Month: April 2006

Time is a tool, in both senses of the word


I’m impatient by nature.

My Crohn’s recovery, a.k.a. the five months of enforced relaxation it took to stay up eight hours straight without two hours of nap, taught me some patience, but I’m still not even qualified to be a monk, let alone a master.

Every once in awhile, though, I think the universe drops a metaphoric taste of Future You, That Fabulous Pianist at Carnegie Hall!, in between coma-inducing drills of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In”, just to keep you going.

About a year ago I sinned, and badly. Inadvertently, but badly. Through my own thoughtlessness and (ahem) haste, I hit “send” on an email with an ill-advised cc recipient; let’s call her “Joey”. I apologized every way I knew how, and sincerely, I was wrong, wrong, wrong and STUPID, to boot, but for naught. Not only did the email in question hurt Joey’s feelings, it set off a spiral of sniping and hiding and stress between Joey and a mutual friend, “Jacquie” (who was incredibly understanding, given the damage).

I’d acted too quickly, and there was nothing I could do to take it back or make it better.

At some point in the ensuing months of guilt-laden living, I was able to stop beating myself up over the deed. Joey and Jacquie had hammered out whatever peace they had between them (I tried to stay out of it) and I was willing to just step aside, since they’d had the primary relationship first. But I hated that Jacquie had to divide herself between me and Joey, and, let’s be honest, I hated being hated, however benignly.

And then, a week or so ago, an opportunity presented itself in my head. Call Joey, it said, and see if you can’t get her to collaborate on a birthday gift for Jacquie. We’re both email types, me and Joey, but I called her, respectfully, and at a time when voice mail would pick up to give her time to process the call, but I reached out in a more intimate way as a way of extending myself I hoped she’d pick up on.

She did, thankfully. We didn’t have an overly warm conversation, but it was cordial and a good start. A happy, hopeful start. We spoke of the gift and how to coordinate it, but we talked a bit of ordinary, social things, too. In a roundabout way, I guess we were speaking about hope. And when we hung up, that’s just how I felt: not exuberant or triumphant, but hopeful. And grateful.

There’s another, much bigger rift in my life I’m dealing with right now as well, but in this case I’m the Joey and they’re the communicatrix. It’s tricky, because it’s a cluster of people, not just one, and they’re all at varying levels of growth and understanding. Three of them are surprised that I’m hurt, and can’t see their part in it; the other is struggling mightily to, with a kind of patience and grace that is touching.

What’s not always easy to see when you’re the aggrieved party is that you’re half of the equation. This is actually a good thing: it means you have options. There are plenty of AM-talk show hosts who will tell you that right is right and wrong is wrong and the latter can go to hell in a fiery handbasket, but life is rarely that cut and dried, and, frankly, far more delightful if you open yourself to alternate possibilities. My favorite ex-boyfriend and I had to walk through some serious fire before we came out the other side. The ex, let’s call him “Trevor”, because that’s his name and he’s been hounding me mercilessly for blog coverage, had committed egregious wrongs, which he ultimately copped to. I had let him, over and over, which I finally took responsibility for. Either one of us would have been perfectly justified to live in Camp Go Fuck Yourself for eternity, but we’re both woozy dreamers and somewhere down deep, each of us longed for a loving, mutually-beneficial common ground we couldn’t possibly see from the craplands we were mired in. It took three years and a lot of twists and turns to find it. But earlier this week, he and The BF and I sat down to a magnificent, joyous dinner together, because we did The Work.

And because we let time do his.

(And, let’s face it, because The BF is the most excellent man on the planet.)

I live more in hope now, albeit not patiently. Right now, I still can’t imagine a day when this huge rift in my life will be anything but a painful thing to light upon. But I have many recent blessings to remind me of other, finer possibilities: Trevor, Joey and time.

