It’s Time For the Bad To Be Over

October 6, 2010 § 1 Comment

Otherwise known as: Remember this blog? Let’s start it again.

I wrote this on my birthday last week but I figured it was a good way to ‘rebirth’ the blog. So, enjoy.

So I’m thirty eight today and I’ve just managed to convince a three year old that a nap is in her best interests. I did so because my kitchen table is covered with potential art. I’m making shadow boxes, and paper cuttings and “altered houses” and Sculpey things for Fall and (christmas). At the same time I am reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott in an effort to make myself write. I am also looking for a job and trying to find a way to make a million dollars without getting a job, dealing with newly bloomed back pain that my doctor says “let’s just deal with it!” instead of “MY GOD YOU POOR WOMAN, LAY DOWN WITH SOME CAKE” like I want him to, and ill timed PMS that takes me from near perfect contentment this morning to unbearable sadness about fifteen minutes ago because Todd looked particularly lonely.

The thing is, Charlotte’s asleep and for an hour and a half I can sit here and do whatever I want. I can lose myself in a book, make tiny apples from clay, paint, sketch, write, bathe my stinky dog…and none of that sounds good. Frankly I’d like to lay down on the couch with said dog and think about all the things I’d like to do and imagine how great they’ll be when I do them one day “When I Feel In The Right Mind Set To Do Them”. I put stuff off every day because my literary dramatic nature demands that the “time” be right. Writing needs an eight hour minimum with no possibility of television parole. I need to have taken a long bath and be carried by words to the notebook, bursting with gems of dialogue and description. Art demands a frantic mind, a cloudy day, a positive outlook, an almost obnoxious happiness and energy.

In fact, for the past decade or so, I’ve done great damage to myself and to others, laboring under the illusion that nothing can be properly accomplished unless it’s done in the midst of happiness and peace. I can’t imagine doing a scrapbook page while angry, or sad, or lonesome or hungry. I can’t imagine writing when I’m jealous or frustrated or fed up. In fact, the list has grown longer so that I can’t find myself cooking an interesting dinner, cleaning the bathroom, organizing a closet or going to the library without a pre-approved emotion to guide me there. It’s no surprise to me that after quitting painkillers I never went back to pottery class. I loved throwing clay on the wheel, going back to discover a beautifully glazed, if a little crooked, coffee mug with my name etched in the bottom. I loved the entrancing focus that centering the clay required, the accomplishment that surged when I properly pulled a bowl up and out. But i never went to class without first taking my pills, ensuring that I would be euphoric during my creation.

So for years — YEARS (I quit in May of ’08) I have been ‘waiting” for my brain to return to normal. For the endorphins to straighten out and the pleasure centers to repair and for natural happiness and euphoria to take their place. I’ve been waiting for life experiences to increase my serotonin and dopamine levels before I ‘get back’ to who I was. The fact is that I may never get back there. I jacked up my brain something fierce and trained myself to believe that if I wasn’t ecstatically buzzing with creativity and energy then I was “sick” or “sad” or “depressed” when actually I was just “normal”.

My mother gave me a little “helpful hint” about a year ago that I promised her I would take to heart, and I actually did try to do so for a while…but then I got laid off and it became easy not to … do anything really. Sitting around moping became my hobby. She told me that a friend of hers in recovery gave her a quote that said:

We do things to feel better, not wait until we feel better to do things

So brilliant in its simplicity and SO. HARD. TO. DO. But I guess that’s my focus for this year. I would like to feel the joy I once felt doing the things I loved, including things that would be so good for me like yoga or swimming. I would like to learn how to make myself feel better rather than laying on the couch waiting for an antidepressant or an antianxiety pill or a couple of tylenol to do so.

Charlotte will wake up within the hour and ask to “do halloween”. We’re making decorations together this year to save money, and it makes her so happy to cut a piece of cheesecloth into a ghost on a string. There’s almost nothing to it, but it thrills her beyond belief. So that’s what we’ll do. And i’ll make sure that it’s fun.

At the Movies

September 29, 2009 § 1 Comment

(partially reconstituted from my old blog)

The plain and simple truth is that ever since the age of nine, or maybe even before, I’ve been living my life as if it’s being filmed, or more broadly, as if I’m being watched, monitored. To some this may translate to self absorption, but to me, it’s a journey through great directing and cinematography. The key to it is…I don’t really care if anyone really IS watching. I’m living my own Truman Show. And in fact, the majority of my performances are ‘filmed’ in solitude. Very often, when I’m alone (and thank God Marge or Todd could never speak and report these things), I narrate my life in a sort of Morgan Freeman-esque style, as if everything is a flashback.

