Monday, December 30, 2013

Sly Dawn

We rattled off into the dark too early this morning. The hours saved only for farmers, travelers and returning to senses from regrettable indiscretions.

And now we sway and toddle and click northward toward home. It's the Coast Starlight. A name full of some kind of Art Deco romance.

I whispered to my true love in the early dark hours down the line: I'll be on the first Coast Starlight. It's been too long. As if I've been away at war instead of visiting family for a few days. As if I'm all pin curls, champagne cocktails and throaty femme fatale instead of yoga pants and bedhead.

But when the train moans and shimmies over aching trestle bridges into sleepy urban back alleys, what else can I be?

The holidays came up fast and blurry this year. Sudden brake lights on a slippery street. I saw it all coming out of the corner of my eye. At some point between the falling of leaves and the big turkey dinner, I decided to get out and walk. Just skip the screeching, stressing adrenaline buzz and watch it calmly from off-center. Heavier pockets and lighter hearts in the end of it all.

Our train crawls steadily on toward home. Day breaks over warehouses, trackside bodegas, forgotten real estate. Buildings, landscape worn gray by the constant whistle rattle of transience. It's all beautiful in the way it survives.

The fog lies heavy, snags on bare trees and mutes the sunrise. It's a sly dawn. Imperceptible shifts in shades of gray. Layers of darkness peeled slowly back in transparent layers. Lightness comes by degrees but undeniable even so.

And I'm content.

I will ride this Coast Starlight to my true love. Humble, shambling, sounding its presence through back lanes; hesitant and mournful, but ending with a bold declaration.

I will ride this sly dawn into day.
Portland in the sly dawn

Friday, December 13, 2013

4 Reasons Why You Are A Chicken, But Not A McNugget

We seem especially fond of all these lists lately, don't we? I see them everywhere. I suppose because it is reducing the whole bird down to the McNuggets that we can digest quickly from our smart phones while we do other things. You know the lists: "7 Things You Say To Your Children That Will Destroy Their Will To Live", "25 Things That Happy People Do Better Than You", "18 Ways To Make Your Life Perfect", "147 Things Never To Say To Me Even If I Am Moody and Unpredictable and You Meant Well" and so on. Perhaps I paraphrased a few of those titles, but you know what I'm talking about.

Let's dish, mmm-kay? McNuggets are manufactured meat. They are the offal and beaks and other scraps flavored and packaged and brilliantly marketed as cheap, bite-sized food. We all know this. Some of us eat them anyway, some of us crusade against them, some of us wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole but feed them to our children occasionally. None of us confuses McNuggets with actual chicken.

We are the actual chickens, folks. I'm going to chase this metaphor around the barnyard a little bit. We are the living, breathing, flapping birds. I say "chicken" and you might imagine this:
Photo credit
Or this:
Photo credit
I imagine this:
My late cat, Chicken, helping with the laundry.

Do you see my point, here? 

McNuggets are all right sometimes when you just need a little something to get you through the afternoon, but as a steady diet, they will give you diarrhea at best and diabetes at worst.

I get a little antsy when we boil down the human psyche and all of its complex wonder to a few bite-sized pieces and then we hand them around in the greasy cardboard container of the internet as if they were actual food for thought. These lists are entertaining; they have their place, I suppose. I can read the "7 Things That Perfect People Do" and either pat myself on the back for scoring 4 out of 7, or I can read it and post it on my Facebook page as a wink and a nod to all my friends who are far less than perfect, or I can read it and feel like crap because here is another list of things that I'm failing at. Maybe all three at once. But over time, a steady diet of these over-simplified, over-generalized, deep fried bits of beak and feather can make you pretty unhealthy.

We chickens are a varied and beautiful species. We are also ridiculous. Sometimes we stop laying eggs, sometimes we sit in our own poo. Sometimes we go over to the neighbors' yard and repeatedly uproot their freshly planted pansies as if we are on some sort of seek and destroy mission (not that I'm bitter about that at all.) Sometimes we wedge our heads in trees and need the help of a small child in a helmet to get us out.
jBird and Golden Eagle
Of course, we're not chickens. McNugget-ized or otherwise. We're people who seek to better ourselves; who want to do what's best for our communities and our families and all that. We are also people who, by the very fact of being human, say and do appalling things, make terrible mistakes, hurt people. A lot of the time, we don't do nearly as much or as well as we know we should. Most of the time, we're doing the best we can with the information and the resources we have.

The greatest minds in the world have devoted themselves for thousands of years to studying and understanding humans and there are still not very many clear or definitive answers to the largest questions we ask. Chances are, a blogger listing his or her personal experience isn't going to get it completely right, either. 

These McNuggets are seductive. I love checklists. They make me feel like I've accomplished something, they help keep me on track, they help organize my thoughts. They are not the whole story. And ultimately, I can't operate from anyone else's To-Do list. There may be some overlap, but no one's going to go and return my overdue library books or understand why there is simply the word "stuff" on my grocery list except me. Likewise, "The 63 Things You Say To Your Daughter That Will Undoubtedly Make Her Anti-Feminist and Bulimic". 

It's time to step back and take a look at the whole bird.

If you are struggling with illness or depression or an emotionally abusive relationship with someone, do not take these things lightly. A 20-piece McNuggets will not satisfy those particular hungers and could do more harm than good. Get real help, professional help, spiritual help, whatever you need. A handy checklist of happy thoughts is not the solution.

If you are basically all right and are just amusing yourself, so be it. I eat McNuggets, too, sometimes. But if you start to get a tummy ache and nothing tastes quite right, stop and think about why. There are more than enough reasons in the world to hate ourselves, and honestly, a lot of them are justified. It is the onus of human existence to try and deal appropriately with the abominable things that are within us. This is a difficult enough task without adding layers of manufactured meat product guilt because I call my kids "freak" as a term of endearment. 

There is no magic, one-size-fits-all checklist of how to escape this life without the ruffling of feathers. I wish there were, because I would give it to my kids and loved ones and I would never have to see them hurt or make mistakes or just really foul things up irreparably (pun not initially intended, but left there, nonetheless.) I would give it to myself so that I wouldn't have to do those things, either. According to the font of all knowledge, Chicken McNuggets come in four shapes: Bell shaped, Boot shaped, Bone shaped, and Ball shaped. It rightfully gives us the willies to think of mashed up chicken parts crammed into four, and only four, wholly unnatural shapes. Even if it gives you delicious willies, you at least realize there is no actual part of a chicken called "The Bell".
Photo credit

It should give us the willies to do that to ourselves as well. Step back and flap your ridiculous wings. 
Do I need to make a list of reasons why?

Monday, December 9, 2013

It's Kind of Crazy and It Hurts

My Hooligan woke up this morning and asked me to scratch his back. "Harder, Mama. Really scratch it. A little to the right. No, the other way. Up, up... perfect. How many days until Christmas?" A little early morning subtraction lesson and hey! It's sixteen days until Christmas.

"How many days until today?" I asked him. He narrowed his eyes and rolled them at the same time. Can you picture it? He pursed his lips and silently held up his hand in a closed fist: zero. "What's today?" he asked me. "Today is Monday. It's a day we get to enjoy." I drive my children crazy with this. He yawned and stretched and lazily rolled onto me so that his face was right in mine - morning breath and all. "I know, Mom. I need ten more minutes of cuddles before I get up." Ten turned into twenty and then we decided that school lunch sounded good today.

I spent yesterday evening on the phone with my sister. She had some questions about the mechanics of small-human care. Her baby boy is the most beautiful boy ever born and is only just a week old. We talked nipples and blankets for a while and then she paused. She took a deep, shaky breath and sniffled a bit. My tough little sister almost never cries. She sounded like the child with whom I shared a room and whose hair I used to brush and braid.

"I love him so much," her voice broke for real. "Sometimes I just look at him and it hurts, I love him so much. I feel like I'm going to break in half. It's not pretty. It's huge and it's scary."
"I know, baby. That's how it feels sometimes."
"But don't you think that's neurotic? I mean other mothers love their babies and they don't feel like that. They don't break and fall apart."
"Of course they do. They just don't talk about it to you. Because it's kind of crazy and it hurts."
"Will that go away? Is it hormones? I feel like I am breaking."
"No, it doesn't really go away. You just get used to it."
"Great. I don't know how I'm going to live."

I have no useful advice to give her in this department. How do you tell someone who is exhausted and overwhelmed and up to her eyeballs in brand new experiences that yes, you just break in half and then you keep going until you break in half again, and then you keep going some more.

