Thursday, March 30, 2006

Stuff to look at


*If you're a victim of insomnia, here are two interesting websites that allow you to watch other people who also happen to be awake:

1) Streaming videos of people getting married by an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas. Check out their archives. Very interesting. Saturday nights are especially wild.

2) Streaming video of people in Times Square. I don't know why I find it comforting to watch people browse for souvenir postcards and hail taxis...but I do.

*My nominee for March's Perfect Post Award goes to Rude Cactus and his March 28th post entitled "How Bobby Ewing Changed My Life". Check it out and get a laugh.

*I've been asked to be Melanhead's "Person of the Week" for next week (I think it'll be next week). It's a shameless attempt at self-promotion, but would it kill you to check it out when it goes up?

*I'm loving my new satellite radio. I listen to Air America and then zip over to a comedy channel. Then I can hear jazz or something retro from the all 60s station. Recently, I've been stuck on the All 70s station and just finished listening to Neil Young and some old Midnight Oil.

* Every year in our city, Radio Shack Corporation (headquartered here) presents all public high school students with a GPA of 4.0 or higher with the Radio Shack Scholar Award and a banquet, which gets held later next month. Both our older sons are recipients and today was the day of the group photo that will go in a book with all of the other schools' group photos. Students are supposed to dress up and every year I've managed to remind our boys to wear Dockers and a polo for this picture. Until this year.

We totally forgot about today's photo shoot.

One saving grace is that our high school is the largest in the city (3000-plus students) and every year the majority of the RS scholars come from our school. While most public schools in this city (there are 15 that participate) require only one page of the commemorative booklet to picture all of their awardees, our school require four pages. One for freshman, one for sophomores, etc. What this means is that there will hopefully be so many people crowded into each photo that it's likely no one will see that our sophomore wore a Texas Rangers t-shirt. Or that our junior wore a dark shirt declaring, "Let me drop everything to work on your problem" in stark white lettering. Or the guy standing next to our sophomore whose shirt simply said, "I SEE DRUNK PEOPLE" .

I know his parents are so proud.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

More random things about me

We keep strands of lights up in our little courtyard near the herb garden all year around. The porch light upstairs is just outside Mr. Half's office over the garage.


1. I didn't have my first real drink until I was 18 years old and in college (that was the legal drinking age back then). It was Budweiser in a can which we covered up with a sock and we were drinking them in the hallway of our dorm. Even though the RA knew what it was, she "technically" couldn't see what it was and could pretend it was a Coke. Some people say that they had to get used to the taste of beer, I liked it right away. Actually, I didn't do anything I wasn't supposed to while I was living at home. But once I left...

2. One of my favorite poems is "i carry your heart" by e.e. cummings

3. The first nightmare I ever had (I was four years old) involved seeing "The Wizard of Oz" for the first time. It involved the Wicked Witch chasing me through our old house and as I threw myself under a bed to escape her, she clawed me with her long green fingernails. A good one-third of my dreams involve being pursued with violent intent.

4 Another third of my dreams involve looking for something/someone I have lost or trying to reach a college professor about a class that I quit showing up for. It's a class that I have to get credit for in order to graduate. I've read that this dream signals feelings of an unfulfilled mission or desire in life. That there was something I was supposed to do that, subconsciously, I don't feel that I've really done. Yeah....big shocker, that.

5. The remaining third usually spell out fairly specific messages. Or they don't make any sense at all. The other night I had a dream that I was supposed to be showing someone in my yoga class how to go into "headstand" . Normally I don't have problem doing this, but in the dream I was not able to lift my legs off of the mat and then it turned out that I was being made to wear these big, yellow, shiny shoes that were really heavy. I have no idea what that means, but the next morning my shoulders and neck were really, really stiff.

6. Back when I was young, whenever anyone asked me what my favorite color was I would say "clear"...as in transparent. Yeah...I know it doesn't make sense. In truth, I was so afraid of declaring for one color and then being left out of the other groups of people who liked something else that I always said that I liked "clear" which sounds like no color at all, but I always pictured a prism (which holds the rainbow inside of it) when I said it. For the record, I like yellow/gold colors. Pumpkin. Red.
Autumn colors.

7. I have always felt that the unsatisfying social path my life followed all throughout public school could be traced back to the cosmic accident of having been placed in Mrs. Castleberry's 1st grade class...instead of Mrs. Dulen's class with all of the girls who eventually got picked for cheerleader every stinking year. But I'm better now. Honest.

8. I'm 5'8", but I wish I was 5'9". I've spent my entire life bemoaning the fact that, of the eleventy-million characteristics/quirks/abilities/traits I've inherited from my father's side of the family, the one thing I DIDN'T get was his olive skin. I tan and can get pretty dark in the summer, but in the winter I look like a piece of chalk with eyes. I like my upper lip and my teeth are good, but I hate my hands.

9. The first concert I ever went to was the Electric Light Orchestra. Elvyn Bishop opened for them. I still can't hear the song, "Fooled Around And Fell in Love" without thinking about that summer. I was 16.

10. At the end of my freshman year of college I was waiting for my parents to come get me and my clothes, etc. so that I could go home for the summer. (I didn't have a car or I would have driven home...or maybe this story would have ended differently). I had a couple of hours to go and the guy I was sort of "seeing" came by and we hung out for a while. He was going with two friends to a Ranger game and asked me not to leave that night--but rather--go with them to the game and he'd take me home the next day. I had the phone in my hand and seriously thought about telling my mother not to show up, but I didn't have the guts to get my parents to change plans. I had to come home and get a summer job and I knew this change of plans--plans that involved not coming home for dinner as opposed to doing something with someone who wasn't "family--would not sit well. So...we said goodbye and made plans to see each other the next week.
The next morning the phone rang and it was this guy's sister telling me that he had been killed in a car wreck on the way back from the baseball game. He and the other two guys were drunk and he had been thrown from the car (not wearing a seatbelt) and he died at the hospital. The other two clowns he was with survived. I was crazy with a grief that I don't believe I've felt that many times in my life, and I really felt awful for months. I felt that I should have gone with him to the game and that maybe I could have kept him from dying. I could have made him wear a seatbelt. In retrospect, there's a good chance I would have wound up dead or hurt anyway. He would have been one thing (one really big thing) that could have kept me from transferring to A&M, which I ended up doing that summer. Had I stayed in Denton, my life would be a lot different...but I wouldn't have all of this. One thing. Just one thing. Life turns on a dime every single day. It does that for everyone. Sometimes...if you pay attention...you can see it when it happens.


Monday, March 27, 2006

The only kind of math I understand

Studies have shown that the subjectivity of physical beauty (as it applies to the eye of the beholder) actually has roots in facial symmetry. A few years ago I saw a television special that revealed experiments involving head shots of people and then a random sampling of people who were asked to categorize them in terms of attractiveness. It is important to note that they were asked to select from an assortment of pics showing people who were generally agreed upon as being nice-looking. No one put a picture of Lyle Lovett next to George Clooney and then asked them to pick their favorite. And I believe none of the photos were of famous people...so as not to poison the well of objectivity with predispositions toward or against someone.

