Sunday, February 19, 2012

collective voices

In the mornings at Baltimore School for the Arts, all the music students (150? 200?) gather in one of the recital rooms and sing. When my daughter shadowed there, this morning exercise was the standout part of the day. Though the word is overused, awesome describes the power of so many voices, whether in unison or in delicious harmony.

The collective voice is why I put it out there.

Not all of it, mind you. But I believe that you don’t get what you want by blowing a dandelion clock toward the heavens. (And you don’t get anything you’d be proud of by blowing someone behind the shed.)

So when I want—or need—something, I just say it. A lot. That covers anything from broken plates to words for a poem to collective prayers. And I believe a collective prayer is as tangible a thing as the broken dishes that compose my mosaics and the words that compose my poems. It’s why when my dad is in the hospital and not getting better, like now, I tell the universe.

My universe comprises, at least, 672 Facebook friends. It’s not a lot of people by any measure (a close friend of mine who is on top of every trend decades before anyone else has 3,406 friends). But I know almost all of them. And I make an effort to engage them in some kind of meaningful discussion or to puff up some small talk and make it personal; you won’t find a mere “happy birthday” from me on your special day.

It’s deliberate, but it’s not calculating. I engage people I like and respect, and my reward is another beautiful voice in the chorus of people pulling for me to get my book published, my dad to get well, my husband to keep playing guitar, my daughter to grow with poise and grace, and my best dogs to go in peace.

I don’t believe in a capital-g god, but I do believe in synchronicity (and most of the Police’s body of work—worth a listen if they’ve been long neglected by you). Sometimes you get messages from the darnedest places: your iPod on shuffle—in a Police song, in an email from a long lost friend, in a dream, in the sound the wind makes when you leave your window down a crack. I listen to these.

Maybe this is an apology to the people who think I over-share. If it’s a sign of strength and independence to ignore what others think, it’s a sign of stubbornness and arrogance, too. We should be respectful of others’ opinions, and our minds should be open enough that we can change them when we have new information. We should be changing every day. You never step in the same stream twice.

But there’s a solution to the annoying over-sharer that doesn’t include unfriending (or defacing, as some call it). Because I have already learned that asking for what I want brings favorable results most of the time. Putting it out there brings sandwiches to my dad in the hospital. It brings my family hot meals after my back surgery. It brings me poetry. And, best of all, it brings a chorus of hope and love and strength, and I can feel it—even without 100 likes and 58 comments.

Last week was the much-anticipated, sleepless high-school acceptance week. I wanted my daughter to be accepted to Baltimore School for the Arts. I know she will thrive there, because I know how driven and how focused she is. I remember being at Goucher and hearing the grad students in my program read. I thought: They are all so good! They can’t have made the one mistake with me! I want her to feel that kind of self-respect. So I share the things about my daughter that amaze me, and I say out loud every day that she is a prize. I tell any of the 672 friends on Facebook who are listening so they can charge the air.

Do I believe that all those voices had a part in my daughter’s acceptance (one of 125 out of 1,200+ applicants)? Her talent and brilliance clinched it. But yes! Those voices found a way to imbue her performance with a little bit of magic.

And when those judges drove home from work, they cracked their windows, and the wind said, “Serena.”

Thursday, February 9, 2012

(there's no such thing as shameless) self-promotion

I can flirt with the best of them. I can make lewd comments, behave boldly, brashly, wear low-cut shirts, talk trash, cuss like a sailor, pinch a friend’s ass, and take seductive fat-girl photos. But I can’t toot—blow—my own horn.

Back when The Book was being published, people would ask me about it, and I’d do the pshaw wave. (It’s the opposite of the Queen of England’s wave; it says not hello or goodbye but getthefuckouttahere.)

I didn't know I was supposed to be promoting it; I thought that was the publisher’s job. For a month—and, to my surprise, only a month—they scheduled me to appear in magazines and newspapers and cool online sites. I spoke on radio—“A Chef’s Table” (syndicated NPR) and several Satellite radio stations. Nah, let’s talk about you, I wanted to say. What are you doing these days? That’s more interesting to me, even if it’s less funny.

Self-promotion skeeves me out. I don’t like to brag or boast unless it’s about my daughter, and then I can be relentless. But it’s unseemly to promote yourself. Tacky. Fugly.

I often sign up for those marketing-tip emails from fierce bloggers and self-promoters, thinking it’ll give me a kick in the pants about just doing what has to be done to survive as an artist, to reclaim my envied position at the desk in my dining room. But I hate those people. They sound smarmy and loud. I read their first two emails with the voice of Billy Mays or Aussie crocodile wrestler, Steve Irwin. (Ironic: they're both dead.) And I wind up deleting all the rest of them unread. I can’t bring myself to send the “remove me” message. It’s like quitting.

