Friday, March 31, 2006

Wunderkind ...

Geez, what was I doing with my life when I was 11?

I was 11 when I started 7th grade. Junior high. My first locker. Homeroom. Going from class to class. I was in the "gifted program." Once a week, instead of going to Language Arts, me and a couple other kids met in an seldom-used classroom at the end of the hall and worked on logic problems. Of course, we still had to make up the work we missed in Language Arts, but I guess it was presumed that since we were "gifted," that wouldn't be an issue.

So maybe I was a bit smarter than the average bear in junior high. I remember tutoring some kids, but looking back, I didn't do anything special. I certainly could have done more.

I could have been like Kelsie.

Click on the title of this post to go to Kelsie's web site. Kelsie is currently in the process of raising money to buy new books for the libraries devastated by Katrina. I'm not telling you about her so you'll donate (though of course it would be nice of you if you did), but rather to call attention to a very special young lady who deserves to be recognized for what she's doing, namely, riding her horse halfway across Mississippi, raising these funds.

And here's the kicker: Kelsie is losing her sight. She needs large-print books but there aren't many large-print books in libraries for kids her age. So when the librarian explained why, that funding is tight, Kelsie decided to do something about it.

Hats off to Kelsie (who also donated her hair to Locks of Love), and to her parents, who have obviously done one hell of a job raising such a thoughtful, resourceful, responsible kid.

Friends have been kind enough to jumpstart the donations for my 3-Day effort. I'm gonna pay it forward and donate to Kelsie's cause.

Breast Cancer 3-Day 2006

Yup, I'm at it again.

Several friends have written recently to ask if I'm doing the walk again this year.

I wasn't sure. Not because of the effort, but because I wasn't sure if I should ask people for money again.

I got over myself pretty quickly.

And to prove the point that people want to support me, I raised $100 in about 10 seconds. I have the most amazing friends (who are pretty quick with a computer keyboard and mouse, and must have their credit card numbers memorized). If you'd like to contribute (and you'll have my undying appreciation if you do), you can click the Breast Cancer 3-Day link to the right under Links, or, if donating online skeeves you out, drop me an e-mail and I can send you a donation form, or, to make things even easier, I'll give you my address and you can send me a check and I'll do all the paperwork.

The walk, if you're not familiar with it, is 60 miles to raise money and awareness. Last year, we walked from St. Charles to Chicago. Here's what I had to say to my donors last year after the walk:

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Family and friends:

The walk, it was amazing.

Doreen, the dear, provided accommodations Thursday night and, in a demonstration of true friendship, set her alarm for 3:30 Friday morning to make sure I didn’t oversleep.

I didn’t. I never sleep well when I know I have to be up early the next morning. My brain can’t stop thinking that I’ll oversleep and throw off all the events of the day, so I wake up every hour to check the clock. At 3 a.m. Friday, I threw in the towel and got ready.

Doreen emerged from her room at 3:30 a.m., squinting in the light of the bathroom. Hugged me, told me she loved me, went back to bed.

I arrived at Union Station about 4:20 a.m. to catch the shuttle to St. Charles. While it is hard to get a cab at that hour in Chicago, once in one, it is very easy to quickly get where you’re going.

The chitchat with my shuttle seatmate quickly dwindled as we made our way out to the Kane County fairgrounds. I was tired, but also focused on the next three days and what I hoped to accomplish.

We arrived in darkness and rain. I schlepped my gear to the gear truck and donned a disposable rain poncho as I made my way to the stage area for opening ceremonies. A crew member squeegeed water off the stage. The sky was solid grey. Somewhere beyond the clouds, dawn had arrived. It was lighter, but the sun was nowhere to be seen.

Nancy, the woman who gave the main opening address, informed us that Chicago’s 2,410 walkers had raised, to date, $6.5 million. We’re able to continue fundraising for four more weeks, so hopefully, that total will substantially climb.

We took our first steps.

Day 1: 22 miles, St. Charles to Glen Ellyn

Before I’d even left the fair grounds, I was walking and talking with Linda. She was doing the event by herself, too, her second walk of the year. She does both the Avon event and this one, bless her heart.

We walked and chatted and she started to slow. I asked if she was OK. Her arthritis was starting to flare up. She had been hoping it wouldn’t notice that she was walking, but it had gotten wise.

At a pit stop, in line waiting to use a “restroom,” I found myself standing in front of Uma, the wife of a coworker I’d met at Doreen’s parties several times. I knew she was doing the walk but we never hooked up beforehand. I thought I’d never find her in a sea of nearly 2,500 people. But there she was. I don’t believe in coincidence. I took our meeting as a good sign.

Linda and I walked on. By the time we made it to the second pit stop, she knew she had to sweep. Sweep vans circle the route, looking for walkers who need a ride to lunch or camp. Linda was upset – disappointed – that she needed to sweep so early on Day 1, but did the smart thing and headed to a van. She hadn’t fully checked in yet, so she didn’t have a tent assignment. I hoped I’d find her again.

Uma and her friend and I made our way along the route, but as we neared the third pit stop, they opted to keep walking while I decided to stop. A few minutes later, I rejoined the stream of walkers along a wooded path. As walkers pass each other, most turn to whomever they’re passing and greet them, usually with some variation on “How you doing?” I walked up alongside a woman and made the usual small talk, but we kept chatting. Her name was Catherine. She was from Dallas, walking in Chicago to see someplace new. We walked together for the rest of the weekend.

All along the route, people cheer. Some hand out candy or water or pink ribbons. As Catherine and I made our way later in the afternoon, a group of small children greeted us on the path, offering Dixie cups of something blue. Some held the cups far out from themselves, as if we were runners who needed to grab them and go. I stopped in front of a little boy.

“Is it Kool-Aid?” I asked.

“It’s Gatorade!” he said, beaming as if he was offering me a cup full of magic.

“Blue Gatorade is my favorite!” I said. “Thank you so much!”

Blue Gatorade is hardly my favorite, but it tasted great compared to the sports drink at the pit stops. I understand the need for it, but it was yucky. Slightly salty weak lemonade. Ick.

Catherine and I made it to camp about 3:30 p.m. A good day. We met for dinner and spent a couple hours chatting with two women who came in from Michigan to do the event. It’s amazing how quickly everyone feels like your best friend on a 3-Day.

Nancy, the woman who gave the rousing opening speech that morning, took the stage with updates about the day, media coverage, recognition for donors who had raised extraordinary sums. She also introduced three walkers who told their stories. One woman told her tale and announced that after years of surgery and treatment, she was one year cancer-free. The entire tent – and it was a big tent – stood to applaud her. Another walker is a father who lost his wife last year. He spoke of his son, and his hope that someday, no son will need to stand at his mother’s bedside with his hand on her shoulder and say, “It’s OK, mom. You can go.” He walked to honor her, wearing her survivor hat from the event the year before.

We stood to applaud him. Long, heartfelt applause. Tears were streaming down my face.

As if that weren’t enough emotion for one night, the announcer, the guy who was running the lights and sound for the event in addition to his other crew duties, interrupted Nancy at one point to say he had a phone call we needed to take.

A team of walkers had been unable to make it to Chicago for the event. They live in Baton Rouge. I’ve said in the past that nothing stops the spirit of a 3-Day. Apparently, not even a hurricane. These women plotted their own 60-mile course in Louisiana and walked with us. They were calling to report on their day’s progress. The sound guy put his cell phone on speaker, and held it to the microphone. Each woman spoke, everyone with something funny to say. But we were all too aware that what they were doing was truly monumental, most of all when they told us that at the end of their walk, they would be collecting shoes to donate to the victims of Katrina.

The sheer goodness of people is overwhelming in the 3-Day universe.

Spent, I returned to my tent to meet my tentmate, only to find no one there, not even gear. I had a tent to myself. It felt luxurious.

Lights out was at 9 p.m., but I couldn’t sleep. The ground was hard. I was cold. No, I was freezing. I set my alarm for 5 a.m., but I hardly needed it. I was up every 15 minutes. So much for sleep.

Day 2: 21.6 miles, Glen Ellyn to Hanson Park, Chicago

Catherine and I met for breakfast. I was once again amazed at the event organizer’s ability to provide surprisingly good food for nearly 3,000 people.

(A quick word about food on the 3-Day. Everyone jokingly refers to it as the 60-mile buffet. You eat constantly. You’re encouraged to eat at every pit stop, and the snacks are plentiful: Potato chips, pretzels, peanuts [you need salt], Pria bars [the mint chocolate bar tastes exactly like Girl Scout Thin Mints], orange quarters, banana halves, bagel halves, peanut butter, Smuckers crustless PB&Js, animal crackers, raisins, baby carrots. Crew members meet you at the entrance with Jelly Belly jellybeans. You literally eat all day. Guilt-free eating.)

Walkers leave camp at their own pace. We left camp toward the top of the order, somewhere in the 600s. (There were 2,410 walkers, and crew members kept count along the route and told you – if you wanted to know – what number you were, arriving at a pit stop. Catherine and I were as low as the 900s at one point, but as high as the 500s at our best.)

The crew is amazing. At pit stops, driving sweep vans, helping cross walkers at major intersections. Two guys, a father and son, were dressed as Thing 1 and Thing 2 from The Cat in the Hat. Two other guys – I never did get their names – would pop up at various points along the route to clap for us. I dubbed them “The Guys Who Clap” and wrote a little thank-you sticker to them and put it on the big banner of thank-you stickers in camp. It’s amazing how a little bit of encouragement goes a long, long way.

Speaking of which, Day 2’s route took us through many towns, including Oak Park and River Forest. My very good friend Dave (you may know him as Dave, Music Dave, Composer Dave, or Kurtis Dave) lives in River Forest, and met Catherine and me along the route with his dog, Eddie, and walked with us for a few blocks.

Day 2 is hard. Excitement helps carry you on Day 1. But by Day 2, your body gets hip to the fact that you’re trying to walk 22 miles – again. There were several moments that afternoon when I thought about sweeping, but Dave and Eddie provided a much-much-needed boost.

