Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Little Too Emily Dickinson Around Here

Why is it that UPS deliverymen are always so unbelievably hot? You might argue it’s the sexiness of those little brown shorts they wear in the summer, but it’s unseasonably cold here—below freezing for maybe the first time in six years of mild Seattle living—and the unbelievably hot UPS guy who just came to the door was all covered up in long pants, a jacket, and a ski cap and still he was delicious! I’m sitting in my pajamas on the couch covered up with blankets and surrounded by sexy morning essentials like a dirty coffee mug, a crumpled bag formerly containing a slice of pumpkin bread, and a pile of used kleenex, and the UPS guy waved! At me! Oh, the thrills of being a stay-at-home writer!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


On the airplane this morning en route to San Francisco Dr. Fiancé pointed out, not for the first time, that it’s time for us to get serious about making wedding plans. I refrained (not for the first time) from pointing out that I was excited about such things back in the summer when he proposed but the moment sort of... passed. I’m now just as terrified as he is of everyone we know staring at us as we say mushy things to each other in a public forum and people throw bird seed into our hair.

Instead of forcing it, why not wait until we’re excited to get married? Why not wait until a fun way of doing the deed presents itself instead of going around and around trying to force plans that don’t seem quite right? Elope to Italy and get married in a gorgeous ancient Tuscan palace? But we don’t speak Italian and if we’re making lifelong vows, I for one would like to understand what I’m agreeing to. Elope to Ireland and get married in a gorgeous ancient church? But we’re atheists. Elope to DC and get married in the Supreme Court? They don’t do that kind of thing. Get married in Iowa City the traditional way? The chapel is still closed from the June floods. Get married in Iowa City in the Old Capitol Museum? Which is doubling as the art museum since the art museum is still closed from the floods and the winter exhibit is... let’s see... portraits of Iraqi torture victims. So many options, each one providing an opportunity for anxiety, fear, and terror to sing their shrill little siren songs.

Why not just do as the Europeans do and live in sin and make cute babies who wear stripey leggings and play with wooden toys and not worry about throwing some big expensive party where we make people wear uncomfortable clothing and eat rubbery chicken and dried-out cake? Wait? What’s that you’re muttering? I can’t understand your accent... Universal what? Health what? Who gets paid to stay home raising their own children?

I suppose there are some practical considerations. Like the fact that I make 30 times less money than the man who would be impregnating me and that the state-funded health insurance I’ll be lucky to get soon only covers 12 mental health visits per year—so about a month’s worth—clearly not be enough to get me (and by extension poor Dr. Fiancé!) through the mood swings of pregnancy, if the mood swings of PMS are any indication. Dr. Fiancé's health insurance, on the other hand, covers, like fifty 'leven mental health visits, 492 massages, 12 pairs of eyeglasses, unlimited unnecessary prescriptions, and, best I can tell, anything from Crate & Barrel that would make one's stay on this planet more comfortable.

I think about my friends who can't get married just because they have the same equipment as their mate and it feels like a waste to not get married. When California passed Proposition 8 last month, I wondered what Dr. Fiancé and I would do if we had matching private bits and wanted to get married. We're both so contrary, we probably would have taken a little marriage jaunt to Massachusetts or Connecticut just to stick it to the man.

Are we dragging our heels through the wedding-planning process for the same reason we resisted watching The Wire for so long? Too many people telling us we had to, that it's the greatest thing ever, that the first few seasons are a little rough but then it gets really good and soon we'll be obsessed with it just like everybody else?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Caribbean Hot Spots

Nobody ever taught me how to go on vacation. Sleeping in, eating a leisurely multi-course breakfast, wandering down to the beach to sit on a lounge chair and read or nap or eat snacks until heading to the lounge at 5 to drink a blended margarita the size of my head—these activities do not come naturally to me.

