Four Years of Mondays is the title of my bestselling coffee table book to be published in 2019 by Phaidon. It’s a book about grinding it out, year after year, in a photographic form. From Slovenia to San Diego, all of us contend with Mondays.
I don’t work in a 50-person office. I don’t have NASA demanding I perform hardcore astrophysics to rescue a dying man from Mars (see The Martian). I don’t dial conference calls or pour through case studies.
That’s because I have a “job”, not a job, which is why I have a keen fascination of other people’s jobs.
When I drop my older kids off at school, the rest of humanity whisks busily off to work. What are they rushing off to do? What is a project manager of software at Qualcomm? What does a business strategist do all day long?
Dinner party guest: “Dina, so what did you work on today?”
Dina: “I have been thinking about pyrotechnics.”
Dinner party guest: “Fireworks?”
I don’t support myself from my writing. Sure, I earn royalties. But really I am a depreciating asset. A tax write-off. Do I work? Define work.
So, then how do I spend my time? Thinking. Plotting. Printing. Reading. Imagining. Worrying. Making lists. Editing. Then, starting this process all over again.
A colleague of mine, Joe Turner Lin, from the Columbia MFA program created this poignant look at poet, Mary Jo Bang’s process of writing; it’s such a lyrical tribute to a grueling and obsessive process. Nicely done, Joe!
So, on Monday, do I write or ditch my highly disrespected “job” for something more stable like pyrotechnics?
Who designs fireworks? The career choice of middle children? What do pyrotechnics think about in the 45-seconds before they fall asleep?
Like all good professionals, they must attend a national conference. Brainstorming. Here is what I think happens at a pyrotechnic conference:
The stage ignites with fireworks. The pyrotechnician of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics tells his humbling story about launching his first horsetail explosive in his poor village. The crowd fires bottle rockets and waves sparklers.
Then, people rapidly disperse for breakout sessions of:
A little poking around, and indeed there is a pyrotechnics conference, which is very well-attended. And here are some of the actual breakout sessions offered:
I wonder: could my Mondays be about blowing Jumping Jack fireworks in a PVC pipe? My personal promise is that 2016 is my year to get a “job.” Or make a video about publishing a children’s book while shooting homemade Roman Candles from my desk.
“It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau
Some have it, some don’t.
My equinophobia began I was eight years old.
I walked hand-in-hand with my friend, Robin Moore, through her backyard woods to her grandmother’s stables.
(This, as discussed in a previous blog post, is possible because I am from Connecticut and residents of Connecticut can do things like get bored and decide to cross over a stone wall and be at a horse stable.)
Robin, my friend, told me that one of the horses was “nice to kids.” But who can you trust when you’re looking at a 1,000 pound animal and thinking about climbing onto its back?
My memories are fuzzy and blur together; however, I distinctly remember riding the so-called “friendly” horse and it started snowing. My life was a picturesque snow globe.
Right next to me in a side pen, I watched an older man train, but really, just scare a horse. He was trying to back it up. And then my memories bleed into a scene from Black Beauty.
The loud crashing and banging sounds that horses make in their stalls and their erratic movements followed by yells of: “Move to the right! They can’t see you!” filled me with terror. Not to mention, they can bite fingers clean off a hand.
Pony rides, anyone?
Growing-up, two friends of mine were “bucked” off horses. They were not seriously injured, but their parents made excuses as to why it happened. I smelled a grand cover-up…
As a child, I checked the mail at the end of my driveway and a runaway horse charged down the street towards me. I swore off the postal system then and there. The owner of the horse found me a few minutes later to ask me if I had just seen a white horse run down the street. “Why certainly,” was about all I could muster.
I never talk about being afraid of horses. I just avoid them. I can’t shake the feeling that the horses are suffering somehow. Their eyes look like trouble is brewing.
And then Rob Gallo, a literal horse-whisperer from New York and owner of Driftwood Stables (http://www.driftwoodstables.com) confirmed that horses are suffering. They are in constant fear of predators and look to you for security. They think, “When that mountain lion jumps my fence at any moment, are you going to provide protection? Tell me why I should follow you.” In so many words…
Horses were a lot more like me than I thought.
