Tuesday, October 31, 2006

This Is No Dream, This Is Really Happening

For a little over a year during my childhood, I developed the odd habit of rubbing my eyes for so long and with such ferocity that I'd break blood vessels underneath them, causing two bright scarlett rings to appear, giving my face a rather demonic slant. Of course, my parents told me to cease and desist. I wanted to and for a short time I would, long enough to heal and start the cycle again. The rings terrified me with that horrible recognition that I suppose everyone gets now and then -- I have done some real damage to myself, I must stop now! Coupled with the secret thrill -- I have power to do something awful. I can, in fact, cause destruction without anyone to stop me.

The irony was that my eyes had always brought me lots of attention -- I had a set identical to my father's (ala Rosemary's Baby -- She has her father's eyes!) and people loved them and often commented on them, describing them as knowing, and less frequently, haunted. No mistaking who she belongs to, I'd hear. I liked to observe people even then and seldom spoke unless asked a direct question. Became adept at answering the question -- What happened to you? about my bloody rings. Giving the only reply I could muster -- I did it to myself, which made me both glad and sad. How often do we get to take full credit for anything?

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Awful things happen in every apartment house." Ira Levine, Rosemary's Baby

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Rosemary's Baby -- a great Halloweenish flick about a the former Mrs. Woody Allen (this is while she was still Mrs. Frank Sinatra and before she was Mrs. Andre Previn) and a cast of crazies trying to get her to raise Satan's child.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Halloween! Thanks to all the readers for the great comments!

The Motor City Is Burning

I moved to Detroit one dreary day in October, right before Halloween, my favorite holiday. Of course, the pre-cursor is Devil's Night, the depiction I'd only seen in Brandon Lee's last movie, The Crow. Greg Allman looks out at burning Detroit and makes a comment that I cannot recall, but he had good hair and that carried the film. That and images of a city on fire. So you can imagine my amazement when the city embarked that very year on "Angel's Night," an attempt at heavy patrolling to keep the fires at bay. And it seemed to work -- hell, I lived in the city and only saw one lousy car torched. It was not the free-for-all I was led to believe.

It seems to be my fate to happen onto things as they are dying. In this way, I am a good match for the city -- the day I hauled my belongings from the U-Haul into my new upper flat in the grayish rain, a man pulled up and said, Are you moving into the city? I nodded and he yelled, I'm getting the hell out! I've been here twenty years and not a minute more. With that, he beeped his horn and cruised down the street. An omen? I didn't have time to contemplate it as my landlords told me to hustle it up or my stuff would be stolen. And it began to rain in earnest. As for Devil's Night, I only have my friends' stories to make me nostalgic for all that I never saw, especially the woman who said -- I miss when the whole city was on fire and nobody could put it out.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Little Johnny Lee is clearing out/ I don't know what started it/ but I ain't staying around to find out." John Lee Hooker, "The Motor City Is Burning"

Cocktail Hour

Devil's Night Shot in the Dark

2 shots of vodka
1 dash of grenadine
1 cup of crushed ice
Fill with club soda and garnish with cherries.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Devil's Night!

Monday, October 30, 2006

An Angel on Devil's Night

Hello Friends! I will be posting in the evening instead of the morning on this unique Detroit holiday, Devil's Night which is now called Angel's Night. Alas, the dichotomy of the outfit. Have a great Monday!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

If Found, Please Return to Detroit

Here's a recent attempt at flash fiction for your Sunday reading pleasure!

Nothing In the House

Jim Jones put down his spork and started to cry. He put his hands on his temples, feigning a headache, a performance played to a mostly empty house, given that there were only two other customers in the Taco Bell, two teenagers with matching ear enlargers, the same impulse that causes couples to dress in matching outfits. Jim’s mother died two months ago and his wife, he felt certain, was having an affair.

On top of everything else, there was the issue of his name. He’d just gotten his real estate license and how some people were superstitious, not wanting someone with a psychotic cult leader’s name to sell their house or help them buy one, even though that was all such a long time ago and even the movie was a long time ago, still a stigma, damn it all! He liked the movie, The Guyana Tragedy, Powers Booth as Jones with his touch of the jungle fever, his scenes with James Earl Jones, a great Father Divine, and then Jones went nutsola and he yelled at Levar Burton for being a homosexual, for having tendencies. Levar was a long way from the Reading Rainbow, doing serious art, Kunte Kinte and now this, a man at the mercy of whitey because he believed some crazy utopia bullshit. Levar, it seemed, could not get a break.

And Jim didn’t feel like he could either. He looked at the teenagers, Goths, and their tattoos and picked at his Nachos Supreme. He’d never had a tattoo -- was it too late? Was he forever past that kind of self-decoration? The last woman he’d sold a house to had been in her sixties and had several tattoos, some, she informed him, in places you couldn’t even see anymore. She’d make a joke about not drinking the Kool-Aid every time she saw him, (ha! was his bitter forced laugh, ha ha!)

He and his wife Marie had met a few years ago. He had felt a tenderness toward her, had felt happy not to have to go everywhere alone. His mother told him not to marry her -- you have to burn for each other or it’s all shit before long. He told her that she sounded like one of the teenagers Marie taught and she told him that teenagers knew about love because they had more time for it than the rest of us.

I don’t want to burn, Ma, Jim said. I want to grow up. Settle.

Then don’t tell me when she leaves you for someone she burns for.

And now she was dead and her prediction had come true.

Jim knew about the affair because Marie had lost weight and starting dressing up for work, tight skirts and all that look at me cleavage and smiling to herself like some kind of half-wit. Also, her colleague Donny’s wife had called and said, Did you know Donny is sleeping with Marie? (God, he couldn’t believe it; he would have thought that Marie would have been mortified to sleep with someone named Donny given the Osmonds, but perhaps she called him Don to mitigate the humiliation.) Me, I could give a shit, it’s a relief that he can get his needs met by another woman, but you, you might be suffering.

He wasn’t suffering, per se. He wasn’t in love anymore and not being in loved sucked, although he wasn’t very good at passion either, the oh baby, no one fucks me the way you do, the I’d walk across hell if you left your hat there and bring it back and put it on your precious little head shit. Marie taught sociology and psychology at the local arts magnet high school and while she had started out with a great deal of optimism, all color-coded folders and graphic paper grading books, her methods had devolved into making up grades to record (when she bothered) and lamenting the lack of structure in her student’s lives. She’d become the mother that claims to be her daughter’s best friend and proceeds to tell the poor child all about the blow job she just performed on the neighbor.

Jim had grown weary of all the upheaval and wanted things to return to normal. Instead of asking her what she wanted to make for dinner which elicited many moans and eye rolls and complaints about how there was nothing in the house, he’d put his hands on his temples like Johnny Carson doing the Amazing Karnac and ask if there was food in their future, trying to be funny and failing if her lack of laughter was any indication.

What the hell, he thought, after another late night at work for Marie, her supposedly helping plan the prom. It was the prom all right, if prom meant your wife putting out for some idiot special ed teacher in cheap hotel rooms by the highway with a fifth of Gordon’s gin in a bucket of ice, chilling for their sipping pleasure. Why wasn’t the spirit of his dead mother haunting Marie and Donny, breaking mirrors and shit to let them knew she meant business? Weren’t the dead supposed to be indignant?

The teenagers got up to leave, taking the remnants of their meal to the trashcan that startled him with an automated thank you every time someone dumped trash in it. The night outside had bite, springtime in Detroit. He didn’t feel like going home, but staying at Taco Bell all night didn’t seem practical either. Why was so much of life dying to get somewhere that you’d also have to leave? But what could he do? There was nothing else he wanted.

So now he’s home, nothing in the liquor cabinet, not like he couldn’t stand a night without drinking anyway. Don’t want to turn into some sad Lifetime movie where he becomes an abusive prick because he doesn’t get what he wants and turns to the bottle for his solace. Nabbing one of Marie’s Valiums, Jim gets into an unmade bed that night, wishing it were not so, wishing that he had the strength and foresight to have made it, to anticipate the moment when it would have been nice to have something to pull down and arrange instead of something in which to crawl and swallow the tiny blue pill that would give him some relief. But wishes don’t come true and maybe that’s a good thing. He can be anyone in this bed -- the man of someone’s dreams and maybe some kind woman will love him all of his life. Ha, he thinks, the bitter laugh choking his throat. He misses his mother, even if she did name him a stupid name. It wasn’t her fault! She just liked the name Jim.

