Monday, May 31, 2010

callithump


\KAL-uh-thump\

noun

: a noisy boisterous band or parade

And the system again reveals itself. I just spent twenty minutes searching through this blog's archives to locate another instance in which the usual randomness of Mirriam-Webster's word choice fell by the wayside. And here we are, on Memorial Day, talking of "boisterous bands" and "parades." I feel as though I'm on the heels of a word-fugitive who occasionally drops clues pointing to his/her trail. On days like today, I show up while the footprint is still fresh, shaking my head, clenching my fists, and exclaiming, "Bhhaa!" I mean, not like a sheep, but like the noise people make when they are foiled yet again.

In Orange, Connecticut, the Memorial Day parade was an event to attend. Not because it was particularly fun, but because there was not really much going on in Orange, and any organized event was something to anticipate. Families set up camp early in the morning on the periphery of the street, equipped with folding chairs, coolers filled with IGA brand soda cans, and shady umbrellas to shield grandparents from the early summer heat. As the parade filed by, spectators nodded their eats to the CALLITHUMP, waved cheap American flags (probably made in China) and photographed girls in short skirts spinning batons. The march proceeded down Orange Center Road for about half a mile, commencing just past the community center and culminating at the cemetery, where some old veterans shot off rifles into the sky.

Actually marching in the parade was somewhat of a right of passage for children—I did it first as a girl scout, and then later as part of the junior high school band. When I was a young girl it was exciting; I relished in the thrill of being noticed, recognized, for anything. But as I got older the excitement was shadowed by mortification. As much as I secretly loved school band, it was hardly cool. The combination of being a teenager, marching down the street in front of my whole town, and sweating in the thick of black jeans and a bright yellow polyester blazer was excruciatingly embarrassing. The main objective was to avoid the horror of stepping in the trail of horse shit left behind by the mounted patrol. The only thing worse than marching in the parade was doing so with a shoe covered in shit.

The one thing I really looked forward to at this event was the ice cream truck. Despite the lack of food served at the parade, there was always an ice cream vendor conveniently parked by the edge of the cemetery. From across the street, one viewed the pleasant juxtaposition of the WWII vets shooting guns and the smiling, colorful faces of anthropomorphized rocket pops painted onto the side of the vehicle.

The snow-cone was my dessert of choice. I liked it because it turned my lips and tongue blue and henceforth drew attention to my mouth—the beginnings of a sexuality I was too young to understand. Treats aside, though, the ice cream truck was sort of a see-and-be-seen kind of thing for children. I always hoped to run into someone I knew and get invited to a Memorial Day barbecue or pool party or something more fun than going home and watching HBO or wading in the two inches of water that filled the plastic container my family called a "pool." This probably happened once. Maybe twice. But even so, every year I stood by that truck, eating my artificially flavored ice, lips blue, waiting for someone, anyone, to want to hang out with me.

And, of course, celebrating those who served for our country.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

qui vive


\kee-VEEV\

noun

: alert, lookout

I went through a strange phase as a child during which I was really fascinated by the ways in which deer always seem to be on the QUI VIVE. Deer sightings were a fairly regular occurrence in my Connecticut back yard. We lived close to what was usually referred to as "the water company," which translates to, in real-person terminology, the land surrounding the reservoir. This piece of land was dense with forest and wildlife, much of it spilling into our backyard.

Sometimes I would spot a deer just hanging out in my yard. If it wasn't looking in my direction, I would slowly, quietly, discreetly approach, attempting to get as close as I could without scaring it away. Of course, their hearing is amazingly acute; the deer would usually raise its head, quickly jerk its neck back and forth to spot the approaching enemy of an eleven-year-old girl, and hop off into the thicket (I'm sorry—when else am I going to be able to say "thicket") while I was probably still twenty feet away.

I'm not sure why, but I envied this ability, this quick reaction time. Perhaps I thought this to be a keen defense mechanism. I had a pretty low opinion of myself—being the dense, naive, hardly quick-witted creature that I was in those pre-teen years. I envied the attentiveness of the deer, the sheer animalism of that instinctual self-protection.

I actually remember trying to be more alert, to jerk my head around like an animal when I heard foreign sounds. I wonder how this must have appeared to my classmates. (I don't really wonder how it appeared to my family; odd behavior slipped under the radar. They would have been more concerned had I started wearing B.U.M Equipment sweatshirts.) I never stopped to think that what is threatening to a deer—the crunching of a twig, the rustling of a bush—is not that threatening to human beings.

