Monday, April 30, 2007

The Great Gulf Between The Two

Once for Christmas I received two cds that were exactly the same: The Last Hours of the People's Temple. The cd cover contains a pastiche of the carnage in Guyana, a smiling Jim Jones looking half-looped, and a few shots of children singing. These aren't widely sold at Wal-Mart -- both of my friends had taken considerable trouble to procure them off the internet. To make matters worse, I received them at the same party, rendering me unable to lie about the unique nature of the gift. But I swore up and down that I needed two copies, I mean who the hell doesn't, and promptly put one in the mail to my old buddy Hank so he too could enjoy the bad contemporary Christian music followed by rambling speeches of Mr. Jones, and the begging of several of the brighter bulbs in the congregation who realized that drinking poisoned Flavor-Aid in the jungle was going to end up being a real fuckstick. Is there any way we can make it less bitter? one parishioner asks.
And so it goes. The question is answered literally -- No, we've used up all the sugar. As I cleaned up after the Christmas party late into the night, I thought about my gifts, one of which was playing on the stereo. So much starts out in promise and ends in the abyss. Nothing gives me the chills more than to hear my own voice say, I've got an idea. Eyes gleaming, I look toward the promised land. More often what I don't realize is that I'm going to have to crawl over broken glass to get there.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I looked at what I wanted and I looked at what I had. There was a great gulf between the two of them." Larry Brown
Cocktail Hour
Drinking nonfiction suggestion: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas Chuck Klosterman
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

We Should Make A Toast

Here's the third and final section!

Things That Lead To The Other World

It had been so long since I’d set the table, I couldn’t remember what went there, which side to put the knife on and whatnot. I know that I’d learned the rules from my mother, but what you don’t practice, you forget.
The grocery store took about twice as long as it might for anyone else, what with me stoned out of my mind, having to hit most of the aisles two or three times to make sure I had everything. There was so much to remember! I don’t know how people manage to do this every single night. I hold open the cookbook with a geode and do my best to layer everything like it says. Anyone can follow a recipe, my mother used to say. My father liked to laugh and wink at Josh about never having to endure the horrors of cooking. Josh had other horrors to endure from my father.
I’m glad the lasagna only takes one dish. That simplifies things. By the time everything is in the oven, Josh walks in the door.
“How’d it go?” I ask.
“Like it does every year. Boring,” he says, grabbing the television remote and throwing down his book bag.
Somehow I doubt the students reacted to him the way they did last year or the years before, back when his face wasn’t messed up in such a particular way. If it was bad, he’s not saying. I don’t blame him. What’s to tell? He teaches at the kind of school where the students are too polite to ask what happened or yell, Hey, Mr. Anderson, you’re fucked up. He works in the suburbs; I work in the city. I help manage peoples’ most private matters -- questions of pregnancy, disease, money, desperation. He grades junior year term themes on e.e. cummings and Saul Bellow. And yet, we’re both together every night, the perfect couple if perfection means understanding the past and avoiding a future.
As for the lasagna, the bottom is soggy and the top brittle. I forgot to put tinfoil over it Josh informs me when it becomes clear that neither of us has the ability to choke it down. The pasta had been cooked too much and not enough, and that there was nothing to salvage because the layers could not be separated. I had watched it cook and didn’t think anything was wrong.
“Should we go out?” I ask. I play with my napkin that I had shaped into a perfect triangle before dinner started.
“Where would we go?” Josh looks tired, especially around his eyes which are red-rimmed. He’s consented to a nice dinner and like any man dragged along in a woman’s plan, the charm of it has hit a limit.
“I’m sick of everything we know.” I cannot think of one place that Josh would find agreeable so I try a new tactic. “There’s lots of stuff we haven’t tried.”
“I don’t have the energy for something new,” Josh says. He goes to the fridge for another beer.
This debate could go on for way too long. Exhaustion from my day wash over me, both from
getting the pills and taking them. The grease had congealed around the edges of my plate, the lettuce swam in vinegar. Nothing turned out right except for the dessert I bought at the Cheesecake Shoppe, a place that specializes in cheesecakes that taste like other desserts -- key lime pie, tiramisu, German chocolate cake. I am in sway to the miniatures, getting a tiny bit of everything, perfect pieces of what served whole would seem too rich. Josh puts his knife across his plate and walks to the television with one of the cakes in a napkin. It reminds me of party food so I bring out a bottle of cheap champagne and pour a glass. I offer Josh some, thinking he’ll stick to what he always drinks, but he surprises me by putting out his juice glass and accepting what I have to offer.
“We should make a toast,” I say. I sit on the chair adjacent to the couch and hold out my glass. Josh clinks it and swallows hard.
“You didn’t say anything,” I say.
“It’s a silent toast. You can do that.” He turns his attention to the television, a show where a man gives out roses to woman vying for his affection. All that need unpacked in front of millions of viewers, those girls squeezed into tight black dresses, not one seeming any different than another, generic in their want, hoping to be picked by someone they don’t even know makes me want to take another pill. Josh and I sit in silence, not comfortable or uncomfortable, just the way he wants things tonight. I can give him that kindness.
We always like to imagine we have decisions, usually when things have gone wrong and the only real choice is to walk away, no matter how much energy and time we have spent, no matter how badly we want it to be otherwise. Why did I still want Kevin? He had been married nearly as long as I had been alive. I wanted to know if he and his wife spoke about me or if I was buried in their marriage, a stone they visited every now and then to remind them of what we have to give up to keep order. When I think of them, I imagine them having dinner, everything set out on the table within easy reach, no one going hungry enough to consider devouring each other to stay alive.
For years, I had served what my mother had spent hours making, perfect in every way, all the mistakes given to me and Josh to eat before whatever party she was throwing. We’d make ourselves sick on her mistakes, not because she made so many, but because there were so few things acceptable to her for public presentation. She had a recipe that I loved, sandwich meat cut so that it was transparent, spread with a layer of cream cheese and rolled layer by layer until it was a log. Then she’d cut up the tiny log into perfect circles called burning bushes. She’d perform the first step long before there was a party and freeze them. Before they thawed entirely, she’d cut them up so they’d stay intact. The timing was not as easy as it sounds but she paid attention to the details she could control. There’s something to admire if I could bring myself to it.
While Josh stole sips off drinks people had set down or abandoned entirely for newer concoctions, I’d go around offering everyone a burning bush, people taking them out of hunger or kindness until each last one was gone, the empty tray only important for what it once held and what it might hold again after it had been scoured of the remnants anyone had been careless enough to leave behind. The reflective tray mirrored my face back to me. Distorted and smeared as that reflection was, I’d inevitably look, thinking, that’s me, before disappearing back into the kitchen for more treats to offer whoever was still there.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I've found that I can't do serious writing without stirring up a mild depression." Norman Mailer
Cocktail Hour
Drinking essay collection suggestion: The Bitch in the House edited by Cathi Hanauer
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday! Happy The Sopranos night!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Proverbial Winter

Here's the second part of the story from yesterday. Thanks for reading, dear friends!
Things That Lead To The Other World

