Not Normal, Illinois is a collection of stories about the Midwest. We all know there’s clipped intelligence in the Northeast, flashy thrills in California, and gothic romance in the South, but what kind of writing comes from the Midwest? Mashed potato recipes (You smash a potato.)? Descriptions of how the corn grows up (Vertically.)? Or is there something weirder, something more profound, in the flyover space between New York and LA, outside Chicago and around those Great Lakes we keep hearing about? Something “Not Normal”? Lily James, who has a story in the collection and is one of my favorite writers, would say yes.
She is the author of High Drama in Fabulous Toledo, and she is an amazing talent. I met her years before either of us ever published a word and I fell in love with her writing---she has such brio combined with boundless imagination and wicked humor. She has been my writing/crit partner and hero for murmble-murmble years now, and here murmble mumble is represents a VERY LARGE NUMBER, so largeI can’t remember exactly what it is, like 17 or 25 or 20? Anyway, large. So large it gives away too much about exactly how dern old I am. (Which is 41. BUT STILL. )
I asked Lily to drop by and answer three questions.
Joshilyn: Your story in the collection, “Round,” is set in Toledo. Your novel is also set in Toledo. What is the deal with you and Toledo?
Lily: Well, when the authors of our time were all choosing favorite cities, I felt safe in picking Toledo, because I knew I’d never be challenged.
No, seriously, there’s something belligerently grandiose about Toledo that has always captivated me. I was born in Detroit, but I went to school in Northwest Ohio, and experienced firsthand the excruciating winters, the relentless flatness, the cultural vacuum. I know why people who are born in this region are instantly desperate to get out. They go to Chicago, go to New York, even go to Cinncinnati or Columbus, anything to get out of Northwest Ohio and everything barren that’s there.
No one aspires to someday be in Toledo. No one yearns to go there, and live there, establish a dynasty there, put down roots. And yet, impossibly, there’s still a city there, the city of Toledo. Impossibly, there it is. There’s a daily paper that calls itself “one of the nation’s best.” There’s a zoo, and a university, and an art museum. There’s even a skyscraper. Toledo, stuck firmly in the rust belt, with a stalled economy and a failed manufacturing industry lying in tatters around it, still calls itself the Glass City, as if an inherent optimism and ethereal beauty could be impressed on the beholder by a trick of the light, by a celestial name. It’s just so absurd, you have to love it. Toledo makes no sense; it is pride in the face of obscurity, a poignant ruin oblivious to its decay, it’s a gorilla in a tutu, a string quartet out of tune on a sinking freighter carrying rubber balls. Cleveland has always been a joke of a town, but Toledo, built on a battle ground, lost in a swamp, and home of the Glass City Rollers, is so absurd as to be sublime.
Joshilyn: What is your story about?
Lily: The story is about a Toledo that has been destroyed by tornadoes. The female main character tries to keep her family together on the outskirts of town, scavenging from the rubble, forging protective connections with other survivors, and trying to stay positive. It’s one of those stories where you might give birth to a sea turtle, or be okay with living in a ditch for a while. Kind of like the three little pigs, if Toledo were the straw house, and the pigs were your family, and in the end your husband got eaten by a harpy.
Joshilyn: What is your favorite other story in the collection?
Lily: There are so many good ones, I can’t choose. Let me give you a few titles. Mine has the shortest title; it’s called “Round.” Other much longer ones: “Talking to My Old Science Teacher about Drawings in which I Killed Him,” “Metaphysics of the Midwest,” “Some Notes on the Cold War in Kansas,” “A History of Indiana,” “River Dead of Minneapolis Scavenged by Teenagers.” And among the authors represented are Robert Coover, George Saunders, Rikki Ducornet, and Louise Erdrich. Hers is called “F*** with Kayla and You Die.” Now how can you not want to read that?
I think that when Michael Martone was looking for stories to include, he was not specifically seeking formal experimentation, but a uniquely Midwestern viewpoint expressed in a voice that was defiantly “not normal.” So the result is actually a fair representation of the literary avant garde of the moment, but not from New York, or Boulder, Austin, or LA. From the Midwest, with all its belligerent, absurd grandeur.
The worst shopping is no DOUBT bathing suit shopping, but jeans have to be a close second. I LIVE in jeans, so eventually, I have to do it. I have gone down a dress size, so I threw all my current jeans away lest I be tempted to eat my way back into them. Then I tried on my OLD smaller jeans and discovered that in the way of such things, they had become too unendurably MOMTASTIC to be worn in human public.
For the last fifteen years I have worn only GAP Men’s jeans, which is tragic, but hey, they kinda fit. Sort of. I bought myself some really cute (for me) ones last year. I must have been feeling HOPEFUL that day, because I bought an extra pair a size too small in the hopes that I would get into them.
Beloveds, I am into them.
I went back last week to get a few more pairs, and of course in the way of such things, this cut no longer exists. If it fits me, it is sure to be discontinued the day after I discover it. I tried on other cuts, but for the first time, Gap Men’s jeans FAILED me. They have gone all ACTUALLY manly looking. What’s THAT about?
I tried on Gap WOMEN’s jeans but they made me look like my entire lower body was made of koala bears. It was like I had stuffed three koalas in a stack in each leg, and some of the bears were doing yoga and poking their feet out at the sides. Over spandexed? Maybe?
