[How Tired ARE You?]

29 Aug


I had some crazy deadlines recently and they made for some bad sleeping habits–I’ve been perpetually tired and running on empty (but still working! hi ho hi ho hi ho!) for the better part of a week. I was vaguely disgusted with myself because I used to keep crazy hours when I was in college–crazier hours, really–but here I’ve been more of a zombie than I ever was as an undergrad. What gives? Did I get out of the habit? Was it because my roommate, neighbors, and fellow dorm residents were also up at all hours, so I wasn’t alone? (Misery loves company?) Did I not work as hard, back at school?

Have you noticed that when you tell someone you’re tired, it’s sort of like telling them that you’re brunette (if you are) or short (if that’s the case) or covered in freckles (aren’t you adorable!). A declaration that you’re less than bright-eyed and bushy-tailed is no news headline. What, you’re tired? We’re all tired!

But sometimes I just want to say, “No, you don’t get it. I’m really tired.” Or, it would be nice if the other person would play along, stand-up comedy-style. 

“Whew. I have been working like crazy lately and man, am I tired!”

[“How tired ARE you?”]

I’m SO tired, that when I was taking a break from work to chat with a friend online, I spelled “fun” p-h-u-n. Yeah. Phun. A minute later I got an email from the college I went to, declaring that they would be taking back my diploma and revoking my English degree. “Fine,” I replied in a followup email. “Then I demand a full rephund.”

I’m SO tired that when the dogs wouldn’t stop barking at a speck of dust or a neighbor walking by or whatever the heck they were barking at, I started barking with them. “Arf arf arf arf arf! Auouuuuuuuuuuu! Arf arf arf arf!” That’s about the time my dad walked in. “I’m not even going to ask,” he said. “Grrrrrrrrr,” I said.

I’m SO tired that the skin on my face weighed two tons and I had to use my hands to keep it from collapsing. The phone rang and I thought, there’s no way I can answer that. I sat in my desk chair and listened to my mom leaving a message, wondering where I was.  Can’t come to the phone now, Mom. I have to hold up my face.

I’m SO tired, that at lunchtime, I punched in 2o minutes on the microwave, instead of 2 minutes. I watched the numbers slowly count down and thought, something is not right. My lunch exploded in the microwave and it came to me. I’m going to need a fork.

I’m SO tired, that when I blinked my eyes I felt like the alien in Men in Black that Will Smith chases. You know the one I mean. He has two eyelids that are really two gills, which Tommy Lee Jones tells Will Smith back at MIB headquarters. So then I thought maybe I’m an alien. Which means that Will Smith will probably chase me. Score.

I’m SO tired, that reading the word “yawn” made me yawn. So then I tried typing and reading “awake awake awake awake.” Unfortunately, the power of words is selective.

Well, that’s it folks. You’ve all been great! Tip your waiters and waitresses! Grab some shut-eye and 40 winks. Hit the snooze button. Zzzzzzz.


It’s My Birthday and I’ll Stalk If I Want to!

23 Aug

It’s my birthday today! Yipee! Wahoo! Commence applause, joyful cheering, and prayerful thanks for my existence! It’s the 23rd, I’m turning 23, and it’s a Tuesday, which is the same day of the week I was born on 23 years ago. Clearly, this will be a magical, epic year.

A lot of people have certain birthday traditions that help make their special day memorable–whether it’s a favorite meal, a standing date with friends, or birthday margaritas. My grandma used to take a picture of me sitting in her rocking chair every year on my birthday. When you flip through, you can watch me go from a baby that needed propping up to a 5’10 gal who blocks the chair. I’ve always been grateful for my grandma’s creative idea, and I know it’s something that I will do when I have kids of my own. 

My family has a special Happy Birthday song that we’ve always sung to each other on birthdays. The lyrics go like this:

Today, you’re one year older
and you’re growing up the way we want you to
So we planned a big surprise
walk with me, and close your eyes
Oh look, your friends are waiting here for you! 

[traditional Happy Birthday song: Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you etc.]

Make a wish and blow out the candles
wishes for good boys and girls come true
Now hurry and cut the cake, we can hardly wait
As you open your gifts we’ll sing once more to youuuuu

[repeat traditional Happy Birthday song]

Now, since several people in my family are slightly tone-deaf (okay, very tone-deaf–sorry Grandma), we always played the actual recorded version of this song, too. My grandma had the record for a long time and somewhere a long the line, somebody transferred the song to a cassette tape. My little branch of the family has since lost this precious tape.

Nobody remembered who sang the song, or what the album was called. Nobody knew the title of the song, but everyone guessed it was some variant of “the Happy Birthday Song.” I didn’t despair, however, because I knew most of the lyrics and I imagined I could just type them into Google and the song would pop out. I’m a child of the internet age and I trust the mysterious Web to answer all my questions.

