- When one word changes everything

For the past few months, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion I was slowly but surely going mad. Events blew up around me, I blew up around me, and everything – everything in my life seems poised on the verge of some massive sea change I could sense but not quite see.

It wasn’t me, it couldn’t be – but if it were, maybe I was…going crazy? Or had I been a basket case all along and no one had the nerve to tell me?

They say that so long as you’re able to question your own sanity, you’re sane. Somehow, that didn’t ring entirely true.

So I went through my own mental checklist. Hormones. Ladies of A Certain Age. Maybe HRT was what I needed, but that didn’t answer any questions of how I’d managed to be my own Mad Hatter for so many years before All This Shite Happened.

It didn’t explain…why I’ve only recently become even a very modestly renowned success – although in a fairly narrow sphere of influence and for one particular talent. It didn’t explain my low boredom threshold for events, people or situations I felt were somehow unworthy of my interest. To be fair…I had (and still have!) very many interests.

But whenever I felt bored, or restless, unmotivated or unappreciated, a relation of Edgar Allan Poe’s Imp of the Perverse would pop up like a jack-in-the-box to stir up trouble. Trouble that would cost me, trouble that would reverberate for years, trouble that would have my family and likely a few friends shaking their heads in despair or exasperation and sometimes both.

 “How could you be so irresponsible?”

“Why are you so impulsive? Why didn’t/don’t you think?”

“How could you do that?”

“How dare you? How could you?”

I didn’t know what to tell them. I didn’t know why. I just…did. And paid the price tag. For years.

My fairly short fuse I attributed to my Fire Sign-accented personality, my mood swings were, well…if not extreme, just a bit… random. I burn white-hot. I’m passionate about anything – or anyone -  I care about. And tend to stay that way, because I’m that much of a stubborn Bull, too.

Never the most organized of people, I had a hard time keeping track of bills, paperwork, paper trails. I used to joke that in an ideal world, I’d hire someone to take care of “all that” – all I couldn’t be bothered with. It wasn’t so much I forgot, it was simply…I’d make a reminder for myself, promptly park that reminder on a mental shelf – and forget all about it. Parenthood cured me of most of my slob housewife tendencies, but let’s face it…I’ll never give the Martha Stewarts of this world any inferiority complexes.

Most of my classmates from high school and friends from my twenties now juggle successful careers, marriages, teenagers, cars and real estate. As of today, I own five moving boxes of clothes and books, four pairs of shoes, two suitcases (one full of testaments to that Very Modest Success), two handbags, two cats and my laptop. Within the next two weeks, I can look forward to moving into a freshly renovated pied-à-terre apartment with not one stick of furniture. This is my life – now. I’m almost fifty years old. This is what I have to show for it.

On the other hand, I had a few things going for me. I’ve never, ever lacked at least ten creative ideas at any given moment. Visual ideas (I have a background in graphic design), verbal ideas or madcap ideas. Ideas for stories, ideas for blog posts, ideas for all sorts of things. I have an ear for languages, a smidge of musical ability, verbal acuity, an ease with hard-to-grasp intellectual concepts and a quicksilver mind to grab them in seconds. And just for the record, zip talent for mathematics. I never understood why everyone I knew couldn’t do the same. It came as easily as breathing, and to me it was and still is – easy.

I have a low tolerance for ambient noise – it stresses me out. Metal music on the other hand calms me down. Valium speeds me up. Another telltale sign.

Non-conformity is my middle name – at least as soon as I open my mouth. I’ve very rarely fit into any social context, unless it were an environment of like-minded crazies/compulsive creatives as ‘out there’ as myself.

I have a unique ability to ‘fall down the rabbit hole’ – and stay there. In that little understood space of concentration and creative effort, I have no problems at all forgetting all the appeal of the real world in favor of the world I create through that Very Modestly Successful talent. Absolute concentration – absolutely. In that Ideal world, minions would make sure the bills were paid, the fridge stocked and the floor clean while I got on with the Really Important Stuff. The rest of the world – unless they were my self-selected family of friends – could just eff the hell off, for all I cared.

People gave me strange looks when I declared:  “I’m an artist. I create. That’s what I do.”

