Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dreams Do Come True: Sweet Demotion by Lonn Friend

When I was a little girl, I thought I was going to be a rock star.

And then somewhere along the way, I thought that, not only would I BE a rock star, I would also MARRY a rock star. And maybe be an actress. And live happily ever after in sunny Los Angeles. (There is a woman who DID get that life. And I wouldn't trade mine for hers under any circumstances.)

The man who helped feed that dream was Lonn Friend.

While I was growing up in Ohio, he was travelling the world chronicling rock n' roll excess in RIP Magazine. And every month, I made a pilgrimage to the 7-Eleven by my grandma's house to buy the new issue.

In those pages, I would read about new bands that were making waves on the Sunset Strip, what it was like to be the first hard rock act in the Eastern Bloc, and what Lita Ford's mom thought kids should do about their problems.

Lonn Friend made that world real to me, from 2000 miles away.

Fast-foward to now: I do in fact live in Los Angeles. I am married to the Songwriter. I am not a rock star, but I'm a writer and that's better for all concerned.

Through happenstance and the Songwriter's Facebook, we meet Lonn Friend for breakfast. I am trying to be cool, but inside, I am screaming "THIS IS LONN FUCKING FRIEND!!" He tells us great rock stories and we buy a platinum album to hang on our wall (look to your right and you'll see it in my profile pic).

He mentions he's working on a new book. I mention I'm a writer and an editor.

We talk about kismet, and the cosmos, and synchronicity, and what it feels like to try and redefine yourself along spiritual lines when you've lost the things you thought were all-important. He tells me he's still looking for angels in this city, and maybe he's found another one. He asks if I'd like to read his new book, maybe take an editorial pass at it.

Are you fucking kidding me? Uh, yeah!

So I did. And I am here to tell you, it is a righteous piece of writing.

As of this month, Sweet Demotion: How an Almost Famous Rock Journalist Lost Everything and Found Himself (Almost) lives and breathes. You can buy it here, among other places. And I feel so ridiculously lucky to have been even a small part of it.

Rock on, Mr. Friend. Rock on.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Untangling the Knot

My husband, the Songwriter, thinks I'm crazy.

Not in a trope-ish, generalized "Chicks are just nuts, amiright, fellas?" kind of way.

More like a concrete, "Your behavior contradicts both what you say you want and your own best interests. Repeatedly."

He has a bit of a thing for crazy women, which both explains how we got together and makes him something of an expert in this arena. (To his ex-girlfriends: When I say crazy, I don't mean you. You were obviously the exception.)

I would like to argue with him about this, and not just because I'm good at it. But he has that pesky empirical evidence to back him up. To wit:
  • I will blithely pay $10 for a single cocktail, but balk at paying $20 for a pair of shoes.

  • I express the pain that a family member has caused me and then immediately feel guilty, because other people have actual narcissists/psychopaths/Republicans in their families, and I could have it so much worse, ergo I don't have any business complaining about it.

  • I hoarded every book I ever came in contact with (this became several thousand; regardless of whether I liked it, regardless whether I had the room) in case I suddenly become dirt poor again. Because under those conditions, obviously not being able to buy BOOKS would be my biggest worry.

  • I apologize. Compulsively. In almost every situation. I apologize for eating the last of the sour cream. I apologize for standing in the grocery aisle if someone else even looks like they want to come through. And of course, I apologize for apologizing too much.

  • I didn't wear sleeveless shirts in my 20s, on the theory that my upper arms were too ugly to force other people to look at, but they somehow might be BETTER when I was older.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

I'm not crazy. But I am wound and bound in a knot of mixed messages and muddled values, with a candy coating of conflicting desires and poorly-understood impulses. All this is complicated by an upbringing that taught me not only is it sinful/wasteful/bad to HAVE nice things, it is equally evil just to WANT them.

The thing is, I think this is fixable. I believe that with reflection and honesty and probably some trips to Out of the Closet to get rid of the crap that clogs my life, I can make this stuff better. I can make over my mind into a quieter, happier place in which to dwell.

I know I'm lucky. I have the Songwriter to help me, gently and with lots of humor, take a stab at the knot that has my life so tangled. And I'm doubly lucky, because I also have awesome friends, and this blog, and all of you.

And part of me feels kinda guilty about that.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Good Links: Regret Less

I like to think I have a pretty good relationship with death. I come from a sprawling, multi-generational family, which means someone is always dying or being born, sometimes on the same day.

For three years, I wrote an obituary column for the Dayton Daily News called "A Life Well Lived", and it was one of the greatest experiences of my professional life. There is nothing like sitting down with a grieving family and saying "I know your loved one had a story. A great story. Now tell it to me, and don't leave out a thing." The catharsis that precipitates is amazing and powerful. More on that another time.

As part of the above-mentioned family, I've spent time with a lot of people at the end of their lives. Though not nearly as many as Bronnie Ware.

Bronnie has collected the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, based on her years of experience in palliative care. If you don't know, palliative care seeks to make the end of our lives as comfortable and full of dignity as they possibly can be. It is the awesome, kind work done by hospice nurses and home health care aides around the country.

You should go over and read them all, but I'll give you a hint: It seems that when our lives are drawing to a close, we do not wish we had worked more or bought more stuff.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Midsummer's Eve

Am I wrong for resenting the fact that the feminine "hygiene" industry has hijacked that term from Shakespeare? NO, I don't think I am.

What am I doing on this, the second-longest day of the year? I'm waiting. Waiting for a client, who is now a week late in getting me what I need to get started on their project. And if that doesn't sound like a big deal, reflect on the fact that the end date, the deadline, isn't moving out accordingly.

One of my old bosses at a book packaging firm used to say, "When I die, you know how I'll know I went to heaven? I'll be the client!" Yeah. Like that.

In a past life (by which I mean a month and a half ago), this situation would have me grinding my teeth, worrying over the time that was slipping away and the work that I wasn't doing. This, as the Songwriter is fond of pointing out, is massively unproductive. Not to mention just a teensy bit insane.

So, rather than let the things I can't do get me obsessively tangled in ulcer-inducing stress and rage, I am going to do the things I can do.
  • stop trying to live in the future, when the work will be here
  • be present - right here, right now
  • take a shower
  • send a (friendly) email to the client, reminding them I'm ready when they are
  • head to my favorite coffee shop to work on my screenplay
This isn't a delay or a roadblock. It's a gift, a surprise package of time.

I'll sip my coffee and remember how lucky I am to be able to do this on a Monday. And I will try to stop grinding my teeth.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tweaking Comment Settings

A blog-keeping note: A few of you had trouble commenting, so I've switched anonymous commenting back on. We'll see how good the spam filters on this jalopy really are!

That said, if you don't want to log in, consider signing your nom or nom de plume. It makes the conversation easier.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Body Butter - An Origin Story

It all started with the body butter.

Well, it started a long time before that, with my mother and her sisters, and probably my grandmother and HER sisters, and on and on, back into the mists of time.

But it was the incident with the body butter that finally clarified things for me.

It was winter. I had been out of work for nearly a year. My husband, the Songwriter, hadn't worked steadily in even longer. Every global economic indicator was trending down, and we were barely scraping by in one of the most expensive cities in America.

We had moved to Los Angeles from Dayton, Ohio three years earlier with great fanfare and high hopes. We had both had good jobs in interesting fields and all the sunshine we could eat. We paid off all our debt and started planning for a bright future. Now all that seemed to be over.

That winter afternoon, I was struggling against a nagging, low-grade depression, heavy as wet movers' felt as I got out of the shower. It all seemed so futile - the showering, the dressing. After all, where did I have to go? I couldn't remember the last time I'd brushed my teeth, much less put on makeup.

And so it was, wet and morose, that I regarded my bathroom counter that day, full of contact solution and deodorant and half-used hair products. That's when I saw it, under two pots of pomade and a thick layer of dust (housekeeping had joined personal grooming in the are-you-kidding-me-what's-the-point-of-it-all? bin)

A dish of vanilla sugar-scented body butter.

When had I last used the stuff? I couldn't recall. Had I EVER used it? Surely I must've. Where had it come from? I distantly remembered a dear friends giving it to me in a gift basket at my bridal shower.

I looked at my wedding rings, sitting next to the sink. I had been married at that point for six and a half years. That meant I had kept this tub of lotion almost as long as my tax returns, without opening the damn stuff! I had moved it 2,000+ miles, only to let it sit and gather dust. Seriously? What the hell was wrong with me?!

I wiped the grime off on my towel. If I opened it now, what would I find? Mold? A cracked clay desert? It had been sitting an awfully long time. Miraculously, it was none the worse for time. And it smelled . . . ohmigod. I have a terrible and well-documented weakness for things that smell of sweets. God help my marriage if they ever mass-market a men's cologne that smells like brownies.

The stuff looked luscious, like frosting or a soft, creamy brie. I wanted to stick my fingers in, hell, my whole hand. But I didn't. I hesitated. And then I looked behind me, to make sure the bathroom door was closed.


Because I felt guilty.

This body butter was so rich and so nice, it was TOO nice. Too nice for a Wednesday, too nice for just sitting around the house afterwards, too nice for unemployment, too nice for ME.

Looks crazy, doesn't it, all spelled out like that?

I thought so too.

In that moment, damp, naked and alone in my bathroom with my guilt, I resolved that this was no way to live. No fucking way at all. I dug three fingers in and slathered myself head to foot in the glorious goo.

I emerged from the bathroom that day smelling like a giant snickerdoodle and determined to challenge the way I approached my stuff, my body and my life.

Use the Good Soap was born.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stand up, and tell us a little about yourself

Hello everyone - my name is Angelle (Hi, Angelle!) and I am a . . . well, a lot of things, many of them not very pretty in the light of day. A book-aholic. An information junkie. A serial apologizer. An outrage addict. A recovering Catholic. I have admitted that I am powerless over shiny new boots and turned my credit cards over to a higher power.

My friend Val says it's passe to riff on 12-step programs and she's probably right. But it's also a useful cultural shorthand to indicate a project of personal recovery and growth. Which is what this is meant to be. So forgive my use of it here, just this one time. I promise not to do it again. Much.

Welcome to the Good Soap blog!

I started Use the Good Soap to help me think/work through a lot of the ideas I have about guilt, self-worth, and why even if we CAN have nice things, we often feel too shitty to enjoy them.

This little corner of the internet is my laboratory, a place for me to throw lots of ideas at the Web, and see what sticks. If you happen by, I hope you'll stick around and join the discussion. The concept is shamelessly borrowed from Chris Anderson and his Long Tail blog, because I believe in always stealing from people smarter than I am.

My plan is to talk about about big ideas and nitty-gritty specifics, with personal anecdotes and probably some content on books and music and movies thrown in because, well, it's my blog and those are things that matter to me.

Oh, and pictures of my cats. Because if there's one thing the internet needs, it's more cats.