Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Laws Of Attraction


"Nobody grows up and thinks, I'm going to live in Detroit," one of my students said last night, mystified as to how I got here and why I stayed. But I always kind of knew that I would end up in the north, the rustbelt, the midwest, what people on the coasts refer to as the flyover states. I often thought I might live in Gary, Indiana or Milwaukee -- my crystal ball wasn't entirely polished and clear in those early days. If there were a few other industrial hellholes that nobody wanted to live in, I'd add those to the list as well. Even as a child, I liked things other people didn't. How can you like that? my mother would often say, shaking her head at whatever new thing had captured my imagination.

Sometimes I make my classes write about things they wanted and got, only to find out they didn't want them anymore. But this is not true for me -- it's never too late as evidenced by my new Disco Snoopy. Yes readers, I, Michelle Brooks, have Disco Snoopy. I told one of my classes a few semesters ago that I had wanted one as a child and never got him. And a few nights ago, a sweet student of mine brought me one of the little guys, Snoopy with a teeny-tiny disco cape, doing the iconic John Travolta move. "It was hard to find him," she told me. But she did find him and he is now mine! It was my dream to have him many years ago, and they didn't make very many as he wasn't a big seller. But I loved him so he found his way to me. Like Detroit, Disco Snoopy isn't for everyone, but sometimes if you love something enough, it will find its way to you.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The things that we love tell us what we are." Saint Thomas Aquinas

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: The Savages

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Black Markets


We seem to be in a rash of movies about girls and women choosing to have unwanted babies (Juno, Knocked Up, Waitress) which disturbs me a little -- the movies themselves are sometimes quite good, but the message rammed down women's throats is not. That's why I was so relieved to see Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days. The movie charts the progress of two girls, one pregnant, attempting to get an illegal abortion in the waning days of communism in Romania. Before communist dictator Ceau┼čescu, Romania had some of the most liberal abortion laws on the books. The movie traipses through a gloomy gulag of black market humiliations and miseries -- even getting a pack of cigarettes is complicated. The bargain they make with the abortionist is brutal, the aftermath even more so. Nothing sugarcoated here. And nothing overtly political either -- we are stuck in a world of naive girls and bad choices, one after another all set in a place that makes Detroit look cheery.


I read the other day that there were less abortions in the United States last year than any other since Roe Vs. Wade came into being. The pro-lifers say that it's because woman have more respect for when life begins, the pro-choice movement claims there is better birth control. Neither one, I suspect, is true. Our rights, not just abortion, but all of them, are being gradually eroded without our notice. Now we live in a culture that makes it tremendously difficult to do anything. It's like the old story about these wicked little vampire bats that suck the blood out of the cows at night. They take just enough to weaken the cows. The cows stay alive for a long time, getting sucked dry and then die without knowing what hit them. To go back in time and long for simplicity is the stuff of nostalgic fiction and the purview of movies in which nobody does anything offensive. The harder reality we leave like the aborted fetus on the bathroom floor in Four Months, and like the friend of the pregnant girl, we'll be left not knowing what to do with it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“We're just tough, man.” Chauncey Billups, Detroit Piston extraordinaire

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: The Missing Years John Prine

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Stars Upon Close Inspection


At the grocery store the other day (a place that I don't go to often and scares me a little), the cashier who was ringing up my meager purchases said, Hon', you're lucky you're not married. I can tell by your groceries." She brandished my Yoplait Chocolate Whipps (Light as air! the package says, but I buy them because they don't require any work) as proof. "Men are always chewing your ass about what you forgot. When I got engaged, I told my husband 'I don't bake. I don't sew. I don't iron.'" I'm always partial to women who call me hon' and this one was no exception. I smiled at her and told her I'd do the same as she had if my time should come, that I'd list in long detail what I would not do. She had her jet-black hair that was laced with gray styled into a bowl cut and her fingernails had stars of blue glitter on them, each one running into the next so you could only tell they were stars upon close inspection.

I used to think it was strange how many people gave me unsolicited advice, personal stories, or asked my opinion about extremely personal matters especially while browsing the feminine products section at the old CVS. "Do you like that brand? Because I'm sick of mine." Stuff like that. But I don't wonder anymore. There's an old saying that if you like to tell stories, stories will come to you. And that's what I love, of course. The precise detail, the good parts. Standing in line at a grocery store, my life ticking away, second by second. The stories of the famous and the dead lining the shelves along with tips on making Valentine's cookies or spicing up your sex life. It's all there for us to enjoy until we make our way into the cold night lit up by stars which are usually obscured by clouds and lights, but you know they are there and that, strangely, is enough.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"As for me, I could leave this world with today in my eyes." Truman Capote

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: My Funny Valentine Chet Baker

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Dig Your Own Grave


I'm often asked about writer's block, the horrible feeling you get when you can't think of anything to put on the page or screen -- it pulsates like some evil haint and none of the usual tricks work. I don't know what to say about this affliction except to say stay with things, that things return. My God, we have another fucking Rambo movie -- how much proof does one need that there are no new stories? And furthermore, how long can that dude hang out in the jungle with his bad case of post-traumatic stress disorder fighting mysterious dictators in countries that don't even have the same name anymore? But I digress. From where does inspiration come? What happens if it goes away like some ill-fated romance?

