March 31, 2011


Yesterday I had lunch with a group of friends. Its one of those groups that's a mishmash of: I'm friends with her and that lady is one of her friends so now we're all sorta friends as we end up in the same groups doing things together. Which is fine. Which is always an indicator that it isn't really fine. Fine.

In this particular group is a woman whom I like. She's funny and interesting and independent. However, I get the feeling she doesn't like me. Which is....fine. Its one of those funny situations where I like her enough to not care that she doesn't care for me. Is that odd? I don't expect us to be great friends or really even friends. Acquaintances is fine (ha! "fine"). And this all sounds disjointed so here's a little background.

In this world of expat living, I meet new people (women) all the time. And, frankly, there is that little litmus paper test of "do we click or not?" I don't expect to click with every woman I meet and I don't have to in order to have a good time. Mostly, I'm hoping to meet people with whom to go to lunch, have interesting conversations, hike, play tennis, commiserate about the weather, family, visitors, etc. If I was to meet a new friend with whom I really clicked, that would be an added bonus. And I have met a friend like that! So, yay me. Most women, though, fall into the "hey, great to see you, see you again soon" sort of catagory. Including this woman above.

She is friends with people that I am friends with, however, due to whatever circumstances, has actually done more with this group than I have, thus making them closer. So, where they see each other every week, at least once a week, I see these folks almost on accident or only every few weeks, maybe. Where once I was an insider, I'm now a bit of an outsider. In my real world, I wouldn't really care. But in expat world, where I am trying to build a life and find my place, it feels a bit like 7th grade. Awkward and confusing. So odd to be doing this at the age of 47! I worry I'll still be like this at 77. "Does she like me? Will she care if I move my wheelchair closer to hers? Will they let me play gin rummy with them in the Common Room?" Bah!

Where was I? Okay, we have lunch. She's fine, I'm fine, we all talk and laugh and do the usual commiserating and planning for future get togethers. We exit - four of us - and now - 2 of the women who I would say were my "original" friends hug this woman goodbye - see you soon (tomorrow, in fact! Yay!) and each kinda pat me on the shoulder saying, okay - until next time (whenever that might be). Then this woman is ready to go the opposite direction and looks at me and I can see the struggle on her face. She's just hugged these other two goodbye, so now should she hug me goodbye? And she looks to see any sign that I'm going to hug her. And I watch her face as she goes through all the emotions of, "I don't feel the need to hug this person, we're not close, but I've just hugged these other two women and if I don't hug her how will it look? I guess I'll hug her just to be socially not-awkward..."  And I almost say to her, "Hey - we don't have to hug - its fine." (And these hugs are those little shoulder things you do that's friendlier than shaking hands). But she's decided to hug and so I give her a little hug back and she's on her way.

And I have to kinda laugh at the moment. I would totally hug this person! I like her! But her reticence about liking me or whatever the issue is, means it will always be a little awkward - the greeting and the departing. I have to say - I'm not a big hugger - but when the mood strikes and I'm happy - I'll hug anyone. Its a bit unpredictable, but predictable enough to say that physical contact with most people isn't necessary for me. I do have friends with whom I participate in bone crushing hugs! We kiss and hug and swing from side to side. That would be all of one friend.

I remember a woman who was a family member of an ex-in-law. This woman's hugs were so ferocious that we literally tried to avoid her - she'd grab you by the back of the neck and wrench you in good and hard for full body contact. She'd have a big smile on her face, kiss your cheek, and love love love you! Sensory overload in 3...2...1..

I might write a book on hugging etiquette. When, where, how much body contact, when to advance from handshake to hugging, people who hug even on the first introduction to people who don't ever want to hug, hugging on Facebook and in emails. It would be a coffee table book or in-the-basket-by-the-toilet book. I would interview people about their thoughts on hugging and how they determine who they will hug and if they ever feel pressured to hug someone, or if they hug because its socially expected. Which is, you know, fine.

March 28, 2011

Is It the Wine?

I had a panic attack tonight at a volunteer meeting. Of all things. How much less stress can there be at a meeting than one where you are there, voluntarily about something that is strictly voluntary? Oy.

So, because I am free to dance naked on this blog, I will attempt to outline my day and my thoughts in order to start recording these maddening events in hopes of tracing exactly why they happen.

First. I am a 47 (nearly 48) year old woman who is experiencing hormonal fluctuations. Ahem. I have had panic attacks all of my life. In the past they have happened in the middle of the night. I know! Pounding heart, nausea, sweats... I don't even know how often they happened - once a month? I never tied it to my p. before so that could have been! Hmmmm...... 

Anyway, I think I had a major one before moving from Athens, while still living in my little house. I was at work and suddenly felt ill. Very ill. I thought I was coming down with the flu but not exactly the flu. Its very difficult to describe but I literally felt like I was going to just fall over and....? Then what? I couldn't imagine! I don't know. I didn't stop walking until I got to my door. I vegged on the couch and eventually felt fine!