I picked a portion of the lyrics and plugged them into the search engine. I got three–count ’em three–results. One led to someone who was also searching for this song, for the same sentimental reasons. (I feel ya brother!) The other two were completely unrelated. Over the course of several more days, I logged hours and hours of internet searching. I tried different variations of the lyrics. I searched each individual line of lyrics. I tried quotations marks around the words, the words by themselves. I thought maybe I’d strike gold with Youtube. There is a lot of birthday music on Youtube. I found the Beatles’ Birthday Song, a tribute by Elvis, and then this odd version. Then there was a great musical birthday moment from Boy Meets World, a diddy by The Three Stooges, and Burt and Ernie’s celebration for the letter U. And of course, who can forget Marilyn Monroe’s breathy performance?

This all made for some good entertainment and hours of distraction, but where-oh-where was MY birthday song? I found dozens of other people who were also searching for this song, but it appeared that no one had been successful. The very fact that this song didn’t seem to exist according to the internet–an impossibility, since everything can be found online–turned this whim of a hunt into an obsession.

Then, by some magical combination of search terms and with some lucky clicking, I found it. Sort of. I found a woman’s ancestral blog, a blog dedicated to her genealogical research and family tree. This woman devoted a blog post to a relative’s birthday and included a lovely slideshow of mostly black and white photographs that highlighted his early years. The slideshow’s background music was–you guessed it–the song I’d been searching for.

Although this woman’s blog was public, I assume that it is intended for her and her family. I felt a little, well, stalker-y as I watched her relative’s childhood flash on my computer screen. I was so excited to hear this music that I actually played it several times and even held the phone to my computer so my grandma could listen.

Now, of course, I could just play this slideshow full of strangers whenever I want to celebrate a birthday with this song. However, I haven’t given up hope of finding my own personal copy.

That’s why I clicked around until I found this woman’s contact information and emailed her with a plea for song information–artist, name of song, album title, anything. I tried to phrase my email as un-creepily as possible. I tried to downplay my musical desperation. Hopefully, since this woman’s blog is devoted to family, she’ll understand how much this music means to me. I don’t know if she’ll read my email or not, but I figured it was worth a try.

So that’s my little birthday stalking story. Okay, so it definitely doesn’t rival Kim “The G is Silent” Pugliano’s Passat Saga. (Check it out if you haven’t already–you gotta love an addicting neighborhood mystery told with wit and humor). But I think I’m at least in the stalker-with-good-intentions minor leagues.

I hope you all will have a bubbly drink or a slice/scoop of a snazzy dessert (my birthday cake is a homemade Baked Alaska, in case you were wondering) to celebrate my birthday. You deserve it.

Oh, and P.S
If  the universe decides to mess with me and one of you reads this and knows exactly what song I’m talking about, I swear I’ll have a freaking heart attack.

Cheers!

Lessons From My Creative Writing Class: Art Imitating Life, Girl Imitating Writer

15 Aug

Week 8 of my online creative writing class begins today and I had a d’oh moment last night when I realized that hey, I could have been blogging about the experience from the get-go. (Yes, I did sort of write about it here, but then…nothing.) I’ve been overcome with this hindsight feeling so many times since this blog began that it’s become sadly familiar. I like to think of it as the v8 Blog Effect–Gee, I could have had a blog topic!

Each week of the class has a different theme and prompt relating to writing, story development, craft. One week focused on story openings and first sentences; another, dialogue. When Week 5 hit, I was not feeling the prompt. I didn’t know what to write about, I didn’t have any ideas for characters or plot, and I made the mistake of reading a few classmates’ stories before I wrote mine. This totally intimidated me because:

a) They had gotten their work done so early that they had posted it before I had even started my story.
Perhaps their brains had more throbbing, intelligent veins than mine. Maybe they are genius schedulers who know how to prioritize and do not get sucked into watching youtube clips for hours. It’s possible that when they write, they don’t wail and pause the plot to type THIS IS SO STUPID or ACTUAL GOOD DESCRIPTION HERE into the Word document.

and

b) Their stories were Good.
Enough said.

Anyway, lost and bewildered but determined to turn something in, I ended up writing a pretty true-to-life scene of an encounter between me and a friend I lost touch with several years ago. This meeting has never actually happened, but I’ve thought about this friend a lot during space-outs and daydreams and had already imagined what it would be like if we ran into each other. Basically, the narrator of the story was me, and the friend she runs into was this friend from my past. Oh, I gave the narrator a few twists so that she wasn’t an exact duplicate of me–but the way she talked, the thoughts that floated through her head, her sense of humor–they were all mine.  

