An open letter to boomers with tats

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Dear punk-rock heroes,

As I sat in a tattoo parlor on Monday afternoon watching my cousin get more ink, I was so comfortable and happy it could have been a friend’s living room. We listened to great music on Spotify (The Flying Burrito Brothers, Metallica, KISS, Bob Marley: musical shifts that were joyously jarring). The air conditioner was kicking, and everyone there was good company. The venue was Spiral Tattoo in Ann Arbor. I could go on about how wonderful this place is, and how my favorite tattoo artist Jared Leathers is meticulous and brilliant, wears his hair in dreads, and has a smile that makes you feel like you’ve known him your entire life. But this is about something else: those who went before us. And I’ve been thinking about them a lot since Monday.

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The artist at work and Chris smiling through the pain.

I was still residing in Arkansas when I got my nose pierced 20 years ago. People would stare at me at the grocery store like I had grown a third nostril. My presentation to the world was immediately changed. Tons of people have nose rings now. No one notices mine anymore. I’ve lived both sides of nose ring stigma. But a nose ring can be removed at any time. It’s not the same sort of commitment.

Tattoos have been around for as long as we’ve had written history. I don’t know exactly when tattoos changed from being reserved for prisoners, sailors, and bikers to becoming mainstream. I intend to learn more about that, though, as it seems fascinating.

A few people (mostly my mom) have mentioned to me that my tattoos will look terrible when I get old. I remind those people that my skin will sag regardless of the markings. And tattooed baby boomers are the reason I have absolutely no concern about how my tattoos will look in 20 years.

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I can’t grow a beard, but you get my point.

When I see you tattooed folks who are older than me, I instantly feel that you have a lot of stories to tell. I know that you probably endured scorn when you first started inking up, especially if you are female. I don’t have to know you to know that I respect you on some level. I don’t have to know you to know that your now-faded tattoos changed the way you were perceived by society. And the respect comes from knowing that you did it anyway.

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This is my badass friend Jeanne. She got her first tattoo in 1971. She’s about 60% covered now.

The tattoos that are time-worn tell me that you cared more about following your bliss than how others perceived you. Those are the tattoos that allow us to display ink today without real persecution. Sure, some people will tell us they don’t like our tattoos, even though we probably didn’t ask their opinion. And if we get covered in tattoos, we will most likely still be judged by a portion of society. Sleeves might limit our job choices, but nothing like they would have 40 years ago. And if we are discriminated against for our ink, it won’t be blatant and supported by the majority. Tattoos may be somewhat fringe, but they are no longer subversive.

Sometimes we pay a price for self-expression and authenticity. But sometimes someone else already paid that price for us. Thank you for that, my tattooed heroes.

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Rug burn

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The detective glances at me several times during our daughters’ gymnastics class. I don’t know if he only recognizes me from school pick-up, or if he remembers me from the jury. THAT jury.

The trial was almost two years ago, but I’ve only seen the detective around town the last couple of months or so. Maybe he had a schedule change that allows him more time at his child’s activities. Or maybe he changed jobs.

Seeing him is uncomfortable, though he is visually pleasing. He’s sort of broad like he works out a lot, but his face is kind. A walking juxtaposition, like he could kick your ass but would rather not.

The detective walks toward me with his daughter, who I’m guessing is five, in his arms. I think he’s identified me, that he knows I’m one of the 12. But instead he continues past me to the gymnastics instructor to tell her that his daughter fell down and has rug burn on her knee, and that he won’t make her continue today’s lesson if she doesn’t want to. The sympathy and love he feels for his daughter comes off of him in warm waves.

The trial was for a man who abused his baby son. He had thrown his toddler against the wall, but the boy’s body didn’t die. Only his capacities. He would never walk or feed himself. They boy would never go to school. He was trapped in a body that would never do anything but breathe and pump blood.

The man’s wife cried for the man’s freedom, not for her son. They had an older child, too. That boy seemed physically intact. But who knows what emotional injuries he carried.

In deliberations, I argued for third degree child abuse. But two jurors held out for second. They said we didn’t know for certain that the boy hadn’t just been accidentally dropped as the father claimed. Even though we did know. The injuries were inconsistent with the man’s claims. The two jurors were uncomfortable handing down such a sentence, even though a defense witness had once seen the father kill a bee on the baby’s forehead with a flip-flop.

We argued for hours. The room was too small and too hot. We were hungry and thirsty, and not allowed to go to the bathroom without causing a disturbance.

