Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I'M ON iTUNES

This is my CD cover (the photo was taken in 2005 at age 39. I'm 47 now).

My first and final album is up on iTunes right now! I can't tell you how excited I am. You can buy the whole thing or individual songs, but I encourage you to go to CD Baby.com to actually purchase it because CD Baby.com pays better than Apple. This is the direct link to my album: http://cdbaby.com/cd/reginarodriguezmartin.

Let me be clear: these recordings were made between 2001 and 2007. I no longer sing or play electric bass, and can't hit many of the notes in these songs now. There will be no performances. This CD is a fundraiser for my new life as a writer of memoir and fiction. I will self-publish my first ebook in 2014 and am raising cash to do that. That said, if possible please support my book writing by buying my music. I wrote all the lyrics and melodies to these songs, arranged and charted them. It's my creative writing in hummable form.

From my CD Baby description: folk-pop-jazz influenced songs written by a woman who meant every word. International jazz guitarist Neal Alger accompanies Regina, deepening harmonies and lightening accents. Electric bass and acoustic percussion fill out many of the songs. This is the perfect music to relax with when you want some positive words or are in a more reflective mood.

Neal Alger is a wonderful guitarist who has worked internationally with some excellent jazz singers. He focused for years on jazz, but now has a group that branches out into other flavors. It's called Needles in the Red (is that a great name?). I love him. Neal is a dream to work with and is amazing with that guitar.

World, I give you This Is My Going of Age which presents the songs of a middle-aged woman struggling with spirituality, self-image, relationships and the decision to live single. Actually, go to iTunes for really long clips of my songs so you can really hear them, but please try to buy them on CD Baby.com if you can.

Thank you!
 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Happy Halloween!

I love black frosting.
I haven't posted a cake in a while. This cake is from my favorite bakery Central Continental Bakery in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, USA. They don't have the most sophisticated website, but they have the best buttercream frosting (vanilla and chocolate) in my connisseur opinion, plus excellent cookies, pies, etc. I served this Halloween cake last night when I had some friends over. The bloody hand reaching out of the cake did not come from the bakery. I ordered it separately from Jenny Densing who has some excellent cupcake toppers for Halloween (and lots of other cool stuff on her Etsy site).

At one point I held up my pack of Marlboro Reds and announced, "Would anyone like a cigarette? Wanna step onto the back porch with me and have a cigarette? Anyone?" I had kept them in my freezer for freshness. I got two takers and very much enjoyed the quiet break from an overheated apartment that you get when you're a smoker. Okay, I was just a second-hand smoker, but still it was nice.

Maybe I'll get one of those old-fashioned cigarette cases so I can be a full hostess to all my guests, smoking and non-smoking. Yes, I'm moving backwards against the American trend away from grown up smoking (it's all teenage smokers now, right?), but call me countercultural. I encourage lighting up in my home because I just like the smell of a burning cigarette. Once I have that case, when you come to my place, it'll be like entering the Twilight Zone where it's always 1959-1963.


P. S. My songs are uploaded to CD Baby.com and once they approve the files my digital album will be online and for sale. So it could still be a couple of days, but my blog will be the first to know!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dead music career fuels fledgling writing career

Some of you know that years ago I used to step up to microphones wearing my Fender Mustang bass on a purple strap and announce, “I am Regina Rodríguez and I sing songs I made up out of my own head.” For many years writing and performing songs was the main way I coped with depression, loneliness and general low self-esteem. Between 1998 and 2007 I wrote a lot of songs and did a lot of singing. I even developed a small (tiny) Chicago fan-base.

But in 2006 I fell in love with a man named Bob who would become my husband, and my loneliness and low self-esteem began to lift. In 2008 I stopped needing the music altogether and my music adventure came to an end. I now realize songwriting was mainly therapeutic and not a true vocation for me. (You can find posts that refer to my gigs if you look on the 2004 and 2005 pages of my blog.)

Since then the originals that I professionally recorded have been sitting on my computer doing nothing. I’ve mostly ignored my former life as a singer and turned my focus to writing, but now I'm finally going to release my first and only album (but only as a digital download). My friend and New York jazz musician Robert Cowie mastered the songs and I hired a designer from www.fiverr.com to throw a cover together. Watch this space for details on how to purchase Regina Rodríguez-Martin’s one and only downloadable album. In post-modern style, I'm announcing the end of my singing career at the same time that I present the beginning of it.

