29 February 2012

The long and winding road...

...to hell that is paved with good intentions.

It's been quite a month. I've got a few hours to finish documents for the latest round of the kid's financial aid applications. Ridiculous what this process has become.

I was sad to hear of Davy Jones' death this morning. Another little piece of childhood gone to dust. I never watched The Monkees TV show--I really don't care for that kind of slapstick comedy--but their music was ubiquitous, and so much of that pop was really good pop. Cheerful and singable and accessible. And even pre-pubescent, I was wholly susceptible to the charms of Davy Jones and the late Jack Wild. Of course, the charm waned a little by the time I hit about 11, and realized that I was taller than both of them.

(Inevitably, I ended up taller than the average US male, too.)

Alright, back to the grind. It's a new month tomorrow. Aren't I happy.

Go listen to some music: "The Long and Winding Road" from the album Let It Be by The Beatles.

23 February 2012

...all that I could give you was a reputation

The daughter: So C. was telling me today that her mom went out to walk the dog last night...and there were raccoons on the roof!

The son: Were they dancing? Carousing? Throwing coconuts at people?

The daughter, giggling insanely: No, they were...they were...they were doing it!

The spouse groans.

Me: 'Tis the season.

The daughter, still giggling as only teenage girls speaking of such things can giggle: So, her dad went out and threw a tennis ball at them.

Me: Which, of course, had no effect whatsoever.

The daughter, now with affronted giggles: No! They looked at him and went right back to it.

The son: Her dad...that's the guy who looks like Mick Jagger, right? Oh man, I love it. Mick Jagger in a trench coat throwing tennis balls at raccoons on the roof! Just picture it.

The daughter, now seriously affronted: He doesn't look like Mick Jagger. He looks exactly like Bill Nighy!

Me, interjecting with some severity: I think it's time to do homework...

The son, wandering off down the hall: No, he looks like Mick Jagger. I said it the moment I saw him...

The daughter, her voice echoing back from her room: He does not. He could be Bill Nighy...

Go listen to some music: "Only the Good Die Young" from the album The Stranger by Billy Joel. Really, the poor man looks like neither Mick Jagger nor Bill Nighy. Well, maybe Bill Nighy from the Still Crazy era.

17 February 2012

Do not annoy the queen

A site called Blogger-Index has been caught stealing my feed wholesale and reposting it on its advertising-laden spam blog. Since I would never allow anyone to repost my work and reap ad revenue from it, let alone a site that can't spell and doesn't use proper grammar, I've shortened the feed so that very little is visible. If you regularly read via feed, you will need to click through the feed headline to gain access to the blog. Blogger-Index has been put on notice that it is to remove all my blog content from its site, and I'm taking appropriate action regarding copyright infringement.


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I've been blogging for a pretty long time now and I have definite ideas about the process. You could call this a personal blog, or you could call it a soapbox. You could call it a work in progress. You could call it the place where I call people out who claim to be authorities, but misidentify the workings of glyphosate.

(Alright, truth is I did that on Twitter.)

It's true that I'm a mother. A wife. A woman. And I write. All that makes me...a writer.

And this is where I write, at least where you can see it, as a way to process life. I write other things. Some of those things are out in the public eye, some of them have been used in various proceedings, some live in corporate archives. From time to time, I have contributed to the overall store of knowledge in the world, and that pleases me. But here, I write for myself, and to some extent for my friends and family, and also for those who want to tag along for the ride. It matters little whether you know my real name or recognize it or care. Here is just that: here.

I made a quite conscious decision when I started writing here about what here isn't. It isn't ad-supported. There are no giveaways or affiliate programs. I do get pitches regularly, some of which are mindbogglingly inappropriate and some of which are downright laughable. "We want you to become one of our online journalists and write for our publication...for free."

Seriously.

I write about my kids, but I'm not a mommy blogger. I'm as likely to write about bovine spongiform encephalopathy or a certain knuckleheaded Big Pharma company or the use of pesticides on bananas. I write about cooking because I do a lot of it, but I'm not going to sponsor a cookware giveaway. (Yes, and I said no)

Others have questioned why I am adamant about this and much of it has to do with being beholden to no one here. IRL I write for hire. Here I write about whatever strikes my fancy.

So if you think you want to offer me an opportunity, read what's been written here over the last five years with some care. I do get traffic, but it tends to be teachers, scientists, men.


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I finally finished Haruki Murakami's massive 1Q84. I am left with the feeling that a lot was lost in translation.

I didn't dislike it; to the contrary, on finishing, I felt as though a door had been closed to another world I'd been inhabiting for the last month or so, and I actually rather miss the characters. Amusingly, I read the LA Times review last night, and found a similar sentiment there.

