Zombie Apocalypse

“If you don’t think a mental patient has the right to bring a sawed-off shotgun to the church where his ex-girlfriend is getting married, you’re part of the problem.”

David Sedaris from let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.


I made the terrifying mistake of giving my students from South Georgia the writing prompt, “Are you prepared for the zombie apocalypse?” The answer is YES. All of my students are armed with enough lethal weapons to annihilate an entire army of the undead. Their writing responses, supposed to be metaphoric and possibly leading to insights about who and what they value most, turned into long lists of guns and ammunition that they or their parents have stored in gun cabinets/bomb shelters.

“But why do you have stockpiles of guns and ammunition for real?” I kept asking.

“In case we are attacked,” they responded.

“By who?”

“Terrorists, the Chinese, our own government, that guy from down the road who shot my puppy.”

I explained calmly that in my humble unarmed opinion the zombies were the most likely scenario—after the guy who shot the puppy.

I am anti-gun, and I have even had students ask me incredulously, “You don’t believe in the second amendment?”

I tell them that I believe in it—as in I think it exists—but it just doesn’t have the same meaning to me. I have noted that “The right of the people to keep and bear arms” part is really just a clause to support the “A well regulated militia” part and is taken out of context. It is sort of like all the clauses that could come after “In case of emergency.” In case of emergency break this glass, exit out this door, abandon your car in the middle of the street, let Sandra Bullock drive the bus.

And they were responding to the needs of our country in 1791. A lot has changed since 1791. For starters, we are a developed country. We have a well-funded, organized military. States have the National Guard. We do not need private citizens running out to join the cause with the shotgun they keep under their mattress. Also there have been significant technological changes since the Bill of Rights was drafted. Advances in gun design and manufacture for example, which greatly change the meaning of the word “arms.”  And maybe most importantly, there have been major changes to the structure of our society—how and where we live—that creates new anxieties. New dangers that require us to adapt. To amend.

However, I like interacting with these bright and well-rounded students about guns because I do not think anyone in my classes is dangerous. I have no concerns that they are going to shoot up a movie theater or my classroom. They live in a rural area, and their parents have taught them gun responsibility. And most of them earn A’s in my class.

However, it doesn’t change my position. Simply because something can be handled responsibly doesn’t mean it will be handled responsibly by the entirety of the population. Compared to all the things—the nouns—that we have made illegal in this country, like drugs, counterfeit money, prostitutes, cheese, immigrants, black people, none are as deadly to humans and used in more dangerous illegal verbs than guns.

Perhaps it is so challenging to make changes about gun ownership because the opposition is heavily armed. It was probably much easier to make drugs illegal because it is difficult, although not impossible, to stand your ground by waving a bag of coke in someone’s face. Even steroids are illegal, and if the Tour de France was the Tour D’America, Lance Armstrong would probably still have his titles if instead of taking drugs he just carried a gun and shot out the competitors’ kneecaps in self-defense.

This country was founded on the fact that we fought back and gained independence (and then enslaved people). We are Americans, and we are armed and dangerous! A significant part of our patriotic ethos stems from the fact that we are fighters, and we can protect ourselves. But we aren’t protecting ourselves.

We make it much too easy to get a gun. I have to go to a doctor and get a pap smear to get a drug that gives me the power to keep from becoming pregnant with a single person, but an individual can buy a gun to murder an entire room of people with very little interference from professionals. In my state, there is a background check policy, but not if the gun is purchased from an individual and there is no waiting period. Perhaps, we should require people to get a rectal exam to get a gun—an asshole check.

Basically, by refusing to make any changes to gun laws, even simply increasing waiting periods and/or requiring more rigorous background checks, we are saying that the right to bear arms is more important than the right to not be shot. Reading the comments section from articles linked to from the NRA website, such as a recent article about Regal Theaters’ decision to begin checking bags as a safety precaution, NRA supporters continually promote the idea that by carrying guns they are adding to the safety of the environment because they will be able to stop a crazed shooter with their own gun. The response is almost always based on the idea that if the bad guys have guns then the good guys should have guns.

But shouldn’t a good guy be willing to wait two weeks or even longer to get a new gun? I had to wait six weeks to get my new passport in the mail. When I applied for my passport, I was just coming out of a break-up, and I thought the next best move was to flee the country, but by the time my passport arrived, I had calmed down and decided not to abandon life as I knew it. I put the blue booklet safely away in a drawer.

We can make adjustments without banning guns entirely, although we seem to be fine with bans on other possibly dangerous things. Things that can be abused or can make people dangerous—drugs and drunk driving for example. We do not argue that the best defense against drunk drivers is for good people to also drink and drive—that I should drive drunk in order to run the other drunk drivers off the road, like a goddamn hero. We make laws that are based on the fact that since some people cannot be trusted, we must enact zero tolerance. We declare war. We put people in jail for even the possession of illegal substances. But not guns. It is our right to keep and bear arms so that we can maintain a well-regulated militia, which is necessary for the security of a free state.

