Ever get annoyed? Ever feel like someone needs to be told where the dog died? Or handed a crowbar and a tub of Elbow Grease to help them pry their head out of their arse? Congratulations--you've come to the right place.

And when I'm not commenting on the latest thing to piss me off, I'm trying to figure out my own twisted life. Because, hey, I'm like that.

On a gentler note: for anyone dealing with depression, anxiety, and other assorted bullshit: You are NOT alone.

And if you're looking for a laugh, search on the key word "fuckery." It's just my little thing (as the bishop said to the actress).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Too Soon

There is a protocol in comedy clubs:  if an audience member feels that the comedian has made a joke about a recent tragic event without allowing for a decent interval of mourning, they will call out, "TOO SOON!" (For a great illustration of the affect this can have, see the film The Aristocrats.)

Last night, I found out one of my all-time performing heroes, an actor and comedian who has been a part of my pop culture consciousness since I was eight, took his life.

Robin Williams, dead at 63 by his own hand.

Al had just come home from his horseshoe league (welcome to suburbia--I like it), I happened to notice the posts on Facebook, and suddenly, he had a woman in a panic, melting down, going, "Nononononononononono..." and then bursting into tears and weeping.  I don't usually have that kind of reaction to a famous person dying, but this... this cut close to the bone, not just because of who, but how. Out of the sheer need to laugh, I bought Jim Jefferies tickets for next week. (I usually don't go to shows that close together.) And today, I made a pilgrimage after work to the Public Garden to the bench where he and Matt Damon were filmed for Good Will Hunting.  Someone started the tribute last night... by this afternoon, the delta of a path behind the bench was filled with quotes and prayers and wishes.  Someone had been kind enough to leave a giant box of sidewalk chalk.  I left flowers... yeah, the ones that say, "Too soon." People were gathered, silent, respectful. I had to leave... it was too much.

It was like losing Jim Henson, only this time, it wasn't just a piece of my childhood that was gone--it's someone whose worked shaped mine.

It started with Mork and those damned suspenders.  I had a pair of those suspenders, complete with pins. And a yellow shirt. (Hey, I was 10. Whaddya want?)  The improvised craziness of his performance coupled with the alien learning vital human lessons... it came at the right time in my development.

And then... then came HBO and stand-up specials.  A lot of kids from my generation got their comedy education from two places:  their parents' record collections and HBO. Carlin... I think I own almost all of Carlin's HBO specials.  Whoopi Goldberg's one-woman show on Broadway.  The showcases with comics doing five-minute sets (I remember Rodney Dangerfield and Roseanne, long before she dropped her last name or even dreamed of her own show, doing vignettes in between sets.) Richard Pryor's stand-up films. Bill Cosby Himself playing several times a day.

And Robin Williams.

An Evening with Robin Williams was filmed in San Fransisco, had to have been in '81 or '82; he framed the concert with a bit in the character of Pops, the crusty old news stand guy.  To this day, I can quote my way through it. "Hey, hey... Mistah Williams!"

Live at the Met... I think that was '85 or '86.  I could do those bits word for word, right down to the vocal inflections and accents.   Doctor Roof! "Making a sound like a baby in a blender..."  I have memories of watching that in our crappy little apartment when I was first married, and listening to the soundtrack on the CD player of my best friend's minivan whilst tooling through the back roads of the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia.

It's almost thirty years later, and I STILL laugh all the way through.

Comic Relief... well, by then, I was growing up a bit and couldn't afford HBO.

But I saw the movies; not all of them, but the ones that mattered, at least to me. Garp. The Fisher King. Hook. Dead Poets Society. Awakenings. Dead Again. Bits in Hamlet and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Aladdin. Mrs. Doubtfire. The Birdcage. Good Morning, Vietnam. Good Will Hunting. Death to Smoochy. Insomnia. And, his real triumph, One Hour Photo, the first performance I ever saw him give where he actually acted--dropped his schtick, his crutches, and threw himself into this sad, disturbed man who had nothing of his own, who just wanted a family, and saw someone who had it all and didn't care. THAT was the performance he deserved the Oscar for.

I didn't bother to follow him in the press--I just didn't care about divorces and rehab and gossip. I cared about the talent, the whirlwind of insanity that produced such brilliance. The couple that mattered... Phil Donahue, when he said he'd given up cocaine because of the death of John Belushi.  "Look at him--he was a bull. If cocaine could kill a big guy like that, what would it do to a little guy like me?"  The David Frost interview where, when talking about his first divorce and remarriage, the pain came through of the ugly things implied about the beginnings of his relationship with Marcia. The very real moments when the truly decent human being shone through the schtick.

Inside the Actors Studio (in its early days, when it was more than a flavor-of-the-month schmooze fest)... a master class in the art of the interview and improv.  James Lipton asked him, "What is your favorite sound?"  And Mr. Williams made a little brrrrrrrppppp--the sound of a tiny fart escaping--laughed and called it, "the great equalizer."

And when he returned to HBO specials... 2002, talking about Viagra... and 2009, after a relapse and another divorce...  

There is no single performer who has influenced my own style--my personal comedy and outrageousness--more than Robin Williams.  After all these years, yeah, I've taken the old schtick and shaped it and made it my own, but at rock bottom... I'm imitating Robin Williams.

And he's gone.  Suicide.  And my heart... my heart aches for him, his children, his family. How the hell do you process this?  Captain, my captain, NO! 

And it pisses me off--comedy never gets the respect it deserves.  Let me tell you something, folks--tragedy is TIT.  Drama is so fucking easy, it's ridiculous. Comedy?  Making people laugh?  Try it sometime. Get up in front of a room full of people and tell a joke. Or take a comedic sketch and play it. Or jump into an improv piece. Or tell a story that should either shock or offend and instead, make them laugh and commiserate. Betcha ya can't. Comedy--especially that of the stand-up variety--is an under-appreciated art form that takes INCREDIBLE perseverance and masochism coupled with a natural ability to tell a story, timing, and judgement.

It also takes a hell of a lot of pain. 

