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.
In the words of a comedic band I didn’t want to admit were aging as I beheld their greying, mutton chop-less visages at the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival, “The city is alive, the city is expanding, living in the city can be demanding.” I’m sure having travelled from the sheep-shearing, Hobbit-roving bliss of New Zealand to all the major cities of the United States, Flight of the Conchords delivers this message with the same heartfelt sincerity that every city dweller employs when they stick their head out a bedroom window and yell, “SHUT UP!” It’s such a commonplace notion that it’s hardly worth stating, but cities are loud and generally don’t come equipped with James Stewart’s euphonic pianist and soprano neighbors in Rear Window. On top of this corroboratory fact, city noise always amalgamates into the same nerve-wracking din no matter how disparate the individual components nor how varied the population size.
At 8 o’clock this morning, I was jostled from a sickbed completely surrounded by flu remedies (including DayQuil, NyQuil, Ricola, Emergen-C, and Sex and the City season 6) by a mariachi album set to full blast, a barbershop quartet of dogs who might have been hyperventilating through their barks, and a car alarm that could easily alert its owner from the middle of the sea. This early symphony–coupled with a daily opus of ever-celebratory fireworks, 2am basketball games, and rival ice cream trucks distinguishable only by their repeated children’s song of choice as they circle the block at least eight times a day–may be specific to my new neighborhood, but downtown Los Angeles is not alone in its incessant emanation of sound. Nor are LA’s outer boroughs, such as Culver City where my boyfriend’s next-door neighbors are constantly regaling the whole neighborhood with drunken arguments at the nightly parties they seem to throw and the entire family downstairs might be diagnosed with Tourette’s.
In a much smaller city on the opposite side of the country, the noise may come in a different flavor but barrages your eardrums with the same torrential force. During my last year in Savannah, Georgia, I moved from a quiet, woodside dormitory where the introverted inhabitants avoided eye contact at all costs, let alone uttered a peep, into an apartment that might as well have doubled as a palace compared to the cubby hole I occupy today. The only downside to Heaven on Montgomery was that it was on Montgomery–one of the busiest streets in town, especially when your block resided in “downtown.” Rather than illegal fireworks and ever-festive mariachi bands, this corner of Montgomery and Alice hosted a cast of noise makers that verify the zaniness John Berendt immortalized in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
First, there was the “Ey” Man, an older gentleman consistently dressed in what the 1960s would have deemed “the nines” who walked down Montgomery looking pleasantly dapper and intermittently calling, “Ey… Ey… Ey…” Then there was the late night serenader: a young man prone to slowly pacing up and down the street after dark, singing the latest R&B hits at the top of his lungs as if wooing the city itself or simply shouting to hear his voice over headphones. Along with these and several other vocal individuals like an infamously impolite mother, there was a weekly congregation of people who spent hours cackling at the tops of their lungs like a coven of witches while ironically mingling in a church parking lot. And we can’t forget the honk-happy populace eager to lay their entire body weight on the horn at the slightest hint of inconvenience, a far cry from the Oregonians who take extreme offense if you timidly tap the horn by accident.
Immersion in this incessant cacophony from the east to the west can make a girl miss her childhood home in the mountains, where yards that contemporary suburban developers couldn’t fathom separated everyone from even the slightest noises their neighbors might make and any hillbillies keen on disrupting the peace with a blaring horn were hindered by the shoddiness of their rusting trucks. After leaving this quiet respite at the age of nine, you’d think spending the majority of my life amidst the endless hubbub of sirens, babbling passerby, screeching tires, and Savannah’s garrulous night birds, I’d have grown fond or at least accustomed to the soundtrack of city life. But lately if there’s no Enya playlist to drown out the racket, all I can do refrain from leering out my window at the ice cream man is wistfully dream about pattering rain showers, ocean tides, or a future ranch in Montana complete with a team of middle aged corgis to keep me quiet company.
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.
