Zeitbites: Clap Hard to Keep the Fairy Alive!

THE MEAN REDS RETURN

july 31 breakfast at tiffany'sIt’s back – my fear. That thing causing a twisting in my chest, that sucking-breath, hands-a-tremble certainty that another avalanche of awful is about to happen, something dreadful is ready to drop, disaster about to descend on me, what Truman Capote’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly, called “the mean reds.” Listen:

Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?

Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?

Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

Paul Varjak: Sure.

Holly Golightly: Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that’d make me feel like Tiffany’s, then – then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name!

That’s what hit me yesterday. I had to take action.

ESSENCE OF PASSION FLOWER

Keeping me going is a full-time job and not one the accomplishment of which often seems worth the effort required. I slog, slug, sloth, and slither through life, making do, confused and confounded as to the purpose of all this. It is enough to have a day (or two) wherein I do not hear the narrative voice in my head (which is usually, by the way, Lily Tomlin or Jessica Lange) intoning the final lines of my unpublished novel:

I have no answers

This was The Last of all my stories

So, no, happiness is not something I expect. Making – let alone keeping – me happy would require the lygarde de mayne of an alchemist like Merlin, and since that necromantic enchanter was long ago trapped in the Crystal Caves, in order to avoid one more time disappointing the friends and loved ones I have remaining, I work hard to keep going by arranging my life around moments of joy and methods of distraction. (And when that doesn’t work, I fake it.)

I get joy from reading and writing about books. So, yesterday after my gymming –

NAKED MAN ASIDE

gym guys 5 edit(which falls into the Distracting rather than Joy category– unless, by chance, there is an attractive naked man waggling around the locker room – at which point gymming becomes a Joyful Distraction – until I realize that naked man would NEVER want to see me naked, at which point the Joyful Distraction morphs into a Hateful Reminder of why I ought to just surrender to the Tomlin/Lange narration)

BACK TO THE BOOK(store)

– I visited my friends at The Curious Iguana (CLICK HERE), my favorite independent bookstore. These visits give me great joy. I love books, I love people who love books, and Iguana is owned and patronized by just that sort of people. Win. Win. So, I was making my way to Iguana, strolling up the sidewalk on Market Street, when I was forced into the street by a four-wide battalion of stroller moms, goose-stepping their Vera Bradley accessorized way toward me. The quartet took up the entire span of the sidewalk and rudely steamrolled blithely along forcing pedestrians travelling –

SPELLING CURMUDGEON ASIDE

(Spell Check is telling me that travelling should be traveling. NO IT SHOULD NOT. I am sick and tired of this current purging of required double consonants when appending suffixes to words in order that characters are saved to make it easier for Tweeting and Texting. I did not spend my formative years being abused by the School Sisters of Notre Dame JUST to have everything they taught me eradicated in my dotage. traveLLing. And while we are at it: canceLLed – just so all airports are clear on that.)

BACK TO BOOK(store) & PASSION FLOWER ESSENCE

– in the opposite direction into traffic. Thus, I entered the bookstore saying, “What the hell is wrong with you people?” Marlene, owner and heart and soul of Iguana, knows me well enough to know I was not speaking to her. I launched into my curmudgeonly ranting and we were soon joined by Marlene’s husband, Tom, and I was off on one of my long-winded raving raging wildly furious fits, this one about my recent adventures in the medical profession.

July 31 passion flowerAfter listening patiently, (Marlene and Tom are absolute darlings about letting me rail, as if they’ve nothing better to do than listen to the crazy old man) Tom suggested I hie my way to the local patchouli scented – tofu loving – green market and procure some tincture of Passion Flower, drops of which, he assured me, would calm my anxiety.

ASIDE ASIDE 

I know you thousand or so people who check me daily are saying, “Where is a book review? We are not interested in your existential whining.” Well, true confession: I only started writing book reviews to lure you in so you’d be FORCED to click on my existential whining. So there.

Now keep clicking or I’ll never share my opinion on books again. (I know, I’m hubristic and delusional to think you give a damn. Perhaps, but at least I own it) But, this morning, I’ve a long, full day of writing and gymming and reading and cookie baking in front of me, so, just a fast (for me) and brief (again, for me) few things … I promise.

Peter Pan LIVE!

When NBC presented The Sound of Music, I wrote about it nicely. I was hoping that it would be the first of many live musical theatre presentations and they had sense enough to fill the supporting cast with genius actors Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, Christian Borle, so, one made allowances for other casting misfires.

And I don’t like The Sound of Music. But, now, this has gone too far. They have announced that — yet again — they have eschewed casting an actual Broadway musical actress in the iconic role of Peter Pan (CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT IT – I’m not typing the name. I don’t want to trash anybody – not really – it’s not her fault.). Mary Martin — even dead — can only be expected to take so much and when the second of her iconic roles is repugnantly miscast with someone who has NO BUSINESS BEING ENTRUSTED WITH THE LEAD IN A MUSICAL, it reeks of such disregard and disrespect for the art of the musical that surely, something MUST be done.

marymartin_peterpanOh, wait, I wonder if THIS miscasting tragedy was the disaster I was intuiting yesterday? Ugh(a-wug) indeed. Of course, that number will be cut. And, this isn’t like Carrie Underwood with her huge country fan base meant to boost the ratings; this actress has a mostly hipster/gay man following and the hipster contingent is never going to watch the show — they don’t do television — and the gay man population was ALREADY going to be on board so, uhm W.T.F.? All I have to say (well, left to say) is that Tink is hardly going to be the only fairy pissed off and poisoned by this piece of shit disastrous-ness.

