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That, My Friend, Is a Dark Side

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Harry can't help himself.

Harry can’t help his true nature.

“When I buy a new book, I read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends,” Harry Burns says classically in my favorite movie, When Harry Met Sally.

Darlings, confession time, I have been known to peek. I know! I know! Bad form. But if I’m falling in love with the book, especially the hero of the story, in about chapter two or three, I get antsy. Is he (she) still alive in the end? I’m not looking for details such as is he destitute?; did he end up with Trudy?; Did he avenge his enemy? Did he learn anything at all?

It’s no more than this – is he alive? I just scan real quick-like. Is his name on the page? There, my eye catches it and I never go there again.

And just seeing it there isn’t even a guarantee that the author has him among the living at the last (I’ve been fooled before by my snooping.) But having acknowledged the protagonist there in the finale I know, we both — the author and I — love that character.  We are simpatico.

Harry’s fear is that he won’t finish the book, that’ he’ll die not knowing. He spends hours, days, thinking about death. He doesn’t care about the literature, the form, the character, the story, the theme, the author – he’s just afraid the New York cabbie may take him out first.

Sally knows better that I that the book should just unfold as written -- no peeking!

Sally  is horrified by the notion — no peeking!

My thing is different – not dark – I’m the Sally Albright. I cheerfully know that I’ll finish, by gosh I’ll stay up all night if I want to drink in the plot with its greater meanings, but succumbing to the temptation of unraveling the ending actually helps me to enjoy the book.  Rather than racing to the end and thereby hastening the delicious details of the author has in store, I can savor it all — page by ambrosial page.

Little Things Make Her A Bright, Shining Birthday Beacon

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“It’s a girl!”madeleine infant

Sixteen candles will be on our daughter Madeleine’s dessert – blueberry pie — tonight.

The big moments – her birth, first word, first smile, first day of school, losing that first tooth, first time riding her bike, saying “I Love You,” stand out in time. These rights of passage play over and over in my memory as the playbook of her life.

But it’s the little moments that make her Madeleine.

madeleine painter

  • The time she thought the leprechaun potion had shrunk her
  • The way she sings in the shower with true abandon
  • Her child-like giggle
  • The way she lives out the stories she reads and sees. Go to a movie with her and bring some tissues!
  • Her incredibly kind spirit, especially with children
  • The time she lost her ring and we looked everywhere for such a long time. It was the end of the world until she found it was in her pocket all the time
  • Her new habit of translating everything she thinks, hears and sees from English into Frenchmadeleine snowman
  • The music that explodes from her in song form via guitar, drum, piano and rickety chop sticks
  • Her sudden tempers that melt into tears and really all-too-many “I’m sorries.”
  • Oh so polite and yet suddenly unrefined in just the way teens tend to be
  • The creative touches she has with everything she does – with notes, homework assignments – she’s a cartoonist, poet, doodler, song-writer
  • Imagine this: a flat tire     the very first time she drove with her learner’s permit
  • Nerd to her core, she embraces her Dr. Who, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
  • She loves color – she doesn’t even realize she must own 7 orange shirts and her day-glo orange shoes and backpack help me pick her out in any crowd
  • Dauntingly positive – “We can do it, Mom! Who cares what other people think?”
  • Despite their sibling jabs, she really loves being a big sister and would take on any bully to protect The Mo
  • The way her hugs go on and on
  • How she worries about her friends and is willing to carry their problems for them
  • Her 1000-watt smile that lights up the room

Madeleine’s smarter than most, (I know, I’m her mom, but it’s simply true) she’s got big dreams and though I wish time would slow down because I want to savor every quirk and ancillary anecdote I also am excited to see what she’ll be, do and think as she finishes adolescence and explodes into young adult.montage of photos Madeleine

  Love you my Laney-Loo. Love you all the time!

I Could Tell You Some Stories

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Welcome to Los Angeleeees, Ms. Fink.