Apparently, most all of the participants (although secluded from one another) singled out the same people over and over as being the most beautiful. Further analysis of those selected showed their facial dimensions to be mathematically/geometrically close to perfect. Symmetrical. Eyes not too far apart. Not too large or too small. Cheekbones level with each other and eyes that measure the same distance apart. Lips that are shaped just so and the nose is equidistant from the eyes and the mouth. Chins that don't extend beyond the forehead and at the same time don't recede. In other words, identifying a person as beautiful had nothing to do with color of hair/skin/eyes and everything to do with how the features were arranged on the face. It was all a mathematical equation. Facial geometry.

Even infants (who aren't old enough to be snooty about looks), when shown pictures of a really attractive person versus a not-so-attractive, showed particular interest in the "more conventionally handsome/pretty" of the two.

Maybe that's what it is about Dr. McDreamy that has all of us so uncomfortably thrilled with his lovely countenance, and though I haven't had occasion to measure him, I would not object to the task if asked. There's certainly a facial architecture there that makes you want to give Mother Nature a big high-five for creating something so pretty. Despite my last post where I lightly thumped Patrick Dempsey for taking Botox injections, I must hasten to admit that if I was blessed with a face like that, I'd be reluctant to let the mudslide of the aging process render me a wrinkled mess before I was ready. So...yes...I confess: He's prettier than T.R. Knight's character George O'Malley. In fact, he's quite possibly the prettiest guy on television right now.



Having said that, Patrick Dempsey still doesn't get my vote for best looking man alive...or in this case...dead. That's because my all-time idea of the most perfect-looking man ever fashioned by God and nine months of gestational incubation is John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Hands down, JFK, Jr. is and has always been for me the most symmetrical-looking human being ever to draw breath. From his head (with its most excellent hair) to his feet, he was --and remains-- the best Geometry equation ever written...and I'm not even very good in math. When I was a teacher, my classroom supply closet had a photo of him in it (because I put it there). When he died my running buddy and I bought every magazine that celebrated his brief life with a picture on the cover. I still have them. Because JFK, Jr. was a kid when I was a kid, I can attest to the fact that this guy was even a good-looking adolescent. He was also one of the most visible members of my generation, and I still find it difficult to believe that he's now and forever beyond the reaches of the most dogged celebrity photographer.

Yes...Mr. Half knows all about my fixation and I grant him the same latitude when he looks at Keira Knightly (whom he affectionately refers to as Keira GoodKnightly...in his words the kind of woman so beautiful that it makes a man want to crash his car into a wall )

Even my friends who, unlike me, do not share the political views of the Kennedys find it difficult to deny the superior way John Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier's nice-but-nothing-spectacular-looking DNA combined and recombined with such rare and stunning results. In fact, take a look at all of the Kennedy clan...for certainly there are enough of them to populate a small town....if you don't believe me. The Kennedys provide a vast array of "looks"....everything from toothy and homely to really plain. Some nice-looking and even a few really handsome folks. All bear some aspect of the unmistakable family features, but nevertheless, this is a group that pretty much provides a Whitman's Sampler of facial variation.

But surely JFK, Jr. represents a kind of familial savant of genetics where a little molecules of gorgeosity that had been set aside for each of Ted's, Robert's and John's kids were somehow siphoned off into Jackie's uterus in 1960-- the moment the Goddess of Chromosomal Distribution finished the blueprints for the President's son. It certainly would explain the way he stood out in a crowd...be it his relatives or perfect strangers on a New York street corner.

What he might have done with his life had he not foolishly decided to fly his plane on a foggy night with a cast on his foot is anyone's guess. He was a decent person...and from all accounts...a kind and generous man who took to heart his family's mantra: "To whom much is given, much is required". But the purpose of this post is not to discuss what he might have been...but what he actually was...or at least part of what he was. And what he WAS was so breath-takingly handsome that it makes you blink a little to behold the shirtless young man playing Frisbee in the park or the man in the suit behind the podium or the guy in rolled-up shirtsleeves at his desk.

Because--damn--in my opinion no one else even comes close.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

The sacrifices we make



I confess that I've been watching HBO's "Big Love" since it aired and have missed every episode of "Grey's Anatomy" during those three Sundays and now I find that I'm swamped with guilt over having been so faithless. I've tried to assuage my feelings by reading the blog that Grey's writers have going, and that has helped some, but mostly it has made me miss those characters like crazy. "Big Love" is very, very interesting. I don't LOVE it, because the nature of the belief system, which began as a polygamous endeavor, makes me feel pretty skeezy anyway. I know it's just television, but it's television based on something very real and awful. It's like a train wreck orchestrated by a seemingly innocuous conductor (Bill Paxton), but the lines that come out of his mouth make me feel all weird and conflicted. It's fascinating and disturbing. And. I. Cannot. Look. Away.

Fortunately, Mr. Half saw my distress and so part of my birthday gift was a big box of TiVo!! (In addition to my new XM Satellite Radio) Problem solved! I can now return to my regularly scheduled programming.

And for the record? If forced to choose (for you guys...this is like the "Gilligan's Island" Ginger or Mary Ann" question), I'm afraid I'd pick George over McDreamy. Okay...I'm not an idiot. I wouldn't object to one night with McDreamy. But I saw Patrick Dempsey's interview with Barbara Walters and he confessed to using Botox and...uh...that bothered me a little. Don't ask me why. Anyway...now matter how gorgeous, his character can't make up his mind and that chaps me. George, however, is just all there and totally wonderful. Who couldn't love a face like that? McDreamy for a night, but George for a lifetime.

Uh...just pretending, Mr. Half.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Where each consecutive birthday trumps the tragedy that was my adolescence

Here's a revealing photo from way back. This may have been around 4th or 5th grade...I'm not sure since I've tried to forget a lot of it. Clearly this picture could be captioned: "The ugly stick in mid-strike". I despised this haircut as well as the modification my own mother made shortly afterwards when she cut my bangs too short with scissors from her sewing basket. Oh GAH! The horror! I'm still having flashbacks.
Fast forward to a better pic...or happier at least. Taken a few years ago with Mr. Half.

Thanks to all who have sent birthday wishes. It means more than you know. Technically, my big day is March 24th, but I usually try to embark on my journey of self-pity and despair a few days early. I won't announce exactly WHICH birthday it is, let's just say that I'm older than Queen Latifah and younger than Christie Brinkley and leave it at that. Mmmm-kay?

I know we're supposed to believe that age is just a number, but it's really also a marker for achievement. I'm okay in the personal achievement department, but I've been in hand-to-hand combat with my free-lance career since it started. And if I feel I haven't really done anything significant since the last birthday...well...things can spiral downward in an unsatisfying way. Sure, sure...it's all in your attitude. If you think you're special, then you are special. Believe in yourself and you can do anything. But there's a fine line between self-confidence and self-delusion and if you don't believe me, I've got some taped episodes of the "American Idol" auditions I think you'll want to see.

