Saturday, January 1, 2011

Welcome to the Aughts!

Well, we made it through the first decade of the 2000's in one piece. Kind of.

It was quite a year, 2010. Last half of Gay Wedding run. Got back into therapy and took it seriously. Broken hearts- 1. Pounds lost- 50. Cancer scares- 3. Yeah, 3. One was actually pretty scary, like getting-affairs-in-order-and-designating-someone-to-make-medical-decisions-for-me-if-I-can't scary. The other two- eh, I have a new scar and I was actually sent to the Disney Breast Center for the same lump- twice- ha! Produced our first video project and our film, Landslide, of course has had its ups and downs (mostly ups I am pleased to say).

Even the bad things, though, they had their upsides. Landslide taking forever and a day to get funded- I'm learning patience. The broken heart- I'm as responsible for it as he who broke it. He wasn't the first I did this to, but he was the first with whom I regretted it and I wanted to fix it (I was unsuccessful), and losing him got me to stop just considering myself damaged, deal with my issues, face down my demons and do a whole heck of a lot of healing- I called it Operation Packing My Baggage. Operation PMB isn't over, but its mostly done, and I'm a so much better person for it. I'm over him (finally, and thank God), and I know now I did this for me (and those who I love and who will come after him) and not for him, but he was the catalyst to get me to do it. For that I will be eternally grateful to him, and my loved ones should be, although some of them still want to kick his butt from here to kingdom come.

I see their point, but I saw Next to Normal on Thursday night, a life-changing experience and bang-up dead-on portrayal of depression if ever there was one. I couldn't take my eyes off the stage. The happy ending (and that's putting it loosely) is that Diana faces the root of her depression and starts to really deal with it and try to heal, which frees her family to the same. I was so glad I had started that process this year and not someday when I already have kids. I was horrified at the idea what I could have put my family through someday had I not done so now. I wanted to write the guy that broke my heart a thank-you note on the spot. I did not. I don't think either of us want to reopen that wound. In Landslide, the main character, Tara- someone says to her that her being depressed doesn't make it okay to behave poorly. I wrote that a good year and a half before I really learned it myself. But I really learned it, and as I said to my partner, Kevin, regarding Tara, Thank God I'm not like that anymore. Kevin agreed emphatically. I may be creative, but it doesn't mean I have to be moody and tempermental. I like being even-tempered, well-adjusted and emotionally available. So to whom it may concern- thanks.

Cancer scares? Well, it wasn't cancer, was it? Its never bad to have one's affairs in order, and its really never bad to be reminded how fragile life is. The eye injury? Eh, it healed, and I needed to learn to chill out. I think a lot of people were relieved to see that happen (including me).

Now that the new year is here, and everyone is choosing their New Years Resolutions, I sit there and say, what's left? I hit my goal weight, am accomplishing my human revolution (yay Buddhism!), chilled out, cleaned up my emotional baggage, live in a great area, am able to pay my bills, I'm obscenely lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful family and friends, and have the greatest film crew a girl could have. What more do I really need?

Ah, yes- I need to learn to keep my tires properly inflated myself. And you know, there's this great guy... I think I'll ask him to teach me to how to do it. I'll bribe him with eggplant parm (its a running joke for us).

Welcome 2011- may it go even better than 2010.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Max died yesterday morning. Our old, arthritic cocker spaniel couldn’t manage to die peacefully in his sleep- no, he had to tumble down the stairs and break every bone in his body. We don’t go quietly into the night, We Gattones. It’s a testament to Max’s importance to our family that as much of my family as could do so made the trip to the vet’s office to be with him while he died. He went with his boots on and died in the arms of the woman he loved most (that would be my mother). An honorable death, and I suspect one Max would have preferred to going quietly in his sleep.

Max wasn’t our dog. We were his people. He so had the Gattone personality- he barked so much when he was outside Mom and Dad had to put a bark collar on him (which my brother stupidly put over his own throat and found out it works by zapping you), he was constantly running so fast that he would trip over his paws and slide across the hardwood floors and he ate pretty much whatever you handed to him or made the mistake of putting within his reach. If any of us were fighting or wrestling he jumped into the middle of it. Not to defend anyone, mind you, just for the pure joy of fighting.

