December 31, 2010

Family Phrases of 2010

I feel obliged to join in the end of the year summing up, so here are our most oft repeated phrases of 2010 (I'll leave it to you to figure out whom said which):

"Did you lose the mail?"

"Please put your flat iron away."

"Come wipe my tushie!"

"Did you see on Facebook . . ."

"Come say your thankfuls."

"Please keep your saliva in your mouth."

"Who tooted?"

"Have you washed my jeans?"

"Do I have preschool today?"

"Did you know that bees. . . "

"I want you to wake up now!"

"She needs a walk."

"I'm not going to play with you ever again!"

"Did you hear that podcast where. . ."

"It's a rainy day; can we go to Chuck E. Cheese?"

"Leave it!"

"Can I get dressed and watch a show?"

"Where are you working tomorrow?"

"The library books are overdue."

"Is that your big boy voice?"

"Are we going no where today?"

"It's another rejection."

"Two minutes, and then it's someone else's turn."

"When I'm a parent, I'll never . . . "

"Please take your finger out of your nose."

"Has anyone fed the dog?"

"I need privacy!"

"Ooh, can we do a trade?"

"How do you ask politely?"

"Add it to the list."

"I found a mushroom!"

"I'm going to count to three, and then what's going to happen?"
**********************************

What are yours?

December 27, 2010

Christmas Eve Enlightenment

Here's a little Christmas posty I wrote for First Parish in Fitchburg. Merry Happy, one and all!

Snow Trip

The lake is frozen, which I will always find baffling, but as all the neighbors were skating away joyfully out there I could hardly refuse to allow the children their slide across the ice. We trekked to the islands yesterday just before the blizzard was upon us. I didn't last long in the frost, even with my several layers.


Self-Portrait with Ice



I blurred out Buckaroo's boogy nose and eyes. He's battling quite the goopy cold this week, but it doesn't slow him down a whit.


Sweet P claims that her glasses crack and snap in the winter weather.


A blurry Bella and her new seasonal buddy from across the way. I guess that's a poor weather friend as they won't be able to romp together after the spring melt.



R and a somewhat miserable Sweetest P. In fact, she's pouting right now after asking for a birthday trip to Hawaii. She likes to cry in Lydia Bennet-like fashion: "I want to go to Brighton!" Fun times for all.

Perhaps a snippet of Pride and Prejudice would improve her mood on this whitest of white days.

December 26, 2010

Letter Home #1



I began this blog as a way to keep our California peeps up to date with all the news from The Woods, and I've been remiss in that endeavor of late. So here's the latest and greatest from the Fish Head family:

R fears he's become the guy who talks obsessively about one subject; namely, bees. Yet, he can't help himself because bees are so darn fascinating. He did read, however, that a beekeeper is stung regularly despite the fancy suit and hat, and oddly enough, R has the most incredible fear of being stung, so he's somewhat discouraged but plans to soldier on with his apiary dreams. He's been told that an electric fence is necessary to protect the hives from bears, so that's on our list of items to purchase. Ooh, maybe we can find one on Freecycle!

Sweet P organized a skating party and invited nine girls from school to attend on New Year's Day. We're very pleased to see her leaping over the social hurdle of shyness. I even had to ask her recently to stop texting during dinner.


She's leaping over horse hurdles as well-- actually, the horse leaps, and she hangs on-- riding bare back-- a bit painful, I'm told-- and is about to hit the slopes for ski lessons. I hope her first ski experience is better than mine; that's a story for another day. But why must skiing be so expensive?

Buckaroo continues merrily at preschool two mornings a week. He's learned to spell his name in a sing-song way that R taught him. In fact he's full of singsong these days. He's also full of feist, regularly shouting "I can do whatever I want!" or "I'm not going to play with you ever again!" Where does he learn these ornery quips? His mood is improved tenfold with a bit of snowplay; unfortunately, I have not grown a deep and enduring love of winter as I'd once hoped I would, so Buckaroo is often trapped in the snowless indoors.

And me? I've been somewhat lethargic since Frog Mama moved away. She was my walking buddy, and later my gym buddy, and without her I lost the drive to exercise. Exercising alone is, well, lonely. Poor Bella Dog is suffering from the lack of a daily walk, but did I mention the chilly weather? It's no help.

My body, though, tells me it's time to get back to it, Frog Mama or no, so today the lot of us hiked across the ice to the islands, and Bella frolicked with a spaniel from the other side. Later, the children and I yoga-ed ourselves silly. Buckaroo provided most of the silly. It's a start anyway.

I've wallowed in the mire with my writing as well, and it's time to grab the branch of a nearby tree and pull myself out of the muck. I'm still in search of a branch at this point, but I'm instituting a "Facebook Fridays" policy for myself in the new year-- meaning I'm only allowed to visit Facebook on Fridays. My hope is that without the FB time suck I'll have a plethora of time in which to be creative, to see the forest of branches before me. I dare to dream!

Mary Oliver said at the Wellesley reading, "The angel won't sit on your shoulder unless the pencil is in your hand." The problem is that my pencil (keyboard) is attached to the internet, where I find so many ways to be diverted. No matter. There's always right now.

December 21, 2010

Spindled

The latest issue of Prick of the Spindle is up! Check out my review of Alexandria Ashford's Danke Schoen.

December 19, 2010

Hiss

I know this looks like a photo of Buckaroo making the "naah naah nah naah naah" face, but he's actually showing me his cobra yoga pose. And that boy can downward dog like nobody's business.

December 11, 2010

Brattleboro Boogie



My dad was the king of the road trip, and so I guess that makes me Princess Road Trip. R did not always share my fondness for a long car ride with scowly-faced children and Raffi radio. I can't think why.



But now that's all changed because R wants to visit the farms, and today we drove all the way to Brattleboro Vermont to see a man about a pepper-- in fact a whole pack of peppers. While we were there we picked up some yogurt, eggs, and bread, too. Can you say yum? Buckaroo chased a few chickens, and I realized that my childhood smelled like a chicken coop. R says when we have hens of our own I'll feel like a spring chicken every day. Lucky me.

We scooted downtown to check out the farmer's market, too. The farmer's market is the place for me. There were so many good things from which to choose we had to have ourselves a spot of lunch and ponder it all. While we were in line for lunch a very well-dressed baby futzed with my hair, and then we enjoyed a mozzarella sammy with hot chai in a room overlooking the river. Buckaroo gobbled his snickerdoodle but didn't make googly eyes at the baby. He isn't crazy about babies these days and tends to shout, "Babies don't share their balls with me!" whenever we see a wee sprite. He's an odd little duck, but he's ours.

We hustled back to The Woods because I had a poetry call to make, but the trip allowed us to finish listening toFrom the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler , which made for big conversation, and I made some serious progress on a little scarf thing I'm knitting.





December 6, 2010

My Honey Loves Him Some Honey


R fell in love with the bees. I'm not sure when it happened. His interests have roamed through mushroom growing, cider brewing, chainsaw wielding, egg laying, gourd drumming, and bulb planting. He's not flighty, as he's still interested in all of these activities and has them in the works as well, but he's suddenly become an apprentice bee keeper.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about the plan R and I had to keep bees in The Woods. (Have I really been blogging that long? Time is a free fall.) Here's that post if you're interested.

When we arrived in The Woods it became clear that we really didn't want to attract bears to our abode -- especially after reading Steinbeck's Travels with Charley in which Charley the Dog goes psycho over a bear. We'd like to keep our Bella Dog sane and alive-- so we put off the idear (that's New England speak).

Recently, though, R went out for a beer with a couple of local farmer friends (how rural that sounds!) and they each offered to let him tend bees on their properties. R came home breathless with excitement and plunged into research mode.

It's amazing what one can learn by watching a few Youtube videos. Of course R is no fool, and isn't willing to sacrifice a whole colony of bees while he's trekking up a steep learning curve, so he found a couple of local bee keepers who are giving him pointers, and one of them offered to let him apprentice.

If you want to hear more about the life of a bee, you'll have to talk to R, but here's what I learned: We can't really trust those honey labels in the stores because the whole certification process is suspect, and bees can buzz miles away from the hive; there's just no controlling their wanderlust. What apiarists can control, though, is whether or not they spray pesticide directly on the bees.

