Thursday, June 28, 2007

SS Newton

There’s nothing left of the boat. Tides, surf and vandalism have reduced the craft to nothing but a pile of rubble with an open commode plopped on top.

Seems entropy—that stalwart constant of physics—has reared its ugly head once again.

I live in an ongoing state of tug-of-war with the second law of thermodynamics, that scientific absolute that destines everything to a return to an elemental baseline state.

Why just last week, acknowledgment of my fleeting youth caused me to succumb to pressure from my daughter and husband to purchase an overpriced piece of swimwear my daughter discovered in a sporting goods store.

“It’s worth it. It’ll serve you well for many years,” my husband insisted.

“How long do you think I have to look good in a bikini?” I asked incredulously.

“All the more reason to buy it,” my husband said, plunking it into the cart.

With the countdown to the x-country trip in the single digits, I’m fighting to ward off decline on all fronts—home, car, pets, finances, health--you name it.

With the advent of last week’s stomach pains, I became aware of just how once-in-a-lifetime this trip really is. Next summer, I have to take sequential classes that, if missed, will extend my masters program—not to mention my funding --well beyond its natural lifespan.

By the following summer, my daughter will be 18, and who knows what will have transpired in her life or our ours by then? With the ravages of time aging even the children, it’s all together possible that the 3 weeks we’ve carved out of July could be the only chance we’ll have to make this trip as a family.

It’s a lot of pressure to put on 25 days.

So in an attempt to bolster my regained health, I went to see the herbalist.

See, Dr. M is really just for back up. When I really want to see some health-related action, I go to my herbalist, a middle aged woman who practices homeopathic medicine out of her living room.

Last month, when my jaw was on the fritz, she gave me some drops for my water bottle along with a little jar of coconut oil to use ONLY on my legs, and within 24 hours, my jaw was as good as new.

She’s dissolved cysts. She’s cured rampant yeast overgrowth. She’s even dabbled in the murky terrain of the mind with nothing more than a case of vials filled with floral extracts that I refer to as the “psych herbs.”

She even treats animals. With nothing more to go one than a tuft of fur, she diagnosed my cat’s liver issues with every bit the accuracy of the high-tech vet with the high-high bills to pay for said high-tech equipment.

Why, you may ask, do I bother with Dr. M?

Good question. If pressed, I’d have to say it’s for the cheap thrills.

You see,my herbalist--who some of my friends refer to as The Crazy Herb Lady--is ALWAYS right and beats Dr. M to the punch every time. With nothing more than powders and extracts and the combined secrets of tribal and Chinese lore, she’s typically miles ahead of Dr. M.

Which, although fascinating, often puts me in a state of conflict should I choose to consult both of them—which I tend to reserve for my more dire cases.

For instance, The Crazy Herb Lady agrees wholeheartedly with Dr. M that I have some nasty bacteria running rampant in my system, however, she wants to tackle the issue by giving me MORE bacteria--probiotics. Whereas, Dr. M insists on killing the bacteria with—you guessed it antibiotics.

So what am I doing? Taking both. I’ve researched it. It can be done. The key is staggering the introduction and eradication of the bacteria, so you’ve got this microbiological battle of good and evil waging.

No doubt the bacteria will all manage to snuff each other out and I’ll be stuck back at baseline.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Happy Feet

So right before my visit to Dr. M, I went to Target to shop for the gift I had to bring to the dice-and-gifts event.

I decided to play it safe and purchase something I’d be happy with, in the event that I ended up going home with whatever I brought.

Good thinking.

I selected a pumice scrub and file and a shimmery nail polish, because contrary to some propaganda I read on the label of a beach-themed exfoliant, walking on the shore every day gives one rough calluses, not “soft, smooth, beach-worthy feet.”

I figured a do-it-yourself pedicure made a nice, summer-themed gift. Which brings me to a key point. All previous yuletide connections to said event were merely personal flashbacks to the Women’s Ornament Exchange, a scarring event from my distant past. To paraphrase a common disclaimer in the front matter of novels, any connection to actual events should be considered purely coincidental.

So I wasn’t really expecting a lighted Christmas tree. I didn’t think I’d sit beneath a tinsel-framed window, and I definitely didn’t picture drinking coffee from a Christmas mug. But I did.

It wasn’t until I dried my hands on a Christmas bath towel in the restroom that I realized the Holiday theme was not connected to event, but rather a reflection of the decorating preference of the hostess.

