Musings

What We Bring, What We Take

I’m back! Didn’t realize I was gone? I boiled the water, poured it over the tea bag and…no milk. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t even read a post without a fresh cup of tea, let alone write one. One trip to the grocery store, one half-hearted clean-out of the fridge, one load and start the dishwasher and two hours later, sitting in front of the laptop again. With tea. I caught the most recent headlines detailing How-American-Democracy-Dies out of the corner of my squint, considered changing what I would blog about, and nope. Not today.

While I was on hiatus from the blog, I kinda sorta started a book club. I didn’t necessarily realize it was going to become *my* book club when I floated the idea to one of the more active tenants in the building. She got it started by posting a notice to see who might be interested, chose a date for an exploratory meeting, and then somehow, I’m the one spearheading it. Me and my big mouth, eh? In all honesty, so far it’s been great. There’s a good mix of interests/ages/backgrounds/and perspectives being brought to the discussions, enough people showing up to keep things lively, not so many that it’s difficult for anyone who wants to to be heard. This weekend I was chatting with a building friend, and she said she was enjoying the book club in unexpected ways because of those different perspectives. I’ve never done one of these clubs before (I know, you’re all shocked to discover I’m not a joiner of clubs), but I have to say I likely wouldn’t be interested in one that didn’t involve a mix like this one does.

Spent the weekend drafting pitches for a twitter contest coming up that I will almost certainly not participate in. As mentioned the other day, I’ve been generally obsessing over whether or not I’m going to try querying (through usual means, no tweeting required) this manuscript I’ve got. Even if the stars align and someone offers me a contract, it will involve lots of rejections first, and then during, and then after. I have to decide if I’m ready for it. What does this have to do with the book club? Perspective. Anyone who’s ever queried anything creative is familiar with some variation of the phrase, “this business is subjective, not right for me, etc.” It truly is subjective, and that subjectivity doesn’t stop with an agent and/or editor. Ultimately, once you produce words and put them out there, subjectivity lies with the readers. Not just the obvious of whether or not they enjoy the story/are glad they spent time with it, but the how and what of that enjoyment, or satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, what stuck with them and what their eyes skimmed over. Their interpretation of the story.

One of my beta readers referenced hope as something she took away from my story. My instinct was to deny it, nope–not about hope. I don’t do hope. Really. Except it is, if that’s what she saw. Because maybe her definition of hope is different than mine. Maybe what gives her hope is different than what might give me hope. What many others think of as dark I think of as honest. Interesting. The bits that ground us, what we hold in common through the human experience. (Yuck, that sounds grandiose, doesn’t it?) What connects us isn’t always love. Sometimes it’s hunger. Fear. The rage of feeling, being powerless in a given situation. The desire to laugh. Or maybe just to be transported for a little while; for a chapter or an hour or 90,000 words, out of our own world and into someone else’s. But when we do, we’re bringing our story to theirs, as sure as the reverse.

The Prodigal Blogger Returns

Hello all, it’s been a minute. How do I work this? How did I get here? Wait. Wrong song, wrong questions. Sort of.

I’ve been writing. And writing and revising and writing and revising. When I first began Mrs Fringe back in 2012, it was for all the lovely esoteric? ridiculous? reasons: a spot to be me, blah blah blah. It was also to see if I could get back to the discipline of writing. Which I did. In addition to the blog, I wrote a novel. I was pleased to have written it, queried it briefly, but I kind of hated it. I liked the very kernel in the center, but it wasn’t me. Not as a person, and not as a person who plays with words. Then I wrote another novel, which I loved. I queried that one, got an unexpected and deliciously exciting number of requests based on the query and opening chapters, but no offers, no hey-your words suck, please stop, no fix this-not that. I was fucking crushed, never going to write another novel, etc. Then I thought about going back to that other one, ideas for how I could rewrite it in a way that was me, but maybe include the potential to be commercially viable.

