“What’s this pumpkin doing here?”

I missed a lot of Cinderella’s final rehearsals. Being backstage with the kids helping with hair and makeup, assisting with crew and costumes, and just *being there* ~ pretty much my favorite thing ever. But I’ve been really sick with a long migraine attack / flare for almost two weeks, making me feel unreliable and flaky, and even worse, like I’m being overly dramatic and self-centered.

Migraine disease doesn’t give me a choice. It seems to flare most during times of increased activity or stress. The more medication I take to try to keep going, the less well it works. Guilt and sadness on top of fatigue on top of pain. When I can’t be there during important times people stop relying on me, stop expecting me. Stop bothering to figure out how I’m doing because it’s always the same. Migraine again. “Wasn’t she doing that study?” “Won’t she ever get better?” “Why does she sign up for things in the first place?” 

Why did I have kids? Why even try?

Why live at all?

Update:

A pumpkin is still just a pumpkin. I was able to go tonight, but having missed almost all of Tech week, I didn’t have any jobs other than to be there for my kids.

Who didn’t want me.  Why should they?

X is 12 now. She thinks she may be asexual, and I love that she has a smorgasbord of labels from which to figure out how she fits into the world of relationships. Especially among theatre and arts kids, there are fewer strictly straight kids than otherwise.  But she is spending a lot of time with a couple boys this show, both of whom I like. Her current two  closest show friends are one boy and one girl both a year or so older than she. X used to need me at shows and all the older kids accepted me being there, and still accepted her. I would find ways to be needed besides just as support for my insecure kid.

Now she doesn’t need me and that’s fine and right and as it should be. Except that she totally freaked out over the makeup artists asking her to pull her bangs back. “I won’t be recognizable on stage,” she whined. “I won’t look like me.” I said, you aren’t supposed to look like you. You’re supposed to be Fairy #1. It ended up being okay. After the makeup was applied I pulled some wisps down over her forehead. Her male buddy distracted her by pointing out how the school’s signs were in all upper case. “Everyone is yelling all the time.” Her female buddy told her she looked beautiful. She did.

This female buddy, Fairy #2, drove X crazy at first. Doesn’t it always begin like that? The other night she threw her arms around me and exclaimed “I love you, Stage Mom!”

So why did X start acting the way she did? But she’s 12. She’s seeking independence. I’m okay with it.

Zo, I am not so okay with. She is playing a mouse puppeteer / horse and villager. She has plenty of kids her age there to hang out with. There have been some conflicts because all four mice are leader-types. She’s 8. X was never in a production that young. Zo is used to the stage, having been in three Nutcracker ballets and four big recitals for dance. And I am always there for those, I have to be. As for Cinderella, at home, she acts like she wants me at rehearsals / performances, but when we’re actually there she is rude and looks at me like she is disgusted. I don’t know if you’ve seen the photos, but I am not gross or embarrassing. Particularly among theatre kids I am even considered cool, heavily tattooed and pierced as I am. And I don’t really hover, I don’t treat Zo like a baby. So ripping away from me and shrugging me off when I’m trying to help her? I don’t get it. Competing with her sister, John thinks, or wanting to feel older. I don’t know.

But I managed to get there tonight after being in the ER yesterday and it was very hot in the green room. And I dealt with X’s tantrum about her bangs, helped her deal with a broken prop, found the Fairy Godmother’s missing staff, located Zo’s mouse puppet which she was told to find. And yet felt completely, sadly superfluous.

I asked both of them if they needed anything and was answered with shrugs.  So I left.

“Put it in the pantry,” the Queen instructs Lionel regarding the pumpkin that has suddenly appeared outside the palace. “We don’t want anyone falling over it.”

No one sings like you anymore

Trigger Warning: meandering discussion of suicide and substance abuse

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/chris-cornell-autopsy-and-toxicology-report-released-w484309

This RS article rocked me to my core, kept me up writing and thinking two nights in a row.

Depression, trauma, substances. Stigma, shame, and suicide.

First, the substances. Ativan is usually prescribed in 1 mg tablets. No matter how it is administered, 4 mg is the max recommended dose. The nanograms per milliliter of blood measurement used here is extremely difficult to translate, even using an online conversion tool, so I have no idea how much he actually had ingested, but I am guessing 5-6 mg since they are saying more than the usual dose but not one normally  associated with fatality. That makes sense according to his wife’s statement that he took “a couple extra.”