My husband and I were talking about it later. I told him: "It's like when you first get married and you have these flashes of overwhelming fear. Where you think to yourself, 'This person just gave me the rest of their life and I could utterly destroy them.'" He laughed and said, "Yup. You could, but you don't."

Love is a fearful thing. Trust is a fearful thing. They are large and they hurt. They break you in half. They push you until you think you can't bear it anymore, and then you can. They wouldn't be worth a whole awful lot if they didn't do these things. It's kind of crazy and it hurts. Well-wishers and greeting card writers tell us "Enjoy every minute, it goes by so fast" and we feel like there's something a little bit wrong with us when we admit that it's huge and scary. I have not enjoyed every minute with my children. Sometimes the minutes that brought the most joy have almost crushed me. It's not always pretty.

My husband and I spent the rest of our evening in huddled conference about how we would face this next phase of parenting in our own lives; marveling at how far from diapers and feeding and sleeping positions we've come. We conceded we still know almost nothing about the raising of small humans. And yet we've all lived.

This morning while my Hooligan was giving me sass and demanding back scratches and being such a cliche by asking how many days until Christmas, I felt it again. Like I might just break in half. Like I might just grab his big old head and squeeze it until it popped. And then we got up and went in search of his sister and some breakfast.

Because somehow, we've found a way to live.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Say Hello to My Hair

This is a multi-media presentation. Listen to this song while you read, if you please.
This post is also dedicated to Marie, who among many other things, understands the power of a really good head of hair.

A few years ago, I broke up with L'Oreal.
Because I'm worth it.

In a fit of birthday madness, I decided that I would officially be all done with covering up my gray. I'd been at it for 15 years. I am quite vain. I was terrified of looking like a tired, old hippie, so I cut all of my hair off. I sometimes have to remind myself to not grow too attached to dead cells that sprout out of my head.

Here's my hair a year ago:

I spent several months looking exactly like Dan Zanes:
Dan Zanes
photo credit
He's the one who's singing the song you're listening to if you followed directions. He's telling you "open any door and say 'hello, hello,hello!'" There are worse people to look like.

I'm writing a blog post about my hair. 
It's not just about my hair. 
It's about saying hello and not no.

Like the song says, every day brings more.
It brings more gray hairs, I can say quite authoritatively. 
Many more:
This is my hair today.
Every day brings more.
It brings more pain, more annoyance, more things I gotta do, more things that make me contemplate the purchase of a large flame thrower.
It brings more absurdity, more gracious gifts, more laughter, more things that make me remember that flame throwers are awesome, but not as awesome as a hug or a nap or maybe a cup of coffee.

Open any door and say hello, hello, hello...
Here's why I'm thinking about my hair: it's out of control, really.
So is yours.
Oh sure, we have our pastes and creams and treatments and stuff to try to make it do and look the way we want it to. And you know, all that's all right. It helps us get through the day, it makes us feel a little better about life for a while. It's like a happy little scented patch we put on things as they are. (I purchased off-brand organic shampoo that promised an "invigorating citrus scent" but it kind of smells like bathroom cleaner. Sometimes these patches don't work out in the ways we expect them to.) But it still just keeps growing out of your head however it feels like it.

It's the same bright sun that shines on everyone, and though clouds may come, just say "hello, hello, hello".
It's all out of control, isn't it? I can't make the sun rise. I can't do anything at all about this Arctic front that has come through and frozen everything solid. I can't even really make my hair behave.
Sometimes life is a song that you want to dance to, sometimes it's a crotchety old lady who smacks you with her cane. Sometimes our complaints are about our hair or the latte we didn't get to drink. Sometimes they are far more encompassing than that. Sometimes very real and heavy rain clouds pelt us with heartbreak, loss, fear, brokenness. I do not dismiss these with the wave of a breezy hand. It's all out of control, though, so say hello, hello, hello.

Back to my hair. I have spent a lot of time and money trying to tell it no and then a few years ago, I told it hello. It's a sign of other things, you know. The slowly letting go of an artificial image of myself, of my life. What I think things should be, how I think things should look. It is a small and ridiculous thing, but I am nothing if not small and ridiculous.

I'm tired of NO. I'm tired of resisting things that are out of my control anyway. Somewhere along the line - was it our Puritan forebears? Let's blame them. They wore silly hats. They did not accept their hair - we gathered to ourselves the subtle and false knowledge that life should be all good, all pleasant, all positive, and if it's not, we must be doing something wrong. We have the empirical evidence every day that this is not so, but we still kind of believe it anyway. So we fight and we resist and we expend all this energy fighting the wind.
All it does is mess up your hair.

OK, I like silly hats, so I can't be too hard on the Puritans. But still... sometimes you just have to choke a turkey, you know?

Just say "hello, hello, hello"...

Say hello to real life. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes it soars. Sometimes it's boring, sometimes it's so stimulating we want to fall over and cry. It is uncertain, it is out of control. It is unwieldy and it sometimes smells like bathroom cleaner when we'd rather it didn't. Pick a door, throw it open, shout HELLO. Welcome it all and give it some hot cocoa or a biscuit, ask it what it came to teach you and then send it on its way because another guest will inevitably come a-knocking. And probably the nasty ones will come around again because they felt they didn't teach you enough the first time or because you were bored or because they really liked the biscuits and wanted your recipe. Tell them hello again.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Say hello.

And one more hello.
Hello Kitty. Because it's absurd and because the day this was taken, I was having the worst day ever and it delighted me to my toes to photo bomb a children's birthday party. And because my hair was atrocious that day.
And because... well... hello!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Above Reproach

So, it's nearly four in the afternoon and I just discovered that I've been wearing my leggings backwards all day. So, there's that.

Thanksgiving is all over but the leftovers and now it's on to the next.

A ninety-year-old woman walked up behind me today and muttered, "Bitch!" and when I looked startled, she patted my arm. "Not you, honey. You're above reproach." Now I'm wondering who she was talking about.

Over the Thanksgiving break, I read an entire trilogy of vampire-steampunk-alternate-history kind of books. They were dreadful and wonderful all at once, as only that genre can be. Now I'm torn between doing penance by reading something a little more literary or writing fan-fic about the tall and mysterious Prince Gareth in his swirling cloak and welder's goggles. Am I the only one who reads vampire steampunk trash? Can't be. I like to refer to it as Alabaster Trash. I may even start a whole tab on this blog to review all of the Alabaster Trash I've read in the last several months.

I have concluded my No-Shave-November-National-Write-A-Turkey-Novel-and-Polish-Sausages-Month. I only did two of those things. Three. I didn't write a novel. I'll leave that in more capable hands. I did polish sausages, though. (Dirty!) Seriously, though, I set a goal for the November madness to polish and submit at least five pieces for publication. Done and done and then some. It was very gratifying and all that. But, like Thanksgiving, that's all over now and it's on to the next. Well, it's not done. It's never done, but you know, the goal is met.

I also set my oven on fire last week. It's all good, though. Only some extremely soupy chocolate chip cookies were harmed.

Well, my chickadees, I'm going to have to summon forth some dinner that does not involve leftovers. I am in no mood for a dinner table revolt this evening. The world spins on. My Hooligan prayed last night: "Thank you for all the stuff I have that I can give away." I think I like that. In a month of cliche, it is refreshing to hear a 7-year-old's unsocialized take on things.

The sleet just started. I never watch the news or check the forecast, so the weather is always a surprise. There were whispers of wintry weather among the senior citizens at lunch today and I smiled and nodded politely. They were right, though. You should always listen to the senior citizens. Except when you think they are calling you a bitch, then you should remember that you are above reproach.

Friday, November 29, 2013


The word in Hebrew literally means: "trumpet blast of liberty."
Doesn't that just make you want to stand up and shout for joy? It's like an ancient Hebrew fist pump. It's a victory lap, a touchdown dance.

It's this face:
It is this face, in a hot and smelly overcrowded pet store on a Saturday afternoon.

It is this face, later in the afternoon, covered with small hands, hiding the tears that suddenly burst out. It is the muffled, laugh-cry-hiccup, "I'm just so happy! I can't believe she's here! I am so lucky!"

It is this little face, on her knees, hands clasped, uttering a spontaneous and ecstatic prayer of thanksgiving.

For this:
This is Jubilee. She's a leopard gecko.
Early in the summer, the jBird informed us she'd like a leopard gecko. If you've lived with jBird for very long at all, you know that she develops wild fascinations with random things that come and go with the seasons.

