Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Washout

I grew up sleeping in the same bed as my great-grandmother. She spoke French and broken English, couldn't walk and scooted around the house on her bottom so she wouldn't face the indignity of a wheelchair. I loved her deeply, particularly when she woke me up the middle of the night to watch professional wrestling, a great passion of hers. Below our bed rested her bedpan, the color of urine itself. It was emptied once a day so the smell of urine permeated the room. I never thought much of it until recently when I was forced to use bedpans myself for my hospital stay. The colors had changed -- most were pink or blue, but in my mind, I saw that first bedpan of my life and thought about thought about how my great-grandmother never complained about it.

I was too sick to complain about my bedpans. The surgery I underwent is called the washout which means that the doctors take all your organs out, wash the stomach cavity in saline, wash your organs in saline, and then put them back. I couldn't so much as imagine walking to the bathroom so there you have it. I got to the point where I could talk to almost anyone while on the bedpan and even in a particularly surreal moment while covered with a sheet, a priest came in before the aide took away the pan and offered me communion. So there I was with the host in my mouth, thinking about my sins and healing while sitting on a pan of my urine. It doesn't get much more real than that, I'm afraid. And while I usually hate New Year's Eve, this one doesn't seem so bad. I'm thankful for the little things, like using a regular bathroom and walking. I'm thankful for the new year, glittering before me like a fabulous mirage, one day and then another, money before you spend it, all possibility, no regret.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"May all your troubles last as long as your New Year's resolutions." Joey Adams

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Wishful Drinking Carrie Fisher

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy New Year's Eve!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Comfort Food

Hi readers! Thanks so much for all the sweet comments about my essay. I'm still recovering and hope to have pictures of my scar soon. Today I'd like to ask you a question about food. I'm having to relearn a lot of eating stuff given that my intestines were removed, cleaned, and put back. So far, I've gravitated to comfort food of childhood. What are your favorite comfort foods and why? I'll be back at you tomorrow with another post for New Year's Eve. Happy Tuesday!

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Glimmering Plain

Here's the last of the essay. Thanks so much for reading and all well wishes for my recovery! I'm going to start with new blog posts to usher in the new year. Hope everyone is well!

Every now and then I think about that dance class from years ago,
sitting on the floor, surrounded mostly by women and the one asswipe on the dance floor, twirling like a dervish to portray his death as a dolphin. I read an article once about how swimming with dolphins could help heal you from sexual abuse and assault. Something about the water and their beauty and empathy. I’ve never had an affinity for animals of any kind so I can’t say if it would have worked for me. My dance had been scheduled for the next day. I chose to go it alone and perform to a brief snippet of a jazz tune that Alice Coltrane had composed to honor her husband John. The room would fill with the music I would listen to as I wrote for many years to come. I did not know that then, of course. The future, once a glimmering plain, had become one foot in front of the other, the way it is for so many people, forty years in the desert looking for the promised land. I could not know that my mind would return to me after years of enemy occupation. What I did know is this: I clapped at the end like everyone else, not because I had enjoyed it, but because it was over.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Was there ever in anyone's life span a point free in time, devoid of memory, a night when choice was any more than the sum of all the choices gone before?" Joan Didion

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street Michael Davis

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Crying Ruins Your Make-Up

Here's the penultimate excerpt! Thanks for reading!

I saw two movies at the theater with my rapist: Fatal Attraction and
The Accused. What can I say? In a small town with only one screen,
you have to see whatever is playing. You don’t get a choice.

A record played during the attack, my favorite Paul Simon record,
One Trick Pony. I put it on after work while he hid in the house,
unbeknownst to me. I still love the music. The record playing long
after he left as I tried to reconstruct myself. The duct tape had left a
large angry red mark around my mouth. My parents would be home
soon! In those days, I did not wear makeup and neither did my
mother. I searched the house for something and found some of her
under-eye concealer. The thick, pasty kind in a color that used to be
described as nude. I lifted the wand out of its holder and started to
work. Since I had such a dark tan, I looked a little white around the
gills. It was late in the evening, Paul sang, and all the girls sat around the stoops. I did not cry. Everyone knows crying ruins your makeup.

The last time I saw him, I was in the parking lot of Voertman’s, a
bookstore near the college we had both attended. My ex-husband
had worked there for a time, as had another boyfriend who hanged
himself that year. The owner had been a closeted gay man who had
a penchant for hiring beautiful boys to work in the store. My rapist
looked scrawny and pale in the harsh Texas light. He was not a
beautiful boy; he was a piece of shit, an early love, my nemesis, the
reason I couldn’t sleep at night for years. The last present he ever
gave me I still had—a book of Bob Dylan’s song lyrics. We always
did feel the same, we just saw it from a different point of view... In a few months, I’d be gone, far from Texas, far from him. But I didn’t care about him and hadn’t for years. The bigger question was would I be able to get away from myself? I began to understand how the really scary movies always implanted the terrible thing inside you. So how are you? he asked. I’m moving to Detroit, I said. We looked at each other for a long time, all the years and friends between us, before I walked to my car. Hey, Michelle, he yelled out. Be careful. That’s a dangerous city.

My mother wasn’t big on children’s books. Read what’s here, she’d
say. Or nothing. She did enjoy telling one fairy tale, though, the story
of Bluebeard and his seven wives that he murders. The tale begins
with his room full of dead wives, a new wife who has a key. She
cannot contain her curiosity so he must kill her. In my mother’s
version, her brothers do not come to save her. Everyone has that
room, my mother told me. Only a fool would look into it. Nobody can
save you once something happens. These were the years of Ted Bundy, and I looked like all his victims—pale skin, black straight hair. Later I realized that Bundy had worked at a rape crisis center. The things you learn!

My mother sometimes picked up hitchhikers. One time she picked
up a man. He wore a black trench coat and hobbled around on
crutches. When he got into the car, she realized he wasn’t really
hurt. Nothing was wrong with him, she said. Nothing happened to her, but she never picked up anyone again. Sometimes he rides with me, his coat in a ball in the back seat.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"One's life has many compartments." Harold Pinter

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Straight To Hell Hank Williams III (Just as good as his grandfather -- in this case, the apple did not fall far from the tree and I am glad.)

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Saturday! Hey Heff, I don't put much thought into the pictures -- it's just fun for me, and I'm glad you enjoy them. I'm also enjoying reading Playboy during my recovery -- for the articles of course. :)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Panic Room

Hi readers! Thanks again for all well wishes. I'm still recovering as I will be for a LONG time. But for now, I'm going to keep posting the essay. Thanks for reading!

A few years after the rape, I bought a pistol and loaded it with hollow-tipped bullets. My then-husband sewed a purse for it, and I
kept it under my bed, safety off. We lived in an apartment named
after a tree and the walls were so thin at The Maple you could feel
the wind blow through them. From time to time, a roach would
drop from the ceiling onto my head, sending me into a panic. Once
a cop broke down a locked door with a mere push of his hip. When
my husband was gone, I carried the gun around with me in the
apartment, all two rooms of it, and laid it on the back of the toilet
whenever I took a bath. Showers, for all intents and purposes,
were out. Shower people don’t understand this preference for lying
around in your own filth. They think you can wash everything off of
yourself if you scrub hard enough.

