Sunday, July 30, 2006

Every Lost Earring

More to come soon. Meanwhile, four sections of the website are up and running -- main link on the right!

Benedictions and Maledictions

Keith Richards on Chuck Berry: "The more you find out about him, the less you know. . . "

First published in New England Poetry Anthology:

Every Lost Earring

He crushed the ceramic egg I’d given him for Christmas,
said the Gypsies believe eggs hold the soul and look
what’s happened to yours
. Even then, I knew he was
an asshole, and I held the Nuremberg trials for him each
year after I escaped, listing his sins in strident detail, the noose
always ready to slip from my neck to his, but it didn’t.
Then I practiced forgetting, every lost earring a Lazarus
come to tell of a former life on a different street. Make
of this what you will. Memory is a burn scar, the proud
flesh that rises above the rest, and strangers keep asking,
What did you do to yourself, exactly the right question,
but one you pay for and insurance won’t cover it all. Best
to go to a sliding scale, hope that no one can see you
this week, crack real eggs alone in the dim kitchen light,
ignore the occasional strand of blood in the yolk.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Anything You Want

An ex of mine moved into an apartment in which an elderly woman had been strangled to death, seemingly by a family member hoping for insurance. My ex got a reduced rate on what I came to refer to as the "Murder Bachelor Pad" and decorated it in Unabomber chic, all trashbags and unhung framed album covers, mostly of Chet Baker, both the Bill Claxton photographs when Chet had a face so beautiful it could break your heart and the later ones, when Chet had a face so heroin-ravaged that it did break your heart. My ex did not fear the energy of the Murder Bachelor Pad because the woman had been elderly and my ex is a rather large man with a large neck and it would take a long time to strangle.

His complex contains a lot of what my ex refers to as "see you on the weekend" Dads, lonely guys who try to chat him up in the laundry room. He's not much of a talker, my ex, so I can only hope they find solace in his vaguely affirmative grunts. He himself does not have children and one of his worst moments was when someone asked him if his kid went to school at the college advertised on his t-shirt. (He takes great pride in his t-shirt collection that includes some very obscure ones and some "dress" t-shirts such as his "Free Leonard Peltier" one and one of Elvis in a turtleneck.) I can see him still, walking amongst the garbage bags and the framed Chet Baker pictures, all at floor level where you can enjoy them provided you don't mind sitting on the floor.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"...Went to college once and can still speak English if there's any demand for it. There isn't much in my trade." Philip Marlowe --The Big Sleep

Drinking CD suggestion of the day -- Cure for Pain, Morphine

Benedictions and Maledictions

Anything You Want

A skinny man who had been dancing around without
a shirt in the back of the bar now shoves his way
into our conversation, now clothed, white t-shirt
hanging from his frame, wife by his side and starts
talking about baseball, his love for it and tears up
when he talks about the Detroit Tigers, God what
a wonderful town right now, do I understand what
he is saying and I nod while checking out the track
marks on his arms and his wife tells me that her
sister took her to Red Lobster and let her use $50
on her WIC car, saying get anything you want.
That's love, she says, and I smile and say, baseball
is emotional and Red Lobster is great, and anything
you want, well you can't beat that and then the game
comes on television and nobody says anything else,
it's the end of something, but what I don't know.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Hank Fall Down, Go Boom!

Shortly after Hank started using a cane, he got mugged. On his way home from a blues performance (he played at a bar in Philadelphia that gave him free food in return) with two friends, they got threatened by a group of teenagers with knives. One of Hank's friends managed to run away, the other got his arm cut and gave up his wallet. Hank would abide neither of these options. Being a large tall blind man, he wasn't much on running even during the most dire of circumstances and he didn't have any money to buy a new guitar so there was no way that his was going without a fight. "Give up the guitair, Big Whitey," one of the teenagers said, to which Hank replied, "You're robbing the blind, asshole! Do you realize that?" The guys continued to follow for a block before they ran off with the one wallet and nothing from Hank.

Hank wrote everyone a long detailed group e-mail about the incident which he enjoyed greatly in the retelling. He was one of the few people I knew that could write brilliant group e-mails. I believe this is because he was the same Hank to everyone, a rare quality that I can't say I possess. That's not to say that he couldn't write a hell of a terrific personal e-mail, but the one I remember best is the last one titled "Hank Fall Down, Go Boom!" It detailed his fall and soon to be surgery and assured everyone that if he was late in answering messages or sending packages that he wasn't mad at anyone, or more forgetful than usual, just out of commission for a while. Maybe, he wrote, I'll get some good songs or poems out of the deal. What is there to say? I'm trying.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"When was the last time you were so drunk in the holy spirit that people mocked you? They said, He's full of new wine. I have to confess that time for me might be never." Junebug

Junebug is my drinking movie suggestion for the day. I think it's an excellent movie, funny, sad, and brilliantly acted. It's one of the few movies made these days that one can even endure sober.

Benedictions and Maledictions

For John Ricci and his excellent question of chivalry versus sexism:

I think it's very hard these days to determine proper modes of behavior because so much is dependent on context and unlike times and cultures more governed by specific rules, we find ourselves constantly dealing with different norms . Hence the difference between chivalry and sexism is completely determined by audience. My feeling is if one is acting out of kindness, that can never be a bad thing. As for opening doors, why not? Manners provide a way of giving society some structure. I open doors for people all the time -- I feel it's a way of showing respect. And of course, there's the old Dick Cavett joke -- If you're wife leaves you for another woman, do you have to hold the door open for both of them? I'll most certainly revisit this topic! Thanks for the thoughtful question!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

If You Can't See My Mirrors, I Can't See You

My friend Hank resisted using a cane until near the end of his life when he realized he could hit people with it. Hank's blindness was progressive, the result of macular degeneration, a disease that destroys the retinas of the eyes over time. So for many years, he wore thick glasses until they became pointless. Even without them, he could see enough to get around and more importantly, critique clothing. On a black dress I had picked up off the rack -- a tank top on steroids. On a new line of robes at Victoria's Secret - -Mrs. Roperville (from the ill-dressed female landlord on Three's Company -- although I think his Victoria's Secret assessments were mostly off as he spent a good portion of time were were in the store with his magnifying glass glued to the television screen that played the Victoria's Secret Runway Show).

Hank believed in stealth - he'd always fantasized about working as a private investigator and a cane did not lend itself to stealth. It was a big advertisement to the world -- hey, big blind guy coming through! When he moved to Philadelphia, he relented, knowing that the traffic needed to see him and how he was operating (like a semi, If You Can't See My Mirrors, I Can't See You). He joked about hitting people with it "accidentally," it served to guide and protect. He could still see the shadows, though, lengthening on the sidewalk as day faded into night.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Tomorrow never happens. It's all the same fucking day, man." Janis Joplin


1 part grapefruit vodka
1 part lemonade

Serve over crushed ice in a mason jar.

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Phoebe:

After Visiting Hours

A man with blood on his hands stares up
from a Shakespeare in the Park program
advertising MacBeth in the room where we kill
fime before ICU visiting hours. Next to us, a man holds the Times
and talks about his wife, how long it will take to reconstruct
her breasts. He says, “We’re talking veins and arteries. It’s not that easy.”

My sister and father engage him in conversation, but I haven’t washed my hair
in three days, and it’s starting to show. Yesterday, we were in this same
room waiting for news on my mother’s operation. “We couldn’t rebuild,”
her doctor said, a pretty blonde with a foreign last name. “Too much damage
from the radiation. But I think we got it all. No guarantees,
but things look good considering what we had to start.”
Fourteen hours after that day began, we returned to our cheap
hotel with the deathtrap elevator where we have open-ended reservations.

From the window, the entire medical district lights up with color
every night. When my father and I checked for messages,
two men worked the front desk and one motioned
to the newsman reporting twelve people dead from floods
in the Midwest, and the other man said, “What do you
expect? This is life; no one can stay forever.”

Now one day after, we can only go two at a time, so I stand
in the gleaming hallway until my father and sister come out.
You can only stay two minutes, but that’s long enough. After two,
I start to sob. My mother whispers, “If I knew how bad it was going to be,
I’d have never done it.” A nurse dressed in purple scrubs swabs her mouth with ice
and says, “She’ll be in her own room soon.” I wash my hands
with the anti-bacterial soap they make you use to leave the area under a sign
that lists the universal precautions, listening to noises and alarms
coming from distant places in the hospital that I’ve never seen.