What I should have been on the QUI VIVE for was not sounds but ideas, concepts, theories. I mean, I guess that matters little to an eleven-year-old, but it would have been more relevant than jolting in my seat when a pencil rolled off someone's desk onto the tile floor.

I'm not sure from what I felt the need to protect myself. Life? Growing up? Any form of human relationship? I write this list laughing, realizing I'm still trying to protect myself from the same elements. Although, I have since given up my deer-like QUI VIVE. Instead I have just attempted to construct a solid fortress around myself. And I must appear just as foolish as a sixth-grader pretending she has the extra-sensory perception of a forest creature.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

disaster


\dih-ZAS-ter\

noun

: a sudden calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, or destruction; broadly : a sudden or great misfortune or failure

Another pleasant surprise from Mirriam-Webster in the final days of May. The etymology here is fascinating; the word derives from the Latin prefix "dis-" and the Latin "astro," meaning "star." I never stopped to think about these roots. Star-crossed. Planets misaligned. Ill-fated. DISASTER.

DISASTER is a word that covers the spectrum of gravity. One might use this designation to describe the destruction caused by a tsunami on the same day she stands in front of the bathroom mirror saying, "My hair is a total DISASTER." Modern english allows for these gross exaggerations. The same applies to other calamitous words such as: crashed, wrecked, devastated, decimated (which actually means to remove a tenth of or from), wasted, destroyed, pillaged, etc. All of which are applied to the individual human experience as often as they are used to describe a grander scale of destruction.

Should we regret robbing these words of their graver meanings? If one understands the human experience as a microcosm, then no. It's one thing to use the holocaust as a metaphor for your last night of debauchery, but to simply say you were wrecked or wasted or your choice in a late night companion was a total DISASTER is just an easier way to universalize the human experience. The Modern Destruction of Self. Totally relatable.

Friday, May 28, 2010

juxtapose


\JUK-stuh-pohz\

verb

: to place side by side

What a day! It just so happens that JUXTAPOSE, in any of its forms, is one of my favorite words in the english language. I am not being cynical here. I know, perhaps I jumped the gun on that exclamation point, but you have to understand, I'm just trying to keep positive, motivated, optimistic. I need that exclamation point today. And I really do enjoy the word Mirriam-Webster has chosen for me. This has been a difficult month—defalcation and embezzle within days of each other? Come on.

So. JUXTAPOSE. The definition "side by side" does not do this word much justice. This is on par with defining an apple as "a fruit." The implications of JUXTAPOSE extend far beyond proximity, to a place where an object is suddenly defined by its opposite. What an under-appreciated phenomenon—the way in which something can appear entirely different when placed against an other. A black is suddenly a gray. A good deal becomes a rip off. A person may appear tall or sweet or regretfully lost when held up next to another.

Does a being existing alone become nothing? I think about the question—if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, will it make a sound? I say, of course, it is solipsistic to think the sound only exists because I am there to hear it. But, then again, my answer to this question only exists because I am there to answer, and somewhere is there to ask.

I am constantly defining and redefining myself based on my JUXTAPOSITION with, essentially, anything and anyone—as though I don't exist outside this comparing. And maybe that is true. Maybe I can only self-define based on everything around me. After all, there is no place where I am totally alone and lacking any JUXTAPOSITION whatsoever. Even if I were to discover a place, there would be the whole issue of my thirty years of previous comparing and contrasting that I would somehow have to erase or forget. Even then, I may find myself thinking, how does this life of nothings compare to a life of somethings? Have I only become something because there is nothing?

I know there is an essence to the self, a solid core that remains unchanged even in comparison. But everything else seems to be constantly in flux. Is there a way to nail down these qualities? A way to establish and understand a mean without the values of other quantities? There is no average without a spectrum.

And so I JUXTAPOSE, I compare, I place myself in every scenario to attempt to gain a better understanding of who, what, where, when, and how I am.

And, no, I have yet to really figure anything out.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

vibrissa


\vye-BRISS-uh\

noun

1 : one of the stiff hairs that are located especially about the nostrils or on other parts of the face in many mammals and that often serve as tactile organs
2 : one of the bristly feathers near the mouth of many and especially insectivorous birds that may help to prevent the escape of insects

Here is a list of all the words in my Random House Dictionary beginning with the prefix vib:

vibes
vibraharp
vibrant
vibraphone
vibrate
vibratile
vibration
vibrato
vibrator
vibratory
vibrio
vibriosis
VIBRISSA


Like VIBRISSA, most* are derivative of the Latin vibrare—to brandish, to wave, to rock, to propel suddenly. Interestingly, many of these words are also suggestive of the sound that results from these movements. My VIBRISSAE (I adore the -ae plural form) unfortunately don't make any audible sounds when stimulated. Although, I imagine some mammalian whiskers of a greater length or girth could possibly become musical when plucked.

