Subscribe to my newsletter!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

May your days be merry, your season bright, and all of your Bumbles reformed!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Anything Can Happen: A Novel Excerpt

      What was it with brewers anyway? I wondered, squinting through my peephole at my good friend Dave and the burgeoning mass of bristles that had been protruding haphazardly from his chin ever since he’d taken that assistant's job. They all seemed to be walking around with piles of crazy facial hair, a fact which, if you attended as many beer festivals as we did, became perturbingly apparent. Of course, I’d never seen one as ridiculous as Michael’s; a foot-long, narrowly-pointed monstrosity that ought to have repelled me like a flea collar. If I were the flea, instead of the one with the itch.

      Michael, I snorted irritably to myself, leaving Dave waiting cold and snow-flaked in my foyer while I bundled up in a bulky sweater and one of those loathsome turtlenecks that keep out the cold but then keep themselves amused all day attempting to strangle you. Turning my back on the mean mirror that kept refusing to lie about my age, I plastered my long-johns on underneath my fat jeans and prodded my feet into some rancid rubber galoshes, perfecting the picture of my hideousness. I told myself it didn’t matter. I wasn’t trying to seduce him, right? I sighed internally. I was strong enough to be practical enough not to wear some cute skimpy outfit and be miserable the whole day, but not enough not to be depressed about it. I am woman, hear me roar. Rrrr.

      I tried not to look for him. Much. I drank my beer and chatted with Dave and his equally-bearded brewer buddies and periodically scanned the festival crowd in what I hoped was a nonchalant manner. It was late in the day when I finally caught the dreaded glimpse – it was hard to miss that bright red hair and chest-length beard. It was even harder to miss the attractive young blonde he was hugging when I saw him. Unfortunately for me, Dave spotted him at almost the same moment.

      “Look, there’s Michael,” he said, failing to see me wince at the mention of the name. “Let’s go say hi?”

      Dave didn’t know, of course, about me and Michael. I’d been too mortified to admit that after months of impatient waiting I’d shamelessly tackled him just days after his divorce was final. Or that I wanted to punch something every time I recollected his early-morning speech about not wanting to get involved.

      “It looks like he’s with someone,” I answered, compromising and kicking the floor instead. “Maybe we should leave him alone.”

      “She looks familiar,” Dave responded, oblivious to the damage I was inflicting on the hardwood. “I think she works at the brewery.”

      Even worse, I thought. She has access to him eight hours a day; probably after-hours, too. I only get to see him once every few months, and I’m already forty and getting older by the minute. How can I possibly compete? I felt a jealous rage swelling within me, and impulsively I wanted to smack the alleged little tramp out of my way. Fortunately, the logical part of my brain kicked back in and I caught myself. I breathed deeply. It was not a competition. For what it was worth, I’d already had Michael. I had no right to expect him not to move on to someone else. It wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t his either. I could be a grownup about this, couldn’t I?

      “I suppose it would be rude not to say hello,” I grudgingly conceded. Dave meandered over to where they stood, not thirty feet away, and I trudged along behind him, feeling enormous, ugly, and ancient. The blonde scrutinized me with pity. It’ll happen to you! I wanted to yell, but she was already walking away, leaving Dave and me alone with Michael.  Dave shook Michael’s hand but I merely nodded and averted my eyes, my brief dream of behaving rationally fading quickly in his suddenly very tangible presence. They talked on about beer while I seethed silently, excoriated myself for even caring, then seethed silently some more. I couldn’t tell if Michael was even aware of that, because I wouldn’t look at him. He doesn’t care, I reminded myself viciously. He never did. He was just using you to – to get his feet wet, I thought, among other things. Remember how he blew you off? Wanted someone younger and prettier, no doubt. He was probably picking up all kinds of women now. Who knew what number blondie even was? I was well shut of him. I had refilled my taster while the boys were chatting, and I was so consumed with brooding that I didn’t even notice when Dave stepped away to fill his, leaving Michael and I alone.

      “How’ve you been, Kate?” he was saying, casually reaching out to touch my arm. I started, then realized who was talking to me and pulled out my best contemptuous sneer.

