Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Thursday, June 6, 1991 & Then Some

[Blurt Alert: This is an absurdly long post, which occasionally mentions words like "boobs." Consider yourself warned.]

[Thanks and/or partial blame for tonight's post goes to TangledLou, whose post "Stick Your Arm In My Washing Machine", which asked some questions1 about femininity, inspired me to dig around in my journals tubs and in my drafts folder for things I've written about it over the years.]

I take comfort in the fact that at least the "i" is not dotted with a heart.

Cheapskate that I am, I often use notebooks I find on clearance for my Spiral Notebook Journal. The one I'm currently using is lavender with the word "Diva" printed on it. I bought it because it was 75 cents and it had a plastic front cover, which is great because regular paperboard covers crumple quickly under the rigorous abuse my notebooks are often subject to.

Overgrown tomboy that I am, it's impossible for me to overstate how inappropriate the word "diva" is to describe me in any way, but a bargain's a bargain.

One night a couple of months ago, I had been writing in my journal in the van while the residents from the halfway house where I work were in an AA meeting. Usually, I tuck everything away into my bag before they get back in the van, but I was in the middle of a thought that wouldn't wait and I was just closing up the notebook as the first resident returned to the van. He is a repeat resident, meaning I've known him (and vice versa) for going on three years. He glanced down as I tried to inconspicuously slide the notebook into the console between the seats.

He said, "Diva?!"

And then he laughed, loud and hard.

And I laughed with him, though not quite as loud or hard.

I said, "I know! It's hilarious, right?"

And he was still laughing, loud and hard.

So, I said, "Gosh. It's not that funny."

And we both laughed some more.

Oh, all right. It was hilarious. And I should've been totally okay with the hilarity for all kinds of reasons--not least because part of the reason I am able to do my job as well as I can is because the men I work with generally do not seem to see me as stereotypically feminine (which for many of them automatically equals "weaker"). Furthermore, I am forty-four friggin' years old and I should, by now, have come to terms with exactly how feminine I am (or am not).

But clearly, I haven't quite because that whole thing stung a little. Even though I don't want to be a "diva," not even a little bit, I guess it bugs me that someone thinks I couldn't be a "diva" even if I wanted to.

This moment was how I learned, again, that my thoughts on femininity in general and my own femininity in particular are still a muddled mess despite years, decades of poking around in them. What follows is excerpts from three entries--the most recent written sixteen years ago--each of which is comprised mostly of things I could've written last week.

[At the time of this first entry, I was enormously pregnant with Son-Three, and did not yet know he was a son.]
Thursday, June 6, 1991
Daughter. I've been announcing to anyone who will listen that this "baby had better be a girl" but the truth is I would not be even a little disappointed if this is a boy, too. The whole thought of a girl terrifies me. I know that's silly--especially since I said only a few minutes ago that the line between girls and boys is narrow. But there are concerns with girls that don't come up with boys. How can I teach a daughter to truly appreciate her femininity when I had (and continue to have) no appreciation for my own? What kind of role model am I? Just the fact that I am concerned about this, that I think there is a right way to bring up a daughter proves how incompetent I am to raise a daughter. Just the fact that I think there is some trick to raising girl babies that there isn't to raising boy babies is proof enough of what little right I have to bring daughters into this world.

Melodrama--maybe. But the truth is I want a daughter who wants to be who she is. I want to instill in a girl the self-esteem I don't have. I want her to appreciate herself, appreciate her right to be whatever kind of girl she wants to be. That is the root of my worries--that I will pass on to a daughter all those stereotypes that I have made myself a victim to. Because I tend to picture "femininity" as a rigid set of criteria (the prissy kind of things, you know) instead of a beginning point for a strong, complete person, I have never strongly identified myself as female. I am the proverbial tomboy, but not because I want to be but because I've always seen womanhood as an either/or proposition. Either you simper and giggle and primp or you hide any sign of your femininity beneath baggy clothes and tough talk. I've never been happy to be female. But I want a daughter to be exhilarated by her femininity--by the possibilities.
Whether this baby is a boy or a girl, this is a subject I need to explore further for my own sake. But not this second. This second I need to go exercise the domestic side of my femininity by making my exceedingly masculine husband breakfast. (Have pity on him. It's nearly 2 p.m. and all I've done today is write. The whole house is starving, myself included.)
Thursday, August 20, 1992
I have been thinking a lot about "femininity." It has been an off and on fascination of mine, rising and falling in my interest according to its own schedule--I never know when the issue will raise its pretty, little head. This time around, its messenger was Little Sister. ...we had one of our marathon phone conversations. Among other things, we talked about friends of hers--KW especially and a couple of other girls, who developed early and couldn't resist teasing Little Sister (who hadn't). Anyway, these girls with chests that Little Sister was surrounded by made her feel so "unfeminine" (her confession on the phone, not a guess by her older sister--just by the way). This was such a revelation to me and it got me thinking.
Maybe because I got my boobs early--before my friends did, way before I had any use for them--boobs have never held any fascination for me. (Nan says I once said I was going to have big2 boobies like her but I must've been very young because I don't remember it and I do remember that by the time Little Sister was asking for a training bra, I was no longer even remotely interested in boobies or bras. Little Sister was six or seven then, I'd guess.) I don't remember ever equating them with femininity because if boobs were what femininity was about, I was feminine. And I never felt feminine, particularly around Little Sister. That's why her comment was so revealing to me--there was Little Sister, who made me feel so inadequate in the femininity department, feeling unfeminine.
And so I've been thinking about what femininity really is. We are force-fed society's narrow definition of femininity from an early age. Things about boobs and fingernails, hair and jewelery, makeup and the right clothes. All of these things that change on the whims of people we never see, people we may guess are sadists and be pretty close to the mark. Boobs are in, then they're out, short skirts (fingernails), long skirts (fingernails) and if we don't stay on top of all these things, we have these twinges of doubt.

