"How can we not still be rooting for the younger versions of ourselves as if they actually exist, playing catch-up in time? Who wouldn't like to implant their current brains into a scenario from the past? SATs be damned, how about the insertion of a few eloquent turns of phrase when, for no discernible reason, Michael Gruzman called me 'baloney boobs' on the bus home for a whole year?"
~~Sloane Crosley, "If You Sprinkle" in How Did You Get This Number?
[This post was my original Thanksgiving post--seven years ago. Even reheated and seven years old, it's better than anything I've got going on in my brain at the moment...] Leftovers: You know how this time of year all the magazines and cooking shows try to come up with creative things to do with all that leftover turkey? I've seen turkey tarts, potpie, burrito, salads, and on and on. Well, I have the perfect solution to get rid of all those turkey leftovers--three teenage boys. They don't need it prettied up--they'll wolf it down straight out of the fridge with a little mayo and a slice or two of bread. Before you can even say leftovers, they're gone.
Gratitude: At last year's Thanksgiving celebration, my dad suggested we all say one thing we're thankful for. Daughter-Only piped up: "Can we all also say one thing we're not thankful for?" That suggestion was loudly vetoed (by me and a few others at the table--I mean, first, do we really want the entire extended family hearing what Daughter-Only is not grateful for and second, depending on her mood of the moment, it might take her an hour or two to narrow it down to one thing she's not grateful for and by then dinner would be stone-cold and we'd all have a whole new thing to be not thankful for). The big surprise, though, was when it was finally Daughter-Only's turn to speak her gratitude aloud, she said, "I'm thankful for the variety of people we have in our family--that we're all so different and we all still get along."
Caught On Tape: There is one of those old-fashioned home movies somewhere of my first Christmas--me in a red velvet dress, age 5 months--propped up in a high chair at the dinner table. I'm holding a turkey drumstick the size of my head. My mother always said I was insistently reaching for it and my grandparents, ever-ready to give me every little thing I wanted--including a turkey drumstick that may have weighed nearly as much as I did--gave it to me. There is no evidence that I actually ate any of it, but I am seen intently rubbing turkey grease all over my face and my little red velvet dress. Perhaps my distaste for dressy clothes and my not entirely healthy relationship with food can both be traced to that moment, but probably not.
Ghost of Turkeys Past:Last year, as I was hacking apart the turkey, a sizeable piece of white meat liberated itself from the platter and flew across the room. My (then fourteen-year-old) nephew observed, "Ooooh, looks like we've got a poultrygeist!"
Rushed out of the house first thing this morning due to a make-up removal emergency Daughter-Only was having. She was running late for work so I ran out the door, cranky and with my unbrushed hair yanked up into a messy bun. And did I mention...cranky?! Very cranky.
Walked into Walgreens and was greeted by this song:
I wasn't even a fan of it the first time around, but for some reason, this had me grinning like a fool. At least on the inside.
"Eventually? Doesn't that usually fall somewhere between the months of Maybe and Never?"
~~My (now ex-)coworker, Mark Z.
I'm still pretty sure that procrastination is a viable life strategy. All evidence to the contrary is dismissed as the horrible side effect of me having not yet perfected my procrastination techniques, therefore requiring additional procrastination practice.
[A repost (original post Nov 2006) courtesy of the kind of day that is making me question every major life decision I've ever made. Please note that I no longer obsessively refresh the page on Saturday nights. Instead, I check it as part of my routine at work on Sunday mornings. And there are five books now.]
I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume most of you have seen PostSecret--the site where people send in their secrets on 4" x 6" cards, which may or may not get posted to the site and/or included in a book (there have been two books so far and a third is on its way). For those who haven't, check it out. It's disturbing and fascinating and awe-inspiring and sometimes you can't look away from it even if you want nothing more than to not look at it at all.
The secrets are updated on Sundays--at least in theory, though it's quite often updated by Saturday evening, when I log on to begin obsessively checking to see the new secrets. Every week, I scroll down the entire page and by the time I get to the bottom, I think, "What the hell do I do this for?" and I make a half-hearted pledge to not be sitting there the following Saturday evening, obsessively refreshing. I never promise not to check back, but you know, there's no reason it can't wait 'til Monday or whatever--the secrets are up all week.
What's even more fascinating to me than the individual secrets (which themselves range from the disturbing to the mundane), is the impulse so many people have to make a card and send it in. Is it that confession is good for the soul? Is it that there are that many people hoping for their fifteen minutes (or week) of anonymous fame?
