What Kind Of Day Has It Been?

In all four of his television series thus far, Aaron Sorkin has named an episode “What Kind Of Day Has It Been?” It was the name of the first season finales for “SportsNight,” “The West Wing” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and it is the name of the upcoming series finale of “The Newsroom.”

The reason I love Sorkin so much, and particularly “The West Wing,” is that he writes for intelligent people and doesn’t assume that he has to dumb it down to meet the lowest common denominator (with the exception of the first four episodes of “The Newsroom,” in which every woman was a drippy damsel in distress, and every man a douchebag trying—and, somehow, being allowed—to be a knight in shining armor). It’s also witty when it’s right to be witty. “The West Wing,” in particular, is my go-to when I need comfort viewing. Something about it is the visual equivalent of macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes, the entertainment equal to being wrapped up in a cozy blanket with a mug of hot tea on a cold night.

Today has been an odd kind of day.

It started with me reading, for reasons passing understanding (big Sorkin phrase), a blog post on cocktailsandchemo.com that I saw posted on a friend’s Facebook feed. I have read posts on this blog here and there before, and it has always been a mistake, but, like a moth to a flame, there I was, and I was destroyed for 15 minutes when I should have been drying my hair. It’s heartbreaking. It’s about a very young man who is dying of colon cancer, and it is written by his wife. They have a daughter who’s not even two. Don’t read it. I swear, you’ll be done in from the combination of love and ache and beauty and sorrow and hope and anguish and just don’t.

At work, my colleague and I finished the last of the eight phone interviews we were conducting for a vacant position. They went fine, and we were able to solidly eliminate three candidates and put one on the bubble, leaving us with four we felt confident bringing in for face-to-face meetings. But as anyone who has conducted interviews knows, doing eight in a week pokes a bunch of big holes in your days, and between them and your meetings, you tend to feel like you haven’t gotten anything productive done. I kept trying to get a foothold, and being able to do little more than toe a few emails.

Then there was an absolutely ridiculous issue with a publication that really should not matter in the slightest, but required another redesign and another round of new copy after the clients had agreed on the design and sent the supposedly final final final copy. My vice president wound up involved in a way I’m not aware of, and as far as I’m concerned, she can handle it the rest of the way, because I am pretty tired of trying to do things for these particular clients and getting split decisions, too many revisions, and still hot breath down the back of my neck to get the final version to them in time for them to send it out when they didn’t give my team any time to do it in the first place. The real killer of this whole thing is that the designer spent four days hand-drawing this publication after all parties had agreed on a design concept, and now it’s scrapped entirely. I find it terribly disrespectful of someone’s energy, time and talent, and these clients do this constantly.

A bit before that, Facebook told me that my dear friend Sam is leaving and moving to Indianapolis to take a job. Sam helped me through a lot of really difficult times in my last job, listened and asked with great interest about my love life or lack thereof, gave me great advice I actually took, bantered with me Sorkin-style in solidarity to our shared affinity, gleefully played my political wonk game, and generally has been a precious friend. Nearly a year ago, he told me about something really difficult that he was struggling with, and five months ago, he stopped talking to me altogether. Nothing happened between us, no argument or conflict… he just stopped answering messages of any kind and never reached out again. It has always made me sad, and now that he’s leaving town, it makes me even sadder. I’ve sent him a message to congratulate him and let him know I miss him and hope to see him before he goes, but I don’t know if I’ll ever hear back.

At the end of the work day, as she was leaving, my coworker declared quietly that she was going to go get gas in her car and deal with her lingering depression. She wasn’t kidding. It was awkward, if not surprising. Most of us know she is struggling, and what makes matters worse is that she’s not terribly well-liked. I don’t know which begets which. I have always found her lacking in self-awareness, which leaves me torn between concern and irritation, which makes me feel awful because I know she is in pain.

But the weirdest part of the day, and that part that, along with Sam’s announcement, has me the most untethered, was around two this afternoon, when my friend Angie found my blog.

As many of my readers know, I am completely anonymous here, and none of my real-life family, friends or acquaintances have ever known I write a blog. I wanted it that way, because the anonymity gave me permission to speak freely, to blather on about things my friends might already be bored by, to say what I want about whomever I want, and to feel like I had a safe place to do it all. But today, after I quoted a particular song lyric in an Ohio 5 group message, Angie Googled it, and somehow, a blog entry in which I had also quoted it came up. She outed me in the group message immediately, and even told our other friends how they could find the blog.

I can’t describe the feeling I had. My heart pounded. I don’t log into the blog on my work computer, but I did today, first having to change the password because it’s cached in my computer at home and I couldn’t remember it. Then I had to quickly go through all my posts to see if my friends would be upset by anything. I will admit that I deleted posts that I thought would upset them enough to cause friction.

I got a message from WordPress that my stats had skyrocketed. Eighty-three hits to the home page.

That seemed excessive, even for my friends.

I worried that they might have shared it with a few other people we’re close to. It wasn’t really narcissism, any more than writing a blog is narcissism. It was just that I suddenly felt like I had lost the ability to protect something tender.

I’m not angry at Angie; She was shocked, after knowing me so well for nearly 20 years, that there was something I had managed to keep from her for three and a half. Her impulse to tell the rest of our friends was reflexive. Thoughtless and inconsiderate, but not malicious. She has apologized for it, admitting that she searched through all of it looking for her name so she could see what I have said about her. Meg has apologized for trying to find the blog after learning it existed. Joey, after finding the home page and reading the glossary, has promised not to read anything else, acknowledging that there’s a reason none of them ever knew about it and that he would respect that. Will came late to the conversation; I don’t know if he’s seen the blog or not.

