Wide Awake

April 3, 2012

Wide awake.  Wide freakin’ awake!   And really annoyed about it.

The house is recently over a really monster virus that had us all out of commission for nearly a month.  Plus I was feeling kinda lousy for awhile before that.  And now that THAT’S all over, and I’m feeling danged healthy finally, here I am wide awake.  At 10:30 pm.  Dangit.

It’s been this way for a few nights now.  I’m tired, I go to bed, and I lay there for 3 to 4 hours before I finally fall asleep.  I’m too tired to get up and do anything, and it feels good that my eyes are closed, but I’m not sleeping.  Tonight I’m not even trying to go to bed.  I’m just up.  So what the hell??

Valerie just got home from small group and suggested I write.  So I’m writing.  I don’t want to.  In fact I don’t want to do anything.  At least, nothing that comes to mind.  I don’t want to read, I don’t want to watch anything, I don’t want to play guitar, I don’t want to sand and paint anything..  actually, I really don’t want to do anything during the day, either.  I’m talking about something I “want” to do.  That feeling of wanting.  Like, you’re paying the bills or cooking something or whatever but you really want to be… I don’t know, reading.  Or washing the car.  I find that I do what I need/have to do during the day because I need/have to.  Not because I want to.  There really isn’t anything I can think of that I want to do.  And certainly not at.. 10:36pm.  Except sleep.  And you know… I don’t even really “want” to be doing that, either.

WTF??

Where is my wanting?   Really, I’m sitting here thinking of things I have enjoyed doing in the past and nothing is bringing up that feeling of wanting to.  But then, when I really allow the idea of actually doing nothing to be there, well hell I can’t even be with that.  Right on it’s heels is this awful, itchy feeling of guilt.  Like “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” kind of guilt.  Like, oooooo I better not let people know I don’t want to do anything, cuz what the hell kind of person is that?  Who wants to hang around someone who doesn’t want to do anything?  Right, because if I continue to pretend that there actually are things I want to do, then my house will be full of people wanting to hang out with me.  Not.

Now I’m feeling all locked up and tight and a bit fearful, like I’ve revealed something that’s better left alone.  Super Ego!

Sigh.  I miss that feeling of wanting.  Of knowing there are things out there that I enjoy and looking forward to doing them again.  Excitement.  Feeling excited in anticipation of something.  Like…  ok let’s see…

Summer.  I’m looking forward to summer.  This endless renovation actually looks like it could be complete in the next month and summer looks to be quite wonderful in this house.  Our deck is really spacious and elegant and I look forward to spending time out on it.  And then I remember that when Nick finishes all the stuff left to do inside there’ll be all this painting I’ll have to do, and that sours my anticipation some.  But the idea of spending time out on the deck in a comfy chair, watching the smoke rise from something yummy on the grill while I nurse a nice margarita, well, that’s a very pleasant thought.  There’s no “doing” in that.  It’s just a state of being.  It feels warm and slow and lazy and easy.  Ooooo, I felt the wanting!  I do want warm and slow and lazy and easy!  I wonder if, when the time comes, I can actually let myself have it?  I wonder if I would really just sit there with my margarita, and not get up 15 times to tend to this or that?  Would I really just let myself have my warm and slow and lazy and easy?  Hmmmm…..

Chew On This

May 5, 2011

Oh my dear, sweet friends.  The responses I’ve gotten so far range from “right on, sistah!” to, “I’m sorry you’re having a rough time – can I help?”  Really, you guys are wonderful and I’m so glad to have each and everyone of you in my life.  Really.

But here’s the thing, and I suppose this is mostly for the ones who are worried about my “rough time” – I’m not having an episode here.  This isn’t a bad day or two.  And I’m definitely not depressed (I know depressed, this ain’t it).  I’m waking up to something that I think is universal.  I think everyone I know, including me, is living life inauthentically without even being aware of it.  We have been trained by our parents and society what is “right” and what “looks good” and we are taught to pursue those things, those feelings, those states of being, above all others, regardless of how we as individuals truly feel.  Regardless of both how we feel about the things we are taught to pursue and how we feel inside, in the moment.

Intense feelings of happiness, smiling, joy, pleasantness = good!

Intense feelings of sad, crying, despair, pain = bad.

Says who?

One set of emotions always welcome, always appropriate, open arms, please come in!  Share my table.  The other never, ever welcome or appropriate unless we are alone, behind a door, muffled, where no one can hear us.  And only for a few minutes, for god’s sake.  Just long enough to squeeze out a few tears that insist on oozing past our defenses, the ones we just can’t stop right now – and right now is soooo not a good time, is it?  We are so busy!  We have so much to do!  And what would happen to our list of things that must get done if we were to take time to feel how we feel right now?  Oh no, won’t do, won’t do at all.

And we can’t tell our loved ones how we reeeally feel.  Not full-force.  We can give them glimpses, we can sort of skim the surface a bit, or maybe even a bit more – but there’s a time limit!  Once we start that clock’s ticking!  We have about 15-20 minutes to get it all out there as best we can, making sure to sugar-coat it just a little bit, making sure that we end with a little bit of a smile, the sun’ll come out, line it with silver because we’re afraid we’re going to ruin their day or be some sort of burden to them, god forbid.  Make sure they know that it’s ok, it’s really ok, it’s all ok, I think I’m just PMSing.  I think I’m coming down with a cold or something.  It was that darn commercial, it always makes me cry, really, I’m ok.  Just a bad day.

And our partners and close friends don’t even tell us this!  I have never, ever heard Valerie say once, “Ok, listen, I only allow what I consider to be positive emotions and feelings into my little universe, so if you’re feeling down or whatever suck it up.  Or, here, I’ll set a timer.  You have your little cry or even vent a bit but when you hear the ding, cut the crap.  If you can’t cut the crap, take it somewhere else, ok?  The last thing I want to know is how you reeeeally feel.”

