30 June 2008

Lands end

And that is that.

Where the land falls to an end
This hidden tale begins
Take a walk with me, down by the sea
Take a walk with me

Not an ending, then. Just another beginning.

Tomorrow is a new month.

And what is next?

Who knows.

Certainly not me.

Go listen to some good music: "Lands End" from the album Tinderbox by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

29 June 2008

Free bird

Ultimately, yesterday was a good day. The airlines cooperated, the weather cooperated, and finally, even I cooperated. But that last one took a deep breath and a reminder that I was there to have fun, even if I was so tired it was a challenge to stay on my feet.

(Hey, I'm not complaining. It's just that my day started at 3 am, which goes with the territory when you have to be out on the first plane of the morning.)

It was a slightly weird night. Just before the show started, the man to my right told me he recognized me because he'd seen me in a photo on some fansite and he'd seen me at another show. When I made an unhappy noise about the photo part, he pointed out that as a "chick" in the audience, I was an anomaly.

Yeah, I've never missed the irony that in an audience that sings along with vigor to an anthem about misfits, an anthem that describes my own adolescence perfectly, I am still a misfit.

(Fortunately, he either didn't catch on that I was an unaccompanied chick, or just chose not to point it out. In Phoenix, the man to my right suddenly yelled really loudly, "Hey! You're here by yourself!" Yeah, thanks, I wanted everyone to know that!)

I didn't have much time to worry about photos, however, because the man to the left of me spilled most of his beer down my leg and into my shoe. Now that was par for the course, and it righted the world on its axis.

And of course, the ultimate proof that I had a good time is that I came home with whiplash, probably from "Natural Science." It's occurred to me I should invent a new dance called standing still.

Nah. Everyone would think I was bored...

Go listen to some good music: "Free Bird" from the album Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

28 June 2008

Here it goes again

You know the drill:

If everything is going according to plan, I'm having a good day.

If it isn't...

Go listen to some good music: "Here It Goes Again" from the album Oh No by Ok Go.

26 June 2008

Walkin' on the sun

There is something soothing about beating bread dough, or creating a huge stew, or baking a beautiful dessert. There is kindness in the creation, and love in the act when I'm making these things for those I care about. The action in the repetition of chopping or kneading or stirring is calming, and cooking is something I often turn to when I am not happy. It allows me to turn frustration into a gift.

The best bread can be made in the greatest anger. The more you beat it, the better it is, and at the end, anger has been channeled into something that nourishes.

So this week, I made a huge pot of jambalaya--the daughter has been requesting it--and just took a dutch chocolate cake out of the oven.

The jambalaya was fine. The cake exploded, for no particularly good reason.

I didn't explode. I disguised the oozed out bits with strawberries and whipped cream, and everyone agreed it was delicious.

I am regaining equanimity.


The internal upheaval has been tremendous, the internal shift tectonic, and now my compass is recalibrating magnetic north.

I haven't got the power to change the world. Changing myself is hard enough.

But I can use the gifts I have to make it better, a moment at a time.

Go listen to some good music: "Walkin' On the Sun" from the album All Star Smash Hits by Smash Mouth.

25 June 2008

Let me go

One of the numerous alumni magazines we receive turned up in the mail today, and I thumbed through it quickly, bypassing the articles in favor of the alum news. The spouse's class was one of those featured, the notes written by someone I also know from working at Big Entertainment Company.

He mentioned going on The Reunion Diet.

I'd forgotten. The spouse's class reunion is this summer. And it's a big one.

We tend to completely ignore reunions. Actually, we tend to completely ignore the colleges we graduated from. Our undergraduate alma mater has been so befouled by fiscal corruption and politics to which we don't adhere that we've completely written it off.

(And of course, I wrote them a long letter telling them exactly why we don't call, write, visit or send them any money.)

Still, they deliver regular dispatches to us.

And we ignore them.

I generally don't even recognize the names of half of the people who contribute information to the class notes. I worked my way through college, was pretty selective in my choice of friends, and only lived on campus for a year, eschewing the expensive, egregious Student Union food (I've never seen so much celery in my life) for the far healthier and cheaper fare I cooked in a tiny apartment.

(It's funny that the alum magazine turned up today, because I was thinking about my freshman year this morning. Orange County has apparently been named the "Bank Robbery Capital of the World"--take it with a grain of salt, though, since the reporting comes from the local rag. I worked at an L.A. bank as a teller my freshman year of college, and my last day of work before summer vacation, we were robbed. It was very quiet and non-violent and unnerving as hell. Not to mention the end of any banking career I might have considered.)

My friend SA talked me into going to a cocktail party for our 10th college reunion. He opined that everyone would be dead before we reached our 25th (we haven't gotten there yet, but it's already clear that he wasn't entirely wrong on that front), so the 10th would be our last opportunity to see anyone we cared about.

Besides SA, there wasn't anyone there from my class I really cared about. We agreed that we were both incredibly bored, as was the spouse who was with me, so we left to seek out a more congenial place to hang out together. SA and I are quite similar in that, yeah, we had fun in college, but neither of us consider those the best years of our lives, as so many others seem to. Good years, sure, but I like every year to be the best one of my life.

I wondered briefly, reading about BB's failed Reunion Diet, when the big day is, and suddenly realized it was this coming weekend.

I'll be gone, of course. Of course! Because I'm out there making this the best year of my life. One of many, anyway, and only until I start the process again next year.

