Thursday, February 26, 2009

Aware ...

I haven't forgotten that I have a blog.

I've been working on Dave's remembrance book this week. It's very nearly done.

Life, both generally and in terms of blogging, should return to normal on Monday.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mood Wrings ...

Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

(Ah, "Airplane," always good for a laugh.)

My emotions aren't on a rollercoaster these days. Oh no. They're on Space Mountain: in the dark with no sense of when the next dip or curve is coming.

Yesterday, I spent the morning watching the end of Season 2 of "Nip/Tuck." I did not see the ending of the final episode coming, and I almost always see endings coming, so there I was, sitting on my couch, yelling at my TV, "Yeah! That was awesome!"

And less than a minute later, I was sobbing. Not just sobbing, but nearly wailing. If there is such a thing as crying violently, that was me.

My e-pal Rick had sent an e-mail which on its own was perfectly lovely and well-timed. A response to posts from earlier in the week, his note was reaching out over the miles to remind me that Dave isn't really gone and to offer a hug thusly: "Hug a friend, and ask the friend to hug you one more time and know the second hug was from me."

So many people have been so good to me these past weeks, and I am almost unspeakably grateful to all of them. But Rick's kindness broke through an emotional dam I hadn't been aware I'd been building all month, and my emotions took quick notice of the fissure and gushed forth.

And while I'm blindsided by such episodes, I welcome them because I know that I can't keep everything bottled up. Its release is crucial.

Still, I've grown weary of it all. And while I appreciate those who tell me that all I have to do is be myself (thanks, David) and maybe wash my hair occasionally (thanks for the chuckle, Marta), I don't want my family and friends to think I'm milking the situation. I'd like nothing more than to return to whatever counts as normal.

But through these days and weeks, I've come to realize that I'm not simply mourning the loss of Dave. His death is the precipitating event, but I find myself processing all over again the loss of my friend Charles as well as coming to terms with another friendship which, in the harsh light of grief, has been revealed as gravely lacking in the substance I was so sure it possessed.

And it all adds up.

So I welcome the good days and, in a strange way, I welcome the bad days. Today is a good day. The sun is shining. I roused myself off the couch after spending part of the morning with George Stephanopoulous and have accomplished actual tasks around the house. I limited myself to two cups of my extreme coffee. I may even watch the Oscars tonight, though it will be strange to watch them without Dave on the phone.

And I smile at my sunny yellow Gerbera daisies (a very sweet gesture from David, who is very sweet) which remain very happy and flowery many days after he brought them to me. Do not adjust your monitors: yes, my bookcase is dusty.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bemused ...

About everything these days.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Content ...

That's "content" as in "happy sigh," not "content" as in "the stuff that fills up web sites."

Given the emotional see-saw that is my life of late, I am very pleased that my current status is "content." If my emotions were the United States' terror-alert scale, yesterday's "Blue" was akin to orange. Today's "Content" is green with the slightest tinge of yellow. But mostly green.

Everything is not perfect in every aspect of my life, but my friend Mark once taught me to ask myself, "In this moment, am I OK?" And in this moment, I am.

And since all we have is each moment, I will take the greenness of it all and embrace it, gratefully.

The swirly snow has stopped, hopefully for good. For the evening, anyway. Winter marches on. But I am safely tucked away for the night, in a new but very comfortable place.

(Oops. I blogged too soon. The swirly snow is back. The blustery wind is blustering.)

This morning I went on an interview for a one-off project. If I land it, it won't pay a lot of money, but it was nice to put on clothes that require more than elastic to keep them on my person and it was nice to talk to a grown-up and sell myself. Interviewing always feels a bit strange, as I'm the person who doesn't talk about herself in day-to-day situations, but interviews kind of call for the sales pitch.

The rest of the day involved really excellent roasted chicken, CD and DVD shopping at Circuit City (even if it did feel a bit scavenger-y), an afternoon of web surfing, and Chinese for dinner. Now, even though it is relatively early, I'm inclined to turn in. But I won't.

But I will bask in the contentedness and dream sweet dreams. And tomorrow, I will probably have some coffee.