Now in HK, they happen at all times of the day and night. A cold, clammy feeling comes over me. I feel nauseous, closed in, panicky (hahahaha!). Anxious, weirded out, dizzy, out of place. So much fun! I have my little "tricks of the trade" as I call them. If I am on the MTR, I pull out my phone and time the distance between stops. I play games on my iPhone. I read emails and text messages. Anything that is simple and feels natural. If I am at a dinner party, that's a little more complicated! I might try to drink water, focus on the conversation, tell myself to relax and wait it out. One time I really believed I had to leave. HAD TO. But my husband was having fun and talking with other people, and I didn't want to upend everything because of this "fake" thing. I waited it out and eventually, I felt fine. That night as well as tonight, I had a glass of wine. But! I had wine last night at Grappa's at the airport, knowing I was coming home alone on the MTR. No problem! No panic, no dizziness.

Tonight's episode: I'm sitting in an office space, about the size of my living room - so not tiny, but comfortable. There are seven of us sitting around a table. Not squished in, lots of leg and elbow room. There is wine on the table, potato chips, chocolate and cookies. I eat a few single chips, one cookie and two pieces of chocolate. (I also had a large Diet Coke earlier in the day with a late lunch of steamed dumplings, and 2 Reese's pieces.) I have a small, very small! glass of wine. We are talking, everything is amiable, and suddenly I have this little hot flash. I check around the room and others have a little glistening going on as well, so I know it is warm in the room. But then I feel a little dizzy and that's all it takes. I slide down hill fast. My hands get sweaty, I feel the panic rising, I think I might faint or just fall down. I believe I can't even make it to the door. I wonder what people will think or do when I stand up and then crumple, with no explanation. I feel that if I do fall down, I will be paralyzed. Just frozen on the ground and I won't be able to get up and leave. So, now I start to worry about how to get out of the room without making a scene: throwing up, fainting to the ground, dying. Then I realize I'm having a panic attack. I try to calm myself down: I put gum in my mouth, I pretend to check text messages. I see its nearly seven o'clock so I think, if I can't get control, I have been here for an hour, I can use the "somewhere else to be" excuse. I focus on the conversation, feel my stomach turning, time is running out. Something bad is going to happen and it will happen when I try to walk to the door. I give in, signal to the meeting coordinator by tapping my wrist that I have to head out, she smiles understandingly, other people nod their consent, I pick up my jacket and purse and get out the door. I don't stop, though, because this is a small reprieve. I make it down the elevator, down the street and turn onto the main street. Another wave of panic hits again and I debate about taking a cab - I only need to get home and I know I'll be fine. No! I won't take a cab....better not to be stuck in the cab when I throw up, faint, die, etc.  I'll walk, go slow, enjoy the evening air...except now I can't imagine I can walk all the way home. I give in and go to the MTR station which, oddly, seems safe and familiar. I ride one stop, exit and by the time I reach street level again, all is normal. Completely, happily normal. I walk up the hill and stairs to my building. In the door (yay!), up the elevator and into my apartment.

Huh! I'm hungry! What's on television? Washing machine is humming, cats are disdainfully interested in my arrival, and all is well. So, some residual feelings as I type this out and replay my thoughts/feelings. My husband has said, "Why don't you tell me when its happening? I can help you." You know what's funny? I don't know what would happen if I admitted to a panic attack in the middle of a panic attack! I think I might start crying or throwing up or fainting or die.

The other thing I'm supposed to think about is what I was thinking or doing before the P.A. Everything was fine at the volunteer meeting, but before that, I had gotten my hair done along with a manicure and pedicure. The husband says our money is "fine," but I do know that we're just starting to turn a financial corner so I felt slightly guilty for getting the extras (mani/pedi). When I went to pay, the credit card was declined and I was not embarrassed or concerned really, but I did write Mr. Veronica a kinda nasty email. I don't even know why I did it. I knew we had the money. I knew everything was fine. I just had to push a couple of buttons. So, I was guilty about the mani/pedi and then guilty about being mean to Mr. I'm a better person than that and so madly in love with my husband that my behavior is really questionable! I knew it would make him feel bad and I did it any way.

So, a little financial stress, some guilt, a little wine and viola! Panic Attack Day!

March 27, 2011

Flash: Audrey

She swaddles the baby in a clean blanket, just as they showed her at the hospital. She whispers the instructions as she goes.

"First, fold the blanket in a triangle. Then place the baby in the center." She scoops the little bundle into the center of the blue cloth and continues.

"Then take the left corner across the baby's body and tuck it behind." Pulling the blanket across the small body, she pokes the cloth behind its' back.

She strokes one small cheek and reaches for the right corner.  "Across with the right corner, pull up and tuck behind. Now your baby feels safe and secure." A final tuck of the blue fabric and she smiles, satisfied with her work.

