• DRINK TO THE LASSES: Notes from a Woman's College Womb
    DRINK TO THE LASSES: Notes from a Woman's College Womb
    by Mary Beth Ellis
  • Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers
    Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers
    Random House Trade Paperbacks
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It's Okay

A visit to my alma mater was relatively pleasant, but not spectacular. The bottomless affirmation hole that is me, therefore, categorizes this as "Utter Failure, Category 2." When I don't care about something, the half-assery of it all is discernable from distant galaxies. Countless lumpy art projects, frustrated former bosses, and barely-completed Spanish 101 worksheets shout the testimony. But if it matters, and if there is PowerPoint, I chase standing ovations and fireworks and conversions to Jesus on the spot, and if none of this happens...oh. There's that loser sound effect from The Price Is Right, followed by a five-hour, one-woman power lunch of further PowerPoint, mental PowerPoint, with all the obnoxious zoomy sounds and spinning pie charts I deserve, dissecting What Went Wrong.

Given that I had no earthly clue how to talk to high school-aged people when I was in high school, I might have cut myself a break, given that the girls were plopped before me directly after lunch and directly before a detention session. I had no right to present them with the check from a lifetime of an achievement-based self esteem. Still, I was paralyzed regarding the next night's appearance at the College of Mount St. Joseph. There had been actual preparation regarding the high school speech-- twenty! slides!--but this next one was utterly projector-free.

"What are you going to talk about?" Josh The Pilot asked, two hours before I went on.

"I'm thinking about it," I said, unable to let him in on the fact that "thinking about it" consisted of staging a cage match between a dragon puppet and a horse puppet for the amusement of Jim The Small Child Nephew.

What I was thinking about was pain, and how writing, even humor writing, especially humor writing, stems directly from it. I thought we non-fictionistas had the pain market cornered, but a fiction writer in my MFA program once attested that novels and short stories, too, consist of disemboweling oneself directly onto the keyboard. Messy, yes. Interesting, also yes.

I think it's because we're literally born of pain. We might not feel it--we're too busy being slimy and cold-- but Mommy sure does. It's the very first sensation we're aware that other people experience.

My godchild, who normally leaps from juice box to little brother patrol to living room recreation of Radiator Springs-- he knows it too. Usually he doesn't notice me much except when I appear bearing His Majesty's Happy Meal, and that's all right. That's his job. He's not the Department of Health and Human Services; he is, instead, three. He does not exist for my self-affirmation. That's Bridezillas' job. But last week, Jim pointed at a wound on my finger.

"What happened?" he said.

"Aunt Beth is hurt," I told him, because "Aunt Beth suffers from a mild form of onychophagia, which is rooted in her ridiculously high expectations of herself and her total inability to self-regulate during stressful episodes" was not covered on Sesame Street last week. This satisfied him for the moment, as Uncle Josh came by with a lion puppet, which meant that another round of cage matches was in order.

But Jim returned to the offending thumb later in the afternoon. "What happened?"

I repeated my answer, but there was no lion to save me now. He pondered this for a moment, then said, "It's okay?"

"Yes," I told him, "it's okay."

"I make it better?"

I assured him that with the possible exception of a trip to an R-rated movie, he makes everything better, including (and I'm making, I'm aware, a wild assumption here) childbirth. Because writing from pain wouldn't be any fun at all if there weren't literary Tylenol in the form of-- well, you.

Thank you, Tylenol.

yay The Readers at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com



Many thanks for the chest-releated concern. I'm on Cipro now, so if anybody is planning an anthrax attack, go ahead on.

I spoke at my alma mater yesterday, the entire time wanting to smoke a cigarette, not because I smoke, but because, as always, I could. But I reverted to True Self, and meekly followed freshman staircase traffic patterns even when the alumnae hostess encouraged me to cozy up to any old banister. It also shouldn't surprise you that I was running behind due to snow, which meant that my mommy had to call the main office and let the staff know that I was going to be late for class. I have learned nothing.

The building has been highly renovated. Places where walls used to be now host state-of-the-art Mac labs, professional theatre makeup rooms, and digital television studios. I am not sure how I feel about a fourteen-year-old having more hard drive space and a better graphics platform than I do, but given that all I would do with it is stick Calista Flockhart's head on Arnold Schwarzenegger's body, perhaps it's for the best, cosmically.

