OSI: “Chaos”

I’m once again participating in the poetry fun over at One Single Impression. If you enjoy poems and awesomeness of various stripes, why not pay them a visit?

This is my first post of 2010. Long time readers of this blog will recognize my natural inability to meet most deadlines, which, when coupled with my nigh-pathological avoidance of anything like real work or significance, leads to things like my first blog post of the year arriving in the middle of that year’s first month. What can I say, my life is chaos.

Chaos (she segued so smoothly that she might’ve almost planned it) is, incidentally, the prompt this week over at One Single Impression. Many people think of “chaos” as swirling, netherworldly darkness, a vortex of inescapable doubt and confusion from which nothing, not even light, can emerge unscathed.

So, basically, the inside of Pat Robertson’s head.

Of course, I was also a Dungeons & Dragons fan as a kid (you’re shocked, I know…luckily I am wearing my +8 Kirtle of Snarkslaying), and a bit of a dimestore philosopher, so I am aware that chaos is not purely a force for evil. I refuse to expose myself to Ashton Kutcher in any form, but I am also familiar with Chaos Theory, aka “The Butterfly Effect,” in which a butterfly flaps its wings somewhere on the planet and, via chain reaction, changes the weather elsewhere (although my personal “butterfly effect” reference will forever be “A Sound of Thunder.” Now THAT’S a butterfly effect!) .

Chaos leads to change, which can be ameliorative as well as destructive. It’s just surviving the change so you have a chance to appreciate the improvement that’s the trick. With that in mind, I give you:

CHAOS

Witness: a tableau
The iron wheel of time stops,
Suspended.  And yet.

Life, though stilled, goes on.
And sitting at your table,
In the Springtime sun,

You see quite clearly
Every crystalline droplet
As your wine glass falls,

Spinning toward Earth
In a vermillion fan, an
Impromptu Pollock.

Perfect spheres of red
Orbiting a frozen wave
Of luminescence.

One drop goes astray
Its shadow hangs over your
New cream-colored pump.

The glass itself a
Bar of coruscating flame
Imprisoning sunlight.

All of it beyond
Your reach, just past the tips of
Your straining fingers.

You hear it, then. Whoosh.
Soft, yet powerful; a breeze
Caresses your cheek.

And time’s pitted wheel
Returns to its soft-edged rut
Lights, camera, action.

And then she is there,
Apologetic and lithe
“I’m sorry,” she says

Through cherry lips, quirked
“I should watch where I’m going.”
Dropping you a wink.

And in that moment,
As ebony lashes meet
her porcelain cheek,

You hear it once more
Gentle susurration; the
flap of velvet wings.

And in its wake, your
Tableau for One becomes
a Table for Two


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Saying Goodbye

There once was a girl, and she was loved.

Loved by her parents, by her friends, even by her bratty little brother, who delighted in torturing her by, well, being a little brother.

She was a shy girl, but by all accounts as sweet and kind as you were likely to find in the human species. Behind her thick glasses were eyes that saw the world as inherently good, and a mind ready not to judge, but to seek out that goodness, and cherish it.

The girl grew into a woman, and found herself a man. The man was very gruff and hard, with a lot of rough edges, but over the long years of their marriage, her sweetness washed over him in patient waves, smoothing those edges and softening the jagged hardness of him, until people who’d known him as a young man would remark that he was as transformed as Saul on the road to Damascus.

The woman had two children, who she raised to be hard-working and brave and as kind as she. Later, when her bratty little brother, having grown up as well, had children of his own, she was as loving and generous an aunt as anyone might ask for, ready to dole out hugs or treats or gentle encouragement as the situation required. She was especially kind to her nephew, a child of odd and precocious nature, a bookworm and a smartass. Unlike so many others, she remained kind and loving to that same child when she became her niece.

There was once a woman, and she was as loving as she was loved.

Years passed. Toward the end of her life, she developed diabetes, and the complications that often arise with it. She was a woman long accustomed to taking care of others before herself, and so found herself spending a lot of time at the doctors, at dialysis, at the hospital. During what would turn out to be her final stay in one of these hospitals, she contracted MRSA after having some reparative surgery, and all too soon after that, she was gone.

