Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How I Procrastinate

Calvin & Hobbes/Bill Watterson
Writer's block is rarely a state of paralysis. It is closer to the act of driving in circles, avoiding the place you're supposed to be while you stop at random places nearby. 

You can see the place, this destination you are avoiding, this thing you want to say. But you attempt to ignore it while you freely spill words other places, like into the "What's on your mind?" box on your Facebook page or on that long, ranting email to a friend or in a comment thread under a story on a decorating blog. 

You just keep circling the block, trying to convince yourself to pull into the driveway of the party you promised yourself you'd attend today. 

This is me going around the block again.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Winter is the Worst

Valentine's Day is a pain in my ass.
"I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood." Bill Watterson

Oh winter, must we go through this every year? 

It’s no secret that I hate this time of year. I fantasize about living the sort of life where I can go to a tropical island every December and I don’t have to come back until late February (after the most bull shit holiday ever, Valentine’s Day).

I’m not one of those people who adores Christmas and everything that comes with it. The main thing I feel about it is anxiety. I have no money. I have an 11-year-old daughter who asks that multiple things, including an iPad, be added to her Christmas list every day.

I don't want to be a Grinch.
I do my part. The first Christmas after Charles died, I went to the Boy Scout Christmas tree lot, picked out a tree with my daughter, Kate, and watched as two scouts tied it to the roof of my car. At home, I dragged it in the house and managed to get it into the tree stand by myself. The first year you do something by yourself is the hardest. It gets easier after that.

I try my best to be enthusiastic about the holiday. I might like it more if it wasn’t smack in the middle of winter. Hello, winter. I say “winter” the way Seinfeld always said “Newman.” Winter sucks.
I made a list of the ways winter bites. But I’m going to try to come up with positive things to say about this time of year. Instead of “Bah humbug,” I’ll try to say something chipper, something like “Yea! More rain is awesome!” or “Yippee, I sure do love the color gray! Blue skies are so overrated.”

Here are a few other ways I'm going to change my thinking from negative to positive:

1. I hate being cold. I love wearing scarves and fuzzy socks. 

2. I hate shopping for Christmas gifts. I love wrapping Christmas gifts. 

3. Christmas songs make me sad. I love watching my favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard. Don't tell me it's not a Christmas movie. It features an awesome Christmas song (one that won't make you cry). 

4. I hate gloomy, gray, rainy days. I love reading while curled up under a blanket on the sofa. 

5. I hate that I can’t sit on my back patio drinking cocktails while cooking dinner on the grill. I like toasting marshmallows in the fireplace, making s’mores, and drinking red wine. 

6. I hate that it gets dark before 5 pm. I love putting my pajamas on at 5 pm. 
7. I hate that all I want to do is eat fattening comfort food while wearing sweatpants. I love that I don’t have to shave my legs. At all. Ever.

8. I hate snow.  I love Calvin & Hobbes winter comic strips. Calvin makes the best snowmen. I'll try to think about winter as nothing more than a swift sled ride into spring. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Letting Go and Letting The Doobie Brothers

Monday, I drove up to Indiana with Kate and Jacob. It was a chilly, rainy day with no hint of sunshine, but we were making good time. It's an easy trip since we live right off I-65 in Birmingham and all we have to do is get on the interstate and follow it for eight hours or so.

Jacob slept most of the way. Kate played games on her iPod Touch and texted her boyfriend. I listened to my iPod on shuffle. Both kids moan and groan about long drives, but they're pretty good travelers. I don't mind having the break from a typical day. The hours in the car offer a lot of time to think about things.

As I passed through Huntsville and Nashville and Louisville, I thought about how, for a couple of years now, my prayers have sounded mostly like this: Please help me, please help me, please help me.

I thought about how, lately, my prayers sound more like this: Hurry, hurry, hurry.

I worry a lot that I made the wrong decision a year ago, but my family frequently reminds me that I needed the time off, to write what I need to write, to feel what I need to feel, to heal what needs healing. But the year is almost up and I'm anxious for something to happen. Something good, lest the universe get the wrong idea here. Something wonderful.

Hurry, hurry, hurry.

Just past the first exit toward Columbus, Indiana, I said to the kids, "We're making really good time. I think we'll be there in less than an hour."

Then traffic stopped. I put the car in park as hundreds of cars lined up behind us. A police car pulled into the turnaround to block people who might be thinking, "Suck it, Indiana, we're going back to Kentucky."

And there, on a short stretch of interstate between two exits, we sat for two and a half hours.

We sang along to songs. Loudly. This one is on a mix on Kate's iPod called "Songs Jacob Hates" but I'll tell you a secret: It's one of Jacob's favorites. Mine, too.
Don't tell Jacob I told you.

Kate played with her makeup and, when Jacob couldn't take the boredom any longer, she put some on her brother. We laughed hard at his blue eyeshadow and pink cheeks. "I feel fabulous," he joked. Then he used a bottle of water and a handful of napkins from Taco Bell to clean his face. There is no photographic evidence.

Don't tell Jacob I told you.

We went back to waiting.

 I put my iPod back on shuffle. A live version of "Black Water" by The Doobie Brothers came on.

I remembered a day in early summer when I met my friends Todd, Chris, and Rob for pizza and beer at Davenport's in Mountain Brook. It was an official, "funemployment" day. None of us work for Southern Living anymore. All of us are trying to make our own things happen. We're all trying to bet on ourselves, take a chance on our dreams, and somehow continue to pay our bills and avoid life under a highway overpass. We lingered over a long lunch and we laughed a lot. We decided to extend our lunch plans to include a movie, The Hangover 2.

We each paid our share of the bill at the cash register up front. After we paid, Chris and I stood by the door waiting for Rob and Todd. A mother and her young daughter were sitting on a bench by the door, waiting for a table or waiting for someone to join them.

"Black Water" came on over the speakers. Old Black Water, keep on rollin', Mississippi moon, won't you keep on shining on me.

Chris and I started singing along. So did the mom. Her daughter's dark brown eyes grew wide with bewilderment.

Adults are so embarrassing!

But who among us can resist the urge to sing along to this:

I'd like to hear some funky Dixieland, pretty mama come and take me by the hand
by the hand, hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama
Come and dance with your daddy all night long.

