Grumpy Book Grrrl

a writer and reader

Hey guys, I did a thing! Well, I published a short collection of poems at Smashwords. The poems are about depression, loneliness, weight, society, haiku, and #vss365 (Very Short Story). Here is the link to get Heart Full of Skeletons for free.

 

I’ll share one of the poems here.

 

Hard to Afford Life

It’s getting hard to afford life

Working just to pay bills, buy

Groceries, and the essentials

With nothing left to save

I don’t know what vacations are

Outside of the definition

It’s been over ten years since

I had one and none coming up

In the near future

Even with healthcare,

I can’t afford to go to the doctor

I’d like to see a therapist and

Go to physical therapy

But the co-pays are too expensive

I’m sick of hearing how we should

Eat healthy – and who can afford

To eat healthy

I don’t blame people for having to

Order off the value menu at a

Fast food joint

Processed food is less expensive

Processed life is easier

Then one spent thriving

Rather than just surviving

I don’t blame people for having to

Shop at big box stores

Where everything is cheaply made

But it’s all the average person

Can afford

Living paycheck to paycheck

And on credit cards

Do you love life or are you

In survival mode

In a constant state of fight or flight

Or frozen because you have no

Control over your life

Dreams long forgotten

Ambitions and creativity

Put aside just to make it

Through life

Are we having fun yet?

 

Anyway, if you like poetry (some of it is free form and some rhyming), give it a shot. It’s short if nothing else! 🙂 It’s also very personal and intimate. I guess I’m sticking my neck out here, especially since I am basically a new writer. But, it was also therapeutic. If you have depression or doubt yourself or feel self-conscious about the way you look, you might find resonance with some of what I wrote. (The cover art is by darksouls1 at Pixabay.)

 

Be well and happy reading – whatever it is you choose to read!

I have a new post up at All in the Pantheon and wanted to discuss it here too. It’s about Amphitrite many years ago when she walked among the humans and participated in a Yule Hunt. She hopes to summon a Chinese dragon and ask for a flaming pearl to give her beloved, Poseidon. The dragon is gender fluid and was lots of fun to write. Take a look if you will.

 

Excerpt:

I slipped away some time later, eager to move forward and see if my quest was a futile one or perhaps, with a bit of Tyche’s luck, be a prosperous endeavor. My target was an East Asian (or Chinese) dragon. They were long and serpent-like, not the fire-breathing sort, but more spiritual in nature, with power over water. The gift for my husband would be impressive if I could acquire it. The flaming pearls they own are said to grant wishes and increase wisdom and luck to those deserving.

 

I found a small cave and entered, checking for wildlife. I removed an enchanted glowing orb from my pack and the tools I needed for the summoning: a seashell, herbs, a moonstone, and a small jeweled knife for the blood with which to ignite the spell. I used the dagger to slice open my skin and let the ichor drip onto the herbs in the shell. I ground it together with my fingers, reciting the incantation, and chewed the mashed poultice. I spat it out onto the ground and it ignited, creating a swirl of smoke, which tunneled up like a small whirlwind, before dissipating into the shadows.

 

The air shivered and blurred around an astral portal. I stepped closer and said, “Great One. I would speak with you if you allow it.” I bowed my head in deference to the beast. Dragons could live thousands of years, existing between the mortal world and an ethereal one.

 

All month there will be Winterfest posts from various Gods, Goddesses, Muses, and Primordials. These are talented writers from the Twitter writing community. You don’t want to miss out, so bookmark All in the Pantheon and start reading today!

 

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*Banner is from and owned by All in the Pantheon. Used to support and promote the project.

 

(Also, I revamped my blog with a winter theme. I am loving it. What do you think?)

 

From Amazon, “A collection of 32 poems written by mother and son examining love, family, breakups, mental illness, sexual health, self-confidence, and abuse.” I purchased this to support a friend from Twitter’s #writingcommunity, CJ Landry. I have wanted to read more poetry also and this was a fantastic place to start.

 

I wasn’t disappointed. It’s hard to lay yourself bear for the world to see, and this is an assembly of raw and moving composition that is yearning at times, heart breaking, uncomfortable, raunchy, funny, romantic, and hopeful.

 

From “I’m Saying Goodbye” –

“i will love myself
as much as
my children love me.
as much as i deserve.
and know i deserve it.”

 

From “The Stark White Walls of My Mind” –

“trying to walk through life
but no one moves
out of the way.
guess this is what
invisible
feels like.”

