Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Do Existential Breakdowns Love Company Too?

It is a bleak, dreary, rainy, mud-sludge kind of morning. I have been sick for the past 4 days with a vague compendium of ailments—swollen glands, sore throat, night sweats, and an epic, consuming fatigue. I think it is known in layman’s terms as "Januaryitis." Because January is the cruelest month. Let’s get that straight once and for all.

The weather has been manic depressive, which is nice and also alarming. Nice in that it is 64 and sunny in January (that was yesterday), alarming as to what is causing it. Global warming, a pressure system off the Atlantic coast, or the apocalypse? You decide!

Wendy Wasserstein died and that was sad on many levels. She is responsible for the first words that I uttered on stage in college: “I just tasted my menstrual blood!” Yeah, I know. Gross. But what an entrance, eh? Actually, my favorite line in the play was, “The only people who have penis envy are other men.” Brilliant!

The play, "Uncommon Women and Others," was described as "funny, ironic and affectionate" by Edith Oliver in The New Yorker, who added, "Under the laughter there is ... a feeling of bewilderment and disappointment over the world outside college, which promised so much, and with their own dreams, which seem to have stalled."

She wrote about artificial insemination and the process of having her daughter at 48:

“While I was being injected with hormones that could make a tyrannosaurus give birth to a foldout couch..." Then she said that the beauty of having a child at an older age is "She doesn't have to live her life for me."
OK, that just broke my heart. I read the essay she wrote about her 8 year odyssey to have a baby in The New Yorker in 2000 and it was very painful indeed. I remember it so vividly and it is so cruel that after all that she had to say goodbye to her little girl.

Oh shit, I am getting all emotional and that won’t do. So let’s talk about what happens to your TV when you’re gone all day. Remember how you used to think your toys actually played in your room together while you were gone? You say you never thought that? And that it’s a sign of advanced delusional insanity? Oh…

Anyway, I was home sick yesterday and I turned on the TV and it was like another planet had invaded that austere chrome box in our family room. Ellen Degeneres was wearing an appalling pair of what appeared to be white golf shoes and running around the stage imitating dog show walkers.

The audience was gleaming and laughing and applauding, there were myriad inside jokes—it was as if the WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD WAS laughing and saying, “You see Lisa? This is what we do all day while you are carrying slop piles to the gutter and toting massive bales of hay! You see! While you are sweeping the cinders from the hearth into a tidy pile we are laughing and guffawing and playing and imitating dog walkers on TV!! You silly little bee! Do you see what you’re missing?”

There is a parallel universe.

Then at 3:00 I turned on Dr. Phil. OF COURSE I TURNED ON DR. PHIL. It is mandatory stay-at-home policy. And there were several enraged couples all going at each other in a really unseemly fashion. The one wife told her husband, “I want a divorce!” And the husband said, “Fine. Go find someone else to f%$# your fat ass.” Um, ouch?

Therein lies another parallel universe.

Then Oprah came on and it was AGONIZING. She was conducting this excruciating interview with a stand-up model dad who went seriously south and started robbing banks, shagging other women and doing drugs. He was caught on tape robbing a bank and so his three sons turned him in.

Dad was up there in his orange prison suit, via satellite, while his sons were white knuckling it on the couch and Oprah and this little teeny weenie black shrink were shaking their heads at the mastodon screen saying, “Bill, you haven’t found your heart. And until you find your heart, you won’t understand! He doesn’t get it, does he?”

I told MZA I wanted TiVo once and for all. And he said, “So you can tape OPRAH? No way!”

Hmph.

It’s raining. The only email in my inbox was an email from someone reminding me for the third time that I need to send in some paperwork. And. I almost cried. I just. Almost cried. And it was stupid and I struggled to put everything into
p-e-r-s-p-e-c-t-i-v-e.

I worried about Bob Woodruff and his wife and four children; I felt so sad for Wendy Wasserstein’s daughter, and about the lights on Broadway dimming in her honor. I thought about triumph and victory and gratitude and empathy. Then I thought that I wanted to stop on the way in to work for a “reward bagel.” But I talked myself out of that and opted for the browning, virtuous slices of Fuji apple MZA prepared for me.

It’s raining, the sirens are blaring down the street, my kids are nestled in another’s care, and I am watching the water bead into a mosaic of drops that is steadily obscuring the parking garage across the street.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Rats and Bitches

It is COLD this morning in our Nation's Capital. Brrrrrrrr. I trundled off to my car and started the engine and a BIG FAT RAT scurried down my driveway and leapt into a crack in our brick retaining wall. ZUT alors!

This is what I luv about MZA—I am Very Tall—5’11—and so not really a shrinking violet, but I got out of the car and knocked on the door and said, “I just saw a RAT!” and MZA, because he is a buff scrumptious manly man, came outside and walked right up to the offending crevice in the wall and jammed a big plank in there. He was not afraid of any old RAT!

