Friday, September 17, 2010

September 17, 2010: About Alice

There's a spider who lives outside of my door. She's been there for about, I estimate, two weeks? Maybe more. Maybe less. I don't really know. One night I was walking up my steps and saw her for the first time. Instinctively, I cowered and snuck into my house as if she wouldn't be able to see me. Well, she did and she paused and stayed very still and I imagined her whispering to herself "Pleasedon'tkillmepleasedon'tkillmepleasedon'tkillme.” I stood behind the safety of the door and watched. It took her a while to wake from her paralysis but then she regained her composure and started some web building. It was very cool to watch. I could see the web glisten from the porch light and it was so shiny and she went about it so quickly. She's just a regular garden spider, an orbweaver to be quasi-specific. I named her Alice. She doesn't want to hurt anybody, she just wants to catch some bugs so that she can live another day. Alice and I are a lot alike, that way. I like to leave my porch light on so that the bugs come and land in her web and then she can have a snack. She doesn't bother me because she stays outside. Those bugs, on the other hand, they're itching to get in like I've got some impressive set up or something. Nope, bugs, nothing exciting up here. Just a couch, a lot of books and Facebook and you won't live long enough to build a social networking profile so I'll just leave you outside with Alice.

I noticed that every morning the web would be gone. I wondered if maybe I just couldn't see it or if it really had disappeared. After some research, I learned some things.

Alice builds a web because it's a fairly energy efficient means of prey-trapping. She can build a web and then bugs get caught and she eats them without having to hunt them down or chase them (I told you we're a lot alike—I don't really like to leave my house in search of sustenance either). It does use a lot of Alice's energy to build a web, but at least she doesn't have to chase anyone or stay on high alert. However, after an evening (and especially when the dew comes) the webs lose a lot of their sticky. That being the case, especially if the web hasn't caught anything, Alice will tear down her web and eat it and regain some of that lost energy. That's why her web was always gone when I'd go to work and she'd be building a new one when I came home. She lives in a spot that is behind my screen door when it's open so there's no chance of me accidentally running into it and I let her stay there. I kind of like her, even.

I don't like spiders in my house. It's not that I'm afraid they're going to kill me (though I do understand the likelihood is a little more probable), it's more that if they're in my house I know they're just trying to keep warm. And if they're trying to keep warm, then I know that they might have some little spider fetuses they're trying to take care of. Other spiders who will want to live in my house. That's not super great to me. Also, I'm paying rent in this joint and I get to say who stays and who goes. Little bitty black spiders that run super fast, wasps, mice, bees--unless and until you start coughing up $200 monthly, you're going to be savagely murdered. Sometimes poisoned, sometimes beaten but I will always win. Alice, you may stay. Outside.

I've never been the jump-on-a-table-screaming type of girl, regarding arachnids. Don't get me wrong, I've never liked them. When I see one across the room, I get a little annoyed that I have to get up and kill it (I'm not the type to usher them outside, I can't get that close) and then I get up and kill it. When there's one next to me on the sofa, I'll probably jump up and scream. It's the unpredictability, really. Seriously, if anything unexpectedly appeared I would more than likely jump. Don't get so close to me, unpredictable spider. That's why I like Alice. She's predictable. I know why she's here. I know what she's doing. We have an understanding. I've told her that if she gets into my house, I will have no qualms about squishing her. If she lays eggs in her web—I'll tear it down. It'll be a sad say and she can build a new one but laying new eggs might be more difficult.

