Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Birthday Dinner

Scott has gotten me so spoiled that I'm thinking of starting my own country. Where I can dress my cat Hankie in little sweaters knitted of 24 karat gold yarn.

This is the outrageously good dinner he (Scott, not Hankie) made for my birthday last night. King crab on a succulent bed of grilled asparagus. Doesn't it look as though the crab wants to travel along on the little rolling green spears? Huh? It does too.

The salad was a halfbreed. Half Mexican, half Greek. Lots of tangy Greek olives, avocado, feta cheese, red onions, lemon, and Scott's superb home-made dressing.

This weekend we'll dig in to the set of DVDs he got for me (along with other cool stuff, including a bottle of my favorite perfume. I left my original bottle in Indiana.) The DVDs are documentaries. Because I'm very boring and I really wanted them. Because I'm dull.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Living in the Desert, Lesson #2: Baked Creatures

Lizzie was accidentally abandoned, along with her Georgia quarter, out on the patio table. The table Scott says "I would like to eat on again someday." In other words, get your nasty dead lizard off the table, Candy.

But not before a photo captures the Last Days of Lizzie. I like to think that she dreamed of being in a beauty pageant. Maybe Miss America. Because, looking at her present state, she'd have been good at it. Really really really skinny and on her back a lot.

Living in the Desert, Lesson #1: Creatures

I am seeing many new and strange things in the desert. This is Lizzie. She is very small. I did not come to know her very well because she was floating in the pool when I met her. Dead as a doornail. But still very cute. I am sure we would have been great friends.

Tomorrow I will show you what Lizzie looked like after 5 days in the sun.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Zen of Organizing

With my day away from teaching yesterday I once again dug into the process of unpacking. I had not yet organized my CDs, and sitting for 3 hours sorting them by category and then alphabetizing them turned out to be a very helpful thing. For that 3 hours, I was focused on one task. A familiar thing that I've done half a dozen times before when I've moved.

(One task is always the best thing for me. Scott is the best multitasker I've ever seen. I am a tasker. Can't do 2 things at once any more complex than eating and watching TV. I'm a big slow dog who must eat out of one bowl and then drink out of the other. And do not distract me with a treat.)

By looking at the many artists and titles, I can travel down the infamous Memory Lane and see, musically, where I've been. As you know, Memory Lane can be frightening. Disturbing even. Like when I rediscovered, again, the Jermaine Jackson CD I own. Remember his one hit, "Do What You Do?" I don't have the heart to throw it out. He looks so very earnest and somber on the cover, wearing some kind of blue velvet marching band uniform with gold satin accents, and standing next to a carved marble armless bust of a man staring blankly at him, probably thinking, "Oy vey, he will never be his brother." Because this CD was released in 1984, back when Michael was still cool and admired. Before the bones of the elephant man and the face bleaching and the tawdry sexual politics of Neverland.

I examined my copy of Ozzy Osbourne's double album "Live & Loud." The case is made of steel mesh. How could you be more of a badass than that? The fact that Ozzy and Jermaine are shelved in the same room is enough style dissonance to cause a chemical reaction. Chernobyl 2.

There is an international section of music, which includes "Songs of Ancient Egypt" and something New Age-y called "Global Meditation." I won't even try to remember what prompted me to buy that. But I have a pretty good idea. Substance abuse. "Dude, like, this planet is so huge. Listen to these African drums." Or it was on sale.

The Jermaine Jackson was, thankfully, at least a "remainder." The little hole punched in the jewel case says to me "Yes. This was a mistake, Candy. But an inexpensive one." Would that all my mistakes were this minor. It would be a comfort if all the bad decisions I ever made could line up in plastic cases with holes punched in each one. Reassuring me that they were only momentary lapses in judgment and that now I can throw them away. Let them go. Never think about them again. Release the baggage, Candy! Embrace the now! Don't put that hideous Jermaine Jackson CD back on the shelf!

But I did. Memory Lane needs a few thorny bushes among the beautiful fruit trees. And anyhow, Kajagoogoo and Ace of Base would be lonely.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Big Life Decisions

I'm finding that when almost every single big familiar thing in your life is removed, you see what's really important to you. And I don't mean in a sappy, puppies-in-a-basket way. Although yes, puppies in a basket are crucially important.