Who me? I'm hanging out with DJ Todd and DJ Chris.
It was a fantastic moment. We didn't know that woman and she didn't know us but, for this one moment, we were all singing together and laughing. We were bonded by our silliness.

We were bonded by our freedom.

Freedom to sing along without embarrassment (embarrassment is for suckers). Freedom to take a long lunch on a weekday with people we care about. Freedom to live in this moment.

In the car, stuck on a wet, gloomy stretch of Indiana roadway, I thought about how I've been struggling with the idea of letting go and letting God. I worry more lately. I feel anxious. I'm in a hurry for something to happen. I'm in a hurry to get somewhere. My stomach is in knots over the possibility that maybe I was wrong, that my story is not one that needs to be told, that I wasn't listening to God when I made my choice. I was just listening to how tired I was.

After more than two hours, we finally inched up on the scene of the accident that had shut down traffic. My stomach dropped. My chest tightened. The entire front half of a black four-door car, maybe it was a Saturn, was smashed in. The driver's side door was gone, the windshield busted. An 18-wheeler sat behind it, its driver-side tire and hood mangled.

Wherever those people were hurriedly going, they weren't there now.

Police guided the line of cars onto the shoulder, curving widely away from the smashed car and the wrecked 18-wheeler, and then back into the two lanes leading to Indianapolis.

Everyone slowly picked up speed. Some drivers whipped in and out of traffic, trying to make up the time they'd lost on the way to somewhere important.

But I went the speed limit.

None of us went crazy during our road trip that should have taken 8 hours but actually took close to 11. None of us lashed out at anyone else. We mostly laughed. We accepted what life was bringing us at that moment. The three of us, me and my two favorite people in the world, have had good practice at accepting what life brings us. 

I'm going to try to make my prayers sound more like this: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

I'm going to try to let go and let God. I'm going to let The Doobie Brothers, too. Just listen to what they have to say:

Yeah, keep on shinin' your light
 Gonna make everything, pretty mama
Gonna make everything all right

And I ain't got no worries
Cause I ain't in no hurry at all. 

That's as good a guiding philosophy as any I can think of right now.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Live Blogging...A Typical Sunday Night

I love when people live blog during awards shows. I thought about doing that during the American Music Awards. But, normally, I spend Sunday evenings having an internal freakout over the direction in which my life is headed, whether I've completed all my weekend chores, and worrying about whether or not I'm going to accomplish what I want to during the week ahead and pessimistically thinking the answer is no.

Sundays suck.

The Sunday Night Depression is a well-known phenomenon. In the many months I've gone without a job, I've discovered that you don't need a job to feel it. Monday mornings are still a bummer. Sunday nights are still a time of reflection and pondering the future without a trace of perspective. Perspective is in short supply up in here.

So while I live blog the American Music Awards, I'll live blog my typical Sunday night. Note: I started late and I recorded the first part so my time is off because I'm fast forwarding...a lot. And sometimes I'm pausing to tell my children to please go bathe.

Taylor Swift. Fast forward.
Justin Bieber. Fast forward.
The Band Perry. Fast forward.
Fast forward, fast forward.

8:20 PM Luda! Luda is really too cool to be hanging out with Enrique.

8:22 I find this gospel choir thing interesting since one of the versions of this song is "Tonight, I'm f*cking you." Yep, classy.

8:25 I just realized there's one more load of laundry in the dryer. (sigh) I don't want to go to the basement and get it. Now I have to try to think about what's in there. I think it's a load of towels. Why can't I ever seem to finish all the laundry by Sunday night?

8:30 "Did they say George Lopez or Jennifer Lopez? That was a serious question but thanks for laughing," Jacob says. "I'm pretty sure that's Jennifer," I say.

8:32 Product placement is out of control. Like I believe J Lo would drive one of those cars. Or drive at all.

Fast forward, fast forward.

8:41 I hate the holidays. All I ever do is worry about disappointing my children. Tonight, Kate said, "Mom, I decided I don't want an iPad. I just want a new cell phone." Thank God. Only a miracle was going to bring that girl an iPad.

8:42 This guy singing about a "good, good life" sounds pretty bad. Jacob is offering me half his brownie. I said no but he's trying to talk me into it. "I'm not trying to fatten you up or anything. It's good for the Sunday night depression."

8:43 My son is awesome.

8:44 I had a list of things to do this weekend and I didn't do all of them. I was too busy driving Kate and her friends to the mall and to the movies to meet up with their boyfriends. How did my daughter get so old? How did I get so old? Oh, f*ck, here's Taylor Swift again. I don't know why I find her so annoying. I'm sure she's perfectly nice.

8:46 Nicki Minaj just won another award. Did you see this awesome video from the Ellen show?

8:51 Do you think Marc Anthony and J Lo talked backstage? "There's Justin Bieber and that Will Smith child," Jacob says. 

8:54 Someone spray-painted a lace doily with silver paint and forced Heidi Klum to wear it tonight. 

8:55 Katy Perry is performing. Kate Mercer is singing along until the camera shows Katy's outfit up close: "What in the...?!" Kate says. Have you seen this? It's totally crazy. Katy Perry is going to look like Paula Deen in 30 years. Or right now. 

9:02 Fast forward, fast forward. I'm pretty sure God has gotten the most shout outs tonight. Good for him. He really doesn't get enough credit for helping half-dressed pop stars and rappers win pointy, crystal awards. 

9:05 Robin Thicke and who? 

9:06 Have you ever noticed that everyone pronounces Rihanna's name with an "ah" sound except for Rihanna herself? 

Fast forward.

9:08 Maroon 5 is performing. "Everyone sounds horrible live!" Kate says. 

9:10 Christina could use one more pair of Spanx, methinks. "Why are her boobies so big?" Kate wants to know. "They're not that big. They're just hanging out of her dress," I say. 

9:13 Thankfully, school is out all this week. I love having a break from asking children if they have homework and, if so, have they done it. "Really? All of it? You're sure? OK. Have you brushed your teeth?" There's never a break from asking about dental hygiene. 

9:24 Bruno Mars just won. I love his new song. I sing it loud in the car and I feel about fourteen years old when I do it. It's from the Twilight:Broken Hymen soundtrack but I won't hold that against Bruno. The soundtracks are the only decent things about those movies. 

