Fat Fucking Red Lines


It’s really hard to take criticism. I get that. 

Once during a writing class in college, I eagerly submitted my first fumbling screenplay attempt to my professor. She was a fantastic playwright and I wanted her to love it. I wanted her to love me. 

She didn’t. 

She thought it was fine. Then she told me it wasn’t a screenplay. It was more a stage play. And that I needed to lose half the dialogue. 

Gutted. Red lines all over my pages and all over my heart. The amazing writer next to me instead got the professor’s phone number and an offer to collaborate in the future. I wound up with an A in the class, but I didn’t care. I didn’t get it. 

Once after the opening night of a show, I asked my director for notes. He said he usually didn’t offer much after rehearsal ended. Then proceeded to give me paragraph after paragraph of blistering critique. My accent was wrong. My walk was wrong. My interaction on stage at a crucial, emotional moment was wrong. 

Again, gutted. I didn’t get it. 

But I fixed the problems. I learned to write better dialogue. And less of it. I learned to keep a firm hold on the characters I worked on for weeks and show them on stage despite opening night nerves. I worked. I got better. I got it. 

As hard as it can be, hearing criticisms about your work or your art is one thing. Hearing them about yourself can be earth-shattering. 

I’m not taking about cruel words or insults hurled carelessly in anger. I can let a ‘bitch’ or an ‘asshole’ from some troll roll off my back. Those words don’t have the bite. But when someone you care about, a person whose opinion you seek and respect thoughtfully says “you’re doing this thing, and it’s becoming a real deal-breaking problem”, those words crash in and leave rubble around your heart. 

New things are hard for me. I don’t pick up new concepts or skills quickly or easily. I need extra time and help and sometimes diagrams and laser pointers. 

It sucks. But I’ve adapted. I’ve learned to take notes and leave clues for myself. I allow extra time and plan for melt downs and mistakes. 

This is frustrating me and exponentially so for the bright people I am lucky to have by my side. They seem to attack a new challenge with zeal and joy. I, on the other hand, scream “I don’t get it! I’ll never get it!” and run away, tears streaming. 

It’s bullshit. And last night, I was called on it. 

I’m attempting to work on my new novella in Scrivener software. As we saw above, it’s a new thing, and I don’t get get it. At this early stage, also pretty sure, I’ll never get it. So, I fussed and pouted and danced my ass off at my own private pity party. The best kind, I feel. More snacks and booze for me. 

It was ridiculous. Stupid. Worse, it was me being willfully ignorant. Refusing to look or listen. Not considering even an attempt at understanding. Not trying for a moment to get it. 

Lame. Super, super lame. 

But the calling out wasn’t what shocked me. It was how it was done. Not yelling. Not passive-aggressive sighing or eye-rolling. Just plainly put. Honest. Stern and with genuine and deserved, not really annoyance or irritation, but more disappointment. The message was clear, not judgement, just awareness. Him reminding me, “We’ve talked about this. This is a distraction. It could become a problem. I don’t want that. I don’t think you want that. You’re smarter than this. You’re better than this. Fix it. I’ll help if you need. But, you’re better than this. So do better. You’ll get it.”

My first reaction was to fight back. Except no one was fighting me. To argue and excuse. Those aren’t the right responses either. What I needed to do, as I’m learning with my own ignorance on intersectional feminism, was to shut the fuck up and listen. No, no, no..still trying to talk. I can tell. Be quiet. And listen. 

He was right. 

So far tonight, I’ve been quiet. I’ve spent lots of time looking at videos and tutorials on the software. I still don’t get a word, but I’ll go back to it. Maybe keep trying. Maybe not. But I hope so. 

No one put the red lines on me tonight. But I still see them. Hopefully, with enough work and trying and then more of both, I can let them fade. I’ll do better. I’ll get it. 

Separate Sugar

Melania Trump looked beautiful at the inauguration. 

Michelle Obama looked beautiful at the inauguration. 

These things can exist as the same time, in the same sphere. Time continuum intact. Streams not crossed. 

Two people can both do good work. They can both be good people, striving for individual and collective greatness as they variously stumble and succeed on their way there. One does not negate or lessen the effect of the other. In fact, one might have no impact on the other at all. 