This is secret of great comedy:  it comes from immense, intense pain.  It comes from a place so dark that the only way to escape it is to laugh at it--to make fun of it, taunt it, give it the finger and tell it to fuck off.  The difference between the people who are chuckle-worthy funny (say, your average sitcom actor) and the people who leave you aching (or, in my case, having an asthma attack) from laughing is a two-fold factor:  a) pain; and b) the balls to laugh at it.

The problem, however, is the same as when taunting any violent, intelligent beast:  it waits. It stalks. It bides its time until you are vulnerable, and the evil fucker pounces.

And you, my friend, are dead meat because this isn't an external enemy you can run away from or call the police on.  This is your own darkness, your own self, the person who knows your failings the best and can beat you over the head with them until there is no defense left except escape.

Been there, and thank the merciful fucking Gods I have managed at those last moments to grasp a spar of light and hold on until the beast, the Black Dog, wore itself out and slunk back to its lair.

Too many haven't, and this is the latest in a long line of immensely talented, creative people who succumbed.  From all reports, he'd been trying to do the right things to take care of his depression. He had his addictions under control.  The problem with depression, however, is that sometimes, the meds don't work. Sometimes, the therapy doesn't help. Something triggers you, your brain chemistry changes, and you flip.

Been there. Done that. Thank whatever beneficent forces exist in this universe, I made it out the other side.

It isn't about being weak or stupid or selfish. It's because there's a broken circuit in your brain.  For some of us, it's genetic. For others, it just happened. For another group of us, it's because we went through some Very Bad Things and survived. No matter what, it's real. 

I've made this plea before, and I'm going to make it again:  LISTEN.  If someone you know and love is in this kind of pain, LISTEN. Ignore your fear, ignore your need to reassure yourself by talking and issuing platitudes. Just LISTEN.  Let them talk.  Get them angry and yelling if you have to, but don't shame them. Don't tell them they're stupid and ungrateful, or silly.  Just be there. Be the spar they can hold on to until the beast retreats.  

And be there to help them climb up on the desk and sound their barbaric YAWP!  

Thank you, Mr. Williams, for filling my life with laughter.  May your soul find peace and your next journey be happier.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Long Dark

Hey, kids, long time no blog.

There's an old curse (Chinese, I think) that goes, "May you live in interesting times."

Well, that could sum up the past three years really well.

On the upside, I am in the best relationship I have ever been in with quite possibly the best man who has ever walked in shoe leather, to borrow an old family saying.  It ain't perfect, but it's good.  We've both seen some shit, and the advantage of being older and getting in a relationship is that you know a) what you will tolerate; b) what you WILL NOT tolerate; and c) what's important. I looked back over this blog last week, at the entries, and the difference in my life is staggering. Not only am I a partner in a serious adult relationship, I'm a step-mother to an awesome 20-year-old in college.  I have a job again--it's part-time, selling tea and spices and medicinal herbs in a small shop, working for two amazing women--it's a good fit, letting me use my writing, marketing and cooking skills for a small business that can use it and, more importantly, appreciates it. I'm looking into starting a business--home baking, bolstered with a food blog and video cooking tutorials.  I'm a really, really amazing cook.  I had a huge garden last year, and this year it will be bigger (and hopefully, will provide all the veggies we'll need for the year). I learned how to can.  I've learned to knit.

On the downside, I lost Mum in September.  I feel like a lost child, to be honest. I'm relieved--she's no longer suffering.  But my heart hurts.  And I'm angry--I have to deal with all of her stuff.  It's caused a strain, to put it mildly.  I also lost Piddy on her 20th birthday--the stubborn little beast lived long enough to have her birthday turkey, and when she could only eat two bites, I knew it was time.  I buried a piece of my heart with her in the front yard--if you've never had a beloved animal companion (as opposed to a "pet"), I'm sorry.  Losing them is hard, but the benefit is astounding.  I'm hoping to get a rosebush to take root from the old bush at Hell's Vestibule.

BTW, Hell's Vestibule was lost two years ago.  It was a good thing and a bad thing.  We got most of it cleaned out, and the best part was that Mum severed all ties with her despicable younger brother, may he die in a gutter alone. She lived with us for the last year and a half of her life, and that's what a lot of my time went to--watching over her and making sure she was OK, but then, that was what I've done for a long time.

As a part of dealing with Mum's stuff, I had to deal with my stuff.  Going through over twenty boxes of files (most of them mine) and a 10x30' packed storage space brought on a bit of a crisis.

Fuck that, I had a meltdown of epic proportions.  One of my therapists (I have three these days--personal, couple, and EMDR, but I'll get to that later) told me I needed trauma work as she watched me fall apart during our couples session.  (We're trying to improve our communications--we've got the relationship down pretty good, but there are a couple of things we need to work on.  It's good, it's positive, and it's the Next Step.)  That led back to my regular therapist who told me about EMDR.  At first, it was going to be a six-month "adjunct" therapy--just something to help me over this hump and get me to a place where I could put the grief and anger into perspective.

And then I was told I needed at least a year if not two of it.  Because there was "trauma on trauma" in my life--that I'd been through too much.

The best way to describe that moment, that news, was like an emotional kick in the balls.  However, I couldn't argue with it because, honestly, kids, I'm not functioning.  I mean, I'm getting through the day to day, but barely.  And it's so hard to watch Al being patient with me, hard to watch his face when he's hoping I've had a good day instead of one of my typical days when getting the cat fed (we have a 2.5 year old tuxedo who is the light of the household--we rescued Miss Lulubelle when her people couldn't keep her anymore, and she has rescued our hearts more than once, particularly through the grief process), the dishes done, and supper planned means I have accomplished something.  But there are days when playing for hours on the computer or the Nintendo 64 are about all I can handle. Or hours of posting useless shit on Facebook. Or wandering from store to store, shopping for shit I don't need and projects I never complete.  I haven't been able to write, I haven't been able to read a book, and finishing anything is more challenging than I care to think about.

I can't handle most movies these days, especially if there's a lot violence in it.  I only made it through 10 minutes of Catching Fire, and I desperately wanted to see that.  I can't handle anything out of my comfort sphere, and that comfort sphere is about the size of a ping pong ball these days. I can handle working because it's quiet--we're in a small storefront, customers are polite and the community we're in doesn't encourage impoliteness, and the store itself is serene, so work isn't challenging--I get to write food blogs, research food and recipes, fill jars with spices and bags with herbs and tea, make beautiful window displays, all on a very relaxed schedule.  There is a zero asshole factor there--everyone there is NICE--good people, decent people, and all of us committed to the success of the store and farm.  It's the way it should be.