9:25 Showing me a military mom coming home to her children will not make me shop in your soul-crushing store, Wal-Mart. 

9:34 "Never mind. I changed my mind. I still want an iPad," Kate says. 


9:36 Whenever I hear this Black Eyed Peas song, I think of Kathie Lee saying, "Dirty bit." This is what happens when you don't have a job and you watch the fourth hour of Today

9:37 I know kids can't always get what they want. I know this. But I have serious issues with not wanting to disappoint people. One of the problems with being a child of divorce is that you can become a people pleaser to the detriment of yourself. Honestly, this can be bad for the people you're trying to please, too.

9:40 Oh, J Lo, no. That side ponytail with the scrunchie is not a good look. 

9:42 This music sounds like electronic farting.

9:44 "Who are those old people, Mommy?" 

9:45 I have a fantasy about getting a job at the library like my friend Tina or at a bookstore. Well, this fantasy is in second place behind my fantasy of getting a publisher to buy my book. 

9:46 New Year's Eve. It's going to be a really stupid movie. That's my prediction. 

9:48 Dancing with the Stars commercial. If JR Martinez loses to Rob Kardashian, the terrorists win. 

9:50 I'm sick to f*cking death of Taylor Swift looking surprised when she wins. It's getting so damn old.

9:52 LMFAO is performing. Kate just whispered to me, "I know what their band name stands for." 

9:54 OH MY GOD. Justin Bieber, what is happening here?

9:57 The smiley face on that guy's drawers looks just like Taylor Swift when she wins an award.

9:59 Some things just can't be explained. The origin of the universe. The writing career of Danielle Steele. The appearance of David Hasselhoff in smiley face underwear. 

I think it's bedtime. Have you brushed your teeth yet? 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Kardashians - My Disturbing Realization

Yesterday, I published a blog post about my frustration with the state of the publishing industry (a result of the awful economy plus our obsession with reality stars). I called out the industry for publishing books by non-writers like Snooki and Kris Jenner and Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney Kardashian. I love using humor to defuse my anger and pain (getting rejected is hard, y'all). 

I'm a writer, a child of divorce, and a single woman who owns more than one cat, so, naturally, I crave praise. I was thrilled that the post got a few rave reviews: 
Amy & Tina, NOLA 2010
Amy B!!!! I think this post today is the best!! Best one yet! I really enjoyed it! I also enjoy seeing things in it you and I have emailed about throughout the day!!!! It's really and truly your best one yet! - Tina Rollman (BFF since 1989)
Brilliance! - Karen Solomons (Twitter follower)
I never read blogs, but you have captured me. Well done , again. - Laurey Glenn (former co-worker who  never reads blogs but reads mine because I demand that all my good friends read it)
I'm even more excited to read your book now that you've explained your platform and the fact that you're out there strugglin' through all the crap. (That) is gonna make it even sweeter when you're on TMZ cuz you broke up with George to have Bieber's baby. - J.J. Lewis (Facebook friend)

Listen, I try to be cool (baby, you know how it is, rockin' and rollin' and whatnot), but you all should be aware that I live for that shit.

Today, I was looking at the stats for my blog. I noticed that the most-read post on my blog is the first one I ever wrote, A Letter to Kim Kardashian
That, too, received a positive reaction. Friends and friends of friends posted and reposted the link on their walls. Twitter followers retweeted the link on their profiles.
As I was thinking about this, the MOST DISTURBING REALIZATION hit me. Perhaps the Kardashians aren't my sworn archenemies. Perhaps...Oh, God, I can't even say it! 

Is it possible? 

Are the Kardashian sisters my muses? 

No, no, no, hell no. This is awful. 
I absolutely, positively refuse to change the name of my blog to Vodka Kranberry Klooney. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Kardashians - My New Archenemies

I'm considering starting a Twitter war with the Kardashians. Just one question: How would one go about this exactly?

I don't really know how a Twitter war happens, but I think it could be a good way to become famous for nothing while simultaneously working off my growing frustration over the overwhelming amount of stupidity in this world.

Today, I decided that these women are my sworn archenemies. They just don't know it.

Until lately, I haven't cared strongly about the Kardashian women one way or the other. Sometimes when I have had a slight hangover, I have watched their reality shows on E! It's important to watch stupid TV (and E! kills brain cells faster than a bottle of tequila) when your brain is sluggish from too much alcohol consumption. There is no other time that anyone should actually be interested in their numerous shows.

But I confess that I enjoy Khloe, who is funny and seems to genuinely love her husband, Lamar. I feel sorry for Kourtney because her boyfriend seems like an awful person. I don't know if it's played up for the cameras or not (I hope it is), but he is an abusive alcoholic. I want her to leave him. When he drunkenly slammed his fist into a mirror and it shattered, leaving him bleeding and blinking in confusion like some wounded animal, I wanted her to walk out and never go back. And I understood completely why she couldn't do it. But then, I can show you the real reality of living with an addict and the horrible consequences it can bring.

So why do I care now? Why do I feel so offended every time I see another headline about Kim and her fake marriage or read about the new novel she has "written" with her sisters?

Because I'm becoming slightly disillusioned with the publishing industry and its focus on having a platform. If you aren't familiar with this word, it's basically just lingo for these questions: "How famous are you? How many people know you exist? How many people consider you an expert on a certain topic?"

Don't ask  me what the Kardashians are experts on other than selling every little thing about themselves and their lives for mass consumption. Note: Mass consumption can only happen with things that appeal to the lowest common denominator. So, unfortunately, dumb things and bland things are the key to success. (Key examples: Two and a Half Men, Twilight, Adam Sandler movies, the McRib.)

If you know me, you know I've been looking for an agent to represent me and my memoir. It's about addiction and tragedy but it's also about forgiveness, healing, love, and hope.

Today, I decided that I can, at least, be grateful that the message I continue to get from the agents who have rejected me and from industry insiders who have agreed to read my proposal is consistent:

"Well-written, powerful, compelling."
"You don't have a platform."

