I’m not good with ages, including my own. Hence, whenever bouncers or waitstaff unexpectedly bypass the usual ID-check and ask, “How old are you?” the first thing that comes to mind is, Uh… am I even twenty-one yet…? Fortunately, this number amnesia doesn’t extend to important dates, allowing me to be certain without a shred of doubt that today is my mom’s birthday.
Maman, as she’s affectionately known, is immensely important to me because (as apparent to anyone who’s ever mistaken our voices on the landline phone of our past) she makes up an invaluable portion of both mine and my sister’s identities. And considering all the incredible elements that comprise the Renaissance dynamo that is my mother, my sister and I should feel very lucky to share in that genetic pool. My mom has an imagination that packs a wallop. Her sense of wonder is tangible in the way she approaches every facet of life. Her unyielding desire to learn from each of the experiences she encounters is inspiring. And demonstrating the very essence of the adjective “motherly,” my mom has the unfailing ability to comfort even the most overwrought hysterics.
Furthermore, my mom is a woman from whom natural talent radiates like the awed circles that form around her whenever she takes the dance floor. Among the many skills she demonstrates an aptitude for, she’s the most fastidious and loudest cheerleader in all of North America; an incredible artist and writer whose oeuvre spans the creative gamut from joyously whimsical to powerfully evocative; an aficionado on all things kooky-fresh, such as The B-52’s, Shonen Knife, and Plastique Bertrand; a learned and opinionated voice vying for social, cultural, and political equality; the contender you absolutely want on your team for trivia night; and an altruistic giver through and through.
When I was a child, one of the greatest gifts my mom gave me–despite the hordes of Barbie dolls I pleaded for and miraculously received–was her time. When I came of kindergarten age, my mom decided to take up the helm as a homeschool teacher for a year that may well have been the most formative period of my lifelong personality. Thanks to my mom’s patient and steadfast teachings, I developed a deep adoration for vocabulary, a genuine affinity for reading, and a penchant for writing that catapulted me beyond the school’s benchmark. I can’t begin to thank my mom enough for the educational time she dedicated to her children, and I feel certain that without the lessons she’s continued to impart to this day, I would not have ended up as academically driven as I am. Quite frankly, I attribute my brains to my mom and thank her every day for placing so much emphasis on their fortification.
While incredibly important to my character, this inherited love for learning barely begins to skim the surface of all the things my mom’s doted on her daughters from day one. As children, my sister and I grew up in a home replete with fantastical paintings adorning the walls and floorboards: a cheerful, multicolored snake spiraling on the living room floor, an alebrije-esque lizard spanning the length of the kitchen, a winking fish suspended above the stove inquiring, “Hey good lookin’ whatchya got cookin’?,” and our little bunk bed fortress decorated with Shoobie the flying pup, our beaming faces, and an array of designs and calligraphy unique to my mom’s playful aesthetic.
For birthdays, she gave us not only presents but whole window murals commemorating the occasion and themed homemade cakes that somehow defied gravity with their twisting Seussical stairways. From the time I was nine-years-old my mom devoted hours upon hours to reading us Harry Potter aloud, complete with individual character dramatizations and the correct pronunciation of “Hermione” years before the films enlightened my peers. Her all-encompassing love for animals turned my sister into an atheistic St. Francis incarnate, preaching to kittens and puppies The Word According to a Six-Year-Old. When relationships went south or the transition into college proved dispiriting, my mom gave me ways to combat sorrow and the means to harness positivity in the face of life’s many obstacles. And her multilingualism and sense of adventure resulted in my love for language, graphic design, and cultural history and mythology.
For physical sustenance, my mom gave us the many delectable gifts of moussaka, chipotle chicken, banana bread, and the phenomenal macaroni and cheese recipe she inherited from her father. For mental fodder, she gave us a love for games, even if it occasionally resulted in my sister overturning a card table in a bout of loser’s rage. For 85mph exhilaration, she passed down her love of roller coasters and repeatedly travelled with us across the country to seek new thrills–although the spinning tea cup gene clearly skipped me. And as a strong female figure who embraces her identity and doesn’t shy away from displaying that fabulous demeanor to the world, my mom gave her daughters the ability to be ourselves regardless of any judgment that may come our way.
To top all of that off, my mom has taught me how I want to approach motherhood one day. Thanks to Maman’s example, I want to inspire uninhibited imagination, I want to answer every question with honesty and imbue a love for learning, I want to be a comfort whenever my children are in need. And beyond that, I’m very eager to behold the whoops of excitement my future children emit when I tell them we’re going to their grandma Lulu’s house, a place of wonder, creativity, and warm, unwavering love.
Through indeterminate acts of nature or nurture, some people are born or bred with the insatiable desire to knock themselves out… gifting. To some, if there isn’t sweat when partaking in the sport of gift-giving, then you haven’t combed the aisles or blinded yourself by the LED light of e-commerce long enough.
I first recognized this peculiar mania in myself when at age ten a friend expressed that she pined magazines or candy for her birthday. In a whirlwind of prepubescent energy and dishwashing allowance money, I proceeded to clean out a magazine stand of every teenybopper rag they possessed and fill a paper bag of Ikea proportions with the king sized candy bars that usually eluded me unless my dad took us trick-or-treating in the ritzy neighborhood. While adult retrospection notes that my friend’s dentist probably would have preferred the gift of a couple magazines and one candy bar, child logic dictated that gift recipients should be spoiled to the same degree of rottenness that my family had always reserved for myself and my sister on gift-giving holidays. Even if money was tight, the little Moon sisters always had a staggering array of store-bought, hand-me-down, or homemade gifts to parade through like pint-sized kings every birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. And besides, buying my friend magazines and candy by the bucketful was way more fun than spending my chore money on yet another Now That’s What I Call Music CD.
Thus, the gift-giving fever took hold and replicated throughout my genetic makeup over the next thirteen years, culminating in last Christmas’s ardent desire to make everyone personally-tailored gift baskets (or gift crates and gift ice buckets in some cases). The overzealous process of analyzing each of my loved ones’ personalities, brainstorming potential gifts, imagining up different themes and titles, and then organizing the baskets themselves proved to be so fun I don’t know why I haven’t started seriously considering a career as a professional basket case.
I know this passion (or outright obsession) is a little eccentric and I know I have to warn newcomers to my close circle about the overbearing nature of my gifting, lest they abandon our friendship or break up with me out of shock (because yes, I can count myself among the very few people on this planet who’ve been dumped solely for excessive gifting). But I assure those of you who are coughing “CRAZY” into your hands, I garner sincere pleasure from the chance to plan a gift for someone I care about, and when I have enough money, the right artistic tools for the task, and time aplenty to make everything just right, manifesting the present I’d long visualized is sheer bliss.
That is, when everything goes right.
