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The Pap Smear

9 Nov

A couple weeks ago, at my first meeting with a new improvisation class, we were invited to kick things off by each sharing one of our most embarrassing moments. The idea behind this exchange being that it’s easier to work and play in an uninhibited way once everyone has become vulnerable. As I sat and listened to some pretty great and sometimes-terrible stories, I racked my brain trying to decide which gem from my own life to share.

The time during high school when I peed my pants in a canoe?

When I was wearing a body mic for my role as Ado Annie in Oklahoma and the technicians broadcast the sound check through the theater and to the entire cast while I was on the toilet?

The time I tried to explain my request for diarrhea medication to my wonderfully earnest non-English-speaking German host family?

The time I accidentally referred to Barnes as the author of The Poetics?

Every meeting I’ve ever had with any kind of financial professional?

But then suddenly I had a moment of total clarity. “No. Today’s the day. I must tell of The Pap Smear.”

I’m not a squeamish woman. Nor am I easy to embarrass. But this experience left me feeling so deeply afraid of what else the universe might have in store for me moving forward, that in class a few weeks ago was the first time I ever told the whole tale.

I bet you’re really ready for this story now, huh?

It was a crisp fall morning and I had just started a new teaching job. I didn’t have insurance at this job, but I DID have discounted access to the school’s health services center, so I decided to book my annual lady parts spelunk. As I flipped through a copy of Highlights, I noticed the strange way that the examination rooms opened in toward the waiting area. “You usually go down a hall or something”, I thought to myself. My name was called and I followed the nurse to a room right across from where I had been sitting. She went behind a partition while I performed that most dignified ritual of taking off my shoes, pants, and underwear, jauntily hopping up on the padded, paper-covered examination table, and casually yet entirely wrapping myself in a paper sheet. I informed her that I’d assumed the position, and she returned from behind the partition. She wheeled the examination table on its casters so that the light could point toward my hot pocket (and incidentally with said hot pocket pointed right at the door) and she got down to business.

So you can imagine my surprise that quickly transitioned into horror, when, with speculum fully cranked, there was a knock on the door.

Everything that happened next was very fast and frantic. The nurse said something to the effect of “DO NOT COME IN HERE!” while my heart bulged so as to start oozing out of my eye sockets, and I opened my mouth in preparation for a soundless scream. But of course, the door opened. And like any woman would, I tried to close my legs. On a speculum.

Ladies, if you need to take a break with your right hand securely over your crotch, I understand.

But there’s more. Along with my new job came a very small office! And along with that office came a very surly gentleman officemate. And along with that very surly gentleman officemate who had apparently just sat down in the same seat where I had been waiting moments before, came a grade school-aged daughter. Fantastic. “Hello sir who has made it pretty clear that I’m too young and under qualified for this job! Hi small girl! This is the inside of my vagina! Neat, right? Okay! Talk to you later!” Except that all of that came out in more of a “primal scream” format.

We made eye contact. And the door slammed shut just as I caught a glimpse of him smacking his hand over his daughter’s eyes.

The rest of the experience is a blur. I vaguely remember the nurse profusely apologizing. I remember hustling quickly out of the office, and running into a different co-worker outside who exclaimed, “You look radiant!” to which I replied “Thank you! I’ve just come from a very disturbing vaginal exam!”

My officemate and I never spoke of it, and for this considerable kindness on his part I remain deeply grateful. I’ve considered the possibility that he didn’t even recognize me. I remain curious as to what he told his daughter that day. I wonder if she, too, thinks back on this experience during times of difficulty and humiliation in her life and is comforted by the fact that at least she’s not staring between her naked knees into the eyes of a male colleague, clutching the paper sheet, and trying instinctively to close up shop against a metal crank. It really does put things into perspective.

Health Services mailed me something a few weeks after The Pap Smear to let me know that the results were normal.

I beg to differ.