But why do we have stockpiles of guns and ammunition for real?

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Asshole Matrix

Because I have a voice . . .

I recently watched a video where a man, with a gun in a holster on his hip, explained his guide to women using what he likes to call the hot crazy matrix. The chart looks like the basic graph that would be shown in an economics class: there are two axes, one for a woman’s level of crazy and another for how hot she is. The crazy axis starts at a four because all women are at least somewhat crazy. The hot axis is a standard scale of zero to ten, but according to the expert, any woman who is below a five on the hot scale is a “No go.” The key is to target women at the appropriate level of hot to crazy. She should be between a five to seven crazy and above an eight hot.

After watching this informative video, I came up with my own matrix for men called the “has a pulse to asshole matrix.” My asshole axis starts at a four because there is no such thing as a man who is not an asshole unless he is dead, or a little baby, or has Downs Syndrome. The has a pulse axis is simply from 0 to 1. Either a man has one or he does not. The key then is for women to find a man who is both alive and relatively low on the asshole scale. This matrix does not have a “No go” zone, but it does have a “Regret and shame” zone that exists whenever a woman dates anyone who is above an eight for asshole. This generally includes all guys who work for Merrill Lynch, many members of the NFL, and guys who make charts generalizing women based on a hot to crazy matrix. Above a ten for asshole is the “getting the shit beat out of you in an elevator” zone and the “getting shot while you are in the bathroom” zone, which women should certainly try to avoid.

Finding a man with a heartbeat—even if it is irregular or even if he is in some kind of chemically induced coma—who is also between a five to seven for asshole is a difficult task, but we must be diligent. Of course, this only applies to women who are above an eight for hot and between a five to seven crazy, the rest of you can just stay home with your 27 cats and your poster of Corey Haim because you are not even eligible. Men who are only assholes half the time are there ready to date us, and to under appreciate us, and to leave us with more than our fair share of the housework, and to get paid more for doing the same job. They are there to decide our value based on how we look and to label us “crazy” when we fail to be complacent to their terms. However, since all men can easily be categorized using a two-dimensional chart, we now have the knowledge we need to get up on that sweet, sweet action, and if we pay close attention and stay in the target zone, they might not even beat/rape/murder us.

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The penis represents the asshole/has a pulse line. It is your responsibility, as a woman, to keep this line in mind and to make smart choices. Men can’t be expected to do this, so you might not want to wear a low-cut tank top or a short skirt unless you want this line inside you.

Chasing the Carrot (With Ranch Dip)

My nephew recently bragged about eating 35 chicken wings at an all-you-can-eat wing event at his local Hooters. I argued that 35 wings is the meat equivalent of about one-half of a chicken breast, and I suggested that I could easily eat 35 wings. I only stop eating wings because I get bored or feel a sense of shame, not because I am too full. I believe that the act of eating the chicken wing, especially with the constant napkin use, the dipping in the blue cheese, and the sweating from the heat, burns at least enough calories to offset the wing itself, so the activity could probably sustain itself in perpetuity until I get hungry and need to actually accrue some calories, and that is why they created French fries.

I don’t eat to live—I eat to fill dark holes of despair in my soul, so it would really be a step up to eat for cash and prizes. I recently watched the Nathan’s annual hot dog eating contest, and I was confident I could be a top contender, but I would never actually enter because I do not want to be shown on national television shoving wieners into my mouth. Also they weigh you and then display your weight on the screen, which would make it much harder for me to argue that the camera added ten pounds and about 45 wieners.

Maybe an eating contest would be like my version of The Bachelor. If they ever did a season of The Bachelor for the over-thirties, I could probably win because I am a great girl, and my default attire is usually dressy-casual-pool party, and I put out. But they will never produce such a show because people over the age of 25 are gross. My best chance for going on national television and humiliating myself would be on a show about food. Maybe Woman Versus Food where I try to conquer all the eating contests that Adam Richman failed. When I watch his show from the comfort of my home, while starving because I had a side salad for dinner, I yell, “Come on, MAN! You only have 37 bites left. Grow a pair, ok?” That could be my tag line. I would say it as the credits roll, and I am shown puking in a parking lot.

I sometimes make smart choices about food, and I exercise with a crazed sort of passion that more closely resembles the way an alcoholic has to have a drink than the way a healthy sane person tries to make time for a jog, so I am not overweight, but I never get too cocky because I know that I am always one emotional breakdown and three large pizzas away from buying all new pants. I have never made any claims to having a sensible relationship with food. I have very few sensible relationships, so I am not going to waste one on hamburgers. I will always choose the wrong hamburger—one that is completely unrealistic or on someone else’s plate. Maybe even a turkey burger. Or a truck driver burger.

