Unplug to Recharge! My Week without Internet

 Originally posted on The Huffington Post 10/01/12

Read my first two posts in this series:
"Signing Up to Face My Fear: Seven Days of Silence" and "Winning the Quiet Game With My Mind."

Per the rules of the weeklong silent meditation retreat, talking wasn't the only thing we'd agreed to give up. We'd vowed to experience life without our creature comforts (books, music, lovemaking) and numbing agents (television, radio, booze) and begin the process of finding sanctuary within ourselves. There was one more sacrifice I felt twitchy just thinking about: no Internet for seven days. It turns out I had inadvertently signed up for Cyber Rehab.

2012-09-27-photo53.JPG When I arrived at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, we had a few hours before the retreat began. I decided to explore the rolling hills surrounding the site, where I had been told I'd find hiking trails, wild turkeys and, well, cell phone reception. Standing hillside, I clutched my aluminosilicate pacifier and rejoiced at finding a signal. I was going to savor these final moments of digital escape before I went through withdrawal.

I logged onto my social media sites. Someone had left a Facebook comment about my retreat. Feeling vulnerable in this new place, I got a little thrill at being remembered and wondered what kind of encouragement the universe was about to bestow upon me. The comment read:

"You, quiet? You must have had to wire your mouth!"

I can see it as good-natured teasing now, but at the time, it stung. Wire my mouth? We hadn't talked in 10 years and the commenter had posted from 5,000 miles away. I can handle being the Village Idiot, but a Global Idiot? Thanks, social media. I swiped off my iPhone... which, by the way, isn't nearly as satisfying as the good old-fashioned phone slam. Later, I turned it back on, but only to text home that I was alive and to stare at pictures of my dog.

"There is something inherently insecure about our view of self," says Spirit Rock teacher Howard Cohn. The Bible blames Adam and Eve. I blame middle school. Unlike Eve, I know I look pretty good naked, but look into my eyes, and I'm afraid of what you'll see. Social media profits on this insecurity. In this new age of self-branding, we're offered platforms to project flattering one-dimensional versions of ourselves. And then, we're given tools to calculate our popularity. No wonder we're a mess.

Touching on the Buddhist concept of personality view, Howard says, "This version of yourself that plays in your mind, it's a description of someone who does not exist. It's an imaginary you." Our egos are storytellers. We should be nicer to ourselves for always having to put up with them. It's so easy to get caught up in the drama of who we think we are and who we imagine others to be. Show me an Instagram photo of Sunday brunch or pedicured toes in the grass, and I'll feel lazy about the box of cereal I'm eating and wonder if I should get my hairy big toes waxed. I'll gently remind myself, "I am enough." But my comparing mind loves to chime in.

My knack for ego-driven delusional storytelling became evident on retreat. After days of silently living with strangers, I might have -- hypothetically -- started fantasizing about the guy always sitting in front of me. Our connection was undeniable. He had impeccable posture and his boxer briefs peeked out from his dark jeans. With those geek chic glasses, I cast him as an international architect designing loft spaces in Moscow or Tel Aviv. But then -- in real life -- on the final night when we were finally allowed to chat together over quinoa tabbouleh, I came to the realization I'd been duped by Retreat Goggles. (Think "Beer Goggles" for yogis.) I'd been fantasizing about a sexually-ambiguous math tutor from Sacramento who hadn't even noticed me. (Details have been changed to protect the innocent.) The point is: You're not what you think, and neither is he.

In A Path With Heart, Spirit Rock founding teacher Jack Kornfield writes, "The more solidly we grasp our identity, the more solid our problems become." During my week without Internet, I missed the little highs, but I found relief in not feeling the pressure to differentiate myself. At the retreat, we explored what life could be like without our egos in overdrive. Alert, relaxed, open, and present, we ate in silence with a feeling of communion not unlike the deer we saw grazing out the window. Because there was no talking, we didn't have to answer questions that define us in everyday life: "What do you do for a living?" We could drop the personas we call upon in different situations, the stories we share of who we think we are, and let go of other people's impressions of us.