Ever since my brother Anthony gave me the news, I’ve been crying off and on. I did what I think he would have done himself if able- had a good long walk, ate a cheeseburger for lunch. I think the best way I can honor him is to list the things he taught me and that we all could learn from:

  1. Max got off his leash once as a puppy and was chased by a bigger neighbor dog. I chased him for about a block before he heard me calling him and just stopped, turned around, and waited for me to catch up, tail wagging, and let me hook his leash back on. He also knew when my mother was due home from work every day (how?!?) and waited by the door for her.

Lesson: If you love someone, you should wait for them.

  1. Max always barked when he went outside to announce his presence.

Lesson: Always make an entrance.

  1. Max used to climb the porch stairs and stare right into the family room window and watch us eat with sad eyes. If he was in the house, he would hang out under the table, and would stick his muzzle in the laps of people he knew he had a chance of getting food from. He let us know he was out of water by shoving the empty dish at us. He would chew on your hand to show affection and demand yours by rolling onto his back or shoving his head under your hand. He never got that he was too big to be carried like a puppy and unapologetically climbed onto the leather furniture til my parents gave up and let him stay on it.

Lesson: Never be too ashamed to go after what you want and go after it til you get it.

  1. Ryan had charmed everyone else, but Max always growled at him when he came into our house. Max was right in the end.

Lesson: If you get a bad feeling about something or someone, trust it.

  1. His first Christmas I got him some Beggin’ Strips. They were too big and tough for him to handle but darned if he didn’t try and try until finally I broke it into small pieces he would handle.

Lesson: Don’t be too proud to take help when you need it.

  1. When Max was neutered, he wouldn’t let my parents, who had taken him to the vet, near him for the rest of the night. The next morning he was back to his loving self with everyone.

Lesson: When someone does something that hurts you (intentionally or not), its okay to need some space. But you also need to forgive.

  1. Max would lay on the armchair and listen to Anthony play the piano and sing for hours but would howl whenever I sang.

Lesson: There’s no accounting for taste.

  1. The groomers would always put a kerchief on Max’s neck and he wore it politely until my mom took it off. There was also an ugly sweater for when it got cold.

Lesson: There will be times when you look awfully foolish, be it by your hand or someone else’s, and you may be humiliated. But you can also bear it gracefully.

  1. Max never walked anywhere he couldn’t run to, he didn’t let any dangling food go unsnatched, and he was completely oblivious to your situation when he decided he wanted to lay on your lap.
  2. Lesson: When opportunity knocks, hurry your ass there.

  1. Max’s idea of a great present was usually a bird, maybe a mouse or chipmunk. It was disgusting, but he always presented them so sweetly. Note: This was usually my mother’s problem.

Lesson: It’s the thought that counts.

  1. One day, Mom caught Max red-handed digging a hole in the backyard and yelled for him to stop. Max looked up at my mother and casually laid down and stretched himself over the hole and looked at her innocently. It didn’t work but it was as smooth as any time one of my brothers tried to charm their way out of trouble.

Lesson: Go down swinging. Why deny when you can finesse?

  1. Max always had time to listen to us. He had no use for cell phones or email or facebook. He could tell if someone was down and would go comfort them. He got endless hours of fun from string and empty pop bottles, always had a good stretch before he got up. He would wake us up by climbing onto our chests and licking our faces til we begged for mercy. He always sprang to our defense and always made sure we knew what he was feeling. He understood that when you start to smell bad, its time for a shower. He always made sure he got enough sleep.

Lesson: He knew how to love and he knew how to live.

Last but not least…

  1. Whenever I was at my parents’ house, every night Max would climb up on my bed for a while and just sit there, standing watch over me. Eventually he would want to climb in, which of course I let him do. He would snuggle in for a while, then kick the covers off and scramble out of the bed and go downstairs. Yet every night I would still leave the door open so he could do it.

Lesson: There is not another male alive that I would let do that, so don’t get any ideas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I feel pretty.

Oh, so pretty.

I always felt witty and bright. And even though I came to the conclusion in my midtwenties that I need to appreciate being young and beautiful while it was happening and have been determinedly doing so since, something's different.

I feel fabulous. I feel curvy and strong and lush. My face is actually oval-shaped- who knew? I'm relieved that my chest came out the other end of the weight loss 2 cup sizes smaller and still looks fantastic. I'm fascinated by the muscle definition in my legs, how lovely my back is without the back fat on it, and my tush looks so awesome it defies written description. As much as I loved my body at its original size, being 50 pounds lighter and acclimating to the new body, I feel like I've unearthed a previously buried treasure. Wow, there are my collarbones- and there are my hip bones, huh- and when I lay down, I can feel my sternum- crazy! Never have I been so aware of how big-boned I am as when I can actually feel my bones. Not that I mind- not in the least. I have a body that was built to last, and I intend to do just that. We have a couple centegenarians in my family, and quite a few that made it into their nineties- I'm at least doing that.