Why now? Because I hope to use this album to help fund the self-publication of my dog ebook. I’m basically using my dead music career to launch my incipient author career. What is my music like? Here's the best description I can come up with: folk-pop-jazz influenced songs written by a woman who meant every word. The instrumentation is vocals, guitar, bass and sometimes percussion. I wrote many of these songs when I was at my most depressed and lonely. Those are the most cheerful ones because I used songwriting to get myself to think more positively (it didn't work). They have names like "The Penguin Song," "Happy Are We" and "I Like Life." Others are moodier and more introspective, such as "Going of Age," "Before a Dream Is Realized" and "An Atheist's Prayer."

I'm still uploading songs and getting my e-album ready for sale, but I'll let you know as soon as I have a link where you can order. I've named the album This Is My Going of Age because many of these are the songs of a middle-aged woman struggling with spirituality, self-image, relationships and the decision to live single.

My blog readers, thank you SO MUCH for reading my blog and supporting me just by being there. I hope you can also consider purchasing my music not because it's so great, but because it will finance my true dream of writing and publishing.

Isn't it funny: I'm finally getting my music out into the world when I what I really want to do now is write ebooks. For a long time I didn't think anyone would want to hear my original songs, much less pay for them, so I never released a CD. Only now that my ego is completely unattached to this music, and I want to raise cash for publishing, am I able to reveal it. I worked hard to create the lyrics and music for these original songs, paying out-of-pocket for musicians, transcriptions and recordings. And of course I made nothing on my performances. Now my songs are going to work for me!

WATCH MY BLOG FOR INFO ON HOW TO ORDER (I should have it up by this weekend)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ignore emailed posts tonight

To my readers who receive my posts by email: ignore the ones that posted tonight. Those are all very old posts that I wrote years ago. I was just going through my blog and realizing that I'd left them in draft form, so I decided to put them on my blog, backdated.

Especially ignore the photos of me. Those are OLD PHOTOS. Oh, that I still looked like that. Instead, I look like this. Oh, wait. This isn't bad.

Me in September 2013

"Yeah-no"

Has anyone noticed this phrase that’s become popular? The phrase “Yeah, no” is interesting to me because it seems to have replaced “no” in a lot of sentences. Instead of, “No, I’m not going to be able to make it,” we say, “Yeah. No, I’m not going to be able to make it.” Or as I hear it “Yeah-no, I’m not going to be able to make it.”
Maybe it's a new way to soften a “no” answer, or maybe the "yeah" is a way to acknowledge that someone has spoken before one gives her/his true response, which is “no." Maybe it's a sign of increasing cultural wishy-washiness. I haven't figured it out, but to maintain the integrity of my statements I'm trying not to use it. "Yeah-no" just sounds confusing to me. (More on this topic here.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Super Fun Night


Super Fun Night is not a bad show! I don't tend to stick with shows for very long, but few impress me as this one does.

Why I've watched this show not once, but twice:

1. Main character, Kimmie, is fat and doesn't apologize for it. In fact, her fatness isn't part of the premise or the focus of any of the punchlines.
2. I actually laughed out loud a few times.
3. The show focuses on the lives of Kimmie and her two best friends all of whom are single working women with very idiosyncratic personalities and interests. They're geeks and they're great!
4. Unlike other new sitcoms (such as The Michael J. Fox Show and Sean Saves the World), the cast isn't made up of parents, children or married couples. Not only am I sick of the cliches of such sitcoms, but a unit that consists of at least one parent and one child doesn't feel like it has much to do with my life. The experiences of single women have a LOT more to do with my life.
5. Example of the humor: in the second episode, one of Kimmie's friends is on a first date pretending to be a botanist. When the geeky guy asks Marika for her favorite plant of all time, she thinks hard for a long moment, then says, "Lettuce." The date smiles and nods as if that's the best answer he could have imagined. They're both odd! And I don't mean quirky Carrie Bradshaw odd. I mean that these characters simply do not see things the way most people do.

