Not Quite What Hemmingway Had in Mind

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Like Halloween costumes, there are other holiday traditions that I have shunned because past experiences left me scarred enough for me to avoid participating yet not traumatized enough to bring up in therapy (yet), and the White Elephant Gift Party is one of those traditions.

Some sick, twisted sociopath had to have come up with this.  Oh, you like your present?  Too bad, it’s mine now.  Go choose another!  Oh, and my buddy’s gonna take that one, too.

It’s fine if you play by the rules — like spending limits, gag gifts only, non-gender specific, and such — but the minute someone goes a little off course, someone else gets screwed.  Like I did at the church youth group Christmas party in 1986, when I ended up with soap on a rope.  I was 14 years old — just five years before I learned what flipping the bird meant (thanks to going to a private religious school where saying “gosh” got you a time-out in the corner), so I had no idea the significance of soap on a rope.

And what parent lets his or her child give soap on a rope as a gag gift at a church Christmas party!?

Anyhoo, last week the invitation email popped in my inbox at work about a White Elephant Christmas party to be held today — $15 spending limit, gag/fun gifts, etc. What the hey? I thought.  It’s been 20-whatever years since the last one.

When oh when will I learn?  First off, there were several cute/nice gifts — a $20 card to Walmart (which still isn’t enough to make me enter their automatic doors), a pretty holiday throw, lottery tickets (!),  and a couple others.  My coworker got a Star Wars M&M dispenser which I seriously debated on taking, but I didn’t because she seemed to like it.  And some of the other good gifts had already been stolen three times (which was the limit).

So since there were still several unwrapped gifts available, I decided to take my chances on the unknown:

That’ll teach me.

Yes, it’s a Viagra NASCAR computer mouse — not even a laser optical one, an antiquated one with the ball on the bottom (and I don’t care how freakin’ dirty that sounds with the Viagra reference… just don’t go there, mmkay?).

I mean, why not just throw in some outdated computer tower with a naked dude on the outside and have the mouse plug in where his penis is supposed to be?

It could have been worse.  My boss ended up with a pair of toe socks and booty booster panties.

But that doesn’t mean I’m pushing my luck next year either.

For a Man I Never Knew

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Tonight, there’s a memorial being held for a man who killed himself in the parking lot of a church this past Sunday morning. I suppose if he had been a man of little notoriety, the situation might not have made such a splash in the media. As it happened though, the man was a social media guru known all over the world — not a full-fledged celebrity, but  if you had tried to learn anything about social media, especially in Greenville, you would have at least seen his name mentioned.

I never met him. I’d read some Twitter posts and a couple of blog entries while I was trying to find a job a couple of years ago. I’d seen replies and retweets on Twitter. My impression was that he was extremely smart and well-respected. Things have come out about what had been going on in his life leading up to the suicide, and while I’m not going to elaborate on that borderline tabloid aspect, it didn’t take much clicking to read that this smart, respected, marketing genius was known to suffer from depression.

I can’t explain why, but my heart aches for him. I hurt over the fact that he felt like he couldn’t go to anyone for help, that he either couldn’t take meds or that they weren’t working, that his desperation was that low.

And it’s situations like this when — not to turn the spotlight on me on purpose — I have to speak up and say that no one has to feel this desperate. I thank God I’ve never sat in a car in a church parking lot with a gun while police tried to negotiate with me, but I have had deep, dark thoughts that I can’t bring myself to speak out loud to anyone. Y’all, that is not the place to be. That place sucks harder than one of those Dyson vortex vacuums with all the cone-shaped cylinders and G forces and swivel apex that gets into every nook and cranny of your soul.

Then you have people who can’t understand why you’re unable to just snap out of it. Just eat right and exercise and lose weight and all your problems will be solved. Meanwhile, you’re struggling to keep your shit together just trying to blow dry your hair.

I’m not proud to say that I have this problem. I am proud to say that I’ve been able to keep it at bay, but I don’t wanna stand on a mountain top with a Riccola horn and announce that I’m on meds and see a therapist.

But I would if it meant that one person sitting in a church parking lot with a gun would put down the weapon and get help.

So since I don’t have a Riccola horn, here I am, on my virtual mountain, telling anyone out there to please talk to someone if you believe you feel anything like what this man felt.

Writing Exercise: Nature

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A few weeks ago, I went to another Emrys writing workshop to get more practice in writing about nature. It was a warm, breezy, beautiful afternoon, and that made going outside for our inspiration all the more pleasant. The area behind the community center where we have our workshops is well shaded and covered with a variety of flowering plants and trees as well as two small streams that come together and then roll on toward the North Main area of downtown. Our workshop leader gave us some questions to answer, and when we went back inside, we did another freewriting exercise. Here is mine:

I have been plucked from the branch and after spinning in circles on the wind, I light on the surface of a gurgling stream. The transparent water carries me along, turning me ’round and ’round until my bearings are lost. I see rocks covered in emerald moss, their tiny whirlpools of maple seeds and petals circling, trying to escape their fate. The water turns me again, and I begin to pray that it will carry me past the trap. I notice others floating with me as the water flows on with a whisper. Some branch off on the shore. Some collect with others around the rocks. I know my path is different from each one of them.

We all entered at different spots, and we will all end up at another place.