Not that I have been ceaselessly chasing some elusive feminine ideal--not that I've gotten out of my chair in pursuit. It's more an occasional pause--am I feminine enough? Why am I not more feminine than I am? Can I be more feminine or will I just look like I'm trying to be more feminine? And all the while, I've never really had a clear idea of what feminine is. I'm full of these vague ideas that I've pretty much covered, things I've rejected for as long as I can remember. I am not sure, though, why I reject society's demands--I don't shave my legs on a regular basis, or wear make-up, or (my god!) pluck my eyebrows, or dress-up. I've kind of run away from these things--I like to pretend I've rejected them on political grounds, having recognized them for the sexist, superficial things they are and though I do see them as sexist and superficial, the more compelling fact is I am afraid of them. I am not very good at them--partly from lack of practice, but the lack of practice comes from not having a knack, an instinct, a desire to really practice.
So, at 24, I have none of the skills of femininity as society defines them. I don't think I can learn them and even if I could, I am sure they would always feel false to me. And it has come time for me to pick up the word feminine and find my own meaning in it. I mean I am female undeniably and by definition, anything I do is "feminine." (I looked up "feminine" in Funk & Wagnall's. It says: "of, pertaining, to or appropriate to women." So there.)
I've been going on for four pages now about this and still feel like I haven't made my point, have not expressed myself convincingly enough. I certainly am not convinced.
As succinctly as possible--I have both loathed and coveted the qualities and accessories of femininity as American society defines it. It has been an issue entwined with my (lack of) self-esteem. At this point, I am unable to walk away from the word "feminine" though my desire is to run and so in order to stop beating myself up, I am going to redefine the word. Being truly feminine is about being truly yourself, comfortable and alive in your own skin. That is the goal I am working toward. Do you follow me?
[At the time of this entry, Daughter-Only was two years old. And I had reached the ripe age of 26, without making any real progress in the "what femininity means to me" department--though I apparently had some clear ideas about what the hell it wasn't.]
Monday, September 2, 1996
The other day, Daughter-Only was dancing around on the deck in nothing but a bandanna, which Hubby had tied on her like a skirt...While Hubby was arranging her impromptu sarong (which she needed because she'd run outside straight from the bathtub carrying only a bandanna), he said, "I hope you plan on buying her some skirts and dresses soon."
I said, "Why?"
In fairness, I won't even try to quote Hubby's answer directly because I don't remember the exact words. His basic message, though, was that he wanted her to be a lady or some such crap. I calmly pointed out that a lady is a lady in jeans and sneakers as much as she's a lady in a dress. He said, "But you're not comfortable in a dress or skirt and some occasions require one."
I pointed out (not calmly, exactly) that the reason I was uncomfortable in dresses has nothing to do with what I wore as a child. If you can find more than six photos of me before the age of 5 in which I am wearing anything besides a dress, I would be surprised. When I picked out school clothes for kindergarten, I chose only dresses. In fact, up until sixth grade, I chose at least one new dress a year. I don't deny I wore them less and less often the older I got. I don't deny I wore no dress at all in seventh or eighth grade. I wore a skirt on a dare for freshman picture day. And after that, the next run-in with a dress was June of my senior year--graduation. (I am still outraged about that. We had to wear them to the school, but everyone took them off and went bare under their gowns because of the heat. Everyone knew no one would keep the dress on--but we still had to wear them to the school. I hated Mr. Biddle before that, but that guaranteed him a place in my Hall of Infamy. The insistence on white shoes pushed him into the number 2 or 3 position.) (In light of the fact that I only now invented the Hall of Infamy, I've no idea who the first and second inductees might be, but it's food for thought.)
Obviously, the whole dress/skirt equals femininity issue is a heated one for me. It didn't go any further between Hubby and I...
But the clothing thing does bother me a lot. I have not been much of a dress wearer since puberty because dresses are inherently uncomfortable to me. Also, if I wear a dress, I want to want to wear it...I am not against dresses on principle--I am against the idea that dresses are superior in some way to pants. I am against the idea of "training" my daughter to be comfortable in dresses because I think comfort in a dress is more nature than nurture. I will not force or "encourage" her to wear dresses anymore than I would stop her from wearing them.
Obviously, my own issues are rearing their ugly has taken me years (a good twelve or thirteen) to realize people who equate "femininity" with frills and lace and knee-length skirts (and not pants, etc) are the people with the problem. It is their flaw, not mine. I am not less of a woman because I wear a dress only rarely. (I had to borrow a dress for Mom's funeral.) In fact, in steadfastly being me, maybe I am more of a woman than I would be if I caved in to others' expectations
I'll be damned if I'm going to set Daughter-Only up for the same problems. If she is dress-inclined--great. She will always have options, but I will not let her learn she is more valuable with her legs exposed than with them covered.

1. One of those questions was "Do you have trouble typing femininity like I do?" I mentioned in my comment that I had an entry in which I had consistently spelled it "feminity." Turns out, I have at least THREE entries in which I did that. But only one in which I went back and fixed it, by repeatedly scribbling out the offending purple ink. Who says I'm not a girl*?
2. 50DD, in case you were all needing something for your "Things I Really Didn't Need To Know" files.
*Practically everybody, actually. Daughter-Only's recent Facebook status, copied and pasted, verbatim:
Good thing I have my dad for my fashion crises.
"Okay, dad, so do I put the tank top under the skirt, or over?" "Under looks better."
*As mom sits there minding her own business.* =P

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Do You Really Want To Haunt Me? (A Repost)

I've been playing catch up around our little corner of the internet this past week or so--having myself a little blog-binge of post after delicious post. Over at Buttered Toast Rocks, a couple of weeks ago, Michelle posted "Of Spilled Milk and Ghosts," the story of her teenage daughter's paranormalesque dream experience. As often happens, this kicked loose a memory of Daughter-Only's paranormalesque experience a few years ago.

At the time, Daughter-Only was fourteen and we were living in a hundred-year-old house just outside of town. We've since moved on--owing entirely to non-paranormal causes. Given the age of the house and our familial obsession with the show Ghosthunters and the fact that while touring the house, we experienced some unexplained noises, we were operating on the theory that while the house may not be "haunted" we certainly had some "activity" going on. (What follows is a portion of a longer piece originally posted here four years ago.)

The first few weeks we lived here seemed to support my theory with reports coming from all the family members (except of course Hubby, that party pooper)--jiggling doorknobs, a computer that repeatedly connected itself to the (dial-up) Internet, weird noises and, most notably, the shower coming on in the middle of Daughter-Only's bath. Since most of these things could be explained by normal, as opposed to paranormal, explanations, the boys and I continued to withhold judgment--and the "h word."

Daughter-Only was a little less reserved in her assessment. Along with Oldest Niece, she had found a trunk full of keepsakes in the attic. They belonged to a man named Bill--our best guess is that Bill's father built this house. Bill was apparently quite a player--there were photos of several women in a wallet and dates on letters from at least two of the women overlap.

In any case, Oldest Niece and Daughter-Only became convinced (half-jokingly) that Bill was responsible for all the mischief around the house. This despite the fact that there was no evidence whatsoever that Bill was even dead. In fact, based on dates they'd found, Bill was probably around 71 and statistically just as likely to be among the living as to be taunting my family with silly pranks barely worth mentioning.

Daughter-Only rejected that possibility and began telling everyone she knew about our ghost, Bill. Once, she even called home from a friend's house and left a message on our answering machine for Bill.

When it came to preserving Bill's reputation as a bona fide spirit, Daughter-Only was not above helping Bill out a little. A common tactic was to conceal one accomplice (friend or cousin) in a closet while telling a wide-eyed story to the others about all the knocking and tapping she'd heard from Bill. Cue knocking and tapping and, more often that not, screaming and giggling.

Though no one had seemed traumatized, I warned Daughter-Only that she was going to end up really scaring someone someday. Maybe she would've actually paid attention if she'd realized the traumatized person would end up being her.

