A Simple Wish

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself. –Neil Gaiman

At the beginning of 2017 I was given a box that held 260 colorful envelopes filled with notes/quotes/questions/advice from my friends and family. These lunchbox notes were to accompany me each day of work and were to be opened at lunch (thus, the name).  There were instructions directing me to open one first, and it ended up containing the quote above.  These, in turn, became the things I wanted to achieve – a list of what I wanted to accomplish throughout the year – a road map – a bucket list.

So, I wrote a little more. Maybe not sketches, as I’d planned. It turns out that in this political climate my attempts at satire have too sharp an edge to them. I started turning off NPR more (sorry guys, I still love you) and sang more, replacing the news with singing – each time I got into the car.  I even made it out to karaoke, something I hadn’t done in years, and belted out a little Lady Gaga, ABBA, and Kansas. I now have a baby stereo system in the house where I repeat the show daily. (To the delight of my neighbors, Elle King’s America’s Sweetheart is my current go-to.) I made some art, and sent cards off to friends and family. To surprise myself, I entered the Warrior Dash, and I can say I was in fact surprised in the end. This one set me back a bit, causing all of the things to stop, and me to momentarily forget the list.

As I grew stronger, I was able to dive back in – writing, singing, reading, laughing, and creating.  The only one left to tackle was “kiss someone who thinks [I’m] wonderful.” So, a month ago I decided “screw it” and I re-entered the online dating world to give it a more serious try.  I went on three dates over five days. André, of the infamous meltdown, was the first. See below for a recap.

The second was Todd. I have to admit that over the past three weeks I became a 16 year-old girl when it came to all things Todd – a distracted girly mess. One of my male friends joked, “hell, I’m starting to have a crush on Todd” thanks to all of my incessant Todd talk, usually followed by, “do you want to see his picture?” It was terrible, and kind of fun, and it reminded me of staying on the phone for hours in high school, of passing notes, of having my girlfriends spend the night, of listening to music in the darkness of my room, and of daydreaming. He was a reminder that I was still alive, and still able to be reduced to a blushy, giddy little girl mess.

I met Todd a day or two after the André-no-I-don’t-want-to-drive-to-Costco-for-the-great-gas-don’t-put-your-face-near-my-face incident. I went to his place, knowing my adopted big brothers would not be pleased for safety reasons, and watched him put together a doll house for his granddaughter. He was just as beautiful in person, and also very simple in ways I won’t be able to quite convey here.

A few highlights from that evening: He told me, “I’d totally mack with you, but I’ve had a lot of coffee, and I don’t like to kiss with coffee breath.” Wow, umm… I don’t think anyone has ever said they’d “mack” with me. I’m not sure I’ve “macked” with anyone. Maybe I’m not a macker? If we “macked” would this count towards my “…kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful?” Gaiman didn’t say anything about “macking with someone.” Then Todd professed his love of the phrase “that’s what she said” and probably used it 15-20 different times. Apparently, she says a lot. Todd expressed with certainty that a whole comedy routine based on that line would quite possibly be the best stand-up comedy routine ever.  I’m not so sure. I threw in a few “that’s what she said” lines to make him happy, and he giggled gleefully (alliteration also makes him happy) while continuing to work on this dollhouse (a bit of a structural mess, but it also made him happy). I then turned the conversation to why he loved the town we’re in, because frankly it’s a sea of HOA’s to me, and I hoped he might have some insight that would make me see it differently. His response: “I’m near three strip clubs.” Oh… “Yeah, I love strip clubs and I would totally pay for you to get a lap dance.” At this I had to say, “That actually wouldn’t do anything for me, but thank you.” He smiled and offered up, “well, it would do something for me.” Ohhhh kay… (For any of you thinking a strip club birthday gift card might make the perfect gift, you should give that to someone else.) I got a tour of his apartment and the multiple 8″x10″ prom pictures proudly displayed on the walls. I have to confess, my prom pictures are still in the “vintage” envelope they came in. (Sorry David! I did put one in a photo album and used it for a #TBT thing on FB.)

