Apple Pie

Some things seem fool proof...like baking a pie. If baking a pie weren't easy, the expression, "easy as pie" wouldn't exist. Maybe it doesn't and I just made that up. But the point is, wholesome things, the things that make you feel all home and hearthy on the inside are simple. They aren't gazpacho with a hint of guava and mandarin orange or rawhide pajamas, but instead, cardboard containers of Betty Crocker brownie mix and blankets that smell like your couch. And while summer and spring are usually seasons of escape into the outdoors and adventure, the fall and winter bring us to our journey's end huddled up in bed with a glowing lamp and a good book while the wind blows and the sleet taps on the roof. 

Home speaks to the primal in us, because if we're lucky, within it, is a place that is ours, where we belong and where we are fully accepted. As a child this may be a favored stuffed animal and a mother or father's voice lulling you to sleep. As a teenager, home may be in the middle of your bedroom with the black lights on and death metal raging. And as an adult, home is your first apartment, the 100X100 square foot, roach infested kitchenette with cinder block shelving that is disgusting, but yours. 

My friend was mentioning to me the other day that I need a home away from home, simply because where I currently live has too many memories and isn't really my own space. I had been complaining about feeling simultaneously stressed out by my environment as well as irrevocably attached. I oddly never feel alone at home by myself, but often do feel vulnerable and sad at a table for one at a coffee shop or another place where people go to simply be around other people. So, yesterday, it being a beautiful "blue sky day" as they say in China, I grabbed Liontamer, my camera and went for a walk outdoors on a trail near a historic, riverside mill. 

I will have the photos posted tomorrow, but the trip got me to thinking about how different I am from a woman my age 100 years ago. Even walking on the nature trail with Larry we were careful to stay on the path, not get ourselves lost...and when I was thirsty after about 2 hours of wandering, we went right back to our car. A woman from the turn of the century might have just ambled down to the river, and taken a drink, then walked two or three miles home. A woman from the turn of the century probably had to get dinner started around 2 or 3 in the afternoon so it would be ready by evening....all I had to do was pop some Ramon in the microwave for a few minutes. 

All I knew about the women from the area was really what existed on their tombstones on the cemetary down the street. Maybe Ella Proctor from 1882 was meek and righteous, maybe she was petty and angry. Maybe she was completely unremarkable in every way. But I'd like to think that if you dropped her in the middle of New York City, she would have some transferable skills...even if the machines on the road were loud and frightening and if people dressed so immodestly. 

And if you dropped me in the middle of the Wild West in the 1880s...(which I think would be an appropriate comparison), would I have any idea how to survive? Maybe, although I'd be much more comfortable if my time travel experience supplied me with s six shooter. 

But are there things Ella and I could both do? We both know lullabies to sing to children. She and both could probably fix a hole in a sock, or sew on a button. We know how to start a fire with kindling and peel and boil potatoes. Perhaps things haven't changed as much as we'd like them to believe. After all, I'm just one natural disaster away from Ella's daily life, though we are eons apart in our sensibilities, opinions, and education. 

But I did decide to do something to prove to myself that I still have some genetic memory of my pioneer ancestry. I decided to bake an apple pie....with all the modern day conveniences of a brand new, gas stove with electric controls, ready made crust and store-bought Gala apples (likely imported from Brazil or someplace).

How difficult could pie be anyway? I'd taken out all the guess work for the crust and I didn't even have to pick the apples off the tree. I added spices from my cabinet and cleaned out some of my old college junk while I waited for the oven timer to tell me it was done. Perhaps it wasn't Ella's home or the way she would have made pie, but it was my home, complete with dishes in the sink, the computer on the kitchen table and the very same feeling of peace that comes to all who bake. 

Yet, as I was chucking out old papers on human rights and anthropology, the oven timer kept beeping and Liontamer kept telling me that the crust wasn't brown yet. Then, the liquid in the pie started to bubble up and out of the holes in the crust, making a mess on the cookie sheet we had underneath the pan. When we could finally wait no longer, we decided to let the pie cool, and I realised that I really should have gone out and gotten some flour for the filling....as it was now a watery mess...and the crust wasn't nearly as flaky as the picture on the packaging. 

And although the pie didn't taste terrible, I felt truly inadequate eating it with a spoon and pretending it was cobbler or apple soup surprise. Ella probably baked prize-winning pies, pies that won her beautiful ribbons and the envy of her quilting circle, and I have never quilted and my pie would have probably been fed to the dogs.

So I went upstairs with my book and my lamp and decided that simple pleasures aren't experiments...they're simple because they come naturally. And the same goes for being home...no matter how hard you try you only have one, and for me, it's not on a nature trail or in a Starbucks, but reading on the couch with Liontamer on the computer next to me. 



I am four or five years old. My father dropped me off at my best friend Austin's house. I remember playing with him for what must have been a whole afternoon. Something was wrong and I knew it deep inside of me, but was only a child. I could play with the toys and whisper conspiratorially to Austin and most of the time ignore the unsettling feeling in my tummy. Then, Gabriel* came. I had known him as long as I could remember, which maybe was two years, maybe one. He had a long curling mustache, a shiny bald head surrounded by a ring of short hair, and gentle eyes. 

