Saturday, January 31, 2009

Games I Play

When I was little I used to love to play games. Who didn't? I realize now that all those games, while masking as innocent fun, were really lessons for life. I still play games. It's just not fun anymore.

Jenga - when I'm trying to balance one more bottle on the top of an already overflowing recycling bin.

Clue - when I'm trying to find my husband's keys, wallet, brain, take your pick on any given day.

Memory - when I am trying to match up an entire laundry basket of socks. And this I do only when I have no choice, because our feet are fucking freezing,and mommy has been procrastinating resolving the dregs of socks that gather at the bottom of the laundry pile.

Operation - When I'm taking a splinter out of a tiny finger, removing a whopper from a Dora the Explorer Telescope, and tweezing my eyebrows when I don't have time to get them waxed.

Hungry, Hungry Hippos - When Todd, Liv and I are fighting over the last munchkin

Candyland - When I'm satisfying my constant, voracious appetite for all things sweet. (This one is fun)

52 Pick up - When I'm employing my particular brand of housekeeping. One thing at a time. Pick up glass, put it in the sink, pick up the wet diaper, put it in the trash, pick up the coat hanging on the back of the chair, put it in the closet...but before any of this can happen, pick up the lazy ass woman, put her to work.

Tag - When Todd and I look at each other in alarm at the horrible odor wafting into our nostrils and I say "I just changed a shitty diaper, tag, you're it."

Pin the Tail on the Donkey - Well it's not so much pin the tail on the donkey as it is me trying to pin the smack on the tail as I chase my daughter around the house when she refuses to sit on a time out. Once the smack lands it's kind of like hitting a pinata, only, instead of candy, obscenities pour out of her mouth.

Gin - Well I don't actually play gin, so much as I drink it.

Friday, January 30, 2009


I am surrounded by the vestiges of a lost world. Some days I feel like my life is an archaeological dig site, gridded out in little squares with twine and wood posts, complete with mounds of dirt at the edges of numerous, precise holes. This is the basket Amy gave me for Christmas 2004, teeming with all things wine and cheese. There sits the plush kitty cat she bought for Liv the day she decided to finally join us all on this brutal odyssey. On my refrigerator is the magnet she bought me on one of the many visits to her favorite city, Chicago. Pictures in an album: Little me turning my dirty face up to the most pretty, smartest, awesome big sister in the whole world. Bright, beaming, beautiful Amy full of love, joy, mischief, her smile like a beacon on dark waters. She epitomized celestial navigation, guiding me home, towards the safest place, a place where I am loved. Handmade Christmas cards adorned with stamps of snowflakes, cutely made with her living hands. This is a thing her hand touched. This is how I breathe. I can't let go. Baby clothes, too small for Liv to wear anymore, are stuffed in my closet. These are the things she picked out with her living heart. How can I part with the artifacts of her love? How could I ever let them go? This is what is left of that ancient culture. This is all I have left.

Tina brought me a note Amy wrote her 15 years ago. Her post script: Gwen is going to be a big country music star. Ask her. "What was that about?" Tina asks. "I don't know." It's a memory lost forever in that mind turned to ash in the earth. That was so typical of Amy. She thought for sure I would be something, that I was going places. In her mind, I was the best singer, the best writer, the best comedian. It was good to know there existed a magical place where I was superior at everything. Amy set up my MySpace page. "Write a blog," she said. She subscribed to this proposed blog before I even published a single word. "Write a blog, please Gwenny. You'll be so good at it."

Do you understand what I lost? Do you even know what was buried in the ground with her ashes? That magical place where I was superior at everything. Gone with her. My sister believed in me. She fucking believed in the value of me, the idea of a better Gwen, even when I was trapped in that cycle of insanity: eating disorder, bad relationships, a pile of sobs on my bedroom floor. Amy saw in me something royal, something golden. She was proud of me. I latched onto that pride. I was a parasite, sucking out the praise, tell me just one more time that I am amazing. Oh, I knew it wasn't true. I knew her viewpoint was biased and skewed by her absolute, unconditional love of me. I needed to hear it anyway. Don't we all need that cheerleader? Don't we all need that person in our lives that laughs at every joke emanating from our mouths, that gently pushes us towards better things, that makes us crab cakes and pours us a glass of wine when we just don't think we can do the job of being ourselves even one more day?

Amy was my soft place to fall. And fall I did, soundly and often. I remember the scent of the quilt on her bed, a mixture of Shalamar and baby powder. I remember lying there drowsy and puffy after my wisdom teeth were pulled. "Just relax, Gwenny. I'll take care of you." Nurturing Amy. Domestic Amy. I can still hear the rhythm of her footfalls, cleaning, cleaning, always cleaning. Her biggest dream was a Martha Stewart home, making crafts with all the kids she would surely have one day, her Pottery Barn table all set for the 5 course dinner warming on the coils. Simple dreams. Sometimes the simplest dreams are the hardest dreams to realize. For Amy they were impossible. The chemotherapy rendered her womb useless. She was forced to grieve the babies her arms would never hold;To grieve her sweet scented, long wished-for children that would never be born. The man she loved would not, or could not, give her the happy home of safety she wanted. Simple life. Simple dreams. Denied.

She did buy that Pottery Barn table. It's a beautiful object that drips of delectable dinners and rowdy evenings of board games. It barely fit in the tiny dining room of her 1 bedroom apartment. It was the only part of her dream she could actually have. Her lovely, wooden table overwhelming a room. Her invasive, terrible cancer overwhelming a body. Her simple, precious dreams underwhelming a life. Here is Amy's beautiful table, sitting in the ample dining room of my Aunt's house. Selected by her living dreams. Here are the votive holders, red and gold, that sat on Amy's armoire. Candles within, lit with her shaky, living fingers.

How did she contain her rage? I'll tell you what, if that were me, deprived of everything I ever wanted in this life and burdened with the weight of the knowledge that I would soon be deprived of my life, that anger would have killed me long before the cancer ever did. I would have been consumed with the injustice of it all. One time I tried to get it out of her. I wanted her to scream at the top of her lungs, "FUCK YOU, UNIVERSE!" But instead I got, "Sometimes I get mad about the cancer. But what can I do? I try to enjoy every moment, love my family, love my friends, spread joy, eat good food, watch good TV. I used to say, 'Why me?' Now I say, 'Why not me?' If someone has to get cancer, I'd rather it be me. I'd rather suffer through it than some little girl or boy." And later, when I found out I had the BRCA2 gene also, she said, "Maybe that's the reason I got cancer so young. So that you could know. So that you could save yourself from an early death. Maybe now you can accomplish great things." And there you have it. Me and my make believe greatness. Here is the depth of her love. Delivered like a prophecy from her living mouth.

I am afraid. I am just Gwen. Greatness does not abound. There is nothing about me that is remotely close to that person she claimed to see. Who did she see? I can't ask her anymore. She is of the earth. And here I sit in my living earth - artifacts of a lost world strewn about my home. Artifacts of a world, B.G. (Before Grief). Everytime I watch a TV show she told me to watch (Rescue Me, Damages), everytime I play a mixed CD she made for me with her living hands, everytime I wear the sleek, black coat she bought me for Christmas 2006, I have to fight the urge to lose my mind. I teeter on the edge of insanity, I stand on a cliff's edge in a spot the size of a pinhead. Jumping would be so easy and yet something pulls me back. This is the opposite of gravity at work. Nothing will let me fall. I stay alive. I strive for that rich reward of getting through the day. I am delicate with my chisel, unfurling each memory, holding each one tenderly in the palm of my mind like a fragile fossil that could break on a whisper.

I am not great. Maybe now that Amy is up in her heaven, she finally knows that. I wonder if it made her sad, to know what a failure and poor excuse for a person I really am. Do you think death brings clarity the way that near-death often does? Can she see the worse parts of my heart clear as crystal? Or do angels only know from love and innocence?

I cried today. I picked up an artifact and I cried and cried big, sloppy, terrible tears. Sometimes this powerful sadness can act upon me like blunt force trauma to the skull. This is the aftermath of grief. When we finally surface after the eternal months beneath that heavy blanket of pain, we can only stand up for so long. We run, we stumble, we fall, we rise, we run in place, we run some more, we stumble, we fall again, we rise again and again and again. But when we run, propelled by the energy of sick, sick loss, we run for our fucking lives. We run believing that there is, there must be, a distant, unseen destination where it doesn't matter that our souls have been amputated, where it doesn't matter that our soft worlds have been ripped out from beneath our unsteady stances. We run towards the beacon of light...a picture of a whisper of the memory of a smile. Maybe I'll never reach my destination. But fuck it all, I'm going to keep trying. This is how I breathe. I can't let go. This is the gift Amy gave me with her bare, living hands.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Souvenir from the Vacationing Muses

The idea of compiling a list of 25 random ideas about oneself has been circulating on Facebook for a while now. I typically try to stay away from this type of format when writing because it smacks of laziness and unoriginality. But my muses took a weekend vacation so I felt compelled to take a little vacation of my own. This here is the baby born of laziness and non-sequential tidbits of a life half lived. Perhaps publishing this list will empower me. At any rate, it will emasculate the blackmailers. If everyone knows, what the hell am I paying you to keep it a secret for?

