30 January 2008

High tide

"On the open sea there are no landmarks, there is only an amorphous, chaotic shifting of directionless masses of water that loom up and break and roll, and their surface is, in turn, broken by subsystems that interfere and form whirlpools and appear and disappear and finally vanish without a trace. Slowly this confusion will work its way into the chambers of my inner ear and destroy my sense of orientation....I'm not afraid of the sea simply because it wants to strangle me. I'm afraid of it because it will rob me of my orientation, the inner gyroscope of my life, my awareness of what is up and down, my connection to Absolute Space."
-Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg

When I was 14, I was swimming in the Atlantic, off the coast of Maryland. I was there with an enormous group of extended family; my mother and her sisters had been visiting this coastal town since they were girls, and now my cousins and I joined them.

There was a hurricane down the coast, and the undertow was fierce that day, although the water sparkled, the sun shone and the breeze blew. I was aware of the danger, and was staying fairly close to the shore because I'm an ok swimmer, but certainly not a great swimmer. Usually I'm pretty good at knowing my limits, though I've been known to push my luck. Not this time, though. I will chance some things, but not in open water.

So it was just accident, bad luck, that I wandered off a shelf and ended up in deeper water than I'd intended to be. And it was worse luck that I was hit by a wave at the same time I discovered I was literally in over my head. I saw the second, bigger wave before it hit me, and tried to dive into it. That was where I met the undertow.

Sometimes, you just know that you aren't going to win. Sometimes, you just know that something is so much bigger and stronger than you are that there is no fighting. But I'm a fighter, and I struggled to swim even as I was being pulled away, bounced down into the sand and dragged further out.

My enduring memory of those moments--and I know they had to be moments, though it seemed like hours--is green water filled with sand swirling in front my eyes as I was flipped around onto my head. I remember how much it hurt to be thrown into the sea floor--I'd lost all buoyancy and was being hurled through the water, upside down and all around. I was already tired from swimming and the sun, and fighting the force that was holding me underwater was becoming more difficult since I no longer had any bearings. I no longer had any control.

My life did not flash before my eyes. I just suddenly realized, "This is it. I'm not going to make it." And I relaxed, and let the water take me. I felt very calm. Then, my knees hit the sand, and my head broke the water. I'd landed on a sand bar, a good half mile down the beach from where I'd started. I sat there for a little, not cognizant of my very good fortune, just weary, breathless, and a little dizzy from being thrown around underwater. Eventually, I was able to get up and stagger back up the beach where my family had not even noticed my absence. One can indeed drown without a sound.

I still have nightmares of being trapped underwater. I will go into open water only up to my ankles, and I venture no further.

Like the ocean, life runs in cycles that sometimes seem no less than amorphous, chaotic shiftings of directionless masses of daily activity. We are born, we reach maturity, we reproduce, we die, and hopefully, in between, there are moments when we land on a sand bar to take a look at what's going on around us.

In the last five years, and most dramatically in the last three, my life has been broken by waves and whirlpools and eddies that have threatened my orientation, my sense of place in the world. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it has knocked me off balance. Right now, I feel like I'm standing again on that shelf in the Atlantic. I see the wave coming, and there is no avoiding it, but I'm not sure how hard it will it hit me, what will be the effect, if an even larger wave is lurking behind. Will this be the one that pulls me out to sea, or I will step off the shelf of my own volition?

This is admission that I know things have changed, possibly more profoundly than even I realize. A couple of nights ago, the son and I were discussing his entrance into high school and how much he dreads the change. "You can make it an adventure," I told him, "or you can make yourself miserable."

I can also make change an adventure, but I haven't reached that state of calm yet. I haven't reached the place where I can allow what is inevitable to take me. I don't know how to ride this wave, and I can only hope that I figure it out in time.

Go listen to some good music: "High Tide" from the album 7 Day Weekend by CS Angels.

28 January 2008

Good morning good morning

I have nothing to say...
but it's ok.

And the finch washing its face was perishingly cute.

And yes, I know it's not morning.

Go listen to some good music: "Good Morning Good Morning" from the album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles.

25 January 2008

How do I get through to you?

Last week, all I was thinking about (and writing about) was war. This week, it seems to be communication and forms of language (and Norovirus. But I know you're as tired of hearing about that as I'm tired of living it...and yeah, still standing. But tired of the smell of bleach).

Having just finished rereading Possession for the hundredth time, where language is all, where what is not said is often as important as what is, where a look is as significant as a sentence, I am now deeply engrossed in Smilla's Sense of Snow again. Like Possession, language and languages figure deeply in the story, as does communication, verbal and nonverbal. In one scene, a linguist is decoding a tape recording, not only identifying the speaker on the tape by use of language, but the location where the tape was made and who is making the music playing in the background.

Our world is so noisy, so full of distraction, that it is easy to lose nuance and subtlety, to overlook the cadence, the rhythm of language. We've traded in the pleasure of conversation for gadgetry like texting, abandoned the structure and beauty of words for MySpace and message boards. We allow discourtesy in place of discourse. I have little patience for the massively multiplayer experience, whether it's as a social experiment or as entertainment, because I've watched anonymity foster contempt online for two decades now, and I'm just not having any of it. Which means, sure I play Halo and Rock Band (100% on "Don't Fear the Reaper" on Expert! 94% on "Tom Sawyer" on Hard! And I really can't sing!), but there's no Xbox Live in this house. I'm not in ur base killin ur doods. I'd rather be in my garden sharing a bottle of wine with you.

