31 May 2009


April 2009

I took my first photography class when I was 12, shortly after I received my first camera. Since my father was a professional photographer and filmmaker, there was always some pressure to be good but I was firm about taking photos as a hobby only. I liked the sense of capturing a moment on film, of stopping time, and I liked the magic of the darkroom.

Mixing chemicals, processing film in the dark, hanging dripping film from a line. Setting up an enlarger, working by the light of a dim red bulb, dipping photo paper in the baths and watching the image--ghostly at first--rise up from the paper. The fun (and sometimes, horror) of a contact sheet. Our darkrooms were always hot and musty, the smell of developer and fixer strong in the small space.

Magic. Unless, of course, you botched the film processing. Or shot an entire role out of focus.

The smell.

But it was a good smell.

I love my Nikon DSLR. It has limitations (including she who takes the photo), but image quality isn't one of them, and it's faster and easier to crop a photo with image processing software than it is to do so manually. Still, I miss the dark room, the excitement of developer, stop bath, fixer. The smell. The occasional failure. Instant gratification is great, but there is something to be said for the slow approach.

In some ways, though, going digital has forced me to slow down. I'm regrettably lazy when it comes to photography. I don't fiddle with settings as much as I should, though I find that I'll take more care in setting up a shot than I did in years before. I think this comes from having stuff like Photoshop, having the ability to mess with a photo after the fact, because I don't want to succumb to the temptation of alteration. I don't want to tamper. It's too easy to add a slice of moon where it never existed. Instead, I'd rather think more, see more, and let it be...or not.

Go listen to some good music: "Camera" from the album Reckoning by REM. This has been sitting in draft form for days, but the migraine struck while it was waiting final embellishment. It didn't get it.

22 May 2009

The wanderlust of years smashed on to years

Eight. Mexico, of all places. Nogales, for the day. My aunt was visiting from Ghana, and the family spent the day south of the border. From the car window, I watched the scenery pass, Sonoran desert, the cool algae-green of Patagonia Lake. Later, cold Coke from a glass bottle, while I happily chattered in Spanish with the lady who was selling a wrought iron lamp to my father.

Sixteen. A group of friends stopped at my house, and demanded that I go with them to Farrell's, where they ordered some ice cream monstrosity for me, complete with candles. Then we drove around, listening to Billy Joel blasting from the car speakers and the desert day cooled into twilight. No one wanted to go home, though it was a school night.

Twenty. My boyfriend was visiting me at college, and took me to Disneyland, my first trip ever. I was probably as wide-eyed as any of the little kids there, and the moment I first rode Pirates of the Caribbean, I think I was breathless. I knew of the ride from an article in an old National Geographic that I read until it fell apart. About nine years later, I would meet one of the ride's lead designers, and never before or since have I fallen over myself in such a frenzy of fangirl gushing. He was an old man then, now long since gone, but still tall and upright. He shook my shoulder and grinned, then gave me a little slap on the back and said, "I'm glad!" and went on his way.

Twenty-three. Pensacola, visiting my brother while he did his flight training. A houseful of Marines and various girlfriends. It was one of those sorts of weekends where you laugh so hard your stomach hurts, and it culminated in a trip to a local bar where my brother bought me an enormous blue drink and I got drunk for the first time ever. I am apparently the world's happiest drunk up until the moment I become the world's sickest drunk and then I am happy again and somewhat less drunk. Since I discovered that drunk and sick invariably go hand in hand for me (I tested the hypothesis all of three times, which was more than enough), my alcohol intake is very limited. And I still am in touch with some of those guys, so I still hear about the moose. And the leprechaun.

Thirty. Northern New Mexico, near the Colorado border, a mountain pass. We were up so high, we were driving through clouds. Suddenly, it began to snow. Snow. On May 22. A most unusual and sparkling gift.

Thirty-four. The Big Island. With an active 3-year-old and an infant who had an ear infection. Believe me, this one was not my idea. And yet, standing in the sulfurous steam of Kilauea at Halema`uma`u crater, I felt power and calm along with the hair-raising sense that I was in the sights of...something.

Forty. "Are you pregnant?" the spouse asked. "What? NO," and my tone indicated that I was not amused. But he laughed and held up concert tickets.

Last year. The what is well documented. The how is another matter. It takes a lot to get me on a plane. I have to really want something to get on a plane. There's a reason for this, but it's less important than the fact that flying is anathema to me. And with this particular trip I looked for wiggle room. I looked for trains. I looked for a Greyhound bus. But I ended up on a plane that I described as a "toilet tissue tube with a fuse." Those four days were the best gift I've ever given myself and I'll probably never find a way to top the experience.

And now?

And now.

