Monday, April 30, 2012

What I'm Reading

This weekend we had the perfect stay in bed and read all day weather. It poured and it's still pouring. Of course, I have a toddler now so I won't be able to stay in bed all day and read for several years. I wish I hadn't taken this privilege for granted back when I was childless. I still manage to read though and thankfully I read fast. I usually read for a couple hours every night after I put the baby to bed and over the weekend I was lucky enough to have my husband babysit a few times so I could actually get in bed and read or write or wash my hair or other luxuries like that. It was a good weekend and I got a lot of reading done.

I finished my latest Anne Lamott book  Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith and I of course liked it, because I love her, but I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the last ones I read. It was more political and in your face politics tend to make me take a step back, even if I may agree with them. Still, there were some good lessons for me in the book, especially the story about how she lost some good friends and then wrote them years later and they refused to write her back. I think I needed to read that because I've been pretty hard on myself for losing a friend and look! It happened to Anne Lamott too. So maybe I'm not so awful and this is fairly normal.

I like to support fellow bloggers who get lucky and get book deals because I hope one day this will somehow bring me some good karma in that direction. Or something. I don't know. Maybe I'm just curious. What I don't like is trying to review those books, because if you say ANYTHING negative or dare to dislike the book, legions of crazed fans will descend upon you and call you names and say you're jealous and evil and it's just not pleasant and if you're really in trouble you might find your words copied and pasted on another site full of ads, which has, thank God, not happened to me.

Not liking someone's writing, or even a part of someone's writing, is not the equivalent of not liking the person. It doesn't mean that I wish them ill, because I don't. It just means the writing's not my taste for whatever reason. Got it?

Thank goodness I mostly enjoyed The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson's new memoir   Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir) which is a collection of essays about her often gory upbringing in rural Texas. Her dad was a taxidermist. The book is supposed to be funny, but some of it is so disturbing, at least to me, that I couldn't laugh even though I knew I was supposed to. Still, there were some very funny parts. I especially liked the turkey story, which was worth the price of the whole book alone. I also loved the story about when she was little visiting her grandparents. I genuinely laughed really hard at this part because I love stories about children getting into mischief out in the country at the expense of adults. Reminds me of my own life.

Here is the one caveat about this book: the author's voice can be irritating and excessive. I don't mean her actual voice. I'm talking about her writing voice, which feels exaggerated to me and frankly, not original. I'm tired of hearing women speak and write this way and to me at least, the voice has become code for "anxious, educated, upper-middle class, quirky, cute white woman." It feels to me like a form of self-deprecation which is ok, but also of dumbing down, which is not ok. It's a voice full of "totally" and "seriously" and long run-ons, tangents, hyperbole and self-conscious rants in the middle of stories that interrupt the stories unnecessarily in an attempt to be humorous. I wish she would have let the stories stand on their own without that because the stories were good and her writing is good. They didn't need anything extra. The self-consciousness bothered me and I found myself skipping those parts and it's important to explain that self-consciousness in writing isn't the same as self-consciousness at a party. Self-conscious writing is writing that knows it's writing. In this case there are lots of notes to her editor and agent, references to the next book and things like that. It takes me out of the story and reminds me that I'm reading, which I don't like because I like to stay lost in the world of the story so that everything else around me dissolves and I'm caught up in my own imagination.

But back to that voice. Lawson isn't the only blogger/author who writes this way. It's a very popular voice. Heather Armstrong and Amy Storch write this way too, as do many others. People seem to like it because the bloggers who do it best are famous and I guess it reflects the way a certain demographic of women speak and therefore their readers, who are of this same demographic, feel the voice is authentic and familiar because I guess it's what they know. I'm not entirely innocent. This manner of speaking can be infectious and I catch myself doing it sometimes, but I try not to, especially when I write and even more especially when I'm writing my own memoir. You want to have a sincere voice when you write memoir and you want to sound like yourself, but the voice shouldn't distract from the story it's telling. When you're trying to be funny, don't lean on the quirky-seeming voice as your comedic crutch. Let the events and the way you frame them bring the laughs.

But that aside, yeah, I liked the book. Lawson lived a life unique enough to make good reading and I was genuinely entertained and occasionally horrified (I like being horrified) and she writes honestly. Support her, buy the book. I can pretty much guarantee that the stuff that distracted me probably won't bother you.

And if you've read it, did you notice the running theme throughout about humans inside of animals? I know there's a metaphor somewhere but my grad school brain is in hibernation at the moment and I can't articulate the meaning of this very well.

Yesterday afternoon I started Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton based on reading this interview  in which she compares writing a memoir to putting out a plate of food at a restaurant. Loved that metaphor. The book is incredible. I'm not done, but it's richly written, instantly sucked me into its world and made me reluctant to leave it and get back to my normal life. As a chef, Hamilton is very attuned to sensory experiences and details and this translates well into her writing. It's literary, extraordinary and I can't believe she wrote this while trying to care for a baby. Good Lord. It shames me. So read this book immediately, especially if you love food and books as much as I do. You won't be disappointed.

You won't be disappointed in any of these books. Get to reading and have fun.

What are you reading this week? Any fiction recommendations? I haven't read much fiction lately.
Friday, April 27, 2012

Our Military Might

The Fort Lauderdale Air Show is here this weekend and I live right on the beach so I get to see it all for free. In fact, I'm enjoying (not exactly) the practice run right now. It used to be the Air and Sea show and it was way bigger and, well, better and showcased far more aircraft than the current, reincarnated show. I'm a little disappointed because I used to like to see the Stealth Bombers and they aren't here this year, though a B 1 just flew over my house.

