Friday, February 17, 2012

One Hopeful Herbivor



I am so lucky to live in this progressive time where bright GREEN signs all point to an upswing from our country's disease riddled depression and lead to the ultimate destination of dirt and kitchen sinks. Farms and rooftop gardens where carrots, kale, tomatoes, spinach and grains are grown. Apple orchards, raspberry bushes and pear trees adorned with brimming baskets and baby teeth and fingers the color of blueberries. It is vegetables steaming on stovetops, pots of brown rice simmering, butternut squash soup steeping, and a wide bowl of crisp salad sitting. In the sunshine, my hope balances high on tight ropes made of strong veins and poised bones where one day I can stop fearing my father's prostate, heart and arteries will prematurely fail or rot and that my mother's breasts, blood and brain will knot into tumors and dementia. Hope that my sisters and brother will experience true energy, enthusiasm and open mindedness for an alternative. Hope that they will all live long lives at home and not in hospital beds. Hope for everyone throughout the world to embrace individual empowerment through healthy living. Because it doesn't matter what your culture, race, gender or genes are. What matters is how you choose to treat the vessel of your soul.   

"People are sensitive about their food choices." Scott tells me. "Don't be a preacher." He is warning me, reminding me of the last time I went vegan five years ago and began bombarding the email inboxes of my family members with films about animal cruelty.  Hidden camera footage of pigs packed in filth, chickens trampled by the cramped chaos of factory farms and cows screaming while they wait in line to have their hind legs yanked and their throats slit. If I am a preacher, then these pages are my church for I have no interest in contributing more quiet to the gluttonous greed of big American businesses crushing the ignorant citizen with addictions, misinformation and disease. 


I grab a cheddar cheese stick from the dairy drawer, husk the wrapper and chomp. I order a 6-ounce beef burger on a bun with a side salad. I pinch and peel smoked salmon flesh from its shiny cardboard and lay it across chive cream cheese on a toasted everything bagel. I grill turkey burgers and garnish them with strips of pork bacon and crumbled blue cheese. I fill my belly with three egg omelets of oily roasted red peppers, goat cheese and breakfast sausage. I gnaw on the bones of my crispy roast duck legs and spoon creamed spinach and garlic mashed potatoes into my mouth. I experience a fluctuating body weight, energy levels, butt dimples and face pimples. 

Then I am shown the documentary film, Forks Over Knives and it teaches me that the animal dependent diet is what has caused the health of our human race to plummet so considerably over the past century. The film presents irrefutable scientific and historical studies linking the consumption of meat and dairy with multiple degenerate diseases. 

The first time I went vegan it was from the book, Skinny Bitch. I was twenty-two at the time and too embarrassed by the book's title to ever tell, but I liked cutting meat and dairy from my diet. It felt good. Like I was rejecting the entrance of bad food into my body. Yet after a year and a half I quit out of guilt. I didn't want to be an inconvenience to hosts anymore, my mother in particular. "You're comin home? Awww shit, Rachey, what am I gonna feed you?" She'd say surrounded by miniature cups of strawberry banana yogurt, deli salami, and swiss cheese. "I'll be fine." I'd say, packing pita chips and peanut butter into my purse before boarding the bus for Boston. The book convinced me why I shouldn't eat animal derived foods, but I was too naive to learn how to eat nutritionally. Rice and beans, soy milk and cereal, apples and honey roasted peanut butter became my daily diet. When I gave in to scrambled eggs on Christmas morning, I felt enormous relief. I could agree with my family about food again. Scrub away that sticking point and talk about something other than Tofurkey and hummus. But I am twenty-eight now and no longer feel impulsed to agree with everyone about everything. In fact, I think to agree with the majority at this point in our health history, would be quite stupid.   

The documentary teaches me of a civil war in this country. A war between the ignorant sick citizen and the big wigs of the meat, dairy, processed food and pharmaceutical companies. The war is fought with false public announcements of big business favored food pyramids and of national advertisements asking if we've got milk and if we were aware that beef was for dinner. Years later, commercials for Lipitor, Viagra, and Slimfast litter our eyes and ears while we fight about the kabillion dollar health care bill in this country. It's a war that isn't so easily seen if looking for bullet wounds and cannon ball cavities for this battle field is across our innocent insides. At the front lines, our arteries are splitting into heart disease, prostate cancer, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue and diabetes. Our pores are impoverished from necessary nutrients due to malnutrition and dehydration from energy drinks, lattes and liters of diet soda. Our discolored skin sags and our bellies jiggle while we steer motorized carts up and down grocery store aisles, wheezing while we reach for cans of beef stew, clam chowder and boxes of Oreos. When we reach middle age, dementia begins to tangle our minds like silly string as we forget our insurance cards at the pharmacy again, our hands red with white stripes from sinking bags of orange bottles.  We're losing the war because we aren't even putting up a fight. We are literally purchasing the weapons of our enemies and pushing the barrels into our mouths because we either don't know better or because we fear change and admitting we were misled by our mothers, health professionals and by our commercialized culture.  


