Friday, August 31, 2012

Merry Christmas, Doc.......whoops


Did anyone else nod and feel a twinge of shame when you read this? Don't let me be the only one!  Do you have memories that go back years, or even decades, that can fill you with shame and remorse as if they just happened?

I could think of dozens of cringe-worthy events. One that bothered me for years was the time I said "Merry Christmas!" in my most cheerful holiday voice to our family doctor as I passed him on the sidewalk beside his office. He was a curmudgeonly man who shaved his arm pits because he thought it was hygienic, gave me a Tootsie Pop Drop after every appointment, and made his own cough syrup with codeine. The cough syrup was delicious, and Mom kept it in the medicine cabinet upstairs. I took a swig every now and then when I needed a special treat.

Doc only made one house call to our home, and that was when I was four and came down with German measles. I remember, through a fever haze, lying on my parents' bed while he examined me, and then the adults talking in quiet voices. I guess he was telling them he didn't think I was going to make it. I did.

He's also the only person I ever heard say, "Shut up" to my grandma, a story my mom told for years after. My grandma, although she had only a 9th-grade education, was a nurse, and she was his surgical nurse. One Saturday morning he was stitching up a cut on my forehead, and she was assisting him. I'd busted it open when the big, boy-style bike I was riding on a gravel road slid out from under me. Lots of blood with a head wound. Anyway, nobody even remembers what my grandma said as he was stitching me, only that he looked up and said, "Shut up, Clara." Nobody spoke to my grandma that way. I wanted to get up and slap the shit out of him, but I was already scared of him and he was poking me with a needle and thread, so I stayed still. I never forgave him for talking to her like that.

I also never forgave him for giving my dad valium when he went in with chest pains, which Doc diagnosed as stress. My dad died a month later of a heart attack at age 46. He'd been self-medicating the chest pains with Alka Seltzer.

But that's not why I was appalled that I said, "Merry Christmas" to Doc one snowy day outside his office when I was 10. No, it's because Doc's family was the only Jewish family in town. Everybody else -- and I mean everybody -- was either Catholic or some flavor of Protestant. You had to be one or the other. Unless you were one of the two town doctors.

After I said, "Merry Christmas," Doc just nodded and walked on by. I don't suppose he even gave a shit. I bet lots of people made that mistake, told him "Merry Christmas." I'll bet he had patients who sent him a Christmas card every year.

But when I was 10, that seemed like the rudest thing I could have said to him, and I was sure I was going to go to hell for it. I was mortified. I gave myself a mental slap up the side of the head every time I thought of it for years. How could I have been so stupid?

I could probably come up with a couple dozen more of these if you'd like to see me self-flagellate with words, but the specifics aren't really the point. It's so true that we sabotage our perfectly fine present with memories of things we said or did that we can't change, letting the past determine our feelings in the present even though we can't change a damn thing. For some reason it's awfully hard to forgive ourselves for some of the smallest transgressions.

Who's the hardest person for me to forgive? Me. I've let other people off the hook for the worst behavior. You wouldn't believe it -- although I'm trying to do that less often.

But forgive myself? Not a fucking chance.

I've been working on this though, along with a tendency to take the blame for other people's behavior when I'm hurt or angry for a good reason. There are so many ways to play that blame game from both sides. Not that I would have been offended if he'd wished me a Happy Hanukkah. And yet somehow it's all too easy to let something as innocent as saying "Merry Christmas" to the town's Jewish doctor become a huge faux pas worth writing about decades later.

What did you think of when you read the comic above? Did any particular memory pop right to the surface? Or have you figured out a way to scrub those things you can't go back and change from your mind?

Just so you know, saying "Merry Christmas" to Doc doesn't really bother me any more. I can remember the shame my 10-year-old self felt, but I don't hold her in contempt. I have other stories though -- some worse, some just as minor.


As I wrote this, the drama down the street at the drug dealer's house has been intense tonight. It's after 2:30 and woman has been screaming and honking her horn and blocking the street so nobody could leave for over an hour: "Give me my motherfuckin' money, point, blank, period" over and over and over. In the midst of it, a man was yelling at another woman to get in the motherfuckin' car. I think he was hitting her, because the other men tried to stop him from leaving with her, and she was screaming and crying. Blue moon? End of summer crazy shit? I don't know.

I want to see if Melvin is on his porch, but I don't want to walk out there. Not this night. I wish I'd gone out with friends instead of coming home early to make soup and play my guitar.


Tonight is the last night of NaBloPoMo. I haven't decided about September. Making a commitment to post something every day keeps me writing. What do you think?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I'm home

This afternoon I plan on riding my bike downtown tonight to a meeting at a used bookstore with my writer's group and then maybe hanging out with Elvira and Coraline....or coming home and playing my guitar on the porch. But one by one the writers flake and Alex posts on my Facebook, "Are you riding down for the concert [by the river] tonight?" and I say no, but yes, I will...and I do ride down the hill to the bike path and follow the river to the music. The last free big band concert of the summer and the pavilion is packed. Hundreds of people under the big white tent, many of them ancient, white-haired, slowly walking up from where they parked their Buick Rivieras and their Lincolns on the streets blocks away. Only for this would they venture downtown until after dark. A 22-piece band plays to a full dance floor .... elderly married couples who look like they've lived centuries, women hunched over with osteoporosis -- dowager's hump they used to call it -- and the shrunken men with their bowed legs, socks pulled up high, clean shoes .... but when they dance it's 1942 again and they're so smooth, so sure as they glide and turn with just a touch of his hand on her waist, just enough pressure on her fingers, sexy old people .... of course there are more women than men so some of the men dance with four or five women -- their own wives and their wives friends; they are such gentlemen ... and a younger group, a ballroom dance class, eager, energetic, throwing in an extra hop here and there, laughing when they stumble, trying their new steps along the edge of the dance floor .... and a little boy in a green shirt who dances by himself right in front of the bandstand, arms pumping, legs kicking out to the sides, he is oblivious to everything except the jazzy blare of the horns and the steady bounce of the drums. Someday he might share the dance floor with five widows, but tonight he's a little boogieing bachelor on his own.