2012-09-27-photo54.JPGSomehow -- like everyone living before 1994 -- I managed to survive the week without the Internet. I've never felt so removed from this world and of this world at the same time. I came out of the seven days feeling detoxed and empowered. And as I headed back to the San Francisco airport, I turned on my iPhone to Instagram a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. I felt the queasy thrill you might get from reconnecting with an old lover. I wanted to prove I was choosing to share and express myself without craving validation. While I can't claim that one unplugged week has cured me of the compulsion to check for Facebook likes, I'm going to make a conscious effort to spend less time in the virtual world and more time tuned in to my experience in the present moment.

And now that I've pretended to learn this lesson, don't forget to follow me on Twitter @ellieinla for updates on creativity, wellness, mindfulness, and little delights.

 

Signing Up to Face My Fear: 7 Days of Silence

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post 08/26/12

This is Ellie Knaus' first post in her meditation retreat series.

I've grasped for approval my whole life. It started in elementary school, when I felt certain that gold stars, blue ribbons, and auditoriums full of clapping strangers could fill me up, make me whole. There were benefits to being a goody-two-shoes, like science fair prize money and a fan club of other people's grandmothers. But feeding on external validation is like living off a vending machine: We can survive -- for a while at least -- but it's a sticky, limiting, and unsatisfying existence. I was able to break the habit while attending a women's college, where I awakened my inner conviction and exercised a loud mouth. But when I moved to Los Angeles to be an actress, seeking the approval of others became my job. And after a long casting drought, I began to live carefully in the imagined shadow of other people's judgments, my instincts muddled by apprehension. I wanted to trust my instincts again, regain my confidence. So this summer I signed up for a weeklong silent meditation retreat at Spirit Rock in Northern California; there would be no talking, no music, no writing, no phone calls, no Internet, and no eye contact with other retreatants. When I received confirmation that I had been accepted into the "Essential Dharma Retreat," I wanted to throw up, which was a sign that I was off to the right start.

"What does your husband say about this?" my mother asked over the phone, concerned for my marriage. She suspected I was having an Eat, Pray, Love meltdown. It seemed to Mom that divorcing "The Nice Guy" had become de rigueur for young women embarking on spiritual journeys. She cited Oprah's Book Club memoirists Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed (Wild). I assured her that my husband was in support of the retreat. He wanted his independent wife back, the one he had married before I stopped trusting my instincts, before I had internalized years of rejection as an actress in Los Angeles. Still, the whole retreat thing seemed too hippy-dippy, too "Kumbaya" for Mother. But for once, I wasn't taking a vote; other people's disapproval was irrelevant. And so I shared motives that she might find comforting, telling her that I had chosen the meditation retreat in order to a) focus my mind and b) cultivate loving-kindness. She countered that a) going to law school would focus my mind and b) giving her grandchildren would cultivate loving-kindness. As we got off the phone, I could hear her typing. I'm pretty sure she was Googling "Spirit Rock" and "cult?"

I remembered watching Dharma & Greg and hearing a lot of talk of the Dharma Initiative on Lost, but I was clueless as to what dharma actually meant. This was troublesome as I had, after all, signed up for the "Essential DHARMA Retreat." According to the Spirit Rock Meditation Center, dharma is "the deepest truth of life, beyond words and concepts." So, it's explained as being unexplainable. That cleared things up.

I had taken a beginner mindfulness meditation class this spring, but at Spirit Rock, we'd learn the Buddhist tradition of vipassana meditation. (I was pretty sure that Buddhists felt that everyone was special, but maybe, since vipassana starts with V.I.P., we could be the most special.) In Meditation for Beginners, Spirit Rock founder Jack Kornfield writes that, in the Pali language, "vipassana" means "to see things as they really are." Clearly, I needed vipassana.

In the week leading up to the retreat, when a girlfriend emailed, I hope you find what you are looking for, I felt queasy and exposed. The very act of going on a retreat implies that you are in search of something. But aren't we all? Others called it "extreme." Most said, "I could never do that." What are we so afraid of discovering when we shut up and unplug? For me, it was the fear that self-critical thoughts would devour me. That when I let go of my everyday life and creature comforts -- family, pets, girlfriends, podcasts, books, Trader Joe's, and Twitter -- I'd unravel in the unknown. It wasn't long before my chronic second-guessing kicked in.