That tool…


Photo: “Waiting for the tide” by {platinum}, via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

Blow up your TV

When you calibrate your afternoon
not by the subtle changes
in the play of light
through your office window
but by the shifting
of the shrill Judge Judy
into the ‘shucks, ma’am’ sucker punch
or Dr. Phil…

When you feel your ire rise
as basket-base-football
cuts into The Simpsons
and back-to-back repeats
of King of the Hill…

When your evenings are filled
with the wall-to-wall hum
of America’s Next Top Apprentice to the Surviving Bachelor

When you have seen every episode of every Law & Order
in all three franchises
at least twice

When you can spot the new edits
to accommodate additional commercials
in Columbo
and the Quinn-Martin ouevre
and anything that used to be on HBO

When you let your sister
and your clients
and your best friend since high school
(in town for three days only)
go straight to voicemail
because Ryan is announcing the Bottom Three

When you cannot remember the last time
you spent a day
without television

Maybe it’s time
to spend a day
without television.

Maybe it’s time
to spend seven of them.

A whole week
doing something else
One day at a time. (With Bonnie Franklin and Valerie Bertinelli.)

there’s always


A smaller footprint, a bigger impact

globes in a french museum

I think it’s a good thing that Earth Day falls hard on the heels of April 15th in this country. Like it or not, that paper trail left by months and months (and months and months) of spending affords one a stark look at one’s true politics.

And enlightenment is rarely pleasant. I still remember culling my old, big-time-ad-gal tax returns a few years after I’d left the corporate world. I was by turns mystified and horrified at the profligate spending I managed to justify while high on the Korporate Kool-Aid. I spent how much on dinner…how many nights in a row? Or worse, I gave how little away? Clearly, I am the Asshole of the Universe.

My life is much, much simpler now, but I’m also more awake. (Old people sleep less, you know.) Of course, the more veils lifted from your eyes, the more unavoidable what still needs to be done: the blessing/curse of awareness. There’s no turning back, only a weird, muddly phase of running in circles, scratching one’s head, figuring out what happens next.

So here are my observations, along with some figuring (I’ll spare you the annoying scratching that came in between). Nothing’s written in stone: I’m sure more hindsight will point out additional follies and better/stronger/faster opportunities for growth, but it’s a start, anyway…

PROBLEM #1. I use way too much gas.

My 2004 Corolla supposedly gets 35 MPG (32 city, 40 highway). Not as bad as SUV Nation, not as good as electric or hybrid. Declining auditions (boo hoo!) and increased work from home (yay!) have gotten my annual mileage down to around 7,000, but The BF drives us around a lot, so I probably still burn up at least 10K miles’ worth of fossil fuel: too, too much.

Alas, L.A. is not a walking city. When I can, I run errands in nearby Larchmont (or in Silver Lake when I’m staying at My Country House). But I can’t hoof the 10, 20, 50 blocks I used to clock in New York and Chicago because more often than not, my destinations are even farther than that, and public transportation is too slow since the buses (and connecting buses) are caught in the same heinous snarl.

If I were more alert and my fellow Angelenos more considerate, I’d buy a (used) bike and cycle more often. As it is, I get a little nervous just crossing the street. Too many people (especially those from SUV Nation, you know who you are, motherfuckers) blowing through too many red lights.

SOLUTION: Honestly? While co-habitation would shave 40 or so miles off of my weekly log, I think the only way to substantially improve my ecological footprint in this quadrant is to move to a smaller/more navigable burg where I can bike and/or walk and or take public transportation more readily. I’m down with that, although I still have to get The BF on board. (To be fair, if I lived in My Country House, I’d probably find L.A. more liveable, too.)

PROBLEM #2: I spend way too much on television.

This isn’t as obvious a “green” issue as burning up petroleum, but there are larger ecological implications to turning over such a substantial portion of my time and entertainment dollar (over $90/month) to canned, passive entertainment. I’m not supporting my local community of artists; I am helping corporate America (and, by extension, all the thoughtless waste and consumption it promotes) to maintain its stranglehold on the world.

