January 27

Eighteen years ago today, David and I went on our first date. It was on a Sunday evening, after the Superbowl (because I had a party to go to and he had the kids for the weekend). And it was bone-cold with hard frozen snow everywhere, like it is now. For many years, we celebrated on Superbowl Sunday, because it seemed more congruent with the original event. Over time, however, as the Superbowl migrated farther and farther into February, it began to seem silly. We had to look up the original date. From the list of Superbowls, of course.

But now things have come around and the Superbowl is this Sunday. I don’t know which we’ll observe, tonight or Sunday. We never seem to come up with all that much to do to celebrate, which is okay, too.

For many years we talked about reprising our first date. The problem there? It was a terrible first date. It was cold, it was late. There had been a huge going away party on Friday night, I’d gone on a long ski excursion Saturday, chili and beer all afternoon hadn’t perked me up, I wasn’t sure of him, the movie was terrible, he asked if he made me nervous and dropped me off. We didn’t kiss until our third date. And no, I don’t know that date at all, except that it was well after Valentine’s Day. Long story. Suffice to say, it took us a while to recover from the first date.

“Your anniversary of what??” a friend once asked scathingly. I notice that people (read: other women) with wedding anniversaries get upset when I mention our first-date anniversary. They’ll often trot out their own dating history and tell me what their cumulative count would be, if they counted from the first date and not the wedding. They almost dare me to argue, which I never do. The beginning is the beginning, no matter how inauspicious. I’ve come to believe that a bad beginning holds all the luck in the world.

Happy Anniversary, My Dear!

Local Storm Report

I don’t mind shoveling snow. Perhaps because I don’t really have to do it all that often. People think of Wyoming with snowy mountains, which is accurate. But our town is between two mountain ranges, part sagebrush plain, part wind-carved hollow. We’re a high-altitude desert with only 8-10 inches of precipitation a year. Compared to, say, New Orleans, which might get 8 inches of precipitation in a single storm.

So, when it snows, we don’t get a whole lot and it’s seldom very wet. I don’t mind shoveling it.

I didn’t shovel at all yesterday. I just let the snow fall, piling up in heaves and pillows. Even when it cleared a bit in the afternoon and the neighbors all headed out to clear the walks, I stayed in my armchairl, papers all around me. With dusk, the snowfall resumed and by this morning all their little tunnels were filled again, fluffy and smooth.

But I did shovel this morning, after the rec center. Sunday is over, so the snow can no longer rest. It must be cleared away so business can resume. People trudge by in their Monday morning boots.

I stay inside and watch them go.

Modern Shouts and Whispers

My friend, Marie-Claude Bourke, is a finalist in the Dorchester American Title V contest. For those not in-the-know (I certainly wasn’t — she hysterically ranted about ATV for quite some time before I could get her to give me a translation), it’s an online contest that Dorchester publishing has been running for, you guessed it, five years now.

Dorchester editors picked seven entries from contest submissions and posted them online. For round one, readers voted (by sending an email with the book’s title in the subject line) for the best first line. One contestant was eliminated. In the second round, readers voted for the best hero and heroine, from short descriptions; another contestant was eliminated. We’re now at round three, voting on the best story summary and two of the five remaining contestants will be eliminated. Oh, the winner gets a publishing contract. No mean stakes.

So, because it’s all about reader votes, M-C has been out there engaged in promoting herself and her book, Ancient Whispers, like an unknown Senator pushing for President. A little frenetically so at times (she really, really wants this and who can blame her?), and her friends and family have had to tell her to chill.

At first I wondered if it was fair, to campaign for votes. Shouldn’t it be left entirely up to the reader to decide? But then, do any of us believe that the books that sell well do so entirely on their own merit? Marketing is a fact of American life. And as authors, we’re all learning that we can’t just sit in our garrets and drop our pages out the window, hoping they’ll be seized upon with gusto and celebration. Well… we can, if we don’t mind starving up there.

And would an unknown Senator expect to be elected just because he’s the best and everyone should recognize his merit?

In many ways, M-C is learning how to do what she’ll need to do once she is published: let everyone know about her and her book. I guess I’d better start learning lessons from her.

Why Do I Feel This Party’s Over?

I’ve been drinking too much wine again lately. It’s one of those things that just gradually ramps up. Over the holidays I indulged in both food and drink — including beer, which I love but is verboten if I want a flat tummy, which I do — but I’m ostensibly back on my training program, to get the body fat down just a little more. Only I haven’t quite ramped down the wine consumption.

It’s all a tolerance thing. If I don’t drink anything for a couple of weeks, then one glass of wine is enough. It’ll be delicious and satisfying, and perhaps even give me a little warm buzz. Maybe it’s the dark January evenings, but I haven’t done a ruthless, no alcohol diet yet this year. Instead I’m sipping red wine all evening long. It doesn’t help that Barefoot came out with the biggie bottle of red zin — it’s the wine version of hot chocolate. A pretty glass, a sparkling fire and that spicey bloody wine makes the winter evenings worthwhile.