When I am planning my next meal, I don’t just open the fridge and pick something out—I stalk my food first, and then make a decision based on vanity and impracticality. Yes, there is the rest of that turkey sandwich, but all the bread and mayonnaise is sort of fattening, instead I think I will make some stir fry, which requires going to the store first, and then washing and chopping vegetables for an hour, and then usually involves me getting bored and drinking two beers, eating the rest of the sandwich, and an insanely large portion of stir fry, feeling guilty, and then crying myself to sleep. The next morning when I open the fridge and see the stir fry leftovers, I just feel remorseful and dirty.

If I am already only using 10% of my brain, I am using at least 4% of that to think about my next meal and 5% to analyze what I did wrong with my previous meal, so I am probably only using 1% for everything else at any given time. When I am actually eating, my “thinking about food” brain usage spikes to max capacity, especially if I am eating pizza, and I have to remember how to decipher a pie chart. With pepperoni. 25% of the chart represents the amount of the pie that I should reasonably eat (equal to the amount that I will tell people I ate), and then after that the pie is divided into a rainbow of tiny pie slivers that reflect various levels of emotional instability as I eat more and more pizza. Then at the end the entire pie chart disappears because I ate it.

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Turtle Envy

I just moved into a new house in my same town. I started by moving the important things, like my ceramic zebra. Next, I moved all of my sharks’ teeth, most of the art work, and none of my clothes, dishes or beds. For a brief, beautiful time, my new house was only full of the things I really adore, like my collection of Martha Stewart Living magazines dating back to 1997 and my vintage tablecloth collection (all rectangular!) and none of the things that I actually needed like the files full of all the important documents that prove I exist or shampoo or underwear.  It was sort of like living in an Ikea showroom, but eventually I had to move all the stuff that makes an actual life, like my children.

There are things I have collected that I love for no practical reason. Moving them was fun, like being a museum curator, but then after that, moving everything else made me really question my life choices, like do I really need plates? Maybe it is just society dictating to me that I need blankets and rugs and every single thing in that damn closet in the bathroom. What if I only had one colander?

Moving has also made me realize that I have almost no skills that are helpful to the moving process. I am not especially strong. I can’t work a drill. I don’t have a truck, and asking someone to help with a move is one of the biggest favors a human can do for another. It goes like this: donating a kidney, giving someone the gift of life, and then helping someone move. If my kids ever ask me to help them move, I am going to tell them that I already did that when I single-handedly moved them from my womb into the world. I started to notice people were scared to look me in the eye, especially people with trucks. They would see me in the grocery store, waving my arms and sprinting towards them with my cart, and they would just pick up the pace and disappear down the dog food aisle. I thought about lurking around the front of Home Depot, like a hooker. Hey handsome is that your truck? You looking to have a really terrible time?

This move is also about starting over. I went through a divorce this year, and moving is really about creating a new life for me and my kids. And because of that there has been a lot more crying this time than I remember with previous moves. I had to keep reminding myself, “turn around, don’t drown” every time I went to pack another closet. It really slowed the process down. I am reading a book right now by Todd Snider about his life as a musician, and he was told to try and always be fifteen minutes away from being able to pack up and leave. I am about three weeks off that time frame.

Freedom is just another word for not having any solid white serving platters. In the transition, as items were displaced from their posts at the old house and before they were secured in permanent positions at the new house, I saw them as momentarily unnecessary. My attachment to objects (except for all my magazines and that matching set of ceramic owls and my collection of colorful aprons) was relaxed. When I loaded up most of my belongings into a friend’s truck—now I am eternally indebted to him, so I really hope he has excellent kidney health—he did some finagling with straps, said it should hold, and then looked at me with an expression of, “Right?” I said if anything falls out, like the coffee table, the mattresses, or me, then just keep driving.

Maybe I could go to Mexico and live in a dirt floor hut and spend my days doing peyote thinking about how happy I am I don’t have cabinets to fill. Then when the drug cartel raids my place, I will just spend fifteen minutes packing up my Martha Stewart Living magazines, my KitchenAid mixer (with attachments), my set of four gold-leaf champagne flutes, and my grandmother’s light-up ceramic pineapple, and I will be out the make-shift door!

