Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bad Photo Good times

So, I flip flop into Best Buy to purchase my first digital camera.

Between trying to sell some stuff online, and taking this blog somewhat seriously, I decided it was time to take a giant leap into 2002. Also, I was shamed during a trip to Costa Rica, when a sinewy, golden, 20-year-old blond in shorts about the size of my thong pointed at my film camera and said “What’s that?” So. Yeah.

I approach shopping as I do all things – having done absolutely no research and having no idea what I really need, want or should spend. I like to watch a story unfold. I’m all about the journey.

Anyway, I enter Best Buy still suffering from a cold I can’t shake, having just been told that Panera is no longer selling tomato soup because “it’s out of season.” I’m not usually one to pick on a teenage girl saving up for a pair of Seven jeans. But what the what? Is summer not tomato season? So, I’m sick, disoriented, hungry and in no mood.

That’s when I’m greeted by Dorothy, a small blond in a blue smock who would be about my aunt’s age – if I had an aunt. She introduces herself, and tries to help me, but at this point, the Sinutab is kicking in and I’m just pushing shiny buttons and whispering “pretty, pretty.”

So she makes herself scarce for about 15 minutes. But is apparently undaunted by peculiarity. She appears again over my right shoulder.

“Do you know what you are looking for,” she asks.

I look into her green eyes. Wow, I think, there are about a gatrillion answers to that question.

“Just your basic digital camera,” I say.

She points in the direction of a reasonably-priced Fuji, just marked down today. Its greatest selling point, she says, is this massive red dial on the back with images denoting a flower, dog, smiling person, and smiling group. It’s supposed to make the camera easy to use. But I already know I can’t whip out that thing in front of my girls. I’ll look like a freaking dork.

“Yo,” I say. “I’m a lot cooler than that. I can’t roll with that big, red dial.”
Dorothy searches my face. My nose is red from blowing. And my hair is still wet from my first shower in three days. She looks skeptical of my coolness.

I also just remembered I need a video option, I say. Because I have to record my mad dance floor skillz.

Again, Dorothy looks skeptical.

“Well, this one is a great deal today,” she said, walking over to a selection of waterproof cameras that have been reduced by $50.

“Do you like to snorkel?” she asks.

“I LOVE to snorkel,” I say, already picturing glorious photos of tropical fish taken by yours truly hanging in my living room. (I zip into a small fantasy – “Yes,” I say during a crowded house party. “I took that one while diving The Blue Hole in Belize. What?? You’ve never BEEENNN?”)

Dorothy senses I suddenly have focus.

“Here,” she says. “I’ll show you some of the options.”

“There’s a Facebook option,” she says.

“I LOVE Facebook!”

“And a blog option,” she says.

“I HAVE a blog!”

Of course, all of these options are really just plug the thing into the computer, and load onto XYZ Website. I know this, but am still enjoying watching Dorothy’s fingers work the buttons. Blame Sinutab.

“Look,” she says. “You have this option where you can blur out faces.”

“Do you think I can use it to erase people from my past?” I ask her.

Dorothy laughs. She gets it.

“Here,” she says. “Let me take a picture of us.”

And before I know it, our heads are together and we’re smiling up at a camera Dorothy is holding with some sort of massive Don’t Steal Me gadget attached to it.

The photo is atrocious. Dorothy’s face is flash burned. Her cute blond haircut looks like a birds nest. Meanwhile, all you can see of me is a big, red, Rudolph nose and some slicked-back Mickey Rourke hair.

We collapse in giggles.

“Oh, Dorothy, that is not a good look,” I say.

I thought seriously about asking Dorothy to send me the photo, so I could post it here. But I can’t have that thing circulating the innernets. I still like to go out with a boy every once in a while ya’ll – and that photo would send me straight to dating Syberia.

“Let’s take another one,” she says.

Gaze up. Grin. Click.

“Oh dear lord, it’s much worse,” I say.

We’re in the midst of our second giggle fest of the afternoon, when a woman walks up sporting combed hair and make-up.

“Is that the waterproof Fuji blahty blah?” she asks. (I’m paraphrasing. I think she actually knew the name of the camera, unlike me.)

“Yes,” said Dorothy, then handed her a box. “We were just going over some of the options if you want to join us.”

“No,” the woman said. “I did all my homework online.”

Then she walked away. Just like that. Dorothy and I looked at each other. I kind of felt bad for Ms. Research. She was missing out.

