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.


Autumn Renewal

September 9, 2008 § 4 Comments

Trick or Treat Bag Smell is unique and complex.  Like a cheap, pinkish wine, it swirls together the rich scents of chocolate, rock-hard, starch dusted bubblegum, vanilla and artificial fruit.  Had I the means or the gumption to do so, I’d attempt a tween focused eau du parfum reminiscent of this fragrance which I’ve found impossible to duplicate.

Until this week.

Our office has a candy drawer, replenished every Monday with fun sized candy bars, gum, mints, fruit chews and smarties.  Smarties, I’ve decided, are the key.  I opened it on Tuesday, having received word from my mole on the first floor that the mini Twix were disappearing at an unprecedented pace.  Indeed I got the last one, but not before drinking in that sweet smelling wormhole to Autumns past.

To me, Autumn is truly the season of renewal.  Conversely, Spring is the season of mud and water damage.  It is Autumn that offers children around the world* a chance to make a grand and dramatic change on their first day of school.  In Autumn the notebooks are clean, bright white, college ruled and perhaps organized by color with a doodle free, color coordinated folder (green=science, yellow=math, red=history, blue=english).  In Autumn you can try out for the team again, and fail because your knee popped RIGHT OUT OF THE SOCKET during the first round of the Bump,Set,Spike drill.  In Autumn you can return to school after a BIG SUMMER MAKEOVER.  BIG SUMMER MAKEOVER GUYS!  BIG.  SUMMER.  MAKEOVER.

Beginning in seventh grade and continuing pretty much to this day, I’ve dreamed hard and planned long to have a successful BIG SUMMER MAKEOVER.  

We tried it once, my mom and I.  Let me take you back to the summer of ’85.  I had recently convinced my opthamologist to prescribe contact lenses since I was planning on becoming a movie star after reaching as far as the call backs for the Nazareth College Youth Theatre program.  Having gotten rid of my clear acrylic glasses, I decided it was time I started selecting my own school clothes.  After all, I was almost 13, and my JC Penney corduroy blazers and plaid ascots weren’t going to fly in eighth grade.  My mother (probably desperate to lose the Mom of Penfield’s Biggest Nerd title) allowed for a short haircut with a tight perm, and on the first day of school, I took a deep breath and stepped into black stirrup pants with white Keds and a fashionably oversized sweatshirt with multicolored neon shapes all over it.  In the blink of an eye, the truth was out.  I was one trendy son of a bitch.

The problem was that my hair was still the color of a cardboard box.  The Keds gave me a wicked case of Lichen Planus, I still had a voice that sounded like someone had kicked my adenoids into submission, I still had braces and I still weighed 103 when Kristen and Lauren weighed 90, a fact I’ll remember on my deathbed, because the gym teacher yelled the statistics across the gym to the woman recording them five hundred yards away.  I was still outside of the inner circle, being artsy instead of athletic.  I made poor choices that kept me out…like instead of making the cool tote bag out of canvas in sewing class, I decided to make a giant denim ski bag eight feet long.  Instead of sculpting a kitty or a tree in art class, I made a giant molar.  Don’t mistake this innovation for talent.  I wasn’t even artsy enough to be allowed into the tight knit OUTER circle of ‘creative individuals’.  I was a weird little slice of the population where all the venn diagram circles meet…just floating on the edges of everybody.  And still, and this cuts to the quick, even with contacts and short hair cut, Jim Bacon never spoke to me.


So now i used Fall as a springboard for other makeovers (although shopping for new clothes and getting a fresh haircut is best done in September).  Much to everyone’s joy, Autumn is when I like to clean my house.  I get rid of the dust, throw out the clutter.  In Fall I refeather the nest, making everything cushier, softer, I light the house with candles, I use potpourri, I buy new linens in creamy colors.  I try again to become organized in Autumn, just like back in school.  Whether it’s a fresh commitment to coupon clipping, planning a day to make casseroles and freeze them just like Family Circle says I should, or filling in letters A-F in a brand new address book, I continually live up to my mantra from Bart Simpson:

I can’t promise I’ll try.  But I’ll try to try.

Most of all, I get the itch to entertain in the Fall.  That could be because it’s my ‘birthday season’, or because growing up my family always held a Harvest Festival, inviting the whole family to a day long celebration of…well, being a family.  It could be because I love gathering up folks for a hayride, or to pick out a pumpkin or because I love trick or treating. But I also love Thanksgiving.  

Back before everyone we knew was married and having kids, we were just a small tribe of new actors in the city, working retail, unable to leave for the holidays.  Brian and I were the ‘old married couple’ with nice dishes and a grown up apartment, and we decided to host “Homeless Thanksgiving”, for people who weren’t going to have a cozy day of football and cranberries and turkey and naps.  I made everything from scratch, right down to the pea salad, a tradition from Grandmas house.  No one had to dress up, and after dinner I told everyone to feel free to stay as long as they liked, providing floor space and pillows for the luscious full belly snoozes that take over around four o’clock.  I secretly hoped for overnight guests so I could really feel like a content and fattened mother hen.  We only hosted two or three Thanksgivings as people began to have families of their own, to find more ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving celebrations, and I went back to the supporting cast, bring pies and baked onions to my aunt’s house.  