Eerie coincidence aside, I had a wonderful evening, despite the fact that I lost 26 rounds of play—27 if you count the consolation round in the end where all the unclaimed packages are paired with unlucky players. I drew the joker and was stuck with the solitary, unclaimed package.

I took my pedicure kit home, thankful that my calluses were all I needed to smooth over. I may have finished last, but this time I didn’t lose. I’d buy my own gift and play with those gals any day of the week. In fact, my fingernails are looking a little ragged. Maybe they’ll call again soon.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I'll take the "0"

“These tests aren’t for you, they’re for me,” Dr. M explained. “We’ll do them all now, so I can use them to reassure you for the next 20 years.”

Summer always seems to begin with some type of medical melodrama, and ’07 would be no exception.

Last summer, skin cancer struck violently in the course of a single afternoon. A legion was discovered, and all of my moles grew exponentially in circumference and darkened ominously. Fortunately, Dr M had an immediate opening and well-trained nurse who removed the embedded tick that was masquerading as a melanoma.

Prior to that was the summer of The Cough, preceded by the summer of the glandular tumor and that of the broken toes—you get the picture.

This summer, either colon or ovarian cancer—or perhaps both—brought on abdominal pain that mysteriously worsened the more I thought about the possibility—yea, even the likelihood—of canceling our trip for major surgery.

Every so often my husband makes me see Dr. M so he can “talk me down,” as Dr. M has proven adept in his ability to reason with me without the panic-inducing jargon of his predecessors. We’ve had to let so many go over the years, most notably the ENT who announced that my plugged ear “could be a tumor, cancer, or worse.”

Nice. Even a normal patient would be hard pressed to carry on in the face of such a prognosis. But a hypochondriac? He’s just lucky my husband didn’t sue for pain and suffering—his, not mine.

On the contrary, Dr. M repeats mantras such as, “This is not a time to worry. If there ever is a time to worry, I will tell you and we will worry together.”

This time, he wanted to ease his pain and suffering with tests, but I’m not comfortable with things that are “Pending.” Tests that can be done in the office are fine. Anything else is Pending—which is the same as Looming. And everyone knows that Looming is ominous.

But Dr. M said this wasn’t a time to worry, and I think that’s all I really needed to hear. I stopped worrying, and my stomach feels fine. Which is good for me, but not for Dr. M. The tests aren’t happening, which will probably make his job a whole lot harder down the road.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Double Jeopardy?

So the New Friend that invited me to the Not-A-Public Speaking event spirited me away to camp for the afternoon yesterday. I left the house thinking I was just going to drop off my final assignments to my computer professor, but I ended up several hours from home peering into the disheveled contents of a camper’s suitcase in an attempt to assemble an outfit for an ‘80’s-themed prom.

“Just think of it as research,” my New Friend said, casting a new light on the impromptu trip.

Of course. Research. After all, I am writing a series of teen novels set at summer camp. No matter that emails would go unanswered and trip preparations would be stalled—-writers will drop their keyboards at a moment’s notice for an opportunity for in-the-field research.

Not to mention that this was a chance to forward the whole female bonding thing prior to the dice and gifts event.

Conversation on the two hour drive to camp drifted to our respective prior experiences at the camp that had, somehow, never overlapped.

I was surprised by how quickly the conversation led to tricky ground.

Two years ago while volunteering at said camp, I found it necessary to kidnap a puppet, an event that subsequently incited hysteria among a group of chauvinistic men and led to a mock trial with the entire camp in attendance. The case went unresolved, hampered by a hung jury, tampered evidence and contempt of court.

As soon as I opened my mouth to recount the tale, I could tell that it was too soon to have introduced the Puppet Affair. New Friend looked puzzled. I spent the rest of the drive fearing I’d put too much strain on the budding friendship, babbling about puppets.

I have a handful of tight female friends, but they’re people who have had a long time to get used to me and my quirks-—my sister, for instance, and Lori, who is well acquainted my dysfunction but chooses to love me anyway.

Evidently I don’t really have a feel for what girls REALLY like to talk about. After a mere five minutes in the cabin, we knew who was constipated, who was experiencing monthly distress, and what cup size each girl wore.

Now I'm not sure how useful that research will prove, but the camp’s 80’s week theme was a gem and stalwart readers should take note to look for above influences in future Camp Edson adventures.

