After reading the Guitar World January 2013 issue loaded with articles on Led Zeppelin, something deep within my subconscious stirred, a cerebral moment, if you will. Was there a cosmic shift in my thinking? Was I suddenly able to play Led Zeppelin songs on my guitar as if by osmosis? I wish. Instead Robert Plant appeared before me in a dream, looked at me sincerely as if to impart some rock-n-roll wisdom and said: “You need to wear more eye shadow.” When I awoke, I climbed out of bed, made my way into the bathroom, and flipped on the light. Yes, I was still me; face scrubbed clean the night before, then reloaded with lots of moisturizer. Perhaps it was time for me to branch out, put on some makeup, take a test drive down fashionista lane, and see what the world held in store for me. In order for me to embrace my outer goddess, I was going to have to face my inner demons.
In first grade, I met my first eye shadow demon: Ms. M. In case she is still alive and desperately searching for what may have happened to me over the years, I will not use her full name. Ms. M had the fortune, or perhaps misfortune, of being my first grade teacher. I will admit I was not an easy child to deal with. I hated being in the classroom. I would rather have been doing chores on our farm, or helping my father at his restaurant. I tried to be nice to Ms. M, follow her rules, and behave in the classroom. Unfortunately, I managed to screw up any good will I had worked for during the school year one fateful day on the playground.
I loved recess. The swings! The running! The screaming! What’s not to love? At the end of our allotted time, we were expected to line up as we marched back into school. One day, I happened to end up in line next to a little boy all of the first-grade girls had a crush on. I decided it was time for me to really impress him, so I pointed in front of me and said: “Go ahead, you old son-of-a-bitch.” Unfortunately I said this right in front of Ms. M, and she yanked me right out of line. “What did you call him?” she asked. “A son-of-a-bitch,” I said, not sensing the trouble I was in. She informed me that no one talked like that in school, and she would “deal” with me when we got inside. I tried to explain to her that my father said those words all of the time, but Ms. M clamped her hand over my mouth and told me to be quiet.
Once we returned to the classroom, I expected Ms. M would send me off to the principal’s office, a place I would really get to know as I worked my way through grade school. Ms. M decided to handle the situation herself and ignore protocol. She told me to come up to the front of the room and apologize to the class. I did. She then sat on the edge of her desk, pulled me up onto her lap as if I were a rag doll, bent me over her knees, and smacked me on the butt. Hard. I immediately burst into tears, she let me go, and I looked up at Ms. M and realized her blue eye shadow began at her eyelashes and snaked its way right on up to her eyebrows. I gave a little scream and ran back to my desk.
I made my way through the remainder of the day, but continued to worry about how much trouble I would be in at home. Strangely, my parents weren’t mad at me, but the next day, we had a new rule at our house: If anyone used a swear word in front of my mother, that person had to put a nickel in the swearing jar. My father contributed on a regular basis, sometimes four or five times a day, and I managed to avoid the swearing jar all together. I also learned to avoid Ms. M at school since I had become deathly afraid of the weird blue skin above her eyes. I never wanted to be that close to her again.
As I grew up, I experimented with my mother’s makeup, but she basically stuck to eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick. By the time I hit seventh grade, I finally received permission to wear mascara and eyeliner, although lipstick was out of the question. Meanwhile the swearing jar swelled to epic proportions as the years went by, and I began contributing again. My mother emptied the jar when the change reached the top. I have no idea what she did with the money, and I don’t think my mother ever swore.
Over the years, I have tried to give up swearing, but some situations just call for a good swear word. As for makeup, well, I have tried to give makeup a chance, but I am not sure I ever got the hang of it. I love my eyeliner and mascara, and I always wear ChapStick® and lip gloss. As for eye shadow, yes, I have worn it over the years, but I was always afraid I would end up looking like Ms. M. After dreaming of Robert Plant and his makeup advice, I decided to give eye shadow a chance. Perhaps it was time to reach my inner rock star, find my eyelash-to-eyebrow shade, and scare the hell out of some small child.
After I showered, I looked at my naked face in the mirror: Perhaps I did need eye shadow. I found an old eye shadow cheater kit with directions on how to apply the brown and gold powder to give me a “smoky look.” I then added eyeliner and mascara. Just for good measure, I added some lip gloss over my ChapStick®. I looked in the mirror and wondered if Robert would approve. I thought about Ms. M and wished I could tell her that the only thing I remember about first grade is her meanness and that son-of-a-bitchin’ blue eye shadow. Rock on, Ms. M, wherever you are.
