Challenge

This is a blog. It is a place to put things I write so that I will a) be held accountable (to whom, I am not quite sure) and b) let my nice friends read some things I write if they are so interested. Most, but not all, of the recent works on this blog are fiction. I don’t feel it’s necessary to distinguish which ones are fiction and which are directly from the horse’s mouth (if I am a horse). I would say that you could assume most are a little of both, but that is not really true. Sometimes the voices I write belong to men, of whose ranks I am clearly not a member. But then again, some of the male characters experience thoughts and fears and feelings that are very similar to what I do. Often the female voices I assume do too. And sometimes there are voices like the one in Wine Time, who I only have one (not insignificant) trait in common with: an unabated and indiscriminate appetite for middle-of-the-road wine.

I sought to undertake a month-long writing challenge of sorts to get back in the habit before I go to grad school, but it’s proving to be very beneficial for me personally to be reminded that there are many stories in my head that would like to get out. As far as challenges go, I haven’t been successful in posting something every day. But I have written something every day, and that’s more important to me. I might put a little more time into longer or more thoughtful pieces. Maybe they will turn out to be longer and less thoughtful. We will have to see.

Car Wars: Episode I

(Customer enters car dealership. Salesman hastily closes laptop playing funny cat video.)
Customer: Uh, hi.
Salesman: Hello! Welcome to generic car dealership. My name is Salesman. How can I assist you today?
C: Well, I’m not looking to buy anything today…
S: Uh-huh. Terrific. Fine and dandy. No problemo.
C:…But I have a few questions.
S: All right, no pressure at all. What’s your name friend?
C: My name is Jim Bob, or something like that.
S: Jimmy Bob, pleasure to meet you. You sure are a big fella. You play football?
C: (silence)
S: I used to love to toss around the old pigskin myself. Allrighty, let’s walk and talk JB. Mind if I call you JB?
(S & C go outside to blazing hot lot containing several dozen cars. The cars are all different. Or the cars are all the same. It does not matter.)
S: What kind of car do you drive now, Johnson Bob?
C: Me, I’ve had the same Chevy Silverado for well on nine years.
S: Chevy Sil! A man’s car. You ever drive straight down a mountainside with that thing?
C: Not really. I mainly use it to compensate for feeling inadequate and vulnerable.
S: Excellent. I get a lot of customers with the same story. So are you looking for something that more closely represents the true self you’ve been afraid to reveal up til now?
C: I’m not looking for me. My wife’s Honda is on its last legs and she’ll be needing a new car some time soon.
S: Honda. Great car. Not as great as our cars.
C: It sure lasted a long time. I think it might be nice to get her a nicer car though, you know? The old Accord was reliable. Nothing to write home about.
S: Oh yeah, no flash, no glamour. Your wife deserves all the bells and whistles, wouldn’t you say?
C: She wouldn’t want anything too fancy, now. She’s a good woman. She’s earned something nice. We are on a fixed income.
S: Oh, don’t you worry about that Jim Beam. I’m going to get you the best deal. You’ll want to write home about this deal! Heh heh. But we have to find you the right car first. Now, is this car going to be a surprise for your beautiful wife?
C: I was thinking so. If I could find the right thing. She usually wants me to make these kinds of decisions anyways. It’d be good to make it a surprise.
S: Amen. Happy wife, happy life.
(S steers C to the “perfect” vehicle)

Fin

…But the story doesn’t end here! The salesman will be back with further platitudes and misinformation in Episode II!

Family Bookshelf

The reading list never ends, and there are some major works I need to tackle or re-tackle for my upcoming thesis, and for pleasure. I often sideline lesser-known authors in favor of literary all-stars or one-off classics, but I’ve decided to change my reading habits for the next six weeks to take advantage of my dad’s extensive library. He is a veritable fanboy of several American writers who have reached icon status in literary circles but are not immediately familiar to the rest of the world. I haven’t read more than a short story or essay by any of these authors and I know they have a lot to offer. My mission before I leave for uni is to pick up one work by each of these authors. From what I’ve heard they might even contribute to a better historical understanding of the country I plan to base my thesis around.

The gang:

Gore Vidal – prolific creator, oft-described master of the historical novel and all-around oddball.

