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One dark and stormy night, when lightning and thunder were battling it out for supremacy at the height of the summer storm season in Florida, I was – terminally bored. Lethally bored. Existential ennui does not even begin to cover it. No internet, no TV, no DVD player, and no books available I hadn’t already read at least four times before. Going for a walk was naturally out of the question – it was raining – pelting, more like – not cats and dogs, or even frogs, but armadillos outside. There was no distraction available, since the Resident Buttkicker was working late. Our two cats, normally far more fun than any TV sitcom, were parked out on our screened-in porch watching the rain. The house was spotless, even the bathroom. And the closets.

Such a state, any creative willl tell you, can do one of two things. You will either go ever-so slightly crazy trying to pass the time, or you will start something, no matter how bad, just to keep yourself from vaulting over a cliff.

So, I started writing a little story. At the time, I had no corrosive literary ambitions whatsoever. I was just trying to stay semi-sane. And it worked, Within half an hour, I was no longer bored. Within two days, I had 10 pages. Within a week, I had an entire Iron Age Irish tribe yelling simultaneously in my head. If you’ve ever met an Irishman or -woman, you will know that they are loquacious creatures. None of them have shut up since, although they did go suspiciously quiet around the time Damien the Sequel arrived.

By the time I headed back for the desert Southwest, I had seventy pages of a novel buried on the hard drive of a third-hand PowerMac. I had also managed to contract an itch I could not stop scratching. That itch is now in its seventh year, and the novel is in its third rewrite, the one that looks good enough, and credible enough, to eventually land on a bookshelf near you. Or any available MP3-player, I’m open to possibilities.

Along the path from there to here, I learned a few things. No matter how good you think you are, you will suck as a writer until you find that great Holy Grail of all writing – your voice. No matter how good you think you are, you will always suck as a writer if you believe you can’t keep improving. And no matter how bad you know you are, it’s never a bad thing to know spelling and grammar. And last but not least, even if you do write to escape the maelstrom of the 21st century into the vortex of the third century AD, your own life and the events in it will, willingly or otherwise, insinuate itself into your story. Often in ways you don’t expect. People you know will become characters, and so they will surprise you in several dimensions. People you don’t know personally might even become two separate characters, one major player in your story, and one minor.

You know that saying – “don’t get mad, get even?” Should anyone piss you off, in they go, to suffer the torment of uncaring fate, or to suffer in other ways cooked up by your diabolical imagination. Meanwhile, the process of torturing your nemesis can be wonderfully cathartic! And look, Ma – no consequences!

Should you ever meet someone who claims to be a writer, beware. You never know where you might end up – tied to the railroad tracks, buried alive, or ritually murdered and thrown into an Irish bog.

Oh, the possibilities!

The bad news is, if you think it’s tough being married, try writing a novel. And holding down a day job. And maintaining a household. And motherhood. Oh yes, and you’re married, too. To someone who just happens to think you’re going to be the hottest ticket in publishing history, so “why aren’t you writing?”

Now you know why I call him the Resident Buttkicker.

The bad news is, you will never, never, ever be Inspired with a capital I. You will be exhausted after a long day, you will be bored to tears with your story and your irascible characters who are always misbehaving behind your back, you will be sitting in front of your computer waiting, or even wishing lightning would strike you dead, for that visit by the Muse, and it just ain’t happening. Not tonight, not this month. Not, most likely, ever.

The only thing you can do is sit there. Type a sentence. Type the next one.

And long for the day when all you’ll be typing is “The End”.

Knowing full well, that once that turkey is sent out into the world, you will be sitting there, lethally bored. Suddenly, you’ll propel yourself to your laptop and begin typing:

“It was a dark and stormy night”.

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(The title above this post links to the NY Times article that prompted it.)

It’s the age-old question, isn’t it – what do women want?

