Monday, March 30, 2009

Kneading Her

I woke up in the middle of the night and found myself grasping for Corrine.

A blind reach, almost flailing. I don't remember having a nightmare, and I didn't have the telltale symptoms either: shortness of breath, cold sweats, racing heart.

I just woke up and suddenly had to touch her.

She sleeps a quantum distance away most of the night, because we have two children: two-year-old Gabrielle and 9-month-old Griffin, both of whom start the evening in their own beds but always end up with us.

I love and hate this. I love it for all the reasons you parents reading this might be able to enumerate yourselves: the indescribable feeling of love one gets from knowing your children still need you; the way a child's warm body feels next to yours; the fact that for each passing night, they grow older and therefore - by human nature - are looking for ways to get the hell away from you.

I hate it because, well, nothing kills the rising tide of intimacy than knowing your child is sleeping in the same bed as your lover.

The early-morning awakening was not that though. I wasn't looking to get a little, if you know what I mean.

I had a heaviness in my chest. The kind of emotion that feels like there's a hole there, but it also feels weighted.

I get this every so often. It's a feeling of loss. And my immediate reaction is reach out. Cling. Smother.

The best therapy for me is to place my hands on her back, beneath her shirt, and to rub. The way a cat kneads. An almost desperate massage, starting at the lower back. I put my thumbs together and fan the fingers out and press them into her flesh.

I use the heals of my hands and drive them up her spine, the fingertips coursing ahead, making sure the entire back is touched. To the shoulder, then back down. I'll take my left hand and knead her left side, while the right hand traces up and down her back. It's this constant motion, a deep, forceful massage.

I'm not doing it for any other reason than to appease my own fears. And I couldn't elaborate on what those fears are. I don't know what they are. It's like I said, I wake up and feel like I've suffered a loss in some way. Do I dream of losing her? No. I've never dreamed that. In fact, I don't even remember what I was dreaming when these episodes occur.

It's a trigger. I wake up and I'm fully awake. I feel heavy-chested but hollow. The message fills the vacancy. The connection recharges the batteries, I suppose. Fills me up and, like a child who finds himself momentarily lost in the supermarket, the touch is like that moment the child finds his mother again, in the bread aisle.

You catch your breath and you sigh relief, but the fear is still lingering and it forces you toward her. You have to touch her. She has to be tangibly there. And when you are by her side, all is right again and you feel kind of stupid for getting lost and feeling like it was the end of the world.

I know the last thing she needs is to be woken up. Again. In the night. By someone needy. Corrine has not had a full night's sleep since 2004, when she met me.

But I appreciate her being there. Boy do I ever.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Boost Me Baby

The student health center of the University of Maine at Farmington informed me, by letter, that I am not in compliance with Maine State Law.

They even capitalized Maine State Law, in defiance of every grammatical rule I know, just to give it added weight. Oooh. It's not just the law, it's Maine State Law. I better sit up and take notice. The Maine State Police might Come and Arrest Me.

It seems that when you apply to college you have to be immunized against everything. Even if you're 41, like me.

There's measles, of course. And then there's German measles, which is measles on diesel.

There's something called a titer 2MMR, which is immunization against measles, mumps and rubella all at once. This is confusing. I mean, am I being vaccinated against the possibility, at 41, of getting all three at the same time? Jesus Christ, what goes on at UMaine/Farmington? Is there a germ warfare laboratory near the creative writing building? Do my professors all wear protective suits like they did in The Andromeda Strain?

Also, proof that you had the mumps is not enough proof of immunity.

Now, my mom would argue against this. She always used to say "You already had the mumps. You can play with Timmy Johnson. Just don't touch his sores."

Who's right here? UMaine or Mom? Do I take a stand? Can we have a debate, them against her? I know who would win.

My last tetanus/diphtheria booster was in 1984. Administered in the event that I stepped on a rusty nail or scratched my hand on a record player needle listening to DEVO. I need to get it again because the boost is gone. They tell me that it has to be done within 10 years of enrollment. Nothing more than this fact illuminated for me the sobering reality that I will be old enough to teach these classes let alone attend them. When you're tetanus booster has worn off, you're fucking old, man.

Corrine made an appointment for me to get the 2MMR and tetanus shots. Just so that I can be in compliance with Maine State Law. I'd hate to risk, you know, coming down with diphtheria right there in Introduction to Ebola, which is a prerequisite to the creative writing degree.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Provocateurs

This was going to be a post in the form of a long list of those in my life who, directly or indirectly, knowingly or subconsciously, goaded me toward accepting who I am.

