Speaking of bon bons, I think I’ll switch to madeleines. But stick with coffee, not tea. For now. Coffee served in a teacup? Even better.
The Telegraph is featuring 10 Great Meals in Literature. A fun little slideshow. Especially the Dickens photo.
Speaking of bon bons, I think I’ll switch to madeleines. But stick with coffee, not tea. For now. Coffee served in a teacup? Even better.
The Telegraph is featuring 10 Great Meals in Literature. A fun little slideshow. Especially the Dickens photo.
It became November.
Day Two, I said: OMG THE TURKEY!
Because this year, we’re hosting the beloved horde.
I navigated to the Whole Foods website. During the Diestel ordering process I was asked to choose: Hen or Tom.
bedroom office went dark. I heard a crazy woman scream: Who let Sophie’s Choice in here! I can’t, I won’t–THE TOM THE TOM I CHOOSE THE TOM!
I have a feeling this is my last turkey year. Because I’m married to a vegetarian AND have a picky-eater Kindergartner, much of his pickiness revolving around meat? Because I give money to WWF, The Mustang Society, the African elephants, the beleaguered tigers, the homeless pot-bellied pigs and rescued McDonald’s chickens? Because of the movies I watch: Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, Forks Over Knives, Supersize Me, and so many more? Because I’m basically perpetually Paleo dieting anyway, without the meat? Because I’d rather eat kale-rolled-granola than a creature so young he belongs with his mama?
Beware of hypocrisy, warns the very Tom I’ll be picking up the day before Thanksgiving. Food for thought. Think before you eat? Off with his head!
The truth is, I’m way too busy to blog—sprawling on the couch eating bonbons takes up a lot of time. And let me make this extremely clear: NOT milk chocolate bonbons with cherries tucked inside them.
If I was even busier, I’d be sprawling on the couch eating (dark chocolate) bonbons while watching soap operas—but although we have a television, we do not receive any TV stations, local or otherwise, partly because my portion of the San Fernando Valley is a black hole (one that comes with, fortunately, coconut sprinkled dark chocolate bonbons) and partly because I’m adverse to exposing my Kindergartner to an abundance of commercials, many of which are movie trailers showing people shoving guns at others (etc.) and young girls with substantial rivulets of blood striping their faces (etc.).
I’m pretty sure that for the past 2 weeks I’ve been so busy sprawling on the (quite long, actually) couch and eating (coconut sprinkled, dark chocolate, firm-centered) bonbons that I forgot about the blood drawn from my arms, a couple of shots in the a**, I don’t know how many shots in the left side of my mouth, the parts of my anatomy that were crushed for medical purposes, being probed, poked, fasting, revising-crazy and that I somehow still rode a horse without falling off—ah: dark chocolate, coconut sprinkles and a darker (liquid) chocolate with a lava-like ooze upon biting.
Sure, there’s always Hulu.
And the Edward P. Jones novel I need to finish.
Paleo recipes to bake, bag, and freeze for the future.
And this: computer on my lap as I sprawl on the extensive couch, the dog uber-close, wetting the Pergo with his snores, a cat on the coffee table, bathing its orangesicle paws, a light rain healing the valley-stuck garden, and me, me, me: revising, revising, revising (not a bonbon in sight) until it’s time to meet the Kindergartner and present him with his daily kale-disguised-by-organic-frozen-blueberries-&-honey smoothie.
If I’m blogging, I’m not revising. I worry! I must progress.
Recently my husband and I listened politely to a woman with green fingernails and an iphone with a ringtone that sounds like something Michael Flatley would raise his knees to—listened as this lady (dressed in a tunic the distracting green of fairy-forest canopy) told us she drove home from work with a sunset in her eyes, the sky so spectacularly fractured by colors that she broke the law and called her husband from the car and insisted he rush to the West-facing windows in their house. “It was the last thing he wanted to do,” she confessed, “get up and move–but once he was seeing what I was seeing? He appreciated the call. We shared something amazing and calming and real without even being in the same room, near the end of a day in which we’d barely spoken and not set eyes on each other for hours, hours, eons. It was,” the lady told us, flicking her Cher-hair from her cheeks Cher-style, “good.”
“Hi,” my husband said as I balanced my iphone between shoulder and ear and flipped my son’s Super Cheesy Chicken Burger! (organic chicken secreted with organic carrot puree, flaxseed and a little bit of cheese so I’m not actually lying to him about what he’s having for dinner). “I’m in gridlock on the 101,” he said. “Go look outside.” I started to protest, but remembered. “Gorgeous,” I agreed, shivering in the back yard as fire-sky seeped into my eyes–then deeper. Eventually my husband suggested, “Why don’t you?” “Already on it,” I said, fetching the boy (and his hoodie). “Oh my gosh look at that,” our Kindergartner gasped, hands in the pockets of his little-dude jeans. “Mama, do you know—sky starts with an S?” “As do Super Chicken Cheesy Burgers!” I replied. We stared at the sunset. He took my hand. We went inside.
Father/Son Dodgers Game!, the elementary school flyer stated, producing an amendment a week later: Due to unprecedented interest in attendance by moms, grandmothers, grandfathers and 3rd cousins twice removed, Father/Son is expanded to Family Dodgers Game! So we all went to the Kindergartner’s first baseball game and, because we were encouraged by the school to do so, and because we are a family of school spirit, we (purchased from the PTA and) wore bright red shirts depicting our son’s school’s name and name of the school’s mascot, CUBS.