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Making a Comeback

I have made a life out of second chances. I spent almost two decades somewhere along the spectrum of “going back to school,” which always begins with failing out of school, something I had perfected with the following method: apply on an impulse after an intense existential talk at two in the morning, spend hours planning the perfect schedule with a killer spreadsheet, never actually go to class, then repeat! I am also in the process of getting divorced and feeling hopeful about my future. My life is overflowing with wadded up pieces of paper that almost make it to the trash can (still perfecting that rim shot). When I pen my self-help book to reach out to other adult losers, I will probably title it, Second Chances are for Losers (Like You!) and then there will be a mirrored sticker on the front under the title. It will be a best-seller and will make an excellent Christmas gift.

Try first, figure out how to fix it later. My highly successful secretarial career was built on this motto. I started working in a law office when I was nineteen years old. My only real skills were painting sunflowers and making epic mixed tapes, but anytime I was asked to do something, I just said, “I can do that!” I can prepare legal documents. I can fix the copy machine. I can change your carburetor. This was before I had access to the Internet, so I couldn’t just find a YouTube video to teach me. I had to figure out how to screw it up all by myself.

Once my office hooked up to the internet and I got my first email account, I started to actually enjoy working, and by working I mean sending out emails to my friends and family. I also found that email was a helpful tool in my dating life. Any shyness or sense of self-control that I appeared to possess in person did not exist when I sent out emails. The email version of me straddles the very thin line between being unwaveringly confident and being a creepy stalker.  And being a cyberstalker is somehow worse than being a regular stalker. A regular stalker might be a dangerous psychopath, but at least she is getting out in the world, maybe occasionally aiming the telescope up to gaze at the stars or smelling the gardenias in the bushes she is using for cover, but a cyberstalker is mainly just home alone, probably eating an entire Papa John’s Pizza.

I should have been applying to potential colleges, writing the great American novel, or actually completing the work I was assigned, but I found it more rewarding to send out emails to my ex-boyfriend like, “Remember that time you diced a habanero pepper and then you forgot to wash your hands before you took a piss?” The next thing I knew I was making out in the cab of a pick-up truck. Now that I have started dating again, I am dealing with a whole new arsenal of electronic communications, and I don’t even have to be at work, which is unfortunate because I was rarely drunk at work. Now I can sit on my couch halfway through a magnum of champagne and think that I really should get in contact with that guy who dumped me six weeks ago. And I should totally send a picture. For me, “Send” is just another way to say “Fuck it.” Usually halfway through my internal dialogue about how I could preserve my self-esteem and not embarrass—SEND! Then if I start to feel remorseful, I just follow up with a winky face.

As dangerous as instant access is, there is always room for a second chance. For starters, maybe he never got the first message. I can respond honestly and just admit that I am a flawed human being who is trying to figure out what the hell she is doing, or I can send a more provocative message, like the emoji of a sideways pointing finger aimed at the emoji of a hand doing the “ok” symbol. I have also tried to learn the value of getting it right the first time. What if I was less impulsive and did not always need a second chance? Sometimes I try to give myself a moratorium on sending out messages, like maybe I should sleep on it and if it still seems like a good idea in the morn—SEND!

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TGIF! June 6, 2014

Notes from my week in writing:

I received a rejection email from a publisher today three hours after I submitted. I like to think that is some kind of record! The standard these days is for publishers to send out responses by email at generally inappropriate times, like on a Friday night minutes after my date cancels so it is very clear that I am both professionally and personally unworthy. Also, it is usually after a long wait, sometimes six weeks or more, so I don’t remember that I even sent the submission out, and I didn’t know there was a possibility for someone to tell me that I am not good enough on that particular day. Most publishers have a standard email that states something along the lines of, “Due to the high volume of submissions we are unable to provide further feedback about your work at this time.” With this, the confident writer in me thinks the feedback could be that my submission was not the right length, off-topic, or the writing was just too funny, crass, or poetic. The non-confident writer in me assumes that they would tell me I am way out of my league, my writing is amateurish, and I am a sad little person. Also probably that I smell and my teeth  . . . they noticed my teeth.

At least with these rejections there is enough elapsed time to assume that people may have actually read what I wrote and even deliberated. I usually like to think that my work sat in the “maybe” pile for at least some duration, but with a three hour turnaround I can only assume that it was an instant diagnosis of: You Suck. The editor even signed the email with, “Thanks anyway” and then her name. I have read and reread this closing numerous times trying to make it sound better, even with different accents, like British, Jamaican, baby, robot, but it always comes across as condescending.

I have a theory about publishing and life: it is better to be rejected than to have regrets. Rejection is like pulling off a Band-Aid—it stings but just for an instant. The more exciting the possibility, the more it pulls at the tiny hairs. But regret is like a back ache, dull and debilitating, and it lingers. I would rather be covered in Band-Aids that are ready to be yanked off my flesh with an ambush of “thanks anyways” than to be immobilized on the couch with a heating pad.