I was perusing Ryan Gosling’s imdb page recently (I had just seen Crazy, Stupid, Love and had heard angels singing when he took his shirt off –so of course I had to be a creeper and look him up. See? This is how I get off the writing track.) There’s a quote from him–and it’s on the internet, so it must be accurate–where he talks about the characters he plays and how they relate to him. 

All my characters are me. I’m not a good enough actor to become a character. I hear about actors who become the role and I think ‘I wonder what that feels like’. Because for me, they’re all me. I relate to these characters because aspects of their personality are like me. And I just turn up the parts of myself that are them and turn down the parts that aren’t. 

This is how I feel about the characters I make up–thus, I’m pretty sure it’s a sign that Ryan Gosling would find me fascinating and familiar and probably witty and beautiful. Every perspective I write from, every character I try and create, has to have a little bit of me in them or else it’s like I’m swimming against a really strong current. (And I’m not a very good swimmer.) 

That said, this Week 5 story character was so me–even with the little details I gave her that had nothing to do with my life–that I was basically writing a fantasy staring myself. And when I posted my words to the class board, I failed to consider what it would be like to read my classmates’ and teacher’s comments about a character that was me.

“You capture the subtle boredom and desperation and confusion in the narrator’s life nicely,” one person said. And I thought Huh, I guess I am subtly bored and desperate and confused…sometimes not so subtly.

The teacher was particularly  interested in the narrator’s voice and sensibility. “She has a super high degree of self–consciousness,” he observed, “which leads her frequently to comment on and critique her own behavior. Lively, self–deprecating, ironic, rueful—the voice is at times all of these things, and it’s hard not to feel some warm feeling toward her.” Well, I’m glad somebody feels some warmth towards me. But aw man–am I basically characterized by a high degree of self consciousness? I wonder if everybody finds me insecure. Do they? DO THEY?

Another person suggested that I further establish the “unreliability” of the narrator. “I’m not getting enough subtext between the narrator and [the other character],” she said. She advised that I go ahead and acknowledge that the narrator’s memories of the friendship are significantly flawed and full of regret and doubt. Woah, this is getting weird.

It was a little surreal to read other people’s reactions to and interpretations of my personality and insecurities. It was like anonymous therapy with well-read therapists who majored in English. I read through all the comments on this story that could have been my life and I sat at my desk thinking about protagonists and writers, and art imitating life and life imitating art. I mean, wouldn’t it be weird/neat/interesting, if someone wrote an unfiltered “me” character and submitted it to a class just to see what other people thought about the hot mess of strengths and weaknesses that that person lived with every day? And actually, wouldn’t that make a great story? (DIBS!!! I CALLED IT! YOU HEARD IT!) It would be a little like the film Adaptation and a little like the recent A Midnight in Paris–one of the best movies I’ve seen lately, even if it didn’t include a shot of Ryan Gosling’s abs. But it also would be completely different. Get it?

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of the wheels in my head spinning.

If I had to define the lesson I got from Week 5 of this creative writing class, I’d say it was something about characters as reflections of authors/real people. What? I didn’t say I would define it well. Okay, I guess there’s also a lesson in there about the evolution of plot ideas. There, are you happy? Two (vague) lessons. 

If any of you are working on writing projects of your own, I hope (but don’t expect) this was helpful. Really, good luck. If you’re like me, you’ll need it.



Eavesdropping as Entertainment and Kids These Days

3 Aug

"Abner! Abner!"

Since the weather has been so nice lately, I’ve been reading and working outside a lot. My neighbors have also taken advantage of the sunshine, and I’ve gotten quite a kick out of eavesdropping on the backyard goings-on around me. I feel a bit like James Stewart in Rear Window–only without the murder suspicions and broken leg. Okay, I guess if you take those factors away, there is no Rear Window. Maybe I feel like Gladys Kravitz (from Bewitched, for all you lame-os), but with less shrieking and magic. Whatever, it’s been fun to listen in on the neighbors.

There’s been lots of entertainment from what I assume are the teenage girls from across the way. They always start by cranking up their music–for a whole day it was Beyonce, another day it was all club-type stuff, jerky and synthesizer-heavy. Then, I imagine, they lay around in the sun. They gossip in loud voices about boys–apparently Jason has been texting Emily even though Emily is like, totally not into him–and every once in a while I hear a phone ring and some squeals. It’s amusing, and sort of sweet in an I’m-glad-that’s-not-me kind of way.

The little boy who lives in back of us is named Liam. I’ve never met the kid, but his mother must say his name every other minute. I feel for her– poor Mom sounds like she’s got an imp on her hands.

Ewww! Liam, put that down! Come and wash your hands this second!
Liam, if you leapfrog over your sister ONE more time…
Liam, the hose is not a rope!
Liam, I know you’re not rolling around in the dirt in your new pants!

