31 May 2007

Pieces of our heart

We are about to turn the page on this month, and there will be a new archive link on this blog.

I have about 25 entries.

I haven't tried very hard to make this blog accessible, which I know is annoying at least one person (so far, the readers I know about are all people to whom I've given this link. Anyone who wandered here by mistake would have had to be very lucky to find it.)

So, why am doing this again? It's a valid question.

Mostly, it's practice. Writing is, for me, an extremely intimate form of communication. I can and will talk your ear off, and my patter can be so rapid fire and obtuse that you really will have no idea what I'm talking about. And I won't explain, I'll just keep talking. And I haven't actually told you anything, I just keep pulling words out of the air and feeding them to you, much in the way that a magician might pull a coin out from behind your ear. But you're still laughing, much like the nice young man I was dragging around on my logorrheic trip through the men's department today. In the course of this visit, I decimated a pair of shoes, had three cash registers commandeered for my personal needs, and at least half the department store staff working on various and sundry things (like a zillion points coupons I'd collected over the last three years, each of which needed to be separately authorized because they were so old, because I never shop) all for me. And this poor man who made the mistake of saying "May I help you?" couldn't stop laughing and telling us that we were his favorite people and we'd made his day. And the spouse said, with grand irony, "yeah, people don't forget us."

I can also be forbiddingly silent, and that silence speaks volumes. The son and daughter would much rather I yell at them because when I use the "low, quiet voice," it's bad. Very, very bad. Even the person I formerly worked for acknowledged that he wished I would yell at him because my soft, grind-every-word-out fury was really frightening.

So I will talk to you. I am happy to have conversations with perfect strangers, who will forever remain perfect strangers. People interest me no end, and I'm ever curious to know what makes them tick, and it's a friendly and benign curiosity. I tend to choose my words with some care when speaking, and so control the flow of information. But writing allows you to see what's in *my* head and I really don't like that. It's not that the inside of my head is a nasty place. On the contrary, it's loud but generally cheerful unless I'm consigning you to the special hell for being a bad driver or an otherwise rude and rotten person.

Back in college, I took a particularly interesting literature course wherein the professor got me really thinking about the relationship between reader and writer. It hearkened back to something I'd read in high school by Jorge Luis Borges about the the way in which two people interact in a conversation. When two people speak to each other, there are really six people involved in the conversation: the person that A *is*, the person B believes A to be, the person A believes herself to be, and then the corollaries for B. I saw then, and still do today, that the relationship between reader and writer is quite similar. And in the act of reading a book, the reader brings all of his/her baggage along: experience, prejudice, intelligence, what have you. The writer has also brought all of this to table as well. As much as I disliked Proust, that passage about cookie crumbs in tea has stuck with me for 20 years, in part because madeleines provoke a profound sense of nostalgia in me for a significantly different reason.

Do I want you to know that? Do I want you to know that the smell of certain peppers makes my mouth water? Do I want you to know that the sounds of some musical instruments induce euphoria on the order of religious ecstasy? Is it worth sharing that I used to have a small bit of ground glass in my right thumb and that when nervous, I would worry at it with my index finger nail until one day, 15 years after it got in there, it suddenly came out? Is it important whether any of these things are true or are really allegorical?

We decide which is right...and which is an illusion.

Writing is a craft. Words have power and beauty. Reader and writer are bonded in a contract. There is fiction in truth and truth in fiction. What I am seeking is balance, and perhaps, what is right.

You may decide if it's an illusion.

Go listen to some good music: "Pieces of Our Heart" from the album Scarlet and Other Stories by All About Eve.

30 May 2007

Christian D'or

It's well-known amongst my intimates that I loathe shopping for clothes. More to the point, I loathe the concept of fashion, and even more, I loathe fashion "designers." Who are these people?

I'll tell you. They are the real terrorists. Chauvinists. Misogynists.

A very long time ago, I was part of a modeling program for a local department store. I was in my mid-teens, and because I am quite tall and was then extremely fit and still have something of a flair for the theatrical, everyone figured I was a natural.

Except.

I was too tall. And as this was the era when Cheryl Tiegs was the face of modelling, I was also too well-endowed and probably too athletic looking, not to mention too brunette.

But you know what? I always liked being really tall and a brunette, and I've never once in my colorful history been blonde. Men with mischief on their minds tend to steer clear of tall women, especially those who have some muscle definition and body language that doesn't mince words but calls out loud and clear, "It's not that I can kick your ass, dude, but I will kick your ass." (Ok, one time, I was packing a pipe wrench, too, but that is so far off topic that we will save it for an entry on "how the smart woman accessorizes her look.")

