Hillary’s Gratitude Runneth Over

At this time of year, I try to be more grateful, and have even considered starting a gratitude journal that I could do before bed after I have responded to the rest of my work emails, washed my face, brushed my teeth, put out my clothes for the next day, actually remembered to lock the front door—oh shit and put the rest of the dinner leftovers away and put my son’s hoodie in the dryer. Traditionally, I do none of these things and instead Nestea plunge into bed and pass out until one of my kids comes in to ask me something like, “Where do we keep the plunger?”

I ask, “Why are you still up? It is the middle of the night.” When it is actually 9:45 p.m.

I do believe that being grateful is valuable, and as Oprah says, if you concentrate on what you have, you will always end up having more. Maybe you just don’t remember all your shit! Every time Oprah takes inventory, I am sure she feels immense gratitude. For me it is the same. For example, I am grateful that we even have a plunger, and then I remember that I have two plungers, and then I remember that I also have a toilet snake that I purchased but did not actually know how to use, and then I remember that I was able to hire a plumber to come to my home. Then since I listen to way too many true crime podcasts, I am grateful that none of the people who have done work at my house have ever come back to murder me. Suddenly, I see how much more I have. It is like winning the fucking lottery!

Oprah also says that we can focus on being grateful for our breath because maybe that is all we have, which is depressing, but also important since so many Americans are denied basic healthcare and cannot afford to struggle to breathe. I just watched a video where Oprah said that we could even be grateful for having two hands and then told a story about a woman who had her hands amputated and how Oprah thinks of her every time she uses her two hands to count her stacks of money. I am grateful that I can use my two hands to clean my toilets myself. Then I remember I am grateful I have running water. Suddenly my bounty is overflowing all over the tile floor.

I was listening to Rob Lowe’s podcast when Oprah was his guest and these two celebrities bravely talked about the importance of gratitude. Lowe shared his newest life lesson that it is impossible to be in gratitude and resentment at the same time, and I was thinking, try me. As a kid, I had a friend over to my house and we were working on some experimental baking that I am sure turned out delicious. My friend said it was impossible to crack an egg on a plastic bowl. I said I could crack this egg on this plastic bowl. She said I could not. I smashed the egg into the bowl, it cracked and went all over the kitchen. We both looked at each other at the same time and said, “See?”

If Rob Lowe holds resentment in his heart, maybe he could take the podcast grind on the road to his favorite ski chateau and then look at himself in the mirror #gratitude. I often have resentment about teaching college students against their will and feel like my job is a joke because of my resentment against an entire system that undervalues education but then I remember how grateful I am that my job pays just enough to make me eligible for Obamacare, and it is like a gratitude golden shower. Oprah added in her conversation with Lowe that gratitude is her religion. She practices it every day. The first thing she says each day is “Thank you.” Then she makes her own ginger tea. The fact that she had to add “make my own” made me feel resentment.

I am probably not ever going to start a gratitude journal. I think it is too late for me to be one of those people who journals. I am way too fun at parties, and my bedtime routine involves having one more glass of wine and then deliberating if I should drunk text people from the couch or from the bed. If I have the energy to do anything productive at the end of the day, instead of writing down all that I am grateful for, like my breath and all my limbs, my two beautiful children, and that new everything bagel hummus I just bought, I would rather try to spend more time reading the stacks of books next to my bed or doing something even more stimulating, like watching porn.

My younger self is grateful that we can now afford sunglasses.

Hillary’s Narcissistic Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees and Falling

I spend time in the woods each day, wandering around with my dog looking at nature and, more importantly, hitting enough steps to feel like I have earned the right to eat food. I have been walking in these same woods for many years, but after the COVID lockdown in 2020, I started walking every day and logging more miles and even more bug bites that keep me awake at night itching and frantically applying hydrocortisone. People often warn me about walking in the woods alone—worried I could get abducted or eaten by an alligator—but instead the real danger is that I am slowly being eaten alive by bugs, and I am concerned there is a metamorphosis type scenario on my horizon, and then how will I ever find love?

When a friend recommended the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, I decided to read it because I am a nature girl and an intellectual who reads nonfiction for fun. I even thought about how it will be a great book to listen to at warp speed while peacefully looking up at the leaves rustling in the breeze and then tripping over an exposed root. This book is fascinating, and I have learned that trees have friends and even mate, which made me jealous, and that some trees, like beeches, do not reach sexual maturity until they are 80 to 150 years old, just like most billionaires.

The narrator reminds me of the announcer on a ride at Epcot—the place where drunk intellectuals go on rides, pretending to our children that a ride about agriculture is awesome, but also when we get off, next stop, Mexico! The book is a well written biology text, and what I have remembered is how much I hated biology, which is why I did not become a doctor or any other job that actually pays and also why I got divorced from my ex-husband, who is a biologist. It is the reason for our dissolution: it’s not you, it’s your field. I also remembered that maybe I am not an intellectual. I am smart and somewhat well read, but I would probably trade a reasonable number of IQ points for a vanity project, like being super skinny without having to worry about what I eat.

I often come across trees that have fallen in my path, and I am amazed at how expansive they are when felled to the earth. Sometimes I see the scars where the tree’s enormous weight has cut holes into the dirt on impact, and I am thankful that I have not—yet—been murdered by a friendly, sexual tree. Trees make my walks possible by providing shade even in the summer when there is the most possibility for attracting bugs, so when I go in public in a bathing suit people probably think I have the measles. Also, the trees provide places for spider webs to connect across the trails. I take down approximately 150 spider webs per day with my face in the summer. That is how I keep my hair so thick and luxurious—it is full of spiders weaving new hair.

Besides this book about trees, I am also currently reading Falling by new author T.J. Newman. This book takes place almost entirely on an airplane and was given to me by a friend in the same manner as when somebody smells something terrible and says, oh gross here smell this. According to the back cover, this book is “a bullet train of a thriller” and “heart STOPPING!” The premise of Falling—and this is not a spoiler because it is on the jacket—is that someone has kidnapped the family of the pilot, Bill, and has threatened to kill them unless Bill crashes the plane with 144 souls on board. The kidnapper is not from America originally, but you can guess the region he comes from—it rhymes with whittle yeast.

At first, I was skeptical about the book, partly because it got published and the author was promoting the book on the morning shows, which is the only reason I write because I hope to eventually be interviewed on television. I was also skeptical because early in the book it does seem like a flight attendant manifesto to inform the public that some heroes wear polyester. They are not there just to serve us food—as if we think that when airlines stopped serving food twenty years ago the higher ups just forgot to fix the glitch and the attendants just keep getting on board—the flight attendants are in charge of the safety of the cabin and everyone in it once that plane is in the air.

Even if some of us might prefer that perhaps, especially in a situation that presents itself like in Falling, flight attendants seek help from a superior on the ground or maybe even poll the passengers to see if there is anyone onboard who has more training to deal with trauma, like a psychiatrist or a hair dresser.

Also, reading this book one might get the mistaken idea that airline passengers are not tremendous assholes who would sacrifice anyone for their own safety. I feel confident that if a person is unwilling to wear a mask on an airplane, they are probably not going to be willing to trust a pilot with a family being held hostage. Fuck you, Bill! I just coughed on a baby, you think I give a shit about your precious family?