Info about Ativan (lorazepam): https://www.drugs.com/amp/ativan.html

Butalbital as far as I know is not available by itself but is commonly prescribed in a compound formula for “tension” headaches which most specialists now understand are part of migraine disease. The brand name of the butalbital/ caffeine/ acetaminophen compound is Fioricet. I have used this med on and off my whole life, formerly concurrent with Xanax or Ativan. It also is available with codeine, which is what I had been prescribed (I now have Fioricet without codeine and no longer take anti-anxiety meds). The article does not mention acetaminophen, but does mention caffeine, which they claim was from No-Doz. 

Info about Butalbital, a barbiturate: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butalbital

Did Chris suffer from migraines? Or as a rock star in recovery, was he able to get this combination of meds specially prescribed for anxiety and / or insomnia? Many former drug users in recovery are prescribed Ativan. (But why take caffeine separately, particularly with sedatives? Was it a “cocktail” he’d discovered that produced a non-narcotic, non-alcoholic high?) The naloxone is interesting too. It’s an antagonist, but in combination with these other drugs it could (maybe?) act similarly to a narcotic in increasing the effects of the depressants. Naloxone only stops the action of opiates. [Editing again to add that I read one article stating Naloxone (Narcan) may have been injected by emergency responders after he was found.]

Also in his system when he died was pseudoephedrine, brand name Sudafed. It is taken for sinus pain / headache which also can be part of migraine disease. Like caffeine, it is a stimulant. The combination of sedatives, barbiturates, and stimulants is particularly dangerous.

In my 20s and 30s there were many instances when I took the above meds together as prescribed for migraine, with an opiate as well, and then combined them with a lot of alcohol during nights of social binge-drinking. I also had occasional extreme mood swings which, I realized with prompting from John, after I was no longer taking it, were brought on by the Fioricet 3 (w/ codeine) in particular, exacerbated by the anti-anxiety meds. These sudden bursts of intense emotion included both violent rages and severe depression. [Editing to make clear that the violence was against inanimate objects, not people or myself.]

As well as feeling incredibly sad about the circumstances surrounding Chris’s suicide, I am sort of feeling damn lucky to be alive. I think I am made of stronger stuff than I realized. 

I keep adding to and revising this post. And I am so fucking sad, getting more and more so. Chris Cornell was a grunge success story, a man who grieved for and celebrated the tragic deaths of friends and fellow musicians, most famously in Temple Of The Dog, and who seemed to triumph over trauma to choose life, to choose music and family and love and philanthropy and friendship over giving in to despair. John told me the song “Slaves & Bulldozers” basically saved him as an adolescent recovering from abuse. He sent me the lyrics in a text the day Chris died, and they read as though Chris himself may have been molested or raped. As fans know, he ended with that song in Detroit hours before his death, blending it with “In My Time of Dying” by Led Zeppelin. If my wings should fail me Lord, please meet me with another pair.  /  I hope I did somebody some good. / So I can die easy…..  The song is filled with Catholic imagery. Like John, Chris went to Catholic school. Like John, he seemed to worry about his soul. Like John, his parents got divorced, and considering Chris chose to use his mother’s maiden name in the aftermath, it may have been messy and horrible. 

I just read an article about how the stories surrounding this death relate to the stigma involved with suicide as well as medications. When someone dies from opening up the veins in their arms, the razor blade isn’t blamed, the author said. I see her point, but also see the flaws in that argument since weapons don’t alter one’s thoughts the way many drugs can. I maintain my agreement with Vicky and my own statements throughout this post regarding the devastating mood effects the combination of butalbital, caffeine, and Ativan can have. HOWEVER. Depression leads to suicide. Ativan and Butalbital did not kill Chris Cornell. Depression did. The meds may have altered that triumphant will to live despite the darkness just enough for him to give in to the rain that couldn’t, finally, be washed away. Depression needs to be discussed without shame and blame. Depression kills. 

As for me, please know that I am MUCH more careful with medications now. There is no reason to worry about Current Me. But Past Me? Damn girl, that was some stupid, careless shit. Careless because of my occasional choice to start drinking before all the chemicals were out of my system; but yet, I was taking legitimately prescribed meds for the symptoms of my illness. And I could have died. Why didn’t I? Other than occasionally wanting to go to sleep and never wake up I have never truly felt suicidal (exceptions would be when I took Topamax and other anti-epileptics, but even then it was sleep forever type suicidal). I have never had to engage in that fight to overcome constant thoughts of ending my life.

I am more relieved than I can say that my family was spared the agony Vicky and her kids are enduring right now, because I think she was right. Without that strange but familiar-to-me cocktail of meds, maybe Chris would not have taken his life after surviving so much for so long; after publicly grieving the early deaths of his friends and contemporaries; after marrying again and producing children who are still young (he also has as an older daughter). There but for the grace of John, X, & Zo go I, as paraphrased from Winston Churchill, Sherlock Holmes, and Simon & Garfunkel. Or maybe, I simply was never at that kind of risk because my own depression never convinced me my family would be better off without me. Suicide is not selfish. For those who suffer that severely it can feel like the only option. Suicidal ideation, especially exacerbated by mind-altering drugs, tricks you into believing your loved ones will be better off without you to bring them down and perhaps ruin their lives as your own feels ruined beyond redemption and repair. 


