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My friend Monica

Mood: Sobered | Drinking: Water


In the summer of 1994, fresh out of college, I joined 9 other bright-eyed, know-it-all writers in Indianapolis.

We were Pulliam Fellows, part of a prestigious post-graduate journalism fellowship at The Indianapolis Star & The Indianapolis News. For three heady months we busied ourselves with bylines and more than one after-work beer binge in Broad Ripple.

I wrote stories about county fairs and boys with AIDS and even went “undercover” as a hippie for a feature story when the Grateful Dead came to town.

But one of the most memorable and longest-lasting memories of that bright summer came outside of the newsroom and my fellow Fellows. That summer, I met Monica Mertz.

The details of how we met have gone fuzzy, but I believe it had something to do with an ex-boyfriend who also happened to be interning in Indy that summer. The guy wasn’t a keeper, but Monica became a lifelong friend.

What I remember most about those early days is her quick wit, her sudden smile, and how easy it was to feel as if I had known her my entire life. I spent quite a bit of time at her house that summer, and after I moved back to Illinois, she came to visit.

Two years later, I stood up in her wedding to John Pryor. Yes, that’s me on the left up there with the fabulous pointy shoes. (It seems that in 1996 I had yet to discover the wonder of black hair dye.)

I spent a long time searching dusty photo albums last night for a good picture of Monica and I. Apparently we couldn’t be photogenic at the same time, because I have very few photos of the pair of us, and one of us looks wonky in each of them.

I chose this photo not because of my awesome 90s hairdo, but because I remember so much of that long-gone day. The giddy excitement of Monica’s sisters, Natalie & Kimberly. Monica cracking jokes as we all got ready, the smell of hairspray and curling irons everywhere. The calm sureness she had as she walked down the aisle. The way John stared as if there were no other woman in the world.

Monica and John moved to South Carolina to build their lives together, and we didn’t see much of each other for the next few years. In fact, the last time I saw Mon was when she played her gorgeous violin at my own wedding, in the middle of a Chicago blizzard.

We’ve kept in touch through emails and phone calls. So I knew, about a year and a half ago, that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer right after giving birth to her third child.

Even though it was the big “C” word, I wasn’t worried. Monica is one of the strongest people I know. I didn’t think cancer could stop her.

But this Monday, after 18 months of fighting, it did.

I’m not ready to start losing friends. I feel too young for it. I’ve known four other people my age who were diagnosed with cancer, but they survived. I guess I naively expected Monica would, too.

Death seems to be everywhere these days. I just attended a memorial service for the brother of one of my best friends. He was just 45. He, too, died of cancer.

Last year we buried my grandfather, and this Saturday I’m flying to Hawaii with my mom and sister to say goodbye to Nana, my mom’s mother, who has been diagnosed with lung cancer and given just a few weeks to live.

The finality of loss is hard to comprehend.

Monica comes from a strongly religious family, and everywhere on her facebook page are messages of hope, people telling her family how much fun Monica is having in heaven right now, pain- and cancer-free.

It’s not that I don’t believe she’s gone to a better place, as they say. I just want to be able to grovel in my grief for a little while. To mourn the sudden absence of that contagious smile, that kindred spirit.

So this is for you, Monica. You are already sorely missed, my friend. My heart is with you today, wherever heaven might be.

-Lo, who feels old and yet not old enough, all at the same time.

And Then

Mood: Crispy
Drinking: Water

They say life’s a bitch and then you die, and they may not be all wrong on that point.

But in between the bitch and the death there’s a whole lot of living going on. And not all of the stuff that makes living worthwhile is headline-worthy.

I used to build my life around all the And Then‘s:
go to school And Then summer break. graduate And Then college. graduate again And Then find a job. write a poem And Then get published. meet a boy And Then go steady. recover from breakup And Then find new boy. read great book And Then buy the sequel. go on vacation And Then plan the next trip.

You get the gist.

Always something new, something more, something better just around the corner, And Then the next corner, And Then the one just past that.

Perhaps it’s age or a small measure of experience or some bit of unwarranted wisdom, but somewhere along the way from one corner to the other, I’ve discovered that the really good bits of living, the moments that keep you afloat when the floods come, are the ones that come just before and between the And Then‘s.

Not just looking forward to reading a good book, but really enjoying the one you’re reading right now. Not just getting published, but actually writing, the minute decisions you make as you set the words down on the page, cross them out, and start again. Not just going on vacation, but all the small delicious bits of planning that come before — buying the guidebook, exploring a map, learning new Italian phrases.

Life happens in the moments in between. In the waiting. In the details. In the insignificant moments. During breakfast. At bedtime. Or when you open your eyes two minutes before your alarm goes off.

