Saturday, March 31, 2007
Friday, March 30, 2007
Thursday, March 29, 2007
According to prominent sociologist Ken Kessler, living alone is dangerous. "It's the biggest predictor of early death and a risk factor for mental illness, substance abuse, TV dinners, and all kinds of bad stuff." I think this is, to put it mildly, a crock of shit. Bad enough that single people endure the endless sets of questions at family reunions and dinner parties -- So is there anybody special out there for you? Have you met someone yet? Yes, I have met lots of people in the course of my day as I am not a hermit. Now the soft science professionals weigh in with yet another dreary opinion about life expectancy, confirming the stereotypes of single women with only cats for companions as they grow stranger and stranger or men so emotionally stunted that they're prone to die alone, being abused or neglected by a hired companion as they drift into death's oblivion.
It goes without saying that marriage can be lovely, the sweet consumation of an overwhelming passion. I myself have always admired the Liz Taylor/Richard Burton model where they married and divorced twice, so crazy in love they were. One of my ex-boyfriend's had a tremendous admiration for the Ike and Tina Turner model. Do you think, he would ask rhetorically, that Tina was easy to live with? Never having lived with Ms. Turner, I cannot say. But I did know a little something about living with my ex. He didn't have Dick Burton's drinking habit or Ike Turner's propensity for violence, but it was, as one of my friends is fond of saying, slightly lower than Heaven. What can I say? I like a good TV dinner, Healthy Choice being my favorite brand.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I told them that strange things happen," the Pistons' coach, Flip Saunders said. "We might as well try to get something crazy." (Flip said this right before Rasheed Wallace made a sixty-foot shot at the last second of the game and beat Denver in overtime! Go Pistons!)
Drinking sociology book suggestion: Bachelor Girl by Betsy Israel
Benedictions and Maledictions
Ten days until The Sopranos airs!
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
When asked how many husbands she'd had, art collector Peggy Guggenheim replied, My own or other people's? I once had a friend who juggled a husband, two kids, and an affair with a co-worker for seven years. She didn't, as they say, seem the type. Her hair was cut into an extremely practical wash and go style, and she never wore anything more revealing than a polo shirt with the top button undone. No Peggy Guggenheim, she did not revel in her infidelity, but it came to define her all the same. In time, her husband and her boyfriend went the way of all flesh. The affair, she told me, became as tiresome. If you want to lose weight, she said, the first year is great -- you feel like you're alive again and every day is a miracle. The rest after that is as tedious as a PBS pledge drive and as exhausting as working two jobs.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Friday, March 23, 2007
Thursday, March 22, 2007
My grandfather was named Charlie, never Chuck or Charles. When things got bad, he wasn't above pulling up stakes and starting over, usually in the middle of the night by the light of a lantern. He didn't think about what the neighbors thought -- I doubt the neighbors thought much of anything since he was the kind of badass that you did not mess with -- he'd soon shoot you as look at you. You little bastards, he'd say to me and my sister, his only grandchildren, a term of endearment of sorts. I was not a badass; I feared damn near everything about the outside world and indoors wasn't much better -- the internecine politics of all the houses of my childhood were enough to give anyone an ulcer. Anything bad that happens to you is your fault should have been stitched on a sampler pillow along with the dirty one in the trailer that said, God Loves You.
When people talk about legacy, I think about mine and laugh. You will not be afraid; you will be the last one standing. I sucked that philosophy down just as I did my Dr. Pepper from the gas station Flinstones glass I always used. I wasn't sure if I was in training for kindergarten or the Vietcong. Of course, this background suited me well -- if it takes twenty years, it takes twenty years, if it takes thirty, it takes thirty. We will not be defeated. You will lose yourself to find yourself. You will die to this world. This world will die to you. Make a way where there is no way. Or as Charlie would have said, Get out of my fucking way. Of course, I've cleaned it up. If I'm ever going to knit it on a pillow, I'd better use as few words as possible since I only know how to use a needle for one thing, inflicting pain on myself or others. Sometimes it's the same thing.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I've waded through water and I've waded through mud/ To come to this place they call the bucket of blood." Stagger Lee
Drinking movie suggestion: Hustle and Flow
Benedictions and Maledictions
20 days until The Sopranos airs!