“Don’t you have to work?” Josh asks, surveying my denim cut-offs and 313 t-shirt, the area code for the city of Detroit. He’s fixing his tie, making a knot. It’s times like these that I realize he could be someone’s husband, someone’s father. Except that he won’t.
“I’ve put in too much time,” I say. “They’re making me take today off so I don’t cost them as much as last month.” As a Planned Parenthood counselor, I see everything, including the latest syphilis epidemic, caused from two walk-in clinics closing downtown. It’s amazing how the smallest change can wreak havoc.
Since Josh is in my care, I fear sending him off to stand in front of four groups of eleventh graders to teach American literature. I can see Josh as a small child, riding the bus and growing panicky if there was anyone but our regular bus driver, Mrs. Bert, in that very front seat. I tried to convince him that lots of people knew exactly where to stop, but it never worked. I’d have to explain to the substitute bus driver why Josh would not stop crying and that he wouldn’t until the bus did. Now he drives himself, and I want to cry. I can’t anymore, even when I coax myself, thinking of the saddest things imaginable. If I started, who’s to say that I’d even know how to stop?
Without a work day ahead, I feel unmoored by the empty place, a stranger here once Josh leaves. I look out the window onto the border that separates Grosse Pointe Park from Detroit. Across the street there is a strip mall that contains the Perfect Sacrifice of Blood Church. It’s been lots of things, but this is the most interesting incarnation. There’s one street that divides the suburbs from the city more definitively than all others: Alter. It’s not so far from my drug dealer Roman’s upper flat on Courville. He doesn’t pay much to live there because of the location, but the flat has gorgeous moldings and fixtures, something right out of a Woody Allen movie. What is not out of a Woody Allen movie is the fact that he’s lined the walls with terrariums full of tarantulas, the poisonous rare Mexican ones that look like Halloween, Vietnamese centipedes, and snakes, pictures of Tony Soprano on the wall. A relationship with one’s drug dealer rivals a romantic one for difficulty level. As I was out of Vicodin, I wanted to see Roman, but it required the force of will that made me wish I was the kind of person who had the foresight to have saved one pill for the occasion instead of gobbling them down like the fucking cricket in the fairytale who doesn’t give two wits for the proverbial winter.
I considered sending an e-mail to Kevin from Josh’s school-issued laptop which sits in a dusty cocoon. He uses it to download internet porn occasionally although he prefers the old-fashioned magazines route. I’m sure that’s not what the school had in mind when they told him in a memo that he needed to incorporate more technology into his life, thereby enriching his teaching.
Thirty-one years old, and he’s still getting notes sent home. Once my kindergarten teacher sent a note home with me, informing my parents that I had hit my head on the floor. I had been playing house with a boy who pushed me out of a rocking chair. The teacher safety-pinned the note to my turtleneck, and on the bus ride home, I crumpled the note and put it behind the fabric, hiding it the best I could. I don’t know why I didn’t just rip it off, but I made it through dinner until my mother noticed there was something weird with my collar and took a look. You couldn’t hide anything in that house for long. Already I understood one fundamental truth -- whatever happened to you was your fault.
But back to the e-mail -- what would I say? Hello, Kevin, remember me? I’m the bitch who outed our affair to your wife without so much as saying a word. Perhaps I could follow this with a clever e-mail abbreviation like lol. Laughing out loud, indeed. Ever since I had my jaw broken (note the passive tense -- no one need feel bad on that one!), there hasn’t been much laughing out loud at anything without pain. I bled so hard that my chest stained red. Now when I laugh, it’s a small muffled sound that would be easy to mistake for something else.
Roman answers the door, greeting me by Jo, the name my father uses for me, way too Little
Women for my tastes, but there you have it. I had often thought about asking him to use my real name, but that would require volition. I had not sent the e-mail to Kevin, instead opting to clean out my closet this morning, making a bag for the Purple Heart to pick up or I might save the time and leave it for the garbage pickers that frequent my block. What I did manage to do is get dressed and hustle myself here, driving through the city, looking at all the alcohol ads and Jesus Saves!, accessible forms of salvation if you’re willing to be saved.
“You’re looking lovelier than ever,” he says. If only that were true. I have on high platform heels, but I am still short. How I long to be bigger! Josh got all the height in the family for which my parents were grateful, my father often saying, nobody cares if a woman is small. Roman towers over me.
We hug, and he motions for me to sit down on the couch. I scooted as far away from the Vietnamese centipedes as I could. I settled into the cushion, but I was far from relaxed. No matter how many times I’d been to Roman’s, there were still surprising horrible creatures that I’d blocked out from the last time that had the power to shock just by being what they are.
Roman offers me some scotch, Glenlivet, but I decline.
“On the wagon, are we?” he says, pouring some into a shot glass with Elvis on it. Even though I promised I wouldn’t drink with the pills, I decide one shot won’t hurt. He hands me Elvis and takes another shot glass out of his fancy silver bar, an exquisite piece of furniture worthy of the mafia kingpin he imagines himself to be. He look like he could pass for Italian, but I know he’s Chaldean, albeit American-born. The huge crucifix he wears around his neck and the pictures of the Virgin over the door could work with either ethnicity it‘s more convenient for him to be, depending on the customer.
Even though I want to hurry this visit along and get the drugs, I couldn’t take one until I got in my car. It would be the social equivalent of drinking vodka straight out of a bottle at a party. No one wanted to seem like that kind of person, even if it was pretty clear that they were. We talk about the long summer, how annoying the noise is, the standard issue conversation. I put an envelope with money on his table, a signal to wrap things up.
“Jo, I have an extra bottle of Fiorcett that I could let you have,” Roman says, touching a tendril of hair that had escaped from my ponytail. Fiorcett, a secret weakness. Fiorcett made me adorable. I thought I had made it to the end of the visit without giving in, but I thought of the Godfather line -- Just when I thought I was out . . . I weighed the options. A whole bottle would mean sixty days of comfort as opposed to a few minutes of misery.
“Roman,” I say, touching his belt. “You do know how to spoil a girl.”
“I still wonder why we aren’t together,” Roman says. I can’t tell if this sentiment was sincere or his idea of foreplay so that things seemed a little less depressing. Either way, I appreciate it. He’s not a repulsive choice, and so I try to convince myself this is a choice.
“Bad timing,” I say.
With all the windows open, I can hear kids playing outside, the neighbor who looks like Nat King Cole on a bender yelling at his daughter, Bitch, this is your last chance. Someone’s blaring “Hollywood Swingers.”
“If they get out,” he says, pointing at the centipedes, “I’m going to have to move. They’re the meanest things on earth.”
He tells me this every time I’ve been here. Most of our conversation follow the eighty/twenty rule -- eighty percent consist of things we’ve already said, twenty percent new information. He leans in to kiss me, but I decide to get down on my knees to avoid anything too intimate. As I suck him off, I try to think about pleasant things, like the smell of Coppertone and the ocean, the way it goes on forever, a thing that leads to the other world, whatever that one might be like.
When I forget what I’m doing, he comes.
“Jo, that was intense,” he says, pulling up his jeans. We’re both at a loss in that awkward moment between our strange secret intimacy and me leaving.
“Well, I hate to leave so soon, but I promised my brother I’d pick him up from school. His car’s in the shop again,” I say. Roman hands me a paper bag with the Vicodin and Fiorcette.
“How is your brother?” Roman asks, assuming it’s a safe subject. He lights a cigarette and offers me a hit, which I take, even though I don’t smoke. I was with Josh when I met Roman at a club on Mack Avenue called The Double Olive. They have twenty different kinds of martinis and not many places to sit. We caught each other’s eye, both of us having an addict’s instinct for who to seek out for certain desires.
I could say, not well. I could say that I worry about him all the time, that I fear that he’s going to flip the fuck out and end up in a hospital forever and that nobody will be able to cure him. I could say, I am all out of bullets.
“He’s hanging in there,” I say.
Roman walks me to my car as if we’d been on a date, grabbing a light windbreaker that the weather doesn’t demand before he does, a gun in its right pocket. He tells me to say hi to Josh, and I say I will, although we both understand that nobody knows about these visits and never will. If we ever meet in public by chance, we will pretend to have seen each other a couple of times, mere acquaintances, isn’t Detroit just the smallest place on the planet? I drive off, the city fading behind me, the taste of ashes in my mouth, which makes me think about food, what to cook for dinner, even though I never do. Josh deserves something nice for his first day, and we should eat at the kitchen table instead of the television with snacks and junk food and television dinners, the way we do every night.
I take an old water bottle out of my backseat and swallow a Vicodin right away. No telling how long the bottle has been in the car, not that it matters when it comes down to it. The pill will take nearly half an hour to kick in, although on my empty stomach it could happen sooner.
Sometimes the half hour seems longer than all the time that has come before it. I decide to make lasagna, as I have a good recipe for it in a Planned Parenthood cookbook, a fundraising idea that didn’t sell as well as we’d hoped as people still confuse us with an abortion clinic and an abortion clinic cookbook is not something that sells as well as say, Girl Scout cookies. There’s a cemetery I love on the way to the grocery store, so I park the car and walk around, pretending to be looking for a grave so nobody asks what I’m doing. Unnecessary since nobody is around except the men restoring the statue of St. Jude. St. Jude was once beautiful, he will be beautiful again. Too bad the same cannot be said of me, in either direction. In ten years, I will be thirty-nine, a precipice. Which leads me to wonder if I’ll be doing the same things I do now, my life only made more pathetic with time. My parents could be dead by then and I believe I will prefer that hard reality to this odd purgatory. I know that I will visit their graves often, if for nothing else, to make sure they’re still in them.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I was never so rapid in my virtue but my vice kept up with me." Henry David Thoreau
Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story collection: Midnight Magic Bobbie Anne Mason
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Saturday!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Things That Lead To The Other World

