Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Vision Board - A Look Back at 2011

I'm noticing a disturbing theme on the Internet this week. People are ushering out 2011 with statements like:

"Screw you, 2011. Bring on 2012."
"2011 was the worst."
"My fiance and I broke up."
"It's been a miserable year."
"Please go away, 2011."
"2011 should die in a fire."

Then there's this awesome cartoon:

Thanks to Facebook Timeline, I can easily look back at my own reactions and the reactions of others to the passing of 2009 (which really was the worst) and 2010 (which was just a continuation of the worst).

I noticed that each year was declared THE WORST YEAR EVER, but I also noticed that my friends and I looked forward to the next year. We put a lot of stock in the power of a new number on the calendar.

So, was 2011 an improvement over 2010 and the Year That Shall Not Be Named (2009, the Voldemort of years)?

On the last day of 2010, I left my job of more than 7 years and took a flying leap.

"You jump off the cliff and you build your wings on the way down," Ray Bradbury said.

I've been busily building my wings all year. I am nearly finished with the book I wanted to write. I have about four chapters left to go. I've given myself a break from meeting my self-imposed, meaningless deadline of finishing it by today. I know what I want to say and how I want to say it. The words will still be there in January 2012, just waiting for me to write them down.

I was reading some of the year-end recaps of 2011 and the reader comments beneath the stories, and I could feel the pull toward negativity.

And it's true that very little happened in 2011 the way I wanted it to, dammit! I had a time frame and the universe did not follow it. What's that quote? "We plan, God laughs."

I often like to say that the God of my understanding has an awesome sense of humor. He's up there figuring out how to screw with us and He's giggling the whole time. Sometimes I picture Jesus saying, "Oh my God, you telling Michelle Bachmann to run for president was the MOST HILARIOUS THING EVER. Now, tell someone else! Ooh, tell that moron Rick Perry to run, too!"

This sort of thing cheers me up. Anne Lamott once said this brilliant thing: "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do." I know I have created God in my own image because I always picture God and Jesus having hilarious back-and-forths about the world, making jokes, and messing with us because we are just so much fun to mess with. I simply cannot get on board with a higher power that doesn't find human beings hilarious.

Despite the universe's refusal to adhere to my timeline, I do tend to believe that things work out as they should. I have learned that acceptance is the secret to a happy life. The first step toward making peace with the bad things is to accept them, simple as that. Stop trying to change the past.

The tough times make us appreciate the good times even more. 2011 hasn't been nearly as tough as 2009 and 2010, and I'm sincerely grateful for that.

Erin, Stephanie, and I channeled our inner Oprahs (yes, we are total dorks) and created vision boards in 2010 for the next year and here's what mine looked like:

I decided to look at what I wanted and think about what I got:

1. I wanted to leap up on the board and ride the waves. I wanted change. I got it. Big time. I left my job and I put myself in charge of what I'd be writing each day.

2. I wanted to start working out again, to feel energetic and alive. In January, I started going to Pure Barre. In October, I started going to Piloxing (pilates and boxing) at Studio G. I love the intensity of Pure Barre. I love the energy of Piloxing. I picture all the jerks I want to punch while I punch the air. Funny thing though, a few minutes into it I'm no longer thinking about jerks. I'm thinking about how much fun I'm having, about how strong I feel, about how I am SO close to having Michelle Obama arms. I'm thinking that if I can do this, I can do anything. I can fight the good fight.

3. I wanted my home to feel safe. It does. I love my home. Yes, something awful happened there in 2009. But, in the hundreds of days since then, thousands upon thousands of good things have happened. There has been laughter. There has been off-key singing and out-of-rhythm dancing. There have been inside jokes. There has been lasagna baking and cocktail making. There's been steak cooking on a new grill that I learned how to use. There's been a little girl afraid to sleep alone who is slowly making her way to her own bedroom. There have been hugs and kisses. There's been gumbo on the stove and Psych and Community and The Colbert Report on TV and a teenage boy who actually enjoys watching these shows with his mom.

4. I wanted my children to be healthy and happy. They are. "The kids are all right."

5. I wanted to move forward on my book. I dreamt of agents and book deals and checks in the mail. No, I don't have an agent yet. I don't have a book deal. YET. I don't have any money. But I have a nearly finished book of which I am truly proud. When the words come, when I figure out exactly how to structure what I need to say, when I finish a chapter and immediately email it to copy editor extraordinaire Stephanie Gibson, I am happy.

6. Of course, there's George Clooney on my vision board. No, the real man is nowhere near here. That's OK. Listen, George is always there for me. That's why I love him. He is a lovely place to put all my girly dreams of romance without the real fear of heartache. But mostly I love that my friends send me messages when they go to George Clooney movies or hear George Clooney news and it makes them think of me. I like being thought of. I like that we're all in on this silly, running joke. I like that my friends will Photoshop excellent pictures for me.

7. I wanted to fully experience life. I wanted to "enjoy the ride." For awhile I was just getting by. I was just breathing in and out and forcing myself out of bed each day. I was in a bit of a fog. But this year I fought my way back to living in the moment.

After years of saying no, I said yes to dates. I even did the asking once.

