Thursday, April 21, 2016

Nothing Compares 2 U

"With an intellect, and a savoir-faire
No one in the whole universe
Will ever compare.”
- "7," by Prince

A few weeks back, while fighting off an itchy bout of insomnia, I found myself free-falling down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia. The trajectory landed me (not randomly) on the bio page for Madonna's Like a Prayer album.

Ever the Madonna-savant, I explored the familiar terrain of her greatest album of the 1980s with a mix of nostalgia and confidence: I was visiting the worn pages of a diary belonging to an old friend.

I wrote a research paper on her at my Catholic school, and while my classmates were spending their weekends playing soccer or hanging out at the mall (such were the activities of children pre-Internet), I was at the library, reading all the biographies I could get my hands on about my idol, Madonna.

The assignment was to write about someone you admire. The obvious choices were made by everyone else – Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and President John F. Kennedy.

I chose Madonna.

My teacher scoffed at the idea, but softened at my passion. I was the kid who spent classes writing song lyrics over and over into my notebooks, line-breaking the words into poems, in awe at the power a mere shift of a line had, how it could change the cadence and mood of the song.

She said, “Write a paper convincing me why Madonna is an appropriate subject for your research project.”

I did.

I spent hours at the library, carefully printing notes about Madonna's life onto lined paper. I emptied my pockets (and my father's wallet), making color-photo copies of my idol from magazines. I read the tabloid-esque articles along with well-written, thoughtful biographies. I absorbed everything I could sponge up from this blue-eyed giant of a woman, who at one time was a weird, nerdy Catholic schoolgirl in Michigan like me.

When I presented my written argument to my teacher, she acquiesced, and twenty-odd years later, I am awake at an odd hour, reading about the making of Madonna's Like a Prayer album.

As I walked through the history of the record, I spotted a song I hadn't thought of in at least a decade. I pulled the single up from my iPod, and in the ink-spattered darkness of the room, there was a light: beaming up in blue from the device, the voices of Madonna and Prince intermingling on the trippy, brushed-with-French-brusque “Love Song.”

I smiled.

My journey continued. My eyes blurred over the notable trivia: “'Til Death Do Us Part” is about Madonna's volatile marriage to Sean Penn. “Oh Father” is a wordplay on her relationship with her father and with God. These things I know.

But then -


“Recording artist Prince played the guitar on three songs from the album, 'Like a Prayer,' 'Keep It Together,' and 'Act of Contrition,' though he remained uncredited.” (Wikipedia)

Any trace of sleep that may have begun to weigh on me lifted. This was new. This was shiny! Who knew the electric shiver of guitar introducing “Like a Prayer” was done by none other than Prince himself?!

I immediately took to social media, and posted a message to a Prince-crazed friend. “Did you know,” I twittered, excited at this prospect, this little nugget of gold I'd dug up in the trenches of Wikipeida.

What else didn't I know? I clicked and linked and burrowed through the website, ending up on Prince's bio page. I was never a huge Prince fan growing up. I certainly appreciated his level of artistry. I knew that he could play pretty much any instrument, and that he had ascended early on from rock star to icon. But I worship at the feet of another musical icon, and her name is Madonna.

I was reminded that he wrote Sinead O'Connor's “Nothing Compares 2 U,” - proof that he was equally a master at songwriting. He produced albums where he played all of the instruments and sang all of the vocals himself.

Eventually, sleep swept in and held me in her arms. I never finished reading Prince's Wikipedia page.

There was no need. Despite all truths telling me otherwise, I always believe there's more time. There would be more Prince records, there would be more Prince collaborations. There would be more time for pop-up concerts in the middle of nowhere or cameos on random television shows. There would be more notches in his weirdness belt, because like all the greats, he let his freak flag fly freely, like David Bowie, like Mick Jagger, like Michael Jackson.

Like Madonna.

But he was separate even amongst the elite class of icons. He was arrogant, he was strange. He remained mysterious in a world that reports and records all. He was no one else ever but himself. He was fiercely devoted to his craft in a way that few ever are or ever will be on this planet.

As a superfan to another icon, I will respectfully leave the tributes flowing in today to Prince's devoted and loyal fans from the last several decades. I just wanted to pay homage to a man who was not simply musical, but who had music emanating through his bones.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Grow a Brain

I keep coming across anti-immigrant posts in my Facebook newsfeed, and I feel like I need to clarify a few things.
My husband is a legal immigrant. We worked very hard, and spent an insane amount of money going through immigration red tape. We are still not even finished, four years after starting the process - Matt is on a temporary, two-year visa that will be up for review later this year. It will include more money, a ridiculous amount of paperwork, more fingerprinting, more interviews in Detroit, as well as an invasive examination of our private life, all to prove that we are a real couple and not trying to scam anyone.

Matt made up his resume and went on interviews for his two legal jobs. He did not "steal" these jobs from you, or anyone you know. He didn't walk up to some random worker and go, "I'm taking your job now. Leave."
He pays taxes like everyone else. We actually owed money to the IRS this year, and we paid it promptly last month.