So I keep writing. I am working on a non-funny memoir about my Dad with the working title: “Judge Judy.” I am also working on a humor piece about crying, and how I am constantly doing that (it is hilarious!) I have some submissions out, but I am terrible at keeping track, so at any minute I could be bombarded with rejection, and thanks to my phone, I can get that rejection anywhere, like while I am driving.

I wrote a poem  . .

Pilfering

I reach for gold coins as they fall from pockets with gaping holes.
I step into the night.
I brush past someone I used to love.
I’m transported by a swirling of words,
above yellow windows framing lives,
families, lovers—dishes clink, blue screens flicker.
I hover outside enviously narrating.
I plunge into steam.
I take the path from here. Always from here.

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Nine Minutes in Heaven

With my new alarm clock, I don’t even have to touch the actual snooze button to get my extra nine minutes—touching anywhere on the top of the clock triggers the snooze, so I barely have to be cognizant of the fact that I have fingers or that buttons exist, which is good news. Even when the clock is hidden under the balled up t-shirt that I put over it when I go to sleep—as if it is a canary and can be fooled by the artificial darkness—it still senses my hand and turns off giving me another nine or eighteen minutes, whatever it takes. The makers of this clock are obvious enablers, toying with my snooze addiction, probably sending out negative subliminal signals that make me want to stay in bed forever, “Go back to sleep, dear. You are probably going to die homeless and alone anyway.”

 

Every morning I feel devastated about the start of a new day, especially since I am already twenty-seven minutes behind, but I don’t hate my life. I barely even hate my mornings. There is coffee. I get to eat something, which is almost always enough to keep me interested in showing up. I even describe myself as a morning person but mainly just by default because I usually go to bed at 9:30 p.m., so I cannot possibly be a night owl. What I really am is a lunch person. I am almost always awake for lunch.

 

When that alarm buzzes there is a fleeting moment of clarity about the meaninglessness of life that makes me question my will to live. This is one of many reasons I do not sleep with weapons under my mattress. (The other reasons are all closely related to the street scene in Indiana Jones where the swordsman demonstrates his impressive sword-handling skills and Jones casually pulls out his gun and shoots him. I am definitely not going to be the Indiana Jones character in this scenario, especially in the middle of the night, but I’m probably not the swordsman either. I am most likely the hysterical bar maiden hiding in a laundry basket with a monkey, but I still find it best it best to keep weapons out of the bedroom.)

 

Maybe it is the carnal act of sleeping—an act based on biological need—that makes me question my mostly artificial life choices, like why I shave my legs, straighten my hair, wear high heels, drive 30 miles to teach high school students to write poems against their will, rush to a gym where I ride a bike really hard in place, and then sit on the couch watching people cook food on television, while I try to convince myself not to eat that last piece of pizza. Holy shit. Push the snooze!

 

I started snoozing in high school. My mom bought me an old fashioned alarm clock in an effort to help me break the habit, one shaped like an actual clock with two giant bells on the top. The noise from the alarm was loud enough to wake up the entire neighborhood, so eventually I just stopped setting it because I was exhausted from waking up by blunt force trauma to my ear drums. I was late to school a lot, until I finally caught a break and graduated. In college, instead of organizing a schedule around my inadequacies, I kept optimistically assuming that I could change. My mom bought me one of those alarm clocks with a radio, but it did not have a good antenna, so my alarm would just be static, like a white noise machine. It took me nine years to graduate from college.

 

I have started setting my alarm clock back in time so that I am not late for work, even if I sleep an extra thirty-six minutes. Every few months, I set it back a little further, so eventually I will just be sleeping for a series of nine minute intervals continually for the entire night. The feeling of turning off the alarm and drifting peacefully back to sleep—covers pulled up to my chin—is one of the most euphoric feelings on earth. Every morning I become more addicted, and I think at least briefly that I may never be able to get up. Why bother? I could quit my job. My kids could figure out how to pour their own cereal. It would be worth it. After about forty-five minutes of snoozing, I usually check my phone to see if anyone texted or called me while I was sleeping, and maybe I just didn’t hear it even though I sleep with the phone inches from my head.

 

The good news is that from there my day can only get better. It is similar to the way I like to start the new year—with a massive hangover. When I give up snoozing—almost every single morning—I have already overcome a major hurdle. I will eventually swing my legs over the side of the bed, curse, and grumpily wander to the bathroom—fifty-four minutes later. When I get out of the shower, I will still hear the alarm buzzing because I never actually turned it off. Usually one or both of my kids are in the bed sleeping peacefully through the sound of the alarm, snuggled up under heaps of downy covers, little tufts of hair sticking up like middle fingers, mocking me.