Early in the spring Daughter-Only was deathly ill and had stayed home from school. She was there alone with the dogs and ferrets. She called me at work, speaking barely above a whisper, clearly terrified. "Mom, um, I was feeling better? And, uh, I put the dogs outside so I could kick my soccer ball down the upstairs hall? And my ball bounced all the way down the stairs and into the dining room and I was going down to get it when Son-Two's bedroom door started rattling really, really hard--like someone was trying to get out of the room!"

I asked her if she was okay and where she was. She was on the sofa hiding under a blanket. I asked her what she thought it was--did she think it was an actual human being? She did not. She knew it would've been virtually impossible for someone to get to the second-story bedroom without alerting the dogs.

I told her I'd be right there and that she could bring the dogs in for company and protection if it would help.

I even said, "Remember, whatever it is, it can't hurt you."

She said, "I know, but it's still scary."

I hung up and explained to Cranky Boss Lady that I needed to go home--to my haunted home--because Daughter-Only was (apparently justifiably) completely freaked out.

Just then, it hit me that Son-Two had told me that morning that he had slept with his window open the night before. It was incredibly windy that day so obviously--mystery solved.

Needless to say, Daughter-Only was nowhere near as amused by the episode as I was. It probably didn't help things that the main reason she was so terrified was that she had swallowed her own paranormal propaganda whole.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ways I Am Not A Grown-Up, The Twelfth* In A Potentially Infinite Series

I was inappropriately excited to see this face looking back at me from the display in the grocery store the other day. I may have jumped up and down a little.
Yes, that's Count Chocula in a Fruit Loops bowl.
We're not cereal segregationists here at Masked Mom Headquarters.

*A fairly convincing argument could be made that this is really just another part of my previously mentioned dysfunctional relationship with food, thereby making this not the twelfth way but the eleventh-and-a-half way I am not a grown-up, but I'm pretty sure we'll get to infinity faster if we count this one as twelve.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: The Round House

The world Louise Erdrich creates in her newest novel, The Round House*, is so convincing and irresistible that, as I read it, I often found myself resenting interruptions from my own world. The novel revisits the North Dakota Ojibwe reservation that was the setting for The Plague of Doves--and, though the books are not dependent upon one another, some of the people here are ones we've met before.

The story's narrator is thirteen-year-old Antone Bazil Coutts, named after his father--he lets us know early on exactly how he feels about that: "...I'd fight anyone who put a junior in back of my name. Or a number. Or called me Bazil. I'd decided I was Joe when I was six. When I was eight, I realized I'd chosen the name of my great-grandfather, Joseph...I resented the fact that I didn't have a brand-new name to distinguish me from the tedious Coutts line--responsible, upright, even offhandedly heroic men...I saw myself as different, though I didn't know how yet..."

In the summer of 1988, Joe is shoved along the path of self-discovery--of learning all the ways he is different and some surprising ways he is the same--when his mother, Geraldine, becomes the victim of a brutal crime. As his father, a tribal judge, begins rooting through case files in hopes of finding likely suspects, Joe is drawn into the mystery and, eventually, sets off on his own seeking answers and justice that he fears will be denied by a system ruled by complicated treaties and jurisdiction claims, and tainted by deep-rooted prejudices. The consequences of his quest are, of course, unforseen and have deep impact on those closest to him and may alter forever the man he is to become.

In so many ways, The Round House is about that rough and tangled place where opposing forces rub against one another--tribal and federal laws, Ojibwe ritual and Catholicism, the spirit world and the human one, past and present, the spoken and the unspoken, betrayal and loyalty, desolation and hope. Joe, balanced uneasily as he is between adolescence and adulthood, offers a perspective that is alternately baffled and wise, terrified and swaggeringly confident. He is both very much a product of his environment and a keen observer of it.

As always, Erdrich writes beautifully about some ugly truths. Her details are rich and relevant, firmly placing the reader into the world she's created. The rhythm of her words is perfectly suited to the action of the story--there is not a clunky turn of phrase to be found. Erdrich's style does not call attention to itself, but instead frees the reader to immerse herself fully in the heart-wrenching tale. 

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Masterpiece.

*Available in stores Oct 2.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Sunday, September 10, 2006

You know that occasional moment when you realize you're maybe not as crazy as you thought you were? Or at least, if you're crazy you're in some good company? I had one of those moments this past Tuesday when TangledLou over at Periphery wrote a post about how our perspective changes over time and the ways we might do a little (albeit inevitably tainted) time travel in order to reinhabit that other self. She mentioned music and its ability to bring "your lizard brain right back into a certain time."
I immediately thought, "Hey! I've done that!" Not only have I done it, I've done it more than once--and one of those times, I actually made a note about it in my Spiral Notebook. So now, not only was I not as crazy (or, at least, not as lonely) as I once thought, I also had my Spiral Notebook post all figured out for this week, four days before I actually had to post it. Bonus!
Tonight's entry was written nearly two months after Mr. High School's death when I was struggling to put down on paper something remotely sensible about what his presence, and now absence, meant in my life. I know now, of course, that it was way, way too soon to try to make sense of anything. What resulted from this experiment was another disjointed and babbling journal entry among many. Given the fact that today, six years later, I have two half-finished pieces--one in a manila folder and one in my blog's draft folder--about Mr. High School, maybe it's still way, way too soon.*
(So that you can fully appreciate how absurd my response to these particular songs was, a track list follows tonight's entry. I created these CDs for Mr. High School in late 2005 after having laughed with him over my habit of quoting goofy songs in the margins of my high school Spiral Notebook entries about him. The CDs were labeled "Sappy Crap Soundtrack," but in retrospect, "Three Decades of Mediocre Music" would've been equally fitting. The list is even more hilarious when you take into account the fact that in the yearbook next to his senior picture, his favorite song is listed as Judas Priest's "Breaking The Law.")
Sunday, September 10, 2006
So I had this Big Idea--of making copies of those CDs I made for Mr. High School and putting on headphones and listening to them to set a mental/emotional mood for writing more about him, about us or the non-us or whatever it was or wasn't. It's been on my mind for a while now--I've imagined it at length.
I've imagined it failing miserably and making me feel like an immature and melodramatic cornball. I've imagined it succeeding brilliantly and the words pouring out of me in moving yet grammatically correct sentences.
What I didn't imagine is what actually is happening to me as I sit here at the dining room table, headphones dutifully attached, Cheap Trick blaring in my head.
I am sincerely stunned at this moment by the effect these songs are having on me. Stunned immobile. A couple of times near tears. As AS (pharmacist and soccer mom extraordinaire) would say, "What the EF?"
The first CD was on its tenth song before I even picked up my pen.We're now on song 16. Not exactly what I'd call speedy progress.
Sappy Crap Soundtrack--Disc One
1. "When I Need You"--Leo Sayer
2. "Where Are You Now"--Jimmy Harnen with Synch
3.  "Abracadabra"--Steve Miller Band
4. "Leader of the Band"--Dan Fogelberg
5. "Lead Me On"--Maxine Nightingale
6. "These Dreams"--Heart
7. "We Belong"--Pat Benatar
8. "Always Something There To Remind Me"--Naked Eyes
9. "My Sharona"--The Knack
10. "Mirage"--Tommy James & The Shondells
11. "Oh No"--The Commodores
12. "Tainted Love"--Soft Cell
13. "In Your Eyes"--Peter Gabriel
14. "Believe In Me"--Dan Fogelberg
15. "Tonight It's You"--Cheap Trick
16. "Best of My Love"--The Eagles
Sappy Crap Soundtrack--Disc Two
1. "Words Get In The Way"--Gloria Estefan
2. "I Miss You"--Klymaxx
3. "Crazy Love"--Poco
4. "Against All Odds"--Phil Collins
5. "Separate Lives" Phil Collins
6. "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues"--Elton John
7. "Total Eclipse of the Heart"--Bonnie Tyler
8. "Hurts So Good"--John Mellencamp (back when he was still John Cougar)
9. "Sometimes a Fantasy"--Billy Joel
10. "Sleeping With The Television On"--Billy Joel
11. "What About You?"--Crystal Gayle
12. "Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You"--Stevie Nicks
13. "Everybody Has a Dream"--Billy Joel
14. "What A Fool Believes"--Doobie Brothers
15. "What About Love?"--Heart
16. "Time After Time"--Cyndi Lauper
17. "After The Fire"--Roger Daltrey
18. "How Does It Feel To Be Back?"--Daryl Hall & John Oates
Sappy Crap Soundtrack--Disc Three
1. "Waiting For A Star To Fall"--Boy Meets Girl
2. "I Go Crazy"--Paul Davis
3. "Long, Long Time"--Linda Ronstadt
4. "One More Night"--Phil Collins
5. "The Search Is Over"--Survivor
6.-16. The remaining ten tracks were Foreigner's "Records" album--a greatest hits compilation. I told Mr. High School to consider them his reward for sitting through the rest of it. He had always liked Foreigner and had lost both the record and CD versions of his Foreigner albums, among many other things, material and otherwise, in his nasty divorce.

