Semi-Sleep – a collection of poems. Read them.

Written By: sherridaley - May• 26•14

It’s been a long time since I sat and read poetry for the pure joy of reading poetry.  TS Elliot in college, of course, and e.e.cummings, and more recently Billy Collins, but none of that was anything like the gritty melancholy of Kenneth Baron’s verse.

 Kind of like “guy poetry” – about “guy” stuff.  The mysteries of fatherhood, drinking at a dim bar in the afternoon, chasing sex, chasing marriage, losing marriage, looking for a job.  Even building a deer fence becomes material for a poem.

 He tosses in golf, baseball, jogging, Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Ravel. There’s poetry written for his daughter, an unborn son, a college professor, and of course, for his readers.  He writes about clothes dryers and France and his evening commute. Baron finds something to write about everywhere.

 I think that is the mark of a good writer. One doesn’t sit down and make time to write; he is writing all the time. That’s a good thing for us, and I recommend you discover him immediately.

 

 

my body or my life…

Written By: sherridaley - Feb• 19•14

My Body or My Life

A long long time ago, I noticed I was getting fat.  I mean, a LONG time ago.  This is a story of something I did once…. when I noticed that I was getting fat.

 Not so’s you’d notice it or anything. Just a little thick around the middle.  I started buying loose clothes, not a size bigger, but with elastic waistbands or no waists at all, long skirts and big sweaters. I wore a lot of black. I looked good in black.  I did not look good in a bathing suit.  Or sleeveless dresses.  Or jeans. I looked – in a word – fat.

 This caused me much unhappiness. I had never been fat before in my life.  In high school, I was actually too skinny. My hipbones jutted out. I liked being skinny.

 I hated being fat. It was harder to shop for clothes, I felt guilty when I ate, and I was filled with self-loathing every time I got dressed or undressed.

 I wanted to be skinny again. I wanted the confidence that comes with knowing men are ogling your butt, women secretly hate you, and your mother thinks you are too thin.  But to get even close to that meant losing at least twenty pounds and firming up parts of my body that I hadn’t looked at in a long time.  Creating such a body would take grit and determination. Frankly, I have neither.

 I hired a trainer named Debbie, who is blond and perky, and she showed up with a bag of sports equipment and a clipboard.  “What’s our goal here?” she asked me.

 “I wanna be skinny.”

 “That’s it?  Just skinny?”  She took out a pair of calipers and pinched at me. “Well, there’s only one way to do that.”  Pinching my underarm flab, she steered me onto the scales. At 5”7 I weighed 151 pounds.  This is more than my high school boyfriend weighed in tenth grade. My body fat calculated out at 27 percent, about the same as liverwurst. 

 I told her I have a hard time dieting and   poked myself in the belly a few times.  Then I looked at myself sideways in the mirror. If  sucked in my stomach and held it, I didn’t look so bad.

 “You know you need?” she said. Debbie, on the other hand, has no fat whatsoever on any part of her body.  You could bounce a dime off her stomach. “You need a measurable goal.  Have you ever thought about competing in a body-building contest?”

 To my credit, I didn’t bust out laughing.  She asked as though it were a perfectly reasonable thing to do ask, when in my opinion, she might as well have asked me what I thought my chances were for the Pulitzer this year.

 I had visions of sweaty, broad-shouldered women hoisting 220-pound barbells over their heads while crowds hooted at them. I didn’t want bulging muscles and hair growing out of my forehead.  I just wanted to be skinny.

 She had to explain the difference between weight-lifting and body-building.  They’re two completely different sports.  Body-builders are more interested in the beauty and symmetry of their bodies than in how much muscle they can sport.  Body-building is making your body taut and strong.  They build muscles evenly all over their bodies, and then they diet down so there is little or no fat to hide what they’ve worked so hard to develop.  Weight-lifters, however, care only about how much mass they can heave up over their heads, and as you may know, many of them do not have particularly attractive bodies.

 “You don’t have to enter,” she explained. “But you can set the date as a goal, and then we’d have some parameters.  And body-builders,”  she added, “are skinny.”  

 It was her delivery, I guess.  It all seemed so, well, reasonable.  So I said ok.  And she said there was a competition in March.  This was October.

