Horror Eyes

If you have ever watched a recent horror film, you are familiar with a common special effect used to signify that a person has been possessed by or has become an evil spirit; the entire eye, including the white part, becomes pitch black.

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This happened to me this morning, sans evil spirit.

I blame my age.

When my 25 year old daughter showed up one day with beautiful and simple eyeliner, I asked her to show me how to do it.

“It’s called tightline, or waterline,” she said. She then showed me how to pull my upper eyelid slightly more open, so I could draw on the edge of skin beneath the lashes, the part that touches the eyeball.

It’s subtle but effective, the way I believe makeup should be. The only drawback is that the pencil line becomes liquified by the moisture in my eyes, and within minutes of application, I have smudges beneath my eyes that make it look like I’ve been crying.

And no, I have not been crying. One of the best parts of menopause, for me, has been reduction of tears. By and large, the things that used to make me cry now simply annoy and irritate me.

So this morning, as I was getting ready for work, I’m at my makeup mirror. I also check my email, waiting for an important banking notification that should arrive any minute. I’ve got my contacts in, and I’ve decided to try tightlining with my waterproof liquid eyeliner. Worth a shot, right? I’ve got 10 extra minutes to play around.

My mirror is as close as I can get it without my eyes being forcibly crossed.

I pull my eyelid up and aim for the corner. But my hand is in the way, and I can’t see up close without my reading glasses—a new development—so my aim is approximate, not precise. You kind of have to be precise around the eye.

I tilt my head, looking for a new angle of approach. The computer pings with an email arrival. The important bank stuff! I can get this done before I go to work. Easy peasy.

I turn my attention back to makeup. I really need to take out my contacts—or put on my reading glasses. This is nuts. I am a vague beige and brown shape with a blue target in the middle. The tip of the liquid eyeliner applicator, which is a soft paintbrush shape, hits right between my eyelid and eyeball. My eye is flooded with black liquid.

I look like I’ve been possessed. I whisper into the mirror, “THAT’S how they do it!” and race to the bathroom to wash out my eye. My contact. My eye again.

It doesn’t hurt or sting, I just can’t see. I wait for the pain, but nothing comes. That’s a relief.

My ten extra minutes have evaporated. I rush back to my desk. Because I think I can multitask, I’ve also been trying to enter data into the banking app. With one eye and a ticking clock.

“Please enter your bank’s routing number.”

Well, crap. I haven’t used checks for years. Where the fuck am I going to find my routing number? With an assist from my husband (thank god for him), I find the damned routing number.

“Please enter either your email or your phone number for verification.”

Okayokayokayokayokayokay comeoncomeoncomeoncomeon. Yes. Verify. Yes. Okay.

Now I’m late. Is it because of the eyeliner? Or the bank? Multitasking?

The bank’s email doesn’t come. I’ve reverted to my regular eyeliner programming, the kind that makes me look like a droopy Charro, and figure it can’t be any worse than it’s been the last four years. I’ll figure out how to be like my 25 year old another day.

Where is that damned email?

My bags are packed and I can leave as soon as the email arrives with the confirmation number.

“Here is your confirmation number. Copy and paste–”

Yeah yeah, let’s go.

“Your email has been confirmed. Please also confirm your phone number”

SHIT. Where is my phone?

Where the hell is my phone?

I’ve been on it this morning, right after I got up. I sent my husband a funny headline. I think I did. Or was that last night? He left for work already. I email him.

Have you seen my phone?

“Confirm your phone number within 5 minutes, or your account information will be refused.”

I’m pretty consistent with my phone. When I’m headed out the door, it’s either on my purse or on the table near the door. It’s neither place. Not in the bathroom. Not in the freezer. In the dog food bucket? Nope. In the cushions of the couch next to my purse—no. On the floor? Did I leave it outside when I took the dog out? Did I take the dog out? SHIT. DOES THE DOG NEED TO SHIT? I am going to be so freaking late.

I am so screwed.

Not in the bathroom, or the freezer. Maybe it’s in the fridge. Nope. Is it IN my purse? No. My lunchbox? No. My robe pocket? NO. Washer? Dryer? Linen closet?


