Fifty Shades of Bile

OK, I’ll admit it.  It took me a few weeks, but I finally followed the herd mentality that I know I have, and went out and got the damn thing.

You know what I’m talking about right?  That stupid book.  No, not the Hunger Games.  That book is actually well written and worth the praise and popularity that it has garnered (though, in true herd fashion I didn’t get into that book until the movie had already broken all advance presale ticket records…though I suppose at least I didn’t wait until it was actually in the theaters).

That book that they keep calling Mommy Porn.  Ick, I hate to admit it.

Fifty Shades of Grey, I type sheepishly.  That one.

I bought it last week.  Everyone I know is reading the damn thing, and I figured I might as well just give in to the hype.  Sure, I’d read that the writing was kind of weak.  I’d heard that it originally was written and posted onto the internet as Twilight Fan Fiction.  Now, since I have already admitted what a trend follower I am, this would actually be a point in its favor; I loved the Twilight books.  Not great literature there, either, but compelling stories with at least passable writing.

Still, even after I gave into the impulse to buy the book, I resisted.  First, the bookseller asked if I wanted to buy all three at once:  “Most everyone does,” my little local bookshop lady told me.  But no, I responded.  “I am hoping I hate this book so much that I won’t want to buy all three, actually,” I told her.  This again flies in the face of my past history.  Hunger Games Trilogy:  8 days, three books.  Twilight:  17 days, four books.  The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon:  35 days, six books.   I am a voracious series reader, going all the way back to the Little House and Anne of Green Gables books of my childhood.  Is there any reason to think this Grey series will be any different?

God, I hope so.

I bought the book on Thursday and put it in a drawer.  I didn’t even want to leave it out where the kids or husband would see it.  Ick.  And all weekend long, I had no desire to read it, honestly.  But today, with a yawning day without much on my “to do” list, I gave in.  I opened the book.

Two hours and 124 pages later, I am still not impressed.  The writing is peppered with oddly big words and strangely chosen details, repeated phrases and obvious foreshadowing.  I actually exclaimed “this is really horrible” more than once.  Honestly, the only thing that kept me at it for two full hours was the very plain direction the story was headed in….and it took excruciatingly long to get there. And yes, knowing Bella and Edward’s story as intimately I do  (I am certainly not opposed to brain candy now and then), the linkages to the work that inspired this one are plain and clear.

There can really only be one reason these books are so successful.  It isn’t the likeability of the characters or the sweeping vistas painted with glorious language or the compelling story.  It is, of course, what everyone is saying it is.

It’s the sex.

That part, my friends, better live up to the hype!

There is No Try

I have been wrestling what to do with this body of work here for a while, now.

Scratch that.  I know what I want to do with this blog, and have for quite a while now.  I’d like to turn it into a book.  A real one, bound, with pages, maybe with an ebook version.  But a book.  My autobiography.  A book.  It’s been done before:  Julie/Julia being probably the biggest success.  But also a blog I read, PastaQueen, was turned into the book “Half Assed”.

At first I thought I could publish it mostly as is.  Well, with a ton of editing because some of the entries are quite rough, and most of them are essentially first draft stories.  Stories that when strung together tell the story of my life.  But also unedited, most of them.

At first I thought the idea had merit; I’ve seen books composed of letters before.  This could be a new format:  a book of blog postings.  I wrote them to provide separate, distinct, somewhat viable each on its own, stories.  There are cliff hangers between some of them.  But they are also intertwined and much richer if you read them from start to finish (like you would need to in a book….see where I’m going with this?).  I was eager enough, last September, when I wrote my last “Former Life” entry and moved into “Current Life” territory here.  I pulled a bunch of entries and threw them into a Word document, ready to tweak.

Except.

Except that the result kind of sucked.  It was disjointed.  It didn’t flow.  And some of the writing, it being essentially first draft writing, wasn’t very good.  I was so disappointed.  If I wanted to do this, really do this, I was going to have to go back and use this blog as kind of a set of notes to write The Real Thing.  And the thought of all that work?  That sent the procrastinator in me packing.

Which would explain why it is April and I have only sort of maybe started working on it again.  I pulled the first few months’ worth of entries and started again.  Wrote a few “bridge” entries that explained some of the gaps I found (I never wrote about the scene where my parents told us they were getting divorced, for example?  How’d I miss that life changing event?).  Tidied up some of the writing.