But I also didn't particularly like it. I know the book originally appeared as three separate volumes in Japan, which might explain some of the repetitious information that appeared ("previously on 1Q84..."), but the level of repetition in dialogue was downright annoying. And the unending discussion of the characters' intimate relations verged on the nauseating. Part of me wondered if this was Murakami's commentary on the nonstop intimacy to which we are subjected in TV, movies, media, books, but the story didn't seem clever enough to make that connection. The writing (or translation) was frequently completely flat, sometimes quite awkward. And yet, the overall quality of the story was very immersive. Still, I walked away with the sense that I gained nothing from the exercise of reading it, and I'm not sure I can hazard a guess at what Murakami was attempting to convey.

Frustrating.

Caught stealing

A site called Blogger-Index has been caught stealing my feed wholesale and reposting it on its advertising-laden spam blog. Since I would never allow anyone to repost my work and reap ad revenue from it, let alone a site that can't spell and doesn't use proper grammar, I've shortened the feed so that very little is visible. If you regularly read via feed, you will need to click through the feed headline to gain access to the blog. Blogger-Index has been put on notice that it is to remove all my blog content from its site, and I'm taking appropriate action regarding copyright infringement.

Go listen to some music: "Been Caught Stealing" from the album Ritual de lo Habitual by Jane's Addiction. And this is a habitual ritual for Blogger-Index.

13 February 2012

El condor pasa (if I could)

Separately and as a group, my family suffers from obliviousness, though in all of us it takes different forms. I firmly believe that I am invisible, and it comes as a wild shock to me when others notice my existence. A good deal of the world is invisible to the spouse. The son apparently has little clue that there is a world beyond his home, school and computer, and the daughter? Oh, the daughter. She is the daughter.

Recently, the spouse was sent off on a business trip. This is not uncommon, and as usual, the trip was last minute and came at a most inconvenient time. Between the two of us, we arranged, but nonetheless, he had to fly a zillion miles to the back of beyond--nice back of beyond, but back of beyond--and then turn around and fly back a zillion miles home a few hours later. I pointed out that I once did a 48-hour trip to Puerto Rico, and he pointed out that I had gone to a concert, not a site visit at a really nasty site. He had a point.

In any event, I packed him off and off he went with ill grace, and he flew, and he arrived at his destination and he called me when he arrived.

He sounded uncommonly giddy.

"I had a really nice flight," he trilled. "I sat next to the nicest fellow. He said he's an actor."

"Mmm," I replied. The flight originated in Los Angeles. Everyone here is an actor.

"He told me about some of the movies he'd been in," the spouse persisted. "I haven't seen any of them..."

"Mmm," I replied, thinking that the person had probably been an extra. I admit that I'm a bit jaded, having done my time in the entertainment industry.

The spouse mentioned that the individual in question had a part in a film that had been nominated for an Academy Award some years back. "I don't think he quite believed me when I told him I didn't know who he was," the spouse laughed, "but I told him that you'd probably seen all the movies he'd been in."

"Mmm," I murmured.

"His name is..." the spouse said a first name, and then quickly slurred the last name.

"Mmm," I responded.

His taxi arrived to retrieve him and he promised to call me the next morning when he'd completed his site visit.

It was as I was hanging up that I put the name of the movie and the 1/2 a name of the actor together. I called the spouse back.

"YOU SAT NEXT TO...?" I shrieked and named a name.

"That's what the last name was!" the spouse laughed. "I'd forgotten exactly what it was. So you know who he is?"

"AGH!" I cried. The kids and I had tried to get him to watch another movie the actor was in over the summer, and then I'd forced still another film on the daughter, who promptly fell in love. "Your daughter is going to kill you," I told him when I finally had breath.

Said daughter appeared in the doorway and yelled, "DAD SAT NEXT TO WHO?"

And I told her and she fell against the door jamb, uttering a classic little moan of dismay.

"So everyone knows who this person is except me?" asked the spouse with amusement.

"Evidently," I told him drily.

"He's the nicest guy. We talked about travel and motorcycles. I told him that he really needed to visit the Canadian Rockies," the spouse said, the pleasure in his voice laced with the tiniest bit of smugness.

And given the length of that flight and the general awfulness of the trip, I certainly didn't begrudge the spouse the fun he had that evening. And truly, the spouse is the nicest guy, so his seatmate really lucked out, too.

The daughter, however, still gets a bit tetchy when the subject comes up. "It's a bit of a sore point," she allows, "that Dad had all the luck, and didn't even know who he was sitting next to."

Go listen to some music: "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)" from the album Greatest Hits by Simon & Garfunkel.

09 February 2012

You'll see your problems multiply

Dinner.

Me to the son: There's more food if you're still hungry.

The son: No, I'll just wait for cake.