I see the books being promoted on Today and on the front tables at major bookstores. There are books (plural) by Snooki. This doesn't make the baby Jesus cry. It makes him crap in his diaper. There is a memoir by Kris Jenner, the self-proclaimed "momager" of the Kardashians. There is a novel by Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney Kardashian. There is a book by a creepy, old boat captain who has suddenly decided to dredge up (sorry for the pun) the Natalie Wood drowning for personal gain. 

It seems clear to me now what I must do. I must find a way to become famous.

Here are some options:

1. Make a sex tape with a B- or C-list celebrity or the close male relative of an A- or B-list celebrity.

2. Accuse Herman Cain of sexual harassment. Because, apparently, my continued accusations of his willful ignorance and ass-hattery aren't enough.

3. Claim that Justin Bieber is the father of my baby. I don't have a baby. I'll need to find a baby somewhere. I'll need to find a baby with this hairdo. ----->

4. Try out for a reality show such as The Bachelor or The Apprentice or The Real Housewives of Wherever the Hell Intolerable Bitches Live. Act like an enormous, unreasonable, intolerable bitch on whichever show it is because the squeaky bitch gets the grease.

5. Accuse Robert Wagner of shoving Natalie Wood off a yacht.

6. Date George Clooney and get him to take me to the Academy Awards. Maybe Stacy Keibler will soon realize that no, he's really not going to marry her or let her have his babies, and she'll move on. I always think these women must believe they will be the one out of a thousand (he has dated a thousand women by now, hasn't he?) who will change his mind about bachelorhood. George, I don't want to change your mind. I don't want to have any babies and I sure as hell don't want to get married. Even to you. We can just date a little bit and get photographed at premieres for a few months.

7. Invent a time machine and go back to an era in which good writing and a compelling story are more important than who has the biggest ass, the grossest sex tape, the dumbest reality show, or the audacity to accuse a famous actor of killing his wife 30 years ago.

How far back would I have to go exactly? Because, with this option, I might actually change some other things instead. And then, instead of having a compelling story to tell, I'd have my best friend back and my children would have their dad.

With whom should I start a Twitter war to address that?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The American - In Which George Clooney Mortifies My Son

Yesterday, George Clooney's latest film, The Descendants, opened in "select cities." None of these cities are one in which I currently live. I don't know who to address about this important issue but, when it comes to the opening of Clooney films, wherever I am living should be considered a "select city."

Not only will I see the film the day it opens, but I also will drag others along with me.

Case in point: When The American opened in Birmingham last fall on a Wednesday (or what we parents refer to as a "school night"), I dropped off my daughter, Kate, at a friend's house and I took my son, Jacob, to the movie.

The movie was rated R but, from what I could gauge from reviews and trailers, what we would see was probably no worse than hundreds of images on Jacob's Xbox games.

Unfortunately for Jacob, this film about a hit man doing one last job (according to movies, a criminal's last job is the only one worth showing) is ponderously slow. For something called The American, it has the pace of a foreign film.

Full disclosure: I enjoy even the most boring Clooney films. Solaris (2002) is so slow it's like the big-screen equivalent of watching a televised golf tournament on a Sunday afternoon (nap time), but - damn - does George look wonderful in it? Yes, he does. Does he look sad and do I want to comfort him with a few bourbon cocktails and a make-out session? Yes, I do.

As time has passed and I have experienced a little more of life (and a lot more of death than I care to), I have gained a new appreciation for the story in Solaris (if not its execution on film). The love interest of George Clooney's psychologist character commits suicide and, years later when George visits a space station where weird things are happening, this weird thing happens: His dead girlfriend reappears. But then she attempts to kill herself again. And again. Because she isn't real. She is only a manifestation of his memories of her and, so, tragically, she will always be someone who kills herself.

When people only exist in the past, we must question who they are in our minds versus who they were in the world outside our memories. When people commit suicide, we must relive, over and over, what led them to the end. No matter how many alternate endings we attempt to create, we must find a way to accept that there is no alternative. If we do not accept this, we will end up lost in space. More people might know this if they hadn't fallen asleep while watching Solaris.

Perhaps there will come a year when Jacob, who was 14 when he accompanied me on this school-night movie date, will appreciate The American. But, upon first viewing, he deemed it boring and mortifying. Because George Clooney wasn't just a hit man performing one last assignment in the beautiful Italian countryside. He was a hit man having sex with an Italian prostitute. Uh oh.

During one scene, George and the prostitute engage in an act no son should have to watch while sitting next to his mother. Jacob quickly turned his head, put his left hand up to shield his peripheral vision, and looked at me.

"Tell me when it's over," he whispered.

A long moment of awkwardness ensued.

"OK," I whispered. "It's over. Listen, Jacob, he was just giving her a foot rub."

"Ha ha, Mom. I'm going to sneak into Lottery Ticket."

And, with that, Jacob picked up his soda and his popcorn and he left the theater.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Winter Blues - Thoughts on Grieving

When the holidays approach, my internal worry machine hits hyper-drive. I worry about the early sunset, all those hours when there is no light other than the lamp on my bedside table. I worry that I will stop working out, polish off a tub of cream cheese with a sleeve of crackers every day, and gain 15 pounds. I worry about hearing Christmas songs while I'm out in public because Christmas songs make me cry. I worry about having enough money for gifts and a tree and vodka and cranberry juice. I worry about falling back into the dark hole of grief and regret.

Each year, I feel better. I am happier now than I have been in a long time, but I still wish I could skip winter, pass Go and head straight to spring. I still feel all the things I felt when I wrote the essay I'm posting below. I just feel these things on a smaller scale. I still love waiting rooms. I'm still waiting for something really great to happen, to remind me that really great things do happen. As a visual reminder, I bought myself this print and put it in my kitchen.

In the meantime, I practice being grateful every day for the wonderful things in my life: my children, who are smart, funny, strong, and loving; my family and my friends, who offer me endless support and love; my good health; my comfortable home; the existence of George Clooney; and the fact that I still try to believe one day I will find my personal George Clooney. (Dear Santa...)

At any given moment, people are thrust into this place of grief and worry and waiting. I hope this essay helps them feel less alone. I remind myself all the time that this too shall pass. Spring will come again.