That's right. I'm coming out.

I. Am. A. Writer.

I mean "goad" in the pejorative sense of the word, by the way. Like, as in, "fucking pissed me off with something they said or did enough to get me to act."

I'm learning that you are either a writer or you aren't. The number of published works has nothing to do with it. It's not a profession, but a way to live. You don't qualify your existence with a quota.

You wake up and say "I'm a writer" and then you believe it or you don't.

For a long time, I allowed the well-intentioned (and not-so-well-intentioned) to convince me that writing was for the talented only. Meaning: you were not a real writer until you were published. And, if you were published, you were not a real writer still until you've made the cover of Publisher's Weekly.

Their objective is to discourage you from throwing your life away on such a pursuit. Some do so because they genuinely care, others because they are genuinely jealous.

Did you know that a poll was taken of Americans and 81 percent said they wanted to write a book someday?

Here's what that says to me: most of the people you meet are closeted writers. And when you spring upon them the words "I'm a writer" or "I work at home writing" or "I published my first novel ..." deep inside they are stabbing you with a letter opener.

Your proclamation is as brazen as a slap across their face in front of their family and friends. It exposes their own failings as writers. And in a sense, when they say "I wanted to write a book once" what they are telling you is "If you fail at this - and you will - then I was right in not quitting that job at the bank that I loathe so much."

I'm convinced of this.

For years - well, until just the last couple of years - I never told anyone "I'm a writer" it was always the downcast-eyes, timid "I want to be a writer" revelation.

It started early, this sense of low-self writer's worth.

I think back to the English teachers I had in high school. What a miserable bunch of tweed-wearing, coffee-addicted ass hats.

I had one - ONE - English teacher who publicly applauded my writing to my peers.

Every Monday morning he read three 500-word essays we had written the week before. They could be about anything. He would not reveal the name of the author, ever. And we would sit around and dissect the piece. It was actually a healthy exercise and I loved it. Of course, mine was never read.

Until one Monday morning. He said he was only reading one that day because, "You'll know why when I read it."

Wow we were intrigued.

He cleared his throat and, before jumping in, said "You will read this person's name one day. I guarantee it."

He only had to say the first few words for me to know he was reading mine. And that day has been and always will be my most favorite and least favorite high school memory.

The class discussed it vigorously and the response was overwhelmingly positive. He then asked the students to guess who had written it. He never did this.

They all agreed it was written by a girl (it had a lot of "feelings" in it they said); that it was probably one of three girls in class; and that this girl would win the coveted senior English composition scholarship (we were only sophomores then.)

When the teacher revealed the author, my moment of triumph was abruptly over.

I had outshone, in anonymity, the best so-called writers of the class. The kids who were constantly having their praises exalted by the faculty. The kids with certain last names. The literary and academic jocks of our class. The loudest ones, who participated in every class discussion, who were always witty and shared coffee with the other teachers when school was out.

Boy did I despise them.

For one, they WERE great writers. Their stuff was so much more advanced than many of our own. But I despised also that they were so full of themselves, so arrogant, so self-assured. I was not taught to be that way. I was taught to be humble. What it got me was a back seat to the show, but in my heart of hearts I knew then what I know now: it's not a competition. Writing is not about winners and losers.

My so-called teachers perpetuated this. This culture of literary capitalism in which the cream (see: the loudest and most connected and most popular) floated to the top while the rest of us sunk like coffee grounds.

In short, I hated that writing had to be about "who you know".

My peers that day never complimented me again. Once the cat was out of the bag that this short, timid, wallflower might actually have some writing chops, I was shunned.

I was grateful for that teacher and I still hold him up to be my favorite. Everyone has one, right? His words of encouragement - although they marked me for social death thereafter - had elevated this shy kid out of the mire of pubescent high school angst, if for only a fleeting moment. I was a king and a pauper in the span of an hour.

The pecking order didn't ever cease. The popular kids stayed that way, while the rest of us - the ones with zits both literal and metaphorical - remained huddled in the corner, unworthy.

And into adulthood, I have heard the echo of their footsteps when someone I know says something like "A writer? Wow. But what do you do for a living?"

It has the same crippling effect. Worrying about all those other writers out there who are better than you is replaced by worrying about your friends and family thinking you're a fucking nut job for choosing a Peter Pan, pie-in-the-sky hobby.