And Then isn’t the point. It’s a distraction. When you’re always peering around the corner, looking through the next doorway, you’re too impatient to appreciate the small things unfolding all around you.

So that’s my platitude for today. Maybe I’ll think about it a bit longer And Then I can write about it a bit more eloquently.


-Lo, who has no idea what’s coming next.

Further On Down the Road

Mood: Pensive
Drinking: Liquids only

Sometimes I don’t know what to write.

I’ve been at it far too long to put pen to paper only when the muse shows up, only when the kettle is hot and inspiration feverish. If I always waited for those blistering moments, I’d have far fewer words to show for myself.

Writing, no matter how you love it, is work. Like any sport or discipline, it takes commitment. Time set aside at the keyboard or desk. Hours laboring over paper, in front of screens, battling the smooth white blankness, the insistent flashing cursor.

Perhaps that’s why I have no novels to my credit. I have not bent myself to the task like an Olympic athlete, have not roused myself repeatedly before dawn to make my rounds in sweat and ink. I have not focused with entirely single-minded purpose on a bright shining goal. Hell, I don’t even write every day — at least not “real” writing.

I have crafted a life around words, but they are not always words written for myself (which is what I define as “real”). I make my living writing pretty sentences for other people. My clever lines make these people money, and they break me off a piece of it, and with that piece I make room for what is “real”, what is my own.

Just this week someone asked me how I came to make a living by writing poetry, and I laughed. Poetry doesn’t pay the bills. Poetry is a necessary luxury. I do it because I love it, I need it, I want it. It is a habit that incurs its own expenses and very rarely pays its own way. But I could never hold that against it. I never expected to make a living by writing poetry.

Perhaps that’s the difference between me and the elite-athlete-writers. The gold medal winners. They expected to make a living at this. They bring all their determination and drive to bear on the single purpose of “succeeding” at poetry. And so they write faster-higher-stronger than I do. And they win shiny accolades and coveted places on printed pages. And more people know their names.

But I am happy just to be writing poetry at all. I work hard to improve my work, yes, and I occasionally strive for a prize. But I am not remarkable, really. I’m not among the elite.

Most of the time, I’m okay with that. The compromise allows me to have a broader life.

I’m not sure, at this point on the page, where I’m going with this. I intended to write a post about a memorial service I attended last week for the brother of a dear friend of mine. I intended to write about how it was the first memorial service I’ve been to at which there was no mention of God or heaven or a “better place” from which the deceased wisely looks down upon us all. I intended to write about how the man who died believed that all life is meaningless, therefore, he should try his best to make other people happy.

Instead my head and my screen are full of images of Phelpsian athletes out-stroking me on the keyboard, writing far beyond my own capabilities and draping themselves in golden satisfaction.

Are they better than me because of all their accomplishment and need? Am I less because I’ve chosen a less resistant road of family and friends and travel and work, or am I better because I have found a way to fit my craft around all the many pieces of my life, instead of starving myself for art’s sake and squeezing actual living into what space remains in the corners not occupied by my fierce ambition?

I suppose it depends on who you’re talking to.

If you’re talking to me, I would tell you I do not regret the path I’ve taken, and I do not feel lessened because of it.

At a writing conference I attended last August, the majority of the poets in my workshop sessions were older — retired, gray haired, wide-girthed. The more successful, better published poet leading the workshop asked us to go around the room and describe our daily writing process. Person after person talked about the hours they set aside during their day to write poetry, hours between dawn and the leisurely mall-walking expedition, hours between grandchildren and cribbage — hours and hours and hours with nothing else to fill them except pen and paper.

When my turn came, I shrugged and said — “I don’t have a daily process. I’m too busy. I just write when I can.”

Perhaps someday, when I am grayer and wider, I’ll write every day from 8 ’til noon, and then go weed my garden.

But for now, my writing will remain just one of the moving parts of my life. That way I’ll still have stories to tell when the bulk of years is behind me.

-Lo, feeling older already.

The Cone of Shame

Mood: Tired
Drinking: Whatever I can reach…

As Ms. LeeLoo here can attest, there are few things more pitiful than a pooch wearing the dreaded Cone of Shame.

The Loo had some dog drama a week or so ago and some stitching up was required. Now she must wander about wearing the Cone, so as to provoke pity from everyone she meets and obligate them to ply her with treats and luvin’.

Well, really, she has to wear the “E-Collar”, as the vet calls it, to prevent her from lick-lick-licking at her stitches and making them all wonky. But LeeLoo is beginning to think this all could come in handy as she learns that sometimes people feeling sorry for you is a really good thing.

