Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Acceptance? Tell THAT to Inigo Montoya!

I am not religious.  I think we have covered that, right?  But I hear this Serenity prayer a lot:
"God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference."
Acceptance.  It stares up at me from the engraved stone paperweight upon the desk from which I type.  It is not my desk, but the live-in, non-lesbian gal-pal, "Monica’s."  She’s very zen and gets a lot of satisfaction from life-affirming mottos.  I, do not.  I rather want to take that paper weight and lob it into Lake Scranton. 
Why should we accept things we can’t change? 
Why should we give up?
Inigo Montoya never accepted that he would fail to find the six-fingered man who killed his father. The odds were against him, but he never stopped trying, and is, for that reason, one of my most beloved film characters. Let's have a gratuitous clip! 

I don’t think it’s serene to be a quitter and throw in the towel.  I mean, most writers didn’t accept the fact that the majority of agents rejected them; most inventors don’t just throw their prototype away; so how do we know what to strive to save, and what we should watch tornado down the U-bend?
There are several times in my life where I have given up.  I’m not saying I’m proud of them, I'm not.  I am also pretty sure there are more examples than these, but these are the ones that race to the finish line first:

1)     Sports Day 400 m sprint.

2)     Relationship #2 #10 #14
Now, I was never all that athletic.  Sure, I’d cheer—being vocal was never a problem—but actually moving my body with the speed, strength and skill that my brain had so purely conceived, was never my forte. 

School Sports Day and Swimming Sports Day were, therefore, always a wee bit of a trial.  Okay, so we got an afternoon off class, but Sod’s Law was that it was always a class I enjoyed, and would much rather have been doing, than Humiliation 1-0-1.   But there it came around again, Sports Day.  *Grrr! Gnash teeth*.  And there was I, in scratchy, synthetic green athletics pants and second-hand air-tex, proving once again to all my class mates that I was, in fact, the only 15 year old who was so flat-chested she was practically concave.  (Oh, the cache of having boobs then would have made life so much easier!)  I digress.  

Seriously, these were mean-ugly uniforms that were, frankly, emotionally scarring.  Girls aged 11 to 18 should not be made to wear ugly green granny pants.  Full-stop.  I mean, really?  What is the pube-skimming point?  Oh, because an inch more fabric that might make the less-than-hot pants more luke-warm shorts, and would cut down on aerodynamism?  Please.  They were ugly, they were scratchy, they were wrong.  Never do this to your children, Parents.  Never do this to the World, Fashion People.

I was lucky to go to this girls school, because it was far more than my parents could really afford. Most of my items of uniform were from my 5ft 8 neighbour--I was struggling to make 5ft at the time--so I always looked somewhat comical. I even had my brother’s old hand-me-down Dunlop Green Flash trainers. Nike Air they were not. I can still picture their chewing gum white canvas uppers, the thick white rubber sole, the linguine-like laces, the tattoos of my brothers initials, covered over with my own in black marker. Far from ghetto, it just looked like I couldn't spell my own name, so not only was I gawky, unfashionable and sport-spastic, but apparently I also suffered from severe dyslexia.
Ah! Probably the cheapest shoe you can buy for your first child, then give to your second, stained and tangy.  Ta, Mum!
It is one thing sporting such a look, paired with uncoordinated inability, but it’s quite another proving your spasticality in front of the entire school and their parents, siblings and family friends, most hoisting camcorders just to make sure that your complete humiliation is captured forever more.
And so it was that my teacher decided, in the absence of anyone else volunteering, that I--Ennie-Oh-14-minute-mile--should take on the reigning county athletics runner in the 400m.  If I had the bolshy nerve my friends had, I would have nonchalantly proffered the monthly excuse they seemed—poor wretches—to be tormented by EVERY WEEK—Jesus, I must have been in the most menstrual class known to man—but I didn’t.  She had picked me and so, call to arms, I must do my class duty. 
*Sound the bugles!*

When the fateful day arrived, I actually imagined I might win—amazing the tricks your psyche can play on you! I envisaged that white ticker tape snapping as I ran through it, the cheers, the sound of  Chariots of Fire ringing in my ears, the trophy and maybe even the school record! Where I imagined I had conjured this sudden ability is beyond me, but I could see it on the backs of my eyelids, and I could smell victory in the fresh cut grass and the cloying stench of the latest highly perfumed deodorant my friends deemed it “cool” to be using.  (Something begining with a 'K' that smelled of toilet cleaner and Christmas trees.)

I took my marks, as directed, in the inner lane.  My opponent, templed her fingers to the ground, haunches skywards, focused for the pistol.  Oh, thought I, we are doing this proper Olympian-stylee--what a hoot--and I took some seconds to arrange self in what I suppose I would now refer to as, downward dog.  I probably spent far too much time getting comfy and not summoning my running muscles, because the expected “bang!” of the starter’s pistol caught me quite unaware.  What?   Fuck!  Ah!  Where?  Oh shit, she’s running! Goooooo legs, go! And as the Nike Air of my opponent ripped into the turf and away, my Dunlop Green flash squeaked retardedly into action.
I wish I could give you a good account of myself.  That, as I had envisioned, I had suddenly become possessed by Flo Jo; that the banana I had secretly wolfed down, because Linford Christie had a campaign on the telly about banana-gy, had fired my muscles with its potassium and magnesium goodness.  Alas, I can only report this: I was crap.

For the first lap I tried.  I beat my non-running limbs like little whisks; I thumped my arms as if I were having a sparring match with the Invisible Man; she only got further and further away. 
I remember the cheers from my class.  Oxymoronic encouragement—we were quite the snide achievers—“Come on Smell-eanor!”  “Run, Boobless! Run!”  Their enthusiasm only made me want to cry.  I gritted my teeth and pounded hard, but my legs were burning, the lactic acid gnawing at every sinew. 
I turned into the home straight and she was there, flying into the white ticker tape, feeling it snap against her impressive chest.  The cheers were for her.  The applause, for her.  The trophy that would be engraved, for her.

