Monday, August 25, 2014

The reading and the end

Lately, I've had a rather difficult time controlling my temper. 

In fact, Lily and Jovie would probably ask that all available parties conduct an intensive search for my temper, because it appears I'm constantly losing it. 

(Perhaps I should tether it to me with one of those little elastic clippies that parents use to affix pacifiers to onesies -- as to prevent the the cataclysmic explosions that occur following pacifier loss. Or, maybe I just need a pacifier.)

I don't know whether it's that the girls are finding new and interesting ways to push my buttons or that I'm not getting enough sleep or that my lifetime stores of patience are dipping dangerously low or if it's a combination of all three. 

Either way, it's become an area of growing concern for me. I don't like yelling. I don't like throwing things on the floor or slamming my fist on the table. I reprimand my children for that behavior and I hate myself each time I fail to control my actions.  

My temper has become an unwelcome doppelganger in my life. And I'm starting to think that we shouldn't chide people for acting like a child, they watch us, afterall. Maybe they should be reprimanded when they act like a grownup.

So Friday dawns -- the day of my Big Reading for YorkFest's opening reception. I was not feeling especially excited about it. I felt worn out and moody, not to mention I had no idea what to wear. Then at some point in the afternoon Lily did something -- maybe shoved Jovie in the face or demanded something in a manner that made me feel like The Help (which she'd been doing all day already). Whatever it was, I lost it. Again. I screamed at her to stop screaming at me (such an effective method for conflict resolution) and then immediately felt like a troll. 

I did not feel like I deserved to have this great moment standing in front of a group of creative sorts sharing this dumb short story I wrote. I certainly didn't feel like I deserved the bouquet of flowers Brad sent me. I felt like I deserved to be hiding under a bridge somewhere, looking for goats to eat or something. 

Brad got home early to help with the girls. I figured out what to wear. Lily told me I looked beautiful.

We all headed to the gallery together. Lily and Jovie were the only children there (well, only children under high-school age). 

Hamming it up before I read.
As my nerves started jittering, my friend Becky walked through the door -- braving D.C.- and Baltimore-area rush hour traffic to share my night -- a complete surprise. When my nerves started getting extra jumpy, my sister Sarah walked through the door -- braving Baltimore-area traffic to listen to my story. When my palms started sweating, Jovie nuzzled my neck and patted my face -- Lily smiled at me from across the room. Both girls made the small weird noises that they like to make when they're in new places among strangers (Lily growls and Jovie sucked her hand -- as demonstrated at right), but they were such little nothing sounds. They were otherwise angels.

And just like that, it was my turn. So I put the day behind me. And I read an excerpt from "The Short Bonnie Life of Donovan MacWallace" (an excerpt because even my short stories are long) complete with ridiculous Scottish accent. 

Here's proof:

Hamming it up while I read.

And people laughed, which was the point. And even seemed to think I did a serviceable Scottish accent. Walking back to my family and friends I felt energized and excited and happy. And not just because of my bomb-ass third place ribbon ...

Hamming it up after I read.
... but also because I felt like I was part of this community of artists and writers. Like I was one of them somehow. Which was kind of surreal for someone who spends her days scraping crusted-on breakfast cereal off the kitchen floor and pretending to be Princess Twilight Sparkle. As I listened to the other amazing, beautiful, hilarious stories and poems, I felt really grateful for the opportunity to share the evening with such talented writers and inspired to continue creating. 

And I don't mean to sound overly sentimental or boastful or anything, but I have to say for my fellow stay-at-home moms and working moms and moms who do both -- it feels really nice to have a win now and then. Even when we don't feel so worthy of it. I'm not going to say that the night will solve the problem of my temper, but I will say it makes me feel less like a tool at my family's disposal. 

On Saturday Brad drove the girls up to his parent's house for the weekend. He thought maybe I could use a couple days to myself. He is very thoughtful, and right, as it turns out.

So for past two and a half days it's just been me, the cats and the dog.

He's really bored.

And my laptop.

And here's where I buried the lead.

Between Saturday and Sunday I wrote around 10,000 words for my novel.

And while it's still an extremely rough first draft.

I think it's finally a finished rough first draft. 

Which means after four years and 128 posts centered largely around writing about how I was never going to finish writing my novel ... I think I finished it.

("Phew," I can hear you say, "At least we won't have to here about that anymore.")

That's all I got, too.


Now excuse me while I go fold the laundry, mow the lawn, make dinner and wait for my family to come home. 

I've missed them.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Couch treasures uncovered and adventures in Equestria

Last week, I had a grab bag of weird silliness I wanted to share -- but after hearing about Robin Williams, I didn't have the heart to share it (even though I imagine he would've condoned weird silliness over morose reminiscing any day). So this week I bring you last week's silliness (well, with some shenanigans from tonight to freshen it up). 

Here we go.

