nancy martin ELAINE VIETS SARAH STROHMEYER HARLEY JANE KOZAK
KATHY RESCHINI SWEENEY MARGARET MARON JOSHILYN JACKSON HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN BRUNONIA BARRY NANCY PICKARD CORNELIA READ BARBARA O’NEAL HEATHER GRAHAM AMY HATVANY
Baseball is an emotional game. I learned that from my grandfather. Sunday afternoons, he would stretch out in his recliner and listen to the legendary sportscaster Harry Caray announce the St. Louis Cardinals games.
Grandpa hated Harry Caray. Harry would go into his classic holler: "Holy Cow! It might be. It could be! It is! It’s a home run! Look at him go. Holy cow! This is his best game yet!"
Grandpa would shout back, "Damn it, Harry. You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about."
It was a one-sided argument, since Harry couldn’t hear Grandpa through the TV. It didn’t matter. They were like an old married couple: joined forever, but unable to listen to each other. For more than twenty years, Grandpa despised Harry and told him so. When Harry was fired in 1969, Grandpa was a happy man. He never got mad at Jack Buck. But the passion was gone from his baseball games.
I like baseball, too – minor league ball. The best game I ever watched was a Triple A league. The players weren’t as polished as the big leaguers, but they had heart. Forget the plush corporate skyboxes and fancy scoreboards. I want baseball with emotion.
The major league baseball season opens today. That’s four days early. It’s supposed to eliminate a November World Series, when the fans are colder than the beer. With the baseball world slightly out of sync, it seemed a good time to consider "The Unwritten Rules of Baseball," which were written down by my friend Paul Dickson. (Collins, $14.99)
When Grandpa roared at Harry Caray and watched the Cards on TV, he ignored one of those unwritten rules, The Baseball Principle, discovered by a New York physicist: "You can’t help the Mets by watching them on TV." Grandpa knew he couldn’t protect the Cards from Caray’s stupid statements. But he dutifully sat in front of his TV, drinking Falstaff beer, smoking cigars and screaming abuse at Harry.
If the Cards’ performance during this spring training is any indication of the upcoming season, St. Louis fans are in for a dismal summer. Carter’s Conclusion says otherwise. "They don’t put spring-training statistics on the backs of bubble-gum cards," was the explanation Blue Jays’ Joe Carter gave reporters after his lousy spring training.
Remember the movie Bull Durham? That was a major league movie about a minor league team. Even people who yawn at ball games loved it. Besides baseball, there was candlelit sex with Susan Sarandon anda hunky Kevin Costner. Costner played Crash Davis and created what Dickson calls Davis’s Distinction: "Strikeouts are fascist. Ground balls are democratic."
Sarandon played baseball groupie Annie Savoy and recited her credo. "I believe in the Church of Baseball," she said. "I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshiped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us . . . the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball."
That’s baseball with passion.
Bull Durham leads to another two more unwritten rules: (1) "Movies about baseball tend to be better than movies about other sports, except for boxing." (2) "One can have only one good baseball movie per acting career. Corollary: This assumes that one believes that Kevin Costner should have quit while ahead. (e.g. Bull Durham versus Field of Dreams and For Love of the Game)."
As the baseball season heats up, remember the Fourth of July Rule: "The team in first place on July 4 will win the division."
Maybe. But I prefer the wise words of another Cardinals’ great, Joaquin Andujar. Dickson calls it Andujar’s Constant. The Cardinals’ pitcher told Sports Illustrated: "There is one word in American that says it all, and that one word is ‘youneverknow.’ "
My dear Aunt Nancy fell into quicksand and nearly died . . . laughing.
She recently told me her story because I've been thinking about the concept of stickiness---my new book, STICKY FINGERS, was released yesterday! Buy it here! Or anywhere!--and I've been figuring various ways to use "sticky" to sell the book to anyone who'll stand still long enough to listen to my pitch.
Anyway, what happened is this: Aunt Nancy--who was a young, single traveller of the world with her many girlfriends--(they drove up to the front door of the Vatican in her VW bug, left it there and went inside to look around) found herself in Mexico with no, uh, necessary facilities, so she stopped the car (yes, another VW bug) and wandered off to find a private spot to take care of bizness. In a sylvan glade, she stepped onto a nice, smooth-looking patch of ground which immediately swallowed her whole leg. Naturally, she lost her balance and fell headlong into quicksand. It was definitely sticky--very liquid and goopy, and she couldn't get out. She flailed around and finally got the giggles.
Now, this story would be a lot funnier if you could see Aunt Nancy, so let me do my best to describe her: She is a Very Buoyant Person. Does that give you the mental picture of a large, apple-cheeked, curly-haired lady who used Nice n Easy Lucille Ball Red #3, bobbing like a cork in a picturesque pool of green slime? That was her--large and laughing while her girlfriends howled with hilarity at her predicament.
Now, we all have stories about inappropriate laughter. (Mine: At the moment the funeral director ushered my family into the presence of my grandmother's coffin, his stomach let out the loudest, gurgling growl I have ever heard, and my sister and I went into hysterical laughter. I thought my father was going to strangle us.) I want to hear your stories today. So, tell, tell.
In the quicksand, Aunt Nancy laughed and laughed until she was totally exhausted, whereupon she floated on top of the quicksand. Her friends managed to grab her foot and drag her out, and she was fine. Saved by laughter. The mental picture of Nancy and her three equally large friends climbing back into the VW---well, I can't help thinking the green slime was a good lubricant.