She made chocolate chip cookies that day…golden brown and chewy…not knowing that the biggest phone bill of her life was waiting in the mail box. Not knowing that things would never…be…the same.

Sometimes, if the soundtrack to my life dictates it (a certain song comes on the iPod or the radio I mean) I will stop what I’m doing and stare wistfully in a mirror, remembering that trip I took to Manhattan, where I met Michael and Roger and we were roommates, just trying to make it in this crazy town. Or I’ll break down and cry at the kitchen sink at the loss of my twin brother Gareth who drown off the coast of Nantucket so many years ago. It’s like…it’s like he’s still with me. And then I’ll pick up a little spoon or a glass and ‘remember’ the good times we had with a pyrex measuring cup. Or wait…what was that sound? Has the murderer I’ve been tracking for the government (because I’m a world famous profiler/model/mother/novelist) finally found me in my remote cabin in the forests of Maine? I’ll creep around on the sides of my socked feet to find out.*

But really, some of my best performances are on the train. I’ll gaze out over the racing landscape, wondering if I’ll make it to the hospital in time to see Vincent before he’s gone forever, and will he forgive me for shutting him out of my life. Then I’ll do the slow motion blink/eye shift (and I do it in slow motion) that movie makers are so fond of, and see Mitch…who’s been tailing me since I left New Mexico. What does he want? It doesn’t matter, don’t make eye contact. Check the doors, the exits, listen for the next stop, fiddle with your gloves, sunglasses. Tuck a stray lock of hair slowly behind your ear. Stay discreet and he won’t know you’re there. Then I get off the train and walk briskly (if I’m wearing brisk walking high heeled boots), and look over my shoulder to make sure I’m safe. It’s also fun to pretend to be blind, deaf, foreign or my favorite, JUST A TOUCH INSANE. I’ll stare at people with kind of a steely gaze, out from under the eyebrows, or I’ll grind my teeth or crack my knuckles. At the very least, I give people something to talk about.

“I saw a fairly nice looking profoundly retarded girl on the train today, rocking back and forth and counting the stitches in her scarf.”

There’s an off chance that a lot of people think I’ve got some sort of Annette Funicello Slow Motion disease or something because I really like to use the slow blink, the slow “flashback” smile and laugh, and when I’m walking the dog, I like to do my slow, turn around and smile over my shoulder move. I only do it in the dark though, so some young Hispanic Gang Members don’t think I’m ‘taunting’ them with my middle class sensibilities.

I do a LOT of musical montages. Getting ready for work, I do a lot of laughing and smiling in remembrance of a failing romance. In the shower I do theatrical trailers for thrillers – FROM THE BEST SELLING NOVEL BY JESSICA MCCARTNEY….

I become startled and peek out of the shower curtain, or I splay my hand out and slide it down the wall as if I’ve been stabbed to death…or I’ll bring a real after school special aspect into it and slide down the wall, naked, and fake cry beneath the warm water, either because I’m a pregnant teen, or a bulimic, or I’ve been abused or something. I also like to do the afterschool special when I’m taking my pills in the morning (or any of the other sixty times during the day). I’ll put the pills on the bathroom counter or I’ll hold them right in the middle of my palm like on a commercial and stare at myself in the mirror, frowning at what I’ve become. Look at yourself. You can’t live without the smack, can you? You can’t even go to your own daughter’s confirmation unless you’re high, can you? And then I take the Fibercon or whatever other nerd medicine I’m taking that day and stare at myself again. Get a hold of yourself, junkie. And I splash water on my face and watch it drip off in dramatic fashion. Then I’ll finish the trailer with a big ‘chase scene’ through my house, hiding behind furniture, a hand closing over a doorknob, pointing an invisible gun down a hallway. Then I adopt a low, voice over guy tone and say,

Sometimes, the last person you can trust…IS THE LAST PERSON YOU SHOULD.


Sometimes I’m not so much in the movie as talking about during a retrospective of my life. I like to do the E! True Hollywood Story of my successful marriage, my struggle with chronic pain, my battles with major publishers to get my controversial stories published. I also do testimonials when I’m wearing jeans and black turtlenecks, like hip people do.

“My name is Jessica McCartney. I’m an actress and a writer in Chicago and I’ve been using Apple computers since I was 12.”

While I’m talking to myself I pose in still shots from magazines: me waving to the crowd, me trying to hide from the paparazzi, me on the beach, shading my eyes.

“McCartney struggled with weight her entire life, and now she’s a stunning size six, strong and prepared to face the world.”

I’ll admit that this is all much harder to do now that i have an almost equally dramatic two and a half year old girl running around the house with me, but the way I figure it, she could be written into the script, a baby washed up on the beach and I’m the nun who adopted her – with hilarious (touching? world changing?) results. Or we could just build forts.

