Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cat calling

"Ay, mami"

It's been a while since I was cat-called on the street, probably because I don't walk very much here. It's hard to be cat-called when you're behind the wheel of a car. I had sort of forgotten what it was like. (In case you are wondering, it is not shiny.)

This is sort of funny in light of the story a woman I know told me recently: Her work puts her contact with the public a lot. A while ago, a client at her workplace said some inappropriate things about the boots she was wearing and what they signified about her. When she went to her supervisor, looking for some support, she was told she "should just hold on and ignore this kind of thing," because once she's 40 "it won't happen anymore." Yeah.

Today I was waiting to cross the street in Shaker Square. A man approaching me from behind called out "You sure do look nice in those jeans." I ignored him. He said it again. When he got to the corner, he said, "Did you hear me? Did you? I said you look nice in those jeans." I still ignored him. To say anything would be to say the wrong thing. And then he proceeded to mock up a little conversation. "'You look nice in those jeans.' 'Why, thank you.' Ha ha. You could say thank you." This is when I started to feel threatened. I didn't really care about the first comment, but now I was about to cross the street and turn onto a less traveled road. Was he angry enough to follow me?

Turns out, he just cracked himself up and he walked off in the other direction, but I was doing the mental map of how to adjust my route, where would be safe to walk and where to go if he followed me.

When I lived in New York, the Dominican men in Washington Heights had a regular patter. "Ay, mami," they would call. "You are so beautiful. I want to marry you." "Ay, mami. I want to make love to you." My friend Andrea and I took to calling each other Mami as a regular salutation.

As a pre-teen, I can remember wearing short shorts and being excited to have guys call to me from cars. It seemed like a new found power. But there is not really very much power in being a 12-year-old in cut-offs sexually objectified by some 23-year-old in a Camaro. Yet, this is part of the way girls learn about themselves as sexual beings. This is what scares me about being a mother.

The best cat call I ever was on the receiving end of was not really a "call" at all. I was walking down a street in the West 80s in Manhattan, heading towards Riverside Park. I have no idea what I was wearing, not that it matters. I think I was on my lunch break or had just gotten off work (I worked at Shakespeare and Co., which is no more, at least not in that neighborhood). A car pulled up to me and rolled down the passenger side window. It was so deliberate, I almost thought the person inside was going to ask me for directions. I kept my distance but I did glance over, ready to be a good samaritan. The driver leaned over and said, ever so politely, "Nice chest, miss."

Reading: Yes.

Writing: Yes! Thursday started with a great writing session. Unfortunately, the positive mood that created didn't hold. Very frustrated with the imperfections of humanity today. Which does go along with some of my characters, so maybe this is just method writing.

Dinner: Wednesday night kids cook was chicken skewers (marinated chicken, red onion, red bell pepper), rice, and box salad. This was one that took a lot of adult aid, but they did as much of it as they could. Z is starting to learn knife skills.

Tonight, I made ginger lentil soup, in quantity. Hoping to take a bunch to a friend who just had twins.

Soundtrack: Which version of "Road Runner" (the Bo Diddley song, not Jonathan Richman's, although that is a most excellent song, too) is best?

Random thing: I like how the birds are getting louder in the morning.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Alchemy of Lentils

Earlier today I was mulling over how to write a blog entry on the general topic of "surviving vs. thriving" in some way that wouldn't come off as too self-helpy and vague. And then I cooked lentils.

I was thinking about self-definition and how it can create or limit our (read "my") sense of the world. To be a survivor is good, even if it sucks that you had to survive something. It means you're strong and resourceful. (I had a whole riff going as I was making my way through the afternoon about being a social/emotional MacGyver.) But how, I wondered apropos of a situation I won't go into here now, does thinking of yourself as a survivor prevent you from *thriving* when you have the space and resources to do so? Maybe this is what a dear teacher of mine once called "the habit of poverty" when he admitted he didn't know how to use the bigger budget his program had been granted. We get so used to creatively making-do that we lose track of how much more we could do if only we were flush with support and real tools.

The dinner I cooked tonight complicates this question for me. We are sort of on austerity measures here in the T-H Collective right now (more on that perhaps some other time) so I didn't want to make an oh-yeah-that-thing-I-forgot-plus-6-other-things-and-a-spare-bottle-of-wine trips to the grocery store, not before payday anyway. But my cupboards look pretty bare. On first glance, there is tea and crackers and raisins and Nutella (Okay, so worse comes to worst, we can have a tea party. Fine.)

I rooted around and found some French lentils (little, fat, dark green lovely things) leftover in a baggie in the back of the cupboard, and I had a vegetable drawer harboring a third of a large, but slightly limp onion, 1 gnarled carrot, and some celery sticks leftover from someone's lunch last week. I also had one clove of garlic! And rice, I have rice on hand always. (I may run out of pasta, but I always have rice. At least we won't starve. I do think this way.)  And there were bits of extras -- an unfinished bag of sliced and seasoned "salad" almonds, 1 slice of ham, leftover tomato paste in a plastic tub in the fridge. Oh, and last week's "spare bottle of wine," along with some staples like vegetable broth base (The gloopy stuff in a jar that seems expensive compared to bouillon, but lasts forever and is infinitely better. Word to the wise.) and spices. Oh, and some orange peels also leftover from someone's lunch and then left on the counter in their lunch container rather than disposed of properly.

So without much ado, I was able to make Spanish-style lentils (from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian) -- I didn't have saffron, but I added some tumeric and cumin to the big dose of paprika (and I do have a tin of smoked paprika, so that's an advantage) and pretended like that would be similar. And I tossed in the orange peels and some tomato paste just because I could (and the do sound a little Spanish, right?). Then I made baked rice pilaf with a reserved bit of the limp onion and minced up ham and almonds. Finally, I did have some decent lettuce in the fridge, so David made a salad with vinaigrette while everything simmered and I read with the kids.

