Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why I'm in a New York state of mind

Well, I'm home again, folks, after the world's hottest 5 hour bus ride from New York City. The past 7 days have been kind of a blur, but thankfully I have photographic evidence that it all really happened. So here it is, my week in pictures:

Canaan. Table for 2?

My soon-to-be new place.

Isn't it lovely?

(Dismembered half of body not included.)

"Mythaca" is gorges!

I knew this place was out there, but a coyote? Really?
(Just kidding, it's the Queen's Zoo).

Tal ignores her usual germaphobe tendencies and lets some alpaca she just met slobber directly into her open hand. (Meanwhile, cultivate a human fourteen year friendship and just try to take a sip from her drink, JUST TRY.)

It literally rained all day, so no one please mention the bangs. (Not pictured: Carefully constructed invisible germ-proof barrier. Don't get too close, folks! The droopy eye may be contagious!)

Central Park, post-Bergdorf Goodman makeover.

And, because I couldn't resist. (Talia even got it on the very first shot! And thank goodness, because I think I shattered my kneecaps on landing.)

One state, two cities, and what a world of difference. I may be back in Maryland for now, but I'm in a New York state of mind.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why I could probably benefit from some time on the couch

I haven't written much about my mother here before. Maybe once or twice in passing. During the five years that I Iived in Boston I probably came home once or twice a year at most, and so the topic never really came up in blog land. Now that I have been living at home for the last few weeks, it makes sense that my proximity to my family would lend itself to blog fodder. But now I have to address the comments inspired by the two entries I posted about my mother, comments which included the phrases "spoilt brat" (sic) and "I would have smacked you upside the head," and even a caring but gently disapproving e-mail along the same vein from a good friend.

First of all, I will never tell my mother about this blog, and not just because the very existence of pre-marital sex offends her on a visceral level. Ever since the beginning of this blog I knew I would never tell my mother about it, because this blog is my outlet. For two years I never wrote about my mother on this blog, but I knew one day I would want to do so. No, I knew that one day I would need to do so. Today probably isn't that day, but let's think of it as a preamble.

Like many people, I guess, I have a long and complicated history with my mother. Over the years, the daily traumas of childhood faded with the relief of impending adulthood and the miles of distance between us. I found that, unsurprisingly, I got along with my mother much better when I didn't have to live with her. But eighteen years of physical and emotional trauma (I hesitate to call it abuse, which invokes something much more dramatic, when really it was more of a low-level, underlying constant) can't help but leave scars. As I said, our relationship has calmed since the turbulent days of my youth, and it has grown into something else entirely. And as I've grown older I recognize that, ironically enough, my mother's relationship with me almost exactly mirrors her relationship with her own mother: one of duty, obligation, and absolutely no joy. It is what it is, and I am mostly ok with that. We all do the best we can.

I did try to write about my mother once on this blog. I finished it, read it over once, labeled it "unpostable" and left it to languish in my drafts folder. It was just too sad. So if I attempt to use humor, as in the two recent entries, to address a topic that could otherwise be quite painful, please understand that this is my therapy. Please also understand that, as much as I love all of you who read, this blog is just as much for me as it is for you. You are not obligated to like everything I write. Just as I should not be obligated to defend how I feel about everyone in my life or what I say to or about them. You do not always have the full story. Thus is the nature of blogs. And to everyone who is so quick to judge, please know that I envy the relationships you have with your mothers. I have always looked on curiously and a bit wistfully at those people who can say, completely straight-faced, "My mother is my best friend," and mean it. I will never have that. And I may not always be right, and I may not always be good, and I am obviously more than a bit flawed, and I know this, believe me. But for everyone who said, or even just thought, that I should be a bit kinder to my parents, I ask you to please, be a bit kind with me. We're all doing the best we can.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why it's time to be moving on

Dear Internet,

By the time you read this, I will be gone.

That's right, I am writing to you from...the past, which sounds a whole lot less impressive than writing to you from the future, but there it is. Forty-eight hours in the past, to be exact. Tomorrow (yesterday) I will be going to the airport and leaving town (have already left). And though, in very ironic fashion, June 21 was also the chosen date for my hypothetical return to France, I am not now headed back on a one-way flight to Paris. In fact, I am going to visit my friend Canaan in her hometown, which, as luck would have it, is soon going to be my new hometown. (Though it's lucky the flights leave from two different airports, otherwise I may have found myself irresistibly drawn closer and closer to the international departures hall). Anyway, I ended up taking the job I mentioned at the very end of this post, the part-time one with no benefits in the middle of New York state. If the last three weeks of living a life of seclusion in my parents' house has taught me anything, it's that there's definitely nothing keeping me in Maryland. I've had enough family time to last me for the next year, at least, and my friends are already scattered to the four winds, so why not start over somewhere new? And a part-time job is better than no job, or at least that's what I keep telling myself.