I tensed as we trekked across the Gobi-Parking-Lot. “What are the opposing team’s colors?” I asked my husband as another crowd dressed in blue ogled us three in our scathing reds. “I don’t know,” he answered. “Possibly red?”
“Do you get a discount if you show up in red shirts?” a man asked us as he hoofed by. “Ha!” I responded too loudly, but come on.
When you park a mile away from the stadium, it seems as if you will never reach its glorious Oval–but then it looms, shockingly, like Helms Deep. “Wow!” the Kindergartner said. “What the heck is that?” “The stadium,” I said as my husband barked, “Dodger Stadium!”, and I realized my spouse was way more excited than I had realized and, because it was about 2,000 degrees despite being the next to the last day of September, I wondered how sad he was going to feel when we left after possibly 10 minutes–unless, of course, our seats were in shade.
We took the escalator, only to be told at the top: “People? You’re down on the field.” I don’t know–the school purchased the block of seats. We just assumed…
We utilized our Free Dodger Dog! tickets on the way down to the field, even though my son insisted he wasn’t hungry and my normal diet consists of nuts, berries and assorted lettuces and my husband is a vegetarian.
Even though my husband is a vegetarian and we are working on our 9th or so wedding anniversary, I asked him, after saturating 2 dogs in ketchup and tearing open the 3rd’s (presumably toxic) foil: “What do you want on your dog!” “Babe?” my husband responded. “I don’t eat meat.” I stared at him like he was a dangerous stranger.
3 Dodger Dogs, 1 carton of popcorn, 2 Diet Cokes, 1 Lemondae, 1 Bag Of Chips and repeated NO’S to requests for cotton candy later (yes, that’s right), we found our seats. “These are fantastic!” my husband declared. “And hot,” I responded, but our son donned his baseball cap and began munching his Dodger Dog and we were so entranced by his cuteness and taking family pictures we didn’t notice the type of heat that makes one certain Global Warming is real. I cried at the National Anthem sung by an extremely talented chick introduced as some guy’s wife (WTH!), we met other red-shirted Cubs and by the 3rd inning I received a phonecall from my husband (I had departed our seats to people-watch from shade): “He’s ready to go.”
My husband was not disappointed. He was exuberant. We barely made it to the end of the 3rd inning, but so what? It was about a Cubling, not us. It was nice to see #66 after hearing his story on NPR and The Green Field was so very green and the players are indeed such fine athletes and the spirit in the stadium was felt and appreciated by us and no, I don’t watch it, I’m no convert, but baseball is good. Thank you, elementary school, even though you encouraged us to wear red.
And how great was it driving home with the A/C saturating the minivan. And how great were the sun-induced naps back at the Ponderosa: Right. On.
I’m sure there’s a poem in this. Perhaps in right field. (Or is it left? Arrrgh!)
Sometimes I let the agent I’m querying know who my literary heroes are. Only ‘sometimes’ as my query letters tend to change. Evolve? Products of endless, restless experimentation…On Roald Dahl’s birthday I was thinking: I always forget to put Roald Dahl down as an influence. I remember Joan Aiken, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Philip Pullman. I was thinking (as I made a vegetable smoothie for my Kindergartner, hiding the green color with organic blueberries): I greatly dislike that I forget to put down Roald Dahl. I was thinking (as I poured the smoothie into a BPA free travel cup, stuck in a stainless steel straw and carted it to the minivan): I will not forget!
And then the minivan wouldn’t start. And I thought: Bloody effing f***-all hell in Hades.
My son’s elementary school is very strict about retrieving your child on time. If you are 5 minutes late, your child is walked by the teacher to the office, where your child will wait as the office phones to find out where the hell you are. No child wants to have a parent pick them up late, the principal told us parents at Parent Orientation Night and the mood in the auditorium became frantic for a time as the principal stared us down without blinking, our 1950′s wooden auditorium seats creaking into an embarrassing chorus as we shifted in our frozen smiles, not one of us wanting her to think we were going to be that parent.
The car won’t start, I screamed into my cell phone. I’ll call the cab, you call the school, my husband responded, his own panic risen. I’ll notify the teacher to walk him to the office, the office lady informed me in a calm, neutral tone that could have meant understanding or disdain, I had no idea. My husband phoned again, shouting: Cab. There! 10 minutes. Wait, I screamed, do I have the backup carseat, or do you? No, no, no, I have it, he shouted and disconnected, calling back immediately to say, I’ll call you back.
The backup carseat takes 2 seconds to install in a car. Our son’s everyday carseat, however, is a behemoth with specific strap configurations and exact cinchings and anchors and takes about 20 minutes to secure to a seat. Taking it out of the minivan is not a problem. Transferring it to a cab, under pressure?
I’m on the freeway, my husband shouted. Cab canceled. I’ll pick you up. No, don’t, I screamed. That will add 10 minutes! You call the school, I’ll keep driving, he shouted and disconnected. That’s fine, the office lady told me and possibly she was on the verge of being irritated, but then again–maybe not. If you wouldn’t mind telling him that Dadda is coming? I requested feebly. Of course, she said. I returned inside the house, poured myself a shotglass of vegetable smoothie, downed it as I paced the living room and stared out windows, thinking bits like: Surely we’re not the only parents this has ever happened to? Thinking: Why don’t we have neighbors whose cars we can borrow in emergencies? Thinking: My husband sure rose to the occasion. Thinking: I think I have a crush on my man. Thinking: Did the dog get breakfast?