Now, cue my middle daughter’s obsession with horses.
She plays with plastic horses and ponies every day. Every week, month and birthday, she asks if she can ride a horse. I have a million excuses as to why she can’t…
After all, aren’t some horses carnivorous? Maybe those spotted ones?
Until three weeks ago when a Groupon landed in my inbox; who can say no to a deal? I bought three riding lessons at Silver Spur Stables (http://www.silverspurridingschool.com).
My husband agreed to take her to her first lesson. I attended Maia’s second horse-riding lesson. My 5-year-old learned to steer a glass-eyed horse named Fancy. I learned to control my:
Are they back from school yet?
When will they be home?
He drew it himself. I only translated…
I use restroom.
Toddler uses diaper.
Dog uses neighbor’s front yard.
Cats use my pillow to lick their junk.
Sleepy daughters watch cats use my pillow to lick their junk.
Husband asks how many people’s butts does he have to wipe in one morning?
The answer is six butts, including his own.
It’s our ten-year wedding anniversary!
That is unimportant right now.
Soon we will be swooping, and whooshing,
fluttering, and floating in flight!
Flight 364 departs.
Daughters stare at iPad.
Window shades up.
Window shades down.
Toddler crinkles a plastic cup.
I’m up in the air; the wind in my hair!
Toddler makes echo sounds into plastic cup.
Plastic cup is hurtled at unknown bald man.
I apologize to bald man.
Husband blocks other attempted cup tossed in mid-air.
Husband and I high-five.
I’m leaping. I’m bouncing.
I’m high in the sky.
Smells like poop. False alarm.
Curiously, a small man exits bathroom.
Change yelping toddler on toilet seat top.
Discover loose stool, running up his back.
Baby touches side of toilet seat and fingers a pubic hair.
Purell everything including eyeballs.
Window shades up.
Window shade down.
I am sailing and soaring, and learning to fly! I’m flittering, fluttering, floating in flight.
Give bottle of milk.
Empty bottle of milk is tossed towards a young, playful woman.
Bald man kills us with his glare.
Magazine pages torn. Magazine pages tasted.
My hair gets brushed. My hair gets pulled.
Toddler uses cell phone to call Pa-Pou.
Toddler is furious Pa-Pou doesn’t answer.
Seat belt fascinates.
I think toddler is a cross-breed between poodle and Velociraptor. A Velo-doodle.
Toddler tries to escape. No luck.
Older sister comes to play.
Toddler is ecstatic. I am ecstatic. Passengers on plane are ecstatic.
Sister bores and returns to her seat. Baby screams for her.
I give harmonica to baby. Husband is astonished. Harmonica might be most obnoxious toy on plane.
Toddler puts my shoe in his mouth. I am astonished. Might be grossest object on plane.
Toddler spills yogurt drink across husband’s lap.
Husband stands to wipe wet lap.
This displeases toddler. He wants to wipe lap.
I’m dashing. I’m diving…
Toddler expressed interest in my husband’s headphones.
He listens to Sylvan Esso.
He closes his eyes.
I close my eyes.
My husband closes his eyes.
45-minutes of b-l-i-s-s.
Four hours left on Hawaiian flight 364.
I’m toppling. I’m tumbling. I’m falling. I crashed.
And, whoopsie, my parent’s mattress is trashed.
Inspired by and adopted from the poem: “Learning to Fly” by Kenn Nesbitt from the book, The Biggest Burp Ever.
More than once, I have been told: “You are so East Coast.” Does this mean I speak too directly? Or, that I am pale? That I eat too many bagels?
I am from Connecticut and few from Southern California have a concept of what that means. What they do know is that Connecticut has four seasons and is as unremarkable a state as say, Delaware.
Being from Connecticut is not a conversation opener. When on a first date with a hot person, don’t mention you are from Connecticut, unless you want dead silence.