And I stopped running.

I gave up.
I believe—although this bit is a tad foggy—I pretended I’d pulled a muscle.  I yelped, limped, felt somewhere on my leg and stumbled off the track, without ever crossing the finish line.
That was seventeen years ago, and something that has never sat comfortably with me.  I accepted that I was beaten and I just gave up! 

Did I ever stand a hope of winning?  Hell No!  I was crap!  I think I've made this clear.  But I wish I had carried on, even though there was not a darn thing I could do to change the outcome.  Especially, since for me, this pathetic ending reeked of dishonor.  Shit, I don't think it was even a very convincing injury performance!
I am not saying that one incident taught me a life lesson, but I tasted the bitterness of giving up, and I didn’t like it.
Life has thrown a few sHituations since, mainly relationship-orientated ones, where I have shrugged my shoulders and let go, even though every fibre of my being has yelled “Come back!”  Mum had schooled me in the merits of retaining one’s dignity over actually exposing Self to hurt and saying what you really feel.  I thought this “acceptance” the classier thing to do.  Acceptance and denial that it was ever of any importance or worth anyway.  But, you know what?  That's bullshit.  The classier thing, surely, is not to pretend, but to fight for what you really want, or at least tell someone how you feel, rather than pretending.

I was never going to win that race, but I should have trotted on and taken a bow, proud of my true-blue-crap-at-sport-Brit heritage.  
If you are staring at defeat, what have you got to lose?  Pride isn’t so important when you’ve been unemployed for six months; when you feel a lump or see a mole that wasn’t there yesterday; when you are watching the love of your life slip away. 

Would you remain stiff and inert, paralyzed by pride; would you put up your dukes, but pretend to pull a muscle and limp out to lick your wounds when the going got too tough; or, if this is it, really and truly, what the fuck!  Wouldn’t you run?  Fuck the pretence, blow the stiff-lip, but with thighs burning and arms boxing, looking like a fool, wouldn't you at least bloody well give it a try?

So, I suppose what I am saying is, who is to say that a situation is hopeless or impossible?  If you don’t fight to change it, you’ll never know.  And even if it is irredeemable, wouldn’t you rather be the person who can say, “I gave it my all,” rather than, “Oh, I just half-arsed it, saw I couldn’t win, so gave up”? 

Whether fighting to win for fun, for sport, for work, for survival, for love, don’t be a Half-Arse.  Royally fuck it up with both cheeks exposed, because that will give real serenity.  You can rest your little over-thinking brain, because, props to you Lovey, you gave it your best!

I love this scene from Love Actually.  Andrew Lincoln's character has fallen in love with his best friend's fiance.  He is tortured.  Whilst he would not act dishonourably to his friend, for his own sanity and serenity, he has to tell the fiance he loves her, "without hope or agenda" and once he has, finally, told her then, then, he can let go.

Like Lincoln's character, only when I know I have done or said everything I can; when I have swallowed the lump of fear amassing in my throat--cunningly lodged to smother what I really want to say; when I have ignored the attack in my colon; spoken through the shallow snatches of breath and the yelling in my head that MAYDAY!  MAYDAY!  THIS COULD HURT!  BRACE YOURSELF!  INCOMING!; only then, when I have stripped Self of every defence mechanism I've hidden behind, can I be serene.  So I have rewritten the serenity prayer.  Blasphemous, probably, but …

Grant me the courage to fight for what I want,
Never to accept mediocre, half-arsedness,

(Even when others tell me I should give up and limp off)
But to give my all and know that opening Self to vulnerability and loss,
Takes more courage than hiding behind any protective façade.
Oh, yeah, and grant me wisdom too.  That's never a bad thing.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Everyone's a Little Bit Schadenfreude... la la

This Christmas Holiday, I sent a message to the Mothership.  "Please advise all that I will not really be doing Christmas this year.  I don't want to be embarrassed should folks from Blighty want to send me something, so please ask them not to.  Thanks, Mummita. Love me."

It's not that I am a Scrooge--although I am wearing legwarmers and gloves right now.  No, please don't buy me a Snuggie--I'd just don't want stuff that I will then have to accommodate in the Brooklyn Shoebox and--Heaven Forfend--dust!  I'd rather hibernate, write, read, listen to Adele, with a cannister of chocolate and a vat of wine.  (With a bendy straw.) This is far from an alternative Christmas; in fact, I am holding the very bastion of British Christmas dear: misery and chocolate.

Let me explain my choices:
Adele has the wisdom beyond her 23 years.  She writes lyrics that gut me like a freshly caught jail island salmon.  Shit, she is one heartsick chick.  My non-lesbian, live-in gal pal, let's call her *Monica,* has commented, after having to listen to the same agonized tune play from my computer over and over,
“Adele seriously needs to have a successful relationship.  Or lashings of good, hot sex.”  But, I disagree.  Sorry, Adele.  If I wanted to listen to Mariah Carey's Jingle-fucking-Bells, I would.  I want misery, goddammit!  Pure, unadulterated, gouge my eyes out with  a rusty trowel, pain. So Adele’s angelic voice, bemoaning her stressed and collapsing pulmonary, will be the soundtrack to my Christmas.  Her unhappiness is quite the comfort.  Why is that?  I am no sadist.  I don’t want others suffering, and yet my own puffy-faced, pre-Christmas-Mis is loving her great Cockney choral complaining.  I’m not even German, but I’m reveling in Schadenfreude, right now. 
"What's that?  Some kind of Nazi word?"
Well, click on and listen for the full explanation:

