Vignettes.

I have written and re-written this piece. I have held it in “drafts” for a while now. There is no great revelation in here, but this feels especially personal to me. And, I feel vulnerable hitting “publish,” but I think I must. Here goes…

 

Surprisingly, this is the only Pearl Jam concert t-shirt I own.

Pearl Jam was recently inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame. I meant to have a beautiful, grand homage piece written prior to their induction, but that didn’t happen. So, instead, I’ve decided to post a few vignettes. Little snippets of important moments that have stuck with me over the years. If you’ve known me since college, you know that being a fan of Pearl Jam, and Eddie Vedder, and music in general, is a big part of who I am. I’m proud of the band for earning this accolade, and I’d like to share a few of my experiences with you.

 

Enjoy.

Ten.

The first time I even heard the name Pearl Jam is a memory burned indelibly into my brain. My friend, Tina, and I had decided to explore downtown Kalamazoo one fall day back in 1991. Turns out, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam were playing the State Theatre that same day. I had never heard of any of those bands, and I vaguely recall making fun of their names (the current me feels great shame in sharing this, but it’s the truth). We were looking around in a shop of vintage junk and curios when two long haired, kind of scruffy looking men – one of whom had a little triangle-shaped beard thing right under his lower lip – approached us looking for a place to store their records, like boxes or milk crates or something. Now, the thing is, Kristy back in those days was a bubbly, blonde cheerleader and ever the extreme optimist. She’d never met a stranger, and if she had, they certainly hadn’t been ill willed toward her. God, Mom, no wonder you didn’t want me wandering around downtown. Those doe eyes were bound to get me in big trouble one day.

Anyway, I suggested they look at Meijer’s (yes, I said Meijer’s, not Meijer – you know you do it, too) because I had heard that sometimes grocery stores have extra boxes and I honestly thought that I was being helpful. I was thisclose, this.close. to probably getting backstage and hanging out with a group of people who would soon become some of the most important and influential people in my young life. But, instead, I suggested they go to Meijer’s.

Sigh.

Fast forward a few weeks to Tina and me watching Mtv in her room at her parents’ house. Who did we see on the screen….triangle-beard man! Dave Abbruzzese, and I think it was Mike McCready (though, again shamefully, I can’t quite remember – I’m sorry, guys, really), had been hitting on us. *gasp* I didn’t know it. I think Tina may have known it. She was always better at that stuff than I was, and she was also better at protecting us from that type of stuff than I was (see, Mom, I was fine wandering around downtown with Tina).

Again: Sigh.

That was my first real initiation into the music phenomenon known as Grunge. Once I got to college, my freshmen year roommate, Jessica, turned me on to the rest of the Ten album (up to that point, I only knew what I’d heard on the radio), and I was hooked. Completely.  I credit my Mom with propelling my love of music by getting me a boom box for my graduation gift that summer and lord knows Columbia House got more than 99 cents from me in the years to come.

Go.

My sophomore year in college, I vividly remember sitting in my room, in front of my new stereo system (remember those multi-disc changers with two tape decks and also the radio built in? I got one of those for my birthday and I was *so* excited) with a blank tape in deck one and the radio on, my index and middle fingers poised and ready to press the record and play buttons simultaneously. The dj had just announced that the first Pearl Jam single off their new album was about to be played for the first time. My heart raced. My hands shook, just a little. My brain buzzed with the excitement of brand new music. I had so many questions: What would it sound like? Would it still sound like Pearl Jam? Would I even like it? Who was I kidding, of course, I’d like it. Would I be able to hit the sweet spot of recording the first note of the song, but none of the dj? Would he let the whole song play before talking over it? Aahh! I was so excited!

And then it came on. The opening sequence of that song blew me away. It was hard and fast and didn’t sound much like the Pearl Jam I had come to know, but I loved it! Go still holds a special place for me because every time I hear it, it brings me back to the glorious anticipation that was waiting for my favorite song to come on the radio so I could tape it and, even if only in some small way, be a part of the music.

Teenage Girl in Line for a Concert in a Small Town.