Sounds crazy, doesn't it-- especially because so many people consider the bee itself a pest (not me, though, I am most reverent). But pesticide happens. R explained it like this: The apiarist wants to collect as much honey as possible, so he (or she) might give the bees larger cells in which to create more honey, but the larger cells attract more bee mites which kill the bees, so the apiarist might spray the bees with pesticide to keep the mites away.

Blech.

And it looks like the only way to know whether or not your honey was created by a pesticide-laden bee is to buy it locally and ask. Hey, in the spring we might be your local source! I'll keep ya posted. In the meantime, you might find some here.

October 26, 2010

The Ache to be Worthy

When I told my mom I was giving a testimonial of faith at the Unitarian church she said, "I don't like to tell people what I believe because I'm afraid they'll try to change my mind."

I feel that way, too. But the great thing about the Unitarian church is that we all sort of agree that faith is a constant journey of discovery, and it's OK to have different ideas, as long as they include love and acceptance. One member of the congregation said this week that he's a Born-Again Pagan with a Buddhist bent. Amen.

So if you'd like to read my testimonial (including a nod to Mary Oliver), you can find it here.

And, hey, thanks for reading!

October 19, 2010

Eat, Prey, Leave

Last night Sparkle Mama, FMF, and I journeyed to a little second-run movie theater in Clinton for a much needed evening of Eat Pray Love. Say what you like about Julia Roberts; she has kind eyes.

We stopped for a quick bite of pizza, and Sparkle guzzled her beer so we wouldn't be late for the previews. I have to say that I really enjoy the previews and often use them as a way to gauge the movie I'm about to see.

We circled the block for a parking space a couple of times. The spots were all taken because of a nearby school event and, perhaps, because of Blinky the Clown's appearance at a local pub. What?

"It's Clinton," said the FMF. "Go with it."

Finally we found a space, and upon arriving at the theater we noticed a sign that read, "Closed Mondays," and while it did happen to be a Monday, there were people meandering through the doors, so we followed them. The ticket booth was closed, and Sparkle and I hesitated, but FMF lead us through the swinging doors into the dark.

There were a number of people munching popcorn and sipping sodas, and I thought we must be crashing some private party, but since no one asked to see ID or offered to escort us to the door, we crashed away.

It was at this point that Sparkle Mama noticed the number of 19-year-old boys and thought it odd they all came out for a Monday night showing of Eat Pray Love, but she kept that curiosity to herself, and I went about blithely ordering my double pack of M&M's and rootbeer.

We found our seats, and the first preview started. It seemed to be a suspense-type movie, and I was watching cautiously (not my favorite genre to see in the theater as I tend to be a screamer), when suddenly Sparkle Mama flung her arm across my face in an attempt to cover my eyes from the horror on screen, and the popcorn went flying. She's a good friend, that one.

I took over and shielded my eyes until it ended. The next preview started, and it was also a horror film. I don't enjoy horror. In fact, R and I went through an unlikely and one-time-only Buffy the Vampire Slayer phase, but I regularly kept my eyes closed and made him narrate, which, unfortunately, he did not appreciate. Other than that I regret nearly every scary movie ever seen or frightening book ever read. They give me nightmares.

The next two clips were also horror, and that's when I turned to the FMF, who had been off fetching napkins, and said, "Shouldn't we be seeing previews for romantic comedies?"

And the three of us had the same, "ah, ha" moment.

We gathered our goodies, coats, and scarves, and headed back to the snack bar where we were informed that they were running a free, pre-Halloween, zombie flick.

Foiled again.

We re-bundled and carried our booty to the pub around the corner where, sadly, Blinky the Clown had gone home for the night.

October 17, 2010

Of Marriage and Mushrooms

The card R painted and gave me for our fifth wedding anniversary

One day, long before I knew R existed in the world, I was expressing to a friend my flabberghastedness at the idea that two people could remain committed, monogamous, for decades upon decades because at the time most of my relationships spanned about three months.

Lately, I've thought a lot about her response: "I asked my grandfather, at his 50th wedding anniversary, how he had managed to stay married to the same woman for so many years, and he said, 'I haven't. She has changed so many times, in so many ways, from the woman I married, and I continually re-discover her.'"

I'm embarrassed to tell you my response, but here it is: "Huh. I wonder how I'll change." The fact that I never gave a smidge of thought to the idea that my partner might also change perhaps speaks to my small-minded self-focus, and possibly the reason for those short-term relationships. But, hey, I didn't have a partner at the time, so I'm cutting myself a little slack on that end.

Karma is wiggling her clever tongue at me. I can almost hear her chanting, "Naah naah nah naah naah," because all these years later I have a husband, and he is not quite the same man I married five years ago.

When R and I fell in love we were city-type dwellers. We enjoyed the occasional hike, but we spent most of our days roaming neighborhoods, evenings at the movie theater. R regularly tried to convince me that he was an outdoorsman, and I would chuckle to myself.

Then we moved to the woods, and R came home. When we first arrived at our little camp on the lake, R pulled a book off of the shelf titled The Homesteader's Guide and told me when he was young he could be bewitched by its secrets for hours. At the time I didn't think much of it, but now I see that moment as a kind of foreshadowing.

Rick left The Woods at 18 after the death of a good friend, joined the Navy and didn't look back for twenty years. It wasn't until his parents mentioned selling the camp that he realized how much it meant to him. There's a line in a Josh Ritter song that goes, "you didn't know that it was home 'til you up and left." I think that line applies to California and me, but for R the opposite is true. He didn't know that The Woods were home 'til he came back.

Now he's re-discovered his inner outdoorsman. In Alameda he spent his alone time studying technology. These days, when he's not running a chainsaw, he watches youtube videos about mushroom hunting, permaculture, cider brewing, chicken and worm farming. He fantasizes about turning all of our land into vegetable gardens and living off the grid.

But every time R mentions buying livestock I think, "Where will we find someone fool enough to care for a llama while we're in Paris?"

That's right. I'm no outdoorswoman. I don't mind getting my hands garden-dirty every once in a while, but if R's gone, the land suffers, and while we currently have no plans to visit Paris, I long for travel, or at least evenings of Indian dinner and a late foreign film. Heck, I long for a date.

At some point during the course of last summer I realized that R's happiness has become one with The Woods, while the thing that keeps me going is, well, going. Suddenly we seemed to have conflicting pursuits of happiness.

Then, I had a complete freak out. Fortunately, my very wise friend Frog Mama told me something she learned about marriage: Not only do two married people change over time, they also have to fall out of love every so often so that they may fall in love all over again. It may sound odd, but I find that idea very comforting because it means that I (we) don't have to remain in a state of wedded bliss at all times. Also, it means that the bliss will return if we welcome it.

And then, to top it all, our UU minister gave a lovely sermon (find it here) about the wrongness of pursuing happiness, about engaging with the world around us and letting happiness, or contentedness, come.

So, I'm engaging with the Unitarian Church and all that it represents (love and acceptance, among other ideals) which goes to show how far my formerly-atheist heart has come, how much I too have changed.

What this means in practice is that I go mushroom hunting with R, and he comes to church with me. While I still check the travel sites for cheap tickets to Europe (and Disneyworld), and I'm terrified that R might one day ask me to eat a foraged mushroom, I'm letting go of the hot pursuit-- and the freak out. Whatever comes, it'll find me here in The Woods.

October 15, 2010

It Gets Better

I thought I was shouting about the "It Gets Better" project every where I went, but then R said, "I just heard Dan Savage on All Things Considered talking about this new project. . . " and I realized I hadn't even mentioned it to my very own husband. So, here it is! Check it out:



I've heard some criticism that it doesn't solve the problem. No, it doesn't, but sometimes change comes one baby step at a time.

October 2, 2010

"Forever" and Ever, Amen



If you are the one person left in the world not familiar with Judy Blume's Forever, let me tell you a little bit about it: Katherine and Michael are seniors in high school. They date, they make-out, and *spoiler alert* eventually they have sex, which, I suppose, is why there are so many attempts have the book banned from libraries all over the country.

I speak as the mother of a teen when I say I am baffled by folks who want to pretend that teens aren't having sex despite the fact that in 2006, 750,000 teenage girls in the U.S. were knocked up, resulting in 435,000 unplanned babies. I'm sure that nearly every one of the parents of those teens also thought, not my girl.

As a child of a teen mother, I've seen first hand that pregnancy happens to nice girls, and while my mother regularly reminds me that she wouldn't change her past, I watched her travel a long and arduous road toward adulthood.