 

From “Tired” –

“you will not touch me
with your creepy fingers.
skin that is dead.
lips that drip falseness.
heart that is stone covered
with plastic love.
don’t play the game with me.
you won’t win.
i’m better at this than you are.
i’m the master of disguise.
i change with every
mood,
shadow,
song,
touch,
kiss,
pain,
scab,
food.”

 

I’m glad I read it.

 

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CJ is a Twitter star, her accomplishments include being a Dumpster Writer, creating #5MinuteAffairs, as well as voicing the Goddess Hera with All in the PantheonYou can also find CJ at her blog.

 

SUPPORT INDIE AUTHORS!

 

 

A few weeks ago, I got word that my application to All in the Pantheon had been approved! The site is a huge collaboration of writers voicing Greek Gods, Goddesses, Muses, and more. The premise is that Zeus called us all back to find jobs in the mortal world and become relevant again. Many had been lost in various revels and journeys, but now it’s time to interact and live amongst you!

 

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Not everyone is pleased about this, and we are a varied bunch, with some innocent and some far from it (looks at Eros). There are warriors, witches, scholars, healers, death, life, love, hate, partying, wisdom, anything you can think of.

 

The scribes are members from Twitter’s writing community. Some of the stories use established mythology and some are embellished a little. It’s a blast, especially when you get to play around with a character because there isn’t a lot of history. Like my goddess, Amphitrite. She is a Nereid and wife/consort of Poseidon, but I get to reinvent her because not a lot was recorded in ancient texts about her.

 

how you doing

 

So I’ve made her a huge flirt, flamboyant, confident, sexy, a partier, willing to push the limits with glee. Basically, she’s my complete opposite! Here is Amphitrite’s Bio page and my FIRST POST was recently published!

 

The Song of Delphine

 

Please check it out if you can. I’m proud of the finished product, and it was my first attempt at a re-telling of a historical myth!

 

I highly recommend following the posts at the site. The scribes are incredibly talented and I am honored to be a part of this wonderful project!

 

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All in the Pantheon links:
Website | TwitterGoodreadsFacebookInstagram

 

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Ah, the money in co-pays I’ve spent this past couple of months just to find out I have a common health condition: Aging. After x-rays, MRIs, and a CT scan, I have been informed I have “degenerative disc disease” (which isn’t an actual disease), and includes bone spurs, a couple of synovial cysts, and other near-incomprehensible terms such as spondylosis. Oh, and apparently, I’ve had scoliosis but no one has ever told me. I guess it’s so common, it’s not worth mentioning (sarcasm).

 

Treatment is – I’m too young for surgery, so physical therapy (and massage therapy if I can pay for it), over the counter pain medication, stretching, perhaps future steroid injections, and just live with it until I can’t function or work or do normal life stuff. I guess this is my introduction to chronic pain.

 

Thankfully, it is bearable. I feel it every day, but I can survive at current pain levels. It causes irritability and depression, but hey. It could be worse, right (sarcasm)? I was told the cause could be genetic or just the luck of the draw. I was in the military and have a sedentary job for almost a decade now. There hasn’t been any major injury that would ring bells. I just seem to have advanced wear and tear on my neck and spine.

 

My symptoms? Weird cracking neck noises, headaches, numbness in arms and hands occasionally, pain in upper thighs, lower back pain. Sometimes I am in pain after grocery shopping and now I know why I hurt so bad when flying because to stay in one position for long periods of time is triggering. At work, if I am standing in one spot and talking to co-workers for even fifteen minutes, my lower back starts to hurt.

 

It’s kind of depressing to know that I have a condition that is painful, but not painful *enough* to do anything about! It feels so typical of my general life vibe, though.

 

Anyone else have this? Back pain is supposedly the second most common issue people go to doctors for outside the common cold!

 

 

This is a collection of short stories by the creator of Ok2BeFat that comes with trigger warnings. Spacesuits contains multiple important ideas that are stated wonderfully. As a fat person myself, I understand exactly what it feels like to be invisible, yet feel very visible at the same time. Society frowns upon fat, looks down their nose at its untidy existence, makes jokes, points fingers, yet you are dismissed as sexless and undesirable, overlooked.

 

The author mentions Wall-E, the cartoon about a futuristic Earth where humans left because the planet was poisoned. We eventually see that all the remaining humans became fat and can’t even bother to lift a finger or walk anywhere, and are shuffled around on hovering easy chairs. I remember this being a great joke to those around me, but I also remember thinking, that’s messed up.

 

The author also asks where are the fat girls in Star Trek. As someone who adores the franchise, I can only assume, as does the author, that the future has cured fat and it would be “solved.”

