Stop and smell the peonies

June, the month of glory, where the humble yet majestic peony embosses every Instagram post of every girl who needed something new to signify she’s alive and of this earth. After posting the crocuses (to symbolize the thaw), the tulips and daffodils (oh, here comes spring), and an ever so brief dalliance with the sakura (cherry blossoms), the peony signals the acceptance of spring’s growth and the anticipation of a brief, thigh sweaty summer.

She was a peony once, tight and furled into herself. New. Next to her was a bud, attached at the junction that leads to the root, growing alongide her, together but apart. The sun kissed them, the rain fell hard upon the pair, but they weathered the storms as best they could. It’s not easy being exposed, some buds have stronger stems than others. They kept each other company, laughing at the silliness of alliums around them, and just as they felt lonely in the space they occupied, two tiny ants appeared.

She, without thinking, fed them and in turn, they pollinated her. It was exhausting, but rewarding, giving the these little-legged creatures room and board. They were ceaseless with their demands. But without them, as June waned into July with a great celebration, she would not have become as beautiful as she realized she was that day. She would have remained closed in the bud, failed to bloom fully. They occupied her petals, forcing her to open wider than she could have imagined. Their efforts, their relentless crawling all over her, their quiet naps in her folds, helped her to blossom. They chose her  she needed them to survive

Her best bud, however, refused to open. He wanted to stay outside as long as possible. He did not want anyone to notice him, lest he be cut down too early and taken indoors. He did not mind the epic rains of that June, they cleansed him. He convinced himself he was happiest alone anyway. Oh sure, he enjoyed the ants. They helped him to find calm. But he was completely uncomfortable with how passersby to stop and smell the blossoming flower he was attached to. He despised her social media success, her showy display. He found it confusing that she seemed to get energy from the appreciation, that she enjoyed her minor celebrity status. They were so different, he thought, how could this possibly work?

He began to pull away, to stay tighter within himself and reveal nothing but his pain and distaste for her. After a particularly windy storm, she began to feel the weight of it all, began to feel herself drooping, dropping petals. The time spent trying to make herself smaller and to contain her beauty, dull her fragrance, make herself invisible—so as not to make him leave her—became unsustainable. She knew what she had to do to survive. The season was almost over for her, but she still had a shot. She woke up one day, conscious of the need for a bud to love her for who she was, to appreciate her awesomeness, to be co-pilot on her quest for life’s beauty. Someone to hold her up and support her during the torrential spring rains that flooded basements and created lakes in parking lots. But first, she knew she had to learn to stand on her own.

She said her goodbyes and cut herself down, liberating herself. It was painful as fuck, but eventually she graced a dining room table, the centrepiece for family conversations, present in the moments that mattered. She knows she is wilting and that the ants will soon abandon her, in search of toast crumbs hiding on the unswept kitchen floor. But for now, her pollen is enough to sustain them, and their company enough to sustain her.

Title track

I’ve been listening to a heap of R.E.M. since The End of The Great Love (a.k.a. the breakup of my 19-year relationship—NOT an album title you didn’t know about). I don’t know why Michael Stipe is so comforting, but he is and has been for many people. I wish he’d release another album, one for the truly heartbroken, where words and melodies could heal all the hurts of the past. But alas, that’s a tall order, and one might argue that the band released—over umpteen albums—a cannon that included many tunes which would qualify as filling the aforementioned desire.

The title of this blog comes from one R.E.M. track, “E-Bow the Letter” from New Adventures in Hi-Fi, mid-career for the band, just before they signed “its then record-breaking five-album contract with Warner Bros. Records.”  According to Wikipedia, the song became the lowest charting lead single for the band, reaching only number 49 on the Billboard music charts. Americans didn’t love it, but it did well in Canada and the U.K. For many of us moody chicks, what makes E-bow ultimate gold is the little bit where Patti Smith comes in. Because Patti, she’s seen some things. While Michael exudes sensitivity and the pain of growing up gay in the conservative south, Patti’s voice is whiskey and cigarettes, and beautiful arsty men converging with and then injuring her poet soul, causing her to grow a layer of protective fur and rise up like a she-wolf, howling at an August moon.

The song has always raised critical questions. What is an e-bow? Again, Wikipedia to the rescue (thank you Wiki volunteers!): “The song’s title refers to the EBow, an electromagnetic field-generating device that induces sustained vibration in an electric guitar string (creating a violin-like effect), and to a “letter never sent” by Michael Stipe.” Still a bit confusing, but OK!

Why is Michael Stipe “dreaming of Maria Callas, whoever she is”— that is the question we need to answer here, to tie this thread together. Maria was a Greek-American opera singer. And a great beauty with a big fucking honker. This is important to me. We are too limited in our view of what’s beautiful. I need a hook, a theme, to jump off of when writing. I need a muse. Maria Callas, you’re it.