We did the blustering parent thing.... Big Responsibility... Live animal... Lots of work... Special equipment... a-ho-ho-ho... all the while twirling our mustaches and tucking our thumbs authoritatively in our parental suspenders. Our little girl smiled and said, "I know. I'll do it."

She spent the rest of the summer checking out books from the library, watching videos on YouTube about the care and feeding of leopard geckos. She explained painstakingly over dinner one evening about what to do if your leopard gecko should become impacted. Meanwhile, she saved her allowance. She asked for extra chores and saved the money from those, too. She searched Goodwill, every pet store in town, craigslist and eBay for the best deals on all the things she needed to bring a lizard home. She turned down opportunities to buy other, more immediate gratifications and hoarded her small fortune for six months.

Here's a secret: I hate lizards. I don't have many irrational phobias, but reptiles are one of them. Just being near them makes my skin crawl, I feel faint and like I have to get away right now when I'm in their presence. On our trips to the pet store to visit them, I have stood down at the end of the aisle, breathing slowly and evenly so I wouldn't run. My jBird doesn't know this. If there's one thing I hate more than reptiles, it's irrational fears. Leopard geckos are harmless. They don't even have teeth. Their tails are flabby and their skin looks like it's covered in little pimples, but they're not a threat to anything except meal worms and the occasional cricket.

Nine and a half years ago, a strange and wonderful creature came to live in our house. She was beautiful and soft and smiled easily. She knew her own mind and has taught me more than any one person I know. I remember standing in the kitchen of our tiny rented duplex in a college neighborhood, staring out into the quiet night. My baby laughed and played in my arms in the wee hours of the morning, very pleasantly wide awake. I held her up to see the stars and leaned my head against the glass of the window, thinking I'd never been so tired in my life, that I didn't think I could do this much longer. I had never been so afraid in my life. I rubbed my nose on the velvety back of her head where her neck started, all milky and rumpled with baby fat. I inhaled the foreign, intoxicating scent of this creature and knew, once and for all, my life would never be the same. The fear of that fact fell away and I remember that night, resolutely deciding that this is what I signed up for and that I had nothing to do but hang on and see where it took us.

That strange and wonderful creature is halfway to legally adult now and she has raised my demons, pushed the boundaries of my patience, my endurance, my very self far beyond the limits I thought I had. She has illuminated parts of me I didn't know existed, she has carved herself indelibly on my body and on my soul. She has brought laughter, light, delirious, riotous happiness along with the storms and the dark and inconsolable nights. She has, with her sweet and stormy self, brought jubilee. She is a trumpet blast that has liberated me from the confines of the smaller person I was. She has ripped my world wide open and shown me how much more there is to be.

And now she has brought Jubilee, the lizard who lives in my house. My strange and wonderful creature has shown me - yet again - with patience, perseverance and unbridled joy and thanksgiving, how to face my fears and sit with them where I live. She is my jubilee.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I Get To Be 39

I was going to write about my hair today. Maybe later.

I have been mulling over ageing and societal norms and so on for the last few weeks. I've been arranging and rearranging thoughts and looking at ideas and culling the interwebs for information and a lot of it points to a sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so resistance to ageing. I believe it stems, in part, from a fear of death. Because in spite of evidence to the contrary, that is generally how we think of death: you get old, then you die. It follows that we might want to stave off the "getting old" part of that equation in order to distance ourselves from the inevitable. We want to cling to life.

What we forget is that death is a wild card. It comes when it feels like it.

I learned this afternoon that after three days of a search and rescue mission, some dear friends just recovered their son's body from the river where he was last seen. He had just turned twenty-five.

These are my thoughts on ageing today:

I get to be 39.
I get to watch my hair turn gray. I get to witness my body and my mind and my attitudes as they change with the years. I get to have this day to make messes, to volunteer, to be tired, to have indigestion, to be creative, to eat and breathe and walk myself around on my weary knees. I get to live.

When someone young and virile dies, we wonder why. Why would this person be taken in this way? It's unfair. It is too hard to even think about and it's almost nonsensical. But it happens. It happens and it disrupts the "natural order of things" that we firmly cling to. So the mortality of another becomes our own sudden brush with mortality. Why him? Why not me?

I get to be 39.
I may or may not get to be 40 or 60 or 107.
I get to be 39.
Right now.

If I am going to cling to life - and cling I will, for this is only human nature - I would rather cling to actual life. My looks are not my life. My athletic prowess is not my life. My figure, my eyesight, my teeth, my pop culture milieu are not my life. Or not the things that should matter about my life, anyway.

If I am going to cling to life, I want to embrace it. I want to appreciate the things that are here now without wasting time wanting things that have gone. I want to live today and not worry about what might happen in the future. I want to use the talents I have, hone my strengths, cull my weaknesses, share my abundance, make a tiny difference. If I am going to cling to life, I want it to be a life worth clinging to. Hair dye and face creams do not figure heavily in that life.

It seems ungrateful on this particular day to fear getting older.
It is a luxury I have been afforded.
I get to be 39.

What will I do with this gift?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


So, here's the deal. Margi stirred a turd. Hop on over to May I Have A Word, and you'll see what I'm talking about. She threw down a challenge last week. And because she has some kind of mind-reading voodoo, it coincided with a whole lot of things that I've been thinking about. The challenge was to write a blog post explaining why I am exactly the age I should be. I am going to do this and some other things, but the secret password around here for the next few posts is: ageing. (Or aging, if you did not have your spelling irreparably disrupted by spending formative educational years in a British colony.)  No matter. Let the festivities begin.

I am thirty-nine years old.

Sometimes I feel old.

My hair is graying, my belly sags. My laugh lines are deeper than they used to be. I talk to friends about movies that were released before they were born. I did a back bend for my daughter last night and saw stars for far too long afterward. Parts of me fall asleep alarmingly fast. My knees protest long Lego sessions on the floor. I forget things faster than I used to. I need glasses to read. I am clumsy when I send text messages. People I used to babysit are getting married, having children. The "grownups" in my life are dying. My peers are running the world, or at least managing it. Yeah, sometimes I feel old.

These things are so shallow. Sometimes I am shallow.

I am thirty-nine years old.

Thirty years ago, I longed to be at least twenty, and most people thought I was twelve or thirteen. Twenty-five years ago, I wanted to be grown up. I wanted to be on my own, I wanted to be past the uncertainty of the next several years and firmly established in my imagined role of changing the world. I wanted to be thirty. Twenty years ago, I had no idea what I wanted, just not this. Fifteen years ago, I wanted to stay that age forever. I wanted to preserve the new innocence and perfection and blissful halcyon of I can't believe I get to live this life. Ten years ago, I didn't give it another thought, I was right where I wanted to be. Five years ago, I had no space to think about myself. Last month, on my birthday, I laughed with my husband as he had to do the math to figure out how old I was, because he forgot. "I don't think about our ages," he said, and it occurred to me that I don't much, either.

There are certain times of life where your age matters immensely. My daughter is counting the years until she gets to be called a teenager. She's excited about the imminent double digits. When you're 15, it matters that you're not 16, because you can't legally drive. When you're 17, it matters that you're not 18, because you can't legally vote. (I'm gonna go with "vote" instead of "buy cigarettes and lottery tickets" here, but you decide.) When you're 20, it matters that you're not 21. By the time you're 35, you can do pretty much anything you want - up to and including run for president. I suppose it will eventually come around again when I'm 59 and not 60; 64 and not 65.

The Earth revolves around the sun once a year. Meanwhile, its rotation makes gravity which pulls on us and keeps us from floating off into space. The longer we go without floating off into space, the more we see the effects of gravity and wind and sun and time on our bodies. And there are always bodies popping on and off this Earth, so there are always people in different points along the time continuum. Some have been here longer, some got here after us. These seem to be rather large forces to resist. These seem to be rather pointless things to wish weren't so. I can't resist the revolutions of the Earth. There are other revolutions I would rather tend to.

I am thirty-nine years old.

Remarkably, I have not yet flown off the face of the Earth. I have thirty-nine years of experience in navigating this body around. I have thirty-nine years of trial and error and triumph. I have been gifted all this time so far, to take the tools I've been given and build a life. I have had the space to see the most ghastly and the most wonderful things. I have had the time to see just how appalling I can be. I have had the years to decide that I don't want to be. I have been here long enough to realize that most things have very little to do with me. I am enough of a grownup to make my own decisions, to know my own mind. I am old enough to see how the decisions I make affect other people. I have been around long enough to know I can decide how other people affect me. I am plenty old enough to take responsibility for who I am. All of the rest of it is just window dressing.

