Fuel to the Fire

It’s been so long since I’ve typed at a computer, I think my typing speed may have dropped to under 60 WPM. Dangit. I should probably quit writing everything by hand in notebooks, if I want the words to appear anywhere else but in a stack on my bookshelf, that is. Also my handwriting is pretty indecipherable so I guess it makes sense to stick to the computer. It’s just that writing by hand has always felt easier, more accessible and immediate. There’s something more rousing about putting actual pen to page. I hesitate less. My ‘thinking’ mind turns quieter, and the space that must open in order for the good writing to come through stays that way, without distraction. Especially when I’m scratching away with a really great pen. Right now it’s a black Pilot G-2 07. Sounds like a damned air o’plane, and I’d even describe it as a “smooth glider.”. So, I guess I’ll just be transcribing from page to machine for a while. I need an intern. Any takers? I will pay in doughnuts. Why is doughnuts spelled like that?

This last month has been filled with a few major milestones. Most of them aren’t mine, but in the absence of personal excitement, the achievements of those in my inner circle are close enough–plus it’s something to tell other people. Like someone will say Whats new Mary? And instead of saying Um, nothing. I say Not much, but my childhood best friend had a baby! See how that works?

My childhood best friend had a baby. For real! It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around it, not because she’s the first of my friends to start a family. But because we’ve just been friends for so long, since we were babies in fact. We still laugh at jokes from when we were five! Sometimes I feel so young around her–I guess the kid in me comes out. Now she has one! A beautiful, alert, amazing little daughter. It’s all very exciting. I’ve decided that I’d like her to call me “Ont Viv” (what Will called his aunt in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire) I find it fitting, and if she has half the sense of humor of her mom, she will appreciate the spirit of this name. Of course, just like a milestone birthday, this big thing happened, and yet it’s not that different. Kaitlin and I are still the laughing, weird, sister-friends we’ve always been, except now there is a tiny little girl sleeping in the corner while we talk. Funny how everything changes, but the middle stays the same. Welcome to the world Bernadette Jane! Love, Ont Viv.

My other best friend, Dr. Emils, got married a week later. I was a bridesmaid: score! A Southern girl and a guy from Amsterdam equaled a classic New Orleans wedding with a dash of Dutch. Nice. Two days of wedding festivities and a crawfish boil led up to the ceremony at sunset, on probably the best day of weather New Orleans has had all year. Everything was perfect and she made such a beaming, beautiful bride. It was a happy, lively experience to be a part of and filled with a lot of love. All topped off with a long second-line led by a classic Nola brass band singing all the greats, including When the Saints Go Marching In. Weddings are the best. No, New Orleans weddings are the best. If you ever get the chance, go! I’m really happy for my friend, mostly because I could tell how incredibly happy they were together.

I’m also the last single girl on the planet. Sweet.

Engaging in a two day wedding weekend is a rare chance for me to see old friends, to be around people my age, to have a reason to dress up–or get dressed at all, for that matter. It’s not often that I get to do things like this. Not often I get to be 32. My life consists of a lot of solitude, which I like, but it’s always nice to get a glimpse of life outside the farm. If anything I live more like a 90-year-old dog lady, so I try to soak up every moment of acting 32. It’s tricky too, because I know that participating in things like this are not without consequence. Acting my own age comes with a price tag, so every time I decide to do it, I’m making a silent agreement. No one really knows the gravity of decisions like this. Or what’s involved in just showing up, or how  I’ll pay for it all later. The choice is so much more encompassing than just deciding to attend a party. I swear I don’t write this out of some martyr, woe-is-me mentality. It just struck me as I was swiping through photos of the big day, which was a really fun day–that it makes perfect sense why so many people misunderstand the illness. They don’t know the weight and preparation and consequence of partaking in something normal, like being a bridesmaid in a wedding. How could they? All they see is this:

unnamed
I did.

They couldn’t know how much time and tedious planning went on beforehand, including scheduling when I would bathe, to ensure there’d be enough time for rest between that and the next event. They couldn’t feel the certain amount of pain you just have to bare through things like this. They don’t see the plethora of medicine necessary to endure standing and socializing and lasting through a night. And they’d probably never consider such things, like a bath, or socializing, as exertion in the first place–As something that counts against you in your fight to keep strain at an absolute minimum. And that is almost always the goal. It’s obnoxious even to me, as I write it now. The strange reality of living with this thing. The exhaustive necessities involved in even small things. You’re always calculating how much every little thing will cost you, always trying to save up if you’ve got somewhere to be. But what really struck me is that nobody sees what the pricetag actually looks like. That’s because the pricetag comes later. They don’t see the subsequent week or weeks of recovery that follows at home. Which can look a little like this…

waiting
Poor Monty

When I thought about the outward appearance of illness, the timeline of how it plays out, what I show to people when I’m out and what goes on at home–I realized not only how easy it would be to get the wrong idea about the disease, but also how I might play a part in misrepresenting its reality.

For one thing, I want to emphasize that the reason I am able to even show up and participate in a wedding is because I’m currently at a functional-enough level to pull it off. There is a spectrum to the disease, there is waxing and waning, and there have certainly been times throughout the last 6 years when I wouldn’t have been able to stand at the alter. Even so, being “functional-enough” still means tedious logistical preparation, and a two-week long crash as a result. So, I’m still miles from where I once was, or should be. But many others are bound to their homes, many are bound to their beds, and we are all suffering with the same disease. I realize that people may see me when I’m in public and just not “buy” that I could be sick. And I see why this misperception persists.

But I also think that often we assign too much power to labels, and we attach our personal version or image of what “sick” should look like, and those who don’t fit the bill are either doubted, ignored, or assumed sick “in their heads.” We should all consider the many forms that ‘sick’ takes, and acknowledge that even terminally or chronically sick people don’t look sick at all times. No one would’ve guessed my dad had cancer, and that guy was dying! Looks are deceiving, and this immediate tendency to mistrust what we don’t immediately see or understand results in a basic lack of humanity. I am probably at my most functional that I’ve been since 2012, but I still walk a very fine line. It can and does go south easily, and it still requires help from my parents, a lot of rest and recovery time, a ton of medicine and doctors, and a lot of supine time on my own. (With Monty) And I am a lucky one, for sure. I know that people who suffer with anxiety/depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, Lyme, MS, Lupus and other chronic diseases suffer with similar outer doubt and confusion because their illnesses are not always easily seen from the outside. Labels, symbols, projections; they’re all powerful things, and they’re something we should consider and adjust on the whole before we make up our minds about something we may know zilch about.

I think I feel the need to write about this because ever since I entered the world of MECFS advocacy last year, I came face-to-face with just how poorly understood the disease is, how much misinformation/pure fallacy is out there and dominating the conversation, and how many people are getting it wrong because of the name alone. (Another thing I understand, it’s a stupid stupid stupid name.) I also have to consider whether I am helping to change and fix these misperceptions or if I’m at all contributing to them; and if I am, what I can do to fix it. I thought a lot about that after the wedding while looking through such beautiful pictures from the day, from the confines of my bed, knowing I wouldn’t leave home for a while. I didn’t think critically about this before last year, but I’ve learned up-close how much these things matter. The problem of disbelief is so much larger than gossip or personal dramas. This is literally public opinion shaping policy. It’s allowing the lack of intervention on a disease affecting millions of our own and many millions more around the world. How long will we allow people to suffer? How long will we let the accountable people look the other way? The world is looking at us and our treatment of this disease, and we are totally blowing it.

As soon as we show serious interest, I know other countries will follow suit. I know we will also make important new discoveries and possible cures. For now, we are at a stalemate that is costing millions of lives and billions of dollars. It’s almost hard to believe it’s true or possible after so long. And yet, here we are…

In the last year there has been awesome and much needed support from the public. The many signatures on the petition was surprising and still continues to humble me. I should say, it was that petition with such a substantial amount of sigantures that scored me the local news spot, a meeting with the Louisiana State Director (whom I spoke with for more than two hours about mecfs) and the reason I had a follow-up with our Senator Bill Cassidy. There’s more on the horizon. I’ll write more of that later. But our fight to be recognized, pursued and funded for biomedical research has come closer than ever in the past year, and we have to keep up the momentum. To quote my mom, “The timing could not be worse.” Hah, she is right. Politically things are somewhat of a shit-storm right now, and the potential for a slashed NIH budget on the whole obviously doesn’t work in our favor. But with the recent diagnosis of my sister, the possibility of backtracking our earned success, I have a renewed fire to fight and faith in myself, the advocates, the public, and the system, and an unrelenting hope that we can and will fix this. The timing might be terrible, and yet the truth is, there’s no better time for change than right now.

