The Grand Supreme

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After the horror joy of Christmas has passed–the tree I tortured and starved to the point of kindling, the stacks of stuff cluttering our living room which were transferred upstairs to now clutter my kids’ bedrooms, the massive quantities of sweets I lovingly baked, ingested then cursed and swore to never touch again, as I lay spread-eagle on my bed, begging someone to have mercy and knock me out (because apparently I really do, as a matter of course, eat small, mostly-healthy meals in my day-to-day, and when I forget this and consume six slices of Hershey Bar Pound Cake in under an hour, my body becomes seriously pissed off and tries to kill me from the inside out)–then comes the New Year.

(And, yes, that might be the longest sentence I’ve ever written. Plus, there was a parenthetical phrase within another subordinate something-or-other and a plethora of commas. Do I get a grammar trophy? Or a piece of cake?)

But back to the New Year. The strangely foreboding-sounding 2013. How alien it feels rolling off the tongue, just like every new year always does. It’s a year full of possibilities, new starts and fine, sparkling opportunities. And, let’s be real, probably more of the same exact crap we all dealt with last year.

Some people do the resolution thing. Other people boycott resolutions and speak of them with the same venom they reserve for the left-wing liberal media and partially-, mostly-, or totally-hydrogenated oils. I’m not against resolutions myself, in fact, I’m very big on them. I make them on a daily basis, and they just tend to take more of a negative form. To wit:

(minutes after eating six slices of Hershey Bar Pound Cake) “As God is my witness, I will never do that again!”

(minutes after taking a spin class) “As God is my witness, I will never do that again!”

(minutes after seeing a picture of myself wearing that adorable, shapeless baby-doll dress I bought because the tall, emaciated Gwyneth Paltrow wears that style all the time and looks amazing) Well…you get the picture.

This year I entertained the idea of making a couple of resolutions. And, as always, I maintained an open mind, keeping my ears open for any good ideas. Many of them centered around losing weight and eating healthier. Here are a few of the ideas I heard floating around out in the culturesphere:

Breathe your way thin.

Where do I begin with this one? Are they saying I’m supposed to breathe instead of eat? Because last time I checked I have been doing both easily and simultaneously since I was born. One does not preclude the other. I don’t really get it.

Okay, I get it, my yogi friends, I’m just being difficult. I know, I know, I’m supposed to meditate and BREATHE when I’m stressed instead of stuffing McDonald’s fries into my mouth. And to that I say…never gonna happen. I’ve meditated. I’ve even done it successfully, I think, where I felt calm and serene afterward. And subsequently celebrated with a satisfying, and thin-cancelling lunch of BBQ and cobbler. Eating and breathing together is just so much more fun than just plain ol’ breathing.

Eat from a place of empowerment.

You mean like, “Hey, cheesecake, come at me, bro. I’m smarter, stronger and I make more money. You’re my bitch, cheesecake. I don’t want you. Look at you just posing there on my plate, cheesecake, fronting. (I talk suburban-white-boy-psueudo-thug slang to my desserts.) Stop looking at me that way. You have no power over me. You’re nothing but a big, creamy…”

(sound of chewing and lip-smacking)

And, finally, my all-time favorite….

Create your own brand.

The person espousing this particular resolution went on to advise you to select three or four words that identify your brand and subtly drop them into conversations with people throughout the year. For instance, Kim Kardashian’s words might be something like Baby! Kanye! White Lipstick! She warned listeners not to deviate from those words or people might get confused as to what your brand really is. Which I can only assume would be tragic.

Well. Can you say aha moment? When I heard this it all became clear to me. I suddenly understood my problem all these years–the reason I’ve never soared with the eagles, so to speak, like all those other people with brands. The realization was chilling. All these years I was just assuming I could amble through life, just being myself. Making things up as I went along. Improvising.

No, no, no, no!

I need to BRAND MYSELF. And pronto. Before all the good brands are taken. Which is, as you know, what always happens. The early bird gets the brand.

But what should my brand be?

I decided to look to the latest example of successful branding: Honey Boo Boo.

Now, this is just my opinion, but I know TLC (on which the show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” airs) knows good and well they’ve got the goose who laid the golden egg and HBB is a brilliant, white-hot brand. I’m also pretty sure Mr. and Mrs. HBB know they are a brand (’cause stupid is as stupid does, and, let’s face it, who has their own TV show, Mr. and Mrs. HBB or you?).

Honey Boo Boo herself may be super-savvy, but I’m betting she has no idea that she’s a brand. And yet, I maintain she’s got the greatest, most mind-blowing brand around. And no, it’s not PAGEANTS! IGNORANCE! PIGS POOPING ON THE BREAKFAST TABLE! like you might be thinking.

In the recent episode I watched–with my mouth actually, physically hanging open–HBB entered a pageant in some remote part of rural Georgia, hoping for the top prize, the coveted Grand Supreme. This particular pageant had what looked like a handful of girls in it who were daintier, more petite, and probably prettier than HBB (although it was hard to tell underneath all that makeup and wigs). But did that stop her? No sir. HBB amped herself up, racing around, screaming about bringing her A game and belly bumping with her mom. And while she did not, in fact, win the Grand Supreme, she did snag the People’s Choice and got to kiss her estranged pet pig at the end of the day.