At the last pit stop, a very smart man parked his ice cream truck nearby. He received many visitors. When you’ve hit mile 18.6 of a 21.6-mile day, you feel entirely justified in eating an ice cream cone.

Back at camp, Catherine and I ate dinner and retired to our tents early. The Afrodisiacs were the night’s entertainment though, so I hauled myself out of my tent and made the trek to the stage area to check them out. They were fabulous. Disco tunes. One guy on stage said, “I don’t care how far you walked today, you have to dance!”

That night, I actually slept long enough to have a dream and remember it. It has faded now, but I know it was about Bill Kurtis.

Day 3: 14.3 miles, Hanson Park to Montrose Harbor

My right knee hurt.


Catherine and I had breakfast. Bless the food crew: We had cheese blintzes (along with another surprising array of offerings). In my world, cheese blintzes are excellent encouragement.

Still, the blintzes weren’t distraction enough from the pain. I took what drugs I had on me and decided I would walk as though there was nothing wrong. It seemed to work.

Our route took us through areas of Chicago I know rather well. I was dismayed that we kept heading south, as we ultimately needed to head north. On Day 3, you don’t want to walk more than you have to. But the last leg of the walk was along the lakefront. The color of Lake Michigan changes. Yesterday, it was a beautiful turquoise.

One guy on the path, not one of us, said to Catherine and me, “Thanks for walking. My wife is a survivor. I should be doing this.”

“Next year,” I said.

The Guys Who Clapped appeared toward the very end of the route, clapping still. I hugged them both. They’d kept me going for three days.

As Catherine and I passed through a tunnel in Montrose Harbor, we emerged to a crowd of spectators and walkers alike, clapping and cheering for us as we took our final steps. The crew of Pit Stop 5 from the past two days greeted us at the end, dressed in their Elvis glasses and sideburns, and hugged us. Catherine and I hugged each other, crying; we’d just walked 57.9 miles.

With our water replenished, we walked back to the tunnel area to cheer for other walkers. Kids hopped around on either side of the tunnel, waiting for their moms to emerge. Walkers hobbled in with ice bags Saran Wrapped to their knees. We clapped for them. They clapped for themselves.

Catherine met up with her sister, who had flown in from Dallas. My mom and dad and Doreen appeared out of nowhere. It’s good to have people there at the end.

Everyone lined up for the last leg of the walk to closing ceremonies. The walkers wore blue shirts and walked the route lined by the crew, who applauded us one last time. And we applauded them, our pit stop crews, the medical crews, the safety crews, Thing 1 and Thing 2. The Guys Who Clapped received enormous cheers. When the walkers had filed in, the crew joined us, and we all turned to welcome the survivors.

The survivors wear pink shirts. A sea of pink-shirted women streamed into the center of our ceremony, followed by a circle of five women, holding hands. At opening ceremonies, their circle represented all those who have been lost to breast cancer. At closing ceremonies, their circle held hope. Walkers held one shoe aloft in salute, one shoe in one hand, Kleenex in the other.

I’ve decided that in addition to walking, I need to make it my business to get more people involved in the walk, a 3-Day evangelist of sorts. A woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every three minutes. Globally, 410,000 women will succumb to breast cancer this year. And, in this country, 1,500 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and 500 of them will lose the fight.

I encourage all of you to consider participating next year. Yes, it’s hard. But it is hard in the most rewarding way. You will marvel that your body will carry you 60 miles and you will change your relationship with your health. You will see yourself in a new way. And the accomplishment you’ll feel will fuel other parts of your life. Give it a thought. You can get more information at

The last time I walked was October 2001, three weeks after September 11th. This time, I walked three weeks after Hurricane Katrina. I have seen the goodness in people in the face of those tragedies and during the past three days. And as I walked, I wondered why desperate times or special circumstances rouse us so. Why can’t we always support each other in such remarkable ways?

My friend Gemma’s sister says, “I want to live in the 3-Day universe.” It is my sincere hope that one day, we all will, not as walkers in a weekend event, but every day.

My love and thanks to you all, as ever,

Coldplay ...

Friends and fans of Bruce and U2, forgive me, but I think I just saw the best show of my life.

It was too short, but it was spectacular. Chris Martin and the boys sound fantastic live. The lights and lasers and video screens were far too cool. The huge yellow balloons falling from the roof of the United Center (during "Yellow" - go figure) were filled with gold confetti that rained down on the crowd when the balloons popped after being batted about the arena like giant beachballs at a high-school graduation. The camera effects were outstanding. Chris and the boys posterized. Chris and the boys negative. Chris lying and singing on a dark stage lit only by a spot on a steady-cam.

At one point toward the end of the show, he ran down a side aisle and up into the crowd at the back of the UC. So sometimes the seats that far from the stage aren't such a bad thing after all.

But about it being too short: The boys took the stage about 9:20. They walked off at 10:20. They came out for one short encore, but the house lights were up by 10:40. Some would say that that's enough. They hit all their high points. Fans heard every song they wanted to hear. They even heard Chris do a little bit of "Ring of Fire," a la Mr. Johnny Cash. But I wanted more. Selfishly, maybe. Chris sang his ass off, he rocked his piano until I thought he'd fall off his stool, he was all over the stage. It was amazing. It was high energy. It was packed with hits. I should be happy with the quality and worry less about the quantity.

I guess I just didn't want it to end.

I just looked for tix for tomorrow night. I'd seriously go again. And I never do that.

Those of you who have tix for Friday night are gonna have the time of your life.

But skip the opening act. Really. Show up at 9.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Fast Food III ...

OK, boys and girls. Let me explain my motivation behind this cleanse:

First of all, I know it sounds crazy, but if I thought it was in any way dangerous, I wouldn't be doing it.

I've always struggled with my weight. It's been up and down my entire life. I have tried most of the "diets" out there, and none to good effect, because I was never willing to accept that what I really needed to do was change my relationship with food. Richard Simmons and Susan Powter and Larry North and all the others didn't have information I was lacking. The answer wasn't in big bottles of vitamins and blue-green algae and crazy-scary pills that make your heart race. The answer has always been inside me. I just didn't want to do the necessary work. I, like millions of others, wanted the "simple" answer that would let me sit on my butt and watch TV and have the pounds magically melt away. Why exercise and eat right when I could just dial a 1-800 number and order the latest, greatest miracle?

Many miracles later, I finally accepted that the change had to come from inside. Mind you, I always *knew* that, I just didn't want to accept it. So I started shifting my habits. I cut out milk. I cut out almost all red meat. I started walking regularly. I started drinking a lot of water. I stopped drinking diet soda. (I had long ago stopped drinking "real" soda.) All good things. But I was still prone to eating things I shouldn't (not that we can all be perfect every day of our lives). The point is, I was looking to make a dramatic change.

So when Kelley brought up this cleanse (again; I'd heard her talk about it before), it was a case of "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." It was the right time for me to hear what she was saying. I was receptive to the idea. I did some research and thought about it on my walks, and I realized that this would be a good way to define the space between my two ways of eating. As I wrote to a friend earlier in an IM conversation, "I really want to radically change my diet, and this is like the demilitarized zone. I figure, once I take this time and get myself clean (sounds like something an addict would say, but then, I'm a food addict in a lot of ways), it will be much easier to pursue the healthier eating. Once you go through this, you don't think, 'Hey! Yeah, triple-bacon cheeseburger and chili fries!' You think, 'Fruit. Salad.' You realize just how much you put your body through and you want to take care of it. And part of it, too, is purely that I'm getting older. Feeling that feeling of needing to take better care of myself."

So I'm not doing this as a diet, though you can't help but lose weight on it. (Yes, some of the weight does come right back when you go back to solid food.) I'm doing this as a jumpstart. As I wrote on IM, "I just felt the need to do something drastic. Or dramatic. Really shake things up. It's kind of like trying to rock a car out of a rut. You rock forward and slip back because you're always partly in the rut. I've gotta get my car fully out of the rut and moving in the direction I need it to go. So I need a big push from behind."

The first day was very hard. I really wanted to quit. I had many conversations with myself. But I realized that that day was a defining moment, not just in the cleanse, but in my whole relationship with food. If I couldn't even make it one day without caving, things seemed pretty hopeless. So I made it through the first day (thanks in large part to a well-timed pep talk by L.A. Dave that night) and yesterday was much better. I was both more clear on why I was doing this as well as armed with what the experience is all about.

In reading message boards about this cleanse, I'm amazed at the people who refer to this lemonade concoction as "tasty." What mixture are they drinking? This stuff is vile. But then, I'm one of those people who thinks cilantro tastes like soap, so maybe there's just something fundamentally wacky with my tastebuds.

But I've worked out the kinks. I've figured out how to make the lemonade drinkable and I'm riding the wave of momentum now. Today is Day 3. I went for a two-mile walk this morning on an empty stomach and I felt fine.

Most of all, crazy as this may sound to some of you, I feel good. I feel powerful. I feel like I'm doing something really good for my body. I feel like this is the launching point I need toward a healthier life.

I won't prescribe this for everyone. I won't get preachy about it. If you don't want to do it, that's fine. If you think I'm insane for doing it, that's fine. But I'll have gone through it, and if people want to know about my experience, if they've been thinking about doing it themselves, I'll be happy to provide my take on it, share my tactics, root them on.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a date with a glass of Fireball Punch.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Fast Food II ...

All righty, then.

Well, the Fast Food post elicited some comments, and the scales are tipping toward "insane." To which I say, "Uh, shouldn't you maybe *know* something about the regimen before condemning it?"

But in the interest of health and science (and maybe an article), I'm speaking with a registered dietician tomorrow who's affiliated with an organization for which I have a lot of respect.

If she says this cleanse is a bad idea, and can back up her claim with facts and figures, I'll rethink my effort. But until then, I'm still drinkin' the lemonade.

Duckis ...

I never had a special stuffed animal.

I had lots of stuffed animals, but not one that was very special to me. Not one that I toted with me everywhere. Not one that's packed away in a box of my childhood memories.

