Hey, bub! Click the pic to make it bigger.
The Husband: Dude, your neck is thick! Just like that girl on Downton Abbey.
The Husband: (Grasping for name.) You know who I’m talking about—the one with the thick neck!
The Husband: (Remembers her name; face lights up. ) Lady Instagram!
THE HUSBAND is washing dishes and ruminating. Bluebird is reading.
The Husband: Bluebird?
The Husband: Did you know there can only be one Highlander?
Bluebird: (Dreamily staring at open book.). Okay.
The Husband: Are you listening?
Bluebird: Yes. (Looks up.) You’re a Dr. Pepper—
The Husband: —Highlander.
Bluebird: (Returns to reading.) Congratulations.
THE HUSBAND calls Bluebird from the ranch.
The Husband: I need to ask you a serious question.
Bluebird: Okay, shoot.
The Husband: Who is Advil Lavigne?
Bluebird: I don’t—how did you…? Huh. Would you look at that.
THE HUSBAND is standing in the hallway ready to go to the hardware store. Bluebird is reading a book on the couch.
The Husband: I have your list.
Bluebird: (Without looking up.) Mmm-hmmm?
The Husband: (Scanning page.) So you need a dust mask and air filters—
Bluebird: (Still reading.) Hmmmmm.
The Husband: (Squinting.) —and a squid widow for a wool herring…
Bluebird: (Eyes still on book; shakes head.) Uh-uh.
The Husband: No squid widow?
Bluebird: (Dreamy voice.) Squeegee.
The Husband: Wool herring?
Bluebird: (Turning page of book.) Whole house.
The Husband: Your handwriting is awfu—
Bluebird: (Interjects.) —Are you wearing my glasses?
The Husband: No. (A pause.) Maybe. (A pause.) I’m going now.
Bluebird: (Turns another page.) Mmmm-hmmmm.
1) We know the actual plural of uterus is uteri, not uteruses. But, really—who’s counting uteri right now anyway?
2) I hope you don’t think I’m kidding, re: women over 40 on/in TV, but just in case here’s an industry-respected study for women in/on TV in 2014.
3) Oh, and there’s this crazy thing too.
As you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting to Bluebird Blvd. for nearly three whole months.
I’ve been having a problem. A writing problem.
Is it writer’s block?
No, it’s something worse than writer’s block if you can believe it.
Writer’s block is bad enough. And it’s real—don’t give me any of your power right through nonsense, okay? I’ve done that. You can do it, but it’s like dancing on a broken leg. Super painful.
If you write, you know what I’m talking about. You’re sitting in the chair with the paper and the pen and the clock going, and you wait.
For what?!? You ask.
Words. You’re waiting for words.
Well, there are words everywhere, you say. Just pick up a dictionary. Hell, turn on the television. People are speaking them things all the time.
Um. They’re not the right words. That’s the whole problem.
So there you sit. Or you used to—staring at the wall. Waiting for something to materialize. The more you sit and wait, the more you believe you’re going to be sitting and waiting forever. But of course you don’t.
The words come—terribly at first, then a little better, and if you’re lucky, pretty well, and then either you go for broke and it’s hours later and you look up and go whaaaa? —because you’ve totally lost track of time and it’s late and the dogs need their supper. . . .
Again, this is how it used to be.
Now every writer I know has a completely different writing problem.
There are too many words now, dammit. Too many freaking words.
Every day, I wake up to a phone that insists on throwing words at me. I sit up in bed and grab the glass of water I set on the nightstand every evening. I take my pills and pull a book onto my lap—I like to wake up slowly, you see. But there are all of these things that are asking for my attention.
There’s a television set in the other room blathering about the best way to sew a Hong Kong seam. (Yes, The Husband watches his sewing shows before school.)
And my phone beeyooops! because someone on Facebook “likes” the photograph I re-posted yesterday from Humans of New York. (Dude, I love HONY. Best thing on the internet.)
And then Twitbot 3 ker-bleeps! because the alert I set for our current Texas Guvi, Captain Hairdo is blowing up this morning because—oh, is it Christmas already?—he’s being indicted. (For something. Finally.)
Yeah, I know. You’re saying, “This is a problem? I should have such a problem.”
Oh, but it is. It is!