I'm not a patient person. Sister AM said that was my cross to bear in life, and bear it I do. The last months have been excruciating. Possibly necessary, but excruciating.

And now?

And now the fun begins.

Go listen to some good music: "Please Just Take These Photos From My Hands" from the album A Hundred Million Suns by Snow Patrol. There is something about this song that speaks volumes to me. I still have the boxes of books. The boxes of photographs. The boxes of journals. I am struck by the idea of the artifacts we leave behind, not just those we carry with us, but those we leave elsewhere. My family frequently speaks of what I leave in my wake, but I've been slow to consider that. It doesn't help that I firmly believe that I only exist in my own mind.

20 May 2009

No one said it would be easy

When I returned home from Pasadena on Sunday, there was a message on the phone. I could hear the tears in my mother's voice, so I returned the phone call as quickly as I could.

Her sister-in-law, who's also been my mother's friend since she was a teenager and her travel companion in recent years, was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer a little more than five years ago. My mother was calling to tell me that last Wednesday, P.'s doctors told her that treatment of the cancer was done, and on Friday, P. entered hospice care.

I'd like to find perfect words for this. Grief, yes, but more for my mother and her husband, who is P.'s brother, and other family members. My mother will be 71 next week, and friends are at a premium these days. Sorrow, of course, for the loss of a life, for the loss of someone who was a sister, a companion, a friend.

P. died at her younger sister's house yesterday morning.

And finally, I guess, gratitude, because she is beyond pain and fear and distress. Gratitude, too, because I have my own little memories of her to hold, a Christmas ornament she sent the son when he was small, the cards that were a fixture of our own childhood.

As I told the daughter this afternoon, while the physical reality of a person may be gone, we always cherish the memories of those who are dear to us. While they may no longer be here, they stay within us.

Go listen to some good music: "No One Said It Would Be Easy" from the album Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) by Cloud Cult.

18 May 2009

All shook up

If you were in the greater Los Angeles area last night, Sunday, May 17, the USGS wants to hear from you. You can go to Did You Feel It? and answer a few quick questions about where you were and what you felt--if anything--when last night's little quake hit. You are not required to divulge any personal information, just the zip code where you were located, whether you were indoors or outdoors, and the like. There is the option to add your phone number, but it's not necessary. Your responses will be aggregated with those of others in your zip code and it helps to give a more complete picture of how different neighborhoods felt the shock.

Okay, that's the PSA for the day. I'm operating on two hours sleep right now (nothing to do with the earthquake) and need to sign off.

Tomorrow, we can talk about why it's a bad idea for WHO to change its swine flu assessment.

Or I can just go mess around in my garden and wait for the next round of Armageddon.

Go listen to some music: "All Shook Up," famously performed by Elvis Presley. Remember, disaster is my life.

17 May 2009

There's gonna be a (bigger) earthquake

Yesterday, we wandered into South Mudd and there was a very nice lady who wanted to show us the new and improved earthquake exhibit.

And I sighed and said, "I liked the drum."

(I was told sotto voce that I was preaching to the choir.)

The old seismographs told you the whole story. There were needles and ink and paper and lots of squiggles! They were tactile and user friendly. Now you just go here and they show you this:

And yes, it's serviceable and tells you what you need to know (there was an EARTHQUAKE! Tonight! And AFTERSHOCKS!), but it just doesn't have the same feel. In fact, they computer-generate the squiggles now for the media to broadcast because everyone wants to see the damned squiggles. The number "5" does not give the same sense as a really large squiggle.

The modified Mercalli shake maps are pretty fun, though. You can input the intensity of what you felt and along with everyone else's response, you get something like this:

The intensity in our area was about a 3, which means we felt it and things rattled and shook, but no big deal. I am fine with this. I am fine with this because it was not this:

On January 17, we were sitting in the orange. It was not fun. The house had minor damage, stuff fell and broke, and the cat disappeared under the futon for about a week. Others weren't so lucky: more than 55,000 residences (including single-family and multi-family homes) were destroyed or seriously damaged.

Now. While Mother Nature has your attention, may I suggest you go here. Because the next earthquake you feel may be closer to Northridge than Hawthorne. And because when that happens--there is no if in this equation--I won't have to say "I told you so!"

Go listen to some fun music: "Earthquake Song" from the album No More Vinyl by The Little Girls. Why am I still nagging you about this? Because I know you haven't done anything to prepare yet! Milton was funny tonight, though. He was so busy yowling for dinner that he couldn't be bothered about the floor shaking. Tonight's map is here. Northridge map is here.

14 May 2009

The lizard chase

I was taking a bag of trash to the bin at the curb--Thursday is our pickup day--and I heard a wild scrabbling in the jasmine behind me, and turned to see my cat's rear half wiggling crazily while the front half was otherwise engaged inside the hedge. If you've ever had a cat, you know precisely what he was doing: catching.