“Confirm your phone number within 1 minute…”

I start throwing bedding off my nicely made bed. Not under the throw, or the top blanket. My husband’s pillow, my pillow—shit. THERE it is!

How many times have I lost something because I cleaned? You’d think I’d learn.

I confirm the phone number for the bank. I plausibly remake the bed and dart for the door.

On my way across town, I reason that the only explanation for this whole sordid story is that, at 50, my eyesight has become so complex—contacts for distance vision, reading glasses for up close, and screw the in between—that things I used to take for granted, like putting on eye makeup, now require techniques and devices I haven’t yet embraced. A magnifying mirror. A professional makeup artist. Eyeliner tattoo. Something.

Now that I’m this age, I can’t see to put on makeup without reading glasses, which get in the way of putting on makeup. I’ve graduated from the ridiculously difficult-to-open PMS medication packaging—seriously, who put THAT much plastic between a woman with PMS and the medication that will ease her pain?—to eyesight that won’t let me put on eyeliner, the one thing that makes me feel slightly less middle-aged and homely.

All I know for sure is that I can’t do tightlining anymore until I find a smudge-proof, non-liquid eyeliner, that I cannot multitask like I used to, and that if I ever need to pretend I’m possessed, I have everything I need in my makeup bag.

You never know when information like that is going to come in handy.

Heaving with Fat

I just got in from the garden. Heat’s going to hit 95 this week, and today’s clear sky and shimmering warmth are leading the way. I’m sweaty from my scalp to the soles of my feet, but I’m pleasantly exhausted, carved out by physical exertion, able to breathe again after clearing out the emotional and intellectual cobwebs.

Being physical is part of how I function. Once an athlete in high school, I have continued to be physically active; three times a week, since I was 19, I’ve done some kind of workout. Except for those times I’m sick or injured, I’m a worker-outer; at university, it was swimming or aerobics; raising my kids in the suburbs, I walk/ran up to five times a week. For 15 years now, in addition to the workout-workouts, I also garden, which sounds sedentary, but I use the opportunity to shovel/swing a small axe-like weeding tool/build beds/haul bags of dirt and buckets of water until I’m three-hours deep into an elevated cardiac state and filthy up to my waist.

Two years ago, after a knee injury, I started working with a personal trainer, Natalie. She has taught me how to take care of my joints while pushing myself to gain strength and endurance. At her urging, I’ve done things I never thought I could do, and I am proud of that work.

Also at Natalie’s behest, I have upgraded my workout clothes. She said it might help me get in the right mood to work out on days I don’t feel like it. And there are days *everybody* doesn’t feel like it, even my gorgeous trainer (who once trained to be a fitness model.) So I went on a hunt for “athlesiurewear.”

Back when I was running in the suburbs, trying to outfit myself for exercise was demoralizing. Workout clothes capped out at size XL, which will not work for my bottom half. Wandering around stores, I’d see all the cute patterns and colors in workout wear that I would *love* to wear, but all of it sized for smaller people than me. I did find yoga pants that worked, but only in black, and only in one style. I bought three pairs.

I began to resent shopping for workout clothes. I found large t-shirts and some castoff items from my dad from when he used to run 8 miles a day and just made do. I had one pair of pants that didn’t give me a chafing rash where my thighs meet.

Isn’t it funny that women are simultaneously expected to have space between their thighs AND ALSO keep their legs together for modesty?

Anyway, by the time I started working with Natalie, because she is good and kind and understands that in order to GET more fit, you have to want to WORK OUT and not feel like you just rolled off the couch in the same sweats and torn t-shirt you fell asleep wearing in sophomore year of college while you studied for your freaking botany exam that you shouldn’t have to take anyway. She pointed me toward places online that carry larger sizes, where I found cute tops that come in bright colors and fit comfortably. Technology has advanced to produce fabrics that wick away moisture, so you don’t feel like you’re being suffocated by your clothing anymore.

And! AND! I found workout PANTS! Pants that fit my ass! My thighs! My tree-trunk thighs that defy expectations for lower limbs, and yet there they are! I HAVE PANTS PEOPLE! It took me several very disappointing tries, but I found them.

And some of them even have pockets. Granted, the ones with pockets don’t quite fit me in the rise (because you can be fat AND have long legs–like me!) so I still battle chafing, but it’s a goddamned start.