I usually can’t hear Liam’s responses to his mom, but I imagine them to be charmingly contrite. I have heard his voice, though, because he tends to narrate when he’s playing pretend.

Liam runs through the jungle and uses his lightning vision to blast through the zombies. BAM BAM BAM! The zombies surround Liam and he makes them fall with a huge karate kick. HI-YA! Liam is the only surivor! Liam saves the whole world! Woooooo! Wooooooooooo! I am Liam the Great! Woooo!

(No, I have no idea what zombies were doing in the imaginary jungle, but don’t you love this kid?)

Believe it or not, the time slots for the teenage girls and Liam the Great haven’t competed with each other. That is, until today, I’ve listened to either the girls or Liam (and his mom). Maybe the two groups don’t have the same days off–who knows?

Anyway, I thought today was a Liam Day. I was listening to him and his sister (who’s only a supporting role on The Liam Show–she walks on every once in a while and says a funny line but then you don’t hear from her) bounce around on their trampoline. They were having such fun and it was nice to sit and listen to their squeals and laughter. Then, the unprecedented happened. The teenage girls started their music. It was like I was watching one show, and the universe turned another one on at the same time.

At first the girls listened to the kind of music you’d expect from them. Bruno Mars’ “Grenade.” Some Lady Gaga tunes. Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” Certainly not my favorite songs (actually, whenever any of these come on the radio I immediately change the channel), but nothing you, or Liam, wouldn’t hear while out and about in the world. But then things changed.

A song, and I use that term loosely, came on that was 3 parts rap, 5 parts hate. For the sake of Oh My Words! google search results (and, of course, your innocent mind), let’s just say that unsavory names for females were used liberally in these lyrics and sexual acts with those females were bragged about pretty graphically. The chorus, which repeated often, suggested that a woman is only good for one thing….and boys and girls, it wasn’t her mind or her sense of humor. I sat there, shocked at my giggly teenage neighbors’ new musical tastes, when I noticed that the trampoline sounds weren’t as steady. 

Were Liam and his sister….listening?

Nooooo! I wanted to yell for them to cover their ears and run away singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” I wanted to hunt down those girls and demand that they turn that off and list ten reasons why it was degrading to women and insulting to the whole of humanity. And no repeats!

Luckily, while I was picturing myself as a tyrannical, censoring, avenging angel of the neighborhood (with teacher tendencies), Liam’s mom was on it.

Liam! You guys! How about coming in the house?

[indistinguishable, uncooperative kid noises]

Yeah, come on, we’ll do something fun in here. It’s hot out!

[more noises–imagine the kid version of the wah-wah adult noises in Peanuts]

You wanna watch some tv?

[I can tell Mom’s getting desperate, but the kids aren’t taking the bait. Meanwhile, the icky song continues…]

Come on! Everyone inside!

Just then–heavenly music drifted through the air, pushing back the awful other stuff like Harry’s Potter’s red wand or Luke’s green lightsaber. A lifeline. A cure. A timeless miracle.

The ice cream truck.

There was a  mad dash of kid-feet, trampoline forgotten. Their excited cries were shut off once a door slammed, but I pictured them inside, asking Mom if they could please go and run to the truck. Maybe it’s something their mom doesn’t normally agree to (We have perfectly good ice cream here! Not before dinner! It’s too expensive!) but this time she hands out money like a trooper, keeping her relief to herself.

During all this (imagined) frenzy, the Bad Song from the girls’ yard ended, and Maroon 5 came on. I’d like to think that that one song was a mistake, that maybe it was a mix cd from an acquaintance with scary, schizophrenic musical tastes. Or maybe the girls were listening to a really weird radio station? Anyway, that sort of “music” didn’t drift my way again, and Liam and his sister got an ice cream out of it. (Well, in my mind they did.)

The moral of the story is that eavesdropping is fun and ice cream cures everything.

Interpreting Dog Thoughts….Or, Why I’m One Bark Away from Being a Crazy Dog Lady

1 Aug

I had to take my dog Mona Lisa to the vet the other day and because I am a mystical, empathetic, imaginative person, I could hear every little thought that ran through her head.

Leaving the house:

Oh boy! We’re going somewhere without the other dogs! I’m special! I always knew it! Hurry! Hurry! FASTER.

In the car:

Are you sure I can’t drive? I want to drive. Here, I’ll just…..hey! I don’t want to be in the backseat! Hey! Hey! I don’t want to be back here! Hey–oh! You put the window down! You know, there’s nothing better than sticking your head out and….ahhhhhhhhhh. 

