Thursday, October 30, 2008

This is where it gets good

I'm starting on my novel rewrites this morning. I'll be honest - I'm nervous. I have this fear that I'm not good enough to make the book the best it can be. Have I told you guys about the book at all, other than that it's a book and there has been some interest in it? I've had enough of a response from agents to know that the idea is good and the beginning and middle are good, but the ending needs a facelift.

A facelift is a good comparison actually. I will be performing surgery on The Daily Dylanson Obituaries (that's, um, the name of the book. You probably guessed that). I have to add some things, remove others, tuck here, nip there, and then cringe when I think of the show "Nip and Tuck." But the agent at Joy Harris told me that this is where the real work begins, where the good stuff comes out. No pressure. Sometimes I worry that I'm not the right writer for this book, and maybe I should have taken up that other agent's idea of paying an editor to rewrite it for me.

So here's what I've been telling myself when I have selfdoubts. The beginning and middle work, and it's not that the end is bad, it just needs to include resolution for things that I bring up along the way. If I was a bad writer I wouldn't have gotten this far. So if I'm capable of writing a catchy beginning, then I have it in me to bring the whole thing to a close. To get this far I've had to practice a long, LONG time and, as they say, write, then rewrite, and rewrite. And then after that you rewrite. Then I remind myself of other writers' struggles. Sue Grafton wrote seven books before 'A' is For Alibi all of which (she claims) are under her bed. They were practice. Stephen King threw away Carrie when he was in the middle of writing it. It was his wife who took it out of the trash and told him to finish it.

Then I remind myself of my characters. I love my characters, even the dislikable ones. I want to give them the closure that you don't always get in real life. And I like writing about them so the rewrites should be fun. I just need to keep my critic at bay.

I had a post-it note on the wall above my computer that I should probably put back up. I took it down because Chris and I painted. It's simple but when I was feeling lowly and untalented I'd read it. It said, "Keep trying and don't give up." I used to have another note above my computer that said, "Talent is long patience." I got that from Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul, and I think that's a good one too, but "Keep trying and don't give up," is simple and to the point.

So, my children, I will leave you with a quote from Ezra Pound. If you're wondering where I find these poems and quotes, I find them on The Writer's Almanac. Amost useful and elegant website. Ezra said, "Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one's hand." Do I like the phrase "man intensely alive" or the comparison of a book to "a ball of light" better? I don't know.

Onto the rewrites.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Some poetry for a brisk day

Good God, it's cold this morning! I opened the back door to let the dog out and this brisk, nipple paralizing wind blew in from God knows where and I had to close the door. And I'm in my warm, fuzzy pajamas! Apparently they weren't fuzzy enough.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about. This morning I want to share a couple of gems that I found. The average American doesn't get enough poetry in their life (did I just possibly make a political statement by specifying "American" instead of "person?" Possibly. Poetry doesn't enter politics enough.)

Here something I found this morning by Pat Schneider called "The Patience of Ordinary Things."

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes.
How soles of feet know
Where they're supposed to be.
I've been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

I believe "the lovely repetition of stairs" is my favorite line. This is what I dig about poetry. Lines like delicious bites. You chew them slow, twenty times atleast, the jaw moving as lazily as a cow's. This is different from the gorging of a good book.

Here is another one. It's a little weird, but bear with me. This is my favorite one out of the two. It's "The Dental Hygientist" by Tom C. Huntly:

She said "open up,"
so I showed her my teeth,
a chipped-white fence
that keeps my tongue penned in.
She rinsed my mouth.
She suctioned my cheek.
She said "How do you like this town?"
so I said "Mmpllff"
though I meant "More every day,"
and she said "Gorgeous weather!"
so I said "Mmpllff"
though I meant "In my mouth?"
and she didn't say anything,
so I said "Mmpllff" and "Mmpllff"
though I'm not sure what I meant,
and she took me to mean
"Would you like to go out tonight?"
and "to an expensive restaurant?"
When I arrived with a bouquet of roses,
she stuffed them in my mouth.
She told me all about her feelings:
how she feels about fillings,
how she feels about failures.
She said "open up." She said "It's like pulling teeth
trying to get men to talk about their feelings."
So I said "Mmpllff"
though I meant "You smell prettier than the flowers in my mouth,"
and I said "Mmpllff"
she thought I meant "I'm afraid of dying alone."
She said I was a good conversationalist
and showed me her perfect teeth.
I felt an ache in my jaw.
I felt drool crawling down my chin