Friday, December 11, 2009
“Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.” CS Lewis

Lately, I love waiting rooms. In these bland rooms, I sit still and look as if I’m doing something. I stare at the pages of a book or magazine without actually reading. I take a break from the world with its endless expectations. I can do nothing without judgment because I’m in the midst of the very important and socially acceptable task of waiting. This is better than the far preferable but more harshly judged act of staying in your pajamas all day, watching daytime TV, and telling yourself you can’t get off the couch because it would disturb the kitten curled up on your lap.

Monday, I visited three waiting rooms. This may be my record. I waited for Jacob at the orthodontist. I waited for Kate at The Amelia Center, a counseling center for grieving children. I waited for Kate again at The Birmingham School of Music where she is taking guitar lessons. In truth, I don’t need a special room for this. My days are largely spent waiting.

Since August, I have learned that the months after death and trauma do not pass as normal time. What has been little more than four months feels more like 10 long days. I have developed the amazing talent of being able to sit at my desk staring into space for 20 minutes only to realize later that an hour has passed. My distraction is not that of a child, hopping from one subject to another, completely unrelated to the first. My distraction is that of someone unable to look away from a gold watch. I am hypnotized by one lone fact, swinging back and forth in front of me.
And I wait.

Some days I play at normal. I am a far better actress than I ever imagined. I’ve never been able to release my awareness of self long enough to play a decent role. In drama classes, I much preferred being the prompter just off stage, helping forgetful actors remember their lines. Now I see that I can act the part of someone having a good time or, at the very least, a normal time.

In truth, I am a cliche. I am a chapter in a book on loss – the kind of books so many people pressed into my hands in the days and weeks after Charles’s death, after what was the worst day of my life. (And I will not add “so far” to that sentence.) The stages of grief do not pass in an orderly fashion or a timely manner. They do not come one after the other. Sometimes they sit on one another and fight for attention like sibling rivals. “Look at me,” anger says. “No, no, look at me,” denial cries. Depression takes a backseat and only watches the fight because depression always has the upper hand. Depression is along for the ride while you bargain and cry and yell the ‘F’ word as loud as possible while driving down a quiet street. Depression knows it will be there after the others are put in a corner for time-out.

If I had a say, I’d still be in the shock and denial stage. That stage was excellent. While you know the facts, your brain is like a kindly grandmother who says, “Now, now, wait a minute, let’s not do anything crazy yet. Let’s pack that information in this pretty box over here. See this one in the corner? You can open it later. For now, put a smile on your face. Here, let’s make this easier. Let’s put a nice, white haze over everything and put this soft sweater on you so you won’t feel any of the big, mean world’s hard edges. There you go. Now run along and have a good time with your friends.”

This stage can be prolonged by the imbibing of excessive amounts of alcohol, but I wouldn’t recommend it really. I actually drink less. If I’m going to feel this bad I’d rather power through. If I’m going to grieve I’m going to do it right, do it right now, and get a gold star on my Stages of Grief report card.

“You jump right into things, don’t you? You don’t give yourself a break,” my counselor recently said.

I told her, “If I have to swim through a pool of crap, I’d rather just get in and get that shit over with.” I know. I have a way with words that even that son of a bitch Shakespeare would envy.

I read a story online about a woman whose insurance company cut her disability benefits for depression because someone found photos of her on Facebook having a “good time.” I read the story aloud and commented on the unfairness of it, although it shouldn’t be surprising that an insurance company wouldn’t actually understand an illness. Kate said, “That’s stupid. You look like you’re having a good time and you’re depressed. My MeMe looks like she’s having a good time and she’s depressed. I look like I’m having a good time and I’m depressed.”

Kate, at 9 years old, knows something those idiots at the insurance company pretend not to: Putting a smile on your face is like hanging a Christmas wreath on your front door. It might look like you’re celebrating the holidays when really you’re only doing what your neighbors expect of you. Inside, you might be wishing the damn holiday with its unreasonable expectations and depressing songs would pass already.

You might just be waiting for things to be normal again.

You put your new knowledge - that normal no longer exists - in a pretty box in the corner where it fits right in under the Christmas tree.

Kate and Jacob, Christmas at Grammy's 2010

Happy Sexiest Man Alive Day

What? It's not a holiday? Well, it should be.

This year, People put Bradley Cooper on the cover of its annual issue devoted to hot men.

Objectifying people is so wrong.

But being right is no fun. So let's get busy objectifying.

Here's my personal Sexiest Man Alive list:

1. George Clooney. Duh.
I'm extremely loyal. George would have to burn down an orphanage and kill a kitten to lose my devotion. And, even then, I would forgive him if the orphanage was empty and the kitten had it coming.

This kitten has it coming.

2. Ryan Gosling
In my opinion, this was the year Ryan Gosling should have been Sexiest Man Alive. He's launched an Internet meme. In 2011, he starred in not one, not two, but three critically acclaimed films. Sure, Bradley Cooper can speak French, but is he just as amazing when he says nothing at all?

3. Jon Hamm
He plays the suave, mysterious Don Draper on Mad Men. (I miss Mad Men.) He was hilarious in Bridesmaids and during his guest turn on 30 Rock. He's goofy as can be. He looks amazing in a tuxedo. He has a five o' clock shadow all day long.

There's no doubt about it. Hamm is a delicious treat.

4. Joe Manganiello 

If you watch True Blood, you know who this is. If you don't, I'm just going to leave this here for your consideration.

5. Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp
Oh, shut up.
For me, The Sound of Music ends as soon as Captain Von Trapp and Maria admit they love each other. The rest is just a bunch of running from Nazis. If you've seen any interviews with Christopher Plummer in recent years, you know he's still bad ass.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Shining - Notes from the Overlook Hotel

Homer: “All work and no beer make Homer …. something-something.”
Marge: “Go crazy?”

Homer: “Don’t mind if I do!” 

References to The Shining, the classic horror movie from Stanley Kubrick based on the classic horror novel by Stephen King, keep coming up lately.

OK, they keep coming up because I keep bringing them up.

Perhaps it's because it's getting cold and dark outside. Perhaps it's because I'm a writer trying to finish a memoir in a fixed amount of time. Perhaps it's because I work at home and I don't feel the need to shower as often so my hair gets greasy and I look like Shelley Duvall. Perhaps it's because my son keeps using his finger as a puppet and saying "Redrum." (This isn't actually happening.)