And besides the spouse and BB, I wouldn't recognize anyone there. And the college would just ask for money. Again.

Go listen to some good music: "Let Me Go" from the album The Best of Heaven 17 by Heaven 17.

23 June 2008

Senses working overtime

In a moment of madness, or softheartedness, or softheadedness, I took on some work.

On the face of it, not a big deal; I've done this sort of work before.

Unfortunately, the issue at hand is something about which I have pretty strong opinions. That makes the job a little less easy.

The essentials of my work have largely been the same throughout my career: writing, editing, research, data analysis. Occasionally, other things creep in there for spice, like budgeting or playing IT person, but largely I stick to what I like. The arenas in which I've worked have been fairly fluid: universities, the entertainment industry, the sciences, which is what keeps things fresh.

And I've gotten serious about heading back to real work come the fall. I don't know what it will be, but I'm pretty sure that disaster won't figure into the picture. At least not the real world variety. It tends to break my heart.

Sometimes, it really pisses me off.

...I was held from the rooftop when they let go...


Last night, I dreamed I was once again running through featureless corridors, full of closed doors, up and down stairs, all on official business of some sort, and into areas that looked crazily like a college dorm. On and on, not really knowing where I was but on a mission.

If I'm not dreaming about roads and airports, I'm dreaming about being lost.

Such a surprise that I travel even in my sleep.

Go listen to some good music: "Senses Working Overtime" from the album English Settlement by XTC.

22 June 2008


Domesticity and I have long been locked in uneasy truce. I am undomesticated and always will be, though I can play the part when called up to do so, and even enjoy some of the responsibilities of the job. Still, I chafe at unending demands, which, I suppose, is why I am out, hiking up the road in wretched heat. Outside, in the unrelenting sun, the unending demands of nature are somehow easier to stomach because here my own thoughts and ideas burn hot and glow with life. Everything seems possible. Everything seems right. And guilt, which effortlessly and unceasingly claims me as its own though I've done no wrong, doesn't exist.

Heat has a smell: the rising sap of pine, the explosive odor of eucalyptus, the maple syrup and bacon of someone's Sunday breakfast, over-irrigated grass, sweat sour with age, sweat rank with fear, sweat clean with honest exertion.

Heat has a view: my polarized sun glasses cut out the heat shimmer of the road, and so the world appears pure and clear, sharp in relief, tiny planes glowing white hot in the air, the ocean far distant, almost inviting. Looking over my shoulder for cars, I catch the movement of my own muscles under sweat wet skin.

Heat has a sound: my heart beating in irregular counterpoint to the martial cadence of "Violet Hill."

Four miles later, drenched, hollowed out, and ready to begin again.

Go listen to some good music: "Yes" from the album Viva La Vida by Coldplay.

21 June 2008

Tiny dancer

Scene: driving home from the local Mexican restaurant. It is 102F.

The Angels game is over. They beat Philadelphia. RAH! It's always fun when AL teams visit NL parks and play NL rules.

I start punching radio buttons, looking for music. Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" is on KLOS. One of those songs they never played in our little desert town, one I still like to hear. I close my eyes and listen, remembering hot summer nights, a long, long time ago.

The son, from the backseat, who is clutching his copy of The Zombie Survial Guide: "Mom! Can I read you this?"

Me, eyes still closed: "No."

The son begins reading aloud.

I turn up the music.

The son reads more loudly.

I turn up the music.

The son increases his own volume.

I turn up the music.

The son is now shouting as he reads aloud.

I turn up the music so loud that my Camry begins vibrating on the road. The spouse is laughing out loud at this war of escalation while trying to navigate Friday evening traffic.

The son is trying mightily to beat out the music.

I start singing, though it more closely resembles screaming with a little melody.

From the backseat, twinned voices of outrage: "MOM!"

I keep singing. I am laughing so hard that I am crying.

Go listen to some good music: "Tiny Dancer" from the album Madman Across the Water by Elton John.

20 June 2008

Hot hot hot

Hullo. It's the first day of summer (well, almost. I think here in California we actually have a few more hours before the true solstice). It's hot.

Say it all together now:

I'm bored!

The son is quite good at entertaining himself. Video games (2-hour time limit; I'm such a mean mom), books, Legos, he's pretty happy. Oh and I forgot: harassing me regularly with trivia from Star Trek. Harassing me is probably the best part of his day.



"Do you remember [fill in random Klingon or Romulan or Blue Bobblehead Alien name]?"


"MOM! [He, She, It] was in Next Gen."


"You know. [He, She, It] was [performing random activity] with [crew member name]."


"MOM! Are you listening to me? You don't remember what happened in [episode name from one of interminable number of Star Trek offshoots]."

"Well, no, not really."


What I am doing at this point is regretting that I ever allowed him to watch TV.

I'm not much of a TV watcher. People think I'm proud of this fact, that I feel superior for not really watching TV shows, but that's not the case. It just bores me for the most part.

And I can't stand to be bored.

Movies are a different matter altogether, and in the first week of summer vacation, I have instituted movie time after lunch. So far, the kids and I have watched Cloverfield, Dark City, and Oceans 13 this week.

What I really want to show them? The original Blob movie. I think I was 6 or 7 when I saw it at the afternoon summer rec program and it scared the hell out of me. Now that is summer entertainment.

"I'm bored!" the daughter wailed the third day of summer vacation, which happened to be Monday.