E.L. Doctorow – Doctorow, beloved among the literati, died recently. Tributes abound, from the Guardian to the New Yorker. The most obvious choice to read here is Ragtime, and not just because Dad has told me to read it 100 million times. Like so many of Vidal’s works, this book’s vivid depiction of a chapter of America’s history has been praised.

Edward Abbey – because obvi. I can’t believe I haven’t read a single word written by this man. I actually remember being fascinated by the cover of The Monkey Wrench Gang when I was a toddler. It’s time to get acquainted.

T.C. Boyle – another prolific contributor to American literature. As amusing and disturbing as his latest book, The Harder They Come, sounds, I’ll probably go with an earlier work. As I write, The Tortilla Curtain sits on the shelf opposite me and, I am convinced, is staring a hole through my head. “Reeeead me,” it hisses. It is mad because I already picked it up once and put it down after two pages. We’ll see what happens, Tortilla Curtain.

Philip Roth – For some reason, of all the authors on this list I’m the most jazzed about reading Roth. I really can’t decide whether to read American Pastoral, The Human Stain, or Portnoy’s Complaint. Probably Portnoy’s Complaint, because who doesn’t want to read about a profane, libidinous and therapized Jewish bachelor who is obsessed with his mother? Sign me up.

Wallace Stegner – We also seem to have a lot of Wally Stegner lying around. I don’t know if anyone ever called him Wally, but I hope they did.

My Life as a Dog in a Faulkner Novel

All I feel is light and light is all I feel. There is a band of white across my snout. It says good morning good morning good morning good morning and I want to give her the light but I couldn’t

Licking her face and she mumbles she’s mumbling “No. Nooooo-oooo” but I keep at it stubbornly, giving her all my love, telling her it’s morning, thinking does she know it’s morning does she know she can’t because if she did she would be

Now we are awake as one and the light chases us because we move. It is on her foot and I lick her foot to catch the light. I can’t get the light. Why can’t I get the light? I ask her but she doesn’t hear. She thinks I want food and ohmygod I do I want food and I didn’t know until she knew. How does she know she always knows.

Feed feed I am eating and crunching and snuffling and sucking up every morsel and it feels like it will never end and I will never have enough and then it is gone, it all, I search the bowl and it is empty. I look at her, imploring, begging, but she doesn’t answer back. She never answers back but she knows.

She eats slowly, gracefully, like if she goes too fast someone will come and say You’ve had enough now like she says to me when and they’ll take it away and she’ll say No and try to stop them but she can’t stop them. She eats like they are watching her and she knows she must be slow, knows she must be slow. I forget her slowness mission, I must for a moment, I drop my precious ball upon her. Ughhhhh she says and wipes my saliva off it her foot. Why can’t you wait just one second you dumb dog

But it is not long, I am not forgotten I am not lost and she throws it in an arc, a gorgeous motion, an effortless motion she has had so much practice and I dive headlong into oblivion, I fetch the ball it’s mine it’s all mine and I careen headfirst into the bush to retrieve my prize. It waits for me in a tangle of branches and I snatch it and I daub it in my slobber and I take it back to her because I love you I love you so much nothing is only for me, I must share with her she must know I

It was hours, it was a few minutes under the hot sun. I fall at her feet, I fawn, I nestle my shaggy head into her leg and I lie.

Wine Time

Recently I read an article alleging that working mothers who always finish their days with wine are alcoholics. The argument is that we simply can’t get on with our hellacious lives without this heaven-sent, grape-derived narcotic, that it’s some kind of crutch, something more sinister than a reward for never-ending work: an opiate to assuage the simultaneous dullness and overstuffing of our lives and provide a peaceful refuge.

This article was not only offensive, it also doesn’t accurately characterize me and my working sisters who are just trying to juggle it all while sneaking the teensiest bit of pleasure into our days. It’s not like our husbands are going to be responsible for that. My own husband hasn’t seen his toes since 1999. He can barely bend over to tie his shoes, let alone blow my mind in the bedroom. I gotta look for fulfillment elsewhere.

