L

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Grasshole. 5/5/15

In PRINTED, The 70's, Writing on May 2, 2014 at 8:41 pm

It was 1972, and I was almost  done with the fifth grade. It was a week until the last day of school, and I had just finished serving a detention I’d gotten for passing a note to my friend Toni during a social studies reel-to-reel about the Great Depression.

The gist of the note was that I wouldn’t be able to go to the movies with her this weekend because I was dying of boredom and would be dead by the end of the film. I also said I hoped those weren’t Mrs. Leary’s pubic hairs trapped in the corners of the screen. Writing the note had been the only thing between me and a desk nap.

Mrs. Leary seized my note and read it aloud with a ‘tsk, tsk’ The class loved it,and there was wave after wave of laughter, which incensed the teacher- it took a few minutes to restore order, but I hadn’t intended my note to become public. I did receive many high fives in the hallway after the dismissal bell, and Chad Weed called it a ‘masterpiece’ But I had to pay the piper, as school children often do.

I was firmly relegated to stay an hour in detention, which I chose to serve that day (to get it over with) trudging back into the ‘cell’ after watching all of my lucky comrades leave for the day. I was all by myself in the very room I’d been held hostage in in the first place, where I sat tapping a pencil on the desk. I couldn’t even apply my signature graffiti to the desk, as I had broken the tip off the pencil with all the tapping. I tried sharpening it by picking at it with my nails which had little, if any, effect other than breaking off several nails, which I  flicked off the desk like paper footballs. Lastly, I resorted to inspecting the strands of my long hair for split ends, and wondered what the point of the detention really was. The only thing it really taught me was that I needed to use better creme rinse.

Upon release (with yet another teacher’s lecture about my ‘potential’ *big sigh*) I walked through the Wolfpit school parking lot, which was practically empty. I headed up the hilly driveway to Starlight Drive. The sun beat down on my faded jean jacket, and a sense of almost unbearable boredom permeated the day-the cloudless blue sky, the faint buzz of electrical wires my only companion. I didn’t even see any cars pass by.

When I got to the end of Starlight, I crossed over the far left side of the Rinaldi’s yard. From there I could hop the stone wall, and get home faster than if went around. My house was behind the Rinaldi’s, on the other side of the stone wall. I was dying of thirst, and hoped my brothers hadn’t jacked the last of the Kool-Aid. About three quarters of the way to the wall, I heard a shrill voice.

“HEY! WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!”

It was Priscilla-‘Prissy’  Rinaldi- the older sister of Gary Rinaldi, who was in my grade at Wolfpit. I looked over and saw her standing by her dark blue Volkswagen Bug, keys in hand. Prissy was a witchy looking thing- bony, with the posture of a question mark, a hook nose and the body of Olive Oyl. Even her voice grated.

“What??” I asked, unsure of what was going on. I looked behind me just to be sure she was addressing me.

“STAY OFFA OUR LAWN!” she shrieked. “GO AROUND!” She pointed towards the end of the street, indicating the route she thought I should have taken.

What a freakin’ bitch! Like she really cared whether or not someone walked on her raggedy-ass lawn. Obviously, she was channeling the cranky senior citizen she would no doubt become.  I could easily picture her an old, hunched backed woman, a few decades down the line. She’d peer out of her dusty bay window, waiting for the big moment when some kid cut across her grass, then she’d bang on the window with her bony fists and scream ‘Offa The Lawn!’ until she was hoarse. Or until the kitchen timer rang and she could go check on the children cooking in her oven.

I wanted to say  ‘What’s the big whiff anyway, dumb-ass?!’ but being a fifth grader while she was in high school put me at a great disadvantage, should anything go down. Meanwhile, the Rinaldi’s lawn was half  dandelions, half crabgrass, and wasn’t going to win any awards anytime soon. It may have been news to Prissy, but Jack Nicklaus wasn’t going to show up and practice his swing, mistaking it for a golf course. Disney World wasn’t going to display any world-class topiary animals on this lawn. It was mediocre, at best.Certainly,  a fifth grader cutting through the yard wasn’t going to make any difference.

Still, Prissy was wound up. She pointed a car key in my direction, holding it like a switchblade, stabbing at the air. She looked ridiculous with her strange halting jabs, and I couldn’t help but smirk.

“Oh- ya think it’s funny?” she cawed. Yup! You should come over here and look at yourself. It’s hilarious.

“I’ll beat your ass!” she croaked. Yeah? I’d beat yours too, if ya had one!

Even though I was somewhat intimidated- after all Prissy was old enough to drive, practically a grown-up, I couldn’t resist: I held my middle finger up, proudly, like Billy Jack held up his fist at the end of a movie. I knew I’d be burning a bridge for this particular shortcut, but I didn’t give a damn.

Prissy gasped audibly, took one, maybe two, steps forward, but went no further. I was twice her size, but few people over the age of ten weren’t. She began yelling: “YOU STUPID B**CH!”, and on and on, her shrill voice cutting through the afternoon lull like a weed-whacker. Her eyes were goldfish like, furtive and bulging. I pictured her and her fish-eyes in a twenty-gallon tank,  shrieking in a garbled, bubble filled rant to the ceramic skin-diver ‘Get offa my gravel!’ Gurgle. Gurgle.  I imagined I could see the vein in her neck pulsating. She was crazed. One thing about this skank: she sure loved grass!

