Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Thank You, Gabrielle Donnelly

Occasionally, when I'm nostalgic for my youth, I will pull out one of the three Little Women novels, and lose myself in it. Louisa May Alcott shaped the literary landscape of my childhood, and I was a more voracious reader in those days, devouring what she'd written so I could move on to the next one.

I learned temperance as an adult. I remember trying to pace myself when I read the seventh Harry Potter book, losing myself in the story while fully conscious of the fact that it was the last time I'd ever read a new Harry Potter for the first time--ever.

I wish I'd had the wherewithal to temper myself when I was younger. I sped through Alcott's work with ferocity, and while I can't ever get tired of reading those beloved stories, it has the value of thumbing through old photographs, reminiscing about the past, watching Jo grow from a fifteen-year-old girl to a wife, mother, writer, and teacher over and over and over. It is comforting, alluring, and satisfying, but it isn't fresh, and I wish I'd savored the story more when it was.

So I have a debt of gratitude to author Gabrielle Donnelly, who wrote the charming Little Women Letters. I normally don't like updated adaptations of classics, neither do I typically write reviews of other writer's work (mainly because I'm afraid it won't be flattering and I will get karmically bitch-slapped for being a snot-nosed critic before I've summoned the gumption to write something of my own), however Donnelly's work is so incredibly worthy of being a successor to Alcott's that I can't view as separate from the canon.

The setting is modern-day London, the characters the great-great-granddaughters of Josephine March Bhaer and the various friends and relations that turn up during the slice of their lives that Donnelly shares with us (I was waiting for the girls to realize that their Grandma Jo is the Jo March, until it dawned on me that within the frame of the story, Louisa May Alcott and her iconic characters don't exist--rather, the characters are people. However, there's a brief mention of Anne of Green Gables, aka, the Canadian counterpart to Little Women, which made me smile), and the letters are missives between Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy that are accidentally discovered in the attic.

The best thing about Donnelly's work is that though her characters are expies of the three surviving March sisters (I appreciated not having a modern-day counterpart to Beth. I felt her death as keenly as a real person's when I first read Little Women, and would be unprepared to watch her descendant suffer the same fate.), the storyline twists and veers enough that the reader can't predict the ending point for each girl. Rather, the spirit of the March sisters is alive and well in the characters conceived by Donnelly, the language is lush and descriptive (having the characters be the daughters of an ex-pat American allows for delightful English idiom to complement the perfectly pitched histrionics of the New England letters, something that would've sounded stilted and old-fashioned had the story been set in the States), and the daily intricacies of modern life are woven beautifully and tied up neatly in an ending worthy of Alcott herself.

Little Women Letters functions less as an adaptation and more as equal parts homage and continuation. I  bought it thinking it would be cute, and instead fell in love with a new generation of Little Women. And for a moment, I was 11 again.

And I savored it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Chronic "That Girl" Syndrome

In every great story or event, somewhere on the periphery lurks "That Girl". She's awkward, bordering on socially incompetent, and everyone involved is really happy they aren't her. Perhaps the story is about her dancing to Maroon 5's Payphone so hard she dislocated her shoulder (she's not a good dancer. Not ever.) Perhaps she's merely tertiary to the story, the lone voice laughing in the audience when everyone else is settled down, eventually causing a ruckus when she falls down from her giggle fit. Whatever the case, no great story exists without her.

Hello. My name is The Hopeless Writer Chick. And I am "That Girl". You're welcome.

I'd like to refer you to the story about my inner weirdo so that you'll understand that my innate shyness (shut up ArchaeoloChick if you're reading this, I AM shy) contributes to my varied instances of "That Girl" ness in ways that make total sense when you read them from "That Girl"'s perspective. And really, perspective is what it's all about.

