Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's the Real Thing

My friends and family have grown greatly troubled. They see the hold this stuff has on me. They've heard my cries of denial. They've witnessed my half-hearted attempts to quit.

They tell me addiction is its own form of hell. But they don't understand.

Because my Diet Coke--oh, it's such a lovely little taste of heaven.

How bad is my habit? Some questions a lady prefers not to answer. If pressed, I'll admit to a few cans a day. Maybe a six-pack. Possibly more. OK, damn it, I mainline the shit.

I started young. "Tab" was my gateway drug. Through the years I experimented with Diet Pepsi (subtle hints of bug repellent) and Diet Mountain Dew (undertones of bumblebee pee). None offered the not-too-bitter, not-too-sweet taste of my long-standing drug of choice. And DietRite, with zero caffeine? Clearly a marketing practical joke, much like the Snuggie.

I lived blissfully for years within my Diet Coke-cloaked little world. But then, scientific researchers and the always buzz-killing media reared their ugly heads.

My children and co-workers began emailing me horrific stories about the health risks. I sneered at these. Weight gain? As if switching to sugar-infused drinks might reduce me to a size two? Hardly. Headaches? No better over-the-counter headache meds than a couple tall glasses of Diet Coke. Hypertension? I wouldn't have a freaking pulse if it weren't for my daily Diet Coke intake.

Yet the warnings kept rolling in: Alzheimer's, cancer, depression, stroke, bone loss, tooth enamel loss, ulcers and PMS.

I'm awaiting the rest of the research results, which are sure to include random chin hairs. And garden slugs. And writing rejections.

But I jest. (Health risk #4,327: pitiful attempts at humor.) The growing barrage of health hazards finally prompted me to reflect on my addiction. Son #2, who runs and rows and hasn't sipped a soda pop in seven years, capitalized on my recent weak moment of admission. He began pushing me to simply replace my Diet Coke--with water.

Oh, my sweet naive son. Water? Really? How could pure water win over Diet Coke's irresistible formula of aspartame, caramel coloring, citric acid, formeldehyde and cocaine? (What? Cocaine's been omitted from the ingredients? I don't think so.) Beside, water lacks that one essential attribute: caffeine.

I would not make it through my first waking hour without copious quantities of caffeine. My colleagues would find me flat-lined on my office floor by 9 a.m.

Surely you coffee drinkers understand this dilemma. (Most of you need your own intervention. And I'm taking names.)

My concerned offspring's answer to this issue? Caffeinated water. This, just as it sounds, is pure water tainted only by a shot of caffeine. Believing this to be the methadone for my heroin, my son bought me a package. And in the name of family harmony, I gave it a try. The necessary kick? Maybe. But the taste? *Sigh* This stuff tasted like... water.

Yet I promised him I wouldn't give up. I'd beat this addiction somehow. Plus, I'd remind him that as his mother, it's my role to be the nag in the family.

Weeks later, I spied an iced tea maker on a store shelf. Tea? Hmm. A bit of taste--check. A healthy dose of caffeine--check. A (mostly) lack of debilitating and deadly chemicals--check.

I tossed the machine into my shopping cart (on top of the two cases of Diet Coke). The very next day, I carried it into my workplace, nodding to my coworkers as I strutted toward my office. I immediately called my son to proclaim my Diet Coke Cure lay only inches away, on top of my filing cabinet.

And there the contraption sits, and dreams of glory. Unused. Four months later. After the sixteen cases of Diet Coke I've since consumed.

Perhaps I am a hopeless addict. Maybe I need a twelve-step program. Or intensive inpatient treatment.

It's bad, my addiction, and I do plan to beat it. Unless that means truly giving it up.

Because that would be hell. And I do love me a little taste of heaven.

It's well worth an ulcer.

And the occasional chin hair or two.

Coffee, tea or Diet Coke? Do you justify your addictions? Who's been nagging you, and about what?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Take a Sad Song and Make It Better

When I was a teenager, my life was defined by music and words. And these two forces culminated in a special sort of ecstasy every time I bought a new record album.

