30 June 2011

I see the crystal visions

When I dream...

I was lost in trees. I was lost. The trees were huge, towering far above my head. I was lost. The trees resolved themselves into legs, huge stumps of legs, the legs of giants. One of the giants slowly picked me up by the pink dress I was wearing.

I was lost.

When I dream...

I am flying. Flight, however, doesn't come free. I am flying because I am in danger. I run, and take to the sky, but the motion is clumsy. I haven't the grace of birds, but the heaviness of a human. I am swimming through thick air, kicking my legs hard to gain altitude. What threatens is below, in the valley, waiting for me to falter, to fall. I struggle to stay up high near the mountains where I am safe. To the west, the sun is setting, and time passes too quickly. There is no pleasure in flying; it is flight.

The threat waits below, waits for me to fail.

When I dream...

The field is beautiful, and the bright light of a summer's sun falls gently on the impossibly green grass, dotted all about with tiny flowers. As the bullet hits me, I know it is over (but you can't die in dreams, my waking self informs as my dream self recognizes the lack of validity in that thought), and the ground rises up. I feel the cool damp of the grass on the left side of my face, smell the summer vegetal scent, and marvel at the sharp relief of each blade of grass, each minuscule daisy. Slowly, the world slides out of focus, and I am calm.

Fade to black.

When I dream...

I dream of you, but infrequently. You are laughing at me, or perhaps more precisely, something I have done amuses you. I wait for you, here and there, wait patiently. I know eventually you will show; it is in the contract. Conversely, I see you waiting for me, here and there, impatient. You don't know if I will arrive; the nature of the rules that govern me are different, and you accept this, albeit unwillingly. But you wait, same as me, and I see you, grim set to your mouth, try to fight your desire to fidget, which makes me smile. At another time, we climb a hill together in the dusk, and stand side by side, our bodies relaxed into one another, as we watch the sun drop toward the horizon.

We stand together.

Go listen to some good music: "Dreams" from the album Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. When I was younger, I tended to dream most vividly in the summer, when the thunderstorms raged, and my brain finally let go of the intensity of school. Fleetwood Mac was always a summertime band for me, and like so many others, those songs evoke a very particular time and place, whether an attic bedroom in a sweltering DC August, or an outdoor concert on a broiling Arizona afternoon.

29 June 2011

Merrily we roll along

It is late and I need to sleep because tomorrow is another day, filled with too much driving and too much...stuff.

At some point, I catch up, don't I?

Go listen to some good music: "Merrily We Roll Along" by Lord Invader from the album Smithsonian Folkways Children's Collection.

27 June 2011

I'll tell you once more...

Over the weekend, we saw Super 8. And no, it wasn't just because of the daughter. It was partly because back in those days, I was the kid with the 8mm camera.

(Of course!)

I inherited it from my much older cousin who was stationed at Davis Monthan during the Vietnam War. He was cleaning out a lot of his belongings--I can't remember if it was before another deployment or if he was heading off to another base--and because I was next eldest cousin (I was 11), I got cassette tapes, the camera and a projector.

(I loved the scene where Charles is asking the stoner kid how long it will take to get his film developed. "Three days," I whispered. "Three days," said the stoner kid. And I giggled helplessly behind my hand. In those days, I spent all my small earnings on film developing, and I could tell you instantly what three days was from any day.)

Of course, the kids both really enjoyed the film and I saw the wheels turning in the daughter's head. I know neither of them can fathom the concept of film, and waiting to see what you shot. Some days, I can't either.

(It also saddened me a little to see the easy, unconstructed friendships in the movie; kids whipping down hills on their bikes; and a time when children were allowed down time to build models, and were conversant in eighteen shades of grey.)

The movie was a good lead in for today. I'd signed both kids up for a weeklong TV production workshop at the daughter's new school. I was less worried about her learning much about production--she's got the next four years and beyond for that--and more concerned that she become familiar with the physical plant of the place she'll likely spend the next four years. She's spent the last 10 years in the same tiny and protected environs, so high school will be quite a change for her. And since the son takes multimedia at his school, I thought it wouldn't hurt for him to get some outside exposure to some real equipment. But mostly it was about demystification.