Most of my 25 things involve childhood memories, wants, and deeds. I think that's because anyone who knows me or reads my blogs already knows pretty much everything about the "adult" Gwen. I'm always game to talk about everything and anything. I mean, except for the things about me that could land me in prison and/or a mental health facility. I don't need a damn intervention, so don't even try.

1. I often fantasize about being old. I can't wait to retire, be lazy, sit on the couch watching my stories, and have a constant influx of painkillers. I also can't wait to be senile and curmudgeonly. I'm getting a jump start on that last one. Actually I'm getting a jump start on ALL of these things. And it's every bit as great as you imagine it would be.

2. Once, when I was 8, I killed an entire colony of caterpillars. It wasn't on purpose. I had an old record player lid and I set up a "resort" for this group of caterpillars I had collected from my back yard. The sides of the lid acted as the "lounge" area and I filled the lid with water as the olympic sized swimming "pool". If you put a caterpillar in water, it will float...for a little while. Well, after seeing them float, I falsely assumed that they could actually swim. Well, I trapped those suckers in their "resort" overnight. Guess what? The next morning most of them were all lying on the bottom of the "pool" bloated and very, very dead. The very few that survived the massacre were sticking up one of their hundred little hands flipping me the very tiny bird.

3. I have a very real fear that at some point I am going to accidentally tell my boss that I love him when I hang up from him on the phone. It's not that I do. Love him, I mean. He's not even cute. But sometimes when I hang up from him I feel like I almost said it. That really scares me. I don't know. I don't talk to that many guys on the phone.

4. Growing up, I had a creepy neighbor named Dick who used to leer at me and call me "dirty face". It always hurt me so badly when he called me that. I've spent a lifetime trying to get clean.

5. I find dimes all the time. I once heard that these found dimes are messages from a dearly departed soul. I don't know if I believe in an afterlife, per se, but since Amy died I've found a lot of fucking dimes. And once in a while, it's nickels I'm finding everywhere. At which point I always make it a point to remind Amy that she's being a cheap ass - and the next thing I know I'm finding quarters. Eerie, right? Moral: Dead people can be tight. Remind them often "You can't take it with you".

6. If there is a god, I hate his guts. You can hurt me, you can fuck with my head by letting my sister die a crappy death at the age of thirty-four, but if you turn a blind eye when horrible things happen to babies? You're on my shit list. And that's a permanent engraved list, God. The only way your name's coming off this list is if you arrange for me to win a $1,000,000 lottery or, you know, maybe start giving a shit about babies. Yes, I'm blasphemous. I spent a godawful amount of time in church during my childhoold and adolescence. I've earned the right to blaspheme if I damn well want to.

7. I have a tattoo of the Chinese Symbol for poetry. I hate myself for getting that tattoo. I find little ways to punish myself daily for getting that tattoo. And also for all the other stupid shit I do on a regular basis.

8. Sometimes when I'm talking to a person I get distracted by violent thoughts of punching and/or kicking him or her in the mouth. I doubt I would ever DO such a thing. But these thoughts happen a little more than they should. I don't know why because I'm not a violent person and I love talking to people. So if I ever just so happen to kick you in the mouth for no apparent reason, please don't take it personally.

9. On that same note, sometimes when I'm driving and a tractor trailer comes barreling down the highway in the opposite direction, I get a sudden, inexplicable urge to sharply turn my car into it's path. It's a thought that comes unbidden and goes away very quickly. I honestly think it would suck for that to happen. Don't worry about me. I promise I will never really do that.

10. Actual diary entry dated April 2, 1986: Many times I thought (written in word bubble): Suicide, I'd never do that (end word bubble). But now it seems so much easier than to live like it is in this world. If I take a drug that eases the pain, cut my wrists, it's all over. I was 10 years old, people. TEN.

11. I once snuck into a Smashing Pumpkins concert with Alisha.

12. I am theatrical. I acted in 3 plays in college (if you'll indulge me by allowing me to call Bucks County Community College, "College"). My first role was Betty Andrews in Inspecting Carol in 1999. My second role was Nurse Flynn in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 2000. My third and final role was some chick who got dumped by her boyfriend whose name I can't remember in Italian American Reconciliation in 2001. One of my lines was, I kid you not, "I feel like a cut off thumb inna glass a' water". My short-lived, though much celebrated, career earned me zero nominations or wins for any awards. I did, however, get to fuck my hot co-star. I gave up my career in the theater to spend more time walkiing on a treadmill and throwing up foods I felt guilty about eating.

13. One time I was detained in a Chuck E. Cheese by a teenage girl. She said that she couldn't let me leave without a parent. I had to produce identification to prove that I was, in fact, a 22 year old woman.

14. I didn't lose my virginity until the age of 25. A few months before it happened, I was sitting in a booth at Friday's with my friend and he said, "At some point you're going to just have to pick somebody and do it." I'll always credit Kevin Brown for pushing me out of the nest..and into the arms of my sexy co-star (see #12).

15. I love the following smells: Home Depot stores, Olivia's feet after they've been in socks all day, and Play Dough.

16. I laugh at myself all of the time. Even when I'm not funny. Actually, scratch that. In my twisted mind, I'm always funny.

17. I think drugs should be legalized. I guess it makes no sense to me that liquor and cigarettes are legal substances, yet weed is not. I'm an adult and I should be allowed to put anything in my body that I damn well want to. I don't need the government to "parent" me and dictate my morality. If I wanted that kind of oversight I would have stayed a Jehovah's Witness.

18. I have a great love for show tunes, particularly Little Shop of Horrors, Once on This Island, and Les Mis. I also have an undying love for Def Leppard's Hysteria album.

19. In the year 2000, I saved the lives of two 16 year old girls. I was working at Youth Services at the time, which is a group home for bad girls. After lights out, I went up to check on my little miscreants and discovered two of them acting strangely, i.e. speaking gibberish, clawing at the floor. I called 911 and their asses were whisked away to the hospital, whereby their bellies were gifted with the lovely charcoal to detoxify them of the Coricidin they had overdosed on. The next morning I spoke with their parents who thanked me with tears in their eyes saying, "The doctors said that if you hadn't called an ambulance their hearts would have given out by morning". Yeah, I know - I'm thoroughly awesome.

20. I enjoy being pinned down in bed. You don't really need to know that, but maybe Todd needs a little reminder ; )

21. I love high heeled shoes but I can never find a single pair that doesn't make me want to amputate my own foot because of the pain of wearing them. Manolo Blahnik can kiss my caucasian ass with his $700 torture devices.

22. I'm a name snob. I have very particular naming rules and for some reason certain naming trends boil my blood. For instance, people naming girls traditional boys names. I don't get the point of doing that at all. There are plenty of beautiful and unique girl names that are barely used, and somebody has to give their daughter a boy name? What does that fucking prove? Another naming pet peeve: People misspelling traditional names. For instance, I've seen Olivia spelled the following ways: Alivia, Olyvia, Olyvya. I'm not kidding. That's atrocious. I think people are operating under the misguided belief that spelling a popular name different will in some way make it unique. Wrong. It doesn't make it unique. It's still the same god damn name, spelling it wrong just makes you look illiterate and low class. Sorry, I hate to be blunt here, but it's the truth. Tough love, people. I tell you this because I love. Believe me, this hurts me more than it hurts you. I have other naming pet peeves, but I don't want to offend or alienate any more people than I already have. If you care to know anymore about Gwen's Baby Name Rules, just email me your request and I will send them to you free of charge.

23. I have breast implants. Most people I know already know this. But some do not and it's one of my few interesting little stories and it bears repeating. Or I have to get to 25 things here and I'm running out of interesting shit to say. I had a prophylactic mastectomy because my breasts were plotting my demise with a BRCA2 mutation. It was sort of like having a gun pointed at my head, except instead of being loaded with bullets, the gun was loaded with breast cancer. Maybe one of the chambers was empty, but the rest were full of BREAST CANCER. Would you want to play Russian Roulette with that gun? I didn't think so. I just took myself out of the game. Next up: Bye Bye Ovaries starring Gwen Jackson. It's a great little musical with sad songs intermixed with upbeat numbers about early onset menopause! It's a must see!