Did you know that poetry could contain the words "drool" and "Mmpllff" and still be kick ass? That's because a poem is a snapshot. It shows you a picture and that picture could be of anything. But if it's a good one you can pause beside it, take in every grainy detail. If it's rhythmic you can sing to it. If it says what you can't put into words you can use it as a tool to get someone to understand where you're coming from, or as a mirror to see exactly how it is you feel. Handy little thing, a poem. You can fit a dozen of them in your pocket, unless one of them is an epic poem, novel length, in which case you can carry it around because a book can fit in your hands. And when you come across someone who you think could use a line, someone thin and starving and maybe not knowing how they feel, you can open the book and feed them a morsel. And then you can walk on feeling cool, if not a little eccentric, for being the dude who walks around holding a poem, an epic in your hands.

Friday, October 17, 2008

There's a Ninja in my oatmeal

Delilah's name has stuck, though I mostly call her Dee Dee. Sometimes, when she's particularly fiesty, like fiesty enough to pounce on Lily who is three times her size, I call her Ninja. It fits. She's black clad, nimble, and kick ass. The only trouble with her really is that she eats EVERYTHING. Including our food.

Let's say you're at the kitchen table eating something that's not even in a cat's nature to crave. Like Fruit Loops, or (in my case) cinammon raisin oatmeal. You get up to chase your son because he's running through the hallway with his underwear on his head instead of brushing his teeth like you told him to do. The Ninja kitten will wait. Perhaps she was the one who influenced your son to do this in the first place. She needed to distract you and she's noticed that 1) you will drop anything you are doing if you notice that one of the children is deliberately disobeying you, and 2) your son doesn't like to wear pants. So odds are she found the underwear on the floor and paraded around with it on her head to give your boy the idea. He was like a moth to flame. And now you've jumped up from your breakfast and Ninja is hidden in a corner, rubbing her paws together with a Cheshire cat grin, only more malevolent and slightly hungry.

You disappear around the corner. She alights the table. She sniffs the bowl and thinks, "One bite and this human will throw out the entire bowl. Mmmmmmwahahahaha!" She nibbles. She rubs her face on the sides of the bowl so that oats will stick to her whiskers. She is so involved with the oatmeal debauchery that she doesn't notice that you have walked back into the room, and you're standing there with your arms folded, tapping your foot. She gives you a look that challenges you. This look says, "Yeah. I'm eating your oatmeal, ya bastard." You go to sweep her off the table, but her reflexes are lightening fast and she leaps onto the floor, her maniacal laughter filling the hallway as she runs.

You stare at your ruined oatmeal. You take it as a sign from God that you're wasting your time dieting, and you eat a half a bag of double stuffed Oreo cookies. You seem to recall a Bible verse you learned as a child that implied that creme filling was next to Godliness. Amen.

And now I'm hungry.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Flamenco dancing is hard core

I've set a 20 minute timer again to get myself in proper writing mode. I thought I would write about flamenco dancing because I just found a Barnes N Noble receipt on my desk where I had scribbled details about a flamenco performance I'd gone to in April. I was so inspired by it, I had to write something so I'd dug around my purse, found this rather long receipt and wrote what I could. Here's what I wrote:

Allegreas-the dance of joy. The singer said that her parents were flamenco performers. Her mother was a dancer and her father played guitar. Singing for her was like learning to walk, it was part of her growth as a groovy human being. The performance is improvised. The dancer's hands, that little woman on the flat wooden board, are graceful while her strong feet strike the floor. Her shoes are the precussion. The guitarist follows the pace of her feet, whether they sink to the floor slow and steady or click at a blinding speed. (click at a blinding speed? do I really get paid to write?) She kicks, her skirt flares, and she takes it in at the knee, using the skirt to tease and to give her hands a prop while they do a kind of dance of their own. These feet, hands, legs and hips all know their individual moves, and they compliment each other, whereas I think if I tried the same style I would tangle up in a knot.

