August 30, 2011
I am a social animal. I like being with people and I like talking with them. Lately, I’ve been experiencing a disconnect with others that I find very disconcerting. Somewhere along the line, I’ve lost the art of conversation. Here are some of the typical conversations I’ve had over the past few months.
I’m asked, “What have you been up to?”
What I’ve been up to is spending hours cutting coupons from the stack of fliers that have accumulated on my kitchen counter over the past two months. This is very lame compared to the doing’s of most other people I know, so my standard response is: “Nothing. What about you?”
Or I’m asked, “What’s new?”
This is on the tip of my tongue: “Well, I cleaned the bathroom today. The fumes from the bleach messed with my olfactory nerves, and a result my coffee tasted funny for the rest of the day.” But I bite my tongue and reply: “Nothing. What about with you?”
Sometimes I’m asked this variation: “What have you been doing lately?”
The unvarnished truth is, I’ve been rearranging the dishes in the dishwasher so the place reserved for frying or baking pans is not filled with little cereal bowls. (Jeff, in answer to your question: this reserved frying pan niche is my own personal preference. I have no idea what use the dishwasher manufacturer actually intended for this spot.) My summer has also been spent trying to keep my heels smooth. But I don’t share these exciting tid-bits; I simply say: “Nothing. What about you?”
Not only do my answers disturb me, but I notice the relish and detail with which others answer those questions. Most people can talk at great length about what they and their children have been doing. But my lack of response adds an air of awkwardness to the conversation. What happened to my confabulating skills? How can I have a blog that touts confabulation, yet have forgotten how to do it?
I examine this disconnect, trying to find its source. Maybe if I did more, I’d have more to talk about. But I don’t have time or money to do more than I’m already doing. Seclusion may be the answer. If I don’t talk to people, I don’t have to worry about having conversations.
Then I have an opportunity to talk to a drummer (he’s teaching me to cut lemons and limes properly)and I’m giddy at the thought of a conversation centered on drumming. There are a million questions I’d like to ask. So I take a deep breath and ask him who his favorite drummers are. His response is not the enthusiastic one I’d expected. He names a few and continues cutting lemons. “What do you think of Dave Grohl?” I ask. OK, maybe it’s not the best question, but my conversational skills have been off lately. At least I’m trying.
He doesn’t answer. He simply continues with the demonstration. I swear I can talk and learn to cut lemons at the same time. But that conversation was not meant to be.
I’m disappointed, but it has given me another aspect of the art of conversation to think about. The missing pieces fall into place when I read a few blog posts. I left a comment on Clayriver, and he responded with a question that I had to really think about before I answered. Then I read this post about Passion V. Addiction at What is Forty Two? and I found myself pondering that for a while. In fact, I’m still thinking about the question asked in response to my comment.
And I loved the pondering. And I loved their responses. And I loved the thought of getting a new perspective and sharing mine.
And then I understood. Somehow the art of conversation has been replaced by reciting a laundry list of things we do. I’m not saying that sharing the details of our lives is bad. It’s a great way to connect with others— the gateway for getting to know someone better. But somewhere along the way we lost the exploring and thinking part of conversation.
I’d love to know your thoughts on the formation of the universe (actually, I really am not interested in your thoughts on the formation of the universe, but it sounded good for a second), or why you do or don’t believe in God, or what you think about Quentin Tarantino movies. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear your thoughts on writing. And if you’re a drummer, there are a million questions I’d like to ask you.
But we’ve become accustomed to ignoring the things that could take us deeper. Even when we try to go beyond discussing what we do, things have become so politicized we’re afraid to talk about them. So we play it safe, and stick to talking about what we do. That’s a tough place to be when you’re cleaning toilets and thinking about the stars.
August 24, 2011
One of the characters died in the book I’m writing. Not just a character, someone very close to me: a unique individual, a beloved friend.
I see the death, aftermath and funeral clearly in my mind at various (usually inconvenient) times or places throughout the day and tears may trickle down my cheeks or I may get sad and depressed. Is this one of the pros or cons of writing? I’m not sure.
