Tuesday, August 7, 2012

a complicated man

this is my grandfather, william vernon crandall the second:
he was a complicated man.

my grandfather was a strong, hard, stubborn, uncompromising, controlling, unhappy, driven man.

he was a man for whom nothing was ever quite right. not growing up, when his mother - a cold woman - clearly preferred his brother and showered him with treats and rewards while grandpa had to work for everything.

he married my grandmother, audrey, and controlled her completely. he dictated what she should wear, and how much she should eat. she bore him two children, my father, william vernon crandall the third, and my aunt, linda. they were some 10 years apart.

my grandmother was a beautiful woman - sweet and desperate for someone to take care of her. eventually she became a terrible drinker, and when drunk, would rant and rave about the house, brandishing knives.

she went to rehab. when she came home, grandpa still expected her to deliver a scotch on the rocks to him when he got home from work. he just didn't get it, the whole sobriety thing. it was her failure that she couldn't stay sober.

nothing, and no one, was ever quite right. i suspect this included himself. he worked like a dog every day, rarely taking vacations. he made it quite clear to my father that nothing he did was right, either. sometime in high school - maybe at 14, maybe he was so generous as to wait until my dad turned 16 - it was expected that my father would get a job, and start paying room and board to live in the family house.

there were so many rules with grandpa - rules you didn't even know could exist. in the summer, you couldn't sit on the couch in shorts - you had to put a towel underneath your legs, so that the oils didn't get on the fabric. you couldn't lean your head back. and you certainly couldn't place your feet on anything. and don't even get me started on how you were supposed to eat chips (i'm not joking).

grandpa was a driven man, but his children were not. they just wanted to be loved, and they were never enough. he sued my father for not repaying a loan on time. rules were rules for grandpa. there were no exceptions for family.

except he was fanatical about family pride. it was so important to him that i named my first son a crandall. he asked me to never change his name - not even if i got married. being a crandall meant the world to him. but it was an unhappy world.

my father became a drinker, just like his dad, and even drank scotch, just like his dad. he tried to work hard and make money but failure was always present. every time a plan failed he retreated more and more to drink, to anything that could cover up this terrible pain inside him.

my aunt became a heroin addict, and remained somehow perpetually an adolescent, even when in her thirties. grandpa divorced my grandmother and she retreated into smoking and drinking, her daughter living with her, stealing things from the house to pawn for drug money, telling my grandmother that they had been robbed - again!

my grandfather was a hard man, and a strong one. i was never particularly close to him. i was also a disappointment, for many years, as i bounced around the country, had a baby out of wedlock (for christssake), and didn't really keep a steady job. what he thought of me in recent years i'll never know.

my grandfather was also a pitiable man, in recent years. he outlived the deaths of both of his children and his first wife - all of them sad deaths. my father: suicide; my aunt: infection from a dirty needle; my grandmother: a slow alcohol and cigarette fueled decline. his second wife tells me that at night he would cry out. she knew he felt the pain of his disapproval having contributed to their pain and suffering, their inability to just simply live.

he was the last. there is no one left. no one who can explain this family's pain to me. because he never could have articulated all that was inside him - i see that now.

i see that he tried, in his limited way. i know that recently when he said to me, 'i love you', it meant something serious. it meant that he saw - in some small, perhaps subconscious way - how never telling people that you value them - perhaps never realizing, in the moment, that you do value them - will haunt you forever.

william vernon crandall died this afternoon, at the age of 92. his last years were unhappy. he was in pain, from arthritis and knee surgeries and ankle surgeries. he was in pain, from the loss of his children and his estrangement from his entire family. i know he valued me - i know he did.

i just can't figure out how to grieve.

when my dad died, the minister at the memorial service said it best, in a very tactful way: 'he was a man of terrible strengths and terrible weaknesses'. i'd say something like that, now, about grandpa, except he had no weaknesses. he was defined by his strength - a terrible, unrelenting, never ending strength.