For the first time, he understood that she wasn’t coming back and that while Marie would find her way to the bed late tonight, she wouldn’t be coming back either. After taking the pill, he tried to focus on what he’d learned about selling houses, what would be the next part of his life, the life without his mother or Marie. But the ideas kept getting jumbled, and he couldn’t remember if he were supposed to do the hard sell first or the soft one, pretend like nobody was interested or if he had another buyer that was threatening to put down money in the next hour. He did remember the other guy in the class, a loud confident type who should have been named Jim Jones, leaning over to him during the test and saying, What bullshit. All you need to know to sell a house is to pretend that it’s the best fricking deal the people will ever get and it won’t last long. Jim didn’t agree with him at the time, but now he thinks that maybe he was onto something.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Sometimes I don't know where the bullshit ends and the truth begins. " Bob Fosse

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Mojo Box Southern Culture on the Skids

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Tiger Blues

This weekend is a good time to recover from the World Series, right?

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Use your death to make a living." Ernest Hemingway

Cocktail Hour

Vampire Bite

One part Grey Goose vodka
One part cranberry juice liqueur
Splash of cranberry juice
Cherry optional
Shake with ice, strain into cocktail glass

Benedictions and Maledictions

Everything Seems Dead

Everyone had lost something -- a finger or toe,
friends, fluency, currency. Most still flew, though,
all that war training having some small part
in the other life. As a child, I feared being buried
alive above all else and made my father promise
to stab a stake of holly through my heart when
my time came to be lowered into the ground.
Instead of planning my funeral, my dad told
me I could ride in a helicopter with one of his
friends, who said, Everything seems so fucking
dead after Vietnam. Don't curse in front of the little
girl, another guy said. She's heard it before, he
replied. I nodded. Those were the days when I
saw a lot, understood little, much like now, I suppose.

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Good Place To Be Buried

When I was ten years old, I was kicked out of girl scouts for being obsessed with death. I’d point out spots on the side of the road and say things like, That would be a good place to be buried or I’d ask the other little girls how they’d like to go when their times came. This was in the early 1980s when people lived a long time except in my family. My grandparents all died within the same year -- heart attack, stomach cancer, brain tumor, lung cancer. In addition to this litany, my mother’s boss had blown his brains out on his birthday when he found out his wife was having an affair. At a party. That our family happened to be attending. At his funeral, the official story was that he was cleaning his guns.

“By putting it in his mouth,” my mother said. “And pulling the trigger.”

So the girl scout troop leader informed my mother than I needed some serious therapy or I’d be out on my ass. And I was out which wasn’t such a bad thing. I loathed the meetings and camping trips because I proved to be so ill-equipped at anything practical that a girl could earn a badge for. I had the reading badge and the fire building one and my main accomplishment on International Food Day was spraying some cheap pseudo French perfume on passersby at the French food booth of which neither I nor my mother had cooked anything. Even the Ethiopian booth had managed to come up with some peanut soup, even though it was during their horrible famine and to this day, I cannot be persuaded to go to an Ethiopian restaurant, the famine images are so strong. In addition to all these factors, I did not like selling girl scout cookies and barely managed to get the Cookie Roundup Badge, the one that even the autistic girl scout got. Also, I couldn’t tie a knot worth a shit and consistently came in last in competitions for the team because of this lack.

It was the knot thing that I think screwed the pooch for me, not my trenchant observations about the fleeting nature of life, although my dire warnings about how some people had been buried alive and can you imagine waking up in your own coffin, well, that could not have been a happy thought. I’ve never been much of a joiner, truth be told, and this quality stayed with me. As for knots, I never learned to tie one and mine come lose all the time, fraying at the ends.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens. " Woody Allen

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Annie Hall

Benedictions and Maledictions

Go Tigers! We can do it!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

And We Will Never Die, Not One Of Us

When people become desperate in love (and who has not reached this state at least once, if not several times), they sometimes look to the other world for help, the spells to make someone think of them, to make old lovers return, to make a person become faithful. The spells I have seen are always too complicated to follow, involving a new moon or a full moon, red and black candles, and an assortment of other crap that one does not easily have on hand -- eye of newt or the devil's shoelace -- Oh yeah, let me pull that out from behind my box of stale Triscuits! Will a Victoria Secret lingerie potpourri bag also serve as a mojo bag? Doubtful. Still, I love the names of special herbs (Jezebel Root is inspired), have been to the tomb of Marie Levaue in New Orleans years ago, and think that mental energy is sometimes just as powerful as anything else. This, of course, is a tenant of almost all religions -- what you do will come back to you -- the law of karma, the golden rule, the voodoo belief that what you will do wish on someone will come back to you threefold.

When I lived on the eastside of Detroit during my first few years here, I had a friend on the block who told me that people didn't mess with me because they thought I was a witch on account of my pale white skin and black clothes. I had a built-in protection from harm and didn't even have to hire the guy who hired himself out to protect you (he went by the name The Wall) when you were going to and from your house. I had struggled with deep-seated fear and anxiety for so long that I didn't think it would ever leave, and yet when I moved to Detroit, it did. Once an FBI official came to my house and asked me questions about a childhood friend that they were considering hiring. He ended the interview by telling me that Detroit hadn't gotten its reputation as being the murder capital for nothing and that I better be careful. I didn't know if he meant to help me or harm me, but the spell didn't take. I let him out of my house and walked over to the window where I watched other people's televisions cast a blue glow in the night, that beautiful Detroit night.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"The only curses I know/ my words, your memories." Hank Ballenger

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Angel Heart

Benedictions and Maledictions

Here's to the Tigers!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Spell To Make Someone Love You

I was a child when People magazine proclaimed that a woman over forty was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to get married. Of course, these articles still exist (because of the darker time we live in, the terrorist stuff has dropped out) to frighten women into towing the line. And the articles and advice constantly contradict -- from the true stupidity of The Rules (never accept a date after Wednesday afternoon for the weekend, play hard to get), to crass advice about being a bitch (no need for help there, thanks!) that men will love (there are many titles that include this idea), to the old standby, Marabel Morgan's The Total Woman idea to greet your husband dressed in Saran Wrap when he gets home from work. Besides this blatant abuse of Saran Wrap (what will happen to the leftovers?!), the books ignore the fact that I'm at work and don't really want to rush home, raid the cupboards, and wind clear cellophane around my body as if I'm a Christmas ham. If that's the Total Woman, I admit to missing the mark by half.

On the flipside, I love to listen to dating travail and advice. The men I know often ask women what works. Besides the fact that the question is not easily answered -- whereas some women adore flowers, others think it's hokey, and so on, women will often give them male friends the most ineffective strategies in the universe, a version of the razzle dazzle that never works unless someone already likes you. And I suppose that's the difficult part. After the various failures of relationships, there is always a dating autopsy. This crime scene offers clues, but nothing more. The failures of the heart, such as they are, are as mysterious as weather and not half so easy to predict.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

If I love you, what business is it of yours?" Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Cocktail Hour

Benedictions and Maledictions

A Spell To Make Someone Love You

You're not anyone special; let's start
with that. Maybe you've tried certain
tricks and treats, a potion here or there.
You packed a picnic in the rain, did not
know enough to abandon the food for love.
What now? Burn your old letters at the shrine
of the new, remove the evidence of your
former lives. Allude to a tragic past. Even
if you don't have one, you will soon enough.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Things I Could Do

The first Valentine's present I ever received was a homemade balance beam. This practice beam sat low to the ground, its padding secured by duct tape, the same kind that the various Miss Texas contestants used to secure their breasts during the evening gown competition, an early form of the miracle bra and cheaper. My boyfriend at the time, another gymnast, gave it to me after Valentine's day weekend as I had to attend an unspeakably awful drill team competition called a dance-off. To add to the misery, I had the flu and my fever spiked into the 100s while I vomited every few hours. My then-boyfriend carried me to the school bus where I would sleep on a seat (vomiting gets you a seat of your own!) and beg God to let me die. Madonna's "Holiday" played over and over on the stereo. My drill team instructor said I had to go even if I was dying because it would ruin the group routine if I wasn't there, and I wanted to because we were going to Ft. Worth where we were going to get to eat at a Bennigan's, which was a huge deal in those days. The irony, of course, is that I was too sick to go out to eat and had to stay in the hotel room with another Michelle who was also vomiting -- she was about two months pregnant at the time, although no one knew it. My friends bought me the poster from Fame, the one with the mangled ballet shoes, leaping into a cityscape.