But guys. People. Fellow humans. My teammates in workouts and in life. Listen, Linda.

There are some people in this world who do NOT APPROVE of fat people having access to well-made, attractive, functional, appropriately sized workout wear. Some people who work for huge media corporations heartily disapprove of clothing companies including larger consumers in their target customer base.

Specifically, though not exclusively, Tanya Gold of The Telegraph UK, took issue with Nike’s use of a plus-size mannequin in their London store.

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Here she is, heaving with fat, the obese mannequin of my dreams. Isn’t she lovely?

“The new Nike mannequin is not a size 12, which is healthy, or even 16–a hefty weight, yes, but not one to kill a woman…

(here comes my favorite part.)

“She is immense, gargantuan, vast. She heaves with fat. She is, in every measure, obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement.”

I know she’s just one person, but I have met so many Tanya Golds in my life that this quote just pissed me off. I can’t read the article because it’s behind a paywall, and I’ll be goddamned if I’ll give her employer any money. But Tanya Gold was in the voice of one potential hair stylist, who urged me not to cut my hair short because my head would then be too small for my body, or the man at my sister’s art opening who told me I shouldn’t be wearing the kitten-heeled shoes I had on because I looked like I was going to just fall over, and the voice of my mother in law who told me that I shouldn’t use her treadmill because it was “not rated” for my weight.

Their faux concern for my well-being only vaguely shrouds their loathing of anyone who isn’t skinny. That loathing blinds them to the reality that 1) they have no right to opine about another person’s body, because 2) they have NO CLUE what another person’s reality is.

I found this absurd quote on the Instagram account of one of my favorite fat athletes, Mirna Valerio (@themirnavator)  a runner and author. Valerio posted the quote with a video of her running swiftly downhill in a forest very much like my beloved Washington Park, tree roots and boulders in her path, unbothered by the twists and turns and knee-challenging drops from step to step.

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Valerio said “Tanya Gold…can you do this?” And added a quote from her book “A Beautiful Work in Progress”

“This body isn’t meant to stagnate or cease moving . . . This body is fierce, beautiful and unapologetic. It’s meant to move through the world as it wishes: lifting, walking, and running, rolls and all. Love handles, bouncy boobs, curves, tummy, butt, back fat, and all. I honor her by continuing to move along the spectrum of health and wellness, and in turn she honors me by living vibrantly.”

Valerio is such a palate cleanser for me. When I feel shitty about not looking like I think I should, I read her posts and see her pictures and feel energized to keep going. That’s all any of us can really do, skinny or fat; just keep going.

People like Tanya Gold, for whatever reason, don’t want fat people to keep going. Never having been skinny, I can’t say what’s behind this viciousness, but it’s real. A slender segment of the skinny population expends effort toward stopping fat people–from going to concerts and parties to buying clothes to trying to work out for whatever reason moves them. These hateful skinnies can’t stand it, and they can’t shut up about it.

Let’s just put this out there; whether a person wants workout clothes for working out or just because they like them, it’s none of Ms. Gold’s business. Fat people buy whatever clothes they want; their money works exactly like skinny people’s money, and Nike has finally realized that.

So this is for you, Ms. Gold; take your narrow (ha!), small (HA!), ignorant and petty beliefs about my fat body and shove them. My gargantuan thighs would rather run to the beat of Mirna Valerio’s joyous activity; her hard-won sweat and self-satisfied smile defeat your ugly lack of humanity every single time.

I have long suspected that mean skinny people are being eating alive from the inside by something, just withering away their abundance and joy. I don’t want that to be me. I needed to say these things here so other people could see them, so other people might feel less alone in their hurt over these comments. So I could feel less alone.

My life is full of magic and wonder and the more-than-occasional homemade chili/chocolate chip cookie. And when I lift myself into a plank and beads of sweat run off my face and I push past the one minute mark, or I go 15 minutes longer on the exercise bike, or I climb further up the trail than I got last time, I will bask in the expansion of my spirit and completely forget the circumference of my thighs.

And I will forget completely one Tanya Gold, who has to live with herself long after the words she wrote vanish from the public discussion. Sucks to be you, Tanya.