if i had some scotch, maybe i'd pour myself a glass. i'd remember the time he and his second wife (a lovely woman - i could fill a page with how lovely she is) came to visit us in germany, how the constant imminent failure of hosting him in germany, a country and our lifestyle there which was guaranteed to disappoint him constantly weighed on me, how we went to a restaurant and he ordered scotch and loudly asked (in english, always in english) for ABOUT FIVE MORE ICE CUBES for it - how when i had safely delivered them to their motel i curled up on the hallway floor in a fetal position, saying i just can't take it anymore.

i have lots of good grandpa stories. most of them are ridiculous. and i am sad. it's a part of who i am - all of it. the family pain, the burden of expectations and disappointment, the mythology of their lives in montana, with all the trying and failing and trying again, the downward spiraling economy, the men working day in and day out and never being happy, the slow decline of the women, trying to be perfect, the imminent failure.

so long grandpa. i already miss you, no matter how complicated you were. this doesn't even begin to do you justice.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

comfort reads (too much bitter and not enough sweet)

today was a momentous day, although i'm probably the only person who would ever view it that way. what did i do that was so special? not much, just took the brothers karamazov and don quixote from next to my bed, and sometimes a great notion from the dining room table, and quietly re-shelved them. yes, that's right! i put them away, and grabbed one of the many unread books teetering on the top of other books to begin reading.

if someone really knew me, they could gauge my mental state by the books on my bedside table. books are both my main source of new thoughts and ideas, and also the socially-acceptable stuffed animals i use to comfort and console myself with. when i'm engaged with living life, when i'm eager to learn and experience things, to encounter new feelings, i devour new books and will often have two or three piled up next to me, keeping me up for hours at night through excitement and wondering what will happen next. conversely, when i'm feeling down or overwhelmed by life, i reach instead for my comfort books - the ones i know inside and out, the ones that won't shock me or surprise me or trick me into feeling emotions i'm not ready to feel - no sneaky books here, no risky books here. just the kind where the words are so familiar they wash through your brain like soft music, the kind where the feelings are known, the aura is comfortable and the reassurance palatable.

it started a while ago when i set aside the murakami book borrowed from a friend (i had no idea what was going to happen next!) and instead reached for don quixote one night before bed. don quixote is supremely funny; it's a great book to read when one wants to relax, and yet be entertained and led down joyful paths, ridiculous paths.

"'Did I not tell you so?' said Don Quixote. 'Wait but a moment, Sancho; I will do it as quickly as you can say the credo.'
"Then, stripping off hastily his breeches, he remained in nothing but skin and shirt. Then, without more ado he cut a couple of capers and did two somersaults with his head down and his legs in the air, displaying such parts of his anatomy as drove Sancho to turn Rozinante's bridle to avoid seeing such a display. So, he rode away fully satisfied to swear that his master was mad."

but a short while later and it wasn't enough. it was too light. when times call for some deep introspection, guided meditations on life and what it all means, yet the reassuring kind that won't lead you into unforeseen territory where you might - accidentally! - think something new, there's nothing better than the brothers karamazov, the ultimate meditation on religion, love, life, passion, pride, and self-deceit. nothing works better to pull you out of your own life and submerse you into another world - another world both culturally and temporally.

"Some snotty-nosed, consumptive moralists, poets especially, often call this thirst for life base. True, it's a feature of the Karamazovs, to some extent, this thirst for life despite all; it must be sitting in you, too; but why is it base? There is still an awful lot of centripetal force on our planet, Alyosha. I want to live, and I do live, even if it be against logic. Though I do not believe in the order of things, still the sticky little leaves that come out in the spring are dear to me, the blue sky is dear to me, some people are dear to me, whom one loves sometimes, would you believe it, without even knowing why; some human deeds are dear to me, which one has perhaps long ceased believing in, but still honors with one's heart, out of old habit."

and what then? the damn rains continued all through june and sometimes a great notion reappeared in front of me for my morning reads. it's usually my go-to book in november, when i'm ready to fall back into the wonderful coziness of the oregon winter; when i'm ready to fall back in love with the grey skies and the inevitability of several months of never-ending drizzle. when i'm ready to revel in the place i come from - when i'm ready to sink into the moss of kesey's words, like laying in the damp forest as a child, when i'm ready to wallow in troubles that seem to advance as surely and steadily as the steely clouds rolling in from the west.