The television... with the exception of a couple of things (Legit, Once Upon a Time, Cosmos, and Sleepy Hollow--Al has actually gotten me to watch TV), I can't bear the fucking thing. The noise... the noise sensitivity is driving me insane.

And I feel like a loser.  I thought I'd taken care of this shit--I thought I'd done the work, done the therapy, gotten it under control and leashed in. And now, when I have everything to live for, when I have the life and the opportunities I've dreamed of, I can't function.

If EMDR doesn't work, I don't know what I'm going to do.  I have three novels waiting for me to finish them. I have a studio full of materials and a sketchbook of designs waiting to be brought to fruition.

I have everything to live for, and while I have no desire to die, the only real desire I have right now is to curl up and sleep and have the world go away and not ask anything from me.

So I'll take any good energy people can throw my way.  I'm still fighting--I have a reason to fight now, and his train is going to be pulling into the station in five minutes, and I need to pick him up.  I'm not alone in this.

And that... that makes a big difference. I have a reason to succeed, I have a reason to fight--I'm a part of something I've always dreamed of. We've built a life, a good life, and I want that life.

That's a good thought for the first day of spring.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Call NOT to Pray

"It doesn’t matter who you call “God”; what matters is how you conduct yourself in this world."

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, I’m seeing a lot of calls upon God and to return prayer to school.
This bothers me. A lot.
The call is coming from Christians (at least it is on my news feed). 
Prayer does not have a place in the public school, at least not in our current climate.  Prayer means different things to different people, and my question to you is this:  your child is from a Christian family; however, the predominant religion in their classroom is Buddhism. What prayer should be said in the morning?  The “Our Father” for the ONE Christian child, or should there be a Buddhist meditation session?  The American principle of “majority rule”—after all, that is how we vote, and this is a public institution, paid for with public money and the budget determined by a POLITICAL body, so therefore, it is a political issue that should be determined by political rules—would dictate that the morning begin with a Buddhist meditation session:  a little incense, a mantra repeated… What if the predominant religion in the classroom is Judaism?  Islam? 
Do you see the mess this creates?
I went to Catholic schools for my twelve years of basic schooling; every day started with a prayer and the God-included Pledge of Allegiance.  My religion was dictated to me; I had religion classes every day.  Five months after that education ended, my affiliation with the Church ended, at least in my mind.  I took a couple of years to make it “official,” because I don’t believe in rash decisions about something so deep, but it ended because of a rational decision making process, a well-reasoned internaldebate, and the fact that it came down to one thing:  to be a Catholic, you have to vote the party line. You have to play by ALL of the rules.  There were too many things I did not believe, did not accept, and so, because while I have never accepted Jesus as a god-figure, I have always respected and followed him as a philosopher.  The one group Jesus had no truck with was hypocrites.  To call myself a “Catholic” and not play by the rules was to be a hypocrite and in direct violation of one (what I perceived to be) Jesus’s core values; ergo, I was no longer a Catholic.
Because I am an American, I had the option of other spiritualities and other faiths.  I had access to lots of information and could research.  I educated myself and made my choices.  Because of the research, I also became acutely aware of the efforts of certain groups to influence public opinion.  Because I am no longer a member of the mainstream, I became ACUTELY aware of the prejudices of EVERY group, my own umbrella group (and “Pagan” is a label that is an umbrella for a myriad of spiritualities) included.
“Prayer” is a very personal concept and the definition and execution thereof differs from person to person, never mind from tradition to tradition.  In Catholic school, we stood and folded our hands and bent our heads.  Muslims spread mats and prostrate themselves.  Some Pagans light incense on an altar and meditate.  There are as many ways to pray as there are people on this earth. 
Do you see the problem? 
There are two sides to kids:  one side is the side we cherish:  the lovely, happy, sweet darlings who are growing and developing and amaze us. The other is the side we despise:  the bullying, judgemental, evil little gobshites who tease, harass, beat up and otherwise torture each other. 
I was one of those kids who was bullied constantly, beat up, harassed, teased and made miserable by other kids.  The principal and teachers did nothing to protect me or prevent it, despite the fact that I was in a Catholic school and what was being done to me was against the very principles of the philosophy of the school.  I was different—I was the child of a single, divorced mother who lived in the Projects (at least for the first four years I was in elementary school), and most of the kids hurting me were from more affluent families.
Prayer in school—religion classes—didn’t make a damned bit of difference to their actions or behavior. For me, however, it did make a difference. I was far more thoughtful in my decision making, and how I treated others, especially as I got older.  I obsess about ethics rather than morals because morals can find a way to excuse and defend any level of disgusting behavior done in the name of what the moralizer calls “moral.”  Ethics, however, are exactly about conduct and right-action. My mother, as a parent, is quite possibly the most ethical human being I've ever known, and it was her example I followed.  I can only imagine that those other kids were living out their parents examples, their parents who were good, Church-going Catholics, in good standing with the principal and pastor of the parish.  
See what I'm getting at? 
What we DO need isn’t about prayer or religion. What we need is personal responsibility and awareness.  It doesn’t matter who you call “God”—be it the Christian God, the Judaic Yahweh, the Islamic Allah, or even Odin the All-Father—what matters is how you conduct yourself in this world.  As adults, it means the example you set for your kids because, folks, your behavior is what they will emulate, and if you tell them one thing but behave in another, all the prayer in the world won’t make a damned bit of difference.  They’re going to do as you do when it matters most, and think about that VERY carefully, my friends.  VERY carefully.  Do you want your kids kicking people when they’re down?  Or offering them a hand up? 
I may not have any children of my own, but I have quite a few of them in my life.  As someone who’s been a teacher (and who’s heading back into that profession) and a mentor, I am acutely aware that what I say and how I behave make a difference.  Words have power, but words backed with action have impact. 
Make an impact, my friends. Live your words. And pray that you find the strength to be the best person you can be. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ad Memoriam: America, July 4, 1776 - September 11, 2001

This past Sunday marked a painful anniversary for the United States. The image included today is Marcus Halevy's iconic photo from the week after; this image gave me hope. It still does. For me, the 9/11 experience can be summed up in three songs: “Three Little Birds,” by Bob Marley; “Times Like These” (live version, not studio) by The Foo Fighters; and “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen.

