Tear down this wall! Let’s build this wall!

If you recognize those words as having been spoken by a turncoat Lindsey Bluth in shorn hair and a business causal suit, then I am happy and sad for you. Happy because you discovered the snarky genius that is Arrested Development; sad because you watched the fourth season. You watched all the way through to the last episode of a season that should have never happened.

Walls. Walls are good. Walls keep the A/C in and the mosquitoes out. Walls define where the TV should go versus where the stove should go. Walls keep us from having to see what our neighbors look like first thing in the morning. That’s the physical walls, the ones made of brick and sticks and stones. But it’s the emotional walls that do the real work. How can something invisible be so impenetrable?

Here’s my lunch from yesterday. Please admire how the baby carrots form a wall that keeps the BBQ sauce from getting on the cherries. This is an important wall if you don’t like BBQ sauce on your cherries. But what if you’ve never had BBQ sauce on your cherries? What if, in a fit of contempt prior to investigation, you’ve dismissed BBQ sauce on your cherries as something that will taste bad and might even hurt you?

“Might even hurt you.” We’ve clearly moved beyond physical walls and into the more interesting world of emotional walls. I have emotional walls, as pointed out by every man who has ever dated me and doesn’t date me anymore. They haven’t told me anything I didn’t already know, I put up the walls intentionally. They have purpose. Emotional walls keep me from getting too chatty with the cute guy in my yoga class (he could be an axe murderer, etc., etc.) Emotional walls keep me from confiding too much in my friends (they could turn on me at any time.) The walls keep me safe. The walls ensure that I won’t get all vulnerable and end up hurt. Hurt, you know, like how you can choke on a BBQ sauce covered cherry.

I’ve experimented with lowering my walls. They’ve gone from gargoyle-festooned castle walls to chain link fences to curbs. Not the curved, bicycle-friendly curbs, mind you. They’re the old-fashioned hard right-angle curbs that can stub your toe. A stubbed toe incites a unique pain, the type of pain that can make you want to dissolve and ooze back over the curb and right down the gutter to the nearest “Chesapeake Bay Sewage” drain. I don’t want to get drained. Too risky. Let’s do it, Lindsey, let’s build that wall.

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4th of July, a corny lesson

Four hundred and fifty thousand Americans are blogging right now about their 4th of July gastronomic adventures.  You can only read so much about burgers, wings, and beer.  So, to maintain your interest, I have included a fun tip, a lesson of the culinary kind.

My 4th celebration was at home.  With my cat.  At 2pm.  I had no grill to scrub, no drunks to kick out, and the whole afternoon and evening was left open to nap.  But that’s not the lesson.

20150704_140204-1BBQ, store-bought in a tub with the addition of bottled sauce.  “Addition” sounds like a lesson, but that’s not it.  Mixed greens and kale with Caesar dressing.  Baby carrotsSweet corn boiled up with salt and sugar added to the water – that could be a lesson but everyone knows that’s the only way to boil up corn.  Now you’re seeing it.  The buttered bread.  Who has buttered bread on the 4th of July?  Only those who have learned the lesson, my friends.  Only those who have learned the lesson.

Growing up, how to eat corn was a challenge that plagued my family every summer.  Of course the “holders”, plastic miniature corn cobs with dual spears, were mandatory for getting a grip on the thing.  Butter and black pepper were indicated.  Nay, required.  You can put as much salt and sugar as you like in the boiling water, but sweet corn ain’t no good iffin’ it ain’t got no butter and black pepper.  The conundrum:  how do you make the butter stick?  In magazine photos there is always a geometrically perfect pat of butter perched atop the ear.  Good thing they snapped that shot when they did, ’cause two seconds later that pat of butter oozed its way off the corn and onto the plate, un-scoopable and worthless.

My family did try that ‘roll the ear right on the stick of butter’ fad, but once my mother saw all the wayward corn silk stuck to the butter plate she put the kabash on that right away.

The lesson, the tip, is in the slice of bread.  My mother is from Jersey, my father is from Alabama, so it’s not a Northern nor a Southern thing, but when I lived in a double-wide out in Southern Illinois I was introduced to the glory that is the butter-to-bread-to-corn application system.  Must be a Midwestern thing.  Not difficult in preparation or execution, the diner simply smears butter on bread, holds bread on palm of hand, slaps the corn cob in the middle of the bread, squeezes hand around bread and uses other hand to twist cob around and around.  Laws of physics ensue and the butter gets on the corn.  The corn gets buttered.  Even those little spaces between the kernels get jam-packed with butter.  The process is inspired.  Transcendent.  The result:  delicious.