Me: Well, if you want, I'll call you when I serve dessert, since everyone else is still eating.

The son: Well! I have stuff I need to do first!

Me, puzzled: What?

The son, with great drama and gestures: Bring in those.

He exits into the garage.

Me to the rest of the assemblage: He just needs to wheel the garbage cans to the side of the house. You'd think he had to take them to the back of the beyond.

The daughter: The Arctic Circle.

The spouse: The Serengeti.

The daughter: With no food or water.

The spouse: Armed with a toothpick.

Me: To fight off the sand fleas.

The daughter: What's a sand flea?

The spouse: A flea.

Me, helpfully: It lives in the sand.

The daughter: It would be hard to catch a flea. You can't even step on it. It would sink into the sand.

Me: Hence the toothpick.

The son returns and washes his hands.

The son: What's this about a toothpick?

The spouse: We figured you were using it to joust with a sand flea.

The son, without missing a beat: No, actually, I dropped the toothpick and it was all hand-to-hand combat from there. Where's the cake?

Go listen to some music: "Policy of Truth" from the album Violator by Depeche Mode.

07 February 2012

Bang on the drum all day

We count ourselves as very fortunate that, by and large, our neighbors are nice people. Well, yes, we do have those people, and the ones who are little too interested everyone's lives, and the ones who drive like bats out of hell, and the organizers, and those who own that dog, and then, the unspeakable people who live behind us who aren't really neighbors, but a cross we all mutually bear.

But really, we are very fortunate. And we know it.

Every family, of course, has its own idiosyncracies. One household is just a little out there.

Lovely people, naturally. Responsible. Kind. Fun to talk to. A bit loud with the 1960s music sometimes, which I could probably live without. But overall, fine.

A couple of years or so ago, I was awakened fairly early one morning by a sort of resonant noise. Bong, it came, and again, bong. I lay there, puzzled, as the noise continued, quite rhythmically. It was coming from more or less the direction of the Slightly Out There family, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out what they might be doing to make that sound.

Life went on and I forgot about the odd noise until a couple of weeks later when it happened again. Bong, I heard, and again, bong. Bong. Bong.

Bong.

It wasn't gardening equipment that I could identify, or any sort of hammering, or anything that made much sense. It almost sounded as though someone was banging on a large piece of PVC pipe for no apparent reason. And it wasn't really loud, just loud enough to be annoying.

Like us, the Slightly Out There family travels extensively. Like us, they pick up the odd bit of art, or a new recipe or a bottle of wine. I started to wonder if they might also have picked up a new religion that involved greeting the day with a drum.

"What the hell is that noise?" the spouse asked one morning several weeks later.

"I haven't the foggiest," I replied. "But I've been hearing it on and off for a while."

He grumbled something about men who wear their hair in rattails and wandered away.

I can't say exactly when I stopped noticing the noise. Until it started up again the following year, one morning, with a hollow, resonant bong.

We wondered if crows were digging in the gutters. We continued to blame the Slightly Out There family. I worried a rat (ew!) was messing around on the roof. There was speculation that the phone line might be rattling in the wind.

And again, the sound ceased as randomly as it had begun.

Until I woke to the sound of a drum a few mornings ago.

Putting on his shoes this morning, the spouse looked up.

"What is that noise?" he asked.

Bong, we heard, and again, bong. Bong. Bong.

Bong.

"The neighbors doing sun salutations?" I posited. "A crow looking for breakfast in the gutter?"

He peered out our bedroom window, craning to look where the wall and ground intersected.

"I see something down there..." he murmured.

"Alright," I told him. "Wait there. I'm going to figure this out once and for all."

I walked out into the back garden and over to the side of the house as quietly as I could. As I came around the corner, the mystery was solved.

The air conditioning unit sits on a slab on that side of the house. It's unsightly, and in order to disguise it, the spouse built a lattice and mirror partition to hide the machinery. The mirror broke years ago in a particularly fierce Santa Ana wind, and I used the broken pieces to create a little garden art. Several sizable bits of mirror lean up against the wall reflecting shrubs. As I rounded the corner, I saw a towhee fling itself at the largest piece of mirror, which is about 18 inches tall.

Bong.

What we have been hearing--during mating season, though I'd never made the connection--is an irate bird fighting its reflection in the mirror.

I returned to the spouse and explained what I'd seen. We both laughed a little.

"I feel like I owe the neighbors an apology," I told him.

"It's not like you ever actually said anything to them," he replied.

"No, but I've been holding them responsible for years now, blaming them for some sort of ritualistic morning drumming," I said.

"Would you put it past them?" he asked humorously.

"Well, no..."

But I can't help but think that they might have been able to hear the same noise all these years, and can only wonder at what they may have conjectured we've been doing to make such a sound.

