Poetry Wednesday: Two Decades of Marriage

It’s difficult, after twenty years of marriage, to find an anniversary card that says what I want to say without inducing sugar shock or referencing stereotypical jokes that don’t apply, or blatantly propositioning my husband where my MIl might catch on.**

I need  something that encompasses knowing someone for over half your life, meeting, loving, and learning each other, and staying together anyway, through three apartments, two houses, four cities, three states, four cats, two kids.  Through colleges, careers, in-laws, weight fluctuations, annoying hobbies, lies, silence, tears, fights, hugs, backrubs, communication, dependence, independence, acceptance,  change.

That’s a tall order for a folded piece of cardboard.

It’s a tall order for a poem.

Because love isn’t what you think it is when the ring makes its big appearance and marriage is a lot more than not being alone anymore—sometimes it’s a lot less.  But not always.

It’s complicated.  Except when it’s the simplest truth in the world.

Luckily, there’s one poet who always has those nebulous paradoxical certainties covered:

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
Imagination Sphereand less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

—e.e. cummings

Happy anniversary, honey.

I love you, mostly, sane and sunly with a touch of mad and moonly.

Wanna go for twenty-one?

____________________________

*Except for the toilet seat thing, which always seems to apply, but never sets the right tone.

**That’s for birthdays.

My Canadian Chicken

In honor of Canada Day:

My husband and I honeymooned for a week in Stratford, Ontario, where the annual Shakespeare Festival was in full swing.  I’m a huge fan of the Festival, and I can’t imagine a better place to have a honeymoon:  beautiful theater productions of all kinds,* walks along the river, gorgeous gardens, friendly people, good food, and shopping.

Because my MIL had been a huge help with the wedding, I wanted to find an antique glass cruet to add to her collection.  My husband and I, armed with a map, took off to hunt through the myriad antique markets around Stratford.

We found the right cruet** in the third place we looked, an enormous, two-floored barn full of anything and everything.  And there . . . in the corner . . . were three large, wooden, domestic animals, all  more than two feet high and all wearing saddles.  They had been, we were told, part of a hand-cranked merry-go-round, but the owner didn’t know how old they were.  That didn’t matter to me—I was in love.

There had been seven or eight to the set, but only three remained. It was a tough decision, but the chicken won:

I would have adopted all of them, but my husband wouldn’t let me.  Cost aside, he was right—this was 1993, but crossing the border back into the States was still an experience.

The guard looked at the receipt, looked at us, and said, “You’ve got a what?” 

“It’s hers,” said my beloved, pointing at me.***

The guard asked us to pop our trunk and came out of his booth just to see it.    Apparently, not too many people declare chickens . . . I can only imagine what he might have done if we ‘d brought back the duck and the pig, too.

I was more than willing to stay in Canada, but he let us through with a chuckle and a shake of his head.

The Canadian Chicken has been with us ever since, a strange souvenir and symbol of our wedded bliss.  And yes, small children have ridden it over the years—if I can find the photos, I’ll share.

And that’s my story in honor of Canada Day.^

Thank you.

____

*The first night, we saw Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Colm Feore as Oberon.  Let me tell you, seeing Mr. Feore sloooowly lowering himself from the upper portion of the stage while wearing a skintight bodysuit was a terrible thing to do to a young woman who has just pledged herself to the young man sitting next to her—who, love of her life or not, in no way resembles Colm Feore playing Oberon in a skintight bodysuit.  Eighteen years later, and I still pause at the memory.

**Red, in great condition, and sold by someone who was willing to have fun haggling with the tourists instead of bilking them.

***Would Colm Feore have done that?  I don’t think so.

^Next year, I may explain why our marriage was actually consummated in Canada, which has nothing to do with chickens in any way . . .  except that I was reluctant to kick assorted in-laws out of our apartment before 2:30 am.  But again, whole ‘nother story.  See you next year.

“Plungerie”

If you’d ever like to talk to both of my parents at the same time, good luck to you, but the odds are best on Friday evenings around five central.  Dad will most likely answer the phone chewing, but will reassure you that they’ve just finished dinner and Mom is even now heading for the office extension.

Yesterday, after the usual catch-up and mandatory exchange of cute grandchildren and animal stories, I asked them what they’d done for their anniversary last week, besides listening to me sing the ‘happy anniversary song’ through their answering machine.*

Mom had spent the entire day at work** and Dad had been at a scouting thing with his troop.  This inspired several lame jokes—see?  Genetics!— about minimum face time being the true secret to a long marriage and happy anniversaries.

“But your Dad did buy me a great gift,” said Mom.

“Good!  What?”  I asked.

“Two heavy duty toilet plungers. One for each Curves.”

“That’s so romantic, Dad,” I said.

“I know.”

Mom laughed.  “No, it was—he drew little happy faces on them with markers and everything.”

I asked her if she was going to make earrings out of them, and she said, “No, I’m going to plunge toilets with them.  The pipes are having problems at the eastern Curves, and our little plunger doesn’t work very well.”

I asked Dad if he’d received a gift.

“Sure,” he said.  “I don’t have to drive across town with our heavy plunger and fix their toilet anymore.”

“He gave himself a gift this year,” said Mom.  “Two gifts— he also gave me a little ratchet kit so I’ll stop borrowing his.”

“You know, Dad,” I said,” traditionally, when a man gives himself an anniversary gift, it involves lingerie.”

“She doesn’t need lingerie,” said Dad.

“I need plungers.  He gave me what I needed—I think that’s pretty romantic.”