This meal was glorious. This is food to thrive on.

And this is peasant food (or "pleasant food," as O thought I said), the food of survivors. Yes, my pantry odds and ends may be a bit fancier or more plentiful than some. (I would argue though that modern convenience food lifestyles have impoverished our sense of the pantry ... then again, my first food guru, as a pre-teen probably, was the Frugal Gourmet ...) But really, very little went into this.

Lentils, which are cheap and humble, are also hugely nutritious, and very delicious. They transform surviving into thriving.

Reading: Onward with the Anshaw. Over time waxing poetic about lentils, so I still won't quote.

Writing: Limpingly

Dinner: Monday night pizza was Italian sausage, mushrooms, spinach and banana peppers -- with cheddar cheese because I forgot to buy mozzarella. Cheddar may have been better.

Soundtrack: As suggested by friends, I listened to the Gipsy Kings while preparing my Spanish-French lentils. I got lots of other suggestions too, which are duly noted and will be used in future food-music pairings.

Random thing: In the morning, the snow fell softly and slowly in great, puffy flakes. It did not look real. It looked like snow in an old timey movie.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Out East

I came upon this by surprise.

I've been thinking about how having children has brought me into contact with people, places, and things I wouldn't have experienced on my own. (This is neither an endorsement for or against having children. Merely an observation of my own experience.)

On Friday afternoon, I took Z to see her friend A while their little brothers "competed" in a chess tournament at a local elementary school (it was deliberately not terribly competitive). A's mom, Andrea, is one of my "yoga mom" friends, a group of four of us who met while pregnant more than 10 years ago. She and I were talking to some other women and came upon the topic of how we are much more networked we are as a result of our children (one woman used the term "social capital") and with people we wouldn't have crossed paths with if we stayed in our own circles. Andrea, who is dear to me, is someone I doubt I would ever have known otherwise. Then again, I didn't know most of my neighbors until I had children. So maybe motherhood has just made me more sociable in general -- to protect my young?

Then today, I had occasion to drive all over the eastern suburbs of Cleveland, beginning with Eggshelland in Lyndhurst (more on this in another post), and including taking Z to a bowling party in Wickliffe. Wickliffe is physically not that far from me, but it feels like an entirely different world, and I had to pass through at least two other entirely different worlds to get there. It has totally different demographics  than where I live in Cleveland Heights (and it's smaller) -- it seems to me like a working class, largely Italian (I surmise from my car window) suburb, down at the heels like any place that has depended on industry to thrive. There's a seminary there (and a little research reveals, also a Lithuanian orthodox yeshiva), an Italian-American social club, and strip malls, and empty space. But then turning off of Euclid Ave. into what may really be the hear to of the town, I encounterd the Coulby Mansion, which serves as city hall, and a surrounding park, which are as lovely as anything anywhere.

After I dropped Z, I drove south into several more entirely different worlds. And yet we are all in orbit around the same ragtag city. I am not native here. These places I know some of the history of, but this history is not my history in the in-my-bones, these-are-the-stories-of-my-adolescent-territories kind of history. So many of them are obviously struggling, some to the point of looking like they are losing. There is a lot of desolation as you drive and drive through the suburbs, not that much different that urban desolation, but more spread out. It is fascinating and it is sad. What do these places mean to the people who live there, to the people who used to live there but have moved on to ... where?

And I wonder, why do we keep building out, consuming more farmland, when there are so many empty lots and derelict buildings we could fill in?

Reading: ?

Writing: Yes, and a great meeting with my friend Catherine, who has known this manuscript from the very beginning. So helpful discussion. Nuances and structure both. Oh, and I found another part of a scene I didn't remember writing. (This is getting sort of pathological. Maybe I write in my sleep.)

Dinner: Since I last blogged, there have been several! Notable were the chicken, corn, black bean, pepper, tomato, green onion, rotini salad with creamy lemon dressing. (I crave summer!) This was drawn from a Michelle Urvater recipe, but seriously improvised upon. And tonight, David made spaghetti with a garlic parmesean sauce and lima beans. (I was out on my epic trip through the suburbs and texted him the idea of "garlic parm pasta," thinking just of sauteed garlic and a sprinkling of cheese. He found a recipe for a lovely sauce instead, so it felt much more dressed up.)

Soundtrack: Every once in a while I get on a WKHR 91.5 kick. This is a local "American songbook"/golden memories sort of station - a small, community station broadcast from Bainbridge (another eastern suburb!!). I just happened upon it once a few years ago. Sometimes it is too schmaltzy, but often it features really fun pop-jazz. The other day, I tuned in to a swinging Boots Randolph number, followed by Peggy Lee singing "I Don't Know Enough About You." "Black Coffee" was playing when I started my car later, but I don't know whose version it was.

Random thing: Painted my nails garnet red.

Friday, March 22, 2013

And life goes on

Behold the wonderfulness.
Why, yes. That
is Thayer's famous peach-apricot vanilla spice ice cream on top.

What can I say? Calvin's Day was a delight. The day after was a bit of an emotional hangover (well, and I worked for 10 hours, so that).

We slept in, played games and wrote while David ran, had breakfast out, went to the aquarium and got to touch a slipper lobster along with rays and anemone, went to the zoo where an orangutan stuck her tongue out at me and the otters were very playful, and came home and prepared a big feast together.

