Saturday, December 29, 2007

AV: The Grandmother Polka

Saturday, December 29th at 12:36 pm, Megan Williamson-Doyle - after 13 hours of labor - heroically gave birth to an amazingly beautiful little boy (name yet TBD) in San Diego, California.
Eamonn Patrick Doyle, son of Aida Mancillas and Steven Doyle, was her partner in the herculean effort -- as well as in the making.

I have never seen a more miraculous thing.

Mother and child will be arriving home in a day or two, which gives us a little time to prepare the way.

wow ...
and I thought the paper tree was somethin' ...

Friday, December 28, 2007

AV: The First One Is Free

First things first: Merry and Happy delights of the season and un Prospero Ano Nuevo a todos!

Second, I've not been keeping up with my Every Friday committment here on the blog pages. I've noticed that some of the others have been busy too, so my thanks to those who have continued to keep us informed and have given me things to think about in the meanwhile.

Third, this is what I've been up to (among other things, such as awaiting the arrival of Aida's first grandchild...).

I'll preface it to say that it's all Nina's fault. Oh, and Aida's, but you probably would have guessed that anyway. Nina arrived a couple of months ago bearing two issues of
Readymade magazine, a periodical all about and for the Do It Yourself-er (DIY). And it's the crack of magazines. Honestly. Check it out. In fact, Aida and I both bought each other the Readymade book for Christmas. We'll keep one and give the extra to Nina. She deserves it.

So, that said, here's our Christmas tree, made from florist's weath rings, a 6' tripod, newpaper, green twine, and lots of fun decorations stuff.

Step One:
Drop the wreath rings (in successive diameters) over the tripod and begin to tie rolled up newspapers to them.
Helpful Hint: Keep the roll of twine in your front left pocket and the scissors in your right rear pocket. This makes for an easy peasy "search and snip" operation in the length that's needed.
Step Two:
Tie more rolled up newspaper sections to the other sections until the gaps between the wreath rings are connected (no gaps). You'll want to overlap the ends of each section to the middle of the sections below. Use yarn when you run out of twine. It helps to have a similar color available
Step Three:
Decorate the thing! Yes, you can use lights (but not if they're the get-kinda-hot sort. This is paper, after all.) We used our favorite decorations, big leaves from a park (some were spraypainted red), shims, art paper, eucalyptus sprays from the yard, sticks and branches, etc.
Be creative!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

DW: Almost

At 9:30 this morning, after coffee, a Web chat with friends in France, and opening presents--we toyed with the idea of not getting in the car for the 4 hour roundtrip drive to Long Island to see my family. It seemed so delicious, the thought of staying home all day, reading my new Picasso biography, watching movies, drinking more coffee, maybe even take a nap.

Then it happened. 

I thought of haunting sentiments uttered by Gore Vidal with regards to the passing of his lifelong partner, Howard Auster. It was something to the effect of "I wish people would stop telling me that time heals. Time doesn't heal; it just reminds you that there is more time to miss the one you love." I almost fell out of bed when I read that. The thought of being alone, the last branch on the tree, is a crushing thought.

So, it was this sentiment that swiftly made me begin to question my vision of Christmas Day chez nous. 

How would I feel if relatives who I love and rarely see, told me they would rather stay home and read than spend time with me? While I may have understood, it would probably have felt like an ouch a few hours later. I also switched gears when thinking that there may be a time when there is no one's house to go to for a Christmas celebration, so why not enjoy those we love in the present moment?  

I'm not sure there are any ultimately satisfying answers here, but it sure seemed decadent to imagine staying at home and not doing much of anything--except thinking of Gore Vidal's observation, loving my husband as much as possible, and savoring another cup of coffee.  

Sunday, December 23, 2007

WC: Spouse, Lover, Girlfriend, Partner

Years ago, I wrote a column about the importance of coming up with a common term for gay people to use to refer to our significant others. Consistency in language improves communication, and having such a label would allow us that consistency.

Now, I'm somewhat pleased to report, we have that label.


And what a boring, lackluster, non-clarifying choice it is.

I remember, some 20 years ago, two friends laughing that when they had used the word partner at a party, someone asked, "What kind of business do you two have?" They found this incredibly uncool. I thought it was a perfectly logical response, and I still do. That's what partner means!

Spouse isn't really an option, because gay people can't get married in 99.99% of the world, and it's important that straight people know this (you'd be amazed how many don't). So, politically, it would be a mistake to call each other spouses.

Husband and wife have the same limitations as spouse. In addition, a friend of mine who is legally married in Massachusetts says that she and her partner (their choice) hate wife because of all the baggage that comes with that term.

I like the term girlfriend, but it has two serious limitations: (1) it doesn't denote long-term and serious, and (2) adults in relationships aren't girls.

In the Village Voice years ago, someone suggested sother, for significant other. I like that term. It has no pre-existing connotations and it's kind of cute. But it died the quick death that most deliberately invented words die.

I rooted for lover to win. Not lover as in "someone you have sex with," but lover as in "Errol Flynn climbing up to Olivia de Havilland's balcony in the Adventures of Robin Hood." Lover is a dashing, loving, emotional, sexy word.

On the other hand, partner is cold, legal-esque, and confusing. But language is a place that majority vote wins, even if it's wrong (eg, "I could care less" for "I couldn't care less").

And I lost.

But, if I'm ever in a relationship again, I ain't gonna use it. So there.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

SS: I'm Just Not Into Christmas

I have to admit it: I just don’t like Christmas. I really don’t.

I’ve tried to hide it in the past, but it’s becoming too difficult. I can’t pretend to feel the “spirit of the season” or get excited about seeing holiday lights or dream of snowflakes in Central Park or whatever. The feeling is just not there. December 25th is pretty much just like any other cold day late in the year for me. No amount of turkey, eggnog, carols, gifts or pine trees can make it any more “special” or different for me.

I don’t like winter, so I suppose that is a factor. It’s hard for me to enjoy any day this time of the year when it’s dark by 5 in the evening and the wind factor is close to freezing. This is right around the time when I long to slip on a tank top, jeans, and a pair of sandals and go walking down a nice, steamy summer street in New York City. But of course, I can’t. It’s winter. Instead I have to wear some gigantic parka and slush-proof boots. Whenever I decide to leave my most common state during this time of year – essentially urban hermitage – I am almost always sorry I did so, because it usually ends up with me sitting at a cafĂ© or waiting in a line or something else near a door that is constantly opening and blowing artic wind all over the place. It doesn’t make for a cheery mood.

I feel bad about this. I did grow up in a vaguely Christian faith, Unitarianism, so I feel like this time of the year should mean something more to me. In fact, Unitarians tend to get even more hyped up over the whole “we love the human family” thing during Christmas. It’s about family! Love! Sharing! I respect this. It’s just in my experience, family and respect and love don’t go together. I realize this is my experience only, and others have had different experiences and therefore can find meaning in this holiday. I have no quibble with this. I’m glad they can find meaning and happiness in this holiday. But I can’t.

You might think this feeling is a reaction to the over-commercialization of the holiday. And indeed, this used to bother me. But for the most part, I’ve learned to tune out that aspect. But what is harder to deal with is this feeling that I am just going through the motions – sending the cards, buying the gifts, trimming the tree, etc. Take gifts: I like giving gifts, but I am fairly picky about them. I like getting people something they really enjoy. I think a good gift just sort of comes out of nowhere, as if by divine inspiration. You are walking through a bookstore, for example, and you see a book that you just KNOW your friend would love. So you buy it. Not because it’s Christmas or Hanukkah or a birthday. Because your friend would love it. The pressure to buy gifts during the holiday season sort of takes the whole joy out of this process for me. It all feels quite disingenuous.