Maybe it is because the holidays are coming, and Adele reminds me of home: of being apart from Mum and Dad and Oliver, as they three sit at the table made for eight, pulling crackers, wearing paper crowns, talking about the gravy and the roasties not being as good as last year’s organic offering from Sainsburys; of settling down for the turkey coma to set in whilst watching the EastEnders Christmas special, in which someone will undoubtedly die, eating a glass bauble--yes, it happens; or in a house fire, because Ethel fell asleep after her annual sherry, her lit cigarette smouldering up the synthetic, brown 1968 sofa;  or because there was a particularly heated argument in which Alfie discovered Kat was sleeping with Matt, Martin, Pete, Phil, Rickeeeeey and Uncle Tom Cobbly, and now half the Square is dead, dead, dead and floating in the Thames. Ah yes!  I could write the script!  Downton Abbey, it ain't.
If 2011 has left you hemorrhaging from the eyes with disappointment, it is such a comfort to see, hear and sing about others less fortunate.  Tidings of comfort and joy?  Fuck that!  We Brits like a dollop of misery to make us feel better about our own shit-uations, then we pass around the Quality Street tin full of chocolate jewels, and allow the chocolate opiate to dull our senses.

Oh, you think I’m joking?  No, really.  Chocolate.  It is a traditional part of a British Christmas: teasing kidlets with the mouthful of chocolate behind their advent calendar door, and then, WHOA, WHEY HEY!  It’s the 25th Choc-fest! While Americans sit back and watch the marathon brain-melt of American Football, munching Christmas cookies and chugging the eggnog, we Brits watch a marathon of low-income misery-drama and have a high ol’ time on chocolate.  As we age, we also add wine which aids chocolate consumption.  (No, am not being so cultured as to say we pair our vino with dark chocolate to bring out certain notes.  We just drink beyond our dietary inhibitions and stuff our faces.  It is Christmas, after all.)

Chocolate actually releases certain neurotransmitters, which signal between neurons.  Impulses shuttle along our neurons to illicit movement or sensation, so the more particular neurotransmitters we have, greatly impacts on our mood.  I’ll spare you the science, but basically chocolate-produced-neurotransmitters can cross the synapse from one neuron to another, and trigger the receptors to fire off different responses in other neurons.  It’s Chocolate Domino Rally. 

You’ve probably heard of three of the main happy neurotransmitters: endorphins, which reduce pain and stress; serotonins, which are anti-depressants; and phenylethylamine, or “chocolate amphetamine,” which causes changes in blood pressure, can quicken your heart rate and thusly, illicits that heart-pumping feeling of being in love.

Tryptophan, an essential amino acid we ingest, is a pre-cursor of serotonin, and guess what is tryptophan-rich?  Uh huh, turkey!  So really Christmas Choc-Fest and Turkey-Gorging is just one big Serotonin Orgy.

Really, with all this going for it, chocolate should be a major food group.  Does Anthony Bourdain know this?  He’s all about the meat.  The more “unctuous” the better, but he used to be about the drugs.  If only he knew that chocolate was a legal drug.  But then, his story would be much different and not half as scandalous or entertaining.

So, if you should see me over the next week, without my family, not wearing a paper crown, or telling a crappy joke and lighting my Wolverine eyebrows on fire when flambeing the Christmas pud; but instead, bundled somewhere in New York or Pennsylvania, wailing Adele, watching miserable TV, and eating vast amounts of chocolate, know that I am merely celebrating in a very British way.  And if this rather alien description paints a sad picture to you, then maybe I am giving you the gift of Schadenfreude this Christmas,
"we provide a vital service
to society, You and me,
Schadenfreude, making the World a better place to be!"

God Save the Queen.  And Chocolate.  And Wine.

"Yes, we know we are alive when it hurts."  Don Lafferty.

*Please note, the Monica of my blogette does not smoke or play with cigars.  Or Politicans.  She just likes the name.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Times flies. Are you having fun?

I remember a book I read summers and summers ago.  Actually, remember is a bit of a stretch, because I don’t, but ingrained indeliably through the fog of time is a particular quote.  It has stuck with me for over a decade.  I found it so profound I stopped reading, reached from my bunk in a caravan somewhere in a field in Southwold, where I was performing that summer, grabbed my purple inked pen and wrote it down on the front page of my turquoise leather-bound diary (I have always had a penchant for turquoise, and leather, and luxurious stationery.)

Organic pathways. This contains ethanol. How do I not remember it?
I’m glad I did write it down, for otherwise, it would be lost, swirling within the dark coils of the forgotten, along with organic pathways, how to ask for help to change a tyre en francais, and how to disassemble a SA80 rifle; things that only a French-accented hypnotist with a big pocket watch could help me access now.

My eyes snapped magnetically to the quote like an iron filing.  I suppose I liked it so much, because I am, at the core, a romantic, and long, run-on sentences bursting and crumpling like a soufflé of desperate emotion, just GET me.  They stab me in the heart and twist the knife like a Calabrese, they churn my intestines as if through a meat grinder, they suck the air from my alveoli and leave me breathless.  They strike me like a bowling ball, straight and true, and leave me scattered.

Par example mes petits lapins, in Dirty Dancing, when Baby confides to Johnny, in a helpless, heart-pouring way, “Me? I’m scared of everything!  I’m scared of who I saw, what I did, who I am.  But most of all, I am scared of walking out of this room and never feeling my whole life, the way I feel when I am with you.”  Surely, surely, one of THE most stomach-flipping lines in modern cinema.  (And I could type it without even looking it up.)  (Should I admit to that?)

Here is the clip, in it's I-recorded-this-on-my-camcorder-in-the-basement-of-my-parent's-home-where-I-never-leave-and-I-wear-a-snuggie glory.  Apologies for the quality of this, the better ones were all protected, this one wasn't.  And it shows.  But, pah!  At least those of you who read that quote and wondered what I was gibbering on about, will now know.

