On the persistence of the Universe

badbeauty

Some situations in life are unavoidably awkward. Indeed, some moments are socially awkward by definition. For women, I believe this includes any and all visits to beauty salons. Just the other day, I had an appointment for a manicure and pedicure and right off the bat, I was uncomfortable. There’s something inherently unsettling about the setup, about the implied hierarchy. Who am I to show up and demand some other woman (more often than not) try and make me beautiful or more appealing? I’m much too lazy and impatient to paint my own nails so I’m willing to pay someone else to do it, so I’m not passing any sort of judgement. I’m just saying it’s a little weird; feels a little medieval in our modern, wildly progressive world. No? Am I thinking too much about it?

Anyway, I immediately apologized to the manicurist for my gnarly feet. While it is true that my feet resemble men’s feet from the prehistoric era (think “Flintstones”), I’m not actually sorry about it. I’m totally okay with my feet, but I apologized and made a joke about my physical appearance because it’s my comfort zone. Self-deprecating humor helps me to break the ice, chip away at some of the awkwardness of having a stranger rub your gross feet, and lets the other person know I’m not some high-maintenance chick; I’m a commoner, one of the people, I swear! I’m just too lazy to maintain a beauty regimen is all.

For dealing with a self-righteous, pseudo-intellectual, the manicurist couldn’t have been nicer and she did a wonderful job. I love my nails and my toes; perfect shade, elegantly done. I have no complaints and will absolutely go back without hesitation (shout out to Lee Nails in Bayville). You would think such a positive experience would ease my social anxiety about going to beauty salons, but you would be wrong. My neuroses know no bounds, apparently. Upon getting my nails done, I called a hair salon I was familiar with (I’d only been there once, to be fair, and it was months ago) to schedule an appointment to retouch my highlights in an effort to transition to becoming a blonde (which is something else I’m stupidly struggling with, but I’ll save that for another hilarious, highly entertaining, self-indulgent post; I know those are your favorite). I was excited, eager for the appointment, but the receptionist on the other end couldn’t have cared less. Her responses were short and repetitive, like she was offended by making this appointment, as if it were a personal insult or something. I persevered though (because I’m a masochist?) and she asked which stylist I’d prefer. When I mentioned the woman who styled my hair the last time, when I asked if that person was available, the receptionist only tersely replied, “No.” I guess some uncomfortable, tense situation had gone down and everyone was still feeling a type of way about it, but how was I supposed to know? I felt guilty and quickly replied that it was fine, that anyone would do, but the receptionist kept telling me they had nothing opened, that they were straight booked … but offered me three different appointment slots. I picked an outrageously early time on Sunday and hung up. I had a bad feeling and based on my last blog post, I wondered if maybe it wasn’t some kind of sign from the universe, telling me to abort, to abandon ship. So when my mom kindly cut my hair later that day, I called another salon and made another appointment.

From the get go, I felt much better about the whole thing. The woman unknowingly eased all of my social anxiety simply by being nice. She said she was excited I was coming in and offered me all sorts of time slots and asked questions about what I wanted done. Even if such personal interest was inauthentic and all in the name of consumerism, at least it was there. I mean, it worked and I made the appointment.

When I showed up, I was a little uneasy. Obvious and aforementioned social anxieties aside, I always feel like a fraud walking into salons. I always think of that scene from “Pretty Woman” where prostitute Julia Roberts walks into that high-end clothing store and gets treated horribly. And to think she was beautiful! I’ve had bad acne lately, have gained weight and have just been really down on myself lately about my physical appearance (hence all the salon appointments) and I suddenly didn’t want to go. I forced myself inside though, and was immediately charmed. What ambiance! And the friendly receptionist from over the phone was behind the desk and just as friendly as ever. She offered me coffee and water, and the water I requested came in a trendy, fashionable mason jar with an adorable paper straw, decorated with illustrations of branches from dogwoods. I was charmed and felt better … until I had to sit and allowed myself to get trapped inside my own head.

Though my appointment was at 11:30, I didn’t get into a chair until around noon, which I’m not even mad about. I understand that sometimes styling takes longer than anticipated, and I don’t understand complaining about having to be patient in salons when it’s all luxury, a luxury to have time and money to spend on something as superficial and fleeting as appearance. I’m not judging; here I am on a personal appearance improvement tour. I’m just saying I wasn’t annoyed and that would never be something to annoy me. I know that’s just me, so I’ll move on.

What did annoy me was that when my stylist went to pull my hair back from my face, she poked me in the eye. She didn’t apologize, and we both acted like it didn’t happen even though my left eye was fluttering and watering. Both her and I kept right on talking like my one eye wasn’t shut and like I wasn’t in obvious discomfort. In her defense, she probably didn’t know she had done it. I could have said something, but I didn’t, and so I was still incredibly awkward and anxious, and now I was in pain (that’s dramatic, I know). Suddenly, the whole experience seemed like a punishment for my vanity, for my sudden focus on not only my appearance but on myself. I thought, this is where being selfish gets you, with a poke in the eye. All my earlier misgivings seemed to be confirmed and I was on the verge of misery. It didn’t help that my stylist resembled an antagonist from one of those “Hostel” movies, all decked out in a black apron with black latex gloves. I gulped; would she be coming for my eye again?

