Monday, June 25, 2012

Breathe and then Write

Oh, I'm not apologizing for this because Brenda told me I can't (women apologize too much for things we don't need to anyway), but I don't know where June has gone. I turned around and it was June 25th somehow, and I hadn't written for a week, without even the excuse of vacation this time around. I think trying to blog frequently in the summer is a big challenge for many of us. This Reverb Broads round has been great, but certainly more sporadic for everyone than our December round was. So in playing a little ketchup, here goes...

June 20
Forget the iPhone and iPad. What invention would make your life better?

It's not so much an invention, but a service that I would like create and then afford myself. A very attractive, kind, supportive personal trainer who would awaken me each morning with a large iced coffee in one hand and my workout clothes and shoes in another. He/She would then tell me to get my ass out of bed and proceed to make me work out for a solid hour each weekday before I head off to work. But since I can't afford that service, I need to find some solid reward for myself to encourage this new am workout habit I'd like to get hooked on.

June 21
List 5 reasons you shouldn't bathe for a week.

In a coma. I can't think of another reason. And even then I'm hoping someone can arrange for a sponge bath.

June 22
Write a memoir of your first date.
Art and Soul

Does it count if your first date was with a gay boy (he was not out at the time) and he took me to see Madonna's Truth or Dare and then we ate pie afterward and talked about her costumes? I thought it did in 1991. In retrospect, I may be wrong. But it still counts in my book. (Did I mention we sang along to More Than Words in the car on our drive over to the movie theatre and he corrected my pitch?)

June 23
What habit have you acquired that you wish you hadn't?

I wish I hadn't acquired the habit, begun at around age 13, of telling myself that I'm not a sporty/physical/athletic person. I'm slowing breaking myself of that habitual thought process. I'm not sure what started it, I think puberty hit and I got tall and developed breasts and then suddenly felt uncomfortable in my body for quite a while there, and I've always been more of a bookish chatty girl than a sporty girl, but there I go making sweeping statements about myself. So I'm breaking that habit.

June 24
List parts of your body or your self that make you feel like "you."
List Your Self

My wit, my eyes, my stature, my smile.

Aren't we a hot couple? No, seriously it's 100 degrees out here!


Monday, June 18, 2012

7 Minutes in Heaven

OK, I've been in Chicago on vacation since last week and I'm dreadfully behind. But instead of sitting here feeling guilty for not keeping up with the prompts and then using that guilt as an excuse to avoid the massive pile of prompts taunting me from the screen, especially since I helped get this whole Reverb Broads thing off the ground in the first place (bad, co-founder, bad!) I'm going to cut myself plenty of vacation slack, and simply take exactly 7 minutes to answer each question. So here goes, blogging speed round. And time starts.....NOW!

Reverb Broads Prompt for June 11 - 19, 2012

June 11

If you were to play hooky from work today, what would you do instead?


Being that I just got back from vacation, playing hooky would be a supremely appealing, but silly idea. You have to spread out your hooky days. But otherwise, since I'm already committing the mortal sin of "hooky", I would go buy a very tall, very iced coffee, pick up three raunchy historical novels, look for an empty private pool, jump the fence, and lay by the pool all day, hookying. (It's 90 here today so pool is essential, even baby wading pool or plastic pool on patio.)

June 12
What was the best decision you ever made?

I could say marrying my husband. That was a pretty stellar decision, but instead I'm going with traveling to Cote d'Ivoire in 1998. My college minor was African Art and I was obsessed. My father generously offered to send me somewhere in Africa for the summer, if I could find a good program, and with the help of my art history professor, I found one studying textiles, bronze casting, pottery and wood sculpture for a month in West Africa. I had been toying with the idea of joining the Peace Corps with this fantasy of spending two amazing years teaching English somewhere exotic, but after spending a month traveling all over Cote d'Ivoire, I realized, "Nope. Not for me."

I loved the country. I loved almost everything about the trip: the people, the culture, the food, the art most of all, but something wasn't for me. I couldn't see myself living there. I missed my family and friends in just that short month. I also came to feel that learning English wasn't the skill that would have a huge benefit for most citizens of West Africa. If I had been a doctor, nurse, farmer, small business/micro loan expert, I might have felt differently. But I wasn't. I came home. I began dating my now husband again and I've never regretted not joining the Peace Corps. But more than that, that 1998 trip helped me become an adult. Traveling to a foreign country in the company of strangers, spending a month away from everyone, immersed in a culture unlike anything I'd experienced before. Exposed to the kind of poverty we can't grasp as US citizens, and exposed to the kind of generosity, enthusiasm and hospitality that is overwhelming and surprising from anyone, but particularly from people with so few material goods of their own. I loved that trip and it shrunk the world for me in a powerful way. I felt like I could go anywhere and do anything after that. I still hold that feeling inside of me.