Chris Cornell, you beautiful, troubled man, thank you for creating art that soothed my traumatized partner in his youth. Thank you for your words and your voice, which sustained much of Generation X when we were falling on our own black days. What trauma did you suffer in your own childhood that created the anxiety and depression you sang about and spoke of in interviews? What supreme sadness bubbled to the surface that made death seem like the only way out?

This post has morphed many times. It no longer flows as well as I’d like. But there is nothing easy about discussing depression, trauma, grief, and suicide. PLEASE, readers of my blog, sufferers of chronic pain and depression and PTSD, substance-users, whether illicit or prescribed or both, trauma survivors, suicidal-thought fighters, you are not alone. You are worthy. Whether I know you or not I am glad to share this planet with you. Get through the next hour, the next day, one moment at a time. Get help. 

I am so glad I got to see Chris perform in his grunge heyday. I am so glad that despite frequently imbibing nearly the identical combination of meds found in his toxicology report, I am still here to rock out to and revel in his tortured genius, his swan songs; that, as Eddie Vedder triumphantly bellowed through the pouring rain at that same Lollapalooza in 1992, I’m still alive. 

I just wish Chris Cornell were still alive too. Oh but do I deserve to be / Is that the question? / And if so, if so / Who answers? 

Who answers?



In The Eye of a Hurricane

I dropped my dance mom basket this week.

The members of the youth theatre board on which I serve discuss wearing different “hats.” Because we are stage parents as well as administrative board members, we have to be careful to distinguish what role we are playing. If I am talking to another parent / board member and lamenting about something affecting one of my daughters I would be quick to clarify “mom hat” so that the person would know I’m not looking at it from a leadership perspective.

However, I have recently started thinking of my different roles in life as baskets I’m carrying instead of hats I’m wearing. The baskets have things in them. They are difficult to balance. I can carry more than one at a time, but the more items in the baskets, the harder it is to figure out how to manage.

I have a partner basket and a house basket. A home parenting basket. An Indy News basket for one job; and a migraine.com basket for the other, which has strings tying it to this blog and other advocacy work, and my illness. The migraine patient basket is a big one. A theatre parent / stage crew basket, tied to my advisory board basket.

John and I are working hard on our relationship, budgeting, the future, becoming independent financially, and our house. We started couples counseling, which is long overdue. But I think because I’ve been focusing more on my partner and house baskets, my others have gotten neglected. I admit to being a little overwhelmed, particularly this week because both girls are dancing in a big recital on Saturday, and we have long daily rehearsals for Cinderella, our summer musical. I have caught up with my jobs, but not the advisory board. I have been very attentive to the girls at home, and focusing on the musical, which is Zo’s first, and have totally neglected Star Style, the big recital. The dance mom basket was full to overflowing and it slipped from my fingers without me even realizing it.

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This is going to be X’s only year participating in Star Style, as she decided to take a dance class to sharpen her skills for musicals. And I forgot to order both girls a t-shirt, the only one that will have both their names on it. It’s too late. There MIGHT be extras in a few weeks but no one knows. X was so disappointed. I’m having a hard time getting over how upset I feel about it.

Another fail was also involving X, who dances very early in the first show. Because of some confusion she totally missed the start of her dance at the studio rehearsal last night, and when I encouraged her to just run on in and join she panicked and began to cry, and I was hard on her. She just turned 12, and I thought she was acting infantile, but later when we talked, she told me she definitely has a “thing” about being late and entering a room or a rehearsal after everyone else has begun. I think instead of being childish, what she was doing was having a legitimate panic attack, and I of all people should have recognized that and comforted her rather than being bitchy. I apologized quickly and profusely and we’re okay now, but again, that was a huge fail on my part.

Tonight we have a break from dance and I actually am not going to attend play practice either. Instead, I am going to get to go see Ron Chernow, the author of Alexander Hamilton, the biography which inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create Hamilton: An American Musical. My friend is driving so I don’t even have that stress to worry about, and we are both bringing our books to have him sign and are going to totally geek out. I can’t wait.

I hope that hearing Chernow speak will motivate me to get through the rest of this week. And I know that getting some time without any baskets at all, just being ME, will be rejuvenating, and maybe will help me improve my balancing act.

Sometimes, we all need moments of having nothing to carry at all.

