There’s this blog I like

Something weird happened yesterday. I was reading this week’s Gargleblasters, preparing to vote for my favorites, and I came across one that I really liked.

This particular Gargleblaster used a photo that grabbed my attention, an old black and white of soldiers by a trench, some lying dead in it, some standing next to it. I had an immediate emotional reaction to that photo, probably because my grandfather died in WWII. Have I mentioned that before?

In any case, the photo grabbed my attention, and the 42 words that followed kept it. They described a man buried alive with his dead comrades. It was brutal and lovely image. Even grammatically incorrect as they were, those 42 words managed to pack a punch.

I turned my attention to the (extremely plain) blog header and I found the title, Irrational Realist, unfamiliar but incredibly evocative. Obviously my next step was to click on the About page to find out a bit more. Unfortunately, there was no personal description of any sort, only a public blog roll. And that’s when things got weird. The blogger had included only two other blogs, the first of which was mine. Weird, right?

Had I been able to, I would have left a comment on this new blog, introducing myself. However, I don’t have a Blogger account, or one in any of the other formats permitted in this blogger’s comment box. So here I am, composing this public introduction.

If you are the writer of the blog Irrational Realist, I am curious about you. Welcome to the blogosphere, or whatever you call it. I’d like to understand more about irrational realism. It resonates with me. If you’re reading this, then you know where to find me.

Canard is French for

duckling01I’ve always liked to lie. Maybe that’s why writing fiction appeals to me so much.

The first time I remember lying, I was seven years old. My best school friend, a fellow Catholic schoolgirl, was over and we were playing in my room. I guess I could blame what happened on her, but it was my idea. We played post office. I did the writing. She sealed the envelopes. I addressed them. Even back then I didn’t like to relinquish my pen.

Afterward we delivered the letters to all the neighbors: Miss Lil, who had hanging plants above a poster of Matisse’s goldfish; Miss Shirley, the young divorcee with two kids and a case of herpes; our top-floor drug addicts; ever kind Miss Malcolm who once bandaged my bleeding toe when my mom wasn’t around. And there were more.

My friend and I finished our deliveries and came back to my house for a snack. Hours passed and she went home. When the knocks on the door began, I wasn’t worried. First Miss Lil came to the back door, frantic, nearly in tears. I grinned on the way to my room. I didn’t get to see the rest of the neighbors come, but each one did. I missed their worried looks and concerned hugs. I never got to witness the fruits of my labor, except in my imagination.

I’m sure there was an appropriate punishment. What I did was evil. Good girls never lie and tell the neighbors that their mom died. Good girls don’t trick nice people into thinking they’re starving and miserable. But I did, and I was never sorry, not even for one single second.

Still, it’s funny how the universe always brings out the best in me. By chance, nice old Miss Malcolm got my friendship poem and came downstairs the next day to thank me.

I’ll never be a poet


I didn’t always know how to use a dictionary.

You’d think I’d have learned earlier than I did. I always liked dictionaries. My mom’s tattered old American Heritage dictionary led me to a long flirtation with the brilliantly displayed Oxford American at the library. I can still picture that Oxford glowing under a spotlight on a wood pedestal almost too perfect to touch.

I had a few amazing English teachers in high school – one who loosed Randall Jarrell, Oddyseus, and Shakespeare on me in the same year; another who taught me how to frame an argument; and my favorite, who insisted on last names and demanded nothing less than my best work – but none of them made much of a deal about the dictionary. I left high school wanting to know more about words as much as I needed to.

At college, I studied English with a minor in writing. I felt passionate about words but I still didn’t own a dictionary. This was in the mid-90’s, before the Internet was a big thing and when books still came on paper. Like any 20-year old, I thought I knew myself.

Junior year I took a poetry-writing class that changed everything. My very favorite professor taught the class. She was older, maybe pushing 70 at the time, and a nun – if you recall, this was a Catholic women’s college. But my favorite professor was snappier than the usual nun, and she was smart, in the cool sense. For many years she taught English at a prison. She was bold yet down to earth.

When I began the poetry class, in late August, I was an expert on me. I had breezed through three years of college with almost straight A’s. Grades still mattered, a lot. The week before Thanksgiving, I missed a syllable in a metered piece that I read aloud in class. It was a careless mistake and a peek in my nonexistent dictionary would have prevented it. After class, my favorite professor told me I’d never be a poet. By the time I finished the class in mid-December, my voice abandoned me and I began to hate myself.

That mistake wreaked so much havoc on my life that I just have to laugh. I whole-heartedly blame the missing syllable for my first round of grad school rejections, since I foolishly asked my favorite professor to write a letter of recommendation. I sometimes hold onto relationships until long after they are dead. I hold the missing syllable accountable for my selective mutism when I finally did eke my way into a graduate program.