Each step of the ritual remains as engrained in my memory as the grooves in the now dusty and warped vinyl disks.

I cradled my new record between both hands. Gently placed it on the turntable. Dropped the needle. Rushed to sprawl across my twin bed in the room I shared with my older sister, and picked up the stiff cardboard album jacket.

Only then, once the music began, did I allow myself the magic of studying the album's back cover and--if I was particularly fortunate--the lyrics printed on the liner. A song never hits its mark, never fully transported me from my parochial world, until I read the lyrics.

My friends and I listened to all the popular rockers. My first concerts included Aerosmith and the Stones. We all had our favorite Party Music and later, our favorite Cruising Music, enjoyed on tape by the lucky few with an eight-track or cassette deck in their car.

But at fifteen, I envisioned myself a poet. And, especially when I was home--alone in my room--I gravitated toward the musical poets: the brooding deep-thinkers, the songwriters who wrote of soul-searching, lost love and loneliness.

Not that I personally knew much of those emotions, except a bit of youthful discontent and rebellion. I'd been enveloped within a safe harbor, with loving parents and a secure neighborhood. I was never sexually abused nor truly socially maligned. The worst horror I'd experienced was the betrayal of a teenage boyfriend.

So what drew me to these types of songs? Did I simply want to open my arms to the shower of all human emotions? Was I under the power of hormonal overdrive? Was I suppressing a buried sadness I wasn't willing to acknowledge or admit?

Even at those occasional moments in which I did feel burdened by some teenage angst or weepiness, I immersed myself in it. I listened to my old favorites: The Beatles, Bob Dylan or Neil Young. I'd hear Cat Stevens' Father and Son, and know my feelings were universal. Or read the lyrics to The Needle and the Damage Done, hug myself and hold out hope that my life would end less tragically. I'd drop the needle on the stereo a second time, a third.

I'd listen and sing along, until feeling worse somehow made me feel better.

Later, I'd find myself writing my own poetry. I configured pieces of my emotions into rough words I might decide to submit to my high school paper, but more often than not would just hide in a notebook under my mattress.

I haven't written a poem in thirty years. My writing has changed, as have my reading tastes. Yet nothing still touches me more than a melancholy melody or an introspective tune.

Oh, how I still love a sad song.

It's not the same now, of course. I seldom buy a CD. When I do, I don't sprawl across my bed, pull out the paper insert and attempt to memorize every tiny printed word.

If songs still came embedded in scratchy 33 1/3 rpm disks, with full-size graphics and lyrics, I wonder how music might affect me now. Would it still encourage me to dig deeper within myself? To try to connect with others through their musical words? To live fully--for a few moments--within someone else's soul-searching short story?

Or do we view the world in a whole different way when we're young?

All I know is I never felt so sad, so often, as when I listened to music at fifteen.

Man, did it make me happy.

What kind of music moves you? Does a sad song make you better? Do you still hoard all that vinyl, inside dusty boxes in your basement?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lost and Found: A Tale of Bad Kitties

Once upon a time, there was a cat known as Neurotic, Unbelievably Timid and Stupid (NUTS). He was neurotic, unbelievably timid and stupid. This is his story.

Late one night, NUTS follows his brother, Bold And Delinquent (BAD) cat, into the kitchen. The door to the garage is cracked open, and the outside garage door open as well.

"Holy shit!" cries BAD cat. "We hit the motherlode! Let's run for it! Think of the adventures that await us!"

NUTS cowers. "But who knows what's out there? We could get in big trouble!"

"What are you, a scaredy cat?" growls BAD. "A fraidy cat? A pussy?"

NUTS cat tucks his tail between his legs and follows BAD cat out the door.

Several minutes later, Sucker Animal Person (SAP), snoring in bed, hears a shout. "The cats got outside!"