I'm choosing to spring from this infested environment of refined sugars, packaged obesity, inevitable arthritis, and unrelenting misery and give my body what it truly need: plants. Since my introduction to this knowledge, I feel like the world makes so much sad sense now. Standing back, I see widespread physical damage, prevalent psychological destruction and an undeniable surge in disease-related deaths. 

This enlightenment first began when I quit coffee a few weeks back and my energy skyrocketed. I stopped trying to self-medicate my mood with cups of caffeine and my reward was a real sense of self empowerment. Clarity dragged me out of my hazed state and reminded me that health is not achieved through medicine cabinet chemistry or creamed coffee, but through whole grains, vegetables, and fruit. I have been a vegan for a week now and I feel consistently energized and balanced, like I am no longer forcing my body to fight what I feed it. 



Friday, February 3, 2012

What do you tremble?

What do you tremble? Are you all afraid? 
Alas, I blame you not for you are Mortal 
and Mortal eyes cannot endure the Devil. 
Lady Anne 
King Richard III 
William Shakespeare 

Over bridges floating on fog, we drive to Brooklyn in the rain. I have spent the morning rehearsing my audition in the living room beside the glowing pellet stove where a mug of honeyed herbal tea sat steaming. I swept the floors, gathered the trash, washed the dishes and walked the dogs. I wrote a list and packed my bag. In Clinton Hill, we park the car and walk to a cafe around the corner. The sidewalks are slippery and cracked, the buildings beside them mismatching as if school children had dressed the bricks and wood, not grown men with hard hats, receding hairlines and hammers. We walk fast, an old instinct crafted while living in this city for twelve months, five and a half years ago. Suburban white kids we were with hidden maps and persistent paces. We were never not new, yet after a few months we were elbowing tourists and weaving through dense train cars as if we had been conceived in Chelsea, born in Queens and raised in Greenwich Village. 


At the cafe, we wait for our friends, Claire and Jay. I order a ginger tea, Scott a chai. They are served in pretty white porcelain cups. The cafe is lit by copper chandeliers and the day's shy sunlight who still, at 4p.m., hides behind the dime-colored clouds of the morning. A big mirror with a tarnished gold frame is mounted on the wall behind the register, a list of menu items drawn in marker at the top. The bottom reflects the barrister's bum cleavage, pressed and bolstered between his belt and the hem of his tee shirt. Beside our table, stacks of vinyl records rise, jagged. Three record players with speakers sit idle, wires plugged and wrapped like a stringy oil spill. A stanchion rope of rippling book pages and twine drapes to prevent curious, entitled fingers. After a couple hours of reading old magazines and playing Scrabble on our phones, we order a cheese plate. Purple pitted olives and navy blue figs pile in two ramekins, slices of brie, mozzarella, and jack cheeses lay like fallen dominoes, and a baguette rests on a bed of mixed greens. After I wipe away the crumbs, I sketch Scott's face onto a paper napkin with wet black ink. 


It's work just to get a haircut in this city, remember train fare. Work to lug groceries and hampered laundry. Work to pay rent. Work all the time just to pay rent. I remember. I did it once, briefly. It can make people hard, in a way. It did us. In this mighty metropolis, shields of tension began layering across our young bodies like metal molds. By spring, we were armored knights. It's survival. Don't fuck with me, you learn to show with a facial expression and the secure nature with which you walk. If from out of town originally, as many residents are, there is an undefined pressure to look like you belong.


When I worked at the grocery store in midtown years ago, a customer asked me if I was from Seattle. No, I told him, Massachusetts. You're certainly not from here, he said next, looking around to the braided, boisterous Harlem girls and Brooklyn boys who surrounded me at the other registers. I was a quiet girl. My hair dark brown, eyes blue, skin pale with pink cheeks. When I began working there a few asked if the other white girl in our department was my sister. "Hey. Y'all sistas?" Kristina was 6'2", maybe taller. She kept her yellow hair long and in an enormous mess of a nest perched at the top of her head. She wore big red glasses and strange clothes. She was a funny girl. A photography student. No, we're not sisters, I'd tell them. 