I’ve got him, my husband said calmly and with a dash of triumph. Is he okay? I asked, trying to match his tone. Have we damaged him? Nah. He was flipping through a book when I got there and wouldn’t let us leave until he finished ‘reading’, my husband reported. What book? I asked, laughing. Huh? I don’t know. You know. The one with the peach.
Find a way.
I briefly interrupt evening reading time to announce I’m zooming to Albertson’s for eggs for tomorrow’s scrambled egg jamboree and ask my spouse if he needs anything from the store. In the Daffy Duck brogue he utilizes when reading Quackenstein to our giggling Kindergartner, he informs me (with spittle): New client, butterscotch cookies, you bake, meant to ask, QUACK————–
r u effing kddng me, I text from the minivan because I’m not the mommy who shrieks WTH during evening reading time in her little boy’s lovely yellow and red and blue room with all the precious art he’s created taped to the walls and the train stencil I crafted above the closet and on top of the bookshelf there’s the North American box turtle in her aquarium and a family Labrador 1/2 on/1/2 off the twin bed—sensitive types all—especially the turtle—and so no: I won’t protest until pertinent parties are fast asleep, when not even explosions from the just released Star Trek Into Darkness movie will wake them. At which point I will let loose with a stern if not slightly hysterical: Pigeon crap, Spockman! Cookies? Really?
Er—or something like that.
I spend years in the Albertson’s baking aisle–enough time to grow a woman’s moustache. My Albertson’s is close by and I’m very familiar with it. When I burn my mini-muffins into stuck black crystals, where do I stomp for a new tin? That is correct. So my mind has trouble accepting that there are zero boxes of prepared butterscotch cookie mix in the baking aisle. Surely I’ve seen butterscotch mixes before? WTH, Betty Crocker! I run like Zachary Quinto in Star Trek Into Darkness (hands pumping next to the body) to the refrigerated section. If Pillsbury or its copycats sell prepared butterscotch cookie dough, Albertson’s has vetoed them. I Quinto-run to the day-old section piled on that baker’s rack by the restrooms I will never utilize. Nothing. Am I really going to have to make a trek to Ralphs? Back at the baking aisle, I snatch up a bag of butterscotch chips and squint at the recipe for butterscotch cookies on the bag. The word oatmeal swirls into focus. I have that at home! And, I realize, de-hyperventilating, everything else needed to make cookies from scratch. Plus, a bottle of chardonnay has materialized in my shopping basket.
Per Diana Nyad’s advice: I have found a way.
I didn’t know Diana Nyad was attempting the Cuba/Key West, FL swim again. So when I returned from Labor Day shenanigans, I went a little happy-ballistic upon reading about her success. I tweeted, I FB’d, I emailed friends. I worried for her recovery when she was on the stretcher, but shortly rejoiced and wept and cheered watching the next day’s interviews and Key West parade. “Never, ever give up.” In one interview she said that with each stroke she pushed Cuba behind her and reached for Key West. She visualized and used a mantra. “Find a way.” She kept going. She didn’t let go of her dream.
A friend I wrote to about Diana Nyad responded with an email that startled me:
“When I was a child I always quit. I quit trying anything that was
tedious, boring or difficult over the long term.
I think this became habit due to not having a father. Also because most
of my free time outside of school I spent alone.
I never had competition in my life. And when I did engage in athletics
in school I did not have a ‘Dad’ to cheer me on or tell me that
winners never quit or just to say ‘atta boy! Because of this I never
learned a fundamental skill which has altered the course of my life
since childhood. I never learned to catch.
Because I never learned to catch. I also never learned to – not quit.
It took me about 45 years to learn to stop quitting. Especially since I
always enjoy attempting different things.
I thought that having multiple irons in the fire was the way to feel
like I was progressing until I realized it was just another form of
gradually quitting. So I took it upon myself to learn how to complete
anything that I start. And I realized that I could be successful on my
own, without working for a corporation or an established market leader.
But I could only believe in my success by measuring what I had completed.
So Nyad is of course a supreme example of never giving up. Perhaps what
humans need in life is not success, which can be bought or inherited,
but humans need completion or the challenge of a lack thereof.”
Time to keep going.
$300 boots in the local saddlery. Gorgeous. And nothing a budget-minded, secret equestrienne would ride in. So the Amazon dot coms that arrived by mail shocked me. At $94+change, they looked way too regal for the price. I was expecting spray-painted cardboard. When I couldn’t shove my foot into the right boot, I was ready to accept defeat, but realized the boots had zippers at the back. Doh. When they were on, zipped up, buckled at the tops (also a surprise), my new jodhpurs tucked inside them (once I realized what the Velcro was for at the hem of each ribbed leg), I donned my polo shirt, helmet and riding gloves and faced the mirror.
It was too early for Halloween, but I felt like I was ready for a Boo Party and wore flip flops instead of boots (helmet, or gloves) when I dropped my son off at Kindergarten.
Yes, I am a pretentions-wary, semi-gawky, dirty-blonde chicken. Who cares if I wear jodhpurs and boots onto an elementary school’s playground where parents gather to deposit their children for the school day? I drive a Kia minivan with a dent in the right front bumper from someone backing into the car in the dead of night the one time I parked it on the street instead of the driveway. Getting the bumper fixed interferes with my writing schedule. My flip flops are from some dead surfer’s grave. Do I care what our car looks like behind the white Range Rover in the school’s lot? Not yet. Do I care about wearing ratty flip flops in front of strangers? Nooooo. Do you? I have less than a minute to don my boots between dropping off my son and zooming to the Farms and the beginning of my riding lesson. It is more practical, time-wise, because it’s ALL about timing, to have my boots already on when I escort my son to the playground.