I'm hoping STICKY FINGERS provides a few laughs for readers. (If you've read it and enjoyed it, how about going out into the world and plugging it for me? Tweets, online reviews, mentions on Facebook--I'd appreciate any of that and would do the same for you.) As the TLC regulars know, the first week of sales in really important, so your support would be lovingly accepted.
Meanwhile, tell me about the time you got the uncontrollabe giggles. Can't wait to hear.
STICKY FINGERS is the 2nd book in Nancy Martin's chick-a-boom-boom Roxy Abruzzo series. When Roxy is asked to kidnap her high school nemesis, all hell breaks loose in Pittsburgh. Starred review in Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus.
STICKY FINGERS - the second book in Nancy Martin's * Awarded Roxy Abruzzo series comes out TODAY! Sex! Fun! Danger! Auctions! PW AND KIRKUS GAVE IT *** REVIEWS! Treat yourself to a laugh and escape and run to your local bookstore and grab a copy!
Lately, I've been paying particular attention to women's breasts.
I know what you're going to say - there's nothing wrong with that. And I agree because I live in Vermont where we openly embrace - and marry - couples of all sexualities. But there's a downside to living here - it's isolated, rural, cold and extremely fashion challenged.
Which brings me to breasts.
My latest obsession began during two three-hour flights back and forth to Florida on Jet Blue where I watched back-to-back episodes of The Real Housewives of Orange County. I don't know if you've seen this show, but if you're stuffed in a plane with 37 toddlers rehabbing from Disney World and/or you're recovering from a frontal lobotomy, this is the entertainment for you.
At first I couldn't keep the housewives straight. They all had long blond hair and they all appeared to be about the same age. Thirty, uhm, maybe fortyish. Their lips were grotesquely inflated, like they'd just been socked in the mouth. And then, of course, there were those breasts.
Flotation devices was more like it. After six hours, these poor mishapen circus freaks turned into a whirling blur of cat fights and tossed white wine and puffy lips and bobbing boobies. I thought, surely no one looks like that in real life.
Two weeks later, I went to New York and realized I was the freak, not them. Granted, the signing/party I attended for my absolutely favorite author Emily Giffin was not your usual affair. It was 89% pure estrogen and for me, who'd been stuck in flannel and red plaid doping out on wood smoke, being suddenly immersed in a sea of fluttering femininity was like plunging into a deep turquoise Caribbean bay. Refreshing and inspiring.
I'd forgotten what it was like to be a girl, to wear a cute dress and high heels and bare legs and jewelry. I'd forgottten how much fun it could be. The women with whom I stood in line for over two hours - gulp! - may have had some things "done," but they were hardly ditzes. Nor were they the Real Bitches of Orange County. Far from it. They were smart and funny and way independent. They were too good for any guy who snuck in to Pranna hoping to take advantage of the math.
Note on that: Don't be a single woman in New York City if you want to get married before age 35/40. As far as I can tell, any guy a tad more fit than John Goodman at least a part-time job can pick and choose from women with Ivy degrees and Ford Model features. If she so much as dares to ask for a commitment, or that he pay the tab, he can drop her toot sweet and hook up with someone even better within five minutes.
My advice for those who want to get married: move to Cleveland. Lots of guys with jobs looking for wives. But you have to live in Cleveland. I'm just saying.
Anyway, back to my point and I do have one. When you get to my age - 48 - it's no good walking around with the twin set God gave you. They've lost their luster, their bounce, their joie d'vivre. I have only to glance a few generations back at my oppressed Lithuanian ancestors to know where they're headed.
So should I get them done? I mean, I'm not dead yet. I was a relatively young mother and with my kids grown and out of the house, I have a lot of living yet to do. Isn't 50 the new 25? That's the rumor. I figure as soon as I get this latest rewrite of my YA novel done, I can devote myself to working out, hydrating, starving, peeling and waxing.
Okay, so no one will appreciate me in downtown Montpelier upon the approach of mud season - not the good kind you smear on your face. The bad kind that swallows your car.
But there are trains to New York. And five-hour flights via Pittsburgh. There's incentive, right? Is getting a little of this done, a lift here, a tuck there, a boost in between so wrong?
Or will I end up a Real Housewife, tossing wine and sharpening my claws?
The other day, I hopped on my spinning bike and found that one of my spinning shoes, attached to the bike, had died. Cracked right down the middle, like the Grand Canyon.
“What?!” I cried. “How can this be? It’s not like it’s old. Why, I’ve only had these for . . .” I did a quick calculation.
Fifteen years. My shoes, like my bike, date back to the Clinton Administration. For that matter, I’ve got a stair stepper bought in the early 90’s, and I use it constantly. It creaks, it groans, but it works. It’s a brand called Tetrix and I wish they made everything. Toasters, cars, human hearts. I cannot kill the thing. I expect my great-grandchildren will be doing their cardio workout on it long after I’m dead, recalling how Great Grandma Harley—and this may be my greatest legacy—once folded laundry while keeping her heart rate in the aerobic range while watching TV. (I call it launderobics. My children think this is an actual word and that all mothers do it.)
