Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Life of a Migraineur

I love that the term for a sufferer of migraines is French. Unfortunately, that's the only exotic thing about migraines. Unlike my other disorder, this one has no silver lining.

My eyesight is 20/200 and I often read weighty tomes with words printed in 8 point type. I've always had headaches. Most of the time I forget I'm even having one because they're so common. I used to rarely even bother to take pain relievers for my headaches, unless I got one of those tension headaches that made my eyes throb in their sockets. In a perverse way, I thought of my frequent headaches as a badge of honor; a nerd badge from all the reading I did.

At Lipstick, one of our saleswomen suffered from migraines. She always seemed to get a migraine just when I needed her to meet with an important potential advertiser. I suspected her "migraines" were just a convenient excuse. As someone who experienced almost constant headaches, I considered her a lightweight. Not knowing anyone personally who suffered from migraines, I placed them on my list with allergy sufferers -- weak people who didn't spend enough time around germs while growing up.

One day I was sitting in my very loud, very bright office -- my office had three walls of glass, so there was no sound proofing at all against the tide of phones and chatter on our floor -- and I was overcome by the worst feeling I'd ever had. I felt more nauseated than I ever had before. The room seemed to be tilting, the walls melting. Voices that I could normally tune out were shrill and piercing. The light was oppressive -- I felt it would shatter my eyeballs. I had no idea what was going on, but the pressure in my skull was intense. I wanted to cry, to puke, to pass out. What the hell was happening to me? I couldn't speak, but I managed to inch my way down to the back elevator, feeling my way along the wall because my eyes were squeezed shut against the pain. The walk through the atrium was agony. The noise from all four floors of the building had coalesced into a spinning ball of cacophony that lodged in my brain, along with the horrible food smells that came from the cafeteria. Deadly shafts of sunlight streamed through the windows and I thought I would scream. I stumbled out onto the street, and somehow made it to the relative darkness of my car in the parking deck. I called Royal. "Come get me," I sobbed. "I don't know what's happening to me."

The ride home was hellish. Royal had to pull over twice so I could vomit, and the pain in my head was demonic now. I think I begged him to kill me. He didn't know if he should take me home or to the hospital. I just wanted to lie down and die. At home, he put me in bed with a cool cloth on my head and pulled the curtains tight. A handful of Advil later, I felt a bit better. I think I finally slept, although fitfully.

That was my first migraine, and it was certainly the worst. After seeing my doctor, who gave me a shockingly expensive prescription medicine (at the time, it was something like $25 a pill), I was told my migraines were probably hormonal. It seemed my migraines had been brought on by switching to the generic version of the birth control pills I had been taking for years.

Now I get a migraine once or twice a month, and they aren't so bad. I'm prepared for them now with a bottle of Coke (caffeine is a wonder drug) and four Excedrin Migraine tablets. But even when I can dispatch them quickly, migraines have changed my life. I no longer shrug off a headache, I worry that it will bloom across my skull like a bloodstain. I now keep pain relievers in my purse, in my car, on my desk, anywhere that I might need to grab them at a moment's notice. Social plans are often canceled at the first twinge of a migraine. If I'm working, I try to stumble through the pain, but I'm in such a fog that I might as well give in and go to bed.

A migraine can appear on a otherwise perfect day and ruin everything. Like today, when I woke up and actually had some energy. I worked out and was cleaning the kitchen when BAM. A migraine hit and I didn't have a Coke on hand. I swallowed some pills but they just weren't working this time. Two hours in bed helped, but even now I can feel the insistent pressure at the back of my skull.

The worst part of being a migraineur -- besides the debilitating pain, of course -- is that there are no outward symptoms. I don't get a fever, spasms, blotches, a hacking cough, fainting spells or any other outward manifestation that tells people, "This chick is sick." The worst part of getting migraines is that they're all in your head -- and you hope people believe you're not using them as a convenient excuse.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Meanings of Little Debbie Snack Cakes

Little Debbie Snack Cakes are sources of much mystery and wonder. How, I ask, can you create a dessert-like snack so full of deliciousness, yet completely devoid of anything remotely resembling actual food ingredients? By pondering the meanings of these faux pastries, we may truly understand the universe.

What your choice of Little Debbie Snack Cake says about you:
Swiss Cake Rolls: Sadomasochists. Most people are unaware of this, but to really enjoy a Swiss Cake Roll, you must first peel off the "chocolate" layer that enrobes the "spongecake" layer. This requires patience and laser focus, after which you will become so frustrated that you consume the rest of the box in one sitting.
Devil  Squares: Submissives. Swiss Cake Rolls with training wheels. Eat these and taste your shame.
Oatmeal Cream Pies: Traditionalists and/or ironic hipsters. These little "pies" seem so homely and wholesome Americana, yet to eat them is to truly know bliss.
Nutty Bars: The paterfamilias. My own dad eats them by the case. Whenever I pass by them in the grocery store, I think, "I need to call Daddy." They remind me of steel lunch pails and faded blue coveralls.
Far out, dude

Cosmic Brownies: If you said "drug users," nope, wrong. Sadly, these do not contain the drugs the box leads you to believe they do. These are the O'Doul's of snack cakes.
Fancy Cakes: No one eats these.
Fudge Rounds: The sensualist. "Chocolate" and more "chocolate-type product" are pressed together into delicious, creamy harmony. A wave of fudge icing adorns the moist, rich cake. These are sometimes called "slut cakes."
Fall Brownies: The snack of the easily amused. Whenever my husband sees them in the store, he says, "FAIL brownies"and laughs in a manner very like either Beavis or Butthead. Then he snaps a photo with his phone. I don't know what he does with this photo, since he doesn't blog or tweet or anything. He does this every time we go to the store. EVERY TIME.
Pecan Spinwheels: Your inner child. These take me back to third grade. My mom has set out a plate of these and a cold glass of milk for me after school. It's fall, and the windows are open in the kitchen as I unroll the Spinwheels and eat them in strips. Mama is washing dishes while asking me about my day. The TV softly chatters in another room. I am not aware of it, but this is an extraordinary moment. One day I will forget the pleasure of eating a snack in the kitchen while my mother speaks warmly to me.

Also, one day I will be fat.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What do you call this thing again?

Well, hello there blog readers. *crickets* Hello? Hey you, out there in the cold, getting lonely, getting old can you feel me? Sorry, Pink Floyd has been ringing through the recesses of my mind all day.

Some people are just good bloggers, you know? Dedicated to the craft of writing. Determined to make their voice heard in the bloggy wilderness. I am not that kind of person. It's not that I don't have anything to say -- OK, it might be that sometimes -- but once I sit down to write I freeze. I become the most critical of critics. I self-edit to the point where the only word on the screen might be "the." I think of telling a really funny story, then wonder if it might offend someone, mainly a potential client. This is not conducive to the creative process.

National Novel Writing Month is coming up in November, and I'm giving it another try. That's why I want to start blogging again, so I can get into the habit of filling a blank page with more than blather. I failed spectacularly at NaNoWriMo last year. I got to 14,000 words and hit a brick wall. I was writing very honestly about myself and it was. So. Hard. Is that where I'm making the critical error, in writing about  myself? I want to write what I know, and what do I know better than the foibles and idiosyncrasies of myself?

Unless I turn this blog into an homage to the world of Little Debbie snack cakes or a tutorial on power-leveling your WoW toons, I really don't know what else I could write about, other than myself. But really, isn't every blog topic an insight into how a person thinks, who they are? Like this blog post is all about my ability to over-think a plate of beans. Or an empty blog.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Neighborly Relations

When I got home from running errands today, there was a huge plant under my carport. It was a painted lady hibiscus, a big, lush plant with glossy leaves and gorgeous blooms. I assumed it was a gift from my mother-in-law, who is gifted with plants and probably thought I'd enjoy the showy flowers. Then I saw the card tucked between the lower branches.