 It’s not as much work as you think, she told me.  It’s mostly diet and exercise:  70 percent diet, 20 percent cardiovascular exercise, and only 10 percent lifting weights.  This sounded do-able to me.  The diet part was going to be hard, but I like cardiovascular exercise.  I used to run marathons.

 So the first thing she does is tell me I can’t run.  My body is too used to it. I have to do something different, challenge my body, exercise muscles I’ve been ignoring. The Stairmaster, for example. She wrote that down on a little card she had snapped to her clipboard.

 I was still thinking about the competition itself. I already regretted having told her I’d think about it, and I most certainly did not intend to wear one of those stupid little bathing suits. Debbie was rolling out barbells and talking about diet, but I was thinking, “Wait a minute. I can’t run? I love running.”

 “Protein,” she announced.  “No carbs. Lots of water.” 

 Here’s a list of things I couldn’t have:  bread, pasta, egg yolks, milk, butter, cheese, sugar, fruit, carrots, salad dressing, salt, egg yolks, red meat, bagels, muffins. French fries.  There’s lots more. “In fact,” she laughed, “just think, ‘Chicken and broccoli.’ You can have all the chicken and broccoli you want.”

 But no wine.

 I nearly walked out.  Alcohol inhibits the body’s ability to burn fat, not to mention the peanut butter and Bacos binges at 3 in the morning.  “You can have decaf coffee – black – and diet soda. Iced tea.”  She was chipper.  She curled a 30 pound dumbbell with her right arm and the muscles popped out.  I realized that I was glaring at her and thinking bad thoughts.

 She sent me off with the workout card and a notebook.  I was supposed to eat four to six meals a day.  The body is like a fire, she explained.  If you throw on one big log, the fire will almost go out before it manages to catch and burn the log.  But if you throw on bunches of kindling, the fire is bright and burns quickly.

 This is great in theory, but actually eating six meals a day is time-consuming. You’re either eating, or preparing food, or cleaning up, or shopping for food, or thinking about it, all day long.  Debbie told me that I can mix up a protein shake in lieu of a meal when I am in a hurry.  I won’t be hungry. Water is filling, too.  I have to drink about a gallon or two a day.

 The workout schedule is demanding: forty-five minutes to an hour of cardio every day, plus an hour or more of lifting.  Debbie suggested I spend two to three hours a day in the gym.  This is hilarious. I have a job, plus I write freelance, run a household, raise a child, and try to have a little fun once in a while.  Something would have to give.

 But not drinking or eating real food freed up a lot more time than I gave it credit for.  I was  bright-eyed and bushy-tailed late into the night because I was always and forever sober, and I wasn’t wasting time at Happy Hours after work or late-night lollygagging over a scrumptious meal in a dimly lit restaurant. Frankly, I had more time, not less.

 I was up and eating my breakfast of black coffee, cream of rice, and fried egg whites by 6AM, out of the house by 6:45, and at the office, charged up and already productive by 7:30.  I drank bottles of water and protein drink, snacked on canned tuna, and practiced isometric ab exercises at my desk.  At night, I hurried home for my fourth or fifth meal of the day, changed clothes and hit the gym.  I did an hour on the Stairmaster, twenty minutes of ab exercises, lifted, stretched, and did push-ups until closing.  I was averaging about two hours a day in the gym. I went late because I wasn’t supposed to eat after 6, and if I was at the gym, I wasn’t eating.  At home, I got bored. I ate.  I tottered home around 9:30 and went to bed.

 About two months into this, I started to get mean. Sometimes I’d get mad at a chef because there was nothing on the menu that didn’t have oil or butter in it. Sometimes I’d get mad at my friends who were walking around FAT and they looked perfectly happy, fat.  But mostly, I was mad at things like air and Teflon.  No rhyme nor reason to it.  I was jealous of gym rats and trainers because working out was their whole life.  They weren’t giving up anything to look the way they did.  They loved dieting and working out.  It would be like if I could lose weight and get fit by drinking champagne, eating croissants, and reading best-sellers.

 At Thanksgiving I had dinner with friends. The hostess brought out a splendid, steaming turkey and all the fixings, and I realized that there was nothing on the table that I could eat. She’d left the skin on the turkey and it was oozing with fat and juices.  Everything else was cooked with butter and brown sugar and cream and bread crumbs and sherry wine and salt and egg yolks and cheese and God only knows what else. They served champagne, too.  My favorite.

