Notes From The Road.
Flickr user Nicholas A. Tonelll

Today I drove 40 miles south, then a few hours later I drove back. I saw at least ten cars pulled over, but only got a look at four of the drivers. Two black; two white. I wish I could say I believed there’s a chance the six drivers I didn’t see were white.

Christians, if you’re going to drive like assholes, maybe don’t have those WWJD bumper stickers or icthyses placed prominently on the rear end of your car which I will undoubtedly see as you cut me off.

Brokeass white people with Romney Ryan stickers left over from ’12, one of these days I really will rear end one of you. Know how I know your asses are broke? You drive Jeeps and Ford Escapes from ’89 that almost look lacy for all the rust. Your cars make more noise than semis, and not cos you installed a muffler enhancer. And at least half of you drive around shirtless.

Anybody reading this have any experience with 4th graders and pickup lines? Asking for a friend.

Thinking about law school and getting a PhD with equal lather lately. Anybody know the starting salary for a social justice lawyer? HAHAHA.

Sometimes, I eat onions then I smell really bad.

Nobody in my family loves the Green Ralph Lauren cologne the way I do. Anybody who wears that wanna follow me around so I can inhale deeply your delicious odor like a sweaty perv?

My student’s incomplete is due on Monday. I will turn in his grade on Friday. Don’t know why I feel so anxious about whether or not he will actually turn in his incomplete. Maybe it’s related to the fact that I haven’t been brave enough to view my scores on rate my professor dot com.

Finally, I’m 34. It’d be really unfair if I were really perimenopausal. If, in fact, I am, I am looking for a gynecological surgeon for some pro bono work on my uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. You may keep them for study. Say you found them in a dumpster. I don’t care.

Phony, Imposter, Jerk, Poseur, and other nasty names I call myself

From Flickr user Cea, used under Creative Commons attribution license
From Flickr user Cea, used under Creative Commons attribution license

The mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Is it? I’d like to waste that bitch sometimes.

I’d like to extract my mind from myself, the artist’s plague, and shoot her dead. Or strangle her. Or perhaps torture her for a time, like she’s tortured me as long as I can remember; perhaps that would be a more satisfactory end for this piece of me, is it the Id? The Uberself? The built-in cynic with a penchant for the soul squash? My masochistic inner other.

You’re not good enough.

I know.

You never should’ve stopped writing those five years, when your kid was small.

I didn’t. Not entirely. I blogged. Badly. 

It’s too late for you now.

I know. I’ll get my MFA when I’m 34 instead of when I was 29. 34 is practically retirement age when you’re a woman. I should just give up. I’m out of time.

You’re a phony.

I’m very good at tricking people. It’s just because I know a lot of words.

People like you don’t get to do this.

It’s true. I’m a brokeass from a brokeass family. I could never afford the luxury to create, to commit my whole self to what I make. I will always be lesser because I am poor, because I have always been.

Also, you are a mother.

That, too. Mothers’ writing is the worst, nobody cares about dirty nappies and what it really feels like to breastfeed. People care about war.

You will never go to war. Also, you will never publish your essays.

I’m afraid of losing the people in them. The ones who are really important. Much more important than my writing life, my artist’s soul.

The truth

Perhaps it is bold to say that we are all constantly pushing hard against those conversations. I picture myself between two tiled walls, my back against one, my feet flat against the other, pressing till my face is red, till my gut is herniated, till the muscles in my thighs lock and ache. Keeping that sacred space between, the place where I get to breathe deep and free and feel alive because I am making. Perhaps other artists face lesser negative self-talk. Perhaps other artists feel like it is their right to do what they must, to create.

And when I’m feeling rested and healthy and positive, which is more often, I am able to recognize all of that for what it is: fear. Not just fear of failure: fear of judgement, of self, of what happens when we let it out? Does it get lost? Do I get it back? If I let my mind really fruit, the ante will be upped, I will push myself to do better next time.

As it is, everything I write sucks as soon as it is down. The process of printing exponentially increases the suckage. The more I work on it, the better I see it is with my rational mind, the more it sucks. How can I live with everything I write forever and ever, published or in a secret journal or on some disk somewhere or in a drawer, sucking. Letting it out means it sucks. But I can’t keep it in!