And it occurred to me–the girl is happy. And that, my friends, is her brand. Not because she strategized and concocted it and uses words to reinforce the delicate illusion. It’s because she’s ACTUALLY HAPPY. It doesn’t matter what she does or what’s happening around her, if it’s a sweaty, gnat-infested fireworks show or mud-wrestling or a tickle fight with family members who could literally crush her or a dinky pageant that she doesn’t win, it’s THE BEST DAY EVER. If she’s feeling a little bit chunky in her swimsuit, does she cry and hide in the corner and whine about body image issues? No. She runs around the room screaming about how much she loves her blue swimsuit because it makes her look like a giant blueberry. (Which, I’ll admit, if I thought I looked like a giant blueberry I would probably cry, but–hello–it’s a GOOD thing to her, which just proves it’s all about perspective).

Honey Boo Boo has the Kardashians and Cowell and Beiber and Swift and the Housewives beat, all of them, because she snagged the very best brand. The one that makes people unable to tear their eyes off the screen. That keeps them coming back for more. The most enviable brand of all. Happiness.

Those are Honey Boo Boo’s identifying words: HAPPY! HAPPY! HAPPY! Just watch for yourself, you’ll see.

Looks like a resolution to me.

Project Fun

LOCATION: Starbucks, silly rabbit.

LISTENING TO: “Arizona” by Caroline and The Ramblers (Get the CD “Red Hot Mama” on Amazon or iTunes if you’re in the mood for some good rockabilly/country/swing blues. She’ll make you want to slap on a straw fedora, a snap-button shirt and swing dance the night away.)

Yes, Project Fun is exactly what it sounds like. I have been working a lot lately, and while it’s all stuff I (mostly) enjoy, let’s face it: all work and no play…can get you looking all pointy-browed and psycho-smiley like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” Just ask my family.

(Disclaimer: When I get overworked, I don’t chase people with axes, I just get really morose and introspective and sigh a lot. Which is probably worse.)

This time, when I started feeling super-squirrelly, I wisely decided I needed to get busy having some fun. I resolved to get proactive in having said fun: schedule dates with girlfriends to go out dancing, to concerts, more dancing, festivals, and, again, probably a little more dancing.

In order to jump-start Project Fun I decided I should kick loose the log jam of grumpiness in my head and shock my amygdala into high gear by watching a horror movie. Horror movies are fun to me–I’ll actually go so far as to say I love them. But, let’s face it, it sucks to watch a scary movie alone, and there is only one other member of my family who will watch them with me–my 14-year-old son, Alex.

Then something occurred to me. This was the perfect way to kick off my new endeavor. Not only was it possible for me to fulfill my own need for a good time, but I could simultaneously create a tender mother/son bonding experience AND further my child’s on-going classic film education all at the same time. And an unexpected bonus: prove to a somewhat smarty-pants kid who constantly poo-poos the ability of old movies to scare him that mommy always knows best (a constant goal of mine). Win-frickety-win.

I ordered “The Shining” on Comcast and invited Alex to join me.

He and I chased the three-fifths of our family who hate scary movies out of the living room and cozied up for an afternoon of terror. And when I say cozied up, I mean teenage-boy-practically-sitting-in-his-mother’s-lap-and-clutching-her-arm-with-talon-like-fingers. I have to admit I kinda enjoyed that when it first happened. Except then, during the really scary parts, he inexplicably pinched the FIRE out of the tender skin underneath my arm, which not only made no sense (hey, I didn’t ask those girls in the blue dresses to show up) but hurt like a mother. I finally had to push him to the far side of the sofa.

I’d now like to share some of the random thoughts and comments that came up during the course of the film.

1. Alex: “That woman isn’t very pretty. Why did they choose her to play his wife?” Me: “Wait till she starts screaming. She looks awesome screaming.” (Honestly, has anyone in the history of film looked more terrified AND more terrifying while screaming? She almost scares me worse than Jack N.)

2. Alex: “I can’t believe that. She’s smoking at the lunch table with her son.” (ah, the good ole days)

3. Alex (as Shelley Duvall is dragging Jack Nicholson into the pantry): “She is the dumbest woman in the world. She needs to leave that hotel now.” (agreed)

4. Alex: “Scatman Crothers is the most awesome name in the world.” (also agreed)

5. Alex: “She is such a bad mother! Why is she just letting her kid ride unsupervised all over that haunted hotel on his tricycle?” (because she is busy smoking in the boiler room/kitchen and wondering why her husband won’t let her read the novel he is writing)

6. Alex: “Look at how that typewriter works!” (No kidding, he was fascinated by the automatic carriage return mechanism. Ah, the good ole days.)

7.  Me (after one of the other members of the family wandered into the room, and we had to pause the movie): “Oh, I should mention…you know the Jay Leno show, right? Well, the guy who hosted the show before him was named Johnny Carson, and he had this sidekick dude Ed McMahon who always said, ‘Heeeeereeee’s Johhhhhhnnnnny!’ when he introduced him.” (I can’t believe I actually had to explain that.)

8. Alex (after creepy Danny speaks to Mrs. Torrance in creepy Tony voice): “Yes, Mrs. Carpenter. Yes, Mrs. Carpenter.” (back to smarty-pants mode, Jack hadn’t shown up with the ax yet.)

9. Alex: “Ghosts can’t let you out of a locked pantry!” (Stanley Kubrick ghosts can, Stanley Kubrick ghosts can do anything they want.)

