I just roused myself from the big blue couch to go answer the door, and, after peering through the little round looking thing for long enough to determine that it wasn’t the Lakeland fugitive, opened it up to find a happy UPS man with an even happier package–a birthday package, for me, filled with everything one needs to have a proper English tea! Now, since my birthday is in October, the only logical conclusion to draw from this is that it must be October already, even if my silly calendar still says September. I for one am all for it, because I think October is just about the best month of the year. At least, it was up north, with the leaves are changing colors and being cold enough to start drinking things like hot chocolate and hot cider and start wearing all those kick-ass sweaters you have in your closet. I’ve now spent two Octobers in tropical zones, and I’ve had mixed results so far. 2004’s October was Natal, Brazil, I celebrated my birthday by getting completely wasted on a mere two caipirinhas on the beach. I don’t remember much except dizzily walking up the big hill from the beach to the bus stop and somewhere along the way bursting into tears because for just one second I admited to myself that it was all wrong. October is not when I should be lounging on a beach in a bikini. October is not when the temperature should be rising. Christmas decorations should not be on palm trees. “Cider,” I cried. “I want cider, and donuts. Pumpkin donuts!” Daniel held my hand calmly reminded me that Bethlehem probably looked more like Natal than it did like Michigan. So that was ’04. October 2005 was also an initiation of sorts. My birthday was on a Thursday night, and Wilma managed to hold off until the next Monday, but even as we blew on the candles on the carrot cake with cream chese frosting that my SIL made for me and sang Happy Birthday in Portuguese, we knew she was coming. Prior to that, my only hurricane experience was Katrina, who pretty much bypassed us up here in PBC. Wilma was kind of the opposite. It ripped over our heads and luckily didn’t do so much as crack a window at our place, but it did turn all of South Florida into a dark, hot abyss of whining and complaining. There were indeed people who lost their homes, but strangely enough these are not the people we heard the most from in the days following Wilma. No, our newspaper space was taken up by people who thought that their lack of gas for their generator was a number one state priority, people who cried about running out of gas while waiting in line for gas, people who didn’t think it was weird to drive 3, 4, 5 hours away to wait in line for gas, people who did not see why a hurricane had a right to interupt their daily energy consuming routine even for a few days. This was my first experience of Hurricane Hell As Other People. In the midst of all this whining and complaining, I found myself whining and complaining too–first about all of those people, then about all of the people across the street who got power back three days before we did, and finally just any little thing that bugged me–ants on the kitchen counter, our sixth straight meal involving peanut butter, etc. I started out strong and ended with a whimper.

So that’s been my last couple of October’s. This one is clearly off to a much better start. Thanks Snickerdoodle!!!

My favorite Saturday poem

September 23, 2006

I promised this wouldn’t be a poetry blog, b/c I think people who write blogs about writing poetry are kind of obnoxious and probably ruining all of their poems, but I don’t see any reason why not to share someone else’s finished poem every now and again. So here is one I’ve been reciting to myself ever since my high school poetry teacher Jack Driscoll introduced me to it.

On A Seven-Day Diary

Oh I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
and ate and talked and went to sleep.
Then I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
from work and ate and slept.
Then I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
and ate and watched a show and slept.
Then I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
and ate steak and went to sleep.
Then I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
and ate and fucked and went to sleep.
Then it was Saturday, Saturday, Saturday!
Love must be the reason for the week!
We went shopping! I saw clouds!
The children explained everything!
I could talk about the main thing!
What did I drink on Saturday night
that lost the first, best half of Sunday?
The last half wasn’t worth this “word.”
Then I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
from work and ate and went to sleep,
refreshed but tired by the weekend.

–Alan Dugan

Yeah, I’ll take it!

September 21, 2006

1) Tuition money from TOU is 99% of the way to being in my bank account. Which is when I will consider the issue officially resolved.
2) I am officially freakish mole free, as declared by a doctor who I think I actually trust. Also, sadly enough, he thinks I was right about the first one (i.e., didn’t really need to get taken off)–but I’m dwelling on the positive for a change. I’ve done enough crying about this one.

3) First mini-homework marathon of the semester is effectively over– and the Melville exam has been graded already and results are quite satisfactory. As far as the paper I turned in tonight goes, well, I liked it okay, but I don’t think it’ll knock anyone’s socks off. I survived my first mauling… oh wait, I mean workshopping, and so did the poem I submitted. That only leaves a creative nonfiction piece to come up with over the weekend, but right now I’m not counting that. That’s for tomorrow.

4) The hubby got our internet bill cut in half by downgrading to a lower speed, which should make it more stable anyway.

All in all, mucho weight off of the shoulders. And for the moment, I’m making a point of not looking for reasons to go putting it back on.

PS To balance out my recurring delves into the dark side, aka “Cheaper Than Therapy,” I am starting a new series of posts tagged “Blog Get Happy,” in which I shall attempt to be obnoxiously optimistic to balance out any premature pessimism.