PASSION FLOWER (again … I keep forgetting)

So, I did get some Passion Flower essence and I have been swirling the muddy swill into two ounces of water and downing it like crazy and, I don’t know, maybe I am better? I’m having such strange, horrifying dreams of late and really not sleeping well, terrorized by that fever-like, half-awake, delusional thing that goes on. Which has NOT been helped by reading Edan Lepucki’s debut novel, California (CLICK HERE), about which I will soon be blogging.

After I go to the gym (I hope there are pretty naked men) and hurry back here — I’m housesitting out in the country — and make cookies. Because, like I said, I went to the health food place and I got some pure natural butter because it was the only ingredient (I thought) missing here for my world famous chocolate chip cookies, and, like I said, I need to do things to make me feel better and/or distract me and making cookies does that. And I feel like shit and can barely breathe — something bad (besides Peter Pan casting) is DEFINITELY HAPPENING. So, I’m going to bake.

THE DOG IS ANXIOUS TOO … could it be 20-something hottie?

I would, normally, drive my Mom around on Thursday, but, I can’t be away from my Judah for that long. Judah has anxiety too. I’m usually MUCH calmer when I’m out here in the middle of nowhere but for the past few days I have been sharing the house. The tenant who lives in the in-law-ish apartment was here. And not only was she here, but both nights she brought in her 20-something boyfriend who was RIDICULOUSLY good-looking and seeing the two of them together — even for those few brief seconds when she walked him by me in his really worn, tight white t-shirt and cropped, dark, black hair and unbelievable ass — undid my vow to myself to feel okay about being un-partnered, un-dated, un-anythinged. I felt all un-wanted and un-all-over again and it sucked. Thank goodness she has now left for the weekend.

BRING ON THE BAKING AND THE BOOK BUYING AND READING! But first, I have to get to the gym and back.

NOTE:  I understand that this generalized anxiety and dread is very likely due to all the horrifyingly hateful energy roiling in the world at the moment; I cannot discuss — rationally — all the wars and the bombings and the borders and the children and the hate crimes and the disregard for life and dignity going on, let alone the suing of our President while ALL THE SHIT GOING ON IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON, and all our Congress can do is bicker? If the end is nigh, good, because if this is the middle, I have had enough.

 

GridMarks … the stain of over/dis-connect

I’m about to join in the culture of self-diagnosing-everyone-needs-a-label-psycho-babble; I have an addictive personality.

No surprise there. A quick perusal of past posts (or scroll through my gene pool) could have told you that.

Some addictions are more harmful than others. For example, I have quit smoking twice; once for more than a decade, this time it’s been a little over a year. I have pulled back on alcohol intake a number of times in my life; my tolerance is gargantuan and increases exponentially for every day I drink – I am never hung over and I rarely slur, but, rather, become increasingly vituperative in a denigrating and eviscerating attack-mode manner, all the while not noticing that my frontal cortex has disconnected until I’ve the self-control level of a horny, daredevil teen, not a good combination. I would eat bags of barbecue chips, toppings-covered pizzas, and troughs of spaghetti if I did not fight every day to resist. I would never rise from reclining reading position if my continuing inability to just say no to chips/pizza/spaghetti and wine did not require me to spend time at the gym every day.

Which has become, I suppose, one of the less harmful addictions?

The gym: meant to assuage the guilt and fight the effects of my other addictions has now become its own addiction. If I don’t go every day and do at least an hour of cardio, I am haunted by the irrational, illogical certainty that I will wake the next day an obese alcoholic mess.

And then there are books. I cannot stop accumulating them. I read a lot, but, even if I quadrupled or quintupled my reading I could not possibly keep up with my buying. I now have enough to-be-read books to statistically last until I die without my ever having to buy another. And yet, today I am picking up a few more from my favorite local independent bookseller, The Curious Iguana in downtown Frederick, Maryland (CLICK HERE).

And then there is Twitter and all the websites I daily peruse. Again and again. Which is the point of this post. Or, was meant to be

I am lost in the grid again. I’m spending WAAAAYYYYYY too much time checking my Twitter feed and conversing in un-real life with the people to whom I’ve connected in virtual-fantasy-world. I’m not writing or reading enough because I am always on my phone or computer, checking out literary sites, blogs, on and on and on … so, I am going off grid for a while.

I suspect this will last about a day. Then again, when I decided to temporarily sign off Facebook a few years ago — I never went back. And you know what, I’ve been a lot happier since. So, who knows? Now that I have admitted I have a problem (well, I have LOTS of problems – so, now that I have admitted being on-line too much is a problem) I will have to take appropriate action.

I gave up Patron Silver a year ago, who knows … could social media be next?

Later friends.

P.S. Here’s one thing I am almost certain I will NEVER give up … babbling away on this blog. I meant this to be a short little “here’s where I am” entry and it’s over 500 words. I have never been able to fit anything I wanted to say on a PostIt Note or Index Card — just can’t be concise.

 

Thoughts on Big (and little) Brother-ing … and getting voted out

I have been a big brother to one sibling since 1962, a little brother to four others (well, three now) since 1961, first read George Orwell’s 1984 around 1971-72 and in the summer of 2000 I watched the American premiere season of Big Brother while living a life that now seems even longer ago and further away and farther removed from my current reality than the life I led in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

I have since been voted out of any number of houses while suffering through my every move and breath having been hawk-watched and judged. Thus it feels poetic in a bitter Dorothy Parker-esque way that after many years of eschewing the reality-TV-version of Big Brother, I’m mesmerized by season 16. In particular, I am obsessed with the GayBoy/StraightBoy-Bro-maybe-RO-mance of Frankie and Zach, sobriquet-ed and portmanteau-ed into Zankie. I’m not alone.

Just one example is this from Greg In Hollywood (click headline below to read):

Big Brother: Is the Frankie and Zach gay-straight bromance turning into a romance?