There are so many moments like that that I can relate back to Pearl Jam and my love of the band and the music. But, one major moment sticks out in my memory and I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t mention it. And also, anyone who knew me then, knows that this was probably the pinnacle of my life’s moments up to that point (and it probably held that position for many more years). My friend, Christa, and I got tickets through Ten Club to see Pearl Jam at the Masonic Temple in Detroit in the spring of 1994. We got seats in the 3rd row, center stage. I can’t put into words how excited I was. And, big thanks to Christa, who put up with me and my fangirl craziness during that whole event. I think because this one moment stands out so vividly for me, I really can’t remember much of the actual show. Other than standing on the arms of the theatre seats, along with all the other devoted fans, and Eddie telling the security crew not to bother us because we weren’t being destructive, we were just trying to get the best view. Man, I was so in love with him.

Anyway, it was a gorgeous spring afternoon and Christa and I were wearing our best flannel shirts, waiting in the line outside the Masonic Temple before the show. Somebody came by and said that Eddie and the band were playing Frisbee in the park across the street. I looked at Christa. I was fraught with indecision. If we both left we’d lose our spot in line, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet him. Eddie Vedder. I had to go. Christa was so gracious and kind and understanding, she just looked at me and said, “Go.” I am pretty sure I didn’t even pretend to argue with her about it. She’d granted me permission to leave her there (what a terrible friend I was for actually doing so), and I jumped at the chance. I bee-lined over to the park – I don’t even remember walking there, it was like I was on a tether and being pulled only in his direction. I may have looked both ways when crossing the road, but I doubt it (sorry, Mom). There was a line of similarly awed teens in flannels waiting to talk to the man himself and I was there. In that line. About to meet Eddie Vedder. Rock icon, man of my dreams, Eddie Vedder. What was I going to say? I had to be cool, but not too cool. I couldn’t faun over him or jump him like part of me wanted to do. I tried to breathe. I must’ve breathed because I didn’t pass out, but eventually, the wait was over and it was my turn. I walked up to him and shook his hand. I croaked out, “Do well.” My voice had escaped me and left me standing there feeling meek and less than the outgoing unstoppable young woman I was. He had a pink pen and he wrote his name on my arm. He thanked me and I smiled awkwardly, and turned and walked back to join Christa back in line. I felt like I completely flubbed it. “Do well?” Seriously. That’s all I could muster?

Sigh.

Even now that I’m much older and my life no longer revolves around music and Mtv and going to shows, I still pause if I hear Pearl Jam on the radio (outside of Pearl Jam Radio on Sirius, for obvious reasons). Steve instinctively knows not to change the station, and he’s even encouraged my obsession over the years. One of the first gifts he got me was two tickets to see them at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin. It was cold, but I only remember that because Eddie remarked that it was, and we were outside and Steve was there with me while I reveled in the music. If he had known then….


Oh, Deer. The Follow-up

oh-dear-2-3

The Curb

Your season’s over,

For months you reigned, majestic.

Now? The curb. Oh, dear.


Escape Artist.

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My favorite shirt. I got it when we were in Colorado last summer. I don’t normally buy shirts with much writing on them, but this one spoke to me. The design, the colors, the fit, all of it. So, I bought it. When I wear it, I think about our trip to the mountains, and my soul feels instantly lighter. I know it’s not the shirt, but the memories it invokes.

Whether it’s the material itself or the memories I associate with it, it’s still my favorite. And, with Escape Artist emblazoned in bright yellow across the chest, it’s also relevant. I came to realize something the other day: I read to escape.

It’s not an entirely new revelation. I’ve had this thought before. The first time I actually consciously noticed it was in the months following September 11th, 2001. Most of you know that we lived in Manhattan, and we were there that day. In fact, if you’ve met me since then and have spent more than about ten minutes with me, I’ve probably brought it up in conversation. Like it or not, that event is a large part of me, of my history on this planet, and I carry my life experiences with me and rarely do I shy away from sharing them.

