Friday, September 6, 2013

Choose Your Monster

Back in the days of tight ponytails and early bedtimes, I used to tremble under my bed covers, truly believing that there were enormous, bona fide monsters in my closet, behind my dresser, or under my bed.  My ineffectual retaliatory tactics consisted of a cache of rolled up socks, a motley collection of hot-tempered Barbie and Ken dolls, and as a last resort, a neon green water pistol that I had permanently borrowed from the boy next door.  My exasperated dad, with his subtle rhythmic Swedish brogue had routinely coerced me to try counting sheep as a way to focus my attention onto something peaceful and non-threatening, and to my surprise, it did help…at least while he was there next to me.  But as soon as he left the room, my bounding, fluffy, cute sheep mutated into red-eyed, bloody-fanged, monster sheep that instead of hopping over my imaginary white fence, turned on me, snorting and flashing their glistening sharp horns as they headed straightway toward my bed.  I wanted desperately to leap off the bed and bolt to my parents’ room, but I couldn’t risk the attack from under the bed.  Defeated, I would bunch myself into a ball of fear, shaking into a fitful sleep that would hold me captive to my own monster-laden nightmares. 

What I didn’t know back then was that I had complete control over those invisible beasty creatures—that I could have at any moment banished them from their pseudo-existence.   

So this summer I went to see Pixar’s latest Monsters University and found it to be not as psychologically transforming as the original Monsters Inc., but overall better than I had expected.  Maybe it’s a genre thing, but somehow I missed the most important fact that this second film is a prequel to the original.  I erroneously thought it was about the next generation of the first dynamic monster duo: One-eyed Mike Wazowski and his burly blue furball of a friend, Sulley.  But no…this film takes us back to the early college days of the two barely scary monsters and reveals how they overcome their greatest fears of not being scary enough for the university as they ultimately band together to create their notorious Monsters Inc. enterprise.  This second film ends—somewhat awkwardly—where the first one begins.

Overall, the one redeeming factor that makes this a blogable film is not actually based upon anything connected to Wazowski or Sulley. Instead, it’s the diabolical Centipedess, Dean Abigail Hardscabble, who philosophically lectures to future graduates of her university that “Scariness is the true measure of a monster…” and that “…if you’re not scary, then what kind of a monster are you?”  But what this tightlipped, angry monster of a woman fails to mention is that the scare factor is only as scary as the victim allows it to be.  

As a grown up, I no longer cringe over the prospect of imaginary monsters, but I am grateful for what I have learned from them. They have taught me from that young, impressionable age that when the time would come for me to face my own fair share of human monsters—a mere handful of humans who have tried to wreak havoc upon my life for no good reason—that they have no power over me as long as my lack of fear prevails.  When I refuse to cower under their seemingly ominous presence, they ultimately become…pardon the expression but…sheepish.  It really is a matter of choice, and my choice is to stick my tongue out at these cowardly wolves and say, “Nanny-nanny boo-boo, you cannot scare me!”

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Closet Poet

I love writing poetry but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not very good at it, especially when I compare my work to that of my most admired masters, like my literary husband, T. S. Eliot, who pounds his rhythm of time into my bones:
 there will be time, there will be time 
to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet...

and then (’s my nemesis) e. e. cummings, rev-
erently break-
                     ing every    g.r.a.m.m.a.t.i.c.a.l.   rule
I have so   r-e-v-e-r-e-n-t-l-y   
                                        tried to force child-
ren to o- (for the love of god with an uppercase G) bey.  


                                                  Robert Frost warms me.

And Emily Dickinson is…well…Emily Dickinson.   

Then there’s my Maya Angelou with
            The span of [her] hips,
                        The stride of [her} step,
                                    The curl of [her] lips. 


So as a humble closet poet who has posted only a few of my verse attempts online, I know that most likely I will die outside of their poetic kingdoms. But what keeps me poeticizing is when I have no prose to express myself properly.  It’s like shifting into a second language—one that puts stifling syntax and mundane mechanics on a high shelf somewhere temporarily out of reach—freeing me to turn off the nagging voices of my grade-school language Nazis who always rebuked me for my frivolous fragments, rampant run-ons, and for using way…too many...ellipses…. 