"Because nothing can be done about the rain except blaming. And if nothing can be done about it, why get yourself in a sweat about it? Matter of fact, it can be convenient to have around. Got worries and frets about the way the old bus is falling to pieces right under you? It's the ruttin' rain. Got a deep, hollow ache bleeding cold down inside the secret heart of you from too many deals fallen through? too many nights in bed with the little woman without being able to get it up? too much bitter and not enough sweet? Yeah? That there, brother, is just as well blamed on the rain; falls on the just and unjust alike, falls all day long all winter long every winter every year, and you might just as well give up and admit that's the way it's gonna be, and go take a little snooze. Or you'll be mouthin' the barrel of your twelve-gauge the way Evert Peterson at Mapleton did last year, or samplin' snail-killer the way both the Meirwold boys did over to Sweet Home. Roll with the blow, that's the easy way out, blame it on the rain and bend with the wind, and lean back and catch yourself forty winks - you can sleep real sound when the rain is lullabying you real nice and sound..."

but somehow, this week, things feel better. enough to put away the snuggly stuffed kitty cats and face the evening free to think new things, feel new things, see new things. read new things!


p.s. are you familiar with the feminist ryan gosling memes, and other such interwebs hilarity? well, in searching for images for this post i came across this site: Literary Ryan Gosling.

i think i'm in love.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

make me a mix tape

my good friend chris writes excellent short stories and vignettes, as well as music reviews, at his blog this wreckage. sometimes we will informally challenge each other to an idea for a story, just to see where the other one takes it, or try to inspire each other when ideas are running low. we share a love for making mix tapes, and chris' mixes are second-to-none. one night a sentence came into my head: "she was making him a mix tape, even though they'd never met." i shared this with chris as a story prompt and, with his encouragement, even wrote my own version of it. his fabulous version is posted here. read it!

one other thing that chris does really well - that i'm trying to learn from - is to post his fiction as well as his non-fiction on his blog. this is my first ever fully fictional post. i'm nervous as hell about posting it, but trying to be brave. 


Jesse sat down at her desk, her heart fluttering slightly. She was going to make him a mix CD, even though they had never met. Quickly, she opened up the music player on her computer and began scrolling through songs, searching for what she wanted to say.

Thiers was a very twenty-first century flirtation. They met on a website, but not a dating website; that would have been so last century. No, it was in an online game. Her avatar and his avatar and several other friends – some of his, some of hers – had interacted for weeks casually. Sometimes, events conspired to leave them in the online room together. They’d chat in the small message window of the program; he made her laugh. It wasn’t long before she was logging in and looking for him alone, before even checking for her other, older friends.

I am the son
and the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir
Of nothing in particular

Some of the songs that caught her eye at first were laughable - the lyrics were simply too much. And yet, what if someday she could put these songs on a mix tape for him? What if someday he directed some of that humor, some of that sensitivity that she had glimpsed in the few chats they’d had, in her direction? What if this mix was just the beginning, the door opening to a larger relationship with him in the real world? What if this one bold move was all it would take to engage him deeper? What if it was just the first in a string of increasingly love-focused mixes they’d make for each other? She’d been alone so long she almost couldn’t remember how that would work, but like a language learned long ago, the overall arc of relationships lived in some deep part of her brain, tormenting her with half-memories of better times when she’d felt able to communicate with others.

