Homeschool

I have never had any illusions that I would be capable of homeschooling my children. I have enough difficulty just getting my kids to school – the waking up, getting dressed, getting them into the car, and then out of the car (a clutch part of the process) – keeps me completely maxed out on parenting. I can barely get my kids to brush their teeth, so I have never considered that I might be able to get them to graph equations or to log into Google Classroom and just do the welcome video. After I gave birth to my first kid, and we brought him home and realized all that was involved with that situation, my kids’ father quickly mapped out a timeline counting down the days until he started school. T-minus 35,000 hours.

I have often struggled to relate to homeschool parents. For starters, they choose to spend time with their kids when there is help out there for free, in most places the school will even come pick your kid up from right near your house. I have thought that maybe, okay, if I live on a prairie or on some kind of ranch and the closest school is 50 miles away, well then, I guess I will be driving 100 miles per day to take them to that school.

I lash out at the idea of homeschooling because I am projecting my own shame about how these parents can actually get their kids to sit at a table and do work for more than thirty minutes, and it is probably because the parents have some sort of discipline of their own. They can also sit at a table and work for more than 30 minutes. Perhaps these are the types of parents who actually completed their science fair projects. Even if I got some bread to grow mold (or just found some in the pantry), completing the backboard in addition to that was just too many steps. One year I completely forgot about the science fair until I got to school and saw all these kids and parents toting large backdrops, papier-mâché volcanoes, and glass jars of crystals. Oh shit. I told my teacher I tried to hatch baby chicks but they all died.

I am also assuming homeschool parents do not enable their kids with electronics like its crack so they can have time to themselves for recreational activities like folding laundry or doing the dishes. I have been a single parent since my youngest started kindergarten – I guess the marriage was also part of the timeline – so I often make parenting choices that are based on making my life easier. I use electronics as baby sitters, and I am not ashamed. Now my kids are in middle school and they are still alive, so I feel like the evidence is there that this is completely fine.

My daughter spends most of her time watching feminist videos, so that at age eleven she notices things like gender bias in school dress codes, and she recites lines she memorized from spoken word poetry videos, “Somewhere in America a child is holding a copy of Cather in the Rye in one hand and a gun in the other and only one of those things is banned by his state government.” My son spits out facts about World War II like he is a boomer with a pipe in a walnut library. He makes references to events happening in the Middle East that I do not understand. Of course, also, my kids go to school.

Or they used to. Now they are stuck at home with me. Their teachers are still preparing all the assignments and doing all the grading. I am not homeschooling. I am just in charge of making sure they have access to Wi-Fi and they get their assignments done. We are failing at that by the way. The Wi-Fi isn’t the problem. It is definitely human error. My best skill in this new role of running an entire school, except that I am not doing any of the actual curriculum preparation or assessment, is as the lunch lady. I am great at making lunch. For two kids.

I have never questioned the value of our educators. I cannot do what they do. All of the teachers we have had also know this. My parent teacher conferences usually involve teachers using a lot of sentences that start with, “Well, have you tried . . . ?“  At some point we will look back at this and my kids will laugh about when mom had to try to (not even actually) homeschool them. Unfortunately, they will not be able to use this hardship for their college entrance essays because every kid in America is in the same situation, so they will have to dig deep to find some other obstacle to write about. I think they will be able to come up with something.

Homeschool

None of my students have shown up yet.

Supermarket Survivor

In these troubling times, our local grocers are making important efforts to protect shoppers as they leave their homes for essential items like milk and arugula. One of the best solutions that has been implemented is placing arrows throughout the store so shoppers can only travel in one direction because it is impossible to catch COVID-19 from behind—at least that’s what my boyfriend tells me.

This is Supermarket Survivor. There are way more than ten contestants competing for a chance to pay for their own groceries, risking endangering their families and entire communities, or worse being featured in a viral video showing them using gloves wrong. Here is the play-by-play of my last challenge at the local grocery store:

And we are off!

She enters the store looking confident and quickly moving through bakery and produce, defying all arrows as if she does not even know they are there. The looks from other shoppers seem to be no deterrent for this erratic shopper.

