Friday, July 3, 2015

A Thread through Chaos

by Jean Roberta

My stepson is convinced that his mom and I are hoarders. He wants us to get our house, and our lives, into better shape. His – um – almost-girlfriend? friend-with-benefits? hires herself out to declutter other people’s space. This seems to be a trendy occupation because “hoarding” (formerly a condition without a name) has been identified in the mass media.

The two of them came to visit us, and I gave Ms. Declutter a tour of our house, not hiding anything. I opened closet doors, and described what couldn’t be seen (because it was buried under something else.) She was diplomatic, and said she would come help me organize stuff as soon as I’m ready.

At the risk of sounding defensive, I have damn well sorted out and discarded a lot of stuff. The problem is that more stuff comes into the house, and needs to be sorted. We have an old toilet in our basement, a souvenir of our renovations. It’s still there because the Re-Store (which claims to accept every stick of used furniture or old appliance ) wouldn’t accept it. We have a huge plastic crate full of Christmas ornaments, plus two fake trees that don’t fit in the crate. We have my world-class collection of wrapping paper, ribbon, and gift bags.

Back up in the civilized environment of our front room, Stepson continued introducing Ms. Declutter to our family stories, including that of my grown daughter, who hardly seems like a stepsister to my stepson any more. She stopped speaking to me and everyone connected with me in the summer of 2010, so I have not had contact with her, her husband, or their two children since then. When anyone asks me whether I have grandchildren, I’m not sure what to say. I have passed on my DNA in much the same way that a sister of King Richard III passed on her DNA through 17 generations to a man currently living in Canada whose blood enabled the dead king’s bones to be identified. I don’t have grandchildren in any meaningful way.

You must be wondering where I’m going with this. It occurred to me, as Stepson explained to Ms. Declutter why my daughter feels that none of us (especially her mom, the unworthy vessel that bore her) are good enough to be in her life, that we all crave a degree of logic and coherence. This is our weakness. We want to find a path through the immense clutter of our lives.

Realistically, everyone’s life consists of millions and billions of individual moments. Some experiences are brutal, some are funny, some are heartwarming, some are frustrating, some are boring, some are terrifying, some drive us to ecstasy. Our expectations are thwarted, but then life sometimes gives us something better, and worse. We do well-intentioned things that don’t work. We say things we wish we could take back. We form one-sided crushes that never go anywhere. We form mutual relationships that change and shift until we forget what attracted us to that person in the first place.

We turn our lives into meaningful narratives by emphasizing certain things and editing out the rest. Sometimes our stories clash with the stories of other people who have brushed up against us. I believe this is why my daughter feels she can’t afford to let me into her life, or let me interact with anyone who has heard her current version. She can’t afford to run the risk that her story about the mother who was “never there” for her (her phrase) might be challenged by me, or doubted by others.

In the 1970s, my daughter’s father told himself (and me) a story about a disloyal wife, a nympho slut from hell, a typical North American white woman who was constantly picking up random men to humiliate her decent African husband. This story literally seemed to drive him insane, but he couldn’t let go of it. After I left him, I realized that his story about our relationship would never mesh with mine because giving up his story would cost him too much. He would have to reconstruct his conception of reality, and of himself.

For years afterward, I had to pry myself loose from friends and acquaintances who advised me to go back to my husband to “resolve” our credibility gap. They were telling themselves the story that all relationships can be healed if people just talk to each other. They obviously had a high opinion of themselves for believing in love and reconciliation.

Two days ago, an elderly pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door. I’m sure they were telling themselves the story that if they just planted a seed of faith in my heart, it would grow. They probably thought I really needed the good news they had come to tell me. Telling them to frack off and leave me alone probably would have encouraged them to believe that Satan has a grip on me. I accepted their pamphlet and said I was very busy, then shut the door as soon as I could. It seemed like the only way to keep them out of my space that would make any sense to them.