The card was a pet sympathy card, the second I've received in as many days. (I honestly didn't know this genre existed but I am so glad it does.) A handwritten note on the inside flap said:
We know that pets are part of the family. We are so sorry this happened. There is no way to replace your cat, but maybe planting this in your yard will help you remember him. We are so sorry, Paul & Judie.

Paul and Judie are the neighbors across the street, the owners of the Siberian huskies who escaped their enclosure and attacked Benny. They have always seemed like nice enough people, but we didn't know them very well. The morning of, Paul came over to tell us to send the vet bill to him and he profusely apologized to Royal (I was too busy sobbing in the bedroom to talk to him myself). I knew they weren't bad people, and this was all just a terrible mistake. But I did harbor a wee tiny amount of resentment toward them. After all, their dogs were alive and howling to keep the entire neighborhood awake, while my cat was dead.

The plant and the card really moved me, though. I walked over and knocked on the door, and Paul answered the door, looking a little wary to see me. At his feet was his little black dachsund, Fred. Paul was wearing a black tee with an American eagle on it that I tried to not look at too closely because I was afraid it might be some Tea Party bullshit. Fred was wearing a neon mesh wife-beater. Paul and I had a nice chat, awkward at first. I've never met Judie, beyond waving to her while she's in her yard, and Paul told me all about her job. We talked about what home renovation projects we're working on, and lamented how it's always something, isn't it? We shook hands as I left and he apologized again. It was a nice chat.

Strangely enough, I felt some weird relief as I walked across to my own house. Benny's still gone, but a neighborly gesture helped me feel a tiny bit better about the world.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Goodbye Benny

Two weeks ago our beloved cat Benny -- all of 6 years old, fat and pampered -- was attacked by our neighbor's dogs while playing in our backyard. We rushed him to the vet and he seemed to get better for a few hours. Royal and I began to plan the fence we'd build in the backyard to protect him. The fattening foods he would be allowed to eat. The window seats we would put in all the windows for him to watch the squirrels. Our baby was hurt, but surely he would get better. And we would atone for letting this horrible thing happen to him.

The next day the vet called and said we should put him out of his suffering. Now who will put Royal and I out of ours?

I don't think I really understood the meaning of the word "suffering" before. I've suffered through a bad first marriage, an unwanted pregnancy that thankfully ended in miscarriage (but resulted in two weeks of intense physical suffering), bad bosses who undermined me, boyfriends who thought they could control me. I've suffered the misery of being separated from the man I loved by many months and many thousands of miles. I've suffered from years of depressions, sometimes so debilitating that I couldn't find the energy to even brush my teeth. I've been broke and sick, bereft of friends, miserable with jealousy, curled into a little ball on the bed wondering if this was all there was to life. But until now, I had never suffered this kind of heartbreak.

For people who don't love their pets like children, this all probably seems silly and incredibly melodramatic. The practical side of me sometimes pokes up in my head to say, "Benny was just a cat. Not a child you wanted and lost or a best friend who died. Just a cat." Only he wasn't. He made demands like a child, he listened to me and comforted me like a best friend. He didn't mind the depression or the weird songs I'd sing (although his little face would wrinkle with disapproval). His only task in life, besides ruling our house with an iron paw, was to love me. He had a squishy belly I loved rubbing my face on and practically drooled with ecstasy while being brushed. I loved him so much and I can't bear the thought that I won't see him any more.

Sometimes out of the corner of my eye, I do see him. He was big and white, with a black tail and ears, and sometimes I see a slow-moving bundle of white move past the doorway or I imagine I hear his particularly plaintive meow. As painful as those moments are, when I realize not only is Benny not there but he will never be there, I dread the time when I will cease to see him at all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Look at me

When you pass a stranger on the street, or get on a crowded elevator, or take your change from the cashier, do you look them in the eye? I don't, usually. I'm fairly shy, and I like to make my day-to-day interactions as short as possible. But something strange happens on those rare occasions when I look up and lock eyes with someone who is not known to me. The sense of connection, of awareness of another person is striking. Sometimes it can be scary or feel so intimate as to leave me blushing. Do you feel this way? Do you look others in the eye during your day?

I am obsessed with Marina Abramovic's art piece at MOMA, "The Artist is Present." During her performance, Abramovic sits in a chair, unmoving, barely blinking, while patrons take turns seated across from her. No words are exchanged, but the emotional impact is palpable.

Link-y goodness:
Flickr portraits of patrons
Novelist Colm Toibin's review for NY Review of Books

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A spanking! A spanking!

I'm sorry, this is not a post about "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (collective groan from the audience). Nor is it relating to BDSM in any way, so if you came here via some selective search terms this post will be really disappointing.

This is a post about spankings. The kind you receive as an impressionable child and later seething adolescent at the hands of your most likely fundamentalist parents or unenlightened teachers. Or do liberals spank their children? The liberals I know just burn sage and wave it over the offending child to ward off evil spirits. But I digress...

I got a lot of spankings as a child. A LOT. I got spanked in first grade for talking too loud, for laughing because the boy behind me farted, and once for telling the teacher she was wrong. She was indeed wrong -- Christopher Columbus did not discover America, and I thought all this attention he was receiving was just ridiculous -- and I and my father got a nice apology from Mrs. Smith after Daddy brought this to her attention. (I actually later grew to like Mrs. Smith quite a lot. A nice lady, if uninformed about the discovering of her native land and all that.) I got spanked for throwing dirt at a boy I hated, for sticking my tongue out at the principal (don't ask), for looking out the window when I was supposed to be looking at the blackboard, but mostly for talking. Almost daily in primary and elementary school for talking. In junior high and high school I learned to be discreet and write notes instead.

And those were just the spankings in school. I also got spankings from my parents once I got home for getting any spankings in school. My dad spanked me once for putting a bowl down in the sink that suddenly broke, and my father claimed I had put the bowl down "angrily." Well, I wasn't angry until the spanking happened, dad. 

Once my beloved grandfather spanked me, a fact that sends shudders through the rest of the grandchildren as only I and my cousin Shelly have ever been spanked by him. One of us, I forget which, had been given this toy that involved upside down plastic cups with rubber straps on them that we walked on. I have no idea what they were called. Anyway, we fought over this stupid toy. It was my turn and Shelly was hogging the toy, as she often did, and I was totally calling her on it. We were about 8 years old and arguing over a second-rate dollar store toy on the front porch of my grandparents' house when Papa -- a large, imposing man who rarely displayed any anger -- came tearing out the door.

"What the hell is going on out here?" he bellowed. Before I could get over my shock at Papa saying "hell" in our presence, he had snatched us up and whipped us both. I was mortified. Papas are supposed to be loving and tolerant and give you candy, not spank you on the front porch where God and the entire Slocum family can see you. Funnily enough, my grandfather has a very hazy recollection of this momentous day, and only maintains that we both "probably deserved it."

Let me pause briefly to acknowledge the elephant in the room. I'm sure many of you who know me more than passing well are reading this and nodding your heads wisely. So that's where the rage comes from. Let's save that post for another time. What I would like to share with you now is the most heinous spanking of my memory, a memory that is long and full of probably hundreds of spankings.

