Less Candy Crush, More Writing

【APP遊戲】Candy Crush Saga
The most addictive drug of all

Last week, I threw all the games off of my iPhone: Candy Crush Saga, Words with Friends, Dice with Friends, and Ruzzle; although, I may have forgotten to delete Scrabble. Regardless, I notified those I played online games with that I was no longer playing. For me, the games were like an addictive drug that consumed my consciousness. I can’t do actual drugs so I did smartphone “drugs.” I’d come home from work and flop on the couch for an hour or more, trying for the 50th time to move past level 23 in Candy Crush Saga, while meanwhile, the Words with Friends games were piling up — six people were waiting for me. I might be in the bathroom stall at work trying to catch up on Scrabble. Oh, yeah, that’s embarrassing.

Where did Cindy the writer go? Oh, hell, where did Cindy the reader go? I have been so busy playing online games that I neglected my reading as well as my writing, not to mention my cats, Timmy and Mia, who can’t figure out why I stare at a 4 inch iPhone screen for so many hours rather than play with them.

Not quite intentionally, I went on a  writing hiatus that started at the end of August when a number of Huffington Post readers ripped me a new asshole over my views on smoking pot in public. It’s one thing to disagree with my views, but it’s another to attack me and belittle my experiences. Sometimes, blogging for The Huffington Post is like living in Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery.” Public stoning, in this case, by the vehemently stoned. My apologies to my pot-smoking friends who are responsible; such comments are not directed at you.

Ironically, the most read and most re-posted piece of writing I had this year was that very Huffington blog about smoking pot. If only I could stand controversy, I might become famous by writing blogs that piss off hundreds of people and then get re-posted across the country, for thousands more to read and thus hate me.

In any case, I began questioning every word I wrote, every thought I had, and I began to feel illegitimate as a writer, as a thinker, as someone who once thought she had important things to contribute through the written word. I was embarrassed as I had been in the 7th grade when I made a fool of myself, apparently, writing a paper on “anything you want,” per the teacher, who proceeded to give me a D for a writing on a “nonsensical topic.” My very first Early Draft post, called, “Embarrassment,” is about that very issue: becoming embarrassed to write because of someone’s reaction to my writing. I didn’t think it could happen now, in my 50s, as it did at age 12, but, well, yes, it can.

After 8 months of doing a good job in 2013 of getting my writing out there and read —

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
This is where I keep my drugs

maybe not in the most literary of venues — but still, in “literate” places, let’s say, I went on hiatus. I went into hybernation. I worked on becoming a bitchy middle-aged cat lady, something I’m actually quite skilled at, I’m finding.

I’d had some small “success” in terms of publishing in 2013, and won (minor) Honorable Mention Awards for two essays and one short story. I even had a chapbook of my humorous essays win a contest and be accepted for publication. But even after all that, as well as many posts on Huffington and Lesbian.com, and the TMI.org and the It’s All in her Head websites, after all that presence and so much readership, I felt like the same fucking loser who got a D on her first 7th grade paper. In fact, the reason for listing my successes here is to try once more not to feel like the loser I feel like. 

Also contributing to my hiatus was feelings of inadequacy in reading of the successes of my writer friends, and indeed, reading their recently published work. It occurred to me: while I may be a good writer, perhaps even an above-average writer, and a better writer than someone who doesn’t write at all, I will never be a great writer, like every else in my life that I do – I am good, often competent, but never great at it: work (at work), sex, driving a car, friendship.

“I’ll never be great at anything,” I said to myself. And so I took a hit of Candy Crush Saga.

Then I heard from the editor/publisher of my forthcoming chapbook who said edits and artwork and contracts would be coming up soon in early December. The update on my chapbook reminded me that much of its content derives from shorter works that I’ve published online, some on this blog, and some on other websites. I realized, too, that I have another chapbook nearly ready to submit, and that, too, was a result of the accumulation of work that I’ve pushed out a little at a time on a regular basis. I have not yet submitted the second chapbook to a publisher, but I intend to. The pieces for the second book came mainly from work I published here on The Early Draft, on Lesbian.com, at TMI workshops, and again, other websites.