The Shining, the book not the movie, is truly excellent. I'm a huge fan of Stephen King (aka "Uncle Stevie"). In seventh grade, I read the ending of "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption," one of the novellas in Different Seasons, at least six or seven times because I loved it so much. I read several of his books during a brief time period in the early '90s. I had a lot of weird dreams that summer. There are images from his novels, from Carrie and The Dead Zone and Cujo, that have stayed with me for 20 years.  It takes an amazing writer to create scenes and characters with such staying power.

I like The Shining, the novel, better than the movie. Mainly because (SPOILER ALERT) Dick Hollarann, the character played by the awesome Scatman Crothers in the film, does not die in the book. His death in the movie is ridiculous and unnecessary. Screw you, Stanley Kubrick. Yeah, I said it. Why'd you have to kill the black man? In the book, Dick comes back to the Overlook Hotel and helps Wendy and Danny Torrance escape from Jack.

Which brings us back to the reason I keep bringing up The Shining of late.

Jack is a writer. Jack is going nuts. Jack is sick to death of Shelley Duvall's greasy hair and whiny attitude.

Stephen King is so amazing because he can take something typical and normal such as a writer struggling with writer's block (who is also an alcoholic dealing with his desire to drink) and he can turn it into an epic tale of fear and addiction. Uncle Stevie knows of what he speaks. He is a writer and a recovering alcoholic.

And, sure, he's telling you a story that, on the surface, sounds like a ghost story about a haunted hotel, but it's really about people and how people are haunted. The monster you're afraid of is within.

Eek. Deep stuff. Calm down, I'm not going to take an axe to the bathroom door. (Though I may take some WD-40 to the bedroom doors. They all squeak. A person can't go from the bedroom to the bathroom without alerting the entire household.)

Mostly, I'm just going to continue writing. I'm going to keep pecking away until I get this story (my personal haunting) out onto paper. I'm going to consider how addiction is a monster that lives within a person and that sometimes the monster wins. I'm going to think about how to tell a story with the message that the monster sometimes wins the battle. He does not win the war.

I'm also going to wash my hair so I don't look so much like Shelley Duvall.

"I find I am excited, so excited I can hardly hold the pencil in my trembling hand. I think it is the excitement that only a free man can feel, a free man starting a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.

I hope Andy is down there.

I hope I can make it across the border.

I hope to see my friend and shake his hand.

I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.

I hope. "

The last lines of "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" from Different Seasons

Monday, November 14, 2011

An Angry Rant

Today I’ve been in a bad, sad, “feeling helpless, he felt hopeless” sort of mood. When my son came home, I jumped down his throat about an assignment he was supposed to turn in but didn’t because he wrote it on my Mac and didn’t know he had to save it as a .doc in order to print it out on the computers at school.

“I’m sorry, Jacob,” I said, about five seconds later when I realized I was being awful. “I’m just upset for you because now you won’t get the grade you deserve. You’ll get points off for being late and that’s unfair. You did the work.”

“It’s OK, Mom. You seem sad today.”

For a teenage boy, my son is remarkably sensitive to the moods of the people around him.

“I’m just in a bad mood. I’m sick of waiting to hear from agents about my book. I’m sick of this weather. I’m sick of people.” I got a little teary-eyed.

“It sounds like you need to get drunk,” he said, joking. “And post a rant. That’s what your blog needs. A rant. An angry rant. A drunken, angry rant.”

You know what? That’s one smart kid.

So here's some ranting directed at random folks, in no particular order. Here goes (proceed with caution):

A disgrace to gingers 
Mike McQueary, I really want to understand you. Of all the people in this hideous, horrific story coming out of Penn State, you’re the one I keep coming back to.

Listen, Mike, I’m not completely unsympathetic. I can’t stop imagining what you saw, how awful and shocking it must have been. I have also been witness to something unspeakable. I know what it does to a person. You go into shock. Your mouth goes dry. Your focus narrows to only what is in front of you and the rest of the world becomes nothing more than a blurry, spinning whirl of colors. I saw something most people will never see in their life. Was I in shock? Yes. But I also went straight to the phone and I dialed 911. Why the hell didn’t you do that, you asshole? I don’t get it. You did nothing but go home and, later, report what you saw to the coach. Then you, what, went on with your life? Forgot what you saw? Weren’t bothered that a rapist was still allowed around young boys?

You suck.

It has an animal print cover, for God's sake
Literary agents,  I get it. I really do. You’re looking for the books that will make you money. So you sell books by people like Snooki and Kris Jenner. You sell novels “written” by Kim Kardashian and her two sisters. And publishers eat that shit up. I seriously doubt even one of those women wrote a word of that novel about a character named Kamille. They probably just went through it and changed all the C-words to start with a K instead. Dumb kunts. Their novel will be released tomorrow. It’s first-run printing is 300,000 copies, more than the first-run printing for Joan Didion’s most recent book. And Jesus wept.

Actually, this makes me realize it’s not the agents who deserve my wrath, it’s the dumb asses who buy books by people like Snooki and Kris Jenner and that trio of Kardashian famewhores marketing geniuses.

What is wrong with these people? If they didn’t buy that shit, maybe agents would seek out good work instead of seeking out crap Krap.

This book bites.
This brings me to Twihards. Oh shut it. Those books are poorly written. Worse, they’re boring. But, fine, you enjoy them. I’m glad. I’ve enjoyed plenty of stuff that isn’t exactly classic literature. Beginning when I was 12, I read Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught once a year for about ten years (until I realized the Duke is really an abusive, obsessive control freak who rapes the heroine because he’s so "in love" with her. Ick.) It’s not your enjoyment of the series that irks me. It’s that you keep trying to convince me how good the books are. 

Let me stop you before you say that I should give them a try. I did give them a try. I read the first one while sitting next to a swimming pool in beautiful North Carolina. The bar is set pretty low for poolside reading material so I should have enjoyed it. Cosmo is enjoyable when you have a drink in one hand while you sit in a lounge chair. So if a book can't entertain me while I'm getting a tan and enjoying a daiquiri, it's pretty shitty. I read the second one next to another pool a couple of summers later. I was trying to give it another shot because you people are just so insistent that the series is the most awesome thing that's ever happened to you since you got married and apparently became totally bored with your lives and need a hit of sparkly, white vampire ass to enrich your fantasies. 

