Jewelry Like Talismans

I don’t have tattoos, but I wear jewelry like talismans. Reminders that I can be strong, connected, and grounded. Sometimes, often, I need those reminders.

Some of my jewelry changes. Some of it stays the same.

A ring on my right hand reminds me to “be here now.” A ring on my left hand reminds me I’m loved. I wear the sound of the universe (om – ૐ) around my neck.

A ring of skulls on my pinky is a memento mori. It’s a reminder of mortality—not because I feel immortal, but because I’m too keenly aware of death. When I wear that ring, it can hold those thoughts, letting me focus on being alive.

My collection of mantra jewelry continues to grow and I choose the phrases that mean the most on any given day. It is what it is. Love yourself. She believed she could so she did. etc.

My beaded bracelets have their own meanings—especially those made and/or given by beloved friends. They wrap around my wrist with weight. They stack with soft clicks and feel smooth against my skin.

Even my Fitbit has earned its own meaning with its scuffed face from my recent fall reminding me that a little damage just adds character.

I have other jewelry, of course. The pretty kind that comes out on special occasions. The kind that is there for the fun of its sparkle and shine. And there’s meaning in that, too.

I wear my jewelry like talismans. Reminding me that I can be strong, connected, and grounded.

We all can use those reminders.

Imaginary Cocktail Party: 5 Stand-Up Comics

You know that thing where you imagine inviting famous people, living or dead, to a dinner party? No? Well it’s a sort of conversational game that can come up at cocktail parties.

Like in that Golden Girls episode where Rose first meets Myles and she goes to a party at his place, but she’s intimidated because the other guests are all college professors who are exchanging witty conversation, like who they’d invite to dinner, and chuckling appreciatively over one woman inviting “Browning…. without his wife!”

Hahaha! Très drôle! Uh, yeah…. anyway…

I sometimes think about who I’d have to an imaginary dinner party, if I could invite anyone in the world, living or dead, but I can never come up with an answer. For one thing, those parameters are way too broad. I need some limits or my brain wanders off into a tangle. For another, a dinner party is a lot of work and even an imaginary dinner party makes me stress about what to serve. (Sad, but true.)

So… instead… I’ll imagine a cocktail party. Maybe even a potluck kind. BYOB so everyone drinks and snacks on whatever they want. And I’ll narrow it to a theme: stand-up comics.

I’ve always had a thing for stand-up comedy. Going way back to a childhood of George Carlin, and Comic Relief, and VH1’s Stand-Up Spotlight (hosted by Rosie O’Donnell). Oh, and remember when Dorothy did stand-up at an open mic night in a different episode of the Golden Girls? (I may watch a lot of Golden Girls.)

That makes it pretty hard to pick just 5 stand-up comics for my imaginary party, but I’ll give it a whirl, and I’ll stick with living people, because as George Carlin would be the first to point out, dead is dead. There are no cocktail parties once you’re dead, except in a Weekend At Bernie’s situation and no one wants that.

1. Patton Oswalt

Patton gets the first invite for several reasons. His last show (Annihilation, which I saw live in 2017) was an amazing blend of comedy and tragedy as he wove in stories about his wife’s death and his struggle with grief and single-parenting. He’s worked on shows that I love (Dollhouse !!! and Agents of SHIELD). He’s from the area where I now live, occasionally frequents my friends’ comic book shop, (though I’ve yet to run into him there), and once gave an amazing commencement speech at a local high school.

Also, I’m going to see his current show later this month. So, clearly, we have a lot in common and would become instant best friends if this imaginary cocktail party were to actually happen.

2. Eddie Izzard

Another stand-up comic who I’ve been lucky enough to see live a few times. The first time I saw him live, I remember having the distinct thought, “This is a guy I’d love to have a beer with.” Well, maybe not a beer (wheat allergy), but a drink, preferably in a bar where we could sit at one of those round, high-top tables and chat—very fast—jumping from one topic to the next, working in wacky observations about those around us, and blending up a crazy mix of intellectual and silly humor.

But I can happily adapt that fantasy to bring him into my home cocktail party of hand-picked comics. I doubt I could keep up my end of witty banter in this crowd, but I’d be content to sit back and watch Eddie stir up the others!

3. Tig Notaro

I discovered Tig through her Amazon show, One Mississippi, before checking out her stand-up comedy. And I love her in both. Her comedy has an ideal blend of dry and playful. She tackles some dark subjects, but with such a straightforward manner that you can’t help but nod along and hope to pick up some of that frank confidence for yourself. At our cocktail party, maybe I could sit beside her, trying to play it cool, while we roll our eyes together at some of the sillier antics.