What hit me hard this week was the obituary of a woman who graduated with me from high school. She died of pancreatic cancer eight months after her diagnosis. She was so tough that she worked for five of those months. This was a woman who knew what she wanted to do...even when we were kids...and she went out and did it. She was brilliant. Bachelors degree from Georgetown University and an MBA from Columbia University. At our 10 year reunion she was working on Wall Street and since then had spent her years being VP of this investment firm or creating her own invesment group. She gave her money to Doctors Without Borders and Emily's List. She gave financial backing to artists and sat on the board of the San Francisco Ballet. She did all of this without being dependent upon a husband/boyfriend/father for a dime. At the time of her death, she was President of a fund for an international investment firm.

Her death hit me hard, though not for the reasons you'd expect. Yes, sure...I was sad about her dying. She was too young for that. She was a good person, but we were not close or even what you'd call friends. We both placed into the same Advanced Composition class our senior year of high school, but we sat on opposite sides of the room, and after graduation I only saw her at the two reunions.

No...what hit me hardest was how her life stands in such a stark contrast to my own and how that made me do a lot of navel-gazing this week about what I've done with my own life since graduation from high school and college. No way could there be the kind of obituary for me that was written for her. Yes...she died too young, but even so she packed a lot of living into those years. She accomplished a lot and there was this linear progression of plan and execution, plan and execution that I can only envy. The highlights of my day today? I helped the youngest son finish a major project on Macedonia and I also had my teeth cleaned. Oh...and my editor rejected my proposed book review because someone else had already asked for it or reviewed it or something. I'm foggy on the details.

I'll be fine...really. It's just reality slapping me in the face with its cold and cruel hand and just like the toy Weebles from back in the day, I'll wobble a little but I won't fall down. Not yet anyway. Happy Friday!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

5 reasons I'm still a feminist

Here's a sampling of what happens when women hand over their brains/bodies/futures to the decision-making of men. Click on these websites and discover with fresh horror the atrocities being committed in the name of patriarchal entitlement. (I'm sure that none of my male readers would fit into any of these groups)

1) Prairie Muffins: No...it's not the same as a cowpie, but it's still a load of crap. A pile of crap dressed in a denim jumper. Okay...maybe not the denim-wearer's fault, but it's definitely the fault of the guys they married.

2) You just thought these rules applied to your mother and grandmother, but guess again sister! There's a whole movement of mindsnatchers out there just waiting to turn every woman with ambition, intelligence, an original thought, and a creative mind into only a shadowy notion of what she wanted to be.

3) ASSHAT OF THE YEAR...and for more reasons that I can possibly list here. Here's hoping that if God ever gets back into the "smiting" business, Pat Robertson will be at the top of the list. Note to Pat: God is not talking to you. Those really are just the little voices in your head. But if He/She ever did start talking, it would only be to tell you to SHUT THE HELL UP!
4) Here's a clue gents: Polygamy is just an attempt to legalize the tragic fact that some of your less-intelligent bretheren can't keep their pants zipped until they get home to the "little woman".
Boys, if you've got a hankering for owning a herd of anything at all, do us ALL a favor: Get a truckload of sheep and leave women the HELL alone!

5) Rusty Yates with Victim--er--captive--I mean--Wife #2. Poor, delusional Andrea Yates needs to be in a mental hospital for drowning her helpless children, but her husband should be serving the prison term for forcing her to be his unpaid servant and continuous baby incubator while ignoring her mental illness. Hey Rusty, check out your new wife's expression. Is that doubt that I see..or did she just get a text message from Katie Holmes that said, " Even I feel srry 4 U. Get out now!!"

So....yeah...send me your nominations for the losers who chap your ass the most. Right now, I know all this is pretty negative, but I'm feeling the birthday blues and...well...you know....the whole "what's life all about" ennui.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

This reminds me of a story...

Our rain gauge is registering almost 5 inches of rain in the past 48 hours. January saw Texas in the throes of a drought and now we're under flood watch. It's been so bad and our dogs have spent so much time in their dog houses that they've taken to sitting out in puddles and staying soaked. Finally, we took them into the garage to eat their dinner, towelled them off and let them hang out in there for awhile with someone's old Teva sandal to chew on.

But the rain--incessant and dark--reminds me of something else. The night my parents took me to college. See...I'm a graduate of Texas A&M...I may have told you that already. However, that's not where I started out. My intention, I guess, was to go to A&M all along--having been raised by a rabid graduate of the old school (my father). School counselors being what they were back then, at least where my high school was concerned, no one started pelting us with collegiate pamphlets and SAT reviews and pep talks about visiting colleges to figure out where we should go (Unlike my own kids whose first experience with the SAT was in 7th grade).

By the time I got around to filling out my applications, it was clear that I didn't have enough math to get into A&M. I had enough to get into other schools...but not A&M...so our hastily-prepared PLAN B was for me to attend UNT (at the time it was North Texas State University) for a semester of college math and 14 other hours of assorted freshman "have-to's" and then transfer. Turns out...I liked Denton and I stayed for the entirety of my freshman year.

But the evening my parents took me to school was an evening just like this. Dark and Stormy...just like the past few days. Depressing. My dad was tense and my mother was emotional. I was the first child to leave in a family that wasn't terribly practiced in the art of "letting go". Nope. That would be another family. Not mine. So that night I was essentially released into the wild... dumb, untried and as inexperienced as Marsha Brady on her first day at Westdale High.

Anyway...we pulled up to the piece of crap building that seemed to be off to the side of the university...away from everything and everyone. West Hall, as it turned out, was the former athletic dorm. Condemned and slated for destruction...yet inexplicably open as our temporary and only half-filled "overflow" dorm. It was to be our home until we could get moved to another place on campus. The top two floors were vacant and only some of the second were occupied, which only added to my parents' already anxious mood. We hauled all my junk in out of the rain, though in retrospect it wasn't really what I needed. I had no stereo. No tv. No typewriter. No bookshelf. What I did have, and God only knows why, was an ironing board. Oh yes...my parents felt that would be indispensible to my college career. I was told that I could peruse the tags taped to the doors on the second floor until I found out one with my name on it.

I found the little yellow tag first and my parents hurried over to witness as I read off the name next to it...that of my first college roommate. I won't say her name here, because I don't know her anymore and I try not to use people's real names unless they tell me that I can or unless they're famous and can't do anything about it. I'll simply refer to her from here on out as Shaneequa...because that's really, really close.

Picture--if you can--my stunned and now grief-stricken mother whose own acceptance of the Civil Rights Movement worked better in theory than in practice. Witness the volumes of unnecessary tears practically shooting out of her eyeholes. Now picture my dad who never said anything about anything to me unless it started with the words, "Now just you listen here..." right before all hell broke loose. Hear my father's silent craving for a cigarette. The prospect of leaving their daughter on a night that seemed ripe for a flood of Biblical proportion paled in comparison to the notion that her first roommate was an unknown girl of another race. And me? My interest in meeting Shaneequa was only exceeded by my wish to see my parents stop unpacking for me and leave, and after practically having to peel my mother's fingers off of me one by one and shooing them out the door, I did meet the new roommate.

She was great. She was smart and from Dallas. She loved to read just like me. Her favorite book was Richard Adams' "Watership Down". She had spent part of her summer before her freshman year taking classes in junior college so that she was ahead of the rest of us. She looked like the character of Shirley on the TVLand sitcom "What's Happening?". In short...a lot bigger than me. We had a college algebra class together, which was mostly populated by athletes. By then I had "walked on" to the track team and it was obvious to me that the instructor treated us like idiots. He treated Shaneequa doubly so, and I assumed it was because he was a racist as well as a guy who hated his job. She ignored it and got him back by getting A's in everything. We got along together just fine, though we both knew other people from high school who were on campus and we usually sought those people out in our moments of homesickness.