Where is she?

There she is emerging from wine at a fast clip! Into meats! Still going the wrong way, right over the arrows!

Wait, a fellow shopper stops her and is pointing at the arrows.

She laughs and then looks like she might cry. She touches her face.

She turns her cart around. Twice. She is still going the same way!

She gets to the actual aisles. She is not ready.

She is looking up at the signs. There is a large X on a red sheet of paper printed out. She edges forward hesitantly, then she turns at the last second and goes the correct way down the next aisle!

She appears to have given up on frozen breakfast foods, but she is following the arrows!

Next, she is forced to go up the dog food aisle to get to the back of the store.
She is moving at record speed, then comes out at the back in dairy and wants to turn onto the international foods aisle but she can’t! Denied! It is the same way as dog food.

She hesitates. Looks at the wine in her cart. Almost loses it.

Then in a move nobody expected she swings all the way out to health and beauty, the instant replay footage reveals her giving a thumbs up to the ladies at the pharmacy as she speeds past, and now she is back to the front of the store and makes a sharp turn onto international foods.

This is the Hillary we saw in the Thanksgiving rush of 2016—the agility and speed that got her to this level.

She dodges a dad with a list, grabs both burrito size and soft taco size tortillas and runs the rest of the aisle with ease.

Now she finds herself in the back of the store, but she is clearly ready to check out. This could be a costly mistake. She jockeys her cart quickly around the Entenmann’s table and makes a run down the empty party supply aisle and pulls in at record time exactly six feet behind the man on register six.

Then out of nowhere, a cashier motions to her pointing to an empty register, so she swerves left and runs the final leg up to the checkout.

THE CROWD GOES WILD!

 

Quarantine Life

As someone who has worked part-time and mostly from home since 2016, I would like to share my tips for surviving this quarantine process. Not to brag, but I was also willfully underemployed throughout my twenties, so my experience goes back decades. For the brief periods when I did have an actual job working 40 hours a week in an office with people, I often sequestered myself by shutting my door and napping under my desk, reading books in my lap, or pretending to be on the phone, “I will drop everything and get you that spreadsheet by the end of the week, Sir!” I developed other important skills like always walking the longest route to the bathroom, perhaps taking a trip around the block or past the mall across town. I learned to carry supplies from the supply closet one at a time: in ten minutes I will go back for another staple.

I know how to get through two weeks accomplishing nothing. It is as if I have been preparing my whole life for this moment. This pandemic does present some additional challenges, like the fact that our children are also home. My kids are currently in middle school, so I do not have to incorporate them into my daily plan until after lunch and even then, I only see them for brief moments as they wander out of their rooms to forage for food.  It is very similar to the office environment. The microwave smells like popcorn and ramen all afternoon, and nobody makes any real efforts to clean because they just assume the magic janitor will get to it eventually.

If you have small children, under age 8 to 10 depending on the child, you may need to consider more drastic measures than I can offer here, perhaps opioids. For the older kids, I cannot offer any advice about home schooling because I am not doing that shit. What I can offer you is a plan to make it to a reasonable time each day when it seems acceptable to make a drink.

Before the pandemic, even if working from home, I had to get up early to get the kids to school. Now since I don’t have that built-in routine, I try to wake up early enough each morning to catch the news so I can start the day adequately panicked. It recreates the anxiety level I usually face getting middle schoolers to school on time and thus creates normalcy in my mental health. It is like a patch. Then I go to the kitchen and make coffee and do household chores, like checking Facebook. Then, it is almost time for lunch!

You will definitely need a laundry chair or couch. I usually have two large chairs going at all times. When you were a productive member of society, maybe you had a laundry day or perhaps you were one of those people who did laundry in the evenings like some kind of ironman, but now laundry just happens at all hours randomly. Right now, I have a load in the washer of one blanket from the couch, one oven mitt, two towels, and the hoodie my son has been wearing for the last 72 days, including the entire week we just spent at the beach.

