Thursday, December 21, 2006

MySpace: The (Next) Final Frontier

I am Time’s Person of the Year. And so are you. In fact, just about everyone is, except my dad and David Sedaris, who are both totally uninterested—and maybe even against—the electronic revolution that is the Internet. Personally, I’m thrilled, since I plan on adding the honor to my resume.
Lev Grossman, Time’s magazine and technology writer and book critic explains, “For seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, Time's Person of the Year for 2006 is you." As someone who’s been publishing one thing or another on the Web since 1999, I can’t decide if I think it’s about damn time, or if this is the laziest thing Big Media has done since failing to fact check James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. I am certain, though, that sites like Wikipedia, YouTube and MySpace have irreversibly warmed the digital globe, and you can drive your Vaseline-powered car all you like. We’re still in big trouble.
My own digital climate warmed to what I refuse to call the blogosphere with the advent of companies like Blogger and MoveableType. Although I also refused, until now, to use any of the available technologies to post my own content to the Web, and insisted on banging out my own bad HTML, I was delighted to watch other undiscovered writers use fledgling but leading edge technologies to reach an audience that wouldn’t have otherwise found such deserving talent. And even though I think that the term “social networks” sounds like something that requires a prescription antibiotic salve, and even though I’d rather adopt Jerry Falwell’s philosophies on reproductive rights than hear someone use the term “Web 2.0” again, and even though the simple act of asking if someone blogs triggers my gag reflex a little, I found myself at a reception for the winners of a certain contest, unable to stop my mouth from forming the words, “Do you have a blog?”
Don’t get me wrong; I’d rather talk to a writer face to face than read something he’s written about himself, although writers don’t always love talking to me—sometimes I’m a little too, “Gosh, isn’t it great that we’re all writers and stuff?” The way they push me away from them after I’ve taken both their hands in mine and swayed back and forth singing "Dahoo Foress" with more enthusiasm than Cindy Lou Who reminds me of why VH1 will never film the series Behind the Book.
For the most part, writers are content—-no, compelled—-to sit very quietly in front of either a computer or a pad of paper until blind, in part doing their work, and in part reveling in the simple fact that they’re doing something that no one else wants any part of. For most of us, solitary confinement is not the price of being a writer; it’s a perk. I’m smack dab in the middle of Myers’ and Briggs’ introvert/extrovert designation, and so minutes after meeting a writer I’ve always wanted to meet, I make a hasty retreat to my computer so that I can write something about how Tom Robbins’ eyes were so red that I’m surprised he could read through them, or how I almost actually burst into tears after Alice Walker threw my event program back at me and spat, “I’m not signing this.”
As someone who knows that I’m going to have to actually speak in front of and meet other people to “press the flesh” once my own book is out, I see the newest wave of the electronic revolution for what it is: A way of reaching out without going out. I admit also to the mildly embarrassing trait of being a bloghound because blogs aren’t just instantly gratifying literature in a hurry, they are literature afflicted with a combination of ADD, narcissistic personality disorder and maybe a dash of Alzheimer’s. Considering that I married someone with the same qualities, it’s no wonder why I’m drawn to them.
And now, to add to that list of my more unfortunate qualities, I’m spellbound by yet another meeting place on the Web that I never intended to even drive by in the first place. On the scale of embarrassing traits, I’ve done something that registers between having hemorrhoids and owning a Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch CD. For the record, I don’t have hemorrhoids or a Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch CD. Anymore. I do, however, love my account a little too much.
At the reception where I met some writers who were like me, and some writers who were more like writers, I asked someone about his blog. As it turns out, he’s got one, at his page. William L. Bryan looked normal and nice enough and all, and so I thought that maybe I should give this MySpace movement a chance too, totally forgetting that making assumptions about what the nice, normal guy’s doing is always how the nice, normal girl in the movie ends up on heroin while the roomful of men crowded around her chant, “Ass to ass!” (Bonus points if you can name the movie that goes with the quote.)
