For Som: Grief.

September 5, 2013 § 1 Comment

I am taking a walk with someone today whom I have only begun to know. He’s saying something about “my twin brother and I…”

“–Wait. You have a twin brother?”

“Did. He died, oh, about three years ago.”

“…”

I fumble through the awkward what-do-you-say’s in my head and settle on, “How is that for you?” Only because my time was up and I had to say something.

“Honestly, it hasn’t been awful. I reached acceptance really early.”

“Oh.” I don’t have a response for that because nobody has ever answered with anything other than: “Awful. Devastating. Catastrophic.”

I do the panic thing and start rambling on about my own experiences with grief because what the fuck else is there to do. He says he felt guilt about not doing grief right until a friend told him however he’s doing it is doing it right.

SomWe get back, he takes off and I open my laptop to Facebook.

“We’ve lost Som Jordan,” posts someone.

“What do you mean, lost?” says someone else.

Nobody is talking about cause of death, which means it’s suicide. I know that already but I pretend I don’t know and ask around just hoping it’s something else.

The paper later reports that Isamu “Som” Jordan, a huge influence in Spokane’s music and journalism scene, was found in his home this morning. Cause of death: apparent suicide.

There is this prevailing struggle with how did he possibly not see the glow around him that everybody else saw. Everybody’s posting this music video he made with Flying Spiders. The only text they include is the song’s title: “Spokane’s Finest.”

I know nothing about anything about this situation. I do know it’s not coincidence that those people we think are invincible, brilliant, miles above us — our icons — also often suffer very deeply. Searching for truth does not turn up unicorns and rainbows.

Now that that’s said, I want to talk about grief, and that you should do it however you want.

You don’t have to cry to care. You can go to a vigil or not go to a vigil. Nobody gets to tell you you didn’t know him well enough to grieve or that you’re not grieving sufficiently or right.

Today, as I grieve the loss of a friend, a lot of grief from past losses tumbles onto me as well. It all feels very messy and maybe someone would tell me I was missing the point.

When people pry about the details, some may say they’re missing the point. Maybe they are. Or maybe they have questions because they care. Because suicide is not a thing we talk about much, and it’s confusing and it hurts and maybe they feel like answers will make it hurt less. (Spoiler: It will very likely make it hurt more.)

When people spit out platitudes on the internet, some may say they’re missing the point. When they do, or they don’t, organize a benefit concert. When they speculate. When they try to talk about suicide in general or death in general or grief in general. When they do or don’t cry.

This is the messy that we’re challenged to navigate with grace: simultaneously grieving and giving others the space to do their own version of that. There are a lot of us because Som had a generous spirit. Let that be a good thing.

What our classmates didn’t know.

June 18, 2013 § 1 Comment

I’m reposting this story today in celebration of a guilty verdict. It was originally published on May 29, 2012 at community-building.org. 

Jolie sat on a blue picnic table outside our school cafeteria, soaking in the sun in her pleather pants and snug purple top. She wore tall, black platform boots, I think.

Whatever she wore, it was proof of everything they said about her.

We — my friend group du jour (friends have never been my strong suit) — ate lunch on the bridge nearby. I stood next to Mark*, my new best friend, who had dated Jolie from middle school until earlier that year. She used to stand where I now stood, her “in” status in the social circle as tenuous as mine. And now that I stood there, I needed to fit in.

When Jolie and Mark split, everybody sided with him. When her name came up during lunch, everybody had something to say about her, and given the pleather and all, I figured it was all probably true.

She was definitely weird.

Proof: The year before, somebody had posted anonymous letters on our AP English class online forum, signed “OuTsIdEr LoOkInG iN.” In her poems, OuTsIdEr damned us all. She describing her lonely world — not fitting in, being judged for being different.

Jolie sat in the row ahead of me, right at the front of the class. We burned twenty holes in the back of her crimped hair. We were indignant. I wasn’t a super cruel person in high school, nor was I popular or rich or even happy — I had my own share of too-intense-for-high-school things to deal with — so I didn’t feel like she was talking to me. What had I ever done to her?

We all pretended we had no idea who OuTsIdEr could be. She was just crying out for attention, we concluded, and we moved on to Lord of the Flies.