We ended with a side hug, and I sighed… so pretty. There goes my 16 year old girl, and a 49 year old woman drove home – music blaring, while singing at the top of her lungs.

Two days later, I had coffee with the runner post my half marathon (where I did surprise myself). He was absolutely brilliant. Smart, engaging, a fantastic storyteller (and we all know how I love good stories), and I was none of those things in return. And while I recognize I’m not his type physically, he’s the kind of person who absolutely should be one of my friends. I was lamenting this to my aunt yesterday, and she kindly offered to call him up and explain how great I was.  “You know if you want me to, I’d do it,” which made me laugh. All I could picture was a call that might sound like, “Hi, this is Beth’s aunt. She’s really great; you’d really like her. I’m so proud of her. Anyway, she thinks you’re really neat. She has a lot of really neat friends, so if she thinks you’re neat, then there’s probably something special about you. You should really be her friend. I’m going to have a get together at Easter, and she knows she’s always welcome. You could come, too.” While I loved this idea, and it made my heart smile, I can only imagine how that would sound to a stranger. “Please reconsider being my niece’s friend. We love her.” I love my aunt, and I love that she was serious. Also, a side note to my friends: she really does think you guys are neat. Also, damnit, he was really cool.

So Neil, I failed a little when it came to living up to your New Year’s wishes.

While the year continued to hold a few more hardship, it was also one that was filled with magic, and dreams, and good madness. I read some fine books. I made some art – I wrote, I drew a little, I sang loudly and often, I laughed, and I surprised myself (half marathon!!).  I was surrounded with the best people. Old friends, new friends, and family… and though there were tears, there was more joy.

I plan to do more of that next year.  And maybe… just maybe… I’ll “mack” with someone who thinks I’m wonderful.

Dedication: This was for Tori who suggested I had another blog piece in me before the end of the year. Hears to you, kid!

My Private Island

I’ve mentioned this before, and that is if you ask me to estimate how many people read my blog without thinking I would honestly say around 10-12. I’ve recited that figure on numerous occasion, because 1) I can’t imagine anyone outside of those 10-12 people (friends and family) whom I’ve bullied into reading my blog would be interested in reading it, and 2) truthfully, only having a few readers is a little liberating, and it kind of allows me to be a bit self-deprecating.  I have permission to express things more freely.  Hey, I’m only writing for friends. And it allows me a neat excuse when I’m outted as a blogger who doesn’t have the notoriety of say a Patton Oswald (or any number of bloggers).  “Well, really only a few friends and family follow me, it’s not a big deal.”

Ostensibly, I post as a way to practice writing since language is not my strength.  Growing up, I was the toddler that hit or destroyed things while my more precocious relative of an equal age bedazzled the adults with words.  I would often hear, “why can’t you be more like him?” as I grew up. This probably lead to more hitting of the things and a fair amount of stink-eye. Writing helps me compose my thoughts and use my words, which is especially good on days where I’m actively trying to set fire to things with my mind. Through my blog I get to post my ramblings, my rants, ridiculous anecdotes, and my heartbreak – noise inside the brain of an extremely ordinary person. I also use my posts as a way to send mass letters to friends an family announcing, “this is where I’m at right now. This is who I am right now.”

Having only a handful of readers also takes away a certain measure of accountability, “hey, only 10-12 people will read this so it’s ok if I lose my mind over some issue.” This false belief has lead to some carelessness on my part. There’s nothing more humbling than being told, “I read your blog,” wait, what??? “and I only realized how affected you were by something that was said when you wrote a particular rant” (paraphrased a ton) by someone whom you didn’t realize knew you had a blog, and whose dear friend it was  you wrote a scathing piece about. Err… whoops. Not my finest moment.  Or you get an email from your Jr. High bully asking, “hey, is that me? Oh yeah, I remember you now” where you learn a lesson in the power of the internet, and why using full names maybe wasn’t your finest moment.  These experiences have made me more keenly aware that this isn’t my private island of 10, though I admit it more often than not still feels that way.

