Sunday, May 31, 2009

A couple of days of trying to stay off my burning aching feet have left me feeling like an invalid. In-valid. Even though the truth is I can still get around okay if I'm willing to pay the price for walking: pain. And if I stretch as religiously as the young woman I saw working out at my gym today, who had her leg up on the bar for a full six minutes on each side, nothing perfunctory about her.

I read up about this condition on-line--one doctor said that rolling one's feet over cold cans of soda could be good for sufferers of plantar fasciitis, so I got some. We'll see.

As far as Websudoku goes, I still reach for it on my computer, and then i remember it isn't there. I check and a million times a day but they don't keep me hooked in quite the same way. I just finished reading Susan Shapiro's funny insightful addiction memoir, Lighting Up: How I Quit Smoking, Drinking and every other good thing in life except sex. It was really good, and hopeful and insightful.

But my feet still hurt. And same-sex marriage is still not legal in California. Which was to be expected, given the way our state organizes these things--it should never have been the subject of a referendum in the first place. But still maddening and disappointing.

And even though I am sure it is only a question of time--that we will have full marriage equality in 2010, or at the very outside, 2012, I still feel sad and angry about it. And a little guilty about how easy it is for C and I, and how impossible for gay friends who have been in their unions longer than us, and have endured more trials together than we have.

All this makes me feel more strongly than ever that it's not the legal part that matters, it's the couple's own hearts, and the community and spiritual support that we get. So maybe the answer is to abolish "marriage" as a state entity altogether. Let the state/legal part be just to recognize civil unions--for everyone, gay or straight--and let the "marriage" label be a non-legal, spiritual (in the loosest possible definition of that word) ceremony--for everyone.

Because it's time to further separate Church and State--personally, I'd like to see those two suckers as far apart as possible. Let the State deal with the legal paperwork relating to property and hospital visitation and immigration sponsorship and hospital visitation rights and let churches and synagogues and Buddhist temples and pagan priestesses on windy mountaintops deal with the love and family parts. (I think this idea was originally Carla Zilbersmith's but I have adopted it as my own.)

Friday night we went to Carla's for a party she gave to thank her friends. The film crew was there, finishing up their work on the documentary they are making about her. One of her student-friends was wearing a red Carla-wig, and when we rounded the corner, C asked in surprise, "Is that Carla?" She was walking down the street, with her back to us, and from the back it did look exactly as if Carla were once again walking, as if there had been a miracle cure. The redhead turned to face us, and it was Sofia. Carla was out back, in her wheelchair, being kissed and fed and loved up by hordes of people.

Gina did a hilarious job as MC, channeling a Cuban sex-and-love relationship expert and taking questions from the crowd. Carla thanked us and cried, then everybody cried, then it got dark. Natta and Meyra did a spectacular fire dance in Carla's backyard, dancing with baskets of live coals suspended from long poles. At each move they made, the coals shook streams of sparks, like little meteors exploding harmlessly into the night.

It was gorgeous and poignant, the brevity of the sparks, the brevity of our lives, the beauty of the night, Carla tipped back a little in her wheelchair, alternately watching the sparks and Gina's big-eyed baby who pulled away from nursing at her mother's breast to stare at the spectacle, showers of bright orange sparks, like a cloud of fireflies in the dark sky...

Last night, we went to see our friend Colleen Tane Nakamoto perform at the Asian Arts festival. She did a piece of her one-woman show "Soft Tissue" which is about how historical violence, such as the rapes of Okinawan women during wartime occupation, are carried on in the muscle memory of their descendents, from generation to generation. Coke's piece was just one among many beautiful story-tellings--Brenda Wong Aoki performed a story, and several others. It was great to see veteran storytellers sharing the stage with newcomers, all the different flavors of Asian storytelling, from poetry to music and dance.

Today has been lazy--coffee and the Sunday Times, a visit from a friend, the gym, shopping and cooking. I needed this after an intense day Friday studying Domestic Volence. For the first time we had a man who works with batterers come in and speak. He spoke of the deep need for love these men had even when they are acting most unlovable. Earlier in the day a woman psychologist had spoken about PTSD and Complex PTSD, which is a new name for Borderline Personality Disorder, and Anti-Social Personality Disorder which I was also interested in. And I found out there is a kind of psychology called Forensic Psychology, which deals with criminal psych. You can also study something called Victimology. I'm not sure if I want to study all this for myself or for a career, just that I find human behavior fascinating.

I'm eating up this learning about psychology--I was always so suspicious of it before, probably because I never found a therapist whom i thought really changed things for me. I had a lot of critiques of the whole science of it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ironically, on the day my essay about playing tennis in MORE arrived, I got out of bed feeling as if someone had been nailing horseshoes to the soles of my feet overnight. Agony. I could barely hobble to the bathroom. Gerry and I had a rousing game yesterday--we picked up two women of a certain age down at the public courts by Lake Merritt--or maybe they picked us up as we sat on the bench waiting for them to finish and we had a rousing game of doubles.