*Or, maybe, I am unable to finish either of them because it's just a silly topic that my mind picks up again and again in order to avoid all the less silly and more dangerous topics that are lying about. But that's a question for another day. Or never.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Random Quote Friday

"Dottie smirked. Here was her grown-up granddaughter thinking she knew about love. Thinking all her choices would be easy ones, that her heart would always lead her where she needed to go. Thinking that love was something magical and mysterious that descends upon you against your will, instead of a choice that has to be made again and again, every day, each day of your life."

~~Rebecca Johns, Icebergs

Monday, September 17, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Fifty Shades of Snobbery*

"Criticism is a word with blood on its teeth because we know that one definition is 'the act of finding fault.' Criticism's unsavoriness was drummed into us by our parents: 'If you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all.'

But who obeyed? A person who doesn't have anything bad to say about someone may be a saint, but he's more likely a bore. We define ourselves, in part, by the discriminations we make. The value of what we love is enriched by our understanding of what we dislike."
~~David Ansen, Self magazine circa 1994

"He really is a fine specimen of a man. Looking at him is very, very arousing."
~~E L James, Fifty Shades of Grey

[Blurt Alert: This post contains non-graphic, non-specific mentions of S-E-X and a couple of "bad" words. Also? I say mean things about a very popular book. Read at your own risk.]

Fifty Shades of Grey was a phenomenon before I'd ever heard of it. When I first heard of it, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would end up having that awkward conversation I, as a chronic reader, am forced to have every couple of years when some new Bestseller! attracts the attention of my non-reading friends (they are legion). Because, for many of my friends, I am their friend who reads the most (for some of them I am their friend who reads at all), I am the first person they think of when a book (of all things!) catches their attention.

While I read widely, I rarely read phenomenon-type books for a variety of reasons. I like to say it isn't really a judgment of the quality of work behind many mega-bestsellers--that there is no bad or good writing, exactly--just people with different tastes. I like to say this because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings and I don't want to sound like the pretentious, snarky bitch I really am deep inside when it comes to reading. There may be no such thing as bad writing, but there is such a thing as writing that makes me feel like scooping my eyeballs out with a tomato corer. And, more often than not, it's that exact kind of writing that sits at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List for months at a time. Worse, it is often that kind of writing that friends of mine fall deeply in love with--so in love that they want to share the joy. And then they ask me to read it and when they ask me what I thought of it, I struggle to come up with something diplomatic to say. (Hint: When said out loud, "The Da Vinci Code has an intriguing plot, but is spectacularly poorly written." is not as diplomatic as it sounded in your head.) 

I've been burned before, obviously. I've learned some stealthy moves to get out of the "Have you read..." type conversations without, I don't know, being too much myself, I guess, but I'd still prefer never to have those conversations at all.

So, when I started hearing rumblings about the Fifty Shades trilogy, I steeled1 myself against the inevitable dreaded question. It came in mid-June in a text from the friend I refer to as Miss Unattainable here on the blog (here's why). She said, "Have you read the Fifty Shades books?"

I cringed, not just inwardly but all over.

Stealthy move number one: deflect attention. "Nope. Have you?"

"Not yet. Daughter read them and just passed them along. She loved them. Said the sex scenes were amazing."

Keep deflecting: "I've heard that too. Hope you enjoy them!"

"I'll let you know what I think. Do you want them when I'm done?"

Urgh. Stealthy move number two: vague truth. "Not sure. Heard the writing was pretty bad."

"I heard that too. I don't read enough to know the difference, probably."

Stealthy move number three: distract from the original question, while gently strengthening my position. "Saw the author in an interview and she basically said they weren't very good herself. But I'd love to hear what you think of them."

Bullet dodged. Or so I thought.

This past Friday, Miss Unattainable texted me a lunch invitation. After we'd nailed down the time and place, there came another text: "U want me to bring the Fifty Shades books or are u sure u don't want to read them?"

Stealthy move number four: Give up entirely, but still try to manage expectations. "You can bring 'em. I will give them a try."

This conditional surrender was not enough for Miss Unattainable, so she had to whip out the exclamation points: "U have to be a little curious!!"

And she's right, I am curious. I'm curious about why I'm such a party pooper. A buzzkill. A literary snob. Why can't I just enjoy an "entertaining" read on its own terms instead of judging it by lofty literary standards to which its author likely did not even aspire? (Even that sounds sorta snotty, doesn't it?)

Clearly, clearly, clearly I lack the enzyme required to convert clumsy writing into entertainment. Instead, the influx of clunky phrasing and craptastic cliches will cause toxins to build up in my system until they explode in a spewing spray of unstoppable snarkiness.

And here we are.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a train wreck of a book. (Speaking of craptastic cliches...) Of course, I'd collected a heap of evidence against the book before I ever cracked the front cover. Not just a bestseller, it was a bestelling romance. An erotic romance to boot. It is what Little Sister and I used to laughingly call a "smut book."2

In addition to the genre issue, I'd seen the British author, E L James, in an interview in which she admitted being a Twihard and appeared utterly baffled and even sheepish about the success of the book. Not exactly an auspicious beginning.