Do I want my daughter to have sex in high school? Certainly not. Am I going to let her read Forever? Heck, yes. And here's why: The sex scene in Forever is explicit, but it's real, not at all titillating romance and passion. Katherine and Michael's first attempt at sex is on the floor, on a towel. It's cold, and Michael finishes before he's even started.

When they finally get it all together, it's fairly disappointing for Katherine, and that's what I love so much about it. Not only does Katherine insist that Michael use a condom (she had previously discussed birth control with her grandmother) she expects to have an orgasm and is let down when she doesn't.

"'I'm sorry,' he said, 'I couldn't hold off.' He stopped moving. 'It wasn't any good for you, was it?'

'Everybody says the first time is no good for a virgin. I'm not disappointed.' But I was. I wanted it to be perfect."

Some women, myself included, have sex for years before realizing there's something in it besides the undivided attention of another person. Go, Katherine!

Wait, there's more, and for me this is the clincher: Katherine's parents warn her that despite the love she feels for Michael, she's young, and her feelings are going to change, and in the end, they're right. Ha! How I love to be right. Katherine meets a cute boy at tennis camp and breaks Michael's heart.

Just imagine how Katherine's life would have changed if she had not known to use birth control, if she had parents who didn't talk to her about sex, just told her not to have it, if there were no Judy Blumes out there for her.

September 13, 2010

At Long Last, the Farmer's Market

Today was my first trip to a New England farmer's market. Yep, it's taken more than two years to get myself there, although I do frequent my neighbor's farm stand. And it turns out that, at least on this blustery day, our little, local farmer's market was about the equivalent of my neighbor's roadside hut.

I know I've rattled on about my love of sidewalk wandering in Alameda, perusing the downtown book shop and stopping for a mocha with whippy or a scoop of macapuno ice cream, but I may not have mentioned that when I wandered in the other direction, at least on a Tuesday morning, I hit the farmer's market. It was more like a festival, really. Vendors sold produce, of course, but also artisan bread, fresh pastries, cut flowers, quail eggs, kettle corn, and roasted rosemary chicken. A local musician strummed his guitar in one corner, and baby-wearing mamas chatted each other up while sampling strawberries and nectarines.

My friend Monkey Mama and I filled our bags, popped into the taqueria for a quick bite, and walked the kidlets to the park for the afternoon. That routine is on my top five play list of what I miss most about California.

As much as I wanted fresh, local food out here in The Woods, I was afraid my disappointment would send me packing if the market didn't measure up to what I'd known. It came to represent so much more than just produce: year-round sunshine, sidewalks, downtown, time with friends, community, belonging.

Today Buckaroo and I spent the afternoon at a playdate with new friends and passed the farmer's market on the way home. As I pulled in across from the park, I spied two tiny stands between one port-a-potty, and that was it. I knew there was a time not too long ago when that sight would have sent me into quiet hysterics.

Also, though, I saw Grateful Mama and her little ones running across the field with their new puppy, Daisy. Grateful Mama was so joyful, I couldn't help but be happy too. We chatted while dabbling in plums, and she invited Buckaroo and me over for a playdate, even promising us bounty from her garden.

So, no. There were no gourmet foodstuffs, no scent of salty sweet popcorn wafting through the stalls, but there was laughter, and as it was the two vendors had everything I needed for tonight's homemade pizza. On the drive home I thought about how many new friends we've made here-- even becoming so close to some New England friends that I shed many tears when they moved away.

It's as hokey as all get-out, but I remind myself that we miss what we miss, the people and the places, because we love them and possibly they loved us back. How lucky is that? And what is the alternative? To go through life without creating community, resisting love? I certainly resisted the farmer's market, and how many playdate invites did Buckaroo and I miss, how many opportunities to create community, because of my snobbishness? I'll never know.

In any case, I have a delicious recipe for kettle corn. Maybe next week we'll pop it up and take some with us to share.

September 3, 2010

Missing: Obo


August 31, 2010

For the Lurve of Birch

The downside of Ball Hill Trail in Leominster State Forest is where you can smell the town dump, so that's unfortunate, but the upside is where the mushrooms grow. R is becoming a mushroom connoisseur, and while he promises never to eat them, we spend a goodly amount of time inspecting and photographing fungi.

We took Buckaroo for a few hikes last weekend as it's becoming our new favorite pastime, at least until the chill is upon us. Ball Hill was supposed to be a short hike that went rather long, but I spotted this lovely, curling birch. I think of silver birches as the princesses of the forest, so fancy in their ball gowns, but the paper birches remind me of, well, paper. I see one and feel inspired to write a poem.

So hiking=writing + ice cream-- because a long hike must be rewarded with something sweet and delicious for the tummy as well as the mind.

August 17, 2010

Buckaroo's Song

Buckaroo and I are reading the complete tales of Winnie the Pooh. Buckaroo likes Pooh's songs best, so yesterday as Buckaroo began to nod off in the car during the long trek home from Sparkle Mama's house, I asked him to make up a song with me-- nap time interferes with bed time these days. I was trying to encourage rhyming, so it goes a little something like this:

One Two Three
I'm busy as a bee

Four Five Six
Let's play pick up sticks

Seven Eight Nine
You play, too

Ten Eleven Twelve
All the shovels with you

Hey, it got us home nap-free!

August 11, 2010

Then Again, Maybe I Will



I've mentioned somewhere in this bloggity world that Judy Blume's book Deenie changed my life, turned me into a reader of chapter books. What I didn't remember about that time, until recently, is that after reading Deenie I set out to read more Blume books and checked out Then Again, Maybe I Won't from the library. I never finished the book, but not because I didn't like it.


I was twelve-ish. I loved the way my Nana Pat described her Agatha Christie mysteries to me, and I wanted to emulate her, so after I'd read a few chapters of Then Again Maybe I Won't, I set out to find my mother and began describing the book to her. I think she may have been folding laundry in the living room. I said something along these lines: "I'm reading a book about a boy named Tony who has dreams at night, and when he wakes up in the morning his bed is all wet."


Now, my mom had explained the female reproductive system long before this time, but I'd either spaced out during the male half or we'd skimmed over it. In any case, I didn't have a clear grasp of what was happening to Tony, so my mom explained it to me and mentioned that I might not want to bring up the topic in polite conversation.


I want to be clear: My mom never said, "Don't read that book," so I can't blame her for what happened next, which was this: I was horrified. I returned the book to the library and never read another Judy Blume book again, which now makes me sad for my naive and prude-ish tweenie self.


In fact, I didn't even remember the masturbation scene in Deenie until I read about it during my research for this post, which makes me think that it went right over my twelve-year-old head. Fortunately, I'm not the only reader who missed it. Yes, the other oblivious readers were younger; I was a late bloomer.


So yesterday I took Buckaroo to the library, and while he was meandering through the picture books I pulled Then Again Maybe I Won't from the shelf and finished the tale I began so long ago. One of Blume's main story lines does address Tony's sexuality and how he manages it:


"Just as I finished writing the figures on the math board I started to get hard. Mind over matter . . . mind over matter, I told myself."


He solves his problem by holding a text book in front of his pants. He also talks about his wet dreams, fantasies, his guilt about watching from his bedroom window as the neighbor girl undresses each night. But here's what struck me: this book was written in 1971. Sure, there were other books about sexuality written before 1971, but how many were written for kids?


I'm beginning to think Judy Blume is a genius.


Yes, I was too embarrassed to finish the book, but it sparked a conversation between my mom and me that we would not have had otherwise. It gave me my first glimpse into the life of an adolescent boy. And think of the boys! So many not only understand Tony's plight, but live it. I hope they all read this book if for no other reason than to learn that they're not alone-- that boys have been trying to will their penises into submission since the dawn of time.


Which reminds me: Sweet P's dad once mentioned that he was required to write a book report on Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret after he teased a girl in school about wearing a bra. I love that teacher!


I was not surprised to find that so many of Blume's books have been banned at one point or another in so many places. The Reagan years were the worst for book censorship, Blume writes on her Web site, but after buckling under the pressure to remove lines about masturbation from her book Tiger Eyes so that it wouldn't be another victim of censorship, Blume became an anti-censorship advocate.


"If someone had told me then [while writing her first book, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret] I would become one of the most banned writers in America, I'd have laughed," Blume writes of the impetus for her activism.