Driving up my grandma’s street:

Oh boy, we’re going to Grandma’s house! I love Grandma’s house! How many cookies do you think she’ll give me? Oh, I can’t wait! First I’m going to lick her feet, and then I’m going to lick her face, and then I’m going to sit on her lap, and then…..hey! Wait! You didn’t turn! Grandma’s house is back there! Oh no. Where are we going? Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no. Oh Dog. Where are you taking me? WHERE??

Almost at the vet’s:

Oh Dog. I know where we’re going. Oh no. Oh please. Hey. Let me out! Let me out! I’m not going back to that place! Don’t ignore me! I’m back here! Turn around! 

In the waiting room:

Oh Dog oh Dog oh Dog oh Dog. Hey, listen, I know I don’t always come when you call me. I’ll do better. Just take me home. I’ll be good, I swear. Please! 

When someone else walked in the room:

Hey! Hey you! Do you want  a dog? I’m a really good dog! I’ll go home with you, no problem. Oh, her? No, I’ve never seen her before in my life. Just take me home, handsome. 

When the vet came out to take her to a back room:

Ahhhhh! Stay away from me! Devil! Monster! Cat! Get back! You–Girl! I will never forgive you for this! Never! Never!  Are you LEAVING? Are you just going to LEAVE me here? Come back here! Come back here this minute!

Bad Day Tonics

20 Jul

I think I'll move to Australia

Bad day today. Very bad day. Can’t even form complete and grammatical sentences. (Pronouns = too much work.) 

Started to write post about bad day. No good. Started to write a different post about bad day. Nope. Just started typing words that seemed appropriate.

discouraged, embarrassed, disgusted, frustrated, hungry, wimp, idiots, inner angry dialogue, outer strained smile, sweat, tears, hangnail, BIG idiots

End up with big mutant pile of words. Not a post. Not a story. Not even a cathartic rant. 

There’s only one thing to do in a time like this. Time for some Bad Day Tonics.

Cute kids:

     

Inspiring songs:

      

Always-good-for-a-laugh television:

    

Quotes that say it all:
“Some days you’re the dog, some days you’re the hydrant.”

“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
–F.D.R

” ‘What?’ said Piglet, with a jump. And then, to show that he hadn’t been frightened, he jumped up and down once or twice more in an exercising sort of way.”
–Winnie the Pooh

Sheldon: This is for you
Penny: Ice cream?
Sheldon: I’ve been familiarizing myself with female emotional crises by studying the comic strip, “Cathy.” when she’s upset she says, “ack” and eats ice cream.
Penny: Ack.
Sheldon: If you were a cat, I would have brought you lasagna.
–The Big Bang Theory

“Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.”
–Abraham Lincoln

Add a milkshake, 4 snuggly dogs, a nap, crazy solo dancing. Repeat if necessary.

So, what do you all do to cure the Bad Day Blues? Come on–spill.

The Guardian Goddess and the Handypeople

15 Jul

I am the gatekeeper


Alternative titles for this post would be Kitchen Nightmares or Why I Am Becoming a Rapper

We’re having our kitchen partially remodeled. That means plumbers, tile-layers, and various handymen have been trooping through the house for weeks. (I’m waiting for the day when a professional handywoman arrives to help. Sidenote: Did you know that “handywoman” isn’t even a recognized word? Go ahead, go to dictionary.com and look it up ….. Did you do it?? Did you notice that poor dictionary.com thought perhaps you were confused? Did you mean handyman? it asks. Hmph.)

I’ve been playing the role of guardian-gatekeeper for all these skilled workers. I open doors, I point the way to the kitchen, I keep the “guard dogs” from attacking them. All I’ve been missing is a flowing toga dress and a sphinx. Maybe I should have had them all address me as Madame Goddess or something equally catchy, with an almighty ring to it.

I realize this will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever waited for a repairman of any kind, but I’ve been particularly annoyed by the schedules of everyone I’ve dealt with. “We’ll be there between 8 and 9” can mean an arrival time of 8:59, 9:45, or even 11. One day I woke up extra early so I could get my coffee fix, deal with the dogs, make sure their workplace was clean–then I waited. And waited. And waited.

As it happens, I’m doing some freelance work right now. I don’t have the strict 9-5 workday of most people, so I’m supremely qualified to be guardian-gatekeeper. But  just because I’m home, doesn’t mean I’m twiddling my thumbs. You, Mr. Electrician/Repairman/Etc. were not called to the house because I was bored. It’s annoying enough to be given a window of time, only a vague idea, to expect you. If you miss that window? The guardian-gatekeeper will not be pleased. She might even sic her terriers terrors on you, or take a cue from Mulan’s Mushu: “Dishonor! Dishonor on your whole family!” Or….she might talk in the third person and vent on her blog. That’s right–tremble.

