Monday, April 30, 2012

Bright Yellow Flashdance Sweatshirt

Some days you just have to wear a bright yellow Flashdance sweatshirt.

Some days you wake up with the full weight of adulthood on your chest. It sits there and idly spins your brain like a coin on a table while it waits for its coffee. It etches the graffiti on your face a little bit deeper and highlights your hair with its silver spray paint. It makes gruesome faces at you and taunts you about all you have yet to accomplish while it plays keepaway with your confidence. Some days before you even throw back the covers, you find yourself out of breath, near tears and ready to sit down to in the dirt and wait for someone bigger, more capable to save you from this bully.

So what do you do? You close your eyes and say your prayers. You take your mental list of worries and ask for help, for patience, for remembrance. You picture the people you know who are sick and hurting and who have somehow lost their way and you ask for blessings for them. You picture the people you know who have chosen to hurt, to blame, to destroy and you ask for blessings for them, too. You draw up your bucket of shame, regret, disappointment from the deepest well where it hides and you ask for forgiveness and for new opportunities. Most importantly, you scan the horizon of your life, you empty your pockets of treasure, you lift the stones and turn over the dirt, you check the dark corners and behind the sofa and you say thank you for all that you have. And you say thank you again for things you might have forgotten, for things you mis-categorized, for things you have yet to receive. You draw a deep breath and you say thank you for that, too. And then you throw open the covers, like opening a new book that you will write today.

Some days you wake up and the complexity of life hits you. You count up all of your years and you wonder how it is you can feel so old and weary and so young and ill-prepared all at the same time. You count up all of your weeks and wonder where the last two seasons of your life went. You count up all of your days and you wonder what you have been doing that took so long. You count up your hours ahead and wonder how you can get it all done. You count up your minutes and wonder if you can still hit snooze.

So what do you do? You stop counting. You stop keeping score. You tell that siren, the snooze button, "Not today." You start moving. You realize that all of those years, those lost weeks, those forgotten days, those misplaced hours, those scattering minutes have brought you to now. And now is all you have. This now and the next now and the one after that. You take this now and fill it with something good, something right, something productive, something useful. You'll worry about the next now when it comes. Which is now and you get to choose all over again. You realize that the only place you live is right here. The only place you will ever be is with yourself in this moment. You'll do this now, now. Next you'll do the next now. And the rest can repose in its past and its future and wait its turn.

Some days you need some help with this. Some days it's coffee in your cup. Some days it's a smile from a friend. Some days it's a note in the mail. Some days it's inexplicably a box of fingernails on the sidewalk or the sight of an ancient couple laughing together in their car. Some days it's an alarm, a fire to put out. Some days it's a significant loss that reminds you of all you have.

Some days you just have to wear a bright yellow Flashdance sweatshirt. The one that makes you giggle when it slips off your shoulder because it reminds you of how you thought that was the sexiest thing in the world before you even knew what sexy meant. Because it is so bright and not your color and that's funny. Because in the wearing, it reminds you that your mother hates it but you can wear it anyway because you're plenty old enough to choose your own clothes. Because in the wearing, it reminds you of a time when you were young and longed for this day when you would be grown up, no one to answer to but yourself, no one to tell you what to do, no one to impress. Because it makes you smile and brings back youth, because it bucks convention of any responsible sort, because it asserts your ridiculous adulthood and because it's oddly comforting.

Some days you just have to wear it on the outside to remember the things on the inside. Some days you fight  the overwhelming tides of life with disreputable pants, mismatched socks and a sweatshirt that by all rights, should never have existed.

Some days you just have to wear a bright yellow Flashdance sweatshirt.

Friday, April 27, 2012

My New Japanese Boyfriend

It is amazing the things you discover when you read books.

I always shudder a little bit when people proudly announce "I don't read." Not out of snobbery. I don't really care what you read, it needn't be all high brow and incomprehensible. But reading is just one of those fundamental elements of life. Through reading we learn facts, we see those facts disputed, we learn stories, perspectives. We have windows into lives we would otherwise never witness. Reading develops the part of our brains that ingests and analyzes information. We learn the nutritional information on the backs of cereal boxes, we discover what's on sale at the grocery store, what albums are due for release this month, and what somebody's cute baby said today. We are enveloped in wild romances, other planets, other times, other places. We also find our long lost 13th century Japanese soul mates.

It goes a little something like this: A few weeks ago, we were at some friends' house for lunch. No wait. Back up. Last November, some friends of ours came over to our house. The library copy of Oblivion with which I was in a steel caged grudge match was lying on the end table in our living room. (By end table, I mean steamer trunk, but let's not discuss my decorating tastes here.) Our friend completely surprised the pants off me (not literally. What kind of people do you think we are?!) by picking up the book and saying simply "Consider the lobster." This friend of ours is a very straightforward kind of fellow. An engineer, a little bit shy, logical and straight laced. I didn't doubt that he read books, I just was surprised that his choices would be similar to mine. So we commenced commiserating about David Foster Wallace and then we went out to dinner (wherein my darling jBird announced my various gastric distresses to the table and pretty much all else was forgotten.) We all ended the day seeing each other in a little bit different light. I had this other piece of to the puzzle of my quiet friend, an area of commonality, something new we could talk about when conversation got awkward. And he... well, I don't know what he came away with. Probably some excessively disturbing mental images.

So, a few weeks back, we were at this friend's house and I was pawing through his bookshelf because that is my version of peeking in someone's medicine cabinet. You find out interesting things about your hosts, and generally the things you find out have nothing to do with frightening rashes. After a few minutes of pawing, I had to borrow a sheet of the Hooligan's coloring book and a crayon to scribble down some titles. Don't you just love friends like that? One of the titles I scribbled down was The Art of the Personal Essay and immediately went home and reserved it at the library (along with Eminem's latest album, but I digress.)

