30 June 2010

Can you hear what I'm saying?

Last night, I went to the opening night of Rush's Time Machine Tour in Albuquerque.

(Word of warning: if you wandered in here on a search and don't want to know the set list, stop reading now.)

I've been listening to Rush for so many years. I knew about them in high school, but it was Moving Pictures that caught my attention, and Signals that won my heart. I didn't know that girls weren't allowed to be Rush fans. In fact, it was years before I figured that one out. As my dear friend Deb will happily tell you, I am oblivious to some things. Many things, probably.

I guess I should have figured it out when no one would go to the Forum with me to see them, and as a teenaged girl, I sure as hell wasn't going to the Forum by myself. But then I got older, and threw caution to wind.

And I was off.

I did some counting a few days ago, and came to the realization that last night was probably the 25th time I've seen Rush live. Oh, I know, I'm a piker compared with some people, but guys don't have to skip shows because they're in labor, which, yes, did actually happen to me, February 5, 1994.

Anyway, I can tell you that Rush put on an amazing live show. I can tell you they are the hardest working, most amazing musicians around, but if you already know about Rush, I'm preaching to the choir and if don't know about Rush, you probably don't care. Just let me say that their show is probably one of the most satisfying live music experiences going, which is why I keep going back.

That, and yes, I really needed to hear "Natural Science" live 16 times.

The best thing about the start of a new tour is that it's an opportunity to fall in love with the band all over again. And I do. Every single time. Last night was no exception.

The set design is jaw dropping. The new drum kit is just gorgeous, but the time machine theme has been carried through all the elements on stage. When "Caravan" and "BU2B" came out in May, I commented to a friend that I was definitely picking up a steampunk element in the music, and I was highly amused to see just that in play in the set design. After working for years for a company with the universe's highest attention-to-detail coefficient, I love seeing design so thoroughly incorporated.

And let me just say that "BU2B" along with "Camera Eye" freaking stole the show ("BU2B" is my new whiplash song since "Natural Science" isn't getting played this outing. I wish I could learn to stand still). The band just tore the place up with "BU2B." I was not one of the folks on the "Camera Eye" bandwagon--it's a fine and lovely song, but I'm a firm believer that the band is in charge of the set list. However, the arrangement as they played it last night was magnificent. "Presto" was a delightful surprise, particularly as the lyric "I look down into a million houses and wonder what you're doing tonight" played through my head as I looked down on the lights of Albuquerque as I landed at the airport hours late Monday night. "Marathon" made me happy. I really liked the new arrangement of "Closer to the Heart," though I'm quite fond of the old extended jam. The sound was suffering on a few songs, especially "Faithless." "Caravan" was a bit of a disappointment since I couldn't even hear the bass parts in it that I love, but it was the opening night, and I'm sure those things will be ironed out before I see them again.

(Yes, I have to see the show again because I know I missed at least half what was going on. Also, if "Caravan" and "BU2B" are any indication where the next album is going, I can not wait.)

Somehow, playing Moving Pictures from beginning to end made the songs seem fresh, so that was nice, too. The circus/carousel/polka beginning for "La Villa Strangiato" fit perfectly and was hilarious.

And the Albuquerque evening was lovely and soft, even if it did get pretty windy there for a bit. Deb commented that it was best three hours of therapy available, and after the last two years, I couldn't agree more.

Go listen to some good music: "Fool's Overture" from the album Even in the Quietest Moments by Supertramp. I always pay attention to the house music because there are usually some great selections, and it's actually how I was introduced to Porcupine Tree years ago. I got chills when this song came on before the show last night. For me, layers and layers of meaning there, which combined with the whole idea of time machine...a little emotional, I guess. (Photo up tomorrow at my photo blog which sort of explains why.) Usually, the emotion is just happiness: I love to watch these guys play, and yes, I know my head snaps to the right with alarming regularity.

26 June 2010

Life was easy when it was boring

I've learned to leave myself open to the idea that there are more things in heaven and earth than I can explain. I'm not susceptible to the idea of fate; I openly scoffed at the thought of predestination when the nuns brought it up.

And yet, while I actively fight certain paths, I get nudged back to them by circumstance.

Sometimes, I make arrangements with a sense of resignation, but I recognize that if I'm getting shoved that direction, I'm going to be shoved that direction until I capitulate. I've made enough revolutions around the sun now to realize there is no coincidence, that things happen because they happen.

I don't have a name for it. I don't understand it. I can't explain it.

It simply is.

And it keeps doubling back the same direction.

So I make the arrangements, and cry HAVOC!

No, I don't know why this all seems so Shakespearean.

Yes, I do.

I over think everything, always have done, even when it's been pretty clear that I'm going to do what I'm going to do. And because it's tragi-comic and it's going to make a mess. Eventually, everyone will end up in the right place, after tears and misunderstanding and blinding hope and a certain amount of chaos. We've been entr'acte here for a bit, though I'm not sure which act is about to start.

Yes, I do. So do you.


Of the end.

I fumble for a key to a door that's wide open.

I've never done boring well.

Off I go. The future awaits. No, I don't know what's going to happen. I never have done, exactly. I can make some guesses and I know it will be an adventure.

And probably a mess.

I find I'm filled with joy at the prospect.

Go listen to some good music: "Darkness" from the album Ghost in the Machine by The Police.

25 June 2010

The caravan thunders onward

The arc of memory.

The ark of memory.

For a couple of months now, I've been sorting through boxes of photos. Some are mine. Some were taken by others. Some I inherited when my father died; my family sees me as the archivist, the history keeper.

Tonight, I was organizing and the daughter came into the living room to keep me company. She was in a chattery mood, and she chirped along as I worked, asking about people in photos, events she didn't remember.

I came to a pile of old photos, many of which were taken long before I was born, on another continent, a world away. The daughter touched them gently with a fingertip, asked a couple of questions. I shrugged, and pointed out men in military helmets with UN painted on them, but told her I didn't know if what we were looking at was real or staged.

"I know you don't like talking about him," she has said of my father.

"I don't mind," I replied, surprised. He was her grandfather, though he died years before her birth. I made the decision long ago that my children had a right to know what I know; the story would be unvarnished, but honest.