I really wanted to ignore the tenth anniversary for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, I hate how the fascist corporate whores who were running the country into the ground at the time used and abused the incident to justify an unjust war that has claimed millions of lives. Second, how 9/11 was used to destroy our Constitutional freedoms; third, how it was used to justify prejudice and has helped to create a movement towards the elimination of the First Amendment and a push towards turning the U.S. into a Christo-fascist dictatorship. I wish I was joking or exaggerating. Fourth, the fact that the cocksucking politico whores didn’t invite NYPD, FDNY, and rescue workers to the memorial… yeah. Fifth, after sending troops into Afghanistan 10 years ago, Draft Dodger/Retard Bush* and his corporate masters passed legislation cutting benefits for veterans and their survivors… Sixth, the survivors can’t get decent health coverage (and have been coming up with lovely forms of cancer) or benefits because, hey, why the fuck should the ungrateful legislative whores in the pockets of the insurance companies defy their corporate masters? Seventh, the Bush administration allowed the Saudi royal family and friends to fly out of the US on the day after, when all other private and commercial jets were grounded. Eighth, shall we discuss the Patriot Act? Christ, I just want to spit—September 11, 2001 – the day used as an excuse to destroy America.

And then, yesterday, while I was driving down the Lynn Fells Parkway on a glorious, beautiful, stunning September Sunday morning, I happened to flip the radio and come upon Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising.” I wept like a broken child because Bruce’s voice and lyrics captured the reality of the day for me—both anthem and hymn, praise and mourning, defiance and acceptance, and it flooded back—that horrible, awful day… coming out into the doctor’s waiting room from my appointment before 10 a.m. to have this couple who had just driven up from The Cape tell me what they’d heard on the radio, and me saying it couldn’t be true… and then… then the news. Frantically trying to reach the guy I had been casually dating because he’d been driving down to NYC every Tuesday for business. Calling former students and emailing and making sure everyone was accounted for because a few of our kids had gone to grad school down there (and I was never so thankful that I’d listened to my instincts and NOT gone to the Actor’s Studio for the MFA—it was in the same block as St. Vincent’s, one of the front line hospitals)… that horrible, empty feeling that something so ugly, so stupid, so evil could be done in the name of ideology.

Ever notice that “ideology” sounds a lot like “idiotology” when pronounced out loud?

All the dead. All those emergency personal. All of the ordinary people who did extraordinary things that day. All of those families, those children…

That was what was the good thing about that horrible day—we all were a little kinder, a little gentler to each other. As a nation, we’d been punched in the gut and realized for a few days what was really important—each other.

A few days after, I heard the Bob Marley song “Three Little Birds,” and I wept, grieving and knowing that somehow, it would get better.

I flew to Philly a couple of weeks later to see my best friend, KJ. My Mum didn’t want me to go—she was terrified of me flying so close to the time, and those planes… those planes had originated at Logan. Going through Logan wasn’t pleasant—seeing Staties in riot gear and automatic weapons was as shocking as it was the first time I went through DeGaulle in Paris. I had asked the people I’d been talking to on the plane if there had been a terrorist attack and was told, “Oh, no, this is normal.” It was painful to see it become normal here. Understand that I love to fly—I live for the moment of take off, when the plane “slips the surly bonds of earth.” It’s a magical moment. What transformed the experience for me that night was looking out of the plane and seeing lights—the Eastern Seaboard was lit up completely, shining in the night. I leaned my head against the glass, tears on my cheeks, proud, so proud to be an American at that moment—they had wounded us, but by the Gods, they had not extinguished our light—the nation founded on the principles of “government by the people, for the people” would not fall.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the live version of “Times Like These,” just the raw emotion of Davy Grohl’s voice transforming a nice song into a soul wrenching testimony of survival, and weeping because it was so fucking true: “it’s times like these you learn to live again; it’s times like these you give and give again; it’s times like these you learn to love again.”**

And then the morons started waving flags and chanting, “USA! USA!” on street corners. And people wonder why other countries hate us; why even our allies are disappointed in us. Could it be we allowed a functionally illiterate draft-dodging corporate failure, backed by an unethical, amoral, consciousless corporate tycoon to be the titular head of this country for eight years? Could it be that we, as a nation, have acted like a bunch of bullying, uneducated, ill-bred hooligans? Could be it be that we have forgotten our real history and instead believe in the government-censored fairytale the least-enlightened state in the Union approves of for the rest of us?*** (Christ, I wish I was making this shit up.)

That is what has made the past decade so painful for me—the destruction of the light of America. When our country was founded, it was by men profoundly influenced by the French Enlightenment and from families deeply affected by the English Civil War, not to mention the Reformation. This nation began as a commercial venture and penal colony, and when the time came and independence was earned, the law code those leaders codified was a direct reflection of it. The Constitution of the United States was a document born from a society trying to learn from history; it was never intended to be a static code that remained unchanged and unchallenged. The government established by Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams… they never intended that we would have the same government over two hundred years later. They established a base for us to build on, but never expected us to fail so radically by clinging to the past and ignoring history. They did not expect us to follow the example of the monarchies of Europe.

That is where we have failed, my friends, and how we, as a nation, have dishonored our honored dead. Those who died for this country, who gave their lives willingly or unwillingly, did so to uphold the principles of the Founding Fathers. The problem is that we no longer bother to study those principles. Patriotism is not blind adherence to the government’s policy—patriotism is the belief and love of the principles that governed the founding of this nation—that we are all created equal in the eyes of the law, that we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, BUT that with those rights, comes RESPONSIBILITY. We have forgotten as a nation the concept of citizenship; we have become rotten, corrupt—intellectually lazy and cowardly in the face of losing our creature comforts. We have allowed cowards, liars and thieves to take control of our government, and surrendered our wills to corporations, and our partisan identity is more important to us than what is best for our country. We have allowed our elections to become nothing more than muck-raking popularity contests that have nothing to do with public service and everything to do with lining the pockets of the winners and their corporate sponsors, while we allow ourselves to be sidetracked into discussions of irrelevancies and forget we are supposed to be voting for a public servant who will serve the common good, not just our special interests.

