Friday, November 18, 2011

Give Me Pastries or Give Me Death

My mother, a button maker, used to make a button that said “I was about to end it all when God spoke to me in the form of a chocolate √©clair.” I love this because it can be used in so many situations, chiefly “I was about to start jogging when….”

Actually, I did start jogging this week. In the rain and the cold, up hill and down dale, pausing only to blow my nose in a really sexy, athletic way or to yell at one neighbor “Oh GOD! What was I thinking?” I cheer myself on as the real joggers in their real jogging gear leave me behind in a wake of soggy leaves, at last bursting into the house, panting, hotter than hell, feeling terrific and clocking in at a full 12 minutes. Oh Jesus, I think, where are the pastries?

Maybe I was a pastry chef in a past life--- or a pastry. I can’t make them, but I can eat them. And they taste like love. Better, actually.

Donuts, scones, croissants, danishes, tarts, cupcakes, jelly rolls, pies, ladyfingers: the kind of love you can buy for the price of a cup of coffee—and eat with one.

Of course my pastry-tooth comes with a price. The price of my thighs. The price of the jiggle and the squish. The price of the piles of jeans mounting like the dead in the corner of the dressing room stall. The price of the sugar highs and lows. The price of Snow White’s Queen who envies, instead of a step-daughter, her own 23-year-old self who had no idea how beautiful she was- or could be.

When I was 23 and working on a cruise ship in Alaska, the chief steward found a ripped open cardboard box of muffins in the storage closet behind the galley. “What kind of wild animal did this?” he asked. It wasn’t me, but I knew what kind of wild animal it was and could be. The wild animal who craves sweetness when she can’t give it to herself.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What I Wear

I wear socks to bed. I'm that kind of girl- always have been. I don't make them match either. I gave up on that a few years ago when I gave up on laundry. If I took my boots off right now you'd see two different colored socks. One might be pink, one orange and green striped, who knows? All in all, socks might be the wildest thing about me. At least from a glance, if you could see through my shoes.

I've just about quit jewelry, too. I wear two pearl drop earrings that I received a free coupon for in the mail and sent my husband to fetch for me as a gift two Christmas' ago. Rings, too, have been whittled away-- other than my engagement and wedding band. When I got married I was more horrified about the idea of having to wear the same two rings for the rest of my life than the idea of living forever with just one man. Both now seem the most direct, straightforward route, allowing for deviation in more creative ways.

I have a collection of beautiful necklaces that go largely unworn. My mother hated to wear necklaces-- she said they constricted her energy. She disparaged her own neck as short and squat compared to mine-- "a swan's" and recently apologized to me for the disparity in how she talked about her body parts while teaching me to think in opposite ways about mine. I think her neck with its scar the surgeon cut like a smile from collar bone to collar bone to remove the tumor that could have made me a motherless child, is beautiful. I don't feel like wearing necklaces anymore either and I think of her as I let my neck stand plain, stand for itself.

Now, most days of the month I'm more pigeon or crow, less peacock. No more orange, magenta and mellow yellow hair. No more vintage purple prom dresses over orange fishnets and ratty combat boots. I try now, as often as possible, to speak for myself instead of hoping what I wear will do it for me. But then, of course, there are those days when all I pray for are feathers.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Beyond Barbie: Life in the First Person

Life in the First Person: Women’s Stories Uncovered

A novelist. A storyteller. A poet. A freelance writer. A performance artist. A creative nonfiction writer. A blogger.

What do they all have in common?

The first person.

Their experiences and their points of view are different, but their pronouns are the same.

Find out what comes after “I.”

Come out to hear life in the first person with Gigi Amateau, novelist; Denise Bennett, storyteller; Tarfia Faizullah, poet; Julie Geen, freelance writer; Shelia Gray, performance artist; Valley Haggard, creative nonfiction writer and Alex Iwashyna, blogger.

Life in the First Person: Women’s Stories Uncovered will serve as the grand finale in the event series, Beyond Barbie: Piecing Together Today's Woman running in conjunction with Susan Singer’s art opening, “Not Barbie: A Celebration of Real Women,” on Thursday, November 3, at 7 PM at Crossroads Art Center. Tickets can be purchased online at or through Crossroads Art Center or at the door.

Purchase tickets and find out more about Susan Singer's art opening, Not Barbie, and the event series, Beyond Barbie at SusanSingerArt.Blogspot.Com!