When she  finally blew out her vocal chords, she stood with her hand on her hip, breathing heavily, her crooked stance doing nothing for her already unfortunate looks. She had run out of steam, and I suddenly became certain that she wouldn’t have the guts to come any closer. I turned around casually, walked the six feet to the stone wall, hiked myself up and over , and landed in my own shady backyard. Of course, Prissy began shouting again, now that I was on the other side of the stone wall barrier, so I gave her a bonus middle finger salute, my hand wiggling back and forth like crazy this time, from my side of the wall. I was weirdly energized, excited even! I couldn’t wait to get inside the house and call Toni. She hated Prissy Rinaldi as well (was it something about Prissy almost running her over in the school parking lot while picking up Gary one day? I hadn’t really paid attention, but I would now) We could commiserate and really tear Prissy a new one, I thought as I entered the kitchen through the back door and swung open the refrigerator. Just as soon as I made a new pitcher of Kool-Aid…..

Writing Intimidation/3/31/14

In Writing on March 19, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Today I bring up a subject that has only recently begun affecting me- what I call ‘writing intimidation’. I’ve been working furiously as of late  on what I call my ‘real’ writing (as opposed to my blog posts – which I enjoy writing immensely, but which seem less ‘real’- as in ‘marketable’ because they have already been released into the wild, so to speak).

I find that my attention is being drawn almost exclusively, to other writer’s credentials. The kind of credentials I simply don’t have. Should I be worried? Or should I just plod along with blinders on- the kind that blocks me from noticing that many writers have gone to expensive and exclusive schools, worked under the tutelage of famous authors, have MFA’s and teaching gigs at the Iowa Writers Program (teaching! I can’t even explain what I’m doing, let alone teach it! And isn’t teaching a whole separate degree?)

Pulling random books from my overflowing bookshelves (and book piles) I open to the writer credits,usually on the back cover, and inevitably it’s a ‘who’s who’ and ‘what’s what’ of accomplishment. Most of it is scholarly and/or massive sales-worthy. Here are some  examples: Augusten Burroughs is the New York Times Bestselling author…..David Sedaris’ half dozen books have been translated into twenty-five languages and his essays appear in the New Yorker and he can be heard on NPR’s ‘This American Life’…Barbara Kingsolver earned a graduate degree in biology before becoming a full-time writer…H.G. Bissinger  received the Pulitzer Prize and went to Harvard University….Wendy Lesser is the founder and editor of The Threepenny Review, which has been called “one of the most original literary magazines not only in the U.S. but also on the entire planet.”  These are a mere smattering of the applause from the books on my shelves.

I recently bought Ann Patchett’s long read on the craft of writing, (‘The Getaway Car’) and was somewhat alarmed that much of her journey centered on writing programs, scholarships and chance meetings and classes with certain teachers (often famous writers) without which she says she surely would never have become a ‘good’ writer. Not exactly inspiring.

It leaves me wondering: Is being a writer without an expensive Ivy League degree similar to teaching yourself to be a doctor over the internet? Is it that far fetched?

Reading interviews with authors is even more intimidating. Take the one I read this morning, a discussion with Gina Frangello, author of the book ‘A Life In Men’ where she speaks of her path to being a writer -(please allow me to paraphrase.)

“My husband had his first real job post-doc at the University of Chicago. He suggested I go back to school (note: she was already a licensed therapist) and get a Master’s in Creative Writing. I was in The Program For Writers to get my MFA and started working at a literary magazine and got a TA-ship. I ended up in the Ph.D program. I started teaching. I wrote a novel”

Two questions: What does that even mean and what chance in the world is there for an uneducated writer? My degree consists of 30 credits towards an Associates in Mass Communications at a community college, years ago. Nothing concrete, and absolutely nothing impressive. Since then I’ve been writing in private, and taken  Creative Writing courses here and there (mostly to check and see if there were other ‘crazies’ out there, writing away- and I’m happy to report: yes, there are!)

So,  how do writers such as myself exude confidence in the eye of such stellar competition?

Perhaps the light at the end of the tunnel is that as writers- true writers who feel compelled to write- there will be no such thing as giving up. Because to not write would be to not breathe, and in turn we would die. Write or Die, my friends…..Write or Die. Because even if we never ‘make it’ as writers, many of us will die trying.

I can’t speak for you, but I know that I have never regretted the trying, though there are times when it seems like such a ridiculous leap of faith, like something only a naive child would ever take seriously-especially if she is a non-graduate of Flaunty Von-Snootyville (jealous, much?), where scholars go to learn and ivy covers the walls. And one can find solace in the fact that there’s a huge difference between being intimidated and being defeated.

My Name Is? 5/3/15

In Writing on February 5, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Naming characters in your stories can be tough. One of the biggest problems I have, is remembering what I’ve named peripheral characters. Of course I write them down, but whether or not I can find my notebook of names at that very moment- well -we’ve already discussed the cyclone that develops around my desk as I write. (Already been down the dry-erase route, bulletin board, etc.)

I have a few baby name books (picked up for pennies in thrift shops), and obviously there are a lot of baby name sites, many of which divide names into categories. One of the books I have is called ‘Cool Names’ and of course, practically none of them are.  Some  chapters collect celebrity baby names, musician names, literary names, rapper names ,etc. Many are ridiculous- but my point is that there are numerous sources. And sometimes you need a douchey name for a- not so great character!

Personally, I would never, ever use someone’s real name for a character based on them, for a myriad of reasons. I would feel like my hands were tied as to what attributes I could assign to them, and I would feel them metaphorically looking over my shoulder. Not good for honest writing. However, I will often use their real name temporarily, then replace it with a fictional name in the final draft. It’s just easier to write about someone using their actual name, and not having to ‘check your files’ They’ll never know.

I also check lists for the most popular names of 1985-or whatever year I’m writing about (and based on the age of the character. Someone who’s twenty in 1985- would likely be named from the popular names list of 1965- and so forth) There are lists of popular surnames as well, often alphabetical. Compared to creating a story, naming your characters is often the least difficult task- and sometimes it can be almost fun. It’s where you filed all of that ‘fun’ that can sometimes present a hurdle.