Within a month, we had both been placed at another dorm and I was given a roommate from a tiny town in the Texas Panhandle. A short, plump girl who played the French Horn, listened to Country music and who'd never had a boyfriend. A woman who didn't drink beer but who occasionally "tippled" by having a little apricot brandy and wore cotton nightgowns and used terms like "oh my heavens". In short, it was like rooming with someone's maiden Aunt Gertrude. Boring. We shared a small bare room with two beds and one desk and two closets. It was a monastic little cell and the only difference between us and discalced Carmelite nuns was that fact that we were allowed to wear shoes. No matter..by the year's end, I was gone and on my way to College Station.

Later on I spoke with someone from my old dorm who told me that Shaneequa had run into some kind of trouble, though I can't recall what it was and it didn't really register with me at the time as being all that important. I didn't see her again....until about 7 years later. I was at the UTA bookstore (another city and university entirely)...browsing and wondering why I hadn't just stayed in college to get a masters degree so that my teacher's income would actually cover my rent/car/food. I picked up a couple of paperbacks that interested me and went to the register. The cashier looked just a little familiar. Her nametag said, "Shaneequa". That was before EVERYONE started giving their daughters this name, so you can imagine my surprise when I saw that she was my cashier.

She caught me staring and said, "Uh...can I help you?". I told her that I thought she used to be my first college roommate in Denton and I told her my name. Her suspicious look turned into a huge smile and she said..."yeah....skinny blonde!" I told her I was teaching in the city and asked her what she was doing. She told me that she had been asked to leave NTSU after a series of incidents involving roommates. "Yeah...I just could never get along with anyone and so I had to leave and come here" I guess I looked puzzled about how not getting along with anyone could get such a smart girl kicked out of college. She handed me my books and receipt and said, "You know? You were my favorite roommate out of the six that I had....(and she leaned in close for the the next part)...and you were the only one I didn't beat up."

Maybe she thought I was just so dull it wasn't worth the energy to slug me. I'm betting it was the ironing board that tipped her off.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy 17th to the kid who made me a mom

Oldest son (Greyson) is celebrating his 17th birthday today. He's an honorary Irishman, though I'm not sure where that'll actually get him in life. We're out for Chinese tonight (his favorite) and then home to watch old videos of the birthday boy (we do this for each kid on their special day and they never stop laughing their butts off at how they sounded back then) on the day he became our first child and the first grandchild for both sides of the family. Then...we'll feast on the homemade yeast-rising cinnamon rolls (with icing) that Greyson requested instead of a birthday cake. I made five pans yesterday exactly half were totally gone by noon today. I'm posting these for your enjoyment. Regular blogging returns in a day or so. In the meantime,
Happy St. Patrick's Day to you1

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Rest of the Story


Radio show guy Paul Harvey used to do these little things called "The Rest of the Story". Remind me to tell you about the one about "The Wizard of Oz". Pretty amazing.
Anyway...I've always been very curious about what happens to people I knew long ago. Google and other search engines and sites have helped me find many old friends from the past and it never ceases to amaze me how many fragments of our past lives are still out there. Not a day goes by that I don't wonder what ever happened to a toy I had (see the previous post) or a dress I once wore or a person I knew. In the case of today's post, it's a person who came back to me from the far reaches of my childhood.

When I was in the 5th grade, my Language Arts teacher decided we would do a writing exchange program with the students from another school in Columbus, Ohio. One day a packet of letters came and our teacher, Mrs. Thompson, began reading them aloud. One by one she would read the letters and anyone who was interested in writing to that person raised his/her hand. I can't remember what it was about one particular letter that inspired me to raise my hand, but I was given the letter from a girl whose name was the same as that of a famous American painter, if you transposed his first and last names with each other.

We differed in a few ways...she was short and brunette and I was tall and blonde. Her parents were divorced and mine weren't. She had two brothers and I had two sisters. What we did have in common was that we both liked to read Nancy Drew books. We both liked music and sang in both church and school choirs. Our birthdays were three days apart and we shared the same astrological sign, which was terribly important to us at the time. Many of her first letters to me came on lime-green stationery with Aries sign at the top.

We exchanged school pictures and birthday gifts. I sent her a scented fuzzy pen (all the rage back then) and she sent me a blow-up pillow that said "The Devil Made Me Do It". That last detail should date me quite accurately, for those of you still in the dark about how old I am. I believe we wrote to each other until we started high school...and there may have been a couple of letters in college, too, because I remembered for a long time that she wound up going to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. How else would I have known that?

I would give anything to still have those letters. I think they must have been the victims of one of several giant "purges" of clutter when I was moving out on my own and before I knew how I would come to value things like that.

Fast forward to 1993 or so when I decide one day to call the alumni services department of Miami University to see if they have any information on my old penpal. Miracle of miracles...they did. I wrote to her and I believe she wrote me back. I was able to find her again a few years later after we move to this house and one day I called her on the phone. Other than that phone call, though, we haven't really been in touch since college. That's a really long time.

Why we never thought of calling each other before is something I've often wondered about. What was amazing to me was how much our lives had continued to follow a similar path. Both of us had continued to have music in our lives throughout our adult years. We both became teachers. We both were married and had three children. Both of us left teaching and live relatively close to the place where we were raised.

A few days ago I got an e-mail from her and she told me about her kids...who sound like great people. She's coming to Texas in July (can't imagine a worst month to come here--weather-wise--unless it's August) for a conference and wants to know how far Fort Worth is from where she'll be...San Antonio. I'm thinking that it would definitely be worth a short trip down there to see a person I've known for...uh...well...a long time.

So here's to old friends that you've never met. To the importance of written correspondence and the miracles of long-distance commuication. To the potential that penpals created all those years ago when a letter in the mailbox that was just for you meant everything. And to bloggers everywhere...potential friends, confidantes and comrades all! Did you have a penpal?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Don't Fix What Isn't Broken








Change is inevitable. I know I'll learn that lesson eventually, but there are certain things that just shouldn't get messed with. Right now I can think of two:

Exhibit A: The Kenner Easy Bake Oven
Exhibit B: The Mattel Creepy Crawler Thingmaker

Back in the day there was nothing quite like pulling an all-metal Easy Bake Oven out of its box and whipping up a tiny chocolate cake in miniature metal pans. Mine was a coppery brown and a marvel of Lilliputian perfection. You plugged it in. It got hotter than hell. Dangerous? I suppose that cooking something with a high-powered bulb and reflective mirrors in a totally metal object that is plugged into a wall could be construed as...uh...somewhat hazardous. Show me an oven that isn't. Besides, there was a war going on (not WWII, you dopes!) and a little blister wasn't going to stop me from baking anything. For all I knew my ability to crank out tiny pies was the only thing keeping the VietCong at bay. (*cue patriotic music here*)

There were certain precautions one could take to prevent accidents involving baking one's own hands accidentally. I used a marvelous invention called a POTHOLDER to take the molten objects out of the little oven and then I let them cool before I ate it. No, it wasn't as good as mother's cake, but gaining a modicum of autonomy over your own life by being able to make your own dessert (that was before girls got the LIFE MEMO about having to do it every day for the rest of our lives for certain individuals who will remain nameless) came in at a really close second. Either way...you had yourself an iced cake in less than 20 minutes. What's not to love?