To calm down, I could engage in a) meditation or b) retail therapy. I compromised and drove to REI to shop for comfy meditation clothes. I was preparing for stay-away camp, like in grade school, except in grade school I had been excited to join a new tribe and proud that I had never gotten homesick. Now, I hadn't even left yet, and I was already homesick. As I tried on hiking pants in the dressing room, my anxious mind started churning again. Why am I someone who feels compelled to do this? Why can't I just be fearless and whole already? And why am I weird, but not weird enough not to care that I'm weird?!

The afternoon before I was to leave, my acting manager called to report that the theatrical agency I had interviewed with had chosen not to represent me. I thanked him and hung up. Teetering on the precipice of a shame spiral, I stopped myself. I didn't need to internalize their rejection. I didn't have to take this setback as a value judgement on my self-worth. I could change these painful habits; that's what going on this retreat was all about. Gosh, it feels good to be a recovering kiss-ass! And then I cried, but only for a minute.

While packing, I asked my husband, "Think blow-dryers are allowed at the silent retreat?" He laughed and looked at me like I might not survive the week. I wasn't getting any votes of confidence. And that's exactly how it was supposed to be. A people-pleaser can't go off in search of inner strength with everyone patting her on the back. Totally unsure of myself, but open to discovery, I leaned into the fear and headed North to Spirit Rock.

Vulnerability Hangover

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt

I suffer from a vulnerability hangover most times I'm creative. It's a sucky feeling on par with realizing I've shown up at school with no clothes on, which has never happened in my waking life, but I imagine is similar to the shame of peeing one's pants (or culottes while wearing roller skates in gym class, in my case). But the more hangovers I have, the better. It means I've expressed myself. I've cared about something. I've shared a part of myself. 

I was on a TED TALK binge last year when I was couped up post surgery. I was feeling immensely vulnerable, having just been cut open and having a tumor scooped out, and Brene Brown's TEDxHouston Talk about Vulnerability stuck with me. 

Here is Brene Brown's new TED 2012 Talk about Shame. It makes my heart swell. It's like an Advil for my vulnerability hangover. 

 

NOTES:

Shame drives two big tapes: "Never good enough" and if you can talk it out of that one, then, "Who do you think you are?" 

Shame for women is this web of unattainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we are supposed to be. And it's a straightjacket. 

Empathy is the antidote to shame...The two most powerful words when we're in struggle..."Me too."

Signs of Life: A Memoir of Resilience

My sis-in-law Natalie Taylor's Signs of Life is out in paperback now! Here is my essay originally published in CultureMap for the release of the hardcover.

Signs of Life: Widowed with a newborn at 25, my sis-in-law survived through strong family ties.  

04.17.11Click to Order

By Ellie Knaus

I joke that I married my husband for his family. They’re remarkable characters as illustrated in my sister-in-law Natalie Taylor's new memoir Signs of Life. Natalie was a 24-year-old high school English teacher and expecting her first child when her husband passed away. Her memoir is an inspiring, honest, and laugh out loud funny account of her nearly simultaneous crash-courses in widowhood and motherhood. 

It takes a village to raise a child. Natalie assembles a stellar cast. Her parents, siblings, in-laws, and friends help her cope and raise her son. This is how I was inducted into that village before Natalie knew she'd need one:

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Like Thy Neighbor

Neighbors are intimate strangers. They’ve witnessed the shameful number of times it takes me to parallel park, the embarrassing amount of trash I accumulate in a week, and the mortifying frequency of online shopping UPS drop offs on my doorstep. They know way too much to ever put me on that initial friendship pedestal. And isn’t being blissfully unaware of each other’s flaws one of the enticements of starting a sparkly new friendship? But, as I learned recently, we should reach out to our neighbors anyway.

In the fifties, women were always dashing next door to borrow sugar, seeking a momentary respite from all that solitary domestic bliss. We should bring back the “Cup of Sugar” excuse. Let’s just start borrowing shit from our neighbors to get the sense of community flowing. And if you’re not the kumbaya type, remember there are times when you might not want to be alone, when you might need to reach out: say when you need to borrow their ladder because your roof is leaking, your hair dryer burned out thirty minutes before a hot date, or when you need to hook up to their generator post-apocalypse.

My big phobia is being sick and home alone. Not like sniffle sick. Like body attacking itself, gonna die sick. Six years ago, I went into anaphylaxis after taking an antibiotic. Hitch makes anaphylaxis seem funny; It wasn’t funny. It was potentially tragic My Girl unfunny. (Did that film emotionally scar anyone else?) Luckily, I was with my parents, and we made it to the ER moments before a tracheotomy would have been in order. If I'd been home alone, I might have crawled under my Anthropologie duvet and asphyxiated. So, when my body freaks out, I reach out.

