Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Contortionist

[A NOTE TO THE READER: Most of the time, I write in a style that is pretty simple, even when the subject matter is not so simple. I use short sentences. I avoid adjectives that might bog down the flow of words for the reader. I take pains to excise those dreaded adverbs.

But today, I bring to you an experiment in blogging in which I violate every one of my usual writing rules.

Good luck, and remember: If you can’t get through this one, there is always NEXT week’s blog post. See you then!]

*           *           *

Do you ever wake up in the morning and just lie there and think, “What if everything I know and everything I believe is wrong?”

I do this all the time.

In fact, you might even say it has become a daily occurrence for me, a part of my routine, and an integral component in that diurnal cracking in of consciousness upon the sea of dream and sleep. Within that Eternity existing between the dead of unconsciousness and true wakefulness, either sudden (such as in cases of intrusion of the blare of an alarm clock or the leap of an impatient cat) or gradual (such as in those rare cases of a fuzzy weekend emergence or prior neglect of the setting of aforementioned alarm clock), a series of foundational questions assert themselves, getting louder and louder and demanding answers in a very specific order, at the end of the answering of which I am all-too-aware of waking up and what the day ahead demands of me. For, insofar as the “Who am I?”  always asserts itself first and is always followed by “Where am I?”  and “When am I?”  then, assuming that no surprises or emergencies have been forthcoming in the answers thus far, moves into the more specific “Why am I here and now?”  and “What is it I am to be doing in the immediate future?”, I find myself compelled, in fact what might be described as excessively caught up, in progressing through the line of Q&A, to, if you will, consider the path forward or perhaps even reassess whether I want these questions to be given the same answers they were given (by whatever it is inside me that does this initial early morning answering) yesterday.

And so it was that, at the commencement of the series of unfortunate events with which this blog concerns itself, I had already moved past the “Who am I?” – going with the admittedly conventional but by now firmly-entrenched identity of “Katy” – whereupon I unexpectedly and perhaps even unprecedentedly ran into a roadblock at the successive “Where am I?”  and, finding myself at a complete loss for anything in the way of a reflexive answer at first blush or a more conscientious guesstimate upon further consideration of the matter, began thrashing around within the unknown space I at that moment occupied. Indeed, although this estimation of time and place upon waking had never caused me serious trouble in the past and would seem to be among the very easiest of tasks for a fully grown person of reasonable intelligence and moderate sobriety to accomplish after any period of sleep or unconsciousness, no resolution was forthcoming at this time for, as I pirouetted in a series of increasingly spasmodic convulsions, this way and that, hoping to catch a glimpse of something familiar or grab hold of a pillow or a railing or a shoe, a book or some hair, a television remote or something (anything!) identifiable, I instead realized, first, that I was immersed in complete and utter darkness and without any recourse to my sense of sight in gaining my bearings; second, that my equilibrium upon waking was such that I could not, with any degree of certainty, even begin to describe the precise angle of my body; and finally, that I was also quite unable to feel or to locate my arms vis a vis the rest of me, and had been therefore effectively reduced to a blind lump at the other end of a pair of still-randomly-kicking legs.

And as it was being made increasingly clear to me, moment by moment, that my legs were in fact the only part of my body (or what remained of my body, at any rate) that had any degree of freedom of movement whatsoever, I determined to go for broke and launched my legs in a direction that some other part of me determined was upwards, a decision I immediately regretted for – as would seem perfectly obvious to anyone assessing this situation calmly and soberly and with the twin benefits of context and hindsight – this sudden and forceful verticalization of my body caused that part of me that I had previously assumed or at least imagined to be, under normal circumstances, the upper portion to point ever-more-directly downward, and wedging me more firmly into whatever it was in which I found myself most decidedly trapped.