I started writing down notes on those ideas. Then in November 2016 the unspeakable but unignorable happened in the US, and I was crushed in a different way. At that point I took a break from the blog, feeling like America had voted for me to shut the fuck up, no-one was ever going to want to hear my words; not through Mrs Fringe and not through my fiction. Came back, blogged sporadically when I couldn’t stop the awful from spilling onto the keyboard, started seriously rewriting that manuscript. Too much awful, stopped the fiction, still blogged sporadically, then decided I needed to finish that novel. Talk about ludicrous. I had adult child telling me Mrs Fringe wasn’t fun anymore so obviously my answer was to write 90,000 words of political satire. Proof that no whips or chains are required to fulfill masochistic tendencies. This was also a different process for me. By nature, I’m a linear writer. First chapter, edit, second chapter, edit, and so on, until I reach the end, go back and edit the whole thing. I thought hey, this will be easier, I’ve got the bones from that original manuscript to use as a blueprint. Can’t speak for anyone else’s process, but for me, it was much harder, and I didn’t have enough words left at the end of each session to also blog. I will never do this again. Would I go back and revise an old manuscript, if there was a specific reason (ie: interest from someone in the industry)? Sure. But this? Nope. Seriously, I’d rather face the blank page.

Still tweaking, but it’s been written and revised and edited and edited and sent to beta readers and edited and edited. I even have a query letter. Because I’m Mrs Fringe, and the last manuscript (magical realism) was maybe a little too weird, naturally this one is eight times stranger. What can I say, I’ve got my own way of looking at the world, and my fiction explores that perspective. As always, the response from beta readers was split between positives “yes, send this out! I love your words! but maybe fix this first, and oh god what is it with you and commas?” and “wtf, Mrs F?” I’m having a hard time deciding the genre, I definitely veered left from magical realism, thought new weird might be right, but I’m not sure that’s a thing anymore (unless you’re China Miéville), so I’m getting used to using the term speculative fiction. It’s absurdist, kind of a fantastical satire set in near-future New York. Just the thing everyone is clamoring for, eh? Now I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. There are a couple of bits I want to add/clarify, and I’m not quite happy with the query, but I’m finding myself dragging my feet on fixing these, because I don’t know if I actually will query. If it’s as finished as I can/know I need to make it, I’ll have to decide. While it isn’t autobiographical, and maybe not the bookofmyheart that the last one was, it’s…Fringey. Much the way Mrs Fringe–eclectic as it is–has focused on what it is to live on the fringe of this city, this story explores the cracks of NY: who lives there, what they’re dreaming of, and how they survive.

I’m back here today because I’ve been thinking about blogging a lot. I broke the rules with Mrs Fringe. I don’t have one specific focus, I’m an expert on nothing yet have been forthcoming with my .02 on everything. I’m anonymous. I’m not consistent with content nor post production. I *gasp* don’t keep it positive. In almost six years of doing this, I haven’t built a huge following, but I do have a following. I think. Are you still there, readers? It’s me, Fringey. (I really did let it lie quiet for months this time.) If I was going to hit it “big” with thousands of followers, I figure it would have happened by now. But on a semi-regular basis–even during periods where I’m on a break and not posted anything–I get notes/messages from readers, maybe asking where I am, or telling me my weird words made sense to them, some have been generous enough to thank me. Every one of those notes has been amazing to receive, felt like both validation (yes! someone likes my words!) and bonus (it’s a blog, I have no expectation for anything to come of it). Can I find the same with my fiction? For all the years I’ve been playing with words, the question hasn’t changed: are my words good enough? Am I enough?

(Currently the working title of the manuscript, I’ve had this song on repeat for months. At this point I think it’s the soundtrack to my nightmares.)

How Do You Measure a Year?

 

Seemed appropriate to keep the tree both small and bare this year.

Am I the only one who considers the soundtrack of Rent to be Christmas music? Seems more apt than ever this year, when marginalized people across America have been told they don’t count, and laws and policies are being put in place to ensure this. Like, yanno, women. And brown people. And poor people. And young people. And old people.  And the middle class. And the LGBTQ community. I’m not sure how all these people add up to a minority, but hey, math was never my strong point.

I hope everyone is finding some peace this season as we head into the new year. 2017 was one dumpster fire after another, wasn’t it? Plain old ugly. I’d like to believe 2018 will be different, but I’m not seeing anything to indicate that will be the case. Hell, as I was sitting and listening to Rent, I saw this bit in the news. Who needs to address HIV/AIDS? It isn’t like it impacts everyone, or matters for people to have access to healthcare. Yeah, I’m not expecting any miracles this year.