That's all I could fit on the front and back of that receipt. It's a scroll of barely legible, tiny pen scratch, and as a rough rough draft it's not very good, but it reminded me of how I've been wanting to write about it.

Part of what I love about the music and the dancing of this art form is that it is so intense. At times fatally so. There was a famous flamenco dancer, Carmen Amaya, who died of kidney failure in the 1960's because the stomping of her dancing had pulverized her kidneys. This chick danced herself to death. THAT is rock n' roll. She didn't OD on heroin or sleeping pills, she didn't down a bottle of whiskey and choke on her own vomit, or get shot by her pimp, no - she danced so hard that she rocked her insides to pieces. She OD'd on dancing and guitar. Fuckin' right.

The timer has gone off. I must now be off to learn how to rock with the Spaniards, not to the death you understand. Perhaps to some respectable toe blisters.

Halloween kitten name suggestions

I'm all over the place this morning. Claire and I are congested and feel awful. She's staying home with me today, and there's so much to do that I don't know where to start. So I will begin by writing. That's always best.

The good news is that yesterday we got a kitten. My sister April rescued this little 6-8 week old, solid black kittie from...I don't remember where. Some place where the orphaned kittens are gorgeous. But then the guy she and Clint rent from said that he didn't want a kitten in the house, so she asked if we'd take it. The condition was that we had to keep her name - Delilah.

April has a history of giving animals formal names. She once had a hamster named Diane. I've mostly given my pets names from books or movies, like my cat Dribble (after the pet turtle in Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing). I originally wanted to name Lily "Piglet" after the Winnie the Pooh character because of her size and because she made worried grunting noises. If I had my way I would name this kitten "Poe" after Edgar Allen Poe because of its blackness and because it's close to Halloween. I would name her "Raven" after "The Raven," but that name makes me think of "That's So Raven" on The Disney Channel, and not the haunting poem. I don't know, maybe I'll still throw that one on the table. Are there any other suggestions? Even if we still keep her name as Delilah formally, I'll still call her something else. I call Lily "Lillith," "Lillian," "Lilifoot," "Snorts," "Poochini," "Doggins," "Pupperooni," and "Pupkins." And when the kids are at school "waggedy bastard." As a term of endearment. So far I've called the kitten "Nibbles." Please put an end to the endless cuteness rolling forth from my brain!

Chris and I had our hesitations about the cat. We just got leather couches, which make excellant scratching posts, and now that the kids are potty trained and the dog is housebroken we really don't want to deal with any more waste. But April said that kitten immediately took to the litterbox, and so far there haven't been any accidents in the house. So fingers crossed.

More to add later.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Recovery reports suspended for the time being

I'm going to stop giving updates on my recovery for a while. I've had a relapse. For an ACOA this means that I've reverted to old behavior that makes my life unmanagable, and also makes me go crazy. Last Saturday I had a melt down and Sunday I got into some serious trouble. Things have settled down now, but I've promised my sponsor, Chris, and my therapist that I'll only journal about my recovery for a long while.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to stop writing here. My posts will just be a little less payphone and a little more vigilante. Also, I don't want y'all to think I'm crazy or anything. Well ok, I'm a little crazy. But I'm not mean crazy and that counts for something, right?

I will say one thing, though. Yesterday I was driving and I pulled over to write something down. I'd been thinking about how I've always had the irrational fear that people who love me will suddenly change their minds and leave. My trust issues are so bad that if I let them get out of hand, or if I'm feeling particularly worthless and unlovable, I'll pull away from them before they have a chance to reject me. One person on this list is Chris. I'll shut down and suddenly I won't be in the same room with him, even though he's standing next to me. He has the same tendency, which complicates things to say the least.

