Thursday, December 30, 2010

Almost New Year's Day

Hi everyone! Hope you're having a wonderful holiday week. I love the week between Christmas and New Year's. It's sort of like found money -- it's not really scheduled for anything except eating and drinking and sleeping and watching those sad as hell In Memoriam segments that play on every television show, especially as the decade closes. This decade has been quite a time -- I laughed, I cried, I nearly died (literally) and I'm so grateful for all the love and support from everyone, all the fun, the November reading with Mark and Jim, and all the wonderful writing I read each and every day thanks to you guys. I know in Michigan that whenever you thank someone, they are prone to say Don't mention it. But hey, sometimes you just have to mention it. I'm on the road right now and haven't been in the loop as much as I hope, but here's to the new year and all the adventures that await us.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Soul Train Scramble

In honor of Tina Marie and her untimely death, I offer a Soul Train-inspired playlist of holiday tunes for the ideal New Year's Eve party. Soul Train was my favorite show as a kid, and I still have been known to participate in the Soul Train line at parties where lots of alcohol has been served.

Love Hangover Diana Ross
Got To Give It Up Marvin Gaye
Early In The Morning Gap Band
Night Train James Brown
I'm So Glad You're Mine Al Green
Ain't Nobody Chaka Khan
I Feel Love Donna Summer
You Said A Bad Word Joe Tex
Shining Star Earth Wind and Fire
You Dropped The Bomb On Me Gap Band

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve!

Hi everyone! Thanks for a wonderful year of comments, insights, and love. Sending you all big Christmas wishes from the Motor City. Much love, Michelle

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Evil Twin

Black Swan, the new film by Darren Aronosky, is a mix of all sorts of camp and melodrama -- horror, ballet, crazy mother genre, bad teacher genre, and Swan Lake. Everyone knows the story of Swan Lake -- one ballerina must play both the White Swan and the Black Swan. Of course, all of us contain both of these sides and of course, most of us are defined more by one side than another. I'm a classic Black Swan, the darkness more apparent than the light. But Natalie Portman who plays Nina in the movie, is all White Swan -- a good girl to her core. She has to tap into her inner darkness to play the negative of the White Swan which leads her down some creepy roads having to do drugs, sex, and self-mutilation.

Nina's mother, a chilling Barbara Hersey, oversees every aspect of Nina's life. A tale of suffocating intrusive caretaking, Nina longs for perfection in her professional life in order to validate both her and her mother's life. I've known this type of girl my entire life and truth is, she is my negative. The longing for perfection, the anxiety-filled misery that accompanies it, well, when the music starts to swell and the metaphorical audience shows up, she shows up ready to take the stage and do whatever it takes to fulfill the dream, Nina's last words -- "It was perfect."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mrs. Santa's Sister

Hello all! It's the weekend before Christmas and all through the house . . . nowhere is around because they are frantic with last minute shopping . . . So in the spirit of the season, what are your favorite Christmas traditions? Are you Christmas Eve or Christmas day? I'm a Christmas eve person as befitting my personality. Let's face it -- it's a lot more fun opening presents at night when you're awake and happy and possibly enjoying a lovely cocktail like the ones I'm posting tomorrow. My favorite Christmas tradition is listening to the Charlie Brown Christmas cd and weeping. Seriously, that's some sad shit, but i LOVE it so. How about you guys? Back tomorrow, xo

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Best Gifts, Worst Gifts

I always enjoyed my parents' tome, Best Pills, Worst Pills. One thing I really enjoyed as a child was reading medical books, including The Joy of Sex. Okay, this probably doesn't count as a "medical" book, but man could those au natural figure drawings move into some flexible poses. Hard to believe that we went from that look to the torture of Brazillian waxes in thirty short years. Why must the body be constantly monitored -- do you hear me, spirit of Andrea Dworkin? Seriously, I gleaned a fair amount of weird information from my perusals. In one set of ancient medical texts, I learned that birth control was "tawdry and borderline evil" (obviously they never saw some of the children that came from a number of couplings that fit that description), abortion was "criminal, a sin worthy of the death penalty", and that you could cure an earache by blowing cigarette smoke into the offending ear. Almost as reliable as the astrological birth control section included in the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. (To the editors credit, they say it might be "iffy."