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[Update: extra recital shirts were available much sooner than expected, but the price had been increased so I bought one for the girls to share. My dance mom BFF surprised us by purchasing another for us because “they should each have one.” She even bought the right size. Star Style went great. I made it through the week. I get by with a little help from my friends.]

Professional Empowerment in the Realm of Disability and Invisible Illness

I had a weird feeling about it from the very beginning.

Of course there was the initial excitement of being emailed by a national television producer, but that quickly gave way to anxiety that at some level hasn’t let up since March 1.

Since becoming a writer and advocate for migraine.com, my personal blogging at home has become professional. I am technically freelance, though Health Union calls us all a team, and we all feel happily “employed” by that company. But I don’t have a boss, or anyone looking out for my best interests, to make sure I’m being properly treated, compensated, and served in any other capacity I advocate for migraine. I can only continue advocating for myself, for my own time and energy, the same way I do for my illness.

I attended the #huconnexion17 conference; was asked to attend the Amgen Bloggers Summit in LA; and filled out a form for a possible financially compensated video appearance for a so far unknown migraine awareness production. All of these were efficient, official, and I was either reimbursed or otherwise compensated.

Not so with this supposed WebMD / Robin Roberts Productions “Migraine Awareness” video series. Even though it was potentially huge, and John bragged about it to everyone he knew, I kept quiet. I was starting to be able to distinguish professional opportunities that were worth my time from those that probably wouldn’t be. Or wouldn’t happen at all.

Here is the email I sent them this morning withdrawing from the project. After all, there is no one to look out for me… except me.

Hello,

After getting up and assessing how I feel I am starting to have some concerns. I appreciate you reading this email rather than my having to try to explain this on the phone.

I was initially excited about this project due to the idea of promoting awareness for migraine disease. However, since first being contacted by Lynn Draisin on March 1, and then speaking with her on the phone a few days later and agreeing to be filmed, I have been told I was to be filmed here in mid-March with details to come. Then the plan was that I was to be flown to NYC at the end of March, so I began to make plans in that direction, but when I didn’t hear anything I had to reach out to both Lynn and Taryn to hear that this was no longer going to be the case due to scheduling but I would once again have to accommodate people here in my hometown. I was told by my migraine.com colleague Kerrie Smyres that Lynn was actually leaving her job with the production company. I sent Taryn many, many requested photos and then sort of got “passed off” again to someone else. While I totally understand that this is probably how these types of projects normally work, it’s not something that has been making me feel comfortable.

People with longterm chronic illness develop an almost permanent state of anxiety and PTSD due to things in our lives constantly being beyond our control. From the migraine disease itself to problems with disability and insurance and doctors and hospitals to no longer being able to work outside the home there is very little that is stable about my situation. To have yet another unstable and uncontrollable situation looming over me, because that’s how it feels, has begun to produce more anxiety and negative effects on me than the benefits that may be felt by me personally or the migraine community from my involvement. 

Health Union, the company behind migraine.com, and the Amgen Bloggers Summit, and the few other inquiries I’ve had about promoting migraine awareness through my writing or physical representation have all provided immediate official paperwork, statements of intent, project prospectuses, and promises of compensation. I’m realizing that in this situation, especially with the request of my young daughters to be involved, I have seen nothing official except assurances that you all work with Robin Roberts and that the series is going to be on WebMD. Not being able to control things like weather, my husband’s teaching schedule, my own secondary migraine symptoms (the severe pain has truly been lessened due to the CGRP trial medication but I deal with the other migraine symptoms of nausea, depression, occasional cognitive dysfunction, allodynia, vertigo etc on a daily basis), my daughters’ school and activity schedules AND the fact that I am not even going to be able to control the narrative your company presents about my personal situation, I have reconsidered appearing in the project.

Of course, I understand we needed to speak by telephone and that many of the issues of official paperwork, dates, times and plans may have been discussed then, but it’s not enough. My time is valuable, and I am not getting the impression from your company that it is seen as such. I hope that your project is able to move forward and that it does increase awareness of migraine disease, but it is going to have to do so without my involvement. 

I’m sorry to only drop this on you this morning, but I haven’t been well and only was able to figure this all out just now. Since plans have been continuously evolving on your end also, I hope you can understand my position.

I am cc-ing my husband on this email so please make sure to include him on any replies.

Respectfully,

elizabeth roberts-zibbel

ladymigraine.com

migraine365.com

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Flashback Friday

I stayed in bed all morning. Yesterday I had to give myself a Sumatriptan injection first thing; the morning before I’d needed to take a tablet. No migraine this morning, but maybe postdrome. In a sort of desultory way I scrolled through Facebook. I don’t always check my “On This Day” memories, but I did, even going so far as to read the blog post that came up because I remember it being significant.