Putting aside the stereotypes that I wore LL Bean flannels, drove a Jeep Cherokee with a golden retriever in the backseat and went to Dunkin’ Donuts over and over, I do uphold certain Connecticut affectations:
Creepy ghost stories are ubiquitous in Connecticut. Every neighborhood has a beloved haunted house, or worse, a haunted patch of woods. Five minutes from my bedroom, just up the road was the…
“The White Lady”: a woman who wears a nightgown and bonnet and wanders along Route 59, terrifying motorists. There are countless police reports of her.
I was terrified to babysit at people’s homes that dated back to the 1800’s or worse yet, the 1700’s. There weren’t enough America’s Funniest Home Videos re-runs to pacify me on those dreaded Friday nights.
A friend and I used to play in the secret passageways behind the walls and closets in her home. Her home was altered to help slaves escape the South during the Underground Railroad.
And more than once in my hometown, a home was torn down and bones of “witches”, or Indian arrowheads or buttons from Revolutionary soldier jackets were uncovered. Creepy-central.
Although Connecticut in my opinion is gorgeous, I am relieved to not live there. My accent-less self and liberal leanings might not be in step with SoCal, but at least when it comes to ghost stories, I have a bunch. Thanks, Connecticut for scaring the bejesus out of me!
I love flies.
Swans of the fecal world.
Thousands of flies have established residency on the sticky walls of my garbage cans. Hello and welcome.
I cherish every buzz and erratic zip-zag of flight. Week after week, the miracle of complete metamorphosis occurs in my cans. My husband and I pinch ourselves-– how can we be so lucky?
We are forced to rinse and clean our cans. But those industrious buggers always return. Thank you.
Every day, flies swarm our kitchen. We love how hungry and assertive they are. How patiently they stare at us on our counter’s edge and atop our wooden cutting boards.
I say: “After you, of course,” when they land and soften my buttered, organic oat bread with their saliva and vomit. Mi casa es su casa, after all.
It’s gay fun to chase flies around our kitchen island with dampened dishtowels. I also don’t enjoy killing the flies. I never high-five my kids when I send their tiny squashed bodies across the floor. Or scream: “Die, mother f-ers, die!”
Houseflies are beautiful. Dead houseflies are less so.
The elegant combination of red eyes and black striped bodies is stunning. Odd, since Mother Nature uses glorious colors on all other insects, to think she only used gray, black and red on a housefly.
Flies look like dapper, crime bosses from the 1920’s — so well dressed in their pinstriped spats, to hand deliver tiny pieces of fecal matter and bacteria to my bowl’s edge.
We foolishly rush to close our kitchen doors or turn our power washer to high to blast the f-ers out of the air. How shortsighted of us.
Living with flies has changed me. Now, I say to the meat monger, a.k.a. the butcher at Whole Foods: “Your finest pound of grass-fed beef! No. Make that a pound and a quarter!” The extra is for my flies.
Why doesn’t anyone on Etsy make welcome mat that reads: “House guests with pathogens that cause typhoid, cholera, salmonellosis, bacillary dysentery, tuberculosis, anthrax, ophthalmia, or parasitic worms are welcome!”?
Flies are part of a larger grand plan that no one has bothered to explain to me.
Would I punch a baby panda in the face if he pooped eggs on my counter top, barfed on my food and lived in my garbage? Only on opposite day do I punch baby pandas.
To sweet, Maia, my very own tooth-child:
I love your tooth. I love your heart-shaped paper. Thank you for sharing them with me. I will take great care of your tooth forever.
I don’t have something for Samuel, but I have put in a request to bring more presents upon my next visit. I did look at his mouth tonight (and almost woke him) but I saw that he has three new teeth!! How exciting. He might be my tooth-child, but too soon to know.
Now about you, Maia! I am so proud of you. Your teeth are sparkling white and very strong. You must eat really healthy. You even smile in your sleep! I think you are very funny, too, but it’s hard to talk to you since you are asleep when I visit.
I have been busy in school in Fairyland. I learned to twirl and race at super speeds today. Do you know how to twirl in the air? My sister is really good at it. I am also learning to speak 27 languages and one of them is dog. (It’s important for fairies to communicate with animals.)
I am not allowed to take photos but I will tell you–shhh!–that I have lavender hair and pink feet. I have my big, golden white wings now as my older wings fell off because I grew so much this past year.