They are my provocateurs now. They are the people who have goaded me into throwing a life of 9 to 5 away and jumping into the frigid waters of art with no clothes on. It's hard and numbing and probably the craziest thing you could do. But it is, in the end, what I do. Not what I want to do.

Or what I'd like to do.

Or what I'm leaning toward, when I get a chance.

Not anymore.

I'm a writer. Not the best nor the worst.

I just am.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Glad Tidings

And they'll lay you down low in the easy
And the lips that you kiss will say christmas.
And the miles that you traveled the distance

So believe no lies, dry your eyes and realize
That surprise
La, la, la, la la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la...
And the businessmen will shake hands and talk in numbers
And the princess will wake up from her slumber
Then all the knights will step forth with their arm bands
And every stranger you meet in the street will make demands
So believe no lies, then dry your eyes and realize
That surprise
La, la, la...

And we'll send you glad tidings from new york
Open up your eyes so you may see
Ask you not to read between the lines
Hope that you will come in right on time
And they'll talk to you while you're in trances
And you'll visualize not taking any chances
But meet them halfway with love, peace and persuasion
And expect them to rise for the occasion
Don't it gratify when you see it materialize
Right in front of your eyes
That surprise

Monday, March 23, 2009

College Bound?

I applied to college a week or so ago. This being the second time in my life to do so.

The first time, when I was in high school, there was no internet and CDs were still way too expensive. The best personal computer you could get was a TRS-80 with a whopping 250K memory. Shazam!

I applied back then to Abilene Christian University, a large college in west Texas affiliated with a dyed-in-the-wool, non-denominational, fundamentalist christian church.

I should never have gone.

I was an average high school student, and did enough to graduate. Talk about lazy. College was high school without my parents telling me to get out of bed every morning.

So I didn't. And I left after one year with a 1.2 GPA.

So, 22 years later, I'm applying again. This time to the University of Maine.

I've sent them everything I need to: transcripts, fees, writing samples, essays, and of course the application itself. Now I must wait for a response.

So why try it again? Well, honestly, I wouldn't if they didn't have the degree in Creative Writing.

I happened to do a random search one day for creative writing classes and discovered that UMaine's Farmington college has an actual degree. Classes in creative writing are common at most liberal arts schools. A degree is not, so I jumped at the chance.

I've always been a student of writing. I've purchased so many books on the craft that the bulk of my six-level, wall-to-wall library is nearly filled.

I love reading what other writers have to say about the business of writing. Now, this gives a chance to get a degree in it. If for nothing more than to deepen my understanding and to be among fellow (miserable, anxious, depressed, desperate) writers.

Of course, college means taking all the classes that gave me high anxiety back in the day. Primarily the maths and sciences. My older kids are in high school and they bring home math homework that I can't even stomach to look at.

This is going to be a real challenge. A difficulty that I need to get through. I have something to prove to myself, at the age of 41. When I was 18, I had no motive for doing well at all. There was no incentive. I was there on my parent's dime. I was 18. I didn't even want to be there.

This is different.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Giddy About Mud

I love mud.

Today, I love it. Tomorrow, I will love it too.

I look out my window and can actually see the snow melting. Our driveway slopes away from the house and therefore, the snow melt runs in streams away from the house and it's a pleasing sight.

The snow dinosaur the child care kids built just a month ago is now merely two humps. (insert giddy laughter)

The kids come in from their play time outside caked with dirt and mud (insert maniacal snort)

The dog comes in from doing his thing, and his paws are slick with mud (insert girl-like tittering)

Spring is sprung soon and the death of snow is my favorite snuff story. I want to film it and market it. Call it "White Death" or "Gone With The Mud" or "Puddles, A Love Story."

I once wrote in a recent blog how March 4th, my birthday, was always a turning point of the year for me, because it marked the end of winter. Even though we almost always got dumped on a few times afterward, the snowstorms lacked luster. The snow would accumulate, but then nearly as quickly shrink.

Scrubby, dead grass spots would appear on the lawn here and there. Twigs fallen from the trees during the winter began to appear like the bones of excavated prehistoric reptiles. The blinding whiteness of days was turning into dirty, muddy blandness.

And I love it.

I went for a walk for the first time since last fall, and was hit with the smell of melting snow, the change in the direction of the sun. The very air itself held promise.

I love mud. Mud is great. I worship mud.

