Monday, August 31, 2009


Hi everyone! Working on a new project with a title I've stolen from an old poem: How To Own and Operate A Haunted House. Here's the first paragraph. Back at you tomorrow.

We were convinced someone had died in Melissa's room since her parents had bought the Costello. We loved the big house on the farm with the gothic chandeliers and creaky stairs, and we sat upstairs in the small bedroom and told stories about how Mrs. Costello had died, how she had chosen to live the last few years of her life without leaving the bed, how her ghost watched us while we burned our cheap grocery store incense and played with the Ouija board, trying to add drama to our lives. I'm not the kind of person who feels like knowing an ending spoils a story. Ours ends with despair, with betrayal, with the last room before you leave the haunted house, the one that really scares you because you know whatever is out there is real, not manufactured for your terror.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If you're going through hell, keep going." Winston Churchill

Cocktail Hour
Drinking television suggestion: The finale of Hung is upon us in two weeks. Analysis: Favorite show in a long, long time!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Thanks for the thoughtful comments on the "Save the Whales" post. I think the subject of how we view weight is endlessly fascinating and agree completely with Will that the health-care industry is warped on this subject. I honestly find the PETA ad really sad and low even by their own press-whoring standards. While I find Whitnoise's interpretation more heartening than my own and agree that we as Americans overconsume, this ad was expressly directed at overweight women, touting vegetarianism as a weight loss device in addition to their usual party line about it being the morally superior position. The ad's image of a very large women in a tiny bikini with the Save the Whales tagline is super fat-shaming, much like when the ever so mature lifeguards at Mineral Wells Pool used to yell Shamu when a larger woman stepped in the water. And a special hello to Chris -- glad to have you on the comment board again!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Save The Whales

PETA, an organization I'm well, ambivalent about at best, has done it again with the degrading ads -- the last one is aimed at fat women in the most umm, tasteful fashion ever. Save the Whales, the billboard says, next to a large woman in a bikini. The text urges women to go vegetarian to lose weight. I admit that PETA has brilliant marketing strategies -- women in lettuce bikinis, women feigning sexual acts with vegetables, incendiary comparisons that get them lots and lots of press. While I question the integrity of the aforementioned ads, they don't offend me the way the Save the Whales one does. Why is it okay for our culture to be so incredibly fat-shaming? To support a bullshit billion dollar diet industry? Because we feel so bad about ourselves in general that poking fun at someone who doesn't look like Kate Moss is life-affirming?

I hate the way that society measures women's success on their weight. God forbid, you eat what you want and be healthier than most thin women I know. God forbid, you let yourself go, whatever the hell that means. I'm all for looking however you want to, wearing what you want, and showing your body in whatever fashion you see fit. While we need to worry about saving the whales and every other animal, let's try to be kinder to our own gender instead of drowning in a vat of self-disgust while we tie weights to our feet to help hasten the process. Nobody, it seems, needs to push us out to sea -- we're already there.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The best mirror is an old friend." George Herbert

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Soul Power

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday! Hi to the new readers and thanks so much for the kind words!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Write With Fire

I often call Charles Gramlich the hardest working man in my blog world. Reading Write With Fire, I realize this is even more true than I supposed. I have met Charles the same way I know lots of people -- through his blog and through his books. I love having a blog because it gives me a chance to write more with instant feedback and allows me to know people I might never meet otherwise. Who else but Heff is going to agree with me that the new Playboy sucks (Heidi Montag, really?) or review obscure horror movies like Scott or provide me with beautiful artwork like Lana? I can't live without a dose of my beautiful spirited Jodi (proving that brains and looks go together!) or hearing from the walking man, my dear friend and yes, student, of many years ago, Mark. I love Laura's thoughtful approach to topics I might not consider otherwise (Is free good? a tour of the Winchester house -- yes!) and Tim's prose about his life and deepest thoughts. Rob's take on the religious life always leaves me thinking and Jason always makes me laugh. I could go on (and there are many other wonderful blogs I read), but this is to say that I would not have known about Write With Fire without this world.