Or you guys.  None of you have ever given me your parameters.  None of you have ever limited my expression in any way.  And yet sitting here, typing, is the place where I can give full-vent to this stuff (and it’s not even full-vent, really).  Can I do it face-to-face?  Nope.  I get all weird and worried that you’ll reject me some how, some way – that my feelings will be too much for you, too strong, too loud, too whatever and you’ll get uncomfortable and then I’ll have to somehow make it up to you for this awful time I’ve put you through.  I’ve put you on the spot, I’ve made you feel like I want you to fix me, fix it, make me feel better, take care of me, after all I have it sooo bad, I’m sooo sad, I have AIDS and life is hell.

It’s not AIDS, it’s the feelings.  It’s not that I’m 51, it’s the FEELINGS!!  I can manage AIDS, obviously.  I can deal with 51 (although those hot flashes, I’m tellin’ ya..).  But really feeling my feelings, I mean feeling what I feel right here right now, full-on…  that’s challenging.  Not letting life distract me, not letting my fear of rejection and judgement stop me, not telling myself that I don’t have time right now (if not now, when?), that’s hard.  Wow, that’s hard.

See ‘um ‘sayin..?  And I think that this is what we all do.  We all have a list of feelings that we will not allow ourselves to feel fully.  We were trained this way.  And our trainers were trained this way.   It’s seems inescapable.  Well, screw that!  I’m  Steve McQueen, baby, on my motorbike and outta here!

I know for a fact that whenever any one of you honors me with your truth, whatever it is, I feel so much closer to you.   I feel honored and trusted and like you value me as a listener.   But when the foo is on the other shoot I clam up because in the moment, when I’m actually feeling, I can’t imagine my training to be in error.  It’s like a reflex.  In the DNA.

Know how I feel now?  Pretty danged exhilarated!  I was walking around Whole Foods whistling.  Giggling with Skyleah.  That’s what feeling what’s there, saying what’s so, will getcha.

Yup.

I’m onto something here…

Grrrrrrrr……

May 4, 2011

So then another string of months passes and people from time to time ask me why I haven’t made a blog entry.  What’s happened to the blog?  Why aren’t you blogging?

You wanna know why?  I’m confronted.  With myself.  And the first place I go when confronted with myself is straight into brain overwhelm.  My overwhelmed brain then provides to roadmap for my day, which usually looks like this, “Whatever you’re doing, you really should be doing something else.  In particular, if you’re doing or considering doing something that you’d really LIKE to do, you should definitely be doing something else.”

But, Paula, confronted?  With yourself?  What, pray tell, might you mean by that?

Hark, I can hear you.

I’m confronted with my utter dissatisfaction with life.  Life as a thing, as a state for humans to exist in.  That’s pretty much the bottom line for me.  I write those lines and then I stare out the window for 10 minutes..  because it is so unutterable!  So inexpressible!  The feelings that go along with this dissatisfaction are positively circuit-blowing.  And, oy, the guilt for feeling them in the first place..

Nothing in my life is how I think it should be.  I don’t get as much love as I think I deserve, I don’t have the health I think I deserve, I don’t have the fun I think I deserve to have, I don’t get the attention I think I deserve… you get the idea.  And I’m 51.  Fifty-one!!  And this whole change-of-life thing is just really pissing me off because, honestly, the only thing new about it is the hot flashes.  The fatigue, the sleeplessness, that’s not new, I’ve been struggling with that for 20 years.  I just have something new to blame it on.  I don’t WANT something new to blame it on.

This whole 20 years with AIDS thing is really getting to me, you know?  People say to me wow 20 years, you’ve really hung in there, way to go!  And I want to scream.  I’m sick of hanging in there.  I’m sick of the vigilance, I’m sick of the planning, I’m sick of the fear, I’m sick of the pills, I’m sick sick sick to death of all of it.

I’m sitting here trying to conceptualize what I thought life was supposed to be like and all I get are these voices in my head telling me that I should be grateful, I should count my blessings, I’m a walking miracle, blah blah blah (imagine a 4-year-old saying that blah blah blah part, imagine the face they make and the body contortions – that’s me).  I don’t feel grateful I don’t feel like counting my blessings I don’t feel like a miracle.  I feel whip-bone-dog-assed tired of it all.  And pissed.  Really pissed.

I pissed because I missed out on just being myself my whole life.  I feel like there are precious few things I’ve said or done in my life that didn’t have the perpetual in-order-to of my life attached to them, that being to be loved and accepted for myself.  Only I wasn’t being myself when I was doing all the in-order-to stuff!!  I was being what I thought I had to be to get what I wanted so desperately.  So where does that leave me?  The me that wanted and still wants all that love and acceptance?  When was I me?  Seems like almost never.

I know people who would laugh at that last paragraph.  They think that I pretty much just did whatever I damn well pleased most of my life and to hell with what anyone else thought.  Well, I know that’s how it looks, but that’s not the case.  The whole time I was doing “whatever I damn well pleased” I was guilty and worried that it would mean judgement and rejection by the people who mattered to me most.  So if you’re all guilty and worried, how can you be truly enjoying what you’re engaged in?  That’s what I’m pissed about.  Because the truth is that I really have gone and done and experienced some pretty great stuff!  But I wasn’t able to be 100% present for any of it.

That’s just wrong, godammn it.

(But Paula, that’s true for everyone.)

I’m not talking about everyone, I’m talking about me.  “Everyone” can kiss my ass.

(But it IS true.  We all have our hangups in life.  Furthermore this sounds like a mid-life crisis.)

So?!  So what if it is a mid-life crisis?  Does that make my feelings, my angst, any less relevant?  Any less deserving of utterance??  Any less real or true??  Pinning some convenient and tidy label on something doesn’t make it all pretty, pal.

(Well, it just sounds like you need to get outside more or something…)

Oh, shut the hell up.  You think if I walk outside, if I take myself shopping, if I go to dinner or a movie suddenly I’ll feel a whole lot better about my whole entire life up to this moment?!?  I’m talking about life here.  About meaning and purpose and being present for all of it.  Really present – not sort of present, but thinking and/or worrying about something else.  Experiencing whatever is happening right here right now without any thought to anything else (like groceries, or dinner, or what time I have to pick up Skyleah from school, or wherever else I have to be in an hour or whatever).

Life.  Life, my friend!  Isn’t that what we’re here for?

Isn’t it?

Well??