I saw Bret Michaels in concert three times because my friend Laurey loves him and I love singing really loudly to Poison songs.
I went to my high school reunion and enjoyed every minute of it. It's hard to believe it's been 20 years. I can say, without a doubt, that all of us have only gotten more amazing as the years have passed. Also, we all are a helluva lot of fun to be around.

I went bowling three times. I never got any better at it.

I went dancing. More than three times. I never got any better at that, either. I looked for excuses to wear this awesome dress.

My friends threw me a fantastic birthday party at Railroad Park in downtown Birmingham. We played old-school, field-day games.

We acted like hippies. We were high on life. "Your friends love you!"
I met friends for long lunches on Fridays.
We shared the heartbreaking loss of a dear and luminous friend to cancer. I'm not quite sure I've accepted this. I keep thinking that I simply haven't seen her in awhile and I'm only waiting for my next lunch date with her. Sometimes I can feel her love for me when I absolutely need it, when I have been thinking, only moments before, that I sure could use a hug from Sara Jones, that I sure would love to hear her laugh, that I would love to hear her tell me positive and reassuring things. I know all of her friends feel the same. Some people love you so much and so well that you keep feeling it when they're gone. That's an amazing gift. I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful that I was blessed to know such a wonderful person. I would never give up the pain of losing her if it meant I would have never known her.
I went with a group of friends to see Ben Folds in concert. Afterward, we drank Prosecco. We toasted to all the fabulous things.

8. I wore blue nail polish in the spring. By late summer, I switched to a deep blackberry color by OPI called "We'll Always Have Paris." I took Kate for occasional manicures. We sat side-by-side and she told me about her boyfriends, about her life and what happens in those hours between the morning trek to the bus stop and the afternoon trek home.

9. I wanted answers. I think maybe what I've figured out is to stop asking the wrong questions (questions like Why us? What did we do wrong? How could I have changed things?).

I have tried to open my heart and hear what matters. I think the real answers are to love one another, to listen, to keep moving forward.

I think another answer is to let go and let God. In my own words it would sound like this: "Ignore the bull shit that doesn't matter." Honestly, when I looked back on the year, I had a hard time remembering the little things that made me cry, the list of things that might have made me say, "Die in a fire, 2011." I had to work to remember that I had to pay for a new roof and I had to get new brakes on the car and that both things drastically reduced my savings account, that I worried over a man and how he hurt my feelings, that I have no job and no idea what the future holds.

The thing is I like the color of my new roof better than the old roof. I like that I can stop when necessary; that's always a good thing. I like that I actually allowed myself to feel something for someone after years of staying behind my walls. I like that I got to spend a month in the summer remembering what it's like to have the freedom to stay out late, sleep late, and hang out on the back patio talking and drinking until the early morning hours. "Feel weekend happy all week long."

Something else I heard when I listened was this: "Do something." So Kate, Jacob, and I participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We were supported by our amazing friends and family, those who walked with us and those who gave donations. We walked on a beautiful fall day and my son reminded me that what his dad left us with, more than anything, is laughter. You can read my blog post about it here.

10. I didn't make it to the ocean this year, but at least I know it's there. Sometimes that's enough.

Erin, Stephanie, and I have decided to make new vision boards for the year. It's a great excuse to get together and drink wine and discuss what needs discussing. We'll laugh a lot. How can you not laugh when you're searching through magazines for photos of Ryan Gosling or George Clooney or some hot guy from True Blood, when you're clipping out the words "Sex, please!" and giggling about what is and what might be?

And that's just it, isn't it? Maybe 2011 didn't meet all our expectations, maybe it didn't rain down wealth and success and true love, but it rained down a flood of happy memories.

And there's always tomorrow. There's 2012.

There's a whole world of possibilities.

Merry New Year, my friends. I hope tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and all the days of 2012 bring you the wonderful things you desire.

Classics and Cocktails Book Club

You might have seen that I'm going to attempt to read 12 classic novels in 2012, important books that I somehow failed to read in my previous 38 years of living. (Click here for my blog post about it.) A couple of friends, Michelle and Shellie, have decided to join me on the first one, Anna Karenina, which I'm going to read in January. Have you checked the calendar? January is racing toward us like a high-speed train.
Anna Karenina is the tragic tale of the woman who wrote the "Banana Fanna" song. You know: Anna anna bobanna banana fanna fo fanna me mi mo manna Karenina.
At the end, poor Anna slips on a banana peel.

Hold on, just checked my notes. That's not right. It's a tragic love story about married aristocrat Anna Karenina who has an affair with the affluent Count Vronsky. Oh well, it's still perfect for the dark and dreary days of January when I will be sitting on my arse for most hours of the day. So why not join me in reading a book about people who make really poor decisions while sitting on your arse, too?
Before you decide to forsake viewings of Hitch on TBS or TNT for readings of Anna Karenina, here are some important facts about Leo Tolstoy's classic novel:
1. Anna Karenina contains 351,000 words.
2. The novel was published in serial installments from 1873 to 1877 in the periodical The Russian Messenger. That's a period of four years. We'll be reading it in four weeks.
3. In this time, I will gain four pounds. Why? Because I like to eat crackers with cream cheese and drink cranberry and vodka cocktails while I sit on my arse and read all the livelong day. Totally worth the calories, my friends. Plus, we'll need extra sustenance to lift this book (unless you have a Kindle and then you might want to cut out the cream cheese).
4. I found a Web site that shows the entire text of Anna Karenina in two images. Here they are. See, how tiny this book really is? We can absolutely do this!
If you join in, here are the rules of the book club:
There are no rules.
 If you hate the book, if you throw it across the room and accidentally injure a household pet, if you fall asleep two pages into reading it each night and start over the next night and never get past page two, if you give up on the hundreds of Russian names and try to chuck it all and instead decide to order a Russian mail-order bride to make January more interesting, no problem. 
If you watch Hitch instead, that's cool, baby. (You know how it is, rockin' and rollin' and whatnot.) 
At the end of the month, we can check in and give our opinions on the book, whatever they may be. 
We can talk about how we're so much better than all those dumb-dumbs who spent January watching Hitch on TBS. Oh, Hitch, how I love thee. But I refuse to watch you again. I'm just going to post this video instead. Get your fix and then pick up a book! Sign up in the comments if you want to feel like you're committing to something. 
Happy reading! 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Well, Hello There, Christopher Plummer