My fascination extends beyond just the sure-to-be-a-heartbreak-trainwreck slash SO-MUCH-LIKE-MY-OWN-LIFE-EXPERIENCE faux-bro-mance of Zankie – which I am hoping is at least partly calculated on both their parts to garner airtime, and which I suspect is exacerbated by forced close contact without other outlet. I repeatedly had faux-flings like this with males who actually had zero interest in me but during rehearsals and runs of shows it FELT like we had something in common. Usually what we had in common was my power in those very small, incestuous theatrical milieus and their desire to wield some share of that power – being close to me made them feel or seem important – and that was coupled with my desire to Dorian Gray my way into vampiring some portion of their youth and beauty. Life.

Speaking of young and attractive, Big Brother 16 also has a few other ridiculously attractive fellows; Cody and Caleb and Hayden (check out The Gaily Grind HERE for more):

July 29 2014 Caleb BB16

Caleb

July 29 2014 Cody BB16

Cody

July 29 2014 Hayden bb16

Hayden

I am heartened by the way all the members of the house are open to the faux-bro-homo-mance and the way the world has changed since I first watched this show in 2000 and NONE of this cuddling and snuggling and such would have been possible, let alone BROADCAST and become a social-media thing. Sadly, what hasn’t much changed is that there are few people of color EVER in the house and even FEWER who are “older”. The one person in the house over 40, Donny, refers to himself and positioned himself as “the old guy.” Wow.

I thought, long ago, in 2000, “I would be good at this game because I have spent my life reading people and finding balance among groups and my family, fitting in.” HA. What an ass. Since then I have learned the hard way just how little gift I have for fitting or balancing. And, again, I am not alone.

This morning my friend the novelist, columnist, cultural critic and editor, Mary McCarthy, published a column on SpliceToday called Breaking Up With Family Members (Click HERE). The first two paragraphs struck me with playground-age falling down so hard the breath is knocked out of you force. Listen:

If there’s one thing you should never write about, it’s family members. Seriously, your personal life has boundaries, and you should respect the privacy of people who have the misfortune of being related to you.

Unfortunately for them, I write about my life for a living. And I’ve always been lousy at any kind of boundaries. This has been weighing on my mind for a long time, so out it comes, in that emotional way writers have of preferring things to hurl out rather than stay in and fester.

Amen. A few years ago, in order to save and salvage it,  I had to change my life yet another time. In doing so, I made a conscious choice not to ever write about it or talk about it with anyone, not to answer the inevitable questions, not to explain myself, and most difficult of all, not to rebut the rumors, gossip, and outright falsehoods told by others about the situations leading to the upending.

It wasn’t easy. My natural inclination is to frame life events into short-story-chapter-size; beginnings, middles, endings, and somewhere along the way, an eleven o’clock ballad. Even more natural to me: The desire to tell the story in a way that proves I am both right and somehow, always, a little bit martyred, stoic in the face of long-suffering.

Things went badly. I had expected people who did not know me well and people who knew me only as far as they needed to know me to fulfill their needs would drink the Kool-Aid I knew would be poured. Which was fine. What I had not expected was that some people to whom I was intimately connected, who I had trusted with my truth and my soul, would abandon me and, in essence, pour Kool-Aid of their own by doing so.

People shock you. People you have loved for a long time, forever even, can do terrible things, can hurt you, can eviscerate you in ways that are beyond repair; and they can feel perfectly justified while doing so. And the most difficult lesson I learned from having such things happen is that if you choose NOT to argue the point, not to rebut the stories or actions or gossip, some people who should know better, who know your heart, will use your silence as excuse to abandon you as well.

I never did fight much, but, I don’t fight at all now. I am emotional/spiritual Gandhi. I sit and allow whatever someone else wants to do, to be done. I know my heart. I know my truth. And while I am FAR FROM SAYING I was blameless in the hurts resulting from my life-or-death need to alter my reality, I am saying, I am clear that I NEVER acted with bad intention — and HARDEST LESSON OF ALL – despite what seems overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I refuse to believe anyone else acted with bad intention either.

However, that doesn’t mean I can ever let them back into the place in my heart they once held. They abdicated that place by their actions — however well or bad intended, guilty or innocent they were. Which is why I worry for Zankie. Is Frankie playing Zach? Or Zach playing Frankie? Or, both? Eventually, one will end up voting the other out of the house and what will then be said?

I know what was said about me after I was voted out of the house, and, I don’t think I’ll ever quite fully recover from the hurt of it, even though I should have known it would happen. You want to believe that a person who has held you, told you they loved you, told you they’ve never before and will never again love anyone that way, has rubbed your arm in that sort of thoughtless, careless, own you sort of way, you want to believe they meant it. Even after they don’t.

You also want to believe that being a big (or little) brother means something; something permanent and sacred and … you want NOT to be voted out.

But, you know what, you almost always are. And that, my friends, is life.

 

 

Something (someone) in the air . . . and gone . . .

Lee Grant: Actress, director, activist, she who refused to cooperate with the shameful House Un-American Activities Committee, has written a memoir, I Said Yes To Everything (CLICK HERE).
While Ms. Grant is renowned for her many and various accomplishments, not least of which is her Oscar winning portrayal of the deliciously sexual Felicia in Shampoo, what I remember most is her short-lived run on 1975 sit-com, Fay. Watch:

It was revolutionary at the time. I watched it, but alone. I was in my early teens and to have revealed my identification with Fay and Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda would have further alienated me from the few half-friends I’d managed to fool into liking me. The people with whom I lived were not interested either; my Mom and stepfather were more Gunsmoke and Barnaby Jones types, and my younger sister – who with me was the last of the six children from my Mother’s first marriage left in the house – was busy being the kind of popular I would never manage.

So, after Fay, I would often call my aunt, Sissie, to discuss the episode.