Someone invariably asks me if anything is wrong. “A friend died recently,” I sniff.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“Yes, it’s sad, but don’t worry he wasn’t real.” (It’s no wonder I have a reputation.)
D² saw me moping the other day. When she asked what was wrong, I told a beloved character had died.
“What are you so sad for? You’re the one who killed him.”
AAAAHHH. It was like a knife in the heart. Ok that’s a little dramatic but you get the idea.
“I did not kill him. So and so killed him.” (I can’t name who did it. Who knows? You may read it someday, and this would spoil it.)
“Well you made them do it. It’s still your fault.”
“It is not my fault.”
It’s amazing how adept we humans are at shifting the blame. I wanted to blame my muse for the death, after all she went on the lark and came back with lots of fodder for me to use. But I was afraid to blame her; I didn’t want her getting angry at me and running off again.
I’m not the only writer faced with accusations of murder. It’s an occupational hazard. Who’s to blame for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet? Friar Laurence who orchestrated the deception? Romeo the impetuous? Juliet the romantic?
Or is Shakespeare the true culprit?
Or could it be that we humans are not to blame for anything? The serpent is the one who started it. I say we blame it all on the serpent.
August 20, 2011
Consider yourself forewarned: this post is taking a little side trip through the inner workings of my mind. Get ready for the twists and turns. It may be scary. It may be interesting. And if it’s not, a few Skinny Girl Margaritas might help. I know just writing this has given me the urge to indulge.
I was intrigued by the popular notion that children should be encouraged to become whatever/whoever they want to be. Was it really possible for a girl to be anything she wanted? I made a mental list of a few examples: President of the US? Yes; Astronaut? Yes; Sports Journalist with access to the men’s locker room? Yes.
None of my mental convolutions could make it possible. I deduced it is impossible for a girl to become a father. And it’s equally impossible for a boy to become a mother. The Laws of Nature are quite clear and quite stringent on this matter. But as quickly as this thought came to me, another overshadowed it— Humans rebel against the Laws of Nature. Therefore, someone, sometime is going to attempt this gender switching parenthood.
That’s when I heard the voices in my head. The voices of the first couple to switch genders— the man becoming the mother and the woman becoming the father. They were being interviewed.
Disclaimer: This fictional interview is fictional. The names are also fictional. The characters are based on total auditory figments of my imagination. They are not indicative of any race; creed; religion; association; nationality; sports team; hair color, natural or otherwise; political party, denomination, or affiliation; sexual wish list, orientation or preference; educational level, background or intelligence; gender.
Well, gender I guess.
Reporter: Today I’m interviewing a married couple at the forefront of a new trend: gender-swapping couples. I’d like you to meet Mr. Margaret Bassackwards and her wife, Mrs. Arnold Reeli-Bassackwards, and their daughter, Alex.
Reporter: What made you decide to switch gender roles when you became pregnant?
Mr. Margaret Bassackwards: Well, actually, we didn’t switch gender rolls until after the baby was born. I couldn’t have been the “pregnant father”, now could I, really? (Laughs)
Mrs. Arnold Reeli-Bassackwards (clearing throat): It wasn’t until after the baby came that we realized that for me to be the husband/mommy and her to be the wife/daddy might be too confusing for Alex, so we switched both the parental and marital roles.
Reporter: Why the switch in the first place?
Mr. Margaret Bassackwards: Well, when I was little, my parents told me that when I grew up I could be whatever I wanted to be and do whatever I wanted to do. They told me the possibilities were endless. But as I grew older, I realized there was one thing I could not be. A father. It was a tragedy for me, because that’s all I ever wanted to be, really.
Reporter: And what about you Mr.— uh, Mrs. Reeli-Bassackwards? Did you always want to be a mommy?