As the big band concert winds down, Smooth Jazz texts me and tries to entice me downtown. No, I think I'm going home, I write, but he persists and finally texts "The Century" and I give in. Grogilingus and Steampunk Cynthia say they'll go and Alex and his new girlfriend too. I ride over on the streets, past the old people who won't be back downtown again until next summer unless they've got season tickets to the philharmonic. I arrive at the Century, riding on the sidewalk because I'm going the wrong way on a one-way street, just as Alex and his new girlfriend get there, walk my bike in and Smooth Jazz is already there at the bar with Grogilingus and Steampunk Cynthia, although they don't know they're part of the same group yet. I ask the ZZ Top bartender if it's OK that I bring in my bike and he says, "You can put your bike wherever you want to, sweetheart." And then he makes me one of his tart, pale pink Cosmos filled to the top so I spill it as I carry it to the back .... where we settle at a long table while Cool Jazz puts some old blues on the jukebox. We talk, Thursday night winding down, sharing stories, photos on cell phones, low key, friends from one place getting to know friends from another place .... We don't stay long ... Grog and Cynthia move out first .... then Smooth Jazz ... Finally I leave with Alex and his new girlfriend.

Alex offers to put my bike in his car, but as usual I refuse. The streets are still alive ... too alive maybe. "Walk with us as far as my car," he says. "You know I'm safer on my bike riding 18 mph in the street than I am walking it on this sidewalk with you, right?" I say. "I know," he says, "but walk with us." On the next block a fight has spilled out of a nightclub and into the street. Young men are posturing, pointing at their chests, yelling, rushing each other while their friends pull them apart, and a few young women are circling them, urging them on, yelling, "You see what he did? You see what he did?" The sidewalk is blocked, crowded with people watching as the fight moves into a parking lot. The bouncers watch to make sure it stays off their sidewalk. I slow to watch the fight, but Alex urges me on, "Don't slow down. It's not our business." "I'm not making it our business. I'm just watching like those other people," I say, but he's uncomfortable so I keep up with them, but I'm not afraid here. The crowd parts to let us through, and as we come out the other side a young black man -- well dressed, handsome -- catches my eye and doesn't look away. He frowns slightly and barely shakes his head. He doesn't want to be associated with that mess behind us. I smile a little smile and walk on past to where I say goodbye to Alex and his new girlfriend. I know Alex doesn't want to see me ride off down the street by myself .... and I know he's eager to be alone with his girl. "Text me as soon as you get home," he says. "I will," I say. He wants to know I'm safe, but whether I am or not won't rest on that text.

I put my foot on my pedal and wait for a young woman to pass me. She shouldn't be walking alone on a night with unsettled streets, voices too high pitched..... "Be careful," Alex says. "I always am," I say over my shoulder, pulling into the bike lane, going the right direction on the one-way street. Half a block away I hit a red light and a car full of young black women stops kind of sideways across two lanes. One of them yells, "What you doin' out here?" I look over at her and raise my eyebrows .... "Not you, ma'am," she yells and points to another young woman half a block behind me. I smile and we all take off as the light gives us the go. Two bright green metro buses pass me on the left, the heat pressing against me like a wall .... as we come to the end of the street and take a left turn, one of them ends up on my right and I'm trailing behind the other. I can see my shadow on the back of the bus, bulbous helmet-head, legs pumping, spokes turning. I wish I could take a photo, but pulling my phone out and trying might be one of those dangers Alex is so worried about, so I just follow it through the light and blow by when it stops to pick up a passenger. I pick up speed and ride the outer edge of the bike lane, watching the parked cars for opening doors and the street for sunken manhole covers and large chunks of gravel .... and soon I'm climbing the hill under the interstate to the bridge, crossing the river, lights from the Masonic Temple reflected below me ... and then I'm gearing down for the final big hill up to my neighborhood ... and then I'm home. I listen for Melvin's voice to come from his porch, "Hey, baby. Whatchoo doing? Come over here and have a drink of gin and juice with me...." But he's still out drinking. It's not even midnight yet.

I text Alex, "I'm home" ..... but I was all along, tonight, in this city .... and yet I think, Five years ago I never would have imagined this night, these friends, this me. But, yes ..... for now, I'm home.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

No vaginas here

Sometimes I write about vaginas and sometimes I don't write about vaginas, but tonight I'm going to write about no vaginas. And I warn you, I'm going to share some photos of no vaginas so be prepared.

Jane Pain is a Spanish lingerie, swimsuit, and accessory company, and the photos below, taken by photographer Natasha Ygel, are part of some fucked up ad campaign which I assume is supposed to sell lingerie. That would be silky, sexy garments that women (and some men) wear so they can look sexy, seductive, naughty.

And just to be clear, the root of the word "sexy" is "sex." And one of the great benefits of lingerie is that, lurking underneath it, you might expect to find, among other things, a vagina. Nothing wrong with that, right? Wrong.