I called Karen to pule, and she told me to WOMAN UP, that it was high time I quit using Gap For Men as my personal Jeans Grranimals and ventured out to find ACTUAL WOMEN’S JEANS that were cut for my figure. She said some BRANDS to me that I had never heard of, as I have the fashion savvy of a mother-naked trout.
-Seven looks FANTASTIC on Karen, but they make me look like I used to be a seventeen year old supermodel-slash-hooker and no one ever had the heart to tell me I turned 40.
Calvin Klein (okay I had heard of this...Thanks Ms. Shields) is cut for People Not Like Me.
(This is a nice way of saying, “People who like to overshare their butt cleavage.”)
DKNY jeans are SO cute. On the hanger. Not on me. I looked malformed. Weird. Like I was possibly a satyr with the backward-sy knee parts.
I tried on a pair of soemthign called J BRAND and...wow! I LOOK REALLY GREAT (for me) IN J BRAND JEANS! Then I noticed they cost 210 dollars a pair and they got considerably less cute. In fact, they got downright loathsome.
But after tears and endless mall crawling and creeping into dressing rooms with ten more pairs and poking at my phone to have financial consultations with Mir and fashion consultations with Karen and a BUCK UP LITTLE CAMPER AND GO BUY JEANS chat with Sara...At last! Sweet Victory.
Dear Ladies Who Are Little-in-the-middle-but-the-butt-is-round,
I have three words for you. Lucky Brand Jeans.
You may remit tearstained thank you notes and FTD Thank You bouquets at your leisure.
Last night, I dreamed I was at a writer’s conference and someone offered me a thousand dollars in CASH to lead a poetry workshop for them as they had an emergency. While I hope my real self would say, “Oh um, call Beth Ann Fennelly, I do not know from poetry,” my dream self said ABSOLUTELY I CAN! While I hope my real self would not take the money, my dream self sure did.
Then my dream self got what was coming to it, walking into the “workshop” and realizing it was not a workshop at all, but a reading where I was expected to share some of my own personal poetry, of which none exists. I mostly only perpetrated poetry as a whelpling, that lovely time when you are thirteen, and angst-ridden, and clearly the center of the universe and immortal, and you think poetry is about describing HOW YOU FEEL in bleak, image-free terms. You see no reason not to rhyme, “Pain” with “again.” Twice. In the same stanza.
SO my dream self started thinking about the poetry I wrote for the single poetry workshop I took in grad school, and granted it was less self indulgent, but not what I would call...good. I perpetrated one poem in that workshop that I think has even a spec of merit, and it is a ripping piece of anger about how much I TRULY disliked my friend Lydia’s current boyfriend. In the dream I was wondering how I could get ahold of a copy of it, and if one poem could be stretched into a “reading” by means of long pauses and possibly interpretive dance. I had that sweaty-palmed feel you get in the Naked At Work dream or the dream where you are an Actor Pushed On Stage With No Idea What Your Lines Are Or Even What The Play Is.
Then it got worse. We were all taken hostage by terrorists who were going to be killing one of us every hour for some nefarious terrorist-type purpose that was never clear.
SO we were in a ship’s hold, somehow, and waiting to be killed, and I had escalated to that cold terror you get in dreams where your blood starts to move syrup-slow even though your heart is pounding, and I wait to die, and in the logic free way of dreams someone said, “While we wait, she could at least read her poetry.” All these doomed people crammed in the hold of the ship turned their eyes on me, and I had NOTHING! NOTHING! Except a thousand dollars in cash in my pocket I had taken while promising to do a thing I KNEW I COULD NOT DO, and PS soon I was going to be shot and killed---
I woke up panting and pouring sweat in the blackness of 1:30 AM, caught fast in the claws of a pernicious, undefeatable, red-eyed, villainous Insomnia from the Planet Krypton. I looked at the ceiling and fretted for an hour, and then I gave up and reached for the remote. 2:30 television is T.S. Elliott’s The Wasteland but without the literary allusions and the merit.
Infomercial city. Thirty minutes of impossible promises unspooling on every channel. I watched a couple of each and was never moved to even reach for the phone. Here is what I learned:
If you buy the right machine, you can be ripped and cut by working out 20 minutes, 3 times a week, without changing your eating habits. Bald people can have hair! Hairy people can be smooth! A special rubber pain tube makes you look thin, not like you have packed into a rubber pain tube, and PS it is very, very comfortable! If I had a machine to finely chop herbs, I would finally be happy and fulfilled as a woman. Extenze causes men to have bigger wing-wangs, which is all thatwomen actually care about in a man, and you know the claims are SUPER true because the product is full of science and over 100 million capsules have been taken already, and that PROVES it works.
Gummi Bears make your hair glossy, and I know this is true because last year people ate 100 thousand pounds of them.
PS, this word “science” you keep using? I do not think it means what you think it means.
Finally, I gave up and switched the channel to the ONLY non-informercial show on. It was...CSI: MIAMI. Gah. Why do the writers write what they write for that show? NO ACTOR could pull off the DIALOG. Maybe blaming the writer’s is wrong, because they seem to be giving a LARGE GROUP of MILLIONS what they want. The fact that THIS TRULY AWFUL SHOW continues its death march and gets ENDLESS syndication while LIFE and THE UNUSUALS could not find an audience makes me foam.
I watched the opening, and I just – have you SEEN this show? HOW? HOW IS IT STILL ON? There was a dead body and beside it, the way-too-talented-to-be-saying-these-clunky-lines Khandi Alexander found a little balsa wood coffin. She looks up and says to the other cops, in all earnesty, “Do you think the killer put this here to scare us off?”