I love words but I frequently don't trust them. Not that I trust anything, really. I don't trust a glance, or my own instincts. I don't trust that the oncoming car will stop for the red light. Words can be chameleons because even when used well, they can be misunderstood. I tend to choose my words with care, so I type, stop, read, erase and retype. Do I overthink my intent? Usually. Do I trust that subconsciously I will convey the right meaning? Rarely. Do I believe that I will be understood? No.

When I studied literary criticism, I was captivated by structuralism, by the idea of words as building blocks or story as edifice. But to build a safe structure, one must build with good words, words that are strong, full of meaning and richness. A love letter is not hearts and flowers; it is the hope and fear in a beating heart, and the right words race the course of the ebb and flow of that living tide.

I am raising two children. When I use my normal voice, they rarely hear me or the words that I'm using. Once upon a time, I would say things twice in my normal voice, but by the time I had to say it a third time, I found that I was screaming. I am not naturally a screamer, and with a naturally low voice, I sound horrifyingly shrill when I begin shrieking with rage. And I just don't like it. I hit on a solution quite by accident: a very low, quiet and absolutely deadly voice. Everyone shakes in their shoes when I use my "low, quiet voice," including my children, my husband, my former employer ("Really, couldn't you just yell at me when you're mad?"), and the members of the local community advisory board. I choose my words carefully, but I've learned they're only heard when I choose my tone carefully as well.

Today, I met with the parents of the child the son has been asked to mentor. As our conversation progressed, the mother suddenly asked if she and I could meet for coffee. Before I tossed off a self-deprecating laugh, I caught the look in her eyes and was filled with deep compassion because I've been where she is, and also with terrible fear because she believes that I have something of value to tell her and I can't bear the idea that I might fail her. But I told her that yes, that would be fine, because maybe, just maybe, I have something to offer.

I don't know why you (yes, YOU!) are reading this. Curiosity or accident, boredom or intent, seeking something (aren't we all?), but you have arrived here. I have seen you before and perhaps I know you, or perhaps I am without a sense of who you are. But you have arrived here again.

So have I. And I see that I am trying to get through.

To you.

Go listen to some good music: "How Do I Get Through to You?" from the album Tripped into Divine by Dexter Freebish.

24 January 2008

Shut your eyes

It was an exercise.

Mrs. C. flipped off the lamps and we all lay down on the studio's cold varnished wood floor dim in the late afternoon half light filtering in from the windows in the roof.

"Close your eyes," she told us and for the next hour and a half, we moved all the major muscle groups, blind.

Without visual stimuli, everything became more acute. Every cough and strained breath, the fact that my quads really hurt when I lifted my leg from the floor and that my toes cracked when I pointed them, the smell of the rosin the gymnasts were using in the main part of the gym.

Next class, we took our places, center floor, standing, and she turned off the lights, and told us, "Close your eyes."

It is one thing to lie on the floor and work through a series of stretches. It is something altogether different to move through space unable to see the 11 other people who are in the room with you--none of whom can see you.

Everything feels different, sounds different, when you can suddenly see nothing.

I remember reading an article some years ago about a blind man who had surgery that restored his vision. He referred to himself as a "blind man with vision," the paradox being that his vision may have been restored, but his brain couldn't process what he was seeing. My brain scrambled to make sense of movement without vision.

I have strong visual and aural memory, both of which helped me to learn dances. In the studio, we danced in front of mirrors, which allowed us to correct a line, straighten a leg. It was important to feel those adjustments, too, because once we got on stage, there were only seats in front of us. Nonetheless, I could see if I needed to lift my wrist, or if a kick was too high or too low. Sometimes when we were working through choreography, we'd dance solely to beats, without music, which forces you to learn timing as opposed to taking cues from what notes you're hearing. I've danced to poetry and to stories also, and you cue off words, which is different from music. But take sight out of the equation and you feel your body differently. You feel air, and the way you move through it differently. Space, while always part of the movement equation, seems more expansive--almost frighteningly so--when you can't see what else is occupying it. You hear music differently, and there are nuances that are less evident when other stimuli is occupying your brain. I learned that dancing in the dark allowed me to refocus, to better understand how my body knew space, once I got past the fear of being in such an alien place.

I learned to choreograph with my eyes closed, too. Each individual instrument in a piece of music becomes so much clearer when you're not distracted by another sense, and as I picked apart rhythm and melody in my brain, a cello here or a bass line there, movement would become clear in my mind's eye.

I still have a tendency to listen to music with my eyes closed, in part because I like being able to focus intensely on what I'm hearing. I wonder if I listen too intensely at times because I've awakened some mornings with a fully formed piece of a song playing loudly through my brain. Then, too, the son once accused me of being asleep during a performance of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, but in truth, I was all ears. And only ears. And I wandered through the kitchen for days afterward, singing in German.

Go listen to some good music: "Shut Your Eyes" from the album Eyes Open by Snow Patrol.

23 January 2008

Born to run

Three days ago:

The daughter: "Mommy, have you ever ridden a motorcycle?"

Me, vaguely, engrossed in whatever I'm doing: "Yes."

The daughter: "No you haven't!"

Me, startled: "What?"

The daughter: "You haven't ridden a motorcycle!"

Me: "What are you talking about? Yes, I have."

The daughter: "You have not ridden a motorcycle."

Me: "Yes. I have."

The daughter: "You haven't."

Me: "Why did you ask me if you're going to immediately deny I've done it?"

