Category Archives: General Word Vomit

Sure be cool if you did

I do not have an essay today.

It is not often that I post when I do not have an essay, which explains the lack of updates on this site. Words are much better read when they tell a story, or, barring that, lead to a point. My stories and points of late are something of a jumbled mess; I just can’t seem to shape what I want to say into something I want people to read. This is, to some extent, the fault of Roger Ebert.

His death was one of the few that affected me on a personal level. For many, he was a film critic with relatable opinions, a man who loved cinema and shared his passion with the world. And to be sure, he was all that. But to me, Roger Ebert was, above all else, a writer.

Ernest Hemingway – another literary hero to me – was quite clear on his thoughts about other writers. This would not make him popular, or, for that matter, happy today, when a keyboard and internet connection is all someone needs to adopt the “writer” moniker. My own opinion of other writers – and by other, I mean most anyone but me – was formed in the sixth grade. Writing then was done on sheets of loose leaf paper and in spiral bound notebooks, usually in pencil, and for most of my classmates only when required for school.

I wrote often and incessantly then: Diary entries, short stories, sparkly poems about the seasons, long-winded responses to exam questions. And when I had stories to share, I created a newspaper for my class. Book reviews, horoscopes, and a few blurbs about school events did not make this a masterpiece, but it was my own creation, mimeographed after school for me by the nice lady in the administration office.

The paper was not a regular publication, but every so often my classmates would discover it tucked in their desks like a love note. They would occasionally read the paper. Most would just leave it crumpled on their desk to later launch into the trash bin. It was my first lesson in being a writer: Most people don’t read.

My next lesson? There’s always someone who thinks they can do better.

She was a skinny blonde girl. Our friendship never  extended beyond casual interaction at places we both just happened to be – no hatred, but no real interest either. Until the day she decided to release her own newspaper.

Where mine was mostly handwritten, hers was typed. Where mine had illustrations drawn by a friend, hers had real pictures. Of course, every single page of her newspaper had also been plagiarized from the recent issue of Seventeen magazine.

And suddenly, my classmates got interested in reading. They adored her photocopied regurgitation. It wasn’t the competition that bothered me, it was the fact that every word my classmates were eating up had been stolen from someone else. So I did what any budding writer would do: I took a copy of Seventeen, cut out the pages that had been borrowed, and posted them to the class bulletin board with the headline “If you don’t steal gum, why would you steal words?”

Teachers had to get involved then, mostly because my blonde competitor went berserk when she saw students snickering at the board and ripped it all down in a blazing rage. Class newspapers, not surprisingly, were banned from that point on.

Writing is a solitary occupation. Like Hemingway, I do it alone and avoid other writers. But every so often, one writer will break through my tough exterior. One who will challenge my craft while also reminding me of my passion for it. Roger Ebert wrote often, he wrote well, and he wrote with humanity.

Of those traits, I occasionally have one. I would like to have two. I do not know if my voice will ever be as strong or informed or even as likeable as Roger Ebert’s, but I know I will miss having him here to remind me of what a good writer can accomplish.

Turn, turn, turn

“Siri, you useless WHORE!”

Forty minutes ago we’d been BFFs, at least, as much as a human and an infinite technological consciousness can be. She’d been chirping directions and providing useful warnings about impending exit ramps and I, for the first time, wasn’t driving with a crumpled set of directions clenched between my teeth.

Apple’s ability to create a product that can so intuitively change my life is both disconcerting and amazing – this is the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like one of the Jetsons. It saddens me just a bit that my niece will never totally appreciate that wistful sci-fi fantasy future perpetuated by cartoons and Disney’s Tommorowland. Robot maids somehow seem clunky now when with a few voice commands Siri can plan my day, respond to e-mail, search my arsenal of music, and post nonsense to Facebook.

How is it that we automatically trust this digital horizon? Even I relinquished my music to it, turning over a lifetime of songs to a piece of technology no bigger than a deck of cards. The weight of what that music represented alone could have warranted something more substantial – a garage, at least – but a reduction of clutter is half the point of going digital, isn’t it?

I suppose it depends on how you define clutter. My guy recently hung up his bass gear after a lifetime of performing. His concern was that I’d be disappointed; I feared he’d regret it. But when our eyes met at the decision there was only one prevailing emotion. Relief.

Music has the uncanny ability to consume. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But between me and my guy there are a solid 70 years of music combined. For two people engaged in the music scene on a semi-to-professional basis in one form or another, music isn’t so much about the act of creation or sharing, but in preparation.

Movies like Almost Famous give it such a magical sheen. The reality, of course, is that music, like anything else, is work. It’s dedicating hours to rehearsing. Loading and unloading unruly gear in the rain, heat, and wind. Trading life events for gigs. Battling less talented and untrained musicians for play time. Making your own place in a constantly changing and unforgiving scene.

It was never a question of whether that work is worth the effort. We just found we had less space in our lives to dedicate to it when family, travel, and shared adventure have so much greater priority. So while my guy snapped his bass case shut, I entrusted technology to manage the soundtrack to our lives.

And suddenly, we were happier. That lack of clutter enabled us to do the one thing left with music that we wanted – listen.