For instance, during the times that my peers were snorting cocaine off of toilet seats and letting it fuel massive orgies (this is a typical high school experience, right? I'm just spitballing here.), what was I doing? Rereading the Brothers Grimm and borrowing DVDs from other members of my Japanese Culture Club (because I was cool in high school, is why).  Now, logically, there were boys somewhere in that mix. But if they wanted to date me or I them, well, that went uncommunicated. Awkward people cannot teach other awkward people how to not be awkward. That would be like me trying to teach someone Calculus (I don't know from calculus. I'm not even sure if it's supposed to be capitalized. So one of each. Because I'm thoughtful.)

Hence, when someone is flirting with me, I tend to not notice. Actually, I tend to need a third party who possesses no tact to slap me in the face and say "That man is interested in you! And also, you're dumb." Case in point, when I was twenty-two, I went to a My Chemical Romance concert with Blanche. We were in front of a cluster of teenagers. We were chatting with them because we were gonna be in line for about 4 hours so we figured we should make friends. One of the guys asked what we did for a living, and at the time I taught preschool, so I told him so. The conversation went as follows:

Random Kid: What do preschool teachers teach?

THWC: Oh, color recognition, numbers, handwriting, letters, shapes, songs, characteristics of pets and farm animals, so on.

Random Kid: Damn (Note: he said it more like "Da-yum" and it's worth mentioning that I'm not a person who is typically on the receiving end of two-syllable "Damn"s) Wish you'd been my preschool teacher.

THWC: (utterly bewildered) Why? What did your teacher teach you?

Random Kid: (suddenly embarrassed) The same things....




THWC: Oh. Oh. Ohhhhhhhhh. You're hitting on me.

Random Kid: Um, yeah

THWC: Ok....um...um....ok....um, well, thank you (He was still in high school, what was I supposed to say? Seriously, what was I supposed to say? Because I think that embarrassed him even more. He disappeared after that. He went further down the line for a concert that was standing room only, first come first serve, seriously, what was I supposed to say?)

I should also point out that me realizing that flirting was happening without somebody else telling me so is personal growth.

I am also unable to flirt with anyone who catches my fancy (that's up to date terminology, right?). I usually end up drinking until I'm in love with anyone and everyone around and hope that does the trick.  In other news, I've been single for 3 years .

Even worse is when I accidentally flirt with someone without realizing it. Today a security guard came in to the store I work at to pass along some new codes and phone numbers, and while he was talking to my boss, he gave me a truly bugged-out look. I turned to her when he left to ask her a) if she'd seen that and b) What. The. Fuck? She informed me that while he was in the store I'd been gazing at him with naked, glassy-eyed adoration and she'd been about to pass me a napkin to wipe up the drool. Apparently, that freaked him out, because evidently he scares easy, hence the bugged-out look.

Take a moment to absorb that, people. I can't control my own face. I can't. Control. My. Own. Face. I have no idea how often I've stared at total strangers like they were Neil Patrick Harris on a unicorn, but I'm willing to bet this wasn't the first time.

Lest anyone be led to believe that I'm only awkward when dating is involved, I went to the bar with Dragon Queen on Saturday. I pounded 5 Vodka Collins in fifteen minutes, which left me a little tipsy. Dragon Queen brought up a conversation we'd had at work earlier that day, which I evidently felt like re-hashing. I am a loud person in general. Drinking exacerbates it. So the whole bar heard me announce  that my stubborn Irish hymen won't leave despite the fact that I've done virtually everything short of give birth to get rid of it.

My stubborn Irish hymen.

I can't make this shit up.

Except I did make that shit up. But no one was listening but Dragon Queen the first time I said it. So obviously I had to remedy that by yelling it in a bar.

I should point out that in both instances Dragon Queen initiated the hymen conversations, so the whole "That Girl" thing is not entirely my fault.

Also, my hymen is Irish because I'm Irish. I don't think that my hymen has a different nationality. I mean, I'm Irish-American, but that sounds clunky, so I usually just use Irish to describe myself. And my hymen.

Also, I didn't ask anyone else about their hymens. And I'm pretty sure that I didn't spin it into a whole conversation, just one awkward announcement. Sadly, that again is personal growth.