 

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Going Down Swinging

I started writing about Monica Lewinsky earlier this week when I first heard that she was speaking out in the June issue of Vanity Fair, before I even read her article. I had been writing a piece about Chelsea Clinton, post-baby news, but I was unable to find the heart of my story. I had a good one liner, “Sometimes I wish my inner Chelsea was a little bit more Clinton and a little bit less Handler,” and a funny bit about my family being a long line of Roger Clintons. I also noted that my dad never had sex with an intern, but only because no one in their right mind would have ever given him an intern.

Al I could really get at was that I had nothing in common with Chelsea. She never chose to go the rebel route. She is the perfect daughter: going Ivy League, working for their foundation, marrying the right kind of guy, getting pregnant at the perfect moment for positive family publicity. She wears the pantsuit well. Making a contrast between us was arbitrary at best. Then Monica poked her head up from under the proverbial desk, and I shouted, “Eureka!” Well maybe I didn’t shout, maybe I just grabbed my phone and started scribbling notes, mostly about how she was collateral damage, even the feminists left her stranded—they saw her on the beach, waving her blue beret in the air, HELP etched into the sand, and they barely winced as they kept scanning their binoculars out over open water. Nothing to see here folks, just a bright young intern who was trampled by the male-dominated political machine. How could feminists reconcile supporting her and attempting to rescue a well-liked, feminist-leaning democrat? I always thought of her as someone who must have felt deeply isolated.

When the article was released in the digital edition, I downloaded it and devoured her story. It is insightful, well-written, and charming. It also made me sad. She begins by recalling a scene where she was asked by an interviewer for an HBO documentary how she felt about being “America’s premier blow-job queen.” She uses the scenario to demonstrate how humiliated she was, for herself, for her entire family and then addresses her present reader, “It may surprise you to learn that I am actually a person.” She admits that what she needed back then and never received publicly was, “good old-fashioned, girl-on-girl support.”  I was also happy to see her speak out about the relationship itself, refuting the blow-job-only narrative and describing her relationship with Clinton as more fully evolved, and bravely confessing that from her point of view, “It was an authentic connection, with emotional intimacy, frequent visits, plans made, phone calls and gifts exchanged.” Her description of a relationship between two human beings runs completely counter to the widely held narrative of her as an almost inanimate object perched beneath a desk—the white-collar man’s glory hole. I can think of few examples that place a woman so squarely in the position of object as the story of Monica Lewinsky.

Lewinsky and I are the same age and when the story broke in 1998, I remember being stunned that someone my age was actually working in the White House. I was very busy failing out of community college and not showing up for my job as a courier for a law firm. I was later replaced by a much more reliable and less smart-ass fax machine. I recall her interview with Barbara Walters, and her appearances on SNL, playing herself next to John Goodman’s more memorable Linda Tripp. She was trying to tell her story, but the only outlets available were always based on her as a sexual token. Her story was a running blow job joke. I didn’t question her decision to retreat into silence. All these years, I hoped that she was sitting back somewhere receiving royalties and speaking out about the benefits of keeping up with the laundry. I also thought that we, as a country, moved on, like even possibly evolved.

Unfortunately, my optimism was squelched. Lewinsky describes her difficulty in landing jobs because of the possible negative publicity that it could bring to potential employers. She also describes how she is recognized every single day. This made me pause to consider the gravity of her position as “That woman.” The idea that people recognize her based on what she did behind closed doors is like an entire life led doing the walk of shame—eyeliner smeared down to the cheeks, high heels in the daylight, a thong in the purse—but it isn’t just a nosy neighbor that sees her, like the old lady that lives next door and probably hasn’t been laid since the Carter administration, it is everyone. Everyone in America. All the time.

My biggest issue with the Monica Lewinsky story is that it is the “Monica Lewinsky” story. It is clearly her shame on the line and not Bill Clinton’s—he is more beloved now than ever. He is a philanthropist. He is the explainer-in-chief. He is resilient. Lewinsky was not the one who was married. She was also not responsible to the American people. He had considerable more responsibility to any sense of morality, and he was the one who got off. She was very possibly attracted to the most powerful man in the world. Maybe she was flattered that this man showed her attention—maybe she was motivated by actual feelings of attraction, and she acted on them, with his approval and assistance, at the least, and much more likely with his urging. The issue is the hypocrisy inherent in her carrying the burden of shame, while he carries the badge of virility.