When I went downstairs, I had a very uneasy, not-quite-anxious, not-quite-depressed feeling, an ache below the rib cage that made me feel helpless and vulnerable. My depression has been very well controlled lately, so I felt like I needed to figure out the source of this. Postdrome? Trump angst?

I finally realized maybe it was from reading the blog entry.

It was titled “WWED: What Would Elizabeth Do?” and was about the fact that I didn’t like who I’d become in the year since quitting my job and in fact barely knew myself. At the time I wrote it three years ago, Dr P had only recently dumped me as a patient after I bared my soul to him. I hadn’t yet seen anyone in my neurologist’s office, so I was without medication. It was before my first CGRP trial, before Dr Mac and Dr Mitzi, right when I decided to taper off Cymbalta, before John got his social work job. It was probably one of the lowest points of my life.

In the entry I described my crazy, desperate run through the hospital parking lot after Dr P so ruthlessly attacked me. I’d forgotten that I’d been sobbing, tore away from J and  fell, scraping my hands and knees. Reading the descriptive prose I vividly remembered how worthless and hopeless I’d felt, and scared I had been. It’s hard to explain how much being rejected or misunderstood by a doctor feels like the end of the fucking world for someone with a chronic illness. I had literally nowhere to turn.

That helpless, hopeless feeling today morphed into an uneasy vulnerability. While I am much happier and more fulfilled now, with new friends, new activities, new jobs, I am unfortunately at a bit of a crossroads again with my medical care. J has a fantastic job now at our local state university, as a full time instructor, which is another reason for my increased satisfaction now as opposed to three years ago. However, one of the most attractive features of a good job, for me, is the health insurance. I had been on Ohio’s expanded Medicaid, which was life-saving, but limiting, so I was excited to be on regular private insurance again and am particularly grateful for it now that the NOTUS is trying to repeal all aspects of the ACA.

But there was a paperwork issue. J filled out all the many many pages required for our family to be covered, and it all went through fine. What he didn’t know is that almost immediately, he would have to fill out yet another spousal form for 2017, as he will have to every year. He was behind on checking emails, falling into the “ignorance is bliss” ravine that so many of us do when overwhelmed.

On January 1, my coverage ended. I haven’t had insurance since then. J is trying to get it worked out, but because the open enrollment period had ended, now the HR people need my Disability paperwork, my Medicaid and Medicare paperwork. Which J found and gave to them. And then he didn’t hear anything. He had to go to his dean for help in speeding it up. This week, he still hasn’t heard anything new about the progress. Bills are piling up. The uncertainty of not having coverage constantly makes me feel on edge. Scared.

I finally have an appointment with a new family doctor in March, Dr. C. My spoonie friend Julie, who is local, found him first, having read reviews that he’s excellent with complicated cases. But again, uncertainty. Fear. My wonderful, sweet pain specialist, Dr. Mitzi, who refused to conduct pill counts and seemed so concerned with me personally, has apparently caved in to the federal pressure and taken an extended leave of absence. She does have a nurse practitioner, Judy, but she is considerably less warm and makes me very nervous. They are trying to find a replacement for Mitzi, but I have read enough horror stories from people in my support groups that I know it’s a possibility the new doctor will be a strict asshole who will not want to keep prescribing to me. Uncertainty. Fear.

But. The pain clinic isn’t closing, and Dr. C seems very promising. Even without insurance, if worse comes to worse, I can pay cash. Things with Dr. M (the neuro) are going okay. I haven’t had to go to the ER for six weeks. J is doing well, the girls are doing well. I have my work for migraine.com, which is a dream come true, and BG Independent News, which is so great I would never have fathomed my involvement in such a thing. Working with journalists I’ve always admired, in a field I chose for myself twenty years ago. Lucky. I’m lucky.

I have to let this false fear wash away. I have so much that is good right now.

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My girls on top of the Cape May lighthouse. X, Zo, & K, June 2014

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The cast of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, December 2014

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Zo & me after her first Nutcracker performance weekend, Dec 2014

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Me at the Historical Center, where I frequently volunteered from 2014-2016

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Part of our theatre family. I’ve been on the advisory board since early 2015.

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Me & J at the Chamber of Commerce dinner with BGIN last month

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My migraine.com profile. I will be going to a conference in Philadelphia in March!

Thoughts on the inauguration of the NOTUS

Today I read a powerful blog post someone wrote called “Let the record show.” I linked to it; you should really go read it. I am not feeling very eloquent right now, and there’s no way I could communicate these thoughts any better than this author already did.

