30 September 2010

Let me make you smile

As it turns out, the daughter told me that the second morning I saw the little girls at their window watching our morning send-off, the older of the two was actually doing squirrel faces with us. And that broke my heart a little, in a good way.

It occurred to me that I've written a good deal here about the characters I encountered as a child, so I suppose there is some justice in becoming one myself for a new generation.

Isn't life strange, sometimes in the most odd and delightful ways?

Go listen to some music: "Let Me Entertain You" from the musical Gypsy, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents.

28 September 2010

Let me entertain you

I have turned into the neighborhood's morning entertainment.

And I'm not entirely sure how long I've had an audience.

We are busy in the morning. I take the son to the bus stop early, go back home, and get the spouse and the daughter out the door, often cooking them breakfast before I shoo them away. The spouse drops the daughter off at school on his way to the office. The daughter is one of those children who requires lots of hugging before she is packed off, and she is often morose, so starting years ago, I would do weird little dances in the driveway as they pulled out to make her laugh. You know, the Rose Queen parade wave, a little can-can while "Orpheus in the Underworld" ran through my head, or what we called "Covenant Dance" (it's a long story but has to do with video game Halo). Or I'd just make squirrel faces at her. Nothing especially untoward, and no one is around at that time of the morning, so I always felt like I could be as silly as I wanted and it wasn't as though anyone would be the wiser.

Because I have a significant reservoir of silly.

And it sent the daughter off to school happy, so it was all a win. Right?

About three months ago, new neighbors moved in across the street, and they have two very little girls. They also have one very large picture window that faces our driveway. And yesterday, as I was waving the car off, I caught sight of two little faces pressed up against that same picture window.


(Even funnier, I suppose, was that their housecleaner was there later in the day, and I caught sight of her washing the smudge marks off the picture window.)

So this morning, as the car pulled out of the driveway, I looked over and there they were again, faces pushed to the window.

Oh, it was an Offenbach kind of morning!

But now that I've been discovered, I'm a little torn. Continue my morning lunatic behaviour or close down the circus?

Go listen to some music: "Let Me Entertain You" from the musical Gypsy, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents. And while I don't strip on the driveway, I now officially feel a bit exposed.

27 September 2010

Some like it hot

Today, the National Weather Service's thermometer in downtown L.A. hit 113F...and then died.

We got to 107F here. I've been in hotter weather: 114F in Arizona. After about 100F, you really can't tell the difference.

(No baking today. I barely made it through the exercise bike and grocery shopping before subsiding into a melty mass on the sofa with my lunch salad).

Fortunately, I had the good sense to serve a big salad for dinner, too, because no sooner had I dished up ice cream for dessert, than the power went out. At 8pm, it was still 90F outdoors.

The daughter duly studied her geometry by flashlight while the son studied his biology by candlelight. I washed the dishes by the light from the small emergency lantern that is always plugged into one of the kitchen outlets and the cat wandered worriedly from person to person, unhappy with the strange darkness and the change of routine that came with it. We were none of us sorry when the power came back about half an hour later. All I could think about was losing a refrigerator full of fresh food. That's only happened to me once, back when I was pregnant with the daughter, and we endured an epic windstorm and a four-day power outage.

It's ironic; I paid the electricity bill today, and it was probably the lowest power usage we've ever had for that period of August and September. I guess we're making up for it now.

Go listen to some music: "Some Like It Hot" from the album The Power Station by The Power Station. Usually I don't mind this dry, baking heat, but today, it was just enervating...

25 September 2010

The four seasons, "Autumn"; 2. Largo

Today, I was baker of bread, maker of cookies, wiper of runny noses and dispenser of cough medicine, as well as fixer of jammed backpack zippers.

Also, watched the Angels officially jettison themselves from the postseason. Well, sort of watched. I was really making the cookies at that point.

As I've mentioned, we had a pretty cool summer, temperature-wise. Did I bake? Of course not! I waited until today, when it was 93F! I've once again gotten fed up with paying exorbitant prices for bread (or less exorbitant prices for bread that goes bad the next day--that's you, Trader Joe), and when the sign says Autumn, I always want to bake.

Even when it's 93.

So the KitchenAid and I went at it, beating up bread and cookie dough. The house smelled of honey and maple syrup (I made whole wheat bread, ran out of honey, and threw in some maple syrup to supplement) and cinnamon and butterscotch and chocolate. Never a bad thing, really. The son had designs on a loaf of bread until he discovered the cookies.

Last week was a bad week. In some ways, the coming week will be worse. Part of me fights with a sense of powerlessness, but I know, armed with what I gained over the summer, that I am not powerless at all.

