Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hard Times

I began reading Hard Times by Charles Dickens during my vacation, getting a huge chunk of it read on my plane ride home Sunday night. I can't really put into words how much I love Dickens. Generally, this is true of all Victorian literature. I admire the way Victorian authors manage to use such grand, ornate language and still produce superior wit.

This isn't really about literature, I just had to say that.

Toward the beginning of Hard Times, Dickens is describing the Gradgrind family and how their lives are so ordered and compartmentalized. Everything, from the appearance of their home to their roles in the family, is balanced and intentional. The reader gets the feeling that something is going to happen to shake the order of the Gradgrind universe upon reading this initial description.

It got me to thinking. I'm betting that, while I'll talk in the first person, these observations are true for most of you.

I have these compartments built into my head that tell me exactly how I want others to fit into my life. There are places for my children, my family, my friends, my future mate, my teachers, my future students, and anyone else that has potential to impact my life.

These compartments dictate not only how I want these people to fit into my life but, ideally, what characteristics these people will possess.

For example, my ideal student will understand my sense of humor and know that they can trust me and say or write anything in my classroom without judgement. They will relax and want to learn from me, they will eagerly enter each day asking what we're going to do. They will all be equal and special to me.

I'm speaking in generalities and, even as such, I know that it won't happen like that for each student. But that's what the compartment dictates.

When it comes to my children, I'm proud of how I have and continue to raise them. They fit quite well into their compartments. Until I notice something. Things that bother me to no end about other people's children don't quite bother me as much about my own.

My thoughts, then, about the perfect boxes I've created to manage my relationships are that it becomes a beaming contradiction in what I'll tolerate from people I care about against what I think I'll theoretically tolerate.

I see this in many of my relationships.

I think this is most interesting when I observe romantic connections (not even in my own life, but the lives of people I know- but I'm going to stick to first person here). When it comes to romantic relationships, I'm just as guilty as the next of fantasizing about what my ideal mate will look like, act like, what his interests will be, his habits, etc. But when it comes down to it, Mr. Perfect is rarely who I'm drawn to. Instead, I find myself reshaping my box so Mr. Not-so-perfect fits in. I think everyone does that.

Those of you who really know me are aware of the fact that I avoid conflict at all costs. It makes me extremely uncomfortable and I believe that some people may unintentionally take advantage of that. Even so, those people are still in my life and I still care about them.

I haven't even come close to finishing Hard Times yet and I don't know what kind of ruin or punishment the Gradgrinds are going to suffer for naively putting faith in their compartments. What about me? Is it okay to change the shape of my boxes so as to accommodate those that I really want in my life even if it compromises my ideals? Will it come back to haunt me if I do? Will the ideals even make me happy in the long run?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Home, Sweet Michigan

Today marked my return to my beautiful home after a 10-day long vacation.

My children were with their father during this time as the standard custody agreement by which we generally abide has the kids with him for two weeks of each summer.  Because Todd and I had no plans yet pertaining to when he would take the kids over the summer, when the opportunity for me to go away for a bit presented itself, I took it.

I went with a friend for a few days to Denver and then we proceeded to various destinations (requiring loooooong car drives as dictated by the "book of fun") throughout Wyoming.  The mountains were breathtaking, I'd never seen them before.  I must admit that this heathen found herself thinking that maybe, just maybe, something greater had to be responsible for such beauty.

Because I have to blog about every silly thing that happens to me and you're all sucker enough to read it, I put much thought into how I was going to discuss my vacation with my MyFamily upon my return.  I took some pictures and thought of doing the whole photo blog thing, but it doesn't feel quite right. 

It was a strange vacation.

I'm sure you all understand how draining a little time away from life can actually be.  Stepping away from the familiar (in this case, far away) really tested my boundaries.  It's difficult to surrender control for 10 days. 

Ultimately, the vacation yielded many good times along with the token couple that were not so good.  It left me energized and drained simultaneously.  It gave me some confirmation of things I had been reflecting on and left me with new questions.  Best of all, it was a disaster which will allow for several good chuckles as I remember things that I said or did to embarrass myself ("Is that snow?")

I was trying to think of things to tell you, dear MyFamily, that would essentially represent the highlights of my time away (I only logged on to MySpace four times in 10 days *gasp*).  While I'm very glad that I went, I must admit (in typical soft-girl fashion) that I lost my heart during the time I was gone.

I can't really allow myself to tell you what the best parts (or the worst) were because those things belong to me. 

