All posts by attackerofwindmills

Keen detector of enemies, mostly imagined.

Oh, It’s on, Karl

Recently my neighbor Karl took me to task for being unenthusiastic about decorating for the holidays when I told him how I celebrate fall.

It isn’t my fault. I got my home fashion sense from my mother, whose sole criterion for quality art was “I got it in Tijuana for three dollars.” The bar might be set a tad low for my taste:

black velvet painting_tiger_no CR notation found
“Tiger Suffering from Ennui”

I’ve never seen the interior of Karl’s place, but I envision that on February 15, the hearts and flowers are tossed because Valentine’s Day is over, dammit, and St. Patrick’s Day will be here in a month.

I doubt that there’s a time in the year when his place is nondecorated, but given how many days there are between major holidays, I offer this calendar to Karl and every other overachieving decorator.

There’s 365 different things to celebrate just to keep it fresh. No Pants Day is one of my favorites given that I work at home:

Holidays for the Deranged

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My all-purpose pumpkin for fall, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. It’s still cheap, but I don’t have to go all the way to Mexico, and it doesn’t cause me to dream of tigers eating me as comfort food because they’re bored.

 

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Karl’s rebuttal

Two New Book Recommendations

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, Beth Kephart

Kephart is terrific at helping the memoir writer make a scene richer through a variety of devices, and she is empathetic and encouraging to the fearful side of everyone who opens their lives to scrutiny. She assigns exercises to make writing stronger, and there is a treasure trove of suggested reading material.

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I’ll Go Home Then; It’s Warm and Has Chairs, David Thorne

Yet another delightful, wicked collection of snark.

Slouching Toward Memoir

As I work on my first essay in memoir-writing class, I’m beginning to feel vulnerable. I prefer wearing a veneer of titanium, but I’m willing to remove it—momentarily—to see what happens.

I used to see vulnerable people as weaklings. I’m not talking about children, the elderly, people with mental disabilities who could be abused with ease. I’m talking about people who have the ability to reveal their love, pain, and hopes while trusting those around them to be kind.

I view these open people as among the most courageous because betrayal of trust is a possibility, always, with humans. Yet those who trust keep doing so anyway. I believe their courage comes from a strength, the knowledge that mean-spiritedness can be overcome, and trusting is worth its inherent risks. It is a belief in one’s self more than in others.

Despite recognizing this, the last thing I want to do is drop my guard and let others see my ugliness, fears, and soft squishy underbelly that is so easy to wound. Yet here I am, pouring my experience onto paper and sharing it with my classmates.

I’ve always been an over sharer. Just ask my peers in previous playwriting classes. Every new draft of a scene brought the same response: “Cindy, you need to fictionalize this.” The drive to write memoir is visceral, and if I fight it, I think something in me will waste away.

One aspect of my character I’m not eager to share is my judgment of others. It is often merciless, even as I acknowledge my lack of moral authority. Until now, I never questioned the sources of this tendency, but I have the beginning of a clue to one.

I just learned of a dirty little family secret. It was scandalous at the time, but as our society has evolved, the telling of this kind of thing now is routine, even dull, except perhaps to the most rigid of religious fanatics.

The family member involved was a pseudo-parent to me for many years. As a child, I heard her tell me what she saw in me, my future, my parents. The surface of her words had a gloss of kindness, encouragement, and approval. My desperation for love and acceptance was so craven that I clung to her as a life raft while my parents screamed at and beat each other.

As the decades rolled on, the intent of her words became clearer. The nuances of phrase and tone had always left me feeling less than, ashamed, a disappointment to her. That feeling has become an essential part of who I am.

I haven’t spoken to her in decades, just as I have avoided my parents. To be connected is to want to die. I have tried to separate her from this equation, but I’ve been unsuccessful. So I accept that she was one of my mold makers.

This secret revelation, however, has turned my mind, and I see something different. I see a woman who made a most human mistake, and for that, she paid with a lifetime of judgment from her parents. As she was vilified, her twin brother was glorified as the golden child, one who could do no wrong, this despite his being one of the most cruel and perverted people to inhabit this planet. That monster was my father, and my dysfunctional mentor was his twin sister, my aunt, an unwanted surprise on the day of their birth so many decades ago.

My aunt spent years working as a single mother, dedicated to giving her child the best life possible in an era where that kind of thing was only spoken of in whispers. My father devoted his time and energy to fighting with my mother and erasing most of my childhood memories through trauma.