A couple months before the attacks, some of our good friends moved from Chicago to New York and actually moved into the building where we were living, one floor below us. We were quite close at the time, and I was relieved to have them there that morning. I hadn’t heard from Steve since the second plane hit, and I knew he was downtown in the middle of it. I didn’t hear from him for three hours, and those were the longest three hours of my life. Chris and Maria offered me updates and comfort that day and helped me manage in the months to come.

What does any of this have to do with books? Well, after September 11th, fear crept in and like tree roots searching out water, it wound its way into every thought, took hold of every routine, informed every action. Suddenly, I had tennis shoes untied and ready to wear under to my bed and we slept with the bedroom door locked – in our 16th-floor apartment. You know those little door locks that sometimes keep children and small dogs out, but pretty much everyone else can get past them in seconds? Yeah. I relied on that lock to keep the terrorists out of our bedroom. We kept our front door deadbolted and chained (nothing new there, actually). We also had go bags ready and waiting just in case we needed to make a mad-dash out of the city, fleeing terrorists. I took up running again. We carried our IDs with us everywhere and had them at the ready to prove that we should be allowed down our usual streets or into our own office buildings. We had a plan on where to meet if there was ever another attack and cell service was disrupted again.

Most days, all I could think was, how was I going to get back to Michigan? Or isn’t that plane flying awfully close to our building? Or, why is that plane flying out over the river, they don’t usually fly that path, do they? Or, oh, god, what’s that sound – we’re all going to die! – wait, that was just the subway passing under the street.

Everything changed. I can make fun of myself for it a little now, but at the time, I was scared. I needed an outlet. My friend, Maria from downstairs, provided that to me in the form of Harry Potter.

Before September 11th, I had heard of Harry Potter, but to the best of my knowledge, it was a kids’ book, and I didn’t have kids. I normally read crime novels and the occasional vampire novel. I liked suspense and action. I didn’t need to read kids’ books. But, after September 11th, I needed to get away. I needed to escape. I devoured the first four Harry Potter novels in a very short span of time and then kept looking for any book that might help me forget about real world problems. Gritty crime dramas seemed too real, I needed witches and wizards and vampires and werewolves.

I still love urban fantasy and vampire books but over the years, I’ve expanded my palette. Several years ago I started reading biographies of our founding fathers and early presidents. I love that period of our history. I love new beginnings. I’ve belonged to book clubs over the years and we’ve read some amazing books about heavy topics along with lighthearted essays and tales of adventure. I’ve read some of the classics: Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorite books. I’ve even read fantasy fiction books based on this classic, from Mr Darcy, Vampire (meh, not my favorite, surprisingly) to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (wow! I loved it!). I’m not trying to brag about my voracious appetite for reading. In fact, I read quite slowly compared to many of my peers. I am attempting to show that my interests are varied, and have changed over the years. I tend to lean toward science fiction and fantasy, but normally, I like to change things up. After a few romps around fantastical lands with fantastical creatures, I usually like to dip into a gritty crime scene and work out whodunit and how it went down. I like to throw in biographies and essays and classics to round things out – usually.

Normally.

But now, I’ve found myself feeling the need to escape again. It’s only just dawned on me that that’s what’s been happening. I’ve been reading urban fantasy, and only a handful of different authors, continually for at least a year now. Probably longer, but I can’t remember exactly what I’ve read and when. My son and I are reading the Percy Jackson series, and these stories are some of my very favorites in recent times. Reading these books reminds me of how I felt when I started reading Harry Potter, but now I get to share that sense of adventure and excitement with my son.

My world isn’t as tumultuous or as dramatically changed as it was after September 11th, but I do find that I cannot deal with our new reality all the time. My husband recently bought me biographies of Dave Grohl and Alexander Hamilton and I am excited to read both, but I can’t seem to pull myself out of these fantasy worlds that I escape to nightly.

Not yet, anyway.

What about you? What are you reading? Do you read to escape?

 


New Year, Same Me.

sk-hny-2017

(photo credit: Siân Smith, age 7)

Happy New Year!