Errr, hmm, well. I could answer things like – a shopping spree at the Serge Lutens shop in Paris, or just a shopping spree in Paris, no credit limit. A house in Copenhagen or a medieval priory in Somerset, UK. An eleven-foot long purple IKEA sofa. My novel on the New York Times bestseller list. A searing reputation for filthy wit and razor-sharp perception in the blogosphere, with hundreds of followers and thousands of comments. World peace, the end of hunger and abuse of women. Education for all who want it. Religious tolerance. I want a general mindset where sexual orientation will be about as relevant as saying you prefer Manolos to Jimmy Choos.

Which sounds very worthy and fairly typical of my gender. Mother Theresa, I most emphatically am not.

Or, I could say – I want the body I had at 25, before stretch marks and Caesarian scar and a midsection that will never be flat again no matter how many crunches I do. While I’m at it, add another seven or eight inches to my height. With the personality I have now. Or two weeks on a tropical beach with the Resident Buttkicker. No four-year-olds allowed. Or I could say Peter Steele on a puff pastry bed covered in Cool Whip, with a side order of Johnny Depp.

It would all be true. And yet, and yet – it’s not the whole story.

Men have been trying to figure it out for millenia, and they still have few clues. One famous Arthurian tale came up with an intriguing answer to the question of what women want.

Sovereignty. The power – and the societal permission – to choose for ourselves. We are, so far as I can tell, still working on that one.

And meanwhile, worthy researchers are trying to figure out just what, precisely, triggers a woman’s sexual ignition switch.

There’s a visual gag illustrating the difference between men and women’s lust. The masculine version is a simple “on/off” switch. Guys – you want her, you lust for her (presuming you’re straight, of course) or you don’t. That’s it. End of story. The feninine version is a complex switchboard with hundreds of dials, keypads and voltmeters, that all end up in a “she wants you, or she doesn’t.”

Aha! Confess, already – it got you thinking, right?

Those worthy researchers at equally meritorious institutes of higher learning have come up with some stunning clues. Signposts, rather, pointing in several directions but with no clear road map through the impenetrable thicket of the female brain. This does give me hope. If everything there was to figure out about women had already been discovered, we would have no more mystery to dazzle the unsuspecting with, would we?

For one thing, what arouses a woman physically may have no apparent effect on her brain. We really do have the ability to exist in two dimensions simultaneously. She may say she thinks you’re hotter than a night in August, but her body may be saying something else entirely. Or – a woman may tell you she’s just not into you, and it’s not you, it’s her. She would be right. And she would be wrong, such being the perfidity of women. She’ll turn you down, but what you’ll never know is just how much she slides out the door.

The problem for all those clueless guys out there, is that unlike with men, it’s not immediately apparent when a woman is firing on all 16 cylinders. Not unless you’ve already made it to third base, in which case you can, up to a point, assume that if she weren’t, YOU wouldn’t be there. Love it or loathe it, for all those “how to score” seminars out there, no matter what Maxim tries to tell their male readers, it’s women who choose men, not the other way around.

Anyone who’s ever had a long-term relationship will tell you that it starts out hot and heavy, and sooner or later, that overwhelming urge to tangle in public and private places will wane. Which is to say, men stay fairly constant. It boils down to availability. If she’s there, he’ll want her.

However, as we all know, women are far more perverse. They may start out hot and heavy, all right, but sooner or later, desire will fizzle out like so many sodden fireworks, buried under the laundry basket of life. She really, truly, honestly, isn’t into you any more. “So, do ya wanna?” just doesn’t do it for her. No amount of flowers, dinner dates or Belgian chocolate will magically transform her into an erupting Etna of molten female desire.

You would be surprised – as I was – to find out what does.

All that research – and please remember, it’s not set in concrete or even marble – seems to suggest that female desire – the heterosexual variety, at any rate – is tied up with a certain degree of – narcissism. We ladies like to be wanted. We like to be told that we are towering goddesses of perfection, and that because we are, you guys are not able to control yourselves. You have to have us, or you’ll die. Really. Yes, gentlemen, you will have to kiss the Blarney stone. You will have to convince us that it’s true. You will, in other words, have to convince us fair ladies that no matter how badly damaged our self-image, you don’t care.

