the sensitive curmudgeon’s guide to one-off friendships

mom-friendsI’ve always felt like I was born without a certain social chip. Let’s call it the “Steel Magnolias” chip. I mean, sure, my eyes have been known to glaze over when looking at a $700 pair of shoes, but what you didn’t see was the girl-power chant I was incanting in my head and the deep slumber I fell into for weeks afterwards from having exhausted my limited powers.

Pregnancy, for a time, buoyed me into an orbit that I had previously only gazed at longingly as though through a department store window. I could finally communicate with women! I cried for no reason! I even started up-talking. 

Five months post-partum, I still have a few new “mom” hormones, but I’m mostly back to being my old self, with all my old problems and also a new one–

Being a stay-at-home mom can even be isolating for me. So, I subscribed to the local mom’s listserv that is quite active and another stay-at-home mom sent around an invitation to meet up. Our daughters are two months apart and she seemed friendly and open. We played text tag for a week or two trying to sync up.

During that time, I Facebooked her.

The first thing I noticed were her Crazy Eyes™–but crazy in itself is hardly a deal breaker for me (glass houses, etc.). Then I noticed that she disabled adding her as a friend–red flag. But again, not a deal breaker. There are plausible explanations (I imagine). Then I scrolled down further.

“Baby,” I whispered hoarsely to my husband. “Her husband is wearing a cape.” I closed my laptop and sulked at him, wearily. “I can’t do this.”

“Baby, you’re setting your bar too high.” He countered.

“No I’m not! I can’t do it. How can I do it?”

“So what…you’re just not going to do it?”

(long beat)

“Fine. I’ll do it. I’ll do it.”

So we met up for a walk one afternoon, and talked for forty-five minutes or an hour. She watches Girls and I didn’t get her Girls reference. (I actually hate Girls.) But so what? We both voted for Bernie this primary but for Hillary in ’08. She said she would cut off her little finger to make Hillary president. I agreed pending the conditions I was heavily anesthetized and it would be reattached immediately, and she allowed me those conditions. There were some things really stressing me out that day and I likely over-shared for a first encounter, but I don’t really worry about that kind of thing because it tends to sort itself out.

It seemed like she got a bit weird towards the end, though. I was just a few blocks from my house when she announced she had to get home because it was about to rain. I offered to walk a few blocks in the other direction with her to the edge of my neighborhood, and once we got there, I was waiting to cross the street to go home and she suddenly announced she had to go grocery shopping in a totally different direction from her house–weird, but again, no biggy. Maybe she had just remembered something she had to get.

I got home, put my daughter down for her nap and texted her that it was great meeting her and I’d love to go for another walk next week or so. She texted back, “Yes, let’s definitely go for a walk soon!” Wait, wait, record scratch–I once blogged during my dating days about how “definitely” means “never” (which I stand by).

I never saw her again. In the old days, when I was used to losing the few friends I had when we moved to place to place as a kid, or as I then moved place to place as an adult, I would have been devastated. My world was either kept small for me or I kept it small, and I struggled to make the people right in front of me work out. Perhaps since I felt disconnected from everyone, anyone would do. Or perhaps the fear of rejection and the exhaustion of new social encounters simply kept me with people I didn’t connect with to the point I began to believe that I couldn’t connect with anyone.

Then, the next week, I met a woman I genuinely liked. And I realized I did things differently. I made sure not to overshare this time. Not because of any lesson learned from the previous encounter, but because I actually wanted to be friends with her so I was thinking about it.

Which made me realize–maybe the other woman was being really weird at the end. But maybe I had also over-shared on purpose. And maybe, when you’re a stay-at-home writer who mostly talks to her husband, going for a walk and letting off some steam with someone you’ll never see again is perfectly okay.

bored by your female protagonist? get rid of her boyfriend and give her an axe.

axeAt least, that worked for me.

This is the first excerpt I’m posting on my blog–smelly, fresh, and straight-from-my-fingers-this week first draft from my novel-in-progress, “The Last House in Levittown”. I am not sure why it is indenting some paragraphs and not others, but I’m still new at this and I’ll look into it. Would love to hear your thoughts.:


Twenty minutes later, she heard a car pull up, jolted off of the floor and splashed some cold water from the decanter on her face. Her general policy these days was not to look in the mirror—a girl could only take so much bad news—but visits from Lew called for a lapse in protocol.

She tousled her hair and pinched her cheeks—did that even work? Or was it just to give herself the illusion of control? No matter, the illusion of control might be all she had going for her at this point, so she smoothed her hands over her unwashed button-down shirt, took a deep breath, and walked to the front door.