I love the practical advice that Charles provides his readers in this book. Stay hydrated. (and not with the demon rum, at least not until the end of the day) Work steadily. This is how to write a cover letter. Writing groups are good until they're not. How to take or not take criticism. Charles has written tons of books, stories, and essays, has a beautiful brilliant wife named Lana, and has raised a terrific son, Josh. In addition to all of this, he works as a professor full-time. Feeling lazy yet? I am. Even so, I'm going to get to work today, put down those words, and try to remember to stay hydrated while dreaming the past to create the future.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The work goes on, the cause endures." Ted Kennedy

Cocktail Hour
Lots of August birthdays so I'm going to come up with a birthday menu for tomorrow. Suggestions?

Benedictions and Maledictions
RIP, Ted Kennedy! Have been really behind on e-mail, but am going to get it all done by this weekend -- thanks for all the kind words and especially the request for books! You guys rock!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Writing With Fire!

Hey everyone -- just finished reading Charles Gramlich's Writing With Fire. Terrific book about the practical aspects of writing. Will do a longer review tomorrow. Really love the section on what writers want -- laugh out loud funny. More soon, my dears . . .

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Beer Magic

Hi everyone! Have been on the road a bit, but will be back tonight with a blog post. Here's Grouchie on election night -- he's since been on the wagon.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Day Of The Dead

Hi everyone! Hope you're having a great weekend. This picture is one of my favorites (winter, city, gritty newspaper feel) from a few years ago, and I'm posting an older poem that I think kind of matches it. The poem first appeared in many mountains moving. More tomorrow!

Day of the Dead

He left long after all the trick-or-treaters,
long after her neighbors have cleared out
because of the fire he pulled. Dressed as one
of New York’s finest, she let him in, and he
filmed her in different outfits, still as any
mannequin after the chloroform rag. She’d been
on his women to rape lists, stating he wanted
to take her down a notch. When the real
police found him, he slit his own throat,
and they saved him, despite his plea to let
him die. He’d been pretending to be a student,
but couldn’t pull off the costume now that
Halloween was over. I thought about all
the outfits I’d adorned myself with over the years
for various men. I hadn’t been drugged with
anything but the usual substances, and I’d been beautiful
or scary, a self-induced black-out here and there,
and in those moments I’m pretty sure I was both.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Stink: Poetry And Prose Of Detroit

You guys know my dear friend, the Walking Man, an encourager, truth-teller, and all-around great guy, a stalwart Detroiter and unrepentant wise-ass. To steal from an old ad, If you like him on the blog, you'll love him in his new book, Stink: Poetry and Prose of Detroit. If you're interested in reading great poetry or learning about the essence of my very favorite city, Detroit, you need to read this book. Mark has a brutal honesty and sense of humor that makes it a very compelling read. Congratulations to one of my dearest friends on his fine work!

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"No one changes the world who isn't obsessed." Billie Jean King

Cocktail Hour
Drinking suggestion: Watch for the trailers of the third season of Californication --Meet Professor Hank Moody, indeed.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday! And happy belated (by one day!) birthday to my dearest Higgins. You regular readers will know her as Hank's fabulous sister -- pictures tomorrow to commemorate!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Light Candles

Philadelphia, my old friend Hank used to say, has not been good for my writing. It was the closest he could to come to saying he had hit that horrible point in every writer's life where he or she feels uninspired, worn down, blown out on the tracks. Nobody in our circle ever copped to writer's block; we all knew the score. Writers write, they don't wait for the muse or inspiration. That was the playground for our students whose frequent excuse for not turning in stories and poems was often delivered in a whine -- "I can't write unless I'm in the mood." I spent a lot of time in cheerleader mode with this type -- "You can do it! Take a few minutes a day. Listen to music. Light candles."

Hank took a different tack. "Fucking hell, Michelle, you're not running a day spa. It's not sex. You don't have to be in the mood." Instead, he was the bad cop, telling them that they couldn't make it up and that was that. For our own parts, we both struggled in our respective cities with money problems, lack of time, endless winter, and the exhaustion that comes from landing somewhere far from where you started. I still don't believe in writer's block, per se, but I do believe that you go through phases in your writing life, some better than others. So I ask you, dear reader, what is your favorite writing strategy for getting through the hard times?