Yes, poetry frees me, albeit momentarily after midnight usually, to let it all hang out…

All of this poetic freedom, however, does require some user responsibility. Consider poetic license.  Back in high school, I used to think it was a real license I could carry in my wallet along with my driver’s license.  I remember asking my poetry teacher Ms. Gerber how I could apply for one.  She laughed, but I was serious because even though I struggled with prose writing back then, I was compelled to experiment with poetry.  While many of my classmates were experimenting with marijuana and speed, I was hiding in a corner behind the band room rolling up metaphors and smoking similes.  It was sometimes lonely there, but rhythm, tone, and rhyme could keep me high for days.  

Sometimes I wrote without thinking much, coming up with original phrases like “Cookies in love” and “Gear shifts forever”, but other times I went into what felt like forced or overly academic fluff…stuff Ms. Gerber would cross out and write in the margins next to it: Blah, blah blah!   She was right.  The obscure references I made to my favorite gymnasts or my lame attempts at using Greek mythology to prove I was intelligent only proved one fact—that I was trying too hard and had come close to committing what I now call a PLV (Poetic License Violation).

PLV consists of three major infractions.  The first and most criminal is being so cryptic that even the above-average reader has no idea what is going on because the jargon is too thick and the message behind it, too thin to create an effective image in the reader’s discombobulated mind…
            I look to Socrates’ interminable sagacity
            With self-defeatist tones
            Of an irretrievable Handelian sonata
            Untouchable, like the Pariahs of Calcutta
            Both ephemeral and emphatic and…yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah…
Can someone please pass the barf bag while I give myself a citation for creating this overly cerebral piece of schlock?

The second PLV infraction is trying to disguise dry and banal prose by setting it up in poetic format.  Anyone can do this.  Just open up a sports magazine and find a poorly written article about some obscure athlete, and then type it up as follows:
            News of Donovan                                              
            being forced to sit out
            after too many fouls
            made fans overly

The third and final PLV infraction is what I call word abuse.  Many inexperienced poets get hung up on a new word that they feel is worthy of using too many times.  For example, the word “slither”.  It can be very poetic if used to describe something that is not obviously sneaky, like Robert Cormier does in his novel I Am The Cheese:  “The wind, like a snake, slithers into my jacket…”  Brilliant.  But when a “poet” fixates on the word and uses it to describe a hand moving across a table or a foot playing with a person’s leg, that becomes a serious case of word abuse and must be punished. 

There is a poet from New Mexico who has my name.  A friend of mine found her a few years ago and asked me if I ever lived in New Mexico.  And as Johnny Cash would say, “I been everywhere man…” but unfortunately I’ve never been to New Mexico.  She gave me the link to this poet’s website, and I was intrigued.  This Debra Tenney woman was pretty good, better than me, that’s for sure.  I wanted to contact her to tell her that she had a namesake in Hawaii who also writes poetry, but by that time I had found out from a post made by her daughter that she had passed away from a battle with breast cancer.

I especially like the piece Ms. Tenney wrote called “Hot Java” because it captures the magic of the mundane.  Here are two of my favorite stanzas:

Early morning crisis
caught between sunny side up,
and scrambled egg imperatives.
Yesterday's burnt toast dressed
in lumpy oatmeal
has found its way into
a trash can, over-full with 
coupon madness,
milk cartons,
unpaid bills
and Tuesday's
on a suicide mission.

The tube chants
Regis and Cathy Lee mantras,
garbage disposal humor
grinding its way
through the early morning chill.
Pop Tart commercials and Barry Manilow
render their greatest hits,
assaulting the mind like
a Waring Blender set on puree.
Rescued to the trash,
finds new meaning to life,
slithering again to the floor,
vowing to change its ways.

See?  She even uses the “s” word in an original way: 

Tuesday’s eggplant finds new meaning to life...slithering again to the floor, vowing to change its ways.  


Maybe one day I’ll be more confident, like my namesake, to post more of my poetic endeavors on the World Wide Web.  For now, though, I’ll keep living my life within the security of my poet’s closet, where you will find me musing, like I am right now, after midnight.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Let’s set the record straight here once and for all.  Being a true Christian means to recognize and confess that I am a dirty rotten sinner with no chance of entering a perfect and sinless place called Heaven.  It means that I am fully aware of my imperfections and human weaknesses.  It means that I admit I need a Savior.