Years ago, I dreamed about having a conversation with a stallion who could speak English. (He had learned by listening to his human handlers.) He told me that some of his friends had told him all about human mares, and how they are in heat all the time. He looked sideways at me (the only way he could look) to see how I was reacting to this piece of barnyard lore.

In the dream, I laughed and told him that wasn’t true.

The horse told me he knew that. After all, he explained, he was neither a fool nor a foal. He asked if it’s true that human females go into heat for five days once in every moon-cycle of 28 days. I said not exactly.

“Oh, I get it,” said my horsey date. “It doesn’t come that often, but it lasts longer, doesn’t it?”

I realized I would have to say something that would seem logical to him. “It’s not my time,” I said.

“Oh,” answered the horse, sounding disappointed. But at least we had communicated, however awkwardly. I could only imagine how he would relay this conversation to another stallion, one of his buddies.

I sometimes wonder how I might be deceiving myself with my own stories about my experience. I probably won’t get a clear answer to that in this life.
---------------

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Secret Faultline

by Annabeth Leong

I must have seen her in class before, could never have failed to notice the sharp blue of her eyes, set off expertly by the tones of the vintage dresses she wore. The first time I remember seeing her, though, she was naked except for a thick towel wound around her torso, held in place with nothing but a negligent tuck of fabric.

I was new at the college, looking for friends, and I’d gone to visit her roommate, who seemed like a nice girl. I don’t remember a damn thing about what the roommate said. I just remember this girl, traipsing into the middle of the conversation, leaning against the divider that led to her half of the room, and my awareness of her bare, pale legs, the lovely shapes of her chin and cheeks, and everything only slightly hidden by the towel.

She had a free and knowing laugh. I wanted her to like me right away. Her very existence felt like a dare. She was bold and artistic and I had to match her. In the space of a few minutes, we agreed that she should come to my room the next night and draw me naked. I do remember the roommate being surprised by that decision, maybe impressed and maybe suspicious. I couldn’t think of much besides the person I wanted to be. A brave person. A person who took my clothes off in front of this girl as boldly as she let the towel slip gradually down her chest as we talked.

***

There is always an unspoken agreement in relationships, a secret faultline. Its terms are rarely drawn up with formality, but I think of it as the original promise. Breaking it gets you thrown out of the Garden of Eden. I’ve often wondered why I always seem to want the one forbidden fruit, even amid an embarrassment of fertility. But it’s human nature. If there is an original promise, most people are compelled to break it eventually.

***

So this was mine: I was special as long as I was never like the others. We took long walks through every hidden wild place that city had (men leaning out of cars to leer and shout to her girl you bounce when you walk), and with each step she mocked her would-be lovers. Lust for her was simple-minded, unworthy by nature. Despite the sexual feelings she inspired everywhere she went, only music could arouse her.

I laughed uneasily at her side, never confessed to the dreams I sometimes had of dashing myself against the rocks of her lips and teeth, where so many others had crashed before me.

She tolerated the knowledge of my promiscuity with bemusement and light condescension. She was a follower of Artemis, made powerful by virginity. We were to be best and devoted friends--fierce, pure, and united against all others.

She was a lioness at my side, never tame, safe only as long as she never smelled the blood of my weakness. A hint of admitted desire and she would have turned on me, torn me open.

***

I have sometimes had lovers who made me feel powerful in my desire. My thighs become thick and tireless, my arms bulge with muscle, my fingers are long, my hands large but not so much that they cease to be clever. Fucking is athletic. I climb, I gasp, I laugh with the joy of victory.

I know sex doesn’t have to be a weakness. I can fuck from love, from strength, from courage. Nakedness can be a statement of fearlessness, of innocence, of trust.

There are others, though, who make me feel ugly and vulnerable. Desire is base, and I can’t control it. Wanting diminishes. I am full of holes. I am a wanderer seeking to bury myself in any home I can find. I am no better than any other mere human because we’re all like that. We’re all like that.