I’m not about beauty. Sure, I appreciate the look of a rose, but they make me sneeze, make my eyes water in ugly ways. I don’t like pretty poetry, don’t write beautiful characters, I can’t help it. It’s my nature to look at a scene–real or imagined–and be captured by what happened to create it; what went wrong, what’s about to go wrong, and find the scars and stretch marks we carry on the inside and out to be more interesting than a straight nose or flawless complexion.

I’ve always been about small moments, firmly believe these are what make a life; good, bad, or indifferent. A couple of weeks back, Art Child and I went to the Columbus Circle holiday market. We go every year, all kinds of local (and not so local) artists, artisans, and crafts. This year we weren’t shopping so much as just looking. This year more than ever the plan for gifts was about practicality and needs over anything else. It was freezing the day we went, and I wasn’t dressed for it because outdoor shopping hadn’t been the plan, so mostly I was breathing into the neck of my coat, trying to keep warm while hurrying the girl along. I paid attention to exactly one booth. I’m sure I must have seen them before, but this year it overrode the cold and made me stop. Peacebomb jewelry. Aluminum shrapnel from bombs dropped in Laos fifty years ago–by America during the Vietnam War, recast into bits of hope, bits of reclaiming what is ugly and destructive and turning them into beauty. I loved this.


Apparently I loved it so much Husband remembered. I can say without guilt or hesitation I didn’t ask or hint for him to go and get me something from them. Number 1, they’re out of budget. Number 2, we’re supposed to be focusing on the practical. I was so shocked, these were so the perfect gift to close this shitbomb of a year…it’s possible I scared our kids–I cried. I don’t think I’ve ever cried upon opening a gift before, and wouldn’t imagine ever doing so for any reason, but there you have it. Yes, I was surprised that Husband would remember me telling him about this organization and these artists. Yes, I was completely touched that he went down to the booths, searched out this one, and chose not only to purchase something from them, but a pair of earrings I would definitely choose for myself, but also something more. Dangling hope on hooks.

Not hope of magic rescue, or turning back the clock or turning over the election. That ship has sailed, and the damage is too real; ensconced in our government, new laws and overturning of regulations, sitting on judge’s benches for lifetime appointments. Frightening and most damaging of all, the realization and illustration of how vulnerable our democracy and democratic norms are. But hope that someday my children, your children, our collective grandchildren, will dig up these bombs and craft something beautiful out of them.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Whatever you do or don’t celebrate, I’m wishing all small moments of peace and hope in the New Year.

Her Lips Say No, but Her Eyes say Back Off, Maggot

Have a seat, ladies. We need to talk.

On my way to the girl’s school this morning, I received no less than three text alerts from various online news sources letting me know Doug Jones’ win in Alabama last night was a “devastating blow” for Republicans.

Fuck. That.

It’s a blow (and not a devastating one) to misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and transphobic bozos who don’t view anyone remotely different from them as worthy of life, rights, or representation in government. Am I glad Jones won? Of course I am, whispered a quiet yes! to myself when I first saw it looking this way at 1am–but didn’t trust it until I read it with my morning coffee at 5. Then I smiled, and ok, a bit less quiet woot! It’s good news for sure, a glimmer of hope I’m pleased to see, but don’t be so quick to celebrate.

Think about it. This was a really, really close call in a Senate race between a man who successfully fought against the KKK, prosecuted them, and believes in women’s rights and a maggot (who’s been suspended from the judicial bench twice) credibly accused by multiple women of having been harassed/assaulted by him when they were teens and he was a DA in his thirties. Someone who thought he’d prove his lack of prejudice by having his wife state “one of their attorneys is a Jew.” Someone who has said on record the country was better off without any of the amendments that came after the 10th.  If you’re unfamiliar, these amendments he doesn’t like include some I’m pretty fond of;  like abolishing slavery, the right to vote regardless of race/religion, women’s right to vote, yanno, little things like that. He’s also been loud and proud in his belief that “homosexual conduct” should be illegal, Muslims shouldn’t have the right to sit in Congress, etc. And we cannot forget that while a few members of the GOP spoke against him, the sitting President rallied for an accused child molester and the RNC gave money to his campaign.