At dinner, I asked the kids what having this day meant to them, partly probing to try to find out if having a dead brother whom they never knew is socially awkward for them. "Having the day off from school" and "We get to play all day" were the answers. Those are fine answers. When I asked what they tell people about it, Z said what she has said before, "I just say I have an older brother but he isn't alive," and O nodded and said, "That's pretty much what I tell people too."

And Thursday was just another day, which is partly why is was hard. March 20 is a day we hold apart from the rest of life. As David has observed, it is pretty much the only day of the year that we tell the world to get lost and we do exactly as we please. Every other day, including March 21, we are overcommitted and overextended, because ... that's who we are. We are interested in many things. We like to be involved. We want to devour the world. I don't think there is any great pathology there. And I do try to carve out the downtime within that -- for myself and especially for the kids -- but it is sometimes, maybe, too hectic. I think a lot about the idea of a "day of rest" not for religious observance, just for, well ... rest, on a variety of levels. At least a half a day of rest? That much we manage to do more often.

Reading: Not really, but we did watch Hugo. The kids had seen in it in the theater, but it was the first time for David and me. We watched over the course of three nights. I love the simplicity of the storytelling, the utter investment (and therefor lack of need for narrative justification) in the given circumstances. Also, I love how much it loves art.

Writing: Who? Me? The butt yearns for the seat.

Dinner: For Calvin's feast: David made meatballs. He and O made pasta sauce. I made steamed artichokes and invented peach-apricot vanilla spice ice cream. And Z and I made Moosewood fudge brownies. It was a meal I was glad to eat.

For the day after Calvin's feast, David made a meatball pizza with the leftover meatballs and sauce.  Love. I love this man. And as Z said, "It's a two pizza week! To make up for not having pizza Monday last week."

Soundtrack: I adore the fact that Scorsese scored the emotional Melies' memory scenes in Hugo with Satie. It was fucking perfect. And period appropriate!

Random thing: I bought pastries at Luna Bakery to take to a meeting Thursday morning. There is something about a white bakery box that is indescribably lovely to me. The box itself -- its proportions and clean whiteness. The contents, to be sure. But the very idea of bakery-ness. The great pleasure of living in a world where a bakery and its boxes exist. This is shiny.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Calvin's Day

Happy birthday to my otter boy

It is the first day of spring, Calvin's Day, as this date has come to be known in my family. Getting ready for bed last night, O grinned at me and looked up through is hair and said, "I can sleep in tomorrow because it is a holiday in our family."

March 20, 2013 is the 12th birthday of my first child, Calvin Baker Thayer-Hansen. He was stillborn twelve years ago, and my life changed irrevocably. Or it changed the morning of March 19, when my midwife couldn't find a heartbeat. Or sometime in the 10 days before, when he died without me knowing it -- maybe when I was sitting in the seminar room of the English department interviewing for my first classroom assignment. Or it changed in the first weeks of pregnancy, when something went wrong with the implantation of the placenta or with the combination of my chemistry with that of the embryo or whatever mechanism it was that fucked with my vascular system and cascaded into preeclampsia, the condition that killed him and could have killed me. Or it changed when we decided to try to become pregnant, a decision that I made carefully after a lifetime of intention to be childless, or the day we fell in love, or the night we met, or, or ...

What moment is the gateway to sorrow? And how does sorrow dissolve itself into the rest of a life?

I say my life changed irrevocably when I lost this son who would have been, but that change hasn't been entirely negative. It was a loss that created a hole that will never, ever be filled, but it was also the gateway into everything that came after. The whole shape of my life and this family springs from the love and the dreams that I had invested in the idea of him and then had to find a way to make good on -- in his memory and for myself. This foursome we have that I never would have planned before, my commitment to the struggle to make my writing real in the world, the openness to joy and wonder I have consciously cultivated (and from which this blog springs). He is without a doubt always present with me even in his profound absence.

Calvin was born exactly half my adult life ago. I am 42 now. I was 30 then. Twelve years before that, at 18, I was failing to complete my freshman year at Sarah Lawrence College, teetering on the edge of another kind of sorrow -- crippling writers block and depression. Six years after that I was moving to be with David. Six years after Calvin was born, I was starting my MFA program, determined to put my writing at the center of my life. Do these symmetries mean anything? I have been obsessing about them for weeks, knowing this day was approaching. Where will I be in another 6 years? in 12?

(In 12 years, Z will be 22 and O will be 20. The world will be entirely different all over again.)

Reading: Continuing with the Anshaw.

Writing: Yes, butt in seat in the a.m.

Dinner: Yesterday afternoon, Z and I were flipping through a parenting magazine at the doctor's office (she was there for a check up) and found an easy weekday menu featuring miso glazed salmon and broccoli. We discussed the merits of this and ended up turning it into roasted miso glazed tofu and portabellos over rice with a side of very garlicky, lemony broccolini. It was fab. And broccolini is my new obsession.

Soundtrack: Once you start listening to London Calling it is easy to wonder why you should ever listen to anything else.

Random thing: I like that our pediatrician's office gives out "prescription sheets" of reading recommendations, and at the bottom it says "Every family, every day: Talk, sing, read, play."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Home to roost

Lovely cormorants. I also saw a heron and an egret,
as well as several brown pelicans, one of whom almost ate my face.

I just got home from a conference in Florida, where I went blissfully sockless for three days then somehow tripped while dancing in my vintage stilletos. Did I twist my ankle? No. I hurt the lowest toe joints -- the ball of my foot, but on top too, and inside. I don't know how exactly, but I am limpy.

The conference was good, but I am a ball of confusion.

Returned home to a house dark and messy and full of sleep. David promised Z that I would wake her and tell her I had returned, but she would not wake. Only one cat has roused itself to greet me. I too need to sleep.