On the flipside, if I say I am a Christian because I am such a good person, then and only then, am I a hypocrite.  Aside from Jesus Christ, no one—not even Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, Saint Francis of Assisi, or Jesus’ own mother Mary—is without sin.  They may be the most wonderful, self-sacrificial people to walk the face of the earth but somewhere, tucked within each and every piece of human flesh is a dirty little stain called sin.  We’re born with it.  No one had to teach us how to lie, cheat, steal, or hurt someone's feelings.  On the contrary, we had to be taught not to do those things.  We have laws set up in society because without them, we’d destroy ourselves, and others.   

No.  I am not a hypocrite.  I am a lover of Jesus Christ, who loves me back—even with my face covered in mud.  He tenderly washes me new every day.  This is the only reason I am allowed to say with complete humility that I am indeed a Christian.   

Monday, June 17, 2013

Another Lush Rush

Let me preface this by saying that I have overly sensitive olfactory receptors, meaning I have a nose like a Blood Hound.  I can sniff out the faintest ingredients in just about anything (including bloodthirsty people), so when I take home a new bath gel from Lush, my nose goes into aromatic overdrive.  So far, I have indulged in five Lush-ious bath gels...each one having its own unique sensory personality.  

The Olive Branch:  The Lush girl at the Ala Moana store convinced me to buy the largest, 16.9 ounce bottle with a promise that I would feel as pampered as a rich chick at an expensive day spa.  At home that evening, with the shower running as hot as I could take it, I put The Olive Branch to the spa test.  The first scent that I encountered was along the lines of Seville orange with a delicate hint of sea salt.  With a subtle touch of olive oil, this gel doesn't give up much lather, but it cleanses gently and with a genuine moisturizing quality.  After drying off, I noticed a healthy sheen on my skin, as well as a lingering Mediterranean fragrance that, as promised by my faithful Lush girl, did indeed leave me feeling like a spa-pampered rich chick.

Flying Fox:  Now this little vixen of a bath gel floats my proverbial boat.  From the bottle, I get a pleasant jasmine rush, followed by a hint of honey, but in a steamy shower...POW!  It actually makes my head swirl as I take in the transition of fragrances.  Intoxicating, pure romance in a bottle sums it up.  I even rinse a bit into my hair, which makes the scent linger for the whole day.

Dirty:  The ironic twist in this gel is that Dirty gets you really clean.  It's ocean meets mint.  You'll get a fresh wake-up feeling, even at midnight.

Twilight:  Speaking of midnight...this is it.  Warmth exudes from this mysterious bottle of lavender and vanilla fusion.  It even sparkles!  The problem with this gem, however, is that it's seasonally offered during Christmas only.  Bah humbug!

Ponche:  And speaking of seasonal, here's Ponche.  It's supposed to take on a Mexican fruity Tequila punch, but to me it smells more like the syrupy fruit punch you find at a kid's birthday party. Not that I really want to leave the shower smelling like a Tequila Sunrise, but I also don't want to draw a playground full of sugar-honing kids to my side either.  Perhaps since Lush products are mixed and prepared by individual people, maybe my batch was mixed by a lightweight shower gelista.  Sorry Ponche, I'm not sure I'll be giving you a second chance this Christmas.

So here I am, ready to get back to Lush for some new gels.  Am I completely out of the ones I already have?  Of course not!  But in order to keep on blogging about Lush, it is my official duty to go there and allow my curious nose to sniff itself silly.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

9 Lives

I’ll never forget the first time I almost died.  I was twenty-five years old, trying for 36 hours to give birth to a 10-pound chunk of a child.  Everyone knew going into it that my labor was going to be rough—that I would have to sumo wrestle my way through it.  The doctors had tried everything but when they realized that my son was face up with his head stuck halfway into the birth canal, they feared I would not be able to deliver.  They postponed the C-section as long as possible as they feared the risk of cutting his forehead.  My blood pressure spiked, and my son’s heart rate waned, so surgery was the only option.  I was in and out of consciousness at this point, hearing only fragments of the emergency that was under way.  At one point, I felt completely detached from myself.  I saw what appeared to be a vision of a baby’s face glowing before me.  My baby.  I came back into myself and vaguely remember a painful jab in my spine.  The epidural had not yet kicked in when the first incision created a burn across my lower abdomen.  Chaos consumed the operating room as they worked lightning speed to save my son.  All the while, I lay there wondering as the morphine kicked in if I would ever wake up.

(8 months along)

Obviously, I woke up.  My son and I both survived, but my doctor reminded me that back in the old days, we would have died.  It was a sobering thought, one that left me grateful to be alive. 