June 13
What was your favorite childhood stuffed animal or toy? Do you still have it? Okay, admit it, do you still sleep with it sometimes?

Monk-Monk is a blonde, 3 feet tall, fluffy monkey that my favorite uncle gave me for Christmas when I was one. Still have Monk-Monk (he even went off to college with me), but he takes up so much space that I can't sleep with him anymore. Plus, Joe might be jealous.

June 14
In a world filled with more technological distractions than ever before, social networks, smart phones, etc, what strategies do you enforce in your life in order to stay focused on your goals and living life in real-time to the fullest?

I don't enforce any particular strategies. That sounds rather rigid and strict to me, and I get enough of that at work everyday. Sure, I could put away my iPad and shut off my phone more often, most of us probably could. But I like my online friendships and interactions. I find they only enhance my connections and relationships with people in real life. Blogging, Facebook, Good Reads, all have brought new friends into my life. Maybe when that stops I'll get all enforcy on myself, but I don't think it's a problem. Technology has actually helped me to stay more focused in some ways. Using great productivity apps, reminders, trackers, all help to keep me more organized and use my time well, at least when I'm not spending 30 minutes watching baby Corgi videos.

June 15
Who was your first best friend?

Megan O'Grady. She lived around the block from me growing up. We went to elementary school together. I moved away. Two years later, her family followed to the same area. And we went to school together all through high school. We grew apart in high school as so many childhood friends do, but still stay connected online.

She's an amazing writer for Vogue and has lived all over the world, though I still remember her as the girl that I played Little Women with (arguing over who got to be Jo) in her basement with the yellow and brown plaid carpet, or watching Ferris Bueller at her birthday slumber party while sleeping under her parent's ping pong table, when she introduced me to Nine Inch Nails and Echo and the Bunnymen, thanks to her older brother, or shelling pounds and pounds of shrimp for one of her parents' parties while watching A Room with a View and hoping desperately that we would each fall in love and live in Italy someday.

June 16
List all the idiotic things you have done for love.
List Your Self

Too long a list for only 7 minutes. And thankfully my faulty memory prevents me from remembering too many of the vivid, embarrassing details.

June 17
What three things do you want more of in your life? What three things do you want less of?

1. Children (one will do)
2. Play (goes with 1.)
3. Water (Maine vacation in Sept. will help here)

1. Guilt
2. Weight
3. Hesitation

June 18
What's in your garden?

Cilantro, two variations of mint, rosemary, sage, dill, chives, basil, salvia, dahlias, hosta, creeping phlox, vinca, and some kind of pink flowery bush that looks like a desert version of carnations whose name I've forgotten.

June 19
How do you define happiness?

Stop. Sit still. Breathe. The sun is on your face. For these brief minutes, everything is perfect. You aren't late. You aren't obligated. Your drink is still cold. You are smiling for no reason. You are with people you love. There is nothing looming over your head, clouds or fears or anxieties. You are still and content and it's just any Sunday afternoon, but all the pieces have come together to make today a really good day. Or any piece of time spent in a used bookstore.


Just Scratching the Surface

I don't consider myself an artist. I don't paint. I don't make serious photographs with the traditional film in the traditional dark room. I like making things, I like being creative, I like writing and design and feeling engaged. But I don't think of myself as an artist. At least I didn't two weeks ago. But over the last two weeks, I've had the pleasure of test driving a website through the Blogher Book Club. Yes, I said website! Well, actually it's an app and a website that was created based on a best-selling book, The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I received a free membership to the website from Blogher and was compensated for my review here, but as usual, all of my bossy opinions are my own.

The Artist's Way is a book that my dad gave me several years ago, when he was dabbling in painting and wanted to share the creative wealth. It's a workbook format that gives you some basic exercises to do each week in order to get more in touch with your creative side. Julia Cameron believes everyone is creative and an has an artist lurking inside of them. (Somehow that sounds ominous, like some depressed looking man in a black turtleneck and beret is watching you. Maybe that's just a beatnik, anyway...)

So I pulled out my book and I signed up on the website. They fit together perfectly. The first most important exercises are the daily pages. Three pages, written on real paper with a real pen in the morning, where you pour out all the clutter and stuff that's filling your head. I think of the daily pages as opening a jam packed hall closet, watching all the detritus of your daily life fall out, all the hats and board games and mittens and coats and junk, sweeping it away and starting with a clean, empty space, ready for new things. In this case it's not that new coat you had your eye on, instead it's new ideas, new ways of seeing the world and new activities. The other exercises include weekly Artist's Dates, where you are assigned something like "visit a new area in your city that you haven't been to before" or "go to a candy shop and buy yourself some of your favorite childhood candy." These activities aren't done with friends or your partner, you do them alone. And by being alone in a new area or alone thinking about the first time you ate that Gobstopper, you get hit with memories or ideas or experiences you may not have noticed before. And then you can take these new thoughts or feelings and use the Creative Pages section of the site to get creating! The website is easy to use and very positive, filled with creative quotes and affirmations. I enjoyed it a lot. But I find that my creativity likes paper and pens and the tactile feeling of cutting and ripping and gluing so I didn't feel creative using the creative pages. I felt stuck a bit.