But it still didn’t feel like it could work.  I mean, I have stories, but it just didn’t seem to flow.  So my parents divorced.  Big deal.  So my brother had some major issues?  So what.  Both of those things help bring context to some of the family dynamic later in my life, but the stories about them?  Dullsville.

So I put it on the back burner.  That is, until I met up with a few of these characters from my past.  I went back into this blog and reread some of what I’d written about them.  And I was shocked when some of what I read looked pretty decent.  I’d forgotten about so many of the entries I have put in here.  It’s two solid years of writing, in the heart of it, daily entries that worked my writing muscle and forced me to remember details long since forgotten.  I can’t just let this blog sitting largely unnoticed in the Internet be all this stuff is.  I have to do something with this.

And then I got an idea, after my last trip back home.  I could frame the stories in the context of seeing these blasts from the past again.  It would require still basically a lot of rewriting.  But I think it could give a flow and a purpose to the story that didn’t exist before.  Because let’s face it:  even if this is the story of my life, if anyone else is to find it interesting, it has to be a Good Story.  And I think it can be, if I frame it properly.

So I’m going to try do it.  I had typed in try there, until I remembered that famous Yoda quote:

“Do. Or not do.  There is no try.”

Indeed.

What If?

Maybe it’s a mid life crisis.

Maybe that’s what it is that is forcing me to be looking back into my past and find resolution, find peace.  I am, after all, in my early forties now, and searching all of the time for where I am going, what I am doing with my life.  Which is likely why I found myself last Sunday evening sitting in a bar next to another person whom I loved in the past.  For those of you keeping count, that’s twice in less than a month that I’ve reconnected with someone who figured large in the story of my life.

This time it was Dennis.  Dennis, whom I had drunk Googled a few months back, and then later, screwed up my courage and called on the phone.  The conversation was easy and flowed as if the years of silence had hardly existed.  We exchanged emails, and he told me that I should let him know when I’d next be in town.  When I made plans to travel out to see my family during my kids’ Spring Break this week, I let him know I’d be in the area.   We made plans to meet at a local bar and grill, as we’d done so many times in the past.

Five hours (!) later, when I drove home far later than I’d anticipated doing, I had a smile on my face.  It was just like old times.  We’d talked about the years we’d missed in each other’s lives, we talked about teaching and politics and all the things I’d loved talking about with him way back when.  And we talked about us, our relationship, and what had happened to end it.  “I’ve been loved,” I whispered, as I slowly navigated the dark streets of my past.

“You know there are all sorts of ways of loving a person.  There’s that instant attraction, love at first sight,” he’d said while sipping his beer, which had followed a martini.  I nodded and held my glass of cabernet, slowly turning it in endless circles.  “But it wasn’t like that with us.  You were fifteen when we met, of course.  With us, it was like a friendship that just grew and grew.  And by the end, you know, I was falling in love with you.”

I had known that, of course.  He’d told me that after I’d broken up with him.  But still, it was nice to hear it repeated, all of these years later.  It was still true.  He still thought fondly of me.  He still used the word “love” when he talked of those times.  It made my head spin, a bit.  I knew I’d still felt that way, that the emotions were never tainted by the ending of our relationship; it was nice to know he felt the same.

“If you recall,” I said slowly, looking into the dark red of my wine glass, “That’s of course why I broke up with you.  Because I was falling in love with you, and I knew that it would have to end.   You weren’t going to leave your wife, and you didn’t want more kids.  You were always very honest about that, and I was changing the rules.  It would have ended the same way eventually, no matter when I did it.  I was always going to want more than you were able to give.”

He took another swig, and looked at me squarely.  He’d always been able to do that, be utterly honest and direct, without pretense or shame.  “True.  I definitely did not want more children.   Sure, I might have ended up with you if we’d continued on, and left my wife.  But I still would have not wanted more kids.”

I nodded, hearing in my head the same story I’d told myself for the 19 years since our relationship happened.  Love, yes.  Wait…what?

I replayed the sentence in my head again, realizing it did not jibe, it didn’t match.  In my story, he had been clear that he would never have left his wife.  And I had even told myself since reconnecting with him that it had been true; after all, he was still married to her now.  But here he was, telling me that perhaps indeed there might have been a different future that could have existed if I hadn’t split with him all those years ago.  That part, I didn’t remember.  That part, I don’t think he ever admitted.

I pulled apart the half eaten quesadilla in front of me, a nervous action that I used in an attempt at covering up the emotions bubbling too close to the surface.  A whole different future, a whole different life.  What would that have been like?  I clamped my wandering thoughts down, trying to stay in the moment with him.