I’m not holding it against them. But I feel exposed, like my clothes have been torn away on a busy street. I don’t have anything to be ashamed of, but if I was already feeling a little raw, now I feel like my diary lock has been broken. I know that sounds silly when I post things on the internet for anyone to read, but the pages in the diary don’t really contain anything these friends don’t know. What they do contain are some expressions I feel embarrassed for them to see, and empty pages where a certain freedom I had cherished has been taken away. There’s no lock to keep all of that safe anymore.

So, not to be dramatic, but in a way, today was a season finale. There’s every possibility and even likelihood of more episodes, but the anonymity was a major character in this series, and that character is gone now. Everything will be a little different from here on, if not for you, then at least for me. I will think twice where I never thought twice before. I am already wondering if my friends will read this post and be upset by it. In “SportsNight,” after that season one conclusion, S2 Ep1’s title is “Quo Vadimus.” It’s Latin for “Where are we going?” While I’m sure I’ll still try to be witty when it’s right to be, and I won’t dumb anything down, it’s going to be a while before I feel comfortable again.

In the meantime, I think I need some mashed potatoes.

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A Stranger At the Door – Part 3

Click here to read part 1.
Click here to read part 2.

******** 

The trooper had pulled me over because he thought my registration was expired. The sticker was for the wrong month. The car dealer had run out of April stickers when I bought the car on April 29th. He had given me a sticker for March.

The trooper had a flat affect, no expression on his face. He was soft-spoken and had an accent that led me to believe he was from an African nation. “Did you have a protective order against you, or did you file one?” he asked.

I was surprised by the question. I didn’t know that would show up on my registration. “Yes,” I told him, “I did have a peace order. I was the complainant.”

“What was his name?” the trooper asked evenly and quietly. I told him. “Was he your boyfriend?” he wanted to know. I blinked behind my sunglasses, wondering why he was asking, and explained that he was not, that he had been a stranger to me. “What was the order for?” the trooper asked.

“Stalking,” I told him.

“Well,” the trooper said softly. “Don’t file a complaint against me.”

My hackles rose. “Excuse me?” I risked a lack of courtesy.

“Don’t file a complaint on me for stalking you,” he repeated, just as softly.

A beat. Was that supposed to be a joke? Or an implication that I’m just some bitch who makes up legal complaints against men?

“No, sir.” I was firm. “My complaint against him was quite valid. He was found guilty and went to prison.”

I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the way the trooper was questioning me. Where did I work? What’s the location? What did I do there? Where was I going now? What would I do when I arrived? Did I have a business card? When I told him I did not, but offered other proof of my employment, he declined. Then he asked me for my license, for the first time since he’d gotten out of his cruiser. I thought he held onto it for too long, stared at it for too long. And as he studied it, he asked me what time I would be off work.

Eventually, he let me go with the understanding that I was watching the mail for the registration sticker. The next day, I was still uncomfortable about the encounter. But I didn’t know if he’d crossed a line or if the cultural difference was the reason for his demeanor. The problem is that my experience with that stalker has made me more sensitive, heightened my suspicions. I hate it. I resent it. I was always cautious, even before I had the stalker. I always looked around, not fearfully, but consciously, so I knew who was where and what cars were new in the lot. My stalker came out of the darkness from his apartment 100 feet away. I never saw him when I got home late at night because he was never out. He stayed inside, looked through the front door of his building for my car, and waited until I was inside my home to creep up. Now every night, even though I don’t live there anymore, I look around a little more carefully when I get home. I look around a little more carefully, even though I could have looked forever before and have never seen the danger.

I am far from paranoid. I don’t live in fear. But perhaps the most unfair part of my experience is this: knowing I have a heightened sensitivity has made me question my own instincts. Sitting on the side of the highway with the trooper at my window, I had felt my anxiety flush through the skin of my chest. Even two days later, something about the incident still felt wrong. But I didn’t want to get this trooper in trouble if he hadn’t done anything out of line. So I hedged my bets and asked an acquaintance who works for the state police whether the trooper’s behavior had been SOP.

My acquaintance responded that he wanted as much information as I could provide on the incident, and that I should call him immediately at an unpublished number if this trooper stopped me again. And then he encouraged me to make a formal complaint against the trooper to his commander.

I was glad to know that my instincts were right, that I wasn’t just oversensitive. But I was alarmed, too. And I was worried; if I file this complaint, does that count as a strike against me somehow? In some future traffic stop, will two legal complaints now come up, painting me as one of those women perceived to have filed one too many sexual harassment lawsuits, one too many concerns about her treatment at the hands of a man? The trooper’s commander was polite and professional, but did not seem terribly bothered by what I told him. Inexplicably, I found myself near tears as I tried to calmly justify my complaint.

Nearly two years after the stalking began, I would like to believe I’m past it. It was an isolated incident and he was punished according to the law. My concerns, coupled with those of a state lawmaker and his staff, translated to action that might protect the safety of countless other individuals by giving them an opportunity to know when an offender is out of jail or prison – something they wouldn’t have known any other way. But every time I hear something that sounds like a pebble against a window, every time I hear someone joke about stalking someone, every time I sense that a stranger’s behavior is odd, I am reminded that I have been changed. And I still feel like a girl with a stranger at her door.

A Stranger At the Door – Part 2

Click here to read Part 1.

********

My parents, just in from Florida, bore faces weary from travel and etched with worry. My sister was wary and staunch. My boss, with whom I’d exchanged terse messages that morning, was angry that I wasn’t coming to work, despite agreeing to it ten days before. With the blanket of tension wrapped around me, we waited in District Court for hours for my stalker’s bench trial. But at the last minute, he asked for a jury trial, so his case would be transferred to Circuit Court and his criminal defense attorney could better guess a sentence from judges he knew.

Three weeks later, in what was scheduled as a preliminary hearing in Circuit Court, my stalker pleaded guilty to avoid the harsh sentence a jury trial would yield. His attorney argued that his client “didn’t have the courage” to actually hurt me, admitted to having a drinking problem and had learned that he “needs to be more considerate in the future.” He also told the judge that his client had no violent prior convictions. I suppose badly beating a woman doesn’t count.

