Saturday, December 31, 2011

wake up and fight

By now, you've seen Woody Guthrie's "New Years Rulin's." The list lover in me is as tickled as the fan. Big surprise: Not much has changed in seventy years. We still want to "read lots good books." We still want to "eat good." We still don't learn people very well.

So maybe we are not running out to the banks to deposit our extra money or shining our shoes. But we're still fighting fascism (or should be, especially right here at home), and we're still doing what it takes to crank up that ol' hoping machine every day.

On our secret lists—yours and mine—we're reminding ourselves to floss more this year, to love people, to make the bed every morning. And while we may tailor our out-loud resolutions to individual goals ("write a song a day"), the two-thirds of us who are overweight are hoping to eat better—or, in my case, less. I have a few more things I want to accomplish.

To Do in 2012

1. Read more books. Novels, short stories, poetry.
1. Blueprints for Building Better Girls, by Elissa Schappell
2. God Bless America, by Steve Almond
3. Black Elvis, by Geoffrey Becker
4. The Greatest Show, by Michael Downs.

2. Write more poetry.

My poetry mojo has been stuffed in a too-small pair of underpants, further constringed by a girdle, squeezed into black control-top hose, and packed into tight leather pants that nobody wears anymore. It's itchy and lonely and hot and needs to go commando.

It's been a long time since I wrote a poem without having to rely on single, unrelated words from Facebook friends. But as soon as I made the resolution, I wrote a poem in my head. It's about buttons. It's going to be good; I can feel it. I just need to squeeze it out.

3. Take more photographs.

I'm not talking about pointing at and shooting so many sunrises and sunsets, so much of the minutiae of my day, the birds, the rockstar kids I know, people, food, buildings.

I'm talking about sunrises and sunsets! The minutiae of my day! Oh, the birds! Those rockstar kids I know! People! Food! Buildings!

More, but better! I'm hoping for a series of self-portraits in the new year. Maybe superheroes. Maybe art recreations. Something weekly.

4. Concentrate on the concentrations of goodness wherever it's found.

I find mine in Tuesday nights with friends, in a fancy Maudite glass, in the basement, on the dog bed. In fact, wherever there are good people and good food and good music, I'm usually pretty happy. There's some of that for all of us every day. Yes?

5. Play guitar every day.

Even though I suck. Maybe I'll suck less.

6. Lose weight. Move More.

There's nothing worse than being old except being old and fat. I hurt myself in a pilates class at work, and now even my fat pants don't fit. I've given myself permission to satisfy sadness and stress and pain with beer and pizza, even though it only feeds a pathetic fire. So after I ring in the new year with a roasted pig, I'll stop being one. I'll be on Medifast for a month—at least until I learn how to control myself.

Finally,

7. Wake up and fight.

For far too many mornings since June, I have found myself in the company of those who wake up and surrender. Tonight, I burn the white flags.



My wish for you in 2012 is my wish for me and everyone else. Take more pictures—with your camera, your words, your mind. Love. Pleasure yourself while you pleasure others (doesn't even require two hands). Listen to good music and drink good beverages and eat good food and keep good company.

Remember to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. It's how you run the hoping machine.


What are your plans for 2012? Will you learn a new language? A new instrument? Will you take a leap of faith? Will you trust more, worry less?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

merry giftsmas and happy chanustuff

It’s 7:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve. The sky is still dark, and my dogs are snoring at my feet. My husband and daughter are away until afternoon. The last sip of the coffee I made at 5:45 is still hot in my lidded Thermos mug. The tree is twinkling, and the crows are barking hello to me as they fly over the house.

The room where I write is full of stuff—books, wrapped presents, framed photographs, guitars, a collection of cake plates, crow-themed items. The eight leather chairs are new.

Every year, without fail, I amass new stuff (alas, without purging much of the old). Because we’re not in hock, with credit card debt and a mortgage that’s higher than our home’s value, we can usually take care of the little emergencies—and even some luxuries, like a concierge doctor or a guitar.

For the last few years, I had a tough time getting jingly wit’ Christmas. Sure, I’m always up for eggnog and cookies, a couple of favorite holiday songs, festive lights (the gaudier the better). But the frantic buying of stuff has bugged me.

I guess that’s ironic, given that I am a material girl.

The other day, a friend was torn about lamenting. Her favorite ornament—a one-of-a-kind, personalized item given to her by her sister—had broken, and she wondered how to come to terms with the loss when she generally takes a Buddhist approach to attachments.

Well, cross that religion off my list! I love things! I mean, I love things.

Lording over the living room is a taxidermy crow. On the sofa is a crow hand puppet so soft and fluffy that I put my hand inside it regularly. On Halloween, I gave it a clown nose, and it cheers me. On the bookshelf, I have a glass vase filled with hundreds of paper cranes. Those cake plates? I have seven of them.

Some of the things I have can be replaced, but so much of what I love most is a reminder of whom I love most: my thoughtful husband and daughter, who brought me a frozen crow in the dead of winter; my sister, who always gives the best gifts and helps to talk me down from the ledge; Grace, a young artist, who is already a star in my book but who is destined for others’ books; friends who helped me celebrate the release of my own book.

The woman who’d lost her ornament quoted someone named Peter Walsh. “The memento is not the memory,” she reminded me. True! But for me—menopausal, forgetful, busy, over-stimulated—that memento is the trigger for that memory. It reminds me to think of those people and their goodness every day, not just when they pop randomly into my head.

For the past few years, I’ve been a Christmas curmudgeon. This year, though, I’ve made some new material attachments. And to temper all this getting—paintings, earrings, magnets that say “Fuck” and “Shit”—I gave. I supported half a dozen Kickstarters. I donated to public radio and poetry and Wikipedia! Now they are my things, too.

I still hate that stuff-buying is a holiday. I want giving and receiving to be more special than that. People should display their affection with material items when they come across something that is you, something that would always remind you of their love, like the way they share a link on your Facebook wall. It shouldn’t be dictated by the calendar. Or maybe it should be on your own birthday, rather than someone else's.

How do you fight that, especially when you have children, even though that's when it seems most important to try?

The Christmas card I made for the year (yes, it’s a Christmas card; Rudolph is on the front) says, “May your joys outnumber your toys.” I do mean it. And if your toys bring you joy, too—well, you do the math.

Steven Wright said, “You can’t have everything; where would you put it?” He’s right, of course. But I still have some room.


* * * *

I miss you, Mark Harp. This will forever be your day.

RIP, Cleopatra.

Monday, December 5, 2011

deer

My hands smell like deer. It's a gamey smell—wilder than horse but tamer than buffalo.

I was thinking about deer today after having pulled out last year's Christmas card, a Hipstamatic shot of a plastic deer bathed in the delicious rainbow of sunflare. I got the idea to make a new card for this year and started working on it after lunch.

At five, after a full day at work, I bolted out of my office, ready for my beer and my family (in that order), and as I was driving the winding, rural roads, in my usual hurry, the card flashed in my mind. I slowed down and adjusted my seat back a little. These roads are littered with road kill. And deer are everywhere.