Now, don’t get your hopes up.  This is not a line of such erupting emotion, but as quotes go, it is one that resonates with me as strongly now as it did over a decade ago in a caravan in Southwold. 

“Time.  I’m so scared of time.  That suddenly the portion in front of me will be smaller than the one behind me.”

I am terrified of wasting time.  I type this blog after over five hours waiting  for my flight in Fort Lauderdale airport courtesy of Jet Blue—oh, I had the Jet Blues alright—so it’s on my mind.  You know I don’t like my time to be wasted.  And, if you don’t know how much this offends me, I refer you to TIME WANKERS: I'm Waitinggggggg!  I suppose time is even more of a kick in the arse as I am paralysed, like actually deer-in-the-headlights-frozen that, at 32, the majority of my eggs have been cooked. Poached? Scrambled? Fried? Fertilized? So, you know, I am just a lil' bit ancy pantsy about time.
My zen friends tell me to live in the moment.  Ah.  Sweet.  That’s just peachy.  Sure, I’ll go with the flow!  Look Ma, this is me, going-with-the-flow, no hands, unplanned, I’m just letting it be. 

Phooey.  If I don’t have a plan with a deadline, however am I ever going to have something to aim for, something to achieve?
I had goals this year.  I sincerely thought that two years since signing my retainer, this would be the year.  The magic P. year.  (And no, I don’t mean pregnancy, I mean the book baby, the book baby!)  But here we are.  It’s December.  How the fuck did that happen?  Was I sleep-living through the last eleven months?  Did aliens kidnap me, probe me (we are talking Aliens here, and I have just watched Paul) and did these little green men steal my time from me?  (And my eggs?)

Why is it that we all say, “OH! December! The years go faster every year!”  No they fucking don’t.  I’m a scientist, and I know I have the same 365 days to use or waste as everyone else, but yet, IT’S DECEMBER, HOW. CAN. THIS. BE?  (No, am not forgetting Leap Years.  Don’t be pedantic.)

Ennie-ana Jones, bringing it back.
It’s not just me, right?  Tell me that I am not the only one who has been alien-ated by the space-time continuum?   Why is it that the sands of time are running out before my eyes?  It can’t be that I’m busier than ever, because retirees who mark their days by seasons of what shows are on, say it: “Oh, the year’s just flown by!”  Where?  Where has it flown?  I want to go to there and rescue it back.  I’ll throw my Indiana Jones hat on, my new trusty brown leather riding boots, my rope and my rifle (which I’ll try to remember how to assemble) and I’ll rescue it all back!  I’ll lasso it and bring it home, along with my thyroid, my cocker spaniel, my grandparents, the man I love so much I can hardly breathe.  All the things I have lost and so desperately want back.
Just give me the address.
Or failing that, answer me this: why does time fly faster?  How can I slow it down?  Not death, obviously.  That’s not all that appealing right now, thanks.  But why does my life flash before my eyes?  How do I live "in the moment," when so much is swirling around like a tornado and slurping down the friggin' pipe like a thirsty, deprived Catholic on spring break?  
And why are tears so, so salty?  I want it back.  I want it all back.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


This maybe a huge, great Thelma-and-Louise-off-a-cliff-leap here, but I think best-selling women’s fiction author, Jane Green and I are kindred spirits.  We are British ex-pats living in the north east of America--she in chic Westport, Connecticut, where I nannied for a brief orbit of the sun; me in Brooklyn and Pennsylvania. We’ve both spent considerable time in New York, we are/we have been married to Americans and we like the ritual of cooking: rich stews, fragrant casseroles, warm, farmy, comfort fodder!  The one great fat fly in the ointment is that she mothers arks full of children.  She even cooks for them all.  Whereas I… I’m gestating novels and not much else.
I suppose I have been thinking about this a lot lately as, not only have two girlfriends given birth in the last week, and six that I know about in the last year, but I am listening to Jane Green’s Babyville.  It’s a wee bit dated with pop-culture commentary, the heroines don’t text or tweet or FB at all, they drink lattes like they don’t contain 200+ calories, but the overall story supersedes these flinch-worthy retro references, because to me, it is about early thirties British females discovering the best of NYC food, cock and the unignorable tock of their biological clock. 

In Babyville we meet Sam—happily up the duff; Maeve—ruthlessly career-focused and unhappily up the duff; Julia—desperate to be up the duff, and as mad as a rather mad eye-rolling-cow circa 1998 rural England; and Bella the urban Manhattanite who—thus far—is plagued with neither dictatorial ovaries nor a pregnancy plotline.

I must confess, Julia, at first, was not a character I could really sympathize with.  With a fabulous career in TV production, and not exactly the most enviable relationship, why would she go so bat-shit-crazy that she would drop £200 at Boots Pharmacy (at a time) on pregnancy testing kits?  That’s just not rational.  That’s bonkers!  Think of the nice pair of tan-topped black leather riding boots she could buy with that?  The dress at Karen Millen?  The flight to Paris and back!  This, methought, is just the sort of lunatic that gives sane thirty-somethings a bad name, and makes men sigh and use the condescending phrase “women’s issues.”

Julia is, undoubtedly, held captive by her raging hormones and obsession to conceive, and her whack-job behaviour—picture her in a white sheet make-shift toga and penis-carved candles—loses her the sympathy of her partner, her colleagues and even, just a smidgen, her friends.

I have far, far more empathy with sharp-suited and pointy-toed Maeve.  She has drive, ambition and no time to think of anyone but herself, least of all a baby.

