Monday, December 31, 2012

The Eve of Something Big

Silly hats and semi-nudity
for New Year's Eve are a must.
This is my favorite of all the winter holidays.
This eve of the new year.
My celebration is quiet now.
It didn't used to be. There used to be horns and dancing and wild expectations and empty arms at midnight. It wasn't my favorite then.
Now it involves silly hats and self-portraits and discounted Christmas food. Quiet reverie and perhaps some knitting, some snuggling and some every-day-ness that all culminates in the simple knowledge that I will wake up in a new calendar tomorrow.

I don't make new year's resolutions. That's a lie. I make them all the time. I resolutely don't make them in the new year, though. I make them when I think of them, regardless of the date because every day that you wake up is the first day of a new year. It's one of the nice things about the cyclical nature of time.

I devise a theme for my new year, though. It's one of the joys that sustains me through the holiday season, this theme devising. It's like a gift to myself that I can open up and use all year. My favorite kind. More on that tomorrow.

Tonight is for reflection. Last year, my theme was "Tree". That makes no sense when I say it like that, so I'll just post a link here for you to see what all that's about. I re-read that post just today and think I've done all right. I think there were some surprises and some setbacks, but that is how things go.

I'm ending this year in a different place than I started it and I think that's the key, right? I would be so depressed by looking back over blankets of sameness. I am contemplating my year ahead and thinking about the summer sausage we'll be having for dinner. I am listening to my monkeys wrestle and make deals with each other about things that are vital only to them. I am warm, I am content. I have lots of room to grow.

It's been a pretty good year. I wish you all so much good in your new years. I am grateful for your presence in this strange netherworld of pixels and light.

This is the eve of something big. I can feel it. I can always feel it. A whole year unfolding fresh and clean ahead and all the possibilities. Savor the anticipation. I received this note from a dear friend of mine a few years ago on new year's eve and it's kind of a tradition for me to review it every year:

I've got a feeling that this is going to be your kind of year. That you'll be happier than you've ever been, laughing harder, smiling wider, standing taller, walking lighter, dancing crazier, hugging longer, living grander, loving louder, and if you want, selling the pictures to a tabloid to raise money for your new charity.
These are the wishes I have for everyone, really. If we all did even a few of these things, how much better this place would be.

For now, my discount summer sausage and smoked cheddar cheese is calling.
Hugs and kisses to you all.
Make this the eve of something big.

Monday, December 24, 2012

To All A Good Night...

Wishing you all warm  - all you people.
The new ones and the ones who have been around a while.
For a lot of us, it's a big holiday tomorrow.
That's fun.
Holidays are fun. Celebrations are exciting. I love them quite a bit myself.
If it's not fun, don't fret. The thing of it is never as fun as the anticipation.
If it's not perfect, well, welcome to humanity.
If it's lonely or depressing or worse, know that I pray for you. I do.
Each day I pray for all the hurting. All of them. If that includes you, know you aren't forgotten.

Savor it all. It all makes up our lives. It's all necessary. Even the nonsense, even the pain, even the crazy, even the boring, even the empty. There's space for all of it.

These are my thoughts as the days slowly lengthen again, as the year comes winding down, as activity slows and we settle in to enjoy this space we've made in our calendar for giving, for sharing, for eating good food. Take from them what you will. Chuck them out with the wrapping paper and tinsel if you'd like.

I celebrate Christmas after a fashion, so I will say Merry Christmas to you.
Enjoy the days you are given.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Let's Make Some Magic

So then I said to her, oh no you di'int and she was all whatever sucka, I di'id. And then I was all well you just don't even know...

This broadcast has been interrupted to bring you this special report:

It has come to my attention that there's a very real little girl that needs our help. Tara from Faith In Ambiguity and her husband Mike are raising money for a sick little girl and her family in their community who really, really need it. Read more details from Tara here.

Here's the thing. There are the bell ringers, there are the folks who send you the free address labels with the puppies and kittens and ask for a donation, around here there are people from every cause imaginable who come door to door, or who stop you on street corners. Everywhere, it seems, there are people or causes that want our time and our money. Most of them are valid. (Except I never did get my subscription to Garden & Gun that I ordered from that man who came to my door. I hope that he used my $40 well. I didn't really need the magazine, I just wanted to help out. Oh no you di'int! Girl, you a sucker! Hush. That program has been interrupted.) We all have our own stuff going on, I understand that. But this is something so simple, so tangible, so immediate and necessary. Take a minute and read Lidija's story and you decide.

I'm going to go all Sally Struthers on yo' ass now. (I apologize for that. I don't know where that keeps coming from.)
My chips and queso, if I get them on sale (and I always do) cost me about $5 and last me a few days. Depends on how hard I'm hitting them. So, that's my fun money. $5 every few days for my little gastronomic indulgence that I neither need, nor is it good for me. Here's the kicker, though: I can actually eat chips and queso. Lidija can't. She can't eat anything except one specialized formula that (of course) isn't covered by insurance. We can joke about overeating on the holidays and chocolate and all the ha ha funny funny stuff that gets trotted around the barnyard every holiday season or we can seriously think about a six year old who can't eat cookies. Send her your wine money, send her your coffee money, send her the change you found in your car floor and your cushions, just do something to help this family.

If you can't spare a dime (I know how this can be) then use your influence, spread the word. Make social media worth something more than mean jokes and hedgehog pictures. You probably know generous people who would jump at the chance. I don't know them, Tara doesn't know them, Lidija doesn't know them. You know them. Let's make some magic.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's Not About the Wreath

OK, maybe it's a little about the wreath. It's glorious.

We cobbled this together last week with some things we found around the house. It hangs in my kitchen and reminds me of all that's fabulous.

It's a little bizarre, I suppose, that we had all of this stuff just lying around the house.

We walk in glitter, we dwell with painted plumes. 
The jingling of shiny bells grace our footsteps 
and disposable cookware is always handy. 

You know it made me think. You were expecting this. You know it's not about the wreath. Although it is a glorious wreath and one, I believe, should be left up year round. We shall see about that.

In the meantime, it's not about the wreath.

We do not, in fact, leave trails of glitter like fairy dust behind us when we walk. We leave mud and leaves and sometimes mysteriously bad smells behind us around here. We also leave doll clothes and Legos and socks and crumbs and yarn and tiny bits of paper. I sat on my couch the other day, knitting. I wondered rather suddenly Why does it smell like feet in here? I wondered this because, lest you gag and never visit me, it doesn't always smell like feet in here. Of course I did what any reasonable person would do and breathed through my mouth and went back to my knitting. Later I was vacuuming the couch (it happens) and removed the cushion to find no less than six pairs of dirty, smelly little monkey socks stuffed between the cushions. There was some blustering, perhaps some roaring This is disgusting! There was some scrambling and some apologizing and some whisking away of dirty socks - probably to be stuffed behind beds.

But it's not about the socks, either. Not really. (Although I can tell you, that afternoon it was all about the socks.) It's about this: life is messy and it sometimes stinks. Really, really stinks. It's so easy to walk around the chaos and see only the work to be done, only the clutter and disaster and to smell what is rancid. Sometimes you have to bellow about it and get stuff straightened up to your liking. Sometimes you have to stop and make a wreath from a disposable pie tin.

All that beautiful glittery fantastic stuff was already in our house. It was there all along. It wasn't all put together nicely, it wasn't even in the same rooms. Some of it was hidden in cupboards, some of it we pulled off of other things. Some of it we forgot we had. If I had grabbed what was immediately at hand, our wreath would have been made of smelly socks and half-eaten sandwiches, coffee grounds and leaves tracked in on shoes.

We had to look for what was beautiful. We had to make the effort. We had to see new uses for old things, we had to alter some of the things we had, we had to think hard about where we might find things to add to our creation. It was a collaborative effort, with each adding their own ideas, bringing their own bits of treasure to share.

The act of creation.
The act of collaboration.
The act of finding what is beautiful.
The act of bringing all that together in a greater whole.
These are sacred acts. They are acts that move mountains.