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful

January 31, 2011

Ok, so having the time doesn’t necessarily equal writing for the blog.  It did, however, mean a bit more vegging out until the day or two before the family was supposed to be home and then madly scrubbing down the house so it would be perfect when they walked in the door.  Which it was, I might add.  I’m a really good scrubber.  They flew in Saturday evening around 7:00 and I had a pot of chili and fresh cornbread waiting on the stove for when we all got home.  Then it was straight to bed since it was 2 hours later in their brains than it was in mine.  Sunday was spent re-acclimating and hanging around the house enjoying the gorgeous day.  Today, of course the temperature dropped 40 degrees and is expected to drop even further tonight and tomorrow with ice and snow and all sorts of other miscellaneous Colorado weather – welcome home!  But  all is back on schedule and Skyleah went skipping in the door to school, excited to see her friends.  AND came skipping out telling Valerie that she wished that she could stay at school longer!  Hmmm.. do tell…

We had the meeting with the contractor this morning in which we selected pertinent things like new stair railing for the breakfast nook, pendant lights, sink and faucet, and hardware for the new cabinets.   Plus, he’s drawn up a cool plan for the fireplace wall that will certainly delight, along with provide function for the space, hee hee.

Also as I mentioned before, and I’m very tickled about this, our friend Elena came and painted a mural on Skyleah’s bedroom wall which is absolutely fantastic.   You will surely have to come over and see it.

Westerburb shall outshine the erstwhile Westerfort in every possible way.

Now then, about that supplement I was on the verge of ranting about…

Here’s the thing – I find multi-level marketing “companies” to be… annoying.  It has seemed to me that they always seem to concentrate more of their energies on demonstrating how many bazillions of dollars you can make selling their fabulous uber-wonder-thing (in minutes a day!  in your own home!) instead of on the virtues and benefits of their fabulous uber-wonder-thing.  I find that incredibly off-putting.  Obviously there are plenty of people out there who respond favorably to that kind of presentation, but I ain’t one of ‘em.

So when a friend and his wife (who do, apparently, respond favorably to the presentation that I find so off-putting and annoying, and these are people I like, which really bends my brain backwards because I can’t believe they’d actually join one of these things, but they did, and now here they are on my sofa)) drove across town to sit in our family room and tell us about this stuff called Protandim I was… politely skeptical.  They even brought a little DVD with them that they popped into our player and we all sat around and watched it.  Surprisingly, the information on the video was… interesting.  Apparently Protandim reduces oxidative stress in the body down to the levels our bodies were capable of reducing it to when we were in our teens and 20s.

You know how all we hear about these days is how we all have too many “free radicals” and we need more “anti-oxidants”?  Well, this Protandim stuff actually does something about that.  Protandim itself is not an anti-oxidant – a simple way to explain it seems to be this:   When we’re young our bodies produce enzymes that effectively fight free radicals.  As we get older our bodies capacity to produce these specific enzymes diminishes year by year.  This is what aging is, essentially.  Protandim’s formula effectively turns the mechanism back on so that the enzymes can be produced that fight free radicals, just like they did when we were youngsters.  This is the only claim that Protandim makes and it does have some good science behind it and has been proven, numerous times in independent laboratories, to do what it says it will do.

Hmmmm….

I know that I have read in recent years that doctors are thinking that it is the “free radicals”, the oxidative stress that the body is under, that is at the bottom of a lot of the diseases associated with getting older.  Everything from heart disease to cancer.  So, logically, if we reduce the oxidative stress we reduce our changes of developing these conditions.

Hmmmmm…

Well, I’ve tried a lot of stuff over the years.  Outside of proper wholesome diet, exercise and vitamins, along with the occasional superfood drink that we like, there really hasn’t been anything I’ve tried that has lived up to it’s hype.  I mean, maybe for a minute there I feel something, or I feel a little better… but it never lasts.  OR whatever-it-is is just way to expensive to keep up with (you say you can’t afford it?  friend, you can’t afford NOT to!).  OR.. y’know.. it’s blicky.

But this stuff?  Well… oh fine, what have I got to lose, gimme a bottle and I’ll try it.  One pill a day, $45 for a month’s supply.

… and damn if I didn’t start feeling a little more energetic within a couple of weeks…  and my brain sure was less foggy than usual…  and was my attitude improving?…  my, I’m actually getting out of bed with some spring in my step in the mornings… I’ll be damned!

And then it happened… I drank the Koolaid, as they say.  I became a distributor.

…I KNOW!!!

So here’s the deal and it’s from my heart – I’m crazy about each and every one of you and would love nothing better than for all of you to take this stuff every day the rest of your lives (or until a better formula is developed, then take that).

Here’s a website you can go to and watch the video:   http://www.paulawesterfield.org

I’m not going to hunt you down and make you sign up to receive shipments forever, don’t worry.  But when you get a minute, watch the video.  If you want some, I got some for you.

If someone who has had AIDS for 20 years can feel this perky, what might it do for you..?

That’s all I’m sayin.

When Did It Get To Be January?

January 23, 2011

Was age part of Einstein’s equation?  Does time actually speed up as a person gets older?

Man, there’s a lot going on.  I know it’s been forever since my last blog post (and thanks to those of you who’ve inquired as to when I might be writing again.. glad you look forward to them) but I swear if it ain’t one thing it’s another…

Valerie had 2 separate business trips this month, out of town overnight – the first time she’s spent the night apart from Skyleah since she was born.  It was fine and Skyleah did great, but it was a milestone for all of us.  Valerie flew to Ohio for a night (I think) and then a day or two later went to Texas for 2 nights.  She flew home from Texas on the 18th and then she and Skyleah turned around and flew out to Sarasota, Florida the following day (the 19th) to visit Valerie’s mom.  They’re there now, as I write, and they don’t come home till this Saturday the 29th.  Yes, you read correctly – I’ve had 5 days to myself and have 5 more coming before they get home.  I thought about it and I think it’s actually been something like 15 or more years since I’ve had this kind of time to myself!  And I’m positively wallowing in it.

Also, I’m getting a lot done.