There is no real reason to fold the laundry unless you are having guests over, so I just fold one piece randomly as I walk by or as I am grabbing the remote to click, “Yes. I AM still watching Arrested Development.” Sometimes, if timed exactly right, people will grab the things they need from the chair before they ever need to be folded. However, never underestimate a teen’s ability to ignore the existence of the laundry chair by resorting to wearing clothes from deep in the bowels of his drawer. My son, who now wears a men’s medium, came out last week in a Minecraft shirt from elementary school. He looked like Shania Twain.

Eventually, on some days, I actually have to check in and do some work. For me that means responding to students and grading papers or reading and writing for other projects. I usually do this while I am eating my lunch. I eat a giant salad every day while I work and then at some point look down and realize the salad is gone, and I don’t even remember taking a bite, so then I go to the pantry and eat half a box of Wheat Thins. Then the working portion of my day is complete! I close my computer and wander around the kitchen, eat a handful of multivitamins, empty half the dishwasher, maybe fold a t-shirt from the chair. It is all about pacing yourself.

One thing that helps me is that I like to go for long walks. I will walk for between one to two hours—more like walkabouts than exercise. I listen to podcasts and make phone calls that I have been procrastinating. I like to make my calls as I am walking uphill so I am out of breath, and the person on the other end is generally deeply concerned about me and willing to accommodate my concerns, like that I ordered the wrong size.

If you do not like walking, maybe watch a yoga video. Sometimes I watch yoga videos while emptying the rest of the dishwasher, occasionally dipping down to run through a sun salutation before stacking the bowls. I keep my yoga mat rolled out near a sunny window and some days I will stretch out on my back, put on mediation music, and mediate with my eyes closed for about an hour. If you do not have a yoga mat, the bed is a good substitute.

By this point, it is time to get dressed for the day. I like to take baths. At 3:00 p.m. I bring my phone with me so that I can catch up on my stories, on Facebook. Normally, during non-pandemic times, I have to leave to pick up my kids from school each afternoon. I do not currently have this strict deadline, but I am still requiring myself to get dressed for the day or at least to appear like I am dressed from a car window by 4:00 p.m. During the pandemic, I have been using the afternoon time to run essential errands like to go get more hummus.

After getting home from the afternoon errand, it is officially happy hour. Now, you just have to open a bottle of wine or pour a cocktail and work on making dinner, like a regular person. One of my favorite recipes, from even before the restaurants went to take out only, is to create a survey monkey of restaurant delivery choices and text it to my kids from across the house. We wait for the food to arrive, I drink more, then fold one pair of shorts, and watch Wheel of Fortune. After that it is time to put your feet up and relax because you have earned it.

I hope this is helpful. After the pandemic, you should go back to your productive lives and look forward to one day getting back to the quarantine life through a beautiful thing called retirement. You can visit me at Trader Joe’s after your afternoon baths because I will never be able to retire.

Laundry Chair

Generation X: They Fucking Forgot My Birthday

I am a member of Generation X. I had to look this up recently because I could not remember the name of my generation or if I even belonged to one at all. People my age don’t generally identify as Generation X, but maybe because when the term was first introduced—by boomers—it was as an insult. The idea was that we were slackers. Our best dance move was standing and nodding. We majored in English and art therapy. We read Salinger’s other books. We smoked weed and ate mushrooms. And it was like we didn’t even appreciate it, man. We are the middle children, doing, by all accounts, exactly what we are supposed to be doing with little to no credit.

There has been so much talk recently about how the Boomers are greedy assholes and the Millennials are awesome but super anxious about it, and I was thinking, wait, wasn’t I born, too? What is my problem? My research about Generation X yielded articles titled, “Why Generation Xers are so Forgettable” and “The Forgotten Generation: Let’s Talk About Generation X”. Even the term X is indicative of a placeholder, something you put into an equation until you find something better. The name certainly doesn’t have the pizazz of “Baby boomer”, nor does it have the metallic coating of “Millennial.”  My generation would simply let Joe Biden come in for a hug because we don’t want to be rude and our parents’ drunk friends have been doing that to us our whole lives. A millennial can just blink and be coated in the armor of backing up awkwardly but effectively.