Even with all of that, I still thought I was going crazy. The day before yesterday, I told my doctor the same. She granted me sick leave, although not before I promised her I wouldn’t kill myself before our next appointment. So I did. Whereupon she gave me a stern look and said – “Promise!” “I won’t. I promise.” That got me a hug. She’s that kind of doctor.

Since I’m living with a friend (of a kind who doesn’t happen often, although we’re vastly different people), I came home and told her the news. There was a long pause. She swallowed, and then she said those words that made my own head explode:

“Have you ever considered you might have ADHD?”

Only a brave soul and a true friend would dare to say such a thing and live to get away with it. Instead of blowing up at her, I Googled “Adult ADHD”.

And in one fell stroke, forty-nine years of chaotic, hand-to-mouth existence fell into place. My short attention span for what bored me, that Imp of the Perverse, my mood swings and temper flares, my impulsive urge to sabotage myself, my addiction to that Rabbit Hole of My Making, my 101 Bright Ideas a minute, my zoning out when boredom threatened me – everything, everything made sense in a way it never once had before.

All this time, I thought the problem was me, you see. I was lazy, I was unfocused, I was stupid, I was weird, I was…well, pretty much worthless, unless you needed 101 alternative uses for lightbulbs/turkey carcasses/dirty laundry. How often do you need those?

I’ve wanted to fit in and conform since childhood, and never did no matter how I tried. Not until now, thanks to that Very Modest Talent and a flypaper mind of information overload to go with it I was never afraid to share.

Smart-alecks are not appreciated. I learned to Shut The Fuck Up in elementary school, or else.

Can you imagine how I felt when my friend was brave enough to pipe up?

Relieved.

I had an explanation for everything crazy, impulsive or insane I had done for all my adult life. Or was it just a handy excuse for being completely off my rocker? I don’t know. But when two of the people who know me best – my former husband and great friend and my much-beleaguered sister – said it made perfect sense when I asked them for an honest answer, this told me it could very well be true.

If it is, then it makes me happy to say the world needs creatives – even creatives with ADHD. We can be incredibly productive. We can give the world all those bright ideas it needs so badly, thanks to faulty brain wiring. If that’s not a beneficial side effect, what is?

I intend to find out for certain. At least, it beats the heck out of jumping off a bridge. Then again, I promised not to! ;)

With my eternal gratitude to the truly exceptional (and true-blue) Mette Jensen. Her name – the DK equivalent of Jane Doe – is the only ordinary thing about her.

Image: Keith Haring, “Exploding Head”

For a birthday Goat who should have been here, but alas, is not!

It’s always a bit startling when your contemporaries suddenly die. When it happens at a time when you know it’s not the drugs, the booze or whatever else kills them these days and it happens to someone who has loomed so large in your own imagination and in your musical Multiverse, it’s, welll…devastating.

This was my state of mind when my daily fix of snark – also known as Blabbermouth - delivered the news that Peter Steele of Type O Negative had passed away aged 48 on April 14th, 2010. That was also the only day in my entire life where I cried on a bus over the death of a near-stranger…except…he wasn’t.

No band was more important in my world, no voice mattered more (except the usual dead suspects), and no one was more of an inspiration – not so much in his person (I met him twice), but in the music he created with his bands. Without Type O Negative, I would never have begun to write.

And without Peter, I would never have created one character in Quantum Demonology, Saint Peter the former Polish alchemist, whose introduction was this immortal line, said to the Devil at the Chelsea Hotel one early December morning:

“Pay up, asshole. You lost the bet.”

I was in a quandary that day. Because in the chapter I was writing that day, it was April 29th and he was very much alive, and also…immortal.

I decided to plow on regardless. So Saint Peter went on as a friend and a gatekeeper for my female Faust, and lived, so far as I know, happily ever after in Flatbush with a redheaded Norse Goddess…

Long before I ever met/created Saint Peter, who sprang fully fledged off the page and then refused to leave, I wrote about the real deal in several places. Below are the best…

Ode for a Birthday Goat

Halloween in Heaven

and the one it broke my heart to write:

The Day My…

Today would have been/should have been his fiftieth birthday. Alas, it was not to be. But so long as one person remembers you, you are…immortal.

Today, millions of us will make sure he truly is!

He even had the grace to leave his music behind.

Happy (late) birthday, Peter. I do hope you’re showing all those other long-gone Primeval Forces how it’s done…in whatever Heaven you happen to be in!

