No Pain, No Gain [Muscle Flex]

When I was little,  my mom used to take me to tea.  Which makes me sound much fancier than I ever have been on the inside.  I liked two things about the tea – the sugar cubes and perpetual bite-sized desserts.  Basically, I’d get all sugar-ed up, flip up my pinky, sip my tea through pursed lips, and watch the other patrons through narrow eyes.  Stupid tea-drinkers had no idea I wasn’t really a fancy little girl – but a spy! I’d study their movements for any sign of curious behavior, any weapons hidden under their Sunday church hats.

Eventually though, I’d have to tear my eyes away and search for water to wash down the bite-sized treats erupting from my mouth.  Incognito wasn’t easy to pull off when choking on tart crust and filo dough.

I hadn’t bitten off more than I could chew exactly – just attempted to eat so many different sweets that the effect was the same.

Lately, I have been channeling fake-fancy, spy Sydney.  Not the paranoia part, the treat-stuffing part. These are more metaphorical treats, unfortunately.  Fruit tarts and mini-eclairs have been replaced with word desserts.

I am resisting making really bad puns right now because saying they’ve been replaced with fruit retorts and mini-declarations would be cheesy and not at all entertaining.

Anyways, I’ve been experimenting – both accidentally and on purpose with different writing styles and creative brainstorming techniques.  Channeling all of my effort into these new methods has stolen quite a bit of material and time that would normally go into my blog.  The sad, incomplete entries in my drafts folder can attest to that as they sit there quietly guilt-tripping me.

On the flip side, I’ve been more productive than ever on my other writing projects.  I’m doing my best to carve out some space for my blog, to find out what this platform would be best used for without stealing material from stories or poems (that’s right… poems. Crazy new shit going on here).  The answer may be to try what I haven’t tried before – write about my writing.

For some reason, it has always been a secret, like Spy-Sydney was a secret.  I haven’t told many people or discussed it outside of my husband and immediate family because I’ve been scared to be judged.  I hear these fake bullies in my head laughing, pointing, judging.

This sad, unnecessary insecurity has limited me for years.  Hell, I’ve had two blogs over the last 6 years and never put my name to them. I have a folder full of short stories and ideas that I have never gotten “perfect” enough to submit or to show anyone or even finish.  Everything I’ve written, I’ve erased eventually, fearing that it might not be good enough. I’ve never shared them openly. While I am still not ready to do that, I am trying to be braver.

And my blog is the perfect place to share this process with others who might relate.

The first step was to stop judging myself, to write first, think later.  This led me to free-writing.  Every morning before my feet touch the floor, I grab my journal (thanks to technology, it is right there on my phone) and start writing pure stream of consciousness. Eventually, I direct the stream towards a piece I am working on.  It is a great way to brainstorm and flush out ideas because they don’t get lost in your head.  Anything from a character’s name to the motivation for a poem to what makes sense in a story line. Everything is right there on (virtual) paper for me to remember.  It organizes my thoughts and my feelings so that when I sit down at my computer to write, I have something to say.

The best thing is that I don’t have to stop this technique after I get out of bed.  Any time I am able to write, if I find myself blocked, I open up my app and start free-writing, talking about why I want to write this piece in the first place, what my motivation is, and how to accomplish it.

This technique in conjunction with a few organizational tools has gotten me in a little over my head – in the best way possible. Like Spy-Sydney choking on pie crust and filo dough, I’ve essentially bitten off a little more than I can chew.  I have a big-girl job after all, a husband, a dog, a social life.  For the first time, there is not enough time. There are not enough hours to work on every project everyday, but it’s a hell of a lot better than staring at a blank page. So I’ve had to commit every available second to writing – in lines, between meetings, in the bathroom, while doing my makeup, after my husband goes to sleep, before I’ve even opened my eyes more than a sliver.  No pain, no gain, right?

Not to mention, yesterday, for the first time ever, I submitted my work for publication.

I plan to keep submitting, to find a publication who is willing take a chance on an emerging writer, and to collect as many rejections as it takes.  It will probably take a while, but it is the biggest step I’ve taken to date.  And that’s progress.

Muscle flex.



You’re not welcome

“Y’all are in the worst place to meet someone,” the random man informed me and a friend.  Before he’d gifted us with his knowledge, we were people watching from the corner of the bar, content to enjoy our night with some drinks, listening to music, and chatting away with our wedding bands snug on our ring fingers.  We were ironically in the bar where my friend had met her husband, but I knew he wasn’t referring to the establishment.  Our position at the bar did not lay out the welcome mat for potential suitors and two lone women out drinking on a Saturday night would have no other purpose in a bar than to meet someone. Enjoying each other’s company was unimportant.

