Saturday, July 19, 2014

Half an Acre

I am holding half an acre
Torn from the map of Michigan
And folded in this scrap of paper
Is a land I grew in
Think of every town you've lived in
Every room, you lay your head
And what is it that you remember?
Do you carry every sadness with you
Every hour your heart was broken
Every night the fear and darkness
Lay down with you
A man is walking on the highway
A woman stares out at the sea
And light is only now just breaking
So we carry every sadness with us
Every hour our heart were broken
Every night the fear and darkness
Lay down with us
But I am holding half an acre
Torn from the map of Michigan
I am carrying this scrap of paper
That can crack the darkest sky wide open
Every burden taken from me
Every night my heart unfolding
My home
I first heard the song Half an Acre on a Liberty Mutual ad several years ago, and found it on iTunes and purchased it. It’s a haunting song, and still one of my favorites to listen to when the mood strikes.
I have an inconvenient kind of mind, however. I can’t listen to words like “I am holding half an acre, torn from a map of Michigan” without thinking, “That must be one big-assed map.” I used to live in a house on a half acre lot. It seemed large enough when I was mowing the grass, even with a riding mower, but I if I look at a state map of Louisiana and try to pinpoint where that half-acre is, well, pinpoint is the operative term.
So today for some reason I decided to figure out just how big-assed a map we are talking about. Google and I had a little sit down and I discovered that one half acre is 21, 780 square feet. Michigan covers an area of 96, 716 square miles. In case you are wondering, one square mile is the equivalent of 27, 878, 400 square feet. So half an acre is very roughly one one-thousandth of a square mile, and Michigan is roughly 96,000 square miles. If met calculations are correct, half an acre is roughly one 96-millionth the size of Michigan.
A pinpoint is looking a little large.
And speaking of points, of course, the feasibility of holding a half-acre scrap torn from a map of Michigan is not the point of the song. I get that. The song is about fear, regret and disappointment, and how each of us needs a home place we can go to, even if only in our minds, when those threaten to overwhelm us. The scrap of paper is a metaphor for the half-acre more or less that we carry in our minds.
The mind that in my case, can’t help asking, “But just how big is that scrap of paper?” Because asking such questions and tinkering and figuring out, that’s my home.



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Meta Mavis and Meta Tabitha Have a Chat about Their Authors

“Why do I smirk so much?” Mavis asked. “I’m not a particularly smug or supercilious person. Why can’t I have a shy smile, or a fond smile, or an occasional grin? Or a moue? A moue in the sense of a flirtatious pout would be awesome, although a few grimaces of distaste for Mikhail and his roaming hands during the judges’ comments would have been okay, too. Why can’t I have a moue?” 

“I don’t know. I’ve been pretty much banished from existence until my recent engagement.” Tabitha flashed her ring in the light from the window of Mavis’s condo. “I’m not in a position to understand current authorial conventions in fanfiction.”

“That’s true. I’m glad you’re back, actually. I was getting tired of all the drama with Karl.”

“Drama? With Karl? My Karl? How do you have drama with Karl?”

“I’m supposed to be secretly in love with him.”

Tabitha trilled merry peals of laughter. “Oh God. Why am I trilling merry peals of laughter instead of laughing like a normal human?”

“I don’t know. Maybe our author has been reading attemps at Regency fiction. Or getting into the Denim Vodka.”

“The Denim Vodka doesn’t sound like a bad idea,” Tabitha smirked. “Wait a minute. Now I’m doing it, too. Why am I smirking?”

“Our author got tired of writing ‘said’, I think.”

“Now I really need the vodka. You?”

“I can’t. I’m pregnant.”

“Again? Isn’t that like the third time this month? Maybe you should sue the people who make your NuvaRing. Is Mikhail with you this time, or did you throw him out thinking you weren’t worldly enough for him?”

“It’s not Mikhail.”

“Karl? My Karl?”

Mavis hung her head in shame. “It wasn’t my idea. It wasn’t even Karl’s idea. One minute I was giving him an affectionate peck on the cheek to congratulate him on your engagement, the next minute my lips were on his and before I knew it, I was doing something called ‘deepening the kiss’.”

“Better than smiling/groaning/moaning into his mouth, I guess. But you didn’t get pregnant from kissing.”

“No, next thing I know I was on the kitchen counter and we were deepening something else.”

“On the counter?”

“Yes, and I had left a corkscrew on it, too. Ouch.”

“I can’t wait until some of our authors get older, gain a little experience, and see the advantage of mattresses,” Tabitha sighed. “We have a new one.”

“Sleep Number or Tempur-pedic?”

“Sleep Number with a memory foam top. So what are we going to do about the baby?

“You’re going to run me out of town. Wait, is that ‘you’re’ or ‘your’? You are going to run me out of town, I’m going to convince Mikhail that the child is his, and for about a decade I will tolerate a loveless marriage in which we have two more children.”