She scowls at me. There is subtext here, something percolating underneath that I can't immediately see.


The daughter: "Do you have photographic evidence?"

Me: "Of what?"

The daughter: "That you rode a motorcycle."

Oh, we're back to that.

Me: "No. Nor do I have the phone number of the person with whom I was riding, so you can't call him to confirm it."

The daughter: "Him?"

Me, firmly: "Him."

The daughter: "Not Dad."

Me: "No."

I hear the spouse laugh.

So that's what it is. Empirical evidence. Other men.

The daughter: "Who?"

Me: "Someone I dated before."

She is still dissatisfied. I have somehow demonstrated disloyalty.

I guess this is the point where adolescents and pre-adolescents suddenly begin to realize that their parents are human. I've never pretended to be anything but, and have always been candid with the kids when I've made a mistake or have been too quick to become angry with them. But they are reaching the sudden and unmistakable realization that we have lives and histories in our own right. Mommy can leave for a day and call home and be laughing because she is off having fun on her own.

Mommy has ridden motorcycles with other people.

And it was not George Clooney. Perhaps he seemed safer, or perhaps he was the first hint of an implicit threat. It dawned on her back in October that if she could have crushes, then maybe I was susceptible, too. Clearly, she has been thinking about this and come to the conclusion that it's possible Mommy isn't just a mommy. But it was funny and giggly then, and I'd only used him as an example, anyway.

Sorry, George. I do think you're awfully cute. But you're just not my type.

Neither, really, was the motorcycle.

Go listen to some good music: "Born to Run" from the album Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen.

22 January 2008

Just another nervous wreck

I imagine people must have felt this way in plague times.

When am I going to get it?

I got an email from the mother of another student in the son's class this morning. It turns out that no fewer than 15 of the 26 students in that class (and 1 teacher) were sick all weekend.

The spouse just came home with it. The Man Food gambit didn't quite work. Or worked too well. I'm not sure which.

So, from cautiously hopeful to full of dread.

It's sad, too, because January is when I tend to get excited about cooking again. I've been reading recipes, and feeling experimental. Making dishes I haven't made in awhile. And I just bought a boxful of exotic sauces and spices.

All for naught.

I'm not even sick and I don't want to think about food.

I don't want to think about the son's Science Fair project, either. I don't want to think about where the son is going to high school.

I don't want to think about the daughter's State Fair project.

I don't want to think about a lot of things.

Go listen to some good music: "Just Another Nervous Wreck" from the album Breakfast in America by Supertramp.

21 January 2008

Strange brew

At the beginning of winter, I always make a point of stocking up on the stuff that makes winter illnesses survivable: pain relievers, chicken broth, tea, Saltine crackers, Jello...you know the sort of thing. Components of the basic BRAT diet, plus stuff that someone with a cold or influenza would like.

Well, the son got sick on Saturday afternoon (I'm still wondering if I could plead "justifiable arson" if I set the kids' bathroom on fire for sanitation purposes. Probably not. I guess I'll stick to bleach. But it does occur to me that I might start my own line of residential fire hoses for people remodeling their bathrooms). I went into the pantry, ticked off supplies on my fingers, and realized that I didn't have any soda and there was a sad lack of cleaning supplies. And disposable gloves. Love my disposable gloves.

So I made a list for the spouse, and asked him to run down to the nearest store.

Asking the spouse to go to the store is usually dangerous, and a mission I only allow him to undertake in the most dire of circumstances. He generally comes back with the things I ask him to get. It's the stuff that he comes home with that I didn't ask him to buy that's the problem.

Man Food.

Our house is not what I'd call a junk-food-free zone. Granted, I like organic, I like healthy food, but grapenuts and granola I'm not (Grapenuts are ok, but granola... *shudder*). I make cookies and scones and coffee cake, and occasionally, that delightfully repulsive onion dip made from sour cream and soup mix, but yeah, I stock more fruits and vegetables than processed snack food. I am the primary shopper, so I have the greatest say in what comes in the house. Doritos don't (the spouse can have them at work). Dried fruit does. Poptarts don't. Oatmeal does. Jarred nacho cheese doesn't (because I can and possibly will eat it out of the jar with a spoon). Artisanal cheese does (I could also eat this with a spoon but at $20 a pound, I'm less likely to).

There are certain food items the spouse can't resist. Beef jerky, sticks made out of unidentifiable animal parts loosely termed "beef," Nacho Cheese Doritos, Pringles, cinnamon rolls. He believes in the four food groups all right: beer, mystery meat, salt, and sugar.

But he had a better card to play this weekend: fast food.

"Well, we're all going to get sick," he told me yesterday, "so let's just eat stuff that we don't really care about ever eating again."

I nodded; there was a certain logic to that.

"And anyway," he finished, "the game is starting soon."

Which is how I ended up staring down a Big Mac for the first time in years.

And while he was at it, he brought home a heat-and-eat pepperoni pizza from the grocery. He was almost rubbing his hands with glee. Football, man food, and heck, what was a little Norovirus? He'd be going out in style.

We've just about gotten to the 48-hour mark with no further casualties, and I'm cautiously hopeful. The son is sitting in state, watching Mr. Bean and sipping chicken broth, while the daughter has gotten all the noodles and chicken from the same soup. I'll be in control of dinner tonight, so we'll still be eating things that no one particularly loves, but this time it will be Mom Food.

Go listen to some good music: "Strange Brew" from the album Disraeli Gears by Cream.