But I just. Can’t. Wear my boots.
Him: If you need to wear your boots, wear ‘em.
Me (as though arguing): When I’m in the saddle? I sweat like—do sheep sweat? It’s work. Not recreation. Not really. I mean, I don’t ride all la-la-la, go home and eat See’s Candies until it’s time to pick up the boy. I ride, sweat, grip, worry about having the stamina to complete the lesson, worry I’m wrecking the horse with my mistakes, go home all wobbly, could easily collapse before making it to the shower…
Him: PB, wear your damn boots.
Walking down the shady steps leading to the Farms, my boots were very comfortable, though I still stork-walked into the barn, shoulders hunched, nervous about making eye-contact with the gazzilion equines munching in their stalls. Over here! Lori, my teaching pro, shouted from across the ring. She had me sign a release form, then presented me with an interested-in-life horse clearly bred for giants to ride. My neck strained as I gazed up at my warm-blooded host–and I am tall. Lisa, a pixie, stood on tiptoes to rub Horse’s nose, stating, He’s the best. Okay, she said as I ascended from mounting block to saddle, Next time put your foot in the stirrup before getting on so you don’t startle the crap out of Horse. Let him know you’re about to arrive. And I knew Lori was the right instructor for me.
Way up on Horse, thunder clouds bumped my helmet. I was eye to eye with a pair of gliding mourning doves. Summer air churned by muttering traffic copters buffeted my cheeks. The view from Horse’s back was spectacular–the well tended ring and kempt stalls framing it for at least 3000 raked-dirt acres. Hundreds of colored jumps criss-crossed the area per some master professional’s genius design. Tall as Horse and I are, I felt miniscule and a novice as I trotted in a 2-point around the gargantuan ring (I think this simple circuit took days, possibly a year), particularly when Horse shied from a dude passing with a wheelbarrow. Don’t look down, Lori immediately shouted. She was an ant to my Tall Alice when I cantered awkwardly by her. Cut the looking down crap. Know where you are, where you’re going! Aaaaand I liked Lori even more. She didn’t text during my lesson. She had no cell phone on her person, that I could see. She told me things I never knew about myself as a rider, like: Relax your face! She had me guide Horse over the baby crossbars, but despite the kidstuff height of the jump, she wouldn’t let me stop until I executed a jump I could instinctively and physically feel was correct (that amazing connection between self and magnificent animal). I noticed her scrutinizing my dismount, but by then I owned my boots. For a second I was Tatum O’Neal in International Velvet (you know, when she wins Nerve). I was red-faced and gaspy, there was a bite in each of my inner thighs, but my legs did not buckle when my heels touched dirt. Lori didn’t say a word, just nodded. Your posting trot is great, a young miss offered from atop her showhorse. She was heading into the ring. Her riding posture was picture perfect, her long hair braided down her back, her handsome boots tended, gleamy leather. Thank you, I said, thinking, Farms is a far cry from my childhood stables, where kids and adults were catty about everyone else’s tack and the way you led your shaggy pony into the ring. Good boy, I told Horse, patting his neck. And: Thanks.
I asked Lori about my boots. She pinched and pulled and tugged. Except for the stupid elastic laces, she said, these work. When I told her where I got them, she laughed. Amazon? she said, as if now she’d heard everything. Awesome deal.
Zooming to Starbucks, I didn’t change my shoes before going inside (although I did wipe them down). After my first lesson in months, I needed my boots on. I wanted their spell to last until it was time to retrieve my son from Kindergarten—at which point I would switch to flip-flops, maybe not as much of a chicken-secret-equestrienne, but a tad more of a pro (who, you know, just likes horses and doesn’t compete–except for that one time when she was 14 and won First Place in a 4H walk-trot…wearing tennis shoes and a baseball cap).
I have learned that particularly clever ideas do not always stand up under close scrutiny.
Elizabeth Peters, The Hippopotamus Pool
Ah, but the above author’s ideas stood up and have never stood down. Armed in 2 pen names (Elizabeth Peters being my personal favorite), she wrote book after book after book. Go ahead, Wikipedia Barbara Mertz and choke on your coffee as you note how prolific she was. She turned her love of Egyptology (receiving her PhD in the subject at 23 years old) into a GAZZILLION Amelia Peabody novels and numerous other novels. She won awards. She hosted tours of her favorite Egyptian sites. She fearlessly (never recklessly, not her) combined history with fantasy in each novel featuring Peabody and Emerson. Reading her books was/is fun. My sisters and I couldn’t wait for her next installments. Start with Crocodile on the Sandbank. You’ll find it in paperback in a used bookstore or, less romantically, on Amazon. If you like it, you’ll have a long, happy relationship with EP and AP ahead of you. I envy you that.
Little note: The Amelia Peabody series spans my living room bookshelves, so I suppose part of me registers their titles every day—but just yesterday I was thinking about the books quite a bit, mostly about how Peabody and Emerson argue (so engagingly, hysterically) in the novels. And I thought about how superbly Elizabeth Peters created her characters, how easy they are to imagine. And I considered retrieving my battered paperback copy of Crocodile on the Sandbank and tucking it into my suitcase for this weekend’s final mini-break of the summer. And today I saw a Tweet about her death and choked on my coffee. She was 85. You can read about her 85th birthday party here. She donned quite the appropriate get-up.