It is understatement to call this unfair. It is also easy to understand why she might look at me, child of the golden child, and yield to the temptation to knock me down, make me doubt, encourage my fears. Judging comes easiest to those who have suffered judgment. I judge because it’s what I know. But now, writing memoir, I want more. I want to understand, and I want to forgive.

There’s a portion of my heart that has opened, for the first time, to this woman. Where I once only saw bitterness and felt recrimination, I now see a human who made a mistake, who tried to make it right, who couldn’t escape the pain of her life’s choices.

I suppose I’m ready to write memoir now. Just two years ago I was writing harsh scenes in playwriting class about this same woman. Now my anger and pain are making room for something greater.

But just for a little while this morning, I’m going to slip back into my titanium bathrobe. Baby steps.

Of Police, Pillows, and Pizza

This afternoon I heard screaming in the upstairs apartment. It sounded alternately like a man, then a woman. The footfalls were unusual too. Some rhythmic in one place and some short bursts of running all over the unit. I’m used to Stompy up there, and this was different.

As the warm glow of domestic violence PTSD washed over me, I called the cops, hoping I was just overreacting. They told me I was their second call about it, so I took the next sensible step and began hyperventilating and calling Paul’s cell until he picked up.

In the midst of this, the part of me still connected to Earth knew I was losing ground with my work schedule. I had to call my clients to ask for deadline extensions. While waiting for the police, texting my clients was out of the question because I was shaking so badly that my finger kept missing the phone altogether.

The cops arrived pretty quickly, just after what I swear was a woman screaming, “Oh, my God!”

There was a brief discussion at their door upstairs, then quiet. One of the officers came down, grinning, and said, “Yeah, it’s just one guy up there watching a soccer game.”

I’ve worked in a sports bar, and while I’m indifferent to sports, I detest rabid sports fans. Especially dudes who shriek like a woman being stabbed to death.

The officer and I agreed that it’s better to call just in case, and isn’t it nice that there’s nothing violent happening and all, so I didn’t confess my plan to smother the bastard with a chloroform-soaked pillow later this evening.

So the breathing is back to normal, and my chest pain has subsided. But now there’s a tic underneath my left eye, and I feel like a wet towel that’s been beaten on a rock.

Some of my exhaustion may also be due to the dead guy we found in our carport this morning. Naked, pants around his ankles, staring up at the ceiling.

Either way, I’m having wine and pizza, with a Sominex for dessert.

Mexican wrestling fan_free
I know it’s not about soccer, but I’m still getting my pillow.

 

Sweaty Betty, an Update

It took less than an hour after I posted my Fretty Betty Disorder story to develop a new obsession:

What if the memoir-writing class doesn’t get its minimum of five students? They’d have to cancel. So I’m in, but what if? I’ve had other writing classes cancel at another place.

Now I have a lemony-fresh thought to worry about. What a relief. I must be a stress junkie.

I do fight this. Really. I tell my brain about how popular this class is. It’s always full. There’s always a wait list. It’ll happen.

My brain thinks I’m a chump.

(Paul is Rachel, and I am both Monica and Phoebe – mostly Phoebe)

Fretty Betty Disorder

I have no off switch for worry. If there’s any way to chill and let things flow, I can’t find it.

Then there’s Paul, my vanilla-flavored glacier. He can’t envision a reason to push events forward at top speed or sweat about anything.

I don’t get it. Why doesn’t he recognize the value in unnecessary stress? It could be that he sees when I freak out, I’m no less uptight, but it’s more likely that there’s something wrong with him.

Like when I recently submitted a project description to apply for a ten-month memoir-writing class.

I said, “Oh, my God. I’ve waited a year to register for this. I thought I could just sign up. I have to wait for approval. The instructor’s going to scratch her head and wonder how such a moron could belong in her class.”

Paul’s response was as disturbingly calm and predictable as always: “Don’t worry, Sweetie. You’ll get in.”

How naïve.

So I spent sixteen years between August 8 and August 14 waiting to see if I would be accepted. I hit the refresh button on the submissions website seventy times an hour, and it stubbornly said, “Submitted” every time. No “Accepted,” or more sensibly, “Rejected.”

Then came August 14, and the site conceded that indeed I was “Accepted.” This bewildered me, but I was happy. For five minutes.

Then I realized there were probably 40,000 people applying for fifteen seats in the class, and they would all get into the class ten seconds after registration opened the next day.

Starting at 7:00 in the morning on August 15, I began checking the institution’s site, only to find that the “Register” button was available for every class but the one I wanted.

Trying to get any work done while hitting the refresh button every five minutes isn’t easy. Plus after three hours, I imagined that the class’s fifteen seats were full, with a wait list of 39,985 people ahead of me.