Um, hi? That’s insane. What cop thinks that when confronted with a clue? “Perhaps the killer smashed her head in to get blood on the floor to scare us away!” No. No, no.
Red Haired Guy Who Used To Be So Great on NYPD BLUE looks down at her and TAKES HER QUESTION SERIOUSLY. He says, “Maybe.” WOW! I had no idea that technique WORKED. Next time I commit murder, I will cleverly place a realistic-looking rubber cockroach, kinda have it peeking out from my victim’s armpit, and all the police will scream and scatter. I shall get away clean!
But then he spoiled my plan by saying, “But we don’t scare so easily.”
AH I SEE! The problem is not the logic. The problem is the item! A little wooden coffin that a child might use to bury her hamster is not scary enough! THANKS Red Haired Guy Who Used To Be So Great on NYPD BLUE. I now know to use at least 3 rubber roaches.
I watched for maybe seven minutes before Scott rolled over and blinked blearily at me and said, “Are you watching CSI: MIAMI? Please don’t watch CSI Miami. You know it enrages you.”
Scott can sleep through just about anything, but at that moment, they had just discovered a rotten maggoty GOAT HEAD in the cabinet right behind the spot where Khandi and Red Haired Guy Who Used To Be So Great on NYPD BLUE had been discussing how the coffin was a clever ploy to scare away the cops (JINKIES SCOOBIE, IF IT HADN’T BEEN FOR US DERN KIDS....) and I may have been yelling at the screen that any cop who sees the body is so fresh it is still WARM and yet smells REEKING DECOMP should maybe CHECK THE CABINET RIGHT BEHIND THEM instead of babbling about SPOOKY TOYS.
I admit I am very grumpy and am being very very mean to CSI: Miami, and I am sure all the people involved in making it are hurt in their feelings and crying as they drive their HUM-Vs to throw big bags of cash into the bank because ZILLIONS OF PEOPLE KEEP WATCHING IT and buying PINE SOL or whatever product placement object they see the CSI guys using to clean up the goat head detritus. Question: Why couldn’t they have called the good shows CSI: LIFE, or CSI: THE UNUSUALS. Then they would still be on.
Anyway, yes I am being mean. I FEEL mean. I got about three hours of sleep. I felt bad about waking Scott up, so I spent the rest of the bleak hours with the infomercials. Did you know HERDS of gorgeous 19 year olds with breast implants are rolling around on their carpets, wearing lingerie and The High Shoes, talking on a singles hotline at three am, and they wish you would switch off CSI:Miami and call?
Pestilent floods descended on Powder Springs this week. Half my little town has been SUBMERGED with evacuated folks living in City Hall. On Tuesday, my craziest neighbor began building an ark and muttering about “iniquity.” He gave us the fish-eye and said there wouldn’t really be room for us once the giraffes were installed, but today, the roads have re-opened, the waters have receded, and he is feeling pretty dumb for buying all that balsam wood and doing the Big Math to convert cubits into metric.
Thank you everyone who checked on us. We were lucky. We are dry from the roof to the basement and very pleased to living on a hill. Only a few miles away, Sweetwater Creek is fronting like it thinks it’s the Nile, treating highway 20 like it’s personal river bed, and at 6 Flags over Georgia, the roller coasters have all been renamed Splash Mountain. You can only see the very very top crest of the track’s hills...lookit here is a still from the TV coverage:
The kids have been out of school until today which means I have gotten exactly BUTT NOTHING done. Ah well---the rising creeks blocked all the roads, plus the school’s basement flooded. Scott’s office was shut down as it was surrounded by flooded roads and even if he had chosen to boat across, they had no power or phone service. All three roads he can use to get from here to there are STILL closed, so he is home again. I like having him about. That’s the one plus in this crappy week of water and destruction.
Today I am blathering over on A Good Blog is Hard to Find, a group blog that is chock fulla Southern authory goodness.
See ya’ll there.
THING ONE: Can you not comment? I got two emails yesterday saying comments were causing error messages and not posting. If you are having this trouble can you drop me an email at Joshilyn at the Joshilyn Jackson, dot to the com, dag yo. Please tell me what error you are getting?
THING TWO: Apparently, for MONTHS AND MONTHS, my favorite product in the universe, called “Nose Sniffy” by everyone at my house and “Zycam Gel Swabs” by the rest of the universe, has been in the news and sued and pulled from the market. I did not know until I went to CVS to buy another case and was told that APPARENTLY Nose Sniffy had caused a few million people to lose all sense of smell and/or taste. Permanently.
I am BEREFT. I KNOW in my heart that my beloved Nose Sniffy would never treat me so. Nose Sniffy makes the cold not happen, and as much as I travel, stewing in the foul human-dander-germ soup that is airplane air, I have come to depend on it.
Yes, yes, I know Nose Sniffy comes in melts and mouth mists and chewables, but, excuse me, they all taste like troll buttock. Worse, they coat your mouth with STEALTH troll buttock. The coating lasts for hours, and so, you gag your way through the chewable, and then two hours later, when you go to each lunch, you put a bite of ham in your mouth and the food REACTIVATES the troll buttock taste. No matter what you put in your mouth---food water toothpaste---- FOR DAYS, it all tastes like that foul foul foul hairy chewable. Zinc is SO repulsive that honestly, I think I’d rather have the freakin’ cold.