Welcome to Los Angeleeees, Ms. Fink.

Suddenly I had the urge to go back to college — to earn some new fangled degree or other that would  only take two semesters to accomplish — but it would be hard work and require me to live apart from home. Once there, I always found myself lost in vacant hallways lumbering up and down stairs lost and chancing that I would get to my dorm room.  That’s right: I said dorm room, after my first night class.

At forty-something years old, here I was back in the dorms, but somehow they were different from the dorms of my youth. To start with, the globes in the hallways had a dingy pink cast and the walls went from narrow to wide very quickly. Every unfamiliar doorway mocked me: “You’re new here. You don’t belong here.” I seemed to be travelling in circles and had to go down two flights before taking an elevator to send me up three flights and then down another half-rounded stair.

“Here it is,” I pant to myself after navigating this tortuous maze. I know it’s mine because it’s the only one where the door is wide open. This too, is so different from days gone by. Instead of two single beds with two closets, two desks and a sink, this room is like an Army barracks with row upon row of grey metal bunk beds. At the far end of the chamber are four regular single beds.

A push my way to that end and notice that the music in the room is not bad, mostly something classified as indy-pop, but to my dismay as soon as I could catch onto a tune, the song would change. This seemed the norm, and not some weak game of Music Wars where you would try to name the artist before the other dude, just two or three measures of song followed by another snipet of song.

Perhaps because of my age or maybe because of my charm (ha, ha), I have one of the single beds at the end of the lodging– no one above me and no bed springs to look at. That’s good because beat, I am and I just want to wash my face and lay down. Problem is someone else is at the sink before me and I just have to wait. Fine. I sit for a moment, trying to get the rhythm of the new song and notice twin blonde girls across the way. In an effort to set the stage for the coming year, I begin introductions when suddenly the two morph into four. Best not to stare, they probably get tired of that, especially with the pear-size birthmarks on various parts of their faces that they each seemed to be sporting. Plus, I’m afraid the next time I turn, there will be eight. Tough to get a bed in one of these places these days.

So I turn my attention back to the sink and realize that the person  washing up looks a lot like my old boss, Becky. That couldn’t be. This woman has a kerchief on her head to keep the hair off her forehead while she moisturizes her large Midwestern face. She brays at me, “Em! It’s you! I thought so.”

Let's catch up. Right now.

Let’s catch up. Right now.

What the….

She begins gabbering about her life and her jobs and why she is here and how long it how been, how many hand-knit sweaters she’d bought, and about her sons, the one that is gay and the one that is not, while I wash my own face while watching her eat a gallon of rocky-road ice cream.

“Oh dear. What a nightmare. College is not for me,” I think as I fly out of there like a tiger on fire. “I have to get home! My husband must miss me. It’s dark, but I can make it before midnight, I know. He’ll understand.

I look down and realize I am on a 16-foot-tall Christmas tree clinging to its top branches. I whomp its roller skates to move me down the darkening highway straight home. The powerlines a terrifying at this height, but still less than the Barton Fink atmosphere I had just left at this campus from Elm Street. While still moving at a reckless speed I force myself to leap to the ground as we (the tree and I) are on a collision course with the porte cochere of our vaulted apartment complex straight ahead.

People in the comley common dining room swivel their balloon-like heads around to see where the tree and I will crash, yet I am like Elastagirl from the Incredibles and plant the vault Olympic gymnist-style with barely a hesitation before the sprint to our home while blithely noting that my keys had splintered in the crash. Now at the door of apartment 404 with its walls of what? Pine. What? Rough hewn floors.  My man has already converted this into his Man Cave. I’m barely yesterday’s news.

“Where’s the bed?” I ask racing through our home, “Where the hell is the bed?”

My hubster Vic breezes in with our friend Todd. They were dressed in 49er shirts (not weird, like twin shirts, just fan shirts) and going to see a game or have a beer, or shoot, I don’t know play some pool. “Wait. I’m home,” I let go. “I’m home now. Where is the bed?”