This is a sequel to a story I previously posted -- "The Difference Between Pluto and Goofy." The novella follows Josette and Josh through another fun-filled year on the border of Detroit. I'm going to post the second half tomorrow and the third installment for Sunday. Enjoy!

Things That Lead To The Other World

We have our routines, of course. I’d like to say that my brother Josh crawled out of my bed into his own, that we weren’t hell bent on repeating the damage of our youth. What’s your first impulse when something isn’t working – if it’s to hit it hard, well, that’s ours too. Josh fell asleep next to me last night, talking to me about his accident, which was anything but.

My brother does not look like a well man, what with a knife scar from ear to ear that he’d done himself, a visible before and after, a fuck you to our parents, years after the fact. This summer, the summer of Josh turning thirty-one, me twenty-nine, had undone us. I had my own story, no ghoulish carved smile, but I haven’t heard from my married boyfriend Kevin since I stood mute in front of his wife, having shown up at his house in the Detroit suburbs right after a July thunderstorm, the kind that knocked out the power for hours.

Kevin, if you’re listening, I have no idea why I did what I did. It didn’t, as people say, even seem like a good idea at the time. When Josh drove me home from your house, and it is your house as your wife has not worked in many years and you do not own what you have not paid for, I felt nothing except the pleasant buzz of adrenaline through my veins while I thought, Josette, you dumbass, he’s never going to forgive you. Which was right, at least so far.

Today, Josh returns to school. He’s had a week of in-service days, but most of the other teachers knew what he had done to his once beautiful face, certainly a new answer to the inevitable summer vacation chitchat. The ambitious teachers scrimp to go to Europe on cut-rate deals. The lonely ones or financially overextended fearing empty hours and little money volunteer to teach, and all the rest tend to drink every night and buy too many cds. I, Josh could say, took a kitchen knife to my face and carved the shit out of it, or to quote his latest shrink, externalized his pain, as if such a thing were possible.

“You look nice,” I say. Josh shoots me a go to hell look, to which I say, already there, and he laughs. After a few years of living alone, I like living with Josh again, even if it is as his legal guardian. His shrink realized that I was the only option, much to her horror. She’s smarter than most, having figured out that I have a wee bit of a substance abuse problem, my having come to her office fucked up on more than one occasion. As if someone could be expected to deal with such things sober. Our parents exist a thousand miles away, never having made good on their perpetual threat to come back to live in Detroit . They have been gone almost a decade, not long enough. They have bought two adjacent cemetery plots not far from where Josh and I live, ostensibly for them, maybe for us, it's anybody's guess.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Domestic squalor is dark and serious. It leaves behind guilt and sadness." Ann Roiphe

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Burnin' Hell John Lee Hooker

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Like Everyone Else

If you want a bleak description of the writing life, you need to turn no further than Norman Mailer and his book, The Spooky Art, to disabuse yourself of the notion that writing is a glamorous profession. "Writing is wonderful when you talk about it. But writing as a daily physical activity is not agreeable. You put on weight; you strain your gut. You're alone, and every day you have to face a blank piece of paper." There's something fundamental about this austerity that suits my temperament. I don't trust a lot of happiness or ease and writing, for all it does provide, does not provide these things. Being alone with my mind is hard work, and it does not become more pleasant. Thankfully, I have never been tempted to use LSD or anything in that drug family. Being sober and charting a course in those garbage-infested waters is sometimes more than I can stand. Having a substance that expands the mind, well, nothing could be more frightening to me. After all, I have swum underwater with a pair of flimsy goggles in Possum Kingdom Lake and the ugly spectral images from that time are enough to put one in the home.

As Mailer points out, starting and ending projects can be fun, but the long in-between, the days of charting a course and not knowing where you'll end up can drive one to the cliff of insanity. I never thought much of that vast middle ground when I started and didn't understand how grueling writing could be. Nobody ever does, of course. I know lots of people who run marathons; I am not one of these people. But I do understand a little bit about how they must feel. The body begins to break down after twenty miles and you do the rest on pure adrenaline. When I was a child, I saw a woman in the Olympics at the end of such a race, and she was crawling to the finish line, her body totally shut down, covered in her own vomit. I never forgot the image even though I still don't know who it was. She was like everyone else who'd run all those miles except that it had cost her a little more.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Write each day without hope or despair." Isak Dineson

Cocktail Hour

Drinking novel suggestion: Such Good Friends Lois Gould

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Life This Year

The other day I was spring cleaning, that odious task that brings in new energy, a new way of being, a loss of ten pounds and more money (if all the self-help/organization/feng-shui books are to be believed -- I'll let you know how it works out), I found my high school yearbook, something I have not touched in a long time. While I experienced a fair amount of humiliation over the clothing choices and lack of eyebrow care, I can say that I have the same hairstyle and the comments that people wrote indicate that my personality remains pretty much the same. I have not shifted my goals or changed my course. This should surprise no one. I am a Taurus, the sign most prone to obstinacy -- my fellow travelers include Freud, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, James Brown, and Machiavelli; the last two of this list were born on my actual birthday.
If I am to take the comments in my yearbook seriously, it seems as if I promised to use my friends as characters for my fiction, a promise I am proud to say on which I've made good. “My life this year would not make a good story,” one of my dear friends wrote. “It’s too conformed. You’ll have to make it up.” I disagree with him completely; he was, without doubt, one of the most interesting people I knew in those days. But the very subject of high school itself evokes a lot of strong emotion even years after for some people I know. “I fear people who say high school was the best time of their lives,” one of my friends says. "They tend to be stunted jerks." “High school was the best time of my life,” says another friend. "No bills, no cares." For me, it’s just like this time except that I’m not eating Munchos and Dr. Pepper for lunch. I’ve evolved into Luna Bars and Dr. Pepper. Sometimes I branch out with a Sprite. That's a big step for one born in May! Change, as all the self-help books exhort, is possible.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If heartaches were commercials, we'd all be on tv." John Prine
Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: A Changed Man Francine Prose
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Object Permanence

My great-grandmother, Mimi, unlike either set of my grandparents, was a saint, the kind of woman you could imagine as someone's great grandmother -- wise and kind, full of stories and sympathy. I shared a bed with her in my parents' house for many years due to the lack of space and the worst thing she ever did was harbor a deep hatred of our poodle, Peppi, because she feared that he "had bacteria all over him." Mimi spoke in a mix of French and broken English so I learned a lot of curse words when Peppi would ferret his way underneath our bed. She'd take a broom and yell at him, trying to prod him out. Of course, Peppi loved a challenge. There were many places he could have hung out; he chose the one that upset someone. The only time Mimi and Peppi achieved a truce was in the evenings after her pain medication had kicked in and she'd take his paws and dance him around to "Ring of Fire." Peppi loved to dance, especially when a good song with a rocking horn section was playing. His fondness extended to Herb Alpert, but Mimi wasn't so big on "The Lonely Bull." They got on for a few brief minutes before Peppi became her nemesis again.

