…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Sunday, August 27, 2006

springtime in van nuys

I have a lyric loop bouncing around in my head, the refrain from an air freshener commercial that proclaims, “Spring is in the air!” sung to the tune of “Love Is in the Air,” and I wonder whether my mad itch to revive the backyard is motivated by the song, or maybe the song loop has been triggered by my efforts at renewal—I can’t remember which came first. I prefer to think the latter, because I don’t want to be the kind of person who’s spurred to action by a commercial jingle—that gives Madison Avenue conjurers way too much power, even if I didn’t buy, and can’t even specify, the brand of air freshener in question.

I don’t want to be that neighbor: the one who lets her yard go native and never cleans her house’s exterior and whose property eventually comes to resemble an extremely unintriguing around-the-clock rummage sale. I want to be part of the “improving” neighborhood we moved into, not the albatross that makes fellow homeowners shake their heads as they pass, lamenting, “If it weren’t for those lesbians, our Zip code would be unstoppable.”

Happily, ours isn’t the least-kempt house in the neighborhood; it’s not even in the top 10. Hell, the corner house at the opposite end of our block looks like the set of Sanford and Son, so we have a long way to slide before we’re property value–enemy number 1 in this quarter. Still, don’t encourage us.

To be fair, and I think I can extend that courtesy to myself in my blog, our backyard was dead when we bought the house, so no harm, no foul there. And while the front yard at first appeared ripe with brilliant green promise, it was merely a lawn gesture, a costume the yard had donned for “curb appeal”—the sellers had installed full-sun sod, a groundcover that didn’t stand a chance of thriving in a yard 80% shaded by four mature trees. (The sellers’ bad decisions didn’t stop there: They also installed white wall-to-wall carpet, which would be practical only if we enforced a strict no-shoes policy and carried our pets at all times.)

I was initially determined to make the backyard hospitable for outdoor grilling and dining; maybe we would even have a house-warming party (though we've never hosted a get-together of more than six people, ourselves included). And as it happened my mom and dad were simultaneously preparing for a move themselves, so Mother’s extensive inventory of plants came up for grabs. (The county farm bureau once called her to pitch membership in their organization; based upon the amounts of fertilizer and gardening supplies she bought, she had been flagged as a commercial farmer.)

I couldn’t take on any of her hundreds of varieties of fuschias—her “farming” specialty—since they couldn’t withstand the heat of the valley, but we loaded up on begonias, brugmansia, clivia, sego palms, and the like. She even entrusted to me her mother’s amaryllis, which had been confined to pots since the day my mother dug them up in 1980, when Grandma was moving to a seniors’ village and was determined to take them with her. The flowers did poorly at Grandma’s new place and Mom took them home to her own yard to coax them back to health, an endeavor that took on added significance after Grandma died. I’m still not sure why my mother decided to hand them over to me, as by that point they had taken on the significance of heirloom, but they seemed happy to at last shake off their confining pots and spread their bulbous roots in limitless soil.

The next chapter in the life of our yard wasn’t so bright. After tending the plants assiduously for about a year I slid into an emotional fissure that enveloped all in a pall of meaninglessness, my efforts most of all. To say that I stood idly by and watched our yard die would indicate a presence of mind I didn’t possess. I sleepwalked through the next couple of years while our property, despite my partner’s desperate efforts to the contrary, went native.

Flashing forward to the present, I feel that I have my depression more under control than ever before, and I’m emerging from an 18-month-long energy slump concurrent with an until-recently undiagnosed condition that’s also feeling more under control these days. In short, spring is in the fucking air!

If I’ve learned anything in therapy, it’s that we can’t coax much new growth without clearing out all the dead branches and detritus begat by neglect, the kind of stuff that, if we squint, can fool us into thinking that it is life. It gives a woman pause, cutting all that crap out, because the process really is an acknowledgement of death—the end of that life cycle—and an expression of readiness to exit the static fallow phase and move on to the next cycle, with all the thoughtful and anxious attention that fragile new growth requires.