.

Camp Aspetuck 1971/Part 1: 5/16/15

In The 60's, Writing on January 21, 2014 at 3:08 pm

It was Kris who talked me into joining the Brownies first, followed by the Girl Scouts (and the coveted badges) And it was with said Girl Scouts that we were heading to Camp Aspetuck in the summer of 1971. I was both excited (it’ll be like a three day slumber party!) and hesitant (it’ll be like a three day slumber party) The thought of sleeping in a tent, amid the elements was okay, but in all honesty, I never saw the downside of my own cozy, lavender chenille covered bed. At least Kris and I were guaranteed to bunk in the same tent, because her Mom was a troop leader, and we were bound to be getting special treatment. Like most people, I hated nepotism until I could hitch my wagon to it.

the camp P.R.

the camp P.R.

We left early on a Friday morning in late June. My father, dressed in his suit and tie for work, dropped me off in the school’s parking lot at the ungodly hour of six-thirty am. As usual, he dazzled a few of the Scout moms with his presence and small talk, which led to questions after he left. “Is that your father?’ Mrs. Grey asked, sounding impressed. “He’s really nice!” agreed Mrs. DeRosa, winking. Ewww.

Kris and her mom, along with most of the the scout troop were already there. We wore street clothes to camp, but Kris and I packed our sashes in case we had the chance to one-up other girls who’d earned less badges. We set for the long drive- a drive that was an estimated thirty- two minutes in length. Or, as we interpreted it: ‘way out in the boonies’

I had  a few misgivings about this trip- like I said, I wasn’t a huge fan of sleeping outside. I could spend entire days out at Khakini or Ram Island with my family on the boat, but I would never stay the weekend like my brothers did, swearing they had a blast in their little tent city with all of their friends. (Imagine leaving a pack of eight to twelve year old boys on an island, alone for an entire weekend, with coolers of perishable food, lighters for making fires and fully loaded BB guns!…and yet, everyone lived) I would always opt to cruise back to shore with my parents on our boat ‘The Pisces’ and not only bask in my creature comforts- but enjoy them more, sans brothers. Camping in the woods with the Girl Scouts was automatically better because: girls! but it was still roughing it.

I  was concerned about my trusted reading- myself- to- sleep ritual (still in effect to this day) and  wondered if I could conk off without it. I brought along three books ( Heidi, Mother West Wind ‘Why’ Stories, and ‘The Cricket In Times Square’) but doubted I’d be able to relax in comfort, shoved inside a sleeping bag with a flat pillow, armed only with a weak flashlight.

To say nothing of my eating idiosyncrasies. I didn’t know much about camping food, but even a fool could figure out that the food probably ‘touched’. And because I was in public, I knew I couldn’t flee the room (make that flee the outside), or start gagging if a kernel of corn bounced off a hamburger patty and landed on a french fry  like it did at home, causing me to freak out, followed by chaotic family uproar, a chain reaction that rivaled my favorite game, Mousetrap. My disdain for milk, mayonnaise, and onions might also come into play. On the bright side, chances were no adults would be paying that much attention to my plate, as I was sure they were nowhere near as invested as my family was.

Another concern: rumor had it that the shower situation was something along the lines of a plastic bucket swinging from a rope, tied to a tree, rationed by the gallon and cold, and I had doubts that it would cut it when it came to my long hair. My mom suggested I ‘tie it up in a bandanna and be done with it’ then  ‘just wash it when you get home’. Sh-yeah! Like I’m going to walk around with gross, greasy hair for a whole weekend in front of 40 judgemental girls. (Ever since she’d ambushed me with those pixie cuts as a child, I didn’t trust my mom for hair advice anyway) So I brought my half-full bottle of Breck shampoo along, as well as my Herbal Essence creme rinse, and hoped for the best. (I noticed later that my mom had stuffed a can of ‘PSSST!’- her dry shampoo- into my bag as well. Dry Shampoo- a scam if I’d ever seen one!)

Forest Fashion by GS America

Forest Fashion by GS America

Though these micro-management asides jammed my head, I said nothing. Even at age ten I was aware of how off-putting neurotic people were, that they had no place in a vibrant social life. Luckily for me, these negative thoughts ran parallel to those that were the complete opposite. Being away from my parents (who also could use the break) and my brothers for two days was a plus, not to mention non-stop hanging out with Kris (and sharing her mother by proxy, if need be)

Sleeping in a tent full of girls and having late night ‘bull’ sessions was bound to be both informative and exciting (I planned on really prying it up) We’d have the opportunity to earn more patches, which of course would make for groovier sashes, and strike up some serious envy from the lowly Brownie crowd.

I already had a decent amount of patches (all neatly sewn on by my mother or grandmother, including my ‘Sewing’ patch). I also had Personal Health, Indian Lore, Toymaker, Pets, Homemaker, and Observer.

Kris and I planned to earn Troop Camper, Water Fun, and Outdoor Cook on this sojourn. It was a shame that there were no patches issued for some of my best skills, though: “Complaining’, ‘Moodiness’, ‘Dramatic Sighing’ ‘Eating like an Asshole’ and ‘Sibling Fight Club’….because if they had-there would barely be room for all of the patches I could earn – I might have even become a double sasher!

Without saying, I was assigned to Kris’s mom’s car for the ride to camp. Also with us, three other scouts: tiny Lara ‘Thumbelina’ Sandberg, Renee “VaVa-Voom’ Siegel, and Karen (‘Marcia Brady’) Edwards. Kris and I sat on the bench seat in the front of Mrs. Alden’s Oldsmobile -me by the window, Kris in the middle, Mrs. Alden at the wheel .