But then I actually started talking to my stylist. Her name is Dana and she’s from Asbury Park. Not only is she a remarkably talented stylist, she is also full of sage advice. As we spoke, I began to consider the possibility that maybe her poking my eye was a symbolic gesture of how my mind’s eye needed to be poked. The conversation we had was one of the most eye-opening (are you sensing a theme yet?), self-affirming conversations I’ve ever had. We skipped over the small talk, the shallow pleasantries, and went right for the intellectual and philosophical concerns of life. She flat out asked me about my stance on the whole “nature versus nurture” debate. She believed it was nurture all the way, that humans are irrevocably shaped by experience and that explains everything. I agreed to a point, but also revealed that I believe it’s more nature that determines who we are as human beings. I offered up the example of my twin sister and me. Both came from the same nurturing environment and have arrived at completely different results. Dana countered, explaining that my twin sister had life experiences without me that shaped her and molded her differently, encouraging me to be empathetic, sympathetic and open-minded. I’ve refused to do so as of late when it comes to my sister. Rage is simple; it’s so much easier to be angry and infantile, but is it fair? Is it right? Why should the focus switch to me the second time around? Shouldn’t I still be concerned with Sammy’s well-being and recovery? Isn’t there a happy medium, some sort of balance between caring for my other half and myself?

During this discussion, a charity for recovering addicts came into the salon, handing out flyers and asking for donations. Dana asked for a flyer and donated a dollar. I was touched. Rather than ignore and dismiss these men who intruded upon her place of business, she was encouraging and kind. She never dismissed anyone. She was so kind, a truly remarkable woman. And she was so humble, paying as many compliments as she received and then some. This woman restored my faith in humanity in the most unlikely of places.

As our conversation continued (I was in the chair for like three hours; I have a lot of hair), I learned that she also has aspirations to be writer, that she has plans for a memoir and a children’s book. I told her all about my struggles and successes, and we discussed talent and how we both believe that if someone – anyone – is blessed with talent, that it becomes necessary to pay it forward, to use whatever blessings (specifically monetary) come from that gift to better the world. A lot of big ideas fell into place and connected with one another as she spoke so that I began to understand and believe that I was given this writing talent – or ability, depending on how you feel about my writing – for a reason, and that because I am not distracted by a love interest or a family, now is the time for me to hone my talent, to focus on becoming published and getting my work out there. What a positive outlook, to give my loneliness a purpose, a reason, a meaning. She confided with me she’d been with her boyfriend for seven years and while she’s in love and it’s all wonderful, it is still limiting. She can’t just do whatever whenever because she has someone else to consider, from the small sacrifices (like eating at Chipotle because she’s gluten free when they’d rather eat elsewhere) to the major ones (time, money, energy, etc.). I’m not a lonely loser unless I choose to be; this time alone is an opportunity to fulfill a destiny and should not be wasted wallowing in some self-created despair.

Dana told me I was an amazing person, and told me she could figure that out after only an hour of conversation.

At one point, she said, “You can’t control your heart, but you can – and you have to – control your mind.” She encouraged me to choose to be happy. What else can we do?

Needless to say, it was the best experience I’ve ever had at a hair salon. Ever. My sincerest gratitude to Dana at Shear Glamour.

newhairnewme

 

On near misses.

wakeupcall

For someone who believes in, and more often than not relies on signs from the universe, I’m constantly missing those signs. I’m frequently guilty of missing the point, as it were. It is usually only in hindsight that I am appreciative and finally realize that the Universe was trying to alert me to something.

I left Busco Beach ATV Park in Goldsboro, North Carolina around 9:30 yesterday morning. On the main highway in town, I was stuck in a line of cars waiting for the longest freight train I’ve ever seen in my life. I was patient and waited. Now I wonder if those ten minutes that felt like an hour made any difference, if those ten minutes affected my journey in a crucial way.

About 45 minutes later, I was merging onto I-95 and nearly had to swerve to avoid hitting a giant vulture and some other small bird feasting on a carcass in the middle of the interstate. I’d never seen vultures feeding in real life, only in the movies and on television, and it seemed especially stranger the birds would land and feed on such a busy road. It was a gruesome reminder of mortality, regardless if the location seemed unrealistic.

Some time later, I ran over a blown tire. The sound was loud and startling, but the collision was harmless. Another sign, perhaps, but of what?

The trip was mostly uneventful after the aforementioned incidents, aside from irritating pockets of traffic, until I reached Baltimore, Maryland. I was traveling over the bridge that ended in tunnels near the Port of Baltimore. I was being attentive, wasn’t distracted by my cell phone or iPod, but none of that positive, defensive driving seems to matter. Somehow, an orange construction cone (one of the big ones, shaped more like a tube and reminiscent of a garbage can) was left behind. There was no obvious construction, no other cones or material left behind – just the one thing. The car in front of the truck in front of me decimated the cone, smashed it all to bits. The truck in front of me slammed on its brakes, and I had no other choice but to do the same. I also swerved to the left, into the shoulder.

For a few terrifying moments, I was convinced I was going to crash into the concrete barrier, wedging my jeep between that median and the back end of the truck in front of me. I saw it all happen like some lame scene from one of those “Final Destination” movies. I’d slam against the steering wheel (would the air bag go off?) and there’d be blood gushing from my nose and mouth. My teeth, after thousands of dollars spent at the orthodontist, would be broken and shattered more likely than not. Would the windows bust from pressure of being squished between the concrete and the truck? I had my seat belt fastened, but what would that have really prevented?

But I’m okay. There was no crash, no sickening crunch of glass and metal, no screech of a scrape against concrete. The whole awful mess was avoided and I kept on driving, kept on going. There was no time to stop and investigate the accident that had almost happened, no time to figure out how it had been avoided. Pieces of the orange and white plastic flew by, circling end over end along the shoulder. The sound of my squealing tires reverberated in the air but only for a moment. Life kept moving.

And I was okay.