It was getting that feeling that was my true big makeover.  I discovered who I was, what I was meant to be.  I found my calling, even though it’s not profitable or innovative or even terribly surprising.  The truth is, I want to bring people in from the cold and make them warm.  I want to be the person who notices you when no one else will.  Perhaps it’s because I have that ability now, to BE the inner circle that others seek, to open my doors to the people who are lonely, sad, confused.  I’ve been on both sides of awkward loneliness, and Lord knows I want to alleviate it.  Let me blunt – I want to give you homemade Chex Mix.  And everyone knows that it tastes best in the Fall.


*no research whatsoever was done in the writing of this entry

Longing For Nerddom

April 22, 2008 § 4 Comments

When I was a tween, it was hard for me to wrap my mind around the cold reality that I was, in fact, Western New York’s most hopeless nerd. I was always about 20 minutes behind the times, a lover of Garfield and wearer of clear acrylic glasses that would have made Harry Caray say “dial it back, sister”.

I carried a book with me everywhere. As soon as I sat down on the school bus I opened it, as soon as I got in the car, in the tub, on the toilet, as soon as I was finished opening NEW books for Christmas, as soon as I sat down to lunch, as soon as I washed off the blueberry pie that Jeanette Martin smashed in my face in front of the whole Home Ec class. I was probably the only child in the world whose mother scolded me for reading TOO much, ignoring people at family functions in favor of The Pistachio Prescription. My mother took great pleasure in selecting my outfits for school until I was FOURTEEN YEARS OLD. She begged me to wear blush or a little mascara…anything, lovingly slapping my face and pinching my cheeks to get a little color in the skin, perhaps to offset the blazing silver braces. I listened to WEZO, Rochester’s Easy Listening, Light Favorites from Yesterday and Today station because it ‘calmed me’, as if I were some sort of fast living day trader, riding the ragged edge of the fast lane rather than a twelve year old running down to the basement to check the progress of my rock tumbler every day.

So when I woke up one day and realized that people were making fun of me, that I wasn’t “cool”, that I had three friends total and I was never invited to parties or asked out on dates, it was like a punch in the gut. Because I genuinely believed what my family had always told me; that I was funny, and beautiful, and smart, and creative, and compassionate and just gosh darn it, the greatest thing on two feet. I was a great daughter, grandma’s favorite, the life of the party and so stuffed with potential that it was just assumed that I’d probably singlehandedly save the world by writing a funny poem, making meatloaf and diffusing Middle East tensions with a well placed joke.

I lived that way for a long time. Being around family and the eventual large circle of friends that I fostered was like having group therapy, daily affirmations and huge hugs all at once. I was sought out for advice, I cheered the lonely, made pie for the sick, I received compliments on my body, my acting, my sense of humor, my cooking, I felt great.

As of late, I don’t feel great. It’s as if once again I’m that twelve year old coming to a startling conclusion. I’ve felt the weight of the world on my back for months, a weak and stumbling Atlas, afraid of letting everyone down, determined to remain silently strong. Last night I begged Brian to tell me something good about me. Tell me something you admire. He laughed at the desperate tone of my request, and I mostly said it to make him laugh, because that’s one thing I’m good at.

But as of late, it feels like that’s it. Whenever I talk to friends or family it’s because they want to tell me what I’m doing wrong, how I’ve failed, how I can improve, what’s wrong. I drink too much Diet Coke. Dangerous amounts. I sleep too much, I weigh too much, I’m antisocial. I eat junk. I ‘identify’ with being depressed. These things are all linked. They all go with my back pain, which I’m dealing with wrong. I take pain medication and all anyone wants to know is when I’m going to stop. When can we stop being ashamed of you? When will you stop taking the easy way out? When will you lose weight so you don’t ruin your sister’s wedding? When will you be happy again so we don’t have to feel uncomfortable? Every conversation is an intervention, every observation a criticism. I feel weak, drained. I’m tired of explaining, of begging for time or understanding. Everything that is brought to my attention is something that already consumes me from the moment I wake up until I fall asleep, exhausted.

And when I sleep, I’m not in pain, and I’m not fat, and I’m not confused, or defeated or guilty or scared or sad.

I’m afraid that I’ll never be a nerd again, never thrilled by the finished product off a latch hook rug, never inspired to start a greeting card business with Leah, never excited to go clothes shopping or to put on makeup because a fantastic eyeshadow can’t hide my double chin.

A few years ago, the Chicago Cubs had a great ad campaign, playing off the fact that they were losers, a terrible baseball team, it was public knowledge, there was no use denying it. And all they said was The Cubs: We’re Working On It.

I’d like a t-shirt. A black t-shirt with white letters, bold, simple, speaking for me because I’m tired of saying it. All I ask of anyone who sees me deteriorating is check back with me later:

I’m working on it.

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