To foster such a manic love for crafting or comprising pre-envisioned presents means that the collapse of said plans produces equally strong emotions… in the opposite direction. If anyone was ever to accuse me of bipolar disorder, the accusation would absolutely arise from a Christmas in which most of my loved one’s gifts are executed to a T, but one gift goes horribly wrong. Then all that built up excitement and anticipation I’d been harboring for the gift’s completion storms out as irate despair: a great surging, catastrophic, gift-mania flood that only my sister–or Emily’s External Conscience–has ever had to witness. Fortunately for the sake of my sister and my future risk of stroke, my insane gift-giving schemes don’t often backfire to such calamitous proportions, and if anything goes wrong at all, I’m usually just left to sour internal-monologuing about how I wish I could have afforded a nicer piece of jewelry, or how I wish I’d had more time to make that painting look more professional, or how I really wish I hadn’t developed irreversible writer’s block just before finishing that book seven years in the making that was intended as a giant, surprise anniversary present.
In recent years, however, I’ve added someone to my heart’s Excel sheet of loved ones that God, Allah, and that sneaky, scheming Buddha seem intent on sheltering from my voracious attempts at gift-giving. And that person would be my boyfriend.
When you have a significant other and a major, albeit strange, facet of your personality is a life-fulfilling addiction to assembling gifts, the world suddenly embraces you in a haze of polychromatic zeal. Not only do you suddenly have more holidays for which to indulge in the joy of gifting (such as that day devoted to love that you previously spent commiserating with the first half of Bridget Jones’ Diary or the anniversary that you’re not sure whether to attribute to the first date or the first proclamation of, “What the hell, let’s throw caution to the wind and make this official even though you’re graduating from college and leaving in a month!”), but you also have the opportunity to make any old day a gift-giving day because he dotes on you so much that mere holiday gifting could hardly suffice. Thus, as anyone with a knack for algebraic algorithm could tell you, significant other + gift-giving psychosis = absolute, unadulterated euphoria.
Unless of course, you factor in unforeseen variables that hinder or outright sabotage almost every gift you’ve ever tried to give that special someone. Then absolute, unadulterated euphoria tends to be equal or lesser to sheer panic.
To exemplify this mathematical anomaly, let’s examine the evidence. The first birthday present I ever tried to give my boyfriend should have been thwarted by the hurdles of that summer’s time-consuming 16 hour work days, limited space for artistic production, and the 2,761 miles that separated Oregon from Maryland, but miraculously the whole thing came together, arrived on time, and resulted in perfect orchestration. Until I realized that after just four months of dating, I hadn’t yet warned him that I’m a nutty fanatic prone to over-gifting, and had to suffer the consequences of my omission.
After surfacing from that debacle, I was determined to get things right five months later when Christmas rolled around. My first gift, a week-long trip to his family’s beautiful home in Maryland, was set in motion without a hitch. I reserved my plane ticket well in advance, bought a myriad of warm clothes befitting an actual white Christmas (not that unreliable Portland, Oregon shit), put in my two week’s notice a month in advance, and even booked a seat on my vehicular arch nemesis–a Greyhound bus–because the fifteen hour drive from Baltimore to Savannah would be an hour quicker than the three airport layovers that for some godawful reason decelerated what should have been a two hour flight. Ultimately, the planning was impeccable and I was so excited that the bank account I usually had to empty into my private college’s pocketbook miraculously had the quan to fund my cross-country reunion. This gift was perfect.
Until a friend’s birthday trip to Las Vegas gave me a dose of the flu to rival the scale of New York, New York, and the successive, germ-riddled flights from Vegas to Portland and Portland to Baltimore (first flight I’ve ever puked on!) only aggravated my condition, ensuring a good three weeks of fevered incapacitation. I still pity the unsuspecting Marylanders whose Christmas was sieged upon by my Vegas disease like the boa constrictor’s invasive and carnivorous take-over of Florida.
But even if the biological warfare raging in my lymphatic system dared mar my boyfriend’s Christmas, at least there was the physical gift I’d purchased online a month prior. The physical gift that, come to think of it, hadn’t arrived in the mail in time for my departure to Maryland… In fact, no matter how much I heckled the seller, my purchase didn’t arrive at my Portland address until March, when I was well entrenched in a heap-load of college torture in the city of Savannah. Despite my wonderful boyfriend’s unyielding capacity for forgiveness, I was ready to crumple up Official Gift No. 2 and toss it in the dumpster where failed attempts at happy memories go to die for being both the most contagious and latest Christmas gift it had ever been my mortification to bestow.
Now Nutty Gifting Lady (less-famous cousin of Crazy Cat Lady) was really reeling to get things right. But the curse that catalyzes hyperbolic old wives’ tales had officially set in. “Gift yer man wrong once, shame on ye. Gift yer man wrong twice, shame on he for not tossin’ yer virus-plagued body out into the white Christmas ye ruined. Gift yer man wrong thrice, and it’s gift-giving limbo ye’ve sentenced yerself to fer life, me dearie… Cookie?”
After a one-year anniversary gift I’d assumed wouldn’t count in old wives’ ledgers for having gone only slightly awry (arriving in shambles after the United States Postal Service forgot about that “FRAGILE” stamp I’d requested), it seemed certain: I was cursed to flub my man’s gifts for the rest of eternity. Hence it came as no surprise when the next gift I purchased was charged to my card three times, succeeding my bank account and causing me to reevaluate my choice. Fortunately, the original idea I’d forgone due to sold out tickets suddenly opened up when scalpers began pawning off seats to The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival featuring Dave Chappelle and Flight of the Conchords. Hadn’t we been re-watching Flight of the Conchords and obsessing over Jemaine and Bret all summer? And didn’t we love comedy!? AND WERE WE NOT ODD AS HELL!!!???
It all seemed too good to be true. Far too good to be true considering my nightmarish track record when it came to doting on my boyfriend. Thus, as the summer wound down and the date of the festival approached, I jealously guarded those tickets with my life, terrified that at any moment they might blow out the window or spontaneously combust, and absolutely petrified by the thought that my scalper tickets were fake and we’d be denied entry after three months of whooping and whinnying in excited anticipation. That would be the cherry on top of my attempted gift-gifting travesty, and it’s certain I’d shrivel up and die of loss of identity right then and there at an irritable security guard’s feet.
Looking back on it now, I really can’t believe that The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival didn’t explode under the weight of all the old wives’ points I’d racked up for being such a gifting failure. But I guess they’d decided to let me off easy for a change, and the only thing that was truly lamentable about the whole shebang was the abominable bubble font I added to the card.
Fortunately for the more malicious members of the Universal Fate Association (which in this blog entry seems to have witnessed a merger between superstitious wives and a couple vengeful deities), their contracts must have contained only one Let Her Off the Hook clause, and this past Christmas they obviously relished the chance to get back to their scheming.