Our oldest Xers are Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, and the late Chris Farley.  We are Tina Fey and Sarah Palin. We are three of the four women who broke the glass ceiling into Ghostbusting. We are three of the five women of Big Little Lies, notably not the one who actually pushes the abusive man to his death. We are Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix, Tupac and Biggie Smalls. We are the entire cast of 90210. Luke Perry’s death rattled our generation and our search engines as one of the first celebrity Xers to die of natural causes. I was guilty of searching for an explanation for how a man could be plucked from his youth, away from his wife and two grown children: Luke Perry + Cocaine. Luke Perry a smoker? Anything that made it seem like it could not happen to me. If I made a few minor changes.

I was born the same year as Chelsea Handler and Tiger Woods, which feels right. We are voted most likely to lose a sponsor. And to make a comeback. Our toxicology reports are complicated. As a girl, I was raised to believe that I could have a successful career, but also maybe I should put on some make-up and lose ten pounds just in case. Every night I watched my mom stationed at the kitchen sink, her hands dunked in the sudsy water. Gen X women were raised in a liminal space—it was like someone opened the cage door and we just stared at it. I admired powerful, working women on television, mostly fictional characters, like Murphy Brown, but the women I knew in my own life were working the double shift. I had no real-life model for what an independent working women looked like. Maybe this is why I work part-time, write for free, got divorced, and am never moving in with my boyfriend. It is like the collage of an actual life. I cut out the pictures that worked best for me.

Generation X deserves much more of the credit for the normalization and legalization of marijuana. The boomers are hot boxing their vacation homes and the millennials are easing their stomachaches, sadness, shyness, crippling debt, anxiety, stress, and insomnia so that they can make the world a better place for the rest of us. The massive failure of Nancy Reagan’s Say No to Drugs campaign? That was us. I thought the commercial with the fried egg representing my brain on drugs was just about marijuana. Partly because my dad smoked pot, so that made sense to me. Also, a cooked egg is not that much of a turnoff. My dad never tried to hide his reefer because he was a grown-ass man and it was none of my business what he did. My relationship with my kids is more complex. We have shared governance. They have not voted me out yet because I am the only one with a driver’s license.

Like many Gen Xers, I feel like I am playing the role of grown-up and not doing it all that well, like Tom Hanks in Big or one of the aliens on Third Rock. Our generation was expected to screw up, so we did. We would definitely drain the liquor cabinet if left unsupervised for a night or while mom was in the bathroom. We smoked in the car anyway. We were not actually at the library. We all had fake IDs. Now, I am a college professor with two kids and a home to manage. I have taken care of aging and dying parents. I am active in my community. I take the garbage out to the curb almost every week, yet I still feel like I live in the shadow of people who actually know how to be adults.

As a generation, we are doing quite well and have been deemed the “dark horse” generation. We are entrepreneurs and have the highest percentage of startup founders. Most polls show that Gen Xers identify as being happy and tend to have a good work/life balance. Some people suggest that it is because we were latch-key kids, so we learned how to entertain ourselves and make our own decisions at an early age. The decision I made was to come home from school and watch General Hospital and Donahue. Most Generation Xers were in shitty entry-level jobs when the internet arrived in the average American office, and we were the only ones who knew how to use it. You need help with that dial up? I got you, boss. Want to email someone? Scoot on over. Want to AIM chat with all your exes? I invented that.

Our generation might be best defined by the experience of spending our whole lives watching the rug get ripped out from under us and somehow still standing. Our parents got divorced. We did not know Rock Hudson was gay until we heard he died from AIDS. Our model of the perfect American family was The Cosby Show. We recently watched the Brett Kavanagh confirmation hearings and thought, Fuuuuuuuuuck. Yes, me too. We were all at that party. Even if the party was in a different zip code, different demographics, girl or boy, we were all there. It made me reevaluate my entire young adulthood. Every touch, comment, coercion. Maybe this is why we were so into M. Night Shyamalan movies.