It means a trip to Jack's Greenhouse is not far away. And raking and mowing. Tilling and planting the vegetable garden. Drinking a beer on the deck while grilling burgers.


I love mud.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Back to It

After a few weeks of pouting, I decided to return to the blogosphere.

Many of you asked where I went, and I gave an honest answer. Blogging was becoming a hindrance to my "real" writing. That is, the writing I invent and hope to someday make into a published novel that makes me a millionaire. Or at least solvent enough to replace our bathroom.

What i have come to realize, though, is that the blog was not the problem. My brain was. If I had a dime for every time my brain got in the way ...

Sounds like a Broadway lyric, doesn't it?

So I'm back, after reading a quote I pasted on my wall a long time ago so that I would be inspired never to give up, but apparently forgot I had posted there:

Talent is a long patience. It is a matter of considering long and attentively what you want to express, so that you may discover an aspect of it that has never before been reported.
That's part of it. It goes on to talk about how everything common should be rendered unique by the writer if he is to be successful. That "Even the slightest thing contains a little that is unknown."

To stop blogging is to deny myself an important creative outlet. It was not a hindrance after all, but a way to write when I couldn't seem to write. I forgot that the reason I love writing is because it lets me look for the unknown.

So I've returned. I don't need a parade or fanfare. I'm just grateful to those of you who came looking for me. It made me feel good. Like I was at least relevant to some degree. And isn't that why writers write in the first place?

Monday, March 9, 2009

All the World's Her Stage

I met Alyssa for the first time on a stage.

A fitting place if you know my step-daughter.

I don't mean it pejoratively when I describe Alyssa as being "naturally dramatic."

She is 15 in May and a standout freshman in the state's largest high school. Which is to say, of the roughly 300 other freshmen in the school, she towers both literally and figuratively.

I say these things knowing I risk a bit of incredulity since she is my step-daughter. But I'm not going to try to hide my bias. I never do when it comes to my children. I am unabashedly their greatest cheerleader. Well, second-greatest next to Corrine anyway.

The truth is, I have four teens, and even though legally with two of them I must employ the word "step", each of them is equally beautiful to me in his or her own way. And I'm proud of each for different reasons. Fallon for her imagination and natural beauty; Harrison for his intellect and quiet love; and Ty for his innocence and wonder.

Alyssa, about whom this post is written, I would say is lovely.

A word I like because it speaks of a different kind of beauty to me, one that includes a strength inside of a person.

Outwardly, she is gorgeous. There's no doubt about it. Statuesque, a fantastic smile, a wonderfully balanced figure for a girl not even a woman yet. I'm not ashamed or embarrassed to say that I think both of my daughters are attractive and appealing to look at. I'm their father. What am I supposed to say? That I think they're "cool"? "Awesome"? "Nice"?

How ... insincere.

Just as I would say that Harrison is turning into a handsome young man and always catches the eyes of the girls. And that Ty, who will be tall like his father (over six feet!) has that innocent, doe-eyed look that will snag some girl someday.

But I digress.


I met her, as I started to say, on a stage. I tried out for a show called The Nerd. I was cast as the title character, believe it or not. And Alyssa and her mother were cast as mother-daughter characters.

I was taller than Alyssa then, but other than that she has not changed. She still commands the attention of those watching. She has a solid presence when she "treads the boards", that is the stage. She's got it.

She was on stage this past weekend in Augusta when her school's one-act performance went up against four other schools in a regional competition. This happens every year in Maine. High school drama clubs put on 30-minute one-act shows as part of a competition.

This is, for most of these kids - including Alyssa - their "team sport", their chance to share camaraderie with others, to bask together in the glow of achievement and enjoy something that transcends individuality. Some play baseball or basketball or soccer. They know what I mean.

Alyssa's club did not win, but their performance got high marks from the judges, as it should have. The club saw some fantastic performances that they can now take back with them and learn from. But more importantly, they did it together and they enjoyed themselves.

I have not seen Alyssa more in her element, happier, more comfortable than I did this weekend.

Which brings me to why I'm writing this today.

My wife is a tigress - like most mothers - when it comes to their children. She gets her back up when she perceives that her child is the victim of an injustice. Picked on, left out, laughed at, injured emotionally by another. She had to be restrained at a wrestling match Ty was competing in when the mother of his opponent shouted "Make his nose bleed!"

So, when others refer to Alyssa lightheartedly as being "loud and obnoxious" I have to restrain her because she knows deep down they are really being insulting.