Although Milton is very much an indoor cat, he will sometimes follow me out the front door, not so much to hunt, but to sun himself for a moment. Evidently, he'd followed me out the door. I shrieked his name, and he took off running in the front door, guilt and victory emanating from every hair.

His posture alone was enough to warn me that he had a prize in his mouth.

A couple of months ago, Milton tried to capture a lizard in the planter by the front door. I'm fairly wise to the ways of little hunters, and I chased him off, but not before he removed the tail while the lizard took its body elsewhere. Today, I was worried the lizard might not have been so lucky, unless Milton had managed to pick off a bird. The hummingbirds and goldfinches both like the camellia bush by the front door.

I went running in the door, and the daughter said, "He's in the living room."

I pounced upon the luxuriating little beast, noting with displeasure the flipping reptilian tail on the "antique" Heriz rug (the merchant who sold it to us insisted it was antique because it was made in the 1950s. Fortunately, this makes it more antique than me). I grabbed Milton, and as he tried to ooze back out of my hands, I saw the business end of the lizard. The cat had gotten the whole lizard enchilada this time, and brought it into the house. But first things first. The now yowling feline had to be locked up somewhere while I chased down his prey.

We have Southern alligator lizards around here, and the adults can grow quite large (and they hiss and carry on if you disturb them, which I have, accidentally), but this one was very young. Having grown up in the desert, I'm not especially put off by lizards and I've rescued any number from cats, including a Sonoran collared lizard that was about the same length of the cat from whom I was rescuing it. Some lizards are really aggressive, and at least one of our cats in Tucson was injured by a lizard that took exception to being roughed up.

Once I put Milton away, I had to go find the lizard. It didn't want to be in my house and I certainly didn't want it here.

Our Heriz rug is both highly colored and patterned, and while I could spot the silvery still-wriggling tail (which I noted bore the scar of the last bit that had been yanked off and concluded it probably was the same one Milton had tried to catch previously), a quiet and frightened lizard is a little less easy to find. I brought the flashlight out and started looking. Finally, I saw a tiny eye glinting from the edge of the rug underneath the sofa. I collected supplies to move it, and it resisted me for a bit, but finally I was able to get it back outdoors and into the planter from whence it came. It glared at me reproachfully. I'm not sure how badly damaged it was--I wanted it back outdoors with a minimum of stress and fuss--but when I next checked, it was gone.

The whole time I was relocating our reluctant reptilian guest, Milton was howling in the laundry room, throwing his furry bulk against the door. He seemed momentarily astonished when I opened the door to let him out, but the sped through the kitchen to the living room where he'd left his lizard bits. I followed him out there and when he found his trophy was gone, he hightailed it to the son's room, evidently worried that I'd be angry with him for bringing a live toy into the house. When it was clear that I wasn't, he turned his back on me in high cat dudgeon, contempt, fury and wounded cat dignity dripping from his quivering whiskers. Then he went to sit in the son's bedroom window, which overlooks the planter, gazing sadly at the place of his recent triumph.

Go listen to some music: "The Lizard Chase (Contradance no. 3, Beethoven)" from the album Baby Einstein: Baby Noah by The Baby Einstein Music Box Orchestra. Baby Einstein? Baby Noah? Sheesh, we sang folk songs and waltzed around the house to the Boston Pops.

13 May 2009

Time we had

Yesterday, J. and I played the part of The Cool Moms.

Sure, we didn't force our daughters to go to Astrocamp. Neither girl wanted to go, and we had other compelling reasons not to push the issue.

But even better, we took them to Disneyland.

We went on the rollercoasters with them, and the flight simulators, and the flume ride. We bought them lunch of their choosing, ice cream, a toy.

Indiana Jones (twice), the Matterhorn, Star Tours, Big Thunder Railroad, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean...you get the idea.

(We were uncool by making them go on Small World and singing the whole time. At that point, it was great fun watching them both be 12.)

Like me, J. has an older son, and we both know that the time is fast approaching when our daughters will no longer want to spend time with us. So, I was grateful for every precious hug the daughter gave me while we were standing in line (and even every objection she raised when I pushed her hair away from her eyes. Uncool!)

A. and the daughter both are far more childlike than a lot of their peers. The daughter has her crushes, but they are so innocent and sweet to watch. She is still young enough to be completely enthralled with the Star Wars foam dart gun she purchased with her own funds. (I've long since given up on the "guns are not toys" campaign. They got enough of it when they were really little to know how I feel about it, but there is only so much resistance one can maintain when one's son is creating guns out of plastic vegetables. Seriously. Carrots and broccoli. God knows what it shot...peas, probably.)