Go listen to some good music: "The Four Seasons, 'Autumn'; 2. Largo" from the album Vivaldi: the Four Seasons by Karoly Botvay; Budapest Strings. This is the lesser known bit of "Autumn," the part that always sounds bittersweet to me, is emblematic of the change from spring and summer to the little death that is winter. I never, never expected my autumn to swing this direction again, but I am better equipped this time. And yeah, I can still be surprised, after all this time.

24 September 2010

Knights of Cydonia

So, the spouse wanted to go see Muse. I didn't raise any objections; I like them well enough. Then the daughter really started listening to them, and liked "Uprising" so much that she made her own music video (stop motion, with GI Joes. It's pretty hilarious). Anyway, they've gotten all popular in the US, so I had to do a bit of moving heaven and earth to get tickets for last night's show (not that I lack experience in that), but we had very good seats off the floor (GA floor? NO WAY).

My kids are so spoiled in the realm of concert-going. They are used to the "evening with" format (both Rush and Genesis), and have no love of opening acts. It's one thing if you know the opening bands, too. Back in the days of seeing REM and The Police, I was as familiar with the openers as I was the headliners, so it was all fine. In this case, Passion Pit sort of lived up to its name: they were the pits. I mean, fine, if you like synth-driven dance pop, and I don't, really. The son and I were joking they should be renamed Five Guys with Four Synths and One Very Reedy Falsetto. Anyway, they did have some fans in the audience. I always feel a little sad for openers who have to face a hostile audience, and I've seen a few of those.

The wait for Muse seemed to be interminable. I think the intermission was 45 minutes (yes, I'm spoiled, too), and the intro was way too long (yeah, the lights and graphics were cool, but come on! I can watch videos at home, kids. I'm there for the live experience. I know this is heresy, but this tour, I'm even finding Rush's video intros too damn long. I'm not there to watch you cut up on a screen, my boyos).

Anyway, finally, the lower half of the "skyscrapers" fell away, and there was the band on lighted pedestals, tearing into "Uprising." They get props for that stage set up, which was music even to my "seen a thousand concerts; what have you got?" eyes. I'm not sure the "in-the-round" concept worked overly well, but the rest was fairly spectacular, along with fun lights and about a billion lasers. And giant "eyeballs" filled with red confetti coming out of the ceiling ("Their version of 'Yellow,'" the son grinned at me, referring to all the yellow balloons released at the Coldplay show.) The music was on, good and loud, but the set was short (yes, I'm spoiled, too), though I could only name one or two other songs I would have really liked to hear that weren't included in the set they played.

Of course, there's always danger and opportunity in seeing a unknown quantity: They could be terrible live. There's a certain band that I like quite a lot that I've shyed away from seeing because I've seen video of their live performances and I think I'd go to sleep. But Muse really delivered, and we laughed and counted off different rock influences (Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC, and what even sounded like a bit of "YYZ" on the drums) that showed up in various codas. Rather than a drum solo, there was a fun drum/bass jam on the revolving drum riser, which was rising and revolving. Poor guys have been called the next U2 (isn't everybody?) and the next Radiohead, but they are a pretty unabashed force of their own, silver spaceman pants and Beetlejuice suits and all.

Go listen to some good music: "Knights of Cydonia" from the album Black Holes and Revelations by Muse. The audience was pretty diverse, I have to say. There were the hipsters, the emo kids, the old guys who looked like they'd be happier watching AC/DC, and some folks who didn't appear to know why they were there. And I was grinning ear to ear, singing along, and spoiling the whole effect thinking about where I was a week previous. Which was why I was grinning.

22 September 2010

Map of the problematique

The equinox comes sometime this evening, and autumn begins with a "super" harvest moon. It was appropriately cool today, not venturing much above 72F, which was nice. I am hearing that we had the coolest summer in years. I didn't mind.

On other fronts, the news gets worse, and I'm trying not to dwell on it, particularly the place where my life intersects with others' difficulties. For myself, I dislike uncertainty, and this constant sense of teetering on the edge of something terrible is driving me to distraction. I make plans. I think of other things, replay recent events, look for a mental anchor.

I think of where I was a week ago, and will myself back.

The daughter calls from school with a sore throat (unlike the son who took acetaminophen and drank fluids, the daughter flops around and whines). But I'll take the sore throat over the stomach bug that is apparently also coursing through the school. While I'm waiting for the daughter, I am asked if the son might tutor a Chinese girl who can't make heads or tails of English calculus terminology. He sighs when I ask him--his academic load is huge this year--but I know he will rise to the occasion.

I remind the kids to make sure that they've worked ahead on their homework. Tomorrow night, we are all going to see Muse. I've had the tickets since April; the daughter and the spouse particularly wanted to see them. The son and I are mostly going along for the ride, though I like Muse. Right now, of course, the whole idea seems misguided.