She was immediately sentenced to cleaning out her closet. I have been conducting a purge of Stalinesque proportions on the junk that has accumulated in the house: old books and toys, outgrown shoes, weird kitchen gadgets that have been given to me. I know I should sell it on Ebay, or have a garage sale, but the nice people from AmVets are going to be in the neighborhood next week and they can take all this stuff away so other nice people who can actually use it can have it.

And then we'll all have to find some new entertainment.

Oh, why look at the thermometer:


Sounds like margaritas in about an hour.

Happy first day of summer!

Go listen to some music: "Hot Hot Hot" from the EP Hot Hot Hot by Buster Poindexter.

19 June 2008

Battleship chains

Coldplay's Viva la Vida is on heavy rotation, along with Rush's Vapor Trails. The dress conundrum continues.

The family is voting for this:


"I like that!" the spouse said.

"You can really see me flouncing around in that?" I asked in disbelief. It's a pretty dress, certainly, and I could have worn it, oh, 20 years ago.

"Oh yeah!" he replied.

I am voting for this:


The spouse termed it "hard."

Exercise bike.

Likely to break 100F today.

tied down with battleship chains
fifty foot long with a two ton anchor

ha! The Badgley Mischka went hugely, massively on sale this morning...

Go listen to some good music: "Battleship Chains" from the album Georgia Satellites by The Georgia Satellites.

18 June 2008

Long (not so) cool woman (in a black dress)

In the shopping malls, indeed. Ok, that was pretty funny...

Yes! It's shopping season! Again!

It's always shopping season. Because I avoid shopping like the plague.

Formal wear.


Ball gown.

I told my MIL that the only way I will wear one is if I find one on sale. Hugely, massively on sale.

(I am so not wearing a ball gown. Honestly, those of you who know me, or at the least have seen me...ball gown? Last week, when I wore a silk sheath to the son's graduation, he looked at me, and asked, "Can't you just wear jeans and a sweater?")

I have a minimal sense of style, and I'm the first to admit it. No one is ever going to look at me and say, "Wow! That woman has a great sense of personal style!" When I got married, I walked into the only wedding dress store I knew, went straight to the sale rack, and bought the first dress in my size. Granted, in the late 1980s, at my height (tall) with my frame (medium), it was hard to go wrong, and pretty much anything was going to be flattering, assuming it was long enough.

Most of what qualifies as "formal" wear in my closet is black. I have a black Anne Klein cocktail dress that looks vaguely asinine on me (too flouncy), and two long black skirts, one wool, one crepe. I have an assortment of silk sweaters, sleeved and sleeveless, that I wear with the skirts, though the sweaters get out to concerts more frequently than they do anything formal. I did wear one to my father-in-law's birthday dinner.

With jeans.

NICE jeans!

Periodically, I throw myself on the mercy of a sympathetic salesperson and usually end up with something I'm convinced I'll never wear.

(Yes, one pair made it out of the closet and onto my rear end. The spouse was really happy. He says I dress up for everyone but him, which is sort of funny since I don't ever actually dress up given the fact that I lack in the dressing up department.)

These days, there seem to be two flavors of women's formal wear: prom and MOB. Obviously, I'm not hip to either one, in part because I'm not going to the prom (ONCE was enough) nor am I an MOB. It doesn't help that I was raised with a very conservative Beltway view of what is appropriate attire. This precludes animal prints, obviously. And I don't want to get involved in the complicated underpinnings that some of these dresses would require. And I categorically refuse to wear weird satiny skirt suits.

(Full disclosure. I did find a beautiful Badgley Mischka cocktail dress. It's more expensive than my wedding dress was. It's really tasteful and lovely, and I'd probably look like a grown up in it, but I can always think of better uses for my money, you see. Like *cough* concert tickets...)

Maybe the thing to do is hire a tailor to make me a pair of silk trousers based on the pattern of my favorite jeans. Then I can wear the silk sweaters.

Or I'll just buy another black dress. And hide.

Go listen to some good music: "Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)" from the album The Hollies Greatest Hits by The Hollies.

16 June 2008

Mr. Blue Sky

Basil and strawberries are bursting forth in the kitchen windowbox. The end of spring and the tenor of my days has changed. Again.

Yesterday, we all stumbled about, hollow eyed and exhausted. Too much with the houseguests, too many parties, too much of what was supposed to be frivolity but only served to raise my ire.

Yesterday, I cooked simple food and made popcorn, and we watched movies and rested.

Today, however, we recognize that we are starting over. The reality of summer vacation has set in and the daughter sleeps until nearly nine. I am up at 6 am, of course, pleased that I'm not worrying about putting together lunches and chasing children out of the house, exhorting over forgotten clarinets.

Grocery shopping, of course. I haven't shopped thoroughly in weeks, making do with what I remember to buy and what I can cobble together from the pantry. Although none of us enjoy the grocery, somehow the daughter and son and I find laughter in the process this morning, as I send them off individually on errands to find bits from the list I've left at home. Of course.

The son has been badgering me to watch Cloverfield. So after a lunch of quesadillas and refried beans (I skip the quesadilla in favor of beans well sluiced in onions, lettuce and Pico Pica hot sauce. Others may eat Twinkies; this is my version of comfort food), I offer to let them watch the movie. We settle in on the couch, the daughter squealing intermittently, and the son yelling with a certain glee, "This is SCARY!"