But the daily pages, the Artist's Dates and the quotes combined with the repetition of writing daily to clear out the cobwebs, and then focusing on the way that I see my world and the rather small box I keep my creativity contained in was slowly torn down. I think by next week I might even feel like an "artist", though I promise I won't start wearing a beret.

I highly recommend The Artist's Way book, and if you are looking for a companion piece to enhance your daily use of the book, I think the website or app would be a nice fit, but when my subscription expires, I think I'll stick to my old fashioned paper journals.

Monday, June 11, 2012

My Friends are Purdy

As a panelist for Blogher's Life Well Lived series, I've loved writing and reading the prompts and answers shared by experts and fellow bloggers on topics ranging from: how to get organized, top beauty must haves, healthy lifestyle ideas (fewer cupcakes more veggies), fashion ideas for all body types and now beauty resources! I think I've got a pretty solid collection of resources pulled together now especially with the power of the interwebs at my fingertips, but Blogher's expert advice is excellent, so take a minute and head over to read A Resource Guide for Creative Inspiration and share your best tips, and don't forget to sign up for their Life Well Lived sweepstakes and win some fabulous prizes that are certain to make you feel creative!

So here's this week's question: 

What are your favorite fashion, style and beauty resources?


I don't read a lot of fashion magazines or fashion blogs. They are generally aimed at skinny girls, girls with lots of loose fashion cash, and the young. I am none of those three. I find my inspiration from some mainstream sources like fabulously styled shows like Mad Men and bloggers like Maggie Mason, Tom and Lorenzo, the First Lady at Mrs. O, and street style from Urban Weeds, but I get most of my inspiration and advice from real life people that I see out and about like that chic looking girl I saw on the street who was combining unusual patterns and colors together, but mostly my resources are people that I know and trust.

I get beauty advice from my hairstylist, Linda, she is charmingly blunt. I get daring make-up tips from my friend, Karyl, who owns pink eyeliner, that the mere idea of trying to apply makes my hands sweat. I get inspired from old photos of my grandmother and mom that makes me feel like risking a few vintage shapes and brooches. And when I have a specific question on a product or a shoe choice, I hit up my friends via social media and text. I'm in a great Facebook beauty group where we share recommendations and ask embarrassing questions. And I ask my friends' for advice all the time. Because what faster access to a fashion resource than texting some stylish friends and asking their opinion on a shoe before I waste $50 on it? My very lovely and stylish friends are the best resource a girl could ask for. But I'm always open for more inspiration, what are your best resources?

Objects of lust

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Vince Vaughn Improved My Marriage

A little weekend time spent catching up on some of the great Reverb Broads prompts this week.....

June 8
What are your favorite decorative items/pieces of furniture/household features?

I love writing about my house and taking photos of the little things hidden in it that make me smile. For the last two years, I've slowly worked through taking photos of my favorite rooms and sharing them on my blog. (Though I suspect you will never get to see pictures of Joe's office, never.) Not because we live in some amazing architectural wonder, or a big house or a fancy house or a supremely organized and clean house, but because we live in a colorful, warm, and above all comfortable, friendly kind of home. It is totally ours, and of course, still in need of some fix ups, but aren't we all? So here are links to the Bravely Obey Just Like Cribs, Minus the Bentleys Edition posts for your voyeuristic pleasure:

The Master Bedroom Edition

The Kitchen Confidential Edition

The Sequestered Office Edition

The Exterior Edition

The Center Ring Edition

And here are my two favorite decorative pieces in our house:

Painting by Dad, Joe's books

This is a painting that I got to watch my father make one afternoon sitting at his art studio. He gave it to Joe and me as a wedding gift almost eleven years ago. It's huge and bright and active and has some of my favorite colors. It's from one of my favorite people in the whole world, commemorating one of my favorite days in the whole world. I'd say that's a win.


And then I had to include our photo wall. This is the long wall that starts in our living room/foyer area and extends into the hallway. It's covered with pictures of our travels, family, friends, and contains the history of our separate families and our last nearly fifteen years of shared history. It is epic and cluttered and chaotic and constantly changing. The cable guy took one look at it, eyes wide, and said "Man, that's a lot of photos." Yes, it is, sir, yes, it is.

June 9
What skill have you learned in the past year that you are proud of?