As far as romantic iconography goes, I love the garbage falling all around them scene in Sid and Nancy. It seems to me to be one of the loveliest ways of capturing that peculiar and disturbing intimacy, one of those moments that suspends time. And it gives me a weird hope about writing. Even when nothing is happening, there's still garbage all around. You can't escape or change it or beat it back for very long. It's yours to do with what you like. In the end, you work with the tools you have and if you want to use them to build a beautiful house or to dig your own grave, both will work.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I look for ambiguity when I'm writing because life is ambiguous." Keith Richards

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days (Lots of drinks on this one -- it's a grim ride through Romania in the waning days of communism. You can get this on on demand through the IFC channel.)

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday! Congratulations to The Sopranos (especially James Gandolfini and Edie Falco) for the SAG wins!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I'm All For This














Why I Can Play The Ghost Of Christmas Past Better Than Anyone Else

My horoscope for today tells me
that I will "break the endless chains
of oppression." I'm all for this
unless it means giving up something
because I can add, that's fine, give
me something else to do, I'll do it,
but to sit in silence and listen to what
it says about me, that's too much and I'll
ask for the chains back, in fact, I'll make
them myself and instead of wearing them
around my neck, I'll save some time
and swallow them so that they can weigh
me down from the inside. People will love
me until they hear the death rattle.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I don't care what anybody says about me as long as it isn't true." Truman Capote

Cocktail Hour
Drinking art books suggestion: In Memory Of My Feelings Frank O'Hara

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Outsider Art



Hi readers! Still working on the Detroit set of pictures, but as it is cold as five billy hells here, I'm going to post some Outsider/Folk art today and come back at you next Saturday with the Detroit series. Happy Saturday!












Friday, January 25, 2008

Sympathetic Doll Magic


Often people happen onto my site looking for spells, one of the most frequent searches being for spells to make exes or romantic rivals go away. If I had this spell, I'd be a rich woman instead of a tired one. We all try to be serene with the past; we're supposed to be be evolved and beyond it, unconcerned with what happened before us. But if that's correct, it doesn't explain the popularity of the Nasty Bitch Be Gone candle at my local voodoo store. According to the yellowed card attached to the side of the display that gives you critical information for making your candle decisions -- St. Theresa for love and money, St. Anthony for concentration, and so on. Nasty Bitch Be Gone promises "to rid yourself of his exes and any potential hos getting on your man." If this doesn't work, you can head over to the actual voodoo dolls and try to stick a few pins into their teeny-tiny little hearts in hopes of some sympathetic doll magic.

I'm with old Woody Allen when he says stuff like, Yeah, I'm a little jealous, like Medea. Jealousy is an emotion most of us are afraid to admit, more embarrassing than a story that starts, And then I gave him a blowjob beside the dumpster . . . Because that story can go somewhere whereas jealousy is a dead end, the dark underbelly of desire and sadness, the vale of tears stuff. So we go on looking in secret for the cure, all the while sticking ourselves with pins, the staves of the past acting as a torture device, one even our worst enemies couldn't design half so well.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Eternal nothingness is fine if you happen to be dressed for it." Woody Allen

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: The Center Cannot Hold Elyn Syms

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Missing And The Dead



My parents often took me and my sister in yellow bucket seats on the back of their bikes for rides through Ft. Walters, the decommissioned army base that served as a centerpiece of my hometown. This was great as I did not have to pedal or do anything remotely athletic until one day my mother happened upon an enormous tarantula. "I want that spider, Don," my mother said, but she didn't have her usual pickle jar that she kept in the car for such an occasion. But she found an old milk carton, the kind that they put lost kids faces on, and caught that bad boy right quick. Neither she nor my dad could both bike and hold onto the prize; my sister was still a baby. So I had to hold the carton closed with the tarantula inside, crying hysterically. "Don't be such a pansy," my mother said. "You will carry the tarantula and you won't cry."

I stopped crying and kept a tight hold on the two small edges that kept the evil thing enclosed. If I had a therapist, this is the kind of thing I would tell him or her, probably him, preferably as close to Judd Hirsch in Ordinary People as I could get. He'd say really insightful shit like, Feelings don't always tickle and I'd nod my head solemnly, seeing the wisdom, that life was big, that experience couldn't be measured, and so on. Of course, I'd come from a super WASPy background unlike my own and have been numbed to my feelings and then wake up and start living. But I don't. I knew my feelings right then and there, got to own them as they say. And can look back at a strange fondness for that old milk carton containing such life with the faces of the missing and the dead on the sides, those sorrowful reminders that hope never dies, people still trying to find what they had lost, no matter how grim the odds.


Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Seven beers followed by two Scotches and a thimble of marijuana and it's funny how sleep comes all on its own." David Sedaris

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Salivation Terry Allen

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Boy's Own Story



Never saw Brokeback Mountain. Couldn't bring myself to it --even the ads seemed dated and corndog, and I would rather read the entire oeuvre of Edmund White again (even A Boy's Own Story which I often called A Boy's Own Boring Story --- this is not to disparage Edmund White (his later novels are fantastic) or any number of gay cowboy novels I've enjoyed over the years. (Yes, there are several.) But I loved Heath Ledger in a movie called Candy where he stars with the luminous Abbie Cornish (the little missy who "stole" Ryan Phillipe away from Reese Witherspoon) as a couple madly in love with each other, madly in love with heroin, a going down slow kind of couple. I'm a sucker for this plot, the love triangle involving a deadly habit that becomes the whole story. The father figure in the story says it best, When you can stop, you don't want to and when you want to, you can't. Heath plays his part brilliantly, a sick worried man waiting on his man, a sad person who pimps out his beloved girlfriend and eventual wife for drugs, who reaches the bottom and can't stop the slow freefall. So much of the movie rests on his performance! And he's trying to write in the movie. Like Poe Ballantine says in his essay "Blessed Meadows For Minor Poets," if you want a really lucrative career try fiction writing. If this fails, go to something more practical and easier like selling encyclopedias door to door or shoehorning oxen.

Now Heath has left this world for reasons yet unknown, probably an accidental overdose on medication for pneumonia and sleeping pills. His last days were haunted by playing the Joker in the Batman movie, a scary terrible part according to his interviews, the part of a psychotic clown that Jack Nicholson brought to us so many years ago. But according to reports, Heath's clown was different, not charming like Jack's, not winning us over, but truly ill. He wanted to create something new and turned down a number of fluff parts that didn't suit his idea of himself. Like so many iconoclasts, he didn't take the easy road. Dying alone couldn't have been easy either. By the time paramedics brought his body out of his apartment, a crowd had formed to see his final, albeit unwilling, performance, yelling, There he is, still wanting a piece of him right up until the end.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I only do this because I'm having fun. The day I stop having fun, I'll just walk away." Heath Ledger

Cocktail Hour
Drinking upcoming movie suggestion: Cassandra's Dream is out this weekend!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Rest in peace, Heath Ledger!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The City Of Brotherly Love



I spent some time in Philadelphia yesterday, not because I wanted to but because my plane got rerouted. This sort of thing happens to me all the time, so much so that I've begun to feel like Ed Norton's character in Fight Club -- You're in JFK, DFW, LAX, You're in O'Hare . . . I've avoided the city of brotherly love ever since Hank died, bitter because of the black ice he slipped on, the orange someone dropped that helped make the fall worse. It sounds like a joke -- A blind man falls on an orange . . . But it isn't, and I don't like being reminded of the past. Despite telling myself I wouldn't, I looked at the city as my plane touched down, a city so beautiful and urban and perfect, saw what Hank loved about it, its tall building and mass transit and had to let a little forgiveness into my heart.

Earlier that day, I'd been in a diner in the rural south were two men sat at a bar nursing Buds. One asked the other if he was left or right handed. "Started out right, then went left." The other dude asked why and the first dude with the bad wing said, "Got paralyzed. Didn't break no bones, though." The conversation continued for a long time about the wisdom and advisability of switching your writing hand. "Didn't mean to get paralyzed. Just happened." And so the matter was settled. And I thought about how true that was, how some things just stop working and you have to adapt. I have a feeling that Hank diverted my plane so I would have to see his city, the loveliness of it at twilight, the time when something is always the most beautiful. And the lights, my God, they were spectacular, even if I hate to admit it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Honesty is something you can't wear out." Waylon Jennings

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: I Am Shelby Lynne Shelby Lynne

Cocktail Hour
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Happy MLK Day!





Hi readers,

I've got many tales to tell, but they will all have to wait until tomorrow. Thanks so much for all the kind comments and e-mails. This week, I'm determined to get back into the groove of things and answer them all. I hope you're all enjoying this Monday!

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"A man will remember the silence of his friends in troubled times more than the words of his enemies." Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

All You Would Have





Years ago, I had a babysitter named Betsy who answered the phone in the cheeriest voice, saying "How do you do?" instead of Hello or Trevathan residence or (my personal favorite), What fresh hell is this? (Dorothy Parker's standard greeting). Her kids were utter fucking hellions, her grandchildren a fright show who had reproduced with each other in what appeared to be a very shallow gene pool and yet Betsy remained sweet, kind, and unfailingly loving until her dying day. Betsy's husband had died years before she did and although she never said a bad word about him, he was reputed to be a vile cruel drunk who beat everyone around senseless. Her house, a shack into today's parlance, shook when the wind blew and plastic flowers suspended in water housed in pickle jars served as the main decorations. The kids who stayed there would sometimes play a game late into the night -- if we were dying of thirst in the desert, would we drink the water from the pickle jars? I'd die, one of us would say, while the others conceded that maybe we would crack under the pressure. That was all you would have, I'd say, donning my most ominous voice. Death seemed close in those days as people were always dying in motorcycle accidents, of strange bites and stings, drownings in the Brazos River.

When Betsy's husband was alive, people asked why she didn't leave him. People didn't get divorces in those days as much and some of her thinking might have hinged upon that fact. But she said something that seems very true to me even now. "Michelle, people are the way they are. You can change the outside of things, but you're still in it." Having seen people deal with endless cycles of abuse, particularly my own grandmother, I became the kind of person with a lot of latent violence in my heart. I would never hit anyone or be hit (at least not for any sustained amount of time), but I became rather hopeless about the nature of change. Whenever I am at the gym, I read the women's magazines to kill time and make me forget what I'm doing, but they end up depressing me with their tales of how to fix, sort, and reenergize your romantic relationship, usually suggesting bubble baths, candles, and a little more "together" time. I think about how we try to change our lives and about how sometimes we do, but if you look closely, you can always see the remnants of the pickle jar labels that had been soaked off to house those not-so-beautiful flowers, sad efforts at beauty, fading a little more with each year in whatever desert we happen to live.