My friend Lydia, who is also tragically woeful over the disappearance of Nose Sniffy, put it best. She said, “"Who needs to smell things? I mean really. If I never smelled another thing I'd be just as happy as I am now. Which is freakin' ecstatic, every living second."
Amen. Call me when you discover Nose Sniffy causes irreversible brain damage. Until then, GIVE IT BACK.
THING THREE: I got a crackberry. I love it. I love it so much, so wrongfully. Yesterday I realized I could customize ringtones. So now, for example, when Scott calls me, it plays the theme music from UNDERDOG. Or when Karen and Sara call me, Beyonce starts wailing that if you had liked it, then you should have put a ring on it. I want everyone I have ever met to have a custom ringtone, until I have SO many it becomes meaningless because I forget who is The Fratellis and who is Tenth Avenue North. I think I am going to change my "you have a text" noise to Napoleon Dynamite yelling, "TINA! COME GET SOME HAM!"
It was a lot less expensive than I thought it would be. I asked the guy at my service provider’s phone store if I qualified for the SUPER HUGE CRACKBERRY discount and he looked and saw I got my last phone from them in...1997. SO. That would be a yes.
Now that I have this thing it is my plan to FINALLY learn to twitter. I signed up for twitter MONTHS ago and then promptly forgot it existed. I follow no one. I do not know how to follow. I do not remember my password. Or my username, which is probably Joshilyn or Joshilyn_Jackson or Joshilynjackson or somesuch. I forget the whole system exists until I get an e-mail that someone else is now following me on twitter. Then I have a brief moment of realizing I have no idea how to tweet or twit or whatever foul British-Cuss-sounding word The Young Kids call it these days, and then I forget it exists.
BUT NOW with the help of my new PHONE TOY, I shall learn. Next week. Apparently I need a platform, or so says my tech-savvy friend, Mir?
I hope that means new shoes.
Maisy has a stuffy she is particularly fond of these days, a floppy-legged dog named Susie. Maisy Miss Jane is, quite frankly, mostly PAST stuffies these days. We are seven. We are much too sophisticated and worldy for stuffies, insert your own mildly superior sniffing noise here, thanks so much.
She prefers fashionista Barbies and baby dolls for playing marathon games of house with her friend Annelise. But Susie is special. Susie came to our big family beach week as the property ERIN VIRGINIA, the most beautiful and glamorous and amazing teenager cousin all the world, and ERIN gifted Maisy Jane with Susie. Maisy has taken to toting Susie everywhere, for months now.
Most recently, Suzie has become a HAT. Yes. A hat. Maisy likes to put Susie on her head, two floppy legs hanging down to frame her forehead, two dandling in the back. Maisy says it helps her practice balance for ballet. This may be actually be accidentally true ---Susie used to slide right off, but after several weeks of this, Masiy Jane can march around and play and pick up her room and feed the cats, all with Suzie perched unmoving on her head.
Maisy would like to wear Susie all the time, but ALAS! The school Maisy attends has uniforms and a dress code. Maisy pointed out that there is not a specific prohibition against wearing dog-shaped floppy hats, but because I am unreasonable and a terrible ogre-mother, I feel that the wearing of Susie violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. No Susie-heads at school.
So I can KINDA GET THE LOGIC behind what happened this morning.I see the thought processes in Maisy Jane's little, precious, and endlessly innocent head. In Maisy-land, Susie is a HAT. Right? Got that? Keep that thought in your head as we continue.
I came downstairs, yawning, and Scott said, “Look at what your daughter left on the coffee table.”
I snapped a pic of it, but I try (most days) to keep this blog PG-13. Yes, my novels are for grown-ups, definately some 17 and up content in many of them, but you have to go to the grown up lit section and open the cover and read --whereas here, I know the kids of some of my friends visit, etc etc, so. PG-13. Therefore, I am not going to just STICK UP the picture. You must click to see, and you click at your own risk.
Oh my. I took the...project down immediately, and clearly I need to have a talk with my daughter about appropriate stuffy behavior, maybe take her to a FARM, but Scott says no. Scott says that for a brief moment, Susie was ART. I tend to respond in a more Supreme Courtish manner and say, I can’t define porn, but I DERN WELL KNOW IT WHEN I SEE IT. Scott insists that it was an ART INSTALLATION, but I think he lost all credibility for that argument when he suggested that it should have been titled, "This is my dog, Randy."
Calvin’s dad. I HAVE MARRIED CALVIN’S DAD.
I email back and forth all day with a few of my writer friends. We whine in the morning, then shut down the internets and go to work. Quite often we do “virtue checks” in the afternoon to see what kind of progress each of us has made. If someone comes up ROSY at a check----ploughed out a couple thousand words, worked out a tricky plot problem, figured out what was blowing the pacing of a key scene and fixed it---they are petted and feted and made much of.
It is water cooler camaraderie for those of us who work alone. In our pajamas.
Yesterday afternoon, I was making my way through a SLOUGH of e-mails, answering and deleting, boomboomboom. I came across a virtue check from Sara, mentioning she had met a goal in her revisions, but not, in my opinion, crowing enough about her triumph. Much too understated---she had had a win, and a win deserves a fanfare.
SO, I shot her back an email that said, "Oh! That is SO SEXY! Tell me again, slower, and just let that Flashdance home-cut sweatshirt slip off your shoulder the TINIEST BIT."
I was answering a lot of e-mails very quickly in a row, and I did not send that email to Sara.