I scampered back into my car where Annie Lennox was wailing this exquisite song, "Into the West." Ian came outside in his socks, wearing a blue sweater with "CAR" written on it, and waved and I blew him a kiss and he blew me a kiss and I mimed catching it and he threw back his head and laughed.

The rat made me think of Ratalie, whose best friend was Retro Slut.

I have this very good friend who reads my short stories and gives me effective insight on them, but he gives me a really hard time about, well about being a misogynist. Isn’t that weird? Seriously, can a woman be a misogynist? Discuss.

He said, “I kind of wish I could apologize for all the nasty little bitches you have had to deal with over the years so you would stop punishing them in your fiction.” OUCH! And punish them I have! And it’s been fun!

But, actually, I don’t feel like I’ve been punishing them, it feels more like I have been purging them from my system in a cathartic, exorcistic kind of way, you know?

The truth? I have been way more hurt by WOMEN than by men. Seriously! I love men, I really do. I love women too, and I am very fortunate to know many spectacular dames. Honest engine. But they’s a lot of women out there with axes to grind—issues, competitiveness, jealousy, pettiness—and men are not always privy to these dastardly traits in women. They tend to get the neediness that manifests itself in nagging, clinginess, and desperation.

They don’t get the undermining and the measuring and the greedy eyes that scout for flaws because women love a flaw. Why? Because some women cultivate little interior abacuses in their heads and they slide the little beads over—counting each flaw, click, click, click—in an ancient mathematical form of feline calculus. Each reappointed bead represents a flaw in you, but an asset in them. Listen for those little tell-tale Mandarin clicks, girls!

I don’t like competitiveness. I DON’T LIKE COMPETITIVENESS, SAM I AM. On a boat with a goat or under a moat.

Ah, but let’s cleanse our minds of all these negative thoughts on this sunny frigid morn, and concentrate on the LSDs…I mean…LDS’s (that’s Latter Day Saints, to you)…the temple
was gleaming this morning, all shimmery gold spires and sharp pointed edges—a parachutist's nightmare.

SURRENDER DOROTHY!

Xoxoxo, and je t'aime les femmes…parfois.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Jane’s all over the map this morning

My new art project will be to photograph the Mormon Temple,*
which I drive by EVERY MORNING on the Beltway. Because it looks different every single day. Once you get past the incendiary, weird, dissonant, predatory aspects of a gargantuan TEMPLE placed strategically into the path of every DC yay-hoo and power gonk in town, it becomes kind of beautiful, in a disturbing yet undeniably pristine white reflective marblish kind of way. It is basically the antithesis of the Taj Mahal, which is all about reflecting love—you know, into eternity. The first time I saw the Taj Mahal I was seven years old and we rode up to it on a man-drawn rickshaw. BUT THAT IS ANOTHER STORY.

*I did not take this photograph. (But I COULD HAVE).

Speaking of stories, I wrote this story one time for a class and I had these scenes in India and it was, say, in the 1970’s or something, and this guy in my class wrote—indignantly, on my story--that it had “inaccuracies” because man-drawn rickshaws were "no longer around" in the early 1970’s. They would have “surely been replaced by motorcycle-powered rickshaws." Yeah, well, they would have “surely been replaced," except that they “weren’t” and I know that because I used to ride around in man-drawn rickshaws all the time, because that’s just the sort of imperialistic young papaya eating princess I used to be. Doncha know.

Then I was literally swooning this morning, listening to Jeff Buckley tell ME “Everybody Here Wants You.” I know. I talk about Jeff Buckley a lot.
But I love him. I know him. And I decided, quite spontaneously, that Jeff Buckley’s version of “Everybody Here Wants You” is the SEXIEST SONG IN THE UNIVERSE. And I am going to put it on my Top Ten Sexiest Songs List.

I also want to do a Movie Top Ten List because I have seen every single movie EVER made. And I feel this qualifies me superbly. OK, there are some huge gaps from about 1992-1998 because I was in a land far far away during those years and I missed out on loads and loads of pop culture iconography.

But, BEFORE that, I had seen every movie ever made. And I mean “real” movies, not dumb arcana like “The Blob,” although I have seen “The Blob,” and only because my man Steve McQueen is in it. I LOVE Steve McQueen. My favorite Steve McQueen movie is “The Sand Pebbles” with Candace Bergen. Steve McQueen makes me think of Sam Peckinpah, whom I also like very much. My favorite Sam Peckinpah movie is “Straw Dogs” WITH the phenomenal (and I am not afraid to say it) Dustin Hoffman and Susan George.

Toldja I was all over the map.

And, to close things out, last but CERTAINLY not least, is a brilliant column today by Harold Meyerson. Because any day the headline “Bush the Incompetent” appears, it is a GOOD DAY.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pot Schmuck

I am the only person who signed up to bring something for the pot luck lunch on Thursday. Which is kind of like the sign up sheet said: Only Real Nerds Sign Here.

