Monday, December 28, 2009

"Dear Rival Gang Leader Tom Logan:  If You Ever Try to Take Over My High School Fortress-City, I Will Lob a Molotov Cocktail at You, Which Will Be My Only Recourse Since It's Not Like I Can Go Tell My Mom, What With That Virus Wiping Out Everyone Over the Age of 12 and All"

When I was a kid, I read this one book.

Oh, all right, Sherlock Hemlock:  I read about 4,000 books.

Approximately 3,800 of those reading experiences have fallen into the crevasse carved into my brain that night in college when I drank too much Jagermeister.  Fortunately, I still carry the imprint of the other 200 books (only 93 of which were written by that cranky Laura Ingalls Wilder and her enabler daughter Rose).

To this day, I adore the Betsy/Tacy/Tib series and wish I could take to my bed with "the grippe" and a pompadour.  To this day, I remember the heft of The Velveteen Rabbit, and I particularly like that my memory of the story stalls out when the rabbit is tossed into the fire and doesn't extend to the arrival of that improbable Nursery Magic Fairy who turns shabby toys into real bunnies after all!!!! To this day, I remember clutching Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret to my already-increasing bust with disbelief and then hiding its horny older sister, Forever, under the covers as I whipped through its illicit pages (characters had the sex in it, and they weren't even married to other people yet). 

I'm currently reliving my childhood reading of Island of the Blue Dolphins, as I lead the girls in my daughter's class in discussion of it each week.  Mostly, the girls' book club is gratifying to me because I'm, like, so sure I would have had astute things to contribute to the discussion in 4th grade, such as "Wow.  I would never kill a cormorant, just to make a skirt. That's so harsh. Why doesn't she just make a decorative shawl out of otter pelts and have it double as a mini-skirt when she goes out clubbing in that scary Black Cave of That Ancestors that has all those creepy skeletons in it?"

Even more strongly, I remember laying under the desk that held my Billy Joel-laden turntable while reading The Good Earth.  Then again.  Then 16 more times.  Interspersed between readings of Pearl S. Buck were readings of Gone With The Wind.  Then again.  Then 26 more times.

And that was fifth grade.

Sometime around fifth grade, I also read a book that still haunts my imagination:  The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson.  Researching it now, I learn that the book contains the tenets of Ayn Rand's theories of Objectivism (explained by the Wikipoodle as:  "the advocacy of reason, individualism, the market economy and the failure of government coercion," a definition I supply for those of you who never read The Fountainhead in high school and therefore never acted all pretentious and pompous for about four months afterwards--and then there's the part the Wikipoodle doesn't cough up:  despite the fact that such poseurs didn't really understand everything Howard Roark was so moody about, they remained certain that they'd stumbled across the sole intelligent creed ever put to paper, yet even as they held themselves above the ignorant masses and scoffed at the plebes' ignorance, they pronounced the author's name "Ann" instead of "Ein").  Interestingly, I never picked up on the Objectivism in The Girl Who Owned a City, probably because I was 10 and am kind of dim and had never heard of it and was too distracted by the notion of a virus that killed all the adults in the world (But where did their corpses go, I ask you, O.T. Nelson?  Where did their corpses go?).

Even without detecting the underlying political message of the book, I was transported by its premise.  Indeed, all the adults have died.  Fortunately, even in their absence, electrical power plants continue to work (So, um, readers who work at power plants?  Maybe quit, 'cause, clearly, you don't really do much).  Despite there being light, the kids of the world, especially in the neighborhood of one 10-year-old named Lisa, quickly turn to gangs and warfare and fighting over food. Lisa emerges as a "leader"--if "didactic dictator" is your definition of leadership, although I suppose unreasonable and selfish are instrumental traits to success in a post-apocalyptic society, so if you see a bomb falling, run real fast to the nearest Trump Tower and yell "Take me to The Donald!"

Anyhow, eventually Lisa takes her gang, whom we readers are rooting for (Well played, O.T.  Well played), and builds a Kingdom of Happiness in the local high school.  She turns the place into a fortress, and they start growing their own food, and then the rival gang leader shoots her in the arm, and then the whole thing ends on an uplifting note, with the implication that Lisa will lead her minions to safe and productive lives under her watch.

Until she turns 12, I suppose.

Then the Kingdom of Happiness is going to need a new leader.  And they won't even be able to bury or burn or eat Lisa's corpse, what with there not being one.  At least they can not find her corpse with the aid of fully-powered 100-watt bulbs, though.

And here's the thing, and I'm sorry to get honest and straightforward on you at this late point:  this post is actually just supposed to tell you about my amazing Christmas Eve, except when I sat down to type, I realized the amazingness of my Christmas Eve needed the preamble of a backstory about how I read books as a kid and this one book in particular.

So now you know enough to understand why, when I laced up my hiking boots during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve and stepped outside for Walkies in the darkness,

I felt like Lisa.

Except with boobies and a mommy.

The clacking world had gone still and silent--hunkering down, staying off the slippery roads, opening presents with family, watching Charlie Brown.  I stepped off the porch and was immediately enveloped by the sensation of being the only person left alive on the planet.