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Monday, March 19, 2007
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Saturday, March 17, 2007
One of my most beautiful friends was told by her then-boyfriend that her triceps were flabby. She'd been a model in Playboy, had worked as an actress, and by any standard, was gorgeous. Add this to the fact that she had huge breasts and a tiny frame and a face like Barbie and wherever we went, we could instantly get seated, free food, free whatever, and it wasn't because of my shy, mousy presence beside her. She'd been through one hellish ride in her life which also gave her character and made it tolerable to bask in the glow of such overwhelming loveliness without dying of jealousy. The boyfriend was a photographer and gave her some exercises to do to increase tone. Everyone thinks you're so hot, he told her, but I see some areas that could use improvement. She cried when she related this incident until I plied her with enough champagne to forget about those fucking tricep exercises and made her laugh about all the men we'd dealt with over the years, my favorite being one of her one-night regrets (my term for a one-night stand that you shouldn't have had -- perhaps most of them eventually go under that umbrella) that kept calling and coming to her house and begging her to see him again. We did it once, he kept saying, why can't we do it again? This argument, not up to the caliber of Clarence Darrow or Johnny Cochrane, sent us into fits of giggles.
To my sadness, she stayed with the photographer a little longer than was good for her, taking into account all of his poisonous comments for self-improvement, ranging from exercise to plastic surgery. He doesn't think I'm special, she told me. He sees the real me. I suppose this is what everyone is looking for, someone who sees beyond the polite masks we wear, our press, if you will. But it's amazing how easy it is to mistake cruelty for truth. She'd had such a hard life already that had formed her into a jewel, and all the exercises and make-up in the world couldn't change her heart, that damaged bloody fist that pumps despite anyone's attempts to make it stop.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"A single moment of being seen can make up for a lifetime of invisibility." Hope Donahue
Drinking movie suggestion: Raising Arizona
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
25 days until The Sopranos airs!
Friday, March 16, 2007
For your Friday reading pleasure. First appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review Spring and Summer 2005 (Vol. 22, Nos. 1 & 2).
The Difference Between Pluto and Goofy
The night my brother Josh took a razor and carved a grin underneath his mouth, I fell off a car. Fourth of July, watching fireworks over the lake in a marina parking lot, drinking gin and tonics with my married boyfriend Kevin, and without warning, I passed out. When I awoke, it was to an anxious wreath of faces peering down at my pounding head. Because I didn’t know I was falling, I didn’t make the classic mistake of holding out my arms to protect myself, so I didn’t experience any injuries except scrapes and bruises, marks that you can see for a few weeks after, the ones that make people ask, what the hell happened to you?
Which, of course, is what I want to ask Josh. His new grin runs from cheek to cheek, a deep cut that severed a tendon. It is nothing like the polite smiles we gave our parents over what I now refer to as the last supper, the fleeting smiles of employees imagining that an unpleasant task was almost done, only to find out that they had only scratched the surface of what would be demanded of them. My parents announced they were moving back to Detroit, quite possibly within the next few months. They hadn’t lived in our city for almost ten years. We were at a restaurant that didn’t stay open very long, an expensive soul food place called Jada, where they paid a lot for ribs and okra, collard greens and sweet potato pie, my parents insisting on trying whatever seemed adventurous. They live in Atlanta, and their infrequent visits are punctuated with outings that proved to be short and filled with ideas about how the next one might be better, the things we are all trained to say, the things we couldn’t possibly mean.
So here I am living with Josh once again because I do not trust that he won’t do something worse, although in this case, I do not want to imagine worse. For once, I am thankful that there is no one in my life who cares where I live. I remembered how Josh and I shared a room as children, before my parents had money, and we’d take turns staying awake so that if we heard our father creeping around, wanting to say goodnight, we’d be prepared. I remembered Mother saying, You need to be careful. Men can’t be trusted and that goes for your father. I don’t want you crawling in bed with him while I’m gone. She was a nurse. We never crawled into bed with him, but I can’t say we were always good at keeping him out of ours.
Our parents had left a few boxes at Josh’s duplex, telling us they’d come back for them when they moved here for good. When I moved in with Josh, I had to make room. I started with those boxes, moving them to the basement when the bottom fell out of one. I stuffed all the shit back in, looking for something that would explain the way Josh turned out, but everything seemed so normal. You’d never know my father from his things.
I think about a night when my father didn’t come home and my mother called the police, telling them he was missing. They searched the block, got the neighbors involved, called for him. I didn’t say anything, but I saw him across the street, hiding in a wooded area where Mother forbid Josh and me to go. Men hide in the woods and they wait for women so they can slash their tendons and hurt them, she said. You can’t move when someone slashes your tendons. We nodded. My father came back the next day, leaves in his hair. I don’t know what he told Mother. Mother would phone her girlfriends and say, I know he’s got some whore. I thought about that as I heard my father’s name called that night, over and over again.