And though I rarely get drunk, and haven’t made myself sick from booze in probably ten years (though we were all dragging rear Christmas morning this year from some really excellent champagne), I am so compelled by Pink’s Sober video.

I’ve been into Pink’s angry white chick music since her I’m Not Dead Yet album. Before that I’d written her off as a frothy hip-hopper, confused in my mind with Lil Kim and her ilk. I’ve since picked up her earlier stuff, too, and while there is some hip-hoppy stuff (apparently she was pushed that way by her early producers), a lot of it is raw and real and moving to me.

While I, even in my most dedicated Gamma Phi Beta college days, was never the party girl Pink depicts in her video, there’s a part of her I know. Perhaps it’s that ever-present fear that you could slip that far. Fall over the edge into an oblivion where you no longer recognize yourself. Pink’s plaintive cry “why do I feel this party’s over?” echoes the somber realization of the over-40 woman. I’m having to realize that the days of perfect resilience are over. I no longer blithely burn everything I eat and drink.

A friend of mine is an adrenaline junkie. He’s made a career of it. A fabulous career of doing amazing things like climbing unclimable mountains and kayaking through ice floes and writing about it all. Just after New Year’s he went ice climbing with a friend. An avalanche roared over them and the friend died. I saw my friend yesterday and I almost didn’t recognize him, he looked so unaccountably aged. Perhaps it’s the grief dragging him down and he’ll recover. But I wonder what the over-50 adventure athlete does when the activities he’s defined himself with are too much for him to recover from. Not all of them face this moment — many get themselves killed before that. I suppose the one who survives redefines himself. Fortunately my friend is a great writer and a man of many talents.

It’s easy to feel like the party’s over when you hit the realization that second two-thirds of your life aren’t going to be quite as on fire as the first third. Or second half vs. first half. But maybe it’s just that it’s a different party. A party in which I can be satisfied with a single glass of wine.

Maybe two.

Labels For This Post

If you’ve used Blogger.com, then you know that they offer you a template and examples on the create post screen. It’s an easy set-up to learn, which is always a good thing. I had enough anxiety about starting a blog without wading through techno-angst as well.

What’s funny is, at the bottom there’s a blank where you can fill in “Labels for this post.” And then they offer “e.g. scooter, vacation, fall.” Every day, when I fill in my labels, I look at “scooter, vacation, fall” and think about using them. I’ve considered starting some kind of special Blogspot Commemoration Day, where we all blog about scooters, vacation and fall. Probably I’m the only one entertained by the idea.

Last Fall we went on vacation to Italy, and we all rented scooters. It was really fun.

We went on vacation to Italy and were having a great time on our rented scooters until my mom took a bad fall.

The preponderance of “Scooters” in the Bush administration made us all want to go on vacation, until last Fall when Obama was elected and we felt much better about everything.

Okay, it’s out of my system now.

True Grace

Yesterday I received an email from one of the writing groups I’ve joined. I don’t think I’ve met the woman who wrote it, but she sent it to everyone who’s on the email list
for the group:

Last Thursday I had a doctors appointment at [ ]. I expected to discuss new treatments. Instead she told me there was nothing more they could do for me. She estimates I have about 3 months. I’m totally at peace with pending death. I’ve enjoyed this group.



I found myself near tears at this. Heartbroken and unutterably moved at her grace in sending this out, as if it’s just another thank-you note. I picture her like that: the kind of woman who sends you a thank-you note for the lovely lunch and mentions again how pretty your blouse looked. I’ve changed her name here, because I feel certain she’s not the sort of woman who would want her business all over the internet.

And yet, I felt compelled to share it. Perhaps how we face our deaths is the final measure of how we approach our lives. My great-aunt had little cards prepared — stamped and pre-addressed — to send after her death that said, “you’ve received this card because I’ve died.” She went on to tell us special things and asked us to remember her in happiness. My favorite professor declined extreme treatment for his cancer so he could spend his remaining days in the classroom.

So here’s to your “adios,” Grace. May your last months be filled with love and art and beauty. And may you be remembered in happiness.

Scarlett Take Me Away!

Work has been stressful the last couple of days — dealing with contract stuff and cost overruns. I woke up this morning thinking about it, which is always a bad sign. I ran the tape loop of fretting as I got ready for the gym, as I lifted weights and at the grocery store. Even at 6:30 in the morning in a small town, I had to wait in line for a moment, where the magazines caught my eye, as they’re meant to do.

Scarlett Johansson beamed at me, all sultry eyes and milky skin. Kate Hudson sparkled with a saucy wink. For an instant I longed to be them. I thought, how wonderful to have Scarlett’s life, with her beauty and those gorgeous clothes.

Yes, yes — I know. Silly.

In my defense, the emotion washed away quickly. I know perfectly well that the conference calls today won’t be anything I can’t get through. And there are much worse things in life than suffering a little stress for the money I earn, that allows me to lead a very pleasant life. I know, also, that Scarlett’s life is also full of stress and meetings and working out at the gym. She might not have to stop at the grocery store on the way home, but that’s about it. And Kate Hudson has done several things that I suspect makes her emotional life not all that rewarding.