There my name sits, lonely, tinged with dreaded office cooperative spirit, the jauntily scripted “Vegetarian Black Bean Chili” branding me, permanently, as a corporate toady, who thinks only about lunch and food.

Lesson learned: ALWAYS wait for the sign-up sheet to get some ink on it before you implicate yourself as a team spirited, vegetarian, office wanker goon.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

What Fresh Hell is This?

I got home from work early on Friday and went by to pick up the bambini. They were out for a walk, though, so I came home and had a few uninterrupted minutes to chat with MZA in the living room. The phone rang and he came back out into the living room and said, “We have to go right now. Daisy had a seizure.”

Daisy had a seizure. Those words come at you kind of backwards, as in your mind simply can’t quite masticate that kind of information. But your body kicks in and we were out the door and up the block to Nina’s, the daycare provider. We walked in and another mommy was there, pale with her mouth in an “O” shape and m’sweet Daisy Faire was sitting on Nina’s lap all ghostly pale and her eyes were all wrong and she was listless and looked like she was about to lose consciousness.

We piled Daisy and Ian into the car, raced to Nick's school to pick him up, and headed for the emergency room.

Nick said, “It’s not serious is it?”
I said, “She had a seizure.”
“A seizure! That’s when your brain can’t control your body!”

Leave it to Nick to explain it all for us.

Every red light burned a brand onto my cornea—we slipped down Sligo Creek Parkway, where we have spent much happier times on family jaunts, and drove up to the hospital. I stopped the car and MZA pulled a limp and stoic Daisy from her car seat and headed in with my insurance card in his hand. I parked and came in with the boys. We did some initial paperwork and then went to the triage nurse.

MZA handed Daisy over to me and I held her noodly little body like I was never going to let her go. This is what went through my mind: I thought about Terri Schiavo, of all things. I really did. I thought of how insensitive we all were to demand that those parents just pull the plug and be done with it—and believe me I was the biggest advocate for them to pull the plug—but all of a sudden I just knew I’d be the kind of mother who would never let her daughter go. Oh yeah, there is no other kind of mother.

I explained everything to the triage nurse and, you know, in these times of apathy, disregard for human frailty and general lack of kindness and manners, I was afraid I would not be able to properly convey to this person how worried I was and that my daughter had to be seen RIGHT AWAY. But guess what? Providentially, the nurse absorbed everything I said and reacted with just as much calm urgency as I felt the situation necessitated.

They got my little girl a room and checked her vital signs—fever of 105, which is what caused the seizure. She had a fever that morning and so we gave her Motrin and she rebounded so remarkably we thought everything was OK. We told Nina the situation and Daisy was fine all day, but then they went on a walk and the Motrin had worn off, and her fever must have spiked, and she just collapsed.

So we went back into the pediatric ER and, as we were walking by the nurse’s station, there was a big stuffed Patrick from SpongeBob and my wee sick little girl perked up and said, “Pa-krict.”

We lay her down on a gurney bed. She put on a green hospital gown with the “doggies” on it and they took blood and then put her on an IV for 45 minutes. Her little hand was in a blue splint and a nasty plastic vial was pierced right into the flesh where we had put a kitty cat tattoo last week.

The little girl across the hall was named Lily and her daddy had a cell phone. Oh purge and be damned the cell phone! Especially in the emergency room!

“Well, Lily is now officially a Cagney…”

I heard his voice, drugged with the expectation on the other end of the line and the excited importance of being able to deliver the dramatic news:

“She broke her arm! Yeah we’re in the emergency room…”

I saw that some fun and wacky resident had blown up a green surgical glove for Lily and so I blew one up for Daisy and she was dee-lited.

The doctor came in and she looked EXACTLY like my colleague C, whom I adore. Isn’t it funny how that happens sometimes? It’s like God sends a little emissary or something—here, here is someone, an instant archetype for you to process. Or maybe psychologically we turn people into something we can comprehend or feel comforted by.

It turned out to be the flu and so we needed to give her Motrin every six hours for the next 24 hours and Tylenol in between if needed. The IV drip finished. I asked the pregnant nurse when she was due and she said April.

I asked what she was having and she said, “A little girl.”
I said, “That’s wonderful. What are you going to name her?”
“Penelope, Penny for short.”

That’s cute (sort of). I said, “I have two boys and they are wonderful, but there is something special about little girls.”

Daisy had a double orange Popsicle, cookies and sips of apple juice. She laughed and shot her legs up in the air and then she wriggled out of the hospital gown. MZA took the boys to the cafeteria for French fries.