Are you watching The Sound of Music? I am. Now I feel the urge to post a lot of gifs of the wonderful Christopher Plummer.

The man is fantastic. I can't wait to see Beginners. I'm going to see that rather than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I'm just not up for watching all of that violence and what are apparently horrific rape scenes. Sometimes I wonder if people who enjoy awfully violent movies are people who have never actually seen awful violence in real life.

I would give up living in a convent for this man. Who wouldn't? And I would not hesitate to kick the asses of Nazis, Baroness Schraeder, and that little shithead Ralph, too.

Vodka Cranberry Jane Eyre - A Drunken Book Review

I finished Jane Eyre last night. It's the first in a series of "Important Books" I'm going to read during 2012. This one was a bit of a bonus since I'm officially beginning with Anna Karenina in January.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about the book. I decided I'd have a couple of Christmas Eve cocktails and spill out my thoughts on it. I'm going to try not to worry about how dumb I might sound. This review will contain spoilers so if you haven't read the book and don't want to know that Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester is a drag queen, stop reading now.

So, let's begin. Hold on, let me take a sip of my drink.

I didn't love it. It reminded me of reading The Historian (THE big book of 2005; It was about Dracula; Little, Brown paid something like $2 million for it; It mostly makes you want to crawl into a coffin and take a nap). It reminded me of that book in that I found the first third boring and the last third boring. Contained within the middle third was a pretty good book.

The book begins with 10-year-old Jane Eyre who is a sad little orphan. The first third of the book mainly deals with Jane's loneliness and hardship.

In the beginning, she lives with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her cousins, John, Georgiana, and Eliza.

Jane is mistreated by her aunt, who is a real bitch, and 14-year-old John, who is a real son of a bitch.

"You ought not to think yourself on an equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed, because Missis kindly allows you to be brought up with them. They will have a great deal of money and you will have none; it is your place to be humble, and to try to make yourself agreeable to them," Bessie, the nursemaid, tells Jane.

Isn't this how these books always go? Poor, little abused orphan. Don't worry, John Reed will get what's coming to him in the end.

As punishment one evening, Mrs.  Reed condemns Jane to spending a night in the red room upstairs where Mr. Reed passed away nine years earlier. This room is creepy, writes Charlotte Bronte. I'm paraphrasing a bit.

I have strong feelings about this topic. People like to imagine what a space where someone died might feel like. It feels like it did before unless you give it power over you, that's what it feels like. Do not give a space power over you. One day shortly after her dad died, my daughter Kate marched toward the garage and said, "I'm going to see if Dad's ghost is in the garage."
I told her that wasn't possible but you know what this really means, right? My daughter, who was 9 at the time, is so much more of a bad ass than Jane Eyre.

I guess I should admit here that I didn't love Jane Eyre, the character. She's OK. I know I'm supposed to like her, admire her when she tells off her mean aunt, admire her tenacity. I just didn't feel much for her.

Jane is sent off to the Lowood School, which is run by Mr. Brocklehurst, who is also a real son of a bitch. The girls at the school are abused and underfed.

At the school, Jane becomes friends with Helen Burns. Helen is one of those characters you always find in books. She is wise beyond her years. She takes her abuse without question.

"It would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear.” Helen Burns says to Jane Eyre.

I find this interesting, this question of fate. Helen Burns believes her fate is to be abused? And then to die. (Oh, yeah, she dies. Of course, she dies. Of consumption. In Jane Eyre's arms. The wise child always dies. The wise child who takes her misfortune with dignity might as well be the black dude in a horror movie.)

I think people feel better about the horrors that befall them if they believe it was meant to be in some way. Maybe this way you don't have to think about the million ways you could have changed things.

Jane Eyre stays at Lowood until she is 18, when she places an ad seeking a position as a governess. This is when she enters the second episode of the book. The first episode was "Poor, little orphan."

The next episode is the Mr. Rochester episode and this is the portion most people think of when they think of Jane Eyre. This is the section in which Jane finds love and, of course, more tragedy.

Jane meets Mr. Rochester when she is out for a walk and comes upon him. He and his horse fall on some ice and Jane helps him out. Later, when she gets home from her walk, she realizes the man she helped was her employer, Mr. Rochester (who she has never met).