It's just that I'm not sure what I know.

And beyond the small part that I played in his life, I don't know what is true.

I handed her a yellowed newspaper clipping. One of the Tucson newspapers had run a feature on him long ago. She murmured to herself as she read.

"So, do you think this is true?" she asked as she handed the clipping back to me.

"Some of it is," I told her as I handed her his passport. She gazed at the stamps that told a story of exotic travel: Nigeria, Uganda, Rome, the Netherlands. She read out names of airports: Orly, Schiphol.

"You've been there," I reminded her when she mentioned Schiphol. Like him, like me, she has been bitten by the desire to see and to experience, though unlike him, neither of us are on the run from the past.

Go listen to some good music: "Caravan" from the upcoming album Clockwork Angels by Rush. Have I mentioned how much I love this song...how much it sings to me?

24 June 2010

Headlights before me

How do you capture a moment?

Sunrise over water, a ball of rose gold glinting off the shifting surface of a lake, reflected back a thousand times in the windows all around you.

How do you define a feeling?

The feathering chill up the spine that blossoms through your scalp and sends rivulets of ice through your limbs, mix of terror and desire.

How do you catch a flash of memory?

I was shaken with memory today as I set out on a walk, late, this morning. It wasn't the sun, nor the heat, nor the bright haze I could see in the distance as I reached the summit of the hill.

It was the music. Of course.

In two years, so much water has passed under the bridge that is my life, the bridge that is the ending and the beginning and the ending again. Things I could take in my stride; things that have taken a greater toll, left a visible mark. And as I walked under the heat-shimmering summer sky this morning, I wondered where that left me now.

I am both tougher and more vulnerable.

I am more willing to let go and to hold on.

I know, oh I know, that time is short.

The future rears up before me, bright and shining with the sense of possibility, headlight glare in my face, beautiful because I am still here to see it. Because the future illuminates me, too, and you are there to see it.

Because I see that it is something we share.

How do you catch a flash of memory?

Reach out and take it. Carry it with you on the road that winds ahead.

Go listen to some good music: "Headlights on Dark Roads" from the album Eyes Open by Snow Patrol. This time last year, I got really ill. I've never completely recovered, and admitting to that has been practically impossible. I react badly when my physical abilities are compromised in any way. This coming Monday represents a headlight on what has been a very dark road.

21 June 2010

Could we have kippers for breakfast?

I always have this utterly mistaken idea that once I get past some enormous hurdle, my troubles are over, completely forgetting that there is another hurdle in front of me on the course. Maybe that's why I wasn't so great at running hurdles when I was on the track team. Because my brilliant hurdling career ended at a meet when I got over the first two and ran smack into the third. I still have the dent in my shin.

Sounds just like my life!


Let's talk about breakfast. After all, it is the most important meal of the day.

Some days I can't be persuaded to eat much breakfast, especially when it's hot or on get-away days, when the idea of food at 5:30 am is sort of nauseating. But I do have breakfast daily. One of the best (and since I started making it, one of the spouse's favorites) is a riff on homemade muesli that I adapted from a Self magazine recipe. It's really very easy and quite filling. To make one serving, you need the following:

1/2 c. rolled oats
2 Tbsp. chopped nuts (I favor almonds; the spouse likes pecans)
2 Tbsp. dried fruit (I have dried blueberries; the spouse prefers raisins)
2 Tbsp. orange juice
1/4. c. non-fat vanilla yogurt
1/2 c. chopped apple

Mix it all together, and there you go: you have a nice, healthy breakfast. To speed things up, you can mix together the dried ingredients in advance, and then just add the juice, yogurt and apple before you eat it.

And yes, you could have kippers for breakfast. If you really wanted to. Muesli might be easier.

Go listen to some good music: "Breakfast in America" from the album Breakfast in America by Supertramp. I have had kippers for breakfast, but regrettably found it necessary to skip the baked beans.

19 June 2010

Happy days are here again

In all the excitement of documenting our crazy Thursday evening (and in all the excitement of just making it through this crazy busy week), I neglected to mention that


School's out for summer.

Officially, as of 12:15 yesterday.

The 7th grade girls were waiting anxiously for the bell to ring, and as soon as it did, they jumped up and down in a huddle, shrieking, "WE'RE EIGHTH GRADERS!"

Which, for the moment, is as cool as it gets.

Go listen to some music: "Happy Days are Here Again," music by Milton Ager, lyrics by Jack Yellen.

18 June 2010

Yeah, they'll run amok

I don't even know where to begin.

Just let me quote something that I wrote less than a week ago:

"The son has been anxious to see Video Games Live since its inception, and finally, I was able to get tickets to take him (it's always rolling through at the most inconvenient times and places). Not only did I get him tickets, I got him pit tickets at Nokia during E3. Because I am his mother and I rock. However, what this means is that I have to take him this week. To L.A. On a week night. During E3."

Now, I realize that a lot of the people who read my blog live in lovely, far-flung places like Canada and France and Germany and...er...Texas. Nonetheless, I'm sure many of you have heard of the (insert adjective of your choice) Los Angeles Lakers. Let me state up front that I'm not a fan of anything NBA, and if the Lakers moved to, oh I don't know, Montevideo? I wouldn't exactly cry.

Sooooo...this is where I was last night:

And this? This is across the street:

Starting to see where this is going? Right. Game 7 of the NBA Finals in that there building right there, as I was taking this photo. And I thought E3 (in the L.A. Convention Center, on the other side of Staples) was the worst of my worries. No, the BRAIN TRUSTS who schedule things for that area also decided that it would be a good night for the opening night of the Los Angeles Film Festival (going on in the buildings behind Nokia) and a concert at the Conga Room (I have no idea who it was. I couldn't be bothered to check).

Now, I know that no one knew the Lakers would be playing Game 7 last night. At least, no one knew this until last Tuesday night, when we were fervently praying the Celtics would win. Again, I'm not a fan of anything NBA; I just didn't want to end up in the situation that we did indeed end up in last night:


Staples holds 19,000 for a basketball game. Nokia has a capacity of 7,000 (though last night, it was configured for 4,000), and the Conga Room, 1,000. The movie theaters? I couldn't hazard a guess. But the entertainment area there also has a bunch of restaurants, which looked to be well beyond capacity last night.

