Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy Couples.

The hilarious Mr. MandyFish.
Yesterday was our 4th wedding anniversary. My husband and I had agreed not to buy each other gifts, but then he decided he wanted to take me shopping anyway. "Gifts" is one of my love languages. He asked me if I needed anything and I didn't since he'd already bought me presents for Buddhakamas.

"I could use a winter purse," I finally said, after he questioned me further.

So we went to the purse store. I tried on various purses and carried them around for him and posed in front of the mirror.

"Do you like this one? Or this one?" I asked, switching the purses back and forth in front of me.

"I like them both," he said.

"Or how about this one?"

"I like that one too."

"Do you like the black one better or the white one better?" I asked, quickly flipping the purses back and forth so he could compare them.

"I like them both."

"I can't decide."

"I think you should get the one you love."

"I love them both. Maybe I love this one more?"

"I knew you wanted that one."

It was an innocuous conversation. Occasionally the saleslady would chime in, but other than that, it lasted about 15 or 20 minutes, I would guess, until we picked out the purse that I loved best. I hugged him and kissed him on the cheek at the register.

"Thank you so much! This is so nice of you! Don't I have a nice husband?" I asked the saleslady.

"You do have a nice husband! But you must be an awfully nice wife who deserves it."

"She definitely deserves it," my husband said.

"It's our anniversary," I added, as if to explain.

"Well you both give me hope for relationships. You seem like such a happy couple."

I was taken aback when she said that. I felt so pleased to hear her say it. It's not often that you consider how you appear to others. I know I genuinely like my husband. I enjoy spending time with him above all others. He's my best friend. He's also the most hilarious person I know and the smartest person I know too. That's an amazing combination. We crack each other up on a regular basis and we learn from each other too. I think we make each other better people. But man, do we both hate conflict.

In fact, we hired a new marriage counselor to help us deal with conflict. In our first session, I told the marriage counselor that I felt like we had a good marriage. Enviable, in fact. But what I wanted, was a great marriage. I wanted one of those marriages that lasts the test of time. I want to grow old with this man. I want us to continue to treat each other kindly, I want to adore one another when we're both old and gray, and I want us both to deal with conflict in a calm and measured way.

But neither one of us is calm and measured when it comes to conflict. Aw hell no.

Personally, I just check out. If I see conflict, I head for the hills.

See ya!

Buh bye.

And that's no damn good for a relationship. I can't spend the rest of my life avoiding conflict. Not if I want to experience intimacy. And so, since things are good between the two of us, we felt like it was time to rock the boat.

Contrary to popular opinion, the best time to seek marriage counseling is not when you're in crisis. If you want to effect change and push yourself to be even closer than you already are, get your ass in therapy when things are good. That way the relationship is strong enough to handle the challenges that therapy can bring.

I suppose it seems like all the cosmic forces in the universe are conspiring to bring my husband and me  closer together. I never imagined I could be this close to anyone. I never thought anyone would know me this well and still love me this much. I mean that. It's sort of mind boggling and it should be scary but instead I am incredibly grateful. I've got an able partner. A partner who is equally ready, willing and open to this process. I think it's beautiful. He blows me away on a daily basis. I've got myself a thoughtful thinker and I can't quite believe he hasn't figured out that he could do better.

He'd probably say the same thing about me, of course. Which makes me think we're a pretty good match.

Anyway, it felt pretty great to hear a complete stranger say that seeing us together made her have hope in relationships again. I'd like to think that we're putting out some good vibes into the atmosphere. I'd like to think that we'll become one of those great relationship success stories.

Our new marriage counselor, after hearing each of our backgrounds, said it was incredible that we'd even found each other at all. She said it was like The Glass Castle met Angela's Ashes and The Liars Club all mixed together in two people. There's a lot of dysfunction and damage in both our of childhoods and yet we found each other somehow. Each of us an empathetic soul who knows what it is to come through hell and back just to survive. I think it's that fighting spirit that will keep us together. I don't see either one of us ever giving up on the other. I may be a fool to put that in print. Part of me is afraid of jinxing it. *Throws salt over shoulder.* But I think something special happened when we met. Kismet. Birds of a feather. Or perhaps we met in a previous life. That sort of thing. We really get each other. It'd be a shame to see such a special pairing go to waste if we didn't take the time and care to nurture it.

And so we do.

I can say that this 4th year of marriage has been the best year yet. And we've had some pretty great years, don't get me wrong. I've known him for 8 years. Almost a decade. Strange to have accumulated this much time already — it's gone by like a heartbeat.

But it's been a lot of work. Don't let anyone tell you different. Relationships aren't easy. I don't like promoting that kind of bullshit ideal. I don't think it helps anyone. We should all be honest about our relationships and admit that they are a shit ton of work. They devastate us. Castrate us. Prostrate us. And then they lift us back up. But if you find someone worth all of that effort, damn, work your ass off on that one. They don't come along quite as easily as you think. I know from this from experience. My husband and I broke up once for 10 months when we were dating. We almost lost each other and that would have been a shame.

I had a rule once upon a time that you should never get back together with an ex. My theory was that you broke up with the ex for a reason, and if you got back together, you would eventually break up again over that same issue. I've only made one exception to that rule and that was my husband.

Thank god I gave in a little that one time. I tend to be a tad stubborn.

I can't quite express in words how lucky I feel to have him in my life. I never thought I would meet anyone like him. He's special. He's the smartest man I ever met. He's hilarious. I mean, side-splitting, inappropriately hilarious. We spend much of our time trying to shock the other with our over-the-top, inappropriate humor. I can tell you, there is no greater joy for me than making that man laugh his ass off.  I feel like the wittiest, smartest, most hilarious person ever when I make him laugh so hard he closes his eyes.

I live for that.

And he repays me with kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity. It's pretty ridiculous how attentive he is. Sometimes I think his only aim in life is to make me happy. In fact, he often says, "Happy wife, happy life." He's that dedicated. (And that wise.) And I dedicate myself to him in the same way. Fortunately we both like the same things. Good food. Nice restaurants. Going to the movies. Spending time with our 5 kids, whenever the older ones are around. Watching HBO and Showtime. Reading articles to each other. Talking way past our bedtimes about life and love and what does it all mean. And making each other laugh, of course.

I suppose it's a simple life, but I never thought I'd have it so good.

So thank you to my husband. You're the best time I've ever had, baby. And that's no lie. I can't wait to see what the next 4 years (or 40) might bring.

Let's grow young together.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Diagnose, This!



A couple of weeks ago I went into the walk-in clinic for some drugs. I'd had a slight touch of the Bubonic Plague for about three weeks and the chronic headache seemed to suggest that I might have developed a sinus infection along the way too. The doctor prescribed a Z-pack and I was good to go.

Until the next morning, when I woke up covered in hives all over my chest and stomach.

Apparently your body can turn on you at any point, people. Your body is a betrayer. One day it's all "Hey, I'm cool with antibiotics" and the next day it's "Fuck you, Cure!" So the days of azithromycin are over for me. Enjoy your youth while you have it, Millennials. Behold. I am Ozmandifish and I am here to tell my tale.

I called the doctor again because I figured hives aren't good. I'm pretty medically savvy that way. I was put on amoxicillin and steroids and I was supposed to get better. Strangely enough, the hives did not go away. I was beginning to worry that they were a permanent feature now, perhaps karmic retribution for the fact that I never got stretch marks with either of my two kids.

I KNOW. I'M SORRY. I DIDN'T EVEN USE COCOA BUTTER OR PUT LOTION ON MY SKIN. YOUR GOD IS NOT A JUST GOD. WHAT CAN I TELL YOU?

Then I woke up this morning.

