Art Vs. the Artist

I have a friend named Nick.  He is a musician, a drummer specifically; very talented.  On my 22nd birthday, June 13th 2005, he celebrated in my living room as Michael Jackson was acquitted.  Forever an MJ fan, he sung Billie Jean and danced around, glad that one of his favorite artists wasn’t about to go to prison.  I was indifferent, really.  I liked MJ but if he was guilty, then bye.  He was found not guilty, and really my own personal opinion of Jackson was that he wasn’t a child molester, he just had Peter Pan Syndrome-so when he was acquitted, I shrugged, and watched Nick cheer.

I tell you this little tale as a basis for a bigger conversation, Art Vs. the Artist.

There is so much art to enjoy in the world…music, theater, literature, film, fine arts…so much art.  All created by artists, and likely all formed from their views on the world around them.  I certainly can say that my world effects my writing on a daily basis.  However, no person is perfect, so by that logic all artists are also flawed human beings.  So, when we discover the personal flaws of our favorite artists, what do we do?

Around Academy Awards season, my favorite author, Mr. Stephen King, tweeted the following: “I would never consider diversity in matters of art.  Only quality.  It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.”

Face palm.

First of all…I think I know what he meant to say.  If I was casting a show and received a script calling for actors of specific color, as is the occasion, then I would be casting in that group and looking for the highest quality actor.  If no color is specified, then one should continue the hunt for the highest quality actor.  I think what he meant is quality over color, which I can understand, but the world is diverse.  For me, if I had two actors for said show and one was black and one was white and they were both just as good, I would probably cast the black actor.  It’s nothing against the white one…it’s just that I know certain things, like my city’s demographics, and the plain fact that most white people have minority friends.

Anyway, for a few days after this tweet, I was sad.  Stephen, oh Stephen…please don’t let them cancel you.

Which brings me to JK Friggin Rowling.

My friend Jaime and I have this kind of running joke about Harry Potter.  She’s a total bookworm but has never read the series or even seen the movies.  I loved them all.  So, there was a heavy dose of “I told you so” when JK expressed her views on trans women on Twitter, and then followed that up with a blog post.  As Jaime said, she “doesn’t seem to realize she could just be quiet.”  Jaime is correct.  Just shut the hell up and let me enjoy my butterbeer in peace.

But no.

Then comes the Harper’s letter.  Tell you what, I didn’t read it.  I mean, I know I’m writing about it, but I didn’t read it, because I’m not 100% sure all those people that signed it were on the same page.  Yes, I am a big fan of free speech, especially in literature.  However, you have an obligation in your position-these weren’t the authors I know, the self or indie published, the folks pounding the Twitter pavement each day trying to sell a few copies.   These are multi-millionaires, with voices that reach billions.  Free speech is all well and good, but you still can’t yell FIRE in a movie theater, guys.  We all have a responsibility.

Now as much as I love Harry Potter, I do not remotely agree with Rowling.  I have trans friends who are as valid as anyone, and I know the difference between sex and gender.  I recall losing my cool over that North Carolina bathroom law…do people not realize that lots of trans folk are indiscernible from cis-gendered people?  Like…you’ve been peeing alongside them all this time.  And as for snatching your kids from the bathroom-you know straight cis-gendered men are like the most likely to pull that crap, right?  Like…they’re the reason we travel in packs.  Not some chicks who were born male but who we will still lend a hair-tie to if a sister’s in need.  We are not afraid of them, we’re afraid of YOU.

But I guess Rowling is afraid of everybody.  So, I battled with this art vs. artist question.  And then she affixed her name to this letter, pretty much as a way to say “you can’t cancel me because you don’t agree with me.”  Oh, but sweetheart…we can.  Should we is a different story, but we can.  Me?  I’m pissed.  I look at my shelf full of her books and I am saddened that now they are tainted.  Much how I felt as a teen discovering that Woody Allen was a rapist after loving all his movies.  Art is almost always wonderful, but sometimes artists can suck.

So, what do we do when we find artists that go against our moral codes, yet whose work we revere? 

No, really.  I’m asking.