So if you’re ever wondering why I’m such a homebody and I don’t mind spending so much time by myself, it’s because I’m mildly insane – and I’m making a movie.

* Have you ever noticed this? Women “creeping around quietly” in movies, be they shoed or socked, walk around on the outsides of their feet for some reason. Jeanie (Shauna) from Ferris Bueller is an excellent example, when she’s trying to sneak up on Edward R. Rooney dean of students as he breaks into her kitchen. She walks on the outsides of her feet. Are these the “quiet” parts of the feet?

It was then, the Lord said, that I laughed at you

September 20, 2009 § 1 Comment

Back before I had children, I did a lot of work as a judge. Not for the City of Chicago, but for the world, really the universe, dare I say the betterment of mankind. I sat smugly on my throne of free time,8 hours of sleep and disposable income and tapped my sharp edged scepter on the heads of lesser mothers, clucking my tongue at their horrendous behavior.

Who were these harpies who didn’t drop everything to sit down and acknowledge every word their child had to say, even if it was just Mom…Mom…Mom…Mom…Mom? 34 times without a follow up question? And even if they’re not asking you a question, how could you ever ask a child to pipe down? Truly the voices of children are like God’s own soundtrack, a giggly, wondrous sound like a summertime breeze that blows and blows and blows and blows and blows and blows and what’s a breeze, am I a breeze? Breeze breeze breeze pphthththtpppppp hahahahah breeze. Mom Look, I’m a breeze. I’m a breeze mom. Breeeeeeeeeze. Mom?

How could you look into the eyes of an innocent angel and then poison them with juice and high fructose corn syrups? You’re the parent! Why, if they throw themselves on the floor in a back arching tantrum because they don’t want PLAIN WATER, just ignore it. IGNORE IT until 9:00 pm, or until CPS arrives, whichever comes first. And don’t even get me started on these bipedal serpents that feed their children sweets and candy at any and all times of the day. I once blanched at the sight of an obviously abusive (and probably drug addicted) mother feeding her child a SNICKERS BAR at 9:30 in the morning on the subway. There was simply no excusing it. Certainly the mother had time that morning to whip up a breakfast of whole grains, fruit, low fat, organic milk and lean protein before getting ready for work and getting her child ready for school! If not, she should just get up earlier. Don’t waste your breath. I HAVE RULED ON THE MATTER.

Hey, you know why I was thinking about that horrible woman? Because yesterday I bought Charlotte a 16 ounce bag of marshmallows to keep her from getting out of the grocery cart, and I opened them up IN THE STORE and gave her a fistful of sugar pillows as a bribe to sit still and be quiet. It was seven o’clock at night. As we checked out of line I promised her chipmunk swelled cheeks that she could have even MORE marshmallows if she got in her carseat without screaming and kicking me in the face.

It had been one of those afternoons that fell remarkably short of my “Giving My Child Perfect Memories of Childhood” dreams. On the train home from work I realized that I needed a handful of things at the grocery store, and I knew that Charlotte would enjoy the trip. We would go in holding hands, practicing colors and letters and talking about how important a balanced diet was, but in a FUN way, you know? So that she’d hardly know she was learning because I’m JUST THAT CLEVER.
So when I fought her into the car seat after a lengthy argument in which I actually threatened her with POLICE ARREST if she didn’t buckle up, I told her “we’re going to go to the store! OK?”


Like a needle skipping and scratching across a record, the Gaussian blur and soft white lighting of my motherhood dream screeched out of the picture as I told her she’d get her jammies when we got home and gosh darn it we were going to the store and she was going to have a good time.

There is a small window of time with young children wherein they have no idea of lengths of time, distances, or how much longer 45 minutes is. It’s important to seize this window, pry it open with a 1×4 and cram as much opportunity into it as possible. That’s why, as soon as we got in the store, with her asking to hold my phone, my keys, my wallet, I told her no, that she should just get in the grocery cart, because we would ONLY BE THERE FOR FIVE MORE MINUTES. Ten minutes later we were going to be there TWO MORE MINUTES and fifteen minutes later we were LEAVING RIGHT NOW.

Instead of reading labels and shocking her with the knowledge that tomatoes are a fruit, laughing together at the absurdity of it all, we fought about where she could sit in the grocery cart. We fought about her trying to pull down the produce scale. We fought about her trying to open the box of lasagna noodles while screaming “I HUNGRY MOMMY, PLEASE! IT’S OK! IT’S OK TO EAT NOODLES!” We fought about her putting six or seven foil roasting pans in the cart because she NEEDED them. And by the time I shoved forty marshmallows in her face, I’d had it.