Being in the front meant that we got to control the radio, absolute power in fourth grade. I say ‘we’ because even though Kris was the only one close enough to touch the dial, it was my ‘approving’ eyebrows (up high) or ‘disapproving ‘(lowered into a ‘V’) that sealed (or unsealed) the deal. The girls in the back had no say. This meant we could wield our musical preferences like  dictators drunk with power, something that delighted us to no end.

#1 = my favorite song ever.

#3 = my favorite song ever. #5 =a song Kristen’s mother likes. #6 =Gordon Lightfoot. #7 =Classical. #9=News and Weather.

Last Dance For Mary Jayne/Part 1/15/15

In Should I Even Be Talking About This?, Writing on January 15, 2014 at 9:08 pm

I didn’t believe my mother was dead.

I thought of all of our fights, how angry we would get at each other, just seething, dripping anger- and now it all seems so trivial. You hear this all of the time: Don’t fight with your loved ones, you never know when the last time you’ll see them is. You hear it ad nauseum, but it is so hard to put into practice. In the heat of the moment, when your anger sizzles, it seems like you and this person are here to stay for infinity, in fact the leaving would be the good part. Terrible thoughts. I wished I could take them back, or at least apologize for my part in these rows. As Elizabeth Strout put it, in The Burgess Boys: ‘And it was too late. No one wants to believe something is too late, but it is always becoming too late, and then it is’

This isn’t to say that my mother and I fought all the time- far from it. My mother was my one true champion. Other than my husband and son, she was the one person who had my back. She pointed out my strengths, glossed over my flaws, and she truly wanted the best for me. I didn’t come from a family that was close- in fact, once my ‘original’ family was broken up by divorce when I was just eleven, there was a step-mother a new brother,  and relocations , even side chicks.  Families morphing into different families- like television shows being re-cast, only to fail in the ratings. None of these combinations even remotely worked.(And I didn’t even blame the step-mother: How can you possibly love new, half-formed kids anywhere close to how much you love your own flesh and blood? It’s not possible) During it all, my mother was there to let me vent, and always took my side.

The last time my mother came to visit me, I met her at the airport, taking for granted that this was just another visit from Mom. Happy-but not over-the-moon: I’ve always been a little put out by overnight company. Throws my routine completely out of whack- even when I adore the guests.

I started getting restless, as her plane had already arrived from New York.  I’d watched  what seemed like a hundred passengers  spill into the arrival area- everyone but her. A woman stood directly in front of me, and I looked around her trying to  find my Mom. I remember thinking ‘Gosh, Lady- can I have some personal space here?’ until  the woman cleared her throat in a familiar way and said my name. The ‘woman’ was my mother. She’d lost about 40 pounds, and her cheeks were hollow. Her white-blonde hair was up in a neat bun. She wore a tan trench coat over dark jeans and bright white Keds. She looked tiny. None of this seemed right- I’d just seen her a few months prior. “Oh, Lee-Lee!” she said, hugging me- realizing I hadn’t recognized her.

“Mom???” I was shocked. “What happened, Ma? You’re  so skinny!” I said, alarmed.

“I know- finally!” she said, laughing. She handed me the hardcover book in her hand, telling me I’d love it. Books were our thing. My mother sent me shipments of books- two, three, sometimes four at a time, all current, all hardcover. She made me promise to never send her any books: ‘They’re so gosh darn expensive, and I get them on sale, she’d say! Spend your money on your family!” I pretended I didn’t know she wasn’t buying the books on sale. Sometimes a receipt would flutter out of one of the books, and I’d be surprised at how much she spent.  Since she insisted I not buy her books we sent each other bookmarks as well- writing things on them, personalizing them according to our likes. Mom liked Marilyn Monroe, nautical designs, the Cathy cartoon (I would explain to the salesperson ‘This is for my mother’- like he or she really cared, embarrassed that they might think was the Cathy fan) My mom sent me : Leopard print, crescent moons, black cats and bookmarks advertising book stores. I never ran out of bookmarks or books, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s still the best way to live, crammed in with books.

“Mom- is something wrong?” I asked, opening up her unbuttoned coat like a curtain, and seeing her much smaller body, bordering on frail. Mom was 58, far from old, but she seemed to have aged tremendously in the face, and had lost so much weight since last year, when I’d visited her in Connecticut.

“Look at my nails, Lee Lee!” she said, pulling away, holding out one hand and hoisting her purse onto her shoulder with the other. She was standing guard above the N.Y. Giants duffle bag she’d carried on by placing a bright white ked on either side. No criminal mind could outsmart this woman, no sirree! If you were in the market for pastel turtlenecks, coral based lipsticks and enamel brooches, look elsewhere, pal. You weren’t swiping her stuff.

She fanned her fingers in front of me, showing off ultra long  fingernails painted coral, which matched her lipstick. “Wow!” I said “I love them! Acrylics?”

“Yup! I splurged. I figured: What the hell?” she said, laughing. I loved long nails- even when every fashion magazine and maven said they were tacky and a ‘Don’t’, I still really liked the way they looked. The few times I tried acrylics they incapacitated me, and I couldn’t do the simplest of things. I kept trying them, but when I had to drive to a friend’s house and have her zip up a beautiful dress on a night I suspected I was being proposed to, that was it for me and fake daggers. So I was relegated to admiring them on others. I reached down and picked up her Giants bag, hoisting it up, surprised at the weight of it, quickly adjusting to hold the strap with both hands, the book in the crook of my arm. My own purse zip-lined down my arm, landing on the bag. A comedy of errors. I sighed and readjusted everything, while Mom laughed.