We have pissed on the graves of the honored dead and debased ourselves in useless warmongering, destroying not only our own citizens, but decimating the populations of foreign nations under false pretenses. We, as a nation, have sunk lower than France in 1789, and are following the example of Germany in the 1930’s. The pity is that, because we have allowed our schools to become indoctrination centers, history is not studied and ANALYZED, and we as a nation live in denial. Our people are suffering, and we are causing suffering around the world with our selfishness.

I wept Sunday for all that was lost on that beautiful September day in 2001—the lives needlessly, cruelly cut short and for the death of my country. Today, I pray for all of us—that we have the courage to go beyond our self-imposed limits and embrace our responsibilities.

May the benevolent Gods bless us all and guide us to enlightenment and compassion.

*W served in the AF Reserve as a pilot; he never saw combat. He was also seen rather erratically after the Air Force began random drug testing. W is a coke addict; note the present tense usage. There were reports (reliable, sadly) that he was still snorting when he was in the White House. His behavior pretty well confirms it. As for Dick Cheney, he was quoted in Rolling Stone, when questioned as to why he didn't serve in Viet Nam, "I had better things to do." Sorry, but if you're not willing to shed your own blood for your country, don't ask anyone else to, you cowardly scum.

** Surprised to discover that "Times Like These" came out in 2003. For some reason, I associate it with 2001. Time is fluid...

*** Truth: most states use textbooks approved by the Texas Board of Education. Be afraid. Be VERY, VERY afraid when the books your children use come from a state-approved board. Ever heard of Stalin? Hitler? Mao? Yeah--they believe in state-approved text books as well. When it comes to history and learning history, you don't want to learn the party line--you want to learn all sides of the story. Because hey, wouldn't it be awesome to learn a balanced view of history? One of the best anecdotes I have to share about this--and about the fact that even American history teachers in AMERICAN schools don't know their history: I had the pleasure of seeing Neil Gaiman speak back in June at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH on the 10th anniversary tour for American Gods. The novel contains interludes--his way of overcoming writer's block--which are anecdotes of how the Gods crossed the ocean. One of them involves a Cornish woman named Essie Tregowan who was a tranportee (twice!). For those of you unfamiliar with American history. the colonies were not established for religious freedom and human rights, but as a commercial venture and a penal colony (much like Australia). Neil's son was 12 at that point; he came home from school and told his father that his history teacher said that Neil was a liar.

Yeah. Evidently, they're not teaching history teachers about transportees--the other side of the King's Hard Bargain (hang or be a soldier). Being transported meant you escaped the noose, but instead were condemned to a (possibly) temporary servitude. If you read A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, you can also discover even more ugly truths about transportees and slavery. All true, sad to say, and all serious contributing factors to today's racial issues in the US (and other countries). What's even sadder is that people from other countries know more about our history than our history teachers.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What's Cookin'? Tomato Pie!

Hey, kids - I realized it's been forever since I've posted a new recipe. Last week, I went to the party of the year--the annual gathering of the clan at Camp Atherton. I brought along Tomato Pie, and evidently, it was a major hit. I LOVE this recipe--it's just utterly nummers. It's a high falutin' alternative to pizza that I've been playing with forever, and I think I finally got it right. Plus, it's tomato season... mmmmmmmmmmmm... HEIRLOOM TOMATOES! Cut with just a sprinkle of salt... maybe a little fresh mozz... or Mahon. If you haven't discovered Spanish Mahon cheese, please do. It's the most sublime eating cheese on the planet.

As with all my recipes, if you like it, share it with friends and family, but PLEASE--credit me. I put a lot of effort into the tips and hints (because, honestly, there is nothing more frustrating than trying a recipe and getting weird results that no one warned you about). I hope to finish my cookbook one of these days.

Tomato Pie a la Empress

This recipe IS summer for me, and this is the time of year to make it. Tomato Pie is pizza to the nth degree, a heavenly melding of cheese and fresh tomatoes and garlic… Gods, I’m salivating just thinking about it. Simple, simple ingredients, but utter heaven from the oven. The other beauty of this recipe is, like so many other tomato-based dishes, it’s better the second day, and can be eaten hot or cold (I love a cold slice for breakfast). I also love it because it’s one of the few recipes I can make for my vegetarian friends that will also satisfy the omnivores. If you have gluten issues, switch out the crust. Dairy… can’t help you there. This dish is all about cheese and tomatoes.

This recipe is based on a Martha Stewart concoction I came across a few years ago. I really loved the idea of it and have played around with it over the past few tomato seasons. My advice is to use fresh HEIRLOOM tomatoes for the best flavor. Trust me on this. My three favorites are pineapple (a yellow tomato with a few stripes), brandywine (big bustard of a red tomato), and black prince (a black/purple tomato with stripes). Color is the key—go for variety for the best taste (and one or two good-sized brandywines will give you more than enough for two pies and bits to snack on while the pies are baking).

Trader Joe’s is your friend when making this recipe—I prefer to get my tomatoes from the farmers market (or a good farm stand)—Kimball Farms is my favorite at the markets—but for cheese selection and price, TJ’s is your best bet (in the Boston area). They also have all of the ingredients (including the tomatoes) in high summer.

I use a variety of cheeses in the mix—like five different types in the shred, plus the fresh mozz and parm. Five .75 lb. blocks yield enough cheese for four pies (even with snacking because who can resist cheese?). DON’T skip the fresh mozz, ESPECIALLY if you’re cooking for people with salt issues. The fresh mozzarella cuts the salt of the rest of the cheese. My latest version of this used English Coastal Cheddar, Cheddar/Gruyere (a TJ’s house cheese), Canadian Cheddar, New Zealand Cheddar, Dubliner, and Australian Cheddar. Yeah, I like cheddar. Mix your sharps and milds, and play with your flavors—I’d be interested to hear the result of using a blue cheese or a brie or camembert in this. I know someone tried my recipe with Cottswolds and double Gloucestershire for a great result. If I see a porter cheddar or a mustard cheddar, I may try those for shits and giggles.

I also cheat and use store-bought pie crust (I know, I know, shame on me. Whatever—when I get a bigger kitchen and have room to work, I’ll start making my own. Besides, who the hell wants to make pie crust in high summer?). Trader Joe’s makes an excellent crust; find it in their frozen section. One hint when working with a premade, unrolled crust: if it breaks when you unfold it, DON’T panic. Lay it flat, peel off the top layer of plastic, dust a tiny bit of flour or cornmeal over the crust, put the plastic back over it, and GENTLY press it back together. OR, put it in the baking dish like puzzle pieces & press it back together in there. Your choice.

One final note: you can make this with really basic ingredients—regular tomatoes, packaged cheese, etc. I’ve done it in a pinch. But it just ain’t HALF as good. Trust me.


2 large bulbs of garlic
Olive oil
Crust for 2-9” pies
Cornmeal (for dusting)
Balsamic vinegar
Heirloom tomatoes (2 huge, 2 medium, 2-3 small—you will have extra)
Cherry tomatoes (roughly 10—again, go for color variety)
2-3 pounds of assorted cheeses, shredded
2 balls fresh mozzarella
½ cup grated parmesan
Fresh basil, cut into ribbons (about five leaves)

Preheat the oven to 400F.
Rub the outer skin off of the garlic bulbs so that just the last layer covering the cloves is left. Cut the top off of the bulb—basically, get the tips off so that the inner garlic is revealed. Lay the garlic, cut side up, in the center of a piece of foil large enough to completely cover the garlic (if you have a garlic baker, use that; I use foil), bring the corners of the foil part-way up, and drizzle olive oil over the garlic. Twist the foil close. Repeat for the other bulb. Place in a shallow pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. You’ll know when it’s done because the aroma from the garlic will change from the sharp, intense scent of the fresh cut to a mellow, nutty scent. This will take at least 45 minutes. Remove the garlic from the oven and let it cool (for the sake of avoiding scorched fingers).

Line two 8” cake pans with the pie crust; adjust the crust to fit as necessary & crimp around the edges. Dust the bottom with cornmeal & weight the bottom with rice, dried beans or pie weights & bake for fifteen minutes. This pre-baking isn’t completely necessary; it just makes for a crisper bottom on the pie. Don’t skip weighting the bottom—the crust WILL puff up and the sides will slide down. If the sides start to slide, remove the crust from the oven immediately and press bake into place. (Yes, I’ve had it happen; no tragedy, really, just a minor nuisance).

Shred the cheeses. I tend to alternate cheese blocks to make mixing the shreds easier—shred a bit, toss it in a giant mixing bowl, shred a bit of a different one, throw it in the bowl, give the cheeses a light toss together… you get the picture. Do NOT include the parm and mozz in this process.

Slice the tomatoes; thickness is your choice. I tend to let the tomato decide how thick the slices are going to be because different varieties have different consistencies.

By now, your garlic should be cool enough to handle. Partially unwrap the roasted bulbs and pour the garlic-infused oil off into a small bowl. There are two methods of getting roasted garlic cloves out of the skin: one is neat, the other is messy, and you’ll be using both. The neat way is to winkle the roasted clove out with the tine of a fork—just hook the clove with the fork and pull it out. The messy way is to squeeze the roasted clove out of the skin. Either way, get all of the roasted garlic out of the skins and into the bowl with the oil, add a bit of balsamic vinegar to taste (but not so much as to make it liquid) and mash it up to a fairly smooth paste. If you want to add any other flavors—rosemary, basil, mustard, etc.—mash it in with the garlic. I like to keep it simple. I DON’T advise adding salt—because of the cheese content, adding salt as a flavoring is overkill and really wrecks the flavor.

Now, let’s assemble the pies! For each pie: spread the paste over the bottom of the crust, sprinkle a little bit of parmesan, a few handfuls of the shredded cheeses—pat the cheese into a firm layer, shreds of fresh mozzarella, and a layer of the sliced tomatoes. Neatness does NOT count. Fill in empty spots between tomato slices with bits of the assorted cherry tomatoes. Repeat. Put the pan on a baking sheet (because it can bubble over—this is why I bake it in a cake pan and not a pie plate) and bake for 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven, toss a scant handful of shredded cheese, a sprinkle of parm, a few shreds of the fresh mozz, and basil ribbons (optional); return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes. I like the top bit of cheese to brown a bit for flavor.

Allow to cool for at least an hour before serving. Can be served warm or cold, keeps in the fridge for at least a week.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hair of the Dog... ACHOO!

For the record, this is NOT aimed at any of my close friends who own dogs. Unlike some dog owners, you've been responsible and civilized your pup.
"You know what irony is, don't you, Baldrick?"
"Yeah, it's like goldy and bronzy, only darker."
(from Blackadder, favorite quote provided by Vicki)