Senior year, Jolie and I both made the alto section of our school’s A Cappella choir. Let’s put it this way: She projected. As such, she was moved to the back row, where I stood (I also, um, projected), and we made uncomfortable conversation between run-throughs.

In the Spring, I invited her to go to church with me (which is different from being friends, because it means  you’re trying to save someone’s soul), and she came, probably because people didn’t ask her to do stuff very often.

Somewhere in between learning the Second Alto part for the Spring concert and riding together in her purple sedan to youth group, I learned a few things about her that nobody had bothered to mention on the bridge at lunch.

Her house, at the gateway to our neatly-groomed suburban town, didn’t look like mine. It was dirty and small on the inside, with ratty carpets and dishes piled up in the kitchen. Her mother had leathery skin and cursed with a raspy voice. Her twin siblings ran around with hair poking out in every direction. Spaghetti dinner was served on plastic Mickey Mouse plates. Her stepfather was nowhere to be found.

Listening to Oasis in her bedroom, which was plastered with every Oasis poster ever printed, she told me about her biological father, who had become a vegetable after a motorcycle accident and was kind of an asshole anyway.

My dad was kind of an asshole, too, I said, so I understood. Since my parents had split, he’d kind of gone MIA and only ever bought pasta, yogurt and Cheez-Its when he went grocery shopping. I didn’t even like yogurt.

What did your dad do? I asked.

After my parents split, when I was a baby, he stole me and hid me out of state, she said.

Oh.

I asked about Mark.

We got pregnant, she said, and I had an abortion. He didn’t want me to, but he didn’t really want a kid at seventeen, either. Now he won’t talk to me.

Oh.

I think I stopped asking about stuff after that, but I eventually learned that her stepfather gambled, her mother didn’t work and her grandparents owned the disheveled house. When she’d come home after work at Jack in the Box, sometimes the electricity was shut off. She payed for her own choir trips and school fees with Jack in the Box money.

Just before the end of Senior year, Jolie came over with smudged mascara glistening through her glasses. She had told the school counselor something and she couldn’t stay at home anymore. It had taken four years for her to speak up; she hadn’t thought anyone would believe her. There was a warrant out for her stepfather’s arrest and her mother was so mad. Not at him, for what he’d done, but at her, for telling.

We pushed two twin beds together in my room and stayed up late talking. My father and my new stepmom said of course she could stay.

We cut class together on Senior Ditch Day, except we didn’t go to the pool with everyone else; we went to Lake Tahoe instead. We went to prom in the neighboring city with her new boyfriend — whom she had met at church — and his friends.

We giggled in choir, and I ignored everyone who was now looking very nervous when I talked to them. We were late to our own graduation, our hair still wet from an afternoon at the lake.

At the restaurant before the ceremony, her mother announced she had superglued in her fake tooth for the occasion. My mother sent back her Bloody Mary because it was too salty.

We caught air in the purple sedan going 55 over bumps on the way to the school, arriving the gymnasium just in time to thrown on our gowns and walk. We laughed the whole night.

Jolie’s stepfather made national news this month when the U.S. Marshalls finally tracked him down in New Jersey, where he’d stayed under the radar for ten years.

I hadn’t kept in touch after college. She became more involved in church and I stopped going at all. She got married and I didn’t. She got a “real job” and bought a house — things I never got around to doing.

When I saw the news — Jolie telling her story on TV in our hometown — I sat in my bedroom crying. Out of relief for her, mostly, regret that I had let small things interfere with our ability to support one another, and a rush of the pain knew she’d endured each day that she waited for justice.

Ten years ago, I filled an entire page with a pink glitter gel pen in Jolie’s senior year book. To close, I wrote, “Ten years from now, we’ll probably see each other and pick up right where we left off.”

Jolie and I saw each other for the first time in two years last month, and it was like we hadn’t missed a day (except that we had tons to catch up on, so we stayed up into the wee hours of the morning drinking wine and talking).

I had come home with a mission — to visit the places where we had grown up — and I asked her to come with me.