The smell of roasting chicken and roasting garlic is wafting through the house, and I need to peel potatoes. Chicken, garlic mashed potatoes with gravy and steamed green beans. Comfort food for an autumn night.

And when AT calls to tell me that she can't make our walk tomorrow morning, I am unbecomingly grateful. She is the loveliest lady and I so enjoy her company, but tomorrow, I could use a few miles to myself.

I am conscious of the desire not to wish my life away, but I am very anxious for this week to be over.

Go listen to some good music: "Map of the Problematique" from the album Black Holes and Revelations by Muse.

21 September 2010

Just a touch

Text message from the son this afternoon: Guess who's Top Dog this year?!?! BTW, possibility of car? XD

In reply, me: WOOT! Mebbe.

The son: LOLOLOLOL!! God, I'm blessed to have such a cool family!

Was it just the "WOOT!"?

Go listen to some good music: "Just a Touch" from the album Life's Rich Pageant by REM. Evidently, a couple of the son's friends have asked if I might adopt them. Not sure why, since I'm known as the hardass disciplinarian mom. Who plays Halo. And Top Dog, for the uninitiated, is the kid who has a featured part in the monthly high school video magazine.

20 September 2010

Future perfect waiting

I am well and truly home. The son immediately came down with a sore throat, the spouse's trial was immediately continued, and the daughter immediately needed new clothes (which necessitated an immediate trip to South Coast Plaza).

And now that I've finally made my peace with the last two years, the bombs started to rain down again this afternoon.

But I've already talked myself off that ledge, at least for now.

Why, yes! This is why I run away from home. The concert may be the centerpiece, the raison d'ĂȘtre, but there is no small measure of Escape from Alcatraz in the whole affair. And a new city to explore plus three perfect hours that are all mine.

I left for SNA on Wednesday at a leisurely 9 am, and immediately ran into trouble.

My backpack still contained a half-consumed bottle of water from the Columbus trip (completely my own fault, I admit it). And TSA was pulling the largest bottle from everyone's quart bag for testing. So while one person was running around with my backpack, I'm yelling after the other, "That's my contact solution. Please don't contaminate it!"

The entire trip to Dallas went that way, and I closed my eyes each time and told myself, "Small inconvenience. Not a major obstruction."

En route to Pittsburgh, the sun set, and I alternated between my book and watching the lights bloom in the darkness below.

"I hate it when you leave," the daughter wailed the day before my departure.

"Yes, because the beatings commence the second your mother is out the door," the spouse observed drily.

Still, I was appalled at how guilty I felt about leaving, and the guilt manifested itself in making dinner for every night that I would be gone in advance, and ensuring that all lunches are ready to be packed.

I am an enabler. For everyone but myself, it seems.

Still, I went.

My driver was a very chatty man. He told me about the celebrities he'd driven, and I made soft affirmative noises while I craned around trying to see anything out the window that told me about where I was.

It told me that it was late at night.

"I learn alot from my passengers," he continued, cheerfully. "They are always interesting people."

I sensed the invitation, but didn't rise to it. There is little to say about myself. I am not interesting, so I find it easier to leave me everyone else's imagination.

So he told me about Pittsburgh instead, which was much more congenial in my book, and I heard about the Steelers (I don't watch football), and the Penguins (I don't watch hockey), and the Pirates (Baseball. Relief. I could talk about that).

He left me off at my hotel, and the kind young woman who checked me in announced that I had been upgraded to a suite because of "inventory," which I took to mean that the hotel wasn't very busy. She was funny, too, and told me the features of the suite, and because I was traveling alone, she noted, "And you can sleep on the couch, or you can sleep in the bed, or you can sleep in the bed and then on the couch..."

The suite was palatial. It was nearly the size of the house I grew up in. There was a telescope in the room, and for some reason, this made me giggle.

I loved having a giant bed to myself. Except that I couldn't sleep. I'd had a coffee in Dallas, thinking 2:30, fine. But it was 2:30 in L.A., 4:30 in Dallas. And 5:30 in Pittsburgh. And now it was 2:20 am in Pittsburgh. Finally, I drifted off, only to awake a few hours later from a confused dream where I was without a hotel room, except that I had a key for a room at a Marriott, but I went into the room only to find someone else's belongings...

I laid there for a moment, lost in mounds of pillows, wondering. Then I heard noise outside the window, and got up to look out.

It was pouring, rain pelting down everywhere.

Breakfast, I decided. Maybe it will have stopped by then.

It didn't. Which didn't stop me. And before long, I was out walking the wet streets, camera in tow.

You can only cover so much territory, of course.

I knew that Pittsburgh was likely to be the last show I'd see this tour, and once I'd gotten past the being squashed part, my brain was in overdrive trying to catch up with everything I hadn't seen yet.