I am thirty-nine years old.

Yeah, sometimes I feel old.
Mostly, though, I just feel like me.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Whatever Sticks

I have rather a busy week, so of course I'm dawdling around on Blogger, writing and discarding tedious posts. I have rather a lot of steam to let off for a number of reasons and you lovely people are my outlet. It's good steam - creative steam - but sadly, you won't get my best. Sorry.

I just had a couple of things I wanted to share that have set my mind whirring in a few different directions of late. I'll just throw it all out there and you can see whatever sticks.

First, and probably most importantly, I got to hang out in the boiler room of my kids' elementary school yesterday. Under the circumstances, it would have been considered gauche to whip out my phone and snap all the pictures I wanted to, but I may sweet-talk the long-suffering custodian into letting me in again. The school was built in 1957, so there are a lot of oddments of antiquated machinery in there. My favorite was the large brick incinerator, all scarred and tarred with years of use. Brick and ironwork are a pretty much direct conduit to my soul. Do you have certain kinds of architecture or craftsmanship that speak directly to you in a way that you can't quite explain? The very concept of "boiler room" thrills me right down to my toes. It would probably explain my adoration for steampunk literature as well. I tried not to dance and hop up and down too much as I stood there with other parent volunteers, a beleaguered custodian and a first grade teacher and tried to figure out if we could fix the kiln.

I read this post this week about Why Creative People Sometimes Make No Sense and it made a lot of sense to me. I have reserved the source material at the library and will doubtless regale you all at some point with my conclusions on the matter.  If you are interested in the psychology of creativity, I'd also recommend Touched With Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison. It is on the scholarly side, but it is a fascinating exploration of the artistic temperament and its connections to bipolar disorder. I am endlessly fascinated by the way the human mind makes sense of its stimuli and the variance across people and personalities.

Another endless fascination for me is human interaction, specifically how and why we love. I have been buried in chemistry texts of various sorts, working on a seedling of an idea that I have, but it is nowhere near worth sharing yet. In the meantime, if you have a free afternoon (or if you don't, but you don't mind becoming completely involved in the lives of strangers and blowing some things off), you should check out this website. Forty Days of Dating is the chronology of two friends who decided to date each other for forty days. It is compelling and insightful, perhaps in ways that they didn't mean for it to be.

Tell me what you know about "invasion literature". It's a genre that has taken up residence in my hamster cage and I've been gnawing the ideas around for months now. I was explaining to the Chief Lou last night that this piece I've been writing will either be a lame, half-baked essay or a 40 page term paper. He suggested I write the 40 page term paper and then synthesize it down to a good essay. He is, of course, right. I probably will do just that, but I have other projects afoot at the moment. So. Tell me what you know or think about invasion literature.

A few other projects afoot: Rembrandt drawings with fourth and fifth graders, Matisse "drawing with scissors" with first graders, all things baby for my impending nephew (what child doesn't need a handmade blanket to match every outfit?!), project leopard gecko habitat (I am a somewhat reluctant participant in this with my jBird); editing, revising, rewriting, slashing, burning, revising again of over 50,000 words for piecemeal submission to whomever will have me (thank goodness for Submittable, it's probably saving me tens of dollars in postage!)

But if you want to see someone who is really and truly working it, go check out Corner Blog, written and photographed by the lovely Tiffanie Turner. We met through NaBloPoMo a few years ago and since then, I have watched her various projects and creative endeavors flourish and now they are really taking flight. She is such an inspiration to me always. She's going to be famous.

All right darlings, time to get dressed. Yesterday I put on half of two outfits so that I could decide which one to wear upon seeing the contents of my dryer. (Everyone does this, I'm sure.) It wasn't until about 8:30 last night - AFTER parading around my childrens' school, AFTER running all of my errands and chatting up several service industry employees, AFTER an unaccustomed fit of socialization with various Power PTA moms - that I realized I had forgotten to change and had spent the day looking very much like an idiot. Most days this does not bother me overly much, as I don't think people really pay all that much attention to my sartorial splendor. Today, however, I'll be in my daughter's 4th/5th grade classroom and they pay attention. Nobody wants to be the kid whose mom came to teach art looking like she rolled out of a Goodwill donation bin, wearing whatever stuck to her.

What's inspiring you this week? What is sticking around in your craw? What ridiculous outfits have you worn?

Friday, November 8, 2013

I May or May Not Be Spartacus

Courtesy of Slate
This "literacy test" for voting has been making the rounds on Facebook of late. I highly recommend taking a gander at it when you get a chance.

Reading this bit of 1960s nostalgia has coincided with the conclusion of our Spartacus fest around here on the Periphery. It is a dreadful, dreadful show. It is mostly a vehicle for gratuitous sex and violence and the dialogue appears to be written by find and replace of a few key phrases, all inexplicably lacking definite articles. We could not stop watching it in all of its dreadful glory. Sometimes that happens.

As you know, the real Spartacus was a gladiator who led a semi-successful slave uprising against the Roman Empire. I'm guessing that his dental hygiene wasn't as fantastic as was portrayed in the series. That bugged me inordinately while I was watching, but I digress. I think part of the draw of the show for me was, in fact, the utter brutality of the time. Not just the chopping off of people's faces with broadswords, but the psychic brutality that was perpetrated on everyone by everyone. It was with constant fascination that I watched as people fought and died in the service of putting down the uppity slaves.

It's so easy to sit on my comfortable couch and be shocked and outraged. I can sit at my laptop agape at a cruel and unfair "literacy test" from the not-so-distant past and turn away smug that I would never support such a thing. It's easy to paint the early Americans, the ancient Romans as unenlightened, evil, cruel people. And, like in all places, at all times, there were probably some of those folks about.

Of course, you know, I don't like easy. If you were born and raised in a Roman villa with slaves who dressed you and bathed you and cooked all your meals, how much effort would it take to see that life could be lived another way? Would that make you inherently evil? The same goes for American history. Did the people who wrote and enforced these literacy tests at the polling booths do so out of malicious and evil intent? Perhaps. Or perhaps, they were going with the flow of their culture. Perhaps they were brought up in a world to believe in certain things and this was a way that they upheld them.

We cannot ever completely escape our own culture. It gets its talons in us from the very beginning of things and it whispers into our subconscious constantly before we even develop the capacity for critical thought. We are saturated with unwritten rules and images and ideas before we get the chance to form our own. There are always ideas and concepts that we take for granted, whether we mean to or not. I would like to think that the concept of owning another human would always be repellent to me, but how can I know? I am, as well, a product of my own culture. I am fortunate enough to have grown up in a post-slavery world. I have the luxury of hiding my eyes from these things in my shock and outrage as they come to me through history lessons or television shows. I would never...

But we, as humans, did. We have for centuries. So I can look back now and say that the whole world was full of evil, weak people until now and now we will show the course of human history how it's done. The hubris of that makes me blush. Or I can look back and see that good, well-meaning people get caught up in the course of human events. I can see the people throughout history who have had the courage to stand up against the status quo and fight for something different, and I can thank them for the luxuries I enjoy now.

As you know, Spartacus dies. He's crucified by the Romans along with a lot of his followers and hung along the Appian Way as a warning to anyone else who might step out of line. So often, this is what happens to the brave few who fight the tide of culture. If you're Joe Roman walking along Main Street, surrounded by the spectacle of  failed rebellion, how do you respond? Revulsion? Fear? Sure. Would that inspire you to free some more slaves? Or would you decide that this is what happens when we upset the natural order of things? I cannot honestly say what I would choose. I know what I would like to believe I would choose, but I can't be sure of the reality.

What about now? We know it's naughty to own people, of course. We know that we shouldn't discriminate against people for the color of their skin. We know all of these things. We are oh-so-special. Yet we still swim in the tepid waters of our culture. What things do we just take for granted as true and right and "the way things ought to be"? What things do we resign ourselves to as "just the way things are"? Can we even see ourselves? Oh, not me, you say. I am enlightened. I would never... But what things will our grandchildren forward around their version of Facebook as completely appalling to them, yet were socially acceptable to us? It's impossible to know, I suppose.