For her part, she spent a lot of time thinking about where the bacteria-ridden Peppi might be. "He's not here, but he is," she'd say. "The spirit of Peppi is about." Object permanence is the psychological term used to describe the awareness that objects continue to exist even when they are no longer visible. She had this down to an art. Sometimes she'd confer with her two dead sons. I didn't understand then how people could be both dead and present. One day she explained it to me, saying that you are where you happen to be and also where you wish to be. Seldom are those the same place. Our troubled hearts don't allow them to be so we do the best we can with what we know is there even when it isn't.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I wanted to write a story about love one morning. I liked love and could hardly do without it." Larry Brown

Cocktail Hour

Drinking novel suggestion: Disgrace J.M. Coetze

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Someone Will Be With You

Last week, the Catholic Church did away with limbo, that mysterious land for unbaptized babies. This was never a popular idea, even among the most devout and there was not a lot of fanfare when it went bye-bye. Now the term can be reserved for its truer meaning, all that is unchanging and unknowable in our own lives. Not quite heaven and not quite hell, I think of limbo like a doctor's office waiting room I frequented where a grandmother sat with her teenage grandson while he repeatedly fondled himself underneath his sweatpants while she told him, to "cut that nasty shit out." She read an old newspaper to kill the time, and I didn't have anything, an oversight to be sure. Time goes slowly in such circumstances, leaving you to think about all that is wrong with you. Waiting rooms, those small places before you receive your judgement, leave you with nowhere to look except straight ahead or at ancient magazines about parenting or staying healthy, crap that I couldn't stand reading, even in this dark hour. Someone will be with you shortly, a nurse called out.
I did not like my doctor at the time -- his bedside manner sucked, and he was forever asking questions like, Do you think about harming yourself? usually when I was there for a sinus infection. He loved pushing the Prozac, which I never accepted, although I did get a complimentary Prozac paperweight for listening to his spiel about the wonders of the drug. You won't feel good and you won't feel bad, he said. You'll just feel more balanced. No heaven, no hell, just gliding. Like limbo. I don't mind limbo as a rule -- there's a lot to learn from situations that have no easy solutions and that hold more wonder than you can imagine. There's something for being between worlds, in transition. But to live there forever with no hope, well, I'm with the Catholic Church on this one -- it's not an idea that I favor. My paperweight has long since been given away, but I imagine it's still out there in the world, holding things down in its own effortless way.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Geese love this shattered wheat too/ They will die for it." Raymond Carver
Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story collection suggestion: In Constant Flight Elizabeth Tallent
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Maybe It's A Secret

I'm at the gym on the treadmill, moving as slowly as I can and still be considered moving, and I'm flipping through an In Style magazine (it was either that or Men's Fitness and while I adore men, I do not care about their fitness in any way, shape, or form unless they are strolling down the streets of metro Detroit, not wearing a shirt and I won't name names, but I call these men violators because they are offending the laws of good taste -- take my word on this one -- nobody walks down the street shirtless who you'd like to see walk down the street shirtless). In Style, like most fashion magazines, is composed almost exclusively of ads of things you can't afford and makes you covet looking ways that you will never look -- to note, some women have pieces of their bones removed to fit into expensive designer shoes (this is not urban myth, but an actual surgery where toes are shrunk through extracting the bone -- delight upon delight, yes? Cinderalla's ugly sisters anyone?) So I'm "reading" and puffing and huffing and see a three page ad for Tiffany rings. Unlike a lot of women I know, Tiffany and their blue little boxes don't do anything for me. I love jewelry, but Tiffany has always struck me as a bit generic. So I'm looking at the captions. One picture shows an attractive couple in an embrace (Maybe it's an anniversary!), next page -- beautiful baby, unnaturally thin beautiful teenager as mother, gorgeous father (Maybe it's a new baby! -- as opposed to all those old dreary babies), and the next page showed a woman lying on a bed alone (Maybe it's a secret!).
All righty! The woman looked as if she were living the life someone else was financing. So the line is Maybe your mistress is pissed as all hell and you'd better get her something nice for all those holidays she spends alone. Maybe you're a full-blown whackadoodle with an imaginary girlfriend that you buy real jewelry for. Maybe your family hates her, maybe she's married. The scenarios for this fun little ad campaign are endless. In Bird, the woman who plays Charlie Parker's soon-to-be wife tells Charlie Parker (played by the brilliant Forest Whitaker) that there are a lot of women claiming to be Mrs. Charlie Parker. "Rings are cheap," he says, by way of explanation. Now there's an ad campaign I could get behind. But alas, in the world of jewelry as with everything else, we sometimes need it gift-wrapped in a little blue box that tells you exactly what you're getting even if it really doesn't.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"For the world is the world . . . And it writes no histories that end in love." Stephen Spender
Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Bird
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday! Enjoy The Sopranos tonight!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

We Were Winning When I Left

In my hometown, there's a taxidermist who specializes in stuffing snakes and other pets. If you go to his trailer, he'll answer the door, sometimes covered in blood. If it's cold, he'll be wearing a jacket from his days in the war that has a map of Vietnam on it and proclaims, We Were Winning When I Left. He doesn't talk much on account of the fact that he's been struck by lightning and his hair looks greasy, a strange side effect of the strike. I know this because when I worked for the local newspaper, I had to interview him. That dude, one reporter said, is fucking creepy. No creepier, I thought, than the legions that flocked to him to have their family pets stuffed for eternity. No need to miss little Fido -- there's his lifeless body preserved on the fireplace mantle!
Now I've read that people can turn their dead pets into diamonds, pendants to remember the love you had. It costs a lot of money, much more than my old buddy charged for stuffing. He was on the last half of his last leg years ago -- I'm guessing he doesn't do much work anymore. But I'm sure there's someone who will. The impulse for preservation, I suppose, will always be a strong one. It's just that not many of us want a lot of blood on our hands to get it -- we want perfect diamonds, all that flesh burned away. We want to forget the bodies, a luxury only those who are not in the middle of the killing floor can afford.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Come on, come on, get happy/ We're headed for the judgement day." Get Happy, as sung by Judy Garland
Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: The Man Comes Around Johnny Cash
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Saturday!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Baby Grouchie Peers Outside

Today is a beautiful spring day. Mommy says it's Hitler's birthday and that makes it a creepy day, but I do not know enough history to really know who that is. Mommy has had "uncles" (I never call them that to their faces or even in my mind -- I only have eyes for Mommy!) that watch the History Channel, but I think it's all a little boring. So I decided to poke my head out the door. After my last failed attempt, my visit with Tickle Me Freud (a disaster -- that guy needs more help than I do), and a lot of drinking to clear my mind, I have decided to go a little slower. You don't have to do everything at once! God knows, I have a lot to think about, all that time in the clearance bin with the other loser toys that nobody wanted and then my rescue at the hands of Mommy. I remember that day -- a beautiful spring day like this one. Mommy was with her friend, my Aunt Angela and a couple of other people, and she noticed me right away. Mommy wore a black summer dress with butterflies on it and high-heeled sandals that made her even taller than she already is. I don't know if she's really tall or not; everybody is tall compared to me. When she picked me up, I knew she would buy me and take me home. She showed me to her other friends who made nice noises and said things like, If you really want it, I guess. Nobody really supported my adoption except Mommy. That's one of the many reasons we are so close besides sharing interests like sleeping and drinking and reading books and thinking about the past.
I got as far as putting my head out the door. That's not too bad. The sun is pretty bright. Mommy hates sunshine and refuses to go outside on nice days except in rare cases. She loves being inside with me. The few times we have gone outside together, I was okay, except once where she dropped me on the ground. I can't even talk about it! But I will. As soon as I go outside to regain the piece of my soul. For now, I'm going back to bed. It's much too nice to be out for long.