“Mikhail can’t count to nine?” Tabitha said off-handedly while trying to fit “Mikhail”, “Mavis” and “loveless marriage” into one coherent sentence. She gave up.

“It’s the accent. Accents automatically remove 15 IQ points. Unless they’re French.”

“How about if you tell Karl about the baby, I bow out gracefully, and Mikhail and I go through a few bottles of Denim Vodka and have drunken sex?”

“Suit yourself. Just so you won’t be too disappointed, let me warn you. He wasn’t joking about the hat.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Girl at the End of the World

For I don’t know how long I have been seeing this picture on Patheos when reading the several blogs I follow there. It looked interesting, but I wasn’t particularly moved to read the book. 



Then one of the bloggers I follow on twitter retweeted something that sounded interesting from someone called Elizabeth Esther, and I began following Elizabeth Esther, too. I shortly discovered that Elizabeth Esther is the author of Girl at the End of the World, so I decided that if I could find it at the library, I’d read it. A trip to our library’s website revealed that yes, they had the book (2 copies), I could put a hold on one and have it sent to the library closest to me, and a few days later, there it was. Forty some odd years ago when I got my first (barcodeless, cardboard) EBR Parish Library card, I did not envision such efficiency. Now I’m looking forward to the day when a drone drops the book off at my door.

The book is a memoir of the author’s upbringing in an Apocalyptic church, one started and run by her own family. 

I was raised in a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group—which is just a shorthand way of saying I’m classically trained in apocalyptic stockpiling, street preaching, and the King James Version of the Bible. I know hundreds of obscure nineteenth-century hymns by heart and have such razor sharp “modesty vision” that I can spot a miniskirt a mile away.Verily, verily I say unto thee, none of these highly specialized skills ever got me a job, but at least I’m all set for the end of the world. Selah.
This excerpt from the back cover sums up both the book’s content and the author’s breezy style, a style that covers a world of heartbreak. In one sense the book is an easy read: it’s written simply, there are no mind boggling statistics or difficult academic concepts to absorb, and it’s broken into short chapters. In another sense, the book is a difficult read, as books about abuse and suffering always are, especially if any of it happens to resonate with some of the reader’s own experiences. Rachel Held Evans described the book as, “the sort of book you plan to read in a week but finish in a day.” My experience was the opposite: I planned to read it in a day but had to keep putting it down because it got to be too much, so it took me closer to three.
Part of what made the book so difficult for me was that the author does not belabor her experiences. Her matter of fact style in describing what she went through (multiple daily spankings, being made to quit an after school activity she loved and needed to get into a private college because it interfered with her numerous chores at home, having a teacher question her science project because when she measured her resting heart rate it was over 100) more than anything she actually says conveys how the bizarre can seem normal when you are raised with it.
In the end, Elizabeth Esther was able to make her way out of the cult she was brought up in, find a new way of living with her husband and children, and even make peace of a sort with her parents. I find it interesting that for her, finding her way to the Catholic Church was part of her healing path. My relationship with my stepmother was a stormy one, but the one thing I am immensely grateful for is that she sent me to a Methodist church and not the Catholic one I had been baptized into. Well, that, and the whole saving my life thing, but it’s pretty much a toss-up in my eyes.

Fortunately, neither Elizabeth Esther nor I are tasked with selecting each other’s spiritual path, and her reasons for becoming attracted to Catholicism make perfect sense to me, even if it’s a path I wouldn’t have chosen. In the end, that’s what makes the book so heartening, the message that we can overcome childhood brainwashing (the author’s own term, from the Prologue) and look at the world through our own eyes. I do recommend reading the book, whether in a day or three or even a week. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Own Abbreviations

Things I write out the long way frequently online, and wish other people knew my abbreviations for:

ICBWAT - I could be wrong about that, mostly written when I’m sure I’m not.

IWBIWFU - It’s weird, but it works for us, needed since my husband and I are strange.

ETA: I suppose you could also use IWBIWFM - It’s weird, but it works for me.

YWNGTC - You would not get the chance, my (usually unspoken) response to IWHI, for I would hit it posts on TD. (Yeah, I don’t post much there anymore.)

WMYTYGTC - What makes you think you’d get the chance? See above.


So does anyone else have their own unique abbreviations? Feel free to add them in the comments.

It Rained on My Birthday

At least, it rained all morning long. Having just turned 67, I can be philosophical about rain on my birthday, but we had a lot of errand running to do, and the heavy rain made it inconvenient. We were going to go pick up my birthday cake and a few odds and ends at Whole Foods, and then go see Maleficent, at my request.

John thought there was an early showing of Maleficent, but it turned out that that was for Saturday only, as I found out after he dropped me as closely as he could to the theater before going to park the car.