Life is good.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Blue ...

I don't tell most people when I'm sad. I was an overly sullen teenager, so I am a keep-it-inside adult.

I have bad days. I can be moody. But I let go, long ago, of soliciting sympathy.

But this is my blog. This is where I shed my emotional skins. And today, despite the laughter (thank you, David), I'm writing because I'm blue. I'm just blue. This afternoon, I crawled into bed and pulled my comforter close, up to my cheek, and let the down surround me in a textile hug.

The loss of L.A. Dave is very, very real. But it is also surreal. Almost an abstraction. I'm sure his family does not feel that way, having just spent a week in L.A. dealing with details, but for me, who did not see Dave often, my emotions continue to toss around like a tiny boat on a vast and angry sea.

The other day, I told my friend Brent that I think I'm in the eye of the emotional hurricane but that I suspect all bets will be off at the end of the month when I attend Dave's memorial service.

But all is not entirely calm. The more I work on the remembrance book, the more the tears return. And today, reading an update from Dave's brother, Ryan, the words "David's ashes" hit me like a truck.

This month will be bookended by life-changing events, learning of the loss of a friend and then saying farewell.

I know he'll always be with me, but I am now aware of the silence of the phone.

I'm cheered that all of his friends have rallied around one another. There is much support. There is much love.

But today, I'm blue.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine ...

When I was a kid, I looked forward to Valentine's Day because I loved Conversation Hearts.

As an adult, I have no idea why I found them appealing. I mean, they're just expired Pepto-Bismol tinted with food coloring and left to harden in little heart-shaped molds, right?

But for whatever reason, when I was younger, I loved their chalky goodness.

Valentine's Day parties at school always struck me as odd. I certainly didn't love my classmates and they certainly didn't love me. And I always marveled at the valentines we'd write out for everyone in our class. Where exactly does one go to get the paper used to make those envelopes? The Forest of Underachieving Trees?

A big handful of years ago, I picked up my nephew at school after his Valentine's Day party. As we walked to the car, he asked me if I brought him anything for Valentine's Day.

"No," I said. "But how about if we go to Burger King for lunch?" (His mom was no fan of fast food.)

He thought that was a fine idea.

I got him buckled in in the back seat of my car and proceeded to head toward lunch.

While I drove, he asked me if I'd received any valentines that day. "Nope," I told him.

"Why not?" he asked.

"Well, honey, not everyone gets valentines on every Valentine's Day," I explained.

I continued driving. He rummaged around in his bag of Valentine's Day loot.

At a stoplight, he thrust his hand between the front seats. "Here," he said. And handed me a valentine from his stash.

But not just any valentine. This one was flocked. I suspect it was one of the fancier valentines he received that day.

Sap that I am, I got tears in my eyes. And I thanked him very much. And I tucked it underneath the velcro strap that held my CD organizer to my visor.

It's still there.

It is one of two valentines that I've held on to over the years.

The other is from College Boyfriend David.

We met in a fiction-writing class in January 1989.

Class met once a week. That year, our class fell on Valentine's Day.

David always arrived early. We didn't have individual desks in that classroom but rather larger desks/tables arranged in a large square. We sat around the perimeter. David and I sat at a corner, perpendicular to each other. He had a stack of books between us that day and was busy behind them, writing something, his red pen moving quickly. Class had started. He continued with his task. Finished, he slid his hand, palm down, around the stack of books. He lifted his hand to reveal the card he'd just made for me.

Inside there is a poem. I love this little card. I keep it tucked away in my box of important papers. It is one of my all-time favorite things.

Friday, February 13, 2009

When Does One Become The Other? ...

The other night, out to dinner with David (yes, another one), the conversation turned to Facebook and its Relationship Statuses.

In your Facebook profile, you can click several options to explain your presence. To wit:

Looking for:
❏ Friendship
❏ Dating
❏ A Relationship
❏ Networking

All righty. But the drop-down menu for Relationship Status offers these options:

Single
In a Relationship
Engaged
Married
It's Complicated
In an Open Relationship

Huh. "Dating" is not an option. The closest thing to "Dating" is "In a Relationship," and yet 4 out of 5 daters will tell you that there might be a world of difference between "Dating" and "In a Relationship."