They are also the acts which decorate my kitchen on a budget.

But it's not about the wreath, is it?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Monumental Tooth

My last post was honest, difficult to write, depressing as all get-out and necessary. It can't remain as my home page, though. Why not?

Here's why not:

I dare you to look at this picture and not at least smile a little bit. Besides the hilarity, besides the casual arm flung around her little brother, look at my jBird's giant front tooth. That, my friends, is a monument.

It is a monument of tooth-bone to change, to growth, to shedding childish things, but not quite growing into the permanent things, either. I love that huge, solitary front tooth and sometimes I just want to touch it. My jBird is a patient girl, but she rarely indulges me in this. I don't blame her, but still. Look at that thing!

Her teeth will all eventually come in and straighten out (hopefully without a whole lot of orthodontic intervention) but for now, I secretly cherish this giant front tooth that is so awkward, so strange and out of place in her face, but a talisman of more big things to come. For now this is more beautiful to me than any movie-star-perfect smile in the world.

These two - with their life and their energy and their constant vibration - these two wear me out and they worry me and they drive me straight up a wall sometimes. But look at how they laugh. They lean into each other and laugh. With their messy hair and hand knit sweaters and heads full of nonsense and of course the giant tooth, they laugh. I can fume around and stew and boil about things that are so much bigger than they are, but you know what? These are the biggest people I know. They have virtually no control over their lives, they have very little say in the things of the world; they get told what to do, where to go, how to behave and to go and pick up all their Legos. Their mother is moody and somewhat unpredictable, she's intense and she's insane and she loves them with all her heart. And still they laugh. With eyes closed, without self-consciousness or guile - so hard, they laugh. This is their default mode.

And that monumental tooth. Well, you know how it is. It brings me to my knees and it makes me laugh, too. So hard. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Earthen Vessels

I tried. I try all the time. I keep the outside input to a minimum. I work hard to create a bubble of peace, of love, of joy, of forgiveness, of grace,  and of simple humanity around my home. I fail sometimes. I slip up and I crack. I have never shattered. I tried.

I can distance myself when I need to. I can look reasonably at terrible things. I can try to see all sides. I can seek honest solutions. I can always find hope. I can always look for good. I tried

I constructed a fragile peace this weekend; made of Christmas candies, ice skating shows, Lego skyscrapers, knitted hats and lots of snuggles. I constructed a fragile peace around what was becoming a towering rage.

I don't have a hot temper. The rage came blowing in like an arctic squall and froze me, empty, hollow and brittle as ice. I tried to warm it. I tried. Instead I let it shatter me.

I just wanted to make some hot cocoa. I wanted something warm inside me.
The mug that bears my son's name hung limp and empty from my hand and my face buried in the front of my husband's sweatshirt. Shaking howling sobs.

So many children... their parents... they were the same age as ours... they're saying - the gun people - they're saying we should arm the teachers... everyone is saying such horrible things... I don't want to live in this world... this shit just keeps happening... I don't want our kids to inherit this mess... I give up... 

My husband wordlessly absorbed my snot and my tears and my rage through his sweatshirt, directly to his heart. He held my shattered pieces while I shook and he didn't say a word. He has never heard me give up. The next morning, he silently handed me the keys when the hymns stuck in my throat and only the words I can't do this came out. I sat in the car in the cold and tried so hard not to cry. I don't like to make an emotional spectacle of myself. I applied the patches of reason, of calm, of faith, of love as best I could and went back inside. My husband squeezed my hand before he went up to speak. He read from 2 Corinthians:
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.
He stood in a pulpit and reminded me, along with the rest of the people gathered there that we are, in fact, earthen vessels. That we are fragile and sometimes we shatter, but that those cracks should allow the light to shine through. His voice broke a little when he explained that no matter what terrible things may happen to us or around us, we can be a source of light, of love, that we contain power. I sat and let the tears come; I let them slide soundlessly again and again down my face. A warm, baptismal rain.

I thought suddenly of our wedding ceremony. At the end of the service, we dimmed the lights. We lit our candles off of the larger one in the center and turned to light our family's candles, too. They turned and lit the people next to them and so on. The flame passed around the dark room until it was on fire. A candlelight vigil to love, to faith, to the community that makes love possible. We were young and we were poets and we wanted to set the world on fire with our love. We believed we could change the world. We exited that room into our life together triumphantly, buoyed on a wave of flame and music - Ode to Joy.

We are older and a little more weary. We have lost some of the hubris of youth. But yesterday, it was as if my husband had again, with shaking hands and voice, re-lit my tiny candle. And now I hold it out, fragile and tenuous, behind a cupped hand, to assuage this towering rage.

Rage has no place in my world. My rage is from the same source as the rage that pulls a trigger. My judgement and fear are no more productive than that of those who would arm the whole world. I shake my head and say I don't understand evil, but I do. I have had my share of destruction, of evil, of tearing down when I should build, of lashing out when I should seek help. I know that what keeps me from ever reaching that point of tipping into the unthinkable is love, is conscience, is support, is this tiny candle of hope I hold in my hand. May it never be snuffed out. May I instead use it to light the flames of others. May I never give up.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." -Edmund Burke

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.

I am only an earthen vessel. I am fragile and sometimes I crack to the point of shattering. I will not be destroyed.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hug Your Children

I have been admonished to do this at least seventy-five times today and I will.

It's natural, that urge to gather loved ones close in the face of horror. The sudden and violent reminder that life is so very precious and short shakes us to our cores and we seek to reassure ourselves that we are all okay. Hug your children.

It won't change anything. There are still families who will be spending their holidays at funerals with impossibly small caskets, at bedsides, in fear and in mourning. There are children who will suffer nightmares and untold damage from witnessing atrocities that no one should see first hand, or second hand, or third, or ever. A mother will go to her house tonight and see an empty pair of shoes by the door, perhaps, or a pile of toys in an unmade bed. She will weep, unable to touch them. Or she will be beyond tears and lie down among them, inhaling the remaining traces of play and laughter and sweet innocence that linger in them. Or she will close the door and walk away, scrub the floor, smash the dishes, go for a run - anything to try to escape the unrelenting pain of death come out of order. I don't know what she will do, because I am not that mother. I have not been that mother. My own children will argue with me tonight about brushing their teeth and I will be relieved when they finally lie down and are still. I will check for their breathing and I will sit quietly and knit and go about my life in my whole and happy home. Hug your children.

It will change everything. Hug them because it's Friday. Hug them because you want to strangle them. Hug them because they are silly. Hug them because they are there. Hug them because they are warm and wiggly and smell vaguely of hamsters. Hug them because it's your job. Hug them because their little sensual buckets need to be filled up with sincere affection and affirmation. Hug them because it is from you that they learn how to love - not from your lofty speeches and declarations, but from your actions. Hug them because it is so important for them to feel comfortable in little bodies and hearts and your physical presence reassures them and teaches them to love themselves. Hug them and let them know they are not alone. Hug them when you are angry. Hug them when you are scared. Hug them when you are completely cuckoo. Hug them when they are sleeping, when they are awake, when they are doing something else and have to holler: "Mo-ooommm! Get off me!" Hug them in front of their friends. Hug them along with their friends. And don't just hug your children. Hug them all. Don't be creepy, but you know there are children in your lives whom it is perfectly acceptable for you to hug. Do it. You don't know what they need, what they get, what they want. Everyone needs a hug. Always. Hug your children.

My heart breaks for the families in Connecticut today. It is not my personal tragedy, I won't pretend it is. I have not spent my afternoon surrounded by emergency vehicles and television cameras, living through a parent's worst nightmare in 3-D. I will not presume to claim this as my own.

Even so, it is my tragedy. It is a tragedy that belongs to all of us as we share in the tiniest degree of their fear, their anguish, their horror, their anger and their dread. It is our tragedy because we cower at the idea suddenly brought to light that our world contains such pain, such sickening violence. It is our tragedy because we empathize, we sympathize, we agonize over these very things. Hug your children.