À la the aforementioned Yuletide Gift Basket Extravaganza, I spent December running around Portland in search of an array of man-things for my boyfriend (tools, Irish whiskey, 2 liter flasks, the likes). The centerpiece of this man-thing assortment was to be a vintage drinking horn that I’d committed to memory months prior when my boyfriend glanced at it and compulsively said, “I want that,” perhaps because it’s Celtic accoutrements appealed to our collectively fervent pride in our Irish ancestry or perhaps because my boyfriend harbors a secret affinity for those Celt-murdering vikings. Either way, so began the drinking horn debacle that’s aptly summed up by a review Amazon repeatedly refused to post until I whittled it down to two measly, inadequate sentences:
I suppose the entire drinking horn fiasco is a lesson never to trust any business that goes by the title The Man Cave (aren’t man caves the dens men retreat to to actively avoid work?). But beyond the opposing concepts of business and men at rest, this experience and the shit storm of unsuccessful gift-givings past has taught me a larger lesson. In the realm of obsessive-compulsions, it’s important to actively practice letting things go astray. While frenetic in its overbearing nature, my gifting isn’t at the top of my obsessive-compulsions list, and as such, I should use its occasional divergence from The Plan as an opportunity to learn to readjust and not set such avid stock in the fate of material presents. After all, gifts are fleeting: physical objects get lost, break, pass from owner to owner, get shelved, and eventually lose their significance, and Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festivals only last one glorious day. So instead of melting into a melodramatic puddle that my sister has to mop into a dustbin every time one of my big present schemes goes amiss, I should work on my ability to ignore imperfection, to learn from and harness the outcomes of mistakes, and to ultimately accept failure, thereby making my relaxation, flexibility, and optimism one of the best and longest-lasting gifts I could possibly give those closest to my heart.
If George Lucas had fleshed out Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr.’s lineage beyond Sean Connery’s loveably aloof character, then Indy’s grandmother would be a fictitious interpretation of a real woman named Kathleen. My grandma is an adventurer of Raiders of the Lost Ark caliber, but with the added facets of socialite, food and wine connoisseur, avid supporter of the arts, and incredibly learned intellectual, it’s hard to decide if 007 and his cultural suavity wouldn’t be a more fitting metaphoric descendant.
Born first in an Irish-Swiss family of seven, young Kathleen spent what free time she had traveling the world via the medium of books, a pastime that never petered out and instead manifested itself into an adulthood of constant globetrotting, international charity, and (especially in regards to ornithology) ethological discovery. With a passport that sports the insignias of countries all across the globe, it’s become commonplace to expect that any random visit to her Facebook will yield that she’s in Honduras, Brazil, Vietnam, Canada, Belize, Chile, France, Japan, Trinidad, Australia, Argentina, China, Morocco, Ecuador, Ireland, Thailand, Mexico, or chartering her way via boot, bike, or kayak up and down hiking trails, canyons, and rivers that span the entire United States from Alaska to Hawaii and Washington to Florida. And to be quite frank, that list doesn’t do justice to the expansive escapades that would comprise my grandma’s autobiography.
A Renaissance woman through and through, my grandma’s life of excursion has resulted in a cosmopolitan artist, fascinating conversationalist, and superb chef whose inherited penchant for flavor only increased with the influence of multicultural cuisine. With a sophisticated palate for meals like salmon hash with tarragon and poached egg, asparagus, and huckleberries; a love for symphonic choirs and NPR; and the ability to appreciate the serenity of her peaceful woodland homestead complete with deck recliners and couches, wide-open glass doors, and interior décor amassed by a great eye, my grandma is the well-rounded adult who’s unintentionally instilled a reverence for seniority and retirement in both myself and my friends.
My grandma is the woman who escorted my sister and I to innumerable operas, plays, ballets, museums, contemporary dance performances, musicals, and galleries. The woman who effectuated our educations in classical singing and ballet, and helped organize and attended every performance. The woman whose review I seek whenever I want to introduce anyone to the delectable gastronomy of Portland restaurants. The woman who taught us rewarding, hands-on work in her garden whenever we started feeling out of touch with nature. The woman who sheltered my whole family in her enormous house of sunny windows and hardwood floors, invited us to play in her even larger yard of cherry trees, willows, and evergreens, and later designed a smaller home to be just as inviting. My grandma is a woman who can travel the world, be abroad for months at a time, and still be synonymous with the hometown she’s so assiduously immersed us in.
A far cry from the frail, blue-haired, nightgown-clad grandmothers of the media in both demeanor and personality, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my youthful, energetic, and warm-spirited grandma is to make things happen for yourself. Actively pursue adventure, actively surround yourself with loved ones, actively seek knowledge, actively volunteer your aid, and actively approach life with a sense of wonder. There’s so much out there to explore, so many experiences to partake in, and so many people to learn something new from that whether you’ve borne witness to 79 years of life on earth or 17, get out there and carve your path, embrace the excitement, affirmations, and comforts this world has to offer. Employ cartography to chart your own life and go revel in the firsthand experiences that a television set could never impart.
Despite the cultural ballyhoo that inflicts a mere calendar date with a barrage of black cats, shattered mirrors, and ladder-strewn walkways, both my sister and I are in agreement over the fact that nothing earthshaking has ever plagued us on Friday the 13th. In fact, we quite often find find ourselves accruing fortuitous luck on said ominous date. But the cultural obsession with a day that condones the old wives tales of yesteryear has got me thinking about another day that’s amassed some bad juju in the past couple of years–and thinking further still about how these negative stigmas manifest in the first place. Are people so smitten with the notion of an unlucky day that they’re personally responsible for aligning the negative cosmos in their lives? Do my sister and I enjoy Friday the 13th simply because we’ve always concentrated more on the positive aspects of what’s most likely nothing more than another average day?
While Friday the 13th produces feelings of trepidation, birthdays are calendar dates that operate on a more subjective level, and from my experience, people either love their birthday, hate it, or (for the family and friends keen to celebrate) are aggravatingly apathetic towards it. As a child who bore her fair share of witness to the birthday cynicism of parents inching towards middle age, I’m well accustomed to what it means to dread that extra candle atop a seemingly mocking cake. But to the fortunate contrary, I’ve always enjoyed my birthday, just as any juvenescent child, egocentric teenager, and party-savvy young adult should. Recently, however, I’ve begun to feel slight disdain towards a day that’s supposed to celebrate life, and now that it’s right around the corner from what is proving to be another unremarkably peaceful Friday the 13th, I feel an explanation is in order, if to at least appease the gods of fate and cure me from what may very well be a birthday imprecation.
My birthday blues have absolutely nothing to do with the typical thanatophobic fear of getting one step closer to death. While I’m a day dreaming idealist in many facets of life, realism pervades whenever the subject of death comes up: my parents taught me well, I have no delusions of immortality, and I quite look forward to the day when I can officially call myself the female equivalent of a silver fox. So instead of stemming from a Friends-esque terror of the “decrepit” age of thirty, my birthday nerves relate to personal anecdotes enveloping my last two birthdays.
Everyone and their grandma looks forward to their 21st birthday in this country, the age when the whole world (sans the rental cars needed to get you there) becomes your playground, a number that officially resonates with adulthood, and a tradition that’s been kept up since 21 connoted the physical strength necessary to bear the weight of armor and achieve knighthood. While our values may have altered greatly from the honorable intentions behind donning 110 pounds of hindering steel armor to attempt to rescue damsels from evil sorcerers and the likes, even people who aren’t in the market for a good 21st birthday shwasting still look forward to the party that commemorates their transition into liberating adulthood. Rather than living it up with my compadres and relishing the act of showing my ID to every waitress, bouncer, and unfortunate passerby, however, I spent my 21st birthday in a hospital. And no, it wasn’t because of the expected culprit: a wheelchair was in order before anyone had time to consume any alcohol.