Mrs. Arnold Reeli-Bassackwards: It was her idea (looks at Mr. Bassackwards). Her dream was to be a father. But I didn’t mind supporting her in that. Part of being married, you know, is the happiness of your spouse. And I loved my mother. She was a saint. No shame in being a mother.
Reporter: Did you ever think how this might affect your child?
Mrs. Arnold Reeli-Bassackwards: Of course we did. She was our first and foremost consideration.
Mr. Margaret Bassackwards: And we realized that if we educated her properly on the unique individuality of each person, and their responsibility to be true to themselves, then we would be fulfilling our roles as parents and that’s all there is, really. And love of course, is the most important thing. And we so absolutely love the child and each other, you know.
Reporter: How old is your daughter, Alex?
Mr. Margaret Bassackwards: She’s going to be seven-years-old next week. A well-adjusted child, really.
Mrs. Arnold Reeli-Bassackwards: Well, she was fine, mostly. Until she started school.
Mr. Margaret Bassackwards: Well, it’s the school that confused her. She was quite on board with the whole thing, really. Then she started school. Quite confusing for her. People always correcting her, you know. Telling her, “No. He must be your dad and she must be your mom.” Like the child doesn’t know her mother from her father. Seems like no matter how many times I go in and explain, somebody is always confusing the child. Bunch of narrow minded bigots, really.
Mrs. Arnold Reeli-Bassackwards: We actually thought about changing schools, but we decided Alex needs to learn to stick it out and deal with the bigots.
Mr. Margaret Bassackwards: What I really don’t understand is how these people can’t know the situation of our family. We’ve been on twelve news shows, nineteen talk shows and the articles and internet stuff is too much to keep track of. People should really just respect the situation and not confuse the child.
Reporter: Is Alex going to be the mother/wife or father/husband when she grows up?
Mrs. Arnold Reeli-Bassackwards: Hmm. Now that’s a good question. I personally think that… Actually, I’m not sure.
Mr. Margaret Bassackwards: Well, of course she’ll make her own decision in the matter. This is not the kind of thing a parent should decide for their child. We’ll just make sure we are good examples and we give her a variety of experiences as both mommy and daddy. Then she’ll be equipped to make the best decision for herself, really.
Reporter: May I meet Alex?
Mr. Margaret Bassackwards: Well of course. She’s a very articulate child, really. Never once camera shy.
Mrs. Arnold Reeli-Bassackwards: Yes, we’re really very proud of her. Alex, sweetie, come in here. This nice reporter wants to talk to you.
Reporter: It’s nice to meet you, Alex. Do you think your family is very different from other families?
Mr. Margaret Bassackwards: Oh, we don’t like to use the word different.
Mrs. Arnold Reeli-Bassackwards(nodding): Negative connotations, you know.
Mr. Margaret Bassackwards:Besides, we are very much a normal family. Alex has a mother and a father.
Reporter:Alex, are your mommy and daddy like everyone else’s mommy and daddy?
Alex (nodding): It’s just that my mommy has penis and my daddy has a vagina.
Mrs. Arnold Reeli-Bassackwards (beaming): Exactly!
Mr. Margaret Bassackwards:You see. She totally grasps the concept, really.
August 15, 2011
“Mother, what can I be when I grow up?”
“Oh, my little child, you can be anything you want; you can be anyone you choose. If you dream it, and believe it, you can achieve it. The world is your oyster, my child, but you must remember, never, never, never give up.”
It’s a lovely concept. I’d love to tell my children that they can do whatever they put their mind to and become whatever they want, as long as they work hard and persevere.
But I don’t believe it.
There is a reality called the Laws of Nature and they can get in the way of our dreams. Many of these laws are annoying (Michigan weather) and many, to put it bluntly, suck (death). It’s one of the supreme ironies of the universe that humans naturally rebel against the Laws of Nature. Most of the time we lose, although we pat ourselves on the back for something that looks like a small victory, but is, in reality, just a cheat. My extremely white teeth that seem to be unaffected by copious amounts of coffee and an occasional glass of red wine, are a perfect example.