We tend to take the warmth of the sun for granted until it passes behind a cloud, and this is how it was with my aunt Pat. We’d kept loose tabs on each other over the years, not seeing each other as often as we’d like, but maintaining a fundamental love that never faded, touching base at holidays and birthdays. And now that she’s gone, I find myself wishing for one more conversation about the day, one more story about my dad’s childhood brattiness, one more hug and a smile. The sun has gone behind a cloud, and I find myself ill-prepared for the chill in the air.

There once was a girl, and she was loved.

She still is.

That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles

A story for you, my beloved readers, on Valentine’s Day:

The time: Just after last bell on a chilly Valentine’s Day in 1983

The place: Cookson Elementary School.

The shame: Enormous

I am in second grade. The girl who is sweet on me (a girl we shall call Myrtle) is in third grade. We’ve known each other since daycare, and while Myrtle is great, I’ve got bigger things to worry about, not the least of which is why everybody seems to think I’m a boy. Lately, Myrtle’s been making what I will later recognize as flirty gestures, and I am confused by the shift in her behavior. However, since Myrtle also does things like eat orange peels and call me “Potato,” I chalk this up to Myrtle-centric oddness and not some sort of burgeoning romance. Consequently, I am totally surprised when, in front of everyone at the bus stop, Myrtle walks up and presents unto me a heart-shaped cookie – a cookie she has, naturally, baked and decorated herself. It is large and heavy in my hand. As she hands it to me, eyes wide with hope and excitement, she says “Happy Valentine’s Day” and then stands there, looking at me expectantly.

The world goes silent. Looking down, I see the afternoon sun glittering off the red sparkles that cover the cookie. I can smell the sugary crispness, feel the gritty abrasiveness of the colored sugar. And then, overcome with feelings I don’t want to think about, let alone process, I look around, see my friends giggling, and before I know what I’m doing, I raise the cookie high above my head like one of the apes from 2001: A Space Odyssey with a Valentine jawbone and smash it to the pavement at our feet. Then, without a word, I stomp the chunks into dust, grinding my heel before turning and running away to my parents’ car, trying to ignore Myrtle’s sobs receding into the distance.

Years later, I still occasionally talk to Myrtle, and she still occasionally asks me to dinner or dancing. I’ve moved on from smashing confections into glittering dust, but I always decline. And because I’ve never been able to bring myself to apologize, or to acknowledge that first act of rejection, I am a woman cursed to be alone on Valentine’s Day (even when I’ve been in a relationship, I’ve been alone on this day). Myrtle’s shadow hangs over me every year, a pint-sized phantom whose offering I cannot accept. Perhaps, in rejecting her schoolgirl affection, I was rejecting love itself, having decided even then that I was too different, too strange, too broken to deserve love.

Or maybe I was just in second grade, and embarrassed by such an open display of affection in a cootie-sensitive climate, and I should find a way to forgive myself for something that happened over twenty years ago in the dark ages of my childhood. Maybe it’s not a curse, but a reminder that hearts are fragile, and that people who mishandle them end up without a treat to share. Maybe, if I’m lucky, someone will offer me their heart with that kind of open honesty again one day, and I will be strong enough to take it.

Maybe I’ll even break off a piece of my own to share.

Dear Future Partner

“Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret.”

(door opening, hurried footsteps)

“What the hell are you doing here? You’re in the wrong place, kid.”

“What? This isn’t Judy Blume’s brain, circa 1969?”

“NO! It’s Claire’s brain, circa 2008, you nutty little freak. Now get out of here! And take Ramona with you! The grownups are talking! Crazy ass kids, always running around in here. Some of us are trying to WORK!”

Ahem.

Dear Future Partner,

Hi, it’s Claire. If the the exchange you just witnessed above made you question my sanity or pull a number of pamphlets from your satchel, then you are excused. If it made you laugh or, at a minimum, shrug and say “Well, at least she’s not trying to make me eat Peeps,” you may stay. If Margaret immediately opened the door to your own brain and asked if this was the room where she learned about the flower of womanhood, then you may come sit by me.

It’s often been said that one shouldn’t have a “type,” and that creating a list of criteria for one’s perfect mate can actually prevent you from finding true love because what one wants is so rarely what one needs.

This is, of course, crap.

