Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sub Notes: Metamorphosis

I was subbing with mentally retarded high school kids. He fixed me with his winning smile and pointed in the direction of the book, asking me if I’d read it to him.

The other teachers and aides smiled. His favorite, they all said. He asked everyone to read it. So I got it out of the backpack he indicated at the back of his wheelchair.

It was a book about a happy puppy dog. The reading level was maybe first or second grade.

When I finished, he grinned, “Guess what? I was on TV once!”

“Wow!” I said. “How come?” I thought I was going to hear about Special Olympics.

“I was in a car accident!” he smiled. He might have been telling me about the toys Santa had brought him. “I used to be smart,” he said. “I got a 32 on my A.C.T.! But I got a head injury and got in this wheelchair. They did a whole special about me on TV!”

“Wow!” I said again. I mumbled something about what a great attitude he had and how he sure had reason to be proud. Then I busied myself with putting the book back in the carrier attached to his wheelchair. It took me a long time to put away.

It was a book about a happy puppy dog.

Enjoying the joys of others and suffering with them—these are the best guides for man. ~Albert Einstein

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Improper Poll: Wave Away

Years ago, an elderly man used to stand next to a busy street near here and hold up a sign advertising roses. He’d wave as people drove by. It was quaint. It was sweet. And it was so impressive that a man his age could withstand the elements—not to mention holding his arm up all day—that he was a bit of a legend in my area. The local paper even did an article on him. We always waved back. He was our friend even though we’d never met him. He was affectionately known as The Rose Man.

I haven’t seen The Rose Man in many years, but apparently before he left, he went forth and populated our town with waving, sign-holding Progeny-from-Hell. They are everywhere.

Yesterday I drove down that same busy street, which is admittedly even busier. We passed dueling, dancing rival pizza slices on either side of the street, some tax people, the person holding up a sign advertising “We Buy Gold,” someone in a gorilla suit (no idea why), somebody holding up a sign that might have been for birth control services or possibly against them, I couldn’t tell which, and someone else whose sign was much too small for me to read and might have been picketing something. All of them were dancing around and/or waving.

At the risk of sounding crotchety, all that leaping and gyrating and sign holding and waving annoyed the hell out of me and made it hard to drive. It was like having a bunch of little kids scream at the top of their lungs at the same time, “Look at me! No, me! Me me me!!!”

The worst was one I saw the other day. I don’t know what she was advertising, but I got a good look at her from behind while waiting for my light to change. She was obviously so cold and so tired that she’d hold her sign up a while and then let it drop, then stumble out what might have been a half-hearted little jig or possibly a foot that had fallen asleep. Either way, it looked painful. And it made me hate the company she works for, honestly, for making a person suffer through that.

So my improper questions for today are, do you have those waving, sign holding people in your area? And if so, do you feel obligated to wave back? Do they really get your business, or do they drive it away? Do you wave at little kids going by on amusement park trains, and why do we pretend that’s a parade when it isn’t?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Improper Poll: You Might Call Him Mr. America

As a substitute teacher, I often find myself wandering around classrooms while kids work. School posters are frequent contributors to my beloved quote collection.

But often my mind wanders, and some things should never wander too far or they will just get lost. For example, when you look at a poster of all of our presidents, some of them were kind of cute. I know JFK was known for being adorable, and a lot of people think Clinton and Obama are good looking. And both Bushes weren’t too bad in their younger years. But if we’re talking about younger years, Google “Gerald Ford football” sometime. Oh, gracious!

I have to say, though, when judged at the time they served as president—James K. Polk wasn’t too bad if one is able to ignore his precursor-to-the-mullet-hairdo. And Franklin Pierce had almost an aged Johnny Depp look in some of his portraits. And really Thomas Jefferson was pretty cute in a distinguished way. But by far my favorite president either on currency or not is Andrew Jackson. Yes, he has that long face, but even the $20 bill captures that sort of rock star quality—a gentlemanly rock star quality. It’s almost as if someone off camera just said something of such great concern that he is readying himself to take flight via his enormous, winged eyebrows.

Today's Improper Poll question is, of course, should the presidential race have a swimsuit competition phase? And who do you think was our cutest president?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book Blurb Friday #51

Book Blurb Friday is a great meme hosted by Lisa Ricard Claro of Writing in the Buff . The weekly challenge is to “write a book jacket blurb (150 words or less) so enticing that potential readers would feel compelled to buy the book.” My blurb this week has 145 words.

~Wieners and Losers: the Adventures of Special Agent McGee~

Special Agent McGee was Chicago P.D.’s greatest enigma. An absolutely legendary undercover officer, he was rumored to be, in civilian life, a Great Dane. Others whispered that he was really a wolf. Still others had heard he was a 46-year-old former marine from Milwaukee.

One other thing they didn’t know: who had murdered Oscar Meyer and dumped the body in Lake Michigan, and why. Was it notorious thug, Jimmie Dean, over an ongoing rivalry? Or was Mrs. Butterworth not nearly as sweet as she appeared to be?

And what about Mr. Meyer’s life partner, Colonel Mustard? True, the two seemed like the perfect pair, but they had supposedly engaged in quite an altercation in the library the night before Oscar’s death.

One thing was certain: Special Agent McGee, under the guise of a lovable wiener dog, was sure to sniff out the real killer.

People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do. ~ Stephen King, On Writing

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Senior Sex(less) and the City: #21

The Old Boyfriend
The name was so familiar, it didn’t seem at all out of place in my inbox. Yet when I thought about it, I realized I haven’t seen that name in—could it be?—thirty years?! And when you figure how long I’ve known him, we go back even further than that.