“Well,” I said finally, groping for words.  I had to be honest, to give him the gift of truth as he’d just given me.  “I have never regretted that we shared that time together, that we explored that part of who we were to each other.  In fact, I’ve always looked back and been very glad that we went down that road together.”  There was more, much more to say, of course.  I took a sip of the cabernet in the space in between what I was able to say freely and what I struggled to put into words.

“Good,” Dennis responded quickly into the pause I had created.  “Me too,”  he said simply, thus answering one of the most burning questions I’d wondered about in the time since we’d lost touch.  And then he smiled, so reassuringly that I couldn’t help but break into a smile myself.

“I guess the only regret I have now is that I couldn’t have just allowed myself to be happy with you a little while longer,” I responded.  It was as far as I could go with the topic aloud, in his presence.

But later, as I drove back to my sister’s house, the thoughts recurred.  I’ve been loved, I thought.  What a wonder that is, after all of this time.  To know that there was love, that a different path could have been there for me, had I chosen differently.  I was thankful that I had a twelve hour drive to endlessly mull the question before I reentered My Current Life back here at home.  You know which one I am talking about.

What if?

The Hardest Thing

On Easter Sunday, my husband and I took our children to Mass, as we do every Sunday.  I wasn’t born Catholic, and I haven’t always been a regular churchgoer even after I became one.  But we love our church here, mostly thanks to the wonderful priests who run the place.   I originally became a Catholic because I felt that there was something I got during a Mass that I never was able to find anywhere else.  Our current parish carries that sentiment to the nth degree for me.  There’s always a peace, a message, a hope that comes over me during the service.  I’m able to put the petty worries of my life aside and just breathe.

During this week’s service, our priest talked about how so much of our time is spent running.  At first I thought he was going to rail on about the evils of this high impact exercise that I’ve come to love, so my dander was up (plus we went to the 7:30 service to avoid the crowds, so I was uncaffeinated as well).  But then as he continued, he made it clear that he was talking in much more of a figurative sense.  We’re running towards a financial goal, or a material one; we’re running from some horrible event in our past, or a person we were hurt by; running so fast, all of the time, that we don’t take the time to do what I do at church.

Breathe.  Reflect.  Be calm.  Remove the cobwebs and prioritize.  Figure out what is truly important.

Later that day, my husband asked me what I was running from.

“Excuse me?” I asked the tone I always assume when I feel my husband is making an accusation or a critical statement.

He was referring to the amount of traveling I’ll be doing in the next little while.  In a few days I am loading my children into our SUV and driving out to Michigan to see my brother and sister.  And I suppose it doesn’t make a lot of sense to him that I am doing this.  After all, neither of my siblings ever comes out to see me.  And most of the time when I drive out to see them, my brother and I get into some sort of fight that ends up in months of silence between us.  Why would I want more of that?

But my brother and sister have both had some trauma in their lives recently.   And frankly, they somehow seem less equipped to deal with the hard stuff that I’ve always been.  I’m not sure why that is.  For me, I thought the hardest thing I would do would be having gotten pregnant and 18 and have the father leave me.  And it was, until three years later.  That was when the woman who had supported me and helped me through that experience, my mother, was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer.  I was her caregiver at home, while finishing my student teaching and raising my two year old son alone.  She died eleven months after being diagnosed, and then I was left alone with a college degree, a part time substitute teaching job and a pile of bills.  My father moved across the country six months later, weeks before I started the only full time teaching job I could find; teaching in the inner city.   The next few years were a mixture of fear, despair and worry that covered me and everything I did like a blanket.

It was different for my brother and sister.  My sister was married and independent.  Where I was 21 at the time of my mother’s diagnosis, she was 27.  She was an adult, and had been for a while.  She had gone to college for a while but quit when she started dating the man who later became her husband.  When my mother was diagnosed it was devastating for her as well, but she wasn’t expected to provide round the clock care.  She was helpful, very helpful.  But not responsible for everything, like me.

My brother had dropped out of college and was floating from job to job when my mother was diagnosed.  He had partied his way through his late teens and early twenties, barely scraping by.  He had friends, and they drank and smoked through the weekends as lots of kids that age do.  When my mother was diagnosed he was working part time at a gas station.  He actually lived with us briefly but found his own place nearby later.  Again, it was an awful thing for him when my mother was diagnosed.  But the only responsibilities he had at the time were to himself.  He would show up, sometimes.  When he was able to.