I waded through the drifts and slush, feeling my heels rub against the stiffness of my boots, my glasses fogging with drops of precipitation.  Obscured vision closed me even more inside myself, inside a place where it was quiet.  Peaceful. 

I walked for an hour: 

No car lights dilated my pupils.  No tires splashed past me.  No dog walkers grunted hello.

Christmas decorations sparkled on every block.  There wasn't a corpse in sight.

And I was all alone, smiling, humming, owning my city of solitude.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Postage-Free But Heartfelt"

Dear Inhabitants of the Interwebs, You Slimy, Three-Eyed Beasts:

At this reading, may you be sipping on something mulled, wearing something fuzzy, and not hating those around you.  What's more:  may you have protein in your belly and a carb in your heart.

I offer up to you the following holiday greetings with a shrug of my shoulders and a simple, "Hell, Jethro.  It's what I got."

This year, our family mailed out the card below, an image created when the members of Groom's digital painting class were assigned to illustrate the various verses of The Night Before Christmas; Groom's required stanza was the "On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen.  On Tootie, on Blair, on Natalie and Mrs. G" blurpie.  So he staged a bunch of our Playmobil figures, took photos, and then used the photos as a basis for his painting.  I haven't even asked him, as we don't talk much, but I assume he got an "A," which, clearly, seems strong enough basis for a holiday greeting.  Christmas is nothing if not all about staging and pixels.

In previous decades, I used to crank out a massive letter to accompany the card, but now that I have this blog in which to blather, doing such a thing seems redundant.  If anyone cares, he/she can check in twice a week here and find out who's broken a bone or gone bowling.  Hence, we went, in the text on the back of the Santa card, for a straightforward listing of what actually mattered in our year, and that would be the favorite words our eyes intook.

While the previous image and note went out to a hundred of our closest friends (plus four acquaintances about whom we remain ambivalent), the next image is for you alone, O Gracious Denizen of the Interwebs. To celebrate an impending blizzard and the fact that I'm intending, in the next few days, to make a Tres Leches cake for the first time, I asked His Groomitude to create a new Pyramid Man for me (see this, this, and this for the backstory).  The result is a Groom/Paco collaboration, the best gift I can imagine:

My wishes for you over the next wad of days, Gentle Reader, are that you--

Savor life. 
Revel in the good stuff. 
Rest your yappin' dogs.
Find peace in your head.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Although I Felt the Freak in Many Other Ways, There Was This Month in Seventh Grade When We Did Track in P.E. Class, and As It Turned Out, I Was Pretty Good at Standing Broad Jump and the 100-Yard Dash.  Whenever I Feel Down, I Remember Out-Jumping and Out-Running All Those Cute Little Things Who Had Boyfriends, and Suddenly I'm Humming Again, Which Indicates That My Happiness Stems from a Place of 'In-Your-Face, Bitches'"

A few weeks ago, my sister sent me a book.

I think she's making up for all those years in childhood when she insisted a "slap fight" was actually a "fun game" as she pinned me down and proved her superiority at fun games. Plus, once, she took my Bass ballet flats and threw them across the room at me (how Bush in Baghdad 2008 of her!). As sisters do, we were occasionally awful to each other; however, she was the first--and for a long time, the only--person in my life with whom conflict felt comfortable.  We could fight like reality show bimbos clawing each other to win the Rock of Love...yet our battles somehow felt safe.  Even though she threw things at my head, she wasn't going anywhere.

That noted, I still like to think she owes me.  While she doesn't feel that way at all--from her point of view, she had to protect her space from a marauding wisenheimer of a ginger-haired douchnozzle--she is, as an adult, generous to a fault.  Hell, there's a Darth Vader costume under our Christmas tree from her right now, and we don't even run with the Sith.  She's just equipping us for future possibilities.  Currently, we have an Anikin.  But in twenty years, if Count Dooku takes him on, our Anikin may have need of a Darth costume to help cover his missing limb and scarred face, and all we'll have to do is clamber down to the basement and dredge it out of the costume trunk, thanks to her foresight.  Yea, my sister is a regular Nostradamian benefactor, like "What if, down the line, light turns to dark, and you need to dress the part?  Just in case, I should send something!"

In addition to providing for Paco's potential future, she has satisfied my present by sending a book.  It could being recompense for hurled shoes, but it also may be an apology for her insistence in 1981 on watching Ryan's Hope when the clearly-superior General Hospital aired during the same hour.  Middle school was wrenching enough, without the added drama of jousting over the dial.  I mean, seriously, at an age where my armpits were getting hairy and my glasses frames ever more enormous, the least she could have done is let me eyeball Luke and Laura in peace.

Ssssssweet Car-o-line, but those platters ate up half my face.

Her apology came under the title The Geography of Bliss.  Written by Eric Weiner, an NPR foreign correspondent, the book is one of those conceit-driven nonfiction tomes that is easily packaged and promoted for sale to customers who "actually only came in for one of those Gingerbread lattes."  Despite its being a conceit-driven nonfiction tome that is easily packaged and promoted, I'm enjoying it quite a bit. Never let it be said I'm anything less than easy.