The NOTUS, Narcissist Of The United States, is not my president. I didn’t vote for him, I hate everything he stands for, I am horrified that Republicans are trying to wipe away the Affordable Care Act, which will likely lead to people DYING. (Pro”LIFE,” huh?) Newly involved in the business of journalism, I am paying attention to how he is treating reporters. I just read today that he is going to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.


I feel like our democracy has been yanked away from us. DJT lost the popular vote by almost 3 million. I am reading Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton and feel indignant that he anticipated this exact scenario, hence the creation of the electoral college, but the Electors refused to use it the way it was intended. Now we know that Russia was responsible for the DNC hacking and Wikileaks release and STILL Hillary won the popular vote. The election is invalid. There is treason in the air.

Up until a few months ago I was on  Ohio’s expanded Medicaid. If John hadn’t gotten his university job…

I’m not feeling super great, and just rambling, really. I love President Obama, and going from him and his lovely family and the Bidens, who called The White House “The People’s House” and opened it up to poetry slams, concerts, and other cultural events, to Trump, who tweeted a ridiculous photo of himself “writing his inauguration speech” at Mar-a-Lago, calling it “The Winter White House” fills me with horror and disgust.

HERE IS THE WINTER WHITE HOUSE

Obama and his daughters play in the snow. Photo by Pete Souza.

DJT disparaged Muslims. He has a proven history of assaulting women. He strikes back at anyone who criticizes him. He can barely string two sentences together. He definitely has an unsavory connection with Putin.

I wish I could go to the Women’s March in DC, or the sister march in Ann Arbor, but I am proud to be participating and helping with the Disability March, which is now an official partner. If you have a chronic illness or visible or invisible disability and would like to participate, go to www.disabilitymarch.com.

Trump protest posters by Shepherd Fairey

Here is a portion of Obama’s goodbye email to the American people.


We shall overcome…

I definitely need to be taught how to say good bye.

The home of a Muslim family in a nearby city was vandalized with a swastika. After the outpouring of love they received, one of the family members painted over it. Their garage door was eventually replaced free of charge and the Toledo Symphony Orchestra played outside during a peaceful gathering.

DJT canceled a trip to the African American Museum on MLK Day after attacking Rep John Lewis for not attending the inauguration

I will never call him President. He will be DJT, or NOTUS, or He Who Must Not Be Named. And we are Dumbledore’s Army.

We now know they were listening to Obama’s speech the day after DJT’s “victory,” but still.


RISE UP.

When and if the time comes, I will do whatever is necessary to keep my family and friends safe. I also pledge to step up and intercede on behalf of anyone who needs help. I will attend and participate. I will teach my children tolerance and kindness. I will continue to live and work and write and play.

As scary as everything is right now (and make no mistake, I AM scared) I keep thinking of something Obama said at his last press conference: “The only thing that’s the end of the world… is the end of the world.”

We shall overcome.

Mix Tapes: The Buckle and The 8th Floor, 1997

I recently got a 2002 RAV4 from my mother-in-law, and I have never loved a car so much. I have always wanted a small SUV, and she kept it well maintained, so even thought it has over 200,000 miles on it I feel it will continue for many more.

It also has a tape deck.

Earlier this year I bemoaned my lack of ability to play all my old mix tapes, which were like an art form for me. A friend had an extra boom box which she promptly delivered, and I imagined writing a new blog post for each new mix tape I rediscovered.  However, that never happened. The boom box sits in my room, with old dust and new dust.

A car tape deck though is a different matter. We all have to drive. I like to listen to music while I drive. I waited awhile and then, last week, I grabbed some tapes from my collection and popped the first one in, unlabeled, which turned out to be a taped-off-the-radio George Michael concert from the FAITH era and pieces of favorite albums (The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and sadly, Boston). The tape survived being flipped and re-wound, and played well, so I listened to a couple more. I posted on Facebook about them.

A friend (one of those FB friends I’ve never met in person) commented how much he was enjoying my Tape Updates, and I thought again about possible blog posts. Facebook seems much easier, less time consuming. There is also the privacy of those for whom I made the original mixes to consider. But this particular tape, which was made just for me, Mix Tape #4 according to its Facebook post order, definitely needs its own blog entry, as it represents such a personal and important crossroads for me, along with its sister mix, “The 8th Floor,” made soon afterward.

The mix is called “Buckle Songs”.

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In February 1997, I quit my job at STAGE Stores Inc, which had been Uhlman’s Department Store until the sale / takeover. It was not nearly as enjoyable as Uhlman’s had been, particularly since, as an old fashioned Southern chain (one I learned during the presidential race of 2012 was owned by Mitt Romney), they told me I could no longer be manager of the Men’s Department. Because I’m a woman. And my fancy gold plated name tag with my full name on it was replaced by a cheap one with a sticker that said simply “E. Roberts.” No first names.