“Silly girl,” Vic teased. “The bed is planted in the parking lot to look at the stars. You lay down out here,” whisking me away to the asphault field.

I implore from the in-the-parking-lot-bed-now, “I do not want this. It’s hot. I’m homeless. Stay. No game. My keys are lost.”

“Now THAT’s a problem,” Todd wisecracks. “That’s a loup-garou.”

Take a look around this dump. You're just a tourist with a typewriter, Barton, I live here.

Take a look around this dump. You’re just a tourist with a typewriter, Barton, I live here.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why you don’t want to take Nyquil after eating a banana. Geez.

Atlas Crumpled

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Here I stand – strong, impervious to the elements, meeting life and its challenges head-on – with the world (my world) resting on the tips of my fingers with everything balanced and fully aligned.

Look at me, Super Woman. I tackle new projects with zest in the workplace, relish home life with zeal; I am a paragon of calm under pressure. What, me? No, I haven’t been sick in a couple years – it’s something to do with my age I guess, the germs don’t care for me at all. I’m the Teflon of Moms, I don’t relinquish control of my body to illness.

Getting a whiff of a sore throat, I down Emergen-C ; a headache coming on, here comes plenty of water and sunglass therapy; what? A hint of fatigue — nothing that an extra 15 minutes of sleep can’t cure. It does seem impossible, but I am a rock. When the shit comes down, I’m holding the box of Kleenex for someone else.

See, there I am at church, holding the door for the old ladies, now at work, signing the “Get Well” card for Bob. I am thinking up new ways to share this staggering prosperity with others. “Just drink a lot of liquids, that’s what I do.” “Don’t let the little things stress you out – it’s not worth it.” “Get a grip, just sweat it out.”

Yesterday at work – 8 a.m.: A tickle at the base of my throat – it’s nothing.

10 a.m.: My ears have a soreness I can’t quite describe.

11 a.m.: Peculiar, my stomach isn’t quite settled.

12:15 p.m.: A halo from looking at my computer monitor.

12:30 p.m.: The sneeze of kingdom come to rattle the window.

No worries – just down the concoctions and live on the Nile, otherwise known as de-nial.

12:50 p.m.: Sudden, but slight, fatigue.

1:10 p.m.: Mild body muscle aches.

1:40 p.m.: A cold sweat  — Huh – better take notice now

2:10 p.m.: A crisis in the office, minor really, makes me edgy and off my game

Power through it – get the boxes, the bags, gather it up and get out to the car.

3 p.m.: Driving the car I feel the energy drain from me. Ay caramba.

Well, how did I get here?

3:30 p.m. I’m at the area high school for their party to collect food for homeless children. I find a couple of students who help me get the materials inside. Soon I’ll be on my way heading to the pharmacy, but “No,” the girls and moms say, “Stay. Help us to put the food in packs today.” Don’t they see? I’m dying. Impervious Mom has the sweat – I’m practically bathing in it –if my hair didn’t cover my ears they’d see their crimson color; I’m caught – I can’t leave. Don’t they see my eyes dilated? My skin may not be purple yet, but the pain and aches are causing internal bruising; concentration – I need it – “What is your name again?” they ask – I try to remember, it begins with an E, I think; words come from my mouth but I don’t hear them. They’re packing the food, but they need the boxes I move from one side of the cafeteria to the other and for some reason I keep looking for my purse, or is it the keys? Yes the keys – I need them, the boxes to the car they’re ready to load and can I carry a box? My arms are breaking, my breath is short. They ask me if they can carry the box, I say “Yes,” but I think, “Can’t they see?  I know I must look like sergeant Brody from Homeland stuck in lockdown with the joint chiefs of staff with a radioactive vest strapped on – I am paranoid and weak. I say good-bye and buy pudding and drugs at the store.