A few miles down Greenspring Avenue, I thought I saw one cross the dark roadway; indeed, a bunch of cars slowed down and sped back up, as if waiting for it to pass. The streets were surprisingly empty for a rush-hour Monday night. I got to the intersection of the beltway and Greenspring in just fifteen minutes, but the good time I'd made was about to disappear.

A baby deer lay squirming in the road.

I stopped my car, backed up, and turned on my hazards. I was on automatic pilot—clearly not thinking. The deer had been hit, but no one was here on my side of the street, normally a busy intersection. The animal was between the two lanes, and I was blocking one of them. I saw the mother on the hill, looking down and running away at the same time.

You can't unsee an animal in pain. And that instinct just kicked in, you know? How could I let this gentle creature die alone? I massaged his fur, and when I was sure he wasn't going to bite me, I hugged him to feel his weight.

Cars were coming, so I stood up and motioned for help. Lifting is an issue, so I turned and faced the growing number of headlights, like a deer in them myself, and begged: Will someone please help me?

They just wanted to go home. I know. I'm one of them, usually. I'd have been leaning on my horn, screaming at me to get out of the fucking street on any other day.

So I cradled the animal's head, which was too far in the other lane, and directed traffic around us.

I asked again if someone could please help me move the deer to the side of the road, and a Jeep pulled up behind my car. A man got out and walked toward me. "I'm a veterinarian," he said. "Is he dead?"

He wasn't, but I felt like the deer had relaxed in my hands, was less anxious. Dying. The man said, "What are the chances that a veterinarian would be behind you?" He picked up the baby animal and carried him to the side of the road.

"Thank you," I said. I had nothing more profound.

"I'm going to put him down," he said, and went back to the Jeep for some medicine. Last time I saw that medicine was December 13, when we said goodbye to Cleopatra.

"I love you," I told the man, and I left. I did love him. I do.

I cried the whole way home, headlights and streetlights a wet blur, gamey smell of deer on my fingers.

- - - - - - -

If you know this veterinarian (maybe he told you this story), please email me at dogfaceboy@gmail.com.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

paper

There's an old saying in the editorial business: If it's June, it must be Christmas. That's because monthly magazines work on their issues at least 4-6 months ahead of time. For me, if it's Thanksgiving, it's next year.

During the Thanksgiving weekend for the past few years, I have gotten my photo calendars done. One features traditional digital photographs (is that ironic?); the other is full of photos taken with my iPhone and the Hipstamatic App.1, 2

Choosing takes weeks, even without a full-time job. My Hipstamatic folder holds over 2,000 photos—and that's after discarding at least three-quarters of them. My real camera was neglected for a good part of the year; that calendar was easier.

Last year, strangers, friends, and wannabe lovers bought about 80 calendars. I sold them on my blog, on Etsy, in person (always a stash in my car), and at the Red Canoe3 (I'm doing their personal calendar this year, too!). Some lovely people (Monica, Lynne) bought them in bulk.

Aren't you a sucker for a good calendar? I used to buy at least six irresistible beauties (kitchen, office, three bedrooms, Marty's work, wherever) at Daedalus Books and put them everywhere. (Desk calendars are fab, too, though I rarely crack them open because of iCal, which now, sadly, syncs to life's every nook and cranny.)

Paper is brilliant—maybe even more so because its mother, the tree, is god. Books should have spines, not be wimpy and hide behind a screen, where they can't get into the bathtub with you. I like to write in books—underline the poetry, discuss with the author in the margins. I like when writers sign their books; I bought five a couple weeks ago got them signed. Steve Almond signed my own book—next to the signature of his man crush, Bob Schneider.

Oh! Joy! Notebook paper with college-ruled lines! Moleskines! Spiral-bound journals and colorful hardbound blank books from the dollar store! Stationery and notebooks from Levenger. Those black-covered, hardbound sketchbooks we used to need for art class. This is an ode to printing things out with the brightest, heaviest, freshest paper. My printer enjoys it all—three different kinds of photo paper, brochure paper, card stock, paper for labels, vellum and scrapbook papers and kraft paper—by the sheet and the roll.

My beautiful young friend, Grace Macfarlane, gave me 1,000 paper cranes, a confetti of memories of my grandfather, king of paper cranes.

This morning, I'm touching last year's calendar, flipping through the pages, hoping the new ones, calendars and year, hold as much promise. I want to fill the dates with things like Bob Schneider at 8x10, School of Rock FUNK show at Recher, Chuck Prophet!!!! at SoundStage, rather than reminders about CT scans and doctors' appointments and my father's number in the hospital.

I hope all of our calendars are full of good things: new babies, dogs' birthdays, dinner with friends, big birthday parties, music, love.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Calendar Orders
I have placed an order for 10 each, due to arrive by the second week of December. (Before ordering more, I want to make sure they are perfect.) If you'd like to put some on hold, please drop me a line at lesliefmiller@yahoo.com; specify how many you'd like of which calendar and where they should be sent when the time comes. Before I ship, I'll send you a request for payment via PayPal or that new company, Dwolla. Calendars are $15. Shipping is free for locals, if we can catch up somewhere; $2.50 domestic for the first, $1.00 each additional; $4.00 overseas for the first, $2.00 each additional. (I'm trying to be fair, but I really don't know the shipping cost yet.)

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

1 I hate using app as a word. I'm sorry I did it.

2 I love the Hipstamatic company. Not only do they make a delicious product (called an app), but they have excellent customer service. They make me proud to be a fan. If you have an iPhone, buy the app. It's 99 cents, for heaven's sake. If you don't, visit Hipstamart for some goodies, like that cool Black Keys t-shirt.

3 Get down to the Red Canoe—or the stores in your 'hood—today for Small Business Saturday. I won't lecture you about how you should be supporting the independent booksellers every day, but you should remember that the extra money you spend not getting a deal on that book goes directly back into your pocket by giving you a better quality of life and steady property values, not to mention a hug or a smile or both from the shop owner.

*The large signature on The Book is from Bob Schneider. The heart with SA + BS was drawn by Steve Almond, author and fellow fan of both Bob and BS. I can only hope the inscription below, "Lets here it for," is followed by "good grammer" and is meant as a joke. Truth be told, I'm afraid to look.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

canned applause

It's no surprise that boost is an anagram of boots. Every time I wear the Frida Kahlo boots, bought last winter during a period of mourning, I get a lift. I feel important.

I had a Coat with the same effect (cato?). Though I bought it at C-Mart, you’d never have known; it was made of the most voluptuous cherry-red fur, lined in satin, trimmed with shiny cerise buttons. The label said Saks. The collar stood at attention, and so did everyone I met while wearing The Coat. It kept me warm during Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, where a friend and I upgraded our own seats to Bill Bradley’s section—demurely giggling behind our fingertips and plopping down behind Kim Bassinger and Alec Baldwin, Kathleen Turner, and Jack Nicholson. Photographers cruised the aisles making note of the noteworthy, stopping, always, before me with a certain look that said, “I can’t make you out, but that Coat! You must be someone!”

I was a cherry dot in a Time Magazine centerfold.

Looking important goes a long way toward feeling important. People say if you fake a smile when you're but a pimple on the ass of knowledge, you’ll eventually feel sunny. So it is with The Boots.