I’d also dated a co-worker there with disastrous results (a man hired to work the Men’s Department!), and though he’d quit already, I had fallen hard for him and being back there was rough. I had graduated from college in December. I was ready to go. I spread applications to retail outlets all over BG and Toledo, because working retail was all I knew, and I liked it. Who called? The Buckle, a trendy clothing store at Franklin Park Mall, a 40 minute but very familiar drive north.

Because of my degree and experience I was hired to be a sales associate on track to become Assistant Manager. Tish, the manager, was very like other women bosses I’d had, though younger. She was sharply enthusiastic, and nerve-wracking. We were on commission. We were expected to “build on” sales, to not just help people find what they were looking for but also talk them into buying more. We were trained to look out for the types who were easiest to do this to. We got a 40% discount on clothes and could only wear what was purchased from the shop. My collection of Doc Marten boots and shoes, and Lucky Jeans, and thin, cheap, trendy tops would become monstrous. We’d all have “hold” piles and when paychecks were issued there was a long line to purchase. My sales were never high enough to begin the process of promotion to Assistant Manager, though I was a key holder, as I’d been at Uhlman’s / Stage. My migraines at this time were occasionally disruptive but I didn’t have to miss so much work that they were a real problem. I wouldn’t become chronic for ten more years, though I was definitely heavy episodic.

My relationships with my co-workers were pleasant, but odd and uncomfortable for me. Another key holder had dubbed The Buckle “The Meat Market of the Mall” as everyone who worked there was rather astonishingly good-looking, and easily classifiable into a “type.” My favorite co-worker was Jeff, my first flamboyantly gay friend, who was funny and sweet and danced like he was in a musical whenever “It’s Oh So Quiet” by Björk came on. There was the guy I had a crush on, Jake, who looked just like a Jake and was therefore not really my type at all. There was also Vinny, I think his name was, unless I just called him that in my head. He was sort of a combination of Keanu Reeves’ Ted and Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape, in retrospect. He had long shiny dark brown hair and loved the Wu-Tang Clan and tended toward the more “urban” line of Buckle clothes like JNCO jeans. The girls  were young and beautiful, from the one with long flowing wavy blonde hair to skinny, alternative types. I had no idea where I fit into this schema. Since I’d been hired into management but stalled, I suspected I fit nowhere.

The best part of this job was probably the music. We had long compact disc playlists to choose from, and they were all good, introducing me to some new things and re-affirming my love for The Beastie Boys, Björk, Liz Phair, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Beck. Some of them were more club oriented and therefore totally unfamiliar, and I was able to track down my favorites for the mix: “Whoever You Are” by Geggy Tah (“All I wanna do is to thank you, even though I don’t know who you are / You let me change lanes while I was driving in my car”) and “(C’mon Ride It) The Train” by Quad City DJs. When these songs came on we would dance and sing unabashedly. There were 1980s mixes as well, both alternative and dance styles.The Buckle, not a bar or dance or wedding, was the first place I ever saw the “YMCA” dance being acted out. Working there felt more like working at a club, but instead of drinks people bought clothes, shoes, and belts. Despite the underlying competition of being on commission, we all got along pretty well, though the social and friendly environment was not extended for me outside the store as it probably was for the others, who were mostly one to five years younger. I was about to turn 24.

This was the time period of a major self-destructiveness on my part. My life, private and professional, was a mess. I had dumped Craig, my longterm on-and-off boyfriend, the previous fall for the last time to date Hazelwood, the guy from Stage, who had dumped me over the phone right after Christmas. The longterm boyfriend relationship had been a seven year tempest of fighting, reuniting, being unofficially engaged and then breaking up and getting back together, hanging out and hooking up without commitment, though every time, it felt like coming home. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and who to do it with. I thought I wanted to be with Craig, but I always thought that when we were apart. And I knew the Buckle wasn’t the right place for me but had no motivation to do anything about that. So I did stupid stuff like driving around the parking lot during lunch breaks with Vinny, in his car, blasting music while smoking weed and menthol cigarettes like that was our actual job before returning to work the rest of our shift. I let some stranger “pick me up” at the store, and dragged my friend and her boyfriend to his house, which was a glass and white monstrosity in northern Toledo at which he turned out to just be crashing. I remember there was weed spread all over the glass table in the living room, and I suspected there were other drugs tucked elsewhere. We smoked this weed. I went back by myself next time. The guy, Derrick, was a drifter with a temporary type job, but was actually pretty clean and cute and ended up not being a crazy asshole or rapist or killer; he didn’t slip Rohypnol in my drink, didn’t poison the food he made for me or get angry at my “everything but” reticence. In fact when I declined to see him again he seemed extremely crushed. I got lucky there. I also invited a random kid into my apartment when he knocked on the door looking for someone else, and smoked his weed too. I smoked so much weed belonging to strangers and near-strangers that it is astonishing I never stumbled upon any laced with anything.