-  or why I won’t participate in the National Novel Writing Month

On the face of it, it sounds like a great kick in the pants/impetus/motivational tool. Write a novel in a month – which is to say, 50, 000 words – and see where it takes you. So all over the world during this dire and dreary month of November, writers and wannabes everywhere are banging away on their keyboards, filling out their notebooks, sweating over phrasing, plot, syntax, context and development. Several of my friends and fellow bloggers are participating, and I really, truly wish them nothing but the utmost of success.

I’m a writer wannabe myself. So why am I not participating and banging out with the best of them? Why, in fact, do I dig in my heels the most bullish way I know? Really, I don’t think I’m that bad a writer. (You may beg to disagree!) Honest, I can write a novel. In fact, I have written two and have synopses for four more.

Yet, I don’t and I won’t and I shan’t. On principle. Darlings.

Before I’m tarred, feathered, hung and quartered for my heretical stance on Rampant Creativity Romps, let me state a few things.

I believe with my heart and soul that anyone, anyone at all can…learn to write. Which is to say…learn to write in a coherent, logical and cohesive fashion that will relate to readers.

No matter what your theme or subject matter… Yes! You, too can learn to write…

Which is not at all the same thing as saying you will be the next Stephen King/James Patterson/Dan Brown/Stephanie Meyers, to name a few wildly successful novelists. It’s not even very much to do with that nebulous concept called “talent”. I’ll get back to that one in a moment.

Anyone can learn to write, and anyone anywhere can learn to bang out some semblance of a story line that may eventually become the next Kindle/iPad/Amazon/NY Times bestseller sensation.

Or maybe not. Which brings me back to my original premise.

Because what happens to all those millions of hopeful writers once we hit December? How many of them will actually walk the walk, talk the talk and swallow the gazillion compromises they will need to swallow before they see their own names on the books people actually read?

Put another way…How many words, plots and potential Hollywood blockbusters will languish forever in obscurity on hard drives and flash drives and DVD-Rs and notebooks?

Call me an arrogant bitch, but my guess is…most of them.

How many of those writers who wrote with such a fury in November will still be at it come July…polishing and perfecting their deathless November prose, investigating marketing their material, looking into literary agencies and Lulu.com and promotional PR strategies?

Again, I’ll venture…very few.

I say this not because I’m jealous, vindictive, envious of other people’s obvious talents/success, screaming arrogant (arguable!) or just plain mean, but because of the one overriding lesson I’ve learned since I began to write with a fury of my own.

Writing 50,000 words in a month – any month will do – does not make you a writer. Writing a novel, or two, or three does not make you a writer. Publication, even, does not make you a writer. Not even talent makes you a writer. Lots of people have a talent for writing. Not all of them become writers. And not all writers have talent, either.

What makes a writer is a combination of dedication, dogged determination and above all else the compulsion – not just the ability – to write. Write as if your life depends upon it, write as if the Hounds of Hell are on your heels, write to stave off death and despair and the fear of your own mortality, write as if…you can’t NOT write. Write when you’re sick, write when you’re down, write in your head as you go about your day, on the job, on your way home, standing in the checkout line, wonder as I sometimes have, how events in your life can somehow morph into a storyline, a plot device, a…novel.

Write for yourself, write what you want to read. That ephemeral ghost called ‘inspiration’ will sometimes make an appearance and sometimes – most times, in fact – won’t. The very act of nailing your posterior to a chair and opening up a notebook/laptop, wringing out a sentence that lands on the page like a dried up glob of toothpaste will eventually cede way to another sentence. And another. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Have faith when it bores you, have faith when your characters misbehave as they surely will, have faith when you are about as sick of your own twisted mind and story as you can get. Then, once you’ve made it that far, grow a rhinoceros hide for all those rejection letters you will also assuredly get, or all that pointed criticism you will also most assuredly get.

Do all of this, disregard the umpteen million and highly discouraging writing websites and online critique groups that more or less say ‘Just give it up already!’, and have the courage to fall down those rabbit holes of your own imagination. That’s the hard part – to trust the process and trust not being 100% in control.

Fifty thousand words in a month can’t teach you all of that. No one can but you.

