Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hard News

And not the good, in-depth foreign policy analysis kind.  Though that stuff wears on me too, truth be told.

I've received some hard news.  I'm not supposed to divulge it.  News has owners and renters, after, and I'm the latter.

It's tough to know what to do with hard news.  It can knock you flat; it should knock you flat.  But life continues until it doesn't, and so, inexorably, irritatingly, you continue, too.  You open and refold your newspaper. The hard news slips into and out of staring you in the face.  You forget; you remember; you forget; you remember; you read and read and read.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mirror Work

As I write this, I'm wearing men's socks, no shoes, a pair of knit charcoal-colored elastic-waist stretch palazzo pants a friend didn't want any more, a pull-on poison green belted cardigan sans belt (also free!), and a sky blue t-shirt with "Wholesome Midwestern Girl" printed across the boobs.  I haven't bothered to put in my contacts and I'm sporting what I can only describe as a walk-of-shame-style bun.  What's more, these are not my pajamas.

You expect me to put lipstick on this pig?

It's true: I cannot be saved.  I skulk in the shadows, pale-faced, red-eyed, a member of fashionably damned.  It's true that I'm not working a traditional job today, and that pretty much my only obligations are to practice, write a concert preview, and watch the Downton Abbey Christmas Special. But if I were to leave the house, probably the only concession I'd make to fashion would be to trade the stretchy palazzos for cargo pants.  I'm so far from working it I might as well work out. 

I've written about my card-carrying schlubhood before.  I bring it up again because a fellow blogger pointed me toward this, in which two women actually make a 60-day "project" out of a (lack of-)grooming regimen I've undertaken virtually every day of my adult life.  I should note that these women are still, during their 60-day primping fast, blow drying, whereas I have not owned a blow dryer since 1992.

Suddenly foregrounded, the distance between my normal and everyone else's normal seems disturbingly vast, a continent of serums and straighteners and, god forbid, spanx.

There's an elephantine helping of laziness at work here: maintaining one's appearance to the specifications of contemporary womanhood takes WORK,  and I have long resented work that doesn't come with the prospect of remuneration, monetary or otherwise.  This will shock you, but I find I receive the same hourly rate for doing work with frizzy hair than I would if I were to break out the John Frieda.  I have yet to lose a friendship over my lack of lip liner.  Nor do I find my inability to attract men to be particularly onerous, given that my husband is due home at 6:00.

But there's also, it must be admitted, a tiny fillip of shame to my endeavor -or rather, my lack of endeavor.  The truth is that sometime, a long time ago, I gave up on beauty.  All of us, as teenagers, wanted to be beautiful/sexy/wanted.  And when it dawned on me in high school that none of this was going to come easily to me, I decided to give sexiness a big fat screw you and got on with the reading of books.

Why try, if you can't succeed? 

It's this tiny chunk, this splinter of why I don't dress nicely and do my hair, that makes me think I should start.  I'm pretty clear now on the fact that trying -in all fields of endeavor- should be divorced from any notion of success.  Trying is important.   It's the bulk of what fills our days, excepting the TV watching and Internet surfing.  If we don't try, we pretty much just end up watching reality television and eating Cheetos.

Success is two minutes and a cake  Trying is a lifetime.  And I'd hate to continue living my life according to a maxim (see above) in which I no longer believe.

So we'll see.  There's also that whole laziness bit.  Which I may, in fact, be too lazy to try to combat.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


OK, seriously, who ARE all you people who enjoy doing yardwork (per my v. scientific poll) and WHY?!  I need to figure out how to wring some pleasure from this stuff.

Friday, February 17, 2012

In Which I Drive an Imaginary Truck

I wish I didn't have to write this.

It's more than a little embarrassing, for starters, and not embarrassing in a socially-sanctioned way, like admitting you watch the Bachelor or play for team Jacob.  There's no me too attached to this confession, no murmurs of recognition, absolution.

I shouldn't have to write this.  I have a college degree. (Er...many college degrees.)  I have a job.  (Many jobs.)  I am married; I contribute to charity; I try each day to help rather than hurt, to live a life that, if not useful, is at least more or less blameless.

I'm also trying really hard to get to Boise on time with the dirt. 

My name is Anne and I drive a virtual truck.

It started innocently enough.  Someone close to me was addicted to an online trucking simulator, a concept I found so ludicrous, so hilariously pointless, I had to step up to plate, if only to amass more stuff to make fun of.  Why on earth would you waste your daylight hours doig something so patently useless?  Real trucking is an important part of our national economy, but virtual trucking?  Pressing a button again and again in order to inch 67 miles further along the road to Southport, NC?

Surprisingly addictive.