10. OH NO, I FORGOT ABOUT THE SEVENTIES-ERA FULL-FRONTAL NUDITY!!!! I MEAN IT’S ONE THING TO LET YOUR KID WATCH A FATHER CHASE HIS SMALL SON THROUGH A SNOWY MAZE WITH AN AX, BUT TO LET HIM SEE A NAKED FEMALE??? NOOOOO!!!! (at which point I jumped up and tried to block the 70-inch screen with my somewhat narrower body. My strange double standard? I can’t explain it. Don’t ask me to.)

11. Alex (when Jack starts axing in the doors): “Thank God this is finally happening. I couldn’t stand the waiting any more.”

12. Alex (Jack chasing Danny through the maze): “That would suck to have a Dad like that. We are lucky our dad is not like that.” (um, yes.)

So, good fun, good fun. After it was all said and done, my son humbly apologized for his arrogance and agreed the movie had indeed scared the pants off of him. Turns out the older generation has something to offer these whippersnappers after all. The benefits are debatable. As for Alex, he’s now understands the cultural reference to “Redrum” and is sleeping every night with the lights on.

My job here is done.

But enough about me…what do you think of me?

With all due respect to those suffering as a result of Sandy, I can’t stop thinking about how she might’ve messed up my weekend plans. I know, I’m a horrible person, but I have to be honest. Even with all the floating houses, upside down cars and swimming kittens, I’m still thinking about how this dumb storm might interfere with my life.

See, there’s this bi-annual writers conference I’ve been attending the past couple of years, at which I enthusiastically and unsuccessfully pitch book ideas to New York literary agents. It’s both fun and horrible. Educational and terrifying. Exhilarating and devastating. All of which are qualities I apparently seek out in my weekend entertainment.

Unfortunately, the agents who are scheduled to attend this weekend are supposed to be flying on planes which, if I’m going by Matt Lauer’s word, are now floating in the Holland Tunnel along with the cabs and kittens and flaming falafel carts. I hear we might be Skype pitching our books instead, which could be good, because on Skype everybody looks robotic and awkward and afflicted with Hepatitis B. That would keep the agents from realizing that in person I really am robotic and awkward. Not so much afflicted with Hep B, but due to my recent bout of insomnia, I’m pretty sure I’m not at my sparkling best.

Speaking of not sparkling.

On the off chance Delta is able to fish an airplane out of a subway tunnel and drain the water out of it, there’s also supposed to be this cocktail party the night before our pitch day. This party is where all us writers are expected to mingle with the agents and various other special guests (editors, publishing execs, real authors, etc.) and network. During this networking time, we’re supposed to chat with the agents, ply them with drinks and NOT talk about our books. I don’t know about you, but when somebody tells me I’m not supposed to talk about something, THAT’S ALL I WANT TO TALK ABOUT. I mean, that’s the whole reason I’m there in the first place.

But as y’all are well aware, I’m cool, and I try to follow the rules and whatnot, so for the past couple of years I’ve worked hard to overcome my introvert-ness and done what I’m supposed to do. I’ve mixed and mingled and not talked about my book with the agents. By the way, a side note. If you ever want to see me at my most severely uncomfortable, come watch me network. It’s a finely-crafted masterpiece of crapitude.

For example, one time (while networking like a freakin’ mother, if I do say so myself) a magazine editor asked me what I was working on. I said it was a women’s-fiction novel. He then demanded I pitch it to him. I said, but you’re a magazine editor, not an agent. To which he replied that it didn’t matter who he was, that I needed the practice and besides, he could listen to my pitch and tell me whether it was good or not. I declined and dumped his drink on his head (okay, I didn’t do that last thing. I just smiled and fantasized about grabbing his arm and giving him an Indian rug burn). I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in the world who gets in a fight while networking. 

The saving grace here is that it is a room chock full of writers–most of them introverts too. Occasionally shy (sometimes painfully so), better at our computer keyboards than with human interaction, sensitive, thoughtful, and, dare I say, insightful? Or crazy, depending on how you look at it. As you can imagine, there are those birds too, the crazy ones, at these things. I’m thinking of one particular fellow writer-guy who told me he couldn’t explain his book to me because the concept was way too deep to understand. Or the one who launched into the entire story of his novel, plot point by painful plot point, so that finally I was compelled to walk off with no explanation in order to preserve my own sanity. I’m not so sure he even noticed I was gone.

The good news is this: I will be missing this year’s cocktail party because I’m having dinner with my parents who are coming into town. I’m not promising there won’t be any Indian rug burns at that gathering, but at least I don’t have to network with these people. They’ve pretty much witnessed my entire bag of tricks and are over me. Way over me.

And in an unrelated note: advance apologies if my nine-year-old son throws up in your bowl of trick-or-treat candy tonight. Halloween absolutely cannot and will not be pre-empted by a stomach bug.

Come Fly With Me

I’m not a great flyer. I try to keep it quiet, though. I don’t freak out so anybody notices, except if I’m holding your hand on takeoff, in which case you will think I am Thor or The Incredible Hulk and suffer immense and surprising pain as my small hand nearly crushes every bone in your hand. I need to see out a window. I can’t sit next to the window or I will feel like I’m falling out of the window. Unless it’s over the wing, because if you’re gonna fall out of a plane, you’re better off falling onto the wing, right? (Don’t answer that.) So I have to sit on the aisle. In case I need to spring up and sprint to the emergency exit before everybody else.