The ugly red welts were redder, angrier and spreading even further. They were all over my back and all the way down to the tops of my thighs. My breasts and abdomen were covered in angry red welts. It scared me.

I ran to show my husband, who was still in bed.

"WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? OH MY GOD THIS DOES NOT SEEM LIKE AN OPTIMAL STATE OF HEALTH. DO YOU THINK I HAVE SOME MUTANT STRAIN OF LETHAL MEASLES?" I asked, calmly.

"I think I can diagnose you," he said.

"Really? You can?" I started to calm down.

"I think you have an acute case of HOTNESS! YEAH BABY!" he waggled his eyebrows at me.

"Oh my god. What is wrong with you?" I said. "I'm clearly in a health crisis and you're horny?"

"All I see is a hot naked woman in my bedroom. Oh yeah!" He narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips.

"I'm calling the doctor. You should be ashamed of yourself," I went to find my clothes and the number for the doctor. I did not collapse due to some imminent state of allergic asphyxiation, no thanks to my husband.

You'll be relieved to know I'm on even more steroids now and I've been taken off the amoxicillin. Apparently I'm allergic to that too. And you can also rest assured that my horribly disfigured body will apparently not effect my relationship with my husband. So I've got that going for me.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Masters of Sex: It's For Science.

My husband and I have been watching the new television series on Showtime, "Masters of Sex." The show is about the ground-breaking work on human sexuality conducted by Dr. William Masters and his research assistant and partner Mrs. Virginia Johnson. The show, which takes place in the 1950s, portrays Mrs. Johnson as a young, attractive divorcee who is sexually comfortable with herself.

"Sexually comfortable" does her little justice, actually. Early on in the show, she's attracted to a handsome, young doctor whom she proceeds to have sex with in multiple positions, in multiple ways, in multiple orifices. She's perfectly happy to have mind-blowing sex with this young man and then ask him to leave right after. No spending the night. No meeting her children. No dinners or roses. She leaves him crawling after her, begging her to be his girlfriend. 


"No thanks," she says. And so she has sex with someone else.


Then there's Dr. Masters. A real cold fish. A bow-tied dweeb. A brisk, selfish ass lacking in any social skills. He's all about the science and conveys zero interest in fucking anything, including his attractive young wife, who's practically begging him to shove it to her.


Before long it's clear that he has something for Mrs. Johnson. He mentions Jonas Salk, who took one for the Polio Cause by injecting himself with his own experimental vaccine. 


"Perhaps we should do the same," he says to his ambitious young research assistant. "For science."


And she, after overcoming significant misgivings, eventually decides to relent … for the good of humanity, her career or her own strange chemistry for the odd doctor. I can't say I'm quite sure which it is or if it's all three. But they begin having sex and taking down their data as a part of the study.


By the time Dr. Masters and Mrs. Johnson finally strip down, paste some electrodes to their bodies, and do the nasty "for science," we're pretty amused with the good doctor's lackluster performance. After their rather quick research session in which the doctor has an orgasm (after announcing his various stages of arousal in a monotone voice, "Arousal," "Plateau," "Orgasm," etc.) the two scientists check the results from the data they've collected on their heart rates and physical responses.

As they try to impassively survey their own sexual responses,  it is then that Dr. Masters realizes that while he had an orgasm, Mrs. Johnson had none. This is definitely not a situation where you can fake it, my friends. And it can't be easy (even for a scientist!) for a man to survey the raw data that he failed to get his partner off. Although Dr. Masters is indeed a scientist, he is also a man with an ego.


The next research session is more successful and we discover that not only did he have an orgasm, she had two. And one of them was simultaneous to his! My god! He's some kind of sexual prodigy as well!


(Good for her, really. But wow. Synchronized orgasms? That was fast. Do they have any female writers on this show?)


But again, even during this session, Dr. Master's robotically intones, "Plateau" while he is humping away on poor Mrs. Johnson and then repeats the same monotone announcement of "Orgasm" while he orgasms.


It's the most unintentionally hilarious thing ever. I told my husband that he has to start announcing what stage he's at during our lovemaking sessions. But the key is, he can't shout it out. He's got to say it in a totally bored and monotone "I'm doing this for science" voice.


It's given my husband a whole new way to seduce me too.


"Hey baby. You wanna have sex? It's for science."


"It's for science" is now our rallying cry for anything perverted.


"You wanna wear giant bear costumes and act like furries? It's for science."


"You wanna drill this sex swing into our ceiling and give it a swing? It's for science."


"How about I wear a strap-on tonight, dear? It's for science."


I can tell you right now, this will never get old for me. Thank you, Masters and Johnson. For all you did for science. And for my amusement.





P.S. I'd like to thank my own research assistant and partner, my husband Frederick, who helped write and edit this piece.

Friday, November 8, 2013

I Think I Might Have Broke Me & My Husband Wants Me Dead.

True love.
I'm sure I've groused about the same crick in my neck and right shoulder before. I carry all my stress in my shoulders, you see. When I drive, my shoulders hunch up around my ears. I clench my jaw. I'm a very stiff person and not in a good way, if you know what I mean. Wait that doesn't even make sense, I'm a girl.

At any rate, I'm real uptight.

And because of that, I walk around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame half the time. I cripple myself with my own neurosis and up-tightedness. I'm very tense. I like to pretend like I'm this real easy-going, Devil-May-Care, Buddhist type, but really, you could bounce a metaphorical quarter off my psyche.

I've been going through this whole rigmarole of getting massages constantly until my neck and shoulder are unclenched from their death grip of stress. It takes four or five weeks of consecutive massages until I'm not in constant pain.

And then I stop going.

A few weeks later and I'm back in my state of crippled paralysis.

It amuses my husband to no end. Not that he isn't sympathetic, of course. I mean, he's the one that has to rub my shoulders and neck every night while I wince, whimper and flinch.

"You really are a delicate flower, aren't you?" he asks, unwisely, because he is straddling my back and has left his unmentionables vulnerable to a stray elbow of retaliation.

"Very funny. OUCH!" My voice is mostly muffled into a pillow while he inflicts pain on my wrecky body.

"How are you going to outlive me if you're so fragile?" I can hear him snicker and it enrages me.

"I'm not going to die of neck pain, you ass."

"I dunno. You might," he says this in a mock regretful tone, as though he is really sorry that I might die before him.

My husband and I are both competitive types. We might be overachievers. We might even be obnoxious about it. Our entire house is a battlefield of who can be the most OCD neat freak of the land. We each think the other one is losing that battle because we each have separate definitions of what constitutes neatness. I like to scrub and Windex things. He likes to move things off the counter and hide them in nonsensical places like drawers and cupboards. It's not a satisfying battle because we each think we are the victor and we are each frustrated that the other won't admit defeat.

It is in this environment of two competitive freaks of nature that we fight over who is going to die first. Normal couples wouldn't discuss this, I don't think. Or at least they wouldn't be vying to be the one who outlived the other. I think you're supposed to feel like you couldn't live without your spouse and hence would never want to experience the pain of losing the other one? Or something like that.

But no. Not us. Because it's a competition over who's healthier, fitter or may I point out, YOUNGER.

I'm 9 years younger than my husband. And women are supposed to outlive men by 7 years on average. That puts me at outliving him by a good 16 years. I've pointed this out to him and it makes him furious.

"There's no way that is happening," he says. "The sheer rage of even the slightest suggestion that you would beat me will keep me alive."

"That's a fine attitude. I'll have that engraved on your headstone."

"I'll have my ass bending over mooning everyone engraved on your headstone."

"Nice. I'll be sure and bring that comment up when you're dead and I am living with my sister and our 17 cats."

"That's fine. Just never remarry. Dedicate your life to your children and family."