I can’t say I don’t have ANY feelings whatsoever during this time. I do. Unfortunately, they tend toward the negative side of the emotional spectrum. I find, for example, that I have these little tantrums in my skull around Christmas. They are usually sparked by a visit to a crowded store. I’ll be standing in line or browsing some racks, and suddenly, I’ll start feeling angry. I’ll get irritable. I might even find myself saying nasty things in my head about some of the other (completely innocent!) shoppers. Something just riles me up about shopping during Christmas. Is it the crowds? The cheesy music that follows you everywhere, even into the bathroom? I don’t know what it is.

This year I experienced my first internal tantrum at a local bookstore. This was odd, because I normally love browsing in bookstores. But I had made the mistake of glancing at the shelf containing the national bestsellers. It was a sad lot, in my opinion. It was mostly a mixture of gimmicky self-help titles a la “The Secret” and knock-offs of “The Dangerous Book for Boys.” When I see that books like these are bestsellers, it makes me a bit sad. One book is attempting to give people some sort of meaning in their lives, and the other is trying to teach children about certain simple pleasures they would have never had to have been taught in any other day, age or culture. The fact that both of these books and the cottage industry of knock-offs they’ve inspired are so phenomenally successful points to some sort of void in people’s lives. And hey, I’m not saying I’m any different. I feel that void myself. Perhaps this lack of feeling over Christmas is just how I manifest it. Maybe I’m envious that there are people who can fill this void by reading a book.

I’m not writing this as a screed against people who enjoy this holiday. It actually makes me happy that people can enjoy it. I just can’t.

Yes, I really don’t like Christmas. That’s okay. If you enjoy it, go ahead and make merry. Just understand if I prefer to spend it reading in bed with the cat.

© Sarah Stanfield, December 22, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

RS: Little Debbie's Christmas Newsletter

Dear friends,

I hope this year has been filled with great joy and this letter finds you—oh, fuck that shit. I hate these goddamn newsletters, pretendin to make you feel special with pretentious bullshit, soundin like their trying to rewrite the fuckin US Constitution. I swore to myself that I would never write one of these fool things. But here I am. I absolutely could not git around to gittin no cards bought. Ever year seems like it gits worse and worst. At this rate I will be sendin out Easter cards. Now wouldn't that be about a tacky way to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior! Well, I will try to do better next year.

It has been one busy fuckin year here in New York City. Now I will tell you what, it is Christmas time in this god damn city. Ring a fuckin ding ding. It is pretty and all, but there's so many gawkin shits on the sidewalks, you cain't enjoy nothin. Why, you look up to see a single flashin light and run head long into some fool standin on a corner tryin to figure out where 5th Avenue is when they have just walked over from 7th to 6th. You would think, any moron could tell the numbers was goin down. They ain't gonna just throw you a 9 out of the goddamn blue.

And these stupid fuckers will be standin not 30 feet from the tree in Rockefeller Center and will stop you and ask you where it is. I just think to myself, "Well, look up, dumb ass." But, now, these country folk, they may be a bit simple but they are just out of their element. Why, they could find the very spot in a 80 acre pasture where their favorite cow calved two springs back. Walk right to it without skippin a beat. But ask 'em to spot a tree three stories tall with a thousand pounds of sparkles on it, and they are struck dumb. Saddest thing I ever seen.

But, now, this silver bells musak bull shit has just about got me plum out of the Christmas spirit. I swear to the Lord above, if I hear that fool song one more time, I am gonna rip the speakers right out of the walls at Duane Reade. Why I go in there in the first place is a mystery to me. I do not know where they find people to work behind the register there, but merciful Jesus if they ain't a slow bunch. I can feel my thighs begin to atrophy just standin and waitin to buy a box of Kotex. Hell, my eggs is gonna turn to powder one of these days just standin at the check out.

Now, I realize that them girls don't git paid a whole lot. I've done my time in a minimum wage job before, and I know that shit don't give you no kind of motivation to move your ass. But this is right down ridiculous. Back when I was married to my second husband, Hershel, I was workin for minimum wage over at the Kum and Go. Now, I had to run that register, mop them floors, and restock the pop coolers. I didn't set the world on fire but I'll tell you there wasn't a customer come in that store that had to wait too awful long on me. And I greeted ever one of the mother fuckers with a smile, ever time. Some of em would just stand there a gawkin at you like you'd just farted or somethin. Just a look of disgust on their faces. But, now, I gave them the same level of service that I give ever one else.

I worked there with Rose Zella Wendler for three years. She helped git me through my divorce from Hershel. Lord, I suffered so with him. I took him back time after time. They caught him masturbatin up on Grave Yard Hill one time, got the police involved and ever thang. Now, what kind of a fool do you think I felt like when I walked into that police station and saw him sittin in that cell with his hands cuffed and his dirty Wranglers slung down around his ankles? He clomped over to me with his big ass belt buckle just scrapin up sparks against the concrete floor a poutin and a beggin, "Oh baby, this ain't what it seems like." I said, "Well, it seems like your too goddamn stupid to pull up your pants and a sick son of a bitch to be jackin off on Ray Tabor's tomb stone." I asked him if he was plannin to pack up the pick up and haul his ass out to San Francisco or what. He said, "Naw, baby, I love you. I love you with all my heart." I said, "Well, by God, you better figure out how to start lovin me with your zipper pulled up." And I turned around and took his ass back. I knew good and well he was gonna figure out some other way to fuck things up, and he did. He burned up the trailer tryin to fry a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Pulled the entire volunteer fire department away from their own dinners to stand and watch a tin can go up in flames. I thought to myself, "Now, Debbie Sue. You have got about as little to be thankful for as you ever had." I don't know if he thought he was some kinda goddamn Chef Boy R Dee or if he thought he was gonna scheme his way into collectin some big insurance settlement. But, now, he was too stupid to scheme his way out of a wet sack so he sure as hell was not gonna fool them slick bastards at State Farm.

They wuddin like no good neighbors at all. Dropped us like a hot rock and never give us the time of day again. Even when I went back to em with my third husband, Dwain, they just shook their heads and said there was nothing they could do. I had to drive 45 miles over to Souder Springs to git myself some insurance.

Well, now, anyway, I worked with Rose Zella Wendler for 3 years and we had us a good time. Oh, lord, we laughed and laughed. She could imitate about ever customer that come into the store, and she was spot on. Just got to the heart of what made each one of em tick. We had fell out of touch when she moved out of state. She claimed that she had met some fella on the internet and had fell in love. Rose Zella was a good person but I knew she'd floated a bad check or two, and the word around town was that she was stayin about 2 steps ahead of the law. She got out of town pretty damn quick so I don't have no trouble believin that. You know, I want to think good of people, but even the good ones gits to actin a fool. Somebody said she was spendin all her money on that Home Shoppin Network and the Home Interiors and then sellin it and not payin for it, but I didn't believe em. Cleevel Clavenhagen come around snippin about how whatever happened was comin to her because she was thief, just a common criminal for buyin all that shit she couldn't afford and runnin out on her responsibility. I tell you what, I flew mad as a hornet just about that quick and I tore that lyin bastard a new asshole. I said, "Don't you never let me hear you spreadin that sick pack a lies again or I'll snatch ever last hair right off your balls." I meant it too.