And—as a bonus—I discovered that the Puppet Affair has gone down in camp lore. New Friend introduced me to a counselor who connected some quick dots and exclaimed:

“You were the one who stole the puppets! I’ve always wanted to meet you, you’re my hero!”

The jury is still out on whether or not New Friend thinks I'm a lunatic, but I felt acquitted.

Christmas in (almost) July or A Midsummer Festivus?

I’ve received an invitation. At first, I thought I was being asked to participate in a scholarly gathering of public speakers, as I was invited to “substitute” at what I mistakenly heard was a “keynote meeting.”

I seem to recall reading somewhere that most people would rather die than speak in public; so theoretically, I should have been alarmed from the outset.

In reality, my palms didn’t begin to sweat until I discovered that the event (kee-no??) involves cards, dice, gifts and a dozen women.

Last time I got involved in something like this, I ended up with a one-winged angel and a low tolerance for excessive estrogen exposure.

The Women’s Ornament Exchange of ’97 played out like a Seinfeld episode. This was not a gathering of refined ladies exchanging adornments for the yuletide. The events that transpired more closely resembled lost footage from the “Festivus” episode. As you may or may not recall, "Festivus" was a late December holiday consisting of the “Airing of Grievances” and “Feats of Strength.”

You may find it difficult to see the parallels if you haven’t had a series of reindeer, moose and snowmen forcibly removed from your person by a pack of rabid women.

I believe I’d been promised “an evening of food and fellowship and a keepsake reminder for my family tree.” However, the event coordinator had to sift through the rubble in the evening’s aftermath to unearth the naked, fractured cherub that was ultimately presented to me.

I’d like to tell you that I found the token to be endearing and tended to its wounds and salvaged it as an inspiring symbol of triumph over rejection, but that simply wouldn’t be true.

The plastic dollar store bauble was disposed of at the scene.

Young and impressionable, I subsequently steered clear from grown-up events that were gender-specific.

But unlike the kitschy cherub, I get another chance to embrace this whole female-bonding thing. If it doesn't work out, at least I'll get some great material I can use if I'm ever asked to give a keynote address.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fire in the Hull!

"Fire!" My daughter yelled as we turned off the wooded path and onto the beach. Indeed, the grounded sailboat--illustration from my previous post, site of last week's beach breakfast, and topic of ongoing speculation--was ablaze.

Drawn to flame like campers brandishing marshmallows, the children--my two plus a friend--broke into a sprint, managing an on-scene response time we certainly don't see on routine calls.

By the time I arrived--I believe my response time officially classified me as a "secondary unit"--the blaze was what Peter, my firefighter friend, would refer to as "fully involved."

"You guys can't be serious," my husband said in disbelief as my daughter, her friend and I each plunged an oyster shell into the sea and ran toward the flaming craft.

Meanwhile, my son found an empty beer bottle and got to work--undaunted yet hindered by the lime wedged in the bottle's neck. In no time at all, the flames were tamed. The smoke dissipated. The air cleared. Miraculously, the vessel appeared untouched by flame.

The rest of us cheered, but my husband just shook his head, staring at the embattled and partially burried remains of the shipwrecked craft.

"He really salvanged it," my husband said. "He saved it from being a complete loss."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

See Food?

“You don’t want to start out with a handicap,” my sister said, tossing out a witty reference from yesterday’s blog in an attempt to tip the scales in a debate that was waging over two contradictory sets of plans.

I wanted to stick to my Usual Plans and attend the Creation East festival. This is what I’ve done the last week of June for most of my life. But my sister says that since I’ll be away for July and she’ll be on vacation in August, the last week in June will be the only time she can come to my house this summer.

After reading my post, she doesn’t seem to think I can handle a mere 3 day buffer between returning from Creation and leaving for the X-country trip. Go figure. Besides, I’ve been having a terrible time finding friends to go with me this year, anyway. Everyone seems to have jobs and obligations, or they’ve gotten married or had babies. Incredible, the excuses people will come up with.

So I’m trying to talk my sister into going with me, with all four of our kids. I’d chipped away at several layers of excuses when she decided to take the opportunity to use the “complete honesty” format we chose for the conversation to announce that she doesn’t even like going to the festival.

For some reason, she doesn’t seem to think that sitting in a field with 99,000 people for three days under a blazing sun sounds like fun. She’s not much for the dust, or the cold kitchen-sprayer showers. She’s not even game for weathering the occasional freak storm or the porta-potties—which, I must say, they maintain with near-shocking precision.