There's a lot of time spent on telling us how unattractive both Jane and Mr. Rochester are. She's plain and little and elf-like. He's severe-looking.

by Ben McLaughlin
The reader is never allowed to forget how damn unattractive these folks are. Ever. I suppose the point is that it must be real, true love because who could love such ugly people? Because love is blind. Oh, by the way, this deep thought is an allusion to what happens at the end of the book.

Mr. Rochester has charm. He and Jane do some nice little sparring. But Mr. Rochester is clearly a freak. In order to find out how Jane truly feels about him, he dresses up as an old gypsy woman and visits the house to tell the "fortunes" of the people within the home. Yep, that's right, he dresses up like an old woman to trick Jane. What the fuckity fuck?

It's suddenly Some Like It Hot up in here.

These chapters in the book just sucked the SEXY right out of Mr. Rochester for me. Mostly my feelings about Mr. Rochester are that he was deeply insecure, a bit of a narcissist, and a touch pathetic. It was all, "I love you. Do you love me?" "You're my little friend." "Do you think me handsome?" Ugh. Shut up.

Mr. Rochester also tries to make Jane jealous by parading Blanche Ingram around and making her believe he is going to make Blanche his wife.
By Kate Beaton/

This doesn't even get to the heart of Mr. Rochester's big problem which is that he already has a wife and she's locked up in a room on the third floor. Yep. And the crazy wife, Bertha, is always escaping and setting fire to things and stabbing people and trying to eat off their faces. (I don't even have the energy to get into the fact that the first Mrs. Rochester is of some sort of mixed race and, before she went totally nuts, was always acting very wild. There's some racism in here that is a bit icky since Mr. Rochester links Bertha's craziness to her "impure" heritage.)

A lot of drama ensues. And it's a good read. After Mr. Rochester tries to marry Jane and the first Mrs. Rochester is revealed, Jane leaves and enters the next episode of the novel, the "Hell No, Don't Marry Your Cousin (Ick)" episode. This is when I got bored again, unfortunately. So I'm not going to go into that portion much. Suffice it to say, Jane meets some long-lost cousins and one of them, a super-religious, humorless douche who goes to India to be a missionary, wants to marry Jane.

Eventually, Jane inherits a big chunk of money (yea!) from an uncle she never knew. This is how Jane truly gains the equality and independence she has always wanted. It is only now that she can go back to Mr. Rochester. While she was gone, Mr. Rochester's crazy-ass wife set the house on fire and, after saving all the servants, Mr. Rochester was crushed and lost one eye, was left blind in the other eye (see how love is blind?) and lost a hand. His crazy wife jumped to her death during the fire.

So independent Jane marries Mr. Rochester and takes care of him.

I'm not sure how I feel about all this. I think I would have preferred Jane take her wealth and truly be independent. There are analyses of the book which will say that only by feeling equal to him could Jane Eyre truly be with Mr. Rochester.

Sure, OK. Maybe. But then why did Mr. Rochester have to be brought to his damn knees, crippled, and blinded in order for them to be equal?

The book's last chapter begins with this line: "Reader, I married him."

Then, boom, Jane goes on to tell us how it's 10 years later, Mr. Rochester has regained the sight in his one eye, the two of them chat all the time and they are in "perfect concord."

"I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth," Jane says. "I hold myself supremely blest - blest beyond what language can express because I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am; ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward's society; he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together...We talk, I believe, all day long."

Are you gagging yet? Maybe I'm bitter, but, dammit all, doesn't Jane Eyre seem like she'd be one of those women who is constantly posting as her Facebook status update: "My husband is the greatest." "No one is as close to her husband as I am. We are the best couple EVER!" "I am absolutely the bone of my husband's bone! LOL!"

Damn, I am so unromantic. I think I might have some issues.

I'm going to fix another cocktail.

Merry Christmas Eve to you all and to all a good night!

NOTE: This blog post features "Jane Eyre Trading Cards" by Ben McLaughlin, a really talented animation artist in Sydney, Australia who has a blog:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays from Ryan Gosling

That last blog post was a real downer. Sorry about that. To make it up to you guys, I'm posting some photos of Ryan Gosling. 

There, now, don't you feel better?

I know I do.

Super Sad Holiday Shit

Kate and Jacob, Christmas 2010
I just dropped Kate and Jacob at the mall so they could do some Christmas shopping. They argued briefly about who should get to hold the cash.

"Before you go in, agree that you're going to work together and get along," I said in my best Mom Voice.

"We will," they said together in sing-song, not entirely reassuring.

After I dropped them off, I drove down to the coffee shop nearby and I'm sitting here writing. Though, clearly, I'm not writing what I'm supposed to be writing. I have begun it, this task of writing the most difficult chapter in my book, but I'm taking a break. I'm circling around it.

I need to breathe in and out for a minute.

It's rainy, dark and gray, perfect weather for sitting in a booth drinking a latte while you tap onto a keyboard the combination of letters that will spell out the worst thing you've ever experienced.

When Kate and Jacob jumped out of the car earlier, I watched them run through the rain and into the store at one end of the mall. I had one of those moments when I felt so much love for them that it hurt.

I don't normally give them money to buy me gifts. Up until two years ago, their dad would take them out to buy me something, like a sweater from Anthropologie or a new book or two. Last year, my counselor said I would need to make sure that the children knew they should still buy gifts for me and for each other. It would be good for them and good for me. But I would have to make sure that happened. It would be my job.