I’m more of an anxious, thinking-all-the-time, headache-prone sort of a person. In graduate school, when both my abilities and budget for vacationing were at an all-time low, I started getting migraines all the time. They weren’t the crippling kind where you feel like an ice pick is stabbing at your eyeball from the back of your head and you throw up a lot—they were just the kind where you feel like a dowel rod has been gently nudged through your temples and like you might be the descendent of worms or moles or other subterranean, sun-averse critters who would rather be somewhere dark and peaceful and devoid of English professors.

This is to say, I was able to function, but I wasn’t a very reliable dinner date.

After trying a spate of expensive prescription drugs that didn’t work, I tried thermal biofeedback—a process in which a man who’s supposedly a doctor tapes a thermometer that’s connected to a computer graphing program to your index finger to show you that even when you think you’re calm, you’re not.

Supposedly, a 70 degree finger indicates an aroused autonomic nervous system—a body in “fight or flight” mode. Supposedly, a relaxed person’s finger is 98 degrees. Supposedly some of us are always tense, even when we’re on a beach in Mexico or otherwise deluding ourselves into believing we’re relaxed. People like us apparently need a computer graphing program attached to our finger to show us that we’re not really relaxed. If we were really relaxed, our temperaure line would be at a balmy Caribbean 100 degrees, not slumming at a Seattle summer 70.

The supposed doctor that “taught” me biofeedback—by which I mean the guy who taped a thermometer to my finger and then left the room muttering “Just try to relax” every Tuesday afternoon for ten weeks—he seemed quite relaxed. He appeared to have always just woken up from a nap: wrinkly Dockers, wrinkly oxford, wrinkly lines around his eyes. He never spoke in a voice above a murmur. He reminded me of this kid I used to baby-sit who, at the end of a particularly long winter day of being cooped up indoors, whined, “Let’s doooooooooooo something! I’m sooooooooo borrrrrrring!” This doctor guy was boredom incarnate.

“Just ... relax ... and make ... the line ... go up ...” he explained to me on my third visit after my line and I had made no progress. I explained to him that I have perfectionism issues and if you show me the high water mark on a line graph, I will get there, by god—but this uptight approach didn’t seem like it would help me calm down. It seemed contraindicated, right?

How was I supposed to relax? He offered no suggestions.

When my frustration began to show up in the form of crying, Boring Relaxed Doctor Man suggested I get a therapist—forgetting I already had one. I fumed as I untaped the wire from my chilly finger for the sixth, seventh, eighth time, my head clenching all-too-familiarly into a migraine as I forked over my co-pay. Who was this rumpled man with the pronounced après-nap demeanor, and what were his credentials?

“What if this just doesn’t work for me?” I challenged on my ninth day. He gazed at me through half-closed lids and said, “Well ... there is ... a class ... a sort of ... mindfulness class ... It’s where I send people ... with ... ... ... how should I put this? ... ... ... extremely ... active minds ... ”

Basically, I was so bad at relaxing that the Boring Doctor fired me.

Did I mention how much I hate boredom—in all its incarnations? And how happy I am that the doctor to whom I’m engaged is hardly the type to recommend “mindfulness” classes to anyone, blessed as he is with an extremely ... active ... mind of his own?

Here we are on a beach in Mexico, and I confess, I’m the tiniest bit bored. I’m not complaining—that would be rude—I’m just saying that sometimes relaxation is ... boring.

I’m wondering what to do with myself.

After I’ve read all my books and eaten all the snacks and taken so many naps I’m unable to speak in a voice above a murmur—after all that, what’s there left to do?

I mean, I suppose I could put on my bathing suit and do a forward summersault into my giant blended margarita and swim around for a while. But the problem with doing that is I’d no longer be officially relaxed because surely my fingers would get icy cold all over again.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

We'll Always Have Paris

Last spring it was Paris. Everyone I knew swore I’d love the city. “It’s totally you!” my co-workers at the magazine gushed. The clothes! The flea markets! The shoes! The chocolate! “Let yourself charge things to your credit card,” advised an impoverished artist friend. “You never know when you’ll be back, and the debt is totally worth it!”

