Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why do I feel like my days at this are numbered?

K: Why don't you read your book for a little while. I'm going to write about you now.

I: For real?

K: Yes.

I: For real-real-real-real-really-real?'

K: Yes.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Things I (re)learned on my trip to Massachusetts

That it feels good to know all those dot matrix printers are still put to use at car rental companies all over the country. (“Initial here, here, here and here...”)

My affinity for shuttle drivers.
I love that there is someone who is willing to take me through and to places I would not want to navigate on my own. I once took a shuttle between LAX and Long Beach, or maybe it was the other way around...? Anyway, I was so relieved that I had made it on my own as far as I needed to. I smiled the rest of my way along the cozy, high ride amidst the dizzying maze of freeways that is southern California, someone else at the helm.
The driver was a cheery kind of Cheech Marin character and at one point while traffic slowed, which it did most of the journey, he leaned out the window and leered at a souped up caddy with shiny spinning hubcaps. Impressed, he called out to the driver, pointing at his fly detailing, “Hey, man! Donde se venden?” (Translation: Where'd ya get 'em? Literally: Where are they sold?”)
This was a man who paid attention to the road, who had a real interest in the varities of his discipline. I appreciated that.

Why I don't have a TV and that I adore the innocence involved in my wide-eyed son rushing into the bedroom after arriving at his grandparents' house to announce “Grandma and Grandpa have a movie screen!”

That the last time I consumed this much Olympics I was pregnant with Isaac and it was a Michael Phelps year.

That if they had actually sold fashionable winter boots like I saw in the stores now when I was a kid, I might have worn them...and liked it...and been warm...and happier...and a guest on Oprah by now...Okay, at least the first four.

How hard it is to walk away from $40 rain boots covered in skull and cross bones, shaped like cowboy boots, with a killer fat green heel. (Honestly, they rocked. The description doesn't do them justice.)

How I so know my sister will have some comment to make about the $40 rain boots covered in skull and cross bones, shaped like cowboy boots, with a killer fat green heel.

How serious my son's determination is when it comes to creativity and hard-core imagination.
There is a Lego Duplo set in my in-laws basement which consists minimally and mysteriously of one base block (green), two trunk blocks (yellow and brown), a palm tree and leaf fronds, a parent and baby dinosaur, and another yellow block with a picture of strawberries on it.
According to the picture on the box, this is a complete set. Of what, god only knows.
Isaac can play with it for hours, designing an unbelievable variety of configurations and scenarios: The dinos piggyback, the baby eating from the fronds. The strawberries mid-trunk, each dino sniffing about. The dinos attached to the green base (aka skateboard). Etc. etc. etc.

That if I lived here, my poetry would likely become filled with icy rivers and maple sugaring. That I do not know how sap rises in the trunks when the weather warms above freezing for enough days in a row, or what it is collected in and how. That I am so ignorant of the world.

That being away from home for a week and a half feels like an eternity until you arrive back and it feels like you never left and you eventually discover that the world outside the confines of the airport mini-universe and 35,000 feet below your delayed air cruise, has continued to turn and there are no urgent emails waiting as you feared because you are a writer and a teacher, not a neurosurgeon or a teenager, and so you simply pick up where you left off in your staid routine and no one throws you a party to help you contemplate what you've taken away from this journey, so just like the saying, if you want it done, you have to do it yourself, sometimes in the form of a blog entry.

That the OED word that means to make the sound of waves is Undisonant.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

“...One salt taste of the sea once more”

“Is there a beach near grandma and grandpa's house?” Isaac asks me before we take off for this trip.

“Nope, no beach.”

Isaac is just pondering around what he knows. M comes from the Semitic “mem,” meaning water. It started out written as jagged, uneven lines. My poem for that letter, which I am still attempting to revise into something that works, is called “The California Coast.” For the time being, it begins with these lines:

It is all he knows. This expanse:

the sea birds running on their twig legs,

needle beaks reaching from dry to wet,

the grit in his toes, the swampy air

passing through his lungs in gusts

that have somewhere

urgent to go.

My son plows his yellow backhoe

through the sand.

This is our foundation, this shifting edge

of the world, bullied by the moon,

where things are easily buried,

easily lost.