Realizing that nothing I had done up until this point had gotten me one iota closer to resolving my initial conundrum and in fact had only worsened the situation, I momentarily paused in my contortions in order to ponder what it might be that was happening to me and where it was these awful events might be taking place, hypotheses that ran the gambit from the possible-but-unlikely (“I’ve fallen into a dumpster”) through the horrifying-yet-conceivable (“I have been the subject of a most halfhearted attempt at live burial!”) and finally right smack into the farfetched-Hollywood-horror-show variety (“Some psychopath is in the midst of harvesting my organs and I am in storage until he can back for my legs and brain”). However, as tempting as it was to believe that the worst fate imaginable had somehow befallen me during my sleep, none of these possibilities felt quite right and, just as I had all but resolved to resume the flailing of my legs in the hope of getting different results, the spark of a more plausible and less apocalyptic answer began flickering faintly, somewhere in the back of my mind.

I was wedged down between the cushions and the back of the living room sofa.

Now, with the enemy identified, the parameters of the challenge measured out, the extent of the danger almost within view, I found myself at last to be working towards a clearly-defined goal, and it could be said that the days – for indeed it felt like days, though, try as I might, I could not pinpoint with any degree of accuracy the length of time this extrication process had by now been going on – or even weeks of thrashing about willy-nilly were nearly over and behind me and I was, dare I say, right at the cusp of that glorious moment in which I could triumphantly declare myself free to go on about my way as though I were not the type of person likely to become stuck in a living room sofa. However, as I could see no value in pushing my weight to my right (for that would only shove me into the couch cushion, further limiting my range of motion) nor my left (which would allow for even less maneuvering as the back of the couch was both the firmest and steepest part of its entire structure), then I could only perceive two possibilities open to me in freeing myself from what was by now beginning to resemble the world’s softest makeshift sarcophagus.

My more observant readers, who might be in possession of human bodies of their very own by which some analogy to mine could be drawn, would at this point be forgiven if they were to find themselves tempted to ask why a person such as myself, already established to be of reasonable intelligence and moderate sobriety, would not end this madness once and for all by simply sitting up? Alas, I find that, in my haste to bring the reader a somewhat witty tale using the highest degree of brevity and succinctness I can muster, I might have contributed to this misunderstanding by not driving home to him (or her, because in these later days, females are apt to be able to read, too, sometimes to a degree approaching, if never quite equaling, the literacy of their male counterparts) the unfortunate condition of my arms, which I found to be either gone, or more probably, asleep, owing to the angle at which my body had rested as it was making its nocturnal advancement down into the bowels of the living room sofa.

And without recourse to my arms or hands as a means of, so to speak, “pushing off”  in order to gain the desired upright sitting position, this method of escaping my sofanic plight was quite closed to me, leaving, so far as I could tell, only one route to freedom remaining: a sort of absurd backwards somersault in which, heels over head, I might afterwards find myself either kneeling atop the arm of the sofa or thrown completely clear of the accursed furniture body and on the floor that lay beyond. Unfortunately, if such a feat of gymnastic prowess did not lay absolutely outside the limits of my physical capabilities, it most certainly existed right at the edge of impossibility, and my first several attempts to flip myself over resulted only in pressing the entire and considerable weight of my bulk onto one point on the vertebrae in the back of my neck and led, in turn, to a not-inconsiderable amount of pain. Nevertheless, this process of rolling over backwards was eventually to take on a momentum of its own and as the roll reached farther and farther points along its axis upon the fifteenth, sixteenth, and even seventeenth attempt at rotation, I gained confidence that my decision to endure the accompanying pain had been the correct one and that my perseverance through this whole operation was very soon to be rewarded.

The reader (assuming in fact that even a single reader remains at this late juncture in my story) can only imagine the sense of impending horror that I of necessity was left feeling when, upon accomplishing a task that for so many worrisome moments had seemed unattainable to me, I was unable to relish my victory at all for, just as I landed upon my shins and balanced on the arm of the sofa, simultaneously trying to flap a bare modicum of feeling back into my own still-useless arms, I saw that in the midst of my previous flurry of bodily seizures and spasms, I had somehow managed to knock over an open bottle of red wine that had been resting next to the couch itself and was now speedily spilling forth its former contents onto the – relatively speaking – new carpet of the family living room.

“Dana!”  I shouted out in despair. “Dana, help me!”