"Don't be ridiculous. I've told you that you could remarry once I've been dead a year and no sooner. You should at least give me that courtesy."

"A whole year?"

"Yes. One year. You need to learn how to live alone and not marry the first woman who lets you touch her boob."

"So no dating whatsoever for one year?"

"Yes. We've had this conversation before and I was very clear."

"But what if someone just let me touch their boob without buying dinner. Would that count?"

"Yes! No dating for one year means no dating for one year! And no sex whatsoever. Dating or not."

"Not even a hand job?"

"NO!"

"Can I 'accidentally' touch some lady's butt in the elevator?"

"God no!"

"Maybe I don't' want to outlive you after all."

"Exactly. Just get some more cats to keep you company."

"Can I touch their butts?"

Clearly, the man can't live without me. And yes I totally realize he's not going to an entire year without the comfort of a woman if I were to pass away. But I've told him I'm going to haunt him and whisper criticisms of his sexual performance in his ear just to ruin the fun for him. Now that's true love, when someone goes Poltergeist on your ass.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Merci. I Have No Idea What You Just Said.

Once a week I've been taking the kids to a French bakery around the corner from my house. It's almost impossible to find an old school bakery anymore. Everything's a chain or it's crap. But the French bakery is the real deal. The owner is French. Like French-French. She closes the shop for the month of August so she can return to France. Like that French.

Hohh hohh hohh.

(That's my French laugh.)

Anyway, I take the kids to the bakery and they each get to pick out one thing. A cookie shaped like a cat. An √©clair au chocolat. A tiny sweet shaped like a frog. Pain au chocolat. Whatever they want. I also get a loaf of bread (pain de mie).

I like ordering things in the French bakery because I studied French for 10 years in school, including college. I also spent a summer there during high school as an exchange student of sorts. I lived with a family who had a home in the Haute-Alpes, but they also had a summer home right on the sea in St. Tropez. (I know. Rough life, n'est-ce pas?). And an apartment in Paris. And a home in Nantes. I got to see a lot of France and spoke nothing but French the whole time I was there. I've returned to France once, about 15 years ago, and at that time I spent two weeks there with the same family. Other than that, I haven't practiced my French much.

But hot damn, I can order a pain au chocolat and a pain de mie like a Parisian, I swear.

Bien sur.

Though I order everything correctly, I've never spoken French with the owner and she has never spoken it with me. So last week, I said, "Merci" after she rang me up.

Now in my fantasy life, I have imaginary conversations with French people in which my French flows smoothly and expertly. I say many charming and hilarious things. My accent is perfect. My command, excellent. Unfortunately I have only participated in fantasy French conversations  for the last 15 years, so my memory of how good I was back then is how I assume my French skills still remain.

What happened in the French bakery last week was not the same as what happens in my imaginary conversations with French people. What followed my simple "Merci" was a litany of French words flown at me so fast my little Francophile brain spun around in le cranium.

I think I heard something about my children ("Les enfants") and I don't know what else happened after that. I sort of blacked out. I know that I smiled and nodded and said "Merci" again, as though she was complimenting my children. She may have been saying they were spoiled brats. Wait. That's not true. I know how to say that in French. But you get my point.

I'm assuming I say "Merci" like a fluent person. I mean, this lady was off and running with me on a high-speed highway of the French language. I'm sure she was disappointed when my eyes glazed over and I mumbled sorry little phrases like, "Merci. De rien. Au revoir et bon soir!"

SIGH.

After we left the French bakery and my French shame, we walked next door and got Maman a bottle of vin. No one spoke French at the liquor store. Tant pis. We got two bottles of chocolate milk and a bottle of red wine. I felt a little guilty. Like, here's this lady with two nice kids and their wholesome bottles of chocolate milk ... and here's mommy's booze to help drown her French sorrows. Though I suppose if I can't speak the language anymore, at least I can drink the wine.

A votre santé!

Friday, November 1, 2013

I Think My Professor Is Trying to Kill Me and You Might Not Blame Her.


Eight papers in one semester. 


Eight papers in one semester.


EIGHT PAPERS IN ONE SEMESTER!


Have I mentioned that I have eight papers due this semester? For one grad class? I know I'm being a big whiny baby about this whole going to school at night thing while I still have a full-time job and am writing an epic book that will move America to tears of laughter and sorrow and will poetically speak to the beautiful human struggle that is adolescence and will spectacularly conclude with all of us joining hands like that Coca Cola "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" commercial only we'll sing "Kum Bah Yah, Motherfuckers" and we will be even more joyous and raucous and super fun than those people in the Coca Cola commercial, only with less 70s armpit hair because nothing crashes a party like too much armpit hair and not enough modern deodorant. Not that there's anything wrong with the crystal rock you rub on your pits so you don't get cancer, of course. Did I mention I was up until midnight every night this week working on my third paper? Wait. What was the point of this?

Hey, even I don't even know anymore.

Oh, yeah. My point was my therapist mentioned that maybe I don't have to work quite so hard on these papers. Maybe I don't have to get a 100% OMG A+++++++++ in this class. And honestly, I had every intention of dialing it in this semester and doing as little work as possible to just coast by and maybe get a B in the class because who really cares, it's just grad school for teachers and I just need the credits, I'm not trying to impress anybody.

And then I started actually taking the class and writing the papers and remembered, oh yeah, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, I'm super-competitive and I need my pats on the head and my gold star on my forehead. I can't stop. You can't stop this kind of brainiac nerd magic. You just can't. So if I'm going to write a paper, I'm going to write the shizz out of it. I'm going to sparkle and shine.

Some of us just shine. We can't help it.

I would like to now add a note for all of my Facebook friends and let them know that they should be thanking me for the restraint I've had while NOT reporting every grade I've received in the class thus far. When I was in college I used to tape my report cards on the refrigerator for my first husband to see. He was an engineering major so he wasn't getting the 3.9s that I was getting as an English major and I think he pretty much wanted to kill me for plastering our refrigerator with my A's and my letters from the Dean. So what I'm saying is that Facebook is now my refrigerator and all of my friends are like a bunch of first husband engineers who would hate me for crowing about my good grades. So like I was saying, I'm really proud of my self-restraint and how much I've matured since I was in my twenties.

Either that, or it's just that now there are things such as blogs and I can inflict my ego on the internets and leave my poor family alone. Okay. I'm not really leaving my poor family alone because I may have run up to my bedroom and pumped my fist and did a little dance of victory for my husband after I finished my paper. And then I told him how awesome I was.

Feel free to send him sympathy cards.

Anyway, I think this blog post is a good representation of my state of mind right now. I'm sort of hyper and I don't know how I'm supposed to go through this emotional rollercoaster five more times before December. Anyway, I'm thinking about writing a book about the Stages of Grief of an Academic. Here's the outline for the first chapter:

Emotional Stages of Writing a Paper

1. Dread
2. Despair
3. Avoidance
4. Resignation
5. Panic
6. Fatigue
7. Hope
8. Mania


Clearly, I'm on Stage 8 right now. I apologize for this post. But it's better than buzzing around my office and talking like a spaz to my co-workers. Oh who are we kidding, we all know I'm going to do that as soon as I'm done typing this.

Does anyone have any left over Halloween candy? I think I need a sugar buzz. Whoo!



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Winning at Parenting.

My three-year-old daughter and I have been taken out this past week by a nasty case of Bubonic Plague. Or Croup. Or RSV. Or Adenovirus. I don't know. Take your pick. We have both been sneezing, hacking and coughing like the tuberculosis wing of a hospital in an Irish short story.