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Screw Perfectionism: Look Up & Out!

How amazeballs is this Anne Lamott quote? I'm looking down at my feet all the time and not just metaphorically. My gaze falls to the ground when I retreat into my own little world of anxiety and distraction. And because of this, I get hurt an awful lot. I end up slamming my head into things like stacked washing machine doors and worse. I earned a concussion by skiing forehead first into a ski sign. And there was the time I got karate chopped in the face by an automatic parking gate in an outdoor lot. I'm lucky I still have a head attached to my body. Here's a lovely picture of that meltdown before the black eye developed...

HESITATION is another one of my false comforts. Second guessing is 10x more dangerous than trusting my initial impulse. I've gotten in two car wrecks thanks to my hesitation.

The deal is: we're all going to die anyway. I might as well Look Up and Out, trust my instincts, and take in the world around me while I still have it. At least, I'll get fewer black eyes.

WASP-loitation & the two seconds I had a nose piercing

We can thank Bravo for creating a whole kit and kaboodle of repressed Wasps who want to be: Famous, hello!

Traditionally, Wasps haven’t aired their dirty laundry. They've sent it out for dry cleaning. So, there’s an inner struggle for these nouveaux Wasps who want to be in the spotlight. They have a hard time expressing themselves without hearing the gin slurred harping of their ancestors. When they do put themselves out there for all the world to judge, you can sense their inner turmoil: the shame and insecurity, which makes fascinating entertainment.

A friend recently sent me a web video ripe for parody where self-proclaimed “Style and Beauty Expert” Wendi Brasswell explains how to dress PUNK

The video is a delicious character portrait of a Wasp in over her head. She’s a deer in headlights, but has the gumption to state the obvious with conviction: "No bedazzle on the rear." She can’t hide her disdain for her subject. She sums up the look by saying, "It's anything that normal people wouldn't do."

It reminds me of my parents' revulsion when I got a nose piercing my sophomore year of college. A little cubic zirconia stud glinted in my nostril for two days, long enough for my parents to call seventeen thousand times from Texas.

"What does your boyfriend think of this mutilation?" my father asked in an ice cold tone. My boyfriend was pre-med and captain of the lacrosse team, the holy grail of suitors as far as my father was concerned.   

"He thinks it's cute."

"Well, when he's some big time doctor, he's going to dump your ass."

I was a sophomore at Smith College: home of Betty Freidan, land of Gloria Steinem. His threat fell on deaf ears.

My mom called for back up. "But...why now?! This weekend, we're going to the Greenwich Country Club with your grandfather. You're not even allowed to wear denim there. I can’t imagine their policy on piercings..."  

So, I did take it out, but not for any of my parents' reasons. I took it out because it didn't fit me. I didn't need it. It felt more like a statement against my Waspy background than an expression of my own originality.

While I hoofed it back over to the tattoo parlor to get it removed, I realized:

Bedazzling one's nose, an iconoclast does not make.  

The "punk" video has been set to private now. Wendi probably realized it was getting popular for all the wrong reasons. Here she is more in her element explaining: “How to Dress Like a Wealthy Woman.” 

Dumped at the Dentist

click photo to go to: Rosy Lemmons.com

I love going to the dentist: eavesdropping on the front desk ladies, flipping through as many magazines as possible, lying back in the cushiony chair, meditating on the calming posters taped to the ceiling, inspecting the colorful smattering of teeth gook on the sky blue bib. Mint Fluoride? Cherry? Well, Pam, I think it’s a Cookies and Cream kind of day. You’re an expert flosser. Why thank you. See you in six months!

But, today, I was in the chair, bib over shirt, (bring on Mr. Thirsty straw), when…I got sent away. Banish'ed.

“Has anything changed since we last saw you?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. I had this tumor…dainty scar, right?...”

"Oh no. Then we can't see you. We'll have to reschedule..."

Apparently, it’s common knowledge that if you have a major surgery where they put “foreign objects” in your “body”, you can’t just show up to a teeth cleaning like a normal human being. If I had heard this before, I probably squirreled it away to be recalled in forty years after a hip replacement. 