Are there people who send in secrets not sincerely, but ironically, as a prank? There's no doubt in my mind, but the interesting thing is that these people are revealing something just as intimate about themselves as the people who send in sincere secrets--they're revealing their cynicism, their mean-spiritedness, their (perhaps misguided) faith in their own superiority, their willingness to put in a relatively large effort for what I can only imagine is minimal reward. In their insincerity, they are just as revealing as others are in their sincerity.
The fact that there's absolutely no way to tell if a person is sincerely revealing a deep (often, though not always, dark) secret about himself or just goofing on us all is part of the bargain you make in scrolling through all those secrets. I like to think most of the postcards we see--and the e-mails in response to them--are sincerely meant and that there is some comfort to be found in finding you're less alone in your little secrets than you might've imagined. And until the site collapses under the weight of its own fame, or I just get bored of it, you know where to find me Saturday evenings between 9 and midnight. (Jeez, I need to get a life.)
One of the enlightening things about keeping a journal for nearly thirty years is finding out how what passes for wisdom changes over the years. For example, tonight's Spiral Notebook selection is from an entry I wrote when I was seventeen lecturing myself for overthinking* a thirty second moment of eye contact between Mr. High School and I and my ongoing inability to behave in any "normal" fashion. The word "revelation" may have been used to describe this passage:
Tuesday, November 19, 1985
Why couldn't I have been born an airhead? Bubbleheads dive straight in because they always bounce off the bottom and float to the top.
Last Sunday, I received a text from Son-One's Girlfriend and opened it to find this:
If you look closely, you can see Son-One up on the peak of their house, where he is stringing Christmas lights on a gorgeous (and rare-ish) seventy degree day in November. When I saw the picture, two things popped into my mind. First, there's nothing like your twenty-four-year-old son and his girlfriend buying a house to make you feel old. And second, I was reminded of this photo, taken six years ago:
Yes, that is Son-One swinging from the arm of a trebuchet-in-progress. And, incidentally, Son-Two's providing the counterweight that is holding his brother fifteen feet or so above the ground. While this may look merely like teenage boys with poor risk assessment skills1, insufficient parental supervision and unfettered access to power tools and scrap wood, it was, in fact, science--a physics assignment in which two of my sons, along with two other boys had to build a trebuchet capable of hurling a smallish pumpkin a specified distance. This photo was allegedly the boys "testing" the strength of the arm they had built by hoisting a human being roughly ten times the weight of the pumpkin in question.
I no longer remember the grade they received on this project (nor do I remember whether they were successful at the "extra credit"2 portion of their assignment which was to see how far they could hurl a (non-functioning) 19" TV), what I have never forgotten is the strange mixture of pride and utter terror I felt at the sight of this picture--at the sight of my boys using their intelligence and superior motor skills to put themselves in at least moderate danger. It was the same feeling I had as each of my children became fully mobile, wiggling, waddling and wobbling their way out into the world where I've since watched them face both physical and emotional dangers.
And it's the same feeling I had last Saturday, as I looked at the photo of a grownish man on the roof of his house, framed against blue sky and wispy clouds, making a life of his own out there in the big, scary world.
1. Forgive the redundancy.
2. Let there be no doubt, the quotation marks are meant to indicate that any "credit" awarded for flinging a television would come not in the form of percentage points or letter grades but in deep (and deeply adolescent) personal satisfaction.
A ridiculously long time ago, Sleepy Joe nominated me for a Wonderful Team Readership Award and because I am a horribly negligent1 blogger, I have not yet officially accepted the award. (Updated: The fantastic, sweet-hearted Larissa also nominated me for this award--and, once again, my negligence meant I missed it until just now. Thanks, Larissa!)
As with most bloggy awards, this one is to be passed along to a certain number of others and as with most bloggy awards, most (if not all) of the bloggers to whom I would pass along the award have already received it. As always, if you have not yet received it and would like to play along, consider yourself nominated by me and snag the questions below and leave a link to your answers in the comments.
As do many bloggy awards, this one comes with questions which I will answer below:
1.Why do you blog? Originally, I started this blog in hopes of using it alongside a newspaper column of the same name. Somehow, the blog kind of took on a life of its own and I would say now I blog primarily for the sense of connection and community it offers and secondarily for the writing practice.
2. If you were trapped on a desert island, what book, DVD, food, cartoon character, and childhood game would you bring? Book:Wuthering Heights, primarily because I have read it so many times and each time I do, I discover something else about it that I'd missed before. DVD:The Breakfast Club, of course. Food: See my previously mentioned dysfunctional relationship with food. The odds of me picking a single food before the midnight NaBloPoMo deadline are about equal with the odds of me ending up on a desert island that has a DVD player. ;o) Cartoon Character:Squidward. Childhood Game: 10-4 Good Buddy. It came out during the CB radio craze in the '70s. I don't understand why I loved it so much, but the original one I had as a kid was misplaced somewhere and about seven years ago, I bought a used one online.