Despite all of this, I found Falling almost impossible to put down. I kept turning pages and that is the sign of an interesting read. Even though it should be me in that clear acrylic chair across from Jeff Glor, I still recommend this book. Reading Falling has played a role in my growth as a writer. Now I know what people want, and I am going to start writing thrillers. I don’t have all the details worked out, but I think my first one will be titled Crawling, and it will involve an imminent attack by chiggers.

My protagonist taking forest selfies.

Hillary’s Narcissistic Book Review: Midnight Library, A Really Big Lunch, and Chin Music.

I’m currently reading two books at the same time because I’m a fucking intellectual. The first is Midnight Library by Matt Haig. Technically, I am listening to it as an audiobook, and I listen at 1.2x speed so the narrator sounds somewhat panicked at all times. As a self-proclaimed author, I can understand that probably someone like Haig does not want his readers to get through the book as fast as possible, like it is a chore. It probably took him at least a year of devotion to a desk, sculpting this thought-provoking book out of nothing, and I devour it in a series of fast paced walks in the woods.

Midnight Library is a novel about a woman who gets the chance to retry other versions of her life by examining her regrets and asking What if? The concept is sort of like the show Quantum Leap, which I used to watch on reruns after school. I am sure the intended audience for Quantum Leap was 13 years old girls who watch while shoving tater tots into their mouth. The main character in Midnight Library doesn’t work to set things right in history, she mostly just notices how things are often still wrong in her different lives, just in different ways.

In my own life, I have thought about what if I stayed at Appalachian State and got a degree in anthropology? In that life, maybe I would think it is acceptable to wear shirts with pockets and would be happily married to a very handsome woman. What if I had stayed in Austin? While I was there in the late 1990s, Mathew McConaughey was still single, high, and partying naked. I definitely would have played his bongos. Or anyone else’s.

Although, it is difficult to have regrets when I look at my life now. I am 46 and single with no real prospects, and I teach introductory English courses to unprepared college students who are reluctantly being fed into the capitalist machine. But in this life, I have a dog. Oh, and two children who are now teenagers and live like cave dwellers, only clawing their way out of their rooms to forage for food.

I am also reading, in actual print, A Really Big Lunch by Jim Harrison, which I am savoring in tiny bites because it makes me laugh, and I want to bask in his world of eating and travelling, just wandering around the woods and swimming out into the middle of harbors. Of course, Harrison’s main thread is about how he has all of this extra money from his writing career as an American poet, essayist, and prolific novelist—his novellas Legends of the Fall probably being the biggest meal ticket. I am still waiting for an offer for movie rights from my body of work. Maybe someone will want to make an epic from my essay about buying a dildo, and it will soon be streaming on Hulu and PornHub.

Harrison’s eponymous essay is about a 37-course lunch in Burgundy, France. Harrison notes that although the lunch was 37 courses and lasted 11 hours, they only served 13 different wines. I related to this leisurely lunch, thinking of my own life where I recently spent a Saturday dining on a two-course lunch in Jacksonville, Florida. I was also served one Bloody Mary, two White Claws, and then my check.

This past year, like many privileged white people, I have been reading a lot of theory (aka actual history) about racism in America. These books work well on fast speed in audio format because it makes sense for the narrator to seem frenzied as he or she tells about the oppression and murder of Black people in America since it is still happening, and fuck, we have got to get through narrating to this white lady who listens while working out her hamstrings, so that we can find some people who can actually make a difference. Harrison’s book is a definite departure—I don’t think there are any Black people in the book at all.

Big Lunch was recommended to me by an old friend, my former boss, and my one and only publishing client. His book, Chin Music, which is insightful and hilarious, sold almost a dozen copies, and he had to incur all the expenses, including me. I do not actually know how to market a book, and I don’t even do the formatting and design. Basically, the service I provide to my clients is I read the book and then make important suggestions, like maybe you should add a table of contents.

What I do not know how to do, which looking back is perhaps the most important part of the process, is to get people to buy the book. I do not know how people like Harrison get noticed initially. Maybe he just knew the right people and filled a void because we needed more books by white male authors in the 1970s. For the rest of us, it often feels like those moments in a dream when you are trying to scream and it seems impossible to make even the slightest noise. 

Harrison decided to write his first novel after falling off a cliff during a bird hunt, so I have considered that process. I am picturing a coyote and roadrunner type scenario—it is the only bird hunting on cliffs I am familiar with—I have several cans of paint and some sticks of TNT. We will see what happens. Also, if anyone reading this is looking for a publisher, I am totally available.

Chin Music available on Amazon. You should buy it.

The Salad Days

When I was a child, my mother would talk about things she thought would be different in the future. She would say things like, “One day you will tell your grandkids about how you used to be able to swim in the ocean.” It seemed ominous, especially when said as I was splashing around in the Gulf of Mexico. She also once predicted that in the future we will get all of our nutrients from a single tablet instead of having to bother with eating meals. This was probably said as I was finishing off the last of everyone’s French fries.

She never predicted any of the things that I have actually had to tell my kids, like that when I was a kid everyone in my family shared one phone and we had to stand in the kitchen—tethered to the wall—to use it. She also never mentioned that we would one day be telling future generations about life before a global pandemic, like when I was a kid people vacationed on giant petri dishes called “cruise ships”.

Many aspects of our daily life have changed this year, and it is likely that some might never go back to how they were pre-pandemic. There are some things about our new normal that I hope are here to stay, like doctor visits by teleconference and not going to work, but there are other parts of our lives that may be permanently scraped from the sidewalks of life that I will dearly miss, like body shots, blowing in babies’ faces, and salad bars.

I miss standing at Whole Foods elbow to elbow with a stranger—our breath echoing off the plexiglass—and tonging some lettuce into a brown paper box, then scooting past another person to add some edamame and approximately fourteen other unrelated ingredients and then tossing in some stuff that looks like it is already a tossed salad of some type, but with kale, and adding it on top of my independently made salad. Then I make my way up to the checkout where my salad is priced by weight and totals $37.

The salad bar at Whole Foods is the salad bar I admit that I visit, but I will also get the salad bar at places where it is completely inadvisable, even by the health department. When my kids were little I would take them to the local Pizza Hut, and we would dine inside the building. “When I was a kid we used to order our pizza for here!” The salad bar was lettuce and then just leftover pizza toppings, and I was given a wooden bowl about the size of a teacup so I had to pile my salad into a mountain covered with Ranch and then sprinkled with Baco’s.

When my daughter got older, we started going together to eat at Ruby Tuesday, especially when it was just the two of us, mainly because nobody else would ever agree to go there. I recently broke the news to her that Ruby Tuesday doesn’t have the salad bar anymore, and she gasped. I thought about all the senior citizens we would see while dining there and wondered what they are doing now for exercise. Going up to the salad bar, maybe even multiple times, carrying a plate while walking, the dexterity to work tongs, especially to grasp items like tiny cubes of ham, it could be in the Olympics. Dining from the salad bar was also a great way to show that they could still be independent. Often there would be a table where the oldest person was left behind and one of the younger diners, someone in their early eighties, would have to go get their salad for them. For that person the end is near, and thank goodness because no one should have to endure eating a salad bar salad made by someone else.