I don't think too much about censorship. I'm an adult, I live in a fairly liberal area, and if I or my kids want to read a book that's not available at my library, I buy it online or at the bookstore. But now I'm starting to think about what might have happened if I'd never read Deenie, the book that was so instrumental in making me a reader. What if it had been banned from my school library? Would there have been another book to take its place, or would I be watching a soap opera right now instead of writing this post?


And what about the kids in places like Wasilla, Alaska, whose parents might not have the means to order books not available at the library? Will those children find the book that drives them to become a lifetime reader, thinker?


Ok, it's not true that Sarah Palin tried to ban a giant list of books from the town library, but she did threaten to fire the librarian if she couldn't see eye to eye with Palin on censorship.


Scary stuff. Right now, in fact, the radio program Fresh Air is banned from the airwaves in Mississippi because a comedian talked about his need, because of his poor self image, to wear a shirt while having sex. I cannot imagine life without Fresh Air.


Here's what I don't understand about censorship: Why would we want to keep kids (or anyone)from reading about the very experiences they're living? Especially if those books are going to enlighten them in some way. And if we're going to ban books because they contain stories about infidelity, prostitution, rape, or murder, I guess we'd better start with the Bible. Just sayin'.






August 6, 2010

Figgy the Singing Squirrel

I wish I could be funny in my poetry, but I tend to take myself way too seriously. The funny factor is probably what I admire most about Billy Collins's poetry. I just found this poem in the Spring 2010 issue of Poetry East.

Palermo

It was foolish of us to leave our room.
The empty plaza was shimmering.
The clock looked ready to melt.

The heat was a mallet striking a ball
and sending it bouncing into the nettles of summer.
Even the bees had knocked off for the day.

The only thing moving besides us
(and we had since stopped under an awning)
was a squirrel who was darting this way and that

as if he were having second thoughts
about crossing the street,
his head and tail twitching with indecision.

You were looking in a shop window
but I was watching the squirrel
who now rose up on his hind legs,

and after pausing to look in all directions,
began to sing in a beautiful voice
a melancholy aria about life and death,

his forepaws clutched against his chest,
his face full of longing and hope,
as the sun beat down

on the roofs and awnings of the city,
and the earth continued to turn
and hold in position the moon

which would appear later that night
as we sat in a cafe
and I stood up on the table

with the encouragement of the owner
and sang for you and others
the song the squirrel had taught me how to sing.
---------

It's the clutched forepaws that get me every time. The furry squirrel face full of longing and hope. Oh, how it makes me giggle. It also reminded me of one of my first dates with R, in Oakland, California. We picnicked in the park on a Sunday afternoon and spied a squirrel sizing us up. As the squirrel scurried closer and rose up on his hind legs we couldn't help but notice that he had the most abnormally large testicles. Like figs. Really, it was obscene, and I think I may have blushed. I'm not even sure how he could make his way through the park with that burden. It would explain why he was on the ground and not leaping among the branches.

So when I read "Palermo," I was, in fact, imagining our old friend Figgy singing his heart out. It makes the poem that much more delightful.

Oh, and just so's ya knows: there are many excellent poems in this issue of Poetry East, so you should go ahead and get yourself a copy.

August 5, 2010

Old Goodies

While sorting through some poems, trying to spiff up my old manuscript and possibly pull together a new one, I discovered a pack of poems I wrote in college. They're fairly lousy, but I love this one. It certainly doesn't foreshadow any great writing career, but I love it mostly because I'm so much further away from sixteen now than I was when I wrote it, and now I have teenage children of my own. Sheesh. I have to laugh at myself-- and remember that, with any luck, in twenty years I'll be laughing at my thirty-eight-year-old self, too.


County Fair
For Gentry

We painted our lips cotton candy pink
and drove your dad's '65 Ford
(the one with the broken radio)
past the cows resting their weight
against the evening grass
and down the highway
to the county fair.

We screamed our laughter from the ferris wheel,
giggled past toothless men in booths
shouting, "Come on over pretty ladies
ball in the basket, three tries for a dollar!"

I think we understood, even then,
about growing up, bills, marriage, babies,
our lives moving in different directions.

But that July night, hot enough to melt
snow cones to a blue stain on our hands,
as the bright lights flashed around us,
we didn't think about tomorrow, or our mothers
who waited under porch lights.

That night, we were forever sixteen years old,
and you, always my friend.

August 3, 2010

Summer Sundries

Here's an update on the fam for the folks in California. I'll try not to sound too much like a Christmas letter.

We took Obo and Sweet P to the airport yesterday, and they flew off in opposite directions. It's hard to watch them say goodbye. After a month of being nearly inseparable, singing Lady Ga Ga and Taylor Swift tunes at top volume and whisper-giggling at any phrase remotely resembling bathroom humor, they can't bear to hug in the airport and so just fling a wave from the security line, very cool-like. They are nothing if not cool. Oh, and they have instructed me that I'm not to use the word hip to mean cool. No one says hip.

Nana Sandy (aka my sweet mama) visited while Obo was here, and I dragged them from one end of New England to another. Then we stayed up extra late playing board games and watching Jane Austen films. Obo tried to boycott the Austen films, but we drew him in with our arts. After her whirlwind visit, I think Mom must have been happy to return to her one high-energy dog. Our dog is low energy, but our plethora of children are not.

So today Buckaroo and I are back to our old quiet-ish ways, except that Sweet P won't be off the bus at 3 p.m. to stir things up. I wasn't sure how we'd spend the day, how he'd be feeling, but Buckaroo woke up and announced that he wanted to give his toys away to children who don't have toys, so we spent a big part of the day sorting his bedroom.

Buckaroo's bff, Frog Boy, is moving south to a warmer climate. I have yet to explain this to Buckaroo, and I'm running short on time. Frog boy is taking my good friend Frog Mama with him, and I've been living in a blissful state of denial about it for some time. The walls are beginning to crumble, though. Just this week I finally let myself imagine how preschool will be without the pair of them there to greet us in the morning, and it felt like a stiff smack in the face. Even as I write this my eyes are stinging.

So we're off to music class tomorrow morning and then to the library to find a book or two about friends moving away-- one for him and one for me.

August 1, 2010

Leave Your Misogyny on the Porch

Every year on Fourth of July the neighbors around our lake have a fantastic fireworks competition. They begin lighting off whoozles and hoolyboppers long before sunset and goad each other by shouting jovial insults across the water. The friendly rivalry results in a lovely display for those of us too cheap or law-abiding to provide our own pyrotechnics.

This year as R navigated our boat through the dark water, jockeying for the best out-of-danger view, I held my hands over Buckaroo’s boom-sensitive ears, and tried to concentrate on the beauty above me but was continually distracted by the ribaldry happening on the shore. In particular I found myself resisting a growing annoyance with one tipsy and jocular man who referred to his young, male rivals as, “ladies,” as in “Is that all you’ve got, ladies?!” and “You ladies better hold on to your panties for this next round.”

It’s not something I’d normally notice, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the use of the word pussy as an insult among men, which has always bothered me, originally for its vulgarity and later for the inherent suggestion that if a man is a pussy he is feminine and femininity is the equivalent of weakness. Another, perhaps less vulgar epithet is girl, as in “You run/throw/squeal like a girl.”

A few days ago my mom related a bit part from a Survivor-type reality TV show where one man tells another, “If you’re going to make it out here, you better leave your skirt on the porch.”

I have to admit that I laughed. Then wondered why that insult didn’t offend me the way the others do.

Maybe because ladies, girl, and skirt are words that suggest not just the feminine, but the prissy, the froo froo, the pampered princess—femininity taken to a whole new level, but even that stereotype isn’t necessarily accurate. I’ve known some froo froo women who possessed an inner strength I envied, and I’ve also known a few brutish men who-- well, didn’t.

But disregarding any of that for now, why pussy? According to Wikipedia, the word has a few possible derivations, all of which are unrelated to female genitalia, and for a moment I felt hopeful that I was overreacting, that people weren’t actually insulting each other with misogynistic slang, but were calling each other purses and kittens, but then I realized that although the word’s original definition may have been kitten, that’s not today’s intended use; if it were, the word would come up more often in polite conversation, which, obviously, it doesn’t.