“C’mon- let’s go to the car..” I said, and we walked through the fancy Palm Beach International terminal. Mom whistled, long and slow:”Boy, This airport is really something else!” she said. “Fancy Schmancy!..I wish we had something like this!”

“Are you kidding?” I asked, scrunching up my face “I looove the New York airport! It’s so  much more…..epic!”

“Yeah, well, ‘epic’ you can have , missy!” she said, rolling her eyes. My mom rarely traveled, so her opinion of airports wasn’t exactly based on experience. She had flown down to Florida when my son was two. Before that,  the last flight she’d been on had been shortly after my parent’s divorce, when she went to Lake Tahoe with her  single gal pals in search of  Tequila Sunrises,  mustachioed men and conferences on women’s lib. I was twelve at the time. And here she was, gushing about the airport like a seasoned traveler. “Just look around!” she said, “everything is so clean! There’s no pushing or shoving, or any of those ‘outta my way’ people, like back home, where everyone is in such a gosh darn hurry!” Mom shook her head. The way she said ‘back home’ made me long for the days of living up North.

“Well, you know- a lot of the population down here is elderly, so they can’t really hurry…..you know…what with osteoporosis and all!” I laughed with the pure joy and disconnect of someone well under forty, someone who wouldn’t have to deal with aging issues anytime soon, if ever.

We drove to the house my husband and I had recently bought, our first. She loved it. She made a big fuss over her grandson, now 9- marveling over everything he did, wore and said. She stalked him like the paparazzi taking pictures and ambushing him with hugs.  She  claimed a white plastic chair out by our kidney shaped pool, where she’d sit and smoke her Salem’s, sometimes starting as early as 5 am. My mother didn’t start smoking when she was 33. (who does that?) She soaked up the sun, and was soon as brown as a chestnut. It was overall a fun, stress free visit.

But there were still moments when she drove me nuts. She was always washing dishes (fine-have at it!) but I started noticing a film on the glasses, a dullness to the plates. After several days, I finally spoke up and asked her if she knew what that was about. She admitted she couldn’t find the dish detergent, and hadn’t asked me about it, assuming I was out. In a way, I could understand- I had taken to using a fancy glass bottle with a pouring spout as my clear dish liquid container. But it was right there next to the sponge. I pointed this out to her. It was an idea I’d gotten from Martha Stewart (whose advice could only lead to no good) But if in fact, I was out- why wouldn’t she ask me to get some from the store five minutes away? She shrugged  her shoulders.

“Didn’t you see  this bottle, right here?’ I asked her, holding it up.

“Yes, but I didn’t know it was soap”

“What did you think it was? Right there next to the sponge?” I asked.

“To be honest, it looked like vodka” she answered quietly.

Oh my God! Did my mother think I had a full bottle of vodka at the edge of the sink with a convenient pouring spout attached? That I was swiggin’ it down like Neely, from Valley Of The Dolls?  And if she did, why wouldn’t she say something?! Needless to say, that ended my foray into Martha-land. I immediately went back to the Palmolive Green in its plastic squirt bottle, and my glasses and dishware once again sparkled. And I suppose a mom who minded her own business was a blessing as well…..as long as she wasn’t in charge of the dishes.

Last Dance For Mary Jayne: Part 2: 1/14/15

In Should I Even Be Talking About This?, Writing on January 14, 2014 at 12:16 pm

My mother spent a week in the sun, and then, just like that we were back in the airport, bidding goodbyes and promises to call. I don’t remember, but I was probably relieved to have my house back after company, which is my usual M.O. She loved the sun, and decided on that visit that she was going to move to Florida once and for all, where she would garden and soak up the sun like a sponge. She had no fear of the sun, or sun-damage, and unlike me, would spend as much time in it as humanly possible. I’m convinced that had she been given the chance to migrate south, she would have drained the sun of some of its power, and perhaps set global warming on it’s ass. And  shares of old school Bain de Soleil would have gone through the roof.

It all changed when my younger brother called me one morning from Connecticut, the middle of the week, asking me if I’d heard from my mother or knew where she was. I was in Florida, thousands of miles away, so no-  I hadn’t. He went on to explain he’d just seen her on Sunday when he took her grocery shopping.(She couldn’t drive because of her epilepsy) She had left a shopping bag in his car and he was trying to return it. He became alarmed when she didn’t answer the door on Monday night. It was now Wednesday. No one in the family had seen or heard from her. I think we all know where this is going.

Later  that day, my brother enlisted the help of the landlord to open the apartment door- and this is where they found her- slumped over in a chair, dead for days (we still don’t know exactly how long….medical examiners gave a three day window. The official date of death was the day after she’d been last seen alive- the day she’d been shopping with my brother, January 21)  Obviously, this was a horrible thing for him to discover and go through, and was the very thing one worries about when a parent lives on their own. It’s the worse case scenario we all dread, but ultimately hope won’t really happen to our family, or us. And the very thing we all live in fear of: dying alone and having no one notice our passing. She was fifty nine years old. The only thing that could have made this story sadder, would be if she’d owned the proverbial single-lady cats, who’d be hungry and becoming feral as they circled her body on the chair.

My brother called me from my mother’s house to break the news. Of course, when I saw her number flashing on the caller I.D., I breathed a sigh of relief- see, it was all a big misunderstanding, like an episode of Three’s Company! I knew my brother was over-reacting. Everything’s fine, now!. I could hear my mother laughing about the mix-up. “Oh, you goonie-birds! Stop worrying about me! I’m fine!’ she’d giggle. She was constantly being baby-sat and second guessed by  friends and relatives because of her illness, and heaved sighs of discontent at us regularly over all of the interference. This was just another one of those things: An adult woman (with epilepsy and prone to gran maul seizures) does something out of her routine and everyone freaks. She probably took the bus downtown. Even though it was the January, and the  dead of winter, the roads slippery with black ice, and below zero and why would she, especially since she was loaded up with supplies from her Sunday shopping expedition. But it had to make sense in order for my mom to be okay.