I’ve never been a Nike fan, but maybe it’s time to look at their plus-size workout gear.

Other accounts I follow for super motivation:

Martinus Evans @300poundsandrunning
Louise Green @louisegreen_bigfitgirl 



Parks and Recreation

Over the years, I’ve worked at a number of companies as they go through buyouts, takeovers, restructuring, downsizing. Because many of my jobs have come through temp agencies and creative staffing agencies–temp agencies for people in creative fields–I’ve seen a fair bit of this. Temps are brought in when the company doesn’t want to hire full-time permanent staff. Some companies exist on “temporary” staff for years. I worked as a “temp” at one job for almost four years. There were lots of us there in the same position.

During the buyout of one large company–the brand is found everywhere from hospitals to manufacturing to aeronautics–the layoffs were announced in stages. When the first round of administrative layoffs occurred, you could hear weeping in the hallways, and everyone walked around in a fearful hush, like it was a sick ward and we were all worried about catching it next.

The same feeling has descended upon the staff of Portland Parks and Recreation. When I left one community center in March, the $7 million budget shortfall had just been announced, and rumbles of staff cuts followed like thunder announcing a storm. Budget meetings were held all over the city, to packed houses. People asked questions that got noncommittal answers. Bucks were passed. Brows were furrowed. Managers held serious meetings. Cuts were coming, and it would happen before the beginning of the fiscal year (July 1), but they didn’t know exactly who would be cut. The list was narrowed down to a certain range of classifications, and there was a long-shot appeal launched through the city commissioners.

Valiant efforts by the union representatives to sway the vote did not succeed. The city budget was passed last week, with only one commissioner, Jo Ann Hardesty, voting against the budget. She is quoted frequently saying “a budget is a moral document.” This is true in city governments and in businesses and in households. What you choose to spend money on reflects and expresses your morals, shows what you place value on.

And now there are nearly 70 people out of a job in Portland. Seventy people with a specific skillset–serving the community in recreation and arts education–who now have to figure out how to support themselves. Seventy people whose paychecks were already meager, who were already working in jobs that paid less than they needed because they believed in what Parks and Recreation stands for, what it provides to the community.

This is a more painful round of layoffs than I have seen before. Maybe because I know three of the people getting cut, and I’m watching this from the sidelines. But Parks and Recreation is a different kind of place to work. It’s not like companies, places where you can earn a decent living, or like that mega-company in which the layoff virus spread unabated until every corner was singed.

At Parks and Recreation, you interact with people off the street every single day. You help them find the right music class for their seven year old, or give an elderly person directions to the right bus line. Sometimes, you have to chase teenagers out of a practice room where they’re drawing baffling graffiti because they don’t have anything else to do.

There’s the woman from the Ukraine who learned how to sculpt in a Parks and Rec class
–and discovered she has a real gift for three-dimensional art. Parks employees get to witness that revelation, to be part of that woman’s joy, and part of her pursuit of a new thrilling part of herself.

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Jo Ann Hardesty, the only person at the city who fought for Parks.

That never happened at MegaCorp. I spent my days processing accounts receivable/deliverable for selling widgets overseas.

Parks and Recreation is a connection between the community and the city. The city has chosen to spend their money somewhere else, somewhere that’s not the community.

They’ve taken the money away from the 70 people who handed a basketball to the kids from down the street who need a place to shoot hoops. They took money away from 70 people who, instead of working in an office or in retail or some reliable job that pays well, found the one employer who would pay them to work in their art form–music or dance or literature–and still make an okay living. They sacrificed better wages to help the community access the same art that gave them so much joy.

And the city just said that doesn’t matter. The people who screwed up this budget aren’t the ones who are getting laid off, but that doesn’t matter either. These 70 people who worked long past their shifts and cleaned up disgusting messes and know every nook and cranny of their facilities get to hit the bricks.

I’m pretty disappointed in this city right now. Their morals are on full display, and it’s so defeating. I don’t know how the city will maintain any connection with the community after this; with fewer people to staff positions, programs will be cut, and people will wander away from the emaciated community centers across town. Economists and educational psychologists can tell you the inevitable conclusion of that story: rising truancy, drug use, gang involvement, crime, incarceration. One man, who works with incarcerated youth, pointed out that the government pays for these kids one way or the other; either with programs to help develop them into responsible human beings, or when they’re locked up.