I saw an Easy Bake Oven recently. What a lame excuse for a baking contraption! What an affront! What an atrocity! The oven is plastic! How far do you think things are going to progress in a plastic oven? The bulb was small and of low-wattage. Maybe even battery powered. How long did it take to make the cake? Well...let me just say that I could fill a shoe with cake batter and set it out on my sunny driveway and it would bake faster than the "new and improved" EBO. I could bake it faster using a blowdryer or by waving an ordinary kitchen match over the top of the pan. Honestly...just thinking about it destroys my faith in humanity and technology.

Ditto for the Creepy Crawler Thingmaker. The PlastiGoop came in plastic squeeze bottles and, like the EBO, the contraption used to bake the bugs/snakes/creepy monsters used real metal trays that we lifted out of the cooker with metal tongs. The goop had a particular rubbery smell and consistency that was even more obvious as it heated up. Some colors seemed to bake faster than others and when Mattel introduced Glo-In-The-Dark goop we thought we would pass out from sheer ecstasy. It was an exercise in coordination to remove the baked rubber bugs from the trays using straight pins while they were still flexible without searing off your own fingerprints on the hot metal. Hey, no one I knew went to the E.R. on a Creepy Crawler-related accident.

It's just not the same anymore,though. The trays aren't heavy and the "cooker" is pathetic and slow. It's all so....*sigh*....safe. The resulting items aren't any good either. They're brittle and they don't smell the same.The new goop is now FDA approved and isn't any fun at all. It's tragic, really. The thrill is gone.

How are we to teach our kids life skills and survival tactics if we reduce the risk factors of their toys to that of a small rubber ball? Where's the adventure? Where's the rush of adrenaline? What's the world coming to?

Okay...I'm going off in a corner and wait until it's 5 p.m. when I can have a glass of wine without being labeled a "day drinker". In the meantime, amuse yourselves with this cool website about retro toys and then tell me about your own personal favorites. Perhaps by then my despair will have passed.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

What others see...

Our front porch features two windows that look into the front living room and I stood out there at dusk tonight with my camera. The resulting photograph reminds me of a couple of things:

First, one of my favorite things to do is walk or run at night. If I go at night Mr. Half is always with me, and it's great to wind through the neighborhood and catch the glow from houses as people start the evening portion of their day. Sometimes there's a burst of laughter. A kid practices piano. Couples having a glass of wine on the porch or someone's talking to a child as they stand next to the kitchen sink. Televisions flickering. Spotlights over the driveways as kids play a last game of basketball. The faint garlic bread and oniony smell when someone makes spaghtetti or lasagna and the opening of a door releases that heavenly aroma.

Daytime running through our streets allows me to see people as they leave for work or work in the garden or pull into the driveway after school, but windows and doors reveal nothing and most of their "living" takes place away from home or behind opaque screens that deflect the sunlight. Nighttime lets you walk by and catch a glimpse of people living together as roommates, friends, families. Sure, the streets are a little quieter, but the yellow lamplight spilling out from the windows gives you the "all is well" sense that everyone's cozy and comfortable and safe. I know it's not always true for everyone in the big world, but in our little world it feels like we're checking on everyone to make sure the neighborhood's okay.

The other thing is that Mr. Half always goes out at night after the kids go to bed and checks the doors to the cars to make sure they're locked. He's done this as long as we've been married and he also stands on the driveway and talks to the cats. He walks up the stairs to his office that is over the garage and checks the lock and then goes back down to the courtyard entrance to the little service porch and passes through to the garage again to get a beer out of the refrigerator that's out there. What I didn't know for the longest time was that he used this little quiet time to stand for a bit out in the yard and watch us through the windows. Not up close like a stalker, but way back...like an observer. He walked to every window and, before we got the dogs who need attention night and day, he made a complete circuit around the outside of the house. Every room spilled its light and its stories out in slanted rectangles onto the grass. The ones to the kitchen and the windows to the back living room. My office and our bedroom. Mr. Half said that to stand out in the yard and look in at his family and the different rooms of our home made him feel as though he was seeing everything with new eyes. He felt lucky and cozy and safe. And grateful.

I've since tried that exercise on several occasions and I think Mr. Half is onto something. Try it sometime. Look in from the outside and see what you have. Don't the colors look richer and the people even more precious than you thought possible? This is what others see. This is how rich you are when viewed through the eyes of others. Those dirty dishes still out on the countertop? It's just the remains of that fabulous dinner. That big stack of papers in your office? It's work. Remember those who have none and be grateful for yours. And that loud music that your teenager is listening to? Take the time to walk into his room and get him to share it with you. That moment won't come again in the same shape or form no matter how many times later on you wish that it would. I promise you'll walk back inside with a different view of your world...even the parts that drive you a little crazy. And just like George Bailey after he realized how glad he was to be alive amidst the chaos and uncertainty, don't forget to kiss the rickety newel post or give the the doorframe with the chipped paint a little pat before you close the door behind you.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Spring Break + Nine Other Things About Me

1) Tomorrow's the last day of school before Spring Break begins. I'm excited...I think. At least there's no homework to nag about, but now I'll have to make sure there's a teenager available to watch the youngest kid while I take a yoga class. Plus...we'll be exceeding our 9 gallons of milk per week consumption rate now that they'll be around all day long. No, I'm not kidding about the 9 gallons. Spring Break revelation about me: I never, ever went to the beach with friends for Spring Break. Never. I always had to come straight home. Not in high school and not even in college. Okay...I did spend two drunken days in Lubbock for PikeFest with my best friend Steve, but then...I came right back home. Did I imagine this or were we drinking beer out of milk cartons? Steve, get back to me about this.

2) I wasn't allowed to get my ears pierced until I was 15 years old. Yeah, it's ridiculous. Talk to my mother. You know what happens when you hold back on dumb stuff like that with your kids? They wait until they become parents and then they toss back a couple of shots of something, drive to Dallas with a friend and then get their navels pierced. That was almost 7 years ago. It's still there, Mom and Dad.

3) I keep hearing people say that liking The Three Stooges is a guy thing. Personally, I enjoy them. My favorite combination is Moe, Larry and Curly. Followed by Moe, Larry and Shemp. Joe just blows.

4) Staying home with small children can be a lonely business. Years ago I let a vacuum cleaner salesman into the house as well as two sets of Jehovah's Witnesses. Okay the salesman was a bad call, and he was really angry when we didn't buy his product. I let the Witnesses in just because I really enjoy a good argument.

5) When I was a kid, I used to watch "As the World Turns". Every. Single. Day. I kept up with the plot through high school and then when I went to college I witnessed how the world ground to a halt when "All My Children" or "Days of Our Lives" came on. I stopped watching soap operas the minute I left home and I can't for the life of me understand what compelled me to do it when I did. Soap operas feature the worst acting on the planet, except maybe for the Mexican soap operas. Cheesy and overblown. I'm deeply ashamed I ever wasted my time on them.