He told Austin's mommy that my mommy couldn't pick me up so he would take me to her. Gabriel is my mother's dearest friend in the world. They worked on cruise ships together. I think he was a captain. He reminds me of my grandfather, Hy, who could catch butterflies in his hands and show them to me. 

Gabriel asks Austin's mommy if she has any water or juice for me, then asks for a book or two for me to read in the car. Traffic is terrible and the trip will take an hour or more. I wonder if he should ask for all those things. I think maybe Austin's mommy will get mad, but Gabriel speaks to her with his quiet voice and Iranian accent in such nice words that I wonder why she should be. 

He buckles me in to the backseat of his Mercedes with my books and my juice and my water. I feel like a princess. I feel safe and cherished with him. I still don't know why Gabriel had to come and get me. Perhaps my parents were fighting and that's why my dad didn't drop me off at my mother's house. Or maybe my dad dropped me off earlier than expected and my mom had to work. They had only been divorced for a year. It was messy. 

There would be other times, when Gabriel wasn't there. When my father would disappear for a week, leaving me with my new stepmother Mary. I wasn't allowed to talk to my mom on the phone. No one would tell me where daddy was (he was on business travel) and why I couldn't go home to mommy (an argument about child support). I wondered why I hadn't gone home yet, and in the middle of the living room, staring down at the dark wooden floors while Mary cooked dinner, I wondered if it was because my mother was dead and no one was telling me. Gabriel wasn't there when I was dropped off in the rear entrance of the parking lot because my mother had gotten a judge to issue a late night "habeus corpus." 

I remember the time when daddy and Mary fought in the parking lot of an airport and daddy and I left on a different flight home and I forgot my favorite pair of shoes in Mary's car....never to see them again. 

But when Gabriel was there, he always spoke in soft tones and brought me pretty presents, like a tiny, pink marble piano that played music. He would remind me--much to my chagrin--the story of when I was two and fell asleep under the glass coffee table with my butt sticking in the air. He would smoke pipes or a cigar, something that had a thick, bittersweet aroma that enveloped the room. 

He would tell me that his family had lived on the same parcel of land in Iran for centuries and that once, when digging up the garden with his father they found chain mail that belonged to a crusader. I imagined him in his family's garden at sunset, surrounded by jasmin and the mingling sounds of a bubbling fountain and the call to prayer.

All the tension and anger and sadness in our lives disappeared whenever Gabriel was there, he was water and all exotic things and peace. 

Then, he moved away, back home. Now he is sick. 

Every once in a while, I'll pick up the phone and my spine will tingle...like a voice from the past I'll hear his voice, so gentle and reassuring even now. The line will crackle and echo. He tells me he had a dream of us and wanted to make sure everything was OK. I have no idea how much the call probably costs, or whether it's safe for him to be calling us. 

And my heart will climb to my throat and I'll try to convey to him in the few minutes we have how much we love him. I tell him everything's fine...I leave out the truth, that I've been deeply torn about some life decisions lately and mom hasn't been feeling well and I'm worried about her. I just want him to know that we think of him often--that we pray he'll feel better soon. 

He says to keep talking until his calling card runs out and I am desperate to tell him good things...I mention I'm a writer now and very happy with my new job. He says "ooh!" with such pleasure and the line goes dead. I hope that he'll be smiling now and remembering the little girl drooling asleep on the carpet and wondering where time went. I hope he'll carry that news with him and be proud of it. 

I'll stay on a bit longer listening to silence just in case and hang up reluctantly. I feel hot tears on my face. The long-distance number I wrote frantically in black sharpie on the newspaper looks blurry. 

The distance between us seems larger than miles and political tensions...it seems infinite, inpregnable. I think to myself how maybe this is the last time. Maybe I'll never hear from him again. I feel like I've lost something precious that I carried with me unknowingly my whole life. I think how very lucky that little girl was to have an angel in her life like him. 

*Name has been changed. 


Like everyone else, I love a good doomsday scenario, but some are more entertaining than others. There's something dreadfully entertaining about the end times, whenever they're going to happen. Think about it. If you're one of the lucky ones, all those empty cars in the street--yours. All the jewelry in Tiffany's--yours. All the rotting food in the restaurants--yours. That is, of course, unless zombies or vampires or giant nocturnal spiders take over after sunset. 

And as for yesterday, where news agencies worldwide simultaneously created and assuaged panic by saying an experiment in Europe could destroy us all? I'm kicking myself for not listening to the The Sun's advice . There is a reason why debauchery is appealing--in those lovely moments before utter annihilation, personal ruin, or complicit seduction, you are almost glorious. Then hangovers, bankruptcies and unintended pregnancies rear their ugly heads and you wonder why you didn't just lean a little more left on that tightrope after all. The ancients had it right--you don't weep at the end of the world, you celebrate. 

I dabble in emergency preparedness like some people dabble in stocks. It's not because I want to survive in a post-apocalyptic nightmare starring Mel Gibson . It's because I'm afraid, as the late, great George Carlin put it..."that a little piece of hell will break loose. That will be harder to detect."

I am CPR-certified, have a first aid kit in my car, and because I live in a tornado prone area, a battery-powered radio, flashlight, water and food supplies for three days for Liontamer and myself. And if I never use these items, I'll be damn sure glad and won't be out my lunch money. 