It was 11th grade. I was 17. I looked at least 22. I was in study hall, a "class" I was taking because my school required it and I wish I was kidding about that. Our usual teacher, Coach Lightsey, was out that day and we had a substitute. (Note for a later post: Why did my high school have so many coaches masquerading as teachers? Oh, rage building...) I don't remember the substitute at all, only that I think she was a young and rather frail-seeming woman. An easy mark for the bigger, more raucous members of 5th period study hall. Suffice it to say, she did not have an easy go of it as our babysitter that day. Some students busied themselves with just talking loudly, others sang or made quite elaborate paper airplanes. Silly but harmless stuff. Most of us were reading, doing homework, or talking quietly to neighbors, ignoring the poor sub's shrieks for attention. While I would love to say I was reading Plath and writing dark poetry in my journal, I'm about 99% sure I was sleeping, because God made study halls so students could take naps in class unmolested. When I woke up and hastily wiped the drool off my desk, the sub was almost in tears and swore that Coach Lightsey would "make us pay."

By the next day, all thoughts of the substitute had been forgotten. We filed into study hall, rolling our eyes and sighing heavily when we saw Coach Lightsey had returned (he was a bit of a ball buster) and took our seats. Coach strolled up to the front of the class and said, "So what happened yesterday?" Silence. We weren't even sure what he was talking about. Perhaps he had become confused, and mixed up our study hall period with one of the actual subjects he taught (math, if I remember correctly)? He was a coach, after all, and most of us regarded him as tough but rather slow.

"I said, what happened yesterday," he repeated, his jaw clenched and his voice sliding down an octave. This made us squirm in our seats a bit. He was pissed, we could tell. But about what? We all looked around at each other for guidance. The sub wasn't bleeding when she left, was she? Sure, we were noisy, but he can't possibly take issue with that in STUDY HALL, can he? But reader, he did.

"Since none of you want to speak up," he said, spittle flecking those in front row, "you can all report to Mr. Stringer's office tomorrow for a paddling." The room immediately erupted in Say what? or whatever the 1991 equivalent would have been. We were outraged. A paddling! At our ages! I was most outraged because I had slept through all of the hootin' and hollerin' but would be punished just the same. "If someone wants to speak up and say who disrupted class, we will only paddle the offenders," he intoned, his narrowed gaze sweeping the room. I thought for sure the nerds would break ranks on this one, but once it sank in that this was an "us vs. them" situation, the room grew perfectly quiet. Nobody wanted to be the tattletale.

The next morning at 8 am, our class was lined up in the hallway outside Mr. Stringer the assistant principal's office. The chatter at first was boisterous and making the whole thing into a big joke. How cool were we, such a bad ass class we all had to be paddled at once! Such rule breakers! The big guys went first. Since these were the actual "offenders" in question, they felt themselves honor-bound to go first and get the first few licks. We knew his swinging arm would be fresh for the first few students, and start to flag about middle of the field. There were 30 of us, and I was roughly #15 in line. Some of the jokesters had put magazines or folded paper towels in the seat of their pants to cushion the blow, but we all thought this was more about symbolism. Ol' Coach Lightsey showing the kids he meant business.

Then the first kid came out. He was roughly 6'1", 200 pounds and he was holding back tears and rubbing his ass in misery. "Holy shit" was all we could get out of him as he hobbled down the hallway. The line erupted in pandemonium. Some of the girls burst into tears and the rowdier kids were threatening lawsuits. But who were they kidding. This was Mississippi, where civil liberties go to die. We knew we were doomed.

By the time my turn came, I was practically nauseous. I did consider sticking my finger down my throat to vomit and lose my place in line. However, 1) puking in public is probably worse than a spanking and 2) I was a little afraid they'd spank me any way, and I'd be known for the girl who puked and got spanked anyway. I walked into the principal's office like Marie Antoinette to the guillotine.

Mr. Stringer stood off to the side, hands folded, his jowls resting on his starched collar. Coach Lightsey stood beside him and a little apart, the better to get a good swing. The paddle in his hands was like nothing I'd ever seen. It was at least three inches thick and carved with a word that I don't remember. I'm pretty sure the rumor was that it was Coach Lightsey's personal paddle with which he carried out all executions school-sanctioned spankings and it had a name carved into it, like "The Beast" or "The Equalizer" or something. I have mercifully blocked the paddle's name from my memory.

I was told to bend over the desk, which I did with much reddening of my face. The executioner, er, Coach Lightsey spared me a brief, evil smile, then drew back his arm, the paddle raised high into the air. I'm sure it took only a second for the wood of the paddle to meet the acid-washed denim of my Girbaud jeans, but it felt like eternity. I felt I could hear it whooshing through space, seeking to blot out my very heart. Oh who am I kidding? I got spanked by a middle-aged man, just one lick, and then they said, "Next!"

Jesus Christ on a cracker, did it hurt. Tears sprang to my eyes immediately, but I laughed it off when outside with my friends. I could barely sit all day. I felt swollen and bruised, but mostly I felt fucking violated. I wanted to tear Coach Lightsey's throat out with my teeth. How dare he.

Not long after I graduated, I got word that Coach Lightsey had died. He had been sick with cancer for some time and had passed away after a very long battle. While I felt sympathy for his wife, also a teacher, I struggled to find some crumb of pity in my heart for Coach Lightsey but I kept seeing him with that damn paddle. I wondered if he had enjoyed telling an almost grown woman to "bend over" while he spanked her. Did he enjoy that power he had exerted over us, making us fear him, making us feel pain? I knew our little ordeal in Mr. Stringer's office couldn't compare to what he suffered in his illness, but I wondered if he had had any regrets while he lay dying. If he could, would he try to impart wisdom to us in that class, instead of dread? Make us feel enlightened instead of terrified? Would he be a different kind of man, the kind who children wanted to be, if he could go back?

Then my thoughts were interrupted by a friend of mine, who had also been in that infamous class. "Dude," he said, "I heard Coach Lightsey loved that paddle so much he got buried with it." Yeah, I think a man like that probably wouldn't regret a damn thing.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Giving up on writing

The last few weeks, I've heard the same question from several well-meaning friends and relatives: "Have you given up?"

Ignoring the thought for the moment that, in my relatives' cases at least, this refers to my weight -- which has ballooned far north of the ability to wear the fat clothes in my closet -- I'm pretty sure they're talking about my writing. Or lack of it. I still do contract writing for small businesses (and one large corporation I will decline to name), but this is not what anyone I know thinks of as "writing." They want me to write stories.

In the not-so-distant past, I used to write stories. Stories about funny episodes from my childhood, or something absurd that had happened to me as an adult or, more likely, something completely ridiculous I had done that had turned out all screwy. I also used to blog, too, although we all know I was never really consistent at that.

But back to this question, which I guess I was not all that surprised to hear. I have wondered this same thing myself over the last year and a half, during which I got laid off from the magazine I helped found and struggled to find anyone who would give me even the most menial work. The writing I did during this time was angry, self-pitying sometimes and not at all good. Not at all. I am a terrible critic of my own work (aren't we all?) but I felt like whatever creative spark lived inside me had said, "That's it, I'm getting out of here," packed up and joined the Peace Corps. If it ever came back, it was going to be changed and probably all self-righteous. Then I realized it wasn't creativity I was missing -- it was the ability to actually work long and hard at the craft of writing. It's not easy. And those of you who say writing  comes easily are probably writing bullshit anyway.

Here's my struggle with all of this: There's a huge disconnect between what I want to write and what I think I "can" write. I mean what's acceptable to write. I prefer reading, and writing about, the darker, smudgy side of life. I like ambiguity and uncertainty and shades of gray. Humans are more interesting as stained, imperfect creatures. I don't want to write sweet, happy prose about how awesome my neighborhood is or how I am an expert on yada yada subject. I want to tear your heart out. If I can't do that, then I really will give up.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Happiness is hard work

A post on Jezebel today has really got me thinking. Why is happiness such hard work for some of us?