I know for a fact Corrine's greatest fear is that her daughter will go through her life disliked, disregarded, disrespected because of Alyssa's strong, dramatic personality. We've spoken of it in private many times. Alyssa is head strong. She is opinionated. She is no shrinking violet. Add to that her academic standing: honors or high honors. Add to that her talents - singing and acting.

These things make a girl a target. More than a boy. Much more. An aggressive, outspoken, talented woman is a bitch. That's just the sad truth. And Corrine fears she is responsible for turning Alyssa into the girl who will sit alone at lunch for the rest of her life.

She raised Alyssa to make herself heard. She whispered into Alyssa's ear as a child "You can do that" rather than what most girls hear, which is "Are you sure you want to try that?"

The difference is subtle, but it's there. One says "There's nothing you cannot do," the other implies "I'm worried you'll fail, so try this instead..."

The latter is laced with good intentions, but it ultimately fails children - girls more than boys - in my opinion, by teaching them the path of least resistance, and therefore making them stools for others to perch themselves upon on their way to greatness.

Corrine fears she created a monster.

I don't.

She's raised a girl who will put forth her greatest effort, the withering opinions of others be damned.

I will be the first to admit that Alyssa can get on my last nerve sometimes. Sometimes her drama and cheeky contrariness seem aimed to achieve only one thing: to annoy the hell out of Corrine.

And it breaks Corrine down, forcing her to analyze her decision, way back when, to raise a girl to be an individual instead of a doormat.

"Do you think they hate her?" Corrine asks me.

The truth is, I think it's classic jealousy born of an age-old mindset that women are to be demure and accommodating. Even in the 21st century. Men are intimidated by this. And girls are strangely resentful. It leaves these types of girls outside the circle a lot.

So it was good for Corrine to see Alyssa among her friends in drama this weekend. Among kids who appreciate her loudness. Her obnoxiousness. Her talent for drama. Corrine got to see that her work as a mother was and is not in vain. That Alyssa will be just fine. And that if she ever is left alone at lunch, that it will truly be their loss, not her daughter's.

I can't wait to see what she does with her life as an adult.

Because Corrine raised a smart, strong, opinionated, talented, lovely girl.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cool Stuff

So I got presents yesterday, for my 41st.

I'm a strong believer in giving me gifts. Always have been.

Here's what my loved-ones showered upon me. I am SO psyched.

In no particular order, of course:

Shelby Foote is considered to be one of America's greatest historians. He wrote a small series called The Civil War.

Actually, it's three thick volumes that starts with the South's departure from the Union and ends with the last battle of the war. Hundreds of thousands of words devoted to the war. WAY cool. I've wanted this for awhile.

So, I'm a collector of sorts. I collect books about writing. Inspirational, instructive, short, long, from Stephen King to writers I don't even think actually write fiction.

I love to read how others approach the craft.

Corrine bought me "The 3 a.m. Epiphany" a book of writing exercises.

Again, way cool. She knows me. She really really knows me.

I also got a Columbia jacket. Not a winter coat but a fleece zip-up, to replace the pullover that, to quote Corrine, "Is for shit."

Apparently I've worn the beloved pullover for too long.

I've always been a fan of fleece. And pullovers. And, well, anything that keeps me warm.

I will wear this year-round, don't you know. I mean, if you've been to my house, you know in July we warm the kitchen by leaving the refrigerator door open.

True story.

Civilization IV is a role-playing game for your PC. It's a thinking-man's game, which means I suck at it.

Actually, it's not like the games most kids are playing. You don't hunt down vampires or gargoyles or aliens. No laser guns or WWII scenarios.

Civ IV is the latest edition of a game in which you build your own civilization (America, Germany, France, etc.) from the ground up. From, like, 10,000 B.C. to today.

I like it because you can start and stop any time, and you really have to think about how to mature your civilization over time, taking into consideration food, finances, your military, etc.

Ok. I'm a geek.

Like you didn't know that already.

Okay, last but not least, Harrison and Fallon got me an iTunes card, and I spent the better part of the morning picking out songs I love.

I used to have thousands. On CDs. But that's a blog for another day.

Suffice it to say (I've never known what that means, but I love saying it) I made out like a bandit yesterday.

I have the best family, like, EVER.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009


It's not easy to express
in 41 words, no less

About a girl I know
Who's life to whom I owe

41 years to this day
In a hospital bed she lay

Birthed a skinny tot
And named him Andrew Scott

* thanks for having me ...