I am slightly appalled that the date the monster eats Manhattan is my birthdate.

When the movie is over they retire to their separate activities. I lift weights and continue with laundry, and it's time to make dinner.

I realized at the grocery that it is nearly summer, so time for summer food: corn on the cob, grilled vegetables, chicken and nectarine salad. Tonight, bratwurst and corn, all grilled out doors. The spouse is elated, and tries to talk me into baked beans, too. I offer him salad instead, without telling him that I have orange Hostess cupcakes for dessert. Kid food. Summer food.

Once dinner's been consumed, I look out the kitchen window and guess at how much light is left. I opt for a walk; there was no time in the morning.

When I first started running again, years ago, I would drop the kids at school, and then take off from there. The mornings were always cool, often foggy, and when the kids weren't in school, I'd get up an hour earlier and go before the spouse left for work. Sometimes I couldn't do that, and my walk would be shunted to evening if I wasn't exhausted. I hated when that happened; it threw my cherished schedule into disarray.

Now, so much has changed, and I'm less constrained by others' schedules, so walking in the evening is as much a pleasure as going in the morning. Tonight I set off, iPod blaring cheerfully, the sun hanging in the west and shining directly in my eyes.

The pace this time of day is different; drivers seem more anxious, more people are out on postprandial promenades, and I am walking quickly, seized by a wild joy I haven't felt for some time. As I head toward the hills, the moon is rising to my right, pale disc, near full, in the still light sky.

Like the cars, birds are heading home, crows raucous, mockingbirds challenging, a single male mallard winging his way...where? He is headed away from the nearest water. I can only guess he must be flying toward Peter's Canyon and the reservoir.

As I traverse the neighborhoods and head back to the major streets, the light is failing, the moon chasing the sun from the sky. The music to which I'm listening is making me laugh; I've been granted early reprieve, and will be back on the road at the end of the month, just twice more before I wing my way...where? I leap from a high curb into the street, arms uplifted, the last of my residual fury trailing away through my fingertips into the air above my head. I land badly, of course, the hard rubber orthotic ramming into my arch, but as ever, it's a small price to pay for a moment of peace, for a moment to touch the sky.

Go listen to some good music: "Mr. Blue Sky" from the album Out of the Blue by Electric Light Orchestra.

15 June 2008

All because of you

This is for the good guys.

The good fathers who are a part of their children's lives in a meaningful way.

The good dads who can't always be at home with their kids because their jobs take them elsewhere, but who are really with their kids when they are home (both my brother, who is sitting in a DC-10 at this moment, and the spouse, who actually is at home, fall into this category).

This is for the good men who are committed to raising strong, healthy, just people, biological or otherwise.

Not talking about perfect people here, just those who go the distance--every day.

Happy Father's Day.

Go listen to some good music: "All Because of You" from the album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb by U2.

14 June 2008

Beauty school dropout

I woke this morning with a lighter heart than I've had in some time.

A lighter head, too. Enough with the migraine, already.

So in that vein, something lighthearted.

Let's see what calls my makeup bag home.

I love to buy makeup. I rarely wear it, but don't I have fun buying it!

Perfume: Cartier's Le Baiser Du Dragon. I'm not crazy about super flowery perfumes, and this is just a bit floral over more oriental notes like cedar and patchouli.

Mascara: Toss up between Dior's Diorshow and Lancome's Definicils. Always black. I have long lashes, but they are about a shade lighter than my hair.

Eyeshadow: I've been wearing MAC's Eye Shadow in Haux for years. Periodically, I switch over to Lancome's Color Design in Dill if I feel the need for a bit of green. I don't care for the racoon look that so many women my age favor, so I don't use much in the way of eyeliner, though once in awhile I will use a little bronze liner on the lower lids. And I always use lid primer.

Concealer: Lancome Maquicomplet in Clair II. I have major circles under my eyes, and lately my bags have had bags. Depending on how bad the bags are (which a little sleep would probably eradicate), I use Bliss Wrinkle Twinkle first. It's so involved being me.

Foundation: I love Smashbox Photofinish primer, or Laura Mercier Foundation Primer (I use both on my eyelids as well). Sometimes...*cough*...it's the only foundation I wear (yeah, I have a lot of bad genes, but I really scored in the skin department. Even at 70, my mother's skin is pretty clear, and she was much worse about sun exposure than I've ever been). When I need a little more help, I go with Lancome's Dual Finish, applied with a makeup sponge.

Blush: Lancome Blush Subtil in Miel Glace most of the time. If I'm feeling really glam, I go with Cedar Rose or Shimmer Mocha Havana.

Lipstick: Laura Mercier Stickgloss in Baked Earth. This thing has lived in the right front pocket of my jeans through countless concerts (alright, not countless; fourteen), causing consternation for security ("what is that?"), never melting (even in 100+ degree temps in Kansas). I will enshrine this tube someday, as it has been a dear and constant companion. I like Lancome's Le Rouge Absolu in Mars, too.

My usual beauty routine? Moisturizer with SPF 15 and Blistix lip balm.

Failure as a girl.

Go listen to some music: "Beauty School Dropout" from the album Grease (Sountrack from the Motion Picture).

13 June 2008

Sojourn's end

It's done.

School's out.

I hate the level of anger that I am feeling right now.

On the up side, I will never have to see some of these people ever again.

On the other up side, the son's valedictorian speech was very well received. He went for humor and was the funny, brilliant and beautiful boy I love and am proud to have raised.