Do you realize that I haven’t even gotten out of bed and my ears are being crammed with words that aren’t my words? They’re not even the words in the lovely book that’s fallen open on my lap like a goofy disembodied grin. These words are semi-random things, mostly banalities, that I’ve personally selected to disrupt me throughout the day.
Yes, yes. You’re getting it now. I did this to myself. It’s a nightmare; it’s a terror. I gave my brain a raging case of writer’s block, but what’s going on isn’t actually anything like writer’s block at all.
Writer’s block is turning on the faucet and only getting a dribble of rusty words. Around here it’s a damn DELUGE. I’m being pelted with a stream of blah-blah-blah seam ripper, blah-blah-blah HONY should win a Nobel this yearii…blah-blah-blah GUESS WHAT CAPTAIN HAIRDO DID NOW!
It’s no wonder I started to have serious problems with writing. There are simply TOO MANY WORDS. And they’re also ALL THE WRONG WORDS.
Look at me. I’m so upset that I’m writing in italics for emphasis. And that’s really, really bad, y’all. It’s the cheapest writing trick in the book. The only thing worse than using italics to hit your paces is… JUST LOOK AT ME. —oh, there it is. The caps-lock gambit.
I’m a mess. But it’s not just me. This word problem is a worldwide emergency.
Some writers have gone as far as locking up their devices when they’re working on deadline. (Hint: If you’re a journalist, this idea may not work.) I know of two novelists (not personally) who disabled the internet capability on their computers.
One of them literally grabbed some glue and gummed up the works in his laptop. The other novelist pulled out the little bit that connects to the internet and put it in a vault and spun the lock.
And these are good writers. The Contemporary Lit kind with the sad smile and the little bald spot and the Ivy League education and the author’s photo on some street on the Eastern Seaboard and everything. If those guys can’t pull out of a writing nosedive caused by looking at crap on their phones, what the hell am I supposed to do?!? You know me—I am as ridiculous as I tell you I am. I may be even more ridiculous than I report to you—I don’t know.
Well, this is what I’ve come up with so far: WALLPAPER. Just hear me out. You know how the first thing you see when you turn on your computer in the morning after it warms up is your desktop wallpaper, right?
Why not write something to REMIND you to write and make it into DESKTOP WALLPAPER, so that EVERY TIME you look up from some bullhound conversation you’re having on Twitter instead of writing your novel, you’ll get the point.
It’s better than guilt or an alarm or an expensive POMODORO system or GET ‘R’ DONE or any of those marketing things that help you yell at yourself to get work finished.
Or so I thought at the beginning of this summer.
In June, I designed this desktop picture and put it on my Mac so that it was the first and last thing I ever see on my computer.
Cute, right? Okay, well that was a novelty for about a week. Then I pretty much forgot it was there and still was struggling with writing.
As you can see with this next one, I ratcheted up the noise. I didn’t want to miss this when I looked up from my browser with three tabs open that have nothing to do with me writing at the moment: The Mary Sue, Pinterest, Facewitter. Something like that.
And so that wore off in a few weeks as well. Around the beginning of July, I started to panic. That’s when I created this beaut right here:
But you know what? I ran the first part of my writing career based on fear. I’m pretty immune to fear at this point.
Plus, I am a born existentialist. You figured that out, right?
Also, I’ve been to graduate school. I was already a professional writer when I entered graduate school at 25. Graduate school is way more scary than the actual writing world. I kid you not.
Finish an MFA and you’ll be hard-pressed to be afraid of anything ever again. Deadlines. Coral snakes. Mortgages. I’m serious.
None of this mattered by early August I guess I made this? It’s all kind of a blank here on out:
And, um, this.
Here’s the last thing I haven’t really tried lately—plumping up my ego.
You know that writers have notoriously fragile egos, right? Well, mine is not so fragile. But as a writer, I am kind of like Peter Pan in that I like it when you look up to the sky and think of me from time to time.
Geez, I’ve missed you all.
Oh, just one more thing. I know the social media stuff is just witchy for writers. Actually, it’s so bad that it’s made me nostalgic for old-fashioned writer’s block.