I turned 21 while enrolled in my junior year of college in Savannah, Georgia, and despite the mild flavors of small Southern city cuisine that this Northwest foodie always complained about while living in Savannah, I wanted to round up a large group of friends and celebrate in chic, indulgent style. Thus, we met up at the slickest (and only) tapas joint in town, prepared for an evening of jazz and pampered taste buds, and anticipated enjoyment that was quickly snuffed by a hostess who refused to seat us due to two late guests, a waitress prone to sneering, and the insatiated hunger pains of a primarily male entourage when we were served the smallest tapas plates I’ve seen to date. So, to salvage my reputation as a good host and to simply revel in the summer air that persists well beyond late September, I suggested we walk down the block, buy some big pizzas, and revive the merriment that had been quelled by our disappointing (and jazz-less) tapas experience.
On the way to the pizza place, we passed through Ellis Square, and despite my newfound adult sophistication (and supposed armor-bearing prowess), some deep southern magic in the autumn air evoked the overexcitable ankle-biter in me, and I was compelled to turn on my heel, disregard the snazzy attire I’d compiled for tapas, and run straight through the dancing fountain that’s made Ellis square a hotspot for many a mother in need of respite from her clinging children. Rather than chuckling nervously and continuing onward to Americanized-Italian goodness like some of them probably wanted to, my friends followed suit, proving that inebriation is not a requirement for being a nut in a fountain. In this way, the evening was ushered along by splashes and shrieks of laughter for some time, when suddenly I turned and saw one of my friends outright sprawled on the concrete between multicolored columns of water. I knew it in that split glance: the joyousness was over.
Turns out, several of my friends had taken to outright sprinting through the fountain instead of practicing the careful little pansy hops I’d been performing all night, and rather than merely slipping on the wet concrete like I’d feared, two of them had collided into one another–at a sprint. The less fortunate of the two now lay drained of color on the concrete with a tooth broken in splinters and a possible concussion. Fortunately for my injured friend and my completely shocked self, the more levelheaded party guests took charge and organized a trip to the hospital, during which I sat completely stunned, friend’s tooth in my palm and tears tending to whatever mascara hadn’t been affected by the fountain water.
While I hate the fact that my nerves seemed to be jiving to the tune of, “it’s my party and I’ll cry it I want to,” for the rest of the night–disabling me from the mien of strength and reassurance I should have adopted for my friend–I can’t eradicate the memory of how terrifying it is to see someone you care about devoid of color, toothless, and practically unconscious. On top of that, I felt entirely at fault and still wonder to this day, if I hadn’t been drawn into that fountain like an eight year old failing to masquerade as a 21-year-old, how peaceful that evening of pizza would have been.
Flash forward a new tooth, a new year, a new E-Learning schedule from home, and another birthday. While turning 22 is about as societally exciting as scheduling an optometrist appointment, I was looking forward to the first birthday celebration with my family in three years with a reinstated sense of optimism. And just as I expected, the day started out wonderfully.
I’ve stated it before, but my sister might as well be a conjoined twin with the amount of adoration I feel for her, and while my father was at work and my mother across town, I was looking forward to a whole birthday of my sister’s company like Charlie looking forward to his rendezvous with the chocolate factory (pre-Gene Wilder’s psychopathic tunnel song). And boy howdy, does that girl know how to show you a great time. We started out the downtown celebrations with lunch at the swanky Heathman Hotel where I was buried in an avalanche of gifts that I still overwhelmingly can’t believe she doted upon me. Because one of the presents was a weighty gift card and because one of my favorite past times is trying on ridiculously embarrassing things with my sister, we figured when in the market, shop!, and proceeded to the shopaholic enclave that is Pioneer Place.
Our excursion began like any other as we thumbed through racks of things we coveted and, more importantly, things that would look hilariously heinous when donned on in the dressing room, and even though this statement plays right into the hands of cliché feminine tropes, I honestly thought it was a great way to spend my birthday. But that was before I realized my sister was no where near me, and I was shopping alone, an activity I take very little pleasure in because once the jokes stop flowing and camaraderie dissipates, the fluorescent lights, pushy crowds, and superficial floor staff make for a nightmarish ordeal.
But I wasn’t too put off by my sister’s sudden absence. I allowed logic to coerce me into the reassurance that this store was only two floors tall with few visible obstructions beyond five-foot tall racks and hordes of nattering women. So I went about my shopping, aura of birthday bliss intact. When I’d acquired a stock worthy of changing room scrutiny, however, my sister was still awol, and without the desire to relinquish full feedback privileges to a mirror, I decided it was time to initiate an active search. I can’t tell you how many times I went up and down those stairs, back and forth through various partitions, and in and out of the changing rooms to call her name, but by the time the stairwell was beginning to draw a sweat and phone calls had only connected me to her voicemail, I figured I might as well just try on my accrued ensemble in silence and hope she magically manifested on my way out.
When she didn’t, my sweat became more a product of panic than physical exertion. Because this store really wasn’t that big, and because several more trips up and down those stairs still weren’t yielding any results, the nervous wreck in me assumed the obvious answer must be that someone had abducted her out of this crowded, security guarded shopping mall. After all, the phenomenon of just missing someone by a millisecond when you comb every inch of a store only happens in crappy rom coms like Serendipity, right?
After an hour had passed, I gave up on the hunt, invoked my inner “stay in one place” boy scout, and sat down on a couch, my now purchased parcels around me as I blinked back tears of near-hysteria and envisioned an array of serial killer investigations involving the cheap fashion acolytes of Forever 21. She still didn’t pick up her phone or appear out of a rack of ponchos singing, “Jokes on you: you’re on Candid Camera!” and by this point I was too incoherent with worry to ask a sales person to conduct an all-store page for “the girl with flaxen hair.” So I sat there and waited for quite some time.
Obviously, this story ends happily, because if anything had happened to my sister this blog would have had a much darker tone since day one. Instead, she came bounding up to me almost two hours after her initial vanishing act, laden bags in tow and a bright smile on her face that was clearly miles away from the Ted Bundy and Ed Gein visions that had been tormenting me to the beat of the store’s hip playlist. To be angry with someone clearly so euphoric about the prospect of a larger wardrobe should be a crime in itself, but I was furious, and whenever I try to express my upset sentiments to my sister, she gets twice as furious. Thus, the rest of the day was spent in boiling conflict and pathetic bouts of tears until my dad arrived home and asked, “Who wants cake!?”
To fear that the negativity of birthdays past might affect birthdays in the near-present and future makes me no better than the worry mongers who think the number 13 was devised by Satan, but I can’t resist the cultural lore that bad things come in threes. While I should be ecstatic that this is the first time I’ll get to celebrate another year of life with my boyfriend (not to mention turn 23 on the 23rd, for all you old wives out there), I can’t help tainting thoughts of the oncoming date with some sense of foreboding. Yes, I’m well aware that dwelling on the negatives (like we’re practically taught to do on Friday the 13th) can’t produce much in the way of positivity, but with that uncontrollable accident in Ellis Square and that unusual solo shopping trip at Pioneer Place, one can only guess if the third time’s truly fated to be a charm.