That's the problem; there is always so much going on that I invariably miss something. I get so caught up in watching the band, that I forget the visuals, never notice that the giant lighting rig moves.

The daughter asked me after Irvine why it is that I never try to play the instruments on Rock Band. I suppose it's a logical question, but it's never occurred to me to try to imitate the magic they create. I am content to watch and listen and enjoy the show.

Time that is all mine.

Go listen to some good music: "Your Hands (Together)" from the album Together by The New P*rnographers. The lyrics here are pretty stream of consciousness--crude plays? Huh?--but there are turns of phrase that sing out to me, the same way the shows tend to. All mine.

19 September 2010

Sometimes our circuits get shorted

By external interference

"Maybe" turned into Pittsburgh, which I think surprised even me. But when the spouse called me to say that one of his cases was going to trial on the 20th and he had to be available to testify, I was left to salvage what I could from the month.

And that was Pittsburgh.

I returned at 11 Friday morning, brain saying "only last night? Really?" as I reeled with exhaustion (I'll sleep when I'm dead, which at this rate...). When I went to pick up the kids from school, J. caught me up--we haven't seen each other since the end of last school year--and reported to me that one of the teachers had cornered her about being room mother.

To which she replied, she'd "do it if Mrs. S. is room mother" with her.

I blinked at her.

"I'll call you," she said, gaily. "We'll work it out."

This is my life: loud music in far away cities by night; room mother by day.

It's the last possible year I can be a room mother.

It means planning this year's graduation.

The show was awesome; they are never anything but awesome. Sometimes, the audience is a bit challenging, and this night, the man to my left took up all his space and half of mine, and gave off an overwhelming miasma of cheap beer and unwashed human. I was pretty squashed, which was both uncomfortable and really distracting for the first five or six songs but fortunately for me, he seemed to prefer sitting, so I got a little breathing space after a bit. At that point, I was able to get more into the spirit of things.

Because, really: Best. Band. Ever.

They would have to be. Airplanes!

Go listen to some good music: "Vital Signs" from the album Moving Pictures by Rush. Pittsburgh was an interesting trip, and I'm still sorting it. And I hit the ground running when I got back, of course. Room mother. For crying out loud.

15 September 2010

Been a long time

Alright, enough of the tedious introspection.

(Look, I'm bored writing this stuff. Why do you think I started a new blog?!)

Time to rock and roll.

Go listen to some good music: "Rock and Roll" from the album Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin.

14 September 2010

I'll hide my smile

Poor AT. She's admitted that she wasn't too thrilled about my phone call last Tuesday. The one that started, "Hey Walking Buddy, the kids are back in school..."

But she's game.

This morning, as I charged down the channel trail, AT in tow, I stopped to admire an egret on the channel, an orb weaver and its web high up in a tree.

I smiled at the dogs that trundled by, pounded the WALK signal button a thousand times.

"Sorry," I told her as I got distracted by a plane soaring overhead. "I look at things..."

She murmured something that sounded like "that's alright."

Most people are confused by my enthusiasms, my boundless energy to know everything, do everything, see everything. I have a cell phone that is three or four years old, and I can't be bothered to replace it, but I will wander off somewhere Very Far Away.

When I got home, I diced and chopped and browned, and now I've almost got tomorrow night's dinner done: Beef...er. I guess we can call it stew. It has wine in it, but not Burgundy.

I went to open the laundry room window to help release the smell of frying salt pork from the house, and saw the Cooper's hawk blinking at me calmly from the fountain. It was gone before I could grab my camera.

Meanwhile, Milton was cussing at Olivier through the dining room window.

As I ran back and forth, working through a thousand little chores, singing at the top of my lungs (always a dangerous proposition), I then saw a little blob on the fountain. It seemed to be a small bird, but it wasn't moving, or splashing. Just sitting.

I walked quietly to the French doors, and the blob continued unmoving. Could a bird have just died on the edge of the fountain? I worried.

I walked through the door and the blob resolved itself into a goldfinch, sitting there little black bead eyes open wide, no motion but for its tail feathers rising and falling with the tiny waves in the fountain. I couldn't even see breath.

"What happened to you?" I asked, as the breeze lifted the downy fluff on its breast.

At which point, the bird emerged from it reverie or coma, and SCREAMED at me, taking off in flustered flight for the far end of the garden. I shook my head.

"Not dead yet," I murmured to Milton who'd come to the screen door to investigate. He stared at me for a moment and then asked about lunch.

My odd and wonderful life.

I rarely read through what I've written here. If I did, I'd probably never write again. But last night I scanned through some of the recent weeks, and was rather surprised to see how dour I've sounded.

I'm actually quite happy. Largely content.