I mean this: Now that I'm 2,000 miles from "home," and have left behind all of my friends, my church, my house, my neighborhood, my town, my job, my office of fantastic co-sufferers, my 2-hour driving distance from my family, and even my climate, things that are just not going to work for Candy are becoming clear very quickly.

Yesterday, I started teaching at the Little Bitty Community College. I despised it. And before you think "Oh Candy, give it a chance! Every job is hard the first day..." let me tell you that it wasn't about it being the first day. It was about contrast.

At the Big Giant University where I spent 9 years, I taught a dozen or so Freshman Composition classes during that time. During the first year that's all I taught. But with a huge stroke of luck and Divine choreography, I began teaching creative writing classes. There is an unspeakably huge difference between those 2 teaching genres. Freshman comp is a required course for all college students. No matter what their intended major, no matter how annoyed they are to be in school because their parents coerced them. The overall attitude, with very few exceptions, from the students in this course is "What? We, like, have to write papers? I, like, hate to write. Oh my God, I forgot to turn my phone off. Can I, like, answer it?" It goes downhill from there.

In creative writing classes, whether fiction writing, poetry writing, or memoir writing (all classes I taught regularly) the attitude is different. The courses are elective and those who sign up want to take them. Another perk: these students are usually juniors and seniors (because they get to sign up for classes first) and have had a couple years of college writing already, not to mention a little more life experience. They believe they have something to say, and that the world will be interested in hearing it, and that they are creative enough to make the writing good. In a word: motivated.

This does take the form of a naive arrogance sometimes. Like the total douchebag student I had in a fiction class once who said "I don't need to know how to write. I just need an agent." He was unbearable. A personality like an oily residue, not unlike his writing. Case in point: his scintillating story(wet dream) about the main character (himself) who was such a magnificent guitar player that Eddie Van Halen begged him to come over and show him some pointers. The main character coldly refused and the devastated Eddie quit rock 'n' roll forever.

It is not easy to "teach" a kid like that one, when what you'd really like to do is dip him in honey and drop him into a kiddie pool filled with red ants. But I'm at least interested in the genre, and in the group of students workshopping the story, and in whether or not we can salvage any of it. And believe it or not, I am not mean. Ever. When a student puts their creative writing in front of you, it is often, for them, like fileting themselves with a serrated knife in front of 17 of their peers. You must make a safe place for them. And I do. Even though I have many sharp streaks of raving bitch in my personality, I don't take it into the classroom. Everywhere else, yes. Class, no.

Yesterday, on my first day in the new classroom, it hit me that I am just done with teaching. The chance to teach creative writing at the college level in Phoenix is a gnat's foot away from zero, and even if I did get that kind of class here, the salary would still be one-third what I made at my old job.

So what I'm left with is a low-paying, dull-as-an-infomercial job (reading research papers about gun control, the advances in tanning beds, and binge drinking) ((those three topics all relate, don't they?)) that forces me to follow a schedule which prevents me from flying home to see my family until the semester is over. Unless I want to fly home on a Friday and back to Phoenix on a Sunday. This is not an attractive travel agenda to someone who needs a full day to recover from flying.

I know that most people with jobs do not have jobs they like. Even fewer have jobs that they love. That's how life is. But I need my job to at least have a point. I could go do chunks of temp work at Manpower and be stuck in an office filing medical forms 8 hours a day. But it would still have a point: I could go see my parents, 89 and 84, more than every 4 months. They have things to tell me, still, that I can't learn from college freshmen. Admittedly, my dad doesn't have much to say anymore, but I can still make him laugh, and I want to go do that as often as possible while he's around.

Teaching does have a point. There are people who want to coax irritable 18-year-olds into doing the assignments, and who don't mind the constant battle to win the hearts of teenagers over into the world of literature and writing when they would rather be text messaging "u b at th mall L8r?" But honestly, if I'd wanted to wrangle angry adolescents, I'd have had some of my own.