So I’ve got a stair stepper that’s old enough to drink in a bar, a spinning bike old enough to vote, and while driving to the bike store for new shoes, I started thinking about my other stuff that’s outlived its life expectancy. Tap shoes that have changed color 3 times. A favorite black velour sweatshirt—my “good sweatshirt”— bought in New York, at Barney’s back in my soap days. A grand piano from 1984, also my soap days. I have a t-shirt in my closet that says STUNTS, 30 years old, given to me by a long-forgotten stuntman. And a blue-black wool Navy shirt with the name “Kozak” written on the label in my mother’s handwriting. I wear it all winter, every winter. It’s probably my brother Joe’s from his tour of duty in the 70’s, although nobody knows why it’s in my closet. But there’s an outside chance it’s our dad’s, who was also a sailor, in which case it dates back to World War II. Beat that, if you can.
The thing is, I don’t know beans about antiques and I’m not into vintage couture. Wearing some stranger’s old clothes is about as appealing to me as using their toothbrushes. I like new shoes, jeans, purses—ah, purses!—as much as the next girl (unless the next girl is Lindsay Lohan) but ever since my friend Andie pointed out how obsessed we Americans are with the nouveau, the novel, the shiny, trading in gently-used cars, spouses, cell phones, I’ve begun to notice the things I love that are old. My watch. The paintings on my walls. My yellow sweater. My dog Fez.
Of course, I’m preaching to the choir when I mention old books—I get weepy just dusting the bookshelves and seeing my children’s baby books, crayon-covered, with missing pages: Goodnight Moon, Hippos Go Berserk, Tales of a Gambling Grandma, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, I’ll Love You Forever, What Are You So Grumpy About? Hop on Pop. Go, Dog, Go.
Which brings us to Daisy.
Remember Melissa Mia Hall, our friend who died in late January? Her dog Daisy, elderly, ill, and reported to have been euthanized, turned out not to be dead after all. Daisy was rescued through the tireless efforts of two intrepid souls, Laurie Moore and Floreen. Daisy’s been nursed back to health, if not youth, and this weekend was officially adopted by a friend of Melissa’s in Austin, Texas. Daisy, live long and prosper. Go, Dog, Go.
So tell me about the oldest thing hanging in your closet, parked in your garage, or shedding on your sofa. The thing that, like those first 79 Star Trek episodes, can never truly be improved on.
Joshilyn says: My friend, prolific and bestselling novelist Julianna Baggott (who writes under her own name for poetry and lit fic, Bridget Asher for her women's fic, and N E Bode for a popular series of YA novels) is blogging with the Tarts today. She's a witty and charming blogger, and even KIRKUS liked her great book:
"Unabashedly romantic and unafraid of melancholy, Asher's book is a real charmer about a Provencal house that casts spells over the lovelorn." -Kirkus Reviews
France is (Demandingly) Romantic
Before I fell in love with France, I fell in love with a Frenchman. This is how it goes down sometimes with the French.
“Every good love story has another love hiding within it.” When I wrote that line in the first draft of my new novel THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED, I knew it was true for my main character, Heidi, and that it is true for me as a novelist. Each of my novels has some version of my own love stories hiding within it. So … this is the love story that made me fall in love with France, return, and, in a second love story, write a novel set there.
I was twenty when I lived in Paris, wearing my leather bolero jacket with its multitude of zippers, heavy on the eyeliner and requisite brooding. I had no spending money and had to take three metros to get student dining which offered unlimited bread. I learned to bulk up on bread. (I actually gained ten pounds in bread alone.) I lived in a house with a host family that didn’t care for guests. My room was at the end of a bent hallway. I was told not to use too much hot water. Their son, Alban, was a twenty-three-year-old who dressed as some kind of mascot for store displays. I never quite figured that out. My French was sketchy.
In fact, I didn’t go to classes much. Why learn French in a classroom when I called learn it everywhere I went. And so my French was mostly learned in the places where I went – namely bars. (My French gets bawdy before I even know it.)
I met said Frenchman in one of these bars. We were crazy about each other. The romance was perfect because he was about to be shipped off for mandatory military service in, get this, Antarctica. It’s true. Better yet, we could only barely understand each other. Communication is key – and a lack of communication can be blissful. We gazed, sad and forlorn. In fact, we felt star-crossed.
Later, I went back to college, surrounded by un-brooding, non-star-crossed American boys, and I’d get the Frenchman’s letters (which only came in a huge bundle once things had thawed – it was pretty seasonal. This was – gasp – pre-Internet). And they were romantic (and dark – people losing appendages due to frostbite and all).
By the time his service was up, I’d graduated. I told my friends that I’d know immediately once I saw him if we were right for each other -- within four minutes.
I did and we weren’t.
But neither were things right with any American boys. I wanted someone who’d gaze but who also understood me -- a fellow-brooder who got my pop culture references. I wanted someone who thought we had the potential to be star-crossed but who was actually right there by my side. And, a few years later, there he was. I married him.
It was a messy, loud accumulation of a big obnoxious rowdy life we’d built together. I remembered what it was like to be foreign. I ate food and truly tasted it. (This is one damn foodie novel – recipes in the back and all.) I smelled lilac – and it wasn’t scented candles. I looked closely at the small white blooms on the roadside flowers and found they were actually small white snail shells, imprinted with delicate swirls.
And because the foreign world around me had awoken my senses, I got to look at my husband anew too. Once the senses are awake, it’s hard not to see this person you love with fresh eyes. (And, let me add, there’s nothing like living with five kids in an ancient house in a tiny village in the South of France to make you feel star-crossed while under the same roof.)
France allows you to be romantic – in fact, it demands it.
And so the novel swelled all around me. I collected details madly, and when I got home, I wrote madly. The novel is about grief – but how grief is a love story told backwards – and about love – the stories we tell and the real love we come to rely on.