I argued that the mother would not defend the other boy against the father, as it was obvious she was more loyal to her husband than her children. The responsibility to the older boy fell at our feet.

The ten of us eventually conceded and agreed to second degree child abuse. The only reason was to avoid a mistrial.

When the judge handed down our verdict, the mother mouthed “thank you” at us, and I hated her right then more than I’ve ever hated anyone.

The prosecutor and the detective came into the jury room immediately afterward and told us that they weren’t allowed to disclose during the trial that the man had a history of violence. I wept big, ugly tears. I couldn’t stop, even though I was in a tiny room full of strangers. The mother sent the defender back with family photographs for us to view. The juror next to me said, “You don’t have to look at those.” And I didn’t. I refused to pretend they were a happy family. The mother was delusional enough for all of us.

Seeing the detective brings it all back. The shame I felt at relenting, even after I learned the judge gave the man a twenty-year sentence.

The detective’s daughter must have been a baby when he showed up at the man’s apartment to question him about his recently incapacitated toddler. The case must have gutted him. And then we the jurors broke his heart. He undoubtedly suffered many more sleepless nights over the trial than I did.

He’s standing next to me now, and I want to tell him I’m sorry, that I know he was right, and that I still can’t eat Reese’s Pieces because there was a giant bag of them in the jury room the entire three days we were there. So now Reese’s Pieces remind me of child abuse instead of E.T.  I want to tell him that I learned a lot about having courage in my convictions from that experience.

Instead I offer, “I saw her fall. It looked like it hurt.” It’s my apology, because I can’t tell him that I was on that jury and I failed. Because I can’t bring it back to him in case he’s found a way to make peace.  And I really hope he has.

I heart Monday

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Dear Monday,

I’m sorry you continue to get such a bad rap. There are constantly hateful jokes about you circulating the internet, and people blame their bad moods on you. Even Garfield hates you, as if that ungrateful asshole has a job. He’s a cat. Cats eat, sleep, and occasionally behead a mouse. Every day is the same.

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But I love you. I love you so hard.

On Monday morning, my husband and kids leave after being home all weekend. Around 7:35 am, the house is quiet for the first time in about 64 hours.

Sometimes I break out in song as soon as the door closes behind my adorable loved ones. I spread my arms and go all Julie Andrews right in my kitchen. Except with kitchen cabinets behind me instead of mountains. And then I cook breakfast without asking anyone else if they want anything.

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I sit in a chair and drink coffee without anyone asking me for anything. I drink the entire cup (or three) before it gets cold. It’s warm all the way to the bottom of the cup.

Then I take a shower without anyone walking into the bathroom to ask if I know where his or her socks are. Sometimes I go to the grocery store next, and no one puts cupcakes in the cart when I’m not looking. Then I might go the gym, and I don’t have to bribe my kids to get them through the door.

Do you know what “a case of the Mondays is”, other than a reference to a really good movie? A case of the Mondays is the joy of knowing that I have some time to myself.

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This week school was out on Monday and Tuesday, so you didn’t really arrive until Wednesday. And that’s fine. You have a life, too. I get that. But I’m not sure about giving you the entire summer off. I think it’s time we renegotiate your terms.

I love my family. I really do. But Monday, you complete me.

Love,

SGSC

Drawing = :(

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I am 40 years old, and have never learned how to draw. This has bothered me my entire life. So I’m finally taking drawing lessons.

I quickly learned that I don’t have a surprisingly wonderful natural inclination toward drawing. I figured I didn’t. But finding a new talent would have been rad.

This is a crap-tastic onion.

This is a crap-tastic onion.

The thing that has struck me the most is how similar drawing and writing are. In both drawing and writing, we are trying to capture life in a way that enables the audience to relate. We are trying to capture moments, minutiae, emotions.

This box holds my failure.

This box holds my failure.

A friend of mine who is an artist told me that drawing is a learned skill. I kind of assumed people can either draw or they can’t. But like writing, a certain skill level can be attained for anyone. Maybe not a fantastic skill level, though. And that’s okay.

A collection of things I can't draw.

A collection of things I can’t draw.

We used charcoal today to draw a stool with a drapey thing over it. That really sucked. What I’ve realized is that writing is my true love, and drawing is my crush that flirts back but doesn’t mean it.

A Treasure and a Curse

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I love it when I read a book and can’t stop thinking about it. And that’s exactly what I’ve found in Laura Ellen Scott’s The Juliet.

Set against the surprisingly rich backdrop of Death Valley, The Juliet is the tale of a cursed emerald whose most famous owner was a celebrated prostitute named Lily Joy. Integral to the legend of the emerald is the Mystery House, a glorified shack perched above Centenary, Nevada.