Dorothy then helped me pick out some sort of other doomafligit that I needed, and a cute little camera case that will fit in my evening bag. I was all set. I wanted to hug her. Except I was sick.

“Well, bye,” I said, kind of lingering.

“Bye,” she said.

“I had fun,” I said.

“Me, too,” she answered.

I stood at the cash register and popped in my pin number, glad, as usual, that I was prepared for nothing, ready for anything.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Thoughts on leaving

When I left home at 18, I knew I would blow through my 20s like a surprise Christmas bonus. And I did.

What I didn’t expect was to go hurling into my 30s, barely tapping the brakes at 35, and arriving here, at age 37, on the cusp of arguably one of the biggest risks of my life.

And that is saying something.

I’m a woman who’s danced drunk and barefoot on three continents (and in most major cities), lived in Europe, missed the last train home, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro on a whim because I'd always wanted to go to Africa. I’ve zip lined in Costa Rica during a thunderstorm so heavy it felt as though the rain drops would peel my flesh right off the bone. I drank wine sitting more naked than not in a hot spring in the shadow of an active volcano – bright orange lava spraying into the midnight sky. I've covered press conferences at the White House, engaged in hand to hand combat with an ABC cameraman, and gone out with (seemingly) all the wrong men.

Recently, a friend gave me shit for staying in on a Saturday night to make a big pot of lentil soup. Yeah, I thought then, talk to me after you’ve found yourself headed west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, driving a stranger's Jeep, backpack in the trunk, asking some guy you only know as Kevin, "So, where to?"

I've earned the right to be boring.

But here I am taking another gulp, another leap, when I really don’t have the stomach for it anymore. If you ask me now what I want, what I really, really want, I would say that I want to live in a small house near the beach, with a nice guy who likes to grill out and have friends over on Sundays. I would consider that success.

But right now that life does not exist. And the opportunity that does exist is to study and teach creative writing at George Mason University near Washington, D.C.

When I tell people the news, they are happy for me. And I realize I should be happy too. That I am a real asshole for not being happy. My friend Betsy – a much greater talent than I will ever be – said “Kelly, you do realize you have to go. You have to go so I can go. Because I can’t go. So go and tell me everything.” Of course, the reason Betsy can’t go is because she’s living in a beachside condo in Miami with the sexiest man alive, working on the world’s best yet-to-be published book that is going to blow your freaking mind. So, don’t cry for her, Argentina.

And I will go. Am going. At the end of July. And I know it is the right thing to do. It’s just that I feel old and tired and done with new. I didn’t reserve any energy – any patience for change – for this age. I used it all up – thinking I would have slipped into some sort of stability by now. (My friend Brandon says “You know, Kell, stability isn’t really your thing.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t keep hoping.)

Oh, I know it will be fine. Everything, I’ve learned, is eventually fine. I will find a new home. I will make new friends. I will find favorite bars and restaurants and get a new library card. But I’ve done this 100 times before, and it doesn’t feel exciting this time.

I’m tired, ya’ll.

Plus, I’ve never been as happy as I’ve been in SoFla. I have a golden set of friends that are my angels and my true loves – smart, gentle, kind, funny women who, upon seeing a young, male fashion victim wearing a fedora at a house party, will go out into the hallway for a drunken, giggly rendition of “One” from A Chorus Line -- complete with high kicks. They are the reason I have felt loved and safe and home here. I don't know what I ever did to deserve them.

For several weeks after getting the offer from George Mason, I didn’t believe I’d actually take it. I made no move to, well, move. A few weeks ago, my friend Lisa asked “Are you going? Because you don’t act like you are going.”

At that point, I had made a list of pros and cons. And my only reason for not going was that I just didn’t want to. I liked my life, I decided. I love my farmer’s market, the beach and the library. I love that the owner of my favorite restaurant in Delray thinks we knew each other in past life.

I saw no reason for a new life.

Then one morning I woke up and realized – as sudden as sudden can be – that I had to go – that staying in my comfy little nest was not an option. Because nests really don’t take you anywhere -- they are merely a place where one prepares to fly. (Even old birds, like me.)

I realized how fortuitous it is to get another shot at the brass ring in this stage of the game – and that if I rallied I could still reach for it.

Stability, you elusive bitch, will just have to wait.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tongue was having words with Heart

So Tongue was having words with Heart.

“How can it be,” said Tongue. “That after all these years you are still just as fragile as a soap bubble? You need to work out or something. Get stronger. What about Tae-bo?”