It’s that bad.

Considering that there’s a whole billion-dollar industry built around the exploitation of female insecurity, that’s pretty depressing. I once had a boyfriend who told me in no uncertain terms that I did not live up to the Playboy ideal of desirable womanhood. I didn’t, not even at 25. Therefore, so went his reasoning, he didn’t want me.

If female desire is linked with a certain degree of narcissism in the positive sense, then the bottom line is – we want you to get down on your knees and worship us. Faults and all.

At least for as long as it takes to tangle.

Read the article. Argue with me.

Who knows – we might learn something?

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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, whose story, “A Man of the Crowd”, inspired a little birthday pastiche!)

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It happened, that day I thought would never arrive, that event I had convinced myself would never occur. Disaster struck. I woke up at way-too-early AM this morning and suddenly discovered that for once, the perpetual mental hum of my personal brain-radio static had hit the broadcasting blind spot. Finally, something CNN would never send as “breaking news”.

I woke up this morning without one thought in my head. And usually, I wake up with at least a hundred, all yelling simultaneously to be heard over the constant background of Internal Radio FM, which normally plays all the songs I don’t want to hear. Don’t get me started on the theme from “Thomas the Tank Engine”. Or Kate Perry. You don”t want to go there, and neither do I.

So, because it’s fashionable these days to recycle, I’ve recycled something I’ve been ruminating over for quite a while.

Friendship.

What a concept!

SInce we all have differing perceptions of precisely what that loaded term “friendship” means, I’ll start with mine. A friend, so goes my neo-Calvinist absolutist mindset, is someone who will, literally or metaphorically, help you bury dead bodies at 3 AM. Not only that, a true friend will know where to locate

a) a handy bog (since I’m located in one of the world capitals of bog bodies)
b) a digger, should you be temporarily out of bogs
c) a concrete mixer and a building site (fat chance in the current recession!)
d) a woodchipper, if none of the above are available.

Now, before some of you recoil in horror, I’d like to point out I’m emphatically not in the habit of terminating anything besides flies, headlice or the occasional spider. I leave the serial killing to my crime-writing sister. But the metaphor – who would YOU call in a 4 AM attack of existential angst? – remains the same.

In this day and age of instant, perpetual communication, “friendship” can apply to either someone you’ve known continuously since the 6th grade, or someone who added you three seconds ago on Facebook. “This user”, as one MySpace page states, “has 143,567 friends.”

Wow. Are you impressed yet?

That absolutist mindset may have something to do with my being European. Just how much, I discovered when I lived in the US for four years.

The Italian philosopher Francesco Alberoni once wrote that no culture in the world was more inimical to friendship than the American. The appalling thing, I came to find out, was that he was dead-on right. In the dog-eat-dog world of everyday life in the US, friendships exist only on the right side of any given person’s self-interest line. Don’t cross that line – or else.

Nowhere, I’m thoroughly depressed to say, is that more apparent than in friendships between women.

Even today, even in this post-feminist age, women’s friendships are the most emotionally fraught and fragile, “Sex and the City” notwithstanding. Women, I’ll have you know, never, ever acknowledge competition, at least not in any overt, honest fashion. Nevertheless, it’s there, and far more ruthless than any NFL playoff.

Instead, they do it in insidious ways. They lie through their teeth to each other. They drop “best” friends for the exact same reasons they ostracised other nine-year-olds in the playground years and years ago. Some invisible, unspeakable transgression occurs, some taboo is crossed, and when that happens there you find one thoroughly confused and miserable little girl – or grown woman – and on the other side of the playground/office/neighborhood caffeine spot, a gaggle of giggling girlies, most of whom are relieved it’s not happening to them. At least, not today.

You probably think I’m nuts, cynical or dead wrong. There must have been some fatal flaw in my internal code, since that kind of ostracism obviously happened to me.