There are times when I just suddenly feel entirely too damaged to navigate the vicissitudes of normal life: like, grownups. And happy/sane people.
I am suddenly (in my head) this small filthy-cheeked guttersnipe crouched behind a lone potted palm in some gilt-bedizened Late-Baroque banquet hall's darkest corner, peering out from between lush fronds at the revelers arrayed--sparkling with wit and grace--before me.
They are laughing (not unkindly) and talking and dancing the foxtrot, leaning in to lay hands on one another's forearms as they share wonderful jokes. In flawless French. Not even tripping over the subjunctive conjugation, or anything.
I don't know how they do it, because by comparison my tiny black heart is a mere rattling pitiful handful of clovis points and potsherds, garroted together with half a frayed shoelace and one dessicatedly reptilian albatross toe.
Also, I have a really bad haircut. And no small talk. And my sneakers are of course filled with frigidly filthy slush, like very small foot-shaped Sno-Kones. That leak.
Furthermore, I have had nothing to eat for three days but cold nettle soup.
and one spoonful of someone else's gruel. Stolen. About the theft of which I feel fathoms of guilt.
(We are still in my head, here. I actually just had some cheese and stuff--no worries.)
This is mental scenery which could only be properly rendered by Edward Gorey... a rejected frame from The Gashlycrumb Tinies, perhaps: "C is for Cornelia, Consumed by Self-Doubt."
Which would be entirely perfect because it would *also* mean I got beaten out at the sad-childhood-demise-poster-model audition by Clara, Who Wasted Away--not to mention Desmond, Thrown Out of a Sleigh. And Fanny, Sucked Dry by a Leech.
(Fanny totally wins, BTW. Leeches are foul. I mean, look at that fucking thing. Bleh! And I say that not even knowing which end is the actual part for sucking blood.)
I do not believe I get any joy out of feeling this way, though most Twentieth-Century psychotherapeutic paradigms would beg to differ, claiming that I secretly--yea, lustily--revel in the excruciating omphaloskeptic glory of such blatantly Rococo Dickensian Sarah-Crewe-in-a-rusty-barbed-wire-thong self-loathing.
Mostly, when I wallow in that mode, I just think I'm an idiot. And kind of damaged. Okay: too damaged. From stuff that maybe a better person would have survived without quite so much mental craquelure.
Which is not to say that I do not experience joy. I do, so profoundly. Joy is the whole point, rare and glancing though it may be.
I guess, really, the truth of the matter is that I'm just deeply in touch with my inner Leonard Cohen.
And I'm goddamn lucky, too, because I mine that vein pretty deep for my writing, being one of those "if you cut me, do I not bleed narrative?" types. And--yea, verily--I almost make a living at it.
Also, I am not living actual tragedy, at least most of the time. Just indulging in the angst of privilege, which is a fucking luxury in and of itself when you get right down to it--even when it hurts.
I mean, for God's sake, I am not a stick-limbed Biafran child with a belly bloated to the size of a small Hindenburg, too weak to brush the flies out of my eyes. I am not being strafed by Jap Zeroes in a Nanking rice paddy in the late Thirties. I am not trying to survive Dachau on nothing but lice-cakes and meager once-a-day servings of cabbage-shadow soup. Or jumping from a window of the Triangle Waist Company fire--100 years ago yesterday.
Or tsunamis and radiation, or getting shot at in Libya or Damascus right now.
I live in America in the twenty-fucking-first century. We have antibiotics and anesthesia. We have birth control (and my personal favorites: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. Right up there with epidurals.)
and I am allowed to vote even though I'm equipped with ovaries and a popo. Plus which I went to college and have circumnavigated the globe. And didn't die of either syphillis or TB as a result (thank you, tetracycline and isonicotinylhydrazine [INH]).
And lo, eventually I got fucking published. Which boggles the mind.
I am, to quote the aliens who show up in the middle of Monty Python's Life of Brian to scoop the title character out of mid-air--just when he's tumbling off the top of a mud-brick ziggurat-esque building and about to go fatally splat in the streets of Ancient Israel--a "lucky bah-stahd." (Because hey, it's Monty Python, so even the aliens totally have British accents.)
Okay, so there has also been some abandonment, autism, infidelity, divorce, a boatload of pretty fucking brutal verbal stuff, suicides and other hideously untimely deaths of beloved friends and family members, plus a raft of miscellaneous but still ruthless ugly shit I don't really want to go into right now. All of it crowds the hell out of my mosh-pit life like several dozen thousand Nazi-punk assholes ripped to the gills on methanphetamine and Olde English 800. Especially over the last couple of years.
But we all have some of that: the kind of stuff that doesn't seem less awful even after you cry about it at great length. Repeatedly.
I'm starting to realize that it's what makes you a grownup. Which sucks, but there it is.
I even ended up discussing it with a shrink yesterday. Okay, mostly the fact that I'm writing about some of the nastiest crap at the moment.
"That must be hard," he said.
I crossed my arms and smiled at him. "Ya think?"
"But surely you find it cathartic?"
"I find it like opening a vein every morning with the claw end of a cheap hammer. Onto my keyboard."
He kind of blanched at that, poor guy.
I leaned forward. "You don't really feel better afterward. Just tired."
"Then why do it?"
"Because I get paid," I said. "I don't have a lot of other skills. I'm a really shitty waitress. And because maybe it will help someone else who's going through the same kind of shit."
"Look," I said, "could we just do the prescription part of this? It's starting to snow again."