Still, as objectively as possible, Fifty Shades of Grey is a train wreck of a book. It is the story of the 21-year-old not just virginal, but actual virgin who has never even been "really" kissed, Anastasia Steele and her hot (!) romance/erotic relationship (sealed with a non-disclosure agreement--so chivalrous!) with hot (!) twenty-seven year-old self-made billionaire Christian Grey. These caricatures, er, characters don't just smile, they "quirk" their lips up. Predictably, moods are unfathomable, loins are girded, stares are smoldering, penetrating, unnerving. Two sentences in a row, our heroine is "besieged" and she's not even in the presence of our hero, let alone in bed with him at the time!

Is it just me or are there certain words that show up considerably more frequently in smut books than they do anywhere else? Luxuriate, mercurial, wanton, myriad. I swear I've seen "inexorable" ten times in smut books for every one time I've stumbled upon it out in the wilds of literature. Is there some sort of special Smut Book Thesaurus that's mandatory reading for smut book authors?

The story is told in first person, present tense and we are often treated to Ana's internal monologues which are heavily peppered with Holy cow, Holy Moses, Holy crap, Holy shit, Holy fuck. Holy exclamations, Batman! She also goes in for lots of "Boy!" and "Oh my!" and "Wow!" and "Jeez!"--not only are these particularly empty exclamations, but they do not in any way seem natural when attributed to a 21-year-old college graduate (an English literature major, to add insult to injury).

Futhermore, though Anastasia is allegedly American through and through--she's living in Vancouver, Washington at the time our story opens and, within weeks, moves to Seattle; at one point (as her cardboard roommate is planning a trip to Barbados), she bemoans the fact that she herself has never "left the continental U.S."--she nevertheless often speaks and thinks in a distinctly British fashion. Words like "keen" and "clever" and even the penultimate Britishism "bloody" are sprinkled throughout her speech and thoughts--as are constructions like "a bit of time" and "I do hope" and "you've not..." (rather than "you haven't"). It's a small, nit-picky sort of thing, yes, but it contributes to the overall mess that is Fifty Shades.

Another distraction (though there is little to be distracted from)  is the relationship Ana has with her anthropomorphic "subconscious." Apparently, our narrator and her creator have failed to grasp the significance of the prefix "sub" in "subconscious" as Ana's subconscious is practically a character in the book: "My subconscious taps me hard on the shoulder..." " subconscious mocks me." "I think my subconscious has fainted..."

A few times, James seems to acknowledge the absurdity of this device by tacking the words "figuratively" or "metaphorically" on to some action the subconscious has taken: "Stop now! my subconscious is metaphorically screaming at me..." "My subconscious is figuratively tutting and glaring at me over her half-moon specs..."At one point, Ana's subconscious is so appalled she goes to hide behind a couch...any subconscious worthy of the name would've stayed there.

What sent Ana's delicate (yet pushy) subconscious scurrying behind the couch was sex, of course--and not just any sex but the fabled rough BDSM-light sex that helped make Fifty Shades a scandalous international bestseller. The sex nearly sent me scurrying behind the couch, too--not because it was scandalous, exactly--unless, of course, you are scandalized by the travesty of poorly written sex scenes3 in which hollow, exaggerated characters have hollow, exaggerated reactions to one another's every move.

So over-the-top is the writing in these sections (and the book is mostly these sections) that any heat generated quickly dissipates into hilarity and in rapid succession to annoyance. Word to the wise to E L James, and smut book authors everywhere: A little hyperbole goes a long way; a lot of hyperbole goes nowhere.

When it comes to the male appendage, though, James does get credit for her sensible solution to the what-to-call-the-body-part problem. The choices range from excessively euphemistic at one end of the spectrum ("member") to the unnecessarily vulgar at the other (the "c"-word that I am not going to use here--I'm already really pushing my luck in the undesirable search words department) with the coldly clinical in between ("penis"). James wisely settles on "erection" for almost every reference to Christian's, er, doohickey. Not perfect, perhaps, but certainly one of the better options available.

No such luck when it comes to the female genital area, though. In spite of the fact that Anastasia is apparently well-acquainted with human anatomy (she makes no fewer than three references to her medulla oblongota) and has no trouble throwing around the "f"-word, both as an expletive exclamation and as a verb in direct reference to the sex act, she refers to her own, um, nether regions as the absurdly euphemistic and juvenile "down there" (italics hers). She eventually graduates to referring to it mostly as "my sex"--better, but there is still something forced and unnatural about that terminology, especially coming from a college-educated woman in 2011.

So...a train wreck in so many ways. The only way the book succeeds is as an unintentionally satiric commentary on the fantasies of discontented women everywhere (about which, don't even get me started). I feel kind of bad4 saying so--but I am confident that the millions of dollars and millions of fans E L James has made (and will no doubt yet make) with the Shades of Grey trilogy will be of great comfort to her in the face of my petty criticisms.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Bestselling!

*This cannot be considered a proper review of Fifty Shades of Grey since, as of this writing, I have made it only to page 337 of 528 pages. I will carry on to the end, despite my considerable reservations, because the suspense is killing me--not about what will happen to the paper-doll characters, but about how many more mean things I can think of to say about this book.

1. Ha! Ha! "Steeled!" Get it? That's a pun for all you Fifty Shades fans out there.

2. The fact that we referred to them as smut books did not deter us from procuring and reading as many of them as possible--especially around the time I was 13 or 14. We would read the steamy parts aloud, gasping with hysterical laughter. Once, we tried to make an amateur version of a book-on-tape of one particularly memorable smuttish book, Golden Empire by A.E. Maxwell, reading into a tape recorder a scene in which the lovers rolled on to their sides "still joined." A few sentences later when they walked to the shower, I added "still joined." Sweet lord, I thought one of us was going to require emergency medical intervention (just as our lovers would have if they had, in fact, walked to the shower still joined).

3. It is hard (pun acknowledged though not entirely intended) to write sex well, but it is not impossible. One example that always comes to mind when I get into this conversation (which, blessedly for everyone, is not often) is Scott Spencer's Endless Love. Though the sex is quite graphic, and even disturbing at times, it rings true to the extent that it actually advances both plot and character. That said, it is not necessary to judge E L James's sex scenes by the Spencer standard in order to find them wanting (pun acknowledged though not entirely intended). It's been a long time since I've read a smut book, but I don't recall the sex ever being quite this ridiculous--though it was often close. Two authors who did write decent (though not Spencerian National Book Award-nominee level) sex were Judith Krantz (particularly in Princess Daisy) and Rosemary Rogers (in The Wanton, the title of which is especially hilarious if pronounced like the Chinese takeout staple). I think the primary difference between decent smut book sex and the sex going on in Fifty Shades is that, whether in or or out of bed, the responses of James's characters seem entirely disconnected and out of proportion not only to our reality (which is common in smut books) but to their own.