I couch my petty insecurities in the cozy cushions of the real problems we face today. My only trouble this Monday was that because my son has two homes, there were two birthdays. 

Specifically, there were two cakes. 

Now, know this, ( because I need to hang my esteem on whatever tiny peg of righteousness I can find) we are all together for his birthday. There is one party. Friends and family. Home team. Always. 

But, there was also a cake at one house, the day before. And there was a second on the actual day. 

I was thrilled with mine. There was planning. There was searching and inspiration. There was online custom ordering where was not just Luigi, but “Luigi-from-Luigi’s-Mansion” Luigi. 

It was rad, as the kids say. (Okay, they probably don’t say that. I say that.)

I also say, look at the bad ass cake I willed into existence. 


(Serious note, much respect to Cassie’s Cake Toppers for the really fun and fantastic artistry. )

I did that. By did, I mean I peeled sugar art off of a piece of film and I laid it on a cake someone else made. 

But I totally piped that green and white icing from the metal can on by myself. 

The point goes to team mom. Uncontested. 

I was soothed. 

And then I saw a picture of the cake he had at his dad’s house yesterday. 

It was beautiful. It was absolutely stunning. It was as good as a flawless Ralph Lauren couture.   In every sense. 

It was fondant and custom figure and 3D and it probably had its own WiFi. 

Of that cake, I have no picture. Pictures are for closers. 

The game, ladies and gentlemen and those fluidly named and unnamed, goes to team dad. And step-mom. 

And that’s ok. 

A third grader got two pretty fantastic birthday cakes. Because he has two people who love him. We had snacks together tonight. Kid. Mom. Dad. Just the three of us. To quietly enjoy the moment and remember it’s actually about more than cake. To do this, the ability to share that time together, is precious.  I recognize that this gives him a giant, resounding privilege that many children don’t have. I see that and I am grateful beyond words. I’m doing my best work to be sure he sees and knows and appreciates that, too. 

On that front, he also got to see women marching in Pittsburgh this weekend, and I made him listen. Because I want him to see and know and appreciate no just what  goes into making a great cake, but what goes into making well a good mom and step-mom and dad and ally and decent human. All kinds of women and men. All kinds of cakes. 

Yes. His mom “made” him a beautiful cake. 

And yes, his dad and step-mom also made him a beautiful cake. 

We should all want to make and do better. 

This kid made us who we are and we struggle to be worthy. At home and beyond. 

I forget. Every day. But I’ve been reminded lately, in both shouts and whispers, marches and tiptoes, that there are things that are worth that struggle. 

I want to keep struggling.

And I also want some cake. 

147 East 9th Street

9th street

9th street

(Bits of my current Dark Yarn. More unraveling to come.)