My main foreign travel to date had been a semester in London when I was 21. I imagined a magical vacation: The architecture and artwork would be incroyable, the old cobblestone streets and alleyways incomparably charmante, the shopping fantastique. Our mornings would be filled with delicious coffee and pain au chocolat, our afternoons with delicious fromage and baguettes, our evenings with delicious wine and steak au poivre, our nights with delicious sex—and maybe another pain au chocolat. I expected flea markets overflowing with vintage coffee pots and cookware, yellowing French flashcards and children’s books, old wooden crates printed with French text and inexplicable drawings of kittens. I anticipated trying to coax Dr. Boyfriend to buy the shoes, coat, and antique pie safe I could neither afford or live without.

I pictured all the Parisian bakeries we’d visit: scores of baskets stuffed with lightly browned baguettes, multi-tiered trays piled ambitiously with crisp, perfectly formed crescent shapes and plump rectangles oozing hints of chocolaty goodness, obscene racks of velvety Napoleons and generously frosted éclairs stacked as high as the eye could see or the arm could reach, local housewives and businesspeople and school children clamoring for the exact pastry of their dreams. We’d sit near the window drinking the best coffee in the world while contemplating cubism and existentialism and the baffling popularity of the beret.

Basically, we were screwed.

My expectations could not have been higher if I stuffed them into a suitcase and sent it to the moon. Paris couldn’t have lived up even if every single Parisian had been on their best, nicest behavior—which of course is not possible.

Our first morning we set out for the bakery The New York Times claims sells the best croissants in all of France. “Why eat some random croissant nearby when we can have the best?” I reasoned. The doctor gave me look of skepticism—or was that fear?—and warned that he wasn’t sure how long the walk would be. “Who cares? It’s Paris!” I replied, dragging him by the arm and pretending to be the happy-go-lucky person I frequently imagine he’d rather be with.

Jetlagged and undercaffeinated, we started walking... and walking... and walking... a million kilometers until finally the doctor gestured across the street and said with an adorable little French-ish accent, “Voila!” Where? Where was he pointing? I scanned the block for a bakery window display unlike any I’d ever seen, overflowing with magically buttery offerings. Eventually my eyes landed on the word “Patisserie” above a window containing ... six, maybe seven, loaves of ... unwrapped Wonder bread? The best croissants and baguettes in Paris looked a awfully lot like the ones they sold back home ... at Safeway.

Holding out one last bubble of hope, I reasoned that maybe what I knew about croissants in America didn’t apply in France? Maybe a croissant that looked like it had been made by the Pillsbury Dough Boy would turn out, in Paris, to be incroyable?

I took a bite of a limp, bready pastry and struggled to keep a stiff upper lip. Where were the crisp, buttery Parisian points? The millions of layers of translucent French dough flaking off onto my bosom like a million springtime cherry blossom petals? “Aren’t they amazing?” my generous, eager-to-please, well-intentioned future mate asked, smiling nervously. I swallowed my disappointment and nodded, but the tears in my eyes were a dead giveaway.

I am a perfectionist.

I have insanely high expectations.

I will always drive you a little crazy.

And I love me my pastries.

Now, here we are, nine months later in Mexico. My expectation of Mexico was, lamely, that it would be full of bad coffee, bland meals of rice and beans, and bandits stealing our cash and Dr. Fiancé’s laptop.

Naturally, we’re having a great time.

Wish you were here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Spring Break in November

Dr. Fiancé and I are, as I write this, on our way to Cancun. Cancun, Mexico, wet t-shirt contest capital of the world.