In the third or fourth grade our school nurse Mrs. Mcloughlin came into our classroom to lecture about personal hygiene (I know I referenced this lecture in a previous blog; forgive my redundancy). The two things I remember her talking about were:

1) Fully drying one's self off after a shower. "Don't just hop out and wrap the towel around yourself," she said, stressing the importance of drying all the body's crevices (that's my word choice, not hers). I remember thinking about how cold my mother's bathroom always was, and how I spent so much time drying every part of my body to avoid icicles forming. I couldn't imagine the luxury of just being able to casually wrap the towel around my wet body and move on with the day.

2) Not picking one's nose. Of course we all feigned disgust at the thought, even though every single one of us in that room had picked our nose, probably that day. Perhaps within the hour. She described the dangers of habitual nose-picking—how the agitation would eventually wear down the VIBRISSAE (although they probably didn't pay her enough to use that word) and without our nose hairs we risked the threat of inhaling potentially hazardous particles into our respiratory systems.

My nose-picking habit definitely waned after that day. Something about that speech stuck with me—I pictured my future hairless nose and an array of dirt being sucked into my lungs with every breath. I'm sure this is an over-exaggeration on Mcloughlin's (it must have been her married name because I don't remember her appearing particularly Irish) part, but it's so fascinating how adults can scare children into good habits. Fear is the same reason why I don't eat red meat, drink with moderation, do anything with moderation, wash my hands (ever), flush public toilets with my foot, wipe from front to back, and walk with confidence and a fast pace after dark—keys in hand before reaching the door.

If there was ever a day to think about your nose hairs, today is the day.



*With the exception of vibrio and vibriosis—referring to a bacterial venereal disease in cattle and sheep resulting in spontaneous abortion.



Wednesday, May 26, 2010

whilom


\WYE-lum\

adjective

: former

I don't want to write about WHILOM today. Today I want to write about how, through some phenomenon I don't understand, it seems to rain more at the edge of a cloud than under the darkest part. Why is this? I can see blue sky. I can see sunshine lighting the ground blocks ahead of where I stand. Yet I am walking down the street in the pouring rain. It's natural occurrences like this that inspire cliches like the darkest hour is just before dawn. Is the darkest hour just before dawn? Maybe this cliche inspired itself.

Why does life require one to hit the bottom before turning upward? Is it the momentum? Does the bottom possess the only source of energy to propel you forward? And why is the bottom so elusive? Why are there so many phantom bottoms before the real bottom actually reveals itself? Why do I have so many moments during which I think, this has to be the lowest point, yet I somehow can get lower, deeper, more confused, more pathetic, deleting phone numbers (an act that matters little when phone numbers are memorized), waking from sex dreams about a WHILOM lover with my hand tucked into the waistband of my pajama pants, getting tipsy off sixteen ounces of beer and yelling to a coworker in a loud bar about how "THERE'S JUST SUCH A FUCKING THIN LINE BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE WHO HAVE BAD TIMING AND TWO PEOPLE WHO ARE JUST INEVITABLY INCOMPATIBLE," as though drawing that line really matters, or really makes anything any easier to comprehend.

I'm reaching for the bottom, I'm feeling around, I think I'm close. I think I'm ready to head back up.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

foppery


\FAH-puh-ree\

noun

1: foolish character or action : folly
2: the behavior or dress of a fop

So, apparently while FOP used to mean simply "a fool," the modern definition connotes "a man who is excessively vain and concerned about his dress, appearance, and manners." In a way, this new definition is just more specific. After all, fool is a broad term, but I might, on many occasions, refer to someone who cares too much about their appearance as foolish.

While FOPPERY among men is nothing new, I'm still surprised when I see it. Although, in most cases I've encountered, it doesn't reveal itself as vanity as much as insecurity. An old boyfriend of mine used to spend an excess amount of time in front of the bathroom mirror, trying to properly adjust his hair. He also ironed his clothes (something I do as often as I renew my driver's license), matched his socks to his button-down shirts, and cared way too much about the sporadic appearance of hair on his shoulder blades. In his defense, he never seemed vain, only concerned. And of course, insecure.