3. Share a funny joke or one-liner. As I commented on Sleepy Joe's post earlier this week, I have a standard go-to joke that I never miss an excuse to tell: "What do you call a dog with no legs?" ~~"It doesn't matter, he's not coming anyway."
4. What is your favorite thing about yourself? My curiosity, which may kill me someday. Rumor has it he's killed before.
5. What one word best describes you? At the moment: exhausted. In general: immature. 6. If you could have a lifetime supply of any candy/candy bar what would it be? This is a tough one--made all the tougher by the fact that I have eaten three Christmas tree Peeps2 during the writing of this post and, as always happens when I eat Peeps, I NEVER want to eat sugar again. But, there are two candy bars that (as far as I can tell no longer exist) either of which I would LOVE a lifetime supply of: Nestlé Choco'Lite bar and Marathon bar.
7. What fictional character do you relate to most? Laura Ingalls, not to be confused with the actual Laura Ingalls Wilder, who, confusingly, named her fictional(ized) character after herself.
8. If you were to write the story of your life, what would you call it? Well, when I was fourteen, I had a big plan to write a slightly fictionalized3 version of my life story with the title "Chasing a Cross-Eyed Butterfly." I remember that the title seemed profound, but I have no recollection of why. The alternative title would be "I Wrote This, Angie" which is what I promised a girl I knew briefly my senior year I would name my first book so she would be able to know that it was written by the weird girl who moved to her school in January of our senior year and who she would likely never see again after graduation.
Thanks, again, for thinking of me, Sleepy Joe & Larissa. And thanks for your patience!
1. In addition to negligent, I have also been insanely busy both personally and at work in the past few weeks. Much of the busyness has been positive (or at least neutral) busyness, for which I am deeply grateful. Nevertheless, I am having that wrung-out dish rag feeling x 10 this week, especially.
2. Okay, okay...it was actually six Christmas tree Peeps.
3. The fictional part: the girl actually had the courage to express her feelings for the boy and they lived happily ever after. Heh.
Back in the late '90s, when our kids were small and our lives felt hectic and borderline out of control (and sometimes, really, completely over-the-edge out of control), Little Sister and I used to joke about writing a book of life advice full of lessons culled from doing everything exactly the "wrong" way. We planned to call it What Not To Do because while we hadn't stumbled on much of what worked, we sure as hell knew what didn't.
About a third of the way through This Is How, Augusten Burroughs flashes what could be considered the official membership card of the What Not To Do school of advice-giving when he says, "I am a complete and total fuckup. Which is why I am equipped to write this book and tell you how to live."
Much of Burroughs's own particular training in what not to do is chronicled in his previous books, including Running With Scissors and Dry, many of which I've read and a few of which I count among my ever-changing top 10 (or top 20) favorites of all time. The Burroughs-of-the-page possesses a degree of self-awareness that comes from not taking oneself too seriously. His writing is full of penetrating observations about human nature--most especially his own, delivered in a darkly humorous, sometimes even sarcastic, style. These observations sometimes feel brutally honest, but never unkind because they are shot through with compassion and acceptance of the inevitability of human failure.
When I learned that Burroughs's newest effort was a book of advice, I wasn't sure what to expect. That the title font on the book's front cover is vaguely reminiscent of the lettering painted on the side of a nineteenth century traveling snake oil salesman's carriage led me to suspect that Burroughs's tongue was lodged firmly in cheek as he dispensed the cure-alls to be found in these pages. And, too, the trademark Burroughs tone did not seem likely to lend itself to sincerity so I was more than half-expecting a satire or even an exposé of the self-help industry. Instead, I got a book of real advice that is both cynical and sincere, humorous, helpful and deeply human--and above all bluntly truthful.
This Is How, is a self-help book so thorough that its subtitle1 runs to over twenty words, with chapters such as "How To Fail" and "How To Feel Less Regret" and "How To Stop Being Afraid Of Your Anger." The book opens with the chapter (and possible inspiration for the entire book) "How To Ride In An Elevator," in which Burroughs lets loose a bit of a rant about the affirmations and power of positive thinking mantras that are the foundation of many self-help books and programs. Burroughs dismisses affirmations as "the psychological equivalent of sprinkling baby powder on top of the turd your puppy has left on the carpet."
