Friday, February 20, 2015

Why Art Matters: John Irving

Wrestler turned author.

I backed into Irving fandom in '88, a homework, dinner and a movie date with a boyfriend at the time. The homework was chemistry, the dinner cornish hens and the movie The World According to Garp. The relationship (and my pre-pharmacy major) didn't last, but my relationship with Irving's stories did.

His work has been described as similar to Charles Dickens, a fact I can hardly argue but I see his style as uniquely his own. He set his characters in absurd situations for which they act perfectly normal. His worlds are filled with bears in crisis, hookers with sage life advice, horny teenage boys, the world of wrestling, mental illness and finding yourself in Vienna. What is consistent is his blend of comedy and drama, like the grudge one man held against a baby since his dog was hit by a diaper truck. Strong female characters are also a constant.

Memorable characters include Owen, who believes he was conceived in a VIRGIN BIRTH; Garp, conceived by an asexual nurse who rapes a patient as he lay dying; Freud, the Viennese innkeeper who believes he is training a bear, who is actually a woman in a bear suit; Dr. Wilbur Larch, head of an orphanage who is also an abortion doctor; Piggy Sneed, a man of no consequence made heroic by a child's blatant lies; Ruth, used as a pawn in her parents dissolving marriage turned novelist, who of course befriends a prostitute in Vienna.

Even though Irving has his own unique set of tropes, he never relies on cliche to complete his story. His stories are never neatly tied in a bundle, yet you do not feel cheated out of a satisfying ending. You are offered redemption in one way or another, at the end.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Typing Out Loud: Bang, Bang I Am the Warrior

In my continuing saga with the River Bank Run, I submitted an application, three times I may add, to be a Road Warrior in the 5 and 10K divisions for the annual race.

Road Warriors represent the race at community events and trainings, as well as blog about the experience. Right up my alley.

First thing was the application. My first application was crafted carefully, an epic tome meant to make readers laugh, cry, be inspired and thus be nominated for the first-ever Pulitzer for online applications. So when I hit send... I got the dreaded 404 error.

Second application was an edited version of the first, emphasis on inspiration, a "chicken soup for the runner's soul" that was so heavy on syrup, I hesitated hitting the submit button. Another 404 error.

I gave it a few days and submitted a dashed off third try. I was borderline smart-alecky, inserted some trademark humor, and when I hit submitted and got the "accepted" page, I mentally ticked the "do something brave today" box, pretty certain I was not the type of runner they wanted or needed for their program.

Until I got the "congratulations!" letter from officials while I was eating supermarket sushi in a hotel room while off to judge a figure skating competition.

I was very surprised and immediately bashful. Me? No really, me? Before any reader think this is false modesty, you have to know how I think. And it isn't pretty. I probably have the worst case of conflicted self image in the history of self images. Immediately upon reading the news, the vicious, cynical side of me woke from her sleeping slumber and unleashed a series of worst-case, ego destroying wicked vile that made me toss and turn most of the night.

Ever had your own brain tell you such things as "you're a loser"? How about "you're not a real runner"? Or even the litany of put downs such as "you think you're so special" and "you think you're all that" or "attention whore."


The first ring of the circus was the community vote. You were given the link to publicize your intention to be a warrior. I skipped Twitter and Instagram, and opted to get the word out on Facebook. I composed my post at Starbucks and sent it out into the world. It got liked, shared, reposted, etc. Friends rallied to cheer me on. There were also a few notable exceptions to the support, which send my negative Nancy on a rampage.

I didn't win the community vote.

The next phase was the personal interview, conducted at Gazelle Sports. I was funny. I was gracious. I got arms and limbs involved in telling stories, swooping in for effect. They loved me. But it all came down to I think one key question: "what are you not looking forward to in this process?"

I wanted this, but I also wanted to be honest. Skating is a huge part of my life, and working at the hospital, I work odd shifts that don't always work with someone's 9-to-5. I reviewed the listing of events I was required to attend and worried out loud I wouldn't be able to make any of the Wednesday trainings, and most of the Saturday runs. For the first time, there was a wrinkle on the brows of the women conducting the interview. Game face still on, I was pretty sure I was sunk.

Less than 48 hours later, my fears were confirmed when I got a "thanks but no" email from the committee. As an added bonus, I also got a rejection letter from a place I had applied to for a writing position.