19 January 2008

It's terror time again

Yesterday, happy.

This afternoon, the son went down with the stomach flu, and I'm on post-apocalyptic clean-up duty.

However, I did escape long enough this morning to go see Juno. What a lovely, funny and well-made movie. It made me grateful for my children.

At least until I got home.

Go listen to some music: "It's Terror Time Again" from the movie Scooby Doo on Zombie Island performed by Skycycle.

18 January 2008

Let's go!

The phone rings.

Male voice: "A.? This is J. down the street."

Me, cheerily: "Hi, J-down-the-street!"

J. is one of the Soaring Rodents, the guys' softball team.

J.: "Look, T. just called me. The sheriff is at the end of the street writing tickets for street sweeping."

Me: "Uh-oh."

J.: "Yeah, I saw P.'s car parked out there."

Me: "'Kay, thanks, bye!"

Grab the spouse's car keys and run out the door. Sheriff's car pulls up.

Sheriff: "Ma'am, you are aware that today is streetsweeping?"

Me: "Well, I know it's Friday, and I know they do it two Fridays a month..."

Sheriff: "The second and fourth Friday, ma'am."

Me: "Well, they also changed it at some point. I think it used to be the first and third Friday."

Sheriff looks momentarily non-plussed. "Uh, yes, it IS the first and third Friday."

Me, laughing: "See! You don't know when it is either!"

Sheriff: "I just really want this month to be over."

Me, trying to wipe the grin off my face: "Anyway, I'm sorry. My husband just pulled in to have lunch."

Sheriff: "Okay, ma'am. Please pull your vehicle off the street."

Me: "Will do. Thank you, sir!"

Move car, run back in house, go to pantry, retrieve bottle of wine.

The spouse: "Take him the beer mug with the bell, too."

Go down to J.'s house.

J.: "Geez! You guys didn't have to do that."

Me: "Dude. You just saved us a parking ticket. Thanks!"

As the spouse says, it pays to be in good with your neighbors.

And now that business is done, I need to get out the map, get out the calendar and get out the frequent flyer mile statements and do some serious travel planning for the months of April, May and June.

Albuquerque? Phoenix? Austin? Kansas? Chicago?

It is a good day.

Go listen to some good music: "Let's Go" from the album Candy-O by The Cars.

17 January 2008

Part of me now

As I was struggling to haul the son out of the shower and get him into clothing before he frightened his sister, he suddenly exclaimed in outrage.

The son: "Hey! I never got my last Director's Honor Roll certificate."

Me: "We'll have to ask Mrs. K. for it."

The spouse, who had just wandered in: "Did you get another report card?"

Me: "No. They were handed out before Christmas."

The son: "I was sick." To me conversationally: "I'm happy I was sick."

Me: "You are not! You were fussing the whole time about missing the class holiday party."

The son: "But I got to spend more time with you."

Me, looking significantly at the spouse, and then rolling my eyes.

The son, grinning: "It gave me time to bond with you."


Go listen to some good music: "Part of Me Now" from the album Mania by Lucy Show.

16 January 2008

Collapse the light into Earth

At 4 p.m., Wednesday, January 16, 1991, my manager grabbed my arm hard enough to leave bruises.

"It's started," she said, and she pulled me downstairs to the room below my office where voice talent dubbed the films for the parks. On the big screen television, I saw the legend "CNN - Baghdad. LIVE." I saw anti-aircraft tracer rounds score the night-vision green sky. I saw the screen go white as bombs exploded in the city. And as the people around me shouted and exclaimed, I sank down on the couch, nearly catatonic, and watched a war begin on a screen as big as that in a movie theater.

People I loved were in that green sky, half a world away.

People were dying down below.

In the days that followed, as this became the war the nation watched on television, I turned my back on the screen.

I did not want to lend credibility to an insane administration that would play this game with the media and with the lives of people I didn't know and with the lives of people I loved. What was at stake was far more valuable than the prize for which they played.

But more than anything, I could not bear the thought that I might see anyone--people I knew, people I didn't--die LIVE on CNN.

Time does not heal all wounds. Seventeen years later, this one lies open and fresh, as raw as the day it was made in me, as raw as the day it was made in the world.

Go listen to some good music: "Collapse the Light into Earth" from the album In Absentia by Porcupine Tree.

15 January 2008

Spinning wheel

"What is the matter with you NOW?" I heard the son yell in exasperation.

"What are you talking about?" I asked him while stirring the potatoes.

"Oh," he snarled impatiently, "it sounds like she's crying."

I put the lid on the pot, wiped my hands, and as I walked back to the daughter's room, I heard the unmistakable sound of semi-hysterical sobbing.

"What's up?" I asked as I entered her room to find her lying on her bed with a book, her face wet and red.

"Someone died," she wailed in a fresh burst of tears. "It's so sad."

I sat down next to her on the bed, and looked at the book. I'd not heard of it, but there are many dangers inherent in having children who read at college level when they are 10.

"Was it one of the main characters?" I asked, guessing that it might be something like The Bridge to Terabithia or A Separate Peace.

"No," she drew in shakey breath. "He died in Vietnam."

"Takes place during the 1960s?" I asked.

"Yeah," she said, blowing her nose.

I was quiet for a moment. Much as our parents told us about World War II, we've explained our own childhoods in terms of Vietnam and the Cold War. I was very young during Vietnam, and my earliest memory is the casualty numbers that popped up on the nightly news. I was close to the kids' ages when Saigon fell, but I still remember, and my throat still constricts at the memory, the pictures of those helicopters trying to get out.