Anyway, this, I think, is the main thing I want to change about myself. The fear is so deeply rooted that I don't know if I'll ever completely get rid of it, but I atleast want to learn how to control my reaction to it. I think that will come with confidence. What I wrote down after I pulled over was something that came to me when I thought of all the people that I love who I've pulled away from suddenly, or who I've shut myself down from. These are people who (some of them) I've left just as we were getting really close. The thing I wanted to tell them was this:
I'm sorry. I'm trying to be different, and I'm getting better but it's happening so slowly. If you try to hold me in your hands I'll drip through your fingers, not like water but like honey, dropping slowly and sluggishly, not wanting to fall, not knowing how to to get back up.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Unrelated details

It's been a bad week. Instead of updating, I will share ridiculous things. It's truly the greatest gift. Ridiculous things, I mean. Exactly.

Claire wants to sue the ice cream man. Every afternoon he rides around our neighborhood, teasing the kids with that canned, jewelry-box-music version of "How Much is That Dog in the Window," and PASSES UP our street. Claire, Emma and Christopher stand in our driveway waving and hollering, and the dude still passes us up. The other day Claire had taken just about all she could stand.

"He can see us too," Claire fumed. "He passes us up on purpose! I'll sue!"
"You'll sue?" I said, giggling.
She frowned at me. She wasn't kidding.
"I'm not kidding," she said.

Pity the ice cream man who crosses my daughter. She has a good argument. One could suggest that she stand on another street to catch him, but he never comes around at the same time, and once she hears the music she's only got a minute or so to scramble around the house for money and dash outside.

That was the exciting thing about the icecream man. By the time I heard the music there was only thirty seconds or so to successfully beg my parents for money and run out the door. It was like a race. But of all the times I missed him, I never thought about filing suit. Of course, I never experienced the snub that my children endure every afternoon. My old ice cream man would atleast turn down my street. Honestly, in this economy can he afford NOT to hit every street?

Anyway, I'll let you know how Cancienne vs. Mr. Freezie turns out. Speaking of letting you know things, I never gave you a report on my night out last Friday. I had a great time. Fred is the bassist for a band called The Fuzzy Dice. They cover 50's/60's rock n' roll/rockabilly, like Elvis, Buddy Holly and stuff like that. When liquored up enough I can get up and dance. Last Friday, before I mustered the courage to do that (or before I was tipsy enough) a scary lady took my hands and pulled me off my chair onto the dance floor. She wore a green dress and had long, bleached blonde hair and tanned, leathery skin. She danced with her back to the band, all the better to (Christy and I supposed) shake her ass in their faces. Her dancing prompted one audience member to say, "All she's missing is a pole."

Dancing with her was awkward because my style of dancing is...well, different. It's not meant to turn anyone on, it's meant to try not to turn anyone off as much as possible. I've always felt too big to dance, unless I was in a mosh pit. Moshing is just slamming into someone else. Dancing has grace. Or atleast it's supposed to. When I first start dancing I feel stiff and I'm never sure what to do with my arms. I felt this way with the pole dancer until my third gin and tonic. I was still selfconscious, but mildly so. Christy began dancing with us after a while too. Unfortunately, so did the guy with the missing teeth.

This guy didn't talk much. He just danced with me, Christy and Pole Dancer, with this huge, toothless grin on his face. It was like being cornered by a dentures advertisement. But it wasn't just that he was missing teeth. Everyone, including me, will eventually reach an age when we'll have more gums than bite. This guy had that dirty old man feel about him, and he wasn't even that old. It was in the way he danced. His face was confident, but his body didn't seem to understand what he was trying to do with it. His arms and legs jerked around as if each appendenge was tring to escape. His hips swung from side to side in a tragic Elvis impression during "Heartbreak Hotel."

What added to the classiness of the whole experience was when Pole Dancer leaned in towards me and Christy and yelled (refering to the band), "Aren't they cute as shit?"

"Uh, yeah," me and Christy said.
"I'm a grandmother," she added for no reason.
"Oh," I said.
"I've got three grandkids."
"I've got three kids," I told her.
"And I've got four of my own kids," she said.
"And one on the way."

Me and Christy couldn't figure out if she meant that she was pregnant or if one of her kids was expecting. Since she was smoking, drinking, and hitting on the drummer we hoped it was the latter.