When it was all over, Daisy and I came walking out of ER and Nick came running up to Daisy and gave her a big hug. Ian came running up to me and, just as I expected, wanted to know where HIS green balloon was. I told him I had it in my purse—airless.

When we got in the car, I had to tell Nick the dinner party we planned for Saturday had to be cancelled. He was really upset—three of his friends were supposed to come with their parents and little sibs. That’s huge for an 8 year old. We’d all been looking forward to it.

Then Nick said, “Did you get a balloon for me too, Mommy?” Uh. No. And he laughed and then I turned around and I said, “Are you OK?” And he burst into tears. I FELT SO BAD. I said, “I only got one for Ian because I knew he’d have a cow about it. I didn’t think you’d want one!” Then a light bulb went off and I remembered my colleague C—clearly a blessed symbol of the day—had given me a small model Mercedes and two classic Mercedes car calendars for the boys. Yahoo! I told Nick I had something special for him when we got home.

We got home and dosed Miss Daisy with the first of a cycle of Motrin. I told her, inexplicably, that it was “Winnie the Pooh’s medicine!” Ian coughed and said, “I have a cough! Can I have some too?” Cough cough.

I kept hugging Daisy and she looked at me so wisely, so intently, as if she knew we had really been through something together. When she was on that gurney bed with the little blue splint and the needle jabbed into her hand, I sat next to her on one of those black stools with the wheels, and for the first time in my life, I knew I could sit by her side for as long as it took, without being tired or uncomfortable or impatient. I sat next to her and held her hand and she looked up at me, for really long periods, right into my eyes, and I knew we were in the process of reinforcing a powerful, mysterious and lifelong bond.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

You say "Quintessence," I say "Nirvana"...

Last night, as I was midway into a bite of broiled salmon, Nick said, “I’ve been thinking about the connections between the Greek zodiac and the Chinese zodiac because the Greeks talk about reaching ‘quintessence’ and the Chinese talk about the yin and yang. So I really think there are a lot of similarities there. What they’re both talking about is reaching some kind of balance, don’t you think?”

Hmmm. Complete insertion of fork in mouth, chew and swallow.

“I’m really interested in astrology—Daddy is a mutable sign and I was wrong about Daisy, she is a water sign. So we have three water signs in the house! Ian is a fire sign, a lion, and I am an air sign, twins, which means I have two sides to my personality. I told everyone in my class what their signs are and what they mean.”

The other day we were in the car and Nick was talking about “crepuscular rays” and if I had been driving, I would have driven off the road BECAUSE I had just put "crepuscular rays" in a short story that I am working on. I said, “Nick, what are crepuscular rays?” And he said, “The light at sunset.” OK then. This is how I put them in my story:

Teddy looks at the sky, with the Tien Shan mountains in the distance and says, “Those are crepuscular rays, see? It happens when objects like mountains or clouds partially shadow the sun's rays. The light rays are actually parallel, but it looks like they’re merging, see? Because of the dust and haze, the light rays seem to converge toward the ‘antisolar’ point. That’s the location on the horizon opposite the point where the sun is setting.
Nick also likes to listen to my iTunes on the computer downstairs and he said, “Mommy, you like Eyeless in Gaza, right?”

I said, “Yeah, why?”

“He said, “Eyeless in Gaza, they must mean Samson, right? Because he was eyeless in Gaza.”

Ever since Nick was little, I have been afraid someone was going to knock on my door and say, “I’m sorry, but your son is the Dalai Lama and he’s going to have to come with us.”

Last night Larry Hagman, as Major Tony Nelson,
came to me, clear as day, except in black and white. It was so weird that even in my dream I was like, “Hmm, what is the symbolism of seeing Larry Hagman in my dream?”

Then Jeannie appeared, also in black and white, and they kissed and Larry gave her a little tongue. Honestly, it was joyous to have Major Nelson and Jeannie, from the early episodes (hence the black and white), just kind of appear, unbidden, in my dream.

Because you see I had a wee crying jag last night, due to Overwhelming Responsibilities and Deeply Rooted Internal Fears about mortality and the epic loving lasting impact my mother has had on me: you know, that sort of thing.

And so I had the Mondo Cry, fueled by full moon lunacy and a little red wine to soothe the rough spots.

This morning I looked all gallant and ravaged, rising from the ashes like Mrs. Miniver—stalwart! What ho!


I think I dreamt about Jeannie because my mind was softening the blow. Dreams, like endorphins, have a calming effect, apparently for me, watching an old TV show is what soothes my troubled soul.

Quintessence is the fifth and highest element in ancient and medieval philosophy that permeates all nature and is the substance composing the celestial bodies. Um, I got that out of the dictionary, if you call Nick, he can probably explain it in more depth.