Writing Exercise: Early Memories of Food

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As part of my commitment to focus on my writing this year, I’ve taken a couple of afternoon writing classes sponsored by the Emrys Foundation in Greenville. With my focus on the Biggest Loser contest at the gym early this year, I didn’t have the time or money to take one of the longer workshop series that were devoted to fiction, but even though the two workshops I took focused on a type of writing — one about food and the other about nature — those aspects definitely could contribute to improving my writing. I learned a lot, and I’m going to have a hard time waiting for the workshops to resume this fall. Of course, I’m hoping to save up some money from freelance to go to the Hub City Writers’ Workshop in Sparkle City (Spartanburg for any of you non-SC folk) in July. It’s about $200 for three days. I’ll take tips/sponsors! 🙂

So this post is mainly to share what I wrote at the workshop on writing about food. I will say this: Never attend one of these workshops when hungry! Between reading the samples our facilitator brought and reliving all these early memories about food I was craving all sorts of stuff! Not good either when trying to eat healthier! Anyhoo, here was my freewriting exercise.

I blame my hips on Aggie’s fried chicken. Before chicken was hailed as good for you then stripped of its skin and pried off the bone, Aggie soaked it overnight in a buttermilk bath. That was the only tip I knew of her fried chicken recipe, and I learned that years after she stopped cooking due to her losing pages from her mind’s cookbook.

My brother and I were never allowed in the kitchen while she cooked. Inquiries as to the lunch menu often went unanswered, and repeated pressing of the issue got us a reprimand to behave or else we would get nothing — which we never believed but kept silent anyway.

So we had to rely on our noses and ears. To this day, people are amazed at what I can hear or smell. We would listen for the cast iron skillet clamoring its way out of the cabinet, the flour canister’s thud on the counter, the sizzle and spatter of hot grease consuming the brined bird.

Then there was the smell. That glorious peppery scent of fried meat drifting into the living room, distracting us from Sesame Street and keeping us from seeing Mr. Snuffleupagus because of our excitement that today was Fried Chicken Day.

Finally, the cat clock on the wall over the bar had reached 12:30, and Aggie called us in to “get something to eat,” although we did no “getting.” Our plates sat on the bar — mine on the left, my brother’s on the right — piled with a crispy, juicy, tender piece of chicken and usually a heaping mound of macaroni and cheese casserole along side a stack of green beans. If we were really lucky, she would whip up rice and gravy, just because she had the time.

Have Your Cheesecake and Eat It, Too

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Here’s an idea for a sweet treat that I came up with for my Biggest Loser contest.

  • Take a box of sugar-free, fat-free Jell-O cheesecake pudding. Prepare according to directions. Let chill five minutes for the soft set.
  • Take five 1/2 cup Gladware plastic containers and three to four 100-calorie packs of Sandies cookies.
  • Place three to four cookies in the bottom of each container. Top with two large spoonfuls of the chilled pudding.
  • Place five to six cookies on top of pudding layer. Top with two more large spoonfuls of pudding.
  • Refrigerate to let pudding finish setting.

I don’t know the exact calorie count yet, but we’re talking less than 150 calories — enough wiggle room to even top with a bit of chocolate syrup!

Conversations with Mom

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Thursday evening around 9:00 pm:

I call Mom after my training workout.

Phone rings.

Mom: Hey… What are you doing?

Me: Dying…

Yesterday around noon:

I dial Mom’s number after coming home from doing 35 minutes on the treadmill and an hour-long “Strengthen and Core” class.

Phone rings.

Mom: And how are we doing today?

Me: Well, I’m calling you from my cell because the house phone is on the other end of the couch, and I just don’t wanna reach over there.

15 Movies

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I found this that I never put on my Facebook page, so thanks for the blog topic! This was one of those memes running rampant around the social media sites a few months ago: choose 15 movies that will always stick with you. Here they are in no particular order (because that’s just too much to think about).

Contact — Favorite line: “They should have sent a poet.” Also sticks with me because of Matthew McConaughey in that navy turtleneck sweater. Yum…

Breakfast Club/Sixteen Candles/Pretty in Pink — I was a teenage girl in the ’80s; of course I’m going to love these movies. John Hughes was the man. Even uber-cool Kevin Smith thinks so. I remember my mom renting Pretty in Pink for one of my birthday slumber parties. We watched it that night, and then I watched it again the next day after my friends went home. (Honorable Hughes’ movie mention: Some Kind of Wonderful)

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring — The whole trilogy was magnificent, but I love this one because of this line after Frodo tells Gandalf that he wished the ring had never come to him. Gandalf says, “So do all who live to se such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

Dead Poets Society — I saw this near the end of my senior year of high school, and I had never been more excited to be a future English major.

Almost Famous — Cameron Crowe’s best movie. I want to write movies that evoke the emotions he can create.

Reality Bites — I can’t quite remember if I saw this movie during my senior year in college or just after graduating, but I do remember how hard that first year out of college was. Hearing Winona Ryder say the line “I never thought I’d feel this old at 23” hit me hard. Of course now, I can see how I still had so much in front of me, but then, I believed I was treading water.

Steel Magnolias — I think I can still quote every line from this movie.

Titanic — I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a movie as much as I looked forward to this one. Even though I knew the boat was going to hit the iceberg, I still leaned over in my theater seat, hoping the boat would turn in time. Come on, you know you did it, too.

Say Anything — John Cusak has always made me swoon but never so much as when he held that jambox over his head. (Another Cameron Crowe movie as well)

Eat, Pray, Love — I’ve addressed this in an earlier post.

Serenity — Because it’s Nathan Fillion on the big screen… again, yum.

Jerry Maguire — The most famous lines turned into clichés, but the reason was they were awesome lines from the beginning. (And yet another Crowe film)

Event Horizon — This one is at the bottom because it is, without a doubt, my least favorite movie of all time. The mere mention of the title makes me shudder, so unfortunately, it sticks with me.