"Are you having fun?" the daughter kept asking with a tiny note of worry in her voice.

"I'm having a great time," I told her, and she would lean in for another hug, then draw back, appalled, when I touched her hair.

Obviously, she, too, senses that this time is ending.

I've been incredibly fortunate to be at home with my children. That doesn't mean it's easy, and when I started working from home, it became even less so. When I went back to the office for a couple of years, things headed toward epic FAIL for all the reasons I'd left corporate life in the first place. The daughter, who was initially so excited to have a working-in-an-office mom, was immediately disenchanted the first night I wasn't home to kiss her before bed.

It didn't take me long to see how fast they changed when they were small. Although the early months seemed endless, before I knew it, night feedings were over. Then they were walking. Then they were talking back to me. Forming obsessions with small toys. Starting school.

Yesterday, I reminded the daughter of the trip to Disneyland long ago, when I couldn't get her off the carousel. She rode it for an hour, hopping off one animal, exiting, and running right straight back through the line to ride again. She laughed when I recounted that tale, but didn't spare the carousel a second glance.

It's been a good week, all around. Today we went grocery shopping, and I let her get cookies from the bakery counter. I never actually think of going there; I make my own for heaven's sake! But she was happy to choose her three cookies. And since A. is spending the day with us tomorrow while her mother is in a meeting, I told the daughter to choose things for pizza, that I would make dough tomorrow morning, teach them how to roll it out and let them make their own pizzas for lunch.

Today, we split a can of refried beans, garnishing them with cheese and onions and hot sauce, and then we settled in to watch an episode of The #1 Ladies Detective Agency. She clutched my arm when the evil and abusive Note Mokoti made his appearance. We are very fond of traditionally-built Precious Ramotswe.

After lunch and the ladies, we turned on Australia. We are also very fond of Hugh Jackman.

The time passes too quickly, and before I know it, the daughter and A. will both be in college, instead of plotting their applications to the arts high school. That in itself is still two years away. It's possible that in time my beloved daughter will drift away from me, that our only contact will be cards at Christmas, a phone call at Mother's Day. I hope this is not the case. I'm doing everything in my power now to ensure it won't be.

It's a good time to be The Cool Mom.

Go listen to some good music: "Time We Had" from the album Kiss the Crystal Flake by The Mother Hips.

11 May 2009

The tourist

On a July day, a zillion years ago, long before I had children anyway, I was a walkaround character at Big Famous Theme Park.

It was part of a management training thing, dressing up in a 7-ft. tall penguin costume. It was a very long 15 minutes of my life, and oddly instructive.

While it was over 100F outdoors that afternoon, it was about 800 degrees inside the costume. That's why they don't keep you in it very long.

You can't see in those things. My view port was a tiny bit of mesh under the penguin's chin, which meant I could see down, but not much else.

Children mob you. As soon as you are out in the park proper, small creatures throw themselves at you, attach themselves to your legs, thrust books at you for your signature. Try signing an autograph book with a penguin flipper (wing?). It's not easy.

You're not allowed to talk. This is an important rule. You are mute. You wave, you act, but no talking.

It's very difficult to hear what's going on in the outside world. What you hear is your own heavy breathing, echoing about inside that monstrous head.

You taste your own sweat running down your face.

It's like living in a mobile Skinner Box, deprived of sensation and very much alone amidst the tumult of a summer day in the Busiest Place on Earth.

But everyone who was near you loved you, felt connected to you. For a moment, you, O Famous Penguin, were theirs.

The daughter and her BFF A. are out of school this week, and both decided they didn't want to go on the trip the school offered for travel week. Today, A. visited, and she and the daughter worked diligently on the little papers they're writing instead of going to Idyllwild. After working diligently for a bit, they consumed the last of my cookies with chocolate milk and then went out to play laser tag on stilts. Tomorrow, the daughter, A., her mother J. and I will trot off to Disneyland for the day. The daughter feels very hard done by because they almost never get to go to Disneyland, but I point out to her that my first visit was on my 20th birthday, so she's well ahead of me.

These days, Disneyland is not my birthday venue of choice. Last year, I was in St. Paul, and I had a blast, but the spouse was rather less than thrilled with my running off for the better part of a week by myself, and has this year planned the requisite birthday cake, as well as a trip on the 23rd to see the Angels play the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine, field level seats behind home plate. We'll be the ones in red.

This weekend, of course, Seminar Day at Caltech. I can never get enough Neurobiology. Game Theory. String Theory. Chaos Theory.

Not that I couldn't write a book on chaos theory.