To my delight, this weighty tome has come available for me to peruse and probably not finish and then have to consider buying for a reference book because it is so awesome and then copying huge parts of it down in case I can't find it at the used book store and wishing I could highlight a library book and then wondering what good that would do me since I have to return it and then wondering if I should just commit the cardinal library sin and keep it and how bad would it be to have to move to a new city?

In a very heavy paper nutshell, this book is a collection of personal essays from since the beginning of time. It is my own personal version of Disneyland. It is also my Graceland and my Great Smoky Mountains and my Niagara Falls. Last night after the monkeys were in bed and the fire was lit, the Chief Lou and I sat down to read and listen to music and occasionally chat. [This is a large and important aside: When I was 18, a friend of mine was trying to convince me to date him and possibly marry him. I explained that while I loved him dearly, I didn't think we had enough of the right things in common for us to really be compatible. "Like what?" he asked me. "Well, like I like to read and you don't. I like to write poetry and you mock it. Like I don't like professional sports or Republicans." (or something like that.)  He was dismissive of this and said "What is more important to you? That you be with someone who make enough money to support you (my other option at the time was a penniless college student) or that you be with someone who will sit by the fire and read with you and talk about fancy things?" When I chose the latter, he was incredulous and assured me that would never happen and I was being hopelessly romantic. Much to my delight, he was wrong. No hard feelings, though. We remain friends to this day.]

What was I talking about? Oh yes. I was reading with my love when I found my long lost Japanese boyfriend. Kenko lived in thirteenth century Japan. Little is known about him except that he was someone or other in the Imperial court and that he was a bit of a poet. Then he became a Buddhist monk. The best details of his life are learned from his writing, however. He wrote in the style called zuihitzu - which directly translated means "follow the brush". Donald Keene, the translator of Kenko's work, notes:
"This form - or lack of form - was most congenial to Japanese writers, who turned to it perhaps because it was less 'dishonest' than creating fiction. The formlessness ... did not impede enjoyment by readers; indeed, they took pleasure not only moving from one to another of the great variety of subjects but in tracing subtle links joining the successive episodes."
How sweet is that?! I have, at long last, found a name for the kind of writing I do. It's in an anthology. It's medieval. It's valid. So, if I should happen to blurt out to my real estate agent that I write and she should happen to look surprised and ask me what, exactly, do I write, I could happen to respond: zuihitzu. It is a much less ridiculous response than: I don't know. Stuff?

The icing on my merry little Japanese cake of discovery -  the wasabi on my peas, the ikura on my sushi - is this opening written by Kenko himself, to his Essays in Idleness:

What a strange, demented feeling it gives me when I realize I have spent whole days before this inkstone, with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts have entered my head.

One of my favorite quotes from the movie Shadowlands is when C.S. Lewis's recalcitrant student tells Lewis: "I read to know I am not alone." Of all the wonderful things we learn from reading, finding that you are not alone is among the most valuable.

To your inkstones, friends!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Please Stand By

I was inadvertently kidnapped by Michel de Montaigne this evening while my husband played iTunes deejay with everything from the Talking Heads to Radiohead in the background.

I shall doubtless return tomorrow with something scathingly clever to write.

I'm sure this happens to everyone.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Misson: Comment Mob

Let me tell you about a blogger.

She's brilliant and funny. She makes the rest of us look like slackers. She's working on her PhD, teaching, running a freelance translating and writing business out of her home, and she's raising four children, all under the age of four. Do you know who I'm talking about? Many of you probably do. For those of you who don't, it's cdnkaro at four under 4 (plus two). On top of her workload of epic proportions, she still finds the strength to stay positive and witty, and what impresses me most is that she also still finds the time to reach out to others with incredibly thoughtful gestures: surprise flowers for another blogger going through a rough patch, a stamp book for a blogger's little brother, endless and regular sweet comments on any number of blogs, guest posts, and on and on.

Our blog friend has been a little bit overwhelmed lately and it's time for us to give her back a tiny bit of what she gives to so many. Jane in her Infinite Wisdom and I had an idea. We are going to mob her with comments. She just posted for the first time in a month yesterday with a tiny update on things. Click on over and leave her some love, then encourage others to do the same. Even if you haven't read her blog before, you don't have to know her to know what it feels like to be completely buried in life.

This is one of the wonderful things about the immediacy and far reach of blogging. Within a matter of minutes, I can sit in my home in Seattle and encourage you at your computer in __________ and you can send some goodwill to a dear heart in Canada. Pretty sweet, no?

Let's fill her post up with so many comments and well wishes that it boggles the mind.

Thank you and good days to all!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

She's Eight

Pure joy. Opening birthday presents.
If she was a fruit, she would be a mango.
If she was music, she would be rock and roll.
If she was a flower, she would be a primrose.
If she was a color, she would be magenta.
If she was a fabric, she would be silk.
If she was a food, she would be a loaf of artisan bread.
If she was a politician, she would be irresistible.

She's indescribable, my jBird. She's tough and she's gentle. She's imaginative and she's literal. She's ladylike and she's messy. She's bold and she's humble. She's caring and she's practical. She loves babies and she wants to be an astronaut. She's an activist. She's persuasive. She's brilliant. She's a networker. She's intense. She's fair-minded. She's very, very silly.

She's a maelstrom that entered our lives eight years ago this week.

I've been reflecting on the last eight years and have been finding it difficult to put it into words. From the very start, she has systematically shattered any preconceived notions I may have had of motherhood. She has done it with a smile and a gentle, unrelenting spirit. Eight years later, she's still doing it.

When she was 18 months old, I noticed she was singing along with Frank Sinatra in the car: Gotchooo unda ma 'kin! 

Under my skin is where she is. I am madly in love with my husband. My Hooligan is my sweetheart and can melt me with a wink, but nobody on this planet is as viscerally attached to me as my little girl.

I go to bed every night feeling like I've failed her. Like I haven't been the woman she needs me to be, let alone the mother. I have this powerful, gregarious, magnetic little girl and I fear I will make her ashamed of me in my retiring and relaxed ways. She would not agree with me if I told her this. She would wail and hug and reassure and kiss me all over my face and tell me I was the best mother in the world, and then she would ask for Daddy to put her to bed.

I am honored that the job of mother has been entrusted to me. That I have been given this complicated, delightful little girl to raise. It is not my job to make her into something. It is my job to recognize that she already is something. Something amazing and wondrous and more than I could ever imagine. It is my job to hold her hand and guide her through. To teach her the things she needs to know to be a grownup. It is my job to celebrate who she is and teach her to do the same.

It is a fearful and rigorous work. But she makes it more than worth it.

Happy birthday to my jBird with all of her quirks and facets, her shining light.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Out, Damn Spot!

I had a lot of stuff to write tonight.

While I was heading into the library earlier today, I touched something wet on the underside of the door handle with my left ring and middle fingers. In spite of many hand washings, I can still feel it there. 

Now that's all I can think about.

I'm like Lady Macbeth.

Except now I might have Hepatitis.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

She's Ba-ack!

Didja miss me?
I doubt it, with all of these wonderful guest posts to read. I am having such a good time catching up on the five-day love-in that has taken place here on the Periphery. What do you all need me for?! This is just so fantastic.

I'm waterlogged and I'm exhausted in the best sort of way, so I will leave you with a few of my favorite things from the last few days:

I love that I got to drink all of my coffee from paper cups.

I love how our car turned into a shuttle of us. Just a pod of the people I love best, piled in with snacks and books and crayons and knitting and lots of music.

I love how everything disappeared except hanging out, celebrating each other and having fun.

I love how much people watching I got to do. People are so appalling and strange and wonderful. All these people I got to gawk at, see their tattoos, watch them interact with their families, eat their dinner, drink their coffee, fight and play and get sick and just be in all of their glory.

I love the fact that I got to eat not one, but two pot roast sandwiches in the last two days.

I love that I had to talk the Chief Lou out of buying me a T-shirt that said "Winner Winner Chicken Dinner" at a roadside cafe (although I kind of wish I hadn't.)

I love coming home, taking a shower to wash of the gas station bathrooms, putting on clean jammies and curling up on my own couch.

G'night all. And until next time... winner winner chicken dinner!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Guest Post: Comparison Shopping

Today's guest post is from a blogger who holds a very special place in my bloggy little heart. She was one of my first readers and was one of the very first blogs that I read that I finally felt like I had a kindred blogging soul out there. Without further ado, my fellow reader and writer: Masked Mom

"Most people can read much more profoundly than they can write, speak or even think. For me, this is one of the great humiliations of being literate at all. If I can read Shakespeare, why can't I write Shakespeare? It's not fair."

I am not merely an avid reader, but a voracious one. This is a character trait I mostly consider a good thing—particularly when it comes to writing, because I’ve yet to read a book on writing that does not trumpet the importance of reading (and lots of it) to the development of writing skills. One of my favorite lines from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones  is “If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you.” This seems so sensible—like an artistic version of “You are what you eat.” And sure, there is a certain simple logic to it—of course there are many things in life we learn not merely by being actively “taught,” but by proximity, by osmosis almost.

The flip side, the dark side, of reading good books, or good work anywhere really, is that sinking feeling that nothing, NOTHING!, I ever write will be as good as what I’m reading. There are sentences and whole passages of things I read that not only strike an emotional chord but also inspire outright awe in the writer in me. Miracles of economy, stellar examples of structure, masterpieces of clarity, icons of imagery. All these things bring me great joy—and, very often, at the heart of that joy is a hard little nugget of despair.

This is one way of putting that paradoxically delicious despair: “I’m not sure how it’s possible, but I am simultaneously grateful to have read it and insanely jealous that I didn’t write it.” I couldn’t have said it better myself—and, in fact, I did say this myself, in a comment on this very blog, where I regularly read things that give me this exact feeling.

I think a feeling of inadequacy in the face of so much greatness in the literary world (in all its manifestations, including blogs, dammit) is a practically universal thing—we all feel it from time to time. “What’s the use in plugging away if I can never be as great as _______________.” Don’t we all have a name, many names, we can put in that blank? (And, to really push the limits of tasteful sucking-up, isn’t our fabulous hostess, TangledLou, one of those names for a lot of us?)

We must each find our own ways to work around this feeling. At the core of my own philosophical approach to this problem is a page from a years-old calendar featuring Maxine, the wiry-haired, cranky old lady who is a creation of Hallmark greeting cards. It said, “I gotta be me. I don’t see anybody else lining up to do it.” I am me, there’s no choice really. I approach the page with my own life experiences, my own level of education, my own proclivities (passionate (and somewhat intemperate) love for parentheses, just for one example), my own motivations, my own interests, my very own me-ness. I try to focus on leaving the best me on that page that I can.

Most days I succeed-ish.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Guest Post: Mom-Woman of Mystery

A huge thanks to Jewels from Frazzled and Frumpy for today's guest post. She's way cooler than she lets on and a mighty fine writer. She's been an agent of encouragement and inspiration to me since almost the very beginning of this blog.

I wonder if my kids wish I were cooler.  You know, more like the moms they see on TV.  The ones who are doctors saving lives, or CIA agents living a double life.  Yeah, that would be cool.   If their friends asked what I do , they’d probably avoid the question.  ("I don't know. She blogs or something.")

But, if I were an agent, my kids would be proud.  Agent Mom.

I could pick them up from school in my black Camaro, hiding behind awesome sunglasses so no one would recognize me.  I’d wear all the ‘hip’ clothes, and I’m sure I’d never say ‘hip’.  There would probably be a gun tucked in my jeans and my cell phone would double as an emergency transponder of some sort.  Sometimes, I would have to disappear in the middle of the night to jet off to a top-secret location.  But, I would always bring them souvenirs, like a t-shirt that said, “My mom went to Yemen and all she brought me was this lousy t-shirt.”

Instead, they’re stuck with me. Boring mom.  I drive my old car that’s littered with Wal-Mart receipts and diet Coke bottles.  My cell phone is just a phone and I don’t even know how to use all the features on it. The only thing tucked into my jeans is my shirt--and that’s on the days I’m not wearing sweats.  I use words like ‘hip’ and don’t understand their text language.  So uncool.

Maybe I should make them watch the shows I did.  I could definitely measure up to Carol Brady or Mrs. Partridge.  Carol had a station wagon and the Partridge mom drove that psychedelic bus.  Plus, my clothes are much more stylish than theirs- polyester pantsuits? Seriously.  I can feel my kids shudder.   And, I’m pretty sure neither of them even had a cell phone.

 Yes, I’ve got it all over the moms of the 70’s.  Who’s hip now?  

(A big thanks to Tangledlou for letting me guest post on her blog. I'm honored, because,  in the words of Annie Wilkes, "I'm your biggest fan.")

Monday, April 16, 2012

Guest Post: 3 Poems

Deb at Kicking Corners is our guest today. She's one of my new favorite bloggers with her thought-provoking posts and incredible range. She sent me these lovely poems that have instantly taken up residence in my sub-conscious. Thank you, Deb, for sharing these vibrant little bits of life with us.

You're helping me get past the part
where I feel like throwing up.
Me being quiet protects you
from having to know.

And from having to do.
I want to live somewhere
that's it's okay to make mistakes.
In this world you have to be perfect.

Pictures don't talk.

This grey place is calm --
but not for long.

Learn to Too

When I get mad at you,
here are some things you can do:

You can call me a bitch and walk away.
You can talk over me, not listen to a word I say.
Or you can smirk at me, laugh. Make me feel dumb.
You can rip my emotions apart until I feel numb.
You can lock me away from what I care for.
You can keep tally of comments, like sport with a score.

These are drops in an ocean of things you could do.
But if you really love me,
like I love you --
then when I get mad at you,
show me you love me anyway.
Despite the things I say.

Because the deep down secret is this:
I'm really just mad at me.

I know this ocean because I've learned to tread water in it.
Nearly over my self-depreciating head,
I'm spinning in it.
But if you can still love me,
no matter what I do,
maybe I can learn to too.

Myth's Creations

Ha! Ha! Ha!
Bubbling out.
We are a spring brook.
We are full of fish and tadpols.

We tumble together.
Waves washing over and over each other.
Roaring, we are the ocean,

Lazy snakes, not wiley.
We lay on rocks.
Soaking. Sun.
You are warm to me.

You are my tree of knowledge:
teaching me good and evil.
You are my tree of life:
we are forever.

We are creation myths.
I believe in you.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Guest Post: Lock, Stock and Barrel

A definition
'an atom is the smallest article of an element that can still be identified as this element, it cannot exist freely.

a molecule is a bond of two or more atoms it can exist freely' - Wiki Answers

Because everything is made up of molecules with nothing between this means we are all one big something, all joined by nothing. 
The dog, the rat, the guinea pigs, my sons, my husband, the air we breathe, the ground we walk on, the flowers, birds and hairy caterpillars and all you lot are one. The only thing separating us is nothing.

This is the world...

This is what it's made of...

We're all just little balls bouncing around in space.

Dinosaurs, knights in shining armour, Beethoven and Leonardo da Vinci. all just tiny balls held together by I don't know what.

If you dug in the right place and scooped up all the molecules of Heath Ledger, put them in a bath and added some sort of gluey substance you might be able to recreate him. A sort of Heath Cous Cous.

Where am I going with this?

Weeeeeell there's absolutely no reason at all for my dog and I not being able to walk through walls is there? 

Philosophy? No, 'silly'ophopy' from Julie at feeding the cat

Love this? Go check out Julie's philosophy, art and beautiful blogging at feeding the cat. She is an amazing artist and her wonderful meandering wit made her an instant favorite of mine. Thank you, Julie for guest posting! 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Guest Post: "Will You Trash My Vibrator?" and Other Secret Pre-Mortem Pacts With Friends

OK folks, I have left the planet. For the next few days you will be treated to a parade of creative talent from some of my dear, patient, talented readers. The Grand Marshall of this parade is Red Dirt Kelly and this beautiful, brave piece. Thanks so much Kelly for all you do!

 The last time I visited my comrade Cathy’s dying friend in the hospital, we talked about angels. “Cathy” was also the dying friend’s name which made for some confusing conversations in the ICU unit.
The dying Cathy looked very much like Susan Sarandon. She rested her head on the hospital pillow and toyed with the IV entry area on her arm while she whispered that she believed an angel had visited her on an Indian Reservation in New Mexico to deliver the message that she was ill. Her arm was hard to look at, having turned approximately half purple by that point.

In my mind, the warm sunlight streaming through the window lighting up her auburn hair was the Light, and the disease turning her arm…and the rest of her body purple…was the Dark. But the Light won when she breathed her last breath because the dying Cathy finally smiled and the tension left her face. She could rest now.