***

She did naked yoga in the room we shared. She talked all the time about how much she loved my hugs. I took her to a party once and let her pick my outfit. She put me in a vest, a fedora, suit pants, a tie, and then she dressed so femme it made me ache. I gave her my arm as we stepped into the music-filled hall, full of wary pride, and then remembered I never learned how to dance as lead.

As long as I wasn’t in love with her, I was her constant companion, invulnerable, allowed to remain beside her when all others were banished.

On Valentine’s Day, her room filled with flowers, their rotting sweetness like corpses of the fallen. She laughed at the silliness of boys, and it tempted me to ask what she thought of girls. But I knew her by then, enough that I suspected she made everyone think they might hold the secret key to her heart, her body. How many times had a boy confided in me that she just needed X or Y, a thing he could give that other suitors had not? As much as she wanted me to join her in making fun of these deluded boys, I knew better. I was a hair away from being just like them, from letting myself hold the arrogant belief that I knew what she needed, from giving in to weakness.

***

But fuck, she always seemed to know what I needed. What I wanted. Many years after college, when we hadn’t spoken in a long time, she invited me to spend a weekend with her and a lesbian couple she felt sure I’d love to be around. She told me she had a silver pitcher she wanted to use to wash my feet, that she wanted to rub them. She said she missed my touch.

You have to know me quite well to know what this offer was like for me. I had been secretly agonizing about my sexual orientation for several months at that point. I have a foot fetish. I had imagined touching her so many times. I had never told her any of this.

If this had come from another girl, I would have thought my dreams were coming true. Instead, the old wariness returned, the fear of spilling blood in the water.

***

The last time I called her, my stomach churned as we talked. I wanted to be someone brave. Within me, I could feel ghosts of an old self stirring, a girl who didn’t mind causing trouble, who knew the truth makes messes but never hesitated. I was going to confess the things I’ve written about here.

By then, the friendship seemed broken anyway, and I didn’t want to return to it in the form it used to take. And I had broken to the point that I couldn’t wear the familiar disguises anymore. Too much reality burst out through the seams of any lie I tried to stitch.

The weakness I’d always feared she would exploit--I didn’t see how it could hurt me now. I meant to pull it out into the light, to show her faultline and let her laugh if she wanted to. But she cut off the words before I could say them, and even as I bent over the sidewalk, body heaving with anxiety, I wondered if she had an old weakness that matched mine.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Fried Green Tomatoes

by Daddy X


Makes two servings:

Don’t worry if this doesn’t sound like enough for two; it is a rich dish.

6 green tomato slices, 3’ x ¼” (or more smaller slices, but best to keep 1/4-3/8" thick.)

1 teaspoon sugar

Flour, enough to dredge tomato slices, salted and peppered to taste. 

1/3 cup (or more :>) cream. The heavy variety.

Butter, with some olive oil mixed in for frying. You’ll need a considerable amount. The flour sucks up lots of the stuff. Stay away from scales for two days after ingesting.

A plastic bag.

Green tomatoes can be obtained from restaurant supply greengrocers or from a high-end specialty market. Unless you grow your own tomatoes, like Momma X and I. Or hit up your rural friends.  Try, if you can, to use meatier tomatoes rather than seedy ones. Make sure there’s no blush on them; you want them green. Although we get tons of green at the end of the season that will never get ripe, eating these damn delicious things more than once or twice a year would be a death sentence.

Sprinkle sugar lightly on the tomato slices—both sides. Let sit for 15-20 minutes. Don’t pat away any liquid that may form on the tomatoes.

Put the seasoned flour into the plastic bag and flop the sugared tomato slices around until coated. Save excess flour; you’ll need a little later on.

Heat a pat of butter (or butter/olive oil mix if you’re trying to save calories, but at this point, WTF) in a medium-hot skillet and fry coated tomato slices at medium temperature (you’ll need to add butter and/or oil as the initial stuff is absorbed) until nicely browned on both sides. Put them somewhere to stay warm. Don’t worry too much; fried tomatoes hold heat quite well.