Patty has Bun. My brother Paul had Woo-Woo, a dog. (Not sure about the name. I'd tell you the story if I knew.) My cousin Dan had Offie. (He couldn't say "giraffe," which is what Offie was.) I vaguely remember my brother Brian having something. (Was it a bear?) But me? Nope.

Still, I collected animals from various sources. My dad gave me a panda that had a radio in its back, with two knobs sticking out of its fur. And my grandfather gave me a Donald Duck-looking duck. Maybe it was supposed to be one of the nephews. I'm not sure. But it had white rabbit fur on its cheeks. Very soft.

My cousin Mike, when he was very, very little - two, maybe - comandeered the duck and named him Duckis. I'm sure he was drawn to the furry cheeks. I was about 8 at the time.

I gave Duckis to Mike. Duckis was well-loved. As time passed and I'd see Mike with Duckis in tow, I'd note the varioius surgeries that had been performed with tape, the most serious of which was what was almost a cast on Duckis' arm. Mike would hold Duckis by that arm and carry him that way.

But Duckis was more than a furry friend. Duckis was also a security blanket of sorts. Mike, little though he was, was going through cancer treatments in New York at Sloan-Kettering and Duckis was his constant companion. Duckis lived in New York with Mike and his mom for a long time, and logged many frequent flier miles once Mike was able to come home and travel for his treatments.

Mike got married last year.

I don't know whatever happened to Duckis and his well-taped arm. But sometimes I think about him and Mike and how important it is to have a hand to hold.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fast Food ...

Remember that scene in "Lost in Translation" in the hotel bar in which Kelly is telling John and Charlotte and the DJ that they have to try "this power cleanse"?

Well, I am.

Work Pal Kelley does it once a year and was telling me about it a while back. Intrigued, I did some searching online and started to read up on it, and this past weekend bought the necessary components and the book and started it last night.

It is some crazy shit, no pun intended. For a minimum of 10 days (but up to 40, though how anyone could do this for 40 days, I have no idea), you take no solids, only certain liquids. Kelley has dubbed the concoction "Fireball Punch": fresh-squeezed lemon juice (handy dandy corrosive agent and supplier of many natural good things your body will need as it's not ingesting anything solid), Grade B maple syrup (vitamins and minerals), spring water, and ... wait for it ... cayenne pepper. Hence the "fireball" in "Fireball Punch."

"Jesus!" you're saying. "That sounds disgusting!"

And you're right! It is not a good combination of flavors. But through some trial and error today, I've hit upon a palatable version: Cold water, not warm. More water. And less syrup. (The syrup is negotiable, the lemon juice and the cayenne are not.)

There are more details to this program than I'll share in the polite company of this page, but I figure, I'll try anything once. Lord knows I dump more than my fair share of crap into this body, even though I try to eat right most of the time. The least I can do is give it a break once a year and detox, right?

A couple of my friends know that I'm doing this. Some of them are intrigued. Some of them think I'm insane. So far, I'm right in the middle. We'll see how things go.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Door-To-Door Dogma ...

The doorbell rang.

I wasn't expecting anyone. Everyone I know who lives around here is on vacation. And everyone I know who doesn't live around here wouldn't make the trip.

At least not without calling first.

So I peered out my living-room window and saw two men standing by my front door. From the looks of 'em, they were either Jehovah's Witnesses or the Feds. Either way, I wasn't interested.

The doorbell rang again.

I didn't answer.

But later, as I checked my mailbox, I noticed a leaflet stuck in my door. "All Suffering Soon To End!" it proclaims, sitting here on my desk now. Apparently, if the illustration is to be believed, the end of suffering will mean that an attractive black couple will sit in a clearing in front of a log cabin in a lovely mountain setting, not at all alarmed by the enormous moose standing mere feet behind them. The lack of suffering will also mean it will be perpetually fall, a white neighbor chick (is it Paris Hilton?) will approach on horseback, a black horse will graze behind the moose, and though it is fall, red tulips will be in bloom and we will enjoy bushels full of pumpkins and apples.

As if all that weren't curious enough, this particular leaflet is in pretty bad shape. The edges of it are very worn. It makes me wonder where this leaflet has been.

Politics and religion are the two off-limits topics in this world, but I have a few things to say. I'm not a religious person. Spiritual, absolutely. Religious, not at all. I think organized religion is responsible for most of the strife in the world. People commit heinous acts in the name of their gods. Much blood has been spilled over the centuries by one group of people demanding that another group of people convert to a particular religion. Religion purports to be so welcoming and loving, but really, you're welcome only if you believe the same things as the religion in question. Everyone else's beliefs are wrong. Well, what's that about?

But the bigger question I have for the Jehovah's Witnesses out there (and other religious groups that send their members into the field to drum up business) is this: What makes you think that people are sitting in their homes, thinking, "Gosh, I really *want* to be part of an organized religion, but I just don't know how to go about it. I surely wish someone would knock on my door and hand me a frayed leaflet and invite me to join their church."

Then again, I feel the same way about telemarketers: If I really want life insurance or vinyl siding, I'll come to you. You calling me and interrupting my dinner is not going to make me realize that I've been meaning to insure my life or re-side my house and that I simply can't wait another moment to get those balls rolling.

And by the way, is anyone else pissed off about the fact that the IRS can now sell the contact information on your tax returns to marketing companies? (Ah, there we go. A side of politics to go with your religion entree. Enjoy!)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Hit The High Notes ...

♪ Pat, who writes Stacked (linked under my Links, to the right), one of my daily must-read blogs, occasionally puts together a collection of not-necessarily-related items that he likes to call Bulletz or Bullet Pointz. This is a direct rip-off of that approach, not that he invented the idea of a bullet point, but he's my inspiration for this list, and I give credit where it's due.

♪ On that note, so to speak, Pat has been nice enough to link to my blog from his site, which I just noticed for the first time today, and when I mouse over my link, the description I see is "A Northwestern Blogga Chick." Which is sweet, except that I didn't go to Northwestern. I've worked at plenty of newspapers and all of my newspaper pals went to Medill, but I didn't, since I wasn't ever planning on working in the media. It just kinda happened. No, I have a degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago. My degree focus was non-fiction writing, but I only took one actual journalism class, which was taught by Rob Moore, who I thought was about the coolest human being on the planet at the time. He taught part-time because he had a "real" job that required the wearing of suits, which he wore to class, but he paired his suits with the most bizarre ties I'd ever seen. I think I remember him saying he trolled through thrift stores to find them.

♪ OK, got way off topic there, but what the hell. Next!

♪ Fell asleep last night watching "Monster-in-Law." Dear God, what a crappy movie. So why did I watch it, you ask? Because some movies get such bad buzz that I am drawn to discover their awfulness for myself. Normally, I blog about the movies I see. This movie does not warrant its own post (hence the decision to do the bullet list), but Elaine Stritch is worth a mention. She's the best thing about the movie. Problem is, she's only in it for five minutes. Toward the end.

♪ On a walk this morning, I strolled past a house with a lot of lawn ornaments. Did anyone else know that you can buy a lawn-ornament cobra?

♪ Awake early yesterday morning, I turned on the TV to discover the infomercial for the Smart Technique Automatic Fat Loss Program. Aside from the fact that it drives me nuts that people will do just about anything in the hopes of being able to lose weight while continuing to sit on their asses, I thought to myself, "Shit! Do you really think it's a good idea to let someone go messing around with your subconscious?" If the technique works (and I'm guessing it doesn't), how do we know the creators of it aren't programming us to do their evil bidding?

♪ L.A. Dave, also linked to the right (The Corner of Clark & Addison), wrote a fab post about The Gobfather, Ben & Jerry's newest flavor. Ohmygod, it's good. The ice cream, I mean. Well, the post is good, too. Read Dave's post then go buy a pint.

♪ More head-shaking news out of Texas, from Reuters: "Texas has begun sending undercover agents into bars to arrest drinkers for being drunk."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Living The Movie ...

Yesterday, Dave and I went to Starbucks. I ordered my usual: decaf grande sugar-free hazelnut soy latte. Dave had the same, though just a tall. Such self-control that man has.

We procured our coffee and wandered over to the couch we sat at the last time we were there. Must be our Starbucks spot. I set down my coffee and attempted to take off my coat. I winced. Actually, I think I winced and said "Jesus!"

Dave said, "What?", somewhat alarmed.

"Oh, I hurt my neck the other day," I said, settling in. Slowly.

I told him the tale. He said, "Well, that's a very good story. I mean, it would make a great scene in a movie or TV show."

I hadn't thought of that, but he was right. "It *would* fit in the screenplay," I said. Huh. I'm really am living my movie.

So here's the story (NOTE: This isn't actually in my script, I'm just writing it in script style for fun. Yes, I know some of the description wouldn't fit in an actual screenplay, but the dialogue is real.):


Beth is in the shower. She grabs the upside-down bottle of shampoo from the edge of the tub, flips open the cap, and squeezes shampoo into her palm but the bottle sputters. It's almost empty. She decides she has enough shampoo to get by and proceeds to lather her hair, her back to the showerhead. A sharp pain sears through her right shoulder and neck.


She attempts to shampoo her hair with her left hand. At the very least, she wants to get the shampoo out of her hair. She leans back into the shower spray but she begins to feel woozy. Her vision starts to blur. She presses her head against the side wall of the shower.

Something is really wrong with me.

She comes to, lying in the tub, her head in the corner where the front and side shower walls meet. A plastic shower shelf is beneath her, which she clearly took out as she went down. It takes her a moment to realize that she fainted. She gets up, turns off the water, wraps her hair in a towel, and sits on the edge of the tub.

And scene.

So, it took me a while to realize that passing out was just my body's reaction to the pain. Whatever I pulled, it *really* hurt. But the weird, melodramatic part of the whole situation was in that moment when I started to lose consciousness, I wasn't altogether sure that I wasn't dying.