Reading: Carol Anshaw's Carry the One is really deftly done. I appreciate how each chapter is a  bead on the thread with no messy webbing trying to tie them together too tightly. Also, she manages multiple POVs very well. And, also, the story and characters are compelling, and she has some really startlingly good turns of phrase. I'll try to dig something up to quote tomorrow.

Writing: A little this afternoon on the veranda of the marvelous hotel, but less in general over the weekend than I had hoped. Resisting the urge to want to recast my entire novel as an imitation of the Anshaw book, but also conscious that there are technical elements that I can perhaps be more aware of as a result of reading her.

Dinner: On the plane, leftover crushed chick pea and wild mushroom sandwich from lunch. Upon arriving home, a piece of shrimp and pineapple pizza (David and the kids kept up the Monday pizza tradition in my absence. Yay.)

Soundtrack: Fun fact. If you start playing London Calling as you pull onto 77N from the Akron-Canton Airport, you will be listening to "Train in Vain" by the time you are in Cleveland Heights.

Random thing: Many cormorants perching on the lightpoles along the causeway across Tampa Bay. The water was very choppy. Maybe they were avoiding it. Also, I saw what I assumed were two dolphin fins very close to the causeway. The driver suggested that they were perhaps sharks.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Driving in my car

Sometimes driving is good.

Took a long drive to Columbus and back (a 6-hawk trip!) today for an inspiring meeting. On the way down and back I got to listen to CDs and reflect on a lot of great stuff.

Wordy stuff, like some funny Wait Wait Don't Tell Me bits (Michael Pollan and the Japanese high tech toilet quiz, for instance), and pieces from Chuck Palahniuk's book of short nonfiction pieces, Stranger Than Fiction, and the first couple of chapters of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth. And musical stuff too, like the David Bowie Reality Tour live album (I recommend it) and the Pretenders' first album. (I also had Scissors Sisters and Preservation Hall Jazz Band CDs that I didn't get to listening to.)

The introduction to Palahniuk's book he read himself for the recording. It is a personal essay about the cycles of loneliness and connection, fact and fiction in his work and in American culture in general. He makes this interesting point about the American dream being one of self-isolation and how a lot of his writing is about the anti-American dream: isolated people trying to find connection. And then fiction writing being another form of self-isolation -- retreat into the fiction world that you control. Still mulling.

The Pretenders' first album is a good (not quite great, but very good) album (and very of its time ... more referential to other bands when I listen to it now than I would have heard then), yet I always come away from hearing the Pretenders feeling like I should like Chrissie Hynde more than I do. Maybe it is just the quote from her "advice to chick rockers" that I read once, about not moaning about feminism and "shave your legs, for chrissakes" which kind of made me never want to listen to another thing she's recorded ever. Does that make me shallow?
Reading: Yes, this Anshaw book is a real "what comes after the terrible moment of tragedy" book, and she set up the before the tragedy really well. That and shifting POV stuff is interesting to me - though "tragedy" is not really the right word for the moment of no return I am writing about.

Writing: Yes, 45 minutes in the morning ... like collage with words -- bits and pieces here and there.

Dinner: Yes, veggie-might sauce over marfala. (Yesterday, for kids cook night, they made "sticky chicken wings" - sauce or orange juice and soy sauce and steamed broccoli).

Soundtrack: In addition to the above ... I have had a thing this week where I hear the opening to a song and I am sure it will be a Joy Division song, and then it is not. Like ... 6 -7 times this week. Really. And none are actually Joy Division songs.

Random thing: My friend Anna compared my busy life to the piled up Weasley house.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Habit forming

I just found out about this book  while searching for "habit" images.
I was just talking about Tharp on Saturday night. This must be a sign.
 (I have a habit of interpreting random events as signs from the universe.)

By the way, as of yesterday this blog has a reanimated age of 3 months! That's almost like a habit.

I am not good about the 20-minute rule, though, and too often I blog in the morning, which is writing-writing time. The blog is supposed to be a brief nighttime thing. My habit has habits.

So what are other habits I have and are they good or bad or are they simply what they are?

The first ten habits I can think of:

  1. The first thing I do in the morning is pour a cup of coffee. The first sip is one of my favorite moments of the day. I then neglect to finish the cup before it gets cold.
  2. I chew on the cuticle on the left side of the nail on the second finger of my right hand, where the flesh is permanently dented and thickened from all the pencils I held as a child.  
  3. I say yes to too many things.
  4. Every time I do, I think about a quote from Sark, in which she recommends experimenting with yes-saying and I wonder about the wisdom of this. I want to write about the wisdom of no-saying.
  5. I make up funny nicknames for my children and my siblings and my parents and everyone else in my family. We all do this. Our nicknames have nicknames.
  6. I scratch my hairline while I read.
  7. I hang my keys on the key hook without thinking about it 87% of the time.
  8. When I go to the library I get lost browsing. This happens at the grocery store too. I am less inclined anymore to get lost at a bookstore, because I am on a book buying moratorium b/c I have so many already.
  9. One of the first things I look at when I meet a person, or even just ride public transportation with them, is their shoes.
  10. I sit on my foot until it falls asleep several times a day.
For a while, I had a habit of writing for an hour in the morning and then exercising for 20 - 30 minutes. This was a good habit, and one I would like to re-cultivate.

Reading: Started Carry the One by Carol Anshaw, who could have been a teacher of mine, if I had accepted the offer to go to grad school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago rather than Goddard.

Writing: I am half asleep and I imagined this said something else that had to do with children's games. Really. And I made this template. No writing today. I need to get back in the saddle.