Until she comes out with some perfect observation that makes me choke on my wine, losing all of my pretend cool, but knowing that’s okay because Tig doesn’t care about stuff like that.

4. Trevor Noah

Yep, I didn’t know Trevor Noah until he took over The Daily Show, and I didn’t know what to expect since he had some pretty big shoes to fill. But, wow, has he won me over. His autobiography, Born a Crime is must-read storytelling. And his stand-up? He crosses cultural boundaries to zero in on the human connection. It doesn’t matter that he grew up on the other side of the world and had some wild experiences. He gets to the heart of what’s funny in a totally relatable, human way.

And now I’ve gone and picked 3 male comedians, which is somewhat misleading since I actually watch as many (or more) female stand-up comics than men. I’m having a hard time choosing between so many hilarious women, like Kristen Schaal, Jen Kirkman, Ali Wong, Chelsea Peretti, and Michelle Wolf, but I have to stay true to my roots to pick…

5. Ellen Degeneres

Ellen and I go way back, pre-talk show. To her earliest stand-up days. To her sitcom. To her audio books—which are great on road trips! We’re old pals (who have never met). Ellen’s humor is timeless. It’s classic. On the surface, it’s light and cheery, but when Ellen wants to, she can cut to the quick. I think she’d be laid back, despite her mega-fame, and make an interesting addition to our party mix. Plus, let’s face it, with Ellen Degeneres, you get funny and someone to lead the dance breaks. And what’s a cocktail party without dancing?

Whew! That list was harder to create than expected and I’ll likely wake up at 2 a.m. thinking of someone I wish I’d added, but I’m sticking with it.

Your turn. You can invite 5 living (or dead, your call!) stand-up comedians to a cocktail party. Think about it and let me know in the comments!

Face your Fears! (a.k.a. I Met Dichen Lachman!)

Confession time: beneath my outgoing, friendly, confident exterior lurks a socially awkward, painfully shy inner child.

Sometimes she’s at ease, well hidden beneath years of playing it cool (well, maybe not “cool” but passably affable). Often she wakes up just below the surface, blanking my mind and butterflying my stomach, but still letting me get on with whatever out-of-my-comfort-zone social thing I’m doing (teaching yoga in a new setting, meeting new people, etc.).

Last weekend, that inner fraidy-cat broke free in a true fangirl moment when I met Dichen Lachman. (Dichen Lachman!!!)

Dichen Lachman (Altered Carbon, Dollhouse) was at The All-Star Comic Con last weekend. If you haven’t heard of it yet, All-Star is a new comic con put on by some of my friends. Peter and I helped out as volunteers and were surrounded by friends all weekend. Yet even in that supportive space, I was incredibly nervous to meet Dichen.

I was so nervous that I almost didn’t go to her table at all. I’ve only been to a handful of comic cons and I’ve always focused more on the artists, vendors, and panels. Meeting celebrities just isn’t something I normally do, mainly because it makes me feel super awkward.

But… Dichen Lachman.

I got up my nerve toward the end of the con on Saturday. Peter and I went over to say hello and get a selfie with her. What happened then was both awkward and awesome!

Yes, I had a fangirl moment. My mind went blank. My stomach turned to jelly. I stuttered out something super cool and original like, “I– re– really li– liked you in Dollhouse!” Along with some nervous blather.

I had no intention of telling her about my book or about the essay I’d had published in a Dollhouse anthology. My only goal was to meet her and get a picture without fainting or embarrassing myself too badly.

And then Peter brought up my Dollhouse essay. I should have seen that coming and been prepared, but, no, I was in fangirl mode. I managed to string together a few words about the essay and how inspired I am by Jane Espenson (who edited the anthology) before nervously asking to take a selfie with her.

(Diverting attention from me, because I am bad at this self-promotion stuff!)

Our friend, Mike, was the volunteer assigned to work with Dichen all weekend, so he took the picture for us. After it was taken, I was about to thank her and say good-bye, when I heard Mike tell Dichen that I also wrote a novel. (Aaaaaahhhhh!)

Dichen could have offered a polite congratulations and let us go, especially since we’d been there quite a while already. But instead, she asked me to tell her all about the book. We talked about the challenges of publishing and marketing, and she said she wanted to order a copy for herself!

After we walked away, I remembered that I’m a struggling indie writer who keeps a few books in the trunk of my car, you know, for emergencies, like when an actress I admire actually wants one. (?!?!)  Peter ran to get a copy, I signed it, and she graciously accepted it!

So… Dichan Lachman now has a copy of my book!!!

In telling (and retelling) this story, a few friends have pointed out that I should have asked to take a picture of Dichen with my book. Yes, that would have been a good idea… but self-promotion is hard for me, and my brain was on fangirl holiday.