Hug them, not because we have collectively shared a tragedy today. Hug them so that we can avoid future tragedy. Hug them and take their pulse. Hug them and teach them that sadness need not be anger, and anger need not be violent, and violence is never a solution worth exploring. Hug them and listen to what they tell you with their own actions, the language that does not lie. Hug them and teach them to do the same. Hug them and tell them to live with love, not fear. Hug them and show them how. Hug your children.

Friday, December 7, 2012

I've Got It Covered

I am covered in glitter, I am covered in glue. Chalk dust, eraser dust, snippets of thread.
I am covered in flour and sticky and sweet.
I am covered in yarn and in paper.
I have got out my power drill, my sewing machine, my KitchenAid army.
I am covered in ink and paper cuts. I am covered in bits of notes of things I want to do, say, remember.
I am covered in cinnamon.
I am covered in cherry red pleather.
I am covered in silk, in bamboo, in wool.
I have hooks, I have needles, I have bobbins and sharp, sharp scissors - don't touch!
(And don't you dare use them for paper.)

Each stitch is a poem, every seam a sonnet, I write love letters with every detail.
I sit or I stand and I work on this thing -  just so - and I think of you.

I have not held your hand in sixteen years. Here are some gloves made of wool and remembrance and love.

You have moved to a new place, so cheerfully and like a pioneer - strong, resourceful, adventuresome. Here are some tastes from home to remind you that you are loved so much and sweet and savory and naughty and decadent and good for the soul.

You have wept inwardly over many things this year, but you always look out your windows skyward and see the beauty. Here is this teacup turned into a buffet for birds, so they can come and dine on fine china and sing to you of how much I love you.

You have given warmth and home and comfort to so many people, and I've taken more than my share from you. Here is this blanket, the color of claret - thick and rich - and I've made cables running up it like the sweaters you love because you asked me to even though you were humble about it and because I would make the whole world with my two hands and give it to you if I could.

You have transformed, worked hard, burst free. Here is a bounty of blessings in return: silk scarf in peacock blue with a new hat to match because you and I always cut off all of our hair at the same time - unknowingly, unwittingly - and are in dire straits for new hats. I made them with jaunt and with silk and with bows and they startle with their softness like falling water, each motif in the scarf is a secret prayer of thanksgiving for you.

You have grown up somehow, while I have stayed the same. You were a toddler, a child, and now so far away, you have the beginnings of woman about you. Here is this bag I have fashioned you of brocade silk and found, vintage cotton - the silk is a reminder of the home your mother and I shared as young-as-you people, the strength of friendship, the bonds of the family we make with our love. The vintage cotton is your reminder that even things that are old - unspeakably old! - like me (and your mother) are beautiful and sassy and it all depends on the context, young lady.

And for you and you and you and you, I send some sweetness: some is the kind that you can eat, some is the kind that flows from permanent markers gripped tightly in small hands, and some is the kind that you can frame and hang up on a wall. I have no words but thank you for the sweetness that you bring in stringing the garlands of sparkle and twinkle that connect my family to you.

And for you, gentle readers, I haven't spared much time. For that, I apologize again and again.
Here is my post, I've carefully crafted it for you. I want it to tell you the meaning behind the actions. The import behind the absence. I become ridiculous and stutter with my fingers when I think of ways to thank you for reading and thinking and indulging me so. You are all blessings and I would knit you all mittens if I could.

I am covered in glitter, I am covered in glue.
I am covered in love and in forgiveness, in connection, in transcendent joy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Music of the Spheres

The planets sing in space. They hang on their invisible threads that bind them all to their rotations and their regulated posts; they whirl - massive, inconceivable - and they sing.

Music sweeps in through the ears and goes straight to the gut and the heart before the mind has a chance to register. It's the opening riff of Led Zeppelin's Black Dog. It's the pause in the finale of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, where the French horns and the violins quietly hint at the theme - slowly, slowly - and then the entire choir breaks free in a frenetic crescendo of Joy. It's the steady down beat in Cold War Kids' Old Saint John that sits deep in the hips and belly and grinds there. It's the space between the notes in a well-struck chord, the magic of voices in harmony, the breath before the bridge.

I explain phonemes to my daughter over dinner, how she had all the basic sounds on her tongue for any language in the world when she was born. She giggles with delight when I speak Mandarin to her. I sing the tones and she copies. I explain that there is music in any language if she'd only but listen. She savors the feel of foreign words on her lips and teeth while she chews her chicken. Her laughter in concert with her brother's is how I imagine the planets sound.

Thomas Tallis is the sound of the changing of leaves, for me. Enclosed in those intricate, soaring harmonies are the buds of new life, the rotation of our Earth, the long journey around the sun and back again. It is the voice of my son, before his L's made it out to the tip of his tongue, asking for more, for louder. It is the windows rolled down at intersections and the music, so large, so encompassing we can't hold it all, must let it spill out onto the streets and heavenward.

Even in silence there is music. The steady tattoo of my heartbeat, the aria of breath in rhythm with my walking this sphere. The birds in my yard perform a staccato interlude while they pause and look for bugs and worms and then on cue, a sweeping legato into the sky with wings outstretched, seeking the breeze to carry them to the next measure. The rustling percussion of the trees and grass and the tympani of the seasons, of time, and of the rain on my kitchen windows.

The planets themselves, sing. This is the thought that occupies me today while I conduct the symphony of my life. The simpler path would be to tick off the things on my list, to hurry small feet out the door, to wash, dry, fold, rinse, repeat. The more beautiful path is to hear the music. A small voice in a crowded store reminded me - harried, hurried, out of sorts - to "Stop. Listen. It's our song!" And there, beyond the din of every day, was the music of love. Barely audible to the imperceptive, was the music of the spheres. For me, it is the music of abandon, of laughing so hard I can't breathe, of a family who accepts my quirks, of barefoot spinning and gathering two small people to my hips, hair and tears of joy in my eyes, sweat and breath and bodies colliding - planetary, holy, otherworldly joy.

Like a super trouper
beams are gonna blind me.
But I won't feel blue,
like I always do.
'Cause somewhere in the crowd there's you.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Day 11

What day is it? I'm not sure.

This day and some others I am grateful for salt.
A simple combination of elements. It's harvested from the sea.
Warm and salty broth that restores little healing bodies after being emptied out in the most horrible ways. Bowls of comfort and restoration, bringing color back to cheeks, sparkle to eyes, life to demeanor.
Sprinkled in my bath to soothe aching muscles from nights of holding hands and heads and wiping mouths, floors, brows.
Sodium bicarbonate sprinkled on carpets, in laundry, in the dishwasher. Working its simple magic and drawing out odors and germs from things soiled with illness.
The salt of my tears that fall from exhaustion, from worry, from inadequacy. I taste them and I'm grateful that I care enough to cry. That I try hard enough to fail. That I have the energy left to keep moving.
The grains of salt with which I take the things my upside down brain tries to convince me are true. The good and the bad, you know. I remember to salt my words to myself and both give myself a break and try to do better.
The crunch of salt in my little treat to myself - salted caramel hot cocoa. Decadent and unexpected. Delicious and necessary. It's my personal reminder to rest and to savor the beautiful, rich things in life that can be so simple and so satisfying.

And this salt. The salt of the words I try to live by:
"You are the salt of the earth...You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others..."

Monday, November 12, 2012

Day 10

I am grateful for Lysol. For a large hot water heater and not having to wash clothes (and bed linens, and towels, and more clothes) by beating them against a rock.

I am grateful for hand sanitizer. I am grateful for teaspoons full of water that finally stay down.

I am mostly grateful for a little boy who is finally sleeping peacefully in his bed.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Day 9

It's Veteran's Day.

I am grateful for the people who choose to do this kind of work. Who put aside their personal comfort, their safety and their whole lives in many ways to serve our country. I don't have to agree with the leaders who send them to and fro at their own whims to appreciate the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make.

