Friday, February 29, 2008

Drain My Blood

I used to agree to a lot of things I didn't want to do, provided they were far enough in the future that I could fool myself into thinking my feelings would change by then, that I'd be struck by a sudden burst of energy or that I would want to sit through a children's piano recital, that I would in effect become a different person. I'd say, That sounds like fun, and it wouldn't, but I didn't' know how to say no. The day would come all too quickly and there I'd be, stuck in hell with no stop, drop, and roll available, and I would think, I'll never do this again, only to get suckered into it again and all too soon. But much has changed over the last few years and my new rule is that I don't agree to things that I wouldn't want to do tomorrow. If I could do the activity tomorrow, would I still say yes? More often than not, the answer is no. And so I try to go with that plan now.

Many of us are taught to be airline stewardesses for everyone (to steal from an Anne Lamott lecture I heard years ago), making sure everybody has what they need to be comfortable. Are you okay, are you fine, do you need me to drain my blood for you to feel better? That sort of thing. I'm all for generosity and compassion; it's the thing that keeps the world from being a hellish place. But if you can't say no and can't take care of yourself, you deplete yourself of these very qualities, of your ability to give out of desire and love instead of duty. That's not to say that sacrifice doesn't have its place. It does. But as for the long flights, I think people have a duty to take good care of themselves. If you want to give them the whole can, that's fine. But most people waste it, leaving you with even more of a mess in the long run.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The most powerful tool most of us possess is our own voice." Joyce Maynard

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Mind, Body, and Soul Joss Stone

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Leap Year!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Plain Black Shoes

My friend Hank hated February, the cruelest month in many ways, and he died on the last day of it six years ago. It's a day that I can't forget like many others who knew him, and I spent it this year by total accident in the very same place I was six years ago at the time -- in the very same gym, working out. I thought about this fact during the last part of yoga, the part where you go into corpse pose and meditate on what you've just done. Hank used to say it's not the years, it's the mileage, something I understand more with each passing mile. I've lived hard in a hard place, done some real damage in the wake of much pain, and even so, wouldn't change anything. On the day that Hank died, I lost a cross with diamonds on it that I wore around my neck for a little while -- it fell off into a snowdrift never to return. And so another part of my life started, the part without Hank.

Hank's sweet mother Donna gave me some of his things this year. I wear the t-shirts, play the dvd, but I'm not sure what to do with his shoes, perhaps the most poignant reminder of him. I bought him those shoes for a job interview here in the Motor City which he didn't get. Still, we had a good time what with running around preparing for said event, eating lots of substandard food, and watching the Guyana Tragedy. He didn't wear the shoes that much -- they were plain black shoes, serviceable, but nothing more, nowhere near as special as the wearer. So I'm left pondering what Hank might have wanted done with them as they are now back in the place they started. There's a folk art project downtown called the Heidelburg which has loads of shoes, purses, stuffed animals, and everything else you can imagine glued to houses, attached to trees -- the entire thing covers a whole city block. Hank loved cities and crazy-ass shit, and this place fits the bill. I think when winter thaws and this horrible month ends, I shall take them there and let the artist who created it do what he will with them. I want them to stay in Detroit forever, want them to enjoy all the seasons, the mild summers, the hideous winters. They deserve it all, the beautiful, the sublime, the years, the mileage.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I have lost you, my brother
and your death has ended the spring season
of my happiness, our house is buried
with you and buried the laughter
that you taught me. There are no
thoughts of love nor of poems
in my head since you died." Catullus

Cocktail Hour
Drinking essay suggestion:

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Happy Wednesday!

Hi readers! I've been catching up since my hellish flu, but I'm going to be back with a real post tomorrow on my old friend Hank's sixth anniversary death day. I hope you're all well. Happy Wednesday!

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I get satisfaction of three kinds. One is creating something, one is being paid for it and one is the feeling that I haven't just been sitting on my ass all afternoon." William F. Buckley, Jr.

Cocktail Hour
Drinking jazz joint suggestion: Cliff Bell's

Benedictions and Maledictions
Rest in peace to William F. Buckley, Jr., the loyal opposition if there ever was.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Clothes That Almost Fit

I once dumped a ten pound bag of sand into a tank of water and waited for it to settle to the bottom where it would become a scenic landscape for my fishless aquarium. Three months later I had fifty gallons of dirty water. Most of the dirt had settled to the bottom, but just enough refused to ruin the whole effect. Such is what I call the near fit in relationships. It seems like a good idea -- maybe you like the same things, maybe you are good friends, but you aren't madly in love and those things that drew you together becomes evil little spears that keep you together. The horror of the near fit is that it's just so fucking close to what it should be -- it keeps you busy trying, like those rigged carnival games where you just need one more shot to win the life-sized teddy bear. What you don't think about is if by some miracle you do win, you have to carry that bastard around all night.

The worst relationships aren't those that detonate quickly, blowing up in our faces like one of my friends who started dating a woman and didn't call her one night when he said he would. The next day, he had a copy of Dorothy Parker stories in his box at work with parts underlined about how men routinely fail women. She'd thoughtfully marked these sections with post-it notes so that he wouldn't have to read the whole book. The worst ones are the drag on, no end in sight, we need to work on blah, blah, blah, the old paralysis by analysis ones. Breaking up might be hard to do, but it's really a blast when you do it a few times for maximum pain. I used to buy clothes that almost fit, hoping that something would magically change. But they were a disaster of disappointment, just like the love version and you couldn't wait to change into something you really liked.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I like anywhere. Anywhere's always been my favorite place." David Leavitt

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: My Beautiful Laundrette

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, February 25, 2008

In Texas You're On Your Own

Love the Coen brothers, particularly Blood Simple. Nothing like the dead flat evil of west Texas, the stupidity of it, the scary open spaces. They still make movies that make the audience think (even if someone was snoring loudly in No Country For Old Men much to the giggles of the audience -- even an amoral psychopath with a Dorothy Hamill haircut and a cattle killer prod dealy couldn't keep everyone awake), make the audience scared without buckets of blood or stupid plots twists about hillbillies out to get the hapless city folk (the only good one in this genre is Deliverance) or beautiful women in bikinis who get tortured in mildly pornographic ways.