I have always lived near the coast – with the exception of a couple years in Pittsburgh where I tried in vain to call up watery memories from the three rivers that ran muddy and indifferent to my cause, and a couple years in Washington, DC where the Potomac provided no solace and the gridlocked lines of traffic on a summer day leading out toward the beaches left me with nothing less than a deep sense of panic.

Ironically, I feel centered when I'm on the coast. Like I can see myself as a microscopic dot on the gigantic map of the universe – You are here. Right here. - as opposed to lost in the woods somewhere where you can't even see the skyline from on top of the mountain you're standing on, or the edges of the valley you are in.

The foremost nicknack in my house is the sea shell. Smooth rocks from Italian islands, tiny black and white clam shells from the Mississippi delta, conch shells from Florida and New Jersey and San Diego.

There are lots of houses here in New England with mud rooms. I love the idea of mud rooms, I just don't like the weather that necessitates them. What if houses were built with “sand rooms?” So much warmer an implication. So much more...coastal.

From the first apartment that we lived in when we got to California we could, on quiet evenings, hear the sound of the ocean waves. I've been chasing that ever since to no avail. We live 2+ miles straight uphill from the water now. Not far at all, but still not enough to catch the ear. Spoiled.

Reading the OED includes a word meaning the sound of water lapping on the shore. I can't seem to find it again, but when I do, you will be the first to know.

A poem that has always stayed with me since I discovered it a few years back is “Inland” by the formidable and delightfully ironic Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950).

Are you a coastie? Where do you feel most comfortable? What do you need in your environment?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

saving food - a personal Olympics

“This vegetarian cooking is all new to me,” my mother-in-law sighs, her palms turned up in askance. I have been with her son for nearly 13 years, the entirety of that time as a vegetarian. But let us not allow such pesky details to come into play.

In preparation of our visit this time, my mother-in-law has gone out and bought all kinds of crazy things – Exotic items like beans and brown rice and hummus. You have to give her credit. She's doing her very best. She even found me gluten-free bread. And a strange food known, she'd told, as polenta. She buys these things, despite their complete foreignness in her world, and then, she turns the reigns over to fate.

Mike, for example, had to save the polenta from imminent disposal. It went something like this:

“Do you know what this is?” (She holds the yellow log away from her face to read the label as if for the first time.) “Po-lenta? Do you eat this?”

“We have.”

“I don't know what to do with it. Do you want to cook it? If you don't, I'm just going to throw it away. We won't eat it.”

The crescendo-ing danger to the polenta having been spelled out in rapid succession from its introduction, Mike swings into action. He's trained for just this moment. He is not going to give it less than his all.

His body extends out, then folds into a pike position -- no one has attempted this move before!! -- as he dives with all his might, blocking the trash can -- a highly technical move!!-- and catching the modified corn meal. He hugs it to his chest just before he crashes hard on the kitchen floor (particularly slippery in today's conditions of extreme cleanliness).

The replay shows him grimacing as his left shoulder meets with the Formica counter, knocking over the wooden owl napkin holder that must be at least 40 years old. But he did. not. let. go. This is what is looks like to be a champion. This is it.

He's done it!! He's done it!! He has managed to save the polenta! Snatching it from the jaws of the trash can just in the nick of time, before it landed, forever wasted, on top of the hummus that went before it. The crowd is on its feet. The Romanian judge has given his a 9.45!

The Russian Food Saver - once the gold medal favorite -- is quoted in the press as challenging Mike's gold. Without the quadruple, he says, it is just a dance. The Koreans -- always top in the field and fierce on the playing field -- have said he doesn't deserve the medal. But Mike is gracious, calling attention to his competitors' long history in the sport, restating his pride in everyone's efforts.

Then, we all watch that fucking BMW commerical for the 500th time. And Mike slumps back into obscurity, training in a small town on the Central Coast of California.

At 41, this could have been his last chance. Unless of course he can manage to push through his Vegestan citizenship and enter the Games under their flag (which naturally features an avocado and a rice cracker) in four years. No telling what one will do for the chance at gold.