After weeks of squirrel-dundancies, I strolled by the other day and came upon this:

They have palm trees now! The brick pedestals have been transformed into a veritable tropical oasis (I'm actually pretty jealous -- I like to pretend they're spending the afternoon at the Shipwreck Bar on St. Kitts -- drinking something flavored with rum and coconut -- watching the waves and the occasional monkey wander out of the brush. It's a pretty specific daydream.). Now that the squirrel ladies are expanding their little dioramas, the possibilities are endless! Tiki huts! Christmas trees! Snow forts! Miniature school buses!

A couple weeks ago, Lily lost her Princess Elsa MagiClip Doll. I don't know if you've heard of Princess Elsa or the movie in which in between freezing shit, she spends a lot of time as a recluse -- but if you've had any contact with a child over the age of 2 or their parents who start twitching uncontrollably and looking uncomfortably close to homicidal rage every time "Let it Go" comes on (which, by the way, is all the time) I'm guessing you have at least some knowledge of "Frozen." Where was I? Oh yeah, so the doll is missing and it's a pretty big deal. Lily roamed the house tearfully moaning, "Where's Elsa? I can't find her anywhere!" (I pointed out to her that she might have better luck finding her if she were actually attempting to look for her, but my quaint suggestions  seemed lost on her obviously superior (though tortured) 3-year-old brain). 

So I start looking for Elsa in earnest. Digging through the car and under couches and in various toy bins. When I couldn't find her in the usual spots, I took the hunt up a level. Which lead to me not only looking under couch cushions, but also rummaging through the bowels of my sofa -- a marinas trench of treasures unseen by human eyes in millenia.  


Strangely enough, no spare change.

For the record, that's a spoon, two hair clips, half a Sofia the First Princess Amber magnet, a hair tie, a bumble bee stamp, a matryoshka doll, a sea shell, two Sofia the First plastic charms, one Sofia the First Prince James figurine, one static cling Eyore tail, two My Little Ponies, Ohs!, a finger puppet and a giant pile of fur (apologies if you have a weak gag reflex). I ain't proud. 

Note, still no Princess Elsa. She was eventually located mob-style in the trunk of Barbie's VW Beetle. Nobody's talking.

Despite the fact that Lily was not at all concerned about the fact that two of her ponies were missing for months, she took issue with me for how I set one up in her dollhouse tonight: 

Don't judge me.
I have to amuse myself around here somehow …

Poor Harry Pony. (Horsy Potter?)
While Brad and I were eating dinner, Lily marched into the sunroom full of fury  and swatted me on the leg -- "MOM! DON'T DO THAT WITH MY PONIES!!!" She spits at me. Brad was confused -- so I had to explain that I'd been playing with the ponies and the dollhouse, and that Lily might have taken offense to the pony on the potty. 

In my defense, Lily herself had stuffed all three ponies in the closet underneath the doll house steps -- like Harry Potter's equine cousins. How is that any better?

But the saga doesn't end there, because tonight as I was straightening up the living room -- what did I find peeking out a sofa orifice:

Maybe I should stuff some more cereal down there
 so they have something to eat …

These ponies don't stand a chance in this house. 

When we're not losing plastic ponies, stuffing them in the couch or positioning them inappropriately (at least according to Lily) in the dollhouse, we're pretending to be My Little Ponies. Specifically, I'm told that I am Princess Twilight Sparkle, Jovie is Rainbow Dash and Lily gets to be whatever pony she wants (she can apparently morph into different ponies by rolling around on Jovie's bed and snorting). Being Princess Twilight Sparkle is actually a pretty sweet gig, I just lounge on Jovie's bed half asleep and occasionally ask Lily to make me an apple pie (when she's pretending to be Applejack) or to sing me a song (when she's pretending to be Lyra Heartsrings). 

Here's a sample of a song Lily (aka Lyra Heartstrings) sang me recently:

"I want to drum on your heart
I want to eat your tummy 
I want to be your friend."

Think death metal meets Disney power ballad. 

So disturbing, and yet sweet. 

Our games of My Little Pony generally end when, for some inexplicable reason, Lily morphs into "Bad Pony" and proceeds to growl and bite me. Maybe Bad Pony should spend some time in the closet under the stairs.

In between terrible pony impersonations, I've been studying how to talk Scottish by way of "So I Married an Ax Murder," Fat Bastard and "Downton Abbey," in preparation for what will be, no doubt, the height of my literary career: Reading an excerpt from my third-place winning entry to the YorkFest adult literary competition. 

If you're in the York area on Friday night and are looking for something to do (or have been looking for the opportunity to witness my public humiliation) stop by YorkArts, 10 N. Beaver St., at around 7 p.m. You'll also get to hear my friend Joan's excellent non-fiction piece and check out cool art and stuff. 

Maybe you can even get Lily to sing her pony song while you're there -- more likely, she'll just bite your leg. You've been warned.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Growing up with Robin Williams

As I was giving the girls a bath tonight, Brad who was across the hall, looked up from his phone and frowned.

"Robin Williams died," he said.