I learned several things from this experience:

1. It’s good to face your fears, even if you feel like an awkward mess while doing it!

2. Self-promotion takes practice and I need to put myself out there more often. (Like at tomorrow’s book signing at Barnes & Noble, but that’s another post!)

3. Dichen Lachman is a genuinely kind, supportive, and down-to-earth person! She didn’t have to talk to me for so long. She didn’t have to offer words of encouragement or say that she wants to read my book. She had long conversations with many others as well, and everyone I spoke to had happy, positive stories about meeting her.

4. Remember to mention the title of my book (The Insistence of Memorywhen talking about it, instead of waiting to be asked what it’s called!

At her panel the next day (online here), Dichen spoke about being inspired by other actors and creative people. She mentioned that she once wanted to be a painter, but turned to acting after finding painting too much of a solitary pursuit.

I sometimes feel that writing can be isolating as well. However, connecting with other writers and working on some collaborative projects helps me recharge my own creativity. I’m going to make time for more of that, even if it includes some awkward social moments.

Putting yourself out there can be really scary. It’s uncomfortable to interview for a job, query an agent, audition for a play, meet a celebrity, or introduce yourself to a fellow writer/artist/etc. Do it anyway!

Face your fears and you never know what amazing experience might unfold!

Stop Waiting for Invitations

I was raised to believe that it’s wrong to “invite yourself” to do something with others. As a rule, it’s rude to be an imposition or intrude on others.

Often that’s true… but, as with any rule, there are exceptions. 

Sometimes it’s okay to ask if you can join in. If friends are talking about an upcoming event in front of you, why not ask if you can go, too? The worst they will do is say no.

The worst they will do is say no.

How awful does that sound to you? Do you think of rejection as an unpleasant, but normal part of life? Or is rejection something you avoid at all costs?

Let’s come back to that.

Knowing when it’s socially acceptable to ask to join someone else’s plans can be tricky. If friends are openly talking about their plans in front of you, that may be a sign that it’s okay to ask if you can join in. If it isn’t, then maybe they’re being a bit rude by talking about it in front of you.

A lot of that is perspective and perspective is subjective.

If you aren’t sure whether it’s okay to ask to join in, you have another option: Instead of inviting yourself to others’ plans, or waiting to be invited, you can invite others to do things with you.

That may sound obvious. You may already know that. But do you do that?

Let’s be honest, offering an invitation can be a lot harder than receiving one. Why? Because an invitation can be accepted or rejected.

And here we are, back to rejection.

Rejection is never fun, but a fear of rejection can make you miss out on some pretty great things.

What bothers you about rejection? Do you think it says something about how a person feels about you? Do you think it says something about your likability or other value?

What if it doesn’t? What if rejection isn’t a reflection of your personal value at all?

Sometimes there are practical reasons for rejection. Sometimes people are busy or can’t get enough tickets or really are not feeling well. Sometimes people just aren’t interested, either in the event or in spending time with you. And that’s okay.

You don’t want to spend time with everyone you meet. It doesn’t make those people “bad” or less valuable. They just aren’t your cup of tea. And maybe you aren’t theirs either. You’re still a valuable friend to other people. Just like they’re still valuable to their friends.

Let’s move beyond the social scene.

Always waiting to be invited can lead to missing out on interesting events or missing a chance to make new friends. Even worse, it can lead to giving up on your dreams.

Waiting for invitations limits you to the opportunities that someone else presents, instead of taking a chance on creating opportunities of your own.

Think of something that you really want to do.

Now, what are the chances that someone is going to come along and offer you an invitation to do it?

Are you waiting for someone to invite you to write a novel, take up knitting, try yoga, buy a house, apply for your dream job, etc.? That could happen. Anything’s possible. But in reality those chances are pretty slim.

Fortunately, you don’t need an invitation to do those things.

Invite yourself to try something new. Maybe invite a friend to try something with you, but don’t give up if they say no.

Be the one who invites yourself. Be the one who takes the initiative.

Be the one who accepts rejection without letting it diminish your own value. Rejection will happen. When it does, look for another path, another approach, another way towards your goal.

Life is short. Don’t spend it avoiding rejection. Don’t spend it waiting for invitations.

The Goldilocks of Oatmeal

While I had high hopes for 2018, the year hasn’t gotten off to the greatest start. It’s almost the end of March, yet I’ve hardly posted here at all. I’m behind schedule on my next book and struggling to keep up with things like exercise, bookkeeping, and laundry. (How is there always so much f#$%ing laundry?!?)