So the other day,  my daughter walked into the kitchen. She looked pathetic and adorable in her pink jammies in the middle of the day. I looked less adorable in my sweats and my sicklady top-knot. We had matching red noses and chapped lips. We both looked slightly bleary eyed and confused. I was drinking hot tea. She was carrying her little pink doll, "Baby," the doll who goes everywhere with her. Her brow was furrowed and she was rubbing a spot on Baby's forehead.

"Oh shit," she said. "I sneezed on Baby's head."

I made a note to myself to talk to my husband about our language. But at that moment, I just wanted to douse that Baby with some Windex.


No more F-bombs and I mean it!

Parenting. I'm winning at it.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Recognizing Scars.

I went to get a massage from a rather New Age, Eastern spirituality-type lady. She's very nice. I went to her when I needed help fixing my running stride early last spring. I figured if she was a miracle worker who could fix the way I run, maybe she could take the permanent crick out of my neck and shoulders and make me look less like Quasimodo.

I remember when I went to the running sessions with her, it didn't seem like it was working while I was there. I'm not going to lie. There was a lot of New Age mumbo jumbo. And despite the fact that I am a Buddhist, I always have one foot in the eastern spirituality stuff and one foot way the eff out.

But I'll be damned. It worked. I haven't had any foot or hip pain since I went.

She done fixed me, people.

My neck and shoulder have been completely jacked for about a month. It's a chronic problem and I have a wonderful Polish massage therapist who manhandles me into an endorphin-riddled pulp once a week. I love her.

But she hasn't been enough. Even her Eastern European hands couldn't work out the knot in my shoulder. I began to suspect that the knot was deeper down inside me.

The running guru was the lady to see, I was sure of it. I knew she did stretching exercises for athletes and massage for the chronically damaged. Plus, I had the good luck of strange convergence when a friend suggested the guru masseuse to me, not knowing that this same woman had already cured my running stride. I called the guru right up and I made an appointment. I dragged my weary body with shoulders hunched up over my ears and jaw clenched as tight as a steal trap and I told this stranger that I hadn't worked out in a month.

She recognized me immediately, which surprised me, since I had drastically changed the color of my hair. I used to be blonde and now I am a very dark brunette.

"You're the Buddhist, right?"

"Yes," I said, twitching and tense, the most un-stereotypically Buddhist Buddhist you ever did see. Which makes me a perfect Buddhist of course. God, I'm so freaking zen. Your mind just exploded. Admit it.

All kidding aside, the massaging-running-stretching guru laid her hands on me and said I was tense. She felt my back muscles which were tight as a drum. I was ready to pound out a rousing rendition of Yankee Doodle Dandy and march through town. As she tried to work out the knots, she asked me questions. Asked me why I hadn't worked out in a month. Asked me why I was going to grad school. Asked me what the book I'm writing was about.

"I'm going to grad school and I'm writing a book so my life can be less stressful. Later on, of course. It's a long-term plan, you see. A career change, if you will. But right now...right now it's a bit much."

The guru seemed to understand. She asked me what I do to relax. I admitted that I'm not doing as much to relax these days. My usual sources of relaxation include running, lifting weights, having sex, meditating, going to temple, etc. You know, the usual. Oh, and shopping. I've stopped buying clothes in order to pay for grad school.

EVERYTHING FUN IS OVER.

(Just kidding.)

"What's your book about?" she asked.

"My childhood," I said, feeling like a tool as I always do whenever someone asks me that question.

"Let me guess. You didn't have a perfect childhood?"

"No, I didn't," I laughed. "But I have a dark sense of humor! Besides, a bad childhood is a gift to a writer, right?"

She smiled and mentioned a woman who wrote a book about her bad childhood and how it was a gift to her spirituality. I totally get that.

Then she had me roll over from my stomach to my back and she pulled one of my arms out from under the sheet. The Polish massage therapist frequently works on my arms and shoulders in order to help me with the pain that leads all the way up to my neck. It's all connected, you see.

"What's this?" the guru said, immediately touching the scars on my wrists.

"You're the first person to ever ask me that question directly." I was surprised by how forthright she was. "Those are a part of that bad childhood I mentioned earlier."

"Self-inflicted?" she asked, without a trace of judgment. Just a statement of fact.

"Yes."

And it was so easy. So natural. So not a big deal. It's like we were talking about the weather or about our favorite books. We were just talking about a part of me, just like the writing, the studying, and the fact that I write advertising copy for a living.

"I'm actually writing that chapter right now," I added.

"Ah, see. It's no coincidence," she said and touched the scars again. "That's why you're here. Scars can hold a lot of power. Do you mind if I try something?"

"Sure, I'm game," I said, having no idea whether I was really game or not.

She applied some sort of metal Chinese star-looking tool and started scraping it over my scars.

"Sometimes all your energy gets caught up in this scar tissue," she said. "It's powerful. It can effect your entire body."

She ran the metal scraper, ninja death star tool, over my right forearm and then over my left arm.

"The scars are different on this arm. You got creative."

I laughed in reply.

"I have a dark sense of humor too," she said.

It's all new age mumbo jumbo, of course. These scars are almost 30 years old. I've dealt with them in therapy. I've dealt with them over the course of my life and they really don't mean much anymore. They are self-inflicted, yes. They once acted as catharsis for me, when I was in so much psychic pain that I had no other form of release. They are old and dead, or at least I thought they were.

When my session was over, I sat up, thinking I would still have the knot in my shoulder.

I did not.

It was gone.

And then I noticed my hands were trembling. In fact, my hands trembled the whole way home.
The pain in my neck is gone. My shoulder blade is loose. I can move in every direction. I don't know how she did it. I really don't. She didn't man handle me like the Polish lady. I don't know what she did. But the pain is gone.

It's kind of like the manuscript. Writing it all down. Recognizing the scars. It's very healing.

Turns out it's all connected after all.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I'm Always the Last to Know I'm Having a Nervous Breakdown.

I feel like this cat, but to be honest, the clutter in this picture is stressing me out.

I've never been very good at being in touch with my feelings. My feelings are a nebulous dark world that resides somewhere deep inside me. My feelings are supposed to stay buried there like good little obedient feelings that don't get the hose again.

I have been very busy lately just like everyone else is OMG so busy, I know. I'm not a special snowflake, I swear. In fact, I am so un-special that I my mantra is, "You're getting everything done so nothing is wrong!"

I tend to tamp things down. I tend to downplay. Yes, I am super busy just like everyone else. I'm meeting my deadlines. I'm turning in my papers. I'm writing this memoir. My children are bathed and clothed and fed. So all systems, go, right?

Except I'm clenching my jaw. Like constantly. So much so that my jaw aches.

And I have a permanent pain right under my shoulder blade. And I can't move my neck all the way to the right. And okay, maybe my right shoulder is higher than my left shoulder. So maybe I twitch occasionally and talk to myself.

But I'm getting everything done so everything is fine.

I also feel like biting everyone's heads off.

But I swear, everything's cool.

Until my therapist says, "But you don't look alright."

Realizing I am not alright is a slow dawning. There are several steps, a planning commission, strategy meetings and a full blown campaign before I decide that yes, in fact, I am not okay.

In fact, I might be a little stressed out. But just a little in the, "I think I'm going to grind my own teeth down to my jaw and snap my neck" kind of way.

So what do I do now that I realize I'm not okay?

I'm not quite sure. I need to figure out a way to exercise. I haven't exercised since I started taking a grad class. That is not okay. It affects me mentally. Maybe I just need to go run for 30 minutes? Even that would blow some steam off.

I gotta do something.

I've got that Xanax I'm always joking about but I never take it. I think it's like a talisman of sorts. I just like knowing it's there. Maybe I'll start carrying it around in my pocket and take it out and shake it or stroke it when I'm upset? Maybe I can whisper sweet nothings to it. When nobody's looking, of course.