At home little Mo-mo has the same thing. I look at her in bed and say, “You poor thing.”

“Mom,” she says. “The sheets, they are burning me and itching me. Can I have new ones?”

Well sure thing – I’m Teflon aren’t I? But where are the sheets? What are sheets? Why are sheets? Somehow, yes I remember how, my husband how, he gets sheets and together we replace hers with clean ones.

Inside our room I peel off clothes, look at our bed all rumpled from last night, I could care less. I would lay on a turd right now if it would put me in a supine position. That’s more like it. Now here come the real aches – did they really beat me repeatedly with a stick? Why do my fingers feel like they’re bleeding? My word, do my eyeballs always ache when I move them to the right? I need my custard, no, I don’t eat custard – where is a hot water bottle?…delirious…I love the sound of Mandy Patinkin’s voice, not his singing, his speaking; will he come to me tell me I don’t have to go through with it. He’s so nice, so thoughtful, he assures me with that voice like butter,

"Now I Lay Me..."

“Now I Lay Me…”

I don’t have to have the electro-shock – the iron lung – the lobotomy. “Remember this,” I whisper, “That’s right, don’t let me forget this – I’m vulnerable –  I’m only human.”

Start with a New Page

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New year, new beginnings, new life.

New year, new beginnings, new life.

The days they do fly and here we stand at the third week of the year. That great post I had all written in my head to greet the baby new year — the one that was the overlay of new beginnings brightened by New Year’s weddings because I finished Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding at the dawn, was to be a remembrance of the two New Year’s weddings — 20 years apart — that we’ve been honored to attend. I got bogged down choosing and sizing the art. Oh what a dandy that blog could have been. Too late.

Too late, too, was the comparison between our lives to Gulliver’s Travels as written by Jonathan Swift. Oh how the Lilliputians could so aptly have been compared to our Congress and lawmakers. It was pithy — or at least how I had blogged in my head on the backs of my eyelids while I drifted off to sleep.

My next  was an open letter to all the NFL bystanders — we patient partners who stand by while our TV rooms turn blue with the slang slung at Jim Nance and Joe Buck to quit blatantly  favoring the ref’s call for their perceived favorites. No need to write that one now — our team, the Niners are going all the way with the help of hometown hero Colin Kaepernick. Fist pump all the way!

A reason to cheer in the new year.

A reason to cheer in the new year.

Oh the riotous post about our small grey kitty who habitually spills unwatched beverages and has killed off two electronic devises in two weeks. And yet, by God, we still love that scamp. The theme boiling up was something about this unconditional animal love while trying to comprehend why we struggle to do the same for our fellow human friends and relations. That one was written as I drove to work, never making it to the tips of my fingers and onto the screen.

My next post was gunna be — am I just too old, too work-worn to go through yet another boss?   It’s me railing against change, against new systems or worrying about what the new expectations shall be. Am I “up” for it mentally to read the tea leaves of exactly what’s in the head of a new boss? What if the term out-sourced comes up? When in life do we ever stop having to justify our existence?  My allegory of the new and the old. The beginnings always and yet beginning again. Yep. That one, too, came in the night, when my mind wouldn’t stop racing the clock.

One for the books 2

New reads, new ideas, new worlds to explore.

But it’s One for the Books by Joe Queenan that has me sleeping through the night again. His newly published book about reading (a personal passion of mine) helped me re-set my thoughts. Writing of the state of reading today after examining his own patterns, interviewing 65 of his friends and relations and maligning everyone from book reviewers to English teachers, to some of the authors themselves, mostly he bemoans the time slipping away. Voracious in his reading (he reads up to 150 books a year), he’s yet to get through Eliot’s Middlemarch even while reading up to 40 books simultaneously and he hasn’t washed his windows in 17 years. And for him, that’s OK.