The salad that one makes at the salad bar would never be found on any kind of menu, unless it was a restaurant created by people tripping on acid. The salad bar salad is like a fingerprint. There are no two salad bar salads that are alike, and they are all disgusting. After I finish my salad I usually feel bad about myself, not just because of the excessive amount of calories that I consumed but also because of my choices. Why did I add the peas? What has happened in my life to make me think it was acceptable to add artichoke hearts and then proceed to choose blue cheese as my dressing?

I have heard that this pandemic might mean the end of the salad bar, and I am saddened about what this means for an entire way of life. I worry that one day I will have to tell my grandkids, “When I was a kid we used to order a meal and then with that meal, as a side dish, we could get something called the salad bar, which meant we had to get up from the table—where a waitress had just taken our order and would eventually deliver our other food that we only ordered because the salad bar alone was the same price as the meal plus the salad bar—and parade up to get our plates and then move like cattle down a line of chilled bowls full of delicious toppings like diced boiled egg, raw mushrooms, and banana pudding and then walk back to our tables completely embarrassed as we pass other tables with our salad of shame.”

Those were the days.

Anger Management: Armed with Only Words

At the end of Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom and Huck find Jim, who has been captured and held as a runaway slave, and they both propose plans to set him free. Huck suggests they simply steal the key and take Jim under the cover of darkness to the stowed raft, “Would that plan work?” asks Huck.

“Why cert’nly it would work, like rats a-fighting. But it’s too blame simple; there ain’t nothing to it,” responds Tom.

Then Huck suggests they get Jim out through the man-sized opening in the wall of the shed, and Tom suggests that instead they dig him out, “It’ll take about a week!” Then as Huck and Tom are in the room with Jim, going in and out freely, Huck notices that Jim is only chained to the bed post, which can easily be lifted up so that he can be freed. Tom suggests that instead they should saw the leg of Jim’s bed off, “You got to invent all the difficulties.”

“I wish there was a moat to this cabin. If we get time, the night of the escape, we’ll dig one,” says Tom. They steal sheets off the line so that Jim can fashion a rope ladder to escape from his single story wooden structure. Tom also suggests that Jim grow a flower and water it with his own tears.

When I teach this novel, I try to get my students to see this ridiculous scene in comparison to the opposition to end slavery. Setting people free is not all that complicated. It can be done with an announcement or the lifting of the bed post. And if you are a slave, do the details of the holdup really matter? Whether it is national division, the economy, oppression, racism, or two boys who want to have an adventure, whatever the cause, you are stuck in chains while someone else’s agenda takes precedence over your life.

And of course, Jim was already free. He was set free in Miss Watson’s will, and Tom knew it the entire time. The irony of this brings on a whole new discussion about the legacy of slavery and the nuances of freedom.

Right now, our government is Tom Sawyering the shit out of gun control. Instead of taking immediate action and working towards legislation that saves lives—doing the obvious things, like banning assault rifles, advocating for stronger background checks, longer waiting periods, increased age limits, required training, renewal processes, all things that law-abiding citizens should have no issue with and would be no real threat to their freedom, we are tying together bed sheets and digging a hole with spoons.

I have to talk about guns. Again. I already did this in Zombie Apocalypse when I tried to break down the semantics of the second amendment, but the second amendment is just a pawn being held captive, most likely at gunpoint, by a powerful lobbying group working to protect its profits and a population that lives in fear. America has a gun problem. But before we rehash this argument, the one where I metaphorically yell at the brick wall that is the NRA, I want to talk about something else.

When I was a teenager and even into my twenties, I would drink and drive. Regularly. Sometimes, I would even drink while I drove chanting, “You will have to pry my champagne flute and this steering wheel out of my cold, dead hand!” But then law enforcement started to take drunk driving more seriously, mostly because of the successful grassroots effort by MADD, so I stopped. I wanted to protect my right, because the only thing that will help drunk people get safely home is a less drunk person who can drive them. However, I did not want to get arrested. Also, a new culture emerged (eventually) post-MADD that exposed drinking and driving as shameful because it was a selfish act that put innocent people’s lives in danger.

MADD was birthed out of tragedy. Candy Lightner’s thirteen-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver in 1980, and she and close friend, Sue LeBrun-Green sought answers. They started at the DMV. Three years later, 129 anti-drunk driving laws had been passed. Their efforts focused on using testimonials. They put faces to the statistics and engaged emotional appeals—they made it personal. Before the 1980s, DUI bills were failing in congress, but in 1984 Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Bill, a measure specifically designed to discourage drunk driving, especially among young adults. According to MADD’s website, then Senator Elizabeth Dole recalls talking to the president, whose top advisors were telling him that this measure goes against his states’ rights stance, and he said, “Well, wait a minute, doesn’t this help save kids’ lives?”

Yes.

“Well then, I support it,” he said.

More than 32,000 Americans die by guns each year. Seven kids or teens are killed by guns EVERY DAY in the U.S. That is more than 2,500 kids per year (See EveryTownResearch)

Should I go on? I will because I would like to talk about regulations for residential swimming pools. Let’s look at the laws in say, Florida. According to Florida Statutes, if you have a swimming pool in your backyard, you are required by law to have a barrier that is a least four feet high, has no gaps or openings, and is at least 20 inches away from the pool. Your barrier must also have a self-latching locking gate or door that is only accessible from the inside. This is mainly to protect any random kids that could be wandering through the neighborhood, like maybe as they walk to the gas station to buy Skittles. I think the concept is that by locking the gate and thus denying access to the pool, then human lives might be saved. Basically, it is something that one household has to do on their own property to protect citizens they might not even know.

Of course, also according to Florida Statutes, if you have a loaded gun, you only have to lock it up if you “reasonably should know that a minor is likely to gain access to the firearm.” You have to keep your pool locked at all times because you never know, but guns only when you have a play date. And based on Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws, probably the best thing to do if a person does get into your pool enclosure because you have a faulty lock or left a ladder leaned up against the fence is to go ahead and shoot them for trespassing.

When something is dangerous to others, we enact laws to make that activity illegal, even if we know it is going to be impossible to completely eradicate. We make it illegal anyway. And the hope is that then people won’t commit that crime as often, like murder for example. Because jail sucks. And murder is, for most citizens, completely illegal. But we continue to sell products, over the counter, that make murder incredibly easy. Anyone can accomplish murder with a gun, even toddlers.

The inability of our country to do anything to make it even slightly more difficult to buy even the most dangerous guns is not about freedom or individualism or even the second amendment. There is an article on the website ArmedWithReason that debunks the myth that an armed citizenry prevents tyranny. Through historical analysis the article argues, “Militias are typically the gateway to tyranny, not the safeguard against it.” And the real problem for us as Americans is that as a country, we cannot agree about anything. What issue will cause us to rise up together and form a militia? When the government continues to restrict access to women’s reproductive health? When the government continues to allow Christian ideology to inform our legislation? When the government continues to actively discriminate against minority groups? I am guessing we will not agree, so if it comes down to protecting ourselves from a suddenly tyrannical government, it will be from small, disconnected, radical groups. And that sounds oddly familiar.

The real issue is that the lack of policy change about gun laws is the case of a singular group having the financial power to make their agenda more important than human lives.  If the box cutter industry had more money and better lobbyists, we would probably still be able to take those on airplanes. People would fight for their constitutional right to break down cardboard in-flight. The NRA sells fear, and fear is a wildfire. Gun sales spike after mass shootings, after terrorist attacks, after threats about gun legislation. It is a capitalist wet dream. Maybe even a capitalist centipede. Feed the fear and the people will keep taking shit. AR-15s are flying off the shelves right now after the deadliest mass shooting in modern history. Gun manufacturers are toasting their 12-ounce cans of America to the fucking profits.