But perhaps this says something about my insecurity as well. I have never been someone to care that much about my dress. And definitely not my manners. I'm far too concerned about presenting myself as an intelligent being to care about whether or not my jeans have stains, or that I'm wearing jeans in the first place. But as a woman, I've always felt like I'm supposed to care more about my appearance than I naturally do.

Pause.

Okay, I care to an extent, a small extent which appears minute compared to how much some other women care. Here are some things I do:

- depilate the hair above my upper lip when I notice it's getting out of control (I'm Italian)
- maintain a space between my eyebrows with a tweezer
- shave my legs once a week
- pay $21 every couple months to Michael at Rudy's for a decent haircut
- put a little eyeshadow on my lids in the morning

Here are some things I do NOT do:

- style my hair in any way
- wear foundation, concealer, overnight cream, wrinkle control potion, lipstick, mascara, eyeliner, sheen, or powder
- wax anything
- manicure anything
- shave my pubic hair (this once resulted in an ingrown hair: never again)

And this is just body stuff. I don't even want to get into dress/clothes maintenance. Or lack thereof.

The point is, next to this boyfriend I often felt that I should care a little more. This is perhaps partly why it didn't work out between us. I didn't spend enough time in the bathroom. Red flag.

At least I smell okay.

Monday, May 24, 2010

luscious


\LUSH-us\

adjective

1: having a delicious sweet taste or smell
2: sexually attractive
3 a: richly luxurious or appealing to the senses b: excessively ornate

In 1996 a band called LUSCIOUS Jackson released a song called "Naked Eye." I'm listening to the song right now, and I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I probably have not heard it for over a decade. I didn't remember that the verses are sort of a rap. I just remember the chorus, which is actually kind of a slurring of words in which the only phrase I can make out is: With my naked eye, I saw....and something about fallling rain before it just mushes into an incoherent mess.

Needless to say, this is the first thing I thought of when I received Mirriam-Webster's email about thirteen hours ago. I waited until now to post this blog because I've been busy writing an article about 3D erotic photography for the majority of the day. This is also some LUSCIOUS subject matter, and I should add that I purchased my first Playboy magazine for research purposes, being that the current issue features the first 3D centerfold in the magazine's history. Truthfully? It's not that great. But, sort of revolutionary for the magazine and for the 3D community.

LUSCIOUS Jackson tells me: Naked is a state of mind. I don't know what this means. Is LUSCIOUS also a state of mind? And who is Jackson?

I'm tired and I want more cereal, which does, by the way, have a "delicious sweet taste," although I would hesitate to call Kashi LUSCIOUS.

I'm done here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

defalcation


\dee-fal-KAY-shun\

noun

1 : the act or an instance of embezzling
2 : a failure to meet a promise or an expectation

The more archaic definition of DEFALCATION implied a more general sense of curtailment, a swindling of time, money, a cutting short, a shaving off, a diminishing. A skimming off the top. An implication of something not being noticed or not being missed. An extra two minutes added to the end of a ten minute break. A bite of Josh's chocolate chip pancakes. Swiping two dimes left on the coffee table although I know they aren't mine because I'm aware of the location of all my change. Crossing the street without a signal when cars are fast approaching, thinking nothing but, they can wait, robbing them of their right-of-way. Asking for a splash or a warm-up, instead of a refill. The notion that removing a small portion from a huge quantity of something is acceptable since, naturally, it will go unnoticed—a cup of milk, a handful of cereal, a few moments of time. In the grand scheme, I think, it matters little. But in the small scheme, the scheme hardly considered, the trees and not the forest, those two dimes make such a difference. Those two dimes are a tip, an act of generosity, the relief of not having to break another dollar. It's these little things, these insignificant DEFALCATIONS that mean nothing to anyone. But somehow they shine in my mind, they weave through my day—minute measures that bring me some more peace of mind.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

lily-livered


\LILL-ee-LIV-erd\

adjective

: lacking courage : cowardly

For the majority of my nearly thirty years, I did not drink alcohol for two reasons: my mother and my father. My mother is a social-only drinker, a glass of wine at a party or charity event kind of woman. She is also a woman of moderation, in every sense—money, food, emotion. Excessiveness was heavily frowned upon in my household. She always talked about drinking as though it were a bad restaurant that one shouldn't bother trying, in such a way that really made me not want to go there.