I practiced a lot on the Valentine's balance beam, as it was my worst event. I'd taken some bad falls already and felt a lot of fear about performing such difficult tricks on such a small space. And the judging was changing -- the things I could do didn't count for as much in the new system, and I had to add more difficulty if I was ever going to win anything. Had tremendous difficulty going forward -- you can't spot the place where you'll end up like you can when you're moving backwards. It requires a lot of faith as well as strength. I ended up quitting both dance team and gymnastics, put my faith in other shakier enterprises. My boyfriend started dating older men and so did I. As for our Fame-like dreams -- I suppose we both realized we weren't going to live forever, but to live at all, well, that's a start.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"To a surrounded enemy, you must leave a way of escape." Sun Tzu

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: This Time Dwight Yoakum

Benedictions and Maledictions

Thanks for all who are concerned about Baby Grouchie's fate. He's alive and well as you can see in the above photo. In the last picture, he suggested we do something edgy and exciting, like a Nan Goldin photograph. He felt he wasn't getting enough artistic say so the gun/Sopranos/Baby Grouchie image was born.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Whatever I Tell You in The Dark

I once saw a woman kissing an urn containing the ashes of her husband, over and over again, saying to anyone who would listen, He's here with me, even now. He knows it's my birthday. The woman looked much younger than forty, the birthday she was celebrating, and the friends who were with her looked a bit haunted by all that was happening. The woman wore a beautiful long old-fashioned cherry red coat, and I could not take my eyes off her. I was in a hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a hotel that is reputed to be crawling with ghosts. In its various incarnations, it's been a mental hospital, a mortuary, and a cancer treatment center. On the other side of the lobby, a couple was about to get married admist a group of gargoyles and in front of a fireplace. I heard the bride said to one of her bridesmaids about her groom, He's not so bad for a second choice. I didn't know which scene depressed me worse -- the authentic grief of someone who had loved deeply and lost that love to death or someone who was settling for marriage with a man who wasn't too bad for second place. I know that the first scene is more rare -- Willie Nelson once claimed that the only reason people play the jukebox is because they are not with the person who they would have chosen, that they have been forced to settle for something else. Willie, despite his habitual pot smoking, has made many a good point in his day.

On the bottom floor of the hotel, there is a day spa where you can get all sorts of things done -- facials, massages, energy work. I got a facial and had my chakras cleansed and balanced (the woman said they were in pretty good shape, which I was surprised to hear) and then went next door to St. Rita's, a gorgeous church that was underground. You had to climb down a flight of stairs to get inside it. Shadows flickered on the walls, giving the saints an unearthly glow. I felt a stillness there, far away from the way I feel most of the time, and for the first time understood why some people choose a life of service to God. Years ago, I had a lovely student who whispered the rosary meditation all through my creative writing class while clasping a black set of beads. I'd collected rosary beads for years, but had never said a novena. My student had been institutionalized in mental hospitals off and on for years, and I believed her to be both brilliantly perceptive and out of her mind. I envied her ability to go deep into the world of the spirit, but understood how much it cost her to see what others did not, the haunted nature of the world. In her early thirties, she'd never had a date, but once she said to me, Jesus is my lover, my life, my husband. She looked in that moment like the woman kissing the urn, someone who proclaimed her love for anyone to see.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light." Matthew 10:27

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Margarita Happy Hour

Benedictions and Maledictions

Special thanks to my wonderful yoga instructor and dear friend Tim for the Sopranos t-shirt! You can check out his website at www.timothyclarkhealth.com.

Darkness, My Name Is

In the list of scary things to do, I'd have to put playing Truth or Dare with a group of drunk adults right up at the top. When parties become inward and all talk of psychic self-defense and other lives ceases, the partygoers will often turn to the shock of the real to add a jolt of pain and excitement to an otherwise dull gathering. I've learned all sorts of things that I would have rather not about people looking to avoid the dare option. Even worse, the dare options usually involve kissing someone, taking off a piece of clothes (I will confess to a partial striptease --this was many many years ago involving lots of whiskey and an LL Cool J soundtrack), or plain idiotic (usually involving eating really awful foods). All in all, I'd rather talk about my past lives, but of course, nothing is the past, as everyone who plays any kind of game knows all too well.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Darkness, my name is Denis Johnson,/and I am almost ready/ to confess it is not some awful/ understanding that has carried me here." Denis Johnson

Cocktail Hour

Drinking television suggestion: Breaking Bonaduce (This has to be my absolute favorite guilty pleasure. It's on VH1, and the second season starts tonight.)

Benedictions and Maledictions


Things are not what they once were;
a given. You have looked back one
too many times, and I have failed to make
the requisite sacrifices. Our relationship
does not seem ideal to anyone. You have
heard all my stories, the ones about what
went wrong in that dangerous land of troubled
childhood. I am territory that you no longer
choose to fight for. Don't cast your eyes down.
You know, if only for this once, I'm right.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Saturday, October 21, 2006

You Wait Your Whole Life

During one of my first few years in Detroit, I discovered the horror that is Sweetest Day, fittingly enough in a Hallmark while shopping for cards for a real holiday, ie, Halloween. It was a Friday night in October and there were tons of men crammed into the store. I knew they all couldn't be looking for Halloween cards, so spygirl that I am, I followed one to a Valentine-like rack of cards proclaiming it Sweetest Day. What?! In Texas, nobody has even heard of Sweetest Day, so I read a few cards of nauseating sentiment, saw a few bears with I wuv you on their t-shirts (I had seen these at the 7-11 while grabbing a Big Gulp; now I understood their demonic purpose), and hustled myself to the check-out to make my way home for a fun night of addressing Halloween wishes to friends and family while watching Sanford and Son. One of my childhood virtues according to my mother was that I could entertain myself.

Researching this perverse holiday, I found that it's only celebrated in a very small part of the northern midwest, mostly in Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo. I suppose it's cold and grim enough in all of these places to warrant something special. But today will not be pretty. For the first time in twenty-two years, the Detroit Tigers are in the World Series that starts today. Those romantic dinner in a quiet French bistro bullshit fantasies will be laid to rest at the grave of Coamerica Park or the local sports bar. Even during the regular season, I observed couple after couple at a restaurant, the man transfixed by a game, the woman twirling her hair and trying to pace herself with the drinks as not to get blotto out of sheer boredom. Women, today is not the day to draw a line in the sand about your relationship. The Tigers are in the World Series! Forget the flowers and cards! Earlier this year, a skinny man with track marks all over his arms came up to me in a bar and started telling me about how this was the greatest city in the whole world, how baseball was so amazing. He started to cry, wiped his hands with his bev napkin. You can't imagine how lucky we are, living here during this time, he said. But I could, and I told him so. You wait your whole life for something this special, he continued. What's a pink and white card and a 7-11 teddy bear compared to that?

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Abstainer, n. A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially from inactivity in the affairs of others." Ambrose Bierce

Cocktail Hour

Detroit Tigers Party

1 bucket of KFC chicken
lots and lots of beer -- low-end for the guys, high-end for the girls
shots of tequila for the ending

Benedictions and Maledictions

Thanks to my wonderful friend Shawn for my Hobgoblin Friend, pictured above. I love him! He's my very first Halloween present this year.

Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York

As a child, all my adult fantasies centered around working in a big city, late nights at diners washed in neon, and wearing exceptionally good clothes, including tall leather boots and a fur coat. (Sorry PETA, I would never think that now about the fur!) I did not dream of marriage or babies, having been terrified by one two many viewings of The Stepford Wives. When one of my friends hogtied her Barbie dolls to the dining room table, I asked what would free them again so we could dress them in their Garden Party attire. They're waiting for the prince, she said. Good luck, I thought. All we had was one lousy Ken doll to her many, many Barbies, nary even a G.I. Joe insight. Invariably, waiting got boring and we freed them one by one and then acted like they were in the Iran Hostage situation, being tortured. Her mother often asked, Why don't you play something cheerful? But what was the fun in that when you could indulge in all the dark fantasies your heart desired? There was only so much you could get Barbie to do in the Garden Party clothes anyway.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"There are no wrong notes." Miles Davis

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Blue Velvet

Benedictions and Maledictions

Some Are Better Than Others

You can speak, and I will listen about the wedding
of our friend Debra, where she married a newly divorced
controlling man nicknamed Slinky. She’d been beaten
by her last love for almost seventeen years, had known
Slinky for five months. The maid of honor, asked
a day before the event, you ended up in a black formal
at the rehearsal dinner, to your surprise held at Golden
Corral, all you can eat seafood night where surly youths
fried shrimp and offered to dump it on your plate for as
long as you kept coming back. Compared to the last,
Slinky wasn’t so bad even though no one was on his side
at the wedding service, the bride’s side of the ship tilting
with all the weight. You tell me -- if you write this, please
give her a happy ending, even if she’s staying at a crappy
Ramada Inn for the honeymoon.
Some, I say, are better
than others, since this is all I know to be true for certain.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Look Again, Try Harder

For my mother, there was nothing better than an airport. She loved everything about travel, even the hard parts, the dismal waits and bad overpriced airport food, the occasional mishap (once in Australia, a security person opened her overpacked suitcase to set all of her clothes and curlers and everything springing out and setting everyone to retrieve it like in a comedy routine), her fellow travelers. She'd even like to accompany other people to the airport just to see the planes take off. I like to imagine I can go anywhere, she'd say. She'd strike up conversations with interesting-looking sorts, coming back with travel gossip -- that man has been around the world! Or-- she's going to New Zealand! I'm one of those people who will only speak when spoken to and never with any grace as this setting taps a deeply misanthropic vein for me. My last hideous airport encounter was with three boys, probably in their twenties, but having participated in a level of clean living unknown to me, looked all of ten. We're all about love, the boldest one said. I would have thought it was a pick-up line, but he had the gleam of the convert in his eye, and I knew what I would encounter was going to be far worse than the two dorks who had whistled at me earlier and started singing the classic, "It's getting hot in here/ so take off all your clothes." What's not working in your life, the other boy said. How long do you have? I said. The love cult would not be deterred. Is it a man? Do you want someone to see how incredible you are? I gave him my, Are you fucking kidding me look and then thought, tell me your theory, you disturbed, mentally-challenged ten year old. He started in on how to get love, you have to understand the universe, tap into the center. I've heard a fair amount of stupid shit in my day and apparently that wasn't ending soon. I hope we get to sit together. We could talk all about it during the flight, the quiet one said. I prayed like I have never prayed before -- we did not have seats remotely near one another. There is a God! And He loves me.

While I have never felt particularly at home in the world, my mother became most herself while out in the fray. I can still see her marching through the airport with a digerdoo (an Australian instrument played byAborigine tribes) on her back wrapped in a brown paper bag, looking like a bad-ass at all of her 5'1. Of course, when she got sick for the final time, I went home on a plane and returned the next week, a few days after her funeral. There was a meteor shower that night and the pilot kept urging us to look out the window to see it. I made a half-hearted attempt, but sunk further into my seat, even more demoralized by the fact that I could see nothing. I could hear my mother telling me to look again, try harder, but I didn't have it in me. The night before my mother died, my best friend and I slept in the maternity ward waiting room of the hospital (my sister and father were in chairs in her room). Babies cried all night long. A nurse said, When you hear a scream, it means there's a new life. I suppose that's as good of an introduction to this world as any.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Nothing to me is as erotic as a hotel room and therefore so penatrated with life and death." Paul Theroux, Hotel Honolulu

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: One Trick Pony - - In this campy 70s classic, Paul Simon stars as an unsuccessful musician. Hey, I guess if you can't live that misery in real life, why not do a movie about it? The irony -- the best thing about the movie is the soundtrack by Paul Simon!

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Birthday to my mother.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Ghosts of Dead Teenagers

In high school, I fluctuated between two groups of people -- kids who thought it was a sin to drink a carbonated beverage of any sort (body as temple) and those who smoked pot laced with meth (body as rec room). I certainly did not make it with the strict religious types whose big Christmas party rebellion was to sneak in a two-liter of Dr. Pepper to sneak outside in small paper cups (I'd already convinced my mother that Coke was a perfectly good breakfast and gave me energy), yet I didn't fit with the hard-core try anything types either because I so feared losing control of myself in any situation, save for the once a month wine cooler or heaven help us, Zima. There wasn't much to do in Mineral Wells except to get drunk and look for scary shit like the ghosts of dead teenagers out in the woods (people told lots of scary stories surrounding people who had died untimely deaths in accidents) or pregnant (our small high school already had a nursery that catered to twenty-two of our student's babies) so I had a lot of time to fantasize about what life might be like on the outside.

Once in the fifth grade, my mother took my friend Curtis and I to the mall in Ft. Worth near Christmas. Curtis bought me a Christmas present (Robot Dreams by Isaac Asimov, the only science fiction I have ever read) and a pair of bright lime green gloves at Bennetton. Nobody in Mineral Wells had such festive gloves! My mother broke out in laughter when she saw us, Curtis adorned with his new purchase and asked him where he planned on wearing the gloves, given that it never got really cold in that part of Texas. Not while I'm in Mineral Wells, he said. They're for when I leave after high school. How his future must have gleamed against the single note of doom that played in those days of dodging the assholes that yelled faggot in the halls. It was a cold day with a grey sky and the gloves were the only bright thing I could see for miles.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"The future was ours -- it always belongs to the ones who are unhappy in the present." Kathy Dobie, The Only Girl In the Car

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Trouble Man, Marvin Gaye (This is a soundtrack to a movie very loosely corresponding with some of Marvin's life.)

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Wednesday to everyone!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I'm The Evil Twin!

I've never been anyone's mistress, but I love to write stories about it, leading people to think otherwise. I don't mind that label and think of the one French bit of humor I know (the French, and I can say this given that I am in part French, much to my horror, don't have the greatest senses of humor, not a lot of ha has with that bunch except when Jerry Lewis appears -- could anything be more mystifying than that other than the German's love of David Hasselhoff? But I digress.) -- There is nothing more embarassing than being caught in bed with your husband! So what draws me to this material? The mistress, the person on the margins, has that Janis Joplin "Me and Bobby McGee" freedom, the nothing left to lose kind, the ultimate loose cannon. I am not a loose cannon. Am the kind of person who plans and worries, whose most rebellious fantasy is throwing her cell phone out her car window (like Vito on The Sopranos last season). I could resent inantimate objects and certain types of food if I tried. Neurotic, sure. But not exactly screaming bunny-boiler, is it?

And there's the issue of honesty, a paradise for a writer. I love Richard Pryor's response to getting caught in the act of adultery --Who you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes? Or Bill Clinton's for that matter, which came down to the Catholic school girl definition of sex. Playing stupid whether he had had sex with "that woman" was not his deftest political move, though. Anyone could see that Bill with his Elvis-like ways and Southern charms, could woo the ladies. A dear friend of mine, a preacher for several years, said that when he started his affair with the church piano player, he knew that what happened in darkness would eventually come to light. But like most of us, he thought he could drive the car even after all the engine lights had come on to warn him that things were not good. And what is redemption without a fall? Well, it's like watching Jerry Lewis while having sex with your husband, not something that should even be considered in this world or the next.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I am prone to envy. It's one of my three default emotions, the others being greed and rage. I have also experienced compassion and generosity, but only fleetingly and usually while drunk, so I have little memory." Augusten Burroughs, Possible Side Effects

Cocktail Hour

Drinking comedy suggestion: Bring The Pain, Chris Rock

Benedictions and Maledictions

Thanks for the Halloween suggestions! I'll start posting Halloween-like pictures at the end of this week and continue through the month of October. Special thanks to Jodi for the great t-shirt!