Besides, events of the morning had already established that I was no stranger to starting from a deficit. It wasn’t even 9 a.m. and I’d already extracted a tick from my left forearm and discovered that my chief source for an imminently due article had--as six seasons of
24 have shown sources are so wont to do--“gone dark.” Not to mention that I’d run out of coffee.

I briefly considered joining the 7-11 will work for coffee program, but a peek inside my refrigerator revealed a breakfast deficiency to boot. I grabbed a croissant and iced coffee at the Dunkin Donut and headed to the beach in hopes of abandoning my troubles like flotsam and jetsam on the shore.

Sitting beside a wrecked ship that washed ashore last week, I realized the problem with changing my plans was the same as the one in my fridge: I am severely challenged by the assembly of delicious yet flexible menu options.

As much as I like to bill myself as an adventurous, off-the-cuff sort, I really don't stray far beyond a stable rotation of proven selections.

Food is a struggle in our home. I’d rather listen to nails on a blackboard than hear a child ask, “What’s for dinner.”

No one really likes anything. I’m no friend of the meats group, and my husband hates fruits and vegetables. I promote salads; he pushes pink strips of dripping flesh. No one eats seafood. There are about four dishes everyone can collectively appreciate.

Every couple of weeks, we have “the food talk” where family members are forced to suggest two meal ideas. Eventually, everyone writes down the same two ideas—me: pizza and pasta, my husband: grill and “don’t worry, I’ve got it covered” and the kids swap out which one requests the mac and cheese and chicken nuggets and which asks for tacos and chicken. Some smart alec will invariably choose “leftovers.”

Every now and then I’ll rally and pull out the cooking magazines—I have an entire cabinet devoted to back issues—and assemble a whole new plan.

New menu items are seldom readily accepted, as likely as not to be referred to as things like “casserole” or “hearty soup” with disdain for years to come. Even a recent batch of muffins fell victim to rejection when the kids discovered the origins of the recipe. I tried to conceal the torn-out magazine page from view, but my daughter got suspicious at the sight of wheat flour. “Is it from Prevention?” she demanded.

“Prevention Muffins” didn’t make the menu.

Now, there are the occasional bright spots. There was a successful dumpling dish introduced last winter, and a homemade soup my son and I patterned after a Panera offering. Following a daring move at a local buffet, the entire family is considering the purchase of a salmon for possible grilling. But more often than not, it’s easier to just follow our European roots and just buy food everyday than go through the “food talk”

Which brings me back to the end of the month. For me, the Creation festival is a huge bowl of rigatoni with crusty bread and salad—a staple that’s withstood the test of time. Anything else is received with as much enthusiasm as “the food talk.”

But I’ve decided to rise to the occasion on both fronts. I’m thinking when my sister comes, it’s time to grill the salmon. I also just got wind of a local jazz festival. I think I’ll score some tickets. Here’s to an expanded summer menu!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Par for the Course

"We can't let it turn out like the mini-golf affair," I say to my husband over chips and salsa this afternoon at the only Mexican restaurant at which we can agree to eat.

A portion of my own post yesterday really grabbed my attention. A month from today, our X-country road trip could actually be in progress. I say could, because we haven't actually set a firm departure date.We don't have a firm itinerary. We have no reservations. We are, by design, flying by the seat of our pants.

Now, this isn't to say we haven't given the trip any thought. We chose this summer to drive across the country with the kids three years ago. Six months ago, I hung a US map on the kitchen door, and purchased color-coded stickers for family members to mark their must-see destinations. Today, I've just returned from the library where I procured a copy of Steinbeck's Travels With Charlie. Thinking, we've done. Planning...well, let's just say we want to be surprised by where we sleep each night. We're bringing camping gear and we're packing a cooler. Dr. S, the professor for which I will begin working in the fall, feels confident that this is a safe plan for American travel. She's currently in a small Central American country. I suspect she planned better.

However, I awoke today plagued by memories of spontaneous date nights on which my husband and I have embarked. These typically end on the couch with a rented video and a package of break-and-bake cookies by 8:30. Unfortunately, my husband and I have demonstrated no real aptitude for unplanned jaunts. Oh, there's the occasional success story like the weekend trip we took to Texas or the Niagara Falls excursion of '89. But the overall failure rate of our dates is pretty high unless we've secured advance tickets for a play or made reservations at a hotel or other higher-level arrangements.