PS -- Isaac turned FIVE yesterday!! Pics to follow.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Books, words, letters: a post about literary downsizing

We are staying in an incredibly beautiful apartment in Northampton, MA. Though I have not met the woman who lives here, I like her. This is easily explained. What I mean to say is, I like her books.

Nevermind the bedroom shelf, which already has me on board, stocked as it is with Toni Morrisons and Barbara Kingsolvers. And I won't even start counting at the bathroom reading material that includes Why Do Men Have Nipples? Hundreds of Questions You'd Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini as well as 1,000 Places To See Before You Die.

The bookshelf in the hallway has enough to make me never want to leave (well, that and there are 53 steps up to this place). The eclectic nature of the gathered books is what strikes you first – Bloomingdale's Illustrated 1886 Catalog down from William Styron's Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. How about the plays of Sartre and Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare? In a pile that looks a lot like college texts we find a fat, weathered Webster's New World Dictionary, Cultures Under Siege and Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. There is this all-star line-up: All's Quiet on the Western Front, The Scarlet Letter, Little Women, Breakfast at Tiffany's. There is the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Water Trails of Western Massachusetts, Best American Short Stories 1998, Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela and A People's History of the United States by the late Howard Zinn. Reading Lolita in Tehran is three shelves down from Lolita herself which is propped next to Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country? Frankly, just ogling this collection -- it's exhilarating, really.

I am currently reading a book called Reading the OED by Ammon Shea (OED = Oxford English Dictionary) (I think my sister gave it to Mike at some point. Thanks, Rita.) It's amusing to say the least. I thought Shea was a little loony talking about his fervor for dictionaries, but all I have to do is stop and catch my own reflection to see that those who live in geeky glass houses, should probably stay away from anything that looks too much like a rock. Or, something like that.

This man has read thousands and thousands (and thousands) of words and then chosen a few from each letter to share with us and comment on. I, in turn, will share just a portion of my favorites with Porporate – the state of wearing purple; or Paneity – the state of being bread. There is Antithalian – opposed to fun or merriment and Bemissionary - to annoy with missionaries. After Inquilinate - to dwell in a strange place, the author relates his experience living in Los Angeles. I love Onomatomania - vexation at having difficulty in finding the right word. And of course there is Filiism – an excessive bias for one's own son.

Books, words. They are so much fun. Isaac still has a few amusing phrases I am loathe to correct, like “On your March, get set, go!” or “back and forest,” and, that old standby, “Elmo's Glue.”

Books, words. When you break it all down, we end up in letters. Isaac finds them everywhere these days. In tree branches. In his shoe laces. Twisting his craft material of choice – pipecleaners – over and and over again into letter after letter. He is fond of drawing letter combos as one-liners. (Graphic designer, anyone?)

Just in terms of full disclosure of geekdom, I have been writing a series of poems based on the letters of the alphabet and their historical derivation. Yes, it's that bad.

My poem for O is called “Learning to Write” and stars none other than my only son. The letter O is descended from the Semitic “ayin,” meaning “eye” in Phoenician. The poem begins like this:

“Look, Mama. I can draw an O.”

He meets the single, curved line perfectly, then makes another, and another.

If the writer is in love with sentences, she must be just mad for syllables,
have to cast herself prostrate before letters.

We begin here, before “Beowulf” in its squirrelly Old English,
before Dickinson's private genius, before Mandelstam
and whatever the last thing was he scrawled in that exquisite Cyrillic
the night Stalin's henchman dragged him away for the last time,
before Langston Hughes could sing out “Harlem,”
before Sharon Olds held poems “heavy as poached game” in her hands,

letters. O.

May you all slow down enough to notice and cherish the smallest among us.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What's your IKEA name?

The other day, Isaac was running about climbing me, sitting on me, and generally abusing me.

“What am I to you?” I mock-scolded him. “Furniture!!?”

I then proceeded to stiffen my body, holding out my arms like the arms of a chair. This made Isaac laugh riotously and, of course, jump into my lap to try out the new living room piece.

“You know, I'm sure that not too far in the past, I was cool. I just know it. When did I become furniture?”

At this, Mr. Isaac stops and cocks his head earnestly, thinking. “Um, when you got married?” he tries.

The damn kid stops me dead in my tracks every time.

