The words that bite

August 8, 2012

Have you ever read something that immediately brought tears to your eyes?  Yes, I know.  We all have.  It’s wonderful and terrible at once.  Like certain melodies that wrench your heart, reaching back into your subconscious and the sound of pain.

Some of them do it to everyone who reads them.  Remember the first time you read Robert Hass’s poem “A Story About the Body,” and you got to that ending line?  I defy your heart to not have leapt to your throat.

Coming across such lines is a shock to the system, a reset of the brain’s programming.  It’s like coming across that one picture… you know the one kept in a box, way in the bottom because you can’t risk looking at it more than a few times a year… that shocks you every time with the raw emotion it represents.  Good or bad emotion, doesn’t matter.  Your soul swallows hard and, like a tortilla chip going down sideways, you just have to wait for it to pass.

When I read Phantom of the Opera (which was honestly a fairly execrable book, even for the purple prosy era in which it was written), the line “I tore off my mask so as not to lose one of her tears… and she did not die!  She remained alive, weeping over me, with me.  We cried together!  I have tasted all the happiness the world can offer!” really stopped me… and now I can’t recall why.  But I wrote it in my little book and have gone back to it many times when I’ve felt the lack of inspiration.

Maybe the words speak to things we would like to say to someone, or have whispered in our ears.

I read something that brought me to that breathless edge recently, and it’s still unclear to me why it was so affecting!  Cheryl Strayed (http://therumpus.net/sections/dear-sugar/) was asked by one of her readers what advice she’d give her twenty-year-old self.  Cheryl replied, “Be brave enough to break your own heart.”

Dang it, I’m not even really sure what it means!  But it struck a chord inside me, in a minor key no less, and I feel quite knocked about by it.

So what lines brought you to your metaphorical knees (or real ones for that matter!)?

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Marriage is for Stingers (you thought I was going to say suckers)

July 28, 2012

So I have this friend we’ll call Formica.  Formica Linoleum.  FL for short.  A good fake name.  You know I have to change names to protect the innocent (gigglesnort).  Anyway, we meet for lunch and I get the scoop on FL’s Adventures of Single Living.  Wait… I like this better:  The Single Adventuress.  No, I don’t  Scratch that.

FL got divorced out of a pretty bad marriage recently (as opposed to all those divorces that happen to good marriages) and we were talking over barbeque and iced tea and she was smugly commenting that she saw no further need in her life for marriage.  “I mean,” she said, “I have my house, I don’t want any more kids, and my job provides health insurance!  Why on earth would I want to get married?”

Well we laughed genially (I did not mention anything about companionship or financial security or…I forget the other thing that people usually marry for) and compared notes about our last few dates, and generally behaved in the way TV tells single women to act, then went our separate ways.

Well, the next time Formica and I meet for a cuppa tea, she makes her dramatic entrance to the Starbucks, her strawberry blond curls blowing in the air conditioning, her heels tapping the floor, her emerald earrings catching all the light, and says, “God can be a real sunuvagun when he wants to get his message across!” (FL talks about God like that; like He’s a good pal who sometimes leaves her stuck with the check, but always picks her up when her car breaks down.)  She orders her tea, and descends into the cushy chair beside me like a queen gracing a peasant with her presence, and she tells me her saga.

So here’s what happened: Formica gets home that other evening after barbeque and is getting the kids to bed, shutting down the house, feeding the cats, crating the dogs… the usual.  Then, however, she hears this weird “tink tink” around the kitchen sink, looks up at the light over the sink, and sees a wasp.  “A wasp!  Red as fire, and so obviously the DEADLY type!” she says. “Until that moment, I swear, I had NO idea I was mortally phobic about wasps!  But I started hyperventilating, couldn’t think clearly, began to panic.  I realized it was the first time I’d ever faced a vicious predatory insect alone!  My whole life, someone has been there to take care of it.  But now it was me.  Just me.  With kids and dogs and cats to protect!”

