Monday, May 31, 2010

The Red Shoes


Hello, boys 'n girls. I have a treat for you today.

Here they are, the feet that everyone dreams of.

This is what Cinderella's feet looked like at 52.
After jamming her pink pieds into too-small glass stilettos for 35 years.

These are the feet of some Italian peasant woman who has stomped grapes for so many years, her feet have become marinated and ready for the grill.

The feet of a Chinese princess, agonizingly wrapped in tight bandages until the toes turned under and broke under the strain of trying to walk.

If you prance around on stilts for decades, no matter how chic you may look, something awful happens to the feet. They are squished into a pencil point shape, the arches forced into a line parallel to the ankle.

I've seen something called ballet stilettos, which are the ultimate fetish shoe (or at least I think they are - maybe there will be worse ones where women can't walk at all). Literally, you walk on the ends of your toes, the heels jacking up the feet to the point that the top of the foot buckles forward. Oooooooh, sexy.

I don't know what it is with women and feet. They have to be ow-y to be sexy, I guess. Me, I went into ecstasy when I found a pair of gold-and-white high-top Skechers on sale at Winner's for $20. I have one pair of chunky heels, maybe 3 or 4" high, but I always fall off them, and suffer cramped calves the next day. Yes, they make your legs look longer, leaner, sexier, and etc. etc. But look at Sarah Jessica Parker, balanced on skyscrapers that look like extensions of her twiglike, painfully bowlegged thighs. Sexy? You be the judge.

So, OK, I'm coming to it now: whose feet are these, do you think? One hint. Of the four gals from Manhattan, you know, the ones in that new movie, she's been crushing them the longest, which maybe explains their painful array of blisters, corns, bunions, calluses and other hideous pustulating deformities.

She did it voluntarily, of course. There is a price to be paid for beauty. But when she stands up, I'll bet she walks around on tiptoe.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Conflate, inflate, deflate, he-flate, she-flate


I looked it up in Wikipedia, that unassailable source of truth, and it said something like "to bring together, mold or fuse." This isn't the kind of word you use every day in polite company ("Let's conflate our wedding plans, shall we, dear?"), but it crops up once in a while, and I just enjoyed a particularly interesting (to me, anyway) example of it.
The internet long ago molded or fused with my hazy memory of old book titles, things so out of print you used to have to dredge them up in rare book stores for hundreds of dollars. Now they're lying around in Amazon for one cent (I'm not kidding - I guess they're in a warehouse somewhere and they just want to get rid of them). I buy most of my used books this way, paying only the shipping and handling.
As long as they hold together, they're OK by me. When they come, I get to smell that musty butter/bug/shelf smell of yellowed, slightly crumbly paper again, the Book Smell that will very soon become obsolete (not that anybody cares). I get to read books that in the 30 years since I've read them have mysteriously turned to
dust.
The only down side is that sometimes I only remember part of a title, or part of an author's name, or assign the wrong author to a title. This necessitates a tangle of detective work that would be impossible without the net.
The other night I was propped up in bed reading the Oprah bio by Kitty Kelley - a nice, fishy dish of Meow Mix that makes perfect bedtime reading as a slice of modern-day mythology. Kelley kept referring to an author named Gloria Naylor, who had written The Women of Brewster Place (later made into an Oprah TV
miniseries).
I kept thinking: Naylor. Naylor. Naylor.
Naylor was the name of an author I used to read, oh, eons ago! Didn't she write a book called Psyche, all about a little girl who had been abducted? I tried to find it. Naylor, Naylor, Psyche. You can imagine what I found under "psyche": a host of bafflegab about the human "mind", "soul" or whatever it is that floats in the air around us, completely independent of the brain. There must've been thousands of entries about "the psyche", but no mention of Naylor.
Then: pay dirt! On my millionth try, I found the name Phyllis Brett Young, and her hundredth book, written in the '60s, was called Psyche. Nothing at all to do with Naylor, for sure, but at least I had her name and knew I wasn't imagining the book.
But another title kept nagging at me, and I was sure it had been written by the same author.
It was called Revelations, a well-written novel about a young woman growing up in a rural Fundamentalist family who has a secret affair with a phony evangelical preacher. I remember a couple of things about it: one, that the main character's nasty older sister at one point exclaimed, "There's hay on her back!", and two, it said on the cover, "Soon to be a major motion picture starring Sally Field!"
Hot on the trail of Phyllis Brett Young, I googled Revelations, and found even more stuff that wasn't relevant at all. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of books called Revelations, including the book of Revelations. I was lost in the world of defunct novels, at a dead end.
Then I thought back. Gloria Naylor. Phyllis Brett Young. Was it possible that I had, well, not quite conflated but somehow de-conflated the two? In muddling around the 'net, I came across a name that finally rang the bell: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.
Yes, there was a Phyllis, and a Naylor, and they belonged
together!
Phyllis Naylor turned out to be an incredibly prolific children's/young adult author who had somehow popped out this novel during her spare time. It was listed under used books in a million places (and I ordered one, lusting after that musty antique smell), but when I found lists of all the things she'd written (over 200),
Revelations wasn't there.
At the same time, I know it was the same Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. I think the busted movie deal must've caused her to want to bury the book. It's too bad, because though it's simply written, it has a heart, exploring a delayed awakening of sexuality in an honest, compassionate way.
I wonder what got in the way of the movie. Sally Field would've been around 30 or 35, the perfect age for the "spinster" who stayed at home to look after Grandpa after his stroke. Sally Field doesn't get enough play these days except in Boniva commercials (you know, for menopausal women whose bones are crumbling away to dust). I remember her ferocity in Norma Rae, jumping on her desk with that piece of cardboard that said, "Strike!".
Sam Shepard could have played the preacher, natch. It would have worked. Do they do that in Hollywood: blare it around before anything is signed? Or WAS it signed, and fell through? I wonder how many sure things fall
through in Tinseltown.
Anyway, from Gloria Naylor, to Phyllis Brett Young, to Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. This sounds like six degrees of separation. But I like conflation better, with its sense of blowing up some vast balloon or iridescent bubble of the imagination.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Everyone knows it's slinky