My family has a tendency to nag my sister about her repudiation of the national criterion that expects all nineteen year olds to immediately enroll in a four year college upon high school graduation, lest they wish to toil through a life of welfare or, God forbid, work a blue-collar job for the rest of their lives. When I was still enrolled in fastidious studenthood, I might have agreed with my family’s concerns for my sister. After all, she’s an incredibly bright human being with a charming personality and the same fierce drive that makes all us Moon-Woods workaholics. If she had found a college program that appealed to her, there’d be no doubt in my mind that she would excel at it. But thus far in her life, nothing a college degree can offer has yet to beguile her into attendance, and surprisingly, I commend her for standing by that fact. I’m probably going to be ostracized from the family for the newfound beliefs I’m about to confess, but after making the decision to adhere to The Official Timeline of an American Life, I wholeheartedly support my kid sister’s decision to deter from the norm.
For some reason, the overarching sentiments of this country seem to suggest that adults who veer from the expected college track will become work force pariahs, too burdened by ignorance to climb the occupational ladder and attain the life of monetary leisure the American dream extols. We have a tendency to completely discredit other forms of learning in the face of institutionalized academia, and pity those who reject the increased opportunities a diploma provides. But it’s an obvious fact that the boot of school is not tailored to every foot–especially since many of our schools operate under the delusion that packing young, overworked brains with a winter quarter’s worth of knowledge and then testing them to assess and grade their intelligence is a universally beneficial system. For some students, this rote methodology works wonders, but for many–including obsessive-compulsive grade point extremists like myself–this system is incredibly faulty, prioritizing a numerical outcome over the individualized educations every child would receive if all schools truly fulfilled their self-referential mission.
While this is certainly a cynical take on institutionalized learning, I’m not discrediting the value of education in the slightest. I think actively broadening your mind in the pursuit of knowledge is far more important than seeking a degree for the future income it might secure, and therefore I’m a huge proponent of the academic value of continuing on to college after high school. Sadly though, elements of my schooling reinforced the fact that monetary gain takes precedence in the eyes of our Capitalist system, demonstrated by my required enrollment in several courses that were entirely useless, taught by so called “educators” who had nothing to teach and instead comprised an obligatory conveyor belt in the production line that is contemporary college.
Based off of my experience, college is a business bent on perpetuating the larger mechanism of national wealth. While the notion of putting a price on knowledge is completely counterintuitive, the idea of coupling education with the exclusivism of astronomically high tuition is outright idiotic. Yes, garnering an education at a community college is a much cheaper route, but for those who can afford and choose to attend a community college, there’s still the stigma that their educational institution is merely a stepping stone for a more expensive school, where greater resources supposedly ensure better academia and, in turn, more profitable jobs.
But when we talk about the value placed on today’s “premiere educations,” we’re talking about exorbitant prices. Even with the incredible, four-year scholarship I received, the 16 hour days I worked without breaks, and the nerve-wracking amounts my parents had to proffer up every quarter, the remaining bill still weighs on me like an unmanageable dumbbell, and I’m officially a statistic on the long list of post-grads facing a lifetime of staggering college debt.
To make matters worse, I’ve now witnessed the fact that many college graduates who’ve been roaming the “real world” much longer than I have are victims to the twisted notion of the internship. This concept might have once meant a brief, occupational transition between school and adult responsibility, but has since evolved into an interim period of strenuous unpaid labor that (like my boyfriend’s internship) can demand seven straight days of serious work, imperative to the company’s success. All of this sans the pay that an uneducated fast food employee makes in one hour.
Because the American system condones the idea of unpaid labor and demands five years worth of experience for numerous entry level jobs, many recent grads have to become fast food employees, waiters, sales floor reps, and grocery store parcels just to afford residency in the city that hosts their internship, which in the arts industry that my former college caters to, means the extremely expensive cities of New York and Los Angeles. Enter a restaurant in LA and if your server isn’t an out-of-work actor, they’re likely a post-grad with a bachelor or masters under their belt and at least five internships on their resumé. And I’m not over exaggerating. Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve become friends with law school graduate who has to waitress here in the City of Angels and can cite the impressive degrees of everyone on her restaurant’s waitstaff, and I’ve met innumerable people who shake their heads in exasperation when they tell you that yes, their fifth internship is also unpaid.
This whole transitional interlude is an incredibly stressful time, and if you took International Baccalaureate classes in high school in the hopes of attending a prestigious college that supposedly guarantees a comfortable job, you’ve been extremely stressed since you were sixteen. I accommodated this stress into my life as a natural part of living, and thanks to cautionary familial examples of the toll eschewing college can take, I always figured I’d made the right choice. But then my sister chose otherwise, and I had a new example to behold.
My sister works at a job that many would consider undesirable. In fact, having worked in the same establishment, I can vouch for those dissenting opinions myself. But my sister and I are two very different peas from the same pod of sweat and determination, and despite some displeasing elements, my sister loves her job. She’s incredibly popular amongst her coworkers, supervisors, and the customers she serves, she gets to arrange her own schedule (which happens to begin at four in the morning, at her request), she gets paid well and receives numerous benefits, and she has plenty of time to engage in her favorite after-work hobby of toning those buns and thighs at the gym she frequents. She may not have the salary of a med school-trained neurosurgeon, but she has an even more beneficial facet of life: she’s happy. And all those six years that I was tearing my hair out in academic exasperation, she was approaching life with a relaxed mindset that maintained her persistent, bona fide smile. Yes, there’s no telling what her monetary future holds without an official stamp of institutionalized approval, but is that really the most imperative crux of a human life?
To conclude, I applaud your decision to take things in stride, little sister, to live for the moment even though we can’t resist heckling you about the future, because we, like the rest of the country, abide by the fear that if you don’t acquire financial security there’s little hope for happiness. If you should ever want to learn a new skill set or venture into a new occupation that requires a piece of verifying paper, I encourage you to look into colleges or trade schools. Resist being swayed by money-hungry recruiters who’ll sing any school’s praises, and conduct your own research about the professors and the real success stories instead of the advertised statistics. Find an institution that will really give you your money’s worth, and attend it with a desire to learn, not a desire to merely graduate. And should you ever find yourself suddenly living a cautionary tale of your own, do what most narrators don’t: make an effort to change it. Life is too dang short to spend it mimicking the rest of society because that’s what’s expected of you, so go out and garner wisdom, work, and happiness however you see fit little girl. Keep approaching life with the sense of excitement and wonder you’ve always possessed, and I know you’ll do just fine.
In the same vein that Catholics have their renowned flavor of guilt, my immediate family has the alcohol taboo.
When I first started drinking at a bizarrely late and legal age in comparison to most members of my generation, I was compelled not by the usual suspects of seeking liquid confidence, struggling to obtain relaxation, or succumbing to peer pressure, but instead by my drive to try everything at least once, an inherent compulsion responsible for those kimchi-marinated snails I ate in Hawaii (the things I do for writing material). The trouble was, after trying a Georgia Peach once, I was perturbed to discover I actually liked it–as long as the bartender got the proportions right and fruit comprised the overarching piquancy. Successively, the increased sense of intrepidity, ensuing tranquility, and social aspect were just added benefits, and as long as my Georgia Peaches were balanced with steady water intake and good food, what was the problem?