      “Fine, thank you, and yourself?” I answered coldly, jerking away from his touch.

      “Wow!” he exclaimed. “What did I do?”

      His ignorance of his wrongdoing infuriated me even more.

      “Who’s the blonde?” I spat it out like a curse.

      “Excuse me?” he said with affected innocence.

      “You heard me. How long have you been seeing her?”

      “You mean – you mean the blonde I was talking to a little while ago?”

      “You seeing some other blondes, too?”

      “She works at the brewery,” he answered calmly.

      “You’re dating someone you work with?” I snapped scathingly. “That sounds smart.”

      “I’m not dating her,” he reiterated. “She works at the brewery; that’s how I know her.”

      “Oh.” I was still too mad to be embarrassed, but I could sense that that was about to change. I figured I’d better backtrack fast before he started thinking I liked him or something. But it’s hard to backpedal when you’ve got your foot in your mouth.

      “It’s really none of my business,” I said coolly. “I just don’t want to see you – ruin your reputation.” Really? I confronted my addled brain. That was the best you could come up with? I thought you were supposed to be smart. But it was out and I would have to stick to it now.

      He didn’t buy it anyway. “I haven’t been seeing anyone. In case you were wondering.”

      I knew it might be a line but it sure didn’t sound like one, and his expression was sincere and his eyes were maybe even a little sad, and I was suddenly aware that he was standing very close to me and it was almost like old times, before that night, only more so because I could do a much better job of picturing him naked now. And had I not known that it was finished between him and me, I might even have believed that the anticipation was starting all over again, the wonderful wondering of what just maybe could possibly happen if the planets were somehow aligned perfectly right, a feeling I had sorely missed those last few months. Because when we exchanged our farewells and his eyes met mine, I knew that in spite of what he’d said, in spite of how he’d hurt me, I still liked him as much as I ever had. And what was more, I thought that maybe, just maybe, he felt the same way.   

© Lori Schafer 2013

Originally published in e-Romance, April 2013.

A modified excerpt from my first novel, My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

What Doesn’t Kill You Does Not Make You Stronger

Seriously, what is the deal in popular music with this worn-out and woefully inaccurate cliché?

The Kelly Clarkson hit with the phrase in its title. Kanye West’s otherwise entertaining Stronger. Will.I.Am’s That Power. Plus a host of other songs by artists such as Theory of a Deadman, Pain, Dappy, Saving Jane, Shontelle, KISS, Clay Aiken, Solarward, Kataklysm, Seventh Key, Heltah Skeltah, and Carpathian, among others.

First of all, shame on all of you for not coming up with more original song lyrics. It seems to me as if a musician would at least want to use a different cliché from the one everyone else is using. But maybe I’m being too harsh here. There aren’t many words that rhyme with “longer,” after all. It’s not like “Every cloud has a silver lining,” which has a multitude of rhyming possibilities. Pining, dining, whining, signing… imagine the poetry that might be constructed around “mining!”

What really irritates me about this overused phrase is not the words themselves, but the concept behind them. It’s true that most of the time, if you survive a viral illness, you’ll develop immunity to the germ that caused it and will arguably be “stronger” because of that. But certainly in the realm of physical injury, anyone who has ever sprained a knee or slipped a disc knows how vulnerable that spot becomes after you’ve hurt it once. Yet consider this line from The Fighter by Gym Class Heroes (which is a band I generally like, by the way):

“Every time you fall it's only making your chin strong.”

Now that can’t be true, can it? I would think that smacking your chin repeatedly would cause little hairline fractures to form along the jawline, setting you up for a break later on. Maybe what they mean is that repeated blows to the face deaden the nerves, gradually causing you to feel less pain. That would certainly make sense; otherwise how would boxers stand the abuse?

And maybe I’m being too literal, interpreting this in the physical sense. I suppose one could argue that suffering a mental trauma might make a person less vulnerable to emotional dysfunction in future. But I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a psychiatrist who would agree with that. Don’t we more often hear of repeated crises referred to as “the straw that broke that camel’s back,” to employ another well-worn platitude? And what about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Tell front-line soldiers that they’re stronger for not being killed in action and see where that gets you.