And our government has their limp dicks in their hands. But they aren’t protecting the majority of constituents. Majority of Americans believe we need stricter gun laws, and we are most united in our opinion about the importance of stronger background checks. And less than half of American households have guns, broken up regionally, 27% to 38% of American households own guns, although southern whites own proportionately more guns (47% of Southern white households own guns), but black households are only half as likely to own guns, so that decreases the South’s overall percentage of gun ownership. Majority of gun owners are white, male, and tend to vote republican (see PewResearchCenter). This is interesting for multiple reasons, for starters because when the NRA became the force that it is today back in the 1970s, under the leadership of Harlon Carter, a man who at age seventeen shot and killed a fifteen-year-old Mexican kid who was armed with only a knife, and then later served as head of the U.S. Border Patrol, they did so by transforming a group that was more dedicated to hunting and sportsmanship into a fear mongering powerhouse that promotes personal protection.

Against gangs, rioters, home invaders, car jackers, terrorists, government invasion, zombies, spouses, black teenagers, and I guess even school children, movie goers, and nightclub patrons.

In Charlton Heston’s famous “Cold Dead Hands” speech, he states that wielding a firearm is the way to “defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away.” When I watch this speech, where he uses the term freedom in almost every sentence, I question what force is threatening his freedom? To what bed post is he chained? The only thing I can think of is that the haves must protect what they already have. If the individuals who already have the most power are also the individuals who own the most guns, then who should really be the most afraid?

For the most part, the citizens that support the NRA are being used as weapons—they are fired up to speak out and spread the propaganda. They get to keep their guns, yes, and they get a false sense of security—because if they have to take the gun out of your cold dead hand, then did it really do the job it was supposed to do? But people cling to this symbol of their personal freedom and protection. They put it on a bumper sticker. Just try and take my guns, they say, as the black and white drawing of a gun barrel points at me and my kids in our car waiting at the red light behind them. When a mass shooting happens, these same citizens post comments on social media about how there are lots of ways to kill people. Cain killed Abel with a rock, they say. You can kill someone with a baseball bat, they say. Great, then why do you care if someone takes your guns? Unless you own stock in a gun company (don’t get any ideas), you are losing just like the rest of us.

So why can’t we do for gun control what two dedicated women were able to do to combat drunk driving? The number of drunk driving deaths has declined by half since 1980. The citizen movement from Sandy Hook has used testimonials and pictures of first graders, so why are the photographs of these children not enough to get people to give up on a hobby and a false sense of security? What is it about guns?

Would banning assault rifles and passing stronger gun legislation save lives?

Yes.

Well shucks, Congress, then why don’t you support it?

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So the fucking Ghostbusters thing . . .

I heard about the new movie earlier this year when a male friend texted me, “They are making a new Ghostbusters with all women. I am not going to see it.”

My first thought was that I do not give a shit. Are we going to list all the movies that we aren’t going to see? Because I have more important things to do, like staring blankly at my computer screen and crying. This is also from a guy that has texted me, “Did you know the Atlanta airport is the busiest in the world?”

I just responded with an exasperated, “Yes.” And then a winky face, so I would not appear patronizing. I have recently cut this person from my life out of a conscious effort to burn down all the bridges that never should have been built.

I did not take his dislike of the casting selections seriously. He is not the barometer. But then more recently, I have noticed there is serious and actual backlash about the movie Ghostbusters being remade with an all female cast. People are speaking out. They are outraged! They are taking to Twitter to declare that this new movie has—somehow retroactively—ruined their childhoods. And then they try to mask their misogyny under the guise of being film connoisseurs by stating they are boycotting, not because of the female cast, but because it looks like it is just going to be a terrible movie (and also because there are all those damn women in it).

Then as women start to play self-defense, twitter lights up with backlash against the backlash because all these feminists have their panties in a proverbial wad. Feminists—and last I checked feminism simply means advocating for political, social, and economic equality for women—inevitably find ourselves forced into a circle jerk when it comes to defending our right to be treated equally. Someone says women should not be able to play the Ghostbusters, and then women speak out and then men act as if they have just caught us with our hands deep in the cookie jar, and they pin a big fat F to our chests. Women are just left watching men get off on their own misguided assumptions.

Obviously, anyone who criticizes the new movie because it is a crime against the original has never seen Ghostbusters II. This is the film where Sigourney Weaver’s baby carriage is possessed and speeding through the streets of Manhattan.

They cast a baby.

A review from June 1989 in the New York Daily News declares that the baby might be the only thing to save the film, and it might do better at the box office if they renamed it “Four Ghostbusters and a Baby.” Also, let’s be clear, the original Ghostbusters was not a cinematic masterpiece. It was funny because of the concept—the fact that they are Ghostbusters is the joke. It was a blockbuster, one of those summer hits that parents and kids can both enjoy, a movie that is absolutely geared towards sequels and remakes because it is not sacred. Ghostbusters is not art. It is a franchise.

I knew I had to write about Ghostbusters because the argument originates from the idea that women aren’t funny. I would have loved to let that go. I have a busy life. I need to work on my book. I need to determine if I should, or should not, go back on Tinder. I also need to catch up on The Americans, but goddammit, I have to interject. And honestly, this is the portion of this essay that I have struggled with because there is no basis to the argument, no jutting rocks that I can grasp to pull myself up to confront a platform. Women are funny. Simple fact.

I once had an intensely stoned guy tell me that we were living in the belly of a whale. The correct response to this would have been, “Yeah man. Totally,” but instead I questioned it. I looked around at my surroundings, the pine trees and the manicured back yard of a house in the suburbs, and I argued with this person. I even tried to get him to hedge his statement to just a metaphor, “You mean we have been devoured by some enormous institution?” I asked.

“No, we are in the belly of an actual whale!”

When men state that women can’t be funny, I internally run through all the women I have laughed with personally, and then a reel of funny women from Lucille Ball to Gilda Radner to Amy Schumer plays in my mind, and I know that the statement comes from a place of insecurity and oblivion, and I should just say, “Yeah man. Totally.”

But then I keep scrolling through my Twitter feed. One thread is all people arguing that this new, all female version is going to reduce Ghostbusters to an Adam Sandler flick. One tweeter suggested with a chirpy scowl that Melissa McCarthy is just the new Adam Sandler, and if they mean a big name in comedy that can draw customers to the box office, then they are right. Although, McCarthy can deliver a line and execute physical comedy, so she is conceivably two steps ahead of Sandler. He is more easily compared to someone that is a cardboard replica of himself and uses a type of humor that is simplistic enough to appeal to the masses . . . here is a news flash, boys, Adam Sandler is just the new Dan Aykroyd.

What gives the original Ghostbusters any intelligent, legitimate humor is the casting of Bill Murray. His deadpan delivery makes even the most mundane lines comedic, “I like her because she sleeps above the covers, four feet above the covers.” But he is Bill Murray. There is a scene in Rushmore where Murray is in the elevator and lights another cigarette while he is already smoking a cigarette, and then as he exits he says, “I’m a little bit lonely these days.” It is so witty because it says so much more, like that sometimes there just aren’t enough cigarettes. That is comedic genius—the ability to make your audience laugh, not at you, but with you, and he brought that to Ghostbusters, and you may want to swallow your lunch, but women can also deliver legit comedy.