An apparent suicide. My first reaction was the stock response I take out of storage every time I hear the news of an untimely celebrity passing -- "How sad." But in that distant, several-times-removed from a stranger sort of way.

And then I started thinking about Robin Williams -- thinking about how he intersected with my life -- not ever in person or even tangentially, of course. But the background music to my childhood, it seems.

In elementary school, anytime I was asked who my favorite actor was, my response was Robin Williams. Which isn't all that unusual I suppose. Perhaps a little stranger was when during late-night games of M.A.S.H. as my friends said they wanted to marry the guys from New Kids on the Block (well, not the icky one) or Tom Cruise, I always hoped I'd end up with Robin Williams -- short and hairy though he was. Even back then I knew that all the best relationships -- even the imaginary ones -- are built on laughter.

In fourth grade my mom took my sister and I to see "Aladdin" in the movie theater that summer. A monumental occasion because up until that point I think the only other movies I'd seen in a theater were "An American Tale" and possibly "Beethoven." I got the soundtrack on cassette and memorized all the songs -- attempting to nail each of the accents Williams spits out rapid-fire in "Friend Like Me." When Lily finally saw the movie this year she was either impressed or horrified that all these years later I could sing belt along with the movie, though with only a shred of the energy and enthusiasm Williams has.

Because of my parent's "no TV during the week" rule, my sister Sarah and I would load up on television on the weekends. (We were always so good with moderation.) Because we didn't have cable, we'd end up watching whatever we had on VHS over and over and over again -- "Dr. Dolittle" and "The King and I" were early favorites because of the animals and the beautiful ball gowns. But one of our go-to tapes was "Good Morning Vietnam," with Williams as a radio DJ playing for homesick GIs in Vietnam. Sarah would make macaroni and cheese and we'd have a Pepsi on ice (I can still taste it) and we would lie on the living room floor and watch his frenetic performance. Years later, still awesome.

On my first real date (like boy I like from gym class calls me up and asks me on a date, picks me up in his car and pays for my movie and ice cream date), we went to see "Good Will Hunting." I wore an off-white collared shirt and a brown corduroy skirt (it was much more stylish than it sounds, thanks to my sister Jen insisting I wear the skirt, not the jeans I favored). Williams is darker and low-key, but still so effortlessly funny ("Son of a bitch … he stole my line.")

He was on the screen in "What Dreams Will Come" during that fateful almost-date with my friend Gabe -- the agony of him crying "all suicides go to hell?!" still rings in my ears.

And his voice is often on our television in the morning -- depending on what the girls want to watch that day we'll hear him as the Genie, but also as Ramon/Lovelace in "Happy Feet" and "Happy Feet 2." Despite having watched these movies roughly a gazillion times, I still chuckle every time the pudgy penguin version of him channeling a baptist preacher shouts at a killer whale -- "-- it's a bad day for you … be gone demon fish-ah !"

His death has already been noted on IMDB. These days the end is instant. Well, I suppose it's always been that way -- maybe it's just that it feels that the book is closed faster. The memorials erected before we even have a chance to process the absence. But scrolling through his credits is a rolling diary of my life -- How could I forget about "Toys"? How I wanted to live that weird world of perfect, rolling green hills, robot siblings and fake vomit analysis. How many times did we rent that from the Power Video? 

And "Hook"! "Jumanji"! "The Birdcage" (which I still watch every time I happen upon it on TV). "The Dead Poets Society" -- the one you watch when you're 13 or 14 or 15 and are told that your life doesn't have to be the one your parents or anyone else plotted out for you. It is all yours to create. Carpe Diem. 

On random occasions I still like to shout out "Laila! Get back in that cell! Don't make me get the hose!" from "Mrs. Doubtfire." (I guess you sorta have to see it …)

And for as sweet and endearing as he is in so many roles, he could turn creepy with a vengeance (see "One Hour Photo.") I'm still not sure I want to visit Alaska after "Insomnia."

It's so sad to think that a man who could cause such laughter -- the ones that start deep in your belly and well out of your eyes -- was so tormented that he took his own life. Leaving behind a wife and children -- I don't know that I knew he had either. But then I never really knew Robin Williams beyond those twinkling blue eyes and all those borrowed voices. 

At the turning point in "Good Will Hunting," Will reveals the abuse he suffered under his foster father. Williams, as Will's therapist Sean breaks through Will's wall by uttering the same phrase over and over and over, "It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault." 

I remember watching that scene and connecting -- not with Will's abuse or other struggles -- but with wanting that forgiveness, that release from all of that bad business in my head.

We all carry the weight of our faults through life and for many of us they become the thing that we feel defines us. That is the mirror the rest of the world sees in us. 

Maybe Williams had his own Sean who tried to unearth the root of his depression. Maybe he didn't. I cannot believe that a man who brought us so much joy, who offered us a reprieve from the weight of being has not found his own peace today. It's his poor family that now faces that terrible journey.

RIP Robin. You will be missed.