Anytime she was alone with a guy in person these days, she’d suddenly lose her ability to speak coherently. After the first verbal stumble, the horrible bright red blush would begin creeping up – creating rosy patches on her cheeks that looked in no way cute and in every way conspicuous, noticeable, laughable. Her armpits would then immediately start sweating about the blushing and, getting flustered, she’d almost always make some excuse to leave the conversation, leave the party, leave the lunch date, whatever, to simply get out of the situation as soon as possible.

Hashing over each of these uncomfortable, swift retreats with her friends, they always said the same things to try and encourage her. “You just need to relax, Jesse, and be yourself! We all love you and love being around you. Why do you immediately assume that these people won’t enjoy you, too? Why do you run away from them before they even have a chance?”

But their advice was hollow and meaningless. What the fuck did they know? They were all married, most of them for at least a decade. What did they know about the slow loss of confidence that comes with year after year spent mostly alone? They remembered the fun times of their young adulthood, where they’d all get together, dress up and head to a bar or club, to dance with strangers and talk to guys, unweighted by self-doubt and shyness. They didn’t realize that that confidence was not real but was just a by-product of being young and thoughtless. They had all gotten married soon thereafter, before it started to fade, and Jesse pictured them getting daily compliments and positive messages from their husbands, living lives full of the reassuring little intimacies so glaringly absent from her own. They didn’t realize that bodies and souls were just small animals that grew hateful and ugly without regular petting and attention and care and love.

You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does

Online, though, without the worry of trying to read someone’s face, without the worry that her shirt made her look fat or her hair was sticking up or that there was lettuce in her teeth, she could relax. During their chats, she was never at a loss for words. They made jokes with each other, they shared funny confessions. Online, she felt confident, almost witty even, maybe – just a little bit – happy. She loved it that he hadn’t even known her full real name for a long time but only her virtual pseudonym. How nice to be unencumbered by even this name, that to her represented all that she disliked about herself! And even though she had figured out his real name, she still preferred to think of him only by his screen name.

One day she sent him an unsolicited email message, heart pounding. It was short and sweet – one sentence only – referencing a band that they’d already discovered they both loved. Innocuous, on the surface, but what if he’d resented the invasion of his privacy? What if he was shocked, dismayed, by her sudden movement out of their previously highly proscribed world of interactions? The friend request she got in response sent her heart into a surprising orbit. That’s when she realized that her desire for him was so strong she couldn’t look directly at it. There was nothing else for it. She had to make him a mix CD, to use other people’s words to try and convey what she wanted to say.

There's a club, if you'd like to go
You could meet someone who really loves you
So you go, and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home
And you cry
And you want to die

Some songs were easy to choose. Songs that they’d talked about in their online chats. Songs by bands she knew he liked. But most of the songs that leapt out to her had a more indirect appeal: they were simply the songs that made her body ache with remembered desire and longing. The final song was easy, and she had selected it even before starting: “How Soon Is Now”, by the Smiths, a favorite band of each of them, and a song whose dark, sultry, desperate tone matched perfectly the sad shell around her shy heart.

Doggedly, even as her uncertainty began growing, even after that first excited flush at the idea of the project began waning, she continued to refine the playlist, moving songs up or down in order, listening to the last snippet of each to check the feel of the transition to the next one. Almost unconsciously, she lined up a sufficient number of songs in the middle that created a nice, intimate mood. Listening to the mix all the way through, she closed her eyes at that point while in front of the computer and tried, tried to sink into a daydream where they met for a drink and sat, ever closer, leaning in towards each other, going back to her small apartment and…

It was no use. As the last song began playing and the sound of Morrissey’s voice filled her room, doubt overcame her. Even if she met him someday, how on earth would she pass this off? Here, I just made you a mix CD for no reason at all, and it’s full of songs that are either good to fuck to or are all about love, even though we’ve never met until now, and even though now that we have, at this very moment, you’ll no doubt want to never interact online again, and by giving you this, I’ve simply forced myself back into my completely lonely world again, without even my online fun to look forward to.