More than anything, what has me sputtering into my tea as I type is the fact that 63% of the white women in Alabama who voted yesterday voted for Roy Moore. Sixty-three percent. One of them even sent her 12 year old daughter to interview him.

Wake up, women! Moore doesn’t believe women should hold office, doesn’t believe we’re equal to men, doesn’t believe we should have reproductive choices, he called the women who credibly accused him of sexual misconduct liars and “criminals.”

Why? Why do so many white women in America hate themselves and their daughters this much? More than anything, how do we change this? Because this is self hatred. Internalized misogyny and voluntary subjugation that is doing great damage to all of us.

I have seen and heard many say their vote for Moore (and let’s not forget the 53% of white women nationwide who voted for Trump, so don’t even start with well, it’s Alabama/the South) is because of religious beliefs. Huh. I am 100% for freedom of religion, and can’t/have no desire to get into whose interpretation of the various religious texts is the “correct” one (though how anyone can be 100% certain they’re speaking for their God, I don’t know), but I am 100% opposed to anyone who feels it is their right to impose their religious beliefs on others. I was not born into/raised in a theocracy and I never want to live in one. I don’t care what religion we’re talking about; the perverted interpretation of the Koran as practiced by the nut job who thought blowing his balls off in Times Square at rush hour the other day was a good idea,  people like Roy Moore, or people like the extremist Christians who are all for further destabilizing the Middle East because they’re impatient for Armageddon.

Several years ago I wrote a short story called “Yous Girls,” and the first line is “Yous girls fucked yourselves,” poking at the idea of what women didn’t gain from the women’s movement in the 70s. Never has that line reverberated more strongly than it has this year.

This isn’t “just” religion. Religion has a strong and significant role in the African-American community, yet 98% of Black women voted against Roy Moore yesterday–despite gerrymandering and widespread voter suppression.  As long as white women continue to view themselves by their romantic relationships, how they reflect men, accepting and even volunteering for the position of “less than,” we’re stuck.  Somehow, the majority of white women in the United States believe they don’t deserve respect or equality.  The MeToo movement (dominated by a very specific segment of white women) doesn’t just illustrate how widespread sexual assault and harassment are, how many men are guilty of inappropriate behavior; it illustrates how many women continue to support these behaviors, even as they whisper, me too.

 

The Wrong Side of History

This has nothing to do with this post, but it was the closest history book in reach.

(Rambling ahead, I blame lack of sleep and political overload)

So this wrong side of history phrase. We’re hearing it a lot lately, along with variations like, history will not look kindly….

The thing is, we don’t know how history will see this phase of American history, because we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. I know how I want it to turn out, but I’m not at all sure if I’m sorry or glad that I’ll likely be dead before those books are out. When I was in elementary school, I learned how happy the “Indians” were to help and be helped by the pilgrims. And of course, Columbus discovered America. That definitely improved by the time my kids were in elementary school, and hey, it only took 400 years. Progress is slow. You know what isn’t slow? Destruction and erasure. Recently I saw a tweet referring to this children’s history book, published in 2007, which describes the Trail of Tears (which my kids learned about in third grade) as “Moving Out”–because the First Nations peoples really wanted to make room for the new (white) settlers. For the record, this was definitely not the first time this type of rewrite in a history book has come across my screen. Putting whitewashing to the side, it will always depend on who’s doing the writing, who’s doing the reading, who’s doing the funding, and whether the readers, writers, and funders are from the side that won or lost.

I keep harping on the following point because I think it’s still being glossed over. Millions of Americans wanted this monstrosity leading (if you can call this leading) the country, and the bulk of those millions still do.

Do you like Cheetos? Not as good as dill pickle flavored chips, but still, who can resist artificial, practically glow in the dark salty cheese dust held together by edible styrofoam. I love them. I don’t buy them frequently because it’s easy to overindulge, and they’re a waste of both money and calories. My apartment isn’t a junk-food free zone, but I do try to keep it all balanced. I don’t want to wake up sick every day, feeling my organs waste away while I get fatter, and that definitely isn’t what I want for my children. A lot of people agree with me. Michelle Obama even got a Healthy School Lunch Program going nationwide. But many disagree, and a few months ago, this administration began a rollback of this policy, often using the straw man of kidsarehungryonthisprogrambecausetheyneedemptycaloriesandexcesssodium. Now why would that be?