And now I am someone’s whore. The symmetry does not escape me, though seeing Kevin is perfect, in spite of the obvious problem of his marriage. I thought it was good that I had never met his wife, that an actual person would only make me crazy. The last time I lived with a man, I would look at pictures of his former fiancée, whom I had only met a few times. He’d devoted an album to her, and it seemed realer than things that had happened to us. I looked at that album with a regularity that can only be described as disturbing. By the time I realized that this ritual was making me sick, it was impossible to quit, like reading someone’s journal – no matter how miserable it makes you, you can’t stop until you’re to the end of what’s there.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Josh asks, as he walked into the living room, his Doc Marten’s loud on the wood floor. I try not to look at his face.
“Just sorting things. Do you care if I move some of your boxes to the basement?”
“Do what you want,” Josh says. He plunks down on the couch and switches on the television with a remote bigger than any I’ve ever seen. He calls it The Commander. As in, The Commander wants respect. The Commander thinks this show sucks. It’s strange how Josh and I got along so well, despite being so unalike. We don’t even look like brother and sister; he’s tall, big, shaggy, and had a beautiful face. I’m tiny and plain, like a miniature someone forgot to make exquisite with the right heartbreaking details.
“Josette,” he says. He never calls me by my name unless he’s tired. “Feel free to move anything you want.”
I sit down and try to relax. Josh changes the channel.
“This is one of those movies where it looks like there’s going to be boobs, but there just isn’t going to be boobs.” He continues to drink his Coors, nowhere near a beautiful stream featured in their commercials.
“I thought we got the complete cable package so you could find something you liked.” I start arranging things in the room to make it look better.
“It’s a wasteland. I’ve seen everything too many times.”
It starts to rain, hard, without warning. The lights go out, then the television.
“Now what?” Josh asks.
“Josh, why do you think they’re coming back?”
He picks at his nails, and I try something else. “Why didn’t you marry Annie?” Annie had been Josh’s girlfriend right up until the cut.
“I don’t know. She’s not the type of person you want to marry. I should have married Coley.” Coley was the one before Annie. They seem pretty alike to me, both underfed and hopeful, like happy children who wanted more attention.
“They’re both women, right? I don’t get the difference.”
“It’s like saying Pluto and Goofy are both dogs. Goofy is Mickey Mouse’s friend, whereas Pluto is Mickey’s pet. I mean, there’s a difference.”
“That clears it right up,” I say. “Do you think I’m doomed to always be Pluto?”
As if by cue, I hear thunder.
“You want me to call to see how long we’ll be without power?” I ask.
He shrugs, so I dial. I don’t like sitting around with nothing to do, no air-conditioner, no lights, no music, no television. It strikes me all at once how limiting and claustrophobic this situation is. I don’t speak to a person on the phone, just the automated help line. I keep hearing the voice say, “We are sorry you are without power. We understand the importance of knowing when your power will be restored” followed by an estimate of how long it would take before things would start working again.
Josh lights a candle and gets a book from the shelf, a biography of Tolstoy. I can’t get comfortable. I want to call Kevin, but I don’t know if he’s home. Or alone. I’ve never been inside his house, even thought I know where it is. I think about confronting his wife. At least, maybe something would happen.
I look outside, our duplex right on the border of Detroit. Like all borders, this one feels scary and powerful, like change might happen in any second. We’ll have to drive into the suburbs to see Kevin, but it isn’t all that far from danger to where he lives. When you can’t go outside, my mother used to say, you need to make your own fun!
“Do you want to go somewhere? A drive?” I ask. The rain has stopped. I don’t hear anything going on outside.
“Where are we going?”
“I want to see if Kevin’s home.”
He looks at me, his carved grin like a jack-o-lantern that I can’t turn off. “Is he alone?”
“I guess we’ll find out.”
As we drive, it occurs to me that this is a bad idea. The trip feels slow-motion, Josh in the driver’s seat, me looking out the window, noticing the way everything seems brighter after a storm. I know what I’m doing is reckless, stupid, but I can’t stop. I see my opportunities to turn around recede as we get closer. I knock on the door, a tap so light I can’t imagine anyone hearing it. When I turn to go, I hear the door open and feel compelled to stop and look, the pillar of salt thing.
“Can I help you?”
The woman at the door looks like someone’s sort of attractive mother, a woman who made grocery lists, who drank no more than one glass of wine with any meal. A wife.