The next few days will be a flurry of meeting potential roommates and hopefully nailing down a place to live before returning home, only to leave again for good in mid-August, when I will begin my duties as the newest member of the French department at Mythaca College. The reason for the nickname is twofold: first, Mythaca is a small town and I'd like to avoid tripping the Google sensors, if possible. And second, I've met so many people over the years who have lived there at some point in their lives (Canaan, obviously; also my ex, his roommate, and some of their friends), that after hearing all their stories, the place has assumed a sort of mythical status for me. I had always been curious about it, had always wanted to go there (the ex and I used to talk about taking a trip), but I had never imagined myself deciding to move there, sight unseen. To say that I'm apprehensive would be a gross understatement. Let's just hope the next few days go well and I don't return home wringing my hands and wailing, "What have I done???" Canaan, of course, is sure everything is going to work out swimmingly, and between her glass-half-full optimism, and my half-empty negativity, that's like, a full glass right there, between us. Which is good, because I'm going to need all the help I can get.

Along with hypothetical glasses filled to varying levels with hypothetical liquids, I am also a believer in vibes, so send good ones, please, everyone.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why sometimes I wonder if I'm adopted

Just as quick follow-up to yesterday's post: So you want to know what she did with the smoked salmon, do you Dawn? Do you really? Well, for Dawn, and for the strong of stomach amongst you, I present this brief exchange:

"Oh, we ate your smoked salmon while you were away," my mom told me offhandedly upon my return from the beach, in the tone of having done me a great favor.

"Oh, really? The unopened package of smoked salmon that I bought that was good for another three months?" I said. "How did you eat it?"

"Well, I cooked it and..."

"Wait, wait, wait...you cooked it?"

"Well, I put it in the microwave..."

"You put it in the microwave?!! And then what?!"

"And then...we ate it."

"You just...you just...ate it? Like that???" I shouted in a strangled voice, my stomach churning and a vein in my neck pulsing.

"Um, yes?"

"That was expensive and...I bought it and...you ruined it! I mean...that can't have even tasted good!"

"Well, your dad said it was salty," she offered, wrinkling her nose.

"Yeah! Yeah, it is salty, that's why you're only supposed to eat one thin slice at a time, as a garnish, and not the whole..." (muffled, close-mouthed swearing). "Gahhhh!!!"

"Well I didn't know..."

"That's why you shouldn't have eaten it!"

End scene.

To be clear, I wasn't so much upset that they had eaten something that was mine than I was that they (my mom, really) had ruined a perfectly good bit of fish. I would have been quite happy to donate it to the cause if it meant that my parents' first taste of smoked salmon was the way it was meant to be tasted: in pasta, on a salad, with eggs benedict, or on a bagel with cream cheese. But now
that salmon's life was in vain. I just hope the rest of his buttery delicious flesh went to better homes.

I mean, I bet she didn't even use lemon.
I mean, really.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why it's all a matter of taste

While for the last year or so I've been mostly uninspired when it comes to cooking, subsisting mainly on pasta, cheese, and hunks of baguette while in France, ever since I returned home I've been cooking up a storm. It's amazing what being stuck in the suburbs with nowhere to go and nothing else to do all day can do for one's motivation. I made this on Talia's recommendation, this on Les Cadeaux's recommendation, this and this from The Pioneer Woman because she understands my deep-seated need to cook everything with a lot of butter, this, this, and this because my parents buy a ridiculous amount of chicken, and this because sometimes you have to try to be healthy. I've had mixed success, mostly due to our local supermarket's sadly limited selection and the last-minute substitutions that it necessitates. In fact, I can send my mother to the store with a list six items long and pretty much guarantee that she will call home at least five times before she enters the checkout line. (How people went grocery shopping before cell phones, I'll never know.)

Ten minutes after my mom leaves the house, the phone rings: "They don't have chicken thighs today, will breasts be ok?"

Five minutes later, the phone rings again: "I don't know what these panko bread crumbs are, but I can't find them anywhere."