On the other hand, it’s the best way I know to stay plugged into what mainstream America is doing and thinking. That, and The Sopranos fucking rocks.

SOLUTION: Get rid of one of my cable boxes and dump the premium channels. (After Sopranos is over, of course.) Or figure out an exact thing I could treat myself to with that money which would help me to create, rather than mindlessly consume.

PROBLEM #3: I spend way too much to be fit (especially since I’m not).

Three years ago, I got an incredible deal on my local Gold’s Gym. But even at the low, low price of $120/year for my membership, it costs me 60 bucks per workout. Plus I have to drive there. Plus gyms suck major heinie.

SOLUTION: Give myself until renewal to go. If I don’t, quit and use free weights at home. And walk more. (See #1.) $120 is $120. Don’t flush money down the toilet! Untreated money is bad for the metropolitan water supply!

PROBLEM #4: I spend way too much on groceries.

This one is a little tougher. Since I make virtually all of my own food from scratch, and since my gut is kind of delicate, I spend more both to get quality ingredients and to find things that are appetizing. Believe me, before I got sick with Crohn’s, I was dandy-fine with living a tiny-footprint life on brown rice, vegetables and tofu (with the occasional Filet-O-Fish Extra Value Meal and salt-n-vinegar potato chip binge for variety), provided, of course, there was booze, and GOOD booze, at that. (Really, what’s the point of drinking shitty liquor? If you need to pass out that badly, hit yourself on the head with a hammer and be done with it.)

When I’m in a flare, I also have a hard time determining what I’ll be able to eat. I was doing fine on almost-normal people food when, a few days ago, I fell off the SCD wagon and stuffed my face with three three THREE pieces of bread. Now I’m back to Baby Tummy (sucks) and with a fridge full of undigestible matter like salad, strawberries and members of the onion family.

Besides, making a smaller impact on the earth will probably entail spending a little more for products from sustainable growers. So my food expenditures will likely rise if I start taking all this peak oil stuff seriously.

SOLUTION: Spend more on what I have to, and get back in the habit of going to my local Sunday Farmer’s Market.

After all, it’s within walking distance…



Beef with Broccoli without _________


It occurs to me that while I’ve been bitching and moaning about what I can’t eat on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, I’ve done precious little talking about what I can eat in my sugar-free, starch-free world.

Since I’ve been craving one of my old delivery staples, beef with broccoli, for some time, I finally decided to see if I could approximate it at home in SCD-friendly fashion.

The primary no-no in all commercially-prepared Chinese food is hidden starch. Obviously, the sticky rice is verboten, but the sauces themselves are generally laden with cornstarch, soy sauce (which ontains wheat and soy), shortcut liquid extenders (i.e., which contains commercially prepared broth with starches) and sugar. SCD cooking is stripped of all these, so our sauces tend to be thinner (unless you cook them down within a drop of their lives) and less “coat-y”. But we are allowed honey and, after we’ve been on the diet a bit, tamari in judicial doses, so a quick scan of the following recipe I found via looked like it was adaptable:



2 tsp. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 lb. boneless sirloin, cut across the grain into 1/4 inch thick slices


1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. med. dry sherry or scotch
1/4 c. chicken or beef broth or water
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. Oriental sesame oil


3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. minced peeled fresh ginger root
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 (4 inch) fresh red chili, seeded and minced (wear rubber gloves)
1/2 tsp. dried hot red pepper flakes
1 lb. broccoli, cut into flowerets and stems peeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick sticks
Cooked rice as an accompaniment


Prepare the beef: In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, sugar, salt, add the beef and let it marinate for 20 minutes.

Make the sauce while the beef is marinating. In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the soy sauce and stir in the sherry. Add broth or water, sugar and Oriental sesame oil.Put 3 tablespoons oil in stir fry pan or wok, add ginger root, garlic, fresh red chili, and broccoli. Finally add beef and cook until meat is ready. Serve with rice.

