That Holiday Spirit

This Thanksgiving, the Pirate and I loaded the girls and my mother up into a borrowed VW microbus and made the drive from our house to Phoenix. We left after school on Tuesday, and drove for 13+ hours. With the time change, it was early morning when we arrived, and we were exhausted, but there were all the pre-Thanksgiving things (shopping, cooking) that needed doing.

We ended up going to bed at the normal time, despite having missed an entire night’s sleep, and then getting up early the next day in order to start the cooking (we did all the driving, but Mom did all the cooking). The girls stayed at my dad’s house, along with a whole bunch of other folks, having a fabulous time. So fabulous, in fact, that they didn’t want to come back to my mother’s house. They were too busy hanging out with other kids, chasing the dogs, doing all that other silly stuff. We drove home Saturday, another marathon trip delayed by horrible holiday traffic, and fell into bed at midnight on Saturday night.

Sunday, we got up to deal with the dishes we had left in the sink before we went on our trip. The cat gak where our cat haaked up a hairball all over the leather couch (pretty sure that’s a good reason for putting an animal down), the huge tumbleweeds of cat hair blowing around the floor, the laundry…I told the kid that she had to practice her viola and clean her room, and the kid yelled at me “I THOUGHT THE FIRST DAY BACK FROM VACATION WAS SUPPOSED TO BE RELAXING!”

Obviously, I have been falling down on my motherly duties. She has so much to learn. The holidays are not at all about relaxing. They’re about putting in face time with relatives you never see so that you can make awkward conversations and remind them of past embarrassing incidents. It’s about establishing the family pecking order as evidenced by who travels where (it’s a complicated algorithm involving whose kids are doing how well in school, who has how much time off from a job that earns them how much, who didn’t think they’d be able to make it but made it anyway, who actually cooked versus who stopped by the Safeway…) and why.

I’m halfway to solving this problem, though. The Pirate and I just bought a place in the city, and my mother will be moving in. EVERYONE will be coming out to see Grandma for the holidays, which means that I’ll never have to travel again.


My Life Doesn’t Look Like Yours

One of the things that always surprises and delights me is the kind of trouble human beings get themselves into despite specifically desiring to stay as far away from anything embarrassing as possible. David Sedaris wrote a piece about a time when, at a German hotel, he mistook the manager’s own apartment for the dining room and accidentally sat down to eat breakfast with the man’s family. I normally think of myself as a little too cautious, a little too petrified of public embarrassment to fall into such ridiculous events, but…

…there was the time that I accidentally swallowed the ball of my tongue stud while marching in a parade dressed as a nun…

…and that time that I tore out the rear end of my swimming suit at a popular natural swimming hole and couldn’t get anyone in my family to bring me a towel…

…the many, many times I have found out-of-context meat in Chicago…

and I remember that the mere act of stepping outside one’s front door can lead one to the strangest places.

Today, I went to an appointment with a man that I had never before seen, but with whom I will be working for a while. I had to wait for our appointment, and rather than him coming to the lobby of his building to call me in, he telephoned me, asking me to walk the 25 feet to his office. I didn’t think much of it, but when I saw him, all became very clear.

He was missing a limb.

For the length of the time he and I were conferring, he squirmed and wriggled and grimaced, making it very plain that he was in pain. After a while, he asked me “Does this bother you?” I told him no, but it looked as though it bothered him. He said that no, it didn’t bother him, he was fine. It was a little uncomfortable, though.

“Well, it must be very new,” I said.

“No, not really. This has been like this for, oh, two months.”

Two. Months.

I have now been sucked into that sitcom where the hyper neurotic woman must learn how to work with the handicapped former athlete in denial. It won’t have a laugh track, and a lot of the laughs will be the kind where you’re wincing at the same time.

Love’s Aftermath

Last night, the Pirate and I went to the San Jose opera to see the opening performance of La voix humaine and Pagliacci. The playbill describes La voix humaine like this:

La voix humaine, Poulenc’s French monodrama, follows a young woman’s emotional phone conversation with an unseen former lover. His is discarding her to marry another woman, and she is desperately trying to win back his love. Set in 1940s Paris, this one-act opera paints an emotional portait of an abandoned woman teetering on the edge during an affecting and engaging monologue.