After visiting hours, we eat dinner at a franchise
restaurant designed to simulate good times. I choke
down a bowl of baked potato soup while a family
walks in with two beautiful little girls and a boy with a blue
satchel, “Jonathan” stitched on the back in careful cursive.
Jonathan sits in a wheelchair, accompanied by a Hispanic woman who cuts
his salad into pieces and feeds him while the mother watches the World
Cup Soccer match on a big screen and the father talks to his girls about the shakes
they’ve ordered. “I’m just warning you,” says the youngest. “If I don’t like
this, I’m spitting it out.” At the end of the table, her brother eats without a word.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

You'll Be Working For Me Soon

In college, I worked the night shift at a dormitory that housed high school students enrolled in a math/science program that enabled them to complete two years of high school and college concurrently. I never got used to the night shift even though I did it for many years so I'd take an over the counter sleeping pill in the afternoon before work and hope to be awake at midnight. I didn't mind the work itself -- I'd pop in a homemade Bob Dylan mixed tape and sing along with his reedy voice while scarily smart teenagers tried to sneak out of the building or at the very least, hang out at the desk. Those kids were brilliant and not above flaunting it -- one of the most popular t-shirts the little darlings wore was one that read -- Don't Laugh. You'll Be Working For Me Soon. I told them that wasn't the case -- I was in no way competent enough to even get an interview for a job working for any of them in the corporate world.

One evening before my shift, my old high school friend Robin showed up appropos of nothing from her college (about an hour and a half away) and coked out of her head. I'd already taken my pill and was trying to wake up, slurring my words while she rambled on about meeting a married man at a local graveyard at three in the morning to have sex with him and most importantly, get some more coke. I hung out with her until I went to work, and she left to do God knows what, only to return at seven the next morning, nose bleeding, coming down from all that coke. I tried to comfort her from behind the desk (nobody was allowed behind that at the threat of firing) and engage her in conversation. I asked her about her graveyard assignation and she warmed her hands to the subject. Love, it seemed, could make almost anything bearable.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"She wanted to die. And she wanted to live in Paris." Gustave Flaubert

Cosmo Lies Bleeding

1 part triple sec
1 part vodka
1 part cranberry juice
1 part grenadine

Serve as a martini with a peeled grape as garnish.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Anniversary, Almost

Forget all alone and try dead, but
you are still as real as yesterday,
its promise strewn about the floor
like clothes abandoned for love.
I try to care about other things, but
my new life won’t have me yet,
a hotel room that hasn’t been cleaned.
Even with a key, I choose to wait.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Let Yourself Go

My mother was forever offering congratulations to overweight women. She'd cheerfully ask, When are you due? and inevitably get a blush or a stammer until one day a woman said, I'm not pregnant, just fat in the bluntest most unapologetic tone possible. That was the end of that line of questioning. People let themselves go, she'd say, shaking her head. It sounded great to me, although I didn't understand what she meant. Letting myself go meant that I would worry about anything and I thought if I stopped worrying that either my world would dissolve like ice on Texas cement or that I would die. Not that I was dramatic or anything.

In high school, one of my close friends had one green eye, one blue, like a cat, and blonde hair that she styled like Robert Smith of The Cure. She'd also taken Robert's rather cavalier attitude toward lipstick application to heart. Robin often told me that I was a fucking control freak, that I needed to loosen up. I got her point, although coming from someone who not infrequently found herself naked after a blackout with her car keys nestled between her breasts. Robin terrified me, not because of her drug proclivities, but because she saw into my cramped and worried soul and the truth is always scarier than pot laced with PCP. I did have my time to repay that favor. One day she lost her car keys at school (noy thinking ahead about storing them somewhere safe!) and I had to drive her home in my huge boat of a Grenada. She'd been having a pretty intense LSD trip all day and when she got in the car went into a panic. It was raining, I hadn't been driving long, and didn't really care about things like signals or stoplights. I was behind the wheel and for once, no one was in control or even pretending to be.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Charlie Brown is the one person I identify with. C.B. is such a loser. He wasn't even the star of his own Halloween special." Chris Rock

Charlie Brown's After-Dinner Drink

1 part rum
1 part coffee liqueur

Serve as a shot.

Benedictions and Maledictions

The Private Possession of Dangerous Reptiles

The cost, well, prohibitive.
Like most things, people don’t
understand the need. But once
a man named Garland brought
my mother a rattlesnake on a string
leash in a box lid. She put the snake
in the deep freeze where it lived for
weeks, among the loaves of Wonder
Bread, only its eyes telling me it
was alive, trying to exist on its weight
alone, like so many people I know.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Lonely Doll

When I was in kindergarten, I had an old-school teacher, Mrs. Griffith, who didn't put up with any nonsense. She ruled the room through fear, not love, and the students by and large arose to the challenge. I loved the badass atmosphere of the place -- time-outs? Not hardly -- you acted out, your parents were called to take you home. Couldn't focus -- try sitting in a room alone for an hour. The classes fit my masochistic longing for routine and my need for structure. The only thing I hated about the experience was naptime. I loathed naps and couldn't sleep so I finally after much campaigning was allowed to read while the other children slept. There was one condition to this -- I had to tell the students a story when they woke up.

A shy little girl, I had a dilemma. I didn't mind telling stories, but I hated talking in front of people. So I'd sit on Mrs. Griffith's lap and hide my face in the folds of my dress while I told my story for the day. I tried to leave each day with a cliffhanger so the kids would want more. I'd forgotten all about those days until in high school a girl reminded me of my old performances. "You'd sit in front of the class and talk with your dress held over your head." Suddenly it all came back, and I made some feeble attempt at laughter to hide my shame. I guess some things never change.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"You made me forget myself; I thought I was someone else, someone good." Lou Reed.


1 shot of scotch
1 glass of milk

Serve over ice. (Also known as a Chicago Boxcar -- my dad said it was the weirdrest drink he'd ever served in his brief time as a bartender.)

Benedictions and Maledictions

A little more writing advice for the lovely Nina:

I think it's important to start slowly with writing as it is with all forms of intense activity. A lot of my students (and I have done this) say, I'm going to start writing four hours a day every single day for a week. It's not practical to go from zero to ninety. I find it's much better for me to say I'm going to write for twenty minutes. And if twenty minutes turns into four hours, then that's great. But I haven't set myself up for huge failure. I know some people need large chunks of time, but I've found it's better for me to do it in small increments. Part of it is the fact that my life is fairly chaotic. Like Jim, I find myself writing on whatever is available whenever I can. Much of writing is just paying attention and always having a pen. Or a friend with a pen. Or an eyebrow pencil. Whatever works. I'm usually writing on the back of my checkbook.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Dozens

My friend Hank and I used to drag our laundry to the Lone Eagle Laundrymat as infrequently as possible and there collect writing material. Hank had fewer clothes than I did (who doesn't? I still have my gymnastics team uniform from the late 1980s) so in his relatively short life, he managed to write an entire series of poems dedicated to doing laundry and the wacky events that ensue -- a woman asking if he was carrying his underwear and him yelling back, Yes, does that excite you?, running into an old high school friend dressed in an expensive suit and expressing horror that anyone still had to do their laundry in a public place, reading Catullus poems while a cheerleading camp passed in the window. It was a rich vein.

The last time we were both at the Lone Eagle, a man was trying to teach a young boy how to play the dozens. I had to admire the guy's patience when he kept his cool after the kid spilled a juice box on him and then talked about his first daddy and his other daddy. He tried to explain to the boy how you had to both be funny and make sense with a snot metaphor. (i.e., Your head's so big that they post hurricane warnings every time you get a cold.) I had to approve of the use of snot-- snot works with children. The whole thing took a surrealistic turn when the kid started going off on all sorts of crazy tangents and then started to repeat whatever was being said. The man sighed and said, You have to be both funny and different. Hank and I looked at each other, years of writing workshops behind us, and Hank said, Boy, don't we know it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I can never be trusted not to abuse other people's metaphysics." Hank D. Ballenger

The Dozens

1 shot of gin
1 glass of sprite
Serve over crushed ice.

Benedictions and Maledictions

For Nina on the question of writing rituals:

I'm a huge believer in the force of habit. I try to write as much as I can in the same room every day because that's my best working routine. As I tend to be on the move a fair amount, this isn't always practical so I also try to be flexible. The things that don't change are the music I listen to (Coltrane, Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye) and the way I start -- without any inspiration or desire to write. I've never been one of those people who LOVED to write, who couldn't wait to get to the page. But once I'm there, I feel pretty good. I try to stay on task as much as possible, but I'm not opposed to mixing it up if one genre or story isn't working.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Damage Deposit

For a brief time, my friend Priscilla and I double-dated on account of the fact that my ex-husband and her her ex-fiancé were close friends. Priscilla met the hideous Jim at a surprise birthday party my ex threw for me. I loathed Jim with a passion bordering on pathological. He'd dated a woman named Chris for many years, one of the first people I knew to ever take Prozac. She was a Goth (not a term that existed back then) and she'd bring her art installation pieces to parties, mostly small Cornell-inspired boxes that depicted crucifixion scenes of her as Jesus and her exes as Roman soldiers. It was, as they say, a real mood kill, but I took pity on her because she dated Jim and that must have brought crucifixion to the forefront of her mind.