I pity the poor people who spent thousands of dollars building bunkers and buying grain supplies in 1999, preparing for The Big one. Looks like they'll be eating wheat germ porridge for a long, long time--tortured by the nearness of McDonalds and Dairy Queen. 

And if the rapid punishment of Gustav, Hanna, Ike, and Josephine are really indicators of a global climate shuffle that leaves us all huddled in our libraries clutching Guttenberg Bibles hoping not to freeze to death , than I think I've made my peace and will find solace in a large bottle of Midleton Very Rare, Liontamer, and a ready made meal. 


Grains of Sand

I'm not a patient person. I hate slow drivers on Sunday afternoons. I hate reading directions when I have a new piece of technology or equipment, I prefer to just launch into using it--sometimes to its or my detriment. Let's not even talk about where this Achilles heel led me in college when I took organic chemistry. I'm thankful the most dangerous substance they let me play with was bromine.

Yet, I thought, perhaps like Wax-on-Wax-off, a DIY activity would build character. I could learn to bow to the divine will of time as Dad's Easy Spray Paint & Varnish Remover slowly revealed the wood I had to work with. I could learn to be detail oriented by tediously attacking every bit of remaining varnish with my own two hands and 200 grit, sandpaper. I could foster a sense of accomplishment by making something old and nearly worthless, into something new and beautiful.

I have learned much since then, but not about any of those things. I learned you need a face mask if you're sanding things or you'll start hacking up your lungs. I learned that refinishing in 85 degree weather with 90% humidity and mosquitoes, is a great way to make yourself feel like the single most disgusting, dripping being on earth, maybe minus a really sweaty Mark Henry. I also learned that I should not breathe with my mouth open while wearing a face mask or I'll loose my lunch smelling my lunch--a Cajun food if you must know. Finally, I learned that stripping a chair of its varnish is like unmasking Batman. Do you really want to see what's under the hood? You're going to nearly kill yourself doing it, and it might ruin all the fun after all.

But, I am committed to finishing the job, even though I realised that I could have bought myself a cute pair of earrings and avoided a nasty blister on my thumb for all the time, energy, and money I've spent.

Will BlueToYou put this case to rest or will she give up and throw the chair away in a huff of frustration and despair? Will Liontamer ever quit complaining about the bug bites he got aiding her cause? Will the Joker get away with the diamond?

Stay tuned....


Dust Settles

worn things are lovely 
companionable, honest
their leather cracks and faded buttercup yellows
are voices, predictable and cautionary
do you want to be like me? i am more dust than steel
they say
i am dented where you are strong
i am rust where you are flash

but my cigar box with the label stained and blurred
tells its story slyly, just before i nod to sleep
perhaps so that i miss it, so that i forget
i've been here longer than you, it whispers through the darkness
i've held your precious things, your watch and ripped photos and tin whistle
you drew on me when you dreamed and now i am history
and should you forget me, i will find new secret places between bricks and under the bed
for i am a vessel, and you are only an instrument
who will cherish you?

Happiness is...

Lots and lots of adorable baby penguins! Thank you to Olga for this pic that she took for me in Montreal! :)



Last week was a fairly stressful week, for reasons that don't bear going into. And of course, whenever I get stressed out, I break out like I'm 13, and huddle under the covers with good book. If I were given a spirit guide, it would probably be the ostrich. Sure, I can take the heat, or the freezing cold, eat iron, or elude lions. But when it's all over and done with, just let me shut out the world for a bit and bury my head in the sand.

And that's precisely what I did all weekend. I read, watched movies with Liontamer, cooked dinner, and played online scrabble. It was delicious being so isolated from the world for three days, neglecting all the things I need to do, should be doing to fully embrace sloth. Despite my best efforts, I feel a little guilty about it. I should have done something...even if it was just the dishes. Which makes me wonder: Why should I feel guilty about doing nothing? It's not as if I'm doing nothing while our country is invaded or while a dictatorship is raiding homes. I'm doing nothing in my safe, isolated, suburban community. I'm doing nothing and it has no greater ramifications than a sink full of dirty dishes and a pile of laundry on the floor.

And somehow, doing nothing, even for a weekend, feels to me like being nothing. I had this conversation a few weeks ago with a friend. I tried explaining why I cannot feel worthy unless I am doing something worthy.

I do not want to disappear into suburbia, a frozen face in a yearbook at an antique store, a name on a synagogue register. Perhaps I will be loved, but will I be remembered after all who known me are gone? If I am not then, does my life matter now?

It is a sad irony that I, a woman who works every day to help others understand why its so important that we all cherish and value the inherent dignity and worth of every person, must go out and acquire self-worth.

Maybe I am this way because I come from a broken home where I believed I had to be good and pretty to be loved by my father, and later Stepfather. Or, it could be that I simply struggle to accept my life as it is, now that the days of childhood dreaming are over. I cannot be anything I want to be with loans to pay and real world responsibilities. I've seen too many people more talented than me, luckier than me, hungrier than me. They will be the leaders of my generation, not I. And looking more broadly, perhaps I can blame the American work ethic, which asks people to rejoice at having the longest hours and least amount of vacation days of any industrialized country.....because busy hands make us closer to G-d.