"You know," I told her. "A bunch of my cousins fought in Vietnam. When they shipped out, we never knew if we would see them again."

Her eyes widened at this.

F. was stationed at the SAC/TAC base in our town, and when he wasn't on deployment, he always spent the holidays with us or came for summer barbecues. Most of my cousins are far older than I am, and for whatever reason, F. was always patient and kind with us, though we were 15 or more years his junior. He taught me to play chess when I was a bit younger than the daughter, and under his tutelage, and that of his older brother later, I gradually became a better player. Eventually, F. couldn't beat me quite so handily, and one Christmas, as it got later and later, he finally said, "We're not going to finish this one tonight. Let's make a picture of the board, and we'll finish it when I get back."

He was shipping out the next day, so it would be months before we'd play again. But I held the idea of finishing as a talisman, as faith that he'd return to beat me.

"And," he told me, as he left, "work on your offense. You're still too worried about defending your king."

Just in case I got too cocky about the fact that he hadn't beaten me. Yet.

"Did they come back?" the daughter asked me.

"Yup. And then they'd go back, and they'd come home, and finally they stayed home," I smoothed back her hair. "But not everyone was as lucky as we were. There was a boy in my class whose father never came home. He was still listed as MIA the last time I checked."

She leaned against me, hot and miserable.

In time, I finally beat F. at chess.

"You better not have let me win!" I told him.

"I wouldn't," he looked at me with a sort of horror. "It was a fair fight."

Like me, my children are growing up in a time of war. Like me, they don't really understand it; their war is a war of numbers dead, numbers wounded, politicians gambling with the lives of others.

Like me, they know that while chess is a simulated war, it is run with rules and a certain courtly adherence to the concept of fair play. And they are only just learning that in the real world, there is no such thing as a fair fight.

Go listen to some good music: "Spinning Wheel" from the album Blood, Sweat & Tears by Blood, Sweat & Tears.

14 January 2008

Times like these

Death. The Heimlich Maneuver. Winds howling all night long.

It was not a great weekend.

The death was expected, and as difficult as it always is to say it, probably a blessing because there was great pain and little quality of life. Still, no matter how much one lives with the expectation, the shock of the void that is left is as great as if it came as a surprise. There is no preparation for such loss, for the total absence of someone you knew.

Most of our mothers taught us not to talk with our mouths full. The confluence of Peking Duck and emphatic conversation was a bad one. It is shocking to watch someone turn blue, to see them obviously unable to draw breath. We'll never know how completely blocked her airway was, but she lived to eat another Peking Duck. Said my fortune cookie: "Luck is with you now. Act on your instincts." Yeah.

Top all this off with last night's howling gale--I still haven't figured out what landed on the roof around 3 am--and it was no wonder the son was up with nightmares, and the conviction that something was prowling around the front of the house. If anything was prowling around the house, it was probably Olivier, or the mysterious beast that left half a cat on one neighbor's lawn and nearly gutted the little Maltese next door a couple of months ago.

I still must take the Christmas tree down. I suggested last night to the spouse that perhaps we should just leave it up for Easter and decorate it with eggs.

I needed another book to read last night, but can't bring myself to start something new. So, I pulled Smilla's Sense of Snow off the shelf again. I figured it was worth rereading before I head off to those parts mid-summer.

My passport had migrated to my makeup bag. The photo is even worse than I'd remembered.

Go listen to some good music: "Times Like These" from the album One by One by Foo Fighters.

12 January 2008

Sleeps with butterflies

December 2007

Go listen to some good music: "Sleeps with Butterflies" from the album The Beekeeper by Tori Amos.

11 January 2008

Get out the map

I was trying to locate all the passports this morning. Mine, of course, has been wandering all over the house since September, the last time I used it. I can't quite seem to get it back into the safe.

Although maybe it would be better if I lost it. I've now had three or four passports over the years, and the photo on this one is by far the most unflattering official photo I've ever had taken, and that counts all my DMV pictures, too. I'm not sure which is the worst part: the long stringy hair, the pink fuzzy turtleneck or the baleful expression on my face. The photographer told me very specifically that Homeland Security did not want me to smile.

"Look!" D. howled when she saw it last summer. "It's Natasha, the Russian spy!"

Which is a pretty accurate assessment.

It's shaping up to be a busy travel year. Not that that's necessarily unusual around here. You're as likely to find us in Anaconda, Montana, as you are to find us in Tallinn, Estonia. Or at least one of us. The bizarre collection of monetary instruments that lives on the bureau in my bedroom tells the tale of that tape. Some of them are from the spouse's far flung jobs, some are from my roamings, some are left over from skipping around the Baltic.

We always wanted the children to be comfortable with travel because it's something the spouse and I really enjoy. Pregnancy didn't stop me from visiting Costa Rica, Panama and parts of South America, so the son became a world traveler when he was a tadpole.

The daughter's maiden voyage came at 3 months when her father was speaking at a conference on the Big Island of Hawaii. She visited her first volcano, which may partly explain why she's such a little rock hound.

They've seen a good bit of the contiguous western U.S. as well. We drove up to Mt. Rushmore at the daughter's behest some years ago, stopping at places like the Black Hills and the Devil's Watchtower and every single fish hatchery along the way (they make excellent, generally uncrowded picnic spots). We saw Mt. Rushmore first thing in the morning, and it was pretty spectacular.