In 2011-2012, it's been all about practice, practice, practice. I've learned to be a better cook by just doing it more often. I've learned to be a better writer by just doing it more often. But I think the skill that I honed the most this year has been work related. Earning my certificate in professional fundraising was a significant thing for me. It boosted my confidence, it enhanced my ability to help my clients, and it made me realize that I'm good at this and the only way to get better in this area is to keep studying, find great mentors and practice, practice, practice, so I just need to keep doing it more often. Which is good since that's what they pay me to do at work everyday.

June 10
What was your hardest parenting or partner moment?

I don't want to jinx myself here, but Joe and I haven't had any serious fights or problems in our marriage. Just the little irritating ones. We are lucky. We work at it, but I think a lot of our relationship comes naturally and easily to us because we just fit together well. We are friends. We have enough similarities so that we get each other, but enough differences to keep things interesting and surprising. We've struggled occasionally, we are human after all, but it's usually exterior issues that have been difficult. Family problems, deaths, personal struggles, those things that you need to be there for, with each other, holding each other up, listening, caring, supporting, and laughing together as much as humanly possible.

And since things are so undramatic over here at the Sands house, and I know this will sound silly, but the minute I read this post I thought of a stupid fight we had over dirty dishes and how Vince Vaughn helped resolve it. Have you seen the entirely mediocre movie The Break Up, staring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, as a couple in a long term relationship who live together in some insanely expensive looking Chicago apartment that you know they couldn't really afford? Anyway, this movie is not particularly funny, or romantic or sad, it's just another movie that couldn't quite decide what it wanted to be. But there is an argument between the couple that happens early on in the movie. Jennifer Aniston's character has cooked some kind of elaborate meal and cleaned the house for a dinner party and once all the guests have gone home she asks Vince Vaughn to help her do the dishes before they go to bed. (And of course I had to pull this clip from Spike, the television network for men. Ugh.)

The Break-Up - Argument About Doing Dishes
Spike Full EpisodesSpike Video ClipsSpike on Facebook

But it's a fight I'm guessing a lot of us have had. Joe and I used to have some version of it all the time. It included passive aggressive cabinet and dish slamming from me while I cleaned and he sat on the couch watching TV. And then resentful confusion on his part about why the dishes couldn't wait and what I was so peeved about in the first place. Basically we just had shitty communication on this topic. I felt put upon and filled with a righteous martyrdom, and he felt blind sided and nagged. But we saw The Break Up and found ourselves lying in bed the next morning talking about the movie, our basic dislike of it in general, but more about how much I related to that scene, only with passive aggressive dirty Calphalon pans that I would leave waiting for him in the sink. It was a great, open conversation. And ridiculous that it took Vince Vaughn's mediocre acting to make us have it. We talked about how differently we feel about cleaning, about my nearly OCD need to have things clean and organized and the fact that he barely notices those things. It's just not on his radar. But that simple conversation pretty much fixed the problem. I stopped being passive aggressive and just asked for what I wanted. We split up the basic kitchen duties, I fill the dishwasher, he empties it. Whenever I ask. And then if I want help with pots and pans, I have to tell him, but I can't expect him to drop everything and do them just because they bug me. Because if I just leave pots in the sink thinking he'll take the hint, they'll still be sitting there waiting to be washed in 2098. Because the dishes aren't a priority for him. He doesn't see them. He doesn't sit on the couch like I do after a meal with the dirty dishes whispering in his ear that they need to be done. He will never want to want to do the dishes. But if I'm not whiny and shrill and I ask for what I need, like an adult, it all seems to work out a lot better. Oh, I still huff around now and then, human remember? But it's 1,000 times better than it used to be. And it only took 5 years of marriage to get there. Think how good we'll be at this by the time we've been married 25 years. 

Thursday, June 07, 2012

I Lie for the Raccoons

Reverb Broads Prompt for June 7, 2012

List 8 reasons it's okay to lie. 
courtesy of Katrina 

Warning: This post is full of hyperbole, exaggerations, false compliments, and the palest of fibs meant only to entertain or protect your delicate soft little baby feelings. 

1. When your grandmother asks you if "you and your boyfriend's relationship has become physical yet?" My grandmother actually asked me this when I was 16. I said, "sure, but just kissing." She smile-sighed in relief, and I could barely look at her.

2. When formerly adorable raccoons are lying dead on the side of the road. These raccoons are not dead. They are simply sleeping. That's what my dad told me when I was little and that's the kind of magical thinking that makes lying a good thing. Because dead little raccoons make me sad. 

3.  When children start telling you all about what they asked Santa for for Christmas. I immediately create an image in my head of the perfect Coca-Cola ad classic Santa and during the conversation with this little person I too am convinced that Santa is absolutely real. Kids and adults need the magic to last as long as possible. If asked Santa is always real, because he is. And so is Harry Potter, for that matter.

