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Archive for December, 2005

C (filling my plate at X-mas Eve dinner): Artichoke Heart, do you have a preference for what kind of meat you’d like?

S (blurting out with glee): No! She does NOT have a meat preference! (Laughs hysterically at her own joke).

C and E: (Shaking heads, making indignant noises).

Me: Ha ha ha. Very funny. Ha ha.

S (to Me): Are you actually blushing? I didn’t know you did that.

E (to S): Don’t make me come over there and hit you again.

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LIKE A PEELED GRAPE

P: I’m having the worst day. I have PMS and I’m not done with my grading yet and I can’t concentrate on anything and I lost my wallet! I think I set it on top of my car with some milk, and then I remember getting the milk down, but I’m pretty sure I drove off with my wallet still on top of the car and now it’s gone!

Me: Oh no. That’s awful! Last week when I had PMS I purchased a sack of groceries, paid for everything, and then walked out of the store without the groceries. The cashier actually had to come chasing after me in the parking lot.

P: It’s horrible. It’s like I can’t even think clearly right now. I can’t think of, I don’t know . . . words? You know? For things? It would just be best if we didn’t ever have to leave the house when we had PMS. Better for everyone concerned, right?

Me: Exactly. But that means we’d have to know we had PMS. Sometimes I break things. So there’s clumsiness and crashing and spilling, and that kind of slaps me upside the head with it, right? But sometimes that doesn’t happen and I just go around for a week or so as if I’ve completely lost my mind.

P: Yes. It’s as if you’re dimly aware of it intellectually, but it sneaks up on you and bites you in the ass nonetheless.

Me: That’s the worst. And then you’re just out there wandering around completely unchecked . . . totally raw. And vulnerable. Like a peeled grape. And then the paranoia starts in. Well . . . you remember what talking to me last week was like!

P (laughing): Oh, you mean being worried that your cell phone was tapped? And how you thought you needed to be more like Tony Soprano who is scrupulously meticulous about his cell phone use? Although the sad thing is, now you’ve got me worried about whether or not people can listen in on my cell phone conversations.

Me: I don’t even know who I was last week. It’s humiliating. Seriously. I don’t know who that person was. I mean, what with the out-of-control hormones, and the fatigue, and the overstimulation, and the holiday weirdness, and the end-of-the-semester stress all going on at once? And then what did I do? Went out way too much and liberally doused the whole shebang down with copious amounts of alcohol? I mean, what was I thinking? I might as well have lit a match at that point. I ask you . . . is that not a Cocktail Recipe for Disaster?

P: Pretty much. That’s what I’m saying about special dispensation to not have to leave the house. I’m thinking I should see my doctor to see if there’s something I could take just during PMS.

Me: What. You mean like Valium? Thorazine? Haldol? Morphine? All of the above?

P (laughing): Yeah. (Pausing). So . . . do you think that people really can listen in on our cell phone conversations?

Me: Well, last week you swore to me up and down that we could de-jinx that particular anxiety by talking unabashedly and at length about masturbation. So would you like me to return the favor?

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JANE AUSTEN

Me (sticking head into E’s office): M. was wanting to envision me in the midst of a Jane Austen-y romance narrative, which was awfully dear and I adore her to bits for it, but casting me as a Jane Austen character just really doesn’t work, does it?

E: No. That’s not you at all. The options for the female characters are completely limiting.

Me: Exactly. I mean who on earth would I be? I’d end up being the weird, queer, impossible-to-unload sister, right? Think about it . . . if I were a Bennett sister, I’d get stuck being

E and Me (exclaiming simultaneously and laughing): Mary!!!

Me: That would totally suck.

E: It would. And that’s because it’s completely the wrong literary genre. You’re much more Bloomsbury. I could totally see casting you in a Virginia Woolf novel, for example.

Me: Yes. That’s much more like it, isn’t it?

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TELL ME ALL ABOUT US

This irresistible meme was cadged from Polyopia. Go ahead . . . you know you want to.

Whether you know me or not, even if you have never been here before, make up a fake memory of us. That is, post a comment with a COMPLETELY MADE UP AND FICTIONAL memory of you and me. It can be anything you want – good or bad – but it has to be fake.

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An interesting blog post project from Lee over at You Are Here: What were you doing ten years ago? Five years ago? One year ago? Yesterday?

Ten years ago I’m living in Bloomington, Indiana, where I’m finishing up an outstanding literature course for my M.F.A.  a seminar in Victorian literature. I’m obsessed with the lives of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. The messy love lives! The laudanum! The wombats and epileptic seizures! I, myself, am at loose ends. I’m taking fiction classes, and tossing around the idea of doing another M.F.A. in fiction, even though this really doesn’t make much sense. I’m working as a graveyard shift telephone operator. I go in to work at 11:00 p.m., and leave at 7:30 in the morning. I try to write when it’s slow, but it’s sometimes difficult to remain alert. The pay is bad, so sometimes I work a second part-time clerical job from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, immediately after getting off the graveyard shift. I never manage to get much sleep and become slightly narcoleptic. During this time period I bemuse my friends by occasionally drifting off in the middle of talking to them and lapsing into surreal dreamspeak. “I’m scheduled to work this weekend because the fire trucks need to caramelize the time cards at the swim meet,” I might say. I win a prize and give my first out-of-town poetry reading. Literary journals have accepted a small handful of my poems. I have just turned thirty, and I am in love with a boy who is seven years younger than me. He is sweet, and smart, and very pretty, and he adores cats. I am also a little bit in love with one of my neighbors, who is almost twenty years my senior. He is an artist, and he has interesting things to tell me. He is soft-spoken and very kind to me. Sometimes I see him in secret, and my schedule becomes unnecessarily complex. I have an old piano, and for the first time in several years I let myself play, usually in the afternoons, when I should be sleeping but suffer from insomnia. Sometimes I open the windows, and Bach’s Italian Concerto, Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu, and Ravel’s Sonatine fill up the spaces between houses.