I pretty much don't get the whole shrink thing. Obviously. But I show up for the meds.
It just feels like whining, to me. And I keep thinking about how bored they must be. And try to make them laugh. Which is ridiculous.
I'm not repressing much, believe me.
Because mostly one endures, you know? Even if it all seems overwhelmingly, irredeemably sad every goddamn time you happen to be lying awake in the dark at three in the morning and the bad monsters show up.
But there are things you can do when you feel like a clinically depressed Canadian in a Saskatchewan February, navigating the longest and darkest L. Cohen latitudes of the soul.
Like, read something. If you don't have the concentration to handle a novel, or even an essay, try a sentence:
Always behind you stands waiting something immense and black, something fresh and brilliant, and within one bound you are in it.
--Romola Nijinksy, foreword to Paul Claudel's Nijinsky
I mean, that's from a woman whose husband ended up in a bad nuthouse. He looked back over his shoulder at her as he was being taken away and said, "Femmka, ne desesperes pas, car il y a un dieu." (Do not despair, little wife, because there is a God.)
Or this, from an essay by the guy who wrote Clockwork Orange:
What matters is talk, family, cheap wine in the open air, the wresting of minimal sweetness out of the long-known bitterness of living.
--Anthony Burgess, "Is America Falling Apart?"
And I say if you don't have family, make one. You'll probably have a better time at Thanksgiving, too.
Or just read the following, which makes me laugh every damn time:
I'd like to clear up one last thing before I go off and eat an entire banana cream pie by myself: men and women do not get stuck together when they screw. Oh, sure, you can beat her at arm wrestling, throw her across the room, mow her down in the line for Bruce Springsteen tickets, but you're no match for her vagina? Come on.
If a woman could keep you inside her by clamping her vaginal muscles in an inextricable viselike grip, you'd be there now.
--Shary Flenniken, National Lampoon
You will find the linguistic elixir of mental succor in totally unexpected places.
The following is something I culled from an article about cheese-and-chutney sandwiches that appeared eleven-ish years ago in Salon, for instance:
Don't tell me that making a quiche can be equally fun, and that cheese is no dinner, because even monkeys know this. It's just that when the ball is bouncing, or everyone's leaving to go swimming--in the dark, when you're stunned and splashing in the bracing ink, and you are the ink, and you find yourself going 'oh, my God, oh, my God" like in that Chekov story--you want your kitchen time to be brief.
I mean, come on... that's just a paragraph brimming with sheer beauty. Lapidary and sublime. The bad monsters don't stand a chance against it, not even mine.
They will be reduced to staring forlornly at the horizon, lowing in sympathy.
And that's as good as it gets, I think.
You can't control damage. You can survive it, you can even try to gain wisdom out of it--or use it as something against the dull impasto of which joy can be more deeply savored, whenever joy returns to you--but the damage won't be tamped down.
You can't outrun it, either. You will be scathed. The only way out is through.
That's how it works, being alive. Which of course utterly sucks, and I'm sorry it happens that way. I would fix it if I could.
But here's what I always forget, whenever I'm hiding behind a potted palm all dirt-cheeked and orphany in the glamorous-parties-I-don't-belong-at of my mind: you have to tell someone.
Preferably someone who's known you a long time, and likes you anyway. (If you don't have one of those, email me and I'll do the honors. Really. Because absolute strangers have done it for me, many, many times.)
A newish lover is probably not your best bet, and I say that having just burst into tears two nights in a row at three a.m. in this very nice man whom I like a great deal's bed. He was terrifically kind about it, but it's hard not to feel like a total freak in that situation if you are the cryer rather than the cryee.
I ended up discussing that with my pal Andi yesterday afternoon, actually. Apres shrink.
"So, this poor guy," I said. "I ended up totally crying two nights in a row at, like, three in the morning."
"What did he do?" she asked.
"He was extremely nice about it. Said he was happy I felt comfortable crying around him, and that sometimes people just need to leak."
"Obviously a mensch."
"Obviously. But still... I mean, maybe I'm just too damaged. To be around actual people. Like, guy people, especially. It seems patently unfair to vomit up all your shards of glass and lumps of coal into someone else's lap when they had nothing to do with it. I mean totally right up there with whoever threw that Stroh's bottle at Iggy Pop's head at the end of his earlier version of 'Louie Louie.' Not the one where he says, 'A fine little girl's waiting for me/But I'm as bent as Dostoevsky,' and talks about AIDS and homelessness and how fucked up Bush is. The dirty one. That he did with the Stooges, apparently live. Which is actually the only Stooges song I ever liked at all--"
"--You are not damaged," she said.
"Please. I am the fucking empress of damage. I'm soaking in it, like the bowl of Palmolive Madge always had."
"You are not damaged. You have survived a bunch of incredibly shitty circumstances. Which is different."
"It feels like damage," I said. "I mean, especially when I keep bursting into fucking tears and stuff. Who would want to be around that?"
"I would. Every day. In fact I am kind of pissed that you don't live next door, and that you have other friends with whom I have to allow you to spend time. So there."
Which is why I love Andi.
And then we both agreed it's too bad we're not lesbians who are madly hot for each other, because that would just simplify a whole bunch of shit.
A final thought (really! I promise!):
I remember once standing in a long line at the counter of a framing store in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was the fall of 1997, and that week it felt like everything I had loved in my life was in ruins.