I know all the carbo-loading I've been doing probably isn't going to help the stress. Eating my feelings has never worked out in the past. Or shoving my feelings down even deeper into the dark pit of my soul. Yeah. That doesn't work either.

Maybe I just need to go for a run or go work out? At least it's a step in the right direction. Because with the full-time job, the kids, the manuscript, the grad class ... I mean, I hate to say it, but it might not all be okay right at this exact minute. I know my M.O. is to insist that everything is fine. But maybe it's not.

I'll figure it out.

I always do.

But right now, at this moment, I haven't got it all figured out. And maybe that's okay too?



"Sun Arise" by Phosphorescent.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Writing a Memoir. Getting an Agent. Getting Published. And Telling Your Mom.

Prom, bitches. Check out that 80s hair.
I've been working on my first book for about a year now. I hired a writing coach and she has helped me to keep on a writing schedule and to structure my memoir so it moves along at the pace of a novel. I want to keep the reader interested and I don't want it to suck. Yes "suck" is a literary term. You learn that in graduate school.

Also, I had the ambitious idea to write the memoir as a series of stand-alone essays. Each and every chapter has to have a neat beginning, middle and end. It has to have its own conflict. It has to resolve that conflict in some kind of satisfying way. And it has to have its own point or meaning because otherwise, why bother?

Doing this has been no small task but I am pleased with the results thus far. My favorite writers, people like David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, Michael Chabon and Jo Ann Beard have all done this with their nonfiction so I figured, why not me? Plus it seemed like an easier way to transition from a lifetime of writing short stories, essays and blog posts into writing a longer work. Cause that shit's daunting, yo.

The book is a memoir of my childhood. It covers the time period from one of my earliest memories ... maybe around three years old ... to 19 years old. I'm knee-deep in the high school period right now and things have gotten considerably more exciting, as adolescence is wont to be.

I had a literary agent contact me a couple of months ago, interested in the manuscript. This is why blogging is no joke, people. Everything you write on the internet is a potential to attract attention, both good and bad. In this instance, it was good. This is a fancy literary agent at a fancy New York agency. Whenever I write "New York Agency" in my head, I hear the crowd yell, "NEW YORK CITY?" like they do in those Pace picante salsa ads. Yes I know "picante salsa" is not a word, but I think it makes me sound even more Midwestern for humorous effect.

I sent the agent the first 50 pages and haven't heard back yet. My coach encourages me to believe that this is a good thing, because it means I haven't been rejected yet.

This is why I pay her. Because otherwise I would be taking a lot of Xanax right now.

Knowing that first 50 pages is out there has encouraged me to want to finish this thing. I've tried to pick up the pace of late, to try to get it done. I wish I had more time to do it. The full-time job and the graduate class are infringing on that a bit, but I think I can still manage. I pretty much either work on the book or do homework from 9pm to midnight each night. I heard that Hemingway wrote only for four hours a day, from 8 in the morning until noon. That is basically my bar. It has been set. My life's goal is to be able to write from 8 to noon one day. Or even 9 to 1. That, to me, would be success. But right now, I'm living the nocturnal version of the Hemingway dream, which is okay too.

Anyway, I think I had a point with this post but now I've forgotten it. Perhaps it was merely to catch you up on the status of my first book, to tell you a little more about it, and to encourage myself to keep on writing it.

Now that I'm on the adolescence part, it gets harder in some ways and easier in others. It's easier because it's all about me. I don't have to worry about hurting my parents' feelings because the older you get, the more you are responsible for your own life and actions. When you're a little kid your parents have much more power, clearly.

I've talked to my mom about the memoir, because you can't really write about being the child of an alcoholic without telling the recovering alcoholic that you're doing so. I mean, at least if you still want to have a relationship with your parent, that is. She is incredibly awesome about it. She says, "Your story is your story, and no one else's."

That's pretty incredible, isn't it? It's a gift. Possibly one of the greatest gifts she has ever given me. You know, aside from that whole giving birth to me thing.

I'll have to remember it in case either one of my kids becomes a writer. Lord knows I've given them plenty of material.

Now I have to get back to my memoir. The current chapter is about how I simultaneously developed both a crush on a boy and an eating disorder. Some of it's funny I swear! Okay, some of it's sad. It's kind of how the whole book is looking at this point. Inappropriate humor, dark humor and a lot of brutal honesty.

Now, where did I put that Xanax?



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Freedom of Body. Freedom of Mind.

My husband says that every married person is free. Free to do what they want and who they want. These are choices that they have, just like single people. They also have the choice to stay in their marriage and stay faithful to their spouses. However, he feels that spouses have a responsibility as fellow human beings to let their partners know if they have decided to step outside the marriage. Everyone has a right to know what kind of relationship they're in, he says. And everyone has a right to be in the kind of relationship they want.

"I don't own you," he says.

Having been cheated on in a relationship, this attitude is eye opening for me. When I first got out of that relationship I was filled with rage and a sense of injustice. I wanted everyone to know what a bad man he was. I wanted everyone to know that I was good and he was evil. I raged and hated him for years. I could not believe that he had done this to me and with such impunity too. When I chose to leave our relationship, he was confounded. He couldn't believe I was leaving him without proof of his affairs. But I knew. I had enough proof for me. I was enraged that he hadn't allowed me the right to know what kind of relationship I was in. I felt like that was the worst betrayal of all.

But the fact of the matter is, he was indeed free to do all of that. I did not own him. I only wish he had let me know and let me exit the relationship more gracefully. All of this seems so reasonable in hindsight, of course. We all know I would have burned his house down.

My point is, everyone is free to live the life they want to live. I believe that and I am married to someone who believes that. My husband and I choose to be married to one another and we choose to be faithful. We choose this life. In that way, we are free. No one wants to feel trapped and we certainly don't.

I feel the same way about employment. Everyone is free to choose their employment. I know we always hear about how an employer is free to fire you at any time with or without cause. The funny thing is, I think that we forget that as employees, we are free to leave at any time we want. Sure, two weeks' notice is considered the polite thing to do. But our employer doesn't have to give us two weeks' notice. I've never understood why that isn't considered impolite or unprofessional?

Everyone is also free to say what they want. You can say hurtful things, racist things, rude things and profane things. And everyone else is also free to tell you that you're a jerk for saying it. But it doesn't mean you have to stop. Well, I guess you can't scream "Fire" in a movie theater because you could injure people, but you know what I mean. You are free to say what you want and other people are free to criticize you for it.

As a writer, I struggle with wanting more freedom. So often I don't feel free to say what I want. For instance, the other day I mentioned that I didn't find working in advertising intrinsically rewarding. That I don't feel like I'm helping anyone or making the world a better place. I really debated posting that. I mean, I could lose my job because of that, right? I could totally get Dooced over it.

But I'm still free to write it. So I am, in fact, free. I may wind up unemployed, but I feel like I'll be less imprisoned by opening up and writing about what I feel on this blog. I want to say what I mean and what I think. I've felt so repressed and limited for years. It's why I don't post much or why so many of my posts go unpublished. I mean, what's the point if I can't be myself?

I also struggle with the freedom to write my book the way I want. I want it to be totally honest and real. I want it to feel as though you are sitting down at a table with me and I am telling you my deepest, darkest secrets. I want to be ribald and over-the-top. I want to be sincere and impassioned. I want to be everything on the page that I am in my closest friendships and in my marriage. I want you to know the real me, not some phony version of me. And I want you to know that if you've ever had any of these thoughts or done any of these things, that you are not alone.