I don't understand how the Coens understand Texas so well given that they grew up in the suburbs of Minnesota. But my friend Hank contended that we are not the sum of our environment, but rather what we love. We become experts on our passions, whatever they may be. It's a dark time in the world and I'm glad the movies are starting to reflect it. A lot of people I know bitched about the ending of No Country, said that it was too amorphous, that it didn't make a hill of sense. But evil never does. That the Coens know. That and in Texas, you're on your own.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Do not repeat the means of victory. But respond to form from the inexhaustible." Sun Tzu

Cocktail Hour
Drinking scotch suggestion: Dalwhinnie

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cast Your Bread Upon The Waters

I find myself thinking about being sick this week and trying to pull something good from the experience, like when we took spent matches in Bible school and made them into crosses. There wasn't enough money for real art supplies so we did our best. Being sick, can't get out of bed if you want to ill, gives a soul a lot of time to think and pray. I spent some of it praying for death (Please God, if you do not want me well, take me now), being glad that I was too weak to pick up the guns under my bed meant for intruders but that were looking pretty good, and wondering when the last time was that I spent a day doing absolutely nothing. So I spent some time thinking about the book I'm trying to write, about the structure of it, hoping that something would present itself like a Rorsharch spot and the shapeless would somehow became flesh. It didn't, but I started writing anyway. Two chapters in, I have no idea where it will go. And the control freak part of me is trying to be okay with that.

Sickness means a lot of things, but mostly it means giving up control. You can't do what you want, you can't force your will. All that stuff that was so fucking important and had to be done evaporates into a sea of later or never. You find yourself glad for the little things and happy to be alive when the fever breaks. I'm a little depressed -- it would be hard not to be after such an ordeal. But I have a start on a project that I've longed to start for some bit of time, and I'm back into the world. Some people are never this lucky! The sun is shining in Detroit, which is strange and disturbing, but I suspect I'll get used to the brightness after a bit.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I'd love to see Christ come back to crush the spirit of hate and make men put down their guns. I'd also like just one more hit single." Tiny Tim

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Have You Found Her Janice Erlbaum

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday! Thanks for all the kindness this week -- you guys pulled me through the worst flu of my life! Hope everyone out there is staying well. Still working on the video and hope to have it posted very soon.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Detroit Was My Heaven

Hi readers! Coming back at you with some more Detroit pictures. Hope you're having a very happy Saturday! (The title of this post comes from a Marvin Gaye quote -- "Detroit was my heaven and it also was my hell.")

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fraught With Ritual

Once at a pool in the middle of summer on vacation with my then-boyfriend, I saw a group of little girls playing a game. "Let's all go underwater and see if you can understand what I'm trying to say." They'd count to three and one girl would presumbably try to communicate without success in the highly chlorinated hotel pool. It struck me as a perfect metaphor for a lot of female communication -- unnecessarily difficult and fraught with ritual. But it upset me a lot less than when I hear women say, I just don't like other women. I get along so much better with men. Invariably, the speaker will continue on about how women are only concerned with trifling bullshit stuff like hair, looks, gossip, romance. The men they are hanging out with are no doubt talking about Martin Heidegger and the meaning of our place in the universe, the dangers of global warming, shit like that. Not like the men I know who are just as prone to gossip and asking the hard questions like, How do I get my hair not to pouf when I'm just putting the base product in it?

This is the kind of female self-loathing that has been crammed down our throats for years and is perpetuated everywhere. Being hideously sick this week, I looked forward to the end of illness which strangely culminated with my new favorite show, "Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew." Before this airs, Brett Michaels of Guns and Roses fame, has his own show which is a low-rent version of "The Bachelor." The premise is that some hard-looking, highly sexualized women compete with each other for the honor of "rocking" Brett's world. These women treat each other something awful, pointing out their flaws, cat-fighting, acting the fool in the way audiences love. There's not enough Brett for everyone! And we are taught that by a society that is not content that a large portion of us are victims of violence and sexual assault -- anyone not taken out that way can take themselves out by wasting tons of time on diets that don't work, mutilations that make things worse. Men need not work to harm women; we've taken on the work much more efficiently than they ever could. What's the old saying -- Anything a man can do, a woman can do better?

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"All creative people want to do the unexpected." Hedy Lamarr

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: The Birds

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Story That Will Sell

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments on the Carver post! I'm going to respond to Pythia's comment which I thought made a good distinction that I failed to make in my post about writing to an audience as opposed for one -- so hear goes it. If you want to hear about John McCain's affair, mark me surprised that he could find someone to sleep with him outside his marriage. He doesn't seem like a pleasant man, by any stretch, but I suppose the human heart remains a mystery . . .

When people find out you're a writer, one of the first reactions is often, I've got a story that would sell! I always think, Damn, I'm glad one of us does! I've never been entranced by mainstream stories, tales where people act noble and good or are saved from great danger or are on the high seas with cute little outfits and whatnot. Even watching The Thornbirds as a child, all I could think is, When is someone going to tell that poor woman that Richard Chamberlain is not only a fake priest, but a real gay guy? That's not to say that I wasn't in love with popular books and movies -- I must have been the only twelve year old to read Looking For Mr. Goodbar three times in one year. That was the year that I received a rhyming dictionary for my birthday and decided that I was serious about my craft. I didn't realize that nobody had rhymed poetry in a very long time, and I wouldn't be the one to bring it back. But I wanted to write something that would change my life. And I suppose I have.