15 Jan

My best friend in the world is having a baby any day now.  Needless to say, I am over the moon.  But I’m here, on her behalf, just incase that stubborn little fetus has some kind of smart phone up in thrr to say before all-y’all on the interwebs (and possibly said stubborn fetus) that IT’S TIME – GET OUT!  YOU’RE GETTING DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO LOSING YOUR DEPOSIT!  Ladies who’ve gestated can attest to the fact that at the very end you become FUCKING DONE.  Not “done.”  “Done” is a state you semi-peacefully enter a week before FUCKING DONE.  “Done” is uncomfortable.  FUCKING DONE is sharpening knives and making visual aids to assist you in your plan to peel your own skin off.  “Done” is hopeful if a little exasperated.  FUCKING DONE is a wellspring of despairing tears generated by the realization that you’re going to spend the rest of your life with a douchebag of a baby lazing the days away on your bladder.  “Done” is a state of curiosity:  “I wonder when tiny love will be born?  Gosh, I sure hope it’s soonish.”  FUCKING DONE is inserting a twix like a tampon, crazy eyes ablaze, in the hope that your bundle of jerk will clamp his awful jaws down and that you’ll be able to just kind-of pull him out.

Did I ruin fishing for you?  At the very least I think I probably put us all off twix bars for a while.  Rest assured, my pal hasn’t attempted any of these things (and won’t because, you know, she’s not sick in the head like certain best friends of hers…).  But the fact remains, the tail end of the homestretch of pregnancy is a bitch.  Now, as you may recall, I absolutely loved giving birth.  Loved it.  It remains my absolute favorite day(s) of my life.  And let me be clear, my favorite part was NOT the baby-in-my-arms-at-the-end part – that part was pretty good too – but it was the labor itself.  I loved labor and really hope I have the opportunity to do it again.  I say this so that you’ll know that I’m not one of those “everything sucks about having children/your life is over/awful thing about hotdog-hallway” types.  But let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?  It’s no fun waiting for a totally unknown experience after months and months of waiting for a totally unknown experience.  The fact that our culture presents labor as something overwhelmingly negative doesn’t help, but funnily enough, the part that no one is talking about that actually does suck your gross uncle’s balls is the waiting at the very end.

Do you enjoy a quick transition?  Good.  Me too.  So here’s this thing I wrote for my BFF’s blessingway (click on that to confirm that yes, it’s exactly as mystical/naked-in-the-woods/drinking (menstrual) blood as it sounds).  I hope you think it’s pretty.  More than anything, I hope that little (sure-to-be-adorable) asshole has the good sense to get hisself born-d.  Because it’s no fun to be FUCKING DONE.

I Think You Might Be The Lion

What is there to say other than what we said the other day?  That it’s an absolute mystery until you are waist deep in it – always with the water.  In tides.  Ebbing and flowing.

That the only difference is the input.

And you and I know all about that.

All of a sudden I remember you.  I am standing by that piece-of-shit stereo.  It’s playing some track – that Sufjan album, or Regina Spektor or Animal Collective.  I’m watching.  Not facing you, but looking at the mirror.

You stepped up onto Rachel’s back, impossible, but onto the back of her neck and I knew for sure that you were going to be okay.  Because even though it was dangerous and didn’t make sense – it shouldn’t have worked – it was so so beautiful and charged with the third thing.  The essential real movement.  And Jamie was an asshole like always.  He reached for your hand, but you were already gone.  Up.  Up.  Up.

That should have been such a mess.  I saw you, perfect – strong without trying – in being.  Balanced.

And so I know that you are smart enough.  Not in the way of knowing how to, or working, or any of that – you’re those things too – but this is to say smart in the deep way of falling with a welcome spirit for the ground – a deep trust that you already have what you need.

In freedom.  In radical subversive tenacity.  Not with gritted teeth, but screaming out an open window in March.  Still snow on the ground,but on the first warmish day.  Flying down Broomfield, Meridian, Isabella.

In not even stepping up onto her neck, but finding yourself there and making – deep inside –  the shift to say yes.  “Yes, and.”  Responding to whatever part pulled you up there in the first place.  Knowing that it’s Rachel underneath you.

And of course, this is the leap – that birth is the best improvisation.  You will never have to reach for the third thing because it will be the current you’re in.  Instead of snatches – seconds long miracles of presence – your attention will be perfectly wrapped – knit into the intensity that becomes a total reprieve from everything else.   Physical, immediate, intuitive.  You have prepared so long.  Before you knew your body like now.  Getting ready even back when your hair blew like a lion’s mane in the parking lot – sweaty and cold.  The new magic is brave from the outside but impossibly clear and free from choices inside – so that after this long I am anxious and glad for you to know perfect work in birth, because I know that it will mean so much to you.