The effects of war are far reaching and the injuries are not just from bullets and mortar shells. It is not with empty flag waving and marching tunes that I express my appreciation for the people who do something that I, myself, just wouldn't do.

I wrote about my personal Veteran's Day last year, here. I don't really have a whole lot to add.

I am a pacifist, I am a liberal, I oppose war for almost any reason. I rarely think that displays of might and firepower are productive solutions to anything.

I have the utmost respect for the men and women who wear the uniforms, follow the orders and face the unspeakable for me so that I can sit back and say "Nah, I don't think so."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Day 8

Patient, patient people.

I forget now how I came to discover Sleepy Joe and her Life and Writings. She lives on the other side of the pond from me and works in one of the coolest fields, ever - library science. I have such respect and gratitude for librarians in general and it's somewhat akin to knowing a rock star to be associated with Sleepy Joe.

As if that weren't enough, she is a steady and constant presence on this blog with her constant encouragement and her unfailing loyalty to reading and commenting. She's an aspiring writer, herself, and leads a busy life with two little people and working full time and just generally being fabulous, yet she always finds the time to root for other writers and bloggers. That really means a lot. It takes some effort to reach out to other people and she does it anyway and is a cheerful presence here and on a lot of the blogs I read.

Over the last several weeks, she has gifted me with two different bits of blogging love. I have been woefully behind in catching up with all things blogging and they have slipped through the cracks. These little blog award thingies have been a delightful little surprise bonus to blogging. I'm not much one for memes, generally, but to have someone take the time to single out my ranting over here is touching to me and I really do appreciate it.

So, for you, Sleepy Joe, I am grateful. For my Wonderful Team Member Readership Award, because I am not a wonderful team member, actually. Writing is a generally solitary and lonely pursuit. I spend hours buried in things invisible to the naked eye. It is exhausting and exhilarating and it appears to waste a lot of time. In what other endeavor would you strive to eliminate at least 20% of the work you've done after you've done it? As a result, I get all down deep in my head and shut out the rest of the world. Writing is not a team sport. Blogging is, though. And I deeply appreciate my teammates. And for my Reader Appreciation Award.  It may seem from time to time that I do not appreciate my readers as much as I should. If appreciation is measured in mutual comments or responding promptly to Tweets and comments and Facebook notes, then I fail at this. If appreciation is measured in the thrill of seeing a familiar name on my stats and taking the time to really savor and consider the words that you've left behind, then there it is.

I encourage you to go check out Sleepy Joe's blog if you haven't already. She's really a shining light, the encouragement fairy, if you will. I am so grateful for her and all of the people like her who populate this world and make things just more pleasant. I am going to change the rules of all this up a bit. Instead of answering questions about myself, instead I'm going to ask you to leave your favorite thing about Sleepy Joe here in the comments. Let's fill her bucket at least half as much as she does for others.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Day 7

Twenty-nine third graders sat on the floor in an old refurbished building. They were collectively writing a story and the leader of the discussion was a patient man named Steve with lots of enthusiasm. There was talk of a rapping hamster who was stuck in a tube. There was mention of rocket boots, of money, of wanting to see the world. I stood and watched this creative chaos and wondered how it would end.

The sweating volunteer paused the discussion and asked a question: "OK, wait a minute. We have the hamster in this dark and strange tube, but why would he go in there in the first place?" There was general shouting and creating and "Rocket boots!" and "Why not?!" and such when a hand shot up in the front row. Steve the volunteer quieted the mob and pointed to the intense little girl, sitting straight-backed and waggling her hand in the air as high as her shoulder would allow. "Did you have an idea?" Steve the volunteer asked. A loaded question, if ever there was one.

"Well, you want to know why he is in the tube. He wants some money, too. So why not let the motivation be  the same? Put the money in the tube, just a little back so he has to go in to see it, and then he can get stuck. It will be a trap." There was a chorus of "Oh yeah!" and Steve the volunteer bounced a little bit, "Great! And what is hamster money?"

The little girl answered promptly and calmly. "Why cheese, of course. It's funny because 'cheese' is an expression for money."

I have written a lot about my daughter. She is the walking embodiment of where all of my nerves and feelings and heart end. Bruise her and I will bleed. She smiles and I dance. She storms and I drown. I work hard to keep the responsibility for this intense visceral connection off of her young shoulders. I am supposedly the grown-up here, so I carry the weight of these intertwined souls and all the beauty and heartbreak that involves. I am the mother and this is my job. As she gets older - suddenly so tall! - she pulls away and defines herself in contrast to me. I celebrate this even as I feel the tiny stabs of loss. This is the way it is supposed to happen. This is what I am raising her for - to be independent, to think for herself, to find what she loves and pursue it. This is not about me.

My wee girl with her nose in a book.
She's in her Halloween costume, but it's not Halloween.
But sometimes, you know, it is. I stood with the other parents along the edge of this mayhem of ideas and laughed with them at the cheese, if only to mask the vivid, grateful tears that suddenly threatened to fall. I will never force my kids into being like me - heaven forbid they be like me. I would never insist upon their interests or their goals. I will not project my unfulfilled fantasies onto their small frames and make them live for me. I just won't. But my little girl - my beautiful, independent little girl - loves to write. She loves to tell stories and has invented them since she could talk. She loves to play with words and make them sing for her. She amuses herself with plays on words and explains them carefully to me. She has journals full to overflowing with bits of ideas and and dialogue and characters. She totes them everywhere with her and stops to write when she feels like it. Her spelling is atrocious, her handwriting is sloppy, punctuation is frequently optional - but she writes. Oh, she writes.

There are times when we don't communicate very well. There are times when my "I love you so much I could just lay down and die," comes out in a shout or a criticism. There are times when I try to tell her all the words she needs to avoid the heartbreak of growing up. I try to fill her up with the information that I felt I lacked as a child, not realizing that she lacks it for the same reason I did, she's a child. Sometimes she's weary and says, "Please can we stop talking, now?" Sometimes she has more ideas to share, more questions to ask. I try to listen and answer the questions she asks, not the ones I think she needs to ask. I try to listen to what she tells me when she rages or fumes, or can't sleep at night. I try to hear what makes her truly happy, what she really needs from me. I fail at this as often as I succeed. So it is to be a mother.

But this intense little straight-backed girl with her ready smile and waggling hand so high in the air, who is thrilled by "motivation", who thinks a story through, who makes a silly play on words - she is familiar to me. So familiar it hurts. I see me in her, but she is not me. I don't have enough words to explain to her how this fills me so. I have only my stupid, grinning tears that embarrass her on a field trip to communicate this deep connection to her, this gratitude for a shared love, some common and sacred ground. We don't always communicate very well, but I hope that we will always write.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Day 6

A long time ago, while I was between lives, I worked at a large book retailer. For $6.00 an hour I could stand for eight hours and point breathless housewives to the giant shelf of Oprah Book Club books that they had just walked past in order to demand that they hadn't seen it anywhere. I also got to clean the restrooms.

One day, someone did something unspeakable to one of the restrooms and we were all back in the break room fighting about who would have to clean it up. A very cute boy with whom I had never had a shift before, finally sighed and said: "You all are useless. I'll just do it," and walked off with rubber gloves and a mop. I sat and watched him leave and wondered at this boy who would calmly step up to take responsibility for a vile and disgusting task that no one else would touch. I wondered at this boy as I watched him in the days to come, flirt with the middle-aged ladies who ran the office and make them blush. I watched him draw customers in conspiratorially to find the title of a book. I watched him dress up as Waldo from the Where's Waldo book series and entertain a room full of screaming children. I just watched for a while, though, remaining mute and trying to melt into the background.

