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.

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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.

“THE BROKER. RATED R.

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?

Blogging The Life I Have Imagined

February 25, 2009 § 2 Comments

I’ve been collecting up crafty/lifestyle blogs for a few months.  I use them as a sort of ever changing inspiration board because my inspiration board is covered with diaper coupons.  I use them to get my butt in gear.  I use them to … punish myself for being inactive, for sitting on the couch doing nothing while there are women out there writing books,raising families and raising awareness for charities around the world.  

Art Junk Girl was one of the first blogs I bookmarked because I was heavy into collage/ephemera, and I wanted so badly to have a shelf full of moleskine journals like she has.  I wanted to have the drive and creativity and sort of animal need to create like she has.  Her most recent entry almost brought tears to my eyes, I was so jealous of her ‘artistic madness’.  She speaks of existing only to draw, to draw on any and every surface, day and night.  She can’t stop it.  I haven’t felt that in so long.  I wait for that feeling like someone waits for true love.  I wait for it like Christmas.  I just want to have that NEED to create…of course I’d love it if it was a drive to write, but I’ve very nearly given up on that.

My loss of ambition to write is made even harder, and more bitter when I see so many blogging women publishing books, living the life I’ve always dreamed of, and then I read things that basically pierce me right in the heart like a  hot dagger, reminding me that others are succeeding where I have failed.  For instance, in this blog entry  by Marissa over at Creative Thursday:

Yesterday I watched the Oscars and I was reminded  ~ that I went for a dream and I MADE it. And even on my cranky days where I’m not at my best, there is still an always present tiny glimmer of the pure joy I have for living I life I intended. There’s nothing like that feeling. 

No amount of money, no industry connection, no gift certificate can get that feeling.  It’s something you must earn yourself.  It’s a goal you scratch off of a list you wrote when you were ten.  It’s a framed first dollar bill, a contract from a publisher that says “yes,”, a sign over a shop that says ‘Linda’s Pies’.  I have to assume that I’ll never feel it.

Earlier this year I reported that my friend Meredith and I gotten together and brainstormed BIG. GIANT. PLANS. to merge our love of creativity, writing, crafting, blogging, the internet, shopping and homekeeping into one big happy magazine that would focus on living a small, efficient, creative,handmade life.  Since that meeting we had, we’ve watched our favorite, most inspirational magazines (Domino, Craft, Country Home, Cottage Living, WonderTime) go under, effectively showing us that this is no time to get into the magazine biz.  We switched our focus to creating a website that would have the same feel and would actually be much easier to spotlight sellers on Etsy and Folksy and DaWanda.  Decidedly, this is a more dangerous and much less profitable venture since there’s so much competition and so much existing “supply” to meet the “demand”.  We of course became angry when we came across websites that had already done what we dreamed like Dabbled, The Crafty Crow  and Craft Gossip because, while there’s always room for another great thing…we know our limitations.  We are creative, and good writers and good cooks, and good people.  We have a passion for the subject, but we know exactly nothing about web design, web advertising and web….presence…ing..ness.

So now we have to rethink our ambition.  We have to put aside our dreams of living the life we imagined, and instead live the life someone else imagined and needed a staff for.  In the meantime, I want this blog to represent my passions, but it will also represent ME, warts and moles and crooked backs and hypochondria and all.  While I like to bake, I will never be Smitten Kitchen.  While I like to craft and create, I will never be the incomprable Lollychops, and while I want with all my heart to be America’s SuperMom HouseManaging Wonderwife, I’m just never going to be Martha Stewart, or the House on Hill Road.  

I don’t take great photographs, but I’m happy to share them.  I’m not very gourmet, but you can have my recipe for Peachy French Toast.  I can’t sew in a straight line, but I’m pretty darn proud of my Pear Dream Tote Bag.  So stick around if you’d like.  You can hear about my childhood, my daughter’s childhood, what I made for Sunday supper and what I do when I’m not working on someone else’s dream.