I've started to get really excited about spider webs when I see them now. They're exciting. Did you know that pound for pound, a spiderweb is stronger than steel? Have you witnessed the horriffic storms we've had lately in these parts? The wind? The torrential downpours? And yet, Alice's web remains unscathed. She hasn't eaten it in a few days. They're completely useful—even beneficial to me as a human and yet they're one of the hallmarks of creep. Halloween wouldn't be Halloween without cobwebs. Why? They're not scary—are they? I understand that someone with arachnophobia would rightfully be scared of them because they are indicative of a spider's presence (according to Wikipedia, 50% of women suffer from arachnophobia and 10% of men do, too. Show of hands, who thinks that's an accurate estimate?) but they're not going to do anything. What makes them fearful? I wonder. It could be that when you think of spiderwebs, you think of an abandoned house or maybe a house filled with insane folks. It would have to be that way because what rational person would leave a spider web on their porch? That's craziness! It's not crazy. It looks just like Paris, and people love Paris. [Map of Paris brought to you in part by]

Monday, September 13, 2010

September 12, 2010

A lady came into my place of business, today. She said she wanted me to adjust her glasses—if they needed it. I looked at them on her face, they looked straight. I sat them on the table, they sat straight. I asked her if there were any spots where they seemed a little tight, maybe some inconvenient rubbing?

Nope. None of that.

“Just see what you can do, Sugar. Can you do that?”

“Sure,” I said, “I'll be right back.” She was so sweet but she didn't really need anything that I could offer her. I wasn't sure exactly what it was she was looking for from me. So I did what I usually do when customers can get a little imaginary. I took them into the back and I cleaned them as best I could and tightened every little screw that I could find. And the reaction was exactly as I had expected, “Oh, honey! You're a miracle worker—I knew you could fix it.”

She was very old. Very, very old. I imagine she's a widow and doesn't have a lot waiting for her at home. She didn't get up to leave. She sat there, patting my hand and asking me questions about myself.

“Are you from McPherson?”
“No. I moved here a little over a year ago.”
“Where did you move here from?”
“Kansas City.”
And it always goes like this, “Oh! Well, this must be quite a change of pace for you!”
And I always say, “Yes, it took some getting used to but I love it.”

She asked me about my husband and I told her that I didn't have one. She said something along the lines of, “a woman as talented as you must scare them off pretty easily.” It was easily the silliest excuse for singleness I've ever heard. As if there were a group of men outside, enraptured but intimidated by my ability to adjust the crap out of a pair of glasses. I laughed, probably too hard and she kept patting my hand.

She told me that she'd just bought a birthday card for her son. She got a kick out of the cards that play music. Personally, those cards just piss me right off but they brought this woman so much joy. She just went on and on about how she didn't know what kind of music her son—who, I imagine, is at least sixty years old—likes to listen to, so she bought him two. Initially, I was trying to hurry her along but once I realized how long she's been holding my hand, it occurred to me that neither of us really had anything going on. It's a Sunday. There are relatively few tasks that need to be completed and hardly any customers, so I just let her talk.

When I was at MidAmerica, Brady Braatz talked about how people need intentional touches every day. Many of them. Not just one. Like—at least seven. I think seven is pretty steep, though. It is for me, anyhow. Intentional Touches being, honestly, any purposeful, physical contact. I'll agree with that. I think it's necessary. Being a person who doesn't get a whole lot of touches—I do notice when it's been a while. A handshake can even catch me off guard sometimes. There are places that I go to when I need it. Though, I don't ever really notice that's what I'm looking for until after it happens. My nephew is my first go-to guy. One particularly bad day, I walked downstairs just to see him. He ran to the door yelling, “Beebeebeebee! Up.” So I picked him up. He scrutinized my face and then pet my cheeks, clucking like a Jewish mother. Then he laid his head into my neck and pat his hand on my back. I started to cry a little bit. He gives perfect love.

I have this other friend who gives, what I can only describe as the sexiest hugs imaginable. He doesn't waste a bit of contact. He slides his hands across my shoulders, grips tight with his hands like he wants to be there. He doesn't squeeze with his whole arm so that I'm out of breath. It's more like he just wants to hold on. He slides out of the embrace the same way that he got into it and to describe it, it sounds downright creepy. It's nice.