Yesterday we were out in the yard, my sister and me, with the babies playing in the kiddie pool and having a grand old time picking marigolds and getting into the tomatoes when all of a sudden the Airforce Thunderbirds flew over our house faster than the speed of sound, at low altitude and scared the absolute living shit out of all of us. The babies went completely hysterical and my sister and I were so startled and so upset that both of us wanted to burst into tears but didn't because we were each scared the other would make fun of us. I kid you not when I tell you it made me nauseated. We took the babies in and tried to tell them it was airplanes and they were just playing and some airplanes are loud, but nope. They were petrified. Baby Lawns was freaked and wouldn't stop asking if her cousin and aunt, who'd gone in their own house, were ok. I'm pretty sure that my cat is never coming out from under the bed. My mom's dog will probably need Prozac after this and last night Baby Lawns woke up shrieking from what had to be a nightmare and slept awfully all night and I really wonder if it wasn't the jets that caused it.

And the whole thing made me feel very sad and on edge. My mother was upset about it too. It scared her dog. We had a friend who died in an airshow up in Titusville a few years ago, which was awful. We all knew when he bought the Ukrainian fighter jet that it would be the end of him. I've been waiting years to write that line. And it was, of course. Air Shows remind us of that loss. My mother also cites 9/11.

"We're always on edge in the back of our head because we feel like since then, anything can happen to us at anytime."

I think she's right.

But for me, it's more. I hated seeing my baby that terrified of something. I have an enormous empathy for her, but I've also realized that in becoming a mother I've developed a tremendous empathy for every single baby on this planet. All of them. And you know what? Every single person alive was once a baby, so I have a greater empathy for everyone. 

These planes are here for a show. They're just playing right now, but they weren't designed as toys. They were made to kill people and imagine when they aren't flipping around in the sky, but when they are invading, firing, dropping bombs and doing their intended job - killing people. Imagine the fear of the babies beneath them.
Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Strawberry Tree

I was terrified of having a baby. All of it - the pregnancy, the birth, breastfeeding, caring for another human being, the enormous responsibility, the lifelong commitment. It petrified me because I'd thus far killed everything I wanted to keep alive, except maybe my cat but in all honesty, she kept herself alive a lot of the time thanks to the open toilet and the abundance of lizards we have here in Florida. I like to justify this by saying that cats need to hunt and that lizards obviously taste much better than the Cat Naturals I have been known to forget on occasion.

Plants though? I don't even want to get into that. Two years in a row my New Year's Resolution was to just try to keep a potted rosemary alive and both years it was dead by MLK Day. I was the Ted Bundy of gardening.

To me this meant that I should never, ever, ever be entrusted with the care of a helpless, tiny human and when I found myself pregnant I panicked completely.

Back then we lived in a small apartment and we had no yard for me to wreak havoc upon. We'd needed more room for a long time and with a baby coming, buying a house was imperative. Well, we found one: a charming beach cottage. Yeah right. On paper maybe. In real life it was infested with bugs, filthy and run down from years of transient rentals and in disrepair because the landlord could no longer afford its upkeep. Soon after the closing we found that the house was overrun with toxic black mold and would need a total gutting. I was seven months pregnant and we had nowhere to go and I swear, one day I will write a memoir about this lovely experience.

I don't even want to talk about the yard. It made the jungles of Vietnam look like wide open prairies. I mean technically, there was a yard, as in the house was on some property, but it was so overgrown with ficus, weeds and horrifying tropical vegetation that had become the home for every bug and rodent that I am scared shitless of, that you really couldn't get more than a few inches out the back door. I took one look at it and wanted to weep. Agent Orange, I thought. That was the only thing that could possibly make a dent in this impossibly tangled knot of runners, vines and leaves. No mere human could cut through it.

My new house was a disaster. It was just like that movie "The Money Pit" with Tom Hanks. I half expected my husband to fall through a hole in the floor and get stuck that way for hours. Actually no, I expected that would happen to me. Because I was totally screwed. Pregnant, homeless and in over my head in a crappy real estate deal. Could life get worse? I didn't think so.

The South Asian jungle of our backyard didn't intimidate or deter my husband in the slightest. With a hacksaw and a machete, he'd spend hours trying to cut a clear space into the backyard. He had a vision that one day it would be a beautiful, magical place for our daughter to play, but I thought he was nuts. I couldn't see it and it seemed like the more he chopped away back there, the worse it got. We'd purchased the Hydra of yards. Chop one tree down and seven more spring up in its place. My despair knew no bounds. My husband reminded me of the prince forging through a hundred years' worth of briars to rescue Sleeping Beauty, except I can hardly compare myself to a fairytale princess and I wasn't sleeping because I had heartburn that was positively volcanic. My esophagus was molten.

Then one day my husband went truly certifiably insane. He went out to run some errands, to get some "gardening" supplies, but gardening, I thought? Really? What we had could hardly be called a garden. It was a hell pit of death plants, choking the life and light out of everything. The fool came home with a tree. Like we needed another tree for God's sakes. Weren't we trying to get rid of trees and not create more?

"Look," he said, "I had to get it. It's a strawberry tree."

A strawberry tree does not produce strawberries. It gets its name from its blossoms which look like strawberry blossoms. Its real name is muntingia calabura, which sounds like a disease, which by that point I was pretty sure I had and the baby had and we were all going to die of it. The tree is also called Jamaican Cherry, Panama Cherry and the Cotton Candy Berry. Everyone calls it something different.

A few years earlier when life was good and I wasn't pregnant or homeless or sunk into crappy real estate, we had gone on a carefree date to Miami's Fruit and Spice Park. If you ever visit South Florida, this place is a must see. At Fruit and Spice, I became enamored with the strawberry tree which produces lovely pearly pink berries that taste, I swear to God, exactly like cotton candy.

"One day I have GOT to get one of these," I said.

The tour guide said they were extremely rare, though I couldn't imagine why because they were fantastic!

I'd kind of forgotten about the strawberry tree, but my husband remembered and now here one was, but where on earth were we going to put the damned thing? We settled on the side yard because that was mostly cleared and there was some space there. The tree was barely more than a stick, and a sickly looking stick at that, so we figured it would have more than enough room, if it even made it. I didn't think it would because at that point in my life I pretty much didn't think anything could survive, mostly me.

We planted the tree ceremoniously. It was for the baby. It would be her special tree and it would grow with her. Maybe every year we could take pictures of her with it and she could eat the delicious berries as a healthy alternative to candy. What child wouldn't want her own tree that made magical pink berries that tasted like cotton candy?