For anyone who picked up This Is How expecting just another feel-good, spoonful-of-sugar-so-the-medicine goes down sort of self-help offering, that opening chapter serves as notice that they've come to the wrong book. Anyone brave enough to stick around will discover a book full of bits of wisdom gained from keen observation and hard living, from making mistakes and recovering from them (or learning to live with them). It is a wildly quotable book--I carried a pad of bright orange Post-It page markers with me the whole time I was reading the book and ended up getting horrible writer's cramp copying down all the quotations that caught my eye.
That quotability, enjoyable though it was for a quote geek such as myself, makes for some bumpy reading at times. It is repetitive in spots and there are whole sections that are comprised of sound-bite-like snippets with little or no transition between them. In places it feels as though Burroughs took years worth of notes he'd made to himself on napkins and backs of envelopes, shuffled them and transcribed them in that order. Many of the chapters lack conclusive endings; Burroughs seems to wander off mid-thought in a couple of places.
So frequently does this wandering off happen, I began to wonder if it was Burroughs subtle way of saying that there are no final right answers to most of these questions. The answers he does offer are some mixture of common sense and pure genius and many of them hit me with epiphanic force or at least with the ping of an epiphanette.2
Rare is the answer that struck me as off-key, but it did happen. In the chapter entitled "How To Get Over Your Addiction To The Past," Burroughs says, "Writing six autobiographical books is what freed me from my past." He then goes on to say that the books could've been cookbooks and he would still feel just as free because it was the act of writing, not the subject matter, that freed him. Writing kept him busy, he says, and "When you're busy, you lack the time to fondle your emotional baggage." As someone who doesn't feel a moment has been fully lived until it's been written about, this does not ring entirely true to me. And since Burroughs did write memoirs, and not cookbooks, we'll never know if it was the subject matter or the simple engagement that did the trick.
Another quibble was that in several chapters, there were variations on the theme of "It's simple, but it's not easy." He says this in different ways so many times that I began to think of it as some sort of incantation or chant--if we say it enough times, and spin in a circle under a full moon something magical will happen and everything will start to seem simpler than it actually is. Or maybe everything is actually simpler than I make it--there are certainly legions of people in my life who can attest to my capacity for overthinking.
What makes all of the advice not only valuable but palatable is that there is not one discernible ounce of arrogance in any of it. Burroughs is occasionally blunt, even forceful, in making his point, but he is never, ever smug. I think that lack of smugness is another of the hallmarks of the What Not To Do school of advice giving--and it's the one I love the most.
Masked Mom's One-Word Review: (Self-)Helpful.
1. This Is How: Help For The Self: Proven Aid In Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young And Old Alike.
2. "In general, I am not a big believer in epiphanies, I guess because I rarely have them, or if I do, they are usually not reliable. But just then, I had a ping. Ping! A measure of clarity, an epiphanette." ~~Jane Hamilton, Disobedience
[This post originally ran a year ago in a slightly different version. After some of the pre- and post-election patriotic posturing I've heard on Facebook and face-to-face, I decided to rerun it. The pointless and pathetic purple prose of the Spiral Notebook will return next Sunday.]
Working at the flower shop in April of 2004, I was in a position to see a portion of the outpouring of sympathy, gratitude, and respect accorded the family of Marine Corporal Jason Dunham, a local boy who gave his life by throwing himself on a grenade in Iraq, thereby likely saving the lives of two of his squadmates. Perhaps it doesn't do to call a 22-year-old man who gave his life for others a "boy," and Dunham's last actions on this earth were certainly the actions of a courageous and mature man, but as the mother of three sons aged 24, 22, and 21, it's hard for me to see him as anything other than a boy in the same way I will probably still be referring to my own sons as "my boys" long after they have boys and girls of their own.
Corporal Dunham's mother, Deb, is a truly remarkable woman in many ways. I do not know her personally, but for the five years after Jason's death that the flower shop was still operating, orders would come in from all over the country for Jason's birthday and the anniversary of his death every year--people wanting his family to know he was not forgotten. On one of these deliveries, bearing several baskets and vases of flowers, I was met at the door by Deb who was holding a napkin full of still-warm chocolate chip cookies for me to take back to the shop. It may seem an inconsequential thing, but something about that simple act of thoughtfulness on a day when many moms would've been curled up in a corner mourning their loss really touched and amazed me.
In the years after his death, Corporal Dunham was publicly memorialized in numerous ways. The post office in his hometown is now the Corporal Jason L. Dunham Post Office. A naval destroyer bears his name as do various facilities on military bases around the country. In January 2007, Corporal Dunham was awarded the Medal of Honor--only the second soldier to receive the Medal for actions in the Iraqi War and the first Marine to receive it since Vietnam.