I have been playing Florence Nightingale to LeeLoo’s wounded soldier, and have not had time for much of anything other than answering the call every time the Loo needs a hot compress! Clean sheets! More jello! Another backrub! Change the channel! Read me a story! Hold my paw! Help me down the stairs! Serve me some tasty dinner! Sit closer in case I think of something else I might need you to do!

Now that she’s a week or so into the healing stage, the old girl is feeling much better and workin’ the sympathy angle for all she’s worth. But the first few days she was really a sight to behold, all hopped up on painkillers with her tongue going all flopsy out the side of her mouth.

The main consequence of all of this is that I’m oh-so-sleepy and fallen behind on my list of things to do. Although I can blame some of that on the Olympics and their late-night coverage of the events I actually want to see .

Nonetheless, a few things have happened. I met the lovely Caitlin of Caitlin Bellah Photography for a photo shoot this weekend at an abandoned hospital out on Angel Island, the results of which will be seen here on this website in future months.

Meanwhile, there’s a cinepoem waiting to be edited and new poems cropping up when I least expect them, so I’ll be back on track soon. Just let me get a few snoozes in and I’ll be right with you…

-Lo, who has never been known to snore.

Shopping List

Mood: Sniffley
Drinking: Tea

Why do they say you feel “under the weather” when you’re sick?

Something to ponder when I feel up to using my brain again. For now, all I can manage to do is pluck another kleenex from the box and hold it to my Rudolph-colored schnozz. Bleah. Summer colds are the worst.

Since my brain is under seige by snot, I shall take up the challenge by my friend Melissa over at Poet with a Day Job. Here’s a little list of stuff I’ve spent money on lately:

I just finished The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett, and liked it so much I picked up a used copy of The Patron Saint of Liars.

Er. I had to think about this for awhile. I don’t buy movies very often. But I did purchase Enchanted last month for my parents. I knew my mom would love the story (and the songs) and my dad would love the pratfalls. It’s a sweet movie — Amy Adams is pretty frickin’ awesome in it.
The closest thing to a movie I’ve purchased for myself lately is Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. I’ll take me any old piece of new Joss Whedon I can get.

Journey’s Greatest Hits from iTunes. I had the cassette tape back in the day and I’ve only recently realized I never bought it on CD. And, well, Journey is an iPod must-have, especially for long drives.

This wasn’t on M’s list, but check out these beauties. I’m making up reasons just to wear them.

K. Gotta go blow my nose now…

-Lo, who totally believes in those Kleenex with the moisture beads.

Grin and Bear

Mood: Hazy
Drinking: Empty

There are some days that require of you only survival.

Just hang in there.
Just get through it.
Grin and bear it.

It’s not that the day, in and of itself, is particularly awful. There are no hurricanes on the horizon, but there is no soft breeze, either.

There is just a day, with its list of tasks, with the people you must see and be polite to, with the work that can be done only by you. There are appointments and errands and none of it will kill you, but none of it will thrill you either.

I feel like this whole week is made up of those kind of days.

Doesn’t help that I started the week off exhausted. The entire weekend was filled to the brim with the Zine Fest — and thanks to all you kind folks who came out, who stopped by, who gave us your money. Cheers all around.

Talking to strangers for 9 hours a day makes me very sleepy. And though I might wish for a weekend with which to recover from my weekend, there is no such thing, and so I must hold out for, what… three more days. It’s doable. But not pleasant.

And there’s the rub. I’m still close enough to my recent vacation and all its deliciously lazy days to feel the absence of luxuries such as paddling slowly about a swimming pool on your back, with nothing to do in the long day ahead but to splish and to splash and perhaps take a nap.

But good things are on the horizon — writing group and time with friends and C & M’s new sweet puppy. Oh, and two new nights of So You Think You Can Dance. Yes, I have fallen victim to the reality show. I’ve held out, lo, these many years, but I am a simple sucker for dancing. Boy thinks I’m crazy, but he sits there and watches it, too. And how could you not love dancing zombies and fallen angels and Burtonian wedding receptions and then, on top of all that, a pas de deux? I’m completely in love.

So there we go. In the course of one meandering and pointless post, I’ve managed to perk myself right up. Perhaps I shall go and try on toe shoes.

-Lo, who has plans for a dancing cinepoem, and that’s no lie.

Slipping Away

Mood: Bleah
Drinking: Blah

I’m having trouble reconciling myself to the fact that this year is nearly halfway gone.

I’m beginning to think time will never slow itself to a pleasant crawl again, but will continue to rush its way past me, faster and faster with each passing day.

And I’m not ok with that.