Kristen Wiig can do the thinking woman’s comedy thing. What Murray offers is a variation on the straight man. His reactions to the other characters are a big part of the humor, but he is also able to play these neurotic characters that are funny all on their own. Maybe (let’s just try this on, it will be okay, everything will be okay) Kristen Wiig is the new Bill Murray. Bridesmaids is damn funny, and it is Wiig’s comedic essence that fuels the film. The scene where she meets the Melissa McCarthy character at the bridal shower, and McCarthy tells her she fell off a cruise ship, and Wiig just says, “Oh Shit,” is enough to make me excited about the new Ghostbusters casting.

There is another argument echoing through the twitterverse that suggests Sony Pictures is engaging in some kind of affirmative action campaign by casting these women, as if they are doing women some kind of favor. The idea that Sony would make any decision based on a desire to advocate for equality among the sexes makes me giddy with pleasure, but it is by far the most moronic argument in this horse shit race.  Sony only cares about making money. These women are all big names who bring in dollar bills. And Sony doesn’t even have to pay them as much! Also they want to market to the audience that is going to buy the most tickets, and you know who is going to the movies and buying lots of tickets, dragging along entire neighborhoods of people who will all spill their Cokes on her sandaled feet? MOMS!

The fact that men give a shit about the roles in Ghostbusters being played by women has made me question—life for starters—but also what sacred male traditions are they protecting here? The entire premise of the movie is that the Ghostbusters are buffoons, but they are still able to be heroes, so maybe it is hard to swallow the idea that women could also be heroes on accident, just by existing and having bad ideas. Let’s also remember that the subplot of the movie is about a team of men dominating the Sigourney Weaver character, who starts out as a somewhat harsh and serious woman, then is possessed, turned into a female dog, they save her, and by the end of the movie she is much softer and in love with Bill Murray. This led me to the terrifying conclusion that perhaps Ghostbusters represents “Again”—the ambiguous, utopian time period when America was great. Let’s make America great AGAIN! Like back to 1984 (stop it) when men could be idiots, bring mass destruction onto a city because of their own carelessness, literally suck the life out of a woman, then save the day and get a hefty round of applause. Again!

And here is the thing that matters. If a group of women playing the fucking Ghostbusters causes a stir, even a slight ripple that gently laps at the edges of our cups of comfort, then women still have considerable ground to cover. In Virginia Woolf’s 1931 speech turned essay, “Professions for Women”, she states, “Even when the path is nominally open—when there is nothing to prevent a woman from being a doctor, a lawyer, a civil servant—there are many phantoms and obstacles, as I believe, looming in her way.”

I will let that linger. For just a moment.

These women were hired as actors to play ghostbusters in a summer blockbuster movie. They got the job. The path is open. And I am going to assume that by the end of the film, the ladies annihilate a shit ton of ghosts. The ghosts will be visible and thus able to be taken down with their powerful jet pack streams. But they are still battling phantoms, and as Woolf adds, “It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality.” Anytime a woman takes on a task and is questioned about her ability to perform effectively because of her gender, the phantoms are circling. This conversation reveals them like dust in a beam of sunlight. Perhaps, if we work together—cross our streams—we can dismantle a few of these obstacles.

I don’t go to the movies often because I have better things to do, like working on my next hangover, but I will set aside time and fifty dollars to take my kids to see this movie. I want them to know that women can be used as pawns in the capitalist game just as well as men. And I want to teach them that men don’t have a monopoly on humor. Women are funny. They can play the lead. And they can destroy the fucking phantoms.

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Self Portrait as My Traitor

“The work of all women writers is jeopardized when individual female authors are taken to task for the content of their writing.” –bell hooks from Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work

Two months before I filed for divorce, I published an essay titled Match.com (later published in The Funny Times in November 2013). In the essay, I consider Martha Stewart’s foray into online dating, and I suggest that her profile and her appearance on talk shows where she would actually meet with men who responded to her—men with gilded silver hair who looked like they were fresh off the golf course—was all just a publicity stunt for her new book. I noted that I was a married woman who was “not necessarily looking”, but I suggested that most likely neither was Martha. At this time, my marriage was in the process of being declared a federal disaster zone. Aerial footage would show our marital home as a pile of tiny splinters, cars turned upside down, trees pulled up to expose their enormous red clay packed roots. As a former inhabitant, all I could do was stare at the aftermath. I knew everything was gone. It was over. But I did not know where to start in an effort to move forward.

I approached the Match.com essay the way I approach most essays, with a problem. As I considered the issue through the mock profile, I came to the conclusion that what I really needed was for someone to accept me despite all my flaws. Much like Martha Stewart’s Match profile, my fake one was not about going on any real dates, it was a way for me to explore what it would take, realistically and comically (often bedmates), to fix that unhappiness.

My ex-husband “discovered” the essay during our divorce process and tried to use it against me. He wanted that essay to serve as evidence that I was cheating on him before I filed for divorce. He wanted my writing to be an exposé of my character. He also just didn’t get it, which is why he never had an interest in reading my work in the first place. I rarely shared my writing with him because he did not like that version of me. That version that is in my own words. That version where I am in control of how I am perceived. He wanted to see me in a certain way, and the honest accounts of my life and my perceptions stood in opposition to his version of how he wanted me to be.

It is also about control. Using my writing as a way to call my value systems into question is a way to revise me and to alter the meaning of my words. It is also an issue that adds bricks to the immense wall of gender bias. More recently, I have been taken to task by my employer for the essay I wrote called Some Bunny to Love. As a woman—as a mother—there are ways that I should act. Adrienne Rich describes how her poetry writing suffered after the birth of her first child because she was worried that if she appeared unhappy in her work, if there were “periods of null depression or active despairing” then she could be deemed some type of monster (I published an essay about this in September 2012). Of course, Rich had her children in the 1950s, but it seems we are still persecuting women for their honest commentary. bell hooks warns:

“Critics will exercise the power to publicly judge and morally condemn the subject of women’s writing when it transgresses the boundaries of conservative convention and mainstream decorum.”

Depending on where the female author resides, the boundaries of conservative convention can usually be stretched to blanket almost anything, especially if related to female sexuality—unless the works are capitalist blockbusters, like Fifty Shades of Grey, then that is okay because it is about the economy, stupid. Oh wait, and about a man sexually dominating a woman.

There is an Afterword that Vladimir Nabokov added to the 1956 edition of Lolita titled, “On a Book Entitled Lolita” that has always interested me. I find value in reading an author, especially one such as Nabakov, reflecting on his work in his own words—it is the Inside the Actor’s Studio of my field. Also, this afterword is where we get such moments of inspiration like his declaration that “reality” is “one of the few words that mean nothing without quotes.” But what has attracted me the most from this short essay is his discussion about what inspired him to write Lolita. He simply provides this anecdote:

“As far as I can recall, the initial shiver of inspiration was somehow prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes, who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage.”

