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Archive for the ‘randomocity’ Category

Today, it’s less than two weeks until All the Ugly and Wonderful Things releases into the wild. In the vernacular of my youth, I’m pretty stoked.

I am also starting to fill up my dance card with a lot of events. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve got events at four Kansas bookstores in the week after the book’s release. More details here.

There are also two giveaways currently in effect. One on Goodreads and the other on Go Fug Yourself. (Please note I pulled the link for that by Googling Go Fug Yourself Bryn Greenwood. Yep.)

So while I’m totally open to ideas about what I should talk about at these events, I’m not very nervous about them. I’ve done a lot of public speaking, much of it involving talking to giggling teenagers about sex. Far more unnerving is the fact that I’ve also got two television appearances scheduled. I used to do some TV spots when I worked for Planned Parenthood, and a few times I made quick talking head appearances when the real PR person wasn’t available. I’ve never actually been asked to talk about my own personal shit on TV, though. Still, I was okay until I read my refresher on TV appearances and was reminded that one should never wear black, white, red, or patterns on television. My closet:

Black like my soul

So, that’s black, black and white, red, black, leopard print, black, and a blue muumuu. After I stared this down for ten minutes, I started to wish that I were going to appear on a German naked newscast. I’m not, though, so pinky swear that I will be on TV, wearing something that isn’t black, white, red, or patterned.

Of course, as soon as I ventured into the world to shop for clothes, these are the things that jumped out at me:

Awww yeah. I love shopping at thrift stores, but aside from reassuring myself that the world is full of truly fantastic prints, I didn’t find anything. Guess that means I’ll have to break the old admonition about avoiding any activity that requires one to buy new clothes.

One thing I do know I’ll be wearing for at least some of these events: these super fantastic Fluevogs.

Fluevog Odettes

 

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Having opened my closet and divulged my shoe secrets, let me take it one step further. Although it’s fairly straightforward to find practical shoes that will aid me in my daily commute and my dog chaperoning duties, finding cute or sexy shoes is an entirely different concern.

I’ve never been a terribly girly girl, but I do on occasion like to put on a dress and look passingly feminine. Cute or sexy, however, is a tall order when you translate them into a size 11 or 12. The vast majority of shoes simply stop being cute or feminine in my size. The sales floor model is invariably a 6 or 7, and nearly every pair of sandals, pumps, peep-toes, slingbacks, and stilettos look good in a 6 or 7. Those very same shoes in an 11 or 12 … I’m often wearing shoes that would not be out of place on a cross-dressing man. In fact, I am sometimes wearing shoes intended for a cross-dressing man.

With that taken into consideration, I present my year in shoes, the impractical edition:

myshoes2015_impractical

  1. These shoes are a time-travel contingency plan. If I wake up tomorrow as a 75-year-old woman, I am going to book a cruise, and take salsa lessons with a punishingly younger man, while wearing these shoes. They are unbelievably comfortable, obviously glittery, and they straddle that wonderful line of coquettish and old ladyish.
  2. Hard and fast rule: when you find a pair of Jeffrey Campbell platforms with 5 chrome buckles in your size on sale, you buy them. No questions. No hesitation. You buy them. Worry about where you’ll wear them later. At some point you will need to feel like an Amazonian dominatrix, and when that moment strikes, you’ll have the shoes.
  3. AutumnYou have probably gone off the Halloween costume deep end, when the shoes you’ll wear with it one time cost as much as a pair of shoes you’ll wear a hundred times. These are those shoes. Cute, but not particularly suited to anything by my Autumn costume.

Today, these shoes feel more important than they did when I wrote the practical version of my year in shoes. With David Bowie’s death, I’m reminded that clothes and shoes are more than just the coverings we wear to keep out the cold. They are also what we use to create ourselves, in the way Bowie re-created himself over and over during his career.

Our clothes and shoes can be armor against the world, or a billboard or a cry for help or a protest or a celebration. I knew this better when I was sixteen and nearly every outfit I owned was a “costume,” according to my mother. Somewhere along the way, I forgot just how much what I wear affects how I feel. I’m going to try to remember this more in 2016. Preferably while wearing those Jeffrey Campbells.

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I have a love/hate relationship with shoes. I love them, because they keep my feet warm, dry, safe, or a variety of other desirable states, depending on circumstances. On the hate side is the difficulty of finding shoes that fit. My feet are what are known in the footwear industry as “low-volume.” They are long, but incredibly narrow and very flat, so they don’t take up much room inside of a shoe.