Of all the rites of passage young people undergo in pursuit of the adulthood they’ll regret upon actual achievement, there might be none more universal than the young attempt to create a band. Almost everyone I know harbored dreams of musical grandeur at some point in their lives, be it in the form of a Josie and the Pussycats tribute band, a clarinet quartet, or a Guitar Hero cop out. Having come from a city that could second as an indie pop production line, I’ve borne witness to band aspirations that actually attain liminal success, from ex-boyfriend’s acoustic albums and official ticket-selling concerts to reviews about former classmates’ bands in Teen Vogue, Elle, and Rolling Stone Magazine.
But beyond the unexpected success stories and the high school band kids who were–true to their pop culture pigeonhole–sexually active, many bands showed potential as talented collaborations or conceptual tycoons, recorded one hit, and dissipated into the recesses of adolescent nostalgia before any substance abuse or Courtney Love maladies could set in.
Personally, I was baited by four wannabe, guitar-toting ensembles, two of which needed lead vocals on cover songs, one of which headlined as “Il Punto G” and served as a mockumentary college band more interested in costumed music videos than music itself, and the last of which was the brainchild of two friends in need of a memorable final project for a Religion and Philosophy course taught by a taller, more sardonic J.K. Simmons.
I don’t even know if the first band had a name, but it featured a gaggle of girls who’d finagled their way around a couple guitars, bass, and a tambourine, and recruited me to produce the verbose and unfamiliar lyrics of a song that served as their mantra: Death Cab for Cutie’s “Title and Registration.” Needless to say, the fledgling band suffered a Guns N’ Roses fallout almost as soon as I failed to match Ben Gibbard’s timbre and several members went on to produce actual albums with one of the aforementioned exes. Fortunately, while one or two of them may have looked like Axl Rose in his effeminate heyday, nobody grew up to look like the 51 year old comeback.
The later bands emerged almost in unison, one out of academic necessity and the other, the infamous Nostril Hair Band, out of covetousness of the first. Nostril Hair’s sole attempted claim to fame was a cover of Fastball’s “The Way,” but despite the meager track listing, promotional materials flourished as obligatory mustaches were donned, younger sisters were employed as models, and photo shoots were conducted to market a one-hit-wonder band that never properly recorded their one hit.
Thus, the only band that ever produced anything beyond some memorable, androgynous photography was Shirt & Velociraptor, a band consisting of two girls, one guitar, one synthesizer, one father’s recording setup, and a mission to encapsulate the philosophical notion of “utopia” in harmoniously comedic balladry. While titular photo shoots were dreamt up, the hassle of achieving velociraptor makeup resulted in a band whose legacy spanned a one-track audio cassette, one promotional illustration, and a cover photo shot amidst the dystopian remnants of one member’s burnt-down vacation home. Ironically enough, that lone song has garnered some pretty positive feedback from today’s hipster-manic populace.
While viral YouTube glory may not have been in the cards for any of those bands, music was certainly an organic part of my existence in those days. As if trilling away the hours in classical voice lessons wasn’t enough, I was an avid composer, crafting 18 songs to lyrical and instrumental fruition and numerous more that remained confined to the pages of various college-ruled journals. With a songbook that featured satirical numbers and full on narratives that were at once part B-52’s, part Sting, part Portishead, part Third Eye Blind, part Renée Fleming, and part Björk, my synthesizer and I were shaping up to be great composers bored to death by the hackneyed pop star hits we were bound to draft for the rest of our lives. But when the writer’s block epidemic of 2006 hit, gone was my burgeoning talent for amalgamating poetry and a perfect pitch.
It’s a shame that a songwriter’s last smidgeon of creativity was spent on a track entitled “Gojira Girl” just as positive feedback and offers for instrumental accompaniment began flowing in, and it’s an even greater shame that a band with a moniker like Shirt & Velociraptor could extinguish so quickly after finally mastering a basic TASCAM recording device. Thank goodness midlife crises and the elderly cover band phenomenon offer second comings to adolescent hopefuls keen on perking ears with the untapped talent we all swear to.