I think for my brother and sister, while their lives too were sad and hard in the aftermath of our mother’s passing, it wasn’t going to change much in their lives.  They would still live where they lived, work where they worked, and go back home to a house that was going to be the same as it was before.  I didn’t have that.  Everything in my life changed.  It was horrible.  When I read back in my diaries or the words I’ve written here about it, I still can’t believe that I made it through, that I did everything that needed to be done.  That I went on to have a pretty normal life, despite the scars that I carry with me every single day.

Now, both of them are going through some pretty life altering experiences.  Different, for both of them, but still harder than much of what they’ve ever had to deal with before.  They are scared.  They are paralyzed.  They are unable to cope.  And so I am running, I suppose.  Running to give what I can in the hopes that it will help.  The same way that they “helped” me when I needed it, during my most difficult time.  I won’t know what it is like to live in either of their lives right now.  But I can be present, lend a hand or a shoulder or a few bucks, and try to make the hardest thing they’ve ever had to do a little easier.

Haters Gonna Hate

I chuckled looking at the computer screen, nearly choking on my first cup of coffee.  Was that the best they could do?

This week our town held its annual budget vote.  In our tiny New England town, the residents have to approve the spending plan each and every year at the polls.  It’s called an automatic referendum.  When I first moved here I thought it was the craziest thing; in the Midwest, we would have to approve school spending every few years in what was called a “millage vote”.  In the district where I lived, they hardly ever failed.

Where I live now?  They fail routinely.  And since we have to approve a plan every year, it means we vote until it passes.  A few years back, that meant six votes.  We were voting so late that we were about to need an emergency loan from the state because the fiscal year was going to start before we had an approved budget.

It’s why, a few years ago, a group of people and I started an education advocacy group.  To help inform parents about the budget votes, to let them know what was really at stake and lost each time our town failed a vote.  We made phone calls.  We placed VOTE YES signs all over town.  We passed out flyers at the Dunkin’ Donuts.  One year, we held a rally on the Town Hall lawn and I was interviewed on TV.  It’s made my name well known around town.  I’m either a hero for protecting our kids or a pariah for reaching into taxpayer’s pockets, demanding more.

Last year, our teacher contract called for a wage freeze.  It meant that our school system could get by with little or no increase in funding.  So when it came time for the budget numbers to be released, we weren’t all that surprised to see no increase in funding.  Most years, this would have sent us into full fledged attack mode, calling press conferences and media outlets to express concern for the future of our students.  But our superintendent managed the flat budget without any damage due to the wage freeze.  Our group quietly supported this move, which turned the tables.

Suddenly, our support of a low budget was called into question.  How could we call ourselves advocates for education if we weren’t demanding more for our kids?  But we were realists.  We knew that in the current economic state, our tiny little town would never vote for an increase in funding for a system with a wage freeze.  We didn’t want to see further cuts if the budget failed, so we supported the 0 %.  And it passed, with flying colors.

We found ourselves in a similar position this year.  A low budget, a new superintendent who was brought in to keep quality high but spending low.  He promised the system could thrive on a flat budget due to savings elsewhere in the system.  We again threw our support behind this plan, again citing positive outcomes and economic reality.

This time, we earned ourselves some enemies.  And while none of them have yet spoken to me personally, they are out there, in my tiny little town.

How do I know? Because they are posting on the Internet.  Under false names, several (or one person using several pseudonyms) people are calling me and my fellow education supporters out on one of those microlocal news websites.  Giving each one of us who signed a letter of support for the budget a comical but derogatory nickname, they go on to tell us our days as education advocates are clearly over.

Fifteen years ago, this would have bothered me.  Ten years ago, when similar things happened on the Rick Springfield fan message boards and mailing lists, I would type out a very hasty and indignant response to whomever had criticized me and something I’d done.  I would be hurt, anxious, and unnerved by the idea that someone out there disliked me enough to take the time and energy to create a false persona and type angry words into their computer.

These days, it mostly makes me chuckle.  I figure I must be doing something right if I’ve gotten under someone’s skin that much. And I marvel at how I really don’t need to respond anymore.  I am satisfied with the work I did.  I am sure I made the right choice.  And I don’t doubt either of those things just because someone woke up at three in the morning and decided to spew some hate on the Internet.  That’s their problem, not mine.

It serves as a good reminder of how much I’ve grown, how far I’ve come in the last ten years.

%d bloggers like this: