Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Can You Tell Me How To Get To Heidelberg Street?

Here's me and the great artist, Tyree Guyton, founder of the Heidelberg Project in Detroit. If you have never been, you must! It's a fantastic art exhibit that runs the course of an entire street. I've posted pictures from the place, but you have to see it in the flesh.

I'm working on an essay about female frienship that I will post in parts this week. Until then, happy Tuesday!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

127 Hours

Note on above picture -- the scar on my stomach matches the zipper on the dress so I decided it was time to wear it again!

Can you gnaw off your own arm to save yourself? This is the very literal question filmmaker Danny Boyle asks in 127 Hours, his account of Aron Ralston's harrowing hiking accident where a rock pins his arm. After five days, Ralston amputates his arm to free himself and hike to eventual rescue. James Franco (one of my absolute favorites since his Freaks and Geeks days and his turn as Harvey Milk's lover in Milk) plays the arrogant, free-spirited Ralston who believes he can do anything without anyone. We have our classic man against nature plot -- how will he survive? The movie isn't hindered by our knowing the end. Boyle does not spare us any detail of the amputation which isn't gratuitous -- it's part of his contract with the audience. We suffer along with Ralston as the move delves deeper and deeper into the realm of the spiritual to ask this question: How do we get out of the traps we lay for ourselves? What sacrifice will be demanded for freedom?

Movies about being trapped have a particular hook into the human psyche. We're all trapped at certain points in life -- dead-end relationships, shitty jobs, our collective fuck-ups coming, like Malcolm X's proverbial chickens, home to roost. Why do we stay stuck? Because growth and pruning are so very very painful. Maybe not as painful as severing the tendons in your own arm, but painful. At one point, Ralston realizes that the rock that pins him has been waiting for him his entire life. He writes his birth and death day on the wall of the cave in anticipation of his demise. But even though he lives, this isn't incorrect. He did die in that cave, the version of himself that had gone hiking that morning without a care in the world. Reborn in its place, he becomes a man who uses a cheap dull knife to cut through a piece of himself that had already died, a recognition that he didn't have to die with it, even if losing it hurt beyond his wildest dreams.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Truth is such a rare thing, it is delightful to tell it." Emily Dickinson

Cocktail Hour
Memoir suggestion: Just Kids Patti Smith

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Saturday!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Hi everyone! Happy Thanksgiving! Today I'm doing nothing, my very favorite thing to do. The Detroit Lions are winning (this may be a Thanksgiving miracle) and life is good. I'm incredibly thankful for all of you who read this blog, grateful for friends and family, my health, and to God who makes it all possible. Pictured above is one of the best food places in the whole world, The American Coney (yes, it did win in the Coney wars) and my beautiful city, Detroit. Much of my writing is an unrestrained bitchfest, but today I take off from my inner irritant, and ask that we all appreciate all that we have.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Poetry With The Stars

While the country holds its collective breath for the outcome of Dancing With The Stars, I offer these shots from Friday night. Jim and Mark are pictured in their reading glory. Both of these writers were fantastic! Of course, I'm pictured with the gorgeous Jodi and Robin, hanging out before the event.

On the verge of Thanksgiving holiday, I find myself grateful for many things, the predictable ones (I'm alive, despite that ruptured appendix/septic shock debacle), friends, love, and ones that are more specific -- I just read Patti Smith's memoir, Just Kids, which is all kinds of genius. That book is amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Anyone who has ever wanted to write or create any kind of art would be advised to read it. I'm using the break for the rigors of teaching to organize, to write, and to post some new stuff and create some new cocktails. What are you guys doing? Tell all!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Friday Night Fever