Chapter 4

     Carolyn stood in the doorway, her legs frozen. Her phone sat, quiet and still on her bed. Not in the center, but on her side, where her lower back would be if she was lying there. Just where Shawn had said it was. But there was no way. She had been in the bar. The phone had been in her hand. She had heard the phone ring and the child’s voice that came through when she answered it.
“You find it?” she heard the voice behind her ask. Her breath stopped. She clapped her hand over her mouth, trying to stop whatever air was left in her lungs from escaping. Without willing it, she bent over at her waist and collapsed her knees, curling both into herself and into the ground. She felt arms around her, keeping her from sinking completely into the carpet. The arms lifted her up and walked her to the bed. She let them sit her on the edge. Her edge. She saw the phone and her body reared back. She kicked, her heels digging into the comforter, until the phone fell off and landed on the floor.
“Lynnie,” he whispered, trying to calm her. “You’re ok. You’re ok now. Come here. Come here with me,” he soothed. He eased her to her side, wrapping himself around her like a thick, weighty blanket. She always folded right into him when he held her. But tonight she couldn’t. He felt her body, tight and rigid and leaning away from him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I know you’ve been in your head. About me. About what’s going on.”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said.
“Nothing. Nothing is going on,” he said, drawing long ovals on the back of her arm. She tensed, her tricep muscles bracing. He kept circling, light then more pressure. Her skin broke out in goosebumps. He continued. Her muscles relaxed under him.
“That’s my girl “ he said. “Come back to me.”
“Are you going crazy?” she said. Not wanting the answer or ready to believe the one she might get.
“No, love,” he said.
“Am I going crazy?”
“Never.  Sanest girl I know. You’re the strong one here. You know that,” he said. “I’d be lost and drowned without you. Truly.”
” I heard that voice on the phone,” she said.
“If you say you did, you did. Of course you did.”
“But I don’t know how,” she said. “I need to know how.”
“Have you thought,” he started, then trailed off, quiet, touching his lips to the back of her neck.
“Thought what?”
“Nothing, love, just a silly thought. You know how I get. You all warm and soft in bed with me.”
She peeled away from him, just an inch, enough to turn in place so she could see his face. “What have I thought?”
“Nothing at all-“
“Shawn,” she said. Done being warm and soft.
He sighed. “Please don’t be angry about this. It’s probably just me. My stupid head. But, you said it was a kid. A little kid. Maybe-”
She rolled away from him, giving him her back again.
“See? I’m sorry. I’m an idiot. I can’t help it. I just know, when I’ve had my…troubles in the past, there’s something at the core. Something shaking and unbalancing me. I can’t help but think.” He held her closer. “Maybe it’s just me. Maybe you’ve been unsettled with me being sick. Looking for a way out. But please don’t. You can’t.  I’m coming back. Back to you. I promise.”
“I don’t  think I even want a baby,” she said.
“And I love you for that,” he said. He kissed her cheek. “Now lie still you. You’re a mess of knots. If I start now, I might have you sorted out by breakfast. He knelt above her, wringing his hands together firmly. She nestled deeper into the pillow. She wasn’t all there, not heart and mind, but she was wiling to offer him what parts of her were. He placed his hands on either side of her neck. They were muscled and expansive, wide palms and long fingers. He held them there for a moment. Slowly sinking in with more pressure. She sighed under his touch and he started to move. His hands and fingers worked, rubbing, circling, kneading, the anxious fibers of her back. She felt his fingers almost touch each other in the front of her throat. They lingered there for a moment, no pressure, just presence. As he delved deeper into her form, she closed her eyes and let herself step away from them both. Away from the things she trusted completely and the things she couldn’t quite know.
Under the bed, the phone laid in the strands of dust, forgotten after her displacing kick. It was still and silent. But the indigo light from its keys glowed steady and unstopping.

Making A Thing

I’m not a good cook. 

I’m not awful, I guess. But I produce more  anxiety and self-deprecation and mess than delicious food. It’s something I’d like to change. And like writing or chair pose or plumbing, I suspect it’s something one needs a few tries at to get better. (Although chair pose and clogged toilets remain my arch enemies.)

But, I’m determined to keep saying yes. To keep trying. 

So, making the food tonight. Yes. And if I burn or melt or otherwise desiccate the whole lot in my attempt, well I was probably going to order pizza anyway. 

This won’t be Pinterest pretty. Won’t have flowery, detailed instructions. I’m making it all up. Without filters. So here goes. 


I cut up whatever vegetables I had in my drawer. The ones on top of the many candy bars. And not the slimy, turned ones that I threw out. The carrots and red potatoes and sweet potatoes and green peppers that seemed still edible. 


In water. Boil. How long? Don’t know. However long it takes to help with spelling homework. 

Take steak out of freezer and thaw. I know I lost most right there. The vegetarians and the good meat snobs. Sorry. This is real grown up life. Work and  kid’s guitar lessons and laundry. I’m not dealing with Giant Eagle tonight.  If it helps, I’m sure it was a really cheap cut, that I’m sure was only mediocre to middling at the start. 


Speaking of cut, do that. Don’t know from bias or grain. Just cut. 

Put salt and pepper on it. Then more. Then yank the produce out of the water and throw their asses on a tray too. Same salt and pepper and maybe oil on them too. Who knows?


Another pause because I forgot to sign some paper for school and then did that but then put it in the wrong folder. 