4. Not quite bad enough to stop me from hitting "publish" on this post, of course. But really? I understand that it takes a tremendous amount of effort and courage to put your work out there and I admire that--whatever I may think about the quality of the resulting product. To the extent that this book (and no doubt its sequels) can be viewed as a failure, it is more a failure on the part of the editors and publisher than on the part of James, who, by many accounts, had no inkling that her work would find such a large audience and, therefore, so much (mean) scrutiny.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Wednesday, August 11, 1993

Wednesday, August 11, 1993
My life is passing by not minute by minute but a week at a time. It just seems like that I know. And it's probably a very dangerous pattern of thought to fall into--it would be easy to give up whole chunks of minutes, hours, days thinking they can't count for much...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Random Quote Saturday

"She liked to disappear, even when she was in the same room as other people. It was a talent, as it was a curse."

~~Alice Hoffman, "Owl and Mouse" in The Red Garden

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ways I Am Not A Grown-Up, The Eleventh In A Potentially Infinite Series--UPDATED

I have a spectacularly dysfunctional relationship with food.

No lie.

It is 8:56 p.m. and so far today, I have eaten a handful of mini twist pretzels, a ham sandwich on wheat, and frosting. A whole lot of frosting.


You understand, of course, that every color must be taste-tested ad nauseum. Literally.

UPDATE: Lest you doubt that any of the frosting made it on to the cake, here is a partial shot of the finished product.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Random Quote Thursday

"I put on several different outfits. The advantage of not knowing who you are is you can attempt to be all things to all men or women. My mother saw me always glancing in every window, every mirror; in the gleaming blades of knives.

She said, 'Jill is vain.' She did not know I was looking to see who would be there this time."
     ~~Jill Robinson, Bed/Time/Story

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Search Party

Youngest Sister asked me earlier today for a recipe I had scribbled nearly twenty years ago in a spiral-bound notebook with index card pages. Tonight when I went to look for my little spiral-bound index card recipe thingy, which usually sits (appropriately, I think) on the cookbook stand in the dining room (behind a prettier cookbook), I found instead Hubby's book on playing darts. I had to ask Hubby where he had moved my recipe book thingy to. For the purposes of this post, it's important to know that this is the only spiral-bound index card notebook in our household. The conversation went like this:

Me: Do you know where my spiral-bound index card recipe thingy is? It was on the cookbook stand.

Hubby: I stuck the cookbooks in the drawer of the hutch.

Me, after rifling through both drawers of the hutch in vain: I don't see it.

Hubby, coming in from the living room: What did you say it looked like?

Me: It's spiral-bound, 4"x6" index cards? With recipes on them?

Hubby: Why do you sound grouchy?

Me: I'm confused as to why it seemed like a good idea to move the cookbooks off the cookbook stand and instead put a book about darts on the cookbook stand.

Hubby: Uh, there wasn't room for everything.

I do not see the point of arguing with that logic. He continues digging through the various drawers and cabinets on the hutch and I sit down in a dining room chair to watch. From one drawer he pulls out a shiny, black 9"x12" folder, which is also full of recipes and he holds it up to me, questioningly.

Me, sighing: It's a 4"x6" spiral-bound index card notebook thingy.

He puts the folder back, but seems to think* my refusal to accept a 9"x12" folder when I'm looking for a 4"x6" spiral-bound index card thingy is pure stubbornness and a moral failing on my part. The fact that the folder is full of entirely different recipes than the index card notebook is, of course, irrelevant.

Next, he finds a packet of individual index cards and holds them up to me. They are all blank.

Hubby: Were you using these?

Me: It's a--

Hubby, proverbial light bulb just this side of literally visible above his head: But this doesn't have a spiral...

He puts them back. I stand up at this point and wander toward the kitchen, where the spiral binding of the actual 4"x6" index card notebook thingy jumps out at me from a shelf in the kitchen. I pull it out and hold it up for Hubby to see.

He says, "Oh that? I could've told you where that was...I didn't know you were looking for that."

*He doesn't say any of this. He doesn't have to. We've been married for twenty-five years and counting. I can not only read his thoughts, I'm pretty sure my testimony as to their content would be admissable in a court of law.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where Were You?

[This originally ran on Monday, September 11, 2006, as a Media Monday post. I changed one word because it's the only thing that's changed. The original is here.]

On the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks, as we all reflect on the ways our country changed and grew from the suffering of that day, Alan Jackson's song "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)" remains in my mind as the best, truest tale of that day. I still cannot hear it without getting chills--especially today of all days. It is a sincere man's well-thought-out reaction to horrible, horrible events.

I couldn't have said it better than Alan does (and if anyone else could, they haven't yet). So I'll leave you with my favorite lines: "Faith, hope, and love are some good things He gave us/And the greatest is love."

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Tuesday, May 16, 1986

Tuesday, May 16, 1986
We're in sociology discussing phobias. Mr. Biddle says there are people who avoid eating in public because of fear of vomiting. There are others who don't eat things that look bad when thrown up (like spaghetti). Jeff goes, "What looks good thrown up?" Martin goes, "Corn chips." That's what kind of day I'm having. "What's fear of Ronald McDonald?"--"McPhobia." Because Dale used to be afraid of Ronald McDonald.

Saturday, September 08, 2012


"Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide."


Thursday, September 06, 2012

What's It Worth To Ya?*

This morning, as I pulled into the parking lot at the bank, I noticed a backhoe parked at an angle in one corner of the lot. A passing thought flitted through my mind: "They just sealed the blacktop last week. I wonder if they're going to have to dig it up for some reason."

But then, I watched as an older couple--probably in their mid-seventies, walked up the sidewalk, having just come out of the bank. She was carrying a big black tote bag--the kind with sleeves for photos, though there were no photos in it. She handed it to her husband, who was right behind her and then she climbed into the backhoe and he handed the bag up to her as she situated herself in a seat behind the driver's seat in the backhoe's open cab. She immediately began digging through her tote bag as her husband climbed into the driver's seat and started the backhoe.

At this point, I had readied my deposit (despite the considerable distraction) and unable to figure out a remotely subtle way to take the photo I was dying to take, I pulled around the bank to the drive-through window, so I didn't see them actually drive this enormous backhoe away--though they must have since they were out of sight when I came back around the corner of the building from making my deposit. 

Not being the sort who is familiar with backhoe sizing, I can't tell you exactly how enormous it was, but I can say for certain, it was not the little rental backyard-sized backhoe you sometimes see. No, this was at the very least a mid-range, two-seater! It was of a size that would not be at all out of place doing road work along the highway. And this seventy-something-year-old couple drove away in it!

I've spent most of the afternoon and evening trying to figure out what circumstances could possibly have ended in a trip to the bank in a backhoe and, to be honest, I've still got nothing. Anybody?