I have a few set superstitions beliefs: if the pilot announces there’s going to be turbulence, there rarely is, so I do a silent cheer when that one rings out over the PA system. The mumblers worry me. I always assume right before they put on their jaunty little pilot caps and popped over to the airport, they were doing shots at a seedy airport lounge or taking huge bong rips in some apartment decorated with chili pepper twinkle lights and stained towels for curtains. Another belief: if the flight attendants are mean, we’re going to land safely. Don’t ask me why, but it might have something to do with “only the good die young.”

Speaking of turbulence, I hate it. Several years ago a couple of know-it-all friends assured me turbulence was just like driving over potholes in your car. So one night at a dinner I asked a guy I knew who was a pilot for Delta. Apparently no one had given him the heads-up that I was to be coddled and lied to, because he said, and I quote, “Turbulence is serious. It can be very dangerous.” Thank you. I told you so. My husband wanted to kill him.

I really don’t understand about the physics of lift and thrust and drag and whatever else. Just suffice it to say I know that the real reason planes go up in the air is because they are borne aloft on angel wings. That, and the power of my mind. Yeah, you heard me.  I have this weird compulsion to pay very close attention to everything that’s happening during takeoff. I have to listen to the engine and watch us rise above the ground (fast, preferably, I hate those big, slow, languid takeoffs) and hear the landing gear safely curl up into the belly of the plane. You see, it is the SUPERIOR FOCUS of my brain that’s making everything work. I can’t listen to music or read or chat. Because I am SUPERVISING. And if, God forbid, something goes wrong and the pilots are shot or stabbed with box cutters or blacked out or otherwise rendered useless, and I’m distracted, who’s going to fly the plane with her mind?

Then I discovered Xanax.

Which helped a lot. And made everybody in my family much happier about flying with me. And now when I fly, instead of acting like a crazy person, I am pretty much a female version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski. I breathe, my heart beats normally, I smile. I close my eyes. I don’t wear a bathrobe, but you get it.

Sometimes I forget my Xanax. Which happened to me yesterday. Flying out of New Orleans, which was swaddled in thick, gray taffy-like clouds, promised to be a nightmare. There were storms in Atlanta. And no Big Lebowski. I was not looking forward to it.

But here’s what happened: I ended up being seated next to a skinny, hipster Frenchman who turned to me right after I buckled in and said (in his delightful French accent), “I do not fly well.” Boy, was he right. He was truly TERRIFIED of flying. So scared, in fact, that he held the seat in front of him for almost the entire flight. Which I gotta say kind of broke my heart. I was glad he was sitting next to a fellow sufferer. I felt his pain. I proceeded to talk to him almost the whole time–showed him pictures of my kids and patted his arm and recited all the French words I knew. I asked him about his wife and kids and his music and computer programming. Right before we began our descent, he said (in his delightful French accent), “Isn’t it funny how on a plane they will tell you how many ways you can die?” Naturally, Mommy had to shut down that line of conversation right away. I think I said, “Look out the window!” Not terribly creative, but it worked.

Anyway, we landed safely and the two of us did a little cheer and went our separate ways. And I realized…I had survived. And not only had I survived, I had helped someone else survive.

I was human Xanax.

Keep Knitting

It’s like you’re unraveling a big cable knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting!

I’ve been working on a project for the past three and a half years. It’s a dream I’ve had, something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl but never really felt qualified to attempt until just recently.

Let me clarify. It’s not like I woke up one day suddenly feeling qualified, it’s more like I had a birthday and thought, “Holy crap, I’m forty-one, and apparently this aging thing is not going to stop for special me. I’m going to be old one day. I’m going lose my eyesight or get arthritis or dementia. I will draw Joan Crawford eyebrows on my forehead, argue with empty chairs and accuse my dogs of stealing the silverware. I won’t even remember I had a dream, much less be able to accomplish it.”

Since I knew my dream could take years, I decided I’d better get busy. Take the leap.

Before I go further, a little background: my dream involves me entering (via a product I create) a certain professional arena that’s not completely exclusive but possibly harder to break into than, say, The Rotary Club. Here’s how it works–I must be ushered in by a hierarchy of gatekeepers who, recognizing the undeniable fabulousness of my product, unlock the gates and allow me to enter. Where we all have a big party, followed by everyone skipping off to their respective banks to cash their checks. (I mean, I guess. I’ve never been inside, remember?)

I’m sure you have no idea what I’m talking about. Unless you’re one of about a thousand people I’ve already told. If not, stay with me.

As I stand outside the gates, pressing my sad face against the cold metal bars like an overgrown version of The Little Match Girl, I’m alert to any advice or guidance offered by the gatekeepers inside. And there’s a lot out there. Some of it helpful, some not. One piece of advice in particular caught my attention–that is the recommendation NOT TO BLOG about your particular process of creating the product or about your adventures in gatekeeper wooing. (Even though, to be fair, those guys blog endlessly about what my process should look like, but whatevs…I love you, gatekeepers! Keep up the good work!)

Anyway. So. NO BLOGGING about my process. Check. Immediately after reading this tidbit of advice, you can imagine what happens. That’s right. I realize I’m going to have to blog about my process. I’m less than a month into this blogging thing, and, while there are probably no less than a zillion things I could write about (Who is the Most Shallow Kardashian! Libya, Yikes! What is Nutella!), there is only one blog post my fingers itch to type.