Drowning in the city's vulgar current, too proud to holler for help, too shy to show our teeth, we fled for Boston. 


Our evening in Brooklyn is spent eating out. With a scratchy throat threatening a full body invasion, I don't order wine. Instead I keep the model/waitress repetitively retrieving the water pitcher. Years ago, I would have drunk less to prevent such a pretty person from working so hard for me, but I've since lost the desire to disappear beneath pressed white linen, silver candlesticks and extravagant tips. 


That night, we sleep on a slowly deflating air mattress, while the steam heat resembles river rapids and the bellows of Brooklyn blow in from the open window behind our heads. At 6:30a.m., I hear four horn beeps, a pause, then "shut the fuck up!", then another horn beep, then "fuck you!" The exchange makes me smile as I read encouraging phone messages for my morning ahead. At 7:30, I roll onto the floor and gather my brown polka dotted dress, my olive green tights and my tall leather boots. In the bathroom, I wash and dress. When ready, I walk out. Scott gazes up from where he lays across the pink velvet couch. I tell him I'd like to leave earlier than we had planned, just in case. "Today is all about you." He says, sitting up. While I pack, he unplugs the mattress, folds our borrowed blanket, and piles the pillows. Jay walks out of his bedroom and asks if I'd like him to put the kettle on. I would, thank you. 

At the top of the stairs to the inbound subway station, I pause to pick up an empty soda can that's tumbled from a homeless man's shopping cart. I hand it to him and smile. He thanks me and smiles back. 


Underground, Scott and I lean on tiled walls, whispering. Nearly every woman who walks by "checks" me out, Scott says. My yellow coat is like the sun rising amongst a sea of sleepily rocking ships after a raucous storm of cannon balls, coffee and eye crusties. Everyone else here is on their way to work. I am headed to my graduate acting school audition. The train is ten minutes tardy. People peer down the railroad tracks, willing the tunnel to illuminate. When it arrives, we squish onto the last train car. We giggle as the train starts, remembering that lurch we have grown so unaccustomed to after living with cars in the country for three years. When a seat opens up, I eye a stalky square woman who's standing near by to see if she'd like to sit. She waves me off. I slide down and press my caboose onto the slippery plastic seat. At the next stop, the elbow of a business man punctures my personal bubble, allowing stress to spill in. I reach into my purse to pull out my headphones, but first look to Scott who is wedged between the sliding door and strangers. He smiles, his blessing to press play and close my eyes. 


As we drove through Brooklyn the day before he told me he no longer saw the beauty in the city. I was quiet before disagreeing. The filth, I said, the diverse buildings, the crowded street corners and florescent bodega signs are beautiful in an unequivocally raw way. I didn't convince him, but I wasn't really trying. This morning, while straddling strangers on the subway, he begins thinking these thoughts again when a delicate white feather floats past his face, glides over to me where I sit with my eyes closed, circles my face and then lands on the woman's coat to my left. Oh, he sees, there it is. When he tells me this little story later on our drive home, goosebumps rise across my arms and over my back. "Maybe that means someone was with me." I say. 


In midtown, we find the building. We're thirty minutes early, but we go in anyway. I walk up to the front desk. "What are you here for?" A big security man asks. 


"I have an audition in RipleyGrrrierrs Studios" I say, stumbling. Not a good sign. I need to warm up. Do some tongue twisters. He waves me on. 


"I'm with her." Scott says behind me. 


In the restroom on the sixteenth floor, I look to my reflection and begin reciting my first monologue, Lady Anne from William Shakespeare's King Richard III. "What do you tremble?" My hands do, yes. "Are you all afraid?" Very afraid. I exit the bathroom, walk over to Scott, smile, give him my yellow coat and a kiss and walk away. I say hello to the others in the waiting area, sign in and begin stretching in the side hall. 


My name is announced. I walk into the white audition room and over to the table. The first gentleman smiles to me. With a slight tilt to his head, he embraces my hand with a calm security. You can do this, he is saying with this gesture. This isn't scary. We aren't scary. I recognize him from the program's website. He is the chair of the department. The second gentleman introduces himself and shakes my hand. They ask what I will be performing for them. I tell them. My introductory words come out as I have rehearsed them. I can do this. "Would you like me to begin now?" I ask. 


"Yes when you're ready." 