And then it happens.  The unthinkable.  After a few tequilas, there she is, in an unlit alley way, consoling Julia’s now ex-non-baby-daddy, a sympathetic snog, a grope and bing bang, bang, bang, boom, it’s an unwanted embryo.  Within weeks this well-put-together woman becomes the victim of her hormones, a screaming harridan, a chocolate fiend.  (I realised at this point in the story that I really miss English chocolate, particularly Picnic, Lion Bar and Double Decker.  FYI, Christmas Gift Purchasers.)

So I started thinking about the cliché: do women really have a biological clock?  What if some run really slowly, or some women don’t hear theirs because they are focused on something else and then, Brrrrinnnnnnnnnggggg it rings, but the time they hear it, it has been whacked to snooze so many times that now opportunity has passed and it’s too late, and heck, sorry sister, you were too busy la la-ing your own song… what then?  What?

The Duggar Tribe. 19 children and counting...
Seriously, her uterus must be the size of China.
A woman’s biological clock, so I understand, is triggered by the presence of certain hormones.  Some women obviously have more than others.  I’m thinking Ma Duggar and the Octo-mom are the Jose Canseco of the female egg world.  Is this age specific?  Frame specific?  Diet-specific?  Is it something that is influenced by those around you: all close friends spawning, and causing contagious ‘something-in-the-water’ breeding?  Is it affected by circadian rhythms?  The lunar phase?  The day light perceived and timed by magical receptors in our retinas, sending hormones surging and knickers a-plunging?  Or, is it something that is fired off into the stratosphere if you meet the right person?

Unlike men, women do have limited fertility.  Men have little age-related decline in fertility since they have stem cells that can produce semen all day long.  Yeah, thanks!  That’s one in the eye from Oh Great Creator/ Evolution/ Other.  Instead we are born with 2 million eggs and we never produce anymore, they just… DIE.  Like lemmings.  Every month.  There’s some dying right now… “AHHHHHhhhhhh!”  I can hear them.  30 to be precise.  30 a day.  1000 a month.  13,000 eggs a year.  Only 400 eggs get to ovulation in our lifetime, which means, by the time we hit 40ish, the larder is eggless, yolkless. 

That’s one sad little breakfast muffin with no eggs, just sausage.  (Make mine a soppressata with provolone, grazie!)

Is it any wonder women in their 30’s can become hob-knob-crackers-woof-and-trail-mix-nuts crazy?  Of course not, they have organs committing hari-kari everyday!  How would you feel?

And now we are living to an older age, and climbing the career ladder, more couples/singles are putting off spawning, but Egads! By mid-thirties 25% of women are infertile.  That's 1 in 4.  1 in fucking 4!  Did I mention lots of my friends have kiddos?  *Gulp*  As we age the number of eggs and the quality of eggs go down.  Infertility is an epidemic.  More western world people are visiting doctors for infertility issues, not heart disease or diabetes.  In.fer.tility.

Shit.  Maybe Julia was not so nutzoid, after all.  Maybe it is just fear that sends our biological clocks a-buzzing.  The urgent, unignorable wake up call that signals, “HOLY CRAP, we’re dying here.  Would you just throw us a bone, you selfish, work-obsessed bitch?”

Maybe the cliché biological clock is merely awareness.   As we age, we become aware of our limited availability to produce the perfect 2.4 pigeon-pair family.  And maybe the conception of this life-altering nugget of knowledge, fused with other factors is what primes the alarm.

I know it’s changed for me.  I know now that three meals a day are better than the one I felt so virtuous about eating.  I know that the less-than-one-hundred-pounds I weighed five years ago would have housed a womb about as welcoming as Wyoming.  I know now, that just because so-and-so has a brat who does not understand “no,” who constantly has a runny nose and sticky fingers—which he generously wipes on me—does not necessarily mean that all children (namely, mine) will be badly behaved; I understand that nurturing and educating a little bundle of cells can be the most miraculous gift one could give and receive.  A bundle I hope to teach compassion, to have passions, integrity and honour; to know French, some Italian, spellings, Capitals, Kings and Queens, inorganic chemistry, horse-riding, swimming; how to make creme brulee and risotto; and to say "lovely, smashing and super!"

Sure, awareness has me staring into the face of the alarm clock, like it is 4.29am and I wish I could sleep a little longer, but I can’t.  I close my eyes, but the anticipation holds me prisoner.  One can never lose consciousness in such circumstances. 

But there is a catalyst: a magical, mystical overriding element that speeds up time and suddenly it is 6am and the little tinny alarm is tolling like the bells in Notre Dame.  “The Bells, Esmeralda, the bells!”

And that, Dear Reader, finally, after years of falling for Non-Compatibles—whose Levis I shouldn’t touch, let alone their chromosomes—is knowing myself better: being more able to identify those I might be compatible with and whose genes I might like to comingle. 

I’m writing this because I’ve found the 180 degree change in me interesting.  I’m not speaking for womankind, just myself.  I understand there are many factors at work determining our instinct to follow our biological imperative.  I am sure those ladies so desperate to mother that they go to sperm banks and sign up for their carefully selected semen, feel their biological clock a-tocking just as strongly as if they had just met the Love-of-their-Life.  But I've needed the latter.

Will I be racing to Babys R Us and signing up for a registry?  Absolutely not.  (Sorry Mum.)  But maybe I’m paying more attention now.  Maybe there is more reason to?  Or maybe I am just some character in a Jane Green novel, who learns that there are some instincts that trump even work ethic.

Maeve: He has become, other than Viv, my most favourite person in the whole world, and I can’t think of a better person to be raising my child with.  I love the idea that my child will be half mine, and half his.  To be honest, I can’t think of a better combination.  Other than Steve McQueen, of course. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so comfortable with a person, other than my family.  You know, you’re my best friend.”  --I’m not sure quite what has come over me, because spontaneous outbursts of affection are really not my style, but I don’t think I ever really knew how important it was to have someone before.  And I don’t mean another half.  I just mean someone to share things with, someone like a best friend, or a brother, someone like him.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Jane Green, Babyville

Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's all gone dark, Mother.