Oh, I grant that I still have plenty of frustrations. The weird notebook stuff, the missing textbook fiasco, the unfilled prescriptions, the thousand little insults and delays that eat my days. But there has been more pleasure to balance out the annoyance and take the sting from the obstructions. Even if it doesn't always sound like it.

And anyway, you can't see me bouncing through the house, singing. Laughing, even.

(The cat does, and he objects. The son will peer at me in confusion, and ask, "Why did you just laugh?" "Because I can," I respond blithely.)

Things have happened. My brain, which can so handily churn through reams of data but rejects out of hand any hypothesis that contains me, has made peace with the universe. The equation is really simple: you smile, I smile, you goof off, I laugh, you laugh, too. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Better to make it a good reaction. It's simple. And simplicity is good. It's a dance in the driveway for the daughter, a discussion of existentialism with the son.

Since the beginning of summer, particularly since mid-August, a lot of the crazy from the last two years has finally shaken out and plenty has gotten back on track. At the end of the day, I'm ok, a little worse for wear, but ok.

I'll hide my smile for as long as it takes me to get out the door. And then no more. The people in my world deserve my smile, and I know my laughter brings them joy.

And I'm glad. Whatever happens, I am glad.

Go listen to some good music: "Outside" from the album Here At Home by Tribe.

12 September 2010

Sunday bloody Sunday

Me: Terminator versus Predator...versus Alien.

The son: Versus Jaws.

The daughter: Versus Anaconda.

Me: Oh, good one! Versus Piranha.

Everybody yells in unison: 3-D!!!

The son: Versus Sonic the Hedgehog.

Me: 'Damn not here.' Okay, versus The People Under the Stairs.

Daughter dissolves into helpless laughter.

Me: Oh! I know. Pennywise the Clown versus Sergeant Johnson.

The son snorts into his plate.

The daughter in Sgt. Johnson voice: "Betta luck next time...chump!"

And that was just breakfast.

Go listen to some good music: "Sunday Bloody Sunday" from the album War by U2. When we do ridiculous, it goes to 11. Oh and yes, breakfast was pancakes and bacon.

10 September 2010

It's still precious

I know that time is short. There is not enough. There probably never could be enough.

It wasn't until the film by the same name came out that I'd heard of a "bucket list." And truthfully, it never occurred to me that I'd want to think out the things I sought to achieve before I died. I tend to be single-minded in my pursuits--if I get it into my head that I want to do something, I will generally find a way to--but those same pursuits are also on the random side. I read a book, part of a larger series, that contained a few pages of adventure in Iceland. It reminded me of a magazine article I'd read as a child about the creation of the island of Surtsey. I decided that I wanted to see Iceland. And since Greenland was nearby and another book I'd read had piqued my interest...

Because I am adept at learning languages, I decided to pick up another in college, and because I'd planned to go into the Foreign Service, I opted for what was considered a "hard" language. My first choice was Chinese, but it turned out that the Chinese professor left as my freshman year was starting, and ultimately, I ended up taking Russian. Going to Moscow and Leningrad presented itself as an opportunity. In the mid-1980s, they weren't exactly tourist hot spots, and probably not the first choice of many travelers, but I jumped at the chance to visit. I have never regretted taking that chance.

By the same token, working in the entertainment industry wasn't something I'd ever considered, nor was authoring and editing papers in the sciences. But those things added interest and value to my life as well as skills, and taught me a great deal: about an industry, about people, about the world.

Goals are good, and I have those, random and otherwise. I take my responsibilities seriously, and one of my primary goals in the recent past has been to raise self-sufficient, thoughtful and moral children. Who are, preferably, also fun. Talk about a lot of work, but has it ever paid off, for them particularly, but also for me (because they are fun).

Some of my goals are concrete, some amorphous. There are things I will do, and there are things I'd like to do, given the motivation, world enough, and of course, time.

So I have ideas about things I'd like to achieve, but I've learned it's also important to leave space for the unexpected, which can bring unexpected joy. Most of us have experience with unexpected sorrow, the loss that we could never imagine, but what about its opposite? Do you give time for that? Have you had a moment, completely unlooked for, that was overwhelming and beautiful and changed your perception of possiblity forever? The late night conversation that continues until morning, the crazy adventure in a fjord, the song that stabs you in the heart and spreads fire to your fingertips...

Much of my early life was nothing but work, a constant, just keeping my head above water. Oh, there was the surprise of a meteor shower, or a rare moment alone, a chance to dance with a boy I liked, maybe the discovery of a life-changing book. But far too often, I refused. "I don't have time," I'd respond regretfully. That only lasted until I realized that there are times when you make time, that everything has its own time.