Dinner: David made "simple seasoned black beans" from the Vegetarian Times cookbook. Z reminded me I forgot to make Monday pizza yesterday. Habit fail. Leftover beef hash demanded its time. Next week.

Soundtrack: No, what? Music? I must've heard some.

Random thing: When I was considering the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, we went and did a whole "maybe we're moving to Chicago" trip, looking at preschools and poking around different neighborhoods. Sometimes I imagine there is a ghostly version of us who made that move and is there now.

Sleeping arrangements

Z's first bed was a lot like this.
I would carry her around the house with me.
If she gets her way her next bed will have a trundle and a duvet that looks like a giant zipper.

A Monday notable in its mundanity. (Cue song: "Mundane Monday" ... you are welcome for the earworm.) Not even any sports practice to get in the way of a long uneventful evening at home. Both adults at home, collaborating on dinner, splitting music practice duties. O had all the time he wanted to flop around and not make any forward progress on anything, an important activity that he too often has to forgo as a member of this hectic entourage.

Then Z couldn't get to sleep at night. She of the eternal complaint of exhaustion. I don't know if it is just that our routine has suddenly shifted. She knows the winterbusy is done and now ... what? Does that keep her up at night? Or is she worried about something she won't reveal? Or is it, most likely I think although she denies it, that we told her on Sunday that she will ... wait for it ... get her own room this summer!

They've always shared a room. When they were small, they mostly co-slept with us, then at 2? 3? were weaned into their own beds. We got O into his own bed by buying him a giant blue plastic race car bed off of Craigslist - a very exciting big boy bed that has long since been passed on to the neighbors. She had a little futon in one corner. He had a futon inside the big blue car on the other end of the room. Now they have a bunk bed. Having a shared room helped them feel secure at night, and it made bedtime reading a cozy point of family connection. The third bedroom was a grown-up office for a while but eventually became a playroom. The small fourth room houses the tv, messy bookshelves, and laundry folding.

Arbitrarily, we had told her she would get her own room after 5th grade. But I had no idea what a big person she would already be now, just turned 10. Big in stature -- her head at my chin, her feet in my shoes -- but big on the inside too. She is a person becoming full of herself and her own way of being in the world, and she deserves some privacy -- and a place apart to be sent to when she can't stop herself from terrorizing her brother.

She spent part of the evening shopping for beds on the Ikea website (he'll keep the bunk bed), so I am sure she is excited, and maybe those thoughts are flying around in her brain. In the middle of the night she came in and crawled into bed with me. And I wonder if maybe she is reliving the story of her growing independence too. I miss those days of little Z curled up next to me in the night. I miss the long nursing relationship we had, and all the lullabyes I used to sing. I am so inexpressably glad that we had those times.

O is not so sure he is ready for his own room, so there may be a new stage of "sleep weaning" to got through, but I know he is actually going to LOVE having his own space, free of sisterly imposition. He may even love it more than her.

David and I will actually be inheriting the room the kids share now -- largest room even though not the "master" -- so there will be a lot of camping out during the long rearrangement this summer. Should be exciting.

Reading: Me, no. The kids, though, read a ton during Mundane Monday

Writing: Yes, but not ToT.

Dinner: Hash made from the leftover meat and seared peppers and onions from Sunday's tacos and a bunch of yellow potatoes. And a simple salad.

Soundtrack: Joshua Bell station on Pandora

Random thing: The room the kids share now was, once upon a time, my office. My desk was under the front window. My desk now is under the front window in my bedroom -- maybe 8 feet? 10 feet? farther to the west. I look out and see the same tree, the same stretch of sidewalk and street, yet I have completely distinct memories of each of these views. The easterly view was associated with different writing and different worries. I would sit, procrastinating on a project in the afternoon, waiting for David to arrive home on his bicycle from his job on Coventry, eager for the distraction. I was much less connected to the street and neighborhood -- had had fewer personal encounters with that big old tree and hadn't yet even imagined having a son who I would teach to ride a bike on that sidewalk. The squirrels would sit in the tree and chuff at me angrily the same then as now, though. The really seem to find my presence in the window an affront.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Springing forward

These are happening.

Two days off, and a busy weekend and here I am again. The writing retreat was really more of a reading and reflecting retreat. I am going to accept this as where I need to be with things right now. When writing I am working on three different levels of revision sort of simultaneously, which turns out not to be the most sensical and efficient thing. Go figure. But right now, I am wanting to be immersed in other people's stories ... to remind me of what a story is, what a NOVEL is, and to examine the way they narrate and string plot, and to remind me of what is pleasurable and therefor useful about this whole enterprise of fiction.

Then a big day with the kids and a big night out to see David's big play, and today a day of re-acclimating ourselves to life as a family.  David's wintertime busy is done and it is time to go on to the next chunk of life, a new order of things, and to get a handle on at least some of the household maintenance.

Speaking of being immersed in other people's voices, David's big play -- These are the Times -- was quite extraordinary to finally see on its feet. I've gotten to watch it develop over time, and gotten to see him grow as a writer in the process (I really admire how ambitious and committed he has been with this play), but this is the first time it is possible to see all the parts working off each other. He's been documenting it all on one of his blogs. Of course, I am obsessed with how all things reflect back to my writing right now, so seeing where he is in the process of refining plot and structure, inevitably makes me consider similar issues in the ToT. I wish I could get an externalized view of it like this!