And now my dear friend Priscilla had fallen prey to his evil! One night we went to a band practice (both our exes were musicians, God help us) where we found a secret bottle of vodka in the freezer and wasted no time in cracking that bad boy open. Locking ourselves in the only bathroom in the house, we got drunk and proceeded to go roll around on the garage floor until our significant others had had enough and put us in the backseat of the car. We started to cry in unison and tell each other we were best friends. Our soon to be exes looked back at us in disgust. They weren't Roman soldiers, but I could see where Chris had gotten the emotional truth of her pieces, those small boxes that could contain a world.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"People claim they'd prefer to die in their sleep, then wonder why they are insomniacs." Ann Nietzke, Solo Spinout


1 stolen bottle of vodka
2 glasses that can be broken easily

Benedictions and Maledictions

Damage Deposit

We are forced to give back all our keys, even
the ones we made ourselves, instructed to leave
as few traces as we can, although there are stains
that won’t come out from parties that didn’t want
to end, shadows of white where pictures hung. I fear
we won’t get anything back, that we have been here
too long. After we leave for the last time, I realize
that I didn’t make a final check and have left a chain
and some garnet stones in a bathroom cabinet, gifts
that I never got a chance to wear, wondering who
will find them, red against all the worn antiseptic
white, the only evidence that things were not always
the way we left them before shutting the door for the last time.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Luminous, Infinite

My dad started building his own plane, a Mustang II, when I was a toddler. The Stang, as my dad referred to it, figures in many of my earliest memories. My dad worked all week and gave flying lessons on the weekend, but he always made a little time for his plane. I liked to watch him work on it -- he had a perfectionistic streak in regards to all things mechanical and his engagement was intense. I have always thought you know people best from observing them when they are doing something that makes them most themselves.

He never finished his plane, despite all those years. It's not surprising that I learned about the joys of the long project from him and that it gives me some patience when I work on something that never seems like it will be finished. The Stang is still in the garage, surrounded by his tools, as if it's waiting for him to start working on it again. After all, he'd take long breaks from it, but he'd always return, eager to begin where he'd left off, sure that he was getting closer to the day it would leave the garage for the big blue sky.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image." Joan Didion.

Fire on the Mountain

one part silver tequila
one part fresh-squeezed lime juice
one floater of mescal

Benedictions and Maledictions

Luminous, Infinite

I got busy shoveling dog shit, my friend
said about missing a party. It’s weird how
you forget stuff, she’d remarked in the same
tone she’d pronounce something luminous
or infinite. Something beautiful against
something ugly, she’d say about an arty
photograph, the story of my love life for
years. Her boyfriend had a cleft-palate and
had been kind and hopeful and rich. Love,
in its wondrousness, did not solve everything.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lather, Rinse, Repeat As Necessary

So I hacked up my couch (see last post for complete description of hideous object) like Lizzie Borden, still wearing my yoga clothes from the morning class. My friend Cal had agreed to take me to Home Depot after class to purchase an ax and help me with the beastly sofa that had been sitting by my apartment Dumpster for nearly a month, garnering me a nasty note from the management that said I had to get it in the Dumpster or die (okay, it was a little nicer than that, but not by much). We both agreed it would be therapeutic to hack something to bits.

When we set to the task, we were shocked by how much passive resistance the couch put up at its moment of demise. Old people came by and mocked us. "If I was you, I'd set it on fire," one helpful sort on a scooter advised. We tried to channel our aggression at whatever wrongs had been hurled our way, but the couch sagged and ripped and our aggression died, leaving us with sheer will. After nearly an hour, we managed to get the couch into the Dumpster but it didn't feel like a victory. Relieved as I was to have the apartment management off my back, I knew I would miss looking at it from my window. But I did the only thing left to do -- pick up my ax and yoga bag and step back inside.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I don't ask writers about their work habits. I really don't care. Joyce Carol Oates says somewhere that when writers ask each other what time they start working and when they finish and how much time they take for lunch, they're actually trying to find out, 'Is he as crazy as I am?' I don't need that question answered." Philip Roth

Writer's Lunch (with apologies to Raymond Carver)

one can of soup
one carton of tears
one bottle of vodka

Benedictions and Maledictions

The Last Days of Our Pompeii

There was hope that things could be, if not
altered, perhaps the course not quite so
relentless, slow death in the end not
being quite slow enough. Our last night
together we watched Willie Nelson sing
at Billy Bob’s, and a woman stopped
with a basket of roses, a final gesture
of sweetness. I took them home where
they died quickly, so red they looked
black, dried blood clots, unchanging
in their message -- you can keep me, but
I will harden, I will dry up, I will become
something else, their only obligation in being
what they are, what they have ceased to be.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Set That Couldn't Be Separated

I once had to cut a couch in two with an ax. I had purchased an ugly but serviceable beige couch at Goodwill (part of a three piece set that they wouldn't separate) with my friend Angela to furnish my new apartment. I had broken up with someone and left the furniture, thinking I'd start fresh. My bank account, however, did not have the energy to start over except with one new mattress and the other treasures we could find at Goodwill.

Angela is a master at getting things done, whereas I am a terrified Eeyore-type in light of common tasks like moving or putting things together. Angela says, Other people can do (fill in the blank) and so can we. My outlook is somewhat different, i.e., Everyone else knows more than we do and this is a clusterfuck loosely coming apart at the seams. This said, I am also a lucky person -- things have a way of working out for me. So I didn't find it surprising when we ended up at Goodwill on the truck unload day by accident. There was a small crowd there, waiting to lay claim to all the good stuff. Hence, I got the set that would not be separated.

In retrospect, the set was a disaster. It blended with the ugly renter carpet and was hellish to move. When I got rid of it, garbage collectors took the chair and ottoman, but not the couch. It sat by my Dumpster for weeks, and I watched my couch outside the window in all sorts of weather, in the rain and in the sun, my mistake big enough to see from my distant window.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"We walk in circles, so limited by our own anxieties that we can no longer distinguish between true and false, between the gangster's whim and the purest ideal." Ingmar Bergman

Green Dragon

one glass of champagne
one part MIDORI liqueur
cherry garnish

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Spire Press:

Mustang Island

The rumor of horses persists
even though we never see
any. In the evenings, the girls
shave their legs in the Gulf
of Mexico, that comforting
warmth that makes every cut
sting. Sometimes the rain
comes down for days, but not
often enough to keep people
away from a beach that isn’t
exactly what you think it will be.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

At Least She's Not Suffering

People say stupid things in the face of vast irremediable loss, so many that after my mother, one of my dearest friends, and my father died within a three year period, my friends told me that I should take notes and write a book, sort of in the spirit of What Not To Wear, except it would be How Not to Get Bitchslapped for Saying Stupid Shit to People in Deep Grief. Truth be told, though, nobody in deep grief is going to do any slapping mostly because of the numbness factor. Also, what is there to say? Everything true sounds trite, and there's only so much hugging one can be expected to endure at such a time. Sympathy cards fall into the predictable categories of hollow religious sentiment to arty quotes set against what advertising people call the "God shot," an idyllic nature scene involving rainbows and clouds. (Just for the record, I tend toward the latter.)

In the final assessment, I would never write such a book because I understood even then people were doing the best they could, and for all kindness, I am grateful. We console ourselves by creating meaning since death obliterates it. As for the sugar-coated cliches, those are fine too. Nobody wants to hear about my mother's long torturous battle with cancer or my friend's freakish accident or that my dad burned to death after the plane he was in hit a power line. So instead I'll fall back on what others have said -- my dad died doing something he loved, at least Hank lived more than most people do in such a short time, and as for my mother, at least she's not suffering.

Benedictions and Maledictions

"When I die, let it be in this way that everyone knows grief, not like a scorpion or a snake whose death brings all relief. " Khushal Khattak

Sugar-Coated Cliche

one part cherry vodka
one part Godiva liqueur

Serve chilled in a martini glass.