I gave what’s called a victim’s impact statement, and the Internal Affairs sergeant who sat in the back of the room told me later that he thought it would have made a difference if the state had not already agreed to a plea deal. I had okayed the deal because it would save us from worrying about the initial officer’s errors in a jury trial, and it would save my parents from listening to testimony.

Factoring in suspended time from the statute, my stalker was sentenced to 13 months, including time served, and four years probation. Because of his criminal history and the escalation of his behavior, the judge had added a year to the probation deal and sent him to a state prison instead of a county facility.

There is no Truth In Sentencing policy in my state, so I knew he would not serve the full time. The state and county were not obligated to tell me anything about his status. But a friend told me about a state-endorsed service that would monitor his incarceration and tell me if he was released. “I mean it,” he told me firmly. “Sign up.”

Two months after sentencing, the service sent an email. My stalker was out. They put him on home detention for five more months, living at his mother’s house with an ankle bracelet. His ten-year criminal history included a bevy of drug offenses, burglary charges and assault. It showed that while he was on house arrest for beating that woman, he was served with a protective order by another woman. From time to time, I checked his record. One day, I saw that his probation had been reduced from four years to one.

It hit me then. Because of a few connections and an understanding of whose office to approach about what, I had an advantage over so many other victims. I knew others might be intimidated by the idea of calling offices all over the state. I realized that not everyone can pick up and move when they deal with something like this. I realized that not everyone has the support, the friends, the family, the workplace security that I have. And I realized that if it had not been for one friend’s advice, I never would have known anything past the day my stalker pleaded guilty.

I realized how lucky I was. And I knew someone else would not be.

Six months after my stalker’s arrest, I sent an email about my case, and what I wanted for other victims, to two state senators and six state delegates. A few months later, one of the senators officially proposed a bill on my behalf that would tell victims of misdemeanor crimes about the service I used to monitor my stalker’s status. It was a simple plan: a line of copy on District Court letterhead, telling recipients of subpoenas, summonses and other documents about the service I used, to which their counterparts in the felony-oriented Circuit Court were automatically granted access.

I testified to a state senate committee in favor of the bill, a three-minute speech I had agonized over, trying to tell my story and explain why the bill mattered. I tried to drive home the point that most people like me never know anything about their perpetrator’s status after sentencing for a predatory crime. The proposal’s one-time cost of implementation was $5,760, not much more than it had cost me to move. The bill had great support and no opposition.

But it stalled in committee for political reasons. There would be no new law.

The senator’s chief of staff sounded so frustrated on the phone. He said he had gone from such a high to such a low that he was thinking about finding different work. But we didn’t give up. We planned for the next year’s legislative session, and kept trying to make something happen without legislation in the meantime. Several weeks after my testimony to the committee, the senator’s chief of staff called to say that a state agency for crime control had found room for the cost of our initiative in a federal grant. Because it was a one-time expense, there was no risk of undoing our work for lack of funding. The purpose of the bill had been served, in spite of those who stood in its way out of selfishness.

Jack had once said to me, “I tend to think everything happens for a reason. But I can’t think of a reason this happened to you.” I told him that I don’t believe the same thing, but I do think we can make something good come out of a bad situation.

And we had.

******
This is part 2 of a 3-part series. The final part will be posted tomorrow. 

A Stranger At the Door – Part 1

Late July, at midnight. A tapping on my sliding door. Rocks against the glass. The doorbell going off. Over and over. It went on for 16 nights, all of this, sometimes for five minutes, sometimes for an hour. Always between midnight and 1am. Some nights, hidden by my closed blinds, he picked things up from the floor of my second-story balcony and threw them across to the other side. Some nights he saw that my light had been turned off and banged on my bedroom window.

I ignored him, thinking he was some punk who thought he was funny. Then one morning I found  a terrifying note on my door and a one-word message on my car. That’s when I called police. For three nights, they tried in vain to stop him. He taunted them, and me. When they finally caught him, they had to chase him down to his own apartment. He lived 100 feet away. He told them I was his girlfriend.

They brought his ID to my apartment. I did not know who he was.

He might be let out on bail. In daylight, on my way to a weekend court office to get a two-day peace order until I could see a judge, I found another message written on my car.  “NOT YET.” I had to have the police come again. At the court clerk’s office, a bail bondsman, seeing my state, slid his name and number toward me and softly suggested maybe all I needed was a good dinner. I was too exhausted and overwhelmed to realize he was hitting on me. I’d already spent hours that day trying to find out if I could get out of my lease without a penalty, trying to make sure I had somewhere to go if this man was released on bail, trying to make my boss at work understand why I couldn’t come in. I had slept fewer than three hours and woke to phone calls from the police precinct, asking questions about the report made by the first officer who responded. He had left out important details, lied about what happened to the note I had kept and turned over as evidence after he had told me to throw it away.  He was already in trouble before this and was now likely to lose his job. For weeks, commanding officers and detectives from Internal Affairs questioned me in a series of interviews. I was asked to testify in a tribunal hearing to determine the officer’s punishment.

In the days after the arrest, I had to go back to court for a temporary peace order, good for a week. Detectives came and asked me questions, dusted my window and sliding door for fingerprints. I found out that my visitor was also a suspect in three indecent exposure cases, the victims of which were women living in ground-floor apartments within walking distance of my 2nd floor place, who had seen him on their patios, watching them while he pleasured himself. I learned that my upstairs neighbor had tried to bail my visitor out, that police now suspected they were dealing drugs together. I worried that my neighbor might be a threat to me now, too. An illegal cab driver, also apparently a known dealer, also an associate of my visitor, sat parked directly in front of my apartment one day. Officers found him in the upstairs neighbor’s apartment on another night, even though the neighbor said he didn’t know who drove the sedan in the lot.

I did not live in a “bad neighborhood.” What had happened to my quiet, safe home?