I wore them yesterday. I already wore an air of importance; after all, I'd been asked to be on a panel of food writer1 at a conference where Steve Almond was the keynote speaker. When I arrived, a woman held the door for me and referenced The Boots in a loving manner. “I wore them,” I told her, “so that people would compliment me all day long.”

And they did. Everyone—men, women, gods—bowed before my fancy footwear. After the conference, The Boots drove me to the mall and clopped the entire length of the fourth floor, from Crate & Barrel to Nordstrom. People stopped their conversations to gawk. Jaws dropped. Eyes followed The Boots to their vanishing point. I could feel the pull of longing from every young girl in low rise jeans and pierced navel, every old biddy in warmup suit.

The night before the conference, my daughter, husband, and I saw guitar miracle Joe Bonamassa. During the show, Serena had to pee. She'd held it in as long as she could, and, frankly, so had I, but I needed to make her feel responsible for our missing a Bonamassa feat. While we were washing our hands, I explained my rule of audience departure and return: we must head down the aisle between songs. First, it's rude to walk out in the middle of a song. It's like saying, "Sorry, Joe; that tune's piss poor, and I'm piss rich."

But the real reason is this: as you waltz back to your seat, you can pretend all those cheers are for you.

At the Writers' Conference yesterday, I caught up with my old pal Rick Peabody, editor of Gargoyle. A friend once gave him a box of applause. Every so often, he opens the lid and takes a bow.

Few of us ever get to experience the thunder of a thousand cheers. Rock stars. Ball players. The pope. Most of us, if we get any kind of applause at all, get a golf clap. A thank-you clap. Polite hands of mild gratitude. I don't know that I could handle it anyway. I imagine it's like seeing God after a lifetime of disbelief.

I would cry, maybe vomit, and then I'd stop breathing.





1Almost: Henry Hong got locked out and arrived fifteen minutes late.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

you're the tops

Topping my list of writing devices is The List. Lists are bare-bones instructions, yet they are also the meat. They are written with an affectionate detachment. They mean everything—and nothing. They are shallow, yet they come from deep within your soul.

In my favorite books are lists of kinds of apples and kinds of orchids, and there is poetry in the arrangement. You keep reading because it sounds like music. My favorite list appears in my number two favorite song of all time:
a bag of dead kittens and mufflers and engines
an army of rats and Colt 45
bottles and tires and shipwrecks and trashcans
a porcelain Jesus, your old Christmas trees

—"It's Only Money, Tyrone," by Marah

I recently donated fifty bucks to WTMD. I try to do it every year, even though the radio doesn’t turn me on much. But this year, I tuned in during the station’s fund drive—and its Top 500 Songs of All Time countdown. I gave because I wanted to belong to the club that voted for the Buzzcocks (“Ever Fallen In Love,” #195), even though I’d have to belong to the club that voted for “Free Bird,” too.

But nostalgia is a powerful love maker. There’s a familiarity and warmth that has you singing along with #149, smiling—if you’re of a certain age, of course. The age of our collective consciousness changes the game. It’s why you find songs by Adele and the Black Keys and Mumford and Sons and My Morning Jacket on that list, despite their having zero traction. These songs are someone’s favorites at the moment. How does yesterday’s hit overthrow the song you’ve loved for a whole life? “The Boys are Back in Town,” for instance. “Bennie and the Jets.”

My husband wants to know why we make lists of favorites at all. Who cares but the list maker? We all do! Lists are how you find a compatible mate or friend. Lists remind us who we were, who we have become, and who we still are. They bring back the summer of “Sarah Smile,” when Andrea Palefsky and I fell in love with the same boy on the beach. They remind us of the summer we pretended to love “Kashmir” for a boy—and found we really loved the song but not the boy.

My lists don’t change much. Sometimes my top four films rotate positions, but they are, always, Bladerunner, American Beauty, Lost in Translation, and Fight Club (the newest). Sometimes #5 is Garden State. Sometimes it’s Big Fish. It might even be The Runaways.

Of my top five songs, four did not make it.
5. “Bennie and the Jets,” Elton John
4. “Young Americans,” David Bowie
3. “The Boys are Back in Town,” Thin Lizzy
2. “It’s Only Money, Tyrone,” Marah

My number one song of all time rarely changes. I am, apparently, right.

And while two of my top three musicians did not make the list (to hear him is to love him), the third—the one who makes my monkey dance, the one who put the ram in my rama-lama-ding-dong, was the monkey in the middle, caught at #276.

My friend Kim drove us an hour away to watch him play for only an hour on Saturday night. We talked to him after the show, just as we did the last time—a year ago—and found him, once again, good and kind and interesting. He was also interested. He remembered me and The Book, asked about my recent work.

So—you know. Chuck Prophet "put the bomp in the bomp-shooby-dooby-bomp." He did. He's number one.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

[solutions]

If you're unhappy with Facebook's changes, don't despair. (Or do, but do it quietly, then take action, then share!) Help is usually a search-engine word or two away.

If you're not browsing in Firefox or Chrome, remedy that right away. Chrome users can install Ad Block Plus, so you won't have to see any more ads in your sidebar. And—wait for it—install The Ticker Hider. (Thanks, Dawn.)

Here are the versions for Firefox: Hide Ticker; Ad Block Plus.

It's also helpful to remember that search engines are pretty sophisticated. If you are looking for the name of the plastic thing on the end of a shoelace, you can simply type in: name of the plastic thing on the end of a shoelace. Ask, and ye shall be answered.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

[uproar]

If it’s not mostly quarters, is change just unnecessary weight and an unsatisfying jangle?

We’re used to doing the things we do the way we always do them. We’re efficient—and complacent—that way. Most of us don’t even rearrange our furniture or get an entirely new hairstyle, despite all the evidence that change does our brains and our bodies good. Something as simple as driving a different way every so often can keep our minds from lapsing into forgetfulness, and the muscle confusion that comes from changing workout routines is encouraged by fitness gurus. We can even suffer from a phenomenon known as taste fatigue when we eat the same things all the time. (I rotate my ales regularly.)

But this uproar over the latest round of Facebook changes?

In all these years, all that Facebook stuff—all the networking and friendship and rekindling of old flames and sharing of videos and photos, all the love and support, all the drunken midnight status updating and the PopCap games—is still free. So if you quit in a mostly unnoticed protest over what you may mistakenly believe is yet another invasion of your privacy, understand that you miss more than LOLCATS and vomiting pumpkins and bad grammar.

Here’s the real problem, the real reason you are aggravated. You’ve been on Facebook for more than a year, and you still don’t know how to use it. You have a useful tool in your hands, but it might as well be a weapon. You post but don’t assume responsibility for the things you say, to whom.1 You can’t tell the difference between spam and porn, and your desire for the latter by clicking the former leads to an embarrassing tell. We’ve all made the mistake, but so many of you don’t know what to do about it immediately to make it go away.

Like VCRs, Facebook is not intuitive. You need to read the directions or “take the tour.” But most people don’t want to stop for a few minutes to peek at privacy settings, organize contacts, disable applications. You actually do have a right to complain about the president if you don’t vote. But how can you complain that the posts you make available to all your friends suddenly show up on a feed where all your friends can see it? Especially since the first time you complained about Facebook’s changes, it was because you didn’t see enough of your friends’ updates?!