Now for the topper that really sets the dish off:

Add another pat of butter (if needed) to the drippings in the pan. Sprinkle some of the leftover seasoned flour to make a little roux. Simmer, stirring at low heat 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Add cream to pan and stir over low-medium heat until it bubbles and thickens. Do NOT overheat or sauce will break. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over fried tomatoes. 

Put the whole mess into face. Watch for that first bite. They really do hold the heat. Yum.

Damn! That's good eatin'.

And if you want a quicker trip to the graveyard, put you head in the plastic bag.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Weakesses...I have so many (a visual journey) by Suz deMello

They've changed, of course, over the years, as I've sought to defeat all of them and have done so at various times in my life.

But temptation has a distressing tendency to pop up over and over again.

First: men. This is a weird one. I actually don't like very many men or for very long. My most lasting and fulfilling relationships are with women, and I do profess myself bi-curious. One day I'll act on that. 

I do have one very dear male friend:

Tom is the sweetest, kindest guy in the world. Too bad I'm not in love with him.

And here's my worst temptation and greatest mistake, the man I called Trapper in a fictionalized memoir, Perilous Play. I know I  should stay away from him, but few days go by that I'm not tempted to contact him. But I don't. Not often, at least. I have that much sense. 


I've even gotten to the point that I don't like even looking at his photo, though I do sometimes as well as reread our correspondence, in the way that a child pushes on a bruise to see if it still hurts.

It does. It also turns my stomach.

I don't drown my sorrows, though I have had my innings with booze. I'm more likely to eat to fill that empty place inside me. Many women crave chocolate. That's okay, but I love salty snacks.


My current weaknesses. Twenty minutes into Game of Thrones, I'm poking in the bottom of the bag to get the crumbs. Bliss!

And there are the smokables--or the vapables, pot and tobacco. These days our vices are denatured.


And here's a weakness I glory in: Regency romance, the romances I ever read and still do adore. Is the tendency to take comfort and find refuge in books a weakness?



I don't have any brilliant conclusions or even a clever quip to end this blog, except to note that the struggle to become a better person is neverending.

As Gilda Radner said, "There's always something."



Monday, June 29, 2015

Weakness Is the Mother of Invention

Sacchi Green

What do you do when you have to come down out of the trees because the climate has changed and the trees become scarce and now you’re living in a savannah environment where the grasses are tall and most other creatures, both those that want to catch and eat you and those you want to catch and eat, can run faster than you can?

Right away I’ll back off my choice of title and admit that evolving to stand erect so that you can see farther across the savannah is a form of survival of the fittest that has nothing to do with invention. But consider what happens when you can see the prey or the predator from far away, but the predator is stronger and has bigger teeth and claws than you do, and the prey is still too fast to catch easily. How do you compensate for your weaknesses?

You invent weapons for protection, and for hunting. You figure out how to use fire to scare the sabre-tooth tiger away from your cave, and incidentally to cook your food and keep warm, and you invent snares to catch small prey and throwing devices to kill prey at a distance. If you had been the biggest strongest species around, there would have been no need to invent weapons, or tools, or much in the way of strategy and tactics.

This is not to deny that necessity is also the mother of invention. Invention has two mothers. Probably more. Necessity is also the mother of evolution; when we lived in trees, it was necessary to be able to hold on to the branches, so those who survived were those who evolved to have opposable thumbs, and without opposable thumbs we would have had a much harder time inventing weapons, or much of anything else. Once supplied with an erect posture and opposable thumbs, we were able to invent work-arounds to compensate for our many weaknesses.

Farther along the human timeline, when population pressures or changing climate or just the curiosity that goes along with inventive minds drove us from the warm regions of our origin to colder, harsher environments, we figured out how to compensate for the weakness of our bodies when it came to keeping warm by wrapping ourselves in the skins of animals we’d killed, and later with woven fibers from plants. If we hadn’t compensated like this evolution might have eventually restored our ability to grow enough warm fur of our own, but then again it might not.