 

“These stories are born of my rage and frustration and terror.”

“A culture that wishes us erased from existence is a choking poison that I am forced to breathe every single day.”

 

NOTHING LEFT TO BURN

This is a story about a future where being short is desirable and a beauty expectation. Operations, exercise equipment, a strict nutritional regimen, are ways those growing taller can force their unruly bodies to conform.

 

I’M NOT SORRY

This is a disturbing story where people who refuse to “conform” to BMI standards are given the worst jobs and are not considered citizens. People are pressured to “volunteer” to be implanted with devices that monitor their steps, what they eat, what stores they go into.

 

WE SHALL ALL BE HEALED, AT LAST, AT LAST 

In this futuristic story, a character is part of an underground that helps other people who are not BMI approved. The main character has been implanted with a device that ruined their taste buds and controlled their lungs when they were anxious.

 

There is great LGBTQIA rep. I think this is an important addition to feminist and fat activism literature. It is a short and quick read that packs a punch. I hope the author continues writing. I will buy and read for sure!

 

You can find the author at Twitter, at her website, or at her YouTube channel.

Gorgeous cover by Jen Lightfoot.

 

I’ve dragged myself to therapy every other week since about July of this year? Use of the word dragged might indicate a poor attitude on my part from the get-go, but I have enjoyed it. Is that the problem? I have this idea that in order to receive that almost-mythical “breakthrough,” you need to be crying, uncomfortable, way out of your comfort zone, etc. I never get there.

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I’ve seen several therapists over the last decade, and it’s partially helpful. However, I feel like any epiphanies or revelations I’ve had happened on my own. (Honestly, I’ve had more “wow” moments listening to celebrity podcasts.) Recently, I’ve discovered a lot of my issues stem from shame, and I experience the need for control, but it’s from a fear of losing control over my emotions (I could care less if an alpha is in the room and wants to make all the decisions).

 

Every time I see a counselor, I pay thirty dollars for a co-pay and we have a very nice and safe discussion about how my life is going and how I feel about anything stressful or emotional that has happened since the last time. What do I know and is commonly discussed?

 

  1. I am unhappy with my job. My job is a good one and stable, but brings me no joy or passion.
  2.  Sometimes I have family issues that stress me out.
  3.  I feel unlovable and have self-esteem issues and an unhealthy body image.
  4.  I yearn to be creative and have issues with that.
  5.  I need to be more social.
  6.  I feel invisible.
  7.  My main triggers are driving, being around large groups of people, my Mom, my daughter’s father, multiple on-the-spot decision-making, hearing Trump’s voice.

 

There are other items, but the same ones crop up repeatedly. We discuss ways to identify negative thoughts (mood journals or CBT-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), ways to be positive like keeping a gratitude journal, and taking a mood “check” several times a day. These are all great exercises, but I feel like I could do an internet search and come up with this on my own? Is it just me?

 

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I also found out recently that I have arthritis in my neck and either a bone spur or calcified cyst in my lumbar spine. I basically have the back of someone older than me. I even have an appointment with an orthopedic doctor tomorrow. Yeah, I know arthritis is very common, but apparently, I have a lot more of it. I guess the desk job finally caught up with me? I guess my fat (yet flat) butt finally caught up with me?

 

I’ve been going to physical therapy (only recently since I found out). I’ve learned some great stretching exercises, but again, I feel like I could have looked this up on the internet.

Here we go. I actually learned some of these exact ones, only instead of “mid-trap exercise,” it’s a modified Cobra.

 

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Not to mention that all of these $30 co-pays add up like a crazy mofo. Who can afford mental OR physical therapy?! Health care sucks in America. I don’t care what people say. I have it, but I can only use it when my kid gets sick!

 

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I’m not this super-enlightened person, and I realize my issues make me selfish in that I am inside my head, ruminating over my perceptions and problems. I just kinda wish that therapy felt more productive and insightful (just like my blogs about mental health-illness should be, right???).

 

Eh.

Cluster is about Abra Collins, a young woman who journeys through life. Her father is abusive and she learns the heartache of death early. Her sister Gwen, and best friend Neal, supports her through transitioning (she is transgender). She meets a professor at college who becomes a dear friend. She is able to open her dream business, named Cluster.

 

I loved this store! It’s something I would want to run; part coffee shop and music venue, part seller of memorabilia and nostalgic toys and figurines. The setting reminds me a bit of Empire Records or one of those coming of age stories where people hang out and play video games, listen to music, and discuss random fun topics.