24. I've had two kidney stones. The first stone required 2 major surgical operations to remove it. The second required one major surgical procedure to remove it, followed by 4 agonizing days of giving birth to stone fragments. I'd rather give birth to babies. I think. God, I've had a lot of fucking surgeries for being only 33 years old. 3 kidney surgeries, two minor breast surgeries, 2 major breast surgeries,2 oral surgeries to remove teeth, and a C-section to remove a human. I've got war wounds, folks. WAR wounds.

25. As a teenager I used to self-injure. I know a lot of teenagers did and do, and it's not particularly interesting. But it's also something I never really talk about. I did it before it was ever a known thing. In other words, I didn't even know other people did that sort of thing. I thought I was a freak. Well I was a freak, it just turns out I wasn't all that unique. I wasn't all that deep or cool or complicated. I was a teenage girl trying to find expression for things that probably should never, ever be expressed. That's what I'm going to tell Liv when she's old enough to understand, "If you can't find healthful expression for it, bottle that shit up."

Well, I'm done telling you my deep, dark, spooky secrets. Maybe now you feel enlightened. Maybe now you hate me. Maybe now you realize that I don't care if you hate me. And hopefully, the muses will soon return, refreshed and ready to work.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Inheritance

"I'm a nudie butt! I'm a nudie butt!"

Liv skips around in a circle, delightedly clapping her hands, her recently shed clothes scattered like confetti all around my living room. She enjoys being naked. I watch her dance, shake, and shimmy to some music only she can hear.

"Look at me, mom!" she squeals while shaking her tiny hiney and giggling. Show off.

I am in awe of her in these moments. I am in awe that this tiny creature of only 3 can do something that I, a woman with 30 years of living on her, can not. You see, she is able to love her own body, fully, completely, without question.

I try to reach back and find a memory. A memory of a time when I loved my body, too. I come up empty. It has been too long with this hatred. It has been too long with this wanting to crawl out of skin. It has been too many years with holding myself to impossible standards, of pinching an inch, of feeling ashamed of appetites.

It's so strange to admit this now, that I still feel this way about my own flesh after all this time, after all the platitudes of recovery I've spouted from my mouth. I am the ultimate hypocrite, I guess. I spent so many years in that horrible cycle of starvation, giving in to appetite, and finding solace in a toilet, with my mouth over its mouth in that twisted kiss. I remember weighing 85 pounds and thinking, "just a little bit more and then I'll be worthy to walk amongst the other humans. Only then, my words might matter." Why did I feel that my weight was inversely related to my inherent value as a person? The lower my weight became, the more my stock would rise. That is a sick, disheartening statistic.

I wish I could tell you I feel differently now. I wish I could say that when I put my anorexia away, all those insanities and idiosyncracies were put away with it. But that's just it. I put anorexia away because I was never able to destroy it. So it's still around...somewhere. It lingers in the proverbial attic of my mind collecting dust and yet, somehow, holding court over my actions. Anorexia breathes down my neck. Anorexia passes judgement. He asks, "Who the hell do you think you are?" I have a love/hate relationship with that bastard. He's the abusive boyfriend who punches me in the mouth and tells me I'm worthless, and yet I keep going back to him because we have amazing sex.

So, there are haunts inside of me everyday, hushed whispers of denigrating remarks, pangs of broken-hearted regrets - over something so small as a slize of pizza. You'd be surprised at how small the end of the world can be. But then again, maybe you wouldn't. I'm not alone. I'm not the only one. I would do anything to hear a woman say, " I love my body". To say this thing and actually mean it. But this I have never heard. Oh, I know of a few women who claim to love their body. However, this love comes at a price. This price being a punishing fitness regimen and a regular diet of self-denial. To say you love your body, yourself, after so much self-imposed suffering is a crock of shit, if you ask me. That type of love is conditional. And I don't believe that "conditional love" is actually love. I would never tell my daughter that I would only love her if she was good at dance, or got good grades in Math, or had perfect skin. I love my daughter no matter what, fully, completely, passionately. And for once in my god damned life, even for just one amazing, freeing second, I want to love myself that same way too.

In some ways I feel like it's an expectation in our feminine culture to aspire to deny appetite, to murder fleshly desire, and to publicly degrade our physical form. Sometimes when I'm in a group of women having dinner, there is just no way around it. We must lament our sins, denounce our intake. We must talk in repentant tones about that food we'd just ingested. And there are some moments when I want to scream, at myself and everyone else, "You ate a piece of chocolate cake! You didn't murder a baby!"

But this is our legacy ladies. This is the tradition that has been passed down to us. And it totally blows. I know I want the world to be different, I want me to be different. Maybe it's too late for the women of our generation. This self-loathing is just too entrenched in our psyches, too much a part of our identity for it to be unraveled and undone. But I have to believe that there is a chance for our girls, for our sweet darling little girls. I, for one, want Liv to always know that she is perfect just the way she is.

I look at her dancing, wide-eyed with glee at the amazing power of her tiny, perfect body. I wonder how much longer she has left to feel that way. When will her dancing stop? When will she shrink into herself, trying to hide something in shame that isn't even wrong in the first place?

For the sake of these girls, let us come together and say, "This day I will love my body". Because maybe if we say it enough, we will start to believe it. Maybe if we say it enough, it will start to be true.

I am including with this a poem I wrote when I was in the throes of anorexia. I normally don't share poetry, because most people find it a snoozefest. I think there are maybe 3 people on the planet who actually enjoying reading poetry and I'm one of them. But I've included it because I think it's a valid perspective. At that point in my life, my poetry was the only voice I had. And when I wrote this it was during a rare moment of awareness and clarity about a feminine culture gone terribly wrong. It is not the best poem I've ever written, but it's real.

In my time, I have seen
what I should look like
glossy leaflets of magazines drip their bland faced waifs
through windshields of television and movie screens,
I see half women wither,
their dull stalks bent towards fame and fortune.
Through word of mouth in my junior high locker room
I learned the value of being flat-bellied
Bombarded with ideal body size
What to eat and not
How to effectively fast while avoiding
those pesky heart attacks.
And instructions for life:
How to vomit in a public bathroom
quiet as a mouse.
What a plethora of tricks!
Trick the eye,
Trick the boys,
Trick the self.
And when mom pushes her aging bag
of cosmeticsat your 13 year old face
what she is really saying is
You are not good enough the way that you are
When she clicks her tongue
at your second helping of mashed potatoes
You are reminded that the perfect 4 lb body
that could fit in a shoebox
has ballooned to 100 pounds of unmanageable blubber
The tuft of baby black hair
Dulled to a dirty blonde of reproachable strings.
Is it any wonder that a girl can't reach this gate unscathed?
That she cannot pass into womanhood without that bag of self loathing
so customary of her breed?
A moment will arrive when you will realize
Even the thin women suffer
The knobs of their knees swell up
But what they see is their thighs
the size of hot air balloons
And they will grab
The innocent flesh of the inner thigh
And say, "see how fat I am?"
They will turn against the belly
Slender fingers clasping a meager roll
saying, "I can pinch an inch"
And so it goes
Even the beautiful women
happen upon mirrors
and imagine monstrous proportions
Conspicuous distortions
rupturing beneath taut skin.
They will sob delicately in the shower
A cascade of scalding water
Making the skin red
"The only warm place on earth"
They will insist.

Yes, it's amateur. Yes, I realize that these ideas I've written are not revolutionary. It's been done before. It's been done more thoroughly by smarter people. It's been done better by superior writers (read this blog I've linked. It will make you want to make out with yourself in a big way). But I'm compelled to add my burgeoning voice to these awesome voices of discontent, to the voices of the women who are sick to death of a society telling us we're not fucking goddesses. Because if you really stop and think about it, that's what we are. Some of us can make humans for Christ's sake. And we all have the power to make men beg because Hello! We have vaginas. Do not ever under-estimate the power of the pussy. And on top of that we have brilliant minds and nurturing spirits and emotional strength and superhuman abilities to make kick ass casseroles, bathe children, and change kitty litter all at the same damn time. Every woman I know is either an extraordinary mother, daughter, and/or wife. You guys rock. Don't let a fucking number on a scale tell you otherwise. I will try and do the same.