E really enjoys Harry Potter.  I’m not going to discourage that.  She also hates no one, as she is 11 and has grown up in a fairly accepting environment.  It’s my hope that she doesn’t hear about any of this, or at least maybe doesn’t understand it fully, so that she can enjoy JKR for as long as possible.  But what if, someday when she is in her 20’s, she finds an artist she loves, JK or otherwise, that dose not line up with her inner beliefs?  What will she do then?

Should artists just shut their mouths and make art?  No, that’s unrealistic.  Everyone has beliefs, no matter how virtuous or backwards they may be.  And our beliefs effect our work.  But why dig your hole deeper once you’ve stepped in it?  And in the name of free speech?  Just accept that you are not everyone’s cup of tea.  If they want to “cancel” you, so be it.  You will still have supporters somewhere.  You’re still a millionaire. 

I’m still pecking out words in my tiny office and only netting about 4 bucks a book, so your opinion really does not affect me. 

It does, however, disappoint.

Firecracker

As a child, I loved the 4th of July.  We lived across the street from a park, and they always had a big carnival and parades and fireworks.  My parents would throw a party and invite everyone we knew.  Then, we moved.

No more parties.

When I was twelve, I went to my friends beach cottage for the 4th, and her cousin threw a firecracker into the bonfire I was sitting beside.  It landed on my leg, not in the embers, and exploded.  I don’t remember much, but I remember seeing the blood, and not being able to hear anything-my friend’s mother ran over to me, screaming at her cousin, but I heard none of it, just a ringing in my ears.

Ever since, I have hated fireworks, ranging from the ones people set off themselves to the big fireworks displays at local parks and such.

Anyway, now, we celebrate the 4th at Kevin’s house.  For the new reader, Kevin is like my brother.  We grew up together, as our mothers are close friends.  Going to his house makes sense to me, bemuse Kev and I have almost always spent the 4th together.  He was at my side during all those parade and parties, and now it’s 30 years later and we still make a thing of it.  He broke his foot the other day, so I was in full mom-mode about his hopping around and trying to do everything himself…typically stubborn dude.  The only time he asked for help was when it was time to cook, and he ended up hobbling around me while I made burgers anyway. 

When it got dark, the fireworks started.  Every house was setting them off, likely because there were no big displays this year.  I am grateful that I went out to Kev’s though, because apparently South Buffalo was like downtown Baghdad.  I would not have enjoyed being home during that.  Instead, we sat in Kev’s yard and watched as the neighbors put on better displays then I have seen at the parks.

We had a few ground fireworks.  Personally, I do not understand why these are legal in NY but aerials are not.  Yes, a bigger boom when you shoot them into the sky, but if you follow directions and think safe then what’s the problem?  It’s the little fountains and firecrackers that I don’t care for.  Tiny things you light and throw…no thank you.  Little ladybugs that spin and tiny tanks that shoot pellets.  Ugh, I hate them…so many dangers.

Anyway, Hubs threw a pack of crackers into the bonfire I was standing next to and I freaked out.  The one thing I asked him not to do…the ONE THING.  But that was nothing compared to the little fountain they lit that exploded in a finale at the end, which no one expected.  That one made me run away, and folks, I don’t run.

Mostly, though, it was ok.

Kev was certain that I would overcome my fear of fireworks, and I suppose I did…or if not overcame, then certainly managed to control.  Which is a nice feeling. Any time I am in control of myself is a good time.  I was concerned about going to his house because I knew these fireworks I hate would be everywhere, from the sparklers and novelties Kevin had to the big booms in the sky. Honestly, I think I would have done far worse if I stayed home though…morning after reports were dismal.  Paper and debris from fireworks littered my garden.  The smell of sulfur lingered in the air.  News reports tell me there were thousands of complaints. 

I tired not to focus on the fireworks.  I focused on Hubs, who loves the 4th of July, and mostly Kev, my broken-footed friend whom I have spent so many Independence days with.  Friends trumps fireworks, any day of the week…not just the 4th of July.

The Love Remains

I’ve only really personally known one person that killed themselves.

(That’s a harsh way to start a post, huh?)

I’m not going to share his name, because we were only friends for a short time and because of that I somehow feel that his death is not really mine to mourn.  Still, when I logged onto Facebook one day and saw all our mutuals posting tributes on his wall, I cried.  I thought, as I’m sure everyone did, that if he had just reached out…maybe I could have done something.  But we weren’t close.  We worked together for a while, and I was his Secret Santa one year.  Hung out a couple times.  What could I have possibly done, except point him to a suicide hotline?  But maybe that would have been enough.  Who knows? 