Bong.

Go listen to some music: "Bang on the Drum All Day" from the album Pink Classic Rock by Todd Rundgren.

06 February 2012

Stratospheric traces of a transitory flight

Today, the son is 18.

My oldest child has reached adulthood.

One of the few things I've asked for in my life, one of the goals that has truly mattered to me, is to see my children reach adulthood, to be here to mother them until they are launched, to see that they are equipped for their lives. I'm halfway there now. I am profoundly grateful.

Today, another mother died.

She didn't live to see her young sons grow up.

I didn't know this woman in the real world though it's remarkable how real some people become through their writing. I found her blog by accident a few years ago, and then rediscovered it by strange coincidence around the time of her most recent cancer recurrence. I would check periodically to see how she was doing--I can't even tell you why her well-being particularly mattered to me. It may have been that her voice was strong and frequently funny; it may have been that she was a young mother fighting for the time to raise to her boys. Then in January, 2011, she unknowingly became a sort of lifeline as I raged and fought my own battle against pain and paralysis, fought a body that is failing far too quickly for its age. Unsurprisingly, reading someone with terminal cancer creates a certain perspective. I might have had a day where I fell over, but I was going to live to fall over another day, while she was facing the end of her life. I have to admit that as the cancer invaded her spine, my own throbbed with terrible empathy, and I wished her peace and comfort.

I've often written how we find each other in odd ways, how our lives meet at mysterious intersections, and how we may have an impact on others' lives without necessarily realizing that we are. She was a compelling voice for cancer research without doubt, but the words that she wrote that resonated most for me were how we are "promised a life." There is no guarantee of duration or quality; there is no guarantee that we will see our children grown or that our bodies won't fail us. We are promised a life.

Today, I saw my son reach his 18th birthday.

How I wish she'd lived to see her sons celebrate theirs.

Go listen to some music: "Vapor Trail" from the album Vapor Trails by Rush.

02 February 2012

You forget so easily

My children forget that I am the person who set cupcakes on fire and threw them off a balcony, shrieking, "Halley's Comet!"

They didn't know her, of course. She was long before their time, before pediatrician appointments and room mothering and trips to school. But yes, I gleefully filled a cupcake--not once, but twice. Two flaming cupcakes!--with lighter fluid, lit a match and tossed the flaming ball of fat and sugar away, away, away. Irresponsible, yes, but I was quite careful in my irresponsibility. No one was walking below and my little arsons landed on tarmac, near a drain, so I could run down three flights of stairs and extinguish them if necessary.

I recently watched Incendies, which won a slew of festival awards and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It is not about cupcakes. It's a painful film in many ways, filled with terrible lessons for both the ill- and well-intended, but it is also magnificent. At base, it is the story of how Canadian twins learn of their late mother's earlier life in the Middle East while on a quest to find the brother they never knew they had and the father they believed dead. And while the film is filled with set-pieces about war and reprisal, the heart of the story is the woman who preceded the mother. "You are looking for your father," the daughter is told by a hostile villager, "but you don't know who your mother is."

And certainly, my life was not like that of the mother in Incendies, but I carry my own secrets, and some of those are secrets that my children will never know. There is no reason; it would serve no purpose, though it did in the film.

But other parts of my life are not secrets, and are, perhaps, instructive. When it occurs to me to do so, those are the parts I give up to my offspring.

Not long ago, I came across a paper I wrote in college, one of the few of which I was really proud. I tossed it in the son's room, and told him he could read it if he so desired. And he did, and he brought it back to me, eyes wide. He saw in it the girl who existed before motherhood, and the truth that his mother talks the talk, but also walks the walk. He was astonished, and I think, pleased. And mystified by erasable typewriter paper.

Over the holidays, my sister sent me scans of some photos that a cousin had and one in particular caught my eye: my mother as a teenager, standing awkwardly, clearly uncomfortable in her skin. She stood that way in photo after photo. It explained a good deal about the cruelties she visited on me when I hit adolescence, all of it, I suspect rooted in her own insecurity which had never been so visible to me before.

No one, it seems, is such a cypher to us as our own parents.

Go listen to some music: "You and Whose Army" from the album Amnesiac by Radiohead.

01 February 2012

I'm free

Well, I'm not, but I'm freer than I was yesterday when I still working on financial aid documents and the taxes simultaneously.

Who came up with that stupid idea?

(Sort of unavoidable if one's estimates are going to be anywhere in the ballpark. But the question I really loved was being asked to project what my income will be in 18 months. Are you kidding? These days?)

And the entire family suddenly decided they needed new pillows...

In any event, it's a new month. And I'm happy.

Or at least happier.

Go listen to some music: "I'm Free" from the album Tommy by The Who.