And so I felt a little teensy bit hopeful and the tree gave me a very small vision of a positive future, though it was a fogged up and distant vision and hard to see.

By some miracle, we moved into the house a week before the baby was born and it was raw and unfinished in spots and the yard still looked like gorillas could hide out comfortably in it, but we kept on because we had no choice.

I'm not going to mince words here. I was seriously depressed and wracked with anxiety. I was sleep deprived and overwhelmed by the task of caring for a baby and convinced that I wouldn't be able to keep her alive. She was so tiny and so yellow when she was born. She didn't nurse well. I swore I had no milk. She cried. I cried. It was awful. Instead of gaining weight and getting bigger, those first few weeks she got smaller, which was proof that I couldn't sustain her. But then she got a little better and I could take her outside a little, which was very scary, but I wanted to show her her tree.

It was now as tall as me. In six weeks the tree had gone from being a knee high stick, to three sticks as high as my head. My goodness, I thought.

The baby grew and the tree grew. The tree blossomed and the baby smiled. She wasn't yellow anymore. I grew too, though I didn't realize it.

But I was utterly broken that year. Family tragedies and dramas made it worse. My marriage fell apart in ways I never dreamed possible. Motherhood destroyed me entirely and I didn't know it did that or that after it does that it builds you back up again. I know now, but I was so lost in the mess of things back then. I thought nothing could ever get better.

All I had was the strawberry tree and the baby. In spite of everything, they both kept growing. Thriving. Blooming. Living. Some days the only good thing I could find was the tree full of flowers with the honeybees jitterbugging all around it. Some days the only pleasure I got was picking a berry, lipstick bright, and popping it in my mouth. That a berry can taste like candy never gets old for me.

The strawberry tree has been called the fastest growing tree in the world. I'm convinced this is true. I thought it would take twenty years to reach the top of the house. It took six months. And it's a real tree, like the "Up North" trees I miss so much down here in Florida. It has a fat trunk and wide leafy branches and it makes about a million berries at a time. Birds made nests in the tree. Butterflies adore it. The thing is a miracle. I can even climb it!

Our yard, almost two years later, is the paradise I couldn't imagine. The jungle has been cleared; sod has been laid. The baby has a vast carpet of green grass to run and play on all day. My happiest times are in that yard.

My return to happiness started with a rare, strange tropical tree. The tree and the baby seemed to grow at the same rate with the same sort of wild abandon. Who knew that a stick could so quickly become a tree to climb or that a tiny yellow baby could become a running, chattering, berry eating toddler in such a short time?

Let's plant more things, we decided. My husband and I had a dream that our yard could be filled with delicious things for our daughter to eat. We wanted her to be able to play safely with nothing poisonous and everything yummy and edible and we wanted her to see where her food came from. We planted more fruit trees. And then some more. We planted herbs and tomatoes, peppers and spices and everything is alive! Everything is growing and thriving. We harvest and delight in our garden and our daughter does too. We love imagining ways to expand it and make it even better. What else can we grow?

Every day, the baby stands at the gate and yells for me to pick her berries from the strawberry tree and every day I find her some and we share them. Every day we keep on growing.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Today I need motivation for writing my memoir. I'm almost done but often I get overwhelmed by the size of the manuscript and the task of having to revise it and query agents and all that. It's scary. I would like success without having to put forth any effort, but trying to be a writer requires a lot more than trying to win the lottery does.

I am motivated by the fact that there is a girl I despised in grad school who could get published sooner than me and who was mentioned in the book of a famous author I can no longer stand, because ew, how could he have not seen what a pretentious, condescending ass she was? I mean, for real. I must be more successful than this girl or I might die and also she has little talent and I'm saying that because I don't like her.

I am motivated by the success of many popular bloggers who have gotten book deals but who wouldn't have made it past a single workshop in my MFA program with anything they've written.

I am motivated by the terrible fact that if Fifty Shades of Grey can be published then surely, for the love of God, there is hope for my little book. Seriously people, my book explains in detail the procedure for dying one's pubic hair and transforming one's crotch into a veritable topiary. Who wouldn't want to read that?

I just need to finish the GD thing already. I need to get to the end, which I've actually already written. I need to get to the scene where I imagine saying to my grandmother that "Mommom, there are women who can pick up champagne bottles with their tooties." I need to write about how I was almost killed by a serial killer, kind of and how in classic Three's Company style, I had to hide my job from my visiting grandparents. Then I'll be done.

Anybody know a good agent so I don't have to send out a million queries only to be harshly rejected?

Ok people, motivate me. Give me an ass kicking so I can maintain my momentum.
Friday, April 20, 2012

Children Raised in the Wild

Babies imitate everything at this age. It's crazy what they pick up on that we don't notice or take for granted. The freakiest and most overwhelming realization I've had is that we create their entire reality and that is a big responsibility.

I've done a good job at cleaning up my language and being aware of what I say for the most part because now Baby Lawns can understand pretty much everything and she repeats an awful lot. My sister and I (though not my mom but more on that later) have done a good job at not cussing too much around the babies, who are the same age. Yes, if you didn't know, my sister and I had babies together and they are both girls.

What my sister and I didn't count on was the influence the family pets would have on the little ones.

Sure, we knew that pets were healthy for children, that kids with animals grow up to be more active, more compassionate and less afraid. They also have fewer allergies according to some research, but what we didn't count on was that our children would, well, become pets.

The babies are growing up bilingual. They speak English and Dog. My sister has a dog and the babies love her beyond all good reason and the dog is extremely patient with them. The dog should be sainted for the number of times the babies have poked her butthole alone.

At first we didn't realize what they were doing. My sister's daughter started it first and Baby Lawns copied her. One day, my sister noticed that her child was standing at the door making small yelping noises, but babies make all kinds of sounds at this age so she didn't think much of it. Then she noticed that whenever someone would pass by the house or come to the door, the baby would stand at the front door and bark with the dog. Then my daughter started it too. Now all three of them, babies and dog play in the backyard and as soon as the dog starts yipping the babies do too. The other day the pack of them barked a squirrel right up a telephone pole. I kid you not.