Corporal Dunham's mother has been present at various ceremonies honoring Jason over the years and she has done many print and on-camera interviews in various venues, including for a short documentary on the Marine Corps site. Without exception, Jason's mother has behaved with amazing dignity, grace and generosity while bearing one of the worst burdens a mother can bear.
I admire her strength and really see her actions as a way of honoring the sacrifice her son and so many soldiers like him have made for our country, but there have been times when I wondered how I would've handled myself in a similar situation.
The footage of the ceremony where Deb Dunham received the Medal of Honor from then-President George W. Bush especially made me think. This was at a time when doubts were steadily spreading about the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" in Iraq. Those alleged WMD's had been the rationale for our presence in Iraq to begin with and not only had they not been discovered nearly four years into our involvement there, new information was emerging with some regularity that indicated many in the administration had known all along that the intelligence behind the WMD theory was faulty.
I had had my doubts about Bush and his motives in Iraq and elsewhere long before that point. If I had been in the position of standing next to him to receive an honor for my dead son, would I have been able to take comfort in the President's apparent appreciation of my son's sacrifice? Would I have nobly accepted the award being offered on behalf of a grateful nation?
Under the influence of such a loss, would I have been able to restrain myself from asking impertinent questions about the "cause" my son had died for? Would anything other than the presence of the Secret Service have been able to prevent me from calling the President of the United States a murderer and a liar directly to his face?
There was another mother who lost her son in April of 2004. Army Specialist Casey Sheehan was killed in Iraq when the Humvee he was driving was ambushed. His mother, Cindy Sheehan, chose a different--and some would say much less dignified--path than Deb Dunham did. Within a few months of her son's death, Cindy embarked on a path of anti-war activism that included the hyper-publicized "Camp Casey" in August 2005 during which Cindy set up camp a few miles from President Bush's ranch in Texas, demanding a face-to-face meeting with Bush so that he could explain what "noble cause" her son had died for. Cindy waited there for nearly four weeks and was never granted that meeting, but she did not go away quietly and continues "speaking truth to liars" (the tagline of her current website "Cindy's Soapbox" ).
Along the way, Cindy has weathered many criticisms--she has been accused often of being unpatriotic and of dishonoring her son's memory with her protests of our government's actions. This strikes me not only as an incorrect assertion, but an absolutely ridiculous one. Cindy has been vehement in taking advantage of the very rights and freedoms her son--and thousands and thousands of others--died to protect. She has done so at great personal cost not only to herself, but no doubt to the rest of her family as well. She has been arrested many times--including as recently as October 2011.
Do I agree with every idea Cindy Sheehan has put out into the world in the eight years since her son died (especially some of her most recent thoughts)? Not by a long shot. Do I think all of her methods are the most effective available? Also, no. Do I believe her actions are her sincere efforts to honor rather than dishonor her son's sacrifice? Absolutely.
If our soldiers are going to continue to fight and die, isn't one way of honoring them to continue to ask those in power how, exactly, these sacrifices our soldiers are asked to make will protect our nation and its citizens? If the places our soldiers are asked to fight and the actions they are asked to take seem only indirectly and incomprehensibly related to the safety of our nation, are we not entitled to a full accounting of how these efforts will make us safer?
It is not only possible to support the troops and still question the government, it is in some ways the most meaningful and long-lasting support we can give.The notion that our soldiers fight and die to protect our freedoms but that by exercising those freedoms we are somehow dishonoring our soldiers is absurdly un-American.
Deb Dunham and Cindy Sheehan are two mothers who chose to honor their sons in wholly different, but equally valid, ways. Today, my thoughts are with not only those lost sons, but with their mothers as well.
To all those men and women who fought and are fighting still, here's the thing: That America you're fighting for is a complicated place; the gratitude of your fellow citizens sometimes comes in some messy packages. May your sacrifices never be forgotten or taken for granted.
"...I have so craved silence and solitude that in the past half-year or so I have had recurring fantasies of using the keys to various churches we have at the flower shop--to just sneak in some afternoon with a book or a pillow or just me..."
~~Me, in the Spiral Notebook Journal, Thursday, January 13, 2005
On Tuesday nights, residents at the halfway house where I work have the choice of an in-town AA meeting or an out-of-town AA meeting. For the first few months that I worked Tuesday nights, my coworker drove to the out-of-town meeting and I drove the guys to the in-town meeting and then snuck home to poke around on the internet or watch DVR'd shows with Hubby for an hour before having to return to work. That routine changed after one too many complaints about the driving skills of my coworker--he was working two jobs and going to school; some of the guys suspected he was occasionally dozing off at the wheel. (Happily for everyone, the coworker moved on to a single higher-paying job that required significantly less driving.)