When I write, I never think about a reader. I want a reader, the way I want chocolate and blood-free diamonds and notebooks with Snoopy on them, but I don't think about him or her, about serving up something that people will like. I suppose I get this from my mother. Eat what's here or starve! But there's no need for that in the world of literature -- you can find the person serving exactly what you need at all times. My latest project is a bigger version of some of the blogs you have read here about my rape and about sexual violence in all sorts of ways. Someone asked me, Aren't you afraid that won't sell? But I'm not. It's not for me to judge what sells and what doesn't. I grant you that part of me is a bit afraid it's like the old Grandy's All You Can Eat Livers and Gizzards Tuesdays! -- not appealing at any price. But I only have the material I have and couldn't switch it if I wanted. I can only put up the sign and hope the readers appear, no matter what's on the menu.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Give them pleasure - the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare." Alfred Hitchcock

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Repulsion

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday! Again, thanks for all the kind e-mails and support! I'm feeling a lot better today and am sorry for everyone who has suffered under this grief and is suffering -- feel better friends!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Write For Ourselves

From one of my comments on Monday, Paulie K., asked me about the new/old drafts of Raymond Carver stories now being published, showing exactly where Gordon Lish edited them, how severely. Amputation would be my word. Carver, like almost any writer I know, accepted publication at all costs. While a few people I know contend that they "write for themselves" (I've still never figured this one out -- while I do many things just for myself like stare into space and eat copious amounts of gummy worms), I cannot imagine spending the back-breaking, soul-draining energy of writing for "just myself." I am lazy as hell -- I would be pleased with something far less strenous, say an Air Supply latch hooked rug or some pages of a Snoopy coloring book, provided I tried to stay in the lines. And Carver was no different -- he was broke, run-down, and afraid of never seeing his dreams come true. This is not a simple matter, though; Lish provided great, albeit controversial, teaching and editing for many great writers. He composed my first rejection letter (for the now defunct Quarterly Review) which said, "This is all interesting and a tad witty, but not interesting enough to write about." I suppose he had a point with me.

But not with Caver. I read both drafts of "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" and admit to a preference for Carver's original. Not out of some rabid, Carver is a saint mentality (he is, but that's besides the point). I prefer the longer version, the many more moral complexities, the insight into the garden-variety horrors between men and women. His life, to quote a Langston Hughes poem, had not been a crystal staircase, and he understood how fast promise could turn to complete shit, how faith could be eroded by poverty and violence, and how we can get somewhere we'd never wanted to be. When I need a good laugh, I imagine his fictional couples being treated by some douchebag like Dr. Phil. And to top it all off, Carver's beautiful stories got hacked to death for years. Of course, he was complicit in this and eventually he ended his relationship with Lish in a slow, tortured way, similar to all of my romantic break-ups. But I think it was even worse than that -- Lish gave him a break, showed him a way, introduced him at the ball. A fairy godmother of sorts. But a scary, terrible, exacting one. So even Carver's Cinderella moment, well, was very Carver. It's hard, as he himself knew so well, to get away from ourselves.

Michelle' s Spell of the Day
"Sometimes if you want to get rid of the gun, you have to pick the gun up." Huey Newton

Cocktail Hour
Drinking New Yorker article suggestion: "Beginners, Edited" (New Yorker, December 24, 2007) -- Check this out -- it's very eye-opening.

Bendedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday! Thanks again for all the well wishes! Starting to pull out of it, thank the Lord. And much love to Cheri, who also has this straight from hell flu. Please try your best to stay out of this wretched flu's path. I have not been this sick in years!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What Would Happen

Much of my childhood was spent trying to hide or confound any number of neighborhood half-wits who it could be said, If he was any smarter, he'd be really dangerous. These were the boys who often started conversations with truly scary lines like, What will happen if we mix kerosene with . . . My mother would lock me and my sister out of the house for summer afternoons to fend for ourselves. I hated this because I knew she was seeing her boyfriend, a man who thought I was retarded because I had a weak eye and didn't say much around him. Not that there was much to say. There are some situations which don't really sustain a lot of chit chat. It probably explains why I hate to be outside my house, taking leisurely strolls to and from my car, oblivious to danger. One of the creepiest commercials of the last few years has been the one advertising the censor in the car -- the one that can pick up the beat of a human heart in the middle of the night as some Ted Bundy yokel lurks in your back seat. What the ad doesn't mention is that you're pretty well fucked if you're in a pitch black parking lot without a soul around for miles (the setting of said ad).
If this weren't training enough for the vagaries of adulthood, I had Leland, half-wit extraordinaire with which to contend. That fool had free reign of my babysitter's house (she was his grandmother) and knew how to lock us in the bathroom (the door locked from the outside for reasons I never figured out). All of us kids learned to foil Leland eventually, but not without a lot of residual damage. His life became the stuff of legend eventually -- he got his sister pregnant, took a younger male lover, lost several fast food jobs. We could joke about him once safely out of his way. Youth, resilence, memory -- a lost world, some for the good, some not.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I always believed in the rainbow and all that shit. Turns out it wasn't true, not true at all." Judy Garland
Cocktail Hour
Drinking magazine suggestion: The Week
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday! Thanks so much for the well wishes! I'm still feeling like hell, but maybe sleeping twenty hours a day will help.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I Have Had My Fun If I Never Get Well No More