For someone who still hasn’t learned how to cope well with change, even after uprooting and inhabiting fourteen different homes in my lifetime, I sure do revel in the drastic changes produced by a much-needed, thorough house cleaning. It’s the kind of cleaning that requires a reserved schedule, an extra large bottle of 409, and a hefty playlist that won’t run out on you when you’re elbow deep in dust bunnies that makes my heart sing. But as a life long neat-freak whose only recently learned how to turn a blind eye to a little disorganization, the mess that precludes a therapeutic cleaning session sets my teeth on edge. Thus, fate must have had a hankering for a hearty bowl of irony when it made certain that some of the people I love most would come equipped with a blatant irreverence for cleanliness.
Besides the sanitary nirvanas I established in my private bedrooms at my grandma’s house, my mom’s old condo, and all three of my college dorms, I spent my entire life wading through my sister’s ever-amassing mess–just a handy byproduct of the money two bedroom apartments can save a parent. Sharing a room with a sibling can be a very beneficial experience as far as interpersonal development is concerned, but when a sibling’s disdain for clothes hangers, trashcans, and any semblance of organization begins to extend to your territory, sharing a room can become a massive source of contention. Thus, I thank God for the zen retreat college offered before I suffered a filth-induced break down and threw away my sister’s excessive sombrero collection for good.
Little did I know, my privacy-affirming stint amidst college recuperation would introduce me to another best friend with the same lifelong affinity for interior chaos: my boyfriend. Hanging out at his house in Savannah (the canvas of his hardwood floors awash with an abstract expressionistic collage of stuff) was perfectly fine in the beginning. I was in the giddy throes of a new relationship and therefore could overlook the daily hassle of tiptoeing around half-empty and cap-less Gatorade bottles, heaps of clothes supposedly arranged according to memorized cleanliness, and antiquated pizza boxes that you couldn’t get me to open even if you blindfolded me and told me you had a surprise from Nordstrom.
Today, over a year later and with a different locale’s palm trees comprising the vista from our windows, things have changed a bit. With the adrenaline of giddiness replaced by the comfort of familiarity, it’s harder to ignore the causal relationship between an orderly environment and a sense of internal stability, and therefore some serious cleaning was in order. But I went about it with extreme trepidation. Pop culture and personal experience have long demonstrated that you should never attempt to change the habits of a man lest you’re in the market for a short relationship, and even more critically, you should never attempt to change the habits of a disorganized person, lest you wish the heaps of wrath to triple out of spite. But having respected these taboo philosophies for years, I can’t help but pose the question: how do two people whose lifestyles differ so drastically in the cleanliness department make a homestead merger work? When both sides of a partnership need very different environments to feel comfortable in their home, is there any feasible solution?
In my experience, the hoarder always wins. Just like the female weight gain plight, creating a mess is much easier than cleaning one up, and therefore we neat-freaks generally surrender before the losing battle’s begun. What’s the point of procuring immaculate cleanliness if the other party will drop their jacket, keys, lunch leftovers, and receipts on the floor the minute they return home? In some memorable situations, I was even chastised for cleaning my sister’s side of the room because it imposed upon her methodologies and added stress to her leisurely lifestyle. Inversely, no one was reprimanded when her belongings began crossing the imaginary barrier that separated our space, seeking refuge in the wide open spaces that I strained to preserve.
When it comes to cleaning your boyfriend’s house, that’s an even bigger taboo. While your sister will presumably always love you no matter how many times you threaten to donate the stuffed animals she crammed under your bed and neglected for years, your boyfriend has the privilege of opting out of the partnership whenever he chooses–especially if the messiness you just vacuumed away and took out with the morning trash made him feel comfortable in his domain.
But at least my loved ones know I’m not a completely heartless tyrant when it comes to the devoid lifestyle I lead. Despite the hoarding genetics I come from, I’ve always been one to throw out unnecessary belongings, a trait my mom employs whenever she needs an insensate outsider to clean her studio. When I prepared to move back to the west coast upon college graduation, however, it was a different story. I didn’t possess much in Savannah, but what I did own I’d accrued over four years and looked to as a source of comfort when homesickness struck or when I needed a reminder of the strong, independent woman that had burgeoned out of my eastern isolation.