Nine days after the arrest, I faced my visitor in court, at a final peace order hearing where he was allowed to question me. It’s a civil proceeding. It works that way regardless of criminal charges. If you want a piece of paper that says he can’t come near you, first you have to stand in a room full of strangers who also need protective orders and tell your story, stand with him six feet away and talk to him. When I saw him walk in, in handcuffs, I had a flash of a memory: him sitting on the front step of the building next to mine, in basketball shorts and a T-shirt.

It was the only time I had ever seen him before.

Separately, the criminal charges were set. Stalking. It took weeks to reconcile the word to my consciousness. Stalking? I had a stalker? I wasn’t famous, I was no one. Would people take me seriously if I said it? Would they roll their eyes, thinking I was being dramatic? Thinking I was flattering myself?

Twenty days after his arrest, I moved.

I worried that the first officer’s mishandled report would hurt us in the prosecution, that my stalker would get away with it and come looking for me, even now that I lived ten miles away, having closed all my service accounts and opened new ones in my new place instead of transferring, so there was no trail from old home to new. To ease my mother’s mind, I rented a PO box instead of getting my mail at home. But he knew where I worked. The information was in the peace order delivered to him in jail.

*****
This is the first of three posts. I have wanted to write about this since I began blogging over a year ago. Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

Pretend there’s a big candle shaped like a 1 here. Oh, and a cake.

So, today I’ve been blogging for a year. I thought I came to this whole thing pretty late in the proverbial game, and most of the bloggers I read have proven me correct, because they have months and months of backstory. I am very thankful to the 72 of you who subscribe, but I wish you would all actually read my posts. My stats show that this is nowhere near the case. Please leave me a note telling me why you don’t read all my posts. Those of you who don’t leave notes will have shown yourselves. (Aha! A clever ruse to uncover the deadbeats! This is not unlike how I schemed to discover whether there really was a Santa.)

That’s no way to treat my subscribers. I’m sorry. Please read me.

I would also like to say that I have completely given up the hope of ever being Freshly Pressed. I’m fairly sure the FP gods have found some sort of dirt on me or something. Or they are chaired by my kindergarten and first grade teachers, who did not like me at all, and who may or may not still be alive, and also by my ex-boyfriend Mitch, who frankly has no room to be critical. That’s okay, though. That’s fine. That means I’ll never experience the soaring thrill of having hundreds and hundreds of hits in one day only to drop back down to mere dozens (of delightful, wonderful, faithful people who search for “tarpon” every day on the internet and find my homepage because I once wrote a post about a terrible show called When Fish Attack 2).

Seriously, you can’t believe how many people search for tarpon on any given day.

Actually, though, I did experience the thrill of hundreds of hits, twice. One time was when I wrote a post I wound up deleting because someone figured out who I was and that is a no-no here on thesinglecell.wordpress.com. So I had to kill them. It. I had to kill it. The post.

The other day that wound up being kick-ass in the stat department was March 8th.

Do you not remember what happened that day?

That was the day that 537 people searched for Karen Santorum, and 192 for Ann Romney, and somehow got my homepage. I’ve posted exactly one entry that featured photos of them. I guess that’s what triggered the magic.

I should take this opportunity to point out that the actual candidates themselves scored very, very low on my search stats. In fact, Michele Bachmann got lots more searches than anyone else, and she dropped out, like, five years ago. Her searches totaled over 200. Coming in second to her was Newt Gingrich, vis-a-vis the moon, with five.

Not a typo. With all those political posts I’ve written, not a single person who searched for any of the other candidates made their way to my blog, unless they wanted to see Mr. Gingrich and the moon.

I suppose this means I am not a leading source for information on the presidential race.

But I am a leading source on tarpon.

So that’s something.

This, I think, will be my 171st post. Some quick math tells me that means I’ve spent somewhere between 171 and 342 hours writing in the last 365 days. Hey, that’s not bad! I’m no Ernest Hemingway, but frankly, who wants to be Ernest Hemingway? That guy was pretty miserable. I’ve never aspired to be a tortured soul writing to exorcise demons. That just happens by accident sometimes.

Also, a good portion of those hours may have been spent searching Google Images for pictures to steal and put in my posts, and/or fight with over being my featured image, as Dan Bain over at bainwaves.wordpress.com can attest, if he’s not dead.

Sometimes I wish I could tag people in posts like they do on Facebook. Or poke them.

In actual fact, I spend eight hours a day writing at work in some form or fashion (I’m omitting the hours I spend staring at the screen, either trying to make sense out of something senseless that someone else has written, or waiting for someone else to finish their part of the project). But that’s really not a ton of fun, so this blog began as a chance to stretch my writing muscles, to be completely inconsistent and post on whatever I darn well please on any given day. Or not at all. Whether its working, I suppose, is best left to my readers. Don’t ask the Freshly Pressed judges.

And I guess I should also apologize for the posts that sucked. I know there are some real duds in here. Mea culpa.

So on this, my first blogoversary, I thank all of you who have read, commented, liked, ranted, loved, hated, thought about, agreed with, completely vehemently and potentially violently disagreed with, condemned, beatified, and/or otherwise reacted in any way to my writing at any time over the last year. I look forward to seeing you every day, and I’ve truly enjoyed reading almost all of what I’ve read from other writers since I started this escapade last Ides of March.

I don’t think I picked that date on purpose. But you can’t say you weren’t warned.

My Endless Love

I am in love. 6′ tall, dark, handsome, strong, supportive, full of wisdom and humor and interesting things that I could spend hours just absorbing with all the fibers of my being… on my couch, in my bed, even on the kitchen table.

Here’s a picture.

Isn't he dreamy?

Why, what did you think I was talking about?