Making a cradle of her arms, she carries the quiet bundle to the rocking chair, and sits. To and fro they rock, a gentle reminder of the womb that acted as a swaddling cloth for those many months of one-ness. She gazes at the small face. Eyes closed, mouth a thin line, breath nothing more than a miniscule puff of air. Life, delicate and sturdy, lies in her arms.

She feels drowsy and closes her eyes.  How good this weight feels in her arms. Natural. Motherly.  The rocking slows and stops as sleep overtakes her.

The bundle shifts in her arms and she comes awake, moving through fog and sludge. She does not open her eyes but lets her hand stroke the tiny being's soft, furry face.

Furry face?

Her eyes open and bile rises in her throat. She makes herself look at the baby. Its face is indeed furry. Whiskers poke out from the triangle nose and its green/yellow eyes are narrow slits, gazing back at her.

And then she remembers. Remembers the hospital. The bright lights and pain. And the crying. And the silence. The cancerous silence that started with the baby and spread to the nurses, the doctor, her husband and then her.

She strokes the small kitten's face. She pulls it close to her cheek and lets her tears fall to the sound of the purring of a cat.

Flash: Vivien

Vivien touched the necklace at her throat. Delicate silver loops cupped turquoise droplets. It was the most expensive piece she'd ever purchased and it had been worth the wait to wear it.

She picked up the mirror at the bedside and looked at her face. It seemed softer, rounder now. Her red hair, cut in a shag, framed her face with gentle licks of ginger fire. She pushed the covers down and opened her hospital gown. 

Holding the mirror over her body, she admired her breasts. Curved, not too full, maybe not even as full as she hoped they would be, but that could be adjusted over time with  surgery.  She tenderly teased her left nipple and felt satisfied with its seductive rise between her fingers. Pushing her breasts together with her arms, Vivien admired the obvious cleavage and the way the necklace splayed across her clavicle.

She pushed the covers down further and held the mirror over her groin. Using her left thumb and forefinger, she peeled away the bandage.  The numbness had subsided, leaving a peculiar feeling of black and blue tissue below the surface. Vivien moved her legs so her feet were flat on the bed and her knees made a tent of the white sheet.  Her neck craned, she peered between her legs. Her  bulky penis and testicles had been turned into a sculpted landscape of pink smooth, mounded skin leading to her new vagina.  The beauty of its simplicity caught Vivien off guard. "I am a woman." she said aloud.  She laid down and said it again, "I am a woman."

The truth of her statement clung to her mind and made her heart pound. She put the mirror away, re-arranged her bandages and bedclothes.  Vivien turned on her side, wrapped her arms tightly around herself and whispered, "I am a woman."

Planet Scribe

Just finished an hour long Skype session with my writing group, Planet Scribe. What I love about this group:

*  we live all around the world: Ohio, Washington, Hawaii and Hong Kong
*  everyone shares their thoughts, opinions, ideas - honestly and with great humor
*  I am not intimidated by others' intelligence or my own lack of knowledge
*  I feel productive after the call
*  I could drink wine in the morning with them or mimosas, if I wanted to, and not feel or be judged

We talked about Point of View writing, which was informative. But like most good therapy sessions, the juicy stuff came out in the last 10 minutes of the conversation. I spoke about my reticence of writing too honestly on my other blog and that reticence inspiring me to start The Clothesline. R said it was the honesty of my writing that made reading the blog interesting, which made me feel better (and it is all about making myself feel better).

I can see that writing about day to day stuff is interesting but there is a fine line between interesting for the reader and the self-indulgent contemplation for the author. This blog is that fine line, I think. I like this phrase that came from the conversation: "Life is like that, you know? Sweet and bitter...its the tension of life."

I also question the idea of writing honestly under a pseudonym. How honest is that?! As one of  my online students said, "I need to make changes in babysteps." Writing honestly under "Veronica" while writing guarded under my real name. Actually, that sounds about right as my big life lesson is about how I routinely worry about having others' approval. That's dwindled somewhat. And as R, ever-wise and all-knowing, pointed out - we are different people to different people. I don't tell everyone everything all the time - kinda. I might do that. I think I'm looking for connections between things - things in my life, people in my life. Putting the puzzle together as I learn more about myself and what I'm capable of accomplishing or ignoring.

Good work, Planet Scribe. 

A Brief Explanation

Any time I read a new blog that is of particular interest to me, I search the site for the "inaugural" posting - something that tells me what first inspired the person to start that particular blog. Here is my reason: I've written a couple of different blogs. All have gone by the wayside for some reason, and no doubt, this one will as well.

This blog, however, is different from the others in that it is not for work and it is not an update on living in Hong Kong; its purely for my own amusement and any one else who stumbles upon it and finds something of interest in my writings. I don't want to edit my thoughts or wonder if what I write is of interest to others. I want to write, unencumbered, by my own internal proofreader or external boogeymen and/or boogeywomen.

Happy March 27, 2011.