But these are the thoughts that niggle at me. Am I Spartacus? Do I have the clarity to see my culture for what it is? Do I have the courage and conviction to truly stand up? Not just safely from behind my keyboard here, but where it counts? Where there is flesh and blood at stake? We don't literally crucify people in our culture any more. We figuratively do it all the time, and we do it with great glee sometimes. I would never... except when I would. Admitting these things is uncomfortable. It shakes the things we believe about ourselves. It makes us defensive. Again, I ask: in what way does that make us any different from our forbears? I'm sure they had some pretty good justifications for the things they did. How many people went along with things that made them uncomfortable because they couldn't see how to change it?

I don't have a sporty leather loincloth, nor a thirst for blood, so it's easy to believe that I am exempt from thinking about such things. But I ask myself nonetheless, am I Spartacus? What would I die for?

Are you Spartacus?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Chasing Butterflies

I'm writing about butterflies today. They have flown in and flocked - do they flock? - with their tittering, tickling wings all around in my skull. These things must be done: the butterflies released into the wild to be pinned down and examined. Don't touch their wings too much, though, or the feathers all fall off. Butterfly feathers have got to be a magic ingredient for a potion of some sort.

Here is what's happening: I have been celebrating things for weeks. Weeks, I tell you. My birthday, Halloween, and my son's birthday. All wrapped up in costumes and chocolate and a little too much fun. The celebrating continues through the end of the week with friends for dinner, premature Thanksgiving with out-of-towners, game night and bowling. Yes, bowling. You see, my son is suddenly enamored of the idea of wearing someone else's shoes and throwing a heavy ball across the room. So the only sensible thing to do is to invite other small children to gather and join us in this ritual to celebrate his seventh turn around the sun.

I try so hard not to be weepy and nostalgic about what my babies are becoming. Forward progress is inevitable and preferable. This small boy who stole my heart away is now suddenly seven and it seems I was only just last week so full of him in my belly and sick with fear of the kind of mother I would be to a son. He, of course, has been son to the mother and I didn't have to worry so much ahead of time.

He came quickly and easily compared to his warrior sister and I was laughing with relief when they put that little dark head on my chest. Right there in the front - just left of center - a whorl of black hair, one of many cowlicks that have cast his hair into rakish disarray since birth. I touched that silky little whirlpool and traced a line down over long, dark lashes to the cleft in his chin that he inherited from greatness. I tried the words out in my mouth, "My son." He was nameless for a few hours while my husband and I took turns holding him, looking into his black eyes and asking over and over: who are you?

And now we're going bowling. This is the way it goes. I know in what will seem like a week or two, I will stop and wonder where is the seven-year-old who still twines his hands in my hair when he talks to me; who sits beside me in church and reaches his arm up, beyond his own comfort, to put it around my shoulders like he sees his Daddy do. I will wonder where all of the Legos went as he trades his cars of plastic bricks for actual keys and gas money. I will remind him that he loved me once, queen of all the women to him, and he called me Awesome. Doubtless he will blush and bat those long and troublesome eyelashes and I will see the little boy that I hold now. And I will let him go.

It all slips away a minute at a time and these are some of the butterflies I am chasing as I write this morning. The chain of tiny momentous events that make a life. I am letting them flutter around, allowing
the ephemeral for a few precious minutes before I tackle the concrete tasks of my busy day. This sounds like I am sad, and I'm sure there is some sadness there. For my most part, though, I am merely an observer. I don't want to crush those little butterfly feathers.

Yesterday he sat and intently peered through a catalog of overpriced toys, highlighting in orange the things that he'd like to save up for but secretly hopes we'll just buy for him. "There's a butterfly nursery in here, Mom," he has a big voice, a resonance inherited from the same place he got his beautiful, dented chin. "Look! You can order the chrysalis and then watch them emerge. We can fill the house with Monarchs!" The small vestiges of his lisp from toddlerhood cling to the word "chrysalis" and I laugh. "Do you want a house full of butterflies?" He considers, head cocked and finger to his cheek in a cartoonish imitation of thought. "Well, yeah!" Some real thought follows. "Maybe just for a little while, though. They need to live outside. We could release them when they're ready and then they can migrate." And with that, he's off: verbally wandering down a trail of the migration habits of Monarch butterflies and on to pigeons and they have magnets in their brains and what if I did, that would be awesome! and so on...

I'm off, too. Watching the butterflies disappear on a future horizon. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

I've got some dealings with small children in riotous costumes today, so I will be brief.
A holiday dedicated to playing pretend and eating candy is one I can get behind. This would be any given Thursday for me. There should be lots more playing pretend and devouring of sweetness in the world.
Also, I get to wear this mask.

Be safe, be kind, be silly, have fun!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tangled Inspiration: Grocery Store Edition

"Excuse me, sir? Are there any more steel cut oats?"

I'm standing in the middle of a ravaged bulk foods section at the grocery store, staring into an empty barrel. My instincts tell me to shut up and move along, no one ever died from not eating steel cut oats. Except I read this article before a full cup of coffee this morning about all of the foods that will kill you to death. Not the obvious culprits - Cheetos, Trolli Peach Rings, and Oreo Cookies. Nope. These were apples, potatoes, beef that doesn't cost $12.99 a pound, and tinned tomatoes. That last one was a killer. I can't even count how many times I have fed my family tinned tomatoes. The school bus hadn't even come yet and there I was planning to slowly kill my children at dinner time. The article is haunting me while I wander around the store, filling up my cart. Apples are on sale and they are not the nutritious, fiber-packed perfect after-school snack I think they are. They are poison death-bombs, riddled with carcinogenic chemicals I can't wash off. But they are on sale, so I select two varieties and some locally pressed cider to seal the deal. On to the oats.

"Lemme check," a man old enough to be my father and wearing an fluorescent yellow vest smiles and disappears around the end of the aisle. I busy myself with the bulk cardamom and await his return. A different man returns, he is "Chris from Bulk Foods" according to the store-wide page I just heard. There are all kinds of oats and assorted grains all over the floor. A few of the barrels are lid-less and overturned. It looks like a gang of exultant soccer fans have been hanging out in the bulk foods again. All that's missing are scorch marks from the Molotov cocktails.

Chris looks like he should be starring in action movies, or perhaps playing professional soccer himself. "Hi Chris," I say, "Was there a party in the bulk foods section?" This is because I cannot help but say ridiculous things out loud. He laughs and tells me it was because of the impending strike. Local grocery workers were threatening to strike over contract negotiations. Apparently, they wanted health care benefits and holiday pay. Shameless entitlement, according to some. "So, steel cut oats? Did you want the organic ones?" he hefts a large bag of grain onto his shoulder, preparing to refill the barrel. "Yes, please," I say as I swallow to quash the simultaneous urges to either take the bag from him and do it myself, or to holler "I'll take the whole bag!" and trot off with a feed-store sized bag of oats while whinnying and kicking my heels. Instead, I stand there, feeling like a middle class douche while an intelligent man is on his knees at my feet, doing something that I could just as easily do myself. He chats with me while he works, about the new contract, about the federal shutdown, about health benefits and processed organic grains while he fills the barrels. I thank him by name and spend way too long filling my plastic bag with the fresh oats because I enjoy the tactile sensation of scooping them and because inexplicably, I feel like I might cry. The lady behind me gets exasperated waiting for her chocolate covered espresso beans and moves on while I pretend I'm playing in a sandbox.

When I was in high school, I decided to become a vegetarian. I lived in Hong Kong at the time and a Chinese friend of ours sucked his teeth and clucked his tongue at me and said, "Only someone who has never been hungry can decide not to eat what she is served." I wanted to scream, "Then don't serve cow's lips in your soup!" but even I knew that would only have added to my whole Ugly American miasma. My poison apples are bringing up uncomfortable memories for me and I still can't find the chai. I cannot live without a chai latte every afternoon and I am socially conscious and frugal, so I buy the cartons of it in the store and make the lattes myself at home. Like in the old country. In the microwave.

My phone, which I am also using to store and organize my grocery list and my coupons, suddenly bellows and vibrates and the most obnoxious electronic dance tune echoes around the deli. It is my husband, I can tell by the special ring he programmed in just for me. He needs to tell me that our daughter's cello is in at the music store, except it's not a half cello as promised, but a quarter cello. But the music store thinks that will be all right, we just need to bring her in to fit it. Could I please take her to the music store after I pick up our son from chess club? I am gripped with the recurring fear that I am, in fact, a middle class douche as I reply, "The deodorant you like is not on sale, but they do have a good price on ham."