I kind of love all my furniture except the stuff in my spare bedroom that I bought for $700 when I graduated from college 12 years ago. I don’t have much: a couch, a loveseat, a coffee table, an end table, a kitchen table and four chairs, a pine wood standing cabinet that I currently use to hold kitchen stuff but could use in another place for towels or tchotchkes or other accoutrements, and the bedroom set that I bought when I moved here last year. I really, really like it all, and I’m still sort of proud that I bought it all myself. But my bookshelf has a special place in my heart.

I bought it at an unfinished wood store the year the Cardinals played the Red Sox in the World Series. It’s oak, so the shelves wouldn’t bow under the weight of books, or in humidity. Jack let me use him and his SUV to pick it up and get it home. My brother-in-law told me how to stain it myself and said I could either use polyurethane or tung oil to finish it. I sanded it by hand, wiped it down with tack cloth, and brushed on a coat of dark chocolate stain (while watching the World Series, and, at one point, talking on the phone to a guy who wanted me to come work for him). Then I let it dry, sanded it again, wiped it down again, and applied another coat of stain. Let it dry, sanded it again, wiped it down again, and applied the first coat of tung oil (because it penetrates and conditions the wood and leaves a less obtrusive sheen, and won’t chip like polyurethane can… I learned). I forget how many coats of tung oil went into that bookshelf. I stayed up late to work on it. I remember worrying about the rain outside warping the wood as it stood in front of the sliding door, or keeping the stain from drying. In fact, there are two places where some of the stain wiped away because it wasn’t quite dry enough before I started the next round of work, and another place where the stain dripped and then dried that way, refusing to be rubbed away with sandpaper.

It has character. It has a story. I did it myself.

And then I filled it with books.

I love books. I’m not a bibliophile in the strictest terms; I won’t read just anything and I don’t limit my reading to super-high brow stuff. But I hate to throw books away or give them away or sell them. I hate to loan them out and never get them back. I write my first initial and last name on the first page of every book I own when I loan it out, so the borrower knows to whom it belongs.

I want it back. I don’t care how bad a book it is.

I don’t want my bookshelf to be too cluttered and full, so I worry that I’ll need another one soon, but don’t have a place to put another one. I like that I’ve left spaces for bric-a-brac, photos in frames (which look much better when I haven’t turned them around so you can’t see who’s in them), clay vases hand-thrown by a ruggedly handsome, ruffly-haired man I met one fall at an art festival with my friends, and my grandmother’s Hummel that she made sure would come to me when she died because it reminded her of me.  I like that it has this clock in the middle of the middle shelf…

Twice a day...

…. even though the clock is broken and will never tell time again except twice a day. I like that the clock sits on top of a book my ex-boyfriend edited, because it’s the one thing I will always respect about him even though he’s a total jerkface.  I like that this book stands up in the back of the second shelf…

… because one Christmas I found it and bought four copies and wrote inscriptions on the front page for each of my three sisters and wrapped them for Christmas morning so we would each have a copy in our homes.

Books can bond people together with their wisdom and commonality.

I like that I’ve put the “crappy,” pulp fiction, super-bourgeois stuff on the bottom two shelves so I can put the more impressive stuff above it. It may be pretentious, but it’s my way of prioritizing, so that someday, when I absolutely have to get rid of some books (ack), I’ll know which shelves to pick from.

At Christmas, I put my Dickens Village houses on top of the bookshelf, set on a fluffy layer of fake snow, with white-limbed fake trees (regular and pine) and O-mouthed choristers and Little Charlie Dickens on his mother’s lap on a park bench, and Tiny Tim on Bob Cratchett’s shoulder while Bob drags the family’s tree behind them and a dog runs alongside. With gaslight lamps that really light up (but aren’t really gas) dotting the path.

That bookshelf holds the fantasies that I’ve cradled in my hands, curled up with a glass of wine or immersed in a warm bath, escaping. It holds my getaways, my fascinations. It holds the things I read in middle school (To Kill A Mockingbird), in high school (The Great Gatsby, The Catcher In the Rye – which my little sister borrowed five years ago when she had to read it for high school, and which came back to me dog-eared), in college (Life With A Star, A Lesson Before Dying, Tuesdays With Morrie – which came out my junior year and was required reading for a unique seminar class I took as a senior with the assistant dean of academic affairs, who died of a heart attack in his mid-50s, a few years after graduation). It holds the classics I should have read all the way through sometime in between, but didn’t until after I was finished school (The Bell Jar, In Cold Blood, King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet). All these books from my school days that left such impressions on me that I wanted to keep them. It holds biographies and histories, vampire stories and love stories, tragedies and celebrations.

It tells my story.

Every year, when the weather turns cooler, I look forward to curling up with a blanket and a new book. When the weather is warm, I look forward to toting one in my bag to the beach, or sitting with it out on the balcony with a drink. Some nights, I can’t wait to get home and sink into a tub of soothing warmth or a cushion of pillows with a book to erase the day.

And every morning when I wake up, every night when I come home, my bookshelf is there against the wall to remind me of my story.

I am in love. Forever.

(This may or may not be why I’m unmarried.)

(Huh.)

(Anyway.) I am going to begin keeping a list of books on the shelf. It’s at the top of my blog, next to “All the cells.” Every time I finish a book, I’ll add it to the list. If you keep a list, let me know; I’ll check yours when I’m looking for my next affair, my next commitment to a larger romance.

*******

My blog friend k8edid was kind enough to nominate me for the Versatile Blogger Award. I love her stuff and I so appreciate that she likes mine enough to honor my writing that way. My mission: tell my readers seven things they don’t know about me, and list more bloggers for them to read. (Technically, what you’re supposed to do is name a list of Versatile Bloggers, but I’m pretty literal and I prefer the less restrictive approach of simply naming a few I’ve discovered and enjoyed since the last time I provided a list.)

Here goes:

Seven Things

1. I had a birthmark on the inside of my leg that ran from just below my knee all the way up. When I was two, my mother tried to scrub it off because she thought it was dirt. But now it’s so faded I’m not even sure it’s there anymore.