 I snuck out into the kitchen with a slice of breast meat and pressed it between two paper towels to get the fat off. I came back with a glass of ice water.  Then I picked some broccoli out of the vegetable platter.  It didn’t help that everyone said, “Ah, go on. Have some stuffing and gravy and buttered yams. It’s Thanksgiving!”

 You don’t realize how much fat and carbohydrates we eat until you spend a couple of sessions with Debbie talking about nutrition.  Learning how the body works takes a lot of the fun out of eating, believe me.  Things I had always considered good for me were loaded with surprises: fruit contains an amazing amount of sugar; fruit juice is almost pure sugar. Margarine isn’t any better for you than real butter. Adults don’t need milk; our bodies have a hard time processing dairy products.  Egg yolks are cholesterol bombs. Eating became more than a dining experience.

It was as if I had slipped into another dimension. Everything held danger and temptation. I peeked under sandwich bread, and sniffed my salads.  Did that have oil in it?  I  taste cheese in this.  What time does the gym close? And since none of my friends were obsessed with working out like I was, I was lonely.  I was mean, and I was lonely.

But I looked great.  After a discouraging 3 or 4 weeks where I ate nothing but chicken, broccoli, yams and egg whites and didn’t lose a pound, I suddenly lost weight.   My stomach flattened out, my arms bulked up, my skin glowed. Debbie upped my weights, I worked out twice as hard, concentrated on my abs, which I hated, and my workout sessions stretched out into three hours.

By January, I had lost 10 pounds; by February, 15 pounds. I flexed my arms and watched the veins stick out. I bought new clothes, posturing and admiring myself in the mirrors.  I strolled through the grocery store catching glimpses of myself in the freezer case. Not only was I mean and lonely, I was conceited.

And boring. I told everyone about what I had learned about nutrition.  I poked at people’s abdomens and explained about body fat.  I went on and on about the benefits of drinking water and the havoc alcohol wreaks on our bodies.  People, even my dearest friends, began to shrink from me.

Or I imagined they were shrinking from me.  The lack of carbohydrates also made me a little paranoid.  “You should have a little sugar now and again,” said Debbie. “This diet over an extended period of time could make you a little moody.”  No kidding.

By this time I was glad Debbie had talked me into the body-building show because I had a goal.  I was going to hone this body into a work of art, and I was going to haul it up on stage, and people were going to judge it.  I would get graded on my work.  As a grown-up, you seldom get graded, really.  You have to rely on self-satisfaction which really never worked for me.  I like reward, I like applause, and an auditorium full of people would be clapping and hooting and hollering and maybe I would get a trophy for all my hard work. I mean, I never expected to WIN or anything. …

Something had snapped.  I was actually looking forward to the show. I was getting excited.  I invited everyone I knew to come, and I planned a big celebration afterwards. Two weeks before the show, I was obsessed with my body. I tanned it, I exercised it, I rubbed moisturizer into it.  I looked at it in the mirror a hundred times a day.  Except for the gym, I never went out for fear of being tempted to eat something poisonous like a dinner roll or a pretzel. I drink distilled water and gave up eating canned foods to avoid sodium which would cause my body to bloat.  At night, I jacked up the stereo to about a billion decibels and practiced my routine, prancing around my house in a bikini. 

The night of the show, I was so pumped up with adrenaline, I imagined I could actually see my heart beating against my rib cage.  This wouldn’t have been too farfetched, as I had lost 23 pounds and there was hardly enough fat on my bones to qualify as real skin.  Muscles popped out like hard knots of rope; I was diesel, I was buff.  Hell, I was ripped. The music and the screams of the audience rushed through my chest like steam. I was light-headed and charged up.  When I walked out onto the darkened stage for my 90 seconds of fame, I had never felt so good about myself.  I was drowning in self-satisfaction.  Body-builders, like marathon runners and Ironman triathletes, are an incredibly small percentage of the world’s population, and I was one of them.  Damn, I felt good.

Afterwards, I entertained like a diva in her dressing room, and then I tossed on a size 6 dress (I have never worn a size 6. My ARM was a size six.) and went out to EAT.