But my friend Cathy was a different story. That night she got drunk and I sat in her living room listening to her repeat stories about their friendship over and over. At one point, I found some rollers in her bathroom, brought them into the living room and begin putting them in my hair as a painfully weak way to cause laughter and break the sadness.
Needing to walk around at some point, we picked up a second bottle of wine and crossed the street, knocking on the door of a female Methodist minister who had a labyrinth in her back yard. We all three laughed when she answered the door with rollers in her hair. The three of us, rollers dangling at all angles from our hair and clothed in our bathrobes and slippers, began to walk through the labyrinth in her back yard, singing drinking songs. The minister and I watched our grieving Cathy as her sadness gushed forth well into the morning hours.
I thought about that night and my undone friend for three days. I was riveted by her ability to announce her utter unraveling in front of the two of us.

Had I ever openly wailed and shown my soft underbelly and pain so plainly to another human being? Even before I finished articulating that question to myself in my head, I knew the answer was: I have not.
The answer was still rolling around in the soul-space of my brain like an echo around canyon walls when my phone rang. It was my grieving friend and she needed help clearing out the house of the deceased.
So I helped her in this task, all the while observing her lingering hesitation over every object with some degree of meaning attached. I was in the middle of observing her decide which of the fifty potted plants to keep when she said, “Can we go get dinner? I need an emotional break.”

Once again, she had exposed her humanity by telling me she was at the limit of her “feeling” capacity, brought on by the process of sorting her dead friend’s belongings. And for the record, vulnerability does indeed breed vulnerability. Each time my friend opened her soul to me, I felt more like I could open mine to her.

So there we were, see, sitting across from each other at a restaurant table spread with heavy cream and butter pasta, grappling with the pieces of our lives which were floating in the air around us. Somewhere around my head “my own thoughts about death” drifted by, close to my speech center. It was being levitated by my growing trust toward my dinner mate.

So I blurted, “If my husband and I die simultaneously, will you PLEASE trash my vibrator? Cathy, I can’t let anyone find our vibrator when they’re cleaning out our ‘death things.’”
Her expression was a classic double take followed by a grandiose belly laugh.

“Oh my stars, yes!!” she replied.
“Okay, you HAVE to remember this…it’s in the bottom center drawer in his dresser, behind the socks. Will you please remember??” I was intensely ensuring that the entire pact would indeed be managed.
“Yes…” she started. “Got it. Bottom center drawer, behind the socks…” Her face was cracked with a full-blown smile and her eyes danced mischievously. “And will you PLEASE come into the funeral home when they’re preparing my body and pluck ALL the fuckwit hairs growing from my chin? I hate my chin hairs and would be SO mortified if they were sticking out of my face when people viewed my body!!”

“Absolutely,” I replied. “I. Am. IN. I will pluck your chin hairs. Happy to do it.” I felt better because I now also had a post-mortem task to contribute to the dignity of my own friend’s future death.
The conversation took a hairpin curve and by the time we walked out of the restaurant, we had talked about how body fat could be disguised in caskets, how to manage crazy family members in the funeral audience and what to make sure our children knew should they falter from time to time after we died.
In other words, we managed all of our personal anxieties about dignity and death over pasta, wine and the essence of our dead friend’s memory floating about in the restaurant air.

The bits and pieces of emotional processing still remaining around our table – buoyed by our own insecurities, were slowly descending to the floor when we left. They did not follow us. Rather, they were swept up with the bread crumbs by the wait staff after closing that night. We were finished with them. For now.

That particular dinner conversation happened three years ago. I still update her on any geographical change in “the location” of the vibrator. And, she’s sent me no less than two pair of excellent quality tweezers… “in case I’m without a pair should she kick the bucket.”

Our promises are intact, as is now our posthumous dignity.
Or, at least the pieces that about which we are most concerned.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Big Sticky Tootsie Pop Hug

I am a Tootsie Pop. A hard outer shell, with a soft and gooey center. My kids know this, so they have learned just how to patiently lick away until my gooey-ness is exposed. Sometimes, people with especially sharp teeth can just plow right into that gooey part without warning. I don't like that as much. But sometimes when the moon is right or if I've been listening to a lot of REM, I crack open that outer shell and give folks a view of the soft stuff. Really, and shhh! this is a secret, I'm mostly soft stuff.

I have spent the day getting ready to take my monkeys on a trip for a little breaking of spring, and to my delight, a large part of this day has been spent in communication with various stranger-friends who for no other reason in the world except that they're nice, have volunteered to guest post for me while I'm away. This is the sort of thing that reassures me about the future of the human race. Overly dramatic? Perhaps. Perhaps not, though. I was going to say that it's not like we're changing the world here. But maybe we are?

Technology and the internet and blogs and social networking all have their damaging effects on the world in one way or another. In the wrong hands, they can be used to tear down, to divide, to isolate, to disengage. I'm a hands-on kind of girl, so I prefer my life to be in 3D for the most part. But I also believe in the power of the written word. These words that we all work so hard to get down on the screen every day - most of us for no tangible compensation - these words matter. Sometimes they're silly, sometimes they're terse and driven by exhaustion, sometimes they're angry or moving or profound or misspelled or nonsensical. But always they matter. They matter to the lives that they touch, they matter as the tiny threads that weave people closer together, they matter because they're yours.

Six months ago I got my first actual reader on this blog. It was a thrill and a rush to know that some stranger out there read something I wrote and responded to it. To my amazement, some people responded again and again, and brought other people to respond as well. And now I have this little crowd of stranger-friends who inspire me daily, encourage me both directly and indirectly through their words, their tenacity and their dedication. That's you. All of you. You have changed my world.