Here’s why I don’t understand its use: The female reproductive system is so much more powerful than a man’s. Yes, a man has the ability to penetrate, but a woman not only creates life, she bears down and brings another human being into the world through her pussy. As a former birthworker I’ve attended a birth or two and if a laboring woman isn’t an example of strength then I don’t know what. So I could maybe understand the epithet among men in the days when men were rarely allowed to attend a birth, but these days partners, fathers, brothers, uncles, and male friends are witness to women’s miraculous ability. So, is it womb envy? A skewed version of sour grapes?

My one hope is that folks insulting each other with the word pussy are using it mindlessly, not really considering its meaning, the same way we rarely think of dogs when we say bitch—again with the female! There must be a word that means male dog?— but is turning a blind eye toward misogynistic insults akin to allowing ignorance as a reasonable excuse for the use of racial epithets?

Here are a few more words to ponder:

Cunt: There’s no connotation of weakness here, and I’ve never heard anyone insult a man with this word. So why the difference? Is it just the sharper, harsher, angry sound, unlike the soft Pu and child-like y in its counterpart (I’m thinking of words like piggy, puppy, pony, as well as an assortment of nicknames).

Dick: Possibly the male counterpart to cunt. Again, no connotation of weakness, and the word is generally not applied to a woman, but I can think of no masculine word that connotes weakness. Can you? Maybe we should create one? Ball sack, for example, seems like a perfectly vulnerable body part. But then, why spread the negativity?

Asshole: Well, everybody’s got one, but this word is usually only used to describe men. What’s up with that?

I mulled all of this over for quite a while before I realized that no one ever uses the word women as an insult. I’ve never heard a coach call out to an all-male team, “Come on, women, you can move faster than that!” in real life or in fiction. Are women respected while ladies and girls are not? Meanwhile, “The Man,” the patriarchy, the powerful system that holds people (men and women) down, is a menace everywhere.

Sometimes I get all worked up about this, and then I tell myself I’m just being too uptight, too persnickety. Maybe it’s no big deal. Then again, as a writer I know the power of words, how they shape our ideas and beliefs, how our use of them represents our culture, and I don’t want to be part of a culture that mindlessly demeans half of the population, myself and my daughter included, with its inappropriate use of language.

So I’m trying to think of a funny, polite-ish, non-bitter way to respond when someone like my neighbor spews a feminine word as an insult, so I can focus on the good stuff (sparklers, for instance) but I haven’t come up with anything yet. Maybe you’ve got an idea?

Meanwhile, if you’ve ever known a strong woman (girl, lady) you know what I’m going to ask of you.

June 20, 2010

Spindled

I helped edit the fiction for the most recent edition of Prick of the Spindle. Plus, my review is up, too. Check it out here.

June 8, 2010

Impounded



I've been reading Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment edited by Linda Gordon and Gary Y. Okihiro. The book contains more than a hundred photos Lange took before and during the Japanese internment.

There are so many moving images in this book I don't even know where to begin, but there are two images in particular that stick with me. The first is the gardens that the internees (prisoners, if we're not going to gentle it) grew outside the compounds where they lived. There's something so hopeful about a garden, and I'm just not sure that, if my country forced me from my home, made me give up my business and posessions, and live in dank, crowded horse stall for an indeterminate amount of time, I'd feel that kind of hope.

Those gardens speak to the prisoners' will to keep going, make a life, claim some small piece of independence. I am in awe of that tenacity.

The other photo that makes my spine tingle is one of two little boys sitting next to each other at a lunch table before the evacuation. It's not the photo so much as it is knowing what happens after. These little buddies are nearly eighty years old now. I wonder if they ever saw each other again.



"San Francisco, California. Lunch hour at the Raphael Weill Public School" Dorothea Lange

June 3, 2010

Joan Chittister: Spunky Revisionist



"The important thing to remember is that religion itself is meant to be only a means to sanctity, not an end in itself. Religion is at best a finger pointing at the moon." -- Joan Chittister

I'm not Catholic, and I struggle to find common ground with the Catholic Church, but I do love a feisty woman, and Sister Joan Chittister is nothing if not spunky. You know the Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote, "Well-behaved women rarely make history"? It's odd to think of a nun as an ill-behaved woman, but Chittister is making history, working within the church to change its old-school ways, -- its views on women and evolution, for example-- and not everyone is a fan. In researching her I found more than one hostile blog post and responses too imbecile to repeat.

Chittister has been speaking her mind for 35 years, at least, has written just about as many books, and has a long, long list of accomplishments.

I'm a little slow, however, and just learned about Chittister at the Unitarian Church last Sunday when our minister, in her sermon about how war is more harmful for civilians than soldiers, quoted from Chittister's speech, "Women, Power and Peace." Here's an excerpt:

"And we must cry out the answer to the ends of the globe women have everything to do with war. Everything. Everything. Everything. Women as a class excluded from the war making system on every major determining level go to war in the worst possible way. They go unprepared, unarmed, and unasked whether they want to be defended, defenselessly or not. Women are booty of war, their bodies have become the instrument of war, their children have become the father of war. Their homes have become the rubble of war. Their daily struggles to live have become one of the horrors of war and their futures have been left shattered in the shambles of war. They die, too, from bombs and bullets. They die in large cities and small villages today for lack of food and then they die left behind for lack of water or they die for years after that from drinking water destroyed by war and left filthy with human feces. They die in tent cities without medicines, without clothing, without sons and husbands and hope and they die seeing their daughters do the same. So much for the commitment of men to the protection of women. So much for the notion that men spare women the suffering of war.

"Oh, yes. When all the warriors have finally left their battlefields, it is the women who are left abandoned there, either to rise or die alone in the ashes of war and the cemeteries of anguish. If truth were ever told war falls hardest, longest, cruelest on the backs of women. Indeed, women must have a role not only in the reconstruction of society’s already ravaged by war, but more than that, they must take a voice until they are given a voice in the development of peaceful alternatives to war as well."

It's a long read but definitely worth the time. If that's on the heavy side for you, you might like another article: "The God Who Beckons: Recent Discoveries in Science Have Given Us a New Picture of the Divine Creator"

In fact, there's all sorts of Chittister reading out there. Have at it! I think I will, too.

June 2, 2010

Michael Perry: Ladies' Man



I don't mean to say that Michael Perry is chasing the ladies, rather, that he's a writer women (or women like me) would enjoy reading. I've mentioned that I have trouble reading books written by men because they sometimes, not always, on occasion, sound like they're trying to prove themselves. You don't have to prove anything to me, Mister. I know. I know. It's a huge generalization, and women have those moments, too. And here's a book to prove me wrong.

I just finished reading Perry's non-fiction book, Truck: A Love Story. Sparkle Mama's husband lent it to me and said he thought I'd like it. I wrongly assumed from the title that it was about a man in love with his truck, which it is, partly, but there's a woman in there, too.

The book loosely follows Perry's attempt to restore his 1951 International Harvester Pickup-- not something I would usually choose to read, but you know how sometimes you're listening to a really good radio program, maybe Ira Glass is interviewing someone, and midway through the show you think: Who knew hook worms could be so interesting? Perry's book is kind of like that.

The sections that aren't about the truck are about his garden, his battle against the squirrels, his work as a nurse, the people and town he loves, deer hunting, and his attempt to find a good woman who will put up with his quirky ways.

I found myself rooting for Perry in all of his endeavors, with maybe the exception of deer hunting, where I was hoping he'd write that in the end he couldn't shoot the deer. That didn't happen. But hey, I've eaten more than my share of meat, and I didn't even have the decency to do the ugly work.

There are many lines in the book that rang true for me: Perry's thoughts about marriage, trying to find that person with the right amount of quirkiness, bringing a family together, barbecued chicken.

I've just started reading the sequel, Coop: A Family, A Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg. In the first few pages Perry laments for a while about moving out of the town he loves, and I was right there with him, daydreaming about my old Alameda town. Then Perry reminds himself that there are people all over the world who are removed from their homes forcibly while he, "just moved down the road a piece."

I might as well have smacked myself upside the head.

May 28, 2010

Becoming the Kite: My June Challenge


If you've spent any time reading this blog, you've probably noticed that I talk about myself probably more than is polite or healthy, and so I have to say a big fat THANK YOU if you've kept reading. Now I'm going to talk about myself just a little bit more, and then I promise to stop-- at least for a spell.

June holds the day my dad died, and then two seconds later it's Father's Day which wasn't even an easy day when my dad was alive. Last year I decided to surround myself with loving friendship on my dad's death day, and I planned to do that again this year, but there have been a few technical difficulties.