4. When messing with telemarketers. In college, my roommates and I carried on a very long-winded, ridiculous conversation with a nice boy named Jeremy who was trying to sell us life insurance. There were Southern accents and cheating boyfriends and sisters and 8 children. We were ridiculous and it lasted almost an hour. I think by the end Jeremy was totally enjoying the joke/lie.

5. When you are giddy about how you look with that new haircut that makes you look like Sam Kinison, purse that looks like Liberace threw up on it, pants so tight I can see yesterday's panty-line, shoes that a drag queen would find over-the-top, hat (come on, hats? really, why are we friends? Skip the hats), or hoop earrings the size of the planet earth. Because I like you and my opinion is insignificant next to your joyful confidence. But if your boyfriend sucks and makes you cry and feel ugly or stupid too often, then I'm going to have to tell you the truth about that.

6. When I really, really, really don't want to do something with you because you are a bit of a bummer, but I know your feelings would be hurt if I said that. Thereby bumming you out further. But I don't mean, you. Of course not, you. I mean, you, over there. Yeah, I have a root canal scheduled that day, sorry.

7. When I feel like practicing my English accent. I will grocery shop in silence, waiting, then when I get to the check out line I choose the chattiest cashier, and I'm suddenly British. She'll ask me where I'm from and I've got my story ready. Because it's fun, because I did it on a dare in high school and now, at least once a year, I like to relive the ridiculous fun of being someone else for an hour. It's not a lie when Angelina Jolie convinces you she's Laura Croft, right? Ok, yeah, it's a lie when I tell Darlene I work for the Queen, drive a mini-cooper and had scones and clotted cream for tea.

8. When my husband or best friends need an alibi. I've got your back. Unless it's some truly heinous crime. Then I might have to give that a bit more thought. But just something stupid or you're innocent, then you were home with me watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey. (Which now, since I kept you out of jail, you'll have to let me watch whenever I want to. Sorry, because now I know you are thinking jail might be the better option.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Sausagey Sagey Goodness

Reverb Broads Prompt for June 6, 2012

Share a recipe or meal that is a summertime favorite. (Bonus: Pick someone else's recipe or meal and make it, then blog about your results later on this month).

Chicken and Sage Sausage Skewers
I pulled into the garage tonight after work and went straight outside with a pair of scissors and harvested a ton of sage and rosemary out of our herb garden. I've used a lot of the cilantro, mint and basil that we are growing, but I'd yet to use the rosemary and sage which are begging to be cooked with every time I go out to cut mint for iced tea or basil for pesto. So I cut and cut tonight and filled my hands with the fragrant herbs and went in to whip up a little dinner.

My husband, Joe, has a addiction to Serious Eats and Pioneer Woman and on a weekly basis sends me a flurry of recipe ideas. Half the time I dump them into my recipes file in my email, never to be seen again, but when I'm looking for new dinner recipes, it's really convenient, like having a cookbook filled with things I know Joe will like, right at my fingertips. And though I know this prompt is about cooking a summertime favorite, I figured grilling and kabobs are a perfect summer staple. We hardly turn our oven on during the summer, since grilling is so delicious, fast and a guarantee that I won't have to make dinner by myself, since Joe is the grillmaster in our house. Tonight's new recipe is from Serious Eats' Cook the Book series, Lorraine Wallace's Skewers of Sage Chicken with Sweet Italian Sausage.

I tweaked this recipe a bit, like I normally do, to use what I have on hand instead of having to hit the grocery store. I swapped out chicken breasts for thighs and I had a little bit of leftover hot Italian sausage in the freezer from some lasagna I made last week, so instead of using sweet Italian sausage links, I made some fast little meatballs with a bit of bread crumbs, an egg and some salt and pepper. I cooked the meatballs for about 10 minutes just to make sure they wouldn't fall apart when I put them on the skewers. But other than that, I followed the recipe exactly. They were wonderful. Awarded Joe's seal of meaty approval. The rosemary/garlic olive oil, the sage leaves grilled to crispy perfection between each chunk of juicy tender chicken, and then the slightly spicy, savory meatballs. Yeah, this recipe is going to become a summer favorite. Paired with roasted Brussels sprouts ala Bethany, and a fresh roll dipped in the leftover rosemary/garlic olive oil, and we were in summer dinner heaven. Other than marinating the chicken in advance or using an infused olive oil for added flavor, I wouldn't change a thing.
Give it a try yourself and see what you think. Though I highly recommend having someone else handle the grilling (and the kitchen clean up) so you can sit on the couch, relaxing with a pomegranate limeade (I'm sipping Trader Joe's version right now and it's so damn good) and the remote control, because you deserve it after making such a fancy looking meal. I promise I won't rat you out and tell anyone how easy it really was. So what was on the dinner table at your house tonight?