Still, it took another five years for me to land a job as an editor. It took five years of feeling like a fuck up until I stumbled into my new boss’s office and saw the dictionary sitting on her desk like the Bible. My boss led by example and was never the type to hold my hand. Instead she handed me a shiny new copy of Webster’s 11th and told me to go find myself in it. It wasn’t easy but I wanted to impress her, so I did it.

I’m still not a poet. But I am an editor.

Somebody please tell me to shut up

There are some things about me that I can’t tell you.

I’m talking about speech, not secrets.

There are some things about me that I’m not capable of telling you because words ruin them.

I resisted my name for years. Until I was about five, I refused to say my name that is really my middle name, my second name, my mom’s afterthought. It’s only one of many names I’ve had, but knowing it leads you into a maze of incorrect assumptions. Did I know that at age three? Maybe. If I had been named like my preschool friend, Summer, maybe I wouldn’t have been so silent when the other kids asked my name.

I’m the shy kid swinging alone on the playground while the other kids play on the monkey bars.

At twelve, I must have misspoken to my best friend’s rabbi. “Are you Jewish?” he asked me as I sat by her at Hebrew school.

“Yes,” I said.

“What’s your name?” he asked, kind, hopeful.

His face fell when I told him. Confusion furrowed his brow, shock glimmered in his eye. “Don’t you know what that means?” he asked.

Yes, I did. Of course I do.

I’m a Jewish girl who can never say her name in a synagogue.

On my honeymoon, thrilled to be in Paris, I tried out my conversational skills at our first dinner. The waiter turned my question into a little joke, I’m pretty sure a pun at my expense. After that I stopped speaking except in emergencies, preferring to remain still and silent as much as possible. Silent, the waiters were much more polite.

I’m French, but only when I’m absolutely silent.

There have been more times when speech has betrayed me. It definitely did in grad school. There was a night long ago in a crummy motel room. Every time I’m driven to yell at my kids, speech stabs me in the gut.

Yes, it’s true, we’ll know each other better if I don’t speak. Silence never contradicts itself.

Ted Nugent, this is not about you


Ted Nugent, I have to admit that I don’t know much about you. We don’t have a lot in common. I’m not a big fan of classic rock and I don’t own a single gun. But I think you made a good point last month with your tirade at President Obama. You got to me, Mr. Nugent.

You called him a subhuman mongrel. I would have chosen a different, less disparaging term, like maybe uncanny hybrid. Yours was richer, though. Yours was more immediate and more emotional. You exploited the specter of race and the cold blunt dagger of Nazism. You scared us. You went on to throw in some astute observations of Chicago politics and you romanticized it all with your reference to those Roaring 20s bad boys, the gangsters.

Mr. Nugent, you were right, you know. Barack Obama showed us all how he operates beyond the boundaries of politics, and he did it from the start of his first campaign for president, when he shamelessly called on us Americans to hope, that four-letter word that just refuses to be pushed down into the mundane. And President Obama continues to refuse to play by the rules. Did you notice how, in the State of the Union Address last month, he laid out his plans to dodge Congress to achieve his goals? President Obama knows how to deftly create his own reality. Like I said, I prefer to spin toward the positive, but we can work with subhuman. At least it gives him space to fly under the radar.

And, Mr. Nugent, you do know that African Americans have long capitalized on the so-called tragic mulatto, right? That mixed-race figure that never quite fits in anywhere can turn its hybrid possibilities into a road map for interracial relations. Not that you are overly concerned with racial relations, Mr. Nugent, but you called it. President Obama is a mixed breed. I’m one, too.

I don’t know if you’ve ever lived in Chicago, but I’ve lived here for awhile now and surprisingly, I’ve discovered that this town has driven me away from the far left. All that I can say is, when one party runs things unchecked, bad things happen. This city has an infinite appetite for money, like a ravenous beast gnashing its teeth at us taxpayers, demanding us to fork over its next binge. You’re right, Mr. Nugent, there is something soul-crushingly communist about paying for parking on Sundays.

Now, I know that you like guns, Mr. Nugent. And when I see a photo like the one here, I can’t help but wonder whether you don’t really fancy yourself a bit of a gangster, too. So maybe you speak from experience when you call the president one. Whatever – I’ll bet Barack Obama doesn’t mind the bad boy moniker.

You’re a rock star, Mr. Nugent. You’re also multifaceted, just like our president. You’re not only a down-home rocker but also a hobbyist, a writer, a speaker, a Christian. You’re a real agent provocateur. What made your tirade so powerful was the truth at its core. I know that, you know that, and I’ll bet President Obama knows it too.

I think you’re on to something here, Mr. Nugent. You got our attention, and even though your friends in Congress made you apologize for it, you got us thinking about how things could be different. But what’s next? I’d like to see more of you. Maybe you should run for president.