So what's the connection between the image on the left, a coiled spring, an insufferable racket, and bad popcorn?
I'll tell you.
When I'm in the mood for a bad movie, there's no stopping me, so paying about $25 at my local cineplex (named Scotiabank, after the bank that took it over from Paramount) wasn't quite the horror I thought it would be. I wanted some sparkling entertainment, some sleazy laughs. I wanted to see The Girls again.
I did watch Sex and the City. I DO watch it once in a while, '90s relic that it is. The highly improbable sexual frolickings of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha were usually good for a guffaw, and once in a while you'd even see a flash of nudity.
But now the franchise has moved on to big box movies. They should've stayed on that other box, the smaller one, but never mind. This has very little to do with a pretty bad movie that went on far too long (2 1/2 hours, when a comedy should clock in at about 90 minutes, tops).
For an early matinee, the place was unusually crowded, and I had to climb like a mountain goat to find a seat, popcorn and drink smashed against each other so I wouldn't lose my purse, dripping umbrella (this is Vancouver) and 5000 napkins to keep my jeans from being saturated with grease.
Finally found a seat up in the gods, top row, with a young couple entwined just on my left. I mean entwined, like those photos you see of mating snakes.
And then.
Bom, bom, bom. . .
What walks downstairs, without a care, and makes a slinkety sound?
I swear! I could hear that theme song as a bizarre noise sank into the left side of my head.
Shhhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhhh.
Shhhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhhh.
This sounded for all the world like the metallic shoop-shoop of an ancient Slinky. But the thing is, it went on and on. And on. And on. And on And Andandnadndndnndd
I had to peek, to see what the hell was producing that sound. The guy was sitting on the left, with his bare forearm on the seat rest.
The girl was rubbing his arm.
And rubbing his arm.

And rubbing
And rubbing
And rubbing
Swoosh, swoosh. Shoop, shoop. Shhhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhhh. Shhhhhhhhh,
shhhhhhhhh.
Now I've sat beside or behind some humdingers, mucus-snorters, knuckle-crackers, popcorn-macerators, but - never this. A "rubber".
It might have been OK, well, more or less, if she'd stopped at some point. But she didn't. She rubbed his forearm all through the previews. She rubbed his forearm all during the opening credits.
SHE RUBBED HIS FOREARM ALL DURING THE GODDAMN FUCKING MOVIE.
The same patch of forearm. Her clothes were some sort of noisy nylon that shhhh-shhhh-ed when she moved, and every few minutes she squirmed around in her seat like a two-year-old being forced to sit still.
I tried everything: shooting them poisonous glances (they probably just thought I was nuts). Eating my popcorn really loud, except that there was someone on the other side eating hers even louder.
An hour went by. Shhhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhhh.
An hour and a half. The Girls went to Abu Dhabi or Timbuktu or somewhere, to get laid. It wasn't funny.
How could this guy have any skin left on his forearm? Why was his forearm suddenly an erogenous zone? Was this just a promise of another kind of rubbing that would happen after the movie? What the fuck was wrong with these people?

At about the two-hour-and-fifteen-minute mark, I was hearing the Slinky jingle in my head and couldn't shut it down:
"It's Slinky, it's Slinky, for fun it's the best of the toys
It's Slinky, it's Slinky, the favorite of girls and boys. . . "
This was preposterous, it was just unendurable, not to mention bizarre. I had to stop it. There had to be a law against public rubbing. I kept thinking how I would phrase my complaint. Excuse me, miss, but you're rubbing your boy friend too loudly in public. Excuse me, people, but you're acting like total weirdos.
I tried to focus on the movie, which was essentially inane and a waste of money (with only one good line: during their Middle East adventure, Samantha spies a desert hunk and exclaims, "It's Lawrence of My Labia!"). It was nothing more than a parade of Pravda and them other guys, who knows who they are.
But the endless, irritating, bizarre shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop-shoop went on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and. . .
I wonder why reality is so full of tortures like this, at least for me. Someone with less sensitive hearing might have ignored it. They were sitting on my left, next to the ear which is constantly attuned.
Finally I said to myself, that's it, this is ruining my $15 movie, I HAVE to do something. I can't just sit here and play victim to a whole lot of obscene shoosh-shoosh while Boyfriend gets a 2 1/2-hour hard-on. So I took a deep breath, and took action.
I got up and moved.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sex and the endless summer



Wouldn't it be nice if we were older

Then we wouldn't have to wait so long

And wouldn't it be nice to live together

In the kind of world where we belong


Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true (run, run, run)

Baby then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do

We could be married (we could be married)

And then we'd be happy (then we'd be happy)


good night my baby

sleep tight my baby


good night my baby

sleep tight my baby


good night my baby

sleep tight my baby


good night my baby

sleep tight my baby


Well, wouldn't it? Be nice?

Those things we thought were nice, those things we were SURE would be nice, have somehow changed radically over the years. That "wouldn't it be nice if we were older" sure turned around violently at some point.

The only reason this whole mess is repeating in an endless loop in my head is that TLC is using it to promote their summer season. Not that I ever watch TLC. No sir. No Cake Boss, no Hoarders, no Intervention, no Ten Ton Man or women giving birth on the tracks in a subway tunnel, none of that stuff.