Evidently one lingerie company would like to us to pretend vaginas don't exist, at least not on their models, not in their ads. Ads they even won an award for, although the award was won in Argentina so who gives a shit anyway.

Dying to see the ads? (Please. You already peeked ahead as soon as you saw the words vagina and photo together, and we both know it.)

I'm still going to warn you. These are, although they don't appear to be at first glance, perfectly safe for work. No nasty vaginas here. No sir. Not a one.

Apparently a little butt crack and some taint is OK. It's the vagina that had to go.

You're looking at the lingerie, right?

You're ready to buy some lingerie by now, aren't you? Quick, what's the name of the company? No peeking above.

The slogan for this ad campaign is "What you can't see is all you want to see." Clever? Or just offensive to all vagina-bearing women everywhere? If the vagina is all you want to see, why do women wear lingerie at all?

So who thinks of this shit anyway? Can you imagine the meetings at the second-rate ad agency that came up with this example of female mutilation?

Bill: "Hey, I know. Let's take typically provocative photos of almost naked models showing their pussies, and then let's make them look like ... you know .... Barbies down there."
Stan: "Great idea, Bill. Women will love it! We'll show only their best parts."
Roger: "Love the idea. Nobody wants to look at those things anyway, am I right? Am I right? Looking down there makes me shudder."
Bill: "Right! Tits and ass, man. Tits and ass. Love the pussy, but I don't want to have to see it. We'll just show tits and ass."

Maybe if this looked like anything other than a rudimentary Photoshop 101 project it could be considered impressive for its shock value. But no. I can't even imagine what audience they thought they might appeal to with this crap.

All these ads do is remind me how very difficult it was to act out all those childish rape fantasies on the desert island between Barbie and Ken, because she didn't have slot A and he didn't have tab B. It was dissatisfying at best, although we just kept doing it -- banging their smooth plastic parts together. GI Joe wasn't any better in the tab department, but at least his knees bent.

What do you think? Clever, eye-catching ad campaign? Or Jesus, Reticula, now I feel like poking out my mind's eye?

I think you know my opinion. I'd rather write about vaginas. And please don't buy me whatever this is for Christmas. I'd rather have the hairy panties.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Even the fiercest mothers....

I posted a photo on the Facebook page for Reticulated Writer today of an adult woman wearing a big lion mask, fingers curled into claws, apparently trying to scare a baby who is at most a year old. The photo appears to have been taken right before the baby reacts. Here it is.


Here's what I wrote about the photo (apologies to those of you who already saw this. I have more to say): "I hate this photo so much. What the hell is wrong with people? Why is childish innocence such a hard thing to just accept and nurture? This woman should be locked in a haunted house with Freddy Kruger for a night. If I saw somebody try to scare Coraline like this, I'd flip the fuck out and this bitch would find a grandmama bear climbing up her lion-headed ass. I really hope she isn't this baby's mother."

After a short conversation in the comments, I remembered just how hard it really is to protect kids from people who are threatening them, especially when it's a mother who's doing the threatening. I remembered how helpless I felt when I couldn't.

Years ago when I was still homeschooling the kids, we met some friends who live near Chicago at the Indianapolis Children's Museum for a day trip. The mom was (and still is) a close online friend, and my son Drake was good friends with her daughter. After a long day of playing at the museum, we all went out to dinner at someplace that might have been Cracker Barrel. It was one of those restaurants with shit for sale and too many people packed into the dining room.

My friend and I did what women friends do. We went to the lady's room together. It was the only quiet place in the restaurant. We were talking and laughing as we washed our hands. We saw each other in real life so seldom, and shared so much online. We were happy about the day, and sad it was over. 

As we laughed about something, a young black woman, a mother,  came in dragging a crying three-year-old by her arm. She shoved the child into a stall, already screaming threats at her. She slammed the door shut and locked it.

I can only paraphrase what she said, because it's been enough years I don't remember exactly. It was something like, "I am going to beat you so hard. How dare you do that do me? How dare you? You are going to wish you'd never fucking been born....." It was brutal language.

Another woman who had come in behind us, quickly washed her hands, looked at us with what could only be a mixture of disgust and guilt, and hurried out the door.

My friend and I stayed. We were frozen, eyes locked, trying somehow through telepathy to figure out what the fuck to do.

In the meantime, the young mother continued shouting and threatening her child, "How dare you hit me in there? You fucking hit me and now I'm going to hit you so much harder. You'll never hit me again. Stop crying! Either you stop or I'll do it right here....." In that vein.

We didn't hear her hit the child. Only threaten to. And the little girl stopped crying when she was ordered to. Three years old and she stopped crying on command so she wouldn't get it worse. I hadn't mastered that by three.

My friend and I made some noise. Cleared our throats. Rattled our paper towels. The shouting and threatening continued for .... you know, it was probably seconds, and not hours as it seemed.

Just as I thought I might make a move, say something, threaten to call the police, the door to the bathroom stall opened and the mother dragged the child out again. She wasn't crying. As she walked by us, the mother glared at both of us as if to say, "What the fuck are you doing to do about it?" And they left.

My friend and I looked at each other in disbelief, tears in our eyes. And for me it was more disbelief that I had witnessed such a thing and done nothing than that I'd heard it happen. I got some pretty rough treatment myself as a child; I've written about that once before. I can barely write about this incident without ducking, wanting to run, my gut clenched with anticipation, waiting for the hit.

That's no excuse. I'm not a child now.

I'm not sure which one of us broke the silence. "Shit. How did that just happen right in front of us and we didn't do anything?"