Perhaps because good nutrition is necessary not just for growth and general health, but for brains. No one–least of all children–can think and learn effectively if they’re malnourished, regardless of what they weigh. If it’s a generation, or multiple generations, of malnourished minds that have also been told higher education and intellectualism are elitist (apparently a slur almost as bad as feminist) writing those yet to be written history books, I wonder what they’ll say. I also wonder why my mind keeps jumping back to the Reagan administration’s efforts to cut the budget for school lunches by classifying condiments as vegetables. I might even be wondering how many of those who voted for 45 were raised thinking a couple of tablespoons of ketchup was nutritionally equivalent to a cup of steamed broccoli.

Of course this is just one aspect of many. The vast majority are of what I’m calling aspects are symptoms. There is a disease in this country, and it’s both progressing and metastasizing. What else can it be, when millions of people in a democratic country vote for someone who is a demagogue; who is against freedom of the press, believes nepotism is the way to run a government, thinks white supremacists are good people, isn’t remotely concerned about our electoral process being hijacked by a hostile government (at best), freedom of speech, doesn’t care how many lose access to health care or whether or not citizens lead long and healthy lives, lies repeatedly without remorse or concern for proof and facts, bragged about sexual assault, brags about tax dodging and bankruptcies, threatens to jail competitors, threatens war like it’s a game of checkers and he can’t wait to howl “double king me!” is working hard to strip women’s rights, remove needed immigrants–both documented and not–has no interest in a separation between church and state or freedom of religion, antagonizes allies, can’t seem to form or follow a complex thought or policy, and appointed/surrounded himself with people dedicated to destroying the departments they were put in charge of and people dedicated to destroying our democratic nation itself?

Acknowledging and treating symptoms is important, but if you can’t identify and treat the underlying disease, it’s a game of whack-a-mole.  If you don’t live in the world of medical mayhem, you might be surprised to know just how many diseases, known and unknown, have no cure. So just what is this disease? Well, my grandmother used to say you can’t fix stupid.  We can call it Owen.  Or Momma, a kernel of truth packaged in a disheveled bow of mean and bullshit.

Maybe we don’t have to worry what the US history books will say, because there won’t be anyone who can read or write them. And the rest of the world? I’m guessing they won’t be whitewashing our trail of tears in the early twenty-first century, as our administration works to destroy both the planet and any culture that doesn’t want to play checkers or draw their bath.

Yous Guys are Ruining Everything!

 

 There’s the obvious. Like education, health care, democracy, civil rights, women’s rights, immigration, free press, our country, the earth. Then there’s the not-so-obvious sucking the joy out of the little things that aren’t so little.

Like language. More specifically, colorful language–cursing, cussing, profanity, swearing, plain old dirty words.  It’s funny, I was thinking about this the other day, mentioned the blog to a friend and gave my usual warning that it can be considered offensive. Then the New Yorker piece came out and oy.   Not just the article itself, but the fact that it was in the damned New Yorker.  The holy grail of culture. A magazine read worldwide, almost 100 years old, a veritable institution known for ethics, fact checking, and intelligence.  I hope they gain 50,000 new subscribers because of that article, and I trusted every word because of where it was coming from, but I can’t help but think it would have been more appropriate for the mooch to call the National Enquirer.

I don’t curse as much in real life as I do as on the blog. Maybe when I’m very angry. Or very drunk. Or very comfortable. *Ahem*  I know not everyone feels as comfortable as I do with the word fuck but well, it’s an excellent word. How many others can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, article, conjunction, preposition, and an interjection?  Some curses don’t make sense to me, even though they’ve become part of the vernacular. I seem to remember it being a really big deal to call someone a douchebag when I was in high school.  Now I hear “douche” coming from the tv.  I still don’t get it.  Ooh, you’re a hygiene product, what a slur.  Isn’t soap supposed to be the cure for a dirty mouth?

There are some words I don’t care for, they make me feel squicky. Not sure why, but they do.  So hey, the official Communications Director can feel free to keep the term cocksucker.