Well, maybe there is. Call it my European DIN standard bs detector. Or maybe it’s just that I no longer have time for anything but honesty, even if it’s sometimes brutal, and none at all for circumspection. Where I come from, there is such a thing as the Girlfriend Code of Honor. It boils down to – do anything you like together, just so long as you never, ever, ever

a) compete for the same guy (not worth the trouble, trust me!)
or b) steal the other’s favorite item of clothing.

What I discovered was that American women in particular operate on a whole other level of deviousness. It was, on many levels, the “What can I take from you?” school of thought. Can I take some of that class and sass of yours? That Danish designer frock coat so cool I’ve GOT to have it? Can I take your husband? Can I take you away from your husband?

Oh, dear.

Somewhere in this diatribe, I hasten to say, I did manage to make true and lasting friends. Friends who still care, friends I still talk to. Most of them live at least 4500 miles away by now, and that could be one good reason we’re still – friends. So imagine my horror, some time later, when I came home, and found out that along the way from there to here, along the path of refusing to conform, I’ve completely lost my ability to relate to women my own age.

It might be because I’m located in BFE. It might be that I refuse to conform to some stereotype of “middle age”. It might be because I don’t look my age, or because I once flipped overloudly during lunch hour to discover I would miss out on the Cure live in concert. But I rather suspect it’s something else.

Sorry. ladies. I relate much better to guys. Because I accept them for what they are, because I laugh at asinine body humor jokes, or because they accept me in all my rock’n’roller, post-punk, anarchist glory and let me be as outrageous as I want or need to be. And because men, for all their faults, are just a bit more honest and straightforward with a girl who knows how to talk to them.

Which is, according to women who conform, the absolute and ultimate proof that sluts like me can’t be trusted. “Pssst”, I can almost hear them whisper behind my back, “she’s one of THOSE…”

One of those, in other words, who might never have girlfriends again, except on DVD.

Too bad.

And with that, I’m off to the Roman Empire for the day. Pondering things like friendships. And shipwreck.

And the shipwreck of friendships!

You’ve heard it before, especially if you’re female. If you want your marriage to work, you must:

Be a duchess in the drawing room, a chef in the kitchen and a slut in the bedroom.

(This was back in the Pleistocene era when marriage was considered the end-all and be-all of woman’s sole existence)

Right?

Of course, my mother never told me that, probably because I never married until years after she died. And while she did teach me really useful things such as how to shop for perfume at the Guerlain store in Paris, how to look a zillion bucks on a Salvation Army budget, and why semi-redheads like us should never wear pink, she never quite figured out the “chef in the kitchen” part. She managed being a slut in all three locations brilliantly. In another era, she would have been a world-class courtesan, right up there with Ninon de Lenclos. Food, so her thinking went, was what one had chefs and restaurants for. Cooking was what housewives did, whereas world-class sluts flexed their husband’s plastic at upscale Palm Beach department stores.

So around the time I was 16, when the credit-card-padded husband had fallen by the wayside, and she was forced to actually work for a living, she went through a protracted phase of forcing her two daughters to subsist on a vile version of a Danish culinary classic known as “Cod in mustard sauce”. This was before the days of pizza joints on every street corner, before the days when McD’s were everywhere, and decades before I ever owned a microwave.

I had a five-year-old sister to take care of, while our mother was out either working or fascinating the upscale masculine end of the Copenhagen dating scene. Clearly, the kid would be damaged for life if Big Sis didn’t intervene, cod or no cod. Besides, I had another idol that never hung on my wall at the time, who was such a loaded subject, he was never mentioned while our mother was around for fear of inducing apoplexy.

Does anyone remember a time before cooking shows anc culinary stores and foodie blogs? Does anyone, now that I’m at it, have dim memories of what kitchens were even like in new houses, way back in those Dark Ages called the Seventies?