"Well can you ask someone then, Mom?"

"I did, and first he said they were in the international foods aisle, and then someone else told me they were in the bread aisle, but I'll keep looking."

Three minutes later, the phone rings again: "Well, I found where they are supposed to be. In the international aisle after all, ha! But they're all out. Will regular bread crumbs be ok?"

One minute later: "They don't have jasmine rice..."

"Ok, Mom, can you please stop calling? Can't you just...figure it out? Or else save up more than one question at a time? Jeezes..."

But, no matter how mediocre the results, my parents, and my mom particularly, respond to each new dish with unbridled enthusiasm. "This is delicious!" they'll say. "You know, I really think you have a gift," says my mom.

"Meh, it could use more chili powder," I'll say. "And next time I'll cook it a bit less. It's really just ok."

My biggest success to date would have to be the Roasted Striped Bass with Chive and Sour Cream Sauce, probably because my parents consider any fish not in stick form to be an exotic delicacy. (Served with the Spicy Garlic Potatoes and Zucchini, but substituting normal-sized zucchini and Yukon gold potatoes because I couldn't find any in the baby and fingerling varieties. And without the garlic chive or onion sprouts* as garnish (*"available at farmer's markets"), because, haaaa, please.) "This is just...so good!" my parents raved. "You have to give us the recipe before you leave. I mean...wow!"

I shrugged. "Yeah, it's pretty good I guess."

"No, really," my mom insisted. "You could have your own cooking show! You could...you could be the next Julia Child!"

"Mom, Mom," I cut in before she could get any more carried away. "I didn't invent it or anything, ok? I just thought the recipe sounded good, and then I followed it. I'm not going to be Julia Child so just stop already. God."

If I had to pin-point the origin of my new frenzy of domesticity, I'll have to admit that it's due less to my generous, giving nature, and more to a spirit of self-preservation. As a kid, I was raised on a diet of soupy Hamburger Helper made with too much water (on a good night), and on a bad night something my mom called a "skillet dinner." Skillet dinner, or poor man's Hamburger Helper, as I liked to think of it, varied widely based on what ingredients were at hand, but was most often comprised of ground beef, tomato sauce, and green beans all cooked together in a large pan, and served in a bowl. And that's it. No rice, no potatoes, no pasta. Just a bowlful of hamburger, green beans, and tomato sauce. Usually eaten with a spoon. It tasted exactly how it sounds.

You see, the problem is that while I get my recipes from reliable sources on the Internet, complete with photos and user reviews, my mother has always preferred the forty-year-old cook books of her youth, containing recipes submitted by honest, church-going folk, for dishes with names like "Mystery Salad" (stewed tomatoes, raspberry Jell-o, and hot sauce), "Economy Meal" (cabbage, elbow macaroni, onion, bacon), "Teenager's Favorite Hot Dish" (ground beef, onion, cabbage, tomato soup), "Poor Man's Barbeque" (hot dogs, tomato soup, onion), "Chili Con Caso" (containing only onion, chili peppers, cheddar cheese soup, and Velveeta, but no beans or meat whatsoever, though for some reason it's classified as a main dish), "Chicken Shortcake," and (oh gag), "Hot Frankfurter and Potato Salad." Which may in part explain the scene I walked into in the kitchen last night:

"Hey Mom, what's this?" I ask, peering at a platter of three sad-looking, greasy porkchops. "They're already cooked?"

"No, I just browned them, and then they go back in the pan with the sauce to finish cooking."

"But, Mom...you do realize that when you brown meat it's supposed to actually be brown, right? These are just sort of...gray."

"Well I just did what it said and..."

"High heat, Mom, you have to use high heat. The point is to sear it to keep in the juices, otherwise you might as well not do it." I sigh. "You should have let me do it. And what's going on in here?" I ask, pointing to a pan filled with a goopy beige liquid.

"That's cream of celery soup, and then I'll add some frozen lima beans and the pork chops."

I back slowly out of the kitchen, suddenly wanting nothing more to do with this meal. She's on her own with this one.

Half an hour later she calls my dad and I to dinner, and I head back to the kitchen, hungrily suspicious. I hope against hope that that somehow it's turned out edible. And there they are, on each plate a sad, gray porkchop with lima bean sauce, and alongside a generous helping of...those crunchy La Choy chow mein noodles from a can? Bwah?

"Really?" I ask. "Chow mein noodles as a side?"