Hey guys -- I'm coming at you late from the Motor City, still sick, but a little more medicated thanks to my wonderful physician's assistant who informed me that if my fever goes any higher, I have to go the hospital. Yay! NOT! All in all, I have a very good p.a. (whom I vastly prefer to the HMO doctor), but man, things have sucked beyond belief for the past couple of days. The good news is that I have a note that says I cannot go to school for a week, just like back in the day. I couldn't drag myself to 7-11, much less teach, so I'm thinking that makes sense. Should have a real blog tomorrow and be totally back at it by the end of the week. Thanks so much for all the sweet well wishes and kind words and notes. You guys are the very best!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Upon My Bed Of Affliction

Dear readers,

I have had a day from Hades complete with a 102 fever and many other fun-filled events that I shall report in due time when I can laugh about them instead of cursing and wishing myself dead. I'll keep you posted as I can and aim to be back tomorrow -- the video is still in the pipeline and Grouchie has been an excellent nurse to his sick Mommy.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Road May End In Detroit

Hi readers! Hope you're having a great Saturday. Here's some more Detroit shots. I'll be back at you tomorrow with a video.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Most Miserable City In America

The news is in and it's not good -- according to Forbes' misery scale (who knew there was such a thing?!), Detroit is the most miserable city in America, beating out Stockton, California and Flint, Michigan for the honor. The index rates things like taxes, pollution, weather, unemployment, crime, and comes up with the "winner." I find this news strangely cheering; we're good at something, by God! When I moved here, my friends warned me how awful it would be and nothing can make a place more seductive. That's my siren song anyway -- the sad and forlorn, the I've seen better days, the sweet spell of an ending when everything seems precious because of its fleetingness.

Whenever something shitty happens, invariably someone says, This too shall pass. Which is true even if you want to pistol-whip the smug dullard who says it. Not that I have ever felt this way, not me, no sir. Nothing stays the same, not for long. And yet even in the briefest of circumstances, we cling to our routines, the rituals that make us feel at home in the world. And the thought of those passing into oblivion is sometimes more than we can stand. For if the bad passes, the good does as well, only nobody repeats the old chesnut in the times of plenty. But taken in the best way, it means that we can look at the streets and see everything that has been and will be. Sometimes I think it could be 1970 or 2008 here in Detroit given the pictures I take on the streets. And for the first time in weeks, the sun is out in the most miserable city in America. But I love it best when it's what I call Detroit gray, that particular hue the sky takes in the winter, when everything except the people are dead and everyone trudges home in the snow with their hearts in their hands, waiting for spring.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life." Arthur Ashes

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Love Is A Mixed Tape Rob Sheffield

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I'm So Glad You're Mine

Hi friends! I'm going to post a Valentine's day video this weekend featuring some new little friends and the star of this blog, Baby Grouchie. But for now, I leave you with the following top five Valentine day song suggestions. Hope yours was excellent.

"My Funny Valentine" Chet Baker
"Take A Walk On The Wild Side" Lou Reed
"If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" Marvin Gaye
"In A Sentimental Mood" John Coltrane
"I'm So Glad You're Mine" Al Green

I'll be back at you tomorrow, Friday, the day of the sorrowful mysteries. And a special thanks to Dawn for the perfect magic book that I hold in my hands, now and forever.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy VD day to all my wonderful readers! I'll be posting something later tonight, but for now, I'm sending you all tubs of rose petals and everything else good!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

From Horror And Sadness, Sanctuary

Like many people, I've always been a huge fan of St. Theresa, the Little Flower. In this picture, I'm sitting near her shrine in Royal Oak, a beautiful art deco church that serves to display many of her relics. It's quite possibly the most breathtakingly beautiful church I've ever seen and was built by Father Coughlin, a Nazi sympathizer who broadcasted his radio show from the central tower of the church during World War II. The money he brought in from his listeners helped build this wondrous place which makes it all the more interesting for me. From evil comes beauty, from horror and sadness, sanctuary. It strikes me that this is a perfect metaphor for fiction itself -- the grief we have suffered turned into something spectacular and healing for others.

I found myself reading some truly awful drivel that an aquaintance had copied for me about how one should not write negative thoughts down, that it gives power to the "pain-body" we all carry inside. I wanted to yell, Are you fucking kidding me? But nobody was around and it would have seemed odd and my pain body might not have liked it. Ha! The one true revolutionary act a writer can perform is to tell the truth and not sugarcoat it. Anything less makes us willing participants in the perpetuation of our own suffering. St. Theresa knew this when she wrote in her famous autobiography, Let us pray for the bad priests! The irony being that one of the most infamous priests created a place where she is honored for all time. It's something a fiction writer would love, if he or she could think of it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I write for revenge against silence." Bob Shacochis

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Affliction

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


The movie I wrote about last week, Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days might classify as the worst date movie ever. If you want to kill the possibility of sex, that's the show to see. Also on the docket are treats like Leaving Las Vegas and Kids. I knew someone who did that double-dip on a second date and lived to regret it. "That fucking sucked, Michelle," my friend said with a shudder. "And he wore sweats. Sweats!" My friend did not have it in her heart to forgive a poor fashion choice. My favorite movie combination was with the dude that raped me -- Fatal Attraction and The Accused. These movies fell on holidays -- New Year's Eve and Thanksgiving and while both hold up even now as excellent acting and storytelling, they are sad and horrible documents of the eighties, reflecting a culture that considered a promiscuous financially poor single mother as deserving a gang rape or single career woman as evil victimizer (I will not be ignored -- got to admit, I love that line) who tries to break up families when a man strays for a weekend. There seemed to be no good fate for woman as opposed to earth mother, radiant wife, beautiful housekeeper. As my friend Hank used to say, Give me a bucket.

But back to the rapist, the first movie I ever saw with him was Rambo. I believe in signs and damned if that wasn't one. Poor Rambo was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as I soon would be. He lived in a hostile and cruel world and couldn't bury the past. I didn't get it at the time, of course. We never do. The video played in my parents' living room, not far from where the rape would take place. It wasn't a jungle, of course. But it had a certain creepiness factor -- a tombstone for my great grandmother that never got used, masks from New Guinea that stared from the walls, an authentic boomerang that my mother used to beat me with as a child. I wouldn't call it haunted, but a lot of other people did as if they could see the future in the things that were already there.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I don't care if I die as long as someone picks up my gun and keeps shooting." Che Guevara

Cocktail Hour
Drinking blog suggestion: Check out my wonderful friend Jodi's new blog that promises glamour (which is so totally Jodi!) and frivolity, the J Spot, at

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Somebody Special, Probably Famous

A few weeks ago, I was trying on dresses with my dear friend Angela, shopping for things we probably would not buy and talking smack about everyone we know, carrying on the way old friends do. One of the dresses I picked out was a blue scrunchie number, the kind of gown you buy and then figure out where you will wear it later. I got it halfway on and realized the zipper was broken, and I could not get it off my body. So there I was with a dress I couldn't get down or up and after a mighty struggle for a few minutes and a thin veil of perspiration beading all over my body, I yelled for Ang and showed her my dilemma. She tried to pull it off my hips which was a no go. And so we made the decision that the only way for the cursed scrunchie to come off was over my head if I took off my bra and sucked in with all my might. Tenderhearted Ang kept saying, I don't want to hurt you and I caught a glimpse of us in the mirror and broke into a hysterical laughter which I could not control. Stuck, like so much of my life, unable to get into or out of something that seemed like such a good idea at the time and finally we got it off and both collapsed into giggles in the plush dressing room, provoking strange looks from the salesgirls.

When I was much younger, I loved going with friends to a horrible stagnant pond and throwing dog food in it at night for the fishes. We'd drink Everclear and Purple Flavor-Aid, a Jim Jones special and talk about the future, about how we were all going to be somebody. Two or three drinks in, we were really going to be somebody special, probably famous, a member of the presidential cabinet, maybe a movie star. Damn, the world was full of possibility! After we were good and wasted, we'd collect our bottles and our bag of dog food and head for home. Sometimes the truck we were riding in (most of us piled in the back -- MADD's worst fucking nightmare, no doubt) would get stuck in the mud, and we'd have to push it out. We'd be covered in it from head to toe and sometimes people would start laughing or crying. That late at night, it was hard to tell the difference.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“Freedom is a muscle... you have to exercise it.” Roy Scheider

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Jaws

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday! Congrats to my girl Amy Winehouse on the big wins last night! And rest in peace to Roy Scheider!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Living In Sin

Although I don't like Valentine's Day, I often give my friends gifts to celebrate the evil holiday, things like Anne Sexton poetry collections or crosses with knives in them, that sort of thing. But my very favorite Valentine's gift to give my friends, whether single or coupled, is an obscure book about breaking up called Uncoupling. This book has offered me comfort in many a dark hour in many a dead end relationship -- reading about other people's problems thrills me to the core and puts my own into perspective. Breaking up may be hard to do, but everyone does it in remarkably similar ways, slow death, fear of contagion that your married friends experience (and those on shaky marital ground should -- if you are unhappy, the implicit or explicit enouragement of the newly broken up offer can expose fault lines), the sad division of things. The book documents both married and what they used to call living in sin couples, gay and straight, short and long-term. It's a strange study of case histories that give you lots of insight into the human heart with lots of references to bondage and liberation.

Today I read in the paper about a slew of books coming out to support single people during the cursed time of hearts and flowers, titles like Better Single Than Sorry and Single and Proud. I'm glad these books exist, but I'll stick with my daily devotion of Uncoupling to counter the plethora of Zales commercials that purport being in love is the very best things in the world. It's pretty great, there's no question about that. When it works, there's nothing better. But being alone has its perks as well. This idea isn't new, of course, but sometimes its nice to hear a voice in the wilderness that isn't all about the promised land.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I've never hated a man enough to give back his diamonds." Zsa Zsa Gabor

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Midnight Love Marvin Gaye

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday! Stay warm!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Friday, February 08, 2008

Here's Hope

Hi readers! Here's the first part of my ongoing Detroit series of pictures. Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Expensive Handmade Candles

Here's the last part of the story! Thanks for reading!

Her sister greeted them in the reception room, the usual low-key salon business around them. She looked up from her stack of papers and smiled, “I bet you feel good.” Beth couldn’t do anything but nod. She wanted to stick both pinwheels straight up Mac’s ass. He’d let her down, like so many people had after her mother’s death, pretending to care and saying things would get better when she knew they never would. She felt alone, like an orphan, a stupid little fool in her pink hat. She wanted to spit at all the smug, intact families who kept asking her how she was holding up or why she and her dad didn’t drag themselves to the adult Sunday School classes; Kingdom Seekers for her dad, some corny adult singles group class for her.

Even though they attended a liberal Methodist church, people were not particularly sympathetic. Her sister took the dark view -- judgmental pricks, all of them. They weren’t all like that, though. She was a steward and knew her small group of parishioners on her call list personally, had prayed on the phone with some of them for their heartaches. Once Joseph, the dead son of one of her group’s members, had come to her in a dream and told her to please not to forget his mother for Valentine’s this year. Not one to ignore the requests of the dead, she brought his mother a red and white teddy bear that she’d had for a little while. It had creepy eyes that seemed to look at you no matter where you went in a room. She put a bow on its head and bought a card from the Dollar Store. She wondered if she should have given her something nicer, but the son hadn’t specified what to give his mother and she didn’t have money to burn. When the mother heard the story, she cried and wouldn’t stop hugging her. Which led Beth to wonder why her mother hadn’t sent her a message yet. Was there nobody receptive enough?

When her sister made to pay, Beth glared at Mac to let him know that she knew what he was, despite the cute salon with its artsy jewelry, and expensive handmade candles. She couldn’t wait to get into the car and tell her story, the exposure of another crackpot. Her sister handed her a small brown candle.