Sorry if I’m raining on your parade, but it pays to be pragmatic about important things, such as life.
For the sake of illustration, let’s say I decide that I want to be a supermodel. I commit my entire life to becoming a supermodel: I study, practice, correct my posture, learn to live on cigarettes and diet pop. Even if I was younger and did all those things diligently, I could never be a supermodel. There’s no way for me to break the natural law of being only 5 feet tall. (My mother would say I’m 4 feet 11 ¾ inches, because that would make her ¼ inch taller than I. She’s wrong.)
Another sad but true strike against me is the fact that I’m not photogenic. I have a wonderfully patient friend who is an amateur photographer. She spent two hours taking pictures of me recently, because I wanted a decent, professional photo to use on my Facebook page and blog. She must have said at least fifty times, “You look like you’re smelling something that stinks. Try to look like you smell something good.” It was a painful two hours (It might have been three. I’ve tried to block out the memory.)
I could sit in front of a mirror for hours and practice just getting a decent smile down, forget the sexy pout, or far-away-come-hither look. My smile for the camera might improve, but not enough to use my photo in a Dollar Saver advertisement, much less on a Vogue cover.
Don’t believe that the Law of Nature can keep a person from their dream? Just watch one episode of American Idol during the audition phase. Remember William Hung? Enough said.
There is hope though, because the Laws of Nature bestow gifts, as well as curses. Each of us has gifts that we can use and hone and perfect. It’s just a matter of discerning and focusing on those gifts.
Partying is one of my natural talents. I can throw a heck of a party. I used to think it was a silly, frivolous gift and I felt guilty wasting time and money on it. But I enjoyed it, so I ignored the guilt and continued to hone my party skills (often). I began to notice some of the good that came from this gift. People looked forward to our parties and they enjoyed themselves. They were taking time out of their busy stressful schedules to have fun and relax, and they were connecting with friends they hadn’t seen in a while. And friends from different areas of our lives were meeting each other and making new friends.
My singing voice on the other hand, is something no amount of dreaming or practicing will ever improve. That’s ok. I’ll forgo singing and focus my energy on hospitality, to the infinite relief of my children. And I’ll tell my children that if they focus on their gifts, they can do whatever they put their mind to and become whatever they want, as long as they work hard and persevere.
August 12, 2011
After I read The Paris Wife, the novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage, I became intrigued and somewhat obsessed with the Hemingway legacy. I have an endearing habit (I think it’s endearing; my family has other words for it) of becoming obsessed by details of things that interest me. There was the time we watched a documentary on Napoleon and I became a Josephine freak for a few months, reading biographies and spending copious amounts of time looking up tid-bits about her online. Years ago, I had this thing for the Temple of the Dog, a band with members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. If anyone has ever wondered about Temple of the Dog, I’m the go to person.
But I digress. Back to Hemingway. I decide to read his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, because the characters are thinly veiled sketches of his real life friends (ex-friends would be more accurate) that appeared in The Paris Wife. And because Ernest is a big gun. He literally changed the soul of writing. What better ammo to put in my writing arsenal.
I buy the book, eager to read this minimalist style I keep hearing about– the lean, taut prose of Hemingway. On the very first page, (It wasn’t even an entire page. It began 2/3 of the way down) I encounter these words: painfully, thoroughly (twice no less), really very, promptly, permanently, certainly.
EIGHT adverbs. What’s up with that? Aren’t adverbs those awful beasts that pave the road to hell? Isn’t Hemingway himself the icon of lean, kill-the-adverbs prose?
I read on, a deep furrow between my brows. After a few pages, I have the feeling that I’ve read this type of writing before. Then it hits me. It sounds like something S¹, my thirteen-year-old, had written. And the shallow characters bewilder me. I’m confused and disappointed. Lest you think I’m also arrogant, let me say that I knew the problem was with me. I try dissecting each sentence, phrase and word to better understand it. My confusion only gets worse.