I suddenly cannot get out of this store fast enough. Except I have to try the halibut spread sample first and then run back through the store from the checkout to grab my coupon for salami that I left on the counter near the halibut spread and decline help out with my groceries three times from the man who could be my father and refrain from explaining that it's bad enough that I just stood here watching you while you bagged up my groceries and you wouldn't let me help and that I didn't bring enough re-useable bags for this haul and you had to resort to paper bags which I promise will be re-used until they disintegrate. I haven't been to the grocery store in three weeks and the bags are heavy and numerous and it takes me a long time to load them into my trunk, careful not to squash the box of rare poppy bulbs that have been riding around with me for a few days.

Two teenage boys loiter near the cart corral, skipping school and practicing their cursing and smoking. I would offer them some apples, but those cause cancer, too. Smoke away, boys, but please get a firmer grip on the proper use of profanity before you speak so loudly in public. They remind me of when a toddler hears a new word and they try it in every possible sentence to see if it fits. One of the boys is "hella mad" and says so, over and over, as he tentatively puffs his cigarette without inhaling. They pause (probably because I'm staring at them, memorizing them) and watch me load my groceries. I am positive they think I am a middle class douche. Part of me wants to reward their assumption somehow. The other part of me is still amused from yesterday when I decided that for the next hour, I would only speak in Beastie Boys lyrics. That part of me wants to step up to them and thrust my chest out in that alpha male kind of way and shout, "You can't front on that!" Instead, I responsibly return my cart to the store and make sure I push it in all the way so it doesn't get all messy in the cart corral. I don't want the man my father's age to have to round up more carts than he has to on my account.

I watch the leaves fall in storybook swirls from the trees that line the streets on my way home and I want to cry again. The crushing beauty and inequity of everything settles in on my chest and robs me of breath or the ability to swallow. Sometimes I find it hard to live in this toppled over civilization. My husband gently teases and calls me The Mockingjay, inadvertent starter of tiny revolutions. He tells me I'm fueled by white guilt, I call it compassion. He says potato, I say your po-tah-to is so full of deadly chemicals that the potato farmers won't even eat them. Sometimes I find it intolerable swimming in my vinegary brine here in the middle. But then the trees rustle and shake and cluck their tongues at me: It is only someone who has never been hungry who can choose not to eat what she has been served.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tangled Inspiration: A Volcano

I am friends with a volcano. Not one of the many that line up like giants along the freeway in this part of the country. Those are not my friends. They are beautiful, but they scare me in a very primal way.

This volcano lives across the country from me and I know her only through her words and images that come to me through the endless internet. She has moved from the mighty mountains of Colorado and taken up residence in the rolling lush green whispering hills of North Carolina and made a beautiful, eclectic life there. You might know this volcano, too. She is Vesuvius. Vesuvius at Home, to be exact.

Immediately, I was drawn into the very first post of hers I ever read. She writes with a scalpel and a hug; with a microscopic lens and a magic mirror; she writes with grace and with candor and with a self-deprecating wit that hits me beneath the words. I have been reading her for a few years now and have slowly become more acquainted with this volcano in the ways we do in this strange and fickle online world. I happen to know that she is editing her novel. A novel that has been hard won through so many setbacks and challenges. I have a hunch that it will be a novel that does something, that says something, that changes the parts of the world that it touches. Here's why I have this hunch:

Like her namesake, Vesuvius seems to lie dormant for stretches at a time. For those who are paying attention, a slight giddy tension builds, because you know there are forces roiling and wrangling there beneath the quiet surface. And then. And then she erupts, bursting forth with such beauty and devastation that I find myself like the Pompeiians of yore, frozen with the food still in my mouth, letting it all wash over me, indelibly.

Vesuvius has erupted again and with such magnitude that it must overflow the borders of my small universe. It must be shared. This is a piece that needs to go viral. It needs to be taught in textbooks in future generations, not only for its literary merit, but for its message. It is the secret priceless gem that was deep in the heart of the volcano and she has sent it forth for us to share.

Sing Your Body is the essay many of us have tried to write for decades with little success. It is the ode, the permission, the high command to finally put to rest the manufactured warfare against ourselves. It is both the solace and the goad that many of us have craved, have tried to put to music. She has done it. In my book, it's a definitive work. Read it, share it, live it. It is such important work.

Vesuvius has inspired me for several years. I never get tired of her writing. She always makes me think, makes me see things in a new and unexpected way. It is never overwrought or self-pitying, self-aggrandizing or self-indulgent. But this latest piece has touched something even greater. Share it, please. I seriously want it to go viral. I really, really do. I have a limited sphere of influence, but I really feel like if we can all be subjected to someone's washboard abs and sneering accusations, then we can certainly fill at least as much space with this beauty. Sing Your Body. Sing it. Thank you, V. So much.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tangled Inspiration: Julian of Norwich

"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."
-Julian of Norwich

Julian (not really her name - no one knows her name any more. I'm sure there were people at one time who did, but they're long gone now, so she just lives on as Julian because that's where she lived. It's kind of like her zip code. Could you imagine being immortalized by your zip code? That's some food for another thought.)

Anyway, Julian. She lived in Plague-riddled England in the 14th century. It would seem that she survived said Plague (OK, another brief digression... can you imagine the smell? Just think about it.) She survived this horror show and had some visions, wrote some essential thoughts, and then went to live out the rest of her life built into the wall of the Church of St. Julian outside her hometown of Norwich. She wasn't really built into the wall, like my imagination would have it, she lived in a cell that was built into the wall. Either way, it seems she chose the life of an anchoress to escape the horrors of her world and to focus on the things that mattered to her. 

She was also one of the first, if not the first, published woman writer in the English language. So there's that. Julian's my buddy. 

Her utterly fascinating and mysterious life aside, it's her ideas that captivate me. At a time in history when large portions of the world population were losing body parts and lives and family members to the Black Death, when the monarchy in England was faffing around fighting wars and neglecting its own starving peasants, when the people in charge were busy stabbing each other in the backs and fighting over their own glory and power, when it must have smelled so bad all the time, Julian came back from the brink of death and wrote: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

I'd like to chat with her.

She sat down and wrote what she knew. She was a woman, she wasn't supposed to be writing these things - they were the purview of men. She wrote in ordinary English - everyone knew that anything of any philosophical merit was to be written in Latin. She wrote about hope and compassion. She wrote about peace and love in a world filled with poverty and death and usurpers and greed. She eventually shut herself off from the stinking world and she wrote and she revised what she wrote and she revised again and expanded it. She wasn't supposed to do these things. But she did. 

She did, and now I sit here 600 years later and get a little misty-eyed reading as she compares divine love to a hazelnut. She had me at "hazelnut". She wrote the things that lay on her heart and in her mind and centuries later, they still resonate. As a writer, as a woman, as a human this makes my blood vibrate all the way to my fingertips. It makes my scalp tingle and my mind gallops and rolls and munches on clover in the sunshine. This sweet resonance across time and space and circumstance kicks me in the seat of my yoga pants and tickles my ears and whispers urgent secrets directly to the part of my brain that thinks without words. 

This is the definition of inspiration to me. I have decided to use this space over the next several days (weeks? months?) to write about the people and things that inspire me. There are plenty of things that could discourage or irritate or destroy me, but I don't like them. I like hazelnuts, smooth and hard in my hand (and oh-so-delicious in my belly) and the promise of life that they contain, their sturdiness, their simplicity and their completeness. 

I have no intention of living inside a wall (although, I will admit that on some days that carries a bit of appeal for me. Also, hello? Halloween costume ideas, anyone?) I have no delusions that my words will still resonate, or even exist, centuries from now. But I can write what I know. I can write the things that wriggle against my heart and in my mind. I can look around and borrow Julian's most famous words:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pushing My Buttons

Does anyone besides me remember when it was cool in the late 80s to load your jean jacket down with snarky, colorful buttons? Was it cool? Or was it just me? No. It can't have just been me. I was thinking about my vast collection of buttons this afternoon and wondering whatever happened to them. (Of course I now know, after "researching" for this post that is the jean jacket button collection for the 21st century. How silly of me not to realize before.)

Among my favorites were:

"Where have you been all my life? Please go back there." - Two things: 1) Where have you been all my life? 2) Can you please go back there?

"Is that your face or did your neck throw up?" - Good lord -- is that your face, or did your neck throw up?

"Belly button. Issued by the US Navel Academy." (Get it?! Navel? Instead of Naval? Ah, it's classic. Belly buttons are unanimously funny under any circumstance. They are much like potted plants that way. Can you believe I couldn't find an image for this one anywhere on the interwebs?! Ridiculous.)