The thing is, I didn’t really long in that moment be THEM, to live their lives. What I wanted was to be those pictures. I wanted to feel what the glossy women seemed to feel. Which is what they’re selling after all.

At least I didn’t buy it.


That’s what Kev calls it. I noted it down in my list of ideas to write about just like that, so now I forget the specific context. But his meaning is clear: instead of angelically waiting for the muse to descend and inspire — perhaps via a delightful bit of meditation or self-flagellating fasting — you set out bait, to lure it in. In this scenario the muse is a grizzly bear and the bait something suitably rank, perhaps a rotting old emotional wound or a pungent idea best not aired in polite company. It works to extend the analogy. Grizzly bears are magnificent animals, glorious and terrifying. You’d like to get close enough to see one, but drawing that near can leave you ravaged or dead.

I like this idea of the muse. More of an avenging angel or tricky demon, than the sprightly Olivia Newton-John roller girl. The artist who calls in the muse should be on her guard, ready for the swipe to the gut she didn’t see coming. The artist who baits the muse… well, be careful what you wish for.

Here Fishy

Weekends are for spammers, have you noticed? Especially three-day weekends. I received easily three times as many spam messages overnight on Friday night and Sunday night as I normally do.

I’m picturing these people, coming home from their jobs and hunkering down over the computer. A dark room lit by only a single desk lamp. Or possibly only the blue glow of the computer screen. On and on they send, lining up appeals for financial exchanges, offers of penis-enhancement products and enticing work-at-home opportunities — presumably like the one they have. Apparently many of them go out on Saturday night, instead of working.

Or is this related to prison schedules? More computer time allowed, an extra perk for the weekend. Maybe all the spam (spams?) arrive overnight because of all the Africans, Europeans and Asians working while I’m sleeping to advise me of their gold mines, my lost inheritance, my lottery win.

I wonder if they communicate with one another, a community of spammers. I’ll notice that one will come up with something new that manages to snag my attention. What? A photo of me doing something stupid? Not that this is beyond the realm of possibility, but… and as the thought completes, I realize the scam and delete. Then for weeks afterwards I’m deluged with stupid photo subject lines, many that gradually evolve to add new elements. But it’s too late, I recognize the breed now, no matter how it’s redecorated. Perhaps they spam one another. There’s my late-night spammer, home from his job. He sees the email. A photo of him doing something stupid? He clicks. Oh! he grunts. So clever. I should do this, too.

Or maybe it’s just a pull-down list from Spammer Central: select from package delivery, dear friend, private and confidential. All pre-formatted, just add random email addresses.

No matter: it’s still the guy on the corner with the raincoat full of watches. The flapping flyer on the telephone pole urging you to work from home sealing envelopes. The eternal hope that, no matter how familiar and tattered the bait, some fish may bite.

Bon Voyage

My mother is in Egypt now. At least, I believe she is. She was to arrive there while I was sleeping around 3:30 this morning. I’m trying to picture here there, but I’ve never been to Egypt and I have only vague ideas of what Cairo looks like, which seem to be largely drawn from Indiana Jones-type adventures — I’ve got narrow streets, vendors with huge baskets, flapping awnings, dust and rogue camels. She doesn’t fit on those streets in my mind. Instead I keep picturing her in a billowy white cotton outfit (though I know perfectly well she owns nothing of the kind and that no Western adventurer has worn that kind of thing since the British first began to unearth the tombs) under a blazing desert sun, backed by the sphinx and maybe a pyramid or two. No matter how I override with a more logical guess that she’s probably catching up on sleep in a darkened hotel room, when I think of her, my mind supplies the sphinx/pyramid/billowing cotton outfit picture.

It’s a funny thing, being out of touch. Normally I wouldn’t have yet talked to her, early on a Sunday morning. In many ways, she’s no more distant from me now than she was in Tucson yesterday. And yet, there she is, out in a desert I’ve never seen, my mind shrouding her in an outfit she never wears. I find myself missing her.

When she called from JFK before boarding the flight to Cairo, I asked, “so, do you have any plans for communication at all — or is this goodbye for three weeks?” She paused, conferred with Dave, my stepfather, and replied with surprise that no, they hadn’t thought of it. The surprise is because Dave, also a former Air Force guy, and so level-headed with it, usually thinks of everything. (I’m saying also, as in along with Sullenberger, our new hero.) They speculated about Internet cafes, phone cards that could be purchased, that the Egyptian hotels might have Internet themselves now. They said they’d figure something out. I said not to worry about it.

Just a few days ago, my mom was lamenting her hard drive crash that prevented her from being on Instant Messenger. She had to call me on the phone to make contact, which seemed onerous. We laughed, wondering what we did before we had email or the Internet at all. When our phones were tied to the wall at home.

Our lack of contact now is only an illusion. For the right price, I could call her. She’ll find Internet access, most likely. And yet, in my heart, she’s as distant as a Victorian Egyptologist, white parasol in hand, admiring the Great Sphinx under the sun.