I started seeing a therapist at the college who gave me to her supervisor. I’m a little out of my league, she said. I mostly just help students who can’t manage time. Her supervisor said things like, I don’t see taking your gun to the bathroom as a problem. I looked at him with a get real expression as my mind flashed ahead to years and years ofrelaxing bubble baths with a loaded pistol in plain view. Do you have any Valium? I asked. I can’t prescribe anything, he said. I’m not that kind of doctor.

So what was your childhood like? he asked. He was, unfortunately, that kind of a doctor. What could I do? I’d already paid for the session. When I was a child, I used to play a game with my stuffed animals, the same ones for which I would write the occasional suicide notes, notes that said things like Chatty Cathy has grown tired of life, or Mr. Teddy Bear no longer wishes to live on this earth. The game consisted of you pretending you were paralyzed and on a Stryker frame, a torturous device used in the ’70s to stabilize injured patients and prevent bedsores. If this was your fate, you’d be sandwiched between strips of canvas and flipped every few hours. The only choice in this gamewas whether you’d want to look at the ceiling or the floor. The stuffed animal was my nurse. I’d pretend to think hard about my decision -- after all, I’d be there for a long time. But I knew what I would choose. The floor. Always.

For years after the rape, the world became my own personal Tailhook, a never-ending gauntlet like the one that some of the female Naval officers experienced during an annual conference where they were thrown down, stripped, and attacked in one particular hallway of the Las Vegas Hilton. Warnings that I had ignored for years rang in my head, all the tips to fend off attackers, too little, too late, but still, I tried. I carried mace, carried handfuls of gravel to throw, carried lemon juice to squirt in their eyes. All the books said to aim for the weak spots, the windows to the soul. I suppose the idea is that you can’t hurt what you can’t see. All my energy went into not being alone. I never was, of course. I had a little bit of death around my eyes from all the anxiety and bloody red circles under them from rubbing them so hard. That drew men to me, all that brokenness. My godmother used to say, You’ll have to beat the men off with sticks when you get older. I’m sure this wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. I lived in a loft apartment in my mind, a high rise where no one could touch me, the perfect panic room, no windows, no doors. No matter where I was, I was loathe to part with a loft, any loft, my loft.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"My recipe for life is not being afraid of myself, afraid of what I think or of my opinions." Eartha Kitt

Drinking novel suggestion: The Abstinence Teacher Tom Perotta

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Hi readers! Here's me in healthier times with my two good friends, Dr. Pepper and Moet. I'm hoping that everyone has a very Merry Christmas with lots of good books and movies and happy family time! I'm going to follow darling Laura's advice and try to eat and rest. I'll be back at you tomorrow with more of the essay.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

Hi readers! Merry Christmas Eve! I'm going to take a break today from the grim essay (fun holiday treats for all!)) and just take this time to wish you a happy day and say thank you for all your support. My being so close to death made Baby Grouchie VERY nervous, but I have to say that he's been a great nurse and confidante. Here we are in happier times (and me 25 pounds heavier -- yes, you can be way too thin despite our society's warped way of thinking-- my current appearance reminds me of my youthful stupidity in getting very thin and my mother joking to my dad, Look, the Americans have liberated the camps!) on election day. I'll be keeping you all in my thoughts as I recover. xo, Michelle

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Grow Your Own Witch Redux

Hi readers! I promise to show the scar when it is not a gaping open wound. Hope you're gearing up for Christmas and being both naughty and nice. Here's the next excerpt as first published in Iowa Review:

My friend refers to me in written correspondence as Girl. That is some fucked up creepy shit, Girl. I once bought this man a present, a tiny little Grow Your Own Witch! that would expand to six hundred times her size if you put her in water. Even so, she’d still be pretty tiny. He once bought me a T-shirt with a stick figure on it, holding a bloody knife. The caption read, I hate waking up. I hid the T-shirt in my basement in a small room with a bunch of other clothes I no longer wore.

When I was a teenager, I used to go to a haunted house in an old army barracks on a decommissioned army base on the edge of west Texas. Edgemeade, a residential dumping ground for “disturbed” adolescents—a term that could mean anything from mildly touched
to convicted of criminal behavior—sponsored the house, their primary fundraiser for the year. The locals called it “retards with fake chainsaws.” The chainsaws were real, though. They just didn’t have a blade.

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 lifeguarded at a public pool on a decommissioned army base, right near the haunted house. For one hour a day, the Edgemeade kids got to swim in the pool for free, and you could hear them running down the street a mile away. 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 electrical 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. 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.

(to be continued).

Cocktail Hour Reading suggestion: Savannah Knoop, GirlBoyGirl: How I Became JT LeRoy, 2008.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Iowa Review

Here's the first part of the Iowa Review essay as published. I'll be posting it all week as I'm still recovering. Thanks so much for all your prayers, love and support. It's been rough, but as RIP Hamilton of the Pistons says, If it ain't rough, it ain't right.

The Ceiling or the Floor

As an undergraduate in a modern dance class, I had to watch my
rapist perform a solo dance number to the sound of dolphins crying.
He himself was portraying a dying dolphin, and the idea, if you
will, was that the other dolphins were trying to save him but he
could only save himself and he did not and instead screamed the
last minute of the performance, a minute being a very long time
under such circumstances. This is the kind of bizarre scenario that
people mean when they say You can’t make this shit up or It’s a small
world after all. The other students gazed in a state of shock and/or
awe and wondered if they were witnessing genius or lunacy. Most of
the students in the class had chosen to work in groups for the final,
dancing to painful medleys off of tapes like The Very Best of Kenny G.
I had signed up for the modern dance class because it would fulfill
my physical education requirement, and I thought it might be fun in
that Martha Graham/Twyla Tharp sort of way. As they say, it’s a free
country, and my rapist must have thought the same thing.

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.

One person knew about my rape before it happened. My rapist
bragged about his plan to a mutual friend, a shy, timid man who
thought he might be kidding. Or so he says. We’re still friends,
this man and I. We never talk about what happened. My friend has
a dog whom he calls Dog, and Dog can do one trick: roll over and
play dead. I once spent the night at his and his sister’s house in the
guest room. Sister had decorated the guest room with unicorns and
clowns. Outside the door, Dog slept. She looked like she did when
she played dead. But I knew she wasn’t dead.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Coming Attractions

Hey readers! Still deep in recovery. Please continue with the prayers and good thoughts. The new Iowa Review is here (Winter 2008/2009, Vol. 38, No. 3). I'll post the essay tomorrow. Iowa Review is great. Please support the small literary presses when and where you can!

Happy first day of Winter!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Girl Who Woke Up During Surgery

Here's the story I don't know. I woke up during surgery and had to be restrained so tightly that my arms are yellow and green with scrapes like a girl in a crime scene. My kidneys started to shut down. I was septic which is a blood infection that gives you a 50/50 chance to live. The fact that I'm writing this means, well, you know what it means. I became wildly delusional because of the morphine and trauma. At one point I became convinced that the head nurse had moved me to a Pizza Hut. She looked at me with deep compassion and untangled the myriad of IVs around my neck. "Sweetheart, sweetheart, you think that you're at a Pizza Hut because of all of this spaghetti around my head." Another nurse asked me to consider a DNR order. She's also the one who saw me tear out my Foley catheter attached to my inner thigh causing a huge sore on my thigh. "You often see that in rape victims," she said. "They reenact the trauma." I have read that a person's hearing is the last sense to go, so I was glad that I could still see.