First published in poetrybay:

Fill in the Blanks

They don't work anymore, my mother
said of her pain pills. The body can get
used to anything and does, the years
dulling the ride, leaving only the need.
You'd think I could stop, she'd say, but
I already knew what it was to be attached
to something that did nothing for you,
swallowing the same pill day after day,
hope, that old ball and chain, leaving you
marking answers long after you realize
you won't be able to finish the test.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Fever Dream

I once saw the Virgin Mary being attacked by a hooded man. The image on the candle flickered in and out of my vision where I lay on a mattress, strung out with a fever of a hundred and two. I had a book review to write for Third Coast (Q Road by Bonnie Jo Campbell) and the words kept blurring on the page and my attention kept drifting back to the Virgin and the candle shadows on the wall. I lived in the Misery (see post before this one) and thought about how awful it was, how awful I felt, and how strange it was that the novena candle had turned from soothing to nighmarish in such a short time. I'd spent much of my life making the best of a bad situation and telling myself I could make it work through sheer force of will. Lying on the mattress without a frame in a room without much of a window, much less a view, I realized I'd been bullshitting myself.

After the fever broke, I wrote the review, and I tried to shake off the two days I was forced to keep myself company. I burned the novena candle for a little while, but I couldn't shake the vision I'd had. I had to throw it away and start over.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"We are everyone in our dreams." The Book of Dreams

Fever Dream

1 shot of tequila (silver)
1 shot of lime juice
garnish with celery salt and olive

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Long Shot:

Can You See It?

“They’re everywhere,” my friend’s grandmother says,
standing on her tiptoes in the gleaming kitchen. “Rats.
Your mother doesn’t believe me.” She hugs her bony
arms to her chest, rocking back and forth. My friend
tells her she’s fine, but her grandmother looks up
and says, “You’re not. You’re really fat.” She looks
over at me and gives me the once over. “And you’re
too skinny. Are you sick or something?” I am,
but not in the way she thinks. She snaps back
into her world, where the rats are running all
over the floor. “Can you see it,” she says. “There’s
a big one behind the refrigerator.” For a moment,
I know what it’s like to be her, emaciated and crazy,
seen by everyone with pity and disbelief.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Fake Your Own Death

When I was going through a difficult break (as opposed to all those easy ones, you know, the ones where you fake your own death), I rented a one bedroom apartment in a complex that I came to refer to as the Misery. Each building had four apartments in it with the mandatory beige renter carpet and peeling fake linoleum kitchen floor. It wasn't much but it was here that I would resurrect myself, phoenix from the ash, etc. You can see where I'm going with this line of thought.

My apartment was surrounded by three women's apartments. The women were all over 70 (one was 97!) and one of them had the worst luck in the entire world. The oldest of her six children had died, all her teeth had fallen out because of some medicine she'd taken, she was allergic to the adhesive for her dentures which caused her gums to swell and bleed, and she'd managed to bloody her own eyes with the end of a broom while sweeping her storage cage. I did not feel like a phoenix. She'd wait all day for checks that never came and cry on the steps of her apartment when she got tired of crying inside her apartment. I could hear her when I had my window open, an echo, I suppose, of all the grief I didn't want to acknowledge, much less express, like the taste of ashes in your mouth.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Kris Kristofferson

Song to drink to for the day:

"Ball and Chain" Janis Joplin

Benedictions and Maledictions


I had one once, in San Francisco,
that mystical city that demands
you love it. My wedding ring felt
so heavy I’d hide it at night, buried
in a hotel drawer, looking at my
sleeping husband, wondering what
I had done. For a week, we wandered
the city, so different from Texas,
the only place I’d ever really lived.
On the last day, I saw a poster of two
beautiful men kissing. Underneath,
a caption cautioned everyone to practice
safe sex. You’d never see that in Texas,
I thought, and smiled. The world seemed
a little bigger. On the way back to the hotel
that night, I noticed someone had scrawled
faggots in blood red across the poster. The hell
everyone talked about had followed me, with no
hope of any rapture except the kind where
the blood ran from the faucets, a brief marriage.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

What Men Don't Like

My parents each had advice about romantic relationships. From my mother -- Men don't like to be chased. From my dad -- Men don't like rejection. (They both tended to condense.) My mother needn't have worried -- I didn't have the confidence to speak to most boys, much less chase them. But at some point, I realized that I would have to talk to boys on the phone to return their calls or catch them to make a date. (Imagine -- no cell phones, no answering machines, no text messaging -- you had to wait to hear from someone!)

The phone proved my biggest fear -- what tone to strike, what subjects to mention, all those awkward silences. So writer-in-training that I was, I'd screw up my courage and write the script. Calls went okay until my victim went off script, leaving me to ad lib with all the success of a Second City improv act. Afterwards, I'd feel good about myself for facing my fear, having taken action. The calls then had a different quality about them -- when you called someone, they'd have to pick up and hear your voice without knowing who it was and there would be no dying cell phone batteries or people driving around with their phones going God knows where. You could actually make it through an entire call without someone's call waiting beeping. You'd have your beloved's undivided attention provided you didn't get too attached to your script.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Better to start in the evening than not at all." African proverb

Drink Movie of the Day:
The Good Girl

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Tar Wolf Review:

Surprise Party

Already you wished you hadn't
eaten all the food on your plate,
those rich combinations weighing
heavy on your heart. Everything
was so good, the guests say, even
when it wasn't. Apply this to any
situation you want. Sometimes
the hostess will offer a cake, home-
made. She checks on it during dinner
with a butter knife and says to no one
in particular, When the blade comes
out clean, you know you're done.

Friday, July 14, 2006


My first job ever was running auction tickets in a stockyards-slaughterhouse in Mineral Wells, Texas. I ran from the auction spot to the office through pig pens and whatnot. I got paid an enormous sum (four dollars an hour, to be raised to five -- this was when I was fifteen in 1984) for a fairly grueling Saturday -- depending on how many cows and horses were there, the day could be very long. I lived close enough to the stockyards to smell the livestock on Friday, a depressing smell to me because I hated the work and wished for short days and the livestock coming in made me nervous. I didn't get much in the way of breaks and wouldn't have taken them anyway -- my work ethic was such that I had an almost masochistic love of getting the job done, and I did not want to get behind. My mother was fond of telling me I'd make a great communist.

I don't like animals -- all my friends and family do and they think this is a flaw, like a cleft-palate or a missing finger. Nonethless, I didn't like seeing the animals go to their deaths, and worse, the boys and men who worked the fences were a rough bunch one best not tangle with too much. One day one of the men got gored to death by a bull. I witnessed the event from a slight distance and saw Careflight come and take him away. I always thought before that if you got into an accident, you could be saved if help came fast enough. But if something punctures your heart in the exact right place, there's nothing to be done.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"A good day. The mound in the road was not cat, but tread." Amy Hempel, "Tumble Home"

Peppermint Patty

one shot of peppermint schnapps
one shot of Godiva chocolate liqueur

Serve chilled and garnished with shaved chocolate

Benedictions and Maledictions

Here's the Medusa picture from the Halloween party, as requested!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Little Afraid of Living

Thanks to the kindness of my yoga instructor Tim, I've been catching up on some back issues of Ebony. By back issues, I'm talking the mid 1970s, my favorite time period. (What's not to love about a time when people drank without so much condemnation and magazines advertised formulas to help women gain weight?, ie, Wate-On will put curves on your backside!) The Ebony in my hands is discussing Marvin's comeback after a five-year exile from Motown. Anyone who knows me that I'm gravitating to this issue over the one with Bill Cosby or even the great Stevie Wonder on the cover. I've been obsessed with his music since I was a little girl, but as an adult, I've come to appreciate the sort of person Marvin was.

To quote the article -- "That he is a man of stark contrasts and seeming contradictions does not set him apart. What really marks Marvin Gaye is his own bemused recognition of those contradictions." In the last years of his life, he was certain someone was going to kill him, travelled with bodyguards and even wore a bullet-proof jacket at times. He never felt safe except when he was in his parents' home. There are two worlds, Marvin says, that of the spirit and the flesh. Fear, he claims, stems from sin and he was always afraid of things, small and big -- flying, enclosed spaces, premonitions of being killed, of stardom,"a little afraid of living." Never felt safe except when he was at his parents' home where he died famously at the hands of his father. Sometimes Marvin performed in bullet-proof vests when he did big shows. But his fans loved him without reservation. It was at that safe place when he relaxed that he got shot. It's an irony that Marvin himself could appreciate if he'd lived through it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"There are still times I feel unhappy and I must smile, and there are times I want to cry and I must laugh... people rarely see the real Marvin Gaye." Marvin Gaye

Trouble Man

2 shots of Hennessey over ice. Drink slowly with "Inner-City Blues" playing.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Making Love While Conscious

Open your door and nobody’s there. That’s
as good a place to start as any. Startle at sounds.
This part works especially well if you live
with someone. Forget he’s there. Be reminded.
Sometimes he sneaks up behind you and laughs.
You laugh too. Tell yourself that none of this
matters. Keep telling yourself this for as long
as it takes. As for the nights, act like you’re dying
for it to keep what’s left of the peace, make him
happy. And who knows anyway? Maybe you are.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Like All the Old Horror Movies

I received my first obscene phone call when I was twelve years old, Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" playing in my parents' living room, my younger sister in her bedroom sleeping. My parents were gone for the evening so I was at a loss for what to do. The backyard neighbor was gardening so I walked outside and told him what had happened. He asked me if I was scared and I said, No, I'm a fatalist, a remark oft-repeated by the adults for years after. I hated admitting I was afraid, still do. To note, I'd given myself a black eye in this very yard the year before by showing off my gymnastics skils to a very enthusiastic (read drunk) audience of my parents' friends and ended cartwheeling right into the overflow of the septic tank, slipped and busted my ass and blackened my eye in one grand swoop. I stood up after and saluted for the invisible gymnastics judges, told everyone I was okay, and the next day my eye was so bruised, I couldn't open it for school pictures.