Generation Xers know how to adapt. When I graduated from high school we did not have a computer at our house. I did not have a mobile phone. I did not personally know anyone who identified as gay. Marlboro Lights were about two bucks. Bill Clinton was serving his first year as President. The twin towers were still standing. OJ Simpson had not murdered any people as far as we knew. Maybe that is why we are less vocal than the millennials; we are just going to order another round and try not to implode. We can out drink all of you. We are here, like the middle kid sitting on the hump, shielding the oldest and the youngest from each other as they reach across—he is touching me! I was going to end with that we will bite both your fucking fingers off, but we all know that is not true. We will ease the situation by making you both laugh. A perfectly timed fart will do it. Or singing lines from Rockstar by Nickelback pretending that we like it in an ironic way. I’ll have the quesadilla. 

marcia marcia marcia

 

 

 

 

Dating Across Party Lines

In the spring of 2017, I went on a date with someone I met online. It was Bumble, the supposedly feminist dating app, which is different because men can’t message a woman unless she messages him first, so basically women are stuck with more of the work. I have been on many online dates since my divorce four years ago, and this one didn’t necessarily start out any different, but we had chemistry, and I was fairly confident we would see each other again. I wasn’t sure what would happen beyond that because we were somewhat different. We didn’t talk about it, but there were signs. I had recently marched in Washington, D.C. in protest of the inauguration of Donald Trump, and he drove a big white truck with a YETI sticker on the bumper.

If we met a few years ago, I may not have gone out with him again. I might have crafted a T-chart, with things like “wears cowboy boots” on one side and “makes me happy” on the other, as if those were equivalent in importance. Luckily, I had experience dating post-divorce and after many break ups and some good therapy sessions I learned that I should not plan my entire future with, or without, someone on the first date. Maybe instead I should just have fun and see what happens, which feels like driving down a dark, canopy road with no headlights. As someone who prefers to plan ahead, I want my dating endeavors to be like doing taxes with Turbotax, “You are now 75% done!”

With this particular person, I climbed up into his front seat and just went along for the ride. During the first several weeks, I was having too much fun to perform any kind of assessment, and I never felt insecure enough to freak out because he was different than most of the other guys I had dated, meaning that he was not a jerk, married, or dead inside. We did not discuss our political opinions at the beginning, and sometimes that was a bit of a cloud, leaving me wondering if it would eventually rain on our love parade.

As a writer, who writes about my personal life and opinions, it is difficult to keep my ideologies out of the public sphere. I am one quick Google search away from being an open book. One night leaned up against a railing staring at the Gulf of Mexico, we bridged the subject. He said he did not want to be with someone who was his mirror image. I agreed. I work with a radical feminist group in Tallahassee, and when I first mentioned that I was going to a meeting, I called it “a women’s group” as if we were gathering to talk about the new edition of our local cookbook and not working to topple the patriarchy. He was not fooled and told me he was proud that I fight for what I believe. With that moment, I metaphorically inched a little closer to him in the cab of his truck.

Now, I have space in a closet he cleared out for me at his house. He moved some suits that he never wears and a few jackets to make room, but left a half-dozen shotguns. Every time I slide open the closet door, I see them lined up between my row of strappy sandals and the ruffled hems of my sundresses. They are a reminder that life is most interesting when it offers up the unexpected. We do not often talk about politics when we are together. That is why I have a Twitter account. When an issue does come up, I am usually able to at least understand why he would feel that way, unless he mentions something about emails. What I have realized is that I love him more than I love being right, and I am not sure I could have felt that way in a relationship before my 40th decade. We probably won’t ever celebrate 50 years together, unless both of us make some serious lifestyle changes, like cryogenics, but I am thankful every day that I did not meet him a moment sooner.

 

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.

IMG_1992

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

 

Some Bunny to Love

I recently bought some remote control panties from a line of products called Bedroom Kandi, designed by former Real Housewives of Atlanta cast member Kandi Burruss. The products are beautifully packaged, high quality, and on many levels take away the unfortunate stigma around buying personal products for the bedroom. When I purchased the panties from a sales representative at a private party, I was drunk, which much more accurately simulates the sexual experience for me. The next morning I stumbled across the receipt in my purse and had instant regrets. Who needs a man? I can do this entire process on my own.