OK, not really. There is some sense to this – after all, if you’ve reached the point where you look at another person and say “Oh, jeez, I’m sorry, we can’t date – I’m not really into women with your shade of hair. You’re russet, and I’m really looking for more of an auburn. Also, you don’t have the Pirate Memory Game I’m looking for,” then it’s time to hang up your dating hat and reconcile yourself to being the Paranthropus Robustus of your family tree.

However, future mate, just like anything I attempt to reheat in the oven, I’ve been burned before – and there are some important facts I would like to share with you, here and now, so that in the future, when one of my myriad eccentricities manifests itself like the ghost of Jacob Marley, you’re prepared, and not phoning the authorities/raising a crucifix/alerting the citizens of Tokyo to my presence.

To wit:

1) You should be interested in learning. You needn’t be a super-nerd like me, nor must your internal fires burn with an insatiable lust for knowledge second only to Pryrates. If, however, upon hearing me and/or my friends discuss some bit of linguistic minutiae, some fascinating tidbit of literature or history, or last night’s episode of Jeopardy!, your immediate reaction is to roll your eyes and say “Um, we’re not in school, professor!” before turning back to your People Magazine crossword ( “24 across: TV horse “Mister __””), you will be driven way out in the country and left on a farm where you will have lots of room to frolic and watch reruns of A Current Affair .

2) I am sure that, given time, I really CAN come to love your children as if they are my very own. However, ten seconds after I meet you is a bit soon for this sort of special bond to form. Because I’m an unknown adult, I feel as though it’s not my place to yell at them for drinking bleach/smashing my belongings with a sledgehammer that they must’ve brought from home because I certainly don’t have one/tearing pages from my books (which are, it must be said, MY children) like feral goats. Furthermore, I’m not their Mom – I’m just some lady who keeps making suggestive comments to their mom while she laughs, says things like “little pitchers!” and turns red while slapping her hands over their ears. I don’t hate kids, I don’t have any illusions about my role in their life unless things get sufficiently serious, and I don’t worry about “competing” with them – but, shockingly, I would prefer to get to know YOU before being introduced to your kids and hearing the Brady Bunch theme music as we’re all tossed around in blue squares with your maid and Robert Reed.

3) If I accidentally call you Robin, it is an honest mistake. However, referring to me as Rosie, accidentally or not, will result in a Mortal Kombat-style fatality:

You: “Rosie, honey, can you…”

Announcer guy: “FINISH HER!”

Me: “GET OVER HERE!” (followed by launch of weird spear thingy)

You: “BLERG!” (thump)

Alternatively, you may receive the silent treatment and/or wake to find I have hired a plastic surgeon to bring you into line with Robin while you slumbered. So, you know, look out for that, then.

4) Birthdays are not optional. Even if you’re “not from a birthday family,” be prepared to experience a celebration of your birthday normally reserved for royalty and the ungrateful offspring of the privileged elite.

Seriously, lady, you’re gonna think Ed McMahon stopped by. Well, I mean, the old Ed McMahon, with the Publisher’s Clearinghouse checks, not really old Ed McMahon, with the neckbrace and crippling debt. You will expect to see yourself on the Society Page! Assuming wherever we live has a paper large and pretentious enough to support such a thing!

Naturally, my own birthday week should be written in your calendar in PERMANENT marker and, if desired, sparkly pen. The kind with a feathery tuft where the cap would rest on a non-super-gay pen.

5) When I hear “PDA,” I think of my Blackberry™. Yes, I love you, Future Partner! Truly, I wish to declare it from the tops of the highest trees…I want to shout it to the deepest caverns of earth’s stony heart! However, I do NOT wish to have an amateur appendectomy performed by your experimental tongue-probe method in front of A) my family, B) strangers at the mall, C) that weird neighbor guy who suddenly became all friendly when he found out I was a lesbian and forced me to get blinds for the bedroom. Seriously, I’m not Prudence McPrude, mayoress of Prudeytown – I just know how grossed out I am by other “get a room” couples, and my hypocrisy only extends so far.

6) I am a tGirl, and the “t” is not silent. OK, it should be noted that, while I don’t exactly wear a t-shirt (get it? T-shirt? HA! Oh, God, I should be killed.) proclaiming my transsexuality, it is a part of who I am, and I have no intention of hiding that part (insert rim shot here). Falling squarely into the “Activist-Lite” category, I am active in the trans community, and anyone I’m with should be cool with that, if only because I’d hate to be at Pride, stuck outside one of those unbelievably snobbish “Natal Women Only” events, holding our ciders while you listen to “Robyn WomynRayn” do a poetry slam.