Flash forward fifteen years, and you’ll find me on vacation in California with a gnarly kidney infection.  I tried to ignore it, but it got so bad I could barely stand upright.  I went to the ER, where they found the infection had entered my bloodstream.  Immediately hooked up to an I. V. containing a potent antibiotic, I felt my veins pumping it throughout my system.  Within a few minutes the incessant sneezing began.  No one was in the room at the time, and before I could say the words anaphylactic shock, my eyes had swelled shut, and my lips were bulging and stretching like a balloon about to pop.  My throat began to shut, so I climbed off the examining table and felt my way to the door, trying unsuccessfully to shout for help.  I heard a lady’s voice say, “Oh my God!” followed by fast and furious steps running away from me.  Hanging onto the doorframe, I thought to myself, This cannot be good.  Just in the nick of time, a team of people charged into my room and carried me back to the table.  This is where I remember feeling like my lungs and chest were filling with fluid and caving in.   Then came the reminiscent, detached feeling I had experienced while contending with my bowling ball of a child stuck in my body.  What shook me out of dying this time was the sharp stab of an Epinephrine pen into my thigh.  The medication took effect almost immediately, but my life felt strangely thin.  The next day, miraculously, I shuffled through Disneyland with the whole family, looking like a cross breed of Yoda and Angelina Jolie, but again, I was grateful to be alive.


Now the last time I almost died was four years ago during the week of Good Friday in 2009.  I had been traveling by plane quite a bit, and had caught a bad chest cold when I returned.  The cold turned into bronchitis, and when it got so bad that I had to twist my body to breathe, I went back to my doctor.  She wanted to send me home with anti-inflammatory medication, but when I told her I felt like I had a baseball in my lung, she sent me to the hospital to get a nuclear scan—just in case.  I drove to the hospital, walked for what felt a half-mile then entered the nuclear basement.  The pain in my left lung was growing unbearable, and by the time they got me into a hospital gown and strapped me onto the scanning table, I knew something was terribly wrong.  Lying flat on my back, I could no longer breathe in at all.  I could exhale a little, but gasping to inhale was impossible.  The scanner woman had no idea that I was declining as she told me to hold still while I was trying to wave her over.  I felt my eyes roll back into my head several times.  I thought this was how my life would end.  I worried about my loved ones, especially my sons.  I needed to arrange for a sub to step in and teach Shakespeare the next day.  Everything was slipping away from me.  It was different from the other times.  This felt final.  I surrendered and told God I would go if that was what He wanted.  Then with my eyes closed tightly, I saw a vision of Jesus on the cross.  He was struggling much the same way I was—His arms stretched out like mine.  He twisted His body slightly and gasped for air as if demonstrating to me how to do the same.  I twisted as much as I could, and to my surprise, I could breathe that way.  Scanner woman shouted at me to hold still again and when she had finished, she came to unstrap me.  

I must have looked really bad because she thrust a wheelchair under me and ran me into an elevator, straight to the E. R., where I was again feeling my life ebbing and flowing.  Air was hard to come by, and the pain was ferocious when out of nowhere, an observant ambulance technician noticed my condition and intervened with an adrenaline shot that he said would buy me some time, which it did until a specialist came in to tell me that I had both lungs full of blood clots.  Pulmonary emboli.  He asked if I wanted a priest or a chaplain.  Another woman asked if I needed to write up a living will.  They made phone calls for me.  I arranged my sub.  I asked the specialist how long I would have to be in the hospital, and he said grimly that it all depended on how quickly the blood thinners would work.  I asked him if I could die from this, and he said it was a 50-50 chance to survive the next 24 hours.  He told me the largest clot consumed a third of my left lung—like a base ball—and was partially blocking my pulmonary artery.  I naively asked him what would happen if it blocked it entirely.  All he told me was that it would be a three-minute struggle.  I got the point and waited it out after they transferred me to the critical care unit.  I didn’t die that night, but the lady in the room next to me did.  I heard it all.  The crying family members.  The medical staff.  The rolling away of her body.  But I survived.  Again.

(nuclear scans of my lungs full of clots)

Besides these three ordeals, I’ve enjoyed a healthy life thus far.  Sure, there have been a few minor stomach ulcers, migraines, knee surgery, and a scary bus crash—but I’m otherwise healthy enough to get out every day and tackle the world as it comes at me.  I feel blessed to have never had cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. 

I’m not a cat, so I’m not expecting six more lives.  But what I am planning to do with the one I have left is to live it for everything it’s worth.