It was easy -too easy- to set up my free account.  A quick trip to and I was in possession of my first truck, a run-down Mack from the early 1990s.  It got 5 miles to the gallon and I painted it a brilliant shade of puce.  Then I hit the road, on my way from Richmond to Corpus Christi with 40,000 lbs of TV dinner.

There's something comforting about it, this imaginary trucking.  One hour of trucking equals one hour of real time, so you press your button ten times (one push = one hour of driving), and then are forcd to wait until you're no longer "exhausted" and can drive again.  There's a rhythm to it, therefore, and, in addition, a satisfying forward motion, and ononon you can never quite achieve on the muddy, rutted roads of day-to-day.  It's a cooperative game.  My company, Atlantic Coast Transport, has 10 drivers. We're stalwart, diligently running our contract loads, chatting from time to time on the company's CB.

224 to Houston, says Canadianjohn.

2nd load down, responds Mirmil

My response is brief, a single emoticon, one pixillated beer.  There's no point in talking; I'm on my way.

Monday, February 13, 2012


I've been reading a lot of books lately with caveman titles, by which I mean titles that hit you over the head with their cudgel of metaphor before dragging you back to their cave of obviousness screaming, LOOK!  Here are the THEMES!  I've pointed them out to you in the TITLE!

And I'm not just talking "Hot for the Duke," here.  Romance novels always come neatly labeled, like bottles of rat poison, and this is OK, because you know what you're after, with a romance novel, and it's not surprise.  The Happy Ending, the dead rat: Satisfaction Guaranteed.

No, I'm talking books with titles like "Freedom" and "The Corrections."  Both of these titles come courtesy of Jonathan Franzen, whose writing is addictive, self-conscious, and self-consciously addictive, and whose titles, like eager beagles, point at the author's preoccupations.

I've never been much of a fan of being hit over the head, so it was with trepidation that I approached "Bound," Antonya Nelson's snapshot of a tangle of ordinary lives lived around the time of the mid-2000s resurfacing of the Witichia serial killer BTK (Bind-Torture-Kill).

Nelson's principal character is Catherine, a mild-tempered trophy wife who inherits, from a long-dead friendship,  a sullen fifteen-year-old-girl.  Catherine is the third wife of Oliver, a self-made, self-made-over philanderer.  Cattie, the daughter of Catherine's old and wily friend Misty, most often chooses not to speak; in contrast, Catherine's mother Grace, a former English professor, can't speak at all due to a stroke.

These characters are "bound" to one another even as they alternately attend to and are repulsed by, the "binding" of BTK.  It's all mind-numbingly obvious-

Except it's not.  There's very little obviousness about the way Nelson has opened up each of her characters, exposed their insides with the patient, plodding dedication of a pathologist.  The story passes from character to character, not moving linearly but nevertheless gaining speed, direction, traction.  Despite the inclusion of a serial killer, it's not a lurid novel: those hoping for literal bindings will be disappointed.  Rather, it's a short-story-writer's novel  -which is what Nelson is, when you break down her bio-  a series of shimmering miniatures, like variations on a theme.

BTE: Better Than Expected.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


It's the rare grey day.  There are too few of them here in VA, which at first I thought was a blip, a glitch in the cycling of the weather, but now I understand to be How Things Are.  Confederates; confederates; sun: the Commonwealth triptych.  In my crankier moments, I even go so far as to hypothesize that too much sun, and not enough chill, is at the root of the profligacy of this city, its too-large portions and outsize greetings.

"Hi, how ya doin'?" 

"Fine, fine.  How 'bout you?"

"Well, just fine, thank you.  And your wife?"

The whole rigmarole takes three minutes, during which your average Midwesterner would have said "hi," and gone back to shoveling snow.

But today, at last, is grey.  No snow, no rain, but indisputably grey; the sky with a flat, cats-eye sheen.  I've responded with a grateful hunkering, a ready retreat to my unmade bed.  I have books, tea, windows against which the grey world, so unexpectedly taut, thrums.

Or is that motorized lawn equipment?

I sit up.  The next-door neighbor becomes visible, he of the power saw and the annual resodding of the lawn, he of the biannual gutter cleanings and impeccable patio.  I know very little about this neighbor, but I do know that he cares, deeply, whether the bushes on our property along his fenceline are pruned, so much so that among the things he first imparted to me, after his name and the name of his wife, was the nature of the "deal" he had with the last neighbor, whereby he, user of leaf-blowers, would regularly trim said bushes in exchange for...well, nothing.  And would I like to continue the "deal?"

I would.  I understand the drive to control one's own environment, and the messy ways in which that campaign overlaps with, and is infringed upon by, one's neighbors and loved ones.

What I don't understand is deriving pleasure from lawn care.