The problem was that prior to acting on the experiential curiousness that compels me to seek work on a farm someday and serve as one of the background dancers in a Bollywood film, I had taken a personal oath against drinking and had spent my whole youth effortlessly overcoming the teenage escapades that stereotypically cajole substance abuse. In fact, I was never met with any of the cliché, cautionary pressures teenage television personalities have to deal with on a seasonal basis. I can’t recall a single instance in which I was egged on to drink or ostracized for sipping water through a beer pong tournament or king’s cup. My incentive for attending parties was to socialize and partake in the dancing that had better ensue at some point during the night, and contrary to what the media would have you believe, my peers seemed fine with that.
Yep, my teenage behavior was just as innately innocent, prude, and unadventurous as most kids will insist when being interrogated by their parents, and my parents knew they had nothing to worry about, for they were the inadvertent source of my non-alcoholic vow. I stem from a heritage that promoted beer and wine drinking on both sides of the family; an Irish-Swiss mix stereotypical for their Fumblin’ Dublin alcoholism and pleasant, mountain-dwelling nightcaps amidst the resonating songs of the alphorn. Remarkably, one member of my family abstained from this hereditary propensity, and fortunately for my adolescent brain cells, that family member just happened to be my mother.
Besides a glass of champagne allegedly sipped at a family party years before I was born, a private investigator would be hard pressed to cite multiple offenses when it comes to my mom and alcohol. Along with her teenage gravitation toward a healthy lifestyle of yoga and vegetarianism, my mom (pre-pre-motherhood) observed the effects alcohol had on her superiors and made the same simple decision I made in childhood: to abstain. It was my mom’s stout resolve, however, that proved victorious, as she sticks to virgin margaritas to this day.
Growing up with such an inspirational health nut made rescinding my personal temperance a guilty endeavor indeed. I like to think that if there was any religion in our agnostic household, we prayed to the deity of sobriety, and absolved my dad’s Flat Tires, Sierra Nevada IPAs, and Mirror Ponds on the premise that he’d been drinking before the Moon-Wood Church of Teetotalism was established. When it was revealed that my sister had been drinking at a young age, it was as if World War III had just surged through our doorway and my mom’s encampment had been trounced, leaving her to lament the antebellum peace of mind that had precluded this revelation. Having borne witness to this ordeal, my first few alcoholic beverages in college were enveloped in an ambience of penitent doom. Sure, my whole family save for one innocent soul drank, but everyone was completely convinced my mom had sired an unimpeachable progeny: I was the predictable kid, the one who presumably embodied the D.A.R.E. motto long after graduating from elementary school.
Fortunately for my guilty conscience, the Teetotalism denomination came equipped with three confessionals, and because I’m also renowned as the daughter who blathers on endlessly about everything and can’t keep a secret to save her life, I confessed the whole affair to my family in the throes of the worst, Bartini-induced hangover I ever intend to experience in my life.
To many, the alcohol stigma that existed in my household during my youth is a trivial affair. Alcohol is such a prevalent aspect of our culture that several families I know have taken to allowing their so-inclined teenagers to drink as long as they keep to the house, adopting the creed that thanks to that 21-year-old jerk your kid knows through a friend of a friend or those shady liquor stores that don’t check identification, there’s no absolute way to prohibit alcohol, but at least a viable way to supervise it. Having recently converted to the doctrine of The Occasional Cocktail, I like to think that when I have children of my own I’ll be able to establish this same negotiable policy, but having hitched my tent in a dry camp for so many years, it’s likely the experience will be just as difficult as it was for the Immaculate Maman.
Photography first became a prominent component of my life in 2003 when I decided to manifest the fanciful concepts of my illustrations in reality and recruited the technical aid of a tiny, auto-function point-and-shoot. But that pixelated, digital camera and an elementary photo editing software called ULead Express weren’t my only tools as I dove headshot-first into this new medium. A huge motive behind those early 72 dpi endeavors was the ability to actualize the characters from my imagination in reality using the Moon-Wood family affinity for costumes and makeup.
Putting tireless effort into creating and inhabiting the guise of a separate entity isn’t just a fond pastime though: costumes are admittedly the reason for my existence. My parents first met at a college Halloween party where my mom sported a cat suit complete with a homemade tail, ears, and makeup that would put the cast of Cats to shame. My dad, inversely, wore a gory Frankenstein mask through which you couldn’t see his handsome face (although the exposed forearms beneath the classic horror visage were enough to reel Maman in). And quite frankly, if young, coquettish Paul and Linda hadn’t been eager to take advantage of Halloween’s identity-morphing free card and suit up in a guise ulterior to their own, this blog would have a very different voice.
Although the college circumstances I met my boyfriend under weren’t even close to that archetypal 80s love story, I was reminded of the fact that I virtually owe my life to a catsuit when my man and I attended a costume party this past Friday. The theme was the impolitic subject of “gangs,” and in lieu of seizing the obvious inspiration of LA’s red, blue, or gold banners, my mind immediately went back to gang-savvy cinema and Broadway shows in which switch blade-toting thugs pirouetted their way to the kill and gang slogans went something like, “Do it for Johnny.” In my mind, the gangs that deserved imitative homage included the finger-snapping Sharks and Jets from West Side Story, Ponyboy Curtis’ macho denim crew in The Outsiders, Ace in his all-too-intimidating Hawaiian shirt and Eyeball with his coif in Stand By Me, and all the slicked pompadours of Grease. Yes, I realize I had a whole host of gangs to garner inspiration from merely by watching The Warriors, but rather than donning the green makeup and baseball cap of the formidable Furies or taking the Hi-Hats route and embodying a dastardly mime, I decided to emulate the classics. So my tough guy beau and I attended the party decked out in tight pants, high-tongued boots, a flannel rolled up to the shoulder on his end, and a leather jacket, Anita-of-Sharks-fame hoop earrings, lipstick, and a high-do on my behalf. Out we strolled from an uncharacteristic luxury vehicle (courtesy of Uber Los Angeles) into an LA house party where we were equally amiss in a sea of endless red and blue bandanas and a couple flannel shirts buttoned at the collar.
This phenomenon of appearing wholly overzealous when it comes to costumes is no new bone of contention for a Moon child though. We’ve experienced a life’s worth of bemused stares, whether cuchi-cuchi-ing all over a Latin American-themed party in Charo garb while everyone else sports sombreros and mustaches, spending hours epoxying plastic bullets into a bandolier to attend a costume party as a living Brian Viveros painting, breaking my teenage bank on every themed Homecoming dance, or garnering a crowd of onlookers while conducting costumed photo shoots in the enormous wall-length window that comprised my old bedroom. But this aversion to Party City all-in-one costume packages that results in endless hours of what sane people would consider unnecessary costume preparation is no fault of our own, and our obsessive-compulsive drive for authentic interpretation can be traced back to one progenitor: our mother.
With a B.F.A. in fibers and a lifelong flair for needlework, my mom is a homemade aficionado whose original costume designs would put McCall and Simplicity catalogues to shame if she ever decided to disseminate her patterns. Working as a third grade teacher for years, my mother became both an anticipated and legendary spectacle at her school’s annual Halloween parades, for which her perfectionism prompted numerous all-nighters in front of a sewing machine. The impressive results of these undertakings included characters like a Día de los Muertos Catrina bride, a revamped Maleficent (complete with shoulder-perched crow), and a life-sized praying mantis supporting a huge papier mâché-fabric head with large, multi-ommatidia eyes (all the better to beguile edible male mantises with).