I know this “risky behavior” is somewhat laughable. Even in the late 1990s it was known to everyone that marijuana is spectacularly safe. I didn’t fuck any of these guys, I didn’t snort cocaine off the glass table, I wasn’t shooting heroin. But for relatively cautious me, these risks felt huge, and I had the tantalizing spectre of my luck running out, the possibility always on my mind. I wanted it to run out. Because I was fucking miserable. And I needed a Deus ex Machina of an overdose or severe injury to derail me. I ended up derailing myself, but it was like a quiet, tipsy drive off a foggy road into a ditch rather than a plane crash.  Oh yeah, I drove home drunk from Toledo too, but that was later, when I was working for Family Video in Sylvania, and we used to go to a nearby dive bar afterward, where my newly tattooed still young body was obviously tantalizing to my middle-aged average male supervisors who enjoyed buying me jello shots. There, I was in transition, trying to re-build self esteem but letting myself be objectified, my tattoos not allowed to show at work, the “Adult” section behind a red curtain in the back. Family Video was the final frontier of my displacement.

First, still at The Buckle as my birthday approached and a Back To School fashion show was being organized, I had to ask Jake to attend a party with me, have him say yes and then totally blow me off when the day came, after which I drove home in a thunderstorm sobbing and ended up in the cemetery, taking some pills and quitting The Buckle by phone from a hospital bed. I also arranged an interview at Family Video from the hospital.  Jake blowing me off was a last straw, the hiring of a new Assistant Manager another last straw, the memo we all received about a company issue called “Familyocity” where you cared about your co-workers too much to compete with them or fire them was the last last straw. Oh, and the fashion show kind, handsome Brent put together that I was supposed to participate in with all the hot youth that I couldn’t actually bear to imagine. Me? Strutting down a catwalk in the middle of Franklin Park Mall? I was realizing NOPE fast. Brent was the only one to call the hospital to make sure I was okay. Brent, thank you. Jeff, who had already fled to work at Sufficient Grounds with Sarah, another favorite who was also someone I could have been friends with outside the Buckle world: I wish we had stayed in touch.

The mix I made right after getting out of the hospital is a nearly laughably typical late nineties depression mix with Nirvana, Soundgarden, Fiona Apple, Natalie Merchant, Depeche Mode, and the Cranberries. It took a number of months to put my shattered self back together. The first step was applying for a job at Grounds For Thought, which was just downstairs from my apartment. The Buckle (a symbol for the more important events of graduating from college, being dumped and losing Craig) had broken me, and as the pieces started to fit back together, I became the me I would be for the rest of my life. I was poised on the edge of meeting John and all the people who would matter in the years to come. When I was promoted to full time Night Manager at Grounds in October of ’97  I was able to finally quit Family Video, where they were quietly disapproving and suspicious of my “moonlighting” at a coffee shop. I worked at Grounds For Thought for almost a decade, through meeting and dating John, getting married, getting pregnant and having X, and going chronic.

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My “Buckle Songs” mix contains mostly the happy, dancy music that made us squeal and start dancing in place no matter what we were doing when the songs came on. Some of the songs reflect my frenetic despair. There are a few songs from Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet, which was important to me at the time. It started with Urge Overkill’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” from Pulp Fiction and ended with “Make It Home” by Julianna Hatfield, which had been in the Christmas My So-Called Life episode when Rickie was homeless. As I found more songs from our actual Buckle playlists I replaced throw-away songs with more authentic ones, so it was edited a few times over the next year, much like my actual evolving life.

 

**Next morning update: While listening to the Buckle mix while driving everyone to school (at three different times), a memory suddenly came back to me of another co-worker I’d totally forgotten about, a beautiful young woman of color who vividly called out the Presidents of the U.S.A. regarding the real meaning of their song “Peaches” and claimed joyfully that she was going to wear a t-shirt saying “KILL WHITEY” to get out of her impending jury duty.  I realized that the Buckle staff were much more diverse than I initially remembered, though undeniably everyone was very attractive. My friend Sarah, whom I’m recalling a little more clearly now, was a short, adorable ginger with a nose ring; not waify and blonde or heroin chic. This was the most unique group of people I ever worked with, which I sought to re-create when I began hiring at Grounds. And I still say I had the best Grounds Crew there ever was and ever will be again.