Of those 70 people, I’m thinking of my three friends, intelligent and funny and talented and committed people who just lost their jobs. The city has lost dozens of hard-working, community-focused employees who tried like hell to spread their light around the world, like we’re all told to do every damned day. Lot of good it did them. Lot of good it did the city.

Thanks, Mayor Ted “Bean Counter” Wheeler and the rest of the accountants running the city. You’re losing the heart and soul of this place, and you’re so blinded by dollar signs you have no idea what you’ve lost.

PS–If you’re a Portlander who’s hiring creative, committed people, let me know. Let’s get these people employed again!


I took a class on Whitman, Dickinson, Keats and Longfellow in college. It was team-taught by two department stars, Dr. Kiefer and Rodney Jones, one a natty dresser with a gorgeous head of curly hair, the other an acclaimed poet, a stereotypical professor in appearance, wry sense of humor and laconic delivery.

While I vividly recall my music department classes and classmates, I don’t remember much about my English classes. I was nominally an English major, but spent all of my free time in the music department, a holdover from high school’s music wing, where one could lounge for hours outside the band room, ostensibly studying or eating lunch.

In college, I had few friends in my major. I met Robby in my Whitman class. We were both just starting to take classes in our major, and excited to be out of gen-ed classes. He was quiet and so was I, both reluctant at first to speak up too much during this three-hour bi-weekly class. At the break, we would compare notes, discuss the poems we were studying, and found ourselves fast friends.

In that way youthful relationships do, we bonded quickly, spending mealtimes and study hours together, sometimes in my dorm room, sometimes in his. He was a transplant to southern Illinois from Florida, living with his beloved grandmother in the summers. He was smart in a way I hadn’t experienced yet, because I had spent so much time with musicians. He was insightful and philosophical, grasping big ideas in a short time, making connections I could not conceive. He was fascinating and funny.

And he was gay.

At least, I think he was. He never told me, but neither had the other gay friends I had. And being in music and theatre, I had a lot, dating back into high school. One of my college friends who was gay would sit and admire men’s butts with me in the music department lobby. We each had our top three. Mine, strangely enough, included the man who would eventually be my first husband.

But Robby never said anything about that part of his life. He talked about poetry and the power of language. We’d talk excitedly about the punctuation and spacing of Dickinson’s poetry, and the florid language in Longfellow. We were both gripped by Whitman, whose language rose like a gentle wind off the page and swept both of us in Romantic Era fervor.

When we exchanged letters over the summer, nature was our favored theme; he was moved by the endless fields of wheat in Illinois, the dry openness of the summer sky, rolling rivers hemmed by trees. They were the most breathtaking non-romantic letters I have ever gotten. I keep them in a box to this day, his blue-inked return address at his grandmother’s house a beacon on the envelope. “This is where Robby lived.”

The next year, my junior year, I got pregnant and my whole life shifted. I was consumed with “what now,” with little time for wheat fields and Whitman. I struggled through a whole entire class on Faulkner, whose themes of broken families and unplanned pregnancy choked my brain as I was faced with a family who turned their back on me because of my unplanned pregnancy.

I lost a lot of friends when I got pregnant. I don’t remember specifically how I lost track of Robby. Maybe it was not having classes together. Maybe it was our vastly different lives. I saw him occasionally on campus. He visited briefly after I had the baby. And once, I ran into him at the grocery store, after I had my second child. He was friendly and my heart ached for the distance my life had traveled from the friends I once had. I was head-over-heels in love with my children, but I had no one to share that fervor with. 

A few months ago, I found out from another alumni of our university that Robby had died a few years ago. Very young, not yet 50. He had a brain tumor, which hurts doubly so because of his intense intellect and humor and kindness. Not the brain–don’t take the things that made him so marvelous. But all of it is taken now, and I never had the chance to tell him how much I missed those elegaic conversations we had, the chiding affection in our late-night meanderings, and those wild and passionate letters about wheat fields.