Maybe Super Fun Night is the inevitable follow up to Big Bang Theory which broke ground by moving the bizarre, idiosyncratic characters from the sidelines to the starring roles. That's fine with me. I'm at least 20 years older than Kimmie and her friends, but I'll happily watch a show that focuses on single, culturally unusual women who do not fit the general standard of beauty. Besides the five years I spent as a wife, that is pretty much my life.

Characters Helen-Alice, Kimmie and Marika

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fictional short story (I made this up)

Burial

Dani felt giddy the day they buried her mother. She felt lighter and freer. As her family arranged themselves in the church foyer, it reminded her of her wedding day, only with a coffin and a black dress instead of a white one. As the oldest, she stood next to her father behind the casket. Her brothers and aunts followed. As much as this mimicked a bridal procession, she realized she felt happier than she had on her wedding day because her mother was dead and that – unlike her marriage – was going to last forever.

Everyone kept calling it a casket, but Dani preferred the word coffin. She and her father processed behind it as the music changed from Linda Ronstadt’s “Tú Solo Tú” to her mother’s favorite “Pescador de Hombres.” Dani felt the gaze of everyone in the crowded church, but she kept her eyes on the huge crucifix that gleamed behind the altar.

“Thank God,” Dani thought, wishing there were a better way for an atheist to express fervent gratitude. “Mother is dead. Mother is dead.”

She didn’t actually smile as she stepped along the carpet next to her dad. Or maybe she did. Dani had told herself to act sad, but it seemed a shame to hide her joy. Hadn’t Father Luís said they were here to celebrate the life of Araceli Gonzalez? Well, Dani was ready to dance.

Dani’s happiness was all the more remarkable because she spent so much of her life struggling with her mood disorder. She’d inherited her mother’s capacity for depression and her childhood was such that Dani developed chronic depression by high school. Even after she moved out of her parents’ house, she struggled with anxiety, low self-esteem and periods of self-hatred. She knew some kids recovered just fine once they got away from a parents’ abuse, but Dani buckled under the weight of memories of her mother and the awful feelings they kept alive. She had worked for decades with various therapists who helped her face her childhood pain, mourn the mother she didn’t get and build her self-esteem. Dani had forgiven her mother again and again, trying to release her resentment, but the anger never seemed to go away.

As the procession reached the front of the church, Dani noticed Amalia Cantú, one of her mother’s closest friends. Amalia looked distraught, but calmer than she’d been when she’d first arrived at the church. Upon seeing Dani’s dad, Amalia had said, “Oh, Jorge!” then wrapped her arms around him and wept. Dani’s father bore the embrace silently but when they parted Dani saw his raw grief. It lasted only a moment before he composed himself again, but it stunned her and made her feel terrible about her joy. She wanted to go to him and say, “Don’t feel bad. We’ll be so much better off without her!” But she couldn’t assume that would be true for him, so she left him alone.

Dani’s relationship with her mother had been completely different from the one she had with her father. Dani was the calming presence in her mother’s life. It was as if her mother had borne her first child to help her raise the rest. From as far back as Dani could remember she’d been aware of her mother’s panicky need to have her daughter by her side. Dani anticipated her mother’s needs, finished her sentences, did what she asked and never ever talked back. Exhausted, Dani gave her mother full massages at the end of the day. With her stomach in a knot, she listened to her parents argue, and she accepted her mother’s vilification of her father that always followed. It often felt like Dani held her mother’s hand through life instead of the other way around. She didn’t realize how it drained and suffocated her until she examined her childhood in therapy, but even then she didn’t know how to stop it.

In the years before cell phones, Dani had first established a semi-independent life. In college, she held two jobs while carrying a full load of classes. She lived near campus in a student co-op and loved her new freedom. But when her mother needed her – which was often – the phone rang, and she had Dani’s phone numbers at home, at both jobs and at her boyfriend’s apartment.

“Dani, where were you?” her mother’s voice came through the receiver when Dani got home one day during her junior year. Without knowing she was doing it, she gauged the level of emotion in those words as she put down her backpack and shrugged out of her jacket.