So I emailed the school, and they said, “Well, for this class, you have to register by phone. We sent you an email about it.” There was no email in my inbox.

Now my mind was whispering, “This is a special, secret society, and you don’t belong.” Made sense to me.

When I called and told the nice lady that I didn’t receive an email, she said, “The message is in the submissions site, which is a separate program from regular email.”

Of course the site has a separate email system. It’s a secret society. Why hadn’t I thought of that? But maybe I could still get in. I took a deep breath and asked if I could register, and she said, “Sure.” That was easy. Too easy.

Now I’m in the class, but part of me expects to be the accidentally registered sixteenth person, and I’ll be turned away on the first day. Still, that insane part of my mind hopes to be surprised in a pleasant way.

But I think my paranoia may not be a disorder after all. If I hadn’t fretted and sprained my finger hitting the refresh button and then finally asked, “What’s up?” I wouldn’t be in the class. So everything’s fine now.

But what if it’s not? What if my printed confirmation is the product of a random punking scheme? Thank goodness I have thirty-four days to worry about this. Otherwise I’d just have to invent another obsession.

Paul doesn’t know what he’s missing.

Neeners from Beyond

I’m trying to decide if it’s weird that I enjoy planning what will happen after I die, especially because so much of my pleasure is rooted in vengeance.

The last time I updated my estate documents was four years ago, just two weeks before I was scheduled to have a bit of cancer removed from my right kidney (or, as one of my bosses speculated, it was just a wine cork. My surgeon declined to confirm). So that go-round wasn’t as much fun as this time.

I recently reconnected with my cousin Lesli, who has an only daughter, Megan, so now I have blood relatives I actually speak to again. And unlike when I communicate with a couple other members of the family, when I talk to Lesli and Megan, I don’t want to kill myself, which is cool.

Plus this reconnection got me thinking about my will’s provisions if Paul dies before me (which is fairly moot-ish because he’s ten years younger than I am and takes way better care of himself than I do; although we Valleleys have a tendency to just keep living in spite of logic, so things are a tad mentally swirly).

Lesli and I grew up like sisters, which was handy because we’re only children, and Megan is like a niece to me even though we haven’t met yet.

Such is the power of the Internet to render the in-person meeting unnecessary to form relationships. Paul and I put our estate-planning and tax return preparation in the hands of an attorney and an accountant we couldn’t pick out of a line-up, and neither of us thinks it’s all that strange.

The control freak in me likes the idea of dictating my last wishes, and it tries really hard not to imagine anyone not following them. I mean, how would I do anything about it? I hope haunting and poltergeisting are real, just in case.

As for stuff and money, I get to decide who gets what and how much of it. There isn’t a vast empire to begin with, but even if I only had five beans, I’d enjoy the thought that I get to withhold all of them from certain people (and yes, to those two or three people who may have read all of my posts, I’m talking about Paul’s middle and younger brothers, MB and YB).

Maybe I sound petty, but I know those two boys will see everything I own as belonging to them just because I was married to their brother.

I know that because two hours after their father passed, as we were driving YB over to console their stepmother (because, as YB put it, “I’m too much of a delicate flower to drive myself anywhere at this awful time because this shock is affecting me more than anyone else, including Dad’s wife”—I paraphrase), out of nowhere, YB said, “We’d better get over there and divvy up Dad’s stuff.”

No need to offer an anecdote about MB to support my theory. Two peas. One pod. As YB’s girlfriend once described the group (both boys and their girlfriends), “We’re as thick as thieves!” Surgically precise writing.

So yeah, despite how heartbroken they’d be to see me go, I have good reason to believe my death will trigger a plundering that would make the Vikings look like a bunch of pantywaists.

So in addition to denying them a single penny, here’s the part of estate planning that has me cackling and rubbing my hands together like a B-movie villain:

Lesli and Megan are sweet, but they’re also tough people who can—and will, for me—body-block MB and YB from even crossing the threshold after I’m gone.

And I’ve got news from beyond for those two loving, caring lads: Megan is a total martial arts badass, and if they try to get in with their empty boxes and sticky fingers, she will have signed, notarized authorization from me to kick them into the next century.

Now it’s time for spreadsheets and office supply shopping. This is intoxicating. I hope reincarnation’s a real thing. I’d like to believe that I’ll be able to do this again and again throughout eternity.

I’ve decided. If it’s weird, I don’t care.

Mwah-hah-hah, etc.

 

Who’s Wearing the Smarty-Pants in this House?