The Jez article cites two books, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness by Ariel Gore and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I stumbled upon Rubin's site a little over a year ago (just in time to deal with my layoff) and her musings on happiness have been tremendously helpful. Most of her theories are no-brainer stuff: do good things for others, be mindful, exercise consistently, incorporate fun in your day, etc. But what has helped me most is the daily reminder to work on being happy. Because for me -- and I'm guessing millions of others since these books have gotten so much attention -- happiness is something I have to work on every single day.

Here's my daily formula: do some meaningful and productive work, do something enjoyable (take a walk, cook a new recipe, have lunch with a friend), do something nice for someone else (sometimes I just retweet someone or leave a nice comment on their blog or I spend an afternoon volunteering) and remember that I don't have to be perfect. It's that last one that's the killer.

Since I really began "working" on being happy I can say that I'm about 150% happier. (Of course, when I started this I had just come out of a trough of depression, so I had a really long way to go.) I'm curious about other people, though. Are you naturally a happy person? If not, do you work on finding happiness?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

100 things about me, the final installment

Are you as sick of me as I am?
81. My breakfast this morning was Nutella straight from the jar and a glass of milk. Breakfast of champions.
82. I used to eat Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch every morning for breakfast, so the Nutella is an improvement.
83. Royal is gone on a business trip to Orlando for the next three days and I am excited about having the house to myself. Not that I won't miss him terribly, but I can listen to 80s music and watch as much crap on TV without fear of him thinking badly of me.
84. I am going to work out today. I mean it.
85. I do all my own stunts.
86. I never thought that at age 36 I would still be living in the South. I like snow. I like cold weather. I don't like collard greens or fatback or even grits really unless they're baked with copious amounts of cheese. I don't watch football, collegiate or otherwise. I wear a lot of black and am sarcastic. I have always lived in the South (born and raised in Mississippi, moved to Alabama at 25) except for a one year stint in Germany. But besides my accent and my obvious roots here, what makes me a Southern girl? I feel lost here sometimes, as if my tribe moved on without me to a colder climate.
87. But here's what I love about the South: really awesome BBQ, the friendliness of strangers, that we have a grocery store called Piggly Wiggly and everybody calls it The Pig, that girlfriends are considered sacred. Who knows, maybe if we moved I'd be terribly homesick. It's possible I'd feel out of place just about anywhere.
88. I absolutely cannot stand the word "fashionista." Or anything with an -ista on the end, unless it is "Sandinista" and we are discussing the tumultuous regimes of Nicaragua.
89. Don't even get me started on "recessionista." Gag.
90. Almost forgot the most important thing I love about the South: pimento cheese. I could eat it every day. Jim 'N Nick's here has a great burger with pimento cheese on it that makes me almost want to whistle Dixie.
91. Royal and I have talked about living in other places, mainly the west coast. I'm drawn to rainy weather and good food, so Seattle or Portland seemed logical. I could also do Minneapolis or some quiet town in the Northeast.
92. I got married in a red dress and spike heels at the courthouse. Royal was in Army dress.
93. After our wedding, Royal offered to take me to the finest restaurant in town. I told him I was really craving chicken wings, so we had that instead. "You're an awesome wife," he said. I so know it.
94. Royal is an awesome husband, too. He has put up with my weirdo tendencies, depression, fits of rage (once I flung all the food I was grilling into the yard saying, "There, cook it your damn self"), utter silliness and crying jags. He never seems to get frustrated with me, even when I'm going over and over the same crap like I'm bothering a sore tooth. He listens and hugs me and tells me I'm wonderful. What else could I ask for?
95. Music I listen to over and over: "Howl" and "Rabbit Heart" by Florence + The Machine; "Heavy Cross" by Gossip; "Freeway" by Aimee Mann; "Maps" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
96. Musical artists I adore: M.I.A., Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Gossip, Talking Heads, David Bowie, Santigold, B-52s, The Go Gos, Annie Lennox, Zap Mama, Outkast, Nina Simone, Chaka Khan. Lots more, but these get the most play on my iPod.
97. I love flamboyant people. I am a pretty reserved person, so people who are completely out there and unafraid are my heroes.
98. There are lots of things I don't like about myself. My weight. My fear of rejection. My crankiness. My inability to bake a cake from scratch. I'm working on these things this year.
99. There are also some things I like about myself. My unerring honesty. How I can make my friends laugh. My love for animals. My compassion for people who have very little in life. I need to develop more ways to be a better person this year.
100. If there's one thing I want readers of this blog to take away from this about me, it's this: I am who I am. I don't put on a show for people, or pretend to be what I'm not. I'm not ashamed of my foibles and flaws. It's taken many years, therapy, lots of books and countless hours of overthinking, but I can at last say, "This is me, and I'm OK."
Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Unemployed for a year

February 13 had an extra special distinction this year: it marked the one year anniversary of my unemployment. While I was hardly celebrating the date, I couldn't help but dwell a bit on it. A whole year. Without a job. The enormity of that statement is pretty soul crushing.

I still remember that day vividly. We were sending the April issue to the printer, and I had come in early to help Michelle go over the PDFs before we sent them off. I had had a bad feeling all week, and my boss wouldn't answer any of my pointed questions -- as in, "Will we have jobs next week?" -- with a direct answer. So I knew something was looming, I was just trying not to think about it.

At 8 am, she called. From the tone of her voice, I knew what was about to happen. Then she said, "Gather your people and meet me in HR at 8:30." So this was it. I had been fretting over it for months, and it was finally here. To be honest, my first feeling was relief. At least I knew now, and I could move on. No more sleepless nights and trying to stay positive (and failing, mostly) for my staff.

We trundled down the stairs to our doom at exactly 8:30. My boss, the director of HR and the publisher were gathered in the room. After going over the technical details of our severance and what not, we were told we needed to vacate our offices by 5 pm. Back in the relative privacy of our offices, we sent off the issue and packed up as quickly as humanly possible. A little after noon, we were throwing boxes in my car, turning in our badges, and hightailing it to Bottletree to wallow in our collective sorrow and rage. It was a low point for all of us.

For me, at least, it got even lower as the months went by. I was drawing unemployment, which was a lifesaver, but I wasn't even getting nibbles on my resume. Doors I had always assumed open to me closed in my face. I was competing against more and more of my friends as magazine after magazine folded all around us. I became ever more disheartened, and finally I just stopped looking.

Depression sunk its black claws into me again. I slept for fourteen, fifteen hours a day, tired of just existing. I stopped communicating with people, didn't answer emails, didn't go to parties or events that I used to enjoy. Part of me wondered if I would ever work again -- sounds dramatic, I know. But when so much of your self worth is tied up in your job, it's hard to see things realistically.

Fortunately, I got tired of being tired and morose. I forced myself to cold call people for jobs, I put aside as much pride as I could and I asked for help. Slowly, and not so surely, I began to get my footing back. Life didn't seem as hopeless as I had thought. I got a couple of reliable freelance clients, and I went on some promising interviews. I didn't get those jobs, but I felt wanted a bit more.

So here I am a year after that dreadful day, and I still feel like I'm fighting to keep my head above water every single day. When I open my eyes every morning, I have to make a choice to be positive or give in to my natural pessimism. Sometimes pessimism wins. I am not naturally positive and it's hard work for me to remain so. But I do it.

To my fellow unemployed (sorry -- "freelance") friends, you have my unwavering love and support. If there is one important lesson I've learned above all others this year, it's that misery loves company. Just kidding! It's that having friends who understand makes all the difference. It does make it easier to get up in the morning, and to get through an entire year being unemployed. I hope we have no other such anniversaries.

