The Battle of Utrecht

I’ve been writing on this blog intermittently for over two years now, so – senile old coot that I am – I sometimes forget exactly which of my pet insanities delightful eccentricities I’ve told you about. For example, did you know I’m an obsessive list-maker? Everything must be on a list, or it doesn’t count, it’s not real, and I can’t be held responsible for forgetting or not caring about it. I’ve had a running to-do list for years now (obviously regularly transferred onto a new sheet of paper when a lot gets done and scratched out) and it governs my life. I left it at ex-co-blogger Eddie’s house once, and… I did not handle it well. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Now, having the list does not necessarily mean I get the shit on it done, but at least it’s all neatly arranged so I can worry about it. Case in point: my cousin had a baby in late December. I don’t know if she reads the blog, but in the interest of privacy I’ll just tell you she named it after a major river of France – you can decide among yourselves what you’d like to imagine among Rhine, Rhone, Garonne, Seine, Marne, Oise, or Loire. (Too bad France lost most of its empire or we could throw in Volta, Mekong, and Saint Lawrence.) I don’t much care for the name, but I can’t really say anything because a) it’s too late b) it’s none of my business c) I’m a childless spinster and d)  little Mekong’s cousin, born a year earlier, is named Jimmy. She is female, and named after a beloved late dog of my grandmother’s. The dog was named after a black army nurse who was one of my grandmother’s best friends when they were in Europe during World War Two. (Jimmy was a nickname for Jemima or something similar.) Things about this I don’t understand: how my grandmother made a close black friend in the still-segregated army, why she named a dog after her thirty-five years after the war, how Jimmy-the-woman felt about Jimmy-the-dog or if she ever knew, and how Jimmy-the-baby will feel when she hears this story.

Here’s how a discussion of my list-making turned into a rambling discourse about Little Mekong: my cousin asked everyone in the family to paint a small canvas or panel to decorate the nursery, as a sort of welcome. I thought this was a wonderful idea, and immediately bought a small canvas, brushes, paint, and a stencil of a parent and baby giraffe. I painted the grass and the sky, set the canvas aside, and didn’t touch it again until last week. With national supplies of ADHD medicine dwindling (it’s true, there’s like a HORRIBLE shortage), I knew I had to paint it now, while I still had legal amphetamines, or keep putting it off until Mekong graduated high school and “paint baby canvas” had spent eighteen glorious years on my to-do list. So last week, I got out my supplies and prepared to Make An Art. I couldn’t find the clip to hold the stencil to the canvas, so I had to run to the art supply store.

The art store is almost right across the street, next to an out-of-business salon mysteriously named “HAIRZ GOD’S GIFT,” so this errand should have taken five minutes TOPS. Giant Camel came with me to get some supplies for his obscene collages, which was nice because it counted as a date and got me out of springing for Qdoba that weekend.

So we go in, I find my clip, and I go to the cash register. The Art Fag manning the register (yes, I’m sure you’re offended, but you also know exactly what I mean) said, “Oh, I guess you’re just here for the free stuff?”

“Uh… so I can just have this clip?”

No. We’re giving away gift bags with purchases. Also everything in the store is thirty per cent off.”

“Okay, uh… I guess I’ll pretend to need more stuff to take advantage of the savings…”

So I wandered around a while before just buying five blank greeting cards for when I forget people’s birthdays. I took my clip and five cards to the register, where I got a different, slightly larger art fag, and everything went to hell.

You know how you’ll go to the store, and the one day you’re buying condoms and laxatives, or trying to use the six dollars of food stamps you have left over, or have some awkwardness, you get the chatty, incompetent cashier? You can sail right through with a toothbrush even if you’re paying with an out-of-state check, but God forbid you need Pepto-Bismol even if you have exact change. We had the art-store equivalent of that cashier. I just wanted to go home and paint my damn giraffes. Oh, no. I had to enter the raffle, get my bag of freebies, talk about the raffle, talk about the freebies, swipe my membership card, swipe my debit card, do it all again, hear the cashier yell “Tood, I need your numbers! I need your numbers! Todd, I need your numbers for the register! Todd! Numbers!” do it all a third time, wait for him to bag my purchases despite the fact that I’d just been given a bag of freebies, be invited to some kind of art demonstration later in the day, be offered refreshments, and watch him count my change, look confusedly at the cash register, and count my change again before I could get out of there. I would have gladly abandoned my change, my honor, my ethics and my boyfriend just to NOT BE AT THE CASH REGISTER anymore. It was a shackle and a bishop away from being an inquisitorial torture, although I did snag a free nutter butter on the way out.