I had a martini.  I had two.  Then I had escargot drenched in butter and I sopped up the butter with bread. I ate veal chops and baked potato with butter and sour cream. I had champagne and white wine and cognac with a slab of chocolate mouse cake for dessert.  The next morning, I met friends for bagels and cream cheese, and I poured salad dressing all over my salad at lunch.  I had a margarita.  With salt.  I skipped workouts.  I went straight to hell in a handbasket and within 3 weeks I gained back ten of the 23 pounds I had lost.  In six weeks, I had gained back 15.

But I was happy.  I had my life back.  I mean, sure, I looked great, but who was looking at me?   I got a trophy, which was real nice, but it didn’t buy me a new house or get my taxes done or seed my front lawn.  Guys turned around to look at me, but they didn’t rush over and ask me to run off with them to Fiji. Truly nothing changed.  It was a great experience. It showed me what I could do if I wanted to.  I learned things, I had fun.  Now I’d been there, done that.

There are women out there who are a size six or a size four naturally.  They can eat chocolate cake and pasta with cream sauce all the time, and still wear a halter top without arm flab squeezing out the arm holes.  But that’s not me.  Those women are not even my friends.  I think they should be hunted down and killed like animals. For me being a size six was a whole lot of work.

I still work out almost every day, and I watch my diet and alcohol consumption. According to any height/weight chart, I’m in pretty good shape even though I have gained back almost every pound I lost while training for the show. I occasionally dream about doing it again, but the pleasure of blowing off an occasional workout or having a slice of pizza or a darn beer once in a while is just too good.  I’ve got a bottle of decent champagne in the refrigerator and a long lazy Saturday planned this weekend. I’ll read a cheap novel and meet a couple of girlfriends for lunch.   Maybe I’ll go to gym, and maybe I won’t.  Maybe I’ll go to the movies and have popcorn and a couple of Twizzles.  What the hell.

 Life is good.

Thank you, Susan Choi

Written By: sherridaley - Feb• 16•14

 

Thank you, Susan Choi, for writing about every single kind of love there is, short of interspecies couplings.

This is the story of  Regina Gottlieb as she powers through college and the years thereafter, racking up a list of relationships that would make my mother faint dead away, as if she didn’t have a hard enough time with the list I racked up … and wrote a book about …  and…  Never mind.

Susan Choi’s richly written novel tells of a woman’s experiences loving, being loved, not being loved, learning about love, and learning nothing, perhaps.

The affair that tore her to shreds is the one that hurt this reader most: the affair with the wife of her college professor, a woman 34 to Regina’s 19.  It is less about a lesbian relationship than it is about the kind of love that drives you mad, makes you sell your house and your car, quit your job, and move to another city to be close to the object of your obsession.  The kind of love that makes you weep and beg and bang on locked doors with your fists until they bleed, that makes you lose weight, drink till you throw up and wake up in strange bedrooms. The kind of love you think you will die from.  And almost do.  Die from the sex or the withholding of it. Die from anticipating it, needing it, wanting it, having it.  If you have never had this kind of love, you may wonder what kind of animal this Regina is.

She may have fallen into this abyss because the previous affair was a comfortable arrangement with a roommate (male) so benign it could hardly be called “an affair.”  And the relationship she dove into after the woman was a sort of bandage for both of them, Regina and the professor whose wife she so ruinously loved.  I won’t even type SPOILER ALERT because the publishers so idiotically did that already on Amazon and even on the book cover.

And if comfort, suicidal passion, healing, platonic, and “normal” weren’t enough (and they usually aren’t), Regina plows on to married love, Baby-love (which was hardly expected), and deep friendship sex. With whom I will not tell you so that there will be at least something you do not expect.

All this and the book can hardly be called pornographic. It’s not a dirty book.  It’s a deeply satisfying book about love.  But only if you’re ready for it. You can’t be judgmental and cruise through this book. It would be like deciding Gone With the Wind is a terrible book because Scarlett didn’t love Rhett the way you wanted her to.

Or the way you would have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The article that was the hardest to write

Written By: sherridaley - Feb• 16•14

 I love to write.  Not only do I like the process of choosing the best words and putting them into an order that works –  a couple of short choppy sentences when some power is needed, those hard consonants to convey an ugly thought, onomatopoetic words that sound like song – but I also like the way words charge and bounce on the page, the lovely white space I create with short paragraphs, and those adorable little marks of punctuation.