So FL flails her hands about, hides in the bathroom for about fifteen minutes, and considers her options.  She could close all the doors and just pray the wasp didn’t find its rampaging way through to sting her or her kids.  But what about the pets!  She could fake a heart attack and call paramedics.  But what about the ambulance costs!  She gets her cell phone and scrolls through her contacts, debating which person wouldn’t mind being called at 10:45 on a school night to come over and save them all.

Common sense finally squirms its way through the irrational fear and gives her a smack on the back of the head.  She says, “I had to get a hold of myself dammit.  I was a frigging grown up.  There was wasp spray in the shed.  In the dark, bug-filled, smelly, scary shed.  And of course, I couldn’t find one single dadgum flashlight.  But I was strong.  I was brave.  I marched out there with only the porch light on.  I walked into that shed and found the wasp spray by feel, even though I was positive by this point that some fanged beast was waiting for me… slavering for my flesh… and I was shaking so gee-dee hard I almost knocked over the weed eater!  But I got it!  I went back and triumphed over the invertebrate menace!”

Needless to say, she sprays most of the kitchen from the safety of the doorway, covering the windows, cabinets, and clean dishes in the drying rack with insecticide, but she kills that wasp, dammit.  Alone.  All by herself.  Of course, she couldn’t sleep for three hours because of the adrenaline.

She finishes her cup of tea and declares, “So I’ve told God that I get it!  I see now why someone might get married again!  In-house exterminator!”

I sip my tea and realize there’s no way I can disagree.

Back from Vacation!

July 17, 2012

Ok so I went to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, and it was awesome.  We woke up, ate breakfast, went to the beach, looked for shells and sharks’ teeth, played in the surf, ate lunch at the beach-front restaurant, looked for more shells, played in more surf, showered, ate dinner, slept, repeat.

To sum up: It was a wonderful trip, nigh upon perfect, and no one likes to hear about anyone’s perfect trip, so I’ll stop there.

I mean, it’d be different if I was telling you about the trip I took with my boyfriend to Mexico, on a student budget, and he assured me that Playa Del Carmen was the sleepiest little town that no one had ever heard of… and we arrived to find it had been heard of just fine by Everyone From Europe. I’d tell you more (like how we had to share the ONLY room in town with a hippie from Arizona who went out drinking with my bf and they came back and snored so loud it awoke all the roosters in the town and every time one of them went “gnnnnnkzacksnork!” the roosters would crow), but that story gets rated R, and some of my students might be reading this, so just ask me later.

Or if I was telling you about the American Express Valuepack Tour of Europe with my sister… that would a good story because she was 13 and I was 21 and honest to gosh what is up with Italian men trying to hit on 13 year old girls???!!! I think I put off parenthood a good ten years after experiencing that dose of responsibility.  And then she dropped her purse in a Venetian canal and it stunk up everything the rest of the trip.

Or my college trip to the Soviet Union when my roommate and I hooked up with these young Soviet hotties who happened to be part of the deaf Russian black market… yeah, I said deaf.  They could write perfect English.  We let them stay in our hotel room and they sat up all night talking… with their hands!  And no, they were perfect gentlemen.  Until the next night.  Nothing like being propositioned on a post-it note!  Gigglesnort.  Did I mention the Soviets didn’t wash their clothes very often or use deodorant?  Good thing I was able to say Nyet in writing, sign language, and a well timed retreat to the bathroom.

Or the time I went to Hong Kong and a bone in my foot slipped and I had to limp, painfully and miserably, through some of the most beautiful temples and pagodas that were still then part of Britain, and no matter where we tried to eat, it always turned out to be a chain that my dad had eaten in somewhere in England, and I realized that there’s pretty much nothing more disgusting than every Chinese man in sight spitting on the ground. Or the floor.  Or in the subway.  Blech.