But I struggle with a fear of what will people think? Not everyone wants to be my friend. Not everyone will relate to me. Lord knows, I'm bound to offend some people. I debate toning myself down in order to make myself for palatable to the general public. Maybe I shouldn't swear so much? Maybe I shouldn't write what horrible things I thought or did as a teenager? Or if I write about sex as openly and honestly as I write about heartbreak ... will that make my book suddenly prurient and base?

Can you be literary and also sexual? Can you be serious and ridiculous? Can you say the things that you think in the deepest and darkest parts of your mind and heart ... and still be a respectable person? Do you really care?

I struggle with that.

I want to be free. I want to be myself and damn the consequences. I find it pretty depressing to try to tow the line, to be honest.

Because the truth is, I am free. Free to write what I want. Free to go where I want. Free to do what I want. This life is a choice. You can accept the consequences for your actions but never forget that you do indeed have a choice. You are free, dammit!

I feel like William Wallace right now.

I have to remind myself over and over again that I am free to write my book the way I want. In a way, I find the book is paving a path to freedom. I'm trying not to worry too much about what might come next. Some people may not like me. Some people might not like my book. I'll probably get slammed for the sexual content. And maybe I'll admit some unpleasant things about myself that you're not supposed to admit.

But that's who I am.

It's all a part of my life.

And I will write about it as freely as I want.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dammit. I Like Graduate School, God Help Me.


You know how I was whining about graduate school a couple of posts ago? About the 50-page syllabus and the incomprehensible assignments? At that point I hadn't even encountered the 50-100 pages of printed materials that would come shooting out of the printer each week only to weigh down my Shakespeare's Globe Theater book bag. Let alone the two text books and the rough draft that's due Monday. You know, that class? The class I was simply going to "tolerate" and "get through" so I could "just get the damn degree?"

Well dammit all, I love it.

I forgot how much I love this stuff. I love talking about how to get kids to enjoy reading. I love learning new ways to get teenagers hooked on a book. I'm fascinated by the whole process of teaching someone to read. I'm excited about learning new ways to connect with students in the classroom.

Did you read that?

I'm actually excited about something I could do for a living.

I've forgotten what that feels like.

I haven't loved what I do for a living since I left teaching a decade ago. I fantasize about having my own class again. I think about ways to engage students. I'm excited to hear what they think about new books, new writers and current events. God help me, I love teenagers. There, I said it.

Everybody's got their niche. That one thing they're really good at. I think I'm really good at just loving those pesky teenagers to death. People always look at me like I'm nuts when I say I prefer teenagers to little kids. But it's true. Of course now that I have my own kids they don't scare me so much. I could actually see myself teaching in the elementary grades now that I've had that parenting experience.

But oh, my heart. It lies with teenagers. There's something about that time in your life when you're encountering everything for the first time. First heartbreak. First desire. First outrage. First awareness of the world outside your home, your school, your parents and your friends. The rawness of adolescence just captures my sympathy like no other time of life.

Maybe I wasn't the greatest English teacher that ever lived. Maybe someone else was better at teaching grammar. Or maybe some other teacher was more clever with their analysis. Maybe they were faster graders or assigned more papers. Maybe they focused more and stayed on topic. I know I was one to be drawn in and seduced by my students' attempts to distract me. They'd have me laughing about something ridiculous and unrelated more times than they probably should have. The scamps! But oh my heart. They had it. And I can't help but think that maybe a little bit of the love I had for them and for the literature might have helped ease the sting of high school just a little bit. In some small way.

Maybe in that way, I made a difference with my life. I did something that mattered. Maybe I actually helped someone?

I ache for that. I do. I feel so empty writing advertising headlines built to sell you something you may or may not even need. It's just not doing it for me.

But the brutality of adolescence? The passion of literature? Oh let me dive back in. I know I'm a foul-mouthed writer with a penchant for dirty jokes. But I swear, tax-paying parents of America, I will love the crap out of your kids.

Ha ha.

No one is ever going to hire me.

Oh well. Let's hope the book I'm writing is a bestseller.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Little Advice On Writing and One Night Stands.


I, like most writers, have certain tricks I use to get myself started on the writing process.

One book and one writer's voice has stayed with me for almost twenty years. I often hear Anne Lamott's words from her book, Bird by Bird, when I'm struggling to write. I first read it in an undergraduate creative writing class in the 1990s. I went on to use this book when I taught my own creative writing class. No matter how many other books on writing I read, no other has stayed with me on such a daily and personal basis.

For my day job I write advertising copy. And when I'm writing at work, I often use Lamott's advice about permitting myself to write a "Shitty First Draft." I find that no matter what I've set out to write, whether it be something personal, something professional, something academic or something creative ... I have to deal with confronting the blank page and the feelings that are associated with it. Feelings such as:

Woe.

Despair.

Boredom.

Distraction.

Hopelessness.

Irritation.

Rage.

Humor.

Thirst.

Obsessive compulsiveness towards laundry.

More despair.

And then finally, sometimes, a sentence. One horrifically awful, no-good, very bad sentence.

That one measly, completely embarrassing sentence that I managed to eek out after completing every other task in my domestile, is thanks to Anne Lamott. In her book, she says:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.

Aside from fear of death, fear of NOT BEING PERFECT will keep you from putting anything on that beautiful blank page. My god, if you're going to muss it up, it had better be good, you might think.

Get that horse hockey out of your head. Just give in to the suckitude, dude. Resolve to write the most embarrassingly cliched, rushed, puked, pulled and cajoled sentence that ever hurled itself onto a page. And then resolve to write another. And another. Keep going until you have strings of perfectly vomitus prose splattered all over your pages like a two-day bender after a breakup with some major asshole who cheated on you that ended with you waking up with some improbably young person who appears to quite possibly still be in college.

Whatever you do, don't judge! Don't stop. Keep writing through the horrible mess of your no good very bad divorce. I mean draft. Yes, that's what we were talking about, right?

I kid. I joke. I make a little metaphor about writing and irresponsible sex with young strangers.

Like you haven't been there.

Oh.

You haven't?

Well this is awkward.

*Looks away*

Anyway, I digress. My point is, no one has to know about that misguided one night stand with the 20-something-year-old who perhaps proceeded to call you seven times a day for the next two weeks before everyone had Caller ID and so they had no idea that you knew they were calling seven times a day for two weeks. I mean, damn, friend, you must be gooooood.

*High fives*

My point is, no one has to know about the perfectly terrible writing you're doing on your laptop at midnight on a Monday. No one is going to see it. You're just breaking the ice. You're taking a big ugly pick axe to it because you can't swim unless you get wet. Or you can't get over someone unless you strip off your clothes and dive in bed with your first stranger.

Wait. What?

Exactly. Consider this blog my shitty first draft. I'm just throwing it all out there and I'll save it as a "Draft" and it will never see the light of day in its present condition. Maybe. Unless it's funny. Then the kid stays in the picture.

Once I've given myself permission to write a completely shitty first draft, I then make the task before me as small as possible. If I'm at work, maybe I just tell myself I'll write down five headlines. Or I'll write one paragraph and no more. If I'm at home working on my book, maybe I'll just write the opening scene. Or write one conversation between two characters. Just some small task to accomplish in the midst of a much larger, and much more daunting, task-at-large.

Anne Lamott calls this technique the One-Inch Picture Frame:

I go back to trying to breathe, slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.

This tiny frame is actually quite huge. Breaking down your writing assignment into something small and doable is a great way to break through the resistance. Your brain will balk at the insurmountable task of not only filling up one blank page but all the other blank pages that follow. But if you coax it with a teeny tiny wee little task that even a baby writer could accomplish ... then maybe your brain won't be so scared.

Maybe your fingers will tentatively tap out a small scene. Maybe the sun will rise on your character's front lawn. Maybe one character will finally tell another one to fuck off. Or maybe you'll write one tagline about cat food.