RIP, Barbara Mertz. And long live Amelia Peabody.
The colony of house finches thriving in the trees outside our bedroom windows begins the chirping frenzy around 530/6am and they never fail to wake me up—but I beat them to their cacophony this morning, fueled into consciousness by thoughts of Big Foot in that mountain man’s yard, staring at barking dogs while the man shouted from his house for Big Foot to vacate the premises.
Hermit is what the press and the self-proclaimed ‘mountain man’ meant. A hermit yelled at Big Foot to ‘git’ and shook a big stick at him—one terrified hermit suddenly up close and personal with his isolation. He was scared and un-hermit-like enough to call the police and suggest they come on out and check the property (see, a mountain man wouldn’t have had a phone—and a proper hermit would have invited Big Foot inside for hot soup—see Frankenstein movie, or even Young Frankenstein movie). I’ve read that Big Foot types scream, too (click here for fascinating screaming action). What if Big Foot had turned from the dogs and just started screaming at the hermit shaking a stick at him? I think about this, scratched-record-style, when ruminating on this particular Big Foot encounter. Look: I have no desire to hunt for Big Foot. I don’t want to find him staring at my goofy Labrador in the dead of night. I don’t want him pounding my indestructible Big Foot and bullet proof RV when we’re on a family camping trip, although I don’t think Big Foot pounds much, just screams and makes X-like ‘keep out’ signs with branches in forests from North Carolina to Oregon to Nepal and crunches noisy underbrush as he flees cameras. What nags me in the wee morning hours before house finches start their chirping is: Did Big Foot know the hermit didn’t have a mountain man’s gun? Only a stick? We don’t know Big Foot, but just how well does he know us?
What is Big Foot doing right now? Contemplating a berry in his furry palm and dreaming of dog meat? Squinting at the moon? Can Big Foot squint? Will Big Foot ever lumber out from those trees and make contact that doesn’t involve scaring dogs and hermits? Hopefully not while I’m hiking or showing my son Gold’s Beach where that one schoolbus driver lady said she saw Big Foot studying wild ocean…Why she was near the beach with her schoolbus is also a mystery to me…No, I don’t always get my facts straight…Facts? Big Foot, hermits who call themselves mountain men, roaming schoolbus drivers…What is this world?
My son starts Kindergarten a week from today.
I am affected.
I see from Facebook that those of us women afflicted turned to the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.
No coincidence. Those empire-waist dresses (so cheerful) and perpetually bouncing ringlets, lush countryside and obvious magnetism help when you’re languishing against your bed pillows (in not quite so lacy and opulent a fashion as Mrs. Bennett languishing against her pillows, but her pillows are so very lovely to look at—oh dear, that sounds a bit obscene…).
Other useful summer flu remedies: Monkey Trail Mix, icy fruit smoothies with Power Greens packed in them and turned purple by blueberries so that your son won’t know he’s drinking vegetables, hot showers and cold compresses made out of washcloths soaked in cold tap water, Kindle Fire and all it’s many delights for children, pets clustered on the sickbed, a husband who returns home from work early (with gourmet hot dogs or Chinese food) and takes over estate management of your little Ponderosa, sleep.
Today I’ve emerged (wobbly, squinting) into a July ever-intent on scorching this great valley, especially our yard, in particular the recently planted purple hopseed. Mr. Darcy would not approve of the hopseeds’ demise. Elizabeth would probably understand. And do just as I’m doing: Fantasize about ocean and coastal scenes (Cornish coastal scenes, with wind) as I hastily water everything in my nightgown and flip flops and chipped pedicure (Mr. Darcy would not approve).
Talking myself down from the summer flu: Stop worrying about what others have written. Don’t read anything right now. Not even the fortune in that cookie. Throw the cookie in the trash. Don’t force yourself to write in this condition. Just shush up. And when your son (cheerful and chirpy despite his fever—take note!) naps, make haste to your pillows
Children blinking through binoculars, squealing at scuttling lizards, swinging very, very high on playground swings, holding hands, but running too fast towards crosswalks, scaling small boulders, building sandcastles for naked Barbies and a collection of Skylander figurines that should never be taken to the beach, but explain that to a 5 1/2 year old who doesn’t know, yet, that a Wii-ish game goes with his prized figurines—doesn’t know because we don’t have Wii or its ishy accessories, nor do we have a flatscreen TV in our home, but a giant tubes-powered model trapped in a wood frame with wheels and which, although it looks fancy in a 1/2 mod/1/2 retro sort of headed-for-the-museum manner, is technologically challenged in this century, but we don’t have cable, anyway, so we miss out on commercials letting us know what we’re missing out on, like 500+ channels no 5 1/2 year old needs to surf through, not when there are beaches and botanical gardens and parks within walking distance in a summer of blueberry skies and tank tops. Although–this mini-break I did serve children breakfast in front of a portable DVD player small enough to be a finger or a foot or a tiny silver cap for our beast-sized rolling TV back home…Eat! I encouraged children. Seriously, guys! Watch a movie and eat! I did sneak carrot puree into the pancake mix. And I used coconut, not canola oil, for frying. And it was veggie bacon. And a Sid The Science Kid flick. So…
So day 3 of this mini-break I realized I was tired. So I fed children a snack in front of that small portable DVD player (wot!) and carted chapters 3 and 4 of my middle grade novel outside to the patio. And I sat and sucked in ocean air and revised my vaguely crinkled stack of printed pages for almost the entire duration of a Pokémon movie. And then I rested my cheek on my work, feeling the wrought iron chair’s pattern tattoo itself into the backs of my bare thighs, and (I swear I heard a fog horn from the harbor) I napped—a respite about which I had conflicting feelings when I woke up. Because of what SHE wrote over at Adventures in Children’s Publishing: CLICK TO READ. Brief article. Poignant. Spiky. For instance: Are you 1 through 5, or simply 2 and 4? 1 and 3? 1? Bueller?