I waved my left hand through the air politely. Or I flipped him off with my ring finger and an aggressive smile, never one for idle chit-chat with assuming strangers.  Surprised flashed in his eyes, as if he couldn’t believe that two married women would be found drinking outside the comfort of their own home now that they’d achieved their true goal of going out in public: marriage.

Never mind that he was married too, as it turns out.  He waved his ring finger back at me and smiled.  Solidarity.  We were confidants now. Somehow.  So he lingered close by although our backs were still to him and explained how he was out with his single friend who was trying to meet girls.

Cue the single friend.

Thinking his married comrade had hooked some ladies for him, he swaggered up to me, slipping his arm low and snug around my waist. My back was still to him and my body was tense.  The married man was wrong after all.  Our position at the bar was just fine, our existence within it was enough.  We did not need a welcome mat for someone to invite themselves into our personal bubble.  What’s mine is yours, buddy.

As I write this, there is a part of me whispering, “Lighten up, Sydney. You’re coming off as caustic and unfriendly and a buzz kill. The man didn’t mean any harm.  Even though he turned on a dime and fled when we repeated we were married, realizing the object in front of him wasn’t his to take. It was Saturday night and boys will be boys. Be cool.”

That whispering is the guilt.  Shame for liking my personal space, for expecting more respect from strangers – or what some people call courtesy.  Shame for being a bitch.

Cool girls aren’t bitches.

I hated this game when I was single.  The risk was too great, the slope slippery from “harmless” flirting to alarm bells. I often refused to play at all and, at some point, resigned myself to a happy, fulfilled spinster life.  Building a moat around myself was a better option than having strangers stake claim to something that will never be theirs.

It didn’t come to that. Not every man is a conqueror.

By the time I met my husband, I regarded most men with skepticism. It saddens me just a little when I remember questioning his friendliness, wondering what his motive was.  I remember the weight that lifted from my chest when I realized there was no motive. He was unassuming, as one should be when it comes to another person.  Whatever his parents did, they did it right. And I’m not sucking up because I know they will probably read this. I also won’t protest if they love me more because of it.

More parents should take a page out of their book, whatever it says, so that boys grow up to be men who understand that a woman’s existence is not an open invitation. Who understand they have claim only to themselves, as do we.  Who turn the shame inwards when a line is crossed.

And know to keep their damn hands to themselves.


Thirty-three steps.

It takes me thirty-three steps to walk from the watermelon welcome mat my husband bought for me through every room in our house and out the backdoor to the patch of grass we call a yard.  It helps that there are no doors to slow me down, minus the bathroom and the closet, both of which have the same bi-fold, louvered door so we can still see each other when they’re closed.  I’d recommend this for any new couple – it is a real sink-or-swim approach to your new found lack of privacy.

When people ask about our house, it doesn’t take long for a sweet smile to play on their lips.  They call it charming as they reminisce about where they started with their spouse, the places they lived when they were just starting to build a life together.

I suppose there is a lot of charm.  We put a lot of work into making it our own, sometimes sacrificing our own happiness as we fought over throw pillows in Pier 1 and sanded down furniture until our hands bled in the DIY project from Hell.  It was only after we finished everything, our dining table looking a bit like a bad pedicure, that we discovered electric sanders.

In the end, it all came together.  A hodgepodge of hand-me-down furniture and discount decor became our home.  Those thirty-three steps hold so much of what I love: the hundred-year-old player piano my husband used to wake me up with, peddling away and singing the Chattanooga Choo Choo; the old brown leather recliner whose arms hug me when I write; the throw pillows I fought for because the colorful owls on them were just so darn cute; our favorite Mardi Gras throws including the Muses shoe I waited years for; all the pictures of our life together, of our families and friends who made us who we are; the mice in our ceiling…

[disgusted shiver followed by gagging]

One day when we look back, we might have that same sweet smile thinking of where we started.  We may even be envious of our past selves, the simplicity of their life, how deep we slept under the roar of the window units.  For now, we are just thankful to have everything we need just a few steps away.

And for exterminators.   Thank the Lord for exterminators.

Cherish the Child, Ascend to Adult

I am an adult.  It is undeniable.  I have all the classic symptoms of adulthood: a career, a home, a marriage certificate and the accompanying joint account, a strict bedtime of 11:00pm on weekends, and bills, bills, bills.