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Lake In All Its Romantic Glory

I tipped a canoe over once, on purpose, in early March, during an unseasonably cold winter in Texas. My then-boyfriend and I had rented it for a day to take on Lake Mineral Wells (read Pit of Hell, Pit of Hell!) for something to kill the time during his college spring break. The boyfriend was a real piece of work -- my friends knew it, my parents did (my mother used to refer to him as "the politician" and do corny handshaking/smiling gestures to accompany this title -- oh, the sometimes wisdom of a mother, if we could only listen!), and even I did. Like Anne Sexton used to say about her prescription pills, I liked him a lot more than he liked me. He had a careless cruel streak about him, a person with that peculiar talent of finding your weak point and riding it for days. He was, in fact, one of Satan's minions.

That said, there we were on the lake in all its romantic glory, talking about what his psychiatric practice might be like one day (God help us all, this was his chosen career path) and he started to row toward a place where I had seen a nest of snakes the summer before. I asked him to go the other direction, begged in fact, which made him row harder. Physically, he wasn't much, a skinny man with glasses and weak arms, a man who couldn't swim, was, in fact, afraid of the water. I started rowing the other way and threatened to tip the canoe if he didn't stop. You would never do that, he said, smug. You're too nice. We're all wrong sometimes. I turned the thing upside down. The cold water enveloped us, and I took off my army jacket and made it into a flotation device. The boyfriend struggled and cried out, trying to keep ahold of his glasses and cling to an old oil derrick. I watched him for a minute, the way you might a roach struggling to free itself. I threw my army jacket to him and swam us both to shore. I didn't feel cold at all; he caught hypothermia. Spring break, for all intents and purposes, was over.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Please die I said/ so I can write about it." Margaret Atwood

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Eating -- this is a great pseudo-documentary (it's fiction filmed in a documentary-like way) about women and food. The only place I've ever been able to find it is Thomas Video. It's only on VHS.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Congratulations to the Tigers for making it to the World Series!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Difference Between Pluto and Goofy

A student told me a story once about working at Chuck E. Cheese and having to wear the giant rat costume, not the acting job she'd been hoping for, but it paid the bills, as they say. The kids, demons that they are, sensed her fear of them and tore her rat head off and starting hitting her. So that was that and she was assigned to wash vomit off the balls that populated the cage that the children played in, the endless sea of plastic balls that could drown you, and someone had vomited in them (employees are instructed to refer to these incidents as "protein spills" --Orwell, anyone?) and they all were tainted. It struck me that this was as good of an introduction to the world of work as any -- my own was at a slaughterhouse, but it did not involve children or costumes and for this, I give much thanks. It did, however, provide insight into men and what they say when they assume (almost correctly in this case -- I was the only girl around for miles) there are no women within earshot.

My friend Melissa's mother used to take us to Chuck E. Cheese every now and again, and we'd play skeetball like fiends, then dance around in the room with strobe lights. Melissa's mother would be zoned out on valium and beer (the only way for an adult to survive such a place), and we'd play until we couldn't stand. To our credit, we never vomited in the ball cage or tried to attack the giant rat. Even as a child, I avoided anyone in cartoon costumes and my fear of Disneyland was and is tremendous. It would be years later that someone explained the finer points of the mythology to me, before I learned that Karen Carpenter was obsessed with Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Someone else told me that Pluto was Mickey's dog and Goofy was his friend. They were both dogs, of course, but Goofy had risen in status. I loved that detail and used it in a story where the narrator feels as if she's doomed to always be Pluto. And now Pluto isn't even a planet! It's a dwarf star, but like most things that are demoted, it still retains its power to wreak havoc. That, of course, is part of the story as well, every story, not just this one.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I will either have him or my own anger, and this might be all right, since anger is always a great comfort, as I found with my husband." Lydia Davis, Break It Down

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Viva Wisconsin Violent Femmes

Benedictions and Maledictions
In answer to Bonnie's question about labels -- Where to begin?! With make-up, of course:

Two favorite brands of late -- MAC (great lipsticks, especially Dark Side and Cyber) and Urban Decay -- I love the names of the colors -- oil slick, grifter, smog, cosmopolitan, and on and on.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Moment of Silence

Most people, myself included, do not come to God because out of joy, but rather the butt of a gun. The gun for me wasn't some horrible illness or financial crisis -- it was middle school gym class. I wasn't a total outcast in school -- I had a small group of friends who at lunch together, found places to roost to hide from everyone else while we downed Munchos and Dr. Pepper. But in gym class I was on my own. The sadistic ritual of having beautiful athletic children pick teams still prevailed, and I competed for last spot every time with a very large girl named Toni who smoked by the sixth grade, was pregnant with her uncle's child by the eighth. So I doubt Toni gave a rat's ass about being the last one out of the bleachers, but I did. We'd sit while the team leaders debated about how not to get stuck with losers, meaning me, Toni, or the boy on crutches suffering from muscular dystrophy.

I continued to hate gym, but I started to pray that I could accept whatever happened, whatever taunts and bullshit came my way. It amazes me that I knew enough not to pray for a change in the situation but a change in me -- it was a lesson I would have to relearn for years and years, but I had it down at that moment. During this time there was much debate about prayer in the schools -- during my high school years, we had a moment of silence as a nod to the separation of church and state. You could do anything with your moment. By high school I had come into my own and hold much of the same opinions I do today which includes a very firm separation of church and state. But I used my moment to thank God that I had survived middle school (Robert E. Lee Middle School no less!) and that I didn't have to take gym now. There was a lot to be thankful for if you looked.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Suffering is God's bullhorn to a deaf world." C.S. Lewis

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Breaking the Waves (if you want to be really, really depressed)

Benedictions and Maledictions

Hangover Cure

He didn’t die fast enough, she said,
when I asked her why she left her
HIV-positive husband. She’d grown
thin and beautiful, no longer the chubby
girl who’d married Kevin even
though he wasn’t expected to live much
longer. Nights, he worked at Waffle House,
serving drunks who’d come to the only
open place in town, hoping to waste
time before sleep, ordering much more than they
ever ate, trying to sober up before morning.

Friday, October 13, 2006

That Bag Is Bigger Than You!

I can’t remember the first time I carried a gun to class, you know, the particulars, what the weather was or if I saw a carved-in jack-o-lantern on my way to class, you know, the details I’m always stressing to my students -- the abstract doesn’t work! I do, however, remember the student who inspired me to it, an ex-Marine named Karl who had an aura that said things, things like this man is a rapist/serial killer/torturer of animals. I'd just turned twenty-one and had my first class to teach, a freshman comp class that met every Tuesday and Thursday. I'd never so much as been a teacher's aide and the thought of filling an hour and a half already had sent me into thoughts of terror. The night before I was to teach, I did my laundry at rundown place by the university and thought about a lesson plan. A woman started to talk to me about her life in the battered women's shelter. I listened to get my mind off my fear and fixed on the fact that she said that nothing but writing in her journal had allowed her to move on with her life, get out of the abuse. Looking back, I realize she also spent a lot of time talking about fear and intimidation and if I had been more attuned, I would have realized that in addition to the cosmic support she lent me for my chosen profession (writing and teaching others to write), she had also given me a grim warning about what else I was to encounter in my life for the next few years.