Lewinsky was twenty-two when she was first reportedly sexually involved with President Clinton—when I was twenty-two I would have had sex with almost anyone. Thanks for buying me that beer! Thanks for delivering this pizza! Thanks for leading our country out of a recession! Her story reminds me to be thankful that I was nailing losers. In her article in Vanity Fair, she repeatedly calls her affair with Clinton “consensual,” which is important because the only female that could be more vilified and objectified than one who gives blow jobs under desks (the slut) or most certainly does not give blow jobs under desks (the wife) is the woman who claims she was sexually assaulted (the opportunist). There is a box within this framework where all the women can be neatly placed and handled accordingly. When it really comes down to it, women were the real losers in this scandal. Women got nothing out of it—the entire situation was one big metaphoric blow job.

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Beet Salad Days

Last night I made a delicious salad with beets. The day after I eat beets there is usually one brief moment when I am positive I am going to die. Even if I tell myself, don’t forget you ate beets, the sight of the red pee in the toilet is hard to ignore, and I usually scream when I stand to pull up my underpants.

However, it is a great recipe. I peeled and quartered the beets and then roasted them for about an hour with salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then I tossed the cooled beets with some quinoa, some fancy-ass raisins (I like this mix from Trader Joe’s that has raisins and dried berries), baby spinach, lemon juice and zest (I actually forgot to zest the lemon before I cut it, and they say it is difficult to zest a lemon after it has been cut, but screw those naysayers), olive oil, garlic, and a little bit of pomegranate vinegar. Then I added some crumbled goat cheese to the top. It was great. I ate it for dinner last night and lunch today.

I will probably have a moment tomorrow morning when I think I am going to die again, but it is worth it. I just try not to eat beets before I have to give a urine specimen, unless it is a drug test, then it seems like it would be funny.

I will also add that I am currently starving, and I ate this particular lunch less than two hours ago.

You should totally try this recipe!

I started writing about the beet salad because I am avoiding writing on a real project. I am currently working on a memoir, a not-at-all-funny memoir about a place where I grew up. It challenges me. I cannot hide behind my wit. I cannot be crude to diffuse the spotlight. I keep getting stuck, and then I abandon the project for days, but it is always lurking in the background, like a wave crashing at my door.

I was also rejected by a publisher this weekend. I received the email at five p.m. on a Sunday, which was not great timing because that is the time of the week when conditions are most favorable for an emotional tsunami as the uncertainty of my personal life and the disappointment of my career aspirations clash violently together, and I usually wind up in the bathtub, hugging my knees and crying long after all the water has drained out. I submitted an essay to a funny women column in an online magazine, and in the rejection email the editor said that even though they were passing on my column, I would still get bigger boobs just for submitting. As I read, I looked down and put my hand to my chest. They don’t seem bigger. Not yet.

Getting rejected is sort of like looking at my pee after eating beets. There is an instant when I am sure I am a goner. I am done for. I am not a writer. But then I pull up my big girl panties and get back to work.

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Portrait of the Writer as a Young Girl

I remember being in line at the school cafeteria in elementary school and reading the menu taped to the glass. Our main course for the day was “Real Pork Chops.” As I plopped my tray on the counter and reached for a white milk I made a comment to the girl in line behind me, “REAL pork chops? What kind of pork chops have we been eating?” She smiled slightly. I tried again with the boy in front of me, “REAL pork chops!” He ignored me. I have now learned that when life presents funny shit, like the sudden appearance of the word “real” in front of a meat product we have been eating all school year, I should just pocket that morsel so I can write about it later. Thirty years later.

I wasn’t a writer then. I was quiet. I started writing when I got to high school. I had an amazing eleventh-grade English teacher who stopped me in the hall one day outside of class to tell me that I was a good writer. She put something I wrote in a student publication, and I felt haughty. I am sure whatever I wrote was not funny. I was dark and stormy in my writing back then. I kept a diary in high school, and when I read it years later my eyes darted across the page with increasing panic, and then I threw it in the trash. The girl in that diary was terrifyingly pathetic and morose. I probably should have been suicidal, but I wasn’t nearly that interesting. Mainly I just wrote about how I wanted a boyfriend, or at least just for a boy—any boy—to notice that I was alive. A smoke signal sending puffs of “You probably exist or whatever” would have sufficed. I spent four pages writing about how I wanted to get with some boy at a party, but he liked someone else. That is not a four-page story. That is a sentence. That is a clause that introduces a better sentence, “I wanted to get with him, but he liked someone else, so I said ‘fuck it’ and drank six Solos of hunch punch and then passed out in a ditch.” No, wait. “I wanted to get with him, but he liked someone else, probably because I never talked to him or expressed any interest whatsoever, so I am going to just laugh with my friends and not be a sorry loser.” Better.