And I realized that I really am alone, that if I did die, my body would lie in the shower for days, possibly, with the water running. My mom and I talk frequently, but it's not uncommon for us to go several days without speaking. And she knew I was jammed with work this week. So even if she called, if I didn't call her back for a day or two, she wouldn't think anything of it. And then I freaked out at the thought of her finding me. I can't even fathom how it would destroy her.

And then I decided that maybe it was all one big wake-up call. I don't take care of myself as well as I should. I could eat better. I could exercise more.

So when I got home from Starbucks, I went for a walk. The air was crisp, the sky was clear, the stars were shining. I thought about telling JD about the fainting spell as he colored my hair. "Well, I bet that got a lot of attention on your blog," he said.

"Actually, I didn't write about it," I said. Until now.

But it does make a good scene for the movie.

Whither Single?

I am hopeless.

Out and about today, my hair in all its post-JD glory, looking very blonde and sassy and slightly mussy rock star, I popped by Barnes & Noble for a book I meant to buy yesterday, and then happened to spy "In Cold Blood," newly released in trade paperback to piggyback on the success of "Capote," and which I've always meant to read, and which I likely have, but in a box in my basement that I frankly have no desire to open. What if there's a spider or a centipede inside? I'd rather spend the $10.

Anyway, I get in line to pay for my books but there is no line, so up to a register I go, member card in hand. Cashier Man doesn't have to make his spiel. Instead, he can launch right into his comments about "In Cold Blood," and how copies are flying off the shelves and Capote could be catty (hello, he was gay - catty is what gay men do) and how isn't it amazing that Harper Lee was his research assistant and that Dill in "To Kill a Mockingbird" was a roman a clef, based on Capote as a boy. Really? I truly never knew that. Interesting.

Transaction completed, we said goodbye and I made my way outside. Walking to my car, a man caught up to me and said, "He likes you."

I turned to him. "Sorry?"

He gestured with his thumb over his shoulder. "He likes you."

Oh. I said, "I think he likes talking about books."

"You missed it," the guy said, overshooting his car and doubling back.

I smiled to myself. When I got in my car, I laughed out loud. Well, of course I missed it. I am the world's biggest idiot when it comes to recognizing flirting. Honestly. Unless the guy is spelling out his interest with semaphore flags or neon signage, I simply have no clue.

But I must say, with the newly JDd hair, I've got it goin' on.

Friday, March 24, 2006

I Was A Teenage Pain In The Ass ...

(This blog post is inspired by an event from today, talking with a friend about his teenage daughter.)

One day, oh, about a year ago, my mother and I were leaving a store. As we stepped through the door and headed for the parking lot, we spied a mother walking toward us. We knew she was a mother because behind her, about six feet back, was a sullen girl, about 15 years old, looking rather put out. Or disgusted. Either way. Most 15-year-old girls sport the same face when in the presence of a parent.

I turned to my mother and said, "I'm sorry."

"For what?" she asked.

"For ever being a teenager," I said. And she turned to me and said, with appreciation, "Thank you."

My mother and I are very good friends today. I won't say we're the best of friends, because I think it's weird to be best friends with your mom. She can certainly be your friend, but she's also always your mom. That's the alpha relationship. And frankly, I tell my girlfriends, to this day, things I wouldn't tell my mother. Which is as it should be.

But it wasn't always that way, the friendship between my mother and myself. When I was 15, my mom thought we should see a counselor.

Now, I may come across as biased here, but I was a good kid. No, really. I never did a single drug. Swear to God. Not a puff of marijuana, not a line of coke, nothing. I didn't drink in high school because the only thing anyone drank in high school was beer, and I think beer is disgusting. And I didn't hang around with the beer-drinking crowd, anyway. Our crowd proably would have tripped out on absinthe if we could have gotten our hands on it. We were the smart kids who disdained the other (read: more popular) kids for their sophomoric ways, no matter what year they happened to be.

I never cut a class. Never. (We're talking high school, here. I cut plenty of classes in college.) I never saw the point. Where could you go? What could you do? It's not like you could hang out at the mall at noon on a Thursday. And I was never the beach type, so I was never inclined to ditch on a nice day to lie in the sun. But more than that, I could just never think of anything that would be fun enough that would make up for the extreme shit I'd get into when I was found out. And of course I was going to be found out. So I kept my nose clean.

I didn't even know who my dean was. Seriously. After freshman orientation, the school kept changing around the deans and the alpha-slices, and I never bothered to keep track of who was in charge of my piece of the pie. So senior year, when my theater coach wanted to send me to my dean (for doing nothing that warranted a trip to the dean, he was just pissed at me; it's a long story) and got out his hall-pass pad in a huff and demanded, "Who's your dean?!" I said I didn't know. I wasn't trying to be a smartass. I really didn't know. I told him so, that I'd never, in all four years, been sent to my dean and that I truly didn't know who I should report to. He put the pad away and told me to sit down. I guess he wasn't pissed enough to look it up.

So I never cut class and I never drank and I never did drugs and I got reasonably good grades and I never ended up in the back of a squad car (knock wood - still haven't) and generally, I was the poster child for high-school cowardice.

But mom thought we should see a counselor.

Looking back, she didn't see any behavior that needed counseling. I think she was just at her wit's end about how to talk to me. I was, after all, a teenager. Teenagers aren't fit for polite society.

But what a hard time it is, 14, 15. Trying to figure out who you are, trying to separate from your parents, aligning yourself with friends, but finding out that friends are fickle and it's hard to find ones you can trust. You have to keep your grades up (college is looming) but you want to be with your friends, but you also just want to be alone because you think no one understands you anyway.

When I was that age, I tended to be alone. I wasn't interested in groups. If I interacted with a friend, I wanted it to be one on one. If I was in a group situation, I was always the quiet one, taking in the conversation without making a contribution. (I think that makes me a better writer today, actually.) I liked books. I liked music. My room was a shrine to Howard Jones. I liked movies. I was creative. I wrote. I spent more time in the kitchen. Then, as in my grade-school days, I got along better with my teachers than with my peers. To this day, English Teacher Dave is one of my dearest friends.

Solitary though I was, I craved attention. I thought a good way to get it was to act depressed. People would feel sorry for me, I figured, ask me if I was OK. Depression is a serious issue for a lot of teenagers, but I don't think I ever really qualified. I was just good at putting on the air. It clearly worked: My psychology teacher asked me to stay after class one day so he could talk to me about something I'd written. It raised a red flag. But once I realized that people were actually taking my words and lack of actions that seriously, I stopped. I wanted attention, not an intervention. I didn't become Little Mary Sunshine, but I lightened up.

I was thinking today about how I'd deal with a teenage daughter. (I hope to have one someday.) I think the only way to manage it is like an alcoholic: One day at a time. It's a phase, sure, but it's a long phase. It's not a rough week or two. No, we're talking years. I think teens turn another corner when they turn 16. Of course, then parents have a whole new set of worries. But between 14 and 16? Sheesh. Good luck.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Happy Birthday to Patty! ...

I find it fitting that my 400th post will be about what I gave Patty for her birthday (March 24).

I created a list of songs based on searches of words that made me think of her (e.g., sock monkey, Pez, Jell-O, Fluffy, book). Her parents were known to me as Uncle Bud and Aunt Chick. I couldn't believe there was a song called Uncle Bud. I couldn't find one called Aunt Chick, but I think I've got her covered.

And it's very important for you to know that Bun is the stuffed rabbit she's owned for nearly her entire life. So finding "Bun" by Bun B was quite a coup. (Their last name is Berg.) In fact, I'll include a picture of Bun and his new geisha here. (Patty's brother, Barry, travels to Asia often for work.) Bun has a better wardrobe than I do. And more cool loot.

There's some good stuff in this list. Get thee to iTunes and check 'em out for yourself. This is the e-mail I just sent to her, after sending the playlist to her from iTunes to download in the morning:

Happy Birthday!

I think iTunes allowed me to put the songs in a specific order, but just in case, here's what I'm thinkin' (and what I was thinkin' when I picked 'em for you):

1. Trailer Park Love by Monkey
The "monkey" search preceded the "sock monkey" search, but like I was *not* going to give you a song called "Trailer Park Love"?! (And I love that the album is "Cruel Tutelage.")

2. Sock Monkey by Sugarman Three
Well, duh. To listen to while you wear your PJs. And maybe a beret.

3. Uncle Bud by Boozoo Chavis and The Magic Sounds
I was first drawn to Boozoo Chavis because the title of the album is "Who Stole My Monkey?", but when I saw "Uncle Bud," well ...

4. Chick a Boom Boom Boom by Mocean Worker
Equal time for your mom. Surprisingly, no one has recorded a song called "Aunt Chick."

5. Fluffy World by Mabel Dawn Davis
Your favorite word, and who doesn't dream of a fluffy world? Besides, this woman's vocal is just too weird not to own.

6. You're a Pezhead by Taylor Davis
Because you are. Or you used to be. Either way, it's a Patty-association word for me.

7. Bun by Bun B
HELLO?! BUN by BUN B?! Is there a more perfect thing on the PLANET?! And now we know what he's doing when you're not home.

8. Bun Bun by Natural Bridge Crew
Nothing, of course, can top Bun by Bun B, but "Bun Bun" is fun to say.

9. San Diego by L.A. Symphony
Any song that can rap "black Winnebago" and "cream-cheese bagel" is a song for you!

10. You're the Only One (The Jell-O Song) by Jason Wanner
I didn't even try looking for a song called "Ribbon Mold," but "The Jell-O Song" was something I couldn't pass up anyway.

11. Across Afrika (In Search of Coffee) by Macbruce
Needing the coffee to make the coffee, even if you have to go to Africa to get it.

12. You're So Fine by The Violets
Because you are (so fine) and you love them (violets).

13. Friend Like Me by Roy Book Binder
Cuz the dude's name was too clever, and only a friend (cousin) like me would give you such a crazy-ass collection of tunes for your birthday.

