Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Imagery, Writing, and Whatnot

I've been thinking a great deal about my writing, particularly poetry, in the last little while because my poetry professor, who was recently the state's Poet Laureate, is dying. What I remember from her class varies from day to day, but there are some specific points that I managed to retain...I was in the course the semester of my nervous breakdown, so it's a miracle that I remember much of anything.

  • Go for imagery- if you can't evoke it, don't write about it
  • Helen Steiner Rice is a hack
  • Write what you know
  • The New Yorker is one of the best venues for fresh poetry
  • Don't force it

My professor called me to her office after class one time, though, and it was a poem I had written entitled "When I Am Icarus". She'd been worried after she read it. She wanted to know what it was really about because she sensed it was something deeply personal. After I explained what was going on, and also that I was receiving help through the university counseling service, I think she felt a little better about it. I don't remember the whole poem, but I do remember the first line and the subject.

It was about several things...leaving one dangerous situation for another, being so caught up in one's ego that one cannot foresee the ultimate failure, and, well, putting yourself at risk when the stakes are very high. That was the metaphor. The truth was that I'd thrown myself back into dating again on the rebound, and in the end, my attempt to date "above my place" (a fat GDI girl dating a fraternity boy) had resulted in utter devastation. I'd lost the only boy I loved twice by then and I'd become careless. I knew better, but I did it anyway, and the inevitable happened. What was I thinking? Why did I ever believe I could be the exception and not the rule? When the flimsy wax of my logic burned away in the heat and light of reality, I fell to my doom and lay broken on the ground.

I had already voluntarily entered counseling at that point. Writing, then as now, was how I worked through it, although it admittedly still feels like crawling across a field of broken glass.

The feathers are falling out as fast as I can put them back, and we all know we get more vulnerable and less able to heal as we age. Maybe I should go back to poetry, or maybe not. I don't know.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

You Want Me to WHAT?

I was recently at a conference where a nursing educational supplies vendor was displaying her wares in the vendor hall. As we rounded the corner, we saw arm panels with veins for teaching IV placement, pads with reservoirs beneath for teaching subcutaneous injection techniques, faux drugs, and various other supplies.

My father is a general practitioner, so when I was a little girl, I learned all of the proper anatomical terms. I learned that one is supposed to have a professional clinical detachment from taboo and general goosiness that laypeople have about parts of the body. However, it wasn't just the specific anatomical structure lying on the table that got my attention- I really think it was the velvet-flocked fitted display case in which it was kept.

As we perused the vendor's wares, she picked up that particular item and told us, gushingly, how she was very proud to have designed it, explaining that while for women, self-examination for cancerous nodes and lesions is a given and pushed via the media all the time, for men, we have that infamous billboard that kind of sums their situation up quite nicely. She asked if we'd like to take the item out of its box and feel it.

We both immediately declined, since there was a PR photographer as well as a videographer roaming around the exhibits.

If you're still wondering what this object was, it was an accurate and realistic human scrotum model, as the vendor said, "Complete with nodules!" When I told my father about it, I was ready with a placemat to deflect the coffee which he predictably sprayed all over the breakfast nook at their house. As soon as he recovered, I received the Official Dr. Airedaleparent Lecture on Scrotal Examination. It was enlightening as well as mortifying.

I think that wins for "most unusual vendor item I've ever seen at an academic conference," since one does not typically find disembodied scrota floating around at library conferences.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

When Nerds Collide

So I spirited Hopkins off to the Big City for my friend-slash-pseudo kid Stefan's improv show at a bar in a funky little enclave where my sister once lived. As it happened, Stef's dad was in from a larger city farther north for the show, so we had, in total for dinner, including Lizzie, Dustin (Stefan's brother), and another friend who happened along , seven people.