*They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In the absence of what would've no doubt been a fantastic picture, would you settle for 338* words?

*Not counting the footnote.*

*Or this one. And so on...

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Have It Your Way (But Only If Your Way Is A Rerun of a Post Originally Run In August of 2005)

Sometimes when I am having a very bad day, I will comfort myself with this thought: "At least I don't work at Burger King." This is nothing against the people who do work at Burger King--in fact it's the opposite. I toiled away many weekends and after school evenings at Burger King in high school and I can vouch for the fact that the job is often vile and horrible and much more complicated than it seems to the uninitiated.

When this thought popped into my head this week, it brought with it the memory of an incident that happened way back in my BK days that has haunted me ever since.

The story involves two guys: SA (whom I did have a fleeting crush on) and PL (whom I did not). In the Burger King kitchen there was a narrow walkway one end of which led to the front end and the other end of which led back into the kitchen. There were two garbage cans on one side of that path which were my responsibility as "dining room hostess." (Yeah, I know.) There were also various supplies stored in that area that were used in other parts of the store. One Saturday morning, PL had walked up the walkway to get something while I was in the middle of changing the garbage can liners. He was trying to make his way back into the kitchen, pushing a waist-high white plastic can on wheels, but was having a hard time navigating between the shelves and me. I was pushed as far against the garbage cans as I could go, even wedged between the two a little. While Paul was trying to push, pull, and jiggle the can through, he caught SA's eye and said, "Lardass." Clearly, clearly,clearly referring to me.

I was deeply wounded. Stunned. Could not understand why PL, who had never had a hostile word for me before, would say something so hurtful directly in front of me. The fact that the remark was made to SA, whom I did have a crush on and with whom I often had long, friendly conversations made the whole thing all the more painful. And SA's chuckle--ouch.

This is something I have dragged out on all sorts of occasions and low moments in the twenty-some years since, which is to say I have thought of it not often, but at least periodically--especially when SA crossed my mind or weight issues were nagging me.

In the context of weight issues, I most often thought of how sad it was that at a time when I was only slightly "overweight" and well within healthy bounds, I allowed such a misguided, narrow-minded, mean-spirited comment have so much space in my head and heart. And in an even broader, more political sense, I saw PL, SA and myself as victims of unrealistic expectations foisted upon us by the media. There were still a lot of times, though, when the memory had the power to make me wince, make me blush, make me squirm in echoes of my adolescent agony.

You get the picture: It has never fallen off my Most Embarrassing Moments Top 10 in all of the years since it happened. And never, not once, did it occur to me, as it did this time, that in the white plastic container PL was pushing was LARD, which was what went into Burger King's fryers until the arrival of vegetable oil in the more enlightened and health-conscious '90's.

So, it had also not crossed my mind that there was a real possibility that PL's intention was not to comment on the size of my ass but to make a silly little pun relying on the proximity of my ass to a 30-gallon container FULL OF LARD. The container was (not surprisingly) not spotlessly clean and there were smears of the white stuff visible on the lid and handles of the can so I may have actually had lard on my ass--which means I may have paraded around Burger King that afternoon with a shiny white substance on my (average-sized) ass, but I can live with that.

Lest you think I'm wholly delusional--I do realize that the other explanation, the conclusion to which I jumped and to which I've clung all this time, is still a possibility. In either case, I'm sure PL thought my ass and much of the rest of me was big--I was never an itty, bitty thing and PL was exactly the kind of guy to whom that kind of thing mattered in terms of picking girlfriends, but his making such an overtly cruel remark was out of character. In fact, PL and I went on to forge a fairly warm buddyship that was only mildly overshadowed by the nagging memory of the Lardass Moment. I have never really been able to fit the lardass incident into the context of every other experience I had with/of PL, but that never stopped me from holding tight to my original interpretation of events.

Regardless of the "true" meaning behind PL's words, what the hell is wrong with me? How foolish is it to be haunted by the words spoken by a person who was, at the absolute outside, a peripheral person in my life? A person whose opinion of me should've mattered little even in that moment and progressively less as time went by? An incident I should've dismissed if not that day, then surely that month, that year, and definitely in that decade!

Of course, if I'd done that we'd have never had the singular pleasure of this post and then where would we be?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Random Quote Tuesday

"With your gift comes a duty, in both senses of the word: an obligation and a special tax levied on something of value brought in from afar.
There is no escaping this, so you might as well accept it now. If  you turn away from your creative gift, it will not go away. It will fester, and you will become depressed.
You may have a modest gift. Still, it is a gift. It is not yours; it is entrusted to you. It is something beyond you, something you didn't cause to come into being, but something hat was handed to you. It is a gift, and with it comes a duty. Carry it lightly, but carry it."
~~Cary Tennis, "Citizens of the Dream," The Sun, June 2012

Monday, September 03, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Here Comes The Sun Again

[Generally, on the first Monday of the month, I run a review of my "Book of the Month" for that given month. The way I choose the book of the month is by looking over the books I read in the preceeding month--I usually have at least five or six to choose from. Imagine my consternation, then, when this month, I went to my "Have Read" notebook and discovered I had read only one book in the entire month of August--and that was definitely not the kind of book I'd be likely to review here. When I started trying to figure out how I had read only one book all month, it hit me that I had spent a lot of time catching up on magazines--including reading the five issues of The Sun that had stacked up on my nightstand.

In tribute to the magazine that so absorbed my attention in August, a rerun of the review I wrote in January: ]

I eagerly await The Pushcart Prize anthology every year. It's subtitled The Best of the Small Presses and showcases literary fiction, non-fiction and poetry from a variety of small magazines and other venues. It is a thick volume full of amazing work--the kind of stuff I would probably never otherwise have the opportunity to read, living as I do in a teeny, tiny town in a rural county with the nearest "newstand" likely to carry literary magazines of any sort hundreds of miles away.

Each year, I get a little crazy imagining all the work I'm missing by not being able to afford subscriptions to the magazines that originally published the work in the anthology's pages. One year, I did something about it and took $36 out of my tax refund money and splurged on a one-year subscription to The Sun.

That one-year splurge has turned into an every-year splurge (except the one year that Youngest Sister sprung for the renewal as my Christmas gift--thanks, again!). Occasionally, money has been too tight to renew on time and I have missed an issue or two, but I keep every issue I have received in a tub within arm's reach of my computer desk. More importantly, I carry photos, phrases, and revelations I've found in its pages with me everywhere I go.

It is difficult for me to speak of The Sun in terms rational and sensible enough to really capture its amazingness (see?). The Sun carries no advertising. The black-and-white photos sprinkled throughout each issue are simple and often breathtakingly evocative. Though Hubby doesn't read the magazine, I have often come upon him holding an issue, intently studying the cover photo. And when I got out a few old issues today for reference, I was repeatedly distracted by the amazing photography both inside the magazine and on its cover.