14. Nap(oleon) Hangs Up the Phone by John Swihart

15. Elf by Liquefaction
There are no "Elf" tunes on iTunes (from the movie), but I dug this.

16. Wayne's World by Adam Niewood
Ditto "Wayne's World," but I dug this, too.

17. The Velveteen Rabbit by George Winston
Because I was searching on "rabbit" and because it's George Winston and because it was a sweet, pretty way to wrap up the collection.


'Capote' ...

Or, as Jack, His Ultra-Coolness, said on the Academy Award broadcast: Capohtay.

Well, it's a no-brainer that Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor. Damn. Damn, damn. Astonishing, that man's performance.

I've never read "In Cold Blood." I think it's in a box in my basement. My mom read it, back in the day. She read the entire thing in two days. She said she couldn't put it down.

So I'll go rummage through the box, and if I have it, it will leapfrog over the other books in the pile and I'll read it next, when I'm finished with the book on my bedside table.

As Capote's publisher says in the film, he believed this book would change the way people write. As a writer, I can't imagine making that kind of contribution to the literary world.

I often wonder about "famous" people: Do they know they're destined for fame? Or greatness?

L.A. Dave called as I was writing this and we talked about the film. He asked me if I felt sorry for Capote or did I believe he brought circumstances on himself. What a good question. But then, Dave's an entertainment writer. Good questions are his job.

And as I thought about my answer, I started to think about people of such pure genius and the difficulties they must have moving through life. Because who can they really relate to? And when you're famous, can you ever really trust people who would befriend you? Do you always wonder if they have agendas, if they're truly interested in you as a person or if they're interested in your money and fame and access?

So Capote befriended Perry because at last he had found someone with whom he shared the harsh circumstances of his childhood, yet he must have been at the same time repulsed to care about someone who had committed such despicable deeds. As he says in the film (a brilliant first screenplay), it's like they grew up in the same house, but Perry went out the back door and Capote went out the front door. Their lives started from similar stock and then diverged wildly, only to meet up again by fate, and Capote found himself hanging (no pun intended) the biggest success of his literary life on the death of his protagonist, a death which took too long to come, and exacerbated Capote's alcohol addiction.

Fascinating stuff. I can understand why people were pushing me to drop everything and go see it when it hit the theaters. I should have, then. But I didn't. Still, it's worth finding on a big screen somewhere for the fabulous vista shots. It's a truly beautiful film, visually, even if the subject matter is anything but.

'The 40-Year-Old Virgin' ...

So what do you do when you wrench your neck while washing your hair and you go to bed that night and the pain wakes you up at 2:30 in the morning?

You watch "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," of course. What else do you do at that hour?

I figured I'd fall asleep on the couch. Oh, I thought wrong. I was wide awake through the whole thing. Even watched all of the extras. Yup, wide awake. Hey, look, I thought at one point, it's light outside!

Swell. You know you're in for a bang-up day when you begin that day at 2:30 in the morning.

My cousin Patty, who saw the movie when most of the rest of the world did (when it was in the theaters) has been waiting for me to see it. "Finally, I'll be able to get some sleep," she replied yesterday when I sent her an IM that the movie had arrived from Netflix. Patty is a notorious insomniac, sorry to say.

So IMed her this morning to let her know that I saw it, at 2:30 in the morning, no less, so that her insomnia should now be not only lifted, but is apparently transferred to me. (But she was up in the middle of the night, too. We'll see if she sleeps well tonight.)

Anyway, the movie. As Patty promised, it's silly. I told her I wasn't expecting high art, and I wasn't disappointed on that front. But I did laugh out loud several times, which I don't often do when watching most comedies. It would seem that the movie studios' ideas of "comedy" and my idea of "comedy" don't quite jell.

Steve Carell was indeed funny. The chest-waxing scene was ridiculous but amusing in its extreme profanity. And oddly, I had watched a movie last evening starring Elizabeth Banks, who also shows up in "Virgin," this time as an oversexed bookstore worker named Beth.

Good for her. There aren't very many Beth characters. The only other one that springs to mind is the object of John Cusack's affection in "Better Off Dead" (a favorite film for its non-high-artistry).

Rog gave it three and a half stars out of four. On Netflix, I gave it four out of five.

I'd tell you to see it, but I believe everyone else already has.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Craziness Has Abated ...

Come on, everybody. Take a big, deep cleansing breath with me: And inhale! And exhale!

The work insanity came to an end this afternoon. Now I will shift into what - according to my calendar - is a normal work load.

At the outset of last week, I knew I was in for a week and a half of hell. "Just put your head down and get through it," I told myself.

And here we are. Woo hoo!

I love that time passes. Sometimes it passes too quickly for my taste, but when I'm faced with a bad situation, I remind myself that it will soon be behind me, that one day, I'll look back on said bad situation and things will no longer be bad.

I have a big desk blotter calendar thing on which I jot down deadlines for work, and tomorrow's box is entirely free of entries. Of course, that's because I haven't had time in the past week and a half to update it, and I do indeed have work to do tomorrow, but the crunch is over.

And yet, despite the craziness and the long hours and all, the latent Puritan in me digs hard work. Makes me feel all proud and stuff.

So Much For Standards ...

I think this information must be wrong, as I booked passage on the bullet train to Hell long, long ago. But hey, quiz results don't lie, right?

You Are 18% Evil

You are good. So good, that you make evil people squirm.
Just remember, you may need to turn to the dark side to get what you want!

And then, after taking that quiz, I saw one that seemed much more important, so I took that one, too. And I agree with the results. I really love glazed donuts because I like simple flavors. And hey, according to this, "everyone dig" me.

You Are a Glazed Donut

Okay, you know that you're plain - and you're cool with that.
You prefer not to let anything distract from your sweetness.
Your appeal is understated yet universal. Everyone dig you.
And in a pinch, you'll probably get eaten.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Posting For Posting's Sake? ...

I just wrote a blog entry but it was too depressing to post.

Having a blog challenges me to write every day. I want to have something new posted when people surf on by with their morning cup of joe.

But man, some days, this blog kicks my ass. Performance anxiety, I guess. I don't want to let readers down. And I know not every post is going to knock one out of the park, but some days, it's really hard to come up with a topic.

Work is a big drain for the past two weeks. Crazy busy. Working early in the morning, working late at night. I think I'm karmically making up for all the time I had free when I was "freelancing." I sure as hell am earning my paycheck this month.

But that's not why you stopped by, to read my rant about work.

When I was a junior in high school, Kevin Frommer, a classmate of mine in the most useless English class in the history of English classes, once said, "You can't be creative on cue." No shit.

Doreen recommended an article in Vanity Fair to me (the one with the nekkid Keira Knightly on the cover) about a screenwriter who's achieving a nice level of success these days after years of toil. That's not new. That's every story in Hollywood, right? But the thing that separates this man from the boys is that he wrote a manifesto.

Not a whacked-out Ted Kaczynski, livin'-in-a-shack-in-Montana manifesto, but a code of sorts. Rules he made for himself to live by, and one of them is that he won't write unless he's inspired. Which is probably easier for him these days than for many of us, given that he has many movies in production and is about to direct his first film and is dating one of the cute girls from The WB's "Related." But it's a good rule nonetheless.

Creativity is a fickle mistress. Sometimes, it just doesn't want to show up. Sometimes, it parks its ass on the couch wherever it lives and doesn't budge. Well, maybe it gets up for a snack, but it sure as hell doesn't show its face just because we want it to.

Today, apparently, is one of those days.

Or maybe I just spent my daily allotment of clever making my cousin's birthday gift tonight, in which case, you guys are the ones who suffer for it.

But I'll make it up to you on Friday. That's her birthday, and I can reveal what I made for her. I'm very pleased.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Dianne Reeves ...

Well, I haven't posted a damn thing about singing in a really, really long time.

I haven't been taking classes lately. I don't know that there's really any point. I kept telling myself that I was taking the classes to force myself to sing in front of other people, but I think what I was really doing was pissing off Gwen.

The first few times, I think she was willing to put up with my weirdness about opening my mouth. Singing in front of people is a fear a lot of people share. But after many sessions? Get over it, Kujawski.

That's not to say I didn't make progress. I did. I sang in front of a packed room at Davenport's. I did an open-mic night at Davenport's. I sang with my classmates at Davenport's while Gwen was at the piano in the bar one night, running through all our songs and fully expecting us to sing along.

But I don't need Gwen's class to give me courage. No, what I need is a glass or two of Scotch.

Not that it's ever a good idea to rely on liquor to get up the gumption to perform, but it's not like I perform often.

Oh, I kid! Relax.

No, what I need is material. The right material. Material that speaks to me. Material that suits my voice. And friends? Dianne Reeves is my new hero.

She sings the soundtrack for "Good Night, and Good Luck." Wow. This is the stuff I was born to sing. This music even sounds like it's in black and white. Smoke curling from cigarette tips, sultry hidden eyes, brushes on a snare drum, upright bass, a tuxedo at the piano with a pulled-loose tie.

And ice cubes clinking in a glass of Scotch, not because I need it, but because it's just called for in a smoky club at a sleepy hour.

Oh, hell yeah.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

'A History Of Violence' ...

Holy crap.


And so many of my favorite male actors in one movie? Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris and William Hurt? Wow.

The final scene is brilliant.

And one of my true tests of movie worthiness is whether I bother to watch the extras. I just finished every single one.

Yesterday I bought "Walk the Line" and "Good Night, and Good Luck." I'll have to go back to the store to pick up this one, too.

David Cronenberg can make some pretty wacky films - "Crash" (the one about sex and car crashes, not the one about racism in L.A.) wasn't so well-received at Cannes, as he reveals in one of the extras - but this movie is outstanding.

Yep, it gets a little bloody at times. It ain't called "A History of Violence" for nothing. But just remember, it's not real blood. It's red food coloring and Karo syrup.

You Get What You Pay For II ...

And then my blog seemed to be down again, but I just went in and republished the whole thing, and we may be back in business. Fingers crossed ...

Friday, March 17, 2006

You Get What You Pay For ...

My blog was down for nearly 24 hours, so for anyone who got a "Forbidden" message, I wasn't trying to be rude.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

'Good Night, and Good Luck.' ...