Matt is not "living off the government." As a matter of fact, one of the terms of being a legal resident here is that you have to sign a waiver stating that you will never apply for any government financial aid.

So no, my husband is not stealing your food stamps or collecting unemployment.

I find it infuriating that the same people who constantly bemoan immigrants living off the government have also, in their lifetime, lived off those very same services.

I am not judging anyone for that. Everyone needs help now and then. There's not one person among us who hasn't fallen on hard times before.

My point is, don't rant about other people taking government handouts when you have done the same.

For those who argue that the rampant xenophobia here is based on illegal, rather than legal, immigrants - prove it.

For once, show some real stats showing these people are stealing those coveted migrant worker jobs that all US citizens are clamoring for on a daily basis. Please show us all the luxurious items these illegal persons can purchase with their fistfuls of government wealth.

Being a citizen is a privilege you were born with - not something you earned. The immigrants I know have worked harder to be here than any of us who were simply born here by circumstance.

Show some of that Christian spirit and compassion that is so often talked about but rarely seen.

Have a heart. Grow a brain. Mind your own business.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Meeting Medway

I love Medway. We’ve been together for over eight months now. I would describe our relationship as very comfortable and fun and normal. We talk every single day. We laugh, we fight, we cry, we have fun. Since Christmas, we’ve grown very close, and I can say he’s become not just my boyfriend but my best friend. We share everything, we work hard to keep our communication open, and we both try very hard to laugh at ourselves and learn from our mistakes as our relationship grows.

Two weeks ago we experienced a huge moment in our relationship. What sets us apart from other couples is the Pacific ocean and the tiny fact that we hadn’t actually met in person before.

Sure, there’s webcam, and texting, and phone calls, and Facebook, and Twitter. All wonderful resources that we’ve made a daily part of our life together, all forms of communication that allow us to know each other intimately when we are physically separated by 14,000 odd kilometers.

But the fact of the matter is, I live in the United States and Medway lives in Australia. Which is how I came to be driving down eastbound I-94 early on a humid Monday morning, headed to Detroit to meet my boyfriend for the first time.

I was nervous. I was so nervous, actually. As I drove toward the McNamara/Delta Air terminal at Detroit-Metro, my stomach was knitting my insides together and my teeth literally started chattering. There were so many ways this meeting could go. I loved Medway. I cared about him, and I cared about what he thought about me.

Of course there’s the obvious fear—I’m picking up someone I’ve only known online. What if he isn’t who he says he is? What if he’s an axe murderer (a fear of my mother’s and, to be fair, a fear of his mother’s as well, that I would be a gold digger or an axe murderer)? It was something to consider, but after several months of getting to know him, and knowing other people who knew him and vouched for him, it was a consideration I set aside and didn’t put much worry into at the time.

But--what if he didn’t like me? What if we were about to spend the 10 most uncomfortable days of our lives together? Would he take one look at me and be disappointed? Or maybe at the end of the vacation, after living together, that’s the moment he would think, “no, she’s not the girl for me.”

I was scared.

When I saw him at the airport, waiting for me outside the pick-up area, there was a knitting frenzy in my stomach. I mean there must’ve been like three or four grandmothers in there, all racing for the fluffy scarf championship (it’s so fluffy I could DIE!). He was wearing a fedora and watched me as I walked toward him, and he gave me a smile and hugged me.

The two hour drive was a nice, slow ice breaker. I could feel myself relaxing as we talked and laughed. I blushed when he slid his hand in mine and grinned at me, and by the time we got home we were very comfortable with each other.

Ten days later, when I got home from Detroit after dropping him off at the airport, I wandered around my apartment. There was his half-finished drink on the nightstand. His deodorant still on the counter in the bathroom. The DVD we’d watched the night before was on the TV stand in the living room. My dog Taz sniffed around, looking up at me, looking for his Medway. I picked up a tee-shirt of his that he’d left for me.

It still smelled like him.

I burst into tears.

I’m the type of person who always expects the worst. I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I drove into Detroit trying to prepare myself with all the ways in which our meeting would go wrong.

But it was perfect. He was perfect. It was like he’d always been here. He fit in perfectly with my friends and with my family. We lived together like we’d always lived together. We were totally in sync. He took care of me when I was sick. He helped me around the house. We shopped together. We went to dinner together, we read together, we played cards together. I made him breakfast and he made me dinner. He said he loved my pets, and I knew he was genuine. And they loved him right back. We laughed and played and talked and went out and stayed in together. He is the kindest, sweetest, funniest, most amazing guy I’ve ever known, and I’m so lucky to have him in my life.

It was as though he’d always been a part of my life, and he was always going to be a part of my life, and when he had to leave it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through, and I feel like a huge part of me is missing when he’s gone.

I knew I loved him before we met, and now I love him more than ever.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Day Has A Hundred Pockets

"Absence is like the sky, spread over everything." C.S. Lewis

When she died, I thought about her every day in the weeks and months following the accident. After the funeral, she materialized in my dreams.

I grieved.