In the spirit of Best Pills, Worst Pills, I ask you to tell me about your worst gifts, best gifts list. This can be in general or specific gifts that you love to get, ones that you hate. I tend to love all gifts, not to be a Pollyanna about it, but I do. The worst gift I got was a bouquet of flowers stolen off a tombstone that was still crawling with ants. Daddy, a man not prone to sarcasm usually, called that guy Smooth Operator from that point forward. My best gifts are too numerous too mention -- every single day, something good and joyous comes my way -- a kind word, a sweet gesture (no, I'm not talking to you in the big truck who flipped me off the other day or the meth addict who shook his fist at me and said, Bugs), or something about which to think. I also really enjoyed getting an IPOD -- made a world of difference when on the treadmill or plane. I also recently received a beautiful prayer shawl from Donna B, Hank's mother. The person who makes the shawl prays for the recipient during each stitch. Couldn't think of a more thoughtful gift! What about you guys? Worst, best . . . . Tell all!

Michelle's Spell of the Day
A faith of convenience is a hollow faith. ~Father Mulcahy, M*A*S*H, "A Holy Mess," 1982

Cocktail Hour
Memoir suggestion: Breaking Night Liz Murray

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Favorite Television Characters

Hi everyone! For today's post, a list of my ten favorite television characters in no particular order. Feel free to add!

Tony Soprano -- what is not to love? James Gandolfini, you are heaven are earth!

Archie Bunker -- I watched this religiously as a child. Loved Lionel and Meathead as well.

Lindsey -- Freaks and Geeks, greatest show about teenagers ever written. Seriously. So much better than My So-Called Life and everything else that came after and before.

Ray Drecker from Hung -- a hot man, Detroit, diminishing returns, dashed hopes. If only Ray could get his house fixed!

Hank Moody from Californication -- a writer's fantasy. No, writers usually don't look like this for the record.

Nurse Jackie -- my favorite Edie Falco character ever. She's perfect as the pill-popping trying to be good Jackie.

Fitch from Detroit 187 -- another Sopranos actor makes good! Great series, great fun.

Maude -- And then there's Maude! Bea Arthur rocks as a feminist icon in this terrific show.

Patti Stanger from The Millionaire Matchmaker, my one nod to reality tv. I love her straight-talking no bullshit style.

Jack from Three's Company -- John Ritter was a comic genius. This show is the proof.
See you tomorrow!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Detroit 187

Hi everyone! On the verge of the holidays, Baby Grouchie is surrounded by treats for mind, body, and soul, otherwise known as cosmos. I'm loading the new book information into the website so I'll let you know how to get a copy, if you so desire. Stocking stuffers, people, stocking stuffers! As for my drink recipes, I'm leaving you with a simple combination for a delightful desert drink named after the great new show, Detroit 187. Loved the first season -- the last episode was really good. And the Lions won today -- it is a Christmas miracle! Back at you tomorrow with more holiday love . . .

Detroit 187
one part Godiva chocolate liqueur
one part chocolate almond milk
Serve over ice.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Alive Day

Two years ago today, I almost died. A lot of factors played into the whole not dying thing -- an urgent care that stayed open for two hours past closing time, a doctor who realized that I was septic and sent for an ambulance, an excellent surgeon whom I only remember from his Pittsburgh Steelers do-rag, and a team of nurses who kept me sane for the next few weeks. The love and prayers of my friends and family, most certainly, and perhaps, as they say, it wasn't my time to go. My friend Angela says God was merciful; I can't argue with this statement. The upshot was that I survived a ruptured appendix and the subsequent septic shock after being told that I probably wouldn't. On the news that month, a Brazilian model suffered a similar affliction and after having her hands and feet amputated, she died.

