Ok so earlier today I unveiled some big news about how I want to start blogging again but where to begin? I have so much to say after, well, saying so much all these years. But the thing is I’ve been saying it into a mic and on twitter and in text messages and have gotten away from my one true love: parasailing. (I bet you thought I was going to say blogging. Just when you think I’m going to zig, I snarfle!)
Anyway, fuck where to begin. Let’s just jump into right now and the specifics of right now which is that my face is very twitchy and I can feel a certain crinkling happening circa my left eye, nose, mouth area. If I were to give into it entirely I’d blink the fuck out of my eyes and crinkle up my face like a toothless old man suffering some kind of palsy. Like a caricature of a pirate if that pirate stuck his hook hand into a socket. It’s like I have Tourette’s of my facial muscles. I guess it’s really less of a twitch than a tic except a twitch is so much more socially acceptable. Sort of like the difference between a blister on your toe and foot fungus. A cold sore vs. herpes. A bladder infection vs. a yeast infection (anyone?)
A twitch is involuntary. A tic suggests some kind of mental situation manifesting all over your face. Which is probably what’s going on.
I first became aware of said tics when I was in 2nd grade. The teacher called me up to the front of the room at the end of the day and asked if I was having trouble reading the chalk board. I said I was not. I’ve always had perfect vision which I make a big point of telling people, as if it’s some kind of accomplishment for which I should be lauded. (Ride in the car with me some time when I make out street names from really really far away. 9 times out of 10 I’m wrong but ten percent of the time it’s like magic!)
The teacher was curious, she said, because she noticed I was blinking a lot. I know the kind of blinking she was talking about. It’s less the volume than the intensity. These weren’t the fluttery blinks of someone with something in her eye. They were slow deliberate intense blinks that started in the top of my forehead and bottom of my chin as if my face was trying to fold in on itself. As if with every crashing together of my lids I was hoping to open my eyes to a new reality. I feel sad and Robert Durst-y just thinking about it.
What was really going on in 2nd grade was my home life had taken a big hit in the stability department. My mom’s parents had both died within a few weeks of each other over the summer—I don’t know what age kids normally encounter death but six for me and two for my sister felt awfully young—and we were thrust into a culture of sickness, sadness and then grief and mourning. There were a lot of hushed closed-door conversations, adults worried about things, discussions of wills and lawyers and funerals and belongings. Then my dad turned 50 and had an intense, prolonged mid-life crisis which pushed my parents’ marriage—it seemed to me—to the near breaking point. There was all sorts of fighting and yelling and door slamming and crying and tension and things which I took in stride except I didn’t, because there I was in school, scrunching up my eyes as if to make it all go away. Add to this the fact that the hardwood floors were being done or redone and we were all living in my parents small bedroom. But where did my sister and I sleep? On the living room couches which had been crammed into said smallish space. I actually thought it was fun, I enjoyed walking out my parents sliding glass door, around the perimeter of the house and through the front door to get to the refrigerator which had been moved to the foyer. It was like very early glamping. But my parents were already on edge and the close quarters plus a house full of workers just made them edgier.
Fast forward a great number of years (but not an unattractive number mind you in case you’re some kind of Hollywood casting agent) to 2013 when I was on The Adam Carolla show and once a week the shows were being broadcast in video form on the internet, giving the world a chance to see us instead of just hear us. I was pretty sure I would be great seeing as I’m overwhelmingly photogenic and God’s gift to the small screen. I mean, I’m better on screen than I am in real life. Just ask anyone who knows me.
So imagine my shock when I discover the electrical storm flashing across my face on one particular show and by discover I mean read a bunch of shitty comments talking about the non stop blinking twitchiness. Except the commenters assumed all the blinking was because I must have disliked the guest. If only it were ever that simple and obvious.
After despairing over the manic goblin who’d taken up residence in my face, I chalked it up to what was going on in my life at that exact point which is that Daniel and I had just gotten a puppy which I found, initially, to be much more stressful and overwhelming that I’d ever imagined. I remember, the second or third morning we had Oliver thinking, “Holy shit, I’m never going to be able to relax ever again.” It’s like I felt his survival depended on my being aware of him and his whereabouts one hundred percent of the time—which in a way is accurate when you’re dealing with a puppy—but I didn’t even trust his survival instinct to keep him alive. I remember the first time I left him alone for a couple hours being convinced he’d choke on one of his chew toys while I was out. Why did I leave that toy in his pen, I admonished myself. I was meeting with a producer for lunch and thought numerous times about leaving to go home to remove the toy—which wasn’t truly a danger—but then telling myself I was being ridiculous while also preparing myself to find his lifeless body. (The irony of what ultimately happened with Oliver is too sad and awful to work into this so I’ll just leave it out there, hanging uncomfortably on the edges of this overlong blog post.)