Over the years, she stopped clinging to the minutes on my clock. I didn't think about her all the time. The thick milkshake of a sob throbbing in my throat lessened into a dull stab in my stomach every now and then.

She creeps in every once in awhile, during the most ordinary of moments. I'm out shopping and a girl saunters by, tossing her honeyed hair. “It's her,” my mind breathes, stunned out of my universe.

Driving into the country last weekend, wind whipping my hair, music blasting over the radio, the reverie fractures as I realize this is the road. Somewhere on the shoulder, on the other side of the yellow line, she slipped away.

The blue sky above me is endless. The blackened road before me is terminal.

I wonder if it hurts or if it all goes black.

Today I was washing dishes slowly and vacantly when I realized.

I know: she is dead.

She no longer exists.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Speculative Free Form

I know I haven’t posted much on this blog, and I’d like to tell you that it’s because I’ve been out running with the bulls or sailing across the world as a sixteen year old (maybe the sixteen year old part is true, give or take a decade), but really it’s more of a general laziness on my part.

Actually, that’s not really true, either. I write quite often. I’ve got the most random rough drafts, saved to my hard drive, sent to my email, notebooks half-full on my kitchen table and inside my nightstand with the door that doesn’t close properly because I was too impatient to read the instruction manual when I assembled it. Napkins and sticky notes with my scrawl all over them, stuffed in my purse. My fifth grade teacher will be annoyed to learn that despite her best efforts, I still don’t write like a girl but rather a hurried pre-adolescent boy with ADHD and an inability for his hands to keep up with the thoughts spilling out of his head.

I do remember that year quite well, actually. My dad had to be to work early so we’d sit in the parking lot of the school in the dark, our breath visible like empty comic conversation clouds as we waited for the heat in the car to kick in. Dad would tap his fingers nervously on the steering wheel, worried about being late, while we all stared intently at the door. Finally a light would come on in the hallway, flickering into life, and then the principal would unlock the heavy black door, and my brother and I would both give an equally heavy sigh as we picked up our backpacks and dragged ourselves into the building.

I’d walk up the seemingly endless staircase to the top floor, my footsteps echoing in the nearly empty building. The hallways were soaked with shadows, and silent save for the sounds of teachers arriving and unlocking the doors to their classrooms.

My teacher was always there early, sitting at her desk, preparing her lessons for the day. She’d barely look up when I entered the room, and I’d take my time unraveling the scarf around my neck and hanging up my coat, with my mittens sticking out of the pockets.

I’d settle into my chair, reaching inside my desk for a pencil and opening my notebook to a fresh sheet of paper. “As long as you’re here,” my teacher would say, always a hint of disapproval in her voice, “you might as well practice your handwriting. It’s terrible, Jennifer.”

“You write like a boy.”

Every morning I would slowly copy sentences out of my science textbook. I’d stick my tongue out in concentration, trying to make “photosynthesis” prettier and bubbly against the blue lines of the notebook paper. Once the clock ticked closer to start time, and the hallway started warming up with voices, and my classmates stomped into the room in their snow boots and jackets, I’d hand in my finished product, and my teacher would glance down at it with a sigh and shake of her head.

“You need to make your letters rounder and more feminine. This is messy and masculine. Don’t you want to be feminine, Jennifer?”

That question has stayed in my head for years, as I turned in papers in high school, took notes in college, and wrote up reviews for work. Every time I hand in something to a professor or a supervisor I cringe, wondering if my writing suggests something about me, if somehow the fact that my letters are sharp and angled rather than looped and curved reflects poorly on me as a woman, as a human being. That maybe I didn’t get a promotion or a higher grade because my i’s weren’t dotted with a round circle or my j’s lacked a feminine flourish.

But mostly now I type, so this is neither here nor there. The real reason I’ve been lacking in posts lately is my indecision.

I started my blog as a form of therapy, a way to get out all the toxins that built up from years of insecurity and a bad relationship. Nobody read what I wrote anyway, so I just wrote honestly about my life, letting people into rooms I’d kept shut and locked for a very long time and needed airing out.

The thing about writing openly is that most people don’t do it very often. Most people are guarded and keep their secrets to themselves. Which is not a criticism, by any means. There are a million reasons why you would want to keep your private life as just that—private. But I went another route, and to my great surprise people started reading what I had to say.

I love writing for an audience, and I appreciate anyone who takes the time to read my writing. On the flip side, as I find out more and more people are reading my blog, I find myself feeling more and more restricted in what I can say. I don’t want to offend people. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I find myself writing something up and thinking “well what if so-and-so reads this? Will they be upset that I’m sharing this story?”

And suddenly, I can’t write anymore. I put the story or essay away, and it ends up collecting dust or bytes or whatever it is that a Word document might collect saved to a hard drive, and it never gets finished.

My hands feel a bit tied at the moment.

But I remember someone asking me once, “how do you write?” and I said simply, “you just have to be brave. You just have to write what you need to say and not worry what other people will think about it.”

I need to take my own advice.

Hopefully, there will be more to come in the next few weeks.