My daughter idolizes our cat. The feeling isn't mutual. Last week I noticed Baby Lawns had decided to stop eating with her hands like a human being and was planting her face right down in her plate inhaling her food. Why? She'd seen the cat eat like this. God help me. She also refused to eat peas until she saw the cat happily gobbling them up (my cat is weird) and now Baby Lawns, you guessed it, loves peas. Can't get enough of them.

I don't know how we're going to civilize these children.

My mother isn't much of a help with her potty mouth. If my mother's mouth is open, she's cussing. Cussing is so much a part of who she is that I fear if she stopped she'd have worse withdrawals than she did from smoking. If only they made a language equivalent of the Nicorette for her.

Yesterday we took the whole family out to lunch for my sister's birthday and Baby Lawns, who is prone to acting up in restaurants anyway, was in rare form because she has had a mild case of croup all week and is in a mood that puts her in danger of being put up for adoption. I dropped some pasta on the floor and my mother said "SHIT!" Without missing a beat, Baby Lawns repeats it "SHIT!" Lovely.

After we got home Baby Lawns went to get a toy under the coffee stable and somehow got her leg stuck under the couch.

"SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!" she yelled until I rescued her.

So she understands context now too apparently.

This isn't good. I can't have a child who barks like a dog and swears like a trucker. We need solutions around here and one solution is for the adults to commit to nicer language.

My poor mom.

I've decided to start a cuss jar. I'm just telling you now that I'm going to make a fortune. I could probably make double my teaching salary off of this, but that means it's not going to work. I think my mom would be OK with paying a fine for a few shits and fucks. Speaking without curses, to her, is like a meal without salt and butter, and without salt and butter, why even bother eating period?

There has to be incentive for this to work, but what could that be? A cuss jar isn't effective if you don't mind shelling out and my mom doesn't. If I said it was a vacation fund or for baby clothes she'd stuff hundreds in it just to be nice and continue spewing profanity with gusto.

Then, last night, I got it. I'm a genius.

No one, other than save my grandmother, hates Barack Obama more than my mother. She's passionately anti-Democrat, which is weird because she's totally in denial of how liberal she actually is, but that's another post. My mom's not a Santorum style conservative though. She's something entirely of her own creation: a tea partying, Ron Paul loving, Prison Planet reading, conspiracy theorist who wants the government out of her shit and right now. Whatever, I don't get into politics with my family. Until now.

All funds from the cuss jar will be donated directly to the Obama 2012 campaign.

It'll work like a charm. We'll have my mother speaking as prim and proper as a church lady in minutes.


Sorry to everyone who got a half finished post in their readers. I had to delete it but I'll fix it and finish it and post it later. Promise. I'm still getting used to the new Blogger, which I hate, because I don't like change at all in my technology. Really, if I had my way the Internet would still be the 1994 version of AOL. I'm not kidding. See you when baby naps.
Thursday, April 19, 2012

I'm Sorry But Jesus Says We Can't be Friends Anymore

Would you like to hear me rant about my personal drama? Because I'm going to.
Rarely, rarely do I ever write about personal drama while I'm in the middle of it, even here on my blog. I've never been that candid of a person and I am generally kind of proud and also I've always viewed myself as a storyteller kind of a writer, not so much a journaler. Cardinal rule of writing for me is to write when I have distance and perspective on events.

But sometimes you have to break your own rules. I feel like using my blog to vent. I'd also like to hear what you guys think about this, so chime in.

Being a Scorpio, I am fiercely loyal to my friends. I don't care where you live or what happens to you, if you are my friend, I will stay in touch with you at all costs. Facebook helps with this a lot. I don't lose friends if I can help it.

Problem is, every once in a while, people stop wanting to be friends with me and I absolutely can not deal.

I've gone on endlessly since 2008 about the loss of my friend A, to whom I haven't spoken since I was 24 and I'm 38 now. I still haven't gotten over that and she and her stupid husband blocked me on facebook and made a mutual friend unfriend me! That's an overreaction for God's sakes, but A had a valid reason for not wanting to be my friend. I won't rehash again.

Remember my friend Rachel? You can read about her here. One day she just disappeared from my life. I sent Christmas cards, called, everything and never received a reply. I asked a mutual friend and the friend always ignored my questions, so I never knew what happened. We never had a falling out. Nothing. It was freakish. What had I done wrong, if anything, I wondered?

Years past. I searched facebook. I googled. Nothing. I looked for her sister. Nothing.

Last fall I emailed her at an old email address I had for her. It didn't come back but I never heard a reply.

Then, out of the blue I got a facebook message from Rachel's sister Rose (all names have been changed). It was so bizarre to hear from her. Rose said she'd lived in my city for a few years and her husband worked at a restaurant I went to a lot! I couldn't believe it. She had recently moved back to Atlanta. We became friends and I found Rachel on Rose's friend list under a weird alias. I sent her a friend request and as soon as I did, she blocked me!! Since then she has come back under two other aliases and immediately blocked me on those as well though I never tried to contact her again after the initial ignored friend request.

Rose and I have written back and forth a lot and it turns out that Rose is the most normal one in their family. Rachel has agoraphobia and has become obsessed with a cultish religion that wishes to bring back the Puritan's way of life and beliefs. She was always religious, being a preacher's daughter and all, but she's gone off the deep end. She believes she has seizures and a neurological problem that makes her unable to walk so periodically she puts herself in a wheel chair, though she refuses to see a doctor and takes all kinds of odd supplements and oils instead. All of this is self diagnosed apparently. Rachel doesn't cut her hair. She only wears dresses and now believes that women need head coverings because angels are looking at us and marking down our improprieties for judgment day or some such madness and God have mercy on you if you've been running around bareheaded. She hasn't driven a car in five years and stays home to homeschool her two sons who Rose has suggested are on the spectrum. She hasn't said that but from her descriptions it sounds like a possibility to me. According to Rose, Rachel is self-righteous, condescending and totally intolerant of anyone who isn't in her cult. She believes everyone is going to hell. Rose herself is very religious, a born again type. Most people would consider her extremely conservative and possibly a holy roller, but Rose dresses normally, goes out in the world, nannies for a living and isn't totally opposed to alcohol. Rachel refuses to celebrate holidays because they are pagan and Catholic in origin, but Rose loves holidays and even worse than that, Rose sends her children to school, which is, I guess absolutely unacceptable. Rose is more of a modern Christian. Rachel is an insane Christian.

Rachel won't be my friend partly because her mother, who is exactly like her and the most controlling woman I have ever met, doesn't approve of me. She gave Rose a hard time for being friends with me and said it was a betrayal of Rachel. Their mom is exactly as insane as Rachel and her mother rules her and her husband's life.

I'm heartbroken over this. I don't understand why she would shun me now citing my "sinful lifestyle" when she was friends with me back when I lived in sin with my boyfriend in Atlanta. I knew she didn't approve back then but she somehow managed to tolerate it. So now that I'm a married housewife and not living in sin, what's the problem? It's so weird that suddenly the fact that I used to live with someone is now an issue.

Rachel was my best friend. We were ridiculously close. We loved each other dearly, passionately. We had so much fun together and so many memories. This wasn't a person that I just kind of knew. I felt like she was my sister. I'm utterly heartbroken that she would feel the need to block me on facebook. What does she think I'm going to do to her? I don't get her vicious behavior. I never bothered her or tried to engage her after my friend request. I'm not a threat to her or anyone for that matter.

So I'm heartbroken. I don't understand it. I feel rejected and cruelly, without explanation. Rose told me to stop trying to understand them, but I'm an obsessive over-analyzer especially when it comes to rejection. Dating was horrendous for me for this reason. I get really attached to people I care about. I keep telling myself that Rachel is very ill and confused and has no grip on reality, but I still feel very sad and hurt by this.

I don't deserve to be treated this way and it makes me mad. I did everything for Rachel because she was kind of helpless. She had no life skills at all because her parents believed that girls lived with their parents until marriage and that women were never to work, although she briefly did manage a job when I knew her. She also never went to school and was homeschooled, so she had very little experience outside of her parents' home. I paid for everything without question when we were together. I even took her on vacation, all expenses paid and I was happy to do it. I drove her everywhere when she didn't have a license. She never said thank you but I used to think it was out of embarrassment and never worried about it.

But why block me? Why not just send me a simple message that says something like "I'll always cherish our memories but my life has changed in such a way that I just don't think we have enough in common right now to sustain a friendship." Or how about add me as a friend and say hello, nice to see you are well and then go on about your life, occasionally liking one of my posts? I mean seriously, how much effort does a tiny bit of polite courtesy take? Wouldn't that be easier than acting all dramatic? She even asked Rose "Why are you friends with her?" Meaning me. How nasty. How un-Jesus-like, unless Jesus is actually a fucking asshole and then it's exactly Jesus-like. I'm being sarcastic in case you're thinking about sending a lightning bolt, God. I did not actually call Jesus a fucking asshole.

His followers sure are though. Case in point.

About a month ago Rachel's husband had a sudden heart attack and Rose was near hysterical posting all over facebook for prayers and worrying and sending me messages getting me all in a tizzy saying that Rachel is so ill and her kids are so special needs and that they don't have any money and it just sounded like an utter catastrophe so I asked how I could help and I offered to send money, to contact mutual friends and see if people could chip in and help and I was going to have someone go clean her house because Rose said Rachel was too frail to clean it herself. I was going to send food, gift cards, whatever they needed to get them through and all after Rachel treated me like a piece of garbage. I was doing it all anonymously too.

But then Rose sent me a message asking me if I told Rachel's husband's parents about his heart attack and I was like HUH? WHUH? So I guess Rachel and her husband are estranged from his parents for whatever reason and don't speak to them, like I care, and they didn't want them knowing about the heart attack. Whatever. Not my business. I don't have a dog in that fight. And best of all, I don't know who his parents are, which makes this especially insane. I vaguely remember his mom from their wedding and what I remember was that she was a rude assed, Jesus freak bitch with a mushroom haircut and I don't remember her name or his dad's name. In fact, I barely remember his dad at all and I have no clue where these people live. Yet somehow, Rachel and her mother believe that I found them and told them about the heart attack in order to bring harm to their family and this is a level of crazy that my brain can't process. I guess it upset Rachel's mother so much that she thought she was now having a heart attack and had to go to an Urgent Care where they gave her medicine for lunatics, because that's exactly what she needs if she thinks I would do that, because again, I'd like to reiterate that I do not care about Rachel's husband's tiff with his family that I barely remember. Then Rachel's mom posted some such on facebook about someone severely damaging their family and I didn't see it because I am blocked but a mutual friend contacted me and I had to explain and they thought it was as crazy as I did.

This pissed me off so badly that I withdrew all offers of help. Fuck them, I said. But that wasn't the only reason. I realized that I'd been sucked in by them, one and two, I was going to do it because I wanted to stick it to them and be like, look how nice and generous I am even when you treat me like shit. Look what you're missing out on and look how much nicer I am than you. And that's not genuinely nice at all. That's passive aggressive and a half and I don't want to be that. If I help someone it should be sincere and with truly kind intentions, which I just don't have at all right now towards these people.

Then this past weekend Rose and Rachel got into it because Rachel has decided that Rose is going to hell and isn't religious enough to suit her and I guess they engaged in some back and forth postings of Bible passages on one another's walls, because that's exactly what the Bible was written for you know - to prove other people wrong in arguments and to make yourself look good. I'm an infidel and even I remember how Jesus felt about the Pharisees, but I suppose Rachel glossed over that part. Maybe her head covering fell over her eyes.

So that is the drama that I can't allow myself to get unstuck from because Rose keeps telling me horror stories about Rachel and I get some kind of bizarre satisfaction or something from it, though I'm not sure satisfaction is the best word for it. It's more like I can't even believe the freak show of it all and have to keep watching it unfold because it happens faster than I can process it and my mind can't keep up with the crazy. Or something.

It also reminds me of my biological father and what a nutcase he is with his religious crap and shunning his family and rejecting me too. I think that's why this stings so badly.

And then there's this. Two of my former best friends have felt so strongly about not wanting to know me anymore that they have separately blocked me on facebook and have expressed ire about other people that they know being my friend too. I have to pay attention to this. It can't be a coincidence, although the circumstances are very, vastly different. Am I that bad? I don't know but I think about it.

In A's case I'm not totally innocent here, but in Rachel's I think I am. But maybe she remembers or saw something differently than I did.

Maybe they are both crazy and maybe my fault in this is that I chose and became enmeshed in unhealthy friendships with dysfunctional people and that is my brand of dysfunction. Lord knows I am no stranger to dysfunction. I'm not trying to make myself the heroine of my own story here. I am a fucked up wreck most of the time, but I'm oddly aware of it too in a way that other people usually aren't.

So yeah, that's that. That's my vent, my rant. I have no distance from it at all right now. I'm still upset though logically I know I shouldn't be. What do you all think?
Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Vocal Fry Club

I've complained before about some of the other mothers in our area that my sister and I see at play group and what a bunch of nuts they are and before you get yourself in a bind over me "judging" mothers or whatever, consider that these are the same women I wrote about at the country club which you all loved hearing about then. This is no different. Same idiots. Different setting.

My sister and I have met some nice, normal moms too but we usually have to go one town over to find them. That would be the less expensive town over. Here where we live, my sister and I seem to relate more to the nannies. Our town is full of bone thin women who wear yoga clothes, have unusually straight hair and are never seen without a Starbucks skinny something in hand. They drive Range Rovers. They croak like frogs.

My sister and I started noticing this peculiar way these women have of speaking immediately and of course we pounced on it and began imitating them at once.

I had noticed a few of my students starting this creaking thing a few years back but uptone, or ending every sentence as if it were a question, was more common and equally annoying. Sometimes the two are combined and this makes me want to scratch at my ears.

Why are grown women in their 30s and 40s speaking like Valley Girl teens? Why? It's hideous.

It's called Vocal Fry, we learned. Here is a New York Times article about it and here is a hilarious video demonstration. 

We noticed that the women who do this are all wealthy and were probably popular girls in high school. They were the mean girls. They still are. When my sister and I arrive, they don't even acknowledge us or our children. We aren't one of them. We don't fry and you know what? The meaner they are the more they fry. I also observed that the more they are bragging to each other or trying to outdo one another, the more they amp up the creaking. For example, I watched one mother discuss her yacht club membership with another mother who had canceled hers and it sounded like a pond of bullfrogs on a summer night. 

This seems to prove the theory that vocal fry signifies dominance. The alpha-females do it more and that makes sense. Rich white people have always affected different speech patterns to set themselves apart from the common masses. They used to talk like Katherine Hepburn and Thurston Howell, III. Now they sound like the Tin Man after a rainstorm.

I find it irritating and laughable. I've even heard toddlers imitating it, which is disturbing. I don't like vocal fry for its inherent bitchiness and whereas uptone makes you sound dumb, vocal fry makes you sound like an asshole.

Why do they do it, apart from dominance? Do they think it's sexy? Cute? Why?

I've got it. Their low fat diets are causing it. These women are too skinny. They're creaking like old doors because they need oil! 

Update: I fixed the link to the video. Sorry about that.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Getting Better

It's been a hard few months. No, it's been a hard year. Year and a half. Wow.

Having a baby, getting no sleep, having a husband working in another state, both of us adjusting and sometimes not well, to parenthood and losing some of our independence. I'm not going to lie, we had some really ugly times: some of the worst moments in our marriage and I am full of sadness and regret about that. I'm going to write a memoir about it once the current one is done and I'm calling it "The Year of the Tiger." Maybe I can make it funny, even though it wasn't very.

Yesterday I found out about the sudden death of a grad school friend. She was someone I adored and loved being in class with. She was beautiful and vibrant and talented. She had the coolest voice. I am heartbroken over her death. She was only thirty-three.

On the last day of January we lost another friend, my husband's friend more than mine, but what does that matter? He was killed in a car accident in Thailand while on a trip, leaving behind his fiancee. Again, someone who was a radiant personality, an artist, a magnificent talent. My heart was broken over his death as well. He was also in his early thirties.

Both left behind their creative works. She with her writing and he with his music. The world is less without these two people in it. I've been incredibly depressed for the past two days.

I have lupus and Sjogren's Disease. I've known for a while that I had something wrong, but I could never get a specific diagnosis and then when I was pregnant it went into remission for a while and I hoped it wouldn't come back, the whatever it is, but it did come back and worse and I've felt horrible, so I went to the doctor and my blood work came back more conclusive this time, and also worse. My rheumatologist wants to start me on Plaquenil, which is highly toxic, takes months to work and I'd have to stop nursing, which is overwhelming to me. I'm not happy about this development at all, although, at least I have an answer now. There's an explanation for my symptoms. I'm not crazy. Well, maybe I am.

The deaths, the sickness, the sadness I've felt has made me need a change. I have to get better for a million reasons. I'm starting now. I'm dedicating myself to being healthy physically, mentally and spiritually though I don't have much of a plan in place. I'm kind of going to wing it here.

I made an appointment with a therapist for my anxiety and depression. I'm following up with my doctors. I need to exercise, though I hate it. I'm going to stop eating like an asshole, because I have been. Lord have I ever been eating poorly, and mostly out of depression and boredom and whatever. I'm an emotional eater and I need to cut it out and eat better, less comfort foods. I might get the nerve up to go to the dentist. I don't want to end up dead at a young age or crippled by these stupid autoimmune illnesses.

But here's the good news. Venus Williams has Sjogren's too so obviously the disease targets women who are strong, beautiful and successful. Wink, wink. I'm going to kick this disease's ass. And I'm going to write about it.