Tom is an interesting person and he's full of dude-wisdom (some of it highly suspect). He was holding forth on the subject of "bagging chicks" while Lizzie and I rolled our eyes so hard everyone within ten miles could probably hear it. The subject of holding doors open for ladies arose, to wit, Tom informed the four other men at the table that it's a surefire way to win brownie points with women. He leaned forward and asked Hopkins, rather conspiratorially, "Do you hold the door for ladies, Hopkins?" There was a pause- I knew something that Tom didn't, i.e., that he'd held the door for me earlier and that he knew better than to NOT hold it for me- to which he replied, "I hold the door if there's anyone in front of me, I guess." I chimed in, in my best Julia Sugarbaker voice (strong indicator that I'm tired, sloshed, or angry), "Of course he holds the door. His mother raised him better than that." I gave him The Eyebrow and he went perfectly still.

Tom chimed in, "Are you sure about that?"

"I am absolutely sure; I know his mother. Hopkins and I grew up together, Tom," I beamed my 1,000 kilowatt Junior Miss smile, another signal to anyone with any common sense that it was time to change subjects.

Somewhere down the line, Tom bought me a second glass of wine. The problem with this is that I have a LapBand- alcohol hits the little stomach pouch and absorbs immediately into my bloodstream as if I've had four times as much as anyone else- and I remarked on this making me a "cheap date". Tom seized upon the moment, fixed his eye on Hopkins, and announced, "You need to take advantage of that, buddy," and winked. I spat the wine back into the glass and turned the color of a tomato. My head snapped around and I caught an ever-so-slight smirk on his face. My eyebrows met my hairline.

I'm not entirely unfamiliar with the Madonna-and-Whore dichotomy. I am the former. Period, end of discussion, and when it comes to Boys With Whom I Grew Up and About Whose Opinion I Care, it is strictly enforced. Hopkins leaned forward and said, "One more and I'm taking your keys," to which I replied, "I don't think so, baby, you'll walk back to Smalltownland first." (Seriously, sugar, it will be FIVE HOURS before we go home, so I think I'll very probably be sober by then. I know the alcohol content for that vintage and it's only about 11%. There's a reason I wasn't drinking vodka.)

The most priceless moment, though, was when Dustin's friend started talking about something he'd seen on TV and read about regarding astronomy. His understanding of it was very elementary and I watched Hopkins as he followed the conversation. When he found a chance to interject, I heard him say, "Well, funny you should say that...it's actually..." and then he explained, in a clear yet not patronizing way, what the young man had been trying to educate himself about. At the conclusion, Hopkins added, "I was studying to be an astronomer and it didn't quite work out." I felt a little stab of unhappiness, because he would've been good at it. It was his dream, and I'd been forced to stand to the side and watch it die.

There was another heart-wrenching moment, too, during which Tom was speaking of his unfortunately-named supervisor at an old job. I'd dated a boy with the same last name, and he was someone Hopkins detested. I asked, as Tom mentioned the name, "Do you remember (X)?" The reaction was immediate and visceral. "YES, I remember him," he spat, with so much hatred that I jumped in my seat. I stared at him, wide-eyed, watching his face flush red and his eyes harden so definitely that it was chilling.

If I never knew before, I know now...but why didst thou not speak for thyself, Hopkins? What a waste, what a gruesome, terrible waste.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Conversations with My Mother

Mom is becoming increasingly strange as time passes, and although some of her "interpretations" of things said in conversation can be quite humorous, she's also become hell-bent on 'truthing', as it were. Some of her 'truths' are quite painful.

Recently, she went after my sister about her weight gain in front of dinner guests. When it failed to get an adequate rise out of anyone, she reiterated it for better effect. Everyone shifted sort of uncomfortably in their seats and continued eating, until my sister's friend decided it was time to come to her defense- which naturally fell on deaf ears. Yes, my sister has gained weight; yes, she is a forty year-old diabetic and she has a job that keeps her from getting adequate exercise and/or the opportunity to eat more appropriately for her condition. There's no real point in harping on it; it is what it is.

Yesterday, Mom got on her high horse about my friends. She has decided that all of my friends are weird, particularly the male ones. As with my sister's weight, she would not let it go, and she was nitpicking about Hopkins in particular. What started this? A simple request that she not be moldering in her nightgown when he arrives to travel with me to the improv show in Louisville on Saturday. "Weird" is probably the most charitable thing she had to say, and after I got pretty sick of it, I said, maybe too archly, "You know, Mom, it stands to reason that my friends are weird...I'm weird. If it were up to you, who would you choose instead? Hmm?"