When the old lady left, I walked her out with my arm around her shoulders. She seemed grateful and I was really happy to have provided her with one of the many touches she would need, but may not get, to make it through the day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

September 7, 2010

I realize that I'm not the person to talk about working out. In fact, it makes me really self-conscious to discuss it but since I've been intentionally doing things that, ordinarily, I would fear or, ordinarily, would make me uncomfortable—I'm going to talk about it.

But first, a note on doing what you're afraid of:

Fear is debilitating and stupid and no one thinks you're any cooler for being scared. Admittedly, that doesn't make it easy to be fearless or anything. I'm just wondering, have you ever gushed to your friend about this boy or girl who is attractive and funny and confident and intelligent and oh so scared of stuff? I submit that you have never done that and I can't imagine that you ever would. Because I know you, personally, and I know that you are much cooler than that. There's something to be said for people who wholly feel and acknowledge themselves, even their uncomfortable parts—even their fear. But then there's something else about a person who can see that fear (or awkwardness or anger or whatever it is that keeps us on the couch) and can walk past it like an acquaintance in the doctor's office, with a nod and very little conversation.

So. Working out. I like it. It's one of those things that I never remember that I like until I'm just starting it--I feel the same way about showering. Ordinarily, it goes like this: my sister-in-law says, “Hey, do you want to go to the Y tomorrow?” And, honestly, I can't say no to that. I want to—don't get me wrong. I always think, please already have other plans... of course I don't have other plans. “Sure! I'd love to do that!”

I would most certainly not love to do that and I'm fairly confident that neither would Arryn. But we also would not love to develop heart disease or diabetes—mostly because we can not afford it and also because in this life we are given bodies only one time and it's best if our ankles can be contained inside of our socks.

But as soon as I get my shoes tied up, I get really excited and happy and ready to move. I get into the cardio room and I have three choices. In order of appearance starting at the back of the room and moving forward: there's the elliptical, the treadmill and the stationary bike. I like to go for the bike because it's at the front of the room and it takes me back to when I was in school and always took the desk in the front row because looking at other people intimidates me. I don't like to see the guy running 23 miles an hour—I don't need that. It's bad for my psyche and I end up walking to the lobby and reading People Magazine. So I take the bike, plug in my ancient iPod, close my eyes and let Kanye West speak truth to me as I get my heart rate going for the next 30 minutes.

I need you to hurry up now, 'cuz I can't wait much longer
I'm going, Kanye, I'm going as fast as I can.
Haters give me them salty looks, Lawry's
Yeah, tell me about it. Haters... Lawry's. I hate haters.
What do you think I rap for, to push a fuckin' Rav 4?
No you do not, Kanye West. You most certainly. Do. Not.
Go, heart rate, go!!

Getting your heart rate up is not about health—it's about a video game. When you ride these fancy computery bikes in the gym, they have these handlebars that you hold onto. The fancy handlebars tell you whether or not what you're doing is actually beneficial. I am into it for the most part. I get really into it. The little blinking light says, “You're warming up,” and I say, I'll show you 'warming up'. And then it says, "You've now entered into a cardio zone.” And I say,Yeah, I have! And then it says, “You're almost at your 'peak performance',” And I say, I have three minutes to get into 'Peak Performance' and I'm going to stay there. And I do and I reward myself by calming down. I spray my machine and then wipe off anything that I may have left behind and walk to the back of the class.

Then I change it over to a gentle crooning and go swimming on the elliptical. If you're not trying too hard, this machine can be the most delightful piece of equipment in your life. It's like frolicking through a meadow in a sun dress towards my lover as a douche advertisement plays in the background and the low morning sun beams between the tree leaves. Everyone else looks at me like I'm an idiot—wasting my time and really not aware of how to work out properly. They're probably not thinking that at all. I so rarely consider the other people in the gym that it makes sense that they're likely not considering me, either. So, I do that until the Zumba class is over and then Arryn and I go home talking about how good we feel—and we do.