Perhaps the worst of these dates took place on a recent evening when we took off with the vague idea of trying to locate a mini-golf joint we remember going to in the mid-nineties. We spent about 45 minutes tooling down strips of road we thought "looked familiar" and resorted to calling our son for help. Now, I love my son, but the boy is no bastion of resourcefulness. We sat in a darkened parking lot for about 20 minutes coaching him through the Yellow Pages. After attempting to direct us to any number of alternative pursuits, he finally succumbed from exhaustion. “Sorry, guys, I just can't help you."

We didn't even bother with the video store. We watched the second half of the movie we put on for our son before we left. A month from today, I may be posting interesting observations from somewhere near Chicago. Or I might just be on the couch with The Back to the Future trilogy and a tray of chocolate chip cookies.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Juanita Valdez

Absolutely nothing can be taken at face value, as I discovered today at the 7-11. Stopping for a cup of coffee on my way to computer class, I noted the standard handful of regulars huddled in front of the building, coffee cups aloft as they engaged in good natured banter.

Although later events would cause me to realize that, if pressed, in say, a line-up type situation, I could only ever identify one member of the group, I assumed the gathering was merely regulars stopping for a chat on the way to work--a sort of blue-collar coffee klatch.

While fixing my coffee, a thin mustachioed man next to me began counting the creamers as I dumped them into my cup. Although it’s risky, I’m actually going to go on record with the assumption that he was perhaps an engineer, and not say, afflicted with a dissociative disorder, as the text of the story could imply.

The mustachioed gent started murmuring something about the Coffee Queen. I assumed he was talking to me, but before I could determine a response, he continued with phrases like “Outside today, I’ve never seen her outside,” and, something that sounded like “Hometown Hero.”

Now, the Daily Press pays me good money for scoping out feel good little stories from the neighborhood, so I figured it might be worth being a few minutes late for class if there really was a Hometown Hero right in front of the 7-11.

“Who?” I asked in my Journalist Voice. If I actually had my digital recorder, I would have flipped it on then in there between creamers 2 and 3.

“The lady out there with the frizzy hair,” he said in awe, indicating the leader of the klatch. Clearly, I had underestimated this group. In fact, I noted, attendance did seem up a notch today. Who was I dealing with? Should I run home for my recorder?

Mustachio lowered his voice. “She doesn’t really work here you know,’ he confided.

“Oh?” I said casually. I never had mistaken her for a worker, but then, I saw her outside every day, too. Was she undercover? How deep did this story go?

“She just kind of hangs out,” he said. His voice dropped another notch. “I think she’s got a deal.”

“A deal?”

“Free coffee,” he whispered. “She just kind of hangs out—doesn’t really work here mind you,” he reiterated, “and they give her free coffee.”

“Hangs out?” I repeated, my voice and my story falling flat.

“Yes, just hangs out. And helps,” he added, perking up and pointing to the window. “Look at her go! She’s got boxes!” he cried in admiration as Klatch Leader moved a stack of empty boxes past the door.

I paid my buck-forty for my coffee and headed out, wondering how my editor would view a free trade coffee expose with a local angle.

I Was Wrong

Years back, a once-ubiquitous televangelist published a book bearing the same title as this entry. Now, although this writing is unlikely to have the same volume of readership or cover infractions of the same scope or breadth, I feel it is cleansing to admit one’s inaccuracies.

For months, I have been convinced that I have seen the face of pure evil—in the form of a principled-yet-crusty financial officer. We’ll call her Midge. Let’s say she works in the accounting office of a school I attend. As I am currently enrolled in two institutions of higher education, this seems an adequately anonymous way to showcase the relevant events.

Following an Unfortunate Incident last fall when my view of my billing status did not match Midge’s analysis, it seemed to me that my account fell victim to no end of mysterious inaccuracies. In my mind, Midge burned the midnight oil dreaming up new ways to foul up my account. She would hack into official files. Alter paperwork. Misfile documents. All for sport. All for the sheer pleasure of making me sweat—which regular readers recognize as an ongoing issue anyway.

Over the weekend, I received troubling documentation that led me to believe that Midge was at it again. Poised to pick my pocket right smack in the middle of my family’s upcoming cross country road trip. I couldn’t believe it! How did Midge catch wind of our travel dates? Even family members on the hook for pet care duty haven’t been able to pin us down on the scope and sequence of our itinerary. Quite frankly, we’re less than a month from our projected departure and WE don’t even know. Darn, Midge is good!