Some students are motivated. Out of a class of 18 there are usually 2 or 3 who rise to the occasion and crank out the work without acting as though you've asked them to knock out their own teeth, and they even do it well. There is the occasional victory. It's just not enough for me anymore.

Truthfully, I'm feeling more than a little brokenhearted. Teaching turned me into a person. It was the first place I ever found success. And now I have to let it go and figure out what's next. I can always go back. There is a neverending supply of low-paying positions teaching freshman comp. But I don't think I will.

There is much to be thankful for. There is a husband I'm madly in love with who wore fake hillbilly teeth with me at our wedding, and who is really, really good to me every day. And that's enough to start with.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Early Morning: The Struggle Continues

Some have predicted that my being forced to get up at 5:15 to teach my dreaded 7:30 a.m. class will be good for me. That sliding into an early, early morning schedule will change my life for the better. I'll have more daylight, feel more energized, leave my extremist nocturnal ways behind forever.

My spouse, faithful Adorer of the Dawn, is now witnessing the details of my new regimen. He would undoubtedly hear fewer protests from me if I were kept locked in a straw-lined cage and awakened by the blast of a firehose at 6 a.m., then dragged by the tangled hair into the kitchen and forced to re-enact the Von Trapp family's "Lonely Goatherd" play using only wooden spoons and sticks of butter.

I've been trying desperately to ramp up to my new wake-up time. Had I any brains in my head, I'd have started this process at least a month ago. But that would've involved foresight and intelligence, and that all-important dollop of self-discipline. Which we ain't got none of 'round here. At least not in my corner of the house.

Scott has this wonderfully pragmatic way of living. If something needs to be done, he just does it. Rarely does he complain about anything. His general attitude is a sleek quarterhorse twitching with anticipation at the starting gate, while mine is a limping, angry, emaciated donkey who gnaws at the fencepost while composing hate letters to the flies on his back.

Poor Scott has ended up with a woman who must sustain a running commentary on her misery, lest the world not fully comprehend how downtrodden she is. Among the comments he has heard from me during the past 3 mornings:

"You cannot possibly understand how awful this is for me."
"If you loved me you would make this go away."
"This is going to kill me."
"No. Eggs sound gross."
"I detest the sunlight."
"What is the POINT of ANYTHING???"

And this is my best self.

I try to force perspective upon my defeated thoughts. I realize that I could be in many worse circumstances. I still have my health, people who love me, a house to live in, food to eat, etc. What if I were in military boot camp, where even a smidgen of whining is rewarded with a 10 mile run? And if you pass out during the run, unspeakable volunteered fluids are poured over your incoherent skull. THEN I'd have something to cry about.

Ah, but the fencepost is so tasty.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Life's Rich Pageant

For the next couple of weeks, Candy will be in academic quicksand.

In other words, the new teaching job is starting. This week there are various "orientation" meetings for newbies like myself. And lemme tell ya, switching from a teaching job at the Big Giant University to teaching at a Little Bitty Community College is a whole different tupperware of worms.

Enrollment-wise, the place isn't all that small. 7,000 students vs. the 42,000 at my old job. But the campus is absolutely tiny. And exquisitely beautiful. It's dropped between two mountains and on the 16 mile drive up there, I have trouble focusing on the road. "Look, Candy! Look at the mountains! What are we doing living where there are mountains?" my little Inner Candy says. And I do my best to shut her piehole so we don't end up just another casualty reported by the traffic copters. Also distracting, I might add.

The L.B. Community College is just like a big high school. Everybody knows everybody. The secretaries, professors, students, random security guys. They ALL know one another. You don't want to speak harshly to anyone or make an enemy because 2 minutes after you might honk off a clerk in the teeny little bookstore for pointing out that she charged you twice for a magazine, the news has burned its way along the invisible grapevine to your own department, where you will be instantly labeled "Trouble."

And Candy does not want to be that. Nosiree. At least not until classes have started.