Why indeed? We're both mama bears. Both fiercely protective of our own kids, any kids. We were furious as it was happening, flooded with adrenaline ... and apparently, helpless to protect a child from her mother.

We went back to our table and told the story. The other family had left, I think -- the one with the mother and child. We both thought we would only have made things worse for the little girl if we'd said anything. The mother was furious. Two older white women interrupting would only have made her madder.

Wouldn't it?

And yes, we agreed it was possible race was an issue. That the mother might have been more embarrassed, angrier at her daughter, because we were white and she was black. That we considered that as we stood there doing nothing. But neither of us thought we would have intervened if the mother had been white either. We just had to be honest and say it mattered. Why not. We couldn't feel worse.

Because that experience pretty much stripped us bare of the illusion of control and protectiveness that was so much a part of us it was our very skin. Both of us felt so .... I'm not sure there's a word for the shock and shame we felt that we had witnessed a child being abused and said not one fucking word to stop it. Not one fucking word. I'm not sure how my friend felt. I felt like everything I knew about myself as a mother had been stripped off me and all that was left was my own cowardice.

And yet ..... we tried to think what we should have done. What we would do if it ever happened again. And we couldn't think of a damn thing. It's OK if you judge us. We did too. But we couldn't think of anything we could have done different that would have made the outcome more positive.

The bottom line was that we knew we couldn't stop it, but we could make it worse. Or we thought we could. The mother didn't hit the child, at least not in that bathroom stall. She didn't do anything illegal. I didn't need my social work degree to know that. But it was abuse. Of that I have no doubt. It's just not the kind that's illegal.

And had we embarrassed her in front of her child, she probably would have done more than shout when they got home. As far as we could tell, once she made the little girl cry and then made her stop, she was satisfied. No way to know.

I cried a good part of the long drive home that night. I lay awake many nights obsessing over what I could have done to make a difference. I imagined myself ripping the door open, grabbing that little girl into my arms and giving the mother a dose of her own medicine. I even imagined handing the child to my friend and beating the shit out of that young mother.

I more often imagined saying, kindly and gently, "Sounds like you're having a rough evening. Anything I can do to help?" And that my friend and I, being the amazing, nurturing women we are, would talk to her and help her see there are better ways to deal with kids and anger. We would fix everything with empathy and experience.

I imagined calling the police, and telling them she had .... what? Yelled at her daughter for hitting her back in the restaurant? Threatened to hit her, but hadn't. I could imagine how that would sound.

I've been indulging in a Sons of Anarchy marathon while I've been recuperating from food poisoning, and I thought, What would Gemma do? She'd stomp the shit out of somebody, is what she'd do. She'd tear the paper towel dispenser off the wall and slam it into young mother's face. Then she'd get really close and threaten to find her and do worse if it ever happened again. And you'd believe it would never happen again. Fiction. Life doesn't work like that.

Much as I chewed and gnawed on that incident, I couldn't think of one goddamn thing I could have done to help that little girl. And it's small comfort to know she can go through shit like that, come out the other side, and still become a different kind of mother. One who doesn't threaten violence or worse. I did.

She shouldn't have to.

So while I like to put up a big, tough, earth mother front about what I'd do if I saw a child being abused -- like in the photo above or worse -- what I know, both from my life and from being a social worker -- is that even the most fierce warriors of the matriarchy sometimes just watch and feel helpless. Even I just stood and felt helpless.

Really the only comfort I have is that my friend is a big, tough mama who doesn't back down from a fight. We're both like that. And if neither of us could think of another way we could have acted, maybe it's one of those situations where we did the best we could and it will never be enough.

Funny, isn't it? What a photo of a woman in a lion head scaring a baby will dredge up?

It's OK if you judge. I have all these years. I still do.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


I'm not dumb enough to want a Snuggie, because anybody can figure out turning a fluffy robe backwards and sticking your arms through, right? But a pillow with a built-in hood? That is pure genius, right up there with the Glass Tank. Who wouldn't want one?

Know what else is genius? Me, posting my Christmas list right here, item by item, including stocking stuffers like this one. Fuck Pinterest. You have to read my blog to get my Christmas list, Santa Claus. And I know you do, big man.

Anyway, HoodiePillow.* I've always wanted a hood in my pillow, because my ears get cold even in the summer, and I have to sleep with the blanket pulled up over my ear. So this invention is one I've already thought of; I've just been to lazy to sew a hood onto a pillowcase. And now somebody else can do it for me.

Doesn't that look cozy? And if you buy me the black one -- which is the one I would want anyway -- I get a handsome-from-the-nose-down guy with a 5-day beard thrown in for free! Bonus! Hmmm. Maybe we're not talking stocking stuffer any more. Better put this directly in my bed so I'll find him it first thing Christmas morning. Somebody else can stick the orange sweet rolls in the oven, fry the bacon, and call me when it's time to open presents. 

And now I'm going to climb back onto the couch where I've been recovering most of the day, except when I was in bed, and try to wait for the end of this fucking food poisoning Christmas.

What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas, boys and girls?

* Disclaimer: I don't get paid for writing about anything on this blog. If I did, I would already have a HoodiePillow because companies give this shit out free to bloggers who chase that kind of tail. I don't. But I might someday. For now, I'm just posting my Christmas list.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Laid low

Funny how one night I can write about the exciting weekend I have coming up, and the next night all I've got to say is, "Blerg." A group of us who ate the same tainted food came down with food poisoning one by one this week. I was the last one to fall about an hour after I published last night's post.