The odd thing is that I remember being a mostly happy teenager. I smiled a lot. I loved my friends. I felt accepted. I did not date much, and at the time that circumstance apparently consumed me. The gist of my tragic diary was me trying to figure out who I was. I did not think I was unattractive. I wasn’t completely sure, but looking around it seemed there were certainly people uglier than me finding “love” (and by “love” I mean making out in the parking lot). Maybe my big hair and my quadro-boobs (in order to keep up with the growing rate of my breasts in high school I would have had to buy a new bra approximately every thirty seconds, so my bras were always too small) were confusing to teenage boys, or maybe I made too many wisecracks about meat products; there was no way to know for sure what was wrong with me. With my diary I was just trying to explore how I fit into the world around me.

I started to read humor writing when I was in high school. They used to run Dave Barry’s Miami Herald column in the Sunday edition of our Tallahassee paper. My mom would cut it out for me and leave it on the counter. I probably increased his teenage girl readership to one. When I was twenty-two I read Bridget Jones Diary, and I started to emulate her writing, usually while I was bored at work. I remember writing a few paragraphs about being home sick. I wrote that I was in bed shivering, so I kept layering on more clothes and by the morning I looked like a homeless snowman, and then I wrote “My mom came by to check on me and put the back of her palm on my forehead. It was official. I had a fever.” For some reason those sentences stayed with me. I saw that I had done something clever. My meaning was bigger than my actual words. I started to understand that writing was magic.

I went to college and studied creative writing. At first, I wrote entirely in comma splices, “I ran down the hill, the hot sand burned my feet, the sand spurs licked at my heels.” I had a few teachers that just let me write error-full prose, and I think they did me a service, but sort of like when you let your toddler explore the yard, you give him freedom, but you follow closely behind and grab him before he stumbles out into oncoming traffic. Eventually a teacher returned a decent story to me caked in red marks. I rewrote it and replaced all the comma splices with periods. I presented the edited version to a writing workshop in my senior year, and the class hated it because it was choppy and had no flow. One student demonstrated by reading the entire paper out loud in a robot voice. I credit my experience in those writing workshops with my ability to take criticism. I will stand naked before you, and we can talk about my flaws.

I started to read more, too. Nonfiction. Funny shit. When I lived in Austin I used to hang out at the Book People bookstore, next to the Whole Foods on North Lamar. I leaned up against shelves and slid to the floor, immersed in reading. They had a small, but eclectic humor section. I bought every copy of a book titled The Wild Goose Chronicles by filmmaker Trent Harris, which includes a clever mix of photos and text about his travels around the world. I used to give the book as a gift to guys I was dating-slash-just sleeping with. I am not sure what I meant by the gesture. Here is a book that is probably on your level—it has lots of pictures and is about a futile pursuit.  It was more of a parting gift, mainly because shortly after I gave them the book they would break up with me.

I stopped writing when I got married and started having kids. I was busy, sure, but I also no longer felt the need to relentlessly carve out my identity. Then I went back to grad school, but I still wasn’t writing anything fun. The writing I was doing for my classes was sometimes returned with comments like “great ideas, but your writing lacks clarity.” The fact that my writing was garbled, at times even weak, didn’t matter nearly as much as my ability to engage in thoughtful analysis. Writing was just a conduit, which to me seemed like using a framed two dollar bill to buy a pack of cigarettes. I even started to believe that maybe I wasn’t a writer; maybe I was just someone who was smart and had thought-provoking ideas about literature and the writing process. Then I got a grip. I put the gun back in the drawer and remembered who I really am. My dad was on Judge Judy. I serve beer at my kids’ birthday parties. I cannot be trusted.

Then I did a summer writing workshop with a group of teachers. We did some creative writing, and I cranked out more pages than I had written in years. I learned the most valuable writing lesson: I can write on demand. That was the missing piece. I used to think that I had to be punched by inspiration, only able to write if I was hunched over the keyboard with a fat lip. I thought I had to have something to actually write about. I don’t. I can make any moment write-worthy. I just have to put experiences into a kaleidoscope and then keep rearranging the pixels until the right pieces come into focus in a new frame. I have been wrestling with writing this piece all week, but it was not coming together—everything I came up with felt forced and fuzzy. Then I thought about the pork chop story while lying in bed at four a.m. I made a note in my phone and then got up this morning and the rest fell into place like a flight board that suddenly changes from delayed to now boarding. I just needed REAL pork chops.

The end.

Maybe this is right the place for a fucking poem? I wrote this on my phone in a gas station parking lot.

I am a dress code violator.
A head held high while the world is hunched in prayer.
A kick to your neat pile of leaves.
A laugh that echoes off solemn mountains.
You think this is funny?

The rules don’t apply to me.
Ask for permission later
or never.
Say Bullshit loud in quiet rooms.
Jump. Say “I will.”

Suffocate fear with words. Write.
Then write more. Be a rebel.
Make the world my metaphoric bitch.
Take what I need.
Tell no lies.

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