Instead, I had clicked and hit reply to a Barnes and Noble community relations director who was asking me for an author photo and cover shot of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming so she could get the word out about an upcoming event.
I NEVER WOULD HAVE KNOWN. I assumed it had gone to Sara, and a couple of hours later I get a very HESITANT sort of ahem scuse me was this for me? E-mail from this poor B and N director, saying REALLY all that was needed was a high rez jpg.
AT LEAST A THOUSAND TIMES A DAY I say to my 12 year old, “Son,” I say to him, “Most beloved son, I pose unto you a question: Is it better to do something ONCE, slowly and correctly, or is it better to slop and shoot through on a speed high and have to go back and redo it a thousand times and clean up the mess from doing it wrong.”
He rolls his eyes and says, “Once. Slowly. Correctly.”
Maybe next time I should LISTEN to him.
I am about to say an inflammatory thing, and many of you, my best beloveds, are going to make Tyra Banks Audience noises at me and say, OH NO SHE DID NOT GO THERE. But I am going there. Here I go, right to there.
There are two kinds of people in the world:
People who watch reality TV, and people who have souls.
I have a soul.
*cough* Most days.
Not on Thursday evening at 10 PM EST, obviously, when The Great Exception comes on Lifetime. Oh, Heidi! Oh, TIM. Love you, love your show. Carol Hannah and Epperson are my super favorites. I enjoy to look upon the silver pants guy.
Perhaps there are not two kinds of people. Perhaps I was only being a shameless rabble-rouser in order to get comments. (You think?) After all, some of my BEST FRIENDS are soulless reality TV junkies. (Hi Lydia! Hi Karen!) Wow – look there… fully HALF of my closest friends love this stuff.
FURTHERLY perhaps there are two kinds of reality TV---contest-y types, and the kind that simply makes me ashamed to be human.
Project Runway is a contest-y type, and I UNABASHEDLY adore it. It is, until Dollhouse starts up again (OH! SPETEMBER 25th! COME SOON!), the only hour of television I cannot miss. I watch it, I am avid, and I am not ashamed. In fact, MANY of the contesty ones don’t make me want to get a personectomy and become something superior. Like, say, fungus.
In order to qualify as a REAL GAME and therefore NOT reality-TV in my head (where it counts), there have to be certain conditions met. For example, it can’t be a game where the objective is “Be the biggest butt chuck.” SO Survivor and Big Brother and MOLE type shows are flat out. It’s best when the game is based on actual gifted people exercising their talents, but also regular folks with a common goal is fine by me. I have never experienced the urge to projectile vomit when seeing bits of THE AMAZING RACE or DANCING WITH THE STARS, for example.
I cannot say the same thing about The Hills.
I like games. I like to see people try and fail and promise to keep trying and then I like to see someone win and cry happy tears. I like to see people with talents and skill sets go head to head. At its best (say it with me: Project Runway) reality television is like the Olympics for people who like art instead of sports. So while I don’t watch American Idol because I don’t care much about songs, I have no squeamish and horrified reaction to all the parts of it that are not Simon.
I don’t mind Top Chef or any of the shows where room designers make rooms. I even have a soft spot for “Dance Your *ss Off, the show my brother has dubbed, “The Final Nail in the Coffin of Western Civilization.” But I LIKED Dance Your *ss Off the couple times I have seen it. And I also like So You Think You Can Dance, where amazing people defy gravity and fold themselves into airborne yoga shapes.
On the other hand, I HAVE almost puked while inadvertently seeing more than 10 seconds of The Real Housewives of Anywhere, any REAL world, any sort of Bacholor/Bachelorette, in fact, anything with the basic premise “COME FIND TRUE LOVE (By making out with 20 seperate Boob Job hotties!)” I can’t manage to keep food down in a room with these shows.
There are several reasons I become ill---I get CRIPPLING sympathetic embarrassment. My intestines seize and writhe with shared shame. I think things like, “Wow. You, TV Person, are probably kind of a big dumb jerk in real life, but they are editing you to look like an extremely dumb uber-jerk, and I only hope that in REAL LIFE you are too dumb to get how dumb and jerky you come across on TV.”
I cannot stomach the MEAN-NESS. The PETTINESS. People get their little egos involved and gang up and turn all Lord of the Flies over the tiniest slights. I know I have a tendency to be petty, to be a grudgeholder, to be hypersensitive. It’s the thing I like LEAST in myself, the thing I fight as hard as I can, and to see the very thing I fight hardest and hate most when I fall pray to it encouraged and glorified is sick-making.
Also, it makes me lose faith and hope in any kind of future. I watch these things and think, “If this is how HUMAN BEINGS actually and consistently ARE, then I have to leave the planet.”
The most egregious show on television right now is MORE TO LOVE. I sat down to try to watch it twice now, feeling I SHOULD try to watch it. Both times, within 10 minutes, I had to change the channel or sink into a slough of despond.
I’ve been waiting for Jennifer Weiner, whose books I love, and who on her wildly entertaining blog talks quite bit about reality TV, to give me a context for it that will make me not want to blow up earth every time a COMMERCIAL for More To Love airs, but she says, “it seems like the kind of thing I should have an opinion about, right? -- but I cannot find my place on the impressed-horrified continuum. Yes, the ladies seem kind of needy and pathetic...but aren't all of the contestants on every reality dating show needy and pathetic? Yes, they're drunk, but why should big girls in bathing suits be any different from the skinny girls in theirs?