First thing Saturday morning, we went by the elementary school. Nothing, not even the crusty old pale yellow tether balls, had changed since we left. We recalled being in next-door classes in fourth and fifth grade and posed for a picture on the United States map still painted on the blacktop. I remember the drinking fountain being a lot taller.

We grabbed coffee at what used to be the town’s one grocery store, where we used to walk to after school.

When we arrived at the high school, Jolie tensed. We took a photo outside the choir room, making exaggerated singing gestures for the the camera, then walked toward the cafeteria, across the bridge.

Jolie stopped on the bridge and I lifted my camera to snap a photo. Through the lens, I saw that she was crying. I brushed back her bangs to wipe the black streak emerging from the corner of her eye.

Committed to the potential cathartic value of the experience, we trudged on to complete our tour — but it wasn’t one of reminiscing about first kisses and that time when the quarterback got in a fight with that dorky kid in the quad. (This is what I imagine other kids remember about high school, but maybe we were all quietly trying to make sense of bigger things.) We peered through the window of the library where she would hide for lunch, making friends with the librarian instead of the other kids; the classroom where OuTsIdEr sat staring straight ahead with her hair in flames.

We finally mustered smiles for a picture when we both raised a middle finger in front of the school mascot, a yellow and blue Trojan sprawled across the Administrative Office wall.

Then we ate really big cheeseburgers.

Our ten-year high school reunion was this last weekend. Jolie posted this on wall for the reunion’s Facebook event:

Over the past few months I have pondered how I can convey my anxiety for the event upon us tomorrow. I want so much to see many people and reconnect and get past the bad memories I have from my childhood but I also don’t want to be superficial and just pretend that everything is ok.

…I have described to many people that for me growing up in El Dorado Hills was extremely difficult. I was the poor kid in a rich neighborhood. When I came to Brooks in 4th grade I wore Salvation Army prairie dresses and spandex shorts while my peers were wearing Abercrombie & Fitch. I would come home to lights and water turned off because the bills weren’t paid. In high school my mom drove me to school in a car with an A-Trak while many of my peers were being driven to school in BMWs. On top of that my home life was difficult consisting of physical and emotional abuse and parents with gambling, alcohol, and drug addictions.

Some of you may remember the “OuTsIdEr LoOkInG iN”: a series of poems and writings I placed “anonymously” on the Carr webpage we had for our English classes sophmore year. In them I wrote of my feelings of being ostracized by my peers and the world. I remember sitting in class saddened that no one had empathy for that poor girl and instead called her names… and most didn’t even know who she was. I was broken and hurting and wanted so much to be accepted and loved… by someone… anyone… my family… my peers.

…I know now that none of us were equipped with the skills it took to truly be supportive of a person going through what I went through as a kid. I’m not mad at anyone and quite honestly I am ready to see people again. I am in a good place in my life now and look forward to the opportunity to face my childhood fears and connect with the many genuinely nice people we have in our class.

A number of our former classmates responded, most of them generously. One comment stands out: “I remember doing laundry with you at the laundromat because I didn’t have a washer and dryer and you were nice enough to keep me company,” wrote a girl whose friendship we found in the Alto section during spring of Senior year.

Through her compassion, and the story she bravely shares, Jolie has given a voice to other women suffering privately — we both know women who only spoke out about their own abuse after hearing her story. She has challenged the people around her, including me, to think twice before dismissing someone who does not fit the mold.

The trial begins in the fall. When Jolie stands to testify against her stepfather, I will be there. Even if she wears pleather pants, I won’t believe anything he says about her — and neither will anyone else.

You can watch Jolie tell her story here.

*Name changed to protect “Mark’s” identity.

Why I can’t work from home.

May 28, 2013 § 1 Comment

There is this hair comb somewhere in a landfill. It’s pastel pink at looks pretty much like a comb. Some of the teeth might be a little bent from working knots out of Barbie’s hair. It moved from South Africa with me and I didn’t really realize I treasured it until one day in sixth grade, when I stuck it in my lunch bag for recess, then threw my lunch bag away.

I didn’t notice I’d lost it until later that day. I was jarred by the sudden loss, terrified that I would forget things that were already beginning to fade from memory along with my first language, which I was now struggling to speak.