“I just came back from English.” Dani subconsciously slipped into her calming-presence voice.

“I’ve been calling you for an hour! When are you coming home for Christmas?”

“Daddy’s picking me up on Christmas Eve, in the morning.” College had given Dani her escape, but the campus was only a half hour drive from her parents’ home. Sometimes the distance felt like enough. Sometimes it didn’t.

“Well, the Lopez want to stop by when we’re all home and I told them I’d check with you. They’re probably going to bring another one of those huge, ugly baskets. I don’t know why anyone would want that junk. All that sugar and chocolate and fregadera. I do not have time for the Lopez in the middle of my Christmas Eve!”

Dani stayed quiet.

“I just want a nice evening at home with my family. Is that too much to ask? Why do people think everyone wants to see them on holidays? I just want to be with my family!”

Dani ventured, “Can you ask them to come after Christmas?”

“No! Your father would kill me if I did that. He’s so concerned about being friends with them.” Araceli sighed loudly. “We’ll just have to put up with them.”

Dani tried to think of a distraction and said, “Hey, I’m going to sing a solo in church this Sunday.”

“That’s nice,” her mother murmured.

“Well, it’s not a song, but I get to do the responsorial. I’ll sing and then everyone sings with me. You know?”

“I’m going to have the clean the entire God damn house just for the Lopez to drop by for half an hour. And you’re going to help me!” she threatened.

“Okay.” Dani drew a deep breath and released it silently.

Finally her mother said, “I’ll let you go. I’ll see you on Christmas Eve, along with the Lopez.”

Looking back on this from the safety of her mother's funeral, Dani thought, "I'm so glad cell phones weren't invented until I was all grown up." While her brothers seemed exempt from such treatment, Dani had no choice but to accept it. When ants invaded the kitchen, when the cat pooped on the carpet, when Dad needed emergency gall bladder surgery or when PTA members behaved rudely, Araceli’s fear and frustration sounded like this: “What's wrong with you, Daniela? Why can't you do anything right? No piensas! Nunca piensas!” 

Dani found her mother’s rage terrifying. From the time Dani was very young, her mother would hiss that she was stupid and had no common sense, and little Dani accepted it. Her mother needed her to be calm, so Dani kept up that appearance, but actually her mother's fury made her feel like the world was ending and she would become frantic to make the yelling stop. She hated herself for not being able to make her mother happy and often felt worthless.

After years of therapy and anti-depressants, Dani tried to talk to her mother about their relationship. She tried both conversations and thoughtful letters to ask her mother to please take it easy on her. She explained that she wasn't really the calm, unflappable person she pretended to be. She told her mother about her chronic depression that was triggered by stress and characterized by self-loathing, but her words didn't make much difference. Dani yearned for respect, but her mother just didn’t have it for her oldest child.

Dani’s final attempt to be a good daughter was when her dad needed hip replacement surgery. Since he’d be in the hospital for at least four days, Dani flew in for moral support. How could she not go? Tom’s high powered job never let him visit and her other brother only fought with their mother and made things worse. After a few days of her mother’s low level panic, constant need for neck rubs and demands for rides to the hospital, Dani was on edge. She was 39 years old, but her mother still believed she was entitled to treat her however she liked.

“Wait, where are we?” Araceli demanded. On the fourth day of Dani’s visit they were looking for a hospital supply store. Dani was driving while her mother navigated, but in her anxious chatter Araceli had forgotten about the written directions she held and missed at least one turn.

“We’re on the west side of Palo Alto somewhere,” Dani said “What were we supposed to do when after we turned on First Avenue?”

Her mother looked down at the directions in her hand and read, “Turn right on First Avenue. At the Mobil Station turn right on Leland. Did we pass the Mobil station? Did you see it?”

“Um, I don’t know.” Dani wasn’t the strongest driver. In fact, she’d been trying to pretend she wasn’t even in the car. She had been mindlessly doing as she was told and had no idea what scenery they had passed. She felt irritated that her mother couldn't even manage to read directions, but she couldn’t express that and knew what was coming.