Now I see technology dangling a tantalizing new option in front of me like a bawdy carnival barker: Store all your books in one place! Read whatever you want wherever you are! Thousands of words at your fingertips!

It’s a good pitch. So much of my own writing is in digital format that the conversion of my physical library shouldn’t be traumatic. Yet I hesitate.

Where music became an unruly interloper, books remain an unobtrusive companion. There is no need to corral them into a Tron-like infinity when I take so much pleasure in their tactile experience. My sister, in all her information and library science graduate-degreed glory, would be appalled to learn that it wasn’t until the end of my senior year in college that I finally gave in to a digital research system. Something about those index cards satisfied more than the tips of my fingers.

My morbid romanticism in being a writer doesn’t help matters. It keeps me clinging to my reading and writing rituals tighter than I do my whiskey. They may be able to simulate the clicking of a typewriter on a digital keyboard, but they’ll never be able to replicate the experience of running your hands over a bound book, of cracking the spine and leaving fingerprints on the pages that mean the most.

The same can, and has, been said of a record store, of course. I guess I’m just more willing to sacrifice music to the medium than I am a legacy of words.

Still, I can’t help but distrust the entire system after discovering how swiftly and without warning iPhone’s Siri can transform from being my personal Rosie the Robot to HAL 9000.

“In 500 feet, make a u-turn.”

Her voice is confident, unflappable, like the aural manifestation of a Buckingham Palace guard. Siri’s digital navigation had gotten me within a few miles of my destination without fail, an unprecedented success. But a u-turn? From one three-lane roadway to another? She had to be kidding.

As Siri will tell you, however, she’s not very good at telling jokes. So I followed her instructions, darting wildly from one lane to the next, bouncing over a median and some decorative flora, and landing somewhere in between an oncoming bus and a snow plow.

Rosemont’s “entertainment district” is not especially easy to navigate for a good driver, let alone a white knuckled terror like me. Storefronts, bars, a casino, and other tourism destinations are buried off random stretches of one-way roads and byways that blow past you at Indy 500 speeds.

Siri’s satellite map recognized my desired destination and pegged it with a little red flag. My own car, marked with a blinking, moving circle, hovered directly on top of it. Yet Siri couldn’t reconcile the realization of my placement on the physical road versus her internal map and she began to lose her reserve.

“In 500 feet, make a u-turn.”

Terrific. Once again I plowed through traffic, wishing in vain that I had the foresight to consult an actual map instead of Siri’s misguided satellite imagery.

“Make a sharp right turn.”

All my turns are sharp, I don’t know how Siri expected this one to be any different. Perhaps I didn’t turn soon enough, or sharp enough, or maybe Siri is just a bumbling fuckwit, because instead of winding up on the restaurant’s drive, I was heading the wrong way down a one way taxi station. Not that I noticed this until I was nose to nose with a string of 20 cabs en route to the airport.

As I drove backwards down that stretch of road and navigated a backwards merge into oncoming speeding traffic, Siri, that useless whore, continued to twitter.

Technology did me no favors that night. And though I still consult with Siri on lesser matters like scheduling appointments and returning emails, I refuse to allow her any access to my books. Those you will have to pry out of my cold, dead hands.

 

Let me show you how country feels

I have a small thing for former Girl Next Door Holly Madison. At least, I did, before she went and got knocked up. No offense to the child-bearing women of the world – because, miracle of life and all that jazz – but full-on pregnancy is among the least attractive states I can imagine, ranking just slightly better than the hunchback of advanced osteoporosis.

This does contradict my general feelings about natural beauty, of course, and is not going to win me any endearments. Still, despite every better rationale, pregnancy remains so much the alien concept to me that every time I see a pregnant woman I half keep watch for a mothership hovering nearby. It just seems the better explanation for an extended belly that is not a product of gluttony but instead the container of a writhing, gestating life form.

Pregnancy is not a condition I exactly figured I’d need to worry about; my concerns are far more superficial. Which is mostly why I was staring down Holly Madison in the first place. Her sparkling, unpregnant figure was front and center in a dated gossip magazine advertisement I’d come across at the salon. My interest was not so much in her but in the product she was touting, a diet pill, and for a moment I actually considered purchasing it.

If I’m really honest with myself, I’ll admit this is not the first time I’ve considered a get skinny quick scheme. I’ve  tossed out interest in acai berries or green coffee extract during rants about a few vanity pounds so regularly that my less accommodating friends instituted a zero tolerance policy. Whenever I get to whining, they hang up on me and stop returning my calls for a few weeks. That I went from a size 4 to a size 8 in the last few years does not impress them enough to care.

Seems that my workout routine, a comfortable mix of three hours of yoga every week, cardio bursts when the weather permits it, and random intervals of lunges, crunches, and jazzy grapevines during commercial breaks, can’t quite keep up with my fondness for bourbon and fine dining.

Wiser, gentler friends suggest cutting back on booze or working out even more. Sensible options to be sure, which would be lovely were I even remotely sensible.

I’m more of an instant gratification kinda chick. If I’m going to ditch five pounds – however temporarily, I do get that – practices need to be simple with snappy results. Case in point: My wedding dress diet consisted of caffeine-leaden green tea and the occasional carrot dipped in hummus. The theory was that I’d get a protein kick from the hummus and the tea would make me feel full – which it totally did, once I got past the grinding pangs of hunger.