The button I was thinking about today was probably my favorite:
"I refuse to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person."

I think this would be a useful button to still have around.

I'm completely embarrassed to admit that I got in a Facebook fight today. With a complete stranger.

I need a shower and a nap and a stern talking-to.

I need a chai latte.

I need for everybody, right now, to stop repeating things they've read or seen on the news if they don't know what they're talking about.

Ha! That last one's really going to happen any time soon. Or ever.

I need to stay off of social media unless it is to read Jim Gaffigan's Tweets about food. That is some funny stuff. Jim Gaffigan is like a member of our family. The monkeys have several of his routines memorized and repeat them at random, especially in public and to bewildered adults. For a good time, ask them if they'd like to eat a Hot Pocket. Seriously. Funny stuff.

I had a complete stranger tell me today that I was wrong about what was actually happening to me and my family, in my life; that his culled "facts" from the Huffington Post were a more accurate representation of my life than what I am currently experiencing. It boggles the mind, really. I suppose I could write this one person off as a crazy person, but if so, I would have to write off most of the interactions I see in places like Facebook.

I don't get out much. My circle of friends is relatively limited. Do people really talk to each other this way?

It's bizarrely post-modern to repeat talk-show propaganda and when pressed, to hurl insults in the face of a human being who is trying to explain their own experience. It is such common practice, though, to go charging off naked into these battles, insisting that we are not only armed, but completely bulletproof. This is far more frightening to me than any legislation or congressional shenanigans. - I Refuse To Have A Battle Of Wits With An Unarmed Person.

I lost my button. I need it back.
Today, I lost my cool. I need it back.
Last week, we lost our income. We'd like it back.

Let us not completely lose our humanity. We might not get it back.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Meteor Shower

Come on, let's go look.
We ran-shuffled out into the driveway with shoes too big and flopping around our ankles. This was a hurried scheme and we did not stop for our own shoes.
Will they make noise? She asked.
No, you can't hear them.
It's dark, can we turn on the outside light?
No. We need the dark so we can see them more clearly.
She grabbed my hand a little tighter and held the crook of my elbow with the other hand. We tipped our faces toward the sky, standing in our too-big shoes, in the driveway, in the dark.
What are we looking for?
Falling stars, baby. Streaks of light in the sky.
She looked some more and shivered.
I'm cold and it's bed time.
The sky was covered with clouds, back lit by ambient light from the city; the clouds swirled a thick and brownish gray and covered our view. Fat drops began to fall and we flapped our shoes back inside, away from the rain.
I'm sorry you didn't see them, Mom. She hugged me and went to get her pajamas. Over her shoulder she called, I'm glad I didn't see them. I think they are too big. I don't like the idea of rocks falling through space.
Later, we lay in bed in the dark - the safe dark of inside and in bed with thick blankets and a mom and a brother all snuggled tightly and warm. I thought she was asleep. Instead,
What will they hit, Mom?
Nothing, baby. They are millions of miles away, just falling through the sky.
Oh. I was afraid they would hit us and make craters.
Not tonight, baby. 
Well that's better. I'm sorry you didn't see them.
It's OK. Even though I didn't see them, they're still there. That's enough.
Breathing slowed, and she disappeared behind her eyelids, millions of miles away, just falling through the sky.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mugs and Arms

Well, darlings, it's been a week.
I was all set to start blogging again and then Congress happened and a minor cold and a few other things and now it's been a week.

Here's what's up.

I've got the most fantastic mug sitting next to me right now. Check it out.

Also check out the awesome shade of turquoise
I painted my family room over the summer.

A friend of mine gave it to me last week when I was rooting through her cupboards. She was trying to unload her mom's fine china on me, but I declined. You may recall, however, that I have a thing for mugs. So my friend gave me three mugs that her friend, a potter (sadly, not a Harry Potter, although he may be a hairy potter. I've never actually met him.) made and gave them. "We never, ever use them and they take up so much space." Done deal, my friend. No mug takes up too much space in my book. So I have this hearty, happy, lovely thing from which to drink my coffee every morning. The Chief Lou has one, too, and we have a spare in case someone wants to share the joy when they are here. Things like this make me incredibly happy.

On Tuesday, my whole world shifted under my feet and I lost my balance a little bit. I've been staggering around trying to find my footing. But the most amazing thing has happened. Whenever I feel like I might just tip into howling oblivion, there are arms there to catch me. Did you ever play that trust-building game where you cross your arms and close your eyes and just fall, trusting that your teammate or co-worker will catch you before you hit the ground? It's awful and exhilarating at the same time. There's that awful moment where you think, "This is it. This is the way it all ends. I will dash my brains out on the concrete of my office parking lot," and then there it is - arms in the darkness that grab you in whatever ways they know how and lower you, laughing and panting to the ground. So maybe your co-worker stuck their hand in your armpit and pulled your hair a little bit, they came through and kept you from smashing your face on the pavement.

So it has been this week. It has been awful and exhilarating. Sometimes it feels like my eyes are closed and I'm hurtling through space and then the phone rings, I get a text, an email, a coffee mug, a hug. I find I am surrounded by people whom I have slowly, over the last year, allowed myself to trust and I am overwhelmed. These arms that reach out and catch me, set me up and point me back in the right direction. They are arms that I haven't expected, haven't asked for, haven't demanded. They are the arms of people who simply love me and mine and they have shown up just in time. So now, instead of closing my eyes and crashing around, I am intentionally closing my eyes and falling to my knees with prayers of gratitude.

And I have this mug. It is beautiful and sturdy; it is substantial and useful; it is unique and personal; it was a gift given freely out of love. We have mugs enough for us and some to share. It will never take up too much space. It makes me incredibly happy. It reminds me that we're surrounded by sudden arms in the darkness and that we will be OK.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Hollerin' Down the Canyon

Over the summer we went camping in the desert. I love that I didn't even have to leave the state of Washington to do this. We camped near Sun Lake on the Columbia Plateau, nestled in a rugged canyon that, according to the handy visitor's center tableau, used to be an extremely large, prehistoric waterfall.

We loaded up the car and crossed the Cascades and emerged in what looked like another planet. I do not keep it much of a secret that I love the desert and my phone is filled with picture after picture of rocks and tumbleweeds taken with breathless glee out the window of a moving car. I could not look enough at it. It was so vast and beautiful and foreign to my everyday life. I startled the monkeys from their sleepy reverie in the back seat and hollered, demanding that they take it in. I wanted them to hold some part of it in their memories because I could not contain it all.

We pitched our tent in the midst of a hot, dry wind that swept across the canyon floor. The walls of rock and dust rose up around us and we tasted the new flavors of air scented with sage, succulents and pinon. We washed them down with lots of cold water and squinted into the wide and magnanimous sun.

We hiked through the canyon on a solitary narrow trail, just we four and all the wild. As we crossed out of view of the campground, the whole world fell away and it was just us. Just the ones who make my heart swell and break. The only people whose opinions matter to me. The only people on earth with whom I would share a water bottle and gladly forego my share so that they could have more.

The wind picked up for a while as we hiked. We were spaced along the trail, according to the lengths of our strides. We hollered to each other and the wind whipped our words away through the brush, unheard. There was no sense to our conversations because there was only the persistent wind in our ears, but it was enough to know we were there, ambling along, hollering down the canyon.

The wind stopped as suddenly as it began and in the ringing of our ears, the clicking, chirping, clacking bugs in the underbrush took over, singing us onward on our path. We could hear each other again, and we were relieved. It was hot, it was hard hiking in spots, it was strange and beautiful and a little terrifying in its magnitude.

My son, with the shortest legs and the least ability to pace himself, had raced through the first half of the hike, hopping from stone to stone, drawing lines in the dust with his feet, and narrating his journey. He got hot and he got tired and he got lots of stones in his shoes. He wanted to give up. My legs are so tired I can't even lift them, he said. I know, I said, mine are tired, too. Look up and out and hold my hand. I'll share my energy with you. This worked for another mile. His hot and dusty hand gripped mine and he skipped and stumbled and chattered beside me. We slowed our pace and stopped to touch the desert plants and then smell our hands, deciding which smelled the best. Sagebrush, we decided, was one of the best scents on earth. Can you carry me? he asked. I can't, I said. You have to do this yourself. And he trotted off  to find his daddy, whose shoulders are broader and stronger than mine.