“Ah, it’s true,” said Heart. “But you know how I can be. A set of brown eyes and a faded Sanskrit tat and I’m a gonner. It’s worse when he’s read more than two books and gets your jokes. That’s when I start thinking this time, this time, things might be different.”

“But they never are,” said Brain.

“Brain!” said Heart. “This is your fault as much as it is mine. Where were you when all this was happening? What were you thinking?”

“I’m just not on my game these days,” admitted Brain. “I was much sharper before all the cheese and wine, don’t you think? I was damn near genius back in the day. Frankly, I think this is the fault of Breasts,” Brain went on. “They are always looking for a reason to show off.”

“We cannot disagree,” said Breasts. “But we don’t know how many more years we are going to be upright like this. It won’t be long before we’ll be swinging down around Navel.”

“Don’t drag me into this,” said Navel, who in all honesty, isn’t any trouble at all. “But if you ask me, it’s Vagina’s fault. She’s been getting us into trouble for 20 years.”

“I’m sorry,” said Vagina. “I just often feel so empty.”

“It’s because you’re codependent,” said Bladder.

“Oh, shut up,” said Vagina, steaming. “You get filled up several times a day. You don’t know what it’s like.”

“I blame Hands,” said Ankles. “Without them we wouldn’t feel anything. Then we could be happy.”

“Don’t put this on us,” said Hands. “If Ankles were slender and fine, someone would fall in love with us.”

“But if we were slender and fine, we could never hold up Ass,” said Ankles, speaking in unison, as usual.

“Hey!” yelled Ass. “We’ve never once had a complaint!”

No, the body had to admit. As abundant as she was, there had never been a single complaint about Ass.

“Tongue,” said Ass. “This is really all your fault. What’s with you and all the talking, talking, talking. It’s exhausting. You should just shut up and let me work my magic.”

“Everyone loves a witty retort,” said Tongue.

“I think the key word there is witty,” said Brain.

And then the body went silent, each part fuming at the other.

Finally, Heart spoke, barely above a whisper. The rest of the body leaned in to hear.

“Did anyone see that cute guy in yoga?” she asked.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Potato Peeler

My mother can peel a potato so that the brown peel falls away in one, long, curly spiral. It’s a graceful dance, with thumb staying just one step ahead of blade. It happens, usually, only on Thanksgiving, and only at my sister’s house.

On these occasions, I pretend to chat with my mother, but really I’m watching the potato romanced from its rough casing – until it’s naked, white and vulnerable – held aloft in my mother’s scarred hand – burned in a grease fire during the Ford administration.

I think of this now, as I struggle like an idiot with an expensive, elaborate peeler that is larger than my head. I bought it because it looked easy to use – like a Fischer Price toy. It’s not.

The potato peeling – it’s a leftover thing, back when my Mom was a teenage bride, before she became the big executive, the only Mommy, it seemed, back in 1979, who was always away on business.

The potato peeling is a reminder that my mother had a life before us.

I think of the months I spent marinating inside her flesh, lounging against her organs, sleeping ass-up inside a bubble filled with a stew of our mingled blood – and still, I don’t always know her. And she doesn’t always know me.

“You are so secretive,” she said once. “You are probably married with three kids and I don’t even know it.”

It’s true, I am secretive. I can’t help it. Or I chose not to. I don’t know which is which.

The long, brown curls fall into a 40-year-old soup pot with a light flutter. I watch.

My mother did not peel potatoes when I was a little girl. My mother did not have time to cook. My mother left home before dawn and came home after dark. My mother worked harder than anyone I knew.

Three months ago, when my father was in the hospital, Mom and I took a break from his bedside. We drove to a part of town that I didn’t know, and parked in a stranger’s swale.

“There,” my mother said, and pointed.

It was her first apartment, where she lived with her first husband – who was not my father. It was a tiny, cinder-block, one-car garage renovated into in a one-bedroom apartment. With her hands – even now, bigger than mine? – she showed me how the little box was laid out. There was barely enough walking space in her bedroom to make the bed. She cooked in a dollhouse-sized kitchen with a small oven. In the living room she’d placed a cheap davenport.

I looked at that small building and wondered about the young women who started out there – the girl who had grown into the matriarch to my left. I thought about her long, meandering path, and her decisions along the way that led us both here.

“Yep,” she said. I watched her put her scarred hand on the gear shift. “That was it.”

I felt the car lurch forward. We pulled away from the curb and drove on.