On some dark and stormy night – it may be November, it may be January – the feather touch of a new idea will land in your brain to give you goosebumps, and you will find yourself in the throes of the fabled ‘What-if’….

‘What-if’ can strike at any time.

If you’re the type to need an excuse, or just a good, hard kick up the backside and a lot of support, then by all means, see if you can participate in NaNoWriMo. I’ll applaud your courage, and buy or download your book.

But for me, it’s #NaNoWriMo every month and every day of the year, and I don’t even get vacations.

I do it because I can’t not. I do it because I suck at everything else.

I do it because I’m a writer. In November, and in January, and even in July. And fifty thousand words is only halfway through most of the stories I want to tell…and not even a tenth of all the tales I hold in my hands.

Image: gracewhatareyoudoing.blogspot.com

#NaNoWriMo is the official Twitter hashtag for National Novel Writing Month.

 

***NOTE: This was posted on a fateful day, April 14th 2010, when songwriter, bassist and singer Peter Steele of Type O Negative passed away at the age of 48. No other performer had such an impact on my own personal life, and no other band has ever been quite such an obsession as Type O Negative. For one, that music made me write – which I still do! I’ve written other tributes to Type O as well as Peter Steele on MoltenMetalMama: Halloween in Heaven, Ode For A Birthday Goat, and quite possibly the most craptacular album review ever written, called The Aural Anaconda. But more than anything, he became the inspiration for one important character in my novel ‘Quantum Demonology’, where he lives on – and so I hope, always will. I’m grateful,that some people cast such long shadows, that we still have a lot left long after they’re gone. But he will always be missed. ***

There I was, a sunny Thursday afternoon in April – today, actually – doing my utmost to avoid anything resembling what I was supposed to be doing, which was working on my online portfolio. So, furthering the avoidance actions of Weboholics everywhere, I did what I always do when I don’t want to do what I’m doing.

I went to Blabbermouth to see if I could find anything to piss me off. And I didn’t find it. I found something else so shocking, so upsetting, so effing outrageous, I couldn’t even get pissed off about it.

Not good.

But there it was, in black on gray electronic letters. Peter Steele, lead singer and songwriter/founder of Fallout, Carnivore and Type O Negative, possibly the largest and certainly the longest lasting musical obsession I’ve ever had in my life, passed away some time yesterday, aged 48. Forty-eight!

What started as a rumor very early this morning CET via Twitter, began gaining legs and growing and growing. By this afternoon, there was confirmation from keyboardist Josh Silver, and tributes were crawling out of the woodwork of musicians, journalists and bloggers everywhere.

It can’t be true. But this time, unlike in 2005 when the band pulled a similar stunt (a hoax, as it turned out), many of us had the oh-so sinking feeling that it is – true.

I’m trying to accept it, and I can’t. Here’s another one of those Defining Moments in Music – Where were you when…John Lennon was shot, Kurt Cobain died, Layne Staley, and now…Peter Steele.

But why does it have to be when they died?

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was working as a graphic artist for a Copenhagen cultural institution known as Huset. At Huset, my best friend was the secretary for the Huset booking office, a compleat metalhead with a sharp eye on The Next Big Thing. This day of all days, she was trying to persuade my pregnant self to come to a concert at Barbue that night. “I KNOW you don’t like thrash, I KNOW you hate too much…same old…same old, but THESE guys – are not LIKE that. You’ll dig it, really!”

Huset was and is a rabbit warren of hallways, stairs, sloping ceilings and other hazards to your sense of direction. Later that afternoon, I went in search of coffee. About twenty feet from my office, I walked – literally – right into a Moving Obstacle. Which was about as much as I saw, before I looked up. And up. And..Geezuz fuck, who the HELL was this, this – titanic hunk of testosterone bomb?

It was a very apologetic, scrupulously polite Peter Steele, who had got lost on his way to the Barbue green room and somehow ended up banging his head on the 18th-century beams of the hallway just outside my office. He kept apologizing, poor man, all the way back to the green room and I kept laughing it off.

My friend prevailed. Later that night, I showed up, looking only slightly improved. This time, I was prepared for the impact. I walked up and introduced myself properly, in my native American English:

“Dude! Do ya know, I could have a raging affair – with your navel!”