Go to this link to find out your true furniture identity. It's funny. Do it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Update of What We're Reading Sidebar

Once upon a time, there was a mama who was in the habit of calling her little boy “my Prince and the Pea” when he complained about some ow-y thing that couldn't really hurt that darn much. Until recently, she'd never explained this nickname, and I'm sure the boy just took it as one more strange thing his mama called him. But not long ago, that mama found herself scratching this sentence into her journal: Should I be reading Isaac fairytales??

And so, she proceeded, on the latest occasion of name-calling to tell him the story of the Princess and the Pea and threw in Cinderella for good measure, booby trapped as it was with a thorny side explanation about what a step-relative is. She also told him some of the reasons she really likes fairytales (e.g., there is usually a lot of magic in them; they are stories that can teach us things and lots of people know the same ones, so we can share that story together...) and some of the reasons she does not like them (they are full-on prescriptive about what girls “should” do and what boys “should” do, and often have annoying sentiments about who should marry whom and that everyone should get married. She left out the part about how the original ones are often hella gory and could creep out the toughest among us).

That afternoon, the mama and little boy decided to go to the library and look for different versions of one fairytale. It seemed logical to start with the Princess and the Pea. A relatively cute story, one could say, and no one's toes are chopped off to fit into slippers. It's the details that count in parenting. The two came home with three books: the Hans Christian Andersen story, another very close to the original story but illustrated beautifully and set in Africa (The Princess and the Pea by Rachel Isadora), and one more, which you can see written up on the side bar -- a version of the story is that happens to be told from the perspective of the pea.

As theirs was a gardening family, it so worked.

And, so far, everyone has lived happily ever after.

false start

Mother Nature is a diva beotch.

Airport closed. Flight canceled.
We were all set to fly east for our long and much anticipated trip that would encompass – among many other important things - Isaac's 5th birthday celebration with his grandparents – because every child needs at least one good memory of a large crowd of people he's not 100% clear how he's related to squeaking about Oh-my-god-you've-gotten-so-big! while descending on the latest jello creation. And to think some kids get bounce houses and magicians at their parties. Losers.
We had been scheming before we got the call about the cancellation. We saw the writing on the wall – or the snow in the drifts, as the case may be. Plan was, drive up to San Francisco Tuesday night – before our scheduled Wednesday flight - to try to get standby tickets on the red eye. Beat the storm, baby. Slip in under the wire, so that Isaac awakes in his grandparents' house to a winter wonderland. Yes, we want the snow, just wait for us!!
Well, well, well. What one robo-call from Orbitz can do to the best-laid plans. We are now booked on a flight Friday. I'm doing my best here to take this in stride, but you have to understand, all the east coast cells in my body had already been put on alert. I was going back. To the land of edge and extremes. Where strawberry fields means the John Lennon memorial in Central Park, instead of, well, fields of strawberries. To where sarcasm is a way of life. Blessed sarcasm. Praise be the gods of snide remarks. Things were in motion for looking at the world the way only the crowded Northeast corridor can. Under these circumstances, how is a person supposed to chill?
The suitcase is still in the car. You see, the stress here is about trying to achieve the impossibility of the static moment: all the dishes washed, the bathtub scrubbed, the clothes clean and dry – enough packed, enough left to throw on when we get back, the plants watered, the food in the refrigerator eaten, Isaac's liquid vitamin finished, the new bottle ready to go in the checked luggage. Everything, done. Perfect. All focus outward. And now, I want to weep at the sight of crumbs on my kitchen floor, at the fact that the laundry has already started to pile up again, that, like it or not, I am going to have to open that f-ing suitcase.
Plus, I have a full-on head cold now. This is just one more example of missed opportunities. Think of all the people I could be infecting. And the pressure changes would ROCK.
Okay, if I haven't hooked you yet, let me just add in that I'M OUT OF ALL THE TEA WITH CAFFEINE. As I sit here, people, I'm drinking some god forsaken leafy beverage that will do NOTHING to increase the levels of fatty acids in my blood or irritate my stomach lining. Well, there is only so much a person can take. And despite my recent research into refined sugar, this puppy is NOT sweetened with agave nectar – hint, hint. Just a flip of the ole bird to – uh – someone, I'm sure it was effective; no, really.
Isaac, as per usual, takes things much more in stride than his mother. He has not written a diatribe calling Mother Nature nasty things or dissing on jello. He has done nothing but continue to be a sing-songy almost five-year-old rhyme monster who's biggest complaint is that he does not own a flatbed truck. When I informed him that our flight was canceled and we wouldn't be leaving for at least two more days, his response was “That's okay. I really didn't feel like going into the cold right now anyway.”
Spoken like a true Californian. This display of peace and surrender is enough to make me certifiably crazy. I shudder to think what more years of such influence might do to me.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Hola, amigos: a language travesty