My brother, a huge Hemingway fan, came to visit this weekend. He notices the book right away, drawn to it by invisible tentacles, and picks it up. After telling me how brilliant it is, he asks how I like it.
“I don’t,” I whine. “He uses ‘then’ and ‘and’ way too much and he’s so wordy. Blah, blah blah. Where’s all that lean prose?”
My brother puts on his patient, let-me-explain-this-in-a-way-you’ll-be-able-to-understand face. “Before Hemingway, prose was very wordy, descriptive and long. You need to be familiar with what came before so you can see the differences.”
The dim light bulb went off somewhere in my head. “And after Hemingway, writers imitated his style. That’s why it sounds so ordinary to me.”
My brother nods, already immersed in the book.
“But what about the adverbs and the ‘thens‘ and ‘and’s?” I ask in a slightly less whiny voice.
My brother and D¹ say in unison, “You’re over analyzing it. Just read it and enjoy it.”
D¹ is compelled to continue because she loves analyzing me. “You have this bad habit of over-analyzing everything. Remember when we watched The Prestige and Inception? You ruin it when you analyze so much.”
So, I confiscate the book from my brother and start over— just reading it and not paying attention to mechanics like adverbs or length. That makes all the difference. Funny how brilliance is more obvious when you’re not looking for it. I couldn’t put it down; thank God it’s not that long. I even find myself imitating it, saying things like, “I rather like that song,” or “Oh, rather.” instead of plain “Yes”.
Once I got past all my hang ups, I really enjoyed the book, and I “got” it. But if I had a day job (not that staying at home with the kids is a vacation), I wouldn’t quit it to become a literary critic anytime soon. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I rather think I’ll enjoy it.
August 5, 2011
I made a traumatic discovery: my muse ran away.
If you have any sort of creative bent, you will find you have a muse– a gardening muse, an artistic muse, a dancing muse (which I think would be the most awesome, after the musical muse). Muses are as unique as the people they inspire.
My muse is tiny. Very tiny, but very radiant. She has many different guises: sometimes she sparks and glitters like fireworks; sometimes she’s not very bright, but glows and pulsates like an ember in the fire; sometimes she’s a diamond of pure white light. And when she’s with me, as tiny as she is, her essence has the potential to fill and animate me.
I discover she’s missing after I read some beautifully crafted posts on Broadside Blog, Madame Paradox, and Counting Ducks. I recall writing some of my recent posts and realize my muse hadn’t been with me. The scary thing is, I hadn’t noticed she was gone.
I look for her, but all I find is a rumpled guy, with a face that looks like someone’s pushed it in too hard with the palm of a hand, and a cigar between his teeth. I ask where my muse is.
“I’m it, sister,” he says, not taking the cigar out of his mouth.
“No, you’re Stephen King’s. Where’s mine? I want her back.”
He snorts. “Stephen King’s. You should be so lucky. I’m just a distant relation.” He sits behind a desk and begins shuffling through the papers scattered on it. “Your’s is gone. She couldn’t work under these conditions. I been watching her, waiting for her to crack, so I could move in. You couldn’t have missed her too much. You didn’t even notice she’s gone and I’m here now.”
“But you’re not a muse and you’re definitely no inspiration.”
“Listen sister, you get out of it what you put into it.”
I try to remember the last time I’d seen my muse. As I think back over the past few weeks, I realize her visits had become less frequent, and I had been paying less attention to her. She’d tried to hang on despite the frequent interruptions. It wasn’t that she disliked my family, but she couldn’t work with others around distracting us. And there was the stress. So much stress. It began to lead to impatience, which is sheer poison for a muse.
“Yeah, I’m what you get when you’re in a hurry and don’t care what comes out as long as it comes out on time,” he says. He takes the cigar out of his mouth and shrugs. “Whadaya gonna do?”
“Where is she? Is she ok? I need her back,” I say, trying not to panic. “I’m writing a book, and then there’s this blog, and I have a school year to think about…”
He points at me with the cigar. “Not to mention you were already interrupted ten times while you were writing this.”