To explain, Dr. Fiancé had a free companion ticket, this is the airline’s one “international” destination, the fiancé gets twitchy if he hasn’t left the country in a while—especially during the Bush administration, it’s November, we live in Seattle, and he’s a doctor. This is the kind of thing doctors do, apparently, especially when they have fiancées who aren’t inclined towards “rugged adventure”—fiancées who don’t own hiking boots, (don’t want to own hiking boots because that would mean they’d have to hike), don’t own a proper backpack, (see previous), and don’t believe that a vacation should have to involve any sort of training or conditioning other than maybe learning the Spanish for, “Can you point me to a soft place to lay down and rest for a bit?”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Technosexual Thanksgiving

Dr. Fiancé and I flew down to LA today for Thanksgiving weekend. Again, it’s weird (and by “weird” I mostly mean “guilt-inducing”) to travel anywhere other than Iowa to visit my mom, but we made these (nonrefundable) plans long ago, and my mom seems to be doing quite well, thank you very much—no side effects from the radiation, and she has my brother around to shovel the driveway and drive her to doctor’s appointments from now until New Years. (You hear that, guilt? She’s fine! And she'll continue to be fine for the next 10 days while Dr. Fiancé and I take a much-needed, much-anticipated, much-long-ago-planned trip to Mexico!)

Ah, Thanksgiving. A time to enjoy the bounty of the season, to gather with loved ones, to reflect on Thanksgivings past, like last year's, which I spent in the bathroom of my grandparents’ assisted-living apartment unit sipping vodka from a flask my cousin—who had been there before—thoughtfully brought along while my parents and uncle and cousins played Bingo with my 83-year-old grandmother who kept asking my mom who I was and my buttoned-down white-bread some might say uptight 83-year-old retired junior high math teacher grandfather announcing that he would really like to watch When Harry Met Sally because he loves that scene in the restaurant where the blond woman sits at a booth eating her salad and pretends to have an orgasm.

And, oh yes, the year I'd just been dumped by a man I'd contemplated marrying and boldly accepted a “nontraditional Thanksgiving” invitation from some people I barely knew—friends of my second cousin who I met at his wedding the previous year. “No families, no stress, no formality,” they advertised. What they did not advertise was that they’d be sitting around in t-shirts that said “Technosexual: A New Kind of Sexy” watching robots providing running commentary on sci-fi movies (thank you, Mystery Science Theater 3000). They also didn’t advertise that they wouldn’t gracefully accept “no” as an answer to, “Would you like to pose... for some pictures... in the studio?” “I was nervous at first,” one of the women confided, trying to pull me toward the darkened doorway, “but once I got naked it was really fun—and totally empowering” [shove, shove]. If I'm going to pose for porn photos, I'm sure as hell not going to do it for a photographer who fantasizes about having sex with robots. I mean, a girl's got to have rules.

And the Thanksgiving with the Lutheran social service volunteers! The mismatched plastic dishware! The cards at each place setting providing a brief, bloody history of American imperialism! The tape recording of Native American music punctuated by people saying things like, “I’m thankful for smallpox blankets.”!

Tomorrow's Thanksgiving will be my first as a child-of-divorce by-proxy. Originally Dr. Fiancé and his family had planned to continue their tradition of the past twenty years of having two Thanksgivings—two turkeys, two stuffings, two pumpkin pies, two days of self-medicating with Jack Daniels, like so many modern families—but a few weeks ago my Future Brother-in-Law proposed inviting everybody to one central celebration instead. And, much to Dr. Fiancé’s anxiousness, everyone agreed. Fingers crossed, we’re heading to the farmer’s market for fresh produce—the one (and until I met Dr. Fiancé the only) thing I’ve always liked about LA.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Band Names

I came across the word “soup” on a scrap of paper earlier today, written next to the name “Debra Mayhew.” I haven’t been feeling culinarily inspired lately—and by “lately” I mean for the past two or three years—but when I saw Ms. Mayhew’s soup cookbook at a friend’s house a few weeks ago I felt myself almost wanting to make some of the recipes in the “autumn” section—those rich, creamy mushroom soups and thick, orange squash purees... I looked the book up on the library’s on-line catalog this afternoon, and it said that it could not find any results for “Debra Mayhew”—was I perhaps trying to search for “zebra mayhem”? So I searched for “zebra mayhem.” I was pretty disappointed when I got zero results for that, too.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