The up side is that I have a whole new avenue for avoiding work. The down side is that I suppose I’m going to have to start using “friend” as a verb and “add” as a noun, while trying to decide who my favorite Pussycat Doll is. It appears that when someone accepts my invitation of friendship, I’m supposed to leave a comment on my new friend’s page, including a giant graphic of my boobs that says, “Thanks for the add!” This I cannot do.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate giant ads animated with graphics and colors that hurt my eyes. I do. I also adore messages that command me to CliCk HERE for ~~~<3 tEeN <3~~~**pR0n**!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s just that I will be busy for a while fighting this uneasy feeling that I should start combing Craigslist for a ride to Burning Man and considering—I just said consider, let’s not go crazy—joining a colony of people with “alternative lifestyles.”
I do have the sudden urge to glue my caps lock key into their “on” position, so that you’ll know HOW SERIOUS I AM WHEN I E-MAIL YOU!!!!!!!!!!!! And, if you haven’t noticed, be forewarned that I plan on ending each sentence with at least a dozen exclamation points—OR MORE IF YOU’VE POSTED A BLOG ENTRY THAT HAS ANGERED ME!!!!!!!!!! But when I’m joking, you’ll know it, by God, because of the failsafe measures provided by the smiley emoticon followed by everyone’s favorite acronym: LOL.
But first I need to get my shit together because, if nothing else, I’m still completely confused about who I am. What kind of a MySpace person am I? Do I look like I’m taking myself too seriously? Am I taking myself seriously enough? Am I the attention-whoring, comment-mongering, look-how-many-friends-I-have MySpace user? Or do I plan to populate my friends list with celebrities who are not really talking to me when they post bulletins that sound like they’re talking to me? (And damn, Jeremy Piven, why do you have to be such a dick about your friends list?) There are inanimate entities here: Books, magazines and events to invite to this MLM, pyramid scheme-type of friendship building. There are the garage bands, the comedians, even though I will probably not see any of them live in concert anytime soon. Do I want to add them anyway? Or am I the kind of user who will end up using her MySpace community solely to schlep something?
I don’t suppose it matters right this second. Maybe, as Sally Field mewed a long, long time ago, you will like me, really like me. After all, I am Time’s Person of the Year. Or maybe you won’t like me, but you are in my extended network. I’m pretty sure.

Monday, November 27, 2006


We met on your birthday. I was thirty five, you were zero, and the time was 9:50 PM. We found ways right there on the spot to make you special before you were gone from the womb in sixty seconds: You were the obstetrician’s last delivery in private practice; you were born on the same day as Bruce Springsteen, Miles Davis and Ray Charles, and your head was as round and as perfect and as peachy-creamy-looking as the C-section babies' even though you were born the old fashioned way. The doctor rubbed your back and said, “Come on, cry, baby.” You did.
That was pretty much the last time you did as you were told.
You’re two now. The time went by, as every parent says, so quickly and yet so slowly. You are growing like a weed. You are unique in all the world.
From my observations, the twos aren’t so much terrible as they are terrific. You are enjoying yourself at levels that should be reserved for rave-goers on their fortieth hit of Ecstasy. We play games that involve my threatening to bite your toes, your belly, your knees, your neck, and when I make good on each promise, it makes you laugh so hard you fart. You are so afraid of falling asleep and missing something that I've seen you actually hold your eyes open with your fat little fingers. For reasons that are unknown to me and maybe to you, you have a love-hate relationship with one of our dogs, and a love-love relationship with all others. You sing along with the songs on your CDs in the car, and the way you dance can only be described as free-style. You do it as if everybody's watching--and you like it that way. You are by far the most delightful person I’ve ever met, which makes me wonder if we are all this wonderful, but forgot.
I admit I’m still a little intimidated by the vocation of parenting. The hours are long, the mistakes are begging to be made, and the pay sucks. Before you were born, what I wondered most was how in the world I would deliver you to adulthood a healthy, educated and loved person, so that you could keep yourself safe and happy for the rest of your life. What stymies me now is how I can keep you from forgetting that you are terrific, at any and every age. I’m comforted by the fact that I don’t have to figure that out right this second. We have some time.