“What do you mean you don’t know? Don’t you have your eyes open? Are you driving with your eyes closed? You’re supposed to know these things! I’m counting on you!” Araceli’s eyes grew furious as Dani put on her poker face. Araceli raged, “This place closes at four o’clock! Now we’re not going to get there in time and your father won’t have a commode to sit on when he gets home from the hospital! What’s he going to do then? Eh? What are we supposed to tell him? I’m going to tell him you screwed up!”

Araceli thrust the paper with the directions at Dani, who tried to look at them while keeping control of the car. “Figure out where the fuck we are!” Thirty minutes later Dani found the hospital supply place, but being trapped in the car with her screaming mother was the last straw.

It took weeks for Dani to recover. After returning home, she had dragged through bleak days, hating herself, hating her mother, and wishing they were both dead. Life just felt too hard and it felt this way all the time. Why was life so hard? She envied people the news reported as accidentally killed in car accidents or by random gunfire. She wondered why she was never in the right place for such a thing, so that she could finally just sleep and never wake up. Dani spent a large part of her 30s wanting to sleep and never wake up.

After trying to talk to her mother about how that day in the car had made her feel, Dani stopped all visits and phone calls. She just couldn't be her mother's emotional support and she didn’t want to be hung up on anymore. Did this finally make clear how difficult it was for Dani to support a mother who didn’t reciprocate? She hoped so. All that was left was an exchange of greeting cards on birthdays and holidays. During the final seven years of Araceli Gonzalez’ life, she had almost no contact with her daughter, and Dani liked it that way.

But the guilt was horrible. Dani knew she was the worst kind of daughter: one who had abandoned her mother. Even though her mother was out of her life, she stayed in Dani's head. Dani's depressive episodes were full of self-loathing: she couldn't do anything right, she was a screwup and wasn't strong enough to be the daughter her mother deserved. She felt stupid and weak, but longed for a mother who nurtured her and whose company she enjoyed. Caught between guilt and the need to take care of herself, Dani carried a burden of remorse and responsibility that she knew wouldn't end until her mother died.

The funeral fascinated her. No fewer than five priests celebrated the mass. It astounded her that her mother had given so much to the church and the community that the adoration and grief poured out: enough holy fathers to start a rock band, flower arrangements from people Dani had never heard of, very tearful condolences and loving eulogies that went on and on. It seemed that Araceli Gonzalez had been endlessly generous and inspirational and was responsible for people’s high school degrees, college acceptances and entire careers. She had volunteered tirelessly in the church, organizing clothing drives, posadas and support when families lost their jobs. She taught the English-dominant how to speak Spanish and the Spanish-dominant how to speak English. She never stopped giving to the comunidad and now the comunidad grieved their loss with one voice.

More than half of the mass was in Spanish. Dani focused for as long as she could, following the sentiments until her brain felt overloaded. As she gazed at the Virgen de Guadalupe image that adorned the coffin, it was easy to tune out the language her parents hadn’t taught her. She could only concentrate in Spanish for so long. She imagined her mother in that box, weighing almost nothing. Cancer had caused many changes, and now they were burying a tiny person. Dani had noticed the thinness the last time she had seen her. Determined to reach a peaceful end to their relationship, Dani had said mostly truthfully, “I love you and I miss you. And I’m sorry we lost so many years together.”

Araceli’s colorless hair shifted on the pillow as she said in a small voice, “I never understood that. I never understood why you did that.”

Dani pursed her lips and didn’t say, “Christ God, old woman. Did you really never get it?” Instead she just kept holding her mother’s hand. From within her mother’s reality, it must have been extremely painful to have her only daughter disappear from her life. As Dani caressed the dry, shriveled hand, she realized that her mother really didn’t have the capacity to understand how she affected others. To her mother’s wounded heart, Dani’s withdrawal must have seemed cruel and inexplicable. Dani knew her mother didn't have much longer, and pitied her that she was dying with so much heartache and so little understanding.

Two weeks later, after her father called to say her mother had passed away, Dani shed a few tears. That took about a minute. Then she took a deep breath and let the relief flood in. No more hunting for a Mother’s Day card that wasn’t full of lies. No more obligatory birthday cards. No more reports from other family about her mother’s latest bad behavior (her mother was reliably nice to non-family, but not so good to those she was related to). No more guilty waiting for her mother to die. Dani was free.