Sweet cracker sandwich, has it come to this?
i That spelling is intentional. In Texas, you have the Guv and you have the Lite Guv. The Lite Guv is the guy with the power. The Guv. is usually a figurehead. Usually. (Anne Richards was no figurehead, darlin’!)
BRIGHT BLUE SET of SPORTS MANIA television sports show. Newscasters CHET and ERNESTO sit behind a bright blue DESK tapping their PAPERS and chatting as the Sports Mania’s THEME MUSIC plays.
(ESTABLISHING SHOT of Ernesto and Chet sitting behind a bright blue desk of bright blue Sports Mania set.)
Chet: (Deep in conversation with Ernesto)…so then I sez to the produce guy, I sez to him—
(CUT TO: MEDIUM SHOT of Ernesto and Chet.)
Ernesto: What’d you say to him? Jeeeezuuuu— (Startled. Realizes show just started.)-ssssszzz. (Clears throat.) Hello! And welcome to Sports Mania’s St. Patrick’s Day post-game wrap-up. It was an exciting St. Patrick’s Day this year wasn’t it, Chet?
Chet: (Professional smile) It sure was, Ernesto! We had wins and losses all over the map! From Omsk, Russia to Lowell, Massachusetts, Irish Stepdancers and local revellers went head to head!
Ernesto: (Professional laugh.) They sure did, Chet! But there was one memorable moment from yesterday, wasn’t there? Let’s go to our interview with Niamh Ni Dálaigh, Irish stepdancer. (Trim dark-haired young woman comes up on a built in screen behind the Sports Mania desk. Ernesto and Chet turn to face screen) Niamh, how are you this morning?
Niamh Ni Dálaigh: (Sounds tired and hoarse.) I’m fine, Ernesto—just fine, all things considered.
(CUT TO: CLOSE-UP. Ernesto and Chet share a SPLIT SCREEN with NIAMH NI DÁLAIGH.)
Ernesto: (Serious face.) Now, Niamh, I’d like to show the footage from your midnight St. Patrick’s Day performance at the Wise Rhino last night. Sports fans, let me set up this clip for you. The Wise Rhino is a pub infamous for packing in the St. Patrick’s Day crowds and skimping on stage space. Niamh, how big was the stage where you danced your final show last night?
Niamh: Two feet by two feet, plus two feet high. (Pause.) And I had to share it with the band and five other dancers.
Chet: Well, that is one small stage, Niamh!
(Niamh laughs uncomfortably.)
Ernesto: (Cutting off Chet.) If you’re tuning into the broadcast just now, Irish Dancer Niamh Ni Dálaigh from Reno, Nevada is talking about last night’s performance.
Chet: Let’s run that tape.
(Footage shows Niamh dancing in place on a two-foot high stage. Amateur drunks are standing in front of the stage bobbing and weaving and shouting. The traditional Irish band sits behind her—they’re nearly sitting in each other’s laps.)
Chet: Now, watch carefully as this guy over here— (Circles a drunk guy in front and to the left of Niamh with a green screen pen.) —starts to reach out to touch Niamh’s dancing costume right here. (Chet draws wobbly green screen arrow to Niamh’s dress.)
(Footage continues. Drunk guy starts to grab the skirt of Niamh’s $1500 performance dress. Niamh executes a quick turn, yanking the dress out of his hand, but the turn sends her sprawling into the band right behind her. )
Chet: (Excitedly.) Right there— (Draws six green screen arrows on the footage.)
Ernesto: (Slaps pen out of Chet’s hand.) Shhhh!
(Niamh, still on the split screen, covers her eyes with one hand.)
(Footage: A random drunk hand goes over the lens of the camera, but viewers can hear a SQUEAK and a YELP and the WHINE-POP-PING of several squashed INSTRUMENTS.)
Chet: (Excitedly.) Wow, I’ve never seen—
(Niamh, still on the split screen, covers her entire face with her hands.)
(Footage: Normal filming resumes. A stunned Niamh sits sprawl-legged on stage surrounded by pieces of mandolin. Three of the four musicians are wearing the remains of a smashed hammer dulcimer. The fourth, a CONCERTINA PLAYER, has the bellows of his instrument wrapped around his neck, which he’s clawing to remove. The dulcimer player is weeping loudly. His tweed vest is in ribbons. )
Chet: Can I—(Waits to be shushed again, by Ernesto. Ernesto nods.)—talk now? (A beat.) So, Niamh, what was going through your mind when you executed that turn?
Niamh: Well, not much of anything, Chet. That was my 40th performance in three cities in five days—
Ernesto: (Looking at camera.) —the standard lead-up to St. Patrick’s Day, right?
Niamh: Yes. Yes, it is. (A pause.) —but, like I said, like every year, I’d been doing these performances since the first of March, really, and by last night, I didn’t even know my own name. Ernesto, I was so tired that I put on one soft shoe and one hard shoe at the beginning of that performance, and I would have gone on stage like that had another dancer not stopped me.
Chet: Wow, that IS tired, Niamh!
Niamh: (Nods.) Yeah. So, if I was thinking anything, I don’t remember it. But I remember what happened after the drunk guy grabbed the skirt part of my solo costume. I fell into the band, Chet. And all you could hear around me in the blur of the moment was Pop! Twaaaa-aaaang! Blawwp!
Niamh: (Continues.) I was smacked in the shoulder with that concertina—that thing should always be holstered when not in use—and somehow I sat on Jim’s mandolin. (Covers eyes.) All those smashed instruments and crying men. I’m never going to get that sound out of my ears, Chet. Never.
Ernesto: We’ve only got another minute here, Niamh. What I want to know is, what happened to the original drunk guy who grabbed your dress?
Niamh: Well… (Hand covers her mouth.) He started laughing.
Chet: Wow! What did you do?
Niamh: At first I was too stunned from the accident, but then I saw him doubled over, and like I said, he was laughing at us.
Ernesto and Chet: (Spellbound.) Yes?
Niamh: So I, uh, got up from the stage floor. (A final pause.) And then I walked over and punched him in the nose.
Ernesto: Whoa! That’s a serious party foul! How many Feiseanna do you have to sit out for this penalty?
Niamh: (Genuine smile.) Six. My Claddagh ring broke off in the drunk guy’s left nostril, and he smashed his face with his own beer bottle trying to pull it out. So, I’m out for one dance competition per stitch.
Chet: (Mouth open.) How much of your Claddagh ring ended up in his nose?
Niamh: The heart, the hands, and the entire crown broke off inside his nose, Chet. It was bad. It was really bad.
Ernesto: If you had to do last night all over again, would you have done anything differently?
(Niamh hesitates, then—)
Niamh: Yeah. (A beat.) I would have worn a bigger ring.
(Sports Mania theme music plays.)
Chet: Folks at home, we’ll see you after the commercial break. We’d like to thank our guest, Niamh Ni Dálaigh, who had to wake up before noon on the day after St. Patrick’s Day to be with us!
( Niamh waves a bleary hand at the camera. The split screen dissolves.)
(MEDIUM SHOT of Ernesto and Chet behind Sports Mania desk.)
Ernesto: (Continuing on.) After the break, we’re going to talk to a an eight-hand Irish figures team who got into a fight with half of the metropolitan symphony in Poughkeepsee, New York! This is Ernesto—
Chet: —and Chet. Live, with our day after St. Patrick’s Day wrap up on—
Ernesto and Chet: Sports Mania!
(Theme music swells.)
Niamh Ni Dálaigh NEEV NEH DOHL-lee
(Irish name. “Ni” replaces “O’” in feminine names.)
(Irish Stepdancing competitions.)
As a mid-range Generation Xer, I have few fond memories of food, especially foods I consumed between 1981 and 1998.
I realize that’s a large time-frame, but I’m pretty sure I can say with complete confidence that most of what I consumed would not be considered as food, per se, by today’s standards.
In fact, some of what I consumed would now be considered a high-risk environmental hazard.
Mostly the condiments.
Well . . . especially the condiments.
In order for this story to make sense for all of us, I have grouped my condiment exploration similar to the way art styles are defined.
And much like art styles, there is some overlap. And much like real art, some items will defy any sort of description.
The Ends With “Z” Period
My culinary play with condiments begins with Cheese Whiz, a thick aerosol container that sprays a substance not quite like cheese onto any food group of your choosing.
Chicken-In-A-Biskit crackers are the classicists choice for this ozone-depleting dairy product, but the more avant-garde of the elementary school crowd during the early ’80s branched out into found object territory pretty quickly.