When I told my mom that the party plans are postponed she said, "But what are you going to do for yourself? How are you going to get through the day?"

I'm not sure about that yet, but I think I know how to get through the month.

I read a little blurb in O Magazine (just can't stop myself) where Jane Lynch (from Glee and almost every other show ever aired) talks about being a newly recovering alcoholic. She went to an AA meeting where her sponsor was crying in the corner, and Jane thought, "What did I do wrong?" and then she realized she hadn't done anything wrong; her sponsor's sadness had nothing to do with her. Her entire life she had been blaming herself for other people's unhappiness, and while others were gathered around her sponsor, consoling her, Jane was just standing there worrying about herself. Her self blame had allowed her to create a wall so that she never had to reach out to anyone.

If I'd had a light bulb floating above my head in that moment, it would have exploded.

I could offer examples of how this is also true for me, but I think you should just take my word for it.

At the UU church on Sunday, Rev. Leaf Seligman told the children a story about Martha and Jimmy, who liked to play together every day until the grown ups built a wall separating the land and their homes. The children missed each other very much, and then one day Martha flew a kite over the wall with a message: "Hi Jimmy. I miss you." When Jimmy found the kite, he wrote back: "Hi Martha. I miss you, too." Pretty soon all of the children were flying kites across the wall to their friends, and the sky was filled with colors.

Leaf ended the story by saying, "So boys and girls, the lesson for you is: Be the kite; don't be the wall." I took it as a sign.

So here's my plan: I'm going to be the kite over my own wall. I'm going to pretend that I don't believe everyone is annoyed or angry with me, because my therapist says we can make our brains believe something by pretending to believe it. So if you are having hostile feelings toward me, I'm just going to trust that you will tell me when you're ready and go about my business.

And Part B of my plan is to get my face out of the mirror and into the sunlight. I'll spend the month of June paying attention to other people instead of myself and writing about their brilliant ways. Aha!

The fine print here is that I'm long on ideas and short on follow up, so I may need a swift kick in the ass every so often. Feel free.

May 27, 2010

Sibling Loneliness or Parenting Against the Past




At times it's easy to forget there are ten years between Buckaroo and Sweet P. I'm thinking in particular about when they squabble over the TV, but there are good moments, too, the times when Buckaroo plays fireman and Sweet P runs around the house pretending to be on fire. It's a morbid little game, but they race with screaming giggles, which is a good sound to hear while I make dinner.

Right now we're all at the beach and Sweet P is floating in the water with our neighbor, Tap Girl. The girls intermittently break from their game of "Push Your Buddy Off the Floaty" long enough to tease Buckaroo with a skosh of play time. They pull him around on his pink dolphin boat or take turns pretending to let him save them from [insert violent doom of choice here].

But they are thirteen, and their interest in a preschooler wanes quickly. They're not trying to be mean, but soon they're kicking their rafts out to Blueberry Island, and Buckaroo is left on shore with his shovel and pail, wailing and kicking sand.

In our house it's not unusual to see Buckaroo chasing after his disappearing sister. Sometimes a friend will call Sweet P during the fireman game, and she miraculously recovers from the flames and disappears into the basement, whispering into the phone while Buckaroo, wearing only a red fireman's hat, bangs on the basement door, shouting, "I want to pway!" (He hasn't quite mastered his Ls.) I endeavor to distract him with puzzles, games, or cookie building, and he calms down eventually, but I know I'm not the playmate he wants in that moment.

The first time this happened, I was surprised by my reaction-- a strong ache in my throat-- but I have the same reaction every time, and eventually I realized that as hard as it is to see my son hurting, the ache I feel is for my younger self because watching the scene is a little bit like watching my own memories.

I don't have siblings in the traditional sense, but my Aunt Robin was six years older than me (still is, although I haven't seen her in years). She was the perfect playmate from the time I was three, sort of a weekend sister. Hide and Seek, Slip and Slide, Pick-Up Sticks, I don't remember ever tiring of her company. We could play all day, and when we were tired and hungry, she was tall enough to reach Grandma's hidden stash of Twinkies and Lucky Charms. Looking back I think, as the youngest of four sisters, she must have enjoyed the chance to be the oldest for a while. At night I slept in her bed, and we took turns tickling each other's backs until we fell asleep.

Then one day, after we'd played house for hours, Grandma and I dropped off Aunt Robin at her friend's house for a sleep over. I'm sure it wasn't the first time, but it was the first time I recognized that she was going off to do older kid things, that I wasn't welcome. Grandma and I watched from the car as Aunt Robin walked up her friend's driveway with her overnight bag, and I imagined that later I'd eat my Salisbury steak TV dinner with Grandma and watch Dallas while she rolled her hair in curlers, and I felt my first pangs of loneliness.

When I see Buckaroo chasing after Sweet P, I feel that lonely frustration all over again.

As we got older I became more of an annoyance than a playmate. I couldn't sleep in Aunt Robin's bed anymore because I woke her up too early; I was rude to her boyfriends; I couldn't keep a secret. I saw her less often. I was fourteen the day she was married. I was a bridesmaid, and as much as I wanted to be happy for her I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being left behind for good.

Tricia, 11 & Robin, 17

Strange that it should never occur to me that-- is there even a phrase for it? Sibling loneliness?-- would be one of the challenges of having children so many years apart, but my ignorance makes sense considering that I try not to think about Aunt Robin too much. She disappeared a long time ago, became a drug addict, abandoned her children. She lives somewhere in her own woods, I'm told. I locked away all of the feelings I associated with her, and they only floated to the surface in very bad dreams, until now. Buckaroo has become a little key, opening a door I had forgotten existed.

I am continually trying not to let my past influence the way I parent my children, but I'm sure every mindful parent knows the challenges there. I encourage Sweet P to play with Buckaroo, but I don't force her. (Ok, sometimes I include it as one of her chores if she seems game; digging sandcastles is more fun than washing dishes.) I remind her again and again --and again-- that before walking away from Buckaroo, she might try finding other solo interests for him. Give him a two minute warning, at least. Some days that works.

One day, about five years from now, Sweet P will go off to college, and I dread that day for myself, but also on Buckaroo's future eight-year-old behalf. Not too long ago a friend told me that she would never have children so many years apart because it was difficult for her to be the younger sister left behind. Another friend, though, loved visiting her older sister in college and remembers it as the best kind of vacation-- all the fun and none of the parents. I'm also trying to keep in mind that most children leave home eventually, and maybe it's not easy for any sibling, no matter the age difference.

I read somewhere-- I think it was O Magazine; don't judge me-- that reality is what it is, but we each have a movie playing in our heads made up of past experiences, and we view reality through the screen of that movie. These days I'm working to shut down the projector.

Our family is what it is, too, and while we have some of the same themes running through it, sibling frustrations being one of many, we have an opportunity to approach those themes in our own way. Still, R and I remind ourselves that we don't have to re-write the parenting book here, but maybe we can decorate it with our own illustrations.

And speaking of books, I went looking for children's books that address this topic, without much luck. I did find Forever Rose, but we may have to hit up our local librarian. Parenting would be a much bigger challenge without her.

May 21, 2010

Twelve Slightly Useless Lessons from the Garden


There are snakes out there. Don't kill the snakes, People! They are good and helpful creatures. R took this photo on his hike up the hill last weekend.

Here are a few other things I've learned while trying to become one with the earth:

1. One person's weed is another person's flower.

2. Beautiful things can grow in really bad soil and a lot of rocks.

3. Some plants really do return after the snow melts, but not all of them.

4. Those little plastic six packs are meant to be torn open, otherwise
one might end up beheading the flowers before they're planted.

6. Rooty veggies should be planted during a waning moon
and above-ground veggies during a waxing moon. I don't know why.

7. Frost happens.

8. Pressure treated wood is evil.

9. While nasturiums grow like weeds in California, not so much in Massachusetts
(see #3)-- plus, all that rain = more leaves, fewer flowers.

10. One's fingernails may fill with dirt even when wearing gardening gloves.

11. That weed prevention cloth may be handy, but digging through it is a bitch.

12. Marigolds smell like being four years old and may bring tears to one's eyes--
Ok, maybe that's just me. What's your nostalgic scent?