I didn't want to be standing in line, I wanted to slouch back to my car and weep in the parking lot with my forehead against the steering wheel. But I'd already been there for twenty minutes and I didn't know if I could gird my loins enough to come back, so I just blinked a lot and tried to breathe really, really shallowly.
Which is totally NOT what they tell you to do in yoga, but is rather helpful if you're trying not to burst into tears in front of a framing store full of strangers.
So, okay, I was standing behind two women who were just shooting the shit with one another. They started talking about poetry. One quoted a stanza of her favorite sonnet, which was lovely but I don't remember it at all.
The second woman said, "You want to hear my favorite bit of poetry?"
Woman number one nodded.
Woman number two spread her arms wide, closed her eyes, tilted her head back, and intoned:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
And I was just... gobsmacked. Slackjawed. The fever broke and there was this thrill of Lux et Veritas radiating outward from my chest.
The chick opened her eyes and brought her arms down, and I tapped her on the shoulder shyly and said, "Please, who wrote that?"
She laughed and said, "oh, crap, I can't remember! I know it will come to me..."
I gave her my email address. "If it does, will you let me know?"
She promised she would, and later that afternoon I got an email from her.
Recently, I dragged Christopher Robin to a small art gallery in Manitou Springs, where they were having a show of altars. I admired them, one after another, puzzling out their messages. Some were crude and rough, some quite elaborate. CR said, “This is just what you do.”
As will so often happen, the obviousness of a thing slapped me in the head. Yes. Of course I do. I make altars out of everything. Altoids boxes are excellent. Cigar boxes. Niches in desks and corners, naturally.
Altars in all forms fascinate me, from descansos erected on the side of the road to honor the dead killed in car accidents, Buddhas covered with dollar bills at my local nail salon, the altars piled high with crutches and requests scribbled on a photograph: “Save Ricardo.” A friend and I drove down to Chimayo New Mexico in December, to one of the only pilgrimage sites in North America. There is a deep well with holy dirt that people collect to spread over the sick to heal them of their ills, and an altar to Virgin of Guadalupe, but my favorite is a little stall devoted to Santo Nino, who is a little boy saint dressed in a pilgrim’s cloak. He is said to wander the area healing sick children, and wears out his shoes, so people bring him new ones, child shoes. His stall his littered with them, and it’s possible to hear the whispers of the prayers rustling the air. Who is more earnestly praying than a mother for a sick child, after all?
Honestly, Santo Nino and his shoes give me the creeps a bit. I really would not want to run into him on a dark night, his cape flapping, his cocky hat clapped down over his hair. He reminds me a little too much of Chuckie.
One of my favorite kind of altars is descansos. Not everyone agrees with me, of course. Many states have fights over when to leave them up, when to take them down. The can be a little creepy, too, I guess, those constant reminders that you are not as safe as you think you are. They are common in Colorado, and in New Mexico, it's against the law to dismantle them. They become entrenched parts of the landscape, as this one has--
--so well-tended over time that they become a part of their world. It’s a loving tribute, a determination to remember the dead as you would wish to be remembered. This one was decorated for Christmas.
I make altars of all sorts all the time. They seem to sprout wherever I am. In my study, there are two. One is tucked into a niche of my desk. It holds blue jay feathers in pottery jars and egg-shaped rocks and a large Ganesha statue piled with American quarters and pound coins and Euros from a handful of different places. Last summer, I added a bottle of water taken from the Chalice Well in Glastonbury, where I waded in the waters to see if it would heal the torn meniscus in my knee. It was not healed but I did manage to walk 100km of the Camino de Santiago afterward, so maybe it was a miracle.
The other altar is quite Catholic in aspect, with a Virgin of Guadalupe covered with rosary beads collected from my travels, and a very special one my teenage son brought back from Barcelona when he went with a class trip. It is he who provided me with the Virgin, whose halo used to light up with laser lights until I lost the cord. Still, she has a pretty face andI like her very much. She holds all the photos of people I give her without complaining.
Altars often make their way into my books, even inspire them. For awhile I was fascinated with the tiny rock star altars that were showing up here and there in tourist shops. When I found a dollar bill that said, “Tupac is alive!” I made one to honor that little bit of magic.
Making it helped me puzzle out the story of a lost young girl in A Piece of Heaven (which has maybe the most magic realism of any of my novels, aside from The Lost Recipe for Happiness). The altar and bill showed up in the narrative. A double descanso in Chimayo helped inspire Lost Recipe. One I saw along the Camino keeps showing up in my new book--crude and cold, but somehow I have not been able to dislodge it from my brain. I would have spent the entire day there, reading the walls and prayers and petitions. It plays an important role in the book.
The day we saw the exhibit of altars, Christopher Robin and I wandered around Manitou afterwards. In an antique store, and he found an old teak jewelry box for $20 and gave it to me for a project. It has Chinese mountains on it, and green Asian fabric inside. There are mirrors, very intriguing. Three days after he gave it to me, I found a passport that had been lost for more than three years, so that went inside. I suspect it will be a travel altar of some kind, but that’s not clear yet. We shall see.
I have no idea where this fascination comes from, but maybe we don’t always have to know everything. I just love them. That’s enough.
Have you ever seen an altar that spoke to you? Do you have a passion for something a little offbeat?
This one’s about friendship, upon which I pondered this week, as I drove 130 miles each way to have lunch with an out-of-town friend. She and her husband and a son had driven from Pennsylvania to attend a family wedding in Columbia, Mo. So there I was, motorvating down I-70, dodging raindrops and tractor-trailer trucks, when it came to me, my epiphany.