So, I took over the out-of-town meeting--about a half-hour trip one way to a town with very little going on at any time of the day, still less between 8 and 9 p.m. on a weeknight. Short of spending the whole hour in a back corner of the tortuously brightly lit McDonald's out by the highway, I was stuck in the van in the parking lot of the church where the meeting is held.
Mostly, I didn't mind. I got into the habit of lugging my pansy bag full of books and notebooks and magazines and paper scraps along on these trips. I would crank the radio and contort myself into some pretzel-like-yet-oddly-comfortable position and read a book or write a bit and, yes, sometimes take a nap with my cellphone alarm set for five minutes before the meeting's end.
Sometimes, though, I felt guilty over having to run the van's engine against the cold--that made me itchy from both an environmental and a budgetary standpoint. Sometimes, I couldn't contort myself into any remotely comfortable position. Sometimes, not just limbs but whole quadrants of my body would end up numb and tingly.
One night, a couple of months ago, I had the seat fully reclined and my left leg bent up in such a way that my foot was on the dashboard beside the steering wheel and my right foot was resting in the cup holder. I was reading the latest issue of Harper's magazine and a Tom Petty song was blaring on the radio when there was a knock on the window next to my head.
I sat up immediately and looked out to see a sensibly dressed older woman smiling up at me. She was wearing a navy skirt and a white button down blouse with a gray cardigan over it. Her hair was graying and pulled up into a loose ponytail. She adjusted her glasses and introduced herself as "Jackie Somebody, from the church."
She pointed to a house peeking over the fence at the end of the parking lot and said, "I live right over there. And for over a year now, when I walk past my upstairs window, I see you out here in the van on Tuesday nights and think to myself, 'I'm going to go out there and introduce myself.' and then I never do, but now here I am."
She then told me I was welcome to go inside the church, that there was a room upstairs, away from the AA and Al-Anon meetings, where I could sit to read instead of tangling myself up in knots in the van. My first instinct was to politely refuse (which tends to be my first instinct practically every time anyone offers me any sort of aid--an instinct that really needs to be looked at, probably professionally), but as I started to say I was okay in the van, she said in a voice somehow eager to please and vaguely annoyed at the same time, "Why don't you at least let me give you a tour?"
So, I let her give me a tour. There was a nice sitting area and a meeting hall full of tables and a kitchen where she told me to help myself to something to drink whenever I wanted. She showed me where the rest rooms were and even took me into the sanctuary briefly. She told me I was welcome to come in any time and that if anyone saw me up there and asked what I was doing I was to tell them, "Sister Jackie said I could."
After the tour, I knew I would never be sitting in the van again on Tuesday nights. Instead, I lug my pansy bag full of notebooks and books and magazines and paper scraps up the steps into the dark upstairs of the church and find my way to the meeting hall where I turn on the row of lights second from the right, which shine on the round table nearest the door and I sit down and open my notebook. Every week since Sister Jackie said I could, on Tuesday nights, for one hour, I do nothing but write, undistracted by music, momentarily untormented by budgetary and environmental concerns, and wholly, blessedly unpretzelized.
A few weeks into this routine, still giddy and reveling in what had started to feel like a sacred hour in my week, I thought to myself, "I'm going to dedicate my first book to Sister Jackie I-Can't-Remember-Her-Last-Name." I get more writing done in those little snippets of time than I do the rest of the month combined.
A few more weeks into this routine and it hit me that I was absurdly grateful to Sister Jackie for a gift I could've given myself a long time ago. Not the mostly empty church part, of course, but the hour of quiet where I focus entirely on my writing part. And, I could do that more than once a week.
Oprah likes to talk about "Aha! moments." Let's call this one my "Duh! moment."
"Over the course of a lifetime a man will overhear a fair number of remarks about himself and learn from them how very wide is the gulf between his public perception and the image he hopes to project. I've always known there's more going on inside me than finds its way into the world, but this is probably true of everyone. Who doesn't regret that he isn't more fully understood?"
~~Richard Russo, Bridge of Sighs
One of the first things we were told during training at Burger King (where I worked for most of my high school years) was that old nugget of minimum-wage wisdom "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean."
It was my first job and I was an earnest and socially awkward girl, so, in the beginning, I often did clean when there was time to lean--all things considered, scrubbing baseboards in the dining room, crawling under tables and booth seats to scrape away months' worth of built-up burger grease and globs of petrified chewing gum, was a more manageable and pleasant task for me than trying to make conversation with guys and girls my own age.