7) Come to think of it, the “girl” isn’t silent, either. Despite my little case of Harry Benjamin Syndrome, I am in fact a girl through and through. Well, a woman, really, since I heard “Miss” for about a week after I began transition and then settled into “Ma’am” with blithe acceptance. No, my house isn’t pink and covered in doilies, nor do I dress like Miss Yvonne from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, but I am a femme, for better or worse. It can be difficult to separate stereotype from reality, and even more difficult to separate the concepts of “feminine” and “female,” but let it be said that I am most certainly the former and will (barring acts of the Almighty or Congress) also be the latter as soon as possible. The reason I bring this up is that, as mentioned in my Transgender Primer, I am not a f*ing drag queen, and I am most certainly not a guy in a dress (or any other kind of guy, really).

8 ) I’m not what you call a “serious” person, a fact that has been underscored abundantly within the past two sentences if not the past 33 years. Like a lot of kids whose differences forced them to choose between being the entertainment or the main course, I donned humor and my own cavalier disregard for authority as my sword and shield. Don’t worry, there’s a nougaty center of considered and rational sincerity under the brightly-colored candy shell, but you’re gonna need something sharp to get at it, sister.

I think that’s it for the moment. It’s strange to think you’re reading this now, even though we don’t get together until later, around chapter seveteen (after the incident involving the Van Allen belt, but before we kill the giant badger with silly string and a Sharpie®). Write back soon, okay? But don’t tell me what happens in Transformers 2, because I’d hate to have its tightly-written and no-doubt Joycian plot unraveled for me prematurely.

Also, if Michael Bay ever, ever, EVER wins an Oscar, just go ahead and send a nuke back with the letter. I’ll see that it gets where it needs to go.

Your future wife/partner/ball-and-chain-but-don’t-call-me-that-where-I-can-hear-you-I’m-not-kidding,

Claire

It costs a buck-o-five…

…and it’s worth every penny.

So here’s the thing:

Our nation celebrated its birthday this weekend, and as we all fired up the grills and broke out the fireworks we either have the God-given right to enjoy (Utah) or smuggled in from Indiana under the cover of night’s shielding wing (Ohio), I paused to reflect on Independence, and what it means to me.

And then I realized I’m not in eighth grade and trying to write an essay that will surely win me a Super Nintendo from the local paper, and stopped reflecting on What Independence Means To Me (working title).

Instead, I opted to think about freedom, which of course isn’t free, and what I love about living in our amazing, if troubled, land. And so, I present to you, dear readers, Claire’s List of Reasons to Love America (Even If It Sometimes Does Things That Confuse And/Or Scare You, Like Your Uncle Who Always Wants “Special Hugs”) (again, working title)

1) Want to learn something? You got it, Chester! I know that my more paranoid readers will decry the media’s stranglehold on the flow of information, and go on at length about how the government is keeping us in the dark regarding certain unspeakable truths.

This is because they need to get laid.

OK, seriously, though, while I’m sure that the government certainly has its share of canaries kept in hooded cages (hell, I live fifteen miles from the place they used to store the Roswell aliens), I also know that we are free to rattle on at length about our crackpot theories and conspiracies to our hearts’ content. Admittedly, the Patriot Act did some damage to our unbridled ability to go poking about in dark corners in our search for things like homemade explosives and/or recipes for fruitcake (a WMD if ever there was one), but here’s the thing: even if you get harrassed by the Feebs for your intellectual curiosity (malevolent or otherwise), YOU CAN STILL FIND THE INFORMATION. I recently listened to an NPR story from a roving reporter in China who attempted to look up a few bits of info on local history, and was denied. Everything is censored heavily in China, and as a result a search for Tiannamen Square or Taiwan was about as fruitful as planting a dime and waiting for the money tree to grow.

Yes, I know there are censors at some level, and for all we know, Dubya is reading this post right now (ok, having it read to him)…the point is, for now at least, America (or Amerika, for my more Hoffmanesque friends out there) is still a place where “freedom of information” is more than propaganda – as long as you’re willing to put in the effort.