After finishing the first draft of this post, I got an email from Amazon.com telling me I would want to know that the book, Woof: I Love Dogs has been published and is available for 22% off the cover price. *headdesk*
For the record, I feel the same way about dogs that I do about humans: as a species, I can't abide them; however, I take individuals as I find.
OK, blurkers, I need you dog people to explain to me what the fucking point is.
I'm serious.
I am NOT a dog person--I am actually severely allergic (like, petting them makes my hands itch and break out into hives and cause me to have serious sinus issues) to most of the beasts. As a cat person, I would never dream of bringing my cat along to someone else's house. NEVER. Because a) my cat doesn't like anyone but me; b) my cat doesn't want to leave the house; and c) what right do I have to inflict my choice of animal companion on someone else's home? As someone who suffers from stupid allergies, I know that just because I'm cool with my feline doesn't mean everyone else is.
Dog people don't seem to get this--there is this perception that EVERYONE loves dogs--ESPECIALLY YOURS! because Rover is just so AWESOME! And that I, as a non-dog person am somehow a very bad person because I don't just adore their dribbling needy loud annoying crotch-sniffing INTRUSIVE STINKY four-legged child substitute who literally makes me sick. It's not that they aren't being responsible pet owners--I'm a bad person for trying to avoid my hands breaking into painful hives and developing a life-threatening sinus infection. Yes, of course, I will risk my health just to reassure your personal canine fashion lifestyle statement and ease your ego.
Why is it OK to hate cats but not dogs? I actually had a guy tell me he couldn't date me because he couldn't get into cats. (Yes, this was through a dating site.)
I was at a party recently and two people brought their dogs along, dogs who just had no business being there. One of them kept jumping in the pool (and making it really filthy); the other--a huge, ugly pit bullish thing with a head bigger than the average watermelon and jaws that could have snapped a steel girder--had to be tied up away from everyone else and would NOT STOP barking at everyone and everything, upsetting the dog that actually lived there. It took the moron who brought the drooling maniac almost an hour to get it through his thick head that THIS WAS NOT the place to have his dog.
Why would you do this? Explain this to me. I really don't get it. I don't get this "let's take the dog!" mentality. Dogs are bloody intrusive creatures, most of them--sniffing EVERYTHING, I mean, EVERY FUCKING THING, drooling, dribbling, farting, shedding, Christ on a crutch, WHAT IS THE FUCKING POINT?!?!? And they're so damn NEEDY--they're worse than kids, for fuckssake. Why would you have an animal that can rip your throat out in your home? Or one that you could shove a broom handle into their arse and clean the floor with? (Seriously, if you have to have a dog, at least get one that goes "woof." Anything that yips is useless.)
Oh, and hybrid? Seriously? Back when I was a kid, we had "hybrid" dogs--we called them mutts and you got them from a neighbor or the animal shelter. The sonofawhore who came up with the "hybrid" concept is one brilliant bastard--one way to save your investment when your purebred drooler fucks a purebred dribbler. Proof that there's a sucker born every minute.
And another thing about purebreds--and this goes for dogs and cats--if you buy a purebred from a breeder for any other reason than allergies (because there are some who are safe for allergies)--you're a shallow, ignorant jackoff. Go to a fucking shelter or a rescue (because there are purebred rescue shelters out there) and stop being an irresponsible, fascist cunt. Nazis care about bloodlines; humans should just care, and there are too many unwanted critters out there who've been abandoned out of human irresponsibility and cruelty. You want the responsibility of a pet? Be responsible then.
I like cats. Cats know when to fuck off and leave you alone. Cats shit and piss in a box and don't require being taken on walkies five or a million times a day. Cats will not mindlessly bark for an hour just because they need to let the world know that, hey, I'M HERE! Cats will cadge food (and do sneaky things), but at least a cat doesn't have jaws that can snap your neck. Unless it's a tiger, and hey, you as a human should know better. Cats don't hump your leg. Cats don't shove their nose in your crotch or arse just because they have to smell EVERYTHING. Cats COVER their shit. Cats clean themselves and don't (usually) need to be bathed to keep from smelling like wet dog (which is one of the most evil smells on the planet).
I get it that the behavior stuff is not the dog's fault--it's the idiot on the other end of the least with the opposable thumbs who hasn't socialized and trained the beast. And there are some pretty obnoxious cats out there. But dogs... Folks, I just don't fucking get it.
Pass me a tissue, will ya?