So, naturally, I won’t bore you with some tedious description of my perfect beach vacation, and how relaxing it was.  I’ll try to think of something more interesting soon.  Right now I’m still trying to get back into the groove of reality.  I’m going to Boston in a few weeks for a wedding.  Maybe something hilarious will happen for y’all’s amusement.  I’ll let you know!

Inevitable Blog About Something Nostalgic.

July 5, 2012

Liza Bachman Caruthers GatewaySo I’m cleaning out my closet and I find this case of cassette tapes.  Remember those?  I know you do, but give me a chance to say something clever about them.  Ahem.  Remember cassette tapes?  Little plastic cases filled with flimsy tape on which we recorded the soundtracks of our youthful loves and losses.  Like little John Hughes films in our bright yellow Walkman Sports players…  Which I still have too!  I plug in my headphones and pull out a tape or two and start reliving my younger days!  Oh, listen! It’s college, when I was young and ignorant and foolish and free and excited and apparently made a lot of tapes documenting it all.

That song, “Springsteen,” by Eric Church, sums it up with: “Funny how a melody becomes a memory!”  Of course itdoes.  Most of the time.  However, as I listen this very moment to a tape (OMG can you believe when you wanted to change a song, you had to fast-forward it and WAIT!?!?), a song by Fine Young Cannibals comes on and I can’t attach any particular memories to it… except that I’d sing it out loud when everyone in my car was asleep and I was driving us all home from the parties at VMI.  I guess that’s really a memory, so I shouldn’t say it’s not.

Ok, now I’m seeing my past in color… England Dan and John Ford Coley?  You might not remember them.  Youtube it.  They’ve got the sound of the early 80s DOWN.

And here’s the thing:  I can FEEL what I felt then.  A memory pours in over my brain, like when you’d step on the side of your inflatable swimming pool and all the water would flood the yard, and I’ll see his face and feel that elation or that pain or that giddy silliness that made me act like a complete dork… or I don’t know, maybe he liked my dorky self and he kissed me and that song wrapped around us, preserving that memory forever, a perfect little bug in amber…

And really, nostalgic reminiscing is best done with music in your old Walkman.  That way you don’t get distracted by “Oh my Lord, why did I ever wear my hair like that?” or “Shoulder pads?  Who told me it was a good idea to wear those?”

I like best the forgotten songs.  Of course, there’s a reason they were forgotten, and I’m not going to add them to my Youtube playlist, but I love this once-in-a-blue-moon-listen, and I love saying, Hey listen remember this and it’s Yes I do! Um… want a snack?  Because after all this nostalgia I’m going to need chocolate or something.

Reasons

July 3, 2012

So I was going through my documents folder on my computer and I found one titled Reasons.  I had no recollection of writing it.  Judging by the date the document was created, I figured it was likely something to do with my late marriage.  I furrowed my brow, squinched up my nose and pursed my lips.  Visiting that particular graveyard was not something I enjoyed overmuch.

But hey, it might have been something different!  Perhaps I was outlining some fabulous new character for a novel, which I had forgotten!  Perhaps it was a stunning treatise on how to better teach writing to 7th graders (who would rather be doing anything rather than listen to me teach about gerund use).  Perhaps it was an affirmation letting me know that I am a creature you does so… who reasons.

Whatever it was, I felt sure it would be fine inspiration for some sort of blog entry!  Even if it turned out to be something heart-rending and deeply personal!  I mean, if I can’t share my innermost secrets with you, my readers, my closest and most discreet friends, then who can I share them with? Gigglesnort.

So I took the plunge… ok, I actually just hit the mouse button… and opened Reasons.

And that’s all it was.  The word Reasons, followed by a colon.

Whatever it was that inspired me, I guess I didn’t have the reasons to follow it up.  Or maybe there were no reasons for whatever was bothering me or delighting me.  I could probably fill it up now.  Pages and pages of reasons, name your flavor, give me an agony, a pleasure, a quandary, and I can provide reasons galore.