I figure if I’m going to go down that dark path–and oh, yes, you know I am–I should employ some smoke and mirrors. Like they do in those Bourne movies, where they call nefarious, need-to-know government shenanigans something friendly-sounding like Operation Daisy Chain. So you don’t realize that down in the CIA’s basement a bunch of guys are getting the dopamine sucked out of their brains and their DNA rebraided to make them super robot-soldiers.

So…in the spirit of Jason Bourne…drum roll, please. The project I am working on is…

OPERATION CABLE KNIT SWEATER.

That’s right. As far as you or anyone knows, I’m knitting a sweater. A large, fuzzy, multi-colored pullover.

Oh my gosh, now that you know, I have so much to tell you. Where do I begin? Well, I have knitted and knitted and pulled out stitches and knitted all over again. I’ve risen early and worked late into the night. By candlelight. No, just kidding. Regular lamps only. And here, at the tail end of the process, I just have to say…I have fallen in love with this sweater. I have. I couldn’t help it. It’s so soft and pretty and when I smell it, it smells like joy.

It’s nowhere near perfect, I know that. I’m aware of it’s flaws. I could never knit exactly what I saw in my head. I drank far too many Diet Cokes while working on it, and there’s no telling what effect the massive doses of aspartame had on it. I’m sure it’s painfully obvious in some spots, maybe a lot of spots, that it was knitted by an amateur.

But you know what? I don’t care. I’m proud of it. And more than that, I’m very, very proud of myself for finishing it. The bottom line? It’s MY cable knit sweater, dropped stitches, uneven arms and all. And it all happened because one day I woke up and realized time was slipping away faster than I knew, and I’d be so disappointed in myself if I didn’t at least try.

I don’t mind being on the wrong side of the gates because I did what I set out to do. The rest is up to those mercurial gatekeepers. I’m trying not to dwell. Instead, I’ll leave you with a thought.

You should try it too.

Whatever it is you’ve dreamed of–a sweater, a quilt, a macaroni necklace. Whatever it is, do it. I will celebrate with you and for you. Especially if you blog about it.

(And P.S. when I wrote this post, I looked up “sweater” in the online dictionary in order to find that awesome synonym “pullover.” Second definition: “one who sweats in a particular manner.” Just thought you might need-to-know.)

Forgive Me Father, Part 3

There were moments in Argentina when I felt my peculiar-shaped soul click neatly into a corresponding peculiar-shaped hole. Moments of bliss. Moments of “I can’t believe I’m dancing tango where it all began.” And, I’ll admit, a couple of moments of “We’re in the southern hemisphere and, if you think about it, it’s almost like we’re hanging upside down off the planet.” (Some people call those blonde moments.)

So here are a few of those Momentos Felices:

1. We Are the World (or Team America World Police could really benefit from a tango class).

Within the space of one class–an hour and a half–I danced with people from France, Sweden, Scotland, Canada, Poland, and Brazil. I couldn’t converse with most of them, but because of tango we were able to connect and move in harmony. We communicated without words. I’m not sure what that means, but it made me feel all mellow and contemplative and Bono-ish.

2. And the silver and gold go too…

I did have a handful of fantastic dance partners, but, as this is a blog, not a novel, I’ll just tell you about two.

One was super-tall Eugene from San Francisco. He was a thoughtful dancer with great posture and impeccable hair. He was one of the quietest leaders I’ve ever danced with. What I mean is that he really focused. Listened to the music and to what was happening every second between the two of us. All his energy was directed inward–toward me and the space between us. Because of that, it was like we were wrapped in Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility, and we danced in our own little bubble. So nice. I just enjoyed him to pieces.

The other was Alex from Italy. He was a dream: right at my skill level with the perfect balance of fun and ambition. He danced with humor. Whenever he tried something new, whether we got it right or not, he’d laugh afterward and dance on. I loved that.

His English was terrible but when I’d thank him at the end of every tanda (three dances), he’d say, “Ohhh, Emily, my angel, my love.” He said this so clearly and beautifully that I began to suspect it was (minus my name) something he said a lot. I didn’t care. It played into every stereotype I’d ever heard about Italian men which made it funnier every time he said it. And there’s nothing I enjoy more than dancing and laughing. Besides, let’s be honest, does anyone need to know more English than that? Okay, maybe “where’s the bathroom?”–“Where’s the bathroom?” and “Ohhh, (insert your name here), my angel, my love.” That’s it. That’s all you need.

Once in the middle of a class I asked Alex what he did back in Italy. He said, “I women hire.” Um, what? Excuse me? “Women hire, women hire,” he repeated. Just as I was beginning to wonder if I was meeting my first Italian pimp/recruiter, he flipped my ponytail and said again, “Hire!” Oh, HAIR. Got it.

3. Dancers are the messengers of the gods–Martha Graham

We got to see the maestros, the best tango dancers in the world, perform nearly every night. And it was spectacular. Transcendent. You cannot believe how these people can move their bodies. And then, the following day, I’d get to wake up and take classes from them. It was like watching Tiger Woods play a round or two at Augusta, and then having him give you pointers on your swing.