Post-vacation Crash Rant

So I've been back in the States for less than a week and the post-Nova Scotia blues just hit full force.
I've been writing multiple blog posts in my head (I know, does no good there) over the past couple of weeks, but just haven't had the oomph to write them. I get it, depression. Understood. However, it's more than that. I was OK for a while because I thought I was going back in September--was going to hit the Jim Jefferies show at the Wilbur, hop in the car, and haul ass for Halifax and The Hill encampment so I could see all of my friends again.
Not happening--for a lot of reasons, most of them monetary. But it hurts like hell. I miss my NS people desperately, and the only reason to be back here are the good people in my life.
I really hate coming back here, and I've realized why: lack of community. Lack of cooperation. And the fact that Americans are the biggest bunch of spoiled, lazy, fucking brats on the planet. (More on that later.)
I spent the last weekend of July in my version of heaven on earth: the Annapolis Valley. Most of it was spent at a living history encampment of the 84th Regiment at Fort Anne in the piss-pouring rain. In full 18th century dress (which I am not doing again unless I'm in drag--there's something going on with my abs that are making anything tight incredibly horrible). I'm going to do a full post on the encampment--a happy post, because this is NOT a happy post and it was a happy experience. What I left the encampment with was a feeling of community--of being a part, even if on the periphery--of a solid community which watched out for its own and welcomed others willing to commit and give back.
I am not a crunchberry--while I believe that yes, we are bloody irresponsible in our use of resources and hate the disposable society in which we live, I am also as guilty as the next person of not being as responsible as I could be in making things better. However, having worked in the People's Republic of Cambridge for over two decades and dealing with starry-eyed fascists who shoved their politics and naive idealism down my throat until I choked... yeah. I believe in being responsible. What that means is that I eat the cow AND wear leather because the idea of wasting the animal is repugnant. I honor the sacrifice; I also accept that it's a part of the cycle of existence. I will be cremated because my remains will not be allowed to break down naturally and enrich the earth (although, being born in the late 20th century and raised on crap food for 40 years, I'd be worried about what would leach out that would poison the earth). The re-enactors I was with are probably the best example of effective use of resources I have ever come face-to-face with: all natural fibers, thrift store shopping, items mended, repurposed, passed down, passed along... nothing going to waste.
Chortling over "Frenchy's Finds"--stuff found at thrift stores for cheap money, perfectly good stuff that other people threw away, given new life. If you didn't have goods, you gave services--cooking, child-watching, help with a tent, whatever. Cooperation.
The cooperation extended beyond the encampment--whether it was just having coffee, help with moving stuff, advice, whatever--the community continues over.
I miss that community desperately. I miss having a cup of coffee in the afternoon and a yak-yak over a snack. I miss having people to meet up with and just be. I miss the Nova Scotian common sense and acceptance of life and limitations--and the indomitable will to just keep going and make things work, somehow.
Because you have to.
I got a little sick of the anti-American sentiment (actually, I got a lot sick of it, and had to bite my tongue a couple of times from saying, "WELL, WHY THE FUCK DO YOU TAKE IT?!?! Close the goddamned border, stand up to the US. What the fuck are we going to do? Nuke you? We'd be killing ourselves and losing everything we need because fuck knows, drilling for oil in the Gulf isn't working, we've decimated our forests, and most of our top entertainers are imported from either Canada or the UK); I got sick of apologizing for American stupidity, not just because I was annoyed with the fact that I know a lot of people who are NOT like what gets shown on the TV--most of the people I know are decent human beings who are doing their best. The other reason I got sick of it is because I'm sick of our diseased society.
And here begins the rant. Sit down or click off, kids, because the Empress is about to throw down: Dear America: Please WAKE THE FUCK UP AND PULL YOUR COLLECTIVE HEAD OUT OF YOUR ARSE. I don't give a rat's nadgers what you classify yourself as--liberal, conservative, progressive, Green, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, what-the-fuck-EVER. GROW UP. Our government is in the pocket of corporations and very, very wealthy people who have directed us on a course of self-destruction that will make the fall of Rome look like a backyard game of tug-o-war because, thanks to technology, we have far more destructive toys than our Roman forebears ever did.
The world economy is collapsing because of irresponsibility and laziness. Because we want to go farther, faster, quicker, sooner, without regard for the consequences. Somewhere along the line, we forgot there were consequences for our actions, or, to use the physics formula, for every action there is a direct opposite REaction. The human race, in its race to advance, has condemned itself, and no society greater exemplifies this than the US.
And it breaks my fucking heart. We have an AMAZING country, founded on an incredible visionary law code, on a philosophy that believes we are all capable of achievement, of raising ourselves up and being better than what we were at the beginning.
As a society, we have lost sight of this. Over the past century, we have gone from being pioneers and citizens to being spoiled, entitled brats, and there isn't an echelon of American society that isn't guilty of it, from the very rich to the very poor.
We eat over-processed food, approved by a government agency in the pockets of corporate food producers, food that is poisoning us because, while it is convenient, it lacks nutrition and introduces compounds into the body that are deadlier than bullets.
We watch corporate-produced crap on the television that more and more, isn't well-written entertainment (although that was scarce enough even before reality TV), but a glorification of all that is wrong with our society. But for a bit of attention, people are willing to sell their souls for a slice of the pie. We get the Kartrashians, heiresses little more than self-supporting whores, neglecting mothers, shallow idiots, and values that have nothing to do with common sense, common courtesy or common decency, all for Warhol's fabled fifteen minutes. How ironic a hack would come up for the label for the fall of America.
We support professional sports teams who are paid more money than any human being is worth to play games for us--rather than going out and tossing a ball around for fun, it's about who can win the scholarship, who can get signed, who can take this to the limit and get all the money. It's not about sportsmanship, it's not about athleticism, it's about money. You will not see me at Fenway, Patriot Place, or the Garden, folks. Fuck them. And fuck the owners of these franchises who are little more than modern-day slave owners--ever see Gladiator? I really am NOT entertained.
We elect politicians who talk a good game and do nothing but line their own pockets preparing for their next run for office. Hypocrites, the lot of them, particularly on the far Right--decrying everything the lowest, least-educated part of society fears while committing the same "sins" in private.
This is what is being played out in "the media"--on the television, the newspapers, the magazines, etc. This is what America broadcasts to the world--that we are a nation of lazy, stupid morons being puppeteered by corporate masters, new money who have no grasp of the concept of noblesse oblige--I may hate Bill Gates for being a plaguirizing jackass, but he has done great things with his money. He has given back. Warren Buffet is another great example. Not so Donald Trump, Rupert Murdock, the thieves of Wall Street and their ilk, and sadly, they are in the majority, takers who suck the life out of others and don't give a damn thing back, selfish idiots who have lined their pockets and bought expensive toys that use up precious resources that can't be replaced while people die because of the conditions they perpetuate.
Don't tell me Wal-Mart creates jobs and has affordable prices--I know this. What I also know is that Wal-Mart has actively worked to destroy American manufacturing in order to keep its prices low, thereby eradicating well-paying American jobs that would allow the workers to better educate themselves and their children and dear Gods, we can't have that happening.
We have an education system that is, quite frankly, piss. Great universities so obscenely priced that we have three generations who have begun their adult lives deeply in debt, the latest with little hope of paying it off in less than two decades. Primary and secondary education are now test-driven--state-sanctioned test-driven, to the point where if you don't pass the government test, you don't get the degree, therefore you don't get a job, and hey, let's talk about those crime statistics.
Are you seeing the vicious cycle we've created? And you want to cut social programs but not tax the rich motherfuckers who aren't giving a cent back to make things better. Instead, you want to cut money for the elderly, cut benefits for children and families, and in short, make the poor pay for the sin of being poor.
This is Calvanistic Puritanism at its most vile and disgusting. Think I'm kidding? Ever heard of the theory of "The Elect"? It is a philosophy at the center of many of the Protestant sects--the concept that there are a finite number of people who have been "saved"--i.e. whom God has chosen and who are going to heaven no matter what. The Elect can be identified by their fortunate lives; the damned can be identified by their unfortunate lives. In short: they ain't going to heaven, SO FUCK 'EM.
I was raised Catholic; Catholicism states that even the worst sinner can be redeemed by sincere good works (sincere meaning that the gestures come from the heart--from a genuine desire to do rightly). If you want a good example of Catholic redemption theory, see the praying scene in Hamlet--the one where Claudius is on his knees but cannot pray because he has no repentance in his heart.
I am sick at heart for all this, folks. I'm angry, I'm upset, and I am sorely disappointed in America in general. What makes it more painful is all of the wonderful people I know down here--my friends--who are trying to live their lives rightly and do right by themselves and those around them. I am tired of the fact that down here, we're doing our best, but up there... up there, they just don't give a rat's ragged arse about what's right, just about what is right for them.
So what am I doing to counteract the stupidity? To avoid the only real sin I acknowledge, i.e. hypocrisy? I'm doing my best. Trying to eat decent food, grown as locally as possible. Trying to be smart about what I buy. Using thrift stores. Repairing instead of throwing away. Passing around, not throwing out. I wish I didn't have to use the car so much, but my knees aren't allowing for walking.
I'm going to go get some coffee and see if I can find a little peace of mind. A positive vacation blog will follow--going over the really high points and giving lots of credit and kudos where it's due--but right now... right now, I need to have a good hard cry because I'm not going to get to see all of those folks again for at least a year.
while I have much to be thankful for, right now... right now, life fucking sucks.