Even more recently, I found myself trolling anorexia message boards. Harvesting tips from the experiences of diseased or otherwise delusional women was a new low. I’d be more ashamed of myself for such callousness if I hadn’t been driven to it by an unexpected blow.

We were heading up to the Bourbon Trail, my guy and I, after having just left Nashville. I loved it there. Nashville resembled a smaller New Orleans with its dusty neon and dogged musicians loading in at 10 a.m. All the fixings to make my country dreams come true were there, including an adorable lace-trimmed baby doll dress I picked up so I would fit in at the honky tonks.

To throw the dress in my suitcase for the ride to Bourbon Country seemed a travesty when there was so much country still to experience, so I donned it like the cute ‘lil thing from a Jason Aldean song that I envisioned myself to be.

We rolled up and down gorgeous hills in search of back roads and dirt roads, ate grits and gravy at a diner, and landed by chance at the doorstep of Heaven’s Hill. No more clichéd country town could ever hope to exist. And, whatdoyaknow, the town’s biggest lure was a sprawling whiskey distillery complete with museum and tasting room.

Six bourbon batch samples later and I was in heaven, indeed. Our server was an overly friendly woman prone to over explanation and toothy exclamations, the very kind I prefer to avoid. Still, her pours were liberal, so I was more inclined to chat as my guy settled our tab.

“Where are y’all from?” transitioned to “Where are y’all going?” and conversation was genteel enough, that is, until the bomb dropped.

“So,” she chirped. “When are y’all due?”

Due to what – renew my firearm owner’s card? She asked the question with such optimism and lack of guile I couldn’t hide my confusion. An expectant look toward my belly and I knew: She thought I was pregnant.

So many questions paraded through my head I could hardly focus. The loudest of them all, of course, was “Do I really look pregnant?” Four hours ago I’d been certain of my cuteness. Four hours ago I’d been the carefree country girl with her toes on the dashboard. In an instant, I felt ridiculous. I felt fat. I felt seething venom that I couldn’t keep from hissing at her.

“Do pregnant women often plow through 14 ounces of bourbon in your establishment?”

I instantly regretted the question because I remembered: I was in Kentucky. They probably do.

She back-pedaled and apologized and tried to make nice, but the damage was done. Two weeks later my BFF Google presented me with all the skinny tricks I could swallow. One girl suggested keeping the house at least 10 degrees colder. Apparently shivering burns more calories. Another had the genius idea of eating with a teaspoon. The winner? Punching yourself in the stomach whenever you get hungry.

Really? I may be vain, I may be unaccommodating and egotistical and occasionally unlikeable, but I do know when I am toeing the line of idiocy. I quickly backed away from the Google and sought more reputable advice elsewhere.

Turns out, small changes are easier to implement than I expected. Tempeh has made its way into our dinners each week in place of meat, and despite my guy’s insistence that it looks like something found in a sand trap on a golf course, it’s surprisingly tasty. I’m sucking down more water than ever before, I’ve replaced white flour with spelt, and yes, I’m trying to work out more.

My booze intake will never change, but I’m okay with that. Besides, if all else fails, there’s always Anorexia Tip #72: Tapeworm.

How bad can it be?

 

The offending dress has been relegated to the back of my closet. It has a limited fashion radius of Nashville's main drag only.
The offending dress has been relegated to the back of my closet. It has a limited fashion radius of Nashville’s main drag only.

A battlefield.

Little known fact: I almost flunked out of eighth grade.

Mind you, this was not like the time I deliberately flunked Music Appreciation in college. That was a matter of principal. I refused to have my musical comprehension assessed by someone who disputed the impact of The Beatles. So I attended every inane lecture and when it came time for exams, stared at my instructor for one hour before handing in a completely blank sheet of paper. Sure, that resulting F made the difference between graduating Summa and Magna Cum Laude, but I wore it with pride.

Of course, graduating with honors means about as much as a high Better Business Bureau rating. It looks nice, but does anyone really care? Missing the GPA required to matriculate to high school has far more significant consequences.

Which I knew, even then. Half of my eighth grade career was spent in terror of being forced to relive the nightmare of middle school, and I’d all but blocked the memory until recently.

Memory recall is an interesting side effect of step-parenthood. My step daughter will discuss her life and I’ll have to choke back four hours-worth of “When I was your age,” anecdotes that would instantly annul my standing as “cool” and reduce me to “lame.” I get it; lord knows the only stories I wanted to hear from my parents as a kid were the ones that involved larceny, pyromania, or general mayhem. The empathetic, “I was there, too,” stories only induced eye rolling. How in the world could someone that old know understand my plight?

What I didn’t realize then, and what most teens still don’t appreciate is that despite age and beyond all technology, some things don’t change.

Like smells. Schools retain scent much the same way as hospitals. Fear, sweat, disinfectant, and, in the case of high school, cherry flavored lip gloss, meld into a noxious sort of soup that lasts indefinitely. It wrapped itself around me the first time I walked into my step daughter’s high school, a scent so familiar my guard instantly went up.

With the nondescript hallways, rows of lockers lining the walls, and trophies gleaming behind glass cases, I may as well have been back in my own middle school. The one distinction: A group of student-made posters to raise awareness of National Bullying Prevention Month.