82Somewhere, possibly in Spain, there is a teddy bear with a little gap in the stitching of his black nose where the tan fur sticks through. His eyeballs are scratched up. At nineteen, I gave him to a boy who lived far away for when we saw each other again — a promise — and we did not. I went to college, he married someone, and shortly after his wife gave birth, he died.

I remember both the sadness of riding home without my comb in sixth grade, and being tiny in South Africa with a best friend who was a bear. I still remember the birds of paradise in our garden and how perplexed my preschooler brain, new to English, was by the lyrics of “There’s a Hole in My Bucket.” I don’t need any object to remind me.

But some nights, when I forget all about the ground under my feet, tears roll down my cheeks because I am missing a bear.

Maybe because I feel like I learned to be young too late and then immediately began to grow old, or maybe because I am simply tired of loss, it’s become harder and harder to let go.

I bought this one dress when I was going to be skinny forever, but I was only skinny for like one summer. The dress still hangs in my closet and I occasionally try it on, decide it looks terrible, and return it to the closet for another few months of hanging. And it’s really not just one dress, it’s half my wardrobe. There are piles and piles of photographs in the spare room — doubles even. There’s a physical copy of every article I’ve ever published. There are magazine clippings and supplies for crafts I never finished. There’s the wood block carving of “Erika” that my high school boyfriend made for me in wood shop.

Being in a house full of these things that have no place or purpose feels like having a bunch of people talk to me all at once. They all demand to be kept in mind — and my mind brims with memories, hurts, unfulfilled intentions, projects pending for years, all stuck in boxes to be dealt with later, but later never happens. I raid the boxes on occasion in search of a lost item, sprawling the things unceremoniously on the guest room floor. Their chatter can be heard through the crack under the door from the farthest corner of the apartment.

Some things, I keep because somebody I love gave them to me. A weird golden lion from my grandmother in Alaska. A sweater. A really awful book. Like maybe getting rid of them would disappoint the giver or make their memory fade further.

Other things, I keep because I am afraid to miss them like I do my bear, even though they have never been my best friend like he was.

Things to do about sadness that aren’t drugs.

May 21, 2013 § 1 Comment

Sometimes I get stuck. Like bigger-than-life sad/hopeless/can’t move stuck. That kind of stuck loops around in a bigger stuck, in which I know I’m not living life to its fullest but can’t quite sort out how to fix that. I know, I know, there are drugs for this, but I don’t have any and mostly don’t want them. Today has been the worst day in a while.

I read a funny (I am pretty sure it was funny?) blog post about depression and chuckled half-heartedly. I had been saving that blog because I love the artist/writer so much, and it didn’t even feel like anything to read it. Nothing.

Maybe I am depressed, but I don’t think that’s it. Most days I feel the amount of nihilism appropriate for the situation (life being meaningless and all) and enjoy things the amount that seems appropriate. I remember being depressed and it was nothing like that. It was more like today, but for all the days I could remember at the time.

Here’s the thing: I think if you feel like you’re missing out on some of what you could be making of your life, the answer is not to get a pill for that. If you feel bigger-than-life pain sometimes, it might be because you’re ignoring nagging dissatisfaction with your choices and circumstances, and that pain is hell-bent on being felt at some point so it can move the fuck on with its life.

I ate a lot of pastries and chocolate today and went to a yoga class. Otherwise, I mostly stared at the screen that I was supposed to be fixing a problem on and couldn’t make my brain do the fixing. I tried sleeping, which helped, except now there are bits of chocolate melted into the sheets. I read about juggalos on the internet. So when I realized the video I was about to watch was 20 minutes long, I didn’t even care that I would be losing 20 minutes of my day. It was about a guy who got kind of famous for writing a really cool song you might have heard on the radio, and the guy was like 17 at the time and now he is dead from cancer.

The video was about how he decided to live life while he was dying instead of trying so hard not to die that he would be sick from drugs and horrible surgery for the whole rest of his life.