You, dear reader, also probably won’t be shocked to learn that everything that could go wrong with this kitchen project, has. The tile people ran out of tile and had to order more, stretching the estimated completion date again and again. (I’m a bit confused why this happened, since the various layouts they did should have given them an idea about how much tile they needed…But then, I’m just a lowly gatekeeper.) This, of course, pushed the electrician back. The plumber ran into lots of plumbing problems. We lived without a stove, without a sink, and with only a few functioning electrical outlets. It was like camping, but with a roof. It was like living a few decades ago, but with a microwave. Okay, I can’t come up with an appropriate comparison–but it was annoying.

Yesterday, the tile-man put tile on the left side of our refrigerator. He thought it was a wall. Now we have, essentially, a bedazzled fridge.

The tile-man who decided that it made sense to put tile on a refrigerator did not seem particularly disturbed once his error was pointed out. I was expecting an apology, embarrassment, anything that would indicate an acknowledgement of the situation. Nope. Nada. As someone who takes mistakes to heart and lets them fester and turn into guilt compost, it boggles my mind that a person can shrug, scratch their head, and move on.

The fridge’s tile can’t come off without ruining the area. So, either we need to start a tile-on-the-refrigerator trend, or I need to become a rapper.

Because I’m pretty sure rappers have tile on their fridges.

I’ll Take My Criticism Sandwich With Extra Cheese, Hold The Pickles

6 Jul

So, the online Creative Writing course I signed up for right before the apocalypse-that-wasn’t started last week. It’s an interesting experience, taking an online class. Though there is a system and certain expectations, I can log in as my schedule allows and post when I have time. The other students are eager and enthusiastic and, in general, a good deal older. That last distinguishing fact means that they seem to have a a good grasp of their abilities, goals, confidence. And they write!

We are reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird as a class–no hardship, since this is one of my favorite books and never fails to be inspiring and reassuring. One of the most re-readable parts is about the writer and self-doubt:

Typically you’ll try to comfort yourself by thinking about the day’s work–the day’s excrementitious work. You may experience a jittery form of existential dread, considering the absolute meaninglessness of life and the fact that no one has ever really loved you; you may find yourself consumed with a free-floating shame, and a hopelessness about your work, and the realization that you will have to throw out everything you’ve done so far and start from scratch. But you will not be able to do so. Because you suddenly understand that you are completely riddled with cancer.

and later…

Many of [my students] have been told over the years that they are quite good, and they want to know why they feel so crazy when they sit down to work, why they have these wonderful ideas and then they sit down and write one sentence and see with horror that it is a bad one, and then every major form of mental illness from which they suffer surfaces, leaping out of the water like trout–the delusions, hypochondria, the grandiosity, the self-loathing, the inability to track one thought to completion, even the hand-washing fixation, the Howard Hughes germ phobias. And especially, the paranoia.

The class’s first writing assignment was due today and of course, I decided at midnight to completely rework the story I had mostly finished. Part of what makes midnight the witching hour is that at that time, horrible, deformed, delusional ideas seem like good ones. Your common sense is infiltrated by insidious what-ifs that have all the charm of a used car salesman and the diabolical temptation of a second cookie. When I had a roommate, I could occasionally be talked out of creatively suicidal actions like last-minute writing makeovers. Left to my own devices and stuck in my own brain bog, I become tangled in good intentions and panic.

It doesn’t help that I’ve had one successful eleventh hour idea. The night before my senior thesis presentation, the world aligned, the matrix grid decoded itself, and I saw a way to organize my speech to be more thoughtful, clear, and engaging.  It was a crazy plan–why not just go with the perfectly fine version I had prepared? But no, never! Perfection flirted with me (the saucy minx) and I had to pursue it.

The final copy of my speech was better. Was it worth the agony? Yes. Well, probably. But the horrible puce lining was that after this one success story, late night ideas are harder to suppress. It’s like when someone fixes a couple up and it happens that the two click and make a nice go of it. It could have been a fluke or a lucky guess, but it doesn’t matter–now, that matchmaker will try pairing people off like a busybody Noah.

So I started over last night, trying to approach my idea from a different angle. (The first draft was round, and I wanted it sharp, if you know what I mean.) Then, I decided that some of the sentences or paragraphs from my first draft should be kept so I started copy-pasting. Then, I got confused about which version had which background. Had I copy-pasted a section on eating without ever mentioning that the characters were having dinner? Was a character talking, having a big dialogue-y moment, who was never introduced or explained? Had I cut out the scene that had been my inspiration in the first place?? Hysteria bubbled up around 1 am, my brain started twitching soon after. 