It is STAGGERINGLY relevant.

Sensitive Subjects ...

L.A. Dave sent a link to a story to me this morning (click on the title of the post to go there) along with the query: "Do you think this story is appropriate for a mainstream daily newspaper? As a journalist, look at it and give me your opinion."

So I read the story, and this is what I wrote as a reply:

"Huh. OK. Well, that's something to read with a morning cup of coffee, isn't it? I wonder what the art was like for that story! Badump, bump!

As to your question about whether it's appropriate for a mainstream daily newspaper, at first, I was skeptical, but I think that's because I object to the dek and the porn star reference.

A few grafs in, I was thinking that this was gratuitous. Asking myself, 'What purpose does this story serve?', the case wasn't looking good. But the more I read, the more balanced it became and I wasn't put off anymore.

This is an issue that likely concerns a lot of women, and while it does seem somewhat 'alternative,' why shouldn't it be in a daily, mainstream newspaper? ...

What are your objections to it? (I ask as a point of discussion, not to suggest that you shouldn't have any.) It's certainly something I wouldn't have expected you to contemplate before, because as an appreciator of porn, what you see are the perfect, perhaps-airbrushed nether regions that are discussed in this story. And most women don't look like that.

The thing that saves it is that it's not just about women wanting to look like Jenna Jameson. It's not just about vanity. For some, it really is a self-esteem issue or a medical issue. I like that the chick from the porn industry medical side of things is telling women NOT to do this for vanity's sake."

And then, after he shared his further thoughts, this is what I wrote in reply:

"Well, it certainly doesn't surprise me that it ran in an L.A. paper, true!

I don't have a problem with it. It's a story worth discussing, and a lot of women's issues tend to get short-shrift. Like the one person in the story said, 'If this was a men's issue, it would have been dealt with long ago.'

You make a good point about breast implants, but I suspect that fewer women are doing this purely for vanity reasons (I'm sure insurance doesn't cover it in most -- if any -- cases, and it ain't cheap). Breasts are more visible, eh? : o ) And even then, it's not purely a vanity issue all the time. Kathy, a radio personality in Chicago on WTMX-101.9, went through this a couple years ago: She was always an A cup and felt really self-conscious about it, like less of a woman. She wasn't considering implants for her husband, she was considering them for herself. And if recent pictures of her are any indication, she got them. Good for her, I say. Women have enough shit to deal with in the world. If it makes her life better to have a bigger rack, rock on. She talked about it on the air a lot. She was really torn, not sure if she should do it, if people would think she was vain, etc. But people were overwhelmingly supportive.

The porn star who videotaped her surgery and then sold the tissue is a freak, I grant you. But for women who have this done to feel better about themselves, well, who can judge that? Sex is such a difficult thing for women with body issues. You don't want the lights on, you don't want to do it in the daytime. It's very hard to just let go and be fully in the moment, cuz you're wondering what your partner is thinking. And while the truth is that they're probably not thinking anything -- most men just seem happy to have sex -- women have a lot of hang-ups regardless.

It's certainly a very personal decision, but I thought the story did a good job of presenting all sides of it. And the fact that it *did* run in a mainstream publication gives it some credibility that I don't think it would enjoy being in the pages of Cosmo, which is just a pile of crap."

I sent a note to Steff, who lives in Vancouver and is the author of a blog I visit every day (I haven't figured out how to put hotlinks in posts, but her URL is - yes, you read right; some of her posts are rather randy - if you're prone to blushing, you've been warned - but she also writes about issues of the day, and the girl's got writing chops), and in her reply, she said that people need to be able to "talk about sex issues in intelligent, open ways." That's what her blog is all about. If people vote with their mice, Steff is onto something. She gets plenty of traffic.

As a Canadian, she has many of observations about America from the outside looking in, and a rant today was especially rousing. It got me to wondering just what it's going to take to piss people off enough to get off their butts and starting holding people in Washington accountable.

I guess November will tell the tale.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Golden Age ...

(Disclaimer: If this post makes no sense, pretend it does anyway. It's been a long-ass day. I just stopped working for the night and I have a trans-Atlantic call at 8 a.m. Sleep? Who needs sleep? I have a blog to write!)

Today I had a long-overdue appointment with my eye doctor. Just a check up. (My eyes, oddly, are slightly better then they were last time.)

A group of people, including myself, boarded the elevator in the professional building, and the door closed, then opened again. A woman had pushed the button. "Going up?" I asked, half joking, as there was no other way to go.

"Yes," she said, getting on. We all got off at the same floor, and the woman headed into the office I was visiting. I followed her in.

She sat down next to an older woman with short grey hair. The older woman wore grey stirrup pants and a big grey sweater. I think she was about 5'2". She looked small in her chair. I wondered about the relationship between the two women. Was the elevator woman this older woman's granddaughter? Aide? Friend?

A tech called the older woman's name, and both women headed toward her. "Hi," said the older woman to the tech.

I was called back soon after. George, my tech, ran through the usual tests, put the drops in my eyes to dialate my pupils and make me look like a lemur. But the drops take 15 minutes to work their weird magic, and he needed the room for another patient, so he showed me to an interior waiting area. I sat down and realized I was sitting across from the pair of women.

Elevator Woman got up to get coffee from the pot on the table next to me. She offered Older Woman coffee or water. "Water," chose Older Woman. "Just half. You don't have to fill it." It was a small cup.

I tried reading a magazine, but the anesthesia in my eyes was making that a chore, so I gave up and listened to Older Woman talking to Elevator Woman. I was astonished to learn that Older Woman is 95. I truly never would have guessed that she's that old, though Older Woman's hearing is starting to fade. I knew this because Elevator Woman had to repeat herself often, and Older Woman answered in a rather loud voice.

Somehow, the conversation led Older Woman to start singing "Happy Days Are Here Again" in a voice that you and I would consider loud for a doctor's office, but which, with her diminished hearing, probably sounded just right.

Elevator Woman commented that she was singing a little loud. But nobody around seemed to mind. I smiled. I thought it was sweet. And I wished I had the courage to sing a song in public just because it popped into my head.

And then, almost immediately after finishing her song, Older Woman started to cry.

I reached into my purse and caught Elevator Woman's eye. "Does she need a Kleenex?" I asked.

"No, she has one. She lost her nephew last year," she explained, stroking Older Woman's hair. "It's been really hard on her."

I welled up. (I'm welling up now.) It must be amazing to live such a long life, to see the course of history change dramatically. But it must be so hard to live such a long life and lose so many people along the way.

Older Woman regained her composure quickly. At one point, she was discussing her shoes and those of Elevator Woman. She also announced that she doesn't care if she's not supposed to wear white socks with her black shoes. Good for her. At 95, appropriate socks should not be top of mind.

A tech appeared to escort them into an exam room. Elevator Woman gathered their things then stepped to the garbage can near me to throw away their cups. Older Woman got up - very easily, I might add - and before following the tech, flashed me a smile ... and a peace sign.

I hope I'm that cool when I'm 95. And I hope I have someone as wonderful as Elevator Woman to sit with me when I go to the doctor.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Fair's Fair ...

WARNING: The following post has a political overtone, but it's not biased the way you might suspect.

L.A. Dave sent me a link to a CNN story tonight about Bush's ever-plummeting poll numbers.

My reply to Dave surprised even me. I asked, "Are news orgs taking polls every five minutes in the hopes of seeing George's number plummet further? I can't remember ever hearing about this many polls."

It's no secret to readers of this blog that I will not be accepting any invitations to functions at the White House while George is the tenant. But the once-a-journalist-always-a-journalist side of me tries to see both sides of stories. (I can hear some of you guffawing, and I'll readily admit that my Bush rants are entirely one-sided, but they're opinion, not reporting.)

"Liberal media!" you'll cry of this latest attempt to foul W's name.

Maybe. Maybe the press is being a little insane with polling lately. It's no secret that George is not the most popular guy on Pennsylvania anymore, but do we need new poll results every day?

Happy Anniversary ...

... to me!

I had a thought a moment ago that went something like this: "Huh. I've been blogging for about a year now, haven't I?"

So I went to my archives and checked the date of my first post last year, and today's the one-year anniversary.

And this will be post 386. More than one post per day over the past year. And people are still reading.

Glad I haven't bored you all yet.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Weighty Issue ...

Every year, I take my friends out to lunch for my birthday. Two birthdays ago, my friends gathered and Dave was the last to arrive. I stood up to greet him as he made his way through the restaurant and his face registered a look of near-astonishment. He hadn't seen me in several months.

After lunch, as he and I left Water Tower to get a cab, he slipped his arm through mine and put his head on my shoulder. I turned to him and said, "Yes?"

His speech was halting. He wasn't sure how to say it, but settled on, "Well, it's just that ... you're so slim, Beth."

I laughed. As we got in the cab, I told him, "Honey, you can never go wrong telling a woman she looks thinner, so long as the context isn't 'My GOD! You've lost a TON of weight!' "

And the funny thing is, while I had lost weight, by today's insane, God-forbid-your-dress-size-isn't-a-single-digit-and-a-low-number-at-that standards, I was hardly "slim."

I'm still not, though I've dropped another size since then. The goal jeans are in my closet. It will be a while before they fit.

This morning, over bagels and coffee, my mom told me about a candle party she went to Friday night, and said, "No matter how heavy you thought you were at your heaviest, you were svelte compared to some of the women I saw that night. And they're younger than you were when you weighed more."

Much as we may not like to admit it, we're all somewhat sizist. If you've always been thin, it may be hard for you to understand the issues behind obesity. "Just stop eating," people say. Oh, there's so much more to it. In the worst cases, it's just like alcoholism: You have to get through one day at a time. But alcoholics may have it easier, strange as that is to say, because you don't have to have alcohol to survive, but you have to have food. And the bad choices taste so much better than the good choices. And it's all so available. White Castle is open 24 hours a day.