He always does that. When it’s raining, he drops me off as close as he can to wherever we are going, parks the car, then braves the rain on his own. When we are done, he goes to get the car while I wait until again, he gets as close as he can to pick me up. He has done that for as long as we’ve been together.

So we decided to go see if the cake is ready early. As I waited inside the door for John to finish parking the car, I saw the fresh flower display. I picked out a combination to make myself a bouquet with, and when my husband found me there, I announced that we were buying me flowers. He didn’t argue over that, or the bag of mix and match cookies that I added to the cake, milk, and rosewater that we went there for originally.

The reason I am dwelling on the cookies, the flowers, and the rain is because ever since DWTS ended, I have had romance on my mind. Well, not so much on my mind, but it’s been on the minds of the young fangirls I hang out with on Tumblr, as they review every look, gesture, hug, and sentence that occurred between “Mavis” and “Mikhael” throughout the season. I frequently see things like, “I want someone who holds me like that” or “I want someone to tell me, ‘I don’t need you to be better. I need you to be you and I’ll do better.’ ” Sometimes it’s, “I won’t settle for anyone who doesn’t look at me like that.”

I appear to be the only one who gets an entirely different lesson from these last several weeks, the lesson that goes, “It has never occured to me to tell my husband ‘I don’t need you to be better. I need you to be you[rself] and I’ll do better.’ I bet he’d love to hear that.”

I’m not sure about the lovestruck gaze. I think if he caught me gazing at him like that, he’d assume I was having a neurological event and rush me to the emergency ward. But he might like it if I could at least refrain from rolling my eyes when he launches into another story about his latest day of dam inspections.

Of course, I have been on the other side of this situation: accepting crumbs and trying to convince myself that they were true love. I understand the younger ladies of my internet acquaintance who are shaping their views of what it is possible and reasonable to expect in a relationship. I’m glad they are determined not to sell themselves short just to have a man* in their lives.

I hope though, that life will broaden their views of what constitutes not selling themselves short. I may have to pick out my own birthday flowers at the grocery store, but I don’t have to wade through a rainy parking lot to get the car. My husband may not send moony-eyed looks in my direction, but he will do battle with my problems with only a plastic teaspoon, if need be.

So maybe I don’t need him to be better. Maybe I just need him to be himself, and I’ll be better. 

Or maybe we could both just be ourselves, because we seem to like each other that way.



*or woman, but I associate the kind of “you need one, so do what it takes to get one” thinking with advice pressed on heterosexual women. I could be wrong about that.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hospitality

The ironclad rule of Southern Ladyhood Hospitality, or so I have gleaned from polling everyone that I knew would agree with me, is that if you really want to invite someone, whether to an event or just to hang out, is you do it yourself. You don’t necessarily have to send a handwritten note: a card, a phone call, even a text message is fine. Secondhand invitations, we all agreed, are out, even if they come via a close family member, like, just to use an example pulled out of thin air, a son.

Okay, in other, totally unrelated news: we had a visit from my son, his GF, and my steppish (to use my son’s term) grandson over Memorial Day weekend. They were actually in town for Neal’s stepmom’s family get-together, but they stayed with us because his stepmom ran out of room. They also extended their stay a few extra days to have time to spend with us. Yay! Having a four year old underfoot is more exhausting than I remembered from my days when I worked with them for half an hour at a time and then handed them back to their moms, but it was fun, too, and way too quiet when he left. I am just now getting to the point where I don’t hear the little one’s voice around the house and remember his shampoo and toothpaste smell.  We took him to the aquarium in New Orleans and to the local park, which has a Splash Pad, read a lot of books, and patronized a few local restaurants. We also had "quiet time" (a euphemism for nap time) at home, which Nonna needed, whether Ace did or not.

Four year olds are fun, if wearing. Like his coevals, Ace asks a lot of why questions. He also talks right over the answers, usually with another why question. My attempts to answer his questions were frequently punctuated by low-voiced utterances of “Mom” by my son, when he deemed my answers too complex, too abrupt, too God-knows-what, leading me to finally complain to my husband, “If that little brat doesn’t quit his whining, I’m going to smack him one. Thank goodness that at least the four-year-old knows how to behave.” 

One of the “why” questions I did not have a satisfactory answer for is why I didn’t go with them to Neal’s dad’s house to go swimming. When they first arrived, Neal told me that his stepsister had told him that I was welcome to come to her house to swim with them so I could spend more time with Ace. He understood why I didn’t feel comfortable with that. I told him I like his stepmother and stepsister, and to say I appreciated the offer, but that John and I also needed some alone time anyway, since John had just come in from an out of town trip and was preparing for another one.