And sure enough, when I picked them up this afternoon, they were chattering happily about the stuff they'd written and filmed that day.

"And the people were nice?" I asked hopefully.

"Yup," said the daughter.

"They were so normal," said the son. "And a girl asked me for my phone number."

When I related this to the spouse later, he shook his head, laughing. "Three years at his school, nothing. One day at the daughter's school..."

Well, to be fair, a nice young woman asked the son to the Sadie Hawkins' dance this past year, but I know what the spouse means: the son is seeing a place where it's not all about the date of the next SAT, but the possibility of a date with a girl.

Go listen to some good music: "Don't Bring Me Down" from the album Greatest Hits by Electric Light Orchestra. I really enjoyed Super 8. And for contrast, let me tell you how much I loathed ET.

24 June 2011

I was trapped in transit

With summer, a lot of burdens fell away.

The first part of the week, the kids did nothing but sleep. I still rose at my accustomed early hour, but with a sense of relief rather than one of resignation and dread.

But there are enormous changes on the horizon.

It's been warmer with little gloom, mostly sunny, in the 80sF, with cool breezes as evening approaches. The air makes my skin tingle. The smell of jasmine, buddleia, and gardenia makes me sneeze (but I like it anyway).

Today, the son and I went out in the morning to tidy up the front garden. He mowed the lawn that I am hopeful to part with sooner rather than later, while I cut back the jasmine, buddleia and gardenia (sneezing), as well as the camellias, and I cleaned out the dead plants in the window boxes--the plumber somehow managed to turn off their water supply when we had the water/gas fiasco at Christmas. They've been dead for awhile, taunting me, but climbing around shrubs and walls has not been my strong suit of late.

Usually, an hour or two in a morning, and I have all the beds cleared and trimmed, but now, of course, that would be more than optimistic. I was happy to get the one straightened out, especially since I'd done the other a month or so ago when I washed the windows. I've acknowledged--though I don't want to fully admit--that I'll need help with the heavier jobs in the future. Climbing ladders is probably a thing of the past. I am stubborn, but I'm not stupid.

The summer stretches before me, usually a time with a sense of possibility. Now, a time of responsibility. Time to revisit the concept of "orthodontist" (poor daughter), to put the son to work, to plan for what lies ahead for the two of them.

But the breeze brushes against my arms, and I shiver slightly with the memory of warmer winds, running wild and barefoot on starlit nights filled with the scent of jasmine and mock orange. I close my eyes and I can almost imagine the moment when I shed my skin and head toward the sky. I want to throw aside the necessary and revisit the possible.

I want to jump ship. I want to follow my own compass, which is pointing with such determination to points unknown.

If only for a day, an hour.

Go listen to some good music: "Mutiny, I Promise You" from the album Challengers by The New P*rnographers. Yup, this is what happens when my plans are thwarted.

22 June 2011

Dream of far away

I lead a charmed life.

Sometimes it's almost enough to make me believe in fate or destiny. Generally, I just believe in the hard work which has gotten me where I'm going most of my life. But occasionally, there is a certain element of...magic? Things happen, people come into my life, a confluence of events and there it is.

It's like I was waiting my whole life for this, for you, and I didn't even know it. But there it is, and chills run right through my body as I recognize it.

I'm a workhorse. No other way to put it, really. A perpetual motion machine, a brain that never stops, an aerialist on the high wire who has to keep moving or fall. But the electricity stopped me in my tracks at the beginning, in the middle, tell me there is no end. I could fall. I have fallen. In the best way possible. But the currents and eddies hold me aloft, prevent gravity and gravitas from marring my delight.

Things hiss and hum along. I meet my obligations. I am serious. I am direct. I am pragmatic. I am logical. "You have all the cuddliness of a hand grenade," a friend once told me reprovingly.

Probably true. At least she didn't say "porcupine."

But still, there was magic...