(That was, completely coincidentally, the year I started doing the AFSP Out of Darkness Walk.  They read a list of names, and his was on it…I felt my heart drop to my shoe.) 

Last summer, I saw a guy in a crowd that looked like him.  For a second, I thought it was a ghost, that’s how close the resemblance was.  I remembered how I felt when he died…that I lost someone I once called “friend,” and felt powerless.  I don’t feel as powerless now.  I do the walk every year and raise funds to save lives, lives like his.  Lives like mine. 

That helps.

Anyway, after I saw this ghost it got me thinking of people in my life that I have lost contact with.  It’s a lot.  Like…a hell of a lot.  And it is all depression’s fault.  It went and convinced me these people didn’t really care about me in the way I cared about them and kept me from reaching out to maintain friendships that were important to me.  I thought to myself, that if one of these people committed suicide, I would be heartbroken.  I wanted people to know that despite my mental health keeping me from being present, the people I love will always be with me, and can always call on me when they need to.  So, I started sending messages.  About one a month, to people I loved and missed.  When I would see a meme or something that reminded me of someone, instead of just thinking “Gee, I miss so-and-so,” I would send it to them with a message. 

And so, I talked to my college buddies.  I had coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen for three years.  I reconnected with one of my besties from high school.  At Christmas, I sent messages to people I did Xmas shows with when I was in my teens.  I just so happened to message my middle school best friend the night before she got engaged.  Yesterday, I messaged a friend I haven’t seen in at least a decade AND my former therapist.  My point is that I tried to reach out, and good things came of it.

And…

I hope these people know.  I hope all the people I have ever met in my life know…that I am here.  If I loved you before, I have not stopped.  I wrote a play once, and the premise was that love, in all its forms, does not dissipate.  Take a relationship…you may break up, it may be awful, but you loved them once, and that love lives on in your subconscious whether you acknowledge it or not.  Or, someone you’ve had a falling out with…for instance, there is a woman that I’m pretty sure doesn’t like me.  And that’s fine.  She doesn’t have to.  We had a falling out many years ago, and I personally don’t think she’s ever forgiven me.  Again, that’s fine, it’s her prerogative.  Still, if she called me in a panic, I’d summon the part of me that used to be friends with her and run to her aid.  It’s just the kind of person I am, and why I believe that the love remains.

I do not give up on people.  It may seem that way at times, because I fall into depressive episodes that can last anywhere from an hour to five years.  I hate losing my people, be it to distance, time, or circumstance.  I will always, always be here.  Do not hesitate.  I don’t want to hear them read your name at the suicide walk, guys.

And also…maybe I just miss you.

My point is to reconnect.  To try to do something to maintain the relationships that mattered to you, even though the world seems to have gotten in the way.  And if you’re in a really dark place, all the more reason to reach out.  And if you need me, I’m here.

Words About Words

Literally the only thing on my mind today is writing.  So, I’m going to write about that.

There are three main things I work on daily.  One is my blog…I may not type it up until Monday or Thursday morning but I am thinking about it all week long.  I try to come up with a topic early so I can ponder it on non-blog days and have it ready to go when it’s time.  The problem lately is that I haven’t got much to say.  Sometimes 45 or someone does something utterly crazy and I want to write about that…though I often deter myself because I don’t want to give that man any more time in the spotlight than he deserves. Sometimes I will have a tale to tell about my weekend or the kiddos or Hubs.  Sometimes I will think about writing about my fishing expeditions, as I learn how to master the craft.  Most of the time, though, I have so many thoughts that it is hard to choose just one.

The second thing I contend with on a daily basis is my novel.  I will admit I have not touched it since December, and really need to get on that.  It’s in its 4th draft.  I sent it to some folks to read but haven’t really gotten any feedback.  I am thinking screw it…just do another edit.  Add some stuff that you’ve made notes on in the past few months. Take out what you feel weird about.  Hope it’s still long enough, and then go find yourself a publisher!