I hadn't heard that Beach Boys tune in a long time, and it's mesmerizing, surfer dude music taken to the height of Mozart. It's meant to (and does) call up summer and smoke and sand (and sex), bathing suits straining, salty douses with sea water, steaming hot dogs, and etc. (Hey, it's early in the morning and I've only given myself half an hour to finish this because I want to go into town to see Sex and the City.)

What are the things that would be "nice" now? If my beloved granddaughter no longer had Type 1 diabetes. If my husband and I no longer faced an uncertain financial future. If I felt I had a place in the community (long-shattered by a mammoth health crisis in 2005). If, if, if.

I am profoundly ambivalent about my work now. Actually it's not the work, which has been going better than I could have dreamed. I want to publish again, but now I KNOW what it is to be published. People have such absurd notions about what it will mean for them. Civilians say things like, "But you were published before. Doesn't that mean the same outfit will publish your work for the rest of your life?"

In their minds, there are two levels: Stephen King/J. K. Rowling, and zero.

I know this is a refrain I fall back into too often, and I know I shouldn't. I remember seeing something printed on the wall in Ikea (where we go for the food), a quote from Sven Svendsvendsvendensen or whoever it was that founded the outfit (by getting up at 1:00 in the morning and not having sex, I mean ever), about how the only time you don't make mistakes is when you're asleep.

Me, I've made plenty of mistakes while I was asleep! But it's when I wake up that I find I've honed it to an art form. My experience tells me that mistakes are not only embarrassing, they are very, very costly and can follow you around for years, if not for the rest of your life.

If a person does nine exemplary things and on the tenth time slips on a banana peel and falls on their ass with 5000 people watching, GUESS WHAT THEY WILL REMEMBER? And probably forever.

Oh, that guy who. . .you know, the one who. . .

Oh.

That explains why movie stars and authors and politicians kind of drop out of sight and don't come back. They've made some sort of fatal mistake. Or maybe even a garden variety mistake.

Don't make mistakes. It'll cost you. Bad. Now I'm off to see the movie.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

OK, so. Here is my dream car


OK, it was something like this. But really, not even close.
It was like something out of a Popeye cartoon of the '40s, the really old ones, I mean the Fleischer, good ones. (I'll write about them later.) Cars already looked like cartoons then, like giant bubbles, bulbous.
And huge.
As I sit here slurping down a giant mug of Red Rose tea and eating McVitie's Digestive Biscuits (can you tell I'm Canadian?), I'm trying to piece together just what happened. This was an Event such as I only experience a couple of times a year. A sighting of beauty so sighful, it felt it almost like an affliction until I had told my husband all about it.
I was standing at a bus stop, bored, not expecting anything, vaguely aware of traffic whizzing by. But behind me was a leisurely lane leading (like the alliteration?) to the shopping area: Safeway, Canadian Tire, and other stuff.
I don't know why I turned around. As the Beatles song says, "Had it been another day, I might have looked the other way". But I did turn around, and was assailed by a vision in burgundy and cream.
Burgundy, cream, and chrome. Remember chrome? This vision had a mouth, a rather fierce grille with teeth. There followed a slipstream of shape. A little aggressive at the front, almost like a nose; bulby around the front tires; high roof with absurdly small windows, then. . . a taper.
A waterfall of car, a cascading, almost down to a point. There appeared to be no back wheels at all. The rear of the car sank right down into the pavement.
The colour must've been custom, as I'd never seen anything like it before, the two tones divided by a bar of (more) chrome. This lordly vision slowly drove past me, then turned off into the shopping area. A young guy (I barely saw him - he could've been George Clooney and I wouldn't have seen him) got out and went into the bank.
I stared.
I don't even drive. I hate cars. They belch out poisons. I fear them. I've been almost run over 100 times. What was this thing? Some sort of vintage, obviously, maybe on its way to one of them-thar car shows I never seem to get to. It appeared to sail forth like a giant boat supported by massive pontoons.
The guy came out of the bank, got back into the car and drove verrrry sloooowly over to the Canadian Tire lot, about 50 feet away. I mean, he didn't see me (I'm 56, remember, and thus invisible), but maybe he saw me seeing him (or rather, his car).
He drove away equally slowly. A float in a parade. I felt faint. I didn't want him to go. I wanted to hop in, to tootle around town with him, watching all those dials 'n' things that old cars have (and creaky old leather).
As soon as my senses would hold together, I rummaged out a pen and notebook and tried to draw it. It was hopeless. I tried eight times, then lost my pen on the bus.
My husband can tell, at a glance, the year and make of every car ever made. I am not kidding. I have never stumped him. Sometimes I check it against the internet, but I really don't have to. I described this car to him. I showed him my miserable drawings,
which looked like a car a 2-year-old would play with in the bathtub.
He didn't know what it was.
That was when I began to believe that what I had seen was an apparition. It floated into my consciousness when I least expected it, swanned past me in splendour, then disappeared into the vapour of unreality from which it had come. It un-was, or un-did itself, or something.
Well, we all die, don't we? Why wasn't this lovely thing thrown on the scrapheap in 1941? My only clue was handwritten in chrome on the rear bumper: Mercury.
"Oh, so it was a Ford," my husband said. "Probably 1940. Called a Westerbrook or something like that. Maybe a custom."
Oh, don't burst my bubble. It was a dream.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cheezus!





Every time I do this, I have good intent-(bangbangbang - oops, that's the guys putting in the new windows, just igbangbangbangnore them). I mean, I renounce things. Not sex or anything (praise God!), but foods.