And what about all the hangers-on who couldn't get tickets to the game and were just milling around in their purple looking for a fight? Waaaaay too many of them, though LAPD evidently forced them all out of the plaza about 15 minutes after we were let into Nokia.

I haven't even mentioned the bit about it taking us two hours to get to downtown L.A. Downtown Los Angeles is not conducive to big crowds: many of the streets are tiny, and about 2/3 only go one way. So, the geography and logistics of getting from point A to point B can be a bit nightmarish. Of course, this was also taking place during rush hour. And we left the house at 4:30 for an 8 pm show.

Did we seriously consider not going? You bet. I was ready to let $300 worth of tickets that I bought three months ago go to waste so as not to have to face that mess. And as I was standing there, waiting for doors, with my daughter glued to my body she was so unnerved by the massive police presence, helicopters hovering overhead, and menacing-looking people cruising around, glowering and hooting at anyone in green, I was grateful for the comic relief provided by the crazed-looking man running through the crowd with a sign that proclaimed "Jesus is Comming. Don't go to hell." as he yelled the same message through a paper cup with the bottom torn out of it.

That's right. Jesus is Comming.


So was the show worth all that? Well, the son and the daughter definitely got a kick out of the proceedings, which was good enough for me. I wearied of the plugs for Alienware (I paid for those tickets, which in my book means I don't have to listen to commercials), and even though I've played my share of games over the years--and some pretty obscure ones at that--a lot of this was stuff I'd never heard of. And by and large, the stuff I wanted to hear--Halo!--still beat the majority of the music played, though Assassin's Creed 2 gave it a run for its money. The show's concept was interesting, and generally well carried out, but I'll admit that once was enough.

About half way through the show, the audience was informed that the Lakers had "come from behind in the fourth quarter" and won their game across the street. I was keeping an eye out, and we occasionally saw a car with flashing lights pass by, but it seemed pretty quiet (that means only 40 people were arrested for various misbehaviours, including setting cars on fire, trying to pull a bus driver out of a bus, breaking windows, and throwing things at police officers. LA Times was also reporting that people were running around on the freeway. In the dark. That takes a special kind of stupidity).

When the show finished a little after 11 pm, it was pretty quiet out, but the police presence remained massive. I stopped to take a photo (which is here) of the nicely lit Staples Center, and backed up into the tallest LAPD officer I've ever seen, resplendent in his riot gear. The spouse is still marveling over the encounter, as he says he's never seen another person who actually dwarfed me (I'm almost 6 ft. tall; this gentleman was easily twelve inches taller).

At which, point we decided that it was probably time to go home.

Go listen to some good music: "Just Another Nervous Wreck" from the album Breakfast in America by Supertramp. Why do a few idiots always try to make an entire fandom look bad? And I didn't even get into the whole parking fiasco, even with an advance purchase parking pass.

16 June 2010

If I could change your mind

I'd just gotten home with the daughter this afternoon when the doorbell rang. It was a nice day, so I had the windows open, unfortunately. The way the front entry is set up, anyone standing at the front door can see in the dining room windows, doubly so when they're open. And the daughter and I were chatting amiably and audibly when I saw a man with a clipboard peering in the window.

I have a policy of not opening the door to people I don't know. It's just not safe. Most of the time I just ignore the doorbell unless I know who is there, but it was quite clear today that I was in the house. So, doing the polite thing, I went to the window and asked the man his business.

Oh, he wanted to introduce me to a new carpet cleaning process...

I politely but firmly told him I wasn't interested and that I already had a carpet cleaning guy...

Oh, everybody says that, and you can keep him. He's got mouths to feed, no doubt, said the salesman, but I just want to tell you about our method.

And he went on and on.

No thank you, I told him.

Well, can I just come in and have a peek at your carpets? he asked.

And I explained that I don't let strangers into my house.

Well, a 90-year-old woman told me the same thing, and I said why did you let me in. Because I trust you, she told me, he said. So how about it?

Pleasantly, I replied that I'm not as nice as the old woman of his acquaintance, and I was sorry but I don't let strangers into my house. At which his mien changed completely, and he dropped the funny voices and the comedy act and he wished me good day in a very terse way.

You pwnd him, the son hissed from the hallway.

But I don't want to pwn people in this fashion. I understand that times are tough, and people are trying to feed themselves and their families. I respect their initiative and their drive. But I don't want to be badgered. I want to say no thank you, and I want these sellers to offer me the respect of gracefully ending our encounter by accepting my refusal and leaving. I prefer to be polite, and I don't want to have to metaphorically slam the door in their faces or hang up on them or become unpleasant to force them to go away.

So, sales people, be so kind as to remember that I didn't invite you to my door, I don't owe you a sale, and if I am courteous to you, please return that courtesy by leaving when I ask you to do so.

Go listen to some music: "If I Could Change Your Mind" from the album Eve by The Alan Parsons Project.

15 June 2010

...and I can do it some more

Pasta lunch for sixty. I knew J. was busy, so I took on the brunt of the planning. She ordered up everything and bless her, was able to make it to help. I'd done this lunch party before, so I knew the ropes. I was there at 8, getting drinks on ice, back at 10:15 to start set up. J. showed up, as did the other mother who was picking up the cakes.

One of the cakes had the name of a rival middle school. J. was exasperated; ML was tremendously fussed.

I laughed and said, "Scrape it off."

Another person suggested we drive over to the rival school and see if we could trade it for ours.

We scraped off the name. No one knew the difference.

The man bearing pasta and salad and bread arrived. He was short a salad. J. took one look at the amount of pasta we had and told him to bring more when he returned with the other salad.

We were exactly one tray of pasta and one bowl of salad over what we needed. J. and I shrugged and agreed that we'd rather have too much than too little.

"We need to go into catering," J. said. "We can do this."

"And better," I agreed. I've been putting this sort of thing together for more years than I can count. J. does beautiful and imaginative parties.

"Yeah!" J. replied.

The lunch started, and kids and staff ate and ate and ate. We ran out of forks.