The fact that teens need to be reminded to not be jerks seems like a losing battle, although the sentiment is nice. “Bully,” to my knowledge, is a word that has only recently been redefined to mean more than a boy stealing someone’s lunch on the playground. There are fancy terms used in relation to it now, “imbalance of power” among the more absurd. Still, the newfound attention to bullying is reassuring, partly because it is a wide spread issue, but mostly because it was bullying that nearly caused me to flunk eighth grade.

Her oily, cherry gloss-stained lips always caught the light as she walked the hallway. If she’d get close enough, you’d swear you could see your reflection. But she rarely stopped, she only paused long enough to lean over and say one word to me, loudly.

“Slut.”

Was I? Not really. I was more Molly Ringwald and less Tawny Kittean then, a deceptively reserved 14 year-old who still hadn’t quite made the swap for Aerosmith over Huey Lewis. Not that it mattered.  My preference was to hang out with boys, several of whom were already freshman. And even if all I ever did with those boys was watch horror movies and ride bikes to the local Baker’s Square, in the unjust world of girls, that’s more than enough to stand out in a crowd of burgeoning hormones.

Jealously was the explanation my parents gave when I complained at the start of the name-calling. And it could have been correct, at least in that my cherry-lipped nemesis had a crush on a boy I was friends with. Judy Blume’s book Blubber offered little better insight, other than the hint that girls are inexplicably vicious, and that I’d already figured out.

They work swiftly and with an odd glee that borders on sociopathic. Some doctors theorize that the chemical imbalance of hormones quite literally makes teenagers crazy. This rings more true to me than the suggestion that teens can be reasoned with via logic and discussion.

No amount of discussion would have swayed my mob. As their numbers increased, so did the amount of name calling. And when they got bored with that, they crammed nasty notes in my locker, crafted outrageous rumors, and destroyed my friendships.

Gym class always seemed to be when their shrieking cruelty would reach a crescendo. True, I was an utter spaz when it came to athletics. This made little sense to me: In ballet I could coordinate pirouettes and arabesques en pointe, but put me in a volleyball match and even the special ed kids snickered at my folly.

So many volleyballs were hurled at my face that year it’s astounding my nose is still intact. And in a weird sort of way, I understood. I didn’t like ruining games any more than the girls did losing them. What I didn’t understand was why it didn’t matter when I did well.

One game, I dove for the ball and surprisingly made the shot, leading my team to a win. It was a rare move for me, one fuelled by a sudden overwhelming desire to prove myself. Too many games had gone by where I ducked and dodged; I needed something, anything to feel like less of an incompetent freak. But as I looked up to my team, expecting the cheering normally heard upon winning, I only heard silence.

As they filed out of the gym, cherry lips looked down at me. “I guess you’re pretty good on your knees, huh?”

I decided then that I would not go back to gym. And when my one remaining friend, a gentle boy who surprised no one three years later by coming out of the closet, told me we couldn’t be friends anymore because his mom heard I was a bad influence, I stopped going to lunch, algebra, and social studies, too.

Ditching class was easier than it should have been. I forged a note from my physician stating I tore a ligament in ballet and needed to be excused from afternoon classes indefinitely for physical therapy. For the rest of the semester I limped around the school like a troll. It sparked a great deal of speculation on how I had “really” injured myself, but by then I didn’t care. The limp gave me a way to act injured without admitting to my real hurt.

Schools were far more lax on truancy then, and had I actually completed any of my assignments, I may have avoided the letter home to inform my parents that I was in danger of being held back. As it was, I lacked any energy other than what it took to wake up in the morning. Schoolwork lost all importance in my world when it was all I could do to face my classmates every day.

My parents had suspected something was wrong for a while; the letter just brought their fears and my struggles into vivid light. One school conference and a trash can full of tear soaked tissues later and everything was in the open. It was a terrifying relief to share my five month mean girl nightmare: I was glad to not be alone in it anymore, but panicked to think of what would happen next.

It had occurred to me many times to come clean – to my parents, to a teacher, to anyone who might listen. A confused sort of pride kept me quiet. Why perpetuate my own rumors when I could contain them in a place my parents had no place in? That my life at home was so removed from school allowed me a place of peace, though it really should have made me realize that the two did not have to be so distinct.

I can still hear my loving parents laying the groundwork for future bullying prevention amendments to the school handbook. They flung allegations of “harassment” and “hostile environment” around before they were trendy and swiftly forced the school to not only allow me extensions on all my classwork – thus ensuring I would graduate on time – but also to address my tormentors.

There were enough short-term suspensions and detentions handed out to shock my entire class into silence. I never heard another horrid word uttered from anyone that year, and gradually resumed a few of my abandoned friendships.

Not long after her suspension ended, cherry lips approached me after school. I half expected her to wrench my ponytail in her fist and drag me to the ground in battle, but she only looked at me, coolly.

You know, she had said, we should really hang out some time.

Of everything she could have said, that was the last thing I expected to hear. It wasn’t an apology, not that I expected that either. It was an assumption that everything was just fine and that I actually wanted to be her friend.

I shook my head.

She persisted, preening in the sunlight, and asked why in the world I didn’t want to hook up.