 

Plus, Abra runs it with her best friends. Despite the trauma Abra has lived through, she lives a pretty happy life, until a harsh lesson begins to unfold. The one that dictates people move on and change, and evolution as a human will happen, whether you want it to or not.

 

Some life lessons pull Abra along, kicking and screaming (and often are overlooked in denial until they explode). The book is about acceptance, friendship, making your own family, letting go, and many other themes, including feminism, and LGBTQ+ issues.

 

I really liked Calli, Abra’s on and off manic girlfriend. I liked how their relationship evolved and they stuck together even through tough times (which include mental illness).

 

I got involved with all the characters and felt the author did a great job with emotionally writing the cast. Gwen, Olivia, and Calli were my favorites. Abra goes through a LOT. It was pretty realistic with a HEA that is flawed (realistically imperfect) and yearning, yet fulfilling.

 

This was a great debut by an indie author, and I quite enjoyed it. If you are looking for a book that highlights the LGBTQ+ community and features a transgender (she/her) protagonist (or might not be, but want to understand more), you should really read this! Great rep.

 

I found out about this author through the awesome writing community on Twitter. You can purchase Cluster here. It’s also available on Kindle Unlimited.

When I was five years old, we began going to a Pentecostal church as a family. This continued, much to my utter dismay and gnashing of teeth, until I was nineteen, and fled the state to go live in New York City with my best friend, who had received an inheritance and decided to invite me along. I didn’t have to pay rent for a year, but that’s another chapter.

 

As a young child, I had no issues with church. I went to Sunday School and colored Bible scenes like Noah and his animals filing into the Ark, Moses with the Ten Commandments, and Jesus nailed on the cross, impaled by a spear in his gut. You know, family friendly Christian stuff.

 

One day, my Aunt was watching me at home, and I was in my room, playing “Bible.” I had taken off my shirt and put a vest on because I thought that was how people might have dressed back then. My Aunt walked in on me and saw me with no shirt on and started ranting at me. “What are you doing? Why is your shirt off?” I was dumbfounded. But her response closed me up tight, and I refused to offer her the simple explanation and truth.

 

It was something so innocent, but she made me feel guilt and shame. I was punished by having to remain in my room. I sobbed so hard and long that it made me vomit, and I was sick that night. I refused to tell my Mom what had happened and so everyone thought I was “wrong” of doing something, but what? This is how suppression and shame can cycle through extremely conservative religions. The adults in my life cared, but they certainly weren’t progressive.

 

As I grew older, I started getting a little feisty and mouthy, asking questions. Things started to sound fishy to me and when I asked questions, I was never fully satisfied with the memorized, canned responses. “Well, when you get to Heaven, you can ask God all the questions you want.”

 

I remember one young preacher’s sermon where his argument consisted of, “What can it hurt to just be saved and live a godly life? If it turns out there is no God or heaven, then you won’t have lost anything.” Yeah, except a whole life I could have spent having pre-marital sex, drinking booze, watching rated-R movies, getting tattoos, and saying fuck whenever I wanted to.

 

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I remember going to the beach and all the women wore long denim skirts, wading right in the water. Female Pentecostals, at least the members of the church I went to, did not wear pants or shorts, makeup or jewelry. They grew their hair out long and mostly kept it up in matronly buns. Your average sixteen-year-old looked thirty. Hey, I’m not judging (except maybe a little, I’m working on it), and I write this with humor in mind. I went through the phase and tried to adapt to this lifestyle. I was not an attractive teenager by any means.

 

My mother once wore culottes to a Saturday family volleyball event, and an elder came up to her privately and asked that she not wear them again. This same man married a fourteen-year-old when he was twenty-four in the early 1900s and started putting babies in her belly until twelve or fourteen came out. Priorities. I asked about it, and the response was, “Well, that’s just how it was done in those days.”

 

I had a crush on a young man who would go on to be a preacher. Once, at a church gathering in Tennessee (or some Southern state I can’t remember with certainty), I had stayed with his older sister at a long-forgotten person’s house for a week, even offering to iron his shirts because that’s what good women do for men, right?

 

During this revival camp he informed me, in front of several people, that he knew I liked him, but he liked petite girls. Another time during that week, I debated with him about sex, and he insisted missionary style was the only godly position, and he would never have any other kind of sex. He met a fourteen-year-old girl there and claimed he would talk her father into allowing her to marry him by the time she was sixteen. They have about seven or eight kids now. Two examples don’t make a pattern necessarily, but still – those Pentecostal men.