I'm feeling very grateful for my life -- as one woman who was taking my blood as I was praying said, "Honey, just thank Jesus. If he wanted you gone, you'd be gone." Thank all of you for your prayers, good thoughts and well wishes. I miss all of you and will post more when I can. Much love, Michelle.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Michelle's Update

Hi there readers, this is Michelle's friend Marcie. Michelle asked me to post an update for her until she can write more herself, and she also asked me to thank all of you for your kind thoughts and inquiries.

Last week, sweet Michelle thought she had a bad flu but it turned out that she needed to have her appendix taken out stat. It was a very serious procedure but she is now recovering and hopes to be posting again by sometime next week. She will tell you much more at that time.

Please keep Michelle in your thoughts and prayers and thank you for your time.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

You Gotta Give Them Hope

When Harvey Milk was assassinated, I went on a hunger strike, refusing all food including KFC, my favorite. My parents indulged me in my tiny revolution; they knew I felt deeply for the gay rights movement even at the tender age of seven and they didn't display a lot of the bigotry that pervades much of our great land, then and now. My dad explained to me early that I knew several boys who would grow up and probably like other boys and that was just fine. For a man not given to deep introspection, he favored a simple approach to life and unlike a lot of crackpots who believe that sexual orientation can be changed (umm, good luck with that!), his deepest belief was that you had to be comfortable in your own skin. The closet was a metaphor I could understand early in my life, how suffocating it could be, how you might die there before you could tell the truth, like a story I heard about someone choking to death in a restaurant because she was too ashamed to draw attention to her plight. And I also understood that life out of the closet was dicey as well; any number of whackjobs might beat you to death to prove their own heterosexuality. Or show up at your funeral with a sign that says, God Hates Fags. I especially love when religious groups show up for this kind of fun. I'm sure, to steal from the great Anne Lammott, it makes Jesus want to drink straight gin from a dirty cat bowl.

Milk, quite simply, is a brilliant movie for any number of reasons. I laughed because I found myself trying not to cry during a lot of the movie and thought back to E.T., another movie I swore would not break me down. But it did, of course. It's a political story, a love story, an ode to the beauty of the seventies and the tragedy of Anita Bryant and I don't just mean being forced to sit through one of her concerts. And it reminds us that the battle still needs to be fought; on election day, many Americans supported a proposition to ban gay marriage. People who were encouraged by the likes of Rick Warren, Mr. Purpose Driven Life Pants, who gently told his many followers to support a bill that denies a group of Americans their civil rights with a compelling argument about how true marriage is in danger. Never mind that heterosexuals have done a fine job of fucking up the convention quite nicely themselves. In his most famous speech, Harvey quotes from the Declaration of Independence about all men being created equal, that you can never erase those words. He got a lot of death threats that day and many days of his life and he still stood up and risked his life. I'm a coward who seldom takes a stand; I can only try to remember those who do, who love our country enough to speak the truth even when it costs them everything.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand." Patti Smith

Cocktail Hour
Drinking cocktail suggestion:

Winter Wonderland
1 part half and half
1 part Baileys
1 dash of creme de menthe
Strain over ice.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Streets Of Detroit

Saturday pictures! I'll be back with a Milk post tomorrow!

Happy Birthday Shawn!

Hi everyone! Thanks for all the kind comments on the last few excerpts. I'm working dilligently to be done by the end of the year so I can ring in the new year with a sense of joy and happiness instead of the usual mix of despondency and resignation. As for the prize winners from my Halloween contest, your prizes are in the mail as of Monday because life got very hectic but all is back to normal now. I'm going to do a post on the movie, Milk, this weekend but first I want to wish a very happy birthday to my dear Shawn! Happy Birthday, Bamms! Here's hoping for a wonderful year.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

When Anne Stopped Changing

Another section of the book, this one about my dear Hank. Thanks for reading!

Deep in the doldrums of summer, my friend Hank and I would often take refuge in the KFC buffet. There was almost never anybody at the buffet which explains why they stopped offering it, but back then we'd eat and discuss our unfinished stories. There's two schools of thought about this -- that writers should never talk about the work while the work is in process. To talk about it spoils it, releases the need to tell it. The other school of thought is that it's good to get feedback, no matter what. I'd like to add a third way of looking at things. Hank and I would talk about our plots and characters, and we'd offer each other such uniformly hideous suggestions about what to do next (stoned, no doubt, on the copious amount of grease in the food we'd just sucked down) that by the end of the meal, both of us would have been forced to think of something better for fear we might have to resort to the idea offered. Maybe you could make your character a clown school drop-out, one of us might say. You never read anything about clown school, not really. Or we'd resort to smart-ass mode -- How about a car chase? A lovable character named Gramps? We each had projects that were never going to work -- mine was a novel about a born-again evangelical bulimic whose life had taken a bad turn, his was Yellow Leg: The Incontinent Wolf, a long poem written in entirely in couplets about well, you can figure it out.

When we wore out our ideas for the imaginary world, we'd turn to the real one, which in its own way, was just as complicated as our stories. R never changes her clothes before our dates anymore. She just wears what she was wearing to softball practice. Do you think that's a bad sign or is she just comfortable with me now? Bad sign, I'd say, reading the remnants of my mashed potatoes as if they were tea leaves. Or maybe not, I'd backpedal, could be really good. Hank grinned before finishing off his coleslaw. You're right. Maybe I ought to take it as a compliment. Two weeks later she'd left him for someone she'd met at softball practice. You know even when you don't. That became a poem for him, "When Anne Stopped Changing," (I came up with the title on the next KFC visit) which contained the great line -- What, you never thought anything stupid? I've thought so many stupid things, but some of my favorites are ones where I was stuffing my face on my very favorite fast food, dreaming of fiction and life, the two things becoming one and the same by the time we dumped garbage off our trays and entered into the harsh sunlight once again.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I'd love to retouch my whole life." Dusty Springfield

Cocktail Hour
Let the holiday drinks begin!

Cozy By The Fire

1 oz Cinnamon schnapps
1 cup Hot chocolate
Mixing instructions:
Heat the hot chocolate and add the cinnamon schnapps

Benedictions and Maledictions
As for the Snoopy band-aid, I did the most stupid thing and burned myself on a hot curler. So badly that it blistered. Only I could injure myself with such a pedestrian tool. I think it's back to totally straight hair for now! Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Calvary Center

Here's another section from the book about working in a social work center/dementia clinic in Detroit. Thanks for reading!

We'd often get people serving community service to "help" with the work. By the time most of them saw the working arrangements, they wanted to go back to serve time or at least pick up trash off the side of the road. One guy said that spending an hour at Calvary made him want to "get fucked up really bad, man." He asked me if it gave me the creeps to see old people every day, out of their minds.