So we have a mother’s love for her son, a daughter’s love for her mother, intensified by abstract worries, and a mother’s enduring, reassuring love for her daughter—all these cyclical forces of the patterns in life guiding us today, along with the waxing moon, heavenly rays of sun, and the never-ending quest for balance between the opposing sides of our nature.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

My Life in Contradictory Spurts

Thursday—all day meeting at downtown DC Hilton, nicer than I remember, so veddy corporate, but somehow not nauseating. How was it thus? Je ne comprends pas! I sat there trying to be cynical. I was trying to be a disaffected, nihilistic, jaded, bored bitch (OK, I didn’t have to “try” very hard). And yet…I couldn’t summon the emotions. Because, it was all kind of OK.

My colleagues are all Very Smart and funny and—not one single solitary person asked a stupid question. At an all day conference! I know. It was blinding.

Whilst there, I had a small internal requiem for Trader Vic’s, which used to be an anchor joint at the Capital Hilton where some of us used to swill large quantities of Mai Tais, Back in the Day.

I then metro’d up to Close-in Suburb, where I reside, to meet la famille for dinner at Lebanese Taverna to congratulate brilliant son on a fantastic presentation, memorized AND in costume, of the biography of Alexander the Great.

Back downtown for Writer’s Group—love them. Lots of help on new story entitled “Orientation.” Not to be confused with previous story (CLEVERLY titled), “Spatial Disorientation,” that will be included in a collection of “linked” stories destined to meet with great publishing fanfare. In my mind.

Friday—ascent (descent?) into mysterious cult-like suburbial tradition. I played a dice game (you read that right) into the night with a buncha moms from Nick’s school. And. It. Was. Fun. I know, I can’t believe it either, but there you have it. Stunned by the progressive nature of the women, drinks, etc.

Saturday— Brookside Gardens—mama’s Zen meditation haven—geese, ducks, sculptures, children in relief against Asian influenced landscape—lunch, naptime.

Finish painting Nick’s Pinewood derby entry, place authentic WWII fighter plane decals. Pinewood Derby at Nick’s school hall. Also, completely suburban, wholesome. And. Fun. Really fun! A “family night.” Who knew? Nick’s car: absolutely lovely design, however, not so fast! Dad swears next year he’ll be a contender.

Sunday—I don’t know what we did on Sunday. I did make a surreptitious trip to Michaels’s craft store because I suddenly “needed” circular knitting needles and more yarn—to add to my bottomless bag o’ yarn. I think a bag of endless yarn is symbolic—isn’t there some Native American myth about yarn and the moon? Basically I have enough yarn to make a ball as big as the moon. Discuss.

Moira confessed to some kind of “craft” weirdness as well. I told her maybe we should just have a big Dork Convention and get it over with. We both agreed, however, that once you get into buying Styrofoam shapes to make things out of, it’s too late. We have standards, after all.

Monday lovely Monday!!! A beautiful crisp day…bathe the babies, the rest of us shower and spit shine…pick up my mother and whisk her to Chevy Chase…brunch at the renovated Clyde’s…along Louis Vuitton row…drop off my mother and drive along the curving familiar road along the river to
Great Falls
, past the Old Angler’s Inn…to the prehistoric rippling falls. The drama. Nick said, “Along with Minnesota, Chincoteague and a lot of other really great places, I think this place is one of my favorites.” He sat on a rock surveying the rapids…it is a little emotional when you see your son taking in exactly same awe-inspiring landscape you took in as a kid.

Daisy wore a little navy blue admiral’s coat and looked like a girl version of John-John Kennedy. Everyone that saw her smiled. And probably thought about John-John Kennedy. I am fairly certain no one looked at me and thought of Jacqueline Kennedy. Although I was wearing a particularly jaunty pair of tortoise shell shades.

I think some internal vibe clicks in when your last kid turns two and a half. Because ALL OF A SUDDEN we are all sleeping through the night and on weekend mornings, instead of being cruelly aroused (for the day) at 5:00 a.m., I can now sleep IF I CHOOSE until 8:44 a.m. I just don’t feel so irreversibly “on-call,” you know? Like when they’re small you feel guilty just for going to the bathroom because you have left your spouse “on-duty.” You know? Seriously.

Raising kids has pretty much had me pistol whipped for the past eight years. Give or take. And now I just feel a slight “give” in the tightly wound fabric. Like I can read two paragraphs in the Saturday paper as opposed to one sentence, chopped up, belligerently by the “I want” opera.

It was a really nice weekend.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sexuality, Autobiographical Fiction and Misogyny

I am fascinated with the distillation of experiences. Which leads me to autobiographical writing. If you go to any reading or read any interview of any writer ever in the history of man, the question looming large will be, “Is any of this autobiographical?” At which point the writer will get squirmy BECAUSE the implication is: If it’s autobiographical, then it means it wasn’t difficult to write. Period. It is the same supposition people make when they charge through art galleries, look at the abstract art, and proclaim, “I could do that!” Yeah, but the point is: You didn’t.