So as I sit here, sleepy and satisfied, I want to say thank you. To all of you. Even if this is the first time you've ever read this blog, thank you. Thank you for having the courage to say things out loud, to follow your dreams, to think, to reason, to write, and to share. It's people like you who do change the world. Each time one of you reaches out to another person with a comment, an encouragement, a note, a laugh, or any of the other many things you do, you are making this world a better place to be. So thank you, from the bottom of my great big, gooey heart. Thank you.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Under Pressure

Thanks to the Hooligan, I listened to Under Pressure about thirty-six times in a row yesterday. Like all good hooligans, he is a huge fan of Queen. When we have to be in the car for a long time, he plays deejay for us. Well, actually it's more like he plays the repeat caller on an all-request radio show and I play deejay. We sing along and we dance at red lights and we repeat the same songs over and over because he likes to know when to snap in the right parts or to get all the lyrics down so that he can sing them at preschool or at church and astound people with both his singing ability and my lax parenting.
[Small digression: A while back, both of my monkeys memorized this version of Welcome To The Jungle and sang it whenever possible. The first time the Chief Lou heard their rendition, he almost went off the road from laughing so hard. It would seem, though, that some people do not find that as amusing as we do. In my defense, they have also memorized a great many hymns and sing those, too. That's a transcendent experience in and of itself - my little monkey angel choir of two - but it's not nearly as funny.]
Has there ever been a more sublime, fantastic, glitter-encrusted musical pairing than Freddy Mercury and David Bowie? I think not.  It's so sublime, in fact, that even Vanilla Ice couldn't ruin their song by co-opting its magnificent opening riff for his Ice Ice Baby.
[Another small digression: If you are one of the Ford Escort people, you cannot sit there with a straight face and tell me that there was not at least one summer that you loved that song.]
Regardless of how you feel about the music of either Freddy Mercury or David Bowie - not everyone can be a Hooligan -  you have to admit to a certain genius in both of their work. Perhaps more than the music itself, it is the genius that attracts me. Even if you don't like what you're hearing, from a creative perspective, you can sit back and think: Wow. Where did that come from? How did they think to create that? As these things happen when you are driving with a small Hooligan in a pouring rain, listening to Queen and contemplating creative genius, thoughts drift toward David Foster Wallace.
[tiny digression: you knew I was going there, didn't you?]
In his commencement address to Kenyon College's class of 2005, three years before he died, Wallace said this:
But if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars - compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things...[T]here are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the "rat race" - the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.
I was reminded of this particular speech while Freddy Mercury and David Bowie sang this to me at least thirty-six times:
 'Cause love's such an old fashioned word. And love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night. And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves.This is our last dance. This is our last chance. This is ourselves, under pressure.
These words, written by complicated men who lived complicated lives and died complicated deaths (except David Bowie who seems to have the same cosmic connections as Keith Richards) resonate. These were men of particular genius. Men who burned brightly and vividly and tapped into the deepest of the collective unconscious. They were men who were able to take that wild madness that inhabits us all and give it voice - through literature, through performance, through music, through words. It's a voice that frightens at times, confounds and disgusts, but also uplifts and understands. Ultimately, the life that they seemed to grasp in such elemental terms, got the better of them. But it would seem that at some point, they understood what lay at the bottom of it - that "same force that lit the stars", that "old fashioned word" - love. 

It is the currency of our time to be Under Pressure. Invisible forces from both without and within bear down on us from every direction. Whether it is controllable, or self-imposed, or situational, we all feel it. Sometimes the tendency is to lie down and allow ourselves to get smooshed, to give in to the irritability, the exhaustion, the "constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing". But "this is our last dance." The beauty of our existence is the ability to choose, to take those dares that love offers, to accept that "real freedom" of remaining connected. To love. To love in whatever ways are present for us. To see our connection to the whole of humanity and realize our burdens, our pressures, are not ours alone. These two men, creative geniuses that they were, realized this - turned it into art, even - but ultimately failed to live it. Do we want to fall prey to the same fate? This is ourselves. Under pressure. What will we do with it?

The Hooligan mostly just likes a steady beat he can dance to, but maybe he was onto something when he made me listen to Under Pressure thrity-six times.

I wouldn't place Vanilla Ice in the pantheon of creative genius, but perhaps he was onto something when he told us over the top of Freddy and David's riff: "Stop. Collaborate. And listen."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

And Speaking of Guest Posts...

This is not at all creepy.
Photo credit: sideshowmom from 

I want YOU.
Yes, you.

Listen, I'm leaving the planet for a few days starting Saturday and rather than hang a sign around the ol' blog that says I've gone on an extended coffee break, it would be just ducky if someone wanted to write a guest post for me.

We're not picky here around the Periphery. Got something that you don't want to put on your own blog? Send it over. Funny pictures of cats? Keep 'em. Treatise on the use of hands as symbolism in the collected works of George R.R. Martin? Send me an abstract. Or really anything else you've got kicking around. I'd be delighted to flog for some other bloggers.
So, ladies and gentlemen, start your search engines and send me some stuff. I would be so much obliged.

You can send me an email:
You can use the spanky new message feature on my Facebook page.
You can let me know in the comments here and we'll make the proper arrangements.
You can Tweet me.
You can write them on a bus.
You can write them without fuss.

There even might be something in it for you.

It's this, or I post a video a day of some of the most hideous ear worms ever to grace the face of Youtube. Or possibly interpretive art made from my fingernail clippings? Informative links with photos about various infectious diseases?

Seriously, if you're a seat-of-the-pants poster, this is an opportunity for you. I'm nothing if not a last minute gal.

And I thank you in advance. Mwah!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Guest Post of Sorts

I'm going to let John Dufresne speak for me tonight. This is from his book The Lie That Tells A Truth. I have been wholly absorbed in it for hours this evening. If you write, you should probably read it. He is a dangerous man. He makes me believe I could possibly write fiction, but that's another post.

This evening, he will speak to us about seeing.

We see what we expect to see, what we want to see, what interests us. We focus on the conspicuous features in our environment and filter out the details that don't apply to our purposes. We are attracted to what moves, to what is large, bright, incongruous, to what is new, to what seems beautiful. But as the artist Robert Henri reminds us: "No thing is beautiful. But all things await the sensitive and imaginative mind that may be aroused to pleasurable emotion at the sight of them. This is beauty." And this is seeing. When you have seen something beautiful, you have looked at it beautifully. When you look closely at things, you see what is unique about them, what is surprising and deserving of your attention.