There are many ways in which I've surprised myself as a parent. Some of them good. And when I look back at the mental list of things I hoped for Isaac by this point, I'm mostly satisfied, save one major thing. Language.

My boy is very adept at his native tongue, incorporates phrases and new vocabulary with amazing ease. At four he commonly says things like "Okay, mommy, I'll give you an example, let's say a lion is chasing a giraffe..." or "What in the world was I thinking?!" or "How can that even be possible??" But I want to raise a bilingual child. This I have not yet accomplished. The baby songs on CD in Russian, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese lie quietly in one corner of his room. Other audio with accompanying books in Italian and Russian - well, I can't actually tell you where they are right at this moment...

Apparently, I'm not alone in struggling with incorporating multiple tongues into the script of the day. The following entry from June 29, 2008 came after a visit to his paternal grandparents where he consumed more cartoons in a few days than he had to date in his life as a whole. Here's what I wrote:

Dora is just the beginning. There are shows now that appear to be all the rage in which a Latino/a protagonist begins the half hour by greeting viewers with "Hola!" Then, at some point in the program, normally when the confusing mix up or funny coincidence of the day has reached its climax, the same character might say something to the effect of "Ay, caramba!" And, if you're really lucky, you get an "Adios, amigos!" to close out your time in this land of uninspiring make believe. Frankly, people, I've heard more Spanish in a taco commercial.

The other day, Isaac woke up from his nap to report a dream in which he and Dora were on a hike together. He asked me how to say plate and cup in Spanish -- linguistic places Dora could never dare take him.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

cat house

(I had actually thought of posting this yesterday but was too lazy to find the pictures. But today I read a friend's blog and must put it up. So, for Dianne. In companionship with the loss of her Mia.)

Isaac was born into a house of cats. The common joke when I was pregnant that I would likely give birth to a kitten. I was in such strong denial that there was actually a baby in there, that when Isaac was finally born and they laid him on my chest, I looked at him, wild-eyed and startled. My first words were, "Oh... I like you!" Everyone got a chuckle out of that, but really, it was like trying to register surprise while also offering a conciliatory olive branch. As in, "Hmm, a boy. That's strange, but I guess it's okay you're not a cat."

Babies have a well-known tendency to turn the world on its head. No exception when it came to kiddo and cats. My normally mellow Emily flipped out, while my neurotic, attention whore Zap became protective mama. (In the first few weeks, when anyone knocked on the door or the phone rang, she would stand over the baby and growl.)

Isaac learned to love up his cats even before he could walk. He was always pretty gentle and Zap, especially, was always patient. When Isaac was about one, I came in the room to find his bowl empty and the cat covered in mango. When I questioned Zap about it, she seemed to shrug and looked at me like, "He's a baby. Whatteryagonnado?"

These days, we are left with just the spirit of my precious Zap and a once again mellower version of Emily - somewhere along the line she decided to allow her brother to coo at her in his high-pitched imitation of what we must sound like doing same, to pet her and comb her, show her his latest magic trick. When he's at school, she steals his plastic bugs and knocks over his block towers, just like a sister should.

I've noticed that some of these journal snippets are – I guess you could say “timeless,” as in, they could have happened ten years ago or this morning – no difference. Others, like today's, are more “period pieces,” with a context around them that zeroes in on a specific time or place.

From January 30, 2006:
Why is the cat berserkly meowing?? Is she trying to warn me the baby has stopped breathing??? No. She's just a complete pain in the ass.