We suspect listeria, but we won't know until the results on one of our members come back from the lab. Evidently it takes days.

So I missed the movie this morning, and I'm missing Chicken Grrrl's concert as I write. Alex sent me a photo, and my friend Hot Italian called so I could listen to a song over the phone. Not the same as being there, but I'm grateful they thought of me. I tried to persuade myself I would kick this thing in time to go, but every time I thought about taking a shower, I'd come to some time later and realize my eyes were closed. And the lady's room at the venue only has 2 stalls. TMI? Whatthefuckever. I'm the sick one here.

I would describe my symptoms in detail, but nobody needs to have such intimate knowledge of my digestive system. I'll just say it's a fucking miracle such a tiny thing as a bacteria can lay someone my size so low.

Listeria monocytogenes: if they go in, they have to come out
 That's all I've got for tonight. Now I'm going back to the couch to continue a Sons of Anarchy marathon and count my blessings for the pause button.

Friday, August 24, 2012

On being mediocre in a world full of talented people

I'm struggling with writing every day this month. I knew the summer month would be the hardest. Summer is when I come alive, when I feel the most passion for life, and while one of my most important passions is writing, summer makes me want to cram as much into my life as I can .... probably before schools starts, historically.

As I  told you last night, school won't be starting for me this fall, but several people sent me excellent ideas for ways to make money through writing and teaching writing. I'll be talking more about some of those ideas in the future.

I have a list of topics I want to write about this month, but when I sit down to write, I almost always realize I've waited until too late to delve into them. And they're really good topics too!

But, for example, today Elvira and Coraline came over in the afternoon. We went for a walk, ate dinner, talked to Melvin a little while (until he invited himself in for some wine that he definitely didn't need); Elvira even got some time at the piano while I entertained Coraline. Mundane really, and yet our time together is so precious and passes so fast. 

When Rock Dad came to pick them up (One car. Remember those days?), I asked him to show me how to play the lead for a song Chicken Grrrl and I are working on, "No Rain" by Blind Melon. Rock Dad and I performed it once when we played a gig together, but I shook an egg that time. Now I have to step up and play it on my guitar. (Not familiar? Here it is. Ignore that obnoxious girl who introduces it.)

I've got some work to do. Rock Dad can play anything on the guitar from jazz to classical to rock. He made it sound easy, but I'm not him.

Before long Elvira was back at the piano. She played some Evenescence, and I sang along with Coraline on my hip while Rock Dad noodled along on the guitar. They're both so fucking talented.

Coraline got bored and hungry though, so I cut up a peach and we sat out on the porch swing listening through the open window while her parents jammed on some Queen. I loved listening to Elvira and Rock Dad playing through the open windows tonight. I will admit I hoped the neighbors or anybody walking by would think it was me.

 As we sat in the warm dark, rocking and listening, the taste of summer on our tongues, I was struck by how many really talented people I know.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to a film festival where a movie a friend wrote, directed, and produced is being shown. I think the side of my face is even in one scene. What a huge commitment and risk to make your own movie! And what a lot of work he's done promoting it. It's called The Wonderland Express. Here's a trailer. Go see it if you get a chance.

Tomorrow night, Chicken Grrrl, who is pretty slutty when it comes to music, is cheating on me performing with her brothers-in-law and a couple of other people at a local music venue. They're playing REM's Document album, and I expect it will be amazing. I know it will be.

It's just a sample of the weekend, but the point is that there are so many hard-working, talented people out there living their creative dreams, and I'm proud and blessed to know bunches of them. They inspire me to work harder and get better at the things I do.

One reason I feel so lucky to rub up against truly talented people is because I know my own limitations. Even though I'm a pretty decent faker, I'm truly, at best, mediocre at many things I do. I love making music, and I play several instruments ..... but I'm not good at any of them. Not really. At best, I'm adequate. I act and sing; I've dabbled in various arts and crafts; I can cook pretty well. In fact, I can do a lot of things -- too many to mention -- but in every area I know people who are truly talented and accomplished and can kick my ass.

What I do best is inspire other people to take the risk and follow their creative dreams. I've jammed with, or urged up on stage, many musicians -- singers, guitar players, other players -- who had previously only performed for themselves in their own basements. I would say the count is over 25 now in the past 5 years, and some of them are much better than I am.

A few people have auditioned for plays and ended up happily on stage fulfilling a hidden dream. I went and saw one of them in her first play last Friday, and the joy on her face as she sang on stage was priceless.

I've encouraged unpublished poets to read their poetry, and new writers to share their prose. I'm much better at getting other people to do things than I am at doing those things myself. (Beware if you come to karaoke with me.)

While I'd love to be as talented and accomplished as other people around me, there is an advantage to being mediocre. I'm not intimidating. People see me getting up there doing whatever it is I do, and they figure if I can do it, so can they. They don't have to be perfect. They don't have to be the best. They just have to bring their own best, wherever they are in their creative journey, and have the courage to share it with their little part of the world. It's more about the courage and the joy of doing the things you love than it is the perfection.

And that's why I'm OK with being mediocre, in spite of my disease of perfectionism. OK, I confess I still hope the neighbors thought that was me playing in here tonight. Just because sometimes I'd like to be better than mediocre for a few minutes. I'm pretty sure nobody thought I was playing the piano and the guitar at the same time though.