These January blogs will never see the light of day, never be fleshed out completely, but for me, this has been a most positive month. These blogs: I’ve thought them up, one by one; they’ve entertained me and I am not looking back. No, not I.

Resolution Off the Charts at 23,749

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If 23,749 was a distance, it would get me back and forth from my home in Reno, Nevada to Pittsburgh five times.

If 23,749 was a height, it would be 10 feet from the summit of Makut Parbat in the Himalaya.

23749 is a Zip Code, or will be one someday, near Norfolk, Va.

Add up the calories in 53 fried Twinkies and you get approx. 23,749.

The 2012 road to reading led me to new adventure.

The 2012 road to reading led me to new adventure. (photo by Marjorie Williams)

If 23,749 were an a circumference measured in miles, it would be more than that of Venus.

If 23,749 were an age by days, it would be 65+ years.

In my case, 23,749 is the number of pages I have read in 2012. Whoa, really? Well, that’s what Goodreads tells me in my stats for the past year.

But more than that, 23,749 means I more than accomplished that goal of reading 75 books this year that I set January 1, 2012.

Me.

I accomplished a New Year’s Resolution. It’s traditionally something I’d be keen on for the first month or so of a new year. For example, running for exercise, giving up butter, sleeping eight hours a night, organizing all the closets — those have traditionally made my lists.

The key to this success? I love to read, I have access to a lot of books and I could measure results. The challenge was time — finding the time to make it happen. Even though my life is busy, busy, busy, choosing books that were sure to compel me to read kept the momentum going. For me, that meant good books — no trash, very few best sellers and portable — the books may or may not be classified as classics but necessarily not high-brow. Good books and never stopping. As in finishing a book and starting a new one the following day or even the same day. Not letting my brain, eyes or fingers for page-turning rest when I had made time.

A bonus to it all has been starting this blog. That in itself has been an adventure and one that will continue into 2013.

IMG_4481

Autumn reading warmed my heart. (photo by Marjorie Williams)

So want to know what I’ve been reading? I did blog back in August about the first 50, so here are the final 34 for the total of 84:

18 Fiction

16 Non-Fiction

I got into an Irish thing in August between Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw reading An Ideal Husband, Dubliners and Pygmalion by each and  add a biography – Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions by Frank Harris.

The looming elections led me to read Common Sense by Thomas Paine, The Theory of Social Revolutions by Brooks Adams, The Souls of White Folks by W.E.B. DuBois, and Griftopia by Matt Taibbi. The books helped me to make sense of our history, economic and social challenges.

The need to totally escape into thriller led me to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Cinema Murder by E. Phillips Oppenheim and the Fortieth Door by Mary Hastings Bradley.

My love of baseball and music drew me to Paul McCartney: A Life by Peter Ames Carlin and Moneyball by Michael Lewis.

Get your English on — with a maiden name like Melton, I must have some connection to John Milton. So I dove into Paradise Lost and continued on to The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, the little-read Anne Bronte with Agnes Grey after Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forester, for non-fiction, the autobiography of Charles Darwin and to round out the English sprint I read Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.

My friends, I do buy American and from modern authors too: The aforementioned Flynn, The Road by Cormac McCarthy (intense and good), The Heart is a Lonely Hunger by Carson McCullers, a juvenile read Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata and A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway.

I’ve got this ancestry research part in my soul that I love to enrich so to play with the theme: Hey America, Your Roots are Showing by Megan Smelenyak, Maria by Curtis Bok, Chapel Talks for School and Camp by Anne Barton Townsend (a great-aunt to my husband) and Western Carpetbaggers by Thomas Fitch.

Great Short Poems edited by Paul Negri was and is a heart-felt treasure.

Stranger than Fiction by the Voice of Reason radio personality and Don’t Know Much About Geography by Kenneth C. Davis came by way of a visit to the local used bookstore. While Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min came from my Mommy.