My father was an alcoholic. The smell of liquor conjures up memories of his breath as he kissed my cheek, a scent preceding any interaction I ever had with an actual drink. I didn't spend much time with him, of course, but in the time we did spend, he was almost always under the influence. One time when I was in high school, my friend Amy and I were stuck at the mall without a ride home. My father was the last resort, but he offered to pick us up. When he arrived, he bought us dinner at Knickerbockers, a crappy American restaurant attached to the mall. While we ate he sat in the bar. When we finished he gave us each $20 and told us to go shopping while he had another drink. We returned an hour later to find him sloshed; he drunkenly introduced us to another drunken man at the bar and kissed both me and Amy on the cheek. We called my brother for a ride home.

Up until this last year, the amount of alcohol I consumed added up to less than one of those squat little cans of soda stewardesses hand you on an airplane. I just never drank. It grossed me out, and drunkenness was exceedingly unappealing to me in many ways. Only recently have I began drinking, mostly because I'm tired of carrying the burden of a stigma my parents introduced twenty-five years ago. If I'm going to not do something, I want to not do it for my own reasons, not theirs. Fair enough.

But I have to admit how, for lack of a better term, intimidating alcohol is to me. In my head it is built up as a poisonous device that will rob me of all self-control, a virtue I hold onto like a wallet on a NYC subway train. During my first actual confrontations with alcoholic beverages, I felt a bit LILY-LIVERED; sips were scary and exciting, like a first kiss—you want to take the plunge, but you don't know where it may lead. But it wasn't only the physical effects that were scary; it was also scary to do something I had talked myself out of for a long time. It was scary to push my boundaries, to be outside of myself.

But not really outside. It was still me. It is still me. I'm just synthesizing.

Friday, May 21, 2010

amerce


\uh-MERSS\

verb

: to punish by a fine whose amount is fixed by the court; broadly : punish

AMERCE translates more specifically to "being at the mercy of," which would make sense in terms of a court-determined fine. This idea of mercy also implies there is some window of time during which one can potentially influence "the court", or the powers that be, to one's benefit.

I am...sort of good at this—no where near the expertise of my mother, who has somehow talked her way out of every speeding ticket with which she has ever been threatened. My mother advised me always to "play dumb," an act at which she is eerily adept. She is by no means a dumb person, but she can evoke a "deer in headlights" look as quickly as I can roll my eyes. And this works repeatedly in her favor. Of course, there are several people out there who may perceive she's a total ditz, but in the end her wallet, amongst other things, is a bit heavier for it.

I have never talked my way out of a ticket. I have always just obliged by whatever the officer, sir said, and patiently awaited my AMERCING, hoping for some leniency, but rarely receiving any. I actually didn't get pulled over while driving until I moved to Rhode Island when, in a period of six months, was pulled over for: not completely stopping at a stop sign (bull shit), going 32 in a 25 (bull shit), and not having my front license plate attached to my car (fucking bull shit), all of which resulted in $75 tickets. I now believe circumstance was AMERCING me for moving to Rhode Island—a sign of things to come.

Although I am not very skilled at talking my way out of AMERCEMENT, I am pretty good at talking my way into things, like pay raises, grad school, and various romantic relationships. Interestingly, this usually involves some acting as well—playing worthy, playing smart, playing "of course we're just friends I'm not interested in a relationship." All of these things I can do, but somehow I have a lot of trouble playing dumb.* Maybe it's because I feel like I should take responsibility for my actions, learn from my mistakes, pay the $75 fee for my negligence. As though this makes me a better person somehow. I suppose I just can't bring myself to contest a fee that is, for all intents and purposes, fair (?) despite its ridiculousness.





*Although I must admit I occasionally pretend I don't know things that I do know for the sake of continuing a conversation.




Thursday, May 20, 2010

bully pulpit


\BULL-ee-PULL-pit\

noun

: a prominent public position (as a political office) that provides an opportunity for expounding one's views; also : such an opportunity

Am I crazy to say that I'm not quite sure how any prominent public position can not be a BULLY PULPIT? I mean, a position of prominence means people listen to you, whether they like or agree with what you happen to be saying matters little. What matters is that you have a venue to say something in which people will at least hear you. And since, I am assuming, you are human, you have views, opinions, agendas, no matter how subconscious they may seem in your altruistic head. In fact, I would go as far as saying any human that has ever interacted with another human has partaken in an act of BULLY PULPITTING. You speak because you want to be heard. You want to be heard because you have something to say. You have something to say because that is totally normal. Even if you don't have anything to say, that is saying something. She denied any comment. That speaks volumes.

This is why people have friends. They want to feel like their opinion means something. Of course, there are additional reasons to have friends, but if you didn't have anyone to listen to why you think those stupid parasite-like phones that clip onto people's ears are the most useless pieces of shit ever made and they make you embarrassed to be alive, then, well, I don't know what.