"The wave of the future," I said. "We all end up that way." I smiled the kind of evil smile that I reserved for those I felt needed it. But by the end of the day or week or month, the volunteers got to leave. Their sentence was for something bad they did and they paid it and it was over. As for me, I stayed on without a plan. I walked in the doors every day of my own free will, or as free as a person who desperately needed money would ever be, and each day I walked out, no wanderguard attached to me, but sometimes I tripped the alarm anyway, causing a small commotion before I left.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." Charles M. Schulz

Cocktail Hour
Drinking book trailer suggestion: Look for Laura's new trailer release on Monday for her new novel, Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Thanks for all the recent comments! I'm particularly struck by the kindness and honesty of the faithful reader and do appreciate the concern and love. Hope everyone is having a great week and recovering from Thanksgiving and gearing up for Christmas!

Monday, December 01, 2008

A Field Guide To Demons

Hey everyone! Thanks again for all the recent comments! I'm working on editing the middle of my book which I'm calling A Field Guide To Demons (a title stolen from a book that catalogs demons -- groovy idea!). What I realized is that I'm going from an enclosed space in sections of the texts to a more open area. So I guess, despite my gloomy ways, I'm writing a redemption story. How did that happen? Life, along with love, is a profound mystery. Here's a small section. Thanks for reading!

My marriage suffered all the the unspoken grief from my rapes, the iceberg we could hit from time to time. My now ex-husband gave up his time practicing with his band when he came to understand how awful I found it to be alone in the apartment at night. I had so loved being alone and found myself in the bizarre hell of being unable to spend so much as a few minutes without another person around without starting to panic. The days took on a sameness that comes with chronic fear. My life became divided between the person everyone saw and my secret damaged self.

"Try not to be afraid, dear," Hank would say every now and then, unaware of what was making me feel so awful and too smart to ask direct questions. I thought of him saying this when I approached his casket. Sweet Hank who had longed for someone to call him dear, his favorite term of affection. I remember a beautiful waitress who used this term -- he ordered a lot of pasta on her shifts.

His body appeared jaundiced and bloated. I touched him one last time, thought about how I had held my mother's dead body after everyone left, no longer afraid of hurting her. At least she's not suffering anymore, I'd hear a thousand times that week. And a lot of people told me that Hank's vision would be perfect in Heaven, but in my mind he'd always seen what he needed to see on earth. The line made me think of all the things Hank didn't want to see in this world like the time we watched Blue Velvet with friends, including one deeply unattractive girl from our old high school who had dropped by in a teeny-tiny mini-skirt, her mottled thighs on full display. Having pined after Hank for years, she seized her chance to squeeze close to him for the duration of the film.

"She sat on my good side, Michelle," he said, making a poo face.

There was so much unrequited love, so much mystery. Hank had loved our friend Erin ever since her family showed up in town, the last stop on her father's tumultuous career path, a brilliant man hindered by the bottle. Also brilliant, Erin stood almost five feet tall, wore thick glasses, and topped her plain face with a John Denver-inspired bowl cut.

Hank referred to Erin as the bitch, as if she were both a person and a platonic ideal. They argued all the time and Erin refused to give into his desire, already feeling the horrible claustrophobia of being a beloved.

Since I didn't have many female friends when I got married, choosing the thin gruel of being a girl mascot for groups of men, Erin seemed a natural choice for a bridesmaid. Because Hank so vocally opposed our decision to wed, my betrothed did not choose him as a groomsmen so there would be no pretend walk down the aisle for them. For my bachelorette party, Erin, Tim, and I went to see The Prince Of Tides. Seeing Nick Nolte anally-raped and having to work out his pain in therapy should have clued me into the underlying them of my own marriage had I been looking for signs.

The night before the wedding, my parents and bridesmaids all gathered in my grotty apartment for my last night as a single girl. Having eaten a dinner of KFC, I nestled on the floor and hoped for sleep. Instead as I eyed the bride and groom troll dolls my mother had bought me to honor the big day, Erin tapped my shoulder.

"I've always wanted to be with you," she said.

I pretended to sleep and thought about Jeff, the artist I had never gotten over. He was back in town like some cosmic joke, just in time to ruin any peace. Did anyone end up with the right person?

Erin moved back to her Strawberry Shortcake sleeping bag, a leftover from childhood sleepovers that still accommodated her small frame. I slept in an old red sleeping bag that my dad had owned since he was a boy. It often got used during camping trips when the family piled in the car for Corpus Christi. I could remember shaving my legs in the Gulf Of Mexico. Those days seemed far away. My parents slept on my great grandmother's old bed, the bed I shared with her for years. Now it would be my marital bed. I thought about all the sadness and hardship that had haunted my parents' marriage. I knew even before my marriage started that it would end as soon as I began to get well, whenever the hell that might be.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“Be a lamp unto yourself. Work out your liberation with diligence.” Buddha

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Milk
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

How Do I Get To Detroit (With Apologies To Richard Pryor)

Hi readers! Here's your usual Saturday pictures, albeit dated on Sunday, posted on Monday. What can I say? Despite my Taurus nature, sometimes I mix things up. Thanks for all the great comments on the video! And in answer to Jason, no, Baby Grouchie isn't a racist -- he's just so tired of seeing signs for Pottery Barn near his dumpster and having to move yet again. Don't get Baby Grouchie started on Pottery Barn! And for the lovely Laura, Muppet flight has been a problem for years, although Miss Piggy and Kermit have a bunker in the city which seems to work out well for them. And gorgeous Jodi deserves good bus behavior -- I love that the same guy drove your mother, you, and your son -- that's cool! And to my lovely brilliant Lana, the kind gestures are the best and I have no doubt that your candies were very appreciated -- the winds, they do get awful cold! Back at you later today with another segment from the book -- this time from the section titled, A Field Guide To Demons.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all my dears! I've been thinking of all I have to be thankful for -- the list is long! I'm so grateful for my friends, the ones I've met and the ones I know from their words. You guys are the best -- here's all my love and everything until next Thanksgiving, I remain your Michelle.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Way I Wished I Looked!

Here's one of my FAVORITE presents of all time from my dearest Shawn! It was commissioned especially for me and based off my writing and pictures. I couldn't have imagined anything more wonderful! Isn't that the way with all perfect gifts? I'm so grateful for all comments and all my dear friends I have met in this forum and all of life, and will include a gratitude list tomorrow in honor of the holiday. Until then, all love, Michelle

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Written On The Body

Thanks to all for the great comments on yesterday's post! I have never been offended by a compliment on this blog or a compliment in any situation and extend many thanks to everyone who appreciates either the pictures or the writing. All the comments are helping me in figuring out the role of photography in my book and life. And to my dearest beautiful Jodi, I do remember that moment and laughed hysterically again thinking about it! This next post is further rumination on the same subject, albeit a slightly different angle.