So when does one become the other? (I don't consider "In an Open Relationship" to be the same as dating. The words "open relationship" imply something much more intentional to me than "dating." They also imply the '70s, but I digress.)

Just as I'm not sure at what point the Dan Ryan becomes the Kennedy, I have no idea when two people cross the figurative line that separates "dating" and "in a relationship." Does the shift in status have something to do with the number of dates? The intensity of the dates? The duration of the dates?

And when it comes to changing the status on your Facebook page, is it akin to a game of Chicken? Do you wait to see if the other person changes the status first and then change yours accordingly? Do you both discuss it beforehand? How do you bring it up? Is it like salary negotiations, a la the person who names a number (or in this case, a relationship label) first loses the upper hand? Is there such a thing as an upper hand in a relationship? Even if it's not yet being called a relationship?

So. Many. Questions.

And so I ask one more: WWJFS?: What Would Jeff Foxworthy Say?

If you have any inkling, please post a comment with your second half of this sentence: "You might be in a relationship if ..."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I Like You! You're Meat! ...

Valentine's Day looms, as it does around this time every year. And everywhere I go, I'm bombarded with pink and red and hearts and roses. Target, Walgreens, Macy's, my butcher shop.

That's right. I go to a butcher shop. But more importantly for the purposes of this post, my butcher shop has gotten into the manufactured-holiday spirit by painting its windows. Or having its windows painted. Whichever the case may be.

So the other day, when I pulled up and saw this window, I immediately snapped a shot with the ol' cell phone. T-bone love. Please note that the girl steak is sporting a jaunty ponytail off the side of her loin. And that each steak only has one arm but they each have two legs. And feet. And they're wearing shoes. I presume they're slip-ons.

Feel free to share this shot with all the loved ones on your list. It'll make for a cheap-yet-original valentine greeting.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Returning ...

On Wednesday, I wrote to Dave's friend Anne, "Everything normal feels wrong today."

How could I eat? How could I watch TV? How could I read a book?

I couldn't. And so I didn't.

But the world continues to turn. The finality of a loss is swept along in the current of time. It is still final, but it is a series of moments in lives that go on.

I have been completely overwhelmed by the kindness and love that has swelled around me in the past days. I have been carried on collective shoulders. Some have tended to practical details, some have simply wrapped their arms around me, enveloping me in embraces of exquisite ease.

I've spoken with Dave's mom. We laughed together. I can think of no better tribute to her son. Dave would detest this tsunami of sadness that has overcome us. If he were here, he would slice through the fog of our heavy hearts and compel us to laugh. He was selfless.

And so "normal" continues apace. "Normal" does not pause. "Normal" infuses every day. But "normal" changes. Wednesday ushered in a new era of normal, a world in which I will no longer answer the phone and hear a bright voice say, in its distinctive cadence, "Hi, Beth, it's Dave!"

Dave appeared to lead a quiet life. We spoke nearly every day but I never much thought about all the others who make up his fabric of family and friends. He was our common thread. But instead of becoming undone, in his loss, we have knit ourselves together tightly. And there is much comfort therein.

I am grateful to everyone, for everything. In you, I am rich beyond measure.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

L.A. Dave ...

Today, I learned that my dear friend Dave Waldon passed away, very unexpectedly and decades too soon. Instinctively, upon hearing the news, I began to write. This might be considered a eulogy, though I cannot imagine finding a way to say these words in front of his family and friends. But they are my thoughts as they appeared in my mind in the moments following the phone call, a little collage of memories. There is a lifetime more to say. But tonight, I offer this remembrance and extend my love to all who loved him.

He was, of course, a Cubs fan.

But he was so much more.

A son, a brother, and an uncle to a few, but to vast reaches of us, a friend.

Brilliant in baffling ways – he knew every fact about every movie ever made; how did he do that? – compassionate, funny, and fiercely loyal.

