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Memoir Madness

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MEMOIR MADNESS

The good news is, today I wrote almost 1,300 words. I know that’s not much compared to the over-achieving masses who will participate in National Novel Writing Month in November, dashing off 1,667 words every day for 30 days in pursuit of a 50,000-word novel. But it’s pretty good for me. Yesterday was only 500 words, and it was crap.

The bad news is, only about 350 of today’s words have the slightest chance of contributing to my final word count because I went on a 400-word digression that ended in a conundrum (about which I will tell you), and because I got mired in shame.

The downside of searching for patterns and themes in your life is that when you find them — or they find you — they may not be the lovely themes and patterns you had imagined were the narrative of your life. Alarmingly, my redemptive spiritual coming-of-age story seems to be all about shame and secrecy. Mind you, neither “shame” nor “secrecy” appear anywhere in my chapter outlines (such as they are), yet every scene leads me there.

I knew that the alcoholic father/enabling mother business would produce a few sentences on shame, but when your alcoholic father is also an undercover CIA agent in Miami during the Cuban missile crisis, the secrets can multiply quickly. Next thing you know, you’re writing about stealing your friend’s stuffed mouse, and your sister’s souvenir coin, and the shiny set of keys dangling from the door of the shiny new Dodge at the dealership, and you’re thinking, “This isn’t what my memoir is about.”

So then you take a break from your memoir and you draft a blog post about shame, which you start thinking is not half-bad, and so you begin revising and playing with words and researching outlets that might publish something like that, but while you are doing this, you remember that last spring you were working on a piece for the New York Time’s Modern Love column and so you find that and start revising it, and then you are googling your dead ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend and so you stop.

At some point, I also searched “shame” in my blog archives and discovered that I’ve written 59 separate posts that at least mention it. This makes 60. I may soon have to acknowledge its existence.

Now about that 400-word digression that ended in a conundrum: As an ethical memoirist, if someone told you a story when you were a child and you have always believed it to be true but then you find out it’s not technically true, actually not even close, can you still use the story without fessing up that it’s not true after all? If everyone involved is long dead? I’m asking for a friend, of course.

And – BAM! Another 482 words, done.

 

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The Real Crisis in America (It’s Not What You Think)

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There are many, many things amiss in America today, and I don’t need to get into them. I am on vacation and refuse to write about gun violence, the state-sanctioned kidnapping and caging of brown children, Supreme Court seats being bought and sold, and the president’s vilification of the free press. Not going there.

Because really, we have a much bigger problem in this nation and indeed the world over. I am ashamed to say I was not aware of this hidden crisis, and you may also be ignorant of the threat.

Thank heavens that Elle Magazine’s latest issue has uncovered this menace, creeping across the faces of women everywhere. Some men may also be at risk.

Here, apparently, is the problem: we were all born with the wrong eyebrows and this is ruining our lives!

Not the complete corporate takeover of our economy, nor the militarization of our police forces, nor the prison-profiteering that has resulted in the U.S. having the highest incarceration rate in the world, nor the melting ice caps, the rising flood waters, and monster hurricanes.

Nope. What you need to be losing sleep over is right there in front of your face.

Fortunately, word is getting out. Elle informs us that we are in the midst of “an eyebrow revival.”  Wait, not “an” eyebrow revival, THE eyebrow revival! My mistake. This is because we have “finally realized that structured brows act as frames for your face and give your whole face definition.” So all these years we’ve been walking around with undefined faces! 

Eyebrows defining a face

Please don’t panic. Elle’s crisis managers can help you “find the right eyebrows for your face,” and they offer “a super useful guide to eyebrow tinting.” The magazine reveals which celebrity eyebrows are the most-googled and tells us whom to emulate. (Hint: “Meghan Markle’s eyebrow game is strong.”)

In a breathtakingly bold public service, the magazine tells us how to avoid “the most common eyebrow mistakes” and recommends eleven of the best eyebrow pencils for under $13, plus eighteen of the best eyebrow “products.”

So you see, in addition to finding the right eyebrows for your face, you can also contribute to a strong economy and help corporations as they work to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

And a fascinating endnote: Elle declares that if you have thick eyebrows, “You’re probably a narcissist.”

Narcissistic Eyebrows

America is in a Clutch Situation

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AMERICA IS IN A CLUTCH SITUATION

I don’t care for the word, “clutch.” It’s full of hard, abrupt sounds. I prefer words made up of gentle sounds that flow off your tongue, like Sisyphus.

Remember Sisyphus from Greek mythology? He was the guy who was forced to push a boulder up a steep hill over and over, only to have it roll back down and smash him. This was his eternal punishment for being a greedy and arrogant king who thought he was the greatest — greater than the god Zeus.

Sisyphus was punished for his avarice and hubris, and also for his deceitfulness and general ugliness — he abused visitors to his country and he seduced women! Imagine having a king like that!

Anyway, clutch is today’s word prompt from WordPress.