If I'm lucky, I'll finally get that weekend out of here on my own at the end of the month. I need to do some research, and heaven help me, have some time to write with no distractions! But it's unlikely I'll get any further than Tucson until autumn.

That's when you see sparks.

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

10 May 2009

Reuben and Rachel

I don't really like Mother's Day. I prefer everyday gratitude, which is what I try to practice, and I expect my children to do the same.

I always send the grandmas flowers, which seems to make them very happy, and I'm more than happy to oblige. I told my own family not to get me anything, but conceded that I would accept a doughnut with my morning coffee. So when the doorbell rang at 9:30 this morning and I saw the telltale bit of bird of paradise through the window, I hollered with some irritation, "I told you no flowers."

The deliveryman was laughing when I opened the door.

The spouse blamed it on the kids ("They insisted!"), who in turn blamed it on their father ("It was his idea!").

So I hugged them all and thanked them.

But I would have been happy with just the doughnut.

I'm happy to skip the overpriced brunches and "special" dinners. I'd rather go to a baseball game, which I've done many years, or a Rush concert, which I did last year. Forget the chocolates, I'd rather have a chain saw (okay, so I got a wheelbarrow). I really don't need stuff (though I could use the chain saw), and I'd rather just spend time with my family, doing something everyone can enjoy.

The spouse and I watched the ballgame. We all had a nice lunch. We went to see a movie.

We'll call the day a win.

Go listen to some good music: "Reuben and Rachel" is a traditional children's song written by Harry Birch. When the children were very small, I would sing to them at bedtime. They got to choose the songs from the repertoire of those I knew, and for a long time, "Reuben and Rachel" was a favorite of them both.

09 May 2009

Politics and poker

Milton and Max
April 2009

Max is Neighbor B's cat. He is my funny little buddy, and he comes over to visit when I'm out gardening. I will occasionally feed him some small treat--a bit of trout left over from dinner (don't worry: Milton gets his share)--but if nothing is forthcoming, he will happily nibble at the grass on the lawn.

Milton is highly territorial, and even though Max arrives making small, peaceful noises, Milton will often club him on the head, just to remind Max who is in charge. However, Milton gets very protective of Max if the other male cat in the neighborhood, Olivier, starts attacking him, and Milton has sent Olivier fleeing for his life on more than one occasion.

Not bad for a terrified little stray who is afraid of birds.

The funniest thing, though, is that Max feels very much at home just walking into my house when I'm not looking and Milton allows this. He did keep Max cornered under my bed for an entire afternoon, unbeknownst to me, but more often, Max just wanders in and lies down on the dining room rug for a nice little rest. And right around the time I've finished deadheading flowers, he'll wander back out, with Milton trailing behind.

I swear the two of them look for all the world as if they've just shared a beer over a nice game of cards.

Go listen to some music: "Politics and Poker" from the musical Fiorello!, book by Jerome Weidman and George Abbot, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, music by Jerry Bock.

08 May 2009


April. Sunday night. Riding over to the park in the back of KT's pickup truck, my waist-length, freshly-washed hair blows all around my head. When we reach the park, I comb through it with my fingers, removing stray gnats that got caught during the ride. I stop when I see you, though. I didn't expect you to be here and my heart rate accelerates uncomfortably. I look away before you see that I am here, and I feign indifference to your presence. I excel at this, having years of practice, from the time we were in grade school together, until now, the middle of high school.

I help to unpack the picnic the group has brought, and you sit a little way down the tables from me. Your best friend starts the conversation. CB and I have always been at ease around each other, but he is your confederate, more now than ever, and my responses are terse. I have already endured too much teasing because of you, and in my teenage angst, I'm certain that you are more than willing to join in the humiliation though, you've never been anything but kind to me up until now. CB's queries continue, and finally you toss in a question, something I know that's been on your mind. I have a habit of turning up in unexpected places, including basketball games at high schools I don't attend. I answer your question, ignore your look of surprise, and begin a conversation with one of my friends.

After the meal, as the sun begins to set, a spontaneous game of keep away begins, the game that we always played as a group in PE, back in junior high. I help to pack up plates and food, but I am called over to join in. You are on the opposite team, and I think this will help me to maintain distance from you. You are so beautiful in the fading evening light, easy and graceful, a natural athlete, tall and slim, your satin hair brushing your shoulders.

I kick off my sandals and the damp grass is cool beneath my feet as I run across the play area. The breeze picks up and I shiver a little when I stop near the small forested hill, the only area on the playing field that isn't covered by a member of my team. I fail to notice that you have jogged along the perimeter of the hill to join me until you touch me.