I love this man for obvious reasons. What are you seeing? Discuss. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Uncovering Skeletons

Write to me of loss, I said. I'm interested in loss. Tell me about the first time. What did it feel like?

I wrote about losing my wisdom tooth, I've written about losing contests, I asked you to write about your losses. Succinctly, freely, instantly, 250 words or less. Some of you did, and it was fantastic.

Deb at Kicking Corners wrote about an old loss that somehow uncovered more recent losses.
Michelle at Buttered Toast Rocks wrote about the good kind of loss - the little loss of selfishness that comes with being a mother.
Larissa at Papa Is a Preacher wrote about the necessity of loss for growth, the divine plan in loss and even used a parable.
Masked Mom wrote about a loss of something indescribable as a child, but clearly a loss.

Jane In Her Infinite Wisdom sent me this marvelous link. It's a project driven by loss, to uncover the commonalities across the board in all kinds of loss.

Casey has a whole blog dedicated to dealing with cyber losses. Check it out here.

I had a few other responses, too. A fellow blogger commented on the BlogHer version of the post and wondered if it was necessary to examine losses.

A friend of mine told me this in an email: "I apologize, but I'm not gonna write about loss. I'm trying to explain, but I'm having trouble getting the words right. So simply put, I'm not gonna write about loss cuz I don't want to."

Only a very small part of this whole exercise comes from a creepy voyeurism on my part, I promise. I have been pushing my writing (obviously not my blog writing) to its limits and beyond lately. I've tried to stop being so polite, so proper. It has been the sweatiest of exercise for me. I don't like to sweat, but there is the hope that after I'm all showered up, I'll feel better for having done it. Not feel better for the sake of a kind of therapy, but that the writing will feel better - healthier, more toned, leaner, stronger. I believe in writing for therapeutic reasons; I don't necessarily believe in publishing said writing. I do, however, think we can use these intense emotions, these moments in our life that take our breath away (for good or for bad) to enrich our writing, rather than skimming merrily along the surface.

There is a price, though. It's sweaty. It's uncomfortable. It's exhausting. It sometimes takes you places you weren't quite prepared to go. Sometimes it frightens small children (this is why I write after they've gone to bed.) If you've read my blog for any time at all, you may have realized that I like to examine things. I appreciate so much all of you who chose to examine along with me. You are my comrades, my co-conspirators, my fellow travelers through the madness that is writing. I have nothing but the utmost gratitude and respect for all of you. As always, if you don't see your link or if I've overlooked someone, LET ME KNOW! I want to include everyone. Thank you.

So, my 230-some-odd words on loss. I wrote four different pieces to get to this one. I had to peel back several layers of defenses and I probably could stand to peel a few more. But I wanted to get this done, so I could share the lovely work you all have done.

It hurts in the center of my chest, and when I breathe around it, it leaks out my eyes.
I can't write this. It cuts to the quick and it hurts.
It divides muscle from bone and leaves me a lifeless, spineless heap.
It exposes my useless mask and the skeleton it hides.
We hide our skeletons, not in the closet, but right under our skin.
They prop us up, they keep us walking, keep up the framework of our appearances.
These skeletons aren't hanging out forgotten, underneath out of season clothes, dust bunnies, defunct vacuum cleaners and the shoes I forgot I had. That's not where our skeletons live.
They walk around just under the surface, always there. They hurt and they break us when we bump up against things unexpectedly. Like a picture. Out of the blue, just pops unexpectedly where there was nothing before and you bark your shins or stub your toe.
I didn't stub my toe. It hurts just behind my ribs, that skeleton that covers my heart. Protects it and other soft and vulnerable things. It hurts. The bruise is from the inside. It threatens to burst.
All unnatural, unnerving to see the skeleton on the outside. The little bit of bone, out of place, poking through flesh. It sickens. It must be addressed. It must be healed.
I don't want to write this.
It hurts.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Jigsaw or Jackhammer?

Once upon a time there was an essay. It was an essay of moderate proportions, just simmering around in the brain pan. It begged to be written. Apparently, it did not mind if it was to be written poorly, it just needed to be written. So written it was. Now it sits. And sits. And sits.

I am frustrated with the editing process at this point and it is consuming far too much of my creative chutzpah. Do I go in with a jigsaw and carve around the parts I like, then try to piece them back together to paint a better picture? Or should I just go in with a jackhammer and use the leftover chunks of concrete to make an interesting border for a flower bed? The beauty of computers is that I can do both and not really lose anything in the process. But, process it is, and as much a part of the creative process as writing it all down to begin with. Process. I should say that a few more times. Process. Excuse me while I process for a bit.
I hate ham.
Photo credit: 
gracey from 

Part of a cat's fight or flight instinct includes grooming itself to restore equilibrium and assess the damages after the incident is over. Sometimes, though, with a huge surge of adrenalin, these reactions can get scrambled and the cat will just get overwhelmed and sit and groom itself first. This happens to humans, too. That's why we find ourselves laughing at funerals, crying during sex, or buying a ten pound ham after meeting with a real estate agent.

It occurred to me the other day that there is an alarmingly large population that has spent a number of formative hours crammed into the back seat of a Ford Escort.

My daughter told me the other day that the average person swallows about six spiders a year while they are sleeping. This doesn't freak me out. What freaks me out is chicken nuggets.

I cannot stop watching Morgan Freeman in old Electric Company skits.

There comes a time in every girl's life when she realizes she is a tedious bore.

I've had to wear my grownup pants far too often this week. My grownup pants are going to get holes in them just like all my other pants if I'm not careful.