4. Shoes are the messengers of the gods–Emily Carpenter

I’m sorry to be a cliché, but the shoes were dreamy. Entering the shop Comme Il Faut (which is French for “it is your destiny to buy these shoes”) was like entering the holy of holies in the Church of the Blessed Tango.

To get to the store, you go down a side alley, turn in an alcove, go up a flight of stairs. Knock on the door, and they’ll unlock it and let you in. I thought I was going to have to whisper a password, but they opened the door right up for us. You go into the tiny pale pink showroom–which is not actually a showroom since there are no shoes on display–and sit on a black velvet sofa. Describe what you’re interested in looking at to the saleslady, tell her your size, and she reluctantly brings maybe two boxes from the curtained back room. If those two shoes don’t work, she kind of looks at you and shrugs, like–what do you want me to do about it? 

I figured out pretty quick it was the reverse of any shopping experience I’d ever had. She wasn’t trying to sell me shoes, in fact, it almost seemed like she was trying to keep her stock a secret from me. So devised a clever, clever method for getting her to bring out more boxes by shouting out every color and style I could think of.

What about blue? Do you have anything in green?

Pink? Copper?

Anything patent leather? Mary Janes? Open-heels? Fur? (Don’t sneer. I actually bought furry peach-colored shoes. They are prettier than they sound.)

By the end of shopping excursion there were stacks of shoeboxes towering around me. Score.

5. Even better than seeing Evita…

My friend and I got a tour of Buenos Aires from an old friend of mine–he’d grown up there, had lived in New York for over thirty years and had finally returned home. He took us around the city and told us stories of the place in the fifties and sixties.

Interestingly, he didn’t know how to dance tango because he grew up in a time when public gatherings were outlawed, and he hadn’t ever learned. But he knew every golden age tango song by heart. He explained to me that the music is the history of the city and the people–the songs of his youth. The songs told his stories. When he sang them, he got misty, and I had the uncomfortable feeling that I was intruding on a private moment. There’s a lot of sorrow in the history of Argentina, and I can’t pretend to understand it. When we dance tango, we only circle around the edges of it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

When I returned home, I was so glad to see my family again, so grateful they’d let me jet off for ten days to hang upside down in the southern hemisphere, that I laid off classes for a while. Then weeks and months slipped by, we got busy with life, and, with a few exceptions, I didn’t go back to tango.

But it wasn’t just being busy that kept me from going back. It was that competitive thing in me, that pesky drive I had to be STELLAR. I’d hit a wall in Argentina. Witnessed the best of the best and seen how far I had to go. I came to the realization I wasn’t going to move forward unless I made some serious changes–found a regular partner to practice with, and increased my floor time. It was going to take focus and determination to improve. And, of course, I had to improve. Duh. Otherwise what’s the point?

I know, there’s therapy for people like me. Or recitals. But ultimately I couldn’t justify rearranging my life to train for the imaginary tango Olympics, so I hit the pause button. Until I could figure out how to just settle down and enjoy being an average, everyday tango dancer. I have to admit, I’m not there yet. But I am missing it.

Oh, tango, my angel, my love.

Forgive me Father, Part 2

Argentina was a fantastic experience, an incredible place to visit, and I’ll be forever glad I went. I traveled with a wonderful friend and got to reconnect with another friend I hadn’t seen in ages. But here’s the thing–I saw behind the tango curtain, and, dang it, that glimpse put a serious dent in my whole “tango is change/hope/forward” delusion I’d been building in my head.

Here are five things that surprised me. Cinco Sorpresas, if you will (and, yes, I just looked that up on Google Translate):

1. Taxi Dancers do not drive taxis and sometimes cannot even dance.

Unlike I’d imagined, Buenos Aires was not full of fiery, doe-eyed, secada-doing, gancho-snapping Argentine men waiting to dance with me. Shocker, I know. Turns out the ratio of leaders to followers, i.e. men to women, was way off balance, just like it often was back in Atlanta. If you didn’t come to the festival with a partner and there weren’t enough men signed up for the class, you were out of luck. The festival organizers provided taxi dancers–paid, local tango dancers–to rotate among the followers. But they were in high demand and went fast. (You could hire one to follow you around for the entire day and night if you wanted but that felt desperate and too much like a certain Julia Roberts/Richard Gere movie to me. I just couldn’t do it. What if he turned out to be a murderer? Or to have monkey breath?).

In one class I was lucky enough (I thought) to be assigned my very own taxi dancer. He was a good twenty years older than me and, I assumed, an experienced dancer. Not so much. He couldn’t even catch on to the sequence we were being taught in our intermediate class. He grew more and more frustrated as we stumbled around and began berating me, loudly, in English, for my lack of skill. I bit my tongue because I knew if I went down that road–that let me tell you a thing or two, grandpa road–at the end, I’d probably wind up going all Daniel Day-Lewis on him. In other words, There Would be Blood.

Finally toward the end of the class, the teacher came over, took one look at our moves and spoke in Spanish to my partner. I didn’t understand what he said, but here’s the dream translation that ran through my head: “Get your filthy hands off this lovely and talented tanguera! You tarnish the good name of taxi dancers everywhere, you pretentious, tango-faking, bossy-pants ass clown.”

Which leads me to…

2. Three years combined of French and Latin will do you no good in Argentina.

That’s right, I sashayed down to South America without knowing a lick of Spanish. In an interesting and ironic twist, many Argentines do not know a lick of English. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking–that I’d somehow get by on my girlish charm? That the soulful porteños and I would communicate in the universal language of tango? Let me assure you…I didn’t and we couldn’t.