"I'm here to cover you," you say cheerfully, waving your hand in front of me, though the ball and both our teams are at the opposite end of the field, seemingly miles away. I feel the heat from your body and the soft cotton of your old shirt against my arm as your hand closes around my waist, and you pull me closer. You smell of clean laundry. Your hair brushes my cheekbone and I am reminded of the most disturbing dream I've had in my young life where we were working on a project together and I reached out to brush your hair, that glorious fall of chestnut and mahogany, back from your face. I was mostly disturbed by how much I wanted to touch you. Now, your breath is warm against my ear as you whisper, "But really, I just wanted to put my arms around you."

You are taller than I am now.

For a moment, I feel my body turn to liquid, flowing into the curves of yours. Were I anyone but who I am, the moment would have ended differently, but the truth is that I am terrified. I want to believe you so badly that I can't for a moment conceive that this is even happening. I am 16 and all I can think about is how much I want you to kiss me, and how I can't bear what seems to be the inevitable ridicule if you do, and so, I pull away and run toward my team without a backward glance, without a word.

It will be years before I realize you were telling me the truth and by then, we have both moved on to different lives. I also realize that I was more careless of your feelings in that moment than you ever were of mine.

What began months ago as an occasional cup of coffee together at break has turned into regular Friday evenings at the Irish pub. We do not call this a date, because it isn't. You and your wife are in the midst of a divorce, and I've just come off a bad break up. So we take turns standing a round of Guinness and we find comfort in talking about our common interests. I have a little crush on you that feels very safe and I like your courtly attention and we have wonderful conversations, and companionable evenings without pressure. You are my friend.

I met you the day I started working at this job, and was surprised when a few months later you transferred into my department. I was assigned to train you, "all business," you always joked, despite your attempts to get under my skin. You liked teasing me, and later confessed it was because you loved it when I gave you "the death stare." You have beautiful eyes and thick dark hair, and slender long-fingered hands that distract me: I tend to watch your hands as you work, rather than watch what you are putting up on the screen, and it's gotten me into trouble more than once when you've concocted some bizarre entry, usually, I suspect, to test my concentration.

Our evenings are wholly innocent you assure me, your feelings toward me friendly, fraternal even, though I never asked you about your intentions, have been content to just enjoy the time we spend together. It never occurs to me to question why someone with fraternal feelings would find such a frequent need to run a finger down my spine or play with my hair. I am a literalist. If you tell me that you are just my friend, I will believe you. Sure, I find you terribly attractive, and it would be so easy to fall for you completely, but I don't want a man on the rebound, and after my last relationship, I haven't reached a point where I really want another. Occasionally, I wonder what it would be like to take our friendship to another level, and when I speak of you to my friends, they say that I am smitten, but truly, I rather like this limbo. And so it goes until the fateful Friday that I tell you I am leaving to start graduate school in another state.

"No!" you cry, and I'm startled by the vehemence of your reaction. Because I thought you'd be happy for me. But no, instead you ask, "What am I going to do without you?"

I am completely at a loss. We talk about how I came to the decision to leave rather than to attend the local program, and after a little, you shake yourself as if you've come to a decision.

"You aren't leaving," you say.

"But I've already accepted the offer," I tell you. "I gave notice at work today. My last day is in July."

It is time to leave, but you say, "No, we need to talk. Let's walk."

And so, we head away from the bright lights of the main drag and into a quiet residential neighborhood, filled with small, tidy houses, neat gardens, lighted windows reflecting the lives of those within. The late spring evening is soft and I smell pink jasmine on the air. As we walk, you clutch my hand, fingers entwined with mine. You often poke at me, tickle me, but this is intimate contact.

"I can't believe you're leaving," you say, alternately disbelieving and accusatory. "You can't leave. When were you going to tell me?"

"I'm telling you now," I reply, confused. "I am telling you as soon as I knew myself."

You spin around and grab me by the shoulders, shaking me to emphasize each word that comes out:

"I want you. I could love you."

I stare at you, speechless at this admission after so many nights of you telling me that your feelings for me are friendly or fraternal. Your frantic distress tells me more than your words a new story. The violence of your actions is a little frightening, and even more alarming is how responsive I find I am to what you are saying, how much I've wanted to hear it, though I kept denying it.

"But you said..." I started to say.

"I was lying," you answer before I can even finish.

I am in your arms, and then I am falling. You are pulling me down onto the grass, the lawn of a perfect stranger, and upside down, I see an elderly woman at the window of her kitchen, apparently washing dishes, blessedly unaware of the couple in her yard, obscured by the dark. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the absurdity that is my life at this moment, until your mouth covers mine and there is Guinness and the sweetness that is you.

I can only wonder if this is the taste of a wish fulfilled.