I say with all my heart, my breath, my soul, that this blatant self-hatred has got to go. It's damaging to the collective spirit of women and it keeps us from fully realizing our potential. Who knows what we could accomplish without this heavy brick of self-loathing knotted tightly around our necks? Can we make some change today? Do it with me! I can not do it alone.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fuck Forever

You know how sometimes you hear a song and it just brings you back to another moment in time? I hear "Cowboy, Take Me Away" by the Dixie Chicks and suddenly I only exist on the dance floor with my husband on our wedding day. I hear "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard and I'm giggling about stupid shit at a slumber party in 1987. I hear "Criminal" by Eminem and I'm in a drama circle composed of the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and we're psyching ourselves up for our first show. Music has an insidious influence over me, sometimes so insidious that I have no idea the full effect it is having on me until it's too late.

Yesterday morning I was driving home from work and that Tears for Fears song, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" started playing on the radio. I felt a sudden, powerful urge to get my ass to homeroom. It was like this visceral reaction, this potent insistence, that I had to hustle or risk getting a tardy slip. And then I remembered; Every morning during my entire cursed high school experience, this song was played over the loudspeaker with the purpose of signaling students that the schoolday was about to begin. Now when I say every morning, I mean every morning. So you can hopefully understand when I say, "If that fucking song were an actual living thing that could experience pain, I'd set it afire, watch it burn alive and enjoy every minute of its unmitigated agony". It's possible my anger is misdirected. I just don't know who exactly to be angry at. I only know that somebody needs to pay, painfully and mercilessly, for that shit. I can't help feeling that for 3 years of my adolescence, I was on the unwilling end of a mindfuck. I was raped repeatedly by a Tears for Fears song. They don't have support groups for things like this. But they really, really should.

I decided today, in the interest of recovery and unconditioning, to perform a little Pavlovian experiment of my own. I need a new song. And this new song needs to make me feel the opposite of tardy; It needs to make me feel like something is done and I can just relax. I've chosen St. Elmo's Fire as the Pavlovian bell and for the life of me I can't tell you why. Well maybe I can but it involves admitting to screaming at the top of my lungs while operating a motor vehicle the words, "You broke the boy in me, but you won't break the man!" and I'm pretty sure any further discussion along those lines would make you very, very upset. So here's the very scientific process I plan to adhere to for the next 14 days: Upon getting in my car to leave work every day, I will turn on St. Elmo's Fire and listen to it. I'll let the complexity of my plan sink in to your brain. Got it? Ok, at the end of the 14 days, I am going to listen to the Song at a time when I am not done something, but I want to feel like I'm done something. If the song makes me feel happy in my heart, then I have succeeded. At what, I'm still not exactly sure. I only know that I would love to have access to that feeling of relief I get when I'm done...well, just about anything.

I love when things are done. Even good things that normal people want to last into eternity. For instance, in my lifetime I've heard with my own ears people says things like, "I wish this night would never end". Or, "I wish this ski trip could last forever." Not me. I could be at the best party, going through the motions of joy, conversing with interesting people, enjoying delicious foods, with all the obvious trappings of merriment, and you know what? When it's over, I'm so glad. Having fun is exhausting. I'd rather be asleep.

Don't get me wrong. I accept that having fun is part of being alive. A human should try to have fun and enjoy life's pleasures, both simple and complex. Having an orgasm is a fantastic way to spend 30 seconds. But a forever lasting orgasm would scare the living shit out of me. Nothing is supposed to last forever. That's why everything dies. If anything purports to last forever, it worries me. That's why I stopped talking to God. His expiration date came and went a long time ago. But he's still up in his heaven, not really helping anybody. Like what is he doing up there all day when all this horrible shit is going on down here?

Maybe there is someone reading this who thinks, "Gwen wants to die. Let's have an intervention" or something equally stupid. Nah. I don't want to die. But I need to die, one day. Hopefully, that will be when I'm so decrepit and senile that death is a very welcome event. But I realize that the universe is just so random, and often cruel. And that fact is inextricably linked to my pressing desire to be known.

I grew up on promises of Forever. You'd be surprised how eternity can bore you to bloody tears. You can only hear about the never-ending quality of your life so much. I don't want to die. But living forever seems unnatural to me. Eternal life is like this beautiful jewelled box that has nothing inside of it. I'd rather have a plain, ugly old box teeming with amazing things and lots of cheesecake. And a million comfortable pillows to cradle my head during all the naps I'm going to take when I'm done everything. I have the best feeling in my heart now because this blog is done. I'm sure you do, too. See what I mean?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Nuts and Bubbles

You know you had an awesome weekend when it can only be described accurately as a cross between that movie Misery and an episode of the Brady Bunch. Let me start off by explaining that it had been a while since I saw my friend Tina. I've been bugging her to come over and see me for months. She lives ALL the way in the city and I'm just too lazy to go there to visit her. So, at my repeated behest, she catches a ride to the suburbs to visit her lame, suburban-drone friend Gwen. And I, for one, wasn't about to let her get away once I got her in my lair.

<------Unsuspecting victim of diabolical scheme

After we spent a pretty lazy and very awesome day of watching TV and fucking with a few desperately lonely people on dating sites, I decided it was time to strike. The first part of my diabolical plan: Sedation. I offered her a Valium. I knew she couldn't resist the lure of a tiny blue pill. Who can? I took one myself, you know, just to lull her into a false sense of security.

The second part of my plan: Incapacitate. I arranged a bag of pistachios in a place where I knew she was sure to see them. I knew she couldn't resist the lure of a bag of pistachios. Who can? It wasn't 10 minutes after eating them that she started to feel strange.

"My tongue feels weird."

"You're fine. Your tongue looks normal to me, Tina."

"No, I really think there's something wrong with me."

She gets up to go look in the mirror. I follow her and we stand side by side in front of the mirror, looking at her face break out in hives and swell up like a puffer fish. I laugh internally, with the same maniacal laughter of scheming villians around the world. Everything is working out according to my ultimate design.

Her panic is palpable.

"What the fuck is wrong with me?"

"Dude, maybe it was the pistachios"

"But I'm not allergic to pistachios...make it stop...make the itching stop! I'm not allergic to pistachios."

"I guess you are now."

Thus commences the third part of my plan: More sedation. I run to the pharmacy across the street to pick up some extra-extra-extra strength Benadryl. Yeah, she's not going anywhere for a long time.

When I get back, she's laying on my couch looking like an alien. My lap top is sitting next to her with the screen open to "Nut allergies". On this page is information about nut allergic reactions, namely swelling, itching, watery eyes, dread. And also a little thing called "anaphylactic shock" of which a primary result is Death.

Now death was not part of my diabolical plan. But I had a knife and a straw handy in case I needed to perform an emergency tracheotomy. And it was really worth the risk to keep Tina around for another night, in my opinion. In life, sometimes you have to weigh your options. And I have to admit there was a small part of me that wanted to know what it felt like to make a hole in a person's throat and then stick a straw in it to help her breathe. Like the way you see doctors on TV do when they're in the episode where they're buying a pack of gum at a convenience store and it gets held up by a robber and then there is a hostage situation and somebody gets hurt and they're like "get out of my way, I'm a doctor, god damnit" and they start yelling at people to get them random objects like tampons, and straws, and vodka and razors. And then they show off their medical brilliance by saving a life, McGyver style. That appealed to me on some level. So it wasn't part of the original plan, but it would have been an unforeseen, though interesting side effect.

Unfortunately, anaphylaxis never set in. But she took a lot of Benadryl, which rounded out the last part of my plan. It was really satisfying to see my handiwork. There's Tina, laying on my couch, her face puffed up like a marshmallow, drooling, and unable to speak above a whisper because her tongue and throat were so swollen. This last was especially fortunate since I had a pizza delivered. Her weak cries for help went unheard by the delivery guy.

"Sssshhhh. It's going to be alright, now. If you start having trouble breathing, just blink twice. Gwenny will fix you right up in no time."

She looked so cute all helpless and tranquilized. I tucked her in with a thick comforter. It was going to be a long night...

...A long night of making her read my blogs and tell me how brilliant and interesting I am. Sometimes you have to drug people and make them have allergic reactions to pistachios to get them to read your stuff. Sometimes you have to make people suffer in unusual ways in order to get any compliments at all. Sometimes, this involves giving them some of your personal stash of Valium. But it's really worth it to get the undivided attention and the positive feedback. That was the best part of my weekend.

I should have enjoyed it while it lasted. Because by this morning she was feeling good again. Good enough to leave me. I should have gone with my gut and broken her ankles.