Reading: Finished Diary of an Ex-Prom Queen, and I have many thoughts about it. It is smart and funny and sad and oh so very much of its time. It is a document of a very particular version of female experience, and it illustrates pretty insightfully how multi-layered misogyny can be, how much even the smartest of women can internalize it. The narrator, Sasha, a devotee to philosophy smart enough to get into the Columbia graduate program in the late 50s, is nevertheless completely tied up with gender norms -- I keep thinking of a bonsai tree, beautiful but stunted and unnaturally contorted.  And, helpfully, Sasha is roughly the same age (a bit older) and class background as an important character of mine, so I find it helpful to observe her circumstances.

Now, choosing between a couple books to read next, and researching Inanna myths.

As for bedtime reading, O and I have been sharing books from the Skippy John Jones series while Z plows her way through the third Harry Potter book again. I've also been reading some from Borrowers Aloft (the 4th book), and like all the Borrowers books, the human frame story takes too long.

Writing:  Yes, though not in quantity.

Dinner: Variously - super fantastic slow cooker black bean and mushroom chili. boxed mac and cheese, veggie soup from a can, and marinated steak and blackened peppers and onion tacos (we dubbed them fajitacos), with fresh guacamole. (NB: I have a an unfriendly relationship with my broiler, and I want a cast iron grill pan.)

Soundtrack: I make up alternate lyrics to pop sings, then O perpetuates them.

Random thing: As part of our family unit reunion day, we watched Singin' in the Rain and folded a mountain of clean laundry.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Going underground

Imagine me here, writing, for the next two days.
And send me good juju.

Months ago I had planned to be on the way to the AWP conference today. It's in Boston this year. I could stay with my doppelganger and go soak up all the writerlyness. (That's a technical term.) For a while I even entertained the notion of taking the train - wouldn't that be a luxury? All that time to do nothing but stare out the window, read, and write.

I have gone to AWP twice before and had a great time, found inspiration, made friends, discovered writers I wouldn't have known about otherwise, developed crushes (on John Wesley Harding/Wesley Stace mostly), continued my obsession with Junot Diaz, discovered that I actually like Joyce Carol Oates, reconnected with old friends, basked in time alone, come up with too many new ideas, learned things to apply to works in progress, made great new connections that I failed to follow up on at home, drank many drinks, enjoyed being in cities on my own not a mother or a wife but just me. (I have also been fortunate to have the not insignificant admission paid in the past, having won a lottery to get to volunteer at the Goddard table in the exhibition hall. This year, if such a lottery happened, I was not informed. That's OK, someone else deserves to have that.)

But eventually it just seemed impossible this year -- money I can't afford to spend right now and time that I should perhaps spending writing, rather than talking about writing. So, here I am in the 216 today.

Then I had intended to take some vacation time and make the days I would have been at AWP a mini writer's retreat for myself. Today was to be day 1, but I had too many loose ends at work, so I went in for the morning, which turned into the whole day. Alas. (There is something oddly liberating, though, about working when you aren't expected to be working -- easier to close the door and just plow through things. Maybe this is my own weird thing.)

And so, writing retreat will be Thursday and Friday. I am moved to say I will go on Internet blackout for this time. So, no blarg, no facebook, not even online "research" for the writing I'm doing (that's a time suck). Email, yes, but only for essentials and at predetermined intervals.

I'll report back on Saturday.

Reading: Lots. I am really enjoying Ex-Prom Queen. After starting two books and abandoning them (something I *never* used to allow myself to do, insisting puritanically that I read every book I opened to the end ... I don't have time for that anymore ...), it is nice to be reading something that I am eager to stick with. The question is why. It is partly the material -- girl coming of age in a different age is interesting in the realm of personal/political history and anthropology -- but it is also the voice. It is narrated very well. This I am paying close attention to, for questions of narration are big and loud right now in the ToT.

Writing: No, just thinking about stuff and planning a bit for the retreat.

Dinner: Wednesday is kid night. They (with the help of Sarah) made sweet and sour chicken and rice. In the morning, I helped them make a crazy dessert of lime-strawberry jello -- half "moussed" half tiny jiggler cubes to sprinkle on top of the mousse. (Part of my 20th century foodways fascination. There was Cool Whip. Apologies to my foodie friends. I feel like there is some penance I should do for this.)

Soundtrack: Hm. There was a great country music program on WJCU on my way home in the evening, including a Gillian Welch song called "Look at Miss Ohio" performed by Miranda Lambert. The dj did a really great job of setting this song up so I felt I had to sit in my car and listen to it in the grocery store parking lot. I'm glad I did.

Random thing: I have gone to the grocery store every day this week and still managed not to procure the basic ingredients I need for the two "limey" meals I intended at the beginning of the week. This is clearly some sort of pathological mental block. I must be meant to drink that lime juice instead.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Carpe Tea Time

For many weeks now, it has been rare for the four members of our family to be home during the week at the same time, so we seized on David's afternoon of downtime to have family tea. ZandO helped make the tea and set the table -- with my "Goldendawn" pattern English tea set, a true score of a handmedown from my mother in law if there ever was one. (And doesn't it look nice with the daffodils?) Yes, our tea snacks consisted of muenster cheese and multigrain crackers, "triple double" Oreos, and sour cream and onion Pringles. We run a high class business around here. The tea served was Target brand decaf orange pekoe -- out of my tall white teapot with the built in chrome cozy (not pictured), one of my favorite wedding gifts, from my Aunt Nell, I believe.

We all sat around the table and talked about Much Ado About Nothing and Zelda's school orchestra and other random topics.

Reading: Quite a bit, actually -- now into puberty and adolescence in Ex-Prom Queen. The whole thing about not telling girls about menstruation until it happens to them ... who ever decided that could possibly be a good thing?