This post is a cathartic attempt at understanding how I became a paranoid neurotic proto-manic whack job. Or maybe didn’t.

If had written this post yesterday, I might not have been able to muster such clarity. Yesterday, when I started looking into the reason why the promised check from my library program to cover my tuition for my MFA classes had not arrived, I found out something very disturbing. I found out that in a theoretical universe known as The Other University’s Accounting Office, I owed TOU about five thousand dollars. This in itself was unexpected, since the program is pretty clear about paying for everything related to tuition. It also didn’t help that, after a couple of phone calls in which nobody seemed to understand anything and everybody seemed to blame me, the money for the MFA tuition had apparently disappeared into a sinkhole of human error as a result of this mistaken owing, never to return. I could already hear their voices in my head: I don’t know what happened but that money is gone now and we can’t give you any more of it until next semester.

The real question, now, 24 hours later, with vigorous assurances from all involved parties that the above scenario is not going to occur and all will henceforth be well and solvent, is why did I hear those voices so loudly and so quickly. In a few moments time, how did I extrapolate an obvious error into a vast conspiracy to harm me irreparably and ruin my life and good credit? Why did assume nothing would be worked out, no matter how many people I talked to, no matter how right I was to expect that the program would live up to its promises? How did a bureaucratic screw-up become a reason for me to spend an afternoon and evening crying, hating the stating of Florida, cursing myself for ever having believed any promise ever made to me, and generally not revising poems for workshop or preparing for the Melville exam? I wasn’t just jumping to a conclusion, I was climbing toward it. If that conclusion was Mt. Everest, I had my oxygen pack ready to go. I was going to get to the incontrovertible conclusion that I was doomed whatever it took.

I know for a fact that I was not always like this. Well, yes, I have always been prone to excessive worrying. I’ve posted on this before even. But around the age of 20 I had about a year in which I actually believed I had changed. I stopped worrying, stopped dieting, stopped envisioning global apocalypse even though this year included the events of 9-11. I experimented with wearing make-up and never doubted that my 1986 Volvo would start in the morning. If all of that happy go luckyness doesn’t convince you, here is proof positive: I got a B in Psychology both semesters and I didn’t even care. That year, I was so damn not worried that I was able to come to the logical conclusion that the amount of time I would have had to spend studying to get an A in Psychology was not worth the same amount of time spent blowing my work study money in the coffee shop when I could get a B without even going to class most days. So B it was, and happier I have rarely ever been. So I know that it can happen. I can be normal. I’m not always so neurotic and worried that my chest hurts.

In a lot of ways that are good and not so, I am no longer that worry free. My worry of late has even started to take the form of paranoia. My mother-in-law showed me a book of subversive stickers this past weekend, and I am a little nervous to report that if I had to describe myself in one subversive sticker it would be the one that says “Ask Me About My Conspiracy Theory.” Yes! I have like SO MANY. I would love for you to ask me about them. But in case you haven’t got all day, I think I can summarize them all in one grand unified conspiracy theory: Everyone in any position of authority no matter how slight is out to hurt you and make you go into debt and you are alone and things probably won’t work out and if you think otherwise, well, you must be 20 years old.  Sometimes things really don’t work out and there is really nothing you can do about it, I feel like screaming at people who try to console me, this could be one of those times. Ask LCB about her visa. Ask my mom about her surgery. Ask anyone who felt so horrified in March of 2003 that they wrote letters and protested and prayed and cried and realized that they could go throw themselves in front of a tank and it would stop their country from starting a war.
Most people who read this know me, so there is no use pretending that my life has been one of exceptional hardship, because it really really has not. I am very spoiled. I just sometimes mistakenly feel like it has. And lately, it has taken less and less to make me feel that way. I have a hair trigger. I have windows of unflappableness that usually coincide with the six hours after a yoga class or polishing off a good bottle of wine with friends, but on the whole these days it just doesn’t take much to make me feel mean and stepped on and vengeful. Faulty internet connection for a month will do it. Anything to do with a dermatologist will definitely do it. Reading about civilian deaths in Iraq, reading about employers dropping health care benefits, reading about pro-life activists, gas prices, late paychecks, flat tire, toilet seat left up, toxic spinach, forgetting my travel mug of coffee–see what I mean? This is just too much stuff that sends me over the edge, and most of it isn’t even anything other than plain old normal life.  I often wonder, what is my problem? Am I really going crazy? Or is the rest of the world crazy and I’m sane so I end up crazy? What is the line between between being committed and being a 24 year old woman in America in the year 2006?