After we went out to breakfast, she went home, and it will probably be a while before she trusts me again. I'll have to come up with better plans in the interim. While I was at breakfast, Todd and Liv went grocery shopping for me. I'll tell you what happens when you send a grown man and a toddler to buy things off of a very legible and specific shopping list.

One of the items on my list was "Dishwasher detergent". See, I was completely out of dishwasher detergent and I was too busy executing a diabolical scheme to wash any of my dishes by hand. So Todd goes shopping, and buys dish detergent. Not dishwasher detergent, dish detergent. Do you see what is about to happen here? Anybody who owns a dishwasher knows that there is a big difference between these two items. Well, I guess anybody who ever uses a dishwasher knows that there is a big difference between these two items.

Todd, my special husband, sweet and trying so hard to do something that will make my heart glad, decides to run the dishwasher full of dirty dishes. Using dish detergent. So when I come in the door after breakfast, after releasing my friend from her imprisonment, what do I find in my kitchen, but bubbles, bubbles, everywhere. Yes, there are massive amounts of bubbles seeping from the bottom of my dishwasher. Bubbles spread out across the kitchen floor.

So here's Todd and me and Liv just laughing at the insanity of all the bubbles. I'll tell you it was a moment I'll never forget. It was the first day that I ever had a single thing in common with Bobby Brady. It was the first day my husband ever ran the dishwasher. It was the first day my kitchen floor ever got cleaned. It was a very big day. It was a very awesome weekend.

+= Awesome Weekend

The Sweet Sleep of Spaceships

I was watching Battlestar Galactica today and I realized, if I lived on a spaceship I'd be asleep all the time. There's something about that hummmhummmmswoooosh white noise that's constant and omnipresent. It makes me very, very sleepy. Not even the explosions and the aliens and high drama would be enough to keep me from my slumber. In fact, I wish I lived on a spaceship, because I love to sleep. The more I'm sleeping the more happy I am. Being awake is just too much work. I'm going to go take a nap.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

All in a Day's Work

I just banged my knee on my desk at work and it's hurting like a motherfucker. I'm trying to pretend like everything is okay. But nothing is okay. I need a painkiller right now like nobody's business, for reasons pain related and otherwise.

Lately, I hate my job. It's the most boring job a person could ever have. When I first started working here, I did my work really fast. I had something to prove. Now I realize proving something here means shit. Nobody in this world cares how fast you type an appraisal, not even an appraiser. So now I just do my work really slow. I had to slow down gradually so he wouldn't notice, but I got here. And I'm glad I did. Because now during the time it takes me to type an appraisal, I can email my friends, read funny stuff on Television Without Pity, fool around on Facebook, and write lame blogs, like this one. In fact, I'm typing an appraisal right now.

I don't hate my boss. He's a perfectly nice person with a family to support and all that jazz. It's not his fault he has such a boring job. Well, actually it is. What makes it worse is he is just always HERE. It's just him and me. Him and me. And he has this little office that's about 15 feet away. And I suddenly have these super senses, because whenever I hear like one little creak of his chair, I know he is getting up to come give me another fucking appraisal to type, so I really quick click back to my Winntotal program to make it look as if I were working the whole time. Sometimes I think he catches me but he never says anything about it. Maybe he doesn't care. Like I said, even appraisers don't care how fast you type an appraisal.

I am just so miserable right now, in this very moment. The clock hand just won't move. I feel like I'm in one of those gloriously twisted Dali paintings, and the clocks are like melting and dysfunctional. I hate my life. Every time the phone rings, I hate my life. It just rang. I just hated my life.

If you were to ask me in grade school what I would be doing right now, I can assure you it wouldn't be this. In all fairness, the Gwen in grade school thought a lot of things were going to happen that were never, ever going to happen. For instance I thought I would Live Forever In A Paradise On Earth. I thought I would get married to Kirk Cameron and have a thousand of his babies. I also checked out my career aspirations in the sixth grade: Writer. Awwww. Isn't that cute? What a moron sixth grade Gwen was. So many pie in the sky ideas, so little time.


In case you haven't noticed, although I'm sure you have, I have a habit of using oft-repeated idioms in my writing. In this blog alone I've used four - "like nobody's business", "all that jazz", "pie in the sky", and "like a motherfucker". I realize it's one of my weaknesses as a writer. But in some ways, I also think it's my biggest strength. Also I think I'm going to need some major knee operations in the near future, because my knee? Still fucking hurting.

The thing about idioms is that some of them are just so funny. Like I never get over hearing "bee in my bonnet". Also, "Love of my life" cracks me up like nothing should.

If my boss puts one more thing in my bin, I'm going to lose my mind. Blood will be shed today in this office.

"Beat around the bush" makes me laugh obnoxiously and long. "Beat a dead horse". "Kill two birds with one stone". "Cock and Bull Story". "Dropping like flies". Come on! It's a little bit funny, no? Check this out: idioms. If that didn't make you laugh even once, then fuck me. I think part of why I think they're so funny is that when I say them, or they're said by others, I totally have an image in my head of what is actually being said. Like I picture a person with a bee in her bonnet, like what she would be doing if that happened. So in a nutshell (hee!), I love antiquated idioms. I would even put a bumper sticker (magnet, whatever) on my car advertising that. And you all know how much I hate bumper stickers. It's just that bringing antiquated idioms back into regular use is a cause I could really get behind.

But there are a few "turns of phrase", if you will, that are oft-repeated which really boil my blood. The first one I can think of is when a person writes something about himself and then he follows it with the words, "that says a lot about me". Now, I'm sure I've done this more than a few times myself. But I can readily admit that it's irritating. Here's why: It doesn't explain what it says about you at all. Could you maybe give me an example? If it says a "lot" about you, then you should be able to tell me at least one thing. If you do that, I'll leave you alone.

If I say, "I listen to a lot of Def Leppard", which I do, and then say, "That says a lot about me", what does that really mean? Without any follow up, it's really just a cop-out way of seeming clever without having to say anything at all. And it's also a way of sort of disavowing what I just said. Because if I tell people that I like 80's music, and then say, "LOL That says a lot about me", it indicates that I'm sort of embarrassed about liking 80's music. But why should a person be embarrassed about what they like? I mean unless it's "I like child molesting in my spare time", what's with the shame?

Okay, the next time he puts something in my bin, I will lose my mind. And shed some blood.

The other phrase that drives me crazy (hee!) is "so many jokes, so little time" (or any similar phrase where you are talking about the possibility of a joke, or many jokes, but you don't actually deliver one). This phrase is usually said after something appears to contain material of comedic value, but actually does not. I know this because after I see that phrase, I try to find the joke(s) that the person is referring to, and I never can. Neither could the person who wrote it, but he thinks he should have been able to and he is very, very disappointed in himself. This is why he attaches the phrase "so many jokes, so little time". But the thing he needs to realize is that it's okay. Sometimes something isn't funny, even if it looks like it's supposed to be funny. Like my knee hurting right now. I wish that were funny. I wish I could make a joke about it. But I can't. There's nothing funny about knee surgery. No matter how hard you try.

You know what else isn't funny? Me and my pathetic excuse for a life and ideas. So if you're reading my stuff looking for laughs, then you're barking up the wrong tree. And if you think I can't cut the mustard, then don't cry over spilt milk; I'm used to going down like a lead balloon. Let's just get down to brass tacks and be honest. All right. I'm done.

Okay, one more. Go to Hell in a handbasket.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Girl with One Red Flip Flop

This is the story of the red flip flop. This is the story of the girl who risked everything for the red flip flop. This is the story of the girl who for one single moment in March of 2003, lost her damn mind.

I thought I knew myself. I thought I knew what my life was truly worth. I mean I was 27, in a great, loving relationship, and having an awesome time vacationing in Cancun with my very best girlfriends. But in the midst of this vacation, in the whirlwood of tequila shots, snorkeling, frolicking in a bikini in crystal blue waters, I did something truly embarrassing. Something so embarrassing that I rarely speak of it. It hurts my heart to think of it. Something happened and to this day I really can't fully explain my actions. But I think it's an important story in the canon of my life. Indeed, I think it's a revelation. So I'm willing to record it here for posterity, for the eyes of the masses. Plus a lot of people have been bugging me to tell the story of the red flip asked, you shall receive.

It was mid-week in Cancun. We had made the decision to do something adventurous that day, as opposed to lazing around on the beach drinking Dos Equis. Our little group made its way down to some touristy snorkeling place and after shelling out the pesos we boarded these tiny, 100 year old, motorized dinghys. Now after my wave-runner accident the previous summer, I was having a bit of a time about this whole watercraft venture. And I think what stressed me out the most was the fact that we were sitting two to a boat, and one of each party was responsible for operating the vehicle. I was panicking, thinking to myself, "Why are they letting just anyone operate a motorboat on the open ocean?" It's not that I didn't trust the driving skills of my girlfriends, but they weren't the only people in the group. There were about 10 boats in all, and the people I didn't know were young and sort of a rowdy bunch. I don't know. They made me nervous.