Karl left my class after a series of incidents, but my fear didn't. I noticed that the students never sat in the chair that he had occupied, even though there was no formal seating arrangement. I suppose the choices we make ourselves are always more lasting than the ones issued to us. Having taken a gun safety class the year before, I had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, although I never thought I would use it. The gun rested in a side pocket of my backpack for years. It took up room, had weight. I carried it with all the other things I chose to lug around -- books and papers, anxiety like a chronic illness. Like with the late point in most addictions, the gun didn't make me feel any better, but I couldn't do without it. I gave it up eventually, but it wasn't easy. I backed away from my fear as if it were a snake, something beautiful and deadly that I would miss, if only for the room it took up, the weight it had, the power to define the days. I don't carry half of what I used to around anymore, but sometimes I miss the way that my things used to wear me down, the comments people made -- Hey, that bag is bigger than you! and the mark on my shoulder from all the weight I was carrying.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all." Buddy Guy

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Burning Hell John Lee Hooker

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Friday the 13th!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

We Know There's Somewhere Worse

My friend Hank always contended that to have a successful party, you needed at least two rooms. You may only need one, but the second room implied possibility, movement, mystery. You don’t, he’d say, want to think you’ve seen every swinging dick already. Our parties in college and graduate school tended to be low-rent affairs, involving a steady set of the same swinging dicks and a few wild cards that changed from year to year to provide the drama necessary to make us feel alive. Cheap beer, tequila (El Torro! at a mere seven dollars was a favorite, the kind of liquor that comes with a red plastic hat as a lid), and all too intentional slips of the tongue that caused crying and break-ups were our staples. Our group, which Hank dubbed “the family,” had known each other in varying degrees of forever, most since high school. The core of the family had grown up in Mineral Wells, a small Texas town that boasted a decommissioned army base, an abandoned hotel that used to dispense curative waters to movie stars in the twenties, and a thriving snake population that included every poisonous variety indigenous to the United States. Whenever we complained, Hank would counter, Wherever we go, we know there’s someone worse, and I thought of this comment as his parents made arrangements to ship his body from Philadelphia to Mineral Wells, to be laid out and buried a few miles from the hotel in which he was born, two weeks before his thirty-third birthday.

I dream of Hank often, as one might expect. We promised to haunt each other – who knew it would come so soon? In my dreams, Hank and I try to get places, we hang out, talk on the phone. We are as we were, but I always know he’s dead. Sometimes we argue about the relationship, just like in life. (“You’re dead. We cannot be talking on the phone,” I’ll say, to which he will reply, “Well, we are. Talking on the phone, that is. I know I’m dead. You don’t have to tell me everything.”) His visits leave me sad, wanting more, a rule he often cited as the secret to all great performances. Make them still wish you were up there, and you’ll always get invited back. If I’m lucky, I can almost convince myself that Hank’s in that much-vaunted second room, and I wait for him to enter, so everything can start again.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Stars with masses above the Chandrasekhar limit, on the other hand, have a big problem when theycome to the end of their fuel. In some cases, they may explode." Stephen Hawking

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Map of the Human Heart

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Birthday to my dear friend Tim! And happy first snow in Detroit!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Dying Art of Conversation

So much is written in praise of romantic relationships, but very little about the joys of friends. I've often debated my friends about how, in many ways, friendship is a thing itself, not just the booby prize for not making the cut romantically. This is a gender neutral statement -- I know both men and women who would prefer to be the one and only for someone who doesn't see it that way. Romantic love is great, no doubt, but it's exhausting, all that I would walk across hell to get your hat if you dropped it off your pretty little head stuff, all that I love you, no, I love you more (these lines always make me think of the great Ben Wallace commercial for cell phone minutes -- seeing Ben in the locker room on the phone telling someone he loves them more is worth switching cell plans for). Granted, when it's working, it's like watching the Pistons beat the Heat (like they did last night in a pre-season game, HA!), but often it's more like watching the Lions -- a doomed enterprise even in the best of times.

And this is where friendship comes in, the workhorse of all relationships, the one that you don't have to put on your party hat for, the kind of thing where you can be yourself and not worry about it. I had a conversation with a friend the other day where I was saying exciting bon mots such as -- I had that dream about the Halloween store again. Then I drifted off, stuffed more salted bread in my mouth like some deranged squirrel (yes, I salt bread) and looked glazed. It's a reoccuring dream, you know, I continued, as if this were going to make the whole story come together and make sense. My friend, a great sport, said, Were you buying anything in the Halloween store? I mean do you usually buy something there? I replied, Just browsing. It's more a mood than anything. And there's lots of dying light in the store. Trapped. You know, trapped dying light. My friend nodded. What was there to say? If love means never having to say you're sorry, then friendship means never having to be sorry about not being more exciting.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I'd love you and be your catfish/ friend and drive such/ lonely thoughts from your mind." Richard Brautigan, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Short Cuts

Benediction and Maledictions

Go Tigers! And here's to the Pistons' great pre-season start! Whoo-hoo!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Nominal Fee On A Sliding Scale

I've always thought that the condition of having money or not having it could be summed up by the instruments in gynocologist offices. In the almost free clinics where you pay a nominal sum on a sliding scale, the instruments the doctor will use on you sit in an uncovered bucket next to the examination table. In my HMO office, a towels drapes the bucket so that you can't see what's in it. In the nicest offices I have been in, the patient never even sees the speculum and the other torture rack devices. But a doctor's office is a doctor's office, a sad place no matter how much money you have or how nice it is. Even a routine yearly pap smear is fraught with trauma, delivering all the cancer histories in a monotone, trying to keep from worrying that some stray cell hasn't taken to turning against you. A friend of mine told me about his wife's new condition -- a falling uterus. She has to push it back in about once a week until they do the surgery, he said. Dear sweet Lord! The pain of women, it seems, has no end.

My mother, a cancer patient for many years, had many good gynocologists, the best one being a kind man who examined me for anorexia as a child and told my mother that all was well, that I was just skinny and hyper. How sad for those days to end! He had a happy bedside manner that disappeared when his wife left him for someone. My mother asked why and he said, Because that someone has more money. The someone, Martina Natirtilova, entered into a long-term romantic partnership with the doctor's wife for many years. What I did, he said, wasn't good enough for her. The doctor had a thriving practice, a great reputation, and more money than anyone I had ever known. There were pictures of exotic islands and ski vacations all over his office walls. I'd always thought of sliding scales as being confined to a certain level of poverty, but alas, the whole world had its various scales, ones in which everyone, no matter what happened, could be found wanting.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"The rule was that I had to tell the truth, and I had to tell him everything." Amy Hempel, "Offertory"

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Walk the Line

Benedictions and Maledictions

Thanks for the ghostly story ideas! Feel free to add more if you like.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Spooky Art

I'm a creative writing book junkie (from the highbrow -- this is how I did it and I'm Norman Mailer! The Spooky Art, which isn't half bad if you can get past Norman doing his Norman Mailer imitation to the new-agey this is how you can tell your own personal story as a fairytale, soap opera, mime show). What better way to avoid writing than to read about how to write better? Lucky for me, I've almost exhausted all the popular ones and truth be told, I've gotten at least one good thing from all of them, a tip that made the go of it easier, something to pass along to my students, or a writing exercise that offers up something other than the pedantic describe this room if you were a) a child, b) a fixture on the wall, or c) an animal. Don't get me started on point of view animal.

My favorite exercise of late comes from a book called Now Write! about writing a ghost story. Sucker that I am for Halloween, you'd think that I had lots of horror stories written, that I would love the gothic forms. This would be wrong. Despite my love of the slasher movies of yore, I can't produce one. The only blood on my page is the blood running out of my eyes when I'm not writing well. The exercise urges the writer to figure out what kind of ghost would pick him or her to write his or her story. The idea is that the ghost, while being distinct from you, is someone with whom you share something, a correspondence as it were. While I feel it's safe to say that there are a fair number of people haunting me, I'm not sure who would choose me, and Halloween is almost here. I'm feeling pretty haunted these days -- I suppose that's a start.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"All poems are love poems." Raymond Carver

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: All That Jazz

Benedictions and Maledictions

A Monday morning question for those want one: If you wrote a ghost story, what would your ghost be like?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

No More Wire Hangers!