Hey guys -- sorry for the longish break! This is the first of many pictures from the reading at the fabulous Lawrence Street Gallery this Friday night. I'm pictured with Jim and Mark (JR's Thumbprints and The Walking Man) after our fun night of poetry and prose. I'm going to do a write up tomorrow with more pictures (only those with Palace Approval! -- my dear Jodi's term for good pictures, not the notoriously shitty ones that always seemed to be tagged on facebook, you know the ones, where your friend with the account looks like she's sending a portfolio for the Ford Modeling Agency and you just happened to get caught eating a Coney dog). Thanks to all that came and made it so very special. It is always an honor and privilege to read for an audience, whether it be one or one thousand. Happy Sunday!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I'm Still Here

I saw the documentary/admitted hoax I'm Still Here starring Joaquin Phoenix. I've always been a huge Joaquin fan; he broods, mumbles, acts oddly, and does other things I enjoy in an actor. I like his mysterious background and thought he was especially great as Johnny Cash. So how is he now? Ill-groomed. Enough so that David Letterman asked him how he enjoyed his time with the Una bomber. Irritating. A bad bad rapper. Fear not, my Eminem, you are in no danger, Mr. White Shadow. (for those not old enough to get the reference, it's an old television show, the premise being that a surly white coach brings ghetto kids up to speed playing basketball -- incredibly racist in its assumptions, it's also a great display of 70s camp) Why does Joaquin drop out of the acting game? Because he's sick of himself. Happens to the best of us. But the best of us do not start mumbling/rapping lyrics about being a show pony for the film industry. But we're all in someone's dog and pony should at some point in our lives and it sucks. When things get bad, my mind wanders to Sammy Davis Jr. singing Mr. Bojangles. As the only black member of the Rat Pack, he spoke to me. He seemed to endure the burdens of show business with a sort of stoic grace. I got that.

Joaquin will no doubt star in more movies. No doubt he and his brother-in-law thought up this pseudo-documentary as a giant fuck you to the powers that be. I get that impulse. It's not an easy movie to watch. It goes on for a long time. There are not a lot of chuckles. It's more of a cringe-worthy delight. Do you ever feel like you've been playing yourself for so long that it feels like the 200th performance of Cats, the only Broadway show my dad ever saw besides A Chorus Line? He liked both of them, God rest his soul. See I'm Still Here on dvd, preferably with cocktails. Many cocktails. You will enjoy it in the fun house mirror sort of way, the way when we're distorted, we can sometimes recognize ourselves.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about." W. H. Auden

Cocktail Hour
Wine suggestion: Writer's Block

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Another snippet of the new/old story. Back tomorrow with a review of the bizarre documentary, I'm Still Here.

So The Count invited himself to lunch with us because he could and there I was, picking up papers from my office, my students’ second essay of the semester, the memoir, where they inevitably tell tales of deep woe, and believe me, I had have heard some hard luck doozies. Cal and I had offices next door to each other so we could keep track of the comings and goings and potential stalkers. If a male student came around a lot, Cal would refer to him as “my old man.” I seemed to get the sweet misunderstood fresh out of jail types and Cal got the Arabic male students and a few subtle skinheads with their red-laced Doc Martens. And before we went to teach, Cal and I would launch into the Bob Fosse routine at the beginning of All That Jazz, popping open one bloodshot eye and saying, It’s showtime! before scurrying off to our respective holes to our increasingly surly audiences.

These routines kept us going and we both dreaded The Count making what Cal referred to as “a visitation” because we knew he would talk too loud, too long, and about something so abstract we wouldn’t have a clue because The Count loved to speak in story problems, bullshit like -- If person A is a sheep and Person B is a dog and some new factor enters the equation, a profound factor, what will happen? Needless to say, I lost patience with this shit quick when I was looking down the barrel of forty reading quizzes on “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are." Bertold Brecht

Cocktail Hour
Pandora Radio -- http://www.pandora.com/ -- this is a great radio station that plays exactly what you want. Check it out!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bicentennial Days

Happy Saturday! Here's a picture of me and Beth in 1976 on our old deck. My mother took this shot; she died nine years ago today.. I've written about her a lot on this blog; she's been a huge inspiration and constant source of material. I hope she's looking down and enjoying it all. I'll be back tomorrow with more of the story . . . Thanks as always for reading!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