We talked a lot. I called her in secret because the simpatico nature of our connection bothered my Mom. What I didn’t understand then was that Sissie had refused to process my father’s death, had transferred her favoritism of him to me the second he died, osmosis-like, and that my Mom, over-burdened with six demanding and very different children had guiltily allowed Sissie to semi-take over the care and maintenance of the most-different one of all. What my Mom didn’t understand was that I would have been bookworm, nerd boy, musical theatre loving, weeping at commercials, towel-on-the-head as pretend-luxurious-long-blonde hair girly-boy whether Sissie had been there or not. My Mom, for years, worried that giving Sissie such access to me had made me – well – a sissy.

What it did, in fact, was save my life. Sissie gave me books and Broadway and the beauty of space to be me, whoever that was, with the knowledge that there was at least one person in the world who would always be on my side and think that this crazed, delusional boy with a feather and costume-jewelry brooch-festooned towel wrapped round his head, clad in the discarded velvet-dresses of long-dead relatives, flouncing down the steps weeping and singing If He Walked Into My Life like some extremely-small-bus and truck tour Mame, was worth talking to and loving.

Sissie and I were like that. For decades, until she could no longer see to read and write, even when we lived just across town from one another, she would send me two or three notes a week through the mail, filled with articles clipped from newspapers and magazines, and typed jottings of gossip and news about people we knew and precis about the shows we watched or the books we read or the theatre we wanted to see. We made and shared a phantasmagorical world of sophistication and elan, a faux-Manhattan-esque-literary-Broadway-Paris sort of fantasy of the lives we’d NEVER have outside the connection we shared, inside of which – our own little suite in the Algonquin-in-our-minds – we were both happier than anywhere else, any time else, with any ONE else.

I miss her every day. Ten years she has been gone and I still want to tell her things all the time. So, when I read an article about Lee Grant’s book signing in New York in Matthew Rettenmund’s (follow him HERE on Twitter) blog, Boy Culture (Click HERE) which I read daily, there was a picture of Miss Barbara Cook in attendance. I have been terribly worried about Miss Cook since I last saw her in concert at the Kennedy Center and she was walking with a cane. In the photo, she is using a walker called a Rollerator —

Barbara Cook and Barbara Barrie at Lee Grant's book signing. Photo by Matthew Rettenmund

Barbara Cook and Barbara Barrie at Lee Grant’s book signing. Photo by Matthew Rettenmund

— it is almost exactly like my Mom uses — and upon seeing the picture and knowing Miss Cook was up to being out and about and too, my remembering Fay and calling Sissie after each episode and the Rollerator for Miss Cook who – it turns out and how did I just discover – is the same age as my Mom and too, the recent death of Elaine Stritch and that awful photo of her where her arm-bones Portrait of Elaine Stritchare so skeletal which was just how Sissie was toward the end and all of this input firing my circuits both emotional and intellectual flummoxed me and I thought;

“I’ve got to call Sissie and tell her this.”

Somehow, for whatever split-second required, I was thrown out of time and into a reality where Sissie was alive and I could call her. And after that split-second ended, when I was slammed back into the loss of Sissie, I was destroyed. Just that breath of believing her here took me back to having to lose her all over again.

I’ve been a little crazy (crazier?) ever since. A crazy which has translated into intense anxiety that something is going to happen to my Mother. A crazy NOT helped when she told me this week on our Tuesday jaunt, “I dreamed about Peggy last night. That’s the first time since she died in October. I’ve lived too long. You shouldn’t have to lose your children.”

It was the next day I was walking by a little downtown church on a side street and saw a sign “Annual Book Sale” and, me being me, went inside. I bought every large print book they had. Then yesterday, I went to the Girl Scout discount book place and bought every large print book they had. I called my Mom and asked if I could come over. She told me to wait until 2 when she’d be done Wii bowling. I did. I could tell not all the books interested her, which I knew would be the case, and, too, that I had miscalculated thinking she would be okay choosing among them. She was afraid she was going to hurt my feelings. I explained they were only a dollar a piece and to just give away to the library there at Country Meadows the ones she didn’t want. She was clearly irritated by this and was eager for me to leave so she could head down to the lounge for Happy Days – a trio of drums, bass, and tinny-electric keyboard featuring the off-warblings of a poodle-skirted chanteuse. Let’s just say, me with a towel on my head doing numbers from Mame would have been better . . . but I digress.

I left her to her party-ing. Good for her. I went to the grocery store. There I discovered the return of Girl Scout Cookie Candy Bar things. My Mother LOVES these!

candy bars

However, they are $1 a piece and so I suspected she would not buy them for herself. It is one thing to buy countless shorty-pajama sets at Wal-Mart and Target (three in the past two weeks, just when I was along) and blouses and shoes and so on — but, food? And food with sugar, at that? No. So, I bought — uhm — a lot.

I called her to share this information. Okay, so, I had called her earlier in the day to ask if I could visit. And, so, I had visited and dumped TOO MANY books on her. And so, okay, maybe I am bothering her too much. BUT REALLY, when I breathless and excited told her I had found the candy bars at the store she said, “Yes Charlie, I know. I already got some.” Shortly followed by, “I’ll talk to you later.” I could barely squeak in an “I love you” to which she replied, “What?” I repeated, “I love you,” and she said, “Me too.”

Guess I’ll just keep that rather large cache of candy bars for myself.

LOL. Saturday night. Girl Scout candy bars and wine. Sounds decadent in a sad, pathetic way. And,  my very own delightful Momma doesn’t want to talk to me. Full circle, right? And so, who did I dream about last night? Peggy.

Bottom line: I’m likely to live long enough to experience my Mom’s death. I’m likely to live long enough to experience Barbara Cook’s death. I’m likely to live long enough to experience another sister or brother going.