So I lied about not being afraid as I was wont to do and went back inside, my sister woke up, and we danced to more Simon and Garfunkel until the record ended, and I decided a little Steppenwolf might cheer me up as well. Nothing like John Kay's searing odes to the "pusherman" to perk one up after a rough night! The phone calls continued off and on for years until we figured out it was an old man living directly behind the house as we caught him looking out his window, one hand on the phone, one hand someplace else, and well, the calls weren't coming from inside our house, like all the old horror movies, but close, spitting distance, if one were inclined to do so. As a fatalist, I was not inclined to do anything since time takes care of everything.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things." Tom Waits

More movies to drink by that star Billy Bob Thornton:

Bad Santa
Pushing Tin

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Flint Hills Review:

Water Moccasins

He killed almost every one that summer at the lake,
severing the head from the body, the body jerking
for a while, then not. We couldn’t move on
until he defeated each threat to our paradise.
Near the end of the summer, I saw one drip from a tree,
but I didn’t say a word because I knew it would mean
the hoe, the fear and ugliness of its death, the disruption
of our entry into the water. From time to time, I’d look
up from my raft at the place the snake had been, wondering
where it had gone, close or far. That night, I shivered
and pulled closer to him, thinking I’d made a mistake not to draw
attention to the danger, could see it entering the house, a casual betrayal,
like a secret kiss that goes too far, the poisonings of love.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The First Rule of Fight Club

My friend Hank loved to fuck with the guys who stood outside the student union in college, preaching about the evils of illicit behavior, particularly how homosexuals were going to hell. We were close to the famed Fry Street, a thorofare of drugs and sex and liquor stores, a place were Tex Watson had come to hide out when he was on the lam with Charles Manson. (Tex had reputedly stayed in my dormitory for two days, the most exciting thing about Bruce Hall save for the requisite pregnant girl ghost named Wanda from the 1950s who had killed herself trying to perform a self-induced abortion to avoid family shame.) Hank, a large legally-blind (could see some, but sometimes used a cane and always wore sunglasses) man at 6'3 with dirty blondish hair falling halfway down his back -- he told people who asked that he'd cut it when it got down to his bra-strap -- was not a person who was easy to ignore. He wore a fedora with a Scruples card in it (remember the game with all those wonderfully complicated moral questions) turned to the side of the pitchfork and had a selection of faded black t-shirts with the sleeves cut off that he'd rotate every few days. "Do you think you could take a break, assholes?" he'd shout, tapping his cane for emphasis. "I need to get through to go see my boyfriend." Hank wasn't gay, but not above pretending he was when the occasion called for it.

I could never figure out why he bothered with the nuts, men who stood atop wooden crates with homemade signs and bad haircuts, sweating in their long-sleeved white shirts. But he loved the engagment, said it made him feel alive. He'd tap his cane for emphasis when he spoke, and I thought about how when we were little kids, he'd run into things and other kids would make fun of him for his thick glasses and his lack of athletic ability and how far he'd come from our crappy hometown. He himself had wanted to be a preacher for a little while, mostly he said, because he'd get to speak and people would have to listen. As we got older, we understood that the only way you can make people listen is by saying something nobody could ignore. You could make yourself heard, even to and maybe especially to the guys standing on their boxes in the middle of the night, telling you that the end was at hand, something both of us already knew because the end is always near, you are always losing what you love, minute by minute, each day a death, each moment gone before you can appreciate it. In the end, you only have your courage, the fight, a choice to engage or stand back and watch as time passes before your wondering eyes.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"With a gun barrel between your teeth, you speak only in vowels." Chucky P., Fight Club

Fight Club

1 shot of whiskey
1 shot of tequila

Put shots into margarita mix and serve chilled or frozen.

Benedictions and Maledictions

For Hopeless in Bloomfield Hills:

I'm glad that you've decided to take the month off, despite the difficulty. It's crucial to take some time to remove yourself from a situation like an affair if you ever want to get any perspective on it. As for your friends, I'm sure that they are not enjoying watching you suffer and this lies at the heart of their advice. When my friends are in pain, the first thing I want to do is alleviate it, no matter how bad that would be for them (ie, you really need heroin to feel better? Let's go see if we can find some.). But this impulse for instant gratification should be ignored. And I'm sure your friends are also a bit burnt out on the relationship -- a secret relationship involves a lot more drama than a public one (that's why they're so compelling at times) and one tends to rely on friends for support when he's not there, taxing certain resources more than is healthy. If you are as sick of your situation as you say, this month will let you know some very valuable things like how much you can tolerate and if there's hope for something different. Keep the faith! If anyone on the comment board would like to chime in, feel free! We're all rooting for you!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Everything Is Permitted

This is me and my beautiful wonderful friend Stacey at the hair salon on Sunday. She's the best hairdresser in the whole world and so much fun as you can see in the shots! My hair has remained the same style since I was a little girl except for a few unfortunate moments -- a Toni home perm that made me look like our family poodle Pepi, a bob cut that made the other kind souls in middle school ask, Are you a boy? and one very ill attempt at crimping that still makes me cringe at the smell of burnt hair. Now I stay with the same style, but color it all the time with dyes the color of food and wine and magic-- merlot, sangria, marmalade, ruby slippers.

My mother used to ask if I was going to change the style -- Ted Bundy used to kill girls with your hair, she pointed out. He even had a girlfriend with your hair! A friend of mine once told me that hair carries psychic energy and that I carried a lot of deadness around with me. Split ends, certainly (pre-Stacey, of course), but spiritual deadness? Once a person I dated cut off a piece of my hair for his own personal collection while I was sleeping, and I had to lie to my then-hairdresser (not Stacey, she's a hair psychic and would have seen right through my deception) that I had gotten a piece of gum in it and had to cut it out, hence the big old gob of it gone missing. I pretended to be someone I wasn't with her, someone dull and a little slow, someone who'd do something like cut gum out of her hair and oops, isn't that silly? Aren't I a fool? I sat under the harsh salon lights and thought about how people told their hairdressers everything. Here I was, making up a story a thousand times less interesting than reality, the opposite of everything I strive to do in life. It was a strange feeling, almost as strange as waking up with a piece of your hair missing.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"We sat there, breathing, watching, not talking. Our sins were yellow stars that ran together. I wanted to stay there all night, just looking." Walter Kirn, My Hard Bargain


a shot of silver tequilla
a splash of lime juice
a splash of chambord

Rim glass with sugar. Serve chilled.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Everything Is Permitted

We drank to each other, every
shot going down easier than
the last. It’s the outside door
that’s the hardest to unlock
and after that, it’s like the sign
someone spray-painted on the wall
of the club – Everything Is Permitted,
and I knew that I would not leave until
the last credit had rolled. An old
friend of mine used to say,
Jack Daniels is my trigger, meaning
the one she loved above all others,
and I think about the night she broke
down and bought a bottle, opening
herself to all forms of destruction
because she couldn’t resist the one
that made her feel wrapped in love
and hope, that potent possibility
in every shot that went through her.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Park At Your Own Risk

My friend Mark once faked a broken leg to get his ex-girlfriend Margo to come back to him. He'd been planning on having a Halloween party at his ranch house, a place with bad pipes and scary bathrooms, and the dishwasher at the Ponderosa he'd been moonlighting at found out and showed up dressed in full Nazi regalia. Jim, the dishwasher in question, collected authentic Nazi crap on his Ponderosa earnings because he didn't have any other expenses given that at forty, he'd never lived anywhere except with his mother. Jim also had Tourettes so I don't think I need to say that being seen with him dressed as a Nazi equalled sexual suicide. Once Mark got rid of him by calling his mother and telling her that he had wrecked his pick-up (lie, web of lies!), he put on his leg immobilizer and found an empty Vicodan prescription from his wisdom teeth, filled it full of Tylenol, and asked me for make-up to make him look like he'd been in a bar fight. I did what I could with some blusher and my eyeliner pencil. He looked more like he'd been in a fight with David Bowie, but it might work if the lights were kept low.