"Well it said you can serve it either with rice or chow mein noodles, and since we've been eating so much rice lately..." We all sit down, and the next few minutes are filled with the sound of forks against plates and loud crunching.

My dad pushes his chow mein noodles around and finally says, "These really aren't good for my diet."

"They're not good for anyone!" I explode. "You know, I don't understand. You tell me I'm such a good cook, but really, I just choose recipes that sound good! But this...this..." I sputter.

"Well it sounded good on paper," my mom says.

"It does not even sound good on paper!" I shout. "It sounds awful on paper! I just, I don't understand."

"I like lima beans," my mom says in a small voice, looking at her plate, and then everyone feels bad.

But perhaps not bad enough, because don't even get me started on what she did with my smoked salmon (my smoked salmon) while I was at the beach. Sacrilege, people. Sacrilege.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why the more things change, the more they don't change nearly enough

So, here I am posting a third day in a row, which has to be nearly unprecedented in DoW history. I know, I know, who is this impostor and what have you done with the real Diary of Why, right? But I'll be honest with you: I'm bored. I've been home for about two weeks now, and really? Is that all? Because it feels like so much longer. I'm down to showering once every couple of days now, because, honestly, what's the point? I have nowhere to go and no way to get there if I did. If a tree stinks in the forest, and all. What it comes down to is this: I am trapped here, Internet, trapped in the suburbs. And not even the good suburbs with public transportation and Panera Bread, but the suburbs of those suburbs surrounded by rolling countryside for miles around. And there is only so much relaxing one person can do. I am relaxed, dammit. Now get me out of here!

When I first arrived home and dusted off my Massachusetts driver's license, I discovered it had expired last April when I was in Paris. And so off I went to the MVA, as soon as I could convince my dad to give me a ride there. I went armed with everything I would need: passport, social security card, old driver's license, and two pieces of mail I had managed to scrounge up: a bank statement and a notice from Sprint. All of which I presented triumphantly once it was my turn. "What is this?" the woman asked, and that's when I knew things might not be going my way.

"It's a bank statement," I replied, though I thought the answer was somewhat obvious.

"It's not in English," she said.

"Well, yes, it's a French bank," I said. "But as you can see it's addressed to me here, so..."

"We can't accept this," she said. "It has to be translated or we can't use it."

"You want me to...translate my bank statement?" I asked.

"And this, we can't accept this either," she said, pointing to my Sprint envelope. "It's not a bill."

"But I don't get bills," I said. "It's all paperless. I do everything paperless."

"So you can print off the online bills and bring those in."

"Really?" I said. Hadn't this lady heard of Photoshop? Wasn't the whole point of bringing in mail to provide irrefutable proof of residence in this miserable state? With an online statement and hell, a brief session in paint, I could live anywhere, is all I'm saying. "Well if I had known that..." I said, and then headed home defeated. For a moment I felt like I was back in France, what with all the "Denied! Please come again!" but I guess bureaucracy is bureaucracy wherever you go.

So then, several days later, after I had managed to wheedle my way into another ride to the MVA, back I went, and this time it was as smooth as silk. I eve
n lucked into what is probably the best driver's license photo of my life, thanks to the kindly Indian woman who took a liking to me because her daughter was also born in 1980 and is currently living in Paris. "Hmm..." she said, looking at the first shot. "Let's do that again. Can you move your hair out of your face? And keep your head straight." Which was interesting because I thought my head was straight, but apparently my default photo pose is a vacuous stare and a cocker spaniel-like head tilt. She seemed satisfied with the next one, though:

And if you don't think this is a masterpiece of government-issued digital photography then you have clearly not seen some of my previous driver's license photos. Or school id photos. Or passport photos. Dear lord. And I guess this tendency towards terrible id photos may run in the family, because my sister, who is otherwise quite adorable, recently had a new driver's license issued, and she nearly peed her pants showing it to me. Let's just say she looks a bit...special. With a head like a basketball. Apparently pony tails and id photos don't mix. So it could have been a lot worse, is all I'm saying. Also, apparently the Maryland MVA is a kind of wormhole where time stands still and I revert back to my 21 year-old self. Only with more crows feet. "Have you had a license in Maryland before?" asked the kind Indian lady. Yes, I replied, and she pulled up my information on the screen. "Has your address changed?" she asked. Given that my parents have lived in this suburban-twice-removed town for the last thirty years, and would likely remain here for at least thirty more, I refrained from answering with a scoffing Yeah, right, and simply said, "Nope." "Would you like to change your height or your weight?" she asked. Again I said, "Nope." "That was a long time ago," she said, eying me skeptically. I wouldn't have believed it myself except that I had just weighed myself on the scale at my dead grandfather's house the day before. "I know," I said. And suddenly I was struck with the feeling of how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Here I am, 29 years old, living in my parents' house, and just as unemployed, skinny, and prospect-less as I was at 21. A little boob weight wouldn't go unappreciated, is all I'm saying. Oh, and maybe an income. Yeah, that too.