And so, I negotiate with myself. I find solace in knowing the stories of those less fortunate than me, and being a force to help them, no matter how small. I swallow the jealousy I feel when I meet beautiful, smart women, who seem to have it all, and think to myself that maybe they aren't really that nice, or that pretty or that talented. I carry small hope in my heart that maybe one day, I will write a book that people will love and be inspired by and will make them remember me forever.

Around this time I started thinking about when I have been happiest in my life and it has always been when I travel. Although not doing anything for anyone but myself, whenever I'm in a new place or culture, I never question my worth....I like being who I am. I don't mind being jet-lagged, getting blisters on my feet from too much walking, and waking up early every morning of my vacation. I wouldn't even trade my situation for Angelina Jolie's.

After much soul searching I realized that maybe the old adage is right-Idle hands make the Devil's work. With too little on my plate, I begin to get grouchy and drink too much Diet Coke and think too much about my life and allow all the nasty parts of my personality to indulge themselves in a bacchanalia of self-deprecation, anger, jealousy, and selfishness. It isn't doing things that makes me feel worth, its making a life for myself that I feel is worth living. It's removing myself from a funk by filling it with things that have no time for the maudlin.

So, I've decided to try to create a little cheap adventure for myself. I'm making a commitment to go on photography expeditions twice a month to someplace new in the area and to try my hand at a new skill...furniture refinishing. Why furniture? I've always liked furniture design and I enjoy painting...and I have a really ugly inherited dining room set that I'd like to work my way up to making something I could sell eventually. So, today, I drove with Liontamer out to an antique store I've driven past every day for months now and wanted to visit. I purchased for $10, a wooden captain's chair that has much of its varnish stripped already. I have no idea what I'm going to do with it after I remove the rest of the varnish and sand it down, but I am excited to see what I can do with it. And of course, I will share this epic battle with the rest of you.


Jostling dreams around

Yesterday, I dove to grab a receipt that flew under my car and banged my head on the rear view mirror on the way back up. I stood for a few minutes next to my car wincing. It was a bone-cracking whack that made my eyes feel a bit shaky and my head start to burn. I checked my scalp and no blood...it was probably all coagulating in my brain I thought morbidly.

Ever the tough soldier, I carried on with my evening plans of gym and then fajitas with Parul. As night approached and I settled into my book and some YouTube videos with Liontamer, I began wondering if I had a welt. I checked around...nothing. I couldn't even feel a bruise! To some, this may be reassuring, to me it was slightly terrifying, like when Frankenstein's monster suddenly discovered his strength.

"Where's the bump! Where's the bruise!" Maybe I couldn't feel it because my skull was numb from a fracture or maybe I actually hurt myself so badly that this is only a dream...the real, me is lying comatose in a hospital as her friends huddle close in corners, quietly weeping.

Then of course, I realized that I had a thick skull. That phrase, "thick skull" is often used to describe people who are intellectually stubborn, despite facts or other evidence that contradict their beliefs. Like George W. Bush or Anne Coulter. For me, it's a biological reality, a conclusion that has been, unfortunately, tested several times with unerring result--so far.

When I was one, a Tallahassee Democract photographer at a park asked my mother if he could take a picture of me going down the slide. I was just a gurggling blob in a diaper so my mom asked if an adult could go down with me. Some dude or chick was recruited or something. Well, I've always been a bit anxious to start things so somehow I ended up heading down before the "adult" whomever that was, could grab hold of me. And man over board! I plopped down probably still gurggling in the grass after a drop of about five feet. My mom, frantic, took me to the doctor and apparently, I was perfectly undented.

Fast forward a few years to when I was 9 and decided it was a genius idea to pretend to be a pilot and ride my stepbrother's bike--which had NO brakes--down the steepest hill in our neighborhood. I would whizz by Brian and pretend that once I passed him I had landed safely.

Of course, another trip later, my flip flopped feet fail to deploy. I am hurled several feet to land on merciless black pavement directly on the top of my head and later on my jaw (I forget which side). I didn't break my head, didn't break my jaw (although I couldn't move it for a few days), and ended up only with a few stitches in my lip.

As a result, I learned how to talk without moving my mandible as well as the vagaries of trying to eat with only your tongue to scrape things on the roof of your mouth.

Perhaps by now, we've established that I'm also perpetually clumsy--perhaps a genetic trait that developed first and necessitated stronger bones for survival. I can see my hominid ancestor now, stubbing his toe on the first wheel, howling at the intense pain, and marveling that he could still move it later.


Waves upon the sand

I remember many years ago, my father and I were walking along the beach. He would be getting re-married soon. My toes were encrusted with sand and my jeans were rolled up at the knees, though they were wet anyway.

This was one of the last times I would talk him like that--with no guilt, no baggage, just me and him on somewhat equal footing.

I remember looking out at the waves and telling him, in a cinematic moment, that "everything changes, and that's the hard part about life." I was 14. I wasn't enthusiastic about my father getting re-married. He had married someone after my mom who had been abusive and put everyone in my family through a great deal. I had spent the years building a tentative but true friendship with my father--getting to know him as a bachelor, whose sheets smelled like cowboy boots and dust; who always had guava jelly in his refrigerator; and who played Beethoven on the baby grand his father had given him when he was a child.

