Monday, November 21, 2011

Soul Survivor

A few months ago, when it was warm outside, I had taken the kid and a friend to the beach for frolicking. They were frolicking and I was doing my version of frolicking at the beach, which is sitting in the shade and answering email. The youth-director at our church, Josh, had put out a request that any parent with some time and, dare I say, a calling do a little volunteer work this liturgical season.

I read this, and gnawed at a cuticle. My obligations if listed on fingers now stretched well into the second hand. But there had been a fair amount of turnover at church in the previous weeks-- people leaving for new positions and people going to seminary, that sort of turnover—and they did need help. I had a little time each week. The insidious guilt-Macarena started playing in head. I wrote back, offering help, but I did it in what I freely admit was the most mealy-mouthed, passive-passive-aggressive way ever. I listed every single one of my obligations, including the home-schooling and the book which I was still finishing; the only thing which prevented me from noting how much time hand-washing undergarments takes was my fear it would make Josh feel funny. Many obligations later, I sent it off, pleased that I had technically offered and confident that he’d write back saying, “Oh, Quinn, I couldn’t possibly ask you to do more. In fact, let me swing by this afternoon and find out why the dryer keeps making that noise.”

About five minutes later, the phone beeped, indicating an email. Josh was thrilled to hear from me and would gladly take my offer of help. But, considering my life, he thought I’d be best-used by being one of the altar-attendant parents. Each group of eight altar-attendants has one parent who corrals them before the service, monitors them into church, glares at them if the word of God grows less interesting than poking another attendant with a hymnal. It sounded reasonable; it sounded more reasonable when I read that Josh would have me be the back-up parent, learning the job for a year with a seasoned veteran before I had eight of my very own to corral, monitor and glare at. It wasn’t like sleeping in on a Sunday morning, but I could be of service while also carrying a low risk of disaster. I wrote back and accepted.

It’s a great job, being second-parent to this group of altar-attendants. The father who was the primary parent, Bryan, has done this for two years and knew everything and what he didn’t know the senior altar-attendant, Rebecca, did. I would follow Rebecca into battle, which is odd to say considering how she’s in tenth-grade, but every time she’d organize her attendants and snap on her gloves, I’d practically tear up in relief. The grown-ups were in charge, and the idiot here could do no harm. For three Sundays, it was all just a beautiful dream.

Thursday, October 27th, I received an email from Bryan. Our group was attending the service the upcoming Sunday, but he had an obligation; could I handle it by myself? I stared at the screen, my breath catching in my throat, because I was in no way, shape or form ready for my first solo-performance as an altar-parent. My breath also caught in my throat because I was in the fourth day of a small but pernicious asthma attack and the Sunday service was All Soul’s Day, the only service of the year which used incense. I might as well just start using my trachea as a meat-smoker. But I had Rebecca who knew all and I had my inhaler and how bad could it be? I gulped, and then coughed a little, and wrote back saying "Sure, no problem."

Next time: How bad could it be?

Monday, November 07, 2011

Right Here, Right Now

At this exact moment, I should be doing the final rewrites of the book, using the smart and considered notes I've gotten from people far more intelligent and literate than I am.

So, I'm here.

I'm here because, frankly, here is better than there. There, with the manuscript, is staring at things I've written, and rewritten, and mulled over, and polished, and rewritten, and gotten notes on, and rewritten and am now confronted with a terrible question:


There isn't a sightly place to be right now. And no amount of purloining Daughter's Halloween candy is going to make there any better-looking; it's certainly not doing my upper-thighs any favors. Final rewrites are like doing your own obituary while also performing your own autopsy.

But, here! Here is good! I'll just stay here and write blogs forever! Who cares that I do it for free? Writing books isn't much better!

Perhaps I should get to the point.

This week, I was shuffling through a fashion magazine, because it's my drug of choice,
and I came across a diet. We know it's a good diet, a successful diet, because Gwyneth Paltrow is on it. It clears up inflammation, something you've probably never considered in a dietary way but let me assure you, INFLAMMATION IS WHY YOU AREN'T BETTER. Inflammation gives you a belly. Inflammation makes your skin dull. Inflammation is why you can't remember the name of your cousin's new daughter:




Inflammation is at the root of all that ails you and with this magic diet, you will be BETTER. Your skin will be clear and bright, your mind will remember the girl's name is Hawthorne and most important of all, you will be thinner. Magically thinnner.

Ready to be thinner and smarter?

Here goes.

For one month, you will take scads of expensive probiotics. Your diet will consist of fresh, organic greens, brightly-colored fruit and non-commerically farmed meat. Financially, it's best if you are the wife of someone in the band Coldplay. You will not ingest dairy, sugar, caffeine, starches and alcohol. You will do this for a month. After a month, thanks to this newfound lack of inflammation, you will magically find you've lost weight!

Or-and it might just be the candy-corn and green-tea I'm living on right now talking here- if you cut out all starches and sugars, you lose weight. You may call it the anti-inflammation diet, or the Zone diet, or the diabetes-control diet, but if you eat no starch and sugar your inflammation (read; your belly rounded by starches and sugars) will go down. In the article, a doctor is quoted as saying he's seen patients lose up to ten pounds in a month, which is about two and a half pounds a week, which is about what you'd lose if you cut out starches and sugars. It's a good diet, it just doesn't need the accessories. Then again, without the accessories, it doesn't get into the Beyonce issue, does it?

Here's what I say. Cut out sugar, cut out starch. Everything will fit better. If you feel fancy, stop drinking; it's easier to remember unusual baby-names without a Syrah-haze. Save the four hundred dollars or so you're supposed to spend on probiotics and buy yourself something.

(Might I suggest putting a few dollars aside to pick up my book next year?)