"I've wanted to come here my entire life!" the daughter told the nice lady behind the cash register.

"How old are you?" the nice lady asked very seriously.


They've fed fish; they've fed reindeer. They've eaten fish; they've eaten reindeer. They've eaten nasi goreng in Amsterdam. What more could a kid ask for?

"You don't like Puerto Rico," the spouse said to me with no little exasperation a month or so ago as I began to quietly hatch a plan.

"But I was there at Christmas that time," I said reasonably. "I don't like anywhere at Christmas. That's why I don't travel at Christmas."

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" he yodeled, in full knowledge that he was losing this battle. I could hear the formation of a very loud thought: Can't you just stay home?

But he doesn't ask that question. Not that Dr. Sorry-Hon-But-I-Have-To-Fly-To-Hawaii-Next-Week has a leg to stand on.

Anyway, he knows the answer.

"Of course not!"

Go listen to some good music: "Get Out the Map" from the album Shaming of the Sun by Indigo Girls.

10 January 2008

That voice again

Drama has settled down to a dull roar; boredom has settled in.

I am restless; I am waiting.

Misty morning, sun filters through the water in the air. I kissed the son goodbye at his locker. Why he allows, even encourages, this I don't understand. He feels vulnerable right now, this child trapped in the body of an almost man. He wants his mother, even with the girls crowding around. I notice, again, one girl in particular who has been hanging around the brighter boys a great deal lately. She is not attractive with her long brown hair and glasses, her clear discomfort with her gawky body, her strained earnestness. She is lost in the sea of giddy blondes who wear their uniforms well; the extroverted brunettes who converse with ease. She reminds me of myself at that age, and in my heart I whisper to her, don't worry, girl. You'll get there. Time is on your side.

The daughter still clings to me as I leave. We are well past the days of "Mommy! Stay for flag salute!" but on days when she can catch me sitting down, she curls her tall, nearly 11-year-old body into my lap. At school, she always hugs me hard, pushing her head into my chest, loathe to let go.

I feel only partly put together this morning. I was still throwing on clothing as I ran out the door, and as I exit the school, I'm surreptitiously trying to ensure that my track pants haven't slid too far down my hips. It's damp, but also chill. I settle my jacket, and head down the street.

I haven't walked the channel trail for nearly 18 months and my own internal illogic is in the driver's seat this morning. I ran this trail for several years, seeing the same people with whom I'd exchange a nod or a word, smiling at the same happy dogs who'd pull at their leashes to sample the smells on my knee, grimacing at the wretched old woman who insisted on hawking and spitting on the trail. I wonder if I will see any of those people, or if all the faces will have changed.

A mile in and it's apparent that few are out. It is cold, but I'm already shedding my jacket, doing a striptease without ever breaking my pace. An Australian Shepherd, a lovely tri-color with symmetrical markings on his face, keeps turning around to make sure that I'm not up to anything squirrely behind his back. For not the first time this week, I think that it may be time to adopt another a dog. It's been nearly two years since the Bad Dog left us. I still expect to see her every time I open the garage door.

The fence along the channel is covered in cape honeysuckle, in full and glorious orange bloom. There is little water in the channel, and I don't see any of the larger water birds that occasionally visit, but a small family of mallards is splashing amongst the rocks.

There is change and no change. The house near the public school has lost most of its roof now. It was already in bad shape the last time I traversed this area. I can't believe that someone is living there; based on what I can see from the exterior, I can only believe the place must be full of mold and other even more unsavory things. I cannot believe that the nearly new car is still parked in the driveway.

I exchange "good mornings" with many along the way, none of whom are familiar to me. I miss the elderly Asian man who walked in shorts alone whatever the weather, barechested even in cold winter rain, clearly pleased with himself, pleased with life, ever smiling. I miss the Eskie who would smile wildly at me as it pulled its owner, a very large middle-aged man, willy-nilly through the lavender.

I don't miss the spitting old lady. And I do see the old biddy squad, a group of well-turned out senior ladies who clearly believe they sit at the head of the trail social hierarchy, who tacitly maintain their right to block the entire path so that the rest of us have to step off to allow them to pass. I see their ranks have swelled as they march toward me, and as usual, I split their group down the center, smiling into their peeved faces as I go. A woman of about my own age grins at me as she runs past and through the hole I've made in their formation.

By the time I reach mile 4, summit number 3, I am bargaining with myself. No views to spur me on today, so I promise that I will make another pot of coffee when I get home, that I can eat anything I want for breakfast. Bargaining is not working.

Down the hill, up the hill, down the hill again. I've not seen the old man with the cane for a very long time. Five years ago, when we first began to meet on my morning runs, he would bow to me as he walked by. I liked him; in an odd way he reminded me of my father-in-law with his well-combed hair and jaunty bow-tie, his Mr. Rogers cardigans. After a couple of years, he would add a twirl of his cane as he greeted me. One morning, finally, he stopped me.

"Miss," he said, twinkling. "You do not run. You do not walk. You dance."

It was such a funny little thing to say, but said with a sort of Old World kindness. And a comment that always occurs to me at those moments when I am ready to levitate.

I hope that wherever he is, he is at peace.

I am home; I am exhausted. I will rest just for a moment, and restlessness will return.

I hear that voice, that seductive siren song, again.

I am waiting.

Go listen to some good music: "That Voice Again" from the album So by Peter Gabriel.