Heat the oven. Crank that bitch. How high? (he, he, high, weed joke.) But seriously. No idea. Just turn it up. Far as she goes.  Then shove it all in. (he, he, sex joke that I won’t specify because this about my food not my kinks.)

Before. 


Ten minutes. Maybe fifteen. Don’t know. I had ‘Call the Midwife’  on my Kindle and then needed to come up with rhyming words for march and restore (starch and before oh my gods these poor women without birth control pills!) 

Then I had to stare at the pretty I had wrought. And play at artsy. 


After. 

Trays got twisted. Script Supervisor and continuity are not in my skill set. 

Plate that bitch. 


Obviously I are three times that during various kitchen passes and walk throughs. 

Didn’t turn out half bad. 

So, I did make the thing. We finished homework and ate the thing I made. 

Yes. A good yes for today. 

Even if it’s probably yes to pizza tomorrow. 

Playing with Fashion

With a Capital F. 
This is me, when I want to be in Daisy Buchanan’s pearls, Miss Hannigan’s (correction: Carol Burnett’s Miss Hannigan. Always.) torn sweater and Cordelia Chase’s thigh-high boots. 


The influences are complex and nerdy. 

Smooth to touch with hardness at the base. 1920’s cheek and 1990’s hubris. Classy and raggedy. 

Just the way I love it. 

No Crying Over Spilled Ink

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I’m not good at art. At all.

Not ink. Not charcoal. Not finger paints.

Not any kind. Not any presentation. Not any medium.

And I’m not good at saying no. Gives me more responsibility, anxiety and heartache than a girl can handle somedays.

Problem is, I’m also really god damn bad at saying yes.

“Hey, you want to grab a drink after the show?”

No.

“You want to get the girls together for a-”

Probably not. No, on second thought,  you know what? Absolutely not.

“Wouldn’t it be fun if we-”

Never.  Could not refuse harder.

For me, there is something so safe and comfortable about being tucked away alone. You can’t embarrass yourself. Well, you can but at least no one can see it. It’s easy.

So,  trying something new? With others?

The painful, saccharine, no-way-in-hell, kitsch of that is so gross and full of sticky treacle it’s almost adorable in its irony. New things? That’s the hard stuff. And there’s no way I’d even consider such a horrible idea.

But today, for some inexplicable reason, I did. Well, actually I can explain, but it’s boring.

I was invited to buy nibs and ink and gorgeous sleek paper so that I could take a shot at calligraphy. For no other reason than it seemed like a fun way to spend an afternoon. Me. Arting.

My initial instinct? No. Fat, stoic, austere no. Why? I can’t do that. Notion like that could surely only bring pain and gutting of what residual self-esteem a Sunday night has to offer.

But, I didn’t say no. Because I wanted to be nice. I wanted to make happy. I wanted to show that I’m not a constant and perpetual drag full of mope and pessimism. I mean, I usually am, but we don’t need to advertise that.

To my surprise, I said yes. We bought the pretty things and went home and sat and drew bold, black, gothic letters.

It was silly. My work was a jumbled mess. I’ve seen neater letters on a preschooler’s letter to Santa.

But it wasn’t bad. I sat and tried and tried again. I played along. Then I pretended to be Mary Shelley, writing for the Monster. That was actually lots of fun. Those incredible women suffered this inky pain and wrote this magic words while strangled and erect in corsets, not slouched kyphotic in yoga pants and a blanket scarf.

The pattern of mine, the unexpected yes,  is starting to repeat and those acceptances and their reasons are starting sharpen into focus. No long ago, instead of hiding away in a room, I said yes to sitting and talking and had a lovely night with some lovely girls. This same culprit also asked me once to stay for pasta. Something told me to fight my instinct and say yes to that as well. I’m so glad I did. Been staying ever since and I’m better and so happy for it.

This afternoon turned into a good night. Lots of letters on pretty paper. Slanted, uneven, sloppy, lines and curves with perk when they should relax and malaise when they should  assert their point. Objectively speaking, I’m not going to get work in a print shop anytime soon. I won’t get hired to write the addresses on your cousins’ wedding invitations.  But I did something better.

One more time, I said yes.

And then dripped ink across everything.

So now the writing says vjcc.

But I’m still saying yes.