Mi mamá es mala

Last week I helped out in Gabe’s kindergarten class during a lesson on writing poetry. His teacher began with an example on the board, entitled Mi mamá. His class is bilingual and his teacher speaks mostly Spanish in class.

The kids volunteered descriptions of their moms – mi mamá es buena, mi mamá es linda. Mi mamá es divertido. You get the idea. At one point his teacher accidentally used English instead of Spanish and she quickly corrected herself. Then the kids took a turn writing their own poems, mostly about their moms. Everybody’s mom was nice, fun, pretty. Spanish speakers wrote in Spanish, English speakers in English, and there was no mixture.

It bugged me. Sure, I like being the nice, pretty, fun mom. But I don’t always pull it off. I often have to yell at the kids to get them to put on their coats in the morning just to get them to school on time. Sometimes I get really angry. Just a couple of weeks ago, Gabe told me that he likes to get to school because his teacher is nicer than me. The screaming stops when he gets to school. Somehow that truth just didn’t fit with the poem he wrote about me.

Later on in the day I came back to school for Anna’s Brownie meeting. While we cut out paper snowflakes, one of the girls announced that she never wants to be a mom. “Moms have to do all the work,” she complained. I nodded but didn’t say anything. I want the girls to speak their minds like that, even when it leaves me feeling sad. It’s true – moms have to do a lot of work. But we also get hugs, kisses on the butt, even poetry. “Trust me, it’s worth it,” part of me wanted to tell her.

I want my kids to know that being a mom is hard. I want them to fear parenthood a little, because it is a huge responsibility. I also want them to know that poetry isn’t only for sunshine and butterflies, but a place where they can get messy and real, where they can play with the good and the bad parts of life. I want them to pull all their feelings out and never worry about being nice or perfect. I want them to mix it up. Honestly, I hope that someday they curse me in Spanglish.

Come on, edit me

Edit me.

I can’t exactly explain how this concept came to me. You’ll have to content yourself with the knowledge that it arose from deep within my subconscious.

I will admit that I’m drawn to the way “edit me” sounds vaguely dirty, sexual. It’s true, right?

Why the mixture of languages? Why edit moi? It opens the toolbox of language(s). It complicates, it captures a certain sense of everythingness. It includes. Mixing fights the limits of language.

Last week, a friend shared a post from this blog, coincidentally on the same subject. The blogger is quite religious, and on those grounds he rejects the necessity of editing himself. I’d describe him as radically self-acceptant and I’d lie if I told you that I wasn’t envious. But I just don’t have that much certainty in any single religion.

For me, editing is a process. For those of you who don’t know me or have never read my resume, I worked as an editor for a number of years. The company I worked for is old and venerated. I learned from the best. I know what I’m talking about when it comes to editing.

The editor takes the raw material and corrects it of course, but she does more than that. She shapes the narrative, ensuring that each concept flows logically to the next. She knows roughly what she wants to produce, and she teases the writing to create that reality. She is a gatekeeper to understanding, pushing the limits of language to guide the reader on the path that she has chosen for him.

So what do I mean by “edit me,” and how can a blog accomplish this? A few months ago, I confided in some friends about my recent inner turmoil. One commented, startlingly, “You always seem so perfect.”

I’m not perfect. But I’ve so carefully created a singular version of myself — in opposition to my father, my sister, my aunt, my grandmother (people I’ve written about and will write of). This version is incomplete. Yet if you glance at the facts of my life as I usually present them, that glimmer of perfection shows.

This presents me with many difficulties. It’s hard to hide so much about myself. It goes against my open nature. To preserve the singular version of perfection, I’ve denied myself a lot of fun. I’ve never allowed myself to mess up, to break the rules. And what of those hidden truths? I’ve realized that hiding parts of myself, or locking out people I love, only redoubles their power over me.

Everyone needs an editor. It’s a job that you cannot accomplish on your own, even on paper. An editor must bring an objective eye to the writing, to the material, and no one has that much self-awareness.

So, edit me. I’ve gotten it right, but believe me, I’ve also gotten it wrong. I want to put some of the parts back in. I want to mix up my narrative and see what that creates. I want to reconnect with what I’ve denied about myself and my history.

I need help. If you’re reading this, maybe you know a thing or two about what I’m saying. Maybe you see things differently. I’d like to hear your thoughts. Don’t worry that you’ll hurt me. This is a collaboration. I’ll fill you in on the cast of characters, the settings, the plot twists and turns. Then I hope that you’ll chime in. I’d like to hear similar stories and opposite stories. I want to find the cracks in my narrative and tear them open to see what’s inside. It will be productive for me.

So, come on, edit me.