It's not that I'm unromantic, I just keep it well hidden. How was I to confess at 14 and nearly six feet tall that all I really wanted was to be able to put my head on a boy's shoulder when I was dancing with him? The short answer: I didn't. Yet it never stopped me from occasionally wanting to hand the reins over to someone else, to be swept off my size 10 feet. But I set that aside. Accepted that I had a good life nonetheless. I worked hard for my degrees, hard for my jobs, hard in my jobs. I never lost my joy, but I was serious, so serious.

Yet, magic.

I set the wheels in motion. I don't deny that. Young, gauche, incredibly naive, I talked my way into improbabilities. And then wondered how to get myself out again. Usually a smile and a quick-witted remark saved my silly bacon, that and long legs and the ability to back quickly out of tight spots.

I remember thinking, "Perhaps I should have thought this through."

I remember thinking, "Now what?"

And I have to laugh at my courageous, utterly ridiculous younger self. She was careful and hurt nothing, hurt no one. She had a good heart, a firm resolve and absolutely no idea what she was doing.

But she made magic.

Eventually, the time came to set my heart loose again. Older, a little wiser, I let it go where it would. The results were surprising and funny.

And magic.

I'm still serious. And logical. The aerialist on the high wire, moving forward so she won't drop the balls, the dish, won't fall, won't bring the world down around her. And I'm still reasonably clueless, still careful. But I think that magic might live in that space in between, the moment between breaths that leaves me breathless. There it is.

Oh, there is the aggravating and the angering and the days and weeks and months when nothing goes right. Still, I am certain.

I lead a charmed life.

Go listen to some music: "Magic" from the album Pilot (From the Album of the Same Name) by Pilot. This started with the idea "I lead a charmed life" (which I DO. Don't doubt that) that I was playing around with whilst being miserable on the exercise bike this morning. This is one of those cases where the idea took control, and I was just the typist. It went far afield of what I had in mind.

21 June 2011

Don't panic

The daughter: "I couldn't even squeak out 'Hi!'"

Me: "I'm pretty sure I heard you say 'Hi.'"

The daughter: "My mouth opened and nothing came out. I squeaked. And you were just chatting with them."

Me: "I wasn't chatting..."

The daughter: "You were. Chatting! I was so envious. I was just standing there with a dumb smile and my eyes all huge."

Me: "I said, 'Hi.' 'Thank you.' and 'We will.' That isn't chatting."

The daughter, mournfully: "I was so envious."

Me: "And then, of course, Jack Black."

The daughter: "AUGH!"

The truth is, and I told her this, that in some cases, the gulf between 14 and 40 is pretty narrow.

Go listen to some good music: "Don't Panic" from the album Parachutes by Coldplay. So what happened? Seven years happened. Though 10 is maybe more significant. And 30 is back where it began. Mostly I'm ok with where I ended up.

20 June 2011

The force goes into the flow

Tonight was a little about redemption.

The daughter is still wide-eyed--poor child. Of the many gifts I gave her, unfortunately one was my predilection to shyness--but for once I behaved like a normal human being. Third time is the charm.

Tonight was hard.

I had to sit--a lot--and I'm not accustomed to doing so. Every time I moved, pain shot out in bright sparks everywhere. The music tonight was almost alive, swirling with electricity. Zephyrs blew past, lifting my hair.

I had to sit--I didn't want to--and I tried to relax into the sound. Bass and drums filled my chest, became my new heartbeat. When I put my hand to my sternum, I could feel them there.

Tonight was precious. Always is.

Mine. All mine.

Go listen to some good music: "Marathon" from the album Power Windows by Rush. All mine.

19 June 2011

Bloom and grow forever

"To my friends and family, my teachers and my peers, I thank you for coming here tonight.....As many of you know, I have been attending [this school] for ten years. Let me pause to allow that sentence to sink in. TEN YEARS! So it’s time to move on."

In the finest tradition of fiction, but not always in reality, all's well that ends well, and tears were shed, events were resolved, realizations were made, and an end led to new beginnings.

