Making sense

Anne Lamott, on writing ...

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

#12 Reason Having No Money Sucks

I haven't worked since March of this year. I was gainfully employeed as a teacher, and then as a nanny up until my mom died March 25, which is when my world kinda sorta fell apart. Went into Depression Mode and stayed there, under the covers, for about a month. Would climb out and get showered and dressed, but then something would trigger a  memory of my mom ~ big things, like seeing women out in public with their moms; little things, like passing the Little Debbie display at Price Chopper, as my mom loved her some oatmeal creme pies ~ and then I was back to the bed and not brushing my teeth. You know you're at the edge of your sanity when you stop brushing your teeth.
No work? No money. Well, none of my own. Thank God I am married to a wonderful and generous man who is gainfully employed and has allowed me as much grieving time as I needed (and continue to need). Without my own paycheck, though, I feel very much like an adolescent holding her hand out for movie money, or for lunch money to get together with the girls.
Since March, since no paycheck, I have given up lots of material goods, purchases that I never really needed, now that I come to think about it, but sure as hell wanted. I used to buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. My generosity soared. Lots of gifts for the children and for friends. Lots of dinners out. I had Olive Garden's menu memorized. Lots of clothing and shoes bought. Daughter wanted a $200 pair of Uggs? Her third pair? OK.
Look: I am not a brat. I did have the money, and I did spend it, but I donated a lot of money, too. I bought food for local food pantries. I paid for dozens of Starbucks purchases for cars that were behind me in line. I bought classroom gifts that students "bought" with good behavior tickets I'd handed out during the week. I took donuts into school, and full-size birthday cakes and gallons of ice cream when a student had a birthday.  And I bought a shit-ton of books; I was a regular at Borders before it closed (I am still sad about this~) and then I turned to Barnes and Noble and, eventually,, although I am ashamed to admit that mail-order approach, considering amazon's one BIG reason Borders shut down.
I bought new-release books, both fiction and non-fiction; I bought enormous coffee table books; I bought poetry anthology books, both hardcover and trade fiction; I bought home design books; I bought anyone's memoir or autobiography. I bought cookbooks. I bought little gift books, you've seen 'em, the lilliputian quotation books meant for teachers, or for women, or for mothers. If it was published, I bought it. And if I bought it, read it, and loved it (Garth Stein's Racing in the Rain, for example ~), I bought half a dozen more copies and gave those away.
And now, now that I have no extra money, I have had to stop buying books.
It hurts. My withdrawal from Barnes and Noble is painful: I am an alcoholic who must stay away from the pub.
How to compensate? I go to the library. A lot, like three times a week. Am I reading that many books every week? No, but I am a book junkie; I get my fix by perusing the shelves and carrying as many books to checkout as my arms can hold. Then I bring them home and set them on my dining room table, artfully arranged, and I get a euphoric sense of possibility just having them there. That's what books do for me: they promise a future for me that would be different if I did not have them.
How does anyone NOT read? There's so much to be learned and to be considered, so much to be absorbed.
Books think for me. Wish I'd been the first to claim that. However, attribution goes to Charles Lamb, Essays of Ella, (1823), which I know because I got it out of a book I own called The Quotable Book Lover.
One more quote, before I leave this post:
"Books must be the axe to break the frozen sea inside me." ~ Kafka (1883-1924)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bernie, Bernie, Bernie