Later at the graveside burial, Dani felt even more out of sync. Unlike others around her, Dani had already wept for her mother over decades of therapy. She remembered times when her mother had been loving, funny and nurturing, but those times had dwindled until, in Dani’s thirties, the nice Araceli Gonzalez had disappeared from Dani's life. Clearly others had experienced her as nurturing and loving, but Dani felt left out of that warmth. She had done so much crying during the years she and her mother were estranged that today Dani had no more tears. Instead, she felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

The sun beat down on their heads as Father Luís prayed over the coffin, now suspended over an open slot of brown earth in Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery. There was more Spanish, more handkerchiefs pressed to faces, more eyes staring respectfully downward. Unwilling to pay any more attention, Dani looked over the crowd and wondered how many of these people had spoken English as their first language. Not many, she guessed. Her parents had lived in a very different world than the one into which they’d thrust her.

Dani and her brothers had learned English from the crib, grown up in a middle class suburb and attended a college preparatory high school in which the minorities were definitely in the minority. Her parents were raised in the barrio and had kept strong ties to the working class mexicanos in the area, especially those who had recently emigrated. Araceli and Jorge’s life sounded like ranchera music and tasted like orange rice made with chicken boullion. Dani’s life sounded like American top 40 and tasted like Prozac.

Dani’s gaze fell on the young man who had eulogized that Mrs. Gonzalez was the reason he became a lawyer. To his right was a family friend who had written a poem about her mother’s devotion to la raza. Had Dani been the sacrifice for all those people whose lives her mother had touched? Had Araceli Gonzalez been able to give and give because she’d had Dani’s strength to draw on? And if all those lives had been helped at the expense of Dani’s personhood and self-esteem, was it worth it?

"Fuck," Dani thought as she glared at the patch of grass between her feet and the grave. "Was that it? Was there some kind of twisted sick cosmic deal that I got the -- no, I can't start thinking that or I will go crazy. Fuck." She tried to pull her mind off of that line of reasoning. Better to focus on today's happiness.

After the coffin had been lowered, the dirt thrown on top of it and the flowers had followed, Dani wondered if some form of heartache would overtake her yet.  Thinking of her mother’s loving moments made Dani sad, but the sadness felt as faded as the memories. She shuffled with the rest of the congregation back to the parking lot to caravan over to a small reception. She had to respect the memory the parish had of Araceli Gonzalez, but wondered if anyone else in the world had ever felt this way on the day of their mother’s funeral.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

SAMe for depression

I don't want to sound like I've joyously found a wonder pill, but my chiropractor put me on S-Adenosyl methionine (SAMe) a few weeks ago and it's greatly changed my mood. Have you heard of SAMe (pronounced "sammy")? From the Web MD website: 

SAMe is a chemical that is found naturally in the body. It can also be made in the laboratory. The body uses SAMe to make certain chemicals in the body that play a role in pain, depression, liver disease, and other conditions. People who don’t make enough SAMe naturally may be helped by taking SAMe as a supplement. Used for depression, anxietyheart diseasefibromyalgiaosteoarthritis,bursitis, tendonitis, chronic lower back paindementiaAlzheimer's disease, slowing the aging process, chronic fatigue syndrome, improving intellectual performance, liver disease, and Parkinson's disease. It is also used for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, seizures,migraine headache, and lead poisoning.

SAMe has greatly improved how I feel about myself and my life. The negative thinking and self-loathing I struggle with have almost disappeared. My reliance on emotional crutches is greatly reduced: I feel almost no desire for gooey sweets or chain-watching horror movies. I’m not as hungry. My desire to sleep my weekends away is going down. I look in the mirror and see beauty and peace. I think this is how people feel who don't live with depression. How lucky they are, and now I am, too!


Reinforcing my new mood is a book called Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One. I love that title because I am so sick of being my usual moody, depressive, self-loathing self. Dr. Joe Dispenza guides you through understanding how the brain and body function together and how the mind determines much more of our reality than we realize. It's completely compatible with the healing work I’ve been doing with Emotional Freedom Technique. 

