December 12, 2018

to make french onion soup

On Sunday, which was the twelfth anniversary of our meeting, P.J. made French onion soup for supper.

The prep work was meticulous, the slicing of many onions and the measuring of sherry and white wine and beef stock.

On a chilly, windy Sunday twelve Decembers ago, we moved heaven and earth to meet at Atlanta Bread Company, long since out of business, during early breakfast hours.  There was babysitting to arrange, a work schedule to bend, sleepless nights for both and long drives to the restaurant.  We lived almost three hours apart.

There we talked for hours, first in armchairs by the fire, then in a booth.  We exchanged our favorite Far Side cartoons, anecdotes, personal histories, opinions, books, quotes.  We felt the affinity between us, drawn, pulled, matched.  We found a richness in each other that we had each longed to hold, appetites for true fulfillment suddenly insatiable by anything less than the other.  A kick in the chest.  A gasp.  An awakening.

A stick of butter melted in the Dutch oven, and the onions were tossed and coated and began the process of cooking, white to translucent, translucent to light brown, light brown to dark with caramel.  It required stirring, constant stirring, a dedication to the process, an unwillingness to settle until the rich dark was brought out.  It required detail, a bay leaf, salt.

There is a joke widely known:  Q: What does a lesbian bring on the second date?  A: A U-Haul.  Our origin was not so precipitous.  There was a marital separation involved, and there were houses to sell, and a nigh-unbearable year of long-distance dating faced us.  We took turns making the long I-want-to-see-her-so-badly drive, and each Sunday afternoon, when it was time to part, a car driving away felt like hearts rending.  In this way, we withstood the test of time and commitment.  It turned our love into a full and precious thing, worth the stirring, worth the crazy patience.

After it had simmered all afternoon and early evening, I spooned my first bite of soup from the ceramic bowl and closed my eyes, tasting the layers and flavors, the highest and best manifestation of a simple beginning seasoned with time.  My eyes remained closed.  I savored it.

Her kiss is just like that.

December 9, 2018

what became of whimsy

Last night, I began a re-read of His Dark Materials, and in the first pages of The Golden Compass, it happened again ... I was reading with an eye for craft as much as content, admiring the odd turn of phrase, trying to get a grasp on the slippery ways in which an author achieves flow and paints characters.

Today is the first anniversary of Sparven.  It began on December 9 because its origin included one frustrating evening and morning attempting to contend with WordPress, then choosing to roll the dice in the face of admonitions that technically, through using Blogger, Google owns my content.  Many of the people who work for my organization think the networking department remotes into their machines by stealth and monitors their surfing activity.  There are five of us.  Even if respect for privacy wasn't ingrained in our unspoken ethical code, who has the time?  Google is bigger, but busy.  I doubt they'd register my blog as a blip on the radar unless some lawyers found a reason to start some shit.  The lawyers are busy, too.  I chose Blogger.

I've been looking back through my posts, the volume of which is stupefying when considering that this was supposed to be a flash in that gleaming pan of Good Intention, born of a whimsical notion.  I'm looking for progress in my writing, progress in my therapy, progress in areas in my life and psyche in which writing has served as a catalyst and a nudge.  It's the New Year for me, for once not the least bit arbitrary.  I'm looking for who I am, one year later.

I have acknowledged my seed-sowers:  Leslie Perry, a high school English teacher; Dr. Sylvia Little, a college English professor; my grandmother and her scratched-out notepads and Bic pens on the vinyl dining table cover; Kate Campbell and Dar Williams, two of the most influential songwriters woven through two decades of life (and counting); those who have come to read and comment and cheer the writing on, some older, dearer friends and some newer, blossoms waiting to bloom; and my wife, whose gentle, relentless hand has rested on my shoulder as she watched me take my time and come to this on my own, for she knew she could never push me toward using a talent that she alone perceived.

I still want to find Ms. Perry and thank her.  I believe I've kept my promise to Dr. Little.  I've already thanked Kate for her example.  And when I can't write, when the darkness takes me, those who read and know my name now do not go away.  They patiently wait.  They are a boat's anchor, dropped and still in the waters that always recede.  They help bring me back.  I thank them by writing again.

I wrote earlier of my longing to see progress after a year of therapy and processing those internal workings through writing.  I intentionally dissociated the child part of me into Lille, and have since reintegrated her, and speak of her less and less.  I have wrestled with my perception of my Teacher, and in doing so, have moved it down the line toward an adult perspective.  That hasn't stopped the pattern of preoccupations, but I rarely, if ever, think of her and the town tantalizingly close by where she retired.  Together with Therapist Gumby, we've taken on learning to navigate the bi-polar disorder and self-injury episodes, treading water during suicidal ideation, spelunking for a core that is me and not the chemical slosh of my medications.  If he had asked me to journal during this past year, I would have refused, or agreed to it and then exactly failed to do it at all.  But he hasn't had to ask.  He reads this blog every day.  After all, it's my journal.