100 things about me, Part 4

61. Finding 100 original things to say about myself is surprisingly difficult.
62. I am a compulsive list maker, so you'd think this would be right up my alley. I have whole notebooks filled with various lists, from grocery lists to "things to do before I die."
63. One of the things I want to do before I die: learn to make my grandmother's chicken and dumplings. I've watched her do it, and can never duplicate it. She rolls out her dumplings, so they are more like big squares of dough. But they are perfect and delicious.
64. I love rainy days and settling in on the couch with a good book or a pile of magazines.
65. I have a cat who licks all the condensation from the windows in my office every morning. He's doing it right now.
66. I have keratosis pilaris, or what is sometimes referred to as "chicken skin." My body produces too much keratin and I have the tiny bumps and redness all over my upper arms. This is why no one I know has ever seen me in a sleeveless shirt. It's a pain in the ass.
67. Royal just told me I need to say that I like to talk over other people's conversations. This is a pet peeve of his.
68. I routinely run into things like the corner of the bed or my dresser and have bruises all over my legs. It's like I'm walking through the house in a fog and bam! There's the bed.
69. My dream job was to be editor of a magazine, then I became editor of a magazine. Not my dream job any more.
70. I can overanalyze a plate of beans.
71. Royal and I spent Valentine's Day playing Super Mario and watching Clone Wars. We are not exactly romantics.
72. I hate romantic comedies. Well, except old ones like The Awful Truth or Bringing Up Baby. I am getting so sick of seeing beautiful, accomplished women on screen being treated like they are pariahs because they have no man in their life. And why do they suddenly become these shrill harpies when planning the wedding? I don't know any women like this. And I don't enjoy watching women reduced to a stereotype. Hollywood has some serious misogyny issues, and I don't spend my money on making it worse.
73. I don't like Judd Apatow movies either. Seriously overrated.
74. I'm a pretty sensitive person, and looking for a job for the past year has taken a toll on my self-esteem. I'm beginning to feel unwanted.
75. When I got laid off a year ago, I thought I'd find a job quickly. I'm a smart person, and I always get along great with people. Now, I sometimes feel like I'm begging people just for a chance to prove myself. I know I'm not alone in this, but it feels like it.
76. I promise I will try to make the rest of this list more positive. Just feeling down today.
77. I wish I was more talented with the camera. My cats are looking extra cute right now.
78. Sometimes when I'm driving around town running errands, I get an overwhelming urge to get on the interstate and just keep driving until I reach the end of civilization. In Alabama, this doesn't take too long. I kid, I kid!
79. I am a bad joke teller.
80. I will work a little harder on my last 20 things about me. These were a little tired, I'm afraid.

Monday, February 8, 2010

100 things about me, Part 3

41. I can type about 80 wpm.
42. I can barely write legibly any more, but I think this is a pretty common phenomenon among people who work on a keyboard all day. I wrote out a check today and it looked like a ransom note.
43. I watch a lot of old movies. 90% of my favorite films are in black and white. Colorizing black and white films is a mortal sin in my book.
44. I once interviewed the designer Betsey Johnson. Sadly, it was only over the phone. Still, she was as delightful as you'd expect.
45. My favorite colors are red and purple. I try not to wear them at the same time.
46. When I was a kid, I had a guinea pig named Caesar. Also, a raccoon named Rascal.
47. I think I'm getting asthma. The last few times I've gone walking in our neighborhood, I've gone about ten minutes and started to feel like someone was sitting on my chest. It was almost impossible to breathe in or out. Pretty scary. I sometimes get this when I walk or run on the treadmill, but it's not as bad as when I'm outdoors. Pollution? And no, I haven't seen a doctor about it.
48. I keep trying to become a vegetarian, but I can't quite make it stick. But I probably eat meat less than five times a month.
49. The best thing I've ever eaten was tortellini Gorgonzola at a tiny restaurant called Gino's in Neustadt, Germany (at least, I think it was Neustadt. Royal and I can't quite remember the name of the town). The owners were northern Italians and the pasta was freshly made. Wonderful cream sauce flecked with ham and (as the name implies) Gorgonzola cheese. The second best thing I've ever eaten would be the meal we had at another tiny restaurant, this time in San Gimignano, Italy. Lamb chops, local bread, pumpkin ravioli, a chocolate sampler and some local wine. Simple, fresh ingredients beautifully prepared. I was in heaven.
50. If I could live anywhere, it would be southern Germany. Gorgeous landscape, hearty food, proximity to all the awesomest European countries.
51. When I was in fourth grade, my teachers wanted to promote me to 6th grade because I was so far ahead. My parents let me make the decision, and I decided not to because I didn't want to be that nerdy girl. I still was that nerdy girl, just got to be nerdy among people I knew well.
52. I regret that I didn't do a semester abroad. Money was an issue then, but it would have been well worth it. My English major friends lived it up in London and Edinburgh without me.
53. Places I'd like to see: India, China, Morocco, Ireland, Iceland.
54. I'm a terrible procrastinator.
55. I have a recurring dream about this fantastic house in San Francisco that Royal and I are thinking about buying. I've never been to San Francisco, but it looks amazing in the dream.
56. I almost drowned when I was 6.
57. I fear public speaking more than death.
58. I loathe shopping. It makes me tired and cranky and depressed. Even if I go shopping with somebody else's money.
59. Sometimes I fantasize about going into politics, but then remember that a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, anti-death penalty gal like myself would never get elected in Alabama. Also, there's that fear of public speaking and all.
60. As of this week, I've been laid off exactly one year. Sigh.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

100 things about me, Part 2

21. I am very nearsighted. Can't drive, watch TV or even read without corrective lenses.
22. The nail on my right index finger is stunted and won't grow past the edge of my nail bed. This has freaked out every nail technician I have ever been to. It's not like I have six fingers on that hand or something!
23. I can't stand Ernest Hemingway. Macho crap.
24. I have a weird fixation on fried popcorn shrimp. I will eat them until I'm almost sick. It doesn't matter if I just had them for lunch, I will eat them again at dinner. And again the next day. We never (almost) buy popcorn shrimp for this reason. Are they breaded in crack or something?
25. My husband and I watch a lot of animated stuff. Spongebob, Jimmy Neutron, Avatar (Last Airbender, not that stupid blue alien stuff), Looney Tunes, Fairly Oddparents, the usual fare. But a few months ago I saw my first Miyazaki anime and was Blown. Away. I have never been so enchanted by a film (it was Howl's Moving Castle). Until I saw Spirited Away. And then Princess Mononoke. And Nausicaa. I have the rest of his films in my Netflix queue. Brilliant filmmaking that is a pleasure to behold.
26. But my favorite film of all time is All About Eve. I can't even remember how many times I've seen this. It's just marvelous writing. Bette Davis is at the peak of her considerable powers and her lines are drenched in acid. Funny, delicious bitchfest.
27. Daniel Craig is my favorite James Bond. Sorry, Connery.
28. I drive a stick, and most of the valets in this city are completely flummoxed by it. This is a source of some pride for me.
29. I am pro-choice.
30. I once made out with a boy who went on to get busted for smoking pot in the Mississippi state capitol building.
31. Royal and I have been married 7 years. We married each other less than three months after we met. My parents knew each other only about that long before they got hitched and they've been married for almost 38 years. I hope I can stand him for that long.
32. Royal and I are child-free by choice.
33. We have four fur children who are more than enough right now, thank you.
34. I am trying to be an optimist this year but it's still a struggle. I am a natural pessimist, and frankly I think I see the world more realistically than all you rainbows and unicorn folk.
35. I am much kinder to others than I am to myself.
36. I am much more tolerant of others than I am of myself.
37. In fact, I would say I irritate myself much more often than others irritate me.
38. I am constantly astounded by the kindness of others, and try to remember to pay it forward.
39. I am a horrible dancer, but I do it anyway.
40. I am a terrible phone person. I just absolutely loathe talking on the phone and will try to avoid it at all costs. This means I currently have several friends who are annoyed with me, but I really wish they would email me instead. Are you reading this, Robin?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