Writing: Not really.
Dinner: Failing to properly plan for the fajitas I had intended to make, and also taking the time for tea, I ended up tossing some canned veggie soup and turkey sandwiches at the kids when Sarah got here to relieve for me some work business I had to attend to. I feasted on buttered popcorn and red wine after bedtime. So, yeah, for dinner I had a multi-course meal of cheese, crackers, cookies, potato chips, tea, popcorn, and wine. Woot!

Soundtrack: The "Dinner Music" playlist on our itunes - consists of a mix of jazz, classical, Latin, R&B, soundtrack music, country, house and downtempo pop.

Random thing: I had a random thing, which I have randomly forgotten.

Oh, and this is my 100th post!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Just keep it inside, would you?

She's awesome. I hope she's not hanging out with some clown.
(photo courtesy of Boston Public Library Flickr)

Z was singing along soulfully to Bruno Mars' "When I Was Your Man" in the backseat on the way home from the grocery store. I like this song, musically and ideologically. It's a lament that he didn't treat her better and devote more time to her when he had the chance. It's not a bitter recrimination song but a wow-I-blew-it song, and I think this is probably not a bad thing for a 10-year-old girl to be ingesting. (Although having her sing the word "man" so many times in a semi-romantic context made me feel weird. Not ready to have her thinking about "men.")

It makes me think of my own diet of popular music at a similar age. Along with my box of old 45s, I had a K-Tel compilation that featured both the disco remake of "Knock on Wood" (good to have in my repertoire) and "Don't Cry Out Loud," which may have been the single worst song for a pre-adolescent girl to have as an earworm ever, ever, ever. (Worse even that the "Pina Colada Song," which I know was funny, but represents everything that was wrong with being a child in 70s.)

"Baby cried the day the circus came to town because she didn't want parades just passing by her. So she painted on a smile and took up with some clown and danced without a net up on the wire. ... Don't cry out loud. Just keep it inside. Learn how to hide your feelings. ..."


I think this song damaged my psyche.

Apropos to be recalling this while reading Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen.

Reading: Yes

Writing: Yes

Dinner: Tonight's pizzas: Italian sausage and banana peppers & plain cheese.

Soundtrack: Alabama Shakes song on The Current in the morning made me think I need to check out more Alabama Shakes.

Random thing: First, let me say that for whatever reason, the sleep gods smiled at me, and I had a fantastic night's sleep on Sunday night. This is not a common occurrence and it makes an enormous difference in my general sense of well-being. I want to figure out how to make it happen m ore often, which I think probably involves finding a way to get more exercise.

The gerbils are getting very sociable, and they have learned to climb their cage.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

What's lurking around the corner?

Nothing ominous here.
(Not our Tiger, but could easily pass for him.)

O told me at dinner that he is "kind of scared all the time because"  he "could just walk around any corner and die." Z loudly proclaimed that she did not want to talk about this. I asked O if there is something in particular he is scared of around that corner. He thought for a second and said, "No, I just have figured life out, and I know that you can die at any moment."

I nodded, said something about our odds being good at any particular moment, and started trying to construct some piece of wisdom that would be reassuring but not bromidic. Some other subject flew across the table before I could come up with the right thing to say. I breed existentialists.

Reading: I got to sit and read Ex-Prom Queen while Z practiced violin. That's a loaded scene right there. Third wave feminist mother reads second wave feminist coming-of-age novel while 10-year-old daughter studiously applies herself to her exacting instrument. Made weirder by the fact I was reading the passage in ExPQ in which Shulman's narrator describes her school-aged socially mandated shedding of "boyish" interests and her dawning understanding of her feminine role:
"In fact, from the moment we got kicked out of the trees and sent into the walk-in doll house back in kindergarten, our movements and efforts had been so steadily circumscribed, our permissible yearnings so confined, that the only imprint left for us to make was on ourselves" (21).
Writing: A bit in the early morning, but I was interrupted by Z coming downstairs. She curled up with me on the couch and read for a little while, but then asked me to put down my computer and play a round of Egyptian Rat Kill (card game) with her. I did not feel I could say no. After all, death lurks around every corner. It was a heated game. She won.

Dinner: Rotini and jarred sauce with mixed lettuce and almond salad.

Note for the week: I have an inordinate number of limes. We will be making many limey dishes.

Soundtrack: I wish the DJ would just go ahead and turn it up already, so Coco Jones could stop hollering at him.

Random thing: Z's friend J, a bit older (6th grade) but practically a twin in many ways, wears goth-y smudged dark eye makeup wherever she goes. She told me this afternoon the triumphant tale of how she used her aunt to help her convince her mom that is was a necessity for her well being as a person.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Handwash and hard quesions

We need these.

In the morning, I sat on a window seat in a stairwell in a creaky old music school building and read an article about Purell. I am a Purell skeptic, one of those convinced that we are a culture of neurotic germophobes, and also that there is nothing wrong with plain old soap and water. These thoughts often are spoken inside my head in my grandmother, the public health nurse's voice, which gives them, to me, extra authority. The statistics cited in this article did a lot to dent my beliefs in this regard, and also some disturbing stuff about the origins of hand washing as disease fighter coming from a man who observed that women died in childbirth more frequently when they were being attended by physicians who had just come from autopsies (door opening here for an essay on history of childbirth) and more disturbing stuff about a system in development to monitor whether people are washing their hands enough (which connects for me with another disturbing thing I read today in the Times, about the mania of tech "solutionists")

After a long middle stretch of difficult writing and family volatility and wondering if my friend Anna could tell me something encouraging about the plight of bees (she went to some beekeeper education/I have been worrying about the future of humanity after hearing that bumble bees are now declining in the same way honey bees have been for a while ... remember Andie MacDowell going on about garbage in Sex, Lies, and Videotape? I feel like that), I ended the day by going to see the Earth Plays at CPT. Imperfect and overly long, but also fascinating, moving, disturbing,funny, sad, and sometimes uplifting, Earth Plays is a conglomeration of short pieces (and excellent chair choreography) about the earth, our relationship to it, and unavoidably, the problems of environmental degradation. (This piece is worth seeing, but it closes next weekend, and you shouldn't let it keep you from seeing David's These are the Times, also next weekend at CPT.)