The panties are one size fits all and, especially when stuffed with the rechargeable massager, are a little droopy in the butt and crotch area. It makes it look like I am wearing a soggy black lace diaper. That vibrates. I have considered some scenarios, like maybe wear them to a hotel bar and pass the remote to a stranger. Hey handsome, give me a buzz. It is like giving him my room key, but instead just giving him instant, electronic access to my crotch.

I also ordered a giant dildo called Bunny You’ll Love it, and a product called Helping Hand that says on the box it can be for couples or single play. It is a device that goes on a penis, something I seem to have an awful lot of trouble getting my hands on. What I might do is reciprocate to Bunny Love, just to give something back—I do not want to be a selfish lover.

When I took my new, hot pink dildo out of the box, I screamed, “It’s so big!” and then felt shy and nervous. The only other dildo I have ever owned, I drunk ordered from Amazon and then forgot about the purchase until the package arrived. “What could this be?” Oh yes, it is a reminder that I am alone. I might as well have ordered some furniture for my cat. My Amazon dildo is very tiny, although it does say on the box that it can also be used as an anal butt plug (wink! wink!), so maybe this is the one time when vibrator is actually the euphemism. Don’t worry it will just say FOR VAGINAS ONLY on the box. Completely discreet.

The sex toy extravaganza is what I am going to call phase four in the online dating process. Phase one begins with a night spent home alone drinking and realizing that I am actually not “too good” for online dating. The signing up process is much quicker than expected, it is sort of like getting the courage to ride a terrifying roller coaster and then thinking there will be time while standing in line to pull myself together, enjoy the moments I have left, and tell my family that I love them, but then I just keep winding back and forth through the maze of dividers at a steady pace until suddenly I am sitting in the front row and the harness is being lowered onto my shoulders. Wait? What is happening?

Phase two is when I thought that it might actually work. I have had a few reasonable conversations, met some people for coffee, not been murdered—all the prerequisites for life long companionship. Then phase three is when I realize that all I am really getting from these people is text messages. It is a level of hell where messages are just sent back and forth with no impetus to make actual plans or to see each other in person. In my most generous assessment, I have assumed these types of men are married, but I think they are just lazy. They would rather have their ego stroked than anything else, and messaging with me delivers, and they don’t even have to leave their house or turn off their television.

Thus, sex toys. I feel this is a relationship I can actually make last. At least until they run out of batteries. Or I lose the remote. Then like everything else they will be added to the list of things that need attention: organize desk area, call the exterminator, schedule parent-teacher conference, buy batteries for giant dildo, find the remote for vibrating panties. Phase five is the inevitable buzz kill. I have not given up online dating, though. The phases are somewhat recursive. And I am a slow learner. I just recently swiped yes to a guy holding a kitten, mainly because it seems like he knows his audience. Are you alone? Yes! Do you like cats? Yes! Swipe right and we can enter into a relationship that consists of sexting and adorable cat photos. Yes! Back to phase one.

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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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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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For the Rest of Us

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While avoiding work at my local Starbucks on an early November morning, I couldn’t help but notice the song playing from the overhead speakers and the soulful voice that kept repeating, “It’s Christmas time,” and I thought, but it is not Christmas time. It isn’t even really Thanksgiving yet. We are still sorting through the piles of rotting gourds from the pumpkin spice apocalypse that moved in as we were desperately trying to find a place to store the beach umbrellas and styrofoam noodles. Then suddenly, there appears an army of pumpkins, infecting our fast food restaurants, candle shops, and national lotion supply.

Despite rumors to the contrary, pumpkin is not a spice. It is a vegetable. When something is deemed to be pumpkin spice flavor, what they really mean is that it is pumpkin pie flavor: Pumpkin pie flavored lattes, pumpkin pie flavored French toast stacks with salted caramel, pumpkin pie flavored air freshener, pumpkin pie flavored condoms.

Thanksgiving with its signature flavors of poultry and gravy is much less marketable, so we go directly from pumpkin spice to candy canes. Much like traced hand turkeys and wicker cornucopias, the green bean casserole frappuccino has not been a top seller. So as the Halloween candy is making its way to the clearance aisle, the Christmas wreath scented candles, laundry detergent, and tampons make their way to the shelves.