"...I can tell you that making a movie takes a lot of hard work. A lot of people are involved...and it takes a lot of team work to get to the final product. If our years [here] were a film, each one of you would figure in it, whether you’re a student, a teacher or a parent. Our rolls have varied in this film. One day you might be the producer. Some days, you’re the actor. Occasionally, and we’ve all been there, you’re an extra and you just have a walk-on scene. Whatever the case, your roll has mattered and whether you’ve been here for ten years or for only one, tonight’s production is the sum of the work, the play and the unique personalities of each of us. But now we’re done. Tomorrow, we start a new project..."

With the help of a lemon drop after the two-hour proceedings, I was able to say my goodbyes, too. I don't remember to whom it was attributed, but yesterday, I saw a quote that said, "Take the high road; the view is better." And it's so true. I gave thanks and blessings to those who were deserving, and simply said nothing to those who have caused hurt. Sometimes it's easy to forget how in our intertwined lives the right word in the right ear can do a world of good, while the angry word can do a world of harm. I'm old enough now to know when to pull my punches, and this week, pulled more than I really wanted to.

But ultimately, I was glad that I did.

"Our lives are our productions, too, so make a movie that you are proud to star in...This, ladies and gentlemen, is a wrap."

I look back at 10 years and I see all the people who have figured in that time. Some have moved on; some have died. I've forgotten the names of others, but remember their faces with fondness.

In the end, I wearied of that place. There were many reasons, but a increasingly pervasive mean-spiritedness--amongst administrators and some parents, primarily--was chief among them. Anger is contagious, and I found it more and more difficult to keep a distance from all that. I'm grateful for the good people, the hard-working and kind and strong teachers and administrators who have been real role models for my kids. I'm grateful for the friendships I had with like-minded parents, no matter how few those were. I'm grateful for the moments when I had the chance to put the good word in the right ear, and maybe make a positive difference in the life of a child.

Right now, the silence of my own house echoes around me. The spouse has taken my mother off to the airport, and then is going on the batting cage with the kids. It's been days since I had my time and my mind to myself.

But the echo is reminiscent of that day ten years ago, when I realized I was alone in my house for the first time in seven years, and for a slight, panicky moment, wondered what I was going to do with myself. The panic gave way to a thrill of excited pleasure when I realized that vistas had just opened before me.

As they have once again.

This, ladies and gentleman, is a wrap.

Go listen to some good music: "Edelweiss" from the musical The Sound of Music, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Quotes are from the daughter's salutatorian speech. We sang this song at *my* kindergarten promotion, and I've never forgotten the lyrics. After several days, the tension is finally falling away, though I was able, thankfully, to recognize the good that night, and leave the bad aside.

15 June 2011

Tick-tock of the clock is painful

Tomorrow is it. The daughter is counting down the hours until she's done. My own countdown is more private, no less final.

Ten years.

My dreams have been vivid, largely horrid the last week. Dreams of betrayal and betraying. Endings are just as hard for me. This parting should have been a good one, but some of the good has been lost because of the sour, the infernal, the one really nasty person who resents smart and talented kids.

I breathe deep and remember it's almost done.

I never let on what hurts me. I tell my kids what matters and who doesn't, counsel them to patience and to acceptance that some people are just awful for no reason except their personal awfulness. I remind them it's not their fault that someone else is petty and mean. I remind them to take the high road.

But my own fury is as fresh and passionate as before.

Almost over. But the clock seems to tick backwards.

Go listen to some good music: "Inside Out" from the album Eve 6 by Eve 6. I wish it was a happy ending instead of a relieved ending. But I reached the end of my rope 3 years ago.

13 June 2011

No design for manicured living

We are in the inevitable last week wherein EVERYTHING is happening. Including my mother showing up tomorrow, despite my broad hints that a visitor isn't a good idea right now.

(Insert lengthy rant revolving around...oh, everything. S'ok, you really don't want to read all that stuff.)

On the funny side, the daughter got her salutatorian speech back with the criticism that the ending wasn't strong enough, and she was fussed so I added four sentences, and then she got it back with rave reviews, and she's mad that the part *I* wrote got the raves. Which is why I don't ever even read the kids' stuff. And they used to think I was mean for not helping them with editing.