And that small fierce punch of color that wells up inside of you, and defies anyone to ask if you could love something that’s so hard and withholding, will gush out again – carrying you up, up, up, just like I remember.

City Living. Sigh.

4 Nov

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I love Chicago.  I love the energy.  I love the art.  I love raising my kid amid so much activity and opportunity.  I love my neighborhood.  I love being able to walk for 5-10 minutes and arrive at:

  • Lake Michigan – the beach and the beautiful lakefront park
  • The Redline
  • Women and Children First and other great local businesses
  • Several grocery stores (All-organic?  Sure.  Super-cheap produce?  Yup.  Mega-chain?  Yes-huh.)
  • multiple playgrounds
  • Award-winning lattes
  • Our neighborhood branch of the Chicago Public Library
  • My parents’ apartment
  • My brother and sister-in-law’s apartment
And all of this without even mentioning the food.  Oh, the food.  The hardest thing is choosing where to go.  Because all of the following are a 5-10 minute walk from our front door:  Ethiopian, Chinese, Japanese (both sushi and home-style cooking!), Thai, Vietnamese (Pho and those irresistible sandwiches*), Southern, some of the city’s best bars, Huey’s Hot Dogs, Italian, Middle Eastern, and all manner of new american.  We even have a restaurant in the neighborhood that focusses on Dutch cuisine.  Seriously.  And don’t even get me started on brunch.  Bakeries?  Well it depends on whether you want a mexican, Vietnamese, swedish, or coffee-shop style cake/scones/cookies place.  Because we’ve got ’em all.
The list could go on and on.  In addition to all of this is my love of making a life with so many people all around me.  I’ve got an amazing community of friends and we get to do ridiculously fun things together that folks who don’t live in the city just don’t get to do (I mean, Ida and I had a playdate at the Shedd Aquarium this morning – that’s pretty cool, right?).  Free concerts with world-class musicians downtown in the summer, dance classes and performances with incredible artists, and walking to amazing dinner out whenever we feel like it/can afford it.  Some former students from Alma College live upstairs and provide childcare!  I have a sweet life, guys.
If all this is starting (?) to sound a little pep-talk-ey to you, there is a good reason (and congrats on your keen perception).  I need an “I love Chicago.  Really.” pep talk right now.  Because the thing is that I head gunshots two night in a row a couple of weeks ago.  They were close and it was scary.  Nate and I both sat up in bed at 2:30 in the morning, and listened as the sound traveled – getting closer, and then stopped.  3 shots in the course of 4 minutes.  The next night there was a “loud pop” at 8:30 in the evening and patrol cars were everywhere in a second.  And several days this week, there have been shootings (one with an automatic weapon) on a corner two city blocks from me – in some ways a world away, but still close enough to have me compulsively checking Everyblock (from which I have since cut myself off).  In the middle of the day on corner where I regularly pass by at that time with Ida, people are shooting at each other with really scary guns and hurting bystanders.  And I’m noticing a lot of “for sale” signs on our street.  And I’m seeing new people out on the sidewalks.  And.  And.  And.  I hear it too – I don’t like the way I’m thinking about this.
Now, I want to make it perfectly clear that I live in one of Chicago’s very cushiest neighborhoods.  Andersonville is where fabulous gay couples come to raise their beautiful families (and it should go without saying that the gays do an excellent job keeping the sidewalks safe and framed by beautiful gardens).  It’s like Chicago’s version of Florida – where to retire and settle down after your stint in Boystown.  I’m half-joking – lots of other folks live here too, of course.  I live in an exceedingly safe place in the city.  But Andersonville is the cream center between two somewhat undesirable cookies.  That old adage about the city being a block-by-block patchwork of safe spaces and sketchy spots is very true to where we’re located and it feels like the sketchy parts are starting to close in a little bit.  It is entirely possible that this is not actually happening, but through some stroke of chance I have just become more aware of it.
I’m remembering my life in central Michigan in a much sunnier light.  I’m omitting the fact that a friend of mine got stabbed in the face while she was laying in her bed, in her apartment, by a man who broke in and was hiding in her closet.  I’m forgetting about the last time I was in town to teach and a guy with a gun opened fire at a local bar.  I’m re-writing stories to create a totally safe place where, even if only hypothetically, I could be absolutely insulated from the terror of violence.  I’m feeling like I need to get out of the city and make a life somewhere sleepy and secluded.  I hear the imaginary siren song of central Michigan.
I know.  I know that the seclusion had some serious drawbacks.  I remember what it felt like to be so isolated as an artist – sometimes great, but mostly just so hard.  I remember people asking me why I was grocery shopping in the middle of the day with a look of disdain and concern – not being able to imagine anything but a 9-5 work day  and not being able to place me without a child to take care of (“um, I work in the evenings?  This is my free time?”).  I remember the constant frustration of trying to explain that making dances was not my hobby – of trying to help the other adult, professional dancers that I was working with navigate explaining our tours (and their need for time off from their other jobs) to their employers  – to explain the project at all (“no, this is not for a club I’m in/this is not a children’s group/we are not strippers”).  I remember feeling deeply bored and frustrated and irritated at the insular self-protective reflex of suburban living.  I remember more than anything else, the feeling that I just did not fit – that this just was not working.
All of this to say that I love Chicago.  That this is my home.  But I’m having a tough time with it right now.  I wish I could have it both ways – radical togetherness with total insulation from violence.  Real community so long as it doesn’t push me – so long as I never feel afraid or stretched to confront other people and our scary stuff.  Diversity, but with none of the unpleasant clashes that come from smushing together people of privilege with people clawing for enough.  I want an elective buffer that I can enact whenever I feel like it.  I want magic.  I want something impossible – something that makes the other thing, maybe even the higher-order thing, null.  I want something that I don’t believe in.  Because I know that the community and spirit of possibility that I came here for are not free – that they come with this work.  I know that I had a hand in making the world this way.  And I know that I’m going to need to get involved, in whatever small way, in changing it.  I have some growing up to do.  Sigh.
Anybody else out there holding the tension on this?  Any help for a gal who’s struggling?
* that make you think for a hot-second that all of that unpleasantness with France was perhaps worth it.  No.  Fight the selfishness.  But man.  Those sandwiches are really something.