Learn To Dance Tonight

I saw the sign, Learn To Dance Tonight, lit up in neon after my friend and I made a Target run for such glamorous products as toilet paper and light bulbs. After he debated such mind-blowing questions like if the double roll really was a double roll because it sure the hell didn't seem like a double roll when you put it on the dispenser and went just as fast as the single roll, and I decided that 70 watts was just way too much light for my one lightbulb in my living room, the afternoon slipped into a dreary hour and I saw the sign positioned by a liquor store, bridal shoe store, bridal veil store, and tanning salon. The sign never fails to produce a depressing fleeting sense of romance -- I credit this with the night part of it. You don't learn to dance in the morning or the afternoon according to the sign, you learn at night, presumbably tonight if you're one of those up for anything crazy impetous types that can hope from the tanning booth, shop around for a bridal veil, and come out swinging.
The possibilities of the night are endless. We can slip out of ourselves and become anyone. I'm not a person who can dance at all. Once at a vegetarian brunch given as a raffle prize that I attended at the behest of a dear friend, the woman hosting the lunch asked if I was a dancer since I had that look. I assume the look she meant was near starvation and our other friend started to laugh and said, "A disco dancer maybe." I shot him a look since I'd planned on telling an elaborate story about dancing for Balanchine and so on. Or at least mentioned that I'd taken dance lessons. That they were many years ago and for gymnastics, well, I could stretch the truth. But no, I had to eat my organic split pea soup in silence. If the brunch had been at night, I'm convinced I could have had my say, could have gotten up and done a little twirl or something. I'd been entertaining adults at the dinner table for years. As a reward, I got to blow out the candle after parties and make a wish before clearing it. I'd always wish for the same thing, that I could be someone else, somebody beautiful and entertaining. Because it was night and anything could happen.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I want to be able to look down and see things, even if we're just going through the clouds." Jake Halpern
Cocktail Hour
Drinking nonfiction suggestion: Beauty Junkies Alex Kucynski
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday, dear friends! Thanks for all the support this week!

Narrow Make My Bed

One of my friends received a book from her father upon going to college titled, Narrow Make My Bed: A Guide to College Celibacy. We had a good laugh over this given that she hadn't been all that successful with high school celibacy. My friend was a hedonist in the true sense of the word; she didn't have the hang ups about love that most of us harbored in those tender young years. I admired this attitude even if I could never emulate it -- even though I did not entertain fantasies of the big princess-like wedding, I wanted to be in love with my gentleman callers and share candlelit dinners dressed in a flimsy black robe. Not anything that was going to get me into Penthouse Letters, but it passed for romance in Mineral Wells. Perhaps I can start with a clean slate, like Kelly, my friend said. Kelly was a girl we knew who reclaimed her virginity for each boyfriend. She'd have public tortured debates about whether or not to give up the precious flower of her innocence to her latest. She would and the relationship would fall into an abyss of sorrow and keening, and then she'd start up with someone new, very publicly declaring, I'm so glad I saved my virginity for X; I knew it wasn't right with Y.
I admired this slip of memory, and Kelly's unique talent for regrowing her hymen. I looked at Narrow Make My Bed, which contained such bon mots as "Do not take your feet off the ground. Temptation occurs in private when our feet part from the steady ground." The book warned that you could kill your soul by having sex too early with the wrong partner. When I was young, I spent a lot of time thinking about my soul, whatever it was. Many people I knew didn't even believe in the concept. But I suspected while it was harder to lose than your virginity, if you did, you might never ever get it back, and unlike your virginity, you wouldn't lose it all at once. It would leave you in degrees through a leak so small that you'd never see it while it deflated you all the same.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Remember all the little dangers in your past." Jayne Anne Philips
Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story collection suggestion: Black Tickets Jayne Anne Philips
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

It's All There, Behind Glass

Years ago, I remember the Olympic French synchronized swimming team concocting a routine that consisted of the swimmers acting out parts of the Holocaust -- both the Nazi guards and their Jewish victims, being marched to the gas chambers and reenacting various deaths. Faces of Death! Underwater! With French swimmers goose-stepping! In the words of Tony Soprano, One bad idea after another . . . In his moving defense, the routine's creator said he thought it clever and innovative, even witty in places. Dear Lord, the man could have lied! The French already have that little to no sense of humor reputation. (Being part French, I can say this is true if my relatives are any example. Their sense of humor consists of attacking your weakest spots and laughing hysterically. Ha!) He could have put it in the category of "trauma art," art that helps to heal old wounds by doing strange things. Jochen Gertz and Esther Shavlev-Gertz's anti-fascism memorial in Hamburg, Germany started as an attempt to help heal the trauma of the Holocaust. The memorial (1986) consisted of a single pillar enrobed in lead so that visitors could scratch their names and thoughts into the surface. The pillar was designed to sink beneath the ground in stages as to mimic the nature of memory. Because a fair percentage of the visitors scrawled anti-semitic sentiments on it, it can now can be viewed only through a glass wall.

So the question becomes an interesting one. What started out as a supposed healing is now a humiliation, sinking ever so slowly into the earth. The memorial wasn't monitored -- it was supposed to be honest, to let everyone have their say. Only when it was discovered what people actually would say were government officials horrified. Does honest expression heal trauma or perpetuate it? I suppose our whole life is kind of like that peculiar piece of art -- the things people say to us written forever on our hearts until they fade into the ground, the marrow of our bones. Some trauma you can see clearly; other trauma has long since sunk below the surface. But it's all there, behind glass, waiting for someone to take a brick and bust it open, to right things or ruin them some more. Like the artists found out, if you open it to everyone, you never can predict what will happen.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days." Ecclesiastes 11:1
Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Melinda and Melinda
Benedictions and Maledictions
Your Wife Is Outside
You are trying to tell me something
but your wife is outside, waiting. It is
the dark hour between office and home.
The moment passes; I shake out my
umbrella, still wet with this morning's
rain. I let you leave first. What can I say?
I love the night, but it does not love me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Don't Give Up Your Name

The last wedding shower I attended was years ago since most of my friends are a) not stable enough to even consider marriage or b) already married. I don't know a lot of on the brink types, the girls who comb through Bride, Bridal Magazine, or a recent magazine I saw called, disturbingly, The Knot. One of my divorced friends joked, "It should be called The Noose." So I cast back to the last time I squeezed myself into some dreadful pastel get-up lest I be the only one in black like some godforsaken haint there while the bride-to-be opened small appliances and china she would probably reserve for special nights. The last part of the shower consisted of all of us giving the bride a piece of advice about being married. Don't give up your name unless you want to, I said. Or anything else. Your husband will forget you made a sacrifce, but you won't. This didn't go over so hot in the early 90s in Texas, but I'd just been scared out of my everloving mind by Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives and was at the tail end of my own marriage. So, not to put to fine a point on it, I did not give a rat's ass how my advice went over. Like Cassandra, I reported the news; I did not make it. At that point, I realized I should have gone ahead and worn black to the shower. My nervous twitches had started in earnest, and I could tell that I would have bloody circles under my eyes the next day from rubbing them so hard. Boredom and anxiety had blended to make the ugliest undereye concealer in the world.
Most sacrifices we are required to make are not large ones and perhaps this is the difficulty. Many people I know fantasize about being in a heroic position, risking his or her life for someone in need. But nobody I know fantasizes about making beds or doing dishes, cooking endless meals or taking out the trash yet again. The constant renewal of life can exhaust the most stout-hearted of us! I don't know if I'll ever be invited to another wedding shower, but if I am, I hope I get a chance to play the game again. Since my luck has been all but perfect in love, I'd have a better answer now. I'm not so concerned with whether someone keeps her name or not. After all, what we call ourselves often changes. But as for sacrifice, well, it's only real when the other person doesn't know you're making one.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The only alternative to burying your friends is that they will have to bury you." Raymond Carver
Cocktail Hour
Venus In Furs
1 part Chautreuse
1 part Cognac
1 sugar cube
Serve chilled in an appertif glass.
Benedictions and Maledictions
Many condolences to the victims of the shooting at Virginia Tech. There are no words for such sorrow.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Today Is Made of Yesterday