To his everlasting credit, he laughed, and so did the rest of the band, while I was busy trying to find a small and dark corner in which to hide my own mortification. In person, he had an alarming – and disarming amount of charm, even towards idiot midget half-Danes from the land of tall blondes. Of course, I was a redhead then, and that must have helped.

It was a show not like many others I had seen, just as Type O Negative was a band unlike any other. Beatles-meets-Black Sabbath-meets-gothadelic-hippie-punk-metal-with-a-sense-of-humor-so-black-you-had-to-wear-shades. But even then, even as I filched the office copy of “Bloody Kisses” one day no one was looking, I didn’t entirely…get that voice yet. The time wasn’t right, or my headspace wasn’t until a few years later, I walked into a record store as if pushed by some invisible demon and asked for “October Rust”.

I went home, I put it on, I turned up my amp and then…about three minutes into “Love You To Death”, my brain literally – blew up. I was in the grip of emotions I didn’t understand and had never known before, I was attacked by something I couldn’t even articulate, it was – that powerful. And it was a combination of music so achingly beautiful, produced to luscious aural perfection, and That Voice – asking the question that blew my brain to smithereens: “Am I good enough for you?” The very idea, that someone could sing that, that someone like Peter Steele could sing that so earnestly – that’s what hit my detonator.

Because this was that Band In My Head (if I had that kind of talent, which I don’t), and here was that Voice In The Dark, the guy my Mom would have warned me against, a hopeless, hapless heartfelt romantic who pushed buttons I never even knew I wanted pushed – and bad. “October Rust” guided me through a very nasty breakup, through my discovery that that writing thang was some kind of (bad) idea, through ups and downs and out of controls. To this day – it the only CD out of my entire collection I have had to replace – three times.

I saw them live, a year or so later, I faithfully bought all their CDs on the release dates, and always, the Baritone That Did Me In did strange and wonderful and weird and unspeakable things to my head, things that can’t be mentioned in daylight.

Carnivore’s “Male Supremacy” became the litmus test for potential boyfriends – only a very healthy sense of irony need apply. His voice became such an extended part of me it was a question of “love me-love my favorite band” or else – forget it.

His voice was a voice that followed me through writing The Effing Book (three times), through everything that gave me the written voice I have today, and even into my latest misbegotten project, so much, I took his physical characteristics and gave them to “Saint Peter” in my story, one of the Good Guys. Today, I’m wondering how I’m going to get myself out of that pickle, because Saint Peter is very much alive on April 28th, at least in my story.

But today, on April 15th in the real world is the day my iPod cries. I didn’t know Peter Steele as a person, I don’t have the right to mourn him on that level, but I have the right to pay homage to a musician, a composer and a singer that exploded my head and stole my heart – and never, ever gave it back!

For that alone, a simple “thank you” is never enough.

So these pathetic words will have to do!

Goodbye, Saint Peter. You will be missed by millions, and mourned by them all, but you never entirely left, did you?

You left That Voice behind, and the music with it. Thank you for that, too.

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We live in an increasingly homogenized, blinkered world. A Big Mac has become so ubiquitous you can usually count on it being the same from Beijing to Buenos Aires. We watch the same blockbuster movies, we aspire to the same objects of desire, whether it’s iPads, Louboutin shoes or Xboxes. We can instantly share whatever grabs our attention on YouTube in seconds of watching it, we can trade any information at any time at the speed of light. Newsfeeds and blogfeeds can be tailored to our personal tastes and interests, so can any kind of advertising.

These days, even the erotic – surely one of the most diverse of human preoccupations – has been standardized to such an extent that even ordinary women are feeling the heat to conform in order to aspire to being desired. There’s room for everyone and something for everyone, too – with a few provisos. Be young. Be blonde, if you can. Make sure your mammary glands are of a pleasing proportion and height. And for the love of dental floss, woman…would you please devastate that rainforest you carry around between your legs?

So you do just that. Stock in Gillette soars, and the lady with just the right deft, torturous touch with that hot wax knows more about you than even your sister can manage. You slather yourself with snake oil in jars to ensure you are as smooth and line-free as a virgin piece of paper. The only hair left on you is the hair you want to be there. You work out or you run or both, you buy other, different kinds of snake oil in many colors to accentuate and present your improved, desirable self.

And disaster strikes. One day you discover a tender spot that means an ingrown hair is making your overstressed life a misery, especially in jeans. But it’s located somewhere you can’t quite see, so you grab your magnifying makeup mirror to have a closer look.