Nevertheless, I’ve been darting about the yard from one project to the next, grooming and pruning and clearing whatever and wherever necessary. I understand that my efforts are off-season, but what the hell, Southern California doesn’t much observe seasons anyhow, and something tells me that anything managing to live thus far in this backyard—birds of paradise, I think, could survive the nuclear option—is hardy enough to recalibrate to the demands of my psyche.

Some plants are so stricken they have to be cut back flush with the ground to be, with any luck, wholly reincarnated. Others are leggy and overgrown and are cut back to resemble mere sticks emerging at jaunty angles from the earth. Spent branches are laid to rest in our big green recycling container to be hauled away by the city and rendered as mulch, achieving relevance at last in another life cycle.

I visit with the most vulnerable plants daily, testing for hydration as my mother taught me, by inserting one knuckle into the soil, so as to avoid over-watering my charges. With the largest plants and trees I’ve left the hose to drip overnight, moving it to a new host each morning, reassuring each in turn that it’s safe to grow, that any tendrils ventured will be met with all due nourishment. I’m not talking to them exactly—at least not by speaking aloud—but there has been communion. I feel like I’m performing a kind of penance for my past neglect, and I like to think the plants understand that I need them to come back as badly as they need me to feed them.

I remembered noticing some time ago that Starbucks promotes the use of spent coffee grounds as compost and fertilizer for acid-loving plants, an idea confirmed by enough organic gardening sites that I’ve begun sprinkling my daily grind around the camellias. I brew for one, so the grounds barely season the soil. Still, it’s cool to find new ways to repurpose, and any acid-loving, coffee-drinking plant is surely a friend of mine.

My partner has been, understandably, a little anxious about my ministry. She acknowledges that the yard desperately needs help but fears that I’ve been a pinch overzealous in what she calls my “scorched-earth policy.” And I admit that I’m prone to extremes: I tackle projects full-bore or not at all. I also admit that the “yard” I’m paying such precious attention to really does resemble nothing more than dirt and sticks in the big picture.

But when I squint I see the little shoots poking out of the ground, the tiny sprouts along the sticks, and I know that we’ve begun a new chapter together.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

grammar for anti-dummies

Once we leave high school, our composition skills are unlikely to see further instruction. Sad, that. Even we English majors seldom see significant improvement in our core knowledge of sentence structure and grammar post–K-12. Sure, we exit college with a wicked ability to talk smack about Joseph Conrad’s use of symbol and TS Eliot’s meter, but the actual verbiage of our essays? Strictly high school.

The miracle of e-mail distanced us further still from our practice of composition in that even as it encourages greater and more frequent communication, it also prompts faster, less structured missives, its deconstruction of language aided and abetted by the shorthand adopted by users of Internet discussion boards and text-messaging.

But just as the Internet taketh away, the Internet giveth back: Enter blogging, the 21st-century savior of written language. If that seems like an overstatement, consider this: Other than a blog entry, what’s the last thing you wrote that qualified as a composition, with a main idea, reasonably formal sentence and paragraph structure, and a general sense of wholeness? Blogging is good for you!

Sure, there are bloggers who post word vomit, but I don’t read their blogs and I suspect that you don’t either. You’re a discerning reader, a well-versed blogger, and a better person for your attention to detail. It’s that attention to detail I hope to engage here.

I thought it might be fun to occasionally write about something other than myself, but I can make just about anything about me, other than subjects I don't know anything about like nuclear physics or golf, and who wants to hear the pontifications of someone who lacks any authority on the subject under discussion—other than Bill O'Reilly's estimated 2.5 million daily viewers?

Hey, I thought, with a snap of my fingers, maybe I should natter on about instances of grammatical misuse that are so prevalent they have very nearly overtaken correct usage, the kinds of mistakes I routinely encounter among not just casual but professional writers.

Presenting the inaugural entry in what I hope will be continuing series, a sort of Grammar for Anti-Dummies. Read forth and be edified, then flaunt your correctitude proudly. And please don’t fret over whether you’ve personally made the kinds of mistakes cited. In the case of today’s subject, misuse is as epidemic as that crystal meth I hear so much about. And even if you have made such a mistake, no one noticed except the odd English teacher or copy editor, and, really, how many of those types regularly read your blog?