But although we may stick out like over-dressed sore thumbs at every themed fête we attend, I have my mom’s tireless quest for perfection in homemade costuming to thank for a career in metamorphic self-portraiture that began long before I’d ever heard of Cindy Sherman, Claude Cahun, and Leigh Bowery. Since then, this inherited passion for costumes and makeup has enabled innumerable transformations for both photo shoots and costumed affairs alike. For when you invite a Moon sister to your costume soirée and inadvertently open her hefty wardrobe filled with wigs, jewelry, traditional Mexican huipiles, hand-me-down fur coats and hats from our Nana, those medieval gowns we had to wear to a great-aunt’s wedding, shoes of every heel height, patterns galore, authentic 80s Benetton solids, and makeup palettes that span the color wheel, you really never know what you’re gonna get.
When two people who love each other fight, it’s one of the most piffling spectacles around. Testosterone prevails, prompting inner gorillas to puff out their chests, and nerves are frayed, making it hard to understand what the argument’s even about through all the Jimmy Stewart stammering. Teeth grit as the couple tries to refrain from making statements they can’t rescind and ultimately, if the pair is still smitten when the blows begin to cease, somebody caves and they’re left wondering what the last hour and a half was worth.
When two people who don’t love each other anymore fight, however, it’s an entirely different can of beans. Especially if one party is plagued by bipolar disorder and the other is ultra-hypersensitive.
There was a time in my childhood when I regularly beheld the savage evidence that love was fleeing my household in increments, and as a result I pledge to the Tao of Separation when I say that sometimes divorce is a wonderful thing.
But at the age of thirteen, years after the screaming tournaments had dissipated, peace had become commonplace, and my parents were well adjusted to their separate lives, homes, and dating arenas, my father mistook my disapproval of his new girlfriend for resurfacing divorce pangs, and my younger sister and I were sent off to divorce camp.
Feeling the resentment Hansel and Gretel must have felt when their woodcutter father listened to his second wife and sent them packing, I was furious about the arrangement. After all, I was in the prime of the raging preteens (a likely cause of the aversion to the new lady friend, but with Dad’s concurrence after their break up, I still maintain that she was neurotic). In those dark ages I was teeming with the only year-long hellishness my parents would ever have to endure from their children, and chartered the histrionic teenage slogan “everything’s unjust.” Attending night classes at a nearby high school for counseling on a bygone facet of life that I’d been rejoicing for years certainly fell into the “unjust” category. I’m not positive what my sister thought about the whole ordeal (she was still in the stage of indifferent agreement, probably to avoid my preteen wrath), but she trudged into Westview High School’s empty, after-hours hallways with me just the same: going up against my intimidatingly muscular father and his obduracy was not an option.
I don’t remember how long divorce camp lasted each night or how many times we attended it. In fact, I don’t remember much of divorce camp at all, as if self-induced amnesia wiped my adolescent slate clean. That, or I just wasn’t paying any attention. But while the course curriculum and the face of our male counselor slip my mind, I remember the atmosphere with clarity. Divorce camp is a sorrowful place, attended by kids who probably resisted their parents’ decisions to partake with the same obstinacy I displayed but who probably needed a compassionate guide to lead them out of the throes of misunderstanding. By surveying the circle that my sister and I had become a part of, it was apparent that all the children in attendance, including one of the popular girls from my own school district who I was startled to recognize, were conflicted about the ordeal their parents had brought upon them, and while my sister and I sat through the lessons with apathy clear on our faces, it was humbling to witness the effects divorce has on a child when it’s dealt with incautiously.
Even though they wear the red badge of divorce, my parents are exceptionally gifted at the job they ushered into their lives when I was born. They certainly weren’t one of those calendar-counting couples, eager to have kids since they played “house” in their juvenescence (like… eh hem… me), but they arose to the task of nurturing and educating their children with such a natural finesse that besides the year of frenetic hormones, my sister and have always been confident, good-natured individuals with unyielding love for the people who raised us. It was with this same open-dialogue and compassion my parents always administered that they went about familiarizing us with the end of their marital union, and because of their attention to detail, I’ve never been able to relate to the children who blame themselves for their parents separation. For me, divorce was a welcome relief. Sure, it meant moving back and forth between parents every two weeks for the next nine years, enormous laundry basket and textbook-filled backpack bursting at the seams in tow, but that only produced incredibly efficient packing skills.
Still and all, observing the despondent faces of my fellow counseling detainees, under bright, interrogational fluorescents no less, revealed to my kid-self that divorce is very often not such a clean affair, and there are bound to be emotional casualties beyond those of the legal settlement parties.
So I suppose the moral of this disquisition goes something like this: should you have kids now, or should you acquire them somewhere along the line (either unexpectedly or pre-planned since a matronly childhood), try to maintain an honest discourse with them–and not just about life-altering issues like divorce, but about all facets of life. They may be small and naturally incur your irrepressible baby-talk in the early years, but having been a small, tow-headed child at one point, I clearly remember that even little kids can absorb new information if you take the time to teach them. Besides, if an open relationship means saving your kids from belittling experiences like the extraneous divorce camp your neurotic girlfriend recommends, then why wouldn’t you engage in a little confab with your baby-kin every now and then?
I can’t remember the last time I audibly stammered to someone’s face, but I won’t hastily forget this occasion.
Today as I headed back from work, turning onto Chicago St. in my neighborhood of district-homages and sweating profusely after a two mile hike in the quintessentially dry heat of the southwest, a woman I’d passed once before noticed my friendly smile and returned the favor. Then, she uttered an entire conversation in rapid-fire Spanish. When she paused for my reaction, I opened my mouth and nothing came out… for several seconds.
Now before you go dismissing me as the ignorant Anglo-Saxon I made myself out to be on the corner of Chicago and Michigan, allow me to divulge a little history. Ever since I was mistakenly assigned Spanish Immersion History in the 6th grade, I’ve always taken Spanish classes. Not only was this decision based on the advantages the skill provides in the job market, but it also stemmed from the fact that I grew up in a household that doubled as a mini Mazatlan; bedecked in a vibrant, chili pepper color palette, adorned with a skull-faced Catrina or Frida or collection of alebrijes in every room, and owned by a woman whose obsession with Mexico bridged from her hacienda replica in Portland to a casa auténtica she inhabited for a time in Oaxaca. While I resided in this Latin American lifestyle with mi mamá, Spanish was spoken fluently under our roof, and the approbation I received in Spanish class reflected it.
Once I graduated from high school and money began to dictate my education, language was forced to take the wayside, and the extreme expectations art schools perpetuate extinguished any time or energy I had to devote to practicing a second language. It’s true what they say about retention diminishing once you’ve exited childhood, and I’m the perfect case study. As a high school student, I could understand and speak Spanish, easily read and write in the language, and even think in Spanish, but inconstant exposure has stripped away several of those capabilities, reducing me to someone who can understand what you’re saying, but won’t be able to respond unless you’re only question is, “How are you?”