May 12, 2010

Mullet: It's Not Just a Bad Hair Cut Anymore



Our lake has a tiny concrete dam at one end where the water splashes over, runs through a pipe under the road, and flows downstream to our neighbor's pond. Throughout all of April there were fish swarming the dam, crammed in belly to belly, and it was very stressful to watch because the fish would get so close to the precipice that their tails would dangle in the air. I held my breath waiting for a wayward fish to slide downstream. I'm not sure that downstream is a safe place for them to be. It's shallow and rocky there and seems like a good spot for a fish to be stuck.

R googled and talked to a few people and discovered that the fish are white suckers (they eat just about anything) and are also sometimes called mullet, although they have no relation to the grey mullets that spend their time in tropical waters. For example, no one wants to eat the white sucker mullets, whereas one of the characters in The Elegance of the Hedgehog dines on mullet in a very posh French restaurant. It was a strange coincidence that I read that line in the book while our mullets were in a frenzy at the dam. I took it as a sign that I needed to write a little something about the fish, but then I got distracted, so it's May, and the mullets have gone, but here I am writing about them.

It appears that the dam is a hot pick up spot for mullets-- where they meet, mate, and lay eggs before stumbling the swim of shame back to the green depths. There's something about the fast-moving water that draws them to the dam. It seems crazy to me, though, because the water is so shallow there, and if I were a fish-loving bird, that's where I'd be spending my time. Free lunch!

I hoped to take a photo of the white sucker mullets, but there's a chain link fence surrounding the dam, so I couldn't get very close, and every time I tried to sneak up on them, Bella -- our lovely labby-- would bound up and frighten the poor fishies away. Maybe next year.

It just occurred to me that the mullets at the dam next year will probably be grown from this year's eggs, unless they're gobbled up in Finding Nemo fashion. Ah, well. Lately I find myself rooting for the predator and the prey-- everybody's gotta eat.

Maybe I'm toughening up, New England style.

April 6, 2010

So Long, Mick



I have intended for some time to post a few of my favorite things, and I haven't, but this is a good opportunity to mention two of them: the New Yorker fiction podcast and PRI Selected Shorts podcast. I download them from iTunes, listen in the car, and it makes the journey seem much shorter, which is a good thing because it takes ages to get anywhere from our spot in The Woods.

When I mentioned my love of the podcast to my friend Grateful Mama, she was astonished that Buckaroo would listen with me. I have to admit that there are days when he insists on looping his favorite song ("Take Me or Leave Me" from the musical, Rent; sometimes my mothering skills are lacking). Other days, though, he'll just get in his own little zone and listen.

Karen Russell, author of St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, --the title story of which I had just heard read on Selected Shorts-- read Carson McClullers's, "The Jockey" for the New Yorker podcast, and during the follow-up conversation with Deborah Treisman, Russell mentioned that she'd read McCullers's short story "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," when she was thirteen and began a long reading relationship with McCullers.

I'm always on the lookout for stories and books that Sweet P (also thirteen) and I will enjoy together, so I requested it from the library. It is not, unfortunately, Sweet P material as she is quite downtrodden by the bleak little stories she's required to read for English class, and refuses to read another sad tale of her own volition.

I have to admit that Russell was a stronger girl than I was at thirteen, and possibly than I am thirty-eight. The book is due back to the library, and I haven't finished it. Usually when this happens I scoot on down to the bookstore and buy myself a copy, much to R's chagrin, but I'm not going to do that.

Here's why: It's spring in Massachusetts. It was a long, frosty, frustrating winter with more than one emotional breakdown in our little house. Now the snow has melted, the tiniest maple leaves are unfurling, the bulbs are thrusting their greenness through the damp soil, and the peepers are peeping with wild abandon. I am happy.

As the title suggests, none of the characters in "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" are in the same happy place I am at the moment, and in fact McCullers is so adept at describing their intense, angry, drunken, lonely frustrations, that I can't stand to read it-- at least not right now. The story follows the lives of a few characters in a poor, southern town, and the character I find most haunting is a thirteen-year-old girl named Mick. She reminds me too much of someone I used to know, and it's painful to read:

"This was a very fine and secret place. Close around were thick cedars so that she was completely hidden by herself. The radio was no good tonight- somebody sang popular songs that all ended in the same way. It was like she was empty. She reached in her pockets and felt around with her fingers. There were raisins and a buckeye and a string of beads-- one cigarette with matches. She lighted the cigarette and put her arms around her knees. It was like she was so empty there wasn't even a feeling or thought in her . . .

"Then the music started. Mick raised her head and her fist went up to her throat . . .

"The outside of her was suddenly froze and only that first part of the music was hot inside her heart. She could not even hear what sounded after, but she sat there waiting and froze with her fists tight. After a while the music came again, harder and loud. It didn't have anything to do with God. This was her, Mick Kelly, walking in the daytime and by herself at night. In the hot sun and in the dark with all the plans and feelings. This music was her-- the real plain her.

"She could not listen good enough to hear it all. The music boiled inside her . . . ."

At thirteen, I was newly converted to atheism, although I didn't yet know the word for what I felt. I wasn't eavesdropping in search of music or smoking cigarettes, but I spent a lot of time wandering the neighborhood, wearing pink lip gloss and sitting on the patio at the gas station eating Kit Kats, hoping someone would notice me. I didn't love Mozart, as Mick does, but I loved poetry, and I had this idea that no one was writing poetry in the 1980s, that all poets were dead poets, except for maybe me and (at the time) Shel Silverstein.

Thirteen was a bad year for me (haven't actually met anyone for whom it was enjoyable), and I mostly try to forget the girl I was then and pretty much everything that happened for the following ten to twelve years. So, I'm taking Mick and her neighbors back to the library where a more emotionally stable person than me can meet up with them.

Maybe one day I'll be strong enough to finish the story. Hey, maybe I'll even check out the audio version and listen in the car.

Meanwhile, Sweet P has just finished Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and strongly recommends that I read it, too.

April 5, 2010

Part XIII-b

--
Ingrid and Carey doze for a while, damp, blanketless and pasted with feathers. She wakes briefly, remembering Billy Crystal’s line from When Harry Met Sally—“I took her to a place that wasn’t human. She actually meowed.”
She meows once, very softly.
“Hm?” Carey asks from a dream, then snorts once and breathes rhythmically.
She pulls the sheet over them and sleeps.
--

March 18, 2010

I Can Bring Up the Babies & Blog About Them, Too

On March 12, the New York Times ran an article by Jennifer Mendelsohn titled, "Honey, Don't Bother Mommy. I'm Too Busy Building My Brand." While the headline accuses blogging mothers of neglecting their children in order to write, I know that journalists don't often create their own headlines and decided to overlook it.

While the article was snarky and condescending, it wasn't evil. Writing about a blogging seminar she attended, Mendelsohn writes, "[Organizer Tiffany Romero] steered the proceedings with the good-natured sass of a sorority social chairwoman and the enthusiasm of a, well, summer-camp director. (She went barefoot for much of the day and said 'You guys!' a lot.)"

I can't say the same for the follow-up comments, however. For example, #21, Dee of Western New York, writes: "Nature abhors a vacuum, so these people fill up their lives with each other- telling each other how special their everyday thoughts and actions - and kids - are. And they are lonely at home with the kiddies? So rather than making actual flesh and blood friends and getting out of their cocoon they gravitate to an electronic network of others just like them. There is something pathetic about the clingy, needy plea for attention and affirmation. God help the teachers when the offspring of these bloggers get to school."

I wish I could say that was the only nasty comment, but there were many more.

I am always fascinated by the way people treat each other in online forums. Would people say these wretched things if they were sitting across a table from one another? Would Dee call me clingy and pathetic if she had to look me in the eye? Maybe. Obviously, I don't know her, so she may really be that dreadful, but I doubt it.

Online hostility is a little like road rage. People feel comfortable to scream at each other and make rude gestures as long as the other drivers aren't visible, but I know from experience how it feels when the other driver turns out to be a familiar face, one's 86-year-old grandmother, for example.

So, Dee from Western New York, and all of the others who wrote vile things about blogging mothers, I'd like you to know me a little better.

My name is Tricia, I have children, and I have a blog. Sometimes I blog about my children because I think they are very special. Wouldn't you be more concerned if I didn't? I hope so. I write because I enjoy writing, not because I have something to sell, and I've been doing it since I was nine years old. Should I have given up my passion because I gave birth? Perhaps gone on Prozac instead? Would you ask that my husband give up playing golf or watching football on Sunday afternoons?