Someone recently told me in regard to this space, “you don’t know how your words affect people” which was extremely humbling. So, this is a shout-out and a thank you to all of those other readers whom I sometimes forget I have.  To Melissa, Jenn, Heather (you are strong, and amazing – though we haven’t met, I hope you know I think you’re great; I believe in you), Drew, Jerry, Jim, Julie, Heather B., Denise, Roanna and David (actual gifted writers), Lynn, Tori, Gail, and Irina (thank you for keeping me sane in the real world and for allowing Buddy to talk politics openly – sorry about Marine le Pen, Buddy). To Brandi who is one of the toughest people I know with a heart of pure gold, and Meredith who makes me laugh more than she knows. To Lori (I believe in you, too. You got this.)  To Karen (I may not always comment, but I enjoy everything you write). And to Dale, you’re a PITA, but you’ve kept me grounded through some dark times (by being a PITA – I think that’s your secret).  To the 10ish: Anna, Jonathan, Dad, Charla, Seth, April, Aunt Philis, Kim, Tony, HRH DeAnne, Kati, and Shari – you’re troopers to survive all the years of my blog nonsense, and for encouraging me (and for once asking me about t-shirts – I did look into it, but the image was too small to work with).  To everyone else who follows me along this bumpy ride of life, I may not know your name, but I appreciate you and thank you.  And to Scott and Carolyn,  whom I miss more than words could ever express – thank you for your encouragement – for suggesting I was funny, for cheering me on all those years. This world is a little less bright without your beautiful and gentle light.

All of you make for one amazing set of 10 on this island of mine.

Creative? Not so much…

I’m writing this on the fly, which can only mean one thing – more typos, more poor grammar choices, more run-on sentences, comma splice errors, etc. This post will be filled with all the things that would make my English teachers/professors/English professor friends cry, and then pause and wonder how on earth I manage to communicate. Ehhh, what can you do? Editing is for err… ummm… well, I suppose it’s for everyone, but still… Not today!  Ok fine, I’ll do my best? (I’ve had sugar.  This is my second disclaimer.)

Several months ago a co-worker stopped and said something like, “Beth, you’re always doing something. I love hearing your stories.  What creative thing are you into now?” I hmmed, there was some hawing, and after some not so deep soul searching I finally declared, “nothing.” While adding in my head, “nothing, topped with nothing sprinkles and a huge dash of nothing – I was making nothing pops out of congealed nothing,” and I was actually ok with that.  I thought about writing, but wasn’t feeling it.  I perused new classes, but wasn’t feeling it. Basically, I was quite happy with reading more, and catching up on Netflix series one sitting at a time.

Sometime in February, I think, a friend of mine asked me to help assist with a play. I checked my calendar, moved some of the nothing around, and hopped on board.  Afterwards I sat in character study discussions, table reads, rehearsals, and so far three performances.  Nothing is truly more exciting than watching a production grow from an idea into a live performance with a talented cast who get better every time.

Next week we’ll have the last few shows.  If you’re in Austin (and would love to travel to Georgetown), I encourage you to come see Blame it on Beckett. We have an extremely talented cast directed by one of my favorite people, Jonathan Spear.  It’s well-worth the $15. (There are discounts for Seniors and children.)

https://www.picatic.com/event14647381531248

The 48 Hour Film Project is also going on (it ends tonight at 7:30).  This is the thing where, on a Friday evening, you get assigned a genre (ours is a holiday movie or an animal movie – OY), an object (a wrapped gift) that must be in the film, a line of dialog (something that had the word “oops” in it, but my memory is that bad that after 36 hours you got me), and a character (Charlie or Charlene Bitters, an author), and you have to write, shoot, and edit it within 48 hours.  AND it’s also something I’ve avoided since we wrapped the last one in 2013 after the unfortunate incident with the neighbor.