I have to consider myself fortunate for retaining anything at all though–especially considering the fact that my summer job during college involved teaching art to over 150 Spanish-speaking middle school students. It’s a sure bet that if I hadn’t been able to understand the petty wisecracks my kids initially made behind my back, I would have never earned their respect. Personal experience and three years in the business taught me that teenagers are ruthless enough when they feel age inhibits adults from understanding them, let alone a language barrier. Step back into the shoes of a fourteen-year-old and come armed with comedic ripostes for every snide remark, however, and you’ll earn yourself some incredibly entertaining friends.
Today, years after my participation in the Spanish Honors Society and my stint as a middle school ringmaster, I reside in what several downtown Los Angelenos have described as “the ghetto,” but from my perspective it seems a lot like home–or what Mexico City will be like once I finally travel outside of this country. My community is predominantly Hispanic, the surrounding shops are mostly tiendas and mercados, and thus far only the beaming woman I met in the street today has attempted to make conversation, discussing things I understood (Isn’t it a beautiful, sunny day? How are you doing? Good? Well my dear, may the Holy Father in heaven watch over you and bless you with good health and a wonderful day!), but could only think to say, “¡Gr-gracias!” to in response.
It’s sad to think that a girl so smitten with audial and visual language, who used to sing classical arias in Italian, German, and French and who continues to create multi-lingual artwork, has to stammer her way through one phrase of Spanish. Call it a fluke and blame it on the heat of the day, the two mile trek on blistered, flip-flopped feet, or the preoccupied concentration with what on earth I could discuss in this blog today, but ultimately I think this shameful faux pas is a sign: time to whip out a sombrero in the guise of a thinking cap, seek the counsel of the venerated Rosetta Stone, and get back to broadening my mind, Sybill Trelawney style!
When I was still a tiny little thing small enough to lift my weight doing every last pull-up you’d dared me to, I lived in the mountain town of Oakridge, Oregon, an equally tiny city where the only activities beyond whittling bear statues and getting pregnant included mountain recreations and mingling at the local Dairy Queen. Coming from a family that spent most of their time alfresco, secretly avoiding people, outdoor recreation proved to be the obvious choice, and merrymaking ensued around winding dirt trails, up the sides of snow-peaked mountains, to the tops of waterfalls, and down the medium-level ski slopes where six-year-old girl pile ups only got in the way of real skiers. One of our favorite hobbies was venturing to bodies of water, as if the Moon in us was trying to get back to overseeing the tide. We spent the majority of our recreational time vacationing on the Pacific, donning on water socks to trapeze our way across the crystal clear Willamette (before it cascaded down the mountains into the city sludge that comprises the Portland waterfront), doubling up on jet skis at my uncle’s houseboat to ride the wake of speed boats and inevitably flip over three times, distracting ourselves from the nude old fogies at the hot springs by squishing sulphuric mud between our toes, and spending the day paddling around Oakridge’s many reservoirs, our skin getting browner and our locks bleaching in the sun.
One of our favorite spots on the reservoir, just a few winding, cliff-side miles from town, was CT Beach, a little inlet that looked upon an enormous picturesque lake where fishermen could deposit their boats and outdoorsy families like mine could lay out a picnic and then dive in. On one such outing, my family towed in a big inflatable raft and oars from my dad’s rowing days, and we set sail against the slight chop the wind picked up across the water. A beautiful day beamed down on the Moon-Wood family as the two little daughters paddled themselves in circles, when all of a sudden my dad–like all young dads before their children hit puberty and refuse to be amused–decided to shake things up and flip the boat.
Everybody flew from the raft shrieking through mouthfuls of water, angrily splashing my dad, and groaning, “Daaaaaaaddy!!!,” but I was far from able to unleash my juvenile wrath on anyone because I was accidentally tied to the boat. Upside down, fully submerged, and struggling against the little bounds I’d gotten myself caught in, I stared down into depths I would later discover looked like a cavernous mud vortex winding down to the center of the earth (that you could hike!) when they drained the reservoir. I couldn’t see far at the time because the water here was always thick with green silt, but I could imagine the life flourishing just out of view. Looking up was no better, as I beheld summer sunlight pirouetting across the undulating surface, reminding me that I was down below, in this dark, oppressively silent world.
This story clearly has a happy ending, as young athletic dads with a penchant for peevishness also tend to be very good at saving kids from overdramatized accidents, but a life experience like that changes a girl, and soon, little water baby Emily Moon was terrified of the element that had previously brought her so much joy. But that didn’t mean I immediately holed myself away in a desert trailer, turning on faucets with my eyes closed. When you’re an older sister, your entire life revolves around maintaining a facade of bravery for the little one’s sake, even when “the little one” is twenty years old and your “bravery” is put to the test simply catching the spider she’s screaming about.
With this sense of faux strength inflating my sails, I spent the next sixteen years approaching large bodies of water with a weird amalgamation of terror and domination, eager to beat back the aquatic threat that had done me no greater harm than instilling my irrational phobia. There were times when I almost lost the battle against the big blue drink–like the numerous times the stormy Pacific waves tried to beat me into a pulp against the sand below; the time a deceptively beautiful river in Westfir began to drag my wild-eyed, fervently paddling Shoobie away in its current and my dad–ever the aquacade hero–had to dive in and rescue her; and the time my cousin Mahina tried to leap from the houseboat deck to to my uncle’s boat, undershot it, and I experienced the cinematic cliché of gripping her hands while she begged me not to let her fall into the black, nighttime river below (fortunately, everyone’s parents came running before my clammy little hands resulted in Willamette folly). But in my relentless crusade to save face, I usually win, engaging in daring stunts just to thumb my nose at fear. Included in these reckless behaviors are swimming far out from shore by myself in Kauai, to the depths reserved for surfing the combers that break over the encompassing reef; swimming for hours on end at night, off of Tybee Island, when the world is black and the fish are feeding one state up from shark-beset Floridian waters; and pausing on the shore to listen to the sound of something big and lumbering, splashing through the water only feet away on a strange southern night when the beach fog was so thick you couldn’t see six inches in front of your face. While I’m none too eager to repeat the idiotic behaviors of my past, at least I can rack up the points against my phobia, limbs still wholly intact.
I don’t make the fight against fear easy for myself though. While harboring nightmares of the deep, I’ve always been incredibly fascinated by bodies of water: researching aquatic creatures–pelagic or otherwise, exploring multicultural mythologies bent on explaining away the sea, writing numerous stories that enveloped seafaring in some way, and squirming through every episode of River Monsters I could get my hands on, too distracted by the idea that freshwater’s teeming with terrifying things like pallid, Spanish river dolphins to admire my oldest man-crush to date: extreme wrangler Jeremy Wade.
Thus, it’s a strange, masochistic love affair I’ve got going on with water. On the one hand, water has chaperoned most of my life and provided me with some of the fondest memories I can summon to this day. Sure sharks feed at night, but lying there in a black bed of oscillating seawater while staring up at an enormous white moon was one of the most serene moments of my life. And declaring Monkey Head Rock officially seized while the tide swiftly began to close in was exhilarating. On the other hand, all this risky business I conduct to prove my “might” may very well lead to me straight down to Davy Jones’ locker on the Flying Dutchman Express.
Perhaps if I can surmount this fear of mine though, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing… At least there’s always the Bill Dance bloopers my dear Greta James introduced me to to get ya rootin’ for water!