Five years ago I’m spending my first winter in South Dakota. My first book has come out the year before, and the job offers follow shortly thereafter. I’ve moved from Columbus, Ohio, where I’ve been living with the boy who loves cats. There, I worked as a legal secretary on the 29th floor of a downtown law firm, and when my book was coming out I secretly carried the mock-up of the cover to work with me. When no one was looking, I’d take it out and look at it to remind myself that it was really real. When I come to South Dakota, the boy who loves cats stays in Ohio. Midway through the semester I break up with him in my head to see if he notices. He doesn’t, but that’s okay. I’m appreciative to have been spared unnecessary drama. That winter, there’s lots of snow, and for a couple days, a complete whiteout. I realize how much I miss the snow, and the intrusive obbligato of the wind. I quit smoking and realize that for the first time I actually start to “get” wine. I drink a lot of wine! I finish the manuscript to my second book. There are two women who I have crushes on, but what happens with them doesn’t happen until it’s already a new year, and that would make it four years ago and not five.

One year ago I’m working on writing two books at the same time, and can’t be bothered to think about anything else, other than my teaching/work responsibilities. I am utterly oblivious and utterly miserable and utterly happy.

Yesterday I make a promise to myself to savor the process of polishing and revising my book manuscripts, because it’s my favorite part and I need to enjoy it when I can. I also realize that I need to slow down a little bit . . . take my time with polishing the books, because I want to have a sense of what sort of books I would like to write next before these books are irrevocably finished. I don’t do well when I get stuck in the cracks between projects, and so I’d like to have a direction, a point of reference, a little thread to pull on before I close up shop on the ongoing projects. I swear by Hemingway’s advice in this regard . . . about leaving a little something unfinished for the next day. I think that if I were Hemingway this would be the juncture where I’d need to divorce one wife and marry another. I’m glad that I’m not Hemingway. My friend P. calls me back and says that she really couldn’t understand a word I was saying in my late night phone message from earlier this week, but allows that there’s at least a 50% chance this could be due to the fact that her new cell phone sometimes garbles things. (CHAGRIN! Or is that really just minor chagrin? Who knows?) I procrastinate on grading. I read Julia Alvarez’s In the Name of Salome. I listen to Eric Dolphy and Thelonious Monk and contentedly change verb tenses in an unfinished story. Past to present. Present to past.

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CHAGRIN . . .

Is the word of the day on Dictionary.com.

Chagrin \shuh-GRIN\, noun: Acute vexation, annoyance, or embarrassment, arising from disappointment or failure.

Just this week I learned that one of my list poems, “Things That Cause a Feeling of Chagrin,” will be appearing in Cream City Review’s Memoir Issue. It is an exceedingly long list.

My friend P., also a poet, says that “chagrin” is one of her favorite words to say aloud. It is a good saying-out-loud word, indeed. That disarmingly chiffon-like soft “sha” at the start, followed by the hard “gr” in the middle snuffing out the silky “sha” somwhere back by the molars. I like how the “grin” at the end also introduces a subtle top note of either rueful humor or rueful bravado.

Notes for a hypothetical sequel . . . Chagrin II or perhaps Son of Chagrin!:

Spending an entire week recasting a short story in present tense (because one can then simply sidestep the nerve-jangling aggravation that is the bete noir of the plus parfait) and painstakingly recrafting the sentences to best accommodate the tense shift, only to, at the end of the week, realize that it was all a horrible mistake, then having to revert back to past tense, but since one is now wedded to some of the rewording/recrafting, one can’t simply go back to the old draft, but now must repeat the entire process.

Realizing in retrospect that one might have behaved more rudely than a given situation actually warranted.

Current State of Domestic Sluttiness = Chagrin

Fuckwittage.

Completely forgetting a very dear friend’s birthday.

Message left on friend’s cell phone at 2:00 a.m. earlier in the week: Do I sound really drunk to you? I forgot to eat dinner and I’m definitely drunker than I’d planned. So here’s the thing. I’m going to need you to call me back tomorrow and tell me exactly how drunk I sound, okay? That way, I’ll know precisely how to calibrate the settings on the Chagrin-o-Meter.

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LIGHT

Cold bright clear light everywhere — ricocheting off snow, stretching the dome of the sky like a taut blue balloon, sluicing into the apartment through every window. I want to drink it in deep thirsty gulps, the cold of it making the back of my throat numb, the cold of it washing away the hot ache in my chest, the cold of it easing the tight muscular lump of things better left unsaid.

Yesterday, tuned too tightly, like the E string on a violin pitched sharp. My friends, who understand that poor intonation isn’t a capital offense, even for a lapsed musician, calling me back in the dark and making me laugh.

Today I won’t worry so much about feeling like a mollusk without its shell. So what.

Yesterday there was slipperiness and flakes sifting anxiously through the air as if some terribly important thing was being ground down in a lapidary shop. Today, though, there is just all this clean cold light. How could I not claim it for my own and call it joy?

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