The holiday season and its promotion of unnecessary spending is like blue meth to merchants. Move over stuffing the turkey, giving thanks, and rewriting history, it is time to buy a peppermint mocha latte and max out your credit cards! This extended season also gives people who encourage us all to respect the reason for the season more chances to shame businesses who do not actively participate in proper Christmas décor by plastering their products with images of Santa, angels, and American flags.

Unfortunately for someone like me who annually pledges my allegiance to Satan by wishing friends and co-workers, “Happy holidays!” the extended season can make me war weary. I have to make sure I keep “Ruin the most celebrated holiday of the year” at the top of my X-mas to-do list. Last year I even purchased a fake Christmas tree because I realized after I got divorced that one of the most difficult things about living alone, second only to a rodent in the house, which requires moving to a new house, is putting up a real Christmas tree by myself. Although a fake tree is not really a war on Christmas, it is still a reminder of my antagonistic presence, like no troops on the ground, just some unmanned drones sent to drop bombs on anyone wearing a real #reasonfortheseason Christmas sweater (i.e., one with reindeer on it).

I also do not participate in the magic that is The Elf on the Shelf. This is the doll that parents bring out after Thanksgiving and position in different places each night so that he can watch the kids and report back to Santa, a Christmas tradition dating all the way back to ye old 2005. The point is to teach your children to be good while they are being watched, and if they behave then they will get presents, and if they misbehave they do not get presents and should be put up for adoption. Also the other point is to photograph the Elf and talk about him on social media as if he is part of your family, “You will never believe what Teddy Von Smellybelly did last night! He graffitied the wall with a can of spray paint!”

The parents have to move their elf every night and make him do all sorts of ridiculous elf things, like make a mess with a bag of flour, toilet paper the Christmas tree, or poop Hershey’s kisses. Then the kids wake up and assume he must be real because certainly their parents would not deliberately trick them, especially when the result is a big mess they will have to clean up. Although the elf is there to act as a big brother figure, reporting every stolen cookie, eye roll, or bong hit back to Santa, the elf himself is quite mischievous, which offers a great opportunity to teach your children that authority figures don’t have to follow the same rules as the rest of us.

Just in case anyone who is against the war is not entirely comfortable with the Elf’s allegiance to the real meaning of Christmas, there is an Elf on the Shelf Jesus Style, and it even has its own hashtag because if anything protects the real reason for the season it is tweeting about an elf. #elfontheshelfjesusstyle can be found each morning doing things that demonstrate what it means to be a Christian, like reading the Bible, praying, or protesting at an abortion clinic.

Although I have a serious dedication to supporting the idea that people of all faiths—or lack thereof—should be able to celebrate whatever holiday they choose, in any way that they choose, without being bombarded by symbols of a differing ideology even as they sip their ginger spice iced latte, the main reason we do not have an Elf on the Shelf is because I am too lazy. I could never remember to move the elf every night for a month. I can barely even remember to be the tooth fairy and that is required much less often. The morning after my daughter lost her first tooth she walked out of her room holding the little bag with her tooth still in it, and I thought, “Oh shit.” I ran out to my car and grabbed a five-dollar bill from my wallet, put it in her room, and then asked her to check again. She humored me.

It is probably best that she learn now that anything that involves someone sneaking into your room while you are sleeping should be approached with caution. The tooth fairy once left a hair dryer under my pillow. I think this prepared me for when I was in college and my boyfriend showed up in the middle of the night, peed on my desk chair, and then passed out. Both times I woke up the next morning thinking that this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. And wondering what to do with the white elephant.

What I really like about Christmas is being with my family, watching the kids open their presents, having champagne for breakfast, and getting some days off from work. As long as I can have those things I don’t really care what anybody else does. You can celebrate by singing happy birthday to Jesus or by lighting a menorah, and I will celebrate by putting on a little black dress and getting drunk at the office party. Now, let’s all order a white chocolate peppermint mocha and spend money we don’t have. Cheers!

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