I am at a point in my life, nearing 43—which I hope is not quite the half-way point—where I feel like what bit of beauty I have (and never had the sense or gratitude to appreciate in my younger days) is slipping away. South, to be exact. Towards R.E.M.’s Georgia maybe, where I’ve never been. Sliding down like a soft serve cone on a hot day. Soft, shapeless, worn, with an unflattering middle. I AM the unflattering middle. Or so I feel.

But in this investigation of muses, I learn that Maria Callas didn’t want the show to be over when the fat lady belted out the final high-note, so she lost a ton of weight—get this—mid-career. It is believed that this contributed to vocal decline and ended her career early. (Unlike robust Aretha Franklin, who could belt out “Nessun Dorma” in her 70s.) Then I think of Jennifer Grey (star of Dirty Dancing, pictured in the header image above), who famously had to have her atypical nose corrected, making her just another pretty face and taking away any character she once exuded, ruining her acting career.

So, the lesson here: learn to love the unflattering middle. Learn to accept and find beauty in the unflattering middle. Be it the middle of your torso, the middle of your face or the middle of your life (for those flat-tummied, tiny-nosed folks out there), you are at the point where you choose whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. Or rather, what you will do to fill the rest of your glass, or how you will enjoy and savour the half that is left. Welcome to my journey through the middle, at times unflattering, but soon to be loved fully.

E-Bow the Letter

Look up, what do you see?
All of you and all of me
Fluorescent and starry
Some of them, they surprise

The bus ride, I went to write this, 4:00 AM
This letter
Fields of poppies, little pearls
All the boys and all the girls sweet-toothed
Each and every one a little scary
I said your name

I wore it like a badge of teenage film stars
Hash bars, cherry mash and tinfoil tiaras
Dreaming of Maria Callas
Whoever she is
This fame thing, I don’t get it
I wrap my hand in plastic to try to look through it
Maybelline eyes and girl-as-boy moves
I can take you far
This star thing, I don’t get it

I’ll take you over, there
I’ll take you over, there
Aluminum, tastes like fear, there
Adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
It tastes like fear, there
I’ll take you over

Will you live to 83?
Will you ever welcome me?
Will you show me something that nobody else has seen?
Smoke it, drink
Here comes the flood
Anything to thin the blood
These corrosives do their magic slowly and sweet
Phone, eat it, drink
Just another chink
Cuts and dents, they catch the light
Aluminum, the weakest link

I don’t want to disappoint you
I’m not here to anoint you
I would lick your feet
But is that the sickest move?
I wear my own crown and sadness and sorrow
And who’d have thought tomorrow could be so strange?
My loss, and here we go again

I’ll take you over, there
I’ll take you over, there
Aluminum, tastes like fear, there
Adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
It tastes like fear, there
I’ll take you over

Look up, what do you see?
All of you and all of me
Fluorescent and starry
Some of them, they surprise

I can’t look it in the eyes
Seconal, spanish fly, absinthe, kerosene
Cherry-flavored neck and collar
I can smell the sorrow on your breath
The sweat, the victory and sorrow
The smell of fear, I got it

I’ll take you over, there
Aluminum, tastes like fear, there
Adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over, there
Aluminum, tastes like fear, there
Adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
It tastes like fear, there
It pulls us near
I’ll take you over
I’ll take you over
It tastes like fear, there
It pulls us near
Pulls us near
Tastes like fear
Tastes like fear
Nearer, nearer
Pulls us near
Over, over, over, over
Over, over, over, over
Yeah, look over
I’ll take you there, oh, yeah
I’ll take you there
Oh, over
I’ll take you there
Over, let me
I’ll take you there
I’ll take you there
There, there, there, baby, yeah

Written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Michael Mills, Michael Stipe • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

As plain as the nose on one’s face

When my friends and I watch award shows, it’s with a device in hand, tapping between our What’s App group chat and Twitter. Recently, after seeing a certain small-schnozed actress, I joked to another big nose friend that whenever I see small actress noses, I wonder what it’s like to live like that. To look out at the world and not see your nose take up some of the view. She and I had a giggle and the other two in the thread had no clue what we were talking about. “Really? From every angle?” Yep.

Most girls of my ethnic background get nose jobs in their teens or early 20s. How will they ever find a husband with a nose that big? I remember my uncle telling me that if I saved my money, he would pay for half of the surgery. I thought about it but then spent that money going to Acapulco for spring break and getting raped instead. How validating! If I guy wanted to take advantage of a very drunk me, that meant I was pretty, right?

I kept the nose, somewhat as a fuck you, but every few years I think about trimming it down. Especially after I read that your nose and ears continue to grow until you get old. Holy fuck, this thing is going to get bigger?! As my face slides south? That just seems cruel. Like running over baby rabbits with the lawnmower or something.

Like most big-nosed girls, I’ve learned to be funny. For a long time, that funny was self-deprecating. Make them laugh at me using my own jokes, before they could dictate the narrative. I’m middle-aged now, so my humour has matured, so I don’t do that anymore so much, but there’s a time and a place for it.

Anyway, here I am, trying to get some words down in between work and kids. Hope you come back.