The action took place over three or four phone calls. Apparently, the phone service in 1940s Paris was horrible, as every few minutes the two parties were either cut off in mid-phone call or just thought they were. First, the man calls the woman. Strange, for a man who has apparently thrown this woman over, but I am willing to suspend disbelief. In the first phone call, her essential message is “I’m okay. I’ve been out having a good time. I’m much stronger than I thought I was. No, really, I’m okay.” They’re cut off, and after she fixes herself a drink and lights a cigarette, he calls back, whereupon her message changes. Now it’s “I’m not really that okay. I’ve been struggling. I really miss you. I still love you. You’re always right, I’m always wrong. ” They’re cut off again and she tries to call him back at home, only to find out that he’s not at home. Whoops. He calls back, and the message changes to “I’ve lied. I’m horrible, I’m not coping at all. My friend has had to come and sit with me for days because I wanted to die. If you were to, say, lie to me about not being at home, not that I’m saying you lied, mind you, but if you were to lie, it would just make me love you more because I’d know you were trying to spare my feelings.” And then, after he hangs up, she throws herself out the window. My disbelief jumps out after her, its tenuous link to my enjoyment of the evening having snapped.

Eleven years ago, I myself had a rather rough breakup with my third husband. I was the breaker, rather than the breakee, and I understand the person on the phone’s desire to let the other person down lightly. After every breakup I’ve ever had, I’ve always felt guilty for leaving, no matter how badly things went in the relationship. Thinking about it now, I realize how incredibly egotistical that is. Who do I think I am that merely denying my presence to someone would be enough to plunge them into despair? And yet, I was always worried about “letting them down easy.”

The problem with acting like I’m the guilty party is that the guys I have broken up with are more than happy to go along with my act. Yes, they say. I was in the wrong. I should never have left them. They’re exemplary specimens, and I’ll be sorry one day, and everything is my fault. This wouldn’t be a problem, if it weren’t for the fact that I have children with a couple of these guys. For the past couple of months, I’ve been in a sticky custody situation with one of them, and it’s really been getting on my nerves. After every email, phone call or face-to-face meeting, I invariably end up wishing that things had gone differently. There’s something a bit unfair about the way that, after you break up with someone, they continue to attempt thinking for themselves in a way that leads them to entirely different conclusions about the problems that face the both of you.

It was only after considering this for a while that I realized the truth about La voix humaine. The man, after magnanimously telephoning his ex-girlfriend to make sure she’s okay, after gently breaking it to her that he’s sending his servant around to pick up some things he left behind, hangs up to go back to his “other woman,” and his discarded girlfriend does the only decent thing she can do – throws herself to her death. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the fantasy that most of us have about the end of our relationships. The world would be a better place if, once we have discarded someone, they would have the decency to vanish from the face of the earth, right? Right?

Well, I’m sure that’s what my ex-husband is wishing for, right about now.

Drinking Like a Real Writer

In the 1940 classic “The Philadelphia Story,” C.K. Dexter Haven tells Macaulay Connor “I thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives. You know, at one time I secretly wanted to be a writer.” He tells Macaulay that Tracy Lord never understood his “deep and gorgeous thirst.” I’ve always thought that writing and substance abuse go together. Hunter S. Thompson, Raymond Chandler, John Cheever, O. Henry, Tennessee Williams, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemingway – all famous literary alcoholics. Baudeliare smoked hash, Stephen King did coke, Aldous Huxley did mushrooms – the list goes on and on. I think it might be more difficult to find a successful writer who hadn’t at some time abused something. Sadly, I’m not a drug addict. I don’t have the personality for it. I can’t stand the thought of regularly using something so expensive. I’m just too cheap. On the other hand…there’s always liquor.

I was at dinner with a couple of friends last week, and the drinks menu featured a couple of cocktails whose names I hadn’t heard except in novels in years and years. Singapore Sling, Manhattan, Harvey Wallbanger, Old Fashioned, Cuba Libre…I started feeling like I should be wearing a satin gown and maribou-feather slippers, making sure that I didn’t smudge my lipstick or muss my marcelled hair.