Eventually, I became slightly more comfortable, having both consciously and unconsciously honed my strategy of self-protection by sarcasm--and I spent less time cleaning and more time goofing around.
Much of the goofing around involved hat stealing or water spraying--occasionally things would really devolve and someone would grab a wad of defrosted, uncooked Whopper meat from the waste barrel and fling it at someone else. All hell would break loose at that point, of course, resulting in flaccid pickles and soggy tomatoes ending up on every exposed surface. Once they'd dried on, they were especially fun to clean off of the lattice work that divided seating sections in the dining room. Turns out tomato seeds come encased in their own adhesive, which few man-made solvents can destickify.1
I remember one very slow night--in the middle of an epic New Hampshire snow storm when we hadn't had a customer (in the lobby or drive-thru) for over an hour--we got into a deep2 discussion on what exactly a portion of defrosted, uncooked Whopper meat should be called--a wad? a clump? Someone threw out "globule," which was somehow gross enough (with its guttural opening "gl," short "o," softly percussive "b" and squishy "ule" at the end) to be perfectly suitable. Added bonus--"globule" was alarmingly close to the sound made when one such portion landed with a plop-slide against the plate glass window and stuck there. Positively onomatopoeic.
Food-related mayhem was surprisingly uncommon, though. Mostly, like I said, hat-stealing, water battles and relentless verbal teasing. At this last, I was a star--the queen of quips, quick with a cutting comeback. It was not just fun and games to me, of course.
Truth was, on the inside I was a quivering mass of hokey pop song lyrics and hormonally-charged emotions. For some reason, it was imperative to me that this information not get out. So vulnerable and raw did I feel on the inside that it seemed impossible to me that it did not show on the outside. Surely, everyone could see through my shield of sarcasm, well-crafted though it was.
One night, I found myself alone in the kitchen with two guys--Tommy and Terry--on whom I'd had alternate and occasionally overlapping on-again, off-again crushes. Needless to say, I was certain (and horrified by that certainty) that they were both aware of my deep3 feelings for them.
It was a slow night and things rapidly degenerated into their usual chaos and I soon found myself in the walk-in freezer while the two of them held the door shut. I struggled against them briefly before giving up and making myself comfortable-ish on a stack of boxes of frozen chicken patties, where I intended to wait the guys out.
It did not take long. As Terry yanked the door open, he remarked, "C'mon Tommy, we better let her out before she lowers the temperature in there!"
They laughed. I laughed. Laughing was the sportsmanlike thing to do--and besides it was pretty funny.
I'm so cold-hearted, I'm going to lower the temperature in a walk-in freezer! Ha ha ha h--hold up a second...
On the one hand, I was delighted--or at least relieved--at this assessment. Maybe the soft and sappy self was safely protected after all.
On the other (utterly paradoxical) hand, I was deeply wounded to be so very misunderstood. The connection between this misunderstanding and my own efforts--some of them made consciously--to obscure my true feelings, to thwart any real understanding of who I was did not immediately occur to me. When, much later, in an entirely different context, it did occur to me how ridiculous it was to feel sorry for myself that no one saw the "real me" when I worked so hard to hide the real me, it was a revelation that did not immediately stick. It was a lesson I've learned over and over again and it's a lesson I'm learning again, still.
I've long nurtured a fascination with the gap between how I see myself and how others seem to see me and if the walk-in freezer moment was not the seed of that fascination, it certainly fertilized the ground it was planted in. I have sometimes hypothesized that the true self, to the extent one exists at all, lives in that gap.
Even the clearest vision of one's self is pocked with murky smudges and blind spots. Sometimes people around us can help bring that vision into fuller focus--but the assessments of others are only as valuable as they are accurate and, at least in part, they are only as accurate as we allow them to be.
All these many years later, I am still, again, mostly a quivering mass of hokey pop song lyrics and hormonally-charged emotions. If I am not yet parading that self around for everyone to see, I am at least a little more comfortable with acknowledging that she exists--and a little less petrified that my secrets might get out.
*Don't feel left out, Larissa. I'm probably one of only ten people on the planet who would get this '80s reference and three of the other nine used to be the Thompson Twins.
1. The thesaurus was oddly unhelpful in finding a synonym for destickify--so we're stuck with it.
2. Did I say "deep?" I meant high-pitched and hysterical as we leapt from booth to booth, running across tables, trying to escape the deadly aim of Jim, Globule Sharpshooter.