Last month, I hit my weight loss goal and woke up the next morning not worrying about losing weight for the first time since I was about 7. I loved it. I loved the bone-deep comfort and happiness of really thinking I was perfect exactly as I was. A month later, I am happy to report that my weight is--- exactly the same. My pants are actually getting a little loose- again. I know, silly thing to complain about. I've spent the last month really feeling like my body is a temple to be worshipped instead of placated or battled against. Just that change in mentality is enough to make all the effort I put into getting this weight off worth it.

I am lush and curvy and strong and beautiful. It is a truly wonderful thing to be me.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What a Thanksgiving!

I've always loved Thanksgiving. I could pretty much eat nothing but pumpkin pie for the rest of my life, and its good to sit down and be grateful for what you have. Plus at my parents' house, its when the Christmas tree goes up and is decorated, and its the beginning of the holiday season, which is my favorite time of year. This one has been pretty interesting- both of my partners in hiking bailed last-minute- one had a late night and the other got sick, No worries, I thought, shit happens. Then my phone decided it didn't want to work anymore. I was able to reach my friend Michael and make plans with him for later but I missed my call from one of my best friends, also known as my wife, who was calling from London. Not cool. I spent most of my Thanksgiving hike fuming about that, and forgot to chant at the top like I meant to, instead plotting how I was going to give Sprint ten kinds of hell about it. After a nice hot shower and fixing my phone by rebooting it, I know that's just silly. Why am I telling you this? To avoid sounding too smaltzy when I now count the things I am thankful for:

1. I lost 50 pounds! Woo hoo! Yes, I have gone from plus-size to...higher end of regular size, and from cute to hot, but more than that, I am proud that I persevered and made the life changes needed to do it, and I'm a stronger person for it.

2. I am thankful for my family, friends, all my loved ones, especially for the ones that tell me the truth even when they know its going to piss me off. Special mention to my producing partner, Kevin Held, who does that a lot.

3. I am so thankful I found Buddhism, and for all the growth manifested by my chanting and study. I know I'm a better person for it. Certainly much calmer. Its also brought some wonderful people into my life.

4. I am thankful my right eye was injured, because it forced me to chill on a permanent basis. I am even more thankful it healed and I can do whatever I want again.

5. I am thankful that Landslide is going so well, and that the team I have assembled is such a wonderful group of people I would want in my life irregardless.

6. I am thankful that my sister found such a wonderful partner, and I hope all of us Gattone kids find someone as perfect for us.

7. I am thankful for those relationships that have improved since this time last year, and I am thankful for all the ways my life has improved so much in the last year (and it has!).

8. I am thankful that I can count myself among those who love me. I am so thankful that while being comfortable with yourself exactly as you are can be a struggle sometimes (especially when you're a bigger girl), I manage to do it the vast majority of the time. I know what I'm capable of, and I love myself for all of those things. Its great- you should try it!

9. Last of all, I am so thankful for those things that have brought me to my knees this year. While I'm not quite at the Buddhist mantra of turning poison into medicine and being grateful for obstacles, one of the themes of Landslide was that sometimes things don't turn out the way you want them to- they turn out better. I've had some crazy awful things happen this year. I am so thankful that in each and every case, however miserable I may have been when something went awry, it ultimately turned out so much better than if it had gone the way I wanted it to.

10. I suppose there should be a tenth, that would only make sense. Okay, I'm thankful for beer. Beer is awesome.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

This blog entry is about boobs.

Title got you to read this, huh? Well, its not false advertising. I was reading a magazine today, and there was a feature that caught my eye- a series of essays by writers who are also breast cancer survivors. One essay in particular spoke to me. She had been 32 when she had cancer- my age- had always been, say, on the buxom side, didn’t like it, and after she lost hers to cancer even preferred her new, reconstructed bosom. She had her children afterwards. She didn’t regret not having her breasts anymore until one day 15 years later when all of a sudden she remembered everything that was wonderful about them and just cried.