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The truth is: I never understood anyone's messages. Only the ocean existed." Pablo Neruda

Cocktail Hour
Drinking poetry suggestion: some Anne Sexton for the end of summer, I think!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Look for my review of Stink this afternoon!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

From Golden Boy To Mischief Maker

I'm not a big sports fan unless you count the Detroit teams so that means I don't watch football at all -- one of my favorite bumper stickers says, Let's Bring Professional Football Back To Detroit and well, last year the Lions kept being referred to as the "winless" Lions which doesn't give even the most stalwart hope. But this year the NFL is slightly interesting with Michael Vick and Brett Favre. I promised myself I wouldn't write about Vick because I didn't want to hear it, the outcry from everyone who hates him (my favorite headline to this score: Hide Your Beagle, Michael Vick Is An Eagle!) and despite his financial punishment and subsequent jail time still want a public crucifixion if possible (PETA will certainly stand for nothing less) despite those falling mostly out of favor. (Did you see those clever paperweights of Vick being lynched? I don't even know where to begin on this score.)

And Brett, while not a hurter of dogs, has invoked a lot of ire from Packers fans everywhere. I like that Brett has gone from golden boy to mischief maker. What becomes a legend most? Going gently into that goodnight? Why hell no! That's totally boring. Besides, as Miles Davis once pointed out, a legend is an old man with a cane, praised for doing what he no longer does. Some people point out that Brett has lost his status by acting the fool for the last few years. So what? Better to do something than nothing and go out with a bang as a Viking.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If I can change than anyone can change. I promise you that." Brett Favre

Cocktail Hour
Drinking suggestion: Will review Mark's book tomorrow!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Breaking A Horse To Stand Fire

I'm sitting here in the dog days of summer, reminded of my old lifeguarding days where I sat in the evil Texas sun without any protection and yelled at kids for running and broke up the Edgemeade kids when they tried to violate the no pda rule. (Edgemeade was the local dumping ground for fucked up adolescents -- some were mentally challenged, others convicted of petty and not so petty crimes.) I twirled my whistle, hitting my knee every now and then, wincing in pain and vowing not to twirl again. But boredom drove me back, of course, and I'd forget the pain. Such is most of life.

And such were roadtrips with one of my old beaus. He'd take me to places like the Greyhound Bus Museum (I can hear Hank laughing on this one -- he'd taken the old gray dog from Texas to Philadelphia and I don't think he found the experience worthy of umm, a musueum) or to see a fake gunfight in the middle of nowhere where a retarded girl screamed for half an hour because nobody could persuade her the shots weren't real. Truth be told, I couldn't quite either. Not a place to take a post-traumatic stress afflicted girlfriend. But I survived and the next day I saw a sculpture at an exhibit which was titled Breaking A Horse To Stand Fire. The text told the story of training horses to be able to withstand loud noises without flinching. Summer is always like that for me. And summer is almost over, thank God.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another." Madonna

Cocktail Hour
Drinking cocktail suggestion: Sorry for the epic mojito delay -- am having my computer looked at by someone smart this week.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Check out Mark Durfee's (known as the Walking Man) new collection of poems, Stink. I'll have a more complete review here in a couple of days.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Early Writing

Clearly, my concerns are still the same as when I was younger. Much younger. Anyway, I'm off to watch Hung. Hope you're having a great Sunday!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Happy Birthday Angela!

Here's a picture from, umm, late in the evening at my dear Angela's wedding rehearsal/tequila tasting dinner. Here we are -- Darci, me, Steph, and Angela with some poor man we apparently coerced into the shot. I have been friends with Angela forever and amazingly, we're not really getting any older on our birthdays. Strange. Happy Birthday, beautiful Ang!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

From Backwaters Press!

Hello Friends of The Backwaters Press,

The time is rolling around for our fundraising banquet and shiveree! Woo woo! We are planning it right now but we want to outdo last year's great party at Greg Kuzma's house in Crete. This year we're hoping to have a place downtown (we're still negotiating) in Omaha with lots of space indoors so we don't have to worry about the weather. We are planning on a date late in October but that's got to be confirmed yet and we will get the word out as soon as possible. We have asked the Omaha band The Black Squirrels to play and they will be there. They are awesome!!