Now, that’s your lesson.  Your fun tip.  Perhaps you have learned something today.  Perhaps you’ve been reminded of something you forgot.  Perhaps you already knew this, have been doing it for years, did it this very day, this very 4th of July and you’re thinking I’m pretty lame for making you read this whole post.  Nope.  I’m just glad you read it.  There’s a lesson in that, too.

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Freeway Funk

Leslie had never wanted to drive on the freeway. She never wanted to go that fast. She didn’t ski, she didn’t bike, she didn’t rollerblade for the same reason. Going fast wasn’t desirable. Going fast risked being out of control, at the whim of gravity and unpredictable factors like angry drivers, roads in poor condition and stray animals. No, freeways were laden with dangers, rife with the chance of pain and death.

Not that death was that scary. There were plenty of days that death seemed appealing. A way to stop all the hopelessness and anxiety. What if I’m in this job forever?  How will I ever find another job if I lose this one?  How can I have a PhD and be so unqualified for anything?

So, most days she was open to death. It was the pain that worried her. Dismembered, brain damaged, these were the real dangers of going fast. A rock on a bike path could throw her off balance and crack her skull. A mogul, coming up too soon, could incite a swerve into a gully and break her legs. A bear, wandering onto the freeway… and so on. So many scenarios that could bring pain and a longer, more miserable life than the one she had now.

Fairytales would have her meet a man or take up a hobby that filled her soul and brought her joy. She wasn’t keen on either of those.

What brought her a reluctant sense of relief was to stop going on about how depressed she felt, get up from her desk and fucking do something like, for example, get dressed and go to work.

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TGIF, Really?

“TGIF!”
“What?”

Leah is in the breakroom, mournfully stirring Coffemate into her cup of decaf. Out the window she can see the rain falling on the morning mess of traffic on 23rd street.  Across the street there is sodden mess of a construction site, all lumber and blue tarps and puddles of mud.  As bright and perky Dan comes into the breakroom, Leah feels her grip tighten on the cup in her hand.  There are small scratch marks where her nails press into the styrofoam.

“What did you say to me?” she asks Dan.
“TGIF!” Dan sings. “Thank God It’s Friday!”
“Really?” Leah says. She takes a deep breath and sets her cup down on the counter.  She looks up at Dan and exhales, turning to face him head on.  “Really? Did you know my husband is out of town so it will be just me with our twin 5th graders all weekend? Did you know it’s mid-June and summer vacation is almost here?  My kids are crazy excited that they’re about to get out of school, they’re crazy angry that they still have a week left of school, they’re anxious and antsy, they’re belligerent and sullen, they’re hot and they’re cold and dammit Dan, did you know it’s going to rain all weekend? I’m stuck inside with them for the next two days! So no, Dan, TG I am Fucking not!

Dan takes a step away from Leah and fumbles in the pocket of his blazer. He extends his hand to her. “Here, you need this more than I do,” he says. “TGIC.”

Readers: What is the “C”?561

 

 

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Hosed.

Fade in.

I’m soaking wet, but I don’t mind. In fact, it feels good. I’m tired, my back aches, and I am utterly clueless as to where I am or what I’m doing. What day is it? I ask myself. That’s always a good place to start. Friday, okay. Friday. So what am I… oh. I close my eyes. It’s Friday morning. I’m in the shower. I open my eyes and look around. How long have I been here? Have I soaped yet? Shampooed? Is it time for the conditioner or should I reach for the face scrub? I have no idea. I have not a clue about what I’m doing, but it’s okay.

I’m barely conscious of what goes on after that. I find myself eating breakfast and drinking tea, so I presume I toasted Eggos and boiled water. The cat seems to be happy so I must have given her some kibble and cleaned out her litter box. My next awareness is that I’m at an office; I have to assume I dressed myself and drove the half hour it takes to get here. I cop a quick feel to make sure I’m wearing a bra. Yes. Good.