Are there times when you're happy with being mediocre? Are there times when it's an advantage? Can you believe summer is almost over?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Leaving the ivory tower

I shared on Facebook recently that I won't be teaching this semester at the university where I've been teaching for the past six years. Attendance is down drastically, classes didn't fill up like usual, and adjuncts are the first to go. I'll write more soon about the unethical way colleges exploit adjunct faculty -- the red-headed bastard stepchildren of upper academia -- while paying enormous salaries to administrators. It seems to be one of those topics that is common knowledge among academics, but is a shocking revelation to those who don't frequent ivory towers.

Friends have expressed concern, asked if I'll be OK. I will. I'm looking at options,weighing the benefits and deciding what direction I want to go.

I've already picked up a couple of freelance editing jobs, and I expect I'll find more. I've also done some more tarot readings, and again, I'd like to continue to build that area of my life. I'm considering writing that book I've always wanted to write. If E. L. James could get 50 Shades of Grey published, surely there's a niche out there for me. A number of people have asked if I'd offer writing workshops, so I said hellz yeah. I love teaching writing.

I've also been watching the new season of Weeds learning more about marketing this summer. Entrepreneurism seems like a hot career field these days. It also might be time to monetize my secret sex blog.

And I'm considering whether going the corporate 8-5 route would be a wise move. People who really know me say they can't imagine it. I can't either, but you never know whether something will fit unless you try it on. It's one thing I've never done before.

School starts this Monday, and it feels weird that I'm not tweaking my syllabus, firming up my calendar, preparing lesson plans ...... I'm so used to smelling crayons this time of year.

And it's odd to lose the label. People say you aren't what you do, but it's hard not to wrap your identity up in a neat package papered with whatever it is you do. It does affect how people see me and even treat me when I say "I teach at a university" as opposed to saying, "I'm a stripper" or "I'm a pot dealer" or "I'm the tooth fairy." All the years I homeschooled and then taught college writing, being a teacher was a strong identity. I was proud to say I taught at the university.

One of the games men like to play when they've gotten up the courage to talk to a woman is the "I bet I can guess what you do" game. I've been surprised how many guessed I was an English professor. I'm not sure what the tip-off was. Maybe I need to stop correcting people's grammar before I know their names. I have to wonder though why nobody ever guessed that I was a stripper, but no matter. Some men seem to find teachers hot.

So I'm not a teacher any more. I still have many roles -- mother, grandmother, friend, writer, editor, musician, actor, cyclist, tarot-reader, wedding officiant, woman, person, earthling.... But I'm not a teacher. I have to wonder if people will see me differently now, if they will have less respect for me now that I don't have that job, that title.

And then I think that's silly. The reason I could teach is because of what I'm doing right now. I taught because I can write - I'm a writer. Now I'm looking forward to doing more of what I do, and doing less teaching of what I do.

Have you ever felt defined by a role and then lost it? Have you ever willingly given up a role because you felt it didn't fit you any longer?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Sock Sandals

When I get home at 4:40am, thank the internets for sock sandals because otherwise I'd have to actually write something. I've probably dated the guy who would wear these.....but nevermind. That's another story, and this is supposed to be wordless. Sssshhhhhh.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Intouchables Review

I rode my bike downtown today to meet a friend for lunch and a movie. We ate at a locally owned restaurant that uses local produce and meat, often from their own garden. I've been eating lunch there once or twice a week lately, not just because the food is as good as what I could cook at home, but because I feel good about eating there. OK, and because it's like Cheers. They know my name.

Today I ordered the Tuscan grilled cheese (balsamic marinated mozarella, local tomatoes, house-made pesto, pancetta on chiabatta), fennel/mushroom/shallot soup, and salad made from greens from their garden. I rode 14 miles on my bike today, and I'll need to ride another 50 to balance the calories, but it was worth it. I have another lunch date there Thursday. I should probably buy bigger jeans.

After lunch we strolled around a little two-block area of (again) locally owned stores, bars, and porn shops. A used book store captured us for a while, and then a silver jewelry store. It's much safer to shop when I'm riding my bike, because I travel light. No bulky paniers for me.

We got to the movie at our little (locally owned--sense a theme here?) art theater just a tad late, damn it. If only I hadn't had to go to the bathroom and then buy Junior Mints, we might have caught the first 60 seconds. No matter though. Once we blindly groped our way to a pair of seats, sat down and started watching, we were entranced. If you haven't seen The Untouchables, please go see it right now. No, really. Go now.

I didn't realize it was a French movie with subtitles or I might not have gone. I've never seen a French  movie what wasn't fucking insane, and frankly, I've never known a French woman I liked, but that's another story.

The subtitles didn't matter at all, and this movie wasn't what I expect from a French movie. It actually had a plot and characters I could understand. And one of the leads, Fran├žois Cluzet, looks so much like Dustin Hoffman I felt like I was watching an American movie.

Like any story, a summary doesn't do it justice, but I'll give it a couple of sentences. I doubt you'll be persuaded by them though. It's the actors who bring this story to life.

Summary: A rich white quadrapalegic hires a poor young black man, played by Omar Sy, to take care of him, and of course both of their lives are changed by the experience. The contrast between their lives and personalities makes the story of their bond sweet and poignant, but definitely not sticky.

Omar Sy is hot, hot, hot. Just watching him dance to Earth, Wind and Fire's "Boogie Wonderland" is worth the price of a ticket. (Of course it's on youtube, so here it is, but only as a teaser. You have to see the movie.)

Doesn't that make you want to dance your ass off to some old disco? I wish I knew a locally owned disco where I could do that.

But go see it for the story, because the final bit of coolness is that this is a true story. And you will feel joyful after you watch it, because people can be happy even after they've had cosmic shit rain down on them in torrents. And all the money in the world won't innoculate you from shit storms, but you can still be happy (if you have enough money. I'm not fucking Pollyanna).