There are so many people in the advocacy arena who are doing big things–as for me I will continue to campaign for awareness in all ways I can think of, and restart petitioning for signatures. But I think possibly the most powerful voice is that of the public– not from those who are sick, but from those simply who see the injustice that’s happening. That’s who we need to hear more from, and seeing the amount of healthy people who have signed the petition already restores my faith in people all over the world will come together and make this happen. Thank you all again. Here’s to the next 40,000…

Health, Happiness, Fire

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That Year the Universe Sh*t On My Family: A Six Part Series

Part 1: No Big Deal

There is no shortage of platitudes and sayings, bumper stickers or posters inside of cutesy frames meant to remind us how fragile life is. How fleeting. How fast it can all go upside down. How fast it can all go, altogether. Live Life to the Fullest, You Never Know How Many Tomorrows You Have Left. I hate this phrase, and I can’t totally say why. A cliché, true, but I can deal with clichés. I even love them sometimes. It might be that I see this and similar phrases on decorative pillows in Stein Mart, on picture frames holding happy photos, etched onto a wooden clock piece in my doctors waiting room, but I rarely confront people who actually seem to live this way. Except Monty of course- he does everything to the fullest. At that doctors’ office with the clock, for instance, the women at the front desk are really mean. All 3 of them, mean. True story. It seems like people who are conscious of how devastatingly short our time is here wouldn’t be so mean, particularly to sick people. But hey, maybe their boss is a jerk. Or they’re having a hard day. Or how about Hey, there are a lot of good excuses to be really mean. Doesn’t mean you have to be. 

I know, I’m writing as though I live this way and sadly I don’t. I forget all the time. I let petty things get to me, forget to be appreciative, or simply fail to treasure the life I’ve been given. Nobody gets away with a pain-free life. It wasn’t a part of the contract that we’d come here and it would be easy. That it wouldn’t hurt sometimes. But you know what other phrase I like? Don’t waste pain. What an auspicious, novel idea it is, to see pain not as a punishment but simply as part of the program. A piece to the puzzle, the plan. It doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, but maybe it doesn’t have to be so bad. In hindsight, it’s been the more painful and tough experiences that have taught me the most, made me dig deeper for purpose, made me kinder, more aware, grateful, better. It’s not that they aren’t terrible experiences sometimes, because damn, sometimes When It Rains It Pours. But what can you do other than pick up the pieces and keep going? If you’ve suffered a long time, you might as well redeem the coupon and see what’s on the other side of it. If it’s more suffering well, maybe you’re missing something. Or maybe you’re cursed. Either way, at least you have experience, so you’ll know how to do it. “I’m really good at suffering.” I should put that on my resume.

It’s easy to feel sometimes like you’re getting an unfair deal. And you probably are. I confront stories and realities everyday that are gut wrenching, heartbreaking, and nearly impossible to explain. Watch five minutes of the news, explain that. But I’ve also encountered stories and people who have suffered immensely, endured incredible pain,  and emerged as better people for it. They didn’t just survive their experience, their loss, but actually came out happier than they were before-not bitter. Fair or unfair, they kept going. And it’s almost a miracle to observe what some people have faced in one lifetime and not given up in the process. These people are generally pretty awesome, and hearing their stories are encouraging and important. Maybe their stories should make the news more often.

Anyway, this one year, two thousand and shit, I mean six, 2006, was a really tough one. For every member of my family, life roared its ugly head, respectively. But we survived it and it’s encouraging to remember that, particularly when it’s pouring. I also find it hilariously tragic, if that’s an acceptable phrase. Our lives did turn upside down, but we emerged standing. OK I emerged sitting but the rest of them, standing strong. So, here is our story, in six parts, of the year the Gelpi’s were shit on collectively. Just remember, it all ended up OK, even though at times it felt definitely not OK. Maybe that’s the cliché platitude to take away from that year. Everything is OK, even when it isn’t.

***

On a Tuesday morning in 2006, I can recall certain details with complete clarity; each of my senses awakens and remembers with a concrete ease. I am brushing my teeth in my college apartment surrounded by beige everything: carpet, walls, countertop. My boyfriend is watching TV on the couch waiting to give me a ride to class. Media Law 2030— my favorite course, taught by one of the best professors I’d ever have at LSU. Professor Freeman, the Man. On the first day he passed out a syllabus and guided us broadly through the timeline we’d follow through the semester. In bolded font halfway down page 1 it read: If you are going to miss any day of class this semester, make sure it’s NOT February 6th. It was February 6th.

I can taste the mintiness of that toothpaste still– I’m tapping the toothbrush on the rim of the sink, releasing the excess water. When my phone buzzes in my back pocket, I see “home” on the screen and think twice about answering. I know that conversations with my mom were often pretty long, so I consider waiting to answer it; call her back after class when you’ll have more time. But that thought quickly vanished and I pick up instead. On the other end, a very weak, unfamiliar voice emits from the phone–a voice that I know belongs to my mom yet sounds nothing like her. Mary? Shit. She could barely get my name out. I was standing by the bed now, looking at the ridiculously bright orange of my duvet; I’d bought it at Target because it seemed like happy bedding. Mom? I couldn’t know what she would say next, but hearing just one word in that crushed voice, I brace myself for the verbal equivalent of a car accident– that moment after the screeching breaks, just before the collision. Through palpable pain and shock, the words emerge just above a whisper. Roger died last night. …Crash…

Roger was my stepdad, my moms second husband. My dad had died of cancer when I was 12, and despite whole heartedly believing she would never marry again, in walked Roger. Her second chance at love. Something called grace, I think, seeing her happy that way again. Roger was the reassuring ending I could give people when they asked where my dad lived and then grew visibly uncomfortable hearing the answer. I’m sorry they would say, and I knew that they meant it and this was the standard response, but somehow its never quite felt right to me. Unfitting. Square peg in a round hole kind of thing. It’s OK, I’d comfort them. She fell in love and is remarried. She’s really happy. They’d loosen up, their shoulders would relax. I’d make some joke to break the tension. Better. It was OK.