“It’s called Man in a Jar,” her sister said. “Smell.”

The candle smelled like cologne, like a man who’d cleaned himself up for a date. Her sister set it on the counter and asked if Beth wanted one. She looked at the candle and back at Mac. She shook her head. Even though she liked the scent, it wasn’t anything nice enough to display.

The next time Beth saw Mac, he handed her a white carnation with wilted petals and said, This one’s been avoiding me. Since she’d only told her sister and Annie about Mac, her father insisted that he was looking forward to his massage and didn’t understand why Beth didn’t want to take him anymore. Her sister had returned home and urged her over many phone calls to stay the hell away from Mac and tell their father, but Beth didn’t want to hurt him. She watched her father cry every time he looked at all the stuffed animals they had bought that now sat on the television, and she thought back to the time when her cousin Ned had tried to touch her during a sleepover, and she’d told her mother. It had been decided that nothing would be said, but there would be no more sleepovers. The night before her father’s massage, she’d dreamed Mac was naked save for a tool belt with two syringes in it. In the dream he kept rubbing her and telling her that there would be no shot, but she grew terrified. When she woke up, she prayed that Jesus would surround her with a protective hedge or that Annie would be able to get off work to go with her and drop her father off so she wouldn’t have to see Mac without someone as a buffer.
Unlike the Mac in the dream, the real Mac seemed pathetic, holding out an almost dead carnation from God knew where. While her father prepared for his massage in the dressing room and Marcy was waiting in line to buy a necklace, he asked her to come see his new room, told her that he’d upgraded and put a new soothing fragrance oil to calm his clients.

“I prefer nothing. That stink gets to me,” Beth said. Beth followed Mac to his new room. She looked at Annie, signaling with her eyes that she didn’t want to be left alone for too long.
“Did I do something?” Mac asked. “I know you’ve been avoiding me.”

For the first time in a long time, Beth felt powerful. She could smell the new smell, but the familiar scent of the lotion overpowered it. The sounds of people talking filtered into the room, a comforting sound like a fountain. Mac held out the flower in a trembling hand. Her mother would have told her to take it, to be nice. But Beth didn’t feel like being nice, didn’t want some stinky dying flower that would sit in her car and roll around until she remembered to throw it out.

“Did I?” he asked again.

When Beth’s mother died, none of the doctors or nurses could look at her. She’d kept asking them if her mother would wake up from the coma, kept watching the fluctuations on the monitor as if they meant something. Beth had heard the night nurse tell her sister that Mother had one day, maybe two, and that she needed to prepare her sister and dad. Beth had made flyers at work with her mother’s face on them, asking people to pray for her, and they sat in the corner because she didn’t have the heart to finish handing them out. When Beth questioned her sister, she told her that things didn’t look good, but she didn’t say dead. But Beth knew. So many painful things started with words, words like things don’t look good.

Annie walked in the room, bag hanging from her hand and asked if Beth was ready to go. Mac looked pissed off that he hadn’t gotten an answer, but too bad. He wouldn’t be getting an answer when she returned for her father. Silence had its place. The old minister at the church had demanded that the church stay quiet before the service so that people could feel the presence of God when they stepped in, so they could release the burdens of their hearts. The latest minister encouraged socializing before church, idle chitchat that didn’t mean a damn thing. She thought about how she didn’t never had to justify herself to her mother, that they instinctively believed the same things. That was a kind of love that couldn’t be explained or replicated. Mac, for all his faults, had understood something of her pain, and she would try to remember the goodness and some of the pleasure he had provided before things went to hell. She prayed that he would be kind to her father, prayed that Annie would remember what he said about drinking more water and not so much Diet Coke. She would try to hold onto what her sister said about risk, that true risk meant the possibility of mercy, that rare commodity that came in strange and wondrous forms. She knew that she had entertained angels unaware, but what she now realized was how an angel and demon could inhabit the same body, speak in the same voice. The best times during the massages with Mac had taken place when neither of them were speaking, silence like the most perfect prayer to someone who knew exactly what you needed, a silence so still she could hear what was going on outside the door without wanting any part of it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I used to live in a room full of mirrors; all I could see was me. I take my spirit and I crash my mirrors, now the whole world is here for me to see." Jimi Hendrix

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Are You Experienced Jimi Hendrix

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

The Stuff Of Violent Transformation

Here's the second part of "Man In A Jar."

The second time she’d gone for a massage, she’d brought Annie, her sweet best friend from high school who weighed so much some scales didn’t go that high. They usually went out on Saturday nights to a chain restaurant like Outback or Red Lobster and filled up. Beth never weighed over a hundred and fifteen pounds, but she could eat as much as Annie. Then they’d cruise over to the Cold Stone Creamery and Annie would order a sundae, much to the laughter of the omnipresent teenagers. Beth wanted to tell them to shut up, that they were assholes, but the Lord would shut them up when He was good and ready. She could see Annie through their eyes, a woman with a pretty face and I-sized breasts, who had a habit of wearing spandex and t-shirt that said Hot Chick in day-glo pink.

When Annie got on Mac’s table, her sides hung over the edges. While giving Beth her free massage, Mac had suggested that she stay in the room during Annie’s turn and that she could help him since there was so much ground to cover, and Annie was afraid. Beth crawled under the table and made funny expressions at Annie through the face hole. Mac always had his clients start on their stomachs so he could use a machine to loosen up their backs, something that would make the rest of the massage easier. Beth massaged Annie’s hands as Mac worked on her legs, and Beth held up a middle finger and said, This one seems especially tense. Is your horn not working? to which she and Annie laughed. Mac kneaded Annie’s legs and answered her questions about the pains in her calves and thighs, about the popped blood vessels in her eyes, about her almost constant headache. He didn’t laugh at her the way the teenagers in the ice cream shop had or roll his eyes like the waiter at Red Lobster did when Annie had pointed out that they had not received the complimentary cheesy biscuits. Beth thought, here’s a good man. She tried not to think about the fact that he looked like a leprechaun and that he had hugged her as she exited the salon a beat too long and said, We’re so lucky -- we fit together.

