Stephie Smith never dreamed of becoming a writer until a series of her humorous essays about family were published behind her back. Unlike most things done behind her back, this one she actually liked.
And now she writes.
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We know Shakespeare was a master storyteller and some say he was a master of psychology too. But when it comes to Romeo and Juliet, I say he just had one hell of an imagination.
Sure, young love (or lust, as is usually the case at that age) seems so all-consuming that we think we’d do anything to see it to completion, but really … a guy willing to not only give up his family, but to also kill himself if he has to live without what he thinks is his one true love?
Show me a sports nut who says he’s willing to give up his favorite ball game, or a partier who agrees to give up his beer, and I’ll show you a guy who is lying for the promise of sex.
Not that a guy won’t give something up for a woman. Most of the guys I know would give up just about anything—for their mothers. I even had a guy break up with me once because his mother didn’t like me. (I hope he’s happy with her now because really, she was a bitch, and I don’t think he’s getting any sex from her, either.)
But anyway, another Valentine’s Day come and gone, and really, who cares? I wouldn’t have given the day a thought if my friend Gwen hadn’t written a post about a childhood Valentine’s Day disappointment. Her blog rekindled memories, beginning with the excitement I’d felt in grade school … addressing the cards, sneaking them onto classmates’ desks, waiting breathlessly to see who would sneak a card onto mine. A few years later that excitement was replaced with anxiety, fear that the boy I was going steady with—or wanted to go steady with—wouldn’t declare his love. A few more years and additional worry, that everyone at work would receive flowers except me.
I know I received flowers from boyfriends at least a couple of times, but I don’t remember those. The only bouquet I remember came from a stalker. I was impressed that he’d managed to discover my favorite flower—no typical roses for him—until I realized the only place I’d mentioned my dream bouquet was in my diary. The fact that this guy followed my heart instead of the status quo could have meant a lot, had I been willing to overlook the breaking and entering and spying thing.
I remember a Valentine’s Day when my father gave my mother a white box of red roses and a bottle of Chanel No. 5. When I exclaimed over the gift, my mother smirked, saying her sisters, her cousins, in fact, every woman she knew, got the exact same thing. Someone’s husband came up with the idea and the rest of the men followed like sheep. No one asked if his wife liked Chanel No. 5. Apparently, they didn’t care. (That stalker looks pretty good in retrospect. I wonder what he’s doing now.)
A few years ago, spurred by that approaching February day and my sister’s remark that Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to be dating someone on Valentine’s Day, I started actively looking for a man. If you know me, then you know this is BIG. I don’t usually look for anything. I just let stuff crash on my head and then I decide how to handle it. I was lucky to find someone right away—a young, handsome Italian race car driver. I spent every weekend with him at some or another racing event, cheering him on when he was driving, standing around feigning interest in our surroundings when he wasn’t. I hated it—the heat, the fumes, the noise, the boredom—but I never let on. I knew it was important to him so I did it with a smile. Even when the sweat was running down the back of my legs. (Tip: Don’t wear a thong to a race in Savannah in July. If you’re not wearing underwear to soak up the sweat, it has nowhere to go but down.)
After a bunch of these hot, smelly, noisy, boring, sweaty weekends, I asked if we could go canoeing just once instead. He didn’t think twice before saying No. “I don’t like to canoe,” he said. “I’m sure you can find someone else to go with.” When I complained to my sister about his selfishness, she said, “You need a man who already likes to do what you like to do because he’s not gonna do it otherwise.” (That stalker was probably a really nice guy. Maybe I can track him down.)
I found another guy and went out on a date. We spent the evening talking about him. He was 40 years old, he’d been employed for four days as an electrician’s helper, he had to get his sister to co-sign for his truck, and he was trying to borrow $5,000 to buy an oboe off the Internet. He had never even played an oboe, but he thought he would like to. If his lack of touch with reality wasn’t enough to keep me from accepting another date, his goodnight kiss was—he drooled on my purple silk sweater; I had to throw it out. Maybe some women don’t mind telling their drycleaner that the stain all over their chest is drool, but I do.
I was planning to give up the manhunt, but then on a whim I emailed a guy I’d never dated but always liked. To my astonishment, he flew halfway around the world to spend a weekend with me. He was attractive, wealthy, went everywhere first class, and was solicitous of my every need. In fact, he was an extremely affectionate guy. Each time I tried to walk to another room, he blocked the doorway and pulled me in close. His breath would have knocked a rhinoceros on its butt because his teeth were covered with mountains and craters of mustard yellow plaque. They were building condos in there, setting up businesses. Babies were being born every minute.
“What’s the magic word?” he asked, puckering up for a kiss when I didn’t guess it. Toothpaste came to mind.