We’re in the throes of a kitchen renovation that encompasses the entire main floor of our house.  So to get ready for it we had to get living space fixed up in the basement and family room so we could be without a kitchen and living room.  It’s all taken awhile but the results are starting to show – it’s going to positively ROCK in this house.  We’ll be having a monstrous party this summer to celebrate.  Yes, you’ll all be invited!

Meanwhile, we’ve set up the laundry side of the basement as a temporary kitchen by moving the electric range down there and installing a laundry sink.  Plus there was a leftover bottom cabinet down there that I’m using for storage and countertop, and I built a little side table for meal prep.  I added a bunch of shelves and presto!   A kitchen.  Seriously, everything’s there.  It’s a lot like the kitchen I cooked out of in Brenda’s old basement apartment Valerie and I lived in when we first got together, for those of you who knew us then.  The finished side of the basement where Valerie’s office is now has a new paint job by yours truly with added wainscoting.  And we took the carpet from the living room on the main floor and put that down in the basement.  Looks great!

As for the family room, we’ve taken the patio door and the window and swapped them.  Doing that meant we could push the sectional back against the wall which gave us a lot more usable space in that room.  It’s really great.

Now I’m finishing up painting Skyleah’s room while they’re gone, cuz I can.  She picked out her colors some weeks ago and we’re having a friend paint a mural.  Looking out her window at our driveway I see a big ol’ dumpster filled with everything that used to constitute our main floor.  Now it’s just plywood subfloor and framing.  Hee hee hee!!

In the last 5 days I’ve really only left the house a couple of times.  I’ve watched  Australian Open tennis, the LOTR trilogy (natch), Avatar, and The Matrix, in-between and while doing projects.  Mostly I’ve been building something, painting something, or cleaning and/or straightening up something.

Best of all is that I’m feeling really great lately, thanks in part (at least) to a new supplement I’m taking that I think is really making a difference for me.  I will say that having had AIDS for 20 years this March (wow) you gotta know I’ve tried a LOT of different things.  Most stuff is either way too expensive to keep up with or just doesn’t really do what they say it will.  Well, this new one I’m taking seems to actually be living up to it’s hype and I’m very encouraged.  I’ll tell more about it in my next post – which it looks like I’ll have plenty of time to get to real soon!  For now, tho, I’m off to sleep.

Ta!

Cat Outta The Bag

October 7, 2010

Ok, so where was I… oh yeah, paralyzed with loneliness and terror, right…

There came a point when I decided that enough was enough, I needed to come clean about myself to the community and our fan base.  It was like a switch that flipped.  I just couldn’t do it anymore.  I knew for sure that it would be the proverbial nail in my career coffin, but I’d gotten honest with myself and realized that it wasn’t going anywhere anyway.  I just really never had what it took to be a national or world performer.  I know I’m talented enough, that had never been a question.  But it takes a helluva lot more than talent, that’s for damn sure, and I didn’t have the rest of it.  But, y’know, I’ve played some pretty cool venues, I’ve performed before lots of people, I’ve had the star treatment.  I have no regrets.

Anyhoo, I went to talk it over with Dennis.  I was a little nervous about bringing it up thinking he’d have some objection.  I mean, whatever I did would affect him, it would affect the whole band.  Plus, coming out as HIV+ I felt I needed to be more up front about the fact that I’m a lesbian.   I was certainly out to my family and anyone else who was interested, but I didn’t exactly advertise it.  But it felt like I’d come out of one closet just to run inside another.  Maybe some straight clubs wouldn’t want to book us anymore, who knew?  When I brought it up to Dennis I was nervous and started to launch into a long winded defense of my plan but he just looked at me and said, “I’ll support you whatever you decide.”  Oh.  Well.  Ok, then.

You’d think such a momentous personal event like announcing to the entire world that you’re HIV+ would be lodged in my mind like a white-hot poker but I am racking my brain and I’ll be damned if I can remember even what year it was, let alone the month.  It must have been … well, ’94 seems about right, we’ll go with that.  I remember where it was, of course – the Denver Detour.

The Detour was a basic gay and lesbian bar on Colfax Avenue in Denver (incidentally, why “gay and lesbian”?  Aren’t lesbians gay?  Redundant!) that the band played at regularly.  It wasn’t a disco, just a regular ol’ bar.  It was pretty much our home base and we were heros there.  It had a primarily lesbian clientele, but the guys came out once in awhile, too.  I always made sure we were booked in there once every 4 to 6 weeks or so, not too often to get everybody sick of us.  The Detour and it’s owner Sheila had been wonderfully supportive of both me and the band and I felt that if I was going to make an announcement, that would be the place.  Those folks were good friends to The Paula Westerfield Band, and you tell a friend something like that to their face.

It had to have been a Friday night because we always played Friday nights, but I don’t have a sense of what season it was.  The local gay magazine Out Front had done a feature on me in recent months and the publicity had brought a lot more people out to the bars to see us, so the house was pretty full.  We played our first set as usual and the energy of the crowd, mostly female, was high and rockin’ when I called our first break.  I’d usually do that by saying something like this:  “We are The Paula Westerfield Band and we thank everyone for coming out to see us tonight!  We’re going to take a short break but we’ll be back!  We’re here till around 1:00 tonite so don’t anybody go anywhere…”  Then I’d usually make some sort of AIDS-related announcement, particularly when we were playing gay bars, reminding everyone of the services available and events coming up and that it was wise to get tested if they hadn’t already.

And then I took a deep breath, looked over at Dennis for support, and went on,
“.. because you just never know with this virus.  Anyone can become infected.  Anyone… like me.   I was diagnosed HIV+ in March of 1991.”

It was a short sentence, that last one, but by the end of it you could hear a pin drop in the bar.  I remember that quite clearly.

I went on, telling them that I’d been living with HIV for 3 years, that I’d kept quiet because I was scared for my career, and that I was telling them now because I was scared for my life.  By this time I was crying softly, trying to keep it together, and as I went on I heard gasps and “oh my god” and sniffles in the audience.  I talked some more, telling them a little of my story and at the end urging them to get tested if they hadn’t already.   Then I stepped back from the mike.