3. Did I say "deep?" I meant shallow and fleeting. Not to mention painfully embarrassing.
I am far too easily disillusioned for someone of my advanced age. In order to be so easily (and frequently) disillusioned, surely I must still be clinging to a great many illusions. Allegedly, with age comes wisdom; theoretically, with maturity comes a diminished capacity to be deeply disappointed in the state of the world. Shouldn't I at least have developed more reasonable expectations and a better sense of reality by this stage of the game?
Alas, I am still far too routinely stunned and appalled and just generally outraged by the behavior of my fellow human beings (and sometimes even myself) and I chalk that up to my stubbornly persistent immaturity.
In a twenty-four year old, a certain degree of naïveté can be sweet and charming. In a forty-four year old, it's mostly just pathetic.
"...stories don't start and stop cleanly, not like crossword puzzles or income tax statements, where answers fit in small boxes. Romance, families, and domestic arrangements--these, in my experience, are sloppy, overlapping and riddled with exceptions."
So, I'm back from my, um, let's call it a sabbatical, and the first order of business on this fine first day of NaBloPoMo is to graciously and very belatedly thank Sleepy Joe for the Reader Appreciation award she bestowed upon me lo these many weeks ago.
This bloggy award, like so many bloggy awards came with rules*, and like so many rules, I will not be following them because I'm naughty that way. I will not be passing along the award because it has already made the rounds of our little corner of the internet, but if there is anyone who does wish to play along who hasn't had a chance, let me know and I will devise a list of questions for you to answer.
Now, the answers to the questions asked by the ever-patient and thoughtful Sleepy Joe.
1. Who is your favourite band or singer or song? So much of my enjoyment of music has to do with my mood-of-the-moment that I'm not sure I could fairly pick an all-time favorite in any of these categories. I will say that my tastes tend to be both mainstream and all over the map, which means that while many of the artists I listen to are fairly well known in their genres, it is not uncommon for a mixed CD that I made to feature both Tanya Tucker and Eminem, Loretta Lynn and Five for Fighting, Dierks Bentley and Soft Cell.
2. Describe yourself as the main character in your own fairytale. I would be the socially awkward, overgrown tomboy who learns, over and over, of both the power and limitations of words. There is great magic in words, thoughts, ideas--they can be tremendous tools or terrible weapons. They may save the world or utterly destroy it. Of course, this being a fairy tale, my money's on the first. 3. If you have a nickname, what is it and how did you come by it? If not what would you like your nick name to be and why? When I was a freshman in high school, my mother bought me a T-shirt with "Witchy Woman" written on it in lettering in the style of the album cover for the Eagles' Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975). It was intended more as a reference to my hormone-driven behavior around the house than as a reference to the song itself. Regardless, I wore the shirt to school a few times and suddenly, I was "Witch" for the rest of my time there. For whatever disturbing reason, I found it kind of flattering.
Currently, I frequently refer to myself at work as "Chief Nag." But I'm pretty sure it doesn't count as a nickname if you give it to yourself. 4. What is your favourite word? I'm pretty sure that's a diabolical trick question designed to leave me so overcome with indecision that I crawl under my bed to hide. 5. Who are your favourite literary couple? The fact that I cannot at this moment (nor at any other point since I originally read this question) think of a single literary couple leads me to believe I most likely do not have a favorite. I'm sure something will come to me at 3:47 a.m. when I wake up from a sound sleep under my bed where I've gone to hide from the trauma of question #4. 6. What is your favourite Poem? I am kind of intimidated by the concept of poetry and tend to love any poem I "get" right off the bat. I tend to like short but powerful poems. The one that almost always comes to mind is Charles Simic's "War." 7. Do you like having someone play with your hair? This is by far the easiest question on this list for me to answer. NO. I not only don't like it, I have an active phobia of it, especially when it comes to a stranger (including, unfortunately, salon personnel) touching, let alone "playing with" my hair. I'd rather have spiders in my hair than someone else's hands. No idea why.
8. What is your greatest ambition? Self-acceptance. At this particular moment, in my particular frame of mind, I think of that as the "greatest" ambition both in terms of the value of achieving it and the magnitude of the unlikelihood of achieving it.
9. If you have time alone, where do you go to feel at peace? Outside, near water. Or the library, where I can hide in the corner and bury myself in my own words or someone else's. 10. What is your favourite film? Still The Breakfast Club. It is the media gift that keeps on giving. I have bonded with more people from more age groups and walks of life over this film than over any other single item of pop culture or outright art.
Who is that Masked Mom? I'm the mother of four children, ages 21 to 28, grandma to one, employed full-time in the chemical dependency field, writer in personality if not always in practice,married twenty-eight years, waiting less and less patiently for all the hard-earned wisdom to kick in so I can relax and coast a while....