I ended up in a passenger in the boat with Jackie, who, bless her heart, was sweetly trying to talk me down from my panic the entire time we were speeding to our destination. I'm sure she was secretly praying for a sea monster to fly out of the sea and bite my stupid head right off my body. I wouldn't blame her. I mean, I was getting on my own damn nerves. I remember just constantly making that noise a person makes when they think they're about to get in an accident. You know the's like a deep breath but it's combined with a high pitched squeal best kept reserved for use by pigs and hyenas. Yeah that's the one.

After an awesome snorkel dive where we saw many colorful fishies, I mustered up the courage for the boat ride home. Well the ride home was even more frightening. My anxiety levels hit a new high. Poor Jackie was trying so hard not to go too fast because I was acting like a pussy. But then we would get too behind the other boats and I was terrified that we'd get lost on the open sea and nobody would find us for days and we'd have to draw straws over who got to eat the last tic-tac. Folks, I behaved badly. It had a lot to do with the dumb ass frat boys zooming around with their boats scaring the shit out of me. And we were going so slow that these guys were like circling around us instead of going in a straight line forward. I think I even yelled obscenities at them.

When we finally docked, my relief was palpable. I know what the Titanic survivors must have felt like when they finally reached New York. And I guess my point to all of this back story is to highlight just how terrified of death I was that day, even when the possibility of death was quite slim. It's like during these moments I was so in love with being alive that the vaguest inkling of danger was enough to throw me into a tizzy. Which is exactly why what happened next is so bizarre and unexplainable.

After disembarking our "ships", we washed off the salt water, put our dry clothes on and starting to make our way back to the hotel, which was about a 10 minute walk from the snorkel place. The spirit of the main Cancun roadway is just ridiculous in terms of traffic, driving speeds, and general lawlessness. Seriously, the philosophy of the swarms of busdrivers zooming down the main Cancun strip seems to be "Get the fuck out my way". So it's obviously exceedingly important to observe Walk/Don't Walk signs, and considering that the roadway is very wide, even when the sign says "Walk", you'd better hustle your ass to make it across before the Don't Walk sign flickers or risk getting reamed by a bus.

I don't know if you ever attempted to run in flip flops while your feet were wet, but let me tell you - a more daunting task you will never find. That is just the deed I was faced with doing on the side of a high traffic, lawless Cancun highway. So we were running, all of us girls, to make it across before the Don't Walk sign flickered, but I'm more slipping and sliding than running. Then, I make it halfway across the road when my flip flop goes flying off my foot.

It was one of those moments that takes forever even though it's only a moment. It's like when you get in a car accident. And in that second between the realization that something bad is happening and that actual moment of impact, you feel like time has stood still. You feel like that moment is eternal. Well, there I stood in the middle of the road with one flip flop on and the other about 10 feet behind me. I had a big decision to make in that little moment in time. Do I keep on running and leave the Red Flip Flop to it's fate? Or do I risk getting smashed into a million tiny little pieces by a bus in the middle of a Cancun highway to save it?

Most sane people wouldn't even have to ask the question in the first place. But for some reason I made the irrational decision that my Red Flip Flop was somehow, someway intrinsically more valuable than my own life. Going back for that Flip Flop, I almost felt like I was looking down on myself from some perch in the sky, and by the time I reached it I could sense that the traffic light was very, very green. I could also sense that there were many, many pairs of eyes staring at the crazy person holding a red flip flop in the middle of a highway blocking shitloads of buses and cars full of tourists and Mexican citizens. For a while, the world got very quiet. I don't know if it was a stunned silence as in "What the hell is happening right now?" or if it was just the hush of my brain having one of those types of seizures that you have but you don't know you're having it. I really wish I could explain what happened next on a seizure.

Suddenly, Noise. Horns blaring, people in cars and buses screaming at me to GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE ROAD, my girlfriends yelling my name in absolute horror and disbelief. So I put my flip flop back on my feet and start to run in the direction of the friendly voices, in my head I'm just telling myself, "make it to the friendly voices", but my feet are still wet and running in flip flops in wet feet is still not a good idea. And I fucking FALL. Like, I fell down in the middle of the highway where everyone is staring at me and beeping at me and angry at me for blocking traffic. This is the situation. I lost my damn mind.

So finally, I get up, my face flushed with embarrassment and start running again but I keep slipping and sliding awkwardly because my feet are wet and I'm still running in flip flops. I think the abject humiliation was also effecting my brain function and perhaps the blood loss from my gaping knee wound. When I finally made it to the side, my girlfriends are at one moment staring at me in disbelief and the next howling in cruel peals of laughter. You have no idea how it feels. You never will.

So that's the story. That's the story of The Red Flip Flop. That's the story of the day I decided my life was less valuable than a piece of plastic footwear I bought at Old Navy for $6.99. As I said, I have no justification or explanation for my actions. They're undefendable. And if you ever wondered if it was possible to die of embarrassment, now you have your answer. Because if that were at all possible, I'm pretty sure I'd be dead now.

I still have those red flip flops. I keep them in a special place in my closet. I keep them as a reminder to myself that I'm as susceptible as anyone to a momentary lapse in sanity and quite capable of humiliating myself in unimaginable ways. And whenever I start thinking too highly of myself, I remember what happened that day. And I laugh my fucking ass off.

*********************Me and the flips worth dying for*********************

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Other People's Blogs

I realize that blogging about blogs is a little too meta...even for me. It's just that I'm relatively new to the blogging world, and I'm having a difficult time wrapping my itty bitty brain around the absolute breadth and depth and width, the vast, ungodly, scope of what we're dealing with here. Do you remember the first time you learned about the absolute crazy expanse of the universe? How the absolute limitlessness of space just completely blew your fucking mind? Yeah, that's what this feels like.

There's literally millions of blogs: humor blogs, Love me/Love my dog blogs, I'm desperate for love blogs, I'm crazy so hear me out blogs, Read by horrible poetry blogs, and Validate me because I pushed a baby out of my vagina blogs. These last are actually referred to as "mommy blogs", but I sort of like my name better. I am just gobsmacked by the amount of reading material people are posting on a daily basis. Is it just me or does it seem like the amount of writing people do exponentially increases with an audience, either real or imagined?

My mind, it is blown. It's not to say that I don't understand that pressing internal need to be heard, to put your thoughts down on paper. Obviously, I do, or I wouldn't be making this lame attempt to become a part of this vast blogging phenomenon myself. It's just that I never realized just how popular it was to sit in front of a computer for hours on end working on a piece of writing while you could be out doing actually fun things like, I don't know, dancing your ass off at a club, or drinking beer, or having sex with a stranger. I mean, I think writing is just as fun as those things are, but I just never realized that everybody else did too. I'm not such a nerdy weirdo, after all. Who knew?

Maybe the truth is that I've been surrounding myself with "not writers" my whole life in order to maintain the delusion that I was somehow special, erudite, and a better writer than I actually am. So I guess I'm getting a good dose of humility about now, because reading other people's blogs is making me feel like I need to just turn in my pen, my keyboard, and admit defeat. Seriously, you all, there are some kick ass writers out there barely being recognized and it makes my heart sick. I want to start advertising for some of these people, because they have amazing language abilities and somebody needs to start reading some of this shit. So I've been served a big slice of humble pie, and you know what? It tastes better than you'd think it would.

I'm not ashamed to say I'm amateur. I realize I need to make massive improvements. I've been putting my thoughts to paper for a lot of years, starting back in the days of antiquity when we used to call blogging, you know, "writing". Back when, instead of needing html, javascript, and flashing pretty packages, all you needed was a 5 rule notebook and a sharpened pencil with a good eraser. I've written my fair share of shit poetry, stories best read by the sharp teeth of a shredder, and unfortunate screenplays that would make your eyes bleed. The biggest problem with me, basically the largest drop among an ocean of many, is that I've never opened my writing up to the critiques of others. I mean real criticism...the kind of criticism that makes you crouch against a wall while bawling your eyes out. Showing your work to your mom just doesn't count. Your friends are going to blow smoke up your ass because, hey, who needs a suicide on their conscience?. When your audience is more worried about your feelings rather than giving an actual opinion on the quality of your work, then you just can't ever grow as a writer.

