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.