Someone reminded me of A.J. Jacob's new book in the last post and I was so glad because I forgot he had a new book out. I love his writing, so today I got Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection
and I'm pretty excited to read it. Jacobs' writing is usually very detailed and he has a way of making normally boring material very funny and interesting. His writing fits into what I call the "crazy experiment" genre of creative non-fiction where the author subjects himself to some kind of odd, difficult or radical conditions for a set period of time in order to learn something and then writes about it. In his last book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible he followed the Bible literally for an entire year. I loved it. It was hilarious and I learned a lot from reading it while being thoroughly entertained, and surprised even. So anyway, I'm going to read the new book this week and try to get healthy myself. Wish me luck.
Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring Reading

I know a lot of people like when I recommend books and I haven't done it in ages. Honestly it's because I've been writing more than reading, but I have managed a few really fantastic books lately, so I'm ready to share.

First of all, my reading slowed tremendously because of Stephen King's new book 11/22/63: A Novel which is about ten thousand pages long. I've been trying to slog through it since probably Christmas and around page five hundred I had to take a break. It's good though. I swear, really good. Just long. This is a good one for writers to read because it seems to be written with an awareness of all those good rules of writing that they teach you in school. This is the first Stephen King book I've ever read. I don't like horror, but this isn't horror at all. In fact, it's pretty literary, though it is suspenseful. It's just long. Did I mention that? This book is long. In some ways that's a good thing because when you like something, you don't want it to end.

Then I had to read The Hunger Games, which is over discussed at the moment, so I'll stay out of that conversation due to my aversion to saying the same things as a million other people. I liked the first book ok, but the other two didn't do it for me so much. If I were sixteen I'd probably be obsessed, but I'm thirty-eight and I'm not.

Then Anne Lamott had to go and write a new book Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son with her son Sam so of course I had to read that and I finished it too fast so then I decided to read another one of her books, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith because I needed to spend more time with her and that's where I'm at right now. I loved the new book, though I was frustrated with Sam for having a son so young without being married, but the whole thing works out so by the end of the book I was far less annoyed about it than when I started. Traveling Mercies now, that is an extraordinary book. It's one of those books that I found at a time when I needed it, which will probably end up being its own post eventually (why I needed it I mean), but it's beautiful and good and you should read it because you might be needing it now too. This is one I'll read several times I have a feeling. I just love Anne Lamott. I swear.

I'll check my Kindle to see if I missed anything, but these three ought to keep you going for the time being. Let me know if anyone has read anything exciting lately that I need to know about since I've been out the loop for a while.

The Good Parts

When I was growing up my mother ate the most disgusting things. Dry crusts from my sandwiches, burnt toast, the soggy last few inches of pizza slices that I always left behind. She ate the dark meat, gizzards even, broccoli stems and the dust of crushed chips left in the bottom of the bag. Hers were the broken crackers, the baked potatoes with the black spots in the middle. She'd peel an apple for me and eat the skins, which was horrifying, and then when I was done, she'd eat the fruit I'd left around the core. Something was wrong with her, I thought.

My mother dressed ugly too. She never got herself a decent looking pair of sneakers and her sweatpants were all faded. She still had some awful velour sweatshirts from the 70s and I'd pray she'd never show up at my school wearing one and if she did, God forbid, she'd probably be eating a burnt pizza crust and a peach pit.

My mother was so embarrassing.

This morning I finally got it. After eating my daughter's unwanted toast crusts and a plum skin for breakfast, we went shopping. I needed new shoes for a wedding we're attending this weekend. Except, once we got to the mall I realized that my feet aren't growing. It's just a party. No one's going to be looking at my feet. But the baby? She's nearly outgrown all of her shoes and will be in a new size soon. She needs new shoes more than I do.

I considered a new sundress, but do I really need one? No. My little one is going to be in a size 2T soon and I won't have a thing that'll fit her. I'll wait and spend the money on her.

When we got home, we had lunch. She ate the fluffy tops of the broccoli and I realized I'd learned to love the tough stems. I peeled her a peach and sucked all the flesh from the pit while she ate the good parts. I wanted a graham cracker but there were only two left, so I decided that I didn't really like graham crackers as much as I did when I was little anyway. Neither did my mom and that's why she always let me have the last ones in the package too.

When you're a mother, you don't mind giving up the good parts. I don't need a bunch of new stuff because I have all I need. I have my daughter and her happiness and I have a mother that I finally appreciate - a mother who once gave me all the good parts in hope that one day I'd grow up to be that kind of mom too.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Afternoon with Ashley Judd -Sort Of

I've been hearing all sorts of nonsense lately about Ashley Judd. Apparently in a recent interview her face looked puffy and the Internet was set ablaze with gossip about her being fat, old, ugly and/ or having ruined her looks with cosmetic procedures. She shot back and wrote this piece and now everyone is talking about it on TV and the radio and posting it on facebook. I hadn't really thought about Ashley Judd in years. I thought she stopped acting and went on to live her life in peace. I suppose not. I applaud her for speaking out and starting a conversation about how women's looks are cruelly scrutinized and I'm all on her side. I loved her back in the 90s and all this hype reminded me of when I actually got to meet and spend time with her, not as Ashley Judd the movie star, but as Ashley the normal girl and I wanted to share that.

One extremely busy Saturday before Christmas, Ashley Judd and one of her handlers came into the paint your own pottery shop in Atlanta where I worked. I was frazzled and flustered and we had no room at all and she had to wait. I had NO IDEA she was herself. No clue that she was Ashley Judd so I treated her just like everyone else and just like everyone else she had to wait for a table to paint. Guess what she did? She sat on the floor and waited without a bit of complaint and as soon as it was her turn I got her a table.

She was pretty, but not movie star pretty, meaning she looked like an actual human being and didn't glow and shine and emit her own personal rainbows. She simply looked like a normal, pretty girl. She was my exact same size back then. We are the same height and exact same build. Seriously, I could have been her body double. We could have shared clothes. I'm not kidding, we could have been sisters, but I would have been the ugly one.