Without waiting for the object of my desperate shouted appeal to appear, I began knee-waddling down the arm of the sofa, onto the cushion and towards the upended bottle, all the while jerking my shoulders in a manner designed to drive the complete numbness from my arms, arms which as of yet were not even experiencing those familiar pinpricks of sensitivity which precede the mind’s renewed conscious governance of the body’s constituent parts. Recognizing that I was neither going to be able to utilize my hands in picking up the bottle nor simply await reinforcements in the guise of my wife or children, I quickly moved quickly to save the carpet from the glug-glug  of wine by wrenching my legs out from beneath me and seizing the sides of the bottle with my feet.

And it was in this deplorable, degraded, and indeed almost subhuman condition that Dana found me: sitting on the couch in the early light of morning, flapping my arms around like wet noodles in a desperate effort to try and wake them, and bawling like a newborn babe, and all of this while simultaneously lifting a half-empty bottle of red wine from the floor using only my feet.

Dana looked a bit sad at finding me this way. She shrugged at me impatiently.

“My arms!”  I cried by way of explanation, flapping the appendages in question all the harder until my hands slapped at my shoulders with each flap.

Dana’s eyes darted from point to point, but, as the component parts of the situation with which she found herself confronted failed to congeal in anything approaching a kind of internal logic, she, satisfied that I was not in any immediate physical danger, rolled her eyes, exhaled somewhat more loudly than was, in my estimation, strictly necessary, and finally turned back around to retreat into the bedroom, where she would no doubt spend what remained of the morning pondering whether she had made a grave error in aligning her life and indeed that of her children as well with the sort of oddball character capable of the display she had witnessed in the living room.

I, on the other hand, am thrilled to report to you that, in the aftermath of the ugly incident just described, I was able to regain the use of my arms, save the carpet, reset the sofa cushions, and even to salvage half a bottle of red wine in the process, leaving my own self-respect and Dana’s confidence in me as the only apparent victims of the morning’s shenanigans.

Just another morning in the Anders house…

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The 5 Stages of Writer’s Block

After five days without writing, everything starts to go a little hinky at the corners.

This always seems to happen when I’ve been on a real roll – the tail end of a few weeks where it’s felt as though I could do no wrong, write nothing bad, a time when even the flimsiest of ideas has blossomed at my fingertips into a row of fully-flowered crape myrtle trees, almost as though I’ve known what it was I’ve been doing all along. And so it is I’ll be feeling good, abuzz with that sort of contact high that happens when my every word connects with its intended audience, and then… NUTHIN’.

And this NUTHIN’ is the worst feeling in the world so I can’t think about it directly, but after five days without writing, the NUTHIN’ is hot on my trail and it’s closing in fast, and this is when the FIVE STAGES OF WRITER’S BLOCK kick in.

DENIAL.   During the first stage of writer’s block, it remains possible for me to pretend nothing is wrong. To go about my day on a normal schedule, to eat and to groom and to wash myself just like this gal here or like that guy over there, or even like you, over there in your corner with that dumb grin on your face. It remains possible for me to look the other way, but the truth is, I will already be exhibiting classic junkie behavior, with all the telltale signs of the gambler, the crackhead, and the sex addict.

They say that an addict who has gone without a fix looks at the world differently, looks at every single thing around him as a potential means for obtaining what it is he lacks. The gambler, if only he had that watch from around your wrist or that wedding band from around your finger, why, he could have him one more round at the craps table and this time, he could finally turn his luck around once and for all.

After five days without writing – right when the denial is kicking in hardcore – I’m the same way. Like maybe you’ll be telling me a mildly amusing tidbit about your family’s recent Passover observance and I’ll be sitting there, half-listening, figuring in my head how much mileage I might be able to get out of your tale if I were to turn it into a short story. I mean, I’m not above stealing, but could I convince readers that my family is Jewish? Can I melt it down for its parts and then Frankenstein it into something that is even remotely usable?

ANGER.   After seven days without writing, I no longer want to hear any of your cute Passover stories. After seven days without writing, I spend most of my time pacing back and forth in front of my bookshelves, snapping up a random novel here and there, reading its opening line and then plunging it right back onto the bookshelf where I found it.