I said goodbye and I quit looking. No more Valentine’s Day memories, or even Valentine’s Days, for me. I’m perfectly happy sitting around in my living room, writing and listening to TV, drinking wine and eating bon-bons, waiting for a guy to crash down on my head. And just maybe, if I’m lucky, this blog will bring that stalker back into my life.
Oh Romeo, Romeo, where the heck art thou?
My mother says vanity is the worst sin. Her mother always told her that, so it must be true. And she likes to remind me of this terrible sin periodically, probably because she knows I’m vain.
But guess what? It doesn’t bother me because I don’t agree. I know plenty of sins that are way worse than being “excessively concerned with one’s own appearance.” So that whole guilt trip thing isn’t going to work, Mom.
Besides, I don’t mind owning up to my vanity. It is what it is, as one of my sisters likes to say. (Not about my vanity, but about everything. She just likes to say that, and I guess it’s true. I mean, everything is what it is or else it would be something else, wouldn’t it?)
Anyway, I was recently reading a book about body language and it hit me that all this so-called expert analysis regarding the hidden meanings behind people’s gestures and expressions is totally bogus. I’m sure the scientists think they’ve got us all figured out but they failed to take into account one very important component which throws the entire area of study into complete chaos. I’m talking the VAIN WOMAN. Let me give you a few examples.
1. Arms folded across the chest. According to the books, a person sitting with her arms folded across her chest has a nervous, negative, hostile, defensive, or insecure attitude, depending on the position of the hands. Double arm grip shows insecurity, clenched fists reveals hostility, hands gripping torso means defensive. I beg to differ. Here is a supposed insecure and defensive posture, and what I—as a vain woman—would be thinking if this were me.
2. Hand supporting the head. Bored. Yes, that’s what it means. The person is bored and would like to go to sleep—that is, if the hand is supporting the head. If the hand is open with the chin lightly resting in it, then the person is genuinely interested. But as in the picture to the right, where a finger points vertically up along the cheek, the listener is having critical thoughts about the speaker or his subject. Except I’m not even thinking about the speaker orhis subject. I’m thinking about ME.
3. Chin stroking. When someone strokes her chin it means she’s thinking over what’s been said and is going through the decision-making process. Usually what the person does after the chin stroking gives you an indication of her decision. If she then begins to rest her head on her hand, then look out because she’s lost interest. Except when the person is me. If I’m the one stroking my chin, then all bets are off.
4. One foot pointing in a different direction from the other. These evaluations of people standing during conversations are the most ridiculous sections of the books as far as I’m concerned. I mean, really, what woman doesn’t pay attention to the way she’s standing? Anyway, supposedly, when someone stands with one foot pointed in a different direction than the way he is facing, he wants to leave, and is, in fact, already stepping out with one foot, planning his escape at that very minute. Maybe that works for a man, but …
5. Both arms and legs crossed. Uh-oh. The person is not open to communicating on any level. She is totally closed off, and she wants you to go away. She’s already emotionally withdrawn from the conversation, so don’t waste your time. Unless she’s me. Then waste away.
So you see why I’m worried. Here are all these scientists going around analyzing people and they’re overlooking the most basic information out there. I mean, those books might be true when it comes to men because let’s face it, men are easy. But women are vain … I mean, COMPLICATED … and anyone who thinks he can just give us a glance and know what we’re thinking is absolutely, inarguably NUTS!
I read somewhere that family get-togethers are all about making memories. Seems like get-togethers should be about enjoying family, with memories just a bonus. But I guess that’s the way we are … always racing around, trying to get to the future so we can look back on the past with fond memories. And I get it, I do. For some of us, looking back on false—I mean, fond—memories is the only way we can enjoy the holidays. Until now … because I’ve put together a list of ten things that will ensure your celebration is both enjoyable and unforgettable … exactly the way it actually happens.
1. Don’t host the dinner unless you need an impetus to clean your house. Leave hosting to family members who like to show off their homes and belongings. You’ll still have to help clean up the dishes … unless you pretend to be a man. In that case, walk into the kitchen when the clean-up is down to the last sixty seconds, glance around innocently and say, “Anything I can do to help?”
2. Carry a large purse, preferably one with a zipper. Trust me on this. You don’t want relatives seeing your bottle of liquor. Not because they’ll be shocked, but because someone will steal it.
3. Scrutinize the food dishes carefully, and find out who brought what. Take a turn with each person, remarking on her home-cooked dish while pretending you don’t know it’s hers. Take a bite and struggle to swallow, then choke out something along the lines of, “Wow. Marshmallows on sweet potato casserole. What an … interesting … choice.”
4. Don’t let anyone keep you from taking your turn at karaoke, especially if you’ve downed all your liquor. Giggle uncontrollably throughout everyone else’s turn.