One of the first privacy-related things I did when I joined Facebook was put my friends into categories. From day one, from the first friend I got, I started lists of people—NOGLI for people in my neighborhood; Homies for people who live in town; School of Rock kids and School of Rock parents. I have a category called “Anything Goes” populated by folks I know won’t mind my politics, my bawdy sense of humor, my cussing, my issues. When I post things that aren’t appropriate for kids, I exclude them for only those posts. I turn off my wall for people in the category called “People I Don’t Really Know.”

A few weeks ago, a social media expert was talking about the new “lists” feature developed to compete with Google+'s circles. I said, “New? Facebook has always had lists!” He was incredulous. Even the experts don't know how to use the medium!

Some remarkable things have happened to me through Facebook. I sold scarves when I had back surgery, so I could afford an expensive red leather electric recliner. I got a lot of freelance work. I sold photographs. I got people to come out to Serena’s gigs and my poetry readings. I found old friends and made a hundred new ones. I fraternized with rock stars (one of them even made my photo his profile picture today!) and shared sunsets and songs and knowledge and jokes, good and bad, with everyone I know or almost know.

And yes: I share. You could call me an over-sharer, but don’t. I am a nonfiction writer and a poet, with all the eccentricities those titles bring. Plunk me down in a land called Facebook, and I am at home. Responding to me with a “TMI” or an un-friending is like bitching about drunk people in a bar. Some people have a drink or two. Some are the designated drivers. Some get tipsy. And some just need to kill the pain of the shit of their lives. Most of us have been all those people at some time.

Deal with them—with us—compassionately. Even on Facebook.

And quit yer whining about it.



1A few months ago during a political scandal, my husband, a teacher of social studies (which includes politics and current events), stuffed his bike shorts with about twenty pairs of socks, poking fun at Anthony Weiner. It was an effort to make me laugh, something I was doing with less frequency after the lymphoma diagnoses (my dad’s and mine). I posted this photo on my Facebook page—invisible to kids, despite it being harmless—because it was the funniest thing I’d seen in weeks

Though I have but a handful of school affiliates as friends on Facebook, someone reported me to the boss. My guess is it’s someone who doesn’t know how to use Facebook, someone who didn’t realize that I’d had the good sense to restrict the photo’s visibility. I sent them all an email explaining why I had to remove them from my page.

While I do take responsibility for the things I post, I ask my Facebook friends to take responsibility for friendship. If you come across a questionable post, an email or a phone call works much better than being a tattletale.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

a bouquet of words—with a stamp: an open letter to jon stewart

Dear Jon Stewart,

Mock all you want, but Senator Claire McCaskill is right.

While, as the Jewish mother of a 13-year-old girl, I applaud McCaskill's public calling out of her daughters, I defend her today as an advocate for good English and the preservation of delight. Yes, both at the same time.

You can chuckle at that, like you chuckled at McCaskill's idea of a marketing campaign. But sometimes the positive result of money spent is not merely money gained.

When I stopped teaching college English in 2007 to write a book (published by Simon & Schuster in 2009—shameless plug), students were already losing their memories to Google and their spelling and punctuation skills to texting and emailing. I considered it my job, especially as an instructor of "ideas in writing," my course title, to teach students how to get noticed by writing fucking brilliant letters—letters of introduction, of complaint, of thanks, and, most important, of compliment.

People—strangers, even—tell you they love you every day. (By the way, Jon, I love you.) But imagine how wonderful it is for a customer service representative to open a letter—even an email—that says, "You are doing a great job! I love my [Page Nibs from Levenger]! And they were delivered the next day! I don't know how I lived without these little metal miracles. And you. Thank you."

The rep who received a letter similar to that one sent me a reply, saying that the CSRs passed it around the office as a reminder that they do things right sometimes, because all they ever hear are complaints. It made them happy! The owner of the company sent me a copy of his book, signed, as thanks for my thanks!

With well-written letters, I've gotten free Ray Bans and coupons for favorite foods. I've gotten replies from rock stars. Imagine being a fifteen-year-old girl (yeah, go ahead and imagine that!) and exchanging letters with Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen! Or getting a letter in the mail from Patti Smith's bassist, Ivan Kral, or from actress Melissa Leo, or from Jane Siberry—or anyone you admire.

Perhaps even better: imagine getting a card for every holiday, occasion, or mental breakdown you celebrate. (My friend Derek does that.) My friend Lysandra sends me chocolates from Hawaii when I'm feeling down, and Monica sends thoughtful goodies to say she's thinking of me. When I had back surgery, I received cards, letters, and packages from all over the world. I might have died without those letters. They meant more to me than blog replies and emails because people had to make extra effort to get in touch.

Last year, my husband went camping by himself and wrote me and our daughter several letters from Utah. Those letters were bouquets of words, jewels. We anticipated them and went to the mailbox, hopefully1, every day. I wrote about it on my blog, and it inspired others to send letters.

A marketing campaign to encourage people to write more letters is like a marketing campaign to keep people from smoking. It's a public service. Letters—writing them, receiving them—make you healthy. They improve your vocabulary, your attention to detail, your memory, and your appreciation. They slow you down. They teach you how important your words can be and how to choose them wisely. And, unlike an essay you write in high school or college, the outcome is personal. (And you can get free stuff.)

Even if you send the letter as an email, without buying a stamp from the post office, the very act of writing a letter, as opposed to emailing someone, has improved our current state of grammatical affairs.

Letters of thanks and appreciation, annual New Years catch-up letters sent to the whole slue of family and friends, love letters—those are worth the wait. It's too easy when you're angry to pop off a nasty email; Send is commanding and irreversible. But an angry letter? By the time you print it, reread it, address an envelope, and stamp it, you've cooled down. That letter on the counter, waiting to be mailed, could be insignificant by morning. In the end, you get to keep your friend.

That's just a little of what a marketing campaign could do. It can teach us that letters are more than IDK, OMG, and WTF. It can help us regain our thoughtfulness and our intelligence and our beauty. Forget about saving the job of the nasty pink-haired biddy at your neighborhood post office. The mail is not about her. It is in spite of her.

One week after September 11, the anthrax attacks began. People took potholders and oven mitts with them to retrieve the mail. Companies stopped accepting letters, and employees in mail rooms and post offices had to wear protective gear before opening letters. Our refusal to send or receive mail is partially responsible for the post office's collapse; it's another way the terrorists win—and the government continues to erode our freedoms.

Our mailboxes should be shrines—full of thanks and love letters and beautiful magazines and the occasional flyer from the local Chinese joint, all misspelled for laughs. I'd say that bills, jury duty notices, work, and things that require immediate attention should come by email, but what about those who don't have computers or email access? These things are still a luxury for so many Americans. But mail comes to everyone.

So, while this letter, which took nearly an hour to compose on a Sunday morning (even longer to proofread and edit), will appear on my blog (with pictures and links), it will also get a 44-cent stamp and come to you in the mail.

It will also say: Thank you, Jon Stewart, for your common sense and decency and wicked humor and honesty.

With admiration and affection,

Leslie

1 Note the correct use of hopefully.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

beer, luxurious beer: what aleth thee?