This afternoon gave me a few hours of reprieve from the shitstorms in my life. If you do see The Intouchables, let me know what you think.

When is the last time you played hookie on a beautiful summer afternoon?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Life on my street

I was going to properly introduce my neighbor Melvin to you tonight. He’s an alcoholic, and he’s in love with me, and he’s kind of a character. But as I was avoiding the blank page by watching Breaking Bad and drinking watered down Chardonnay, I heard men shouting outside in angry, panicky voices. Loud voices aren’t unusual on my street; I usually ignore them. But something about the quality of tone caught my attention this time. I paused the TV and listened closer.

“Get down on the fucking ground! Get down on the fucking ground! I said get down or I will shoot you! I will shoot you!

Definitely not the normal domestic brawl. I thought about running upstairs and looking out my bedroom window, but the urgency compelled me to open the front door and step out onto the porch, prepared to run back in if anything resembling a gunfight between the drug dealer down the street and anybody else seemed eminent.

I peered around the corner of the porch and saw one of the city bike cops, legs spread wide, handgun pointed at some people who were face-down on the street. I could see his bike standing near him, red blinkies blinking, and what looked like a pile of bikes around his feet.

“I said stay down!” he shouted and motioned toward the middle person on the ground, who looked like he had tried to stand up. The person said something and the cop responded, “You pulled a fucking gun on me. I will shoot you if you don’t stay down.”

The cop reached up to his collar and shouted into his radio, “I’m at the corner of _____ and ______. Suspect pointed a gun at me. Suspect pulled a gun.” He still had his gun trained on the them, arms straight out just like on TV. Maybe I heard fear in his voice along with anger and adrenaline. Or maybe I simply projected how I would feel, waiting there outnumbered in the dark, praying I wouldn’t have to shoot anybody or get shot myself.

I could see a patrol car had come up the street on the other side of the gate, half a block to my left. I live in a gated community – but not that kind. Back in the 90’s the city put locked gates two blocks apart on most of the streets in my neighborhood to prevent high-speed chases and drive-by shootings. It makes getting to my house a little confusing, but also keeps the drive-through traffic down.

Within a couple of minutes, the cruiser appeared at the other end of the block and turned down the street. Two officers got out, and the bike cop walked around to the other side of the suspects, his gun still pointed at them. I could see now that there were three people on the ground. They looked like young men.

The one in the middle said something to the bike cop, and he said, “Don’t you swear at me.” He moved closer with his gun.

The middle suspect said, “You swore at me first!”

Really? You pointed a gun at a cop and now you’re going to argue with him about who gets to swear at whom? I would already have peed my pants. Especially when one of the two cops who got out of the cruiser pulled out his gun and stood over them pointing it at them too.

By now I was standing on the steps watching. They were across the street, a couple of houses down. The cruiser was parked in front of the drug dealer’s house. He was probably cowering in the basement the whole time. Close as I was though, it was hard to hear what they were saying. Between the crickets chirping and the neighbor’s fucking air conditioner, I couldn’t hear much at all. FML.

The cop who didn’t have a gun out put handcuffs on the suspects, led the middle one to the car and put him in the back. They were all calm and businesslike. They had one of the other suspects sit up on the curb and let the third one sit up in the street while the bike cop searched a bike bag in the street. He pulled out what looked like a bottle of beer. It was a bottle filled with gold liquid, in any case. Ooops. It’s illegal to drink and cycle.

My next door neighbor Linda – the one I suspect wrote “bitch” on my windshield a couple of weeks ago because she didn’t like where I was parked in front of my own house -- turned on her porch light and came out. I glanced over but otherwise ignored her. That’s what bitches do.

Finally she asked what was going on and I told her what I knew. She said they’d been hearing gunshots more than usual the past couple of weeks. I agreed. She said she listened to the police scanner on her computer. I said I didn’t know you could do that. And I thought, Nothing would make me crazier than listening to a police scanner in addition to what I already observe around here.

Finally she said, “Aren’t we the nosy neighbors? I guess I’ll go in.”

I said, “Next time you write ‘bitch’ on my van, you’re the one who’s going to be talking to the men with the guns and flashing lights, asshole.”  I ignored her.

One by one, three other cruisers, each with two cops riding in them, pulled up. I was sure the drug dealer had gone over his back fence and was three miles away on foot by now. I saw Melvin’s brother’s pickup come down the cross street, slow down almost to a stop, and then turn the opposite way. I’m sure they were full of gin and juice and didn’t want to get involved. Besides the street was blocked with cruisers.

It’s been one of those weekends here on my street. Friday night I went to a play with some friends. When they dropped me off here, a young woman was knocking on my neighbor Art’s door. According to Melvin, since his wife left Art’s been kind of a player. He certainly does seem to entertain a lot of women. Melvyn says he can’t tell them apart; they all look alike.

This one was knocking. Knocking, knocking, knocking over and over and over. And she was talking while she was knocking. And pacing. Knocking, talking, pacing. Art wasn’t answering the door.

My friends were reluctant to leave me, but I said go ahead. The crazy girlfriend didn’t have anything to do with me. I came inside to change so I could go downtown and meet up with a friend for the second half of the night.

When I came out, the crazy girl was over on Melvin’s steps talking to him. He called out to me, “Where you goin’, baby? You goin’ back out?”

I said, “I’m just going downtown to hang out with a friend.”

”Can I go with you?” he asked.