Friday, February 05, 2010

sun snippet

Here's the journal snippet of the day. A brief one from July 6, 2009:

The sun arrives to this fog-choked harbor and suddenly anything is possible. It is a kiss of grace, a reprieve, a stirring from under the skin. Sometimes we must close our eyes to see more clearly. The burning feels like heaven.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

bakery outlets & watermelon snippet

So, these bits from old journals are a sketchy crew. I mean, some are interesting, others less so, most are unfinished. It's like looking through a rack of irregular clothing. Sometimes, initially, you can't determine what's wrong with a perfectly fine looking skirt, but its categorization leads you to peer suspiciously at it, to decide there must be something terribly the matter with it that you haven't discovered yet. Or, have you ever encountered those bakery thrift shops? Now, that's the weirdest. I used to drive past an Entenmann's Bakery Outlet all the time. I could never bring myself to go in. Why ... exactly ... are those coffee cakes ... here? - what's wrong with them??

What follows is not a poem. Though it may appear so in structure, I refuse to call it one because it's not compelling enough and I want to live in the possible fantasy that I am a better poet than what this demonstrates. It's been a thing over the years of posting. My mother especially wants me to put up more of my poetry, and I don't because I want to be sure that if I submit it somewhere I can say it is not previously published. So anything I think is worth anything won't show up here. Tricky, but I'm afraid what I'm offering is day-old cinnamon rolls.

There are a few of my pieces published online. You can find some here and here and here and here. They all seem to be about mommyhood. Though, honest, I write about other shit, too. I am currently playing with the idea of starting a website just for my clips, poetry and audio etc. A "professional" writer's page, so to speak. We'll see if I can construct it without breaking up laughing.

from July 8, 2009


for Benjamin

the watermelon

has enveloped secrets

within its green striped case

how could it not?

overgrown zucchini

miniature submarine

we tap with our ear close

flick a painted nail toward

flesh that lay weeks

in the dirt all that time

in the sun, in the dark

and over and over,

umbilicus to the plaintive earth.

We thump it again

with the heel of our hand,


for what we honestly aren't clear,

but listening

as best we know how

through the din of our days.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

rising from the dead in 2010

Alright, enough is enough. Is this a blog or is it a blog? Two entries since August, 2009? And when was that picture on the sidebar last updated? Pa-thetic.

In my effort to once again attempt a revitalization without too much effort or time commitment on my part, I will be filling entries partly by digging through my old journals, offering tidbits as I find them, things that otherwise have not seen the light of day.

It dawns on me that this lipservice about revitalization, the fancy shell around what is essentially empty space, the lack of follow through and vision, that I display here has some pret-ty close parallels to the "revitalization" efforts in my fair city. We may be the only town in America that can actually take credit for putting a Starbucks out of business. Impressive, when you think about it. Then, a few weeks back there was that tease about a farmer's market coming just blocks from my house (plenty of parking lot space behind the former-Starbucks), but days before it was set to debut...Oh! Wait! We forgot! We suck! That's right! Nevermind. We'll delay the a vague and indeterminate date.

Before I get too far in this love letter, the first piece I'm putting out there from the stack of old journals is a bit involving remote control cars from around this time last year. As a disclaimer, I must tell you that since this was written, I have in fact purchased a remote control car for my son. Yes, it was that Christmas. In my and his defense, however, it is not very loud (per Isaac's request), and to tell the truth, he doesn't play with it that much, for which I am grateful.

So here goes:
Journal snippet from January 15, 2009
The Man with the Remote Control Car

Other men walk by and congratulate him, as if they are standing in a maternity ward, or the new car lot down the hill. They banter, sometimes minutes on end, and it is my only relief from the infernal noise of that stupid toy.

It is my fate to live here just behind the church parking lot where skateboarders try their hand on the rails of the handicapped ramp, where people race through calling futilely for the bus to wait,where now, today, like the day before that, and last week, this man, with nothing better to do drives a whirring, buzzing little bit of fantasy up and down the cracked asphalt. It is my fate to live here, in this world, with men.

The car crashes hard and I try not to be too pleased. He must come lift his broken babe, search out its pieces, start again. The motor chokes and dies. The sun feels warmer on my shoulders.

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