The other day, my friend Bruce posted this funny-but-true joke on my wall:

Leslie was drinking a glass of beer while outside with her husband, Marty.
Leslie said, “I love you so much! I don’t know how I could ever live without you.”
Marty asked, “Is that you or the beer talking?”
Leslie replied, “It’s me—talking to the beer, of course.”

So when The Daily Post asked for the one luxury I refuse to live without, the hops that spring eternal sprang to mind.

But my whole life is luxurious. I have not just one computer, but three—a big Mac and two Macbook Pros (one is a work issue). I have an iPhone, a bunch of TVs, appliances. I have window air conditioners, a green-emissions SUV, and don’t get me started on the guitars. Guitars for backpacking and sitting in the kitchen and plugging in and turning up loud.

Gabi thinks our technologies aren’t luxuries—to us. She says we all have those, so we should keep that in perspective. After all, she doesn’t indulge in other luxuries: cars, dinners in restaurants, meat.

But where I live, technology is still a luxury. The buses are crowded with people who don’t drive because they can’t afford cars, and people are robbed for their cell phones. In fact, being a vegetarian—getting to eschew readily available foods in preference for others—is one of the greatest luxuries of all.

When my husband worked as a GED teacher at a school for at-risk youth (a misnomer; they’d already lost), we both saw a good deal of poverty. We lived in a raggedy rowhouse then and were pretty poor ourselves. But not by comparison.

I recognize that now. My whole life is luxurious. A nightly bath in a tub of clean water in a semi-clean bathroom is decadent. A piece of chocolate is heavenly. My job, my paprika-orange ride. But the one thing, the only thing (not person, not animal family) that makes coping with the other shit of life worthwhile, to me, is some bitter, sharp, tasty, hoppy, hopeful ale—preferably Resurrection or Dead Guy or Flying Dog variety. It’s my coping mechanism. It’s my go-to gulp, my heart mender, my mind bender. Even when I was making nothing, I was drinking something amazing.

And while I recognize that nearly everything in my life—from my cracked tile floor and leaking toilets to my pot of chili on the stove and two well-fed dogs—is luxurious, I don’t apologize for having any of it.

Instead, I share.



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Challenging June

On June 2, I had nine biopsies of some enlarged lymph nodes in my mesentery (that's the "double layer of peritoneum that suspends the jejunum and ileum from the posterior wall of the abdomen," which, I'm certain, gives you a clear picture). I don't think my jejunum and ileum are in danger, but my peritoneum was less lucky. I have lymphoma.

I have lymphoma. I have lymphoma. Lymphoma. Lymmmmm-phoooooo-muhhhhhhh. I say that over and over again. It's low-grade, B-cell lymphoma, which means that it originates in the bone and will grow slowly, and I'll go into remission, but it won't die. It probably won't kill me, either. Yet when I say lymphoma, it still sounds like cancer.

Cancer should be a beautiful thing. It rhymes with Dancer and Prancer—happy reindeer. It rhymes with romancer. My dog, Chancer. And though it also rhymes with answer, I have nothing but questions.

When I was first diagnosed, I did not look on the Internet for information except for the one time I saw that the median survival was ten to fifteen years. I've spoken about it on Facebook. I mention it in conversation. I use it, sometimes, to explain my tears over simple things like getting an IV stick before a colonoscopy. And everywhere I say it, someone tells me his uncle or her grandmother—or, as in the case of the nurse nervously spilling my blood in her second attempt at an IV stick, her daughter—has lymphoma, and he/she has never been treated or is ninety-five or is in remission or is under the care of my own doctor.

Today, I am awaiting the results of my endoscopy/colonoscopy biopsies. Next week, I will have my bone marrow tested. Because I have a stomachache, I will need some sort of treatment, most likely with an antigen—a four-hour weekly infusion. It is not supposed to have side effects, according to my doctor, but it does. (He also says the bone marrow test doesn't hurt, but having Novocaine injected on either side of your spine, then more into your bones, then having the marrow extracted is likely more unpleasant than most things I can think of. So I try not to think of it.)

I am grateful to have had some good care at Good Samaritan Hospital, where I went not for the primary symptom of a stomachache but for a prescription for Nitroglycerine, in case I ever get another episode of the family curse: a spastic esophagus. Before I was to leave the hospital that day in March, the doctor examined me and feared I had appendicitis. I was in tears because I was just about to take my daughter to see Bob Schneider in concert for her first time. The results—nothing wrong in my organs but enlarged lymph nodes that would need to be rescanned in six weeks—weren't particularly scary. Food poisoning or a virus seemed reasonable; lymphoma did not. Nearly all of these discoveries of lymphoma (lymmmm-phooooo-muhhhhhh, lymphoma, cancer) are accidental.

I am also grateful to Dr. Marc Gertner for taking such excellent care of me, for leading me to believe I have a good attitude, for treating me like he would a person he cares about. And to my family for their kindness and patience and money (insurance is denying everything, naturally). And a special thank you to my friends for thinking of me, checking up on me, for letting me cry and vent and be selfish. Thanks for all the cards and messages and homemade foods and offers of financial aid in the form of rock benefits and all the other niceties that somehow seem to rain down on me when I need them most.

But I am uncomfortable needing them. That has made this month even more of a challenge—as have a new car payment and job interviews. Still, I'm plugging away, getting my work done, writing for Baltimore Fishbowl, watching my daughter's musical talent explode. Songs, new and old, are still being sung. Photographs are still being taken. The beer is still being drunk. This life is still being lived.





*That's my girl on drums!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I brake for crying.

Last time I wrote, I'd taken Jett to the vet. I took her today, too, to get her second Lyme vaccination and meet Dr. Andrew. (He adopted one of Cleo's pups, so we are a favorite family.) He was pretty pleased with everything about her. You could feel all the instant, genuine love for our new dog, and that's why I've never changed vets in all these years.

On the drive over, I feel a little down. I'm in a brand new car I can't afford, I have a job interview tomorrow, and I am scheduled for a possible biopsy on Thursday. So much potential change in life, so much unknown, and a big extra expense. I'm sulking a bit, listing the things I have to do today and the amount of money it will cost—tag return ($4), duplicate title ($50), groceries ($70), vet $44).

A pickup truck is stopped at a light in front of me, and I notice a whole lot of white type on the back window. It reminds me of the sticker with the boy peeing; I see that on lots of trucks like this. So I assume it's humor. The first line is kind of touching: "I'm looking for someone special." The last line, I see, is a phone number, and I think: this is an odd way to find a wife!

The light changes, and we move, and I find myself trying to read the funny sticker. It's long—about seven lines—and I think I'm seeing words like "lonely" and "love" and "life." In fact, I'm sure this person is asking for someone to "save his life." Now it's a preoccupation. I have to read that sticker. Finally, we stop again, and I see one of the lower lines, which says something like, "I know it's a lot to ask, but it's my husband."

The driver wasn't looking for love in all the strange places. She was looking for a kidney to save her husband's life.

No matter how bad it sometimes is, it's hardly ever that bad.