I watched him save me a seat on a bench for my lunch break, with a cup of hot coffee waiting for me. I watched him dance to Birdhouse In Your Soul in a deserted parking lot in the middle of the night and tell me I was the only bee in his bonnet. I watched him ask my dad important philosophical questions and listen carefully to the answers. I watched him make my mom laugh. I watched him hand over money to my sister so she would quit the job where her boss sexually harassed her. I watched him while he drove us in midnight circles, listening to music and talking about all the world. I watched him introduce me to his friends and family. I watched him leave work to go and sit with his mom at the hospital when she had an emergency hysterectomy. I watched him take his little sister to dance lessons and pick her up again, turning the music up loud and laughing at her junior high silliness.

And then one day I watched him through a plate glass window after the store had closed, as he got down on one knee in the cold and showed me a picture of a ring.

I have watched this boy over the last fourteen and a half years grow into a man - become a husband, a father, a lawyer, a leader. I have watched him get up every day and shoulder responsibilities that the people around him have refused to do. I have watched him walk boldly into unspeakable messes and try to clean them up because it had to be done and no one else was willing. I have watched him work as many hours as were necessary to support us. I have watched him study long into the night for finals with a newborn baby on his shoulder. I have watched him take care, take action, take part, take responsibility. I have watched him bestow fatherly gentleness and affection that he has never received. I have watched him smile just for me. I have watched him dance, I have watched him cry, I have watched him survive, I have watched him live, I have watched him give and give and give.

I sat in a crowded room last night and watched him tell a group of people that his marriage is a tiny piece of the divine. I have watched this man over so many years and I hope for many more. I renew my vows every morning with such humbling gratitude that this man has let me watch him all these years and that he shares his magic with me. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Days 3 - 5

I have been absent from this space. But I have had so much for which to be grateful. So much it has drawn me away from dwelling on the things in my head; away from personal observations into the shared observations of special days with a family that fills my heart and breaks it open and fills it again.

This past weekend we have celebrated a little boy. A hooligan of sorts who has been making this planet a more spontaneous and joyful place for six years now.

He was my surprise baby. I thought he was a stomach bug, perhaps. I thought I was exhausted from moving to a new town, from raising an active and inquisitive toddler, from the miscarriage I'd had mere weeks before. I thought there was something wrong. When I finally went to the doctor because the symptoms were undeniably familiar, I discovered that there was absolutely nothing wrong. There was a tiny peanut, two months along, standing on its flipper legs and doing a little jig. I looked at the grainy picture full of snow and wondered at the tenacity of a little being who would come twice to see me. Who would hang out inside, ignored, disbelieved and dance.

This is the kernel, the essence of my Hooligan. He hangs out, content to live and talk and imagine in a world where everyone in the house is bigger than he is. Where people are busy with other things and he patiently follows them from room to room explaining the details of his latest creation, the game he's designing, the dream he had, asking questions about space, about eternity, about the flexibility of time. He walks in circles while he talks, to organize his thoughts. He dances from foot to foot while he stands. He jumps from space to space while he walks. He stops and grins and winks at me. He gives me a thumbs-up and finishes his sentence. He bounces merrily through a world that sometimes won't slow down and wait for him.

He is my surprising boy. He taught himself to walk while I was unpacking a house. He stored up all his words and expressed himself with sound effects until one day they all came tumbling out in complete sentences. He taught himself to read while no one was looking. He draws schematic diagrams of inventions that might actually work. He figures out his world by quietly building things and then demonstrating how to use them. He loves to run and laugh and make large messes.

He understands being the smallest person in the room, so his perpetual motion will slow and stop for a gentle word to a baby, a helping hand to a peer who lags behind. He is generous with praise and with gratitude, but he will brook no whining. He covers his ears and closes his eyes to shut out the noise of others' displeasure. "Just stop that and try," he will say, not unkindly. He reminds me not to yell. He holds my hand and hugs me. He does not understand meanness or smallness of spirit.

He is my Hooligan. He is always up to something. He was my surprise and he completed our family in a way we didn't know it needed to be done. He showed up and smiled at us and we all fell in love with his dark, mischievous eyes, the dimple in his chin, the smile that splits his face in half. He hugs with abandon, he kisses on the mouth, he pats arms and knees and shoulders while he speaks, and snuggles with sibilant S's. He gives us these connections, these simple reassurances that he is here, that he is real, that he is to be believed. And then he wanders off to the place inside his head that is full of tall buildings and space ships and mechanical devices, time travel, music and math equations of his own making and no one really knows what else.

I have spent these last few days in celebration of this strange and wonderful little boy who determined that he would live with us; that he would take his place and wait quietly for us to notice and that in the meantime, he would dance.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Day 2

The earth has turned a little bit more and suddenly it is November. It is the beginning of that steady slide toward the end of the year that is full of so very much.

I have committed to a massive writing project for November as well as some less massive real-life kinds of things. I've gone, in the last few weeks, from reveling as a lady of leisure - one who wanders malls with a latte in hand and photographs her boots midday for the pleasure of it - to a busier person who has to keep a calendar. This is a good change of events for me, and an intentional one, so never fear. There will be very little whining about it. Or whinging, if you prefer.

All of the above is a series of social disclaimers (detestable things, but sometimes useful) to say that I will be wholly unoriginal in this blog space this month. I will be playing the tuba on the gratitude bandwagon and posting about things I'm grateful for every day. I made a list of 75 things last year and you can read them here. I love Thanksgiving because it is about food and the giving of thanks and all that lovely stuff. It's nice for gratitude to have its own holiday (we will not speak here of the genocide of indigenous peoples or religious persecution, except to admire the large buckles on hats and shoes. Deal? It's about gratitude.) However, this thankfulness things should extend a wee bit further than one weekend in November, no? It's nice to have a holiday, but the giving of thanks should be daily. (Not, however, the watching of football. That can be relegated to one weekend a year.)

The whole point of this is to put my cranky pants away and don my pants that are woven from blessings and light and realize that I should wear them more often. Without further ado, I bring you

Day 2:
Today I am grateful for excellent public school teachers. They make very little money compared to the work that they do. They deal with unruly bureaucracy, unruly children, unruly parents, limited resources, excessive expectations, long days, and cramped classrooms. I have had two opportunities this week to see my children's teachers in action and I'm humbled by their skill, their patience, their insight, and their experience. I would throw large temper tantrums if I were stuck in a smelly room with 29 children every day.

We moved to a new school over the summer and so much was unknown. I want to write gushing love letters to my children's teachers. I want to bake them treats and hug them and weep openly in appreciation. I may do that. I know that there are vast inequities across schools, across states, across neighborhoods. There are so many things that are broken about public education; so many things that are frustrating, heartbreaking, infuriating. I know that in my little neighborhood school here in the corner of the country, tucked away in a valley surrounded by trees and hills and birds, we are blessed. We are richly and abundantly blessed, in spite of setbacks. I will not take this for granted. I will not focus on the broken system except to do what I can to help change it. I will not take these people for granted. These people who know the inequities and problems better than I do and choose to show up every day anyway and give their best to other people's children. These people are heroes and I am so humbly and thoroughly grateful for them.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Today's The Day!

This Thursday the 1st of November is the first ever Mindful Writing Day, organised by Kaspa & Fiona at Writing Our Way Home. To join in simply slow down, pay attention to one thing and write it down (making a small stone). Read all about it here. small stones are easy to write, and they will help you connect to the world. Once you've started, you might not want to stop... You can read more about small stones and find out about Lorrie with pea-green eyes in Fiona's free ebook, Write Your Way Home. If you visit Writing Our Way Home on Thursday you'll find out how to download your free kindle copy of the new anthology, 'A Blackbird Sings: a book of short poems'. You can also submit your small stone and see it published on the blog, and be entered into a competition to win one of five paperback copies of the book. There's a Facebook invite here if you'd like to invite your friends, and do feel free to copy this blog onto your own blog. You can tweet this: Connect with the world through mindful writing - join the first Mindful Writing Day on the 1st of November:  #smallstone


Kaspa & Fiona were kind enough to provide the above text about Mindful Writing Day, and as it is their project, they describe it succinctly and wonderfully.