OMG! How could you have lived all these years without knowing this…that you look nothing like those porn movies you have been known to watch? Those images in anatomy books with their clean lines and their perfect snatches – they ain’t you, baby. That…thing, that semi-hidden area of your body you have carried around since birth and had a wary relationship with since puberty, that source of pleasure and pain…is a bit less than perfect, even with a Hollywood wax job. It looks like an alien life form and not at all benign. It needs a face lift. And you need a Xanax at least. If you’re that ugly, that deformed, that hideous, how can anyone ever want you again? That’s just not…normal, is it?

Stop right there. Take a deep breath. Sit down. Calm down. Chill. Your life already sucks hard enough.

We live in an age that does everything to encourage serious body dysmorphia. No matter what we do or how we look, it’s never…good enough, which usually means we’re never good…enough. We constantly compare ourselves to other females in particular, positively convinced that they somehow have it all together, they have their lives, their souls, their traitorous, treacherous bodies under control in a way we can never quite manage ourselves. And it’s only getting worse.

So for the International Women’s Day on March 8th, the Danish Center for Information about Gender, Equality and Ethnicity decided to grab that thorny bush by the roots and instigate something…different. Something that would celebrate womanhood in general and women in particular, something that would quell that ravening industry-fed monster that feeds our perpetual insecurities.

To that end, they created an alternate kind of photo booth. Built and engineered by two female students of engineering design, constructed to look friendly rather than intimidating.

Here’s the deal: You enter a booth with a fully closed door, remove your undergarments and sit down on a specially constructed chair. Immediately below it is a light and a camera that for free and completely anonymously will take a photo of your private parts and upload them to a web page – so you can see for yourself that you’re nowhere such a freak as you think. I’d like to point out that this is completely anonymous, the photos are very tightly shot and really, ladies – who will know it’s you, even?

By taking our private parts completely out of any kind of sexualized contex and presenting them as such, we’re encouraged to talk about ourselves, discuss ourselves and maybe embrace ourselves and appreciate our own diversity.

Celebrate the different! That web page proves without a doubt that women and their parts come in as many shapes, sizes and versions as their owners, and demonstrates how far removed we are from our very selves in that perpetual quest for homogeny – a homogeny defined by a porn industry that’s fully aware of its own entirely artificial ideal – and that’s the point of it to begin with.

You realize of course, that the more you concentrate on looking, acting, embodying that very ideal is the time you’re distracted from how much inequality, how much misogyny still exists, don’t you? And perhaps being motivated to change what you can?

Once upon a time in the Western world, only burlesque dancers would ever dream of waxing. I once came across a French postcard from the Twenties or Thirties, judging by the hemlines and the cloche hats. Seven women – at every age and in several sizes – had lifted their skirts and undergarments to show – and show off – their luxuriant, exuberant bushes. Every single one of those women laughing – not in an artificial, posed manner, either. They were happy to celebrate their differences, happy to show off, happy to be there in that moment with each other, sharing one common secret – that they were all women, but not at all alike.

Once upon a time not quite so long ago, I sat backstage after a show with a dedicated libertine and lead guitar player in a semi-notorious American band. As we worked our way through a bottle of Jack Daniels, we discussed female anatomy, among many other topics. “You know,” drawled the libertine and passed the bottle, “I kinda wish so many women didn’t shave or wax so much. It takes away the mystery, that thrill of discovery – that you can never be sure of what you’ll find until you get there.”

I took my own swig off the JD’s and handed it back. “What about that involuntary dental floss thing?”

That made him laugh. “Battle wound, baby! Women get that, too, ya know. But the thing is…you don’t dare complain about it!”

I liked that guy, I really did.

Just as I like this initiative to celebrate our differences in any way we can.

The truth is, if we were absolutely convinced we were loved and adored for our true selves, we’d go out in to the world barefaced and unadorned. Instead, we rail and rant against headscarves and burqas and female circumcision, and are all too likely to forget that even in the liberated, secular West, we have it in different forms – that porn-star ideal of perfection, that eternal quest for perpetual youth, that constant pain of never being good enough, symmetrical enough, smart enough, pretty – enough.