So, if I want to realize in a year or two that I have yet another chapbook pretty much written, I had better stop playing Candy Crush Saga and start blogging again, as I did for nearly three years with little self-consciousness. It’s funny how we change, because that woman with little self-consciousness has left the building and I am here again, still sitting at that desk in the back of the room in 7th grade, staring at that huge D on my first paper. “Nonsensical, ridiculous….”

Get over it. Get over it. Get over it.

If I want a steady stream of work that may be publishable, I better start pushing out those babies again.

I don’t have to be a great writer, just a good writer who keeps at it.

And so I have ended my writing hiatus.

Water Bottles – A Monologue

 

This is the monologue I worked on last week at the TMI Women’s Weekend Retreat. It’s by no means perfect either as a monologue or as anything else, but then again, this blog is named, “The Early Draft.”  You need to imagine the text read out loud, if you can.

Water Bottles

It’s Friday morning and I’m driving my mother to the hairdresser. My car is a mess. Empty water bottles fall to the floor and onto the seats from my dashboard. My mother tries to catch one rolling off of the console. Rather than say to her, “Just let it roll to the floor,” I grab the bottle roughly out of her nervous, twitching hands and stuff it between my legs.

“Ooooooohhhh, Jesus,” she says under her breath. She recoils, as if I’ve struck her.

My mother is 82, and while not ancient, the decades and the gallons of vodka and diet cokes have combined to create an elderly woman who does not comprehend easily.

A few years ago, I tried to teach her to use a PC. She called me at work.

“The mouse isn’t working!”

“Are you moving the mouse across the screen?”

“What????”

“ARE YOU MOVING THE MOUSE ACROSS THE SCREEN?”

Yes, what’s wrong????”

We determine that physically, literally, my mother is lifting up the mouse and rolling it across the LCD monitor. Three more lessons on using a mouse and a mouse pad. This is why I refuse to buy a Brita water filter. I am sick of having to explain every fucking thing three times. 

Yet each Friday night, I stand in the Stop and Shop, Aisle 8, and stare at the Brita Water Filters. For ten minutes I study sizes, prices, read about health and environmental benefits – no plastic bottles to destroy the earth, only happy minerals left in your water. What a good idea.

After each weekly study, I move on down the aisle and buy a 24-pack of bottled water, knowing all the bottles will eventually land in the trash, with a few rolling around in the car.  My mother can figure out how to open a cap on a bottle of water, but how would I explain to her the Brita water filtration system?

 

My mother and I, born 32 years apart, are both experiencing vaginal itching. When she finally admits her symptoms to me and to a doctor, which takes her the better part of a year – imagine itching for a year – the doctor assumes she has a yeast infection.  He gives her a prescription and a recommendation for Vagisil or Monostat cream, until the pills kick in. When I start having similar symptoms, I go to the gynecologist. Well, I get her nurse practitioner. She inspects my vagina; she’s at least 15 years younger than I am. This is what she says:

“Your vagina it atrophying.”

Wonderful. What every woman wants to hear.

“The cells are drying up, shrinking,” she continues, without mercy. “The dryness leads to itching. It’s a bigger problem in menopause than hot flashes, but no one talks about it. Because it’s embarrassing.”

The nurse practitioner gives me a prescription for Estrogen cream and explains clearly: Take a small amount on your finger and insert it into your vagina every night for two weeks, then twice a week after that.

“For how long?” I ask.

“For the rest of your life.”

 

My mother’s Vagisil and Monostat do not help her. Neither do the pills meant to kill a yeast infection. During one of her doctor’s appointments, I tell her primary care physician, that I, too, have vaginal itching and Estrogen cream has helped. The doctor agrees it can’t hurt for my mother to try it.

Soon, we have individual tubes of Estrogen cream. I hide mine far out of reach. That’s all I need, you know, sharing a tube of vaginal cream with my mother.

On the drive home from the pharmacy, I explain to her, “Use it every night for two weeks, and after that, twice a week.”

“What?” she asks, of course.

“USE IT EVERY NIGHT FOR TWO WEEKS, AND AFTER THAT, TWICE A WEEK .

She says nothing.

“OKAY?”

Yes, okay.”

Two months later, on the way home from another visit to the doctor for her quarterly checkup of everything, she says, “I need another tube of that cream.”