So yeah, it was fun. The band played great and I got to hear Fred sing "Hang on Sloopy." Christy and I had fun dancing and joking around. Christy, am I forgetting any details (that aren't about me)? Do I embellish a tad, or do I hit the evening on the nose? It's always interesting to blog about something when someone who was there is reading it!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Stepping out

I have been depressed since yesterday afternoon and I'm tired of it. Yesterday I sent an e-mail to a friend telling her how happy I was with this whole getting to know myself thing, and right after I sent it I became mindbogglingly depressed. It was an e-mail all about me. How ME is doing, how I'm proud of ME. ME ME ME ME...I didn't even ask her how she was doing and she's plenty stressed out these days. So by telling someone that I'm becoming happy with and proud of myself I suddenly fell into "must hate myself mode." Dude, I would explain it but it has nothing to do with logic.

So! I have been invited to hear my friend Fred's band play, and I have said hell yes! I have showered. I have dressed nicely but not too nice. You know. I don't look like ass on a stick. I have arranged for the children to stay at my aunt's house, and I am going out! Me and Christy! I am having one drink and with my tolerance I will probably fall on the floor! Woohoo!

Aw shit I'm still depressed. But I'm going to try to forget all of that, and give my brain a break.

What bare hands can build

I had just taken out the garbarge when I looked up at the sky and saw all those stars. This was about 15 minutes ago, early morning, and those stars were shining so bright that either the sky was especially clear, or the stars knew they would only be seen for another hour so they were really putting on the shine. My neck hurt a little when I looked up so I laid down on the walkway with my arms folded behind my head and took it all in.


"I want my Mom," I sobbed last night on the way home from the Al-anon meeting.

I was driving, crying, 33 years old and saying "I want my mom" over and over again. But I couldn't call my mom, and I couldn't ask her for help. For one thing, she hates talking on the phone so I usually just call with practical questions like "How long can ground meat stay good in the refrigerator?" Ground meat is something we can talk about without getting under the surface of things. I'm not asking her a favor or making her feel angry or guilty about anything.

My mom wasn't always like that though. Atleast, my baby's brain doesn't remember her that way. She used to come into my room at night when she heard me crying, stroke my hair and tell me to think about soothing things like Christmas, going on a picnic, or being with my cousins. She'd sing me "Silent Night." For the longest time I didn't know that was a Christmas carol. I thought it was a lullaby that Mom sang off key. She didn't show much anger then. This is the mother I want when I say, "I want my mom," that woman who existed thirty years ago, who was angry, insecure, and whose parents had (for the most part) neglected her. And when her dad acknowledged her he usually made her feel ugly and stupid. She just wasn't letting all of that out then. As I got older the angry, bitter part of her emerged as a screaming, wall hitting volcano of a woman who I didn't recognize as the same person who sang me to sleep. Even the tone of her voice changed. At times it was, I swear, demonic. My therapist once told me that we handle our emotional life with the tools we are given as children. People who were given no tools must build their lives with their bare hands. If that's true then my mother and father's hands must feel like old leather gloves.

My dad doesn't rage like my mom, and I must say on her behalf that this past year that she's been sober she's been much more patient and a lot less angry. Or she seems to be. My dad just blocks out everything. Since we have the same sense of humor, this works out great. We don't talk about anything heavy unless I bring it up (which I have a nasty habit of doing) and we joke a lot. I've always identified more with my dad's side of the family too. They muse over small things.

"See that branch?" my Dad asked me, pointing to the long, thin finger of a crepe myrtle tree. "I can look at that branch for a long time, and just marvel over the shape of it. I can't really explain why. It's the small beauty of it. Nobody really gets stuff like that except us."

By "us" he meant the Rheams family. We can look at things and really take them in, like a small branch, or a morning sky full of stars, and what's great about this is that for a few minutes I can stop focusing on myself and embrace something extradordinarily beautiful. It works like a comforting thought or a lullaby.

The gift of this is that those little things are everywhere. When I'm talking about the things in Al-anon that make me shake and cry, I can look at those things because that's a gift my family gave me. It's a tool. My parents were broken children raised by broken children, and my mother still managed to give me that tool.