I fired off an email to Midge. I received the following prompt response:

Ms. Davis:

The payment plan you selected is not offered by our school, as noted on the Payment Preference Sheet you received in your enrollment packet. However, as a courtesy to you, I will adjust your agreement for the dates of your choice.

Assuming the worst about people probably isn’t anymore accurate than assuming the best.

For weeks now, I’ve been pulling for my Computer Classmate. Poor misguided soul. The class as a unit, including Prof C, coached her out of despair when an English professor wouldn’t accept the hand scrawled scrap of embattled notebook paper she called an essay. We encouraged, informed and educated even as she struggled to type said essay into MS Word during Prof C’s MS Word lecture. Of course, she didn’t hear the lecture and we had to collectively navigate her though the material all over again.

Anyway, I just told myself that someone who would navigate the public transit system—the same system we’re told is responsible for her inability to complete lab assignments--to acquaint herself with technology she hasn’t seen “in all her 36 years,” well, I just knew she’d look back on all this from her 16th –story, hardwood paneled office in a few years and laugh—and remember us all fondly as she sipped martinis at power lunches.

Well, she didn’t show up today, missing the entire Power Point unit—a deficit from which the concerted efforts of all of us won’t be able to bring her back. But then again, I’m assuming.

Maybe I need a more baseline view of humanity—you know, kind of avoid my extremist tendencies. Computer Classmate probably just got some troubling documentation in the mail from Midge and missed the bus while sorting it all out.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Dusty Covers

It’s approaching 11 a.m. and this is troublesome on several fronts.

First, despite a looming deadline on a news story and ample computer homework, all I’ve managed to accomplish is confirming a lunch date and starting this blog entry. You can see how productive I become from here simply by checking the post time at the end of this entry.

I’ve been sluggish in my work today, having nearly fallen victim to several meltdowns in the wake of my daughter’s 16th birthday. Now, the birthday itself was fabulous. Despite sustaining a second degree burn cooking dinner and nearly blowing the surprise portion of the surprise party with an ill-timed remark concerning my expectations of seeing one of my daughter’s friends later that evening, it was all a smashing success.

But really, how can I possibly have a 16 year old kid? I’ve lived my entire life under the premise that people with teenagers are just on the sunny side of false teeth and Depends.

Just last week the girl--I say “girl” because I assumed she was my age--who sits beside me in computer class mentioned her 20-year old son and I exclaimed in shock, “I had no idea you were that old!” Then I realized that I’ll have a 20-year old in just four years.

Computer Classmate responded with the news that she’s about to be a grandma. Unsettling though it was, I comforted myself with the thought that I have a solid four years before I had to worry about anything like that.

Yesterday, she let her age slip out during one of her increasingly frequent rants— giving us the stats on how long she’d lived without touching computers before she signed up for the class.

She’s two years younger than me.

Now math isn’t my strong suit, but best I can figure she must have become a mom when she was my daughter’s age—which somehow doesn’t comfort me, either.

The second reason why I’m concerned about the hour has just turned down my street. Right on cue, the mail man’s here. And I’ll bet he’s got magazines for me.

You may ask why this is a problem. After all, magazines are innocent enough—chock full of stories and recipes and glossy pictures.

I know. I subscribe to a wide range of wonderful publications--Art and Writing magazines….Travel…Animals…Cooking… perky little inspirational magazines—I get them all. Some are gifts from my husband. I’ve ordered a couple. Others, like Prevention, of all things, just show up unbidden. What kind of sick person sends Prevention to a hypochondriac? Like I need new diseases to prevent!

Problem is, I don’t have enough time to read them. At least as thoroughly as I’d like. See, often, I pick up a magazine and fondly recall this article and that picture—-but I still can’t recycle it, see, because I haven’t gotten all the way through it.

It’s an OCD thing. You’re cheating your brain if you don’t read the whole thing. I’ve already compromised on skipping articles that simply aren’t interesting. I’ve made peace with that. But toss out a magazine with an unread spread about exotic places I may never get to visit? I simply can't do it. Ditto for neglected writing tips. Then there's ignored plights of rare species, foods I might want to try--toss out an unread magazine, and there's no telling what you might miss.

Now, my sensible friend, Lori, says “They aren’t books for crying out loud—you don’t read them from cover to cover—you flip through and pass on!”