After my nap I zoomed children to the beach—again—because children and people like me are endlessly entertained by the beach, whether the scenario is sun, fog, misting-fog, clouds pressed to sun, wind, ice-air, etc. And while I watched children scream as they tested the frothy tide with first their toes, then their entire bodies, I character-plotted and plotted more writing time and remembered I’m in the first quarter of Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry. Too far! I shouted at children. Come back!
Yours in writing between everything else,
Yours in writing even when you think you’re not,
Yours in writing-like-breathing,
Yours in writing-like-eating (Oreos, or a box of Cracker Jacks, or Thanksgiving stuffing)
Yours in brief naps between revising,
Yours in making sure kids don’t get sucked out to sea by an undertow (all writing aside, shoved aside, quickly, in a sand-kicked-on-beach-towels type of one-woman stampede),
When you man your bookshelves for hours, reading first pages because you are maddened by your own first pages and can’t recall how to begin a story or a novel without every palabra jumping out at you with a buzzer sound of WRONG WRONG WRONG. You even peek at your old Erica Jong to see how the hell she did it. And then you go to bed and have nightmares in which old boyfriends are married to you and feel entitled to criticize everything you write, kind of like they did in real life, except you weren’t married. Huh. Lucky, that.
When you are prone on the couch with a damp washcloth on your forehead, listening to your husband read aloud your own work. Ohgodohgodohgod…(your soft bleats from Hell). It’s not you, you assure your husband when he sighs because you are assuming the fetal position and he’s only on page 2 of your manuscript. It’s not you. It’s—It! Your husband asks if he can get you anything and you tell him an arsenic martini and when he brings you water in a martini glass garnished with a sweet, organic strawberry, you partially snap out of it, enough to take the glass, mumble: Thanks, please carry on reading. Hm. Progress?
When you fall asleep reading your tiny arsenal of How To Write books—no matter the time of day.
When you leaf through advice from renowned writers who wrote draft after draft of poems and novels, first pages and muddy middles and endings, searching for words key to shocking their monsters into living—until, when pricked (whenever that might be), their Its bled. Finally.
When you step away from your work for 48 hours. Actually, 192. Instead of writing, you take your son to Baskin Robbins, watch Lilo & Stitch, read books on dressage training and proper posting-trot form, returning to your manuscripts one evening to find yourself enamored with every creased, coffee stained, partially cat clawed page after page. You are baffled. And proud. Why was I so fussy? you ask your husband with a hyena laugh that startles you. Oddly, your husband is nowhere to be found.
When you get over yourself and get on with It. After kissing your son goodnight. And offering your husband a plate stacked in slices of his favorite Swiss cheese. Sweet strawberries filling the holes.
Everyone in prone positions, some bodies perpendicular to others, some just out there on their own, spanning that one corner of living room rug, some sprawling underneath the chaise longue I try to endure as my son makes mud pies, the sprinkler raining on him. If our animals don’t like each other, it’s too hot too matter. Heat, the great equalizer. We only have 3 cats and 1 dog, but all the sprawling makes us feels as if we have a zoo. The dog raises his head briefly from the Pergo, touches noses with a cat passing on its way to the food bowl, where the cat will lie down to eat. The A/C is on, but no animals seem to notice. Crazy cats who hate each other suddenly love each other and love the dog. This is what happens in 107 degrees.
Last summer’s heat was disturbing, but I’m thinking this summer is going to be even toastier. Nervous, I sign petitions created to ban fracking, pebble mines and pipelines, wild mustang slaughter, GMO’s, the killing of animal babies and one petition to end the reign of Dora The Explorer (I wish). My son and I play the Ladybug Game, and again, and again, this time using Skylander figures instead of the cardboard ladybug pieces provided. We play Candyland using toy dinosaurs of varying sizes. We drink homemade, organic green smoothies disguised as purple smoothies thanks to organic blueberries. We watch The Incredibles with lunch and he continues to watch as I nap. We avoid the swingset or walking the dog. So important to do all of these things when it’s 107 outside. Especially the disguised green smoothies part. So. Very. Vital.
The unicycle leans against a distant corner of the sizzling patio. Dreadfully unridden.
On the hottest day of the year so far, we drive to the beach at 5pm. People coat the sand like flies. No one is leaving. We step out of the minivan and into a breeze that feels like a blessing and immediately become immune to the crowds. We squeeze into a spot and set up camp, watching a man with a seagull on his head stroll the surfline. Our son joins a group of kids digging holes in the sand. He shrieks along with them when the surging tide fills up the holes and destroys them. We sit in beach chairs, hold hands, breathe for the first time all day. Bit by bit people tear themselves away from the ocean and return inland. We pull our dinner from the beachbag and soon it’s just us by the lifeguard stand, eating salads and grilled cheese sandwiches, watching the ocean turn silver in the setting sun.
When we return home, it’s dark. The cats complain from couches and coffee tables they’ve commandeered and from encampments by the dog’s water bowl. They ambush us from above, busting out of the linen closet with terrifying meows. We find them in the bathroom sink. They shock us by shooting out from under beds. The dog hauls himself off the Pergo—from the same spot we left him in—and wags his tail.
