Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Opposite of George Bailey

The story I’m going to tell you requires that you have a working knowledge of the characters of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I can’t assume, though, that you have trouble sleeping and that this is one of the seven movies you rotate out to soothe you until the Ambien kicks in…that’s part of my story. Rounding up, I think I’ve watched this movie about 250 hundred times, so when I talk about Uncle Billy it’s like making the list of who’s coming to dinner. It’s like how I know where to reach for the coffee filters.

Anyway, I’ll gently remind you of them, the characters, as you get to know me, Denise. In addition to George there are his parents, Ma and Pa Bailey…Ma who knows best and Pa who dies unexpectedly exactly 30 minutes into the movie; Harry Bailey, his younger brother; Uncle Billy, who works at the bank; there’s Mary Hatch, who marries George, and then there are their children, Zu Zu and her petals being the one everyone remembers and wants to name their flower or stationary or sex shop after.

Other characters you need to know are Bert and Ernie, the cab drivers, Mr. Gower, the pharmacist, Mr. Potter, the asshole, Violet Bick, the tarnished blonde, Sam Wainwright, who talks too much, and of course, Clarence Odbody, the angel.

It’s a Wonderful Life covers a day in the life of a man and the life of a town because of the birth of one man and death and wealth and the way of the world and big brothers and small tragedies and life-mapping and dreaming and love and disappointment and regret and glory and pain, and in this story, so will I.

Whether or not I had been born I believe that my hometown, Mooresville, NC, which used to have about 10,000 people and was nicknamed “Port City” would still become the Mooresville of today with Starbucks and a Big Daddy’s, and a huge-ass party supply store, and cars that thump when they pass. The population is more like 25,000 now, and there is a new nickname… “Race City, USA”. There is a newly-elected mayor of Mooresville. I know him. When we were growing up he was obsessed with Andy Griffith and Mayberry RFD. Yes, all of this would’ve happened whether I had lived or died.

I almost did die. My mother was actually very much the opposite of Ma Bailey and back in ’72 and she was ready to abort. The doctor talked her into having me. Who knows EXACTLY what he said, but it was enough. I should thank God everyday for Guilt and know-it-all-opinionated-pro-lifin’ doctors since their interfering ways got me through the gates. I don’t think they could bully me, but I’m glad they could bully her. I’d like to sing him an Elton John song at his funeral.

At 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, December 2, 2009 I am not grateful to be alive. I am drinking coffee. Checking my email I see a notice for an audition for a short film in Richmond --it’s tonight -- I go through a little drill in my head of what would need to be done and click, click, click…I am suddenly Zu Zu with her petals, holding closely the story that when bells ring angels get their wings and when I want something, I get it, too. The audition quickly becomes the only thing that matters in my life and missing it will be missing the ONLY SHOT I’LL EVER HAVE and to say no now is just closed-minded, negative bullshit and that I HAVE TO rearrange my day or EVERYONE in my family WILL PAY for holding me back professionally and emotionally. When my husband comes back from his smoke and I explain it to him just this carefully, he quietly agrees I should go.

By 9:15 a.m. I am late and I should tie strings around my fingers. Yes, there are bank auditors waiting for Uncle Billy in his office and there is a screenwriting group waiting for me, and so I rush and eat and curl and brush, but once there, I’ve forgotten my power cord for my laptop…Scrolling through my affirming powerful messages sounds like this: “Shit fuck piss damn.”

During the writing group I flashback to the gym the night before when everyone had taken my treadmills and my elliptical machines and left me the only option of the cross country thing that kills my knees. “Who the hell are all these people and why don’t they burn their calories working on their little homes that they’re trying so damn hard to pay for in this economy”, and now I am just like Mr. Potter -- pissy, ungrateful, greedy, suspicious of the rabble. People--get over it--you will never be enough. Get off my treadmill.” I run into a photographer who is also miffed but sweeter than me, and he says “I think your headshots should feature props, like falcons,” and this is JUST the sort of compliment I need and now I am Violet Bick and my CVS Loreal 3X highlights are perfect! Smile, go lay on a dirty your abs...flip through your ipod like you've got nothing but time. I've got nothing but time. The flashback ends with some explosion of laughter from my friends and I tune back in -- they didn’t miss me for a second.

At noon I am sitting at TipTop CafĂ© with my friend. We are eating French fries. She’s one of my Clarence Odbodies, one of my angels who is always trying to show me to myself. She says things like “you’re overthinking this” “forget about it” or “I miss you”. Then she pays for lunch and gives me a card that is orange and has swirls and it says I’ve touched people AND it has a Whole Foods gift card and now I know…I am Mr. Gower --the list is so long of those who have saved me, picked me up from a heap of grief, put me to bed and given me stuff, stuff like money, groceries and bicycles they weren’t using anyway. People who’ve kept me from poisoning innocent customers even when I didn’t care if they died because I was worried about me, me, me! I should be taking that list and getting suitcases embossed with their initials, I’m not. Instead, there’s still the kernel of me that wants to be the Mr. Gower that didn’t get saved, who’s balled up in the corner of Martini’s fresh out of doing some time. I’m not constructing altars for my great friends because I am more like Harry Bailey than any character in that movie; Harry Bailey who hogs up glory and gets featured in the newspaper. Harry Bailey, who wants to take his mother’s gin AND good china to the dance.

What I really think: I am not even good enough to be Harry Bailey because back when Mooresville was still the Port City and my older brother ran for mayor because he had his own ideas of Bedford Falls or Mayberry or Mooresville or Pottersville, I ran away. I thought he was stupid, it was all embarrassing and that people who run for office should AT LEAST have a car and a checking account. Even when he won the primary, I said it didn’t count because those people weren’t voting FOR him, they were just voting AGAINST the black man. I so opposed his bid for mayor that I registered in another county so that I COULDN’T vote for him.

What I think when I REALLY go to the dark place: maybe I’m not even a sniff like Harry Bailey because in the end of It’s a Wonderful Lif,e Harry organizes George’s rescue from financial crisis, but you see, when I was off to a bigger city collecting degrees and marrying well and getting in the newspaper and my brother was brought to his knees and overdrawn in his account and wanted to take his life, he did, and the angels didn’t stop him or trick him or dry him out and fix his hearing and take him on a little tour so that they could bully him into considering the pro-life choice. In the movie, the angels chat and coordinate with God and pick out Clarence and make a plan to help George because of the prayers that got sent up. I ask God or Frank Capra: would this all have happened anyway whether I had lived or died or…simply…prayed?

The rest of my Tuesday, December 2 looked like this – I got a headshot printed at CVS, I drove to Richmond with a friend. I shook hands. I auditioned. They said I nailed it. They didn’t cast me. We ate at Chipolte. We laughed all the way home.

It is midnight and coming in the door of my house it’s as if Bert and Ernie have been there trying to make it look nice with curtains and pictures, despite its draftiness and the way I have to really bump the front door with my hip to get it to close. I climb the stairs and I am Sam Wainwright, boastful and lusty and ready for the big time. My George Bailey is in the bed with his book and he’s frustrated: I didn’t answer his texts, there is no food in the house and maybe, for a second, he worried that I was drunk or hurt and not coming home.

It’s 12:30 a.m. and I am Mary Bailey and I’m making him peanut butter toast. I like thinking I’m like Mary Bailey, so sure of what home should look and feel like, unafraid to whisper declarations of love into deaf ears, so sure of the power of love. Settling in with my tea and my Ambien, I put in a different movie from the collection. I sit, waiting for sleep and dreams to come. I write, drawing pictures in my journal of Buffalo Gals who like to dance by the light of the moon.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lainie Music

Mix made by Melissa for her daughter

1. Real Love.......The Beatles

2. Sweetest Thing...U2

3. Swimming Pools...Thao

4. ABC...Jackson 5

5. I Was Made to Love Her....Stevie Wonder

6. Hallelujah, I Love Her So...Ray Charles

7. Crazy Love....Van Morrison

8. You are the Best Thing...Ray Lamontagne

9. Out of the Blue...John Lennon

10. Her Hair Hangs Long...Gorky's Zygotic Mynci

11. Ruby Pearl...Hackensaw Boys

12. You are My Sunshine...Norman Blake

13. Nobody Told Me...John Lennon

14. Parentheses...The Blow

15. I Will...The Beatles

16. Turn!Turn!Turn!...The Byrds

17. Do You Realize...The Flaming Lips

18. You Can Have It All...Yo La Tango

19. Cry Baby Cry...The Beatles

20. Easy Love....Gorky's Zygotic Mynci

The Night Before We Drove to Texas

I don't know why I picked up my old journal, but I did and oh shazaam, but there was an entry on the eve of leaving for a drive to Texas at Christmas. It was 1984 and I was 11, and my mother was engaged to a man, Tom, who lived in Texas, so we packed up and took the dog and headed west. Note: they didn't end up getting married.

Deja vu all over again....I'm leaving tomorrow morning with my husband and son (we're not taking the dog...shhh...she doesn't know yet) for another Christmas in Texas.

December 24, 1984
Well, it's Christmas Eve and we opened our presents tonight so that we can pack and wash and clean up. That's fine because I was so excited about opening my presents I couldn't wait until the next morning. I got everything I wanted and more. Especially my ring that I was dying for. My brother, Brian, gave it to me and it is blue and it sparkles. Mom gave me a diamond (not real) necklace with matching earrings. I love it. My sister gave me a bracelet and this neat book with nine different stories in it. My other brother, Jeff, gave me a terrific curling iron with three heads. My mom also gave me gray boots, a jogging suit, a layered suit, memo cube, umbrella, a stack of young reader books, socks, gloves, a neat hat, a sweater, earring case with my initials on it, a unicorn, her picture. Well, everything has settled down and everyone is relaxed. Jeff is going to bed and Kris is going to sit in here with me in the living room and read. I'm reading one of the books Mama gave me called ANGEL. It's pretty good. It's about this girl who everyone likes because she is so pretty but she tells lies to make her life more exciting.

December 26, 1984

Well, we got a good start this morning but it got alot better after we dropped Kris off at the bus station. Everything settled down, the dog is asleep and I can tell it's going to be a great trip.

December 27, 1984
Well, we're in Texas right now and we got here around 5 o'clock. We stayed the night at a motel in Meridian, Mississippi. The motel was nice and we left about 5 this morning. I was right. It was a great trip and Max was a very good dog. We only had to give him 2 tranquilizers so far and they have really taken affect. Tom has gone to work and I'm all settled down and getting ready to take a bath in a sunken tub. Mom just got out and she said it was alot of fun.

December 29, 1984
Today is the third night in Texas. We've been watching movies on Tom's VCR. We watched HOT DOG (very nasty), CLASS and Jeffrey watched STAR WARS. But right now we're watching FLASHDANCE. Mom got TOOTSIE and STROKER ACE. Jeff is being a pain in the butt right now by turning down and up the movie with the remote control. But other than that it's pretty boring here.

December 30, 1984

Today we're going to my Mom's friends in Duncanville. I'm wearing my knickers and I can't decide whether to wear my new gray boots or my brown dressshoes which I wear with them all the time. Tom brought home doughnuts for breakfast and I could have killed him for it. Because I'm trying to go on a diet but I haven't tried very hard. All I've been eating for snacks are apples-diet-caffeine-free-Coke. It's not the best in the world but at least it's a diet. I also had cereal this morning. It's so hard to go on a diet on your vacation. But I wanted to lose some weight to go back to school. Mom's taking a shower now and then I will. We're leaving about noon. Jeffrey is such a pest but he's pretty funny, and right now he's got the idea that Tom is not what Mom expected. He's such a BORE!!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Prayer for Judgment

Dear Sarah and Cicely,
Please do not kick me out of your book club here when I just barely got my toe in the door with all you hot AND smart babes.

Thank you so much for inviting me for this Sunday night. I'm sorry I didn't make it...BUT --WHAT a compliment—to come the first night willy-nilly don’t-worry-about-this-month’s-book-we’ll-barely-touch-it. A book club – well, I’ve been waiting for this, sniffing around the kitchen floor of inclusion, and it’s finally happening. For years I’ve heard about the chilling over some cool chard and a little “You know, I didn’t like the ending.” but no matter what…I just couldn’t get the golden ticket! Listen, I’ve read enough books and eaten enough chocolate to have earned both. I’ve been all holed up in my funny pants with my Dottie Allison, Maggie Atwood and Barbie Kingsolver and no deadline. Well, wake up, Little DeeDee!

By way of application I would like to say that I am a current member of the Belk’s Bra and Panty Club. Also, I would be willing to speed read after doing shots of tequila just to prove my fluency and alcohol tolerance, skills it sounds like I’ll need.

Why I had to bail tonight: I got to whining to my husband about work I hadn't gotten done and Monday looming, and just generally spun myself into a dirty little funk. Taking a little twirl around the house and finding myself “paralyzed with possibility” (crap everywhere, no clean jeans, and the list from Hell), I heard the word I’ve come to hate…SIMPLIFY. By the time he was done with his speech I could barely sneak out of the house to drop off the kid and make a 2nd trip to deliver a well-meaning turkey to someone who apparently had been “simplifying” with a nappypoo the first time I came by.

Have you ever seen those stickers at the dollar store – they are “thought clouds” in purple animal print, marketed for teenagers to put on their walls above pictures of their beautiful selves (probably flashing for Facebook). I bought a set…I had a dollar. One of the thought bubbles said, “Love me, love my mess!” And I say in my own purple-animal print way, with a little roar big enough to blow the bills off the dining room table, “Love me, Love my YES!” Bring it on.

It’s early still…I know right now you’re meeting without me; probably still laughing, touching each other on the shoulders, saying “you know, it’s the whole thing, it’s the minced onion with the poppy seed and the butter and swiss cheese and the ham and the right party rolls…it’s a total taste sensation.” I bet Kara made something real good. For the record I am NOT sitting here with flaky skin and no clue what to wear with the 3rd graders tomorrow. You know I could care less about acceptance and the mercilessness of children regarding substitutes.

So great to see you both on Friday night-- Cicely, thanks so much for having us to your housewarming...that was great, especially if this translates into us getting some new flooring ourselves this spring. You outdid yourself and I appreciate it. Only regret: I wish I’d put some of the little Chick-fila sandwiches in my purse, but I never could sense a good time to really go for a handful. will be happy to hear of an item on my Christmas list -- a new jar for olive oil since I want to snnaaazzze up my kitchen a little bit in the new year. In this past year, though, I have so enjoyed the jar that you brought to Melissa's house for the gift exchange because you could not stand the sight of it in your house. I continue to be amazed at how the good taste of others ends up benefitting me! Yahoo! Now, while I have much lower standards than you, even I can see the room for improvement. When I sell my first screenplay I plan on stockpiling Italian dinnerware, but until then I just cross my fingers for another good white elephant party.

Also, do WE have a name? If not, that’s fine, no pressure. I can just start saying, “It was SO funny…at my book club last week…”

Kisses and love,
p.s. What are WE reading for December?

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Things I've Left Behind

Last night, dropping my bags in the center of the living room, I had a familiar moment of dread. It went like this: “Oh, crap.” My calendar…I’d left it behind at a company where I’d just done a presentation on meditation and being in the moment. That’s so sad. Actually, I’d set-up a guest speaker for that session, and I got to sit in like a student. I had just done an “attunement” and then spent two minutes meditating and getting my bad-self centered, only to wrap up, pack up and somehow leave my calendar behind. My calendar, the only place I’ve scheduled my appointments/my life for the rest of this year and next (and where I’ve tucked a couple other important calendars), is pretty crucial to me. Most importantly, it’s where I’d left the gift certificate for the massage I’m supposed to get tonight that’s going to attune and center me again, so I was there first thing this morning, explaining myself, borrowing security fobs, and getting the little devil. We were reunited and off I went…doo tee do.

Earlier this week there was a little post-it on my door. It said, “Denise, we have your purse/phone. Come by anytime. Love, Kate”. I wasn’t home when Kate had come by to return it, because I was on my way to her house, running late to take my dog, Lola, to the vet. I’d had the moment of dread again, and the familiar experience of retracing my distracted steps. Kate’s daughter, standing on the porch in her tutu said, “Why did you leave your purse in my white chair?” Good question, little girl.

Two weeks ago, it was my journal at the grocery store. Walking away with my keys and the goods, I was humming doo tee do, but I left my notebook full of confessions right there on the little shelf-thingee where they have the pen duct-taped to the holder. Evidently, other people have trouble not taking things while I can’t seem to keep ahold of what I got. The guy checking out behind me called out, “Miss! Miss!” I turned, thinking, look at that, I’m still a “miss”, not a “ma’am”, I guess I look pretty cute today, and there he was with my precious 3-subject black notebook. “This yours?” Same moment: Oh crap.

Three weeks ago it was two cans of pumpkin that I needed not for pie but to keep Lola’s bowels smooth after surgery – it was an important errand I was on. It was two of the three items I went to the store to buy. I didn’t go back for them – I just went to another store the next day and bought more pumpkin rather than having to explain myself. I thought, well, at least that’s not as bad as the time I only went to the store for hair color and then left it there. The one thing I went to buy, and I left it. The worst is when you have a friend with you, which I did. We were sitting through the drive-thru at Bojangles when I said, “Oh crap, we have to go back.” She just stared at me, and then she started laughing and she laughed until she cried and she could barely conduct herself while accepting our biscuits and paying the lady. I knew she wasn’t just laughing because of this, she was laughing because I always do this. I went back and asked for my hair color, and I got that familiar phrase…“I thought you’d be back.”

I’ve gotten used to voicemails that come in before I’ve even walked in the door from a trip, voicemails to the tune of, “Hey, I think you left your diamond earrings on the dresser in the guest room. I’ll pop them in the mail this week. Let me know if they’re real so I’ll know how much insurance to get.” I’ve gotten two wallets back in the mail: one I left on the back of a toilet at a truck stop somewhere in Northern California and one that I left on a park bench in Downtown Seattle. They both had notes something like, “You’re really lucky I found this.” No one returned the wallet that I left on the roof of my Honda right before I got on the LA freeway on the way to see my brother. My college roommate and I searched and searched and she was a pretty good sport about it even as dangerous as it was to be out there parked in the median and walking around. Merging back on was a bitch. What I really hated about that whole situation was not that I had to show up at my brother’s door and spend the first hour canceling my credit cards, but that it painfully reminded me of the time he came home to visit when I was in high school, and I made him go looking all over the 2-mile radius around 7-eleven where I was sure my gas cap had fallen off the roof of my Dodge. I remember he said, “If you want your math teacher to stop calling you an airhead, you’re going to have to knock this shit off.”

The folks at the La Quinta Inn in Memphis, TN were really patient with me when I called them in a panic from Midland, TX to see if they’d found my bag of toiletries under the bathroom counter in our room. Well, you’d be upset, too, if you showed up for a week of Christmas with the in-laws only to realize that twelve long hours before you’d left behind all your makeup, your new digital camera, all your lotions and potions AND your birth control pills. That’s why they build so many drugstores, because making-do for a week is impossible without…moisturizer. On New Year’s Eve, on the long drive home, I was finally reunited with my bag. Doo tee do.

The list is long: adding to earrings, wallets, notebooks, calendars, cosmetics, and gas caps are watches, flip charts, jackets, water bottles, keys, shoes, dishes, serving spoons, books, and cds.

This behavior can get depressing. I drive not just myself crazy -- when my husband hears, “Oh crap. We gotta go back.” he just shakes his head. Nobody likes the urgent phone calls, and I hate the race over to the salon to pick up my phone just after they’ve closed and I’m trapped for a whole night without my phone. I repeat…without my phone. I don’t like it that my friends and family do a “Denise sweep” before I leave in a good-hearted effort to save me from myself.

Since the flare-up this week of stuff left behind, I thought it might be personally encouraging to make a list of the things I don’t leave behind and here’s what I came up with: In all this time I think I’ve only smelled the smoke of one burning bridge. I keep safe and very close, maybe too close, the way people and places smelled or looked or felt. I’m sure I still have your letter. I don’t like to forget what your children said or what you wore and I’ll scare/scar you with what I remember about your mother. Since I’ve never gotten any voicemails or emails or old-fashioned Hallmark cards about it, I don’t think there are any broken hearts in my wake. That’s not exactly a perfect test, but since I haven’t heard any clamoring, I gather everyone I’ve left is managing without me. I remember names and birthdays and when to pick up my child. When it’s possible, I try not to leave without saying goodbye. While I may forget my precious calendar, I don’t usually leave without collecting any kisses I have coming to me. Doo tee do.

In an effort to be thoughtful and anticipate my next “dropping”, I ask that if I leave anything with you that you think I’m going to need, please email me or just keep it safe until you hear me stomping back up the steps of your porch, tugging on your door, mumbling, “oh crap.”

copyright © 2009 Denise Stewart

Monday, November 9, 2009

Want a copy of my mix??

First five people to ask sweetly (and send me your address) will get a's special.

Nobody Knows Me Like My Baby......Lisa Miller
Purify Me......India.Arie
Up to the Mountain..........Patty Griffin
Let it Die.............Feist
Seen it all Before.......Amos Lee
Whenever, Wherever, Whatever....Maxwell
Flame Turns Blue....David Gray
Paper Wings.....Gillian Welch
Persephone...............Helen Horal
Back to You.................Acoustic Groove Trio
When the Stars Go Blue.....Ryan Adams
Samson.............Regina Spektor
Holding Back the Years.....Angie Stone
I Don't Want Anything to Change....Bonnie Raitt
There Will Be a Light.....Ben Harper & The Blind Boys of Alabama
mix made by my good buddy Cicely Shelton