For years, I’ve assumed I’m smarter than Paul. There’s no proof. It’s just nice to believe that. In fact, he has a master’s degree, and I have two associate degrees (which adds up to a bachelor’s degree, right?). So he’s a bit farther along in education.

At the very least, though, I’ve assumed I’m cleverer than he is, but I’m beginning to wonder.

Trying to get my handyman to do something (that doesn’t involve food) can be difficult. For twenty-two years, I’ve tried asking, sweet-talking, nagging, begging, and bribing, but if he’s not interested, the project will remain a theory. Possibly forever.

So recently when I decided to order parts, with permanent adhesive, to take care of something, I told him, “I got this stuff, and I’ll go ahead and take care of it.”

After two decades of watching me park the car at an angle between straight lines and put clothes on inside-out, Paul seemed a little worried, but I could see his look of amusement, and I could read his mind:

“She’ll never do it. She’s too scared she’ll get it wrong. And she will. She’s going to bug me to do it, but I’ll get around to it sometime. Maybe.” I paraphrase.

So he didn’t seem too worried as he said, “Great!

Game on.

Every couple of weeks, I announced, “I’m gonna take care of that today.”

Paul smiled, all patient and wise, and said—with a homicide-inspiring amount of patronizing in his tone—“Okay. Sounds good.”

The other night I’d had it with both of us. I grabbed the stuff I needed—including the permanent adhesive—and I asked, “Do you have something called ‘mineral spirits,’ Sweetie?” (Mineral spirits, it seems, are something that help clean up what those in the construction trade call “boo-boos.”)

I said this as I clipped the tip of the adhesive tube and grabbed the item to be glued—to the wall and the bathtub simultaneously.

I noticed an entire lack of smirk on his face. He said, “Sure. Let me get it for you” as he trotted to a closet while frequently looking over his shoulder to see how the glue application was going.

He set the mineral spirits on the counter and stood frozen, watching me actually do this thing.

Suddenly it dawned on him all the times I’d said during the last few months, “I’m so nervous to do this. You know I’m not handy. I’m so afraid I’m going to mess it up.”

Then the would-be hero of the story asked—with lots of helpfulness in his tone—“Would you like me to do that?”

I handed over the items so quickly I think I knocked the wind out of him.

My only question is: Why did it take so many years for me to figure this out?

Paul’s had it sorted for years: “If I prove that I can’t do something the way she wants me to, I don’t ever have to do it.”

His equation for working around me:

1 + 1 = 2

(Can’t argue with elegance.)

 

My equation for working around him:

 

complex logic_public domain
I’m confused, and I think Paul might be asking me for a threesome in this scenario.

I get who’s really the smart one.

 

Even the Bee Gees Can’t All Keep Stayin’ Alive

When I reconnect with someone from my youth, my first thought is “How cool. They’re still alive.”

This leads to a couple of questions:

One: Just how old do I think I am?

(Answer: Dead any moment now.)

Two: Is my reaction a glass half full or half empty?

(Answer: Half full because I’m happy these old friends are alive, but half empty because see question number one.)

I blame celebrities. If they’d stop dying, I might not think about my own mortality so much. I keep calling the still-alive ones to request that they live forever, but it usually results in restraining orders. Then they die. Probably to spite me.

I’ll just keep enjoying my life each day I’m here, working at home, hanging out with the cats, and listening to the newest certainly sane neighbor as he shouts helpful advice to all the “fuckin’ bitches” to “shut the fuck up.”

It’s the little things.

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Our neighbor warming up for his musical, “Shut Up, Bitches!,” based on a lesser known Bee Gee song.

Happy Bastille Day

I like the idea of a national holiday that starts with a beheading.

As far as I know, I’m bereft of French ancestry, but every July 14, I go around the grocery store, neighborhood, wherever I happen to be, and I wish people a “Happy Bastille Day!” Folks are consistent in their response:

Samuel_Johnson_by_Joshua_Reynolds_public domain

Maybe I should live in Soulard, a French neighborhood in St. Louis. This is a town that not only celebrates Bastille Day with a beheading reenactment, but it also can’t quite make up its mind what the day’s theme really is.

Jump to 3:15 in the clip to see a realistic portrayal of Marie Antoinette’s giggle fit right before what’s possibly the world’s most comical beheading:

Vive la Soulard!

Throughout the event, the town’s attention to period detail is admirable. There’s a Taste of Soulard, cars and buses driving through, and for some reason a percussion group playing a Latin beat. There’s even a local television reporter covering the events, just as they did in 1789.

This is my kind of town. Let’s just get together and do random shit, drink, and lop off some heads. I’m calling the movers.