I was leaping and flying and skipping and hopping all over the court, trash-talking the entire time and high-fiving my partner, and I'm paying for it today. Plantar fasciaitis. At the time I wrote the MORE essay, in 2008, I could boast about being relatively injury-free for my age. But all the tennis and the self-defense classes are taking their toll, and it's time for this old girl to get orthotics. (Stil, I'll be damned if I hobble down the aisle at my wedding in orthopedic shoes. I have to draw the line somewhere; high heels for that forty-five minutes, or bust. Ouch!)

Websudoku has been off my computer for a few days now, thanks to the perseverance of our computer guru, who has had to take more steps to get rid of it than he initially imagined. "It would be much easier if you were addicted to porn," he joked with me. There's tons of porn-blocking software out there. Unfortunately, Sudoku is considered a positive thing, a brain game. My M.D. even recommended it to me! So blocking it, customizing the parental controls--has been hard. Maybe when I've got more healing and more perspective under my belt, I'll write an essay about it that will influence software companies and internet providers like AOL to customize their parental controls more. A lot of people probably want to do that to their computers.

I do feel clearer--the part of my brain that could escape into the number combinations is quieter. I read in MORE that music stimulates dopamine production. Although I love music, and I'm marrying a musician and composer, I often work and live in silence with just thoughts and words buzzing in my head. It's as if it were too rich for my blood sometimes.

Right after I separated from my first husband music would make me cry. I had to be selective about playing it--was I in the mood for a sob-fest, or did I want to stay away from those emotions? over the years I've just gotten into the habit of not playing it. Of course I listen to music in the car while I'm driving, and C and I do sometimes at home--and I love the sounds of him practicing. But I don't take initiative to play my own CD's--it's as if I've ceded the musical part of our lives to him. And I don't, say, play Mozart--or anything--in the background while I'm writing. I wonder if I was vulnerable to the Sudoku addiction because I had shut off from that whole part of myself?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dear friends,

I know I haven’t blogged here for more than a month. I’ve been taking a break, in an interior state, living privately instead of publicly, purifying myself as a precursor to marriage. (And now, today, we find out that odious, discriminatory Prop 8 has been upheld by the California Supreme Court. I don't know what to say about it. I expected this, actually, but I'm still heartsick. And I still think we'll win in 2010. Or 2012. But I hope it's 2010.)

Yesterday we went for a bike ride along the Marina. Gorgeous, bright, cool, breezy weather. Plenty of joggers and roller-bladers and bikers and walkers--whole families out picnicking and flying kites.

I was, frankly, terrified. I’ve barely been up on a bicycle these last thirty years or so. C bought me a great bike for Chanukah—sturdy and easy, only three speeds, not too high. But still.

I was doing fine until we got to the intersection and then I got spooked by a waiting line of traffic and tried to push off too fast with my feet in the wrong position. Crash, I went down, and skinned my knee. I haven’t had a skinned knee since elementary school. I was more embarrassed and shocked than anything. There was a big audience for my mishap, from people at the little sandwich shop on the corner to the line of cars that had scared me in the first place.

C daubed at my bloody knee with a wet napkin, and we took off again. We cycled all around the Marina, scene of our first date, and then the marriage proposal last year. Now we were circling it as almost husband and wife. My hair kept escaping my helmet and blowing in my eyes and getting on and off the bike was hard because I didn’t trust myself to put all my weight on one foot and hoist my butt in the air, but it was still big fun. And I felt proud of myself for even being out there, considering how balance-challenged I can be.

These days I think about what kind of old lady do I want to grow into. I was the kind of kid who always had my nose in a book, who walked around in a trance of reading, who shrank from sports and was picked last in gym class.

I want to grow old like one of my idols, the writer Colette, who married her third husband at the age of sixty (he was 18 years younger than she was) and broke her leg skiing at a time in life when many people are sitting in rocking chairs. I could do without the broken leg, but I hope I’m still taking risks as I move through menopause and beyond.

Which brings me to the real reason for my silence this last month: I’ve been in the grips of an embarrassing compulsion. My nephew introduced me to Sudoku a couple of years ago. It seemed like harmless fun, and my father gave me a few puzzles to work on during the flight back to California. When I was home I discovered a web site that allows me to play—and time myself—game after game after game. What started out as something to do on a long plane ride, morphed over the last three years into a compulsion that preoccupied me as soon as I sat down at the computer to write.

In the last year or so I was completely out of control. Every day I would tell myself the exact same thing: I was only going to play a few games. Hours later I would be late and/or unprepared for work, or I would have simply have wasted the morning/afternoon/evening. More importantly I would be wasted, my brain filled with numbers and spaces, whirring along on a stream completely opposite to poetry, playwriting, and meaning-making. And I couldn’t stop.

Writing is hard. Creating meaning from the chaos of daily life, fragments of conversation, emotions, fleeting sensations, ideas—all the stuff of art, which I love so much, and have tried to do for so long, is HARD. And playing Sudoku is easy. You just line up your numbers and spaces and look for what’s missing. Your choice is either right or wrong. It’s satisfying in an unambiguous, primal way.