Since then, my relationship with my father has had more downs than ups and we barely speak anymore. He's too busy with his two young children and I fill up my life with my career and friends. We're both at fault for what happened and we've both changed a lot since that day on the beach.

I am at peace with how things are now. It feels a bit like getting to the end of a 1000 page novel and acknowledging that the human psyche is too messy to ever leave anything resolved.

But I see other loved ones changing and growing apart from me and that is more difficult. I don't share their genetic makeup, so all that held us together was a likeness of minds and the whim of fate.

Of course, losing friends is a fact of growing up, so I'm told. At least with your family you always have the opportunity to change things, you always have the chance to build unconditional love if both groups want to--well almost always. And with friends, the chapter remains closed until the unlikely event of one person or another changing again.

Friends lost are like dreams that have died. The memory of them holds so much joy and nostalgia, yet is uncomfortably irrelevant now.

And try as I might to remind myself, that "everything changes," I refuse to accept it. I am on the beach and want to catch that pink seashell, on the brink of being washed away. I stomp into the water seeing a glimpse of the shell amidst the foam and dive my hand into the cool sand and come up empty.



Last week, I was dangerous. I threw caution to the wind and got acrylic nails...After turning down the "Perfect Pink" treatment three times, I finally got what I wanted--slightly rounded tips, a beautiful coffee with cream color. God knows why I wanted them...call it a strange impulse/morbid curiosity that developed while stuck in traffic listening to Lite FM. I chose a clean-looking place near my old college whose sign billowed in the wind "15 Years Experiences, Clean and Sanitized." I was greeted by a Vietnamese man who ushered me to a table. The color scheme was peach and white and posters hung on the wall advertising Mango Heaven and Champagne-flavored treatments that talked in faux-scientific spa language.

The process of making my nails glamorous took an hour of buffing, clipping, glueing, buffing more, and filing. Finally I was done and hurried to meet my friends for dinner. We discussed Michael Phelps and gossipy co-workers, and ate marvelous pizza with pepperoni and olives on it. Yet, my eyes kept traveling downward to my glorious fingernails...my Scarlett O'Hara hands. I gesticulated wildly, tossed my hair, patted the tops of people's hands, and used the word "honey."

Then, I went to the bathroom and realized it was a mite difficult to unzip my pants. Like a woman waking up to her husband's farts after an ill-conceived elopement in Vegas, I realized my nails were not a match made in heaven.

The evening continued and I couldn't pull out my credit card to pay...I got face lotion stuck under my nails as I prepared for bed. And the next day, horror of horrors, I couldn't open a can of Diet Coke without using a ruler as a lever.

Typing at work--and I'm a writer so all I do is type--was complicated. I'd miss letters or my nails would slip to "&" instead of "y." Do you realize how often anyone uses the letter "y"? It's devastating how often I use it and every few minutes "&" kept showing up as if G-d was punishing me for my vanity.

A week later, I was so disgusted I tried to take them off, but found they were glued tight. So I took my nail clippers and hacked them to a more reasonable length, leaving a holocaust of acrylic in the sink, relishing an almost bloodlust coursing through my veins.

Then I realised that they weren't even and I felt a bit like the girl with the Red Shoes. I would never be free of them unless I went back to "15 Years Experiences" or somewhere else. So I painted my stubby acrylics princess pink and put lotion on my hands and an ice compress on my face and thought..."Tomorrow, is another day."


Positively Medieval

I have a confession to make. I read romance novels, the atrociously cheddar kind that have very formulaic characters and plots you could set your watch to. Of course I have standards...

I refuse--or am possibly too embarrassed--to purchase paperbacks with scantily clad people on the cover and/or a title that implies a sex act or body part. I prefer trash that embraces some semblance of "historical fiction." I like to think there's a possibility of learning something about 17th Century France while Xavier, cloaked only in moonlight, pulls the timid Celeste into his arms.

Yet, lately, I have found even these, seemingly modest hopes foiled on my semi-surreptitious trips to Borders' romance section. I tend to go there in late afternoons, and hurrying to the back, taking the long way through the social sciences and gender studies sections, pausing to pick up and put down a few sci fi books just to make myself look curious. And as I turn the corner, I employ my highly honed technique of scanning four shelves worth of books at once--first on the right, then on the left, paying close attention to titles and decorations on the book's spine.

I amuse myself at the irony of the situation. While a heroine in one of my books may be afraid of being discovered as a scholar in say regency England, I am afraid of being denounced too plebeian.

But, alas, I've noticed that I've reached the "M"s before finding even one book I'd consider reading. You see, my favorite genre, historical Scottish romance is dying out. The economy of numbers has whipped out its sword and cut down my Highland Honor in favor of "Undead and Unwed".

Perhaps this happens in the Arts more than I'm aware. Where once there was a plethora of reality tv shows offering multiple opportunities to cackle wit glee at a character's downfall, today there remains only a handful of settings in which to do so--obnoxious people live/sleep together, obnoxious people work/sleep together, and obnoxious people survive/sleep together on a deserted island.

At the height of the romance novel's golden age there was tremendous diversity--cowboy romance, chick lit, Native American romance, urban romance, regency romance, mystery/thriller romance, Civil War romance, pirate romance, viking romance, Arabian locale-themed romance, vampire romance, Danielle Steel books, Nora Roberts books, medieval romance--now, risen from the ashes is vampire romance, chicklit, and nora roberts.