So as I got ready for my walk today (which I will take when I finish writing this, because walking every day is something I have to do, because if I don't do it for one day, then it gets easier not to do it for two days, and then a week, and so on), I got to thinking about the people in my life who, well, it's not like they're actively rooting for me to fail - they're not waving Twinkies in my face - but they don't seem to encourage me either.

Some offer endless variations on "Oh, you look fine." No, I don't. I'm not going to starve my way into a size 4. I'm too tall. I'd look like Jack Skellington from "The Nightmare Before Christmas." But I'm also not going to lie to myself that my current body type is as good as I can do. One of my mom's friends, who's been variably heavy her entire life, said to me once years ago, "Face it, we're just big."

That really resonated with me. A voice inside me immediately said, "I don't accept that." I knew then that I could be making better choices, that I needed to look beyond the cookie in my hand and see the bigger picture, that it wasn't a single choice I was making that was the problem, but a lifetime of choices that were packing on the pounds.

So, when the latest friend said recently, "Oh, you look fine" (and to his credit, he was just trying to convey that women are beautiful even if they don't look like Jennifer Aniston), I was able to articulate my feelings in a way he'd understand.

"Remember the Hollywood Vanity Fair issue from last year? Remember that picture of Hillary Swank running on the beach? I want to know what it feels like to live in a body like that. I want to know what it feels like to be that strong," I said. "And the only way to get there is to do the work. I'm not going to get there eating cheeseburgers."

"Well, she's a vegetarian," he said.

Which brings us to food, the co-culprit in the battle of the bulge, the faithful companion of sedentariness.

The aforementioned Dave never eats fast food. Never. Ever. I marvel at that, because we're so bombarded with options on every corner, and because his life is so crazy. He, of all people, could rationalize a run through McDonald's drive-thru. But he refuses. I mean, it's not like he subsists on wheat-grass juice and kelp. He eats real food. But he's very aware that food is fuel, and especially as he gets older, he wants to give his body every advantage, so he's mindful of what he eats (though I've shared occasional desserts with him and he clearly makes exceptions to his own rules and indulges with relish). And it pays off. He's the frontman in a very cool band and the boy has serious moves on stage.

When I'm in super-serious mode about dropping weight, I admit to getting very boring with my food choices. Not because all the food need be boring, but because I'm lazy, and if I find things that work, I just stick with 'em. I have friends who harp on that - "You can't eat that for the rest of your life" - and they're right, but eating the somewhat-boring food jumpstarts my metabolism and I drop a few pounds and then the weight loss becomes its own motivation. No, I won't spend my life eating steamed veggies and brown rice and poached chicken and oatmeal and bananas and apples and pears and grapefruit and plain baked potatoes, but for a couple of weeks I will. And then, if I have the occasional cheeseburger, it doesn't do as much damage, because my metabolism is stoked and I can burn it off in a couple walks.

So what's the deal? What's the resentment I register from such people? Why don't they encourage me? Am I holding up a mirror? Am I making them think, "Ah, shit. Yeah, I should get my butt off the couch, too"?

A couple weeks ago, I went through my closet, which had become overrun with piles of clothes. I took everything out, put it on my bed, and sorted. Some of it just went in the garbage. But a lot of it went in bags to go to Goodwill. I have no intention of ever fitting in them again. It's like fashion feng shui: keeping the bigger clothes in the closet is bad energy, and it literally means there's less room for clothes in the size I want to buy.

Unexpected Surprise ...

One of the good things about having a ginormous CD collection is that I forget about a lot of what I own.

To wit: I was at the iTunes store earlier, and a John Hiatt CD popped up in my mini-store, a greatest-hits collection. I love John Hiatt, but I wondered how many of those songs I own on separate albums, and whether I could recreate the greatest hits myself.

So I went to the shelf where John HIatt's music resides and amused myself when I said, "I have four John Hiatt CDs?!" I'd completely forgotten about one of the albums. And the one I'd forgotten about is the one that has the most songs from the greatest hits CD, so I popped it in my computer to import it into iTunes, and then put it on the stereo.

As I write this, Keith Urban is crooning out of my speakers. I seem to be veering toward country music lately. Not that Keith is a country artist, he's much more pop than country. And John Hiatt is classified as "Rock" in iTunes, but he has a decidedly country feel, and he writes songs that other quasi-country artists sing, like Bonnie Raitt. And I'm all over the "Walk the Line" soundtrack these days.

Huh. Weird. Who's next? George Jones and Tammy Wynette?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Pride And Joy ...

I am a humble person.

No, really.

I don't try to call attention to myself. My height takes care of that for me. It's pretty hard to be this tall and be inconspicuous.

But every once in a while, I have to seriously pat myself on the back.

Today is one of those days.

I'm having dinner with English Teacher Dave and his wife Gail and the principal of Dave's school, my school from long, long ago. But what to bring? I'm usually in charge of desserts, but based on their menu, I was stumped. I spent an hour surfing around food sites in search of inspiration and a recipe to go along with it.

I was thinking lemon thoughts. Something light-ish. It's a lovely spring day and dinner will be rich. Dessert should be a light finish. Ooh, but wait. Carrot cake? Nah, too heavy, and some people - the freaks - don't like carrot cake. And the frosting. Sheesh. It's not frosting. It's a heart-attack inducer. Besides, there will be four of us for dinner. Who needs all that leftover dessert?

Eventually, I struck on what I believe to be a brilliant idea:

Scones. Yes, scones, for dessert. Lemon cream scones. Very traditional. But topped with lemon curd. And whipped cream. And strawberries. And blueberries.

Essentially, strawberry shortcake, but made better by the addition of blueberries (pretty and tasty), but made even better by the addition of lemon curd.

So into the kitchen I went to zest and juice my lemons and make my curd.

It is ready in mere minutes, and as I tasted a bit, to check if it was cool enough to put in the fridge, you know what I decided?

1) I am a GODDESS.
2) I need more occasions in my life in which to consume lemon curd.

Why do I not make lemon curd more often? It's insanely simple and the result ... well, it's just one of cooking's greatest moments of alchemy. It's not the healthiest thing in the world (four egg yolks and a stick of butter, after all) but it's oh so lovely.

And Dave and Gail will have scones and lemon curd and whipped cream left over to enjoy with their morning coffee and papers.

I love being able to cook.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

More Return Male ...

David called this afternoon on his way home.

When the phone rang, I expected it to be a colleague who had just sent over a document for me to review. But it was David.

"I thought we'd have conversations three days in a row," he said. (He IMed and called Tuesday, IMed Wednesday, called today.)

"I don't think that's happened since college," I said.

Ah, college. I met David in a class I wasn't supposed to take. I mean, it was full when I tried to sign up for it, but I went to the first class anyway, to see if the professor would let me in. Several other people had the same idea. Four of us were trying to add it, but Jim Sloan, the prof, said he'd let in two. He literally put our names in a hat and had someone draw them. I was one of the winners.

It was a night class, a fiction writing class, one night a week for several hours, and the building was pretty near my dorm. David drove to school, and parked in the lot across the street.

I remember him for his cute glasses and long hair. I've always had a thing for guys with long hair. And I remember him wearing a Gumby T-shirt. For some reason, I couldn't tell you today if Pokey was on it, too. But they were always together, so they were probably together on his shirt. What was Gumby, anyway? Pokey was a horse, but what was Gumby? Gumbies don't exist in nature, I guess.

Anyway... Since I lived so close to class, I usually was the first one there. After the first week, in which I sat by the door in case Sloan told me to get lost, I sat furthest from the door. In successive weeks, David would sit near me. We'd chat before class.

One day, after class, as I walked back to my dorm and he walked back to his truck, he asked me if I'd like to join him and some friends and go out dancing that weekend to celebrate his birthday. I couldn't, I told him. Why not?, he wanted to know. Because I'm going home for my mom's birthday, I told him, which, turns out, is the day before his.

I wasn't immediately won over by David. Looking back, I don't remember the reason for my reluctance, other than general skepticism that he was serious. But one day, when I was working in my college office, he appeared with a card. It's one of those prose-y cards, with an effusive message on the front, this one entitled, "I Believe In You." And inside, in his own hand, wall to wall words.

It was winter quarter, which started just after we returned from Christmas break and ran for 10 weeks. A few weeks into class, David was writing something behind a stack of books between us. Finished, he slipped it to me. It was a small card, and along the top of it was drawn a smiley face, a little card with heart on the front, and a sun coming up behind a mountain.

Happy. Valentine's. Day.

And inside was a poem.

It rhymed.

Well, it still does, actually. I still have it.

I was 19 when I met David. This year, I will be 37. And I can tell you exactly where that little card is: In the closet right behind me, in a metal, lift-top box, under my birth certificate and passport and Christmas card from Bob Hope and ...

... OK, how's this for weird? I just spent the better part of the past hour looking for that card. It wasn't in the metal box. It's always in the metal box, in an envelope along with other cards he's given me over the years. I thought of every place it could possibly be and found it in none of them. But, as it's always the last place you look, I found it, tucked inside Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way." But it's going back in the metal, lift-top box, because it is truly one of my most treasured possessions.

It was an unconventional courtship in some ways, storybook in others. But always intense. We didn't date for very long, which makes me laugh now, since it's nearly 18 years later and he's still in my life

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

'The Island' ...

Never try to second-guess Roger Ebert.

Just when I think I've found a movie that, surely, Rog will pan, I surf over to his site to discover that he gave it three stars.


Maybe I was too focused on the writing. There were some truly bad lines in this movie, so corny, so predictable. (Ah, its Rotten Tomatoes score is 40. That's a little more like what I was thinking.) Scarlett and Ewan do a good job delivering their lines. Maybe I should have just let myself enjoy the sci-fi ride. Michael Bay makes movies in which lots of things go very fast and then blow up. What was I expecting? High art?

The premise of the movie is, I grant you, interesting. It cost $122 million to make, and earned just $35 million back. Ouch. But hey, all those 'splosions cost money.