I ran (literally) home and gathered up all the boxes of spoons and forks I had in the pantry, and ran back to the school in time to serve dessert. When I arrived, I discovered we'd run out of plates.

The hot lunch lady saved us there.

J. and I laughed that it would be time to go open a bottle of wine when it was all done. The teacher who was running the operation told us we'd better to plan to share. It was a good laugh.

All was well that ended well.

And I never have to do this particular thing ever again.

Go listen to some music: "Tick Tick Boom" from the album The Black and White Album recorded by The Hives.

14 June 2010

Music, music, music

(Today's writing prompt: "What are the five best bands you've seen play live?" No, I totally did not make this up, no matter how apropos it is. You can check NaBloPoMo if you don't believe me.)

1) Rush. Without a doubt. I've seen them somewhere between 25 and 30 times, and hands down, they put on one of the most fun shows ever. I've often heard it said that it's amazing 3 men can make that much noise (and extremely intricate noise at that), but to watch them actually play is to be completely blown away. Especially since they often seem not to be paying that much attention to the actual playing. And they are playing perfectly some perfectly complicated stuff. And I'm not even a musician. There are lights. And lasers. And video. And pyro. And lots of goofy, sometimes charming and frequently self-deprecating humor. Not to mention music that lends itself being played live like almost no other music I've heard. Picking a favorite song is like picking a favorite child...but "Natural Science?" Be still my beating heart. Two weeks. HAH!

2) REM. The band I've seen second most often. I haven't seen them for a long time because they started getting more overtly political (I don't like being pummeled), and then Bill Berry left, and it wasn't the same. But back in their early years, they were fun, the music was...different but interesting, and the shows were loose to the point where you never knew who might show up on stage, or what cover they might do. Sort of the polar opposite to Rush in that regard, but it completely suited REM. "Life and How to Live It" at Radio City Music Hall was one of those game-changing moments.

3) Porcupine Tree. I saw them last fall at Club Nokia, which was tiny and sort of odd, but the sound was crystal. And Porcupine Tree does a really high energy show of prog metal/hard rock/whatever you want to class them as. I've been a fan for a number of years, but this was the first time I'd seen them live. Better than excellent. I'd love to see them again: come back! come back! (Trying to figure out how on earth I could get to their RCMH show, except that it's sandwiched between two other concerts at opposite ends of the states about 3 days apart, one of which I already have tickets for.) "Trains." I still get goosebumps at the memory.

4) U2 and The Police. This is how I sneak an extra band in. I saw U2 on the Joshua Tree tour, and they were a force. I saw The Police on the Synchronicity tour, and they were a force. I tend to think of these two tours as complementary although they took place several years apart, in part because U2 was coming of age as The Police were coming apart. But both concerts were very memorable, and both bands were a force in similar fashion. U2: "Pride (In the Name of Love)" rang in the rafters. Police: "Message in a Bottle."

5) Coldplay. Yeah. Coldplay. The daughter was desperate to see them last summer, so we went, and it was a hugely enjoyable, well-staged and completely good-natured show. Where Rush doesn't get nearly the respect they deserve for their incredibly musicianship or their music, Coldplay doesn't get the respect they deserve for their quite solid musicianship and frequently complex compositions. They've been branded pop darlings, which is great for their bottom line, but I think does them a bit of a disservice, having seen plenty of pop darlings in my day who were far less talented. And yes, Viva La Vida might well be one of the most overplayed albums in history. I don't even listen to the radio and I heard "Violet Hill" in Iceland. But "Lovers in Japan" was stellar. (Okay, I would have liked the full-band full version of "Talk.")

Purely subjective. I like what I like. And I'm sure I've overlooked someone who was deserving of inclusion.

Go listen to some music: "Music, Music, Music" recorded by Teresa Brewer. I'm reading with no small amusement that some radio stations thought this version could be indecent. We sang it in our Catholic school choral group as part of a performance. I don't remember anyone complaining.

12 June 2010

Der Ring des Nibelungen

I am down to the final week of school, the week that does feel like I'm playing the entire Ring cycle solo on a kazoo. Or possibly, a chain saw.

(The Ring cycle only comes to mind because of all the hullabaloo surrounding the LA Opera's current staging of it. At present, my life is full of Wagnerian histrionics...and I don't care for opera.)

Both children are awash in final exams and finals projects. Though I firmly don't get involved with these things, one is requiring me to rearrange the house so the son can film himself doing a monologue from Hamlet for his film class. True that I could have him rearrange the house, but I want to be able to find everything afterward.

The daughter's school is always full of grand schemes that go well beyond the ridiculous. Her class is being hauled off on a picnic on Monday (in the middle of a week's worth of final exams). Then there's the graduation luncheon, which I was co-opted into planning 3 years ago. This time, I simply capitulated back in September, and just took over. My pointing finger of doom has announced politely to those involved "you may do this" and "you may do that." I know it will all turn out fine. The children will eat and have fun. It's just the getting past it that needs doing. I'm trying to look at it as a harbinger of better things to come. It was last time.

Courage and faith.

The son has been anxious to see Video Games Live since its inception, and finally, I was able to get tickets to take him (it's always rolling through at the most inconvenient times and places). Not only did I get him tickets, I got him pit tickets at Nokia during E3. Because I am his mother and I rock. However, what this means is that I have to take him this week. To L.A. On a week night. During E3. Which kind of makes me want to hire someone else to take him. But no, I will be there, in my seat, listening to video game music. Watching my 16-year-old light up with glee. I will savor that moment because once it's done, he'll be back to harassing me about the driving lessons the state requires him to take this summer.

And the AP Chemistry class I haven't signed him up for yet.

Oh, there's more. And more. Always more. And my brain yells, run away, run away, run directly away!

Of course, that comes later.

Go listen to some music if you dare: "Der Ring des Nibelungen" is a cycle of four operas written by Richard Wagner. Some of the music that accompanies the operas is really pretty interesting, but opera as an art form holds little appeal for me.

11 June 2010

Amazing grace

"Crawford's list of recommended good deeds includes letting a car into traffic, holding the door for someone else, dropping coins, giving time to a charity, or recycling a plastic bottle."