Well, it turns out some of the talented actors from Blame it on Beckett were going to have to miss a weekend (thus the weekend break between performances) to participate in the 48 HR project which got me talking about it again.  That’s when the writer from the previous show decided she wanted to see if she could do all of the work: writing, directing, producing, editing, music, etc. – basically, I think she wanted to see if she could get the least sleep of everyone I know and avoid merrily leaping off the ledge (she’s still alive as of this writing).  My job consists (present tense since we’re still in this thing) of turning in paper work and asking the actors if they’d like a cookie.  I mean, who doesn’t want a cookie?!?! (Apparently all the actors since I ended up with all the cookies once we wrapped.  So sad to know cookie-haters walk among us. Even sadder that there are cookie-haters in my peer group. 😦 )

The good news is that our group, Uncle Bob’s Dangerous Pants, lives again!!! (And we still got props for best name from the 48 HR folks.  WOOOT!)

Also, a beautiful thing happened that made this all seem right, yet has zero to do with creativity.  The good neighbors (mentioned in the old post) are buying the evil neighbor’s house, which means the evil neighbor is moving.  I can’t begin to express how hard it was not to do an old lady style cartwheel in the front yard and cheer (after of course crashing to the ground and moaning a bit, because my cartwheels have suffered greatly over the decades).  Instead I took the news calmly only betraying my glee at the corners of my mouth and well, by repeatedly pointing to the evil house and asking, “that house? that one right there? oh that one?”  It seems like closure of sorts.  We did our first 48 HR shoot, had that happen, then did this one, and she’s moving.

Anyway, all of that to say that I’ve gotten to do some creative things with creative people lately, and that has made me pretty happy.

But I do want to add one thing – a friend who isn’t involved with any of my improv/sketch writing life said, “you’re so creative” after I mentioned the play and the 48HR Film Project.  That was really nice, but here’s where I absolutely can’t take credit.  I am good at many things, and the bulk of them include following directions.and wrangling. You also need people like me for the things I do, but I am not creative per se.  I do not “create,” and I’m ok with not being considered “creative.”  I support.  I’m one heck of a supporter.

AND I’m very lucky to be surrounded by amazingly creative people who see the need for a solid supporter. Between all of us, we get things done, and right now I’m having fun doing just that.  Now I need to get ready to go get the paperwork turned in so we can wrap this whole thing up tonight..

He Kindly Stopped for Me

I am descended from a long line of martyrs.  Now, you might be thinking the lion snack, pyre kindle, rock dodger sort, but you’d be mistaken.  See, I’ve long suspected my family actually survived through the centuries by being fabulous finger pointers.  “Oh, you’re looking for a witch?  Have you spoken with Goody Johnson?  No reason.  I’m just saying there may be naked devil frolicking.  Hey, since her property is right next to mine and she doesn’t look like a pond floater to me, if you catch my drift, I was thinking you know maybe we could just add that to our lands.  Hey, did I mention the frolicking and the warts? I think there was cavorting!”  In fact, all of my friends know that if they ever need someone to bury the body, they should definitely not include me due to my finger-pointing genetics.  Even If I wanted to keep their secret, my DNA would kick in and the next thing you know I’d be at the local sheriff’s office spilling my guts.  No, we’re more the sort of martyrs with our ever-lengthening faces who believe we were meant to suffer.  It can make the holidays a real hoot.  And while I’m not always like this, I have some glorious moments.