My day hasn't started terribly mindfully - just a bundle of reactions and emotions. I will endeavor to channel this throughout the day and will update with stones that I find. Wishing all of you blessings and safety and peace. Keep thinking, keep writing.

8:00 AM:
Torrent of tears and rain on the way to the bus. 
Sending them off with an umbrella for the rain.
Nothing to protect from the tears.
Stretching my heart taut over a fragile wire frame.
Doesn't quite reach far enough.

11:00 AM: 
Inhale, reach up and back. Higher than I think I can.
Exhale. Swoop down, supplicant, gather my courage from around my ankles.
Inhale again. Reaching up, but with focus. Pointing to the sky and pulling it all down to my heart.
Sun Salutation on a day with no sun.

2:00 PM:
I overhear a snatch of conversation as I walk past, busy with my groceries.
He is either saying something racist, or talking about good food.
I will believe it's the food.
I am hungry for humanity.

5:30 PM:
She sits on the kitchen floor with me while dinner cooks.
She asks me to tell her about God and love and a time before she was born.
Math homework is happily forgotten.

9:00 PM:
He fell asleep with a book on his head.
Wrapped in blankets of galaxies and hugging his new tiger tight.
His mouth opened slightly as if to let off the exhaust fumes from his full throttle adventures in his dreams.

11:00 PM:
Adding up the day before I fall asleep.
The columns are out of balance.
There is always profit in finding gratitude.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What's That Smell?

Objects in the picture are closer than they appear.
For better or worse, I have a very strong sense of smell. As you may know, smell is the sense that is most strongly linked to memory. I can be walking down the street in Seattle and all of a sudden be transported to Hong Kong with a whiff of bus fuel and a very distinct frying fat smell. When I worked with Alzheimer's patients, it was amazing to see the memories come flooding back to otherwise confused people with a simple sniff of vanilla or cinnamon or apple cider.

My sense of smell has been temporarily disabled by massive amounts of phlegm and I feel as though I'm a little bit blind. The Chief Lou and I sometimes play a game called "What's that smell?" in which we try to precisely describe someone or something with two scents. I'm sure everybody does this for fun, right? For example, an acquaintance of ours can be succinctly described as "Ben Gay and anger." Does that paint a picture? Can you see him? Funny how that works.

Now it's your turn. What's that smell? Can you paint a picture in two scents? Of whom does it speak? Does it give you an instant mental image? It can be someone you know, it can be a particular place, it can be a character in your mind. The rules are few. Only that it must be two smells (as with the example above, it can be figurative if need be - what does anger smell like? I think you know) and that there can be no other description. Leave it in the comments here or on your blog if you are looking for a very short post today. Then the fun begins, read through the comments and be sure to let people know what pictures they have evoked with their smells. Are you game? It's a simple audience participation this week.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your noses!

Here are a few to get those olfactory juices flowing:

Baby powder and ennui.
Latex and gin.
Bubble gum and desperation.

Have fun and keep sniffing!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sex, Drugs & Rock and Roll

Three conversations in my house over the last few weeks that prove I'm still rock and roll.


jBird: Look, your Hobbes doll has a bladder!
Hooligan: What's a bladder?
jBird: It's that pouch thing that dangles behind a boy's penis.
Me: Um, that's not a bladder. Your bladder is an internal organ that holds your pee.
jBird: Then what is that pouch thing?
Me: Those are testicles.
Hooligan: I have testicles! Testicles!
jBird: But what are they for?
Me: They hold sperm.
jBird: And sperm is...
Me: Uh, sperm are little swimming cells that fertilize an egg to make a baby.
jBird: [considering this] Like I ate for breakfast?
Me: Sort of. That's a chicken egg. Human eggs are much smaller and we don't eat them for breakfast.
jBird: Well, Hobbes has testicles then.
Hooligan: Testicles!
Chief Lou: What are you guys talking about in there?!


Me: Turns out my headache was sinus. My ear hurts, too.
Chief Lou: Oh, did you take some Sudafed?
Me: Yes.
Chief Lou: Did it help?
Me: Well, yes and no. It decongested everything, but it did not help me to learn that ear congestion tastes different from sinus congestion when it drains.
Chief Lou: That's so hot.

Rock and Roll:

Me: There aren't any love songs about stay at home moms.
Chief Lou: I'm sorry. There aren't any love songs about mid-level government employees, either.
Me: I guess you're right.
Chief Lou: We're just not that interesting.
Me: But we're still remarkably good-looking. That has to count for something.

I really wouldn't trade all this nonsense for the world.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Coming Soon

Listen up, ducklings.
I have to go put on my secret agent hat today and stand tall and represent for the housewife contingent at a focus group about protein bars, so there may not be a whole lot of writing going on. I hope there are free samples. They will definitely reward my troubles with some cash, though, so it's all good. It's like giving plasma, only without the giant needles - boring, mindless, requiring no skill except to sit still, and you get paid for it. Sometimes they even have free coffee and doughnuts. I digress.

So, listen up, ducklings. I have an announcement to make. A week from today, Thursday, November 1 is the first ever Mindful Writing Day. Why does this matter? Well because I said so, mostly, but because it's really going to be a fun celebration and you can get in on it!

Remember the Small Stones? Take a look at something in your day and really see it, savor it, write it down. Everyone can do this because it's short and it's sweet and there is no right or wrong way to see things. Why are Small Stones a good idea? Well, because they're short and they're sweet, for one thing. But mostly because they exercise your Noticing Muscle. And with a strong Noticing Muscle, you can learn to slow down for a moment and transcend whatever awful day you might be having or whatever writer's block you have or whatever you happen to be knee-deep in and take a breath. You can notice a thing of beauty anywhere, even if only for a moment. These Small Stones pile up and they make little towers and walls and sculptures of things and they change the landscape of your brain. This is all very scientific. It is.

So give it a try, won't you? You can join the Facebook page and post your Small Stone there next week with all the other little goodies and it will be a feast. You can subscribe to the blog and get one every day, or you can even subscribe to the Writing Our Way Home blog and get all kinds of goodness from Robyn and Kaspalita who have worked hard on this whole thing. You can also collect A Blackbird Sings - a whole anthology of small stones that they hand selected and put together. You may or may not recognize a name or two in there, too. (Wink, nudge, nod. Uh-huh.)

So, darlings, I am going to go and examine the intricacies of protein bars and pretend to have a very strong opinion about such things so I can make a little scratch. And you have a good day. Find the beauty in something, even if it is tiny - especially if it is tiny. And do please consider taking part in Mindful Writing Day. Think of it this way: November 1st is also the beginning of NaNoWriMo, so you could either start your novel or write a Small Stone. You choose. I may do both, but I'm certifiably insane.

Even if you don't choose to participate publicly, I still hope you give the whole Noticing Muscle a workout.

Also, this: Go check out what else people have been up to over at Larissa's place.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Far To Go

Today is Wednesday. It is a rainy day in October, but above all, it is my birthday.
I am thirty-eight today.
I have a lot to do today; a lot of Wednesday things to do. This is how I love to spend my birthday. I love to walk around with the private knowledge that it is the anniversary of my birth and do things that I would do on any other day.

I putter and bake myself a birthday cake. My house smells like a bakery - warm and sweet with a side of coffee. I will share this cake this evening with two friends who also share my birthday. Happiness in triplicate, with cake. I putter and I clean and I take stock. I am here and I am healthy. I am happy and I am content. Those are two different things, and when they collide, there is magic.

There has always been magic. I have not always seen it so clearly. I see it today and that is enough. I saw it yesterday and some more yesterdays that I have forgotten to count. I hope I will still see it tomorrow, if there is a tomorrow for me. Life is long and it is short and it passes so slowly some days and then years slip away. I cannot get a grip on the slipperiness of time; so I stand here now, in the rain on my day and call it mine. I will taste it and smell it and wonder about it and I will be thankful for it. I will blow out the candles this evening and my only wish, as it has been for years, is that I live right now and find love in it.