Here was the low point: when I found myself in the lobby of a bed and breakfast in the rural province of Cordoba frantically flipping through my English-Spanish dictionary, trying to say, then pantomime, the phrase more toilet paper for the ENTIRE STAFF because, for whatever reason, my antics had drawn a crowd. I’m convinced they were all just pretending they couldn’t understand me. And in my defense, I think the Spanish word for toilet paper is needlessly complicated and hard to pronounce.

3. Some milongas–even famous ones held in stunning venues–suck.

On one of our free nights, my friend and I decided to attend one of the famed local milongas at the classic Confiteria La Ideal. Being my usual well-prepared self, I’d read up on the warnings about some of the local men–older, mostly, and bad dancers–who hung around waiting for too-polite, over-eager American touristas (sounding familiar yet?), so they could swoop in and rope them into dance after miserable dance. If you weren’t careful you could end up clutched in their sweaty arms for an entire evening. Apparently reading the warning wasn’t enough for me because it wasn’t thirty seconds after I’d sat my butt down before I was accosted.

Over in Alabama, we girls are taught to never be rude. Never. You’re to be nice, even if someone has parked their John Deere tractor on your foot and you’re about to lose consciousness. And God forbid you say no to someone who asked you to dance. Passive aggression, therefore, is the only available solution. I was trapped for two dances before I started flat-out refusing to follow the guy’s lead. After repeatedly steering me into the live orchestra’s singer and trying to force me to do something that was neither tango, nor humanly possibly to do with one’s feet, he yelled at me over the music, “DO THE STEP! DO THE STEP!”

I just smiled and nodded and kept doing my own thing. Finally, fed up with me, he dropped me off at our table and went to find another victim. Then I talked my friend into dancing with him just so she could experience the epic awfulness (and I could take funny pictures). So that cheered me up.

4. A Good Taxi is Hard to Find.

Getting a cab in Buenos Aires in the daytime was a challenge. Getting one at three a.m. in the sketchiest barrio in the city after one of the festival-sponsored milongas was a matter of life and death. Seriously. One night, by some kind of miracle, a male friend of ours spotted an empty cab and flagged it down for us. Minutes later, after we were safely tucked inside and speeding back to our hotel, a poor guy from San Francisco who was waving down another cab on the exact same corner, had a gun pointed at his head and was robbed then beaten nearly unconscious. Kinda scary. Kinda forgot to mention that incident on my next Skype back home.

And finally….

5. Hey, guess who thinks I’m cute!?!

At one of the milongas, one of the unbelievably talented tango masters winked at me. Which you think would’ve been exciting, except he looked like this:

I am not kidding. Those of you who tango and have been to CITA know of whom I speak.

To be fair, there were good things about my trip as well. There were. Little moments I held onto even in the deepest, darkest, scary-tango-clown-winking moments. So I really should mention those as well. And try to explain how they all added up to me temporarily suspending my tango hobby.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Forgive me Father for I have sinned.

It’s been over a year since I last danced tango.

I never thought this would happen. When I discovered Argentine tango around four or five years ago, I fell in love. Hard. For the most part, I hadn’t seriously, purposefully danced since my teenage ballet days. (Granted, even back then it never got Black Swan serious, but on occasion my toes did bleed into my pretty pink satin pointe shoes, and my toenails looked weirdly buckled until I turned thirty, so that’s cool, right?) Into my adult years, though, I realized how much I missed the feeling of being in a dance studio. Moving to music. The discipline. The way dancing lifted me up mentally.

In my twenties I was invited by a couple of former dancers to take a barre class with them. “You’ll be able to keep up,” they said. “No big deal.” They were wrong, it was a big deal. I could barely keep up with a single combination. I found out after the class they were all former PROFESSIONAL ballerinas, like with the Joffrey Ballet and stuff. I think I actually cried in sheer humiliation on the way home. And vowed to never, ever, ever touch a barre again. And I haven’t. I’m a big baby that way.

So fast forward some years, and here I am, DYING to dance again. And the ballroom thing is getting to be all the rage. I think to myself it’s probably not my milieu. That I probably can’t and shouldn’t rock those outfits. And that the point of learning ballroom dance is to compete. Before judges. For a trophy.

(Before we go further, here is something you should know: competition does something to me. It makes me nervous and shaky and insecure. Then snake-eyed, bloodthirsty and cutthroat. Like Dance Moms without the commercial breaks. Lord only knows what would happen if a trophy was involved. No…no competitions for me.)

Another option: take a modern dance class down at the local studio. But that would mean at the end of the year I would have to perform in a standing-room-only spring recital. So the costume issue would rear its ugly head again. Not to mention, it was beyond horrifying to imagine myself in some kind of lyrical dance cape performing choreography in a spotlight. In front of a crowd of people who’d really just come to watch their little girls tap dance, for the love of all that is good and pure. (Even though I did go see my friend dance in her recital and she kicked butt and looked awesome and wasn’t even close to a horror. She was beautiful. But she’s braver than me.)

Also I knew (and now’s the time to skip ahead if you’re delicate) there was the pole dancing class some of my friends raved about. I thought about that one for less than a quarter of a nanosecond before deciding the only thing I had any business running up a pole was an American flag.