Could I write my blog posts without the curses? Sure I could, but I don’t want to. They’re part of the fictionalized version of me that is Mrs Fringe, and to scrub them would feel like those occasional pieces of fiction I come across where the (usually newer) writer has heard all forms of “to be” are passive writing and should be omitted. The passages that result are often needlessly contorted–anything but fun to read.  The other side is that I generally spend a fair amount of time on each post. Thinking about the subject, drafting, redrafting, editing, choosing photos and songs.  Each swear used is consciously chosen for impact or stylistic choice.  Over the five years I’ve been doing this there’ve probably been about 50 posts that I wrote, rewrote, thought about, played with, and then deleted.  Not because every post is a pearl, but because some things shouldn’t be said.  Or maybe just not said out loud. The transcript of words-ya-can’t-say-on-tv we read about the other day wasn’t about specific, careful thought.  It was a tantrum filled with verbal tics. Beyond all of it, in this political climate, I don’t think we can afford to be out of fucks.

That fudging Commander in Chief just doesn’t have the right ring, does it? However, I can still appreciate the brilliant words of Johnny Carson and wish the fleas of a thousand camels infest the armpits of those down in DC being excused as “just how New Yorkers are.” They are not my New York, and I refuse to let them co-opt my words.

 

Can We Not? aka Too Soon

Want pretty? Have a flower.

As the ugliness that is our country’s new day to day grows more gruesome I find myself spending more time cruising Twitter. Maybe it’s the opportunity to ingest the day’s horrors in nibbles, I don’t know.

Last night I read the news about John McCain being diagnosed with a brain tumor. I’m sorry to hear this, for him and his family. I don’t like his politics, was horrified by and still believe he opened the door to our current administration by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008.  I lost whatever respect I might have had left when he got on board to support 45 despite knowing he was unqualified and being publicly disrespected by him (which in turn disparaged all our veterans and troops); supporting and voting for his extremist and unqualified nominees while purporting to be a moderate. He’s still a human being facing a painful and difficult path, and I don’t have it in me to actively wish anyone harm.

That said, I was surfing a little while ago and a Tweet popped up in my feed, imploring us not to politicize McCain’s cancer. Really?  Maybe if I was a saint, or at least more highly evolved, I could agree with this. I understand the sentiment behind it, and it certainly sounds reasonable in 140 characters or less. Maybe if I wasn’t spending every fucking minute of every fucking day worrying about Art Child and Husband, what can/will happen if 45 and the GOP (of which McCain is a member) have their way with health care.

I’m sorry, but the reality is this is political.  John McCain is a political figure, by choice–and a powerful one, whose voice is influential and whose votes have had an impact on all of us.  He’s now got an aggressive type of brain cancer, a tumor known as a glioblastoma that is likely to have a poor outcome regardless of treatment and health insurance. I wish him the best possible outcome because he’s a human being, and I am, too.  Because he has good health insurance and because he’s a senator he does have treatment options (and will regardless of how/what the Senate decides for the rest of us), and if the worst occurs, those options will include excellent palliative care and a measure of dignity.   That’s political, and it will remain so until and unless we all have the same excellent and affordable healthcare with appropriate support and funding for science, research, and medical advances.

I’ve been quiet on the blog because I understand how very boring it is to my readers to hear me rant repeatedly about health care– why it’s important for all and why it’s personal for me.  So many personal stories going around the various news outlets and social media platforms, my story is no more or less meaningful than anyone else’s, and I’ve already shared what I’m willing to.

And honestly, I’m uncomfortable with the way these stories have been shared recently, the stress on photos of beautiful children who need their healthcare, Grandma in a coma lying in a hospital bed paid for by Medicaid who’s being told she should just get a job.  Is this supposed to show the cutest kiddos deserve treatment?  What if kiddo X isn’t considered beautiful by all who see them?  Or are the effective photos the ones that show the kiddos with the most tubes, the most pills?  What about kiddos with invisible disorders? I understand these photos are meant to personalize the potential impact of these proposed health care regulations.  I just don’t believe that isn’t already understood by the GOP.  They know how many will be hurt, and in how many ways, they know how many will die–they don’t care. How easy it is for these photos of beautiful (because yes, I believe they are all beautiful) children to be coopted by people who don’t care about any child’s plight, with flat-earthers (boy was I shocked to find out this is a real thing) posting ignorant, disgustingly callous comments or hurtful memes.

