Monday, July 04, 2005

Read Part I First

Part Two: Wherein I meet Anne Lamott

Did I mention I was sick during my honeymoon? Which was another thing about expectations. “How can a person be sick during her honeymoon?” I wailed to Tom, in the manner of George Costanza’s mother, Estelle Harris. Fortunately, I’d just had Handy Life Lesson #25 about expectations and letting things be exactly as they are, so I wasn’t too sad. To tell the whole truth, I was thrilled to be sick; I had exhausted myself in the weeks leading up to the wedding, working full throttle on life coaching, teaching writing workshops, writing Effelia, revising The Big Idea, and along with Tom, planning the wedding, overseeing the renovation on our house and frantically losing the battle to alphabetize our now merged CD and book collections. When I get busy like this, the kind of busy where I find myself listening to War and Peace on my iPod while simultaneously watching the movie version of it on the television while also folding the laundry and painting my toenails, some still small voice within whispers, “Nerissa, my love, perhaps you are overdoing it.” And a slightly louder voice says, “Wouldn’t it be great to get sick? Not terribly sick: just a mild cold. Yeah.”

This is frightening, because every time that louder-than-still-small-voice speaks this manner, I inevitably succumb to some illness or other. Take now, for example: I am sitting with my left leg up and an ice pack on it, because yesterday I twisted my knee after stubbornly attempting to move a large piece of furniture by myself. (Yes, I know. R.I.C.E). I seem to have a self-timer within me, an alarm clock that goes off to keep me from burning all my fuel and taking off into the stratosphere only to be marooned up there. (Since I lack an appestat--the internal mechanism which tells a person when she is hungry and when she is full—my theory is that this self timer is God’s consolation gift to me in its place.)

At any rate, being this kind of compulsive workaholic, I had made a deal with my darling Tom: we would have a honeymoon, yes we would! Only couldn’t I do just a teeny book tour while we were out on the west coast? Say up in Portland, Seattle? And, being wonderful, he agreed. We would have six divine blissful days of honeymoon nothingness and then the Saturday after the wedding, I would appear on both West Coast Live (an early morning live radio show; San Francisco’s answer to A Prairie Home Companion) and a solo show at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. On the same day.

I woke up that Saturday morning seriously regretting my wicked workaholic ways, cursing that part of me who looks at a blank calendar and rapidly fills it with activities, meetings, gigs, lunch, dinner and coffee dates, clients, workshops, retreats, boxing workouts, meditation sittings, professional trainings, astrology readings and the like. All I wanted to do was loll in bed with my new husband, maybe rising at eleven to saunter down 24th St. to the coffee shop to read our Russian novels.

Instead, we woke up early (by this time, our jet lag had worn off, and 7am California time now felt like, well, 7am.) We realized that the venue had moved from delightful Fisherman’s Wharf to less delightful downtown San Francisco. The venue was now in a red velvet cabaret room off the lobby of a hotel. It smelled like the fifties, and not in a good way. There was no dressing room; just the back hallway of the hotel, and I was advised to keep a close eye on my guitar and knapsack which was full of Emergen-Cee, Airbourne and various herbal teas. I clutched a box of Kleenex in my hand like some hypochondriacal security blanket.

Also, I was tired, which for me usually translates as “scared.” It was the first time I was to read my book on the air, the launching of my book tour, and on national radio no less. When I get scared, I get sleepy. Seems to me like a reasonable reaction. I gazed up at the Xerox the stage manager had posted on the door of the little backstage room that housed the coffee and crudités.

10:38-Nerissa Nields.
10:59-sponsor announcement/break
11:03 Anne Lamott.

Anne Lamott!! Anne Lamott, whom I had discovered in 1998 and who had ferried me (via her books and audio tapes) through the most difficult time in my life; who had taught me to be a woman of grace and dignity, and who was not too dignified to laugh at herself; who showed me how to be both writer and writing teacher.

I dropped my box of Kleenex.

“Don’t get excited,” I said to myself, shaking with excitement and nervousness and no longer the least bit sleepy, “She lives around here. She will waltz in at 11:01, do her thing and skiddaddle back to Marin County. I won’t even meet her. And she certainly won’t see me sing.”