Last year we had a silent auction including lots of cool artworks and many rare books and manuscripts. We are hoping to outdo that auction this year and I would like to ask each of you to help out with a donation of some really expensive and irreplaceable family heirlooms. <------ humor. Ha ha, just joking. But if any of you have an item or items that are of value that you would like to donate to help The Backwaters Press continue to publish some of the finest poetry and writing about poetry in the US today, I would really appreciate it and I know the members of the Board of Directors would too.

The Backwaters Press was officially granted non-profit, 501-(c)-3 status by the IRS about two months ago, so any donation that you make will definitely be completely tax deductible, and the press will give you a letter certifying that you have donated that dollar amount, which you will be able to itemize as a charitable donation on you income taxes. If you would like to see the letter, the press will be happy to provide a copy of it to you. So keep those Ming dynasty vases and the Jackson Pollock paintings rollin' in folks!!

We are hoping to receive donations of art objects, small antiques, rare books, etc., or creative gifts like tickets to the opera or an all-expenses paid trip for two to Europe-- that kind of stuff. Be creative! Heck, we'll even settle for a donation of 10 shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock-- well, even as little as one share is OK.

This year the whole silent auction shootin' match is going to be coordinated by the press' incredible volunteer, the fabulous Ms. Cat Dixon, so please direct any questions, etc. to her at

Thank you all so much, and especially those of you who helped with donations last year! Because of your help, the press was able to publish 16 books last year!

All best,

Greg Kosmicki
For the Board
The Backwaters Press

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The First Day Of School

Grief feels like homesickness, a word that doesn't get used much these days, an undefinable longing for bygone days, for a time that no longer exists, for former glories and even miseries. Is there any more shopworn thought than to return to the innocence moments before a bad diagnosis, an unlucky turn of events, financial collapse and the despairs over affairs of the heart? I think not. We can seldom appreciate a thing while it is happening -- only in retrospect do we get the strange pleasure of reliving our joy, perhaps, sadly enough, because it over. How, David, asks in the Psalms, can I sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land? Such is our lot, even if we never part from where we came from because, of course, the place is always parting from us, changing, shutting us out from what we know.

Summer always makes me feel this way, particularly its end with the back to school commercials, all those sharpened pencils, each year a new way of being which never held -- before long, the pencils became dull, my resolutions to be a different person failed in the light of who I am and will always be, a girl with matted hair and bad handwriting, a good reader of books, but never social groups, a person destined to be picked last for sports. Remember that fun ritual? Even so, I look back with a kind of twilight sadness for such hope, the ability to believe in something as redemptive as the first day of a new school year.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“Don't have a fall back, because if you do, you'll fall back.” Mary-Louise Parker

Cocktail Hour
Love the Mary Louise Parker link from Jason on the comments section!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Endless Summer

Some critics have accused 500 Days Of Summer as being a little too precious, but I disagree. Having endured a score of graduate workshops in Texas where people wore peacoats and smoked pipes while writing poems about "tiny little lamb feet," it takes a lot for me to come down hard on this score. The movie captures the fun and exciting nature of love and the truly wretched fall-out when it comes to an end.

Summer, played by the truly lovely Zooey Daeshanel, brings our male protagonist to his metaphorical knees. She's the kind of girl who everyone loves because she's not that obtainable. As with many fantasies, the romantic impulse does not always thrive with what is there -- it's all about the potential. So this is a movie about the start of love and it does that quite well. But in nearly every relationship of any duration, there's a moment like when Bill Murray says "I've come to the end of myself" in Groundhog Day. The movie never gets to that point -- it's not that kind of story. Summer, alas, is a fleeting confection. But if we do get to the end of ourselves with someone and manage to find something worth keeping, then we will be, as the Beach Boys sang in my happy childhood pool memories, Endless summer, all year long.

Cocktail Hour
Drink suggestions for the dog days?

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Negotiations and Follow-Ups

Hi everyone! Thanks for the thoughtful comments on the What Do Women Want? post. I'm working on a longer piece of writing about the topic in an effort to rival both Freud and Andrea Dworkin for insight. And yes, much sadness on John Hughes' death. For many years, I hosted an Andrew McCarthy film festival and played many of Mr. Hughes' movies as part of it. I'm a big Pretty In Pink fan (a movie that proves that Harry Dean Stanton has always looked old) and of course, anyone who went to high school when I did can't escape The Breakfast Club. Hope you're having a great weekend!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Breakfast Club

Just a shout-out to John Hughes, who died today. I can't believe it! This morning I mentioned his iconic Sixteen Candles characters, never imagining he'd be gone by day's end. As a child of the eighties, I loved all those movies. Rest in peace, John Hughes!