I’m sitting at a desk dominated by two monstrous monitors and covered with piles of papers. Budget projections, pricing proposals, requests for equitable adjustments. It washes over me that I work in accounting. For a government contractor. This is my job? Me, with a degree in ceramic arts? Me, an aspiring writer? I look at the papers and the jumble of Excel spreadsheets on the monitors. I don’t know what to do next, not even where to start. I have not a clue about what I’m doing, but it’s payday.

jenny rained for 40 days BIG

 

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Writing Group Angst

Let’s say you’re in a hotel conference room, attending your very first meeting of the Low Country Writers’ Group (Mount Pleasant Chapter). It’s a panel talk on “Getting Closer to Getting Published.” While you wait for the guest speakers to arrive, you look back through the notebook you’ve brought with you – the one you always bring to things like this – and, becoming aware of wetness under your arms and realizing how appallingly ineffective your new deodorant is, you see that the two-word notes you’ve been leaving for yourself, snippets of story ideas jotted down in your almost illegible shorthand, meant to inspire future writing, are utterly worthless. “Cherry Pie = Pizza Pie”, “Baby, not Piano”, “Aqua Velva and Farts.” Seriously? You can’t even be sure if those are references to personal experiences or things you saw on late night comedy shows. Who knows.

The moderator cheerfully kicks off the opening ice breaker: “Tell us your name and what you’re working on,” she says. You take a quick look around the room. In so doing, you identify a group of thirty-two people, of which you are in a minority, the minority comprised of three attendees under the age of 50. As the introductions go around the table you meet a woman with three books published, another woman who is trying to decide which agent she wants to go with, and a man – one of the men in your under-50 group – who has a PhD and teaches creative writing at the College of Charleston. You think of what you will tell these people when it is your turn to speak. You have about twenty-five short stories in various stages of completion. Your mother says they’re really good, always adding, “… and I’m not just saying that because you’re my daughter.” Head down, you smell a funk waft up from your armpits as evidence of your deodorant’s epic fail. You look up to tally the people who will talk before you have to, and this glance reveals you to be in another minority, a minority of one: those who are grossly overdressed. And, although your mother has always said that it is better to be overdressed than underdressed, you begin to formulate the rebuttal you will give to any of the shorts and flip-flop clad strangers when they ask why you are wearing a floral wrap dress and heels – you will tell them you are on your way to a baby shower, a wedding, a bris… something important, something adult, anything that might lend credibility to you – the most uncomfortable person in the room.

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I’m an idiot.

Now, typically I shun such negative and demeaning self-talk.  But today, today I can’t find a better way to sum up my behavior.  I’m an idiot.  Why else would I sit for 97 minutes waiting to use the ATM?

Well, it seemed important at the time.  A friend had repaid me a huge amount of cash, and I knew if it went anywhere other than the bank it would never make it to the bank.  Not that I’d go out and buy something grand, like a leather coat or a 60″ flat screen TV, no, that chunk of cash would be whittled away slowly, imperceptibly, until it was gone.  A latte here, a “special treat” there.  A massage, an “I deserve it” new sundress.  I know better than to take a stack of Benjamins home with me.  Those bad boys needed to go straight to the bank.

Today as I pulled up to the building I could see “Insert Card To Begin Transaction” glowing green on the screen, a very positive sign.  As I walked up the steps and entered the vestibule, I heard clicking and beeping, very negative signs.  My hand was inches from the card reader, paused in some bizarre ATM foreplay when the message changed to “Temporarily Out of Service”.

I should have left then, but I had all that cash I couldn’t trust myself with, and I could hear the ATM workerbee on the other side of the wall, refilling the machine with twenties.  How long could it take?  I decided to wait.

As each minute went by I became more committed to staying.  I mean really, you can’t sit waiting for twenty minutes and then leave – that about guarantees that what you were waiting for will happen at minute twenty-one.  So I waited.  I filed my nails.  I checked my email.  I consulted my phone’s online user’s manual and learned how to work the voice recognition.  I stared out the window.  I stared at the ATM.  I eavesdropped on the ATM workerbee as he talked on his phone.  At one point the ATM went through several diagnostic tests, and when it clicked and clacked its deposit slot open, I caught a glimpse of the workerbee and gave him a friendly wave.

All told, I spent 97 minutes waiting 549for the ATM to come back online. Ultimately I deposited that pile of cash and went home.  What’s weird is that I had a really fun afternoon.  I’m an idiot.

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