Once a friend of mine gave me a card with Snoopy on it, rewinding a VCR. When life is hard, the card said, don't you wish you could hit rewind? Tempting as the sentiment might seem, I don't. And neither would Snoopy -- where would he get his angst for his stories? He needs that fuel to keep charging against the endless rejections, the misery of the editing process, and the chorus of critics (particularly Lucy) that haunt his creative efforts. Today is made of yesterday, like a dye that bleeds and colors everything.
For the past few months, there's been an American flag trapped in the tree outside my home office. It has gotten increasingly ragged through the winter weather and it's too high in the tree for anyone to reach. I would have thought it would have fallen apart or got swept away by now, but it's still there, dirty and battered. One of my friends mentioned that it's a great metaphor for our country's troubles. That's a little too obvious for me. A lovely child I know says that bags caught in trees are actually men pretending to be bags. So the flag could be a man that nobody can reach that's losing little bits and pieces of himself every day. One day there won't be enough of him left to tell what he was, but I'll remember. I never saw him whole, but I didn't need to. Had he not been trapped in pretending he was a flag, I would not have been able to watch him all these months and know him, perhaps not how he was, but how he wanted to be.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The more I write, the more the silence seems to be eating away at me." C.K. Williams
Cocktail Hour
Drinking poetry collection suggestion: Love Poems Anne Sexton
Benedictions and Maledictions
Rest in peace, Johnny S. of the The Sopranos!

Grouchie Seeks Therapy

I tried to leave the home of my Mommy, but I couldn't. Mommy's car, the sweetest Snowflake, worked, but I still couldn't leave the house. So Mommy, sweetheart that she is, didn't say a word against my anxiety and sadness. She doesn't believe in therapy, but she said that a friend gave her a Tickle Me Freud doll and she would let me talk to him. I must say it did NOT work. I hate therapy! It's not how I roll and my happy expression is only stoicism disguised as recovery. I shall progress as I progress. Tonight I watched a documentary on Miles Davis because I love M. Davis -- he said if he had one hour left to live, he would strangle a white man, very very very slowly. I know this feeling! Not that I would hurt any of my readers; I would not. I love my friends. I have no biological family. I'm the lone saddest ranger. Nobody has a Tonto. I said Mommy was unstable; perhaps I am as well. We shall we. More, as the AA crowd says, will be revealed.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Tiniest Stars, Falling All Around You

Since it's almost spring, I'm going to give one last moment to winter, a season that I love.
Detroit Winter

Bleak, that’s a given. No sun for
days. The spring doesn’t arrive
soon enough. You can drive chewed-
up streets, never be lulled into a smooth
ride. It’s declining, you’re declining.
You don’t have to pretend everything
is wonderful and nobody says it’s too
pretty to stay inside and when you drive
downtown you can see Joe Louis’ fist
sticking out, all that gold in the midst
of the grey sky and you think of all
the hits you’ve taken and all the ones
you’ve given and you see snow, like
the tiniest stars, falling all around you.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"You must have found me because I wished so hard." Dare Wright, The Lonely Doll
Cocktail Hour
Love in the Afternoon
1 shot Tequila Rose
1 shot of Godiva Dark Chocolate liqueur
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday! The Sopranos are on tonight, good people. Do not forget!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

November And Still Not Cold

My first piece of published writing that wasn't about killing someone was, predictably, in response to having my heart broken. No greater motivation, I suppose, to put words down on the page than not getting what you want. The poem was titled "Dreams of Russia and You" and did not make one whit of sense so I stuck with my explanation of "emotional truth trumping the literal." (You can get away with talking like that when you're nineteen.) I went on the old heartbreak diet, lost the requisite ten pounds to the forces of misery, moped a lot, told myself that this was all good for my writing, and moped some more. Weirdly, looking like a strung-out, half-dead, anxiety-ridden waif did not bring my ex back a running to me. But man, I had a poem published! Such are the compensations.
The only downside was that I was to read my poem at a party for the journal that had published it. Terrified of public speaking, I thought of all the back-out excuses I could use for not reading. But my pride got the better of me -- I'd go and read and show the ex that would be there that I had persevered over him and his evil leaving me for a smarter, more beautiful woman stunt hadn't broken me. The party, in the backyard of a professor's house, turned to the reading -- luckily drinks had been served already. November in Texas, still not cold, I shivered in my black skirt and white sweater that I had combined with a pair of plastic yin/yang earrings. I would dazzle the crowd, I thought, picking out the nicest clothes I had. When I got up with my one piece of paper, I tried to control the shaking while scanning the crowd for my ex. I didn't see him and wouldn't for four years. But I didn't know that then -- in front of my first audience, the night became endless. If I close my eyes, I'm still there, waiting to begin.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If I set you on fire/ Will you keep me warm?" Sam Phillips
Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story suggestion: "The Whore of Mensa" Woody Allen
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Saturday!

Grouchie Begins To Venture Downstairs

Once upon a time, Mommy bought me from an antique toy store. I lived with the other stuffed animals until I was placed into a clearance bin. Mommy did not want to go to a toy store, but she was there shopping for a Bad Man who did not love her very much. Instead of finding a toy for him, she found me. I did not cost hardly anything since I had been marked down so many times. I never had a daddy, but I did not suffer. Mommy is enough for me. Only once did she make a mistake concerning my well-being but then she let me get drunk at home every night for a whole week to make up for it. That's the kind of Mommy every boy loves! That's what my book is going to be about -- going outside, getting hurt, and then coming inside to recover. Mommy is a writer and that makes her sad, but I feel like I'm more stable than she is so I will be able to handle telling my story. I was going to go outside today, but Mommy's car Snowflake's battery died. It's Friday the 13th, and Mommy cursed a lot. I will try again tomorrow.

Friday, April 13, 2007

There Would Be No Row Boats

One of my friends teaches three authors a semester and at the end of the semester, he has the students rewrite a story by one of the three -- Raymond Carver, Flannery O'Connor, or Ernest Hemingway-- the way another one of the writers would have done the same plot. He told me about a student who did a Hemingway story as if Carver had done it; the grim seediness of Carver's world had completely changed the beautiful romance of Hemingway's vision. The student ended it simply -- Nobody would be watching a sunset because there would be no row boats. In Carver's world, there would be plenty of booze and cigarettes, maybe a paddleboat at best, probably decaying and leaving the characters stranded somewhere with a pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon and some bean dip for nourishment. But nobody would be eating in Carver anyway. It's not that kind of world.
As I went to yoga last night, strange things kept happening as the same friend and I walked into the building. People came up to us and said cryptic, odd phrases before creeping away and a very beautiful, clearly damaged woman colored pictures of Snow White in a Disney coloring book and pointed at me and said, Like you. This shit, my friend says, never happens to me alone. You don't have to make anything up. I wanted to deny this, to say that I had a hell of an imagination. But I don't. I just look for what I want to see, what I believe to be there, the same as everyone else, except, of course, there are no row boats, just small intertubes with a few survivors clinging to them, trying to make do until they get to calmer waters.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"For a moment I felt I was in a limbo of shadows and half-formed shapes which would dissolve into nothingness if I touched them." Mary Gaitskill
Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story collection: Because They Wanted To Mary Gaitskill (favorite story in this one: "Tiny, Smiling Daddy")
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday the 13th! Baby Grouchie's writing career will start in earnest over the weekend, documented by yours truly. He's being very tight-lipped about his plot, but I know the rough outline. He'll be leaving the house for the very first time in years to recreate the scene of his accident and thus regain his soul, according to certain eastern belief systems. This should be a lot of fun for him. Wish him luck!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Three Feet Of Water

In my freezer at this moment, I have two ice-cube trays with tiny ice-cubes shaped like the state of Texas, four bottles of vodka (all flavored, none that seem as good as they did when I bought them; two are blue-colored and called Envy. Like the emotion, the bottle is lovely, the taste is not), and half a pack of cigarettes left from a friend of mine who smokes (why I keep them in the freezer is a mystery even to me). In my refrigerator, I have six cans of Dr. Pepper, one can of Sprite, two bottles of Rose's Lime Juice, two bottles of mustard, and a jar of olives. Even so, I'll go downstairs from time to time and hang on the door, thinking that maybe there is something to eat that I have missed. I can hear my mother, long dead, saying, Do you think things are going to change because you're looking at them?