I inhaled. “Because you are a creep,” I said. “Just go away.”

It wasn’t my best line, and to this day I wish I had done something more dramatic – a solid foot stomp at least, but it was a step toward regaining my sense of self, and that felt really good.

Standing in the hallway of my step daughter’s high school was the first I thought of her in more than 20 years. So many people come and go throughout life that many are easy to forget. She was one of the few who are hard to remember, but so rewarding to let go.

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans Love Story

Four days in New Orleans with my husband has left me inspired, giddy and slightly disheveled. The Quarter will do that to a person, especially one like me, who favors a good sazerac and never met a crawfish she didn’t like. I’ll even suck their precious little brains out, a trait my guy both admires and rejects. Brains just aren’t for everyone.

But between the brains, tarot readings, po boy sandwiches, absinthe, and aimless wandering, I also managed to knock out some quality work on my next book. The non-memoir, fiction, first-stab-at-really-writing book that equally scares me witless and fills me with obscene excitement. That one. Its title – New Orleans Love Story – is more a nod to my muse than it is to content, although there certainly are several intertwining love stories in the book.

It is not an easy write, but it is my best write to date. And it’s still coming. I don’t know when it will be done, but I’m shooting for the spring. Fitzgerald took years to write Tender Is the Night and it very nearly killed him. I’m hopeful that this will not kill me, or my husband, who, though unwavering in his support and so accepting of my oddities as a writer, will hopefully not grow weary of it all and lock me in the padded cell I know is out there with my name.

Until I have more to share (essay or otherwise) enjoy this bit of a teaser. A few of my favorite photos from the recent trip, and some excepts from New Orleans Love Story.

 

 

Things I (Dis)Like Thursday

I like the word “ire.” Saying it aloud makes me feel a bit like a classy super villain: “You have sparked my ire, Mr. Bond.” No need for a maniacal laugh; what ire lacks in syllables it more than makes up for in meaning.

Sadly, I am not a super villain and I do not have an elaborate arsenal of nuclear warheads or rabid lemurs to attach them to in order to demonstrate my ire. I guess this Thursday List of Things I (Dis)Like will have to suffice.

1) Car salesmen. Thanks to the ferocious negotiation skills of hubby, purchasing my car was ridiculously easy and in my favor. His suggestion of making myself scarce during negotiations was a good one: I went off to discretely lick my soon-to-be dream car while he put on his scary face to make that dealership sweat out a fabulous offer. It was a better tactic than what I would have done, which likely would have included bouncing up and down chanting “I want it, I want it, I want it.” Part of their final offer included a four year roadside assistance program, which will come in handy because I will inevitably lock the keys inside my car at least once and am far too girly to even consider changing a tire. Consequently, having this program means I do not need to take advantage of the OnStar system my car is equipped for, nor do I give a crap about a free trial of it. Not that this has stopped the guy who sold me the car from contacting me four times in the past week to peddle it.

“You haven’t taken advantage of your free three month OnStar trial,” he whines. “Yeah, well you still haven’t figured out how to spell my street address correctly, so I guess we’re even,” I respond.

I’m curious to know what this jackass gets when someone signs up for an OnStar trial. A medal? A bonus? Ice cream? Maybe he gets beaten when people don’t sign up. In my mind, that’s all the more reason to ignore his calls.

2) Automatic car washes. I had to stop watching shows like Hoarders because I started finding alarming similarities to myself. Not that I’m stockpiling every scrap of paper that’s touched my fingers since birth or living in what equates to a giant kitty litter box, mind you. But I have touches of crazy that make me question whether all that brandy my parents slipped in my baby bottle was a good idea. And it’s not even the quirky crazy that you can diagnose and accept; it’s just plain fucking crazy crazy. Like my unrelenting terror of automatic, drive-through car washes – you’re not going to find that psychosis listed in any textbook. And it’s been with me since childhood, when every time my parents pulled into a gas station I would have the kind of toddler panic attack that makes passersby call DCFS. Car washes are just so mechanical, so very Industrial Revolution that all the whirring, and noise and automatic movements just send my brain into hyper panic mode. Plus, car washes smell bad, which is one of life’s biggest mysteries. How can a place that is designed to clean smell like a formaldehyde-soaked ass?

Of course, getting my driver’s license unlocked a whole new terror set: actually having to drive through a car wash on my own. It’s no secret that I am not a stellar driver. That’s partly why I enjoy having such a small car now; I can navigate parking spaces, the garage and lanes on the road with more confidence. But those two, narrow slats that are meant to propel my car through a car wash? That I’m supposed to somehow position my tires on just so? That I cannot drive off if terror strikes midwash because I’ll risk jamming the entire car wash and being stuck? Yeah. I don’t like those.

3) E-books. I get it; I’m in the minority here. I’m on the verge of becoming that creepy guy who spends Saturday nights rearranging his vinyl collection and sewing patches on a single pair of Wrangler jeans because “’dem modern ones don’t fit as good.” The sad fact is, these fancy electronic books just don’t fit me, and I’m not sure they ever will. I’m rather appalled at myself for being this fusty; I never had this much reluctance in turning my music over to an iPod. But scrolling through a book hurts my eyes, it displeases my fingers, and it contradicts the very things I love about reading. All those purported advantages of e-books are lost on me as I happily lug a hardcover around and find myself somewhat turned on by the smell of old books. I’m sure I’m not the only bibliophile out there with somewhat sheepish fantasies of getting it on in a used bookstore, and that’s something my iPad can never give me.