Perhaps I should simply wait it out. There plenty of pretentious novels and compendiums that serve far greater social purposes than my two-dimensional, costumed fantasies.

While having coffee with frenemies, I could start waxing euphorically about Joe PhD's "fabulous dissertation on post-Czech modernism's influences on cubism." Before even half of their latte is finished, I'll have thoroughly bombarded them with my practiced snippets of intellectual oneupmanship.

Within weeks I'll have built a reputation for being a very deep, thinking-type person who knows what's going on in the world. This has its advantages, if only to make one feel better at cocktail parties about not weighing 30 pounds less nor making $30K more.

But on lazy Sunday mornings when I want to lie cocooned in my comforter and ratty PJs on the couch, with Liontamer immersed in the Internet, I want something easy on the mind.

Liontamer once said that romance novels are porn for women, because of their contextual sex. But I beg to differ. I'm not into erotica and aside from the casual, analytical interest in how many pages and rescues into the book the feisty virgin loses her, ahem, virginity, I could honestly skip it all. After all, there are only so many euphemisms one can use in the most compromising situations and they all become fairly ridiculous with time. "She used 'shaft of his manhood'? OMG, that was so 1999!"

Perhaps this is a clue to the female psyche--the majority of us (at least the majority of those who buy romance novels) may be more into the plot than the climax, so to speak. That isn't to say that the modern 8 buck chuck romance novels represent, in my mind, an ascension in sexual equality for females. Sure the arousal is there if we want it--no matter how ridiculous the metaphors are-- and I'm sure some women would rather use a book than anything that requires batteries. But most readers will tell you that their primary reason for reading these books is the , emotional satisfaction derived from a happy ending. --> I don't know what you're reading, but that's what I read. ;P

I'm sure there are a few extreme feminists out there who vehemently oppose romance novels, saying they degrade our gender. --That more often than not, romance novels perpetuate princess mythologies and male-dominated sexual encounters that result in a legions of women who do not take control of their own independence and equality within and without the bedroom. As for me, the feminists say, I need to ascend to a new dialectic, that will result in my full empowerment in the Goddess's image.

Now, I believe fervently in female power--whatever my secret indulgences may be. That's why Liontamer is making me dinner right now while I blog and tell him about my day at the office.


The Hard Sell

Fundamentally, most of us want to be liked. We don't need to be loved per se--though perhaps some psychiatrists would disagree. We need to be in on the joke, picked first for dodge ball, someone that people want to high-five. This is, I think why salespeople can be so insidious. After all, they not only sell us things we want and sometimes need, but more importantly, they play to our most deeply rooted insecurities about our intelligence, our beauty, and our like-ability.

"I want you to know, Chuck," says Jim Bob as he sweeps his arm across the used car parking lot, "that we get a lot of folk in here lookin' to buy cars, but I can tell that you've got more business sense than most of them, so I'm going to make you a deal."

Or Marie at the cosmetics counter who compliments your beautiful eyes and tells her comrade-in-arms, Jameka, that she wishes she had your eyelashes. Jameka, of course, agrees enthusiastically.

A few salespeople might tell you that relationships are a key part of their business--that without trust and mutual affinity they would not be as successful as they are. It's not about the numbers, they say, it's about the difference their product can make in the lives of people they care about.

Imagine the time you could save and spend with your family if you purchased Ginsu knives or used the Hawaii chair to exercise while at work!

Speaking of late night television infomercials....One late night at my mother's house in Ireland, I was flipping channels because I wanted to avoid "The Mighty Boosh." I get a headache after watching that show--too much existentialist, surrealist, da-daist nonsense for a Britcom.

There are children dying of hunger in Ethiopia and Ireland--former Celtic Tiger and one of the richest countries in Europe--has an entire channel devoted to selling greeting card making kits! ((I have since been corrected that this channel comes from England, but nonetheless...)) Someone has invested potentially hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of pounds in staff, equipment, rent, and merchandise just to sell CDs with graphics on them and packages of fancy paper.

And so...back to my darkened room, I was surrounded by books, had a radio, and even could simply look outside my window to contemplate the moon's reflection on Youghal Bay. But I was transfixed by the people on the telly, so happy, so calming, so carefree. In their world, Ethiopian children don't exist...just the smaller every day problems of remembering Aunt Tabitha's birthday and determining what this year's Christmas letter should be printed on.

It may sound morbid, but I've often wondered if I were ever hospitalized for long periods of time whether I would become addicted to euphoria of QVC--the pleasant, blond people there who always have their nails done and seem to get along so well.

Indeed, being so insulated from the suffering of the world--perhaps from your own suffering--is a tantalizing proposition.

BUT--I'm not a lonely middle-aged woman living in a trailer with baked beans for supper whose alcoholic husband jilted her and who barely makes ends meet!

I have more for which to be grateful. I have a graduate degree, plenty of people I love and who love me--no alcoholic ex-husband--and thank goodness, enough food on my table and money in my bank account. Why am I not immune to the hard sell?

Am I fundamentally insecure? Do I need EVERYONE to like me? Or am I simply too passive, too easily sold something before I can firmly decline?