Bottom line: the imaginary world of the Algonquin in our mind that Sissie and I shared, I now have no one in real life with whom to share, but I do have the Algonquin in my mind virtual community of Twitter writers and musical theatre divas I pretend are real friends.

The Duchess Goldblatt (HERE) is the most important person in the world to me (she insists on this from all of her followers, and she deserves it) and I stalk Elizabeth McCracken (HERE), Julia Murney (HERE), Wes Taylor (HERE) and his genius web-series It Could Be Worse (HERE) — and, here is the thing about that imaginary world — Julia Murney (HERE) is appearing in a production of Seussical, The Musical with Beth Crandall (HERE), who I taught when she was a six year old, wrapping her in a feather boa and having her sing My Heart Belongs to Daddy. I wrote her YEARS worth of musicals and shows, she was long my muse – I taught her who Mary Martin and Ethel Merman were, once, even, dressing her up as part of a trio called THE MERMANS.  And in Wes Taylor’s It Could Be Worse, there was once an appearance by Broadway actress and Wicked Elphaba, Julie Reiber (HERE), who, ages ago, played Johanna in Sweeney Todd when I was Sweeney. And Elizabeth McCracken (HERE) taught at the summer Iowa Workshop where, a few years ago, my life was changed and I determined to write “full-time” — such as it is and finish my novel, Libertytown, much based on Sissie. And so, SEE HOW EVERYTHING CONNECTS?

I don’t have Sissie in real life. But, I have her. Just like the Algonquin-in-my-head-Twitter world I have. So, I will – in all likelihood – never have in real life someone again with whom to share Fay or who even knows what the hell I’m talking about half the time. I do not share a frame of reference with anyone anymore, but, I have virtual world, virtual love.

And some very good, very real friends too. And, right now, my Mom. And Barbara Cook is still singing. And Beth is getting to perform with Julia Murney.

And there are books to be read. And some day, I believe, probably when I’m gone, one of those will be a finally discovered Libertytown (sorry Cody, my assigned literary executor).

It will have to do.

A Word to the Why(s): The Behemoth of Modern Health Care

Until this week, I had not seen a doctor for seven years.

Well, “seen” is incorrect. I see doctors all the time. I take my Mother for some of her regular visits with an array of physicians, each assigned the care and maintenance of one or another of her organs or systems. I spend a great deal of time in waiting rooms and at drug windows and counters.

Too, once upon a time long ago before I became a rarely-published writer-slash-house/pet sitter, and even before my years of corralling children and actors – many of whom came to me medicated – I worked  in the health insurance industry. I started out processing claims, moved on to auditing other processors and paying high dollar claims, and, finally, heading up a systems set-up department.

I’m not a fan of the way we think about health and medicine in this culture. This week did little to change my mind. Monday, I called my new primary care physician group because I could not kick my sore throat and too, I was “required” to see them within 90 days of having signed up for the mandated health care coverage. Because I was a new patient, they could not see me until Friday and suggested I go to a walk-in type place in the meantime.

I did. Two strep tests and three hours later, nothing was wrong with me. Probably sinus drainage. I’m good with that. I did as suggested. Tried some over the counter allergy pills and spray. Sore throat still not gone by today. And, honestly, I’m okay with this. I don’t expect an illness to disappear magically and drainage is drainage and I will live. Yes, it’s hard to swallow and yes it’s annoying but, so what. The rest of me is healthy. It will pass.

Go to my “new” physician this morning. I am the SINGLE patient when I arrive. This does not mean, however, that I am seen. For my 10:30 appointment – which, they insisted, was 10:45 – I was not taken into a room until 11. And no one came in until 11:15, at which point I was interviewed by a nurse about all the things I had ALREADY spent 20 minutes filling out forms describing. Okay. I get it. However, she takes my blood pressure and it is 130 over 70. NEVER in my entire life has my blood pressure been high, which I tell her and suggest she take it again. She ignores me.

She goes, about twenty minutes later in walks a physician’s assistant. I’m fine with that too. I don’t need to see a doctor. She asks me all the same questions. I answer. Again. I assure her that I am fine but have come because I was SUPPOSED to and because my family and friends are crazy and I want to assure them with some medical back-up that I am fine.

She looks me over and suggests my blood pressure is high and maybe I should eat less salty foods. I suggest she knows nothing about my diet and perhaps she should take my blood pressure AGAIN because when it was taken I was annoyed and stressed about my having to wait 20 minutes when I was the only patient there. She said she would. She did not.

SHE THEN said my throat looked fine (I knew) and it was probably sinus drainage (I knew) and suggested that I try a different over the counter pill. Okay then. SHE THEN said that she was going to do another two strep tests ANYWAY – just to be sure – I suggested that perhaps four in five days was overkill? She laughed, as if I meant to be funny.

No. Not really, SHE THEN said that while we were waiting for the strep test results they could do the bloodwork. I asked what bloodwork that would be. She said bloodwork to check my cholesterol and sugar and prostate something and on and on and on and too, that she would be writing me  a referral for a colonoscopy since I was at that age and —

I said, “No.” She said, “What?” I said, No. As in I will not be having any bloodwork. I will not be having a colonoscopy. I will not be doing anything but drinking plenty of water, continuing to monitor my weight, exercising six days a week, living my life happily and believing I am healthy until – I hope – I drop dead at a reasonable age from something that hits quickly and fatally, but that what I would NOT be doing was spending twenty years taking this or that drug or going to the doctor every few months to be bled and tested and etcetera.

She was literally speechless. She got herself under control – although I must say she was far less perky than she had been previously – and said, “Well, I guess that’s your right.” Yes. It is. She then sent in another nurse to do the strep test. I opened wide. She took the sample. I sat. Ten minutes later she returned to say that because my gag reflex stopped her, she had gotten a swab from my tongue, not my throat and I had to try harder.