My friend K (her real initial) is exquisitely beautiful. I knew this before she posed for Playboy, before she became a model. I knew it because when we were in high school and college, men adored K and women, well, women were tough on her. And whenever we went out, people fell all over themselves to get things for us, to help us in a way they did not when I went out with my friend M or L. We never were ignored, the way I often was alone, dressed like a siren if your idea of a siren is Karen Carpenter, circa 1971. K hated men; a victim of sexual abuse, she'd decided that if men were stupid enough to be drawn in by a beautiful face, a Barbie-like body, and an airhead act, they deserved what they got which was to be treated like hell. She'd had a hard life in many ways so I understood this guerrilla feminism. Knowing her father alone would be enough for most women to begin to despise the entire sex. Once I went to pick her up for a night out at the uber-glamorous, now defunct Bennigans. She had not gotten home from work yet and her father began to strip in front of me, pretending to tuck in his shirt; I could not get out of there fast enough.

I wondered what it would be like to be really beautiful like K. I had my own charms, but they weren't terribly obvious. I had, in no particular order, unruly hair, bad skin at points, weight fluctuations, and eyebrows that I wish someone had informed me needed plucking. I once got me and my friend Cal into the Macaroni Grill, circumventing an hour wait so I suppose there's that velvet rope consolation. The first article I read on being pretty was in a women's magazine and the author did not sign her name. She talked about how taboo it was to say you were attractive and how, while it got her attention from strangers, it didn't make her life much easier. Which I'm sure made people sick -- boo hoo, you're so pretty; it must be awful! Kind of like complaining about being rich. The only people that can say money doesn't matter and not sound like assholes are poor people. But, as everyone knows, beauty fades, no matter how much money you have or what kind of disturbing procedures you do to yourself. Once a friend of mine listed all the things she'd missed about herself when she died which gave me pause. I miss some of those things already! Orwell says by fifty, we have the face we deserve. And I hope that everything I have loved deeply, even the damage, is written on my body, constantly evolving into something even more real than the charms of misspent youth.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Confucius

Cocktail Hour
Question for readers: Any good traditional movie/drinks/desserts that you associate with Thanksgiving?

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Subject Is Too Dark

Often when I try to take pictures, my camera tells me that the subject is too dark, which always makes me laugh given this simple observation could sum up my entire life. I like taking pictures at night and in urban areas; I like the constant gray skies, the sadness of twilight, the beauty of the city. My photography, much like my writing, is not for all tastes. People often express concern for my safety to which I can only point out that everything bad that has ever happened to me has happened in houses, places that are supposed to be safe. But unlike children's games where there's always a spot where nobody can touch you, a base, a way of asking for mercy, real life affords none of this comfort.

I also take pictures of myself for this blog as a visual diary of a life. As with everything, some pictures are better than others and a number of people take the pictures so the styles vary. I try to keep the pictures current lest I seem like a writer who has a picture from twenty years ago on the book jacket because he or she "doesn't have any others." The activity of being photographed in strange places involves an inherent risk, but not much -- mostly I get told I have a nice ass which as the Brautigan poem says, so much is gained and lost with those two words. We all have pictures of ourselves that we like and hate -- my worst was from my wedding where I wish someone had told me to lay off the hot glue gun and give up on the fake pearls, fertility symbols that kept dropping into my hair and onto the floor. And I have ones where I look happy or sad, that something I didn't know I was feeling, caught on camera. Pictures, as the advertisers understand, tell us who we are. I think of how I tried to make myself look normal after my rape with my mother's under eye concealer. She almost never wore make-up so there wasn't much with which to work. It's not lost on me how I take out my own concealer now before someone snaps my pictures to cover up the flaws, a lot of them self-inflicted. Rinse, repeat, until you are satisfied that you are done.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The theme is the theme of humiliation, which is the square root of sin, as opposed to the freedom from humiliation, and love, which is the square root of wonderful."
Carson McCullers

Cocktail Hour
Here begins the festive seasonal drinks for the upcoming holidays!

1 part Stoli Vanil (or plain)
1 part Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice
Cinnamon-sugar rim.
Combine ingredients in shaker w/ ice.
Shake vigorously.
Strain into martini glass and serve.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Town I Love

Hey everyone! Thanks for reading "Spanish Trace." I don't often post fiction since I started writing the memoir, so it's a nice break from me and my mind, a bad neighborhood that I have often had to walk in alone lately. But you guys are great to go along for the ride -- I plan to have a complete draft of Second Day Reported by December, God willing and the creek don't rise. Happy Saturday to all!

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Miracle Of Healing

Here's the final installment. Thanks for the kind words and for reading! I'll be back tomorrow with pictures, Sunday with more stunning insights into the workings of the world. Ha!

I woke from my nap and realized people were already in the house. I could hear her friends laugh and star in on the snacks and hoped they hadn’t already eaten everything I wanted. I walked out of the bedroom and made my apologies all around. I had on my t-shirt from a drive-through in Peru, Indiana, that said, “It’s Mr. Weenie Time” which a picture of a big smiling weenie in a hat, which I knew to be a mistake when Lori looked at me. We had gone on a month-long road trip as a honeymoon, checking out America. Mr. Weenie had been a favorite at the time.

After I had a few drinks, I forgot that I was supposed to be injured and then I’d flash back and remember to limp. Nobody tells you how hard it is to be hurt. My arms ached because the crutches were the wrong size and the leg immoblizer made my leg itch something fierce. I took my place on the couch and tried to see which of her friends could be persuaded to wait on me. Nobody did, so I scooted out to the porch to get away from everyone. I watched Lori through the window and caught her eye. I feared she might come out here.

Lori had a Zima in her how and I wondered how I could have married someone who drank Zimas. She walked over to me.

“I’m glad you’re hurt. Guess who I saw at the Safeway today?”


“Tina Holmes. She told me you’re seeing some fat waitress from Woody’s.”

“We had a few dates. I thought we were over.”

“You’re an asshole, Mark. I’m sorry I ever took you back.”

“Not half as sorry as I am.”

“What the hell is Jimmy Sanders doing here?”

Jimmy got out of the passenger’s side of his mother’s car and walked up the sidewalk, jerking all the way. He had a Nazi helmet on and carried a sword with a swatiska on it. I guess he thought we were having a Halloween party. I started to laugh and couldn’t stop.

“What are you laughing at, you son of a bitch? I’m not letting him in.”

“Why not? Maybe one of your special needs instructors can help him learn and grow,” I said. “Just maybe he’d date one of your single, middle-aged, self-actualized friends.”

Jimmy walked up and waved at his mother who drove off. I guessed we were stuck with him for at a least a few hours.

“You take him somewhere,” Lori said. “I don’t care if you have two broken legs and a sprained dick. I want him gone.” She slammed the door, and I sat down on the porch, looking through the window and watching her expression change for her friends when she returned to the party.

“Hey Jimmy.”

“What happened to you?” Jimmy asked. Hs at down in his cumbersome uniform, a combination of his dead dad’s army stuff and some Nazi shit he’d picked up over the years.

“I hurt myself when I was moving.”

“Why aren’t you inside?” Jimmy asked.

I was glad to be sitting next to him so I couldn’t really see him licking the air. I took another swig of my beer. “It’s not really a party. Just some of Lori’s friends. Anyway, why don’t I take you home? You don’t want to be here.”

“I thought something was going on tonight. You want to go out and get a drink?”

Being seen with Jimmy in public was nothing short of sexual suicide and being seen with Jimmy dressed as a Nazi was nothing short of actual suicide. I was not near drunk enough to think this was a good idea.