It’s rather curious that I write contemporary women’s fiction.   I have been pondering this a lot lately, since the novels that have influenced me most this year have all been much, MUCH darker.  I wonder if this is an age thing, and now that I am wading into my thirties all things get just that smidgen more serious; or maybe it is a trend in the market, that I am, by chance, following; or maybe it is that I have hit a sink-hole in my life, and by reading about characters whom I would not change shoes with, even if they were Swarovski crystal-encrusted Christian Louboutin’s, makes me feel better. 

Let’s examine the evidence:

It was in 2009/2010 that the then local indie bookstore manager, and great chum, Andrea, recommended Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale.  Weird title, thought I.  Doesn’t exactly look riveting.  But Andrea’s wise, doe-eyes lit up when she described it to me: “It’s the best book I have read all year.”  Now, I don’t get to read as much as I would like, so if I am going to commit to a 300+ page novel and invest my time in it, dang right I’m going with Andrea’s recommendation.

So I bought it.  I wish I had bought more books at Anthology.  I wish all Scrantonites had.  Then maybe the urban loft with red brick walls would still be filled with books, and the perpetual cough of the coffee machine and milk frother spluttering musically downstairs, rather than echoing with emptiness.  But I digress.

The book lay by my bedside.  Many times I crawled under the covers and managed a page before my roller blind eyelids would give up the fight.  So there it remained, within an arm's reach, to be buried alive by the incoming detritus of my life.

It wasn’t until this year, February 2011, I remembered I even had it.  I had traveled to Ind-ja with Indra, and there, at our hostess’s beautiful accommodations in Kerala, lay The Thirteenth Tale, well-thumbed with the spine almost calcified with use.  I was finishing a Jodi Picoult, Mum had insisted I read and I thought would be easy aeroplane material, so Indra sensed the latent possibilities of the book and got her mitts on it first.  She opened the cover and disappeared into its pages for days.
I popcorned through the rest of my novel, but every few pages I couldn’t resist peeking to my right to monitor the ever-more rapt-gaze of my friend beside me.  I finished my Picoult, but I didn’t start another.  I knew that I had to wait until Indra had finished so, finally, I could delve into the lauded literary fiction for myself.

And into the rabbit hole I fell, and was sucked under into the beautifully charted, appallingly hideous world of Vida Winter.   The first person narrative is not from Vida, however, but a bookshop owner’s daughter, Margaret, selected by Vida to write her biography.  The unbelievably believable tale of inbred identical twins born to the sister and brother of a country estate just begins the twisted saga that is to infect, fester, and bloom like gangrene. 

I turned the pages rapidly, eyes-filled and repelled with these unnatural visions, yet bulging hungrily for more.   Yes, I was in India.  Yes, the tea gardens, the tiger preserve, the chaotic squeeze of the city were fascinating, but all I wanted was to sit on the veranda overlooking the mountains, and think about what kind of Crazy would possibly cut through flesh and carve initials on his own living bone?  Gruesome, huh?  And I’m the type of person who can’t even watch the ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs!

The trend continued with Audrey Niffenneger’s Her Fearful Symmetry.  This book didn’t seem to reach the acclaim of her previous novel, The Time Traveller’s Wife, but I was spellbound, enraptured, indivisible from each thick cream hardback page.  This is a haunting tale of identical twins (yes, twins, again.  “Curiouser and curiouser,” said Alice), who, following their aunt’s untimely death, travel to Highgate, London, to receive her estate.  Robert downstairs, the deceased’s fiancé, looks after the younger versions of his much-missed Love. 

It is a beautifully-written and conceived story.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I never thought I was ‘into’ ghost stories.  The idea of gaggles of invisible dead people watching me as I shower, as I exercise, as I eat peanut butter from the jar in front of Facebook at 1am?  No thank you.  But this is Blithe Spirit-post-anesthetic-trippy-woo-eye-opening-conscious-altering!  Yup, that’s an adjective.

Lastly, the voice of Susie Salmon, “as in the fish,” is the one that is currently haunting me.  Okay, so I am just a tad late to the party with Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, but GAH!  Holy gollywonkers!  Alice Sebold is the Queen of Dark.  Not in a self-conscious, overly grandiose way.  She does not spill the guts in a gratuitous style.  Her frank writing delivered by Susie's forever-fourteen year old voice has me gripping the steering wheel--the knuckles and valleys of my clenched fists tight and bone white, even at 30 mph.  Yes, I am listening to this one.  My ears have sucked up eight CDs in two days.  I have three left in which I hope Susie Salmon’s killer will be found and her family patched together, but knowing Sebold, she’s bound to twist the knife right in my cochlea.

This descent in darkness has me unraveling, deconstructing my writing and plotting novels I know cannot end happily ever after.  Is it age?  Is it just a trend?  No.  I think it is just the effect of great writing, and how it influences a receptive mind.  So buckle up, Dear Readers, I think it’s going to get pretty gritty.


Both Orpheus and Eurydice

She runs, but must look back.

Her limbs flounder incapable,

As she trips over the track. 


Her face strikes the railing,

But its marble doesn’t crack,

The skin itself submits

To this cold and rusty rack.

A colourless cheek hugs the iron

Impressed upon her skin,

As the desperation drains out

So does the fight to win.

In an iron grate,

She waits, numbed for

Her fatal Fate.

She hears it.

The slow, soporific chug

And rocking vibration,

A lullaby in her iron cradle.

The hooded executioner,

With rotating steely blades,

Approaches, head down, charging,

To Him she must obey.

Her eyes close, catatonic.

All is noise – pneumatic, mechanic

Movement up and down,

Pistons driving the motion,

Towards her sacrificial devolution.