Uhm, gag reflex? I don’t want to be crude or offer too much information but TRUST ME ON THIS, my gag reflex was NOT to blame for her swabbing the wrong place. Which, in less polite terms — oh hell — I said, “Not to be rude, but in certain circles where I use aliases and alternate personalities, I’ve long been well-known for my absence of gag reflex. Trust me, if someone messed up that test — it was NOT me.”

Another one left speechless. Off she went. Fifteen minutes later, another person, “You can go. You’re negative.”

I answered in an English accent (Sebastian had taken over), “Well, in all the ways that count, yes, yes I am. I’ve always been very careful about that. But on the whole – as in the ENTIRETY of things – I’m quite positive. Good day.”

And STILL no one offered me a psychiatric referral or mood-altering drugs. President Obama, you need to get that task force back on the case. LOL. Never. Again.

 

 

 

READING: “Fourth of July Creek” by Smith Henderson

fourth of july creek

Click Cover to head to Ecco/Harper Collins book page

Fourth of July Creek, A novel by Smith Henderson, Ecco Press, Hardcover, 470pp (click HERE)

Before I begin my visit with Smith Henderson’s debut novel, Fourth of July Creek, I have a few things to say about the Man Booker Prize Long List. First; since the announcement last year that all those who wrote originally in English and saw publication in Britain would be eligible — as in, Americans would now qualify — I have dreamed of being nominated. I can only assume the panel of judges did not receive my package. In consideration of their egregious oversight, I will now be sending that group of obviously near-illiterates a very different sort of package. I take it, however, in stride, since this is not the first time I have been told I’ve not the qualities required for inclusion on so-called “long-lists”.

But, where the hell was Elizabeth McCracken (click HERE)? Thunderstruck (click HERE) is the very best thing I have read in a very long time (I know, I have not yet written about it – I cannot bring myself to do so for fear of dishonoring its glory with my second-rate thoughts and syntax. I’ll get to it, seriously, somehow, some day.) and its dis-inclusion is beyond my comprehension.

I was hardly the only one annoyed with the list. Simultaneous with the announcement of the nominations began the carping. Its nominees are predominantly white and male. This should not surprise, but, somehow, it does. As the dissection began, I wondered how many LGBT authors were on the list. No one seemed to know. Even as I asked the question, I began to question my question and –one more time — struggle with the issue of privilege and power and my pursuit of both.

I would like to be a published author whose books are read by informed and erudite readers. I would like to have a publisher who submits my novel for consideration to the Man Booker Judging Panel. I would like to belong. But, as always, I struggle with what it means to “belong” and how I have never in my life done so, and how hard I have worked to find value outside of the norm, outside of the predominantly white-male-heterosexist-construct by which culture and society is ruled. So, what was I saying?

Henderson, Smith

Smith Henderson

I want a Man Booker. I don’t want to CARE about Man Booker, which, coincidentally, just proved itself a tool of the predominantly white-male-heterosexist-construct. But, I do care. And I am upset with myself that I care about a group/award that only included three women and one person of color in its long list. And I’m torn that we are counting and keeping track of whether there is fair representation of all on the list. Who is all? We are tracking gender and color; but did anyone track sexuality? How many transgender people SHOULD BE on the list? Should we track religious philosophies? Age? I mean, we are — as a people — so divided, why was there outrage JUST about gender and color? How about all the other categories? WHERE DOES IT STOP? WHAT IS FAIR? WHAT IS EQUALITY? WHAT IS LEGITIMATE REPRESENTATION?

These concerns are torture to me. As I said yesterday on Twitter to Amanda Nelson of Book Riot (@ImAmandaNelson: click HERE) “I look forward to the day when we don’t need to count anything”  (as in gender, sexuality, people of color, etcetera) and “Vigilance is exhausting. Onward to a Utopian future of no judgment for which I shall continue to hope.” But which I do NOT expect to see in my lifetime. Argh.

Now, on to Fourth of July Creek, A Novel, by white male – sexuality unknown to me – author, Smith Henderson, early forties (we mustn’t forget ageism, folks) whose debut novel is one of the summer’s big reads – a 100,000 copy first printing. His prior claim to fame was as co-writer of the Chrysler commercial, Halftime in America, which starred Clint Eastwood and was seen as anti-conservative, pro-President Obama propaganda for the big-three-bailout. I can only hope.

From the publisher’s website, this synopsis:

About the Book

In this shattering and iconic American novel, PEN prize-winning writer, Smith Henderson explores the complexities of freedom, community, grace, suspicion and anarchy, brilliantly depicting our nation’s disquieting and violent contradictions.

After trying to help Benjamin Pearl, an undernourished, nearly feral eleven-year-old boy living in the Montana wilderness, social worker Pete Snow comes face to face with the boy’s profoundly disturbed father, Jeremiah. With courage and caution, Pete slowly earns a measure of trust from this paranoid survivalist itching for a final conflict that will signal the coming End Times.

But as Pete’s own family spins out of control, Pearl’s activities spark the full-blown interest of the F.B.I., putting Pete at the center of a massive manhunt from which no one will emerge unscathed.

Fourth (I feel as if the book and I, having spent almost 500 pages together, are on a first name basis) hooked me with its seductive first few paragraphs. Listen:

The cop flicked his cigarette to the dirt-and-gravel road in front of the house, and touched back his hat over his hairline as the social worker drove up in a dusty Toyota Corolla. Through the dirty window, he spotted some blond hair falling, and he hiked in his gut, hoping that the woman in there would be something to have a look at. Which is to say he did not expect what got out: a guy in his late twenties, maybe thirty, pulling on a denim coat against the cold morning air blowing down the mountain, reemerging with paperwork. His brown corduroy pants  faded out over his skinny ass, the knees too. He pulled that long hair behind his ears with his free hand and sauntered over.