6) UPDATE #1: I checked on the house down the street while I was on my run today. Uncle Sam, the 4th of July yard display effigy, is still lying in the bushes...silently decomposing. Next to him is a sign I hadn't seen before. It says, "United We Stand". Not in this yard he doesn't.

7) UPDATE #2: I also saw the kid with the shaved eyebrows today. Damn! Eyebrows take a long time to grow back. At least he's not wearing the band-aids anymore.

8) In First Grade, Mrs. Castleberry divided our class into four reading groups and gave each one the name of a bird. Cardinals were the best. Robins were next I think. I was in the Bluejay group, and it took me a little while to figure out that this group was second from the bottom. I don't remember what the worst group was called. Vultures? Crows? I was stunned at being in a group that was bad at something, and it seems funny to me now because of my career with reading and writing. I do remember that it was the first time I was conscious of being "categorized" in a group. The shame was not in the categorization itself but that I was so clearly lacking a skill that I needed and that other people knew it.

9) In 2nd grade, I was washing my hands in the school bathroom when Deborah Kleinman told me that her father was a camel and her mother was a whale. Everyone knew that Deborah told the biggest lies, but for a moment I wanted to believe it was true. She invited me over to play once and her room was wall-to wall shelves of those dolls from every country. There must have been 40 of them and they all had very intricate costumes. I was fascinated, but I really I just wanted to see what her parents looked like. I was very disappointed when they turned out not to look at all the way she described them. She came back to our 10 year high school reunion and said she was a runway model in Paris, France. She was 6 feet tall and gorgeous, but something made me feel dumb for believing her. I haven't seen her since.

10) Not only was I the worst driver of the four of us in the Driver's Ed. car, but I didn't have many opportunities to practice at home. Lacking the chance to drive, I read a lot as I was being driven around. The result of this was that I had absolutely no concept of where I was going or how to get where I needed to get. When I got my license, I had no clear idea how to get to church or even to my grandparents' houses. I kept a spiral notebook with written directions with me in order to find my way around.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I'm not biting


The newest issue of "O" At Home magazine is out and I know exactly what Ms. Winfrey is trying to pull and I'm not falling for it. She couldn't lure me with pictures of her guest house that she had completely decorated with enough wall fabric to make a circus tent and exotic flowers in every room. She was unsuccessful in trying to show me how even a lowly, unfamous creature such as myself could eventually save enough pennies to buy some Manolos--perhaps from a guy selling them out of the trunk of his car--and enjoy the fabulous life of a celebrity. What about those crazy recipes she insists are easy and fun to make but, in reality, call for many items not carried in a regular grocery store and the preparation for which requires the services of a part-time soux chef. And those profiled B-listers with all that money and a loft in New York who still have no taste nor any earthly idea how to furnish an apartment until she sends in lovely little Nate Berkus to help do a massive makeover? Well--okay--I did read those issues, but I'm quitting you now Miss O. Putting Nate on the cover was a desperate attempt to sell the magazine, since it's certainly no novelty seeing your face plastered all over everything. First it was Dr. Phil and now poor Nate. Accept that he's the only good thing about your overpriced publication and get on with your life, but stop using him and his luscious bod to draw more attention to yourself. Really...it's too much. And so is your magazine.

HUMP DAY: Where things could go either way


First of all I'd like to take this moment to thank everyone whose comments in the last couple of days gave me a pat on the back or a kick in the ass. I desperately needed both. Here at Half House things are always crazy and disorganized and heavily laden with testosterone (I'm outnumbered 4-1) and I've accepted this as normal. But normal is really just an umbrella term for all kinds of other stuff that 's likely to happen.

Unfortunately, I'm a "glass half empty" kind of person and this state of mind usually intensifies as my birthday draws near. It's a time of re-evaluation for me and if life's great "To Do" list doesn't have enough items checked off on it...well...I tend to emulate my old college suitemate whose dark moods could be detected by the incessant playing of one particular song...over and over an over until we threatened her with physical violence. Coming back from class you could hear the familiar strains of Elton John's "Funeral For A Friend" all the way down the dorm hallway and we just knew things would be dodgy until...well...until they weren't anymore. So...nothing's changed really except my attitude and that's really half the battle, isn't it?

Okay...so I've been mulling over the notion of changing my template for Half the Sky and I've run into a bit of a problem. Blogger's description of the template designs available for our use are described online as "gorgeous"--but--oh my god--nothing could be further from the truth. Have you seen them? Really...just a rearrangement of the same colors over and over. Boring, boring, boring. Or in some cases...hideous. I've changed this template once before, but that was back when I had no blogroll listed and I've been advised that any change will only save my text...but none of the customizations. If I end up going to the plain white one (Minima?), it'll be a while before I can put all the other junk on there. By then it will be absolutely necessary for me to have some kind of header backgound pic up there to keep my blogpage from looking as blank as a sheet of Kleenex. Mignon's sent me the code for a header background, but my tiny dinosaur brain cannot comprehend it.

In the meantime, I offer something that I thought of when commenting on Chris' site. He told his readers to ask him any questions we might want to and so I asked him to imagine that he was in charge of one television station. From 7-10 p.m. this network would play only the shows he wanted and they could be as old as he liked. Some of his answers mirrored mine and it inspired me to use this as a post on my own site...with one change: I'm going to name 12 shows that I've enjoyed. All are in syndication and some can't be found anyplace on television. This station would air all of these shows (and more) for my own comfort and enjoyment. I invite you to compile your own list:

1) Love American Style- This was an hourlong show that my parents mostly thought was too old for us. (Kinda like the idea behind the fact that I wasn't allowed to read Seventeen Magazine until I was almost 17 ...and by that time I didn't care anymore.) This show was a series of vignettes about dating and romance.

2) The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd- Blair Brown and a young David Straithairn. Single woman. Lived in New York. Worked in a bookstore with Straitharn's character. Perfect.

3) I Love Lucy- Yes, in retrospect the limitations of her life were sexist and every show belabored the idea that she was some kind of incompetent nincompoop, but find me a show from the 1950's where that wasn't the case. The reality was that she owned half of Desilu Studios and was a shrewd businessperson. And funny. Plus the writing was good. ("I know he's half your kid, but when I hid my half, yours went right along with him.")

4) Friends - Just because.

5) The Andy Griffith Show- Please don't confuse this with Mayberry RFD. Just give me Andy and Barney, Opie and Aunt Bea. If you don't laugh after seeing the "Pickle Episode" or cry during "Opie the Birdman" then you have a heart of stone.

6) The Dick Van Dyke Show- Famous writers from the old "Cid Ceasar Show" and "Your Show of Shows". Carl Reiner was a genius...plus any show about people who write for a living makes me very, very happy.

7) Seinfeld- Do I really need to explain?

8) The Mary Tyler Moore Show- It was a great idea that was cancelled way too soon. Betty White was brilliantly repulsive as the "Happy Homemaker" and the arrogance of Ted Knight's news anchor character is only exceeded by his lack of intelligence. Sorta like Bill O' Reilly...but without the sex scandals.