4) Saying goodbye. A good friend is moving across country next month, and we just had our last dinner together for what will likely be a long while. There is no simple way to say goodbye to someone whom you’ve been connected to for more than 20 years without sounding like a Judy Blume novel, and sappiness has never been our thing. Our confidences have been traded since high school over a steady stream of coffee, garlic bread and booze, so there’s no reason why we cannot evolve to new means of talk now. Still, I will miss being able to drive 20 minutes down the road to hang out on a weeknight, I will miss sharing desserts, I will miss bottles of wine and covert cigarettes. But mostly, I’ll just miss my friend.

WEB BONUS! Things I (Do Not Dis)Like Thursday

TI(DND)LT

1. We Need To Talk About Kevin. I’m desensitized to violence. It’s deliberate, not the byproduct of some sociological statement about media, and more the result of countless hours logged watching the most violent, repulsive, disturbing horror movies I can get my happy little hands on. So to find a movie that catches my fancy and sits with me for days after, that fascinates and scares me equally, is a rarity. We Need To Talk About Kevin is one of those movies. It’s based on the book of the same name, and relates the evolution of a boy who is a sociopath. The story, however, is not about him, but about his mother and how she needs to live with the aftermath of his final act of violence. It’s a brilliant story, and the movie tells it in a way that is objective but completely enveloping.

2. Zombies, Run! If I hadn’t just quit my gym, I would have added it to my list of things I dislike. Because for as much as I enjoy working out, I truly hate doing it with other people, and my former gym was crawling with them. 7 a.m. on a Sunday? Packed. Holidays? Packed. People would stake claim to spots in the yoga room days in advance, and defend their territory more furiously than the first guy in line to buy tickets for a concert. My workouts suffered as a result, an unfortunate consequence as my booze and food consumption has been on the rise. Fortunately, I found the greatest workout tool ever: the Zombies, Run! ap. I’ve always been far better off competing against myself, and with the added boost of having something to actually run from (those brain eating zombie noises are astoundingly realistic!) I find myself again enjoying my workouts.

 

 

 

I’m in a traveling band

My excuses for not posting more frequently are rampant. Of them all, I’m most proud to report that I’ve been working on book #2. Y’all can breathe a sigh of relief – it’s not a memoir, and it’s not a follow-up to Morning Neurosis. Fascinating as I believe myself to be, I suspect the world at large – those that actually still read, that is – may be more interested in a novel. The tentative title is New Orleans Love Story, and it details the lives of three people over the course of 24 hours in my favorite city in the US. It’s coming along well, and on my drunker days, you’ll hear me railing that I’ll become the next Hemingway if it kills me. It may just. But my writing has never been better, and I’m bleeding a whole lot into those pages. We’ll see.

Beyond that, I will always believe that experience is what fuels a great writer and a great marriage, so hubby and I have been enjoying adventures wherever we can. We took our first cruise this February – a quick Bahamas-bound jaunt to celebrate my birthday. While Atlantis was sprawling and gorgeous, I rather took to the private island we spent a day on. We found a decadent expanse of untouched beach to roll around on, then trolled through a vaguely rapey Bahamian forest only to come out directly behind a bar. Fortuitous, yes? Yes!

We also took a road trip to Nashville in April for three 80-degree days of music and bourbon (we couldn’t resist a detour to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail). The girls’ weekend I spent following that in New Orleans is best left unwritten (though fodder for my book was inevitable). Throw in a lost weekend or two in Michigan where we crashed landed in our generous friends’ cabin, and my excuses for not being more prolific as a blogger, again, are rampant.

Instead, I offer photos. And soon, that novel. And too, more essays. I swear. (But I also one day hope to pet a unicorn and meet Kermit the Frog, so you can see how lofty my aspirations are.) Enjoy.

 

Eat it

I’m blaming the fois gras.

It’s the in thing to do these days, in California at any rate, where tasty-tasty fattened goose liver is destroying the very moral fiber of the world. So much so that there’s an official embargo on force feeding geese to produce the delicacy, which frankly seems absurd to me, but my moral fiber is soaked in bourbon and not entirely reliable.

The geese are not my concern anyway, and after being chased through a parking lot by a goose hell bent on gnawing my kneecaps open I can’t say they ever will be. My objection to fois gras is purely cosmetic – that shit is making me fat.

(And no, thank you for asking, I don’t feel a pea under my mattress, but I’ll be sure to let you know if I do.)

At 300 calories for a mere three ounces, my favored appetizer appears to have taken residency in my hips more stubbornly than a plate of cheese fries. That fois gras is “good fat,” similar in makeup to olive oil and avocados, is perhaps the dumbest euphemism ever foisted on an appearance-conscious chick like me. It’s fat, it’s annoying, and the fact that my body “processes” it differently than it would a Big Mac means nothing when I can see excess pounds lining up like thunderclouds.