Or, you know, not.  Sometimes there are no reasons.  Sometimes it’s dumb luck.  Sometimes it’s God’s will.  Sometimes it’s gravity or cellular respiration or entropy or your deodorant fails or rain washes away the chalk drawings or the photographs you know you’d never have thrown away remain hidden from your best efforts to eviscerate the closets and drawers.

And honestly, I often feel like I can’t write Reasons on the “Hi! My Name Is” sticker glued to my lapel, because I don’t reason.  I feel emotion and I act on impulse and I’m impetuous and just plain irrational.

I just hope I don’t find a document labeled Questions!  But if I do, it better be ten pages long, because if it’s blank, I’ll be pestering you folks with blogs till the four horsemen come!

Third Time is a Trip

July 1, 2012

So here’s what I’m wondering:  If two people have a history of hurting each other, but are still really attracted to each other, in REAL life, do they keep returning to each other?  See, I’m working on some characters for a new novel… it’s a cutting edge thriller that… oh who am I kidding.  It’s a romance novel.  Yeah, that’s what I said. Romance.  And not in the sense that it’s descended from Rome.  I mean hot and heavy kissing and lovey dovey ooey gooey mush.

I mean, the characters are also powerful sorcerers in an alternate universe, but the love story is there, so nyah.  Stop making that face.  You know you like romances.

But these two people have hurt each other deeply in the past.  First they met, fell in love, all hot and heavy blah blah blah (don’t lie, you’re disappointed I didn’t describe some of the hot loving…), and then he breaks her heart (young, stupid, that sort of thing.)

Then years pass (like two) and they come across each other again and pretty much fall into each other’s arms and get all… well, YOU know.  And she breaks his heart (chooses career over love, that sort of thing).

So tell me, after many years have passed, and many big magical events in their lives (magical because they are sorcerers and whatnot), when they see each other again, do they fall back into each other’s arms?

Yes, that’s what they want to do.  Desperately.  But is it realistic to think that they would do this?  (And stop asking me why I’m bothering with “realism” when I’m writing a magical romance!  I can write about two tapeworms falling in love in the magical land of Intestina, but if the worms don’t come off to my reader as REAL, no one will care about their hermaphroditic love!  More so with human characters.  If they do stuff that actual humans don’t do, then no one will believe them, and the novel is good only as a thing to prop up that table with the uneven legs.)

So would intelligent people go for it a third time?  I mean, the sayings go like this:  “Once bitten, twice shy” and “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”  But neither of those phrases mention what happens the third time.

Leave the story behind.  I know you WANT them to get together the third time and make it work and live happily ever after, and I’ll probably force that scenario upon the poor dears… but help me with this:  Do people do that in real life?  Do they actually try it a third time?  Or do I need to have outside circumstances PUSH them together?  Which will be more believable?  Do they fall into each other’s arms upon that fortuitous meeting?  Or do they run away from each other and Zorg the Uber-Enemy traps them in the same dungeon and they have to work together and etc. etc.?

Thanks for all your help faithful reader.  Or, y’know, readers.  I might have more than one by now. J

The worst part about being a teacher

June 29, 2012

So another student I used to teach has died of a drug overdose.  What does this make it?  Number five? Six?  It doesn’t matter because one was too many.  This is sad (she said in an absurd statement of the obvious).  I know his family is devastated, his friends shocked (or not shocked at all), and if he had a girlfriend or a best pal, they feel responsible.

As a teacher, I learned a long time ago not to get too involved emotionally with students.  Every year there is a new crop… like Updike says in a short story I used to teach and the name of which I forget, teaching exposes you to “the many-headed hydra of youth.”  It’s easy to get to know some of the kids, to let them get under your skin.  Think of them as “yours.”  I had to clear my mind of such ideas, else I break my heart every May.

I teach 7th grade now, so it’s not too hard to put that philosophy into practice.  The students still look to their parents for the majority of their guidance, and they still maintain somewhat of a lower school mindset that I, as their teacher, go into a box at the end of the day, only to emerge the next morning ready to teach them again.