Stop thinking about where it was. Geez.

2. I have 20/500 vision without contact lenses or glasses. AKA totally sucky.

3. I learned to read when I was four, and still remember a big yellow paperback book full of stories that had an illustration of Superman on the back page. There was also a hardback book called Star Bright that was full of short stories in black print with font like the one I use in my blog. The short story I remember best from that book was called “Lemonade Rain.” There was an illustration in it of a girl who looked like Sister 1, sticking her tongue out to catch the drops.

4. When I was in second grade, one of my classmates accidentally tripped me on the blacktopped schoolyard and I chipped my front tooth and cut my face just under my nose, so I have a scar that looks like my nose is running and 1/3 of my left front tooth is fake.

5. My favorite subjects in elementary and high school were always English and history. No matter what year.

6. I am half German and half Irish. Or half Irish and half German, depending on which parent reads my description.

7. When I was in middle school, every teacher I had thought I would become a writer. I sort of did… but  not a novelist, like they thought.

And now: Blogs You Should Read (Besides the Ones On My Lovely Blog Roll)

k8edid – A nurse with a heart of gold and a silver tongue.

Prettyfeetpoptoe – I just discovered her, but I think if you like me, you’ll like her. Also she’s British, which is always a bonus. I love me some witty Brits.

Ginger – a single mom fighting fibromyalgia and a wicked case of Decorator’s Bug.

Jamieonline – he’s just such a sweetheart, and he has such enthusiasm and zest for life.

The Bloggess – she’s got a gazillion readers and she doesn’t need you, but if you want to laugh out loud, read her anyway.

Happy reading, all.

Who Puts A Baby In A Pot?

You know how Facebook puts ads on the side of your page, so that one second you mention something you’re interested in (Victoria’s Secret, Brita water filters, college educations) and the next second, there’s an ad for it popping up? They’re starting to really freak me out. And I don’t mean the blatant spying on me. I mean the fact that some of the photos that go with these ads are completely unrelated to the ads themselves. I hope.

There’s the one about how President Obama is giving away free college educations or something, and the picture that goes with it is some sort of flagrant hussy practically removing her top. Stuff like that. But the one I came across today was this:

What are you doing to that kid?! (pic from demeterclarc.com)
 
Holy crap, they’re boiling a baby! And they’ve dressed it up like a lobster! They’ve stuffed it into a pot! The little darling looks understandably concerned.
 
Know what this ad was for? No, not a school that teaches you how to cook children to their perfect texture and internal temperature.
 
Social work.
 
It was an ad to become a social worker.
 
And, let’s face it: if you’re putting a kid in a lobster outfit, stuffing the kid into a pot and carrying it around like you’re going to boil it until it stops screaming, and then dip it in drawn butter… you’re probably going to meet a social worker at some point in life.
 
So maybe the picture is related to the ad… but I’m thinking probably not.
 
Now, you’ll notice that, in my photo credit, I reference demeterclarc.com. That’s just one of the many, many places I found this pic in a Google image search. That means it’s hard to know where the photo came from, for sure.
 
I wonder if, somewhere, a social worker is trying to trace it to its origins.
 
Surely, someone is looking for the parents of this child…

image from sendible.co.uk

 
…because how can you be allowed to put a kid in a lobster costume, in a pot, on top of the stove?
 
Doesn’t this teach bad safety lessons? Aren’t parents always trying to get their kids to stay away from things like stoves and ovens and fire and natural gas and combinations of those things?
 
You know… maybe that ad does work. Because the photo is certainly making me care about the well-being of lobster-babies all over the world.
 
Incidentally– or related to absolutely nothing I”ve been talking about– my blogging friend over at Older Eyes has bestowed upon me another honor. I promised him I wouldn’t whine about it this time, because I truly am grateful that he’s practically my best-good blogging friend (I’m still trying to come up with a term to combine those words: blend? No… Frogger? No…) I’m now charged with the assignment of awarding the Versatile Blogger Award to 15 bloggers.  And I’m to share seven things about myself.
 
I don’t know that I can honestly give you 15 solid, versatile bloggers, but I’m going to give you my list:
 
It’s a short list, but they’re the folks I read regularly who I feel embody what it means to be versatile.
 
Now, seven things you probably didn’t care to know about me:
 
1. I’ve moved around a lot, mostly in my childhood, because my father worked for a railroad and got transferred a fair bit. That moving has helped me A) shed a decidedly unattractive accent; and 2) learn how to adjust to changes in life. I wrote my college essay about the second thing. My dad read it and felt totally awful about the whole thing. Poor guy. But it’s also made me realize the value of choosing a hometown for myself, and that’s where I am now.
 
2. Most of my posts are snarky, but I’m really a total sap. Sometimes the dumbest things make me choke up. Yesterday, it was President Obama’s speech in Dublin, Ireland. What? I’m half Irish.
 
3.  I once saved my sister’s life by performing the Heimlich Maneuver on her while my other sister ran around the stairs a few times and then poured some milk down the drain, having forgotten to get a cup to pour it into so that the choking sister could take a drink. Both those sisters have children now. I don’t.
 
4. I have this bizzare dichotomous personality that allows me to over-share in some situations and be intensely private in others. Which is how you end up with this list of things.
 
5. I harbor a secret (or, apparently, not secret) desire to become a speechwriter for a really inspiring politician. Of course, this will never happen, since there are so few really inspiring politicians. In which case, I’ll settle for writing speeches for fictional President Josiah Bartlet.
 
6. Nothing makes me happier than spending a day in the kitchen, cooking up yumminess and baking batches of happiness. Well… almost nothing makes me happier than that.
 
7. I’m fiercely loyal. And that includes loyalty to blogging friends. Flogs? Briends? Ugh. This is going to take a while.
 
——————-
Featured image from blog.myweddingfavors.com. Not that that has anything to do with anything.
 