100 things about me, Part 1

I started following a new blog last week, Surf's Up Buttercup, because I also stalk her on Twitter. Also, because she is an interesting person and our interests often intersect. For her blog's first post, Laura listed 100 things about herself (or, actually 76 because she was late for church and also has time management issues). I was intrigued, mainly because I figured if I cut it up into lists of 20 I could get five easy posts out of that idea. And y'all know I'm all about easy. What makes this a little more challenging is that, as an extreme over-sharer, I've probably already used up all my good bits on this blog. I'll try to limit myself to unique things you have not yet read about me here or in my scandalous former magazine.
Fasten your seatbelts, kittens:
1. I don't floss. My dental hygienist loathes me.
2. I've never had a cavity. So there, hygienist.
3. I started wearing a bra when I was 9 after my third-grade teacher pulled me aside and told me I was "developing." At the time I was wearing a shirt that my grandma gave me that said "I never get lost because everyone always tells me where to go." I feel there is a profound, Alice Munro-type story in there somewhere but I haven't yet figured it out.
4. My parents almost named me Heather Nicole. *shudder*
5. I was not in a sorority in college, and I am extremely self-righteous about it.
6. I got married at 19 and divorced at 21, which played a large part of why I was not in a sorority. Seriously, those bowheads would have been scandalized by my Jezebel self. Instead, I had an apartment off campus with another divorcee. Stories for another time, as my Daddy reads this blog...
7. My mother used to babysit a boy a bit younger than me when we were kids and he called me "Teen Teen." How freaking hard is it to say Tina? I mean honestly.
8. I have severe girl crushes on Dita Von Teese, Mariska Hargitay and Michelle Obama.
9. I'm afraid of frogs and toads. Probably not phobia territory, but close. When I was a teenager my brother threw a toad at me and it hit me in the mouth. Unfortunately, it was not a Hypnotoad and I did not engage in Toad Licking.
10. I'm allergic to eggs but often eat them anyway, if it's something like quiche.
11. Last week I cut open my thumb using a winged corkscrew. That sucker cut out a good 1/4" of flesh from my thumb. It wasn't the sharp part that cut me, either, but the little corkscrew wheel. Who does this? And no, I had not been drinking.
12. I can't use chopsticks.
13. If you give me a plant, I will kill it. It doesn't matter what kind of plant, or if I try really hard to keep it alive. It will die.
14. I can't stand those "daily quote" kind of things. Say something original. Tweeters are so bad about this.
15. Do NOT send me an email forward, no matter how knee-slappingly funny you find it. I will delete it, complain about it if it's offensive, and consider blocking your emails from now on. Notice to Daddy: This does not apply to you, of course.
16. I love watching people fall down. Just thinking about it right now is making me laugh. Once, my little sister was over at my townhouse in college and I was coming down the carpeted stairs with a laundry basket full of dirty clothes. My socks slipped on the carpet and I tumbled down the stairs, clothes flying out of the basket and my limbs flailing for purchase. I didn't even see this and I think it's the funniest thing that has ever happened. My sister practically wet the couch.
17. My sister and I used to talk about poo a lot. We don't so much any more, but probably because she has two young sons and is probably sick to death of poo.
18. I love curse words. I refrain from profanity in most situations, but I have a few friends with who I can let my freak flag fly. Swear words are marvels of economy of expression. I don't use too many on this blog because I'm not out to purposely offend anyone, but sometimes, gosh darn it to heck, they just make more sense than tiptoeing around them.
19. I once had my picture taken with LL Cool J. I really wish I could find that pic. We look like a couple, for real. He smelled so good.
20. I'm a feminist. Women deserve equal treatment with men. Full stop.
Check back for part 2 tomorrow!

Six Word Memoir possiblities

Just got a cryptic email from my husband that said, "Can u write 6 word memoir 4 ur blog." (Hmm... What is he up to today?) I don't think I have anything as brilliant as Aimee Mann's Couldn't cope so I wrote songs, but I'll give a few options a spin. Here you go, honey:
I am not making this up.
Maybe I am making this up.
Any minute now, something will happen.
Trying to get to just enough.
I just had the strangest dream.
I don't lie, I just embellish.
I know I can do better.

Read some really good ones at SMITH Magazine.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Another year older but none the wiser

Yesterday I turned 36. Birthdays are a bit of a non-event to me, so this day was not auspicious in any way, except perhaps for the fact that I feel like at this age I should really start to act like an adult. My daily breakfast shouldn't be a glass of milk with four heaping tablespoons of Nestle Quik, for example. It's time for whole grains and serious thinking!

So while playing Lego Star Wars yesterday, Royal and I talked about what we felt was holding us back from attaining true adulthood.
"Laziness," he offered.
"Oh yes," I agreed, "I don't think lazier people exist. I don't even bend down to pick things up off the floor, I just try to pinch them with my toes or just kick them out of the way. That's pretty lazy. The question is, how do you stop being lazy?"
We pondered this question while our Darth Maul and General Grievous characters accidentally killed each other on screen.
"Maybe we also need to do stuff that adults do," I said finally, "like play games less and watch CSPAN or read stock reports." We agreed that, although we do enjoy the occasional CSPAN interlude, we were unlikely to take this course of action.
Royal suggested a walk. It was a glorious day, so while we walked we talked about what exactly was wrong with us. We were always very responsible when it came to work. We both worked hard at our jobs (I do work hard as a freelance writer, I just make it seem effortless) but when we came home all that responsibility and effort came to a screeching halt. Cleaning the house was like getting an invasive medical exam to me, something that needed to be done but avoided until my life might actually be in danger. Royal probably doesn't even know where the cleaning supplies are stored in our house, so he's definitely not taking the lead in this. And it wasn't just housecleaning that we were letting slide, but house repairs and budgeting and saving and planning for the future.
We didn't get everything figured out on our walk, but did come to an agreement that a "just do it" attitude and doing things together would go a long way. In many ways, our shared delight in what might seem like childish things to others -- gaming, junk food eating, 14-hour sleeping binges -- has been a source of keeping us strongly tied to one another. I don't know anyone who I could play World of Warcraft with for 8 hours or watch back to back to back episodes of Spongebob with except my husband. While some may think we bring out the worst tendencies in each other. we like to think that we're helping each other keep that inner child alive and kicking.
And at my advanced age, I need all the childlike wonder I can get.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Year of Doing Stuff isn't going so well

Previously on hatched: The Year of Doing Stuff

This isn't quite working out the way I'd hoped. I had to cancel my Spanish class at the last minute because of money. Lack of money, that is. Hubby and I are not on food stamps yet, but we're scrutinizing every penny we spend. I couldn't justify spending money on a night class when we have unpaid medical bills and a house that is slowly eating us, a la The Money Pit. I'm bummed about it, but fortunately the Hoover Public Library is well-stocked with Spanish language instructional CDs.

Also, my volunteering training is difficult. I can't really talk about where I'm volunteering, which I hope doesn't make you more curious about it, but suffice it to say I'm not working with kittens or anything. It's hard work, and I haven't even started yet. The other volunteers and staff are wonderful, though. I'm proud to be working with this great group of people.

Just the thought of bowling fills me with ennui. Maybe it's just January, but I am not interested in doing much of anything lately, besides eating, sleeping and thinking about eating. I put my running shoes on every day but still haven't found the energy to step on the treadmill, which is placed mere feet from my TV. Apparently the only way I'll exercise is at gunpoint.