It broke my heart. I suppose there are levels on which I related- same age, I actually had to have a lump in my breast checked out this August- my second- well, it turned out to be the same lump both times, just a different doctor this time. Awesome. Better safe than sorry, I guess. Able to relate to being proud of one’s chest (her the reconstructed chest, me the original)- heck yeah I am. What struck me more was her regret at not appreciating what she had when she had it. We’re all guilty of that, of course. As Joni Mitchell sang in “Big Yellow Taxi,” Don’t it always seem to go that we don’t know what we got til its gone? This is the woman that brought us “Both Sides Now.” All hail Joni.

In March 2007, I was mugged by a gang of teenagers. That was followed by the first lump in my breast, my home being broken into and the piece de resistance, a huge car wreck 2 weeks before my birthday that totaled my car on body damage alone and left me pretty battered too. I now call 2007 my landslide year. Two weeks later, on my birthday, July 24th, arm still in a sling, we toasted that I had made it to 29 at all. We made light of it, but seriously, three bullets had just whizzed by my ear. I was so grateful to be alive at that point, and swore never to forget how short life is- tried to make up with a few family members I don’t get along with, tried to get back in the dating pool- it worked temporarily. Thing is, when the euphoria wore off, I still had to do the work to heal from everything that happened, which I still wasn’t interested in doing. Hell, I didn’t bother to start doing the work until last fall. I have some issues with depression, and in the throes of it, I’m not particularly grateful for anything, not even being alive. It’s an ugly place to be, scary to be in, scarier to get out of, and scariest to try and heal what put you there so you can try to avoid falling in again, as I've been doing this last year. But I also wonder what life could have had for me had I been open to it sooner. Oops.

Which leads me back to our friend- when she got a pang, she would remind herself that she was alive, that’s what counted, and remind herself of what she didn’t miss about them. I think we’ve all done that too. When we’re dumped, our friends remind us of all the reasons we won’t miss the person who cast us aside. Ditto any possession we lose. Lost a ring? I didn’t like it anyway- and so forth. I read the regret in our friend’s writing that she would never feel anything there when making love, had never breastfed, and how weird it was that they were just oddly perfect. It made me think- the only thing harder than appreciating something you have is appreciating something you had. Its scarier, more painful. But we have to do it. As Lee Ann Womack sang, “Loving might be a mistake but its worth making.” A Republican, but still…

In Buddhism we acknowledge that both lightness and dark, both joy and sorrow are part of life, and to be thankful for the lights and try to learn from the darks. As I find my daily chanting changing to be less “please help me be/ please give me” and more “thank you for,” our friend reminded me of the repercussions of not appreciating what you have til its gone and of how thankful I am that I am not in that mindset anymore. As painful as it is to acknowledge how valuable someone or something that I do not have is, I do it. And if there’s a third time at the Disney Cancer Center (apparently a breast man- funny, yes, but think about it- those Disney princesses are stacked!) and the third time isn’t a charm (knock on wood), my girls will be well-loved and appreciated every moment that they are still a part of my body. As for those whom I love, I aim for them to feel fully appreciated by me every second that they are part of my life. And like our friend who appreciates what she lost from afar, I will appreciate the value of what I lost, from afar.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Get Your Ass Moving and the Soul Will Follow

Man, was my life different last week.

I was feeling pretty meh- trying to adjust to my new body and how different I look, sulking because I couldn't have someone I wanted. Yeah, I'll admit it- I was being kind of bratty. I saw some recent pics and was like, oh no, I was prettier when I was fat. As for the other thing, well, I probably would have shut me down too. Then there was not one, but four suicides of gay teens bullied for their sexuality. I was sad about it but still pretty bratty about the other stuff. My infinitely patient friend Jeffrey told me we were going shopping for clothes that fit, and that that would help my ennui. Someone probably needed to slap some sense into me.

Thursday night I went to see my dear friends in Dear Harvey at Lee Strasberg- I did the first reading so I know the show but was still profoundly touched and so proud of my friends who brought it to life. After the show, I hung out with my friend Vance, who was incredibly upset about the events of that week, and felt so helpless to do anything about it. Vance, I said, we can't undo what's been done but we can sure as shootin' try and prevent it from continuing. I promised him that I would find a way for us to not be helpless. I woke up Friday to a fifth suicide. THAT slapped sense into me. This is a huge problem, I thought. My brain started whirring, as it does, and while chanting I had an idea. The Landslide team could do an It Gets Better video. I immediately started texting- my partner, Kevin, friends with cameras and technical talents- all the while chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, mind you. I started getting responses right away, and that was great but I still felt like there was something I was missing. Then I thought of my sister, Cate--

My youngest sister, Cate, came out this year. She was 19. She told me that the reason she came out was because she wanted to be truthful about who she was, and that she didn't want to miss any more opportunities because she didn't have the balls to tell people who she is and what she wants. I have never been so proud of her. How admirable- how mature. I've got 12 years on her and I struggle with that one. And I thought, that's it. Someone needs to tell these kids that whatever they may hear from their peers or even their families, that there are so many people out there who recognize and admire their courage and that we would be proud to know them. And I was off to the races.