Time is short. When I say this to others, they tend to misunderstand, thinking that I mean other things. But I am thinking of my time. It's unlikely that we'll know when the moment is to arrive, but amongst my friends and loved ones, I have seen enough illness, plenty of accidents and sufficient injury to know that when the moment comes, its irrevocable. So I look long but live like there may not be a next time. I suspect that even without the daily reminders of my own mortality, I would live this way anyway.

Recently, I was at the salon, and the woman who does my hair and I were talking about the silver decorating my skull, and I said that maybe I would just let it go. And MC was pretty horrified (she's young yet), and asked when? When did I think I would do this terrible thing?

"For my 50th birthday," I mused.

"But," she said, confused. "That's still quite a ways off..."

"Yes," I replied, "but we can start planning now."

At which point, she got the spirit of the thing and said, "You used to have a mohawk. I could give you a silver mohawk."

"And I could start a new blog," I cried gaily. "'Old Lady With a Mohawk'."

Time is short. Too short to be frustrated with the stupid little inanities of yesterday. Too short to be angry over what is inconsequential. What we have is now, and myriad little ways to ensure that each day is lived well. So every morning, I take the son to school, and we laugh over something stupid. This morning we were body checking each other back and forth across the street. Some days, I make a really good meal; other days it's enough to play with the cat's belly fur. Not too often, I take a little time away to reboot myself. I do a dance for the daughter most mornings as the spouse pulls out of the driveway to take her to school, waving my hands above my head, doing the cancan. I've no doubt the neighbors think I'm out of my mind. And it may be that I am. But if it happens that it's the last time the daughter sees me, she will always remember there was laughter.

I know that I am dying, and there is a relief in this certainty. It may be that I am dying no faster than the world around me, or perhaps I'll go sooner, but it is a sure thing. I feel neither fear nor sorrow at the knowledge, just the press of time. I've got work to do, goals to meet, goodness to embrace, love to give and receive, and I'm making the time.

Go listen to some good music: "Bravest Face" from the album Snakes & Arrows by Rush. Okay, let me be abundantly clear: this is not the "I'm shuffling off this mortal coil" post. I wouldn't tell you even if I knew. That would be macabre and depressing, for me, at least. The inspiration actually arises from two things: my half-brother's death in his 40s and September 11. I was still in my 30s when both those events took place, and what struck me both times was the relative youth of those who died. I've lived with various ills for so long, I've found that I am always incredibly grateful for the gift of another year. Oh sure, I could live without the aching joints and the grey hair and the *wrinkles* and what seems like a system-wide cascade failure, but I don't have a problem with the idea of a bigger number. It means I'm still being given time to do what I can and what I want. And for the record, this was a scary post to write. Hmm. Let me rephrase that. It was a scary post to publish.

08 September 2010

With your arms around the future

And your back up against the past

I haven't a right to feel sad, and I certainly have no reason. In fact, I have every reason to be dancing and leaping with joy.

(And I am, actually, except for the part about being blue.)

Some days I just don't know where it comes from. For the moment, everything in my own world is (dare I say it?) ok.

I make my wishes; I make my plans.

And I keep my eyes on the road; I'm steering in the direction where I want to go.

Go listen to some good music: "The Voice" from the album Long Distance Voyager by The Moody Blues. Yes, today I was moody. And blue. Better now, really. Happy, actually. Though the headache isn't helping.

06 September 2010

And you're full of doubt

A holiday here in the U.S., the one that officially marks the end of the summer season. One of those Monday holidays that will leave me guessing for the remainder of the week what day it actually is.

Thus, it was a day for familial duty, lunch with the spouse's parents, and my monthly visit to clean up my MIL's computers and make them run properly again.

My octogenarian in-laws are a bit like toddlers with more skills and resources. I don't say that to be nasty or disrespectful. I worry about them, especially as I've seen them really age in the last few years (my own mother, who is quite a bit younger, is sufficiently far away that I can't actually see what's going on with her, and one of my younger sisters lives near her, so I know that if there were a problem, I'd probably hear about it). I don't feel like there is much that I can do for my in-laws as the wife of the youngest son (especially with other complications related to other family members), so I make encouraging noises about the gerontology department at the local hospital, nutritional counseling, and special programs for people over 65.

And I worry. And I show up and fix the computers and listen carefully to what they say and make gentle (and occasionally, at-my-wits-end) suggestions, thinking about their health and safety, trying to maintain enough distance not to seem intrusive.

Most importantly, I don't let my teenagers shirk these visits, though I know that these days, they'd prefer to do so. But these two kids are the light of their grandparents' lives. My in-laws haven't always been easy to deal with, but one of the best things I've ever done is to ensure that my children have a strong relationship with their grandparents, and it hurts to remind them that someday, their grandparents won't be here to share in their lives.

Still I fret, and wonder if there is more I should be doing for them.

Go listen to some good music: "School" from the album Crime of the Century by Supertramp. My MIL and I had a very uneasy relationship early on, but I think the day that things started to change was the day that I went after a street vendor in Cartagena who wouldn't leave off harassing her. I was hugely pregnant, my maternal protection instincts in high gear, and you want speaking in tongues? She couldn't understand a word I said, but he certainly could.

04 September 2010

Waterloo, part deux

I've regained my equilibrium. The yak made it to town, and the textbook was brought to me by the person who received it by accident.

And I otherwise had a tremendously productive day, and then proceeded to get into major mischief. Good mischief.

Really good mischief.

Go listen to some good music: "Waterloo" from the album Waterloo by ABBA. No, I'm not telling you now. You'll figure it out.

03 September 2010


I'll grant you, it's only the Waterloo of the week, not my life. And I will further grant you that this is a first world problem. But for crying out loud!

Every school year, there is one teacher who requires the students to produce some arcane item that can only be located in Mongolia, requires special order, and is shipped via yak. This year it is a notebook, an incredibly special notebook that must meet precise specifications (black cover, produced by Mead, to these dimensions) and is not actually for sale anywhere. If I could wave my magic wand...


Then there is the textbook fiasco. Back when I was in high school in the Cretaceous, we had actual bookstores, on campus, that sold us our textbooks every year along with the odd pencil or pen. It was convenient, efficient, and cost effective--considerations that have long since been kicked to the curb in 2010.

(Where is my jetpack? My flying car? No, I have THE INTERNET!)

Anyway, the son's school, of course, so cutting edge, only uses these complete loser online textbook outfits (insert some form of scathing scatalogical commentary on their loser status that I am too incensed to even try to come up with) that charge me--no joke--$175.00 for a calculus textbook. The school sees fit to finally send me the kid's class list last week so I can order said textbooks. The textbook outfit doesn't even know what is in stock, and then UPS loses the order. And here we are, Friday night at the start of a long weekend, with me on the phone to UPS and UPS telling me I have to contact the shipper, who might, MIGHT, be back in the office on Tuesday. Meanwhile, my kid needs his calculus textbook. And do I have any recourse to finding him one besides through the loser online outfit?


And what about the notebook, only available in Mongolia via special order and shipped on yak back? Hell if I know!

Go listen to some good music: "Waterloo" from the album Waterloo by ABBA.

02 September 2010

These accidents of faith and nature

The gate--and most of the terminal--was deserted but for a bored woman at the desk who seemed to be spending her shift talking on her cell phone.

With a ridiculous 3-hour layover ahead of me, I settled in to read.

It was the noise, of course, that alerted me first. Raucous high spirits. The group of men who approached the gate were really loud. I inspected them carefully without appearing to really look at them. They were diverse, and dressed with equal diversification: some in attire better suited to a basketball court, others in business casual. Some had lanyards around their necks, and one of the better dressed men was carrying a large, well-used Bible.

No threat, I decided and went back to my book.

But they were loud, and they ranged all around the gate area, calling back and forth to one another, carrying on conversations with each other and on their cell phones. I gathered--whether I wanted to or not--that they'd been to some sort of a conference, Christian in nature, with speakers and preaching and book signings and meet and greets. I couldn't help but be amused by their assessments of evangelists who aggressively passed the hat and those who trusted the faithful to be generous. I also smiled over their discussion of a particularly popular female speaker who evidently was popular for more than her fine speaking skills alone.

After a bit, an older woman came and sat down across from me. We exchanged smiles, and she pointed out the tiny plane that awaited us and I groaned. She noted that she'd missed her earlier flight out, which would have been on a real plane, and it would be dark when we arrived in Ohio and she still would have to face a two-hour drive. I commiserated with her on this bit of bad luck, feeling fortunate that tiny plane or no, at least I'd face only a 10-minute taxi ride once we landed.

The time came to board the toy airplane, and we lined up and had to gate-check our carry ons. The flight attendant was a happy man who was cheerful and pleasant, and greeted every one of us as though we were friends.

And I walked in the door.

I am tall and found myself ducking down to avoid hitting my head on the ceiling, then scuttling sideways, crab-like, down the aisle toward my seat. Two hours, I thought, sighing inwardly.

The other passengers packed in: the older woman was in front of me, the group of conference-goers sprinkled throughout, a soldier behind me. There was a good deal of chatter and considerable complaint about the size of the plane, and the flight attendant wandered about dispensing good-natured commentary, telling everyone that he'd had the entire team of Harlem Globetrotters on this plane and they fit just fine, so stop complaining about how small it is!

The conference goers were still comparing notes on their books and the speakers they'd seen, in addition to teasing one of their number who was especially tall. The older woman turned around and called out to the soldier that she appreciated his service, that she had a son near his age, and was he on his way home? He thanked her and responded that he would be attending school for a time before he was redeployed. The woman behind me was speaking to her cat, who was along for the ride, and telling everyone excitedly about her new job.