I shake my head. A wasp lands on the birdbath. It is poised on the water like a plane ready for take-off.
“Are you looking for something?” she asks. She picks a thread off her khaki shorts. “Who are you?”
I consider the various ways in which I can answer that question before I hear a sucking noise and felt water. An automatic sprinkler.
I run to the car before she can ask anything else, shaking with the same sensation I get after throwing up. I can’t cry, so I throw up instead which doesn’t have the same social grace. Josh sits in the car, smoking, flicking his ashes onto the road. When I get in, he drops his cigarette and drives.
When we return home, the power is still out but only for a few minutes. After we sit down, the lights and television come back on, and I startle, surprised by the sound of everything starting up again.
The next week, I forget about the visit to Kevin’s house, the way you forget about a bill that you can’t pay. Instead, I work as many extra hours as I could at Planned Parenthood, spending the nights too tired to do much. I think about the girls I see during the day, many of them in for their first pap smear in order to get on the pill. They look nervous, excited. I don’t want to tell them what’s ahead, that it’s not what they imagine. Instead, I think about the first man I loved enough to get a pap smear for, how happy I was, how even the scraping felt comfortable, something I was doing for love.
Kevin doesn’t call until Wednesday night, four days after my visit. My parents call before Kevin did, told me that they won’t be moving after all, isn’t it too bad. I don’t tell them about Josh and his face. They’ll have to see it for themselves, I think, it will be something I won’t be able to hide from them. I’ve been hiding his problems for years, and it’s an oddly liberating position to have something I can do nothing about. I tell Josh the good news, but he doesn’t respond. For once, I don’t know if he’s happy or not. The phone rings again, but I don’t want to pick up. Josh does. We take turns doing the things we don’t like, just as we did when we were younger.
“It’s for you,” he says.
“What do you want from me? I thought you understood,” Kevin says. I can see him on the phone, hand up in the air as if he’s drowning. It was how he gesticulated when he talked to his wife when I was around.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, it’s over. I can’t tell you what a bad position this has put me in.”
“It’s been great for me,” not sure if I mean it or not. All I know is that I felt the old sadness settle in, like a vivid dream that bleeds into the day. The night before, I dreamt that I was working at a gigantic stockyard, lost among the cows and pigs, waiting for someone to pick me up and drive me home. In the dream, I started to cry because I didn’t think anyone would ever love me enough to pick me up from such a horrible place.
“Who was on the line?” Josh asks.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s play head on a stick,” I say. Josh looks startled, but he smiles, a real smile above his carved one.
“What made you think of that?” he asks.
“It’s been a while,” I said. Head on a Stick is a game we played until we moved out of our parents’ house. It’s fairly basic in the particulars. When one of us felt like it, we’d yell “head on a stick.” That meant you’d been paralyzed in an accident from the neck down, and the other person had to do everything for you that you couldn’t do as a result of your condition. The game could go on for hours. I remember feeding Josh, him feeding me. I miss it. “Head on a stick,” I yelled.
“What do you need?” he asks, the beginning of all Head on a Stick games.
“I want to go to bed.”
He picks me up, not much more difficult for him now than it was then. He sets me down on my comforter and sifts through some t-shirts he knew I wear to bed.
“I need to change you,” he says, holding up a couple of t-shirts.
“Do I get to pick which one I want?” I nod at the red one.
He brings the t-shirt to me and takes off my clothes. I don’t make it easy for him. After all, I can’t move anything below my neck. After he tucks me in, he walks to the edge of the room and turns off the overhead light.
“Is there anything else?”
“I want to hear a story.”
I don’t say anything. I only look at him. There isn’t anywhere I can go in this condition. “Tell me about your face,” I say.
He picks up my hand and traces the grin even though I’m not supposed to have any feeling in my hands. I can’t imagine how he did this to himself, how his neighbor had found him on the porch that they shared and called to report an emergency. I think about that night, how I’d taken three Valiums before I could go to sleep, how hard it was to wake up when the hospital had called.
“It hurts to talk,” he says. I nod, the only action I can perform in this game. He gets in bed next to me, arms by his side. I close my eyes and listen to all the noises outside, the sounds of sirens and yelling, the sounds of screeching tires against the pavement, taking comfort in the fact that other people also sometimes find it difficult to stop.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
Drinking memoir suggestion: Beautiful Stranger Hope Donahue
Benedictions and Maledictions
24 days until The Sopranos airs!
