Note: The "Trooper" in question is not actually in the military. It's a metaphor, people.

December 20, 2010

Calendar Storytelling

For the past three years, I've put together a pet-centric "family" photo calendar to give as Christmas gifts to Wine Guy's parents and my mom. At first I found the whole process of collecting and sorting photos to be an overwhelming chore. But this year I hit my stride. So much so, that I ordered a few extra copies to give to family members who might be less inclined to unconditionally love anything I place before them.

The trick? Good old-fashioned storytelling. With the right assemblage of images and a few well-placed captions, I captured a year in the life of the DT/Wine Guy household, which includes "one perfect dog, two semi-perfect cats, and two all-too-human humans."

You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll remember what day it is.

If you follow my blog, then you know 2010 was hardly a year I should would want to remember. So I wasn't exactly eager to comb through my digital album month by month. But these days I'm all about hope (what choice do I have?) and there's nothing more hopeful than flipping through a brand-new calendar with nothing in it but potential (and photos of some damn cute pets).

In previous years I found myself swamped by ideas and images, but little direction. This time out I decided to begin by identifying and organizing the themes that kept popping up in my photos. And since we (thankfully) don't take pictures during funerals, emotional meltdowns or screaming fights with loved ones, the themes I found were generally joyful or, at their worst, merely innocuous.

Though they didn't all make it into the calendar, the list of themes I came up with was eye-opening to say the least. Through candid shots of what I thought was a miserable year, I discovered a family that takes joy in the simple things, and humor in each other. In a way, the calendar became a Christmas gift to myself.

Here are the themes I found from our 2010, in no particular order:

Wet dog at the beach
Pretty scenes of San Diego
Friends at the dog park
Working in the home office
Being silly
Cats
Beauty shots of Luna (the dog)
Gopher holes
Daddy/Luna
Togetherness - pets and people
Luna meets her long-lost puppy
Camping
Wine tasting
Mommy/Luna
Wine Guy holding dogs
Halloween
Naps
Palm Springs

Though the cats may disagree, it sounds like a pretty good year to me.

Wishing you all a New Year full of hope -- and a nice long list of whatever it is that makes your assemblage of humans and creatures a family.

October 28, 2010

Help Me Hallmark

The other night I bought a greeting card from the surprisingly small "Romance" section at Target. I originally made the trip to pick up a few last minute Halloween costume supplies, so I was surprised when I found myself drawn toward the store's disheveled wall of Hallmark sentiment.

I guess it makes sense since I had been thinking all day about how my year of "Believe Big" had so quickly shifted to "Just Survive." Stuck in my head, wrestling with every emotion from grief to rage --accentuated by ever worsening pain--I've become a different woman. No...a different creature; a Tasmanian devil of misery--and the world's worst girlfriend.

While I cry, complain, worry, and rant, I can only imagine (when I have the courage, that is) all that Wine Guy has done to protect himself, yet still stand by me.

Sometimes I'm angry at him for it -- why can't he just leave me alone to be with my misery? Doesn't he know this isn't going to get any better? Why is he giving me these inane pep talks when all I want is a hug? When I'm really low and wishing I could just run away from every emotional obligation, I sneak into the office late at night to browse apartment rentals on Craig's List - apartments just big enough for me, my dog and my cat.

So far I've been able to bring myself back from the brink. And lately I've been snapping out of it just long enough to see Wine Guy for what he is -- a man who's doing the best he can to endure this awful period, with his eye on a time in the (hopefully) near future when we can go back to enjoying our lives, and each other, again. And his sticking by me, in spite of all my nastiness, just might be the truest sign he's ever given that he really does love me. (God only knows why.)

So there I found myself, in the greeting card aisle, searching for an overpriced piece of folded cardstock that could convey to him my gratitude and my own sliver of hope that I will come back to myself--and to us. After some sifting through the corny flowers-and-candy type cards, I found just what I was looking for - simple but true:
So why haven't I given it to him yet?

Dismissed.

August 3, 2010

AfterWorld

April 15 was the last time I wrote here. Let's call that "Before."

Before, I was me. A 37-year old woman with a live-in boyfriend she wished would propose already, a dog that made us a family, a mom who's intensely watching while my maternal clock winds down, an ex-fiancee who just got married, too many married friends with kids, and a few treasured single ones who are still free on the weekends.

I also had a budding writing career, preparing to turn this blog into a memoir and, as I hinted at back in February, a new opportunity that seemed too good to be true (it was and it wasn't).

April 16 was when "After" began. It started out as a crappy day already, having received an email from Only Child (the ex that just got married), who was not happy about my recent blog post about his nuptials. I knew he read the blog, but he always said I could write whatever I wanted and it never bothered him before. But in hindsight, I admit I was just feeling hurt and regret writing it.