Maybe this is yet another example of how slow-witted I can be, or what a downright bitch I am, but I don’t see how Senator McCain’s medical needs are sacred while those of my family, my loved ones, and the millions of others in this country who need to keep their health insurance are political. I can wish him well while reminding him and his peers their votes, words, and actions are actively harming the rest of us.

Indulgence

The best laid plans

This morning I had a conversation with a friend about indulgences. The way right now, in our current political climate, everything that isn’t calling or protesting feels like an indulgence–a struggle between needing to step away and allow yourself to enjoy something and feeling guilty for doing (let alone enjoying) anything that isn’t directly related to learning everything possible about what’s going on; trying to sort out reality from scaremongering, hope from wishful thinking.

I’ve been eating too much (and way too large a percentage is comfort food), watching the news/Twitter feed/reading the news too much, not sleeping enough, worrying too much (maybe, it feels like there’s no such thing as too much worrying when our society is imploding and half the time my girl’s eyeballs look like they’re on fire; when an evening of fun results in a day of not feeling well and seizure watch while the GOP decides just how much health care she doesn’t deserve) and not writing much at all. Is there a point to working on the MIP (Mess In Progress) right now? It’s speculative, my usual magical realism with additional elements of near future dystopia.  How’s that for a non-sensical mouthful? Not sure I’ve seen that shelf in Barnes & Noble. Eventually, if it ever gets completed, I’ll sort it out. I’ve read several excellent novels recently, a few of which have been smart, smart dystopians. Is what I’m saying really new/different/adding to the conversation?  How exactly do I add to a word count when I’m bombarded by bills, laws, and declarations that my voice–as a woman of a certain age, as a mother, as someone in the wrong tax bracket, as someone who lives in New York–doesn’t count?  Is there a point to blogging and bleating about subversive, unethical happenings in government that will harm us all when actual journalists are being blown off, attacked, jailed, and prevented from recording the daily propaganda statements?

Naturally, in the interest of keeping the few marbles I have left, this is where I stop thinking and get back to cooking.

Hmm, not quite right, is it?

I’ve been making this particular coffee cake for years. I think it was the first cake I ever made, my grandmother loved it. Not only have I been making it for years, I’ve been making it in the same dish. Today, I didn’t feel like climbing up to get that dish down from the top cabinet, and this other pan was already out.  Years ago had I done this, I would have a) stopped at this point to get the correct baking dish down and transferred the batter before adding the apples and topping, b) made another batch to double the recipe/fill the pan, or, most likely c) scrapped it and begun again.  Today I went with d) screw it, let’s see what happens.

Close enough, it still tastes good.

Comfort food, anyone?

Feed It All Your Woes

Through the fountain, Columbus Circle

I don’t know about anyone else, but my short stories always start with a sense. A glimpse, a scent, a phrase overheard, a taste. I used to imagine an eventual book of short stories, grouped by each of the senses. Usually while I’m walking, something will trigger the writing portion of my brain and burrow in. Often I try to ignore it, and over the coming days, weeks, months, I’ll know it’s growing, creating tunnels that connect into a story by the time I sit down to write.  This is not my “process” (could I sound any more pretentious?) for full length manuscripts. I am not a careful plotter who creates extensive notes, charts, and detailed outlines, but a full novel needs more than a whiff.

One of these bristle-worms-of-the-brain began creating a space for itself the other day as I walked down the wet subway stairs to wait for the dreaded 6 train. I’m letting it lie, don’t have an actual story for this story yet, but for whatever reason it’s brought up all kinds of old memories.

For me, old memories are pretty much synonymous with old music, the songs and albums I associate with different people and experiences, from jazz to blues to classic rock, from punk to show tunes to folk rock.   Anyway, I thought of an old friend I haven’t thought of in years. I can’t remember his full name, but I remember hours of poring over used albums in Academy Records and Bleecker Bobs.  He taught me about reggae beyond Bob Marley, and after work I would drag him to the (now mostly gone) hole in the wall folk rock bars of the west Village. We worked with autistic children and teens when autism was still considered a rare disorder, before the definition and diagnosis expanded to a spectrum, and drowning myself in music was the best way to not leave my heart smashed in a million pieces behind the head of a child trying to use his skull like a hammer.