And it’s not that I’m not fulfilled by the kids. I love them, I really do. What kind of mother doesn’t? They’ve turned out a little chubbier than I’d hoped. They didn’t get it from me. I thought they’d inherit my mom’s sky-high metabolism. She’s as mean as a goat but at least she’s thin. It’s Bruce. His family thinks Velveeta is just about the finest delicacy the food world has to offer. I’ve always raised them on good food, but it’s like they inherited this obsession for Oreos or something. Like, genetically they know Oreos exist and they have to have them. It’s as innate as wanting to reproduce, which I’d love to tell them from experience is not an impulse worth listening to. Animalistic drives aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Just look at, well, animals. It’s not like an animal ever invented anything useful. The height of animal culture is licking oneself on a regular basis.

And I don’t need a glass of wine at the end of the night to get me through whatever bullshit was on my to-do list that day, that I probably didn’t get to anyway. That’s where the article really goes wrong, I think. I get that if you absolutely positively need alcohol to get through anything then yeah, maybe there’s a problem. I could just as well go without. But why should I? That’s like telling runners they should stop what they’re doing cause the runner’s high is bad. It’s so puritanical. It’s like we’re all supposed to live our lives as plainly and humbly as possible. I didn’t sign up to live in an Amish community, thank you. Those hats would look super weird on my head, I just know it. All the other Amish people would make fun of me and then we’d probably get in trouble for being rude or vain and have to say extra prayers. I don’t know.

I checked with my friends to see what they thought about this whole alcoholic working mom nonsense. My friend Carly was the one who sent it to me in the first place. “It’s so offensive,” she said. “And of course the writer of the article is a man. Little mystery why he slanders one of the few minor vices the average working mother gets to indulge in.” We certainly don’t have time for anything significant. “I fail to see how enjoying a glass of rosé while preparing dinner for my children makes me a worse mother than one of those rich women who has three nannies and spends all day at the spa,” Gina chimed in. By now we had an engrossing and thought-provoking email thread going. She’s right. We would all just love to spend more time injecting some fun into these humdrum days but when it comes down to it the options are limited. “What kind of publication would run with this misogynist drivel???” Carly wrote 5 minutes ago, in case we had forgotten this point.

I won’t deny I’ve been sipping on some Yellow Tail merlot as I type this. It’s sweet and delicious and a real bargain. I have my family’s finances at heart when I peruse the Trader Joe’s wine aisle. I’m not a snob. My kids need new shoes every 15 goddamn minutes and that means I don’t have a whole lot of wiggle room for finer blends. That suits me just fine. I have other things to worry about in life. I don’t just spend every minute of every day looking forward to that glorious moment when the kids are occupied, dinner’s on the stove and I can pop the cork, swirl my glass and take the first long, soothing sip of my best friend Vino. That’s some misogynist writer’s fantasy about the working mom, as Carly would say. That isn’t it at all.

The kids are in bed. Bruce is at poker night. He’s going to want some mac and cheese when he gets back, I’m sure. He only eats Kraft. Today is the only time I have for myself in between the meetings and the school runs and the chores and the driving, the endless driving. It hurts no one if I indulge a little bit in a frugally chosen varietal. It can only help.

Local Hero

Not a day goes by without the appearance of Speedo Man. He is guardian of the park, steward of nature’s kingdom. His exposed body is a glorious demonstration of nature love. His skin is withered, leathery, but a deep and supple brown. He is simultaneously a testament to the dangers of sun exposure and its greatest champion. Nothing will stand in the way of his love of sunbathing.

He may not be there in the morning; sometimes he does not arrive until the late hours of the afternoon. Mother Nature does not hold him to a schedule. Speedo Man goes with the flow. He slinks into the recreation area like a disinterested cat. His shorts are silk and bedecked with love hearts; his T-shirt is tattered and features a panda. The panda is eating bamboo. The bamboo is clearly delicious. Speedo Man gently removes his trusty apparel; he unfolds a towel next to which he can place his belongings. He sits in lotus pose, closes his eyes, takes a breath, and begins to imbibe the sun.