At completely random intervals, you will demonstrate a skill that the teachers at your preschool taught you as soon as you joined their class. You will grab one of my hands with yours and say, smiling, “Nice to meet you.” Indeed it is, my dear. Thanks for coming. Let’s spend our next hour, year, decade, lifetime getting to know each other and ourselves like all get-out. And to seal the deal, here, pull my finger.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How to Ride in a Car: A Guide for Dogs Who Can Read

Poke your head out of the window. Pull head back into the car. Shake head vigorously, making sure to fling your rabies and name tags against the metal buckle of your collar for maximum clatter. Flip your ears inside out and right side out several times, or, if your ears are, say, short and pointy instead of long and floppy, shake head, neck and body vigorously enough to rattle the entire chassis. Repeat, until the humans in the front seat appear near seizure.
When spotting certain people and animals on the sidewalk or crossing the street, bark viciously and claw the window and door panel, to the point of foaming at the mouth and damaging a good portion of the car’s interior. Make these demonstrations as random as possible, so that some pedestrians go by unnoticed, while others incite you to bark and growl so hard that your head actually leaves your body. Then, wait.
When the driver picks up her cell phone to make a call that uses one of those voice-activated menu, make sure to bark or whine at every prompt in which she tries to speak. This will ensure that the computer on the line says, “I’m sorry, I did not understand your answer—please hold for the next customer service representative. Your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.” Know that your human’s call is important, and may be monitored or recorded to ensure quality customer care. Lie quietly.
When approaching a destination of any kind, be it the Lowe’s parking lot, the Wendy’s drive-thru, or your own home, emerge head from one window and then the other, squealing and whining so loudly that it convinces passersby that the black Subaru sedan is parading Anna Nicole Smith about town—pre-methadone.
Once back at home, run into the first available bathroom for a long drink at “the magic well” and hit the sack. You earned it.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Goiter Watch '06: All Clear

About a year ago, on a regular Thursday at home with the baby, I thought maybe I was having a heart attack. The heart palpitations had started at about 9:00 in the morning, and by 3:00 that afternoon were starting to freak me out. I’d become sweaty and nauseated, my hands were tingly and I decided not to wait around for neck and chest pains; I treated myself to a trip to the emergency room.
Weeks earlier, I’d called my regular doctor’s office with a laundry list of symptoms that was beginning to rain on my new-mom parade. I had headaches for the first time in my life, I was enduring 36-hour stretches without a wink of sleep and had become forgetful, confused and disoriented all the time. My eyes had always been predisposed to getting red, especially if I hadn’t slept enough, but they had become so perpetually red, they practically glowed. Move over, Rudolph, for a weirder, creepier kind of sleigh guide. When I told Alex that my heart was fluttering and my arms and legs shaking during and after a leisurely walk to the neighbor’s house down the street, he said, “That’s because you’re not getting enough exercise, of course.” Later, I would smite myself on the forehead for even asking him what he thought; Alex isn’t exactly the king of health sensibilities. I’ll stop there before I call him its village idiot. Too late.
I guess I was irritable, too.
I’ll admit that my fears started getting the best of me then, which didn’t help the insomnia. While I was up so late that MTV was playing music videos, I argued with myself over whether something awful was happening to my body, or if I was just making the whole thing up. Maybe the constant trembling of my extremities was Parkinson’s; the thinning hair and peeling nails impending dermatological catastrophe, and the headaches, complete with aural flashes, was an alien implant that had instigated the growth of a giant brain tumor. Screw you, aliens!
If there's an upside to every situation, and I'm not saying there is, the upside to the changes I noticed in my insides and outsides included the way my voice changed. Although I had to work to make myself heard, my voice took on a smoky, hoarse quality akin to Stevie Nicks'. I had also unintentionally adopted Warren Zevon’s philosophy on life and mortality. “He said ‘enjoy every sandwich,’ not enjoy every sandwich in existence,” Alex said as I was polishing off the rest of the lunchmeat in the fridge. And, in a decision to take Warren’s sage advice a step further, I was also regularly enjoying every French fry, every gallon of chocolate ice cream and every meatloaf. I didn’t care what anyone said, including my mother-in-law, who commented while watching me open a frozen lasagna that said, “Family-sized,” “You’re not going to be able to eat like that forever, you know.”