What my mom was telling me didn’t completely register– it didn’t feel possible. That exceptionally human thought circulated: This was not supposed to happen. And yet in the same instant, something deep within, the intuitive part that knows things but not through cognition, knew with an aching certainty that it was true. Of course it was possible. These things happen everyday, except that they happened to other people, not to us. Four little words, nothing the same.

Goodbye It’s OK. Hellooooo cruel world!

I can’t remember if I sat on the bed or stayed standing, but I remember that orange of my duvet suddenly taking on a very harsh shade. A ridiculous color. I momentarily gasped for air and caught my breath. What? But I heard her, I knew what. You just figure, we already lost a husband/father, we should be safe with this next guy, right? All at once the universe revealed its impartial nature, the lawless reality of our life here. Fair, unfair, it didn’t matter. No one got a free pass. After shock, losing it, then regaining composure all in a breath, I tell her I’m on my way. I’ll be there in an hour. I hear her lose it again. Her weak voice, now with a noticeable outer concern. Your sister is getting married in a week! The cherry on top: one week until Amelie’s wedding–the already postponed wedding thanks to Katrina–at the same venue where Roger and my mom were married less than 5 years ago. Awesome. Cool. No big deal. I’m frantically throwing random clothes into a bag that will later turn out to be socks, a sweatshirt, pajama bottoms, and zero shirts. But I try to stay steady on the phone. Don’t worry about that. Who’s with you? She tells me our neighbor and two family friends are there. Still, in the midst of basic horror, she is heartbreakingly maternal. Are you alone? Don’t drive here by yourself. I tell her I’m fine. I’ve got the dog. I’ll be there in an hour.

We havin’ fun yet? :)

By midnight I was shuttling the last of my siblings from Louis Armstrong, across that long bridge, back to our house. They came from every direction, Amelie with a wedding dress packed in her suitcase. And what did we do? What the Gelpi’s do best: weddings and funerals. Oddly enough, it’s not just logistics. Although the fact that Roger died in another state complicated things only slightly. He was in Florida on business. When he didn’t show up for work the second day, they found him in his hotel bed. Something heart-related. Tragic to say the least, although not a bad way to peace out if you’re not into long goodbyes. With my dad there was time. This sudden-death thing was a whole new ballgame. What else can you do but step up and play the best you know how.

We planned a funeral. Prepared for a wedding. And in between we crowded around my mom protectively like a pack of elephants. We would cry a lot. Give a shoulder for others to cry on. We’d allow the silence when there was nothing to say. And we’d make ridiculous and morbid jokes when we needed to laugh, which we needed a lot of. People who attempted to explain the pain away or fill the silences with quips like “Everything happens for a reason!” or “God has a plan!” weren’t invited to our epic dinners. Not because these phrases weren’t true or even inappropriate really, but because it wasn’t about fixing it. Something tragic happened and it was going to hurt. We’d have to allow that. More than anything, that week was just about being there, being together, picking up the pieces and doing what we had to. I remember my boyfriend Gabe being nervous about coming over. “I know I’m going to cry when I see your mom.” I could sense his angst. But I laughed and reassured him, “So what? That’s what we’re all doing!” And that’s just what happened; when he saw her he cried and she did too. They hugged and felt it. And it was OK. We all took turns.

Friends and family would trickle in and out, and at night we’d have these big, loud dinners. Eat, drink, and tell stories about Roger late into the night. There was crying and hugging and crying and kleenex and relived shock every time we had to tell someone. But there was also a crazy amount of joy and laughter. My brother Doug laughed so hard he cried. So many people showed up for us in many different ways–food, room and board, help with funeral, help with wedding, never asking for a dime. It was truly an intimate and precious time, and we saw how lucky we were, how much love we were surrounded by. Roger was extremely particular so we’d have to make this funeral right. And I know he would’ve approved. The service was outside in the garden that he created, around the pond he’d dug himself. Lot’s of people spoke, including my mom. I can’t remember all of what she said, but I do remember her saying “To love is to be vulnerable to loss. And I’d still do it over again.” What a badass! We grieved. We rested. Then three days later, we had a wedding.