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

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Dusty in Memphis Dusty Springfield

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday! Stay warm!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Eastern Market



Hi readers! Since it's gotten so cold and miserable in Detroit, I'm working on a big picture photography project and will post it next weekend. I'm hoping everyone is having a happy Saturday!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Chew And Spit




Sat down to eat a piece of pizza the other night after work and turned on the television, deciding to watch Intervention on the recommendation of students and friends. All rehab and recovery shows appeal to me, the fall from grace, the struggle to get it back, the heartrending details of our private lives. The set up of this one is fairly simple -- someone with a problem relating to drugs, alchol, sex, eating, cutting, or whatever you have agrees to be on a documentary about addiction. But they don't know that their families hope to get them out of this cycle by cornering him or her, listing off various sins (although it's always referred to as behavior), and the consequences (usually cutting them off instead of providing money or love, a process known by those who adore jargon as enabling), and then the viewer is given a summary follow-up. Of course, they don't all work which gives the show its mystery. I happened upon one about an anorexic/bulimic named Amy who spent a whole lot of time dancing (she was past her ballerina prime, giving the activity a sort of Zelda Fitzgerald vibe), hanging out with her best friend (another anorexic), and hiding her "chew and spit" behavior from her live-in fiance, a sweet man with severe burns all over his face from a car accidernt. For the uninitiated, chew and spit is where someone chews food and spits it up before swallowing. Amy managed to go through several hours and many cup rinses in one night -- I put down my piece of pizza and thought better of it. I can eat through almost anything, but this gave me pause.

Amy had externalized her eating disorder, calling it Eddie (strange that it should have a male name) and drawing pictures of him, bloodshot evil monster eyes in a notebook. The notebook also contained tons of pictures of thin girls (Mary Kate Olsen was featured often) along with notes about how to better binge and purge and hate mail to herself, things like "You are a horrible fat pig." At the end of the show, she agreed to go to an eating disorder clinic (and they sent her best friend as well which sent them both into tears of joy at the idea that they wouldn't have to go alone). But she didn't get well and she married someone else. Now she has a child and continues to dance and chew and spit and all the other things that the show tried to remedy. The pink cloud at the end of the show, everyone hugging and crying and saying, I love you, was just that, an evaporation, a moment in time. Health, elusive as ever, remained far away, like a mirage, because say what you will, Eddie was real. She had the pictures to prove it.


Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Our souls were clean, but the grass didn't grow." Van Morrison

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: ESP Miles Davis

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Viewer Discretion Advised




I'm out and about today, but I leave you with a few suggestions for viewing pleasures -- Intervention, Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew, and The Wire.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday -- back at you tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Most Miserable, Sad Tales You Can Imagine



My dear friend Angela left a number of Peanuts cartoons on my work computer years ago when we commenced to paint my office silver (bad decision as it was painted over a mere year later forcing me to go to Home Depot (most miserable place on the planet for me) and buy some board to repaint one drunken night lest I have to look at the beige-colored walls at work, circa 1930s Social Security Bureau style), and my favorite cartoon is of Linus talking to his teacher about his latest story, telling her that he's writing about "this kid who is in kindergarden and how the stress is slowly destroying him." We never get the teacher's response (one of the many brilliant decisions of Peanuts is never to let the adults talk, thereby rendering the children as adults), but he replies, "Well, I've also got one about purple bunnies . . . " Which kind of sums up my writing life. My mother, God rest her soul, used to say, "Can't you write something uplifting?" Ha! The woman delighted in the most miserable, sad tales you can imagine, her favorite ones ending with "and then he or she died a sudden and horrible death." She'd sit back, satisfied that she'd shocked her audience. "Bet you didn't see that coming," she say. But I almost always did.

One thing people used to say a lot back in my old hometown was Bloom where you are planted. I think I have, strangely enough, despite all the attempts to be different. What we run from is essentially what we become, and almost all energy designed not to end up a certain way seems to guarantee us that fate. I used to have a lot of rules to keep myself in line, to keep myself from not being a certain kind of person. I've tried to erase, At least I don't . . . from my mental dialogue. Because you are who you are and under certain circumstances, I don't know what I'd do. Better to start a story about someone who is slowly being eaten alive by stress and as for the purple bunnies, they'll come in when the time is right.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"During the darkest hours, when my anger burned the hottest, I learned to pray." Earl R. Miles

Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story suggestion: The Celibacy Club Janice Eidus

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

No Free Parking Anytime


A few months after my divorce, I decided to obtain a membership to a dinky faculty/staff gym, the kind of place with three treadmills, one ancient exercise bike, and some dumbbells. Here I was going to make my Rocky-like comeback into the world of the lithe (marriage had me a little fat, if not all that happy counter to the stereotype), and I knew that running was the fastest way to lose weight. On my first day there, a rather masculine-looking woman came up to me and touched my ass. "You're running all wrong. It's foot to heel, not on your tiptoes unless you want this," she said, giving me a firm pat on the aforementioned body part, "to get bigger." I hate when strangers give me unsolicited advice (I considered that worse than the touching), but I took it. Sure enough, she was right. It was easier and looked a lot less crazy than prancing on the treadmill like a deranged pony.