“That’s too bad,” I said, considering that I had just gone to the trouble of memorizing Wendy’s entire value meal menu. But I was certain that I was losing weight at the speed of light despite eating lunch three times a day and dinner twice because I was awesome. “I’m awesome!” I’d say to myself mid-casserole, and then I would collapse into a pile of mood-swinging, wailing woman. I'd become profoundly depressed most of the time, without being able to identify a reason. “Maybe I’m Goth and never knew it,” I told my friend Lisa after she’d asked me how I’d been. Lisa looked me up and down and said she’d never met a Goth who wore a size 2.
"I know," I told Lisa. "I'm awesome. Are you going to eat that?"
I’d started eating, but I had stopped making my bed. I’d stopped showering and getting dressed in the morning. I’d stopped writing. I couldn’t keep up with the MomsTown Guide to Getting it All; there was simply too much. And then one day I was in the middle of a silent monologue about how I was a slacker, when a novel thought jumped to the fore: Maybe I should see a doctor. I began making my list of symptoms and complaints, then shoved it into the drawer and promptly put off making an appointment for two weeks. “We can see you in four weeks,” the receptionist said. I’d put on my tinfoil hat to prevent the aliens from listening in. That’s all I needed was for one of them to disguise himself as a nurse and probe me during my physical. I said fine, I’d wait.
Two weeks later, I was hooked to an EKG machine and an IV at the Boulder Community Hospital Emergency Room. I was the only patient there. While I waited for the test results, I prepared myself for the worst by imagining the ER doc flinging the curtain back and saying, “I’m afraid it’s extremely serious.”
“What is it?”
“Your visible panty line, it just killed our receptionist, Belinda.” In fact, the daytime staff of Boulder Community Hospital hadn’t seen a deadly case of VPL like mine since Isaac and Gopher dared Charo to replace the Solid Gold Dancers’ g-strings with Wonder Woman Underoos just before show time. “I’m writing you a prescription immediately.” I heard him say. “There’s a thong-a-thon going on right now at Target. I beg you, if you want to save lives, including your own, spend everything you’ve got—stat!”
What he said instead was, “It’s your thyroid.” I could tell from the way he practically yawned when he said it that he couldn’t have been more bored with the whole thing. He’d been sitting around all afternoon, in the loneliest ER in three counties, and his big case for the day was a woman with a baby and a goiter. Forget gun shot wounds, I hadn’t even paper cut myself. “I’ll refer you to a good endocrinologist here in town, give you some medication and send you home.”
The good news is that I had Grave’s disease, a serious-ish but totally treatable condition that, with medication and good vibes, virtually disappears into remission within a year for twenty to thirty percent of patients. The better news was that I had an official disease that I could use as an excuse for any thing at any moment. Was I going to nap all day? Yes, as a matter of fact, I was. I have Grave’s disease. Did I have to watch “I Love the ‘80s” on TV again? Dude, come on, I have Grave’s disease. Had I been driving with the emergency break on all day? For heaven’s sake, give me a break already. I have Grave’s disease.
And now, after about a year of monthly visits to the endocrinologist who checks my throat, my eyes, my heart and blood, it looks like the aliens have lost. My Grave’s disease is in remission; my goiter is, to quote my doctor, much less “generous” than it was a year ago. Remission from Grave’s doesn’t last forever, but I’ll take what I can get. I am making my bed again, I’m writing again; I’m more cheerful and less hungry, but I still don’t always shower. It’s OK; I’m also trying to be nicer to myself. Hey, I have Grave's disease. It’s been a good year and a hard year, because, while Grave’s is a fantastic excuse for my behavior, it cost me about a year of sleep. And not only did I stop dreaming for that year, I stopped dreaming, which, as I’ve decided, is worth a trip to the ER in itself, in whatever kind of underpants I happen to be wearing at the time.