And then my own struggle begins. Because, as some of you already know, the universe has had great fun with me lately when forming my teaching schedule. I, Candy Rant, the woman who delights in staying up until dawn, doing all of her favorite things (watching DVDs of "Mr. Ed" and "Hawaii Five-O", eating junk food, locating unseen corners of the worldwideweb where you can buy faux cockroach swizzle sticks, and putting little bonnets on my cat) until the annoying, useless birds start their morning song, have been assigned a class that meets at 7:30 a.m. I plan to walk into that class holding a sign: "Do NOT speak to me." There will be a stern glare that goes with it.

Scott, who LOVES, LOVES, LOVES the early morning hours told me how much fun it will be to get up together and eat breakfast together and have coffee and "You'll see how great the morning is!" Please, do stop by if you'd like to sign his cast.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Candy, Back in the Desert

First, the high school reunion.

It was blissfully uneventful. No one got overly drunk, no one yelled at anybody, the food was decent, blah blah. 22 out of 83 classmates showed up. There were 35 people total. Out of the 22 classmates? 4 males. No, wait. 5. One of them left before the group photo was taken. But he spoke about 11 syllables while he was there, so I didn't exactly miss him.

According to those who organized the shindig, there are several class members who apparently despise their former classmates. And none of us knows why. One of them will not speak to any of us when she has the misfortune of random public contact. She was one of us. We had fantastically idiotic fun times with her. What happened to her? What could have driven her underground like an angry, bewildered mole? No attempt at contact, by any of us, has been reciprocated. I stopped trying years ago. You have to save your sanity, you know. You have to, at some point, pay closer attention to those who are interested in being your friend. You must give the sullen moles the boot. Leave them to their loamy basements to gnaw and swat at tiny imaginary beasties in their tangled fur.

Then there's this guy from our class who sent a verbal message to the reunion planners via his sister: "Tell them not to waste their damned stamp." OK. Point taken. Here, drink this Maalox and sawdust smoothie I made for you.

The weirdest part of the whole evening is something I may have noticed before, but had forgotten: We all have different memories. For instance, when we girls used to have slumber parties, we always had to venture into the dark arts a little and try our hand at "levitation." This is where 7 or 8 girls gather around the body of the "dead" girl lying on her back on the floor. The person at her head massages the girl's temples in a very spooky way, while telling a tale about how the poor dead girl came to her dismal end. And believe me, the end is never easy. There is never a simple death from, say, gagging on a twinkie or mixing Midol with Boone's Farm. It is always violent and creepy. A car wreck in the woods where the girl manages to escape the burning vehicle just in time to be eaten by a bear. That sort of thing.

One of my friends at the reunion started telling about how "Oh my God, Candy told the SCARIEST stories. I used to get so scared I couldn't move!"

I was gobsmacked. What I remember is being so freaked out by the whole "light as a feather, stiff as a board" incantation that I would run into the kitchen of whomever's house it was, and talk to the resident mom. Anything to avoid the sinister witches in the candle-lit living room. But maybe that never happened. I had more than one witness testifying about my ghoulish stories and insisting that I scared ten years off their lives.

This "remember when" stuff went on all evening, as I'm sure it does at every class reunion in every language. And each time someone would talk about a specific basketball game or political hallway incident at school, there would be half a dozen voices saying "I don't remember that at all." Quite a few people who know me have told me I have a surgically precise memory. And maybe I do. But even I was lost when hearing all these mysterious forgotten details. Which just goes to show you, in the big fat novel that is life, there is no such thing as a reliable narrator. Everyone has their own separate transparency for the overhead projector, insistent and vivid.

As I looked around the room at the faces, some who were at the reunion for the first time, the whole ritual seemed bizarre. With one or 2 exceptions, I had no idea who these people had become as adults. And even with such a small gathering, there were people I never got the chance to talk to. It was hello/goodbye and a once-over to size up how fat/bald/weary-looking we'd gotten. But it felt like a gentle sizing up all around, not a vindictive one. Just a chance to run back into formation momentarily and say "I'm still alive. You too? OK. See you in another five years." Maybe the moles will climb out of their burrows for that one.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Candy in Hoosierland

To those of you who have checked in to see where the heck Candy is, thank you. It's comforting to someone who feels, regularly, as though she is swerving off the planet.