I turned around and walked the few steps to the back of the stage to take a couple of breaths and pull myself together.  Dennis put his guitar down and said, “Well done, Westerfield,” as he headed off the stage.  I stood there a minute, probably blew my nose a time or two, before I turned around again to face the room…  and looked into a sea of faces surrounding the stage.  Many had tears in their eyes and all looked warm and concerned.  I walked off the stage and into 30 minutes of hugs.  It was a relief.

But I knew, also, that it was just a beginning.  There weren’t (and still aren’t to my knowledge) any visible lesbians with AIDS out there.  It is very difficult for a lesbian to contract or to transmit HIV, so those that do have it were infected, usually, by either blood transfusion or shared needles during drug use.  And most wouldn’t be tested until they became symptomatic because it wouldn’t have occurred to them to do so.  It certainly wouldn’t have occurred to me.

I knew the phone would start ringing from local media and AIDS support organizations.  Now I had to decide what direction I wanted to go with myself.  How involved did I want to get?  How visible did I want to be?

Cha-Ching!

September 28, 2010

It has certainly been quite the while and so much has happened – all of it together being the cause of my absence from the whole blogging thing.  I hear all the time of other writers and songwriters whose life experiences are great fodder for their writing.  With me, the more overwhelmed I get emotionally the less likely I am to write about it for awhile.  In this case a couple of months..  but hark!  I return.

First of all, our darling daughter started preschool on August 23rd.  She’s 3 and a half and it’s time to get her in there with all the other little bitties.. and my-oh-my what an experience THAT was.  We’ve been hearing and commiserating over the years with many of you when you took your kids to their first days of preschool; about all the crying and screaming and how you all felt like monsters and could hardly stand it.  Well, it’s been like every other thing people tried to tell us when we decided to become parents – we had no idea that the crying and screaming and feeling like monsters would be like THIS!  It was horrible!  It had us questioning every decision we’d made as parents since she was born, along with questioning our own values as human beings, for god’s sake!  What were we doing??  Why did we all do this to our beautiful children?  Who says she has to go to preschool?  Is there some kind of law?  Why, oh why??  Good god, she’s ruined for life!  All because I want my 3 hours to myself in the morning to begin unscrambling my brain from the previous 3 and a half years of home child-care.  I am an awful, awful, AWFUL parent.  Sob, sob….  How could I enjoy my time off when all I could do was pace around the house waiting for 11 o’clock so I could pick her up and see that she was ok, she wasn’t scarred for life, she hadn’t cried hysterically the whole 3 hours..

And that was just me, and that was the abbreviated version.  You should have seen Valerie.  She took Skyleah to school the first few days and then I had to bench her.  It was just too hard on both of them.   Skyleah’s always had an easier time separating from me.. but it was still so hard to watch those little eyes tear up as I took her to her classroom door.  I felt like a dragon.  But now she’s well into it – by the second week she was a lot better and had made herself a little friend (Cecelia) and now when I take her we sing songs on the way there and she skips merrily in the classroom door.

She may not be scarred for life but I sure as hell am.

And while all this was going on we were in the midst of trying to sell our house, as many of you know.  Neither of us had quite been able to settle into our current home for a myriad of reasons, Valerie’s quite specific and mine more nebulous.  So we’ve spent a good deal of time over the last… well, it may well be a year or more, really, good god… trying to figure out what to do about it.  At first we just thought we’d remodel so we hired a designer and spent a few months coming up with a fabulous new layout.  Then we found out how much all of what we would want would cost and nearly had a heart attack.  So we downscaled a bit.  Then a bit more.  Then we decided that no matter what we did we’d still have spent more money on this house than we could ever recoup when we sell.  So we decided to put it on the market.

This was decided before our 6 week trip to New Zealand and it was my bright idea to get the house ready to go on the market while we’re away so we wouldn’t have to deal with showings.  I just didn’t take into account the house sitter Lothario and his “misunderstanding” of my instructions to keep the house ready to show.  So we couldn’t put the house on until we got back.

So we get back and the house goes up for sale shortly thereafter.  Over the ensuing months we have upwards of 40 showings, with at least 6 seriously interested parties whose only objection seemed to be, in our opinion, a rather irrational fear of foundational issues with the house.  We had an engineering report on hand to allay these fears – there had been some work done in 1992, but it was successful! – but none of these potential buyers would be swayed.  Oh, and there was one lady who looooved the house but couldn’t deal with the traffic noise coming from Kipling Ave.  She came back, I kid you not, 5 times.  Never made an offer.

Meanwhile, we’re out a couple of times a week looking at houses ourselves.  I know we looked at 150 houses all together.  None of these had nearly the view we have where we sit right now, but all were in some way or another “bigger/better”.

Well after a few months of this we were pretty fried.  Keeping a house in showing condition while you’re living in it is reeeeeally hard and stressful and inconvenient.  So we threw up our hands and said “screw it” and took it off the market briefly while we reconsidered renovation.  Well, it only took a few days for us to remember why we’d decided not to do that so we turned around again and refreshed our listing, dropping the price $10K.

Almost immediately we had yet another serious buyer wanting to look at the house.  Unfortunately the morning before they were to come for a showing I had noticed a little backing up of drainage in our basement drain. Hmmm.. I’d noticed that a couple of weeks earlier but had people out to look at it and thought it was fixed.  So I call them back and they come look again.  I won’t bore you with all the details… well actually, yes I will:   It turned out that there was, inexplicably, standing water in our sewer line.  How the hell..?  The plumber says he thinks we need to replace about 8 feet of sewer line right outside the living room window.  That’ll be about six thousand dollars.  Oy.  So the day he comes to do that in his little earth-mover, he discovers (of course) that it’s worse than he thought.  Our sewer line has no “fall”.  Somehow with the fixing of the foundation and with the expansive soil we’re blessed with our sewer line rather leveled itself out.  So now we’re talking full sewer line replacement.  Fourteen thousand, seven hundred and fifty dollars, US.  I am being informed of this while there is a very nice couple walking around inside our home considering buying our house.  So we’re pricing the house at $15K less than we paid for it and now we’ll be giving another $15K parting gift if they’re interested in it – and IF they offer our asking price.