I sweat a lot on days like this, and if you come into my room to, say, ask where I left the car keys or whether I need anything at the grocery store, chances are about dead even that I’ll snap at you, blaming your interruption for my failure to produce even a single word all day.

There is no winning with me when I am in the midst of this stage of writer’s block. The best you can do is to stand clear and hope that maybe it will pass quickly into…

BARGAINING.  Heaven forbid it should so happen that I go nine days without writing!

I am unable to fathom what kind of twisted bastard of a Creator-God would set into motion a Universe in which such a thing as nine days without writing is even possible. But while the twisted bastardly nature of the Creator-God might be a fantastic topic for some future blog, the ugly reality is that nine days without writing is not unknown. Nine days happens. Nine days in which I watch my blog’s page views steadily dropping farther and farther and… This is about the time when the Bargaining comes.

After nine long days without writing, I will sit in front of my blank screen and I will think,  “Hey! Maybe I can just write something short. Something to get me back up on the horse.”

Or  “Maybe I can do a picture post with some jokes thrown in to break up the monotony.”

Or even,  “Oh, the hell with it. I’ll just make snide remarks about Rick Perry again for a page and a half!”

But no matter how simple the writing goal, no matter how far I drop my sights and my standards, the Bargaining will fail. This is writer’s block, after all, pure and simple, and there’s no way to cheat it.

DEPRESSION.   After eleven days without writing, I become convinced I will never write again, that writing was a phase I was lucky enough to pass through for a little while. Now, with my writing days behind me, I am left with a couple decent manuscripts and a whole boatload of blog posts to show for it. Someday, years from now, I will pull a few yellowed scraps of paper out of a foot locker in the attic so I can show my grandchildren how Gramma Katy spent her misspent youth.  

After eleven days without writing, I stay in my room a lot, with the covers pulled up over my head, taking shots of Ni-Quil. In my mind, I relive all of the good times I had writing, those magical days before my muse deserted me. I think of the people who told me that something I’d written changed the way they thought about a particular topic or who told me that my writing made them want to try writing, too.

I lie there, like some Robert Plant circa 1984 or a David Bowie circa 1984 or a Paul McCartney circa, well, 1984, and I wonder what I am going to do with the rest of my life, a life that could – who knows? – still have another seven or even eight years left in it.

ACCEPTANCE.  After fourteen days without writing, I get up from the bed. I take a tentative step towards the bathroom. I shower. Brush my teeth. I gather all of the empty Ni-Quil bottles from my bedroom and I throw them into a trash bag. After that, I roam through the rest of the house with the trash bag, and I clean the odd scraps of paper and trash from everyone else’s rooms, too.

I wash my clothes. I load up the dish washer. I go online and do a Google search to learn how to load a dish washer properly.

I think to myself,   “I’ll no doubt be doing a lot of dishes from here on out, now that I am not going to be spending my time writing.”

Then New Me – the Me who doesn’t write – alphabetizes my nonfiction books. She alphabetizes my fiction books. My religious texts and books of poetry. I sit down in front of the television, remote in hand, I take a deep breath and – only moments before diving (for the first time) into all that reality television I’ve been hearing so much about – I think,  “Hey, you know what? I could probably make a fairly decent blog post out of ‘The 5 Stages of Writer’s Block’! Hell it’s at least worth a try…”

Then I run upstairs to my computer, and the whole cycle begins again… and again… and again…

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Girl with the Pierced Nipples

The Girl with the Pierced Nipples was back in the store yesterday.

It was that slowest part of mid-afternoon and I was on my laptop, so when she walked up to the counter I started to raise my head, but I only got as high as her chest before saying, “Hi! The usual QuickPick and a pack of Marlboro Menthol 100’s?”

And from somewhere a voice said, “Exactly!”  as those familiar barbell piercings rubbed against her thin white cotton shirt with her every inhalation and with her every word. So I pulled the QuickPick, grabbed her pack of cigarettes, and went back to watching the show with the piercings… and the bouncing… and, of course, with the thin white cotton shirt…

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Conversion Perversions

While we were still waking up that morning, inside of that fuzzy haze that exists somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, that’s when she announced she wanted to return to the faith of her youth.

I snickered. I said, “That’s not possible.”