I put off reading or returning work-related emails. I didn’t revise my essays, I didn’t finish the play. I didn’t get up from the computer and water the plants, call a friend or go to the gym. I played Sudoku, game after game, hour after hour. I got faster at the games, and competed with myself with the little timer they had conveniently located on the site. I could see how good my time was compared to all the other users who played, and compared to myself. I could shave seconds off my best time and have the illusion of mastery. I was not getting anything done, except disassociating from my own mind and my own feelings. That I was doing very well.

My mother had been disassociated through much of my childhood. She could get upset over small things, but when major calamities struck, she was eerily detached. Her responses confused and frightened me. I remember wondering how she did it, how she achieved that detached weird smile. In contrast, I wanted Presence with a capital P from myself and everyone else. Not wanted, demanded. How ironic. In the last year I have conducted important emotional phone conversations while playing online Sudoku. I have allowed—no sought out—the fracturing and splintering of my attention, arguably one of the most precious gifts I possess.

Why? I’ll go to therapy to really explore the ins and outs of this but meanwhile I can make some educated guesses: change, stress, hormones, grief, insecurity, blah blah blah. But there’s the thing: I live in the Bay Area. There’s yoga. There’s Interplay. There’s music. I have a ton of art supplies. There are much better, more alive ways to handle stress, and I’m supposed to know them and use them.

The truth is I I finally found my perfect drug, the one that was made just for my brain, like a lock and key. I know—most grown-ups go for booze, or weed, or porn, or shopping. Those are all fine, time-honored ways of escapism. The first three never did anything for me. Shopping is okay, but too humiliating. WebSudoku stimulated exactly the right place in my brain that gave me both pleasure and numbness. It didn’t harm my liver or make me run up my credit cards. All it did was block my work, give me eyestrain and backaches, and threaten my relationship.

C said Sudoku made me into a zombie—glassy-eyed and distant. He could always tell when I’d been playing, even though I would lie about it. He’d be puttering around the house, doing things, and I’d be up in my little study, hunched over the computer, “working.” He’d catch me lying to him, and it would tear him up. It was like being married to an alcoholic or a pothead.

I went out with an alcoholic pothead in high school. I could always tell when Tim had been smoking even though he’d try to hide it. His eyes would be a bit red but mostly it was the quality of his presence—or lack of presence—that tipped me off. He’d have a big goofy smile on his face and he just wasn’t all there. And I was. And it was lonely.

I could see I was making C feel lonely in our relationship. Also, frustrated, powerless and confused. He couldn’t make me stop playing the game and get back to being the creative woman he fell in love with. He didn’t want to be my baby-sitter, and I didn’t want him to be. But I was checking out—big-time—and he could tell, and what was he supposed to do? Ignore it? Hope that I’d come around and check back in again sometime?

I tried a couple of times to get the game taken off my computer, to install parental controls. I even physically brought my computer to a few places to ask for help. Hey all said they couldn’t do anything; it wasn’t on the level of hardware, it was in the network. And calls to AOL didn’t go anywhere; I couldn’t get a human being to talk to.

Meanwhile the compulsion just grew as if it had a life of its own. Things came to a head between C and me last week. He let me see how badly the compulsion was hurting him. I couldn’t bear that. I can hurt myself—it’s my life, after all. I’ve accumulated some regret over the years. But I can’t live with hurting him. So I made phone calls to a list of computer gurus he’d found on the Internet. We found this guy Rob Gross, who seems like the perfect fit for what we need. He understands—he has a degree in Organizational Psychology as well as being a techie. “I think I’m getting a dopamine hit from playing this game over and over,” I said cautiously. I’m really interested in brain chemistry since mine is fairly sensitive and easily unbalanced. I know about serotonin of course, and beta-endorphins. I think dopamine is related to new experiences and excitement, something I often don’t get enough of when I’m working on a writing project.

“Dopamine undoubtedly,” he affirmed. “Plus you’re probably getting a release of powerful opiates as well.” He suggested I find a psychologist or a group to work with on the emotional side of breaking the compulsion. Meanwhile, we gave him access to our computers and he’s already managed to remotely install software that blocks WebSudoku from my box.

It’s been hard to do. He joked that it would be easier if I were addicted to porn—there’s lots of porn-blocking software. It’s harder to block a “mild” web site like mine. In the little bit of brain research I’ve done, I’ve seen Sudoku touted as a good brain exercise. Well yes, and red wine is good for your heart—unless you happen to be an alcoholic, in which case it ruins your life. Funny how one woman’s meat can be another’s poison.

So when I say I’m in process I mean I’m in process. As in right now. Rob’s coming over tomorrow to complete his work on our computers. I’m only a day or two into not having Sudoku on my computer. So far so good. At least I’m blogging again. C and I are in a good place, honest and loving, able to laugh at ourselves. And wedding plans and house cleaning and personal purification and all the rest of it continues. .