What Do Women Want?

Hi everyone! Going to post later, but I thought I would leave you with Baby Grouchie in another episode of news overload, albeit from a few years ago. Jason (of Mad Thoughts) asked a good question for all the women out there who are around my age -- Jake or Duckie? Ethan Hawke or Ben Stiller? What do women want? Men, feel free to weigh in on this question. Good guy, bad boy, or man old enough to be your father (okay, the last one I made up for myself -- ha ha!)?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Last Big Show

Hi everyone! We're finally in the dog days of summer -- hope everyone is holding up. I'm posting an alternate version of an old poem in honor of my dad being gone for five years today. The time passes ever so quickly even as it seems just yesterday while I was struggling through the worst of it.

Last Big Show

I don’t know if my father was afraid
when he died, if he could see ahead
or if he slept well the night before, happy
to be back after a long business trip,
writing on the dry erase board that Wednesday
morning he left forever -- “Last big show!
Glad to be home, finally.” He’d flown
in an air show for two weeks without
incident, only to fly into a power line
in the town he’d lived his entire adult
life. I found the notes for his work
report about his last two weeks, most
of them too technical to mean anything
to me, but he ended them simply in his small
handwriting, nothing like the big handsome
man he was, but part of him too -- “I am sure
I am leaving many things out, important things.”

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Stripping toughened my hide, but exposing myself as a writer has been a lot more brutal." Diablo Cody

Cocktail Hour
Working on new drink recipes!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy birthday to Billy Bob Thornton! (I know it's President Obama's birthday as well, but I figure he probably has lots of people wishing him a happy birthday, but I'm not as sure with the lead singer of the Boxcutters.)

Monday, August 03, 2009

When The Moment Is Right

I watch television while I'm on the treadmill (and yes, it's a perfect metaphor -- expending a lot of energy going nowhere while watching television that goes nowhere) and I have to say that there seem to be an inordinate number of ads for erectile dysfunction. I'm groovy cool with this as I can imagine that men are under a lot of pressure to umm, perform, and perhaps these potions help. Let's face it, Spanish Fly wasn't the answer so perhaps Levitra, Cialis, Viagra, or any of their little friends might be. I like all the euphemistic ways the ads handle the delicate subject of "being ready" for the right moment. My only question is the constant use of outdoor bathtubs in these ads. Do grown men and women install side by side bathtubs in beautiful outdoor gardens or by the edge of lakes and sit in them holding hands? Has this ever happened? When did the claw-footed bathtub start to signal middle-aged foreplay?

Sex is far more mysterious than anyone can portray in an ad or women's magazine. Ten tricks he's dying for you to try tonight! (These are as irritating as the come hither headlines of Poets and Writers magazine -- What you really need to know about getting an agent, etc.) Isn't there enough bullshit fantasy just induced by one or two viewings of Say Anything or Reality Bites (the only movie where picking the loserly mean hygienically-challenged angst-ridden Ethan Hawke character would be considered an existential victory) to leave us in a world of fantasy? The Bible says that love is a profound mystery which I buy. But bathtubs in the middle of nowhere while you pop pills and hope that Jack the Ripper doesn't show up when the "time is right?" That's an even bigger mystery.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The most difficult thing is what is thought to be the simplest; to really see the things which are before your eyes." Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Self-Made Man Norah Vincent

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday! And belated birthday wishes to my dear friend Priscilla!

Saturday, August 01, 2009



On a dead end street in the middle of the city,
we meet. We like all the same things, you know
the story. We're kept apart by the predictable
haunts -- old love, everything to lose. I once
said a place was heaven and a child told me that
it was heaven because it had a lot of cemeteries.
I feel certain we are buried together there.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I write songs about things that I'm simultaneously trying to not think about." Warren Zevon

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: 500 Days Of Summer

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Saturday!