The Mighty Me

November 7, 2008 § 3 Comments

Now that Charlotte is a little older, we can start watching a little more “fun” cartoon shows rather than the horrendous horrendous teletubbies.  Look, I’m not one who thinks they’re evil or gay or Aryan or some other bizarre hyper conservative “subliminal propoganda” nonsense, I just…can’t stand the repetition.  I like the songs in the beginning and at the end when we’re saying “bye bye” to that hideous baby, and I like “Big Hug”, but what’s with the vacuum that harrasses them, and the ‘custard’ that comes out of a faucet.  Hey, I love custard. I am a fan of any eggy, creamy meal item: pudding,custard,flan,brulee,zabaglione,rice pudding,tapioca pudding,cream filled anythings, a big bowl of vanilla frosting, confectioners sugar icing just poured in my mouth, but even I would have to draw a line of sensibility and maturity at a faucet, a never ending faucet that dispensed those treats.  I mean, I’d have to draw that line in public, for the benefit of the children.  Besides, I like the little skin they form on top, and you don’t get that with a pudding faucet.

Folks, this isn’t my point.

The point is that I’m tired of being Suzie Derkins.  In my youth and old age, I read Calvin and Hobbes voraciously and I always liked to tell myself that I was indeed the grown up girl version of Calvin. 

Susie ponders how to best get others into trouble

Susie ponders how to best get others into trouble

 Yes, I tried to write my life story at age ten, talked to my invisible friends aloud and with pride and had a wild and colorful imagination, which could spur countless hilarious novels, movies and plays, but sadly…has not.  But then the sad truth was revealed to me after college, when I was married and living in Chicago.  I’m sitting here trying to remind myself who called me Susie Derkins.  Could it have been my loving and honest husband?  Indeed, I believe it was.  But he wasn’t alone.  Co-workers, castmates, strangers off the street indeed called me Susie Derkins.  Why?  Why this barrage of slaps in the face?  It’s because I’m a tattletale.  Because I want very badly to please the teacher, and the mother, and father and clergyman and random elder that walks by.  I am not ashamed to say that as a student, I often raised my hand to remind teachers of the fact that we were supposed to have a quiz today, or that the book reports were due and I’d lke to go first when we’re reading them aloud.  As I’ve reported in the past, I slapped Mindy Andrews across the face in fourth grade for being a bad Mormon and wearing lipstick at school.  I WAS PUNISHING PEOPLE OF OTHER FAITHS FOR THEIR SHORTCOMINGS IN A FAITH I KNEW NOTHING ABOUT.  It was my impression that by tattling I rose in the ranks to best loved gal of all adults.  Turns out I didn’t.  Turns out Mr. Brainerd thought I ‘babbled babbled babbled like a brook all day long’. 

:: cough ::

The trouble is, I thought I was cool.  And that’s where I take leave of Susie.  Susie had no illusions of being popular or cool.  She was lonesome and studious and told herself it would all be worth it some day (trust me susie, it really won’t.  Get cool…now.)  Susie, as it happens, is a total drip.

And that’s where we meet The Mighty B!.  I practically beg Charlotte to watch this Amy Poehler cartoon on Nickelodeon.  It’s about a girl named Bessie, a girl who is popularity challenged.  She’s in a Girl Scout type organization called the Honeybees, and believes that once she earns all  the possible Honeybee Badges she will turn into a superhero:  The Mighty B!  I can see myself as a kid believing that sort of thing.  I believed the world was a magical place.  I truly believed that life, even adulthood, was focused on fun and creativity and surprise.  I woke up every morning wondering what was going to happen…what COULD happen.  Could we leave on a vacation today?  A surprise vacation?  Would there be a little wrapped present on my breakfast plate? (sometimes, yes…that’s how great my parents were)  I always looked for little notes in my lunch, a package in the mail, a holiday, a party, an event.  I remember getting up before dawn to watch Princess Diana get married.  It was exciting to think that everyone was up that early, watching the same thing – that we were all huddled in our living rooms in the dusky morning while it was bright happy daylight across the ocean.  I put together time capsules, intending only to open them ten years later, but quickly grew impatient and opened them within the week, marveling at how the world had changed since I’d put Sunday’s comic section in a sticker covered shoe box.