"Well, my daughter is having a hard time in Paris," the woman said. "She doesn't speak French, and she can't even get a driver's license there, it's so complicated. And expensive."

"Yeah, well, you don't need to drive in Paris," I said, "that's the good thing."

"Yes, but she has the kids," she said. "And plus she's used to driving, she's from here. But it's so complicated to get your license there."

"Yes, I think that's why most people in Paris don't have cars," I said.

"Oh, she has a car!" she said quickly. "A BMW. But she can't drive it. It just sits there, and her husband has to drive her around."

I let this information sink in for a minute, and suddenly had trouble mustering up much sympathy for this woman's plight. "Yes, well, if that's everything," I said, "I really have to go."

BMW indeed.

Anyway, long story short, I have my license. So! I'm free! Get me into a carbon-emitting, fossil fuel-guzzling piece of steel and get me out of this town! Except...right. I don't have a car. Now, technically there should be enough vehicles in this family to go around, except that one of those vehicles has been up on blocks in the driveway for the past several months. Every once in a while my dad putters around trying to "re-build the engine" or something equally mundane, which means that while my sister's car is out of commission she's been driving my mom's Ford Focus. The Ford Focus that should be mine. Not to be all possessive and grabby or anything, but, you know, I had dibs. So that means my mom is now driving my dead grandfather's Buick LeSabre, leaving me my dad's Ford Ranger. And while at one point I may have bragged about totally learning how to drive stick, a full year of not driving anything at all has me less than confident in my abilities to drive a clutch in the kind of traffic that is notorious around the suburbs of our nation's capital. Also, eww, pickup truck. I could probably convince my mom to take the truck, leaving me her car, but then I would die a million deaths from the shame of being the only 29 year-old on the planet driving a Buick LeSabre.

Aside from that there is the annoying little fact of having nowhere to go. Which, car problem solved! It turns out that you don't actually need a car to sit in your parents' house alone all day. It also turns out that while I am still at the mental age of my 21 year-old self, my friends have all made full use of their 29 years and now have homes and steady employment and no longer need to move home with their parents every summer like we did in college. Huh. Which, come on guys! Seriously, quit those pesky jobs and come home and hang out with meeeee! We can totally live the dream!

Until then, I'll be here, living the dream for you. Woo...hoo?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why writing can be fun

Well, as promised, here are the (very short) stories I worked on as writing exercises with Hervé. And I'm sure that someone somewhere has had the same idea before, but let's just pretend they haven't and say that I invented this game. Here are the rules: Each person writes down a list of ten words at random, as quickly as possible, and then gives it to the other person. Nouns are obviously what spring immediately to mind, but it makes things interesting to mix in some verbs and adjectives too. Even an adverb if you want. Hey, go crazy! Then you have ten minutes to incorporate all of the words into a (very short) story. Sometimes I would go over by a couple minutes, but I was writing in French; I had a handicap. (Or that was the excuse I used, anyway). So, obviously I have translated the results into English for you, which may in part explain the weird and slightly flat tone, and my extensive use of the passive voice (oh my god, so much passive voice). Here are some examples of what I came up with:

1) She studied the horizon spreading between the
ocean and the sky. She had her guitar in her hand. Far, very far away she saw the form of a boat. From such a distance it seemed almost transparent, like a ghost ship. Nearby was the frenetic activity of the port, but in the distance there was only the eternal calm of the sea. In her hand her guitar, and in her backpack her old teddy bear. She had traveled far from the provincial town of her childhood, far, very far from the countryside and her parents' house. Her parents who thought only in black and white, in hot and cold, and she was sick of it all. Sick, sick, sick, sick.