Honestly, I'm one of those annoying people who will say, "You don't have to give me anything" or I give my mom a list that is full of practical things. For instance, I just ran out of my face wash and I'm thinking about having Santa stop by Rite Aid so he can put a bottle of Neutrogena in my stocking.

I resisted my counselor's advice the past couple of years thinking it was silly to give the kids money just to spend on me, but she was right, of course. They need to think about other people and what they might like this time of year. They need to learn to shop for Christmas gifts.

And I might like to have a few gifts to open, little surprises that Kate and Jacob have chosen for me.

After I dropped them off, I felt like crying. I feel it now, this thing lodged in my throat.

I don't know why.

Stupid f*cking holidays.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

31 Day Christmas 31 Minutes

My friend Kerry, she of the witty Facebook status updates and the hilarious blog, Kerry's Little Blog, has been participating in this 31-day Christmas challenge all month. I've been reading her posts and wishing I'd done the challenge, too. It seems fun. Plus, it would help me think of things to write about on days when I feel like Harper Lee after she wrote the final sentence of To Kill a know, incapable of writing anything else ever again.

Since it's already December 18, I'm obviously too late for the challenge so I thought I'd just go ahead and do the whole damn thing. Tonight. In 31 minutes.

It's 8:57 pm. Let us begin.

Day 1: Favorite Christmas song and why

This is tough because my official statement is that I hate Christmas songs. They make me sad. But if I had to choose one, I'd choose Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas."

Why? I have no idea. It's best not to question things involving Mariah Carey. Like, what the hell is she doing here?
Day 2: Favorite Christmas movie and why

I usually say that Die Hard is my favorite movie. I say this because it's funny, because I spent about ten years watching it every year on Christmas Eve while I wrapped presents, and because Alan Rickman is the man.

But, if I had to choose a traditional Christmas movie, I'd pick Miracle on 34th Street, the original in black and white. (I have seen four-year-old monkeys color pictures of Barney that look better than the crap-ass colorized version of that movie.) I'd choose it for this scene alone.

That's right, little Natalie Wood, take your cynicism and shove it. This dude is speaking Dutch to an orphan. You probably feel like a real bitch for not believing in him sooner, huh?

Day 3: Hot chocolate or hot apple cider?

You had me at chocolate.

Who the hell drinks hot apple cider? I'm not sure I've ever even had any. But it does sound good for a cold winter's night. Can you put bourbon in it? In that case, you had me at bourbon.

Day 4: Does your family have any traditions?

Other than bitching and moaning about this time of year? OK, yes, we do. Or we did before life walloped us over the head. We used to put clues on all our presents. My grandmother gave the best clues. Clever enough that you could never guess what the gift was but so fitting that as soon as you opened it, you said, "I get it! That's excellent!"

The only person whose clue-writing talent could rival my grandmother's was my stepdad, Ted. After he married my mom in 1992, he got right into the spirit of things. This was amazing considering the pressure on him at the holidays. He was a jeweler and he spent the season finishing up work for all the people who needed jobs completed by Christmas Eve, at the latest. He was like one of Santa's elves, sitting at a workbench all day, his fingers rough and torn. Even if he did all his shopping late on Christmas Eve, in a last-minute rush trip through Walmart, he'd still come up with clues for them. He never even wrote them down. He said them to you right before you'd open your gift.

The fact that he can't do this anymore is just one of the numerous tiny tragedies that has followed the huge tragedy of his heart attack.

Day 5: Favorite Christmas memory

We spent our first Christmas in Alabama in a house we bought in Hoover. We didn't know that Santa Claus rode through the neighborhoods of Hoover on a fire truck on Christmas Eve. Kate, Jacob, and I were sitting in the living room of our house, around 6 o'clock, when we saw flashing lights through the windows and we heard a loud voice. The three of us ran out onto the porch and saw Santa Claus on the back of a fire engine. He waved and yelled out, "Merry Christmas! Ho, ho, ho!" and the kids and I jumped up and down in excitement. Kate was only 4 so I don't know if she remembers. Jacob was 8. I love the memory of us on that porch, shivering in the cold but thrilled to behold such a sight.

Charles was inside, passed out on the sofa. I don't know if the kids remember that part. On New Year's Eve, I decided that I wanted a divorce.

This is why Christmas is so difficult. It's never a Hallmark card. It's a Tolstoy novel. It's a quote about how all happy families are the same but all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. It's all laughter and tears and cookies and booze. It's happy memories that make you cry and sad memories that make you crack jokes to protect your wounded heart.

Day 6: Who is your favorite reindeer?

This one.

Day 7: Have you been naughty or nice this year?

I have been so nice all year long. Except for two and a half months during late spring and summer when I was sort of naughty. Good times.

Day 8: What is your favorite food at Christmas time?

Egg nog daiquiris from a Louisiana drive-through liquor store. If you think that doesn't sound good, you're a damn idiot.

Day 9: What are you doing for Christmas this year?

We're going to stay home. I think this is the first Christmas that the kids and I will have all on our own, just the three of us. I think we're all kind of excited about it. We're a team, me and these kids, and there's no one else I'd rather be with on that morning. The next day we're going to drive to Louisiana and visit the grandparents in Shreveport and Natchitoches. I believe I will partake of an egg nog daiquiri in Shreveport and another in Natchitoches.