All Wounds Are Visible

Happy Veterans Day! I usually don't promote a lot of causes in this forum, but I would like to give a shout-out to the Wounded Warrior Project. They do a lot of good for veterans, particularly those who suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder, a cause very near and dear to my heart. If you can, please donate at http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/

Benedictions and Maledictions
A very special congratulations to my dear Shawn who finished his novel! So so so proud! Lower Than Heaven, Just Higher Than Hell is going to be a huge deal. Remember you heard it here first!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Begin Anywhere

Here's the start of the short story I'm rewriting. Will be posting it periodically throughout the next couple of weeks. Thanks for reading!

Let’s start with the website. I gave it to King Tim because he worked for the Fat Twins, a couple who never met a buffet they didn’t like, creating websites for small businesses. Perfect match, right? King Tim emailed me a link before his visit, and I clicked on it to be greeted by a picture of myself smiling in a little black dress surrounded by the flames of Hell. He had added a lone champagne glass framed by my contact information. When my boyfriend Stephen saw it, he said Jesus H. Christ in a sidecar which was quite a reaction from him given that he rarely reacted to anything except to intone All anxiety is godlessness, a leftover from his Christian Science upbringing.

Stephen had moved back in with me after a brief separation to my new place, a one bedroom apartment that I referred to as The Misery. I picked it because my best friend at work, Cal, lived in the complex which was across the street from the run-down community college where we both taught English to the recently graduated, laid-off factory workers, drug addicts (both recovering and active) and a garden-variety of the damned trying to improve their lot in this vale of tears. I was no different. You know how people always say that things looked all right from the outside after someone cracks up? In my case, things were looking shaky from any and all vantage points.

“So where will he sleep?” Stephen asked.

“In our bed,” I said.

We had two small matching couches I had purchased at the Salvation Army when I moved out of our old place.

“King Tim,” he said upon realizing his fate for four nights, and I began to think of Tim with a tiny tiara on his balding head.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If you want to be happy, be." Leo Tolstoy

Cocktail Hour
Am going to be posting some champagne recipes soon. Any favorites brands as far as champagne goes?

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Monday, November 08, 2010

JR Tomlinson's Adopted Behaviors

Hey guys -- still suffering under a wicked cold, but hope to be better soon! This week I'm reviewing my good buddy Jim's book (buy it, buy it!) and going to post a short story in pieces. I wrote the story about a year and a half ago and thought it was done (oh no, not even close!) and now am reconsidering a large aspect of it and will see what you guys think. Happy Monday to all!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

You've Come A Long Way Baby

I came across my first collaborative writing effort that I completed in the fifth grade on my dad's super-groovy Tandy, a wish-fulfillment fantasy of yearbook camp that I completed with my friend K (not his real initial -- okay, maybe his real initial). We sat in the garage office in my parents' house surrounded by pictures of New Zealand warriors with bones through their noses and a bookcase filled with tomes about diet, changing your life, and serial killers. My mother had truly eclectic tastes -- my dad stuck to aviation magazines which he secretly ordered when my mother wasn't watching. For some men, their secret life is pornography; for daddy, it was Aviation Today. K and I managed to produce almost fifteen pages of our dream world (junior high would be so much better than middle school -- wrong!) and like all writers, managed to vilify those people we didn't like. We also gave girlfriends to all the gay boys (the clue -- most of the romantic scenes included such lines as "I just finished The Razor's Edge and was dreaming of you . . . also there were a lot of OMD and Wham references). We included copious footnotes such as what a BA meeting was (Bitch's Anonymous) and any obscure Bible references (we loved those -- our one restaurant scene was set at a place called Job's). Heady stuff for eleven year olds, to be sure, but we weren't daunted. We even managed a Joan Rivers reference (one of the characters does impersonations of her).