The last time I moved, it was three weeks after my dad died, a rainy day in late August. I was both out of my mind and totally in control, a weird state that shock sometimes affords one in times of crisis. Some of my friends volunteered to help -- being a minimalist in all things, I didn't have a ton to move, but everyone, even the one bowl, one robe types, when it comes down to it, has a lot to move. One of my more compassionate friends (Count Dracula, anyone?) said in his ever-loving way of my old abode, This place is a cesspool. You should burn everything and start over. Note to self -- avoid having crackpots help you move, even when they have a trailer.

Of course, we made it to the last trip, the one in which everything has to go. A few pieces of furniture and a lone box sat in the middle of the room and someone asked what it was. My death box, I said. I have all the stuff from dead people that I would hate to lose. My plan was in case of fire, I could grab it and go. It's the main thing I would miss if it were lost and truly irreplaceable. Everyone avoided the death box, opting for the furniture and bags and bags of hangers, most of them wire. For someone who had gottten rid of a lot of stuff, I had too many and made another mental note -- No more wire hangers! (via Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest) Wherever I live, I keep the death box close and the above angel lithograph sits on top of it, flanked by two miniature coffin-like boxes, one containing holy dirt, the other my dad's ashes from his plane crash site. We all laughed when we realized nobody was touching the death box! I picked it up and put it in Snowflake, strapped it in a seatbelt. The death box and I rode to what would be my new home. Some things, I was to realize, you would always have to carry by yourself.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Jewels are wonderful things. They have a life of their own." Gaslight

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: My Beautiful Laundrette

Benedictions and Maledictions

Congratulations Tigers!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Did I Scare You?

Celebrities often get asked the question by a reporter trying to appear sympathetic, Which question do you get asked that you hate the most? As a teacher, I get asked questions constantly so I don't really mind them. If I did, I'd lose what little sanity I have left. When you're going over when something is due for the upteenth time, you have to keep your cool or start searching the want ads for a data processing job far away from the living. But there is one question I loathe, and I get asked it a fair bit -- Did I scare you? This comes because I get wrapped up in my own world, so much so that the physical world drops away, and I forget that I'm in a public place where others might walk up and startle me. Add this to a history of violence, and you have a little bit of what we used to call shell shock. I've never blamed anyone for my overactive startle response. Like a lot of awful things, I wasn't born that way, but it's not going away anytime soon. It happened yesterday and the woman who asked it looked bemused which, I have to say, irritated me to no end. I usually apologize for my reactions, tell people that I startle easily, ha ha, isn't that the funniest thing? For the first time, I decided to do something different. I looked her straight in the eye and said yes. I didn't add any qualifications or softening, no it's all my fault. Then I smiled. Strange what forms liberation can take.

She started a conversation with me, and we got around to the fact that I wasn't from Detroit, was in fact from Texas. That's weird, she said. I would have pegged you for a Detroiter. I took it as a great compliment, although I'm not sure she meant it that way. A female friend of mine who shall remain nameless told me not to stay in Michigan for too long, that the women there were not very attractive and had a hard quality about them. You don't want to become ugly there, she said. It's true that Southern woman tend to spend a lot of time on being beautiful and that men love them. But if being a Detroiter means being unadorned, in saying things as they are, in not constantly apologizing for the very fact of your existence, I might have become one yesterday, no matter where I go.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"The house is haunted/ the ride gets rough/ You've got to learn to live with/ what you can't rise above." Bruce Springsteen, "Tunnel of Love"

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Hysterical Blindness

Benedictions and Maledictions

Go Tigers!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Dancing On My Grave

As a child, I never dreamed of becoming a ballerina, although I loved them, the black leotards and pale pink tights, the toe shoes. I understood even at a young age that I would have had to start a lot earlier, would have had to have been a lot thinner, and been willing to give up almost all of my life even to be in the chorus. As a substitute, I read about ballerinas, my favorite being Gelsey Kirkland, who wrote Dancing On My Grave, about dancing for the famed Mr. B, her romantic involvement with Mikhail Barishinikov, and her struggles with cocaine. One can take from the text that Balanchine and cocaine were the least of her worries and that Mikhail was the grave on which she danced. As for his part, he was chronically unfaithful, cruel, and easily her best dance partner. My crush on Mikhail waned with this new information; when I found out how short he was, it disappeared completely.

I had to take dancing lessons as a part of gymnastics training. These lessons, taught by a beautiful and profoundly kind woman who kept getting death threats at the tiny studio where she taught, lasted a little under an hour and were simple routines to popular songs like "Freeway of Love" or "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." We'd finish dancing and the phone would ring, and she'd turn pale. Even with my teenage self-absorbtion in the horrible bit of dancing I had just done (a good day was when I hadn't run into anyone or got separated from the big group for too long), I knew something awful was happening. One day I worked up my courage to ask. She told me that it was a dance partner she'd had long ago, someone who couldn't quite let her go. Don't ever dance with someone you don't love, she said. I filed it under all the other things I would remember, usually when it was too late-- Finish what you start, Don't take what you can't eat, Your eyes are bigger than your stomach. That, I supposed, I had in common with all great ballerinas.

Michelle' Spell of the Day

"I can't help but fall in love with all my partners." Mikhail Barishinikov

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Strange Days, John Prine

Benedictions and Maledictions

Halloween alert: There is an epidemic of pumpkin rot this season and might be a Halloween pumpkin shortage! This crisis should be averted by getting your pumpkins now!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

With Subtitles

The first movie I ever saw in a theater was Windwalker, an odd choice, given that it was as far from a children's movie as a movie could be -- the tagline read, He walked the winds of love and death -- and now he must walk for all eternity! My parents never subjected me to Disney movies, a regular staple for all the children I know, thanks to the miracle of DVD players. Given what little I know of the plots now, I'm thankful for this void in my youth -- The Little Mermaid in particular upsets me to no end -- give up your voice and your prince will come?! Give me the heartbreak of any Peanut's special (one caveat -- do not watch Come Home, Snoopy when you are depressed; it can tip you over to suicidally depressed) over that crap any day. But, back to the man who roams. Windwalker, a dead Native American medicine man, had to return to the earth to save his tribe. The film contained only a few voice-overs in English; the movie is entirely in the Cheyenne and Crow Native American languages with subtitles.

It's hard to imagine my attention span at nine was all that smoking hot, but I loved the atmosphere of the movies, even the dinky theater in Mineral Wells, the size of a really big postage stamp, one of the pretty ones that the postal clerk has to dig out of the bottom of the drawer, embittering the rest of the long line that wishes you would just buy the flag stamps and be done with it. Don't remember much about the plot except that it involved a lot of walking around bitterly in cold weather, good preparation for Detroit, now that I think about it. I love that my first theater movie contained subtitles -- it makes me sound a whole lot smarter than I am, a myth that could be punctured quickly by the telling of my first rated-R movie that I snuck into -- Zapped, starring that acting genius Scott Baio. This all happened in the same theater. For a couple of hours, the outside world could be kept at bay, and it didn't matter if you could understand what was happening all the time or not.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Everything in this story is true." William J. Cobb, "Marathon"

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: James Brown, Say It Loud and Live, Live in Dallas

Benedictions and Maledictions

Halloween recipe book -- Avon's Best Halloween Recipes (yes, leave it to me to suggest a make-up company's cookbook, but the recipes are very cute and mostly dessert recipes)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Dead To Return

The first typewriter I ever had was an IBM Selectric that weighed nearly half of what I did and made a sound that would cause the dead to return. I got into the habit of typing every morning, early, and my roommate said that I was to write LONGHAND and longhand only before ten in the morning, saying that if it was good enough for Shakespeare, it was damn well good enough for me. Point taken, I kept the Selectric monster for the night hours and took to morning writing without the benefit of typing. I did not want to cross my roommate -- she was in the last stages of an extreme weight loss regime and suffering from the kind of meanness that partial self-imposed starvation produces. She'd lost nearly sixty pounds on Weight Watchers and had lots of brochures featuring the skinny, unattractive president of Weight Watchers, a woman who looked as if she'd suffered a slightly disfiguring burn, but in fact, was merely aging prematurely because of all the yo-yo dieting.