Finally home, I took an inventory of the goodie bag:

-       The bag itself, which is one of those reusable shopping bags that everyone thought was environmentally friendly but it turns out they aren’t
-       A small tube of yellow ochre acrylic paint, with one of those “CALIFORNIA SAYS YOU’LL GET CANCER” labels
-       A little box with two more acrylic tube “green gold” and quinacridone magenta.” Now… two things. Gold doesn’t tarnish, so “green gold?” Does it just sound better than “remember that tacky brass lamp your parents had in 1989? That color.”? And “quinacridone magenta.” Magenta is already a fairly specific color – do we need it to be sub-specified by whatever peculiar chemical is in it? Has anyone ever demanded of an art store clerk, “Does this magenta have quinacridone in it? THERE MUST BE QUINACRIDONE OR ALL WILL BE RUINED.”
-       A stick of Elmer’s glue. Does anyone know what that animal on Elmer’s glue is? It looks like a fat chupacabra.
-       Some post-its
-       A sketch pad
-       A small paintbrush
-       A yellow highlighter
-       Another brand of acrylic in titanium white
-       A maroon gel pen, in case you wanted to be a female teenage Aggie fan in 2001
-       A plain blue ballpoint
-       A New Year’s Sale coupon that’s good from February 28 to March 13. I don’t think that’s even Chinese new year.
-       Something called an “angling tool”
-       A six-inch ruler, which of course is useless for me (did you get that? Did you get the dick joke?)
-       A single sheet of watercolor paper
-       Some tape
-       A brown map color taped to a card (tangent below)*
-       Another tiny tube of acrylic in “azo yellow.” You are artists. Here’s a list of things that are yellow: the sun, lemons, buttercups, jaundice, white wine, gold, topaz, any number of lemon-flavored candies, most urine, bees, honey, Winnie the Pooh, squash, blond hair, cheetahs. Nothing? Nothing better than "azo?”
-       A tiny gesso board
-       A package of “paper samples”

What on earth does a person do with such a bag? Paint a six-inch-high painting of a titanium white woman in a yellow ochre dress and with azo yellow hair running across green-gold grass toward a quinacridone sunset on a variety of papers?

I did, however, produce a wonderful painting:

The shape of the giraffes is a little shaky, I grant, but I’m pleased with the spots, and the shrub is a triumph.

*Brown map color tangent: in second grade, I had a teacher who liked to give out coloring packets. Graded coloring packets. There were like, thirty pages stapled together, and we were to work on them in our free time when we were done with our work. No one ever finished them, so on the last day of the term we all had to take them home and finish coloring them. Our teacher, oddly strict about accuracy, wanted everything to be brown, since “people didn’t have fancy dyes back then.” So we had to color
brown Christopher Columbus, on a brown ship, with a crew of brown Spaniards and Italians, in brown clothes, eating brown bread, leaving the brown dock in brown Spain, and finally arriving on the brown shore of Hispaniola, which featured brown natives in brown clothing standing in front of brown tree trunks.
I no longer care for brown.


First things first: Meg’s sorry she’s been gone, her life went to hell. She was in the hospital twice, each of her parents was in the hospital… shit’s been real. Everyone is more or less healing, and she’ll be back soon.

As usual, my excuse isn’t as good. Hopefully few of you are in this position, but you know how when you’re unemployed, time quickly loses any meaning it ever had? I pulled yesterday off my Word-of-the-Day calendar and suddenly it was MARCH TWELFTH. When you have little to do in general and nothing to do at a particular day and time, days just slip through your fingers like water – I’ve been proud of myself all day for going to the grocery store. At this rate, I’ll look in the mirror “next week” and the man looking back at me will be seventy. I’ve also been working on writing up some of my zanier childhood antics to submit to some non-fiction writing contests, so we’ll see if those get believed.

Now, re: unemployment, I’ve had a zany money-making scheme, but I’m having trouble pulling it off: I’m trying to write a romance novel. Harlequin accepts submissions, and one of the imprints they’re developing is especially naughty historical novellas. The little blurb on their website emphasizes that writers for this series are encouraged to take creative license, for example, time travel and the supernatural. This is one of my quainter prejudices, but I absolutely hate time travel as a plot device. There are a lot of things I hate about it, but I’ll just provide a bulletted shortlist:

-       I’m just going to say it. If I went back in time and met myself, I’d try to have sex with me. I know what I want, I’d never get better feedback, and it’s not a sin because it’s with someone I truly love. This might be a fringe attitude, but I’ve never seen a movie where it even crossed a character’s mind.

-       So, UH-OH, the dragon gets out or whatever, so you have to go back in time and buy a better padlock. So you do that. So then you go back to the future, your present. And since you went back in time and prevented the problem, you were never prodded into going back in time in the first place. So you don’t. And the dragon gets out. So you go back in time and buy a better padlock, and you keep bouncing in this boring little loop forever, right? That’s how cause and effect works, right?