Naturally this led me to youtube, listening to music I haven’t listened to in a long time, including the album below, which I’ve been listening to for the past three days.  I know I wore through at least two copies on vinyl and one on cassette, and while I can’t tell you how many years since I last listened, I still remember every word of every lyric. The entire album is beautiful, and some of it is quite dark, but when I was younger it left me hopeful and looking forward.  Now it’s got me looking back, time and opportunities lost. This was Joni Mitchell’s debut album (ancient as I am, it was already long released by the time I “discovered” it).  For all of her albums that I have owned and enjoyed, and despite the fact that when my birthday comes I associate it with her collaboration with Charles Mingus–their rap/scat of Happy Birthday, this is still my favorite.  Song to a Seagull.

All the Best People Are

Me, as drawn by Art Child about 4 years ago, age 11

Why yes, that is my avatar

It’s funny, isn’t it?  The small things that catch hold in your mind when something big and bad is going on.  Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, to avoid the brain shutting down completely.  Kind of like the grotesque show that begins today, Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017.  For the past few weeks I’ve been alternating between reading every newspaper article I can and shutting down the laptop and zoning out with Netflix. I’m sure I don’t have to detail how I was losing my shit, reading and watching clips from the Betsy DeVos hearing.  I think the democratic senators did a great job, demonstrating through their questions, how wholly unfit and inappropriate she is for Education Secretary.  I also think it doesn’t matter.  She, and the rest of the Billionaire Club, will be approved, because all prior rules of engagement, like knowledge, qualifications, and at least a pretense of ethics have been suspended for the foreseeable future.

A couple of days ago a friend posted a picture on Facebook, a piece of art from a popular artist promoting women’s rights and being offered for download.  What caught me wasn’t the art, it was the comment (not from my friend) that artists should keep their political views to themselves.  Oh my.  So terribly, woefully ignorant, a perfect case-in-point to what has gone wrong in America.  Art is political.  It makes you feel, it makes you see, it makes you connect, it makes you understand.  Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about visual art, poetry, prose, music, or performance.  All art is political.  And art is what endures.

img_9110

My home is not what some would think of when they imagine a family of artists.  The apartment is perfectly ordinary.  Look at the sketch above, Art Child drew it about four years ago, one of her very first pieces after she began, magically, miraculously, to draw.  That’s me in the sketch, perfectly ordinary.  We struggle with bills, we struggle with chronic and debilitating health issues, we struggle with the bits and bobs of life.  And we each love music and art and poetry and food and theater and literature, each with our own draws and, if I may be so bold, talents. Husband hears distinctions and nuances in music that are an entirely different dimension than I hear.  He can turn anything into a drum and create an irresistible beat.  Man Child creates art through food, and when he’s on a stage, it’s truly captivating.  The math he loves, “pure math,” incomprehensible to me, is another language, music in its own right, a language that has no borders of origin.  Nerd Child is a musician, a director, an orator.  Listening to him on his guitar makes me want to dance and weep at the same time.  He creates new worlds we all want to live in as he directs, and when he speaks, people listen. Art Child has developed her skills and talent, creating charcoal sketches and paintings that leave not just me, but others, strangers, talking about her work long after they’ve seen it.

Me? I write. I did write.  I tried to write.  Characters that are so everyday they’re more than a bit off, think you’re going to yawn and end with an oh! Settings that begin next door and then twist into the what the fuck.  My favorite “genre” is magical realism.  Not for escape, but for exploring the difficult and often ugly realities through the fantastical. Perfectly ordinary.

I am afraid of what’s to come tomorrow, next month, next year.  I’m a woman, on the downside of middle age, a self-proclaimed sort-of feminist, unsuccessful, a big and nasty mouth with a latino family.  By definition, not who our new administration wants to see or hear from.  We are ordinary people, caught in what looks to be an extraordinary time.  I don’t expect to become the next Salman Rushdie. I’m neither brilliant nor brave enough.  Let’s be honest, at 40,000 years old, dreams of acclaim and awards are long gone, but in those moments where I let myself dream, I still dream of being able to earn a dollar from my fiction.  Not because of the dollar, but because of the validation, because it would tell me I did, in fact, have an impact and speak someone’s truth other than my own. It is my belief that it is our obligation to continue to use our chosen mediums to explore and document what is happening, how it happened, why we are here.  Now is the time to be political. Create.