Sedge Thomas is a gifted interviewer and a funny man, but his biggest talent is his uncanny ability to make the person he is speaking to seem far funnier and more clever than she actually is. I have benefited many times from his excellent interview style, and I always enjoy being on his show. This time was no exception. I sang “This Town Is Wrong,” and then he asked me a bunch of questions about the writing process, the singing life, my new marriage, the honeymoon…and at one point I gazed out in the audience. There, in a golden glow (really! The light made a halo around her blondish brown dredlocks) sat my literary hero, my wise writing teacher mentor, my favorite “spiritual” writer! AND SHE WAS BEAMING AT ME!!!!!

After my interview, the stage manager told me to go over to the table set up by the local independent bookstore. “Take a picture of that,” I whispered to Tom, pointing at the stacks of Annie’s books adjacent to my own little Plastic Angel. “I already did,” he whispered back. Annie was at the table signing frantically. I assumed she wanted to go home to her house in Marin, perhaps to Sam, her teen age son, perhaps just to lunch. Either way, I didn’t want to bother her, even to tell her how much she means to me. But she came to me, took my hands, looked me in the eye and said, “Bless you!” She hugged me and said, “Matzel Tov on your wedding!”

“I love you!” I blurted. “I think you are amazing! And we’re coming to your church tomorrow!” I immediately regretted saying that, lest she think, as Tom had suggested she might, that we were some kind of spiritual stalkers. But she just looked slightly nervous and said, “Good. I think I will be there.”

And Tom and I hugged each other. He beamed down at me and said, “Guess this wasn’t so bad after all?”
And then we drove off into the sunset…or rather, into the midday San Francisco Saturday traffic and onward to the ER.

Wedding, Honeymoon and Anne Lamott Part 1

I used to be afraid to fly, but it took too much energy, what with the adrenaline, the feverish praying, the re-visiting my entire past. These days I toss my bags under the seat in front of me and stick my nose into a novel. I have been reading voraciously recently; oddly, I have been obsessively reading the great Russian novels: Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov. Solzhenitsyn is next on my list. Ever since the last election, I find myself withdrawing further and further into this foreign world, this world of pre-Revolutionary Russia, where the upper classes spoke French and everyone had about five different names. Where an autocracy just came out and admitted it was an autocracy.

I am flying now, with Katryna, our first flight together since The Great Maternity Leave/Polyp Challenge—and the first flight since my honeymoon. Excuse me, I mean Honeymoon/book tour, because, being me, I couldn’t just go out to the west coast and be with my brand new husband, showing him the sites and enjoying his reaction to his first west coast visit. Nay. I had to piggyback a book tour—my first book tour—on top of all this. Oh, and also I caught my nephew, William’s cold which incubated during the wedding but manifested wickedly the first morning we woke up in California. As a result, there was a lot of Kleenex, Emercen-Cee, Airborne and Zicom, not to mention one visit to the San Francisco ER. But more of this anon.

Expectations are premeditated resentments. And resentments, I have learned, while fun to harbor, especially in small groups of people, late at night over a bottle of wine or package of Oreos, are fatal to OSA’s (Overly Sensitive Artists) like me. There’s nothing like spiritual growth to kick the air out of the tires of good old fashioned gripe sessions. It seems whenever I find someone else irritating the hell out of me, and I then complain about that person to another person, or group of people, I feel righteous and justified for a good hour or so and then I begin to feel the symptoms of emotional hangover: kind of queasy, sick to my stomach, increased irritation. Sort of like how coffee gives you energy but then you crash, or how sugar feeds your hunger for about twenty seconds before it makes you starving. Or if you have poison ivy how it feels good to scratch the itch, but eventually it just itches more and has turned bloody from the scratching.

All right, all right, so over time I’ve learned this. What I haven’t fully learned is that when I even expect someone—let’s take myself, so as not to offend anyone else—to behave a certain way, and then they don’t, I am frustrated, confused, irritable. Why is this person behaving so inappropriately?