I cried for a good 30 minutes, which helped. I also really want to do that even though I am not dying. My plan is the following:

  1. Stop doing things that seem like a good move even though they will make me too busy to do things like learn stuff on the guitar and go for runs.
  2. Stop saving exercise for the last day of the week when I panic about not having exercised all week.
  3. Do some of the things I want to do but don’t because _(insert boring excuse here)_, like eat real food instead of whatever is easiest, do fun things after work, visit my family, hang out with people I like a lot, watch good movies, learn new stuff, go outside when it’s nice, etc.
  4. Let go of anger that is pointless.
  5. Write all the things.
  6. Clean my house all the time so I like being there, instead of once every few weeks when I am angry about my house being gross.

You know, all the things people say you should do to be happy. (The last one is probably not on everyone’s list, but it is important to me.)

My grandmother did what this kid did when she found out she was terminal, and a lot of the things she had on her list, except I think she was doing most of those things already. She didn’t stop being annoyed about annoying things or otherwise a normal human being, but in perspective. As far as I could tell, the only regret she had was not having time to do all the things she wanted to — and that’s after seventy-something years of being pretty bad-ass. If there’s that much awesomeness to live, I’d better get on it.

I think living like you’re dying when you’re not dying in any immediate sense is subtly different from living like you’re dying when you know you have weeks or months to live, because you can’t just stop doing things required of humans, like going to work and thinking about the long-term implications of your life choices. But only subtly different. I love my job and obsessively think about the long-term implications of my life choices as it is, so maybe my shift should be to think less hard about the long-term implications and do more small things just because they are the things I’d want to have done with my life if I didn’t have years ahead of me to put them off.

For now, I’ll count it a success that I emerged deeply fulfilled from a day I would normally promise myself to get on meds and write off as a waste.

Bucking up.

January 18, 2013 § 2 Comments

IMG_2320

This is what I looked like before I was sad.

OH MY GOD JANUARY. It is so awful. There is science proving how awful it is — or “pseudoscience,” at least. According to Science, the most depressing day of the year hasn’t even happened yet — it’s on January 21st.

Factors include things like weather, holiday debt, motivation and days since falling off the New Years resolution wagon. There should also be something about “likelihood that you are hacking up a lung.” And “number of fights you’ve had with friends and/or strangers on the internet in the past week.”

Having moved through the preliminary stages of utter despair, including

  1. pretending to just be having a bad week
  2. getting drunk on bad beer several days in a row
  3. coming to terms with the semi-permanent nature of the situation
    and
  4. unfettered self-pity,

I have now moved into a considerably more pleasurable stage: self-comfort. This is the part where you stop just feeling sorry for yourself and do something about it. Like eat scones every day, regard attending one yoga class in a week as a Feat of Strength, and read long-form articles about Lindsey Lohan making a low-budg film. 

I’m even using my favorite mug — which (neurosis alert) I use as little as possible to prevent it from ever breaking or getting lost — on the daily.

It’s wonderful. I am pretending/recognizing that I have a disease, and treating that disease by treating myself awesomely. Which leads me to wonder why I don’t do this all the time.

Being inexplicably sad has led me to living more wholly. For now, as a survival technique. But later, maybe just for fun.

Um, so my friends really love soup.

November 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

I made a couple of soup-related posts on Facebook and was pleasantly surprised to learn my friends are also super excited about soup! Look out, RPG-ers. This is a new brand of geekery you can’t even match. Below (at the bottom of the post) is the full list of ideas and recipes from my friends. I still need recipes for the ones without links — please share or add to the list!

Albondigas means meatballs in Spanish, yo.

Tonight, I craved something super filling and, well, meaty. What I really craved was a bloody, possibly moo-ing steak, but my commitment to soup prevailed. (I briefly considered a stew, but wanted to eat in less than three hours and had some questions concerning not having a crock pot.)

My boyfriend and I settled on turkey albondigas, as per his mom’s suggestion.

This is the recipe we chose — except we bought turkey meatballs already made in the interest of not making meatballs, which seemed like a huge pain in the ass. We used veggie broth instead of chicken broth and grated the carrots (because chunks of cooked carrots in soup kind of weird me out). Also, we left out bell peppers because bell peppers don’t taste good.

The albondigas blew out of the water (er, broth?) my secret notion that soup isn’t particularly filling. I struggled to finish my portion. Unlike with many other non-creamy soups, I didn’t get hungry again after an hour.