Publishing, to me, is a slightly less daunting task than it was 2 months ago.  I know a novel is a whole other situation compared to a poetry collection, but I have a very “I did it before, I can do it again” mentality going. 

Finally, there’s poetry, my first true love. 

I haven’t written one in weeks.  Not for lack of trying, it’s just that I am not feeling that poetic inspiration right now.  Most of my daily poetry work has to do with hyping my book on Twitter and begging people to leave reviews.  My book, I hope, is doing well…three 5-star reviews in a month, which is nice.  I get my report at the beginning of July, and am realizing I’m more excited to see how many copies I sold than to get my check.  I just want my work out there.  Money is a secondary gift. 

Oh, but I did have FIVE poems published this week and you should definitely check them out here.

Anyhoo, next to my desk there is a table.  On that table is something my dad made me:  my first paycheck, framed, with the book cover in the background.  My final proof sits next to it.  I look at these items and remind myself that I can do this.  I have always had the talent, and now I have the drive, also.  My first collection is about how mental health has affected me over the past twenty years.  But the biggest thing it did was shut down my writing: long stretches of block due to meds that worked wrong…and that ever present voice whispering “You’re just not good enough.”

Now, I have slayed those demons, and while their injured voices still appear from time to time, I know I am stronger than they are, now.  The proof is in the proof.

Anyway, happy Monday.  And happy writing, to all those struggling with thier pens right now.  You can do it, too.

On Guns and Writing

While in the country with Mark’s family, there was an opportunity for the boys to shoot BB guns.  My nephew JJ asked if I wanted to give it a try.  M said no, I hate guns, and JJ cocked his head at me in a disbelieving way.  I think it’s safe to assume most people he knows have fired some sort of gun, so I must’ve been a rarity.  I did look at them, and ask how to load them, and he said “if you don’t like them, why do you care?”  Ah, young grasshopper. Because I’m a writer.

I watched them shoot for a bit just to study how they held the gun and aimed and shot.  No, I have no interest in doing it myself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an interest in the process.  I have been working on notes and dialogue bits for my next big project, and there is a gunfight in it.  Right now, I am finding this scene to be the most difficult to actualize, as I know little about guns.  I did some research for my last novel, as one of the characters is held at gunpoint, but no one was hit.  In my upcoming project, someone dies from gunfire.  So, I need to learn a little about it.

I don’t like guns.   Despite my liberal leanings, though, I also am not trying to take your gun away.  You want to hunt, hunt.  You feel safer with a pistol for protection?  Go ahead.  No, I can’t for the life of me understand the need for assault rifles, and yes, I don’t think you should have a gun if you cannot pass a background or mental health check, but that’s just my belief and I’m not going to go after yours.  Here’s my situation…I have mental illness.  Hubs is an ex-con.  We absolutely should not have a gun.  And we are wise enough to see these roadblocks and come to that conclusion.  I just wish other people could.

But politics aside.  Sometimes, as writers, we have to investigate things we never thought we would.  Our search histories are insane.  For me, right now, it’s guns. I never thought I would have to learn about them, but here I am attending YouTube University in hopes of writing a realistic scene. 

I considered having JJ show me how to fire, but the bit of me deep down that remembers the day there was a gunfight across the street from my house keeps me from asking.  I know that is only my experience, but it’s one of the small things that keep me from wanting to hunt or shoot in general.  I think of the deaths by guns in my city that I see on the news, almost every night.  I think of a friend of a friend who had his head blown off at a party one night.  I think of 23,000 or so people that killed themselves with a gun this year.  And then, I think of Bambi’s mom.

It’s just not for me.

But writing and research is, so I will immerse myself in something I never intended to know anything about for the purpose of my project.  I doubt I will discover anything I like about guns, but I will hopefully discover some practicality for them.  I am playing with the possibility of another character being a sniper…so after basic gunfight research, I may have to look into that. 

Anyway, my point is that writing is challenging when you have an idea and no practical knowledge of how that idea works.  So, you start your research, and you hope you learn enough to make it sound plausible.  They say write what you know…that’s terrible advice. The entire genre of fantasy wouldn’t exist if people did that.  Write what you imagine…and write what you’ve learned.

Oh, it’s Monday?