Exhibit A: It’s my wedding day. My favorite people are gathered around me. I am marrying the man of my dreams, my soul mate for whom I’ve been waiting my whole life. My family is thrilled: they adore this man, and they love me too--I can see that. I am surrounded by love, flowers, good food, large wrapped packages. I am about to go to California on a two week honeymoon. So why am I in such a bad mood?

Well, there really was a good reason, theoretically. When in doubt, blame the weather (at least if you live in New England). During the week leading up to the big day I was mysteriously compelled to keep checking the weather forecast, like once an hour. When, last September, Tom and I chose May 14 as Le Grand Jour, we knew the weather could be iffy. Sometimes in New England, it’s 90 in May; other times it’s in the low fifties. I had no idea if I should buy a strapless dress or wear fake fur. Ten days out from the wedding, both AOL Weather and The Weather Channel predicted 62 and raining. We planned on an outdoor wedding, with tent, but with the knowledge and accompanying trepidation that we might really, deeply and muddily, regret it.

The morning of May 14 it was 58 and raining. To make matters worse, my head felt like it was being compressed in a vise, the familiar symptoms of a soon-to-be raging migraine. I was, to put it politely, in a mild passive aggressive fury at God as well as at myself for not being more spiritually evolved so as to rise above the unfortunate circumstances. I called some friends and met them in the morning, and as they sat with me and listened quietly and calmly, I raged, bawled and sobbed. Then I went up to Goshen to get my hair done. I thought I would feel better with my up-do, ringlets and all, but instead, looking in the mirror, I felt like the fat old duchess from Alice In Wonderland and not like the dainty wisp of a bride I wished to be. Next stop was the minister’s house where I was to meet my family for a final luncheon, my last meal as a single chick.

As I drove up, I cried some more. Why did I feel so bad? Why would I be cursed with a migraine on today of all days? And why did God hate me so much that He would make it be 58 and raining? And why, most of all, did I care about such trivialities on such a momentous spiritual day? It was going to be fine; I knew that somewhere. Why did I have to have such negative aversive feelings?

I put a tape into the tape player of my car: Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet. Martha trained me as a life coach, and I think she’s hilarious and brave. Somehow I had a sense that her wry sense of humor might lift me out of my current pit of despair.

“Laugh 30 times a day,” she admonished. Minimum. If you need external stimulation, fine: rent some Christopher Guest videos or hang around your funniest friends. But more importantly, learn to laugh

“without any discernable cause. During my Joy Diet research, I was startled to learn that there is a legitimate system of yoga (like Hatha or Kundalini) that focuses almost completely on laughter. It’s called-I swear on my grandmother this is true—the Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha method. According to the literature, practitioners start this yogi strategy by learning how to laugh for at least a minute with no provocation whatsoever.”

And so, having nothing to lose and being alone in the car, I let it rip. I laughed from the deepest part of my belly, with the same fervor with which I would have practiced ashtanga yoga. And wouldn’t you know it? It was infectious and addictive. I continued to giggle the rest of the way up to Cummington.

I’ll never know for certain whether it was Yoga Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha or the fact that the sun came out a half hour before the ceremony, and that for the rest of the day it was 69 degrees and lovely, but my migraine and bad mood went away. My niece Amelia dropped rose petals before me as I walked down the aisle. My mother was my maid of honor. My father escorted me while my Aunt Jenifer played Schubert’s Ave Maria, singing like an angel. My beautiful, heartful, soulful groom, Tom, stood waiting for me. Tears streaming down both our faces, we were carried—or so it seemed—by the gentle humor and wisdom of the “big hearted” Stephen Philbrick, our minister, and by an old Shaker song I sang with Penny Schultz and my father. My whole family joined together on “Wild Mountain Thyme”; Dar sang “You Rise and Meet the Day,” and Michael Biegner read a poem he wrote for the occasion.

After we exchanged our rings (Stephen punning on the last lines of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, which happens to feature my name,) Tom and I exited the church to the congregation singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

And then, Tom and I rung those church bells. I took hold of the rope and pulled with all my might. Dong! Went the bell. And the rope pulled me up, off my feet, high up above the ground, and there I hung, for just a second or two. Enough time for me to laugh and laugh.