When I told my mom our plans, she said, "Oh, yea! I can buy all your presents the day after Christmas on sale!"

My mom is undoubtedly the most excellent person I know.

Day 10: Kissing under the mistletoe… have you done it?

I'm not sure I've ever even seen mistletoe in person. If you told me it was just a fictional device used in stupid movies, I'd probably believe you.

Day 11: What kind of Christmas tree do you have?

We have an artificial tree that my wonderful friend Laurey gave us. I was genuinely worried about spending money on a real tree this year, but I knew Kate, in particular, would have been heartbroken if we didn't have a tree. Thank God, Laurey offered me her tree.

Day 12: Do you take part in Secret Santa?

Nope. You're only as sick as your secrets.

Plus, I insist on getting credit for any gifts I give.

Day 13: Have you ever had a white Christmas?

No. I think it snowed in Birmingham last Christmas, but we were in Louisiana. My egg nog daiquiri was white. Does that count?

Day 14: How many Christmas cards do you usually send out?

Zero. The last few years have been tough. I don't think there's any reason to make them any tougher.

Day 15: Have you started Christmas stockings yet?

No. My mom always takes care of the stockings.

Oh, shit.

Looks like I'm going to have to handle that this year.

Day 16: When did you find out Santa wasn’t real?

I don't remember a time when I truly believed in Santa. I have, however, always believed in Neil Diamond. Damn, that Jew can singtalk™ a Christmas song.

Day 17: Have you ever been to a Christmas parade?

Yes. Wait. Have I? Actually, I have no idea. God, I have really got to cut back on the egg nog daiquiris.

Day 18: Which lights are better? White or colored? Blinking or still?

White. Still. Period.

Day 19: If you were an elf, what would your name be?


I have no idea why. The clock is ticking and that's the first name that came to me.

Day 20: What color ornaments do you put on your tree?

Our ornaments encompass the range of all colors. I am strongly opposed to people who only use one color and feel the need to make their trees look perfect. Why are you torturing yourself? Why are you torturing your children? Fill that tree up with every  ornament you have, homemade reindeer, glittery stars, felt gingerbread men. Trust me, no one is impressed with your control-freak, themed Christmas tree. Also, I'm pretty sure your husband is cheating on you with his secretary.

Day 21: What kind of tree you have? Fake or real? If real, what type?

I already answered this question, dammit. Who came up with this challenge? You're wasting my time! I'm not going to be able to do this in 31 minutes with bull shit like this.

Plus, what sort of question is "What kind of tree you have?" Did I call you to place an order for shrimp fried rice? Is this joke politically incorrect? Dammit, I don't have time to wonder about this.

Grrr, who do I speak to about this?

Day 22: Do you hang a wreath up?

No. Shouldn't it be "hang up a wreath"?

Day 23: Ham or Turkey?

Ham. My fabulous mother-in-law, Nancy, said she's going to make us a ham when we come over after Christmas. She said she'll make a small turkey for my father-in-law if he insists, but she's going to make a ham for us. Because she's awesome.

Day 24: Do you go to a church service or go caroling?

Neither. I choose not to subject people to the sound of my singing. As for the other, the answer to the church question is way too long and complicated. I do frequently fall to my knees and pray out loud and say thank you for all the good things I have and pleasehelpmepleasehelpmepleasehelpme. Sometimes I worry that I'm just hedging my bets.

Day 25: Does your family have a Christmas breakfast or dinner?

No, we don't eat. We just drink all day.

Day 26: How was your Christmas?

I'm going to predict that it was great, that we laughed a lot, that we made eggs and biscuits and bacon for breakfast, that we watched a few movies after we finished opening gifts, that Kate walked to her friend's house around the corner to see her presents and show off hers, that I spent some time reading while Jacob played a video game, that we relaxed all day and I never changed out of my pajamas, that it was a perfect day.

Day 27: Gift you didn't get but really wanted?

Duh. I don't need psychic powers to answer this one.

Day 28: Best gift you received this year?

An entire year off to write the book I wanted to write. An entire year off to be with my children. An entire year off to breathe a little easier, to seek healing, to seek forgiveness, to give love, to find peace.

Day 29: What did you receive this year that you will be re-gifting?

I seriously asked my mom for a huge supply of toilet paper, paper towels, and light bulbs. See, I'm the sort of person who doesn't like to think about that stuff. Plus, I want to be prepared in the event of a snowstorm, hurricane, tornado, or zombie apocalypse. So, if my mother follows through and gives me all that, I will happily re-gift the toilet paper to any visitors who come to my house and need to use the facilities. I'm a giver.

Day 30: Resolutions for the new year?

I resolve to get laid again before Obama is reelected or Newt Gingrich cheats on another wife, whichever happens first.

Sure, I need a job. I need to keep working out. I should probably stop cursing so much. I might want to strive for a healthier diet. But, screw all that, I have my priorities.

Day 31: Plans for New Years' Eve?

None other than making fun of Ryan Seacrest. I hate going out on New Year's Eve. (I'm wondering which apostrophe placement is correct here. It's not the eve of multiple new years. It's the eve of this particular new year. So mine is right. Yep, answered my own question.)