After emailing Only Child with a guilt-ridden apology, I went out to a long-awaited dinner with Wine Guy and two friends in San Diego's version of Chinatown- my favorite place to eat. We ordered far too much food and began chatting in happy anticipation for the feast that awaited us.

Then the phone rang. It was my brother Pat-Hole and I ignored it. Two minutes later he called again. And I knew.I quietly excused myself to take the call outside, a deafening pounding in my ears. My friends kept talking, oblivious.

When I answered I heard Pat-Hole authoritatively state my name - but then nothing. "What happened?" I asked, trying not to sound too hysterical. He made some noises, maybe said a few words, but nothing came together.

"Just tell me! Oh my God what happened?!"

It was my sister. And my 7-year old nephew. On their way to my mom's house for another nephew's 20th birthday gathering. A one-car accident on a rural highway. They're gone.

This was the same day my sister had put her beloved 14-year old Labrador to sleep and she was devastated. My brother insisted she drive up for the party. Family would make her feel better.

I somehow ended up back at the table and when I sat down, my friends looked at me like I was an alien. I was. This is "After." I'm not me anymore.

It's been 3 1/2 months and I'm only now starting to experience brief flashes of what "Before" might have felt like. But it'll never be the same. I never would've guessed that I'd miss Before once it was gone. It always felt like something I was trying to escape, like something better was supposed to come After. But it's not better here.

The freelance gig I landed at the local daily newspaper has become a regular thing and I just recently started to enjoy it again. Between that and my day job, I'm often too busy to indulge in self-pity, and I am thankful for that. And the extra money goes right in to the new house down payment fund. I give myself a pat on the back with every deposit.

In between the grief, the writing, and the desperate attempts to fall and stay asleep, I've also had more disappointing setbacks with my hip. Since my surgery in March 2009, I've experienced complications that have worsened to a point that even my normally overly optimistic surgeon was sympathizing with me. It's eventually fixable, but I have to wait it out- indefinitely. The pain is chronic, often intense and entirely exhausting. I've got a medicine cabinet full of painkillers that have my pill-popping friends drooling. But trust me, they're no fun when you really need them.

Wine Guy has stuck with me through it all. Remind me that I said this when I complain about it later, but...Fuck marriage. This guy is already my "husband" 100 times over. Better, he's my family. Things aren't perfect, but he is here and loving me as best as he can (and I'm trying to return the favor).

So you can understand why I haven't written. I feel guilty for even burdening you with this now. I shared what's been going on with a kindly co-worker last week and she burst into tears. (Better than another another friend who unwisely launched into a "Wow, that makes me really grateful for what I have in my life" speech.)

But this blog, for the most part, is about me. And I don't know how to be anything but honest in everything I do (a strength and, more often, a weakness), so there you have it. For all I know, nobody reads this blog anymore. And that's fine. But after I received a comment from a concerned reader checking in to make sure I was OK (thanks Elizabeth), I wanted to reach out to her and anyone else that might still be dropping by from time to time.

So I'm here to say this:

My world has shifted. My coordinates are off. But I'm still standing.
Right here, in this AfterWorld.

Dismissed.

April 15, 2010

Only Child +1

Funny. Right about the time I decided to write this post (3 hours ago), Only Child's Facebook status went from "single" to "married." That's technically untrue-- there was a 6-8 month "engaged" period stuck in there-- but, well, we know what that means when we're talking about Only Child.

I knew this was coming of course. Only Child and I talk every six months or so and we're Facebook friends, which is how I learned they were engaged in the first place. When I found out, I immediately emailed him wry congratulations and he called back apologetically, saying he intended to tell me himself, but his fiancee had changed his status without his permission (uh, red flag?).

Perhaps you are wondering why I didn't tell you all about this major news. This is a dating/relationship blog after all, and Only Child has been a big part of my bitching and moaning these last three years (read this for the story of our "faux" engagement).

There are three reasons why I didn't tell you.
1. I didn't want to think about it too much because I was afraid to discover how I might react. I do most of my emotional processing through writing, so if I'm not writing about it here, I'm either avoiding the emotion or I just don't care. (I rarely don't care by the way.)

2. I didn't want my mom to know Only Child was getting married. Her knowing means me hearing her get angry at him all over again, which I can't stand because I don't want to hate him (though many think I should). Her knowing also shines a spotlight on another area I'd prefer to keep darkened-- that Wine Guy still hasn't proposed. My mom doesn't mean any harm. She just wants me to be happy and resents all people and events that get in the way of that. Unfortunately, knowing this doesn't make her reaction any less painful. (And now she knows anyway. Sorry mom, but you promised not to read my blog anymore!).