I had gifts from family and friends back home, household necessities that catered perfectly to my interior design palate, and emblems of my life as both a photographer in need of antique props and an outdoorsy adventurer who loved finding industrial remnants of bygone eras. When I made ready to leave my short-term home in Savannah, almost all of those possessions had to be thrown away, and what few belongings I could transport were scratched, torn, or completely destroyed by the Transportation Security Administration’s haphazard searches. While both my mental solace and nomadic lifestyle require a trove of few possessions, the Savannah exuviation was a difficult thing to undergo, and every now and then I still get remorseful pangs for that Detective Narratives anthology that I never finished, the heavy-weight tripod I had to part with, and the vintage BB gun that some happy little boy in the fifties probably shot at irate family members.
Via these experiences, I’ve learned a few life lessons when it comes to cleaning frenzies. In some situations, the space you have really isn’t as important as the memories emanating from the objects that fill it. Perhaps my sister kept all those excessive sombreros to remember the Chevy’s birthday parties that had yielded them. And for all I know, my boyfriend may very well stockpile memories in The Mess himself. So while he may disapprove of my sudden need to regain household solace when he arrives home and bears witness to the carpet for the first time in months, he can rest assured that nothing was thrown away beyond half-empty Gatorade bottles, indeterminate wrappers, and endless receipts.
Several weeks ago, I’d nearly forgotten that this month marked the one year anniversary of an accumulated facet of my persona that goes unnoticed by the general populace but serves as a daily perturbation to myself. This facet doesn’t require much in the ways of explanation, but warrants a story via its sheer unexpected endurance.
I was one year younger, one year more invulnerable amidst a customarily stressful summer of juggling two jobs within an 80 hour work week, and one year toothier, with four wisdom teeth completing their emergence in my jaw. Having hosted those four budding molars for years without any professional indication that they needed to be extracted, the “wisest” of incisors would have been welcome to set up permanent residence in my dental cul-de-sac if they hadn’t been pushing together the gap between my front teeth. An iconic aspect of my semblance that had served as an adolescent source of contention, and later a pivotal aid in establishing my self-confidence, my gap was an important symbol of both my personal and business identities. Thus with one of my favorite assets diminishing before my eyes, I had to take action fast, and as soon as I returned to Portland for summer vacation, dentists were visited, examinations were conducted, referrals were made for dental surgeons, and appointments were scheduled. Come August, I was all set to endure the surgery that’s made many a chipmunk out of even the most sallow-faced patients, and having been regaled with a myriad of nightmare stories including my friend Nyssa’s immense pain that even ice cream couldn’t quell, the school jokester who’d asked my mom if she’d rubbed orange peels on the pronounced spots where her jaw was badly bruised, and my father’s excessive bleeding that required immediate medical attention, I was far from enthused about the whole ordeal.
My major concern entailed something the nurse had momentarily paused in her incessant description of her favorite dishes at Noodle House to tell me during my pre-surgery check up. According to my $200 x-rays, my wisdom teeth had matured to the extent that the roots were anchored far down into the meat of my gums, right next to the nerve that’s responsible for all the feeling in my lower jaw. Even with the x-rays, the surgeons couldn’t determine if the nerve ran through a hole in the roots of my teeth or if it merely paralleled them, but if it was the former scenario, they would have to severe the nerve to extract the teeth, leaving my jaw numb for the rest of my life.
Naturally, a lot of liability paperwork ensued.