A recent example: I was driving home one night and I suppose the radio wasn’t entertaining enough and the traffic wasn’t particularly challenging, so that allowed for some quality me time. Time to really over think things – to rework reality.  I started picking on myself and it went something like this: “you know, none of your friends parents like you – true story”.  I made a list in my head of all of my friends and their parents – a list that would make what I was saying completely true.  I crawled out on that mental ledge and followed with “you’re kind of unlikeable, there’s probably something wrong with you.”  Now let me say this was up there with the time I called April and declared, “I only have three friends” to which April calmly took a breath and asked about several other people that I hadn’t counted – people I really liked and she was able to negotiate through my very German, “no, that’s an acquaintance”- the “du” vs. “Sie” roadblocks I threw in her way until I came down off of that ledge.  I’m kind of famous for these glorious moments, I’m not so proud to say.  So, as I drove and thought of every parent that disliked me including in-laws, I became smaller and sadder.  This was my narrative I chose to tell myself that evening for no better reason than I was bored.

And then the small part of me that hates to be beaten up rallied. “Julie’s mom doesn’t feel that way. Ern’s parents don’t feel that way. In fact, if you think about it, more of them like you than don’t and the ones who don’t, you’ve always had a “right back atcha’” attitude anyway, so let’s admit we’re being silly.”  I perked back up and recounted the ways that Julie’s mom had shown me over the years that she did still think about me and she did believe I was an ok person.  I used that knowledge to feel ok again.  To feel likeable.  To feel like I wasn’t some friend toad who when introduced to parents was seen as some loathsome and repulsive parasite latched to their beloved kid. (Did I mention I’m very skilled at making myself suffer?)  Those were the people who mattered to me – those incredible, amazing people who I admire and they like me.  I’m ok.

Reminding myself of the real truth, the real story, allowed me to not only feel better about myself, but about the people around me.  And the real story is that Ernie’s parents always ask about me when Ern comes into town.  Julie’s mom follows my blog and was one of the top people to respond to my Facebook posts – something that goes well beyond what my own family does and it’s something that means a lot to me.  And all of that helps me feel connected to my past.

Last week Julie told me that her mom had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Julie, who is a doctor, explained what that meant for the coming year and then asked if I would write a reminiscence – something her mom could read because she likes my writing.  I had a small meltdown, and then I sat down at 3:30 am the following morning and wrote a small bit that will never do this amazing lady justice or properly express how much she means to me or how incredible I think she is.

Of all the phases in my life – school, graduation, college, marriages, friend’s children being born, this is the one I like absolutely the least.  I want to stomp my feet hard enough or hold my breath long enough so that Death pauses, furrows a brow and says, “you know you’ll just pass out, but I suppose this once because of your moxie and that particular shade of blue on your face, I’ll cry uncle then come back in about 15 years, deal?”  (I basically want Death to be the character from Terry Pratchett’s novels. Relatable with a great fondness for cats.)

Like my aunt and my mom, she’s one of those people I have always assumed would always be there.  That decades from now I would still be hearing stories of her wanderings or hearing her boasting about and celebrating her incredible children and grandchildren. That I would be admiring her beautiful nature photos or the latest art piece she had created.  That wherever the wind stirred the tall grass and gently encouraged the wind chimes into performing a fairy’s chorus that I could smile in the knowledge she was somewhere out there – Monte and Polly at her side.

And quite selfishly, on the 6th anniversary of my mother’s death,  I admit that among the reasons I’m sad is that there will be one less person in this world that thinks I’m ok.

The Laborious Birth of a Tribute

Post the family’s Thanksgiving get together, I was driving down Mopac listening to KGSR wrapped in the afterglow of all the well wishes, good conversation and great food.  I had 40 minutes of music and in-my-head time and I started thinking about how great my friends and family are. While under the influence of a lethal combination of L-Tryptophan and sugar, I started composing a blog entry.  I do this all the time while driving, but few rarely make it to the website because I either don’t jot down the idea or it floundered before I could commit it to virtual paper.