My birthday was on the 13th

First, we went fishing, and Mark caught a gross looking sheepshead.  He was glad his curse of not catching anything was broken.  Mine, of course, remained.  Then we headed to my mom’s for a birthday brunch, since their 40th wedding anniversary was the next day and they were going out of town for the night.   It was very yummy.  They usually make me a birthday cake (Confetti cake with Rainbow chip frosting) but this year dad gave me a box of Confetti mini-muffins and a tub of Rainbow Chip for dipping.  He also got me a baby Yoda plush.  Facts: I have never seen The Mandolorian.  Or any Star Wars movie, for that matter.  But I love me some baby Yoda. 

After brunch, we went back out fishing. This time at the access site off Harlem Rd.  And finallyfinallyfinally, I hooked a baby perch.  Mark snapped the below pic.

In the evening, we went over to Kev’s to play beanbags and have a fire.  It was a nice birthday.

And it extended unexpectadly into this past Saturday, when the kiddos came.  I mentioned offhand to E once, jokingly, that nobody makes me a birthday cake even though I make four or five a year for all of them.  She remembered this, and set out to do just that.  The result was a delicious white cake with buttercream frosting and blueberries on top.  She even put the candles in the shape of a 37.

K, not to be overshadowed, made me dinner.  It was just hot dogs and packaged mac salad, but I enjoyed not having to stand at the stove. We also took E, K, and L fishing, and everybody caught something.

Sunday was Fathers Day.  Mark was given goodies…World’s Best Dad plaques from K and a jug for his change from E.  The girls and L went home but M stayed, and we went to my parents to have dinner with dad. 

Today I woke up and had a million things to do, completely forgetting that one of them was to come up with a blog topic.  So, forgive me if this isn’t the most thought-provoking thing you’ve read…if you want thought-provoking, you should read my book.

Just sayin’.

Clear Blue Skies

When I was in seventh grade, I went on a winter camping trip with my Girl Scout troop.  We stayed in a lodge that was less than ideal, and when I returned home, I noticed several bumps had formed on my hands.  They itched terribly, and started to blister after a few days.  I started to hide my hands, unsure of what was happening and both ashamed and scared.  But then, my parents started getting itchy bumps, too.  So, I confessed that I was experiencing it as well, and we went to a dermatologist who told us we had contracted scabies.  Furious, I went home and tore my clothes out of my dresser so I could wash everything.  I had to coat my entire body in this terrible smelling pink stuff and wait for it to kill the bugs.  I felt dirty and ashamed, but most of all, I wanted my hands back.  I realized for the first time in my life that I was taking my body for granted.

I tell you this little story, because I think we all have things we take for granted about our bodies, and as we age these things become blazingly apparent.  For me, though, my hands weren’t the worst occasion of this.  It was my eyes.

We use our eyes all day every day and don’t think much of it.  Now, I have worn glasses since I was about eight.  I tried contacts for two weeks in high school and decided they weren’t for me.  But I have always been damn near blind without my glasses, so I definitely took those for granted…how lucky am I to be able to afford a pair in the first place.  And if they break?  Just get another.  Thank you, God, for insurance and decent copays.

But then, about six years ago, something happened.  I started seeing floaters in my eyes…little spots or lines of red that obscured my vision.  I went to a retina specialist who told me I have retinopathy, a common ailment of the diabetic.  He did laser surgery in my left eye and sent me on my way to see.  Then, about three weeks later, something happened…a small purple thing appeared, and as days went on, it moved closer to the center of my eye.  Then one day, I was watching Friends on TV, and I closed my right eye and focused on Phoebes’ face.  It was like looking at her in a funhouse mirror, all skewed and out of proportion.  I called my doc immediately…after an exam, it was determined that I had scar tissue in my eye which had attached to my retina and was tugging it out.

So, I had my first eye surgery.  I spent a week lying face down, because they put a gas bubble in my eye to hold everything in place.  It was months before I could see out of my left eye.  I remember driving down the street one night with dad and closing my right eye to see how the left was doing…and I saw headlights.  Nothing else, but there was light in the dark, and that excited me. 

In the end, I do not have full vision in my left eye…there is no peripheral.  But it is certainly better than no sight at all.