Making friends has always been hard for me- helllloooo, Asperger's- social awkwardness? Inability to read normal social cues? Oh, yeah, not to mention the plethora of other complications. If it's anybody's business (which it isn't), I also enjoy being weird, and I love my weird friends. That's kinda sorta maybe why we're friends. I have zero clue as to who she'd choose instead. I also find that aside from this hurting my feelings, I am not sure that I care.

Now for my next trick, I am praying that she doesn't say anything too bizarre when Hopkins rolls into the house. He has good manners, which dictate he has to come inside and speak to my parents (to whom he has not spoken in twenty-five years)- plus he's had fair warning. I told him Mom was getting a bit strange these days, I just hope she doesn't choose to direct any ire she's harboring toward me at him because he's a handy new target.

Wish me luck. She of the Big Bird Bathrobe is not the same person she was back in the old days...

Friday, May 17, 2013

An Unbearable Quickness of Seeing

With the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I've been dealing with one of the more unusual aspects of my Asperger's: the fact that my brain processes images at a higher rate of speed. Quick-cut edits are hard for me to follow, but the real kicker is that 3D gives me migraines for several days.

My first issue with the fast-action style happened when I went to see the movie adaptation of the video game Mortal Kombat. I had a migraine coming on, but we were visiting my then-fiance's hometown. His best friend wanted to see that movie, so off we went. Less than twenty minutes in, I rushed out to the ladies' room, threw up, and spent the remainder of the evening in the lobby waiting for the others. That had never happened before.

When TRON: Legacy  came out, my best friend, her husband and I decided to see it in 3D. I didn't even consider the possibility that there might be a problem. From that experience, I learned that if I don't have a migraine beforehand, I'll get one from 3D because of the way the brain processes the images. I guess I'm lucky that it didn't result in a seizure of some sort.

Flash forward to now: I am a perennial Star Trek junkie. Although the new reboot is not strictly canon, I kinda like Zachary Quinto, although being a Spock fan, the whole "Spock-and-Uhura relationship thingie" strums on my nerves a bit. I'm going to to see it, but herein lies the rub: while the projection is solid at my local theater, the sound is marginal- I always find myself wishing they'd just crank the crap out of it and let 'er rip, and had a very disappointing experience with Rock of Ages... hello, ROCK of Ages, not "Easy Listening of Ages", but I digress.

In order to get higher-quality sound, I'd have to travel to the city, pay more, and fight larger crowds (yuck)...but the nearest city with good movie sound is only showing it in 3D.

Booooo, HISSSSSSSS.

I guess I'm just going to deal with what we jokingly called SuperMono back in the Olden Days. Stereo sound had been introduced while I was in junior high, but our local two-screen (Oooooo, ohhhh, AAAAHHHH) cinema didn't have it. Their theory was, as previously mentioned, crank it up and let 'er rip, the louder the better. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. I saw Windtalkers there, and the initial landing scene was deafening not to mention really, really gruesome; I don't think I've ever seen a disembodied human ear go flying past on the screen with such accuracy and realism before or since.

See y'all at the movies!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Self-fulfilling Prophecies and Other Epic Failures

One of my classmates has dug up a book that encompasses all of our annual homeroom group photos from first through eighth grades. She and I were in the same room starting in second grade, when it was decided to divide us alphabetically- she and I sat together in many classes, because her last name fell just before mine in the list.

Looking back at the pictures, I knew that starting around fifth grade, as we slid headlong into puberty, is when I started being teased about my weight. A girl who had been my friend in kindergarten moved home when her father's job brought them back to the area after a four year absence. For some reason, she had become mean, and especially hostile toward me...at the time I didn't realize, because I was too busy being hurt, that it was because she wanted to make sure that someone else was recognized as fatter to deflect attention away from her own weight issues. My childhood friend had metamorphosed into my teen bully.