So, Rose Zella went off, and she'd write me a quick letter ever now and then. Didn't say too much. You know, they can use what you write down in a court of law, use it against you. Least I think I heard that on one of my programs or round here at the law firm. Cain't remember which one it was. But she must have cleared ever thing up because she called me about 4 months ago. She had just found out that she had cancer and wanted to do all the things she'd never got to do. One of the things on her list was to go visit the Aztec ruins in Mexico. I said, "I don't know what you want to pay to go see a ruin for, you can visit Uncle Shady's dumpin silo back home for free." But she thought it would be a healin experience. Got over there and she told me she wanted to go swim with the fuckin dolphins. I said to myself, "Now, Debbie Sue, now this is one dumb fuckin idea." First off, they are gonna see me a comin and think their lives are bein threatened. I outweigh the fuckers by a hunnerd pounds. Then they told us the dolphins git excited and might release on ya. Now, they wasn't foolin me one bit. I knew what they meant by "release". I ain't the least bit squeamish about some animal shittin down my leg. But I thought, "What if I git tired out there and start to take on water?" I know that fat floats, and I've got a pretty steady dog paddle, but I don't swim very often anymore. You cain't just walk into any store and find somethin for me to wiggle into. And not just any bathing suit will work on a full figured gal. I usually have to venture out to the Home Depot for some patio furniture upholstery. But in this case, gittin me into the bathing suit was not the biggest challenge. I have been in pools my whole life. And I know people piss in 'em ever day. But there is no chlorine in the ocean. So you are takin on the full contents of a dolphin dump, possibly in one gulp, and that stuff is down your gullet before you know what hit you. So, I watched Rose Zella from the boat. It tickled the shit out her to pet on that slick little bastard, but I didn't want near that thing with a ten foot pole.

Turns out, that water wasn't what I should have been afraid of. We went into town that very night and I got sick as a dog. I shit my guts out for the next 12 days. Lost 7 pounds, which was a delightful outcome, but I didn't care much for the path to get there. And I didn't even drink any of the water. They said it might have been the water that the dishes was worshed in. Someone needs to tell me how them little jumpin-bean mother fuckers manage not to spray the contents of their stomachs ever day. I haven't been that miserable in my entire life. And I couldn't complain. I mean, Rose Zella is sittin there happy as a god damn clam to be fulfillin a life-long dream, facin cancer, and I'm gonna complain about some diarrhea? You know, that just wouldn't be right.

You'll all be sad to hear that Aint Omi died this past spring. She was a crazy old heifer but you couldn't help but like her. It is gonna be hard goin home for the holidays this year. She used to make the best green bean casserole you have ever tasted. I know that anyone can dump a can a beans, some cream of mushroom soup and some fried onions in a dish and make the same damn thing. But Aint Omi did something special. I think I seen her put garlic powder and a little hot sauce in there once, but I cain't be sure. She caught me a lookin and slammed the cabinet door shut before I could git a real good look at the labels. And now she cain't teach me the recipe. I nearly bawled my eyes out for a week.

Lonnie got out of prison two months early on good behavior. I told Lonnie the next time he decided to whip up a batch of crystal meth with a stripper he picked up outside Cooter's All Nude, he had better make damn sure she wuddin a fuckin under cover cop. I told him he'd better leave that drug shit alone anyway or he wouldn't have to worry about some serial killer in the upper bunk makin his brown eye blue, I would beat his ass til hell wouldn't have him my damn self. He knowed I was serious too. I asked him what in the hell he was doin at Cooter's anyway. He said, "Aw, I just wanted to git me a peek of some." I asked him, "Now why didn't you just git some horny gal drunk down at The Pour House like ever other fool man and be done with it instead of payin to look at that nasty shit?" They don't git the cleanest gals down at Cooter's as you might imagine. I went in there once with Hershel. I tell you what, that is some goddamn ridiculous shit. Just sittin around starin up at some dirty crotch. I told him to just stick to his magazines. He said, "Oh baby. Oh baby, sometimes you just need the real thang." I told him he could git that look out of his eyes cause I wuddin about to spread out like a roast chicken and have him stare at me with the lights on and huff and puff and jiggle his weiner. I said, "There is a reason them things is called privates—that shit belongs in the dark." So, I let him keep on goin to Cooter's; but, now, he had to worsh his hands ever time he come home.

My friend Connie and me went to Las Vegas. You know how they say that whatever happens there stays there? Well, they got that one right. Connie showed her ass from the minute the plane touched down until we took off. I said, "Now, Connie, it is your life and Lord knows that I want you to have a good time. And I don't mind the hootin and hollerin at ever man that gives you a second glance, and I don't even mind you flashin your titties at the Circus Circus, as inappropriate as that was, but, by God, will you keep your goddamn panties on?" She thowed them fuckers on stage at three different shows. The last straw was when she run up to the second row and flung her undies at Elton John. I thought, "Now what do you think he wants with your drawers?" The man is gay as a goose, says so hisself. Them lace thangs probly turns his stomach. He never flinched, but I was disgusted for him. I said, "Connie, now I don't give a piss in a gentle wind what you think about what that man does when his lights is off, but you ought to respect that it ain't never gonna include your dirty panties." She got bout half hocked off at me, but you know, that shit ain't right! She humped up, suckin on her third pomegranate margarita. That sweet shit just about makes me wanna gag, but she acts like it is the fuckin antidote. And, by God, bout half way into that sucker, she was happy as a five-peckered coon dog and forgot the entire thing.

Oh, I nearly forgot. In March I thought I was dyin. I got this growth on my lip that took on a life of its own. I was sure it was a tumor. I woke up one morning, all numb and pink. Fucked up my smile. Connie looked at it and diagnosed me with Bells Palsey but she didn't know no fuckin more than I did. Couldn't even talk plain. Sounded like my Cousin Twisha. Her name is actually Trisha but she's got a hair lip and just spits and slurs and cain't say nothin so's you can understand it. I swear to God sittin across from her when she is eatin fried rice is like lookin up in a rain storm. We ate Chinese once and I come home lookin like I had a head full of maggots. I wouldn't eat nothin but Italian with her from then on. You cain't spit a noodle too far unless you chew it up real good, and she don't. She busted up her lip when she was 16. Ever body told Aint Horence not to git her a Trans Am so young, but she'd got her house fire money and I guess it was hot too, burnin a hole in her pocket. She was hell bent on impressin ever body in town but they all just think she is cheap carnival trash right down to the core. Twisha was haulin ass down to Granny Teensie's house to show off and run over one of Bud Porter's hogs that had got out. Them little fuckers rolls like dice and flipped that little car end over appetite right there by the Girdner Cemetary. Granny said if she'd a been goin any faster they'd a just thowed a head stone up right there, wouldn't even have to move the body. She busted her lip on the steerin wheel. God, we made unmerciful fun of the way she talked after that. I woke up thinkin, "Now that is some fuckin karma for you." That thang carried on for the better part of a month, swelled up like a dog tick full of pus until, I swear to God, that thing had its own heart beat. Turns out it was a goddamned ingrown hair. I got tired of colorin my upper lip, then I got tired of waxin, so I shaved the fuzzy son of a bitch one day. I thought, "Well, Debbie Sue, here your go. Mouth like a cat's ass." But I went down fightin. I don't do that shit no more though. I wax that sucker ever three weeks whether it needs it or not.

Twisha's got two girls. Couldn't be more different. Named one of em Tina Louise, turned out just ugly as a witch's tit. And little Annie Faye (named after Princess Anne no less) was just pretty as a picture. Simple as syrup but just a darlin. Got her head stuck in the middle hole of Granny Teensie's out house when she was 4 years old. Swattin flies. There was a goddamn army of the little fuckers swarmin down there, and she thought she was gonna git ever damn one of em. She was just a good flake of lead paint away from bein a complete retard her entire life. But both of Twisha's kids made news this year. Annie got knocked up on Homecoming night and little T was on Jeopardy. She didn't do not good, ended up with one dollar; but, you know, she must have done better than a lot of kids to git on the show. I was real proud of her.