I've processed relationships in what has often been a clumsy fashion, primarily what lies between my mother and me, all that is not, all that unfortunately is, and how I move forward.  I've delved into the significance of the abuse I suffered at my sister's hand, the infuriation and enjoyment found in what constitutes a far more normal relationship with my daddy, and the undeserved celebration of the precious jewels spilled into my hands, my wife and my son.  We laugh and strive and enjoy the hell out of profanity.  We challenge each other, form each other.  As he grows up, so do I, and P.J. is my oxygen.

And in between, I've had the luxury of writing the humor that has come my way, simple stories and commentary on having dogs, loving music, being an atheist, being an acceptable human, and having a stomach the size of an egg.  I can make others laugh, and there are few joys that compare.

If I abandon false modesty, I can say that I think I've developed a writing voice.  I omit articles where they belong and place them where they do not.  I have to be careful because in the same way that I inadvertently begin to mimic someone when speaking with them by phone, picking up their accent, I find myself slipping into the style of other writers whose material I read for more than five minutes at a time.  This is a critical point.  I wonder how much Philip Pullman's voice will creep in over the next two weeks.

My pace has slowed to one that is sustainable.  This is to be expected.  And I am willing to write a book, but I cannot.  Many of my scars and defense mechanisms are the very things that prevent me from conceiving fiction and fleshing it out.

But I am forced to say this, albeit grudgingly:  I do not know what my second year of writing will bring.

December 7, 2018

it's different when you ask for it

A strange thought occurred to me this morning in the shower.  It was strange even for a shower thought, where most strange thoughts are known to originate.  The thought was this:

I did something stupid yesterday and I am grateful that I am the only one who has to suffer the consequences.

Sound ridiculous?  It isn't.

Yesterday, at the brisk, frosty crack of early, The Kid and I went out and tried to jump-start the minivan, which had turned up Wednesday night with a dead battery.  This was a complete fail, so I had to remove the dead battery and wait until the auto parts store opened and go trade it in for a new one, an act that called upon a fair amount of hubris, given that I had never removed a car battery before.  

It also involved pushing the van out into the driveway.  Minivans are heavy.  I know you think they're heavy, but you're wrong, because they're even heavier than that.  The Kid and I put everything we had into it, straining over and over, and moved the van a few paltry inches each time, panting and grunting and ignoring the cold of the metal and using visualization techniques and remembering everything every phys ed teacher had ever yelled at us, and by Dog we got it out there where we wanted it. 

Car batteries are heavier than you think, too.

I installed the new one and reprogrammed the van, and it worked, and nothing blew up.

I drove to work.  I came home.  I made dinner.  I went to bed.

I woke up this morning and instantly regretted it.  My first attempt to roll over alerted me to the fact that a team of CDC officials with advanced Parkinson's tremors had come in during the night and administered tetanus shots all over my body.  Understandably, this made me angry.  I'm getting sick of unauthorized government officials coming into our room at night

Then it dawned on me that this was the result of being a flaccid forty-something who suddenly decided to push a boulder up a hill yesterday.

And by the time I hit the shower, it further came to me that unlike the stupid things that I sometimes say or do because of the bi-polar disorder, this time no one else is affected.  I have extremely sore muscles and I keep having chills, and all that is very not-fun, but no one is having to tip-toe around my irritability, or deal with constant talking while wishing for a quiet evening, or feel compassionate or tolerant or anxious or amused or patient or vicariously embarrassed, or do anything other than think, "Thank fuck it's not me.  That sucks."

My anger about the illness - at the illness, and at the Universe - grows by the week, by the month.  I'm stuck in a loop of watching myself say and do things that I cannot tightly control through an act of will, then watching the sequelae.  Usually there's humiliation in there, peppered with guilt.  The anger doesn't feel like part of the process of moving toward acceptance.  It feels like a furnace with coals that glow more brightly over time.  The earth rumbles in the deep.

That's why I'm grateful for getting sore muscles.  They are logical.  They make sense.  They are mine and mine alone.