Hard At Work

25 Oct

This is what I decided to do while Ida was napping today.  I’d say that I’m not proud of my behavior, but that would be a lie.  Also, you’re reading Megan’s awesome reporting on Chicago Muckrakers, right?  Okay.  Just checking.

*Hint – you’re going to want to hit up the “comments” section for my special contribution to the world.


27 Jan

That, for those not so quick on the uptake, is the sound of my head hitting the table.  Seriously?  Is this for real?  And then I remembered…..

Several years ago when I was working as the owner and director of a local dance education center in Mid-Michigan, we had a near-miss with a similar incident.  I tacked up all kinds of posters at the studio depicting opportunities for our students (and their families) to see live performances.  Now, being that we were living in Mid-Michigan, many of these were livestock-centric, or featured monster trucks, but just the same – performances.  In the immortal words of Ms. Judi Swartz, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”

In any case, at one point there was a poster for a performance of The Vagina Monologues by a student organization on our local university’s campus.  I didn’t think twice about putting it up – who would?!    Suzi’s mommy, that’s who.

I guess I always knew that vagina was a dirty word, but it wasn’t until mommy drove the point home for me that I really understood the damage it could do to her pre-literate (fingers crossed?) daughter’s young mind.  That poster needed to come down immediately!  Do we have any idea the ramifications of such foul language on a child?  Are we also showing porn in the dance classes?  Does this show also feature livestock and monster trucks?!  So many good questions.

Being the wildly irresponsible crotch enthusiast that I am, I said “to hell with it – who cares about Suzi’s wellbeing! VAGINA!  VAGIIIIIIIIINAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!” and left the poster up.  Oh wait…. no, I remember now.  I seem to recall that I said something about how “vagina” wasn’t a “swear” and didn’t  constitute “foul language”.  I said that I really hoped to god that Suzi had heard that word before, and that if not, I was pretty proud that she would at least see it (the word, my friends – come on, hang in there) on a poster here.  I also may have mentioned something about how Suzi might want to steer clear of medical school…. really school of any kind that doesn’t involve a modesty hood and iron underpants.

Needless to say, that last bit was not well received (and is probably an indicator that while I’m great with kids, parents are not always my forte.  What can I say?  I like the smart ones….).  Also probably needless to say, I left that poster up for at least 6 months after the show had closed, just for my own personal satisfaction.