Now, the right eye also had some floaters, but due to the mishap with the left I was reluctant to get surgery.  So instead my doc gave me a shot in my right eyeball every two months for about four years.  The floaters remained, but the shot kept them under control.  Then, one day, my parents and Mark and I went to Canalside for the day.  I was furious the whole time.  It was very bright, and my eyes were sensitive to the light.  Everything was blurry and blocked by floaters.  I decided then that something needed to be done, but it took a lot of courage and time before I brought it up to my doc.  “Are you sure you want the surgery?  I know the last one was hard.  We can always keep up the shots,” he said.  No.  I was done with needles in my eyeball.

So, he set it up.  The plan was to vacuum out the blood and then laser it so it didn’t progress.  I would fortunately be knocked out during this.  Everything went well, though there was a slight tug on the retina so he put a bubble in just in case.  I ended up spending a week on my side, this time.  But the bubble was gone in about a month.

I was at the park with the kids when I realized it.  I looked up at the sky…it was blue.  It was clear.  And I could see all of it. 

I went home and opened a book.  I read two chapters before my eyes got tired, at least three times more than I could read before. 

I drove at night-not my favorite thing to do so I try to avoid it, but I know I can if I need to. 

For the first couple decades of my life, I took my sight for granted, even though it was already terrible.  Then, for nearly seven years I struggled with not being able to see clearly.  Never mind the fact that I couldn’t even get a new glasses prescription, so I am still wearing my script from seven years ago. 

Well, until today.  I have an appointment at Americas Best for an eye exam and new glasses.  I am irrationally excited, because I will be able to see even clearer then.  Maybe I can make it to three chapters at a time in my book.  Maybe I can see the stars in the sky after, or the birds flying overhead on sunny days, or the fish in the water that Mark keeps trying to point out to me.

I have a lot of family that is aging, and as they do, I wonder what obstacles they are facing with their bodies, and how much they have taken simple things for granted.  I have learned though my battle with my eyes to never assume it’s all going to keep working, because it’s not.  Our bodies are like cars…sometimes they break down.  It’s why we have doctors.  Yes, sometimes we have to graciously accept the changes we face. But other times we can do something about it…and if that’s an option for you, take it.  So many people have no choice…I feel like we owe it to them to do the best we can, and keep hope alive.

The People in my Neighborhood

This morning as I was getting coffee with mom, I told her about how much I enjoyed my childhood in Riverside, a northwestern neighborhood in Buffalo.  Now, time has changed this place that I once called home and if I’m perfectly honest with you, you couldn’t get me to move back there with a free house and a new car.  However, when I was a child it was a wonderland. 

My favorite TV show was Sesame Street.  I watched it every day while I ate my lunch, and somehow, I had it in my head that my street, Tonawanda St., was my own personal Sesame Street.  There weren’t any kids on the street until I was about six, so I turned all the shopkeepers into my friends.

At the corner of my block was a restaurant called Nuchereno’s.  Now, the Nucherno family owned a lot of stuff in Riverside, and probably still do-I know they at least still have the auto shop.  But the restaurant was the piece de resistance.  I would only eat the spaghetti and meatballs there but it was the best spaghetti and meatballs, ever.  And in my little mind, this moderately priced restaurant was the epitome of fine dining.  We always went there when family and friends were in town, or even just to Sunday dinner with Ka and Grammy. 

A little closer to the house you had Tony’s barber shop, where my dad would go to get his hair cut.  I only went in once and remember being very aware that this was not a place for little girls.  I do recall asking Tony if he kept his combs in blue Kool-Aid, not knowing it was sanitizer.

Next to the barber was Nuchereno Liquors.  I LOVED the liquor store.  First of all, there was a beagle named Sam that hung out there and the owner Mike was always nice to me and let me play with her.  I knew it was a place for grownups, but he never told me to get away from the store front and he always let me in-I recall believing that it was a safe place for me, despite catering to the local drunks.  I loved the smell of it too, and the pretty bottles on the shelves…I even practiced my reading on some of them.

Past our house and a little further down there was the salon where my mom got her hair done, The Hair Oasis.  I recall wanting to go there when I got older, and got my wish for my Junior prom when my mother took me there for an updo.  It had a real old school salon vibe, and there were always neighborhood ladies getting their hair and nails done and chit-chatting.  A little further down was the Shaggy Dog hot dog stand, which I loved to go for dinner at.  They had big vats of honey that they kept to keep the bees busy and away from your food, and I loved watching them, even though mom warned me not to get too close.