SAP, who has tossed off her nightshirt after her last hot flash, throws it back on and runs out. She reaches the yard just as BAD cat is caught in the beam of the flashlight. He scurries back to the garage and disappears inside the house.

NUTS cat is nowhere to be found.

SAP roams the neighborhood for days."Here, NUTS cat! Here kitty, kitty, kitty," she yells. She crawls on her belly, peering under trees and neighbors' decks. She plasters flyers on lampposts. She walks the dog through yards and fields, hoping he might catch NUTS' scent. She shakes a can of cat treats as she wanders, chanting, "Treaties, NUTS cat, treaties! Come get some treaties!"

The neighbors sigh and shut their windows. SAP envisions the terrified, starving cat--lost and lonely--and sadly sniffs.

Finally, SAP spies eyes glowing in the darkness under a neighbor's deck. "Oh, NUTS cat, it's me, Momma! Come here, baby!" she cries.

Apparently paralyzed with fear, NUTS cat doesn't budge.

SAP convinces Friendly Neighbor Lady to help scare NUTS out with a garden hose. They corner him into a spot where SAP can just barely reach him. She yanks him out by his paws. NUTS cat thrashes in her arms. He chomps down on her hand. Repeatedly. SAP loses her grip and drops him. NUTS cat escapes into the night.

SAP bandages her bloodied hand. Cursing but persistent, she sets a live trap baited with catfood. She keeps station outside, watching across the yard and awaiting the prodigal cat.

Soon after, the trap snaps shut! SAP rushes to claim her prize but discovers she has caught--the neighborhood stray. She is greatly displeased. Stray Kitty, who hisses as she opens the trap, is equally pissed-off.

An hour later, SAP finds the same friggin' stray inside the trap. She admonishes him as he sulks away. Clearly, more than one stupid cat roams the neighborhood tonight. She resets the trap.

But stupid cats aren't the only animals drawn to catfood, SAP quickly discovers. Big, frightfully mean raccoons are, too.

The trap is carefully released and relocated to SAP's front porch. NUTS must still be nearby. SAP hopes his brain is larger than it appears.

At four a.m., the dog--a failure as a bloodhound but still a loyal watchdog--barks once.

The AWOL cat is captured.

NUTS goes nuts in the trap. He flails and foams at the mouth. Once the cage is carried inside and opened, he flees up the stairs.

Relieved but exhausted by the eight-day ordeal, SAP collapses in bed. Minutes later, NUTS peers through the doorway.

"NUTS," she calls lovingly to him. "Come here, little NUTS."

He saunters across the room, hops on the bed and plops beside her. He purrs.

"You neurotic, unbelievably timid and stupid cat," she mutters. "Sure. Now you come when I call you."

Any bad dog or bad cat stories to share? Anyone want a neurotic and wayward kitty? Do your neighbors think you're nuts, too?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How to Write a Book

Remember me? I hope so, because I missed you all terribly. *sniff*

I learned oodles during the month-long blog hiatus spent concentrating on my book, and I'm pleased to share my newfound wisdom (pro bono even) with each of you. So, here for everyone who ever wondered how to pen a masterpiece, is How to Write a Book 101:

First, announce to everyone you know that you are writing a book, so six years and two unsold manuscripts later they can ask you, "Hey, did you publish your book yet?"

Buy a new wardrobe two sizes up, so you have something to fit your ballooning ass after all the time you spent sitting on it.

Ignore everyday distractions such as scrubbing your toilets or paying your bills. You can hire an accountant and a live-in maid in a few months, after you receive that six-figure advance check. If not, none of it will matter after the foreclosure and bankruptcy.

Alienate your family and friends; how important can they be if they're not editing or selling your book? (If you're writing a memoir, half of them will someday hate you anyway.) Surround yourself instead with a houseful of pets who will purr or lick your hand after you read them an especially brilliant passage.

Don't worry about your writing getting sloppy as your alcohol consumption soars. Stephen King doesn't even remember writing "The Tommyknockers." Surely your drunken scrawl will be just as genius.