I've always loathed exercise but have the metabolism of a slug and the dieting habits that would horrify a nutritionist (one of my Christmas presents was a book about eating right for your blood type to which one of my friends commented, I don't think you're eating right for any blood type) which forces me to work out lest I fall into a complete state of disrepair and ill health. The belly of this vicious beast still remains running since it's fast and effective, although I am neither when I do it. The first person I ever ran with regularly was my dad in the seventies -- I inherited his metabolism and so off it was for a jog every morning. I hated the act itself, but I would have eaten nails for the chance to spend time with him and alas, jogging it was. From there, I have run with different people over the years, never liking it any better, but I always remember when I do it not to dismiss people outright like I wanted to with my little friend at the gym. Someone I once ran with used to say, You need to run over the ground, not on it, which is something I try to think about when I'm trying too hard, which is a lot of the time.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Sometimes she wondered if there were an agent in her body, a secret in her blood making ready to work against her." Jayne Anne Phillips

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Dreaming Carolyn See

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Frothy Confection


If I send you a happy engagement card, you're probably not going to get married. I'm kind of like the angel of wedding death that way, all good intentions and Hallmark joy and then I get the inevitable announcement of the collapse of the relationship, usually after I purchase a Congratulations On Your Wedding! card, some piece of frothy confection with figures gliding into the sunset or rings or hands or some such bullshit that signifies forever. I don't know why I have this talent, but I do. It's not the superpower I would have picked, that's for damn sure.

Now the Valentine's decorations are upon us from all angles, the hearts and flowers dangling from every supermarket display. Part of me doesn't mind despite my feelings about the holiday. I like the color red, like blood, and I can't say anything bad about hearts because they were the only artistic thing I could ever make in grade school. You fold the construction paper and cut out half of it to make it whole. It seemed amazing to me how easy it was to give someone your love in such a simple form! I suppose mine weren't the best ones, though; I've never been good with arts and crafts. So I tend to buy things other people make and hope against hope, like we all do, for the best.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"You're never guaranteed about next year. People ask what you think of next season, you have to seize the opportunities when they're in front of you.” Brett Favre

Cocktail Hour












Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Monday! Thanks for all the sweet comments yesterday!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Glass Orb With A Mustard Seed



RRN wrote in my comment section on Friday:

"Somewhere on someone else's page I read a comment referring to your blog as " Tits and ass." I would wonder what your thoughts on that were. I don't ever chose to view people by their ass....or any other body part. I find people who do to be sadly missing so much more. We all have asses....so what. Unfortunately....Not all of us have the substance of depth and character. Whatever.I liked this post quite a lot."

I liked this comment and decided that it would serve nicely as my subject today. Thanks for writing, RRN!

We live in a fallen world. At least that's what Brother Buddy used to tell us in the storefront Baptist church I once attended, a place that morphed into the back of a Stop and Go convenience store when money for the rent ran out. The places themselves hot as Hades, the world around me pretty fallen. Even so, I loved it. Despite all the sadness, poverty, and desperation I saw around me, the beauty always trumped it. My mother had a necklace that had a glass orb with a mustard seed suspended in it and would let me wear it whenever I got anxious which was quite a lot. I still have that necklace and if I am not a person particularly blessed with an overabundance of faith, I have the faith that God can give me faith when I need it.

So much is seen by the scrims we choose. I know I offend some people with my presentation, ideas, and everything else. Do I care? Not really. Having spent so much of my life trying to please other people like women are taught to do, I have stopped. As for my blog being tits and ass, I could see that as a complement or more likely an insult, but while I do have an ass, my breasts are so small one would have to take out a magnifying glass to really get a good view. I don't doctor the photos in any way: what you see is what you get. My detractors enjoy using this aspect against me because it's easy -- far easier to take someone to task for using their body than their mind, for being a woman, for being (gasp) a sexual being, and for having the audacity to use herself as a kind of art. As for substance, I try hard -- sometimes it works, sometimes it's fluff. But the attempt is all. That's the essence of faith in our fallen world -- that we try things, some doomed to failure, hoping that we have moments of grace and can share those with others. There's an old joke I like -- about two boys, one who gets a pony for Christmas and immediately says, There's a pony, must be some shit in here and the other boy who gets a stable of manure and says, There's some shit -- must be a pony in here! I'm the latter boy, of course, and keep hoping to see the horses no matter what.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Nothing is ever simple. What do you do when you discover you like parts of the role you're trying to escape?" Marilyn French

Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: The Patron Saint of Liars Ann Patchett

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Friday, January 11, 2008

Untitled


My mother had three ideas for edifying activities for me and my sister as children -- the zoo (which I hated and actively cried when I had to go), a wildlife preserve where you drove through and fed the animals (again more tears, more pouting) and art museums which I loved. The dead world of art and beauty seemed my style from the beginning. I liked it all -- the traditional, the modern, the downright inane (the kind of thing that makes people say, I could do that! My six year old could do that!) Museums, things of control and quiet, visual libraries. I did wish so many of the works weren't Untitled though. I loved titles even then and loved when the artist gave us a hint as to what he or she was thinking.