Orange County Register
11 June 2010

I saw this after I returned from walking with AT this morning, while reading the newspaper. It struck me as incredibly sad. What used to be common courtesy (holding the door for someone else) is now touted as a good deed. What used to be considered common charity (giving time to a charity) is now touted as a good deed. Common sense (recycle a plastic bottle) is touted as a good deed. Obeying the traffic law (letting a car into traffic) is touted as a good deed.

What have we become?

Yesterday, the spouse visited the drive through at a fast food restaurant, rare enough in itself, and an employee was standing at the drive through to expedite the lunch rush orders. Pleasantly, because he is a nice man, the spouse ordered his two tacos and Diet Coke.

"You're so easy!" the worker exclaimed. "You wouldn't believe the people who come here and take 10 minutes to order and then are mean about it!"

I had a similar experience a couple of weeks ago. I ordered a half-pound of sliced turkey from the woman behind the deli counter at the grocery.

"It's a little over," she said, looking with concern at the scale, hastening to remove a couple of slices.

"Oh, don't worry," I told her. "I have teenagers. It'll get eaten."

The woman stopped to stare at me. "Really? You don't mind?"

I shrugged. "No. I use weight as a guideline. It gets eaten."

She couldn't believe that I wasn't going to cause a fuss and went on to tell me about people who demanded slices that were measured to the micron, people who made her cut a slice in half so that the weight was exact.

I wish I could say that I thought she was exaggerating. I know she's not.

It's supposed to be common courtesy, behaving with grace with our fellow humans.

Go listen to some good music: "Amazing Grace" a hymn about redemption written by John Newton.

10 June 2010

Destination unknown

(Today's writing prompt: "If you could go back in time and meet your 16-year-old self, what three things would you tell yourself?")

Poor girl.

I had to pull out a photo of you to remember exactly who you were. And there you are, unlovely and gauche in a green dress you'd made over so it wouldn't look so dated.

Sixteen wasn't easy, was it? I have a 16-year-old now, and I hear you in his voice, his worries, his stories. He has no idea how fortunate he is, really. You really had nothing going for you but the brain rattling around inside your skull. People you'd grown up with were killing themselves by your sophomore year in high school, not just committing suicide, but dying in horrendous car accidents after keggers in the desert. You were sad enough sometimes, desperate enough sometimes, to consider a final way out, but what stopped you was that you wanted to know the end of the story. It's the kind of kid you were: you never skipped ahead to the end of the book; you always let the plot unfold. I think that's probably what saved your life.

So, what would I tell you if I came back from the future?

1) You are such a fighter! You have more courage than you ever give yourself credit for (or really than I ever gave you credit for), and despite all the second guessing, everything you do in the next eight years will be the right thing. Maybe not the best thing, but you'll do fine. You work out this year that escape is a real possibility, and you sit down and figure out exactly how to make it happen. Then you do. I would tell you to learn how to choose your battles a little better; you and I tend to fight everything. But at 16, your life is a real battlefield. I know your choices are limited, but you do exactly what you need to. No one knew how frightened you were, but you fought and you win.

2) You will make some grievous mistakes and you will hurt people. I wish, in particular, that the latter wasn't true, and I wish I could stop you from making those mistakes, but if you don't then I won't be who I am now. I learned from those things. I loathe my own imperfection (and yours), but it's part of the learning process. Be gentle with those around you, especially those on whom you take out your frustrations only because they are there. Be kind. Even if you don't like some people, you owe them the respect dictated by the fact they are fellow humans. Even if they are undeserving. I had to tell the son this exact thing last night. See? I learned from what you did wrong.

3) You will see the world and you will love every moment of it. For the moment, you are imprisoned, but you will see the world. You will see great and terrible things in about equal proportion, but you will hold to the good. Oh, you are such an angry adolescent, and that anger will inform your adulthood, even now. But you will learn compassion, and the natural empathy that you see as weakness will serve you in the future. You will meet people you never dreamed of meeting; some of them will have a life-changing impact. You will become a thoughtful listener, and you will continue to take with gratitude the life lessons that people give you. You have already set a course, and because you have few options, you will partly go where the wind the takes you, destination unknown. This is not a bad thing. You don't know it yet, but you have a future. And a lot of it is good.

What is funny, I suppose, is that you never needed me to tell you these things. You woke up every day, you put one foot in front of the other and you never stopped. Oh, there were bad days, endless days, days when all seemed lost. But you kept going. Along the way you learn to laugh, not the polite smile you give now, but a full-bodied, they-can-hear-you-down-the-hall guffaw. You learned to recognize the absurdity of the world...and to love it anyway.

We both know that things could have been worse, and they could have been better. But even if it had been better, neither of us will ever know if that's what we would have wanted.

It's ok to hold out for a better tomorrow. You did, and I still do.

Go listen to some music: "Destination Unknown" from the album Spring Session M by Missing Persons.

09 June 2010

Your haunted head

(Today's writing prompt: "Japanese lore suggests that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes, your wish will come true. What would your wish be, and what would you be willing to do 1,000 times to get it?" That's more like it.)

Currently, I am reading Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. I am also reading at least four other books--par for the course--but this is the one that has captured my attention.

There is something about the interlocking stories in this book that brings to mind Shirley Jackson's short stories. Certainly, there is a similarity in the setting--both take in small town New England--and in the elegant and evocative writing styles, but there is a defining darkness of the human spirit that lurks in both. In many of Jackson's stories, there is a dissolution of the psyche and redemption, if you can call it that, takes the form of madness. In Strout's book, there is no lack of depression and suicide, but I'm still holding out hope that Olive finds a means of saving herself. In many ways, she seems the mature, senior version of Jackson's lost young housewives.

Not all of Strout's stories revolve around Olive herself. She is a mirror and is mirrored in the events of those around her, including her husband, her mostly estranged son, and her former students. There are slightly cryptic revelations about her parents, that she sees herself as a relay station for whatever darkness gave her father reason to kill himself. In many ways, her vision of herself seems to come through the eyes of others, in particular her size, which can take on a sort of monstrousness, depending on the circumstances.