Some people say that prostitution is the oldest profession, but I think it would be more accurate to say sales is. Not to say that working at a gift shop is the same as selling your body. I know plenty of wonderful, genuinely good people in retail and I am sure there are many "fallen women" who have fewer character flaws than myself. But whether in a brothel in Nevada or a bookstore, most people have a dream larger than a lifetime at the till--even if that dream is being the head buyer for Gap or a regional manager for Borders.

I suppose my real beef is actually the relationship between consumerism and personal satisfaction--a problem that I think is considerably less worrisome in the slums of Venezuela or India. For those of us who have satisfied nearly all of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, there remains that elusive requirement for feeling whole--feeling worthy. And in America today, it seems we're more interested in buying that feeling than figuring out a way to feel it for free.


Making Pancakes

Character flaws often reveal themselves in the most benign and un-trying circumstances. For example, this morning I was making pancakes with Liontamer and I grew very impatient wanting to flip the pancake over. Perhaps if I had mixed the batter from scratch, rather than added 2/3 cup of water and stirred, I would have been better prepared mentally to wait for the signs to flip.

Maybe for some, there is a visceral pleasure in watching the sides of the pancake harden and brown, and the middle batter begin to bubble and pop. Like the hunter waiting and watching, camouflaged by the shadows of the forest, there is a moment of anticipation that exceeds the pleasure of pulling the trigger. It is a feeling to fuel any megalomaniac--a taste of the divine. "I am the instrument of change in the universe," the hunter says as the sweat begins to trickle down the brow, below the cheek bone. And so, up comes the spatula, an eager instrument of Khali, dirty with the remains of all the pancakes that came before, poised to become dirtier still with its latest victim.

Yet, I am sadly lacking the control, the inner strength of the great warriors. I break too soon, and so does the pancake, goopy in the middle, leaving half of the batter still stuck to the pan. My feast will not be one of celebration, of triumph--it will be one of resignation and failure. I will eat my thin and crumbling pancake, massacred as it was with my desire--the burst blueberries open wounds of a desperate cook. I consider the prospect of buying the frozen pancakes and simply heating them in the microwave--I am ashamed of myself. I have given in to the wild and allowed it to defeat me.

I hand the spatula to Liontamer, heart sick, and ask him to finish. He slides one, two, then three pancakes onto my plate in rapid succession. All perfect, all trembling as I uplift my fork. I have lost this battle, but I take heart. Liontamer is helpless when it comes to grocery shopping.



Driving home from Stacey's apartment. The sky is pink and orange and I'm in workout clothes. My feet probably stink. I need to get gas and go to my regular spot like a fish that knows a good coral reef. Some men pull up in a truck behind me. Their car is about 40 years old and it sounds like its on its last legs.

They are smiling, and I can see their teeth flashing white in the growing shadows. Across the street some fat children are running around their parents, who are seated on a bench. They have the energy of the desperate--every moment counts before they are shuttered away under comforters with flowers and their favorite toys, before they are banned from all that is exciting and dangerous in the world.

The DJ on the radio isn't funny. He's trying though. Maybe someone, somewhere is laughing and thinks he's the best radio show host ever. I have to turn right before the traffic light changes , before the rest of the cars catch up with me and keep me from the curvy roads home.

I feel like I'm driving faster than I am, that my car has a momentum borne of emotion, when I'm really just tired. Maybe I'm teetring on the edge, just like those children. Except I welcome being shut in away from the creeping dark and blinding headlights.

All I can think about is a shower and my daily ritual will be complete. I'll have pedaled to nowhere for half an hour on level 5 so that I can come home and shower off the day, wipe clean the worry, the politics, the fatigue.

There is something sacred in the mundane. The children will remember only a blur of that moment, when I saw them so carefree. The men in the truck will keep driving; one of them will go home to family, another to live alone. They will forget the sunset.

And I shared just one, mundane moment with all of them, that I will hold on to for life.


You're not fully clean unless...

I was reading Dr. Sanjay Gupta's blog post memorializing Michael DeBakey, a surgeon Dr. Gupta called a "medical legend." One of the comments from a medical student says that Dr. DeBakey said in a Q&A session many years ago that his biggest regret was wasting too much time. How anyone considered a pioneer in their field can think they have wasted too much time speaks of either tremendous arrogance or almost saintly humility. In Dr. DeBakey's case, who credits his mother's sewing instructions as the key to his success as a surgeon, I'm willing to bet it was the latter.

In my career, I doubt I'll be saving any lives, but I am highly likely to be wasting quite a bit of time. There's the 10 minutes I waste every day listening to Ann Curry gush uncontrollably every morning while I wait for my local news and weather; the hour I spend tooling around on the Interwebs every evening, looking for nothing in particular; and the untold weekend days where I can't seem to get up before 11, then lay in bed for two hours reading trashy books, only to finally get washed, quaffed, dressed and ready to meet the world by 4pm.

Did I do the laundry? Nope..but I still have some clean undergarments so I guess it can wait until next week. Did I go through the mail? Nope, but the stack on the kitchen table hasn't fallen over yet, so it can wait another few days. Did I exercise? Nope. Woke up too late and then ate too late, and who wants to go to the gym on a Saturday night??