The grass is Speedo Man’s domain, but the pool is his playground. This is not to suggest that Speedo Man will not share his environment. In fact, no one is a greater encourager of outdoor enjoyment. “Please, join me,” he will say pleasantly to visitors, who are looking at the cool water and his scant banana hammock with trepidation. “The water is refreshing and I will not bite.” Probably the visitors will squeal and GTFO. “Heh heh heh,” says Speedo Man, unperturbed. There will be other days for his fellow citizens to bask in the glow of the beautiful park. For now, he will savor the wide berth allotted to him by other swimmers. It is peaceful, being Speedo Man.

He is known throughout town for his practice of Qi Gong. “Cool! Martial Arts!” yell some excitable youths passing by. Others imitate his sweet moves from a distance, shyly stopping and looking elsewhere when he twists in their direction. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and to see his passion attempted by others makes him grin. Sometimes, if he is doing yoga, he smiles at small children during Breath of Fire and makes them cry. It is especially disconcerting when he is practicing Breath of Fire while contorted in Destroyer of the Universe Pose while opening his eyes really wide at the same time. Once a concerned parkgoer said hey dude, you should really stop hissing at people. Speedo Man just smiled and shook his head. He knows that his yoga and Qi Gong practices are an inspiration to those who witness them. Stoking the curiosity of his fellow man gives him a profound sense of satisfaction, and he is happy to take time out of his Zen state to expound on the merits of meditation, breath work and mind-body harmony.

We will hear more about Speedo Man in coming days. After all, he will always be found in the park, communing with the birds and the trees, looking deep inside himself to quiet the demons.

Self Improvement

New Year’s Resolutions
1. Obviously, go to the gym six days a week and lose ten pounds. This is quite simple. The gym is literally three blocks from here. It takes 90 seconds to walk at a moderate pace from your door to the door of the gym. You know this. Just go.

2. Do not stop at Shake Shack every day on the way back from the gym. Milkshakes are poison. Your new athletic body does not want poison. It wants more kale and barre classes because that is what it loves now.

3. New you is also punctual. Your powerful new legs can easily carry you to work entire minutes before you are even required to be there. Not stopping at donut shoppe along the way will also aid in ensuring your timeliness. No longer will smug Lisa look at you smugly as you frantically hustle to your cubicle a mere 7 minutes past the hour. “What took you so long?” she will smugly smuggle no more.

4. Do not buy vaccum-packed sugar from donut shoppe on way to work.

5. Remember Mom’s birthday.

6. Send Mom flowers and card well before birthday so they do not arrive late.

7. Write birthday on calendar now so you don’t forget.

8. Write reminder on calendar two weeks before birthday so you have time to promptly send tokens of love. Do it right this minute. Do it now.

9. Stop drinking wine in the bath. You will spill wine and turn restorative soak into seedy wine-bath. Then you will have to have a shower, adding to already guilt-provoking level of water usage.

10. Don’t drink wine on the treadmill. If you drink wine on the treadmill, all that leisurely walking you’re doing won’t count as exercise.

11. Don’t spill wine on light-colored clothing.

12. Come to think of it, do not drink wine while wearing light-colored clothing.

13. Do not wear light-colored clothing ever again.

14. Feed inner creative person by undertaking artful hobby. Remember that watching TV is not a hobby and is in fact a waste of your precious time and potential. Will continue moderate TV exposure to keep up with the outside world, purely for purposes of social inclusion and definitely not for entertainment.

15. Artful and impressive hobbies include flamenco guitar, ice sculpture, orchid growing, tango lessons, home brewing, chess mastery and multilingual fluency. Hobby of choice TBD.

16. DO NOT leave straight iron plugged in lying on bed when you go out. Surely this is the way your world will end.

17. Meditate for ten minutes, twice a day. This will offer mental clarity, aid successful completion of other daily tasks and serve as a talking point with the yummy mummies at barre class, should you ever need to join their ranks for some dreaded and unforeseen reason.

18. Remember to take birth control at the same. fucking. time. every single day for the love of all that is holy.

19. Go to annual check-up. Inquire as to whether you will need five annual check-ups this year since it has been five years since you made it to the last one.

20. Hand-wash delicates instead of throwing them in the washer and hoping for the best.

21. Don’t be too hard on yourself. To forgive is divine, and surely nothing is quite so divine as self-forgiveness?

22. Resume spiritual education. You might be missing something.