My contribution to this field was Cheese Whiz on a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup— a feat that combines two foods that are not foods into one horrifyingly good combination.
But, like all good and strange things, my love of Cheese Whiz came to an end when, in the midst of a fight with one of my best friends, she shoved the nozzle of my beloved condiment up my nose, and hit the button. Full blast.
Colors Native To The Nuclear Age Period
I entered my own version of a single-color focused condiment age in 4th Grade when I decided that mustard, French’s Yellow Mustard, belonged on everything, everywhere.
My brief flirtations with Kikkoman Soy Sauce left me feeling listless about condiments as a culinary art form, yet French’s Yellow Mustard put a bright spot of joy— bland, spice-free, super-yellow joy, on every edible it touched.
I encouraged an artistic temperament around my eating habits, which annoyed my mother to no end. She had gone to great lengths to make sure I had a well-developed palate, and cooked a great many dishes from scratch to entice and train me from a very early age.
The French’s Yellow Mustard years were hard on my mother.
I ate a lot of hot dogs during the French’s Yellow Mustard phase.
And only now do I see that my hot dog consumption was a commentary on the increasing homogeneity of the American experience. A form of Interpretive Eating.
As anyone with a true artistic temperament knows, what zigs, will zag. I left mustard behind for the delights of local cuisine.
We now enter the wildest phase of my seasoning life.
The Pre-Hypertensive Period
Mustard lost all color for me one day as I entered adolescence. At the same time, I discovered the pleasures of Sal-Límon, chamoy, and Chinese candy.
Technically, all three of the above items are more of a savory dessert, originating from Mexico and the American states that border Mexico. (So, the word “Chinese” in this case, references a type of dried plum, not a Chinese food. Okay?)
Children of all ages loved these sugary and salty treats.
We, the outre adventurers of the junior high set, added these salted and dried items to our standard palate of school enchiladas, sandwiches, and still-frozen-in-the-middle pizza.
I sought to shock my peers and surrounding adults with my intense palate. I went a step further, adding chamoy to chocolate ice cream and Sal-Límon to bags of M&Ms.
It was my stomach that rebelled against my revolutionary culinary tactics. A bout with the flu felled me, and turned me from the condiments that had served me so well.
I never picked up these specific tools again.
Now, I— a growing condiment artiste—was cast adrift into a high school where mayonnaise was left in bowls with spoons for all to consume. Snob that I had become, I turned away from the display of gelatinous goo with a dramatic sigh.
And I descended into darkness no condiment could cover.
We come now to the brightest chapter: The triumphant return.
The Grainy Internationale Period
It took the first year of college to help me find my footing again.
I discovered the unsubtle pleasures of wasabi paste late in high school, but it took some time to find a grocery store that carried the green Japanese horseradish paste.
That same year, flavored mustards came into vogue in fast food restaurants and fusion restaurants across the Continental U.S.
Chutneys abounded with flair, showing up in crepes, dazzling droll salad vinaigrette with it’s mix of salty and sweet, and its overt tangy aftertaste.
Honey barbecue spread like sparkly fire through much of the South and Southwest, reintroducing the middle-class to chicken in a display of prediabetic bravura.
A full palate and compliment of reductions and sauces based on the aforementioned condiment themes bloomed on haute plates on both coasts.
To complete this picture, retro-flavorings were also reintroduced into Americana.
Cheese-Whiz was back as a favorite at non-P.C. trailer-theme parties.
French’s Yellow Mustard made frequent appearances on TV cooking shows.
Even the Mexican-American treats of a collective childhood were reinterpreted as an ironic garnish. Chinese candy could raise its head with pride when it rose to prominence as a cocktail topper.
As each of these condiments of my childhood arose and found new methodologies, I discovered one . . . last . . . new . . . frontier.
And what is that final step, you ask?
Do you really want to know?
Okay. Here it is:
I developed a broad range of food allergies and can’t eat most of that stuff to this day.
Although accidental, and tragic, it is my penultimate culinary statement:
(Exeunt omnes.) (Blackout.)
AN EXCELLENT GARNISH: This piece was Freshly Pressed by WordPress in January 2012.