Without further ado, I present today’s lesson:

When using the phrase “more important” or “most important” to give weight to an item in a list, reject the common instinct to write “importantly.”

The boring English-teacher reason is that “important” is an adjective and is used to modify nouns, of which your list items are almost certainly composed. “Importantly” is an adverb and is therefore properly used as a modifier of action and circumstance.

Take the following:

The primary tools of my trade are a computer, a red pen, and, most important, a good dictionary.

While “most importantly” might sound correct in this instance, the subtle addition of that “ly” would imply thought or action on the dictionary’s part, and while dictionaries are important (sayeth the copy editor), they cannot think or do anything—though if they could, they would certainly do it in a self-important manner.

Also note that if you reframe the sentence*, it wouldn’t make sense to say, “A good dictionary is most importantly to my trade.”

*This is a handy tool when questioning usage in your own writing (especially when you don’t have an English teacher or grammar handbook nearby): Try reversing noun and verb order in your head to see whether your sentence still makes sense.

In general, an introductory “more” or “most” will call for the adjective “important.”

Reserve the word “importantly” to color a character:

President Bush strides importantly about the room, knowing as he does that Jesus is on his side.

Take out the word “importantly” and the tone of the sentence is ambiguous, leaving it up to the reader to decide whether the author means to characterize Bush as heroic or arrogant. Inserting the word solidifies the tone as dryly sarcastic and disparaging, a tone one should always employ when discussing the current administration. Instances are few in which you might describe a person as acting “importantly” without conveying mockery.

The adverb form can also color the significance of an action or perception:

Sexy CSI Sara Sidle kicked open the door to the crack den and noted, importantly, that the abandoned warehouse smelled uncharacteristically of bleach and cleaning agents.

Sure, Jorja Fox is a total lesbionic babe, but the more important point of the sentence is that her character has perceived something amiss in the crack den (even more amiss than are crack dens’ general wont).

Pretty simple stuff, this “important” vs. “importantly” distinction. If you’ve read this far, I hope it was worth your time, and, more important, I hope you feel like a total grammar stud. Blog fierce!

(OK, that should properly be “Blog fiercely,” but the proper form just doesn’t have the rat-a-tat cadence I want. Secondary lesson of the day: Never let boring old rules get in the way of your self-expression.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

you want a piece of me?

This may be the most important blog entry you’ll ever read.

I received an e-mail message Monday from a gentleman named Andrey Vladimirovich Popov. Rather, it was forwarded to me by a friend whose hard heart blinded him to the purity of Mr. Popov’s motives in pleading for financial assistance to save his little niece Elina’s life. Elina, he says, suffers from tetarado fallo, a rare and fatal congenital heart disease.

A bit of a skeptic myself—it’s the human condition, I’m afraid—I Googled Elina’s illness only to find Mr. Popov’s claim to be absolutely true: Tetarado fallo is in fact so rare the search query returns not a single hit on Google! Poor Elina, who is too young to understand, in Mr. Popov’s words, “that her life can be stopped suddenly in the absence of money.” (Mr. Popov’s awkward, foreigner’s grasp of English isn’t the least of his charms!)

Sure, I could have sent Mr. Popov the $1, $10, or $100 he requested—whatever I’m comfortable sending, his humble hat-in-hand tone conveyed. But, as is so often the case, I found myself wanting to do more than could be achieved with my own humble finances.

In a moment of pure inspiration I hooked Mr. Popov up with Dr. Bisi Odum, a Nigerian friend (pen pal? How are we to refer to letter friends in the age of e-mail?) I’ve been corresponding with for some months. Dr. Odum is in contact with someone in the employ of a government official who desperately needs help in transferring a great fortune he acquired while helping a disgraced dignitary to flee the country. When I first heard from Dr. Odum in June 2005, I wondered why on earth someone so remote and with such riches to share would contact me, and now I finally have my answer: because I was fated to act the catalyst for two needful men, one in need of a fortune and the other in need of someone (with a bank account) with whom to share his fortune. Serendipity, thy name is Scout!