So the next time you dance when like no one is watching but it turns out a whole lot of people are, remember me. Remember that I discussed my hymen in a crowded bar. Remember that even though you're now "That Girl" to whomever is watching, I'm still "That Girl" to you.

You win.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dear Dad

I had a pretty conventional childhood. People like to mock conventional upbringings, as they are somewhat lacking in the type of dysfunctional hilarity that growing up with circus folk or living in a tree for a year provides, but convention has merits. Childhood, despite the common romanticization of such, is a shitstorm, even a great one like mine, so having some structure to get you through the foggy mess of uncertainty and utter crap is a big ol' plus. Besides, conventionality breeds commonality, and bonding over common backgrounds and interests is what turns strangers into friends. I can bond with almost anyone over hating math, learning to jump rope, or having a crush on Taylor Hanson when I was eleven. Few would be likely to empathize with me if I were to discuss my year of performing mime on the streets of Paris for wine and cheese (note for the slow students: didn't happen).

Of course, I did have enough anomalies in my childhood to keep things interesting. Just because one wants structure doesn't mean they don't also want color.

I grew up in a rowhouse, an architectural staple specific to my cozy corner of the woods, which isn't in and of itself very interesting, but it is slightly off the beaten path. That rowhouse was located in Philadelphia, a major city that lent me a very specific and well-known culture that made me more special than someone raised in Anytown, Anystate, USA.

I attended Catholic school, which was typical of a good Irish girl in the city, but has a certain mystique for my friends who didn't attend Friday morning mass, learn algebra from nuns, or get graded on how well they knew the life and times of Jesus.

Most of the color in my childhood came, however, from my father's job. Unlike the other kids in the neighborhood, my father didn't do the 9 to 5 shuffle in an office, pushing paper. The umpteen and a half ties I gifted him for various Fathers' Days and birthdays were special occasion only, never for daily work use. MY dad was an OR nurse.

He would tell stories about work during dinner that had nothing to do with Roger from accounting or the typo on page four of the Henderson brief and more to do with arterial spray, engorged ventricles, and myocardial infarctions. I'd like to say that I listened with rapt fascination to his lessons on the inner workings of the human body, but really, like any dad recounting his day, at a certain point, his stories became rote. I only half-listened unless the incident was truly fantastic or weird, even for him (the ones I paid the greatest attention to usually involved either bullets or poop. I'm not wholly proud of this fact).

I, of course, got some of my own stories through his work. Over twenty years, I've heard the same story about my three-year-old self, during a visit to my dad at the hospital, informing a world famous cardiothoracic surgeon, with utter confidence in my certitude, that he was "not a real doctor", because he lacked a stethoscope. Despite being overwhelmingly impressed with my unstumbling command of the word stethoscope (yeah, a world famous surgeon was impressed with my intellect. Suck it.), the doctor in question attempted to engage me in an argument about the legitimacy of his title before my dad stepped in to remind him I was three and therefore right.

More than once, during "Take Your Daughter to Work Day", while other girls were playing file folder and stapling random objects together, I was bearing witness to the repair of a deep vein thrombosis, a triple bypass, or something regarding prostate surgery--which I found particularly salacious because I was old enough to know that prostate was somewhere in the neighborhood of "naughty bits".

My dad is damn near impossible to watch an episode of Nurse Jackie (or Scrubs...or ER...or really any episode of any show that ever featured a hospital ever) with, because of his fondness for editorial commentary during each scene re: its veracity in the real world of medicine.

However, during a time of fear and crisis, one of which took place just after midnight today, my dad is the calm voice guiding his family through the uncertainties, using his experience and knowledge to explain the landscape of illness and injury in a reassuring way.

So, on this Fathers' Day, thanks to my dad, for the structure, for the color, and for the calm.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Careful, it's loaded


There, I expect to be banned from Senate any minute now.

For those who are unaware, State Rep Lisa Brown was silenced on the Senate floor for saying the dirty, dirty word "vagina" while discussing her opposition to an anti-abortion bill the Michigan State Senate was proposing.