Certain foods become Franken for me. Not frankfurters (a furtive Frank, for sure). No. But I mean, what could be a more insidious Frankenfood than Gummi Bears? Made of nothing but sugar and goo and artificial this 'n' that, (and forget about that "made with real fruit juice" garbage, it's a corporate lie so mothers can plug their kids' mouths with a gob of high fructose corn syrup without guilt), they can be easily inhaled, first one at a time, then three or four, then - . After a while the head spins, the eyes unfocus, and the entire body
succumbs to sugar coma.
Right. I gave those up, gave 'em up when I suddenly realized that I liked the queasy feeling of skyrocketing glucose. So I self-righteously swore them off and started eating. . . something healthier. Much healthier. Pretzels! Not just any pretzels but Rold Gold Pretzel Sticks, crisply varnished
and crusted with salt.
I have a history with Rold Gold. I used to buy them as a child for five cents ("Fi' cents," Mr. Mardling of Mardling's Groceteria use-da say), in a little box wrapped in cellophane. I don't mean a normal snack box. I mean a flat little box less than an inch deep, shaped sort of like a pack of cigarettes. It was wrapped so that you could see the pretzels lying there in a neat little row, just waiting to
be devoured.
Rold Gold. Pretzel Sticks. These had no fat in them, none whatever, so I could insert them into my mouth one after the other while watching Hoarding: Buried Alive until I looked down and realized that half the bag
was gone.
I don't know what happened with the pretzels, but one day I just didn't want to eat them any more. I began to lose weight, then more weight. I began to eat like a human being. It was amazing. Maybe my binge days were over.
So when did the Nips come along?
I've always had a thing about cheese, you know, orange cheese. I don't know if it goes back to my mother, who was a walking refrigerator emotionally (at least to me - she loved my sister without reservation), but baked
extremely well.
After making one of her impossibly delectable pies, Mackintosh apple or sour cherry (from the tree in the back yard, the one that leaned against the white picket fence so I could neatly vault over into our neighbor's yard and feed the pigeons) or maybe even rhubarb which stripped the enamel off your teeth, there would always be some pastry left over, the trimmed-off bits.
Sometimes she rolled these out again, sprinkled the surface with grated orange cheese, rolled it up, folded it over and rolled it out again. She then cut them into strips and baked them: cheese straws. This method created flaky striations of cheddar that melted in the mouth. The pastry sort of puffed up and formed crusty, crunchable browned bubbles.
Dear God.
I can't fool myself that Cheese Nips are anything like that. They aren't. But every once in a while I get a box that's a little more browned than usual, probably some minor mistake in the factory. And Oh God. I have been Nipped again!
I imagine the postage-sized squares with the cute little hole in them are cubes of cheese pastry magically conjured from my childhood, pulled out of time and plunked down in front of me.
Before I know it I'm 2/3 through the goddamn box. And I feel guilty as hell,
because I've done so well with my weight loss lately
and it could all come back to me just like that.
And probably will.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Too much informa. . .tion











Sometimes I think the human race gets together to have huge meetings (excluding me, of course - I'm either late or don't know where the building is) to decide what's in and what's out - what's unacceptable, and what's warm-and-fuzzy-and-admirable-no-matter-what-it-is-or-who's-doing-it.
Lately we've seen the phenomenon of public confession, of celebrities mounting the podium to announce their "sins": violence, adultery, mental illness, and (especially) addiction. While it's still not exactly considered noble to proclaim these formerly-private and oft-disturbing phenomena, the culture still laps it up, telling themselves that confession is good for the soul and provides "healing" and positive examples for others.

Yeah, right - but how 'bout if you're one of the best-known children's writers in the world, a beloved figure who has entertained millions of kids with his "manic" (the buzzword in media) retelling of his often-surreal tales?

This guy is famous-famous in this country. His name is Robert Munsch, and he has always given me the creeps. He makes faces and screams and yells and jumps up and down, and sells millions of copies of oddball books like The Paper Bag Princesses and the much-overrated Love You Forever.

Love You Forever is all about how children who have been unconditionally loved by their parents grow up to be adults who unconditionally love their ageing parents. This involves various things being thrown down the toilet, not to mention adults crawling along the floor on their hands and knees, a bizarre detail that no one seems to notice. It's not a particularly good book, but it exploits certain tender spots in the human psyche and makes people bawl their eyes out.

OK, let's get to the point here (since it's 7:20 a.m. and the workmen putting the new windows in will arrive soon - still time for another coffee??): Munsch just came out a few days ago to tell the world that he is an alcoholic and a cocaine addict who partook of these substances to "try to deal with mental illness": specifically, bipolar disorder. To help him with his struggle for sobriety, he says he has been attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Munsch has barely four months sober, and recently suffered a stroke which has affected his speech and no doubt his thinking. He freely and openly violates the 12-step confidentiality rule which states that members must maintain "personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, film and TV".
Does he think he's above that rule? That the rule is silly and unnecessary? Or hasn't he gone to enough meetings to know why it needs to be there?

It galls me when celebrities step up to the microphone to announce a sobriety which balances on such shaky legs. It galls me further when this celebrity begins to soften or even justify the hard facts of his addiction by saying things like, "I was a French-style drunk, who is quietly immersed in alcohol all the time. I didn't have binges. I was just having a morning drink." He goes on to say he "never drank when he was writing or performing or looking after his children."

But hey: with someone as "manic" and work-obsessed as Munsch, how much time is left over after writing, performing and looking after his children? This is a blatant contradiction no one has picked up on. Not only that: he claims, "When I was drinking, I would sometimes drink too much and do stupid things. And one of the stupid things I did was use cocaine."
So much for the "French-style" drunk. Did he snort the coke while wearing a striped jersey and a beret?

According to recent news articles, there has been a flood of sympathy for this guy, an outpouring of praise for his honesty, humility, etc. But I wonder. A stroke might just impair his ability to write and perform at his usual "manic" level. But this kind of announcement is guaranteed to keep him in the limelight. We LOVE hearing about other people's pain: it's called schadenfreude, literally meaning shameful joy. (Alternate meaning: Entertainment Tonight.) And we love that peculiar mixture of admiration and pity that these dark secrets call forth.