Ashley Judd, bless her heart, got on my nerves that day, and remember this is before I realized who she was. I wonder had I known she was famous if I would have been more patient. I found her to be excessively needy and unsure of herself when it came to painting. She needed my help with everything from picking what she wanted to paint (a tall mug eventually) to assisting with color choice. I showed her exactly what to do and then she finally just got frustrated and asked me to paint her mug for her. She wanted a Tennessee wildcat on it and wanted me to paint it. I said "No, I am not going to paint your mug. This is a paint YOUR own pottery studio and that's the fun. It doesn't have to be perfect. Relax."

But she didn't relax and I had to coach her and help her and give her constant reassurance that her wildcat mug was just fine as it was and that it wasn't supposed to look like it came out of a stadium gift shop. I remember thinking to myself that jeez, this poor pretty girl seems so lonely, so desperate and so terribly lacking in confidence. And why was she with this weird older guy in a suit who just sat there and didn't want to paint anything? It was the strangest thing. You'd normally expect a pretty girl in her twenties to be painting pottery with a group of girlfriends, which she looked like she desperately needed. She just seemed so sad, so eventually I gave in and helped her, still not realizing she was a big time movie star. I helped her paint and I gave her a lot of cheerleading and encouragement, which she apparently really, really needed and we kind of built up a little rapport there. I'd come check on her every few minutes and tell her she was doing a good job and like a child she'd look up at me and and say "really? really?" and I'd reassure her again and make her smile.

Finally the poor soul finished her mug and gave it to me to glaze and fire. She signed it "AJ" on the bottom and made arrangements for me to ship it to a place in Tennessee addressed to "Chanticleer" which is the name of a rooster and I couldn't figure out what the hell that meant, but whatever and she told me she was only in town for the day to see a game of some sort and was flying right back to Tennessee so she wouldn't be around to pick up her finished mug the next day. I remember telling her she must be a serious sports fan if she was willing to go to all the trouble to fly in and out for a day to see a game and paint a mug and she laughed and the weird quiet man in the suit snickered. I wished her a happy holiday season and she asked me again if she did a good job on her mug.

"Yes," I said, "It's just fine. You did a good job."

Wow, I thought when she left. What a strange customer and then everyone in the studio erupted into near hysteria because OH MY GOD that was Ashley Judd did you see her?? And everyone was coming up to me asking me about her and I was all like, huh? Ashley Judd? OH MY GOD it was. I just spent two hours getting annoyed at Ashley Judd and her terrible lack of confidence about painting a damned blue mug with a wildcat on it. For the love of absolute God. 

I always think about this when I hear about her in the news. A few years back I remember hearing that she went to rehab for codependency of all things. REHAB. But yeah, I could kinda see that she might need that from my short experience with her. I've always felt a great compassion for her after seeing what a hard time she had painting a simple mug and how much reassurance I had to give her that she was ok, so this new to-do about her appearance must be very hard. She must need a new pep talk from me.

Ashley Judd, you are still beautiful. I'm a size 6/8 now too. I could still be your body double and could still pass as your uglier sister. Girl, we just got older. My face is puffy as hell too. It happens. And if you feel like crap about yourself, do yourself a favor and go to Walmart. You'll feel instantly gorgeous. Always works for me. And don't listen to the vicious talk about you, which according to your response, you don't anymore. You kick ass Ashley Judd. I love that you wrote an articulate response and spoke out about the ways in which we talk about how women look. Thanks for doing that. I hope you still have your wildcat mug that I helped you paint because, again, you did a good job on it. Really.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

OK, Ok New Post - Me and My Paddle

Ok, Ok, sorry. I've been sleeping and writing my memoir, but today I realized I seriously owed you a post.

I am alive. I swear. My book is almost done. I wish I had more writing time but I don't and some days I'm so tired that when the baby naps I do too. And also I could have had this book written ages ago were it not for Pinterest, but I don't want to discuss my pinning issue.

I've also taken up paddle boarding. This is shocking because I hate physical activity of any kind, but turns out I can paddle board and trick myself into having such a good time looking at fish and whatnot and trying to avoid perceived but non-existent sharks that I have no idea that I'm exercising. It's wonderful.

When I was pregnant and mad about it I used to drive by the beach and see the paddle boarders all out there having a great old time and I would pity myself that I couldn't do it. I swore that once I gave birth and the baby was old enough that I would try it because it seemed like something I would love. For those of you who don't live near the ocean, paddle boarding is basically standing up on a surfboard and using one long oar to paddle yourself around.

A few months ago my husband bought a paddle board and jumped right on it and took off as if he'd been doing it his entire life and he was instantly an expert. This made me mad. I decided I needed to do it too and I tried and tried while my husband and the baby looked on and I must have fallen twenty five times, scrambling back up every time not because of determination but because I truly believed I was going to be eaten by sharks if I didn't. It was incredibly stressful and the entire time my husband was yelling from the shore for me to keep my feet straight and to start paddling and it just made me madder and madder and madder until I finally figured the damned thing out.

The secret to paddle boarding, by which I mean staying on the board, is believing that a great white is below you waiting for you to fall off. And I do believe this, so whenever I stand up and start paddling, it is always for dear life and I stay on and keep going because I know if I stop I am chum.

The first time I managed to stay up and actually paddle somewhere lots of people on the beach were cheering and clapping. Then I noticed that several other paddle boarders, including a dog for God's sakes (and if a boxer can stay up surely I can too) were smiling broadly as I paddled by (yes even the dog smiled). I was so pleased with myself. I really was. I was so excited. Finally there was something athletic that I could actually do. Finally. After all these years, I had found my sport and other people were happy for me too and celebrating this with me. It was such a beautiful moment. I was truly one with the Universe. I even saw a giant sting ray and everything was so beautiful and the people on the beach were still laughing and clapping and even pointing at me now. They were pointing at me celebrating my success as a paddle boarder because people are good like that and the world is good and everything is good.

And then I looked down and realized that in all of my falling off the board and scrambling to get back on that my bathing suit top had slipped down to my waist and that I was actually paddle boarding topless.

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