To a large extent, it seems we are chemical beings, and a good portion of our physical and mental health depends on good chemistry. In fact, it’s hard to put into words how strange it was to become someone I didn’t know, and then return to the person I used to be because of one pill in the morning and one at night. So, I’ll just tell you that I’m going to be ever vigilant to take care of my chemistry, and every other little component of this thing that constitutes Me.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Surrender, Dorothy

The evidence is stacking up and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that I’m not just tense. I’m past tense. I’ve been in denial about this until today, as you would have noticed if you’ve recently seen me and made the common mistake of asking me how I am. “Oh God, I’m great,” I would have said. “Look at me! Don’t I seem great?” And if there seemed to be any doubt lurking in your mind that I was anything but great, I would have mounted a production of Jody Reale’s Great: The Musical! right there on the spot that was so perky that it makes Up With People look like The Cure.
But today I saw my dentist—voluntarily, which I give myself extra credit for. I went for my six-month checkup after only six months, instead of the two years I usually wait in between six-month checkups. The findings were that my teeth are stained from the perpetual infusion of coffee and iced tea entering my body, and apparently, I’ve been clenching my jaws—and maybe even gnashing my teeth—with enough force that I’m damaging my poor choppers. “Remember,” the good dentist said, “when you’re not eating, your teeth should be apart.”
This is the third time in a few months that a member of the medical community has pointed out that I could use a few deep breaths, or a heroin habit. The last time I saw my endocrinologist, I had to ask him to palpate my thyroid gland one more time, just to make sure it was still normal. I put my hands over my throat and told him, “It feels like there’s a pair of hands choking me until my eyes bug out and my head inflates like a balloon.” He indulged me with a second look, and remarked that the back of my neck and shoulders felt like they were made of cement. “You don’t need a doctor,” he said, “you need a massage therapist.” When I said I would try to find one preferably next to a methadone clinic, he patted my knee and told me I was precious.
In order to solve a problem, one must acknowledge that there is one, and for me, the problem is two-fold: I’m smack in the middle of a personal growth spurt at a time when my living situation is in flux.
In February, we sold our house all lickety split-like, and moved into a tiny rental in downtown Boulder’s swankiest neighborhood while we looked for the next place for us to hang our hats and hearts. We thought such a move would be novel, fun for summertime strolls to where the action is, and above all, temporary. While it has been novel, and maybe even a little fun, it’s turned out to be not all that temporary, as we still haven’t managed to buy a new house to live in on a not-so-temporary basis. And, being a non-millionaire renter in a multi-million-dollar neighborhood that kind of has a stick up its ass has been a little weird.
My parents still live in the same house they bought when they married in 1968. It’s in a barrio now, but it’s theirs, free and clear, and the first time I ever had the pleasure of schlepping all my crap to some place new was when I went away to college. “Well, this moving thing sucks,” I remember saying to my roommate the day I moved into my dorm room for the year. I’ve moved only four times since graduating in 1991, and when we move out of this little bungalow in Boulder that belongs to someone else, it’s going to stick for a while, like it or not. You can call it keeping my world very, very small, but it’s that kind of simplicity and intimacy with my roots that helps me keep my eye on the ball that’s most important. It keeps me focused and grounded, and prevents me from becoming one of those people who is, in a Texan’s parlance, all hat and no cattle.
It sounds pedestrian, and it is, but I find comfort in knowing exactly what mechanic I would use if my car were to need service. I want to know exactly where the dry cleaner is, even if I haven’t worn anything needing dry cleaning in half a decade. I need to know every square inch of my local grocery store, so that I can go directly to the Pop Tarts aisle the second I start having one of the “Oh my God! What am I doing with my life?” crises that have been wearing out their welcomes as of late.