Correction; we had an epic wedding. Once again, the same people showed up plus a bunch of Californians from Keegan’s side. They said “I Do” and the celebration of love and life continued. A beginning after an end. Conceptually these ceremonies seem opposite, but they aren’t so far apart when you drink whiskey and get philosophical. OK there are many differences, but the biggest was the insane amount of dancing we did. And that would’ve been inappropriate at the funeral. I think. ‘Appropriate’ is a hard word for the Gelpi’s to understand, but I like it that way. It means throwing out the rules and embracing the moment, doing what you have to. Talk about a cliché. That week was an intensive life course in The Show Must Go On. And I have to say, I think we aced it. You might say we Danced Like No One Was Watching. That night when I looked over and saw my mom dancing among everyone, a week after tragedy and unspeakable loss (for the second time), I knew anything was possible. A lot of people might say we had really terrible luck, and they might be right, but celebrating that night, seeing my mom dance anyway? I felt really, really lucky.

I also had this strange feeling that big things were in store for her, good things. Turns out when I have strange feelings, I’m usually right. Stay tuned! .

Health, Happiness, No Big Deal

The Thick

Blindfolded, deafened, gone for more than 30 years, I think a native could return to Louisiana in the thick of summer, depart a plane at Louis Armstrong, inhale once and know exactly where he was. Despite the cliché, there is “something in the air” here, yes mostly humidity and probably some indisputable carcinogens, but something else in that first sauna breath you take–The one that wets your lungs with tiny beads of moisture and probably all your other organs too. That first thankless inhale of steam disguised as air: it’s as distinct as the creeping surprise of the Vegas lights after endless, sleepy desert,  unmistakable as the New York City skyline, tangible as the feeling of velvet soft sand on your feet in Destin, once again–it’s always the same. Maybe there’s where the comfort lies. No one ever doubted New Orleans is one city in the country with what we’d call ‘personality’, which is rare in itself, but that you can feel this elusive, geometric charm and how quickly it engages with you, within your first breath of arrival! It’s one reason I love calling this place home. I like the certainty of knowing just where you are. It’s maybe why Percy’s The Moviegoer is so perfectly set in New Orleans (and surrounding areas) for Binx Bingsley, whose fear is being a nobody, nowhere, or anywhere. He wants to be Somebody, Somewhere. And that characters angst always resonates with me when I’m doing something so Louisiana particular. Even it’s just arriving at the airport.

This is not to say there is charm in 98 degrees with 100% humidity and a “feels like temperature of 112!” laughs the thick banged weather lady. With certainty, this place is a gym sock in the summer. I’m writing from inside a gym sock. The cicadas drone outside, another distinct assurance you are where you think you are, their shriek understandably creepy to newcomers, but I think they’re mostly carrying on about the heat, like the rest of us. There’s also the two weeks of swarming termites, and cock roaches, and mosquitos the size of so and so, but it’s all a part of the agreement of summer and survival and Louisiana. You do actually have to make sacrifice to live here, bear things other places do not and would not bear, but somehow it adds to the solidarity of being a citizen here, like you must earn it if you weren’t born in it, and if you were, you might not see any novelty in what I’m mentioning at all. Maybe it’s that I didn’t always live here, had to re-gain my Southernness that I appreciate otherwise somewhat awful things, but even awful things can be special.

The weather is usually such a boring topic of conversation–a fill in topic with people on an elevator or someone you have absolutely nothing in common with. “Gosh..it’s so hot outside.” “Oh my gosh, I know, I was just telling Jerry here that I soaked through my shirt yesterday and you could see everything!” But the heat of summer in New Orleans isn’t weather. It’s air that was once alive and now is dead. Stagnant with no mercy, demanding that you find the least amount of clothes to wear while maintaining some amount of dignity, which has always been hard to do, but comes naturally to true Southern Belles. Especially the elderly ones with the delicate hankies for their brow. The ones with the good stories, who have almost literally seen it all. Their growling, thin-lipped faces, hardly tainted by the heat, probably look at people like me and mine in our cropped, spaghetti-strap tank tops and cut off jean shorts and think “What a shame. The decay of the Southern Woman.”

While it’s true my mom and grandmother actually did walk to school in the snow, Southern women lived when donning multiple layers of clothing was basically required, even in Summer. And if that weren’t enough, they persevered without air conditioning. How? Why? How? This makes me feel like even more of a pansy than I already consider myself, which is pretty high up there on the pansy scale. I call the air stagnant now, but how can when I have the ice-cold relief of entering an air-conditioned building or house, where I then actually get cold and require my handy feather-weight Gap cardigan! How did they do it? After three summers, why didn’t they head for Cali? They must’ve seen telegraphs about 75 degree weather year round! I imagine New Orleans on a beach and think it’d be by far the greatest city of the world, but of course, Louisiana could never ‘happen’ in California. We’re mossy and swampy but formal and demure, not palm tree’d and beachy and board shorted. And yet, we live on a coast. Which is disappearing! The excitement of it all!