It has to do with how the internet has utterly changed the landscape of friendship in at least one major way. It used to be that as people got older—and not a whole lot older, really—friendship opportunities narrowed. The internet, bless its convivial soul, has changed all that for millions of us.
I mean, look at us! Right here, right now. Nice to meet you.
During school days, it’s easy to make friends if you are the friend-making kind. Not everybody is, of course, and some can’t make friends because of circumstances. If you’re cripplingly shy, or you’re “different,” you may walk those halls alone whether you want to, or not.
But for most of us, the lucky ones, the reason it’s easy to make friends in school is that we’re all thrown together, all day long, for years on end. It’s proximity that does it, which is also why it’s pretty easy to make friends at work. And when your children are young and you’re meeting their friends’ moms and dads. And at church, if you get involved in it. And in volunteer work. Etc. While life is pointed outward, toward groups and activities where lots of people flock, friendships blossom.
But there comes a time—or used to—when our friendship tank starts to run out of gas. We get older and people die. We move, and suddenly it’s not so easy to make close friends. All those people you'd like to get to know in your new town? They are too busy with their own lives; they already have all the friends they can handle, if not all the friends they might want. If they ignore you, it’s not about you, it’s about them not having an ounce more time or energy for one more friend, because that means getting to know somebody over a long period of time, and who’s got the energy for that any more?
At a certain point, we look around and instead of having too many people to schedule for lunch, we have too few. And then it’s hard to start over, like a brand new student, making new friends.
Enter, the solution! Also known as the internet. It's like the world's biggest school, where anybody can enroll, and there are enough people--and enough different kinds of people-- for anyone to find a friend.
Once within its open doors, you find the power of Constant Comment, like the famous tea.
Remember how when the web first started, and we began to hesitantly “talk” to people on line, we were scared of it? They might be serial killers. They might be sexual predators. Be careful! Don’t try to meet them in real life! don’t give out any personal information! Hide, cover your tracks, disguise yourself. . .
Well, that was impossible, wasn’t it?
Those protective walls came down because we connect with people on line just like we do in the flesh. We feel chemistry with people on line exactly the way we do—or do not-- when we meet in person. And so our boundaries began to melt. We began to meet in meat life, and most of us didn’t get killed by an ax murderer. Remember that? “You’re going to actually meet her? Are you sure that’s wise?? What if she turns out to be an ax murderer!”
The internet was our new “school corridor” where the proximity of constant conversation led us into friendship. Just as in school, we joined the Knitters Club, or the Political Club, or the Book Club, and we met people of affinity there, too.
The internet turns out to be the biggest friend-making machine the world has ever seen!
What an incredible blessing this is as people get older (or ill) and lose the physical opportunities for making friends. We retire. We stay home more. We lose income. Etcetera. In times not so far past, factors like those could have—probably would have—left us alone at 90 years of age, and missing people. Now any 90 year old who chats on a website or a blog or a forum can still have buddies. And any 100-year-old, too.
Making friends on line is wonderful, even without anything else added to it, but if we can then meet in person, too? All the better, richer, more satisfying, more--for lack of a better word--completing. Brave new world of friendship meets reliable old world of friendship, and it feels good.
I now have two sweet friends right here in the Kansas City area whom I met on line. One is Victoria, my concert buddy, whom I met on the website of a singer we love. The other one is Cathy, whom I met through a political blog.
The dear friend I drove to Columbia to see? Met her on line.
I’ve gone to Virginia Beach, Va., to spend a weekend on the beach with seven on-line friends. five of whom I'd never met before. I’ve had dinner in Seattle with another one, and stayed a weekend with four of them back east. I’ve met Andi and Jim, from Ohio, and Mary in St. Louis, and Jackie from Denver, and Dina from Moscow. Russia, not Idaho! I’ve taken a tableful of web acquaintances to a barbeque joint to listen to blues bands here in the KC area. When I go to conventions now, people come up and give me huge or shy grins, and say, “I’m Suzie!” And I realize, with a jolt of happiness, that it’s one of my Facebook friends and we’re meeting at last.
Instead of my friendship circle narrowing as I get older, it’s getting wider and wider, deeper and deeper. How can something wider also get deeper, instead of getting more shallow? It can, partly because of the greater variety of people in my life now, introducing me to new views and viewpoints, and partly because of the synergy of so much talk about so many interesting things. We become greater than the sum of our parts. Just in the matter of age alone, don't you feel as if you are more closely acquainted with more people of more different ages than you've ever been? In one internet circle I belonged to at one time, we ranged in age from 27 to 62. I wonder what the range of ages is here, today, among people commenting and lurking We need one of those poll thingies so we could ask anonymously.
I think all this is going to change, is already changing, the nature of old age in the world. It’s invigorating to exchange views, to make friends, to feel close to people, and now we know for sure that we don’t have to be in the same physical space to do it.
This blog isn’t about being careful out there. We get plenty of those messages, and we all know the rules by now. We also know the horror stories. While I have met a few people with whom I didn’t share quite the same chemistry when we met in person as I did on line, that’s the only negative I've encountered so far. For the most part, my judgment and instincts about this kind of thing have been good: to whatever degree I click with you here on line, that's probably also going to be how much we click in person.
If this squirrel had that rat’s tail, would you still think it's cute?
"God, no!" says Sue Dunlap, who nearly freaked when she saw a couple of stringy-tailed rats chowing down on peanuts she'd left out for her squirrels.