It weirds me out that a kids' performer has come out as a cocaine addict. It's disturbing and creepy. I have to admit, Munsch creeped me out to begin with. It's something about those bizarre crazy faces and the way kids scream in response.

Though supposedly 99% of his readers have come out in warm support, part of me is still thinking, "Wait a minute. Kids' entertainer. Cocaine addict?" Can you imagine Mr. Rogers lying in a gutter with an empty 40-pounder under his arm? Captain Kangaroo smoking crack? Bob from Sesame Street sticking needles into his. . . oh, you get the picture.

More than that, can you imagine these guys getting up in front of the media to "confess" their habit, confident that the revelations will only unleash a flood of warm support? I guess I'm just an old biddy, but I thought kids' entertainers were supposed to set an example of how to grow up, how to live.

Are you a fan of Munsch? Fine. But answer me this. Would you want your kids' Grade Two teacher to be an alcoholic cocaine addict? How about their Sunday School teacher, their gymnastics coach? What if you found a stash of cocaine in the coach's locker? Would that be OK?

I guess I'm just sayin' that this is too much, way too much information at the wrong time. I wish Munsch had at least waited more than "about" four months (probably considerably less) to come out with these revelations. Is there such a thing as dealing with your "issues" privately in this day and age? Apparently not.

After all this, I predict that Munsch will become even more of a beloved figure, more warm and fuzzy than ever before. His book sales have spiked already. I guess a man that famous can do no wrong. The rich get richer. But I can't help but wonder. . . what if I came out with similar revelations (not that anyone would be interested)? I think what little career success I've had would permanently tank. I'd disappear without a ripple.

My advice to Munsch is to go away for a while and seek some real recovery. Find out just what the word "anonymous" means. You'll see that the principle is there for a very good, even crucial reason, to protect ALL members and to prevent celebrity-itis (famous people convincing the public that they are AA "leaders", then relapsing again and again).
Four months may seem like a long time to you: but how long did you drink? Four months? Four years? Four decades?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cereal monogamy


This blog was originally going to be about the Writer's Life, until I realized there were already approximately one billion blogs called the Writer's Life, so to hell with that idea! I do however like the image of the tightrope walker (a picture of great-uncle Howard in 1906) and its implications of an endless struggle for balance.
That's a long way of saying I can write about anything I bloody want to, and probably will. The last blog I tried to keep, which eventually crashed in flames, was far too creative (hmph!) and eventually harassed into an early demise.
Or at least that's how it seemed to me.
This one, well, I'm barely keeping a foothold as I struggle with details that are probably ridiculously simple for anyone else. So I just bash away at it, wondering what all those little dragonflies are and why I can't post a photo in the middle of my post. Oh foo, someone will attack me soon anyway.
So what's this about? Cornflakes, I guess, and the way a certain man eats them (every day for 37 years, and perhaps more). Do I represent the cornflakes of his life? In any case, that's how long we've been together.
People wax romantic (or at least wax their cars) when they find out that we've been together for such a jaw-dropping amount of time. I was, of course, ten when I married him. Bill is a good guy, but he drives me crazy. He's irritating. He has gone deaf and won't admit it. And God, he looks old. If he's my mirror, then I am in big trouble.
But nothing could ever take the place of so much shared experience, grief, elation, and the boring trudge of everyday existence. The cornflakes of life. There are still times when I wonder if I can stand this, but I know no one else could live with me, with my permanent tendency to ricochet when things go wrong or I get pissed off.
He's a good guy, like I said, a very smart guy, a professionial (environmental expert, which is direly needed these days), but most of all a man who protects his family and loves them without reservation. His Dad lived to be 93 and towards the end, ANYTHING would make him cry. It was irritating, but what's even more irritating is that Bill is moving inexorably in the same direction. As my daughter once put it, "He cried when the hamster died."
There's a neat saying that sums it all up: "The rocks in his head fit the holes in mine." I'm supposed to be the crazy one, but maybe we're meeting in the middle (or I've driven him crazy, whatever). I don't get it, the unutterable part of it, the thing I can't explain: maybe it's like that old Jerome Kern song, Bill.
"And I can't explain, it's surely not his brain
That makes me thrill
I love him, because he's -
I don't know,
Because he's just. . . my. . . Bill."
Oh yah.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fly, ladybug, fly!

God, it's Monday again - hardly seems possible after the social whirl of the weekend. Oh all right, I went to one party. But it was a humdinger. Nothing can equal a granddaughter's birthday for sheer shrieking fun.

The only thing more heart-touching than seeing a sweet little blondie, just turned five, flying on a swing set with her honeyed hair in a blur behind her is seeing her sister, not quite three, taking a violent header down a slide, landing hard on her bum, standing up, brushing her hands together and calmly walking on to the next activity.

That's Lauren. When a child has a serious illness, parents like to say things like, "It was meant to happen" - not that the child was meant to be sick, of course, but that they were especially chosen to be the recipients of a peculiar sort of daily blessing, one that sometimes relegates them to the outer fringes of so-called normalcy.

This little Lauren was diagnosed with juvenile onset diabetes at age 15 1/2 months. Her parents knew something was terribly wrong with her, but the doctors kept insisting it was flu. By the grace of God, Mom kept putting her foot down and saying, "No. No. It's something more serious, and you'd better find out what it is NOW."

When they finally found out, they rushed her to Children's Hospital in Vancouver post-haste, and admitted her. A baby with this disease is in mortal peril, and when my son phoned me with a shaky voice and said, "She'll have this for the rest of her life," nobody knew exactly what that conclusion was going to mean.