It could never be. It would never be. She couldn’t imagine running her hand along the side of his face or walking with his arm over her shoulders. She couldn’t visualize making dinner together, listening to the music she gave him, stopping to kiss suddenly over the half-chopped onion, the acrid smell filling her nose. It was no good.

Jesse ejected the freshly burned CD from the computer and contemplated it for a moment. She even picked up a permanent marker and wrote on the CD "A mix for you, from me", using their online names, before abruptly snapping it in half and throwing the pieces in the trashcan under her desk. She turned off her computer screen and clicked off the overhead light before heading to bed, alone.

When you say it's gonna happen now,
When exactly do you mean?
See I've already waited too long
And all my hope is gone

Monday, October 3, 2011

and all the men and women merely players

i have many roles in my family.

isn't it odd how these things go? how humans seem to settle into roles, into patterns - both in families and in circles of friends. how we expect this of ourselves, of each other. how we fall back into these roles when surrounded by the same people and their palatable expectations of our roles - even if we don't want  to play that part anymore.

for example, when i was a kid, i was the (oh-god-here-comes-the) freak out specialist. every family's got one, right? i still hate the way family will steel themselves, expecting an outburst out of me sometimes. it makes me want to, oh, i don't know, freak out on them.

and back home, i'm still the lazy-ass who sleeps all morning long, for many complicated reasons, including that in some homes 'morning' means 6 am, even after someone goes out with old friends the night before. 

now i've got lots of new roles. i cover many of the main mother ones: the disapproving of belching at the table. the have you eaten a fruit or vegetable in the last seventeen days police. and the turn off the t.v. monitor.

among other things.

i'm also, oddly enough, now the first one up in the morning. and while occasionally i resent this, and want to be the second or third one up, want to be the one sleeping in instead, overall i love it.

partly because it's kind of essential. partner and young lad are just not morning people. they require a long transition time from sleep to wake, one that involves quiet and coffee (well, just one of them needs coffee so far) and food in peace. older lad is, by nature, a fast waker, but has thoroughly embraced teenager-hood and rises as late as possible on all occasions.

but still, this morning, as i sat on the couch in the pre-dawn, i realized there's a couple of specific reasons why i relish that particular role.

for one, i love the morning quiet - when i can move about the house and hear, in the silent pauses when i stop, only the sound of the rain and birds.

it is my favorite time of day. if it was raining the night before, and i was able to fall asleep with that as the last sound in my ears, it's the perfect continuation of a comforting soundtrack. the soft whisper of it on the rhododendron leaves, the ping! ping! of it on the stove hood outlet in the kitchen.

i talk to the cats as i move from my bedroom to the kitchen. they like to swoop in and out of my legs, clamoring for food. but once they are fed, the house returns to quiet.

and yet, it's not lonely. all around me are people. it's the perfect combination of alone and not alone, of quiet and impending noise.

before all the commotion of the day. before anyone has a single request of me - well, apart from the cats. before the world is filled with the constant background chatter. before the mom-nagging that i do to get everyone out of the door, before the hubbub of my office, before email and my iPod and the sound of cars and trucks on the road.

for another, although my younger son used to be quite cuddly when he was young, he rarely will let anyone hug or hold or kiss him now that he's all of seven. he quickly transitioned into being quite averse to displays of affection.

except for the morning. when i go to wake him up, i leave my cup of coffee on the counter, because i need both hands free.

he opens his eyes slowly, stretching groggily several times. then he stumbles to the bathroom to pee. first things first!

it's after the necessary steps have been taken that the morning magic happens. he allows me to hoist him up - he's so big that this is difficult, but it's worth it - and he will sit on my lap for a few blissful moments on the couch.