 

You Have To Learn To Pace Yourself…

It’s crunch time. I’m feeling the pressure.

My blogging buddy, Older Eyes, was kind enough to once again give me (undeserved) props in his entry today. One wonders what Older Eyes and I see in each other… no pun intended. He’s got a good sense of humor, for sure, but if you read his stuff and you read my stuff, you’ll immediately see that we are not exactly two peas in a proverbial pod. Aside from the 30+ year age difference and the fact that we live on exact opposite coasts of the country, there are other differences as well. (He’s consciously working the steps; I’m consciously trying to figure out how to turn my empty-bottle wine rack into a full-bottle wine rack. Just for instance.) But what I appreciate about his stuff is that it’s thoughtful, and it’s true to what’s on his mind at the time he writes it. It’s diverse, which is to say it tells the story of a life that’s been complete before (hopefully long before) it’s been completed. It’s as likely to make you smile serenely as it is to make you think. It’s gentle and sometimes rather zen. It reminds me of my better self.

My stuff, on the other hand, fairly smacks you in the face. I’m not a violent person, so if you met me you might find me much more like Older Eyes than you’d think, but apparently my process of self-expression is a tad different.

So today, my buddy Older Eyes tells his entire reading universe of readers about my blog. And I totally appreciate the nod. I really do. It’s so great when other writers find your writing to be promising.

But Bud, I gotta tell ya… I’m a little stressed now.

I love to make people laugh-slash-think, but my last entry was rather short on laughter, since it was about Osama bin Laden. Jeff Dunham’s Achmed the Dead Terrorist: funny. Osama bin Laden: rather not. So I’ve been trying to figure out what to do as a follow-up. Now I’ve got a challenge on my hands.

This must be how President Obama felt after he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

I sat here and sat here, fingertips tapping the keys in no particular order, trying to figure out something witty and sharp to say so Older Eyes’ readers wouldn’t click through from his page to mine and go, “bin Laden? That’s not funny,” and write me off entirely. I came up with the fact that today is Cinco de Mayo and, serendipitously, the avacados I bought at the grocery store last week are nearing the overripe stage and I simply must make the intended guacamole today. Apparently I thought this made my Irish and German ass subconsciously connected to this holiday.

You know what I typed next?

“This entry sucks. El Sucko.”

And I scrapped it.

But in hopes of ressurecting myself and lifting up some other bloggers whose brilliance I adore, I present to you this list of nominees for some unnamed award that they should feel no pressure for having received:

Older Eyes – see above
accidentalstepmom – This is the only mommyblog I read, because it’s hilarious and real and it resonates with me.
Twist365 – Jackie is a blog-a-day’er, as is Bud… and she finds humor and irony in everyday life that I appreciate and draw from.
Seasweetie – Nothing makes me happier than photos of the sea. Except for actually being at the sea.
pegoleg – Straight up funny with a dash of “where does she get this stuff?”
japecake – Dude (I’m assuming it’s a dude) is like 75 times smarter than me. It’s amazing what he comes up with. If Jon Stewart and a genius had a baby, and that baby had a blog, it would be japecake.
DavisW – Snark meets spark.
SoonerBlue2 – Politics and irony. Just like the USA.

Isn’t it nice to know you have places to seek higher blogs if you read mine and it blows?

Thank you, Bud. For real.

Where Do You Write?

There’s apparently a sub-viral meme going around, asking Where Do You Write? I got the question from fellow blogger Older Eyes. Well, I mean, he didn’t ask me directly, but he put it out there and sort of encouraged everyone who read his entry to answer the question with an entry of their own. So.

I write everywhere.

Hahaha, you thought I was done! If you thought I was done, you’ve never read one of my blog entries. I tend toward the loquacious side.

Sometimes I write while I’m sitting on the floor of my living room, with my laptop perched on top of the stereo. This is because I don’t have wifi. Long story, short writing sessions. It ain’t as easy to sit on the floor as it used to be.

When I can’t take that, or I need to spend more time (and an entry almost always takes at least an hour because I’m obsessive about editing, re-editing, re-reading, re-re-reading, etc.), I move the laptop to the kitchen table, where I can look out the window (hopefully unrestrained by the presence of random men on my balcony) and sip a cup of coffee or a glass of water, which I am absolutely certain I will one day spill all over the laptop.

Other times, the laptop actually becomes what it is, and I write while sitting on the couch. If that’s where I am, it’s much more likely that I’m writing late at night, and that the beverage of choice is either a glass of wine or a martini. Which I will probably spill on my couch. Thank God for stain-resistent microfiber.

There are nights when I’ll write in bed. This totally breaks my No Technology In the Bedroom Rule. I do not have a television in my bedroom, and if I have anything to say about it, I never will, because I believe bedrooms should be sanctuaries and that the media of choice should be books. Keeps things relaxed, unencumbered, peaceful and sensual. But since books are allowed, I think writing is allowed, and since my hand tends to cramp up if I try to write longform, I’ll fetch the laptop for these rare occasions when something brews in bed and I just have to get it out.

Something literary, I mean.

I write at work. I mean, I write for work, but sometimes I’ll work on an entry on the side. Devious little thing, aren’t I? In case you’re wondering, if I’m not home or I don’t have free access to wifi, I write drafts in a MSWord file rather than in the draft section of WordPress, mostly because that way I can do it without “surfing the internet.” The good thing about writing at work, I find, is that having something “else” to write while I’m writing what I have to write helps to keep me engaged rather than bored. Plus sometimes there’s just material that’s too good to let go.

I wrote this entry in an airport. And since my people-watching tendencies go into overdrive while I’m in an airport, it’s definitely become the source for several blog ideas. One of them, which may or may not see the light of day, is the fact that fully half of the people who were sitting in the largely business-oriented I Need To Recharge My Laptop/SmartPhone section of the gate are women. And they were working. I wasn’t, but everybody thought I was, because I was typing away on my laptop.