Monday, May 16, 2011

flotsam and jett-some

It's probably normal for people to give their pets nicknames in ways they wouldn't think to name their friends1—unless they're the guy making the copies. Marty's and my first dog, Beowulf King o' the Geats Miller, became The Wulfman; Wulf McMannus, Attorney at Dog; Woof; and Dogfaceboy. Cleopatra was Queen of Denial, Cleo-yo, Cleedle Dee, and Ledo, after Serena's baby name for her. Their baby, Buddha, was Boo-Boo and Boo Didley. And Chance has a few of his own: Chancey Gardener, Chancery Cursive, and, especially at Christmas, Chancer Dancer Prancer Vixen. (Yes, he answers to each of them, and so did our other dogs.)

Enter Jett. In her month with us, she's become Jetty, Jettster, Jett Ski, Jettison (the Medicine), and, sadly, Jettitals. And, sadly, she answers to none of her names and to no one.

After she backed out of her collar at the park two weeks ago, I've been cautious on our walks. I've had a recurring dream that Jett runs out the front door and into traffic, that a neighbor refuses to grab her when he can and instead reprimands me for not having trained my dog. "She's new! She's new!" I yell to him, crying. "She's just new!" It stresses me out to know that if she leaves, she might be gone forever.

I've always been a conscientious pet owner, especially when it comes to training. I don't like my dogs to bark outside, so I make them stop after they've gotten me the message that the neighbor is tending her garden. I don't allow jumping on people, so I make them stop a little louder. We're all consistent—and on the same page in the dog-training manual. We don't hit, we sometimes treat, and we use the dog's name for commands but not for reprimands.

Jett's education has been slow. She came to us from three months in a crate and had the kind of energy that said she worried she'd be put back in one at any moment. She was trained to do nothing (except pee and poop outside—an important thing, yes). Within a week of my care, she could sit and give a paw (even give the "other paw" when asked). Last week, she still wouldn't come inside when we opened the door and would often run away when we reached for her. It sometimes took twenty minutes to catch her! But she's learning to trust us, so she comes in half the time.

Lady Jetterly's Lover, as I sometimes call her, has not yet stolen my heart; it took awhile to get used to Chance and Cleo, too, as they were not babies with us. I can tell, with every full night of sleep and every Frisbee she catches, that she's going to be one hell of a dog.

This morning, the vet gave Jett two thumbs up and a Lyme disease shot. He was much happier to see her than she was to see him. She started shaking on the drive over and continued to shiver during the visit, like most of my dogs, despite how much fun we try to make it. Yea! A ride! Woo hoo! While we were in the office, she refused to exhibit any kind of wild behavior. So of course the vet was incredulous when I told him of her mad romping in pine tar and mud and dirt, her noisy play growling and mouthiness, the maniacal facial expressions when taunting us with our own shoes and socks, the nipping and yipping and jumping. When they commended me on how well I'd trained her, I was incredulous!

I paid my bill (a whopping forty dollars) and overheard an older woman who had come in. She told the receptionist that she was bringing a dog to be put to sleep and wanted to pay in advance. My heart sank. It was like someone was picking at the fresh scab of grief. I took Jett to the car and opened the hatch. A man my age was in the parking lot waiting, near the grass, for his dog; that's the usual pre-visit pit stop area. We stepped back, and Jett took a running leap into the truck, where I gave her a kiss and closed the door.

I looked back and saw the man's beautiful big dog on a leash. I am the dog yeller, so I called, "Hi, pretty doggy! What a sweetie pie!" and then I saw the woman from inside. They were together. She took the leash from the man and walked the dog slowly toward the door. "She's old," the lady said. "I know," I replied. And then I was full-on sobbing. "I'm sorry," I said to her, choking on tears. She thanked me, and it was ten minutes before I could see clearly enough to drive away.

It never gets easier to lose a loved one. In spite of that, it never gets any harder to love.


- - - - - - - - - -

1With one exception: I have ten friends named Kim on my Facebook. I see or speak with five of them several times a week and have taken to combining their first name and last syllable. E.G. Kim Carlin is Kimlin; Kim Stanbro is Kimbro; Kim Webster is Kimster; Kim Hosey is Kimsey; and Kim Myslinski is Kimski.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

letter to my daughter

"A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on. " Carl Sandburg

On weekend mornings, I make coffee and sit at my desk for a leisurely perusal of news and facebook.  Inevitably, a post will catch my eye, and I'll write some long-winded-but-well-thought-out response to someone's throwaway comment that I might not have noticed later in the day.  This morning, the post I took on belonged to my daughter.  She'd listed ten things she thought would make the world end in 2012:
  1. Rebecca Black
  2. Walmart
  3. Lady Gaga
  4. Country Singers
  5. Autotune
  6. Desperate Housewives
  7. The iPad
  8. Ugg Boots
  9. Nicki Minaj
  10. Vin Diesel

We could argue with the merits of the list, but I'm sure my daughter doesn't believe the world will end or that Vin Diesel will be the cause of it.  Frankly, if it does end, all those things will have contributed, just like taking one's first breath contributes to the taking of the last.  But a facebook post doesn't call for that sort of existential philosophy. 

As you can imagine, a provocative opinion (especially on a place like facebook, especially when one's friends are users of the items in said opinion) causes some to take umbrage.  Is it necessary to hate on Gaga?  Whoa, Watch the Nicki Minaj stuff!  Come on—what's wrong with Walmart?

My kid has a good mind, and I'm sure she can articulate why these items and people could contribute to the end of the world—or at least the downfall of Western Civilization.  But something she said struck me because it's something I expect from other facebook users, not my daughter.  "I copied these things from my best friend's status—that doesn't necessarily mean I believe they're all bad."

Whoa.

So I'm copying my letter to her right here.  It's my letter to you, too, and to your kids.  The funny thing is that I don't feel unqualified to give the advice, even though I don't exactly fit the measure of success in this world.  My house is so small that when the six band members come upstairs from the basement, I feel like I will explode.  Yesterday, I spent $60 I didn't have on dinner and a museum admission, and I'm feeling panicky this morning.  I have two inches of roots that I can't afford to make match to the rest of my hair.  My weight loss breaks for Berger's cookies.  And my eleven-year-old SUV is rust held together with bird shit.

Still, I make things with my hands, my heart, and my brain.  I am fulfilled by my experiences.  I try new things, eat delicious foods, go interesting places.  I don't have the added stress of a job I loathe and a boss I hate or clients who treat me like a slave.  I'm surrounded by beauty and by friends who make me laugh and animals that lick my face.  And I suppose this is why.

- - - - - - - -

Here are some worthwhile tips about life.
 

  1. Never JUST copy anything. Always make it your own. Look at Ted Brodysseus Merrill.  He can play like the record, but he plays the song with his hair, too, and in pink clothing. Or like Brett Diamond, who plays leads by deadening notes on the neck.
     
  2. If you don't like something, be open to changing your mind. I'm open to changing my mind about Nikki Minaj and Lady Gaga. Hasn't happened yet, but I'm open to it.
     
  3. Don't let anyone bully you into changing your mind. See their point that yes, Gaga sings and plays well, but no, she's not your (or my) cup of tea. (Or, thankfully, soy latte. Blech.)
     