No, the problem is that people want to believe that they’re getting something out of their suffering; that something positive results from pain. And maybe sometimes it does. Suffering can change a person for the better. There’s value in learning to endure pain. But for the most part it’s a trick; a deception practiced upon one’s own mind to make hardship easier to bear.

The irony is – perhaps it does. Maybe the delusion itself is what prompts us to “dust ourselves off” and “get back on the horse.” Maybe that’s what makes us “look for the silver lining” even when “the chips are down.” Maybe that’s how, when our world is at its darkest, we are able to force ourselves to wait patiently for the dawn.

What doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger. But maybe believing it does.    

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pearl Harbor: The Tragedy that Saved the World

Before 9/11, December 7, 1941 was arguably – apart from Independence Day – the most memorable date in United States history. In fact, 9/11/2001 and 12/07/1941 have a great deal in common. They were both sneak attacks. They were unprovoked. They caused irreparable damage to both American property and the American psyche. They prompted the U.S. into taking global action. They forever changed the U.S. view of the world and of our place within it.

There is, however, one great difference between the two, one very great difference. Very little good came of the events of 9/11. The tragedy at Pearl Harbor, however, saved the world.

There’s no doubt that the U.S. entry into WWII on the side of the Allies turned the tide of the war. The fighting power of our men overseas and the productive power of our machinery at home were the indispensable keys to an Allied victory. But without Pearl Harbor, would the U.S. ever even have entered the war? And without American intervention, would the Allies have lost?

It’s a frightening yet very real possibility, as history has shown us. World War I was essentially at a stalemate until the U.S. arrived in 1917 with its fresh bodies and materiel. Without the “doughboys” and the factories that supplied them, the two European sides would have worn themselves out fighting their war of attrition. Eventually they would have returned to their familiar and welcoming homes, drained, exhausted, and hopefully more wary of the wonders of war. Even without U.S. involvement, peace was probably inevitable, although it may have taken a great deal more time and suffering to achieve.

But World War II wasn’t like the Great War. It wasn’t a war of misguided national sentiment and entangling alliances, a war of nineteenth-century attitudes and twentieth-century technology. No, WWII was about terror, domination, and imperial acquisition. It was about ruling the world and the people within it. The Axis powers didn’t merely re-draw the national boundaries of the countries they conquered; they altered the most intimate aspects of the lives of the citizens within their borders. There was no “going home” for soldiers returning from that war, whether they won it or not. Home as they knew it had ceased to exist. And this is what made an Allied victory an absolute necessity.

My guess is that the U.S. probably couldn’t have stayed out of WWII forever, even if it had wanted to. And indeed, by the time of Pearl Harbor, it was already clandestinely involved in aiding the Allies. Yet suppose Pearl Harbor hadn’t happened. How long would it have taken the U.S. to intervene in the war?

Full-scale mobilization of a “sleeping giant” like the United States takes time, even when its Pacific fleet hasn’t just been virtually destroyed. Think about it. From the date of the attack on Pearl Harbor, D-Day was two and a half years in the making. Since such an offensive could not have taken place in the winter or fall, this means that if the U.S. had found itself compelled to enter the war just four months later than it did, the landing in Europe might have been delayed by as much as a year.

Another year of war. How many hundreds of thousands – perhaps even millions – would have died in the concentration camps alone if the war had been extended? How many soldiers would have perished along the multiple fronts for which World War II is known? How many more civilians would have starved or been bombed out of their homes? And how much more entrenched in their subject territories would the Axis governments have been if the U.S. had waited another year to render the full force of its aid? How many atomic bombs might have been dropped in order to get them out?

It’s terrible and sad to say, but one of the worst moments in American history may have been the greatest thing to happen to humanity in all of the twentieth century. Let us think about that, when we remember this day that still lives in infamy. They couldn’t have known it then, but for every one of the thirty-six hundred Americans who was killed or wounded that day, hundreds of lives were saved. I don’t doubt it was a sacrifice that every one of them would have been proud to make.