“She’s dead!’, my brother told me in an urgent, high-register voice. ‘I told you something was wrong!”

He was distraught, and on the verge of tears as he gave me the assignment of calling our other brother with the news. I immediately dialed him at work and blurted it out, and his reaction was similar to mine: ‘What? Are you sure? No- that can’t be’ then the sound of a dial tone as he hung up abruptly. He told me later he ran out of his office and through the parking lot outside, literally trying to outrun the bad news. Meanwhile, I went into a low-grade shock, and tried to recall the last phone conversation I’d had with her: were there any clues? Did she say anything telling? Chances are it was focused on my son (her’ boo-ba-lah’) and her impending move south.

I made quick, halting calls to my husband, and made arrangements to fly north.  I missed the winter, and meant to visit Connecticut in the bleakest month (January) to experience not so much the biting wind and icy snow- as the cozy feeling of sitting beside the fireplace,  gently blowing on a a cup of Swiss Miss- looking out the window as snow fell like confectioners sugar. But it took the loss of my mom to make that happen and I thought of how many times she played the part of sacrificial lamb. Always taking less for herself so that we would have more. Even in death. I stood in my living room that day, tugging on my hair and rocking back and forth on the balls of my feet, staring blankly out the sliding doors towards the plastic chair my mom favored, wondering why, if sitting by this pool again was all the woman wanted out of life, couldn’t it just be afforded to her?

Last Dance For Mary Jayne: Part 3: 1/14/14

In Should I Even Be Talking About This?, Writing on January 13, 2014 at 12:08 pm

My brother  (an Irish twin, just ten months my junior) -who lived near me in Florida, picked me up after we’d both hastily packed what few winter clothes we had in carry- on bags for the trip up north. We’d made hasty travel arrangements and were short on time The day was full of surreal moments…carrying a long, gray winter coat through the airport’s open-air parking garage in the 80 degree sunshine (in two hours I’d need the coat, which seemed unthinkable in the current warmth) exchanging glances with my brother over our shared experience, all various takes on defeatist glances, sad eyes, shrugged shoulders and random sighs. Being rushed was somewhat of a godsend-it kept us busy, as we hopped from counter to counter and pushed through the airport. I noticed every mother and child with a diamond-sharp clarity, and marveled at how casual they looked, as if to say: of course I have a mom! Doesn’t everyone? Because that was me, yesterday.

We had one more security checkpoint to go through, when an odd thing happened. My brother was striding as quickly as he could, and urging me on, well out in front of me. I had to wait for my bags to clear. The security guards had walked away from their post after I proceeded through, as there was no one behind me. Rob was pulling away in the distance, irritating me by not waiting. When my things came through, I quickly adjusted my carry-on, purse, and heavy winter coat, and glanced over at the security kiosk, out of which my bag had just appeared on the conveyor belt.  I noticed something sitting atop the the x-ray machine, a piece of paper, maybe a plane ticket? I reached for it, and was startled to be holding a bookmark. I looked behind me and in front, scanning for an owner, but no one was there. It was weirdly quiet, and no one was within fifty feet of where I stood. I took in the words on the bookmark, which read:

‘I AM THERE,

‘Do you need me? I am there. You cannot see me, yet I am the light you see by. You cannot hear me, yet I speak through your voice…..’

And so on and so forth. I froze, then felt dizzy. Bookmarks were ‘our thing’. I’d spent countless hours debating and debunking the existence of God, the afterlife, religious tales, and yet at that moment- as ridiculous as it sounds, I felt my mother was speaking to me. It was shocking. In the distance, my brother let out a two-fingered whistle and implored me to ‘hurry up!’. Though my feet felt steeped in cement, and my heart was drumming with shock I managed to get going. I held the bookmark against my chest as I worked my legs up into a fast walk and caught up with my brother, bags flailing. We were ushered directly onto our plane and into our seats, where  I stared into space, still stunned, until my brother nudged me. Evidently, the flight attendant had been trying to get my attention- it was time to fasten my seat-belt.  Once we were in the air I told my brother what had happened and showed him the bookmark. “Wow” he said, and not much more. He didn’t see it as I did (no big surprise- we’re very different) He hadn’t experienced what I did. It was as if it was our mom (maybe?) was saying ‘I’m somewhere’ instead of ‘I no longer exist’. I put the bookmark in my wallet carefully for safe-keeping, and braced myself for what lay ahead.

Looking back, I can see that the bookmark was a mundane coincidence.  But a tiny part of me will always remember that feeling of- what it would feel like to have my mom reaching out to me in such a personal way, using something that meant so much to us. I don’t believe in God per se (there are just too many awful things ‘he’ neglects to intervene in, including proof of his own existence) and I doubt there’s an afterlife, so I look at the here and now as all there is and no, it’s not sad, it makes sense to me. This is my one shot to live the life I  want to live.

But if I happen to be wrong, (and I’d be cool with being incorrect–after all, who could resist the notion of eternal existence? A forever of me, me, me!) and if there is something in the great beyond, I won’t exactly be pissed off. I’ll roll with it, and chalk my doubt up to using the logical side of my brain, issued to me by said supreme being. And then I’ll ask  why he stopped with the grand gestures, why he didn’t part the sea or turn water into wine during my lifetime, why all the secrets? Why no receipts?

I still have that bookmark and when I run across it I look at it with the curiosity of a spectator at a magic show. Is it special? It is to me.