I guess the difference, for me, is that the skinny girls in their bathing suits are not solely defined as THE SKINNY GIRLS. It isn’t IN SHAPE BACHOLOR and 20 ATHLETIC LADIES WITH BOOB JOBS. It’s just…people. And granted, the contestants are usually what I call TV Pretty (which is to say, they are held to a higher standard to qualify as pretty than MALL PRETTY. These are the terms I use to define the phenom in which a person you see in your local mall has to hit a MUCH LOWER bar to be judged attractive than a person you see on TV.)
MORE TO LOVE seems to SILENTLY ENDORSE some horrifying ideas. Foremost, that these people’s intrinsic VALUE is lowered by their weight. They deserve each other. We should put all the fat people on an island to be loved by other fat people. Fat People are not LIKE Thin People, and they should stick to their own kind.
Every time I have watched, within the ten minutes before I had to flip the channel or implode, MORE than one girl has wept about how this is her one chance---that it is her weight that MAKES this her one chance. That without this show, her weight makes her unworthy…How many times can you watch a silly, sad girl cry her guts out thinking saying no one will ever love her because she is heavy without becoming suicidal?
For me? The answer is just about twice.
And I admit this is a hot button for me. I have spent my life, from puberty on UP, flirting with eating disorders while trying to convince myself that my value as a person is NOT diminished by a higher dress size. I KNOW intellectually that I am JUST as valuable and worthy of love when I am a size 14 as when I am a size 8. And yet…this show reinforces the idea that what I have always secretly believed in my mentally ill little heart: My jeans size is more important than my PERSONHOOD, more important than being kind and loving, more important than being forgiving, more important than fighting pettiness and more important than trying to learn empathy.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Granted, the whole idea of finding love by simultaneously making out with 20 different people and passing out roses and having quasi-scripted dates ALREADY makes me go UGH, but the sly mocking hatefulness of MORE TO LOVE makes me want to kick someone in the face.
If you love it, then you tell me…What am I missing?
I got a note from fellow Grand Central author Tiffany Baker:
“I saw The Girl Who Stopped Swimming in my local B & N yesterday. The good news: It was prominently displayed on a table right by the cash registers. The bad news: The table was labeled "Strange and Unusual." I laughed out loud.”
Ha. That seems about right. I think I could make a case for all my books making that table...
Meanwhile, did you know that Target has an aisle called, “As Seen On Television.” They do. I discovered it last week while exploring the neglected back corner of Deepest Darkest Super Target. It was well beyond sheets, amd a goodly hike past Towels and Small Appliances. I had to get through Pet Needs and pass by Toys. And then there it was! “As Seen on Television.” A wonderland of the mildly bizarre.
Your garden variety insomniac will recognize most of the products on this aisle. They are from the Dark of Night Informercials, but not the WEIRDEST ones. Target stocks the infomercial products that that you might actually purchase in the DAYTIME after a good night's sleep when you haven’t been washing down Tylenol PM with hot-milk-and-campari for four straight hours and you enter a furry mental state where a machine that claims to give you buff abs in only ten minutes a day while you use the kinetic energy that comes from your sit ups to chop fresh herbs and garlic starts to look like a REALLY GREAT IDEA!
In other words, you won’t find Spray on Hair, a product that essentially lets you cover your thin spots with Hair-ish colored Silly String.
You also won’t, ALAS ALAS, find the magnificent Flowbee, the amazing product that turns your vacuum cleaner into a “revolutionary home hair cutting system.” Yes. Really. Flowbee sucks your hair up a tube and nips the ends off. I cannot express to you how happy it makes me to simply know Flowbee exists.
But not at Target. To put Flowbee into Target would be to mass market The Big Crazy. It cheapens lunacy. We need to keep our crazy on the 3 – 3:30 AM slot on Comedy Central, where it remains close kin to art, thanks. Target is more about THIGHMASTER, you know? They have things you might really use, like machines that allow you to dry your own fresh herbs.
Of course, they also have, “Strap Perfect” which I think pushes the boundaries of Big Crazy because it is such a horrifyingly named product. But it is actually, mercifully, only a type of exercise bra that goes under most shirts. Perfectly Target-worthy.
It was while cheerfully exploring As Seen On Television that I came across a machine-let called The Perfect Push-Up. It is just handles. They seem to do ...not much. They seem to just... make push-ups harder. My first reaction was, excuse me, but push-ups are FREAKIN HARD ENOUGH. And they cost THIRTY FREAKIN’ DOLLARS. SO there was NO reason to get these things. But I put them in my cart in a fit of Info-Madness. And you know what?
Completely worth it.
I’ve never bought a thing seen on television. (Well, not true. I had a weeping 3 AM brain melt once that ended in several hundred dollars worth of Victoria Jackson cosmetics. I choose not to remember this.) But these perfect push-up things? When I got them, I could BARELY knock out ten girl-ups on them. SO HARD.
But I kept working at it. Building up to 10 man-ups and 50 girl-ups on these things, and now when I go to bootcamp and we do REGULAR push-ups, I am knocking them out like they are NOTHING. I have NEVER had anything like Upper Body Strength. These things WORK. They really, really, really work, and I am dreaming of a next summer filled with cute sleeveless blouses, maybe even a tank top, and the ability to lift heavy objects. These things work so well, I am terrified I am going to start BELIEVING infomercials.