Gigi Amateau is the author of the young adult novel, A Certain Strain of Peculiar, a 2010 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year. She also wrote Chancey of the Maury River, a William Allen White Masters List title for grades 3-5. Her debut novel, Claiming Georgia Tate was selected as a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. She recently completed 200-hour yoga teacher training. Visit

Denise Bennett tells personal stories, her original versions of traditional stories and sacred stories often interlaced with harp and vocal music. She is a member of the Tell Tale Hearts Storytellers Theater in Richmond. Master storyteller Elizabeth Ellis has said of her, “Denise Bennett is a storyteller and a musician of exceptional talent. Her work is timeless, and flawless. Her work reminds us of the love that dwells in the deep heart's core.” Visit her at

Tarfia Faizullah is a graduate of VCU's creative writing program, and the former associate editor of Blackbird: an online journal of literature and the arts. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Southern Review, Crab Orchard Review, Ploughshares, Poetry Daily, Diode, Bellingham Review and elsewhere. She is the recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Project award, the Ploughshares Cohen Award and a Fulbright scholarship.

Julie Geen writes a monthly column for belle magazine and is a contributor to Style Weekly. She has published essays in anthologies, most recently “Tarnished: True Tales of Innocence Lost.” Along with raising children, dealing with pets and her own mind, she teaches creative writing classes through Hanover Parks and Recreation. Currently, she is turning one of her screenplays into a novel, and from there probably into a face book post. She blogs at

Shelia Gray is a graduate of the VCU Crafts Department, focusing in metal smithing, textiles and glass. She is currently involved in creating wearable art and costumes, as well as performance art and body painting for fashion shows, events and special projects. She’s writing a mixed-media graphic novel which incorporates sculptures and performance pieces. A self-employed gardener, she has winters off to do what ever she likes.

Valley Haggard, the executive director of Richmond Young Writers, teaches creative writing to kids at Chop Suey Books and creative nonfiction to adults at Chop Suey, Black Swan Bookstore and the Visual Arts Center. On the board of the James River Writers, she has written for Style Weekly, Belle, Rhome, V Magazine and Skirt and has published chapters of her memoir in The Writer’s Dojo and Tarnished: True Tales of Innocence Lost. Visit her at or

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in Philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM (stay at home mom), writer and poet before thirty. She spends most of her time on blogging about life, parenting, marriage, culture and her inability to wake up in the morning and not hate everyone. She also writes for, teaches at the Visual Arts Center and manages enough freelance work to guarantee sexy circles under her eyes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thank You Letters to Bad Boyfriends

Having recently survived our ten year wedding anniversary, my husband tells me that he’s going to write a book about marriage called, “So, I Have to _____ You the Rest of My Life?”

“You’ll open it,” he says, “and there will be only one word inside: ‘YES.’ He laughs. “And then the back cover will say ‘Deal with it!’”

While he’s finishing up his bestseller, I’m hard at work on a project of my own. An old-school letter writer, I’ve saved several trash bags of mail in the attic corresponding to color-coded ribbons by person and place. I’m also a borderline hoarder of stationery with more post-it notes and postcards than notches in my bed post. And so, in an effort to both clean out my desk and apply the principal of positive thinking that suggests one write “thank you” on each bill, including those to the IRS, I have decided a new generation of letters are in order. Not to pen pals or congressman, not to my teen self, my senior self or my yet to be reincarnated self, but to a certain order of human that had a direct impact on my personal evolution. Genus: Ex-boyfriend, Species: Bad.

But why spend time writing letters to creatures such as these when there are bills to pay and books to write? To find closure, to seal the deal, to put a stamp on it. To decode the pattern and find the common thread, the one that runs through me, even still. To get in at last, the final word---in writing, even if the addressee is now unknown.

I need only deviate slightly from standard block form.

Dear Fill in the Blank:

Hi! How are you?? I’m writing to thank you for changing my life! Remember how you whipped out three things on our first date and the only one I wanted to touch was your gun? How, after dating for three months you never learned how to spell my name, how you read my stories and told me I really needed to travel, taped underwear models to your walls because you thought they looked like you, pretended not to recognize me even while running from the police, went to Hooters instead of returning my call, told me I drove a shitty car when I told you that I loved you?

Well, I’m writing to thank you, to thank you for making me the stunningly incredible woman that I am today. Sure, there were bad times, but we had our good times, too. For example, if you hadn’t been exactly who you were, there’s a chance I’d be with you still. If you hadn’t left me- or made me leave you- I would have found nowhere else to go. You gave me something to push against, something to become better than. While cracking open my heart, you formed my character, straightened my spine, and toughened my skin. You illuminated the darkest parts of me, the ones that needed light the most. In the end, not only did you give me something to work on and laugh about; you gave me world class material. To repurpose the famous quote by Tolstoy, “Happy relationships are all alike. The terrible ones will give you something interesting to write about for the rest of your life.”

So, thank you, bless you and God speed. I hope you learned as much from me as I learned from you.

PS: Can I have your forwarding address?

As I lick the envelopes shut, sealing a few with a kiss and cursing the others, my husband reminds me again that water always seeks its own level. This is a bitter sweet pill to swallow, the one that brought me to him. And so now it’s time to write the next frontier of thank you notes-- living acts of gratitude both to him and my son, who remind me on a daily basis that not only are boys red-blooded human beings, but I am too.