Then came the bakery whose name escapes me, but it is long gone.  Here’s what I recall of that:  a huge wedding cake in the window, that had a fountain of punch built into it.  I remember mom or someone saying it was tacky, but I loved it and swore I would have the same at my wedding (of course, I didn’t.  It was totally tacky.)  They also had these smiley face cookies I really liked, and sometimes the baker would give me 2 for 1. 

The florist was after that, and they, too, had a dog, a big golden retriever that laid around the shop all day.  Even if we weren’t buying anything, the owner let me come in to visit.  Really, all the shop keeps were like that-they all knew my name and greeted me when they saw me coming down the street.  Reid’s Delicatessen was after that, and I remember one day I went in with a red balloon and accidentally let it go, and it flew into the ceiling fan and popped.  The owner gave me a free lollipop for my trouble.

There was the library, which I have already written about, and then finally the hardware store, True Value.  Another shop I loved the smell of.  I also loved all the little bins full of “treasures:” nuts and bolts and nails and such.  Across from the hardware store was Marine Midland bank, where Grammy did her banking, and the B-Quik, for your quick shopping needs.  I vaguely recall these places, but they were, in my mind, “at the end of the street.”  (The street, mind you, definitely goes on for at least another mile after that.)

Anyway, you take all these little places, and then add in the huge park/playground/pool situation across the street from our house, and in retrospect it was the perfect place to spend the first few years of my life.  Obviously times have changed…for instance, after we moved to Kenmore, a suburb of Buffalo that was MUCH safer, my mother still didn’t let my sister ride her bike around the block until she was nearly ten.  I was riding my tricycle around the block in Riverside at four.  Times change…and so did that little neighborhood.

Once about fifteen years ago I was at the park with mom and Sharon, my backup-mother.  We spoke to the people that owned the old house, and they were kind enough to give us a tour.  They changed a lot, like the bathroom was completely redone, but it still had the same old bones and was nice to see inside.  I could write epics about that house, I loved it so much, but this is about the neighborhood that surrounded it.  I could tell you about the people too:  the kids that finally came and befriended me, and how I was so sad to say goodbye to them when we moved.  But again, this is about other people: adults.  Adults who barely knew me from a hole in the wall but made me feel safe and protected in a place that was losing its safety. 

I don’t know what happened to any of those people.  All those businesses are closed now, I believe…except maybe the liquor store.  I went there once about ten years ago to pick up a bottle of wine.  Mike is gone, I think he passed, and Sam certainly did, but there was another dog roaming the aisles and that made me smile.

I have wonderful memories of my childhood in Riverside, and while the neighborhood has changed, I will never forget growing up there.  It may have been flawed to some, but it was absolutely perfect to me.

Country Living

To start, I did not catch a fish.

Despite my brother-in-law Jason’s guarantee that we would catch something, he was of course the only one to reel anything in.  We did however buy K a pole, and teach her how to use it, and she took to it like a natural. 

But let’s back up.

On Thursday of last week, Hubs and I ventured across New York state to visit his family in the country for his step-father’s memorial service.  Honestly, I don’t remember much of Thursday.  There was lots of driving for me since Mark doesn’t, and I was tired at the end of it.  We ate dinner and had a few drinks for his sister Dawn’s birthday, and I went to bed early. 

Friday, all my nightmares and worries materialized when I woke up and immediately ran to the bathroom to vomit.  My inner monologue was rampant with fear as I tried to calculate how long it would take to get me to the nearest hospital.  I took my Zofran and a Xanax and fell back asleep, and when I awoke it was after two and I had slept though the service.  Discombobulated, I walked outside in search of my husband and instead found most of my in-laws partying in the barn.  Had I realized it was so late I would have changed my clothes or brushed my hair or something, but I was in a fog.

I was sitting at a picnic table by the pond when E came around the corner.  She saw me and ran to give me a hug.  The kiddos headed up on Friday with their mom and step-dad, and this was going to be our first adventure as one big happy family.