There were other factors in play: family crises that were becoming harder and harder to avoid or ignore as they escalated. I can see from the seventh grade photo to the eighth grade the effects of my grandmother's illness and the family strain. From that year to the next, I became what I'd been called for three years: the class fat girl. I had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Thing is, I wasn't that fat. I was overweight, not obese, but it was enough extra weight in that era that I had difficulty finding popular styles of clothing that fit and/or didn't look totally ridiculous. What most people didn't realize, too, was that unlike my friends whose parents went out and bought them new wardrobes for each school year, my parents made me keep wearing my old clothes in an ill-advised attempt to make me lose weight. I had very few clothes, too, so I had to wear them over and over again. There were kids from "poor" families who had more clothes than I did, because at least they had access to hand-me-downs.

In one particularly choice case, a friend of mine (who probably doesn't remember) came up and asked, because my jeans were riding up above my ankles, if I was expecting a flood anytime soon. She further commented about how out-of-style those jeans were. What she didn't know was that my mother often complained, "I can't buy you new jeans. Not only are they hard to find, the fat sizes cost more! You need to wear those until they wear out, whether they're in style or not!" She even ironed mending patches into the inside thighs on my pants so that they wouldn't wear out as quickly- I got very adept at holding bookbags and folders in my lap in case they might be visible. It was humiliating. I made sure to always take my very-newest, best-fitting jeans on band trips because I knew if I didn't that my bully would be on it like stink on a skunk.

There were a few times that I got even with my mother: she was out of town the night before Hopkins graduated, so I swiped a brand-new, still-tagged linen designer dress out of her closet along with a pair of her heels (at the time, I was wearing the same size clothes and shoes as my mother) and a crushingly expensive handbag. She got home before I did and had a total cow when she saw it; I was rather proud of myself. She was so angry that she gave me the dress- she said 'now everyone has seen it'- but I knew it was because she was embarrassed that her obviously fat daughter had worn the dress first. She also caught me the next night (commencement) as I tried to make off with another brand-new dress from her closet- I ended up wearing my own clothes, which is just as well. I spent four hours climbing up and down off of a porch rail, and another five or so sitting in the Mouse talking. Mom's dress was too tailored for that.

Sometimes I wonder how I let myself get hyperobese, and other times I just don't worry about the mechanics of it. I am going to have WLS again because of the issues with my band, and maybe that will take care of it this time. It's the aching back and feet, more than anything, and the fact that my oncologist was really insistent that I lose weight in case she ever needs to do anything to me again...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Think Before You Speak

Ghosts are a tricky business.

Last night, after I posted my write up of the Close Encounter of the Hopkins Kind, someone else from a more recent past popped up and reminded me of the dangers of this sort of woolgathering.  

Here's one unflattering tidbit that dropped out of Hopkins' mouth on Saturday...it was primarily self-deprecatory which is why I let it pass and he's still breathing: "I don't get the whole 'nerds getting beaten up at school' thing. Nobody ever tried that with me- but the stereotype is that nerds are either fat or super-skinny. I was a farm kid, so I had some muscles..." his voice trailed off a little wistfully, and because I was annoyed I let it hang in the air for a moment. I was one of the fat nerds, and it went hard for me because a fat female nerd was the very definition of social pariah in the Eighties.

It's difficult to tell if he screens it out where I'm concerned or if he just didn't think before he said it. For all the mutual attraction that was there back in the Dark Ages, you see, I've always harbored a sickening suspicion that it was my weight. That's how it always got sublimated into, "I think of you as a friend," with everybody else, and boys are just like that, nerds or not.