the house is quiet. the house is still. there around us are the sounds of the rain and the birds, of the sleepy town waking up in the distance. i can feel the wings of his little-kid shoulder blades through his pyjamas. i can feel the softness of his little-kid cheek. i can bury my face in his hair. i can hold him, for a moment, just the same as when he was young. i can envelop him - or try to, anyway - in my arms. i'm quiet, he is quiet. the world is peaceful and still.

sometimes, people talk about the baby-love that occurs, or even about a baby-addiction - how you can get addicted to babies. i've never been a baby addict, but i can glimpse something of what they are talking about. for me, it's not about anything other than the ability to hold someone until you are done. to be able to shower someone with physical affection until you're completely tapped. to be able to, as often as you want, return to them with love and caring and holding.

because for babies, there is no enough. they always want to be held. you'll wear out before they do. so to be able to so completely have your needs for holding fulfilled - to be completely satiated, to be full of cuddling - is such a rare treat. with adults, it almost never happens. someone is always done before you, someone is always pulling away before you.

but with babies, and little kids, and even my kleiner mann, there's that sense of fulfillment, that sense of being full of love, that's so hard to come by elsewhere. granted, my expectations have lowered substantially. during the baby days i could cuddle him for an hour, easy, just holding and feeling his tiny feet and kissing his tiny head. i've got to fill up my stores faster these days, it's true. because the morning magic doesn't last more than a few minutes. then he'll stretch his way out of my embrace. "i'm hungry", he'll say, and shake free of the mom and the couch and the slow-wake-up, stumbling for the kitchen. and the other sounds will start to build from the rest of the house - the alarm clock of the older lad, as he wakes himself for another day. the cats demanding to go outside, now that they are fed. the cars slowly passing by on the street. the crash of cereal bowls and the fridge opening.

but to me, all that noise is ok. because i've filled my role as the early waker. cheerful and efficient, i'm ready now to face the cacophony of the day. because it turns out that being the early waker is a glorious role to have.

Friday, September 2, 2011

wonder women

an interesting comment thread started on facebook recently after i posted this article positing that female action movie stars have gotten too skinny to be believeable. the conversation about it really got me thinking  - and wanting to say more than i could fit into a facebook comment.

here's the thing. whether or not she was believable (because it's true that believability is clearly not an essential criteria in a movie), i'm sure zoe saldano was hot in the movie . and yeah, i'll still go watch angelina jolie in anything, despite her loss of muscle mass.

but i do think that attractiveness - and guys, disagree with me if this is wrong for you all, since i obviously have no experience but my own to go on here - is more of an on/off switch than a gradient. a matter of threshold. meaning that, it's entirely likely people (men in particular) would still find zoe hot if she had 10 - 15 pounds of muscle on her bones. whereas - and this i know from experience - women absolutely see the degree of skinniness when trying to figure out what's attractive. we see a 10 pound skinnier zoe and think it's that exact 10 pounds that made the difference in her hotness. in fact, one study that asked both men and women to pick the most attractive women found that women actually selected the skinnier model than men. perhaps because we are responding to an internalized ideal that's based on degrees - and ever skinnier models where we think each pound lost matters - not on thresholds.

and i don't even think it's some insidious, well-thought-out plot by media types to drive us to this lower threshold. these changes happen organically over time. maybe it's more a matter of accidental, incremental slides to thinner women....not because they've done market research and know that more men will respond, but simply because the media is always tinkering with things, adjusting things, trying to find the absolute profit-maximizing formula. and one successful - even if it wasn't due to it at all - tinker down in weight with one star leads to another tiny tinker down in weight in the next.

the problem with this downward slide - as opposed to an equally plausible incremental climb towards the top weight threshold of 'hotness' - is that never before has the gulf between ideal and reality been greater. as humans all over get larger, and the media push is towards ever smaller, the result is millions of more women, deeply, deeply unhappy about their appearance and size. and we know the effect it's having on girls, with more and more girls unhappy and dieting young.

i mean really, ladies...when was the last time you ever felt anything but shitty about your appearance when you looked at just even the covers of any of the popular magazines staring at you in the checkout line at the grocery store? or is it just me? i don't know, but great britain has banned ads  that are too heavily altered. they know that obsession with dieting and body hatred are, in fact, social ills that have identifiable roots and can be fought against.

if hotness is constant across some spectrum of weight - for men and women - yet we know women will see the degree of almost-impossible skinniness and feel like shit the further they are away from it - then this slide toward the bottom threshold, whether intentional or not, will only be stopped by real intentional action on everyone's part.

what do you think?