Maia, I send you loads of love and smiles. I hope you have a great day tomorrow with your sister, brother and parents. By the way, your home feels happy to me.
There comes a time in a married person’s life when your beloved, sexy life partner becomes a roommate. And roommates make mess.
This happened to me on Sunday.
My husband attempted to access a file labeled “taxes” and he couldn’t; misplaced extension cords jammed the cabinet. He cracked. The Earth opened wide, his head exploded and poof! He was gone.
We are not orderly people. Upholstered chairs disappear under impressive piles of discarded clothes. Loose change clogs drawers. Bookshelves droop with disorganized family photos, outdated travel guides and vintage cameras.
Is this junk? Old stuff? Cool stuff? We don’t really have the answer. What we do know is that we are calmer when things are organized.
Hence my recent self study in Feng Shui.
My course begins with these two books:
Feng Shui that Makes Sense – Easy Ways to Create a Home that FEELS as Good as it Looks by Cathleen McCandless
According to Dr. Feng and Dr. Shui, clutter is the result of a death grip on the past (and that a person is unwilling or unable to part with items.) But this doesn’t quite explain why “we” have so much crap! We’re not that sentimental. We’re just lazy.
I married someone who is cleanly, but is not orderly. He married someone less cleanly, but more orderly.
Unfortunately for us, we both lack the P-Touch labeler gene.
Being a disorganized adult makes me feel like a bad person. I will be buried in a tomb filled with loosely taped cardboard boxes. My decomposing body will rest next to piles of unwanted college textbooks, CD’s, ethernet cables and a finicky Italian toaster.
Why is there so much contempt for those of us not gifted in organization? And, why are there TV shows about hoarders and life swaps and DIY renovations? Every spare, ivory living room and stark counter top is a blow to my self-esteem.
Where did all their stuff go? Poof? Goodwill? Poof? AmVets? Poof? Ebay? Craigslist? Poof, poof?
Cluttered offices and closets don’t just happen. They evolve–unwieldy from neglect and inertia.
In defense of my chaos:
In just writing the aforementioned list, I nervously ate six Milano cookies.
Last week I started The Purge (I speak not of the campaign of political repression in the Soviet Union which occurred from 1936 to 1938, although it felt like that.) This was space clearing — the removal of physical grime, predecessor energy and clutter.
In my purge, I uncovered a short letter from my Dean at Columbia Film School apologizing to a family because I used the real name of a their deceased Dad in my short student film and I portrayed his character as dim witted. Not my greatest idea, of course.
I save this letter to show my kids that someday when they make creative leaps, they could fall flat on their ass (like I did.) I save old journals. The raw emotion of my younger self inspires me.
I thumbed through my many screenplays that lack third acts. Why is writing a third act so hard? Are you seeing a theme here? Order. Organizing. Third act structure?
I have my great grandmother’s wedding shoes from the Homeland (Greece) dating from the 1880’s. Why my relatives have kept the shoes and not a gold bangle? I keep the shoes but toss many of the items my dead, haunting relatives hoarded. I find one of my first creative fiction stories. I wrote it as a 16 year old.
Problem: I hate storage units. I vehemently oppose them. This is a $22 billion sickness blanketing America! Why pay to store junk? Jerry Seinfeld so perfectly address this issue:
Feng Shui proposes that when you give away possessions, you make room for new gifts to find their way into your life.
So, I go to it.
After a day’s work in the office, which is now bleeding into the garage, bedroom closet, laundry room closet, and kids’ closets, I thought I would sleep deeply. But I don’t.
My back is sore. Thoughts race about what to organize next. Maybe this is why I dread this task so much? Having a complete life overhaul has its drawbacks at 2am.
But I admit it: I am writing more and it is because my office is unclogged. I have climbed aboard the Feng Shui bandwagon.
But I will never know how to calculate the Eight Elements of a person’s year of birth, month, day and time and how are the Four Pillars of Destiny used in Feng Shui? For now, I will readjust my sofa into a position to create better naptimes.That’s Feng Shui for me.