Of course, the amount of wasted time in my life is nothing compared to the useless junk taking up space in my brain. There is a scene in Jim Henson's iconic film Labyrinth where Sarah is dreaming about searching for her brother and finds herself in a junkyard. An old woman tries to distract Sarah by offering the girl all of her favorite toys from childhood. Eventually, Sarah remembers what she has come for and yells something to the effect of "I want my baby brother!" (Sorry guys, no youtube luck, though I tried).

This scene haunted me as a child, and even still gives me the heebie jeebies as an adult. In a way, I wonder if my mind isn't a big junkyard, filled more with advertising slogans than literary passages, juicy celebrity gossip instead of complex philosophical concepts.

For example, the other day, I noticed a frozen food lunch my boss was eating. It was Thai peanut chicken or something, in a "zesty" sauce. I thought to myself, "Zesty--that's a word for green things like, cilantro, pesto.... and Zest soap."

I actually spent a few minutes wondering why "zest" the name for the soap means something like enjoying or relishing an experience; but the simple addition of a "y" to the end of the word evokes images of Latin food. Certainly "zesty" wasn't the right world for things with peanuts in it, and although the mango flavored Zest was a tremendous failure, I still stand by my belief that it would have worked if they had kept the soap green.

All this, and I could have been contemplating a solution to our country's current economic difficulties, or learning a new word like "piquant."

Maybe, I simply don't have the mental stamina for such intense intellectual musings. Or perhaps I can blame it all on Corporate America.

DeBakey didn't grow up with television and failblog. He didn't grow up in a world where every waking moment was a bombardment of marketing strategies aimed at convincing you consciously or subliminally to become another lemming.

I can't help it if I grab the Sunny D from the fridge and think to myself, "It's not OJ or the purple stuff." The jingle just eeks out of me, perhaps like a maestro finds himself humming the Moonlight Sonata when driving at night.

What I'm really arguing is that the consumerist culture that pushes Prada and iPhones on my generation and American Girl Bistros and Guitar Hero on the one after me is making us dumber. Certainly, others have wondered the same thing.

So, my brain, which has infinitely less capacity than the late Dr. DeBakey's has no chance against all the catchy slogans and sitcom theme songs that have been engineered, focus-grouped, and triple-tested to stick in the deep nether regions of my consciousness--and the equation for finding the area of a circle and the definition of a gerund are not. And that urban legend that we use only 10 percent of our brains during the day? Untrue. So much for the possibility of finding an alien technology that could help me remember my shopping list.

And this blog? Has it been a waste of intellectual energy and time? You tell me.


Going Home

I've had a lot of time to think about what it is like to return home. It takes a while to prepare your mind to re-visit things. Returning to the places you grew up around and loved can be a disheartening lesson in the inevitable doom borne from the passage of time. Your parents are a bit grayer around the temples, slower to get off the couch. Your favorite deli is dirtier, there are more potholes en route to the bank or post office. And the teenagers at the movie theater are ten times trashier and more obnoxious than you ever were.

I begin to understand why my grandparents seemed so adverse to change. It wasn't that they disliked rap music or wasabi-flavored cream cheese--it was that they were afraid of these things. Our world moved too fast for them to keep up and it was a warning to them that they may wake up one day and find that in their home town, they are just as lost and obsolete as an 8-track tape in an Apple store.

Now, I'm just over the quarter-century mark so I shouldn't allow myself to get too morbid too soon. Maybe when I'm 30 it'll be more appropriate.

It is a bit ironic to think that the world's greatest masterpieces--the pyramids, the Sistene Chapel's ceiling, Big Mac special sauce--were not conceived in a day, but labored over through many changing seasons before they were complete.

But, today, we have so much information and entertainment at our fingertips that virtually all of it is less valued to the point it is entirely disposable.

And if communicating is so important to us that the cell phone we use must be replaced every year to two years, and our iPod is practically ancient for having only 1 GB, then why not houses, and restaurants, and local parks too? We don't need them anyway, we have whole worlds that are much cooler and less polluted online.

So, nobody throws a fuss when Jerry's Deli is suddenly gone for a giant Tar-Mart and turn of the 20th century houses are knocked over for a glassy, condo highrise.

And my home and all the memories with it, doesn't belong to me any more. It was thrown away with all the old dot matrix printers and beepers. Why don't you just put a stake in my heart and stuff my mouth with garlic?

After all, I'm practically undead with my rotary phone and antennaed tv. I'm actually getting the digital signal converter device becuase I don't want a flat screen tv. I have no desire to see that soap opera stars are just as broken out and bloated as I am. I don't need to see the world in high definition--it's ugly and Kelly Ripa's voice is frightening. I want my blurry signal that shifts when the wind blows...because I want an escape. I don't want to communicate with people constantly in the empty language of "LOL" and "OMG." I want a real conversation, that is spontaneous and meaningful. And if it gets too intense, I will read a book or listen to my AM/FM radio...or a CD. That's right...Enya's Shepherd Moons from 1991, bitch.

And just like that, I'm 75, and an old busy body who will shake her cane at you if you drive by my house too quickly.

It's true, you can never go home again, because you realise, you weren't really needed there in the first place. Things are moving along quite nicely without you. So, if you are young or young at heart, you will pick up the pace, figure out where that new road goes and try Kim's Deli down the street. After all, home is more what you make out of it, than what it ever was.