I think that’s the message from the Universe: Mandi, life changes and keeps going despite your personal dramas, and you’re okay. You’re going to be okay.

So I’m listening very seriously to my mom when she advises me to work on myself, to be happy with me. She seems convinced that once that happens, everything else will fall into place. I’m starting to agree. The ideology makes sense, but it’s also exhausting feeling guilty for absolutely everything that happens in my life. If friends hang out without me, I immediately wonder what I did wrong and try to figure out why they would launch an offensive to alienate me. If I was happy with myself, truly happy, I’d be able to realize that not everything is about me and how horrible I am. That realization makes me feel guilty, like I’m wrong for thinking badly about anyone ever when there’s so much wrong with me. Well, that’s an incredibly depressing attitude and I don’t want to be apart of it anymore.

Today, I got a manicure and a pedicure. Tomorrow, I’m trimming my hair and on Sunday, I’m coloring my hair. These may seem vain and shallow attempts at becoming okay with myself, but we all have to start somewhere, no? And truth be told, I’m happy with who I am on the inside. Sure, I’ve got some crippling insecurities and some awfully bad habits to work through, but don’t we all? I’m going to work on myself in the best way I see fit because I trust myself and I love myself.

There is a difference between narcissism and introspection.

I’m not missing any more signs.

vacation

On being a big, fat liar.

doughtheliar

Two weeks ago, I went to confession. The line of sinners was surprisingly long; I assume the snowstorm from the previous weekend had kept the faithful at home and away from the church, so everyone was playing catch up. That’s why I was there, at any rate. But there’s something about being in that intimate, sacred setting that always compels me to spill my guts. Maybe it’s a simple effect of being raised Catholic, a kind of Pavlovian reaction to the whole ceremony, but I like to believe it’s more than that, like it’s a sign from the universe that my faith is real and working, and that this kind of spiritual purging is healthy and necessary. Whatever the reason or motivation, when it was finally my turn to enter the confessional and the heavy, cloth curtain swung shut behind me, I dropped to my knees and told the priest everything that had been burdening my soul. I unloaded my emotional baggage, carefully and delicately removing every piece of troublesome ego and holding it up to the light to reveal all the intricacies. I think the popular nomenclature for such an event is “word vomit.” At the end, I was breathless but felt somewhat lighter. I also felt guilty and ashamed, truly humbled.

And the priest laughed. He laughed loud and long and hard.

This may seem like a harsh reaction, but please trust me when I assure you that it was completely warranted. My life, as of late, has turned into quite the melodrama. To protect the innocent I won’t go into details, but if you could me a favor and think of the most ridiculous plot line from a daytime soap opera – that’s my life. That’s how I’ve been living. To hear it out loud, to finally speak about it all, was somewhat amusing. I was on the verge of laughter myself – sometimes we laugh to keep from crying, no? So the priest was in no way a villain. His laughter subsided, and he told me I was certainly in a “sticky situation.” He promised he would pray for me.

The priest promised to pray for me. That’s how dire my situation is.

I hope this anecdote helps illustrate why I haven’t been keeping to the resolutions I made so boldly before the new year started. I’m the worst, I know, but I’m trying.

I hope you are all trying to, no matter the endeavor.

You’ll be hearing more from me soon; I promise.

lying

On treating a blog like a confessional, for better or worse.

woman writer

Good news: A literary agency requested my full manuscript about a week ago.

Bad News: I haven’t written anything in a while, other than melodramatic diary entries that are more embarrassing and revealing than creative.

I had a revelation last night, one that shocked and dismayed me to the point of smoking a cigarette, something I haven’t done in years.  I was being wasteful of time and energy, binge-watching that show “Scandal” on Netflix, when the main character said something like, “Because if he doesn’t remember what happened, it’s like he doesn’t care. And if he doesn’t care enough to remember, it’s like he’s implying that it never happened.” My jaw dropped because those words express my fears and anxieties so exactly. For quite some time, I’ve been hiding from and rejecting the very possible reality that I have been forgotten, and that I am not missed. I need to genuinely understand and embrace the possibility that the entire experience was all my creation, that it is all in my head and it was only ever in my head.

But I fight with myself. I swing back and forth between being a scared, stupid and silly girl with a crush, to a woman who was in love but was denied. One option makes me interesting while the other makes me weak and foolish. Both options, however, are definitely unappealing. I think about the events that transpired constantly, and do my best to remember vividly how it all was because those memories are all I have, the only evidence that I crossed paths with someone amazing at all.

That truth depresses me, nearly knocks the wind from me.

But I’ve told all of this before. Maybe that truth is what really depresses me, that I have nothing new to say as I am stuck.

Heartache may make a woman more interesting, but I think I’d be content to be boring for a while, so long as it meant that I was happy.

Yesterday, I traveled to Adrenaline – the tattoo and piercing place – because I lost the horseshoe for my nose and wanted another one.  There was a young woman at the counter whom I would have sworn I had never seen before in my life.  But as I walked up, she asked, “Are you Bean?” I replied in the affirmative, and she asked me if I taught at the high school and again, I replied in the affirmative. I asked if she was a student, or the sibling of a student, and she surprised me by telling me she was a classmate. We rode the bus together when she was in first grade and I was in fifth, and I would tell her stories on the ride to and from school. I have no recollection of it, but the idea that I’ve been telling stories all my life makes me smile.

Until I consider that I’ve been telling them to myself. I think the fairy tale I’ve stored up in my heart may be nothing more than a story. I wish my writing could change that.  I suppose that’s why I do it.

lonelywoman

On talking to the dead.

Friday, April 10, 2015 marked 90 years since the publication of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the novel that essentially changed my life by confirming the kind of woman – the kind of human being – I wanted to be.

I couldn’t let such an occasion, such an anniversary; pass without some kind of commemoration.

So I drove three hours and 40 minutes to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rockville, Maryland.  I drove down I-95, which I have become so accustomed to that traversing that interstate is painfully boring.  I had my iPod blaring, but my mind was essentially blank, other than lingering upon the object of my affection and then Gatsby and then back again.  The object of my affection tried countless times to convince me of similarities between him and Jay Gatsby, of which there are admittedly a few.  We sent each other text messages late into the night while watching the film adaptation of the novel, discussing themes and characterization and life.  I only knew the novel was published on April 10th because of this man.  Gatsby was (is?) our thing.  So now, perhaps unfortunately, the fictional world of Jay Gatsby and my first heartbreak are inextricably linked forever and ever, amen.

Maybe that realization, that my favorite book is forever tainted by the inevitable disappointment of romance, made me somber and weird inside, but I was certainly reserved as I pulled into the church’s parking lot.  I parked in the further possible spot, closer to the adjacent school than the actual cemetery, but did so for no discernible reason.  In hindsight, I supposed I wanted to be ignored and inconspicuous, didn’t want to be a nuisance of any kind.  That notion seems laughable though, especially when I consider how absurd I must have looked, emerging from a piece of shit car – part of my front bumper is missing – in a fancy black dress too elegant and too formal for the impromptu graveside visit, with a fancy black coat that made me sweat but offered respite from the persistent mist.  I was alone, as always, and walking around aimlessly.  I’m sure I looked out of place and had anyone been around, I’m sure they would have chalked me up to some kind of weirdo.  To be fair, I guess that’s exactly what I am.

The entrance to the cemetery is across from a sign that reads, “BEAN BLVD.”  That cannot be coincidence; I don’t care what kind of logic is thrown at me.

I saw a gate, but it was small and unremarkable, so I assumed there must be a main gate somewhere, adorned with ironwork and a plaque or a sign – something.  Looking around furtively, worried I might just be trespassing, I followed the low, wrought iron fence around the perimeter of the cemetery but found no other entrance.  I traced my way back, which maybe took all of two minutes as the cemetery is rather small, to that first gate.  The latch, with its peeling paint, was worn enough to almost be rendered ineffective.  I considered it a particularly cruel kind of irony that this humble, rather shabby cemetery serves as the final resting place of the man who imagined Gatsby and the extravagant, opulent world in which that character existed.  I sighed and opened the gate, gingerly lifting the decrepit latch and gently shutting the gate behind me.

The grave was incredibly easy to find, partly because the cemetery is so small and partly because his marker is so large.  It’s off to the right of the short, winding path that just ends through the tiny, enclosed area.  I followed it, careful not to tread on the hallowed ground of those resting eternally, but had to leave the path eventually.  My heels sank into the soggy ground and I berated myself for my inconvenient melodramatics.  But then I faced Fitzgerald’s grave.

It’s a simple headstone.  It has his name, the years in which he lived and breathed and made the literary world a far better place.  His wife’s name is below, as are her years of existence.  Perpendicular and impressive is a stone slab that bears the last lines of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, the work that is often considered the great American novel.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

I was the only one mourning and paying homage to a brilliant and destructive man, but I hadn’t been the only one.  There was evidence of other grievers.  There was a bloated, yellowed with the age, rain-soaked paperback copy of The Great Gatsby.  I leaned close and found it was open to pages 116 and 117, where Nick warns Jay that the past cannot be repeated, but Jay is deaf and insistent.  “Can’t repeat the past?  Why, of course you can.  Of course you can.”

There was a sodden bouquet of roses, decimated by the rain, soaked and scattered, looking especially tragic and mournful.  Perhaps the passage and gray skies and the cemetery added to that impression.

There were many pens, an obvious but touching nonetheless tribute to an insanely talented author.

There were many pennies, what I mistakenly assumed was an Irish tradition until I took to Google.  Coins are left on graves for many reasons, but there are three reasons that appear to be the most common.  One reason dates back to Greek mythology, and coins are left as payment for the ferryman that transported souls across the river Styx.  The second is related to the military and dictates that leaving certain coins is evidence of a particular relationship.  For example, pennies are left by any living soldier visiting a veteran’s grave while nickels are left only by those who attended boot camp with the deceased.  The third reason is to simply leave evidence that one visited and was there.  How narcissistic is that, having to leave proof of our existence at the proof of another’s existence?

My favorite token was a small bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey with an accompanying shot glass.  Next year when I make the trip, I plan on bringing daisies – though I despise the fictional Daisy Buchanan I completely understand what it is she represents, as despicable as it is – and a bottle of gin or some other antiquated kind of alcohol.  I plan on having some shots and hanging out for a decent amount of time, telling Fitzgerald how much I admire him, how much many admire him, and that I hope heaven allows for him to see how important he has become.

Much like the title character of his greatest literary achievement, Fitzgerald died alone and in obscurity.  Apparently the priest who presided over his funeral services did not even know who Fitzgerald was.  Fitzgerald considered himself a failure, and drank himself to death, falling dead in the apartment of his girlfriend, some tabloid reporter that he may have shacked up with to aid his dwindling screenwriting career in cruel, unforgiving Hollywood.

I devoured Gatsby when I was fourteen years old.  I have read it at least once a year since, and have convinced myself that I am Gatsby.  And as I stood at Fitzgerald’s grave, pondering the possible autobiographical content of his greatest novel, I realized that therein lies the magic of the novel; we are all Gatsby.  We all want too much and at times, we can want to reclaim some version of our former selves, tirelessly and obsessively chasing after some enchanted object that we think will fix everything.  We are continuously disappointed, but we keep right on chasing, reaching in everlasting desperation.

I thought Philip Roth had it right, that the real human tragedy is that we are all woefully unprepared for tragedy.  Now I think Fitzgerald was right, that the real human tragedy is that we are never satisfied.  We want too much.

I said a few prayers, thanked him, and empathized with the dead author.  I explained that I was a writer and that I feared my talent – if I may be so arrogant in insisting that I have some – would go undiscovered.  I told him I was afraid of dying alone, of having absolutely no one to mourn at my graveside, let alone any fans.  I delicately turned the pages of the soaked novel, carefully turning pages made nearly transparent by the rain and other elements.  I turned to the part where Nick pays Gatsby the sole compliment of their friendship, when he tells Gatsby that Daisy and Tom and Jordan are a rotten crowd, and that Gatsby is worth the whole damn bunch put together.  Nick is glad he said that, even though he disapproved of Gatsby from the beginning to the end.  It is a beautiful sort of sentiment, and I wondered if Fitzgerald, like Gatsby, had a friend in the end who got someone for him.  I softly kissed my fingertips and let them trail along the cold stone as I began the brief walk out of the cemetery, back to my piece of shit car, parked suspiciously outside the adjacent Catholic school like some kind of inappropriate joke made in poor taste.

I drove back home, traveling for four hours, stopping to eat at McDonald’s and then almost immediately wanting to die as the food upset my stomach terribly.

Despite the bizarre and spontaneous nature of the trip, the irritating traffic and uncomfortable way the greasy, cheap food sank in my stomach, the trip was inspiring.  I began to develop an idea for a third novel.

And it’s all thanks to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  So I will return again and again to give thanks and pay homage because he communicated universal truths without restraint.  He was unashamedly who he was, embracing his genius and his insecurities and his worth and his faults all simultaneously.  Fitzgerald was wonderfully and beautifully human and wrote to be inclusive, to help everyone understand that we are all guilty, that we are all beautiful and deserving of love, that we can all be great.  We all reach out, trembling, for the green light.

And it’s okay.

fitzgrave

On changing names.

I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately. I wonder if I’ve been struck with that “Summertime Sadness.” It is now August, and my dreams have included school more and more, so maybe it is simply anxiety stemming from the upcoming school year. I should try and refocus it into excitement, into positive energy.

There are so many things I’ll never tell the object of my affection so this person will never know, like how many chocolate donuts I’ve devoured to compensate for his absence. I think he’s the kind of man who never has to drink alone.

I love how, in movies, you can always tell which couples are going to form based on who watches who walk away, especially after a seemingly irrelevant conversation.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #17: “I love the way she says words that begin with ‘cr,’ like ‘crisp’ and ‘crunchy.’ How bizarre is that?”

supermarketromance

Ally had the shopping list in hand and was intently focused on securing the various items. She was expertly maneuvering her way down the aisles with Michelle in tow. Michelle had only agreed to come because she was sick of sitting at home alone with a severe case of writer’s block. She thought getting out and about among people would be inspirational, and she thought bouncing ideas off of Ally, her best friend, would be beneficial. After the supermarket, they would go back to Ally’s apartment, drink some wine, devour some pasta, watch some bad television, and have themselves a relatively unproductive but enjoyable weekday. They tried to do this every so often to maintain the friendship among differing schedules and ambitions and so far, it had been a success.

Part of the success, or most of the success actually, could be attributed to the level of comfort between the two women. For example, Michelle knew Ally was only half listening as she scoured the shelves for what she needed, and Michelle kept talking anyway. She was eager to work out some tricky dialogue between the romantic leads in her latest literary endeavor. “So,” Michelle began, resting her elbows on the handle of the shopping cart and propelling it forward in the laziest of ways, “I wanted him to say something super specific but still adorable to show how much he likes her. Only he wouldn’t be talking to her, he’d be talking a friend.”

“Uh huh,” Ally said. She wasn’t listening. She was trying to decide between vermicelli and angel hair pasta.

“Like, he’ll say … I don’t know, something like, ‘I love the way she says words that begin with “cr,” like “crisp” and “crunchy.” How bizarre is that?’”

“Very bizarre,” Ally answered.

Michelle sighed. “No, you’re not supposed to answer. That’s the dialogue.”

Ally turned to her friend, a box of pasta in each hand. “But that’s stupid.”

“Well, don’t hold back, Ally. Tell me how you really feel.”

Rolling her eyes, Ally turned back to the many, many boxes of pasta neatly stacked on the shelves before her. “A guy would never say that. A guy would never notice that.” She put one of the boxes back on the shelf, and stooped to examine another. “Unless she just got braces or something. Does she have braces?” She turned to her friend, suspicion and skepticism obvious in her expression. “Are you writing about yourself again?”

Michelle self-consciously placed her hand over her mouth. The braces had ceramic brackets so it was nearly impossible to tell Michelle had braces until the onlooker got really close, like all up in her grill as it were, but she still blushed whenever they were mentioned. “No,” she proclaimed defensively. “I think you’re being close-minded. I, for one, think a guy would totally say that.”

“How often does one even use ‘crisp’ and ‘crunchy’ in regular conversation?” Ally asked. She paused to think for a moment. “Great; now I want potato chips.” She completed an about face and headed toward the aisle with all the snacks; the chips, the crackers, and the cookies. Michelle hurried after her, nearly running over some small, silver-haired ladies mulling over the canned soups.

“That’s the point, though. I want it to be singular and memorable. This will be the romantic quote my female audience will swoon over, you know?”

Ally threw two bags of potato chips into the basket of the shopping cart. “I don’t know if it’s authentic. I think you should ask someone.”

“What?”

“Let’s find a dude, and you can ask him if he would ever say that.”

Michelle paled. She was definitely more of an introvert than an extrovert, and the thought of stopping some stranger and asking him if he could possibly emulate a character seemed absurd. The man who they stopped would probably be a Neanderthal of sorts, nothing like the wonderful invention of a man Michelle had imagined. She would lose undoubtedly. “That’s a dumb idea.”

“You’re just afraid of talking to people.” Ally was abrasive and logical, which was completely unlike her best friend and most likely why they got along so well. She looked up and down the aisle and smiled. There was a handsome employee about their age at the far end, mindlessly stocking twelve packs of soda cans. His muscular arms moved gracefully, and Ally took note of that, as well as his dark hair. “C’mon; we’ll ask tall, dark and handsome over there.”

Michelle tried to discreetly sneak a peek. He was definitely handsome, but he really wasn’t all that tall, and his hair was dark but truth be told, his skin was actually pale. Michelle leaned close to Ally. “No, no way. He doesn’t read. He’s not a good person to ask. Let’s just go.”

“Oh, stop it,” Ally commanded and grabbed Michelle’s hand. She literally pulled her down the aisle while Michelle mumbled a million different protestations. They all fell on deaf ears and Michelle clammed up once they halted behind the employee, their backs against rows of pretzels. “Excuse me,” Ally called politely.

The employee turned and upon seeing it was two young women instead of the usual seniors who argued about coupons and prices with him even though he was not a cashier, he smiled brightly. “Hello; can I help you?”

“Yes,” Ally smiled. “My name is Ally, and this is my friend, Michelle. What’s your name?”

“I’m Justin,” he said. He held out his hand. Michelle and Ally shook his hand in turn, and everyone agreed that it was a pleasure to meet. “What can I help you with?”

“My friend Michelle here is a writer –“

“Really?” Justin interrupted.

“Really, really,” Ally confirmed and was incredibly proud of her friend. Michelle blushed and looked down at her feet. “She had a book published about two years ago and is currently working on her second.”

“Oh, yeah?” Justin leaned back against the shelves he had been working to fill and crossed his muscular arms over his firm chest. He was interested and was settling in to enjoy the conversation. “What’s this book about?”

“Well, here’s the thing – she doesn’t want to give too much away because the project is still in development and whatnot, but she’s trying to work out some dialogue. She ran an idea by me but really, it needs a masculine touch.”

Justin smiled. “Okay; shoot.”

Ally turned to Michelle, who was still not looking up and who was still not talking. She waited for her friend to man up, to say something – anything – but the silence was becoming awkward and Michelle was making an absolute fool of herself, so Ally intervened. “Well, she wants this male character to say something unique and romantic, something totally quotable. She came up with a line about how he likes the way she says words like ‘crisp’ and ‘crunchy.’ Would a guy ever notice that?”

Justin looked off to the side, thinking the question over seriously. Ally watched him with patient eyes, while Michelle only stole furtive glances spasmodically and sporadically. Michelle thought him handsome and despite thinking Ally was full of shit and only liked to torture her, she was still interested in his response. When Justin turned back to the pair, he caught Michelle looking at him. They made eye contact and he grinned. “I think it’s possible, sure, if the guy’s name starts with the same sound, like if it’s a Chris. Is his name Chris?”
Ally turned expectantly to Michelle. She shook her head.

“Oh,” Justin said and he seemed disappointed. “Well, maybe you should change the words, then, to match the guy’s name. I think every guy loves the way his girl says his name, and not just while they’re doing it. Guys like the way their girls laugh, too.”

Ally smiled. “Well, thank you, Justin. You’ve been very helpful.”

“You’re welcome,” Justin said. He turned from Ally to Michelle. He was smiling. Michelle was only staring. The awkwardness was building and fast.

“Well, okay then. We’ve got to get going,” Ally said, leading Michelle back to the shopping cart the same way she had dragged her to Justin. Justin watched them go.

supermarketromance1

On a rough week.

This week was an emotional rollercoaster of sorts, to be sure.  From the beginning, I knew that it would be exhausting because of parent/teacher conferences and I did feel especially drained, and I suspect that to be the reason why I felt particularly emotionally vulnerable.  I was uselessly anxious and worried about an observation that has yet to occur and find myself increasingly unsure of myself.  My confidence wavers not only from day to day, but from class period to class period.  I console myself by shrugging it off as part of the onslaught of nervousness that it is the first year of teaching, but in my darkest moments, I worry that I am not emotionally or intellectually cut out to be in education.  I do not want to live my life endlessly yearning for Friday or for June; I want to be happy and even more than that, I want to be loved and feel wanted.  With this emphasis on the simple things, I surprise myself by being so taken and so absorbed by the smaller complexities of American life; bills, societal pressures and expectations, employment, etc.  I know I am not the only one who feels this way or has these concerns, but I find little comfort in that.  Is it because I am narcissistic?

On December 21st, the basketball hoop in our driveway fell over onto my car and cracked the windshield.

windshield1

It was not, though there were those who believed otherwise, the end of the world.  But then, nearly exactly a month later, the basketball hoop fell over onto my car again, with strong winds being the culprit, and completely shattered my windshield.

windshield2

Tiny shards of glass wink in the light from the dashboard and the front passenger seat.  It cannot be driven, and it will cost around $200 to have it replaced.

Apex rejected my short story for publication.

No radio station has called me back about my request for an interview, and the library has not returned my call or my e-mail.  I know I have time, but what if my novel is never successful?  What if I am not meant to be a best-selling novelist?  Can I live with mediocrity?

All of these negative ponderings that gnaw at the corners of my mind like some kind of feral, diseased rodent threaten to overtake me.  I verge on succumbing to the depression and futility, but then there are small moments that save me.  I prayed for snow, and though only a very few flakes fell, I was content because I was awake and outside to witness it.  In the middle of my walk, the flurries landed in my eyelashes and on my fingertips and I smiled bravely, beautifully, and triumphantly up to the heavens.

I have lost seven pounds.  Speaking of my diet, the goal this week was to limit alcohol.  I usually do not drink very much, but this weekend, I was invited to a birthday dinner and allowed myself two glasses of wine, which is more than I usually have.  No harm, no foul; the dinner was a lot of fun and I felt like I belonged there, which means more than extra fat around the middle.

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My friends are still supportive of the novel, and have provided with me positive reviews.  Whether or not these reviews are entirely honest is a point for debate but is also inconsequential.

review

The music of Bruce Springsteen always makes me smile.  Today, while walking, I listened to a few songs and though I had been crying, the tears dried up quickly, and so did the frustration and helplessness I felt.  Just a few growled lyrics to a simple, optimistic melody can make me feel like I am infinite.

I am writing again, easing myself back into a daily routine.

 

You win some, you lose some.

On Hurricane Sandy and faulty internet connections.

Every time that I have tried to update this blog, I have been thwarted by an unreliable internet connection.  It is incredibly frustrating and I have been tempted to just give up and save the update for tomorrow, but I have already lost far too much time.  There are so many stories that I have neglected that need to be told.  There is no more time to waste.

Sometimes I think about purchasing a pack of cigarettes and lighting up a long, slender, cylindrical stick of tobacco encased in paper.  I would inhale smooth and deep, let the smoke and tar sufficiently coat my lungs, and then I would exhale all the anxiety, insecurity, stress, and worry – all the really ugly and cancerous toxins.  I have romanticized smoking as an inexplicably dangerous, freeing, and alluring activity.  I think there is something about both the blatant idiocy and sheer recklessness that is strangely appealing.  This notion is strange indeed, given the current socioeconomic climate which is exceptionally health-conscious, but I suppose I am strange.  That adjective used to embarrass me, but now I embrace it fully.  In fact, I think that it is wonderfully liberating.
“Where are you now?  Where are you now?  Do you ever think of me in the quiet?  In the crowd?”

 

It has been quite some time since I have posted a blog entry.  My negligence has not been a result of wanting for inspiration.  Rather, my blog has remained stagnant because of a base, weak aspect of human nature: simple laziness.  I am tired and lacking in motivation to do anything other than sit on my ever-growing ass, let alone create.  Monday through Friday I come home defeated because I am exhausted from work and having a hell of a time adjusting to the shortened schedule because there never seems to be a respite – the immersion in school and grading and paperwork is total and complete because “home” is forcibly transformed into a second office.  The high school instructional schedule runs from 7:00AM to 11:57AM, and then teachers are required to stay until 12:50PM, performing assorted and assigned duties.  We then are required to leave, unable to return to our classrooms and forced to contend with a swamped faculty room and crowded library.  I feel – and I know I am not alone – as if I am constantly moving from space to space without a moment to catch my breath and without a sense of validity or ownership.  It is incredibly draining and defeating.

And for me, when I come “home” in desperate search of sanctuary but am still laden with work and an endless list of obligations, I am still nomadic and without a space to call my own.  I have a bedroom, but it is increasingly cramped for a young woman.  It is literally the smallest room in the house but what is more heartbreaking for me is the lack of metaphorical space and of room to grow.  I am surrounded by reminders of my childhood and adolescence, and of all of the failings, regrets, and shortcomings.  I am faced with physical, tangible mementos and I have to contend with vague memories, cloudy reminisces.  I am engulfed in juvenile dramatics at work and at home, which makes it more difficult to progress and move forward.  I feel stuck and stunted, contrary to any and all reassurances that I am a nice person, doing the right things, and being responsible.  Many of these reassurances come from my parents but fall on deaf ears because the reassurances have an unpleasant ring of ingenuity to them.  If my parents really meant what they said and if they really felt proud, then it stands to reason that I would not have to fight for every single scrap of recognition and praise.  Instead, glowing admiration and heartfelt compliments would be showered upon me and rain down.  That is not the case; I beg and plead for acknowledgement and more often than not, I am sorely disappointed.

I abhor the fact that I constantly look outside of myself for approval and that I am so dependent on others for acceptance.

I am terrified that I demand too much attention from those around me.  I am terrified that my parents do give me enough praise but that it is not enough and will never be enough for me because I am selfish and awful, a bottomless pit of need that no one will ever be able to fill.  I am terrified that I am becoming an obnoxious martyr, that people are tired of me, and that really, I am nothing special or unique.

I had no intention of whining.  I promise that this impromptu pity party began with nobler intentions.  I wanted to write about my cousin Cory and how he is an inspiration.  I was going to captivate and enthrall my audience with humorous anecdotes from my trip to Salem, Massachusetts.  I was planning on most definitely announcing that my debut novel, Her Beautiful Monster, is available for purchase from the Martin Sisters Publishing website (http://www.martinsisterspublishing.com).  I had hoped to post an entry that was a close reading of a particularly spooky passage from Stephen King (or maybe just a love letter to Stephen King) in honor of Halloween, which is one of my favorite holidays.  On Halloween, I should have been watching horror movies and gorging myself on popcorn and candy, but Hurricane Sandy ruined Halloween, devastated the Jersey Shore, and has depressed many of the residents of the Garden State.