I'm might never do this diet, but I can say honestly it's already made my life better. The next time I'm assaulted by my inner editor screaming WHY AREN'T YOU BETTER, I'll blithely say, "Can't help it, I'm inflamed."

And then I'll put on some Coldplay. And go back over here.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Talking to Myself

Thank you to every single person who wrote a comment on the previous blog. Your words were bracing, heartening, and just the right amount of profane. I could rent you out, en masse, to bloggers who feel unappreciated.

I foraged around a bit on Blogger to see if I could close comments on only a single post and not the others; let "Marion" rest in peace and keep my comments for every other post. It would appear I can't. I can either have them everywhere or nowhere. So, I'm leaving the comments open and here's why:


Not the bracing, heartening, soupcon of profane part (although it was gorgeous), but the comments on quotidian blogs. I might be a little biased, but I happen to think that many of my commenters are among the better commenters out there and I can't imagine this dialogue we have becoming a monologue. It wouldn't be nearly as fun for you. It certainly wouldn't be as fun for me.

When I do something idiotic in public, I slink home and write about it, and then I wait. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, one of you writes in and says "Yes, that has happened to me as well. In front my mother-in-law. Thanks for making me laugh" and my general feeling of mortified self-consciousness shifts from "Please allow me to be absorbed into the earth" to "I wasn't the only one! I can remain unabsorbed for another day!"

Every time I write, I run the risk of hurting someone's feelings. I won't say that hasn't been on my mind for the past few weeks, and it's hard to write while stepping around possibly-imaginary land mines. But every time I write, I also have the opportunity to find one of those common threads, which I imagine stretching across any potential land mines.

So, I think I should get back to work, don't you?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Even Downtown, Voices Carry

Readers, I need you to help me decide something.

About a month ago, a blog of mine ran in a magazine. It wasn't the entire blog, just part of one. And it wasn't a great blog to begin with. Of the 550 blogs I've written, it was my 550th favorite. But the magazine chose it and they bought it. I offered to write them another one, such was my innate suspicion that this wasn't going to end well for me, but they wanted that one and, overriding my fears, I let them have it. For what it's worth, they paid me $500.

As a pessimist, it's always comforting when things work out even worse than my worst fears. Scores of emails later, I now understand that I am a mean, elitist, stupid bitch. Also, I hate librarians. And I'm an idiot. And I'm mean. And I'm also a bitch. Yes, a few people have written in to say it was possible I was just having a bad day. I was having a bad day so I'm very grateful to them. And let me assure the people who now complain that I'm the MEANEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD, and a BITCH, that I'm certainly having no fun now.

My regular readers know my blog was never meant to be a hagiography. If anything, it's quite the opposite because I am usually a knucklehead and report my knuckleheadedness with frequency and precision. Also, I don't edit out readers' comments even if I come off badly because, hey, what the heck. But after the first fusillade of complaints on the Good Housekeeping article, I posted my own reply in the comments section explaining that I had never been a fan of the original essay, that I hadn't chosen it for publication and that it had been edited for space. I can't say cutting two-thirds of the piece rendered my behavior any less defensible, but it didn't help.

For weeks now, I've let people comment here. I happen to be a big fan of the First Amendment and if readers worked hard enough to articulate an opinion about what a collossal ass I am, they deserved the chance to be heard. But it's been weeks and I'm flinching whenever I hear the sound of an incoming email. Today's hate-letter was from yet another librarian, saying she was cancelling the magazine to all twelve of her libraries and--need it be said--would never buy another book of mine, which I guess is her prerogative as a librarian.

I know it hardly seems to matter at this point, but the pointless little power struggle I originally experienced wasn't actually with a librarian. It was with a clerk. And it may sound a bit "some of my best friends are librarians" to mention this, but I've been an avid library patron since I was old enough to not gnaw on books. I can clearly remember Rita, my first librarian in the San Vicente branch in West Hollywood, helping me pick out books. My daughter received her first library card (a featured player in this particular controversy) when she was two years old. We visit a library at least once every week. Over the years, I have done a lot of volunteer work for libraries. I love libraries. They made me the person I am, which should cause added consternation in those people who hate me.

Such is my desire to make it right with libraries (and such is my overwhelming desire to go back in time and have written a blog about kittens that week) that I am donating the my magazine fee to the Los Angeles Public Library. I'm not doing this so these people who now hate me will like me. That boat, she sailed. I'm sure many of them had never heard of me before and will never see this blog and would sneer at the gesture anyway. But this entire experience has been so unpleasant that the only way that I can possibly start to feel better is to give the money to people I may have unfairly offended.

So here's my question to you:  Is there a point where I can close the comments? I'm sure it's "elitist", "bitchy" and "mean" to even consider this but, quite frankly, I'm very tired of being kicked. Part of me thinks closing the comments will just rile certain people up. They will accuse me of being as dismissive of them as I was of the library clerk with whom they obviously identify. I'm even willing to consider that most people commenting are going to be friends or regular readers, who might say some version of "You served your time. You can close the comments." I'm willing to take my lumps without another peep if even one person makes a good argument for keeping the comments open.

In sum:  I posted a mediocre blog and I'm sorry the magazine bought it. Repeat that a thousand times. I wish I had written it differently, more in keeping with what I actually felt, which was a meditation on bilateral pettiness. But I'm not sorry that two years ago, I was frustrated by a trivial encounter with a bureaucrat and I abided by my original promise to my readers when I started this blog: whatever I wrote about, I would tell the truth.

One woman wrote in that she was appalled at what I had written. That word struck a chord with me. "Appalled" is powerful word, especially when it's levelled at you. Personally, I'm appalled by the fact that 16 million children in the US go hungry each day. If one particular blog continues to appall people, maybe I should continue to give them an outlet.

What should I do? You tell me.