And it doesn’t suck. Not always anyhow. If I were left to myself alone, I could never believe that.

So, as much as writing practice is alone, alone, alone; I prize my weird and wacky and mostly long-distance community of other writers and artists. These are the people who’ve helped keep me from lobotomizing that cunt who lives in my mind. The ones who teach me how to quiet her, how to shut her in a room with meditation. These are the people who will read this post and nod and feel recognized. These are the people who help me to know that I do not suck, my writing does not suck, and I have every right to pursue my passion.

So when the self-hatred begins to mushroom and permeate and threaten my very will to live, I remember that awful/wonderful movie, LADYBUGS, and I shout over the din, YOU ARE GREAT! YOU ARE WONDERFUL! EVERYBODY LIKES YOU!

You are, too. What does your self say? What do you tell it? How do you shut it up?

Curiouser and Curiouser

these are my sexy old lady shoesWhen I was little, I used to notice when women wore sneakers all the time. Sneakers at church, sneakers at work, sneakers with suits, skirts, jeans, on holidays, on vacation. I was particularly vexed when women wore sneakers with skirts.

The above image is a photograph of my feet. In sneakers. With a skirt.

I love other kinds of shoes, and I do wear them, though I nearly always regret it after.

Here is an example of a recent time when I did not wear sneakers:

That was at my sister’s wedding.  I was in that wedding, and it was my sister. It was also nine million degrees hot outside, and I took my funky (in both senses) old lady flip flops from New Balance (with the instep support and lowered heels) for the dancing.

I considered wearing my clogs today. With my skirt. It would’ve looked better. But when I do not wear sneakers, my body hurts.

Yes, I know, it’s partly because I’m too fat. But it’s also because I’m not twenty anymore.

Since we last spoke, fair blog readers, I have been head-spinningly busy, and I will be for a few weeks more, but I couldn’t let it go any longer without letting you know I’m still kicking (haha), and that I promise I’ll be back in force in a few weeks.

I’ve got a lot to tell you.  And some pictures, too.  And some more Self (Publishing) Help posts, even though I know you hate those.



I Remembered a Thing: Temporary, Black, Lesbian College Roommates

From Flickr User shlala

My first roommate ever was a boy.

I can’t imagine now what my parents must’ve thought, but I knew what I was doing back then, and wouldn’t be dissuaded.  Plus, I got to move to New England.  HUGE bonus.  It had been a dream since I read Cynthia Voigt (I think it was her, anyway) in grade school.

There was no need for my parents to worry, but now that I’m a parent, I’m sure they did.  Lots.  Probably they lost sleep over my antics.  They don’t read this blog, so they’ll probably never know I’ve acknowledged it.  Ah, well.  Their loss.

I’ve had pretty good taste in some friends along the way (pretty bad taste in others), and my first roommate, Steve, is definitely good people. We were best friends from high school, kindred spirits, and he was a student at Quinnipiac College (now Quinnipiac University) in Hamden, CT.  Quinnipiac is like New Jersey North.  It’s a campus full of high-end SUVs and boys with carefully manicured facial hair.  Or at least it was back in 2001.  Now they’ve probably got Priuses and boys with artfully shaggy bangs.

Here’s what I mean about Steve being good people:

I had a job at The Olive Garden in Orange, CT (incredible money, seriously).  I loved it.  And I worked with some interesting people.  One such interesting person was a black lesbian named Tina.

She had a son who was five at the time, and who wasn’t in her custody.  She was from Reading, PA.

She had a partner, named Donna, who was the daughter of a preacher man.

These two managed to find themselves without a place to stay. Their homelessness had something to do with Donna’s parents catching her and Tina doing it.  So I invited them to stay with us temporarily.  Probably without consulting Steve.  I don’t know that for sure, but I know myself, and I can imagine myself at 20 being more concerned with the well-being of casual acquaintances than peace in my domestic arrangement.

But Steve was on board.  I reckon he’s still about as laid back as they come.