Poot Porter finally got married. He was my boyfriend in the third grade. Gave me my first kiss. Little fucker tried to slip me the tongue and nearly made me puke. He didn't know what he was meant to do with his tongue but he was bound and determined to git that nasty thing in my mouth. I slapped the tar out of him and sent him home cryin. He never mentioned it again. When we was in the fourth grade, we had a tornado drill. Poot was a little kiss ass and he was one of the ones picked to open up the windows. Miss Hampton asked for volunteers and he thowed his hand up so hard I thought it was gonna snap plum off. I sure as hell didn't stick my hand up. I didn't want no part of that bull shit. Now, why would anyone want to git one bit closer to a oncoming tornado than you have to? That drill bell rang and I was the first one under my desk. Not that that little wad of kindling was gonna protect you from much. Anyway, Poot shot up at the first ring and ran over to the window and gave it a yank. Nothin. He grabbed her again with both hands and laid ever pound of hisself against that window frame. Well, the dumb ass forgot to turn the handle so it was locked down tight as a wedge. It didn't budge but he let out a fart that you could have heard into the next county. From that day on, he was Poot. Until I saw the announcement in the paper, I didn't even remember what his real name was. It was Eukel Dale. If I was him, I would have been happier with Poot.

Well, I have decided to go on to school. There is a program over at the law firm where I'm workin in the word processin department that will pay for half of a degree if it is work related. I figure I see them long words ever day, so they won't be no trouble for me. So, I been studyin on it, and I thank I'm gonna sign up. I can git me a paralegal degree goin nights. I been waitin for a awful long time for somethin to come along and change things for me, and this just feels like it might be the very thing. Just keep me in your prayers is all I ask.

Well, I got to go. I have wrote until my hand's plum sore. And, that's most of the big happenings from this year anyhow. I have got to git out there and finish my shoppin. God, I hate that. The thought of fightin them crowds at Macy's just puts me into a homicidal rage. Wouldn't Jesus just love that on his birthday?

Have a happy holiday and talk to you next year. I love ever one of yuns.

Merry Christmas,
Debbie Sue

WC: Quote of the Day

I can't understand why a person will take a year to write a novel when he can easily buy one for a few dollars.

Fred Allen (1894 - 1956)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

DW: Life Stuff

I watched a wonderful interview with Elizabeth Gilbert the other day. It was Oprah's second installment, entitled, "Why We Can't Get Enough of Eat, Pray, Love." I remember reading it when it was first published, and sent out an email to all of my women friends encouraging, no, demanding that they read it. She said many wise things during the interview, among them, her definition of God: "that which absorbs perfection."

I particularly enjoyed the soulmate conversation. Someone asked her if her husband was her soulmate and she said, "Thank God no--he's my partner. For me, the term soulmate is code for 'infatuation' and that hurls me into this void where I lose myself and become totally focused on the other's needs at the expense of my own. Soulmates are not partners; they come into our lives to inspire change and cause turmoil. My husband is not my soul mate."

I completely agree, as an alumnus of "visits to the void." My husband doesn't cause turmoil, he simply makes my life easier by waking up beside me each day.

I can relate to what Wendy shared in her post about walking through the museum. Sometimes that happens to me, and I have to leave wherever I am at the moment of overwhelm. I was never an official drug addict, but I do have a highly addictive personality, and often believe that I have many active, addictive behaviors. I actually had a dream the other night where I joined a 12-step program. My default setting is usually to be in the past or future. Thankfully my current responsibilities (owning a company) force me to be in the present moment, and sometimes it's a very tight squeeze.

What has helped me maneuver through overwhelm and anxiety (and overwhelming anxiety) is shifting my focus to gratitude. I'm so grateful for so many things. When I'm annoyed by my business partner, I actually stop and remind myself of how incredibly grateful I am that he is who he is and knows what he knows and does all the stuff that I either can't or don't want to do.

After reading many of the postings here, I can't imagine complaining about anything, other than not making enough time to enjoy all of things for which I'm grateful!

Monday, December 17, 2007

SS: My favorite Anne Sexton poem

The Farmer's Wife
by Anne Sexton

From the hodge porridge
of their country lust,
their local life in Illinois,
where all their acres look
like a sprouting broom factory,
they name just ten years now
that she has been his habit;
as again tonight he'll say
honey bunch let's go
and she will not say how there
must be more to living
than this brief bright bridge
of the raucous bed or even
the slow braille touch of him
like a heavy god grown light,
that old pantomime of love
that she wants although
it leaves her still alone,
built back at last,
mind's apart from him, living
her own self in her own words
and hating the sweat of the house
they keep when they finally lie
each in separate dreams
and then how she watches him,
still strong in the blowzy bag
of his usual sleep
while her young years bungle past
their same marriage bed
and she wishes him cripple, or poet,
or even lonely, or sometimes,
better, my lover, dead.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

WC: Reality Is For People Who Can't Handle Drugs

I was one of those drug addicts who are actually medicating themselves for a mental health condition--in my case, depression. Now I've been clean and sober for 21.5 years, and sometimes, to be honest, I take it for granted.

But then something--or some things--happen/s, and I realize how far I've come. But it isn't always easy.

For instance, I went to the Museum of Modern Art on Friday to see the Georges Seurat drawings. As I wandered through the rooms, I found myself quickly overwhelmed. Seurat's dark conte-crayon works are bizarrely moving, despite having almost no detail. This is a man who doesn't care about faces--no portraits for him. Instead, out of the darkness of his drawings would appear, sometimes just barely, a shoulder, a veiled head, the shape of a dog or monkey--and emotions. I don't know how to explain it, but his work is evocative and beautiful--and sad I think. And I had to leave after half an hour.

When I was younger--and when I was on drugs--things didn't get in to my psyche. Or, if they did, neither they nor my psyche told me about it. But now things do get in. And some are beautiful. Art, beaches, sunsets, gray days, the people I love, a good book, a great symphony. And I am endlessly grateful to feel that beauty.

But with the good comes the bad. A ton of bad. The world is falling apart--have you heard? There are whirlpools of garbage in our oceans tens of miles in diameter. Our leftover plastic is poisoning the world. At this moment people are being tortured and murdered and . . . well, I'll spare you the list.

And many people I know are having a tough time. Cancer. Losing parents. Putting aged fathers in nursing homes. The many difficult challenges of life.

I think we humans must be incredibly brave or incredibly good at denial, because we mostly get out of bed, never knowing if we are facing a day of beauty or a day of pain.

And for this, I gave up drugs.

HC: My favorite picture of actress Margaret Leighton

Saturday, December 15, 2007

HC: Some holiday computer fun

Go to to create dancing elves with your face, or anyone else's face. It's free, it just takes a few minutes, and it's ridiculously fun and silly!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

HC: The Holidays

December brings with it colder weather and hopes of snow ("Snow day!"), holidays off from school, and work, and decisions to make about which food to make and which presents to buy. They say having kids is like reliving your childhood, and of course that's true, and never more than at this time of the year.

My family is/were nonpracticing Jews, who lit candles on Hanukkah and had a little Christmas tree, too. Christmas was never about the birth of Christ for us, it was about gifts and food. My Christmas memories are so many and so varied, from sad to great. I remember spending a lot of time writing my Christmas list. When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, so the list was essential. I remember the year my big present was pajamas, and I was sad for myself, and then felt bad for my parents because my reaction to the gift wasn’t big enough. On the other hand, I remember when my sister got me front row center tickets to see Over Here! on Broadway, and she wrapped them in a really big box to fool me! I remember my parents practically forcing me to take a present on Christmas Eve, even though I preferred to wait until Christmas morning. I remember going from store to store with my parents hunting down the Barbie camper, which was so popular we had trouble finding it.