 

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Ironically, I once made an unconfirmed deal with the devil, in the shower (what other mischief was I up to in there?), that I would give him my soul if I could just marry this charming fellow (this was before the “I like petite girls” revelation). I think the devil knew I would make a miserable preacher’s wife, and as such, declined my offer. Talk about dodging a bullet. Thanks, Satan?

 

During church services, the congregation was often screamed at and threatened with fire and brimstone. In the bathrooms, Chick tracts were left on the toilet lids, just waiting to terrify any innocent person who happened to pick them up. I read several and they included scenes like a woman on LSD screaming in the mirror, “My face is melting” and horrified tiny humans standing before old man god on the throne being judged for their sins, while Satan waited hungrily, ready to take them to his pits where they could be tortured for an eternity.

 

Often, a person would stand up during the service and start speaking in tongues. It sounds like gibberish but is supposed to be a special language that might be angelic or unknown to humans and has a fifty-cent word assigned to it: glossolalia. Inevitably, after the person relayed the mystical message, another member would stand and give an interpretation in English. Sometimes, if a revival meeting got really exciting, someone would faint or dance in the spirit. The Holy Spirit. They just fell down, conveniently falling in a manner which caused no injury. It was typically a female, for whatever reason, and there were blankets tucked in the front pews just for this occasion, and another sister would place the blanket over her legs. I’m not sure if this was for modesty or to symbolically keep the Holy Spirit in the worshipper as long as possible.

 

Once I became a teenager, I remember being consumed with boredom and indignation at having to be there and would stare bloody daggers at the pastor because he would just go on and on, running well over the sensible noon-ish cutoff period. I would glare at him while trying to write dark, gothic poetry in my mind. (This was after I discovered goth music and clubbing.)

 

My first concert was Amy Grant and a lot of the congregation thought she was too secular.

 

When I was about twelve, my parents found another youth group at a non-denominational Christian church that my brothers and I started going to, supplementing our mandatory religious experience. I actually did meet some nice kids there. This was when The Monkees had their first reunion, and I devoured their music and the TV show with a girl there.

 

We went to camp once in Tennessee, and I refused to go rappelling because I was self-conscious about my weight. The youth leader convinced me to hike up a mountain with everyone and there was a spot where they had to pull people up over rocks. It was mortifying. There also happened to be a pile of human shit nearby. A random hiker just popped a squat, not even bothering to try and tuck that odorous package away somewhere off to the side.

 

That, combined with the trauma of having my large teenage body handled by men, made for a truly fun-filled adventure. We also had a camp fire where I burned my Motley Crue, Def Leppard, and Ratt cassette tapes because I was shamed and scared into believing they were demonic. Good times.

 

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Ironically, I went home with a girl from the Pentecostal church when I was no older than twelve. She introduced me to shop-lifting which was how I acquired those hair metal band tapes. She also took two marijuana joints from her brother’s closet, and we smoked them, got high, and laughed our asses off in the back of her mother’s car.

 

I ate dinner with them, and the main course was alligator tail. It tasted a bit swampy with a hint of chicken. One other fun fact from that period: this girl and I were walking around her neighborhood (before the marijuana) and a guy pulled up in a car. His window was down, and he leaned over and asked, “Do you girls know where Cherry Street is?” We both seemed to notice his flaccid penis hanging out of his pants at about the same time and ran off screaming, “Gross!”

 

So, the formative years of my life were filled with a religion that shamed and intimidated me. Things didn’t add up; I knew I didn’t belong, but I wasn’t certain that I wouldn’t end up in hell, burning for an eternity if I wasn’t a good enough Christian. Praying to Jesus felt weird. I was the sort to offer up fervent prayers when I needed help. Like, “Please God, don’t let my parents find those Stephen King novels in my closet.” Or those Duran Duran tapes hidden under my mattress.

 

When we weren’t in church, and at home, we wore pants and shorts and bathing suits. My parents weren’t quite as hardcore as most of the others, but even watching PG-rated movies with curse words or crude jokes got the inevitable sidebar comments from Mom and Dad about how Hollywood just couldn’t resist adding those offensive bits in.

 

In case you weren’t aware of The Hollywood Agenda (according to conservative religious Republicans) – it’s all about making everyone gay, godless scoundrels who growl “God Dammit” every other breath, while fornicating with a cigarette in their mouth and a drink in one hand. Off-camera, they believe the actors spend all their time on social media convincing young women to murder unborn babies in a secret bid for population control and to convince the poor and minorities to vote Democrat so they can not bother to work and live off the Government.