I can tell you what they were like in the US, because that’s where I was at the time. They were usually architectural afterthoughts thrown into a walk-in closet off the living room. Well, who cared, anyway? Women were back in the workforce, microwaves, Shake’n’Bake, Riceroni, Hamburger Helper and even Betty Crocker were available to the masses and no one had time for anything so mundane and utterly unintellectual such as – cooking. Yech. The very idea. Avocado-green dishwashers were so much more practical.

That was around the time my mom ran into a first-generation American of impeccable Sicilian/Maltese ancestry, who liked to stir things up and provoke. As an architect, he was decades before his time. He made kitchens to live in a good thirty years before anyone ever bothered with interior designs for kitchens. “I always make big kitchens in my houses” he told one overawed seven-year-old stepdaughter, “because in MY family, the MEN cook!” And cook – he did. He designed houses by day, painted at night, fished, sailed and swam on weekends – and he cooked. The Seventies Renaissance Man. He also fathered my sister, who later received life threats by industrially processed cod, and for that, too, I am eternally grateful.

But with a future of endlessly mindless boiled-cod dinners to look forward to, there was nothing for a dateless, babysitting, bookish teenager to do but learn to cook, just so she could say that it wasn’t HER fault if little sis grew up with a fish fetish. Or worse, developed gills.

So I vowed to become a real slut in the kitchen. The kind a guy would beg to be with, especially if he loved French cooking and intended to die of a massive coronary.

Along the way from there to here, there were plenty of disasters. The duck á l’orange that died a horrible, charred death, because my other brand of sluttiness got in the way. The beautiful, flawless apricot soufflé that came out so perfect, it would have made the cover for Gourmet magazine, only to sigh audibly on exiting the oven and flatlining on the dinner table. The vindaloo that lived up to its name, and the baba ghanoush that kept all vampires and mosquitos away for months. The upscale, sophisticated Christmas dinner cooked in a broom closet kitchen that Escoffier would have approved. Unfortunately, that particular Christmas, the minute it hit the dinner table was the minute I was hit by the flu. It took a friend of mine five days to eat his way through it, by which time I was recovered and by then, there was nothing left.

There were discoveries, too. Avoid anyone who thinks that McDonald’s is an acceptable alternative to home-brewed curries of the Madras variety. Beware chili near sensitive tissue. Bread baking, as anyone who’s seen the 1981 adaptation of “The Postman Always Rings Twice” knows, can lead to, errr, other things. Many other things besides bread can rise in a kitchen. And the way to a guy’s heart really does go partway through his stomach, especially if you make him homemade ravioli. From scratch. With only a little help from two famous books, both with “Joy” in their titles, you’ll likely never get him to leave. Or go on a diet.

But even kitchen slutdom can be pushed too far. Two words, people. Molecular gastronomy. Now, I’m not usually opposed to anything that screws with your head, or your taste buds for that matter. I consider myself fairly sophisticated. I know what goes with Clos de Vougeot, and what goes with Heinz ketchup. (Boeuf Bourguignon for the former, burgers for the latter). But spending an afternoon with liquid nitrogen or freeze-drying apple mousse is not my idea of a good time slaving over a hot stove. If I ever do manage to eat at El Bulli before I die, I might change my mind. I might even write about it, if my brain doesn’t explode first.

I have other ideas. World domination.

One stomach at a time.

And for you, darling, I’ll even lick the spoon!

It worked for Nigella.

It works for me, too!

Today, my friend, life will suck. Your mortality will come crashing down upon you like so many lead bricks, and it will hit you, later if not sooner, that today is yet more proof that life really is killing you, slowly and by degrees. For today is your birthday, and I’m sure you know that birthdays, at our age, are severely overrated. Worst of all, I rather doubt anyone will let you just ignore the whole thing to let you slink off to a remote corner and try to forget about it until tomorrow, when it no longer is – your birthday.