2) We can have it our way. “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us…” Yeah, yeah, we’re a nation of obese go-tards, waddling our way toward ever-growing waistlines and ever-shrinking sophistication (although not as fat as some countries we could mention). But at least when we go somewhere, we can get our hamburger the way we want it. I have a friend from Japan who just blinked at me when I asked her what her favorite type of pizza was. She explained to me that, in Japan, they make it, you eat it and like it (my friend Nic has long declared his intention to open a restaurant by that very name…Redhead, head for the shores of Japan, and verily, you shall be a restaurant god, my friend). Apparently, her then-husband requested a few minor changes to his pizza order and was told “NO!” in a very firm, no-nonsense tone. There’ll be none of that in the USA, thank you very much!

(Which is not to say the Japanese don’t have a flair for pleasing the palate…what child wouldn’t love to be told “eat it and like it” by this guy?)

OK, pretty much every child, I’m guessing. Seriously, dude, get help. Or at least some pants.

Anyway, my point here is that we enjoy (or endure, depending on your perspective) a surfeit of choice in this country. Want some Pringles? We’ve got more than twenty-three varieties (May I recommend the Salt-n-Vinegar?). Want to paint your den, and you’ve got to have hypoallergenic paint because of your weird allergy to normal paint? Here’s a list of ten companies, just from one site (not to mention the millions of calculable permutations of color and blend within each brand!) Feel a burning desire to customize the Vespa you just bought because gas now costs so much you’d have to sell your kidney on eBay just to make it to work? By gum, buddy, customize away!

We are a country of folks long accustomed to customization, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. What could be more American than customizing everything down to the smallest detail, from the color of your iPod skin to the ringback tone on your cellphone to the very toppings on your Whopper (heavy pickle, no onion, hold the cheese, please)? Because you’re a singular, amazing and totally unique individual.

Just like everyone else.

3) We are a friendly and giving people. Even with the economy in the toilet, the average American still gives 3.1% of their pre-tax income to charity – including charities that help people worldwide, not just in our own problem-ridden backyard. Sure, we’re materialistic. Sure, we can be shameless wallowers in the shallowest end of the pop-culture cesspool. But we’re still, as a people, more likely to give you the shirt off our backs than demand you make us one on the cheap in some sweatshop. Don’t worry, I haven’t donned my rose-colored glasses; believe me, I know there are as many (if not more) selfish and douchey folks here than anywhere else on this benighted globe…but even the stiffs on the Conservative end of the political spectrum will stand up for America’s underappreciated generosity.

Having traveled in Mexico (America’s beard), Canada (America’s hat) and Europe (America’s…um…Europe),  I can attest to the breezy, instant familiarity that sets us apart from the stuffier denizens of other locales. Many people find this tendency (known as “the Scott Effect,” after every waiter I’ve ever had in a chain restaurant. “Hi, I’m Scott, and I’m gonna be taking care of you tonight. Can I start y’all off with some Appeteasers?”) to be instantly engaging and endearing, but some (particularly those from more formal cultures) find it to be disrespectful or even rude.

This is because they need to get laid.

I kid! I kid. Seriously, though, this openness, this instant willingness to look upon anyone – and everyone – as a potential pal, is what endears my country to me. When you’re calling someone you’ve never met by their first name and sharing baby pictures within ten minutes, you know you’re in the US of A (possibly Ohio, and even more possibly, talking to my dad. Once you make eye contact, you’d better be prepared to receive a Christmas card from the Jacksons, my friend, because that’s what you’re getting come December).

Even after a domestic attack of brutal savagery…even after we’ve spent eight long years fighting a war with no apparent end…even when we’re tired, or angry, or just fed up with the latest bit of governmental nonsense, we’re still a country of people willing to look at others in need, smile, and say “Hi, I’m Scott – what can I do to help, friend?”

It’s this freedom – the freedom to find and share the best of ourselves, to let our angels triumph over our apes,  that makes America a country worth loving, worth supporting, worth celebrating.

Oh, and we’ve got Robin Meade. So suck on that, Canada!

Happy Independence Day to all! And, remember friends, just like delicious marshmallow Peeps, the best part of freedom is the freedom to share it!