3. I didn't want to upset Only Child's bride-to-be (let's call her "+1"). See, OC and +1 have been together about five years. I even met her once when they both came to my birthday party a few years ago (during the brief Vain Guy era). Then Only Child made the mistake of telling her about my blog, thinking she would also find it to be a mildly amusing tidbit of information. He admitted he was surprised to learn that she immediately logged on read the entire blog, paying closest attention to all mentions of Only Child. Shows what OC knows about women. Honestly, what woman wouldn't do that? Men--a different story. Neither Only Child or Wine Guy read my blog, though OC might nowadays just to stay one step ahead of any potential +1 meltdowns.

And there were meltdowns, particularly whenever I wrote about how Only Child strung me along for six years, even going so far as to fake propose (hence, "faux engagement") and then let me set a date and buy a dress, cashing in the Israeli bonds my now-deceased grandmother gave me as a little girl to pay for it. I didn't intend to upset +1 (at that point I didn't even know she read my blog), but I suppose my posts were a VERY loud warning signal as she watched another year of her relationship with OC pass by without a ring. They even broke up for a time because he couldn't say that he would definitely marry her. Been there, girl.

When OC told me about this, I wanted so badly to vent about it here. But I just couldn't write knowing what havoc it would wreak on both of their lives. Instead, I would see Only Child at our semiannual sushi dinner (his treat, it's the least he can do), and listen to his continued indecision and +1's understandable frustration. All the while feeling like I should get a Gold Star for my lack of chick pettiness.

I always advised him to get married; that it was obvious he was just hoping she would make the decision for him by breaking up (or getting knocked up) and that this was the coward's way out. I told him that he's not the type of guy who's able to let go enough to be swept off his feet. Lots of men aren't. That doesn't mean they shouldn't ever get married. Plus, she sounded like a lovely girl who's pretty, sweet, doesn't get on his case (certainly not as much as I did), and obviously loves him.

I meant it too. I thought he should marry her, which is funny since I'd always told him I would kill myself if he got married before me. I said this because I never in a million years thought that would happen. And because if it did happen, I might fall into the abyss of depression.

See why I haven't wanted to think about it?

Don't worry. I'm nowhere near close to suicidal. I'm not even sure if I'm down about it. I mean, what does it have to do with my life anymore? Only Child and I said we would always be "family" to one another no matter what, but really she's his family now. And talking twice a year does not exactly signify a close relationship. Plus, I decided at the end of last year that I am comfortable with Wine Guy's commitment to me and the lack of a by-the-book marriage proposal doesn't change that.

It wasn't until I sat down to write this post that I realized I wasn't particularly upset. I just thought I was supposed to be- just like I think I'm "supposed to" have an engagement ring to show that I'm loved.

I will admit, their getting married within days of our anniversary that never was (April 8) -- in the same f*#king location (North Shore Kauai) -- stung. But then again, that just shows a lack of imagination--one more reason I'm glad I didn't marry him.

So I guess the real point of this post comes down to one simple thing. Now that they're married, Only Child and +1 are fair game. So +1, if you're reading this, I hope you appreciate the restraint I've shown over the past few years--because now that you've marched OC down that aisle, you are no longer a comrade-in-arms.

I suppose this means that if Wine Guy ever does propose, I'm fair game too. I think I'll choose not to think about that right now.

Dismissed.


April 10, 2010

Whine Guy

Three years. That's precisely how long Wine Guy was able to keep it from me--even after two years of living together. But this week, almost exactly three years from the night we met, I discovered his terrible secret:

When sick, Wine Guy is quite possibly the biggest asshole on the planet.

Let's give him credit; he's taken incredible care of me after my various surgeries and illnesses, which started only eight months after we met. He's been patient, dutiful, understanding.

So when he finally got sick this week (obviously a rare occurrence), I was eager to return the favor. I made him his favorite lentil soup, listened to his complaints and offered to help with anything he needed. But everything I put out there was met with the whiny hostility of a bratty 5 year-old boy. I had no idea.

I tried many times to let his rudeness roll off my back. At one point (while cooking him dinner), I went downstairs to cool off. While there, I decided the best way to remember that I didn't hate him would be to plan our 3rd anniversary night out at the wine bar/restaurant where we met (dinner's at 7pm tonight!). By the time I'd "invited" him via email, I was back in love -- only to return upstairs and have it start all over again. I mean, come on! It was just a bad cold!

By the time dinner was eaten and the kitchen was cleaned, I'd had enough. I announced that my duties were done and that I was choosing to opt out of his company for the rest of the evening because I didn't appreciate how he was treating me. When he finally realized I was serious, he coughed up an apology but--even days later when his phlegm has started to clear -- he still doesn't see what was so bad about his behavior.