I have no idea, but so far I have generally made it back to a moment like this one: beer in one hand, slice of pizza in the other, and the vague idea that sooner or later I’m going to be able to use everything that life gives me to become the person I’m meant to be. Oh wait, that would mean that I think I am balanced. I am not at all balanced. I fly off the handle at a moment’s notice. I wallow in problems more often than solving. I guess something a little closer to what I mean is that I’ve been listening to a Ryan Adams song called “To Be Young (Is to be sad Is to be high)” and it’s been sounding about right. Even though I feel old, the fact is that I guess most people would still call 24 young. Young at least in the sense of only having been out of college two years and only having been married for one, which probably means, as another folksy singer explains, “you’re still young, that’s your fault, there’s so much you have to go through.” By the time I have enough perspective to weather the flat tires of life with equanimity, a lot of worse things will probably have to be gone through. And the only conspiracy I’ll see is the one they’ve been seeing since the Iliad: the gods are out to get us, because they’ll live forever and we will not, which is a reason to get back to the wine and avoid the draft.

On Herself

September 17, 2006

Today I finally got to read this selection from Susan Sontag’s journal, published in the New York Times Sunday magazine. It is fascinating and revealing, and if you like her writing or are even mildly interested in her career, you should check it out. Of course it is kind of a big tease since the note at the bottom says the first volume of her journals won’t be published by FS&G until 2008… or 2009. So hurry up and wait, but in the meanwhile take a look. The excerpts begin in late winter 1958, when she is about to turn 26 and she’s just moved to Paris. It’s sometimes hilarious, as in this choice description about one of the guests at a cocktail party she was attending: “a man who looked like Jean-Paul Sartre, only uglier, with a limp, and was Jean-Paul Sartre.” Mostly, though, her collage of notes to herself are intent meditations on identity and becoming a writer.

Coming during a week in which creative nonfiction prof had informed us that the three best essayists in the English language were Dead White Male #1, Dead White Male #2, and Dead Black Male (White, Orwell, Baldwin–I’m not saying they’re not great, but why pick three and call them best when you have a whole library of unique, accomplished writers with entirely different perspectives and artistic projects to choose from? what is the freaking point? and why teach it that way?) and Melville prof subjected us to 2 hours and 45 minutes of penis analysis (what, after all, is a lightning rod but a copper pole of varying length with two glass balls on the end?), this passage from the journal really caught my eye:

The only kind of writer I could be is the kind who exposes himself.. . .To write is to spend oneself, to gamble oneself. But up to now I have not even liked the sound of my own name. To write, I must love my name. The writer is in love with himself. . .and makes his books out of that meeting and that violence.

Himself, himself. Was she referring to a particular writer, or was this a kind of subconscious slip that expresses how deeply even a profoundly, agressively intelligent female writer can internalize the idea that masculine=good when it comes to her writing, because everwhere growing up that is what she has read and seen glorified and genuinely aspired to, because that is largely what is taught and that is what is published and given prizes? When women writers win acclaim, it is usually because they have adhered to the standards men have set for literature. In the competition of how to write the best essay written like a man, I am unsurprised that men have declared themselves the winners 95% of the time.

If I seem a little on about this, it’s becase I am, and it’s because I have learned that just to notice this is to seem always on about it, because most writers and students of literature that I talk to have just never considered that what we call good and better and best is a reflection of what we have been taught is good and that is mostly a reflection of what men have written and gotten published. Believe me, I used to be one of them. It took a quietly but meaningfully feminist Spanish professor to beat it into me. The idea that there is, or could be, a genuine difference between the way men tend to write and organize the world and the way women would if left to their own imaginations comes as a surprise to most people. And the idea that it might just be different, not better or worse–whoah. That’s radical. When educated, well read women tell me that yeah, they’ve read female writer X, but she’s just not as good as male writer Y, I just want to shake them and say, by whose standards? Who are you listening to? Who do you think you are? Do you think that if you just buy in and change yourself enough, that men will respect you? Is that the path you want to leave after you for other women to follow? Maybe she’s not as good, maybe she’s just doing something you don’t even recognize yet. Unless you’ve thought about it that way it is to soon to tell.

Male or female, for nothing else, reading through Sontag’s journal extract reminds one what an excellent motivating force guilt can be when one is trying to become a writer. New Year’s Eve, 1958, words to live by: “Nothing prevents me from being a writer except laziness. A good writer.” That’s probably the real point. If you never write anything you’ll never change anything, or at least have the chance.

Wha wha what?

Huh. Really? Hmmm. As my yoga teacher would say, even a small change can make a big impact, so I’m all for it, even if I don’t think we are going to be seeing any size 8 models on our runways anytime soon.

Friends friends flying flying

September 11, 2006

I just have to mention that two of the smartest, wittiest, fashion and music savviest women I know have recently headed on to the next chapter of their glamorous and accomplished lives. They are really doing it, one in journalism school at Northwestern and one headed to Belfast for a year to pursue an important sounding degree along the lines of peace and conflict studies. I can’t wait to read all about it. These ladies rock my world. I wish them all the best, Belfast chica you had better drink all the tea and eat all the digestives you can in memory of the ones you left behind. McVitties, McVitties…