Which, I must admit, is a good question. When I was a little girl, a friend of mine did a rousing rendition of Hall and Oates' "Private Eyes" complete with pseudo-seductive hand gestures while resting on a raft in the inflatable swimming pool in our backyard. My dad started clapping at the end, saying in all sincerity, That was great!, and my friend nearly died of embarrassment. I'd have never done it, he said, if I knew your dad was watching. He tried to drown himself, but the pool wasn't deep enough for him to even get his hair all the way wet. Death, it seemed, was not to come that day even though statistically most drownings occur in less than three feet of water.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I have a gift for enraging people, but if I ever bore you it will be with a knife." Louise Brooks

Cocktail Hour

Drinking memoir suggestion: Lulu in Hollywood Louise Brooks

Benedictions and Maledictions

Thanks for all the great answers to yesterday's question about The Sopranos. My own answer changes, depending the situation, but if pressed, I'd have to say Tony, a man more tired than a stripper on the late shift at the Bada Bing. And thanks for the encouragement for Baby Grouchie. I shall post his work as it comes; I suspect he will be a minimalist like his mother, and the segments, although teeny-tiny, will pack a punch.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Grouchie's First Novella

I warned Baby Grouchie about getting involved in the writing process, but I couldn't dissuade him from trying his hand at the horror we call fiction. He told me his title, Grouchie's Bad Day Outdoors. He hates nature and is attempting to purge a few demons. I'm sure you can sympathize.

Two Schools Of Thought

When I first got my full-time job at the community college where I have spent almost eight years, I rode in a taxi to the airport to return home for a visit. The driver asked what I did for work. I once read a story about the director John Sayles and his hitchhiking days and about how his life changed when he started saying he was an actor and writer as an answer to that question. So I try to say writer when I am asked, although sometimes I feel like a total douchebag and revert to professor although I am considering scrapping this answer as well and saying something different each time if only to hone my creative skills. That day, so grateful that I finally had a job after many years of piecing together rag-ass bits of work, I said that I taught writing at the community college. That must make you pretty smart or something, he said. You must think you're something special. I looked at the man in front, his fraying jacket, bright red nose, and teeth that had seen as much care as mine have (which is to say very little), and shook my head. Actually, I'm a writer, I said, thinking of Mr. Sayles. Then why you got a job? Writers are supposed to write, not work.
I laughed. Here I had been struggling for many years, both to work and write, and now the man in the driver's seat was telling me that I was doing it wrong. Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion. Two schools of thought, the man said, and I could hardly wait to hear his take. One is that you can't write when you're starving. The second is that you don't have motivation to write if you're not starving. I thought about all the things I had done to keep going -- the mind-numbing jobs, the car that had run on a donut tire for almost a year, recycling cans for money for lunch, and was never so relieved to be in that first school of thought for that moment. The cab ride to the airport lasted forever and a day; I could have written a story during it, an escapist fantasy about a woman that never had to define herself for anybody, that could be all things to all people, but mostly to herself. But instead I wished myself invisible. If I could have pulled that off, as the driver said, I would have thought I was something special.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I am pregnant with certain deaths/ of women who dreamed that the lover would strike like lightning and/ throw them over the saddle and carry them off./ It was the ambulance that came." Marge Piercy
Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: Small Changes Marge Piercy
Benedictions and Maledictions
For readers who watch The Sopranos: Question of the day-- Which character(s) do you identify with the most on the show?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What I Was Going To Do Next

Dear readers,
Here is another excerpt from "The Ceiling or the Floor," an essay I've completed about my rape experience. At some point, I will post the entire essay. Thanks for reading!
My mother referred to my rapist, a man she never knew raped me, as the politician. He acts, she said, as if he’s running for office. If there was a baby around, he’d kiss it before dropping it on its head. I knew my mother was right, even then. She knew things, like when I was about to dump someone, and she’d start to enjoy that person, the way you cheer up when an annoying guest edges toward the door. I watched her with great interest, if only to predict what I was going to do next.
By the summer of the rape, my romantic relationship with the soon-to-be rapist was grinding to a halt in that, I’m bored, there’s got to be more to life than this, you weren’t who I thought you were kind of way, a job that was winding down with only a few more weeks left. It was the bittersweet summer between my junior and senior year of high school, that time when a restless fever begins to spike. The man who raped me attended the same college I planned to attend and was back in the old hometown for the summer, doing nothing while I life-guarded at a public pool on a decommissioned army base. The nearby but not too nearby college was the only game in town for me, given my dreary financial situation. Even so I knew he wasn’t the only game in town -- I wanted to be free. But before our inevitable collapse, he broke into my parents' house with my one pair of pantyhose over his head, fed our German Shepherd a Gainsburger to ensure her silence, stole some gray duct tape out of my dad's garage and attacked me as I stepped out of the bathroom after taking a shower. I did not know it was him until it was over, and he pulled the tape off my mouth. I could feel the tape for years. What didn’t get used in the attack was thoughtfully returned to my dad’s garage where it stayed until it was all gone, and he bought another roll. They have a saying in Texas that you can use duct tape to fix anything.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"When you leave the house, the/ shadow of the Hindenburg enters/ to take your place." Richard Brautigan
Cocktail Hour
Drinking novella collection suggestion: Arkansas David Leavitt
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Winter In Your Heart

During one particularly awful Detroit winter, I drove down a street and saw a church sign that really put me in a snit. It was cold as all billy hell, nearing spring, that time when it seems as if winter is all there had ever been and all that would ever be. The sign read, What are you going to do about the winter in your heart? Not a damn thing, I thought, my knuckles white on the steering wheel from gripping it so tightly. My heart had become deadened with so much loss that year -- deaths of people I loved and a broken relationship, the perpetual stresses of work, my tendencies for being overextended still at an all-time high. The winter in my heart? Try heart disease, try ulcers, try heartsick, heartless. I'd chosen numb over suicidal, zombie over psychotic apparition, nothing over pain. If I could, I'd have stayed in that winter forever.
But spring always comes, and even now it chills me a little to enter into it, all that memory and desire. It's such a young season and being young was so not my strong suit. Your heart thaws whether you like it or not. You turn from the remembrances of the dead to the joy of the living, and that's not always a good thing. You see signs that make you want to turn around and go back. There is no going back, though, only the relentless push into an uncertain future in which you may be reborn or self-destruct. As when you are young, you do get to choose a few things by yourself.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"As we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in." Parker J. Palmer
Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story collection suggestion: Female Trouble Antonya Nelson
Benedictions and Maledictions
My dear friend Stacey had a brilliant story published in a journal recently. Congratulations, Stacey! Click here to read --
Happy Monday! Hope everyone had a good Easter. The Pistons won, The Sopranos aired -- who needs the big bunny with eggs?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