 It’s sick, I know, but it makes me happy, no matter what I’m writing about — until I decided to do what little I could for the families whose sons and daughters were off fighting in Iraq: I decided to write an article about them.  “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  (Milton, On His Blindness)

 A mother myself, I thought about how hard it must be to know your child is in constant danger of being blown up by a roadside bomb or picked off by a sniper, that he or she could come home disfigured, disabled, blind, or permanently terrified.  How do these parents get through the day? 

 I wanted to honor them and the only way I knew how was to write about them, but what I hadn’t expected was the heartbreaking interviewing process.  The parents were proud, scared, patient, brave.  Braver than I could ever be.

 I could manage to get through an hour or so watching a mother’s lips tremble or tears form in her eyes, but when a man cried, I was toast.  After I took a few hasty notes, I’d stumble out to the car and weep.  If my 25-year-old son was in the house when I came home, I’d throw my arms around his waist and press my wet, snotty face into his T-shirt, declaring my limitless love and gratitude for his very existence. 

 The first time he was astonished to suddenly have his arms full of mom, but after while, I’d see him watching me through the front window as I tried to gather my wits about me before coming in the house.  Sometimes he’d come out and get me.  Other times, he would look up, register the red eyes, and say, “Another soldier interview, huh?”

 It was the hardest article I have ever written, but when the piece came out, it was, for me, a beautiful tribute to the men and women, fathers and mothers, whose lives are forever branded by an insufferable sadness; and I was proud. 

 

Z.

Written By: sherridaley - Feb• 16•14

My friend Susan fell in love with a man from India about the same time I fell in love with a man 15 years my junior.  Susan and I breathlessly shared confidences and personal terrors, although I was smug in my conviction that my love with Z. would most certainly outlast her love with M.H.  After all, an age difference is nowhere near as difficult as the cultural and social combat zone an interracial couple has to duck through.

For four months, I was happier than I had been in years.  Z. was mad for me.  We’d meet in the City and have a late dinner and coo at each other over wine at Elaine’s. Then we’d try to drive to his place in Brewster, NY, but invariably, we couldn’t make it home without stopping along the way to make love in the front seat of the car.

In Brewster, we woke early and went to a nearby green market and drank hot cider and fed each other sugar doughnuts.  Then we’d walk around town until we couldn’t stand it anymore and we had to go home and make love again.  For hours, we’d loll around on the carpeting and read poetry and newspapers out loud.  I worshiped his peacefulness. I longed for his balance.

He’d cook, and I’d read.  We bought each other CD’s and tore out magazine articles we thought the other might like.  He wrote poetry; I wrote magazine articles.  It was a match made in heaven.  Secretly, I felt sorry for Susan who was uneasy and worried that it wouldn’t work out with her and M.H.

So imagine my stunned disbelief when Z. – some four months later, at a trendy martini bar in the theatre district – announced that our personalities were too different, that our relationship was getting in the way of his writing.  I was, I don’t know, he said, too overwhelming. The sex was too much, the whole thing was too “edgy”, too — “much.”

I cried way too loud and hard for public and the waitress brought me handfuls of Kleenex and linen napkins and Z. got the check and that was that.

When I got home, I threw up, embarrassed that at my age, more than 50, I was behaving like a schoolgirl. I was spared making those late-night weeping phone calls because he disappeared.  Poof. His phone number no longer worked, my letters were returned to sender, and I had  (barely) too much pride to call his parents in Maryland, who were, I figured, probably nearly my contemporaries.

Time went by.  I got over it. I quit throwing up.  And then he wrote me.  Nearly three years of silence and I get a letter from Elkins, West Virginia, in his crawling, lilting script that edges around the page and dips and floats and becomes little illustrations and blossoms of words.  “I have finally realized what love truly is,” he writes, and my heart fairly bursts. “… even though it may have seemed a one-way street – you giving to me – in time, the great Soothsayer painted yellow rings around the heart and touched love out of love.”

OK. Make what you want out of it.  I thought that it meant after all that time, he had decided that he loved me after all. I wrote him back — to a P.O. Box.  (Red flag? I didn’t see it.) What are you doing in West Virginia? I asked.  I can’t wait to see you!