So, now, I need my surgeon to fax a note stating whether it’s okay to clean my teeth, or if I need to be put on antibiotics first.

If you tell a GUY that he’s got to take antibiotics, he’s annoyed because pharmacies are a pain in the ass. You tell a GIRL she's gotta pop antibiotics, here’s how she might spiral:

-Yay! It'll clear up my face.

-I’ll have a really flat stomach for a couple weeks, since it kills all the bacteria in the intestines.

-But then, I’ll get gassy cause it kills all the good bacteria too.

- Yeast infections suck.

-Antibiotics are birth control saboteurs. I could get pregnant. I don't want an antibiotics baby.

It's so not worth being a bloaty, itchy pregnant lady just to get a teeth cleaning.

Dethawing in Lake Michigan

I’m standing thigh deep in Lake Michigan. Pink goggles are tight on my head, stamping ovals into my furrowed brow. Two ladies in one-piece suits wade out past the buoys. “Whoa. You’ve gotta dive under,” says Adam, emerging beside me from under the glassy water. “So invigorating,” he says, shaking water out of his ears like he’s one of the guys at the Roxbury.

Lake water is nature’s espresso shot. I like caffeine. I’ll like this. I pull the goggles down over my eyes. I adjust my Lycra wedgie. One. Two. Threeeeee…Nope. The bay is Titanic cold. Why would I put my face in that? Adam grins. “I’ve never seen anyone so scared of getting wet.”

I’m not scared of getting wet. I’m scared of being uncomfortable. Another kid barrels into the water like a yellow lab, splashing me. A minnow swims by, mocking me, like it’s perfectly natural to be in glacial water.  

Through my fogging goggles, I pretend to admire the sailboats on the horizon while I analyze the costs/benefits of going under.

The cost: I’ll need to wash my hair again. I might lose a contact lens. And on the drive home, I’ll have to sit on the fabric seat with a wet bottom. Is that worth “the experience”?

People I’d like to hang out with would say, “Hell yes!” I’m not necessarily someone I’d like to hang out with.   

I wasn’t always a Paul Giamatti in a padded Victoria Secret bikini. I remember when taking a shower meant running through a sprinkler, when sand in the sheets meant it was a damn good day, when a root beer float was worth the I.B.S. flare up. Dear God, how did I grow up to be such an a-hole?

I look down at the frigid water. I’ve got to go under.  I have to drown the cranky old man inside me. One. Two. Three. Mid-dive I brace myself for the cold--like a cat being thrown into a pool--and belly flop into the bay. The water is even colder than I suspected. But time is suspended. The shot of adrenaline erases the nagging thoughts--a momentary lobotomy. I kick back up to the surface and do a few free style strokes like it's no big deal, like my hands aren’t going numb. I stand back up, wring out my ponytail, and grin back at my husband. The old man inside me is still there, but he’s momentarily stunned into silence. And that feels fan-fucking-tastic. 

The Abandoners

By now you've heard of Chubs, our wondermutt. We've taken him everywhere with us: Texas, Colorado, Michigan, Palm Springs, even Vegas. And yet, whenever the suitcase comes out, he goes into panic mode. He has abandonment issues that are clearly unfounded. That is until now.

Chubs was on edge all morning as our family packed for the drive from Detroit to the cottage Up North. My sis-in-law Natalie commented, "Chubs is so anxious. What is that about?"

"Our packing," I said, rolling my eyes. "He thinks we'll forget him."  

As hubby loaded the trunk, Chubs scrambled to sit on the top of the luggage heap in the driveway. Don't forget me. "You crazy dog. We're not leaving yet." He followed me back into the house.

Later, in the kitchen, hubby unzipped Chubs' travel bag and he dove right in. No fuss. He never makes a peep. We checked emails and I found my sunglasses. Phone-check. Wallet-check. Keys-check. Our three car caravan hit the road. 

For two hours, hubby and I discussed important matters such as: the endless summer road construction, a billboard with the caption "I used to be a tool. Now I'm the whole shed!," whether Meijer sells John Irving books on tape.

Somewhere around Grand Rapids, my Maternal Alarm finally went off. (Very faint beeping sound. Made in Taiwan. There was probably a recall.) "Where is Chubs?" I asked. I looked on the floor of the backseat. He wasn't there. "Could he be in the way back?" 