I thank the University of Nevada Journalism Department for bringing author Mark Kurlansky to town to lecture. I crammed in advance of the visit to read the epic 1968:The Year that Rocked the World. My 2013 list will include Salt and Birdseye by Kurlansky, for sure.

Ever on my spiritual path I welcomed (along with Milton and  Townsend above)  Jesus, A New Vision by Marcus Borg and Help Thanks Wow, the “new one,” by Anne Lamott.

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The snow flies as the year closes, but the reading continues into every season. (Photo by Vic Williams)

What’s on the bedstand now? I’m in the mid-point now for Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. Getting me up to that momentous 23,749.

Far more than a number, reading helped me associate my life with books and my books with my life. It has energized me, lifted me, educated me, entertained me, changed me.

I’ve Gotta Make a Dress

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SewingDiaryBatch53_imageIt’s a constant refrain in my brain over and over this time of year – “I’ve Gotta Make a Dress.” Sometimes it’s a suppressed whisper, other times a downright command. I’ve Gotta Make a Dress!!
What’s really weird is that I don’t even sew, at least not since junior high school, and I probably never will learn that vaunted skill.
So, what is this dress business? Carol, a dear co-worker from a couple of jobs ago, taught me this idiosyncratic phrase. Her tale was thus:  she had a million and one things going on one holiday season when a sweet church lady called to tell Carol that in addition to the full-time job, full-time family and full-time Christmas load, Carol would need to make a dress for her daughter, Sarah, to wear in the church play. The Church Lady gave Carol time– a couple of weeks — but Carol kept putting that dress off. In her scurrying and hurrying Carol would remember, “I have to make a dress.” Until the thought was waking her up at night, “I have to make a dress, CRAP!”
In her fun and goofy way, Carol taught me this coping mechanism, this mantra that means in essence, I’ve got a lot to get done in a short amount of time. When stress hit work, she had all of us saying, “I gotta make a dress.”
For a Food Bank marketing person this is truly the time of year when your head is spinning and you run from one event to another, fielding requests, talking to people who want to engage in what you do. It’s also the time of year that your family has more events, more commitments, more church, more life.
I relish this time, I really do! My phone rings near constantly at work; I stick a barrel in my car two or three times a week or wheedle a co-worker to make a delivery to some excited giver. I feel popular! I know I’m part of a customer service team bringing in the much-needed food to feed up to 97,000 people in our service area a month. With about 250 food drives going simultaneously, it’s no wonder that just short of Christmas I dream not of snow falling but of food bank barrels – I’m holding up walls of them, they’re flying overhead, my family can’t move because the house is filled with them.

That's life - a work in progress.

That’s life – a work in progress.

It’s my fourth Food Drive Season and each year I learn more, do more, talk more, drive more and sometimes, sew more. The difference this year is some temporary help has come our way to make it so I can help market more. What use is a barrel sitting in some corner with no food in it? Let’s get the word out, tell the world FOOD DRIVE SEASON!
Just because it’s our food bank’s busy time, doesn’t mean the personal commitments of the Christmas season and let’s be honest, everyday life will cease. We’ve got meals and desserts to make and share; laundry to do; ugly sweater parties to grace with just the right ensemble; Advent skits to learn; lessons to plan; crafts to make; rehearsals and concerts to attend; people shuttle to and fro; a house to decorate; presents to find and wrap and give; secrets to keep; house to clean; letters to write and meetings (all kinds) to attend. Thank the Lord for a husband and partner who picks up my utter slack, or Christmas at our home would be a pathetic mess.

Always good advice.

Always good advice.

Then there’s the second job I have that has a deadline each December 31 that brings more flurry to my mailbox and to my door. That brings scores more people to interact with, emails to write, explanations to be made and more tasks for me to remember.
This all to explain the dress is not quite made and my blog has quite sad, too, having had no attention from me for the past month or two.
I’m not complaining or ranting or moaning, you see. No, no, not me! I just can hardly wait to see how pretty that dress will be.

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