I didn’t want to risk getting a DUI, but I didn’t see a way around the problem. I told Jimmy to get into the truck and he did. I prayed to God that I didn’t get stopped. There’s no simple story that could explain what was happening.

“Hey Jimmy, why am I such an asshole?”

“I could kill you with my Nazi dagger if I wanted.” He sat in the passenger seat, grunting and making gestures. A real good time.

“That’s wonderful, Jimmy. Thank you so much.”

I passed Melody’s again and decided to take a chance. “I’m stopping. You go ahead and walk to your mother’s. We’re two blocks over. I’ve got some business to do.”

“You going to get back with Melody?”

“If she’ll have me,” I said.

“She ain’t got much self-esteem. I remember a boy popped her bra strap and said, good boobs, too bad you’ve got such an ugly face. He usually picked on me, but I was happy that it was her turn until I saw her cry.”

“Jimmy, you’re a regular hero. Take my bottle and go on home.”

H set off down the street, taking swigs as he jerked. I knocked at Melody’s door. It took her a long time to answer.

“What do you want?”

“Don’t you want to know what happened to me?”

“Not particularly.” She had a pink robe on, one that I had taken off her to make love to her not four months ago. It make my throat ache to see it.

“I’m hurt. I got hurt,” I said. “You have to help me.”

“Why should I help you?” Melody folded her arms in front of her and looked down.

I took her chin in my hands and kissed her as tenderly as I knew how. The crutches fell away. I knew if I didn’t go home tonight, I would not be going home again. So I walked in the house behind Melody, leaving the crutches on the porch, evidence of a miracle of healing for people to marvel over in the morning.

Michelle's Spell
“Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible” Paul Klee

Cocktail Hour
Drinking holiday cheer suggestion: Okay, we're almost to the horrors of the holidays so this is my best suggestion: Drink your very favorite drink tonight whether it be chocolate milk or single malt scotch. (Combined this is not a great drink, but it does exist -- a Chicago Boxcar is the name) Do not think of anything having to do with Thanksgiving or Christmas. Do not look at ads having to do with the holidays. There will be plenty of time to count blessings/cook/suffer holiday depression/buy presents in the weeks to come.

Benedictions and Maledictions
I've gotten a lot of questions about the pictures I use on the blog, both in the past and recently. Instead of trying to answer them all individually, I am almost finished with an essay about this very subject (the pictures themselves, how they are taken, etc.) and will post it next week. Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

No More Credit At The Liquor Store

Today and tomorrow -- "Spanish Trace." Saturday pictures from the town I love and Sunday I return to my usual rant and rave. Thanks for reading!

Lori decided we’d have a party to celebrate the turning of the seasons. She planned it for the weekend of Halloween, which was a long weekend for Ft. Worth Country Day. I suggested we do a costume party and that my old band Head Cleaner could play some blues, but she gave me a look that suggested my old band would not be playing. She had loved Head Cleaner when she heard them years ago. She gave me a withering look that suggested I grow up and grow up fast. I had seen that expression from my jerk of a father all my life.

“My friends don’t wear costumes,” she said.

“Maybe they could start.”

“Are you going to be an asshole?” Lori asked.

The honeymoon appeared to be over.

Lori left to pick up food for the party, and I sat around trying to get drunk. I was missing Melody, feeling lonely and strung-out. I didn’t want to be here, bored as shit by a bunch of people who would sit and talk about teaching. I didn’t have one goddamn thing to say to any of them. I took some more slugs and decided to leave for the day while Lori got ready. I wrote her a note telling her that I was going to clean out the rest of my apartment and booked.

When I got into my truck, I turned on the radio and old Rick Nelson sang “Garden Party.” I felt as if the bastard were coming back from the grave to tell me that I would never be able to please Lori, and I ought to give up trying. I drove to Mr. C’s and bought a six-pack of Lone Star and some cashews in a bag. Then I drove around trying not to look like I was driving around drinking beer and eating cashews. I went to the Trace and sat down on my one last chair and took a look around the place. I didn’t have the foresight not to have the electricity turned off, so I had to sit around in the dark, the heart of Indian Summer, sweating and wondering if a cold spell would hit. I knew it wouldn’t hit soon enough to make it bearable.

“What the hell happened to you?” Lori said.

I tripped into our house wearing a leg immobilizer and crutches. I didn’t want Lori to know that I had been drinking. I needed an alibi, for not having done any work and being gone all day. Sitting around the Trace, I decided to pretend I’d been in an accident. I felt glad that I had gotten rid of the stuff from the first accident. Maybe she would remember how she had loved me then.

“I fell down the stairs at the Trace.”

“I thought there was only a bottom floor,” she said.

“I mean by the office. I tried to turn in my key, but it was closed and I turned and tripped.”

“Are you okay? How did you get the brace?” Lori crushed avocados, turning them into
guacamole. I loved her guacamole. One more thing to miss if I left.

“I drove to the emergency room.” I held out an old bottle of painkillers I’d been hoarding from a root canal. I hoped she didn’t take them out of my hands and look at the date.

“Have you been drinking?” Lori asked. She took a lemon and started to squeeze it in the dip. It keeps the guacamole from getting discolored from the air. The color didn’t make any difference to the taste, but she claimed that looking at brown guacamole did not make anyone feel happy.

“What makes you say that, honey?”

“I don’t see how you could have fallen down the stairs.”

“I was tired, okay? I work long hours.”

“You wouldn’t have to work so hard if you got another job teaching.”

“I don’t want another job. I want to go rest.”

“Don’t take the painkillers if you’ve been drinking.”

It made me feel real bad when she said that because that’s how my mother died. Not that Lori knows that. She thinks that she died in her sleep from alcohol poisoning. I don’t know why I left the painkiller part out of the story when I told her, I just did. My mother took some of my granddad’s muscle relaxants and drank part of a bottle of wine, passed out mid-sentence, got put to bed by friends, and stopped breathing in the middle of the night. She’d been mixing stuff for years, but it must have been the exact wrong dose that night. It felt like the type of disaster our family had been watching for years had hit us. I never thought it would, the way you feel when you’re driving and you see a car on the side of the road and you thank God it isn’t you, although someday it will be. And it always is.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The real beauty of the question -- how do we become who we are? -- is that by the time we are old enough to ask it, it is too late to do much about it. That is not the sorrow of hindsight, but its music: That is what grants us a bearable past." Gail Caldwell

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: A Strong West Wind Gail Caldwell

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Can We Make It Less Bitter?

When I was a child, I got my dad's Time magazine taken away from me, the one with all the pictures of the dead bodies at Jonestown. He had a subscription from work to Time and Newsweek and one of my big joys at the end of the week was rifling through his briefcase and hoarding these treasures. I learned a lot about the issues of the day and spent many hours clipping articles about women being beaten and torture victims. It passed, as they say, the violet hours. But at five years old, the aerial views of the bodies were a bit too much, and I started to have bad dreams about that distant jungle. Thirty years later, it seems like yesterday, and I spent a lot of my youth researching the People's Temple and other cults. What caused people to put so much faith in a preacher who started out selling pet monkeys door to door is hard to fathom. But like so many shitty situations in life -- families and marriages and jobs that we are born into, have to take, doomed to repeat -- it's like one big roach motel; you come in, but hell if you can find your way out.