We set Tina & Donna up on the couch cushions in our living room, and I learned some stuff:

1.  What “ashy” means with regard to dry skin.  I used this term once, many years later, about my own skin in front of a black person.  I wasn’t even thinking of it, just that ashy was a precise adjective.  My audience adopted the same air of bemusement my black ex boyfriend did when he discovered that I use a washcloth to clean myself.  Like, “White people aren’t allowed to do that.”  Good times.

2.  Hair Extensions.  This bumpkin had no clue.  I swear to you, I was shocked.  Like I was about plucking eyebrows.  I came home one day and Tina and Donna were sitting there on the floor, half of Donna’s hair was in her lap.  After I realized that it hadn’t fallen out, I was deeply curious.  Both Tina and Donna were amused by and patient about my naivete.

3.  Arbor Mist isn’t really alcohol.  Here’s awesome about Tina.  She was pregnant.  Yup, pregnant.  From cheating on Donna with a boy from high school.  ?!  I know.  She was the cautionary tale for the phrase, “It only takes one.”  Donna wanted to help her raise the baby.  Tina didn’t have too much qualms about imbibing Arbor Mist.  Here’s another awesome thing about Tina: she had just gotten out of jail.  Yes, jail.  For what?  I honestly don’t know.  I don’t know if I ever did.

But I will say this: in New Haven, I don’t think I ever saw a white person being pulled over.  Pretty sure the cops there throw anybody not white into jail indiscriminately.  Sure, Tina was probably doing something she ought not have been doing, but who hasn’t?  Feel free to be all hoity toity in the comments if you’ve never done anything that you would’ve gone to jail for if you got caught.  Some of us are lucky on two counts: being born white, and not getting caught.

And before you freak out because I said it’s lucky to be white: I’m saying that it with a heart-squeezing dose of guilt.  I don’t think it’s right, good, or fair; and it’s insane especially because it’s 2012–it’s supposed to be the future, isn’t it?

I liked Tina.  I still wonder about her.  She was funny and calm and had great teeth and a cool speaking voice.  I never got to know Donna as well, but she was nice, too.

Here are other things that I remember from our brief cohabitation with Donna and Tina:

1.  I had my first experience getting felt up by a dude at a gay bar. I am reasonably sure I was underage.

2.  I came home from work a few times to find Donna, Tina, and Steve on the couch in front of the evening news studying their Powerball tickets with something like reverence and suspended enthusiasm.

3.  Proper dreadlocks are high maintenance and require some pretty unpleasant smelling product.

4.  Tina was the easiest-to-be-around pregnant person I’ve ever met.

5.  I’m pretty sure that I did not tell my parents that I had a pair of temporary roommates who were both black and lesbians.  I don’t know how that would’ve gone.

6.  Looking back, I can’t believe how incredibly cool Steve was about the whole thing.  I think if the shoe were on the other foot, I would’ve been hopping mad.  Maybe not, though.  I prize privacy and caution a lot more these days than I once did.

Anyway, after they moved out, Tina wasn’t working at the Olive Garden anymore, and I have no clue where the two of them wound up.  But I still wonder about them.  And since the names in this post (except for Steve’s, but I used his proper name with permission) have been changed to protect the innocent, I don’t know if I’ll ever find out what happened to them.

How about you?  What’s your best (or best material) roommate story?

Anna Alford, In Memoriam

From Facebook, Rest in Peace, Anna.

My friend, Anna, died suddenly yesterday morning in Virginia.  She went there for peace and good company.

I knew her for a bit more than a year. When we met, it was in a cafe in summer.  She wore a long, bright blue dress, and her hair in twin plaits as pictured above.  She struck me then as a real self.  Somebody who knew what she wanted, how to define herself, and was at ease in her skin.

She owned a B&B/Ski Resort, and we talked this past winter about the perils of self employment when I helped her editing the January/February issue of The Williamsport Guardian.  She was the volunteer editor.  She also held a law degree and a teaching certificate.

I was introduced to her through a mutual acquaintance because I wanted to write for the paper.  We chatted over coffee and she had a bagel.  We were easy together, it did not feel like an audition or an interview, though it was.  We laughed and talked about religion.  I do not discuss religion or politics on a first meeting, but Anna was one of those rare humans who accepted everyone for precisely who she was, without a whisper of assessment.