The atmosphere is festive, but chaotic, with lots of impaired and flailing people about. From across the room, I see you frown and when I look again, you have made your way to the side where I am, though you are not in close proximity. I have long schooled myself in not interpreting others' behavior in relationship to myself but the look on your face speaks volumes. You don't like what you see and you are worried. There is not much I can do to reassure you that I'm ok, so I smile and shrug a little. You look unconvinced.

I am very much accustomed to looking out for myself, and I can be a bit belligerent about it. Despite myself, I am touched by your concern and the novel sense that someone wants to protect me.

The day is long and I am in an ecstasy of terror and excitement and exhaustion. I dislike being the center of attention and today I am front and center. But I signed up for this and I cannot turn my back on what I've started.

Even if you were really the one who started it.

As with such days, lights and color and noise merge into an enormous blur with tiny discrete moments: your eyes when you saw me, the pleasure of all the others present, the necessity of clamping down on my impatience when one more person feels the need to touch me.

The moments bring you close to me and take you away again. We are planets in an awkward orbit, strange attractors, our trajectory a sort of dance, unchoreographed, and yet known to the two of us.

Your proximity takes my breath away. Nothing else matters, just that you are in the room with me.

There is more to the story and it comes out later, in the weeks after, when I see the photographs. There is the usual, all very stagey and set up.

But one takes my breath away.

In the photo, you are looking at me, and the emotion in your face makes my heart hurt. The camera has captured something so intensely private and vulnerable that it almost feels wrong to look. But I do look because for the first time in my life, I realize that I am responsible for this, that by virtue of my continued presence, I am responsible for what is written on your face, and that as a result, I am responsible for taking care of your heart. The weight of this is huge and daunting, but I am willing to run with it, I am willing to be mindful of what you feel, to protect that precious expression, to accept that you feel something profound for me.

And when you open your arms, will I go there willingly? It has taken me years to get here.

But I will.

Oh, yes, I will.

Go listen to some good music: "Everlong" from the album The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters.

05 May 2009

We walk

Morning air cool on my skin, but even early, the sun is hot.

Just walking, my body betrays the music I am listening to, and I tap out the beat on my thigh as my hand brushes past it. The sun is behind me, my shadow before me. I watch how my tiny ponytail bounces back and forth behind my head as I move, how my ears stick out a little below my baseball cap. Shoulders are straight, pulled down, and I can't help but smile at the shadow of the cocky confidence of a catwalk strut I've never quite forgotten.

I can't run anymore, but a walking pace of 4-1/2 miles per hour isn't bad.

At the entrance to the channel trail, I am greeted with 6-foot high cyclone fencing with green modesty panels. My explosive exclamation of annoyance attracts the attention of the elderly woman walking the elderly poodle across the street.

This portion of the trail has never been "beautified." It is simply a dirt track running behind houses on either side. Suddenly, the county has decided to beautify.

Slyly, the woman points out that the fence isn't locked, that there is a very narrow gap between panels in the center. "Usually, it's chained up," she quavers and adds, waving toward the opposite side of the street where the unbeautiful trail continues, "like over there. But not today."

There is a little twinkle in her eye, as if she knew.

I'd already noted there was a way in at the edge, but the gap in the center is slightly wider.

We cordially wish each a good day, and I slide between the panels.

All is quiet, no machinery or work people. The only change is about a 6-foot length of cobbles leading to the street. I head down the path, head up, eyes level, shoulders down, stride long. It is likely that there will be another fence at the end, but I know the lay of the land.

And I'm not averse to climbing fences.

In one of backyards, a dog sitting next to its rope toy silently watches my progress. I smile at it, but it just looks sadly down at its toy, then away.

The far end of the trail is indeed blocked with another piece of cyclone fence covered in green fabric. I can see cars and people vaguely through the fabric, and I like the sense that I am hidden from view.

But how to get out? I could climb over the wrought iron fence bordering the trail to my left and trample the bushes of the housing development, though I'd rather not. Then I spy the gap at the edge of the cyclone fencing and slide through, striding forward to stand at the next stop light.

"Where'd you come from?" the older man waiting there on his bicycle asks with mild consternation.

I'm reminded of the moment in the book "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" when young Jamie is caught hiding in the men's room of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by a custodian. "My mother always said I came from heaven," he replies to the same query.

I smile and shrug. "I'm a free-range pedestrian," I reply and leave it at that.

The light changes and I bound across the street to join those traversing the open trail, head up, eyes level, shoulders down, stride long.


Go listen to some good music: "We Walk" from the album Murmur by REM. We walk through the world. It's a good thing.

04 May 2009


Six hours sleep and hit the ground running. Some days it's enough, some days not. Today, it seems to be enough.