Self-promotion has been a sore spot with me where a friend is concerned. He does it; I don’t like it. I had another friend—used to shake your hand with a business card in it, like it was a plastic baggie full of crack. Butt crack is more like it.

I’m not saying I don’t want attention and admiration and overwhelming envy from you. I will flash you a poem or a song, usually with cleavage to make it more palatable, usually on a Saturday, when I think no one’s looking, and I will whack you over the head with a photograph or 20. But they’re usually not accompanied by: “And I am selling these photographs for money. Hit me up for deets!”

Sure, I post links to my blog from Facebook and Twitter and Flickr; those email marketers have taught me well (in their first two emails). But I usually follow them with a links to things more amazing, like Chuck Prophet's new CD, Temple Beautiful. (He was just on "Fresh Air"!)

Do I lack confidence? Am I shy? No way! I am fucking awesome. I’m just uncomfortable asking you to prove our friendship is important by shelling out some money for yet another thing I've made. I would rather give you some. That's why my next paragraph has me already hurting in the groin.

Please pre-order my book of poetry, BOYGIRLBOYGIRL, published by Finishing Line Press. It’s not that expensive, it has a pretty cover, and the more books I sell before March 5th, the more copies they print. (Imagine sticking the publisher with a thousand of these babies!)

I should mention this: each week, I get a recap of the sales. With names. So if you are my friend, and you don’t order, I’ll know about it. I'd rather not. Because it can't help but become this uncomfortable thing between us. Like an unvited hard-on.

Try before you buy. Then, please, buy.

Your Friend,

The Skanky Ho

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Today was a day like most other weekdays: long commute, long day writing mostly the same words in a slightly different order, work drama, some laughter coupled with paranoia and worry, a long commute, a beer, dinner, and the laptop and TV in bed.

On Thursdays, I go to shiatsu. I call it that, but Jim Hill doesn't really do pure shiatsu anymore. He's a "healer." He knows what hurts me by what hurts him, and he takes care of it with his own brand of acupressure. I call it poking.

Jim presses my flesh hard with his thumbs and fingers and palms and knees and feet. While I lie on my stomach, he puts the flat of his foot on my tailbone, picks up my legs, one in each hand, shakes them like he's spreading out a sheet on a bed, and pulls slowly. I am an inch taller, but it doesn't count.

When I'm on my side, he twists my arm behind my back in some sort of therapeutic wrestling hold. No holds barred. I say "uncle" in my head and whimper while U.N.K.L.E. plays on the utopia Internet radio station. I'm the only one of his clients who requests something other than the mind-numbing new age sounds. We go for trip-hop—Radiohead and Bjork and Zero7 and Thievery Corporation. My current favorite is Eel, but I don't like them much when I'm not lying on the floor.

Jim presses on my ribs. He grinds his knees into the backs of my thighs, his elbows into my butt, his fists into my shoulder blades. While I'm on my back, he pulls me from my neck, slowly, slowly, and I can feel my tailbone rising up, tucking inside my body, as if I'm turning inside-out.

Before I leave work on Thursdays, I take a half a hydrocodone. I pay $100 for two hours of tortuous poking. Some nights, the pain is just short of intense, and I can fall asleep for a few moments. Other nights, like tonight, It's too much. Jim stops working on my legs to poke a sore line that follows the underwire of my bra. These are lung points, he says, and asks if I've had trouble breathing—he means before now. I cough a little when I lie down, I say. I'll be sure to remember my inhaler. When he goes toward my left side, I worry that he'll touch the cancer. That it'll bust open and gush through my body like an ocean. Last night, I had a dream that I needed back surgery and chemotherapy at the same time.

When my treatment was over, I got dressed and raced home, cursing the slow drivers, blessing my heated seats. On Perring Parkway, I pulled over to let a slow-moving Emergency Medical Services vehicle get in front of me. Through the back window, I saw the EMT pumping someone's chest. He pumped and pumped and pumped. He stopped and looked at a machine and pumped again. He was frantic. I stared through the window, unblinking, hoping the tech would keep going because that would mean the patient was still alive. The ambulance was going too slowly. For two miles, from the beltway to Echodale, I was staring through the back window, thinking of that deer. The tech kept pumping, even as the truck turned right toward the hospital, so I did not cry.

I came home and drank a beer, ate dinner, and came upstairs, where I sit against a kind of pillow called a husband, The Mentalist on in the background, laptop engaged.

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