I share with you this heartwarming tale to illustrate my sincere belief in the awesome power of humankind when united toward a common goal. Together we can do anything, from saving little Elina’s life through the largesse of opportunistic Nigerian government officials to enabling each other to actualize the greatness we harbor within, which brings me to my own humble story.

When you visit your local bookstore you may ask yourself, What do all these published authors have that Scout doesn’t have? More talent? More drive? People skills? Better ideas? Interesting lives? Connections? Agents? A contract? All are respectable answers, dear readers, but each fail to address the core issue: financial freedom.

Friends tell me, “Say, Scout, that Nicole Richie published a book, and she’s a complete moron. How come you don’t write a book?”

Well, Nicole Richie doesn’t spend eight hours a day fixing other people’s writing, does she? No. Her family is wealthy, because her dad was a Commodore and still gets residuals every time you hear “Three Times a Lady,” and I think he also had a solo career, and she therefore has plenty of money and plenty of time to write a novel, the content of which someone like me must fix in order to make her appear literate. Do you see how unfair the world is? Just because my father worked at an oil refinery instead of joining the Commodores—and my dad totally could have rocked “Brick House”—my voice is silenced.

You may be tempted to minimize my plight by insisting that I can write in my off hours. If such rationale makes you better able to ignore the sound of my soul screaming, that’s your demon to wrestle, but I would be remiss in not telling you that patrons of the arts sit at the right hand of God in heaven. (Unfortunately, everybody nowadays claims God promised him or her a seat at his right hand. To accommodate the influx of do-gooders, individual seats have been torn out and replaced with Astroturf for a “festival seating” atmosphere. Left-hand-of-God seating is still available, with preference given to American Express cardholders. God apologizes for any inconvenience or seating arrangements otherwise implied.)

When I come home from work I’m bone-tired. Some speak of “desk jobs” as though we office workers are just a bunch of lazy clock-watchers. Ha! Until they sit a spell in my ergonomic desk chair they simply can’t appreciate the challenge of reading sentence after clumsily executed sentence, a red pen poised just above the page, ready to correct any offending text. And as if that isn’t stressful enough, I often must contact informants to ensure that they’re represented accurately and that their names are spelled correctly and such, and those informants aren’t always cooperative with us journalistic types; sometimes they don’t want their names spelled correctly, but I press on in the service of accuracy.

As far as my weekends go, there’s so much to catch up on: laundry and grocery shopping and petting my animal companions, plus watching quality television like Meerkat Manor and Intervention. In other words, it’s simply impossible to write the great, great novel that lurks within me while working a full-time job. And that’s where you come in.

For a limited time, I’m offering readers of my blog the opportunity to support me in the lifestyle to which I aspire as I make the leap from anonymous copy editor to renowned author. Before you say “yes!” to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, read what the critics have been saying about Scout:

“As with real gems, I find myself not so much thinking, as just feeling dazzled.” —hopskipjump

“Can I get an ‘AMEN’?” —slangred

“Orgazzzzzzzzmic.” —eb

“The more I learn about you, the more fascinating you are.” —wordsrock

“God, I'm so turned on.” —wenwhit

Convinced? Don’t commit yet; here’s what you’ll get with your sponsorship:

• Lifetime membership in Scout’s fan club
• A personally inscribed copy of the novel you finance (impersonally autographed copies available on request for enterprising sorts who wish to sell theirs for big bucks on eBay)
• One or more characters in said novel named after you
• One insertion in said novel of something—an item, place, person, etc.—personally meaningful to you, so long as your requested insertion does not alter the plot. For instance, a request to incorporate your dachshund, a favorite café, or Cheetos® would be cheerfully granted, whereas a request to insert the poem you’ve written about your dachshund, favorite café, or Cheetos® may be refused if said novel is not amenable to a poet character
• Bragging rights
• Everlasting self-satisfaction for having enabled art to flourish

Ready to commit? Well, hold on to your girdles, because you haven’t heard the best part: All of this is available to you at the introductory Founders Circle™ rate of just $10,000! Not only that, but for every Founders Circle™ sponsorship sold, I will donate $1 in that member’s name to Elina Popov. This offer is strictly limited to those who accept it; once Founders Circle™ sponsorships have been issued to all who respond, there will be no more sold. Act now by sending your personal bank account information to

Remember: The greater the number of readers who respond to this unbelievable offer, the better my lifestyle will be.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

cleavage crossing

It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be—nor was it as "bad" as I thought it would be, like, you know, bad in a good way. I had put it off for years, always making excuses when confronted with the issue: "Oh, I have other plans" or "I can't afford it today" or "I'd love to, but I've given up food."