I interpret this passage to mean that sometimes, if we look through another’s eyes, we may not like what we see. What we see could leave us haunted. This certainly applies to Humbert Humbert because this book—to me—is mostly about the contradictions, nuances, and shock of first person narration. This small revelation from Nabakov, tacked on at the end of one of the most morally disputed novels in the canon (because it does still make it in—resolutely inside the academic tower), can be applied to the work of female authors, especially those of us who are autobiographical. As I share my experience, it may stand in opposition to how I am expected to act. Think. Feel. When a reader peers out from my eyes, he may not like what he sees. It is like viewing a Frida Kahlo self-portrait. Each artist has her own bars of the cage and when depicted honestly, it just might make people squirm.

I aim to write authentically about the myriad of experiences that constitute my life, most often my personal life, my role as a remedial parent, and my career as a writer. A recurring theme for me is writing about what it is like to be a single woman with two kids in a small southern town, and how that can make it difficult for me to find love. I am also a romantic, which is a real cockblocker. I recently took an online quiz to determine which Shakespeare story best matches my love life. Of course, I scored Romeo and Juliet. The advice I take from this important and real diagnosis is that I have unrealistic expectations, and I should go directly to the nearest apothecary so I can be put out of my misery. That is what cages me. I have nobody to blame for the fact that I have struggled to find a suitable partner—someone intelligent and kind, and not to be greedy, but also a sense of humor. And I would like to be pretty damn close to as important to him as the sun. And it would be great if he has a yacht or a helicopter or both (ISO someone with a helipad), and he should be a sommelier.

Although I love to employ humor, both in my writing and as a defense mechanism, the truth is that being alone is a major part of my life. Most nights after I put the kids to bed, I wish I had a hand to hold on the couch. In the house we have rented for the past two years, I have only had two men spend the night. One was a man I dated this past winter, and we spent time together here on a weekend when my kids were with their father. The other was a man I dated long distance for almost a year, and then he lived with us for four months. We created a happy but somewhat artificial semblance of a family life, based on a real and deeply rooted friendship, and I will never regret that time. My children laughed with him and through that experience I was able to see how generously they are able to love—without spite or jealousy or loss of feelings for their own father. They can love exponentially and that made me immensely proud.

As a woman—an educated, independent woman—I am not supposed to be sad because I am single. I cannot be the Julia Roberts character from Knotting Hill and say that I am just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her (I have learned this the hard way). I am supposed to just be amazing and live each day as if I can actually do this on my own and hope that the right person will show up when I am not looking, or when I am having a bad hair day (never going to happen). But I have never been good at doing what I am supposed to do. I am a rebel. And I will not be silenced. According to bell hooks, “Given the power of censorship and antifeminist backlash we should all be insisting that women writers continue to resist silencing.” My resistance comes in the only form I know: to just keep writing.

My craft is humor writing, and I have carved a decent niche in a difficult genre. Humor writing cannot be riddled with clichés. It has to be fresh. It must evoke recognition of shared experience but with a twist that reveals something more—perhaps something more sinister, more extreme, or even more pathetic. It has to grab people to arouse laughter. I employ a voice in my humor writing that is dangerously honest. She puts the elephant in the center of the room and decorates it with garlands of daisies and daggers. Through the process of creative expression, I am more able to accept my flaws and love myself just the way I am, which is all I have ever asked of those around me.

My ex-husband’s attempt to use the Match.com essay against me during the divorce was not the first or the last time I have been taken to task for the content of my writing. And I have no doubt that the last time will occur only after I stop writing all together. What I have to take away from this is that my writing must actually matter. People are paying attention. And there is something I am doing that is rattling the cage.

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bell hooks’ work is from her book Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work published by Holt and Company in 1999.

Adrienne Rich’s ideas about the intersection of writing and motherhood is from her essay, “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision” published in College English in 1972.

The excerpt From “On a Work Entitled Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov is from “Lolita” on iBooks, Second Vintage International Edition published by Vintage Books. https://itun.es/us/FRlez.l

 

The Austin Chronicles

When I was twenty-three I packed all of my things into an Isuzu Rodeo and moved to Austin. My boyfriend at the time helped me pack. I did not know anyone out there, and I had never even been to Austin, but I needed a change. I found an apartment online and put down a deposit. At the last minute my mother decided to ride with me, which made me feel slightly less independent, like a petulant child who wants to run away to prove a point, but her mother insists on helping her load the car and then riding in the passenger seat.

We got to town at night, and as we drove in on Highway 290 and crested a hill, the city appeared like a lite-bright display sprawled across a black canvas. I spent the first few days getting settled. My apartment was in a central location near a mall and a home for the blind. I bought a bed at a Sam’s Club and blew up an inflatable chair for my living room. I put my mom on a Greyhound back to Florida and then meandered through Dillard’s department store on the way home from the station and was promptly hired to work in the bathing suit department. Maybe it was because I was from Florida. The job mainly sucked. Bathing suits are not meant to be on hangers.

I made some good friends working there, including one girl who would later become my roommate. I also worked with a bright girl from Egypt, who I made laugh, and a serious woman from Ethiopia, who I made nervous. Looking back, I should have taken the job more seriously when I was on a shift with that woman. She had people to support. I just used the paycheck to cover my bar tabs.

I was helpful to the customers to a point. One day a lady asked me if we had a size 8 in a particular suit and without moving from my spot at the cash register, I said that we did not have an 8. I have an excellent memory, which can sometimes get me in trouble. It is not a quality men are often looking for, as if what they want most is someone who makes them laugh, gives great blow jobs, and remembers every word they have ever told her. I worked in that swimsuit department at least five days a week, racking the same bathing suits. I knew every size and style we had.

“You didn’t even look,” she said.

“We don’t have an 8,” I repeated without looking up.

“You need to go look,” she repeated authoritatively.

I just stood there. “I am not going to do that,” I said. Inside I was shaking a little, but not from nervousness, from the thrill of what I thought was a win.

Eventually, I got a job as a file clerk in a law firm and then a position as a legal secretary for a little man who specialized in tax law. He had a group of clients who got in some trouble for embezzling money, and they were most likely going to jail. I delivered some documents to their office, where their equipment had been seized, and tables and chairs were in disarray. Loose cords were coming out from walls and surge protector strips and connected to nothing. Untapped power.

I hated the job. He was a person of exactness, numbers and legalities, and I was a person of rebellion, short skirts and two-hour lunches. I also had an attitude, and I did not pretend to like him or that I wanted to be there. My actions confused him; as a middle-aged, successful tax attorney he did not know how to handle my belligerence. Then one day he told me that I needed to take the back-up disks home with me each night because that would protect all of his files in case of a force majeure. I told him—laughing—that if the building burned down or was wiped away by a giant twister, then I would not be coming back. He fired me and put us both out of our misery.

Before moving to Austin, I was working for a law firm in Tallahassee and failing out of college. I was also in a Frankenstein-esque relationship that was consistently reborn as a more sinister version of itself each time we broke up and then somehow found ourselves having sex again on his couch. It seemed like my life in that space was unsalvageable and had become a dangerous and self-destructive piecemeal version of what it should be, and the best solution was to just give up and move to Texas.

I don’t regret the experience, but it was mostly, more than any other emotion, lonely. This city had so much to offer, and I tried not to let being alone keep me from doing things, like seeing shows or dining out, but sometimes it did—sometimes the town held untapped power because I lacked the crowd to experience it. I saw Lyle Lovett play with his large band at The Backyard, and I purchased my single seat in the middle of a long row. I bought a beer in a giant plastic cup and then made my way scooting sideways to my seat as people curled up their legs in succession like dominoes. Maybe nobody noticed, but I remember being somewhat self-conscious because what twenty-four-year-old woman goes to a show like that alone unless she is a reporter or a suicide bomber?