I've never had a pet, save for two suicidal clownfish, in my adult life. My friends marvel at this fact and some often make the incorrect assumption that I was not raised around animals. To their surprise, I tell them I can't remember a time when there wasn't some vile biting stinging creature around my parents' house, a couple of dogs, and a cat or two and once even a white bat named Ronnie for reasons that never became clear to me. One of the ironies of my adult life is that I'm surrounded by people who love animals, most more than people, rejoice in their simple, untroubled love. But to me love without trouble would be something else. Still, I'm grateful for those days at the zoo and the strange animals coming up to the car. There's something to be said for not controlling everything! But it's the museums I keep returning to, the way they say something about the past and the future, all perfectly preserved and guarded, lest harm come their way.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Memory is hunger." Ernest Hemmingway

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: The Kitchen Wars Betty Fussell

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Girls Of My Youth


As a child, I played a game where I wished myself into being other girls, girls I felt were more beautiful and glamorous, the ones that always looked put together and didn't have a million embarrassing things happen to them. A favorite of mine was Kim Blevins (even her name that incorporated the word blemish seemed magical to me). Before I got kicked out of Girl Scouts, I would examine her during meetings, hoping like hell some of her effortless ease would rub off on me. No such luck. I felt a strange nostalgia for things that had never happened to me (the Germans have a word for this feeling; that's what I love about the language -- there's a word for everything!) and could vividly imagine how I would conduct myself in a variety of situations that would never ever happen to me. That's probably why I started writing now that I think about it, to lead other lives.

The irony being that writing has not brought me any further from myself. In fact, I find that my strong suit is not in other magnificent worlds, but in my own demoralized self, a self that cannot be other than what it is. Of course, I change, everyone does, even we stubborn to death types. But none of us get a free pass from the past which shapes us and the decisions we have made or the ones we haven't. The girls of my youth have transformed into women now and upon an outward viewing of their lives, I am glad to say that I wouldn't trade places with them anymore. It's not that I like myself any better, but I realize that no matter what happens, I'm under my own sway, my history like chains, inexorable and haunting, but it's mine, and I can't help but love it sometimes.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"From one thing, learn ten thousand things." Musashi

Cocktail Hour
Drinking song suggestion: "The Bargain Store" Dolly Parton

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Many A Quote To Remember


Spent part of this morning talking to my dear friend Angela whose father Gene is about to have a quadruple bypass today. Gene, one of the funniest and sweetest people I know, is a born raconteur and has given me many a quote to remember about his life and adventures. One of my favorites was about the time his wife Margaret decided to get a wig and dye their poodle-- "It was the sixties and I had a blonde wife and a pink poodle. A man can't do better than that!" Last night, the nurse told him he could have anything he wanted to eat before midnight so he sent his wife out for two malted chocolate milkshakes. After learning he was to have heart surgery the next day, the employees gave Margaret the shakes for free. Needless to say, Gene is dreading some lifestyle changes after said operation in the area of food and smoking. An East Texas guy through and through, he never met a fried food he didn't like.

Ang passed the phone to Gene, and I talked to him for a bit. Looking down the barrel of a five hour surgery, he was full of good cheer and made me laugh. Unreal. If it were me, I'd be bitching and moaning, weeping and telling everyone how unfair everything was, my spiritual maturity at an all-time high. But not Gene. He's a stoic in the best sense of the word. Once at a dinner party, I was having a bad time with my then-boyfriend, a silent kind of tense fight. Gene, in Detroit for business, had joined all of us. He could see the strain and said simply, Don't worry, honey, this too shall pass. Words to live by for certain and while Gene is good at many things, he's best at living, sometimes the hardest thing of all.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Leap and the net will appear." Zen saying

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Cures Martin Duberman

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Glamour Into Blood


As a child I dreamed that I would live in a big industrial city all alone, working late into the night, returning to my very own space, preferably a penthouse of some sort, pour myself a solitary glass of scotch. I would wear fur coats and thigh high boots and never get married or have children. This might as well have been life on Mars given where I was -- Mineral Wells, a place where the only fur coats were squirrel, the tallest building two stories, and girls were knocked up early and often, marriage soon to follow. Perhaps in my fantasy life I would have a therapist -- all my heroes did: Woody Allen, Philip Roth. And I didn't want any of this new fangled cognitive bullshit either; I wanted an old school psychotherapist which might take years. Favorite last line of any novel comes from Portnoy's Complaint -- after a book of exhausting analysis, the ultimate punchline from the German therapist: "Now vee can begin, yes?"