Someone needs to stop me before I find myself standing on bleeding feet I have scraped clean off with a Ped-Egg, trying to drink kale I have run through a JACK LALANE POWER JUICER while slowly asphyxiating in the rubbery punishment tomb of a Slimming Shaper.
It could happen.
I keep seeing things on television that I want to blog about, and this can only mean I am in copy edits. Because after four hours of sand-scrubbing my way word by word through my MS, making POSITIVE it says what I want it to say on every line and agreeing blindly to the host of grammatical corrections that (shamefully!) I DO NOT FULLY UNDERSTAND I need the pretty television to yap nonsense at me and sooth my fevered brain.
Lar lar lar! That is the beleaguered song I warble at the happy, happy copy edits, a hymn to that humbling time of year when your MS comes back for your final perusal and a host of Christmas-cheerful red and green colored pencils have shown you exactly how many times your said BLOND for BLONDE and vice-versa, and exactly how many THOUSANDS of commas you threw into sentences that were tootling along JUST GRAMMATICALLY FINE without them, thanks. Humbling, humbling humbling.
I have a master’s degree in English. I used to TEACH AMERICA’S YOUTH. And yet in this MS, and in every other MS before it, I don’t seem to have EVER once cracked the Chicago Manual of Style. It is a dusty, virgin priestess keeping vigil on a back corner of my bookshelf, upholding the worship of Grammar all alone. Grammar is an exacting god that I apparently have never heard of. Or wait, is he the one who said something about not ending a sentence with a preoposition? *cough*
EVERY MS I have multiple, repeated, egregious tropes of Grammar slaughter...in BACKSEAT SAINTS I almost never capitolize the c in Coke (you can get 5 years in the state pen for that here in Georgia...) and I randomly Capitolize Other Words That Should Be lOWER cASE. And, worst of ALL, I am apparently the LIVING CAPITAL CITY of the state of borking up homonyms.
That said, I LOVE my copy editor, because thanks to her, no one will never KNOW all the humiliating things I just told you with my big fat flapping yap hole.
Oh. Oops. Well, anyway, thanks to her, my careless, endless errors won’t distract people who read the actual book.
I was just going to say I was in copy edits and then tell about all the things I SAW ON TELEVISION and have big opinions about, but instead I went off on my Secret Shame.
Oh well, I guess I will tell you about one thing I saw on Television, and then file the rest in the pink sock drawer for tomorrow.
WORST COMMERCIAL IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD: Prius Harmony spots.
Doubleyou. Tee. Aitch. was Toyota thinking? Here it is for those who have yet to have their eyelids peel back from their face in flapping horror.
I cannot express to you the level of loathing I feel for this commercial. It SEEMS charming and welcoming, right? At first? Hell often does in great literature, so why not in a Prius commercial. There is a cheerful warble-y song about letting your love flow, and a lone Prius drives FREELY through a cartoon landscape, lar lar lar, it all seems SOOOOO innocuous, until you REALIZE all the HILLS and FLOWERS and even the EXTREMELY creepy clouds are made out of PACKED ROWS AND ROWS of helplessly trapped, planted, jammed in and embedded PEOPLE. They are ROOTED and STUCK in close, unfolding at the bidding of the passing car, endlessly unfolding and wavingwavingwaving in desperate forced cheer...GAHHHHHH.
The CLOUDS are the worst because they are not upright. The worst sinners go to CLOUDS and get MASHED with other evil-doers into a WAD. Some of them are trapped UPSIDE DOWN, and look how BIG the clouds are. Very big and puffy, so that you KNOW there are people in there FULLY AND FOREVER SUBMERGED. Gah. Those clouds look like puffy, whiteed-out, cartoon versions of Bruegel’s vision of Dull Gret going to war with Hell:
Some of the little flower people are CHILDREN, did you notice? SAD, naughty children who now SO regret they threw stones at that skinny stray dog and cheated on their spelling test. Speaking of children, do you know what else it reminds me of? Ursula’s garden in Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid. All those helpless merfolks turned into water weeds and rooted in her gate, trembling as she passes...GAHHHHhhhhh
Every time this commercial comes on Scott and I go very, very still and reach instinctively for each other’s hands. We sit, big-eyed and trembling, until it is over. Then we SWEAR to each other that we will be GOOD people, better people, KINDER AND MORE WORTHY people, so that we never have to die and go to Prius-land.
It’s a shame, really, because by all accounts the Prius is a GREAT car. Super environmentally friendly and yet affordable, and Edmund’s gives it high marks. My friend Jill has one and says it is really FUN to drive, too. If you are in the market for a mid-size sedan, I ‘spose it would be a good choice, if you can get past that whole “I am the rough Beast who slouches toward Bethlehem” thing. *shudder*
Do you remember that cartoon strip, Calvin and Hobbes? It is one of my favorites. Well it used to be one of my favorites. Right up until I realized I was married to the dad.
Remember how he would deal with Calvin whenever Calvin asked a question and he did not know the answer?
That’s my husband, y’all. Right there.
Last night Maisy came creeping up the hall from her room, clutching her dearest stuffy (Susie the Puppy ), eyes wide, lips pursed into a nervous kiss. She was evincing all the signs of a child who was bored and did not want to go to sleep, and who had opted instead to be dramatically and visibly het-up in the hopes that it would garner her some parental company or an invite to snuggle in the big bed for a few minutes.
Digression: Fat. Chance.
Me: What are you doing up?