Anyway.

We know who the fashion terrorists are designing for. They are designing for the bodies of 12-year-old boys. Real 12-year-old boys when I was a teen, and now something more along the lines of 12-year-old boys with enormous breast implants (which is highly ironic to me. Where I was once too well endowed, I am now practically flat chested by local standards. It's important to note that my bra size has not changed.) I hear all this talk of clothes for the "bootylicious," but seriously, if Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez have asses, where are they? I can't really discern glutes on either of those girls.

I am WOMAN. Here me ROAR:

I want clothes that are flattering and that fit and that are kind. I do not want a trapeze dress or a tube top, which, honest to God, someone recently tried to sell me. I do not want low rise jeans. I do not want to wear a bed sheet 10 different ways. I most assuredly do not want to wear nylon or spandex. I am a woman of middle years, I have given birth twice (and had two C-sections, which is an issue all of its own), and I still have a decent figure. But more to the point, I have the money to buy the clothes I want. And I am not alone.

So, fashionista terroristas, what are you waiting for?

Go listen to some good music: "Christian D'or" from the album B-Side Babies by Adam Ant.

28 May 2007

Fanfare for the common man

They fought in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam. They fought and are fighting in the Persian Gulf. These men include my grandfathers and father, my uncles and cousins, my brothers and nephew, and many, many friends. We have been so very lucky, because with the exception of the spouse's 2nd cousin, all of our warriors have returned home to us, whole and unharmed.

Today, we remember those who were not so fortunate.

To bring up the politics behind what is currently happening is, to my mind, to dishonor the ordinary men and women who have been asked to go into battle. No matter what you might believe about this war, those who are fighting and dying and coming home wounded deserve our respect and support. And from one with long experience in the matter, I can guarantee you that it is fully possible to respect and support those who have earned it, while raging at the individuals who refuse to do what is necessary to end this mess.

Go listen to some good music: "Fanfare for the Common Man" by Aaron Copeland.

22 May 2007

Die Walküre/How soon is now?

A school trip:

The state capitol:

"Oh, look at that...animal up there. Uh, mountain lion? How cute."

"Mommy?" she asked, completely perplexed. "What are you talking about? It's a bear."

"Right. California."

The final quiz on the bus to the airport:

"What is the California state product?"

I whisper to my (adult) seatmate: "The silicone breast implant."

The drive home:

"What was the best part, Mom?" asked the son.

"Coming home."

Go listen to some good music: Die Walküre by Richard Wagner (b. May 22) and "How Soon is Now?" from the album Meat is Murder by The Smiths (lead singer Morrissey b. May 22).

19 May 2007

Lunatic fringe

Early evening, and the son is laboring over a computer game, as is the spouse. The daughter is off playing with a friend, and I am working on a blog for later...or perhaps more acurately, a diatribe.

I hear noise from beyond the kitchen window, and look out to see a group of my neighbors at the house across the way. They are teepee-ing the trees. "Look!" I call to the spouse. "They are teepee-ing B's house!"

The owners are clearly away, but two men, a woman and three children are throwing rolls of paper all over everything with gleeful abandon. The owners' four-year-old daughter is dancing and crying out, "We are decorating! We are decorating! Isn't it great?"

I run to the powder room and grab a roll of toilet paper.

Go listen to some good music: "Lunatic Fringe" from the album As Far As Siam by Red Rider.

18 May 2007

Life and how to live it

If I write a book
it will be called "Life and How to Live It"


Next week, I will celebrate a birthday. For many years now, birthdays have not been about the passage of time, but about birthday cake. I do love a good birthday cake, the more frosting roses, the better (real buttercream, thank you. None of that nasty shortening substitute stuff).

Long ago, when I was a young and impressionable girl, I believed the general consensus that if I hadn't published a novel or saved the world by the time I turned 21, I had failed all those who believed in my prodigy status. On the eve of my 21st birthday, it dawned on me that with luck and on average, I would live to 80-ish, and if I had done everything that everyone had told me I was supposed to do by the time I reached my majority, what the hell was I going to do with the next 60 years of my life? That was a substantial revelation, and so I turned 21 in the revolving bar on top of the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles with 3 of my closest friends, drinking champagne.