I wrote a loose script, emailed everyone on my contacts list that I thought would amenable to help, and the next day facebooked more people. Kevin and I met the next day with Chris, our exec producer, who, poor guy, learned about ALL of this when he walked into the Coffee Bean. Fortunately, he was on board, they both loved my I'm Proud of You idea, and we all started making calls. All of my hang-ups about asking for help went out the window. I have felt so energized, so happy, and could care less about all the crap I was sulking about before Friday. My friends have come through like gangbusters, volunteering help and making calls. As always, a few disappointments, rejections, but really, any guy who has a problem with gays was not going to make it far with me anyway (he was new so not hurt, but a little stung).

This has lit this crazy fire in me- I am sidestepping insecurities and shyness (yes, I have some) to speak to whomever will listen to me and give me help putting this together. I spent half an hour talking to an famous actress today about the project. I was at the gym, no makeup, ponytail, not smelling my best. Didn't matter- she agreed to participate and make some calls. Best of all, I told Cate about everything last night, and she told me the greatest thing- that she was proud of me. I teared up right in the middle of the 405 freeway. She and her girlfriend are participating in the It Gets Better video!

I have been so gratified by the outpouring of help and support from everywhere- from high school girlfriends in Kansas to my friends and acquaintances here in LA. I was teased and bullied mercilessly as a kid and another reason I thought this was a valid idea was that I know how much it would have meant to me to have a grown-up, let alone several, tell me they were proud of me, who I was and what I could do. I wonder, in giving these kids something I needed so badly and did not get myself, would this proverbial physician heal herself?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thinking before you speak- try it, you'll like it.

There was a sitcom theme song that has the line, "The more you learn, the less you know." Its totally true. I have learned a lot this past month and realized how much I thought I knew and actually didn’t. I think this stupid eye thing may be the best thing to happen to my adult self because being forced to slow down forced me to think more, and I realized I was not thinking enough. Well, no- I was actually thinking too much, but at the wrong time. Its amazing how much less I overthink things after they happen when I am thinking about it while they happen and not just shooting off my mouth. Fascinating how much less I get myself into trouble when I take more than a minute to absorb things before I respond. Its good for the whole being less stressed out thing too.

Now when I have an impulse to do something, say something, right that minute, I stop and give myself time- an hour, even a day or two to mull it over, and most of the time I realize its not a good idea. Not that I don't still have my moments or fly off the handle- sure I do. Not that I don't still have to be scraped off the ceiling when something upsets me enough. Oh, I do. The moments are fewer and farther between, but I’m still me. That being said, when I do, I tend to take responsibility for my words or actions on the spot. Before, I tended to not realize my misstep until after the fact then be too chicken to take responsibility because I didn't want the reprimand I knew I deserved, or I simply called it a wash and walked away. I don’t really regret things that I do or that happen, they made me who I am today and I am awesome. I do regret things I have said without thinking. Heck, I'm even taking responsibility for words and actions that were months, years old, but still regretted. Have I understood I was going to get shut down for even bringing it up, let alone apologizing? Sure I have. And it sure didn't sting any less now than if I had just womaned up and taken responsibility for my actions on the spot. Yep, still hurt- can't really fault 'em, though. I kind of feel like Jack Nicholson at the end of Something’s Gotta Give. I ‘m better for it- I’m creating a new neural pathway- a more responsible and considerate one.

My Buddhist mentor would probably tell me it’s the chanting that is creating change. Well, I did chant for my eye to heal and not be damaged. Did it. Chanted for my gohonzon (scroll for the altar)- got it. Chanted to learn to handle stress better and let go, not try and control so much. Working on it. Chanted for help losing weight- as the Wicked Witch of the West said, I’m melting. Not to be a bad Buddhist, but I think I’m just doing some well past due growing up.

By the way, when you chant for clarity- be prepared to get it. Be prepared to get it in spades.

As the Wicked Witch of the West also says, Oh, what a world.