The caldo tasted like everything delicious about Mexican food — I’m not even sure how it happened, either, because the ingredients aren’t that much different from what I use to make any other soup. Tomato juice (we tossed in the whole 8-oz. can even though the recipe only called for half) made a major flavor difference.

Before proceeding to the list, I have two questions for my expert soupist friends. First: Do I need a crock pot to make stews? Second: What’s your secret to making vegetable broth taste “right” when substituted in a recipe calling for meat stock/broth?

SOUP MASTER LIST (Thank you, friends!)

  • Pumpkin Kale
  • Taco Soup (Two votes!)
  • Root Vegetable and Black Bean Chili
  • Split Pea
  • Finnish Summer Soup
  • Turkey Albondigas
  • Butternut Squash/Carrot/Ginger (One butternut squash, 4 carrots 4 ginger frozen ginger cubes from Trader Joe’s. Boil in about 1-2 cups water. Pour into blender with salt, pepper, and about 2 teaspoons of raw honey. Blend the hell out of it.)
  • Fish Cream Soup
  • Italian White Bean and Pancetta (Notes from my friend: “I used lean bacon instead of pancetta, tried leeks instead of the red onion for a milder flavor, and packed in the veggies. It makes a pretty large batch, but I’ve just been taking in my lunches, and I would guess that it freezes okay as well.”)
  • Chicken Pot Pie Stew
  • Carbonnade Beef and Beer Stew
  • Lentil
  • Lentil Vegetable
  • Pumpkin
  • Potato Leek (Check!)
  • Butternut Squash, shallots, coconut milk, curry.
  • Spicy Ginger Squash
  • African Yam Peanut (Notes from Barb, who has more of her favorites listed on her site: I love African Yam Peanut Soup. I couldn’t find the recipe I use (out of the Spokesman several years ago) but found [the recipe linked]. This one calls for sweet potatoes but I use yams, and I use coconut milk as part of the liquid. My recipe calls for fewer spices but uses a cup of mild to medium salsa.)
  • Chicken Lime (Chicken meat, red onion, green-red–or-yellow bell peppers, a pasta such as small bowties or shells and limes, limes, lots of limes squeezed in. And cilantro.)

Diary of a Soup Ninja

November 7, 2012 § 2 Comments

For all its romantic fog and cozy rainy mornings, Fall scares the bejesus out of me. Four-thirty sunsets mess with my body clock, trying to lure me into hibernation. But anybody who’s spent a winter or eight in Spokane knows Fall hibernation leads to January psychotic breaks. It’s pretty much keep moving or self-destruct.

If I can’t hibernate, I at least want comfort food. Comfort food is, like, cheese and pasta. Or cheese on pizza. Or cheese on bread. Cheese on cheese. Pizza with a side of garlic bread. Bread with a side of pasta. Topped with cheese.

After a meal (or eight) like that, I basically just want to hibernate more. Plus I feel (/become) chubby, which makes me want to crawl in a hole and sleep forever. Sanity is a lot of work, people.

This vegan potato leek soup understands you like nobody else.

Hence, I am learning soup. Soup usually doesn’t have any bread or cheese in it. It makes eating things like carrots and lentils seem awesome, which is useful when virtually no delicious vegetables are in season.

It’s super cheap to make. The potato leek soup I just made has six kinds of organic vegetable, mushrooms and organic veggie stock in it, all of which totaled around $6 and could easily feed four people. (Currently accepting bribes.)

As far as I can tell so far, it’s impossible to screw up making soup. If it tastes gross, add more stuff (like salt, pepper, ginger, pepper flakes or curry) until it tastes delicious.

I would love suggestions for soup-inventing strategies or recipes to try. For my first soup, I studied the ingredients on the back of an overpriced can of soup and made it from scratch for about the same price ($3.50). This potato leek soup pretty much involved throwing veggies in the pot with some olive oil, soy sauce and spices later adding veggie stock, followed by potatoes, blending about half and and adding stuff until it tasted amazing ($6.00)

I’m lucky to live across from a grocery store, so I buy exactly what I need for that particular soup — that allows me to buy quality, organic produce without overspending just for the leftover supplies to grow slime in the fridge.

More soup reports later. For now, send me tips and recipes, please!

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