Once, years ago when I worked at the daycare, Mark volunteered to help with our annual carnival.  I remember explaining a family to him-one of the kiddos was there with his mom, dad, and step-mom.  Mark turned to me and said, “I hope we can do something like that someday.”  This weekend, he got his wish.

Saturday was the day we would spend all together.  It began with fishing with Jason, as previously mentioned, wherein I caught nothing but seaweed and sticks, and also managed to snag my hook in a tree.  We did do a little off-roading to get there though, and at first I was scared Mom’s Toyota wouldn’t make it up the path and back, but it took it like a champ-like it was nothing.  Take that, Ford trucks.

After that we went swimming at a place called Stewart’s Landing that had a big dam.  Mark started telling us tales of jumping off of it, and then decided he wasn’t as old as he actually is and took the plunge.  Afterwards, K wanted to try.  I was nervous, watching her climb over the railing and standing on the edge.  She’s a strong swimmer, so it wasn’t the water that worried me, just the jump.  After insisting we all stop watching her, and then asking Mark to jump again so he would be down there if she needed him, she summoned her courage and leapt.  Mark was unbelievably proud.

After swimming we went to Jason’s for a fish fry.  I ate 2 whole fish (well, minus the head,) bones, fins, and all.  And it was absolutely delicious.  I pretty much just relaxed and visited while the boys shot BB guns with their cousin and the girls rode ATV’s with Mark and their mom.  Their step-dad also taught the girls to play horseshoes, and at the end of the night the boys decided they would have a sleepover at Jason’s.  So, the girls went back to the hotel with their mom and me and Mark had the night to ourselves. 

We went and hung out with his mother and his sister Dawn and did shots in the barn.  Then our nephew and his friends showed up and we hung with them for a bit before I headed to bed. 

In the morning, after the kiddos hit the road, Mark’s mom took us to McDonald’s for breakfast, and then we headed over to the Little Falls canal lock to do some fishing.  Mark somehow got me to climb the thing, which was terrifying.  I have seen locks before, since I live at the end of the Erie Canal.  We have one in the river, and one in the aptly named City of Lockport.  I have never stood atop one though, and it was very high up.  I’m not afraid of heights per se, but I am deathly afraid of my glasses falling off my face. 

We fished for a bit and nothing came of it, except for a story about how John (the man whose memorial we were there for) used to use nuts as sinkers when he was fishing.  Mark’s mother had gifted him John’s tackle box, and it was in the trunk of the car.  Right after Lauri told me this story, Mark opened the tackle box to find a dozen or so nuts.

He’s keeping them.  He’s hoping they bring us luck.

In the evening, we drove out to my sister-in-law Carrie’s, to visit with her and her boyfriend Sal.  Her kids, who I met ten years ago when they were all babies, are now almost adult-sized.  Afterwards, we drove home and I got a good night’s sleep, knowing I would have a long drive ahead of me the next day.

In the morning, I awoke before everyone.  I made some coffee and went out on the porch and watched the hummingbirds flit between the feeders.  When everyone woke up, we went to the grocery store so Lauri could get some stuff for lunch, and then we went to Tammy’s house.  Tammy is Tommy’s wife, who is Mark’s other late step-father.  On Friday, she told me she bought my book and read it cover to cover, telling me which poems she liked and praising my efforts.  She insisted I come by to sign it, so I did.  We also visited briefly with Mark’s grandmother, Vera.  Then Tammy was kind enough to gift Mark with some prints that were Tommy’s.  He was pleased.

We headed back to Dawn’s and had a nice lunch, and then we hit the road.  The ride home seemed a little quicker than the ride there, as it always does, and when we walked back into our lives there was an air of disappointment.  We spent such a lovely week out in the country with his family.  We were never bored for a second, even without our gadgets and such.  Everyone was kind and hospitable, and I will miss them.  I know Mark will too…he always does.

Anyway, it’s back to the real world…and the real world arrived in the form of an envelope.  I opened it to find a check for my book sales in May, and I burst into tears.  Guys…I have never been paid for writing before.  I remembered my first theater paycheck back in 2002-that was a big deal, but this is much bigger to me.  For the first time…finally, blessedly…it was real.  The shock had worn off, and I accepted the fact that I was indeed, an author.

Anyway…that was my week.  How was yours?

Mark and K about to jump.