08 January 2008

Kissing asphalt

The spouse was confronted by the spectacle of Milton, the cat who eats everything (add asparagus to the list), relentlessly gnashing his teeth this morning.

When he brought me coffee, he told me, "He was making the most awful sound. I thought he was heaving."

Milton also likes to eat the Christmas tree, which tends to make him vomit.

"What was it?" I asked blearily, trying to drag myself into an upright position. Lugging the son around is taking its toll, and I had to drive the kids into school this morning...not a happy proposition.

"It was Olivier!" he cried, referring to the neighbors' semi-evil tuxedo cat. Milton has a long-running feud going with Olivier, and runs out to smack him on the head whenever possible.

"What was Olivier?" I asked, confused. Just get the IV needle; the caffeine wasn't absorbing fast enough via my stomach.

"Olivier had his face pushed up against the French doors, and Milton was yelling at him."

"Wow." I thought about this display of boldness. Milton was really going to pummel Olivier the next time he got a chance.

"Okay, gotta go," said the spouse. He was off to a mediation in Century City, which at this time of day, would be a 2.5-hour drive.

The next hour is largely indescribable, but involves a breakfast tray, wrestling a 142-lb. almost-man into his school clothes, packing lunches, repeatedly hollering for the daughter to "go-and-eat-your-breakfast-right-now-I-don't-care-if-you-don't-want-Puffins," wrestling the almost-man into my Camry along with his crutches and overstuffed backpack.

"Mom!" he yelled, as I climbed behind the wheel. "My pills!"

I wait until the last possible moment to give him his painkillers because they need to last until I go over at lunch to dispense the next round. So, out of the car, back into the house, retrieve juice and pills, hand them to the son, put key in ignition, note with displeasure that we are now 10 minutes late leaving the house, and pull out of the driveway.

There is a reason that I walk the children to school, beyond the obvious health benefits. It is physically impossible to drive them unless you enjoy drag racing or demolition derbies. The spouse seemingly enjoys both and performs a maneuveur every morning that should be illegal in at least 17 states, including this one.

I'm not so bold, and my car is a lot smaller, so I do it the old-fashioned way: drive a mile circle around the school until I can find a parking place somewhere that is not a red zone and unload the kid and his gear and get him down to his locker. So what is a 10-minute walk is about a 20-minute drive.

This morning, I just gave up and parked in the church parking lot adjacent to the school. We have permission from the church to do so, so this should be easy, right?

Of course not.

In order to get home, I have 50 feet to get across four lanes of traffic to access the left turn lane. The last time I tried that at morning rush hour, I ended up three miles down the road before I even made it into the left lane. You think California freeways are bad during rush hour? They've got nothing on this road.

I parked, wrestled the almost-man out of the Camry and down to his locker, and then walked home.

Half an hour later, I retrieved my car from the church parking lot.

Milton wasn't the only one gnashing his teeth this morning.

Go listen to some good music: "Kissing Asphalt" from the album God Bless the Go-Go's by The Go-Go's.

07 January 2008


Scars tell the stories of our lives. What is present, what is gone.

The son and I saw his reconstructed knee for the first time on Friday.

Through all the little surgeries I had through the fall and winter, my doctors would say, "don't worry! That's not blood you feel dripping!" or "Are you ok?"

I would shrug and tell them not be concerned; I'm not squeamish about what happens to me. I only worried once, post-c-section, when I could not stop laughing, wondering if this would lead to self-evisceration. It didn't.

I tend to remain clearheaded in the face of blood and destruction. The spouse and his father were repairing a gate when the saw slipped. My father-in-law came into my kitchen, dripping blood everywhere, and I washed him up, bandaged the gash and packed them off to the ER so he could be stitched back together.

Seeing the evidence of surgery or accident on my children is rather different, however.

I couldn't watch as the doctor took off the son's bandages. But the cinematic horrors my imagination was providing turned out to be far worse than reality. His knee was a little swollen, still yellow from the Betadine, but the incisions were clean, and patched up. He will have a very impressive scar along the inner side of his left knee.

He fussed about that last night after I hauled him out of the shower.

"It'll fade over time," I told him. And I took him on a brief tour of some of my more unsightly scars: the purplish one on my back that is bumpy and ridged where an incision "unzipped" last fall, the remnants down my left knee of a really nasty bike accident when I was 10 and its near twin on my right knee from the time three years ago when I tripped over uneven pavement on my morning run. Each with a story of its own. And see, I told him, showing him my hands, you can't even see all the burn scars anymore, dozens of burns mirroring dozens of pizzas being pulled out of a very hot narrow oven when I worked in an Italian restaurant in high school.

In college, I wrote a paper on Pablo Neruda's love poem, "Cuerpo de Mujer."

Body of a woman...
You look like a world

When you're 19, this sounds fine and romantic, but as I've watched my own landscape change over time, it's taken on other meaning. We become accustomed to the landmarks on our own bodies: a familiar mole, a hole in the gum that once housed an impacted wisdom tooth, the changes wrought on muscle and skin by pregnancy. The daughter and I were looking at wedding pictures recently and I recognized a mole under the net of my bodice, a mole that is now a flat white scar under my clavicle. Not so very different from the boulders that come crashing down a hillside in the rain, leaving a naked, muddy gash in their wake. We miss the landscape with which we are familiar, but over time, those scars heal too, as weeds and trees grow back in the gap, though the evidence that something else once inhabited that place, that something has changed, remains.

Go listen to some good music: "Scars" from the album Presto by Rush.

