"Christeene Fraser is a vibrant new voice on the poetry scene. Starkly confessional, yet warmly human, her writing strikes a nerve in the audience...a poet to watch."

Bruce Haring, Director, New York Book Festival

Monday, May 31, 2010

Precision of Language, Please

In the book, The Giver, a utopian society is architectured around community, efficiency, and politeness. Children are chastised for saying "I'm starving!" when what they meant to say is, "I'm hungry." Because of this push for precision, absolutes and extremes of feeling have fallen away from their vernacular almost entirely; so much so that the main character, Jonas, is admonished by his parents for asking "Do you love me?" They look at him, shocked by his foolishness, and bark, "Precision of language, please!" In their world, love is a word without meaning; they are as incapable of feeling love as they are in using the word itself. It is outdated, foreign in their mouths and in their hearts.

Is fiction so different than reality?

The word love has lost its meaning. Not from limitation or underusage--quite the opposite. 'Love' is in our mouths so much that it might as well be the same word for 'dinner' or 'sleep' or 'sock.' We use the same word to describe our feelings for pizza as we do our spouse. I love you. What does that phrase even mean anymore? It means I have an above average response to you. It means I enjoy the way you make me feel. It means I adore the way they have seasoned the crust on this Sicilian style pie.

I say we place a moratorium on the word 'love' for awhile.

The ancient Greeks had a complex, more comprehensive way of expressing love in their language. They understood 4 types of love: storge (affection), eros (erotic; being 'in love'), philia (friendship), and agape (unconditional, God-like love). Certainly these words lack the fluid quality of our English counterpart; 'storge' doesn't roll off the tongue like 'love' does. But if we adopted them into our vernacular, they could possibly enable us to evaluate our feelings with a little more consideration rather than sweeping them under that giant and complicated welcome mat we call love.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Power of Unexpected Praise, or, Memoirs of a Nobody

Last Friday sucked. I was pretty sure that my coworkers hated me, or at least, pretty sure that they only tolerated me after two unremarkable comments sent my self-esteem into a tailspin. I was pretty sure that I had only just realized after 26 years that I was both red-headed and a step-child; that I was, perhaps, the stupidest ex-English-teacher-turned-assistant on the planet.

I have a hard time making new friends, but it's not out of my lack of desire for them. I desperately want to connect with people, but often feel deflated because my lack of comfort in social situations makes me look like I'm on the receiving end of an enema. I got in my car feeling like a rejected middle-schooler ready for a mini pity party when my friend Emily called me. Or, at least, I thought it was Emily.

My caller ID lied to me, it was actually Emily's mother--a charming lady that I'd never met. But I knew her well because of Emily, and the upturned corner of her smiling mouth whenever she uttered the phrase "my mother." I knew what kind of woman she was by the respect and the stunning more-strawberry-than-blond hair mirrored by my dear friend.

Earlier that day I emailed Emily a copy of my poems for her to share with her mother, as she requested. I did not expect that twelve hours later, I would be sitting in a Target parking lot weeping as a women I'd never met told me how wonderful my writing was for her. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for her, for Emily's mother (who I still haven't met in person).

I often feel helmed in by series of losing titles, losing statistics: I am a credit score, a weight, a bank statement, one unknown writer in a sea of drowning writers. Emily's mother asked me if I'd ever considered writing "my story" and I almost laughed, "I'm a nobody, no one wants to read about that." "We're all nobodys," she said.

Her unexpected praise and her wisdom have stayed with me all week. We're all nobodys. Somehow it's a comforting thought to me. It makes the pen and the workplace seem less intimidating. I will begin to pen the memoir of a nobody, and perhaps nobody will read it; and that's okay with me.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What "Pretty in Pink" Taught Me About Love

While waiting for my rotini to boil, I plopped down on the couch and began to channel surf: Rachel Ray (maybe), Nascar (NO), "For the Love of Ray Jay" (definitely NOT), and then "Pretty in Pink (girly squeal, YES!).

I'd turned on the movie precisely during the iconic scene where Ducky glides into the record store and starts crooning "Try a Little Tenderness," by Otis Redding. John Cryor slides around the stacks of vinyl, his New-Wave-come-50's greaser-revisited hairdo bobbing in time with his pelvic-thrusting, lip-synching genius; he finishes his triumphant moment only to be crushed by the realization that his paramour is waiting for a date with someone else--a bland, uptight prepster named Blaine. It's cinema magic.

But for me, its more than just an iconic scene. For me it reveals a deep romantic flaw in myself, and in friends I've counseled disapprovingly saying "I told you so!"

By the end of the movie the ginger protagonist Andy chooses the granola Blaine over her eccentric friend Ducky. This never bothered me as a girl; but as an adult it made me scream at the television set, causing my toddler to drop her tea set and look at her mama, alarmed. She chooses Blaine?! Seriously? Seriously. ::sigh::

Andy doesn't even look amused when Ducky waltzes into the store; she being all too accustomed to his shenanigans. She doesn't crack a smile or even roll her eyes as he parambulates around the store singing a Motown golden-oldy that would be lost on most teenage boys. Instead she pines and waits for Blaine, who is late for their date, and shows up wearing Dockers and Ray-Bans like some bored, W.A.S.P.y demigod.

We are led to believe that Andy will live happily ever after her fateful prom date with Blaine. But we know the truth. We know that they will fade as quickly as the flowers of her hideously homemade corsage. She should've picked Ducky. Too often we cry and wait and pine for the ultimate dreamboat to come when we've got the DREAM singing in our faces. We've become too engulfed with pursuing the 'new' at the expense of really evaluating the 'now.' Or in some tragic cases, we live out the cliched "you don't know what you got til its gone" syndrome pursuing other pastures, other grasses that are never really greener.

The Blaines of the world have their place, but it is my hope for my daughter, and for my single friends, that they will not neglect to appreciate their very own Duckys waiting in the wings. It is my hope for my marriage that I will never forget to look at my husband like he is too familiar. I never want to take him for granted again because I let his personality become too common, forgetting why he is the ONLY person on the planet that I want to be married to.

So, ladies and gents, this is what "Pretty in Pink" has taught me about love: 1) when you find yourself waiting for a love to rescue you, look around you instead, and 2) when all else fails, try a little tenderness.