Her heart sank and fear pricked her senses when she saw Lew’s car with a different driver, a man she had never seen before. She grabbed the axe next to the door and tried to rationalize that the fact he was here at the scheduled time must make him Lew’s emissary, or at least a colleague—not a killer.

She brandished her axe in a way that she hoped did not convey that she’d never actually picked one up until the night before. She had done a dry run of how murdering her father would go and had found the axe surprisingly heavy. Her muscles now ached from the presentation and she tried to look cavalier about it. This was her modus operandi, she told herself. She was the Axe Lady.

She took a frightened breath, blinked her eyes open and closed, and opened the screen door.

The man was still idling in the driveway that used to belong to the house next door, which used to belong to the Sanchezes, Tony and Luz, who had been one of the first families to move indoors. The demolition crews—known colloquially as dozer squads—had razed the house but left the driveway. It had been bizarre and terrifying to watch from her kitchen window as the entire 125 year old subdivision had become nothing but driveways in a matter of months. She closed her eyes again, knowing this was terrifying, and reminded herself that adaptation was the mother of survival.

Her tongue was dry as she stepped out to greet this threat idling in her neighbor’s driveway behind the wheel of Lew’s beat up Chrysler Nemesis.

“You’ll waste your gas.” Penny asserted as she walked slowly towards the car, willing her eyes to look steely.

“Hasn’t been starting.” The man grunted. “Wouldn’t want to get stuck here.”

She took in the man. Maybe fifty, corpulent in that sloppy way—dirty John Deere baseball cap, flecks of gray in a beard that was only a few days old. Bloodshot, hound dog eyes. Most moonshiners tended to be drunks. It made sense. Hell, drinking up to your gills with whatever elixir you could manage was one of the only things that still made sense. Even Penny had battled her own struggles with it—Lew was the exception.

“Where’s Lew?” Penny asked, feeling her grip tighten on the smooth, steel handle of the axe. The illusion of control.

            “Dead.” The word carried no more heft in his tone than if he had offered her a Slim Jim.

“Who killed him?”

“How’d you know he was killed?” The man rubbed his chin stubble and eyed her warily. Everyone was an enemy until proven otherwise, now. But just because someone regarded you as as their enemy didn’t mean they weren’t still yours.

“He seemed healthy.” Penny shrugged. “Who are you?”

“Name’s Wayne. I’m one of the Dogs. Knew Lew pretty well. He was one of the good guys, it’s a damn shame.”

“What about you? Are you one of the good guys?”

“When it behooves me.” When it behooves him? “It’s a dangerous world anymore. ‘Specially for a pretty young lady like yourself. You here all alone?”

Penny swallowed her fear for the hundredth time in ten minutes and stared the man—Wayne—down. The illusion of control. Fake it ‘til you make it.

“My dad’s coming home soon from hunting at dawn, be here any minute. Why?”

“No reason. You seem to handle yourself fairly well, even if you are out here all by yourself.”

“Well, I’m not.” She gulped dry, and thought to her dwindling supply of clean water. She had always braved the wells when Jimmy was still around, but now it seemed too dangerous. But was it more dangerous to buy it from Wayne and let him know she needed even water? “What happened to Lew?”

“Rumor is someone came upon him in the woods—he was on night duty, guarding the shine. His face was burned off but there weren’t more than a jug or two missing. Whoever killed him must have been after something else.”

Rumors used to be things to discount, but now that word of mouth was the only source for information, they had become indiscernible from facts.

“Wasn’t he armed?” Penny asked.

“Dagger and pistol, most assuredly. Standard issue for the Watch Dogs.”

“Huh.”

In this delayed moment, Penny’s heart sank as fear eroded momentarily into grief. She blinked away a lone tear, hoping Wayne hadn’t noticed. A lone tear for a cold beer and a game of Chinese Checkers and a man who had given Penny hope. In this lonely and barren new world, hope seemed to blow out before it even had a chance to take shape, and that grief now got one tear.

“You sweet on him, huh?” Damn. She really had to work on her poker face. One tear was one too many.

“Nah.” She looked away, then reconsidering: “Maybe a little. Hardly knew him, really. But.”

“Well, if it means anything to you, seems it was mutual at least. Seems according to his books, he was still accepting Old World cash.” He closed what she took to be Lew’s accounting ledger, a black book she had never seen. “We don’t do that anymore. Haven’t for months now.”