“Name’s Pete,” the social worker said, tucking the clipboard and manila folder under his arm, shaking the cop’s hand. “We’re usually women,” he added, smiling with an openness that put the cop ill at ease.

The cop just replied with his own name — “Eugene” — took back his hand, and coughed into his fist.

Granted, I have now finished the novel, so, perhaps, on re-reading, the prose comes at me more layered and powerful than when first I read it, but, even then, all that ago — because I did not read this book quickly, it being too beautiful from the start with its low moan of scary foreshadowing of what I was certain would be a long, sad wail of unveiling of inevitable and seemingly unavoidable tragedy — I recognized the depth and precision of each word, the choices in the composition from vocabulary to syntax to punctuation.

Although Fourth takes place during the Reagan era, it is timeless in its brutal emotional exploration of love, disappointment, disenchantment, compromise, surrender, fate, fury, and the ways in which we humans run toward and away from the truths of our lives, of our loves, of our relationships to ourselves, others, and the realities in which we live.

Every character in Fourth is spun around, kicked and cornered by their feelings for others, by the actions of others. Every character in Fourth finds ways to numb-out and dumb-away those feelings and bruises, with mind-altering substances from alcohol to bible-thumping to schizo-alias-hooking-up with virtual strangers. Every character in Fourth is a real person, writ large, with which the author, Mr. Henderson, manages to capture the devolution of modern culture.

Smith Henderson has written a novel in which it is doomsday, in a vernacular of persecution and paranoia and perplexed ambivalence about right, wrong, sin, and service; set in a world where no one is safe or saved, and the best they can do is keep doing, keep going, find a place to fit — or, at least, a milieu in which to hide amongst the like-minded who share a world-view, who will perhaps not embrace them, but, at least, not evict them for being who they are: flawed and failed and foolish and, well, fooled and fallen.

This is a novel that limns the struggle of what it means to belong, to love, to lose, and all the patterns and echoes and unintended consequences we inhabit and create while continuing that trek. It is a wonderful book, powerfully written, well constructed, literary in the best sense — in that it works on many levels, provoking and thoughtful but readable and suspenseful. You will care about the characters, you will compulsively read on in frenzied curiosity about their endings (and their beginnings) and you will feel exhausted and sad when finished.

It is not a book that inspires hope, in fact, it takes place in a world with an almost total absence of hope, a paucity of joy, and love that is always (it seems) distorted, damaging, denied and had it been less well written, less gloriously literate, I would have stopped, unwilling to witness the destruction inchoate in each succeeding chapter; there is not one life inside this book I would want to live, and, sadly, the lives are far too close to the lives many people I know live now — maybe even my own; lives in which there are no expectations of happy ends, where, in fact, “happy end” means an absence of disaster.

Read it, you must, Smith Henderson is a new member of the great American novelist pantheon, and, too, weep, you must and you will, because this great American novel speaks a truth that is a tragedy and all too much the norm now; we have no happy ends and Henderson has gotten it just exactly right.

I bought Fourth of July Creek at THE CURIOUS IGUANA (click here), an independent bookstore in Frederick, Maryland from which I buy all my books. It was an Indie Next List pick (click HERE).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home again … well, not MY home exactly …

house sit july 2014 4It truly is beautiful up here (over here?) in Knoxville. I’ve spent much quality time just looking out the window. I sat outside for a bit but the place is apparently Manhattan for gnats so my outdoorsy-ness was short-lived.

This feels way out in the country, but, it’s really only fifteen minutes from Frederick – which some would call country enough but it’s the second largest city in Maryland – however, in many ways, this is an entirely different world. All of the houses ensconced in this enclave have at least two car garages, some have three and four car garages, and a few have entirely separate multi-vehicle garages. All of the homes have large, paved drives and parking areas, and there are many big-wheeled trucks – all made in America – and equipment-y type vehicles and trailers and such. It’s got that Nascar, conservative, NRA sort of vibe – a little bit scary, actually.

Still, relaxing and removed. Each day I wake between six and six-thirty and descend to kick the Keurig into gear and stroll with Judah for his morning relief. After that, it’s a few hours of webtrolling, followed by (interspersed with) writing. Shower. Gym. I leave here around 12:30 and get back between 2:30 and 3:30, dependent upon my staying power at gym and whether or not I stop at grocery store on the way home.

Today, I left the front door unlocked in case the landscaper – who I and the owner know – showed up to do what he began yesterday. He’d said he’d be here “with the sun” and hoped he wouldn’t wake me. I assured him he wouldn’t. But, as of noon, he’d not arrived, so I am not sure to which sun he was referring. In any event, when I returned, although clearly the landscaper had not been here – nothing was done outside – the front door was locked.

I didn’t panic. There is a tenant who rents a separate portion of the house and shares the kitchen. A young tenant. A tenant who I know peripherally, and with whom I have had occasion to talk this week when they briefly stopped by to check for a U.P.S. package for which overnight shipping had been paid and which did not come for three days. It was clear that it had, indeed, been the tenant who had stopped in. How did I know? Only someone young, used to being cared for and cosseted by others would think to come into a home where they are renting and

House sit July 2014 2

leave a cupboard door open, a tea towel thrown across the counter, and their dirty glass in the sink?

House sit July 2014 1

WHO DOES THAT? Especially when you KNOW someone OTHER THAN THE OWNER is housesitting? What makes you think I should pick up after you? Flabbergasted once again by people.