I have a copy of the last tapes of that fateful day in Guyana, one of the more unusual gifts I have ever received. There's a lot of crying once people realize that some nut was going to take them out, a lot of "Can't we call Russia for help?" and so forth. One woman, resigned to drink the Flavor Aid, asked if there was a way to make it less bitter. But alas, all the sugar was gone. I think of that question a lot, about so many sadnesses in this life, but usually the answer is no, try as we might with all the potions we can force down our throats.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?" Friedrich Nietzsche

Cocktail Hour
Drinking religious book suggestion: Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers Of The Religious Right Mel White (He's the father of one of my favorite filmmakers of all-time, Mike White!)

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Garden Party

I lied! There are at least two more installments. Will probably post about something else on Wednesday for a little break and then finish out the week with Mark and his marital woes. Thanks for reading!

Lori decided we’d have a party to celebrate the turning of the seasons. She planned it for the weekend of Halloween, which was a long weekend for Ft. Worth Country Day. I suggested we do a costume party and that my old band Head Cleaner could play some blues, but she gave me a look that suggested my old band would not be playing. She had loved Head Cleaner when she heard them years ago. She gave me a withering look that suggested I grow up and grow up fast. I had seen that expression from my jerk of a father all my life.

“My friends don’t wear costumes,” she said.

“Maybe they could start.”

“Are you going to be an asshole?” Lori asked.

The honeymoon appeared to be over.

Lori left to pick up food for the party, and I sat around trying to get drunk. I was missing Melody, feeling lonely and strung-out. I didn’t want to be here, bored as shit by a bunch of people who would sit and talk about teaching. I didn’t have one goddamn thing to say to any of them. I took some more slugs and decided to leave for the day while Lori got ready. I wrote her a note telling her that I was going to clean out the rest of my apartment and booked.

When I got into my truck, I turned on the radio and old Rick Nelson sang “Garden Party.” I felt as if the bastard were coming back from the grave to tell me that I would never be able to please Lori, and I ought to give up trying. I drove to Mr. C’s and bought a six-pack of Lone Star and some cashews in a bag. Then I drove around trying not to look like I was driving around drinking beer and eating cashews. I went to the Trace and sat down on my one last chair and took a look around the place. I didn’t have the foresight not to have the electricity turned off, so I had to sit around in the dark, the heart of Indian Summer, sweating and wondering if a cold spell would hit. I knew it wouldn’t hit soon enough to make it bearable.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"You can't please everyone so you gotta please yourself." Ricky Nelson

Cocktail Hour
I'm going to start posting holiday drinks and snacks in this section. Also gift ideas since that's always such a fun and difficult part of the season.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cute Little Faces

The penultimate installment. Thanks for reading!

Just before Halloween, Lori took me back. She called one night and said come over and I did and we ended up having some great make-up sex. It's like when your car hasn't been working and it does and driving seems like the best thing ever since you've been denied so long. I felt sad about Melody, though, because I'd been seeing her kind of regular and didn't know what to say. So I didn't say anything, just stopped calling and coming over. I felt like the biggest loser ever. We lived in a small town, and I knew she'd figure it out through the grapevine, but I knew I was wrong in not saying anything. She deserved better.

The next week, I moved some of my stuff out of the Trace, but I still had a couple of weeks on my month-to-month lease so it wasn't like there was some big hurry. And even though I loved Lori, part of me had gotten used to living on my own. I didn't like the thought of not seeing Hank every morning. I'd finally gotten used to all the weird noises in the place.

But I tried to play it straight -- no Woody's, no Mel, just work and home and looking in the want ads for a new job, submitting my resume to other schools. I made an effort to keep my clothes off the floor and to be nice to her friends, dysa all the way. Lori's beauty made me weak, but it also made me tired She drove to Ft. Worth to teach, which kept her out of the house during the week, which felt good, but during the weekends she'd decorate the house by putting pumpkin shit everywhere from the Martha Stewart K-Mart collection, and I'm thinking about my Aunt Edna who used to paint the tops of crushed beer cans and put eyes on them and hang them on the Christmas tree. They were supposed to be cute little faces, but it always looked like they were screaming children. I never thought I'd miss those ugly cans, but I do. And I miss K-Mart when it used to be a cheap place with dirty diapers in the parking lot. I thought about Melody a lot, the way she tried to fix up her small place and her little cartwheeling girl who looked just like her daddy, which was to say tall and lean and wiry. And then I'd think about how Lori looked and how much we had invested in the house and imagine that it was worth it to stay where I was.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose."
Bill Gates

Cocktail Hour
Drinking Thanksgiving suggestion: deep fried turkey (this seems like an idea whose time has come)

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday Pictures, Monday Morning

Hi there! Sunday pictures, Monday morning. Back at you this afternoon with the rest of "Spanish Trace."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's A Man's World

Hi all! I'm grateful that you've been following Mark and his adventures in "Spanish Trace." When I first workshopped this story at a writing conference years ago, the man who was my "personal" conference (an editor of a magazine I can't remember-- thank you, repression!) found the misogyny in the story "repulsive and disgusting and I was shocked to find out it was written by a woman." This brings to mind Charles' post at on writing groups and gender politics, i.e., can a man portray a woman and can a woman write in the voice of a man. I certainly hope so. Any opinions here on the issue? I'll be posting more of the story tomorrow. Until then, happy Saturday!

Friday, November 14, 2008

When It Was Slow

Another installment of "Spanish Trace." Thanks for reading!

They also had cheap beer and a pretty, if somewhat heavy, waitress named Melody who sat and talked to me when it was slow. Melody was the girl in high school that you secretly slept with because she didn't look perfect enough to be your girlfriend, but she was plenty okay for screwing around. I had no doubt that she had suffered from this treatment all her life and that left her desperate enough to talk to me. I didn't mind. Many of my sexual encounters had been with women who had been depressed into having sex with me. So what? I'm not proud.

Anyway, that's the day that me and Melody got started. She told me that her daughter was staying with her daddy this weekend and did I want to come over? Just like that. I didn't know Melody had a daughter which was a definite strike against her, but who was I to judge? I didn't even have a divorce yet which was a definite strike against me. I thought she might be the best I could do for now so I went back to her place where her little girl was still waiting with the sitter for her daddy which really griped my ass because I did not want to be any part of that scene. The little girl kept doing these one-handed cartwheels all over the place and I'd held my breath, waiting for her to knock something over. She looked like she knew what she was doing, but the place was small and I didn't want to see everything come crashing down.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.” Dag Hammarskjold

Cocktail Hour
Drinking beer suggestion: Shinerbock Dark

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Save Your Quarters

Another installment -- thanks for reading! I'll be finished with "Spanish Trace" by Sunday and ready for a whole new round of blogs. Hope you're having a great week!

"Bad day, buddy?" I asked.

"Not really. Found some more stuff at that antique place in Fort Worth," Jimmy said. Every time he said something, he'd go into a small spasm and start licking the air. I could barely stand to watch.