I have never forgotten the first time I heard Stevie Nick's "Edge of Seventeen," (Just like the white-winged dove sings a song, sounds like she's singing, ooh baby ooh); try as I have, I cannot get outta my head the picture of my father's bleeding to death in front of me; I will always remember those three wonderful days my babies came into the world; I wish I could forget the pain of gallbladder attacks that made me choke and gasp for air. And unless Alzheimer's shuts down the mental filing cabinet that stores those terrific and terrible memories, all of the above remains contained in perpetuity.
Like the movie I saw two nights ago, Bernie. A $2.99 rental from my neighborhood Blockbuster.
Forty-eight hours later, I am still thinking about that damned movie. I had never seen anything like it. In fact, the whole time I was watching, I was thinking My God, this is small-town America, for real, up there on my flat-screen.  Filmed at times documentary-style, I was incredulous at the parade of everyday people talking about the title character. Are they all actors? Where on earth did these people come from? Thirty minutes into the movie, I got out of the recliner to look at the rental box. I needed to know more: What is the deal with this movie?
Here's the deal: Set in the small, rural town of Carthage, Texas, Bernie is the true-crime story of a beloved assistant funeral director, Bernie Tiede, who one afternoon loses his mind momentarily and fires four bullets into the community's crochety (and rich) widow, Marjorie Nugent.
The charm of the story lies in Jack Black's dead-on portrayal (no pun intended) of closeted homosexual Bernie Tiede's beloved role in the friendly, "let's-just-all-have-a-picnic-and-make-ice-cream-community" of Carthage, and Shirley MacLaine's cantankerous rendering of Mrs. Nugent. There's a scene in a Mexican restaurant ~ involving annoying chewing ~ that is so maddening I just knew one of them was going to end up dead, because, c'mon, a person who goes that far out of her way to annoy someone practically deserves to die. For me, though, what makes the story memorable are the townspeople who speak so highly of Bernie: "Oh, everybody just loved Bernie; he was so kind" (only kind came out as kahnd, what with the Texas drawl), and so poorly of Marjorie (""Let's just face it: she was a bitch"). Bernie's townspeople look like anyone's aunt or uncle or cousin or grandma or grandpop who live out in the sticks. You can tell that the folks visited the hair salon and the barber prior to being interviewed, that they spent time picking out perfect outfits and accessories.
There's much comedy to the tragedy, which works so well for this film that cutie-pie Matthew McConaughey comes across as more of a buffoon than an upright district attorney. The $2.99 rental was worth the price just to see McConaug-heeeeeeeey not looking so heeeeeeeeeey at all.
The writer in me gets a huge kick out of the absurdity and the silliness, and the fact that this entire story is a true one .... because, as we word-nerds know, the truth is always stranger than fiction.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Something's happening ~

The planets are aligning; the universe is listening to me; my dead parents are pulling for me. Next thing I know, my new friend from craigslist will announce her second cousin is Kevin Bacon.
Something is happening.
MacDowell Colony coincidences?
Why, all of a sudden, are there books seemingly falling into my lap, books whose authors spent time in New Hampshire at MacDowell?
Consider this, from last month: I am going to Goin' Postal to get fingerprinted so I can substitute teach. Goin' Postal is a place where not only can I buy stamps and send packages, but can plunk down $48 and have a complete stranger manipulate my fingerpads, searching for past or current criminal activity. On this hot-ass day in August, there's a line. For customer convenience, there exists a tiny bookshelf. "Take one, lend one," a sign reads, rendered in blue magic marker.
There are six books on top. I decide, randomly (?) to choose one from the middle. It is Our Town, by Thornton Wilder. Probably my favorite little play in the entire world. There's an excerpt posted on this blog, the part about Mama's sunflowers, new-ironed dresses and coffee. I pick up the book, an edition larger than I've seen. There's a foreward by Donald Margulies. There's an afterword, which I turn to, randomly (?), a specific page, 145. And there, on this page, in a book that I never in a million years would have planned on seeing at a freaking Goin' Postal, on this page is a black and white photo of the studio where Wilder wrote Our Town. It is a picture of Veltin Studio. Which is one of the studios at The MacDowell Colony. Which is the picture posted at the top of my blog, which I had chosen randomly (?) a few weeks ago, not remembering that Veltin was Wilder's hangout.
MacDowell Colony: Where I will be in thirteen days.
But that's not all.
Tonight, after reading book 25 of my FiftyFifty challenge (to read fifty books in 2012 and watch fifty movies ~), I decide to google "domestic fiction," because domestic fiction is the genre I most like to read; it is the genre The Hour of Lead will be labeled upon its publication. (I will be rewriting The Hour of Lead at MacDowell ~). I am wanting to find other domestic fiction book titles. Three pop up on the first page of my iPhone screen: Labor Day, by Joyce Maynard, between sisters, by Kristin Hannah, and Still Alice, by Lisa Genova.
And, wouldn't you know, I happen to have all three of those books on my shelves in my library, books I picked up at Borders when they were going out of business a couple of years ago. Books I have not yet read. In my personal library, I have more than a thousand titles, of which I've read, tops, 60 percent.
But it's a rainy and chilly day here in Kansas City, and so I decide to go ahead and start one of these books. I choose Labor Day first because I like its cover the most: a bowl of peaches, with two outstretched hands, hovering. Besides, Labor Day recently came and went. It's relevant, I think.
Maynard's teen narrator sucks me in, and next thing I know, the story line has me hooked. I am amazed at what is happening in this novel. I am thinking, Why in the hell didn't I think of this? and then ... and then ... I feel compelled to turn to the back of the book and here's what I find, under Acknowledgments: "I offer deep thanks to the MacDowell Colony ~ and all who make it possible ~ for providing the most supportive environment an artist colony (sic ) could hope to encounter, and to the artists with whom I shared residencies at MacDowell and at the Corporation of Yaddo, whose shared love of their work nurtured my own."
I cannot effing believe it. A random google search. Random titles. Titles I already own. A cover to seduce me. And it turns out to have been written by a MacDowell fellow.
Holy shit.
Love you, Mommy and Daddy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fifteen hundred words ~