Now, regardless of political leanings, opinions on abortion, etc., presumably we (we, for the purposes of this essay, refers to all rational, intelligent adults) can all agree that use of the word "vagina"--a word which, by the way, is entirely appropriate to refer to the female sex organ, a word used clinically between doctors and patients--is a perfectly acceptable word to use when discussing a law concerning female reproductive health. After all, if the Senate were trying to pass a law about rhinoplasty, someone would certainly say the word "nose".

Here's what a google search "laws about rhinoplasty" turns up: https://www.google.com/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=laws+about+rhinoplasty

Lesson: Fuck with your nose all you want, it's your business. No one is going to pass a law about rhinoplasty. But we can tell you EXACTLY what to do with your vagina. God help you if you actually say the word, however.

I've heard speculation that if Rep Brown had said "penis", she wouldn't have gotten such an excessive retribution. We'll probably never know however, as a penis, like a nose, is a body part that our society seems to think can be wholly under it's owner's control without anyone being the worse for it. Public scrutiny seems to be completely the vagina's domain.

This whole debacle makes me feel impressively brave, as I am apparently in the minority regarding a pathological fear of the word "vagina". I'm not scared either of the word, or the body part it refers to. I'm scared of zombies, spiders, heights, being stabbed, driving on the highway, and stepping on a crack needle in bare feet, but somehow my vagina, and the knowledge that half the people on the planet also have one, presumably similar to mine, don't know, didn't check, their business, not mine, is not the least bit scary to me.

I can't be alone in my fearlessness. I implore my fellow bravehearts, to whom vaginas strike no fear, to rally together. We are a small group, but we are mighty.

Here are the numbers for Rep Jim Stamas' office in Michigan: 517-373-1791 and 800-626-8887. If you are among the "we" who believe that women should call the shots regarding their own vaginas, or if you believe that the word vagina is inoffensive and those that believe otherwise are sexist douches who need to be reamed out, call those numbers and tell Rep Stamas that his policy is sexist and his punishment of Rep Brown was uncalled for.

Or you can just yell "Vagina!" over and over until he scurries under his desk to cry and wait for the storm to pass.

Either way, win.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Passions, Pleasures, and Pains: an Examination of Aunthood

I've mentioned before that I don't have children. The pre-Mommy years are rife with wonderful benefits, like lady parts that still maintain structural integrity, sleeping until work or social decency demand I get up without having to concern myself with anyone else's nightmares or poop, and of course, the only vomit I ever need to concern myself with is my own (okay, sometimes Dragon Queen's. Sometimes. It's rare, however, and she gives fair warning).

I'm sure I'll be a good mom someday--at least, I'm reasonably certain I'll remember to feed my kids and keep them out of crack dens. And I'm sure the benefits of parenthood will far outweigh the costs--or that's just some shit my parents told me in the hopes that I'll one day have children and they will have their sweet, sweet revenge, which if that's the case, I'll be paying that lesson forward as well.

But enough of my prospective, hypothetical motherhood. Blogs are filled with odes to parenthood, because parents think spawning makes them so very, very special, as though it's a unique condition that so very few experience. So I'm writing about aunthood (and by extension, unclehood. There's no unisex term. Also, according to Google, aunthood is a word, unclehood is not. Dear English language, you are sexist.)

Aunthood is not a unique condition, but it is rarely examined, mainly because it just sort of happens to a person, whether or not they are ready or willing to commit to the role. Also, a kid whose mom or dad is out of commission is playing with a disadvantage. An aunt can be a positive influence in a child's life, but the absence of one is unlikely to damage anybody.

If you do commit to being an aunt, there's a world of quasi-parent/siblinghood that has unique terrors and joys, which so far, in my estimation, is totally worth it and a shitload of fun, discussions of farts notwithstanding (Guinea Pig is fond of discussing farts).

For one thing, all the joys of parenting are present. Guinea Pig visited Niagara Falls with me last year to attend Canadian Baker's wedding. It was his first time seeing them, so when we arrived, I covered his eyes and walked him over to the railing, positioning myself so I could see his little face when he beheld the wonders of the falls for the first time.