It is this last that allows me a sympathy for Olive that I might not otherwise have felt. From the onset of adolescence, my mother always made my size an issue: in her eyes, I was a leviathan, and graceless in my enormity. A few years back, I quipped to my doctor about my size, and she turned to look at me, confused.

"You weigh what you should for your height and frame," she told me.

"Well, I've got the frame of an Amazon," I replied, rolling my eyes.

"Your frame is medium, bordering on small," she said with a certain severity, holding my wrist before my eyes. But it looked to me to be the same old wrist, frightening in its hugeness.

Curious, I went back to photos of when I was a young teen, and finally saw the truth: I was simply a very tall and gawky child. There are even photos where there is virtually no weight to me, my mother's perpetual running commentary and cruel teasing to the contrary. It finally, finally dawned on me that my mother had spent years channeling her own frustrations on to my young head. I was a number on the scale to her, a number too heavy for her own short self, even if it was almost too thin for a child who was nearly five inches taller. I finally realized that she had projected her own heavy build onto my lighter skeleton and her anger has made it forever impossible for me to see my physical self for what it is. I was her mirror, and an unsatisfactory one at that, until she recreated me in her own image.

Of course, what's funny (and it does amuse me) is that today, when I am 10 lbs. heavier than I was when she sang that I "couldn't get through the barn door," my mother fusses that I am too thin.

My wish was only ever to be loved and accepted for who I am, whatever I looked like. I suspect that is Olive's desire as well. The small miracle is that I have been shown, most gratifyingly, that I am. My wish has been granted, many times over. I have a family and a circle of friends who choose to be with me, people who simply enjoy what I bring to the party, people who take pleasure in the fact that I am simply there to be with them. Truly, I can't ask for anything more than that. And I have been willing to pay--and will keep on paying--for that privilege with a thousand smiles and small deeds to show them that I appreciate their company, too.

Go listen to some music: "Your Haunted Head" from the album Concrete Blonde by Concrete Blonde.

08 June 2010

Lovely Rita

Okay, I can see this day is doomed. The suggested writing prompt struck me as...ahem...not all that.

So I thought I would provide myself with a writing prompt by scrolling through iTunes with my eyes closed.

And this is what you get.

I used to sing this song to my youngest sister. She hated it.

That is all.


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

07 June 2010

I'm sorry

(Today's writing prompt: "Do you owe an apology to anyone? Why?" Wow. Way too apropos.)

Dear person whose brain I melted with my nuclear rage today:

I want to tell you I'm sorry. The fact of the matter is that I'm not sorry. The spouse rightly pointed out that you know who you work for. I tried to tell him that you didn't have the power to fix the problem and that you theoretically didn't create the problem. You're just a phone jockey. But, he said, you know who you work for. He's right. And there's years of complaints about your company and its shady business practices littering the web. Better Business Bureau gives your company a "C."

I know in my heart that all the extremely articulate anger I subjected you to was perfectly justified. But I don't want to be that person. Which makes me even angrier. And even less sorry.

Just so you know, I went ahead and filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. I know you thought I was bluffing.

I never bluff.


Go listen to some good music: "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)" from the album Reckoning by REM. This was a hard post to write because there is nothing that sickens me more than getting angry. As I said, this was beyond justified (FTC justified!), but I dislike the sort of volcanic eruption this problem engendered.

06 June 2010

London, Washington...

Sunday night walk, left almost too late, because suddenly everyone decided they were hungry, and I had to cook them dinner.

It was a hot weekend, temperatures reaching the 80sF. I wasn't expecting to see the fog moving in this evening, but as I fled the house, the sun was sinking into a blanket of gold and grey.

I walked fast, faster than usual, in the gathering gloom. I ticked off lists: how many more school lunches, how many finals for each, anything I've not thought of before for the graduation lunch. I fussed a bit in my head about the son's finals schedule, which always throws a wrench into my schedule, and shot waves of bitterness in the general direction of the school.

This is the time of year that my resentments start piling up.

As I turned a corner and the sun disappeared, I caught the sweet smell of water in the air. It's something to which I'm always attuned and I wonder if that's because I spent so much in the desert. And I fell into a brief reverie. The desert, the desert. Nightfall in the desert. Rain in the desert. This seems to be the time of year when I miss the desert most.

I smiled and put the fussiness away.

All those silly tasks and cares will be dealt with and completed soon anyway. No point in wasting the energy worrying about them.

Go listen to some good music: "A Girl Like You" from the album 11 by The Smithreens. The hook, as it were, came while I played Rock Band with the daughter for five minutes: "London, Washington, anywhere you are I'll run..." Not so far from the truth, though for a little different reason.

05 June 2010

In a different light

The daughter, with some confusion: "Brassiere Pascal? They have...bras?"

Me, exhausted by three hours of the denizens of Newport Beach: "Erm...no."

The daughter, stopping under the sign and looking up at it: "But it says Bra...bra...brazz..."

Me: "Brasserie."

The daughter: "Oh."

And we continued on to our car.

Go listen to some music: "In a Different Light" from the album Different Light by The Bangles. After a few hours at Fashion Island, I remember why I don't go to Fashion Island.

04 June 2010

The clowns are everywhere

(No writing prompt today. Today, I'm just angry.)

Outside my office hung a huge photograph--easily 2 ft. by 3 ft.--of an oil-covered sea otter.

Several of my colleagues at the science and engineering firm had worked on the Exxon Valdez clean up. They gave talks about it. The photos were among the many that displayed the company's capabilities for investigating catastrophes.

I couldn't bring myself to ask RW, whose photo it was, if the otter was dead or alive. I was pretty sure, just looking at it, what the answer was.

I averted my eyes every time I passed it. It wasn't the only photo I couldn't look at.

Working on investigations of disasters has in no way inured me to the horror of disasters. I've learned some coping skills, but sometimes those fail. I get very worked up when people won't evacuate potential landslide areas or smugly talk about riding out hurricanes in their homes. I know what landslides do to the human body. Mother Nature grinds your bones to make her bread. I've seen the aftermaths of hurricanes. To baldly ignore a threat to your life...I don't understand it.