I dressed as Medusa for the party and got drunk enough to forget about the real snake Mark had shot in his dresser drawer the other day. He'd made a huge hole in the floor, but the snake had gotten away. Fuckstick, Mark had yelled, and it most certainly was. Mark tried to milk sympathy from the various party guests, practicing his story so that it would be convincing to Margo. About ten Lone Star beers later, he'd created the entire scenario complete with rednecks from Oklahoma that had kicked his ass in a bar near Jacksboro. The reason -- Mark had insisted on playing George Jones' "Grand Tour" over and over on the jukebox. Margo appeared halfway into the party with her new boyfriend and they were both dressed as themselves, no costumes, no booze, no nothing. She didn't stay long even after hearing Mark's tale of woe. I overheard her tell the new boyfriend that she didn't know why she came, but she sure the hell wasn't staying. Mark got someone to box in her boyfriend's car with his pick-up and then passed out on the couch, mumbling that he'd had too much too drink (too much to drink -- he'd only been at it since noon!). A lot of us put Mark in his bed, everyone telling each other to be careful on account of his broken leg. I didn't have the heart to tell them it wasn't broken. Mark had tried to remember to limp all night, but at one point, he whispered to me that it was hard to be hurt and that his leg was sore from it, that he coudn't wait to walk again without the crutches. They lay beside the couch, and the next morning when he forgot that he wasn't supposed to be able to walk, everyone would wonder at the miracle of healing that had taken place overnight.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I don't wear no Stetson, but I'm willing to bet son that I'm a bigger Texan than you are." Steve Earle

A Bar Fight in Jacksboro

a shot of whiskey
a Shinerbock chaser

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Floating Holiday:

Poison Ivy

She poured Clorox on her hands
and waited. The itching stopped,
replaced by a burn, then nothing.
Anything was better than the itch!
Soon her hands flashed bright
red, and she couldn't tell where
the rash began and she stopped.
It didn't end there. Her hands
cracked open. She wondered if she'd
changed her future with the new
lines, the possibility making her itch
even more, bleeding and hopeful.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Some Women Are More Alive Than Others

One of my old friends left his beautiful wife for a very unattractive marriage counsellor (let's just say she was as wide as she was tall) that he and his wife had been seeing to save their troubled union. The woman, (let's call her Dr. Strangelove) claimed that to be self-actualized, one had to throw everything to the wind, to abandon your life as you know it and fall into the abyss. Huh? If we are taking the abyss as a euphemism for her enormous ass, I suppose she was right. His life changed (mostly his bank account -- his wife took him for all she could considering the circumstances -- advice to all in illicit relationships -- do not write long letters describing your lovemaking) and all he said about his choice (she dumped him shortly after he chose her -- part of the unorthodox treatment perhaps?) was that some women are more alive than others.

There are two schools of thought about all of this -- that being in love is worth everything (the only crime according to that great philosopher Anthony Quinn is not loving!) and that being in love is a crock of shit -- all that I'd walk over hell if you dropped your hat and put it back on your precious little head stuff gets old and tired and you mostly just end up walking around in hell looking for a hat that isn't there. As for being alive, it's a tough gig. You start each morning breathing. Sometimes you visit the ocean and enjoy the tides that come and go as they damn well please, washing everything you've built or written in the sand away.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"We are most alive when we're in love." John Updike

Chet Baker's Prettiest Girlfriend

1 shot of espresso
1 shot of raspberry vodka

Serve in a martini glass and garnish with shaved chocolate.

Benedictions and Maledictions

In answer to Cindy's question about "Day of the Dead" -- you are correct. The rapist in the poem is the Chelsea rapist in New York who chloroformed a woman on Halloween night 2005 (he'd dressed up as a member of the NYPD and cleared her building, telling the tenants it was on fire) and raped her on video camera for nearly twelve hours. The story is that he was a frustrated writer/journalist (for Women's Wear Daily!) who had produced one off-off-off broadway play and had become obsessed with the television show Nip/Tuck. His detailed journals were found before his capture about the rape -- how he planned it and what he would film. A student on a college campus in the south (he had been on the run for a couple of months) recognized him from the news and turned him into the police. When the police found him, he took out a knife and slashed his throat as they approached. The hospital staff saved him and so he is awaiting trial. His father has spoken out about how troubled his son is -- like most of the stuff parents say about their children, I'm thinking, yeah, we knew that.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Body Isolations

A friend of mine's wife works at an Arthur Murray Dance Studio, the one in the strip mall sandwiched between Smoker's Outlet and Bridal Veils and More. She keeps the books and answers the phones and every fifteen minutes, she's required to stand up and clap for the people taking dance lessons. I've always wanted to go inside one of these places to see the instructors, who I imagined as dancers who had tried their luck in the Big City, but didn't make it. Nothing interests me like the dream deferred. But my friend said that no, mostly the instructors are people who took lessons and like to dance. The only bad part, he said, was that the instructors could never stop dancing even when there weren't any clients and had to dance alone, much like the patients in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Bingo! I knew there was a reason I was drawn to imagining the place as the setting for my next story.

Dancing always seems sad to me, even when it's born of happiness and maybe especially then. One of my favorite opening movie scenes is Bob Fosse in All That Jazz popping dexies with his coffee and the Angel of Death lurking nearby, opening his very bloodshot eyes as if they were someone else's and saying, It's showtime! I perform this little routine myself before I have to go somewhere or do something I don't want to do. If there's a mirror around, I'll open my eye with my fingers on the lashes and look at it until it seems like it belongs to someone else, someone with the kind of stamina to dance even if nobody is watching and look, to all the world, as if she's loving it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"My friends know that happiness to me is when I'm miserable instead of suicidal." Bob Fosse

All That Jazz

1 shot of brandy
1 glass of champagne
a splash of chambord

Benedictions and Maledictions

I’ve Lived in Detroit For A Long Time

As a teenager, I’d dream of Philip Roth. Philip and I
would always be riding a train, talking about novels,
and New York City. Now I’m dreaming of Eminem,
and he’s not pissed off and angry like his songs, no
Eight Mile snarl that speaks of strip clubs and fights.
Instead, he talks about his love for his children, how
he can’t sleep without pills, the stresses of the road,
even offers me backstage passes to his show. We
share a bottle of cheap vodka, Mohawk, Detroit’s
finest. He tells me he likes the bullet around my
neck and asks what I do. When I tell him I’m a writer,
the edgy Eminem returns until I assure him that I’m
not a journalist and anyway, this is all a dream. He
relaxes, offers me more vodka. The city gleams before
us, and I wonder what I would write if this were real.
Would I tell his secrets or simply say, Detroit is not
the most beautiful city and yet you cannot help but
love it, especially at night when Eminem offers you
some vodka and doesn’t care that you’re nobody special.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Day of the Dead

When I taught Vacation Bible School a thousand years ago (okay, I was in the seventh grade), my friend Melissa and I would perform a longish puppet show every morning to excite the children out of their heat-induced stupors. We built our own stage out of a cardboard box, and since Brother Buddy told us that the church could not afford puppets of any kind, I brought two small hand-puppets I had at home, one mouse and one giraffe. Always the visionary, Brother Buddy assured us that these puppets were as good as anything store-bought and could be used to bring the scriptures to life for the little ones. Melissa and I did our best to act out stories like Samson and Delilah (Mr. Giraffe was Samson and I worked to make the mouse as seductive as possible), Jonah (the whale part was especially surreal when my mouse puppet spent a long time in the mouth of the giraffe puppet), the resurrection story (lots of time on the day after the crucifixion, arguably the most interesting time for the disciples when their collective faith was really tested--we included lots of Monday morning quarterbacking, ie "He said He was coming back. Where is He?" -- early practice for dating), and other fun frolicking tales. After the puppet show, the kids would be divided into small groups to make crosses out of matches or learn traditional hymns like "The Old Rugged Cross." I still consider a mercy that contemporary Christian music had not reached us.