Well, these folks did come back and they did make us a respectable offer!  Not asking price but respectable!  Wahoo!  They absolutely love the house, this is their retirement dream-home!  We’re under contract!  We fly to Ken Caryl Valley and select a house for ourselves that is danged near everything we want and, per Valerie’s dream, in the Valley which is best of all!  We make them an offer, but it’s contingent on the closing of the sale of our house.  The same day they receive another offer that’s not contingent!  Oh no!  There are 2 days of drama in which we are sure they’re going to accept the other offer, worry, fret, worry, wring hands, and then…!  On Valerie’s birthday they accepted OUR offer!!  We’re in!  Finally it’s all over, we’re out of this house and into a new one in Valerie’s dream location.  Happy Birthday indeed!!

… um, what?  What do you mean our buyers want to bring out their own engineer to look over our house?  You’re kidding me?!  Well… we’re confident the foundation is in good order so fine, all that ridiculous hysteria was always about a lot of nothing, so bring the engineer on out.

… um, what?  The engineer says there IS something going on with the foundation?!?  WHA-AT?!?

Yes, friends and neighbors, it turns out that there is a slight bowing in of the basement walls.  We have to repair it, to the tune of upwards of ten thousand dollars, if we ever want to sell this house.  Our happy little buyers fled.  We had to terminate our contract on the house in the Valley.  We decide to just stay here until there might be a slight possibility of recouping all this money, 5 years, 10 years, whatever.  Shit.

(All this is happening while our daughter is screaming and clutching at Valerie who is trying to drop her off at preschool.)

But wait!  It doesn’t end there!  There’s more!

Before we’d refreshed our listing and put the house back on the market this final time we’d gotten in touch with another designer who we really liked and gave him $3000 as a deposit.  Well, when we decided to scrap the renovation yet again we called him and asked him to put it on hold.  Then a few days later we called and said that we understood that there would be some work he’s already done on the design, but we’d like the balance back.  It takes about a week to hear back from him, but he assures me he’ll tally everything up and get back to me the next day.  He doesn’t.  A week later I call him again, no answer, I leave a message.  I wait another week, calling and leaving messages and getting freaked out.  Finally after almost a month Valerie sends a more conciliatory email to him and he responds saying that he’d had to close his business!  He doesn’t have our money.  Oy.  But he feels horrible about the way he handled everything and he’s willing to help us out any way he can to make up for it.

So out of all this we have a designer we like who does have good ideas and, since we’re staying here, we will be renovating.  That is, of course, after we get the basement stuff handled.  Oh, and after we replace the furnace that the inspector red-tagged for a cracked heat exchange.  Plus replace the water heater which is old and on the verge of going out but which really needs to go because it vents upward and we need one to vent out the side of the house to facilitate our renovation design.

Cha-ching… cha-ching… cha-ching…

Sigh.

I’ll be getting back to the whole AIDsy rock star thing later…

Oy

July 9, 2010

Backing up a step or two… I found out that I had HIV in March of ’91.  I hadn’t even met Dennis yet then and was still working as a solo act.  When it came to my burgeoning singing career I was very concerned, when I had a chance to think about it, about revealing my HIV status to anyone.  Since I had only just started as a professional and still harbored hopes of “making it big”, well, what would my HIV status do to my career?  Would any record company be interested in a singer who had what was then still considered a terminal diagnosis (five years, five years)?  I already had a big strike against me by being over 30 years old.  If I wanted anyone in the business to take a serious interest in me, well, I couldn’t tell them… could I?

So I didn’t.  I didn’t tell anyone who wasn’t close to me, and I made sure those I did tell would keep it a secret.  Dennis knew, of course, and my family and my girlfriend.  But beyond that I didn’t think I could share it with anyone.  I know that made things more difficult for me with regard to having any kind of real support because since no one could know I had HIV in the first place, how could I show up for support?  How could I find a support group?  How could I avail myself of any of the services provided by AIDS support organizations?  I couldn’t, that’s how.

Understand, AIDS permeated the gay community in every possible way.  The fact of it, the occurrences of it, the fallout from it, all of these were utterly unavoidable.  Like fog, it swept in and through every crack and crevice.  It was in and under every conversation and part of every gathering in one way or another.  There were benefits left and right to raise money for this or that person, this or that organization.  The bars and clubs were inundated with posters, fliers, cards, baskets of condoms, all illustrating the need for safe sex or advertising the next lecture, the next benefit, sometimes the next funeral or the next memorial service.  Everyone knew and loved people who were living with it.  Everyone knew and loved people who had died from it.

I played in the gay and lesbian bars as a solo act in the beginning, and then with Dennis, and then with the Paula Westerfield Band.  We’d be engulfed in this atmosphere and we’d participate in every way possible.  There would be fans who were regulars at the gigs, and then not so regular, and then we’d hear that they were in hospice.  And fans who had loved ones at home in bed who would love a picture, an autographed CD, something to make them feel thought about, a part of things.  I would hear story after story of this or that person and the struggle they were having with the meds, or how hard it was to keep food down, to keep weight on, how hard it was, how very hard it all was.  Every story I heard would be filed away as an illustration of my probable future (five years).  But I kept silent about my own diagnosis.  I wasn’t ready to give up the idea that I could succeed professionally before it all went to hell.

And here’s something interesting:  We’d play these bars and then pack up for the gig the next week at a straight bar that might literally be only a few blocks away, and at this bar there would be no mention at all of AIDS.  No posters, no fliers, certainly no conversation about it.  It would be as though we were on a completely separate and alien planet where they’d never even heard of AIDS.  It was weird.

Going back a forth between these two worlds while keeping a lid on my diagnosis was a very surreal and schizophrenic existence for me.  As I sit writing this now I realize that it was excruciatingly similar and a perpetuation of what it was like growing up in my household as a child and young adult.  I felt so painfully and constantly different from everyone around me.  When I was young I had no idea how to process my differences, how to explore them and gain understanding and acceptance of them because there was no role model for me.  My parents seemed to have a very specific and defined world-view and when you toed that line there was acceptance; when you didn’t, there was dismissal and criticism.  Also I tended to be much more outward with my feelings and expression than my brother and sister (they seemed to learn early how to internalize more of their process than I have ever had the ability to) so I was scapegoated as “the difficult child” and resented by both of them while I exasperated my parents.  All of this led to my development of a certainty that if I didn’t do things right I would be left with no family at all.