So I've languished here in mediocrity, having so much to say and wanting so badly to say it, but not doing any part of me justice. It's not that I'm a bad writer. I'm not saying that. I'm self aware enough to realize that there are people out there who write gravely worse than I do. Even people that should know how to do it.

I've been working really hard on a college essay that is supposed to describe "the greatest accomplishment of my life". This essay is the ticket into law school. But guess what? I'm not going to law school. What I have learned is that if one time at work, in a moment of insanity, you "fix" your boss' notes on an appraisal report so that it makes more sense, you will end up being the designated "writer". You will spend the rest of your employ there shelling out intelligent and well written responses to questions like "Why am I most qualified to be president of the condo board?", and, of course, preparing essays for his son to get into Law school.

Why do I do it? I wish I had a really good answer to that but the reality is I just feel bad saying No". I mean I read his son's very lame and very sad final draft attempt at describing his own fucking accomplishment and the essay lacked the sort of coherency and basic writing skill that you'd expect to see from a person who is completing his final semester at Penn State. Like seriously, how does a person get through 4 years of college and not have the ability to put words down on paper in a fashion that doesn't resemble a 5th grader writing a book report on "Bridge to Terabithia"? He actually started the essay out "My biggest accomplishment is...." My heart bleeds for this kid. But there's another part of me that wants to make his heart bleed.

That's the bitter part of me that's having a really hard time enjoying the irony of the situation. The irony, of course being, that I am preparing a Law School application essay for someone who has earned a Bachelor's Degree, and I haven't even managed to earn an Associate's degree from the lame ass community college I attended over the stretch of 9 years. Here's this fucking kid who grew up with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, and here's me who grew up with the literal wooden spoon beating my ass. Here's this kid who is getting a free ride all through university and beyond courtesy of Mommy and Daddy, who can't even prepare a simple essay, going to Law School. And here's me working as a part-time secretary, my life going nowhere, writing his goddamn essay. Yep, here's me: Gwen Jackson, "helping other people succeed since 1975". There's something about this situation that's incendiary;It boils up the blood. But it's my own fucking fault and I know it.

Here's the rub, my boss comes to me yesterday and says, "This is too good. The admissions office is going to assume it was professionally done. They'll think he bought it on the internet." The fuck? Shouldn't the admissions office at a Law School expect their applicants to write an excellent essay? I'm not too hopeful for the future of the legal system in this country when Law Schools have such low expectations for their incoming students. I am just beyond irritated because not only am I writing this kid's damn essay, but now I'm supposed to "dumb it down" so it doesn't look like he's cheating? Well he is cheating. And I'm helping him do it, so I deserve the same swift kick in the ass that he does.

I was talking to Todd about this whole thing last night. Trying to make him understand why I was so upset about the fact that this guy doesn't know how to write, and yet he is going to law school. Todd says, "Well I can't write well either but I think I could do well in law school." I wanted to punch him in his stupid mouth. But instead, I said, "But you're not going to law school. This kid is going to have to prepare briefs, summations, writs of habeus corpus or some shit, and he's not going to be able to do that!" And Todd says the most simple thing in the irritating way that men have of just summing up all the bullshit into 1 succinct question, "So why are you helping him?"

I love to write. I have to write. I'm getting to a point in my life where I need to write like I need to breathe air, and drink water, and take Xanax after a long, stressful day. I know I have a small, but extremely awesome audience. I am so grateful for you people reading my shit, commenting on it on Facebook, offering feedback and giving me ideas. I'm just so inspired lately by this crazy world around me, and by this crazy world within me. I can't let the fact that there are exponentially better writers out there discourage me from pursuing my own dream, from writing my fucking heart out, from cutting open the brutal truth of me and letting the alphabet spill out in organized and, sometimes, lovely ways. This is my voice, and it's the only chance I'll ever get to be heard.

Elizabeth Gilbert's words, which I've quoted to you before, still fill me up, still have the power to push me forward in my puny craft. Because you never know who you will touch with your words, who you will move in some small way to smile or laugh or curse out loud. This is my doctrine, this is my law:

"I believe that – if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling...I made a vow to writing, very young...One day, when I was agonizing over how utterly bad my writing felt, I realized: "That's actually not my problem." The point I realized was this – I never promised the universe that I would write brilliantly; I only promised the universe that I would write. So I put my head down and sweated through it, as per my vows." - Elizabeth Gilbert "Thoughts on Writing"

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Losing My Religion

It's Armageddon Week on the History Channel. The end of the world is nigh, people, coming to you courtesy of either a gamma ray burst from the sky, our very human stupidity and ignorance, or the ever popular, ever looming, divine retribution for humankind's supposed wickedness. I don't know what's going on, but lately it seems like I'm being inundated with Doomsday messages. It's Doom and Gloom from my television, Doom and Gloom from my radio - Armageddon it! Yeah Armageddon it! Are you gettin' it? Armageddon it! And I've got to admit - it feels like coming home. Just hearing the word "Armageddon" is enough to bring on waves of nostalgia. It's enough to make me feel like a kid again, as much as, if not more than, the scent of a box of crayons or the delicious smell of playdough can.

The word "Armageddon" rolled off my 7 year old tongue like a nursery rhyme. I rocked myself to sleep every night to that lovely lullaby called Armageddon. You see, Armageddon, in my childhood home, was like the warm apple pie your grandmother used to bake. Armageddon was like the milk and cookies your mom left out on the table for you after school. While you were opening your presents from Santa on Christmas morn, I was unwrapping a big box of Armageddon. When you were devouring your third plate of Thanksgiving dinner, I was getting a big, heaping spoonful of Armageddon. You got Valentines? Birthday cake? Easter Baskets overflowing with chocolate bunnies? Halloween candies? Sparklers on the 4th of July? Me? I got Armageddon.

I don't usually write about the experience of growing up in a Jehovah's Witness home. There are many reasons for that. For one, it's boring. I would think that the only people who are interested in an analysis of a Jehovah's Witness upbringing, are those who had a Jehovah's Witness upbringing. Second, it's painful to think about and analyze. And since it's boring, why suffer through the pain of unearthing the memories? Last but most importantly, it's embarrassing. Nobody wants to admit they were in a cult. Even though it's not my fault, since, you know, I was 5 years old when my mom converted. It's not like you have any authority to challenge your family's belief system at such a tender age. And, of course, by the time you have any sort of wieldable autonomy you are far too effectively brainwashed and controlled by fear to question the lifestyle that has been handed down to you.

Even when that lifestyle is brutally painful, you can't find the right words to talk your way out of it, because the only words you know how to say are the words someone else told you to say. When you finally get wise enough to question the validity of the doctrines, your only choice is to remain mute. The religion is the only thing you know. Growing up in a cult, an "us against them" mentality is just so deeply ingrained. And to go out amongst the enemy would involve learning how to live all over again and learning a whole new language. To leave is to risk everything... you risk losing your entire support system and all the people you love, namely your family and friends, and ultimately dying a horrible, horrible death at Armageddon. A death which you were repeatedly warned involves the tearing of the flesh and the plucking out of the eyeballs by many, many ravenous birds. That's the price of doubt. That's the price of changing your mind in the twisted JW universe.

And despite the terror of it all, Armageddon was the fabric of our lives. It kept us going. It gave us purpose. It was the icing on our unbirthday cake. We sang songs about Armageddon. We prayed incessantly for the swift arrival of Armageddon. We went around neighborhoods trying to tell people about Armageddon, because we loved them, don't you know. Because nothing says "I love you" like an Armageddon-gram. Because nothing says "I love you" like a message of global annihilation by an angry god.

The destruction of non-JW mankind was an event we actually anticipated with disturbing impatience. We just couldn't wait for it's arrival. I overheard shit like, "Sister Reallysick, I know you have cancer but you have to keep pressing on in the work of the Lord. Armageddon is coming!" or "I know you lost your job Brother Self-Righteous, don't worry because Armageddon is just around the corner!" Because you want to know what fixes everything? The Apocalypse.

That was the solution to everybody's problems, financial, emotional, or otherwise. In fact, having a problem that you thought couldn't be solved by the fiery wrath of God, was indicative of a lack of faith, a lack of spirituality. And being told you weren't spiritual was tantamount to what in mainstream religion is referred to as a first class ticket to Hell.

So, in short, I spend a good portion of my psychological energies trying to eradicate fears of this:

Every ex-JW I know says that this picture fucked them up for life. I can vouch for that. I feel like the Apocalypse is in my bones. I feel it running through my veins like a virus, lying dormant but certainly more than capable of destroying me. My pessimism, my negativity, my inability to maintain any consistent level of happiness - that's the consequence of Apocalyptic theology. This is what happens when you expose young minds to that brand of religion.