Now that I am an older and decidedly more guerrilla-ish girl, I understand that age really is just a number, and I don't rail against the passage of time. Yes, with each new birthday candle comes another wrinkle or five, but they are the story of my life, and I'm ok with the canvas on which they are drawn (age spots, however, need not apply).

May is a great month in which to be born, and it has always been one of my favorite months, even beyond the promise of birthday cake. It also carried the promise of summer, and vacation in the days when we were school kids. Winter rains had passed and the Sonoran desert was in full and glorious bloom, with only the first hint of the brutality of triple digit temperatures. Birds had chicks, and lizards had hatched their young. It was hard to hold a tiny baby horned lizard in the palm of your hand and not feel that the world was an amazing place. In May, we began to run barefoot in the backyard, the sand warm on our winter-tender feet. It was very important to build up some major calluses before the goathead burrs hardened and the blacktop became a burning sea of lava.

May meant May Day, which for us wasn't a pagan celebration involving dance around a pole and flower posies. The flowers went to the Virgin Mary, whose color is blue, and for two years in junior high when I somehow became the liason between the church and the school, it meant planning the May Day mass and procession for the school children.

Clear blue-skied days were longer, sunsets more spectacular and Venus burned like a diamond in the west. I remember a long ago May night, burning for the first boy on whom I ever had a crush, the warm evening breeze raising goose bumps on my arms as I wished on Venus. The breeze smelled of pink jasmine and mock orange, scents that still bring a smile in the spring.

It was the time of year when my parents cleaned up the old barbecue in the backyard and our thoughts drifted to what flavors of Shasta sodas we should buy to drink on a Saturday night with friends running wild through the house and yard, eating cupcakes and pork ribs.

Some nights were quieter, and one way or another, we ended up at old Mrs. H.'s house across the street. Mrs. H. and her late husband and late son had spent much time living in Mexico, and her tiny house was decorated accordingly with bright paper flowers, baskets and pottery. In her backyard, she had a lovely little orchard, filled with apricot, plum, peach and crabapple trees. Today, I can't look at an apricot or Santa Rosa plum without remembering the unbelievable taste of the fruit from her trees, hot from the sun, juice spilling down our chins. She was known among the neighborhood kids as a rather crotchety and irascible old lady, but I loved to listen to her stories while she puffed away on cigarette after cigarette. We sat on her screened porch late into the night, drinking sweetened iced tea, ensconced in leather chairs from Mexico that squeaked violently every time one shifted in them. I remember sitting paralyzed, afraid to make any noise while she spoke. It was from her garden that the smells of jasmine and mock orange most frequently came, heavy and seductive as she spoke in her rasping smoker's voice. I can see her even now, dressed in a sleeveless, patterned housedress, her face prune-wrinkled and lively, faded eyes alive with memory.

In high school, May was sitting under the stars having intense philosophical conversations with my best friend L., the sorts of conversations one can only have at 15 and 16, unselfconscious and touching on subjects only newly discovered. We looked back on childhood only recently left behind by singing silly songs and moved toward womanhood by looking at colleges and boys.

A song with only one note would be pretty boring, and for me, a single-note life would be unbearably tedious. While the Mays of my life are more recently filled with hikes, and school field trips, children's lunches and sticky jacaranda blossoms, early June gloom and unseasonable wildfires, there are still baby birds and the scents of pink jasmine and orange blossom. I've written and published, traveled, loved and lost, worked like a madwoman and given birth to my own young. One can not hold a tiny baby newly released from one's body and not see the world as an amazing place. I still sing silly songs, go to rock concerts and giggle with my friends like a schoolgirl with a crush over older boys...and these days, I mean really older boys.

The novel is still not written, though I suspect it will appear when the time is right, whenever that may be. I haven't saved the world, and never will, but I try to save others, one cause and one person at a time.

And there is birthday cake, because I want it and I will not count the cost even while I pay the price on the exercise bike. I'll only the count the roses made of real buttercream frosting, and the friends and family I love, and the time here that's been made a gift to me.

07 May 2007

Driven

The next time you decide it's ok to speed because you're running late, why don't you take a moment to think about these three children who were torn apart by a big rig last Friday.

Think about them the next time you pick up that cell phone while you're driving.

Think about them when you push that yellow light right on into the red.

Think about them when you make that illegal right on red because you're in a hurry.

Think about the family that isn't a family anymore. Just a mom and dad.

Think about that hunk of metal that YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR OPERATING SAFELY shredding a tiny body to bits.

You really want that on your permanent record?