Also whenever I took a shower I felt like it was a race against the clock because while I was in the shower he was being left unattended. The crazy thing is he was in his little pen in a confined space with everythig he needed away from harm and yet I still felt like I was endangering him. I suddenly understood the appeal of the sensible mom bob. I stopped wearing makeup. And my sleep was affected quite a bit at the beginning as we figured out our routine which involved constantly getting up to let him out of his crate with the hopes of potty training him. I felt that whereas childbirth gives you nine months to prepare to be wholly overwhelmed, puppy ownership just ramps up without any warning. Except that’s not quite true because we did do some preparation, the worst kind. We read a bunch of books that only freaked us out more. My head was full of neurotic dog equations. Ok so he has to meet 100 other dogs within the first this many days or else he won’t ever be socialized and if you try to do it once he’s this many weeks it won’t take and he has to be exposed to this during this phase of his life and this during this phase or else all is lost and suddenly you have an ill-tempered feral brute on your hands. We were under such enormous pressure—entirely self-inflicted although I kind of blame those books—to get it right in a very short amount of time. “If all else fails, just play with your puppy when you bring him home. Just enjoy him and get to know him,” a dog trainer at Petco told us as we were buying all the things we’d need before bringing him home. Just play with him? Get to know him? I had half a mind to call the ASPCA on this loon dispensing such irresponsible advice.
So on day one and a half of dog ownership we recorded a show and it all came out on my face. Or at least, more than I was okay with.
I talked to a therapist around that time to find out why my face was betraying me and what I could do to get it under control. What I began to remember, as we talked more and more, was that when I was five and my sister was one we each got pretty sick and had pink eye, as is common in kids. For whatever reason the pediatrician prescribed an eye ointment for me and drops for her. Each night before bed my mom would squeeze a ribbon of ointment into my lower lid and I’d blink a few times and the world would be fuzzy. I’d keep blinking until it became clear again. It was pretty unpleasant and maybe a little scary to have this gunk squeezed into my eye but nothing like what was happening to my sister who got so sick and had such a high fever she stopped talking and began moaning. My parents began to panic, worried her fever was so high it was causing permanent damage which thankfully it didn’t. As I remembered all of this in therapy I began to cry, which is usually how I know I’ve hit upon something big. And I’m not sure why or how but after that, I stopped blinking hard.
Which brings us to earlier this year when I was thrust into a surprise transition which I felt I handled pretty well all things considered, not missing a beat with my own podcast and blah blah blah. The way all the violence of the beginning of the year manifested itself though was across my face once again. When I guested on Jordan Jesse Go, host Jesse Thorn pointed out that when I said the name of my former employer my left eye began twitching. That was a true twitch—involuntary—but the facial tics weren’t far behind. (Meanwhile I should point out that in the last four minutes I think I flexed and relaxed every single muscle in my upper body one-by-one. It’s like I’m doing upper body kegels. Which aren’t a thing.)
The thing about facial tics is you might think you can just squeeze this thing over here and stretch out that thing over there and blink and little and swallow and make a sound and no one will notice but what feels like a tiny little movement to you is actually very, very noticeable. See: Robert Durst whom I see myself in minus the murder and horrible spelling.
What was I saying? I don’t know. It’s weird it all happens on the left side of my face though seeing as how that’s my better side. What a cruel fate. Oh wait, I just crinkled everything on the right side of my face and that felt pretty good except now I have to balance it out by squeezing my left elbow.
I did some TV appearances recently and whereas normally I would feel nothing but ecstatic over the chance to be on camera since I think we’ve established it’s truly where I shine, I was worried that I might do a very particular sort of face scrunching that I was doing a lot of at that time. What is the face scrunching you ask? Wrinkling the top and sides of my nose. Not side to side, like Bewitched (although how cool would that be?) but kind of up and down. It’s not the most unnattractive thing, but still better to NOT do it on camera. I realized there was something I could do to keep the muscles of my face occupied for the duration of my appearance and that was to make sure I was smiling, which is an action, as opposed to trying to NOT do something which is an absence of an action and might result in a weird frozen expression.
As a side note: I also realized that my need to scrunch was much worse when I was applying under eye cream. I’ve gone my whole life eschewing moisturizer since I’m someone who tends to break out and it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve started moisturizing after a series of makeup artists pulled their hands away from my face in horror after brushing up against the crocodile skin handbags I call my cheeks. “You’re really dry!” they’d exclaim before slathering my face with something from France. It was always “from France” and it was always happening faster than I could start to say, “But I tend to breakout,” at which point they would assure me that whatever they just coated me in wouldn’t cause me to break out because it’s from France. I think it was this. It’s only in the last few months that I’ve deigned to put anything other than the lightest most oil-free moisturizer anywhere near my face. Maybe I do need a little something extra around my eyes, I thought. And I liked the results, the skin definitely seemed a little smoother and more youthful except I think I could feel it sitting on my skin, causing me to crinkle. And so, in an effort to be less scrunchy I stopped using it.
I should say that whatever’s causing the stress now is no longer the stuff from earlier in the year but new stuff! Maybe I should Botox my whole face?
P.S. I actually intended to write about IVF, infertility and how I found myself trying to get pregnant later in life but I thought, first, let me alienate you with a story of weird facial tics. Ok bye!