A mirror spans the wall to my left, the direction I plan to address my imaginary characters (the men holding the casket of my recently deceased father-in-law, King Henry VI). He and his son, Edward (Anne's husband), have both been murdered by Richard. Before my speech in the play, Richard has ordered the men carrying the body to wait. These men, as they should, fear Richard tremendously. I, Lady Anne, want him dead. I turn around, take a deep breath. This is it. I turn back to face my audience of two and begin. 


"What do you tremble?" I hear my voice shake. "Are you all afraid?" I bark now, determined. "Alas, I blame you not, for you are Mortal, and Mortal eyes cannot endure the Devil." I look above the table to the wall to address Richard (the man I call devil). There is a stain on the wall. Look at that stain. It looks nothing like the lamp in the living room at home. Stab that stain with your words! Stab it. My voice sounds foreign with a harsh echo lingering around me like a static cloud.  This is not as good as I've done it before, I think next instead of what I should really be thinking, which is to tell that stain to leave me and my imaginary friends alone. "Avant thou dreadful minister of Hell; thou had'st but power over his Mortal body, his Soul thou canst not have: Therefore be gone." Now I am truly quivering. "Foul Devil, for God's sake hence, and trouble us not, for thou hast made the happy earth thy Hell: fill'd it with cursing cries, and deep exclaims: if thou delight to view thy heinous deeds behold this pattern of thy Butcheries." This is when I look down to Henry's body and see that it is bleeding. Richard is to blame for this. But when my head bows, I catch my own body's posture in the mirror and am pulled again to the mercy of my thoughts. Focus, you damn fool! Focus. "Oh Gentlemen see see dead Henry's wounds open their congeal'd mouths and bleed afresh." Make him melt. "Blush, blush thou lump of foul Deformity: for 'tis thy presence that exhales this blood from cold and empty Veins where no blood dwells. Thy Deeds inhumane and unnatural provoke this Deluge most unnatural." Plead for help. "O God! which this Blood mad'st revenge his death: O Earth! which this Blood drink'st, revenge his death: either Heav'n with Lightning strike the murderer dead: or Earth gape open wide and eat him quick, as thou dost swallow up this good Kings blood which his Hell-governed arm hath butchered."  


When I finish my second monologue, one of my eyes has dripped a long tear. I wipe it. Damn dried out contact lense. The man on the left agrees that his do that to him sometimes too. We are talking now about why I'd like to go to graduate school. I tell them the specific training I am looking for, about my original one-woman show and that I am only applying for their program. I'm twenty-eight, I tell them, if I am to go away to school, I only want to attend the program I am most interested in. I manage to tell them about the theater company I've helped establish and organize and the certificate in theater management I have completed. Conversation, in stark contrast to my monologues, is easy. They like me and I very much like them. But today is the first day of auditions. They have a week in New York City before going on to Chicago and San Francisco. I believe they accept two, maybe three females into their program every year. They audition hundreds. As I am walking out of the room, the director of the program asks if my husband is an actor too. "Yes, but he's pursuing directing." I say. "He's applying for graduate schools in directing. A couple in San Diego." I say before blurting something awkward about how "that would be my golden..." I trail off before I can remember the word, scenario, meaning if Scott and I were to both be accepted to schools in their southern California city. I wave at my words like a stinky fart, thank them, wish them luck and walk out of the room. 


In the hall, I tell the guy who's about to go in for his audition that they're very nice. "Seriously." I tell him, as if to my past self. "Don't be nervous." 


Outside, a soft breeze cools my cheeks. I look up to catch it. Through the tinted windows of my plastic sunglasses, I see soft sunlight cascading across the avenue's angles. I hear sounds rumble from subway grates, honk from raspy horns and click from soles on cement. I ask Scott to lead me to lunch. From 39th Street to Soho, we weave through midtown's crowded sidewalks like shoelaces in search of loopholes. Photographing colors, referencing street maps and pointing to the places of old memories, I introduce New York City to my new unabashed self. 


"What do you tremble? Are you all afraid? Alas I blame you not for you are Mortal..." My Lady Anne record plays on repeat for ten days until one optimistic thought reveals itself as if it were some hidden message embedded in the iambic pentameter.  I, the actress, was nervous to perform this audition and upset by my jitters, but a similar crippling fear could just as well have overcome Lady Anne when forced to face Richard, the ruthless murderer of her beloveds. Maybe the audition actually went well. This thought, whether true or utterly false, has at least the force to flick the turntable's needle to screech and leave me with the quiet hum of spinning vinyl.