I remember staying up late every Christmas Eve to watch Alistair Sim in A Christmas Carol. My husband and I have been married 18 years and we watch it every Christmas Eve. (All right, I do admit sometimes I doze here and there…) One year we watched it on December 21, which was almost sacrilegious, but we watched with friends who had never seen it. We all loved it…thank you Deb and Tom. We also watch Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen in White Christmas. We started watching it because it’s pretty stupid and not very good, and have grown to love it like a disabled pet. It wouldn’t be December without a DVD viewing of White Christmas.

Mostly I remember the incredible excitement of waiting to get my presents. The excitement was so huge I could feel my heart pounding even in my ears. I also remember the inevitable crash, because no presents can live up to what’s in your mind. And even if you get 25 presents, it’s sad opening the last one and knowing there are no more to open.

Now my kids write their Letters to Santa (the kids are teenagers, but we still joke about Santa) and carefully think about their wish list. I miss the days of seeing toys and games on the list. Now they mostly want iTunes gift certificates and DVDs. I remember when I got LiteBrite, which was the greatest toy of all time. I’d sit for hours plugging in the pegs with the light off until I was done, and then I’d plug it in and the pegs would light up. It was so much fun! Times change and kids today, or my kids at least, prefer to sit in front of a computer, television, or gaming screen. I hope they are enjoying their play time as much as I did.

As my kids get older they enjoy the giving of presents more and more. We as a family “adopt” another family from a local chapter of People-to-People. We choose a letter and go to Target and buy what’s on the less-fortunate family’s wish list. We always buy a few extra things so there will be some surprises, too.

Christmas morning is ours alone. The kids still climb into bed with us, which is hard because my son is 6 feet 1 inch and my daughter is taller than I am, and we talk about hearing sleigh bells and hoof beats on the roof. My husband goes down the stairs and turns on the tree lights and the coffee machine, and then comes up to get us. We all walk down together, in our robes, sit on the floor and open our presents. As I get older it’s harder not to cry at this time. My heart is so full of love for these three people I get to live with. I’m becoming a sappy middle-aged woman. I’m a very lucky sappy middle-aged woman.

Later on Christmas day we drive to the grandparents’ apartment and share our day with some of the other people we love. We open presents, eat too much, and remember the people who are no longer with us. Driving home we talk about what we got from whom, and what we love and what we don’t care about that much. In a few weeks it will be hard to remember any of the presents we received, but we will remember the food and the fun.

I’m happy to say that as I get older I want less and less, and the excitement about Christmas really does come about 90% from the giving. (Of course I still hope for the Criterion Collection DVD of Brief Encounter, Santa, are you reading this?) And now in a variation of the Pajama Incident of Sadness, I feel sorry for my children and then feel sorry for my parents if they give my kids something the kids don’t really like. I told you I was sappy.

I hope everyone on earth has someone special to share the holidays with.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

RS: Staying Grounded

Ah, gravity. So cruel to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground.

How freeing to fly, flee. How precious to float above congested streets, foul seas, foes. How peaceful to soar.

How true Ms. Dickinson mused on life when she wrote:

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies.

The heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the cubits warp
For fear to be a king.

Perhaps that dreaded gravity is self-imposed. Not just to keep us earthly bound but Rapunzeled from our potential. Fear so safe, so savage. The earth to grip the body, the self to restrain the soul. Perhaps, heads out of clouds keep heads in proportion. Statures hinged keep minds from unhinging entirely.

But might we be ungrounded simply by believing it possible? A might more pleasant than suffering the ravages of a magnetic core.

How cruel that gravitational pull on appendages. Sloping back and penises like disposable turkey parts ridiculing erection, prolapsing jowls and hidden places, tits equatorially directed, testicles tea bagging into toilet water, asses ricocheting and recoiling, distended guts like herniated radials—belts unsteeled, dangerously low PSI. Endless insults. Tampon reprieve, consolation for some, I suppose.

Piss poor perspective, perhaps. Or simple convergence—Newtonian Law applied to high hopes.

That damned gravity. Weight of the world. Pressing. Pulling. To stand defiant is to defy nature. It is exhausting and ugly. Gravity urging toward the grave.

Getting old sucks. Sagging bites.

But in dreams I fly. Mind, body, and soul. At will. In wonder. Delighted. Free. And always beautiful.

To live in dreams. How I wish it were true. But as Mama says, "Why don't you wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one gets filled up first." Gravity is real. And so is a fistful of feces.

So, I listen to Mama and press on. But in shining moments, magical moments, with feet planted firmly on the ground, I soar—fuck those warping cubits.

Monday, December 10, 2007

DW: Inspiration

I just finished a book by Paul Arden, former creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi. Here are a few of the quotes that I found to be inspirng:

  • The person who doesn't make mistakes is unlikely to make anything.
  • If you can't solve a problem it's because you're playing by the rules.
  • When it can't be done, do it. If you don't do it it doesn't exist.
  • Don't look for the next opportunity. The one you have in hand is the opportunity.
  • Fail, fail again. Fail better. (Samuel Beckett)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

SS: Whatever You Do, Don’t Fall Asleep!

I’m always trying to fill in gaps in my cinematic education, so last night it was time to view a modern horror classic, Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” I’ll admit that I’d previously written it off as “just another” cheesy slasher flick. I was pleasantly surprised with this movie. While it has some of the typical slasher-film tropes, I found it to be quite smart and thought-provoking.

The film’s now well-known plot involves a dead serial killer, Freddy Krueger, who returns from the grave to brutally kill a group of teenagers in their dreams. The line between reality and dreams is blurred by the fact that the victims killed in their dreams actually die in real life. After experiencing the deaths of her closest friends, the film’s protagonist, Nancy Thompson (played by a deceptively baby-faced Heather Langenkamp), sets out to vanquish Krueger.

Nancy is a fabulous female character – smart, brave and confident. Unlike many horror and adventure films of this era, you won’t see her running around in her skivvies or baring her breasts. Craven never “softens” his protagonist’s tough image by making her show skin. So the audience is forced to hone in on her as a person, not an object. There is a female character who meets her end shortly after having sex with her boyfriend – a common plot element in many 70s and 80s horror films – but her suitor also dies, so it doesn’t seem as though she is being “punished” for her sexuality.

The film’s major theme is the line between dreams and reality, and Craven constantly plays with the audience’s perceptions of the two. At first, there is a clear distinction between the two – represented by Nancy’s suburban bedroom and Krueger’s boiler-room lair, respectively – but as the film moves forward the distinction grows murky. In one scene, for example, it seems Nancy is awake, walking around her basement. But then she quickly turns a corner and you see a set of stairs, which lead to Krueger’s lair. In many ways, the film’s climax depends not only on Nancy’s successful navigation of the dream and waking worlds, but also on her willingness to accept and believe in her own sanity, even as others question it. I felt Craven depicted all of this quite masterfully – often with just good old shadows and lights and well-paced camera work.

The ignorance and powerlessness of authority figures is the theme that I found most intriguing, however. At virtually every turn in the film, the adult characters alternately deride, patronize or just plain ignore the teen characters. What’s interesting is that the adults’ efforts to protect their offspring backfire because of their inability to trust their children’s judgment. This is especially true in the case of Nancy’s relationship with her mother, who reacts to her daughter’s warnings about Krueger by assuming she is insane and thus installing security guards on all the windows to keep her locked in the house. Later in the film, the security guards play a part in a character’s death.