 

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It’s safe to say I ended up with issues in my twenties due to religious indoctrination. I know my parents intended well, and they agree now that they went overboard in their misguided and inexperienced youthful parenting. We can’t go back in time and we can’t blame our parents for our issues as adults. But it did leave some issues sealed deep enough that I needed at least a decade to unravel. Perhaps I am still unpeeling the layers.

 

© Shelly Teems 2019

 

Photos from Pixabay

I have always favored fearless men who wear makeup. I am a Generation X child through and through (aka The MTV Generation). I experienced MTV at its inception, when there were only about five videos on repeat. It was glorious. “Video Killed the Radio Star” is the one I remember, but soon to follow were many hits, a lot of them one-hit wonders. I still listen to many of those unforgettable songs, some thirty-something years later. Martha Quinn, Nina Blackwood, J.J. Jackson, yep. They were kind of like my friends.

 

Music has always played a huge role in my life, and it’s because of old-school MTV. I am gleefully out of touch with what is now broadcasting on the music channel – that doesn’t play music anymore – because I despise reality television. I have always hated reality TV. Ironic that my relationship with MTV would be ended over one of my biggest pet peeves. The Real World may not technically be the very first reality television show, but it’s up there with Friends and Seinfeld for my generation. That statement has nothing to do with quality, mind you.

 

But back to men and makeup, Duran Duran fueled many of my early teen fantasies. This was back when I didn’t even have enough carnal knowledge to create full-blown fantasies. I still tried and around 1986-1987 (I’m approximating, obviously), I attempted my first (and so far last) go at fan fiction. All I remember is there was a pool involved. My favorite Duran Duran member was Nick Rhodes.

 

Some of the terms used to distinguish my generation are “latchkey children,” slackers, cynical. We were exposed to the most divorces of any previous generation with more Moms working outside the home (no causal effect intended). Now that we’re all middle-aged, we’re supposed to be decently happy and well-adjusted (according to statistics).

 

But we had great music (including grunge and hip-hop) and great movies. Prince’s Purple Rain changed my life. I thought he was just about the coolest dude ever. I was (and still am) a huge fan of British new wave and there was a lot of makeup going on with Culture Club, Duran Duran, The Cure, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. In my view, Goth will never die.

 

I can remember when the first VHS tapes came out and you could rent them from a store. For me, it would have been Star Wars, The NeverEnding Story, Goonies, The Princess Bride, and Grease (which were all life-changing movies). Leaving out John Hughes movies would be a crime.

 

I can also recall recording Star Trek: The Next Generation on blank tapes off regular cable television. Mixed cassette tapes were also a thing. Since my parents were religious, they wouldn’t allow me to listen to radio music. I would get blank tapes and record the songs I liked off the radio. I always hated how the DJs would talk and talk and talk right up until the second the vocals came in. But beggars couldn’t be choosers. I would hide the tapes under my mattress.

 

I grew up in an age with no computers, no cell phones, no tablets. We had a Commodore 64, but the only game I remember playing was Gyruss. I used to type my college school papers on a typewriter. One of them was about vampires. When you needed to call someone and you weren’t in a house, you used a pay phone. I remember when a dollar would fill up a little brown paper bag with candy from the store (we walked there without parents).

 

I am nostalgic when thinking of that time period. In an age where everything feels recycled, it was original, genuine, classic. Today’s young people may be introduced to the live action version of The Little Mermaid while we were enchanted by the original, which was a new kind of Disney compared to Cinderella and Snow White.

 

I remember when there were only a few television channels. Shows like Family Ties, Growing Pains, Little House on the Prairie, Cheers, and The Cosby Show were popular. You didn’t have hundreds of shows to binge watch on streaming channels. There was no fast-forwarding through commercials. Everyone watched The Muppets, Peanuts/Charlie Brown, and the stop motion Rudolph/Santa movies. (Santa, you’re an asshole!)

 

My brothers and I would watch Scooby-Doo, Inspector Gadget, G.I. Joe, Looney Tunes, anything Hanna-Barbera before and after school and on Saturday mornings. I would collect the comics section from the Sunday newspaper to read.

 

My hair was embarrassingly big. What was up with that wall of hairspray phase? I was incredibly unfashionable for the time period because my family didn’t have the money to invest in fads and trends, but hairspray was cheap.

 

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(Me and the hair, 1991.)