Nevertheless, I knew that one day I would have to go to Hooters.

Working for the Gay Agenda™ as I do, one might expect that it would be all too easy for me to enjoy a Hooters-free lifestyle. Au contraire! Ever since the chain opened a Hollywood Boulevard location, just steps from my office building, I've been under enormous pressure to submit to the traffic-cone-orange NASCAR-dadness of it all.

My gay male coworkers, it seems, can't get enough of the joint—and the Hooters Girls can't get enough of them. The gay boys wink at the HGs conspiratorially: We get it, they seem to communicate telepathically, we can appreciate the irony and campy theatricality of the situation. And we will wildy overtip you.

But the scenario is far more charged for a lesbian since many, though not all, straight women believe that all lesbians want them, and these women, the ones who think lesbians indiscriminately lust after all women, seem alternately fascinated and repulsed by the idea of being an object of lust for women, even if they've gone out of their way to objectify themselves to the world at large.

So when I walk into Hooters—as I was compelled to do Friday when my very best work friend chose to celebrate his final day at the company with a heaping plate of hot wings—my whole demeanor has to say, "I'm so not here for the scenery," which isn't hard for me, because Hooters Girls are so not my type*.

*A word on "my type": A coworker of mine used to constantly bring magazines to my desk to show me "hot" girls, trying to suss out what he must have judged my unfathomably peculiar taste in women. I would shake my head and send him away every time, thinking that he'd one day realize he wasn't going to find my dream girl in the pages of Maxim, but the dear boy kept trying, for all his effort managing only to further delineate the difference between gay male and lesbian ideals of womanhood. (For the record I'll state here that I have on more than one occasion admired a dyke from afar only to realize on closer inspection, and with a fair amount of chagrin, that I'm sizing up a boy—and one who might be underage at that.) Suffice to say that my type, inasmuch as I'll cop to having one, would not be invited back for a second interview at the Hooters hiring fair.

Once seated, though, I thought Hooters seemed like almost any other noisy, gimmicky chain restaurant, the main difference being that the wait staff was far less dispirited than the typical white-shirted and aproned college kids who might inhabit the Planet Hollywood galaxy. Our server, Danetra, was friendly and enthusiastic, and three other Hooters Girls who stopped by—it's a sort of tradition, I gather, that HGs visit parties outside their own stations to spread the love, signing your table ticket while they mingle—were equally bubbly, and not in an airheaded way. I imagine we might have collected more HG autographs had we been a party of businessmen instead of three gay guys and two women, but we were shown quite enough attention for my taste, and the attention was kind, not teasing or demeaning—to us or to the HGs in question.

At the end of the day I was left to question why I had stood my anti-Hooters ground so fervently.

Could be that I was brought up in a family atmosphere where any display of female sexuality was characterized as exploitative and demeaning. Watching movies with my mom as a kid, I dreaded any hint of female nudity. A single exposed breast would turn her mood dark, her sudden, palpable anger throwing the whole family in to a state of discomfort. And need I note that she had absolutely no tolerance for the idea that a man really might read Playboy for the articles?

I remember being in the car with her once, I was maybe 13, when she spotted a nasty magazine lying in the middle of a busy street. She wheeled the car around and approached it as slowly as she could given the traffic—maybe 15 mph—and she instructed me to open the car door and pick it up as we passed over it. You have to hand it to her precision driving—she positioned the car perfectly so that I could open the door and scoop up the offending literature without a hitch.