The only response I can offer to people who somehow think you are cheating by writing what you know is: Try it. Write about your own experiences. See if it’s “easy” or not. See what you come up with.

There is a thinly veiled snobbery of people who believe “real” writing is a writer creating a world they know nothing about. That is “real” writing. But I think people are compelled to write for different reasons and to express different emotions. I also think that most writers will tell you that every single thing they write is grounded in some way to their own lives. I’ve had people press historical novels on me or recommend sweeping fictional tales—and I can see the look in their eyes: This is real writing, not that self-absorbed shit you churn out.

Then there is the hierarchy of what constitutes “real.” You’re not a real writer until you’re published, but then you need to publish the novel, the collection, the next novel. Then of course there are the friends and family who stand by you no matter what—who’ve had faith from the beginning. But there are also the secret Iago people who think you don’t have talent and you are not “real” because you have not achieved a predictable pattern that they can discern, in the provincial language of American lethargy and diminished attention span.

I don’t write about my life randomly. I write about what I’ve seen and what I’ve experienced. It’s like Stanislavski—seriously!—would you say that an actor who draws on his own experiences to portray a character’s emotions is acting “autobiographically”?

Americans like to “discount,” on all levels. Yes, they like a bargain, that kind of discount, but they also like to minimalize and chip away at achievement. Like the people who aren’t in relationships who wager internally on the true success of other couples. It takes the sting out of not accomplishing something yourself, organically, truly.

I base characters on real people I have known, a lot. Because I think it’s the characters that drive the plot, that drive life and that drive the motivation. Characters are the people you remember, the people that resonate, for good or bad, in your life. I also think people respond to things that are real. I know I do. That’s why I like Matt Klam. Not hearing too much from him lately, eh? Ever since The New Yorker got its new fiction editor who apparently doesn’t like misogynistic vérité.

Do I think Matt Klam is a misogynist? No. I just think he is very sophomoric in what he can handle sexually—a common attribute of American men weaned on the predigested airbrushed perfection of skin mags and botox porn. And this is not the simplistic argument about loving the person “inside.” It’s about sexuality that is not mired in presentation—as in, if it looks good on paper, it must be good. Sexuality is about a lack of inhibition and I can’t think of anything more inhibiting or distracting than dressing the experience in Hollywood’s conception of sex. All upturned rear ends and babydoll poses and strapping tool belts. So simplistic. So Madison Avenue. So nocturnally devoid.

Sex by its very nature is about imperfection and I think Matt Klam has serious issues with imperfection. I think it’s a skewed Puritan problem in that we need to dress the ugly dog of sex in cute clothes, like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, to make it less menacing, more easily digestible. It’s a very American thing. Lingerie as icing instead of something tactile and rippling.

The reason I like Matt Klam is that, man, you get on that merry go round and you are spinning and you cannot believe what he is saying. It is so bad, so disloyal, but so REAL that it’s hard to turn away. I’m glad I’m not married to him (I know that’s vice versa) but I still like his stories. Just like I like early Philip Roth before he became an insufferable bastard who really is a misogynist—if you have any doubt, read Sabbath’s Theater and get back to me. That really is a book I threw across the room. But I used to love Portnoy’s Complaint and The Professor of Desire.

So today’s lesson is: If you are going to be a misogynist, it’s better to be a funny misogynist, and if you write mean nasty things about people you have known in your life: Change their names.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

The Post-Holiday Suburbial Nosedive

Is it Monday morning or am I hallucinating? Oh, we are DEEP in the heart of the post-holidays nosedive.

The weekend was a crazy blur involving an extremely ill-advised jaunt to “Hobby City,” a store near the gigantic Amish Farmer’s Market in the part of Montgomery County (where I live) that is still agricultural in nature. MZA said he needed to take Nick to "Hobby City" to get more supplies for the Pinewood Derby contest, upcoming in the exciting world of Cub Scouts.

Yes, that Uzbek husband of mine is now squiring his lad around for weights, primer, wood paint, etc. Then I made the critical error. I said, “Why don’t we all go?” Uh-oh. The minute I walked in the store I realized my error. There were tons of toys, cars, airplane models and then a whole THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE section. Ian is psycho for Thomas. P-S-Y-C-H-O.

So the whole time there was the Can-I-Have-That-Thomas symphony going on, braided with, “Can we go to Endonnells (translation: McDonald’s) for lunch?” over and over and over and over again. Then Nick dropping the Pinewood Derby kit box, MZA getting slightly apoplectic, “IF YOU LOSE ONE NAIL…” EnDonnells EnDonnells…Luftwaffe gray paint, flying tigers decals ($15). The paints, decals, weights and lubricant came to $47. That’s when you just hand the card over and chalk that puppy up to “Parenthood.” Whateverhood. My kid’s car is going to be good, DAMMIT. As in, if we cut corners now, with the Pinewood Derby car, WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT US AS PARENTS???? MZA is not completely on board with this rationale. Because he is a little more normal than I am. Apparently.