On the other hand – come on. Get out. Be adored for the day. So many of us do adore you, and we have for a very long time, in spite of everything you’ve put us through. I have been more faithful to you than to some of the guys in my life, and for at least one of them, it was very much a question of “love me, love the band.” If they didn’t, or couldn’t – I wouldn’t. That was it, the ultimate litmus test. One of two, in fact. The other one was subjecting them to the many splendors of Carnivore’s “Male Supremacy”, and if the irony sailed straight over their heads – forget it. Brains over brawn every time. But should I find both – um, never mind. That would be right around where you came in and chronically infested some secret, dark and thoroughly dank corners of my subterranean mind, and where I’ve found you faithlessly lurking ever since.

Speaking of irony, that has to be one of your defining characteristics, as both a songwriter and a performer. I really can’t think of that many other rock icons (I use that term advisedly and at my peril, in your case) who have crawled up on the pedestal of their own creation, just because it comes with the territory and it’s the done thing to do. That’s not the issue. No, you’re the only one I can think of who has gleefully undermined the whole imposing Baroque edifice with your highly idiosyncratic brand of TNT. So – there you are. “Look up at me, you lesser midgets” you seem to say, “and see my despair. Go ahead. Take it seriously or literally. Because I sure as hell don’t!”

What some of us lesser midgets also see is your hand on the remote control that fully intends to blow it all up, any day now.

On the subject of explosives, many performers have made my head explode. Joy Division, The Doors, Nick Cave, the first time I heard the Cocteau Twins, Pantera, Samhain -it makes for a long list. I can’t, no matter how hard I try and believe me, I have tried, think of anyone else who has forced me to scrape off the pathetic gray matter I call my brain off my speakers or my headphones for going on 16 years.

Not too long after the release of “Bloody Kisses”, you came to Copenhagen along with the rest of Type O Negative, to play one exceedingly hip little venue called Barbue. A girlfriend of mine, who had tried to get me interested in any number of “soon to be underground monsters” bands, got down and begged me to be there for this one. It would be free, since we both worked there, and it would be, she promised, “more music and less dystopia, I promise!” Then, she gave me a very sly look. “Just wait until you see the lead singer!”

Sure. I was pregnant at the time, and I figured I would be immune. I’d met a lot of dudes in the underground music bizz, and I was mostly rather underwhelmed.

Some time later, the day Type O arrived, I went looking for my late-afternoon caffeine fix. When I made my way through the rabbit warren that was Huset, where Barbue was located, back to my own little cubbyhole of an office, one very lost and exceedingly polite giant was wandering the back floors in search of the green room.

That would have been you. I took you back to the rest of the band, went home to clean up, and arrived later that night. My girlfriend dragged me off and introduced me.

I remember that. I remember being so gobsmacked by my own awe over you I said the first thing that popped into my head, never a good thing.

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

That’s charisma for you. Yours, not mine.

As introductions go, it could be worse. At least it made you laugh.

But even then, I wasn’t entirely ready yet. That came much pain, four years and many tears later, when I bought “October Rust” on impulse and my head really did explode, and kept on exploding, more or less on a daily basis ever since.

I have written a novel, several short stories and even a blog to that velvet barbed-wire voice of yours. I’ve pestered every single female I know with it (it’s one of the few things we agree on). Both of your bands, your voice and your music have been the soundtrack to just about every major event in my life for longer than I care to remember.

Thank you.

Thank you for knowing how to enunciate properly. Thank you for all the pleasures you’ve brought me, both guilty and not.

Thank you for never singing the musical equivalent of the Brooklyn phone book, because that would really do me in.

And since it’s your birthday, and one is supposed to be nice to birthday boys, I’ll even thank you for taking up permanent residence in that dark and dank limbic-area basement of mine, because damn it, you’ve been there ever since and probably caused irreparable damage by now.

I don’t care. It’s all rock and roll to me.

Once, I came across the following lines, and immediately thought of you:

” Ran on embattled armies clad in iron,
And, weaponless himself,
Made arms ridiculous”

I hope it will be a while before you get to thank John Milton in person.

Have a rock’n’roll birthday, Peter Steele. Mortality sucks, I know.