Negative Nancy had a field day on me on my way to work. The way I figured, NN had somehow found her way out of my brain and managed to have not one but two entities vocalize what I had been thinking all along. You're nothing special. You're a loser. They're all laughing at you.

I took another day to reflect, and give myself perspective. After running for only 4 years, I managed to hang with the best the Grand Rapids running community had to offer. Even before when I thought I had a chance, I was worried about the time commitment, knowing full well that work, family and skating took precedent. I represented myself well and conjured up some confidence I didn't know I had.

I posted today a thank you to everyone who supported me, and to tell them I wasn't chosen. I rewrote it carefully as I intentionally omitted negative words like "loser" from my phrasing.

I'm still doing the run, and as a reward for my efforts, I was given yet another free entry to the race. So I got a prize after all.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Stories for the Boy: My Favorite Valentines

Valentine's Day for the younger set thankfully had none of the angst that teenagers faced or the relationship land mines for those slightly older.

One of my favorite projects in grade school was decorating a cigar box for Valentine's Day. It was a flurry of craft paper, glitter, paper lace, bugle beads and cotton balls. It was a beautiful box.

I still harbored a crush, and in my second grade glory, I cherished the "Hot Stuff" fire engine valentine from Tommy.

It's sad that when a girl needs a Valentine the most is when you stopped receiving them. Seventh and eighth grade kind of suck.

Not that 9th was any better. I had a boyfriend, almost by default. I received his valentine and box of chocolates on the bus via Alison Wilson since I hadn't seen him that day. I was startled by the gift.

Your dad gave me the best Valentines for several years. The first year, it was the gift of himself, as we had broken up at the end of January. You will find, son, that the early part of a relationship can be touchy, when it goes from being casual to perhaps something more.

You are living proof that it did.

Ten years later, your dad delighted me with the Can You Dig It? box set, a collection of 70s soul music in a fake 8-track tape box. We were in the throes of remodeling the kitchen of our house in Saint Louis, and we listened over and over as we stripped wallpaper and changed knobs.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

February Playlist: WRKX, home of Bulldog Radio

So many memories.

I was a radio DJ, first at WLCC at Lansing Community College, on weekends home at WIBM and WKHM doing the polka show with my great Uncle Joe and Aunt Lil (really), and then at WRKX, Ferris' AM station, aaaaall the way down the dial on 640, with a "powerful" 50 watts that barely reached the far edges of campus.

I had two shows a week, on Tuesdays (6-8p) and Thursdays (4-6p). On both days, Joe preceded me, while Greg "the S Man" followed on Tuesdays and Marcus on Thursdays. Joe was a Lynyrd Skynyrd devotee, heavily entrenched in classic rock. I played a blend of bar/club dance pop and college alternative rock, while S Man and Marcus played rap and hip hop.

Other characters hanging around our ramshackle studios above the copy center included Mike "The Stork", who later was my husband's roommate; Pat, a bland fellow with a frightening penchant for death metal; Esmeralda who loved the indie girls and ended up fronting a queercore band; Marc the DJ who also spun at The Alibi; my friend Shannon, lover of Van Halen and Morrisey; Mark and his girlfriend, who were co-managers of the station. They liked to hole up in production to fight, record commercials, make out, and watch satellite feed of television sitcom stars reading station bumpers in succession: "You can catch "Married with Children" on your Fox 17!" said Christina Applegate, who, after a pause, moved on to Fox 18.

What else can I say about those years... we had four major sponsors, in addition to the university.  ESPN and WLAV were the two stations we played while no one was on air. Old Spice and Domino's Pizza were supporting sponsors; we used to have free pizza and free Old Spice travel fanny pack giveaways. My mouth waters remembering the $3 Bulldog, which was just a personal sized Hawaiian.

I originally was going to showcase my 2/14/90 show, probably the only evidence I have left, other than the photo above, that I did this once upon a time. Somewhere, the house swallowed up the tape, left to be rediscovered another time. What I do remember about my shows was my mix of classic and modern rock, David Bowie alongside the Lemonheads, B-52s and J. Geils Band, and a couple new acts off the Subpop label, Mother Love Bone, Soundgarden (LOUDER THAN LOVE!) and Nirvana. Kind of fun to know I did cool before it was cool. I was also wearing flannel before its time, but this was due to gong to school up north where it was freaking cold. Yes girls, Bean boots for fashion and function.