When you stare at bedside monitors for hours on end, you become an expert on respiratory rate, hemoglobin counts, and oxygen saturation. Numerical differentials take on meaning that you think you can decode. But you can’t.
There were discussions about my mom’s fevers and intensive reviews of her chest CT scans. People drew sine graphs of heart rates for me. Why? I am a doctor’s wife.
I appear like I know what they are talking about. But I don’t. I just ask slightly informed questions. This is misleading, I find out.
I diagnose all my friends with various mental and physical illnesses. This, I assume, is why I have such few friends.
I absorbed medical lingo from the years of quizzing my husband for board certification tests, proofreading his submissions to medical journals and half-sleeping next to him as he directs care during middle-of-the-night calls.
So much so, that every December, I diagnose all the excessively coughing fathers, mothers and children at my kids’ school with pertussis.
When you are married to a pulmonologist and your mom has pneumonia, you earn hospital perks. Other than that, the joys of being married to someone with a grueling job are slim.
One quiet Sunday, I bought hummus and pretzels and the check out woman said to me, “My god. You are beautiful. You are Dr. Poch’s wife, yes?” Most people can show up in sweatpants to the hospital when their mom is in the ICU. I am not most people. As Dave’s wife, with all these cute ICU nurses running amok, casual wear and a make-up-less face is NOT an option.
She offered me an employee discount. She saw the pink sticker on my shirt, the one that granted permission to enter an ICU room and hoped that my Mom recovers. Then she asked her employee to wipe a table down for me because she said, “Lord only who knows what lives on those tabletops.”
“We just love your husband.”
“He is our favorite physician, if not one of our favorite physicians.”
“He is so funny.”
“He makes this place enjoyable…thankfully.”
These are some of the inflated remarks that I hear. Are they said to all spouses whose partners work 100+ hours each week?
My husband is hilarious; this is true. He is the only person in the world that makes driving to Home Depot with three children and a dog, humorous when it’s 90 degrees out and no one has napped. His expression alone will sometimes make me cry from laughing.
It’s nice to feel that the huge sacrifices Dave makes to be a doctor every single day make a difference. Dare I say it? It might be worth it. No, I didn’t say that.
I couldn’t bring three kids to the ICU and mind them and visit with my worried Dad and very sick Mom. Maybe people do that when they don’t actually know how dangerous and dirty those rooms are?
Knowing that Dave would be checking on my mom gave me great relief. And knowing the attending physician personally, also made me for once, appreciate Dave’s co-workers as dedicated people. They took so much time with me –-never rushing me, always being kind and honest.
The girls said they wanted to come with me to the hospital. This happens when this is your baby-daddy’s job is in the ICU. They have been there many times. Why? Sometimes, he wants to drive the girls to soccer but is running late.
Sometimes, your dog visits the ICU when, in the middle of the night during your daughter’s first sleepover party, your husband leaves and takes the dog with him (walking the dog with seven overtired children is daunting at 7am).
When I finally was able to visit my mom, I witnessed my Dad sitting dutifully bedside her. He watched my mom for days and nights. He listened to her. She was scared a few times the night before. He comforted her. I don’t know what I would do without my Dad. I need him to take care of my mom.
I don’t have the reserve of patience to care for her and my own children’s capricious needs at the same time.
I think often about the elasticity of the human heart. It grows to whatever size it needs to be. If you think you can’t love anymore, you do. If you think you can’t love your husband anymore, you do.
I heard my mom snap at my Dad. She said, “You’ve done your duty. Now go.” My Dad’s feelings were hurt. His response to me, when I asked him why she would say such a rude thing: “Well, sweetheart. That’s what you get after 54 years of marriage. I will be long gone, resting in peace when you and Dave have been married for 54 years. Let’s see how you speak to each other then.”
My husband witnesses a harsh reality every day. People hurting. People recovering. People being mean and acting scared. Dave lives this world.
I don’t cut him enough slack, for sure. It was a sore reminder with my Mom’s sickness, how impacting his day-to-day job is. Maybe I should make him a coffee a little more?
Note: My husband read this piece and immediately asked me if I was going to make him coffee.