Imagine our surprise when we saw that the flesh she had spotted from a moving car belonged to a fully erect man and that the magazine was Honcho, a gay men's skin mag. We laughed as she sped away, feeling conspiratorial, like we had not only performed an important anti-smut service but were being a little naughty ourselves in the bargain. On our way home we drove through the alley behind a grocery store to dispose of the magazine in their gigantic garbage bin—she didn't want any neighbors to find it in our trash—but we furtively flipped through its pages before tossing it away, embarrassed and thrilled by its contents.

During my brief, brilliant career as a copywriter in gay male erotica, I found myself equivocating: Men are exhibitionists, I reasoned, and there's nothing exploitative in providing an arena for their exhibitionism. But it strikes me now that defining displays of male sexuality as mutually agreed upon exhibitionism and female displays as exploitation is terribly anti-feminist. It discredits any female who cares to exhibit her sexuality, and doubly objectifies women who participate in erotica—or work at Hooters—by discounting their free will. Women are too complicated to be sorted into my mother's absolute categories of saints, whores, and victims.

I actually like Hooters of America's coy "Who, us?" corporate stance on their image, as taken from the "about" section on their official site: "The chain acknowledges that many consider 'Hooters' a slang term for a portion of the female anatomy. Hooters does have an owl inside its logo and uses an owl theme sufficiently to allow debate to occur over the meaning's intent. The chain enjoys and benefits from this debate."

Despite any grudging slack I've extended toward Hooters since my fateful Friday lunch, I'm not sure I'd ever be inclined to go back. The food was ordinary and overpriced, like almost any other noisy, gimmicky chain restaurant, and I had a tough time finding menu items that weren't deep-fried. But Hooters Girls, while still not my type, are another story entirely. I think I'd be happy to hang out with just about any of them anytime. And if they promise not to jump to any unfounded conclusions about my trying to get inside their little orange shorts, I promise to give full faith and credit to their judicious exercise of free will.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

on the couch, on the porch

"No one in our family takes meds," my mother-in-law told me. "Not voluntary meds, anyway."

We were sitting on the porch at the beach house, rocking actually, a couple of nights in to our vacation. She had just paid me a great compliment, in my estimation, noting that I'm a welcome even keel amid an often turbulent family, the dynamic of which can best be described as...competitive? Contentious even? She had tsked some wholly unnecessary tension that had lately occurred, and I joked that everybody just needed better meds, which begat the above statement.

I suppose the meds I take could be described as "voluntary," inasmuch as I chose to begin taking them rather than following through with plans to end my life. Still, the statement hit me funny, especially since it followed an observation that had my in-laws chosen to take psychotropic medications, sure, they might be more even-tempered, but they would also likely be less ambitious and accomplished.

I've fought feelings of inadequacy throughout much of my relationship. I'm a blue-collar girl who married into a blue-blooded family, and I have frequently felt like a fish out of water--I'm not even sure the land mammals any longer expect me to adapt. "This is our daughter's partner, Scout," they may say. "Please try to ignore the gills."

But since going on meds I've felt less and less pressure to fit in and ever more freedom to be myself. Time with my in-laws no longer casts a thoroughly opaque shroud over my personality. Upcoming visits no longer fill me with quite so much dread that I'll never be worthy of their hospitality--or their daughter.

Whenever my therapist catches me stigmatizing myself for my reliance on meds--such a difficult habit to break from within when it's constantly reinforced from without--she reminds me that meds haven't shut me off from the world, they allow me to make myself available to it.

Depression that first expresses itself in chronic sadness acquires a hard patina when the misery becomes too much to bear, leaving the soul a numb void that can no longer be touched--for good or for ill. Once I realized I no longer found joy in anything that had previously given my life meaning, I knew I'd have to get help or get out. I got help.

I think it's good that I found my mother-in-law's remark about "voluntary meds" jarring. A lack of surprise may have indicated an unwanted level of agreement, some acknowledgement on my part that I am weak, "less than," for choosing the easy road. I hope I don't sound like a T-shirt when I say that what I have chosen is life, and anyone who thinks that's an easy road simply hasn't met me on a fair playing field.