The figure of Krueger, who was a serial child-murderer when he was alive, plays heavily into the adult-versus-child dynamic. As the ultimate symbol of corrupted adult power over children, the idea that his destruction can only come by the hands of a child flips the traditional power dynamic between adult and child. And since in this case the child who may or may not destroy him is a teenager (so as not to spoil the plot, I won’t reveal whether or not he is destroyed), it’s fair to say that this could be read as a comment on the teenage struggle to shake off parental control and pass into adulthood.

All some heady ideas, I think. I’m glad I got to share in this moment of pop culture history. And speaking of history, I don’t think this film seems dated at all. Aside from the fashions and some of the special effects, it feels as relevant in 2007 as it was back in 1984. It’s definitely a classic. And the Johnny Depp-blood geyser is quite spectacular.

© Sarah Stanfield, December 8, 2007

Thursday, December 6, 2007

DW: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Christmas is upon us. 

The thought of looking for scarves for my mother-in-law does not inspire me, nor does getting organized for the whole Christmas bonanza. Having said that, there are moments of this holiday that I do enjoy and feel very moved by. Specifically, walking by a Christmas tree kiosk and getting the first whiff of holiday pine and cooking a special dinner for Christmas Eve. I'm not sure why, but Christmas Day is sort of irrelevant to me. I find that it is impossible to manifest the ambiance that one can create the night before, when it's dark and cold and the house is lit by candles and smells like baked apples and roasted onions. That to me is magical.

I'm sitting in the Phoenix airport now after a three day meeting that has left my sinuses dry and sore and my energy level flagging. We're on our way to Berkeley to visit friends, bookstores, Molinari's, and The Cheese Board.  

This was a difficult week work-wise. We had to terminate someone I was genuinely fond of, and I now must absorb a lot of that work in addition to my own overly-committed plate. I mentally debated the decision for hours in-flight and decided that the milk was not only sour, but it was lumpy, and should definitely not be put back in the fridge.

Back to Christmas. It is indeed a blessing to be able to shop online as well as live in a place that has stores with things that are nice and affordable. My goal is not to step foot in any mall over the next few weeks. 

So, I guess I'll visit Amazon later and order "Berlin Alexanderplatz" for my Fassbinder-fan husband.

HC: A Public Service Announcement

Boys and men, does your life stink? Do you want to end it all? Do you want to be immortal? Do you want to be hated forever, but at least remembered?

Don’t follow the herd by killing your estranged wife or girlfriend and then killing yourself.

Don’t follow the herd by shooting fellow students and then killing yourself.

Don’t follow the herd by massacring innocent people in a shopping mall and then killing yourself.

Be original! Be clever! Do something different! SHOOT YOURSELF FIRST!

It’s okay to end your own miserable life, but don’t take others with you. Leave a note explaining 1) who you hate, 2) why you hate them, 3) how you COULD’VE killed a bunch of strangers or your wife/children or students in your school, but you chose not to. You’ll still be famous, but much less hated.

Boys, men, remember SHOOT YOURSELF FIRST. Say it with me: SHOOT YOURSELF FIRST.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

RS: My Favorite Poem

Nobody heard him, the dead man.
Still, he lay moaning,
"I was much further out than you thought and not waving but drowning."

Poor chap, loved larking and now he's dead.
The water was too cold for him,
Heart gave way they said.

No, no, no. It was too cold always.
Still the dead ones lay moaning. . .
I was much too far out all my life and not waving but drowning.

--Stevie Smith

Sunday, December 2, 2007

WC: In Memory of Dennis

My friend Dennis died on January 19, 1995, at the age of 40. He died of AIDS--or "complications related to AIDS," as it is often expressed. On that winter night, he knew he was going, and he told his wonderful lover Reuben, "tell everyone I love them." Soon after, he was gone.

And he's still gone. Twelve years, ten months, and 14 days later, he's still gone.

Dennis once told me that the way he thought about his mother being dead was, "Wow, she still hasn't called." Twelve years, ten months, and 14 days later, Dennis still hasn't called.

At his memorial, some of Reuben's friends, meaning to be helpful, told me, "He's not really gone. You can talk to him whenever you want." Well, yeah, but he can't answer, can he? Dennis was not predictable, to say the least, and I miss his answers.

Dennis was completely into spontaneity, so much so that he would set aside days to be spontaneous. (I don't think he was aware of the irony, but I could be wrong.) He lived his life as an art form. He sent letters in hand-made envelopes that were truly gorgeous. And the letters were thoughtful and amusing and moving--and beautifully hand-written. He was always moving, beautifully--he was a dancer, and he was constantly graceful. He once showed me a grueling exercise that he did for his abs--it was as gorgeous as the opening of Afternoon of a Faun.

Dennis was into physics, science, how the world worked. One of the worst insults he ever threw at me was that I was a "Platonic idealist." After I had him explain the insult to me, I also explained that he was wrong, but never mind.

One afternoon many years ago, Dennis and I were walking and talking about the end of the human race--something that we agreed would be very good for the health of the planet. And we started wondering, how soon would signs of us disappear? We focused on the question, how long would it take the Empire State Bldg to fall down? I couldn't imagine the Empire State Bldg falling down (and, for the record, I still can't imagine the World Trade Center bldgs falling down, an event Dennis would have found at least as fascinating as it was horrifying). Dennis started hypothesizing about what the weather would do to the Empire State without humans around to do repairs. And I learned a lot from him that day.

And now I am reading a book called The World Without Us. The author, Alan Weisman, asked the same questions that Dennis and I did, and then found out the answers.

  • For instance, March would be the most destructive month, for it is the one where the temperature most often goes above and below freezing. As water freezes and expands, it can break up concrete. As it then defrosts and liquifies, it can go into the cracks, where its next cycle of freezing will cause even more damage.
  • For instance, a man who works keeping the subways dry explained that if there was a big flood and the water pumps broke, the subway could be flooded in 36 hours. 36 hours!
Dennis would adore this book. He would practically memorize it.

Many writers dedicate the books they write to the memories of loved ones. As weird as this may sound, I'm dedicating reading this book to Dennis.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

SS: More Dorothy Parker!

A few days ago, I posted an entry that I wrote in anger. There is nothing wrong with writing when you are angry. However, I feel that I didn’t channel my angry correctly with this post. I meant to goad people into seeing things from another perspective. But I feel that I came off as more vicious than “eye opening.” I think it’s important to show people different perspectives. I want people to look at the meaning behind images in the media as well as what people say to other people. Language is inherently political. It is a script. I want people to examine this script.

I need time to think about these ideas. So I’m going to replace this post for the time being. I want to revise it completely. In the meantime, I’m going to offer one of my favorite Dorothy Parker poems as well as one of my favorite quotes from her (thanks for the inspiration, Wendy!). It sort of matches my holiday mood.

"Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania."

--Dorothy Parker

And here’s a bonus quote:

“Ducking for apples - change one letter and it's the story of my life.”

--Dorothy Parker

Happy Holidays!

AV: Geeks R Us

If only one human being laughs, my work here is done: "Star Trek Cribs - The Director's Cut" (a YouTube video).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

WC: Another Reason to Love Dorothy Parker

If you want to see what God thinks of money,
just look at all the people He gave it to.

Dorothy Parker

RS: The Eyes Have It

I can't remember his eyes. Were they green or were they blue?

I remember when something went dead in them. Right before he left.

After he was gone, they were searing. Seared into my memory. Couldn't close my eyes without picturing his. Couldn't sleep at night, things peering back.

I threw out every photograph of him, of us. Partly anger. Partly didn't want to see those eyes, windows into that soul, now foreign. Partly just didn't want to be reminded. Of the failure. Of the betrayal. Of the wasted years. I hoped against hope that I would just forget.