Monday, August 22, 2011

skate or die!

The lights dimmed. The mirrored ball dangling over the smooth wooden oval began to spin, delicately flinging shards of reflected light over every one and every thing. I knew what had to happen. I knew what the deed was that should happen. I skated over to my friend James.

I gotta take a little time
A little time to think things over
I better read between the lines
In case I need it when I’m older

“Want to skate [with me]?” I asked, mumbling in the last two words.
“Ok”, he shrugged, in his shy way. 

We began skating, side by side, the sweet, soulful sound of the 80s – Foreigner – washing over us. I concentrated on trying to set my feet down gently in their heavy, metal-bottomed skates. The other girls could glide. The other girls could skate effortlessly, pushing gracefully off of each foot, without the merest hiccup in cadence or speed. My skates, on the other hand, clanged loudly against the floor each time I pushed off and I lost momentum repeatedly, which sent me forward in a lurking, jerking fashion.

Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like a world upon my shoulders
And through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder

I had been watching the other girls, some skating over to boys they liked, some waiting for the boys to come to them. Even on a fifth grade field trip to the big skating rink in the city, the chips had fallen and we could tell what our futures were. Forget the stupid story of the ugly duckling, and late-bloomer redemptions – that shit is a lie. Everyone knew, even then, who the girls were that would have boys clustered around their lockers in just a few short years, come high school. We all knew – those who would be them, and those of us who wouldn’t. The other girls had flowing hair. The other girls had glowing skin. The other girls had legs, actual legs, that were tan and long in shorts, and borderline shapely, for god’s sake, even at 11 or 12. I never wore shorts. My legs were chunky, pasty white, mottled with chicken skin colors even in the height of summer, and knobbly-kneed. My hair was always cut blunt, not in layers, and was perpetually the wrong length – short when everyone else’s was long, and long when everyone else went Dorothy Hammil.

In my life there’s been heartache and pain
I don’t know if I can face it again
Can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far
To change this lonely life

The outcome was, deep down inside, known, but everything else – all the steps – were a giant puzzle that I was still trying to figure out. It seemed like it still could work for the rest of us, if only we knew the secret to putting it all together! I could identify all the parts, but could not for the life of me figure out how they fit together, while the other girls – the girls with legs – seemed to be able to see easily what followed what. They took a look at the pieces spread on the table top – bits of colors called love and attraction and flirting and looking good and being cool in the right place and the right time – and slid them into the gaps, smiling down at the perfect scene they had created, with a devoted guy by their side and legions of others panting after them.

I could see the supposed to here – you’re supposed to have someone that likes you, that you like, that you ask to skate with you, that you hold hands with, that you exchange notes with, that you remember forever the sound of the wheels whooshing smoothly over the wooden boards, the sight of the white squares of light gliding over their face, the feel of their warm hand tentatively in yours. But I couldn’t identify love or attraction or flirting or anything else. It seemed like James came close enough. After all, we spent lots of time together. He would come over after school and we’d head into the forest, looking for frogs and fish and snakes that we’d put in jars and bring home. We’d eat berries and sometimes assemble model cars, quietly sitting side by side at a card table. What else could people be talking about, with this whole love thing?