5. Participate in the games. Every time someone wins, no matter who it is, shout out, “I won! I won! I’m the winner!”
6. Gossip. A lot. The best targets are family members who aren’t there to defend themselves. Be sure to end each remark with “the poor dear … bless her heart.” This will allow you to toss out salacious tidbits that everyone can enjoy, while at the same time making you sound compassionate and sympathetic. It’s a win-win situation.
7. Invite as many children and teenagers as possible. Make all the adolescents except one—the one most likely to lord it over the others—sit with the young children.
8. Tell the kids to come to the party au naturelle. I’m not talking naked, I’m talking off their medication. Family dinners are more fun if adults are off their medication too, unless they’re on something that will improve the family experience, such as pain pills or valium. In that case, they should take double.
9. Speaking of kids, if you have any, criticize everyone else’s and brag about yours. Every time you open your mouth.
10. Be sure to wash your hands when you use the restroom (a sanitary guest is a welcome guest). Before you dry your hands, dribble some water on the toilet seat.
And because you’ve been patient and read all the way through this post, here’s a tip I wasn’t planning to give, but which I think you probably deserve: Don’t follow any of the tips above (well, except for the one about the large purse and bottle of liquor. Trust me … you’ll want to follow that tip.) Instead, plan to attend without any expectations, be yourself, and allow others to do the same because each person brings something special to the table. And what a boring table it would be otherwise.
If you’re looking for more to read, check out these blogs . . .
- Wade Rouse actually makes his sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top, and don’t eventhink about removing them. Check out his Chick Lit Central blog entry, The Go-To-Gay: Kid-ding around on Thanksgiving.
- Persephone Magazine’s A Beginner’s Guide to Surviving Dysfunctional Family Holidays gives advice in the form of the good, the bad, and the ugly. I had to list it because the writer refers to the holiday get-together in question as The Smith Family Apocalypse. It’s a sign!
- On the Oprah.com website, Martha Beck gives 5 Ways to Survive Your Next Family Gathering. It’s another sign. My mother read “Brer Rabbir and the Tar Baby” to me—a lot. I didn’t care for the story but my mother sure did enjoy reading it.
This has been an exciting week for me because I finally pulled everything together and published my book, Duke of Deception. And I sold over 400 copies this week. Better yet, I received emails from readers who loved it and that’s really where it’s at. That’s what I write for, anyway, to bring others joy or satisfaction or whatever good feelings they get out of reading what I write.
A friend once told me I never allow myself to feel the joy of accomplishment. He said I do something that someone else thinks is great, and then instead of celebrating my accomplishment with friends and family, I tell everyone why it isn’t really all that good. Instead of smiling, I go around frowning because something—there is inevitably something—isn’t perfect. Say, what? Do I really do that? Yes, I realized I do. I wondered if, when I finally published this book, I would follow my pattern. Guess what? I have not. YAY for me!!
From the very first day my book was on Amazon and CreateSpace, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. I had finally published the book of my heart. I’d completely rewritten it four times, the final time going back to the vision I’d had of the story when I first thought of it many years ago. I’d changed that vision because of editors, the market, agents, contest judges—everybody’s opinions but mine. And yes, there are people out there who may criticize elements of that vision, but that’s what free choice is all about. I don’t read/look at the negative stuff because it’s my intention to feel good about this accomplishment for the rest of my life, and no one is going to spoil that for me—not even me!
So, I’ve been walking around feeling great, and it seemed to me that the world responded in kind. A couple of days ago I went to Publix, Wal-Mart, Pet Smart, and my mother’s apartment building, and I noticed that everywhere I went, people were smiling at me. I couldn’t figure out why and then I realized I was walking around with a big, stupid grin on my face. I couldn’t help it; I was happy and for maybe the first time in my life, I was really feeling my joy.
I drove home thinking about what my friend had said, and thinking about all those strangers sharing the joy I couldn’t contain. Evidently that old saying about when you smile, the whole world smiles back at you is true. I’m not usually much of a smiler so I hadn’t really known, and the more I thought about it, the better I felt. I had brought joy into the lives of all those people just by finally letting loose with mine.
Alas, no. When I got home I discovered the real reason people were smiling every time I turned around, and it wasn’t because of my infectious joy. The seat of my pants was ripped open from waistband to crotch … and I wasn’t wearing underwear.
Another assumption gone wrong, but what the heck. They still got joy, didn’t they? Or something like it.
What’s the affirmation for today?
The knowledge that I seek is within myself awaiting my question.
It took Leonardo Da Vinci 12 years to paint Mona Lisa’s lips. That’s what I learned from my iGoogle fact for the day. Evidently he couldn’t get them right. I’m thinking it went something like this:
Leo shows the unfinished painting to his cousin. His cousin says it’s great! Leo should finish it as quick as possible and sell it! Maybe it’ll make him famous!!
An exuberant Leo shares the conversation with a fellow artist and shows him the painting. Fellow artist says, “I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it will never sell. Not unless you change her lips. An enigmatic smile? The public doesn’t want to look at that. And the lips are the focal point; if you don’t get them right, you might as well hang up your brushes.”