For a long time it seemed I never would.

Oh, I remember things. But not the eyes. Not now. I remember that I loved looking into them. Loved the reflection—seeing myself through those eyes, so precious to catch a glimpse from a perspective that wasn't quite so loathefully incriminating as my own.

When you learn that you've believed in a false reflection, revised self-definition—well, better to learn eventually than be fooled eternally. Or is it?

It was a slow death in those reflecting eyes. Cateracted. Counteracted. And, in truth, he never saw me for me, as me. He autocorrected. Edited out the parts that didn't fit his vision of who I should be. But, eventually, erosion left only the abhorrent parts. The blindness usurped by bitterness.

Angry in the invisible, I had exposed more and more, the most intimate exposure, things private, personal, prerequisite, pregnable—things that, left unnoticed, unacknowledged, unappreciated, transform from vulnerable to violated, mortally wounded.

Desperate to be seen, screaming to be heard, literally, I acted out in public to guarantee witness to my very presence.

I used to privately recite a poem I had written when I was an angst-ridden teen. It ended:
A king am I behind these walls
And loneliness my crown.
How I wish a kind someone
Would break my fortress down.

I should have bolded the kind part.

Too weak and unresourced to rebuild, you simply mark that private place "condemned" and keep out. Untended and unnourished, things therein, once pregnant with promise, abort—miscarried potential, possibilities dead on arrival.

Left barren. Unsustainable. Uninhabitable.

Fortunately, adjoining real estate prospers and thrives, others welcome to survey. Not all of you dies. Naturally. Nothing nuclear happened. Just landmines triggered and levees breeched.

And you eventually consider renovation, renewal, reforestation. Scorched earth replanted. Land of deserted dreams and abdicated self irrigated.

Recently, looking in on that wasteland, its desolation has diminished. Darling buds of maybe "ope"ing against hope. Restoration promising less Sysiphusian.

Perhaps all that really died were the co-opted wishes, the altered course, the rented plans, the borrowed time, the squatted priorities. Diverging paths, indeed. Now, grateful I could not take them both. Just one for me alone. Parts not wide enough to walk side by side. Parts too treacherous for two.

And, oh, the visions on that journey. How fortunate he could not behold them, for he would not have seen the beauty that I saw. . . nay, see!

I can't remember his eyes—what with mine now open.

Monday, November 26, 2007

DW: The 3 Second Manager

I like managing projects, but I do not like managing people. 

I just don't have the Condoleeza gene that permits one to disregard the feelings and contexts of others in an effort to get the job done. Good for Condi...I'm just not there, and I don't think I ever want to be.

Whenever I have to bring something unpleasant to someone's attention, I am plagued by my memories of what I used to refer to as "third sex" bosses; meaning, those who have managed to combine the worst traits of both men and women into a shrill, crisp, Greenwich, CT sort of presentation. You know, the kind of people who would continue pouring their martini if the maid fell down the stairs.

I like to empower people, and that's sometimes at odds with having to say something like, "you're being careless and not paying attention," or why do I have to send you five emails to do something."   I guess it's like being a parent, except to 12 unrelated adults.  We constantly create families in our workplace, and mine is certainly not an exception. I guess I'm just feeling exhausted by the relentless processing I am obliged to do.

I'm not sure I have anything more to say about this, other than managing people is definitely not the fun part.

If anyone has any wisdom to share, I'm open to suggestions.

SS: Hey, Danny, it’s Me

Last week, I found out that a friend of mine committed suicide. We had not been in contact for a few years, and it was a mutual friend who called me with the news. His name was Danny, and it is still hard for me to comprehend that he is gone. I wanted to write something about him, as a sort of a tribute. He was a special person – the type whose loss truly makes a dent in the world.

I met Danny in 1999, about four months after I moved to New York City from my hometown near Washington, DC. It was a difficult time for me. I was feeling lonely in this gigantic new city, I was struggling with my first post-college job, and had comically horrific roommates. I was doing all I could to keep myself together emotionally.

Almost from the moment he said hello, Danny put me at ease. He was a joker, and especially fond of impersonations. I remember the day we met because he launched into a hilarious imaginary dialogue between these two ladies – a mother and her long-in-the-tooth daughter who lived in Long Island. He had them throwing these casual yet incredibly caustic barbs at one another – all in a stereotypical Long Island accent. I was laughing so hard that day I managed to forget my worries.

We exchanged numbers, and would periodically get together or just talk on the phone for the next several years. He was quite open about personal issues, and I suppose this helped me open up to him about some of my own struggles at the time. He never tried to give me some quick-fix-it type advice. He would just listen and make me laugh. I appreciated this – sometimes you just need someone to listen.

Danny was a talented actor and comedian. He wrote several plays based on or influenced by his growing up gay in a Jewish neighborhood in Long Island. One of my favorites was “Shred it ‘Till It Blooms,” in which he portrayed the Old Testament God in a slinky cocktail gown and a feather boa. In another, “Gimme That Old Time Religion,” he wrote in a scene between Sarah and Hagar in which the two bond over using hand moisturizer. He said this was an homage to me: I have dry hands, so I’m always carting around a bottle of hand lotion, which I apply when the need arises. He loved this. He thought it was an extraordinarily glamorous and feminine ritual; that it captured some "true" essence of femininity. He would say I was the woman he wished he could be. Coming from him, I can think of no greater compliment.

It is amazing how prolific Danny was, considering some of the spectacular demons he dealt with daily. He was bipolar, and even with medications, he still struggled with the horrific highs and lows of the disease. He could be incredibly productive and confident during his manic periods -- writing his plays and comedy monologues -- as well as incredibly self-destructive.

When he was down, it was like he was pinned by a rock to the deepest corner of the Grand Canyon. He would completely isolate himself from human contact. You couldn’t get him on the phone, and he certainly wouldn’t call you. Nothing could bring him out of this -- not medicine, not therapy, not religion -- except for the passing of time.

And there were times he was on an even keel. He was calm. Those of us with less neurological ticks in our brain cannot begin to understand how lucky we are just to feel “even” each day. We cannot comprehend what it feels like to be permanently on the edge of the cliff, first afraid to fall – perhaps even fighting it –then accepting the inevitable descent, and finally praying for it to happen.

I wish Danny didn’t make the choice he did, but part of me can understand why he might have felt there was no longer any other viable option. He couldn’t find a medication that was working and I presume therapy wasn’t helping. He must have felt like a mute trapped in an abandoned mine – even if he wanted help, it was impossible for him to call out for it. A deep depression will do that; and if the pain doesn’t kill you, the numbness will. The numbness gives you the courage to do it.

I am sad that I lost contact with him before his death, especially because it was for no other reason than I was being a typical over-scheduled, crazily busy New Yorker. I would never be as arrogant to presume I could have prevented his death. I wasn’t a close friend of his and I think he was already on a path from which he would not be diverted. But I am sorry I couldn’t have had one more conversation with him:

Hey Danny, it’s me, Sarah. I’m sorry I haven’t called you in a while. A lot of things have happened in the past few years. I bought an apartment, quit that magazine job, and got married. I have a cat now. It’s November 26, 2007, and I’ll be 31 tomorrow. Wish you could be here. I love you.

© Sarah Stanfield, November 26, 2007

AV: What ... They Didn't See "T2"?!?!

Oh boy! Skynet!

Makes me think we're downright prescient here in CA ...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

WC: Art, Entertainment, and Reality

How much do we really want reality in our art/entertainment? That question kept going through my head yesterday as I watched Away From Her, Sarah Polley's film in which Julie Christie gets Alzheimer's disease. (WARNING: many plot points included in this discussion.)

