me biofeedback—by which I mean the guy who taped a thermometer to my finger and then left the room muttering “Just try to relax” every Tuesday afternoon for ten weeks—he seemed quite relaxed. He appeared to have always just woken up from a nap: wrinkly Dockers, wrinkly oxford, wrinkly lines around his eyes. He never spoke in a voice above a murmur. He reminded me of this kid I used to baby-sit who, at the end of a particularly long winter day of being cooped up indoors, whined, “Let’s doooooooooooo something! I’m sooooooooo borrrrrrring!” This doctor guy was boredom incarnate.

“Just ... relax ... and make ... the line ... go up ...” he explained to me on my third visit after my line and I had made no progress. I explained to him that I have perfectionism issues and if you show me the high water mark on a line graph, I will get there, by god—but this uptight approach didn’t seem like it would help me calm down. It seemed contraindicated, right?

How was I supposed to relax? He offered no suggestions.

When my frustration began to show up in the form of crying, Boring Relaxed Doctor Man suggested I get a therapist—forgetting I already had one. I fumed as I untaped the wire from my chilly finger for the sixth, seventh, eighth time, my head clenching all-too-familiarly into a migraine as I forked over my co-pay. Who was this rumpled man with the pronounced après-nap demeanor, and what were his credentials?

“What if this just doesn’t work for me?” I challenged on my ninth day. He gazed at me through half-closed lids and said, “Well ... there is ... a class ... a sort of ... mindfulness class ... It’s where I send people ... with ... ... ... how should I put this? ... ... ... extremely ... active minds ... ”

Basically, I was so bad at relaxing that the Boring Doctor fired me.

Did I mention how much I hate boredom—in all its incarnations? And how happy I am that the doctor to whom I’m engaged is hardly the type to recommend “mindfulness” classes to anyone, blessed as he is with an extremely ... active ... mind of his own?

Here we are on a beach in Mexico, and I confess, I’m the tiniest bit bored. I’m not complaining—that would be rude—I’m just saying that sometimes relaxation is ... boring.

I’m wondering what to do with myself.

After I’ve read all my books and eaten all the snacks and taken so many naps I’m unable to speak in a voice above a murmur—after all that, what’s there left to do?

I mean, I suppose I could put on my bathing suit and do a forward summersault into my giant blended margarita and swim around for a while. But the problem with doing that is I’d no longer be officially relaxed because surely my fingers would get icy cold all over again.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

We'll Always Have Paris

Last spring it was Paris. Everyone I knew swore I’d love the city. “It’s totally you!” my co-workers at the magazine gushed. The clothes! The flea markets! The shoes! The chocolate! “Let yourself charge things to your credit card,” advised an impoverished artist friend. “You never know when you’ll be back, and the debt is totally worth it!”

My main foreign travel to date had been a semester in London when I was 21. I imagined a magical vacation: The architecture and artwork would be incroyable, the old cobblestone streets and alleyways incomparably charmante, the shopping fantastique. Our mornings would be filled with delicious coffee and pain au chocolat, our afternoons with delicious fromage and baguettes, our evenings with delicious wine and steak au poivre, our nights with delicious sex—and maybe another pain au chocolat. I expected flea markets overflowing with vintage coffee pots and cookware, yellowing French flashcards and children’s books, old wooden crates printed with French text and inexplicable drawings of kittens. I anticipated trying to coax Dr. Boyfriend to buy the shoes, coat, and antique pie safe I could neither afford or live without.

I pictured all the Parisian bakeries we’d visit: scores of baskets stuffed with lightly browned baguettes, multi-tiered trays piled ambitiously with crisp, perfectly formed crescent shapes and plump rectangles oozing hints of chocolaty goodness, obscene racks of velvety Napoleons and generously frosted éclairs stacked as high as the eye could see or the arm could reach, local housewives and businesspeople and school children clamoring for the exact pastry of their dreams. We’d sit near the window drinking the best coffee in the world while contemplating cubism and existentialism and the baffling popularity of the beret.

Basically, we were screwed.

My expectations could not have been higher if I stuffed them into a suitcase and sent it to the moon. Paris couldn’t have lived up even if every single Parisian had been on their best, nicest behavior—which of course is not possible.

Our first morning we set out for the bakery The New York Times claims sells the best croissants in all of France. “Why eat some random croissant nearby when we can have the best?” I reasoned. The doctor gave me look of skepticism—or was that fear?—and warned that he wasn’t sure how long the walk would be. “Who cares? It’s Paris!” I replied, dragging him by the arm and pretending to be the happy-go-lucky person I frequently imagine he’d rather be with.

Jetlagged and undercaffeinated, we started walking... and walking... and walking... a million kilometers until finally the doctor gestured across the street and said with an adorable little French-ish accent, “Voila!” Where? Where was he pointing? I scanned the block for a bakery window display unlike any I’d ever seen, overflowing with magically buttery offerings. Eventually my eyes landed on the word “Patisserie” above a window containing ... six, maybe seven, loaves of ... unwrapped Wonder bread? The best croissants and baguettes in Paris looked a awfully lot like the ones they sold back home ... at Safeway.

Holding out one last bubble of hope, I reasoned that maybe what I knew about croissants in America didn’t apply in France? Maybe a croissant that looked like it had been made by the Pillsbury Dough Boy would turn out, in Paris, to be incroyable?

I took a bite of a limp, bready pastry and struggled to keep a stiff upper lip. Where were the crisp, buttery Parisian points? The millions of layers of translucent French dough flaking off onto my bosom like a million springtime cherry blossom petals? “Aren’t they amazing?” my generous, eager-to-please, well-intentioned future mate asked, smiling nervously. I swallowed my disappointment and nodded, but the tears in my eyes were a dead giveaway.

I am a perfectionist.

I have insanely high expectations.

I will always drive you a little crazy.

And I love me my pastries.

Now, here we are, nine months later in Mexico. My expectation of Mexico was, lamely, that it would be full of bad coffee, bland meals of rice and beans, and bandits stealing our cash and Dr. Fiancé’s laptop.

Naturally, we’re having a great time.

Wish you were here.