And now here I was, one day in the straight world where the prevailing attitude about AIDS and gay people in general was, if not total ignorance and indifference, seemingly, “Whatever.”  We were “those people” who had made bad/wrong/evil “choices” and didn’t we deserve what we got?  And the next day in the gay community, positively teeming with opportunities for support and compassion, none of which I could avail myself of because I was keeping my diagnosis a secret.

It was awful.

Celebrity

June 22, 2010

My friend Lucy comments that the big stars have management and lackeys who carry their stuff around and arrange all the bookings.  Yeah, one of the sayings in the band (and probably other bands) was “you know you’ve made it when someone else is carrying your stuff”.

Thumper writes, “You know I love you for more than just your pretty face.”  Thumper, of course, being her code name.  She didn’t want to be identified by her real name in the blog so I said, “If it comes up, what shall I call you..?”  She laughed and didn’t come up with anything so I said I’d call her Thumper.  She said, “Nooo, don’t call me Thumper..”  So of course I’m calling her Thumper.

Lynn says she totally gets the pretty thing.  Knew she would.

Plus a few more.  Me like comments.  Me invites more comments.  Me say pretty please.

There’s a story about Carol Burnett.. I’m pretty sure it’s Carol Burnett.. Anyway, it’s about when she won one of her Emmys.  It was everything we’ve seen on TV – she’s in the audience and they announce the nominees, and then they announce that she’s the winner!  Everyone is very happy and she goes to the stage and accepts the award and gives a very funny and loving speech to wild applause.  Some days later she’s interviewed and is asked what she did after the award show.  The interviewer asked if  she’d gone out and celebrated in some way, maybe gone to dinner with a bunch of friends or to a party.  Her answer was, “Oh no, I went home and did a load of laundry.”

Laundry.

The hardest part about celebrity, the part that for me explains all the stories about the drugs and alcohol and the fights and the sleeping around and the trashed hotel rooms, is this:  the hours between the end of one gig and the beginning of the next one.  When you’re up on stage you are the coolest thing going.  You’re doing something that everyone wishes they could do.  When you do it well and it’s a good show you have everyone’s attention.  All eyes are on you.  You feed off the energy of the crowd like it’s ambrosia and you give it back tenfold.  It propels you to that next high note, that even better solo, that fantastic performance.  At the end of that good night, that great show, you feel like you’ve just hit 100 home runs in a row.  The adrenaline has been pumping so hard that you don’t even feel whatever alcohol you’ve been drinking, if you’ve even had time to drink on a night like that.  The tip jar is stuffed with cash, people are jamming the stage, you hear, “Man, you guys are AWESOME!!” again and again, and you are so pumped, so psyched by the night and you’re having a blast rehashing it with your band-mates as you tear down the equipment to pack up.  On nights like this there are some in the crowd who linger, watching the band tear down, listening to the banter and comments between band-mates, maybe drinking a last shot for the night with them and offering to help (help!) load out.  On nights like this you’ve made it, you’re a star.

But the bartender called last call about 45 minutes ago and the lights are going out and he or she and the wait-staff are waiting for you to get the hell out so they can close up for the night and go home.  It’s been one of the best nights of your freakin’ life, but for them it’s just another night of chairs to put on tables, floors to mop, broken glass to sweep up, spilled beer and alcohol to wipe down, and they want you, the band, just another bar-band to them, the hell out of the way.  So you and your mates and all of your collective afterglow spill out into the parking lot with your gear and guitars, laughing and throwing the big stuff into the trailer and your own stuff into your car to take home to restring or fix up later, to be ready for the next gig at the next club.  And it’s time to say good night.

And then it’s just me.  In my car driving home at 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning.  My ears are still ringing from the echo of loud music and cheers and applause all night but now the streets, the freeway, they’re all empty except for the odd car here and there, and me.  It’s middle-of-the-night dark, three a.m. dark, and the streetlights have that hazy glow to them and it’s just me in my car.  I turn on the radio and flip through channels but nothing suits.  I’ve got a 20 minute (45 minute, 90 minute) drive home to a dark house, dark apartment, dark wherever I’m living.  My girlfriend’s asleep or the place is empty, no one’s waiting up to hear about this fantastic night.  So it’s just me.  I park and gather my guitars and other stuff and bring them into the house as quietly as I can.  I’m still wide awake.  The adrenaline is dissipating, but I’m still awake and a bit hungry, and the house is silent around me.  And it’s just me.

The next day I wake late, alone.  Either I live alone or my girlfriend’s already gone to work.  And it’s just another day, and I’m just another chick at home making coffee and staring at that load of laundry.

Even as a bar-band in Denver, Colorado, this is the way it can be.  Plus, on those late mornings when you’re waking up and waiting for the coffee to finish brewing you’re turning on the TV and flipping through the channels (there were fewer then) and you see the latest star in his/her video singing his/her latest hit.. and it’s the dumbest, worst written piece of crap song in the world, and the video is even worse and you can’t help but wonder why the hell aren’t you famous?  Why?  How can that ridiculous person have a hit, a music video, and you’re playing bars in Denver, Colorado?  Don’t they know how fantastic you were last night?  Don’t they know how many people screamed your name last night?  Don’t they know how freakin’ gooood you are??

… and the next night you’re setting up to play a wedding somewhere for people who’ve never heard of you and could care less and all they want to hear is the Beatles.

So I understand the drugs and the serial relationships and the alcohol.  I am very very fortunate that A) my drug and alcohol days were behind me when I started playing rock and roll music professionally and, B) I’m just not a cheating around kinda gal.  There were nights I really wished I were, and I had plenty of opportunity but, alas, I’m just not.

These days we play once a month at a club called Q’s Pub down here in Ken Caryl where we live.  It’s a decent place to play as clubs go but not all that exciting really – that kind of club isn’t such a thrill anymore.  However, the last gig there a few weeks ago was actually one of those stellar magic nights when everything clicked and the crowd stayed till the end and we rocked the house.  It felt really good and we were all happy and I got a taste of what it used to be like…  then, of course, I woke up the next morning with my daughter wanting breakfast and Valerie waiting around for me to get up so she could get to work and, if memory serves, I think her parting words as she headed down to the basement were, “Oh, and honey I’m out of clean underwear..”