Take great pride--after 336 drafts--in finally getting that single paragraph on page 117 perfectly worded, just before everyone in your writing group suggests you delete the entire scene.

Refrain from checking your email every fifteen minutes after you submit a query. Wait--was that an email notification?

Never hate the agents or editors who send you rejection letters. Save your animosity for clearly talented published authors. Like Snooki and Bristol Palin.

Don't quit your day job. Once your boss catches you writing erotica on company time, you're likely to be fired anyway.

And finally, never ever give up.

Unless you have a real hankering to clean those dirty toilets.

What's the best or worst career advice you've ever gotten? Writers: Did I forget any other pearls of wisdom? And hey, did you publish your book yet?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

To Be or Not to Be--Guest Post by Gloria Stanfa

After my month-long hiatus, I'll be back on the blog-wagon next week. Meanwhile, I'm pleased to share a guest post by none other than Gloria Stanfa, AKA my mother. (Her first-ever attempt at writing something like this. Don't hate her for being naturally talented.)

I had an interesting daydream the other day, nothing mind-bending but it was thought-provoking. Come along with me as I share my would've, should've, could've world!

What do I wish I did in my life? Had the big wedding? No, not particularly. Got a degree at The University of Toledo where I was employed? No, my few credits and our girls graduating is sufficient. Learned to swim? A small maybe. Lost at least 20 pounds? Yes, still!

I was a loved, overprotected only child, who in grade school wrote stories, poems, and took art classes at the museum. In high school I majored in art and was in the drama club, appearing in one-act plays. In our junior play, Men Are Like Streetcars, I waltzed across the stage with an imaginary partner as the curtain opened. I was hooked!

Several years later as a young mother of three girls ages 6, 5 and 3, we made our way into a local production of Gypsy as walkons, with my oldest daughter Lori getting the role of Baby June. Naturally, our daughters discovered their own niches as time passed.

Their mom dabbled in a couple local art classes for fun and one for college credit with Sherry. I took creative writing at UT and yoga classes with DC.

Ah yes, the belly dancing lessons.

After one home demonstration, my husband Denny asked me, "What was that?" My response: "It was a hip roll."

He replied with our Stanfa sarcasm, "Oh, I thought you were having a seizure."

Not long after, Sherry, my friend Barb and I took acting at the Toledo Rep from a wonderful actress/instructor. I found it more intriguing than my oil painting or writing. Our acting teacher saw potential in me, complimented what I did and said I'd be a great Auntie Mame (the famous Rosalind Russell role).

Life and perhaps a lack of confidence in remembering some lines led me away.

Several years flew by and sadly Denny passed on, yet four wonderful grandchildren entered my life. I enjoyed delightful travels and times with family and friends. I wrote several eulogies and poems, but my daughters are the writers and story-tellers now.

Eventually, Sherry and her two boys (then in grade school) and I took acting classes one summer. Wow, I was still smitten!

I've seen many singers, such as Elton, Tony, Rod, Paul, Jimmy Buffet, even Frank back in his day! But the plays and stage productions are where my heart lies. The Phantom in London, Cats in Toronto, Mama Mia in Vegas, The Producers in New York (even Gypsy for my 70th in NYC) were some of my big ones. Florida, Michigan and Ohio have also given me great productions. Our local playhouses are to be remembered as well. In fact, we just saw Denny's cousin, Martin Boyer, locally in Bye Bye Birdie.

Would've, could've, should've... I still have the acting bug in my heart. Does this one dream that stands out above the others make me feel sad after all these years?

No. I'm smiling as I write this, and I feel quite confident and content.

I see the audience through the bright lights, as I walk out slowly and dramatically, entering stage right. I clearly look it, I feel it, I own it and I don't forget one line!

I am Auntie Mame, just as I always knew I could be.

Any dreams you still ponder or wish to fulfill? Any regrets of doing or not doing so? Better yet, in line with my theatrical thoughts, who do you think could play you--or whom would you like to portray--in a stage production or movie?