 

PUBERTY

I remember solidifying my love of music when I was in the fourth grade. My teacher would play records while we completed assignments if we were well-behaved. “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran, “Angel of the Morning” and “Queen of hearts” by Juice Newton; there were more, but I can’t remember them now. I was nine. This particular teacher was one of those, when, if you asked if you could do something, would say, “I don’t know, can you?” He had sour breath but was a pretty cool guy.

 

I think this was the year I got mild food poisoning from a ham, lettuce, and mayonnaise sandwich. My Mother would always make us homemade lunches, but since we lived in Florida, the possibility of ripening foodstuff was quite high. One time, another kid took my brown bag lunch (I assume by accident; they all looked alike), and I got theirs. It was a ketchup sandwich. When I complained, the lunchroom monitor said, “Well, everyone is eating, so just make the best of it.” I tried a bite, but needless to say, I went hungry that day. I sincerely hope people aren’t still feeding their kids ketchup sandwiches. Just send them with plain bread.

 

My Mom once told my Grandma (RIP) she was hungry, and Grandma got out the ketchup and spread some on bread and handed it to her. My Mom was like, “What? Seriously?” So, ketchup sandwiches is or was apparently a thing for families without money.

 

In fifth grade, I became obsessed with Grease 2. Not the original Grease, but the sequel with Michelle Pfeiffer, Maxwell Caulfield, Lorna Luft, and Adrian Zmed. I feel this movie is completely under-rated. “Score Tonight,” “Cool Rider,” “Let’s Do It for Our Country?” Musical gems. I will go down with this ship. My friends and I would play Pink Ladies at school. I was a Johnny and Paulette fan.

 

I also fractured my wrist roller skating, which gave me a fear of physical sports, and ended my interest in anything athletic. On the flipside, this began my self-taught vocal training, which ended up with me having a five-octave range, but ended in me squandering it years later when I moved to New York City with a friend and chose drugs and clubbing over pursuing my gift.

 

My ear drum also burst during this period, and I recall laying on the couch in the living room on a heating pad, and my Mom allowing me to watch “V,” the mini-series about reptilian aliens masquerading as humans, starring Marc Singer, Faye Grant, and Jane Badler. This was a life-defining moment for me, and no doubt was a huge influence on my love for science fiction and fantasy. They rebooted V in 2009 but canceled it after only two seasons. Rip off!

 

In sixth grade, I had several close friends and we were all fangirls for the two Coreys (Corey Haim and Corey Feldman), River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, and Sean Astin. The Goonies, Lost Boys, and Stand by Me were huge iconic films for me. I decided I wanted to become an actress. I was so confident and carefree during this time. I actually thought this was a possible goal.

 

We had sex education class and they allowed the girls to order a free “starter” period pack with pads and tampons. It arrived during the summer, when I happened to get my first period. I was not twelve yet. I remember waking up and going to the bathroom and seeing some reddish-brown spots in my underwear. I sat in my room, thinking about this for a long time. Hours, perhaps, before I finally got up the nerve to confide in my Mom. She informed me that I had started my period and then called my Dad to tell him. I was mortified.

 

Thus, began puberty, the worst time of my life. Well, one of the first worst times. I guess I might have first realized I had depression when I took fifty ibuprofens out of the medicine cabinet, swallowed them, and lay down in bed, waiting to see what would happen. Thankfully, nothing did. I went about my routine and knew what I had done was wrong and scary, but I told no one. The full-blown significance of what I had done didn’t hit me until decades later.

 

I had a few friends in seventh grade. One was a charming, but manipulative girl who convinced me to run away from home. We left school grounds and walked through a bad neighborhood, on railroad tracks. She hitch-hiked a ride off some guy in a truck. I refused to sit in the cab with him, so sat in the back while she sat up front. We ended up at her grandmother’s, who of course called the police.

 

My mother tells me now the police officer said we were lucky to be alive. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I did feel bad for the stress it caused my parents. I think it was the first time I heard my Dad cry. Needless to say, we were not friends after that or allowed to associate with each other. I suppose we did have a sort of “Heavenly Creatures” friendship thing going on (if you haven’t seen the movie with Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, directed by Peter Jackson, you should) that was best nipped in the bud before worse things could happen.

 

I had another friend who ended up pregnant at twelve or thirteen and her parents arranged for an abortion. I told my youth group leader because I was still flirting with the whole Christian thing and he tried to intervene and convince her to have the baby and give it up for adoption. She had the abortion. We drifted apart sometime after that, but she was nice, and I hope she is doing well.