Bringing Out the Worst in Ern

As I drove, I composed the entry which basically talked about how completely in awe I am of my friends and their talents.  I wrote about how gifted each and every one of them are.  At this point in the thought process, I mention a story I wrote in an expository writing class at UT called “The Aluminum Rose” – a story specifically about one of my oldest friends, Angie, that reflected on how beautiful and unique she was by comparing her to a foil rose her father crafted for her many years ago.  I backspace over this bit, recalling the day the professor took that story, threw it up on the overhead and an entire class picked it apart (nothing beats the humiliation of having a classroom full of uppity upper level English students holding a microscope to your writing).  This particular class nearly ended in a brawl due to a disagreement over whether I had proven that Angie was either a unique or a beautiful person.  What I took away from the whole experience was that while you can make certain claims in writing there’s a limit to what you can expect your audience to accept wholesale.   I ponder this for a bit – if I say that my friends are awe inspiring and gifted, I will need examples.

I mentally start writing examples starting with Ernie, my oldest friend – the kid who was responsible for me my first day of school in Austin, Texas.  I talk about Ernie the concert quality pianist (after only a couple of years playing), Ernie teaching in China, Ernie the guy that tried to sneak into a forbidden part of China and didn’t get arrested, Ernie, the Germans and the Crazy Knife Wielding Chef – so many stories.  I even tease him a bit in this unwritten blog over his perception of himself as a young boy.  (I’ve known him since he was seven and he remembers himself as a bit aloof and overly studious – not particularly a playful kid.)  I recall that I once had to remind him of our various 3rd grade adventures, to which he replied something along the lines of how I brought that out in him.  (It was actually a less flattering recollection – I think it had to do with me being kind of a spastic mess and being so irritating he had to sink to my level.  I love my friends.)

No Doors Were Harmed - Jers NYCI write about Jerry, my college roommate who really came into his own in New York.  I recount some of his adventures like with the tribe in Ghana or the private tour of the Roman Baths in Malta by one of the archaeologists. I write about his work with psychiatric patients and the homeless and I take a moment to be blown away.  I make a mental note to send an “I love you, guys’ note to both he and another old roommate, Jim.  I truly love them both. Recently, through Facebook, the two of them had made me laugh over a tiny clash with someone who doesn’t know me.  I think about how perceptions of me vary wildly between the older friends and the newer, but decide not to mention it in the blog piece because it’s not very relevant.

I think about the rest of my amazing friends, but before I decide on who to write about next and what I’m going to say, I begin to wonder why it is that these incredible people go slumming with the likes of me.  There’s an Ernie speech that immediately pops into my head, but I don’t let it play out.  Suffice it to say that Ernie is right. I can’t decide whether to include this bit, because no one wants to read some sad little self-deprecating analysis.  Plus, some might think I either need a serious pep talk or I’m trying to manipulate them into throwing praise my way.  I decide to leave this out.

At this point, I’m well down the road and a story pops into my head from my PBS days.  It’s where I thanked the universe for helping out after a pledge drive.  I was cautioned not to name names in the future to avoid accidentally forgetting someone and the inevitable hurt feelings that would follow.  I think I may be heading down that road where I heavily praise some and forget others.  I see the drama unfold.

I mentally crumple up the pages and chuck them into the bin.  I’m working myself up into getting mad over a blog entry that doesn’t exist.  The post-Thanksgiving moment has left and I’m neither feeling warm nor cuddly.

Now it’s Sunday and I’m kind of having a grand “fuck it” moment, mostly because I haven’t poked the blog in awhile.  So, I’ve decided to write what I intended in a rather round-about fashion and give a blanket thanks to all of my friends (and one beautiful parent of a friend who has always inspired me) – you are all truly amazing and gifted people who I am constantly completely blown away by – from your stories, your writing, your photographs, your sculptures, your beauty,  your achievements with your patients, your clients, your students and your kids – your adventures, your unique views of the world and how you choose to share/express those – for all the laughs and smiles throughout the years and the fact you all choose to slum with the likes of me.  I kind of love you guys.

… and to those who are hurt that I didn’t name them specifically, know that it’s only because I happen to love Ernie, Jerry, Jim and Angie more or you owe me an email.