The first time I saw them, I was in my teens. It was magnificent, but I never saw them through a child's eyes until that day. The look of awe on his face was overwhelming. I've never seen him so stricken, so moved, in my life. He stood still and open-mouthed, drinking it in with an aura of silent reverence before breathing a soft "Wow". And while he was experiencing one of the world's wonders, I was living it through him.

His ups are usually a high for me, although sometimes his accomplishments leave me weepy. I spent his first day of kindergarten ducking into the bathroom at work to cry, and I was teary last September on his first day of first grade. And one night a few years ago, I burst into tears when I was babysitting, and he, for the first time, didn't need my help getting into his little footie pj's, a melancholy he remedied by curling into my lap and telling me he still needed me for bedtime stories. He's smart enough to read people, loving enough to give them what they need. I can brag about that without shame, because the former, at least, he doesn't get from me.

There are some disadvantages as well, like when he's being a snot. It's nice, however, because when he's being a little shit, which he is more than capable of, I can call his parents and say "Ok, he's not cute right now, you may return him when he's suitably adorable again." Similarly, unless I do something deliberately and magnificently stupid, like testing his elasticity by trying to turn him into a human slingshot, any major gaffes regarding his development aren't my fault.

However, when he's in my care, it's doubly important that his limbs remain intact and in their proper place. Not only am I charged with health, safety, and happiness while I'm with him, but if I fail to provide/maintain those three basic necessities, I've not only failed him, but I have to answer to his parents, an added pressure that gnaws at me whenever he climbs into a slide on the playground or wanders behind a shelf at the library, disappearing however momentarily from my sight. And there's no autonomy like with parents. When he wants to do something, I'm not only worrying if I think he should do it, how many limitations I should impose if I allow it, what the ramifications will be if I don't, I'm also wondering if his dad or his mom or his stepmom would allow it, what their limitations would be, whether this would be something they'd even concern themselves with, etc until my head hurts.

A dusty hug and a sticky kiss when I bring him home aren't enough to mitigate those concerns, but they are enough to make me override them so I can spend time with him again.

The most important thing about aunthood is what it isn't. It isn't glorified babysitting, it isn't a practice test for motherhood with a test baby, it's a unique relationship that exists wholly unto itself. This is a wonderful little boy's life, and I am so lucky as to play a part in it.

Even if I do have to talk about farts.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Embracing Your Inner Weirdo

Once Upon A Time a painfully shy little girl who was afraid to talk to her classmates (hint: she grew up to be me) stuck her face into a book whenever the opportunity to interact with others came up. She brought a book out to the parking lot that her school managed to convince her was a playground during recess, she pulled out a book after she finished lunch at her desk because despite the fact that her parents paid thousands of dollars in tuition to attend a Catholic school, they could not only not spring for a real playground but also not a cafeteria at all, and when she got home from school she would read outside if it was nice weather and inside if it wasn't, and her three best friends growing up were Anne Shirley, Jo March, and Nancy Drew.

And it was the best fucking thing to ever happen to her.

I don't know if you know this, but reading makes you terribly interesting. People want to talk to you because you actually have an arsenal of opinions formed, and if you can manage to not throw up from the terror of initiating a conversation (responding never bothered me, just starting), you can actually be friends with some people who also adore reading.

Somewhere in the hell of junior high, when I was struggling to connect with others while simultaneously trying to remember to de-fuzz my legs and de-stinkify my underarms, because adolescence isn't hell unless you're hairy and stinky in addition to being awkward, I realized that all that self-imposed isolation and hours of imagined play had made me irrevocably weird.

In high school, (quick shout out to AnthropoloChick and Canadian Baker, who've stuck by my weird little side since those awful days) I slowly realized the dirty little secret of life.

Are you ready?

You sure?


Here it is...

Everyone is fucking weird.

Everyone is weird about something. Not about the same things, obviously. But scratch the surface of literally anyone in the world, you'll find something they overanalyze, fangirl (fangirl is a unisex term, btw), obsess, and/or squeal over. The Big Bang Theory, the Philadelphia Phillies, the inherent superiority of Apple over Windows, the art of the perfect cupcake, religion, doorknobs, candles, animal husbandry, whatever it is, someone is absolutely nuts over it. And once you embrace your own weirdness, you gain a real appreciation for everyone else's

There's a fine line between assaulting people with your weirdness and being open with it. If you're ringing doorbells to tell someone all about the thing you think is awesome, it's the former. If you compliment someone on that t-shirt, because seriously Boondock Saints is such an awesome movie, you're probably the latter.

When you hit the right balance, you can actually make some truly incredible friends and find your own weird little community (at this point I need to shout out to friends I've made since embracing my own inner weirdness, like Dragon Queen, ArchaeoloChick, IronMac, and his wife, Crafty Lady) and sometimes, you get to attend events in another state while carrying a substantial metal chicken, and total strangers/your new best friends will ask to take your picture, because you're weird, they're weird, and everyone involved is awesome and embracing their weirdness.

The Bloggess is one of those people who learned the secret of life, and what made her insanely awesome beyond the ordinary embracing of her inner weirdo is the fact that she created and fosters a community of people who need to hear the one thing I wished I'd known sooner: You are not alone. It's amazing, because even though she's awesomely weird, some things beyond her control, which are decidedly not awesome, in fact awesome's polar opposite, have disrupted her life, yet she keeps popping up again and reaching out, and refusing to be beaten. That's all I'll say on that, because it's her story to tell and even if it wasn't, she'd tell it better than I can anyway, and if you're interested in learning her story you should buy her book. If you're not interested in learning her story, you and I probably aren't going to be friends. Also, I strongly suspect you are the nun who wanted me to put down the book and play with the other children at recess. Well, Sister Sourpuss, I didn't like your anti-literacy attitude then and I don't have to take it now. And the other children were snots. Who were smoking behind the rectory. So there.

This may be the longest-winded post I've ever made, and some of it may not even make sense. The point is, last night I had the privilege of embracing my metal chicken and realized I was also embracing my inner weirdo. I'd come full circle, because I was there initiating conversations and having the time of my life, using a book to bond with people instead of hide from them. So thanks to Anne, Jo, and Nancy for being my friends and for helping me make new ones. Thanks to Jenny Lawson for giving me a place to bond with others of a like mind. And most of all, thanks to my inner weirdo just for being you.

Come here and give me a hug.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Do It For Johnny!

Based on a conversation with Dragon Queen:

Every couple in the world falls into one of two categories: Both partners are equally good looking or the woman is more attractive.

Now, this is based on objectivity. In individual couples, you will find that the woman thinks her man is crazy gorgeous, even though to the world he looks like Zach Galifianakis (I would totally date Zach Galifianakis, for the record.)

Every rule has an exception, and of course we all know who is the exception here. I'm speaking, of course, of Johnny Depp, Lord God Supreme of Unfathomable Pretty Pretty Hotness (I apologize for the title, but for issues of length and readability, I had to shorten it. Also, readability is an actual word, as evidenced by the lack of squiggly red line underneath it. Who knew? Not me. Totally me. Because I'm a writer. And we know things like that.)

Johnny Depp is in a long term relationship with French singer Vanessa Paradis. If you click on the link, you can see the most unspeakably lucky woman in all creation the mother of his children is actually quite beautiful. But she's not Johnny Depp beautiful. Because she's not Johnny Depp.

And that brings me to the subject of this post: Human cloning.

Johnny deserves a partner as beautiful as he is (don't worry about Vanessa. She'll understand) So we need to rally our scientists, our biologists, our geneticists on this most important issue. Johnny needs to stare deeply into his own eyes and tell himself how beautiful he is, while softly stroking his cheek and thinking about how much he loves him.

Also, there will be another Johnny Depp in the world.

So do it for Johnny, scientists.

And do it for us.