But the show was spectacular. The large band under the stars. I went back and saw Robert Earl Keen, but at least it was general admission, which made it easier to blend. I went to see Patty Griffin at a bar downtown, where she sang on stage with just an acoustic guitar, and I stood on the side stairs, as if I had just wandered through the crowd and landed there mesmerized. I went to a show after work one night at Antone’s with the alcoholic secretary from my office and went home with a guy who was going through a divorce. I see that now as foreshadowing.

His name was Rocky—maybe I do agree with Lee Gutkind that I cannot make this stuff up. He was the perfect metaphor for recently divorced/not really divorced guys everywhere. He adored me for about 48 hours. He took me out to a fancy dinner, and then we came back to my apartment, had sex, and I never heard from him again.

After my forced retirement from legal secretary work, I landed a good job, especially for a girl with no college degree and minimal work ethic, working for an insurance company in the human resources department. Then the company was bought by Allstate and dissolved. I was laid off, and I took it as a sign. A force majeure. I packed up all my stuff, and just like with any trip, the items never fit back into the suitcase the way they did on the way out there. I went home with more baggage.

When I got back to Tallahassee, I somehow talked my way into the creative writing program at Florida State. Yes, I had failed out of multiple schools and my GPA was well below average for acceptance as a transfer student, but I sit here before you and tell you my story, and I am not leaving until I am heard.

During the spring semester, I wrote a short story for a fiction workshop about a girl in her early twenties, living in Austin, working as a file clerk in a law firm. She was lonely and desperate, and the main qualities she looked for in a friend were a heartbeat and a shared enthusiasm for happy hour. She befriends a strange set of characters, including the alcoholic secretary from her office and a blind guy who was constantly starting bar fights while his Pit Bull guide dog sat on a barstool drinking directly out of a pint glass.

My fiction class hated it. During our workshop they commented that it seemed “Sad,” and I don’t think they meant in the sympathetic way, but more in the way that sad becomes a synonym for loser. They also had difficulty finding any significance to the story. One student, after a long explanation about why the story didn’t work, concluded, “I mean, who cares?”

I sat quietly, pretending to make notes on my draft. I knew the real reason the story didn’t work was because I was trying to pass off my nonfiction work in a fiction class. As if it never really happened. There is more that separates nonfiction from fiction than just facts. Taking ownership of events becomes the thread that holds the story together, and without that connection it is just a pile of words that you can sift through, letting the letters fall through your fingers into a pile of ash. The significance to the story was the twenty-eight-year-old undergraduate student sitting across the classroom nervously clicking her pen.

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Netflix and Chill

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I just finished the entire series of Breaking Bad on Netflix. I started by watching an episode or two at night after the kids went to bed—it was all very casual—then after season three, one episode a night wasn’t enough. I needed more. I would watch four or five episodes at a time, until eventually I spent an entire kid-free weekend on the couch plowing through the final season. After the show came to its unavoidable conclusion, and I sat staring blankly at the credits, I found myself at the “Do you want to exit Netflix?” screen. I hesitated. I have never been good at goodbye, especially when wearing two-day-old pajamas. Then I clicked YES, and a world I had come to know and understand flashed to black. A world where education and intelligence are power, and power is the ultimate drug, and when your high school teacher asks you to cook meth with him, you should just say, “No, bitch.”

Even though people had been suggesting the show to me for years, I finally started watching after a guy I was texting with, but not actually dating in any real way, recommended it. He mentioned that I should watch Breaking Bad, and I said, “Okay!” (And that sums up my dating life. I could just stop here.) We started texting after meeting on Tinder—it was all very casual—then after several weeks, we were in the habit of texting every day. And then texting multiple times per day, until eventually it was the play-by-play of our lives, as if nothing had actual meaning until I transmitted it to this stranger. He would give me a witty response, or (cringe) an “LOL” and then the stress of my daily life dissipated just a little. Just enough.

We rarely hung out in person, even though we lived in the same town. We never went on an actual date, and when we did hang out it was usually during his work hours or in the middle of the night. Of course I assumed the obvious—that he is in some kind of witness protection program. Maybe he was picked up by a red minivan and brought here for his own safety. He has to keep a low profile because he knows too much.

As a busy adult trying to date/have sex with other busy adults, I have been indoctrinated to the idea of never having time. It is a new normal, and it left me vulnerable to believe almost anything. Between work, joint custody, aging parents, witness protection programs, ex-spouses, alter-egos, drug empires, yard work, and hangovers there is little availability for candle light dinners or even being seen together in public. A couple of cancellations barely even register as something to be suspicious about. The lives of divorced people are so dichotomous; I could probably be convinced of the validity of a second cell phone.

At 40, unless I am dating someone who has spent the last twenty years in a coma (ISO long term coma survivors, former convicts, and extra-terrestrials) they have a past. Usually that past includes children and in-laws and shared property. It also means that until a relationship reaches a certain point, a major part of a divorced person’s life lurks in the shadows. The hope is that what may seem like the shape of a monster in the closet, is revealed with the flick of a light switch to be just some golf clubs and a stack of sweaters.

I continued to be kept in the dark with this person for entirely too long. I have no business making my own decisions in the early stages of dating. I need a partner to handle distribution for me and to disable my phone after I have been drinking. I should remain behind the scenes in mystery until I have established myself as a kingpin and then after the window for being too eager has passed, I appear and demand that he say my name.

Finally, while sitting on the floor wrapping Christmas gifts for actual people I know and love, I decided to delete him from my contacts. I hovered my index finger over “Delete Contact.” I hesitated. Then in an act of bravery that can only be rivaled by Caitlyn Jenner’s willingness to appear fully photoshopped on the cover of Vanity Fair, I clicked the red letters. Then a box popped up to verify that I really did want to delete this contact. Goddammit! I squealed, clicked “Delete Contact” (AGAIN), and then wrapped an infinity scarf for my niece.

The next day I made an appointment with my therapist. I told her all about this person and the details of his life that he had shared and those that he had not, and she stopped me and said, “Oh hell no,” which is never a good sign in therapy. My problem is that I accept less than I deserve. I will sell my share in a billion dollar company for five grand. I will say, “I understand” if he never even calls me to cancel because he lost his phone. Again. It is totally cool. I wasn’t sitting here waiting. I always watch television in a mini skirt and my best pair of panties. I am fine. Really.

My kids are what keep me checked into reality. My son often asks tough questions that test my decision-making skills and reveal aspects about my character. He has asked me if I would rather know how I am going to die or when I am going to die. The gravity of that question sunk me deeper into my chair. I thought about how hard it was for me to decide where we should go for lunch, and then how many regrets I had while eating my bean burrito. I am indecisive. Acclimated to Netflix, Tinder, and interstate lunch spots, where I can just exit at any minute and pick something else. His questions of limited choices—I cannot choose not to choose—challenge me.