Nick’s Pinewood Derby car is going to be a tribute to his grandmother in a way (hankie alert). It is going to be based on the P-51 Mustang that my mother used to fly as a WASP in WWII He is going to call his car the P-441 (the name of his Cub Scout pack) and the plane’s name will be the “Sweet Bernadette” after his school. One of the other dads carved his plain block of wood into the shape of a plane with a gnarly little rudder/horizontal stabilizer in the back. He’s really excited about it.

Sunday was SCOUT Sunday (are they all Scout Sundays? Am I not paying attention?) and I had the wicked brainstorm that I could just drop Nick off at church and not actually go in!!! This was a stroke of brilliance. Then MZA, Ian, Daisy and I all went to pick him up at church and it was off to:

Bad Feng Shui Playground. I hate this particular playground, but MZA likes it because it is bigger and offers more options. I hate it because it is badly situated, on this weird incline, and all the wood jungle gyms and mazes are so densely constructed that you have the semi-permanent feeling that your child has been abducted. You know, THAT feeling. And the ground, for some reason, is ALWAYS uneven—this time they were putting down mulch in some kind of half-assed frenzy—and so you’re always walking around panicked, with dry mouth, tripping over the uneven terrain, calling out for your babes, squinting into the relentless sun, and trying to detect their small forms amid the grey wood labyrinthian cages. It's great. Let's do a playdate there sometime soon.

I always get testy at this playground, and then am ready to leave, and MZA is NEVER ready to leave, and of course the kids aren’t—I try saying I have to go to the bathroom, I am hungry, um…I am ready to go. And he just looks at me and keeps catching them as they come down the inappropriately large slides squealing with happiness.

Daisy sat on the elephant sculpture, in the Flintstone-like wood car, on the camel sculpture…oh it was so fun! Why am I such a mean Mommy? I FINALLY prevailed and then Nick had to find the coats and down the slide 1…8…10 more times. We got home and I slopped up some grub. Babies to bed, Nick to Cub Scouts meeting, Ian doesn’t nap anymore so he played while I entered the post-holiday nosedive comfort movie-palooza. That would be Joan Crawford in The Women followed by Cary Grant and Doris Day in That Touch of Mink. Mommy sat on the couch, with the newspaper “nearby,” just in case, kind of knitting, while Ian built his Thomas the Tank engine tracks. Miss Daisy slept blissfully from 1:00 until 4:30. Nick and MZA came back from scouts and then on to Nick's first basketball game of the season!

Green curry tofu leftovers (better than it sounds) for dinner with fried Asian dumplings for the kiddies. More nosedive-palooza TV watching of Desperate Housewives, as MZA and I try and construct an all-American TV “routine” in our lives. Because we feel this is important. Then a fabulous “pastiche” episode of Grey’s Anatomy that was the best hour of TV I have ever watched in that I did not need to use even one molecular whisper of brain energy to swallow an entire season of a show whole. It was like eating a pre-digested smorgasbord. Yummy!

After dinner I coached Nick on his 3rd grade HUGE project—a biography of Alexander the Great. Nick has the best reading comprehension skills of anyone I have ever met. He read the biography of Alexander and retained the whole thing, basically--battle strategies, bloodlines-- and then distilled from all these fantastic conquests that Alexander was a merciful man. Nick, in his own words as Alexander, said, "I don't want to be remembered for my death. It's not just about me. I want to be remembered for the battles I won, the lands that I conquered and the loyalty of my army." That being said, he is not so good at staying commited to the whole process—because certain things come easily to him, he is not as intent as he should be on the follow-up (hmm, can’t imagine where he got that).

I helped him put together an outline and notecards. He was kind of dawdling and I, honestly, heard myself saying the following, “STAY ON MESSAGE! Theatre time is double time!” He tuned up to cry and got frustrated…wonder why with Attila the Hun running things. STAY ON MESSAGE. Then he delivered his monologue and it was fun. Way over the allotted time, but I guess Sam Donaldson won’t be there with an electric cattle prod to buzz him if he goes over the two minute limit…Maybe I missed my calling as a political handler?

And then it was 11:00 p.m. and then it was 5:00 a.m. Long discussion with self from 5:00 a.m. to 5:42 a.m. GET OUT OF BED. Hit the elliptical. Tsk tsked through the traditionally thin Monday Post. Had one delectable bite of Nick’s buttered sesame bagel. Back out the door, into the gray dimly lit morn. For the Beltway and the drive to Bethesda.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Morning, Warts and All

Brainwashing is 98.7% successful—I am now craving grapefruit juice like nobody’s business.