She was a Christian Scientist.  I had a grandmother who was a Christian Scientist.  Anna told me a bit about it; I was always interested, but my parents are rigidly a peculiar sort of Christian, and they do not traverse in other forms of Christianity.  I was and am interested in using spirituality and thought to overcome illness.

I was only just forming a more personal connection with Anna.  She knew of an unlikely but good Thai restaurant tucked away in the hills near where we live.  There is an exceptional hike nearby.  We were going to go on an Adventure and Meal hike this summer.  Anna invented the concept of “Adventure and a Meal” to write a column for the paper which she never got around to doing.  She was a huge Neil Gaiman fan, and urged me to follow him and Amanda Palmer on twitter so as to observe their sweet, newlywed banter; I am glad I did.

When we spoke on the phone last week, she did not acknowledge that it could be the last time we did, though there was something in her voice that told me it may be.  Just a couple of weeks before, we’d talked about our hike; Anna was full of excitement.  When I mentioned it on the phone, a promise of her return, there was strained wistfulness under her audibly forced smile when she said, “yeah, sure.”

I am so sad for Anna’s family.

I am going to spend today being mindful of a friendship cut too short, of self and ambition, and thinking about how to be myself with conviction, as Anna was.

Please, if you read this today–or any day–take a moment to wish Anna’s family and friends peace.  And to remember that now is a gift.  Choose an action or behavior you want to change and do it.  That’s how Anna lived.  Not in hesitation, but with temerity.

Help With Your Resolutions: You Can Thank Me Later.

Favorite People, represented in yarn. Love & miss you, K, I, T, S, and P.

This has been a great year for me.

I work for myself now.  We bought a house.  I have figured out some things about parenting.  I’m starting a nonprofit that will let me do all the things I love.  I found an MFA program that is commutable, sort of, even though Penelope says I shouldn’t bother.

Child and I took two awesome trips, one to New Haven, where the people-in-yarn represented to the left live.  And to New York, where old/new friends were so warm and welcoming and generous.

I made new friends with people and with exercise.  I cooked some great food, and I got better at things, and I read novels, short stories, and wrote.  A lot.

I do not feel like I’ve arrived, but I feel like I can look into 2012 with great hope and feeling more at home with myself and my mind than I have since I was pregnant.

My 30s are liberating, I have a marvelous partner, and I am happy.

2011 showed me that denying my ambitions for alternative solutions that are easier or that give better health insurance is no way to live.

Now I will help you with your New Year’s Resolutions.

1. Stop doing a job you hate.

The world is scary right now.  It’s no time to be jobless, for sure.  But there ARE jobs, and ones you’d like better.  So look for one.  The hunt is its own reward.  Activating for positive change is the first step toward happiness.

2. Make friends with exercise.

I am rewarded by my Zumba endeavors.  I feel better, my body looks a little better, I’m sleeping more and getting more done.  Don’t put it off.  Do it now.  Get sweaty at least 4 times a week.

3.  Read Penelope Trunk’s Blog.

Penelope is a hypocrite and she is annoying, she is also brilliant and busy. Her blog will change your life.  You’ll laugh, and cry.  You’ll think and learn things.  She will send you to Wikipedia more often than you’d like, and she will tell you things that make you think she’s insane, but everyone should aspire to strength, honesty, and ambition like hers.

4.  Tell someone you appreciate them at least once a week.

There is nothing in this great big world better than getting a note from someone that says, “I think you’re awesome, and I want to be more like you.”

5.  Make a list of goals.

It seems obvious, but sitting down with yourself and a piece of paper (or computer or tablet) is an exercise that can bring you peace and direction.  It’s easy to forget to introspect when you’re a person with a job and a domicile and perhaps a partner and kid or two.  Knowing what you want in life, but not being able to get it is probably a result of not owning your goals.  Put your goals in order of importance, and start big.  Take small steps, but don’t stop walking if a small step doesn’t pay off.  The best lesson I took from selling stuff for half a decade is that success is a series of small, consistently taken, and aggressive steps.  You are your own ship’s captain.  Go forth and set your course, build your crew, and launch.  You will fuck up.  You will take wrong terms.  You might make the wrong guy walk the plank.  But you will also have all the power.  Take it.  It’s yours.