Farewell, June. May your Big Sister Month, July, grace us with an unseasonable cool. May our cats go back to hating each other and the dog request his ball again. May we make mudpies at any hour of the summer day, instead of right before bedtime, when it’s cooler, but still 89 degrees.
A cooling trend. With beaches. Honored petitions. And animal calm.
Yours in arctic dreams and cats, cats, cats,
Odd and disconcerting to write poetry and yet be totally unfamiliar with Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry until yesterday, though no alien to M.R.’s poetry and not completely in-the-dark to her biographies and interest in connecting science and poetry, scientific thought and poetry, science and ars poetica? Science and ars anything. Sometimes I am shocked by this thought that is a bucket of ice water emptied on my head: I know nothing.
Time is passing in a blink. A twitch. In the tick of an eon. How will I catch up to all that is literature while trying to create and/or finish my own writing projects?
Summer: poolside, lounging in shade for hours, listening to my friend. She has been near death several times. She, reluctantly, knows a great deal about surviving. She is not a writer, but lives a life writers write about. She is far too young to know all she does about dark sides of universes, yet here she is, carrying on, sharing information, a bright bead on the planet. She is disarmingly optimistic in Solstice sun, gloriously lit, her pond-eyes flickering the lazing twilight back at itself. She is beamy, cheerful and wise. As I listen to her musical voice and watch my son cavort with hers in a swimming pool pounded by waterfalls and wracked with screams, as I glance at my husband conversing animatedly with my friend’s husband, up there in that glowy, faux-rock Jacuzzi, I melt—and stop panicking.
Caution, my friend says. Passion. Live. Love.
A few of her key words.
Later, as the adults cross the grass, following the children racing for toys and food and games inside, the four of us are stopped by 2 hawks crying and dipping only a few feet in front of us, twisting so close and for such an extended few seconds in the last of the light, we are able to comment on their astounding markings as though on a diorama. Hawks in our faces on a pre-Super Moon evening. And suddenly it doesn’t matter what we know or don’t know about anything at all—we are simply ‘I, Witness’ as our breath is taken.
I know a happy family when I see one. I know my fortune and everything good in it began before it’s never too late. I know I will allow another’s poem (any poem, anywhere) to be what it is (vs. what I want it to be or all about me), in all its flaws and perfections: a thing beneath a microscope, living, sealed and seen and pumped into one like blood—O entity—that sort of leading, lasting admiration for an art’s unique product, (okay, I’ll write it) a love (witnessed, experienced, written).
As I rifle/riffle through poems I’ve written, partially written, not written, but loaded into memory banks with lightly trembling girders—as I search personal archives for something embodying ‘concrete visual imagery’, I am reminded of what a narrative poet I am. I love sonnets, an unusual pantoum, or any villanelle anyone is bold enough to write after Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art. I love Lucie Brock-Broido and Louise Gluck and Louise Mathias and Jorie Graham. And Sarah Hannah (may she never be forgotten), Kay Ryan, Terence Hayes, Wislawa Szymborska and Diane Seuss (the poem Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open is so disturbing and effective). I also admire Mary Oliver, admire how people I know who are teachers, landscape artists, mommies, museum curators, jaw dropping rollerskaters and/or just plain nice, love Mary Oliver. And in some instances I adore Billy, and even though I love Bob Hicok, Amy Gerstler, Ellen Bryant Voigt (i.e,. The Force You Must Read), Sharon Olds, Dan Gerber and Adrienne Rich. I’m all over the map. Yet:
I am not a monster.
I am: interested. Really interested.
Once, after a poetry reading I participated in, a giant approached me, dressed all in black, which made him seem disturbingly planetary. He shook my hand and tore into my poems, accusing me of being, I’m pretty sure, too narrative. He was adamant, and slightly wild, like a weary bear in a pit. I listened to him with a slight gape going on. A poet friend was suddenly at my side. He challenged the giant and disagreed with startling passion. I’d never seen him worked up before, my mild, poet friend. I stood between them, watching them argue, thinking: Right now? I’m happy. Later that night, I stayed up with the moon, pouring over the poems I’d read that evening. It was a productive session with my work.
Later today, I participate in the Second Sunday Poetry Series. Armed in concrete visual imagery, or not, I’m looking forward to reading my poems and listening to the poetry of Los Angeles locals. Community? In sprawling L.A.? Bring on the giants, narrative speculation, narrative poetry, the lyric and, hopefully, a strong cup of coffee.
Yours in metaphor and simile and absolutely no didactic poetry or poetry about pets (I promise—although there might be a poem about a horse, who shall remain nameless…),
Actually, I don’t have a quote this time. But I do have a friend who, as he struggled with the final revisions of his due-to-be-published novel, literally lost his breath. Instead of celebrating his hard work, he was hospitalized. But he got through it, carried on, turned in the revisions, toured extensively once the novel hit bookstores, appeared on the Today Show, won a gazzilion awards, and he has been on the go honoring conference and residency invites ever since. He is an inspiration to me. He worked even when hospitalized. He worked when those around him screamed at him that the work was killing him and he shouldn’t do it—he did it anyway. And he has survived beautifully, with about 5 or 6 or books to his name now. His intense carry-on-writing-no-matter-what ethic is both fascinating and terrifying to me. I’m still losing valuable lines by not throwing down the dish towel and running for a pen. Tsk. A writer writes (this is elementary!). May is slipping through my fingers—or more like my toes since I’m mostly barefoot in this early, unwelcome and perpetual heatwave. June looms. Ring the bells! Make the coffee! Check the ink in your wireless printer! Mid-year is upon us and the words are hovering. Run for your pens and computers (and the chicken nuggets you forgot to pick up at Trader Joe’s). Get busy. Die trying (but, seriously, not literally). And say this (with a Glasgow accent): Yew! Varmints! Git out of my head and ontew thee paper!