Mind you, I had just read a whole issue of Cosmo, so I felt like I had to do something that looked at least one step above mindless. (Cosmo is not totally mindless, though. I always buy it when I’m sitting in an airport. Once I wade through all the clap-trap about lip gloss and 22-year-old jargon that makes me roll my eyes,  I always find value in certain articles, if you know what I’m sayin’.)

I wrote on the plane on the way there, and I wrote on the plane on the way home.

And I’m constantly writing in my head. Sometimes I’ll write a whole Thing and then by the time I get to a computer all I have to do is type out the fully mentally-edited version. That’s how I wrote the Maid of Honor Toasts I had the… well, honor to give at both my sister’s weddings.

When inspiration strikes, it’s best to get to work before you lose it.

I can’t love you if you can’t spell.

 
  
 

I have always been a total freak about grammar and usage. I will admit this freely. (I just deleted the phrase “and openly” because it was redundant. My decision to post a blog entry about my grammar obsession is now making me completely neurotic about how I write said entry.)

My coworkers know well how I wave my written word freak flag. And they should. We’re all writers, for crying out loud. My family knows. I am told that some of them are occasionally afraid to send me an email because I might judge them.

I wouldn’t judge them. They’re my family.

Total strangers? I definitely judge total strangers.

Here’s the thing: I cannot understand how someone can get to their 20s without realizing that they’re doing it wrong. I mean, how does one go through life having no idea that they’re using “they’re,” “their” or “there” inappropriately? Or that there is a difference between “your” and “you’re?” How does one not take note, at some point in life, that “a lot” is two words?

And since when is it acceptable to use apostrophes as an indication of decades? 20’s, 30’s, etc… NO. That’s WRONG. But apparently, we’re going with it. Which means I have a bone to pick with the caretakers of modern language.

I credit (yes, credit) my lifelong love of reading for the fact that I am obsessive about these rules to the point of twitching when I see something written incorrectly. I don’t even think it has to do with learning it in school. Lord knows there was plenty I should have remembered from some lesson when I was seven that’s long gone at this point. But I think that being a reader is more important to developing a real understanding of the written word than is a lesson in school, or a teacher’s constant red-ink corrections (which are usually just resented and therefore disregarded). And I don’t think that you can force someone to love reading. So I understand when such a person maybe hasn’t grasped the fact that there is no apostrophe in “apostrophe’s.” (When has an apostrophe ever possessed anything? I dare you to write a sentence in which the word “apostrophe” possesses something. I’m throwing down that challenge right now. Post it in the comments. Go.)

But there is also such a thing as the power of observation. And this is where I get hung up.

To me, if you didn’t learn the lesson in school, and you didn’t learn it from reading, then your powers of observation should be enough to let you know that you’re screwing up the language in a royal way. Yet, the people in my life who are most consistently guilty of grammatical screw-ups are also very observant. I don’t understand how this happens. My sister, for example. My sister can see a guy in her peripheral vision walking by with a dog, and later tell you exactly what he was wearing, what color hair he had, whether he had glasses and, if so, what the frames looked like, what kind of dog he was walking, and what color the leash was. But she cannot spell “receive” correctly to save her life.

I am aware that my dear friends and family are sometimes intimidated by my worthsmithing, so I consciously choose not to correct them when they write things incorrectly. Instead, if it really starts to bug me, I’ll repeat their word, but in correct usage, in my reply to their message. For example, my friend Jay constantly spells “ridiculous” wrong. He spells it “rediculous.”

Which is ridiculous.

And so I reply by using the word in a sentence, spelled correctly.

Never works.

Jack does something I’ve never seen anyone else do. He spells “a lot” as one word, with an extra L. “Allot.”

Seriously? You’re a bright guy, Jack. You write for a living. “Allot?”

And this brings me to another realization: I have a pretty good handle on word origins. Turns out, that helps quite a bit. If you know that the origin of the word “ridiculous” is the word “ridicule,” and you understand that you are not, somehow, re-diculing anything (seeing as how there’s no such verb as “dicule” to allow for a re-dicule), then you know that the proper spelling of the word is, in fact, “ridiculous.”

I mean I really don’t think it’s that difficult.

I once told my mother, in a moment of epiphany, that I had very little tolerance for people who were not smart. “Oh, really?” she said, in a tone that made it clear that she had been aware of this intolerance for, oh, about two decades or so. Apparently, she thinks I believe I’m smarter than everyone else. But that’s not it at all. I think everyone else is exactly as smart as me. That is why I get frustrated. But maybe that’s not even a fair assessment. Maybe I think that other people are as observant, or more observant, than me. I could never do what my sister can do with descriptions. So why can’t she spell “receive?”

Obviously, there’s an aptitude for language and an aptitude for visual cues. What’s interesting to me is that they are not linked. I find language to be a visual medium. You read. You see what you write. There’s memory generated from that. It’s why note-takers learn better. So why is it that visual learners like my sister cannot digest and internalize language that same way?

Boggles the mind.

Now, you may have noticed that I often make use of incomplete sentences (and parenthetical phrases). That is because I am fully aware that I am writing an incomplete sentence (or a parenthetical phrase), and I’m doing it for stylistic reasons. They still make sense, these sentence fragments (and phrases), when taken in context. But I think it’s obvious when someone is a competent writer and uses sentence fragments on purpose, as opposed to someone who doesn’t seem to know that a formal letter should not contain the sentence, “That everything was messed up.”

Huh?

If your writing is so bad that even you can’t read what you’ve written, don’t you think you should brush up on some stuff?

I suppose you’re beyond hope at that point.

And so I judge you. I judge you if you want to flirt with me via email, but you spell words wrong and don’t use “there” properly. If you tell me, “you’re smile is pretty,” you are off the list. It’s sweet, and I appreciate the sentiment, but you’re kind of dumb, or at least careless.

Yet observant enough to notice my smile.

So weird.