Josh The Pilot was there, too, and stirred much more interest than I did, given that he was a male under 40 in a womens' school. It totally made up for not having a boyfriend in high school, because instead of merely everyone I knew being jealous of me, it was everyone I saw. By the end of the session, the girls were still glaring at me, but their heads were maybe one millimeter off the desk, which I claim as a great victory.

One student asked me, "How do writers get their work published?" I congratulated her on summing up every day of my life in one sentence.

careered at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com


Two Poppys, One EKG

When Jim The Small Child Nephew was about two, he noticed both of his grandfathers sitting side by side on a couch at a family party. He looked quizzically from one to the other, as apparently he had not heretofore considered that they might coexist. Finally he announced, "Two Poppys!", which seemed to settle the matter. He then returned to his busy day of throwing such things as tantrums.

I wish I could have imported his interpretive skills today, because I woke up with the same alarming chest pains I'd gone to bed with the previous evening. The (drug side-effect commercial voice) discomfort started about two days after I began a course of antibiotics, so I didn't think much of it at first, but when the room starts spinning and you're kept pinned to the bed merely by what feels like a bowling ball lodged in your chest, you... start to think much of it.

Let us stipulate that a person with OCD, a scary drug reaction, and an Internet connection are never a recipie for a peaceful day. By noon I was suffering from a pulmonary embolism and ear cancer, complicated by angina. An hour later I was hooked up to the EKG machine at the nearest emergency clinic, listening to the doctor on call prescribe yet another drug for a very severe case of... heartburn, complicated by stress and taking the antibiotic directly before bed and without food or water or uprightness, precisely not as directed.

At least there's only one of me.

may cause... at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com


Ode To the eStack

Who are you, there upon my Excel spreadsheet?

Are you

youngest, eldest, hungry, of divorce, of Microsoft, of gunshot wound, cutting, dumped, newly infatuated?

the quarterback?

in the middle, not applauded, not shooed aside on the bus, the filler on the roster?

the Christian one, always with the "Excuse me, but..?"

fighting to reinvent--grade school, it didn't go too well, and you are already beginning to suspect that you could win the Nobel Prize and in forty years your classmates will see you on the news and go "Dude! It's the kid who always wore the tee shirt with the tiger head!"

the outcast, two different shoes on purpose, with John Adams in her locker-- the me?

pretty to look at, and so the one who decides who lives or dies at the lunch table?

peaking? (Enjoy.)

the one with green hair, journal crammed with pronouncements of death, mentally composed as your mother serves the meatloaf?

the locker-room bicycle?

the one your peers will suddenly realize is missing at the reunion: "Guam? Really!"

the one who can draw, the one who can sing, the one who can run, the one who can make that awesome noise?

Or don't you even know yet?

the Computer Guy, intolerable?

the one making snide remarks re: the Computer Guy, intolerable, although he shall bear the power to reinstate network wireless capabilities?

in desperate need of Life telling you what it is, 'cause it all rolls your way no matter what, and for this, your future college teachers shall pay?

What are your parents telling you about America?

Do you believe it?

I might hear from you later on

for the Presidency, for murder, from Mars

name on the sheet I'll forget in about two minutes forty seconds or however much longer I've got to go on this thing

but all I know... to me... right now...

is that you

are a person

who cannot use a semicolon.

epoetryslam at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com


Event Reminder

On Feb. 28, I'm speaking at the College of Mount St. Joseph On The Ohio (yes, that's all one school, and now you also know why we locals risk the snickering and simply refer to it as "the Mount.") My mother graduated from here in the days when the undergrads were expected to follow a dress code, which mandated skirts of a certain length. Pants, I hear, are now acceptable. Hooray for pants!

Details here. Please wear pants, or a reasonable facsimile.

P.S.: An appearance at my alma mater, Mother of Mercy High School, is also listed, but that event is limited to students only. I mean, you can try to sneak in, but I wouldn't recommend it. Unless you're between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, wearing an issue-only uniform, and a girl, you're at a significant disadvantage.

return at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com