When I taught high school, it was harder.  They were nearly grown, their lives spreading out before them like a cloak over muddy puddles, and they could see me as a fellow human being, someone with actual advice worth listening to.  I got attached many times, and worked hard to help these kids make the right college choice… I even threatened a favorite student once… told him I’d never speak to him again outside of the classroom if he didn’t apply to a certain school!  Then threatened the same again when he said he didn’t want to bother visiting that school.  Oh yeah, he picked it after all.  Of course he did.  I knew what I was talking about.  I was attached to him and was quite vehemently concerned about him, his welfare, his future (he’s teaching college now, so high five to me!)

But there were those other kids who sank, who fell, who wallowed in the filth of their own choices, and some of them died, and there was nothing I could do but watch and grieve and it really truly sucked.  I got better at staying concerned but not attached.  I got a little calloused.  You pay a price when you do that… You miss out on a lot of real connection and long-term friendships.  You miss out on that pure joy when your beloved student gets his PhD and you can say, “And I helped!” (your hands covered with flour)

So this latest student apparently was known for being a druggy.  He didn’t have that rep when I taught him in middle school.  He was a stubborn, ornery cuss, and he went his own way, to his own demise.  He was always in trouble, but he was also always smiling.  You know, there’s a difference in the students who are malicious in their disobedience… who see the teachers and authority figures as enemies… and those who just do what they want, and don’t take it personally when they get in trouble.  This latest kid was like that.  He never ceased being a little jerk, but when I sent him out, he was always smiling.  And I smiled back.

Will I miss him?  Well, I didn’t think too much about him after he left middle school.  He didn’t come back and visit.  Few do. That’s one of the things you lose when you stop getting involved in the students personally.  They never visit… and you never seek them out. It’s a pity… but then again, it spares me a lot of pain in the end.  Is that selfish?  I guess it is.  I can live with that.

I’m not going to go into the whole maelstrom of “Oh but if only I could have talked to him…”  Others did.  Teachers he really was close to.  It didn’t change anything.  I think the drug has more influence over some… and there it is.  As William Gibson says in Zero History, “Addictions… started out like magical pets, pocket monsters.  They did extraordinary tricks, showed you things you hadn’t seen, were fun.  But came, through some gradual dire alchemy, to make decisions for you.  Eventually, they were making your most crucial life-decisions.  And they were… less intelligent than goldfish.”

So RIP, former student.  Welcome to my list.  It’s a short list, but too long by far.

Looney Tunes on a Thursday Afternoon

June 21, 2012

This is where I learned to appreciate classical music.  It’s also where I got to enjoy all the pop culture references of the 1940s and 1950s, especially those having to do with the actors of Warner Bros. Studios, and WWII.

But they never seem to show my favorites.  I wish they’d just release all of the cartoons, in chronological order.  Yes, even the offensive ones.  I thought the DVDs they have already released did a good job discussing the place those offensive ones had in the past.

No, I’m not saying the offensive ones are my favorites.  I like early Pepe Le Pew, early Daffy Duck, early Foghorn Leghorn.  Conrad the Sailor is one of my dearest cartoons.

Ok, so I’m avoiding chores.  I admit it.  I have to vacuum, dust, organize, mop, sweep, and a myriad of other tasks that appeal to me less than paper cuts do.

Oh, I just finished reading Ready Player One by Cline.  It was excellent.  Very absorbing.  Sort of a dystopian future that takes the concept of “Second Life” to a whole new level.  And of course, there was an underdog and he rises to the top, so you know I loved it.

Ugh.  If this cartoon isn’t one of my faves, I’m going to clean.  And…. it’s not.  Sylvester.  Pfft.  His only appeal to me is that Mel Blanc said Sylvester’s voice was the closest to his real voice.

And there we have it.  Bye for now.