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.