It doesn’t bother me IN THE LEAST. I clean up after people all the time, always have, assume I always will and I am okay with it. But, that doesn’t mean I get it. I could pour myself a glass of wine and get into the HUMONGENORGEMOUS tub in the master suite . . . but I’m not really a bath person.

House sit July 2014 3

I happened to stop at the store on the way home for some of the aforementioned Keurig cups — and, along the way, got myself 3 snickerdoodles. I will have those while I read.

Life is good. Happy weekending.

 

 

 

 

Sadness, Echo and Melancholy

Oh my, I am not one of those who jumps on the “celebrity death” bandwagon. I find the roaring and mourning that goes on to be distasteful and, mostly, ill-bred. Far too often the weep and wail comes from someone who is more attached to the cult of death industry this society has grown rather than any real emotional connection to the person who has died.

But I did love me some Elaine Stritch.

Stritch, Elaine

Stephen Sondheim and Elaine Stritch

Stephen Sondheim and Elaine Stritch

elainestritchblink

She’s a legend and everyone will be writing about their personal memories; and, all the stories surrounding her. None of which are my business. My business is that she had gumption, guts, and sold a song and a character like nobody’s business; and she was one of the stars both my aunt and I loved. So, this FEELS personal for me.

But, like I said, hate the whole jump on the death train thing people do.

In fact, I’m not a fan of death culture in general. I don’t think funerals are the least bit civilized and the level of hypocrisy that occurs when someone dies is – all too often – staggering. I have left instructions that when I die my body is to be donated to the University of Maryland and there is to be no service whatsoever. None. Nothing. Love people and let it be known when they are alive. Too late when they’re dead.

Thank you, Miss Stritch for all you gave me. Wish I’d had a chance to tell you in person.

I’m Back … sort of …

I am writing this on my new and much improved laptop, an Asus, which is honestly amazing and for which I no doubt paid too much money, but, I did NOT pay too much money for the fellow who bought it for me, loaded it for me, and managed to move everything from my dead laptop to this one, all configured and readied so that I did not have to spend forever figuring shit out. Would that he could “migrate” the rest of my life in the same way.

That said, I am – fingers crossed – seeming to finally emerge from the writing dead zone. I have begun something that I actually can almost stand, and, so, I am going to blog less and write more. Here’s a taste of it — and I warn you, this is FIRST ITERATION — I’ve no idea into what it will finally morph.

SECOND PLACE

The nuns gave Parker Jones, age six, and his sister, Maggie, age thirteen, second place in the talent show because the Hickman family was going through a divorce, the first in the small Roman Catholic parish, and it trumped the dead father aura which had long made the Jones’s the whispered about, pitied ones.

 
“It’s better, don’t you think, Parker? “ Sister Anthony whispered, having materialized like she did, right next to Parker, to whisper in his ear whenever he so much as considered having a thought or feeling less than worthy of the boy destined to be the first American Pope. “Wouldn’t you much rather picnic with Father Willhaven, Sister John Vienna and me? Doesn’t it give you a good feeling, knowing how the Hickmans need that twenty-five dollar first prize?”

 
Parker knew that each of the seven blonde beautiful Hickman children who’d butchered “So Long, Farewell” with their out-of-tune vonTrapp imitation – divorce or not – had their own bedrooms in their huge, modern split-level house with a swimming pool, and wore clothes their mother mail-ordered for them from big city stores, and went on vacations every summer, and were visited regularly by non-English-speaking relatives from some-exotic-where ending in “-uania” from whence had come their not very-well liked prior to her being abandoned mother, named Elke, she of the slight accent and quietly gossiped about likely communist background. They had a swimming pool, their own bedrooms, and an aura of mystery. It didn’t seem to Parker they needed twenty-five dollars and a pity-first-place as well. But, when Sister Anthony gave him that look it meant more than any prize; the half-tilt of her habit-ed head and the slight tightening of the lips that meant Parker was being trusted to divine what she meant and share in her wisdom about what was best for the greater good, the whole of God’s plan; it meant that she was certain that he, like she, would selflessly sacrifice and martyr himself to ease the pain and suffering of others, knowing while doing so that it was merely a temporary delay before receiving eternal reward in heaven.

 
Sister Anthony was the first in the long line of women with whom Parker confused his own obsequiousness and fear with love and devotion, women he mistakenly thought he walked beside, as companion in a powerful partnership, while the women in question were equally certain he understood himself lucky just to be following behind, vassal at best. Inevitably, finally, having served whatever purpose they’d intended, they’d reveal to him his real place in their story as stooge, sycophant, or, on the one occasion he had gumptioned up enough to recognize his toadying and refuse further service, he was labeled betrayer and dragged through the courts, reputation and finances ruined for his trouble.

 
That was what arguing and objecting got you, so he tried never to do so. If he came in second – and that was as high as he ever came in – it was because it was his fate, some plan, either the will of some power greater than his or the result of his own poor choices and inadequacies. Easier to, over and over again, nod along in agreement, always. Good boy. In his place. Second. As he had with Sister Anthony.

 
Which was how he had ended up where he was forty-five years later, age fifty-one, on the night his sister, Maggie, age fifty-eight, died.

 

 

Going Under. #GoodbyeCharlie

I need to disappear for a while. My Toshiba laptop dying, or, going dark, or, whatever it has done, ridiculous a first world issue as that is, is, for me, just one issue too many at the moment. There are piles of things I haven’t done (songs I should have sung) and I am, frankly, overwhelmed. I know I shouldn’t be. I know I am weak. Crazy. Whatever. But, I don’t know, I just can’t seem to get out from under a life of — doesn’t matter. My choices. My problems. The vertigo. The laptop. The other shit about which I can’t talk. All too much. So, taking some kind of break. Until I am not. Whatever that turns out to mean. Thanks for stopping by. #GoodbyeCharlie