“What? How much are you using? A tube can last 6 months.”

“I’m doing what you said. I’m using it twice a day.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? That’s the opposite of what I said. I’m not taking responsibility for that!”

She sits, as always, passive in my passenger seat, then passive-aggressive, “I thought you said…”

And I cut her off, “I SAID ONCE A NIGHT FOR TWO WEEKS, THEN TWICE A WEEK!”

She says nothing, my 82 year old mom; the old lady hangs her lower lip. Once again, I have intimidated her into silence.

“Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Repeat it to me.” Oh god, I never wanted kids.

“Once a night…for…two weeks….and, um… twice a week after that.”

“Yeah, just skip the two week thing this time, okay? TWICE A WEEK.”

How the hell am I going to explain a Brita Water Filter to this woman?

So instead, I rip water bottles from her old hands, and make her cry, “Oooooh, Jesus.”

I am 50 years old. I am in menopause, mourning the loss of my period – well, that’s what my psychiatrist says. This means I’m not in a good mood most of the time. I am not with a lover. I am with my mother. We’re both living in the house I bought a decade ago and twice a week sticking Estrogen cream up our vaginas.

This is not how I envisioned my life. But there you have it: vaginal itching and elderly abuse.

 

My mother is a drunk until she is 77 years old and I am 45.  She comes home so drunk one night, she collapses in my downstairs hallway.

I yell. “I’M NOT 8 YEARS OLD ANYMORE AND I DON’T HAVE TO TAKE THIS SHIT. I’M 45 AND THIS IS MY GODDAMNED HOUSE AND YOU WILL NEVER COME BACK TO MY HOUSE DRUNK AGAIN. DO YOU GET IT?”

“Just let me lie here,” she says, “I’m fine.”

“THIS WILL NEVER FUCKING HAPPEN AGAIN. DO YOU GET IT?”

No answer.

I repeat, “DO YOU GET IT?”

“Yes, I get it. I’m fine. Let me lie here.”

I scream and criticize her for another 30 minutes as she lies on the floor, paralyzed, poisoned from vodka. I don’t try to help her. I yell. “I CAN’T FUCKING BELIEVE YOU’RE STILL DOING THIS,” and “DO YOU THINK THIS IS FAIR TO ME?”

“Just let me lie here,” is all she says. “I’m fine.”

That is the last time my mother takes a drink of alcohol.

I guess I ripped the bottle from her hands that night, too.

 

What’s a Howler? A cutthroat peer reviewer teaches Cindy a lesson!

Pine Manor College
Image via Wikipedia

When I started this blog in August of 2010, just after graduating from the Solstice MFA program of Pine Manor College, I told stories from long ago about personal embarrassment. A couple of times in my life, some ruthless teachers cut me to the core about my writing and embarrassed me to the point of wanting to give up. The first time happened in 7th grade and the second time was in my 1st graduate writing program at UNH.

After graduating from Solstice with so much support and encouragement, I never thought I’d find myself in that embarrassing place again, but recently I ran into a cutthroat academic who I suspect had an orgasm as she read my academic paper on Dorothy Allison and proceeded to rip not just the paper, but me, to shreds.

I could not bring myself to print out her FOUR PAGES of comments, and since they were sent to my work email, I don’t have them here. I think that’s a small mercy.

The anonymous reviewer called one of my sentences “a howler.” I had to look that up. Was that like a screamer during sex? No, I figured it wasn’t that good. I knew the word had something to do with laughter, but I wanted understand how the reviewer meant this term. Dictionary.com has this as the third definition of howler: a mistake, especially an embarrassing one in speech or writing, that evokes laughter; a very humorous mistake or a funny blunder. The reviewer used the word in this way, “And then there was this howler…” as if the paper were full of such embarrassing and stupid writing moments.

English: A stack of copy paper.
Image via Wikipedia

The academic went on to say that my writing was better suited to “book jacket copy” than to a peer reviewed scholarly journal. She took offense at the style of my paper (a combination of personal story and academic research), she said my research was unoriginal, that my paper proved nothing, and that it was a failed attempt to try to bridge my personal coming out story with lesbian literature. She went so far as to insinuate that she couldn’t believe I’d had such a hard time coming out in the 1980s after the women’s movement, Gay rights, etc. In other words, there must be something wrong with me. In the vernacular, she said my paper was a piece of shit, and when she suggested what the paper might have had the potential to be, she added that she was certain this author (me) was incapable of writing such a paper. I could hear the snide, intellectual laughter in her words.

I like to imagine her as some snot-faced sex-less bitch who has nothing better to do than write scathing reviews of other people’s work. But maybe she’s hot and sexy and beautiful…No, I won’t let myself believe that. This is a matter of self preservation.

If you’re interested in the background, here is the rest of this little horror story.

In September 2010, I sent out my paper about Dorothy Allison’s use of “nasty” words to create an erotic language that opened doors for other lesbian writers to write about sex in a straightforward manner. I focused on her books Trash and Skin.

At the suggestion of a former mentor and another academic (a brilliant writer and scholar) I sent the paper out for peer review. The editor of the journal read the abstract and said to send the entire paper. I’d never done this before, so I figured it was something, that not all papers are accepted for such review.

Fifteen months went by, yes, 15 months, and I’d heard nothing. In November 2011, I decided to send the Allison paper to a different journal, assuming the first one had lost interest. First, I sent a withdrawal email to the first journal. Upon receiving the email, the editorial coordinator wrote back, “Please ask the other journal to hold off as your paper is in the final stages with the last reviewer and we will expedite getting it to the editors for a decision. You will have a decision from us in a week.”

Well, call me green or stupid or naive, or all of the above, but I thought: wow, if they’re asking me to hold off on sending my paper elsewhere, they must have some real interest in it.

And in about a week, or a week and a half to be exact, I did get a response: they wanted to “pass.” The editorial coordinator then gave me “permission” to send it to the second journal, which I did. I was even okay with the rejection, although I wondered why it took 15 months and 1.5 weeks to get there. But then the editorial coordinator wanted to know if I’d like to see the reviewers’ comments. She said they didn’t normally send them to the authors but since I’d waited so long, it was the least they could do. I said, “Sure.” Call me stupid, green, or naive again, but I thought maybe there’d be some encouragement in there, a sort of consolation prize for not having the paper accepted after all of that waiting.

Wow. You readwhat happened. I was sent one other review. She, too, hated the paper, but she did have the decency to keep from making too much fun of me and my research. She merely said it wasn’t very good or convincing or original. Thanks for being the bright spot in my day.

The mentor-writer-scholar I mentioned, who encouraged me to send this paper out for publication, offers this paper to her graduate and undergraduate students interested in the subject of Dorothy Allison and lesbian images in literature. I take this as a great compliment. I am bewildered that another academic could hate the paper SO much. I can certainly understand not everyone thinking it merits publication, but how can one scholar tell me it’s original work that she will share with her students now and WHEN it’s published (she has that much confidence) and another tell me I’m nothing but a shithead writing “howlers?”

The reviewer tripped up in one statement and was as guilty of generalization as she’d accused me of being. She said that NO ONE would be interested in Radclyff Hall’s The Well of Loneliness if she hadn’t been a lesbian. Really??? You know everyone? I love that book, as do many of us, as it’s one of the first that ever found the courage in the English language to write about lesbian love. The reviewer was quite offended when I compared Hall’s courage to write straightforwardly in comparison to the oblique language of some of the canonized girls like Gertrude Stein and H.D. Oh, well, there’s no accounting for taste.

This paper is not so close to my heart, honestly, so I don’t feel that badly about how it was beaten to a pulp, but it does have me questioning my judgement. The reviewer made a few good points when I could see past her miserable personality. I, too, felt the paper was a bit repetitious and maybe didn’t go far enough in analysis. Couldn’t she have just said that? Did she need to make fun of it and of me?

I’ve encountered a lot of rejection and/or condescension in the last week in my writing, professional, and personal life. All things said, this particular rejection and condescension, while the ugliest, is not the hardest to take.

What’s been tougher is seeing my essay, “Claudia Songs,” rejected time and time again, no matter how much I revise it, or which version I send out. I sit here and wonder: are the editors of the literary journals reading that memoir and saying, “Oh my god, look at THAT howler; oh wait, look at THIS one.” Oy.

I must tell you as I finish this blog entry, I find myself saying, Oh, fuck them, Cindy, you don’t really feel like that seventh grader or that younger version of yourself at UNH. You know everything you write is not golden, but you know you aren’t full of howlers, either.

I’m not sure how to end this entry except to say thank you for reading, and now I need to get back to my writing.

Reunion – Why do I remember you? Why Do you remember me?

My 30th high school reunion begins as most of the stories of my life do — with an embarrassing moment.

“You have something on the back of your pants,” the young woman at the registration table says. I figure her age to be somewhere between 15 and 17. I will soon learn she is one of the daughters of the reunion organizer, graciously and helpfully volunteering as the Stoughton High School Class of 1980 saunters into the Holiday Inn. And one of us – me, of course – has something foreign and inappropriate stuck to her ass.

I wonder: What could it be? I don’t have my period, I have not peed my pants — have not had nor done either of those things in quite some time. I have not shat myself. I am wearing midnight black pants. Did I sit in a bucket of white flour? Did I eat any mauve-colored yogurt? I’ve been known to fling that stuff around. Is there a big, ugly, sticky glob of  undefinable muck on my ass? How bad could it be? I smile at the young lady. I use my fingers to diddle blindly at the back of my pants. I say calmly, coolly to the girl, “I can’t feel anything.”

Her face is red. Mine is middle-aged.

If you’ve been following my blog, you are not surprised to learn that here I am, standing at the threshold of  my 30th high school reunion with the first boy (now man) I ever dated by my side as I feel up the back of my ass with my fingers. If you are new to my blog, let it be known to you: This is a typical scenario in my life.

I see that the young lady is mortified but I must ask, “Since I can’t find anything, what is it, then?”

“It’s a price sticker,” she says. She moves toward me, tentative and brave. At that moment, I think she may die from embarrassment. I am amused by this.

“Is that all it is? Oh well.” I am trying to calm her anxiety over my pants. I mean, the things that might have been stuck to my ass (see potential disasters as mentioned above such as bodily fluids, indefinable gunk, shit, wildly flung pink yogurt, etc.) The young lady takes the sticker off for me since I have apparently become helpless in my middle-age. I thank her and smile.

Time to ponder two curious aspects this “something on your” pants incident…

First, I’m not nearly as mortified that something is stuck to my pants as the young woman is who notices it. I joke with her, “As long as it isn’t a sign that says, ‘Kick me.’ Hahahaha.” She does not laugh. Sometimes it’s good to be middle-aged and feeble-minded rather than teenage-ed and sharp-minded. Things sticking to your ass don’t matter anymore, not after all you’ve been through in your life. Colonoscopies. The death of parents. One, two, three or more broken hearts. Bad jobs. Prejudice. Discrimination. Sexual harassment. Bad drug trips. Bad bosses. Bad dates. BAD DATES. What is a sticker on one’s ass after all of that?

Second, I’m perplexed and amused that I had a price tag stuck to the pants. I’ve owned these slacks for two years. I wear them often. Is the price tag something I just picked up recently when I sat down on my bed or in my car?  Or have I been walking around wearing these pants with a price tag stuck to the ass for two years? Ha. What a thought. I almost wish it so. I appreciate the irony. I also appreciate the young woman at the reunion registration table for finally pulling that sticker off my ass. She is very sweet.

So, sticker-less and with a presentable pair of slacks, I walk into the reunion.

“CINDY ZELMAN,” a youthful looking man says to me as I walk up to a table, and I swear he doesn’t even peer at my name tag or high school picture, both attached to my sweater. It’s as if, after 30 years, he merely recognizes me. He gives me a big and loving hug. I admit, I have to look at his picture to identify him. I say, “G—! It’s so nice to see you. I can’t believe you even remember me!” He looks better now than he did in high school. I mention something like this to him but with more finesse, “I didn’t recognize you, you look fantastic.” (You hear a lot of that at 30th high school reunions, by the way.) “Yeah, I lost a lot of weight,” he answers. Truly, he looks more boyish now than he did when I met him in seventh grade. I don’t admit this, but I am very touched that he remembers me and seems so happy to see me. I don’t recall very many conversations between us in junior high or high school, but apparently, I made some impression.

Why do you remember me? I want to ask but don’t.

Why do I remember you?

G looks at me and at M—–, the boy (now man) who was my first ever date and has agreed to be my date for tonight’s reunion. G says, “I just had a flashback about the two of you. You were at D.W. Fields Park and I saw you holding hands. I took a picture of you and brought it to school – it was seventh grade – I wanted to give Cindy hard time but all she said was, ‘Nice picture, can I have it?'”

M and I look at one another shaking our heads. We talk later about how we both suspected we’d had  second date and we both thought it was at D.W. Fields Park, but now we know it because out of the proverbial blue, G has confirmed this with his memory. He remembered our second date better than we did.

Why do you remember me?

Why do I remember you?

Many of the attendees of my 30th high school reunion looked quite good. At age 48, they’ve held up well, at least the ones who chose to attend. I was most taken by a group of men, G included, who were in my 7th grade smartie-pants-nerdy-some-of-us-might-be-geniuses class. Some of these boys were borderline geeky in those days, too skinny or too fat, definitely too smart, in the way back of the mid-1970s. And yet, here they all are – that particular group of boys, now men – and looking mighty fine. Handsome. Filled out. Slimmed down. Successful. Kind. Charming. Loving. Nice boys who have grown into nice men.

I begin to play the What-If game. What if in junior high and high school, I’d paid more attention to these nice boys rather than dating the bad boys and bad men that I did. (Older men are another subject entirely and for a different blog entry.) What IF I’d dated some of these nice guys for more than two dates. How would my life have turned out differently?

Dear reader, you must realize, if you don’t already know, that I am a lesbian who came out in her twenties in the 1980s. However, at this moment of my 30th class reunion, I am experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and past-life remorse wondering again what I might have missed. I am flashing back to the 1970s without the use of drugs.

WHAT IF I’d dated G or T or S or J or M for REAL, for four years instead of for four days or four weeks, and instead of those sexually obsessed psychopaths I did date? Oh, WHAT IF? Would I have lived the life of glee?

Instead of a life of gay?

Well, okay, we know the truth: if I had dated nicer boys I would have enjoyed high school more (with fewer dicks stuck in my face and more corsages pinned to my prom dresses) but I would have still discovered my lesbianism at age 24.

A lesbian is born, not made. Society may repress her from knowing her true self for decades, but she comes to learn who she is. And while we do not choose our sexuality (nodding to recent public events and debates) my lesbianism is neither greater than nor lesser to anyone’s sexuality. It is what it is: I love women in “that way.” You take my taxes. So let me get married. Stop bullying my children. Stop debating my rights. Stop voting on my life. Stop playing God.

I drift off topic.

I wish I could have fallen in love with one of those nice boys, so I could have felt high school the way so many (although by no means all) kids feel it. With society backing me up and cheering me on. But for those of us who are gay, we don’t have such backing. We didn’t in the 1970s, and too often, we don’t now.

In the end, I did not fall in love with one of those boys,  these lovely men who stand before me now at our 30th high school reunion. When I did fall in love in the 1970s, I fell in love with a girl. I kissed a girl decades before Katy Perry was even born. And I meant it. I fell in love with Lynne Simmons – I can say her name fully because no one knows where the hell she is. Does anyone? She was a bad girl. A very bad girl. I wonder if she’s still alive.

Life and death. All we have lived through, those of us at this reunion. Sorrow and joy. The colors in between. Errant things stuck to our asses. Health issues. Children. Lovers. Disasters. Wars. Money. Lack of money. Houses, homes, cats, dogs. Bicycles left out in the rain. All we have lived through and been blessed with, both good and bad. We are alive.

Leading me to my final thoughts on the reunion.

May those we lost from the Class of 1980 Rest In Peace: Kathryn Boyle, Kevin Brown, Paul Francis Callahan Jr., Pamela Camara, David Flanagan, Margaret J. Kiddy, and Shawn Joseph Nonnemacher. Peace to those classmates who may have passed away that we don’t yet know about. And may those young people who have taken their own lives recently rest peacefully also, those we know about and those we don’t. We send you our love. We remember you.