Dispenza's practice requires aligning your mental and emotional energies. It stresses that you won't get far if all you do is think about or say affirmations about what you want: you must also harness the power of gratitude and joy, fueling your intention with coherent heart rhythm patterns.

For two weeks I've been tapping on: releasing the parts of me that weren't really me was easier than I expected. Dispenza suggests that we act, think and feel as if our goal is already reached, and it's been so much easier for me to do with SAMe. A co-worker recommended this book to me and I recommend it to the world. I will let go of my destructive patterns and moodiness. I will let go of the excessive napping, snacking and horror movie watching, and I'm already feeling grateful for having accomplished all of it!

Although this book is full of eye-opening information and step-by-step instructions on how to release your old habits and create a new life, it also requires complete commitment to a lifestyle centered on meditation and being willing to look at one's deepest, most painful parts. It's a transformational process, but it demands a great deal of time and focus. Those of us who have already spent our lifetimes battling our inner demons and trying to understand our emotional mechanisms have a head start on this work. I'm looking forward to going even deeper with Dispenza's approach.

It finally feels like life is getting easier. I'm 47 years old and for 25 damn years I’ve been hacking away at my self-hatred like a climber forcing her way up a sheer ice cliff. I have finally reached the top and now the metaphor changes: with momentum on my side, instead of fighting gravity, I just have to release the brakes and coast down to where I really belong: my real home where I peacefully love and accept myself . After all the work I've done, going the rest of the way doesn't have to be difficult or painful. In fact, it was easier than I expected.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Non-smoker likes cigarettes

For most of my life cigarettes were emotionally unmarked for me. No one in my family smoked and I didn't have any particularly good or bad experiences with friends who smoked, so cigarette smoke stayed quite neutral. I didn't want to breathe it while I was eating and I didn't want it right in my face, but if someone wanted to light up around me, I didn't care. I was a non-smoker who didn't have much of a problem with smoking.

Then I fell in love with and married a smoker. He was very considerate to keep his smoke as far from me as possible. When we were dating he not only stepped outside but out of my sight to have a smoke. When we moved in together he volunteered to keep his smoking confined to the sun room. Of course, I could still smell it in the rest of the apartment, but I got used to it. By that point in my life (my 40s) I had re-prioritized what I needed in a relationship and "non-smoker" had moved from the non-negotiable column to the negotiable column. I loved this man. I wasn't going to get hung up on a bad habit when I had so many myself.

Last July, after five years of marriage, we separated and I now live alone in a beautiful apartment that smells like my cooking, my soap and my candles. No stale tobacco smell or sun room that's been sacrificed to ashtrays and dingy walls. Yet every time I walk down the street and notice someone in front of me blowing smoke, I quicken my step and breathe deeply. Yes, I miss my husband's cigarette smoke.

Of course, it's not exactly the smoke I miss. It's that a burning Marlboro Red reminds me of relaxed moments, laughter and some of the most intimate conversations my husband and I had. When he was smoking he was patient, he listened, he sat still. I might give him a neck rub or a scalp massage. He would carefully exhale out the open windows, so that I only got the fresh scent of tobacco, not the choking columns of smoke. For me cigarettes became associated with friendship, softness, fun and love. I enjoyed telling people The Onion joke that studies had found that second-hand smoke causes second-hand coolness. In spite of all my careful health habits, I liked being married to smoker.

Now I've gone cold turkey. I don't quite have the nerve to hang out with my smoking co-workers in their designated area, so I just keep an eye out for those white wisps that tell me there's a smoker nearby. Sometimes I smell it first and twist my head around, searching for the source, trying to move closer.

Last weekend I was reeling from some bad news about a friend, feeling weepy and lost. After releasing most of my emotions in tears and tapping, I didn't feel like going home, so at 6:30 p.m. I wandered into a nearby Dominick's supermarket. I thought I'd pick up a few groceries, but ended up walking out with only one item: my first pack of Marlboro Reds. I didn't really smoke one. I lit it (which took six matches), sucked on it without inhaling just to keep it going, and breathed in the smoke after it hit the air. It brought me comfort.