It is now 9:41. I failed at my 31-minute challenge. I blame the person who wrote this challenge who wasted my time asking questions I had to answer more than once and who doesn't know that it's New Year's Eve, thus making me Google that shit to prove to myself that I'm right and that person was wrong. You know what, though? Proving I'm right is always time well-spent.

I also got distracted because The 40-Year-Old Virgin is on.

Merry Christmas, friends. I hope you all have a fantastic holiday and that you all get laid in 2012.

Yes, we can. 

This Doggie Disapproves

I'm posting this photo because it made me laugh and this is something I say to my children pretty often when they misbehave or try to pull one over on me. (Note: They are NEVER successful at pulling one over on me. I know everything they are trying to pull. When are they going to figure this out?)

I can't post a long, inspiring, mind-blowing essay today because I have promised myself that I will work on chapter 17 of my book. I have about four or five chapters to go. I can see the end, the light at the end of this very long tunnel.

My goal is to finish the book (in its rough draft form) by the end of the year. That may not happen. The kids will be out of school beginning Wednesday and it's highly possible I could use them as an excuse to procrastinate some more while drinking wine and eating s'mores.

If this happens, I won't be angry with myself. I'll just be disappointed.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Slippery Slope Covered in Butter

Yesterday, two of my dearest friends sent me emails that were remarkably similar.

 I hear a theme running through our correspondence of late.

Who am I? Where am I? What has changed since last year? What will change next year?

As if the end of the year isn't busy enough with Christmas parties and shopping and decorating, we also pack it full of self-examination and self-recrimination.
Friend 1: "I'm so mad at myself for this whole year, and for feeling like I haven't moved forward at all. Exhausted, worn out from travel, filling life with everything but the real work I need to do. Then I feel self-indulgent for saying that, because I have so many good things. I hate myself just listening to my complaints."
Friend 2: "I've been thinking about you and me the last two days. Where did we miss something along the way? Why is it always so hard for us? I'm trying to think of a time in my life when it wasn't hard....when it was easy to live. And what mistakes aren't I learning from? And what aren't I doing? And am I just a bad, selfish person (who) does NOT learn from mistakes at all."
I'd sent this email to Friend 1 the day before:
 "I just keep thinking if God wanted something good to happen to me, then something good would happen. And then I go to this place where I think something awful happened to me because I'm a bad person. No, no. It's no use talking sense to me. I'm a bad person. That's where I go. Then I have to crawl back up the slippery slope and, unfortunately, that sucker is covered in butter."

That's what I want to write about today: the slippery slope. I have become well acquainted with it over the past two and a half years. I have become the master of sliding down it into a hole where any tiny flicker of hope is suffocated by the darkness.

I generally try to hide this side of myself from people. My mom gets a dose of it sometimes when I call her and cry. I try not to say out loud the things I think at night: This is my fault. I'm selfish because I want to be happy and move on. (I finally understand survivor's guilt, a concept that always baffled me before I survived something and felt guilty about it). Bad things happen to bad people. I'm a bad person.

I don't do this to myself as often as I did in the first year after Charles committed suicide. I have worked hard to pull myself out of that place, where I am solely to blame for a horrific tragedy. The crazy thing is that I almost immediately forgave the person who stood in front of me with a gun. Sure, I was angry with him some days. I wrote him notes in my journal. Dear Charles, I hate you today. Why did you do this to me? But mostly I forgave him because I knew he was in pain and he could only find one way out. He was in a hole where hope could not shine. I forgave him because it lightened the load on my heart to do so.

(For awhile, I did not realize the weight I was carrying by not forgiving myself.)

I continued to love him when I could not love myself.

I see that my friends do this to themselves, also. They worry that they are bad people, that they are selfish, that they aren't learning and changing and improving. That they should be punished for choices they make. "Bull shit!" I say to them in calls and emails. "You are amazing and wonderful and full of love! How could you think otherwise? I can see so clearly how kind and giving you are. Why can't you?"

I know they would say the same to me.

Yes, yes, I recognize the irony.

After Charles died, a couple of his friends and his father confessed to me their feelings that they were to blame in some way. NO! I exclaimed. Of course, you weren't. All along, secretly, I'd be whispering into the dark, "You are not to blame because I am. Can't you see that?"

Sometime during that year, I started writing about what happened and how we were all dealing with it. That lightened a load, too. I continued to write. I sat at Starbucks for an hour before work. When the kids were visiting their grandparents that summer, I wrote for three hours after work each night. I have spent most of the last year on hard chairs at coffee shops, on soft chairs in the library study area, at the desk in my bedroom, on the left end of my sofa where the cushion is irreversibly squished...writing. Sometimes waiting for inspiration (which is just another way to say procrastinating).

Like Friend 1, I have spent it trying to move forward. Like Friend 2, I have spent it trying to figure out where I went wrong and how to fix it. I have tried to learn from my mistakes.

In the meantime, I sent out query letters to agents. I sent out my book proposal to those who asked for it. I have truly felt it is my purpose to write this story so that it can help that person out there who is like me, the one looking for a book that does not yet exist. I thought this was a no-brainer. It is not. It is, apparently, unmarketable.

Books about sparkly pedophiliac immortals and weak-willed virgins in rainy  climes? Marketable.
A book about coming to terms with loss and love and forgiveness while listening to Luda? Unmarketable.