"What do you with all that Nazi shit? What's the fucking point?"

"You got me," he said. "I just like it. What, you don't think it's bad, do you?"

"No man, it's great." It was times like these that made me wish the entire world were as adept at picking up tone and nuance as Jimmy Sanders. Tone and nuance had gotten me into a lot of trouble. "I got to get back out front. Take it easy on that stuff, will you?"

He took another hit off the flask and put it away. He started to say something, but began licking the air instead while the musak pumped in Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World." That's the kind of shit that can make a guy feel pretty low.

I guess I should have to tell anyone that Lori never got used to it. She'd say, You're not working at the Ponderosa forever, Mark. It's stagnant. You're stagnant. And my stagnant ass would head out the door and end up at Woody's, a small dive just west of town. Woody's might have been a shithole, but it had a decent jukebox in which I spent many a quarter playing George Jones singing "Yabba Dabba Doo, the King Is Gone and So Are You" until this old guy yells, Save your quarters son and buy the tape. And I wanted to say, It's all cds now, pops, but then the old guy smiled and I could see that he didn't have all his teeth and had lost them fighting and probably wouldn't mind losing a few more. And I liked my teeth. So I sat down and drank the rest of my Shiner without George.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"It's so curious: one can resist tears and 'behave' very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer... and everything collapses." Colette

Cocktail Hour
Drinking television suggestion: Escape From Jonestown -- CNN tonight!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday! Much love to my mother, seven years gone today.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What I Had Always Done

Another installment of "Spanish Trace." Thanks for all the great comments yesterday -- I'm still thinking about a good response in regards to some of them.

I put my hammer and nails away and got out my clothes for my job as manager of the Ponderosa. I had been working there for about eight months. The job was a favor from a friend to tide me over until something better happened. Nothing better happened. I'd been teaching at a high school that didn't have enough money to stay afloat so when the place shut down, I didn't have the heart to go through the whole job search and thought that managing the Ponderosa might just be the place to be. At the school, I'd had to spend a lot of time making sure that everything was in order and was constantly getting nagged by the administrators about my paperwork, my attitude, my way of conducting a classroom. I knew that at a place like the Ponderosa, the bullshit would be at a minimum. I had decided to try and get myself together, not jump into something I didn't want just because it was what I had always done.

I didn't much care for most of the waitresses who were a bitter crew, lifers who sat around worrying about getting their daughters married off and talking shit about men on their breaks. Mostly, I went in the back and smoked and talked to this fucked up dishwasher named Jimmy Sanders, a guy I knew from grade school. He had Tourettes and would sit around and go into these weird spasms from time to time where his head jutted out and his arms looked like he was trying to catch flies. He'd broken a few dishes this way, but the Ponderosa's owner didn't care because it was almost impossible to find anyone to dishwash, and Jimmy had been with them since he graduated from high school fifteen years ago. Jimmy lived with his mother and had an extensive collection of Nazi paraphernalia that he wanted me to come see. He didn't bother me, but no way was there going to be a visit to see that collection any time soon.

"Hey Jimmy," I said.

H ehad his hands plunged into the soapy water and lifted them, shaking them around like a dog. "Hello Mark. Want some Comfort?"

"Not right now."

He sat down on the stool next to me, wiped his hands on his stained apron and took a flask out of the pocket. Southern Comfort tastes so sweet that I could barely stand it, but it was all Jimmy drank.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"How many of us persist in a precipitate course which, but for a moment of heedlessness, we might never have entered upon, simply because we hate to 'change our minds.'" William James

Cocktail Hour
Drinking cocktail suggestion:
Could The Holidays Be Starting Again?
one shot of vodka poured into hot chocolate
garnish with festive candy cane leftover from last year

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Wreath On A Grave

As I was writing a Veteran's Day post, all the lights in my house went out, a sign from my dad who hated discussing death but said that if he died (and he never really believed he would because well, who the hell does?), he'd make the lights go on and off at random times. Or maybe a fuse blew. But I really don't favor boring and/or logical explanations -- who wants to live in a world where everything can be explained? No danger here for me. And the post I was writing was one that I always cautioned my students against -- full of cliches about the shortness of life and its attendant horrors, how we always have to look for the beauty of things because there are some who no longer can, namely those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

As a child, I sometimes spent days in my grandparents' trailer. Two trailers over, a Vietnam Vet woke the park with an Agent Orange cough every morning and spent a few afternoons a week teaching kids what he referred to as "the ancient oriental arts." I called it "Trailerpark Dojo" and watched as he taught a mishmash of karate and tae kwon do, along with some moves that would not be out of place on the show "Bum Fights." It was my first introduction to war, such as it was, the aftermath. Everyone loves the soldiers, so long as it's in a parade setting and they're wearing snappy uniforms and acting the way we feel they should, undamaged and proud, tough. I meant all that I wrote that got erased when the power left, all that shit about life being ever so short and that we need to be kind to each other as we all have wounds, scars, we're all battling it out with forces that nobody can understand except those in it. That's the nature of any war, and we must not forget the legacy and work to heal it, if not with the ancient oriental arts, well, then love for all involved, the living and the dead, not just a wreath on a grave, but understanding that we all carry around the graveyard.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don't know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings." Herman Hesse

Cocktail Hour
Drinking veteran website:

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday! Thanks for your comments on "Spanish Trace." I'll return tomorrow with more installments.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Everything I Touch

Here's the next installment of the story. As for Baby Grouchie, I'm going to try to keep him from doing the infamous "crotch" shot that so many celebrities seem to provide the press. He should know better by now!

I met Lori right after I fell out of a tree. I had climbed up that tree hoping to see my ex-wife and her new boyfriend. We'd been divorced for a couple of months, and she'd taken up with the high school football coach twice her age. I had hated him when I played for him my junior and senior year of high school and hated him all the more when I realized he was fucking the woman I still thought of as my wife. The upshot of this sorry tale is that my ex married said asshole, and I fell out of the tree that night without seeing anything and tore the shit out of my kneecap. The next day Imet Lori and endeared her to me with my crutches and bruises. There's very little more appealing to a woman than a man that's been injured. Lori looked like a young Sissy Spacek in Badlands, someone beautiful and damaged. Unfortunately, she seemed a lot more damaged than she really was and ended up being the competent one in the couple, a role she relished and resented.

Right before she kicked me out, she got real upset and said, Everything I touch turns to shit and I'm tired of living around things that are fucked up. I said, That doesn't leave much, does it? And she looked at me with a hate that equalled all the love that had come before it. I knew that it was time to get the wading boots out because a shitstorm was on the horizon and it wasn't going to end for along time.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Valor is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul." ~Michel de Montaigne

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: The God I Love Joni Earekson Tada

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Baby Grouchie Is Famous!

Breaking news -- Baby Grouchie and his voting sticker is on Pink Is The New Blog! He now believes he's famous and can do whatever he wants, including smoking and drinking and all night clubbing with Lindsay Lohan. It's going to be very difficult from now on to keep a reign on him, but I'm his Mommy and will do my best. Next week, I'll keep posting installments of the story about Mark and his epic divorce adventures. Happy Sunday!