But this mess in the Gulf. I am mystified.

British Petroleum knew there were problems with the Deepwater Horizon before the rig exploded. The company used a well casing on the rig that violated its own safety and design standards. Why would BP play roulette with people's lives--its own employees' lives--not to mention the reputation of the company? I don't bother to mention the Gulf ecology because we all know that never mattered to BP.

I hear that BP CEO Tony Hayward wants his life back. Well, I've no doubt that the families of those who died on the Deepwater Horizon would like their lives back, too. And I'm sure all those employed by the fishing industry in the Gulf who are going to be out jobs would like their lives back. And I'd hazard a guess that all those who are going to be directly affected by the toxic by-products of the oil spill may well want their lives back.

And the dead birds and animals? Personally, I would like their lives back.

Meanwhile, BP acknowledges they knew they couldn't handle a problem like this, and continues to fiddle around, continues to fail at stopping the flow of oil, six weeks later. Not that I'm exactly surprised given what we now know about this whole fiasco. But what does the U.S. government do? Talk.

It's what they do best.

I know that what I'm doing here is rehashing what all of us probably already know. I'm not even putting a new spin on it. I tend to avoid this type of subject matter but this has just gone so far beyond the ridiculous. Tragic and ridiculous.

I suppose that given all that's gone before, it was inevitable that the group running the emergency response to the calamity would solicit suggestions from the general public about how to fix it. You can call them or visit the Deepwater Horizon Response website. I just wonder how many of the 20,000 suggestions already submitted have been of the anatomically impossible variety.

Go listen to some good music: "Clowns of Death" from the album Farewell--Live from the Universal Amphitheater by Oingo Boingo.

03 June 2010

You've got to take what you give

(Today's writing prompt: "Define freedom." )

Early morning. Usually around 4 am. The taxi generally gets here at 5 am. The taxi company knows me.

"Going to the airport?" the operator asks cheerfully when I reserve a cab the night before.

I ask them to tell the driver not to honk. I still haven't lived down the morning the driver was sitting on the horn and woke the entire neighborhood.

After a shower, I choke down a fast breakfast of scalding coffee and a slice of peanut butter toast. One last check of my luggage (tickets, tickets, id, wallet), and I kiss each child goodbye.

"Bye, Mommy," the daughter mutters drowsily. "Come home."

I always do. It's part of the bargain.

I also tell the cat, who is by now sitting on the pink bag (a single day), or the rolling carry-on (2 days), when I will be home. Then I stand in the biting morning air to wait for the cab (and ensure that he won't honk).

Once I'm buckled in, the driver asks me my preferred route to airport, and I tell him the fastest way. I've had nice drivers, surly drivers, and one who could only follow the GPS in a sort of sweaty panic.

What's my ultimate destination? he asks.

Oh, this one is chatty.

I create a business meeting if I'm not feeling chatty.

Or I might say I'm visiting friends, with a tiny burble of laughter. This is closer to the truth, though the "friends" part can be a bit of a movable feast.

For a moment, excitement takes a back seat to lack of sleep. I watch the quiet roads under the peach street lights. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am guilty as hell.

So begins the process of reminding myself that allowing myself 36 hours away from my responsibilities isn't just ok, it's life saving. Time alone doesn't happen that often, I argue against the voice that jeers at my first world anxieties.

I pay the driver with polite words, and he wishes me well.

The airport is jarringly bright. I find the end of the first security line and begin the process. I've done this so often that I have everything ready: id, boarding pass, toiletries in a quart bag, no jewelry, no belt, easily removable shoes. I always exchange pleasantries with the security personnel. One afternoon, the man checking my boarding pass told me that I was the first person to respond to his greeting all day, and that made me terribly sad. No matter how tired I am, it takes so little to say "hello" back to the person who just said "hi" to me.  Lead by example, I remind myself, as I wait patiently at the metal detector and hand my boarding pass with a smile to the person on the other side.

Once through security, my routine is established. Put my shoes on, check gate information, the Ladies, Starbucks for a large bottle of water, find a seat at the gate.

My children will do fine without me for a brief span of time, probably better seeing I don't have to hover around them every second of their lives. Their father could stand a little extra time with them. This is good for everyone.  I tell myself this.  Recite it like a mantra.

I listen to music and surreptitiously check out my fellow passengers, determining who has been visiting and is going home, and who is home and destined for elsewhere.

Elsewhere, I think. I like elsewhere.

Perhaps I am guilty as hell, I tell myself. But perhaps I've earned this with all the endless hours of shuttling people here and there, and helping with events at school. How many millions of cupcakes have I baked over the years, for parties, to be sold as refreshments? How much pro bono have I done? How many times have I stood in the doctor's office, the teacher's room, negotiating my way through some work catastrophe when the spouse was on the other side of the world?

I remain unconvinced.

My flight is called, and I join the next line as my section is called to board the plane. Even now, it's a routine, and I stow my luggage, sit and buckle myself in. Eventually, the doors close, and the pilot comes on to explain how this airport requires takeoff to happen. Seatbelts are demonstrated.  We taxi around and around, joining another queue, until finally we are at the head of the line, and stop, engines revving. It's like being at the starting line at a race. I ran track in school, and I remember that quivering moment, second by second, until the gun went off, signaling the beginning of the race.

The wheels leave the runway and I see the sun break over Saddleback to the east.


Go listen to some good music: "Freedom" from the album Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 by George Michael. I know some women who are so hung up on their responsibilities that they won't take the time to exercise--I'm not that bad--and others who don't bat an eyelash at just hopping on a plane for a girlfriend getaway. I still wrestle with it, obviously, but I come home so happy that I've almost convinced myself it can't be all bad.

02 June 2010

Poetry in motion

(Today's writing prompt: "What is your favorite poem?" Dirty little secret: I'm not overly fond of poetry as a writing form. Given that I dumped International Relations in favor of literature, a dirty little secret indeed!)

As a child, stuck in a desert, hungry to know everything, I faced the difficulty of everyone telling me to CALM DOWN! STOP TRYING TO LEARN SO MUCH!

Which is like telling me to stop breathing. In my case, the quest for knowledge is almost involuntary. It's bred in the bone. There is no STOP.

