Waste it Wisely

This is terrifying.

This is terrifying.

Sometimes I have to use the men’s bathroom at the school where I work because I don’t have time to wait the 90 seconds it will take for the women’s bathroom to be free, and I feel like this could be a symptom of a larger problem in my life. When I was younger, I prided myself on always being punctual. I was usually even early because my life was empty and meaningless, and I was completely unsuccessful. Making time to go to the bathroom was not an issue. I remember I had a boyfriend who chose not to drink excess liquids before taking road trips because he did not want to waste time stopping to use the bathroom. He would tell me this as I slid into the passenger seat slurping the last sips of my 32 ounce diet coke.  Road trips, like legislation, are based on the lowest common denominator, which is often me, so really he was just delayed and thirsty.

I recently took an online quiz called “How Productive Are You?” demonstrating on its own—just by logging in—that I am not productive at all. One of the key areas that need improvement for me is that I have too many distractions. The website suggests I keep an interrupter’s log, which intrigues me, not because I think it will make me more productive but because it allows me to put the blame on others in writing and in chart form. The log asks for the name of the interrupter, the time, and a box for me to check if it was a valid interruption. I find this so exciting that I might quit my job just to spend all my time cataloging my daily interruptions. 6:34 p.m. the cat “jumped” in the bathtub with my son and then frantically skid across every dry surface in the house interrupting my game of Trivia Crack. Not valid. After a week of keeping the log, I am supposed to analyze and conquer my interruptions. One way to conquer interruptions is to pre-empt the interruption by holding routine meetings. This way instead of interrupting me, the people/cats will learn to save all non-urgent issues until this meeting.

I made all my students take the quiz, too, mainly because I did not have anything else planned for the day, and they all scored higher than me. I told them they are liars and they must have cheated, but then I realized that they just don’t have that many distractions. Mainly because I let them go to the bathroom in the middle of class. Sometimes I will ask a compelling question and then one of them will raise their hand, and I get excited thinking that an engaging discussion will ensue, but it is just a kid asking to go to the bathroom. They are extremely efficient. Also, I am not sure being in my class keeps them from accomplishing their life goals There are students who could be running multi-million dollar companies on their laptops (or from the bathroom) while I draw diagrams on the board of the two houses in Wuthering Heights.

There is a guy I work with who likes to say, “Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day,” and I usually try to do the math because I feel like I am wasting a significant amount of my 24 hours. For starters, I am asleep for at least six to eight of those hours, and then I am at work for another eight hours monitoring other people’s bathroom visits, and then I need to subtract the hours when I am drunk or on my phone, which leaves me with maybe five good hours a day. Then I have to find time to schedule meetings with my kids and the cat and then pray that there is enough time left after all the interruptions have been clearly checked as not valid so that I can watch Netflix while curled up on the couch crying about how nobody will ever love me.

The real issue—that leaves me in a general state of panic—is not the allotment of time per day, but the amount of days that I have left, divided by the number of things that I have yet to accomplish. I am not an expert mathematician, but I think this comes out to a negative number or a radical. In a few short months I will turn 40. At this point I have to make some important decisions, like how much of that precious time do I want to waste standing in line for the bathroom? I have to start thinking about my lowest common denominator. I have a job, two kids, and a bladder, so I have to figure out how to make all of these things fit in with my current life goals, which include finding a meaningful relationship, making something out of my writing career (like maybe a fleet of paper airplanes), and fulfilling my dream of going to a swim-up bar (which really takes care of the bladder issue on its own).

Another goal that I plan to accomplish on my 40th birthday is getting my first tattoo. My main reasons for not getting a tattoo up to this point were more related to commitment issues than preserving an image, but when I am 40 there is only so much forever left. I also apply this to my dating life. Commitment doesn’t seem quite so scary now because I don’t have to promise my whole life to someone, just what’s left of it. It is only like half of forever, and if we do the math . . .

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Precious Cargo

Whenever I see a headline about somebody who drove their car full of kids into a lake or some other body of water, I never wonder what could possibly compel them to do that. Every time I drive with the kids and I do not end up in a large body of water I take it as a small miracle or as a really terrific coincidence. Most of the time, driving around with my two kids reminds me of that scene in Tommy Boy where the dead deer in the backseat wakes up and thrashes around the car, kicking out windows and sticking his horns through the soft top, except the deer yells, “Mom!” and then tattles on his sister.