Plus, I walk a lot. I didn’t realize just how much I walk until I got talked into a step tracker. Then I discovered that between my twice daily trips to work and back, and walking my dogs four times a day, I cover about eight miles a day. Walking is good on a number of levels, including the fact that it always helps me solve writing problems. Whenever I’m stumped by a plot problem, I just walk it out, but that means my shoes don’t last as long as most people’s shoes. This year was especially fraught with that problem.

I present my year in shoes, the practical edition:

myshoes2015

  1. These are only the second pair of Keens that I’ve ever owned, but probably my last. I don’t expect my shoes to survive my walking regimen for very long, but I do ask that the traction strips on the soles not begin to peel away after six months. At first I thought I’d stepped on a particularly insidious clump of gum, and then realized the weird sticky sensation was produced by loose chunks of rubber and glue. Which is too bad, because they were otherwise pretty comfortable. Now they’ve been relegated to junk shoes, to be worn while painting, mowing, etc.
  2. My knights in black armor: Boggs rainboots. I wear these all year-round to the dog park, where there is always mud and often other unpleasant things to step in, as well. It only takes three levels of inserts to make them fit and they’re headed into a third year of keeping my socks and pant cuffs dry.
  3. This year’s splurge: Fluevogs. My sister and I traveled to Chicago in June, and made the trek out to the suburbs to the Fluevog store. Despite a variety of temptations, I went for the practical Derby Swirl 6-eye. They have required some breaking in, but I feel about them the way I once felt about my original made in England Doc Martens. I feel cool and badass while wearing these boots.
  4. The summer juggernauts: Chaco Z1 sandals. They are starting to show their three years of hard service, but are still holding up. I wear these basically every day that I wouldn’t be in danger of losing my toes to frostbite, because the feet need to be free!
  5. The traitors: Dansko Sabrina. First of all, I hate shoe styles with women’s names. Since I was a child that trend has set my teeth on edge. Second of all, $130 shoes, no matter how well they fit one’s awkward feet, should last more than two months. These didn’t. On Monday, after less than 45 days of service, the soles of these shoes started peeling away. The worst part is, I’m not even willing to indignantly demand a replacement pair from the manufacturer, because I wouldn’t wear another pair. Before the soles self-destructed they were stiff and slippery.

And so I entered the new year in need of new shoes. I went back to a trusted friend. Ahnu has long produced reliable waterproof, lug-soled walking and hiking shoes. So today I face the hill in these comfortable but not so attractive canoes:

ahnu

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When I was a kid, the thing I remember most about the drive from my house to my aunt’s house in Manhattan, KS, was the tree that stood by the side of Kansas Turnpike between the El Dorado exit and the Cassoday exit. It had been struck by lightning, causing one of its largest branches to separate from the main trunk. The branch hadn’t fallen to the ground, though. It toppled over, crown first, and stayed there.

 © Copyright Chris Upson

© Copyright Chris Upson

Two branches embedded in the ground kept the base of the large branch propped against the tree. Over the years, that severed branch lost its bark, and by the time I was making the drive by myself, between my parents’ house and college, it was a bleached white bone.

That white limb, as big as the living tree it leaned against, took on an echo of the lightning strike that severed it. Stark and jagged, it caught the eye. It became a landmark, to let me know how much further I had to go. I marked it every time I passed.

After I’d been away, first to Japan, then to Florida, it greeted me on my return. A quick flash of white, an act of violence frozen in time. It’s amazing that it stood there so long–at least 35 years by my reckoning. It’s not surprising that it fell. The progression of decay. That relentless Plains wind. A series of grazing cattle using it to scratch their rumps.

When did it fall? I don’t even know. Was it there that Friday when I drove by on the way to my dad’s funeral? I couldn’t swear to it, because my mind was elsewhere. When I drove down for my mother’s seventieth birthday on the 4th of July? No. It had fallen by then. Finally become what it was. Not the glinting white echo of a bolt of lightning, but a half-rotted dead tree branch. I slowed as I approached and scanned the field. Craning my neck to see over the grass in the ditch, I located the branch in the muddy edge of the cattle watering hole.

Just like that, one of my landmarks was gone. Really, it was two. Not just the tree, but my pop, too. In the year since then, it has started to dawn on me that this is what life is about. Landmarks aren’t just things, they are people and ideas. They are guideposts that you use to make decisions about your life. You base your decisions on the landmarks around you, but the older you get, the fewer landmarks there are.

I became a secretary, just like my grandmother. She was one of my landmarks, pointing the way for my decision to take that first secretarial job. There were other decisions, though, that pulled me away from her. When I chose not to have children, when I ended my marriage. Those things toppled that landmark. I couldn’t use her as a guidepost for a lot of the decisions I made after that.

The grade school where you learned to read will be torn down. The grocery store where you had your first job will go out of business and become a Family Dollar store. Someone will blow up your favorite café. All the people who made you who you are will die. I’m sorry, but they are going to die. But you will tear down your own landmarks, too. You will walk away from the life that was laid out for you. You will turn your back on relationships. You will make different decisions than your grandparents did.

It’s painful, losing those landmarks, but you’ll find new ones. You’ll make new ones. Those will disappear, too, but you’ll get used to it. You’ll realize the older you get that we’re always at the edge of what each of us knows. We’re always looking at a fork in the road and trying to decide which way to go.

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We all have good behaviors that we try to model. Politeness, respect, kindness, those sorts of blanket ideas about being decent people. Beyond that, though, we have specific good deeds which we are individually tasked with. True mitzvehs in the Yiddish sense of “good deeds” rather than mitzvahs, the commandments from the Torah.

It’s not clear to me how we take on these tasks. Do we choose them based on our personalities? Do the fates (or G*d, if you prefer) confer on us those good deeds we are best able to perform? Or are we given the good deeds that require the most effort from us? A mix of both?

For example, one of my mitzvehs is reuniting dish sets at the Salvation Army. I love china and spent many years in Florida buying and reselling china. I no longer do that, but when I go into the Salvation Army on one of my regular searches for treasure, I often spend an hour in the dish aisles. Not shopping for anything, but finding the sets of dishes that have been separated on accident, either in the donation or the pricing process. The sad fact is that many sets of nice china get separated and lose both their value and their purpose. By bringing the soup bowls and dinner plates and tea cups and saucers back together on the shelves, I’m helping those dishes go to a new home. I’m helping people buy matched sets on which to enjoy their nourishment. It’s a small deed to be sure, but it feels like something I’m meant for. It gives me pleasure and it’s useful.

Two of my other mitzvehs are not well-suited to my personality, and yet they are my good deeds to perform.

I am an introvert. A text book sort of introvert. I will go to great lengths to avoid interacting with people and, although I’m able to do so for short periods of time, I find it exhausting. Meeting new people is a kind of agony for me, which requires significant girding of my loins.

That said, as I walk across campus during the summer months, it’s not unusual for me to see students and their families posing in front of various landmarks for pictures. Of course, it always means one member of the family is left out of the picture. Despite my discomfort, my mitzveh requires me to approach and say, “Would you like your picture taken together?” To date, no one has ever turned the offer down, which is how I know it’s a good deed and not an intrusion.

Friends don't let friends pitch with their zippers down.

Friends don’t let friends pitch with their zippers down.

This business of approaching strangers is not at all suited to my personality, but it does not compare to the final mitzveh that I’ll mention here. XYZ. I am the person who tells you when you forgot to zip your pants. Or your slip is showing. Or your sanitary napkin has leaked through on your khaki pants. If you’ve ever been in an elevator on your way to an important presentation and some stranger said, “Um, your fly is down,” that was me, or one of my people. I once crossed behind a line of presenters on a stage to whisper into the ear of the guy who was about to stand up and speak in front of a thousand people: “When you stand up, turn back toward me like you have something to tell me. Then zip your pants.”

He did it, in a convulsive gesture of horror, and I could feel the members of the audience who had already noticed it exhale in relief. That is the mystery to me about this particular mitzveh. As uncomfortable as it makes me, I cannot imagine how uneasy I would be to let someone walk around in that state without telling them. Yet I know people who won’t point these things out, because it embarrasses them. As though I’m not embarrassed to say, “Oh, hey, you have a big booger in your mustache.”

I think that’s the nature of these tiny good deeds, though. They find us, or we find them, based on our view of the world. I spend a lot of time not looking people in the eye, so I suppose it’s natural that I should be the one who notices the gaping fly and flash of underwear.

What about you? What are your tiny good deeds? Why is it your mitzveh?

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The Skittle of Opportunity

The Skittle of Opportunity

As I came up the stairs to my office yesterday, I saw a red Skittle lying on the second step from the top. Sometimes, one finds a trail of candies on the stairs, Skittles, M&Ms, and on occasion, like a trap laid for an extraterrestrial, Reese’s Pieces. Usually, the majority of these lost candies have been smashed under the feet of hurried passersby. This is a university, after all, and its inhabitants live primarily on junk food, and they’re too busy on their phones to look at their feet.

Yesterday, however, the Skittle I found was alone. It had not yet met its fate against the worn sole of a Chuck Taylor, but at any moment, the last minute rush of students would scramble up the stairs to get to class on time. There was no time to hesitate.

I picked up the Skittle and checked it for signs of injury, but its candy shell was intact. Without bothering to look around for witnesses, I popped it in my mouth and chewed it.

Why?

Red Skittles aren’t even my favorite ones. I prefer the orange ones.

My current eating habits actually militated against consuming a stray candy. I have sworn off all added sugar for the month of September in a bid to kick my staggering sugar habit.

I don’t usually eat stray food. Free-range chicken, yes, but not free-range snack items. Although there was that one time in college, when I was working for the local zoo, and they had 20 lbs of frozen raptor meat that was past its expiration date. Not far past its expiration date, but the Association of Zoos and Aquariums has very strict rules about what food can be served to animals. I’d been instructed to throw it away, rather than feed it to the rehab owls and hawks that I took care of. I was a poor college student, and it was late in the month. I was staring down a week of eating beans and rice.

Reader, I took that 20 lbs of meat home and threw a barbecue for my friends. Or at least, the friends who weren’t afraid to eat slightly expired raptor food. It’s essentially ground beef (or possibly horse or mule) with extra nutrients and finely ground bone meal mixed in. Properly seasoned and formed into quarter-pound patties, it went down pretty well on a hamburger bun.

All of which to say, I have eaten some suspect food items over the years. Now that I’m a professional with a regular paycheck, however, I’m not inclined to scrounge up free food.

This Skittle, though, this one lone red Skittle, it wasn’t about sugar. It wasn’t about free food. It was about being open to possibilities, being receptive to opportunity. After I ate the Skittle, I went into my office and talked to my agent, who is all about opening up opportunities for me. Soon, I’ll have some news on that front.

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Less this kind of tabloid

I used to be embarrassed by my tabloid habit. Why did I love reading schlocky sensationalist stories? A part of me absolutely cringes at the rabidity with which people follow some of the top tabloid stories. And think of how eager vast swaths of America is to watch reality shows about people with truly fucked up lives. We’ve entrenched the phrases “train wreck” and “can’t look away” into our language. The part of me that cringes thinks humans must be ghouls to want to read about children raised in dog kennels and young women locked up in dungeons and families that fall apart around their parents myriad indiscretions. Why do we want to misery and misfortune and suffering as entertainment?

The less cringe-inclined part of me has a ready answer: it’s all part of our story.

All the things that humans do to themselves and to each other in the pursuit of their lives, it’s all part of the human experience. Of course, we’re curious about it. There but for the grace of [insert cosmic intermediary of your choice here] go we. We could be the train wreck tomorrow. We could be the victim whose blood stains the sidewalk on the 10 o’clock news. We could be the confused person covering her head with a jacket as she runs from her lawyer’s car to the courthouse. It could be us, and so we want to prepare ourselves for it. We want to look at the train wreck and imagine how we would handle such things.

Some people are inclined to use their vantage point for judgment. Well, that’s what she gets for leaving her toddler alone! Well, that’s what he gets for marrying her. Well, that’s what happens when you live that kind of life.

For me, my interest in these tragedies are all about the question “And what then?” As with any trauma, people have to choose how they deal with the aftermath. That is a thing that never ceases to interest me. And so I find myself reading the Daily Mail, ferreting for details about the young man who was starved and imprisoned in his own home for years, before being put on a bus to California. What becomes of him now? What about the guy in a sham green card marriage who coerced his older, wealthy lover to enter into a sham marriage with his mother to get her a green card? Or the woman in Ohio who learned after her husband’s death that the man she was married to was actually her father, too. Once you get beyond the titillation, you have the opportunity to look right in the face of human experience and wonder, how does a person process this revelation, integrate this knowledge into her psyche, and go on with her life? These are important questions.

More like this kind of tabloid

Not all traumas are as traumatic as that young man’s life. Not all secrets are as shocking as learning you married your father, but when you explore the fallout from that sort of secret, you’re exploring general ways in which people handle these things. (In this case, Ms. Spruill is choosing to go public, to seek out other siblings lost in the turmoil of her mother’s life.)

As a writer, I think that’s why I go on being obsessed with these stories. Possibly I’m just making excuses for my interest, but when I read these stories I believe I’m fueling my understanding of humanity. These things happen to real people and real people must deal with them. So while I have not yet written a story about a woman who marries her father, nor do I particularly plan to, I have definitely written stories about people who uncover secrets they wish they hadn’t.

I don’t think my urge to read tabloids is any different from a writer of murder mysteries researching ways to dispose of a body. It seems morbid and creepifying, but it serves the story. People do commit murder and hide the bodies. People who write about these things need to peer into that dark place. Those of us who write about more tame aspects of human experience, we still need to inquire into the extremity of life’s shocks and surprises.

So I’ll carry on with my tabloid habit, still a little ashamed but convinced it’s research. How about you?

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