            I know that I am blessed and I am incredibly thankful that out greatest inconvenience was being without power for less than twenty-four hours.  My family members, those in Toms River, are worse off, but still have homes and their lives.  I am fully aware of how lucky we are and thank God that we are okay, and being able-bodied and possessing the means, that we can help others.  I know that I talk about getting out of Jersey.  I smile when comedians make fun of the way New Jersey smells – I even commiserate – and I smile when they make fun of the incapability of New Jersey’s citizens to pump gas.  I cringe when I think of the awful, putrid reality television shows filmed in New Jersey.  But New Jersey is my home and I am damn proud of that fact.  My heroes hail from Jersey.  I am damn proud of all those from Jersey, people who bond together through thick and thin, and are always mindful of the brotherhood of man and what that means in times like these.  Sure, I talk – and write – about getting out but Jersey is one hell of a place to come home to and I want that opportunity for me, my children, and my grandchildren.  Homes may be lost, towns may be destroyed, and businesses may be demolished, but all of that can be rebuilt.  Sandy may have knocked Jersey down, but it certainly has not and will not know Jersey out.  As a fellow Jersey native once said, “And that is why our fellow Americans in the other 49 states know when the announcer says, ‘And now in this corner, from New Jersey …’ they better keep their hands up and their heads down, because when that bell rings, we’re coming out swinging.”

           On November 1st, I planned to start anew and come out swinging.

 

I was supposed to start anew on November 1st, but there was an unforeseen complication: my dog, Bijou, was put down that day.  He was fourteen years old and the veterinarian suspected he was dying of kidney failure but without running some tests, he could not say for sure.  However, he could say with one hundred percent certainty that Bijou was dying and he more than subtly hinted that it was time to put him down.  I was okay, not sobbing, until the assistant placed a muzzle on him.  I understand it was a necessary precaution and there were legality issues to be considered, but the idea of Bijou biting anyone is laughable.  To see him so sick and obviously suffering and then muzzled like some dangerous monster was too much.  I started crying and then I could not stop.  He yelped when the painkiller was injected and I held him tighter when they brought us into the other room.  Dad and I sat with Bijou for some thirty minutes, petting him and saying goodbye and telling him he was a good boy and he was.  He did pee on Mom and he did poop in the middle of the kitchen table, but he was wicked smart and damn adorable.  I am really going to miss him.

           Dad whistled and Bijou tried to get up.  He tried to get up a couple of times and I wanted to just take him home.  I am really kind of pissed off that I was in the room when Bijou was euthanized because it was too damn sad.  It broke my silly heart to see his breath hitching and his eyes glossy and constantly slanted so that they were nearly shut.  I am furious that I saw Bijou so worn and so defeated.  It sucks, for lack of eloquence, to lose a pet.  I miss him.  I really do.

Mom cried – and she never cries.  She admits that it is weird without Bijou, but that is all it is for her – weird.  I want her to be right because I do not want to be so sad over a dog that was pain in the ass more often than not.  Every member of my family has hunted him down in the neighborhood when decided to let himself out for a walk.

But he was incredibly affectionate and very good with children.  He could do all sorts of tricks.

            I miss my dog.  I will start anew on Monday, when I do not feel so emotionally gross and when school reopens.  The return to some kind of normalcy will be good for me and for the state.

Tomorrow I am meeting a friend for a late lunch to discuss marketing possibilities for the book.  All of my dreams can be realized if this book does well; it is all I want.

On romanticizing roadkill.

Today was not such a good day.  For the majority of it, I felt overwhelmed and underwhelming.  It was an awful, complicated contradiction in emotion where I was frantic for perfection but fell short of the mark every time, so in turn, I became angry and defensive.  During my prep period, I truly had a strong desire to sit by myself and cry – to just let it all out.  I behaved like an adult and held it together, but I am still on the fence as to whether or not I did myself any favors.

When I was running, I saw a possum lying in the road.  Clearly, the creature had been struck by an automobile and that happens time and time again so in all actuality, there was nothing remarkable about the scene.  However, I could not turn my eyes away.  It’s dark, beady eyes were still open, looking out at nothing and offering nothing.  Similarly, its mouth was still open and I could see sharp, tiny, pointed teeth, as if the poor beast had gone down fighting, teeth bared and snarling against the metal contraption hurtling towards it impossibly fast.  Are possums classified as sentient beings?  Would it have been horrified to see the headlights bearing down upon him, or would there have been just a moment of simple curiosity?  It made me sad to think like that, so I tried to alter my train of thought, but that became impossible when I saw the pavement stained red with blood and realized that somehow, by some scientific logic, the entrails of the animal had exited his frame from the back end and lay whole in the road.  It took a moment for my mind to comprehend precisely what it was that my eyes were viewing, but there was no denying the veins, the tissue and the matter that had once been a stomach or a kidney or something important, something that worked to keep the possum alive.  I felt nauseous and finally, I was able to look away.

Running clears my mind.  It helps me to think and it helps me to be creative.  I know I can describe the scene in more detail, and that will most likely be my assignment for the next few days.  I want to be a horror writer.  I want to be able to create lasting and almost tangible images using only words.  The sight of a possum lying dead in the read is not extraordinary or uncommon, but how can it become grotesque so that a reader can perfectly see it to the point of becoming physically uncomfortable?  That is what I long to discover, and I suppose that will come in time with patience and practice.

Maybe the devil really is in the details.