Monday, June 04, 2012

I'm a Dirty Knuckled Sycophant

Reverb Broads Prompts for June 3 and 4, 2012

Who are your role models?

What did people tease you about growing up?

Joe and I traveled up to Omaha for the weekend. And instead of packing the time full of friends and family and the constant activity and socializing we usually pack into two days, we had a slower pace. Spending most of the two days just being with family, being outside and being together. I didn't do much writing, because I didn't feel like it. I felt like riding around in a convertible and getting sunburned and gossiping with my mother-in-law and talking about the Appalachian trail with my father-in-law and sleeping in and eating cupcakes and reading time travel romance novels. So I'm combining a couple of prompts. But I had no idea how easy that would be to do until we got home Sunday night.

Peeking out of our mailbox, as we pulled into our driveway, was a small brown box, and the minute Joe saw it he said, "Hey, I know what that is." And I suddenly remembered too. We got an email from Amazon UK on Thursday that our copy of Rainbow Rowell's latest novel, Eleanor and Park, (which sadly isn't available here in the States until next year,) was finally hitting the mail after an eight week delay. We both smiled broadly and promptly argued over who got to read it first. I won.

In case you haven't had the pleasure of reading any of Rainbow's writing, stop and do these two things: first, go buy her book Attachments, reviewed over here, it's sweet and very funny and full of characters you wish lived next door and populated with those perfect phrases that you have to underline immediately even if it's a library book, and second, go over to the Omaha World Herald website and start catching up on Rainbow's column. Yes, you're welcome.

So there's the role model question answered: Rainbow Rowell is one of my role models. She's the first author that I can completely relate to. She is close to my age. She's from the Midwest. She looks and sounds like a real person. (I've had the pleasure of hanging out with her once in real life and plenty of amusing social media interactions and she went to high school with my husband) and she's a spectacular writer, and published and successful and lovely and friendly as all get out. She doesn't fit with my version of a published writer, because I have those people up on a pedestal, far away from me as I sit over here alone on the couch holding hands with my embarrassing lack of confidence. Rainbow makes me think that if I get out of my own way and commit myself, I could become a published author too, or at the very least a writer who can be proud of what she's created. Rainbow works hard. She has a clarity and honesty to her writing that I admire. Her writing, even when dealing with a serious topic, always finds the humor. She's working on her third novel, writing freelance, writing for the newspaper, married and raising two sons. If she can find the time and inspiration and energy and tenacity to write, then so can I, if I really want it. So thanks for the inspiration, Rainbow. I promise I will not start stalking you at your books signings and asking for autographs on embarrassing body parts.

So I started Eleanor and Park last night and raced through the first 150 pages like I was being chased by a serial killer. Speeding and plunging through it. It is very different from Attachments, but it captures the cruelty and uncertainty of high school and the emotions and anticipation of falling in love for the first time. Rainbow writes it with such honesty that you'll laugh out loud, and then with an almost sparse directness that it hurts your heart to read it. Unless, I suppose, you were a very popular, mean girl cheerleader. And if that's you, then I'm pretty sure you aren't here reading this blog in the first place.

This book brought back a flood of memories for me, good and bad. The main character, Eleanor, is a big, chubby redhead who doesn't fit in at her new high school and couldn't blend into the crowd even if she wanted to. She gets teased and tormented. And while I was never teased or tormented to the degree that she was, as I read last night I immediately remembered sitting in Home Ec class in 6th grade, getting paired to work with these two shitty little jerks who proceeded to torment my friend Christy and me for the entire hour, every day, for the entire semester. It started with hiding our kitchen tools, or ruining our part of the cooking assignment, and over the weeks it escalated to spitting at us, staring at our chests while pointing and laughing, and creative name calling. Somehow I became "Dirty Knuckles."

You'd think it would have been something about being 5' 10" in 6th grade, or having developed breasts early or the fact that I tried to hide them under a hideous baggy t-shirt decorated with architectural renderings of Monticello that my grandparents bought me on their vacation, but no. Evidently my knuckles are slightly tanner than my pale hands, so I became "Dirty Knuckles." It seemed ridiculous and just lame and that almost bothered me more than the nickname. That was the best they could come up with? Really? I kept saying to them, "What are you talking about? That doesn't even make any sense." But it worked, because I found myself staring at my knuckles that night at home. Sitting there hating my stupid hands and wondering how in the world this was something to be made fun of for and what was I even supposed to do about it. I remember getting to the point where Christy and I simply didn't even acknowledge those little douches in class and that almost made it worse. It drove them to find new ways to get under our skin.