Life is different without a mother, if you were lucky enough to have one. There will never be anyone who so unconditionally loves me and wants the best for me, no one I can call and vent in that certain way, no one I can ask the questions about my past that only she has the answers to. I still feel a tinge of jealousy towards me friends who still have moms-especially since they can’t possibly properly appreciate them until they’re gone.

Where We Write What We Write

In Writing on January 8, 2014 at 12:19 pm

WritenowzWhere do you write? I have a room with bookshelves and memorabilia on the walls- it’s always cluttery, with papers here and there, and I’m always promising myself to straighten it out until I sit down at the desk and begin writing. Four hours later, I’m so mentally spent from writing, I just close the door on the mess and forget about it until the next day. Once every two weeks or so, I clean it to within an inch of it’s life, but next thing you know, I’m pulling the thesaurus off the shelf, clipping an article out of a magazine for reference, sharpening pencils and placing coffee cups on the coasters-that is, until a couple of days later, when the coasters are hidden under an avalanche of papers, at which point I just give up and put the cup anywhere on the damn desk.

Exactly.

Exactly.

I have bookshelves bursting with books in my writing room. Many are quirky thrift store finds from the 60’s and 70’s. Books like “A Paycheck Of Your Own'(1974) which instructs women on how to have a job and keep their marriages alive (this involves foot massages for your husband when you get home from your full day at work) and suggests “Make it perfectly clear [to the children] who’s the chief provider. “Even though we actually pool our two salaries and pay for everything out of our joint bank account.” says one woman, “we tell the kids that we use Daddy’s money for basics like the house and the food, and my money for extras like the new stereo.” Nifty!

Another ‘Is There A Teenage Driver In Your House?'(1967) talks about ‘night cruising’ and the bad kids the author calls ‘Highway Junkies'(for which he formed a self help group: ‘Motorists Anonymous’) Evidently, these kids have ‘Road Disease’ which can be recognized through these symptoms:”A sexual excitement as speed increases, a tense burning of the throat, a heavy stifling sensation in the chest, and a blinding determination ‘they shall not pass’ There are ‘hooligans’ who try to set records on who can drive the farthest without their headlights on at night, and others who take BB guns along with them to shoot up the town from car windows!”

And you wonder why I thrift!

These books are a godsend when I have writer’s block, or if I’m writing about a decade long past, for which I need to immerse myself in a ‘feel’ for the social climate, including the fringes.

Thrift Stores are a treasure trove of 'what the what?'

Thrift Stores are a treasure trove of ‘what the what?’

Back to the writing space: There’s an old metal filing cabinet for papers, a few black crows perched about (decorative, of course though real would be cooler!) personal pics, a clock, some paper cranes (given to me by a dear friend) and small cut outs of Joe Perry in the 70’s, Jon Bon Jovi in the 80s and Jay Z in the now. Oh- and Tom Brady with long hair. (Don’t judge me)

There are magnets on the file cabinet- Sons of Anarchy, my cats (not surprised, are you?) and a postcard from Salem. Mass (my spiritual hometown) There’s a statue of the Virgin Mary (wearing Mardi Gras beads) and a few ceramic owls. A black lamp with a leopard-print shade.

 

In the middle of all of this chaos is a two year old Dell computer with a flat screen, a basic keyboard, a scanner, a printer and an external hard-drive for back-up. It is here where I write, and here alone. I have a tablet, but I find writing on it cumbersome. I’ve never had a laptop, though the rest of my household prefers them. I have a million journals (there can never be too many) and I carry one with me at all times in case an idea hits me while I’m out (yesterday, while shopping- and because I was driving and couldn’t reach my purse in the backseat, I wrote an idea on a carton of eggs with a pen from my glove compartment at a red light) My journals are filled with ideas that only I can understand-but I’m so glad I keep them. Again- these are great for writer’s block.

Typewriter1

I admire people who can write at say- Starbucks, or some other public place. I could never concentrate deeply enough to write in public, though I’ve burned quite a few hours  talking about writing in these type settings. The bottom line is that we are all different- and the answer to the best places to write would have to be wherever works! As long as you are actually writing- it’s all good. Am I write?

J.K Rowling wrote Harry Potter in cafes!...if it works, go for it!

J.K Rowling wrote Harry Potter in cafes!…if it works, go for it!

Reading: Literature vs. Pedigree-Free Books

In Books, Writing on December 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm
Magical Children's Books...

Magical Children’s Books…

I firmly believe that readers are born the minute they are gifted with a book that speaks to them. As a child, I remember being captivated by books about mermaids, kids who lived ‘alone’ (Pippi Longstocking), heartbreaking Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales (The Little Match Girl) and anything with animals who wore clothes, furnished the hollow insides of trees and spoke.

Once I escaped  into a good book, and deduced there were thousands more out there- as yet unread- I knew I’d found the key that would unlock doors to worlds I would otherwise never experience. As I grew older, I remained a voracious reader, and am, to this day, rarely without a book (or ten!) Truth be told, I don’t know how people who don’t read even get through life!

Red1

I’ve always had what I call a ‘book sense’- I can sniff out a book I’d like from a mile away. The cover art, the blurbs, the whole ‘feel’ of a book, all add up to an inkling that is usually on target. This isn’t to say that I stay within my comfort zone all of the time. As David Foster Wallace was so fond of saying ‘good reading is sometimes hard reading’ and I do flex my reading and vocabulary skills to keep them sharp. Sometimes I read four or five pages of my thesaurus, which is helpful for both reading and writing. I sometimes read to learn about a particular subject. The thought of a reading list is ludicrous to me- who could ever run out of books to read, and who (good lord!) needs Oprah to tell them what to read? I can steer my own ship, thankyouverymuch! (And Oprah, just because you stand next to a book, or read it, you shouldn’t get credit for the author’s precious ideas!)