New Glory

I've lived in liberal places my entire life. The town I grew up in was nicknamed “The People’s Republic of Johnson County” and provided a happy home—complete with a seat on the city council—to a prominent member of the Socialist party throughout my childhood. I got my undergraduate education at Swarthmore “Where Women Will Shave Their Heads But Not Their Legs” College, where campus Republicans numbered twelve. Then I spent two years in Madison, Wisconsin, happy home of The Progressive and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. And I'm sure you've heard about Seattle's organic-produce-eating, WTO-protesting, gay-rights-marching, church-shunning, tofu-friendly, compulsively recycling populace.

When I returned to Iowa City for graduate school in my mid-twenties, I told the guy I was dating I was thinking about moving to Seattle after I got my degree. “You can’t just flit from one liberal hotbed to the next,” said the man who had left the liberal—and beautiful—Oregon coastal college town of his youth for Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home of General Mill's and Quaker Oat's stinky cereal mills and Cargill's even stinkier corn wet-milling plant. (Cedar Rapids gave itself the nickname “the City of Five Seasons”—the traditional four plus a fifth season: Time to enjoy the other four. But growing up downwind, we said the fifth season was the smell.) “This is real life,” my Gender-Studies professor boyfriend argued, right before hopping in the car to drive 25 miles to Iowa City for organic carrots and soy milk and a copy of the latest issue of Granta from Prairie Lights bookstore where Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, and e e cummings used to try out their newest work on Iowans.

Was he right? Is there something wrong with hopping from one liberal town to the next? Am I elitist? rigid? self-limiting? Is that a problem? Will I lose touch with The People? Have I ever been in touch with them? When George W. Bush’s approval rating soared to 90% in the days shortly after September 11th—the highest approval rating ever recorded for any president—I looked around at my Bush-hating creative writing graduate student colleagues and wondered—frequently out loud—about that 90%. “Who are those people?” Every person I knew was in the other camp, the 10% camp—well, everyone but one uncle in Texas who is not a blood relation.

Yesterday (and in the early voting days leading up to yesterday), 52% of the nation voted for an urban, Harvard-educated, blue-state African-American liberal. Hallelujah, praise Jesus, and hot damn! In the People's Republic of Johnson County and the county surrounding Seattle, 70% of people voted for him. Everyone I know voted for Obama—including the not-related-by-blood Texas uncle who twice voted for Bush and the now-infamous white southern couple who, when asked by a reporter, said they were voting for "the nigger."

So I'm wondering, on this post-election day, this glorious antidote to the one four years ago when we donned our mourning clothes (or at least the dramatic among us did) and stumbled about in an incredulous and horrified haze, is it maybe possible that perhaps, ever so slowly, "Real" America is becoming a teensy, tinesy bit more like the liberal make-believe lands where I myself have always felt so at home? Might every American one day drink organic, antibiotic- and rBGH-free milk and recycle even their smallest paper scraps?

Today, as I troop though three airports on my way from the liberal hotbed of my youth to the liberal hotbed of my adulthood, a small American flag sticks out of my handbag, a token of my glee, my hopefulness, my pride.

Yes. Today, I am proud to be an American.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Yes we can! Yes we did! Yes, yes, yes!

Into the Fold

My Future Mother-in-Law got a taste of Iowa politics yesterday morning when the three of us joined fifty or so other Democrats in a rally for Barack Obama at a local pizza parlor. We had front-row bar-stool seats and got to shake hands with the region’s congressman, the lieutenant governor, the governor, and longstanding senator Tom Harkin, plus all their spouses.