As to the rest, we stick to the high road and we're staying there.

Go listen to some good music: "Sojourn's End" from the album Mania by The Lucy Show.

11 June 2008

Heaven is a place on earth

Bean teepee
May 2004

Go listen to some music: "Heaven is a Place on Earth" from the album Heaven on Earth by Belinda Carlisle.

10 June 2008

Don't stop

Clearly, Hillary Clinton supporters just don't get it.

I don't care that she's a woman. I do care that, yes, she's another Clinton, that I had 8 years to watch her in action in the White House and didn't like what I saw, that she spent her campaign misrepresenting her experience (just another Clinton, folks!), that like so many of her generation, her idea of being "strong" is really just being strident.

Would I like to see a woman in the White House? You bet! But I want to see the right woman, a woman who really represents what I believe in (like, oh I don't know...integrity? Honesty? A commitment to doing what's right rather than what's expedient?). Had I voted for Clinton because of her gender and had she succeeded, it would have been a Pyrrhic victory.

Do women still face bias? Of course. I've seen it in every single job I've ever held; I saw it when I was subjected to harrassment as an intern at a Fortune 500 company. But women like Hillary Clinton are going to have to wake up and realize that the methods they've tried to employ to deal with bias don't work.

Am I thrilled with Obama? Not exactly. Am I thrilled with McCain? Not at all. Casting a vote in November is going to require a great deal of soul searching.

But am I ever going to cast a vote for a woman solely because she's a woman? Not ever. Gender bias cuts both ways, and I won't play that game.

Go listen to some good music: "Don't Stop" from the album Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.

09 June 2008

Sweet wine

Mrs. F., the daughter's 2nd grade teacher: "Well, we know what you did on your summer vacation!"

I look at her, puzzled.

Mrs. F.: "L. asked me how to spell 'winery.'"


It's true. Our children have visited wineries. We check to make sure they are kid-friendly, and not crowded, and because our two tend to be well-behaved, they have always been welcome.

(No, they don't get to drink wine, not even watered down.)

We just consider it a part of their education. They have to behave nicely, and they get to hear a little about how wine is made, and they get to talk to interesting people. So far, it's always been a win-win situation.

Tonight we opened a bottle from the particular winery that we visited the summer between the daughter's first and second grade years, and though the wine was eight years old, it had turned golden and had mellowed considerably with age. It was bursting with fruit, a perfect complement to the tandoori chicken I made for dinner (which really wasn't tandoori because I don't have a tandoor. It was marinated in tandoori paste and grilled) and a nice foil to a very warm day. Over chicken and rice and salad, eaten al fresco, the kids laughed about eating all the chocolate rocks they could stuff themselves with that long ago afternoon as we'd meandered down from San Francisco, and how we'd avoided the geese at the winery's picnic area.

While we ate and drank and laughed, three generations enjoying our meal, the birds flew through the yard and the cat mewed plaintively on the other side of the screen, hoping for his share of chicken.

Sweet wine, and a sweet end to a not-so-pleasant day.

Go listen to some good music: "Sweet Wine" from the album The Very Best of Cream by Cream.

08 June 2008

Take me out to the ballgame (again)

Nice story out of Kansas City this week (as if I needed yet another reason to admire the man).

I love stuff like this because I love history, because I love to know everything (not that you've ever heard me say that before), because I believe that you can't know everything until you understand all the roads that lead to where you are today. Remember, I'm the one who cooks literary meals to understand language and culture. In this context, though, it also means you need to see spring training, you need to go to minor league games, high school games (that's a good memory: reading my way through David Copperfield the spring of my sophomore year of high school--at the school baseball games), college games. It also means peanuts.

But that's me.

And apropos of nothing, I saw mom western bluebird with a juvenile in the backyard today...my much coveted western bluebirds. I can only wonder where the nest is since my nesting box came down in a storm earlier in the year. But...western bluebirds! Finally!

Go sing a good song: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" lyrics by Jack Norworth, music by Albert Von Tilzer.

07 June 2008

Golden years

There is produce rolling around my dining room floor (yes, apples, oranges, a banana)--don't ask.

My mother arrives today.

The son graduates next week.

I play hostess to...well, everyone.

(It's ok. I'm good at playing hostess. I can do it with my eyes closed. I can produce food and drink almost without thinking. Not to mention produce produce rolling around my dining room floor. Seriously. Don't ask.)

The salient point is:

My son is graduating and going off to high school.

What now seems like a very long time ago, but wasn't so long ago, I used to take the kids to Target or Toys R Us, usually in search of a present for someone's birthday party, or sometimes just supplies for summer. We would buy bouncy balls and small toys, bubble blowing materials and PlayDoh, a new game, a Thomas the Tank engine part, craft materials for the long, hot days.

I had cause to go into Target recently. I was struck by nostalgia, a longing for the smell and texture of PlayDoh.

I was struck by grief.

It goes so quickly, and I knew it would, that time from wild, wiggly baby to pimply, opinionated teenager. I accept that, and I've always known that each age has its unique challenges and unique rewards. It's just that you can never get back those moments when you find there is a new Thomas the Tank engine, that the baby negotiates for a tricycle or a new stuffed animal.

Those moments when everyone jumps into the wading pool and yells, "OW! The water is so COLD!"

So suddenly, you are standing in Target, and your objective is Stridex, not a random toy with which to surprise the kids. You can't make their eyes light up with a new ball.