Monday, September 6, 2010


I've been reading a lot of books about writing lately, most notably Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. There is always some Anne Lamott swirling around amidst my list of currently reading. I like her because she is realistic. For example, I just read a whole chapter about how there should be one or two people in your life with whom you share your third or fourth drafts before you send them to a publisher. Essentially, she says, these people should be people that you love very much because once they offer you some feedback, you will hate them. But eventually you will love them again. She says it better than I do, she says it exactly the way that I feel. I didn't intend to share a big chunk but I'm going to--otherwise I might not be able to sleep tonight on account of my inability to make my point.
Imagine that you are getting ready for a party and there is a person at your house who can check you out and assure you that you look wonderful or, conversely, that you actually do look a little tiny tiny tiny bit heavier than usual in this one particular dress or suit or that red makes you look just a bit like you have sarcoptic mange. Of course you are disappointed for a moment, but then you are grateful that you are still in the privacy of your own home and there is time to change. ...
My first response if they have a lot of suggestions is never profound relief that I have someone in my life who will be honest with me and help me do the very best work of which I am capable. No, my first thought is, "Well. I'm sorry, but I can't be friends with you anymore, because you have too many problems. And you have a bad personality. And a bad character." ...
Criticism is very hard to take. But then whichever friend is savaging my work will suggest that we go through it together page by page, line by line, and in a clipped, high-pitched voice I'll often suggest that this won't be necessary, that everything's just fine. (pp 164-166)

You see, that's why I like Anne--she's just like me. She's a raging lunatic and completely unreasonable and at the total mercy of her unreliable feelings. And oh, to know that you are not alone in the world, the only monster in search of some time off and a lobotomy. The thing is that this--this that she describes of suddenly wanting to swear off those who love you enough to tell you the truth about yourself--it's more spot-on than anything I've ever even considered about myself. It's just true. I sent a copy of a short story to a reading friend recently (there's no point in asking input from people who are not readers of anything else) and he said wonderful things to me about the characters and the story and then tagged on the end that there may be a typo somewhere in there. My initial reaction was, "Oh, you can just go straight to hell!" And then I saw the typo and changed it and we were friends again. Luckily this all happened in my head over the course of about 48 seconds and he was never made aware of my feelings. Until he reads this. And I'm sure that he will because I am egotistical and I believe that everyone has a profound interest in my life. Which is why I write. Life's too short to pretend otherwise, folks.

Anyway, that was a very long and unintentional rant about something that I did not intend to talk about at all. What I came to tell you was that all of these wonderful How-To-Be-A-Good-Writer books all mention the importance of taking notes. Anne carries a pen and an index card (folded legnthwise so as not to appear bulky) in her back pocket and keeps notes of anything that is interesting. So I've been doing that a lot lately.

The thing about taking notes is that you are forced to pay attention. If you take on an observer's tone, you look at situations as stories and people as characters--which is not a bad thing as I believe there are no good guys or bad guys. There are just guys. People. I think that in a great story, you can sympathize with the villain and you can see all the faults of the hero. There is no room for melodrama. I once watched an interview with a prostitute in San Francisco and the interviewer asked her how she did it, how does she go to bed with so many different men?--many of whom may be unsavory. Her response was the same as, I would imagine, mine would have been if you asked me why I love characters so much. She said "I try to find something to love about everyone." She went on to explain that for some it can be harder than others but that she always finds something. I think that's lovely--so very "namaste".

I took this note the other day when I was reading on my lunch break--it's not so much a note that is usable in anything I'm going to write but it might be helpful in reading. "Do boys in real life really think about girls the way that boys in literature think about girls?"

I took this note today during a text-message conversation with my sister who just so happens to be about eleven months pregnant. I love her and I hope to use this in a story one day. Sarah gives me good material and is funnier and more insightful than I could ever hope to be. I said, "Anne Lamott says that having a baby is like suddenly getting the world's worst roommate." She replied, "Awesome. I think it just might be easier than sharing my body with the world's worst roommate."