No, it wasn't flirting. It wasn't cute. It was two little bullies, in a world full of bullies, who were much shorter than me, and very skilled at finding any little difference or weakness that they could expose and then denigrate to make themselves feel cooler or bigger or smarter, by trying to tear us down. But they failed. These two shitty little jerks were very popular, cute, and relentless. And I let them get in my head that semester. But I never let anyone else do that to me again. They taught me a lesson. I hated the way I felt, crying or staring at my perfectly fine hands and feeling less than, feeling wrong, feeling ugly, feeling embarrassed, when I had nothing to be embarrassed about. That feeling was the worst. That I'd done something wrong by letting their opinions matter at all. But I figured out how to fight back.  I honed my wit and my humor into a sort of weapon and I learned to protect myself.  I spoke up. Slowly. Really slowly, but I figured it out. So that I didn't have to feel like that again. And  eventually I could get people to laugh at them instead.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

I Had A Bad Experience

Reverb Broads Prompt for June 2, 2012

What gives you nightmares? Prompt from me this time

I have long wet hair, fresh from the bath and tangles all combed out. My nightgown is cotton, capped sleeved, covered in a teeny blue floral pattern with lace around the neckline that makes me feel fancy and tickles the delicate skin of my throat. My mother tucks me in under the quilt that my great-grandmother made for her, covered in the sillouhuetes of little bonneted girls on a seafoam green background. In her low, excited voice Mom reads a chapter of the Nancy Drew mystery we are working through each night, something about hidden staircases or missing candlesticks or locked libraries. She kisses me on the cheek, shuts off the lamp on my nightstand, wishes me sweet dreams and pulls the door shut so there's only a sliver of light falling across my navy carpet.

And then I wake up suddenly. I try to look around in the pitch black. The hall light is off so it must be very late. I lay still trying to sense what has woken me and then I see it. At the foot of my bed, a dark rustle against the white of the foot board. Something scuttles and freezes. I can't make it out in the black, but I know what it is in dark recesses of sleep. I always know. The legs spread out and curve around one of the four poles holding up the pink striped canopy over my head. In frigid terror, I watch the creature slowly creep up the bed towards me, scurrying on long hairy legs up the tiny mountains of my toes, over my paralyzed calves, stopping at my knees, lingering and glaring at me with 1,000 eyes, taunting me with each menacing, plotted movement. It crawls around the side of my legs disappearing for a moment which is almost worse, it could be anywhere now. I wait. Minutes turn into hours into decades, and then I see the tip of one tentative leg as it begins to crawl up the angled crook of my elbow, bent and jagged under the quilt. My fluttered shallow breathing increases as it makes the final ominous arrival over my stomach, coming to a stop right on my small panicked chest. It stares at me and neither of us moves. It is the size of a small dinner plate and suddenly I'm screaming and screaming and screaming, brutally awake, my parents once again startled out of their sleep and racing into my room.
I have nightmares about spiders. Nearly weekly from the age of 7, when I was trapped in a Girl Scout summer camp latrine for thirty minutes by a huge black spider sitting right above the wooden door handle, and all throughout elementary school, I have had some variation of this nightmare. And nearly always waking my parents with a blood curdling scream. I still have these dreams now and then. They tend to be a lot more mild, more waking with a shocked breath than a horror movie scream, but when I'm stressed or when we've had large spiders in our house, it seems those spiders creep their way back into my head. They creep up the side of my nightstand. They linger in my shoes or hide under my pillows. They hover on the ceiling over my sleeping head, waiting to drop on my hair.

I have an irrational fear of spiders. Logic tells me they are usually small, usually harmless and usually more afraid of me than I am of them. But they terrify me. They touch some small primitive button in my head that hits me with an immediate shot of adrenaline sending me either tearing out of the room at top speed or frozen barefoot with my arms filled with laundry staring at the spider blocking my path up from the basement. I loathe them and am alternately intrigued by them, because I can't think of any other living creatures that instills that kind of passionate and insane response from me. I cringe from photos of spiders, commercials and nature documentaries make me cover my eyes, even that enormous spider sculpture we saw yesterday kept me standing a good 10 feet away from it. It's stupid, it's childish and it's pretty permanent.

I'm better than I used to be. I've actually watched Archanaphobia all the way through instead of fleeing the theater within the first five minutes like I did when my mom tried to get me to see it in high school. I can kill small to midsize spiders with no qualms, and I even shared a house one summer in college with a roommate who had a pet tarantula with some misleadingly friendly name like George. I made her promise to never get him out of his cage when I was home. I remember coming home early one morning after working an overnight security shift at the residence halls, unlocking the back door and hearing my three roommates yell out at me, "Stay there, don't come in here!" and I knew immediately that George was out. Thankfully that was a short summer.