Son to bus stop. Daughter has standardized testing in the morning; spouse is out to the field. In litigation, it's always field season, or possibly more accurately, open season. Court dates are usually set at my inconvenience. Like two weeks from now.

Colleague appears, and all are waved off to their various destinations.

I go back into the house and close the door, hoping the cat hasn't opted to finish my breakfast. But the cat runs from me, and with a sinking heart, I check the powder room to see that he's peed on the floor next to the box.

He doesn't like his new cat box, mainly because the new box represents a convenience for me.

I spend a half hour sanitizing the floor and doing damage control for odor, cursing him under my breath. He can obviously hear me and steers clear for the morning.

I read the news, check the CDC. Pandemic is not apocalypse, says someone. I snort because I liked my line last week better: pandemic is *not* death, destruction and slavering zombies. Rather more inelegant.

Then it's the exercise bike. I don't call this working out. I call this torture. I like exercise. I pursue it with enthusiasm, but I don't care for the machinery, don't belong to a gym. I was sentenced to this thing two years ago, when my doctor told me I needed surgery for an injury I acquired on my morning run. I politely declined the surgery, bought the bike and with little grace, gave up running as ordered. I spend 210 minutes per week riding this monstrosity. But it's better than the alternative. So I open the windows, turn on the music loud (Zeppelin, REM, Foo Fighters, Rush, in that order, to ratchet up the intensity as I go) and get to it.

I am seeking a return to normalcy. After everything--parties, travel, pandemic (not apocalypse)--I am off balance, adrift. What I was up to last year kept me honest, kept me organized, because it was such a juggle that if I broke concentration for a second, everything would have come down around me, a perfect storm. I miss it, the threat of impending chaos thrumming through my veins.

As I pedal, I look at a recipe, admire a summer dress in a catalog. I fall into a reverie where I am wearing such a dress, looking like nobody's business, both perfect and perfectly incongruous, standing in the sunshine, waiting...

The front door opens; the spouse has returned. After frantic phone calls between 10:30 and 11 pm, last night, the work was unceremoniously cancelled, so the spouse changes to go in to the office. I make him a sandwich for his lunch because he's suddenly decided that a salami sandwich sounds really good. As I wave good-bye a second time, "Reptilia" blasts out from the stereo behind me and into the street. Perfect and perfectly incongruous, though I've no witnesses. Given the fact that I'm wearing a drenched, disgusting t-shirt and gym shorts, this is ok.

I need to bake bread, not because I'm feeling artisanal or anything, but because if I don't make bread, there will be no sandwiches for lunch tomorrow. Most people would just go to the grocery and pick up a loaf. Not me. I plan rosemary sourdough and honey whole wheat. So I drag the sourdough starter out of the fridge. If a sourdough starter could look irritated, mine does. I have neglected it, have failed to feed it for at least two weeks, probably more. Sighing, I stir it down, pour the discard portion into a glass bowl, because I can't bear waste, feed both, and wait for blast off.

While waiting, I chop romaine for my lunch, and the cat begs for the turkey that will top my salad, along with the blue cheese dressing I made yesterday, and pine nuts and raisins. I think again on the dress in the catalog, and I am transported to a dim bar, sipping a drink with a thin slice of lime and carrying on a conversation with people I think I might like...

Go listen to some good music: "Dreamer" from the album Crime of the Century by Supertramp. The Hirschhorn's Louise Bourgeois exhibit closes next week, but I had a chance to see it when I was in D.C. Some of the imagery is quite brutal (a guillotine, even!), but I have to admit that the cells spoke volumes, as did the enormous sculptural spider as cell. I also found myself thinking of Shirley Jackson, particularly the short story "Elizabeth." Interesting the ways we find to dream our way out of entrapment.

02 May 2009

Leopard-skin pill-box hat

Mercury is retrograde.

(No, I don't know what that means either, but it sounds portentous. Maybe pretentious. Something, anyway.)

Pentathlon today. My fourth, the second child's first. Many children, so liberal applications of Purell all around. The lead coach told our kids that if they heard anyone sneeze, they should hold their breath as long as possible. I laughed so hard, I nearly cried.

"No, really," she said. "I heard a doctor say that."

"Okay," I replied, biting my lip to quell another paroxysm. Who am I to say it wouldn't work?

And yes, of course, I baked muffins for the team. Because that's what I do.

We watched last week's episode of Lost tonight and I fell asleep while Faraday stalked around being more portentous than Mercury retrograde. The son said I snored (because he can be a teenage twit that way), which the spouse refuted.

So, now I need to sleep for real. Perchance to snore. Someday I'll actually blog for real. Then you can snore.

Go listen to some good music: "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" by Beck from the album War Child - Heroes, Vol. 1. I love Beck's cover of this song.