After class let out, we'd walk to Mr. C's to buy cherry Cokes and smoke cigarettes Melissa had taken from her mother's purse that morning. She'd also managed to steal a Valium from the same place, and we'd split it to take the edge off after being with the kiddies all morning. For a week, this was our routine. We'd talk about all sorts of things while we smoked -- the Holocaust, when we'd first have sex, whether or not I'd ever enjoy Star Trek the way Melissa did, what fruit of the spirit we'd like if we could choose and the ones we thought we had -- I wanted joy, but decided that I'd been granted long-suffering, the total suck city as far as the fruits went, we both agreed. In the morning, we'd pick up our puppets next to the plain cardboard stage, their heads in awkward positions, the way they landed when we threw them down the day before in our rush to leave, looking as if they'd been strangled.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"The descent will be through the darkness of the familiar into a world where, like the blind man in the gospels, he sees men as if they were trees, but walking." Flannery O'Connor

Fruit of the Spirit

1 part orange juice
1 part grapefruit juice
1 part vodka
splash of grenadine

Serve chilled and garnished with a cherry.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Day of the Dead

He left long after all the trick-or-treaters,
long after her neighbors have cleared out
because of the fire he pulled. Dressed as one
of New York's finest, she let him in, and he
filmed her in different outfits, still as any
mannequin after the chloroform rag. She'd been
on his women to rape lists, stating he wanted
to take her down a notch. When the real
police found him, he slit his own throat,
and they saved him, despite his plea to let
him die. He'd been pretending to be a student,
but couldn't pull off the costume now that
Halloween was over. I thought about all
the outfits I'd adorned myself with over the years
for various men. I hadn't been drugged with
anything but the usual substances, and I'd been beautiful
or scary, a self-induced black-out here and there,
and in those moments I'm pretty sure I was both.

They Have a Coven And They Want My Baby!

The first time I ever saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was in a trailer in small town Texas when I was fourteen. My friend Marcia's mother, a nurse who worked the third shift, had left us girls (there were two other girls also spending the night) to our own devices which meant we'd search the couch for change, roll pennies from our piggy banks, and wander around the trailer park before heading for the In and Out Convenience Store to purchase moon-pies and other culinary delights. Marcia's mother had left the VHS tape on the television next to her various prescriptions and big bottle of Gordon's gin (the Hemmingway brand!) and so when we got sufficiently bored of looking at boys in the yearbook and classifying who was "fine" and who was decidedly not, we started it.

None of us were particularly fearful types -- we'd been warned not to run around the trailerpark because of a recent gang rape but we did. We'd been told not to talk to strangers, but we did because we were bored. The movie, however, scared us because the chainsaw massacre had happened in August (the month we were watching) and in rural Texas, not that far from where we were. Afterward, we pretended like we were witches and could levitate each other (light as a feather, stiff as a board anyone?). I feel it's important to say that levitation works best when you pick the smallest girl. We'd dare each other to whisper "Bloody Mary" in the mirror of the bathroom, a room so small that only one girl could fit at a time. I never saw anything, save for my own pale reflection lit only by the candle I held, looking desperate to get as far from her as I could. I'd tell the girls that I'd seen the most horrible things, of course, but that wouldn't be for a long time and there wouldn't be any mirrors around except the ones that I wanted to cover.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I bashed that beautiful window/ And stepped back in." Raymond Carver, "Locking Yourself Out, Then Trying To Get Back In"

Light As A Feather

1 glass of lemonade with crushed ice
1 shot of vodka
1 shot of chambord

Benedictions and Maledictions

Everyone knows it's difficult to write, but recently an interesting part of the difficulty has come up a lot on the comment board and discussions which is how to write without upsetting people, particularly people you may have to a) share a house with, b) are related to, c) want to remain friends with. Almost every writer I know deals with this issue to a greater or lesser extent. I use a lot of different tricks to get around this mental block, the main one being that I tell myself that I don't have to show anyone, that I am writing for me and me alone. Ha! I'm shocked that my mind hasn't caught on -- I've never written anything for just me in my life. I can't keep a journal (my days by and large are too dull -- ie, today I had the microwave lean cuisine except for the vegetable medley) and generally I'm the biggest blabbermouth in the whole world when it comes to something I've written that I like. And of course, my situation is different from many people I know -- all my family (with the exception of a very supportive sister) both immediate and extended is dead, my oldest friend, also dead, I'm not married, and my friends, by and large, like to be subjects provided that I let them pick their stage names.

This said, I still have trouble writing because the hardest person to work around is yourself. A dear friend (Shawn) pointed out to me that I had set up an entire novella and left out the two scenes that are the entire point of the book. Those are proving to be the hardest ones to write (which is why I left them out, of course) not because of what anyone else will think, but what I will think. Is is autobiographical? Not really even if we're always revealing more about ourselves than we know. But the emotional rawness of it makes me cringe. Which is the sign something is happening. It's like we used to say when I was a little girl about all sorts of ointments we'd spray on bites and sores -- the sting means it's working.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Truman Capote's Black and White Ball

People seldom speak of enemies anymore -- the idea is as antiquated as mimeographing a big old bunch of papers to hand out to your class. It's my contention that language has changed to rule out this idea -- people are misunderstood, passive-aggressive, unkind, manipulative, hurtful, victims, victimizers, toxic, and so on. No one is just an Evil Pants. The last brilliant discourse on enemies came in the form of a lifelong feud between Truman Capote (one of my favorite writers) and Gore Vidal (not one of my favorite writers, but he has a cool name and says cool things). In his memoir, Gore points out that having the right enemy is as important and defining as having the right friend. He states that he and Truman worked as enemies because in large part they had a psychic connection -- their mothers shared a name (Nina), they did the same type of work, and they both had a biting sense of humor.

I suppose it's indicative of our lonely times that we no longer see things in black and white. For the most part, I think this is a good thing, this desire to give everybody a second chance, even ourselves. Like Bill Hurt says in Broadcast News about the moral line he won't cross -- that sucker just keeps moving. But maybe we've lost something too. When Truman Capote had his Black and White Ball, the party of the century, he spent nearly a year adding names and marking them off the invitation list. I'm guessing Gore Vidal's name never once made the page, but he most certainly was there in spirit, as we like to say about places we can never be but are through the power of our thoughts alone.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"A narcissist is someone better looking than you are." Gore Vidal

Black and White

1 part vodka
1 part chamboard
1 part apple juice

Serve chilled in a martini glass.

Benedictions and Maledictions

In Memoriam -- Fear the Fro!

I heard last night that Big Ben (Ben Wallace) has left the Detroit Pistons for the Chicago Bulls. Big Ben is my all-time favorite player on the Pistons (and lucky number 3!) so this is a very sad time for me, and I will be spending this Independence Day in a state of mourning, not leaving the house or doing any wholesome activities like having a picnic that generally take place on the holiday. Ben seldom smiled, a quality I really like in any athlete (note my preference for Nadia Comaneci over Mary Lou Retton) and played the best defense ever. He changed his hair between conrows and an afro depending on the game-- I always knew the Pistons were at their best when he was rocking the 'fro! Ben, you will be missed!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Hollywood Doesn't Go For Booze and Pills!

My childhood friend Curtis used to have parties where no more than five people ever showed up. He'd work for days on the decorations, the mixed tapes, the menu, the invitations, and the old faithful would appear, but nobody else. I sat dressed up (invitations had specified "Dress Festive!") in the same house that I went to almost every week except now I was surrounded by lavish works of decorative art and three or four other friends who had doomed looks on their faces. His mother, a woman who looked like an older Liz Taylor gone to seed, would swoop in with her heavy eye-shadow and a long caftan to see if we needed anything. Her glass penguin collection eyed us from the curio cabinet. A gun or some booze, I was thinking, but we were each given some margarita-flavored wine coolers as a treat, not enough to get a mouse drunk, much less people used to downing Everclear and grape Kool-Aid. These parties would start out hopeful until it became a lament of sadness, and Curtis would swear that there would never be another one. We could only hope.