  4. Spend your dollars at the places you think best represent your interests (i.e. not Walmart). Spend more to buy in your neighborhood, so stores stay open, and your house stays valuable. Doing so amounts to more dollars in your pocket eventually, when store owners tell others what a good person you are and help you get gigs and work, not where you are just an invisible nit not worthy of a clean restroom.
     
  5. Never wear Ugg boots. You'll find plenty of cool boots that don't look like anyone else's hideous (Ugg--short for uggggggly) footwear. (See my beautiful turquoise cowboy boots with Frida Kahlo hearts on them, for example.)
     
  6. The iPad is stupid, but it won't make the world end. Windows-based programs will do that.
     
  7. Finally, while it's cool to dis Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black (and Ke$ha and Taylor $wift and all those mediocre-to-lousy YouTube stars), fight the genre by being the best you can be, practicing regularly, being prepared, and enjoying the hell out of all you do—whether it's saxophone, drums, guitar, vocals, writing, drawing, reading, school.

Stop the world from ending by being the reason for it to go on. I know you are mine.

Love,

The Crazy-Ass Bitch Who Buys You Shit and Cooks You Stuff and Drives Your Ass All Over Town


P.S. Country singers are STILL writing the best songs. Ignoring that fact will be of no help where numbers 1 and 7 are concerned. 


- - - - -

photos of a few things I love, top to bottom: new puppy, Jett; three of my Kims; Ted Merrill's awesome guitarring; Serena, the reason.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

the new no?


I have applied for jobs randomly over the past few years, but a few months ago, I answered an ad for a position that seemed a perfect fit for me.  Within a day, I’d scheduled a telephone interview. 

This job was different from any other I’d seen in that I actually wanted it.  The talk went well: I’d read up on the company, so I was able to ask some good questions.  When I hung up the phone, I was actually excited and thought I had a pretty good shot at doing communications—writing, video, photography—for a rabble-rousing organization. (Perfect, right?)

I followed up with a thank-you email to the interviewer and reiterated that the position sounded perfect.  After two weeks, I sent another note letting him know that I was still excited and was hoping to hear from him about setting up an in-person interview.  Still nothing.  Another two weeks passed, and I wrote again, this time just to ask if he would please reply regardless of whether I was still being considered.

Nothing.

“Silence,” says my friend Ira Kessler, “is the new no.”

Why replace it?  No is delightful closure, as final as the last period in a book!  It doesn’t dash hopes but instead extinguishes the burning fires of desire.  No can be appropriately terse or delightfully polite.  It can be firm and direct.  It can be nope or nah or nuh-uh, for the ultra hip and casual. 

No can come with excuses to soothe the sting: it’s not you, it’s me.  No can acknowledge the pain of loss without implying fault: I’m sorry to inform you…

Best of all, no is fast.  No.  One point two-five seconds.  Add a sorry; there’s still time.  But how about this: Dear Ms. Miller, I have filled the position.  Thank you for your interest.  Thirteen seconds, including a typing correction.  Press reply, and Bob’s yer uncle.

My third email to that guy was going to be a bridge burner, asking him whether silence was, indeed, the new no, admonishing him for not being considerate.  But my mother, my regular proofreader and compass of right and wrong, told me to reconsider.  What if the person he went with doesn’t work out? 

Like the two people who had already held this position before he began his search again?   I bet he told them no. 

It might sound as though I haven’t let this go.  I have, but it's a fine example of how advances in communication technologies lead to lapses of etiquette.  I need the no—or, at the very least, the acknowledgment that my paragraphs have reached their intended target.  How do I know that my emails to him—or the people at the stained glass store, to whom I have sent four unanswered emails since March 10; or the several people to whom I’ve submitted résumés; or the countless others from whom I’ve requested information, quotes, prices, etc.—were not caught in some virtual ethereal web of tangled ethereal virtualness?  They are not the kind of messages that one would expect to remain unanswered

It’s not like I’m asking someone to make a poster for my missing cat.  And if I did, nothing is not better than noNo is still perfect.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

thirty-year-itch sonnet

My husband's and my love affair began in November of 1981 or 2—I've forgotten, but does a year really matter when we're talking about a relationship that has spanned about three decades? 

We're still together, though it's been a far-from-perfect thirty years.  And some weeks are more difficult than others.  Is it possible, at this late stage in our lives together, to reverse the trend?  So many people around us can't and don't. I doubt it will happen if my husband continues to wake me at 6:30 a.m. with his acoustic rendition of "Crazy on You" booming through the floor beneath my bed, though I must admit I do dig it when I'm fully awake.  So I have faith.

It's been said that money is the number one cause of fights between couples—even in this relationship, where lack of money was never a surprise.  The one thousand or so of you who've read The Book know that when I met Marty, he was quite content looking like, and earning the income of, a bag man—and even told me once that his goal was to impregnate one beautiful woman in every country in the world to create the "international family of peace."  I know he loves me because he stopped after the first one.

Now that I've gone through menopause (I'm not old, I'm early; it's genetic), I'm even more convinced I need a wad of cash, if not for the repairs of the pesky and irritating flaws of my home—the spatter-warped cabinets and cracked kitchen floor tiles, the rotten bathroom floor, the absent hot tub—then to fix my drooping eyelids and pay the personal trainer to work off these extra fifteen Facebook-exacerbated menopause pounds.  But we're both financially underemployed.  I don't want anything frivolous—not stuff like a new guitar or camera, though, privately, I dream.  

The sonnet I just wrote (only the second in my life, the first about eating the contents of an ashtray, which was the basis for a song I performed with my band in the eighties) captures what it's like when two people choke each other out with alternating arguments and silence.  There's no blame; if one has mood swings and flab, the other has unkempt hair and makes chewing noises.

I couldn't have written this poem—well, wouldn't have—without the help of a few of my Facebook friends.  For the past year, I've been requesting random words in my status updates.  Those who feel like it submit a word, and when I think I have enough, I write a poem using one of the supplied words in each line.  They take at least a week to write.  Much of the time, they've been good poems—surprisingly good—so I'm saving them for a book, rather than publishing them here.  But yesterday, I asked for seven pairs of rhyming words for a sonnet.  This is the poem that emerged.

It is no more autobiographical than any other poem I have written.  That is: there's a mix of true for me and true for you. Poems take liberties.  They are life stories, but they do not concern themselves with facts.  And they are only a single moment, not thirty years.  We can tolerate five minutes of crack-of-dawn "Crazy on You" because of years of good times, good smells, and good tunes.





thirty-year itch

I hear unspoken words in every sigh
and in your heavy footsteps on the floor
I hear the truth you never tell.  The lie
instead is uttered while the rotten core
infects the flesh—where once was love is pain.
we’re ugly like the belching of a trumpet
prisoners of notes that make it strain,
exploding on the other notes that bump it,
cacophonous like falling silverware.
together, honey, both our names are mud.
though some might say we have this savoir flair,
I can promise this: there will be blood.
If we’re to stay together through this jinx,
I'll need a couple carats and some minks.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

old yeller


My name is Leslie, and I yell.   (Please don’t call me a yellaholic; I prefer ale to yellahol.)  If there were a club, a deity-free 12-step program, a debriefing, a detoxification, a reprogramming, I’d be in.