Of course the more we compensated for our weaknesses the stronger we became, in terms of survival. We learned to grow and breed our food, to irrigate our crops, to produce and save enough food and other resources to be able to diversify our work, so that some people didn’t have to produce their own food but could trade their crafted goods or various skills for what they needed. Some people needed physical strength for farming, hunting, protecting the resources their communities had amassed, but other people could make their living in ways that depended more on mental strength than on physical. Eventually some people could be weak in every way, but survive due to the resources of their families. Survival of the fittest wasn’t what it used to be, but neither was the environment one needed to survive in.

These days strength of one sort or another is still valued, and weakness despised, but oddly valued at the same time if it makes the despiser feel more powerful. Let’s not get into the labyrinth of gender relationships in this regard, except to note that men who seem to appear weak get the most disrespect. Women who seem to appear stronger than culturally approved get disrespect, too, and resentment, but at least in recent times they’ve been able to get away with wearing clothing similar to men’s in ways that men can’t manage the other way around.

The more complex our society gets, though, and the more important technology becomes, the more valuable inventiveness becomes, and the less necessary physical strength turns out to be. That ninety pound weakling on the beach might get sand kicked in his face by the muscular brute eyeing his girlfriend, but he may well own a tech start-up that pays him enough to buy lawyers who can flatten the muscle man. (Sorry, youngsters, for using a metaphor from old magazine ads that was already passé before you were born.) And that rich techie may well have his youthful nerdiness to thank for motivating him to study and create and compensate for his own perceived weakness. Strength gets redefined, and so does the fitness to survive.

Am I grasping at straws to handle this time’s theme of “weakness?” You bet. Just be glad you avoided my real thoughts on the subject, all of which have been focused lately on the weaknesses that come with aging. Not my own, except by unavoidable extrapolation, but those of my once strong, handsome, intelligent, and compassionate father, who, at ninety-five, is still compassionate, but needing more and more help, and feeling guilty to be needing it, however much my brothers and I assure him, truthfully, that he’s earned every bit as much help as we (mostly me, for valid reasons) can give him.

So you can see why I chose to take the long, long view of weakness as a benefit in the development of our species, rather than get up close and personal. Also, social media addiction and general procrastination have already been covered pretty well, so there’s no need for me to go there. Thank goodness.        


Friday, June 26, 2015

Equal And Opposite

Warning: this blog contains cricket.
There are several definitions of “weakness” in the dictionary. I choose, today, to sidestep those, and look more at the source and nature of some weaknesses.
Just as darkness gains its definition from the existence of light, so weakness can often be defined by strength. And can, in fact, become a strength itself. That wacky ol' Newtonian “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” kind of territory.
Here in Australia, the sport of cricket is very popular. One of our greatest players ever was a man named Steve Waugh. In his early days, he showed a propensity for getting out to a particular kind of shot (the hook shot). It was his greatest weakness in that facet of the game.
It cost him his place in the national team for nearly two years. Upon eliminating that shot from his repertoire, he regained his place and eventually became the national captain.
Not a particularly exciting tale, of course, but the point I’m getting to is that he recognised his own weakness (or had it pointed out to him enough times that he could no longer deny it). And he worked around it. That weakness stayed with him for the rest of his career. He just didn’t give it a chance to weaken him.
That weakness, in fact, became a strength. How? The opposition players knew very well his flaw in technique, and tempted him with it by delivering the ball at the perfect height and width for the hook shot. By refusing to play it, he forced the bowlers to change their game plan.
Closer to home (writing), and adopting essentially the same metaphor, there’s a popular meme floating around on Facebook.
Synonym (noun) – a word used in place of the one you can’t spell.
Every one of us, as writers, has flaws, gaps, habits... in short, weaknesses. The inability to spell a word, uncertainty in the use of a semi-colon (or whether semi-colon is, in fact, hyphenated), or phrases we use on a regular basis.
One way we can address those is to adopt a Waugh-like process of elimination. After all, a weakness suppressed is nothing more than a secret. It's effective, though it's arguably a dour way to write. A real "defence wins matches" philosophy.
But then there’s another kind of weakness (laboured metaphor warning ahead!) The weakness which consumes us, and which we consume, until we cocoon ourselves in it. The weakness which changes us and allows us to bloom. It's that “equal and opposite” situation.
I’ve said before on here, and many other places, that I have a particular weakness for the more curvaceous and voluptuous female form. It’s not my only weakness when it comes to women, but it’s certainly my most acute. Yet that very weakness has become a focal point for my writing.
Similarly, though I’m about as Anglo as you can get, and so is my wife, I profess a great (and growing) weakness for the beauty of darker skin tones. That, too, has infused my writing, though so far it’s mostly sitting on my computer, idling until it’s ready for release.
To admit a weakness can take great strength. Again, equal and opposite. Yet just as in the world of physics, the two parts need to co-exist. One without the other is an utter imbalance. There can be no "equal and opposite reaction" without first having the action. In my example, there can be no strength without first having the weakness.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Way You Wear Your Face