Things did not turn out as planned, of course. Despite my resolve against men and many NOW meetings (truly unfashionable in the 80s), I fell in love a lot, got caught up in many a romantic drama. Moved to a big city and found it to be more like Mineral Wells than not except for the fact that there are no snakes here, thanks be to Jesus. My forays into therapy left me totally disillusioned with the whole system, proving to me that my chosen secular religion of self-knowledge left much to be desired. There was so much I didn't want to know! Turned out to be the worst fucking patient ever. Never got a real fur coat -- PETA came on the scene and turned glamour into blood, forever changing the landscape with their oh-so-wretched ad showing a woman clubbed to death on the subway for her fur coat with the end comment: Would you like to be killed for your coat? A feminist nightmare to be sure in an age where women are routinely raped and beaten every few minutes. As for the solitary scotch, drinking alone is now frowned on in this abstemious millennium where it seems we could all use a drink more than ever. As for the snakes of my youth, they have entered my dreams where I suspect they will reside forever, and I don't even want to know what my proverbial psychotherapist would have made of that fact.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Whatever is wrong with me, I think it will be a big help to write it in here." Sue Kaufman

Cocktail Hour













Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Stars Control So Much


A few years ago on this day, my father's birthday and the day before Elvis' birthday, I was at a dinner party where one of the guests went into labor. She looked like she could go into labor at any moment and after a few jokes to this end, she did. Such an event livens up any dull gathering -- the whole rustle of coats and quick exit into the snowy night. I remember the food well -- a Michigan speciality called city chicken which seems to be chicken fried in cubes placed on large toothpicks (Detroit is wonderful -- do not come here for the cuisine, however) and drinking Faygo. After the couple left, nobody had much to say, as if all the air had been sucked out of the room and boredom settled again onto the affair as if it had never left. The woman about to give birth had been invited as a duty as she was related to the giver of the party by marriage and nobody liked her very much given that she had said a few nasty words about the giver of said dinner party one night at a Coney Island, one of those passive-aggressive moves where he was complaining about a dirty fork without garnering much sympathy (It ain't the Ritz, someone remarked. What the fuck do you expect?) and suddenly she pounced, talking about how she could never treat her family the way he did and what did he have to say for himself. He said nothing and asked for a new fork.

I'm so glad that fat bitch is gone, he said. Amen to that, someone seconded. The spirit of generosity was upon us all! I watched the snow pile up outside through a distant window, so beautiful even if it was going to be all dirty and awful once people drove through it which people were always reminding me, the Detroit version of A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips, a cautionary line to keep anyone from enjoying something too much. I thought about the new life coming into such a harsh world, a sad world, and then thought about my dad, how easygoing he was, how he never had a bad word to say about anyone, how much he loved simple things. Maybe this baby boy would be like him, I thought, looking around the room. The stars control so much in their own way, the way they align for us or don't when we enter this life. God help him if he was anything like us.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"We first make our habits, and then our habits make us." John Dryden

Cocktail Hour
Drinking HBO show suggestion: The Wire

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Guns On Layaway



Been listening to a lot of stories about love gone wrong this week, got plenty of material for stories for the new year. My friend Hank's sister Robin is a font of such tales -- she even loaned me a pen to write down notes. That's one of the great things about her having Hank as a brother -- she's used to us writer types and doesn't fear being used as material. You use that one, she said about the time she held her boyfriend hostage while finding out whether or not he had secretly been firing her granddaddy's pistol (I'm not stupid. I can smell the gunpowder and I told him after sticking the gun under his noise, yes, asshole, it's loaded), confronting him on his return to nicotine, and the probability that he was getting some on the side from a coworker who'd had a double mastectomy (Guess you won't have to pay for her boob job, Robin commented, with the same wry sense of humor her brother had). She informed me that said jerk had several guns on layaway and kept purchasing pistols and whatnot even when they couldn't afford them. You know me, I love a good gun, but when you can't pay rent . . . God, I love Texas girls!

So I'm picking at the last bit of Mexican food I'm likely to have in a very long time (Detroit, while being the most wonderful place on earth in many ways, does not fare well in this area) and thinking about how much Robin reminds me of Hank at times, certain turns of phrase and whatnot. Old age and treachery, she said of showing up late for supper after falling asleep for what was supposed to be a much shorter nap. I had to laugh. Her brother would have said the same thing. She handed me a bag at the end of the night her mother had filled with some of Hank's things, including a copy of The Big Sleep, some t-shirts, and a pair of his shoes that I bought him for a job interview in Detroit. The shoes are very Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, dad shoes, interview shoes, nothing anyone would wear except for work or weddings and funerals. I don't know what I'll do with the shoes, but it seems fitting that they'll be returning to Detroit, their first home, a place where it's often cold and hard, where a person can use a good pair of sturdy, if not completely fashionable, pair of shoes.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Looked at where I was and where I wanted to be. The gap was big." Larry Brown

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: The Big Sleep

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Potions To Remedy Almost Anything















Hi readers! Here are the Saturday pictures of as Oprah would say, some of my favorite things -- drinks! (Okay, the last part so not Oprah.) Sadly, the holidays are done and my days of wine and roses are coming to a close, but here are some of the greatest hits from December. January is the cruelest month, a time when drinking during the day is frowned on and going back to work is expected. And the gym beckons. Cruel days indeed!

Maledictions and Benedictions
In addressing Wayne's comment from yesterday, I must say that I appreciate and am grateful for everyone who reads this blog -- be it one time or regularly. Without your faithful presence, there would be no point. That said, I don't see it as my duty to do anything but provide a voice that people enjoy or dismiss. I read blogs not because of some "you read me, I read you" edict, but because I enjoy them, not because I expect to develop a relationship of any kind with the author of that blog -- if it happens, great, if not, that's fine as well. As for my short skirts and blank stares, I'm going to keep on with it as long as I can find people willing to take the pictures (or can set them up myself) that I feel enhance the text. I'm very interested in photography both as subject and photographer. If that's "manipulation," so be it. Love when men do this kind of thing, it's called either art or pornography. When a woman uses herself to this means, she's become a siren, luring men off the ships to their deaths. Most of the time, I find it hard enough to find someone to accompany me to Target much less the ends of the earth. End of rant! Happy Saturday!