No, I don't miss potty training or dirty diapers. No, I don't miss car seats or high chairs.

But I do miss just tossing two kids into the car and heading out to the park to ride the little train, arriving early before it got too hot, feeding the ducks in the lake, walking to the tiny zoo where the mynah always yelled, "Hello, Albert!" Where the daughter, still a toddler, was scared to death when the great horned owl turned to her and said in a VERY loud voice, "WHOOO!"

"Mommy!" she wailed.

"Everyone is getting lunch," I told her. "He was wondering if you were bringing his mouse to him."

She still talks about that.

Today, the kids and I were culling books from their bookcases, choosing which ones to save for later days and possibly for their future children, which ones to pass on to others, and it was another moment to mourn.

They will never again ask me to read the special books we had for Christmas. I don't read to them before bed anymore. I haven't read aloud since we finished the seventh Harry Potter book last summer. I don't sing to them before bed anymore. It used to be that they were allowed to choose three songs that I would sing to them, every night, without fail.

Old MacDonald or
Reuben, Reuben or
I've Been Working on the Railroad or
Do-Re-Mi or
Yankee Doodle or maybe
The Brave Old Duke of York

The favorites changed from time to time.

I have friends who are the mothers of toddlers, friends who are anxious for their offspring to produce grandchildren, friends whose children are the age of mine.

I can't fathom grandchildren. My mother-in-law became a great-grandmother for the first time on my most recent birthday. I can't fathom that either. Someday, I suppose, grandchildren will be appealing, but they certainly aren't right now.

Knowing these days were coming, restless in my own right, I started recrafting a life of my own six years ago. Even so, I'm a little surprised by the hole in my heart left by the absence of these small things we used to do together.

Go listen to some good music: "Golden Years" from the album Best of Bowie by David Bowie.

06 June 2008

The larger bowl

There is poverty of spirit and poverty of stuff.

Once upon a time, my brother asked me:

"Our neighborhood, the one we grew up in, what was it? Middle-class?"

"Lower-middle class, bordering on poverty," I told him.

"That's what I thought," he said.

I haven't been back to that neighborhood since my mother sold the house after my father's death. I can't bring myself to visit it, in part because I don't want to see what's changed--I know it's for the worse.

Typically, we were the anomalies on that street. From the East Coast, with East Coast manners and accents. My mother, the daughter of a prominent Washington doctor, may not have had any money, but she had fine wool rugs to catch the pernicious Arizona dust that came in the doors and windows.

My "new" clothes may have come from the church poor box, but I knew which fork and knife to use for all occasions.

It sounds a little quaint and old-fashioned, but it wasn't that long ago.

We knew we were poor; we were the scholarship kids at school. We had jobs and our mother worked two. We had enough to eat, and even if the food wasn't nice, our stomachs were filled. On my tenth birthday, the dress I wore to school did come from the poor box, but it was new, if only to me, so I was pretty happy with it: a culotte dress from a red toile fabric. Some things you don't forget.

I'm not trying to sound saintly about this, but we accepted not having a lot of money, even though there were moments that were crushing. Simply put, there was nothing we could do about it, but I think to some extent we were unaware of it. And yeah, I got teased about wearing hand-me-downs, about not having stuff, but we survived, we had food and shelter and clothes, we were good at creating our own entertainment, whether chasing lizards or raiding the library. My family didn't have a color television until after I left for college. That was in the 1980s.

I never felt that I could complain about my lot in life because, yeah, we had no disposable income, but I'd seen poverty that was infinitely worse.

I was about the same age as the son, and it was a holiday. Maybe Easter, maybe Thanksgiving. I know it was cool because I remember exactly what I was wearing: a pair of trousers that I'd just had to mend again because they were slowly falling apart and a gold turtleneck sweater. At school, we'd put together food baskets that were going to the needy. I don't know why, but Sister A.M. asked me to go with her and Sister A.C. to deliver the baskets. Maybe because I was always willing to help out without comment, maybe because she knew I wouldn't talk about what I saw--I was as closed-mouthed then as I am now and as concerned about preserving others privacy and dignity--maybe because I was the scholarship kid and she wanted me to see what the bottom really looked like.

We packed the baskets into the back of the convent station wagon and headed west and south.

There were two reservations in that direction. One was poor, one was destitute. We were bound for the one that was destitute.

Sister A.M. obviously had been given specific addresses, but on the reservation, there weren't so many street signs. We drove around for a bit.

If you've traveled at all through the desert then I don't have to describe the houses to you. You've seen them, abandoned on the side of the road, or maybe they only look abandoned. Pre-fab stucco, maybe with windows, maybe with boards. What looks like junk piled around the outside of the house, but possibly part of what comprises a family's livelihood, weeds growing up and through the detritus. A broken bicycle, a child's toy discarded by the door. Probably a primordial, short-haired brown dog or two, walking or limping down what passes for the street.

This is the poverty that destroys. This is hopelessness.

I was designated to carry the baskets. I took them into the houses, put them where the owner gestured for me to place them and hurried out. I didn't want to see.

But one memory stays with me. A little girl, perhaps two or three, standing barefoot on a bare floor, flat black uninterested eyes staring at me, the tall white girl in her much-mended trousers, as I set a basket full of food on an otherwise empty, cheaply-constructed table. I only remember the interior of the house as dark, so dark; that the girl wasn't wearing enough for the weather; and that her mother stared at me with the same flat black eyes, but hers were filled with dislike.