But, man, don’t I want to be a child.  I want to run outside until my legs burn, using only the position of the sun in the sky to tell me when its time to stop.  To lay in the grass and make flower crowns and do cartwheels.  To have dinner on the table and food in the pantry without having to worry about how it got there.  To take naps without the accompanying guilt. To indulge without frenzied justification. And pizza rolls.  I want all the pizza rolls my stomach can handle until my tongue is scorched and burning because what kid ever waited until they cooled?

Nowadays, if I tried to run until my legs burned, I’d make it solidly to the end of the block before collapsing into a heap of heaving lethargy.  I believe flower crowns send an open invitation to all insects for a party on my skin, a creepy, crawling party that I have no intention of attending.  The last time I did a cartwheel, I pulled a hamstring.  No joke. My body is corroding as quickly as my perceived invisibility.  And pizza rolls give me heartburn.

Now that I’ve got you walking through the valley of the shadow of the death of my childhood, let me remind you – I live in an adult playground.  I live in the city of id, the town of indulgence.  Playtime still exists, though different. It tastes better.  Frozen pizza products have been replaced with a delicate blend of spices and herbs by Donald Link, Leah Chase, John Besh, my grandmother, everyone’s grandmother, all chefs in their own right. Etouffee and fricassee recipes passed along like heirlooms, cherished as the treasure they are.   Freshly shucked oysters, smoked pig, roasted duck, fried trout, boiled seafood and all the fixins washed down with a cold Abita.

Brief pause to drool.

As if the taste bud circus wasn’t enough to make me abandon my very responsible online budgeting tool with glee, Louisiana has more festivals than days in the year: Strawberry Fest, Crawfish Fest, Poboy Fest, Cochon de Lait Fest, Okra Fest, Jazz Fest, Oyster Fest, Fun Fest – That’s right.  Fun Fest.  Don’t even need a reason other than that.  Other than, “Hey y’all, lets get together, have some fucking fun.”

Add a fiddle and an accordion or a whole lotta brass or even just a washboard, and we’ve officially entered carefree.

It is easy to forget here. It is easy to preserve your inner child, to section off adulthood to a part of you that exists only when needed.  Thank God for that.

And thank God for the adult in me.  The person that emerges during business hours or in a crisis, takes a breath and asks that truly important question.  Every decision, every hard moment where you want to scream and stomp your foot and slam your door and have someone else, some adult, any adult, deal with it, can be solved with a question: What kind of person do you want to be?

For me, the answer is easy.  What’s difficult is being that person. Sometimes being that person requires me to wag a finger at my inner child, put my hands on my hips, and stare down the persistent “but I don’t want to!” It takes resolve and courage.  But it holds me higher with dignity and pumps my heart with adrenaline.  It separates me from those who stand for nothing and are trampled for it.  You must go toe-to-toe with those who seek to keep you in your place, the place of a child, and you must rise above it.  To be an adult, for me, is to stake out my own place.

I am an adult.  It is undeniable.  It is liberating.



Fall Down, Spring Forward

I fear desiccating rhetoric, the evaporation of eloquence, a vacuum in my mind sucking my words dry, leaving my soul crumbling.

And the more  I fear it, the more likely it is to happen.  Most of the time it is self-inflicted.  Lately, it is beyond my control.  Grief has robbed me of creativity.  All encompassing, smothering, confusing grief that makes me want to wrap myself in something strong and impenetrable, in the armor of Shotgun Sydney. Loss is not as debilitating for her. Why would it be?  She is mostly imaginary.

I started writing my last post, the cemetery post, in February after the passing of an old friend.  Our lives had once been intertwined, briefly brushing past one another in a friendship that didn’t last beyond high school.  His death was an unexpected tragedy, but the grief was pushed aside by life.  Life never slowed its pace.

The post was going nowhere.  It was stuck between autobiography and ghost story.  A few words here and there followed by bulk deletes.

Then someone else was taken.

It was senseless and cruel and is still incomprehensible.  Life came to a crashing halt, but the cemetery post found its place.  I still haven’t quite found mine.  Over the last few weeks, her death has become more of a fact than anything else, a fact surrounded by questions and uncertainty, a fact that caused me to slam on my breaks and swerve so that I didn’t get sucked in by the grief, a fact that left me feeling bruised and beaten.

A fact that sucked my word well dry.

I had nothing.  Where there once was a never-ending flow of admittedly annoying wit, there was something hard and angry.  I suppose that might have been the influence of Shotgun Sydney. Hard and Angry is her forte, a fortress that protects me from empty sadness.

I didn’t realize it, but at some point, life started moving again. And I have a hunch that its pace is quickening.  Hard and Angry and Everything Else are still there, but they’re getting pushed around.  Life is taking their place and covering them up like green grass sprouting from murky marsh water.  Spring is here.  The air is starting to feel good again.