He wrote me back.  The letter practically oozed out of the envelope, the first few sentences harmless enough — about what he was writing, the peace in the mountains, his connection with the Great Spirit out in the woods where he was living. Sorry it took him so long to write back, but he only goes into town about once a month. Other than that (Here, it starts to get strange.) he lives in a pup tent about 6 miles up the side of a mountain, where he writes his poetry and reads and communes with the Great Spirit. He has given up sex because it stands in the way of the true spiritual love of Nature.  He lives in the woods, celibate, eating trail mix and writing verse about bears and spiderwebs.  For the last three years.

I can’t breathe. I stare at the letter and think I may have made this up. Then, tantamount to slowing down and peering at a highway accident, I write and ask can I come visit.  He says yes.  He knows a nearby bed & breakfast where I can stay. He reminds me that he is celibate.

This is where I should have got professional care, but I don’t. I pack a bag and drive ten (10!) hours to West Virginia. I have at this time officially lost my mind.

All the way there, I am losing confidence, faith, and credibility, in that order. My friends and family back home won’t even talk to me.  I am on a solo mission.  I am going to visit a forest monk, a madman, a poet.  I have no idea.

Z. is waiting for me at the B&B when I arrive, standing outside in his khaki shorts and hiking boots.  He has a full beard and he is thin and sinewy.  I want to throw myself into his arms and bury my face in his neck. I want to make love to him until we both faint, but the space around his body screams, “Don’t touch!”  I stand about 6 inches away, and he takes me into a chaste hug.

I want to get back in the car and drive home, but it is like picking a scab.  I can’t stop.

I put my bag in the room upstairs while he made smalltalk with the proprietor.  Then we take a walk around the sweet little town of Elkins.  As usual, we talk about books and music, philosophers, poetry, things we hate, good food, and the way things smell and taste.  Pretty much things are the same except he lives in the woods and I am normal. I think I am normal. He introduces me to his friends: a calligrapher, a weaver, a restaurant owner, a musician.

I want to die.

He tells me about the Great Spirit and the balance of Earth and Sky.  He tells me he is going to try to live in the woods throughout the winter this year. Before this he rented an old aluminum trailer (no heat, no electricity, no running water).  This year, he thinks he can do it in the pup tent.

I can’t think of a thing to say.

He tells me about the flash flood last year where he lost everything.  He climbed a tree and watched the water tear away his tent and his little gas stove and boxes of books and matches and bags of dried fruit and almonds.  He hiked around afterwards and recovered what he could, dragged it all back.

He is 40 years old. I ask him what his family thinks.  He tells me that they are making peace with it.  I nod.

After dinner, I buy a bottle of wine and retreat to my little room at the B&B with a book.  Z. drives his old beat-up car up the mountain.

In the morning, I decide to leave before he shows up, but Z. is oblivious.  He shows up, all bright and eager to show me his paradise in the woods.  He has brought no one else there. No one.

It takes us nearly an hour to get there, counting the barefoot hike through the grass and moss, and it is beautiful.  Breathtaking. Trees as tall as the sky; moss like thick carpet, thicker than carpet; a pool just bathtub size fed by a clear mountain spring-fed stream; fleshy yellow flowers; low-growing herbs that send up deep fragrance when you step on them. The sun powers through the trees and makes shards of light that cut all the colors into pieces.

In somber contrast, his little tent is dirty and it smells bad.  His bedding is grey, but I still want to pull him in there and make love. He shows me his little stove and box of books.  He says he needs a new flashlight so he can read.

On the way back to the car, we stop at a stream and sit down. Z. recites me a poem that he wrote about a bird and a bear.  I think that if he would touch me on the arm, I would explode into hundreds of pieces of plastic.  Then I think that if he had asked me to stay and sleep in his dirty tent, I would have stayed.

When I got back in the car to drive home, I set my hands at the 10 & 2 position on the steering wheel and decide I will not cry. What the hell was that? I think.  What the hell was that?  Somewhere in Pennsylvania, I stop and buy a bottle of wine which I drink out of a paper cup the rest of the way home. while I keep thinking, what the hell was that?

Susan and M.H. are still together.  They have a terrific relationship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best book title ever

Written By: sherridaley - Jan• 26•14