What I Will Not Say

When you give something up for forty days as with a Lenten promise, you often find that the thing no longer holds you in its sway anymore. I gave something up this year, what I will not say, and now I have rid myself of a considerable amount of grief in the process. There are, however, things that I could never rid myself of and one of them is food. I have friends who go on long fasts (nothing but lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper for twelve to twenty days), and I am mystified by their self-control. I would stab myself with a fork at the prospect of not eating for so long.
Once when I hadn't eaten all day, I ordered a portabello sandwich. I didn't understand that it didn't have any meat on it whatsoever, that it was just a big mushroom and some grilled onions. I couldn't comprehend a world in which something like that would be considered a meal! (It's the Texas in me, I know.) It was at a retirement party, and the service took forever. A feeling of deep despair overtook me as I saw a giant mushroom set in front of me by a surly waiter who would not be bringing anything else to the table. A friend sitting next to me said, "That was the only time I saw you in misery." Of course, I've been good friends with misery for a long time, but at the sight of more not eating that day, I could have cried. I didn't, of course. I ate the bread with a grim expression on my face, forcing down each bite. Sometimes what you choose for yourself is the very worst thing, and I couldn't have been happier when my plate was taken from me.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"When you can stop, you don't want to. When you want to, you can't." Candy
Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Candy (This one is a heartbreaker.)
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Easter, dear readers! Thank you for all your wonderful comments this week. As for a direction for the coming year, I'll defer to the great Billy Bob Thornton. In the movie U-Turn, he plays an auto mechanic negotiating with Sean Penn over how much it will take to fix Sean's car. Sean offers him his watch, an expensive one without any numbers and Billy Bob replies, "No numbers, no doo-dads, no nothing? I think I'll stick with what I've got." Which is to say that I can't think of anything else but what I've been doing. Thanks for sticking with me, friends!
The Sopranos are finally here! This is better than Christmas morning! If anyone calls me between the hours of 9-10:30pm, he or she will be pistol-whipped. Not to put to fine a point on it.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

You Can Have All The Blood

Once for a high school science fair, I bought a bucket of blood from the slaughterhouse. They didn't charge me much -- just a dollar for the bucket and nothing for the blood. We got it coming out of our ears, here, honey, the old man at the helm said. You can have all the blood you damned well please. I'd gotten it in my head that I would do a project on how fast blood could coagulate. Not everyone was impressed with my second place ribbon or the fact that I'd gone to such lengths to procure an entire heavy bucket that I had to carry with my weak arms all the way back home given that I'd gone by myself and told no one my idea. One of my dad's friends, a brilliant physics guy who'd lost a leg in a plane crash, said that he couldn't believe what stupid ideas won ribbons these days. I couldn't really backtalk him, given his fucked up leg and his mean parrot named Rudy who was prone to swooping down and biting people. I hated that bird with his clipped wings and mean eyes. He could only fly a little around the house, and it had made him bitter. For holidays, Rudy's mother would put colored ribbons on his little parrot head which served to make him look even more evil.

The blood did not conform to my expectations. It was not a smooth liquid -- there were chunks of it that had not broken up. You could hold pieces of it in your hand, which I did. I took some polaroids of it for my poster. I showed it in its different stages. Some parts of it were very dark, others seemed almost pink. You can't generalize about blood. This was in the early eighties and people were becoming fearful of blood in a way they hadn't been before. A few years later, I'd get into an argument with my high school history teacher about the rights of people with AIDS. Do you want the person at McDonald's serving you your orange juice with AIDS? I knew the people who worked at our local McDonald's and frankly was more afraid of their personal hygiene skills than I was of getting AIDS in my orange juice. I stood my ground. You can't get it that way, I argued. I thought back to my bucket, which I'd dipped my hands into many times, just to see what it would look like if I was covered in blood. Like Lady MacBeth, I could still see it sometimes. The bucket had been so heavy, covered with a crappy plastic lid, and I couldn't help but slosh a little on the street as I walked home, leaving a trail.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"You got no say over your heart. And if you think you do, you'd best not let yours roam too far. " Come Early Morning

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Come Early Morning

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Holy Saturday!

ONE more day until The Sopranos airs!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Joseph, Most Chaste Spouse Of Mary

Where I grew up, almost all the kitchens had a poster or painting of the Last Supper by the dinner table. One of the more unusual renderings was in black velvet which I would run my fingers along when no one was looking, all those apostles glowing in the dark. My parents didn't have one so I thought this a tremendously exotic touch to any dining room decor. When we were little girls, my friend Angela Dawn and I used to walk around her parents' trailer park after playing a few rounds of croquet with the tiny plastic set her father had put up, talking about what our houses would look like when we got older. We both agreed that we'd have The Last Supper in our kitchen. We both agreed that we would not live in a trailer. And that we could eat jello and jello only for dinner if we liked because in our first grade lingo, it had, like, no calories or fat. Years later, we'd trade tips on how to throw away our dinner food while our parents weren't looking -- alas, our eating disordered tendencies started early! Then we'd have a contest on who could read faster -- Angela was athletic as a colt, eerily smart and stunningly beautiful, but I always won the reading contests. It was nice to have one talent.
Years passed, and I moved away to college. She had a nervous breakdown and had to come home. She married early, and my then-beloved and I visited her and her husband in their trailer, the trailer she swore she would never have. I looked around at the hideous orange shag carpet that she was swearing she'd replace and saw what she had done to make things nice. I smiled -- there was The Last Supper! I'd forgotten about our promise. Her husband chewed his tobacco and spit it into a cup while watching wrestling on television. His name was Joseph, and although he seemed like a Joe or Joey, nobody called him anything but the most chaste spouse of Mary's name. I felt as if I'd slipped into a bizarre funhouse mirror of our childhood dream. For dinner, she served baked chicken and instant mashed potatoes, but only played with her food as she'd done for as long as I'd known her. Then she produced dessert -- grape jello. It's all I eat, she told me. It keeps the weight down. It was the middle of summer, but she presented me the most perfect Halloween gift I had received up until then -- a hand-poured luminous jack-o-lantern candle that glowed from the inside. I knew you'd love it, she said. And I did. We lit it up and watched the shadows dance all over the small space, all over the faces of the men who were sharing one last meal with Jesus who would save them, the seeds of betrayal already in the picture.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Disease is one of our languages." Susanna Kaysen
Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Under the Covers Dwight Yoakum
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Good Friday!
Two more days until The Sopranos airs!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Certain Disenchantment Sets In

My parents weren't much for sex education -- the only information I received was from an outdated set of medical encyclopedias that had been passed down from God only knows where that spoke of contraception as "tawdry, tacky, and potentially harmful." The sex talk of my teenage years was as follows -- Do you know what sex is?, my mother asked. Yes, I said. Okay then, my mother replied. I didn't mention that I'd already had a relationship of sorts with my high school English teacher, who was too depressed to be any great shakes in bed, but had taught me a lot about Frey tag's triangle for help with my fiction writing. You take your pleasures where you can! For my mother, a certain disenchantment had already set in regarding the life of the body. Her only other sex advice was simply that on your wedding night, you should procure a sleeping pill so that you can be fast asleep right after it's over so that you don't have to dwell on unpleasantness. Alas, it's the modern day equivalent of lying back and thinking of England.
There's a new book out that suggests that women prefer chocolate to sex and that women in our society are forced to fake a huge sex drive because that's what is expected of us, not because we really have desire for it. I haven't read this book and nor has anyone I know, yet a lot of my friends have read the reviews. The very suggestion seems to get a fair deal of attention from the menfolk I know -- fear that all the women they've, umm, known over the years have been disingenuous in that most freighted of sanctuaries, the bedroom. Even though I put this book in the category of other such brilliant tomes as The Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing Mr. Right, I admit to taking a certain pleasure in seeing men squirm. So much of the bullshit we're fed is directed at women becoming old maids, not doing enough for men, for ruining their fertility, their lives, and their children's lives because of their selfishness, laxity, and moral turpitude. Men don't get their panties in a bunch over these books, I might add. But this new one upsets them. What if the hopped up women in the Frederick's of Hollywood get-up would really cuddle up with a box of Godiva chocolates and watch You've Got Mail? The last time I was on a plane, the man next to me spoke of his marriage being happy until the conversation turned to the nuns in the front of the plane. Married women would make good nuns, he said. They never want to have sex. This was well before the chocolate book. That's why I go out with the boys and bitch. It's easier than trying to get my wife to sleep with me. If I'd known about the secret of the chocolate book, I could have given him some advice about what to take with him to his betrothed. I don't think this is what anyone means by having it all, but hey, you take what you can get.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"When I got out, I look like Joan Crawford, the movie star. If people want to see the girl next door, they should go next door." Joan Crawford
Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Too Bad Jim R.L. Burnside
Benedictions and Maledictions
Three more days until The Sopranos airs!
Happy Holy Thursday!