My latest slide down the slippery slope was prompted by the nicest rejection letter I have received so far from the most polite, considerate agent so far. (If you ever go looking for an agent, you will find that many of them will ask to read your proposal and, if they aren't interested in representing you, they will never contact you again. Because it's so difficult to hit send on a form rejection email.)

Here's my latest:

Hi Amy,

Thanks for sending along The Geography of You and Me. I really appreciate your patience these past few weeks while waiting for a response.

There's some good, smooth prose in these pages - in fact, the quality of writing is far superior to most of the material that crosses my desk. You make for a highly sympathetic protagonist and the memoir is at times heartbreaking and inspiring. It's with real regret, then, that I must admit that I've got reservations about my ability to place the project. I recently went out with a manuscript which, although different, does bear some marked similarities. Unfortunately, I was unable to find it a home. What with my recent experience, I suspect I wouldn't be the best advocate for your project. In spite of the book's strengths, I'd better bow out.

Amy, thanks so much for contacting me, and for giving me this opportunity. It is much appreciated, and I'm sorry to be passing. I hope another agent will have a better idea on how to see it successfully to market! Thanks again, and all the very best of luck on your road to publication.
So here's what happened next. Slide, slide, slippity slide, I do what I do just to survive. That's right. Coolio showed up. Not really. I just thought it was time for my favorite coping mechanism - a well-timed  rap song and a joke to lighten the mood.
Come on, y'all, let's take a ride. Don't you say shit, just get inside. 

The slippery slope beckons.

At the top is the latest rejection. As nice as it is, as much as I have repeatedly read the words "far superior to most of the material that crosses my desk," I start sliding past this disappointment. I slide down past my bank account (it ain't pretty, folks) and past my retirement fund (a bag of cat food in the pantry and a cardboard box in the basement). I slide past the sign that reads: "I'm alone and I will never find love because I'm incapable of love." I slide past my soft stomach and my weakness for cream cheese. I slide past my foul mouth and my tendency to yell when the house gets messy. I slide past another sign: "All my skills are in an industry that is dying and I will never have another job in which I won't have to wear a vest with a name tag."

As I slide, these things come with me so that, at the bottom, they can pile up on top of me.

At the bottom is this: "You don't deserve love. You don't deserve success. You are a bad person."

And one last sign: "Good luck climbing back up. We have covered this slide in butter. Signed, The Management."

"It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head," Sally Kempton said. I have written about this quote before. It is an excellent reminder that my own worst enemy is within. No one in my life has ever said the mean things to me that I say to myself. No one has ever blamed me for Charles's death.

I see that my friends have enemies in their heads, too. They tell themselves ugly things that are not true. They slide down the slippery slope instead of dealing with the thing at the top of the slope, the issue of the day. Just that thing is all we have to deal with.

So why do we allow that thing, this one moment in a long life of moments, this shove from behind, to send us careening on a fantastic voyage? And I don't mean fantastic in the good sense, the "Damn, George, you sure look fantastic in that tuxedo" sense.

I mean this definition: REMOTE FROM REALITY, BIZARRE, OF EXTRAORDINARY SIZE. We make small things big. We turn falsehoods into truth.

We slam ourselves against the side of a slide that is taking us nowhere but down. Then we have to climb back up again.

I wish I had a secret method for climbing back up. Jacob heard me discussing my "slippery slope covered in butter" when I was on the phone with Friend 1 the other night. He said, "Mom, you start eating that butter! It's delicious!"

He's 15. He can eat butter without it giving him a big ass.

But he's onto something. The secret is to remember all the delicious things.

The night I got my latest rejection, I treated myself to a bottle of wine with an appropriate name. It was cheap as could be. I bought it at Aldi, the discount grocery store. Maybe I could be depressed that I shop at the discount store, but I love that place. I like bagging my own groceries. I like finding out that all those inexpensive food products taste just like the more expensive, name-brand stuff. (Mmm, butter.)

So I poured a glass of red wine. I was thankful I could still buy a bottle of cheap wine. I watched TV with the kids. I was thankful I have satellite and that my son has the same sense of humor as me. We both laugh our asses off while watching an episode of Psych or The Colbert Report or Community. I am thankful my son comes up to me frequently and says, "Do you want a hug?"

I am grateful for my daughter who is so beautiful I'm thinking about locking her in her room until she's 30. I'm thankful that she giggles at silly jokes, loves her friends, says to me frequently, "No, I love you more."

Mmm, butter.

I remind myself to keep going, that there are always options. The most important thing is that I finish my book. I will focus on words like "far superior" and keep writing.

I'll remind my friends that they are beautiful people, inside and out. That each day that we get up and try again - to learn, to love one another, to laugh, to drink cheap wine, to make up interpretive dance routines to Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas" - is a good day, a day that matters. These good things matter just as much MORE than those mean signs that stand along the slippery slope.

In other words, eat the butter, dammit. It's delicious.
"You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." - Buddha

Thursday, December 15, 2011

And The Award Goes To...George Clooney (Duh)

Thank you Hollywood Foreign Press Association for nominating George Clooney for two Golden Globes, Best Director (Ides of March) and Best Actor, Drama (The Descendants), and for nominating The Ides of March and The Descendants for Best Picture, Drama.

Mark your calendars for January 15. It's always a good day when George has to put on a tux.