The thing that stung about that last observation is that it was proof (in my wounded little psyche, anyway) that I wasn't wanted by my own kind. I was still unacceptable, and no matter how backward, unattractive, awkward or just plain annoying they were, I wasn't good enough and they 'could do better'. The famous Robert Vertrees moment in college finished me off when, as I've written in a previous blog, I was truly just trying to find a warm male body to go to a formal post-bad-breakup with someone else: "I don't date fat girls." My friends fell upon him and tore him to pieces- and then one of the witnesses went home and described it to his roommate, who immediately offered to take me to that dance. (There is one piece of the story that I omitted from the blog I wrote about that incident: the director of the Honors Program, from whose class we were taking a break when this took place, witnessed the whole bloody mess. He dismissed Robert from class and told me that I could go back to the dorm if I didn't feel like staying. I went to the restroom, collected myself, and stayed. I am nothing if not stoic.) I went to the damn dance; I had a good time, thank you, and never spoke to Robert again, although we'd been friends for three years when he pulled that stunt.

That's the devil's bargain of 'just being friends'. I had a lot of male friends (still do). There were even a couple of them who had some mild romantic interest in me, but who would never act on it on pain of social death- what's worse than 'settling' for a fat girl, after all? Socially, not a lot. You just learn to push your feelings down rather than risk the ridicule or the disappointment. You learn not to reach 'above your place' in the great food chain of dating.

So, you see, there's a lot of baggage and I try not to think of it most of the time. Sometimes I just can't filter it effectively, though.







Monday, May 13, 2013

As If We Never Said Goodbye

In the musical Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond is singing about the thrill of making movies, and how familiar it would be even after many years' absence from stardom.

When I started writing this blog to deal with one of the most painful chapters of my past, I prefaced it by saying that I wrote from my own perspective. I was only half of the equation- and my perspective is tainted by an unhappiness that I have carried for almost three decades.

Hopkins not only turned up for my play on Saturday, he stayed for the whole thing, and then spent several hours hanging out with me at the cast party/book launch for a friend's new novel at a vineyard out in the country.

I bought a single smallish glass of wine and found a handy corner in which to hide. As we were discussing what it will take for him to finish his CIT degree at Western Kentucky, he said something about...that place...the one in, you know, Baltimore. I drained the glass and said, as I hastily crossed to the water pitcher in the opposite corner, "I won't even book a flight through Baltimore." When I sat down, he said, quietly, "Don't blame Baltimore. Don't blame Johns Hopkins. The blame lies with me. I did it to myself."

Who am I not to accept his own assessment of the situation? Even if I release that bitterness toward Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University, I will probably always harbor a slight resentment toward the university that I saw as the rival for his affection and author of my greatest misery.

We talked about it for a few more minutes and I added that I'd expected him to go to Caltech, MIT, or Stanford- and he asked why I had gone to Kentucky. "Biggest scholarship offer," I told him. He stared at me while I explained that it was all my parents could afford in the end. "I applied to Goucher," I said, going back for more water. My back was to him, but I heard the sharp intake of breath.

"We thought that Goucher, the guys at Hopkins, that is, that Goucher existed to provide us with girls to date."

"I know."

Those two words finally sliced through that thick skull. I was one of the smart kids, too, and Goucher is not one of the Seven Sisters. That response was, if you know how to read it: "I was mortgaging my entire future to get you back."

"I got in, by the way."

When I finally turned around, I saw understanding, then shock, flooding his features.

"Interesting."

I admitted quickly that it had been a supremely bad idea- I'd been afraid of further rejection, you see. Maybe it wouldn't have been. Who can really say? I have to take this as it comes, and accept the terms as they unfold. It has been a long war, and I am weary from the fight...and I don't feel the need to convince anyone he was worth it. He was worth it to me.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I Will Not Wear Ribbons Down My Back

So, I'm a theatre kid. When I was rushing headlong into my last face-to-face speaking encounter with Hopkins (the time I bumbled into Pizza Hut with my brand-new huge Rock of Gibraltar engagement ring doesn't count, because he dropped his order pad and literally vanished into thin air- I'm surprised he wasn't fired for it), I picked up singing my favorite lament from "Hello, Dolly!": 'Ribbons Down My Back', in which Irene Molloy sings about wearing an elaborate hat to get a gentleman to notice her.