So here’s what I did to make it legal:



2 tsp. soy sauce 1 tsp. tamari
1/4 tsp. sugar 1/2 tsp. honey (more than I need, but makes it thicker)
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 lb. boneless sirloin, cut across the grain into 1/4 inch thick slices


1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. soy sauce 1 tbsp. tamari
1 tbsp. med. dry sherry or scotch
1/4 c. chicken or beef broth or water
1 tsp. sugar 1/2 tsp. honey
2 tsp. Oriental sesame oil


3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. minced peeled fresh ginger root
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 (4 inch) fresh red chili, seeded and minced (wear rubber gloves)
1/2 tsp. dried hot red pepper flakes
1 lb. broccoli, cut into flowerets and stems peeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick sticks
Cooked rice as an accompaniment

Prepare the beef: In a small bowl, stir together with fork the soy sauce, sugar whisk the tamari, honey, salt with fork, add the beef and let it marinate for 20 minutes. Make the sauce while the beef is marinating. In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the soy sauce and stir in the put the sherry scotch. Add broth or water, sugar and Oriental sesame oil. Put 3 tablespoons oil in stir fry pan or wok, add ginger root, garlic, fresh red chili, and broccoli. Finally add beef and cook until meat is ready. Serve with rice.

With these few simple adjustments, the dish is completely SCD-legal and, I might add, delicious! The BF, who can eat whatever the hell he likes, damn his eyes, chowed down an enormo-portion. Some people might say he did it to please me or with ulterior motives, but since (a) we had already had sex earlier that afternoon and (b) he got up and left the table when he was done to go lie down and take himself a nap while I was still eating, thankyouverymuch, I don’t think that’s the case. QED.

Anyway, just a little something to show you that SCD can be lovely and delicious just like regular-people food.

And in many cases, a helluva lot better for you.


Photo by Ben McLeod via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

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I {heart} Western medicine…and chopped chicken liver

little girl with bowl of yummy chopped liver

The lie of Western medicine (here’s your silver bullet; see me in two weeks) gave my dad permission to live with for-shit quality of life for 40+ years.

The truth of Western medicine (hey! quantifiable information, here!) allowed him to live out those 40+ years, period.

I just got word from my G.I. doc that my iron levels came back waaaay low on the blood panels we had done this Tuesday. Which means that much of the fatigue I’ve been struggling with is likely due to shitty (ahem) iron absorption over the past few months, and not necessarily because I’m in the death grip of a Crohn’s flare.

According to Doc, this is an easily fixable problem with the administration of a handy OTC iron pill and a strategically placed stool-softener.

According to me, this is an easily fixable problem with the administration of a few pints of organic chicken livers sauteed with onions in butter and whirled together with salt and a dash of fine whiskey in il Cuisinart and some strategically placed almond-bread toasts.

You see!? We both agree this an easily fixable problem. Who says the Establishment and the hippies can’t get along?



Colleen’s Highly Loose Recipe for Chopped Liver

1 lb. chix livers, rinsed and patted dry
1 big-ass sweet onion, sliced super thin
2 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 T scotch whisky (optional)
Salt to taste
Chopped hard-boiled egg
Something to put it on or a spoon or your finger.

Heat oil until hot on high heat. Add butter. When butter begins to brown, add onion. Let cook until onion browns crispy, stirring.

Lower heat and add chix livers. Saute until almost cooked through (okay to cut one and peek.)

When just done, slide the whole thing into Cuisinart, add Scotch and process until smooth (or pulse if you like it chunky). Add salt to taste. Enjoy, and watch your iron count soar!

Photo of DELICIOUS chicken liver by Susan NYC via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Not-fat girl*

delicious breakfast

I do not know what it is like to be fat; we run to the thin side in my family, probably in part due to the subpar assimilation of our diseased digestive tracts (Crohn’s is known as a wasting disease, although there are overweight Crohnies out there).