What I wanted to do was toss that poorly written, boring paperback in the pool. So stop trying to convince me the books are good. Stop it. Read them a million times if you must (a shame since there are about a million better books out there worth reading). But stop trying to convince me that I should read them, too. I don’t bug you relentlessly about how you should read books by Ian McEwan or Jonathan Franzen or Ann Patchett or Andre Dubus III or Jennifer Egan. I don't tell you that you must be wrong if you don't instantly latch onto these great literary works and start wearing T-shirts that say Team Ian or Team Andre.

Herman Cain’s wife. I feel for you. I’m sure you believe your husband would never do any of the things he was accused of doing 20 years ago. But good God, the wives of men who are accused of cheating/straying/harassing are the world’s worst character witnesses. Just ask the millions of women who have discovered their husbands cheated on them and they never knew what was going on. 

And to say that he “totally respects women” is just laughable. So he was showing respect when he referred to Nancy Pelosi as “Princess Nancy” during a GOP debate? He was showing respect when he made a joke about Anita Hill? He was showing respect when he discussed what he would and would not be willing to pay Gloria Allred to do? While grinning like a fool as if to say, “If you know what I mean.” Yes, Herman, we know what you mean. Hardy-har-har. You, sir, are an ass-hat.

But console yourself with this, Mrs. Cain: You are not the only woman married to an ass-hat. There are plenty of them out there. Maybe you should go talk to the last two Mrs. Newt Gingriches or Mrs. Weiner or Demi Moore. Just stop talking to the media.

The time change. It gets dark before 5 PM. That is some bull shit, people.

OK, that about covers it for now. I really need to find a way back to my happy place.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Out of the Mouths of (Foul-Mouthed) Babes

After watching a video of an adorable baby soothed by the sounds of Biggie Smalls, a friend commented that she hoped "Biggie" would be the girl's first word, rather than some other choice words from the song.

Curse words are hard to avoid. If a child ever rides in the car with an adult during rush hour traffic, he or she is going to hear a word or two at some point. It's sometimes difficult to control those outbursts.

In our family, we have a story about the time my dad was driving and my little brother, Wesley, was sitting in the back seat. My dad exclaimed loudly about the poor skills of a fellow driver and my brother said, "Dad, what's a dumb duck?"

My friend, Liz, recently told me a story about her 10-year-old daughter, Emma. Emma informed her of this surprising fact: "Mom, I know what the F word is."

"You do?" Liz said.

"Yes. It was one of my vocabulary words," Emma said.

"Oh really?"

"Yes. Fluke."

Here's the thing about curse words: At first, kids won't have any idea what those words mean. They'll probably misunderstand them. "F*ck" sounds like "duck." Duck makes sense in a child's world. That other word doesn't. Eventually, they'll catch on to how the word really sounds. This is when they will try out a curse word. On you. Possibly in PUBLIC. To see if you notice. To test it out. To gauge the meaning of this strange new word that, despite Emma's contention, will never appear on a fourth grade vocabulary test.

If you're a parent, you know it's coming, so don't get too upset about it. Ask yourself this: Did my child at least use the word in the right way? I'm pretty sure this is a  sign of intelligence. Plus, like Liz, you'll have a funny story to tell later.

When my son, Jacob, was four years old, he looked out the front window and saw the yard man.

He turned away from the window, looked at me, and said:

"What's that f*cking guy doing?"

Understandably, I was shocked.

I said, "Are you kidding me, son? Isn't it obvious? He's mowing the f*cking yard."

A Soothing Playlist...featuring LUDA

I often preach the power of a good rap song to soothe you when you're feeling low. During the last two years, I've worked my way through a hefty dose of trauma and grief. I've cried a lot. 

I've also rapped a lot. Because I discovered something amazing: It is absolutely impossible to feel sorry for oneself while rapping along to Ludacris. If everyone entered a room the way Ludacris enters a song - by yelling out one's own name like LUDA! - I bet they'd feel better, too. 

I have a Sorry for Myself playlist on my iPod. It includes Joni Mitchell, Beck, Citizen Cope, and Duncan Sheik. It's a cry-yourself-to-sleep mix. I use it to wallow. Sometimes that's necessary. 

But I also have a Back the F Off playlist and I use it to make myself feel better and more powerful. I listen to it in the car. I curse loudly. I adore Ludacris. He got me through a tough time. He gave me an outlet for my anger (which, while a necessary and important part of grieving, may be the most disturbing stage). 

The playlist also includes Notorious B.I.G. and Jay Z. One of the songs is the same one that soothes this sweet baby when she's crying. Baby Rachel is a girl after my own heart. 

Next time you're feeling down, take my advice: Listen to Luda. Listen to Biggie. Self-pity won't stand a chance. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Links to Happiness

Watching or reading the news lately had started to convince me that the world is irreparably screwed up, so I went searching for reasons to believe otherwise. Those reasons are actually not so hard to find.

Here are links to a few happy finds:

Happiness is...adorable babies.

Four months ago, mom and freelance writer Emily Cleaver started taking photographs of her son, Arthur, recreating classic movie scenes.  She snapped him with a stuffed animal popping out of his pajamas (Alien). She photographed him peering out of an upstairs window (Rear Window). She surrounded him with rose petals (American Beauty). Eventually, she started a blog where she posts the photos. I like imagining this mom coming up with her ideas for props and scenes and then laughing a lot while she snaps photos of her adorable son, Arthur. That seems like an excellent way to spend your time.

Happiness is...The Muppets.

Here's a new trailer for The Muppets movie, which opens on Thanksgiving Day. Every time I see something about the Muppets or watch a trailer for the new movie, I smile. The Muppets remind me of my childhood, when I didn't pay attention to the news of the day. I watched silly characters do silly things. I love silliness. I love goofballs. This trailer makes me want to dance like a Muppet. 

Happiness is...Ryan Gosling. 

Ryan Gosling is awesome. He says all the right things in interviews, things that make you want to take him home and introduce him to your mom. He looks fantastic without a shirt on, which makes you want to take him home and... Anyway, he also inspires hilarious Internet memes that you and your friends can laugh over while drinking wine and watching You Tube videos of Ryan Gosling being fantastic. Here's a good one: 

Here's another good one: 

Plus, he knows George Clooney.