Sigh.  Yes, dear.

And The Band Played On..

June 18, 2010

Dennis got good at translating for me.  As I said, I didn’t read music and I only knew a few real musical terms (transpose, key, chord, note, etc.) so it would be difficult sometimes to describe to my bass player or drummer how I wanted them to play a certain part of a given song.  My musical direction might sound something like this:

“Ok, good!  But on that part just before this last part?  Yeah, I’d like it if we could put more bluesy oomph into it, like when you play the G… oh wait, I’m capoed up so I don’t know what note it really is, but on that part just before that last part I’m playing like this (strum strum strum) and I want you under it with this sort of wacka-wacka bum bum ba dum BOOM, when I’m singing the last part of the verse before that…”

They’d really try to listen and decipher the Paula-speak, but I mostly just got blank looks.  They learned to wait till I was finished and then turn to Dennis for translation, and he’d speak musician to them.  Then it was, “Oh!  That’s what she said?  Ok, I can do that..”  They got that I didn’t know how to say it, but I usually knew what I was talking about.

I’ve learned a lot over the years from listening to Dennis translate for me.  Also from watching him play.  I’m a much better guitar player from watching him play.  And he never saw any limit to what I could do.  Still doesn’t.

I was absolutely over-the-top thrilled beyond all description that I was in an actual rock and roll band.  With my name on it!  Hee!  We formed the band sometime late in 1991 and kept it going until just after the new year in 1997.  We played every bar and casino that was worth playing (and some that weren’t) in Colorado and beyond.   Beyond being, like, South Dakota’s Deadwood Casinos and, say, some little club in El Paso, Texas.  And up in Wyoming once in awhile, but we didn’t do too well up there.

It’s everything you imagine, being in a rock and roll band.  It’s fantastic being onstage in some club somewhere with a guitar in your hand, playing music you love and have always wanted to play for people who are eating it up and telling you how wonderful you are.  Your hair is long and you wear cool cheap clothes and bangly bling (although we didn’t call it that) and you stay up late and you’re drinking this and that (hardly ever paying) and you’re yucking it up with anyone and everyone around you.

You’re also schlepping all your gear in and out of clubs yourself.  You love the gigs that are several nights in a row so you’re not setting up and tearing down all on the same night.  If you’re lucky, the “stage” is close to the door you load into, or maybe there’s a service elevator.  If not, you’re lugging your gear up stairs and down long halls, through skinny doors and, usually, through a crowd of people perfectly content to watch you sweat and swear under your 75 to 100lb burden and barely deigning to move out of the way so you can get where you’re going and set up on time.  More than half of the shows are played to a crowd that is blind drunk and hardly paying attention, but still yell at you how great you are while they spill their drinks on you and breathe beer in your face.  And don’t even get me started about the bar fights… Or, the place is stone empty, not a soul around, but you’re still expected to play the full night because that’s what you’re getting paid for.  You’re exhausted after 3 to 5 nights in a row playing from 9:00pm to 2:30am, but you still have to tear down, pack up and load into the trailer, drive to wherever you rehearse, load it all in and set up.  If you’re brain is still functioning you might be able to learn a new tune or two for the next gig but more often than not you take the day and sleep so you can be ready for the next club the next night.  And you start all over again.

The only difference for me, if there was a difference (and how would I know?) was that I was a gay singer playing in a lot of gay clubs along with all the usual straight ones that had live music.  The gay community is very, very supportive of our own.  I imagine that’s because there is such a history of discrimination and condemnation from the rest of society.  At any rate, I was adopted by the Denver gay community as their very own and lots and lots of fans followed the band around everywhere we played.  It was very heady stuff to be that adored and followed by so many people.  Reporters for the various gay publications would call for interviews, people would ask me to pose for pictures with them and I signed lots and lots of autographs.  I remember going to an Indigo Girls concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater with my then girlfriend and being recognized and signing autographs there.  At a CU women’s basketball game I signed some.  Most anywhere I went where there might be a gay presence I would be recognized.  I was quite the celebrity in the Denver gay community.  And in so many ways for a long while it was very very fun.

We worked so many nights and different clubs that everything became a blur.  The people in the audience who used to be sort of quirky and amusing became mildly annoying.. then very annoying.  The women (and some men) who would come right up to me in the middle of a song, while I was singing, and try to talk to me.  The drunken passes.  The endless amount of alcohol being sent to the stage.  The fans who would follow me into the bathroom talking, talking, talking..  And the invitations to parties (bring your guitar! bring Dennis!) with people I didn’t know from Adam, and didn’t want to know, and who would become deeply offended when I would politely decline their offer to buy me yet another drink…

I even had a couple of stalkers.  They didn’t last as long with me as you read about with the big stars, but it was certainly unsettling.

And the days when you’re not feeling so hot and you’re tired and you just don’t feel like smiling, or maybe you’re just in a crap mood, well, there’s no room for that.  You’ve got to smile and talk to bar owners (they write the paycheck!) and you’ve got to smile and talk to the fans.  We were performing so much, so many days in a row that there just wasn’t any room for me, the real me.  Just plain Paula.  The Paula Westerfield machine had to stay greased and oiled for everything to run smoothly, for people to stay interested.  I had to be “on” every night, I had to be in character, I had to belt out every song with everything I had because that’s what they’d come to expect.  Anything less didn’t get the job done, anything less didn’t pull the people in.  It was exhausting, and I knew I couldn’t keep it up forever, much as I wanted to.  In the band’s last year I would be wiped out on the sofa during the days, resting as much as possible, then pulling myself together in the afternoons to get ready for the nights.  I don’t think we added one new song the last 6 months we played.  I just didn’t have it.

Dennis and I have both admitted that we never did as much as we could have to promote ourselves and attempt to become a national act.  We never went to LA, we never went to Nashville.. heck, we never went to Austin.  We would toy with those ideas, but there was always some reason sufficient to keep us in Denver, or at least Colorado.  Certainly my health was a good reason.  But that aside, I am SO glad we’re not famous.  I don’t know how those guys do it.


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