Some sample reviews:
  • "Away from Her . . . stares uncomfortably into the face of Alzheimer's disease."
  • "Represents one of the few clear-headed, uncompromising looks at [Alzheimer's] and its impacts."
  • "Portrays the ravages of [Alzheimer's] with clear-eyed honesty."

The film does not remotely begin to show the ravages of Alzheimer's. Julie Christie never looks less than stunning. She's never viciously angry or horribly scared. She does at one point start wearing a tacky sweater she would never wear, but that's it. No dirt, no vomit, no curse words.

And it is Julie who decides to go to a nursing home, fairly early on in her Alzheimer's, so as to spare her husband. And not once does she change her mind--or forget her decision--or get angry about being left behind. Even when she forgets who her husband is, she is unfailingly kind to him.

And even when her disease progresses (a word her husband notes the irony of) and she has to move to the dreaded second floor, she just gets quiet and turns in emotionally. Again, no tantrums, no fury, no diapers.

The film uses Alzheimer's as a device, and to a certain extent that's legit. But in our very weird world, where people get more information from fictional movies than from magazines and nonfiction books, it's almost irresponsible to present this lovely, clean, quiet version of Alzheimer's. And it's frightening that so many reviewers thought it was reality.

I had a similar response to Lovely Bones, the book by Alice Sebold. (WARNING: more spoilers ahead.) It was hailed as an uncompromising look at the devastation of a family after the young daughter is murdered. Uncompromising? Ha.

I don't mean to harp on bodily fluids, but again, everyone's grief is very very clean. And the girl's sister has this perfect boyfriend who stays with her from junior high school on, being supportive and unselfish and patient every step of the way. That human doesn't exist, male or female. No one is perfect for years at a time.

The book also skirts the idea of the young girl even being dead, because she narrates it from the beyond and somehow manages a visit to earth to have sex, which she had never done before she died.

Both the book and the movie end with a sense of closure and even redemption, two commodities very very hard to come by for the loved ones of people who are murdered and people who have Alzheimer's. They provide versions of happy endings, trivializing the day-in, day-out, grinding, ugly realities of these awful occurrences.

HC: Two Book Recommendations


Eat Pray Love

The Post-Birthday World


Elizabeth Gilbert

Lionel Shriver

How I found out about it

Recommended by Debra Weiner (years ago, actually!)

Read a review in Entertainment Weekly





Paperback, purchased at an airport on my way to Europe

Hardback. I took it out of the library, read two chapters, returned it to the library, went out and bought it

Teeny synopsis

A woman’s major depression due to life matters (mostly a divorce) leads her to seek happiness through trips to Italy (Eat), India (Pray), and Indonesia (Love)

A parallel-universe book: The first Chapter 2 is about what would’ve happened if the heroine DID do something at the end of Chapter 1, and the other Chapter 2 is about what would’ve happened if the heroine DIDN’T do something at the end of Chapter 1. So the book goes from Chapter 1, to Chapter 2, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 3, etc, you get it!

Why I loved this book

Life affirming, funny, great descriptions of food, locations, life’s up and downs. Made me want to travel, eat, learn Italian, meditate, explore.

Oh the beautiful writing! Elegant, delicate, a sumptuous meal of words. That’s why I ended up buying the book. It was a 14-day library book, and that wouldn't have given me enough time to just leisurely read it.

Life since reading the book

I bought the book for my friend’s 70th birthday present and she loved it. I recommended it to my friend Kathy and she loved it. I tell everyone to read it, because it’s delightful. Go read it!

I recommended the book to my sister who read it and loved it. I gave the book to my mother to read, too…but she couldn’t read it because it weighed too much!

Writing sample

“I wish Giovanni would kiss me. Oh, but there are so many reasons why this would be a terrible idea. To begin with, Giovanni is ten years younger than I am, and—like most Italian guys in their twenties—he still lives with his mother. These facts alone make him an unlikely romantic partner for me, given that I am a professional American woman in my mid-thirties, who has just come through a failed marriage and a devastating, interminable divorce, followed immediately by a passionate love affair that ended in a sickening heartbreak.”

“A reserved woman of moderate inclinations to all appearances, Irina expressed an insidious attraction to extremes through decorative matters like seasoning, and few diners at her table suspected that her flair in the kitchen owed largely to a better-than-average mastery of the multiplication table.”

Final thoughts

I’ll read this book again in the future. It’s a great airplane book in that it makes you examine your own reasons for traveling, and gives you the desire to explore your insides while your outsides are on vacation.

I’ll read Shriver’s other book, We Have to Talk About Kevin, when I have the strength. Oh, Post-Birthday made me cry and think and love words. I didn’t find this book easy, but I did find it totally worthwhile and just excellent.


Friday, November 23, 2007

HC: Do you believe?

There's a psychic in my cute little town. She has long blond hair with bangs and gorgeous blue eyes. She's one of those people who, even when she's 95, will be cute and girly, and all you'll have to do to see her what she looked like as a little girl is blur your eyes a little bit when you look at her.

She calls herself a witch. When I hear that word I immediately think of Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, or the three witches in Macbeth stirring their caldron, or any other standard Halloween issue black-hatted, big nosed--preferably with a wart at the end, cackling version of "witch."

Maya, therefore, is something of a mystery to me.

When you meet her she's immediately warm and motherly. You may wrack your brain trying to remember if she's related to you somehow, or if you've always known her and somehow just forgot for a minute. You sit down in her little shop and she shuffles her tarot cards. She lays them out on the table and you pick some and she begins reading.

Am I a believer? I'm not sure. I think some people are very intuitive. Some people 'see' things others don't. Whether I believe or not, Maya says things that certainly seem psychic...things I don't think she could know. I won't go into proof right now, because that's not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about the need to be heard and the need to feel that someone cares. Maya is great at listening and helping. She's very nurturing. Going to see her is almost like going to a therapy session, but gentler, and without the stigma of "there's something wrong with me so I need to see a therapist" attached to it.

Maya makes me feel better. She reassures me. She helps me hear me, because sometimes I'm not a very good listener to myself. She asks me questions, gives me suggestions, and makes me think about ways to make my life even better.

The funny thing about talking about Maya now is that I was only a bystander in my latest visit to her. I accompanied a friend today, so the session wasn't about me. Before we got there, I asked my friend what she wanted to talk to Maya about. My friend said she wanted to know how to really sever ties with her ex-husband, but she wasn't going to say anything to Maya about it because she wanted to hear first what Maya came up with. Sure enough, Maya turned over the first few cards and said, "What's with you and this man, your ex-husband?" It went on from there. And it was very interesting and expansive and helpful and meaningful. Is it psychic? What's the real definition of psychic? Could Maya pass ESP tests? I really don't care. Maya is a lovely, caring, funny woman. Both my friend and I left feeling positive, and feeling the possibilities of the future.

Maya hugged us both as we left and I realized that that was just the physical manifestation of what she had already been doing psychically for half an hour: giving us hugs.

She's a lovely woman.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

HC: Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow, everyone!

[Many thanks to Erin for emailing me this joke.]

A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious, and laced with profanity. John tried and tried to change the bird's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to 'clean up' the bird's vocabulary.

Finally, John was fed up, and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder.

John, in desperation, threw up his hands, grabbed the bird, and put him in the freezer.

For a few minutes, the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute.

Fearing that he'd hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer.

The parrot calmly stepped out onto John's outstretched arms and said to John, 'I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my offensive and unforgivable behavior.'

John was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude. Just as he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird continued, 'May I ask what the turkey did?'