I myself am not enamored of squirrels, a.k.a. “tree rats.”
Even though they've never invaded my attic or gnawed my electrical wiring, they are nevertheless deeply annoying. First they steal our pecans and walnuts every fall and bury them all over the yard and in my flower planters. Then they spend the winter digging them up, uprooting the pansies and snapdragons that have begun to bloom in the planters and making holes that can leave the unwary (me!) with a twisted ankle.
Even worse, those nuts that aren’t retrieved will send down long taproots in the spring and two or three years later, when they’ve grown tall enough to be seen amongst the azaleas, I have to wade in with a shovel and try to dig out those would-be trees without destroying the bushes.
According to various studies, squirrels may be more intelligent than dogs. A friend who knows how much I dislike those bushy-tailed rodents, sent me this video as proof of their intelligence.
But our friend Linda Grant is dubious. “Squirrels are the 7th smartest animal? That amazes me and I'm very pro-squirrel. We've had several generations. The original squirrel, known as 'our squirrel' was very bright. His spouse, sadly, was just a cute piece of tail. And his descendants are barely above average.”
An MSNBC site claims that “squirrels in California will cover their fur in the scent of rattlesnakes to mask their own scent from predators.” Excuse me? This is a sign of intelligence? How many squirrels have lost their lives trying to get close enough to rattlers to pick up their scent? (And who knew rattlesnakes smelled?) Wouldn’t skunks be safer and more effective?
Prince Charles has called for the extermination of gray squirrels in Great Britain. I’d applaud the prince except that he’s doing it to save the native red squirrels. He claims there are only 140,000 red squirrels left in Britain, as opposed to 2,500,000 gray squirrels, and “the greys are giving the reds diseases that will decimate the population.” (I don’t know who had the bright idea of transporting our native squirrels to Britain, but he’s probably first cousin to that “eccentric New Yorker and Shakespeare fanatic named Eugene Schiffelin who," according to the National Geographic, "felt compelled to introduce all the birds of Shakespeare to the United States.”)
(Which is why we have starlings, but that’s a rant for another day.)
When I came out anti-squirrel to my friends, Judy Greber, a.k.a. Gillian Roberts, said, “It’s time for me to confess that I love squirrels. When I was a child, I had a stuffed squirrel. Not a toy—a taxidermed (?) formerly real live squirrel. I now wonder who the hell purchased and gave me such an inappropriate and yucky thing, but I loved it so much that to my eventual humiliation, I brought it to show-and-tell. Twice. The first time, it was accepted. The second time, I was jeered for......repetitiveness? For squirrel over-adoration? I know they are rodents, but so what?”
“So what?” she asks. So what???
As I suspected, it’s all in the fluffy tail. Give a squirrel the tail or a mouse or a vole and then see how many people want to feed it peanuts.
I love teaching. I really do. Yes, I only do it part-time and I teach college students, not little kids. But here is the bad news - these students are starting to scare the hell out of me. And I am not alone.
Lest you blame any one institution or geographic area, be assured I have discussed this issue with teachers at all levels all over the county, and from an educational standpoint, it's an epidemic. The bad kind.
We all know that No Child Left Behind was less than successful (that is what we call a grotesque understatement, but I don't want this to get political). This generation of kids has been taught to take tests. This means they get an information dump, take a test, then flush it out and start on the next set of facts.
As a result, they do have better vocabularies and I would even venture that they know more things. The problem is that they understand much, much less.
Even the Internet, which gives us access to an incredible amount of information, contributes to the problem, because you type a key word in a search engine, and bloop - another information dump.
But ask them to use the index or glossary in a textbook and they look at you as if you sprouted wings. Ask them a question in a form they haven't seen before, and they cannot apply the concept you thought they learned. Ask them to do actual research - not using Wikipedia - and you get more blank stares than Galliano at shabbat dinner.
I have learned that these missing skills are part of something called Critical Thinking. Basically, it means that if the student does not already KNOW the answer, they have no tools to find it or figure it out.
Here is an example, albeit a silly one. The following is a true/false question from an exam.
___ 5. If your fish accidentally poisons your dog, that would be murder.
First of all - yes, it was supposed to be a gift. I normally include a couple of these to help break up the tension of a test and to engage the lighter parts of the brain.
If you don't know the answer, first let me tell you that every semester I teach business law, and we come to the chapter on criminal law, we end up doing what I like to call "Would that be murder?". It never fails. I will ask if there are any question, and one student will start the ball rolling with a question like this: "My Uncle Chucky told me that if you kill someone in your yard, you just have to drag them in the house and say they tried to kill you, and that way it's not murder." (Answer: Not true and have someone make sure Uncle Chucky's gun is locked up, especially once he cracks a six pack.)
I end up giving examples - including ones involving pets - like dogs and fish, to explain the elements of murder. (Hint: one element involves the death of a human).
So how could a kid miss a question like that one? Or - better yet - leave it blank? Easy explanation is that they didn't really read the question. But when I asked them about it, the real story was much more disturbing. As in, they don't read books. They don't know how to use a textbook. They don't even know that you are better off guessing on a true/false question because then at least you have a 50/50 shot, rather than no shot. It's terrifying.
Due to the quirks in regulation, someone like me with a terminal degree (a J.D.) can teach without a degree in education. Fortunately, I did learn how to do research, and this is my current quest. How do you teach kids something that seems to come naturally? I am reading books on critical thinking, and taking some steps, but boy, would I love to get some advice from our TLC community - you know, from people who read.