And then swear you’ll never use exclamation points again.
Tomorrow we leave for Hemet for the weekend.
Luckily our part of the world seems to be entering a brief cooling trend. Hemet is notoriously hot. And, as if perversely, when waving goodbye to the sun across the flats, or from the front doors of that Applebees (Hemet gourmet)—pretty darn cold.What I like about Hemet (apart from love my in-laws): the teeny tiny natural history sort of museum that is very state-of-the-art and kick-ass in its presentation of information such as: giant sloths roamed this land. Also saber toothed cats. And wolves. This sort of history makes Hemet’s heat and flatness and funky main drag straight out of a teen horror movie (more) tolerable for me.
And, as you know, Hemet is famous for the Ramona Pageant, which my in-laws acted as ushers for one year, when my sleepless son was only 8 months old, and sleepless, and cranky, and definitely not into sitting in Hemet heat and viewing the Ramona Pageant, which was huge, and used many locals, who paraded across the amphitheatre in gorgeous, colorful costumes, there were horses cantering across the stage, maybe llamas, too, I don’t know, I was an extremely sleepless mother then, I do remember the actors had microphones, all the lovely cheesiness that is the Ramona Pageant easily heard, but also heard was my baby wailing in his Bjorn and so we left, drove back to the in-laws lovely home, trudged upstairs to our guestroom, tried to nap, then tried to nap in shifts and when that failed, utilized the patio and its kiddie pool and suddenly everyone returned from the Ramona Pageant and produced food like red chips and homemade chicken salsa and this drink called chardonnay and people fussed over our baby and were eager to hold him—-family. They always make Hemet’s unnerving barren-scape and occasional attacks on police by White Supremacists bearable.
O Hemet! I can’t sing of you, but might squeak a bit if you cough up a sloth bone for my son.
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
We tend to rotate which charities we give to monthly. Save The Children often tops the list. Also the Mae Tao Clinic located along the Thai-Burma border in Thailand—Dr. Cynthia is dedicated and committed and grateful for aid. Here at home I support a few local wildlife organizations, donate clothing and food to shelters and whenever I stop in for parakeet food at Kahoot’s, pause to stroke impossibly soft ears of baby bunnies waiting for homes, fervently telepathing to them with all the energy my heart possesses, Love, love, love you! I’m not sure what the deal is with the bunnies. But Kahoot’s always has them. I wish I could take them all home, but then there’d just be another mini-warren in the store the next day and besides, we have 3 cats, an enthusiastic Labrador and a parakeet fond of letting us know he exists and that’s about all I can handle pets-wise. Oh, bunnies. And fish in your bubbling tanks. And fiddler crabs endlessly waving. Oh, feeder fish! I’m sorry. I wish I could take you home, too. But not the tarantula. But maybe the snakes. Maybe not. But maybe. Perhaps I need to open my own wildlife sanctuary—in about 20 years. In the meantime, it’s Giving Day on the Ponderosa—do you know where your checkbook is (mine turned up in my riding boot, just glad it was found…), or your local feedstore filled with bunnies, or the local Salvation Army, or—crap, the pancakes are burning.
As I scrub whatevers at the kitchen sink, thinking about Hadley Richardson because I’m reading The Paris Wife, mostly thinking how wrong the book’s cover is considering its subject, I’m wondering if I’ll ever have a book cover of my own to ponder, quickly amending the if to when, ex-ing out the wondering and creating a new sentence of positive affirmation while slamming the window open to yell at Al the cat about to step off the curb and cross the street for mysterious catly purposes. Turning him around with my tone, watching him slink back into the geraniums, I think about how good OJ tastes when you have a headcold as long as the OJ is cold and I remember a tiny awful headline I saw at CNN.com, a site I’ve sworn off in an effort to keep bad news that is completely out of my control out of my life (or is bad news in some kind of control because I keep it out of my life), a headline stating OJ Simpson is, what, trying to get out of jail and I sneeze and recall taking my son to meet the horse I ride and I was so shocked because he wasn’t scared of this giant animal’s snorty affection, and I remember standing outside the ring while my son climbed up the judge’s chair because of course he wanted to sit in it, a weird, tall chair like that is a beacon to children and my hands hovered around him as he climbed and I kept turning my head slightly, for seconds, to watch the rider in the ring canter a beautiful Arabian over jump after jump after jump and each time her a** hit the saddle it wasn’t good and I hoped to god my a** didn’t look like that when it hit the saddle and I resolved to get my own a** in line with the rest of my posture, when riding, and as I soap another whatever I realize the only thing I envy the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is the size of their closets–not the size of their a***s and not what’s in their closets, but the size of their closets and, anyway, like CNN.com, all Housewives are banned from my Hulu experience as I focus on novels and poetry and raising a child in a valley of 105 degree heat in May. I sneeze and a poem enters my head—a jaunty rhyming quatrain, rhyming, for me, usually so forced it can’t possibly see the light of any personal archives and this is what came to me:
Right! Blank. Gone, because I didn’t write it down at the time I was soaping all those whatevers.