The writing within its pages is raw and gritty in its intimacy while often touching on strikingly universal themes. There is an interview at the beginning of each issue, usually with an activist of some sort or someone otherwise on the fringes of society--psychologists, physicists, artists, environmentalists, shamans and so on. January's interview was with Ina May Gaskin, "the midwife of modern midwifery." These interviews are always informative and often enlightening.

After the interview, there are fiction and non-fiction pieces, with poetry tucked in at the edges. And at the center of the magazine is several pages of a column called "Readers Write," which shares true stories readers have sent in response to prompts (this month's prompt was "Boxes."). The subjects are as limitless as the human imagination and the one thing the pieces all share is writing of the highest quality.

Here a few snippets from past issues:

is the the thing you
press your face against,
trying to figure out how
to get inside without breaking it."

~~from "Lost Keys," a poem by Tony Hoagland, The Sun, June 2011

"'Do you think we'll ever be friends?' I say. 'You and me?'

'We're sisters,' Eileen says.

We could be friends--if you would change every single thing about you, I don't say to her; she doesn't say to me."

~~from "Final Dispositions," a short story by Linda McCullough Moore, The Sun, February 2009

"I am broken and my mother's old age is what's breaking me, I think, standing naked in my bathroom, one foot propped up on the sink, clipping my toenails. The bathroom is dirty: hairs everywhere, beads of mold in the corners. Cleaning has become a luxury. Someday I will spend one afternoon a week scrubbing my bathroom, but for now I wipe the sink with a dry Noxema pad, scrape some loose hair from a corner, and hurry out.

My next thought is: It is not a bad thing to be broken. When something's broken you get to see what's inside."

~~from "At Her Feet," non-fiction by Pat MacEnulty, The Sun, May 2008

"Raising three children is like fording a swift, waist-high stream whose stones are covered with moss: it's possible, but move heron-slow and measure each step, or you'll topple and end up who knows how far downstream."

~~from "My Anti-Zen Zen," non-fiction by Chris Dombrowski, The Sun, August 2011

Some of the things I read speak mostly to my mind, others mostly to my soul. The Sun is one of those things that consistently speaks to both.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Priceless.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Friday, December 3, 2004

Friday, December 3, 2004
It's the little things in life that make all the difference. What was it that brought this tried and true lesson home to me in an all new way? Was it a glimpse of a gorgeous sunset? The lilt of a baby's laugh? The shadow thrown across a sleeping child's face by his eyelashes? The latest antics of Sachi, Ferret Princess?

No. A pebble stuck in a door frame was what so clearly illustrated the importance of little things in our lives. Monday evening, I was all set to lock up the flower shop. I turned the key in the lock, heard the bold start to slide--and it stopped in its tracks before it slid into place. I repeated this action (or inaction) several times. I jiggled the door in its frame to try to figure out if/why the door wasn't hanging properly in its frame. Exasperated beyond measure, I tried calling Cranky Boss Lady to see if she'd had any trouble with the lock when she'd opened that morning or, alternatively, if she had any suggestions from prior experience. Perhaps fortunately, Cranky Boss Lady wasn't home. I then called Hubby and practically begged him to come down to look at it. (Not that I really had to beg much--he was only too happy to have me ask for help-especially in that bordering on hysterical helpless female tone I had been driven to by frustration.) After I had secured Hubby's promise that he was on his way, I returned to trying to lock the door myself.
I was actually bordering on outright disbelief at this point. The door looked exactly as it always has--seemed to be lining up perfectly, but somehow, the bolt part of the lock was not sliding into the hole that had been cut for it in the metal frame. Minor in the scheme of things, but somehow all the more baffling and, well, menacing for its ordinariness. It's the damned door I lock and unlock six and sometimes seven days a week. If it can stop working--and in such a diabolical and undetectable way--everything's up for grabs. It's like the laws of gravity being suspended without warning or explanation.

As melodramatic as that no doubt sounds, I'm alarmingly close to sincere. I really was staring open-mouthed at the door and shaking my head in disbelief.

In a final act of desperation, I dropped to my knees to see if something was wedged in the edge of the door. Still, nothing was visible until I leaned down even further--on all fours, now, just to fully complete my demoralization--and there in the ridges of the metal threshold, shoved against the door frame, was a teeny tiny pebble. It was just large enough to hold the door open an undetectable hair width--exactly enough of a hair to keep the bolt of the lock from sliding into place.
The pebble was a tenth the size of a dime and a silvery gray color that blended perfectly with the metal of the door frame. In other words, not only was it a little thing that made all the difference, it was practically invisible, perfectly camouflaged--waiting all afternoon to teach me the valuable lesson of the importance of little things.
So taken was I with this learning opportunity that I actually picked up the pebble and set it on the credit card machine with the intention of saving it--sticking it with glue to a keychain or tucking it into a locket to carry with me everywhere as a talisman.

I left it there overnight--intending to share the wisdom of the pebble with Cranky Boss Lady before preserving the pebble for posterity. Before I had a chance, the next morning, Cranky Boss Lady had a credit card sale and must've flicked the pebble away without a thought.

The little things make all the difference in life, but they're dang hard to hold on to and not everyone appreciates them when they stumble across them.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Ways I Am Not A Grown-Up, The Tenth In A Potentially Infinite Series

Back in June, Sleepy Joe tagged me in a bloggy game and in answer to one of her questions, I mentioned that I'd always kind of wished I was the type of person my mother-in-law seems to think I am. Her four-day visit this past week reminded me of just how true that is.

My mother-in-law is so unlike the stereotypical monster-in-law style mother-in-law that she barely merits the title. She was raised in a very small town in New Hampshire by parents who were old-fashioned even by the contemporary standards seventy years ago and she is very much a product of that time and place. She is so soft-spoken and unassuming and self-effacing that I become a better person in her presence: I don't swear or raise my voice, not even a little. I organize family outings and never leave behind essential items. I never go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink--shoot, I never even sit down on the couch after dinner with dirty dishes in the sink. I am patient and loving and treat her son with bemused kindness even when he's annoying the crap out of me.

I don't even say crap in her presence. True story: we were playing Upwords one night during her stay and Hubby played the word "dungs" and was casually mentioning that he didn't know how correct the word was, not knowing if "dung" would be appropriately pluralized with an "s." And I said, "I have no problem using it in an a sentence: 'Of all the animal dungs I've smelled, elephant's is the worst.'" At the word "dungs," my mother-in-law covered her mouth and her eyes got wide and she even giggled a little uncomfortably as though I had said something deliciously naughty. It was adorable.

While I have reason to believe that my mother-in-law's got a solid steel core, her outer appearance is of a delicate woman easily startled and shocked by the world around her. So, though I don't actively pretend to be someone I'm not when she's around, I do try to be the best possible version of myself.

And, you know, I really like that version of me and sometimes I wonder why I can't be that person all the time. Then, my mother-in-law comes for a visit and I remember.

Being the best possible version of myself takes an enormous amount of effort and energy. And so, she goes home, and after a day or two of struggling to maintain these self-improvements, I throw in the towel yet again.