The whole affair made me nostalgic for my politically active days—back in the early nineties before I was old enough to vote. It's definitely not heaven, but there is something about this place... or maybe it's just that I grew up here—and that’s why I care about ethanol and hog lots and river contamination from farm run-off to a degree I can’t seem to reach in Seattle? I care about logging and shipyards and Boeing—just not enough to want to get involved. When I’m in Iowa, I can see myself running for office. In Seattle, I can see myself... voting on a fairly regular basis. Should I move back? Raise my kids here? Show them how to live passionately connected, involved lives? Teach them the value of hard work via mowing and raking and shoveling and then mowing again? Would Dr. Fiancé and I go insane in a town of 60,000 people that never gets any good movies and where the best coffee is (I'm sorry, but you try living in Seattle for six years and see if you don't become a coffee snob) Starbucks? Or would we live in—god help us—Des Moines, a town of 194,000 that never gets any good movies and where the best coffee is (again, apologies) Starbucks?

My Future Mother-in-Law called from her hotel this morning to ask if we’d seen the college paper? She’d gone to the market for a copy of the New York Times and got distracted by the Daily Iowan. There on the front page, sitting on bar stools and smiling up at Iowa's favorite senator were Dr. Fiancé, his mom, and me, tightly clutching paper cups of not-strong-enough coffee, but other than that, blending quite nicely with the locals. In town for 36 hours and already on the front page of the local paper. God, I love Iowa—especially when I'm just visiting.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Brave Hearts

I taught at the high school for the third time today. My heart isn’t really in it yet—in fact, I don’t really know where my heart is lately. Hibernating, maybe?

I asked 90 tenth graders to write short essays in the form of personal ads. One brave boy wrote, “Loves making music and traveling at high speeds. Daring. Sort of smart. Lacks confidence. 16, male, wishing for someone to help.” One of the girls said, “Seaching for a new family, preferably sane. Looking for a new me, too. Same requirements.”

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Writing on the Wall

Dr. Fiancé and I rented a U-Haul and moved the last of my things out of the old school yesterday. It’s remarkable—and exhausting—and ridiculous!—how much a person can cram (artfully!) into a 20-by-20-foot space. You think you've emptied out your filing cabinet, but then your fiancé pulls open the second drawer from the bottom, the one full of stuff you might need for an art project some day: your mom's old dollhouse dolls, a plastic "no smoking" sign, a pewter creamer that might be a family heirloom, some old forks, a glue gun... This move has been like a parade of clown cars—the cars keep parking in the alley and stuff keeps coming out, making a mockery of efficiency, organization, and simple living. The guest room is now crammed full of boxes, and the dining room and foyer have become home to bags, boxes, and piles, too.

Moving in for real will have to wait until Dr. Fiancé and I have returned from Iowa and settle back into a routine—if we can do that with a mattress and two headboards leaning against a piano in the dining room and a bedroom of boxes threatening to crash down onto our heads from the second floor.

At the Old School today I wiped down the sink, swept the floor, shut the windows, and wrote a note on the chalkboard for the next tenant, asking them to take good care of a place that took good care of me. Then I left the keys on the counter, turned out the lights, and—for the last time—pulled the door closed behind me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Free to Be

Growing up, I wasn't a girl who imagined her wedding day. If asked I would have said, yeah, I planned on having a husband and children, and sure I’ll have a wedding someday. But if I'd been asked a single detail—location, attendants, kind of flowers, cake, dress, groom, color of flowers, cake, dress, groom—I wouldn't have had an answer. For an entire decade I couldn’t have even specified the sex of the “groom.” I’ve never been a big “imagine my future” kind of person. The main way I’m aware of having expectations of things—events, people, situations—is when they fail to live up. That way you get knocked flat on your ass with disappointment—totally unaware!—on a regular basis. And if you’ve never pictured the future, it’s difficult to know whether you yourself are living up. Living up to what? Exactly.