 

I had one of my first huge crushes on a guy, and he was nice to the fat girl (me). He would talk to me on the phone but there wasn’t a chance in hell he would ever be interested in me. (Ironically, I would see him again years later when I was a server at The Olive Garden and had lost weight and was acceptably cute. I could tell he was attracted to me then, but he didn’t ask for my number, and I was content to know he missed his chance while still being flattered.)

 

Things deteriorated at home with my relationship with my parents. I had so much anger in my heart towards them. I began to shut myself in my room. I read books and listened to music and sang. That was my life. My performance in school deteriorated so much that I was pulled out and home-schooled for half a year. It was awesome.

 

I spent most of every day in the library and it was paradise. I discovered Stephen King books and vampires. I was able to finish my work and then read the rest of the day. When I tested at the end of the year, I was at a twelfth-grade reading and English level, but barely passed math. I’m not a math person.

 

Ninth grade found me at a Baptist private school where I saw my first video of a saline abortion. I’m pretty sure this type of abortion is rare, but the video proved a great example for the pro-life advocates in charge of the students to trot out to mortify and frighten us. I was properly traumatized, as intended.

 

Sports were everything, so I floundered through an awkward basketball season, running up and down the court, occasionally getting the ball and doing nothing with it. I was catcher during softball season. I remember very little about this year because I didn’t fit in. I had superficial friends and a couple of sporty girls in a grade above who pity-friended me. There were crushes on guys who had zero interest in the fat girl.

 

I was back in public school for tenth grade and until I graduated. A miracle happened. One of the girls from my youth group told me to put my locker near hers by the choir class, which was near the theater. Thus began my high school career as the fat and sarcastically bitchy drama queen. I managed to befriend the popular drama geeks my first year!

 

In my junior year, a friend and I did a duet scene for district competition where we portrayed females who realize they like each other. The scene ended with us kissing (we blocked the scene where we didn’t actually kiss, but the audience couldn’t tell) and the gasps from the audience were satisfying. We got a Superior rating at district, but our Principal wouldn’t let us go to State because she thought the scene might be too controversial and cause trouble. This was 1990, but still, it sucked. I think we felt like rebels who were challenging the status quo and had done something important for the time period.

 

My favorite music during this period was inevitably show tunes. I knew Les Misérables by heart and could sing every part. I also loved Cats, Jekyll & Hyde, Chess, and Into the Woods. I would literally sing in my room for hours, every day. If I hit a note wrong, I would rewind the cassette tape, and do it again and again. My drama teacher picked West Side Story for my senior year. I was pissed off because, let’s face it, deep down, I knew I wasn’t going to get Maria no matter how good I was. In fact, I stumbled upon a conversation with a few drama kids (none were close friends), and one girl said snidely, “Shelly can’t play Maria. She’s too fat.”

 

It was the first time I realized that the roles I could ever hope to get would be limited because of my weight. I think a little bit of my spirit died that day, but I still practiced. I auditioned for Maria anyway and sang “Tonight” and nailed every note.

 

I shocked everyone. My choir teacher immediately called me to the back of the room where she and the drama teacher were during auditions and asked why I hadn’t told her I could sing like that before. The next day, in choir, I was moved from Alto II to Soprano I. I could hit a high G. I got the part of Anita. I can’t dance for shit, which was ironic, but my Spanish teacher, who saw the play, said I had the best accent, so there.

 

We would sneak in the auditorium occasionally and spend the night in there. One time, a girl was in there having sex with her boyfriend with all of us there. I was annoyed with all her moaning and said, “Shut up! We can’t sleep.” She laughed and said I could join them if I wanted.

 

I was very awkward as a teenager and presented a very sarcastic and confident image, but I couldn’t have been more insecure and filled with self-loathing and shame. I had the typical hair-sprayed wall of bangs popular then and zero fashion sense. My family was lower middle class, so clothes shopping was nonexistent. I graduated with very average grades and a “D” in Algebra.

 

That summer I played Golde in Fiddler on the Roof during summer theater. One night during the song “Do You Love Me?” I watched a cockroach crawl across the stage right by my feet. Fifty points to Hufflepuff for staying in character!

 

I started at the community college when grunge music was just taking off. I planned to study music and become an opera singer. Then, I met the guy I would move to New York City with and squandered it all to party and do drugs.

 

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A note from my Aunt after hearing me sing “Somewhere” in West Wide Story, my senior year of high school, 1991. Aunt Kay was one of my favorite aunts who would let me watch rated-R movies when I spent the night. (Sorry, Mom.) She passed from pancreatic cancer in 2017

 

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Flair, 1991 drama geek style.

© Shelly Teems 2019

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