Let me quote a statement her Mom wrote to promote the 2010 Walk to Cure Diabetes in June: "Lauren is a trooper; she receives insulin needles every day and has her fingers poked by a lancet 5 to 9 times daily to test her blood sugar levels. She eats food that is calculated so the food carbohydrates match her insulin dose at set times of the day. This is necessary to keep her blood sugar levels in check to prevent dangerous highs and lows. This is everyday life when living with this disease."

We're never unaware of diabetes when Lauren comes to our house; she needs to be "checked" at least a couple of times, and fed according to her levels. But by the same token, we're never unaware of her spirit, her bust-out laugh and merry blue eyes and sparkly smile, and her incredible steadiness in the face of something that might emotionally flatten a child with a whiny disposition or even an adult.

I know I wouldn't be this gracious about it; in fact I'd probably be complaining loudly, or slowly turning bitter. Of course, one can say that she's still too young to really know what is going on. Next month she'll turn three, and she won't be able to eat her own birthday cake. Her parents aren't sure how they will handle issues like that in the future. One step, one day at a time.

She will be using an insulin pump in the next few months, but contrary to popular belief, that doesn't automatically take care of the problem. Myself, I don't trust technology and wonder if it isn't better to monitor this thing by hand. But then, she's not my child. She is my beloved, my irreplaceable grandchild, yes. But I don't make the major decisions (which is probably just as well).

When we go on the walk, we'll do it as a family at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. This will be our second year. Lauren's team is called the Ladybugs, and I've already made ladybug pompoms (Lauren loves what she calls "bum-bums"!) for the occasion. Last year the event was beyond fun: it gave us a sort of glow, quite indescribable. All these walks for this and that, which sometimes seemed a little extreme, suddenly made sense to us.

Nobody expects serious illness to invade their family, least of all in a child. But if it has to happen, one couldn't do better than to see this plucky little girl, a girl who literally seems to bounce when she falls down and almost never cries, courageously living with a difficult, scary condition.

She'll never really be able to eat with total pleasure and abandon. She'll have to keep track of her "levels" and pay a lot of attention to how she feels. For the rest of her life. Meantime, she has made more than a good start, and inspired all of us with her valour, her good humour and her joy in living.

She has always reminded me of those Disney cherubs in Fantasia. Like bumblebees, there's just no way they could fly with wings that tiny. But they do it. They do it because no one told them that they couldn't.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The girl with the flaxen hair


I have to admit off the top that this photo is way out of date. That little girl, one Erica Morgan, is now turning five, a momentous age that represents a developmental leap, and
a new readiness to read and write and sit still long enough to attend classes.
Plus she still breaks the cute-o-meter every time.
Erica Morgan is a princess from tip to toe, from her tossing curls to her crystal-blue eyes,with the longest eyelashes anyone has ever seen. They're like fans, for God's sake. When she flutters her eyelids, there's a breeze.
All my four grandkids are wondrous to me, representing the upspringing of new life in the midst of a very dry wasteland. My disillusion with the writing business (NOT with writing itself, which was still compelling) had parched my insides into those flakes you see in the desert, you know, in National Geographic or someplace.
Erica made her debut at such a time, and I will never forget rounding the corner in the hospital room and seeing her for the first time: she looked like a tiny, pink, compact, living rosebud, and she had that ineffable sweet baked-biscuit smell of the newly-arrived.
It's a fascinating thing watching any baby become themselves, evolve into
who they are going to be. I remember reading somewhere (maybe one of those myths we all ascribe to, like "you remember everything that ever happened to you" and "we only use 2% of our brains") that our personalities are basically set by age two. Yikes. Parents who've made any mistakes at all must shudder at such a statement.
But such is the fluidity and surprise of human nature that even the worst two years can cause the plant to grow around the obstacle. Cedars abound here, and many of them grow too near power lines. Often they have to be trimmed in a weird-looking circle. I saw one recently that had put out a lot of new branches, but they all came straight up within a couple of inches of the power line. The tree "knew".
So what does this have to do with Princess Erica? Even the best life in the world is burdened. If nothing else, it's burdened by turning on the TV (guaranteed to depress anyone) and finding out about oil spills and plane crashes and little children dismembered by fiends. Who can fail to feel something, not hopeful, but horrific?
We need to say to our kids and grandkids, it's all right, there are terrible things out there in the world, but here, in your own home, it's not like that. The odd emotional explosion clears quickly for the most part, and it's back to the twinkly, shrieky fun of two little blondies tearing around the living room.
I love them beyond endurance, sometimes, and I do worry about the sort of earth they will inherit. Is violence escalating, or is it just reported more accurately (the old saw that journalists fall back on)? What about the stress of a madly-accelerating world, with gadgets replacing real human contact and people swelling in gross obesity due to grabbing the easy drug of junk food?
It wasn't supposed to be that way. I remember back in the '60s, there
were all sorts of reports of Xanadu, the World of the Future, of a lean, fit population (all that low-fat cooking, remember?) only having to work three days a week, spending the rest of the time in creative and recreational pursuits.
(Oh, and remember those dumb-ass domed cities, like something out of the Jetsons?)
It isn't going to be that way for Erica, my little blondie. I hope she will manage. Acceleration tends to lead to more acceleration, unless stopped by a crash. Like the frog slowly stewed in increasingly-heated water, we just don't notice it, until we see the alarming increase of depression and addiction and autism and. . . fat.
It's doubtful Erica, in her sparkly little tutu and candystriped tights, will be anything other than sylphlike. I want a happy life for her, want it more than I want to live. I have the tremendous opportunity to love her without reservation, without the burdens of parenthood. I can be the fun nanny who chases them around the room, plays Barbies and PlayDoh and paper giraffes.
Sometimes I ask myself: What good will it do? Won't they forget? Is any of this banked in the psyche? How much do we remember?
No matter. Maybe it's for me, as much as them, and I will remember, remember every single sweet blessed day that I get to love them.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Eat Pray Love God Food: And Oprah Created Women


Is it my imagination, or does Oprah regularly decide to Change her Life by slavishly following a new guru, then replacing him/her once she gets tired of them and the bloom is off?