by Giselle Renarde

A teacher once said to my mother, "There's steel in that girl."

At the time, she was right. Still, I fought back tears when my mother told me. I couldn't decide whether I should be proud. I knew it was true, but was it really so obvious?

The neighbourhood I grew up in was and is very different from the place I live now. Earlier today I was walking down the street and asking myself, "What would be the perfect soundtrack to give this area?" The first song that popped into my head was Pleasant Valley Sunday.

I'm trying to think of the perfect song to accompany the area I grew up in. It would be whatever music scares you shitless, really. Or just the sound of music through apartment walls and people screaming, and then a big crash and you sweating bullets and thinking, "Fuck, should I call the police?"

But of course you shouldn't because it's none of your damn business.

I can't pinpoint any event or moment that turned young Giselle into steel. It was home life coupled with where home was. My mom still lives in that same house, and when I tell people the intersection their eyes widen and they go, "Why?" or "Wow" or just "Yikes." Because why would anyone choose to live in such an unsavoury area?

That's a question I can't answer. I left as soon as I could. I left the steel there, too.

This came to mind the other week, when I was watching So You Think You Can Dance. There was a young woman on the show who had that same steel in her. She came from a rough neighbourhood, too. She faced addiction in her family.

I saw my old self in the way she wore her face: hard, inaccessible, a brick wall of a face. A face you don't want to mess with.

That was me, guys! That was me until I moved to a neighbourhood where I can walk around any time, day or night, and not be afraid. Sure it's weird, being poor and living in an incredibly affluent neighbourhood. I'm surrounded by ego and entitlement and it gets to me sometimes, but at the end of the day entitlement isn't going to steal your jewellery from around your neck or spray bullets from a car window.

Man, it feels good to not be afraid of the place you live. I'm practically Pollyanna when I'm out in the world. I talk to strangers! I smile at everybody! I love them all! Mwah-Mwah! Kisses all 'round!

And then I take the bus back to the neighbourhood where I grew up. Suddenly the smile in my eyes feels embarrassing. It makes me vulnerable. So I shut it down. I lock Pollyanna and her Pleasant Valley Sunday in the basement until I'm back at home base. Because I don't want to be targetted. I don't want to be picked out of the lineup. That one smiling face sticks out, on the bus to my mom's house.

But I feel odd about it. I love the compassionate me. She's my favourite kind of me! I want to share her with the people who live where I used to live. They're sort of like family, in a way.

I try, but I feel uneasy. The world I grew up in seems so predatory, so violent, so ready to take you down.

Out comes the steel, but I put it on like a mask now. It's not coming from the inside out. I'm wearing it so I'll blend in.

Sometimes I feel Pollyanna kicking and screaming, but I make her wear that mask. It's for her own good.