9) Newheart- Not the one where he's an innkeeper, but the original where he's married to Suzanne Pleshette and is psychiatrist to Mr. Carlin. The drinking game "Hi, Bob" originated with this earlier show.

10) My World and Welcome To It- I'm betting there are very few people who remember this show. Based on the art of James Thurber, it was about a cartoonist and his family. Way ahead of its time for 1969.

11) St. Elsewhere- Way before ER or Chicago Hope there was this show. Check it out and you'll see a very young Denzel Washington.

12) The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau - Who knew that watching a skinny, little Frenchman scuba dive could hold my attention as long as it did? Calming and educational. I named my first pet fish after him. Unfortunately, someone failed to warn me that male Japanese fighting fish can be violent. That was revealed to me when I came home from work and found Jacques' roommates, Lucy and Ethel, dead and with their eyes and fins gone. I don't hold a grudge.


I could name a bunch more (Laugh-In, Monkees, M*A*S*H,), but I'm curious about the shows you miss. What would be on your personal television station?

Monday, March 06, 2006

When one hour in the day colors the other 23


Okay...not totally. And yet, today's little get-together with some people I used to write with (including our old editor who left us for greener pastures--see yesterday's post) only made me feel worse and more artistically adrift than ever before. Those who have established their comfy perch at a newsdesk or as a featured columnist can go about their business. This next sentence is for the free-lance writers out there looking for their next writing gig in the arena of culture: Print media is dying, my friends, and the first sections of every paper to walk the plank are visual arts and books.
My former editor, one of the lovely folk I met with today, is noticeably chagrined that I'm not employed as a writer as often as he'd like. We formed a nice mutual admiration society during the years we worked together. He was one of my favorite editors (of the four I've had) and I was one of his favorite writers. That said, he would like to see me do more with my writing than what I've been doing of late. I wanted to tell him that the front seat on the bus to Regretsville already has my name on it, given that I spent eight good years teaching stubborn adolescents to write instead of doing it myself. That...and the fact that so much of the time I was writing for him I was also running herd on three young sons, one of whom was a pre-schooler. He laughs when I remind him of the times we did phone edits and how one of those times involved me phoning him while crouched over the pages as I stood on my kitchen porch in the winter while my screaming toddler beat on the other side of the glass door with his tiny fists. Ah yes....good times.

Sometime while I was getting all those kids to a place where they could find their own pants, the newspaper business took a dive. The areas where I made my best money, visual arts and books, were the first areas to be eaten by ad space or obliterated altogether to save money. And it's not just newspapers that are suffering. Of the four magazines devoted to the reading life that debuted within the last 8 years, one of which I wrote for, two are no longer in print. Seems no one wants to read about stuff that makes them think anymore. Great art. Fabulous literature. Theater. Music. All have fallen victim to the encroachment of adspace. (Oh yes...they just fired our classical music reviewer...and in this town we have a little piano shindig here we like to call THE VAN CLIBURN COMPETITION!!!! How do you cover that in the newspaper without someone who knows classical music? Has the world gone mad? No wonder the New Yorker Magazine's creator and first editor, Harold Ross, put his writers and advertising execs on totally separate floors. To separate the wheat from the chaff, of course!

What doesn't seem to be affected are the pages devoted solely to the goings-on of the rich and wish-they-were-famous in this town. One woman ( I won't call her a writer or a journalist) gets an entire column a couple of times a week wherein she talks about bejewelled socialites and which clever dowagers managed to get shoes to match her handbags. She also covers the parties and the debuts and the funds raised by moneyed people "of note" who were so moved by the plight of the albino ferret (for example) at the yearly gala that they immediately fell into fits of melancholy and then shook off the mood by writing a big check. It's trash writing at its worst, but I can't imagine anyone getting rid of this broad in order to save the career of one Arts writer.

Pretty soon the paper will only be comprised of four sections: The Front for murders/rapes/money launderers. Sports. Obituaries. And the CRAPsection where that stupid, stupid woman writes every damn year about how the nubile and extremely wealthy debutants make their gravity-defying bow to the audience (Called the "Texas Dip") at their debut to society before downing three bucket-sized containers of Jagermeister and power-vomiting into the country club's new hot tub.

On the bright side....today's yoga session was awesome and I figured out how to take b/w pics with my camera. See? I found my silver lining...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

WHEREIN I ADMIT TO THE FEAR THAT I'M A FAKE AND A FRAUD.


I'm supposed to be hard at work on two non-paying projects and I find myself at a creative standstill. I hate a standstill. Unlike other people who become terror struck at the initial sight of a white sheet of paper in the typewriter/blank computer screen or a fresh and unmarked canvas, my creativity comes to a grinding halt even after I've already proved to myself that I know what I'm doing.

I have a file cabinet full of published clippings. Articles and book reivews from magazines, literary journals and newspapers going back to 1991. I don't have a problem finding words, and the whole twentyfivewords reference to this blog has to do with an editor who tried to get me to use fewer words in my pieces. Give me 600 words and I'll use 850. Oh yes, and my father who quickly bored of my wordy explanations when I was a kid and repeatedly said to me, "Don't build me a watch, just tell me what time it is".

I have art projects that I've finished, much of it stuff that I never thought I'd do and about half are projects that people paid me to do. Regardless, the word artist freezes on my lips when people ask me what I do. I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's because I haven't suffered for my art. Sure, I've suffered...but not for the art. I'm not a starving, x-ray of a person living in a garret with paint under my nails and a tubercular cough. Am I an artist who writes or am I a writer who happens to be able to slap paint onto a piece of furniture and have it come out decently? I feel that it's greedy to say that I'm both, and being artistic is really just a bonus anyway. All I ever really wanted to do was to write...even when I was a kid and played detective. After I read Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, a young girl who wrote compulsively about the world she observed around her, I realized that I wanted to be just like her...minus her boyish attire and addiction to lettuce & tomato sandwiches.

Why am I telling you this? Because two things happened recently. The first thing lasted for about two minutes. I was at an auction benefitting the high school where two of our kids are students and a good number of the school's older alumni were there. I was introduced to a man by a mutual friend, and after hearing my name he turned to me and said, "Oh, yes...the writer". He then went on to explain that he had met me at the home of my former editor and that he recognized my name (the last of which is long and hyphenated and not all that common around these parts...as opposed to the notion that I'm famous or important...because I'm not). Rather than be flattered, I was struck dumb with fear because I knew that his next question (and it was) would be to ask what I was doing right now. And because I'm not doing ANYTHING with regard to writing right now except for this blog, I cleverly turned the conversation to the topic of our mutual friend, the editor who fled these parts for a plum role as editor at the New York Times. Lucky Dog.

The second thing happened about a month ago when I was asked by the local Optimist Club to speak about books. Now, I've got to say right here and now that public speaking doesn't bother me at all. I don't get all that nervous when I do it. I used to teach in several different capacities (and still do) and I've spoken to groups of adults on many occasions that required me to write something first and I harbor no doubts when someone asks me to point out a book that I think is good or bad. But my first question to the poor guy assigned the task of getting me to sign on to this gig was, "Why in hell are you asking me?"