Just this morning, while opening a new tube of toothpaste, I remembered how, as a kid, I thought that anything in relatively tiny writing was a secret message.  So when I looked at the toothpaste tube and saw the tiny writing that said “For best results,squeeze from the bottom and work your way up”, I thought it was

Get ready to rage with Bessie and her dog Happy

Get ready to rage with Bessie and her dog Happy

basically, like a fortune cookie for all of us, although I was unable to translate exactly how it applied to my life as a nine year old.

Bessie is kind, thoughtful,loves doing reports,selling Mary Kay and lecturing about pickles.  She throws her friend a birthday party filled with candy, turns on the music and yells out “LET’S RAGE!”.  Indeed.  I always thought I was raging.  When I invited seven of my friends to El Torito for my sixteenth birthday and was told I could order ANYTHING on the menu AND Fried Ice Cream, you can bet I thought I was raging.  When I was putting together a latchhook rug of a hawk on a branch while listening to Muskrat Love, the only thing running through my head is, MY GOD AM I RAGING.  I had a rock tumbler, I made chocolate candy, I started a small puppet business, I sold green beans door to door.  My youth was filled with entrepreneurship and fresh ideas and I pushed forward, assuring myself of a life as a child prodigy, either in the field of 30 Page Novels, Home Made Greeting Cards, Acting, or Home Decor.

In short, I don’t ever want to lose the tattletale, book report loving, tea party hosting Susie Derkins side of me who made me the well rounded adult I am today.  But in addition, I would like to nurture the Bessie Higgenbottom side of me, with big plans, great ideas, and the ability to walk into any party, let loose and rage.

Bad Brain Days

February 19, 2008 § 3 Comments

I left class early, wondering why I was taking it in the first place. Intermediate wheel throwing. I wasn’t an art student, mind you, I was a thirty five year old woman with a toddler and a husband. I worked in accounting. Pottery was my latest tangent, if you didn’t count embroidery, which you really shouldn’t, trust me. I had been taking wheel throwing classes for a year, amassing piles of useless bowls and vessels and giving them away as gifts as if I were some coveted artist, a fanciful JMC etched in the bottom to indicate a “GENUINE JESSICA MCCARTNEY”. But where was it going? I stood in the train station staring at a yawning hole in the street below. A water main had broken in the brutal January cold and within seconds the street collapsed, sucking in cars and parking meters and young trees like a growing mouth of hell. It amazed me how swift the flood water current ran, only twenty or so feet below the surface.

By the time I got home from class, my daughter, whom I prayed and wished and worked for for nearly eight years, was sound asleep.. She’ll never know that I kissed her goodnight, or stared at her tiny limbs all curled up beneath her like a frog on a lilypad. We were both growing older, and I missed a day of her life so I could play with clay. I recalled my mother telling me that the moment we’re born we begin dying. For some reason she felt like this was an appropriate and harmless little ‘factoid’ to lay on a twelve year old. My mind is a wall of graffiti, and that sentence is bold paint, a bit worn with time, not as sharp, not as harsh, but right in the middle, surrounded by other bits of wisdom. My cousin Tommy, for example, told me that if the nuclear power plant near my childhood home were ever to melt down, I would live long enough to “watch my skin melt like water”.

I left my baby’s room and changed into pajamas, anxious to read a meaningless style magazine, watch a sitcom repeat. These were surefire ways to clear my head of “serious business”. A sharp headache pulsed behind my right eye. Dehydration? Sinuses? Tumor?

“I’m not going to be awake too much longer,” I said to my husband, noting that it wasn’t even nine o’clock.

“Bad brain day?” he asked, whipping through channels while playing poker on the laptop.

Bad brain day indeed.

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