Friday, January 04, 2008

Afternoons of Smoke And Wine


I have a picture of the poet Robert Lowell above my desk. For a relatively dour writer, he looks pretty manic and he's on his way to going crazy, a condition he said he knew because, "I start to fall in love with everyone." If you were lucky enough to say, become his second wife, you'd get your letters to him parsed out into poems and published in a book of his. This is the risk that anyone involved with a writer incurs -- seeing themselves in the mirror of someone else's words, trapped in a hell or heaven not of your own making. But aren't we all? Late in his life, Lowell was medicated with lithium and stopped his wild ways with women. To his horror, he realized that all his romantic drama could have been cured, were in fact illness, not just dazzling narcissism played out for all to see.

But I suppose our illness can define us as much as anything else, that a mad splendor is as real as ordinary time. Enclosed in afternoons of wine and smoke, we see as if through stained glass, the beautiful hopes of our minutes pass away, minutes on a mounted clock. I once visited a house that had more than fifty clocks in the living room, all a little off. You kind of knew where you were in the day, never exactly. But I suppose that wasn't the point. The clocks sounded like a person breathing, a steady beat of time leaking away like the light at the end of a day that you thought would never fade.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The only reason time exists is so that everything doesn't happen all at once." Albert Einstein

Cocktail Hour
Drinking poetry suggestion: For The Union Dead Robert Lowell

Maledictions and Benedictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Spiders Surrounded Him At Night



The first year I taught, I got stalked by a psychotic ex-Marine who kept making references to his abilities with firearms. Although he had been removed from my class, I still feared him and on days when I would be home alone, an untenable reality, I would go to the library on campus to wait on the long hours until my then-husband returned from work. I felt safe in libraries -- there were books and people and I could hide from the world without the ever-pounding drumbeat of fear in my my mind. Of the two libraries on campus, I'd often find myself in the science one because of its small size and large collection of psychology textbooks full of case studies. As a child, I had been obsessed with the margins of behavior and read all that I could about those who were disturbed. Tales of twins that spoke in secret languages, the coping mechanisms of the afflicted and alone, these were the pleasure reading of my days.

Of course, my story has an irony that would never work in fiction -- about a year after these long library days, I realized that my stalker worked in the very library I used as a refuge from my lonely apartment. And it reminded me of a story I had heard as a child about a man who had ventured into a little room out in the wilds of Australia, surrounded by funnel-web spiders, regarded by some people as the most venomous spiders in the world. The man slept on a cot, but was not bit. The spiders surrounded him at night and because he was deeply alcoholic, he thought they were the final symptom of his disease, the delirium tremors. He knew he was in danger, but thought it an illusion of an overtaxed mind. And so he felt safe and this delusion kept him so, at least from the present danger at hand, just as I had been kept safe from ever running into the man who sought to harm me. I suppose he never figured his prey would come to him.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"To a patient, no surgery is ever routine." Julia Cameron

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: St. Elswhere Gnarls Barkley

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

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





My first car was a 1978 champagne-colored Ford Granada and the whole thing could be described as a traveling blind spot, one of those big boats that I navigated down the road with the ease of an army tank. I got stopped twice for drunk driving -- sadly, this was before I had even started drinking. Both cops were aghast that someone could drive so poorly sober. I confess that I didn't have much ease in my social interactions either, blind spots abounding. Like damn near everyone, I saw things through the scrim of my own needs and insecurities. The two-way mirror proved just as faulty. People saw me as a studious good girl despite the fact that my primary romantic relationships had been with men literally twice my age.

Reputation is a hard thing to shake. I tried acting out in every way possible, but to no avail. You won the Bible Bowl last year, didn't you? someone would comment about my ill-fated run in this teenage version of Bible Trivial Pursuit. Who wrote the letter to the Corinthians? was my winning question. Thomas Merton it wasn't. We Bible Bowlers traveled late into the night in a mini-van plastered with pro-life stickers. I'd slink out of it as if I'd been on a five day crack binge. By then, my politics were at odds with my religion, a position I would eventually accept despite everyone telling me that I couldn't have it both ways. I'm no angel, I would say. But sometimes I wanted to be good, just not in the way that made people comfortable. Now I've settled for knowing myself to be both at the same time, having it both ways and while it costs a lot, it's well worth it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"You are made in the image of what you desire." Thomas Merton

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Blonde on Blonde Bob Dylan

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Cocktail Hour



















I've always hated New Year, all that promise stretched out like party streamers and tired resolutions that won't happen. But as I get older, the years roll by faster, and I find myself a little less bitter when this time of the year rolls around. For one, it means Christmas is over and for two, expectations start to dwindle. I'm happy to be alive, happy to write, happy to have the same friends from years past and new ones as well. Eight is the infinity number and is supposed to be infused with mystical qualities. Here's to a wonderful new year to all of you and yours. I'll be back at you tomorrow with more writing, my one and only resolution, each and every year!

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Good resolutions are simply checks men draw from banks from which they don't have an account." Oscar Wilde

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy 2008!!!!