It was the late Eighties. We were adherents to the "Big White Hair Bow" cult then-prevalent at SEC schools, and at that point I had a lot of hair- something that Hopkins had missed, since he was present for my getting it shorn, keeping it waaay short, and aware as to the logic behind it. It was halfway down my back, so I routinely pulled it out of my face and secured it with the aforementioned Big White Bow of two-inch grosgrain ribbon. Unlike most girls, though, I didn't have bangs, so I probably looked like a giant Shih Tzu...

It's silly, but I remember exactly what I was wearing when I fell down the stairs and basically stopped when he caught me (read: I slid into him, he managed to grab me, and he buffered our impact as we slammed into the wall).  It was a bubblegum-pink Irish fisherman's sweater over a white turtleneck (de rigueur), a long khaki skirt, socks, and dark waxed-leather Dexter two-eye camp moccasins with the leather laces twirled into tight corkscrews. I was also wearing the Anne Klein lions' heads earrings that every single stinking girl at the University of Kentucky owned and wore on an almost-daily basis. The fact that I remember it in detail and I'm still embarrassed about it should indicate that it was not a strategy to 'fall into his arms'- I tripped and slid all the way down a flight of stairs because my shoes' soles were slicker than owl poop. Suffering for fashion's sake, eh?

Saturday, I have a costume. I have stage makeup. Nothing is pink. There is no hair bow. The shoes have lug soles. My job is to get out there and be a relentlessly cheerful ship's computer. My grand entrance is on the line, "HI, THERE!"

There are also no stairs, so unless I trip over my own feet, we're good.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Niagara Falls All Over Again

In high school, Hopkins used to do this thing to me and it drove me nuts. It's not like I didn't set myself up for failure, but I was a cockeyed optimist about it. I wanted to believe he wouldn't let me down, kind of on the order of Charlie Brown continuing to try to kick the football which Lucy always yanks out of his way at the last second. To wit, I'd ask him to dances and he'd stand me up.

The thing that I hadn't quite gotten a handle on back then was that with Hopkins, one has to state it without embellishment. One cannot hint or allude. There was none of this, "I think I'll go to the dance after the ballgame on Friday," or "Homecoming is next Friday night," or "There's a dance at the end of this Co-ed Y thing"...it was "Are you going to the dance?" to which he generally responded, "Maybe," or "I might," which I finally realized after several futile attempts translates as "No."

In all fairness, there were a couple of exceptions. I believe in both of those cases, I not only issued a direct invitation, it was backed up by an additional invitation by the hostess of the event. He confirmed and then he did materialize at the correct time and location. This was just good enough to restore hope in order for me to lay the groundwork for the next failure.

I had a momentary lapse of judgment yesterday and issued a direct invitation to him for the final performance of "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy", having dropped a couple of ridiculously unsubtle hints about it before. I've heard it through the grapevine that he's considering showing up...but radio silence (no response so far) indicates that this could very well turn out like so many other things in the past.

I'm trying really hard to be optimistic, but so help me God, if anyone plays Madonna's "Crazy For You" during rehearsal I will take it as a cosmic sign that he's not coming. More than a quarter-century later, I still associate that specific song with being stood up by Hopkins: that was the last song, at the last dance, the last time I put myself in that position. Between that and Billy Joel's "For the Longest Time", he has his own soundtrack- although there is a recent addition in the form of "Fifty Ways to Say Goodbye", because it includes the line: "She fell out of an airplane/got eaten by a lion/got run over by a crappy purple Scion". He drives the eponymous Scion, by which I half expect to be run over at some point.

Given that the last time we saw each other, I fell down a flight of stairs, I'm not so sure this is an awesome idea...but the fact that he tried to shuffle off this mortal coil a few years back scared the crap out of me and I really, really want to see him again. I can't seem to make him understand that I don't care about things not having turned out the way he planned (beyond how he feels about it, that is- I'm a fan of Burns, ergo his plans didn't just aft gang alay...they went spectacularly awry), as long as he's got a roof over his head, food on the plate, and a job to go to every day. I don't consider it 'embarrassed circumstances'-it's 'just the way things are', and since that currently includes the 'still among the living' option, I'm perfectly fine.

Bottom line, I'm an old pro, and the show must go on- presence or absence notwithstanding. It'd just be nice to see him again.