I ended up wrestling my short story into something resembling a short story and turning it in (posting it) this morning. I wasn’t at all satisfied with it, and not just in the I’m-never-satisfied-with-my-writing sort of way. I knew I had botched up my naive attempt to make my draft better but I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to turn it in before I went crazy (okay, crazier). So I closed my eyes and clicked “post,” and then ran away from the computer.

Then, the responses started coming in. Well, okay, one response. Critiques are an essential part of the class and for that matter, a vital part of the writing process. That said, when I read my classmate’s comments I was like a raw collection of nerve endings, the Phantom of the Opera’s less stable sister, a woe-is-me maiden from the olden days–all rolled into one. I know,” I thought. It’s terrible. It’s not my best work. Yes, you’re right, it doesn’t flow. No, that part doesn’t make sense to me either. Yes. Yes. Of course. Yes. Stop! Stop reading! Don’t look at it! Avert your eyes! Save yourself!”

“The good news,” Anne Lamott says, “is that some days it feels like you just have to keep getting out of your own way so that whatever it is that wants to be written can use you to write it. […] And often the right words do come, and you–well–‘write’ for a while; you put a lot of thoughts down on paper. But the bad news is that if you’re at all like me, you’ll probably read over what you’ve written and spend the rest of the day obsessing, and praying that you do not die before you can completely rewrite or destroy what you have written, lest the eagerly waiting world learn how bad your first drafts are.”

The good news is that I completed my first assignment and received straightforward, constructive criticism. The bad news is that I sort of miss the elementary school days of gold stars and compliment sandwiches, and I’m still learning not to mutilate my first drafts.


Funny, Frog, Fig, Flower, Fire, Family, Fabulous, Foil, Freckle, Five, Friend

27 Jun

My grandma’s neighbor Helen had to take a memory test the other day. The test is supposed to determine if a patient has dementia or other type of memory problem. In Helen’s case, it was also meant to help her doctor determine whether she should still be allowed to have a driver’s license.   

This is a woman who spends hours every day meticulously matching her outfits–which all have a bedazzled or zebra-print component–and applying colorful makeup. She manages to return opened boxes of cereal and kleenex by playing the Old Lady Card and batting her (fake) eyelashes. She shamelessly cheats the system–applying for food stamps and divvying her money up among relatives (who give it back to her in regular installments) so that she can qualify to live in the low-income senior housing my grandma calls home. When we found out the doctor suspected Helen had dementia, I couldn’t decide what to think. Is she suffering from some form of mental problem? I think it’s just as likely that she’s eccentric and sly like a bejeweled fox–but who knows? The latest Helen Story certainly doesn’t lead to any clear conclusions.

One of the questions on Helen’s memory test was to name a word that starts with “F”.

“I just blanked,” Helen told my grandma when she recounted the experience. “The only words I could think of were ‘fart’ and ‘fuck’.”

“So what did she put?” I asked, fascinated in spite of myself.

“She told me she debated for awhile about which would make her seem nuttier, then finally wrote ‘fart’ very deliberately.” Grandma said. 

A few days later, Helen got her results back. Lit by an indignant passion, she cornered Grandma and started venting. “Can you believe it?” She demanded. “I didn’t pass! Now they think I’ve got memory problems!”

Grandma must have been feeling brave that day, because she carefully suggested that maybe the F-word question cost her. “Oh please,” Helen said. “Nobody can think of words that start with F on demand. Besides, why wouldn’t those words naturally come to mind? Everybody does them, after all.”


Dogs Who Heal and English Majors Who Wield Needles

20 Jun

My family suffered a major loss last December when my aunt passed away from cancer related to Fanconi Anemia. She was my mom’s younger sister and, in all the ways that matter, my big sister. She was one of those people who make friends instantly and she had an enthusiasm for every aspect of life. She fancied herself a matchmaker and was the one who arranged my first date—an unremarkable occasion with a boy who didn’t have much of a sense of humor but helped me out of my jacket and opened doors. (Gentlemanly acts = 10 points.) She cooked legendary spaghetti dinners and had a kitchen policy of “the more, the merrier.” She was thoughtful, vibrant, beautiful, charming, and funny. When other family members call me “Little Lynn,” I consider it the grandest of compliments.

Before she passed away, my aunt made my mom promise to take care of her two dogs, Lucy and Molly. Of course my mom wouldn’t have dreamed of saying no to her request, but we were a little concerned because we already had two dogs, Mona Lisa and Max. Besides the sheer idea of the numbers (four dogs!?), I was sure there would be some doggy politics when we merged the two households. I was predicting canine power plays and a very un-Brady atmosphere. The miracle? They all love each other! Sure, they occasionally get a little jealous or want their own space, but when they first met? Oh the tails, they were a-wagging. And if happiness is a warm puppy (and it is, according to Charlie Brown), then we’ve got four times the happy.