We spent hours on the phone every week, whiling away minutes on banalities – like the finer points of french fries – but shifting with ease into thoughtful topics like politics and religion and race.

We cried together on 9/11. We cried together on November 4th. Through the highs and lows, he was my friend on the other end of the line. We watched the Oscars together, though I always had to stifle my cheers to allow for the several-second delay on the west coast.

We watched “Idiocracy” together and laughed ’til we cried.

I used my American Express card to score tickets for him for Genesis. He hesitated when I told him the total, not sure if he should spend the cash. “Dave,” I said. “At the end of your life, you’re not going to think, ‘Whew! It’s a good thing I didn’t spend that money to see Genesis.’ "

How can the end have come so soon?

He called my voicemail on my mom’s birthday to sing to her. I saved the message to play for her later but then forgot. His voice is there, though. Dave at his most thoughtful and most silly. Dave at his finest. Dave, taking a moment out of his day to do something nice for a woman he’d never met, but who mattered to him anyway.

On Sunday, he called me just before Bruce Springsteen was due to deliver his half-time show. With Bruce on-screen, Dave asked, “Do you want to be alone?” I did not. We watched the 12 minutes together and I told him, “You have to see Bruce on this next tour. You have to see him perform with the E Street Band. It’s life-changing.”

He said he’d consider going to a show. That night, he transferred The Boss’s half-time romp from TiVo to his computer and put it online for me. He sent a note that read: “Check my public folder. That is all.” The next morning, I downloaded 80 megabytes of Bruce onto my computer. Every time I watch those minutes, I will think of Dave, who presciently picked three of the four songs Bruce performed that night. Nobody saw “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” coming, not even Bruce fans like myself. So for all intents and purposes, Dave earned a perfect score.

I never saw his apartment in person but I was fascinated by the glimpses I’d get when he’d take a picture of himself with his laptop. A home says a lot about a person, but I always remembered that his was a rental. Dave was definitely not a vertical-blinds kind of guy. In a recent picture, I spied his refrigerator, covered with pictures the way all refrigerators should be. He kept his friends and family close to him that way. When I talked to him the next time after he sent that shot, he apologized for the garbage can in the background. Clearly, he hadn’t taken out the trash in a while. Clearly, he enjoyed fast food.

When he told me that he didn’t decorate his apartment for Christmas, I bought a little tree and some little snowflake ornaments and boxed it up and sent it on its way. Thanks to the spectacular postal system in Los Angeles, his tree arrived weeks after Christmas. We decided it would henceforth be known as his January Tree. Another friend sent him another tree which did arrive in time for Christmas, and I was glad he had some love around him for the holidays.

He led a quiet life, even while he spent his days interviewing stars. “Hugh Laurie says ‘Hi,’ " he’d report after a press event. “Did you wear your T-shirt with my picture on it?” I’d joke. No, he’d say. To which I’d retort, “Then how will Hugh know that he wants to marry me?!”

He’d send pictures to me taken with his famous momentary friends and pictures taken doing the everyday, always with his gap-toothed grin smiling wide, always in the ever-present Cubs hat. His beloved Cubs.

He never saw his team win a World Series. But I’m rooting for him, this year. For them. With Dave up there on their side, how can they not go all the way?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Tales Of Teachers And Professors Past ...

Almost three years ago – or back in "the mists of antiquity," as English Teacher Dave might say – I wrote this overview of my K-12 teachers. I had a lot of fond memories from school. I wasn't always the most eager student, but I loved most of my teachers, connected with them in ways I often could not connect with my peers.

English Teacher Dave and I remain good friends to this day. I was just relaying to some friends this weekend that I would never have been prepared for my first college English course if it hadn't been for him. He was tough as a teacher, but his efforts prepared me well and the fact that we're still friends reveals that his whip-cracking didn't leave any permanent scars. Quite the contrary: I respected him even more for demanding more from me. That's my perspective nearly 22 years hence, anyway. At the time, he often pissed me off.

I'm still in touch with some college teachers and professors, too. And those who may not be part of my social circle today still traipse through my mind. I often think of Eugene Wildman rushing across campus on his way to University Hall, stopping to interrupt a conversation I was having with another teacher to ask me, very abruptly, "What's the mother's motivation?"