Years later, I saw the movie The Boys in the Band, based on a play by Matt Crowley, much in the spirit of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (a great movie to show when you have a couple whose relationship is on the rocks over for drinks). I saw the movie with a friend in my duplex in Texas, where we sweltered in a living room (the air unit was in the bedroom and sounded like a 747 taking off) and drank gin and tonics while we watched the characters plan and enact a Curtis-like party (except it was a birthday party with six gay men instead of just two), complete with the claustrophobia of a small group of people who know each other way too well. Fear of turning thirty and losing sex appeal was expressed as a "virus in the blood" (this was well before AIDS) and the party culminates in the telephone game, a painful adult version of truth or dare where each of the men at the party is required to call someone he really loves (the call counts as one point), tell him he loves him (two points) and so on. One of the least sympathetic characters, a dead ringer for Art Garfunkel with terrible acne, keeps yelling "One point!" Most people I know who have seen this movie hate it for lots of valid reasons -- its rather depressing view of homosexuality, the deathly slow pace, the fact that all the action takes place in a one very small apartment in New York. I loved it, though, because it brought back all those lonely parties in Mineral Wells and the late night discussions that could have rivalled the telephone game for their pathos and drama. When we got to close to anyone's specific truth, we'd pull back and pretend that we could be anyone we wanted instead of exactly who we were, that things would be different for all of us this time, next year.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I have lost something. ... But you know what? It's never too late to get it back." Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), American Beauty

A Small Party

one shot of vodka
one television
one television dinner (preferably served on a tv tray)

Benedictions and Maledictions

Dear Hopeless in Bloomfield Hills:

I'm so glad that you are thinking about taking the month off from your married boyfriend to see what happens. It's going to require a high tolerance for pain -- like everything you get used to, giving something up involves a period of withdrawal that makes the break seem like a really bad idea. What I can tell you is that this doesn't last long and a month is incredibly short in the scheme of things, but long enough to make you think about what the situation really is. You write that your "friend" (I'm not sure this word applies, but I'll go with it) wants to wait for his wife's birthday as to not ruin it. You've been in this for three years -- I'm sure he's always got a great excuse as to why he can't leave -- it's Christmas, her parents are visiting, it's his birthday, her birthday, Flag Day, well, you get the idea. His strategy is fairly simple -- keep the status quo going for as long as possible by constant delay and distract you from projecting into the future because if you did, you'd see that he would like to keep things the same as they are. (By the way, what do you do in your spare time when he's not around?) As Robin pointed out, what's in it for him to change the situation? An economic downturn to be sure, added stress of a divorce, (are there children involved?), and so on. Of course, you would both have a chance at an authentic relationship with each other. Have you ever considered the possibility that your relationship with him is as much dependent on the wife as hindered by her? Please keep checking in with your progress, and I assure you that Woody Allen isn't hard to understand at all! He's had plenty of messy situations in all his movies -- Match Point is just the latest. Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters all deal with the topic as well. If anyone on the comment board wants to weigh in on the situation, feel free!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Woman At The Washington Zoo

Years ago on my way to Raymond Carver's grave, I stayed on Mercer Island, a chi-chi section of Seattle, with friends of my then much older boyfriend. He hadn't seen these friends in nearly twenty years and described them as hard drinking and fun. My then-boyfriend could rival Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) for social outlets so I didn't have any idea what to expect except that I had seen The Big Chill in the eighth grade. This is when age difference is not your friend. It became apparent to me within hours that these were not the same people I had hoped for -- the first night we had a picnic on Lake Washington where I tried to swim, only to be warned that "the goose shit in the water sometimes causes rashes on the kids." I rose out of the water with great rapidity and dried off, wishing for vat of antibacterial scrub. Dinner with the friends and their friends wasn't much better -- drinks consisted of people measuring out gin in capfuls (allergies and fear of being drunk and/or fat), people talking about their diets (lactose-intolerant, insulin-overproduction, metabolism problems), the difficulty of finding good nannies (the friends were complaining about how bitchy their nanny had become since she'd been invited to Hugh Hefner's Annual Pool Party and refused to eat anything for fear of gaining weight), and how hard it was to combine work and kids. The friends had two beautiful daughters, five and seven, one of which would cry and scream whenever the woman left for work and would call her throughout the day, saying things like "I hate you because you leave me and you're the reason my stomach always hurts and I'm never ever going to forgive you for being selfish." The girls' goldfish, Sammy, died and Sammy "had gone to heaven" even though their parents were atheists who mocked everything and everybody slightly religious. I thought I might poke my eyes out. It was not their lack of religious belief that upset me, merely the convenient use of heaven when it suited them. I wanted to take the kids aside and say, There is no heaven, you know. Sammy is dead and cold in the ground. Which is how I felt.

It rained almost all three days we stayed there, an unrelenting drizzle that matched my mood. I had nothing in common with anyone it seemed, no stories about meeting at the foot of the Eiffel Tower on New Year's Eve during my senior year of college (I would have been lucky to get to go to Austin for my senior year of college and meet friends at the foot of the tower at University of Texas where Charles Whitman shot all those people years ago), no halcyon days of doing coke all night and that aw shucks, where has all the time gone, man? feeling. I couldn't find a role for myself and tried to cast back to the movie. I would have been Meg Tilly, doing stretching exercises, and seducing Bill Hurt. But there was no Bill to be found, I didn't bring any leotards, and try as I might not to let it, the rain had started to get to me. So this is why people killed themselves in Seattle, I thought. The last night we went to a Thai restaurant alone, happy to be free of the domestic chatter. Two young Asian boys danced in the rain outside, using the tiny paper umbrellas that had adorned their soft drinks in the restaurant as props. Their dance was the happiest, purest thing I had seen all week. When we left the restaurant, the remants of their umbrellas remained on the sidewalk, bright bits of color in an otherwise gray landscape.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Loading mercury with a pitchfork/ your truck is almost full. The neighbors/ take a certain pride in you. They/ stand around watching." Richard Brautigan

Mercury With A Pitchfork

2 parts vodka
1 part pineapple juice
1 part chambord

Serve chilled in a martini glass garnished with a lemon.

Benedictions and Maledictions

There have been questions on the comment board about my diet and or work-out regime in the past couple of weeks so I'll address them today, Sunday, the day of rest. Let's just say that I keep it simple -- no low-fat, no Atkins, no Zone. It's all about cookies and vodka, the occasional fruit medley, a lot of champagne. I work out sporadically, mostly walking on a treadmill and yoga. I'm also a nervous sort -- this burns calories.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Including But Not Limited To The Following

I have a theory about dating and movies -- that much of a relationship can be determined by what movie you see as your first one together. My first date movies have included but are not limited to the following: Trainspotting, The Exorcist (it was a video -- no, I'm not old enough to have seen it in the theater), Edward Scissorhands, The Accused (for the love of Jesus, do not see this one on a first date), Personal Best, Blue Velvet, and Misery. The list could go on, but I can't. Most of these selections are enough to mess with your mind, as we used to say in those increasingly-dim years of the 80s, and not the most delightful augers for a new love.

I remember Misery the best (shock, surprise -- I like the title) -- Kathy Bates in one of her greatest roles as a psychotic fan who takes her favorite writer hostage (James Caan) and eventually hobbles him to keep him writing the stories she loves the most -- a Sheherazade in hell as it were. Stephen King writes in his book On Writing that the book was a metaphor for his drug and alcohol addiction. So Kathy was cocaine, booze, valium, xanax, and everything else he drank, snorted, or popped, the airless tomb of his dependencies. At the time I had started thinking writing was all I wanted to do, and I thought of the movie as a metaphor as the price of admission to a very exclusive club. As for my date, he'd eventually live with me and grow to dislike that side of my personality (intrigued by my "differentness," he sought to eradicate it as soon as it became inconvenient), and I learned that if I was going to do this thing right, I'd have to be both Kathy and James, the one with the ax and the victim of it if only I could get the angle right. It's harder to hobble yourself than anyone tells you.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I would have laughed if I had been the one watching. I was never the one watching, though. I was always the one these hilarious things were happening to." Larry McMurtry, All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers

Misery Chastain

1 part chambord
1 part cognac

Serve heated as an after-dinner drink.

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Cold Mountain Review:

A Hotel Room in Baton Rouge

On the connecting flight from Dallas to Detroit, a
woman with no teeth leaned close
and said, “I’m leaving this goddamn place. I’ve had it
with my husband.” I nodded,
unable to think of one thing to say, wishing I’d had that
fourth drink
at the Tex-Mex restaurant off the interstate where an
hour earlier I’d sat
with my best friend who caught me up on the latest. In
a hotel room in Baton Rouge, her
boyfriend broke down, crying because he couldn’t say “I
love you.” “I remember
how excited he used to get. Why does it always go?” she
asked, separating
my hair into three parts for a braid. I nodded then too,
drunk, not saying anything.
“I can’t find what I’m looking for,” she said, rummaging
around her purse before
pulling out a rubber band and tying up the loose ends
before letting me go.

Starting to sober up on the plane, I lamented not having
a window
seat, being trapped in the middle. The woman looked at
my bare hands and sighed. “You’re so lucky,” she said. I didn’t
anything about my own situation, which required me to
fly back
and forth in long distance limbo, high phone bills, long
nights waking
up wondering where I was and where I should be.
“When it starts
you never know that it’s going to end like this,” she
said. “He was my only one.”
I thought back to the first man I’d loved enough to
suffer through a pap smear
in order to get on the pill, although he left me before I
had the chance to take one.
Back then, even the scraping felt comfortable, something I
was doing for love.