My girlfriend Danielle asked a really good question today: Are apocalyptic nightmares passed down through DNA? I'm really starting to wonder if it's possible that doomsday anxiety is genetic, because this picture my daughter drew....

Reminds me a lot of this....

I mean her picture is basically an apocalypic nightmare with a smiling person in the forefront. And this other picture, which is from one of the major JW study books, depicts smiling people also in the forefront of an apocalyptic nightmare. I would never expose my daughter to this sort of shit. I let her watch a lot of things, South Park, CSI, Criminal Minds...but I would never, ever expose her to the type of horrific images and doomsday philosophy that I was. So how the hell did she know? The more I look at her picture the more freaked out I get by her clairvoyance.

I realize there is a certain depressing element to all this. And while a lot of what I write is really confessional, I try to at least find the levity in every fucked up situation. I just had to get this out. Maybe it's just one more step towards healing. I know that freedom of religion is important. I do fully and wholeheartedly accept that people have the right to practice their chosen religion. But I have a heart that mourns the loss of innocence experienced by all children brought up under the dark cloud of Armageddon. Somewhere tonight, a little girl is having a nightmare about the end of the world.

The Jehovah's Witnesses believe that once God destroys everyone in the entire world who doesn't meet his criteria for "everlasting life", they'll get to live forever in paradise. So when you see them walking away from the destruction in that picture above they're fully aware of the suffering being experienced by all humanity, including little babies, and yet they still manage to have big smiles across their faces. It makes me sick to my stomach. They have these pie in the sky ideas about lions and lambs relaxing together, and people being able to pet carniverous animals. There are pictures in their literature of people frolicking in the green fields of paradise, of people holding big fruit baskets by sparkling bodies of water. And for a while, I bought into this idea. I thought I wanted to live there so badly. But after a while, I started to think about the fact that this entire, beautiful, fantastic world would be populated solely by Jehovah's Witnesses. And I thought, "I'd rather take my chances with the birds." This was the turning point. I just made up my mind that I'd rather have my eyes eaten by birds than live in that Stepford world full of smug, self-righteous, judgemental people.

Maybe Armageddon is coming. Maybe it's not. I'm leaning towards NOT. Truth be told, I'm a lot more afraid of global warming, serial killers, and reality show fame whores. But there are moments...moments where I'm just so full of dread, so full of despair. And I realize that it's Armageddon welling up inside me, bubbling up from out of my subconscious, wreaking havoc on my heart. It's just there and I'm sure it always will be. I know that my childhood wasn't the best, but it wasn't the worst either. I'm not mad at my mom; she was the victim of a radical ideology. I couldn't blame her for what happened, even if I wanted to.

I guess, to varying degrees, we all carry within us the burden of wounds incurred in childhood. We all have these crosses to bear, these heartbreaking legacies to unravel, these tenacious religions to lose. So now you know why I am...the way that I am. This is my core. The core from which all my words, and stories, and poetry, and prose flow out like so much molten lava. I guess you could say, from all that catastrophe...a Gwen is born.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mad Hatter

I hate hats. Truly, completely, passionately. Now I'm going to qualify that statement by postulating that not all hats are created equal. There are a few instances when I think it's appropriate to wear a hat. Men wearing baseball hats, for instance, or a bride wearing a veil. I also have no objection to utilitarian uses of hats like a cute beanie on a cold day, or a helmet when you're riding a motorcycle, or a hard hat while you're working on a construction site, or a black pillbox hat with a tiny veil when you're hired to be an extra at a funeral in an episode of Dynasty.

What I'm talking about, what I hate, are decorative hats worn by regular people on regular days. The types of hats that have no other purpose but to teeter on the heads of people and make me uncomfortable. Truly, when I'm talking to a person wearing this type of hat it's all I can think about. It's like we're talking and I know they're wearing a hat and they know that I know they're wearing a hat and even though we both know the hat is there we keep talking like it isn't. But a decorative hat is not something you can pretend away. It's very...There. At the very least it's distracting, but at the very worst it's seriously disturbing. Talking to someone wearing a decorative hat is a very trying experience. I try to avoid doing it if I possibly can. The best thing to do when being friends with me is not to wear a decorative hat, especially if you're going to be around me and you want to talk to me. And if you're not sure where to draw the line between a utilitarian hat and decorative one, then just don't wear any hats at all. I'm sure you'll survive.

One time I wore a hat to go to the airport. I tried to justify wearing it by saying, "It's a cold morning". But it wasn't a utilitarian hat, it was a bucket hat. What was happening is that I was trying to be something I wasn't. I was trying to get away with wearing a decorative hat, like I could wear it and nobody would notice. But the truth is, a decorative hat is never seamless. People will always notice it even if they're too polite or disappointed to comment. If they're a true friend they'll let you know how much they think it sucks. That morning, I really should have known better. And Ashley proved herself a true friend by immediately calling me "Blossom" the second she saw me. That moment I felt so exposed, so raw. I got called out for wearing a decorative hat. You just never get over something like that;You really don't.

Blossom is a perfect example of how wearing a hat can ruin your life. I saw the girl that played the titular role on that show, Mayim Bialik, on one of those "Where Are They Now?" shows on E! She got to talking about the horrible hat trend that's been blamed on her all these years. I believe you know the trend of which I speak, although you may have to undergo repressed memory therapy to recall it. It's the trend that made teenage girls feel like it was perfectly acceptable to wear a stupid hat that had the front flipped up with a big ass flower pinned to it. Watching the interview, I could just see the pain behind Mayim's eyes as she talked about those hats. She denied culpability; She tried to blame it all on Six. She was like, I wore a hat maybe one time when we made the opening credits and for the rest of my life that's how people remember me! See? All it takes is one time.

<----Bad Idea

Need another example of how wearing a hat can make you wish you were dead? Why don't you ask Monica Lewinksy about hats and see what she says? I bet if she could go back in time and change one thing in her life it wouldn't even be "Not fuck Bill Clinton". I think it would be, "Not wear a beret with a little ribbon on it that day I got my picture taken with Bill Clinton". Think about it. Would any of those SNL skits have been even half as funny were it not for that stupid beret? I'm sure a lot of Presidents get tail on the side. That tail just isn't usually wearing a decorative hat. Marilyn Monroe fucked JFK and everybody knew it. But she wasn't the subject of derision and mockery for her entire life because she had the sense enough not to adorn her head with a bad idea.

Monica may have only worn that damn hat one day, but it's how she'll be remembered for the rest of her whole life. She probably wakes up in a cold sweat on a regular basis from nightmares about that picture where she's hugging Bill Clinton thinking she's hot shit in her special little decorative hat. Maybe she replays getting dressed that morning in her head, over and over, picking up the hat, putting the hat on her head, looking in the mirror saying "Could I? Should I?" I know I would obsess over it. That moment of placing the hat on my head would haunt my waking moments. It only takes one time, people. One fatal error in judgement on a busy morning getting ready for work. One time.

<-------Fatal Error in Judgement

Don't even let your baby wear a hat. I know it's tempting and a decorative hat can be cute and all on the very, very young. But I'll tell you what, it sets a bad precedent. By letting your kids wear them, you run the risk that this precious child might grow up with the (very) false belief that they're a "hat person". This is a mythical group of people that supposedly look good in decorative hats. I said "mythical group", because no such group actually exists. There are people who believe they are "hat people", when really they are just people who wear decorative hats. These are probably the same people who had mothers who put hats on them as babies. And once that Pandora's hatbox is opened, it's really difficult to close it again. So the next time you see a tiny fedora or a little floral bucket hat, just walk away. Trust me, no amount of cuteness is worth the type of hat horrors you'd be unleashing in adolescence and beyond. You might even end up with a kid who wears one of these:

<----Criminal Act

This is the worst hat crime a person can commit. These hats are abhorrent. They make me wish I were never born. They bring up in me a fury I can't even accurately describe with words, so I'll attempt to express it in a picture:
Please don't let your children grow up to do wear Dr. Seuss hats. Don't you ever do that either. And if you already did it, don't ever do it again. It's never OK. Not on New Year's Eve. Not on your birthday. Never. It's a crime against fashion. It's a crime against humanity. It disrupts the natural aesthetic of the universe. I'd rather go blind than see a person wearing this type of hat again ever in my life.

So in summation: Utilitarian hats, OK. Decorative hats, Not OK. Together we can stop the madness, and bring about a beautiful, decorative hat-free world.