I felt her pain. Given my years as a gymnast, I had dieted for sadistic coaches that kept us in outfits too small to make sure that we always felt pressure to lose weight. I had long given up the hope that I would be small enough to compete (height and weight both) and had resigned myself to the writing life, one that, if the pictures of other writers were to be examples, didn't require a strict attention to one's appearance. I tried to explain how I knew what my friend was going through, but I didn't. I weighed a little over a hundred pounds total; she'd just lost sixty and had twenty more to go. In a show of restraint, I'd wait until night to eat any candy or chocolate, but to no avail. "I hear you eating M&Ms, you skinny bitch. I hate you," she'd say as I hid in my twin bed across the dorm room, trying to stuff down as many as I could. If we'd been thrust into the future by ten years, I would have been typing on my computer into all hours of the night. I'd offer her an M&M, given that I was busted and sometimes she'd take it. The next day, I'd pull out the old typewriter and start to write a story about a woman who was suffering. I didn't know where I wanted to go with it, as was my wont in those days, but I felt I understood something about the subject.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Bereavement is a darkness impenetrable to the imagination of the unbereaved." - Iris Murdoch

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Buenos Nochas From A Lonely Room, Dwight Yoakum

Benedictions and Maledictions

Thanks for all the Halloween suggestions! Feel free to add more as we move toward the great day.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Moonlight and Magic

Many of my high school weekends were spent at my friend Melissa's house, in her hot-tub located in the gameroom. The hot tub was shaped like the state of Texas and much of my time was spent slinking around the panhandle and then into what would be west Texas to get out when the water got too hot for comfort. Melissa, a huge Star Trek fan, insisted that pictures of Spock hang all around the tub. None of these bad boys were framed, however, and after a while, they all started to curl up from water damage. Even so, it was a little too much Spock for me, and I couldn't figure out that from all the dork-ass characters that populated the show (she'd forced me to watch one, much like I had to read one romance novel per her rule -- You can't criticize something you know nothing about!), she'd fixated on what had to be the absolute dorkiest. Being the close-minded Philip Roth-obsessed snot I was, I asked her, Why Star Trek? More importantly, why must I look at his Leonard Nimoy's teeny-tiny TV Guide picture next to the big posters of Tom Selleck and David Hasselhoff? She started in on the perfect world of Star Trek, no fighting, all peace, all the time, and how troubled Spock was because of his half-Vulcan background. He could express some emotions, but in a very limited way. That much made sense. At least, I thought, it would prepare her for dating in a more realistic way than the bodice-ripping Moonlight and Magic crap that littered her shelves, with men looking like Fabio holding women who looked troubled and beautiful.

Nonetheless, seeing Mr. Nimoy's vile little visage so often made me develop an irrational dislike for him. That was before I ever even saw his poetry book, You and Me, (his poetry is worse than even most celebrity offerings like Jimmy Carter or Ali Sheedy) or his angry pronouncement text, I Am Not Spock. Once those came into light, it was all over. But I thought a lot about what it must be like to be cast in a role that you couldn't shake, so much so that you had to write a book about it. I don't hear much about the show like I used once did. But I still see Spock, doing his little Vulcan gesture on a commercial against athritis pain. The money from the Aleve people must have gone a long way in taking the sting out of hands! He doesn't look much older than he did back in those long gone hot tub days, his face getting more and more wrinkled each day in the steamy garage/rec room, not quite fitting in with all the other stuff on the wall, which may have been the point all along.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"The demons are innumerable, arrive at the most inappropriate times and create panic and terror... but I have learned that if I can master the negative forces and harness them to my chariot, then they can work to my advantage." Ingmar Bergman

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Live at Newport John Lee Hooker

Benedictions and Maledictions

Since we're at the start of October, any Halloween suggestions for the month are welcome!

Monday, October 02, 2006

War Is Over If You Want It

When I was sixteen, one of the gifts I received to mark this passage into the hell that is womanhood was a homemade John Lennon t-shirt. The t-shirt, a sleeveless neon monstrosity, had been conceived of by my friend Curtis, a man without inconsiderable artistic talent, most evidenced by his own get-ups (he'd long since passed outfit), some of which gave Liberace a run for his money, especially a certain puff-paint blue jean nightmare that he reserved for nights we had the thrill of going to Captain D's for dinner (an half hour drive into the city and by city, I don't mean New York, I mean Weatherford, Texas). Weep for the little things that could make us glad! At any rate, my John Lennon had the iconic image from Imagine, done in yet more puff-paint (an 80s staple). Curtis, I saw, was making a huge effort to please me. John Lennon could not have been further from his decadent, Warholish, Basquiat-driven aeshetic. At the time, I spent not a dinky amount of time watching my SIX, count them, six hours of Woodstock video, the longest dullest documentary on planet earth, but not without its charms, even sober.

My then-boyfriend received a matching t-shirt, different color puff-paint. I thanked Curtis, but dear God, did he expect that we would actually wear these t-shirts together? Some non-hippie, you're going to regret this phase when you get a decent hair stylist, part of my brain was screaming, this isn't right! I've never been a fan of couples wearing matching anything, and my ex loved his and wore it so often that John's face started to come off in tiny lines, leaving his t-shirt looking as if he'd drawn on it in magic marker. Our relationship did the same thing, except it became very dark before it ended. A story, as they say, for another time. Let's just say John and Yoko we were not. As for my t-shirt, I never wore it, and it never faded or ruined. I had to throw it away whole, which is more than I can say for most things.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Love means having to say you're sorry every fifteen minutes." John Lennon

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Hillbilly Deluxe Dwight Yoakum

Benedictions and Maledictions

She Hasn’t Changed A Bit

My ex-husband shows me his e-mail Christmas
card for the year on a tiny portable computer. “I
didn’t like the baby’s face, so I photoshopped another
one in.” He sits back in the booth, and I look, nod
my approval. Good thinking! Our waiter asks us
what we want -- good question! My ex has time to kill
in Detroit, and I’m the only person he knows here. If
I bore him to death, I wonder if he’ll photoshop some
other conversation, say how good it was to see me or
how horrible, depending on the audience. She hasn’t
changed a bit
, I can imagine him saying, with varying
degrees of affection and horror. You have to grow up
, he was fond of saying when we were married.
He’s balding with a super-short haircut; I’m tired around
the eyes. I’ve seen a lot of things I couldn’t change, and it
changed me. I’d like to put my old face over this one, but
the scene won’t have it. I’d like to make things pretty, but
I’m only a writer, and it’s not quite Christmas-time yet.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Spirits Are Talking

It's a strange choice, but every now and then I'll end up at Dave and Busters for lunch, a kind of souped-up TGIFs with a huge back room of video games, games I only glance when I make my way to the bathroom. For some reason, a lot of people I know love the food there, and it's next to a bookstore so what's not to love? I never play video games or skeetball, never sit in a virtual reality car (having a bad enough time with real ones -- Snowflake can attest to the horror of my driving!). That said, there is one thing I never miss. On the way out, a fortune-telling machine makes strange noises, much like the one in the movie Big, and I feel compelled to drop in a quarter and see what comes out. The machine says, The spirits are talking to me and tells you your favorite color. Then it spits out a little card with a fairly involved fortune. My last one said that a long-awaited letter was coming to me, that I liked gay music to dance (a lot of the fortunes contain ESL errors), and that ectasy caused me to exclaim. There's also a haiku in italics on top of the fortune and a drawing of a bird carrying a letter that says "LOVE."

I believe that the world gives you omens of what is to come if you are listening and sometimes in the most unlikely places. Once I wrote a note in a sympathy card and had a sudden flash that what I was saying would soon no longer apply -- the person did something to end the relationship within months. I guess it should come as no surprise that I get my moments of what little psychic ability I might have through writing, even writing that is not meant to be artistic in any way. It's the time when I am most myself, the stripped-down version without all the bullshit. I feel sad a lot when I write, but after a few pages, I become a different person, one who could like gay music to dance, one that could exclaim in ectasy if she weren't so busy trying to listen to the spirits.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"One cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often." Erich Fromm

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Tom Waits, Frank's Wild Years

Benedictions and Maledictions

Thanks to all my commenters for all your kind words that keep me going! Here's a Sunday question, should you care to answer it. When are you most yourself?