But at least you get to sing about it!

Sometimes, even when it’s been four days since New Year’s Eve and the hangover has long gone, it really, truly sucks to be a woman. I mean, it sucks, like, totally. It’s not just the many hats we have to wear. It’s not just the expense of things like lingerie and makeup and clothes and perfume and wax jobs. It’s not the granny wings or the cellulite or the post-baby stretch marks. It’s not even giving up the profiteroles, Pomerol or Poilly-Fumé. It’s not PMS (known as Justifiable Homicide in certain parts of the world) or pandering to egos, usually male.

No. All that is bad enough, but it’s all part of the package. The Whole Womanhood Package. We’re never entirely sure we’ll ever be able to fit into it, but we buy it anyway, on the off chance that some sunshiney day, it will. Besides, it’s January, it’s on sale and it was half off, and you snatch out of the hands of some semi-bearded Hilda the Hippo who really doesn’t want it anyway. It’s the principle that counts.

And you know, one morning, when we’re completely unprepared and unaware, one day when we’re not even entirely awake, or even PMS-ing, it does. It fits. The whole package. The blues, the babies, the wobbly bits and other parts that can be manipulated with Radiant Touch, Spanx and a very good bra. Not to mention gargantuan doses of outrageous flattery, which really does get you everywhere and nearly everything, if not everyone.

It’s you. And it’s not so bad, really. It could, in fact, be much worse, even for January.

So, right when you’re finally old enough to be resigned to your fated womanhood, right when even you begin to think that actually – and honestly – you really ARE one of the coolest people you know – comes the next double whammy of Massive Insecurity.

OMFG!

You’re getting – well, not to put too fine a sheen on it dear, but you are getting – old. Or old-er. Old-ish. That’s it. Wheel in the panic attack.

“Men no longer”, as W.B. Yeats once wrote, “catch their breath as you are passing.”

No. They don’t. Which may be a good thing, but you’re not entirely convinced you want to wave goodbye to multiple orgasms either, simply because you’re getting older and supposedly immune to that sort of thing.

This is when you perch on the brink of the female midlife crisis. This is when, if you can afford it, or even afford to dream about it, you can make an all-too willing prey for lascivious plastic surgeons.

“Oh, give me a face, that stays always in place, and where wrinkles and crow’s feet won’t roam…”

Botox? Fillers? Skin-friendly Plaster of Paris? Whatever you want, dear. Of course you want to look 20 again! And of course, you SHOULD! Or else, you know, we’ll drop you like the cold potato you are and go in search of luscious young things, who are smooth as silk. (And nearly as bland.)

Uh, excuse me? Where does it follow that just because you now can see the event horizon known as “that certain age” , you are in dire need of erasing your life with so much Tipp-Ex? There go the crow’s feet, courtesy of a month on a Cretan beach and cheap shades, there go the forehead lines, courtesy of the Ex From Hell, there go the remnants of your previous pack-a-day habit, and hey presto – The New You. Or should I say, it’s the old you in a new and unconvincing sausage casing. and somewhere out there, some stranger wants her face back right this instant.

No. I’m not buying it, not even on sale or at a discount at half off the original price. I keep thinking of a once famous Danish actress. One day on a massage table she was asked a loaded question by her masseur, around the time she was about my ripe, decrepit age. “Shouldn’t you be thinking” he asked her as he dug into her tense shoulders, “about a facelift?”

“What?” she shrieked. “Now that I finally have some character in my face?”

Bless her. Bless the ones just like her, who’ll never need to explain just how furious they are, because their face shows it all too clearly.

And speaking of faces, the image for today is yours truly, taken yesterday. No Botox. No Restylane. No facelift. No kidding.

Just half my life well-lived. Well laughed. And well loved anyway and in many ways.

Oh, and character. Lots of character. On my face and other places, too.

Character, I’ll have you know, it took me 45 years to acquire.

May I never cease to acquire it.

Just as the world I live in may never cease to require it!