Positively Kick Ass

Making the most of smallish vices

Like vanity.

Back in April, I tried and failed to hook up with Oregon Humanities' "Conversation Project" with a proposal to talk wolves with the good (and fractious) people of our adopted state. The folks (sorry, contagious Obama-speak) who eventually rejected my application were almost certainly wise not to entrust such a hot potato to these less-than-steady hands, though I do think I might have managed it if I were at full health and strength.

Anyhoo, as someone who hasn't always responded well to frustration and rejection, I was proud even in the moment that I laid disappointment and self-doubt aside to dance a new step in the tough guy tango choreographed by Samuel Beckett: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." I sent in a short piece for consideration for their magazine, for a summer issue with the theme "Start."

I forgot to let you all know that they published it, and I have their permission to put it up here. Hope you like it.

From  Edmund Dulac's  illustrations of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid."

From Edmund Dulac's illustrations of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid."


Fantasies of transformation flock to the New Year like overwintering birds. We may be thirteen or seventy, and still we home in the dead cold to a bright dream. We may no longer believe in Santa Claus, but our search for fairy godmothers intensifies as the old year wanes. We scour the self-help shelves and page through catalogs fat with promises: New Year. New Look. New You. This time, we think. At midnight the exhausted husk of outworn artifice will finally split, and we will emerge in all the tenderness of truth: our destined selves.

But we should be careful what we wish for. Metamorphosis always exacts a price.

Never in my life have I had as much confidence as I did this year that I would be transformed. On a day in late December when I waited in line at Safeway to buy gauze and rubbing alcohol, I laughed to read the headlines on Marie Claire: “Lose Four Pounds and Six Inches Overnight.” It can be done, I thought. Ask me how.

I didn’t have a fairy godmother, but I did have a diagnosis, insurance, and a handsome young surgeon. He’d drawn my breasts in rough diagram on the paper carapace of the examining table and shown me the angle of the cuts he’d make. Though I’d given up dreaming of radiant re-emergence when I’d discovered the depth of my desire simply to stay alive, my sudden passion for the staus quo would radically alter me.

The catalogs try to sell you a sun-kissed life for the price of a fine slipper or sandal, but Hans Christian Andersen had a better grasp on the true costs of transformation. The witch who offers legs to the little mermaid tells her: “The best you possess is my price for the precious drink. I shall have to put my own blood into it, to make the drink as sharp as a two-edged sword… Put out your little tongue; then I’ll cut it off in payment, and you shall have your magic drink!”

Midway through this newest year, I’m much changed by my encounters with knives and double-edged drinks. My breasts and hair are gone, but they weren’t the best I possess. As long as I keep a tongue in my mouth, I’ll count my bargain a good one.