It’s not just the stagnancy of air, but of people. Here in the dead pit of Summer, you see them in their cars at stop lights, tired eyes squinting because despite whatever direction they’re facing the sun always seems to be in their eyes, shining at them. Yelling if it could. If you took a photo of one of these persons, and I have been this person, it would be in black and white, evoking the feelings of depression-era photographs, and the caption at the bottom would have one word: “Why?” Condemned. That’s how they look. One degree from driving off the next bridge.

My house can’t cool off during the hours of 1 and 3. The AC just can’t keep up. Monty lies on the tile and pants the entire time, not even bothering for me to play with him because neither of our bodies could withstand the exertion while being smothered by a steam shower we never asked to take. You always forget how intense this heat is. “It’s just this humidity!” any tourist will tell you. And actually most locals will too. Despite the extended Louisiana summer unfolding somewhere near to this climate for at least the last hundred years, and it’s still boasted like humidity is new to the menu. Like El Nino is just making things crazy! And yes I know, we’ve had some actual El Nino and last year was the hottest year on record. But still, the difference between 92 and 96 degrees is slightly felt when you’re out under the sun. Even the Wal-Greens clerk reminds me, “Try to stay cool!” and I answer the same thing every time, feeling like I’m out of the fifties. I’ll do my best! Then I walk self-consciously to my car thinking how stupid a response that was.

Have we been commenting on the heat for the last 127 years? It’s possible. Nothing wrong with recurring conversation topics that survive the decades. I guess I’d rather not get into politics with the Walgreens clerk as I’m buying deodorant and Head and Shoulders. And why do I care anyway? This is just turning ironic because now I’ve written 1500 words on a subject I am questioning the very interest of and expecting somebody to read and find this interesting! Oh jeez. We’ve gone meta. Anyway.

I used to think Summer weather here was basically miserable, except that it provided an atmosphere appropriate for swimming, nearly required for swimming, which I have always loved. But I’ve come to appreciate it in new ways for a few possible reasons. One is probably because I’ve been feeling better, and when I think of the Winter, how I was sick and stuck indoors, cold with no recreation, I’m just glad it’s here– in all its steamy, hot-breathed glory. Whenever I return from a trip and step outside the airport, the first breath is almost the opposite of one. First you lose it, then you breath it back in, and this misty breath will always evoke home to me, and I feel grateful for the oxygenated relic. Maybe because I know or assume it will always be there- June through September at least- and it’s something you have to tough out. You don’t get to stay and party for free. Lot’s of people will come and go, speak about intolerable heat with good reason. And that makes me like it more. You know you have a clan of people who you’ll endure this heat with for four months, as though heat itself were some sort of natural disaster. And there’s a communal, club-like feeling to this. OK clearly I’m reaching. It’s not special, I know. For God’s sake, I’m talking about breathing air! I’ve just never encountered the immediate, difficult, distinctive Louisiana air anywhere else, or anything close to it. Louisiana has its own texture and smell and density, the tension of our past/present invigorates it as much as the coming summer storms. It’s all in there. I don’t have the answer for how. But Gary Zuckav says that the Universe is alive. He says there is an “earth consciousness that guides the cycle of life.” When I think of the ocean and all its functions and how it knows to operate certain ways, these words make perfect sense. At the airport breathing, (gasping) sensing something more than air, waiting for my ride, I hear his words with perfect clarity.

Health, Happiness, Heat
And this humidity!!

Holiday Hangover

January 5th! That means I survived. And you survived. Now it’s 2015 and the recovery begins. A lot of things begin.

I’ve always been an annoyingly enthusiastic Holiday person, and I begin playing Christmas music and watching Elf on repeat the day after Thanksgiving basically until someone stops me. When I was a kid it meant presents and a much-needed break from school. In my OLD AGE it means reuniting with a family that live across four different states the whole year, save for one week in December. A week where we all fight for my moms attention with either boasts or ailments and both seem to do the trick: Mom did you see this article I was mentioned in? Hey mom does this mole look cancerous to you? Should I see a doctor? Is this scabies? We always engage in some sort of game whether it’s cards or Scrabble or Monopoly, and typically it ends in either a tiresome debate about rules until someone gives in or an all-out wrestling match if it’s late and there’s drinking involved. Usually one Gelpi ends up in the hospital– not because of wrestling but because we are a weak, weak gene pool of humanity and besides our humor we all share malfunctioning bodies, respectively. I’m not the only one! This year it was Nick, but he’s OK for the most part.