Huh?

Oh, the mother. In my story. For his fiction-writing class. Um, ah, um ...

"You have to know!" he said, and hurried off.

Or Gerry Sorensen, one of the deans of the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences, asking me at residual registration, "Why are you here?"

"To register for classes."

"No, I mean, why are you here?" he asked. "Why didn't you do this months ago?"

"Because I just got accepted on Friday?"

The not-so-short version of how I did not become a doctor is here, including anecdotes about both high school and college instructors alike.

But there are some who have not gotten their due.

Rob Nerius was and is a good friend. His parting words to me in my senior yearbook were "Get obsessed and stay obsessed." We don't see each other as often as I'd like, but we keep up with each other's lives through our blogs and e-mails and Christmas letters. I was more of a behind-the-scenes person in my high school theater program, more likely to show up early on a Saturday morning to help build sets than I was to audition for a part in a play (though I did that, too). I remember well sitting on stage with Rob, early on Saturday mornings, talking about whatever it is we talked about until other people began to arrive.

Those chats were some of the best moments I had in high school. And when my cousin Betty died suddenly my senior year and the emotion of it all came crashing down on me the last day of school before Christmas break, he didn't say a word. He just put his arm around me while I cried. Years later, in English Teacher Dave's kitchen, I thanked him for that gesture. It was one of those moments of pure humanity that I'll never forget.

Jan Benjamin recruited me to join the speech team as the up-and-coming radio speaker to assume the mantle from Sheri, I believe (or was it Sherri?), who was exceptional but who was graduating. Jan dubbed me "Golden Tones" and showed me the ropes. My radio-speaking career was uneven at best, but I did make it to state my senior year and I have him to thank for planting the radio bug in my ear. I went on to do a little radio when I worked at the Tribune and I miss it today. Then again, there's always a podcast.

Rob Moore (and his collection of very cool ties) taught my only official journalism class. (I also took a writing class taught by a guest lecturer/editor from the Tribune, Charles Leroux.) Rob kindly gave me an A. (Which I may have actually earned, I suppose.)

Nancy Cirillo left a class of hers in my hands for a day. Teaching is a lot harder than it looks.

And then there was Preston Browning. I adored Professor Browning with his genteel Southern way and his political stances that were anything but. He was by no means an easy teacher, but he was exceedingly fair. I wrote a paper about Hemingway that deviated far from the assigned topic, but he graded it on its merits and not only gave it an A but asked for a copy of it for his files. Yikes!

Every year, he'd invite a group of students to his apartment for dinner. Later, when he retired, I was honored to be invited to the lovely home he shared with his wife in Hyde Park. Nancy encouraged me get up in front of the gathered family and friends and say a few words. I told her I wouldn't be able to get through what I'd want to say. But someone invited all of Preston's students to come up and say a few words, so I let one of my peers speak for me, for us. Preston greeted each member of the group, arriving at me last. I didn't have anything prepared, but found myself saying, "I love you." He smiled and said, "I love you, too. And I'm so glad you're here."

Over the years, I've thought about him and his wife, Ann. Wondering where they were, what they were doing. On Sunday, I was on Amazon, looking to replace a copy of my Hemingway biography that I loaned to a friend years ago and once again thought of Preston and my paper.

Today, for kicks, I plugged his name into Facebook. I didn't find him there, but I did Google him and found that he and Ann are running an artists and writers retreat in Massachusetts, which suits Preston to a T.

I dropped a line his way, to say hello, to let him know that in my post-collegiate life, I've cobbled together a living with words.

He hasn't changed a lick in 20 years. He's still the same adorable man I remember.

I'm so grateful to have had him in my life. And the same goes for so many of my instructors over the years. We're the sum of our experiences and these people have made me rich in ways I cannot measure.

I hope you had at least one teacher who made a lasting impact in your life.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

'Slumdog Millionaire" ...

Astounding film.

Astonishing.

Astoundishing.

And I drove directly from the theater to Best Buy to buy the soundtrack.