Leo is affronted. The lips look great, and anyway, this is the painting of his heart. He doesn’t care if anyone else likes those lips. He’s painting it for himself. Everyone else can go to hell.
A few weeks later Leo is still thinking about those lips. It would be nice to sell the painting. He needs the money, and maybe it will lead to other painting jobs. His cousin hadn’t mentioned anything wrong with the lips, and if he’d thought something was wrong, he surely would have said something, right? Hmmm. He asks his cousin about the lips specifically and is told the lips are great. Perfect. Nothing wrong with them. But it bothers Leo that his cousin can’t remember exactly what they look like. Was she laughing, his cousin asks Leo. Leo decides family members may not be the best to ask opinions of and takes the painting around for comments.
Fellow artist / agent / broker (FAAB)#2: “The lips? Yeah, there’s definitely something wrong with them. They’re too full. Full lips used to be in but they’ve been done to death. People are sick of full lips. You need to thin them out.”
Leo doesn’t want to, but if full lips had been done to death…. He thins them out–a little.
FAAB#3: “The lips aren’t full enough.”
Leo tells FAAB#3 that he thinned them out based on comments. FAAB#3 says, “Who told you that? Full lips are still selling. Full lips will always sell; they’re a mainstay of portraits. But they have to have something unique. Extra spit on the bottom lip or one of the corners turned down in a sneer. You know, something that instantly grabs the attention.”
Leo can’t bear the thought of making her sneer, but he did like the full lips, so he changes them back. Then he adds some spit–er, glow–to her bottom lip.
FAAB#4: “What’s that on her lip? Is that a sore? No one’s gonna buy a painting of a woman with a sore on her lip, especially if she’s smirking about it.”
Smirking? She looks like she’s smirking? Leo tries to ignore that comment. He’s got enough to think about with the sore–glow. He decides he must have done a crappy job with the glow if FAAB#4 thinks it looks like a sore. He works on it another year, all the while worrying about that smirk.
FAAB#5: “I love it!! Unfortunately, I just brokered two paintings that were exactly like this–you know, enigmatic smile, a touch of glow on the lips. I’ve got to have something different now.”
Leo kicks himself for taking so long to get the glow right. Now he’s missed the boat–the one carrying all the other artists.
FAAB#6: “You’ve obviously spent a lot of time on this painting and you’ve done a good job, but it just isn’t unique enough. It’s like every other painting that’s selling right now. Can you change her dress to red? And while you’re at it, maybe you should do something about those eyes. Squinting is always good. Goes great with red.”
Red? Squinting? Leo’s not changing her that much, even if it means not selling. But if all these other ones that are selling are just like his, why can’t they sell his too? He’s more than willing to change the lips since they’re the focal point and if he doesn’t get them right, no one will give it a second look. But he’s not changing anything else. Nothing else needs to be changed. Squinting? Really? No. Hmmm. Maybe he’s got the whole look wrong. Maybe he should ask other people.
FAAB#7: “What’s with that weird smile? It’s way too subtle. People want to know what she’s thinking about. If you’re gonna have her smile, then have her SMILE. What you’ve got there isn’t a smile.”
Leo explains that he wants people to wonder what’s behind the smile. It’s part of the mystique. FAAB#7 snorts in disgust and walks off, leaving Leo to ponder whether or not he should just paint a big toothless grin on her face and be done with it.
Leo keeps working on the painting but he doesn’t know what to do with the lips, so he just goes over the rest of the painting, strengthening the composition, perfecting his style. He decides he’d better start keeping a list of the changes so he doesn’t do the same ones over. Full lips with enigmatic smile–no spit. Slightly thinner lips. Full lips again with enigmatic smile and spit. Full lips with enigmatic smile and more natural looking spit. Full lips with enigmatic smile and more natural looking spit but with a red dress and squinting eyes. No!! Scratch that one.
FAAB#8: “You’re very talented and I’ve no doubt you’ll sell soon. But the rest of the painting doesn’t seem to flow with the lips. Maybe the style isn’t quite the same? Maybe you’ve worked the lips too much?”
Leo wants to scream. Hell yes, he’s worked the lips! But what does the FAAB means by “too much”? How can it be too much if they’re still not right? Maybe he just needs to start completely over with the lips because his style changed while he was finishing the rest of the portrait. Maybe fixing isn’t the answer. Maybe he needs to recreate from scratch.
Leo recreates the painting of his heart from scratch. Hey, wait a minute. Those lips look just like the first lips. Dang it! Now what? He’s spent 12 years on those lips, only to end up back where he started from.
He looks at Mona Lisa. She appears to be smirking at him. Where the hell is that red paint?
(Yes, I’m sure it went something like that.)