Making and carrying out a plan with our family during the Holidays is like a hybrid game of Guess? and Sorry! We aren’t on time, we aren’t organized, and worst of all, we laugh when things go wrong. It’s just our nature. I think once you witness enough tragedies in life you to learn to laugh, even during stressful times. Maybe especially during stressful times; a defense mechanism of sorts. My brother Doug is best at this. Any time things get tense, Doug is usually laughing or doing something so ridiculous that few of us can keep a straight face. Like subjecting someone to a Dutch Oven while laughing hysterically loud even though it’s TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE. Or in this case, playing the original Tetrus music by ear on Harlow’s cat piano.

He's single ladies...
He’s single ladies…

Anyway, a major exception should be mentioned here, and that is my sister, Amelie. Amelie is structured, on-time, and enjoys making plans and sticking to them. Was this a gene she was awarded that the rest of us missed out on? Maybe. Unfortunately her orderly ways and reliability only go so far. Trying to gather the lot of us in one location in a timely fashion is like herding cats, high on gasoline. But she does her best. Let’s just say the phrase “You guys are seriously ruining Christmas!!!!” is uttered more than once during our stay. But eventually we all arrive, end up at one table, and celebrate the way we always have; with food, drink, laughter and gratitude.

Correction, Christmas has NOT been ruined.
Correction, Christmas has NOT been ruined.

We’re lucky to have the hosts we do. They treat and feed us very well despite our chronic tardiness and lack of organization. Experiencing the Gelpi crew back together under one roof is a recurring novelty for me, and I never expect it to get old. Not unlike those baby dolls I used to ask Santa for every year as a kid; the ones that pissed in their pants and could digest plastic food.

Given how loud this year was, it’s hard to imagine that there will be two new babies added to the mix by the next one. But the more the merrier I say. Can’t have enough kids at Christmas.

Harlow, slightly overwhelmed
Harlow, only slightly overwhelmed Christmas morning. 

I promised myself this year I would not stay home for New Years Eve. For too many years I’ve either celebrated with my parents or gone to bed at 10:30 and woken up groggy to a new year without anything to commemorate it. I’m well aware that NYE is often overhyped and ends up in broken plans and separating from the group and yada yada yada. I guess since getting sick and falling off the social grid, I’ve craved dressing up and celebrating in some way at least with people of a similar generation. So this year I made it happen. My friend Merric and I wore pretty dresses, attended random venues and saw fireworks at midnight. I had zero expectations for the night, which quickly reminded me what a total recipe for fun that equals. No expectations means no letdowns, and it made all the incidental places we ended up in feel perfect: an uptown house party, a hole in the wall bar in the Marigny, fireworks on the river, and reuniting with an old friend on Royal Street at 2:30 am.

Walking down Canal street at that hour, I felt totally alive. I walked a zig-zag path having to cross the street to dodge what looked like trouble or some drunken leftover heading my way that I had no intention of interacting with. Still, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Among the noise and strangers yelling about a better year to come, I felt my ‘place’, like I fit somehow. I felt on the inside. I don’t know if it was them, or me, or the French Quarter at night, but in that moment I felt real optimism for the upcoming year. I felt complete gratitude to be alive and forgot about whatever circumstances I’d deemed crappy before. I guess for the first time in a long time, I felt my own age, and realized how nice it is to feel that way. I made friends, I made a fool of myself, and I probably made some mistakes. But they were mine. I was out in the world that I’m often only looking out at through a window. And that, for me, made for a perfect New Years Eve.

party.
party.
Hole in the Wall
Hole in the Wall
Living Room.
New Orleans Living Room.
Lilly.
Lilly.

Now, back to recovery. And no regrets!

Health, Happiness, Holidays.

Jumping Off.

I’m never up at this hour. But at roughly 6:40 am as I drove across Lake Ponchartrain, one of only a few lonely cars on the 24 mile bridge, it struck me just how sacred the early mornings are. Of course over water, there are no distinct markers of distance traveled besides mile markers on land, but somehow over uninterrupted waves there were these distinct and momentary glimpses into the context of my life where all the working pieces fit together. The sense, however fleeting, had me second guessing my entire history as a bona-fide night person. Maybe there’s something to these early morning hours where people are drifting into the routine of their day or into the hangover of their night, and in the middle is me, not exactly doing either, but finding my place still–stumbling on a whole in lieu of constant and incompatible parts.