As I expound my afternoon away...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

translucent


\trans-LOO-sunt\

adjective

1 : not transparent but clear enough to allow light to pass through
2 : free from disguise or falseness

Some moments of TRANSLUCENCE:

My art teacher at Racebrook Elementary, Mr. Fappiano, had three circular pieces of TRANSLUCENT plastic—one red, one yellow, one blue. Primary colors. Every year he taught us (again and again) about the primaries by holding the circles up against the classroom window allowing the sun to shine through the plastic. He layered the pieces over each other to illustrate the different combinations colors made. Even though I didn't need to re-learn this information (art was one of the only classes in which I retained anything I was taught) I enjoyed this lesson every time. There was something comforting about knowing the triangles always produced the same results.

Around the age of sixteen, for a short period of time, I got really interested in fashion. This stage was mostly influenced by the window of style I'm going to refer to as the glam-revival, as observed through the likes of Melancholy-era Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, PJ Harvey, and any other musician that owned a feather boa in 1996. I think it was D'arcy (SP's bassist and my hero at the time) who may have sported a TRANSLUCENT shirt with only a bra underneath. This, I wanted. I went into Manhattan with my mother to visit one of her favorite fabric shops—The Spandex House—and together we picked out some fabric. I ended up with three revealing tops, which I wore with pride to school, sometimes with only a bra underneath. It was a nice bra.

This destroys any attempts at chronology, but I need to talk about my father for a moment. For some reason, more than anyone, my father is able to see right through me. This is despite the fact that he may know me less than any other person I have ever known. Any moment during which I tried to lie, stretch the truth, leave something out, exaggerate, he was the first person to call me out. And he did so casually, sometimes just with a smirk, as though to suggest, How endearing, to try and get something past me. Perhaps he is just a good judge of character. Perhaps he is just a good judge of me. Perhaps he knows me better than I think. Perhaps there is something to blood relation that I often choose to ignore. Or perhaps I am just incredibly TRANSLUCENT, and my father is the only person with enough audacity and lack of tact to actually point it out.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

gravamen


\gruh-VAY-mun\

noun

: the material or significant part of a grievance or complaint

I am no stranger to bitching. In fact, I cannot imagine a day going by during which I fail to complain about someone or something. But, most likely someone. Somethings don't bother me as much—circumstances are often uncontrollable. So what if I got stuck in a rain storm while walking over the Burnside bridge or I got a flat tire or my sock keeps bunching up in my fucking sneaker. These things just happen. But people—

PEOPLE—

drive me mad.

The GRAVAMEN of most of my complaints about people is a general lack of one or more of these qualities:

1) common sense*,
2) work ethic,
3) respect,
4) tact, and
5) timeliness.

Almost every complaint comes down to one of the above. I know—I shouldn't care. And believe me, I care a whole lot less than I used to. But it is just so, so easy to rip into people. And I'm positive people can and should rip into me, as well. And that's totally okay. I'm particular and neurotic and self-conscious and over-achieving. There's a whole lot of material there. If we all just accept that we are regularly both the subjects and objects of full-on rants, it will make the whole thing seem a lot more human.




*I realize common sense is a totally loaded notion. But I'm still somewhat of an idealist on this matter.

Monday, May 17, 2010

embezzle


\im-BEZZ-ul\

verb

: to appropriate (as property entrusted to one's care) fraudulently to one's own use

At age eleven, my mother enrolled me in a course at the community center that taught young girls like myself how to babysit. There were maybe ten or twelve prepubescent girls in the class—some familiar faces, some from the two other elementary schools in my town. This was the summer before seventh grade, before all three school would unite in the horror that is "junior high." The summer before breasts, before boys, and before babysitting.

I don't remember much from this class. I remember sitting in a hot, air-conditioner-less room for six weeks. I think the teacher's name was Nancy, but I could be totally wrong. Let's pretend I'm right. Nancy was always hanging around the community center teaching some or another class about something. She was petite with long dark hair and my memory is constructing her as somewhat resembling Penelope Cruz. I think she may have been engaged to someone else who perpetually hung around teaching classes at the community center as well. Love happens.

The class covered topics like: what to do if a child is choking (an notion that made me panic with the daunting responsibility of saving a life), how to negotiate pay, and how to generally manage unruly children (Keep in mind, Nancy=childless). At the end of the six weeks, we took a multiple choice test and, assuming we passed, each received a certificate saying that we were certified (by whom, I have no idea) to babysit.