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Of course, my co-workers who knew me got a good laugh out of these interchanges, Mary trying to get me to see the importance of my education and how much more I could be doing with my life. Eventually she learned of my background and apologized for treating me the way she did. No harm done, I said and there wasn't. I'd learned a lot from her just by observing her way of cutting through the bullshit. I was far more insulted by an older client who kept coming in to harrass the help and telling me that I could go to Harvard if I wanted, meaning the Harvard Coney on the corner. You're a good little worker, darling, he said. Your life should have taken a different turn. You could have gotten married, I'm sure. I smiled and cursed him in my mind. My days consisted of financial despair, exhausting work, romantic woe, and the endless task of putting out fires at all my jobs. I have, I said. I'm now a lesbian. My fellow co-worker spit his coffee as the client turned red. Is that true? he asked. That can't be true. Two of my co-workers were lesbians, and he'd done his best to deny that reality -- of course, my thin fiction wouldn't fly. Want some coffee? I said. I made it myself. He took the first sip, put it down, and never ever spoke to me again. I thought about my first day in the office and learning how my way around the coffee machine, silently thanked Mary, and laughed.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Monday, March 12, 2007
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Friday, March 09, 2007
The first time I went to a Unitarian church, I received a sticker that said Love Is Salvation which I was instructed to put on my dress. I attended the service with the man who would eventually rape me, his father, and stepmother. As a child steeped in both a mystical and traditional background (seances and the Blood of Christ could coexist in my family's house), I found it oddly bland. There were no snakes, no crazy rules about not cutting your hair, not even any crucifixes. A good gory crucifix comes in handy at the oddest times -- my friend Hank taught the last years of his life at a Jesuit college and would frequently turn to our crucified Lord when the students weren't getting it and say, See what I have to put up with? The service lasted a long time and everyone hugged each other at the end. I can barely endure a mumbled "peace be with you" and a quick handshake so this didn't set well with me. I threw my Love Is Salvation sticker away as soon as I could. Running around with that on was almost as humiliating as the time I had to ride in a mini-van covered with pro-life bumper stickers to a KFC buffet that my preacher and his wife had decided to treat my then-husband and I to since they had a two for one coupon. I love KFC, but that ride in the van nearly killed me. I hung my head getting out, as if I were in handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit.
My second experience with the Unitarians was far better. I went to Easter services with my disseration director. When asked what we were thankful for, a man that went by the name of Stinky Dick raised his hand. Stinky Dick was actually Richard, a history professor who had lost his mind and his job and any committment to personal hygiene. He wandered Frye Street, the biggest drug mecca in all of my old college town, and yelled crazy-ass shit to people, imploring women to come back to his apartment because he had air-conditioning. "I slept with this beautiful girl from Minnesota about a year ago. She was the best sex I ever had. I just want to thank God for this precious gift." Stinky Dick looked teary. "I mean, eighteen years old. Damn. I may never get that again." It was one of the most sincere praise items I'd ever heard. The room fell silent. I thought back to that Love Is Salvation sticker from so many years ago. Maybe I'd ripped it off a little too fast. Finally someone said, That's great, Richard. Praise God. Anyone else have something to be thankful for? But his testimony is the only one I remember.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
The last time I was in the south, I hadn't been off the plane for six hours before I had a toothless hillbilly panhandler offer to share his Jack Daniels with me. When I declined, he tried to sell me his coat. I'd already given a panhandler money that night and was exhausted and ready to get back to my hotel. When I started to walk away, he yelled, If those niggers out there get me tonight, it's your fault. It's all your fucking fault, little girl. Welcome to the New South! Lest I disavow my roots completely, I must say that the South has produced some of our greatest musicians and writers, both black and white. So how best to capture this heady mix of racism, sexism, heat, language, lushness, beauty, and general craziness? My answer at the moment-- the movie Black Snake Moan.
Black Snake Moan has gotten a whole mess of mixed reviews -- some love it, some hate it, but nobody can turn away. In a sea of bullshit, politcally correct pablum, this country-fried sexploitation flick stands out. Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci carry the day; he as a washed up, embittered blues player whose wife has left him for his younger brother, she as a deeply ill incest survivor who fucks everything that moves, not to put too fine a point on it. By the time we're into it, there's a chain around her waist, there's a chain around his heart, and a lot of blood is shed. The movie gets its title from a Blind Lemon Jefferson song about an affliction that won't let you go. If this isn't the song for our times, I don't know what is. Who doesn't have an affliction that won't let them loose, no matter how hard they try? Once again, I found myself laughing at how real everything seemed despite the bizarre set-up. And really, what alliance doesn't have some strange shit at the center of it? The blues speaks of redemption, salvation, sex, the bottle, adultery, and loneliness all mixed together to make one heady cocktail. I ain't gonna be moved, Samuel L. says in one scene, when he's got his plan together to save Christina and himself. But I was, and I suspect that anyone who dares to see this film will be too.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"There's only one kind of blues and that is what consists between a man and a woman." Son House
Drinking soundtrack suggestion: Black Snake Moan (the music in this movie is fantastic!)