I just remember people like Sarah Ban Breathnach (who?), a lifestyle coach who used to come on regularly (but, unlike the male gurus, didn't get her own show). I wonder if she's still around, coasting on all that former glory, or languishing in remainder bins next to John Bradshaw.


OK, so this time Oprah tells us she has Found the Secret to weight loss and "food issues". And this time, boy, she really means it! I mean, really really really. It's all in this book by Geneen Roth, a formerly fat self-help/bestseller writer who has revealed an astounding fact: overeating, and food/weight problems in general, are often connected to larger emotional and spiritual issues.


Never having heard it before, Oprah was all over this idea like a mess of mashed potatoes with sausage gravy. In fact, during her "interview" with Geneen Roth yesterday, she monologued for 15 or 20 minutes about her own food problems, while Roth sat there nodding and saying "yes. . . yes. . . yes. . . ", her face arranged in what she hoped was a compassionate expression.


Food is tied to emotional issues? Ack! Oprah isn't the only one drooling over this thing, which is selling wildly, much as Women who Run with the Wolves did about a decade ago. (Take another look at that one and see if if it doesn't embarrass you.) Someone has been paying well-known self-help authors to salivate all over this book, or they wouldn't be praising a rival like this:


"Geneen Roth does it again! Women Food and God is absolutely mesmerizing. And loaded with insights which can change your life." - Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of The Wisdom of Menopause


"This is a hugely important work, a life-changer, one that will free untold women from the tyranny of fear and hopelessness around their bodies." - Anne Lamott, professional confessor/so-called counsellor/recovering sitdown comedienne.


OK, so obviously I don't feel very good about this book. Actually, it's not the book, and it's not even Oprah telling us the book has led her to "epiphany after epiphany" about making the connection between eating and emotional stress.


It's the fact that we've heard it all before, ad nauseam. All the elements get scrambled around, and the face of the author (usually compassionate and spiritual - and by the way, none of them are fat) changes with the seasons. Oprah leads the parade, beating her vast drum and insisting that this book, this author is the one who represents the one true religion about fat.


I feel sorry for Oprah, I really do. I think she is a sad woman who lost touch with herself long ago, and is now trapped in a kind of bizarre media godhood (goddess-hood?). What she says, goes. My prediction is that she will soon enter politics, and if a B-movie actor or a peanut farmer can make it to the Presidency, so can she.


I've been rather guiltily reading another best-seller, the Kitty Kelley tell-all bio, Oprah. It's not particularly charitable, but at the same time it's believable: the Big O has become a media behemoth, her ambition fuelled by a desperate attempt to outrun her traumatized past.


Much has been made of the fact that O has never had therapy, insisting that public confession is enough to heal her wounds. Her Kirstie-Alley-esque weight-bounces are beside the fact. But then again. . . Why this thundering response to a book that seems so self-evident? The Oprah who used to preach sermons when she was three (oh, maybe five) has stepped up to the pulpit again, insisting that THIS TIME we have found the answer. Not by dieting, not by agonizing or weighing, not even by joining Jenny Craig (like a lot of her "successful" guests). But by becoming spiritually aware. By realizing that we need to embrace the things we hate and fear the most.


OK: I have a few things that are hard to embrace.


Environmental meltdown. Oil spills. Random, vicious violence. All those little school children hacked to death in China. Drugs. Waste. The capricious, often horrendous turns of fate that can derail a human being for life. Cancer. Suffering. Pain of all kinds.
Global warming? You get the idea.


Even the things that lurk in my own psyche (jealousy, lust, anger, violent mood swings, loneliness, despair) are pretty gol-dern hard to embrace. I can't really see how embracing them will help. But then, I don't have a book on the bestseller list.


I predict that within one year, or maybe two, Oprah's miraculous weight loss under the Roth banner will have bounced again. And she will once again be fishing for people who insist they have discovered The Secret.


Speaking of, wasn't there a book by exactly that name that Oprah touted not so long ago? Its main premise was that you can get anything you want - anything - just by wanting it badly enough. A woman wrote in to Oprah claming that she had cured her breast cancer this way (prompting the producers to send her a frantic note).


Then came the news headline: this particular guru, James Ray (no relation to James Earl Ray) had been performing endurance tests on his disciples, including an extremely hot sweat-lodge that caught fire, killing several people.


The answer? I'm not even sure I know the question yet.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Didja ever send an e-mail to a dead guy?

OK. This entry just about shows you where I am spiritually, not to mention on the friendship level: I just sent an e-mail to a guy whom I am almost certain is dead.

I mean! Can't I do something silly once in a while? Can't I grasp at vapour, send arrows into the void? For this guy, maybe.

It was one of those wildly unlikely friendships that sprang up overnight, and it was during one of the most trying, even overwhelming times in my whole life. We would meet at Starbuck's, and very soon his sardonic humour (often blacker than black) would make me laugh myself teary-eyed.

(Excuse me - have to go grab a cup of Red Rose tea. This post has nothing to do with anything.)

Anyway, this guy, he kind of had everything wrong with him. His health, I mean. He carried it around with him, and I worried. But he didn't talk about it much. Preferred to make gruesome cracks about the joys of depression and the futility of visiting psychiatrists, who would say things like, "You look fine to me", when you were obviously at death's door.

Hey, my friend, at some point a few years ago, your e-mail didn't work any more, and I had your phone number but was afraid to ask your wife, "Is Raymond still alive?" I still have a book of his, it's in my front room cupboard right now waiting, for what I can't say. Friendships like this blow in with force, then melt in the fog of inevitability. Don't they? This guy knew Sylvia Plath (not personally!), and when I handed him my version of the poem Daddy (called Daddy II), he winced, and guffawed, and groaned in all the right places. He "got" it.