It's just a one-inch picture frame. Full of shitty first words. No one else has to see it. No one has to know you ever wrote such tripe. Or banged a stranger in a polyester suit whose young, hopeful eyes gleamed just a bit brighter one Saturday night under a disco ball and hell, maybe you just felt like dancing.

No one needs to know.

We've all had a shitty first draft and a one night stand. But we couldn't move forward without getting that messy business out of the way.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Before and After: Blonde to Brunette.

I've been some shade of blond my entire life. Tow-headed two-year-old. Beachy blond waves. Dishwater. Dirty. Golden and Ashy. After flirting with low lights and dark streaks of color throughout the years, I was determined to experience life as a brunette at least once in my life. Who knows. Maybe it's a mid-life crisis? It's cheaper than a convertible, that's for sure.

What I've noticed in the process is that that all of my hairdressers over the years have tended to push me lighter and lighter. Every time I request low lights, they want to add a few highlights to "brighten" me up a bit. Therefore it's been a back and forth battle between light and dark with the person holding the bowl of dye winning each and every time.

A blond friend has termed to tendency for hairdressers to push blonds lighter and lighter until we're all the same shade of platinum, "Blonderexia."

Anyway, I realized it would take a great force of will to turn this head from light to dark. I've been to almost half a dozen hairdressers in the past year while on this quest, without success. A few weeks ago I tried to forcefully request the change to brunette and what I got was darker roots and a toner washed through my blond hair. I walked out of the salon ... a blond yet again.

SIGH.

Finally I asked a friend who had made the dramatic shift from blond to dark brunette for the name of her hairdresser. And I'll be damned if I didn't get the best cut, color and blowout of my life this past weekend.

So here you go, kids. Here's the new me! I'm ready to take a walk on the dark side as a mysterious raven-haired ingenue. I'll be curious to see if I notice any difference in how I'm treated or if I get any less attention at the gas station. I definitely feel more bad ass with the dark hair. More dangerous. Kind of like a secret agent. I just have to resist the urge to shoot a pretend handgun at my co-workers.

brunette bangs mandy fish
Une femme dangereuse.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

This Syllabus Has 17 Pages.

I've experienced some challenges on my road to pursuing my Master's degree. I started it 10 years ago and then my life got messy and graduate school got left by the wayside. I didn't really feel all that bad about it at the time, because it wasn't the precise degree I wanted and the school was my back-up, back-up, I'm-only-going-there-if-nothing-else-pans-out school.

However, trying to pick it back up all these years later has been more difficult than I thought it would be. Let this be a lesson to you. If you start a grad program, don't quit, people. Just don't do it. Get loans. Take a bad grade here and there. Suck it up and finish, goddammit. Because that whole story about "When one door closes and another one opens" is complete horse hockey. Sometimes doors slam shut.

Not to sound bitter or anything.

*Shakes cane*

Anyway, my life had finally settled down a bit, so I thought it was time to finish the unfinished. Turns out I couldn't just re-enter my old program at my old grad school. Nope. You can't just flounce back in and flit your wrists and do a little twirl and say, "Remember meeeeeee!?!" like old best friends and get back in. No. They wanted me to take the GRE for the third time. I'm sorry. I just can't. I can't take a four-hour SAT for grown-ups for the third time. It's some kind of torture, that test. And each time I take it I do worse. I peeked in the 90th percentile range back in 1993 and it's been downhill ever since. I think I would now score similarly to the rabbits that live under the bushes in my front yard.

The school also wanted me to get new recommendation letters from professors I haven't had in 10 to 20 years. And 2 out of 3 of the professors who wrote my recommendation letters the last time around are dead. So, there you go. I'm not going to be resurrecting the bodies of two beloved literature professors just so I can get back into a noncompetitive English program.

Getting a Master's degree in Education was sort of the path of least resistance. No GRE required. I could get recommendation letters from people I've worked with rather than professors I haven't had in decades. And I only had to write one short essay. Easy peasey lemon squeezey, as my son would say.

Except it's been one foible after another. I won't go into it all here, but I was supposed to start taking classes last May and there has been one snafu and red-tape situation after another. I finally get everything in order about a week before Fall class begin and the lo and behold, all the classes I A) need or B) fit in with my work schedule are already filled.

SIGH.

More juggling, hand-wringing and emailing back and forth with my advisor (who must hate me by now) and I'm registered for a class. An online class. Should be good, right? I mean, I won't even have to hurry to get to campus after work. Except no. The professor wants to do the Live Chats during my work hours.

DOUBLE SIGH.

I can work around that even. I email the professor (who must hate me by now) and I'm going to figure out a way to do the work after hours. Okay, fine. But that doesn't address the fact that the syllabus for this class is 17 mother-freaking pages long.

You read that right.

A 17-page syllabus.

And it is incomprehensible. It is written in some jargon-laden, teacher-speak that sounds like Swahili to me. I have read it over and over again, I've highlighted it and taken notes in the margins and it's still only becoming vaguely coherent.

This is the School of Education, people. It's just like I remembered it. Leave it to the Education professionals to write the most complicated, muddy, baffling and intimidating syllabuses ever recorded in the annals of higher education.

Something tells me I'm not going to make Honors this time around.

I don't care. Come hell or high water, I'm going to get that damn degree if it kills me and alienates every last staff member at the University of Bumble-Stumble.

As God as my witness, I will wear fancy robes at the end of this.

*Stands on mountain top. Waves staff. Hair blows in wind.*


Graduation Day, Motherfuckers.



Friday, August 30, 2013

Transitions.


I was planning on writing a short post about how I am going to back to grad school. But then it turned into this.

I started grad school about a decade ago and never finished. It has always bothered me. When I think of myself, I think of myself as someone with a graduate degree. Perhaps wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches. Smoking a pipe. Wearing Birkenstocks. That sort of thing.




Haha. Just kidding about the Birks.

All kidding aside, I miss teaching. I taught high school English for many years before I went into the glamorous world of advertising. (Insert laughter here.) I miss having students. I miss feeling like I'm doing some good in the world, helping someone out, contributing to society, etc. That's not to say I haven't written some preeeeetty fine taglines, yes indeed.

But. You know.

There aren't a lot of older women in advertising. Everyone is young. Young and beautiful. Or old and quirky. And male. It makes me nervous. I'm not getting any younger. What will happen to me when I'm not young and beautiful and hip? (Insert laughter here.) Okay, maybe I've never been those things. But the reality is all around me.

Advertising is not a career for the old. And I would like a very long career, thank you.

I've always been attracted to the idea of being a college professor. Seems like such an unreasonable goal, though. Everyone says there aren't any jobs. But they say that about teaching high school and writing copy for an ad agency.

It seems everything I like or am good at is not an in-demand career.

A pox upon you, liberal arts degree!





I start my first class next week. I'm still working full-time at the ad agency. I still have two children. I'm still working with a writing coach on my manuscript. I still play mandolin, obsessively straighten my house and fold all the laundry for four people. And I'm still married. So yeah. I'm a little concerned about how that's all going to work out. But one thing I have noticed is that the busier you are, the more you get done. You've got momentum.




I may have to give up some of my recreational sports like mandolin, mani/pedis and obsessively working out. Or simply back off a little. I do have my eye on the 5:15 a.m. spinning classes though. I could fit those in.

Old people don't do this much, right?

I'm not old, really.

Not yet.

If only the university hadn't just sent me an email inviting me to the "Transitions Program" for older students.





Yeah.

I wasn't feeling insecure about going back to school until I received that email. Particularly for graduate school. I mean, I thought lots of people went back to school for advanced degrees later on.

C'mon!