If a person doesn’t know what she’s working toward, how will she be motivated to get anywhere? If you aren’t clear on what you wish for, how will you know to jump up and down when it arrives? If you’ve never envisioned what you want in a mate, how will you know when the right person emails you on Match.com? Before I met Dr. Fiancé, I dismissed such questions with a wave of my hand and a plugging of my ears. My parents raised me to be spontaneous, noting that life takes us in directions we never could have imagined. Careers will involve tasks and technologies not even invented yet, and friendships and love affairs will occur with people we couldn’t have dreamed up. It’s the creative writing approach ... what do you mean outline? (The plugging of the ears came from the nagging notion that other peoples’ ways through life are the right way and since I can be quite a good outliner, fully capable of making a to-do list and getting deep satisfaction from crossing things off the list—preferably with a fat Sharpie, maybe I was kidding myself thinking that the creative approach was the best one for me. That is to say, I was plugging my ears against something I didn't want to consider.)

Beyond college, I had no plan other than to “live my life,” whatever that meant. When I was in second grade everyone in class had to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up. The drawings would be made into slides and projected onto the wall of the cafetorium as we sang “When We Grow Up” as part of a school-wide performance of Free to Be You and Me. My classmates drew doctors and pilots and railroad engineers. I stared at the blank page wondering, “How do you draw nothing? And will I get in trouble if I don’t make something up?” It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be something or was convinced I wouldn’t live to see 29—I just couldn’t put my desires into words, much less pictures. I wanted to be a mom, but that clearly wasn’t what the song was getting at. Beyond that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up and I didn’t want to hem myself in. Also, I'd kind of taken the title of the show to heart and didn't want to become something so much as to just be myself. In the end, I drew a teacher.

Dr. Fiancé and I have been engaged for three months and besides the type and color of groom, I don’t have answers about what our wedding will be like. Other than the ridiculously poufy dress I bought at Goodwill, I haven't specified—can't even imagine—the details. This probably has less to with my penchant for not outlining my life and more to do with Dr. Fiancé and I having a lot of stuff to sort out before we’ll be ready to have—much less plan—a wedding (and by “stuff” I mean that we have to figure out whether we can find a way to resolve conflicts without giving each other an ulcer or a bad case of manic-depression). But maybe if I could picture the event—or perhaps the shared life together after the event—I could calm down and have faith that we will have a life together. Can I not picture our wedding because we’re going to break up and I’m psychic (who knew?!) and for a psychic to be able to picture an occurrence, the occurrence has to eventually occur? Can you imagine how exhausting it is being me? Can you imagine how exhausting it is being my fiancé?

I’m 33 years old and apparently grew up to be a writer—a writer who writes on a laptop—an image I couldn't have drawn in second grade because laptops didn't exist in 1982. I also, obviously, couldn't have drawn a blog because Al Gore hadn't invented the internet yet. In a few weeks I’ll be teaching creative writing to high school kids, and though I don’t have the semester planned out, I do know this: I will not ask them to write about what they want to be when they grow up. I will not ask them to write about how they imagine their life at age 33. I will not ask them to write an outline, and chances are I will not make them sing. I do reserve the right to ask them to draw things—just not things in the future. Unless they’re psychic—which will make for a very interesting year.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Word of God

Passed by a churchyard. This week's cute saying: A Parent’s Life Is a Child’s Guidebook.

God help everyone who has ever had a parent.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Vertigo Is the New Black

I get my life back today. I have all the time in the world and nothing to do but write—at least until I start teaching creative writing one day a week next month. It’s thrilling and frightening and inspiring a sensation much like vertigo. When I think about the rest of the day or week my knees get a little quivery and my brain starts to gyrate a bit in my skull. When will I have time to get my friend a housewarming gift? When will I have time to sign up for low-income health insurance? When will I have time to pack up the rest of my stuff at the Old School and move it to the house? When will I have time to finish applying black paint to the robin’s egg blue falling-apart “antique” dresser from the Confederate side of the family? Oh, that’s right—whenever I feel like it. Terrifying.