Beth felt like she didn’t fit with anyone, though. She only now saw how unusual her relationship with her mother had been. She did everything she could for her mother, saw her through the last few hard years, the years her mother didn’t laugh or smile, the years of the colostomy bag and the endless supply of pain pills, of staying in bed for hours listening to Enya because she claimed it put her in another world. Beth would put sheets in the dryer to heat them and place them on her mother when she got cold, she would make her tea and get her water, she would pray for the Lord to take away her pain. All her mother’s former vibrancy had evaporated into her small bedroom equipped with a hospital bed lined with small stuffed animals that she and her father had bought. Her mother watched violent televisions shows to pass the time surrounded by the little toys, stories about the most horrible things that could happen to someone, the saddest, the strangest, the stuff of violent transformation, something Beth understood better now than she ever did when she was watching it happen.

And now she found herself in a room trapped with Mac, having wanted to take her sister before she went home after her spring break. And she had set up a appointment for her father next week in order to get this massage free. What would she tell him? She and her mother had always protected him from hard truths, had chosen to deal with bad things in their own way. Mac said, I see everything, as he lifted the sheet for her to roll over. She tried not to cry and wondered why he’d chosen her, what about her signaled to him that he could do this to her. Her sister had told her not to wear so many shirts underneath everything, that she would have to show the goods a little more to find a man. She didn’t believe in putting herself on display, but she did love leather and scoured thrift shops for perfect leather pants. The secret was to pray before you went inside and the Lord would lead you to the pants. If the Lord had a man for her, that man would not have to see the goods first.

At the end of the session, Mac kissed Beth on the back and said, Thank you. As soon as she heard the door close behind her, she grabbed her clothes, putting on everything as quickly as she could. She could feel her face flushing, her temper rise. Mac stopped her before she could get to her sister and gave her two pinwheels, one green, one red. He told her they were for her and her sister, both lovely child-like spirits that reminded him of more innocent times. She had heard that people put pinwheels in the ground to keep pests away from gardens, that certain animals didn’t like the vibration all that spinning produced.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I'm always making a comeback but nobody ever tells me where I've been." Billie Holiday

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Rumours Fleetwood Mac

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Ash Wednesday!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Hands That Heal

Dear readers,
I'm still working on my new story so I'm going to publish an older one in three parts. Friday and Saturday will be my Detroit series of pictures, and Sunday will be a regular blog. Hope you're having an excellent Fat Tuesday, friends!

Man In A Jar

Man In A Jar
It wasn’t until her second free massage that Mac showed Beth his erect penis and said, Look what you do to me. The smell of lavender and eucalyptus candles filled the air. She closed her eyes and said, My word, as if she were an eighty-year old granny instead of a single woman verging on thirty. Enya implored someone to sail away with her, the music loud, in a vain attempt to muffle the sound of the hairdryers directly outside Mac’s private room in the Bella Day Beauty Salon.

Before his display, Mac and she had spent most of the massage talking about prayer, how it gave the angels more power to guard a person from evil, how it gave a person the strength to accept the unacceptable. She told him that her mother had died over a year ago, her precious mother, her best friend, her life, and that she couldn’t imagine then that she’d be breathing now, much less enjoying herself. That’s the power of the Lord, a God thing, she told him. Mac offered his own testimony. He said that Jesus had cured him of his desire for the bottle, no AA necessary. She said, yes, Jesus can do that if you ask and he’d told her that she was his favorite client and she should consider his room in the back of Bella Day her room, Miss Beth’s sanctuary, said as well that he would be glad to give her a free massage whenever, not just when she’d referred someone. She’d already brought her best friend Annie to Mac, who had claimed she’d never experienced anything so relaxing.

Beth smiled, and he bumped into her hip and said, That’s not my elbow in case you’re wondering. She was not wondering, did not like to consider such nastiness. Then came his little show. The massage went from something to be relished to something she had to endure. Funny how often that happened in life, with so little warning. She thought of her older sister in the receptionist area, grading papers, having come out of her massage looking as she did when drunk. She’d have to tell her sister everything.

Her first massage from Mac had felt like what she imagined heaven might be, all dim lights and twinkly music, everything warm, the sensations all drippy. Sue, a waitress who went to Mac once a month, had told her that a massage from him was better than sex, not that Beth would know. She had never gone down that road even though she’d had several boyfriends, including her ex-fiance Johnny Bethune, a mailman who stole people’s magazines and begged to lick her pot of gold. He respected her beliefs, he said. Still, it wasn’t enough to go through with the wedding that she had not once imagined. Sue gave Beth a coupon with Mac’s name on it, above a picture of two hands surrounded by angel wings. Underneath the graphic in ornate cursive script, he’d typed: Hands that Heal.

Beth made the first appointment on Christmas Eve for her and her sister, a distraction from holiday misery. Right from the beginning, she had never entirely trusted Mac, someone so close to her skin, touching her more intimately than anyone ever had, even though his mannerisms led her to believe he was gay. With her mother dead, she thought it would be good to look for a husband, but she didn’t like thinking about sex. Her mother’s advice for the wedding night had been simple -- take a sleeping pill. That way you won’t realize what you’re doing and you can fall asleep without any trouble after it’s over. Her sister had a cheerier view of the whole process, but told her that it was good to remember that things weren’t always what they seemed. Her ex only had one testicle -- earning him the name One-Ball, post divorce. Life, it seemed, was full of surprises, most of them not particularly wonderful.