I have tried telling the kids, “Don’t make me pull over!” because I have seen that on television, but none of us really knows how that will help. I think the point is that I would pull over on the side of the road and beat my kids into submission, but I feel like that is frowned upon and that I would eventually regret it. I have considered pulling over and just getting out and hitching a ride that is less taxing for me, like with an old blind lady in a Cadillac or with a middle aged white guy with a mustache driving a van with blacked out windows and an axe in the passenger seat, but I never make it more than a few feet away from our parked car. I have found myself a couple of times standing alone in an abandoned parking lot while the kids press their little faces to the window and watch me, knowing very well that I have no clue where this is headed. Realizing their mom might really have gone crazy is the one thing that seems to bring them together. They aren’t stupid, so I think they clearly understand my value, which is that I am the only one of us who has a driver’s license.

Raising kids is hard. And like wild animals, it becomes even more difficult when we choose to bring them inside, especially if they have siblings. My kids sometimes get along. They know how to make each other laugh, probably more than anyone else, and when I hear them giggling uncontrollably in the other room, I start to think that maybe I should keep them both. Their animosity comes from the fact that they are fighting for the same resources. Space in our house. My love and affection. Food. My daughter gets frustrated by the sound of her brother’s voice and for once in her life she would like to listen to “All about That Bass” without him talking through the entire song. My son thinks his sister is a great target for Nerf darts. Neither has any interest in sharing their popcorn. Not one single kernel. I tell them that deep down they really love each other and they assure me that is not true and then they lunge at each other the way a cheetah might lunge at a tiger who has just eaten her cubs or at least just turned off the bathroom light while she was obviously still in the bath tub.

Putting them together in a car is not a great idea. For several years I drove a minivan, which was basically just a DVD player on wheels, and something about the padded headphones and the fact that my son, sitting in the back row, was so far away from me that even though I could see his mouth moving in the rearview, I could not hear him. “Sorry buddy,” I would say as I pointed to my ears and shrugged, turning up the radio. After I got divorced, I traded in the van for a crossover SUV, which more accurately represents my current lifestyle by making the statement that I am almost 40, and I buy a lot of groceries. Once I got the new car, the kids had to learn how to be human in a motor vehicle again. “You just look out the window,” I tell them. They also have to sit on the same row with only a leather arm rest with two cup holders between them, taking turns using the IPOD and Kindle.

When I was a kid, my sisters and I sat three across (best case scenario) in a 1984 Honda Accord, and on long road trips we had to ride in the back of a pickup truck with a camper top. Our travel plans never included layovers at roadside motels, instead we traveled like refugees, leaving at odd hours and sleeping in rest area parking lots, eating what seemed like at the time as one meal every few days. We did not have movies to watch—we only had three to five Cabbage Patch Dolls per person and some am/fm walk-mans that we could occasionally tune to a static version of Eddie Murphy’s “Party all the Time.” The truck had one of those tiny windows between us and the cab that locked from the inside. If we wanted to talk our parents, we had to knock on the window. Sometimes they would open it, but more often they just made a series of unproductive gestures and then shrugged as if there was nothing they could do.

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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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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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Abort Mission

Sometimes I worry about sharing too much with my writing. Maybe because recently people have warned me by saying things like, “You should be more careful about revealing who you are,” or “You should probably get a lawyer.” Sometimes I worry they are right, and then I am overly self-conscious and my writing loses the cold shock that tends to make it strong. Today instead of writing I opened files and rearranged sentences on old pieces that have failed to take shape.

Then I played with a list of metaphors on scraps of yellow legal pad paper:

Inadequacy is a Boy Scout tent in the yard of a mansion.

Censorship is an old woman who refuses to put in her hearing aid.

Desire is a hungry alligator sunning in the soggy grass, eyes fixed on my quickening pace.

Impatience is engines revving. Boom. Backfire.

Then I went on Facebook for about an hour. Then I thought about how I would be represented if I were a set of Russian nesting dolls. I decided that my outermost doll would be Dorothy Parker with a typewriter, then a Wonder Woman doll in spandex standing with hands on hip, then Phyllis Diller with a slender cigarette, then Amanda Bynes in a platinum wig, then a Nick Nolte mug shot doll, and then the innermost doll would just be a naked fetus smoking a crack pipe.

Terrifying. Back space. Back space. Back space.