Ace, however, did not understand why I didn’t just come along with them every time they went. I could hardly tell a four year old the real reason that I don’t want to be around my son’s dad, and it was hard to say no to meltingly brown eyes, so this rapidly became a small problem in an otherwise enjoyable visit.

My son finally admitted on their last day that Ace had been overhearing his stepmother keep telling Neal that he was welcome to bring us along with him to play in the pool, and that Ace had overheard. In addition to being eternal askers of “why”, four year olds are the original pitchers that have big ears. Don’t say anything in front of them that you don’t want repeated, and repeated, and repeated elsewhere.

Which reminds me: I did, despite my son’s lack of faith in my ability to understand four year olds, get to babysit for Ace while my son and his intended went out to dinner. I’m not sure of all of what I said to the little one before he finally fell asleep, but I bet it made for some merry conversation on the four hour drive back to Houston.


But at least I wasn’t there to hear, “Mom!”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Real Fiction

A long-time reader, lsn, left a comment on my recent post, The Hour That the Ship Comes In that reminded me of a recent conversation on Tumblr. 

First, lsn’s comment:

OK... there's fan fic about reality TV?!?

Oh Lord.
I honestly had no idea... I kind of get the reasoning behind fanfic about fictional characters, but writing it about actual human beings who are not in fact fictional characters no matter how much the editing does kind of is a bit... well, icky to me.

Now the Tumblr conversation. The first commenter has extensive interests (and over 1,000 followers) including WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, an admittedly scripted form of wrestling in which the wrestlers, while real athletes, play characters. Grandma D would have been a huge fan.) I’m not familiar with the second person, but she seems to be another wrestling fan.

Person A:….are wrestlers fictional characters?

Person B:i’d say yes, generally. though it’s a question i find very interesting.the distinction is easier to make with some wrestlers than others. the undertaker, bray wyatt, and other similar characters are obviously fictional. at the other…

Person A:It always trips me up. Like, calling an Actor their characters is kinda rude and just plain weird. But then if you call a wrestler their birth name, that’s disrespectful.It’s kinda like you read my mind and put my thoughts in a post. Lol.


My response, which I suspect neither of them noticed, was as follows:

I don’t think real-fictional is a binary; I think that there is a continuum from real to fiction and that we all position ourselves at different points along it depending on who we interact with. So an actor playing a role is further along the continuum toward fiction than the wrestler is, but even the actor is calling on some of his/her real self in playing the part. (Shoot, some actors play themselves over and over.) I was present at a reading that Attica Locke (fantastic author, BTW) gave and she began by saying, “I’m going to be real”, and I thought “no, you’re not”, not because I thought she was lying, but because simply using the phrase reflects an awareness that we present ourselves in different ways in different situations, so she had to pull up “real” from the pool of potential personas, and how real is that, when you think about it? 

We all have ways of presenting ourselves that involve some to a lot of artifice, and we all recognize that other people have ways of presenting themselves that involve some to a lot of artifice.

So let’s take that idea further in dealing with lsn’s point, the ickiness of writing about “actual human beings who are not fictional characters.”  Actual human beings have been known to Google their own names and can easily find said fanfic, and might be a bit nonplussed to discover that their significant others have been vanished down a rabbit hole, their sexual orientations have undergone wholesale revisions, or that they are now either pregnant or about to be fathers.

We present ourselves with various degrees of reality/unreality, but we also see other people the same way.  To me, being able to see other people as being as real as ourselves, as the stars of their own lives and not bit players in our own, is the biggest task of growing up. I think we have all had the experience of working or going to school with or living next to someone that we see purely as a PITA, and then one day get that one glimpse or one bit of information that makes their behavior make sense from their point of view. I remember one summer working with two other therapists in a social skills group for teens. One particular young lady was causing me a lot of frustration with her constant talking and inability to stay on topic. Finally one of the other therapists told me that the young lady had recently been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and placed on medication, and was only now starting to talk in social situations at all. Oh! So the training wheels had just come off the bike and she was naturally still a little wobbly. I could deal with that. After all,  that was my role in the group in the first place, teaching conversational rules.


Sometimes our only way of knowing particular people is through them being presented to us as entertainment. We see them on television in reality shows that are carefully contrived and we read about them in magazines that are designed to entertain. So what we get is fiction, not complete fiction, but somewhere along that continuum between fiction and reality. The distinction between the person I call Mikhail and Jane Austin's Mr. Darcy is blurrier than the distinction between Mr. Darcy and the young man in the next seat in English class, or the teacher presenting the lesson. It’s one small step from fanfiction about Mr. Darcy to fanfiction about Mikhail.

And unless teen girls have changed even more than I think between my days in high school and now, one more small step from fanfiction about Mikhail to fiction probably not published on the internet about the young man in the next seat in English class, or maybe even about the teacher presenting the lesson. A girl can dream after all.

A girl can dream, and then write about it.