I'm in Indiana visiting my family for 9 days. This is a grand luxury, to be with my parents and sister (who lives 5 blocks away) for this long. It will be the highest number of consecutive days I've spent with my mom and dad since I was 19. Whether or not I have a curfew remains to be seen, since I haven't tested it. But tomorrow night is my high school reunion and I am sure to break the parental bedtime boundary of 10:30 p.m. I'll have to sneak in like a delinquent cheerleader, pom-poms tossed to the floor as I slither into bed.

Even if the reunion totally blows, which is a definite possibility, a classmate has informed me that we'll take our bad partying selves over to the Elks club, where a party is always afoot. Candy in an Elks club. Not a combo I'm eager to experience. But I must go with the flow. Candy always goes with the flow. Stop rolling your eyes. I mean it. Don't forget that I can ram my forehead through your screen and give you the stink eye.

My classmate Susan and I have also already discussed who will and probably won't attend the reunion. This is our 30th. Yes. We're old-ish. Our graduating class had 84 people in it and we're lucky if 20 show up for the reunions. It's frustrating because at least 75 people from our class live within a 5-mile radius, having never left town. But the reunion is apparently just not their cup of tea. Or they're too uppity to haul their high-brow selves over to visit with their old pals. Or maybe they think we're too boring. I find this a stretch, based on things like a conversation I had with a former classmate 1 year after graduation. I was at a social function my mom talked me into attending. I ran into a girl from my class.

Candy: Hey...what's new?

Classmate: Oh, just being married and all that.

Candy: Yeah? So how's that going?

Classmate: Well, I'm learning some new stuff.

Candy: Like what?

Classmate: Like there's this magazine article I saw about how to decorate the inside of your husband's lunchbox. With fabric.

Candy: Does your husband want his lunchbox decorated?

Classmate: Well, I made it so that when he opens it at lunchtime, this little curtain drops down over his sandwich. And then he lifts the curtain.

At that point I could not carry my end of the conversation because I was writhing on the ground with my hands on my throat trying to strangle myself. When that didn't work, I mashed my face into the grass and tried to burrow into an underground condominium of night crawlers, in search of a more interesting discussion. Say, about eating dirt.

So, no, boredom just doesn't qualify as an excuse to skip the reunion. Because if I lived through that conversation suffering only a grass-stained face, my classmates and I can all survive one another.

At our 15 year reunion, held at the American Legion, again we had the usual 25 or so, while less than a block away, several people from our class sat in one of the 2 bars in our hometown. This information was passed around at the reunion, and a few of us walked to the bar afterward to visit those who were holding court. It was a sad gathering. 3 or 4 guys from our class were at the bar, wearing hats, hiding their bald heads (so I was told...since I never saw the domes myself) and looking up sheepishly at us when we came in. It was obvious they wanted to be coaxed into the fold. A girl from our class who had recently divorced stood at the bar. I asked her why she hadn't come to the reunion.

"Are you f*cking kidding me? I'm not going to that motherf*cking thing."

Her anger was radiating from her in big red streaks like a cartoon thumb hit with a hammer. Life was not going well.

It wasn't going well for me either. I was there with my sullen, arrogant, posing, more-fun-than-a-nostril-full-of-raw-liver husband, and just wanted to see what was happening in the lives across the fence.

At this point, when we're pushing fifty, going to the reunion feels even more necessary to me. These are the people I knew in adolescence, and now we've passed into that crucial mid-life place of heart attacks and firm political opinions and grieving our parents who are either already gone or elderly, of re-evaluating everything up to this point, and of secretly being afraid we won't be good stewards of the time we have left. Or maybe my classmates don't dip into such self-indulgent, maudlin thoughts. Maybe I'm the only one who fears that I'll never "find" who really resides inside me, at least not to my satisfaction, never figure out what I'm supposed to be doing. But I doubt it.

My husband won't be here to meet the old group. He used up his vacation weeks on that pesky little wedding and Candy Relocation. But already I'm relishing how much better it feels to be missing the presence of someone great vs. attending the reunion with a man who makes me feel I'm wearing a dress made of lead.

I'd love to hear about your high school reunions. Did you go? Were they good or bad? What surprised you? Will you ever go again?