I make deals with myself. I set goals—I’ll read and recycle five this week! Do you know how hard this is? Now I can plow through a Reader’s Digest or a Guideposts in under an hour. The bite sized articles are manageable and I can work through a couple of those before bed each night, no problem.

But the Geographics and the Smithsonians? Meaty stuff. I want to read it. I know I’ll get to them all—even the issues that came in the week following the Great Purge of ‘02. The problem is, even if I could lower my expectations to say, two a week, the numbers are staggering, when the new arrivals are taken into account. I may have mentioned my lack of math prowess, but I think we’re dealing with statistical improbabilities here.

Which is why the approach of the postman gives me pause. I know my dysfunction will be exposed any day when glossies quite literally burst from my closets. I currently have high volumes of magazines stashed in no less than 7 locations around my house. We're well into the hundreds of under-read issues, but who's counting? I am running out of options.

Maybe I should start reading a new high end magazine that has just debuted in SoHo. The latest in boutique journalism, its features include blank pages! Even I could manage to finish each issue before the arrivial of the next. The sense of accomplishment I’d feel as I breezed through each issue would be worth every bit of the $70 cover price!

I think I’ll just be happy as long as postman isn't bearing a sample issue of Modern Maturity.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Does this Look Like David G?

One of my third grade art students—we’ll call him Jimmy H.— once posed the question concerning his portrait of classmate, David G.

Now, this class was populated with more doubles than a pack of Topps baseball cards. Two Peters, two Laurens, two Davids—you get the idea. For convenience, every kid simply went by first name and last initial.

Jimmy H. was the opposite of his counterpart. Jimmy A. just rolled with the punches, but Jimmy H. was a tad intense. Cooperative and pleasant most of the time, but not a jokester.

If memory serves me correctly, at the time he was still mad at me for writing too much in his yearbook. Said I took up too much space. Apparently, I was expected to merely sign my name over my picture. No, “Have a nice summer.” No, “Nice work on your pottery this year!” None of that.

I took pause, then, when confronted with Picasso David G. Double noses and additional eyes—visible in an earlier draft—notwithstanding, a positive critique wasn’t the problem. Any art teacher who can’t muster up some flowery prose about the almond-shaped eyes or the texturization techniques employed on the hairline just needs to pack up the paints and turn in the brushes. It’s the name of the game.

But Jimmy wasn’t the sort that was going to be satisfied with that type of critique. Never mind that we don’t even attempt to cover portraiture in the curriculum until 6th grade. Jimmy just wanted to hear that he’d nailed it on the first try and produced a 10-minute dead-ringer for David G.

I averted his stare and swallowed hard, suppressing the urge to launch into an impromptu lesson on the Cubist movement.

“Well, Jimmy,” I said in my Serious Art voice, “I think we have some decisions to make about this piece.”

“Like what!” Jimmy was alarmed, already not liking the way this was headed.

“Is it a straight on pose or a profile?” I asked him.

“Does it matter?”

“It does if we want David to have the right amount of eyes.”

“Say it’s a profile,” he said, “which eyes do I keep?”

That day, I had to sell Jimmy on the idea of a work in progress, and that’s a tough sell in any market.

It occurred to me how often I find myself in front of the keyboard with letters scattered across the screen, modifiers dangling, ill-formed one-liners lurking around the margins thinking, “Does this look like an article?”

As a novice writer, I wanted to nail it the first time, too. I wanted editors to swoon at every sentence that rolled off my printer. I wanted to believe that inspired text just flowed from my fingers and flew across the screen—each phrase as meaningful, as witty, or as incisive as it was in my own brain.

Only recently did I realize that David G., pencil on drawing paper, was more than a metaphor for writing, but life in general, too.

We don’t always see life as work in progress, of where we are now as a starting point or a bridge. We think answers are better than questions, that there is better than here, and accolades are more valuable than exertion.

Contemplating the beginning of a new week, things look messy. There are unfinished projects lurking. There’s the cryptic email I received from my editor just before she disappeared for the weekend suggesting that she wants 5 separate cover stories from me by Friday about subjects that aren’t more than question marks as I write this. My daughter has a birthday. I need to send gifts to friends who have had special occasions.

Looking at this mess, I ask “Does this look like life?” and I have to smile and admit that it does.

Jimmy H was kind enough to let me make a copy of his portrait. I may have made a vague reference to possibly wanting to write about the picture sometime.

I don't think he cared--just as long as it wasn't in his yearbook.


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