The only good news? As for cooking, oh yeah, still doing that. I do so love to eat. I made red beans and rice AND peach cobbler yesterday. So all is not lost! Next Sunday is my birthday, so I'm sure the prospect of being just four short years from 40 will put my butt, and the Year of Doing Stuff, back into high gear.

Why should writers blog?

I am fortunate to have many talented writer friends. Most of them are much more accomplished and successful than I am. That's why I'm always surprised when I ask about their blog and they say they don't have one.

There's no rule that all writers must have a blog, of course. I'm sure the ones who are the most successful are too busy writing for money, not personal notoriety like yours truly. But even if you don't think you "need" a blog as a writer, there are many good reasons you should consider one.

1. People want to get to know the real you. If you're writing medical articles all day long you're probably not getting to inject a lot of your own voice in your pieces. What's going on in your head when you're not querying and writing and editing? What are your passions? What ticks you off? Being your honest, true self is often scary. I sometimes wish I could delete a post I've written, because it shows vulnerability or a strange inclination to sing to cats. But the Internet is full of phonies. Be authentic, and I do believe fame and fortune will follow. Eventually.

2. You have something to say, even if you don't know it yet. I have been struggling to come up with good article ideas since getting laid off last year. It's hard to think of something original when the only other beings you come into contact with all day are four unimpressed cats. But blogging should be no-pressure writing. Just say it, even if it's silly or weird or controversial or kind of boring. I fight with this every day, as I think I should only blog when I have something earth shattering to say. The funny thing is, quantity will eventually produce some quality when you blog. The more you blog, the more chances you have to say something that catches the eye of readers.

 3. Try something new. If you're primarily writing straightforward articles, look at your blog as a chance to break out. Write poetry. Post your amateur photos with witty captions. Write a blog as your pet. Post an experiment, such as making something every day or reading and reviewing a book every week. Julie Powell did this and turned her blog into Julie and Julia. Who says you can't have the next big blog thing? If nothing else, the creative muscle stretching will make your writing richer.

4. Show off your expertise. Let's say you are excellent at knitting with cat hair. When you're sending in a query or emailing a potential client, it's simple to say, "I've been blogging about knitting with cat hair for two years" and give links to pertinent blog posts you've researched and written. Ta da, you're an expert. The blogosphere is full of general blogs with inane babbling, like the one you're reading, but the specialty blogs are where it's at. If you're really good at something, a blog is the place to let your little light shine.

If you're reading this and finally decide to create a special blog of your very own, come back and tell me about it in the comments. Or if you are a writer and think I'm full of crap, share that, too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I just won a Major Award

Today was pretty tough. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I put on my "career hat" and look for more freelance clients, full-time work, pennies under the couch cushions, etc. With a fragile ego like mine, it's difficult, and required copious amounts of Betty Crocker whipped frosting just to get through it.

So when I got an email from my dear friend Rachel at Wine and Cheese Please saying I had won a "major award," it completely made my day. A friend of Rachel's, Christine at the wonderful Type A Chronicles, had given her the prestigious "When Life Hands You Lemons" award. In her infinite generosity, Rachel named me as one of the people she was passing this award along to. I was seriously flattered. I often feel like I'm blogging into oblivion and most days it's hard to find the motivation to write anything at all. So kind words go a long way to making me feel like all is not in vain.

In the spirit of the award, I'm supposed to list five things about myself, then link five new recipients and notify them. I'm an oversharer, so I'm thrilled to open up my darkest secrets to you, my three readers!
1. Ok, this one's a bit tragic, but in 2003 Royal and I were in Florence, Italy, taking in the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. We had climbed to the top of the campanile and were taking in the breathtaking view, or, rather, I was struggling to take breaths after climbing almost 300 feet up narrow stairs in knee boots with three inch heels (hello, we were in Italy, not Cleveland). While we were resting, I took a look around at the other tourists and lo and behold, there was Elrond! (For those of you not well-versed in the Tolkien universe, it was Agent Smith from The Matrix.) "Oh my God, Royal," I wheezed, "It's fricking Elrond." Royal, being almost as well-versed in Tolkien lore as I was, was like, "No way." But he looked anyway and squealed, "It is Elrond!" Then he kept poking me and saying I should go talk to him. But by this time Elrond (or Hugo Weaving, as is his real name) was eying me suspiciously. I tried to be nonchalant, but after pretending to not look for a while I couldn't resist and had to steal another look at him. He was staring at me by this point. It looked like Elrond, er, Mr. Weaving, was on vacay with his family. There was a least one woman with him and a few kids. I could practically feel him saying, Put aside the ranger. Become who you were born to be. Take the Dimholt Road. Wait, no, that wasn't it, I could feel him saying, "Don't you dare speak to me, you typical American dolt." So I contented myself with staring at him, until finally he and his whole family grew uncomfortable and descended those stairs very quickly, only to be mobbed by some Japanese tourists on the ground. We were like ships passing in the night!
2. I also saw Yo Yo Ma, the world's most famous cellist, (I'm a HUGE fan) in the lobby of the Four Seasons Atlanta. Also gawked and did not speak. Seriously, the celebrities I see aren't surrounded by a SWAT team so what is my DEAL?!
3. I have not showered for two days. I just remembered this interesting fact.
4. When I was in high school, my dream was to be a journalist. In fact, in my senior yearbook I wrote that in ten years I would be editor of the New York Times. Beyond the sheer naivete of this statement, let's marvel at the fact that I was under the impression that journalism paid well. Instead, I became a well-paid, highly regarded freelance writer. HA HA HA HA HA HA. *Sob.*
5. Whenever I'm alone with my cats, which is probably too often for sanity, I make up songs for them. The one for Benny goes like this:
      Benny! Mr. Kitty,
      Benny! You're so shitty,
      Benny, Mr, Kitty CAAAAAAAAT! (Big finish.)
Unfortunately, one of my cats is named Niblet, and the only thing that rhymes with "Niblet" is "giblet," which doesn't give me a lot of variety in songwriting. Thankfully, he doesn't seem to care.

Now, who to bestow this prestigious award upon? My first pick would of course be to give it back to Ms. Rachel at Wine and Cheese Please, who now has two of these things and will grow a huge ego and be completely impossible to live with. But really, she is the most generous friend. I love reading about her adventures and her unique perspective on things. She is probably the only naturally cheerful person -- besides her mother, who I also adore -- who I do not naturally loathe. Her happiness is contagious, and although I seem to be inoculated against optimism, I do, truly appreciate Rachel's good heart.

I don't really read a lot of personal blogs. Most of my time is spent on places like Metafilter, Jezebel, etc. But one blog I read without fail is It Is What It Is, the blog of my friend Laurel Mills. Laurel means a lot to me. She was the managing editor at Lipstick, and has seen me in more bad moods than my own husband. She has talked me down from many ledges. And she's funny as hell, and incredibly talented.

I know I have three more people to bestow this upon, so I will use this as an impetus to start checking out more personal blogs. I'll start with Rachel's favorites, as clearly she knows a good thing when she sees it! Thanks, Rachel.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Year of Doing Stuff

OK, kids, my resolution this year was to Do Stuff. It's capped 'cause it's important. I don't really Do Stuff, normally. I think about it, roll it around it my brain until it gets covered in lint, maybe discuss it with like-minded Don't Do Stuff-ers. It's getting kind of old.

So this year, I want to become a person who Does Stuff. How, you ask? Well, um, by Doing Stuff. There really is no other way, is there?