"No. Oh my God. We forgot him. I'm pulling over." It was a HOME ALONE moment (Kevinnnnnn!!!).

My grandmother once buckled up three kids and started driving Up North before she remembered she had left the baby (my uncle) in the crib. This sort of scatterbrained forgetfulness must be genetic. Is there something about the excitement of getting to the cottage that makes us irresponsible dullards?

Worst case scenarios rushed through our minds. What if Chubs wasn't inside the house? What if hubby carried Chubs' travel bag out to the car and forgot to put him in? What if Chubs was trapped in his doggie suitcase baking in the driveway for the past two hours? What if we backed over him and didn't notice?  

We called my dad-in-law still at his office. He always comes to the rescue. Vito might as well have a superhero cape in his glove compartment. He rushed home to his empty house to find his grandpup.

Luckily, Chubs was inside, safe and sound, still zipped up in his bag by the fridge...waiting.

We're all together again. I know he'll forgive us. He's already given me a thousand (undeserved) licks since we've reunited. He's the best dog ever and also the smartest. He's been right all along; we're not to be trusted.

Ellie Misbehaves at Health Center

new side view of my knee with cement.Sometimes, I feel like I've been initiated into a secret society. So few people seem to know about Giant Cell Tumors. I've had six MRI's/x-rays this year in Los Angeles, in five different locations and not a soul has heard of it: not the technicians working the machines, nor the radiologists, nor the doctors; not even my physical therapist. 

Earlier this week, I got a chest and knee x-ray at the health center nearby. I limped down the long hallway. The radiologist motioned for me to take a seat. Four other patients and I sat elbow to elbow like we were at a bus stop. He read my doctor's request: it spelled out that I had recent surgery for a Giant Cell Tumor in my femur.

The radiologist shuffled around papers and asked me where my last chest x-ray was. I said, "I don't think you have one."

He muttered in front of everyone, "Well then, what am I supposed to compare it to?" He sighed, aggravated. 

If he wanted to make my business everyone's business, then fine. I used my best frigid, low, school marm voice. "We're just checking to see that my tumor didn't metastasize to my lungs." 

The elderly man with a deep cough shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The boy with a broken arm gulped. The radiologist shut his mother loving mouth.

 RESULTS CAME BACK FROM MY AWESOME TEXAS DOCS:

Here are my latest results written by my surgeon's right hand man

Chest xray was negative for any changes.  the knee showed no further breakdown and overall reasonably well maintained knee postoperatively.

If he could ditch the qualifiers, "overall" and "reasonably,' I'd feel better. If I read that response on a term paper, I'd guess I was getting a solid B. I want an A+. I asked for clarification: "What does 'reasonably well maintained' mean?" Here's the response I got in its entirety... 

  per report there is no tumor recurrence, fractures or loosening-that is "reasonably well maintained".

I think that's doctor speak for 'shut up, stop obsessing, and be grateful'.

Exchanges with Richard

Lots of dudes try to hit on me by asking: What'd you do to yourself? This makes things awkward cause...

a) we both know they really just want an excuse to talk about their old skiing/football/soccer injuries.  

b) they never want to hear the truth. 

CHILI COOK OFF RICHARD

I'm at a best friend's 30th birthday chili cook off. I'm standing on crutches, teetering over the chips and salsa. I'm buzzed on cilantro mojitos and whiskey. I'm wearing my Don't Mess with Texas t-shirt. A stranger, we'll call him Richard, sidles up next to me.  

Richard:What did you do to yourself? 

EllieinLA : I had surgery (nibble, nibble, nibble). 

Richard: What for? 

EllieinLA : Ummm...(slurp, slurp, slurp).

[This is when I should have lied, but I thought I was on home territory, amongst friends...]

EllieinLA (cont'd): I had a tumor. BUT, I'm TOTALLY fine now. (Grin wide!) I'm great. Totally awesome. Yeah, it's nothing to worry about. 

Richard: (deadpan) You should probably make something interesting up. Like a motorcycle accident. 

EllieinLA: (guffaws) You don't think a tumor is INTERESTING enough? I need to make something up?

Richard: No, it's just--ugh--a tumor---ugh---is REALLY HEAVY. 

EllieinLA: Yeah, cause a motorcycle accident isn't?