There was a slight wrinkle in the massively ambitious Fit and Fabulous campaign in that I missed my morning exercise “window” due to rolling over and going back to sleep. Obviously this will NEVER happen again.

Grapefruit juice is the acidic dietary equivalent of Liquid Plum’r. It cuts through all the fat and accumulated grease and overholiday indulgence like battery acid. Grapefruit juice is the answer.

I lost a lengthy and very loud (internally) argument with myself this morning that went something like this: You have GOT to get out of bed. It is 6:33. It is now 6:41. Must be out the door no later than 7:14 or the traffic house of cards will implode.

It’s still dark. All three babes sleeping soundly. MZA is down in the blue lit chill of the basement looking at the computer screen. The coffee is made. Elliptical window is completely obliterated. I hope the coal miners in West Virginia are OK.

Showers are good! This is relaxing me-time! Isn’t it? Don’t I have a fancy purple bath scrunchie to fool myself into believing I am getting a loofah type spa experience every morning?!

Getting dressed. Cannot BELIEVE drug store tights are working out. THIS is as exciting as finding out drug store mascara works.

Decide to wear floral purple fantasia skirt (on the verge of being filed in the What Was I Thinking Folder) in order to fool people into believing my entire wardrobe is not, in fact, completely black. Floral skirt, black wool twin set, insouciant long strand of black pearls (yes, they’re real; it’s rude to ask!) to complete the “theme” for today which is (clearly) 1950’s NYC boho, see: Next Stop Greenwich Village. I love that movie. It reminds me of Someone Special (not myself).

The house is dark; the paper is still on the lawn. I go downstairs to kiss MZA goodbye. He says, “Oooo,” I think in reference to my unbelievably foxy “themed” outfit.

Outside, front stoop, every single neighbor’s car is snugly parked in front of each house. There I am, intrepid, dutiful, committed, hardworking (c’mon, play along) headed out into the gray chilliness.

The coal miners in West Virginia are not OK. I am really sad about that.

The traffic’s not too bad. Pull into the garage at 7:47.

Will substitute Diet Coke for the grapefruit juice. Cold caffeine infusion.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Pud Be Gone!

Grocery list:

Lettuce leaf
Celery stalk (organic)
Tab
Cottage cheese
Seltzer water
Trim-spa (if it worked for Anna Nicole…)

Resolution(s): Fit and fabulous.

Strategy: Will work out on elliptical EVERY SINGLE DAY for an entire year.

Emerge: Buff. Hot. Will incur envy of EVERYONE on the planet, including all you superior bitches who have secretly thought mean things about me for having that second (or 12th) crab puff. Go to hell all of you! I noticed your greedy eyes hugging my flaws! Yeah well. Let’s talk on December 31st 2006, shall we? Over a coupla herbal teas. Maybe a ginger snap or two. Stop counting, bitch!

Two big fat sauntering lies women tell: a) I lost The Weight for myself; b) I never notice what anyone eats or drinks! Except when I am mentally calculating the caloric intake of every single drop of wine in the 12 ounce glass (the 150 calories in a glass of wine is based on a FIVE OUNCE glass! Look at that tumbler she’s drinking out of!) and the fat content of the cheese you just layered on your 18th Stoned Wheat Thin.

Google: "best exercise video of 2005"

Results: God love the Brits, up came iVillage.com.uk’s Top Ten for 2005 and on the list was Coronation Street: Funk Fit that promises to help work off that “Christmas pud.” The Brits, who brought you the expression for a smarty-pants: Clever Clogs, as in, “Humph, she thinks she is such a clever clogs.” Seriously, that is my favorite expression ever.

Overheard: "Dude, were you the funny guy who left the magazine on my chair? The skin 'zine about bondage?"

Ponder: Should I say I did it? I bet no one would ever suspect!

Revelation: I look absolutely horrible today. You know kind of craggy former glamour, all badly mocked up with mascara that clumped on wayward lashes, eyelids are beginning Charlotte Rampling
perma-descent, like they are not going to be refreshed and tightened with sleep…maybe the Hawaiian Tropic summers were a mistake? Splotchy complexion that is strangely inured to all camouflaging gear—concealer, matte uber cloak base, several applications of loose face powder. I look like a shiksa geisha. Shiksa Geisha! All old and weird and faded bad Hollywood. Like I use a cigarette holder and wear tortoise shell sunglasses and a jaunty silk scarf in creamy colors when in convertibles.

I submitted a story today because this is not only the year of FIT AND FABULOUS but it is also the year Lisa publishes about one million (give or take) stories and becomes the toast of some literary scene. On the moon or something. It’s going to be amazing. In addition to my newly toned and preserved beauty—there will be…

OK, get the hook. But I did submit a story. And I’m feeling good about it.

Happy New Year!!! Good luck working off that Christmas pud and all. If you need any pointers, just give me a ring.

Signed,

Jane Clever Clogs

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