I don’t need anger management.  I’m not particularly angry (though perpetual pain does make me snappish); I’m frustrated.  Most of the time, I yell to get people to listen, to recognize that I’ve asked three times nicely already.  CLEAN YOUR ROOM! I AM SICK OF YOUR PILE OF CLOTHES!  Or I yell to stress to them that I really did tell them last week we were going to dinner at Beth's.  I TOLD YOU LAST WEEK WE WERE GOING TO DINNER AT BETH’S!

Sometimes I yell at the dog after I step on him.  I yell at the TV when the news is on.  I yell at people to get out of the kitchen, to stop using my computer, to PUT MY FUCKING CAPO BACK ON MY GUITAR WHERE IT BELONGS. 

Yelling is more love than hate. It is more caring than not caring.

Sometimes the yelling is the reaction of a control freak trying to control areas that she can’t control (people) because she’s unsuccessful at controlling what she can control (pizza).  Today I yelled at an acquaintance.  Instead of being the trainer barking obedience into a dog, which is the way it’s supposed to work, it backfired, and the dog ran away, which is the way it sometimes goes.  Because this was a person, not a dog. 

I could blame it on my family.  I was raised by a pair of yellers.  My first words were yelled.  When my sister was about to be born, my parents drove me to my grandmother’s house.  I fell off the back seat when we went over a bump, and I yelled, “OH, SHIT!”  I was four.  The old familiar familial yelling bothered me when I was little, but I couldn’t beat them, so I joined, yelling at my sister, my parents, our dogs and cats.  I moved out when I was seventeen, and, though I yelled a little less with the help of mellowing agents, I yelled more because of my punk rock band.

Yelling is an exorcism of sorts.  GODDAMMITRASSUMFRASSUM  is usually followed with Hi.  I don’t yell to hurt anyone’s feelings.  In fact, I hate that about yelling.  But I yell if you’ve hurt mine. 

I don’t mean to excuse it.  I just want to explain it. I often resolve to stop it.  But I don't know how.

I tried to quit yelling once a few years ago.  My therapist (he retired, or I’d be on the phone with him right now instead of talking to you) told me that every time I yelled, I had to do some housework I disliked.  I chose to wash the filthy kitchen floor.   For two weeks, I had the cleanest fucking floor in Baltimore.  Sometimes I would yell with the wet mop in my hand.  And soon, like the skinny bitch I put on the refrigerator to remind me not to eat the pizza, the mop became invisible. 

My name is Leslie.  I yell, and my floors are dirty.

missing

I've temporarily disabled my Facebook account.  Could be a day, could be a week.  Place your bets here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

beer googles

Beer and cake are the most heavenly foods on earth. How do I reconcile my worship of a bitter, carbonated nectar with my equal rapture in the presence of the sweet, dense manna? Hell is having to choose between them.

But I can choose, and I choose beer. Nearly every day. But beer has a stigma: it's undignified, manly, aggressive, unlike its more refined counterpart, wine. It's associated with frat parties and thick-necked guys and redneck softball teams, where the outfielder has a cigarette in one hand and a can of Natty Boh by his feet. Tell someone you drink a glass of wine every night with dinner, and she'll tell you how healthy it is. Now tell her you drink a beer every day at 4:00, and she'll think you're an alcoholic. Even though beer is good for you, but soda is not, beer still loses; no one thinks you're a drunk if you have a can of Coke with lunch.

You should know that when I talk about beer, I don't really mean beer; beer is, typically, lager—that piss-water-colored stuff that tastes nasty. I always mean ale. I like hoppy, bitter, light brown beers—no food-thick stouts with weird additives like chocolate. Give me some Flying Dog Doggie Style or some Harpoon IPA or some Rogue Dead Guy (perfect for Good Friday) or the holy grail of ales, The Brewer's Art's Resurrection (perfect for Easter Sunday).

I'd be lying if I said I didn't like the alcohol in beer. Coffee tastes delicious, but most of the people I know drink it for the flavor and the caffeine. Look, in a world that's as fucked up as ours, we need all the legal drugs we can get. Back when I suffered from insomnia, my therapist told me I should live like a starlet—popping uppers for breakfast and downers for dinner. And I do. Did.

On Monday, I took a beer-drinking hiatus, at least during the week, so of course I can think of nothing but beer. I quit because it's obvious I have a problem. That's right: I can't fit into my fat jeans. My problem isn't an alcohol addiction. If I had to pick from among Budweiser, Miller, Coors, or even Yuengling, I would abstain. If all you had was wine, I'd chew gum.(Possible exception: Riesling. Hey—I was raised on Maneschewitz, which spoiled me for Merlot.) Don't even mention diet beers. Blech.

Last night, my husband cracked open a Resurrection. Curses! I went upstairs and got in bed to wait for The Good Wife. The defendant had a drinking problem, and there was a picture of him with a beer in his hand. Last night I dreamt I was cooking eggs for breakfast—while drinking a beer. This morning, I found a pair of Flying Dog caps in the silverware drawer. I am Flying Dogfaceboy.

It's going to take the patience of Saul and the faith of Job to get to Friday with two six packs of Resurrection in the fridge. I like beer. A lot. But there's something I want a little more.

I want to fit in those white dragon pants.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I made this.

The first time I saw the press-kit photo of Jimmy Page on the wall of the School of Rock, I was in love. Not with Jimmy, though his sloppy, many-layered solos and his squinty eyes are timeless and sexy. With the suit, the suit of dragons and poppies. It's not a suit just any man can pull off, especially without good reason.

But a girl? A girl could wear the hell out of that suit! So when Serena signed up for the School of Rock's Tribute to Led Zeppelin, I knew what had to be done—and, true to form, I waited until the last minute to get on it. Last Saturday, with a week to go, I dragged a friend to some thrift shops in search of white pants and a white jacket, and when I blew ten bucks on three pairs of too-tight white jeans, I dragged my kid with me to the Belair Road Goodwill. I hit the jackpot.

In case you want to know the details so you can try this at home (and you can!), I did a Google search for "dragon" and "dragon art" and "dragon clip art" and "dragon suit" "jimmy hendrix." I didn't find a single beast I liked, so I combined the perfect clip-art dragon head with the body of some guy's back tattoo, using a cut-out filter to turn the photo into art. When I liked the results, I printed the dragon out (it took four transfers—it's about 26" long) three times, and ironed it on the clothing. I did the same thing with some clip-art poppies. Then I painted over everything with fabric paint, slopping some glitter-filled house paint on the dragon scales.

Every day, my daughter walks by the pants hanging on the door of the armoire in the living room, and she says, "Those are some fucking awesome pants."

Hey, I make some good stuff. My kid is the best of the best stuff I make.

Serena—and her suit—are on about a third of the songs at this weekend's School of Rock tribute to Led Zeppelin (4:00 Saturday, 1:00 Sunday at the Recher; $10). If you are in the area (and not watching the playoffs), come watch these amazing teenage musicians show off the chops they've been polishing since September, and throw yourself right back to 1975, at the Capital Centre. If I'd been born yet, I'd have gone with Andrea Palefsky.

I heard Page didn't wear The Suit that night. We've got that show beat.