“I know but I can’t neglect my family for my writing. What am I going to do?”
“That’s your problem, sister.”
My mind starts whirring. Maybe I’ll just start staying up all night to write. Yeah, I can do that if I really try. No. The reality is I won’t be able to. I’m a like a grizzly bear on quaaludes when I don’t get enough sleep. Maybe a schedule is the answer. I’ve never been able to stick to one for any length of time yet. But maybe this time…
As I wrestle with the chaos, trying to find a way around, over or just through it, I feel a familiar spark. She’d come back, but only for a visit. Impatience is poison to a muse. But I’m hopeful that as I learn to juggle all that I love without neglecting any of it, my muse will once again make her permanent residence with me.
“There is a muse… He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt work, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you.”
August 3, 2011
I can be snarky. Sometimes it’s unintentional. Sometimes it’s an attempt at wit. Sometimes it’s deliberate (sad but true).
Combination of “snide” and “remark”. Sarcastic comment(s).
Also snarky (adj.) and snarkily (adv.)
I’ve learned to show my husband things I’ve written that may be construed as snarky. Many times, I disagree with his assessment. (He’s very patient when I ask for his advice, then don’t like it).
Take for example, our exchange over my satiric interview with gender-role-swapping parents. How could that be taken in any way other than the humorous yet thought provoking one I meant?
“It’s just meant to show what can happen if you take things too far. How could anyone possibly take this the wrong way? I’ve made it very obvious.”
“It’s obvious to you. Not to anyone else.”
“But it’s really, really funny. I crack up every time I read it.”
He doesn’t respond to this. We don’t always agree on what constitutes funny.
I usually get a second (and hopefully more agreeable) opinion from my friend, Artisté. Her sense of humor is more compatible with mine.
She’s more diplomatic than my husband: ”Well, it’s different, but I’m not really sure if you should post it. It’s really up to you.”
In other words– “Don’t post it.”
As I write tonight, my home town is being ripped apart by a vote for a millage increase to keep our library open. The debate and tension have been escalating for over a year and today is the day of reckoning. I thought of a very witty/snarky saying concerning the situation to post on my facebook. I didn’t think it was political, but I asked my husband about it, just to be sure. He shook his head. “I wouldn’t post it.”
Aaahhh. It gets frustrating. I called Artisté. She said, “It’s funny, but are you sure you want to post it?”
“Yes, why shouldn’t I?” Besides being snarky, I’m dense and I wanted to understand why I shouldn’t post it.
“You should post it, if you’re prepared to deal with the consequences. When you post something remotely political or controversial people are going to respond. They’re going to misunderstand you, or disagree with you and they might get nasty. And you’ll need to address that. If you’re prepared to deal with the backlash or if you want to encourage dialogue about the issue, then by all means publish it. If you don’t want to deal with the consequences, you’d better not publish it.”
OH! I get it. Who knew Artisté was so wise?
I told my husband about our conversation. His attitude was “Duh”, but a patient duh, like that’s what he’s been saying all along.
Just in case I didn’t get it, he reiterated, “You know from personal (and may I add painful) experience that even an email can be misunderstood and end up causing lots of problems. It’s the same with any online posting. You have to be prepared to deal with the consequences.”
Ok, I get it. I may post things that I don’t think are snarky/nasty, but others may take it that way. I’ll be starting trouble I didn’t mean to start.
On the other hand, I keep hearing that controversy is a sure way to promote readership and increase comments. Maybe posting some of this provocative stuff would get more traffic to my site. So why don’t I just post the stuff they say I shouldn’t? Because as much as I may like a post I’ve written, the purpose of my blog is not to stir up controversy or to offend anyone.
I’m not looking for controversy, but I am interested in differing opinions and perspectives. In fact, sharing thoughts was my purpose for starting this blog: A place to confabulate with you, so we can learn more about each other.
Therefore, I’ll try to forgo the snark. I have enough controversy every day in the bubble I share with six other witty people.