2) Find the best three
star restaurant in Paris - that was the goal. And he had perhaps just the thing. He reserved under the name Mickey Mouse, as usual. Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Then, he waited. He was anxious, and to distract himself, he took a walk. Somewhere there was the sound of bells, a wedding, perhaps, and the cries of birds. Strangely, there was a woman with a parasol. Not every day you see that, he thought. Finally he returned home and went to bed. Seven hours later he awoke to the sound of his alarm clock, tangled in his sheets. How brutal, he thought. Then he got up, showered, drank a coffee. 9:00 a.m. He did the grocery shopping, cleaned his apartment, had lunch. 3:00 p.m. My god! he thought. Slowly he left and began walking. Making his way along the banks of the Seine, finally he found his destination. The three star restaurant. The best in Paris? He would have to wait and see.

"Mr. Mouse," intoned the maitre d'hotel. "Please," he said, showing him to his table. And then the show began. There were amuse bouches beyond his wildest dreams, sauces made small lakes on the plates. But finally came the main course. He had never tasted anything like it in his life. "A miracle!" he said. "But what is it, what is this marvelous dish?"

"Monsieur, it is camel," said the waiter.

"Actually, I don't care for it," said Monsieur Mouse, dropping his fork with a clatter. "The next time I suggest beef."


3) "What a strange
coincidence," he thought with astonishment. Standing in the hallway he peered into his office. On the table his computer. And on the computer, a rat. Yes! A rat! Busily eating the remains of a pizza that he had left out from the night before. But what was truly bizarre was that he had been in the middle of writing a story, and in this story there was a man who came home to find, yes, truly, a rat sitting on top of his computer! "Bizarre, bizarre," he whispered softly. But what could he do? Quick, quick, he entered his office and kicked the table hard enough to start the lamp next to it to wobbling. But the rat, up to his ears in tomato sauce and hardened cheese, remained unmoved. Quick, quick, something else, then. The man in the story, what did he do to get rid of the villainous intruder? He didn't know, because he hadn't yet finished the story. He sighed and looked through the window. Outside, the park. Tulips swayed gently in the breeze. He let out another deep sigh, pushed up his sleeves, set himself in front of the computer, and began to write.

Fin.

So, there it is. They may not be life-changing, but you know what, they were fun. What do you say, do you want to play? We can start slowly, I'll give you five words. Take five minutes (or more) to use them all, and post your results in the comments. I'd love to see what you come up with! And your words are, let's see, hmm...

limp
novel
tea
necessary
glasses

Any order you want. And...go!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why a boy helped me get over my writer's block

Though I am a blogger (a fact I will admit only in certain company), I cannot in good conscience call myself a writer, although it's the one thing I've aspired to for probably the last twenty years or more. I think I started blogging as an outlet, sure, but also as a way to mosey up to that hazy and mysterious activity I called "writing." Over two years later, and it's been both more and less than I thought that it would. I have outlets galore, every new entry an opportunity to splash blood, tears and gut-churningly raw emotions all over the computer screen. I have nearly instant feedback from some of the most lovely and discerning readers on the Internet. But when it comes to writing, I think my blogging has forged an asymptotic relationship at best, doomed to forever approach closer and closer without ever reaching the status of what I consider "real writing."

To me, writing means fiction. It means creating something from nothing. And though I am able to create small windows into my life through blogging, writing about people and places I don't know was the one thing I had never managed to do. It wasn't that I thought I was incapable; in fact, I hoped (without being certain) that I might have a knack for it. Rather, the problem was that I lacked inspiration, or that was what I told myself. At some point I realized the problem may be less about inspiration, and more about motivation. And then, finally, it was about having no idea at all where to start. I tried to orient myself, I tried to find guidance. I checked a copy of The Artist's Way out of the library and faithfully wrote my "morning pages" every day, half-heartedly performed the daily affirmations, skipped out on the weekly "artist date," and got bored of the whole thing just about the time the book was due back at the library. This year in Paris I excitedly shelled out a chunk of baby-sitting money for a writing workshop taking place weekly in the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. I only made it to about four of the seven meetings, and was beyond disappointed to discover that instead of writing exercises and creative brainstorming, the two hours each week were spent listening to and critiquing other participants' work. Which would have been great had I been able to participate, but the problem was that I wasn't writing in the first place. And thus my creative writing block remained firmly lodged somewhere between my gray matter and my increasingly antsy fingertips.