An unsettling day all around. What world are my children inheriting? But it ends with a late supper and reading with a glass of wine, in the company of my person, David, with those children tucked in and sleeping in innocence and peace.

I think art matters in all this, but sometimes I have a hard time saying why.

Reading:  I know, I should read more magazines than the NYer. I know. I wish I did, kind of the way I wish I grew arugula on my windowsill or that I had started my taxes already. But I barely manage even to read this, so I would appreciate some credit.

Continuing with Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen. She is very explicit in her language about marriage as a condition of "belonging to" someone, and there is frank talk about a diaphragm. I am still enjoying it.

Writing: Yes, filling out the mystery scene I found yesterday, and struggling with other stuff. Found some intriguing notes in an old notebook that may be just what I need for another piece of the ms.

Dinner: Leftovers.

Soundtrack: On the "radio" online, some beautiful instrumental version of "Summertime" - haunting, sad horns. I checked and found the artist, and then promptly forgot.

Random thing: Cleaned the gerbil cage.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Brought to you by the suffix -ous

The author, Alix Kates Shulman, was (like 43% of the people
who have ever done anything noteworthy ever ... OK I exaggerate)
from the Heights (in her case Shaker, not Cleveland,
but I will lump them for the 43% figure). 

And now it's March? That seems preposterous. I desire in March to become again more daily with the blarg.

Daily, I have found, is good -- with so many things. I wish it hadn't taken me so long to figure that out. I've been very rebelliously opposed for most of my life to too much form and order -- don't fence me in -- and certainly to doing things just because people say they are the thing to do. Writing every day is one of those things you are told to do, and maybe because my circumstances made that difficult for me, I really resisted the wisdom in it. (Circumstances internal as much as external ... fear is a circumstance. Fear of what? At first I wrote "fear of being who you want to be," but that is too simplistic.) Also though, just the implication that there is something wrong with you, that you are failing if you don't follow this rule.

Walter Mosley (if you haven't read him, you should. He's good, and we both have associations with Goddard and City College) was the first person who started to make it make sense to me. He was talking specifically about writing a novel and the fact the a novel is too big for anyone to hold in the their head all at once, so a novelist needs to write every day not because it is valorous but because it keeps the whole of the novel accessible to her. (I feel like I might have already blarged about this. Hobbyhorse warning.)

Preposterous and valorous are both excellent words. What -ous words do you like?

And since the reanimation of this blarg, I have been very careful to distinguish what I do here from the Writing I am trying to do elsewhere. The blarg is not really Writing, to me, because it's purpose is so different. And because the time I spend here should not be in competition with the time I spend there. This should serve that ultimately, or it should serve me, which will serve that. I fear I am explaining this poorly. I am not denigrating the blarg. I like this. It is shiny. And it is of course writing, it is just not writing (there italics don't look as imposing and ponderous as the capital W), the maddening process of trying to build on paper a thing made of words, a unique object, all full of internal logic and realized aesthetic impulse and thingness, that can go out into the world and live a life of its own, make friends and enemies, take lovers, wander and arrive.

But when I think about writing every day, I mean both of these activities - this extemporaneous, observational, meditational, greedy for the shiny, partially therapeutic, even for me somewhat spiritual, semi-exhibitionist thing I do here and that other thing, I do over there -- the deliberate and involved object building that goes on, one tiny molecule at a time some days, when I am writing.

So, to put it simply, I find that writing every day (or most days) is good for me. And my March is about recommitting to that, as best I can, in my given circumstances. Good night.

Reading: I'm very book fickle lately. Started reading Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, a feminist fiction classic from the early 70s, which sat on my mother's bookshelf my whole childhood and I always wondered about. I like the voice a lot, and I am struck by what a different time it was written in. We have forgotten how fast women's expectations for their lives and their place in the world have changed. The work of feminism is not finished yet, but it has certainly had a radical effect on our culture. No wonder the right wing is so angry.

Writing: Yes! And ha-ha! I had the weird experiences of returning the ToT (Tome of Tomorrow, if you don't know what I mean) after a week or more off, and finding that I had already written the scene I intended to work on! Really. Well, half the scene. But there it was all lined up in sentences and telling my story. I don't quite remember writing it even. Reading it was a bit vertiginous.

Dinner: Low key Friday night with friends we haven't seen for a while. Jane made pizzas. I brought a salad and the makings of my drink of the moment, the tequila sunrise. We went through kind of a lot tequila. but there were 6 adults drinking it.

Soundtrack: Hmm. Not sure.

Random thing: I have images floating around in my head of the Atlanta Public Library c. 1988. Not sure what has dislodged them. Speaking of books sitting on bookshelves, there are at least three books I bought at a sale at the Atlanta Public Library that sit on my shelves unread to this day. They have survived various purges because whatever it was that first attracted me to them is still active, but the time has not yet been right to read them. One is a juicy looking historical fiction about 19th century Russie, called something like Snows of December, but a search on the title doesn't yield anything (I'll have to go to the stacks and get back to you on this). I was on a real Russian kick in 1988, and this looked like frothy fun after all that Solzhenitsyn I had been somewhat pretentiously consuming..