-       This doesn’t really require time travel, but sometimes IT TURNS OUT THEY’RE ON EARTH. This trick is literally as old as the Bible: “…and then the Whore of Babylon (GET IT? IT’S ROME!) rode in on the great beast (KNOCK KNOCK WHO’S THERE THE ANTICHRIST THE ANTICHRIST WHO ROME AGAIN LOL)

So I won’t be using time travel. I also don’t think I can do the supernatural any more. Meg’s and my forthcoming book, It Seemed Like a Good Idea…, is like, chock-a-block with ghosts. I don’t know if the looming deadline had made us hyper-aware of our mortality or what, but we could not stop with the ghost jokes. We very nearly went overboard with homosexual ghost jokes, ultimately restraining ourselves to about three, along with a treatment for a new sitcom called Oops! She’s a Lesbian Ghost, for which I have written a theme song. Predictably, it cribs heavily from the theme from Ellen’s sitcom. So I feel I need a ghost break, especially if (xX FINGERS CROSSED Xx) someone gets interested in Oops! She’s a Lesbian Ghost.

I’m going to throw this tangent in: if you write for Harlequin’s modern-day African-American series and two unmarried characters are about to Do It, YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT THEY ARE USING CONTRACEPTION/SAFE SEX AND THIS IS IN CAPITAL LETTERS ON THE WEBSITE. “Cherie laughed as she tossed back her hair and drained her champagne flute. She tossed the glass carelessly aside before crossing the bearskin rug to Derek’s waiting, muscular arms. The crackling fire reflected her own desires as she pressed herself against his powerful chest, looked up at him, and coyly whispered, ‘According to my gynecologist, my IUD should be almost completely effective against pregnancy, but no method is guaranteed, and it will not protect me from HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.’” Aren’t romance novels supposed to be an escape? This sounds like the kind of erotic dream I would have: depressingly accurate, right down to the awkward trip to Walgreens for more rubbers.

Since I have a master’s in medieval European history (which I laminated and use as a placemat,) I’m going to stick to what I know and write about dead white people. I wrote myself a neat little setup: the Roman Empire is in its twilight, the barbarians are at the gates, and speaking of battering rams… My first problem was that I wanted my “hero” to be one of the Goths that joined the Roman army, but I didn’t know any Gothic names. Google sure does: Bloodmoon, Spyder, Moonlight, Expiria, Decasia, Skorpyon Onyxx… As usual, I don’t know what’s more disturbing, someone who wants to give their child a “goth” name or someone who needs help thinking one up. I finally found a list of gothic names, hat tip to the Society of Creative Anachronism, and picked one. I got another two paragraphs in before I realized I didn’t know what ancient Romans wore, so off to Wikipedia again. Now I know perfectly well what they wore, but not how they got it off. Women wore tunic-like things secured by shoulder brooches, so should her husband… reach over and unpin them, probably sticking himself in the process, and allow the tube of cloth to slide down her body and puddle on the floor? It’s not sexy, but it’s efficient. (That last sentence may yet be the title of my biopic.)

The getting-the-clothes-off problem led me to an even greater problem: How on earth am I going to write about sex without joking about it? For all my talk, sex makes me deeply uncomfortable. I can talk about it if I’m kidding, I can even do it if I crack jokes fast enough, but describing it seriously? Enticingly?

“As she realized the absurdity of what she was doing, Livia avoided eye contact and tried to make a joke about Ron Paul.”

“Thorismund reached for her, his eyes burning with lust, then abruptly lost confidence and beeped her nose instead.”

“As their passion mounted, Thorismund kept an eye on the digital alarm clock, because sometimes lasting too long is as bad as not lasting long enough, especially if someone has to work in the morning.”

“When their joy was complete, they fell back among the tangled sheets exhausted, both trying to cover themselves casually with the sheets so as not to look like a prude.”

“Afterward, Livia used the restroom, then very quietly brushed her teeth, just in case.”

“Between the heat of Livia’s body and that of the summer sun outside, Thorismund became overheated and had to go have the dry heaves.”

You see where this is going. My erotic sense is less “the magic of love-making” and more “maybe I can get to third base with that guy from a neighboring high school.” The only real fun I’ve had on this project so far is trying to come up with a pseudonym, since somehow I doubt “The Glory of His Touch by the author of The Misanthrope’s Guide to Life” is winning ad copy. I’m leaning toward Octavia St. Something or Gwendolen de Something, although I may give up all the fancy and write them as Pam Jenkins. I feel like I could trust a Pam Jenkins, don’t you? 
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