I don't know how old I was when I set out on the path of self-education. Probably from the moment I started reading, which was very young. I was the kid who read the dictionary. The cereal box. The directions on my mother's jar of Dippity-Do. Every book and magazine in the house, no matter how complex or how much of it I didn't actually understand. The entire children's section of the public library, down to the check out cards in the books (all those names were so interesting!). Cookbooks.

And then there was Edgar Allan Poe. Some of the language in his stories was difficult for a primary school reader to decipher (dictionary!), but the poetry was quite comprehensible. I read "The Raven" aloud to myself, grieved for the beautiful Annabel Lee, thrilled to the alliteration of "The Bells."

Even if I didn't know what alliteration was in those days.

Anyway, at about the point in time, all the relatives said to themselves: she reads! Let's give her books of poetry.

So they did. And I read them. Ewww, said I. What a lot of incomprehensible drivel. How very boring.

Later, I read Shakespeare, and that was all right, up until I had to write a sonnet, which wasn't so all right. But I did and that was that.

Off I went to college. I started out in international relations, got frustrated, and changed majors. Literature! Reading and writing! Happy! Joy!


Now, I have a brain that contains a judicious portion of engineer. I am mechanically and spatially adept, logical to a fault, precise when I'm not lazy. Why would I not be drawn like a moth to flame to meter, rhyme, scansion? Why, when I love language, repeat words to myself the way others stroke velvet, revere the structuralists, amuse myself with the art and science of writing, would I not be attracted to poetry? Also there's that tiny romantic, dreamy streak that I deny exists. So, I am the perfect candidate to be wandering around, book in hand, quoting the Raven.


Not to mention no way.

I don't remember which lit class it was, but there was some poetry assignment, and since I was taking a graduate level class in Spanish lit at the same time, I decided to translate one of the poems I'd read in the Spanish class into English, and then as the basis for my paper, compare my translation to the accepted and generally disseminated English translations. My translation actually scanned better in the end and sounded nicer overall, and I was quite pleased with that bit of work. The professor raved about the whole thing, and decided I needed to publish it.

Which I just wouldn't do. Because I am nothing if not ambitious in stretching the scope of my own knowledge and anything but ambitious when it comes to sharing the end result.

More to the point, though, to my mind what I'd done was construction work: laid an appropriate foundation, and designed and built a carefully planned structure. The emotion was as translated as words. It was beautiful and it looked like poetry. But it wasn't.

It didn't engage my heart.

Most poetry doesn't. It might make me laugh, or think a little more deeply about something. I might appreciate the imagery or the story or the perfection of the structure, but generally I prefer prose. Of course, set it to music and it's a completely different story. Then, it's a song.

I love songs.

Do I have a favorite poem? Not that I can think of. I am fond of EA Poe, and I've always enjoyed A.A. Milne's And Now We Are Six. I like Coleridge and admire T.S. Eliot. Karl Shapiro's "The Fly" remains, by turns, hilarious and disgusting. But a favorite that I hang on to, and force everyone around me to read?

Not as of this writing. Which means that somewhere out there, a poem is waiting for me.

Go listen to some good music: "She Blinded Me with Science" from the album The Golden Age of Wireless by Thomas Dolby. Please understand this post is intended to be a bit tongue in cheek.

01 June 2010

Going where I want

(I've signed up for NaBloPoMo this month--both blogs. God knows why because I certainly don't. Anyway, the theme is NOW, new with writing prompts. I need prompts right now, so stuck in my head am I. Of course, I'm listening to a very significant prompt right now...wheeee!)

I grew up during the Cold War, and I lived across the street from a bomb shelter. Every Saturday afternoon, the air raid sirens would go off at 1 pm precisely to remind us of our mortality. I am young enough that Duck and Cover was a thing of the past by the time I came along. Because of the Air Force base located there, our town was rumored to be high on "The List," and everyone knew that the town would be a two-mile deep crater if it came down to it. Duck and Cover was a bit moot in the face of that.

Our world was painted in broad strokes of certainty without shades of grey. The Soviets were our enemy. The world was divided by an iron curtain. The splitting of an atom would invariably lead to the splitting of the Earth along its axis. Still, children are remarkably resilient. The gigantic military helicopters that flew low over our house and the occasional U-2 or SR-71 high overhead became part of our games outdoors, as did the air raid siren, certainty in the service of make believe.

When I got to high school, the main building of which housed the bomb shelter nearest my home, the school newspaper did an expose on that bunker. And the fact that no one bothered to maintain the place. The fact that most of the supplies were nearly 20 years old. I remember my history teacher laughed when the edition was published.

"We'll be a two-mile deep crater!" he chortled, sounding dreadfully like the Santa in A Christmas Story telling Ralphie he would shoot his eye out.

How does one build a future on a foundation that predicates the lack of one?

My brother and I planned to save the world. And in a world of certainties and dichotomies, we just as surely chose two different paths: his, the military, mine, diplomacy. My parents suggested it, of course. My mother wanted me to go into international law; my father thought I should be a foreign service officer. The idea appealed to my love of languages and travel.

My brother stuck closely to his decision, graduating from USNA and going off to fly fighter bombers. I watched the failure of the peacemaking process over and over. I listened to the talk of presidents and diplomats and my professors. I knew I didn't want to be part of all that talk, all that lack of action. I saw there was no way that I'd be able to succeed in that arena in the way that I wanted to succeed.

So I went where I wanted, possibly not where I should have.

I don't regret, precisely, the choice. I suppose I might have been a mover and a shaker, though I find that unlikely. I go where I want, rather than where others say I should. The impact I have today is quieter than it might have been, and while I'm not a mover, I cause certain people to shake in their shoes. I've chosen to try to lead by example at the least, instead of talking about it. I try to live by design rather than by a protocol created by salesmen. Now I know I can't save the world. But I can save one person at a time. And each of them can save one person.

I still think big.

Go listen to some good music: "Caravan" by Rush. By weird coincidence, I read the writing prompt for today (What did you want to be when you grew up?) as I listened to this song for the first time. And it was instantaneous. The end result is a little more awkward than I'd like, unfortunately.