When I hear the word "Transitions" I think of bifocals and absorbent undergarments. I think of senior living centers with support staff. I think: Menopause.

Maybe I need to have another baby?

Just kidding.

I wrote that line to scare my husband.

Anyway, this old lady is going back to school. Wish me luck. And let me know if you want to write any papers for me.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Dante's Forgotten Circle of Hell. Part 3.


Asexual Mandy in floods on left. Sexy sister on right.
This is part three in a series. Please click here to read Part One or here to read Part Two.

A kindly cellist tried to tutor me on the art of bangs. Apparently you were supposed to fluff them up. She suggested I try using a curling iron. We all know that didn't end well. A few second-degree burns later and I had decided to cut it all off. Short hair was edgy, right?

I ended up looking like Carol Brady.

I somehow summoned the courage to reach outside of my tight social circle of nerds. I needed hair advice and I needed to bring in the pros. I approached a rather gorgeous and friendly tall girl who had incredibly stylish hair. It might have been one of those asymmetrical short eighties wedges, you may recall. Something akin to A Flock of Seagulls. I figured perhaps we might share a sisterhood of the overly tall and she might take pity on me.

"What should I do with my hair?" I asked. "It doesn't look cool like yours." I laid my cluelessness at her feet and put faith in the kindness of tall girls.

"I love the short hair!" she said. "You just need to update it a little!" She smiled and this encouraged me.

"How do I do that? Where do I go?" I asked. I needed specifics. I needed a salon. I needed a hairdresser. I now had the right vocabulary all I needed was the right person to translate the artistic direction.

"Update it," I told the hair stylist at Mario Max. If I was straight and to the point, it's because I had no other words in my arsenal. But thanks to the beautiful and tall Claire, I had that much at least.
       

"Do you want it spiky? Do you want it shorter in back? How do you like the bangs?" The handsome gay stylist moved my hair in the mirror and asked me questions as if I had any idea of what he was talking about.
       
"Update it," I repeated. "Do whatever you think will look good."
       

And really, what more does a hair stylist need to hear?
       

In hindsight, I am touched by the kindness of adolescent girls. I blush to think I so naively and without embarrassment sought the counsel of other girls. I was a rube and they must have known it, but they took pity on me still. I did find my fair share of mean girls in middle school and even found them amongst my own tribe of the misfit and the musical. I recall a school trip, to somewhere far. Some place that required a long bus trip, a friend to share a seat with, and a small group to ride the rides with. 

Clearly, a trip made for disaster.

I’d recently gotten in a fight with a close friend. I perceived this friend as more popular than I was. Okay, admittedly not an impressive feat. But I was taken aback by her friendship. Her interest floored me. She invited me over to her house. We had sleepovers. She wore brand-name clothes and lived in a big house. What on earth was she doing with a loser like me?

This practically popular friend and I had a falling out, and with that, my entire social standing bottomed out. I should have known better than to have had a fight with her just a week before the all-important school trip. I hadn’t factored in how it would affect my ability to find a group of four to join. At that late juncture, any and all friends I had were already neatly grouped to ride the rollercoasters built for four and no more. But the school said to break ourselves up into groups of four and to sign up as a unified team for the school trip on a list posted in the main hallway.

After the fight with my practically popular friend, my name was unceremoniously crossed off the original list. My eyes scanned the other groups of friends and near-friends to see if there was a threesome looking for a fourth to tag along. No such luck for an awkward tall girl trying to read the list without crying. 

Students filed past me as I stood staring at the bulletin board. Some friends stopped to ask what was wrong and I could barely get the words out without crying.

“I need a group for the school trip. Do you guys have any room?” I tried to sound casual but the stink of desperation was on me.

“No, sorry! We’ve already got four in our group. Have you asked so-and-so?”

All the so-and-so’s that might not mind a social anchor like me were all matched up into perfect sets of four and no more. My desperation grew stronger as the day went on. I had an end of the day deadline and a dance card to fill.

At one point I was talking to some friends in the hallway trying to strategize and brainstorm potential pairings for me when I espied my former best friend in the distance. Her collars were popped. She stood in profile and smiled and laughed while my social ship was sinking in plain view.

It was too much. My resolve, broken. The dam began to break and I felt the tears fall in the middle school hall. Tall girl down. And she’s going down hard. 

I ran down the hall to the pay phone. I called my mother’s office. It was a Hail Mary pass to be sure, but I was calling this one in to a higher power. I could only hope that the higher power in question was sober, just this once.

“Mom,” I started to speak and my voice broke as soon as I heard her voice.

I explained the situation as best I could, blubbering in noisy school hallway.

“You wait right there,” she said. I could hear the steel in her voice. This was a woman on a mission. Perhaps my tears and torment were enough to sober her up. Perhaps she didn’t drink at work. Who’s to say? All I knew was that my mother was on her way.

I stood by the front doors with my forehead pressed against the glass. I waited for my savior, the cause of and solution to all of my social problems at school. I knew she would fix it, somehow. I had faith in the magic that adults could wizard into the brutalism of youth, hocus-pocusing away our amateurish attempts at cruelty.

I watched her walk from her car to the school. I saw her face through the reflection of my own in the glass and noticed we both looked set and determined. There were moments that I could rely on my mother. Moments she broke through the fog of alcoholism, or depression, or passivity or whatever it was she had going on — not that I could divine any of it at 13. 
      
But this was one such moment. Not unlike the sun breaking through the dark gray cloud that hung over the concrete school. Mother’s love was like Michigan sun. Rare and all the more stunning because of it. 
      
She came through the doors and she looked fierce. You did not fuck with my mom when she was pissed. She walked over to me with a firm and set face, and she hugged me hard, yet briefly.
      
I sobbed. The tears started rolling as soon as my eyes had set upon her. She indulged my tears for a moment and then she pulled me away and looked in my eyes.
      
“You stop crying now. It is going to be okay. We are going to figure this out.” She looked into my eyes like she meant business and I believed her like religion.
      
I nodded my head and sniffled.
      
“Don’t let them see you cry,” she said. I let my eyes stray to the hallway where I could see a collection of girls watching us.
      
I sniffled again and widened my eyes in order to dry them.
      
“Okay,” I said.
      
At that point, a friend had walked up to us with some other scared-looking friends behind her. They had the “Oh Shit Her Mom’s Here” look on their faces that nice girls will adopt as soon as an adult is present.
      
“Hi Mrs. Fish. Mandy, what’s wrong?” my friend asked and turned towards me.
      
“She’s fine,” my mother said. “Just trying to figure some things out.” And with that, my mother and the friend managed to figure out a way to get me on that bus with a completely brand-new threesome of friends. How they conjured a group of three teenage girls out of the atmosphere to befriend and ride with me, I don’t know. But my mother and that kind girl made it happen.
      
Later that day, the friend I’d been fighting with, the friend who’d kicked me out of my original group, came back and offered me a spot with her on the bus.
      
“Mandy, you can be in my group. I didn’t know you were so upset!” she said. I had no way of knowing whether she was sincere, whether my own insecurities had conjured this perceived outcast state, or whether it was the cruelty of teenaged girls at play. Both and all are possible. But what I did know was that she would never know it. I would never let her know she’d hurt me or that I cared.
      
I flipped my hair. Shrugged my shoulders.
      
“No, it’s fine. I have a group. No problem. My feelings aren’t hurt at all,” I  said and tried the lie on for size. 
      
I vowed to keep at it until it fit.






That's the end of the chapter, "MIddle School: Dante's Forgotten Circle of Hell." This is just one chapter in a longer work, a memoir of my childhood. Hopefully I will finish the collection by 2014 and will keep you posted on my work with getting an agent and getting it published. Thanks for reading!