I'll never know if it was simple expediency that drove Sister A.M. to ask me to help that day--I was strong enough to carry heavy baskets--or if she saw a larger purpose to it. I suspect the latter. She knew that our family situation was not good, not just financially, but emotionally. She knew it would be easy for me to fall into despair. I think she wanted me to see true despair.

It is lessons like that one, taught in a harsh desert so many years ago, that I hold on to now in the face of what passes for difficulty in my life: the hideous, obscenely expensive statue that a group of parents wants to donate to the school in our children's names; the harsh words the son has faced from other kids who are jealous of his academic success and the harsh words we got from a parent who wanted for his child what ours achieved for himself; the small bites the world takes out of me, the slings and arrows of others' utter stupidity that wear away at me every waking moment. I know these things are nothing, nothing, compared with what others live with every day, that compared with others, my troubles have always been small even when they were much greater than they are now. I know how fortunate I am, I feel guilt for my good fortune, though so much of it has come through my own hard work. I have trouble honoring that, though, when there is so much pain in the world.

And I know I can never give back enough.

Go listen to some good music: "The Larger Bowl" from the album Snakes & Arrows by Rush.

05 June 2008

Give a little bit

For his final community project of the year, the son hosted a lemonade stand to benefit Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer.

Lemonade Days 2008 will be held this weekend, June 6, 7 and 8. You can find a stand near you or make a donation online.

Read more about Alex Scott, the little girl who started Alex's Lemonade Stand, here.

Go listen to some good music: "Give a Little Bit" from the album Even in the Quietest Moments by Supertramp.

04 June 2008

Hole in my life

January 2002

Go listen to some good music: "Hole in My Life" from the album Outlandos d'Amour by The Police.

03 June 2008

You learn

Just under a year ago, something happened that shook my world, my view of my place in it, my relationship to everything around me and how I believe the world sees me (which used to be, comfortably, not at all). It wasn't a bad thing or even a big thing that happened, just unexpected. Really unexpected.

And off I went on an odyssey.

I hadn't planned to and until this moment, I'm not sure I recognized it as such. It sort of happened, organic, illogical, very determined once I got started. I threw myself out into the world, and there it all was. And here, within 10 days of what happened a year ago, am I.

I learned rather alot out there.

In my eyes, I am the process. I create, I synthesize, but I am not part of the end result.

I looked into your eyes, you with whom I traveled, you I met along the way, you I talked to briefly or at length or not at all, you who I watched as I moved through space and time and airports, and saw that I was part of your picture. I'm not saying that my presence was significant or meaningful--that's for you to decide--only that I was there, part of the end result.

Which was weird.

Which was uncomfortable.

But eventually, it was sort of wonderful.

It was a new place, a new paradigm, something completely different.

And so, I learned.

Endings and beginnings. Some things have already ended, and probably the new thing has already begun, though I haven't quite seen it, which is making me a little nuts. I'm impatient, and I'm ready to start, even if I don't know what I'm starting.

Or have started. I always seem to be starting something.

(The son is busy writing his valedictorian speech, and curiously, he told me last night that they just chose their theme which is every ending is a beginning. "I don't know how to start my speech," he complained while we were waiting for the daughter's instrumental concert to begin. "You start 'today I'm valedictorian and tomorrow I'm nobody, because I'm starting over,'" I told him. "Hey!" he said. "HEY! I like that.")

I'm not one to dwell on the past; I'd so much rather look to the future, what's in front of me, rather than think about what's happened. But there are lessons back there, instructions, information, and sometimes there is pain, and I can't always ignore that. For all my frustration at times, I tend to be an optimist, I prefer to be cheerful. Even so, I had to go back and look at some parts of the past, knowing where others in my life had gone wrong, but needing to understand where I'd gone wrong. The past can't be fixed; we can only choose not to repeat it, and even as I caught places where I made mistakes, had been careless of others' feelings, I caught myself preparing to repeat the patterns.

So, I learned.

Right now, this moment, living with the undercurrents of stress and anger, I'm feeling the shift back to hope, back to possibility. Sometimes you just have to ride the frustration out whether you want to or not.

So I hope I see you out there again sometime, in the airports and concert halls, along the rivers and the roads, riding a bike madly across a Danish island. New Hampshire for sure, St. Louis maybe, whatever else I can fit in, and then I'm off to the subarctic.

Because that's where my home is.


Because that's where my heart is.


Because that is where my friends and loved ones are.


You live. You learn.

Go listen to some good music: "You Learn" from the album Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette.

02 June 2008

If you could read my mind

Yesterday I posited the idea that my home is where my head is. Frequently, my head is in a book, and I certainly inhabit a good book when I read it. The following list isn't random; these are books that have in some way influenced me or influenced my thinking, sometimes in small ways, sometimes tremendously. The order, however, is random and the list is far from complete. I've also tried not to duplicate books I've mentioned before.

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges.
I've mentioned Borges on numerous occasions here. His essays and fiction were literally mindblowing to me as a teenager, and reshaped my thinking on the function and structure of the written word, and probably the idea of communication in general.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
Not a great piece of literature, but a really interesting story, and I tend to think of it as something of a companion piece to the film Pan's Labyrinth. But that's just the way my mind works.