My husband doesn't actually do those things, but I'm sure somebody's husband does, and it probably makes him happy, too.

I have a group of real-life mom friends, and I spend a lot of time with them in the real world. As it happens I met many of them online. I am thankful every day for their friendship. We go to music class together, to play trains at the bookstore, to storytime at the library, and nearly every sunny day, to the park.

My son goes to preschool once a week for two and a half hours, and every other week one of the moms I met online takes him home afterward for a playdate with her son, so every two weeks I have five hours of free writing time, and that happened to be today, so today I wrote a post for my blog, and it made me really happy.

When my son came home we went for a walk, and he splashed in the puddles. When my daughter came home from school and my husband finished work we walked up the road to feed carrots to the neighbor's horses. At dinner, which I made, we said what we were thankful for today. After dinner I read Mendelsohn's article while my husband cleaned up, my daughter did her homework, and my son watched an episode of Max and Ruby.

At bedtime, I sang my daughter a song, as I do most nights. Tonight was my rendition of "Happy Together" by The Turtles. (Did I mention my daughter is a beautiful, straight A student? Yeah, I'm really proud of her.) Next, my husband and I took turns reading to our son. I read Elizabeth Jane Gets Dressed with an English accent, and then I lay down with him, and he asked for a story about at pig with no name, so I made one up. I'll spare you that bit. When he fell asleep I came back to my computer to write, which is what I do most nights instead of watching TV.

Are my children neglected? No. Is my house a mess? Yes, but luckily I have a husband who helps with the children and the tidying. Anyway, don't worry, I won't invite you over any time soon.

March 16, 2010

The Not Good Enoughs

Have you met the Not Good Enoughs? They are a large family, and some of them live in my brain. I'm guessing they're camped in the back right curve of my skull where it always feels like I've slept on my ponytail. There's Not Good Enough Mother, Not Good Enough Writer, Not Good Enough Wife, Not Good Enough Daughter. I could go on.

Often their cousin Not Smart Enough visits for an undetermined amount of time. He's one of those slacker relatives who sits on the couch for weeks watching TV and not helping with the tidying up.

Ok, I don't really have a real-life relative like that, but I have an idea about how much that visit would make my head throb.

My friend Laura says that my thinking I'm not smart is a lot like a skinny person looking in the mirror and saying, "I'm so fat." I had a friend like that once, and that conversation went stale faster than a McDonald's Happy Meal, so I have to remember to thank Laura for putting up with my insecurities for the last fifteen years.

I could blame it on my dad, who used to sing to me, "Fish Head, Fish Head, dumber than most kids, the dumbest we know. . ." to the tune of "Flipper," but it's long since past time to get over that old hurt. Although, Fish Head Soup is my little way of reclaiming the epithet.

So I have this new friendly neighborhood therapist. Actually, she's not in my neighborhood at all, but that's neither here nor there. She wants me to evict the Not Good Enoughs and their relatives, and insists that if I write argumentative responses to my negative thoughts, in Stewart-Smalleyesque fashion, these thoughts will run away.

I haven't been able to do it. Partly I haven't taken the time, and partly I am unable to come up with a response, which just perpetuates the cycle of ugliness. So now I'm wondering why I'm so reluctant to give up these thoughts. They must be doing something for me. I haven't quite figured out what that is, but I think it might have something to do with giving up, or with not taking risks, or trying at all. If I'm not going to succeed because I'm not good enough, I shouldn't even bother, right? I should just be slothful, sit on the couch, watch TV.

Since I've been thinking about writing this blog I've had Shel Silverstein's "Listen to the Mustn'ts" stuck in my head, but I could only remember the first five lines.

Listen to the MUSN'TS, child,
Listen to the DONT'S
Listen to the SHOULDN'TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT'S
Listen to the NEVER HAVES. . .

Just now I cracked open my ancient copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends and found the last lines:

Then listen close to me--
Anything can happen child,
ANYTHING can be.


Enough said.

March 15, 2010

Movie Chatter

When Sparkle Mama and I agreed to meet for a Friday night showing of Alice in Wonderland, it didn't occur to me that the theater would be sardine-packed with teenie boppers. It's probably wrong of me, but I tend to be nervous about viewing a movie with young people because they are, at times, noisy and texty.

I don't mind sitting through a cartoon with a bunch of chattering children. I expect that. It does bother me when young adults and sometimes even seemingly mature adults yak it up with each other, on their cell phones, or even in texts. I know texting isn't talking, but that little rectangular square of cell phone light is like a flitting mosquito distracting me from my enjoyment so that I'm no longer able to suspend my disbelief. I want to crush it.

Before Buckaroo, R and I had every other weekend free as Sweet P spent them with her dad, so he and I would see one or two movies in a weekend, but at some point we realized that we came away from the movie angrier with the audience than pleased with the show.

In fact the last movie I saw before popping out the Buckaroo was Music and Lyrics. Was it one of the best movies of all time? No. Was it going to win any Academy Awards? No. But I knew it was the last movie I was going to see in the theater for years, possibly, and I wanted to hear what the actors were saying.

The people behind me had other ideas and clearly wanted me to hear their critique of the movie, which they thought was wretched. Why didn't they just leave? I considered asking them. I finally shushed them, and when the lights came on I stood up and flung by whale of a belly in their faces. Well, I wish I had.

Here's what NPR movie reviewer Linda Holmes has to say about it:
"Here's the thing: If I'm at the movies, I'm not there to think about you. You are there to think about you (apparently), and the difference in our level of absorption in the film is a little like the difference between deep sleep and light sleep -- by the time you talk, you've already pulled away from the movie; you're prepared to hear yourself talk; only your light sleep is disturbed. But for me, you talk out of nowhere; you yank on my attention like you've suddenly got a fishhook in my mouth. And once you do it, I know you might do it again, and in reality, I can never get back into that deep sleep again."

Somehow I had forgotten about my audience frustration until Sparkle Mama and I were walking out of the theater, and I realized that we were discussing the movie instead of the audience. In fact, I haven't been annoyed by an audience once since moving to Massachusetts.

I don't know if the difference is a city/small town thing or an east coast/west coast thing, but whatever it is, I like it! So there's one reason for staying here. That and the Marshmallow Fluff.

Fiction for Dessert

I re-worked an excerpt from my long/short story for Fiction for Dessert's flash fiction contest. It was a really good exercise in cutting out the fat.

Don't fret, more on that story coming soon-- or maybe you're all hoping that was the end? In any case, I'm working on it.

http://www.fictionfordessert.blogspot.com

Check it out!

March 14, 2010

Alice in Underland


Did you know that Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton are domestic partners? You probably did. But did you know that they live in adjoining houses with an attached door because they don't think they could live in the same house (according to Wiki)? I guess that makes them neighbors more than domestic partners. They do have two children together, though. Sometimes that happens with neighbors. Just kidding, of course. I don't know much about them as people, but as far as the roles she chooses and the films he directs, it appears they have much in common.

Here's a photo of their oldest little guy, Billy Ray Burton. His little sister, Nell, is just a wee bit younger than Buckaroo.

I wonder how it would be to see your mother perform as Bellatrix Lestrange.

Strangely, none of that is what I came here to say. Many of my mama friends have been wondering if Alice in Wonderland is appropriate for their little ones. I usually go to The Movie Mom for questions like this, but I didn't see a review of this one.

The movie is rated PG, and while all kids are different, Sweet P wouldn't have enjoyed Alice until around age nine. There are battle scenes, bloody dismembered fingers, slobbery, toothy chases, and a few eye-pluckings. We definitely won't be taking Buckaroo.

I am embarrassed to admit I haven't read either of the books on which the movie is based, but according to other reviews it doesn't much stick to the storyline. There's no dragon in the real deal, for instance.

If you do go, notice that Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) occasionally breaks into a Scottish brogue. I didn't believe that Depp was incapable of maintaining his accent throughout the movie and figured it was intended. Sure enough, Depp says in an interview that he was trying to highlight Hatter's schizophrenia.

While I did enjoy his recitation of some "Jabberwocky," I don't know if the accent did its job. The visuals were stunning, though, and Sweet P would have been especially enthralled with Alice's costume changes. I love the voice of Alan Rickman as the caterpillar, so deep, wise, and kind of creepy. Mia Wasikowska's performance is meh, but she's supposed to be stand-offish. She does add to the film's beauty, but in the end I just didn't really care if Alice survived her trip through Wonderland.