Round and round,

Louder and Louder,

Closer, closer, closer….

The metal screech that curdles,

Brakes applied, but it still hurtles

Towards murder, it is certain.

Her eyes flash wide and frozen,

As she looks into its face

She gasps at the sheer waste,

Why didn’t she just race

Towards him keeping wits about?

Why did she have to look back?

But the blades lick the track,

And it’s too late to stop ‘em,

She’s nods at her fate--

It’s the countdown conundrum.

Out of time, she is sliced and swallowed whole,

And the armoured train just surges on.

Friday, October 7, 2011


On Sunday, someone, somewhere wasted my time.  My valuable time.  I'm not saying it was any more valuable than yours--well, to me it was--but it was my Sunday time.  Time that I could have remained at brunch with mes amigas.  Not only did I cut short this pleasant Sabbath rendez-vous, but I held back; declining the mimosa, bloody Mary, and bellini, because I am professional and wanted to be on time for my appointment. 
Instead, I gulped down gulletsful of inextravagant, bitter coffee.  I listened with half an ear, checking my phone for the time, letting the conversation fog my hearing, as Brain rehearsed the lines I would have to recall later.  I barely participated in the fast-paced chat, the camaraderie of four friends starved of each others’ company.  I gasped monosyllables between mouthfuls of omelet and small pauses for breath.  I nodded like a dashboard dolly, and retreated tortoise-like into my work-world.
The feta, red pepper and spinach omelet hardly hit the sides and was devoured at record, unsavoured, speed.  I kissed cheeks, left money and ricocheted out of the door.  I drove through the rain, unpacked the hefty cases from the car, tottered up the stairs to the front door, rang the doorbell and…

No one was there.
I had left messages confirming the appointment, had stood on the pavement a week before, shaking the woman’s hand, agreeing, with beaming smiles, the date, the time, the specifics.  And yet, she was not there.  My cell phone held no garbled excuses.  She simply had not shown up.

Days later and the bile still bubbles.   I’m pissed.  I’m really pissed.  I’m as pissed as a cow left standing in a cramped stall, knee-deep in shit, unable to walk away because its udder is caught in the milker.  It’s not that it hurts exactly, it’s just feckin’ annoying and DISRESPECTFUL.
Dad—he Who Shall Not Be Named, because the internet is E-ville and, he’s not paranoid, but everyone is out to get him, and me, and any information I volunteer on the web will surely lead to my being raped and murdered and my thin and frail body torn limb from limb, (probably left by railway tracks)—has a military background.  (Please E-ville internet, don't prove him right.) He plans with military precision.  He is always early, never late, and, according to Dad, if you are on time, then you are late. 

So Dad instilled this Dickensian credo into my head from a very early age, and I learned that if I was late, I better be bleeding from some unstaunchable wound, preferably, my eyes or femoral artery.  It’s just the way it goes. 
But times change.  I used to be five minutes early.  Always.  Now?  Not so much.  In fact, as I have aged, so has my timing.  It could even be described as a little on the vintage side, BUT here’s the difference: we have mobile phones now, so if, when, I know I am going to be late, I phone and I apologise, and I tell the waiting party when I will arrive.  I feel that this is a common courtesy.
Hello! Yes, running late. I seem to have lost my trousers.

Sure, would it better practice to stick to Dad’s rule?  Absolutely!  But, I’m not Dad, and I am inconveniently side-tracked as often as British Rail.  So hurrah for the modern cellular device!  I should have “I’m on my way. Be with you in 5 mins,” saved to my favourites!
Crikey, we even have email, text, pager, twitter, FB…blah, blah, etc., etc., THERE IS NO NEED TO LEAVE SOMEONE DANGLING.  Honestly, it doesn’t even matter if you fib and tell me your alarm didn’t go off, or you couldn’t find your car keys, or you forgot you had a dental appointment.  I don’t care!  Just text me! 
Be creative!  Tell me you were too busy frolicking in bed with Ryan Gosling, who just so happened to knock on your door last night for a cup of milky Ovaltine, and held you captive ever since.  Message me that you were single-handedly damming a river and saving a drowning beaver!  Leave me a voicemail that the Ellen Show just called and they are flying you out to California to appear in a contest because you possess the cartoonishly horrifying 'skill' of opening metal cans with your teeth.  I’d just be happy to know that you respect me enough to make up a great lie so I am not left waiting.

When someone doesn’t text/call/send up smoke signals, they are clearly not thinking of you and believe their shit is more important than yours. 
I have a special name for this type of person who thinks the world revolves around them, and is too rude to take a second out of their busy schedules to text/call you and tell you that they are not coming/ will be late… a WANKER.

Yes, a Wanker.  There’s some regular Anglo-Saxon for you.

After a spoiled Sunday Brunch, sans mimosa, I got thinking about all the many and varied ways my time had been wasted and I had been left waiting, and how crappy, unwanted and unvalued this had made me feel.

Time Wankers, when you don’t show up, when you don’t call to say you are running late, do you realise you have an impact?  Do you understand the ramifications of your inactions?  I’m not being over the top, you have an effect.  As I turned from the unopened door on Sunday, heaving my heavy bags down the perilous apartment stairs, as I schlepped the cases back in the boot of the car and drove down the road, a frustrated tear breached my defences.  I didn’t crash, but I could have. 