The autumn wind chills and whips the leaves into a wet frenzy around me. I think of the frenzies of my life that come and go and remind myself to relinquish the illusion of control. I cannot any more stem the tides of good and bad that come in my life than hold the wind in my hands. I am free now to examine the purplish green leaves as they flutter past. I am free now to appreciate the warmth of my kitchen after the soaking, bone-chilling outside. I am free now to smell the wood smoke in the air and think of apples. I am not a victim of circumstance, but an active and acquiescent participant. I have lived enough of this life to know that things do change, that I can change if I want to, but I don't always need to. I look back down those thirty-eight years from now and see the pieces that have built this strange and wonderful life and I love them all.

Today is Wednesday, but I was born on a Thursday. Thursday's child has far to go. That's what the old rhyme tells me. I remember it every year and hold it close like the numbers 10 and 24, and the new number, 38. It reminds me how far I've come. It reminds me I've always got more to go. Today as I stand here with the rain and the warm cake and the day of mundane things to do in an extraordinary world, I remember to keep walking, one step and then another, taking the time to look around, switching directions when I need to. Nothing is assured, never perfect or painless. I don't want these things. I am Thursday's child and I'm busy wandering. I have far to go.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Embrace the Hotness

I started this whole funny post about femininity based in part on the really smart responses I received to my invitation to Stick Your Arm in My Washing Machine. I had an idea for a how-to manual entitled "How To Be Feminine Without Being A Douche" - the title was inspired by Tara's comment: "I can't think the word 'femininity' without ending up in a Summer's Eve commercial." It wasn't very funny and the discussion quickly devolved into odd specifics and personal preferences. The only thing very interesting about it was the title.

I have  my own long-winded definitions of femininity. I could write a dissertation with all of the research I've done over the years. But really, what it all boils down to is this:

My new cowboy boots. A birthday present to myself.
Embrace the hotness.
Yup. Take a long look. Not convinced? Perhaps you need another view.

Hey Mom! What did you do today?
I stood on a chair and took a picture of my new boots, of course.

Let us discuss my boots, shall we? They speak for themselves, really. They say I am tough and I am beautiful. I am sexy and a little bit threatening. I am practical and I go with everything - dresses and jeans and everything in between. They say I am bold and I am interesting. They say I got a wicked deal on the most awesome boots ever and I am going to wear them everywhere. They also say Be careful with me because I can just as easily kick you in the shins and step on your nuts as I can strut around being awesome and beautiful. And then there are the awesome socks, because everyone knows it's what's inside that counts. My socks are a mismatched, zig-zaggedy mess of imperfections and dirty spots and fun. My socks are crazy and I keep them close to me and they make me smile. Your socks look different, but that's all right too. That about sums it up, no?

Here's the deal: it's about embracing the hotness. We are all male and female, yin and yang, anima and animus, dark and light, good and evil, practical and stone cold crazy, ketchup and mustard. It's all in there inside those socks. We slide up and down the keys on this scale as circumstance dictates. Embracing the hotness is about owning it all. It's about honesty and authenticity. It's about rejecting the definitions that don't apply to you. It's about taking responsibility for who you are. It's about not being all drippy and vinegary.

Mostly, it's about my new boots. 

Embrace the hotness. The most confident girl in the room is the sexiest girl in the room.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When Life Hands You a Car Door, Make Small Stones

This is a multimedia presentation. Please play this song in the background while you read.

I am not exactly clumsy, sometimes I just do random bits of inadvertent violence to my body.

Yesterday when I picked the monkeys up from school, I was looking at a tree and opened the car door - full force - directly into my face.

Just imagine a car door and the tree and a loud, squishy
"ka-thonk" noise.

 This is not the first time I have done this. I did not cry or swear or scream. I just checked for blood and then told the monkeys to fasten their seat belts.

Note the points of impact.

I was not dripping blood and I did not break my glasses, which protected my eye from being unceremoniously removed with the corner of the door.

(That is not my mustache)
It would have taken forever to replace my glasses
 and then I would have had to wear my sunglasses
around all the time. 

Which, now that I think about it, would have its advantages.

Behold the awesomeness of prescription sunglasses.
That is not my mustache. It is a trick of the light.
So, my face hurts to smile today and I may end up with a few more distinguishing characteristics on my mug when all is said and done. I had to practice laughing with a limp face last night (try it, try it now) and that made me laugh even harder.  I woke up this morning with a renewed sense of purpose and euphoric relief to be alive after my eye-wear's brush with untimely death. I have recommitted to appreciating the small, yet important things in life.

I still have my rugged good looks:

Do not be jealous.
Shaun Cassidy hair just comes naturally to some folks.

I've got my sanity. A positive attitude can go a long way. It is important to get all of your chins and a thumb involved, if possible.

This is what winning looks like:
grinning maniacally at your YouCam because you can,
even though it hurts your broken face like nobody's business.

And this guy. He just keeps turning up as I'm trying to write this post, so I'll let him stay.

"I smile coyly at you, Earthlings. Love me. Accept me.
Make me your leader."

Thursday, November 1st is Mindful Writing Day. Mark your calendars. It is to celebrate the launch of A Blackbird Sings, an anthology of small stones that are all about magnifying and celebrating the little things in life... even when they are completely absurd.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Think Outside the Dead Horse

Several years ago someone sent us a movie about talking ponies with falsetto voices who rollicked around baking cakes and rollerblading and pouting and misunderstanding each other and then making it all up in song at the end. I generally don't allow such falsetto nonsense in my house, but the jBird was intrigued and I didn't want to come across an evil dictator, so we watched it. There was a sort of musical interlude where the ponies sang directly to the camera something to the effect of: "Your dreams can come truuuuuuuee!" and so on with all of the self-esteem building that pastel animated ponies could muster. My jBird looked at me and her little chin crumpled up and wobbled.

"Yes, honey. I know. It's so bad it makes me want to cry, too."
"Mama! They are saying that my dreams will come true!"
"Uh, yes..."
"I don't want my dreams to come true! They're strange and a lot of times they're scary!"

Looking into that frightened little face was a moment of pure maternal adoration. I shut off the movie and hugged her and reassured her and explained to her about clichés.  She snuffled around a little bit, verifying several more times that the giant spider who walked on her bed the night before in her dreams would not actually materialize because the talking ponies said it would and then she got angry.

"Why would they tell kids that? That's just mean!"

Why, indeed?

I tell you this because it's hilarious. Also because it perfectly illustrates one of my pet peeves about language. I'm not a fan of the cliché. (Even though I just used one in that sentence. Ooh! Quick digression: when jBird was tiny, we would say "I'm not a fan of ..." instead of "I don't like..." or "I hate..." because we'd rather she not learn those particular phrases when she was two. One time we were in an elevator and a man got in with us and stood rather too close to jBird for her taste and she ducked over behind my legs and looked out at him and said: "I'm a fan of my mom." It was cute and he laughed and she and I were the only ones who knew that she was really saying "I don't like you" to the man. See what I mean? Language matters.)

So, pet peeve. It would seem that we indoctrinate kids from a very young age to think and speak in catchphrases and clichés and then they grow up and think that's honest communication. We tell them things like "your dreams will come true" and expect them to know that we're pumping them full of delusions of grandeur, not threatening them with their nightmares made corporeal. Not only do clichés oversimplify things (which is why, I suppose, they turn up so much in children's literature and on Facebook), they are boring, and to a certain extent, dishonest.

I will fully admit to being a bit of a language freak, here. I didn't speak baby talk to my children, even when they were babies. We taught them the correct words for things when they asked. (Well, except doughnuts. The Chief Lou gave the jBird a doughnut hole when she was about 18 months old and I said, under my breath to him, "She doesn't need to eat that crap." The next time we got doughnuts, jBird piped up and said "I want crap! I want to eat crap!") There were no binkies or ba-bas or tee-tees or ta-tas in our house because I am a curmudgeon about such things. Having these two little language sponges around really made me stop and think about the language I used with them and in general and how I communicated not only with them, but with everyone. We get used to speaking in shorthand, we accept the strange clichés of our particular demographics, and we take the words we use for granted.