On arrival at home I asked her if she would please help me carry the bags into the house. She said yes. She would. I gave her a bag with two foil pans and the bag of marshmallows, which she declared TOO BIG FOR ME, MOMMY. There were eight bags to carry in, so I got out the umbrella stroller and said through a forced smile,

“Charlotte, I’m going to be silly. I’m going to put the groceries in the stroller like a baby! How silly!”

She burst into tears, screaming “NO NO NO! I GO IN THE STROLLER. MOMMY! I GO IN THE STROLLER. I TIRED!”

I looked to the sky, for what I’m just not sure, but it kept me from swearing. She got in the stroller and I finagled all of the bags onto the handles, put one in the basket underneath and one on Charlotte’s lap. As we made our way to the house I thought about drinking, and why I hadn’t done it in the last couple of years, and how many beers WERE left in the fridge?

We got into the house and I dropped the bags, eager to get her into her jammies and into her bed. As I started to put things away I saw Todd jump up from his crate and run over to Charlotte. He’s not a dog that does this randomly. Food needs to be in the equation. Sure enough, Charlotte had dug out the bag of marshmallows and was carrying them UPSIDE DOWN, into the living room while simultaneously whining for Spongebob to appear magically on the t.v.

“Charlotte!” I snapped. “Look what you’re doing! Look!”

Todd had already vacuumed up a belly full of marshmallows and was following the trail to Charlotte’s feet. I grabbed the bag from her a bit harshly and said “Charlotte, you have to watch where you’re going. Look at what you’re doing before you make a mess all over the place. Now there’s marshmallows everywhere.”

She stared at me blankly and handed me the bag, skipping over to damage something else. I muttered regrets as I took the bag, and at that moment I decided it was really important to TEACH HER THIS LESSON. I needed to HAMMER THE POINT HOME, as it were. So, walking into the kitchen I said (to a two year old)

“Did you hear me Charlotte? If you don’t watch what you’re…”

And at that moment, God moved my groceries over a few inches and I tripped over the bags, kicking cans and foil roasting pans everywhere and went sprawling to the floor, a plastic grocery bag stuck to my foot. The dog came over to see if anything edible could be salvaged, and my daughter Charlotte —
The girl I had needled and nagged unnecessarily, the child I had snapped at because she failed to fit into my preconceived plans for a Storybook Mother Daughter outing, came running into the kitchen to say,

“You ok mommy? You ok?”

I laughed and said, “Yes. I’m ok. I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

And she laughed too and said, “Mommy, you’re silly. SILLY!”

And skipped off to watch Spongebob before going to bed.


August 27, 2009 § 1 Comment

And we now return to your regularly scheduled blogging….somewhat. Glance upon this mosaic of photos and know that I have many tales to tell.

The Trip To Cape Cod 2009

Can we talk? Now?

July 8, 2009 § 6 Comments

Can you turn off the t.v. so we could talk for a minute?

Thank you. Thanks. Hey, I love you. OK? I love you. You know that. And you know it’s hard for me to say this, but I’ve been, not a great, well, not a great…blog writer lately. And it’s not fair to you, it’s not fair to me…just let the phone ring…no, don’t get it…wait…

Who was that? Who? From work? Forget it.

The point is that I’ve put my own crap, my own issues and feelings and experiences before my relationship with you and that’s wrong. I’m wrong. Yes, ok? I’m saying I was wrong and I’m working on it. I’ve gone through some weird stuff, not wanting to do craft tutorials or write down recipes or tell you about the awesome Christmas when I got a drafting table and the first A-ha! album. I’ve been kind of dealing with some stuff…well…not terrible stuff, no, just “different”. A different PHASE. Yes. YES I’VE BEEN TAKING MY MEDICATION. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying that rather than focusing on “lifestyle commentary” I’ve been writing more fiction, and focusing more on…

please don’t turn on Andrew Zimmern. Please? You know I get sick watching this show why would you turn it on? Just…no fine…just mute it and let me finish. I’m going to throw up. Is that a monkey head? I’m going to puke.

Anyway, the point is that I’m going to do better. I’m going to tell you about how I’m afraid the youth of America are turning into monsters, and also my ideas for cheap home improvements on our new place, and more pictures and stories of my long distant childhood that I dream about every day, and how no matter how much you may THINK you’re a gardener, if everything in your garden turns yellow and dies, then maybe you’re not. OK?

OK. I promise I’ll do better and you promise to read and say SOMETHING ok? Please? Just, “Oh thanks. OK. great, great story.” Whatever. Why do I even bother?


Yes ok. You can watch your SHOW.