When Wine Guy and I fight, I sometimes get a flash of panic: "Oh my God. He's a jerk. A total asshole. A fake. Just like Naval A-hole, I've been duped again." I call it PTSD of the relationship variety (and well-earned I might add).

But then I turn to my girlfriends and am reassured that he's really just being a typical man -- jerkiness and all. Not having a man around the house growing up, this is still hard for me to wrap my head around. Did all those respectable dads I so admired as a kid act like this? Really?

With a single mom at the head of my household, I saw multitasking and fortitude at its finest (though frazzled). What I didn't see was my mom crawling in to bed and whining, refusing to say what she wanted, and then rejecting what she got when I had to guess at it. She sucked it up and did the best she could. Most women do.

Is this the low standard of behavior we are forced to accept if we want to be in a relationship with a man? Every woman I've asked (happily married, divorced, single) says "Yep, pretty much."

Allow me to say this - I love Whine Guy. But I call Bullshit.

Happy 3rd Anniversary to us!
Dismissed.

February 1, 2010

Dream Big, My Ass

I guess one of the reasons I'm me is because I do things like this. I don't have New Year's Resolutions. I have a New Year's Motto.

This isn't just a wishy-washy little promise that I have no intention of keeping. No, a Motto represents the foundation upon which all of my choices for the coming year rest. It's a belief system. And, just like any motto, it has to ring perfectly true if I expect anyone - especially me- to follow it.

Some years I can never quite settle on one. So I just don't. Those are usually the years I tried to kid myself into thinking that I will start cooking and eating healthy on a regular basis. Not. Going. To. Happen.

But some years I nail it. Like I did with the very first Motto. That one really changed me.

F.U.N. (Free of Unecessary Negativity)

It was the late 90s, I was in my mid-20s and sharing an apartment with two girlfriends in Brentwood, just down the street from Nicole Brown Simpson's front porch. This was about the time I started realizing that maybe the world wasn't really that terrible. And that maybe, just maybe, I had a serious problem with pessimism. I just wasn't having as much fun as everyone around me seemed to be.

I kind of do things head on, without much room for emotional nuance or game playing. So I announced to my roommates that the coming year (I think it was 1997) was going to be F -- U -- N. Free of Unnecessary Negativity.

This is what that Motto represented to me. It's actually quite simple. When I have an idea to do something (and I often do), I should just stop thinking right there. Shut up, stand up, and go make it happen. Because if I start thinking, I will find every possible way to talk myself out of it. Even an idea as simple as "Go to Universal Studios," something I'd wanted to do since I moved to LA two years earlier but always found a reason not to.

My friends - who clearly did not have issues with pessimism -- were all in.

I have it all chronicled in a photo album called "The Year of F.U.N." Inside it are photos of my first camping trip (Grand Canyon), rollerskating on a weeknight and flirting with the DJ so he'd play all of our favorite 80s songs, theme parties like Beers of the World (we bought a case of O'Douls because we thought it was "Irish beer"), and - you guessed it - Universal Studios.

I admit, I did go back to being slightly lazy once the year was up, but that Motto was a huge shift for me. And why I'm doing what I am today. Which is the whole reason I got on here to write this post. So here goes.

Late last year I took a class on writing a non-fiction book proposal. I'd always wanted to adapt this blog (or what the blog was supposed to be if Wine Guy hadn't ruined everything so soon) into a book. After a few weeks of bouncing the idea around with my classmates and getting encouraging feedback from the instructor, I thought, "Hey, I could actually do this."

The more I thought about it, the more reasons I came up with for why I know I could make this happen. People I know. Skills I have (like writing - duh- and working in media and marketing). A lot of free time which, if I were to have a baby like I hope, would vanish. I could be a writer. Well, a paid one anyway.

That's when I thought up what would be the first draft of my motto for 2010.

Dream Big


People sell their book ideas every day. Some actually get read. And some people actually become full-time, professional writers. Why can't that person be me?

But I still wasn't sold on the Motto. Something was missing. After a few days tossing it around in my head and in conversation, I discovered the hitch. The word "Dream" was one big, gaping loophole. And if my little insecure self sees a loophole that will keep me from trying to be great, I'll jump right through it. And a dream, my friends, is something you wake up from. It ain't real.

The second and final draft was a no-brainer.

Believe Big.
I will be a writer.

One week later I got the phone call that confirmed for me the power of a good tagline.

To Be Continued.... but in case anyone out there (like a publisher:-) is wondering, I haven't even finished the book proposal yet. But trust me people, it's still good.