05 January 2008

Max the circus cat

The spouse and I are standing at the kitchen window, cleaning up our Indian take-out lunch. The lawns are rain green and the street is rain grey. Max, the neighbor's sweet grey cat, is skulking across the road.

The spouse, musingly: "Max looks like he was made from two different cats. The front half of Max and the back half of Max seem to have nothing to do with each other."

I look at Max as he leaps up the wall and down off the wall, and fail to see the point the spouse is making.

But then, Max loves me and dislikes the spouse for reasons unknown to us all.

Go listen to some music: "Max the Circus Cat" from the album Lucy Mongrel by Lucy Mongrel.

04 January 2008

Waiting for the flood

Everything in California goes better with drama.

Rain. No, the Storm of the Century. We're on STORMWATCH! This is at least the third "storm of the century" since September. The first one never materialized, the second dropped a couple of inches of rain, but this...THIS! It will be LIFE OR DEATH if you dare to venture into the Sierras. This one will tell the tale of the fire/flood cycle in California. We are supposed to get five inches of rain down here in the southern foothills, where mud flows will flow like...well, mud.

Like it does every time there's been a fire.

Not that we've seen a drop of water yet.

But it's going to be the biggest storm since...JANUARY 2005!

(Okay, it's raining now. And can I please just point out that I'm making fun of the media here? The guys who will stand next to a dripping rainspout in order to get a shot of running water for STORMWATCH?)

Go listen to some good music: "Waiting for the Flood" from the album Earth Sun Moon by Love and Rockets.

02 January 2008


The chance to make history will not win Hillary Clinton this female's vote. I am, in fact, giving up my much vaunted non-partisan status in order to vote against her in the primary.

Electing an African-American president is just as history-making.

And when I do help to elect a woman president, it's not going to be a woman who tries to win office by acting like the worst kind of male politician and patronizing women.

And it's not going to be another morally bankrupt Clinton.

Go listen to some good music: "Electioneering" from the album OK Computer by Radiohead.

01 January 2008

New Year's Day

I was awakened at 7:40 this morning by the tinkling of my crystal dinner bell.

The son wanted to watch the Rose Parade, and he was tired of waiting for the spouse and me to get up.

He seems to be recovering nicely, but remains largely immobile, and it still falls to me to shift him from one venue to another.

I dreamed, vaguely, of returning to bed once I got him out on the couch, but by the time I got him off the bed and onto the crutches, and off the crutches and onto the couch, and the pillows we're using to keep his leg up in the air had been moved from his bed to the couch and the TV remote had been located, and I'd fed him and given him his pills, the parade had already started, so I gave up the idea of more sleep and turned on the coffee instead.

I don't generally watch the parade, although the family will shout out that I need to look at this float right now! I lived in and around the Pasadena area for 17 years, and so have more than a passing acquaintance with the whole affair. The Big Entertainment Company that I worked for sponsored a float one year (and expected us to decorate it), our various alma maters have sponsored floats (and expected us to decorate them), our little Affluent Suburb put one together under the 210 Freeway every year (and asked us to decorate it), and between December 31 and the first few days of January, you couldn't go anywhere without getting stuck behind a float trundling along one of the roads, either on its way to be parked on Orange Grove or on its way to Victory Park where everyone can look at the floats after the parade or on its way home to be turned into potpourri. Then, of course, there was the year I lived on the parade route, and you just couldn't go anywhere for 48 hours unless you wanted to plow through the half million people sitting in your driveway.

It was always eerie when the B-2 bomber flew over our little Affluent Suburb house en route to the parade or the Rose Bowl. It came over with a hiss and low rumble, sounding more spaceship than plane. The F/A-18s never fazed me. I know those guys.

I've only actually gone to the parade once, discounting the year it was at my apartment. We were invited to a viewing party in an office building overlooking Colorado Boulevard in 2003, the year that Mr. Rogers, Bill Cosby and Art Linkletter served as Grand Marshals. I held the daughter up on the balcony where she waved and yelled, "HI, MR ROGERS!" Bittersweet, as it was his last public appearance. The spouse, of course, missed the whole affair, holed up at his parents' house, shaking with what I was sure was malaria or dengue fever. He'd just returned from a messy job in Venezuela, and was back on tropical disease watch (yes, I am the only person I know who has a doctor who specializes in travel medicine on speed dial, but that's what happens when you marry a guy who goes on company-sponsored camping trips on the India-Pakistan border, and brings home ticks in his luggage).

In a weird way, though, it was the Rose Parade that started the inexplicable process that ultimately brought the spouse and I together.

We knew each other at college, mostly through the auspices of mutual friends. We didn't like each other. I looked at him and saw blonde Newport Beach rich kid. My crime in his eyes was much worse, though. I sat in front of him in an advanced Shakespeare class, "and you knew all the answers! And the professor liked you! And you didn't care!" he exclaimed when we started dating.

But that particular New Year's Eve, our friend RK had a party, to which I was dragged against my will at about 11:30 that night. We were to go out and watch as the floats were parked along Orange Grove in preparation for the morning's festivities. I remember walking into RK's condo and groaning inwardly when I saw that blonde guy sitting there. "You remember P., don't you?" RK grinned.

Later, I looked over where the blonde guy was sitting, and thought, "Well, he is kind of cute...even if he is blonde."

Now, years later, sitting with our son, that blonde guy yells, "Hey, you've got to see this float!"

Go listen to some good music: "New Year's Day" from the album War by U2.