There’s an upcoming film being shown locally about Whitman. The poetry will be accompanied by some animation. I could just visit my copy of Leaves of Grass, and find Robby in the margin notes. But I think I will go to this film and hear what other people have to say about Whitman, to hear someone else’s intelligent observations of this great, gentle man of words. I suspect I’ll see Robby there, just on the edge of my vision, like he’s sitting next to me in that long poetry seminar, tapping his pen on his notebook pensively. Someone will say something brilliant, and for a moment, it will be Robby again, a dagger in the heart of the matter, bright and clean and smiling as he always was.


Grab Bag

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my subconscious lately. There’s lots of time to spare, now that Tim’s back to work and my daughter is nearly full-time at her job. Freelance gigs come and go, but I have more quiet in my brain now. And I’m tugged in the direction of the edges of thought that surface.

Like just now, in the kitchen, I was struck by the difference between my husband and me. I was clearing away last night’s cooking mess, a pan I left soaking with baking soda and dish detergent. By this afternoon, the caramelized blueberry muffin overspill had melted back to liquid, and I sprayed it off with the faucet. My cleaning method is a gentle nudge, discouraging stains from staying permanently. I fill pots and pans with water and wait them out. It’s an effective strategy.


Tim, on the other hand, sees every thing he encounters as a battle to be won. Not people–just things. He attacks (his word) the dishes with vigor, setting every item gleaming and pristine into the dishwasher, where they will only become sanitized.  Pots and pans are scrubbed, SOS pads exhausted, and the clean and shining pile of pans displayed upside-down on the counter, twinkling as they dry. He faces his laundry with military precision, sorting colors and heat settings diligently, putting clothing right-side out and stacking them tidily on-deck, waiting to be washed. This is, to me, a little silly, because all of his clothes fit into the “beige/gray/bluish/greenish” category, and none run the risk of infecting the others with their bold color. But sort he does, and then washes in appropriate sequence, and then folds and puts away. By the time he’s done, he is exhausted.

That’s true for the dishes, too. Doing the same amount of dishes, he will emerge from the kitchen in need of a nap, or at least a good sit down, while I will have completed the dishes, dinner prep, putting away errant pantry items, and wiping down the counters. He’ll do one thing full-bore and do the hell out of it; I do six things kinda half-assed and meander through while I think about tomorrow’s dinner or making baby blankets or a plot consideration for a story in the works.

I admire my husband’s drive. I love how he can go in one direction persistently, and not be pulled off to the things that trace across his intellectual field of vision. In the middle of that last sentence, I remembered that I want to use the leftover buttermilk from the blueberry muffins to make cornbread to go with tonight’s chicken, so I looked up a homemade cornbread recipe.

That kind of interruption would drive Tim nuts. His method of focus would, for me, result in things that don’t get done. Today, even while I’m feeling like dogshit because of a respiratory infection, I’ve cleaned the kitchen, washed the sheets, cleaned the toilet and the sink, planned a potluck for the community garden and made flyers to advertise it, and planned tonight’s dinner. I should be sleeping, but because I’m going at half speed and doing multiple things at once, I got a few things done.

Tim and I are talking a lot about our neurological differences. It took him a long time to figure out my “grab bag” of a brain, but he did so without judgement. He recognizes my rambling ways as different from his; I see his task-oriented brain as different from mine. And this is the really beautiful thing about long-term relationships that work; we see each other’s quirks and oddities, shrug our shoulders and move along with our days. We’re compatible not because we’re alike, but because it doesn’t matter how we’re different, we still just want to be with each other.

We’re figuring it out, it appears. I can’t help but think of all those people–some friends, but mostly family–who told me I was making a huge mistake getting involved with Tim. He wasn’t right for me, I wasn’t right for him.  Like they knew.

Marriage is so much more than being “right” for each other at a given time and place. It’s more structural, more modular than I ever knew. Tim has the necessary structure for a long-term relationship. It’s just how he’s built; solid, over-engineered, every beam and board measured twice or more. And that’s how he thinks. I suspect the people who warned me off him didn’t really know him at all.

I will never be like Tim, even though sometimes I wish I could; the die on my personality is cast. But I respect his particular, peculiar makeup, and admire how he tolerates mine.

My subconscious wanted to say all that just now.