The Mummy Market by Nancy Breslin.
The Court of the Stone Children by Eleanor Cameron.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.
The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.
The Golden Book of Fairy Tales by Adrienne Segur.
Let's hear it for children's literature. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but each one of these books made me sit up and say, "wow!" between the ages of 6 and 8.

The Russians by Hedrick Smith.
I read this the first time before I visited the USSR in 1984, and again when I returned. I haven't read it since the dissolution of the USSR, and probably should, but it is an excellent portrait of the Cold War era.

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera.
It isn't just that Frida Kahlo lived a fascinating life, Hayden Herrera recounted it in a fascinating way. One of the best biographies I've read.

Unearthing Atlantis by Charles Pellegrino.
It's about archaeology and volcanoes and general destruction. Generally well-written, and accessible enough to be interesting. And, you know, volcanoes, which have always frightened me. I visit them anyway, but there is something primordially scary about them.

Landslides and Human Lives (Bergsturz und Menschleben) by Albert Heim.
Heim was a Swiss geologist who extensively researched and wrote about the Swiss Alps. While some of the book can be heavy going if you're not intimately acquainted with geology, the landslide accounts are highly readable. Really a good argument for why landslides need to be studied more, if all the people who have been crushed in them aren't argument enough.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
Gaiman is such a clever writer, and while this definitely falls into horror and fantasy, the larger themes of old gods like Loki battling the new gods of technology had greater social weight.

Man's Fate by Andre Malraux.
I first read it in college, and most recently on that very long flight to Puerto Rico. A fictional account of a failed communist revolution in China at the end of the 1920s, and the profound effects on the lives of those involved.

The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata
Masks by Fumiko Enchi
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Out by Natsuo Kirino
While each of these novels is fascinating in its own right, they also each tell a social history of post-World War II Japan that I found especially interesting.

Go listen to some music: "If You Could Read My Mind" from the album Gord's Gold by Gordon Lightfoot.

01 June 2008

Homeward bound

I signed up for Nablopomo this month because I was actually going to put the blog on hiatus until I get life sorted, but why should I do anything reasonable like put aside my blog? The theme for the month is Home. Beats the hell out of lists. I hope.

This is how Webster's defines home:

one's place of residence
the social unit formed by a family living together
congenial environment
place of origin

The etymology is varied and draws from a variety of languages. The one that interests me the most is the Greek ktizein, to inhabit.

My place of residence is a ranch house in Orange County. As ranch houses go, it could be much worse, but ranch houses are fairly boring. Ours has a bit of arts and crafts flair because I like the purity of line and design. Were I to win the lottery, I'd head back to Pasadena and find myself a lovely Greene & Greene, even though I don't see myself spending too much more of my life in California.

Still, as houses go, this one is ok, and will be even better when I get the other half remodeled and the front garden pulled out. I'm working on that. This house is old by O.C. standards, which is to say it is older than I am. When moving down here from Los Angeles became inevitable, and we started looking at all the little prefab communities with their stucco-covered, cookie-cutter domiciles with 2.3 prescribed trees and shrubberies, I actually sat in the car and cried because I could not imagine myself in the sort of house where one can hold hands through the master bathroom window with the next door neighbor. That's how close the houses are to one another. Six bedrooms on a 5,000 sq. ft. lot.

And some people just love that lifestyle. That's fine, and they are welcome to it. I say that very sincerely because I know there are a lot of people who would not enjoy my quiet and private life.

We found an older neighborhood, which is very congenial and filled with good people. I have an enormous Italian stone pine in the very large back garden that keeps the house cool in summer, and is home to redtail hawks. My yard is filled with flowers and phoebes, and most recently a western bluebird.

I have some nice weeds, too. Just one of many reasons that the blog needed to go on hiatus. I have to do something about those weeds since they believe they have divine right in the procreation department.

I also have two seriously dreadful bathrooms filled with the height of 1950s and 1960s technology and plumbing, one of which was delightfully remodeled about 1979 with orange tile and smoked glass mirrors. All it needs is a disco ball.

But I also have a room filled with books and comfortable chairs and a fireplace and French doors that look out on the flowers in the back. It still needs something, but there is a sense of comfort in that room.

Orange County creates a supreme sense of dislocation in my head. Although L.A. is weird, I feel far more at home there than I do here, despite living here for 10 years. I know how to get around now, though it took time. I have the L.A. freeway map emblazoned in my brain, and it all makes sense. No freeway here makes sense, so I stay on the roads, which are laid out on a grid, have speed limits of 60 mph and get me where I need to go.

For a very long time, I walked into this ranch house and felt like a stranger. Getting rid of a huge, ugly built-in entertainment center helped to make it more mine, though I can't say why that thing distressed me to the extent it did. It's gone on to a happy life in the home of the man who did the demolition for phase 1, and we are all very content with that arrangement.

But is this place my home? Not in the sense of a place that I yearn for when I'm gone. I can be comfortable here, and though it was some time before I felt known within these walls, I've never felt unwelcome. If anything, I felt welcome the first time I walked in the front door.

And yet...

When I think of home, I'm not sure I think of an actual place. I've lived in many places; for years, I rarely stayed at one address for very long.

Many people say that home is where the heart is; for me, I think that perhaps home is where my head is. As those I care about tend to be scattered about, peripatetic like me, I think my heart, too, is fragmented.

Go listen to some good music: "Homeward Bound" from the album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme by Simon and Garfunkel.