Penny willed herself not to panic but if she had been hooked up to electrodes at that very moment, they might have guessed she’d already fainted. She steadied herself and hoped she didn’t look woozy, but was starting to fear her cover had been blown since she had mistaken it for a cover to begin with.

She emptied this thought from her mind, tightened her grip on the axe handle and remembered to breathe. Cash was all she had. It was how she had survived for ten years and how she had planned to survive forever. This is why religion was flourishing again on the Perimeter.

getting to work

Here I am, 2017. It’s time to write. Tiiiiiime to write. Tiiiiiiiiiimeeee to wriiiiiiiiite.

How does one write a novel, again? Whatever the answer is, it is apparently so daunting that I have spent the better part of three years not doing  it. And then the better part of the past three weeks of family vacation waiting until vacation is over to start doing it.

After three years of not writing my novel, I have amassed a misfortune in disparate computer files and handwritten paragraphs in what seems like thousands of near-empty Moleskine journals (haha! no, just six.) that I have no idea how or where or when or if to incorporate at this point. So I made the decision last week to not look at any of them again until I have a complete first draft.

I also have two or three fairly polished chapters from a writing workshop two years ago, back when I was still more concerned with getting affirmation than getting the hard work done (in front of near strangers? no thanks!). I don’t take writing workshops anymore, and I’m coming more and more to terms with how bad a first draft is truly allowed to be. And I think the answer is, really, really bad.

When I started this blog, the tagline I wrote for it was, “blogging from ground zero of my e-publishing experiment”. Then I chose a layout that doesn’t have a tagline. But that’s a main reason I started blogging again–to chronicle my journey from here to there. The writing, the business of it, what I would already have done differently–while daunting to set out in the dark on a brand new voyage, I think it’s what keeps me feeling young. I just had a birthday, and I can safely say I felt older 10 years ago than I feel right now. I think feeling old is, to some extent, a rise-over-run consideration. And maybe also a little bit about frequency of doctor visits–so now that I’m not pregnant anymore, I expect to have a windfall year by the latter metric (that is, short of an imminent and epic failure of birth control).

Aside from seeking to perfect things that will probably have to be trashed, anyway, or at least completely rewritten, another one of my biggest pitfalls is biting off more than I can chew, overdoing it, getting discouraged, and then quitting. I’ve done this my entire life with basically anything that this pattern can apply itself to. So, of course, I initially decided upon the really arbitrary yet ambitious goal of writing 10,000 words in January. That sounds awesome, right? That also sounds like more than I’ve written in the last three years, combined!

Plus, it’s already January 7, and I don’t plan on writing anything until Monday.

So today I’m setting a goal for myself for January of 5000 words. If I only write on the weekdays left in the month, that’s just under 300 words a day. Reasonable, but still moderately ambitious right out of the gate. I’m working on it.

 

success, humo(u)r, and popularity

successhumourpopularity

I’ve always been a sucker for a good fortune cookie. And not always exclusively in the, “Science is everything but I am indulging in the talismans of the folk people for some unrefined amusement” kind of way I pass it off to my husband, either (he doesn’t believe me, anyway).

It’s mostly just fun, but I also find it useful–particularly when it comes to times like this, the end of the year where we take stock and set intentions for the year to come. I already know my intention for 2017–I’m going to write my first novel, and no fortune cookie, Facebook quiz or horoscope is going to tell me otherwise.

So when this particular game of fortune was circulating about a week ago, I eagerly found my own three words for the New Year–success, humour and popularity.

Popularity! I am certainly a great many things (or at least a few) but popular has never been one of them!

So then I promptly wrote something self-deprecating about how the idea of me being popular was already humorous and posted it to Facebook. I might as well have put a knife in my eye. Forty-five minutes later, I had not received one single like or comment so I deleted the post, because there’s probably nothing worse than hanging yourself out in the barren winds of a sentiment like “hahaha I’m so unpopular! amiright?” and then having everyone ignore you. Probably.

And once I thought about it, I realized I’ve actually done just fine socially throughout my life whenever I’ve actually left my home and not immediately hated everyone (which are, I can admit to you here, relatively exhaustive constraints).

(Also, I just discovered that posting anything on social media after 8 PM on a Saturday is the worst possible time all week–unless, I suppose, it’s something you decide you want to delete after forty-five minutes.)

So here’s to 2017 and all of the success, humor, and popularity that wants to find me along the way. Maybe I can even work on not being so self-deprecating while I’m at it (PS this is why I like fortune cookies).