When I taught creative writing at Saginaw Valley State University, the end of each semester was always interesting. Countless family members died, some for the second or third time that semester (oops!); computers in the computer labs constantly ate people’s homework (an update on the dog ate my homework excuse); and current students warned prospective students via RateMyProfessors.com to avoid taking classes from me. I was called bitchy, sexist, extremely funny, great, a poetry goddess, and one student wondered “Why does she even work? Her husband is a chemical engineer.” Goodness! I had no idea I shouldn’t be working.
I met a lot of wonderful students over the years, and I would like to thank them for everything I learned from them. Several years ago, I wrote an essay after a long day of grading. Whether or not you are a teacher or a student feeling the end-of-the-semester blues, I hope I can bring a smile to your face. This is my story:
Forty-three creative writing portfolios are stacked in various piles on my desk. I open the seventeenth portfolio during my grading hell: the week between finals and when grades are due at the registrar’s office. Each portfolio consists of four poems, two flash fiction pieces, one long fiction piece, and the artist’s statement. General themes have been suicide! Murder! Car crashes! Deadly illnesses! These are all subjects I have forbidden my students to write about. And yet, the students write them anyway as if to test my rules.
I open portfolio number seventeen. I begin to read the student’s long fiction piece, and I am hopeful she has learned something from my class. Will she apply what she has learned over the course of the semester to her final work? Will my comments have mattered to her? Will she demonstrate a clear understanding of what it takes to be a good writer?
I am startled when I read the line: “She woke up from a comma.” I blink. I read it aloud: “She woke up from a comma.” I look up, search for the hidden camera, and I wonder how in the hell someone wakes up from a comma.
I begin to imagine the feeling of being in a comma. How would my body be positioned? Would my head be the round blob that positions itself as the foundation of the comma? Would my body be the tail, always facing left? How would I wear a mini-skirt? Would I be forever stuck in time wearing pants with one leg longer than the other? And I would always be barefoot, my feet thin fish. My arms would hang at my side forever like the universal symbol on countless women’s restroom doors. I would never be able to wave at my friends, play guitar, or point at something in the distance. Or flip someone off.
I imagine awakening from a comma. I would un-bend my legs, locate my arms, and spread them from my sides like wings. One leg would magically shrink, and I would have two proportionate legs with regular feet in four-inch red heels. My knob of a head would suddenly sprout hair. I would be beautiful, younger, a feminist icon with a cheerleader’s smile. People would line the streets to watch me pass by, every day a parade for me, the woman who woke up from a comma.
And after I woke up from my comma, I would be suicidal, crash my car, murder someone, die of a deadly illness, and sell my soul to the devil for a hot cup of tea. Period.
The crickets in my head chirp loudly today as if I can hear them through the snow. Late November days can be harsh in Northern Michigan, and the crickets have not been around for months. Still, I can hear them. Bird sounds offer a respite from the unrelenting crickets desperate to be heard in my head.
During the daytime, ducks take charge of the lake. Common loons serenade from a distance as they search deep water for perch or bass. Mallards, mergansers, and buffleheads paddle nearby on the water, content as they dip their heads while searching for minnows. Mallards shuttle between the shoreline and the lawn beneath our bird feeders, their path clearly seen through the snow. By late afternoon, chickadees sing as they help themselves to seeds from the feeders, while a pair of mallards watches from below, the male craning his head upward as if willing a chickadee to drop a seed just for him. If I venture outside, the male quacks loudly at me, scolding me for intruding upon his territory, and waddles off towards the water’s edge. I don’t remember exactly when the crickets appeared. Was it during the summer of 2011 when I began suffering from excruciating headaches? Was it after I found out I had a brain tumor? Or did the crickets begin to chirp as edema began surrounding the tumor, its edges slightly altered after the radiation began to work its way in?
One morning I walked through the snow towards the lake, and shot pictures of ducks as they swam away from me. I wished that I could swim away from this constant noise in my head, and the balance issues that prevent me from running now or walking a straight line in the hallways of my house. I know this edema will pass eventually, and the crickets will disappear.
I imagine myself next summer swimming stealthily out towards deep water and diving down, searching for treasures only water can disguise. When I return to shore and step lightly onto the hot sand, I will feel a warm summer breeze stretching across my body as it silences the crickets. I will look upwards towards the brilliant sky, thankful and smiling.