(Amusingly--or not--one of her readers was an administration person whose grammar I had to correct... )

I just need to get through...well, Thursday, at the very least. By mid-day Sunday, I should really be back on track. And a week from today? As the son likes to say:

W00T!

So there is that.

Go listen to some good music: "Ephemeral (This Is No Heaven)" from the album ...undone by Lucy Show. And thank god, the track dolly just got finished without loss of limb or anyone's foot getting drilled--yes, a project the son had to do for school! Have I mentioned I took woodshop...?

09 June 2011

Right through you

Late Saturday night, I saw the start of the #YAsaves campaign on Twitter and went to read the Meghan Cox Gurdon article from the Wall St. Journal that started it all. I was outraged (in part by some of the commentary that followed the article. PMRC redux) and in part by the article itself. I wanted to start my own fountain of flame but thought better of it and went to bed instead.

But you know, I'm still outraged.

I cancelled my WSJ subscription years ago, precisely because WSJ started to print crap like this. You can thank Rupert Murdoch. I largely consider WSJ to be beneath my notice these days, and while I appreciate *real* journalism that presents valid, well-researched information and inspires honest dialogue, I don't like the stinky, jaundiced kind that is trying to foment a flame war.

The gist of Gurdon's complaint seems to be that some current YA books are nasty. They are the teen equivalent, in some ways, of pulp fiction. They have nasty content, nasty characters, nasty endings. Lurid covers that suck sweet, innocent teens into a world of horror. Some of the stories are stories of hopelessness, ugliness and pain. Because you know, in the real world, there is no child murder nor are there child molesters, child rapists, children dying in wars, children dying from the stray bullets fired in their neighborhoods. Teens killing their newborns, their parents, their classmates. Teens taking drugs, making drugs, dealing drugs, prostituting themselves, and walking in front of trains. Nope, none of that happens in the real world. Not once has a little girl ever been snatched from her neighborhood and held in captivity for years while she's raped repeatedly, eventually bearing her abuser two children. Nowhere has a teen girl ever been kidnapped on her way to school, raped, stabbed to death and her body hidden until her killer takes the police to its location after he's been captured for raping and murdering another young woman who was out running. And of course, no drunken mob would ever beat a young gay man to death just because he's gay nor would a student shoot his gay high school classmate to death in the classroom. No parent has ever helped her child to bully another child to death via social networking. No mother has ever executed her two teenagers because they were "mouthy." In the real world, no one gets hurt, and Prince or Princess Charming shows up in the nick of time, and airplanes never, ever fly into skyscrapers. It's only in YA literature that bad things happen.

Would that we could all live in Gurdon's nice, tidy world of happy little endings.

There are bad books out there. I get that and so do a lot of other responsible and involved parents. Poorly written and wholly inappropriate books. Books that really should not have ever seen the light of day. And you *can* blame the publishers. And you *can* blame the writers. And you *can* blame the libraries and the bookstores. And you *can* blame the people who buy it and read it. But should you?

The point Gurdon almost makes in her article, but actually manages not to quite comprehend herself, is that at any given time, contemporary literature does, in fact, respond to contemporary concerns. Without the atomic bomb, it's unlikely that Nevil Shute would have written On the Beach, which is one of the saddest and most hopeless books ever written as an entire community waits for death, horrible death, from radiation poisoning. Social abuses figure hugely in Charles Dickens' oeuvre and in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. I don't know if Gurdon has ever read Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, which was widely taught when I was a sophomore in high school, but the scene in which the wine cask breaks is stomach-turning in the avidity with which citizens pursue the red liquid that is a metaphor for the blood that will shortly flow freely in the French streets, lapping it from the cobblestones, dipping their cups and kerchiefs in it the better to drink. Welcome to the French Revolution.

As Gurdon points out, in the 1960s, social changes led to socially disonant books... I wonder why? With a divorce rate of 50%, families in complete disarray, a total disregard for personal responsibility, war and poverty and real human pain raging everywhere, what rainbows are adults handing off to the younger generations in real life? Who gets a happy ending? Social disintegration is going to be reflected in the entertainments of that society.