Clutch is an anxious word, an emergency kind of word. Like you clutch your heart because you think the stress of worrying about nuclear war or climate change might give you a heart attack. Or you clutch your stomach, as you might when someone’s behavior mortifies you to the point of nausea. Or you clutch your head in anguish when you see a headline like “States Prepare to Shut Down Low-Income Children’s Health Programs.”

This reminds you of scary children’s stories from your youth, when the poor children are “in someone’s clutches” — a cruel and heartless tyrant, say, or a megalomaniac.

Then there’s the tidy little “clutch” handbag that you take to cocktail parties where you are so uncomfortable that you have to cling to your purse for security. The kind of place you might meet Russian diplomats who are really spies or yacht-owning Saudi Arabian oligarchs looking for lucrative hotel deals.

Check out this little lovely which you can get from Ivanka Trump’s company for a mere $85:

There’s the clutch in a standard transmission car, of course. This is the pedal on your left which you depress to disconnect the wheels from the spinning engine so that you can slow down. It’s especially useful when you are in big trouble and you manage to jam down the clutch and the brake just in time to stop the car from going over a cliff.

In sports when your team is at the edge of a cliff, it’s known as a “clutch situation.” The situation is critical. The stakes could not be higher. We are talking about the whole game here.

Thanksgiving Gremlins

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THANKSGIVING GREMLINS

I usually take a look at my blog platform’s word prompt of the day, just to see if it hurls a bolt of brilliance my way. Hence, my brilliant blog on mercy yesterday. (OK, OK, brilliance is a relative term.)

Today’s word prompt is gremlins. What? Gremlins? On Thanksgiving Day? I expected gratitude or family or feast or table or cornucopia (which Merriam-Webster says is getting a lot of look-ups this week). But no, it’s gremlins.

The first thing that comes to my mind is the tiny footsteps of fieldmice skittering behind the living room walls here in this old New England farmhouse. The gremlins have come inside for the winter.

I also think of the meltdowns at my friend’s house last night where twin boys celebrated their fifth birthday with their big brother and two little cousins — a two-year-old and a baby. All would be well and then suddenly a gremlin would pass through the room and one child or another would become possessed, thrown to the floor in paroxysms of grief and despair.

“I want another fill-in-the-blank!” or “He took my fill-in-the-blank!” or (my favorite) “I wanted all the lights off when we were dancing to the Gummy Bear song!”

It had been a long celebratory day, it was well past bedtime, post sugar rush, and we were in the final throes of an energetic dance party. 

But what excuse is there when adults, myself included, succumb to the same gremlins? “I don’t have enough fill-in-the-blank! He has something I think I might want! That didn’t turn out exactly the way I had planned it in my head! They didn’t say ‘thank you’ to me! I am a victim!”

How about we have a gremlin-free Thanksgiving today? Look for the bright side, search out the gifts, give the benefit of the doubt to those annoying family members. Everyone’s doing the best they can. Check out this link to four ways to cultivate gratitude in case you are having trouble. 

And give a thought to the real victims on Thanksgiving, the forty-six million turkeys who gave their lives to expand American waistlines today. I will spare you my traditional evangelistic-vegetarian Thanksgiving post and instead just offer a link to it, here.

The ones that got away

Happy Gremlin-free Gratitude Day!

 

Making the President Irrelevant

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I like to pretend that the President of the United States is entirely irrelevant to my life. I’m sure many disengaged Americans have always felt this way, but I’m not normally one to ignore current events. I’m a social justice activist at heart, a bit obsessive about politics, and I think it’s our responsibility to pay attention and speak up when, say, a president threatens to blow another nation off the map.

Still, in the interest of my own sanity, I am trying to detach, to pretend that everything is normal. Sometimes I can manage it for hours at a time. I plant herbs in my garden, chop up broccoli and carrots for dinner, scrub the bathroom floor, read a gothic novel, all without a thought to the unspeakable cad in the Oval Office (a term my mother reserved for the most despicable of men and which I think fits exactly).

But then I’ll knick myself with the kitchen knife and wonder if I’m going to lose my health insurance, or I’ll notice how fast the basil and cilantro go to seed in the record-setting heat and then I’ll wonder how on earth anyone could possibly deny climate change, most especially the people in charge of our environmental and energy agencies, and I’ll say out loud to my cat that the only person in this gd administration who seems to accept climate change is the former CEO of Exxon who has no business being in the Cabinet anyway.

I try to reel it back in, to let go of the string of anxious thoughts, to focus on the smell of the mint I’m chopping for the cucumber salad, but all I can think about by then is a mushroom cloud rising somewhere in the vicinity of North Korea and I scream at my cat, “Who threatens to ‘totally destroy’ a nation of millions of innocent people??” and my cat says “meow” and I continue my tirade, “Who, WHO goads a madman with nuclear weapons??”

“Another madman,” my cat answers, only of course she doesn’t, but I think she’s sympatico; anyway she’s seems perturbed.

A couple of world leaders at the United Nations referred to President Tweet as a rogue.

Nail on the head.

And everyone knows that a rogue elephant is never irrelevant.