Enter Argentine tango. Not the ballroom version. The real deal, the down and dirty club version, born in the brothels of Buenos Aires. Tango was THE ANSWER, man. It was an improvised partner dance, meant to be danced socially at a club or party. It was exotic, elegant, mysterious…created, I guess, back when brothels were exotic, elegant and mysterious. It could be danced by anyone, nine to ninety. It required the wearing of strappy, achingly sexy four-inch stiletto heels. (And, no, that’s not what the nine to ninety year old set was wearing in class, but that’s beside the point.)

I jumped in with both feet. Committed faster than drunk Britney Spears in Vegas. I started taking weekly classes and attended as many milongas as I could wedge into my schedule. I persuaded my husband to take a beginner course, which he tolerated then quit as soon as he could without hurting my feelings. But that didn’t slow me down. No sir, I kept going–more classes, workshops, even private lessons.

Then something happened. I made a fatal mistake. Like the one Icarus made when he flew too close to the sun. Or when Katie said, why, yes, Tom Cruise, I would love to hear more about that interesting L. Ron Hubbard.

Or maybe it wasn’t a mistake exactly. Maybe it was more like watershed moment. A coming of age. What happened was I decided to attend one of the largest tango festivals in the world  held in Buenos Aires, Argentine–birthplace of tango, holy Mecca for all tango pilgrims, and, yes, where naïve wanna-be tangueras go to lose their innocence.

TO BE CONTINUED…

What the Womens Want

In a word, everything. 

So good luck with that, fellas. I feel bad for you. Because you know what? Each woman wants something different. On a different day sometimes. I have a friend that read Fifty Shades of Grey and told me how happy she’d be if only she could find a man like Christian Grey.

Er, excuse me, the human ice-block who bosses his submissive girlfriend around and tells her what to do and wear and eat and then spanks her? Not cute little spankity-spanks, but, as I understand it, god-DANG-it-that-really-hurt spanks. Really? Really? I didn’t read the book, so I’ll admit I may be missing the charming underbelly of this guy, but for me…no way. I bristle at being bossed around. Just ask anyone who’s ever bossed me around. Choosing my own outfits is one of my favorite activities, and if you hit me, I will not be turned on. I will probably cry. And then press charges.

At any rate, I hope my friend finds her scary prince. But the idea that women want a man like Christian Grey–or a vampire or werewolf for that matter–has got to be somewhat baffling to men. Wish I could help you out with that one.

I have a man. And here’s what I want from him: I want him to know exactly when to talk to me and when to leave me alone. I want him to telepathically read my mind and know when I’m having a bad day and come home early with a present for me. I want him to laugh at every joke I make, even the stupid ones. I want him to not only tell me I’m the most beautiful, most intelligent and most talented person in the world, (even though a multitude of reality shows and beauty pageants and Pulitzer Prizes have proven this to be patently untrue) I want him to actually believe it. In other words, I want him to have a pathological psychological break with reality. But only in this one area, you understand. The rest of the time he needs to display perfect mental health.

I want him to learn to dance with me. And like it. I want him to work his ass off at work, then come home and sit very still, establish unwavering, full-on eye-to-eye contact and listen to me ramble about my day. (and laugh a lot, remember, at my awesome jokes.) I want him to never look at his BlackBerry while in my presence. I wouldn’t mind if, after I drifted off to sleep every night, he would hop out of bed and tidy the living room and kitchen. I want him to swoop in and save me and I want him to let me do everything on my own. I want him to adore me, but give me tons of space. I want everything, and I want nothing. God love him.

At least I don’t expect him to pick out my outfits. 

The Most Interesting Blog in the World

So I’m starting a blog. Because, you know, what the world needs now is love  another blog. And, frankly, with the shocking amount of excess words I carry around in this shortish body, I am scared if I don’t start blogging soon, something bad’s gonna happen. (And no, I can’t say all these words out loud to a person, for Pete’s sake, that would make me nervous.)

Actually, I think I’ve already been blogging for quite a while now on this thing called The Facebook. I’ve become what’s known as a chronic over-poster though, at first entering my cutesy little check-ins and witticisms and mind-blowingly interesting stories about driving around my town and drinking Starbucks once every couple of days, then later, on a daily, sometimes multi-daily, basis.

Look, when The Facebook asked me what was on my mind, I couldn’t help it, I was touched. Deeply. I mean, seriously. How many people ask you what’s on your mind every time you look at them? So I told it.

Eventually, whenever I’d creep out into the sunlight and interact with real humans, they’d mention the posts (and their frequency). I became embarrassed. But I couldn’t stop. Posting was just so dang fun. And all those replies! Okay, I’ll admit, the replies made me feel kind of giddy

Then a couple of friends pulled me aside and mentioned I should start blogging. They pshawed my fear of over-posting and promised me they were only suggesting this because I was just so darn interesting on Facebook. What I really needed to do was share my gift with the world. Looking back, I think it may have actually been an intervention.

But it occurred to me they had a point. I was treating Facebook like one of those friend stopgaps–you know…you have your circle, the girls you normally talk to, but no one’s available on the one day when you MUST SHARE. And so you wind up doing Jungian depth work on your body-image issues with the guy who showed up at your house to spray for cockroaches.

Inappro-pro, as my kids would say.

So, I blog. I can’t promise the words will be profound or funny or even worthwhile. They’ll just be plentiful. Hope you like.