Happiness is...a new George Clooney movie.

The Descendants opens in select theaters November 16. It opens nationwide on November 23. I love when a new Clooney movie is about to come out. I'll probably see it the day it opens. (Fair warning to my relatives in Indianapolis. Who wants to join me at the theater?) George Clooney makes me happy.  When I go to the movie, I'll buy myself a bag of Sour Patch Kids because those make me happy, too. 

Happiness is...people. 

People are awesome. No, forget what you read this morning about Jerry Sandusky. Forget politics and the latest news on that ass-hat Herman Cain. Most people are incredible. They just want to live well, laugh often, and love each other. They want to tell and hear funny stories. They want to be surprised. Meanwhile, they will make hilarious faces.

Go to The Huffington Post to see the hosts of the Today Show making faces while they try to guess where in the world Matt Lauer is. 

Happiness is...nature.
This video is incredible. It will give you chills. It's a great reminder that there is so much to see and experience beyond our television and computer screens. The world around us is amazing. Don't forget that.

Do you feel better now? 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Life Well Laughed

Sunday, my two children and I participated in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk to raise money and awareness for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We were joined by several of our dearest friends, people who were there with me the day after August 3, 2009, people who have been there for me hundreds of days since.

It was a gorgeous day. The sky was blue, the temperature mild, the surrounding hillsides painted in broad strokes of green, orange, yellow, and red.

In the weeks leading up to the walk, our team raised more than $1400. It felt good to do something concrete, something that could be tracked. It felt like a way to fight against something, even if that something might feel like a battle we had already lost, a battle we didn't even know we were fighting in the first place.

The walk was held at Heardmont Park, which is on Cahaba Valley Road in Shelby County. When we arrived, there were hundreds of people milling about. All of us in the car expressed surprise at the size of the crowd. You can feel like you're alone in this thing - the loss of a loved one to suicide - when the truth is that there are way too many of us affected by it.

We signed in and collected our free T-shirts. We went to another table and picked up bracelets to represent our purpose there. Red for those who'd lost a spouse. Purple for those who'd lost a friend. Blue for those who support the cause. I hesitated for a moment. Since Charles and I were once married, should I have red? Since we were divorced, should I have purple to represent the loss of a friend? I didn't linger long. I chose red. I tried not to think too much about my feelings which are complicated and colored by guilt and regret and love, by indignation and resignation. Kate and Jacob picked up gold bracelets to represent the loss of a parent.

In the crowd, there were groups of people wearing matching T-shirts honoring the person for whom they were walking. Some of the T-shirts had photos on them. Others had quotes. "A life well lived" read one. I thought that I would like to have one for Charles that read "A life well loved."

"Next time, we should have matching T-shirts with a picture of your dad on them," I said to the kids.

"Yes! Can we use the photo of dad swinging his shirt over his head? The best photo ever," Jacob said, laughing.

The photo is from New Year's Eve 1998. My friend Gretchen and I hosted a party at her house. I think our invitations read "Party like it's 1999." Remember when 1999 seemed like a long way in the future? Now it feels so long ago. The party was full of Prince songs and drinking and laughing and dancing. At some point, Charles untucked his plaid, button-down shirt from his blue jeans and pulled it off, swinging it over his head.

Jacob discovered the photo on the computer a few months ago while he was helping me transfer my music collection from the desktop to my laptop. I used to have a print of the photo that I kept underneath the tray of my jewelry box. It always made me laugh when I saw it.

If we had kept track of the laughter Charles gave us in his life, if we could add it up like the generous donations people gave us, I believe the laughter would add up to more than the tears. I believe this will always be true.

On the day of the walk, I was listening to the songs on my iPod while I cleaned the kitchen. A George Strait song came up on shuffle. It's called "The Chair."

Well, excuse me, 
But I think you've got my chair.
No, that one's not taken.
I don't mind if you sit here.
I'll be glad to share. 

At the end of the song, George Strait sings: Baby, do you think there's a chance that later on I could drive you home? 

When it got to this part, I momentarily stopped mopping the floor and burst into laughter. Charles would sing this song, but he'd wiggle his eyebrows up and down suggestively and sing, loud and off-key: Baby, do you think there's a chance that, later on, I could drive IT home? No I don't mind at all.

Jacob has the right idea. If we're going to have T-shirts with his dad's picture on them, the photo should be something that makes us laugh. Laughter is what saves us when we're suffering. Laughter is what keeps his dad's memory alive.

After our team made its way around the walking path, we headed to a grassy area in front of a stage (which was really a flat-bed truck parked in the lot). The kids ate free ice cream out of serving-size containers and free popcorn out of paper bags.

A woman went to the microphone and shared a Native American legend about butterflies:

Heardmont Park, 2011
"If anyone desires a wish to come true they must first capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it. Since a butterfly can make no sound, the butterfly can not reveal the wish to anyone but the Great Spirit who hears and sees all. In gratitude for giving the beautiful butterfly its freedom, the Great Spirit always grants the wish. So, according to legend, by making a wish and giving the butterfly its freedom, the wish will be taken to the heavens and be granted."

Then another women stepped forward with a large white box and opened the lid. This is when I discovered something fascinating about butterflies: They do not immediately fly away from their captors. They stay still in the box. They linger. 

During the butterfly release, a Josh Groban song was played, and I thought, "Good grief, people, are you trying to wreck us?" I sat between Kate and Jacob on the grass and I was grateful I had on sunglasses that hid my tears. I mean, Josh Groban is like that honey badger. Josh Groban don't care. 

Josh Groban will Break. You. Down. 

The butterflies slowly made their way above the crowd and over the treetops and the people made their way to the cars in the parking lot. Afterward, Kate, Jacob, and I went out to dinner at Cocina Superior, where we filled up on chips and queso and ate quesadillas and teased each other. 

Tuesday, I noticed that Jacob was still wearing his gold bracelet. I wondered if he'd forgotten to take it off. 

Or if he was wearing it because he wanted to remember.

Charles Mercer   1/07/71-8/03/2009
A Life Well Laughed