I have to hand it to Scarlett: The girl's got range. From a Dutch servant in "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" to this role as a gun-toting, sci-fi badass, I believe her. I thought her early performance in "The Horse Whisperer" was pretty weak, but she was young. And who isn't going to look a little lame sharing the screen with Robert Redford? Unless you're Paul Newman, you're screwed before you even get started.

Early on in "The Island," I thought, "This is too ridiculous to continue watching," but I stuck it out, much like I rarely give up on a bad book, figuring it must get better at some point, that I'll be rewarded for my tenacity. So I keep going, until I realize the cause is lost, but by then I've invested so much time in the endeavor that I figure I might as well just see it through.

So I did.

Wesley Morris from the San Francisco Chronicle sums it up well: "This lavish, exhaustingly kinetic film is smarter than you might expect, and at the same time dumber than it could be."

Return Male ...

What were we saying about Mercury retrograde and people reappearing from your past?

Yesterday, College Boyfriend David appeared on my screen in an IM window. He was watching his students suffer through midterms and had time to chat, exceedingly rare time to chat. I checked my IM log and the last conversation I saved (and I can't remember having any other since) was December 22, 2004. Yes, 2004.

He asked for my numbers so he could put them in the phone he got to replace the one that died, and said he'd call me on his way home.

Which he did. I think the last time he and I spoke on the phone was in 2001.

Mind you, we trade the occasional e-mail during our long conversational droughts. But he's living in another part of the country with a very involved life and I am living here, with a life that is much less so.

But yesterday afternoon, the phone rang, and the second I heard his voice, it was like no time had passed. I marvel at that, and yet, it also doesn't surprise me at all. David has always been that person in my life with whom everything feels completely at ease. He is also the only ex I really stay in touch with, even if the touch points are few and far between.

He'll be heading to Chicago in the next couple months and said he'd be sure to stop by. I haven't seen him since 2000. When we first met, I was 19. Yesterday on the phone, he mentioned that he sometimes still thinks of me that way, that it's weird that I'm now "his age," as though years have closed the gap between us. (Hey, honey: You're still nearly 6 years older than me.) But we talked about how age differences seem smaller, the older you get. An 18-year-old dating a 25-year-old is much different than a 28-year-old dating a 35-year-old. Or, as would be the case with us, a 36-year-old dating a 42-year-old (he's already had his birthday, mine's not til near the end of the year).

Some days, I wonder if there's still something in the cards for David and me. I wonder if we'll end up like one of those cute older couples in the "documentary" part of "When Harry Met Sally ..." talking about how they met in college but then life kept them apart for years and they led separate lives, only to run into each other 40 years later.

I know this much: David would still be the best kisser on the planet.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Be All That You Can Be ...

This isn't an entreaty to live up to some whacked-out societal ideal.

It's just what popped into my head after reading "The Cook's Story," a chapter out of Po Bronson's latest book, "Why Do I Love These People?"

Po writes terribly interesting books about real people in real situations, looking for their life's calling or trying to understand the relationships around them.

"The Cook's Story" is about a woman and her father and the gulf between them. I read it online, choosing that particular PDF because cooking is the other thing I do. If I wasn't a writer, I'd be a chef. But that's another story. The cook in "The Cook's Story" is a father named James. The subject of "The Cook's Story" is his daughter, Jennifer.

Relationships between fathers and daughters are often fraught with confusion. James and Jennifer didn't understand each other. My father and I don't either.

But I have to stop expecting and start accepting. He is who he is, shaped by a lifetime of chances, taken and missed. And I am who I am, shaped by the same rules, but also shaped by him. I've internalized a lot of my father. I see him in my behaviors every day. I did not inherit my mother's patience or self-assuredness. I have inherited my father's fear.

On Sundays, my mom and dad come over for bagels and coffee. Yesterday, as I was lying in bed, reading, I saw him pull up in front of my house. An hour before I expected him.

Maybe the plan changed, I thought. I pulled on clothes as he walked to my door.

He rang the bell and as he stepped inside, I said, regretting it the moment it left my lips, "You're here an hour earlier than I thought you'd be."

"Well, mom is going to her bible class," he said. "Was I not supposed to come yet?"

"No, you're welcome to be here," I said. "You just never come over early."

And that's one of the hallmarks of my father: He waits to be invited to join in everything. He doesn't insert himself into situations, believing that he has an equal right to be in them, that he's welcome. He hangs back. He's always hung back. I do the same thing.

But yesterday, as I walked into the kitchen to put on coffee, what I was thinking was, "What are we supposed to talk about for more than an hour?"

My father doesn't talk to me. He never really learned how, I guess. My mother was the one we talked to. At night, if he happened to be home for dinner, I would tell him something about my day at school and was almost always met with silence. "Fred," my mother would say, "your daughter's talking to you."

"Oh," he'd say, and turn to me. "What?"

To this day, I cannot stand when people don't listen to me. It is my biggest of pet peeves, tied only by people interrupting me. Both behaviors say to me, "What you're saying is not important." Maybe that's why I became a writer. Holy shit. I never thought of that before. Well, there's a big hunk of something to chew on.

But in those days, I never wanted to tell the story again. The moment had passed. My enthusiasm was spent. So mom always got the news of my life, because she was home and because she listened. And my life followed an artistic bent, which is all from her. And we could relate to each other more simply because we shared our gender.

And as time passed, the chasm between my father and me grew. He could talk to my brother Paul about cars and fishing and guy things. But when it came to my brother Brian and me, the artists in the family, well, what was there to say?

And so on a snowy Sunday morning, without my mother in common, what would we talk about?

It wasn't entirely painful, but it wasn't entirely pleasant, either. There were long pauses, the conversation, while not inane, lacked substance. Maybe it was enough that we were actually talking, that we managed to fill up 75 minutes of space. I, thankfully, had tasks. Putting on coffee, setting the table, plugging in the toaster, washing dishes, drying dishes, slicing apples, slicing pears.

Mom finally arrived. Dad, as he always does, got quiet. As he gets older, I wonder if it's because he can't hear our conversation well because he refuses to wear his hearing aids. But he's never been chatty around us.

At parties, he can be a different person. He doesn't do well around strangers, but settled at a table with people he knows, he'll talk as much as the rest of them. The stories are often the same. I wonder if he knows that he's told them before. But everyone is polite enough to listen. Or maybe they don't remember that they've heard them before. Maybe small talk does register in most people's memories.

But what I learned from James and Jennifer is that daughters don't often see their fathers as men. There is so much wrapped up in the father-daughter dynamic that we find it hard to step outside our roles and see each other simply as people. We overlay our expectations and then are disappointed when the figure beneath doesn't match, instead of simply seeing the figure as it is, plain, honest, and real. People will show you who they are, but we see what we want to see.

I don't contemplate my father's childhood often. I don't consider all that I know he endured. I am petulant and childish and want him to be an extension of me, rather than recognizing that I am an extension of him. I need to value what he is able to offer.

And I need to just be who I am and know that that is enough.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Well, I'll Be ...

That was some Best Picture surprise.

But it was a crock that Paul Haggis didn't get to say anything. Sheesh. The show was running a few minutes early, but oh!, we need to get in that last commercial break with Penelope Cruz hawking hair color that no one believes she actually uses.

Yeah, that's better than the co-producer of the year's best film getting to speak.

'Ellen Foster' ...

"When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy."

That is the first sentence of "Ellen Foster," the debut novel by Kaye Gibbons, published the same year I graduated from high school, sure I was going to be a doctor.

I wrote about Kaye after meeting her in January (the title of this post will link you to that post, and yes I know it seems narcissistic to link to myself). She was in town to promote her sequel to Ellen Foster, and one of the questions asked of her at the reading was, "What took you so long?"

Her answer was so fantastically honest, basically, "I didn't think of it until about a year ago." No literary palaver about the need to let an idea germinate until it is ready to be born or how she needed to more fully understand who Ellen would become before she could continue her story. Nope, she just hadn't thought about writing a sequel for that many years, and once she did, she sat right down and wrote it.

It is an exquisite book. I'm trying to think of what I was reading in 1987, and I regret that it was not this. But then, as a 17-year-old graduating from high school, I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to appreciate the book's brilliance, the simple style that seems easy but is unfathomably hard.

This book earned a special citation by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation, which makes perfect sense. Kaye is not an estrogenated Hemingway, but her writing in this book follows in that tradition of deceptively simple-sounding prose, each sentence a strand woven into an intricate pattern of a novel.

Twice within two pages, two sentences stopped me dead in my tracks, so perfect I just had to stop reading to marvel. It is not possible to marvel while continuing to read, not if the subject of the marveling is to be given its due.

So now I have the sequel at the ready. It is snowing and gray and the perfect day to crawl back under the covers and further marvel.

She inspires me. Inspiration can be hard to find.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

'Mad Hot Ballroom' ...

If you don't cheer out loud for these kids, you're the undead.

'Brokeback Mountain' ...

It's heartbreaking.

I haven't seen all of the Best Picture nominees, but I wanted to be sure to see this film before tomorrow, when it walks off with Oscar's top prize, which I now have no doubt it will, even having seen just three of the five.

Ang Lee is a damned magician to be able to turn out a film so exquisite on a $14 million budget. Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michelle Williams are terrific actors who are well-deserving of their nominations. And you can't miss when you have that kind of spectacular natural beauty in a supporting role.

But the most resonant aspect of the film has nothing to do with homosexuality. Sure, it's been dubbed the "gay cowboy" movie, but at its core, it's about the unbearable pain of unfulfilled love.

Is there anything more tortuous than having one's heart connect with another only to live on either side of a wall of circumstance? The occasional stolen moment or day a mournful stand-in for what should be a shared lifetime, if only. The tragedy of love denied.

I've thought long and hard about such a love's existence. In what I believe to be a benevolent universe, what reason can possibly explain such immeasureable sorrow?

And what I've decided, in my own life, is this: It's instructive, not tortuous. It is meant to inform my heart of what is possible. To say to my soul, "This is what it feels like. Settle for nothing less."

The same does not apply to Jack and Ennis. In that time and place, the world forbade their love.

It still does, to a large degree, and that breaks my heart, too.