Uh Oh…..

27 Jan

My pal Mary shared this funny with me (via interwebs half-life-space) and I thought I’d pass it on.

“Jersey Shore will have more seasons than Arrested Development. Hope you’re proud of yourselves, humanity.”

A sobering realization to be sure.  I don’t think even Plantinga can get us out of this mess, because there is no possible universe that can undo this damage.  It’s that permanent.  It’s that severe.   This isn’t some oil that you can just sop up with your locks of love.  This is serious.

I’ll leave you to be alone with your thoughts now.


Dislikes #1

24 Jan

I don’t like being scared.  The idea that I would even need to say that (or type that) seems crazy to me.  Isn’t this a given?  A universal truth?  It’s like saying “I don’t like breaking my hip” or “mistaking a rock for a pistachio is a bummer.”  I mean, I enjoy a good chase scene (like those bits in Finding Nemo that are touch-and-go) as much as the next guy.  And who doesn’t like a suspenseful story line (remember when we didn’t know for sure if Julia Stiles was going to be admitted to Julliard for her raw and tortured urban angst ballet?)?  But volunteering to watch someone get stabbed in the shower?  No.  My threshold for horror lies between books 4 and 5 of the Harry Potter chronicles.  I do not pursue terror in my leisure hours for the same reason I don’t spend that time repeatedly stubbing my toe on my ridiculously sharp bed frame.  It’s unpleasant.  I don’t like it.

But for some, bafflingly, this is not the case.  As I write this my dear husband is reading some terrifying story by Stephen King (do NOT get him started on why Stephen King is and will remain history’s greatest author.  Or… on second thought, do – it’s a glimpse into Nathan’s strange perfection).  He will perhaps follow that with one of his other favorite activities – a late-night solo viewing of a horror film (we’re talking obscenely scary Japanese business and the like – the really, REALLY terrifying stuff) .  He doesn’t feel afraid when he reads or watches these things.  He doesn’t feel the need to look in the closet, or double-check that the door is locked, or create his own ghost-busting backpack-dustbuster-hybrid (more on this some other time, perhaps).  Curious….  I can’t imagine what that’s like.  I can’t fathom taking any kind of pleasure in a horrifying scenario.

I bring it up, because the other night some friends were over and we got to talking about scary books and movies.  It was a good time to share what is perhaps (according to Nathan) the origin of my hate for all things horror.

In the summer between 8th and 9th grade, I was in Germany at the end of a 4 week tour with a youth choir.  I was homesick and thoroughly sick of sausage (which, if you know me, is really saying something).  The only thing standing between me and my flight home was one more night with one more host family.  I plastered on my largest, be-braced smile (and what I’m sure was no small amount of Mary Kay makeup), stuck out my hand and said “Gutten Tag!”  A couple of hours of nodding and sausage later, I went downstairs to meet my 17-year-old host sister and her friends who were mid-slumber party and certainly really psyched to add a 14-year-old choir nerd to their festivities.  The decor in her basement room (or lair as I soon re-categorized it) consisted mainly in pentagram posters, drawings of demons, and all manner of Hot Topic wares.  Satan chic.  I’m sure it was much less menacing then I remember it, being that I was an 8th grade DC Talk devote at the time.

All I wanted to do was curl up in my sleeping bag, let 8 hours painlessly elapse, and wake up the next morning.  But they took great pains to wait for me to begin the main event – a viewing of Silence of the Lambs (and by “great pains” I mean “deep slugs” of vodka).  Even pals who enjoy being voluntarily terrorized by books or movies admit that this particular film is especially scary, but I would venture that it’s made even more so by the german language.  Overhearing a deutch conversation about even the most mundane topic can make you feel like a fist fight is about to break out.  So – to break it down – in my homesick and nerdy state, I spent an evening with people I believed to be aspiring Satanists, watching Silence of the Lambs in German with english subtitles (so that I had to LOOK at it the WHOLE time once I had been sucked in by the story).  It was a bad night.  There were many quaking tears and fervent prayers and it was sometime around the revelation that pulleys can be used for great evil that I swore off horror of any kind.

I really don’t feel like I’m missing anything.  Nathan (who believes that if you’re not reading Stephen King, you’re not reading at your full potential) begs to differ.  Hopefully our marriage can survive this tremendous divide.