So here's a challenge for you, Meghan Cox Gurdon and all you folks snug in your safe, warm little fantasies: you want people to start making better young adult stories? Then you better start working on making a better world.

Go listen to some good music: "Right Through You" from the album Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette. "I know how hard you're trying to wage guerrilla warfare on social ills," the spouse said after reading this. The sad truth is that I've been sitting on this since Sunday when I wrote it. There have been lots of responses to the original article; the best and most measured is Sherman Alexie's (here), the author of one of the books that Gurdon attacked. He said it better than anyone else I've seen. And yeah, reading did save me, though it wasn't YA lit, which I backed into later on.

08 June 2011

Good times roll

The daughter: "Mommy, I'm working on my salutatorian speech."

Me: "That's good."

Around here, it's mostly been studying for finals. And she's fussed about the language placement exam she takes at the high school this weekend.

The daughter, clearing her throat, then intoning: "Good evening, family and friends, and thank you for joining us here tonight at graduation. I have been at [this school] for 10 years and tonight is the happiest night of my life..."

Me, laughing so hard I can not stop.

The daughter: "Mommy!"

Right with you there, my little girl.

Even if that wasn't what you meant.

Go listen to some music: "Good Times Roll" from the album The Cars by The Cars. What was that about bridge burning?

06 June 2011

Bridge burning

...which is something I've sworn not to do. Yet.

But I'm coming up for air.

Stuff happens. Some stuff is looking up. Some stuff is looking bad.

(Sur-ger-y! Probably end of the summer. Unless a miracle occurs. Six months out, though, I'm probably out of that sort of miracle. And I'm better. Just not better enough.)

Ten days, the daughter officially becomes a high school student. She was named salutatorian of her class. The nostalgia is setting in a little. I am saying good-bye to people. I would like to go out on the high road.

(Your bridges are burning down...)

Then, in two weeks...

(She smiles. There are still some things that set my heart alight in the best possible way.)

And then maybe 10 days after that...

(Huge maybe. But maybe. Which is better than no. But only maybe.)

And on other fronts, about a year ago, I did some consulting work, and things happened, and things didn't happen, and things got shelved, and I shook my head and said, "It'll be back."

It's back.

(Can't help it. I love it when I'm that kind of right. It just makes me laugh. Whether it will have an impact on me...doesn't matter. Hierarchies. Yes, you can go look it up.)

And on an even different front...hmm. Maybe I'll keep quiet on that for the moment. Might be wise to do some investigating before I do any reporting.

(You're burning them down...)

Go listen to some good music: "Bridge Burning" from the album Wasting Light by Foo Fighters. Am I the only person who sees burning bridges as a rather joyous activity? Probably. I am so impatient. I want the old stuff done so I can embark on the new, and the new is so close I can taste it. And it's making me wildly happy.

01 June 2011

String Quartet #17 "The Hunt" in Bb, K 458

The daughter blithely gave me her cold, and somehow, I managed to get a nastier version, so I'm sitting here semi-conscious, eating yogurt (Brown Cow Cherry Vanilla--I highly recommend it, and no FTC, I don't get anything for saying so), listening to Mozart (way the hell too sprightly for the way I'm feeling), and thinking about saying something cogent.

Failing, I'm afraid.

Anyway, it's been damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead around here, not that that is new.

A few more weeks, and the school year will be wrapped up, which will be a blessing in more ways than one. There's news there, too.

We've seen PotC On Stranger Tides, and I seem to be the only one who felt it dragged on too long (1/2 an hour and three sword fights), and was lighter on zombie action than I'd anticipated (I like zombies, what can I say? I live with so many...). The mermaids were good.

Other things have happened. I don't necessarily remember what (that's the fever speaking).

I still have New York stuff to write. The Algonquin, perhaps. But I really need to go to bed.

After I make lunches, of course.

Go listen to some good music: "String Quartet #17 "The Hunt" in Bb, K 458" by Mozart, performed by the Emerson String Quartet. I was listening to KUSC while I was writing...hallucinating...whatever I've been doing today.