Come surgery day, I met with the doctor who’d flirted with my mom about her predominantly purple attire (the same color the medical center boasted in their scrubs) and the noodle-savvy nurse who’d gleefully shown me the top of her waist-high underwear to prove that purple superseded the scrubs in this facility. With the future of my nerves in these competent hands, I was sedated, and all else of that appointment beyond waking up drooling and being escorted to the car is a mystery. In the post report, however, I received the great news that it turned out the nerve only paralleled my teeth, and there was no severing necessary. Over the next week of uncontrollable salivation, a daily bout of bleeding, and slight puffiness that disappointedly did not warrant any chipmunk jokes, I couldn’t feel my jaw at all, but could rest assured that with copious amounts of Oxycodone-laced apple sauce, a water syringe to clean the cavernous holes at the back of my mouth, and the comical head sling that was meant to keep the swelling down, I would heal.
Soon, the pain had subsided and despite the prominent bruises on my face, the thick lisp I’d developed, and the lack of feeling in my jaw that made drooling an inescapable mannerism, it was back to the old, grocery customer service grind. After days of accidentally drooling down the front of my uniform and telling customers, “The ithe ith down aithle thixth,” my symptoms began to subside, and it seemed I’d been successfully inducted into the club of wisdom teeth extraction recuperators.
Well, all my symptoms had subsided except for one: I still couldn’t feel my jaw.
After a couple weeks of the pins and needles sensation that plagues sleeping limbs or nerves that are overcoming a hearty dosage of anesthesia, it was time to bring my plight to the attention of Dr. Old Tease and Nurse Mauve Panties. The doctor dragged several instruments back and forth across my jaw, and stabbed me with a sharp little poker to pique a reaction, but if I hadn’t borne witness to his attempts, all of them would have gone completely unnoticed. According to the doctor, however, there was nothing to fear. A lot of patients experienced delays in the return of sensation, and because my nerve had been so close to the roots of my teeth, it was likely it had been bruised during the operation. Thus, feeling would take a long time to return to my jaw, if bruising was all that occurred. Without another $200 x-ray, however, there was no way to tell for certain what had happened under the operating knife…
So, without the slightest desire to subject my parents to another large expenditure, I did the only thing you can do in an inconclusive situation like this: I waited.
And returned to classes.
And enjoyed an October vacation in LA, only to discover how weird it is to kiss your boyfriend when one lip is insensate.
And went on one of SCAD’s excessively long winter breaks to enjoy homemade pumpkin pie, pumpkin scones, and pumpkin bread through a comatose mouth.
And waited some more.
And returned to school for my last two quarters, posed for graduation photos with a tingling sensation in my smile, and moved out to Los Angeles to start the infamous “next chapter” of life.
Now it’s August, 2013, twelve months and two weeks after my surgery.
I can’t for the life of me believe an entire year has past since I first lost feeling in my jaw. One month into the ordeal, I couldn’t fathom enduring such a nuisance for the six month period my doctor predicted, and six months in I figured I must be getting close to recovery now!
But alas, here I am celebrating the one year anniversary of what may very well become a lifelong component of my face. While the numb sensation was excruciatingly aggravating for the majority of this experience, the fact that I’ve reached a point of blissful unawareness for the majority of the day is a testament to how easily humans can acclimate to different situations. At least there’s hope in the fact that we as a species are powerful adapters, and although our generally keen memories may cause frequent reminiscing of the days when we could rest our chin against our palm without hammering vibrations erupting beneath our skin, my year-long relationship with Numb Jaw has taught me not to place so much stock in a small thing like a shoddy nerve.
My friend Mark recently notified me that Xanga, the online hospice for attention-seeking preteens and angst-driven high schoolers, has finally come to terms with its fiscal and technological fossilization and is shutting down tomorrow unless it fulfills the last two-thirds of its staggering resuscitation quota by some miracle of God. The last time I thought about my Xanga blog was when I suddenly felt impelled to create this WordPress account, but in that instance I merely pondered the medium of blogging itself–not the content of my diaristic teenage rants and ramblings. Now that I’m faced with an actual expiration date, I figured my old Xanga deserved a parting once-over.