I think this fear, this nightmare, this small sense of terror at the sight of all spiders is just a part of me at this point. It's a familiar and controllable fear. I can run. I can kill them, or I can call Joe to come and kill them. Please don't try to change my mind. You can't. They must be killed if they make it into my house. None of this covering them with a bowl and letting them loose outside. But I prefer having nightmares about spiders. It's an easier tangible fear compared to those nightmares of losing my health, or losing my loved ones, or dying alone or being unloved. Spiders are manageable, terrifying but manageable. All it takes is one big, carefully aimed shoe.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Finding Truth in the Fiction

Reverb Broads Prompt for June 1, 2012

With what fictional character (book, movie, TV, etc.) do you most identify? Why?

Ok, the very first prompt of this month long blogging project and I'm stuck? How is this possible? Dang you, Abell. I read and watch and enjoy so much media that I can think of dozens of characters that I identify with quite a lot. But just one? Come on. Sensory overload hits. I try to think of a favorite and I'm bombarded with a flood of options. Too many good books, too many good shows, too many good movies. I indulge in so much wonderful, engaging, well written, well crafted, well acted art that finding myself inside all of it is no problem at all. I relate and identify with nearly every protagonist I read about or watch, because most of what I consume is so well written. This is probably why I'm such a rabid and voracious reader. I am painfully empathetic and engaged in others people's stories, so that I see myself in all of them. Maybe that's just my raging case of narcissism. Either way it makes this prompt HARD (read that in a whiny entitled voice like a Valley Girl taking an algebra test, because that's my character today.) Aren't we supposed to identify with the protagonist? Isn't that the hook and the draw of so much of the media we enjoy?

I can think of my favorite books and movies and TV shows, and tell you why I love their protagonists and side kicks with ease. (I'll save that for another post, because I know you've got laundry to do and I don't want to keep you much longer.) But don't make me pick one character. I can't be one character because I'm a real person. And no matter how well-written a character may be, they can't be real. You can't create the complexity of real people in a hour long TV show or 500 pages of a novel or a 90 minute movie. You need to get close, but there is too much contradiction, too many hidden motivations and thoughts racing under the surface, too little time to make it that real. You should get close. The best artists and writers do. But I digress.

It doesn't matter if characters aren't exactly real. They shouldn't be. Close enough is good enough. Because there's a purpose to fictional characters that can't be served in quite the same way through reading non-fiction writing or watching documentaries. An exaggerated version of a real life person, these characters, have something valuable to share with the viewer or reader. The exaggerations or simplifications clear away all the other details of a person and leave a focus point. You can get to the truth without sticking to the truth. Or let's let David Foster Wallace explain what I'm attempting to say here in three rambling paragraphs in his most concise language: "Fiction’s about what it is to be a f*cking human being."

While I know I'm not exactly like Betsy, Tacy and Tib, or Matilda, or Pippi Longstocking, or Lloyd Dobler, or Lucy Honeychurch, or Jane Eyre, or Anne Shirley. I'm not Tom Joad, or Jo March, or Scarlett O'Hara. I'm not Tracy Flick, or Max Fischer, or Buffy, or Willow. I'm not Joan Harris. I'm not Leslie Knope, or Lorelai Gilmore, or Elizabeth Bennett, or Liz Lemon, or Amelie, or Monica Geller, or Raylan Givens, or Dolores Price, or Tom Wingo, or Claire Fraser, I'm a bit of all of them. (Think how much more therapy I would need if all of those personalities were actually crammed into my head? Yikes. I guarantee Monica and Raylan would get into a fist fight, but I'm not sure who would win.) 

 Photo of Timothy Olyphant as US Marshall Raylan Givens included simply for your eye candy pleasure, and to distract you from my rambling argument here that is simply trying to hide the fact that I'm too indecisive and lame to just pick one character and go with it.  Did it work?

I see who I want to be in their courage and boldness. I see who I wish I wasn't in their folly and regrets. I see our shared curiosity about the world and our need to ask "why?" so often. A shared zest for the world at large and interest in making that world prettier, better, happier, or more fair. I see their commitment to their friends and family. I see characteristics that I want. I see their deep need to improve their lives. I see a shared appreciation for the little things in life, like massive quantities of coffee or cracking the caramelized sugar of a crème brûlée, I see the truth of who these fictional characters are and the way that they make me think about my own failures and fears, desire for growth and movement, and a really organized closet.

I see this truth because they aren't real people. They have just enough blanks and openings and empty spaces that I can project myself onto them. I can see myself in their reflections, because the fiction of them leaves room for that. It leaves room for me in there. The way that these fictional characters help me see the truth of myself and my struggles and my journey makes them wonderful friends and guides, but they are not me. They can't be me. Because there is too much inside of me to fit into an hour long TV show. (And I read so much in real life, just think how boring that show would be, snore.)

So which fictional characters do you relate to the most? You don't have to just pick one. (But please don't say Bella from the Twilight series. I can't take that. I will have to mock you. Hard.)