It’s the time of year when we sit down and think about what’s coming in the year ahead. It’s a time for fresh starts and do-overs because it’s the first day of a 365-page book! It’s a time for re-energizing and grabbing life by the balls because you’re a badass and you can do anything! It’s a time for feeling guilty because you’ve totally overindulged these last few weeks (months, years) and now your jeans won’t fit! It’s a time for being completely overwhelmed because now you’re not sure where to start with all the fresh-starting and the ball grabbing and the badassing! It’s time, too, for well-meaning people in our lives (and in our electronic devices) to tell us what we should and shouldn’t do and all the ways we should or shouldn’t accomplish all the things we need to do or to stop doing, in the year ahead.

I’m not here to do that.

I am here to say, that this year, I am not starting at the start. And, I’m not going to ask for a do-over, and I’m probably not going to be engaging in much badassery. But, I have spent a fair amount of time over the past couple weeks thinking about what I want to accomplish. Last year, Steve and I dubbed 2016 “The Year of Do,” that meant if we said we were going to do something, we would do it. For example, we said we were going to travel more, and we did, a lot as it turns out. We said we were going to get blinds for the windows and get those put up – we did that, too. Not everything in The Year of Do was glamorous, but we did many of the things we said we wanted to do, and that felt good. There were many other things still left on the to-do list on December 31st, but that’s okay, we’ve got 2017 to be: The Year of Do, Part Deux.

That said, I’ve come up with a main overarching principle for the year. An idea that will help guide all my other ideas and shape my hours and minutes this year. This year, I want to focus on nourishment. We hear often about food being fuel and the things we watch and read fueling our lives and our directions. To me, fuel is something you need to get you from one place to the next. It’s not pretty, it doesn’t smell great, and the act of fueling up is not generally a pleasant experience. Necessary? Sure. Pleasant and joyful? No.

I prefer pleasant, if not downright joyful. So, I choose nourishment. I intend to utilize the idea of nourishment to inform my choices. Will this food nourish my body? Will this video nourish my mind? Will this experience nourish my soul? If the answer is yes, then that is the direction I will encourage myself to take. If the answer is a resounding no, then I will need to re-think that choice. I don’t expect 100% compliance, and I don’t expect 100% perfect achievement, but I do believe that by changing my mindset, I will be able to make changes, some big, some small, that will help me nourish my mind, body, and soul, and that will lead to a happier and healthier life – not just for 2017, but for the future, too.

I am in charge of my life. I will make choices that support the kind of life I want to live. (I feel like I should be chanting: “I am one with The Force, The Force is with me,” and that works, too.)

Now, for the list part. I do love a good list. And with the principle of nourishment in mind, here is an incomplete list of goals, some nebulous, others concrete, that I have for myself this year:

  1. Choose nourishment.
  2. Write 2,000 words a week. (I’m never going to be a writer if I don’t write…)
  3. Do the things I say I am going to do.
  4. Complete the Master Gardener program. (This is pretty much a foregone conclusion, but I’ve included it because it will be an achievement, with hard work put into it, so it counts and should be counted.)
  5. Spend more mindful time with my husband and children. (Focus on them when I’m with them, put the phone down.)
  6. Finish writing my first novel. (See #2.)
  7. Walk 10,000 steps a day (Fitbit helps with this. And Steve’s got one now, too…no excuses!)
  8. Drink more water.
  9. Say “yes” before “no” more often. (Over the years, “no” has become the default answer when the kids ask for something. I should have more confidence and faith in my children’s choices and desires. See #10.)
  10. Allow more grace for myself and others. (Just breathe.)
  11. Participate in groups or movements in meaningful ways so that I am putting good into the world. (This one is vague and that’s okay.)

There you have it. That’s how I’m shaping my 2017. Am I still going to eat cake? Yes. Am I still going to have days that I choose mindless television over engaging activities? Yes. But I know that those are my choices, and if I want to be better, I’ll have to choose better.

What about you? Do you have plans for 2017?


Newbie!

Say what you want about the internet…sometimes you actually can find vital information out there!