After the first massage, Beth had quizzed her sister on what had happened while they sat in the car, swigging water from oversized bottles of Aquafina, courtesy of Mac to help with the toxins he’d just released into their systems with the massages.

“Did he touch your butt?” Beth asked.

“Yes. And?”

“Don’t you think that’s weird?”

“I would think it was weird if he stuck something up it.” Her sister laughed, and Beth laughed too. Even in December, her sister refused to dress anything near sensible. Beth would freeze if she dressed like that. She liked that her sister didn’t think too much of what other people thought was appropriate. Her mother had been a worrier long when everyone else had stopped caring.

“Bind up the demons,” Beth said. “Plead the blood of Jesus.”

They drove home, Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas” playing on the radio, one of the few Christmas songs that didn’t annoy Beth with its relentless cheer. That night, Beth, her sister, and her father opened presents. Her sister lived halfway across the country and had brought two suitcases full of gifts, trying to make everyone feel better. This year didn’t feel that much different from the last, the first Christmas without Mother. She wondered if it would ever change. Grief narrowed everything to each wretched moment, no future hope, all energy used to get to the next day, to remember to take a bath, to work, to eat, even though she didn’t know why she bothered. It didn’t seem fair. Lots of people had mothers they didn’t appreciate at all. Beth had spent the ten years since high school doing nothing but working as an aide for a Mental Health/ Mental Retardation group home and taking care of her mother. She’d told her mother every day that she loved her, to which her mother had replied, get real. It was all Beth could do not to cry at the thought that there would never be another day like those.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"So I'm not worried about the emotions I carry with me, because I'm happy that I have them; I think it's good for the work I do. The emotions that are not healthy are the ones you hold inside, like anger. " Diana Ross

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Africa Unite Bob Marley

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Fat Tuesday!

Monday, February 04, 2008

They Pick Us

Printed out all my blog entries the other day and if I stand on them, I gain four inches in height, as much as I would with a pair of Manolo Blahniks, but without the wearing pain of such footwear. I have about twenty subjects, all cheery if the following sample is to be trusted -- sexual violence, keeping faith in a fallen world, the dead. I joked to a friend the other day that I should host a show; it could be like the newlywed game, except it would be the newly dead game and the questions wouldn't be light-hearted romps about funny little quirks. Instead they'd be grim sad realities about what we miss and cannot get back.

Seeing all those entries in black in white was a tad off-putting as I started the task of organizing them into a more coherent essay form. But I often think of Raymond Carver, about how he contended that we don't pick our subjects, that they pick us. So I feel like I did when an obviously mentally-ill dude yelled at me, I know who you are. Yeah, you girly. Fuck you. I had not addressed him or done anything except walk down the street, and yet there he was, in my face. My subjects are much the same way -- rude, obnoxious, and disturbing. But I recognize them all the same and have come to love them because even though they're not always kind, they always know me and there's something to be said for being seen.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“Courage is as often the outcome of despair as of hope; in the one case we have nothing to lose, in the other, everything to gain.” Diane de Pointiers

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Her Last Death Susanna Sonneberg

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

When The Super Bowl Was In Detroit

Am not going to watch the Super Bowl today, could give a big old rat's ass about the ads, the players, the half-time show, whether the Patriots cheat, and especially Phoenix, basking in warm sunny days and so on. When the Super Bowl was in Detroit, I spent the day writing the last chapter of my novella after spending all weekend suffering over it and like a last minute Hail Mary pass, the whole chapter came to me late in the evening as if it were handed down by God. That's kind of the Detroit way so far as I can tell -- nothing comes easy, but it alwasy comes at the last minute, bails you out of your quagmire and makes everything work. I was both glad and sad to finish; there's a certain relief to the end of anything along with a nostalgia for the world which you must leave. In the case of my novella, I longed to get out of the claustrophobic disturbed world of Josette and her brother, but I loved writing about Detroit, the broken down rickety beauty. Joyce Carol Oates wrote about Detroit both when she was living here and when she was living in London, an irony she details in her fantastic book The Faith Of A Writer -- "There I was living in London, one the most beautiful cities in the world, dreaming and longing for one of the most problematic, Detroit."

So instead of attending any parties or throwing one, I'll be home writing today. Kind of wishing that the Super Bowl was here this year again since the streets got fixed for a little while and Detroit took on a gleam, kind of like Cinderella's fairy godmother waved her wand. It took about a week for everything to break down again and look grubby, which is more than I can say for myself. I have about an hour or two at the most before I begin to ruin whatever look I'm going for. Nothing wrong with that, though. Decay is inevitable, things fall apart, much of what we love becomes a distant dream that we write about to gain some semblance of its essence. It's kind of a vale of tears instead of the glossy expensive ads that sell of us things we don't need for a life we'll never have. The trick, as always, is to enjoy whatever you have while you have it and even after its gone.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Kiss all you want, but don't tell." Dwight Yoakum

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Dwight Sings Buck Dwight Yoakum

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Stained Glass

Hi readers! Here's some Saturday pictures of stained glass and such. I'll be posting the Detroit series next weekend with lots of snow pictures. Happy Saturday!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Snow Day

Outside my writing office window, the Detroit sky stays slate gray against tiny snowflakes that fall like confectioner's sugar, and I am taking a little snow day from the blog to prepare a story for next week. Stay warm wherever you are!

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"You know you've reached rock bottom when you're told you have character flaws by a man who hanged his predecessor in a military coup." Charlie Wilson

Cocktail Hour
Drinking literary journal suggestion:

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday! Congratulations to the Pistons for whipping the Lakers last night with Tay-Tay scoring that three-pointer in the final twenty seconds!