I can, however, give you a glimpse of what happened today, my first day home.

I found my heart.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ode to My Favourite Band

This blog entry is for Jon S. Bangs: Baddest Writer Alive's Almost Famous Writing Contest for Artistic Appreciation and Integrity. You got all that? Read up on it, vote for me, etc.

"Why?" says you. I was compelled to enter this contest because I had just finished re-watching one of my favorite movies ever, Almost Famous, when Jon changed his blog format to reflect his upcoming writing contest.

When I saw Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in his blog header, I was stunned by the coincidence. When he unveiled his writing contest, using the movie name, I took it as a sign. When I saw the categories, I knew what I had to do.

That movie is about music. And love, I suppose. But music. It's about loving some "little piece of music so much, it hurts." That movie gets me.

Thus, I entered the "Ode to my favorite band" category.

Since my favorite band is Canadian, I shall henceforth spell like a Canadian (You'll barely notice). Nice.

Ode to My Favourite Band


"A face so full of meaning as to almost make it glow/ For a good life we just might have to weaken and find somewhere to go"

"What is this? Who is this?" were the questions I asked my ex-husband about six years ago the first time I heard The Tragically Hip. The song on the radio was It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken. Still one of my favourites, I clearly remember the immediate and powerful impact it had on me. Sure, it's a great song, but who were these guys? They possessed a genuine and distinct sound in a time where everything on the radio was boring pop sameness.

"It's The Tragically Hip. They're Canadian," my ex informed me.

Hey, don't say he never gave me anything.


"...transport me unceremoniously away from the swollen city breeze, garbage bag trees, whispers of disease, and acts of enormity..."

So it began.

I became addicted to a Canadian radio station where I gradually began to be immersed in snippets of Hip culture. For the first few years, I didn't really know any of their songs by heart nor was I remotely occupied by obsession to the degree I am now. This matters not. What matters is that when I heard Gordon Downie's voice on the radio, I knew who it was. The Hip cannot be replicated. Their sound is one thousand percent unique.

Argue with me on this point if you dare. My advice: don't even try.


"Armed with will and determination- and grace, too."

It came to be that hearing tiny hints of the Hip was not sufficient. A couple of years ago, I started seeking out their CDs. Sadly, despite living a swim away from Canada (though I should note that I would likely drown attempting said swim), procuring Canadian music was no easy feat. Even if the biggest band in Canada has a solid following in the US, there's no guarantee that one might actually be able to enjoy said rock band at will.

I felt like I was in on a little secret. Here was a band that was ridiculously talented and only one in ten people in the States have ever even heard of them. Those people are enough to sell out venues almost as soon as an announcement is made, but not so many that it feels mainstream. The people I find that know and love the Hip are my people.

I could have simply driven over to Canada and purchased a CD. But then I would be looking at higher prices and four dollars (make sure you enunciate a long "O" in "dollars" in keeping with my Canadian grammar). I could buy it on eBay (paying shipping). Ultimately, I chose to download a few songs.

I started getting fierce. When I like a band, really like them, I want CDs with good old-fashioned inserts. I finally got my first Hip CD while visiting my best friend in Chicago a bit over a year ago. Virgin Megastore. Expensive. Worth every penny.

That double-disc set has only seen the outside of my car once- to rip the tracks to my computer.


"That night in Toronto..."

Last summer, I decided it was high time I saw the Hip live. I began to investigate and was not surprised to discover that the majority of their past touring, with the exception of some music festivals, took place in Canada.

Therefore, I was pretty darned excited to see that my new favourite Canadians would be playing a music festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Totally doable. Wisconsin is just across Lake Michigan, which is just across the state. As it happened, I allowed rationality to take over and chose not to drive eight hours to see them play. I knew there would be another chance.

I joined the fan club. That's right. A thirty year old Tragically Hip fan club member. That's how I knew they had a new CD out this year (no more screwing around, I got it on eBay) and were kicking off a Canadian tour simutaneously.

Like any good fan club member, I got my online presale code and set forth to purchase my tickets before they went on sale to the general public. London, Ontario is only forty-five minutes away, so I tried to get my tickets at that venue. However, that venue was not cooperating with my presale code and "it" kept insisting that the tickets were not on sale yet.

Heed this, brothers and sisters, Ticketmaster is a liar.

I was not to be deterred. There were only a limited number of tickets available! I kicked over to the Toronto venue. Within minutes, I was on my way. (It would actually be a couple of months.)

A long couple of months.

Again, well worth the wait. Seeing the rock gods that are The Tragically Hip in concert was among the most amazing nights of my life. I am a rock concert whore in general, but this band was a presence to behold. Gordon Downie is a maniac onstage (see video from Woodstock '99 below and you'll get a taste). This band doesn't just play their music, they feel their music. The Canadian Hip fans are like their very own Canadian subculture into which we were welcomed with open arms for driving three hours from Michigan to see their band. I get tingles just thinking about it. It was everything I could have hoped it to be.


"Two-fifty for a highball and a buck and a half for a beer/ happy hour, happy hour, happy hour is here."

Then came the self-loathing. Tragically ripped.

Shortly before my Toronto trip, the Hip announced a U.S. tour. I wasn't too disappointed, Toronto is a beautiful city and a much better alternative than the aesthetic disaster that is Detroit. However, upon returning from Toronto, having loved my big stadium experience with the Hip to the degree that I did, I reflected on how perfectly exquisite it would be to see my boys in a small venue such as what was being offered in Detroit. The show was sold out. eBay to the rescue.

My sister accompanied me to the Detroit show as she had to the Toronto show. She's grown to love them as much as I do. Turns out that she's grown to love me as well or she wouldn't have taken such good care of me when I proceeded to get completely wasted before the show had even started. I only drink excessively every few years; thus, I get to a drunken state quite quickly.

There I was. The Tragically Hip. Small venue. Still surrounded primarily by uberpolite Canadians. Over-priced eBay tickets. Wasted.

It is one of my big regrets. The show is a blur. I will have a make-up someday.


"You didn't say 'yes' or 'no' neither. You whispered 'hurry'"

Many Hip songs tell a story. Narrations disguised in delicious verse. Words that aren't used, sadly, in everyday speech. Cryptic syntax. Expressions of every thought known to man. Giant compositions that feel like significant pieces of architecture. Seamless blendings of lovely, barbed language. Those of you who read me regularly know exactly how I feel right now.

Together for almost 25 years, over 125 songs released.

Whatever is happening in your life right now, I promise you, there's a Hip song for that. Whatever problem your best friend last shared with you, there's a Hip song for that. Whatever emotion you were feeling when you tried to fall asleep last night, there's a Hip song for that.

I can prove it if you want. Try me.


"On a star beyond the chart/or the dark side of a drop of rain/determining where you are/in a sink full of Ganges, I remain/no matter what you heard/my music at work."

Friday, June 8, 2007

Friday Sundaes

Every Friday that the kids are not with their dad (and only since the weather has been nice), the kids and I go out for ice cream after dinner. Usually we go down by the river or to the beach to eat it.

Today, I thought it would be more funner (yes, that was intentional) to go buy bunches of goodies from the grocery store and make our own sundaes at home. I ended up with killer strawberry shortcake and the kids each had cones with Magic Shell on them. It was messy. It was more funner.

That's just the back story.

While we were at the grocery store, we ran into one of Jenna's friends (the one that Alex is lovestruck by and is convinced he is going to marry someday) and her mom.

Her mom, R, asked me if I was okay. She had heard I was going through a rough time. I assumed she was talking about the divorce as I chose to only announce it to two parents of Jenna's school friends under the assumption that this would be sufficient to ensure that all of the other parents found out.

I told her I was doing absolutely wonderful, that I had just finished a quarter at school and was looking forward to my two weeks off.

She said, "No, I thought you were sick. Weren't you in the hospital?"

No, I was not.

Jenna's friend prompted with "that's what Jenna said!"

I looked at Jenna. She was beat red and looking at the floor. She looked like she had been caught at something.

She's been telling lots of little lies lately (unintentional alliteration). Usually, it seems that it occurs when she needs to preserve face and keep out of trouble. I've tried a few approaches, making every effort not to shame her, to explain why lying is not prudent.

But, I have to say, I am completely and utterly befuddled by this one.

When we were away from the friend, I asked her why she told her friend I was in the hospital. She did the whole "I dunno" thing. I told her that if something is bothering her, that makes her feel like she needs to lie, or if she's not getting enough attention and feels left out of something that she need only talk to me and I will help her as best I can.

Since she was caught, she was not even remotely forthcoming with her motivations for constructing such an untruth and I'm not sure how to handle it. It's very frustrating.

Anyone have experience with this sort of thing? I find myself on the verge of explosion over these things and I don't want to make her feel shameful as that will only further complicate matters.

Monday, June 4, 2007


It's the day where I'm really running late and my son can't seem to get his foot into his sandal quite right and, once he does, he quite literally drags his feet along the sidewalk to the car until I get frustrated enough to pick him up with my stronger arm so he looks like a defective rocket-ship sputtering in the air as I run as fast as my heels will allow.

It's like when my daughter has a soccer game and we have to be on the field in 15 minutes, only I forgot to wash her uniform promptly and now it's in the dryer, which I swear is taking 6 times as long to dry clothes than normal. (Is it okay to send her in damp socks?)

Or, when I'm really in the mood to go outside and light sparklers and twirl around like an idiot because it makes me feel young only it just... won't... get... dark.

That's right, bitches, I'm talking about dial-up. My modem/router thingy woke up on the wrong side of the bed Sunday morning and I did all of the troubleshooting over the phone with people who decree to know what the fuck they're talking about only to discover that someone is going to have to come out and take a look.

That someone was supposed to be here between 8 a.m. and noon today. Only they weren't and I had to go to class. So, I continue to be stuck with dial-up.

I have to get online because my American Novel class is online. And if I have to get online anyway, I have to check MySpace. And everytime I check MySpace there's a "New Blog Subscription Post" indicator. And then I get overwhelmed 10 years later when the blog page loads and I see that, not only are the 20 "new" blogs still there for me to read, but there are 10 more added to the list. And, if I want to read one, I'm going to have to wait 20 more years for that page to load.

As much as I complain about always being in a hurry and never having enough time, here I am, typing away, knowing that it will be 30 years from the time I hit "Preview & Post" until the preview page comes up. I'll be damned if I correct any mistakes as it will take an additional 40 years once I hit the final "Post" button for this blog to actually post. It will be absolutely amazing if that happens at all as clearly this dial-up situation will be the end of me.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

I'm Back!

The past week has been ___________ (insert adjective of choice here). It has been many things, but mainly it has been distracting. And I've been feeling a bit claustrophobic.

This is accurate of the last several weeks, frankly.

I'm not sure how to define it. The simple things that matter most to me (reading with Jenna, cuddling Alex, reading for pleasure, enjoying my time at school, watching the news) have lost priority.

School has been stressful. Taking 20+ credit hours each quarter is taking a toll on me. I don't take summers off like other college students. I just want to be done. My brain is so tired.

My personal life has been rather engrossing as well. Possessing a rather large crush has caused me to experience things I haven't experienced in years and it's been ___________ (insert adjective of choice here, they all apply). But it's been distracting. And claustrophobic.

Yesterday, I had an epiphany sitting at Barnes and Noble. Said epiphany was brought on by an email and phone call by above-mentioned crush.

The last time I had an epiphany at the Barnes and Noble cafe, I abandoned my studies in accounting 2 semesters shy of my bachelor's and decided to become a high school English teacher.

That I equate last night's epiphany to the other speaks volumes, people.

Suddenly, I was able to prioritize like I haven't in weeks, maybe months. I got so much work done, it felt ________________ (only adjectives with positive connotations).

I realized that I've been so caught up in thoughts like "I don't want to do this anymore!" or "I can't focus because I have so much to do so I'm not going to do any of it" or "What are we going to talk about when he calls tonight *giggle, giggle*-*sob,sob*" that I actually disappeared.

But I came back. That's really the important thing.

I wear many hats and I can't do it all. Still, I can do more than many. My favorite line from a favorite TTH song: "Armed with will and determination- and grace, too." That's me. Jen and I are going to have that put on T-shirts.

Thursday evening, I turned in an embarassing, incomplete biographical criticism of Sophocles' Oedipus the King to the best English/literature teacher I've ever had. I turned it in the week after he handed me back a paper giving me the best praise I've ever received in my life. I was so disappointed in myself for not completing my Sophocles paper. I let myself down. Last night I completed it, even though he doesn't take late papers, and I was beaming.

Then, I purchased an inexpensive copy of Oedipus the King and, since it was still a bit light outside when I left B&N, I took it down to the river and re-read it. For pleasure.

I can't tell you how _______________ (adjective, positive connotation) I felt.

Melissa. Saturday night. Beautiful deep, blue water. Legs stretched out on dashboard. Families out in droves- rollerblading, kite-flying, boating. All that noise. Peace. Feeding my brain.

I found myself again. I'm a geek. Reading a book on a Saturday evening. It's who I am and I'm so very proud of it.