Digressions from Democracy

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DIGRESSIONS FROM DEMOCRACY

In the Pink

My mother used to use the phrase “in the pink.” I like it. It conjures up chubby chortling pink babies with kicky legs. It’s a happy, healthy phrase that’s defined as “being in robust good health and spirits; physically and emotionally well.”

The phrase actually isn’t cute at all. It comes from the cruel tradition of English foxhunting. The hunters wear scarlet jackets, the color of fox’s blood, and they are called pinks. So being in the pink means that you are about to gallop across your estate and kill hapless creatures. (Though banned, the “sport” continues in England.)

Not surprisingly, given the coarseness of our society, “in the pink” has also come to mean something sexual and demeaning to women. But I’ll leave those references to the boys in the middle school locker room.

Speaking of President Tweet, I am beginning to suspect that he is not ‘in the pink.” Obviously he is a heart attack waiting to happen, despite his golfing (which I wish liberals would quit complaining about — democracy is safer when he is distracted). But I’m talking about his mental health. The golfing therapy doesn’t seem to lessen the man-child’s obsessive paranoia and vindictive, impulsive furies one bit.

Orange Lava

By overeating, drinking wine, and doing crossword puzzles, I have managed to stay in denial about the imminent threat of nuclear war with North Korea and the even larger threat of climate protection programs being dismantled.

Sometimes I go to a march and wave a sign. That helps. I think I might survive until the impeachment.

But then every once in a while, the man-child’s whacko behavior erupts in such a way that his toxic orange lava from hell spews into my consciousness and scares the bejesus outta of me, as my father used to say.

Most recently, his petulant fury led him to fire FBI Director Comey for refusing to confirm Tweet’s paranoid wiretapping fantasies and for trying to protect the country from a foreign government’s interference. Pizza and a crossword won’t make that go away.

Beyond the Pale

Tweet’s personality disorder(s) have now taken our nation entirely “beyond the pale” — another phrase coined by the British and meaning “unacceptable; outside agreed standards of decency.”

The phrase “beyond the pale” comes from the common disease of de-humanizing other people and erecting fences to keep them away. (Fortunately, we in America are over that.) A pale is a fence post, and Catherine the Great built a pale fence in Russia to keep the Jews away from “decent” Russian people, and pales were used to drive away undesirables in Ireland and France as well. The phrase first showed up in a British poem in 1657 where young lovers wandered beyond the fence and were murdered. No doubt by “illegal aliens.”

But I digress. Actually I don’t digress. I’m not at all sure what this post is about.

Watergate Memories

I think it might be about the fact that our democracy is in grave danger. My ADD mind is just flitting about, lighting on fun phrases and researching etymology, trying desperately to escape the obvious: either the president goes or our democracy goes.

I remember this gut-churning feeling from Watergate days, and coming to the realization that it’s either him or us. I am not being hyperbolic.

Incidentally, isn’t hyperbole a great word? It comes from the 15th century and means “obvious exaggeration in rhetoric” — which brings me back to the White House.

Didn’t you love the part where Press Secretary Sean Spicer was hiding in the bushes the night Director Comey was fired, refusing to talk to reporters until they turned off their lights and cameras? His talking points only worked for FOX News, and he had already given them their marching orders.

I also liked the FOX headline, “Comey Resigns.” Alternative facts.

And boy is it good to see Kelly Anne Conway back in the mix! Saturday Night Live has missed her. Although my God I wish she would get something to eat. She’s seriously not in the pink.

Nobody over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is in the pink. And so, neither are any of us.

#Resist

Today’s word prompt: pink

Procrastinating Preacher

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PROCRASTINATING PREACHER

You can be pretty sure that if I’m scrubbing the toilet, I’m preaching the next day. This is not some spiritual practice I’ve developed to metaphorically cleanse my spirit before I stand before our congregation or to keep myself humble before speaking from the stage.

Nope, I’m not that holy. It’s procrastination, pure and simple. Avoiding practicing my talk. Since learning that I have ADD a couple of years ago, I am less hard on myself during this stage of “preparing my sermon.” It’s just something I have to go through every few months before I speak.

So far today I’ve done a load of dishes, changed the cat’s pan, washed the sinks, cleaned up multiple nasty sticky spots from the kitchen floor, emptied out several dusty mystery bags that turned out to contain old Christmas presents, books (surprise!) and cleaning supplies (ha!), and picked up all the random dirt-and-dead-plant-filled flower pots from around the house and crammed them into the entryway closet (reminding myself to open it veeerrrry slowly next time).

And of course I’ve scrubbed the toilet.

Oh, and I’ve spent the last thirty minutes doing an outline of a new memoir. Do not expect anything from this; I’ve got at least half a dozen of them lying around.

So it’s three in the afternoon, and time to start practicing. In a few minutes, I’ll decide that I’d better check on the wardrobe situation for tomorrow and I’ll likely conclude that doing laundry is a must.

But apparently I am writing a blog post first.

Happy weekend.

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