“Time flies when you’re having fun” is the old adage, but time also flies when you’re busy, when you’re taking a nap, when you’re trying to figure out what to have for dinner, and even when you’re sitting in a dull grey waiting room staring down the clock.

Time just flies. It can’t help it. That’s how it works.

The difference is probably me. When I was a kid, the days would stretch out forever. I thought my birthday would never arrive, or Christmas, or summer. Time had me well fooled into thinking that I owned it. That I had all the time, as they say, in the world.

Maybe it was at 29 when my biological clock kicked in and started clanging, or maybe I figured it out before then, but I’ve known for awhile now that time is not on my side.

Even this year, in which I promised myself and all around me to mellow out, even this year has picked up speed. I thought 2007 went by so fast because I was so busy with all my ambitious publishing projects.

But 2008 is straining neck-and-neck for speed, and it just might break the record.

So I guess that means I have nothing left to do but enjoy it. Every speeding, precious minute. Even the ones spent on unpleasant tasks, like re-editing copy for unimaginative marketing managers (which is what I’m supposed to be doing right now).

It’s a good idea in theory. In practice, my enjoyment comes in small bursts.

But I have a lot to look forward to, even just this week: dinner with friends, a new poetry reading to check out, a visit with family, and walking the pooch at the beach. And it will all be over before I know it.

C’est la vie…

-Lo, counting down the days.

French Vanilla hearts Rocky Road

Mood: Thoughtful
Drinking: Diet 7Up

One of my oldest friends wants to know what’s so bad about Vanilla. (She’s referring to my post from a couple of weeks back about the visiting Suck.)

And I don’t have a good answer for her. Because she’s right. Vanilla’s not really so bad. And although she didn’t say it in so many words, I know I should just be damn thankful for my Vanilla. Grateful for my life and for all the mundane simple things that make it so often amazing.

M from Alabama called that post my “pity party”, and I got my feathers all ruffled about that description for a couple of minutes.
But he’s right, too.

And although we’re all entitled to throw ourselves piteous parties every now and again, although we all sometimes wish to be someone else, someone brighter and more beautiful, a bit of perspective is necessary.

It’s like the celebrities who complain about the hardships of being famous, while all the world below them looks up in awe and green envy. Nobody’s ever just happy with what they have when they have it.

If my friend Sterling Girl doesn’t mind, I’d like to borrow a bit of her email to me. I think it’s very well said:

I never knew she had a name, the Suck. She is an old friend of mine. I guess she was overdue for a visit.

You are my alter ego. You are the complete opposite of me and yet we are the same. You are lucky. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a life like yours. Grow up in a wonderful, loving family. Do good in school, have something you are just naturally talented with. Love someone who loves you back, just live life and be happy.

Me, I’m the one who had that kind of life (from what I can remember) until I was 11 years old. That’s when all the bad things started to happen. Family ripped apart, bonds weakend, bad relationships, single parenthood, ADHD, runaway, talking to cops about my own kids, watching friends fuck up their lives with the shit they do, wondering if I will ever stop loving that one man, wondering why this friend of mine could ever think that Vanilla is so bad.

Sometimes I wish I could write like you do, let the words just flow from my fingertips. I have done my fair share of trying. I have so much pain inside that could easily fill a thousand books.

But I hate to talk about how fucked up my life is because to me that is normal. It is who I am. I am not ashamed and I am not proud.

You may be Vanilla and I may be Rocky Road, but you have always been my friend no matter what. …So if you ever feel Vanilla again just remember this: You are not just humdrum plain ole Vanilla, you are premium French Vanilla, the really expensive shit, with a few wildberries thrown on top along with a few redhots for extra spice.

She’s right. She’s completely right. Vanilla’s really pretty great. (Especially if I get to be French Vanilla ~ ooh la la!) And Rocky Road’s not so bad either. And when you mix ’em together — amazingly delicious.

So thank you, Sterling Girl, for reminding me to just be who I am and stop bitching about all the things that make me that way. And thank you for being my friend, lo these many years (since 5th grade!) Keep on rockin’ your Rocky Road…

-Lo, who’s really hungry for an ice cream cone now.

the Ego and the Suck

Mood: Ready to go
Drinking: Agua

Yesterday I was compiling a submission for a poetry journal when the Suck hit me straight between the eyes.

And now you’re saying, “What the hell is she going on about?”, so let me explain:
Every honest artist will tell you that, coexisting in their brain, side by side, are the Ego and the Suck.

The Ego (self-confidence, talent, pride, whatever) is that magical cold drive that sends you out into the world to staple your posters to light poles on urban corners and slam your poetry behind a microphone on a poorly lit stage. The Ego produces cinepoems and chapbooks, gallery shows and book tours. The Ego believes you are good enough, smart enough, and goddammit, people like you!