But life isn’t perfect, the world isn’t perfect and neither are we. And neither is anyone else!

So you can conform at your peril and a not insignificant expense, or you can focus on important things instead – and change the world, or just the world you live in.

What have you got to lose?

Image: Georgia O’ Keeffe, Jack-in-the-Pulpit IV, 1930

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Today is Valentine’s Day, and all over the English-speaking world and indeed in not a few other places, today will be a pink/red, flowers, chocolate and wrack-and-ruin kind of day. Wrack and ruin, because there will inevitably be those caught without Valentine’s cards, or those who get them from the wrong sort of people, which is almost worse.

I’ve never quite understood the appeal of metaphorical red whoopee cushions plastered all over everything, or even why February 14th should be such a great day for romance. Does that mean it’s dead every other day of the year? I see broken hearts and salty tears on several continents. “But you said you loved me!” “That was a year ago!” “But…you said…”

I don’t get it at all. Then again, maybe I’m too old for this kind of spiel, too cynical or just too jaded. So far as I’m concerned, Cupid is well and thoroughly dead. Valentine’s Day was invented by the Hallmark company and the people who invented the Whitman sampler, followed by whoever jumped on the bandwagon of opportunity for exploiting the guilt of those hapless souls who’ve been too distracted for “romance” the other three hundred and sixty four days of the year.

It’s all one big commercial washout, and I’m…out of it, above it, soaring above on a gust of snide derision. Silly fools. What do they know?

Here’s what I know. Cupid is dead. D-e-a-d. I’m getting divorced, and although that should be terrible, it’s not, really. If life has taught me anything, it’s the truth of that old maxim:

“Shit happens.”

It’s not his fault, or my fault, because it’s not a question of assigning blame and pointing fingers and bewailing our lost illusions, because the sorry fact is, in love, we only delude ourselves. It just happened. One (very) early morning, I just woke up and realized, completely out of the blue, that I…wasn’t that person anymore.

I’m not going to sit around feeling sorry for myself. I’m going to look forward to all the things ahead of me – writing without distractions at my every opportunity, blasting my neighbors with very loud and obnoxious music, laughing with the friends I know I have and can count on, being able to live a bit more spontaneously and impulsively than before.

The last time I left a long relationship, I walked straight into another one. (He was that kind of guy.) That was a bad idea.

This time, I shall celebrate my freedom, celebrate life, and let nothing hold me back if I don’t want to. I can sit in a café for hours, setting the world to rights with a friend over latte, and try as hard as I can not to think of Colette and “Chéri”, because he’s a younger man, because I’m old enough to be his mother, because I don’t feel maternal in the slightest, because I’m that kind of filthy-minded woman who thinks in possibilities and it’s been a long, long time.

I can honor ten years of my life by not falling into that age-old trap of making my soon-to-be former husband into an enemy by default, simply by a applying a prefix called “ex-”. He’s a truly great guy, he’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had, he’s in many respects nearly perfect. I was with him ten years for a reason. In that time, I began to write, I began to grab the world by the tail and start getting in its face, I began to become the kind of person I’ve always wanted to be, as opposed to the kind of person other people expected. He has sat through countless reading sessions of both the Effing Book and That Other Book, the book that took both of us by surprise. He’s been my biggest fan from the beginning, and I suspect he will be until the end. Such a gift should be appreciated, so that’s what I’ll do.

On this Valentine’s Day, I’ll celebrate that I had that much, and I’ll celebrate that the future lies before me, full of possibilities. I’ll celebrate that I sense great things will happen in the coming year, and that I can play air guitar in questionable underwear all I want. I’ll celebrate the fact that I do have friends, I do mean something to other people, I do contribute in ways great and small to other people’s lives, and how cool is that, really?

Above all else, I’ll scrape up that dead Cupid off the floor, bury him beneath a mock jasmine bush outside, and wait for spring, and summer, and everything ahead, knowing that I have not given up on life, and certainly not love, so the odds are neither have given up on me! And there are not a few days left in this year for anything I want to happen.

I’ll make a wish tonight. And as even jaded former/present/diehard romantics will know –

Be careful what you wish for! You will get it!

Happy Valentine’s Day! ;-)

Image: Not sure where to attibute it, but Olenska inspired it!