I am short circuiting here. It's like that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where C3P0 gets abducted by Lando and his evil C3P0 and they dismantle him and his eyeball is all hanging out and he's spouting nonsense. I need a Chewbacca to come along and fix me with tools from his mysterious pouch and then yell at me in that pre-verbal yowling. Or I could just edit my essay. Hey! Maybe I could get Chewbacca to edit it and then I could market my pre-verbal yowling to Wookie literary journals.

Does someone want to be my Wookie?

As It Should Be

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I am going to the zoo today to visit my friend the jaguar. I will show her my new hat. I will eat popcorn with the Hooligan and tuck myself into a corner and write somewhere while he plays and plays and plays.

My writing will likely be disjointed, nonsensical in spots because I will have to look up and keep an eye on the Hooligan periodically. He will catch my eye, wink and give me a thumbs up and I will smile and think that there was never a more beautiful boy on this planet. And all of the mothers around me will be thinking similar thoughts about their own little hooligans and that is as it should be.

 As long as they think these similar thoughts quietly and don't interrupt my writing. But they almost never do. I pull out my notebook and my pen and I am given wide berth in the playgrounds of the city. That is as it should be.

It has been a noisy week, folks. So many different kinds of noise. I leave you with this reflection for the weekend.

"Keeping Quiet" by Pablo Neruda (translated by Alastair Reid)

Now we will count to twelve 
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Out of Body Cocktail Party

Photo credit: fractl from
Do you ever sit down to complete a thought and there's a cocktail party going on in your brain? Friends you haven't seen since childhood are rubbing elbows with Presidential hopefuls. School superintendents are off in a corner somewhere in deep conversation with your mother. Ex-boyfriends are chasing your old bus driver around the hors d'ouevre table and sloshing their drinks. The deejay is blasting that Chumba Wumba song that you didn't even like the first time around and mixing it up with Depeche Mode and the soft hits of the 70s, 80s and today. There's a conga line of children, old pets, authors and movie stars. They stop and speak to you in quotes and song lyrics, bad puns and cliches. It's a wonder anyone gets anything done around here.

It was a beautiful afternoon today. The sun came out and softened the chill in the air. Everything smelled like grass and cherry blossoms. We walked to the park after school because playing tag was really the only thing any of us could think to do. An old power ballad blasted through an open apartment window and I felt like I was in a John Hughes movie. Where the skies are always blue, the lawns are always mowed and the family dynamics are always are slightly dysfunctional. It was the sort of afternoon that lifted me up and out of body and around and through time and space.

Rather than fight my out of body cocktail party, I think I'll let it rage on. I won't be the finicky neighbor who calls the cops when it's too loud, too late on a school night. I'll take my place near the punch bowl and do some people watching, maybe take some notes. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Right Hand

In eighth grade gym class we were all lined up out on the field practicing the long jump. I was a little shorter than my peers, but had powerful legs from years spent as a center midfielder in soccer. I didn't have breasts and my hair never feathered right, but by golly, I could run fast and jump hard. I was in the full glory of my longest long jump ever, arms windmilling, loving every second of it when I realized someone had left the rake at the back of the pit. There's really no way to stop jumping when you've gone that far. I put my hand down to steady my descent and landed with the heel of my hand, followed by the full force of my body in flight, on the rake. I took a second, pulled my hand off of the rake, sat and looked at the giant puncture wound filling with blood and yellow gristle from inside my hand and promptly walked back across the field, into the school to the nurse's office. The nurse took one look and called my dad to take me to the emergency room for a tetanus shot and a butterfly bandage.

At my first post-college job, I worked as an event planner for a catering company. When I got tired of listening to brides and socialites quibble over cash bars or table linens, I would seek comfort in the bustle of the kitchen. The crass and rude chefs would let me help them cook because I wasn't afraid to get dirty and I would do things like roll 2000 raw scallops in bacon. (Do you even know what your hands smell like after that?!) It was my meditation. I could get sweaty and filthy and reek of seafood and grease and not have to mind my manners or sell anything or worry that the china service was all wrong. One day I was pulling a tray of spinach and feta triangles out of the oven and touched the base of my thumb to the oven rack. My rubber glove melted and burned onto my hand. I didn't want the chefs to think I was a wimp, and we had an event to get out the door, so I finished loading up the food before I went to the bathroom to peel off the glove and a layer or two of my skin.

A few years ago while we were camping, I went to retrieve a kite from our giant old Volvo station wagon while my family frolicked in the field several yards away. I watched them wrestle and run and play in the sunshine, completely overtaken in a moment of pure and blessed perfection. I slammed the door on my pinky. Unbelieving, I just yanked my finger out of the door instead of opening it. As I looked at the inside of the tip of my pinky, it occurred to me that I might be hurt, so I did what any rational person would do. I shoved the end of my finger back in place and went to go fly kites with my family. The Chief Lou noticed that I was grayish in the face and that there was blood dripping off my hand and insisted that probably the kite flying could wait.

courtesy of
While I am generally ambidextrous, I favor my right hand. It's my primary writing hand, and its the one I unconsciously turn to in a crisis. It is the hand that's always out there in the forefront of whatever I'm doing. I have a large lumpy scar on the butt of my right hand right where my life and fate lines intersect. I have a dark purple line across the base of my right thumb. I have a Franken-nail on the pinky of my right hand. I have these and countless other scars on my right hand from where it has taken the heat, stopped my fall, and run interference for me when I've operated beyond my limits. My kids like to look at my hand and trace the scars, to hear the stories and to squeal with horror and awe. This hand of mine that's battered and worn will never be used to advertise diamond rings or Palmolive. But it's my primary writing hand. It tells stories. It speaks in twisted lines and singular silhouettes of times I have flown farther, jumped longer, worked harder, and lost myself in the moment like never before. It's my right hand.