Beating his chest and about to utter a barbaric YAWP!
while his sister decides if she, too, will remove her shirt.
My husband didn't carry him, either. Instead, he instituted a game that involved thwacking the guideposts as we passed them. You have to scout ahead and find the guideposts, he explained, and when we pass them, they must be thwacked. Again, my son was happy to oblige - to keep looking forward on the trail and to give the posts a resounding thwack as we passed. Soon, the canyon was filled with the sounds of four hands thwacking and one small boy hollering "THWACK!" for each person as they passed.

We made the round trip and small feet scrambled and almost fell in exultant relief as we neared the lake. Five miles in an unaccustomed landscape on short legs and in the heat. My daughter sidled up to me and tears were in her eyes. My feet were tired, too, she said quietly. I was so hot and I didn't think I could make it. I just kept walking because I knew I had to and complaining would do no good. I'm glad we made it. In a gesture that is slowly becoming less frequent, she took my hand and we finished the trail together. I'm proud of you, I told her. You were really strong just now.

I took the summer off from the online world so I could do just this. I did some other things, too, and they were fun and enriching and irritating and exhausting and all the other things that life is. Back in the spring, I was getting weary. I was worn out with traversing this world inside my computer. I backed away and gave it some space, as I promised myself I would do in the beginning of the year. So much of our world seems to be like that wind that snatches away the voices and hides them in the brush. It's a constant din in our ears and in the sudden moments of silence, a whole other world comes alive. I find here, standing at the end of a thing, that I appreciate both the wind and the silence. I have spent these last few months finding space and use for both in my life.

I don't doubt that I will grow weary again, that I will need to be reminded to look up and out and seek the next goal. But for now, it is with refocused energy that I remind myself why I started all this in the first place: to listen to the things that hum unseen in the brush, to smell and taste and observe and hold in my hands the beauty that's to be found everywhere, right out of the corner of my eye.

As for you, dear readers, you are my voices in this space, hollerin' down the canyon. Sometimes you are drowned out, sometimes all I hear is the nonsense, sometimes it is the resounding thwack of another guidepost passed, sometimes it is nothing at all, only a silent tear that escapes as you work hard to keep on walking. Don't think I haven't missed you. Don't think I don't appreciate you. Don't think I haven't thought about you. I've had my rest, soothed my parched throat, and now I'm ready to carry on with the hollerin'.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Onto the Face of the Earth

This is the first time I've actually sat down at the computer in weeks.
Even the spammers have given up on me.
I have dropped onto the face of the earth.

Around the first of June I decided to deal in the tangible, the immediate and the things I could touch, taste, feel. I have not regretted it. I think the Internet is a useful tool, but it had become, for me, over the last several months a giant black hole. I read countless posts about managing social media, about all the ins and outs of social politics on Facebook, about the "rules" of blogging, about finding balance in your life, about dealing with kids and technology, finding time for important things and on and on. I don't think it's terribly uncommon for people to get sucked into the virtual world. Technology has improved exponentially over the last several years, getting quicker, smaller, more accessible. Sometimes I'm not sure it's entirely healthy for humans to move faster than the speed of light all the time.

The complaint du jour seems to have revolved around finding enough time in our lives that spread us so thin and run us ragged. I am no exception, really. There are all the activities and necessities and demands of an active life. But it has nagged me more and more over the last year or so that it seems that all these devices and services that we have in order to make things quicker and easier, are actually just filling up our time with more stuff; that they're not really freeing up our time, but just consuming more of it. And with what?

I am tired of quick and easy. I'm tired of a constant stream of information. I am worn out with commentary. I find that it isn't necessary for me to know what everyone I've met (or haven't) since elementary school thinks about NSA or potty training or gluten free living or their neighbors or what they had for breakfast. So I have unplugged. I temporarily deactivated my Facebook account, I check my email only for messages that are pertinent or immediate to my life, I have mostly neglected the entire blogging world. This is not a permanent solution, it's more like a cleanse. There are people about whom I care and with whom I keep in touch only through electronic means and I miss them. Rumor has it, a few people miss me, too.

But for right now, I've disconnected electronically for the most part. If you are over twenty, you probably remember a time when people wrote letters with actual pens and paper, when you had to wait to hear from someone, or when you picked up the phone and interacted with a real voice on the other end when you wanted to communicate long distance. You probably remember a time when sitting and waiting meant reading a book or a magazine or even interacting with the people around you instead of looking at a tiny computer you held in your hand. You may remember a time when the things that you did or experienced were not a status update or a post, but your real life for you and your loved ones to enjoy or despise without an audience. You may remember a time when your "friends" were people you actually knew and with whom you interacted tangibly. We'll never get that time back, and I'm not sure that I want it back. I like having gotten back in touch with people I thought I'd never hear from again. I like "meeting" and interacting with people I would otherwise never have met but for the Internet. But sometimes the best way to get perspective is to step away and view from a distance.

I have dropped onto the face of the earth.

For now, dear readers, I'll be on a bit of a sabbatical. My writing will be done the old fashioned way for a while - on paper with a pen and without the immediate gratification of instant sharing and commenting. My communication is mostly with my own vocal cords and with hugs and holding hands and laughs that people can actually hear without being reduced to a ubiquitous acronym.

Enjoy your summers, friends!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Empty Spaces

Nature abhors a vacuum.

Empty a space out completely and it will scramble to inhale debris from nearby to right this imbalance.
I have been dealing in empty spaces these last few weeks.

In my yard, I have inherited years of neglect and invasive species run amok. My husband and I have donned work gloves and overalls and cut and cleared and dug and pulled ever since the weather turned nice. Wild blackberry, Morning Glory, buttercups, dandelions, English Ivy, bamboo. We have wrestled with the roots and fingers and suckers and vines of all the many ways Nature has to fill in all the empty spaces with abundance.

It's not enough to clear it out, though. By the next morning, the insistent tiny green invaders return. I don't want these brambles and strangling vines out of control and rampant to take over my space. So I dig some more, with purpose. I plant sturdy plants with delicate names: Lobelia, Meadow Sparkle, Coral Bells, Blue-Eyed Fuschia. I set and mulch these tiny plants with great promise. They will, with the proper tending, one day be giants. They will expand to fill the empty spaces with color and scent and riotous flowers. They will stave off the wildness that encroaches from around the edges.

There are places where the Ivy and Morning Glory have won. Their roots and tendrils are so old, so gnarled and thick, so pervasive that I can't eradicate them without uprooting trees or bulldozing the fence. In honesty, I don't want to completely eradicate them. They are tenacious and beautiful as they seek light and purchase by whatever means possible. My daughter and I have erected a fairy hut under the trees. A tepee of bamboo poles, wound with twine where the vines can wander free and create magical green, undulating walls and a shady reading or picnic spot for the summer. A place to let the vines be what they are and do what they do best and where we can live in harmony.

Today I am tending an empty space that used to be filled with grief and sadness. It would have been my father's 67th birthday today. It's a date that I cannot, will not, ever forget. It's a date that, for a few years, brought keening grief and a remembrance of things lost. But today it brought me quiet contemplation and gratitude. I held my pruning shears in strong hands, protected by my tough leather gloves and saw my dad in that. I taught an art lesson to small and excited children, using words and concepts too difficult for them to grasp and then letting them free with huge black paper and sidewalk chalk, succumbing to the joy rather than the technicality of art. I saw my dad in that. I prayed and meditated on Scripture, and I saw my dad in that. I looked in the mirror at my unruly graying red-brown hair and my wide and crooked smile and I saw my dad in that. I see him in my husband's strong and intelligent gentleness, in my son's sense of humor and the dimple in his chin, in my daughter's sense of discovery and passion for experimentation, in the paintings that hang on my walls, the books that sit on my shelves, in the very words I write.

I have inherited a wild space within. It is easily overrun with the invasiveness of bleak emotion. It can be strangled and choked with thorns and brambles if left untended. I get this expansive, barely controlled heart from him. This fertile ground where worries and crippling compassion can volunteer, out of place, overnight. From him I also received the tools to keep these empty spaces full of color, full of life, and full of promise. He left me his faith, his creativity, his passion, his dedication and his belief in hard and necessary work.

He left a giant empty space when he died; a space that for a while, I believed would swallow me whole. But after several years of clearing and tending, there is no empty space. His presence runs like vines through my entire existence. And I spent today quietly continuing to train those vines into their places, appreciating their presence without allowing them to overtake my whole life. Creating a place where I can be who I am, do what I do best, and live in harmony with my loss.