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*Author’s note: A birthday pastiche in honor of one of my all-time favorite writers, Edgar Allan Poe. Reposted from the original story written in honor of his bicentennial in 2009*

I have been sitting here, at this table, in this Baltimore establishment of dubious repute and doubtful merchandise and gutrot, for two hundred years now, lurking in the shadows where such as I are never seen, only sometimes sensed by the insensible, or sought by the dissolute, who never find me. The insensible can sometimes feel my presence, an invisible breath on their necks, the faintest of soft feather-brushes, softer far than the gooseflesh that follows, always just beyond their reach, and their reasoning.

So I, who have been doomed to exist as a shade, a thought trembling on the brink of consciousness, have seen them all come and go. The men and the women, the worthy burghers of this worthy town, the consumptive and the caring, the destitute and the debauched – I have seen them all come and go, these past two hundred years. I have seen hunger in all its human forms, I have seen want in all its lascivous shapes and sizes, ages and aches, I have seen the endless ambition of humans, and their blackest, darkest despair.

Yet never did I see, on all those endless vigils, such a one as that man, sitting over there, huddling over the candle, pulling at the frayed sleeves of a shabby black coat, a coat that should have been turned to rags or paper many years before. I know, as he does not, that that glass of sack in front of him will be his last, that in a few mere hours, he will no longer be, his death attracting no notice, nor causing much grief, until later.

He was a man you would pass on a busy street without a second glance, a man with no remarkable demeanor, no striking presence or compelling talent that would force you from your workaday reverie. Unless you should chance to look upon his eyes, and then, you, yes, even such a one as you, will stop for a heartbeat, or two, perhaps, before going on your way, perturbed by an emotion you cannot quite define. You might draw back, struck by the equally powerful fumes of alcohol and desolation, or else struck that those eyes, that flaming, burning soul you glimpsed, were the eyes of a madman – or a genius.

We, who live among the shadows in these places, will tell you that they are, to all intents and purposes, one and the same.

For that shabby, sodden man, spending his last few cents on the only brand of Nepenthe he can afford, does not belong here, in this time or this place. So unremarkable he seems, seeking a few fitful hours of oblivion or inspiration, and those two, I also tell you, are all too often one and the same.

He walks through the crowded city streets knowing he has never belonged, that the crowd he pushes against so gently, so apologetically, will never understand that his alienation, his unyielding, undying lack of compromise and conduite, is precisely what makes his eyes burn with that mad, incessant fever.

He is a writer and a poet, you see, and in this puritanical age has the temerity to believe that regardless of his reception, no matter the ridicule and derision his contemporaries have heaped upon him, his voice will be heard, it will be read, it will out, willynilly, and all he can do is to still himself for the storm to come and let it pass out and into the world, or else that all-consuming urge that fever-hot compulsion shall devour him alive, as indeed it has, and is, even as I whisper these words into your ear.

Being a shadow carries some unique advantages. I have hovered just over his shoulder, in those white and endless nights, and the whiter and even longer days when he would also write, to spare the expense of candles. Two hours for a story, with not a pause to reflect or consider a progression, nor to ponder a turn of phrase. Just one smooth, flowing descent – into the maelstrom, into a world where everything familiar is most passing strange, where everything strange carries the taint of the familiar. It is a world, or even a cosmos, where all things possible have already happened, and events long passed exist, not as memories or fleeting glimpses of a paradise you shall never know, but as states of being that reflect the outer world into the interior of the mind. It is a world of dreams that carry the dark-red taste of nightmares, and where even nightmares become transparent and shimmering dreams of such incandescent beauty that even angels could weep, and even the damned, such as I, might be redeemed.

In those burning eyes lie a lesson for you, who never did appreciate that shabby man with the burning soul and the flaming stylus. Never to judge one whose visions you would fail to comprehend. Some day, some future, some other lost and burning soul will come, in some other, transcendent age, and find himself, his nightmares and dreams and even some shuddering reflection of his soul, in the flawless words and rhythms left behind by that unremarkable man in the crowd.

I have lurked here, among the shadows, watching for one such as he, for twice a hundred years. I shall be lurking, in those same shadows, for many, many more. I shall be lurking, hoping against hope that some other day, or some desolate, desperate night, another such genius might appear. So far, I wait in vain.

(With apologies to the esteemed and much beloved ghost of Edgar)

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