December 3, 2018

imma fuck up a photographer

Last night, I drove home from the Messiah performance thinking that everything went well.  Better than well, actually.  There was an unprecedented moment when, during the dramatic pause before the final word in the "Hallelujah" chorus, not a single person anywhere in the spacious auditorium suddenly and violently coughed, no one dropped something loudly onto the floor, no one's baby or toddler emitted a cry of distress, no one so much as sniffed.  No one messed it up.  We knocked that one out of Wrigley.

I would have gone on today blissfully assuming all was well, had a fellow alto not e-mailed me:  "We're in the newspaper!"  Just that.

So I went to the paper's web site and found the story.

And the pictures.

Including the one of me.

That was big.


Of me.






There is a rule, in the way that gravity is a rule and inertia is a rule, and that rule is this:  You do not take pictures of me.

I once was an administrative assistant for a nice lady who was the head of our department and was kind to everyone and was the sort who thought people enjoyed little ice-breaker activities at the beginnings of staff meetings.  Let's call her Mary, or Our Lady of Impenetrable Cheerfulness.

Mary tried to take my picture with a little pocket-sized camera one morning, but I caught her in time and held my hand up.  She laughed.  I explained patiently, "I do not let others take pictures of me.  Please.  Do not."  She desisted.  But she tried again and again, at other meetings or any time a camera was out for some reason, only to be consistently thwarted by my sixth-sense camera radar and subsequent evasive maneuvers.  The looks I gave her were increasingly dirty but did nothing to deter her efforts.

Then one day, she asked me to stand still and pose for "a departmental directory" shot.  I said, "No."  There was almost a crackle of tension in the air, because this was outright insubordination; the directory was her pet project of the week and she was into it.  We stared at each other, a contest I normally lose in three-tenths of a second, but this time, I won.  I like to think she saw great flames billow up in my pupils.

And since I ran the web site where the directory was posted, I got to use a Yahoo-style blank head for my picture.  It's the little things.

My brother-in-law sneaks photo shots in on me, and I let him live in spite of this because I love him, and he'd better be damned glad about that, because otherwise his skeletal remains would be chained to a stray log on the banks of the Chattahoochee River.

I saw the photographer yesterday lurking around the stage door early in the concert, but at the time I assumed he was getting the yearly snapshot for our group's Geocities-looking web page.  I didn't realize that I was missing an opportunity for a preemptive strike.

And he applied some sort of horrible brightening technique to the photo so that my hair looks golden instead of dark brown.

The worst bit?  It was a side profile shot.  The part of me I most hate.  My mouth is wide open and my face is round and I hate it hate it hate it.

So now I have to find him, and do things that will include something with his camera grotesquely reminiscent of stuffing a Thanksgiving turkey, and then I have to make sure I have friends who will help me get rid of the body.  I have it on good authority that boric acid and a stainless steel vat can do wonders for the eradication of evidence.

December 1, 2018

the devil shits pimiento cheese

I begin by posing this question:  Who the suppurating fuck lists a "three-cheese pizza" on their posh restaurant's children's menu and then includes pimiento cheese as one of the three cheeses? 

Some of these pretentious assholes made my son cry during our wedding dinner four years ago.  He had already ordered a Caesar salad, something he ordinarily loved, but it arrived with pre-plague-era romaine lettuce, a single crouton, and three large, whole anchovies laid on top.  He was troubled and looked to the pizza as his consolation.  It failed him miserably.

It's become pervasive.  Any restaurant advertising itself as having edgy, hip, neo-Southern cuisine - the kind of restaurant that lists the prices beside its menu items in single digits with no decimal points - seems to be putting pimiento cheese in everything ranging from its vegetarian gumbo to its gluten-free pecan pie.

This is clearly the work of the devil.

I grew up in a smallish town that was, ironically, the birthplace of Stan's World-Famous Pimiento Cheese.  It's a North Carolina thing, and you'll find this stocked in stores from Murphy to Manteo.  I don't know if the man grew the pimiento peppers in his back yard over off of Elm Street or if he imported them, but he welcomed possession by the devil himself and mixed them with Duke's Mayonnaise and started this product line, which rode the evil tides of the world and became an acquired taste among the locals. 

I'm baffled by how it ever got off the ground, and positively gobsmacked by today's apparent predilection for the vile paste.  People will grill it in sandwiches.  They will layer it atop juicy, glistening burgers.  They profess love for it, demons commandeering and confounding their minds. 

Pimiento cheese is cat-shit, crusty-underwear, toenail-clipping, gazelle-entrails, month-old-corpse nasty.  I do not understand.

The smell of it nauseates me, and that isn't even getting into the gradual acceptance of the misspelling "pimento", which makes me want to go around breaking noses indiscriminately.

The devil, I'm telling you.