Lucy and Molly have made a really sad time in our lives a little easier–it’s a riot to see all four dogs together, and they are so loving and so loveable. Lucy is a clown with a big personality (you might recall that she doesn’t like chickens) and it’s easy to be drawn in by her big eyes and long tongue. Molly, however, has a special spot in all our hearts. She was Lynn’s constant companion, both before and during her illness. Towards the end, when my aunt was forced to stay in bed, Molly never left her side. She wasn’t interested in food, especially if it meant leaving her person. She wasn’t interested in going outside, and had to be forcibly carried out of the room for trips to the backyard. And when Lynn finally died, Molly wouldn’t leave her bed. The priest who came to give last rights did so while Molly looked on, strong and regal. At one point during the blessings, to our horror, she started licking Lynn’s face. We were embarrassed that Father Brady witnessed what we felt was an undignified (and a little bit yucky) scene, but he just stroked Molly. “She’s just saying goodbye.”

When times of great crisis arise, humans often fall short of being true compassionate forces of good. Neighbors may tut-tut at your misfortune, but go about their lives. Family members might fail to rally, and instead be consumed by denial or selfishness. Sometimes friends, though well-meaning, don’t know how to help and issue vague promises. “Anything I can do…” they say, leaving you to spin their helplessness into gold. “That’s so sweet of you” and “I’ll be sure to call”—this is the dance you’re forced to perform, and it requires certain expected words and strained smiles.

Dogs can’t run errands. They can’t drive to doctor appointments or call the deceased’s friends and relatives to deliver bad news and pass along funeral details. Their power is quiet and steady. Their inaction is, in fact, a monumental action. It’s amazing what a cold nose on the hand or the presence of a warm doggy body can do. When they’re needed, dogs are there—and that is everything.

Molly was sick recently. The vet performed a series of tests while she trembled and looked to me for assurances that he wasn’t evil. (The jury’s still out.) Kidney disease was the tentative verdict, and major dehydration was a side-effect and major problem. We were given bags of nutrient-rich water, needles, and instructions on how to inject Molly in the neck twice a day. That was a few weeks ago, and until now, it’s been my mom who did the actual dirty work. While I prepped our makeshift medical station and held Molly, my mom played doctor to my nurse. (Although, perhaps that should be reversed—whenever I’m in a hospital, it always seems to me that nurses are doing more than doctors…) This suited me well, since it’s a role I’m comfortable playing. In 7th grade, when it was time to dissect earthworms and frogs, I was more than happy to sit back and let my partner do the actual cutting. I took notes like a trooper and drew detailed, vivid drawings of the internal workings of Kermit and pals—but I’m fairly certain that the only time I touched the tray holding the unfortunate creature was to move it away from my notebook. (Ewww, slime.) Like a privileged noblewoman with unworked, callous-free hands, I did not deign to get involved in the dissection. My fingers were made to hold pencils, not scalpels.

My mom’s out of town right now, so it falls to me to give Molly her injections. The vet has cut it down to every other day, which is a small blessing because I’m enough of a panic-stricken mess. I’ve never minded getting shots. That’s not to say that I enjoy injections or that I like to watch the actual process, but I don’t cry or freak out or anything. Imagine my surprise to discover that the idea of giving a shot gives me the heebie-jeebies on steroids. Yesterday, I sat staring at the needle that I was supposed to stick Molly with. It’s as big as a darning needle, with a nasty point that makes me woozy. “But I’m an English Major!” I wailed. “I can’t do this!”

My grandma, who had agreed to assist me by holding Molly, rolled her eyes. “So now you’re an English Major who gives dogs shots. Hurry up.” I pinched a hunk of skin on Molly’s neck, trying to find a fleshy place to stick her. But the idea of poking that darn darning needle into her body made me let go. “I don’t even sew!” I protested, as if that’s a prerequisite for this sort of thing. “I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t.”

“Do it do it do it do it!” Grandma said.

I have to tell you, I instinctively shut my eyes as I moved the needle closer to Molly. “Are your eyes closed?” Grandma asked, appalled. “Open your eyes! For God’s sake—would you want a doctor to operate on you with his eyes closed?” So, I forced myself to watch the needle disappear into Molly’s fur and feel the icky popping resistance as it pierced her body.

We can do amazing things when it comes down to the wire. A mother can find the strength to lift a car off her trapped baby. A pilot can land a plane in emergency conditions. An English major can wield a needle and move out of her comfort zone with eyes wide open. A niece can make a small effort to pay back the miracle dog who brought peace to her dying aunt.

Molly seems to be doing much better. She’s very perky and vocal. She even played with a squeaky toy for a while last night. Still, tomorrow it will be time for another shot to the neck and the trauma will begin again. I should probably start doing deep-breathing exercises now.