Today, I wanted to know if the word “newbie” existed in the 1990s. I can’t remember saying it back in high school but I wasn’t much of a gamer then, or now either, actually. I mainly only remember using the terms “psych,” “not,” and ever-so-briefly-because-it-never-took-off-no-matter-how-badly-we-wanted-it-to, “n’t” (you know, an abbreviated form of “not.” Duh! [we tried, Tina, we really did]) So, I did what anyone my age would do, I asked Google. And the very first return was an article titled, “THE ORIGINS OF NEWBIE, NOOB, AND N00B.” (Link provided for the curious.)

Like I said, vital information.

I read the article, and while it’s probably more to my son’s interests, I found the information I was looking for, and I discovered what an insult it is to be called a noob, compared to being referred to as a newb, which is the more playful version of that term. And now you know, too – see you’re no longer a newb.

Anyway, after reading about the evolution of the term newbie, I followed a few more links just to be sure, and they seemed to cement the idea that I could safely use the term “newbie” in a dialog taking place in the 1990s, and still sound era-appropriate.

Whew.

 


Oh, Deer!

house-lights

Photo credit: Steve Smith

I walk my dog every day, well nearly every day, my husband does it at weekends and in the evenings. Anyway, in the mornings, I walk my kids to school and I take the dog with us. We live in a suburban master planned community. It’s lovely, it really is. Lakes, trails, clean sidewalks, big houses – lovely. Really.

It’s particularly lovely during the holiday season. Most houses have lights, and it looks like (to use the words of my mother), “a gingerbread village.” Again, lovely. Many people will also put various decorations in their yards; everything from those inflatable Santas and Frostys to lights in the shape of the American flag staked in the yard, and any festive idea you can think of in-between. One relatively common decoration is the plasticy-wicker deer. You know the ones, they’re life-size and sometimes they have lights and they proudly stand guard in their front yards, protecting their families inside from….overeager delivery people?

I don’t know.

Anyway, those deer have made me laugh every morning for the last two weeks – yes, since before Thanksgiving: we’re in the suburbs, the lights start to go up the day after Halloween, and the decorations increase incrementally (exponentially?) over the following days and weeks. If you’re not fully-lit by Thanksgiving, you’re late.

Back to the deer. So, do you ever crack yourself up? Like, you think something in your head and you snicker and shake your head and think, “man, I’m funny.” But, really, you’re just good at telling your own self dad jokes. I do it. I know you do it. C’mon, you know you do it.

It’s been a little windy here. Sometimes, the wind knocks over the deer. When the dog and I walk past those fallen creatures, I think to myself, “oh, dear.”

And I laugh, and I laugh.


Fiction and Politics

A winsome twosome? An unlikely pair? Whichever your view, I’ve been doing some thinking about the results of our recent election, and I am ready to talk about those with you now.

I’ve been playing my thoughts over and over in my mind and I’ve been trying to figure out not only what I think, but also how I want to convey those thoughts. My initial reaction was to post something like, “this space left intentionally blank” on facebook. Clever, but ultimately meaningless. Then, I thought about posting about how I have been following Thumper’s Mother’s principle…I didn’t have anything nice to say, so I didn’t say anything. That didn’t feel quite right either, though I must say that I believe it’s a pretty good principle to reflect on before actually speaking/typing.

I realize that my silence might be misconstrued for complacency or apathy, but that’s not it. I’m overwhelmed. I haven’t wanted to make anyone upset, so I haven’t said anything. I know, it sounds weak. Maybe it is. So…I’m speaking up now.