So except for the stares and whispers when I am refugee-thin, I do not know what it is like to be reviled for being a particular size. Mostly, I pass for normal. Especially with creative layering.

But in the three and a half years since I was diagnosed with Crohn’s and put myself on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to help manage it, I think I have learned something of what my brethren on the other end of the weight spectrum go through every day, surrounded by what they know they can’t have.

Lately, you see, I dream of bread.

Good, chewy bread with a hearty crust and insane tooth, dragged through a mound of softened butter, garlicky olive oil, salty taramosalata from Athenian Room in Chicago, with an order of Kalamata chicken (oh! the fries!) following hard on its heels and a draft ale from Glascott’s next door to wash it all down with.

I long also for sushi, for cupcakes, for a gigantic platter of buttery naan to soak up a plate of vegetable korma. I crave John’s-on-Bleecker brick oven pizza, McDonald’s Extra Value Meal #9 (with a supersized fountain Coke), mac-‘n’-cheese, Mounds bars and marshmallow Peeps. (Especially stale ones.)

What you might not guess is that I also want tabouli and steel-cut oats and quinoa and mostly, oddly, my old-favorite lunch: brown rice with tofu and broccoli. I want all of the things I now know I may never have again, these foods teeming with forbidden sugars and starches and glutens that feed the bugs that eat away at my intestine and steal my health, crumb by crumb.

There is no cheating on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, because as Elaine Gottschall, its major evangalist, always said, in order for the diet to work at all, it must be observed with fanatical adherence. Any trace of sugar or starch translates into food for colonies of bad gut bacteria to thrive. Only after a full year symptom-free, we are supposed to try, if we are the gambling types, reintroducing small amounts of illegals to see how we do.

We do not, apparently, do so well.

I “cheated” on the SCD last year, occasionally at first, ramping up to full-throttle food slut over the holidays. While I’m 99% sure that a course of antibiotics provided the actual tipping point, I know that my own lack of self-care contributed directly to my current sorry condition, just as surely as I know all of those years of Greek omelette-and-fries lunches (preceded by corn muffin and coffee breakfasts and followed by tortilla chip and salsa dinners) contributed to the onset of the disease itself. I feel good when I eat well; I feel bad when I don’t. Quod erat demonstrandum, no matter what my G.I. doctor says about food-disease causality.

If I were stronger-willed I could probably, after a long stretch of fanatical adherence to SCD, wing the occasional baddie. But I’m an addict, with an addict’s binary decision tree. On or off. Yes or no. In or out.

So now I find myself feeling deprived in a way I never have before, having to figure out how to fill up the hole with something other than what I know would fill it. I realize that somewhere down deep, I always felt deprived; I just got to hide it longer. The fat girl, she knows all about this, I think. We’re more alike than I knew, although having walked through the fire, she is probably kinder and less judgmental than I.

She is probably someone you would much rather have dinner with.

I guess this is some of what the Crohn’s still has to teach me. First, I learned to be grateful. Now it’s time to take a crack at compassion. (Patience, I fear, is an ongoing lesson that is going to take more teachers than some piffling inflammatory bowel disorder to teach me.)

I would rather take the lesson over a freshly-pulled Americano and a slice of apple pie. But I suppose that’s why this particular lesson is mine to learn in the first place…


*Post title and meditation on food after Judith Moore in her vividly told, gripping memoir, Fat Girl: A True Story. Read a sample here. Read why she wrote it here. Read a real review of it here. Get it here or here. Not pleasant, but highly recommended.

Photo by (lucky, lucky) kandyjaxx via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

On sluts, storytelling, and the dirty, dirty truth

the smell of the crowd, the roar of the greasepaint

Several things struck me as interesting about my brief turn on stage this past weekend.