Yesterday I attended JazzFest and I remember walking around in no known direction, attempting to find a group of my friends, which is almost a miracle if achieved in such a clusterfuck of a public arena, and this thought kept trying to get a hold of me. “What am I doing? I have no business being here.” Over and over that thought, with every wrong turn and mistaken identity. What a sad thought! I couldn’t pinpoint the origin of it, but it probably had roots in my mostly confined and solitary past over a few years. And now sticking my head out, landing clumsily in the middle of the public world that not only didn’t stop while I was “out sick”, it also didn’t slow down at all either. And that continued, irreverent, incessant flow of time in one direction only all of the sudden felt very real and a little unnerving too. But I walked on. It’d be a lie to say I felt any confidence at all then, taking in every type of person of every age and origin.And even though none of them looked truly happy to me, none of them had a life that I felt cheated by not having, I was still odd man out.  I started to wonder if I had real friends at all that I’d find. Maybe I had imagined them up in a fantasy of my mind, and I’d walk tirelessly never bumping into them because there was no them to bump into. But I walked on. I pretended some of those thoughts didn’t exist. Maybe more, I just didn’t take them very seriously. I’d feel the sun burning my shoulders and I’d affirm that more likely than not I’d find my friends, I’d engage in young adult behavior, and feel a little better about my place in reality.

After 45 minutes of circles and flags and strangers, I watched a really drunk boy hoisted up by his friends, being dragged with his lifeless converse trailing under him leaving shallow lines in the dirt, the unfamiliar sights were piling up, and even I started to feel like a stranger there. But then– something familiar. Emily’s ponytail. Someone. People. Friends. They existed, and I was not yet proven insane. In that moment those thoughts I had didn’t carry any weight at all. Whether I found my friends or not had nothing to do with belonging in all honesty. Separateness is just a construct of ego and I know that, but it can stab you anyway. I knew that afternoon I could’ve really used some friends. And there they were and there I was. I belonged. I knew those thoughts were shit. Time to keep on living. Time to have fun now. Time to participate in the onward direction of time, and  attach to some other thought that experience will most likely prove wrong.

Maybe I should’ve mentioned it earlier, but I’ve never really been a live music person. Which makes me feel incredibly lame mostly. Just like I’m also not really into The Lord of the Rings. True “outsider” feelings emerge in me when this is brought up in public, and I feel like there’s some joke I’m just not getting. What is there to say about it? To each his own. Anyway, at every live music event I’ve attended, I find myself gazing off lost in observational mode of the people enjoying the music, instead of intrinsically enjoying the music myself. I can’t help it. There’s always some woman on the borderline of being “too old to be there” on some drug that’s a little too young for her to be doing, and I can’t help but watch her, dance carelessly, body parts hanging out, not giving a shit about what etiquette she’s breaking. Then I at once sympathize for her but also want to be her, because she is losing herself in something enjoyable, and she’s alone, and I’m the creeper at the concert not dancing but staring wide-eyed and blinking very slowly. I dated one of those music junkie type of guys for two years. He had an impressive collection of bands that you never heard of on his ipod and was always discovering music years before it became popular. (I on the other hand got my music from Apple Product commercials) He flew all over the country to catch his favorite bands at different venues. Sometimes with friends and sometimes alone and it was this small gap between us because this passion he fell off his seat for was somewhere that I just didn’t fit. And this schism in us always interested me, because at concerts we’d share a joint and then even more I’d separate from the setting and lose myself in the detach-and-detect humanity mode. He was good about keeping me down to earth and assuring me that dancing like an idiot was fine and encouraged, and that no, that guy next to me was not about to die from sensory overload regardless of what his face and body movements suggested. But there was always some wall with me at those shindigs. I could never really figure it out. Ultimately the relationship ended, and I wondered how much, if any, this disconnect had to do with it. Maybe nothing at all. Maybe a whole lot.

It’s funny how discovering clarity leaves with you so much to know still. My goal this year has been to find clarity of any kind, certainty of any measure. Because both of these things lack hugely in my personal life and it wares on me daily. It’d be nice to make a decision and know it to be right, or know anything at all for that matter and trust it to be true. But even with this goal in the forefront of my consciousness, it has still been incredibly hard, and so far, I’m yet to find either. I’m guessing the more things I pursue where the end is uncertain and there are no guarantees will help me to eventually get there, or in the general ball park. On the bridge this morning, the unceasing rhythm of a road bump every 1.5 seconds, I glimpsed certainty. I glimpsed knowing something at all, and it felt very good. But I don’t know if it’s possible to exist in this dimension full-time. At least half of life seems to rely on not knowing but jumping off anyway. Maybe love, happiness, success, peace..are all the outcomes of great risk and great faith. All anyone can do is make their best bet and go for it. Maybe once we let go of knowing anything for sure, the way I walked in endless circles yesterday, the way those waves went in no direction this morning, is how we find the happy end, whether we knew we would or could or not.

Health, Happiness, Walking On, Jumping Off.

Colby's Apartment
Colby’s Apartment