I’ve started referring to it as Anthony Bourdain fat. Don’t mistake my meaning – I don’t consider Anthony Bourdain fat any more than I truly think myself to be overweight. But there is a marked difference in his appearance from his coked-out early days as a chef and approximately the fifth season of hosting No Reservations. It’s the full look of satisfaction, of exotic meals with friends as the sun sets, of good liquor and, I’m guessing, fois gras. It is in direct contrast to say, Paula Deen fat, where brownies are leaden with bricks of Velveeta and regret.

My own appearance certainly isn’t regrettable, although I do find its evolution conflicting. Back when I was 18 and a semi-pro ballet dancer, my diet consisted mainly of air and Gatorade. I’d flirt shamelessly for the sheer conquest of it.

Today, all that’s left of my ballet career is chronic foot pain and the ability to balance on one leg for extended periods of time. I delight in being a home chef. Whiskey is my drink of choice. When I flirt, it is only with our butcher at Whole Foods, and that’s just for the free slabs of bacon he slips in when nobody is looking.

I’m not sure if I should be proud or alarmed that my looks elicit free pork. In some countries, this is probably a sign of royalty. My husband doesn’t seem especially concerned, but he clearly loves me as I am. Plus he enjoys the bacon. I suppose I should be grateful it’s being presented as a gift, and not flung in my general direction as I’m out running errands, but I have to wonder: what’s next?

My ballerina body has transformed into something far more womanly – sexy, yes – but nearing the line I established as too much. You can spare me the “love yourself, love your body” claptrap, because no one loves me more than me. And that’s why I drew that hard line: to keep my hedonism from getting the best of me.

Even Bourdain is looking trimmer in his latest season. I suppose it’s odd to use him as my litmus, but I refuse to compare myself to any other woman. Instead, I look to learn from the lifestyle I admire: good food, good company, good liquor, good health.

Unfortunately, all the sex and yoga in the world isn’t going to burn enough calories to combat the fois gras. In my lazy fantasies, I consider starting on coke. I’ll take the raging heartbeat, sweats and general mania if it kicks my metabolism into overdrive. Or maybe I can catch hyperthyroidism – it’s essentially the same as having a coke habit, minus the habit, of course.

In reality, I am forced to seek more aggressive ways to maintain my gourmet habits, and if that means visiting the gym more often, then so be it.

Because let me tell you something – I can do better than free bacon. Next time I start batting my eyes at Whole Foods, I’m going for the steak.

He rocked in the treetops

We could always count on my father to fall off something.

His motor skills weren’t in question really; dad could rewire complex circuit boards and operate a bandsaw without issue. But ladders, step stools, ledges, the roof – if it were more than a foot or two off the ground, dad would invariably wind up losing to the principal of gravity.

You’d think being a physicist he’d be more inclined to side with scientific theory; what goes up must come down and all that. But in addition to his distinct lack of balance, dad suffered from something much worse … Good intentions.

They’d usually manifest in various home improvement projects. Painting, hanging pictures and installing light fixtures were typically safe enough, at least in that they only ended with a few days of dad limping and tossing back palmfuls of ibuprofen. It was the change of season that we all came to dread.

Spring meant hauling patio furniture down from the loft in the garage; winter involved an assortment of wreaths and bows to affix to the exterior of the house. Not all these projects included a trip to the ER, but even dad started to lose his rosy, DIY glow around November when the rain gutters would clog.

That was the trouble with living in the Midwest – especially where we did, on the cusp of a forest preserve – the trees would all simultaneously dump their leaves at the first sign of a chill. Add a few days of freakishly warm rain and we’d wind up with a great dismal swamp circling our gutters.

It never seemed to occur to dad that there were people to handle projects like gutter cleaning, people who came with their own tools and extensive medical coverage. Dad just considered it his duty as the homeowner, so every year he’d drag out his gloves and bucket and we’d find him perched atop a ladder, elbow deep in muck.

We learned fast that these were days it was best to avoid dad. Mom usually hustled me into the living room with her to watch television. She could keep an eye on him from there, pausing between commercials to glance out the window, watch his ladder rock precariously, and return to TV with a shake of her head.

One particular soggy Saturday we were watching WKRP in Cincinnati. Dad had been at his work on the gutters for more than an hour. He’d long abandoned his bucket and was instead sweeping pools of coagulated leaves and bird remnants onto the ground. The rhythm of his vile work – scrape, curse, splatter – overtook the living room in a noxious crescendo.

Mom, used to the chaotic bumblings of my dad, turned the volume up. The “Turkeys Away” episode of WKRP was airing at the time, and the idea of live turkeys being kicked out of a plane onto unwitting shoppers had mom and me in a fit.

I can still see the tears in her eyes as Less Nessman called out, “They’re dropping to the ground like bags of wet cement.”

“Poor turkeys,” she snorted, collapsing into her chair.

The commercials began then, and mom, out of habit, turned to the window. Dad had suddenly become eerily silent, and before we could consider that further, we heard it: a wild sort of scrambling, like a raccoon maybe, but bigger. Then – the ladder.

All 26-feet of it came crashing down onto the front lawn in an explosion of aluminum glory. And dad, of course, was close on its heels.