People asked if this experience changed me. The honest answer is I hope so. I might never wear a bikini again! Kidding . . . the scar is kind of cool. If only my abs were well, existent. But in all seriousness, I try to think about what I want to do with my only life, the only one I'm promised in this form, and I try to do well by others. I don't always succeed, of course; I'm far from perfect. But the desire for perfection has faded in light of almost dying, that twilight zone of almost not making it. I'm happier, a lot happier, in many ways with myself and others. I don't worry so much. Healing took a long time, the real healing that comes from coming back to yourself. And like an old friend, I'm happy to see myself, I pour myself a Dr. Pepper and invite myself to watch a little television, maybe even stay for dinner. I don't demand anything of her; she's welcome to keep me company. The only surprise? Well, she's a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I think I've discovered the secret of life - you just hang around until you get used to it." Charles Schulz

Cocktail Hour
Movie suggestion: Howl

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Monday, Monday

Hi everyone! First, happiest birthday wishes to my dear friend Shawn Behlen. Look for his magnificent novel in the coming year. It's the best read ever. Spectacular work, Bamms! And thanks so much for the great comments on the essay and a special thank you to Barry of Camroc Press who commented on Love One Another Constantly. I'd be honored to send something! As for "Girl On Fire," I'm so excited that you guys like it. Means the world. I really enjoyed writing it.

So I'm still working on the female friendship essay which I'm going to try and post this week. As for now, I'm sending lots of love to Elizabeth Edwards and her family, am mystified by Mel Gibson's new movie title (The Beaver -- someone was having a very good time with this one, I feel certain), and am fighting the good fight at the end of the semester. Until tomorrow, happy Monday!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Interested In Becoming A Catholic?

Here's the second part of Girl On Fire. Thanks for the sweet words on the first half. I'm behind in that end of the semester way on everything so thanks for the patience on things like returning emails, book orders, and matters of a dark nature. Ha! Information on the new chapbook is forthcoming -- I'm taking pictures of Baby Grouchie reading through the poems as he is wont to do. The full collection will be out soon as well so as soon as that's ready, I'll let you guys know. Thanks as always for reading! Happy Sunday . . .

Girl On Fire

I wanted to kill myself, but I couldn't decide what to wear read another student near the end of the semester. I thought about Kelly saying the rosary and felt relieved that someone was praying during class. Seven of my students had been institutionalized at one point in their lives and much of workshop included lively debate about what and what was not standard procedure for mental hospitals in the eighties, the decade most of the students had done their tours of duty. The class contrasted sharply with the RCIA classes I took from Deacon John every Wednesday night in the rectory basement where my fellow initiates debated the finer points of annulments as a prerequisite for taking Holy Communion. Everyone was there because they wanted their marriages recognized by the Church. The anomaly, I had chosen to convert at the behest of a small sign that said Interested In Becoming Catholic? It seemed I was.

I saw Kelly twice after the class ended. She invited me to Olive Garden for lunch during Christmas break where she stared into the bottomless basket of breadsticks and told me how she looked forward to death because she could meet her most intimate lover, Jesus. In my ragtag explorations of garden-variety Protestantism, I had never heard the Good Lord referred to as a lover. I looked at Kelly who during class had appeared both as a very young girl and an old woman as if she were one of those paintings where you could see either a skull or a rose depending on your point of view. Our minestrone soup arrived and Kelly said she loved Olive Garden because you could eat as much as you wanted, an odd comment in light of her gaunt appearance.

She had been very kind about my sparse props at the Misery, noting that she liked that my mattress had no bed frame because it would enable her elderly dog to hop on it with ease. So this I thought was what it mean to be Christ-like -- to see what other people lacked through the scrim of love.

I became a Catholic that April, six months after my mother died of cancer and one month after my best friend Hank had lost his life to a blood clot following surgery to repair his broken leg. I felt glad to have chosen a religion that recognized the value of suffering. Say the word and I shall be healed, I said before my first communion. I had invited Kelly to my baptism, but her mother refused to allow her to stay out after nine at night. Her only hope to free herself of her Grey Gardens-like existence lie in her plan to become an elementary school teacher thereby securing a modicum of financial stability that would allow her to live on her own.

Two years after the workshop, I moved offices and the boxes had been dumped into a recycled bin by an overzealous janitor. Kelly paid me a surprise visit, informing me that she had obtained her degree and would start teaching in the fall.

"Do you still have the boxes?" she asked.