As soon as the adolescent memories started amassing, I realized revisiting three out of the innumerable blog posts was enough for me. Present-day critics certainly aren’t kidding when they joke about Xanga’s cultivation of the malaise. While I usually entertained my small but loyal cohort of subscribers with a hyperactive sense of humor that has since evolved, there are a couple blog entries that augment the Xanga standard for emotional harangues. Some of these vociferations probably revolve around my father’s neurotic girlfriend at the time, but most irrefutably deal with the boys of my past. For instance, in one entry I spend a paragraph listing off my relationship standings with 23 guy friends, exes, and past crushes–the majority of whom I have absolutely no memory of (Straight Ryan and Gay Ryan? Sebastian #5629? Skunk Boy!?). To make matters more difficult, I speak in a cryptically metaphoric manner that only close friends could have decoded back in 2006. Flash forward to what I assumed were my greater mental faculties of 2013, and I have no idea what in Buddha’s name I was babbling on about.
One thing I do remember with clarity, however, is a pastime documented in an entry dated Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006; an entry that describes a breakup with a former boyfriend in morose detail.
When I was growing up, I never confined myself to a single clique, floating instead from each stereotyped social circle with ease thanks to my fluid label of “artist.” Apparently, this liminal nature translated to the host of guys who came courting, because my boyfriends of school years past were quite the archetypal medley. Amidst this collection was the indie musician who started my high school dating life with disturbingly long, 70s tresses and reappeared years later to culminate high school with a hackneyed Portland beard; the pseudo-gothic, punk kid whose attraction to me apparently emanated from my obvious “innocence” and probably contributed to his recent conversion to born-again Christianity; the multicultural cross-country athlete who barely said a word to me the entire time we dated and puked at my feet whenever I tried to congratulate him after a race; the visually-deceptive hyper-nerd who built his own iPad from scratch and intended to revolutionize Lexus sound wave technology via his favorite overused phrase of “frequencies;” the budding politician who at 6’8″ would tower over the competition but ultimately make one of the most lethargic congressmen ever elected; and an array of flings so obsolete as to nullify explanation.
What most of the aforementioned disparate characters had in common (besides their initial gravitation towards a giggly, teenage girl with dyed gold hair and hurdling bruises) was that they fell prey to a cruel trend I seemed unable to shake back in those days: my propensity for dumping guys after a mere three weeks of dating. I suppose I was something of an unbreakable foal back in those days, my head too high in the clouds to find any value in menial high school relationships and my young predilections too fickle to be anchored to any one commitment for long. It wasn’t that I was completely inhumane though: in the November Xanga entry where I describe my breakup with the taciturn athlete (who finally mustered up a response when he punched a locker in anger and went on to compose several songs that anathematized my name and garnered meager local fame), my compunction and sorrow is apparent and I vividly recall succumbing to the romcom cliché of lamenting each separation with a fresh crop of tears.
In retrospect, however, I can’t help but muse that some transcendental Moon intuition was at play every time I said my adieus on the 21st day of a relationship. After all, years of rumination and introspection have asserted that every single one of those beaus was not a good union by Matchmaker Yente’s criterion. It was only when I went against the three-week benchmark and reconnected with my first high school boyfriend that the whiplash of retribution catalyzed a new chapter of my dating life, resulting in one of the most harrowing experiences of my youth and teaching me a life-altering lesson in recuperation and self-perseverance.
Today, as I look back on those first three Xanga posts, mulling over the irony that three is still the biggest number I can stomach, I can’t help but feel a sense of peaceful detachment. While it’s a fascinating study in human maturation, reading the words of a young girl with an entirely different outlook on life, a slew of petty relationships in her past, and no suspicion of the interpersonal bliss she’d accidentally discover junior year of college, merely reminds me of a bygone longing for something I wouldn’t let myself enjoy. Ultimately, I have little desire to salvage that conflicted teenage voice. So go ahead Xanga, the times have changed, that girl with the fickle temperament has grown a whole new conscience and her three-week dispensation has long since found a new naïve host; guess it’s about time to let the online record go the same way my noncommittal past went.
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!