There was a moment of silence and all three of us said, “Plungerie!” at the same time.

Nature versus nurture—you decide.

Regardless, I would like to nominate the following word for possible inclusion into the vernacular:

Plungerie:

(noun, pl. plungerie)

A needed, practical gift (such as cleaning supplies, kitchen tools, or gardening equipment) given on a romantic occasion, with or without the appreciation of the recipient.
Example:  “As the trauma center staff attempted to remove the blender, Chet realized his mistake in giving plungerie to Vanessa for Valentine’s Day.”

And yeah, I know it sounds a like a little number in satin and leather with more neckline than garment , but there might be rare times when a polite term is needed for situations like these.  Or even an affectionate one.

Of course, not everyone can find romance in the everyday, especially after forty-eight years of marriage . . . but I’m pretty sure that’s the real key to making one last that long.

___

*This is their punishment for not being home.

**I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but she owns two Curves locations.  Curves is a franchised circuit-training gym for women.

What Form Rejections Mean to Me: an Essay

To celebrate The Rejectionist’s first blogoversary,  she has asked us to write a prompted essay:  “What Form Rejection Means to Me.” 

If you’re visiting from her blog, welcome!  If not, go check it out—I’ll wait!

********

Form rejections  mean that I  have the courage to send my stories out there; that I’m growing another layer of skin to my thickening hide; that what did not kill me has made me stronger.  Form rejections aren’t a personal attack or about respect or the lack thereof.  They simply mean that mine is not included among the small percentage of queries or stories that caught the attention of this particular agent or this specific publisher at this time.

That is, once I’ve recovered.

A form rejection first opened is a kick to the heart with pointed, poison-tipped shoes.   A meaningless kick, the kind someone might give to something in their path when they’re too busy fiddling with their Blackberry to pay it any attention.

Form rejections are impenetrable.  They’re dismissive.  They’re soulless.  They are the hope-killers, the little deaths that bring despair and writer’s block.

In the moment\hour\week\month between the opening of the envelope and the philosophical sigh, they hurt like hell.  And pain can send even the most reasonable of us over the edge.

I speak from experience:  I almost divorced my husband over a form rejection.  

Several years ago, I sent out my first query for my first novel, to an agent—no, no, to The Agent, the one who graced the top of my list after much research and reading of blogs and client work.  I knew about multiple submissions, as well, but wanted to send this one out by itself, a kind of ritualistic maiden voyage of my hopes.

It was also—and this is where I admit to a major mistake—an effort to show my husband-the-non-writer that I wasn’t just a wannabe, that writing fiction wasn’t a waste of my time.  By his lights, I hasten to say, not mine.

I know, I know.  Classic set-up.  But not being completely naïve, I didn’t tell anyone about the query.  If I was rejected, I could pretend it hadn’t happened, or share whatever encouragement or suggestions there might be.  If I was accepted, I could pretend I’d known it all along.  Try a little nonchalant modesty, maybe.   A satisfied nod.

Fast forward past six weeks of what if dreams to a certain Thursday. 

I met my family at our favorite neighborhood restaurant after work.  Once we’d ordered,  I asked, as I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do, but always did, whether I had any mail waiting at home.  My husband said no, but that he’d opened this letter of mine that had been sitting on the bench by the front door for a whole week.

“It’s from some literary agency,” he said, passing it over.  “They don’t want your book.” 

As I said, I wasn’t completely naïve; I’d had my share of non-fiction rejections.  One would have to be on the hubris side of self-confident to assume one’s very first query was going to hit it out of the park.  And obviously, my husband didn’t have any idea I’d written to an agent or the hopes and dreams I’d placed on the reply.

But damn, it hurt.  Especially because it wasn’t a private pain:  someone else took it upon themselves to open that rejection—the one addressed to me— and share its contents.  In a public place.  In front of my children.  In front of my mother-in-law.  And then, a little later, asked me what was wrong.

There are special adjectives for people who do things like this.  Once we were alone, I believe I used them all.  Twice.  

And I cried.  And dragged myself to the computer and researched Illinois divorce forms and tried to calculate how difficult it would be to divide our books and DVD collections.  I knew I wasn’t being completely fair, but I also didn’t give a rat’s ass.

But things calmed down, as they do, and I was eventually able to admit that I’d been hit upside the head with yet another learning experience–the kind you get when you don’t get what you want.  There’s a valid argument for saying that form rejections are useless as learning tools.  They don’t teach much about writing, no, but for the stuff that you didn’t want to learn  . . . yeah.

If you ever need to use an outside object for personal validation—and trust me on this, you don’t, for anything—never use a query letter.  Because sure as the devil made dieting our national pastime, a form rejection is sure to follow.

But—but—I took a deep breath and sent out the rest of those queries.  Mostly to show The Agent, true, but I did it.  And I kept sending out my work.  Not all of the replies were rejections, and not all the rejections were forms, but it still hurt.  It still hurts, present tense, to get rejections. 

But none will ever hurt as much as that first one. 

I’m still writing.  I’m still married to the same man.  I’ve developed as a writer, he’s developed some sensitivity, and we’ve been working on our communication skills.  He leaves my mail alone and  I no longer offer excuses for being an unpublished fiction writer.  I don’t need any.

My time will come.   Because I have the courage to send my stories out there.   I’m growing another layer of skin to my thickening hide.  I’m not dead yet and I’m getting stronger every day. 

That’s what form rejections mean to me.  Eventually.