Like any trade one enters with only the experience of one hardly practical course, I fell into the world of babysitting intimidated and clueless. Had I the opportunity to give Nancy feedback, I might have instructed her to teach things like: why you shouldn't accept rides home from drunken mothers at 2:30 a.m.; how to deal with children who have irrational fears of fire; and the ethics of looking (or not looking) through other people's shit.

Most babysitting gigs I held began in the early evening and extended long past midnight. Children would often fall off around 10 p.m., leaving much of the night to talking on the phone, watching extended cable, eating whatever I could get my hands on and, of course, dissecting the collections of other people's belongings. I had my limits—never bedrooms, only common areas. But, oh!, the joys of looking through people's stuff—pantries, junk drawers, cabinets, shelves of VHS tapes with collections of porn VHS tapes hidden behind discreet dividers. One family had a bar and I would sniff all the different types of liquor, never trying any for fear they measured amounts. I always made sure to meticulously replace anything I removed back into its exact spot. And I would do all of this searching in complete silence, listening for approaching cars, automatic garage doors, keys turning in a lock. I was never caught.

I felt no guilt for this invasion of privacy, this EMBEZZLING of parents' trust in me as "the babysitter." Nor do I now. Whenever visitors are in my house, I assume if my back is turned they will be scrutinizing my possessions, or at least considering it. I am not bothered in the least by this thought. As long as everything is returned to its home, left unchanged, and, or course, not stolen, why should I be bothered by people looking through my things? I have no dark secrets, at least none that bear any tangible evidence.

Come over, look through my stuff. I'm sure you won't find anything that I haven't already talked about in this blog.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Promethean


\pruh-MEE-thee-un\

adjective

: of, relating to, or resembling Prometheus, his experiences, or his art; especially : daringly original or creative

When I was younger, before I lost weight and still had a poor self-image, I would often fantasize that my body could transform into clay, at which point I would mold it to my liking. I pictured myself actually pulling chunks of clay off my body and discarding them. My fantasies didn't often bother with logistics—how would I be proportioned correctly? Wouldn't I want the assistance of a plastic surgeon, or even an artist? How would my insides feel when they were made of clay? I was simply imagining the quickest and easiest way to transform myself into something more desirable.

Prometheus is said to have shaped the first humans out of clay and endowed them with the spark of life by means of fire stolen from Zeus. His punishment was being tied to a rock and having his liver torn at by an eagle every day for eternity.

There is nothing PROMETHEAN about my desperation to change my body into clay. It is not daringly creative or original, it is only mildly pathetic and the first thing I think of when I think of creating humankind from clay.

I'm not sure of the last PROMETHEAN act I performed. I can think of dozens of things I do that are creative (original means little to me), but there is something in the adverb daringly that complicates this. There is now an element of risk to the creation in question—the stealing of fire from Zeus for the betterment of man. I'm not sure I can say I have done this. Of course, I have committed bold acts, acts of spontaneity, risky endeavors, but they are generally acts of escape or initiation. Not creativity.

Maybe, as an artist, I need to think more about this. I try to push boundaries in my writing, but I am not pushing hard enough. The moments in which I do push, I get a rush, I know I'm doing something right. But it is a precipice—



—I'm standing on the Burnside bridge, on the viewing platform of the Empire State, sitting in a window of a manmade castle on Sleeping Giant. All the high places. And I am always so, so close.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

derrick


\DAIR-ik\

noun

1 : a hoisting apparatus employing a tackle rigged at the end of a beam
2 : a framework or tower over a deep drill hole (as of an oil well) for supporting boring tackle or for hoisting and lowering

What am I seeing here? I'm seeing Daniel Day-Lewis. I'm seeing There Will Be Blood. I'm seeing a tower climbed at the end of Dazed and Confused. I'm thinking about towers. A derelict windmill in the neighborhood where I grew up. Walking by the mill with a neighborhood girl named Michele, prettier than me and a better gymnast; she owns real leggings, shinier than my homemade versions. Her house is the color of a not-quite-ripe peach. Another neighborhood boy—Kevin. He looks like a young Michael Keaton. He is too good-looking to talk to me unless Michele is present. We stand in the street looking at the windmill. I've been in there before, says Kevin, We should sneak back there and go inside. I am ten years old and intimidated but I don't dare turn down this opportunity to prove I am cool. I still have these moments, all the time. Last night, at a club, I am sober, a little high. The club is hot, I am trying to be funny, and I tuck the bottom hem of my t-shirt through the neckline, an homage to the early nineties. My dance mates laugh. I will do anything to be cool and funny. Even expose my abdomen enough to illicit a drunk and creepy guy to come over and grind me. Kevin, Michelle and I sneak behind a house toward the windmill, not a DERRICK, I know, but close. The young boy who lives in the house comes out of the back door. His name is Tomasso. His hair is bright blond and he is a couple years younger than us. You guys can't go in there, he says, standing in the grass as we move our way through a tangle of bushes toward the base of the mill. Get out of here, Tomasso, Kevin says. I hate Kevin, but I am thrilled to be on his side—the cool side—for a brief moment. Tomasso just stands there staring at us. Kevin tugs at the heavy wooden door and we go inside. It is musty and dark and smells earthy, like the half of my mother's basement that is never used. Nothing happens. We stand around. We are just inside, and that is enough. These moments—these instances of doing something just for the sake of doing it—I still don't understand the appeal of the hollowness inherent in these experiences. I don't even remember whether or not I looked up to see the ceiling of the mill, the inner-workings—the only thing that might have made the experience mean anything.