I want to know what love is
I want you to show me
I want to feel what love is
I know you can show me

The song was passing by. We weren’t speaking. This was not our element. This was not the space of our friendship. This was not our pace, to be trying to keep up with the others. We had remained friends by being ourselves – James, shy and socially cautious, and me, somehow perpetually out of synch with all the other girls, somehow never quite understanding what was going on. Maybe he didn’t either. But we both liked frogs and trees and being outside and not talking about anything deep and eating the sort of incredibly sweet Oregon blackberries that grow best out in the country, far from anyone else. This rink, this self-proclaimed palace of skating, was not the setting, not the parameters, of our relationship. But I was desperate to figure out if I could be like the others, at least on some level. Part of me wanted to fit in – I wanted to be one of the other girls, at least for a moment, at least while skating, making memories, and moving onto the next stage of life – even though I had no idea how to really make it happen.

It was now or never. The song was nearly over. Wasn’t it possible, just barely possible, that someone like me could fit in, could figure out this puzzle? I reached out and, a bundle of nerves, grabbed James’ hand. He jumped and looked at me. And I knew I had made a huge mistake. I was not going to remember his face with the sliding lights, gazing at me with anything remotely resembling interest or excitement or intrigue or love. The expression on his face was confused, startled, and wary. It was clear that we would never speak of this again. I couldn’t cross over and was stupid for ever thinking of such a thing. My skates clunked down loudly on the boards, and the song couldn’t end fast enough for either of us.

I’m gonna take a little time
A little time to look around me
I’ve got nowhere left to hide
It looks like love has finally found me

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

in search of style...

so, this may be completely obvious, but i have absolutely no writing training.

coming from the technical/science/whatever-economics-is end of the academic spectrum, writing instruction is not emphasized. at all. once you've completed the onerous requirements of writing 121, you're free and clear.

so, despite the fact that i love to read, and i love to write, i'm woefully lacking in any formal education in the subject. it's something i wish i could remedy.

yesterday i was browsing around the sale that is going-out-of-business borders, when i stumbled across one of the more famous writing help books: The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White.

i've seen it referenced before, in a chatty, surely you know this one sort of way, but never owned it. and i can already see why it's such a classic.

so far, i can't even leave the 'misused words and expressions' chapter, which is probably good, because that's probably my worst crime. in fact, i can't imagine what a field day White would have with my blogs overall.

even though it's highly subjective, i love it. there's some comforting in the authoritative tone of the book. it's like a very wise, very opinionated, very experienced grandfather setting you straight.

"Certainly. Used indiscriminately by some speakers...in an attempt to intensify any and every statement. A mannerism of this kind, bad in speech, is even worse in writing."

thanks for not sugar-coating it. i wonder what he'd think of my favorite all-purpose modifier (fuck)?

"Contact. As a transitive verb, the word is vague and self-important. 

"Enthuse. An annoying verb growing out of the noun enthusiasm. Not recommended.

"Facility. Why must jails, hospitals, and schools suddenly become "facilities"?

"Factor. A hackneyed word; the expressions of which it is a part can usually be replaced by something more direct and idiomatic. 

"Finalize. A pompous, ambiguous verb."

of course, we all have our grammar or style pet peeves. if ashley's reading, i'll just ask her about the King and I. i had the horrors of the misused apostrophe drummed into me from a very early age, by my mother, the self-appointed apostrophe police, who never realized she could've made a fortune by making her complaints public.  

then, just when i'm cruising along in somewhat self-satisfied smugness, nodding my head to such sage advice, i reach one that hits a little too close to home:

"Hopefully. This once-useful adverb meaning 'with hope' has been distorted and is now widely used to mean 'I hope' or 'it is to be hoped.' Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly. To say, 'Hopefully I'll leave on the noon plane' is to talk nonsense. Do you mean you'll leave on the noon plane in a hopeful frame of mind? Or do you mean you hope you'll leave on the noon plane? Whichever you mean, you haven't said it clearly."

ouch. but thanks, White. i still love you for the trumpeter of the swan.