There is no scrolling through the menu screen for an entire evening. It is like only being able to choose between watching Caillou and Family Guy. Suddenly, Family Guy seems like the perfect show. The kind of show I should introduce to my parents, and let do butt stuff (not necessarily in that order). There is a fine line between not settling and always searching for something better. On some (every) level, even the happiest couples, the kind of couples who share a Facebook account and get to their tenth anniversary without wishing the other one would accidentally fall into a deep, dark well, are still technically in a relationship that is the “best they can do.” Brad Pitt is the best that Angelina can do. Gisele is the best that Tom Brady can do. Kanye can probably do better.

My circle of friends here in my South Georgia town is more like a semicircle—maybe even just an arc. I don’t fit in with the majority, and this makes dating difficult. I am like a copy of Lolita on a shelf of bibles. I am easily misread. I don’t go to church. I am a feminist and a liberal. I use profanity, unapologetically. I drink too much and show a lot of leg. I am a pair of high heels in a swamp of flats. If someone is local, makes me laugh, and can handle my rough edges, then I tend to hang on. Living in this desert, I have allowed myself to accept drinking from a dirty puddle.

But I did not make it this far to settle, even if it means spending the next decade only spooning my cat. I would just like to find the next Breaking Bad before I develop osteoporosis. My therapist tells me that I have got to have some sort of standards. I know she is right. I should start with only dating guys that are actually single and with reasonable baggage, like a nice duffel bag or a backpack, and not a PODS unit taking up their entire driveway. Who knows, maybe my future soul mate is waking up from his twenty-year coma as I type this, and after a little physical therapy and some spray tan, he will be ready to start texting me.

 

 

Catch Me as I’m Coming Through the Rye

 

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I see a therapist. I find this embarrassing, not because it implies I have mental health issues, but because it is a symbol of privilege, as if I am a 40-year-old Holden Caulfield. Basically, I pay someone to listen to me whine. We talk about my dating life and my divorce, all the things that my friends and family are sick and tired of hearing about. Like Holden, if the world won’t listen, then I will just find some phony who will. Not my whole goddamn autobiography or anything.

Usually she will start by saying something like, “How is it going with the guy you are dating?”

And I will say, “Which guy?” Then we will narrow it down to which half-ass, non-relationship she means, and I shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh that guy.”

We also talk about how I am 40 but still have plenty of time left and then our session ends, and we schedule the next appointment. It is sort of like having drinks with a girlfriend, but minus the drinks, and I have to pay her. I am not even sure that I want to continue these sessions, but I don’t know how to break it off. That has never been my strong suit. It’s not you; it’s me. We should just be friends. We can still hang out, but just not like before. Let’s just get married.

If I had a therapist when I was a teenager and in my twenties, my life could have developed differently. But that is a risk. If I graduated from college in the requisite four years instead of taking ten, then maybe I would be farther along in my career, rising all the way to middle management and then sculpting my hair into a helmet so that I could crash through the glass ceiling. Then after work I would unbutton the blazer of my Hillary Clinton pantsuit and take my seventy cents on the dollar to Applebee’s for buy one, get one Amaretto sours.

Instead I kept my career at the expendable secretarial level by choice, so I could remain non-exempt and still qualify for overtime, and so that I could come to work hungover. I could also disappear for hours at lunchtime because nobody really noticed or cared that I existed. Work was less of a commitment than college. And it paid slightly better. And there was free coffee.

I finally graduated from undergrad when I was 29. Then I went back to graduate school at 34 after having two kids. Now, I teach college English to dual-enrolled high school seniors. I wish I had been half as smart as my dumbest student when I was a senior. I spent most of my senior year rolling my eyes. I was angry and resentful at all those people who were trying to teach me and better my life. I wanted to just be left alone so that I could hang out at home and paint sunflowers in my underwear. I did not want “the man” or my sweet third period teacher who seemed to genuinely care about me to be all up in my business. I wanted to smoke cigarettes and make eye contact with cute guys at the library, who usually closed their books and moved to a different section to avoid my creepy stares. They moved to a spot in reference. Where there would be reliable witnesses.

Also during my senior year my mom and stepdad left me at home alone so they could take a three-week tour of nude beaches in Europe. I quickly realized that with them gone, there was no reason for me to go to school. I stayed home and worked on my painting and made occasional trips to the health food store to buy hummus. When I returned to school, my physics teacher pulled me aside and asked if I was on drugs. I just hung my head sadly and said, “No.”

I still graduated, but that was the start. The realization that I didn’t have to do anything I did not want to do. It was a spark that erupted into a wildfire, and it consumed me. I skipped class, sparsely at first, missing a Friday occasionally, until I just quit showing up at all. I lost an entire semester. An entire year. Changed schools. Convinced myself that I would actually try. Then I stopped going on Fridays and the cycle would start all over again. It was as if my college degree was floating across a windy parking lot, and I would chase it, but I could never grasp it or even catch it under my shoe, so it would continue to blow away, landing on a Buick and then drifting into a drainage ditch while I got distracted by shapes in the clouds and then said, “Fuck it” and went to a bar.

But I did not give up. My life as an office worker kept me just unhappy enough to keep chasing the dream. I enjoyed the benefits of living paycheck to paycheck—at least they bridged the gap—and getting affordable birth control with my nifty HMO, but then I would attend a meeting and be silenced, instantly reminded of my place in the pool of uneducated clerical workers. I hate it when I am at a meeting and I am invisible. It makes me depressed as hell.

I graduated from college mainly to prove a point. And so I could be heard. I have spent a lot of time looking back and trying to make all my experiences connect—paycheck to paycheck—but there are too many gaps, places where I had to leap or stay home and eat ramen noodles. And then there are even spans of years that are unrecognizable, indecipherable, like when I was married. I often try to bridge the space between my days as a rebellious young adult to my position now as a rebellious older adult with actual responsibilities, like taking care of my children and remembering to take out the garbage (both tasks I inadvertently neglect until the recycle bin is completely full). My time as a married person, also known as my thirties, is just a patch of darkness, like a section of the street that is not touched by the street lights.

When I go back to my time as a twenty-something-year-old idiot I am usually trying to figure out where I lost ground and writing from the muddy perspective of a future disappointed version of myself. It is dishonest. I am not sure I would have changed anything. I flunked out of multiple schools, and not because I was dealing with serious issues, like addiction or unwanted pregnancy, but because I wanted to just lie in the bottom bunk of my dorm room, smoke cigarettes, and listen to Lyle Lovett. I was disillusioned, lonely, and lazy. I really was.

I was also lucky enough to be allowed to make mistakes. I could walk the tightrope knowing there was a net—falling and bouncing was just as much fun as making it to the other side. The truth is that I failed out of multiple schools, and now I am fine. And maybe that is too shameful to write about. But that is also why I keep attempting it. Connecting the negative space. That kills me.

My therapy sessions are much less intrusive. We stay in the now and even consider the future, something I usually neglect, which is why I never spring for the warranty, or opt for water at last call, or clean the coffee pot the night before. The me of today is not doing any favors for the me of tomorrow. Because like I tried to explain to my daughter when she kept asking if it was tomorrow yet, in an attempt to clarify the real definition of the word, “Sweetheart, it will never be tomorrow.”

And tomorrow certainly doesn’t fill pages. Luckily, I can pay someone to help me remember that it probably exists. And to remind me that continually sabotaging the future for the me of tomorrow is like living an entire life hungover while doing the walk of shame. And to tell me that I have many years left. Good years? It’s possible. I mean how do you really know what you are going to do until you do it? I swear it’s a stupid question. It really is.

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