His legs dropped into view first, dangling in that mad way they’re wont to do when you’re searching for footing and coming up only with air. Dad was clearly clinging to the roof and likely wishing he hadn’t relied on writing on classroom blackboards to hone his upper body strength.

As his arms gave out their final grip on the roof, WKRP kicked back in from break. It seemed our eyes made contact for one lone second on his slow plunge to the ground, and though no sound came from dad’s open mouth, I would swear he was thinking, “As god is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

That was the last season dad cleaned the gutters himself.

We’ve told this story hundreds of times at home; no one does a better impression of dad’s plummet better than my mom. And though I laugh every time, it’s made me wonder about myself. What can I, a new stepmom and aunt, be counted on for?

My experience in being any sort of role model is limited at best. I certainly didn’t take much away from my brief stint babysitting as a teen. It was my mother’s bright idea, and just like her other gems (trying out for cheerleading chief among them) it failed miserably.

I have always been more inclined to avoid children than watch them, let alone find ways to occupy their attention. But I did try. Armed with ideas culled from the Babysitters Club books and my own good intentions, I got a weekly gig sitting for Bryan and Allison, two kids who I’m sure grew up to steal lunch money and knock over liquor stores.

Bryan bore an uncanny resemblance to Chucky from the Child’s Play movies, and delighted in sneaking up on me with his pumpkin carving knife. Allison, a plucky five year old, enjoyed playing hide and seek. Her favorite hiding spot? Her mother’s giant gas oven. I lasted three afternoons with the thugs before I renounced babysitting for life.

To be fair, my track record with kids has improved somewhat over the years, but I’m still left here today in a position I never quite imagined: actually looking for and working toward acceptance as a parental figure. I’m rather annoyed that Judy Blume hasn’t written a book about this. She essentially handed me a blueprint for my adolescence; is it too much to ask that she address my adulthood, too?

It would suck dramatically to be counted on for comic relief, known in my niece’s future social circle as “the aunt who set the kitchen on fire” or as “crazy spice lady” when my step kids figure out that the quickest way to make my eye twitch is to rearrange my spice drawers. Then, the big family game will become how to poke my crazy and I’ll wind up a viral video on YouTube.

No thanks. Of course, when I realize that my dad was, if not my exact age, then very close to it back when he earned his reputation for falling off rooftops, a cold chill sets in and I realize I’m way too close to becoming a cautionary YouTube video than I care to admit.

What would mean the most to me is to be thought a role model – someone who isn’t so far removed from how wretched it feels to be a kid, and who can just be real when talking about it.

Is it possible for me, with all my quirks and issues and fascinations, to be someone the kids in my life will look up to and enjoy being with?

In the end, all I can do is hope. Hope that maybe this turkey can fly.

 

 

 

 

 

A writer’s experiment

(Note: I’ve transcribed this from a notebook I keep at my desk. I challenged myself this afternoon to write several paragraphs of uninterrupted, unedited narrative. This is the result. I’m not sure what to make of it, but am oddly intrigued.)

I am not one for writing exercises. The absurdity of playing games in order to coax creativity out of angry or otherwise slow-witted veins makes my hair vibrate in annoyance. Hemingway, I’m sure, did not pen a single book from a “writing prompt”, nor did Bukowski ever succumb to a “writers’ group.” They just fucking wrote. And for every word they’ve put to paper I’ve read in admiration and hazy jealousy, but they are dead now, and thankfully unable to see me here on my knees and partaking in the atrocious practice of “no deletion writing.”

I can’t even write the words without wanting to slam a hammer on my fingers, because truly, the only real way to write, for me, anyway, is to experience first. This stream of consciousness babble, where I filter nothing and sincerely wish I had something of a green-tinted absinthe glow to grease the keys, is far too closely linked to nonsense. I may well be Lewis Carroll, or perhaps Hunter Thompson, because the words are more of a sing-song on paper than they are a story.

Not that there is anything wrong with the lyricism of language; I only wish I had more of an end in mind than this odd dance through my mental bookshelves. Christopher Hitchens is to blame, really. His passing drove me to reread many of his essays and consider my own work and wonder if anyone ever really reads much of anything now.

Hitchens was a lyrical writer of controversial topic, one who had no qualms about his opinion and voiced it distinctly, clearly. Strongly. I do not know if he read Hemingway and I do not know if that even matters, but I think, darkly, that in this instantaneous culture of ours, where information flows without trial or confirmation, that experience is lost.

Not just the event itself – though to be sure the actions that grant experience are necessary – but the event of processing information is now lost to a digital medium that I want to embrace and will eventually be forced into, but deep down resent for taking away my paper.

It’s a morbid romanticism, this affection I have for paper and words and linking them into a story meant to be consumed, internalized. Perhaps the books I read will be my undoing, my tether to something that seems to grow more and more distant. Where messages are blasted in character length not character, where is there room for story?

The real writers, the ones who consume life in order to share it, those like Hitchens and more, have a trail of paper that I envy. The fist fight in my head pairs blogging against essays in a fight no one can win. There are stories that need to be told – stories I have to tell and experiences I will have to tell later that need paper.

And though I sit here in my uncomfortable writing experiment, letting words flow without censor, I am glad that I have paper for them. It’s a small page and my writing is beginning to slow, but it’s a start. A start to something that needs to carry on.