If you believe that women have all kinds of cycles, cycles that transcend the menstrual kind, I would tell you that it’s true for me. I have cleaning cycles and emotional cycles, health and fitness cycles and even intelligence cycles. But the cycles that are the most painful and fickle of all are what I call my self actualization cycles. Every few years, I stop dead in my tracks, look at my watch and say, “Holy shit! I’m going to be DEAD someday. I’d better become all the things I ever wanted to be—now!” I then try and become a millionaire cowgirl midwife horticulturist overnight.
These are binges in which I obsess over my own personal manifest destiny, the two-steps-forward-one-step-back approach to life that’s gotten me this far, which is probably plenty far, but still. And then I remember: Oh yeah, we’ve got no place to live come October. This is no hurricane; we’ve brought these “problems” on ourselves, but the tension is no less real. I still have teeth starting to buckle under the weight of my thoughts; I still have bouts of what’s called esophageal spasm, a condition that is every bit as sexy as it sounds.
Alex and I are two crazy people who can’t seem to get our act together enough to choose a house in one of the nicest places in the US to live. Maybe we should stop rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs and just have a seat. Look, honey, the band’s still playing. At the time of this writing, two real estate agents have fired us, an event that I didn’t even think was possible. I’m starting to envy the Wicked Witch of the East, who actually had a house fall right on top of her. Looks like it was a brick three bedroom ranch, too. Some people have all the luck.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Happy is Good Enough: The Eli Gottlieb Experience

I’m going to talk some trash about Eli Gottlieb. The author, Eli Gottlieb, who wrote the New York Times Notable Novel of the Year The Boy Who Went Away, and regularly contributes to the magazine 5280. I’ll admit that I’m putting all this here, at the top of the entry, because I am trolling a little. I’m wondering if, one night, when he has nothing to do, Eli will open a browser window, point it to Google and enter his own name into the search box. Maybe, after a bout of ego-surfing, he will end up here. After all, it's happened before.
A few years ago, I "blogsmacked" Laura Pritchett, the author of the kickass novel Sky Bridge. Although I never intended to flag her down, I gossiped to the blogosphere that she’d just won a contest that entitled her to something small, like a free workshop or something. A contest that I figured would make little difference to her career, but could really boost…someone else’s. It was like Michael Jordan trying out for the Special Olympics, I argued. “Hey, Barbara Streisand,” I think I wrote, “why don’t you just try out for American Idol?” And in reply to the email she sent me after finding my snarky entry, I made sure she understood the good news: She’s Michael Jordan. She’s Barbara Streisand. It’s textbook Godfather, hon: Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.
I clung to that same philosophy for the half-day I spent at the nonfiction workshop Eli led as a part of the Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s Summer Literary Festival. “Where are you going?” my mom shouted into the phone, “A misery festival?” Her hearing is not as good as it used to be, and sometimes my goiter cozies up to my vocal chords and muddies everything I say. And I was weary; Sophie had pneumonia at the time, just two months after she'd broken her collarbone, and I'd adopted the philosophy "Why sleep when you can fantasize about checking in to a mental health facility--preferably in a nice, warm climate?"
“No, a literary festival.” I chuckled. Because if you believe that there are no accidents, you might say that Mom had it right the first time.
Like all Real Authors®, Eli had something about him that made the twelve of us in the class sit down, shut up and listen. He’s been a prizewinner, a fellow; he’s been an editor and a gentleman, and he cameos as Ann Patchett’s boyfriend in her big-time memoir Truth and Beauty. He was working his craft—and working it hard—way before I painted myself green and gold for the Colorado State University Fall Freshman Chug-off Invitational and then almost set myself on fire in the big bong-lighting snafu of ‘87. (Note to self: Paint is flammable.) And while I was developing a foolproof system for choosing the perfect Wendy’s value meal based on appetite, mood and wardrobe (patent never pending), Eli was studying and teaching in Rome and Vienna.
Eli was going to make sure that our tuition for class was well-spent, and so he came out of the gate sprinting. “The bad news is that you write,” he said. So right away, we understood where we stood in the world of art and media: Siberia. Nobody reads, he told us, and more specifically, nobody reads us. I was sitting next to him, and when I leaned over to peek at his notebook, I saw scrawled in blood his outline for class.