I've never written anything with anyone since that fateful week locked in a small room. K and I fought over the details and plot points (must we have the reference to the Star Trek convention again? Does it add to character development?) and also my tendency to confuse the save and delete buttons. It wasn't pretty, but at the end, we had our product, printed our a dot-matrix printer in courier. We wanted a better font, our own font like Woody Allen has, but we never made it to that point. We were lucky to have graduated from the scratch and sniff sticker books that had dominated our third and fourth grade lives. I wince a the purple prose from those long ago days (Nothing could soothe the pain, nothing!) and marvel at the amount of sexual jargon and curse words we used freely. My favorite detail -- a character so dull that she collects algebraic expressions from around the world. We ended with a nod to the future, hope that it would all turn out like we wrote it. It didn't, of course. Nothing does. Even so, there's evidence of a collective wish, the most shopworn one there is -- that everything will be wonderful fun, even if we never did see the fire escape of which we dreamed.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare." Mark Twain

Cocktail Hour
Any good movie recommendations? I'm still reeling from Secretariat. Spoiler alert --the pony wins!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Thursday, November 04, 2010


Once a student lugged two boxes of her medical records to my office. I can't use them, she said. Maybe you can write about me. She'd been in and out of various mental hospitals over the years with all sorts of diagnosis. When she sat in my class, she clasped a large black rosary over her small white hands and appeared to be praying. I was glad someone was; I needed all the help I could get in those days. Teaching had lost its luster in the same way her rosary beads had -- they got the job done, but the shine had long left. A lot of people found her strange, but no stranger than my student who used the class break to burn his arms with cigarettes and then ate Smarties by the handful for the second part of class. I didn't have words. My own life, while it looked okay from the outside, wasn't much better.

I thought about my student with the rosary who both had the aura of a very young child and a very old woman. She was like one of those pictures where you either saw a skull or a rose depending on how you looked at it. I liked her and over time, came to understand her enmeshed family situation that had driven her, well, mad. I came to view her as an odd sort of saint, someone like Simone Weil who had suffered in ways most of us couldn't understand. Years later, she asked me for the boxes. I had ditched them in one of my office moves because they so depressed me. How anyone had been through what those papers indicated I didn't understand -- institutions, four point restraints, shock treatments. She looked sad for a minute as she told me she'd wanted to burn them, but cheered up when she came to the conclusion that God had taken care of her old self for her. I remembered the first time I saw someone burn themselves alive on television, a Buddhist monk in protest of the Vietnam War. I didn't know what it would be like to start anew. I, too, wished I could have seen the papers burned. To watch your old self light up in that way, to rise from the ashes of what had happened and walk away.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The only difference between saints and sinners is that every saint has a past while every sinner has a future." Oscar Wilde

Cocktail Hour
Movie suggestion: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Monday, November 01, 2010

I Write The Book

There's a lot of lore around first impressions, that they are accurate, that a terrible first impression leads to love (like in all the romantic comedies -- they hate each other at first -- can you believe it?), that they cannot be trusted. I usually like almost everyone which is a fault according to some, a virtue to others. This does not mean that almost everyone likes me. I tend to be what people generously refer to as an acquired taste. I'm shocked when people find me intimidating. I'm not shocked when they find me obnoxious, out to lunch, shy, or disturbed.

As for my first impressions of others, I have been wrong, but the error quickly rights itself. My first contact with many is not great and sometimes those people have become my very closest friends. So I try and hold off on judgment. The older I get, the less I'm prone to make judgments. So many factors! Experience teaches that you can't judge a book by its cover (the most you can do with the cover is say, Someone isn't very good at marketing) and that you can't determine what someone will be like under pressure or in happiness or sorrow. Anyone have some good first impression stories? Would love to hear them . . .

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Actions are visible, though motives are secret." Samuel Johnson

Cocktail Hour
Starting a Christmas card/present list -- if you want to be on it, email me your address at michellespells@gmail.com. Yes, I still send letters. I know it's weird. But consider me an old-fashioned girl . . .

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Day of the Dead!