As writers, this cannot be so. As writers, we can't take the words we use for granted. We can't resort to shorthand and clichés.  I suppose we can, but we wouldn't be very good writers, then. (One last digression: that is not to say that we wouldn't become published writers, though. This is an odd conundrum.) So, for the writing. Audience participation time! I have it on good authority that people enjoy this. And so do I. Immensely.

Let us think about cliché.  Pick one out.* Write about it. Explore what it actually means. Make a defense of it, or disprove it. Think about the language that you use and blast that cliché wide open. (And, for funsies, you can do what I do, go through all of your old writing with a Sharpie and eradicate anything trite or at least admit that it is and try to find a new way to say it.) Send me a link or an email or leave it in the comments. Share with your friends. There's no particular deadline, just let me know what you come up with and when I get a bunch of them I'll share in a link-up post. Fun, no?

Remember: Think outside the box on this one.

(All right, it physically pained me to type that.)

*This is based loosely on a prompt in The Writer's Idea Book. I highly recommend the whole book.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Year of Blogging Dangerously

$20,000 annual stipend, a brand new iMac, a pocket video camera. All of this in exchange for writing 500 innocuous words a week and occasionally handing out T-shirts and key chains at public events. Why not? I ask you, why not?!

My credit union is big on community. That's part of the reason it's my credit union. That, and they have free pomegranate lip balm in their lobby. I'll never have to buy lip balm again. Besides making sure that all of their customers have smooth, supple lips, they also have a series of blogs linked to their web page to foster this sense of community. Every couple of years they have a contest for their Mom blog. After circling it like a hyena for a year or so, I finally entered last year. Because why not?

Suffice it to say that I didn't get the gig. I didn't even make the first cut. They weren't looking for me. I submitted a post about potted plants; they were looking for potty training and wine at the end of the day. I have no talent for that sort of thing. So I decided that I would blog for free. Because why not? I didn't know anything about blogging. I read a few, wondered who their readers were and stumbled into BlogHer, where they were just gearing up for NaBloPoMo. I was amazed to discover that people actually would willingly read my stuff and share it with others. I was completely enchanted with all of these other people out there quietly doing what I wanted to do. I discovered some invaluable friends and have gotten so much feedback on my writing that I don't even know what to do with it.

I am a terrible blogger. I don't always respond to comments, I don't join blogging groups, I read posts all the time without commenting. I am sporadic and grumpy. I am not a networker, I barely understand social media and I chafe at the unwritten "rules" of it all. I am a terrible blogger, but I keep blogging. Because of you, of course. Because I read your words and I am inspired. Because I am thrilled with the knowledge of all these smart people thinking and writing it down. Because I feel connected to something larger than my own journals and notebooks and scribbled post-it notes.

I am a decent writer. Shall I tell you a story? I have written forever. I can't remember not writing. I can't remember a time when I didn't look around and make up stories in my head. I don't know what it would be like to look around a crowded room and not wonder what is happening inside the brains of others. Something happened, though. Some kind of message received through the garbled reception of my perception. Back when I was making the kinds of decisions that I was far too young to make and everyone tells you that it will affect the rest of your life, I decided that writing wasn't a "real job". I decided that I could keep my silly little hobby to myself. I decided that I must do something "useful", something "worthwhile". I had this nonstop Morse Code of negative bleeping through my brain: self-indulgent, waste of time, pipe dream, useless, immature, arrogant, self-involved, etc. And I believed it. And I went to college and got a semi-respectable degree in a field I enjoyed, but really only so much. I mostly enjoyed it because it facilitated the writing; it gave me fodder for the stories in my head.

A year ago, I decided to listen to myself for once and get serious about the writing. Not about the blogging; about the writing. There's a difference to me. Blogging is a means to an end for me. It is a space where I can make connections with other writers, explore ideas, try different writing exercises, etc. People blog for a lot of reasons. I had no clear idea what I was doing when I started. I just wanted to write every day. That has evolved over time. Most of my writing is now done off the blog. But I keep this going because I like the community. I like the lip balm in the lobby. There are Mommy blogs, DIY blogs, journalistic blogs, some read like a diary - thoughts for the day, current events, a place to gripe, to shine, to rejoice. Mine has never felt like any of those things. I have no pigeon-hole and I'm all right with that, mostly. But sometimes I feel like it makes my readers a bit uneasy.

I am a terrible blogger, but I'm a decent writer. I am writing, writing, writing when no one is looking and it is thriving. I am having some blogging growing pains. I am casting about for some direction. I don't want to give up the community, but sometimes the blogging is a distraction from the writing. I guess I'm trying to figure out what this blog wants to be when it grows up. If you're reading this now, then it's for you that I keep blogging.

What would you like to see?
What's working?
What isn't?

Be honest. I'm really asking. I am not fishing for compliments.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fashionably Late

Here's a not-so-secret: I don't get invited to many parties.

I don't know why not. It probably has something to do with halitosis and appalling small talk. When  I was younger, I used to dream of fancy cocktail parties and freeze-frame moments of glamorous frivolity. I'd show up in black and heels and turn heads and say amazing things and laugh with my head thrown back, just so. Dah-ling! You are too much! Oddly, this is not exactly how my life has turned out.

I got invited to a party, though. Larissa is throwing a link-up shindig over at Papa Is A Preacher and I don't even have to wear pantyhose and make up. It started yesterday, so I am as per usual, late. Patience please, with the chronologically challenged among us. I thought yesterday was both Wednesday and Tuesday for the better part of the day. Don't ask. It's amazing I get anything done, actually.

So, here I am. A little late, a little out of breath, and my cupcakes got crushed in the car on the way here. Fortunately, Larissa is a gracious hostess and you can't see any of this anyway. I brushed my teeth and now for the appalling small talk: What have I been up to?

First and foremost, I have been contemplating my light switches. You know how when you have two switches that turn on the same light and then the up/down/off/on thing gets all out of sync? I have a switch that's up when the light is off and it makes me a little bit edgy. So sometimes I engage all of my mental faculties trying to figure out the exact sequence of switch flips to get this sorted out. Up = on. Down = off.

I have also been melting crayons with a hair dryer. This is so fun. It's all over Pinterest, so the law of averages says that at least some of the people who pinned it will actually do it. It's like the strip mall  of DIY - you can walk into any number of homes in any region in America (and sometimes Canada) and find the same cheap art. In a few years, you'll be able to find waxy canvas messes in Goodwills across the country, too. But for now... for now... watching those multicolored drips fall down the canvas are worth the price of admission. I will be hanging these in the monkeys' rooms to use as message boards. Everyone needs a message board.

So, the writing. This is the portion of the cocktail party where the dreaded "What do you do?" gets asked. The only worse question for me is "Where are you from?" I answer that one with "Nowhere" and then if people are interested I can elaborate. What do I do? I write. What do I write? Nonsense. Um, OK, then. Seriously, though, I'm working on several essays at once right now. They may become blog fodder, or they may actually turn into something I'd like to send out somewhere. It remains to be seen, really. I don't want to talk about them much because I'm coy like that. Not really. I find that discussing a project rather than just working on a project tends to suck the life out of it. For now, though, let me tell you this: for the writing, I have been spending a couple hours a day dwelling in a lonely, confused and angry place to get these things written, so I am not always a whole lot of fun to be around. It's worth it to me, though, in the service of authenticity. Some of the fumes from these particular gas leaks may show up on the blog from time to time. Just hold your nose and try not to inhale too deeply. It's all good.

Here is my most useful tidbit, though: pick up a copy of The Writer's Idea Book by Jack Heffron and keep it handy. There are so many useful kinds of prompts in there and just the right kind of encouragement when you need it. Keep creating, folks.