To be loved is lovely, but relatively commonplace. But to have someone "get" you - I mean really "get you" - how often does that happen in a lifetime?

So what's the deal here? Is he dead? Is he? I just tried about seven potential addresses and e-mailed him to ask if he was alive or not, and am waiting for it to bounce back at me, as everything seems to bounce back these days.

Where does everything go? Where are the people? I look around me, and my life seems as white and bleached as a pure untouched sheet of paper.

Raymond?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ducking for apples, or, the queen of the quotes


Yeah, I know, posting quotes from famous writers is pretty cheesy, and maybe I could think up a better idea if I weren't so preoccupied with finding an agent to represent my (third) novel. It has me dancing on a bed of needles, my nerves jumping at every turn.
So let's think about something else, shall we? Meaning, one Dorothy Parker, a writer known for her sardonic poetry and even more sardonic quips ("One more drink and I'll be under the host", "You can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make her think.")
Parker was brilliant, but she was also lightning-quick, fast on the verbal draw. She and her buds sat around a big round table at the Algonquin Hotel and drank their lunch every day. Quips flew like ping-pong balls, which is kind of surprising because these guys (all guys, except Dottie Parker) were so inebriated they could barely stand up. But then, this was the Jazz Age, and drinking was forbidden, a little naughty, and necessary fuel for the writing life.
Some of her best quotes seem to come out of the air, meaning they were likely part of a larger conversation. Such as the one about ducking for apples: "There but for a typographical error is the story of my life." And how did that sweet little debutante injure her leg? "Sliding down a barrister."
You don't get paid for these things ("a girl's best friend is her mutter"), so Dottie really had to scrape hard to make a living. She wrote grand short stories, as well as the kind of whimsical verse made popular by Ogden Nash - except that it went like this: "Three be the things I shall have till I die,/Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye." Book reviewing kept her afloat, and books were piled everywhere in her messy apartment, along with empty bottles, leftover cheese sandwiches, eviction notices, and assorted poodles.
Parker had a soul-friend named Robert Benchley, a humorist who was kind of like Bennett Cerf (God, why do I know about Bennett Cerf??). They never had sex, or at least I don't think they did, but they loved each other in a special way. I once considered writing a memoir of my crushes on men, titled Searching for Robert Benchley. (Don't anybody steal that, I might still use it.)
Poor Dottie. Though she lived to be over 70, she became increasingly bizarre and snappish with the years, so that her league of loyal friends thinned out. She could still get off a good one now and then ("This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."), but as the years passed, her life was loneliness, booze, TV game shows and messy old dogs.
What's the point of all this? Dorothy Parker is incredibly famous, but what exactly did she contribute? A few slight plays, even slighter verse, short stories that were memorable but not great. She was a personality, a package deal, and when you think about it, all writers need to be that way: a walking advertisement for their work, if not for themselves.
Writers are the delivery device for what they write. They must get out there and live it. Work it! And try not to get too drunk in the meantime.
Does it have to be that way? Does it?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Glumday glumday


I'd say this is how I looked this morning when I opened my eyes, but I couldn't open my eyes.
Oh it was a great weekend, yessirree, a nice weekend in which I ate nine pieces of bacon at a Mother's Day brunch.
Then came the day of reckoning, the day I had to suck it up and start approaching (with a whip and a chair) literary agents to "represent" (I hope) my unpublished novel to publishers.
I've gone through this before. Yessirree and Bob. It wasn't exactly my idea of a good time. Unfortunately, my agent and my publisher got so tight with each other that they forgot all about me. It was too sad. I felt burned, not listened to, and sadly sunk back into my cave with scales falling off me.
Fortunately, during this time I wrote three books (two novels and a book of poems). The third one, I think, is the charm.
I wrote this book with the lifting heart of a lover, or of gull's wings scudding the horizon. I almost ran to my computer every day to work on it. Jesus, I loved this book! And given the fact that I had two "well-received" (read: remaindered) novels to my credit, I thought it would be a breeze to sell this one.
That is, until I began the process of trying to get noticed, and slammed into the same brick wall I first encountered in about 1987.
This is not to complain about my lot as a writer. Jeezly, no! What could be better! What could be more fulfilling than pouring out your soul on a piece of paper! To expect people to actually read it, then to expect to be paid for it is the height of arrogance, is it not? Yes, except for J. K. Rowling and Stephen King. We like it that they're famous and rich.
This is just the Mondays, the moondog-days that always follow after nine pieces of bacon. No doubt that many nitrates poison the brain. Are dreams punished in proportion to their majesty? Could be. Why do I keep on doing this? Because I'm good. Oops! Here comes the gorgon. . . arrrrghhh. . . aaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Wallflower






You know how they say that to be a real writer, you're supposed to be able to paper a wall with rejections? I guess I did it wrong. I papered my garbage pail.


I papered my soul with disappointment. I fell, and tried again. I must have been nuts. What is it about this so-called art, this obsession? So many of us want to be writers. Right. I have heard that the writing itself is about 25% of the process. But 25% of what? Of "success". Of "making it", of becoming a literary star.

I once had a friend ask me, "OK, Margaret, if you're so obsessed with all this, tell me. How do you get on the bestseller list?" I went completely blank. I had no idea. I knew it had very little to do with the quality of the work. I had been reviewing books for 20 years. Some of the best books I read were published by tiny literary presses and probably sold 1000 copies, tops.

And then there's the phenomenon of mass-market paperbacks and fat hardcovers that ride the top of the lists for months, even years. How do they get up there, stay up there when the quality is so uniformly awful?