Which, clearly, the neighbor must, or  why would he be out there on this day, this most rare and precious and grayest of days, manicuring his shrubs?  I hear the clop clop of the shears through the walls of my house, the thunk of sticks hitting the bottom of the specially-designed wastebucket.  There must be joy here, headiness, exhilaration, or else, why today?  Why yesterday?  Why every day of this too-long, too-bright year?

The neighbor's lawn makes my lawn look shabby, but the truth is, my lawn would look shabby anyway.  My husband is a reluctant mower; I am a desultory weeder. We're not even sure what edging is.  If a stick falls off the tree (river birch, my neighbor has informed me, "kind of a trashy tree"), it will be weeks before I get around, grumblingly, to picking it up.  I'd rather be reading, or eating, or watching bad TV, or writing, or talking on the phone, or staring into space.  Heck, I'd rather be doing my taxes.

We claim to understand one another, we human beings. We read books and blogs; we watch movies; we talk it through over dinner.  We ask ourselves what-would-you-do-if?  and would-you-rather?   We say, "If I were you..."

And to a certain extent, we're right.  We sympathize. We understand other people's pain because we've been there; we recognize, and respond to, hurt in others.

It's other people's pleasures that are inexplicable.  Other folks' joys, those small, potent signifiers of how wide, how howlingly, unbridgeably vast, are the gulfs between us.

I head out for a grey-day stroll.

"Hi, how ya doin?" I nod to my neighbor.

"Oh, fine, just fine.  How bout you?"

"I'm doing OK," I tell him.  "Thanks."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mapped Out

I have suspected (and feared) this for a very long time!

The short version: Apparently, research suggests GPS is eroding our ability to make mental maps of our worlds.  To which I say, BLERG!!  One of the greatest of the smaller joys of my life is constructing inside myself, inch by painful inch, a map of the universe.  To not know where you're going beyond a tinny, off-kilter string of words?

I'd say heartbreaking, but I'm too busy mapping where the pieces fall.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

No Salt, No Service

I've given up sugar.  And salting my food.  And, for the most part, booze.

It's dreadful, truly.

It's not that I believe that food is medicine (medicine is medicine).  Or that I need to rid myself of toxins (the liver is mighty handy in this regard).  Nor do I subscribe to some general philosophy of cleansing, as if I were virtuously turning the power hose of my will upon the dirty porch of my soul.

But I do believe in calories.  And I can't believe that all my clothes, even the dry-clean-only specimens, have shrunk in the wash.  So: a month of no goodies.  Or at least a week.  For Pete's sake, just let me make it through the week.

I am most of a week in, and truth be told, considerably svelter.  Alas, you cannot gobble svelte.  Svelte is not delicious and chocolately.  You can't swirl svelte in a glass.

Still, I'm forging ahead.  Why in God's name, you ask, am I doing this to myself?

Stubbornness.  Because the one thing that's become apparent, during this dull, dun, joyless, time of denial, is just how much of my emotional life takes place in the refrigerator.  Need to complete a task?  Reward with food!  Sad?  Console with food!  Bored?  Hello, stove!  Happy?  Celebrate with food!

There's that old saw about eating your feelings, but I don't think that's quite right.  It's not so much that if I were to work out my myriad and not-particularly-fascinating emotional issues, I'd stop over-eating.  It's that I'm not sure, away from food, I can conjure emotion at all.  I'm still eating, of course, but without salt, food tastes beige.   Life tastes beige.  Like a drug addict coming down off a high, I'm experiencing a world leached of color.

I'm determined to stick around until the colors come back.   Because -surely-  there's more to my life than sugar.  And salt.  And tasty cocktails.  And capers in an espresso glass with a tiny spoon.

But I'll be damned if I'm giving up caffeine.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Death Comes to My Opinion of PD James

You know how excited you were to hear that, wow, Rob Lowe was going to join the cast of Parks and Recreation?

OK, me neither.

But had I been a Rob Lowe fan as well as a fawning P&R sycophant, I'd have been psyched.   More than psyched  My favorite star on my favorite show!  Chocolate and peanut butter melding their sweetness into one giant gooey ball of awesome!  When your best friend from grade school and your best friend from college totally hit it off! 

Sick with pleasure.  That's how I felt when I learned PD James, my all-time favorite mystery writer, had set her latest at Mr. Darcy's county seat of Pemberley.  I forked over my $12.99 before you could say "It is a truth universally acknowledged."

Only, the book bit.

Yeah, I know that's not proper reviewer talk.  I could explain.  I could erect a scaffold of criticism, lovely and structurally sound.  I could measure my words, dovetail my sentences.  But quite frankly, I wasted enough time on this sucker the first time around.

So I'll cut to the chase.  DNR.  Do not read; the book's already dead.