I. You’re all going to die.
a. Alone.b. Penniless.c. Unpublished.
II. Why everyone hates you.
a. Why you suck.b. Why you should give up now, before you embarrass yourself any further.
III. Markets for your work.
a. The express checkout lane at Safeway, right next to the little rolled up horoscopes.b. The free Web page you get with your Earthlink account.c. The Gay Porn Cowboy Newsstand, on Broadway and 1st (not that I’ve ever been there.)
IV. Wrap up, Q&A and parking validation.
I could tell right then that I was in for an experience similar to Paper Chase, only with Richard Lewis standing in for John Houseman. I couldn’t wait to hear the rest. I wanted him, as the kids say, to bring it on. And then he did.
The gist of the rest of his opening statement was that we have chosen to be writers, a vocation that continues to breed a fiercely competitive climate in the all-out absence of demand. But at least we’ve chosen nonfiction. God help you if you decide to write a novel. You might as well put yourself on Dr. Kavorkian’s wait list right now, which, by the way, is populated to the margins with writers, as it should be, along with the poor souls who put their good money down on a Gigli/Glitter double feature.
And that was the point at which I’d started assigning nicknames to Eli like Slappy and Jingles and Sunshine. As in: Boy, Smiley is just full of good news.
As if I were in front of the Oracle at Delphi, I had to ask, “Will I, Gladbags McGee—I mean Eli—ever sell my collection?”He adjusted his glasses, looked into the middle distance, and spoke. “An essay collection is a tough sell. The only way to guarantee a sale is to get one of your pieces into the New Yorker. And even then, you won’t get rich. You might get happy, but you won’t get rich.”
I wrote in my notebook: Happy is good enough. Get into the New Yorker.
It wasn’t just me; none of us were going to make any money. Personally, the news came as a let down, considering the kind of huge money I’m pulling down right now as a stay-at-home mom. Further, we hadn’t earned our MFAs and all the networking contacts that go with such a thing. We were delusional and green and perhaps too hopeful. We live in Colorado. We are on the untrained, unsophisticated side, and I don’t think I’m telling any secrets when I say that, while most of us weren't yet qualified for stellar rates on car rental through AARP, nobody in the room was young enough to appear on the pages of Elle, either. And Eli knows that because he was once an editor there.
He was giving us the tough love treatment, of course. I’d bet money on it—money I’m never going to make writing a book, mind you. He was playing bad cop, forgetting that he'd left the good cop back at Hazel's Donut Haus. There was something about his delivery that told me, if it’s cool to sound all maudlin about our chosen labor of love, it’s extremely uncool to pat us each on the tush and tell us to, “Go out there an get ‘em, tigers!” We were the Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman to his drill instructor—which in this case would be played by Lewis Black instead of Louis Gossett, Jr.
The next note I wrote myself said: That sly bastard.
If I was right, he was tearing us down so that he could rebuild us. Better, stronger, faster, or at the very least, little, yellow, different. If I was right, he was cheering for us in there, under his white man’s fro, and he was probably doing it in Italian, because he could. And it was working, because by the time his class was over, I was saying as much to myself as I was to him, “You don’t scare me, Eli.” Yes, I learned about markets and pitches and agents and publishing, but the knowledge that matters most, the knowledge that I will continue to apply, is about myself. I am unafraid of writing. More importantly, I am unafraid to be a writer.
A few years ago, when I fingered Laura Pritchett for being the overachieving author-maven that she is, I was afraid, very afraid. But things have changed since then, and thanks to the introspection our friend Eli afforded us, I now know what they are. First I had a baby, then I had a goiter; I’ve lost my income and the freedom to use the bathroom by myself ever again, and I'm all too often moved to ask the question, "Are you poopy again?" Shoot, what’s a little rejection letter in the mail? Just this side of two years ago, I was in labor for two days and then pushed a human being through my vagina. Between pregnancy, midnight, 2 and 4 o’clock feedings, childhood illnesses and a thyroid gland gone awry, I haven’t slept in—no shit—almost 26 months straight. Top that, J.K. Rowling.