The story in the forefront is of a retired cowboy actor named Rigg Dexon who has taken up residence in the Mystery House. The blooming wildflowers bring tourists to his door, and draw him out of seclusion. What follows is a tale rich with both generosity and greed, fortune and disaster.

Scott gives us the emerald’s 100-year history in time-jumping chapters. She does this seamlessly, with no feeling of “where am I now?” There is a broad cast of characters, and each one is as fascinating as the next. It’s really fun to read about people who willingly forsake everything for a jewel.

The Juliet is mesmerizing and haunting. It begs the question:  Is there really a curse that follows the Juliet, or is it just greed that does its owners in?

Marnie is the worst

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I have a love/hate relationship with the show Girls. The first season was a breath of fresh air. It felt honest and funny while not shying away from the gritty turmoil that is the 20’s. It evolved over the next few seasons into an annoying bitch fest. The four main characters were constantly bickering and neglecting one another as their narcissism increased in intensity. Season 5 brought it all back around for me, except for Marnie. She sucks so hard.

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Your problems mean nothing to me, peasant.

The character arcs in Girls have been both frustrating and interesting in varying degrees, depending on the character. Though Hannah is a spoiled, self-centered brat, she is talented and unashamed of her flaws. We’ve seen her go from aimless writer to a teacher pretending to be a grown-up, and hopefully back to following her passion because she’s realized that’s her only path.  Shoshanna and Jessa have also been on paths of self-discovery that have set them up to mature and grow. Even the under-utilized Elijah is growing up. Then there’s freaking Marnie.

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The sheltered Jewish virgin is now a worldly Japanese girl.

The series began with Marnie as an uptight art curator. A rich girl with excellent taste, and a preference for perfection that bordered on OCD. Then she decided to wanted to be a singer. By season 5 she’s in a band with her ridiculously annoying ex-husband. And they’re already successful, because this is Marnie we’re talking about. The problem is that following her bliss caused her no suffering. Quitting her job to pursue a dream never put her in a position to live off of bread and peanut butter for a week. Her teeth are just as white and her hair is just as shiny as it ever was. Even going through a divorce hasn’t seemed to have a maturing effect on her. She’s gone back to using Ray for her errand boy, just like in season 3. She still gives zero shits about anyone’s problems but her own. And she’s super annoyed by how her ex-husband is handling the divorce, because it’s about her after all.

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Started as the worst character and now he’s the only reason to watch the show. 

The writing on Girls has been equal parts brilliant and frustrating throughout the series. But character development like Adam’s from season 1 to 2 have kept it interesting. I don’t know if Marnie is the result of a dropped ball in the writers’ room, or if she’s meant to be an example of how much some people are just truly awful. We all know jerks who never learn lessons, or who never learn to think beyond their own needs even when their friends are sinking. So maybe Marnie is just an asshole.

One scene at a time

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I have recently recommitted myself to my writing after a prolonged break. And by break I don’t mean that I wasn’t writing at all. I mean that I wasn’t working on a specific project for very long, and I wasn’t writing every day.

For me the only way to get a book written is to write approximately 1000 words a day. That is about the length of one of my scenes. I have tried different methods in the past. At my personal busiest I tried for 500 words a day. The problem with that pace was that I couldn’t make progress fast enough, and I sometimes didn’t complete my thought before finishing my daily quota but I would walk away anyway because I had other shit to do. I’ve also tried for 1500 words a day. Though it’s not a ridiculous amount, I found myself burning out quickly, and it needed to be 1000 or 2000 to get my scene lengths right.

A scene a day is the best way for me to keep my forward momentum without stressing myself out and giving up. I love writing, but it can become just another responsibility if let it. And who wants to be stressed out by his or her art?

It takes me about an hour to write 1000 words. But that is the actual writing of words that I keep and don’t delete. I’m usually “writing” for more than an hour. But this gives me time to write blog posts, edit what I’ve already written, grocery shop, cook, do laundry, exercise, pick my kids up from school, and read. The other parts of my life demand just as much attention.

As part of my renewed commitment, I’m learning how to say “no”. I have a big problem with over-planning, as any of my good friends can attest. It’s tough for me, as I’m very social and I feel a responsibility to volunteer for school activities.

Books don’t write themselves. And I can carry ideas in my head forever without using them. But any writer can tell you that there’s nothing more frustrating than failing to get words down on paper. So I’m going to keep going now. I’ll go scene by scene.