I had a couple of Singapore Slings and suddenly, I was Katharine Hepburn, Carole Lombard and Bette Davis all rolled up in one (seriously – they were tiny women and have you seen me?). If I had been at a typewriter (or, more correctly, if I had been a typewriter sitting at my machine), I would have been churning out the kind of prose that made people laugh on the bus, cry in restaurants and call up their friends just to read extensive passages. I’ll tell you a secret, though.

When I was 18 or 19, before they raised the drinking age in Arizona to 21, my boyfriend and I would walk to this Italian restaurant a mile or so from my house and split a plate of pasta and a bottle of bad chianti. I didn’t know it was bad chianti at the time, but I was young and stupid then. We would get drunk and, in that pretentious way that only 18 or 19 year olds can pull off, talked about deep, philosophical truths. We talked about world politics and art and the nature of reality. We talked about popular culture, the human condition and how we were going to change the world with art. These discussions were monumental. They were profound. They were so important, I felt, that I persuaded my boyfriend to bring his new mini tape recorder to dinner one evening so that we could actually remember one of these conversations the next morning.

That night, we drank two bottles of bad chianti and ate spaghetti with butter and mizithra cheese. We probed the very depths of the deepest questions mankind has asked himself since the invention of language. We revealed ourselves as the gods of our own private universe, a place much more orderly, beautiful and just than the one that everyone else seemed to inhabit. We weren’t golden children, we were beings of diamond.

The next morning, after throwing up, we listened to the tape. It was hard because the night before, we had apparently had some difficulty working the tape player. You know, pushing both the “play” and the “record” button at the same time. There was a great deal of giggling, some of that “I love you, no I love you” crap that couples at a certain stage of their relationship think is terribly charming, and a whole lot of incomprehensible mumbling punctuated with belches. When we did speak, we seemed only to be able to complete one sentence in four, and that one generally ended with a loud “HA!” The two of us looked at each other, mortified, and vowed never to do that again.

My loving husband is mixing me a cocktail even as we speak, but I’ll likely sip it slowly and perhaps not finish it, for I’m in the midst of Nanowrimo, and I’d like the words I put together to mean something.

A Glimpse of the Future

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m participating in Borderlands Boot Camp in January. The fine folks at Borderlands, in an effort not to overwhelm its participants with the enormity of their task, have already forwarded all the materials that we’ll be asked to critique over the course of the weekend in late January and I, being the non-procrastinator that I am (sometimes, when I don’t put it off) have already finished going through nearly all of it

I’m not going to talk about that process just yet. What I’m going to say is that I have NOT received my stuff from grad school yet. I won’t receive it until sometime around November 11, giving me just less than a month in which to read and critique it, along with all the other stuff I’ll have to wade through. Given the ratio of the caliber of material to the cost of the program, I would expect the stuff in the grad school packet to be four times better than anything I read for Borderlands. That’s a tall order, because some of the Borderlands stuff was pretty good.

I feel like I’m at the end of a long line of people waiting to jump off a cliff. I can look up ahead and see what’s in store for me, but I can’t jump just yet. I’m nervous. I’ve spoken to quite a few folks who have all said “I’d like do to grad school, but I just don’t know where I’d find the time.”

But here’s a thing that I’ve found: wading through the stories I’ve got to read for Borderlands was a little tough the first time. Every story is new, and it’s like going to a new place. Slow going, not sure that the place I start out from is where I’m going to end up. I read every story through the first time without making any marks or comments. Most of the stories needed work. A couple were really good, a few I thought were beyond redemption. The second time I read them, it was to make notes. And the second time, every story I read was better than I remembered it. The good ones had sparks of incredible genius. The so-so ones were almost there, just a few patches over the rough spots. The worst ones had something redeeming about them, nothing that couldn’t be brought out. It turned out that the very worst one just wasn’t finished yet. Another couple hundred words and it really would be something worthwhile.

Now I’m curious to see how the rest of the gang judges my submission.