True, my name is still on the masthead of the local alternative paper, but I haven't pitched, written or published anything for them in many months (my choice...and more on that in another post). Unlike Harper Lee who only wrote one novel in her entire life (and let me pause right here and now to insist that I'm in no way comparing myself to her) and it was a long, long time ago, yet no one in his/her right mind would question her proper designation as a writer. For me, the years of toil at the keyboard don't continue to give me that distinction unless I'm actively working on something. I am only as good as my last project, and if that project was over a month ago and there's nothing new on the horizon, I feel sunk.

And sunk I am as I make notes for a speech I have to make on the 10th of this month to a roomful of people who are waiting for me to speak to them about the tremendously subjective topic of reading and books. And what can I say that won't make them my enemies right off the bat? Should I talk about my utter contempt for the romance genre? Should I "out" myself as a reader who doesn't read chick lit so that the men in the room will lend half an ear to what I have to say? Do I blast the men in the room who never read books by female writers or those which have female protagonists and then haughtily remind them that the celebrated author of Frankenstein was a female? (That always caused the 8th grade boys in my classes to blow a couple of brain cylinders when presented with that glorious fact).

I'll probably get by okay...I usually do. But there will be that lurking fear someplace that what I'm saying is just so much bullshit and that the next question someone in the audience asks will force me to reveal that my opinion is just my opinion and not that of an expert. Or...at least not an expert on a national scale...just a low-paying local scale...and even that one, not so much. That my last paid writing gig was months ago and that the one which takes so much of my time right now is not only non-paying (this blog) but mostly a secret so, ssshhhh, don't tell my parents or any of the people on the PTA boards I slave for or my neighbors or the rest of my family beyond my two sisters and one best friend whom I told more than a few weeks ago.

Aren't we all just fakers anyway? I mean, one day you're sitting in your senior English class in high school listening to the teacher talk about the brilliance of Steinbeck's "CanneryRow" and wondering if the guy you're dating is secretly screwing around with this skank named Beverly (yes...he was) and the next thing you're a desk jockey shuffling paper and e-mailing clients. In between that time was college and the first job...and then marriage and/or kids. How many of us have held more than one job? How many of us have trouble answering the question "what do you do?" with a one-word answer. (doctors and lawyers need not answer this) Can you? What about those who have held several jobs in their adult lives? Those of us who live in the part-time world. Those of us who spent a sizeable portion of our prime years home with kids and subsequently killed off some of our best brain cells. What happened to you, to me, to any of us since we were kids just figuring out how we wanted our lives to go that prepared us to be an EXPERT on anything? I mean...I brush my teeth at least three times a day and that still doesn't make me an expert.

And now...because I haven't really been researching books or reading the publishing catalogs or intensely reviewing anything of note (even though my bedside table is groaning under the weight of unread tomes), I have to feel like an expert about something I love but don't feel confident enough about to begin acting the part of literary cruise director for a bunch of strangers.

I mean...am I the only person who approaches new projects with hesitation and doubt? Talk to me, people!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

You can run but you cannot hide from the 4 Meme

MooAlex tagged me for this meme and her will is my command. Herewith:

4 jobs I've had:

* 8th grade English teacher
* freelance book reviewer
* teenage cashier in souvenir shops at Six Flags Over Texas
* Cash control at a water park

4 movies I can watch over and over:

* North by Northwest
* Shawshank Redemption
* Pulp Fiction
* Laura (1940's film noir...Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, Clifton Webb)

4 places I've lived vacationed:

*
Isla Mujeres in the Yucatan
* London
* New York
* Surfside Beach on the Texas coast.

4 places I've lived:

*
Denton, Texas
* College Station, Texas
* Alexandria, Virginia
* Arlington, Texas

4 websites I visit every day:

I pretty much go through the whole blogroll once each day, but in sections. However...
* Dooce
* The Huffington Post
* Thought C0ncoction
* Soul Gardening

4 favorite foods:

*
Chinese
* German beef stew (Mom's) with mashed potatoes.
* Steak and salad
*Captain Crunch and cold milk

4 places I'd rather be:

* on the beach getting a tan and reading a stack of books
* any bookstore...anyplace
* in New York with Mr. Half and the kids
* getting an interview with Michael Chabon...over drinks and dinner

4 people I'm tagging:

*Debbie
*Rock
*Gradual Gardener
*Lucinda



Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Freakish weather and other thoughts

1)Two weeks ago it was icy and raining. Today, it was 98 degrees. I'd like to act as though I'm surprised about this, but it is Texas after all. People have a saying around here...stop me if you've heard it: "You don't like the weather here? Just wait a minute." I'd say that the last few weeks are a perfect example of that. Drought. Rain. Freezing rain and ice. Heat. By the middle of summer you'll hear me begging for a 98 degree day. I think we had a few days last year that reached 110 and that's the kind of heat that makes you stupid, folks. Have you ever tried to get into a hot car in that kind of weather without suffering third-degree burns on your hands? No? I've seriously thought about bringing potholders with me just for that very purpose. Hmmm. Is that a great money-making idea...or just the kind of desperate measure that desperate times call for?

2)I'm participating in a little thing called Perfect Post wherein the first of every month brings the opportunity to give a shout out to a fellow blogger who has posted something particularly thought-provoking or hilarious in the previous month. If you're interested in participating, you can let Lucinda over at Suburban Turmoil know about it. In the meantime, my nominee for the last month is Teebs over at Soul Gardening. She had a great post called Magical Places and I think everyone ought to head over and check it out. It's all about libraries.



















3)Finally! Something on HBO to take my mind off of the tragic loss of "Six Feet Under" and "Sex & the City". "Big Love" has Bill Paxton (He's from Fort Worth, y'all!), Anne Archer, Chloe Sevigny and some other chick I've never heard of. It's about polygamy in Utah. That alone should provide plenty of comic fodder for the writers. First episode is March 12.

4) Someone please tell Lisa Rinna (Dancing with the Stars) that her normal lips have been abducted and cleverly replaced with two bratwurst. Holy crap! What's with these women and their need to employ a compressor and airhose in order to inflate their lips to clown-like proportions? Rinna looks as though she's been in an accident of some kind. I'm all for a nice full set of lips, but this is beyond lunacy.

5)The Academy Awards...that 4 1/2 hour tribute to self-indulgence/boob enhancement and the occasional good movie will be broadcast on Sunday. Sure, I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone is wearing and watching carefully to see if nerves cause any actors to rush the stage with Botox syringes hanging out of their foreheads... leftover evidence from some last-minute primping. Jon Stewart is also a big plus. Intelligent. Sarcastic. Funny as hell.

I've developed a little bit of an Oscar routine over the last few years that involves not answering the phone, silence from all of the children and Chinese food that is fetched without my having to move and brought to me with a glass of wine. This year will be no different. Best Actor (Male) had better go to Philip Seymour Hoffman for "Capote". That was one fabulous movie. Best Actor (Female) will go to Reese Witherspoon. I haven't seen "Walk the Line" yet, but I probably will. Best Director is far more interesting to me than Best Picture (yawn!), but by that part of the evening I'm ready to put on my Three Stooges pajamas and crawl into bed. Do you have any Oscar traditions that you follow or is this just another night to hit Blockbuster and avoid the hoopla?