I’m not happy with the outcome of the election, and that’s putting it mildly (see below re: optimist). I’m sad for our nation and I am particularly concerned for the safety and well-being of my friends and family who are in any way marginalized in our society (I feel like pretty much everyone I know falls into at least one category). I’m concerned for the safety and health of all of us – this feels like uncharted territory and I think we are all at least a little bit scared or apprehensive about what’s going to happen in the weeks, months and years ahead. But, what really is getting to me is the way some people have reacted to the outcome. On any side. Politics, frankly, doesn’t matter at this point. If you’re being cruel, destructive or otherwise causing pain to someone who is not exactly like you or your ideal of what you think an “American” is, and you’re feeling bolstered by the outcome of this election to engage in these types of actions or comments, then shame on you. It’s 100% on YOU. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with who won, who lost, who’s a crybaby, whatever. If you’re using the outcome to justify destructive, violent actions or to cause pain, whether it’s verbally, emotionally, physically, or a combination, you are making poor choices and you are impeding on others’ abilities to live their lives to their fullest. That is wrong. You are in control of your actions and your words, and you are also in control of your clicking finger. If you click “like” or share memes that perpetuate these destructive actions and divisive words, you are contributing to the problem. Nobody else is responsible for your actions or words. Just you.

And you know what? That sucks. I’m an optimist, a glass half-full kind of girl. But lately, I’ve seen so much pain, and fear, and anger, and hate; it’s disconcerting. It’s hard to look at all of that ugliness and still find good, and meaning, and a path to the right side of history. But, there it is, and I had to acknowledge it. Now, it’s time to move through it.

The reason I decided to finally write, and let you all read, my thoughts is because I found a way that I can contribute positively to the conversation. I don’t think I have anything to say that’s going to be profound and change people’s minds, and if you’re reading this, I expect you probably already see things in a way that is similar to me, at least to some extent. If you gave up on reading this when the opening paragraph didn’t immediately reflect the title, then you’re missing out because I’m getting there now.

I titled this fiction and politics. The reason is because fiction draws many of its finest characters and moments from real life, real people and real situations. Sometimes, real life even turns around and reflects the fiction that had been reflecting real life before it. It’s all intertwined. And, it can be beautiful. Think about your favorite stories. Even the most fantastical stories have a foundation in real moments. Real moods, real feelings, real relationships. A friend posted the other day about how someone else had posted about being totally upset by the hero in a story being a bit of a dirtbag. He’s the “good guy,” how could he possibly be a dirtbag and be the good guy? Because, people are more than what we label them. It is easy to fall back on labels when dealing with someone or some idea that you don’t like or don’t agree with. Easy, but not helpful.

You’re a republican? Those elitist liberal leftists! They’re the ones to blame! You’re a democrat? Those backward rightwing conservatives! They’re the ones to blame! 

Finger pointing. Labeling. Placing blame. Not helpful.

We teach our children to see their friends for who they are, not for what they look like or where they come from or what groups they belong to. I think we should remember to do that as adults. From the early stages of this particular election, if I posted about politics, my main point was one of inclusion, and embracing the other. I believe this is still important.

We must build bridges now.

We must find the things we love, like, or can at least tolerate, in each other. Just like most well-written fictional characters have many layers, and many traits – positive and negative – so do real people, and you may not agree entirely with the ideals that someone supports or with their view on certain topics, and here’s the kicker – that’s OK. It really is. I know a lot of my friends and I see many things in a similar way, and that’s great, but I know I have views that they might not agree with, and I’m certain my friends have ideals that don’t reflect my values. That’s ok. We aren’t all cookie cutters or carbon copies of each other, nor should we be.

I’m not suggesting that we gloss over the things that have happened that are wrong, or look past things that we don’t like and just hug everyone because: peace and love, man. People who have made poor choices need to own those choices and make amends. That’s how we fix things. We need to face our challenges and deal with the consequences – good or bad. But, what I’m saying is that simply because someone has different labels than you do, doesn’t mean that they are only a manifestation of those labels. Maybe you know someone who sits across the aisle from you politically, and until a couple months ago, you considered that person a friend. Try to consider that their labels do not define them. Just as your labels do not define you. Find some common ground, and start (or re-start) there.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got right now. It’s not huge, it’s not profound, but it’s a positive contribution to the conversation. I truly hope people try to find their way back to some sense of harmony so that we can move forward as a unified nation.

And, if you want to speak up, or speak out, or do something for the good of our country, I’ll be there to support you, even if it’s only with a click or a smiley face, for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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