I should not have snickered. And I definitely should not have said, “That’s not possible.”  Not to Dana.
I’ll admit that I was off my game. I was still groggy with sleep and it had sure been a rough week at work, what with the long lines for lottery tickets and all. Any other time, I suppose I would have been quietly supportive, or else maybe I’d have pointed out all of the perfectly respectable gay-friendly churches with which we share a zip code. What about Bering Memorial? What about Resurrection MCC? Anything but THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH.

But for whatever reason, I did not do any of that. Instead, I snickered and then I said, “That’s not possible.”  Or maybe it was even “That’s not possible, dear,”  which is just as bad or a great deal worse.

Dana sat up and began pulling her hair back into a ponytail. This was always a bad sign. She said, “Don’t give me that! I could be a murderer and be accepted back into the Church.”

And me, I pulled the sheet up over my head so as not to face the situation or the day. From beneath the covers’ muffle and glow, I said, “Murderer. Meaning ‘one who has murdered’.”

I said, “That is an altogether different beast from ‘one who is currently murdering and is planning to remain within a murderous lifestyle for the foreseeable future’.”

Dana narrowed her eyes. She chewed at her bottom lip. She stared straight ahead of her. Tick tick tick, and her mind was moving fast now.

Tick tick tick, and finally, “Okay. Okay, but what if-”

I snapped the sheet down off my head. I said, “No-o-o-o-o. Just… no.”

I said, “You are not going to be able to distinguish, to cross-examine, or to loophole your way around this one, Counselor. You are talking about THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH. Aim somewhere else.”

Then I said, “Aim anywhere else.”

This was followed by several more minutes of Dana chewing her bottom lip and staring straight ahead and tick tick tick. And I’d almost sunk back into my fuzzy haze when there was a “Hmmph!”  and Dana bolted suddenly from the bed.

“I am getting the kids dressed and I’m taking them to Mass!”  she announced as she marched from the room in her boxers.

What a lezbo!

*           *           *

In my experience – as admittedly limited as that experience may be – there are those people in this world who will say to you that “Everything happens for a reason,”  and then there are those who will not.

Those people who believe that everything happens for a reason, well, they have a particular frame of mind. They have a supernatural bent. And since their minds work in that way, then somewhere, somehow, that supernatural bent is going to break out and make itself known.

Oh, it might be something as simple as not telling anyone what they wish for when they’re blowing out their birthday candles. Or maybe, you know, maybe they’ll wear crystals or magnets up against their skin, around their neck or around their wrists.

Or maybe they will find a benevolent and intelligent connecting consciousness underlying every single thing in the Universe.
Will not be mentioned.
It will be like it never happened.

Now, I do not – I cannot! – believe that there is a larger master plan behind why things happen as they happen. But Dana does, and I do love her for it, though it means there is a bright line or a gulf or a chasm across which neither of us can pass to reach the other.

So if Dana seeks to express her sense of wonder and her sense of awe about this life through the lens of the ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, then I will support her in that decision. I will support her and I will not mention the Crusades or the Inquisition or the Concordat with the Nazis. The child molestation cover-ups or the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. Or the Syllabus of Errors. Or Galileo or Joan of Arc or the papal condemnation of “Americanism”.

Or… Well, you get the picture. I will not mention any of that.

*           *           *

The Church returned my family to me several hours later.

The kids looked downright catatonic.

I said, “Aren’t you sorry that you chose Palm Sunday to start going to Mass?”  I said this because Palm Sunday Mass is the longest Mass of the year.

Then Dana, she kind of shook her head absentmindedly and sat down across from me, still staring into space like she’d done that morning. And I’ll admit I got a little worried for a moment, afraid she was going to start drooling right there on the spot. Afraid that maybe they’d given her a lobotomy or done an exorcism to cure the gay right out of her.

Finally, she said, “No. I’m going to try this.”

She said, “Katy, I am going to talk to the priest and I’m not going to approach it like a lawyer, and I’m just going to… see where it leads to.”

And what in the hell could I say to that?

I got up and I walked over and I sat down next to her. I nodded my head slowly. I said, “Okay.”


This could be the beginning of a great adventure.