It is with this background in mind that I am proud to announce that during the last several months I have made my first tentative, tottering baby steps into the world of short fiction. But how did this breakthrough happen, you ask? What inspired me where books and workshops and self-motivation failed? Well, honestly, I have to say that most of the credit has to go to Hervé. Though he teaches social studies and economics, he has dabbled in some creative writing himself, publishing a book of poetry when he was only 22 years old, and then publishing another on the Internet. When I first shyly admitted my interest in writing, he asked me what I would write about. "Well I do have this idea for a short story," I told him, "but I don't know how it ends." And as I told him my half-formed idea, and as we discussed it together, suddenly it all became clear. "Of course! That's how it ends!" I said. Then we talked more, and suddenly all the tiny details necessary to form a convincing narrative started falling into place. By the end of our discussion, he had an idea for a short story, too. Now, I have an outline for an entire short story or novella, and I've written the first one and a half chapters. Hervé has also been busy, and has written the first few chapters of his story. I've read a couple of them, and he's due to send me more by e-mail soon. I suppose I don't need to mention that they're good. What's more, we would write together. Where the writing workshop failed me, Hervé picked up the slack. We would spend evenings together, playing word games with friends, or making up writing exercises for each other. I would write in French, and I hated the frustrations of it, my limited vocabulary, and at the same time I loved the challenge.

And now those days are over, of course, and I am back at my parents' house and stagnating. And it seems so futile, because here I have all this time, limitless time to write, and instead I feel oppressed by these small town confines and my parents' constant presence, and my hands are still. Soon I will move on to something and somewhere new, and my time will be occupied by work and the effort of settling in to a new place and forging a new identity for myself. I hope I will continue to write, and I hope I will finish the story, but I'm not sure that I will. But for now it is enough for me to know that once I caught a glimpse of what I am capable of, that at one time, I wrote something. It makes my time with Hervé that much more special, and it makes me think of him with just a touch more fondness. It makes me hope that maybe, someday, we'll work on something together again.

Tomorrow I'll post some of the writing exercises I worked on with him, if you promise not to make fun.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why I should never go on Facebook

Once upon a time, someone I thought I loved broke my heart. Not even a clean break, no line down the middle, no two halves easily glued back whole, but shattered in a million separate pieces. Once, I discovered that the same mouth can kiss you, tell you it loves you, and lie to you all at the same time. I learned that sometimes you can't know a person, even after a year and a half, that sometimes people are actors because they understand that better than they understand themselves. Once, I didn't know how I would recover, how I would ever love again, how I would ever trust again. I thought I might be broken forever. After it happened I went through every photo album I owned, every box of souvenirs, and got rid of all evidence that he had ever existed. I didn't just throw them away, I ripped them into a million separate pieces. He didn't deserve to be remembered, and I knew if I didn't see his face again for the rest of my life, it would still be too soon. But the past isn't so easily discarded, and going through a box of old photos yesterday, I found myself staring it in the face. It was a close up, just his head and shoulders, but I knew he was sitting on my old dorm room bed, and I knew he was holding my guitar, and all of a sudden I remembered everything. I remembered the way his eyes squinted when he smiled, the freckles on his arms, the way his arms felt when he held me, everything. And then I waited for it, the old, familiar anger, that impotent, indignant rage, but instead what I felt was...nothing. Meh, I shrugged, and put the picture back in the box. I found letters, too, professions of undying love and devotion, and I re-folded those equally calmly and placed them among the ticket stubs and birthday cards that I keep for reasons unknown even to myself. It wasn't even worth the drama of ripping them up and throwing them away, because they had no power over me any longer. They meant nothing more or less to me than a ripped ticket stub for the county agricultural fair circa 2001, and so I put the lid back on the box, and put the box back in the closet, where it will likely remain untouched for the next five to ten years.

But lest I become too proud of my relative non-insanity, fate/karma/whatever you want to call it had me curled up in a ball on my bed this afternoon, dripping tears all over my cell phone as I placed a frantic call to Talia. It started with Facebook (doesn't it always?) and involved a series of photos of him, my other ex, the one that I myself broke up with, but who I will probably always consider as the one who got away. And I am not even friends with this guy on Facebook, but I am friends with his sister and his dad, so click click and there you go. Anyway, the poison in question was a series of photos of him and a girl in their finest fancy wear doing some dip-heavy dance moves in some kind of ballroom or dance studio. This was followed by some cryptic commentary by friends and well-wishers leading me to believe that the couple in question may in fact be engaged. After some deep breathing in a paper bag and closer inspection obsessive re-reading of the text I realized that the comments could simply be good-natured ribbing of the hardy har har variety targeted at two friends who just happened to take a dance class together. But I will never know.