Red8

I often wonder how many potential readers were turned off to reading by the books they were assigned in school. I loved a lot of the  reading we did- ‘The Cricket In Times Square’, ‘Charlottes Web’,”Black Beauty’, ‘Aesop’s Fables’ in elementary school, ‘Go Ask Alice’,  ‘The Outsiders’,’Watership Down’ and ‘Catcher In The Rye’ in middle school.  But there were others- the so-called ‘literature’ that turned me off- that somehow turned reading into a chore, especially in high school.  The Greek tragedies, the Romans.. Chaucer, Moby Dick…Don’t get me wrong. I get it (good reading isn’t always easy) but to me- if I wasn’t engaged, what was the point?

I just didn’t feel anything for these people and their (often) privileged angst and formal manner. The assignments that went along with these books were a constant interrogation- endless discussions and tests which graded my interpretation (there was always a ‘right’ answer for how I should have  ‘thought’ about these stories and writers. My thoughts and takeaways aren’t governed by mimeographed test sheets) If I could be turned off to reading (my favorite ‘sport’) by these books, god help the kids that didn’t like to read in the first place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Who decides what worthy reading is? Who were the reading connoisseurs who decided what is good for us all? Schools believe we have to ‘prove’ we can ingest these works, but what makes them superior to other (more relevant) writing? It seems if writing is complicated and difficult, and reading a particular book is a chore, then one is rewarded with the gold star of having gotten through it. As though they survived a battle. Which they did, in my humble opinion. Why would it be such a crime to tailor reading to what someone might actually enjoy, a book that would set them on a reading path that may eventually lead them to the classics willingly, up for the challenge?

So much ‘snooty’ literature- that which are discussed over the finest of wines and moldiest of cheese, are tales of morality and woe -are lessons, if you will. Tales of those who had it ‘all’ (superficially) and one day gave into their human desires- be it lust, greed, cruelty, gluttony….People who wear masks for so long, the sweat drips down their faces, the elastic binds their skulls until -whoosh!-they snap! And (usually) reveal their ‘human-ness after all! (shocker!) -as if anyone believed for a second that they were anything but.

These books are being read at all of the ‘good schools’, by the children of inherited wealth, as they were read by their parents, and their parents before them. Books, filled with warnings and red flags, leather-bound books that line their private libraries (first editions!) Yet-somehow- no one sees themselves on the page. For people who consider themselves to be educated (though one must point out: never confuse education with intelligence) it is an amazing oversight. These stories present the foibles of man, but seem to speak to no one man in particular in these dens of the upper class.

The very people who brag about ‘literature’ they’ve read, are often committing the very same morality crimes themselves- for money or pleasure. They still fall on the same swords themselves, ne’er the wiser! Obviously, there is a disconnect between the reader and what they read! I want to scream: these are not instruction manuals! If they speak so deeply, why does no one seem to listen? Or better yet: did they really read them?

Red9

I like to think of the books that I have read and enjoyed, and the things I’ve (happily) learned from them. To look below the surface of a person, that our experiences are often universal, that humor is gold, that you should treat others as you want to be treated, that war is a horrible tragedy and never works, that animals and nature are fascinating, that introverts often have the loudest minds, that love is the only thing of real value, and that to be happy is the real lottery win. And the truth is-  I’d put an understated Anne Tyler novel up against a Greek tragedy any day of the week.

Truth Is Beauty

In Should I Even Be Talking About This?, Writing on October 4, 2013 at 8:25 am

People are, to me,  more beautiful in their awkwardness, in their kindness and reticence, than they ever could be under the heavy hand of Photo-shop. I love how genuine they are in their bad pictures on Tumblr and Instagram, and my heart swells as I witness their love for their pets and families in their sometimes ‘awkward family photos’  from their lives. I see the shy teenager, gingerly attempting to put themselves out there, to test the waters of self esteem, but my heart breaks when I think of the nasty comments and cruel evaluations they are leaving themselves open to. I can’t count how many times I’ve Tumblr *liked* a picture of an old family photo, a person writing underneath it: ‘Here I am, age two, with my mom and brothers’ or ‘Here’s my Mom and Dad on their wedding day!’-and maybe it’s an awkward picture, or the person isn’t ‘beautiful’ by the photo-shopped, impossible standards so many of us hold others to, but most of us are trying our best. I honestly believe that. And there is beauty in the average, in the everyday, in the familiar- perhaps more so than anywhere else.

If you read the comments section under anything on the web, you witness how quickly things go from kind to mean (to viscous!) regardless of the subject. It could be an article about planting seeds in the springtime, a baby picture, a vintage shot of an old haunt-and someone, somewhere will find a way to lash out at it, put it down, insult it, argue about it- for no other reason than to be cruel! Why is human nature so negative? Why do people, once they become anonymous, so often turn feral? Why is everyone so angry?! I am absolutely positive that somewhere among the anonymous yet obscenely ‘casual’ vitriol is the formula that explains War and Poverty and Racism and Hate. If only we could deconstruct this and harness this negative energy for good!!!

Celebrate original people!

Celebrate original people!

I make it a point to never take part in trolling. Sure, I see things I don’t like, or read comments I don’t agree with- but I just move along. I’m no Pollyanna (as my blog will attest to!) I do, however make it a habit  to make lots of anonymous positive comments, because you never know when it’s just what someone needs to keep going.  And it’s not hard to press a like button, or post a kind word of encouragement! Being ‘anonymous nice’ makes me feel like I’m nudging karma in the right direction., and adding something good to the mix, rather than slamming down, like a wrecking ball, people’s good intentions.

 

%d bloggers like this: