Monthly Archives: April 2014

A Good Girl’s Praise of Courtney Love



A couple of weeks ago I spent an entire morning trying to compose a perfect post celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Hole’s album, Live Through This. My attempt was an epic failure in that every line I wrote made me sound either angry or clueless. I’d write a line. Read it twice. Stare out the window. Imagine someone reading it and thinking less of me. Delete it.


It was not easy going.


Nor could I determine to whom I was writing since I already knew how I felt and since Courtney Love detractors would lob all the regular criticisms (ranging from her craziness to her talentless-ness to her a bad mothering skills) regardless of what I typed out, and since my own mother—my most loyal reader aside from Z—was likely to say, “Courtney who?” what would the point be of writing a praise hymn to a two-decades old grunge anthem anyway?


I gave up and wrote my friend Jane an email instead. Forget the anniversary. Enough people online had mentioned it in passing that it’s not like Courtney herself was waiting for me to post.


Z, who hates grunge and doesn’t understand how this album could have ever been the soundtrack to my life, was particularly puzzled by why the last several days Courtney Love was wailing on the stereo whenever he’d get home from work, why I kept grousing under my breath all week that the “real” anniversary we should be commemorating instead of the 20th anniversary of Love’s husband’s suicide is the release of this album, or why I seemed kind of angry at the world for no real reason.


We are a “pop” couple. Though I spent years despising bubble gum music, he has shown me in our four years of marriage the pleasure of listening to music that doesn’t make me sad or angry: music that literally goes in one ear and out the other and in the process might make my body move a little more rhythmically. Before Z, there was mostly angry feminist music, Irish rebellion music, a little punk, some classic rock throwbacks, Van Morrison (for the love), and for a period of time, a lot of Nanci Griffith that left me in tears every morning as I’d drive through Indiana cornfields on my way to work because the storytelling was so sad and true. Before Z, I liked to feel affected by whatever I listened to. But then Z arrived on the scene and he runs about 50 degrees happier and 42 degrees less complicated than me, and after I banished his country music to his office, we found happy, common ground in the land of Gwen, Gaga, Fergie, Katy Perry, and whoever else Pandora dished up for us on related channels.


But pop didn’t cut it while I was having my Courtney Love epiphany. I spent way too much time listening to interviews with Love, reading reviews of the album, and remembering 1994 and how I would drive down the road screaming the lyrics to “Gutless” or “Violet” at full volume, full of some weird rage that didn’t really fit the circumstances of my life: I wasn’t a heroin addict, I didn’t have a suicidal spouse or a baby people didn’t think I was fit to raise, I had a newly minted master’s degree in fiction writing, good friends, and good health. (Plus, I had just discovered the internet, roughly five minutes before many other women had, and so I was experiencing what I like to call my “Belle of the Ball” era, which was a glorious though short period when men were falling in love with my words and no one was expecting any nude photos because modems just weren’t that fast yet. It was the Golden Age for a smart girl who was good with language.) What was there for me to rail against? But the rage then was real, and even last week when I was trying to piece together all of these retroactive feelings, I was, at the very least, cranky as I tried to name what those twelve tracks had meant to me all those years ago.


The week before, I’d gone to hear an Important Writer talk about structure in creative nonfiction. We were there, stuffed onto tiny plastic chairs in a dark, crowded room, waiting to hear this man’s brilliance. The room was full of his devotees who were all a-twitter and he announced that he was about to read an essay that he’d written for us the night before while sitting in the café at Elliott Bay Books drinking wine. Maybe if I hadn’t paid $10 for the privilege of hearing him talk at length on a topic he’d only bothered to start thinking about the night before while drinking, or maybe if his devotees weren’t cooing quite so loudly, this wouldn’t have annoyed me, but he did and they were. I felt distanced from him. He didn’t help matters much by referencing multiple male authors and only two females, thus reminding me that my own writing will never count quite as much as a man’s, though I’m not sure why since it’s hands that usually do the writing, not genitalia.


During the course of the two hours, I simultaneously loathed him, loathed his devotees—all wearing some variation of a writer uniform (including one or more of the following items: black, pilled sweaters, pencils as hair props, giant glasses, ironic T-shirts so obscure only a select group of people could possibly understand, and boots)— and loathed myself for not being more talented, fabulous, and appropriately attired.


Despite the fact that the Important Writer did not know me, I was certain he would judge me harshly or, worse yet, ignore me entirely, and so I spent much of my time there feeling angry. And while I was feeling angry at him, I started feeling angry some more at any male artist or critic who dares to criticize a female one. Not because female writers and actors and painters are above criticism, but because so many of them do it in this dismissive way against which it is impossible to argue and which seems to be relegated only to females. (More enraging yet, the male artist or critic who doesn’t notice female artists at all. In an email during this week of angst, Jane reminded me that in college one of our male instructors started a lit course announcing that we wouldn’t be reading any female writers because history had yet to produce any worth studying. Maybe I’ve been carrying that annoyance around since I was 19.)



At the Important Writer’s presentation, I suddenly realized that a few years ago when I was applying to MFA programs, I had applied to his program and one other, which was less well-regarded than his. Based on some voice memory, it occurred to me that it was the Important Writer himself who had phoned me at my office to tell me the happy news that I’d been accepted. There was pleasure in his voice, as if he had just handed me the keys to some kingdom of which he was already a resident. I thanked him but told him I’d decided to go with a slightly less well-regarded, definitely less well-known program, and he momentarily lost all power of communication. Clearly no one had ever rejected his offer of a place at the table with him and his cooing devotees. He spluttered and finally managed to get out a, “Well. Okay then.”


Since making that decision almost six years ago, I’ve second-guessed myself countless times. The program I chose was largely nurturing, and though there were plenty of male mentors there—from many of whom I learned much—there was a decided “feminine energy” at this school. Since my graduation, I’ve wondered about my choices. Did I skip “the best” because I didn’t believe in myself? Was I afraid I couldn’t handle something more cutthroat, more “masculine”? Had I sabotaged my career simply because I’d wanted the opportunity to spend a residency in Ireland? Did I purposely avoid what might have been a “harder” program? What was wrong with me that I’d make such an impetuous decision based on nothing more than intuition with no basis at all in logic?


Aside from hearing the Important Writer, it was a week in which I was doing a lot of self-questioning for a variety of reasons including how good of a host and friend I am to how good of a wife I am in any given week (I get full marks for love and devotion on the Z front, but I think you know my record on the Domestic Arts and general productivity). There was a lot going on in my head in terms of whether or not I was good enough at any of the things that I generally believe are my better qualities.


Good. Things get twisted up in my head around that word because “good” was always my thing. It’s what I was. I was a good child, a good student, a good girl, a good friend, a good writer, a good teacher, a good listener. The problem with being the kind of good I was (and the kind of good I still struggle with daily) is that it was—is— always contingent upon someone else’s opinion of me and the quality of that goodness. They are the ones who are the deciders about whether I’ve hit the mark, those strangers and teachers and critics and loved ones and friends. And while I value the opinions of some of these people, I don’t ever want their view of me to matter more than my view of myself.



When I left the auditorium last week after hearing the Important Writer, my step was lighter than it had been going in. For one, he hadn’t rejected me five years ago—I had rejected him. But more importantly, it was clear after having listened to him that I would not have thrived in his environment or under his tutelage. I would have spent two and a half years feeling angry and either stupid or shunned as I tried to meet some goal of his or his idea of what it means to be a good writer, a literary writer. My intuition hadn’t failed me. I’d done exactly what I wanted when I made the decision about which program was best for me and ignored various voices of reason (none of which were in my own head). I was fine and finally the second-guessing could stop.


There are advantages to being good (the lack of track marks, legal battles, and bad celebrity tweets to name a few), and probably attempting goodness is so tightly coiled around my Midwestern DNA that I couldn’t change now if I wanted to. Yet, when I hear 1994 Courtney Love screeching and misbehaving and not giving two shits about whether other people think she is a good person—a good girl—a part of me still remembers that unfettered satisfaction of wailing along side her voice, breaking the speed limit (slightly) as I careened down country roads in my Dodge Omni, and imagined myself as the sort of woman who knew what she wanted and took it without waiting for someone else to hand it to her with a gold star for good behavior affixed to it. A small part of me still aspires to that kind of honesty, ugly and unattractive as it might be at times, standing there in its too-short baby doll dress and smeared make-up, looking less pretty than people would like, making no apologies for wanting to be the girl (good or bad) with the most cake.




Flashback Friday: It Feels Good to be a Gangsta (An Easter Post of Sorts)




Sunday, April 16, 2006
Easter was always hard for me as a child. I’d been taught that I should be pleased about the news of the risen Christ, but what I really cared about was the basket of goodies. Eternal salvation sounded like a good thing, but with Brach’s jellybeans and Marshmallow Peeps right in front of me, it was difficult to see that the less immediate thing was the important bit. I always hoped by devouring one white chocolate cross on a yearly basis, I was participating in a sort of sweet holiday communion that would guarantee a Get Out of Hell Free card later. I never liked white chocolate but ate it out of sense of religious obligation. Just in case.

I say this in the past tense, but even though I know an angioplasty and diabetes are going to be in my future if I don’t cut out the Peeps and other sugary, fat-laden goodness, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around future when the present is so delicious. I’m not a stupid person, but somehow I’ve never gotten how heavily buttered potatoes in front of me now are going to equal too-snug jeans and shortness of breath later. I keep thinking medical science has to have it wrong–that one day they’ll realize Coke cleans out your arteries, that a thick layer of subcutaneous fat around a knee is actually _protecting_ the joint, not putting its owner on the short track to knee replacement surgery.

Last week I saw “Office Space” for the tenth time and somehow the Geto Boys song “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” got stuck in my head. All week. I don’t like Rap, I don’t like those lyrics, but if you could have heard inside my head, that’s what would have been there. On campus on Wednesday as I drove past the one-day-only talking speed limit/radar detector sign and it told me I was four miles over the ridiculous 25 mph limit and said “SLOW DOWN!!” as if I were driving 75 thru a school zone, I curled my lip, shot an imaginary gun at the sign, and thought, “Damn it feels good to be a gangsta.”

Of course part of my cockiness stemmed from my having just seen the campus police SUV parked at McDonald’s.

Today, aside from being Easter, was my maternal grandmother’s 85th birthday. There’s no real story, but I thought I’d make note. She hasn’t felt good for my entire life and now has trouble getting out of chairs and down steps and her redneck neighbors plague her with late night ATV rides, but hey, 85 is one better than 84, and genetically speaking, I’m happy to have had a couple of grandparents who made it to that age even if there is gout affliction and high blood pressure pills. However, I’m hoping I won’t be as thrilled with “Deal or No Deal” as she is. Somehow that just seems like something that would be playing on the televisions that must line the walls of Purgatory. [Grandma died four and a half years after this post was written, but I still think of this as her time of year even though whenever you’d wish her happy birthday she’d give you a “pshaw” face and say, “It’s just another day.”]

While we were eating Easter/Birthday dinner, a family member was revisiting his romantic past. It was a story about a girl who once beat him up for kissing someone else. A girl whose family was likely Midwest mafioso. Then we talked about other people we know who seem to work beneath the radar of the law, who make bank deposits like Carmella Soprano’s $9,999 so it doesn’t get reported to the government, who drive big, expensive black cars, who always pay cash, and who live behind huge iron gates, but if you ask them how they make their living they’ll say they’re on disability or that they sell Hot Wheels on eBay.

Just simple folk, trying to get by.

I don’t know why this intrigues me so much. Despite my four miles over the speed limit last week, I’m the kind of person who would admit to a crime I didn’t commit just because I feel guilty about almost everything. The fact that I use non-rechargeable batteries or don’t recycle peanut butter jars because they are too hard to wash causes me moments of self-loathing. I can still feel my face turn red when I remember being lightly reprimanded by a teacher as a child. I also worry over much that when I make a judgment about someone or something, that perhaps I don’t have all the data. It’s the reason I don’t believe in the Death Penalty–400 eye witnesses could see a man shoot a convenience store clerk point blank and I’d always wonder if maybe it wasn’t the defendant’s doppelganger. I feel guilty. I question. I fret. I would be a jury foreman’s worst nightmare.

Which brings me to another family member acquired through marriage. I don’t have anything against this woman in particular. This afternoon though she and my mother were talking about trouble in the Middle East. It was a non-religious conversation, but this woman said, “Well, it’s all predicted in the Bible that this stuff will happen. The End is coming.” And then, without missing a beat, she said, “Ohhh. Are those Clark’s shoes you have on? Those are so cute.”

My life would be so much easier if I didn’t have to think so hard about stuff. Your reading it would be a lot easier too. No pondering the mysteries of the criminal mind, candy, religion, justice, my own psyche and trying to find meaning in everything. Instead, it would be one stream of consciousness thought after another: “400 dead today in train wreck. Cottonelle on sale at K-mart. Cute shoes!”  It’s another kind of gangster life…where you just live your own life and don’t think too much about it…or anything else. It must feel good. I’ll never know.

Flashback Friday: New Ways to Be Judgmental


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Today I was an interviewer for the mock interviews that are held in the Education Department. I’m not sure why I do this every semester but I suspect it has something to do with the director of the program being the mother of children I babysat for for my first babysitting job. Though we’re colleagues now, she’ll always be the grown-up and despite six years of therapy, I will always be the child who wants to please grown-ups. I’ll watch “Dukes of Hazzard” and “The Incredible Hulk” with your children; I’ll be a mock interviewer for your students. Just give me a hoop to jump thru and the promise of a pat on the head, and I’m there.

I dropped my own Ed major after six weeks in my first Education class as an undergrad. The terminology bored me and the prof talked too slowly. I had no interest in wasting precious moments learning things I didn’t care about when, instead, I could be reading Thomas Hardy and Sylvia Plath. I had no real vision of what a non-education English major career might be, but saying goodbye to terms like “differentiation” and “rubric” was worth every time after I announced the major change that I had to hear my father say, “What? Are you going to be a professional college student?”

I have often wondered if perhaps I wasn’t a bit hasty in dropping the Ed major, but today proved that I made the right choice. A fourth of the time I had no idea what my partner-interviewer or the interviewees were talking about. Learning Mandarin would be easier. Sometimes I feel annoyed by the terms because a perfectly good word like “artifact” which _should_ conjure images of the pyramid that has just been discovered in Bosnia-Herzegovina instead means, essentially, “photos of 4th grade art projects and math worksheets.”

Also, the director kept referring to items on a the question sheet that were “bolded.” I hate when un-poetic words get made up. Made-up poetic words I like. Today, a student shared with me her word for the desire of girls and young women to make real their Disney fairy tale fantasies. She calls it “princessing.” Now that is a good made-up word. She is now getting a divorce and is thus, one assumes, in the final throes of being de-princessed.

There are other reasons I don’t like participating in the mock interviews. Like I hate fake stuff. Like I hate “rating” people. Like sometimes it is difficult for me to stay focused if I’m not interested in something. So for instance, on the comment sheet I filled out after each interview, instead of commenting on their presentations and examples, I found myself wanting to write helpful tidbits like, “Honey, you are over-plucking your eyebrows. It makes you look hard” or “Your hair is overprocessed–pick a color and stick with it.” This is information that I think they need–and having just watched five back-to-back episodes of “What Not to Wear” I feel qualified to give it–but in the interest of professionalism, I restrained myself and responded instead to the next bolded question.

Possibly it is a good thing I don’t have children because the other thing I realized is that I am now so old that these soon-to-be teachers seem much too young to be teaching. If I were a mother I’d have to quit my job so I could home school. On the positive side, in my home school, there would be no differentiation or rubric talk. To my credit, I would limit the princessing.

To reward myself for all of my hard interviewing work, I spent a half hour on iTunes planning the music I would download after my next pay day. While there, I discovered Celebrity Playlists and a whole new way to be judgmental. I surfed through the playlists of various celebs to see who listens to what and their comments about why X is the best song ever. My assumption, initially, was that I’d learn what music is cool in Hollywood. Instead, I lost respect for people I’d previously never had an opinion about. For instance, what would possess Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick to post together and tell us their favorite sex song. I’ve always thought they were a cool couple, but somehow their need to post together annoyed me. Ditto Courtney Cox and David Arquette. (Who’s watching Coco while they’re playing around on the internet, telling us what a good road trip song “Free Bird” is?) I had high hopes for Bill Mahr but he disappointed me. What’s worse, the people I admired who had playlists I would make myself? Well, suddenly they seemed less cool. Shouldn’t they like things beyond the scope of what I (a mere mortal) have access to? To misquote Groucho Marx, I don’t want to be a memeber of a club that will let me play my own music.

I liked Nicole Kidman’s. I can’t say why exactly. It might just be a need to support her in these dark days following the birth of her children’s half-sibling/alien, but I appreciated that she had some Lenny Kravitz on her list and wasn’t pretending he never existed for her. I also liked that Elvis Costello had himself on his own list. Because you know all the musicians were wanting to do that. They were DYING to do it. But it takes a guy in horn-rimmed glasses to pull it off with any kind of panache.

Perhaps in the next six years my shrink and I can work on me becoming the kind of person who would put her music (if she made music) on her own playlist.

A Different Kind of Buzz

Bee Costume, 1978

Bee Costume, 1978


Today we celebrate, or perhaps, bow our heads and offer praise unto the heavens, because this morning we (and yes, that is the royal “we”) got the glorious news that Voldemortress, the woman who helped us decide to leave teaching in order to write, is moving away from our hometown and moving her well-dressed, scheming self to greener pastures at a different university where she will no doubt topple kingdoms in her plan for world domination. No longer will we have the annoying moments of bumping into her when our hair is un-brushed. Nor will we have to worry about being put in a position of needing to weigh our Christian values against our desire for vengeance should she find herself in need of roadside assistance (as we were in December and about which you can read  here: “Christmas with a Carpetbagger”).

Initially, we were not amused. In fact, initially, we were upset on two counts: 1) the obvious, in which our world was rocked for no real reason and now what little reason there was is gone 2) we realized a better description would not have been Voldemortress but instead Voldemort and Cersei Lannister’s soul-sucking love child, and we have denied our readers this image until today. Sorry.

We quickly skipped past all other stages of grief and moved on to revenge fantasies, which involved sending fruit baskets to her new colleagues with a note explaining how best to protect themselves from her Dark Arts. From there, inexplicably, it was Lorde’s song “Royals” playing on a loop in our head for an hour—like an anthem—and this gave us great joy because, hello, we are the protagonists of the song (even if we are thirty years older than Lorde). It is true: We will never be royals, and everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this.

And now, we plan to explain to Z that tonight there will be celebratory cupcakes at Cupcake Royale.  Because the queen is dead.

Long live Queen Bee.