I've been thinking about Stuff I want to Do, and I've come up with some ideas:
*Volunteering. So important. I used to volunteer regularly for the local Humane Society, but honestly it became too much to bear. I have serious admiration for people who can do this on a regular basis. It's so hard to see those sweet little faces that have been abused, neglected or just dumped off at the shelter because "I didn't want a big dog." It made me hate people, seriously. So now I'm going to start volunteering somewhere else. I start training this weekend, and I'll tell you more about that in later posts.
*Exercising. I'm going to start Couch to 5k as soon as I get all this caffeine out of my system. See, I'm a big-breasted girl. And caffeine makes my girls hurt. Really, that's all that needs to be said about that right now.
*Bowling. Wait, what? I know what you're thinking. Who goes bowling any more? That's the whole point. Nobody does during the day. My friend Jane and I went a few weeks ago and just had ourselves a big ol' time acting like fools at Brunswick Lanes. We're going to make it a steady date.
*Cooking new recipes. I love to cook and I'm quite good at it. But I haven't challenged myself in a long time. Ok, maybe challenge is a bit much but I'm sick of eating the same stuff. This weekend, I made 44-clove garlic soup and later this week I'm making chicken corn chowder from scratch. It's not Julia Child, but it's a start.
*Taking a Spanish class. I am seriously thinking about going back to school for my Spanish degree. I have always loved languages, and I was fluent in Spanish, once upon a time. I'm taking a class at Samford this semester to see how much I remember, and just for the fun of it.

So what other Stuff can I Do? Any hobbies, events, ideas that I should try? And let me know what you're doing. I could use some inspiration!

I'm being held hostage by my house

Almost four years ago, Royal and I started house hunting. It was exciting at first. We went in houses that were out of our price range (out of our stratosphere, in some cases) and we toured houses that needed a lot of work, or maybe a match and some kerosene. We played "what if" in every room of the houses we liked. "What if we made this closet into a second bathroom?" "What if we made that old patio a glass sunroom?" "What if this house weren't painted pink?"

Some houses I could see myself living in the minute we saw them, like the one I fell in love with in Roebuck Springs. It was a small, tidy house that had obviously been well cared for. Built in the 1950s, both bathrooms retained their original tile (pink in one bathroom and spring green in the other) but it had otherwise been updated. I still weep that we didn't buy that house sometimes. But we wondered if Roebuck Springs was a little too far from the heart of town and especially from Royal's job on 280. Oh, did I mention this perfect little house was only $140,000? That may have been part of my love for it.

We began looking in Bluff Park, although I was sure we couldn't afford anything there. For those who don't know, Bluff Park is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Birmingham. It sits high on a bluff (duh) and has a lot of natural beauty. Some of the homes built at or before the turn of the century (that would be the turn of the 20th century) still stand, but mostly it's a neighborhood of post-WWII ranch homes. We found one home on a quiet street with a huge backyard, but with a bewildering floor plan. The kitchen was oddly shaped, and not at all built for a cook. My mother-in-law Doris, who has a real estate license, was with us on this particular trip, and she pointed across the street. "What about that house?"

"That house" was a gray house with a pagoda-style roof bordered with masses of flowering bushes. It was early spring, and everything in the yard was in bloom in shades of pink, white and blue. Butterflies fluttered amongst the blooms, and I swooned a little. It was all so very picturesque. "Let's go see it," I said, trying to keep the excitement out of my voice.

The home was owned by a sweet little old lady who was moving in with one of her sons due to failing health. There was a piano with a vase of flowers on it in the living room, lace curtains on every window and a aura of long-faded romance. I was smitten. The lady's son showed us around the place, opened all the closet doors (eight closets in all!), pointed out things they had changed in the decades since their mother and late father had bought the house, and walked us down to the creek that ran behind the house. We chatted for a while and said we'd be in touch.

Once we got in the car, I wouldn't shut up. "I. Must. Have. That. House." I didn't even want to look at anything else. I knew this was it. I felt like the house was whispering to me that I belonged there. Royal was a little bemused, as he had not heard any house whispering. "If it makes you happy," was all he said. I was convinced I would indeed never be happy again if we did not purchase this house immediately.

So buy it we did. Doris talked the sellers into a much lower price, and we signed on the dotted line. A month later, it was ours.

Then the trouble began. First, we bought a 36-cubic foot fridge. It was so beautiful and shiny on the showroom floor. But it wouldn't go through any of the doors of our new house. After hours of sweating, swearing and crying, and after removing the doors of the fridge, laying it on a blanket and sliding it up the stairs, we finally got it in the house. Next we started removing the things we hated, like the old plywood paneling and wallpaper in three rooms. I had budgeted two days for this. Three weeks later we finished the wallpaper. The walls were damaged, and so was my love for the house. Everywhere we turned we found something that needed to be fixed. Rotten wood around the windows. Leaky pipes. Eletrical outlets that were wired backward. An air conditioner that stopped working the day it hit 105 degrees in Birmingham. A roof that had been put on incorrectly. (And yes, we did get a home inspection before we bought the house.) And on and on and on. It still hasn't stopped. Sometimes when Royal and I start listing all the things that need to be fixed in the house we both get depressed and drop the subject for a while.

Meanwhile, our lives are on hold. I want to travel again and go back to school, but we feel like every penny needs to go into the house. On top of feeling trapped, I feel guilty. Who was it who just had to buy a house? Oh, that was me. I feel stupid sometimes for not seeing the house for what it was. And I kick myself for being such a perfectionist that I couldn't just freshen things up with paint and call it a day. No, I just had to get out a sledgehammer and then complain about what a mess had been made.

I have no idea when, or if ever, this house will be finished. My mother claims that no house is ever "finished," that there is always something you can find to improve or update and things are always getting old and breaking down. Intellectually, I know this. But emotionally, it's another matter. I fell in love with this house, and I, like someone in love, expected it to be perfect. Once I saw that it wasn't, my love faded. Now my house is holding me hostage. It's not ready to sell (and I wouldn't try in this market) and the unfinished projects stare me in the face every day and remind me of my failures to plan, to anticipate, and to use common sense instead of emotions when buying a house.

This house is my life in microcosm. I had one idea in my head of how it should be, and it turned out another way -- or it's just taking me far too long to get to where I think I should be. Isn't this the way of the world? If we don't have those pictures in our head of that perfection we so desperately desire, how can we ever hope to get close? I want to be one of those people who is happy with a roof over their head, windows that open and close and running water. I should just be happy that I even have a house to live in. But I can't, because I want more. I want the best house on the street, in the neighborhood. I want it to be perfect in every way. I want the same thing from my life.

Is that too much to ask?

Friday, January 1, 2010

For my "fans"

Hello, Bennett family relations and West Marion High School grads. (Go Trojans!) I've received a few emails this week that shocked me. Apparently several of you actually read this blog. At first I panicked a little, because I like to reminisce about events in my childhood so I had to do a quick check to make sure I hadn't named any of you. With that out of the way, I could then panic about not having anything original or interesting to say. How to keep my new audience engaged?

I considered just making some stuff up. It's not like you'd know the truth, with none of you living in Birmingham. Those of you who see my parents on a regular basis might be tempted to ask them, "How did Tina like meeting the Dalai Lama?" and my parents would figure this probably didn't happen, but they know me well enough to place a call first.

With this fresh new year upon us, I got another idea. How about I actually start doing some things worth blogging about? I can leave the house and visit other people, maybe get a job (eh, maybe). I can stop reading about adventure and start having one of my own.

I announced to my husband last night that 2010 would be the Year of Doing Stuff, Not Just Talking Vaguely About It. He's holding me to it, and I hope my three or four readers will, too. But if it comes down to it, at least I can come up with some spectacularly tall tales.