I know, not everyone who is late deserves the TW title.  There are different degrees of Time Wankerage.  I’ve narrowed it down to these basic categories:

Sub-genre: Blatant-Serial-and-thus-Expected-TW-Offenders
And then, the Major-League-Bastard-Face-Slow-Death-Son-Of-A-Bitch-TW-Offenders.
I know quite a few Serial-and-thus-Expected-TW’s.  It’s annoying, but you learn pretty quickly to antipicate their lateness.  I have even made it rewarding and placed bets on their tardy timekeeping. They will blow in, 15 minutes late, gasping for breath, “having a bad hair day,” or complaining about the traffic.  Really, it amounts to bad planning.  Serial TW, you should have got up 15 minutes earlier, or you should have not taken that last phone call just as you were leaving. 
I probably—alas—I definitely, fall into this category, so I’m not being a sanctimonious dickshit.  However, I do text/call ahead, so no one is dangling.  I like to believe this saves me from complete, irredeemable Time Wankerage.
Maybe, I'm the virtuous version.  I know, I try to pack too much in, and there’s my downfall.  However, there are Blatant Serial TW’s.  For example: people who say, “Honey, we’ll go after the game. There’s only 10 minutes left of the quarter.”
Listen, Chump, you are blatantly lying!  10 minutes in any sport, especially American Football, is NEVER 10 minutes.  You are just leaving your poor partner dangling because you want to sit your idle arse on the sofa, and you don’t want to shop.  You are probably secretly hoping for overtime, aren’t you?   You have your fingers crossed--hidden down your trousers--that she will sigh, shrug, shoulder her handbag and go without you.  You may be in touch, giving constant commentary on the state of the game and the minutes and seconds left, but if you know 10 minutes really means a whole feckin’ hour, please respect her time.  She could be doing something interesting.  Like licking the windows.
Funnily enough, ma amiga told a tale at brunch, that illustrates this type of oblivious disrespect, wonderfully.  Picture the scene: a lush, green animal-rescue haven nestled between creek and hillside somewhere in the wilds of northeast PA.  The farm is home to ma amiga and her menagerie of animals she has saved from perilous fates.  Let’s not mince words: death.  She has saved them from death, often nasty, painful, slow, neglectful death.   So here she is, this one-woman band, grateful for volunteers and donations for her non-profit. 
Out of the blue she was contacted by someone, somewhere, who wanted to come and see the animals.  The someone, somewhere, it turned out was traveling quite a distance to visit, so ma amiga kindly offered her the guest bedroom.  She’s a nice lass, ma amiga.

The guest bed was made up, dinner was prepared, wine was bought--the nearest State Liquor Store being over an hour away--and other guests were invited to welcome this visitor.  All was ready and waiting.  Waiting being the inoperative word.  Ma amiga, grew red-faced for her guest, as the minutes ticked by, accompanied by the sounds of hungry stomachs gargling.  An hour passed.  Another hour passed.  At what hour the visitor telephoned, I don’t recall--I was gulping coffee and omelet as the story flowed—but she did call, several times, to say “I’m coming, be there soon.”  Fine, fair enough.  If it were true.  But IT WASN’T!

The night drew in, the heavens opened, the fire was lit, the dinner got burned, the dinner got cold, the dinner was eaten, and FIVE HOURS after the appointed time, the visitor walked in.  No apology.  No seeming embarrassment, just an 11pm energy and hunger to demolish everything in sight, including a whole bottle of wine.
To add her already alarming Time Wankerage, the visitor tried her best to completely shanghai ma amiga and make her complicit in her TW shenanigans.  In the morning, the laggard would not get out of bed, in spite of the fact that the whole point of her retarded trip was to visit the animals!  Ma amiga had specifically told the visitor that she needed to leave to get to her appointment on time, but Visitor’s inert and then slow-moving oblivion, made ma amiga’s well-planned morning, a trying one.  That’s TW 1-0-1.


Wow, that’s quite some title you have to earn there.   What do you expect?  We are out of the Minors here.  This is full-frontal effrontery.  Someone who disrespects you to your face.  Who smiles and says they will be somewhere or do something without any intention of it ever being so. 

I hear of many of these TW's in the workplace.  Bonuses dangled and held ransom.  The end prize held captive by an inefficient, nonchalant party, happy to just let you hop from foot to foot like a constipated pigeon.

MLBFSDSOBTW is not reserved for bosses and obstructive co-workers, but it can rear its retarded head in relationships too: to the friend who has been dating her chap for ten years and he STILL won’t commit… he’s a Wanker; to ma amiga who has had to serve papers twice, because he STILL won’t sign… he’s a Wanker; to the girl, struck dumb with disappointment, waiting for something to change, but he never notices… you are the Wanker, because you have to make the change, or say or do something!
It is an over-used expression nowadays, but the phrase, “He’s just not that into you,” can fit most TW scenarios.  Whether dating or not, when you enter into a relationship with someone, be it business, friendship, marriage, there are rules of engagement.  These are unstated, but generally the rule is that, if you want to retain the services/good feeling/ sexual favours in said relationship, then you treat the person with respect.  You don’t leave them dangling, penis or pencil in hand.  If you are late, or busy, or aren’t interested, TELL THEM.  Then time can be spent more productively working/socializing/shagging someone else.
I’m probably being just a smidgen hypocritical here.  Have I left people dangling?  Err… Jeremy Paxman “Yesssss,” but, my time management, or lack thereof, is never meant maliciously.  And funnily enough, it is often those I care most about who see the Ennie McLatekins, because I know/I hope that they know, I am doing my headless poultry thing, trying to catch rain with my fingers splayed, whilst juggling ten feral, rabid cats. 
Mum and Dad, when you phone me and I bark down the phone, “I’M VERY BUSY,” I am sorry.  Please don’t take it personally, it’s just … I am trying so very hard to get things done, to meet deadlines and people, to be on time and not let anyone down, to not be a Time Wanker, that I end up being Barky the Bitch.  I’m really trying to do what you taught me and be respectful of everyone else.

We are all busy.  I understand that.  But next time you know that someone, somewhere is waiting for you, be kind and tell them straight.  Don’t be a Time Wanker.  Daddy wouldn’t like it.