He lived on the other side of my neighborhood, so we were practically children together. A friend of Joe’s, I think. What was I—15, 16 when we first met? I know I thought he was cute. But he had a girlfriend. Later, after they’d broken up, we dated off and on for years.

And now here he was emailing me. Did I remember him? Ha. To me, he looks exactly the same, right down to that scar I loved because it somehow added a slightly rugged defiance to those almost-too-pretty features. And how I loved his conspiratorial grin, the way he leaned in as if we alone got the joke….

What I remember most for some reason is the time he picked me up for a date and I asked him what he’d done all day. He told me he’d been mowing lawns after work. I guess I asked him if it was a job. His mother was widowed and I knew he mowed his own family’s grass. He answered that he always mowed his neighbors’, too. Wasn’t that a job, I asked? I still remember the way he said it. “No,” he shrugged. “They’re old.” As if that explained it. And it did. I believe I fell in love with him just a little bit at that moment.

After we emailed a few times, I sent him my number so we could catch up. He is recently divorced. Although neither of us is from this city, we both live surprisingly close now. And I could no longer use the excuse that I’m not ready to date someone new. Technically this isn’t someone new, is it?

It was really nice when I started to explain a situation with someone we both used to know…and I didn’t have to explain. Not only does he already know the people involved, but he went through something similar himself. He understood my feelings exactly, and from more than one perspective. It’s a situation not many people understand. He’s experienced his own losses, and they’ve given him depth and character. Wisdom.

Once again, it’s the scars I’m drawn to. What an unexpected comfort it is, this intimacy, like something we alone get. I believe I fell in love with him just a little bit. All over again.

My friends are my estate. ~Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sub Notes: Gallery of Youth

Homely little statue of the goddess Laurel, who is supposed to represent poetic inspiration

 I subbed in a high school library recently, which means I got to stand behind a desk sometimes and just watch them.

The librarian was watching them, too. “Aren’t they beautiful?” she asked, echoing exactly what I was thinking.

I was recently discussing this with a friend. “Even the not-so-pretty ones are still pretty,” she’d said.

Yes. They have fat, glossy hair and thin, glossy bodies. They are tall and strong and new and gorgeous.

They are works of art, these children, captured through the centuries, through eons even, firm in that age-old conviction that they are the first ever to be young. They are, and possess, every sense of the word, “ideal.” They are the infamous Waterhouse model and Queen Hatshepsut and sculptures of Roman gods riding off to war and Lord Leighton’s titian-haired princesses and Aztec sun gods.

“They have no idea how beautiful they are,” the librarian said. I think she was right. Youth has such irony to it. They know youth creates idols, worshiped in part because of its brevity, but they are still insecure in their newness.

Which is a good thing, I guess. And of course the not-so-new among us have beauties of our own that these children won’t discover until it’s their turn. And somebody else’s turn—for the briefest of moments, anyway—to make youth eternal.

High school boy asking me for a restroom pass: "Can I go number...." (Turns to friend and shouts across room), “ Which one is pee? One or two?”
Me: "That’s okay. You don’t need to specify. Really."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Improper Poll: Halleluiah

The sun is out, and I don’t get to see sun much during the work week these days. So I’m taking a break from true impropriety today…and maybe for the next couple of weeks. There’s a scene in Eat Pray Love (the book; haven’t seen the movie) where Elizabeth Gilbert describes a few hours when the pleasure she’s been seeking just seems to settle on her during the sweetest, simplest times.

That very thing unexpectedly happens to me from time to time. I don’t mean ordinary, run of the mill happiness, but an overwhelming thrill that threatens to bring tears to my eyes. I used to try to capture life in art. Now I’m starting to see life as art. What’s more, I used to think the goal in art was to channel the divine. Now I think the goal in life is to channel the divine.

Every now and then, out of nowhere that almost overwhelming happiness just seems to appear and flutter down and nest into my soul, and while it’s there, my heart just soars. This time of year, it’s the way the sun angles through the tree limbs and sends blue stripes of shadow on the road. Or it’s the sculpture of bare trees against a cobalt sky.

Or maybe it’s the little vase of hyacinths on my kitchen table. Or the damp-earth smell of early spring.

What do you see as art? What makes your soul soar?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Book Blurb Friday #49

It’s Book Blurb Friday! Lisa Ricard Claro of Writing in the Buff hosts this fun meme in which the weekly challenge is to “write a book jacket blurb (150 words or less) so enticing that potential readers would feel compelled to buy the book.” My blurb this week has 147 words at last count.

~Trials of a Salem Witch~

They had the technology, however top secret it was, to obtain proof. Pharmeceutical toxicologist Ivy Wilson was one of a team of researchers testing the theory that the events of the Salem Witch Trials occurred as a result of hallucinations brought on by ergot poisoning of rye crops. Ivy’s job was to go back to 1692 in order to collect grain samples for testing.

All she had to worry a bout was being seen.

But an error in calculations sent her back into the farmer’s home instead of his field. Not only was she seen, but a startled observer was nearly killed. So Ivy did the unthinkable: she brought him into the future to save his life.

And now what? Had she just changed the course of human history? Or was Ivy the original “witch” who had set into motion the deaths of more than nineteen innocents?

“For I have seen it and I have felt it and I know that it is love, not death, that undoes us.” ~Jennifer Donnelly in Revolution