No more are the structured days of 9–5. No more waiting for the 8:34am bus on the stoop of the adoption agency. No more furtive prayers to the Bus Gods for a clean-smelling someone to sit next to me. No more getting anxious every morning as the bus passes the county hospital, the county jail, the methadone clinic, the city police headquarters. No more black cubicle walls, black chairs, black computer monitors, black keyboards, black mice, black wire baskets, black filing cabinets, black bookshelves. No more bosses and their black moods. No more food poisoning at obligatory free Friday lunches. No more waterfront smell of fish and salt and tar and cruise ship exhaust and fried food and seagull poop and sour, scalded Starbucks milk. No more elevators filled with computer programmers and their stale cigarette smoke scent and Aspergery commentary (Did you hard-manage the hosting broadband before you upstreamed the code to maximize your team’s QXL? Peels of laughter.)

One of my favorite co-workers—a man who showed up for his first day at the magazine factory in a well-worn sweater with a radish appliquéd on the front—asked me yesterday how I was feeling about leaping into the great, poorly paying literary unknown. Did I have any regrets? Let's see... I feel... excited... anxious... a little terrified... and... what's that? A wave of relief! A hurricane of joy! A tsunami of eagerness! The perfect storm of getting on with my life!

No, of all the guests visiting my psyche today, Regret was conspicuously absent.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Active Verbs!

What I Learned by Working as an Editor for a Year-and-a-Half:
Writing is hard.
Writing creative nonfiction is hard.
Writing good creative nonfiction is really hard.
Minimize use of the verb "is."

Friday, September 05, 2008

Silence of the Ferrets

I love my fiancé, but he is not a quiet man. My job at the magazine factory ends in a few days, and as I sit at my desk practicing for my life as stay-at-home writer, I’m realizing exactly how much noise Dr. Fiancé makes—quite a bit more noise than a writer would like to have in her quiet, cozy upstairs writing nest.

We’ve spent months preparing the sunroom in the back upstairs corner of the house (a spacious Craftsman with views of both a sparkling lake and a jagged, majestic mountain range) to be my writing (and occasional art-making) studio—picking up paint chips from the paint store, choosing the perfect color for the walls, returning to the paint store when I change my mind about the color (the antiquey shade of green of my old chalkboard or the ever-so-slightly bluer shade of green of this long-sleeved t-shirt?), finally settling on a color I dreamt of one night (a creamy mushroom color that is no shade of green at all), moving 4,113 boxes of books from my apartment, buying a charming little shabby-chic dinner-mint-colored desk and glass-front cupboard from a garage sale at which the purveyor explained she was having the sale because she’d just gotten engaged and was moving in with her fiancé. When I told her I was, too, she asked, forlorn, “And he lets you have this kind of stuff in the house? I've had to switch to a modern-Asian aesthetic, which I don't mind, but. . .”

Ah, yes, aside from his distaste for my family's rhubarb crisp, I have the perfect fiancé. He owns a house! He's Jewish! He's a doctor! I'm engaged to a Jewish homeowning doctor!

Though did I mention the noise? Dr. Fiancé clomps and sighs and paces and slams and stomps and shouts “English!” and “Customer service!” into the phone more often than would seem necessary. It rattles my bones and grates on my nerves, and I can hear it all perfectly from my upstairs corner pocket. After decades of bachelorhood, the doctor is accustomed to having the house all to himself. And did I mention that when the house was built back in the early 1900s, they used paper for walls and cardboard for ceilings? We’re not allowed to pee in the upstairs bathroom when guests are over because from the couch, every drop that falls into the toilet sounds as if it’s falling on your head. I don’t mind so much, but the doctor has a greater sense of decorum about such things. As he is fond of saying, he was not raised by ferrets.

If he had been, he’d likely tread much more quietly on his tiny little paws.

Monday, September 01, 2008

From Iowa

According to Gertrude Stein, You are brilliant and subtle if you come from Iowa and really strange and you live as you live and you are always very well taken care of if you come from Iowa.