I thought about that last night after I cried a while. It's what Mom gave me that helped me fall asleep. It's what lingered in the morning when I laid down on the pavement and gazed at the sky like it was something my dad had made with his bare hands just for me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Twenty Minute Waltz

I'm writing for twenty minutes without editing myself. Eventhough I just broke my own rule and edited the first senttnce. Please forgive mispellings and things that don't make sense. Or in other words, please forgive this entire post.

Last night I met my sponsor before the Al-Anon meeting. We went to Cafe! Cafe!, ate 3 bean soup and talked about dysfunctionality. Fun. The meeting began at 8:00 and it was 8:15 by the time we finished eating and talking.

"Should we still go?" I asked her.
"Well, yeah," Meryl said, as if the idea of skipping had never occured to her.
"But we're 15 minutes late."
"It's alright. People walk in late all the time."
"But I can't stay for the whole thing. Maybe 20 minutes. I don't have my babysitter for that long."
"Eh," she said. "I can't stay the whole time either. If they hate us, they hate us. But they won't, and we need it."
"I'm scared," I told her.
She stopped walking. We were halfway across the parking lot, getting later for the meeting every second.
"Why?" she asked.
"This meeting pushes all my buttons. It's painful."
She laughed but not in a sadistic way. "It'll get better. Let's go."

I got in the car and drove as eratically as I did the night of the first Tuesday meeting, the time that I almost crashed into the building. I had to slow down and take deep breaths to get myself there without slamming into anything.

The other night I had a nightmare. Do any of you guys remember the movie "Total Recall?" with Arnold Schwartzenager (sp?)? Remember at the end when he and his girlfriend are sucked out of a building onto Mars, where the atmosphere is deadly to humans and Arnold Swartzenayger (sp?)? They writhe and their eyes begin to pop out and crazy shit like that? That happened to me in the nightmare. I dreamt I was watching the movie and then suddenly I was on Mars, writhing while my eyes popped out, and my skin melted.

When I woke up I thought about Al-Anon. It's too much truth all at once. I get in there and all the air is sucked out of the room.

"Hi, I'm...Genevieve ! (GASP!)"
"Hi, Genevieve," they all say.
"Can't (gasp!)breathe! Help!" I hiccup and wheeze, clutching my throat. "Don't about!...myself!...parents not there (cough! sputter!) husband!...workaholic!...need (choke) love! sad!...all!...out of control...need chocolate...cigarette! (eyes pop out) That's!...All!"
"Thank you for sharing," they all say.

I stayed at the meeting for 20 minutes. As I tried to sneak out of the room, with everybody watching me and probably thinking, "You got here fifteen minutes late, and now you're leaving before the meeting ends? Why did you come here? And please get your eyeballs off the floor," I reminded myself about what Meryl said, about how the meetings will get better. I have been to one or two meetings in which I did not sit there shaking. It's not just thinking about what I'm going to say that makes me nervous, it's hearing what everybody else has to say. It's as if they read my blog and are attempting to copy my actions and emotions. We're all so alike, and I sit there looking at them and how miserable they are and I'm thinking, "Oh my God I'm YOU. And before I started coming to these meetings, these meetings that hold me under a light so bright that I feel like my skin will catch fire, I was insane. I was trying to make everybody happy and trying to be what everybody else wanted, and I was failing, and it drove me close to suicide. And now I'm a crying, shaking mess and I'm actually doing BETTER than before. Goddamn, I've got a long way to go."

The timer went off long ago. The phone has rang a couple of times, and both phone calls were from people I love so I stopped writing. Meryl gave me a mile long list of questions pertaining to the first step, and I will work on those later today.

I'm not even done with the first step and there are eleven more to go. I'm trying to do what they say, to take things one day at a time. But it's not the same as the feeling I get during a road trip where I'm excited about the destination, but I'm just as equally enthralled by the journey. I love driving and walking through places I've never been. This journey (atleast at this point) is not like that. This is slowly tearing off a bandaid. I've kept a dirty bandaid on all my problems so I don't have to see them. I wish I could just rip it off. But I've been trying to rip it off and all that does is give me nightmares that I'm dying of exposure. I have to adjust to this a little at a time. Holy hell.