After taxiing for miles, the plane took off. As we ascended, the conference goers started to pass around chewing gum, and kindly offered me some as well. Conversation continued, and the serviceman regaled those of nearby with a story of landing in Pakistan in a transport plane that required skis. I smiled to myself, wondering when I'd last been on a flight where there was so much camaraderie amongst strangers.

Eventually, I settled back to reading, and the flight was proceeding smoothly while I pretended I was on a train. Before long, the horizon was nothing more than a thin line of pink and the sky darkened. Finally, I felt the plane shift, nose pointing downward, as we began to descend into Columbus.

I'd stopped paying much attention to the people talking around me, but I suddenly became aware of a man--one of the conference goers--praying aloud in the deep and booming tones of a person accustomed to making sure that his voice carries throughout a church. I wasn't sure why he was praying but for a moment, I listened only to the cadence of his voice, not really paying any mind to the words, until I saw that he was holding the hands of the older woman in front of me and that her head was bowed. She was on her way to pick up a loved one who'd become very ill on vacation, she'd told us shakily. I don't remember the man's exact words, only the sense of them, as he asked that the woman be protected on the remainder of her journey and that the person that she was on her way to see be restored to health. His voice was compelling and warm, and as he spoke, several of the other men joined him, their voices resonating in the tiny plane.

I turned my back on organized religion and its practice a lifetime ago, primarily because I could no longer endure the self-important tyrants who did the unspeakable in the name of a God they'd created in their own foul image. I am mystified by the adherents who cry divinity and yet lack the imagination that would allow their God to rise above the petty humanity with which they endow Him. It is the abuse of religion that offends me, the use of it as a weapon and to engender fear that I cannot abide.

While religious constructs are meaningless to me, I know too well that the meaning is deep and the convictions concrete for others, including the majority of my extended family. That's fine. There is plenty of room in my own flexible worldview for others to practice what is important to them, as long as they practice what they preach.

I bore witness to something magnificent that night as the plane returned to Earth, something small but heartening, something that seems to exist too infrequently: true brotherly love. A heart with comfort to give responded to the heart that needed it most at that moment, unselfconsciously. What occurred was real communion between two strangers, and it was very moving. It was the kindness that religious teaching is meant to create.

The plane landed and we all gathered our belongings, said our goodbyes to the cat that had been so silent throughout the trip. As we filed off the plane, we bade our flight attendant farewell as though he was our friend. I wished the serviceman well and told him that I hoped he never had to ride in a plane with skis again. I waved goodnight to the conference goer who had offered me gum.

Singly, in twos and threes, and in small groups, we walked through the deserted terminal into the night.

Go listen to some good music: "The Lightning Strike" from the album A Hundred Million Suns by Snow Patrol.

01 September 2010

Wake me up inside

I don't really watch much in the way of TV, but I love films and I willingly watch anything that piques my interest. I have a fondness for art house films, and in the years before marriage and children, I could often be found on a Saturday afternoon engrossed in something foreign or off-the-wall or experimental. Amusingly, I found out that my friend J. was often visiting those same theaters in her off hours. It always makes me wonder how close we come throughout our daily lives to meeting people that we eventually end up friends with anyway.

I don't always get to the theater when films are released...scheduling, scheduling, scheduling...and often I rely on the cable TV's On Demand feature (it's also a lot cheaper than the movie theater these days. Aiyiyi). This was how I finally saw 500 Days of Summer over the summer, and made the kids watch it, too, not just because it's delightful, but because it says so much about the misguided expectations that can emerge in relationships. I suspect that we've all been on one end of that or the other at some point.

Today, I watched Cairo Time, which is an emotionally complex film about loneliness, love, companionship and desire that masquerades as a simple little movie--almost a travelogue--about a woman awaiting the arrival of her husband in Cairo. While 500 Days of Summer is about young love, Cairo Time is much more about something unexpected awakening in two adults who are experienced in the ways of relationships. It is a lovely story, told in companionable silences and a game of chess, in vast cultural differences and the troubles in the Middle East. While there is humor in the film, the situations aren't played broadly for laughs. And I could so clearly identify with Juliette, the main character, who announces without preamble or explanation that she wants to explore, who wanders streets alone when she's told not to and ends up in an uncomfortable situation, who blunders (obliviously) into a cafe that is for men only, who lives her life as though she is invulnerable when she is clearly anything but.

To say much more about the film would be to ruin the pleasure in watching it unfold in its own time, at its own pace, poignantly. Unsurprisingly, after watching it, I was ready to leave home again, immediately.

Go listen to some good music: "Bring Me to Life" from the album Fallen by Evanescence.