Damn you, Facebook. And damn you, ex-boyfriends, for having the nerve to go on living and being happy once we are no longer in your lives. It's just ever so monumentally oh so not fair.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why vacation's all I ever wanted (vacation, had to get away)

In case you were wondering, my weekend was full of kites...


half-assed sandcastles...


and ponies on the beach.

Did I say ponies on the beach? Why yes, I did. God, I love Assateague Island.

Just two ponies, out for a stroll. No big deal.

Somewhere in the midst of all the pony watching, sun bathing, and sand castle building, I had an idea. Hey, let's take pictures of us jumping! I said. Ok, my sister said. I handed her my camera and took up my position. Because I had a vision. An artistic vision that could not be denied. And one and two and three! I said.

Hmm, that's not exactly it. Not bad for a first try, but let's do it again. And one and two and three!!!


Ha ha ha, no, silly, see, you did it again. You have to hold the button halfway down, right? Got it? Ok, and one and two and...


Seriously, what the hell? It's the button on the... You know, this is all starting to feel very familiar. Here, give me that...Ok, and one and two and three...

First try! Boo-ya! See, I told you it's not that hard. And it's worthy of a Tampax commercial, if I do say so myself.

Maybe I just jump right, my sister replied smugly.

And so finally, many, many outtakes and near-stranglings later, we succeeded.



Because I jumped on two.

I think the counting is throwing me off,
my sister said.

Once we did away with that pesky counting, we practiced our new found skill all over the island.



And I pretended like I know how to do yoga.


Which I do not. If there is anyone who actually practices yoga out there, please don't judge me. I call this pose leaning crane, laughing beanstalk.

And finally, in case anyone was wondering how real horses might react to the sound of a not real horse whinnying over a loudspeaker, because someone for unknown reasons might have decided to equip his Jeep with a megaphone playing fifty pre-recorded sounds, well, here it is:

video
I think they were saying, the hell?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Why do all good things have to come to an end?

Well, I'm back in the U.S. And yesterday I got myself locked into a two-year cell phone contract so it looks like I'm here for good. I don't know what to say about it all except that it's about what I thought it would be; no better, no worse. I spent most of the day yesterday in the car accompanying my sister on errands all around the suburbs of our nation's capital. About three hours in, sitting in yet more traffic at yet another stoplight and I kind of wanted to kill myself. What is this car thing? I found myself thinking. This is awful! People spend their lives sitting in traffic and no one walks anywhere! Because you can't walk anywhere! A couple more hours in and my sister and I were faint with hunger. So we did what we had to do. Yes, I'll admit it, I was in the country for less than 48 hours when I was lured by the siren song of Taco Bell. And I'm not going to lie; it was delicious. So, you know. Ups and downs.

But to think that just four days ago I was on my couch in France, arms and legs entwined with Hervé as we held each other and kissed and cried, our tears mixing on our faces until we couldn't tell whose were whose anymore. So yes, we cried, although only one of us sobbed, and it wasn't even me. I hated myself for what I was doing to him, for hurting him like that, for not being able to make it better. Luckily our sob-fest helped us to relatively hold it togther for the long goodbye in the airport the next day. We clung and kissed and shed some quiet tears, and then we just let go. As I turned I felt my face crumple, and because I didn't want him to see me like that, I kept walking without ever turning around. I don't know if he turned around. I reached the security check, my face red, tissue crumpled tightly in my hand. "Bonjour" I mouthed without saying the word, because I didn't trust myself to speak.

"Where are you going?" the man asked.

I tested my voice but couldn't get the word out. "Wa...wa..." I tried.

"Where?" the man said.

"Washington," I whispered in the smallest voice possible, but it was too late. With the word the dam holding back the lump in my throat burst and a flood of emotions came pouring out. He waved me through without another word. I waited in lines filled with boisterously happy Americans returning home from vacation and I felt like an outsider. I was the only one not happy to be returning home, the only one who looked like I was attending my own funeral.

And what better antidote to one's own funeral than a wedding? Today my cousin gets married, and so I will go, and it will be beautiful and I will revel in the love of others, and maybe I will cry, just a little bit. Then at 2 a.m. I will leave with my sister and her boyfriend for the beach, or at least that's the plan (but we all know how well that worked out last year). So it appears distraction is the name of the game, a technique I plan to take full advantage of this summer.

So here's to new beginnings and starting over. Again. Here's to summer.