"That's all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones."
 ~ Raymond Carver

Today the ideas came faster than I could type them. I microwaved an entree and a random sentence flashed in my mind: "Grandma kept a jar of pickles in her purse." On the drive to Walgreen's, this: "On Jan. 11, 2004, the night before his disappearance, Spalding Gray saw Tim Burton's Big Fish, which ends with the line, 'A man tells a story over and over so many times he becomes the story.
In that way, he is immortal.'"
What kind of person carries that around in her head? The same kind of person who has memorized E. E. Cummings's beach-happy poem, "maggie and milly and molly and may" and has the verse at her disposal when she is, say, undergoing a medical procedure and needs some calming.
The same kind of person who knows that E.E. Cummings hated the non-capitalizing of his initials; it was his editor's idea.
The same kind of person who knows that E.E. stands for Edward Estlin.
If I didn't know better, I would say that I must be ovulating. I am most creative, most receptive to new ideas, when I am mid-cycle. Makes sense, if you ask me. It's a time of conception.
My ovaries are aging; they are not dependable. It is peri-menopause, then? Too much caffeine?
Regardless of inspiration, I got 1,500 words today on the page. Not as much as I would like, but more than I did yesterday.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Counting down the days to MacDowell

In fifteen days, I'll board a Southwest Airlines flight to Manchester, New Hampshire.
From there, I'll take a one-hour shuttle to Peterborough, New Hampshire,
home of The MacDowell Colony's 450-acre wooded artists' retreat.
In fifteen days, I'll meet the many folks I've been emailing. It will be wonderful
to put a face to a name. I will finally figure out how to pronounce this name: "Kyle,"
who, as it turns out, is a girl.
In fifteen days, I'll be shown my private studio in the woods. I'll unpack my suitcase
and set out my supplies. I'll examine the "tombstones" that are already in the
studio. I'll freak out to find Alice Walker's name, or Michael Chabon's, or his wife's, Ayelet
Waldman's. I'll be starstruck. I'll have to say the Hail Mary to calm myself down,
or Psalm 23, which, this past summer, I finally memorized. After I Get My Shit Together (*cold
water splashed on face*), I'll eat dinner (or is it supper there?) with thirty or so other
artists at the colony.
I will probably hyperventilate; I will probably talk too much, because that's what
happens when I am in a new environment; I will probably need to find a toilet Right Effing Now,
because that's what I do when I am in a new environment and I am nervous: my irritable
bowel works itself into a frenzy.
I have already begun losing sleep: I am anxious; I am excited; I am pumped.
Mostly, I am a bit undone about what it is, exactly, that I'll be writing once I get there.
I have great plans to rewrite the novel I started the summer before my dad died (2006).
I have great plans to finish the collection of essays I started this summer.
I have great plans to write more short stories.
Today I called the pharmacy to get a refill on my Xanax, a script I so infrequently
use that the prescription number was worn off the bottle, having rolled around in my
purse, unused, for the better part of half a year. I might need the little white pill; might not.
Better be there, though, just in case.