“No, I said, and then I walked over to make sure he was OK. That young woman wasn’t acting normal.

“I still love you, baby. You know that, right?” he said. “Oh, this here is Shayna. She’s looking for Art.”

She came down the steps and said hi to me. I said hi briefly and then asked Melvin if everything was OK. I don’t trust crazy-acting girlfriends hanging around in the middle of the night – or any other time -- knocking and talking and pacing. She could be a bunny-boiler.

Melvin said, “We OK. You go on and meet your friend, baby. I love you.”

So I got in my van and left them talking on his porch. As it turned out, I was only gone for about 45 minute. When I got home, Shayna was back over at Art’s front porch, knocking and talking and pacing  over and over and over. I could see the glow of her cell phone, hear her voice rise and fall as she railed at Art inside and at somebody on the phone.

Melvin called to me, so I went up on his porch. He offered me his paper bag, but I declined. I said, “What the fuck is that crazy woman doing still knocking? Obviously Art isn’t home.”

Melvin said, “He was at the bar when I Ieft. Some guy came and picked him up, and he left his car here. I told that girl I didn’t want to call the police on her but I would.”

“Call them,” I said. “I don’t want to listen to that shit all night. I don’t want to listen to her another second.”

“If I call the police they’ll just say, ‘What you want now, Melvin? What kinda trouble you in now?’ They might not even come out.”

“Then call Art and tell him to come home and clean up his front porch. Go on. Call him right now,” I said. I can’t even describe how annoying the knocking and ranting was. The woman’s persistence would have been admirable if she hadn’t been so maddening.

“Baby, you missed the gunshots a little while ago. They came from back there.” He pointed back behind his next door neighbor’s house.

“I heard gunshots from back there a couple of weeks ago,” I said. “Art thought they were fireworks, but I’m sure they weren’t.”

“Long as they not shootin’ at me, baby, I’m not going to get involved. I’ll just sit here and drink my gin and juice. Thank you very much.” He was looking on his phone for Art’s number. He found it and hit the button. Over his speaker I could heard the voice mail pick up and tell us the voicemail box was full.

“I’ll bet that crazy bitch has been calling and leaving him messages all night and filled up his mailbox,” I said.

Eventually I talked Melvin into going over and talking to her again, but she refused to leave. She said, “I got just as much right to be here as he does. I have my mail delivered here. That means this my house too. He has my son’s TV. It’s not my TV, it belong to my son. I’d leave if it was my TV, but he’s not keeping my son’s TV.” She went on for a while about how her mail was delivered there so she had every right to be there on the porch annoying the hell out of me.

I said to Melvin, If she’s still knocking when I’m ready to go to bed, I’m calling the police. I want that crazy bitch to go away now.”

“That’s OK, baby. You need your sleep. Say, could you do me a little favor and I’ll give you some money for gas? I’m about out of gin and juice….”


“That’s OK. I still love you, baby.” I left him on the sidewalk and went inside.

By the time I went to bed, she was gone – or at least not knocking. But she was back the next afternoon. I had ridden my bike over to Elvira’s and come home just in time to shower and change before I went to a party. I heard several people shouting out there in the street for a while, but I didn’t even look. When I went outside to leave, Melvin came down his porch steps to the street.

“Baby, you see all the police here a little bit ago?”

“No, I was getting ready to go. I didn’t even look out.”

“What? You didn’t see all that? You missed a good fight. That one (he motioned toward the drug dealer’s house) came out after they left and asked if they were looking for him. I said ‘they comin’ for you next!’ Where you goin’?”

“To a party.” I opened my van door and threw my purse in.

“Can I go with you?”


“That’s OK. I love you anyway, baby. Don’t be mad.”

“I’m not. I love you too.”

I never know what’s going to happen on this street. One day there will be a guy playing jazz trombone on my neighbor’s lawn or the gay couple across the street will be grilling steaks and they’ll invite the elderly woman who lives in the 4-plex with Melvin over. A group of kids might get together an impromptu game of football in the street or run foot races. Or the family at the end of the street will be digging in the garden they put in the vacant lot next to them.

Or one of a number of angry, persistent girlfriends might be shouting at Art or the drug dealer, usually the same words over and over, “You see what you did? You see what you did? You see what you did? You see what you did….” Or a couple of gunshots will pop from one of the other nearby streets. Or a bike cop will have three young men face-down in the middle of the street because one of them pointed a gun at him.

The suburbs were rarely this interesting. Except that one time a drunk driver ran into our neighbor's tree in the middle of the night.

Eventually tonight the cops took the cuffs off the two who hadn’t pulled a gun, but not until all 9 of them examined something that may or may not have been the gun with their flashlights and the lights of the first cruiser. They offered the bottle of gold liquid to the two suspects who were let go, but one of them said, “Not if it’s illegal. Just dump it out.” The cops laughed.

They were allowed to leave on foot, pushing the three bicycles, with the bike cop following them, shouting, “Get out of the middle of the street!” The other three cruisers raced off, maybe to another crime scene. Maybe just because they can. The one with the gunman in it backed out slowly and glided away.

They were remarkably calm, the cops, given one of their own had been threatened with a gun. I didn’t actually see a gun, but I know the bike cop believed he’d been threatened, and they all found something interesting that eventually was put into a paper bag and sealed.

Then when they were gone, and the street was quiet again except for the crickets and the sound of the freeway in the near distance, I came in and watched the last few minutes of Breaking Bad before I sat down to write this post.

Tomorrow night I’ll give Melvin a proper introduction.