Maisy: I can’t sleep. Every time I put my head on the pillow, it’s like I can hear a HEART BEATING. Like a heartbeat! In my PILLOW!
Me: How interesting. Go to bed.
Maisy: But why do I hear a HEARTBEAT in my pillow?
Scott: That’s because your pillow is full of princess hearts. One must still be working.
Maisy: Full of what?
Scott: Princess hearts. We used them to stuff your pillow so it would extra soft and kind.
Maisy: *genuinely alarmed eyebrows* How did you GET the princess hearts?
Scott: Oh that was easy, we just---
Me: MAISY. JANE. Listen to Mommy. Sometimes in bed when a person is trying not to sleep, they hear their own heartbeat. That’s just your OWN heart, rabbit. Go to bed.
Thus soothed, she padded back away up the hall and disappeared into her pink-topian room where she no doubt dreamed of unicorns and fairies, all with their hearts firmly and properly planted in their chest cavities.
Scott: That was probably a good interrupt.
Me: YA THINK?
But I knew it was time to intervene. He's been rolling like Calvin’s dad for YEARS now. Remember the elephants?
Back when Beautiful Maisy was Barely Two, she was scared of the thunder. And she came and asked her daddy what that awful sound was. He told her not to worry, it was just the elephants tooting. For months after, whenever it stormed at night, I would hear her peeping voice calling from the crib after every roll of thunder, “Scuse you, Elephants! Scuse you, Elephants!”
I live in mortal terror of the day when she comes to ask Scott why it’s so dark under the bed, or what that scrabbley noise was in her closet.
This weekend. YAY.
This is where you can find me, or, for you click-through-hating rebels, I will be at the First Baptist Decatur Chapel Stage at 11:15 o Saturday. You be there, too.
I am headed to the airport RIGHT NOW to get Karen and Sara.
This makes me so happy I may let escape a ren-fair geek HUZZAH.
EDIT: Below is a rare extant Decatur bookfest photo. I call it rare because I am amazed at all the decorum with which I am behaving. I am innocently hanging out---probably discussing Proust!---with my buddies from the AWC. Please note that both my hands are CLEARLY visible and I am not molesting any of AWC's venerable members. Although, perhaps "members" was not the best word choice considering the history.
As for the unpictured portions of the fest...let's just say it was a fantastic weekend.
I can't say more. What happens at Decatur Bookfest, stays secretly recorded on Patti Callahan Henry's i phone.
Remind me to be SUPER nice to her.
This weekend is one of my favorite weekends of the year: Decatur Book Fest. I am HUGELY looking forward to it, and trying to get my talk to come together and gel in my head, and excited about seeing people I adore and meeting authors whose books I love and I know many people who are fond of songs (yeah. I don’t get that.) are looking forward to the music and Decatur is a FOOD town, and I am going to Watershed and I am eating the Shrimp and Grits, whose cheese content alone makes my recipe for Fat Potato Fat Fat look positively heart healthy. Whee.
But before I blow it all on cheese grits, I have to tell you, I went back to Dallas for my reassessment! In twelve weeks... I am Better. And I cut all my hair off.
--I lost ten pounds and went down a dress size
--I lost more than three inches in my waist and more than two in my hips.
--My cholesterol went from 199 (pushing maximum density) to 154 (!!!)
--My BMI went down by 1.5, and I am LITERALLY 4 ounces away from moving from the overweight category to the normal one. (Martyred sigh! At HOME my BMI IS in the normal range. I should have taken all my clothes off!)
--I got back on the CRUELTY MACHINE. Remember that? Scroll down to see the pic. It’s a treadmill, and every minute the treadmill rises a degree, inclining upwards from flat into a massive hill, and you have this horrid OXYGEN SPACE SUCKER machine on your head and are hooked to an EKG and a blood pressure cuff. By the end, you feel like you are running straight up a mountain while test driving bondage equipment.
Last time, I stayed on for 15 minutes and 6 seconds.
This time, I stayed on 18 minutes and 44 seconds.
My MET level went up from 10.5 to 11.2, so my fitness catagory remains high. They also have a minute/heartbeat/oxygen processing chart thing scale in the TORTURE ROOM, I mean, stress test room, which measures your fitness level for your age.
You can be Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, or SUPERIOR.
Last time I registered as GOOD. This time? EXCELLENT.
Dudes. I am BETTER. The math SAYs so, and math, for all it is an exacting piece of crap jerk I have hated since middle school, well, I hear MATH does not lie.
If you want to try this program, you can get started by pushing this big red button:
I tell you why this program worked for me---It is REALLY simple, not time consuming, and VERY self-directed. Basically, all I had to do was read some info each week and then I used that info to set goals that were my OWN and fit into my lifestyle, but that corresponded with a specific area I needed to work on to improve my overall heart health.
It is also not FAST. I lost less than a pound a week. If you are looking for a quick fix, this is not it. But fast results require radical changes and I can never sustain radical change. (Heck, I can barely remember we now own FISH. Fish are BAD pets. They do not come and yell and scrape their pointy feet down your leg if the fish-kibble gets low. They do not even HAVE feet, pointy or otherwise, and if Scott was not here to remember they exist...It does not bear examination...)
But fishly digressions aside, this lifestyle, the way I am living now, with Boot Camps and mallowcremes holding hands and running aerobically through a meadow, and plenty of grilled squashes living harmoniously with the idea that no one ever DIED from a Chocolate Covered Cherry Martini...
It is a moderate amount of Moderation. And I can live with that.