First, I’d forgotten how much I love hanging out with actors, as an actor. For the past few years, I’ve been spending more and more time around actors in other capacities, graphic designer, bartender, butt-in-the-seat support. Most actors are fun and this particular crew is especially fun, since they run to the smart and funny without taking themselves too seriously. They’re a generous bunch; while they may grapple individually with the usual neuroses that dog the profession, they are also wonderfully supportive, unlike the dig-me types that cluster at rocket-launching pads like Second City and Groundlings. (And don’t get me started on the twisted awfulness that plagues stand-up comedy; five years of trailing The Chief Atheist on the circuit cured me of wanting more comics in my life.)

Second, I was reminded of how much work acting is, at least, the worthwhile kind. Like most things, one’s acting generally improves in direct proportion to the amount of time one spends doing it. Sure, some start out better than others; I believe there is a gift for acting just like there is a gift for thinking mathematically or running long distances or just about any skill you can name. But even the great get greater by doing more of it. I was not one of the greats. When I was acting regularly, taking classes, doing four plays a year, I always had to work twice as hard as anyone else on stage to be half as good. It was fine; I accepted it. But after my Crohn’s onset, I had to seriously rejigger my energy expenditures column. After running the numbers, it became clear that my ROI on acting couldn’t touch my payoff on writing, designing, and other types of creative output.

This is not to say that this weekend’s show was a failure; to the contrary, it was a rousing success and a good time was had by all, myself included. But playing an adenoidal tart in platform heels and a wig for five minutes on stage once a week is about all I’m up for anymore. That, and commercials. Both THE STRIP and the :30 spot require short bursts of focus for discrete periods of time.

Also, both are fun. Jesus, when I look back on it, so much of acting was the opposite of fun. It was just work, and difficult work, and not fun work. I hated most of my classes. I hated rehearsing. Most of all, I hate hate hated having to go to the dark, tender spots where the scary things are stored, the places great actors go to naturally. I understood why it was necessary, and wasn’t willing to be the kind of actor who skipped this excavation of truth, however painful it was to unearth it. But I wasn’t one of the ones who loved it or lived for it.

They do exist, you know. It’s a lollapalooza, that realization. When I heard L.A. Jan talk about sitting around her apartment, doing acting exercises for fun, I had a revelation similar to one I’d had at age eight during a particular Sunday mass at Holy Name Cathedral: these other people actually believe in this!

Me? I still believe in telling the truth. I’m fairly sure that’s what getting into acting was all about: a means for me to connect to my truth in a way I’d been unable to before. I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen, but the stories always lacked something: truth, mostly, but also ease. Some of the ease comes with that doing-more-of-it thing, but the larger part, for me, anyway, comes from being grounded in truth.

Now that I’ve learned what living in the truth feels like, it’s getting easier to let go of some of the things that got me here. My insane drive, for example, has ebbed considerably. Ditto my need for praise, love from strangers, and a constant need to be surrounded by drama and action. While I still rail against the time I must, it seems, spend being ill, I’ve come to enjoy the quiet spaces at least as much as the noisy, active ones. And I recognize that a large part of tiger taming is just tiger aging: we mellow, most of us, with time, trading the gift of urgency for the gift of perspective. Sweet, sweet perspective. Take a look at your high school diary if you don’t believe me.

I still love performing (sometimes, and in short bursts). Reading Jonathan Rauch’s essay on introversion was a breakthrough moment for me much like that day in church or that moment with L.A. Jan: of course I like getting up in front of large groups of people and holding them in thrall with my words; it’s just that I need a really long nap in a quiet place with no people afterwards.

So my future as a truth-teller will likely hold some combination of performance and writing, reflection and spouting off. But it will also, I hope, include brief stretches of me playing a cartoon whore four feet from beer-swilling patrons. THE STRIP may not be about connecting people with their higher truth, but nothing beats it for connecting them with their inner good times. And who couldn’t use more fun in their lives?

I mean, hell, even earnest artists have to let their fake hair down every once in awhile…