Friday, May 14, 2010

substantive


\SUB-stun-tiv\

adjective

: having substance : involving matters of major or practical importance to all concerned

When I think in terms of SUBSTANTIALITY, I mostly think of food. I remember this was a word often used among adults, usually directed toward children, concerning the amount/quality/nutritional value of any given meal.

That's all you're eating? Don't you want something more SUBSTANTIAL?

My answer was usually: no. I ate a lot of junk food as a child, and I was more than happy with my choices. I never felt dissatisfied with meals consisting of half a bag of Cheetos. I probably would have benefited from something more SUBSTANTIVE, but I craved only junk.

Of course, circumstances are admittedly a bit different now. If I don't eat nutritionally-balanced meals, I feel pretty awful—weak, hungry, wanting, and sometimes even a little sick. When I see people eating pancakes for breakfast, I cringe a little bit, thinking—that's not going to satisfy them for long. It amazes me that dozens of customers come into my bakery feeding themselves on pecan sticky buns and bearclaws. When I stand in front of the case of pastries all I see is a vast dessert of sugar, and hours of post-snack discontent waiting to happen.

The change must have been fairly gradual. I still enjoy things like chips and salsa, but I'm not sure when I stopped considering that combination to be a "meal." Now, if my meals don't consist of fiber and protein and vegetables, I am pretty physically disappointed.

It's kind of a bummer in some ways. I mean, I feel pretty good, but sometimes I just want to eat bowl after bowl of cereal, and unfortunately for me, it will never be as enjoyable as it was twenty years ago.

This post turned out to be a lot more depressing than I intended. Perhaps I should eat something sugary this morning to boost my endorphins.

Then again, perhaps not.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

mirage


\muh-RAHZH\

noun

1 : an illusion sometimes seen at sea, in the desert, or over hot pavement that looks like a pool of water or a mirror in which distant objects are seen inverted
2 : something illusory and unattainable like a mirage

I'm remembering the sticky, hot 90 degree summer days of my childhood, walking along the four-lane Route 34, destination: grocery store—the closest place with air conditioning and cold drinks. The forty minute walk was a straight shot west on this route, a diverse stretch of road traversing residential patches, the reservoir, the highway overpass, the commuter parking lot, a storage facility for tractors (at least I think I'm remembering this correctly), a hearty stretch of open-field farmland, and finally—commerce.

These walks often seemed a lot longer than 40 minutes, maybe because everything seems to take longer when you are young, but mostly because it was the same...stretch...of road...every...time. Because of the intersection with the highway, there were no other scenic routes to get to the shopping plaza that housed Klarides Supermarket (now Adams, with a forgettable stint of Stop & Shop [or was it Shop Rite?] in between), Carvel Ice Cream, and a Hallmark card store. And there was LITERALLY no where closer to go. Residential neighborhoods stretched for miles in every direction. Roads like Route 34 (aka Derby Avenue) were too busy to allow for bike riding, so walking that hideously long and drudging stretch was the only option to reach something other than a house.

I remember, after crossing over the highway bridge and passing the commuter lot, the trees would clear a bit opening up to more farmland, and I could see the road further into the distance. On particularly hot days, it was easy to spot the humidity rising up from the scolding pavement, rippling the images in the distance. At the age of 13 or 14, when I took most of these walks, I didn't yet understand the concept of heat creating a MIRAGE in the distance. I often told myself the optical illusion was the frontier of some sort of alternate reality—that if I walked fast enough, I might be able to reach this wavy edge of the universe and subsequently pass into another world.

I was most likely really dehydrated at the time. Those summers were hot.