Benedictions and Maledictions
33 days until The Sopranos airs!
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Monday, March 05, 2007
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Describe Your Favorite Food
I can’t remember the first time I carried a gun to class, you know, the particulars, the way 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. Karl wasn’t in class the first day I taught (by first day I mean, first day ever), and he got the writing prompt from another student and turned it into my box. His handwriting, extremely tiny print, scared me even before I saw him, although the story he wrote was not extraordinary. The second day of class, Karl walked in with his shirt off and a towel around his waist, as if he’d stepped out of the shower. Since it was storming outside, I tried to reconcile the scene, but try as I might, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. As for me with my backpack and student-like wardrobe, I was the easiest-looking mark ever.
I had never taken an education class, never been in a classroom except as a student, and at the age of twenty-one, was ill-prepared to stare down twenty-five college students at a state university, particularly one who kept mentioning his great skill with deadly weapons, no scratch that, he didn’t need a weapon, he could kill with his bare hands! Not a Pollyanna by nature, I hadn’t expected a bunch of learning-hungry types with eyes and apples only for me, but this exceeded even the 70s classic Scared Straight video. What did the old fair, firm, and friendly advice mean in such a setting? Lucky for me, the rhetoric professor in the department was assigned to watch over me and help me in the lion’s den for my first semester. A kind woman in her thirties, I felt her to be both unintimidating and soothing, if a little uninspired in her classroom exercises. Nonetheless, I used them with great hope. I wasn't a natural teacher, despite all those years of exercising control over a few stuffed animals and my small chalkboard. All the props of teaching suited me -- it was the actual classroom time that wasn't my forte.
One of these exercises -- describe your favorite food without saying what the food is -- seemed, well, ill-advised even by my own dismal standards. I worried about Karl for good reason -- his paper contained a graphic description of what could be interpreted as a) oral sex or b) eating a kiwi. I took this scrap to my mentor. She showed it to the head of freshman English, a lively woman in her eighties who read it with a look of someone smelling something foul and told me that I would not be dealing with this horror much longer. Karl left my class, having to report to an older male teacher with a take no prisoners approach to teaching. But like most stories, the problem wasn’t even close to being over. Karl always seemed to be in the shadows (the term stalking was just coming into fashion), and I’d already dealt with being a victim of sexual violence years earlier. In response I developed a fear I couldn’t quite shake. I’d fixate on his old chair during class, a chair nobody ever sat in, despite the fact that there was no formal seating arrangement.
I kept teaching, fear bleeding into each day, little by little. I spent a lot of time in public bathrooms, trying to get a hold of myself. I didn't have a choice. And the saga wasn't over yet -- Karl ended up in the huge lecture hall where I was assigned to be one of the assistants for the professor. I had to decide whether to give up the class (summer classes being valuable and rare for grad students) or endure. I endured. Through lectures on Homer, I stared at the asshole, wishing him dead. I remember the last day with a surprising clarity -- clad in a white and red horizontally-striped dress (big fashion mistake) with an angel pin that someone had given me for protection, I watched as he took his final and left early. I'd survived, but it had cost me a lot -- my romantic relationship suffered, my weight fluctuated like mad, and my hair had started to fall out. It was a pyrrhic victory by any standards.
Years later in a writing workshop, the professor instructed us to write a story about someone carrying around something unexpected. I thought about the gun. It hadn’t lasted forever, despite the fact that I had a permit for it and the right to carry it in the state of Texas. Its weight eventually became too much to bear. I traded my student backpack in for a satchel. I moved to Detroit, lost my fear. I didn’t, however, use the describe your favorite food exercise ever again and kiwis always remind me of what I tell my students about words being powerful. The exercise didn’t do much for the students, but I never forgot it.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Did you ever feel like nothing good was going to happen to you?" "Yeah, and nothing did. So what? I'm alive. I'm surviving." exchange between Christopher and Paulie on The Sopranos
Drinking music suggestion: Love You Live Rolling Stones
Benedictions and Maledictions
36 days until The Sopranos airs!