I've tried the corporate thing; I've tried the start-my-own-business thing. One was lucrative, but soul-sucking; the other was wildly unsuccessful and soul-sucking. You can do the math on which one was which, or you can conclude, as I have, that I've chosen poorly in the past and I'm not dead. I'm a little embarrassed now and then, but I'm not dead.
I’ve chosen two vocations that will last my lifetime, or maybe they chose me: Writing and motherhood. They are both utterly hopeless, everything you do is wrong, there is no insurance and the pay sucks. That’s what vocations do, though; they rob you of everything in one way and embarrass you with riches in another, and thank goodness. It makes me shudder to think about how close I came to law school. Being a lawyer? Now that would have embarrassed and killed me.
So I say, Chuckles, pass me the cannolis and take a few for yourself while you’ve got them in front of you. You earned them, tiger,now go get ‘em. And guess what else? It could work out. This whole thing could unfold in crazy, wonderful, non-maudlin ways, and I could end up not dead again. Better yet, I could end up like a Gen-X Anna Quindlen, only with the perfect Wendy’s value meal at my desk instead of a Pulitzer. Maybe it’s my medication talking, but I’m optimistic. In fact, if I had a little hat that I could toss up in the air, I would. Because you know what I think? I think I’m going to make it after all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sorry About All the Global Warming, Yo

Have you heard of the movie The Secret? A friend of mine brought me a copy a while ago---thanks Craig—and I found it to be quite a good movie. In it, various experts in quantum physics, medicine, literature and those practicing various disciplines of what was once called “the human potential movement” reveal “a secret” that may or may not surprise you.
The secret is simple: The things you think about the most, and how you act and feel before, during and after you think about them, happen. They may not happen now, or tomorrow or on your 80th birthday, but they will happen. Always, without exception. This method of manifesting, this law of attraction, can yield an unlimited number of experiences and things; it doesn’t matter who you are. Such a thing is simply a natural law, just like gravity always works, or just like someone carrying a clipboard will show up at the door the second I lie down to take a nap. All of this is guaranteed.
Most people’s trouble is that they don’t know the secret. Most of us are constantly focusing on what we don’t want. We don’t want our debt, we don’t want to be overweight; we don’t want to be alone. The law of attraction says that, with all of that attention on debt and fat and loneliness, we’re destined to get more of it. And that’s where I have to admit that I’ve gone terribly, terribly wrong.
This year, after a particularly harsh winter, we moved from our home at 9,000 feet above sea level back to flatter land. We were in the middle of, according to Fred, “The worst wind in thirty years.” I trust Fred—I adore Fred; everybody does. Not only is Fred the town’s amateur meteorologist, he’s the guy who counts the number of garbage bags in your truck and then assesses a totally random number of dollars for you to pay. Sometimes he changes his mind right there on the spot, and those days were my favorite. “Three—no, two—two dollars, please.” He’s outside all year long. At the dump. Fred knows weather.
So Soaf and I are there this winter, at our incredibly sturdy house, the house that might lose a few shingles during the shank of the blowing cold season, but that nevertheless served us well for six years, and all we’ve done all day is look at each other. Because it’s too windy to go outside. It’s actually dangerous to go outside in the 80 mile an hour winds that were blowing for the ninth day in a row. We were looking out the window when the temperature had dipped to a record-breaking 25 degrees below zero, and I said to her, “Dude, this is fucked up,” knowing that I shouldn’t speak like that in front of her. But I couldn’t help it; I was shack wacky. We both had, to use a technical term, cabin fever out the ass.
And while we were all sitting there for weeks on end, the dogs and the baby and I, looking up and wondering when the wind was going to rip the roof off the house, I thought it over and over again: Warm weather. Just after watching The Secret, it came to me that, Oh my God, I caused global warming. Man, when he finds out about this, Leonardo DiCaprio is going to be so pissed at me.