Then I remembered that this week marks the twenty-first anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I felt a writing spark ignite—I rubbed my hands together gleefully, the way a mad scientist might when he realizes the monster he created is out there destroying entire villages. I have never had an abortion. Not because I was chaste, but because my mother, who found out she was pregnant with my sister during her first semester at the University of Georgia, stressed that the most important thing in my teenage life was not getting pregnant. She even took me to a male gynecologist when I was in high school—and still a virgin—so I could get birth control. I did not have a boyfriend or any reasonable prospects, but she thought I should be prepared for when that special day arrived, or that night when I just wanted to get it over with so I had sex with a boy I sort of liked on a picnic table.

The doctor took me into his office and asked me about my sexual history. It made me uncomfortable that this old man even knew that I had a vagina. I certainly did not want him asking me questions about what I had ever done with it. I still used maxi pads. I had no clue what was going on down there. After our terribly awkward conversation the nurse walked me down the hall and left me alone in the exam room to change into a gown. I considered crawling out of the shoebox-sized window above my head. I stood up on the chair and peeked out into the parking lot. I tapped on the glass and then hoisted up one leg to see if I could reach. I couldn’t. I hopped down and put on the paper gown with the opening towards the front.

Without birth control—preventive and reactive, accessible, affordable, and shame-free—we have no control. If we are kept fearful of unwanted pregnancy then we are sexual prey, caught in the yellow-eyed gaze of the hungry gator. Birth control is the front line of women’s rights. Somehow, I did not get pregnant until I was thirty years old and ready. This is why my career has never suffered because I have kids. Wait. This is why I have never been criticized for sexual behavior. Wait. This is why I am in complete control of my body, my sexuality, my life. Wait. This why being a woman is complicated.

I want to be fearless, but I often feel that I have to be careful about what I put forth in writing because I am a woman. Because I am a mother. I am not supposed to write about my tits (or how nice they are). I am not supposed to write about sleeping with someone on the first date (or before, most likely). I am not supposed to keep mentioning maxi pads (or the liberation I experienced when I started using tampons, except for that one time after going on a water slide). Maybe I write about these things because they allow me to play outside the neatly wrapped box of what I am supposed to be. If my voice is not heard—the voice that sees the line of what is acceptable and then backs up, revs the engine and fishtails across it—then I risk being silenced.

If I were to get an abortion the expectation is that it would be the biggest regret of my life. Even when women are granted access to legal, safe abortions, the act itself is still perceived as shameful. Bad. Disturbing. That maintains order. But what if women had complete control of their bodies, freely, readily across the globe? What if my Russian nesting dolls went in reverse? What if women’s bodies were not valued by how many times they were exposed? Order would be disturbed. An earthquake would split the ocean floor and a tsunami would crash onto shore, turning buildings into splinters. Disrupting misogynistic empires. Toppling patriarchal norms.

What if I felt free enough to write whatever the fuck I want?

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Starts

R3 VSU

Writing starts somewhere, but not always at the beginning.

Sometimes as I am going about my day a little spark will ignite—a little ember that seems worth writing about. Usually these are little moments, and it isn’t always something exciting or all that interesting, just a moment that seems right, as if I can already read it. When this happens, I like to type my ideas, even if it is just a few lines so I can go back to them later. When I sit down to write I will usually browse through my files to see if I can create something out of the ashes.

Today I found this little collection of “starts” about my daughter. I am not ready to use them yet. Maybe when she is older these will become reflections in a larger essay, but for now they are just little glimpses.

This afternoon my daughter asked me to be a guest speaker in her pretend class of baby dolls. I asked what she would like me to talk about, but she just directed me to sit down—crisscross applesauce—behind her row of half-dressed but very obedient students. Then she handed me a stuffed elephant and a small pink hair dryer and told me, “Rose petal likes her hair blow-dried.” While I blow-dried the elephant, my daughter went through the contents of her purse, pulling each one out and showing her students, “This is my lip gloss, this is my mirror . . .”

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My daughter shows up in our room in the middle of the night prepared to stay for the long haul. She brings her blanket and a stuffed animal, places her sippie cup of milk on my nightstand, and puts her slippers on the floor beside the bed.  When I wake up in the morning, it feels like I am the one who is just visiting.

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My daughter likes to say, “I love you more” after I say, “I love you,” but then she wants me to say “I love you most” back to her like from the Disney movie, Tangled. Therefore, she plays the part of the adorable and kind-hearted lost princess, and I am the evil old witch that kidnapped her. This doesn’t really work for me.