I froze, not knowing what excuse I could given. I was having a hard time of making sense of my own fragile psyche -- two deaths and the end of a long-term, dead-end relationship had left me overextended, raw, and anxious. My solace had taken the form of saying fifty-four day novenas on a rosary not unlike the one Kelly had used in my class.

"It's okay if you don't. I just wanted to take them to a field and set them on fire. I wanted to watch my old self burn. Like a girl on fire."

I told her that the boxes had been damaged in my storage unit by a storm. I couldn't bear the thought that she might think I didn't appreciate her gift, an offering to the gods of writing. She had entrusted me with the most damaged parts of herself and now they were being recycled. It didn't have the poetry of an act of God.

She smiled. "Then Jesus took care of it for me."

Her lover, I thought. She smiled like a bride who just found out her groom had built a house for her. She walked out of my office, and a month later, my dad died in a plane crash where his friend flew a two engine Cessna into a power line. Dad's body had burned, and he had to be identified by his dental records. All my pretty ones, I thought as I went to the crash site and collected some charred dirt in a Ziploc.

That week, I was scheduled to move out of the Misery into a beautiful little duplex near Lake St. Clair. I still didn't have much in the way of possessions, but I bought a fire-proof safe for the dirt and pictures and little gifts from my mother, Hank, and my dad. It didn't dawn on me that I now had my own version of Kelly’s box until I moved a couple of weeks behind schedule. Nobody wanted to touch my safe after they found out what it contained so I strapped it in the passenger seat of my car and drove it to my new home. No matter how hard you try to strip everything away, some burdens could never be set on fire, I realized, and you must carry them on your own.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Girl On Fire

Hi everyone! My chapbook, Love One Another Constantly, is now available! I'll give details in tomorrow's post. For now, I'm posting the first half of an essay (second half to follow tomorrow) called "Girl On Fire."

Girl On Fire

The year I became a Catholic, a student of mine named Kelly gave me two cardboard boxes filled with her medical history.

"Maybe you can write about my mental illness. My mother would never let me. It's all in there," Kelly said. She'd recently completed a creative writing workshop with me where she sat dead center in the front row each Friday afternoon and produced a set of black rosary beads which she wove around her fingers for the duration of the three hour class. Flanked to her left by a suicidal young man with a large winesport birthmark that covered half his face and to her right by an ex-skinhead, recently rehabilitated heroin addict who had a swastika on his bicep which he was in the process of removing by a series of laser treatments, she sat whispering Hail Marys over and over, a melodic chant that became as commonplace as asbestos-lined tunnels that ran underneath the community college where I had been hired as a full-time faculty member.

I took the boxes and put them in the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet, thanking her even though I too had begun to shed myself from my past life and was looking to get rid of my possessions, not add to them. Like St. Francis, I wanted to believe, but his writings didn't inspire me to such noble action. Clear Your Clutter With Feng-Shui by Karen Kingston motivated me . Kingston preached the dangers the clutter -- everything from weight gain to depression. So I purged almost two thirds of my stuff in a month, abandoning everything from my Snoopy Snow-Cone machine, old dresses, books, and my boyfriend of seven years, an emotionally remote man twenty years my senior.

After our break-up, I moved into a dismal one-bedroom apartment in a complex across from the school where I taught dubbed The Misery because of the scores of divorced faculty who had used the place as a holding pen during times of emotional and financial distress. In a particularly grisly touch, all the surrounding trees had been hacked halfway down because of blight which forced the owners to offer Free Heat as an enticement for potential renters on the sign advertising Apartment Available. No one never removed the sign -- an apartment was always available at The Misery. I called it The Tomb, in hopes I suppose, of an eventual resurrection.

I peeked into the boxes from time to time where medical terms and treatments popped up at me like jack-in-the-boxes: manic depressive, schizophrenic, four point restraint, ECT, bipolar disorder. Words have power, I often intoned to my students. These felt like bombs, the boxes landmines of suffering. Like many of my students, Kelly was a few years older than I was and like most of my students, had Seen It All.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“By "guts" I mean, grace under pressure.” Ernest Hemingway

Cocktail Hour
My favorite guilty pleasure is back -- Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!