But her twin sister is the Suck (self-doubt, fear, etcetera) and even though she’s the ugly one, she’s just as charismatic. The Suck tells you that you’re not a bad writer, you’re worse: you’re mediocre. The Suck sends you cowering into couch potatoland, groveling in the audience at poetry readings, picking your fingernails to bits because you know, you just know, that nameless, faceless people out there somewhere will pick up your book and think that it’s trash. Or worse, vanilla.

The Suck tells you that all your teachers and mentors and friends and neighbors are lying. That none of them have the balls to tell you the truth: Your writing will never be good enough.

The Suck and I have done the dance before, many times. Ego usually arrives in time to pry us apart and impart a little reason. Then she gets to cut in for awhile. And round and round we go.

So yesterday, I opened the door, invited the Suck in to stay awhile. We had some tea. Talked about how sad it is that I will never be published or infamous or toasted about town. (The Suck cares very deeply about all manner of meaningless accolades, contests, and attendant shiny prizes.)

I thought if I just humored her for awhile, the Suck would get bored and run off to torment some other artist, down the street. But she’s added some new tricks to her repertoire, and so I made up the guest room and she’s going to stay for awhile this time.

She reminded me that I’m a white girl. From a good family. No childhood trauma. No secret incest. No parental abuse. No drug habits. No relationship drama. Hell, my parents aren’t even divorced.

I grew up on a farm, rode my horse at the 4-H fair, colored eggs with my Mom at Easter, decorated the tree with my Dad each December. My sister and I had bicycles and puppies and acres of land to explore, barefoot and screaming. I had braids and books and As on my report cards. I earned diplomas from high schools and institutions of higher learning. I won scholarships (banal and prestigious). I had my share of dating dilemmas, but none of my boyfriends were mean. Even the ones who cheated did it decently, if there is such a thing.

I married a man who is not only my friend but seven years later, he still thinks I’m cool. And pretty. And fun to hang out with. I’m surrounded with friends who adore me. And family who lets me be who I am. I live in a yellow house with red flowers out front. I walk my dog on a blue beach near the twinkling, frothy toes of the Pacific. I have my hands in so many creative pots right now, I can’t even find my fingers.

I am lucky.

And so these other poets, the ones from the barrio, the ones from the wrong side, the ones with the shit and the stink and the stories, they get lots of attention. They get book deals and accolades. And they deserve it. They have talent. They have style. They have so many terrifying tales to tell.

And me? Don’t look at me. It’s my friends. My friends who are gay or brown or both. My friends who have the needles and the glittering addictions. It’s my friends whose fathers kicked them down the stairs. My friends who were molested by strange men in the bathrooms of suburban shopping malls. My friends whose mothers fed them acid at age 3. Me? I’m vanilla. I’m well-adjusted. I’m doing just fine. So I write about them. It’s either that, or the 4-H Fair.

So am I jealous? Yes, of course. The Suck is here! So I am loved and blessed and busy and happy and lucky. And I’m jealous of the shit and the stink and the scars and all the stories they tell. The beautiful, painful stories.

But don’t worry. I’ve called the Suck a taxi. She should be leaving any time now…

-Lo, who believes that tall girls want to be short and short girls want to be tall.

Hi, Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go…

Mood: Nose to the Grindstone
Drinking: Watery Tea

The weekend was exactly what I needed. A nap, a stroll with the Loo, a bit of bowling with the boys, a bowl of chili with some friends, and I’m back!

This week promises to be busy and then some. K and I moved our Chapter Two review to the weekdays, so that’s coming up. I have a never-ending list of writing projects to complete, all with various looming due dates. And then there’s the Poppy Jasper Film Festival this weekend, featuring heaping spoonfuls of “art in 30 minutes or less.”

If you live in the Bay Area, check out the Film Screening Schedule and stop by Morgan Hill to check out some short films. Our cinepoem project, “The Way She Walks”, will be screening on Friday, November 10, at 5 p.m. and Saturday, November 11 at 7 and 11 p.m. Michelle and I will be there on Saturday for both showings, doing some question and answer stuff. We’re skipping the Friday screening, though, because November 10 is the day everybody gets to celebrate me with cake and candles and assorted pointy hats.

We’ll be at the film festival on Sunday, as well, to pick up our “Best Female Filmmaker” Award. Good stuff, that is.

So I’d best quit writing about it and get to work. Happy Monday to you, Internet.

-Lo, who, as a rule, is not on friendly terms with Monday, but will sometimes make an exception.