I held the cigarette awkwardly as I walked along slowly. I experimented with pinching it between forefinger and thumb, then went back the standard first-and-middle-finger clasp. Once I accidentally drew some smoke into my lungs and coughed, wondering if passers by could tell I was a total beginner. After that I was more careful, holding a full breath in my lungs while I used my tongue alone to suck smoke into my mouth. Then I'd exhale everything and quickly inhale again so I could get the scent in my nostrils.

I "smoked" it down to the filter, stubbed it out on the sidewalk and put it in my pocket, along with the dead matches. I would not be one of those smokers who just throws their stuff everywhere. I considered a second one, but didn't want my fingers to reek of the stuff. I could already smell the smoke in my clothes and it was gross. I called my sister instead.

Judy and I discussed the sadness first, then moved on to other topics. I even laughed a little, and by the time we hung up I felt fine. I went home, surprised that the storm had passed so completely. I often call my emotional weeping spells "storms," but this was the first one that also had lightning (sorry). I seem to be getting better at letting out my emotions, usually with crying and tapping, and letting them pass right through, leaving me feeling perfectly okay. I'm very grateful for this skill that I've worked hard on. I don't want to hold in my emotions ever again.

But the cigarette thing is new. A couple of friends were nonplussed by that part of my story. A couple of others begged me not to take up the habit. One advised me to keep them in the freezer for freshness (thanks, Emily). I don't know what I'll do with the rest of the pack. Maybe I'll keep the cigarettes for another such emergency. Maybe I'll offer them to smokers who come over. Maybe I'll hang out in smoking areas and offer them, but only if the person smokes it right next to me. Now I understand better why smoking appeals to children whose parents smoke: cigarettes can evoke the emotions you feel when you're with the person you most closely associate with tobacco. I have no desire to start smoking, but for times when I miss my husband the most, they might come in handy.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

What to do with the extra happy?

Let's say I have a little coping mechanism game: on days when I'm feeling down, I cheer myself up by pretending it's my birthday. I tell myself "How bad can things be? It's my birthday!" and immediately the day brightens. Let's say that no matter what's going on, telling myself that this is my special day to be nice to myself makes me feel better. Would you criticize this? If I told you pretending it's my birthday helps me on bad days, would you say, "Stop it. It's not your birthday." I  think you wouldn't. I  think you'd understand that this is a harmless psychological game I play that makes the world seem like a happier place to me.

So I ask: why do people react so strongly when I feel like pretending it's Christmastime? Everything I just wrote is true, only Christmas is the fantasy and instead of pretending it on days when I feel bad, I like to think about Christmas all year round. Completely irrationally, thinking about Christmas lifts my mood, makes me feel special and gives me a party to look forward to. Unlike most grown ups apparently, Christmas makes me unreasonably happy, so I enjoy keeping "Joy to the World" as my ringtone, Christmas wallpaper on my screen and a fabric Santa Claus on my bookshelf.

I often get eyerolls and kidding about this, which is fine, but occasionally someone seems genuinely irritated. Can anyone tell me why? Until I hear from you, I'll make some guesses. I suspect others see the Christmas season as a time of endless exhaustion, impossible expectations and expense, expense, expense. Maybe these people see December as a series of hurdles to clear and goals to reach: the perfect gifts, the perfect dinner, the perfect Christmas cookies, etc. Maybe this is why they're baffled by my willingness to pretend as if it's all upon us right now, yay Christmas!

Or maybe some people don't understand why I like Christmas so much because they're disgusted by the commercialism of the tradition. Maybe they dislike that Christmas "has turned into" such a money-making racket (although in the U.S. merchandising has been at the heart of our holiday tradition for over a hundred years). Is it possible that some people just don't want to be reminded of the holiday selling and buying? Do you think some roll their eyes at my year-round Christmas enthusiasm because they don't want to be reminded of all that?

If these kinds of things are true, maybe it would be more sensitive of me to keep my Christmas joy to myself, at least until December 1st. As a child-free woman who resists standard societal expectations, my tradition is to make Christmas exactly what I want, so I don't have any negative associations with it. For me December is a fun, peaceful month full of the anticipation of my favorite day of the year, but clearly that's not how many grown ups see it. Should I try to keep my Christmas fixation more private?