I’m getting back on track—finally—and instead of focusing on the frustration that comes with setbacks, I’m going to think about oatmeal. 
Oatmeal is my jam. Whatever else is going wrong, I can always rely on having a delicious bowl of oatmeal to start the day. Oatmeal may be the most constant aspect of my life. (That’s normal, right? Right?!?)
There are lots and lots of ways to make oatmeal. You can use “old-fashioned” rolled oats, steel cut oats, or instant oatmeal. Though, for me, the instant variety is only for baking… or as a last resort, like when the power is out and you’re managing with a coffee maker plugged into a dwindling UPS.
With the oats, you can use water, milk, or apple cider. (Being allergic to both milk and apples, I opt for water.) And then there are the optional add-ins. So many add-ins! Raisins, craisins, blueberries, mixed berries, brown sugar, maple syrup, etc. You can even mix grains, adding in some corn grits or quinoa. 
It would be a very long post if I were to get into all the intricacies of making a delicious bowl of oatmeal. Instead, I’ll stick to telling you about the one problem I had with oatmeal and its simple, but brilliant solution. 
Some mornings, I’m in a rush and only have about 15 minutes to make and eat my oatmeal. Rolled oats (not steel cut) only take about 5 minutes, so that should be enough time. Except, oats straight off the stove are HOT. Too often I’d either burn my mouth, or go hungry and stick my delicious bowl of oatmeal in the fridge to reheat later. (Heartbreaking)
This is where the internet can be super useful. After this problem went on for a while (longer than I’d like to admit), I googled and found the most obvious, wonderful solution:
How do you cool oatmeal quickly? Frozen berries. 
When I’m pressed for time, I put frozen wild blueberries in a bowl, then layer the hot oatmeal on top, and maybe add a drizzle of maple syrup. Within two minutes, the berries are heated through and the oatmeal is a perfect, edible temperature. Tada!
Now, if you wait too long, the coldness of the berries will make the oatmeal cool too quickly. So be vigilant! Just a couple of minutes and you’ll have oatmeal that is not too hot, not too cold, but just right. The perfect Goldilocks oatmeal. 
Also, if you put the berries in first, the bottom of the bowl stays cool. Bonus!

Sometimes life can be extra challenging. But finding simple solutions to annoying problems can be a huge boost in motivation. If the lava-hot oatmeal problem can be solved with frozen berries, what else could improve with a just a simple shift?

And when everything else is going wrong… there’s always oatmeal. 💗

Insomnia, Math, and Missing My Mother

It’s 4:45 a.m. I’ve been awake since about 3:30 a.m. There’s a dull buzz in my brain that tells me I’m still tired enough that I should be asleep. But I am not.

I am awake. I am awake in that particularly acute way of being awake that is terribly uncomfortable when all I want to be is asleep.

Today is my mother’s birthday. Today would have been my mother’s birthday, if she hadn’t died many, many years ago.

Lying awake, I realized that I’d lost track of how many years it’s been since she died. I’d lost track of how old she would have been today.

I had to do the math. She died in 1989. It’s now 2018. That’s 29 years since she died. (2018 – 1989 = 29) She was 48 when she died. 29 years later, she would now be 77 years old. (48 + 29 = 77)

But, lying awake, I didn’t trust that mental math. So I started checking my work. Adding the years in different ways. I was 13 when she died. I am now 42. That’s also a 29 year difference. (42 – 13 = 29)

I moved on to calculating different years and different milestones. The year she was born. How old she had been when I was born. How old she would have been when my kids had been born.

Usually math helps me fall asleep. When I’m having trouble unwinding, I count by 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, etc. Usually up to 12s, because that’s where elementary school multiplication tables typically stopped. But sometimes moving on to count by 13s, 14s, 15s, etc.

Or I count by prime numbers. (2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, etc.) Or I count by the power of 2. (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, etc.) Or I count by perfect squares. (1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, etc.)

But this math, this counting years without my mom, has done nothing to help me fall back asleep. It’s only made me more acutely awake.

My mom died in February. Which means there will be another painful anniversary next month. There will be more sad math, because, apparently, that’s something my mind likes to do.

Sixteen years ago, when I was 26, it was upsetting to realize that it had been 13 years since she died, because every year after that would mean that I’d been alive longer without her in my life than the years when I’d actually known her.

Three years ago, when it had been 26 years since my mom died, it had been upsetting to realize that she’d been dead for twice as many years as the 13 years we’d both been alive at the same time.

This year, 29 years since she died, doesn’t have such a clear pattern. (2*13 + 3?) But if I live another 10 years, which I hope to do, the years without her will triple the years with her. The longer I live, the longer I live without her.

Does grief get better with time? It’s not as constant. It’s not as frequent. When it comes, it comes with new dimensions. It comes with new thoughts that take away peaceful sleep. But it still comes with the same familiar pain.