The premise is that Weiner, an avowed curmudgeon, travels the world and tries to find where happiness lives--basically, he explores a variety of countries and attempts to determine who on the planet is happiest and why.

Okay, timeout.

1)  Weiner never comes across as the grouch he claims to be; in fact, I'd go so far as to assert that he rather likes traveling around the world, talking to people.  While he may be a man who feels down sometimes, who tends towards negativity on occasion, he's no Sith.  Thus, the conceit of the book ("life-hating writer travels the globe and maps joy") feels manufactured;

2)  Hello?  What is happiness?  I'd argue that since it's his book, Weiner can define the concept however he wants, but, repeatedly, he finds the idea of happiness so relative, so individual, so unquantifiable, that he can't even set down a baseline from which to work.  As a result, the book is more about exploring what passes for happiness in various regions than discovering who wins the gold in the Happiness Olympics, and so I need to take a moment to holler, "Listen, Gomer, if you're going to take my sister's money for this book, you sure as hell better pony up with a concrete answer by the time I'm done reading.  If you don't end with a firm conclusion like 'Incontrovertible happiness is to be found in Nasinu, Fiji,' I'm going poke out the eyeballs of with a pair of really long chopsticks";

3)  Despite the basics of the book being contrived and slippery, it's an interesting read, and not only because Weiner gets really stoned in Amsterdam.  There's also the fact that Bhutan, as a nation, has a GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) quotient, as declared by the king--and, frankly, the very fact that a king can declare such a thing ups Jocelyn's Cheer Meter Reading to the level of WOW!.  Here and there, when the author is particularly sardonic, my Meter Readings have even escalated to Slam, Bam, Thank You, Ya Big Weiner

So gracias for this book, Dear Sister.  It's the perfect end-of-semester read:  I can attack it in chunks; it makes me smile; it is intelligent without taxing my toasted brain overmuch; and if you ever come at me with a pair of ballet flats again, I can throw this paperback volume at you, and I will aim for your head.

Should I have piqued your interest (or perhaps I've piqued your pique), and you find your own Cheer Meter Readings plummeting because you don't have Weiner's book nearby, here is a taste of one of the early sections, during which our intrepid explorer spends time in the Netherlands (learning to say "I'll have seconds on the hash brownies, please" in Dutch).  At one point, he visits a Happiness Science Center, which, at first, I thought was the official name for Wavy Gravy's LSD lab, but, as it turns out, the Happiness Center is a place where people who call themselves real scientists try to figure out the variables of an upbeat state of mind. 

Heading the lab is researcher Ruut Veenhoven (like I don't want to have another kid, just so I can use that name), who has a compiled a database of findings (which Weiner characterizes as "alternately obvious and counterintuitive").  So take the test, Gentle Reader.  According to one Dutch guy with an awesome name, are you happier than most?

Veenhoven has found that:
  • Extroverts are happier than introverts  
  • optimists are happier than pessimists  
  • married people are happier than singles  
  • ...though people with children are no happier than childless couples  
  • Republicans are happier than Democrats  
  • people who attend religious services are happier than those who do not  
  • people with college degrees are happier than those without (at the very least, they are more smug)
  • ...though people with advanced degrees are less happy than those with just a BA
  • people with an active sex life are happier than those without
  • women and men are equally happy
  • ...though women have a wider emotional range
  • having an affair will make you happy but will not compensate for the massive loss of happiness that you will incur when your spouse finds out and leaves you  
  • people are least happy when they're commuting to work  
  • busy people are happier than those with too little to do
  • wealthy people are happier than poor ones, but only slightly
According to this list, I'm about 3/7ths happy, which is odd because I really am feeling more 6/7ths-ish today.  Perhaps if I align myself with the values of Newt Gingrich, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, Jeff Miller, Ed Schrock, Strom Thurmond, Randall Terry, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Joe Scarborough, Jimmy Swaggart and--oh, fer Christ, do you really want me to type them all out?  It promises to take weeks--I could become an affair-having Republican and increase my happiness fraction. Provided I manage to hide my infidelity from my spouse (Groom:  stop reading two sentences ago, please), my happiness levels should soar.

After looking at Veenhoven's data, Weiner notes, "Social scientists have a hard time un-raveling what they call 'reverse causality' and what the rest of us call the chicken-and-egg problem. For instance, healthy people are happier than unhappy ones; or is it that happy people tend to be healthier? Married people are happy; or maybe happy people are more likely to get married? It's tough to say. Reverse causality is the hobgoblin that makes mischief in many a research project."

I take his point.  At this very minute, for example, I'm unsure if I'm happy because I'm eating a salad...or if the salad chose me because I was already a happy person.

Um, huh?

I think I need to keep reading.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"I Promise You At Least Five Parenthetical Asides in This Post; Bonus Points If You Count More"

There is a fortuitous convergence at the end of the semester:

Gasping for air from beneath a heap of research papers, I claw one hand out from under essays about childhood obesity, bacteria-phobia, the death of newspapers, and the upsurge in wind farms,

and that hand, calloused and gnarled, flops around blindly (what with having no eyeballs)

until it encounters my husband's faintly-whiskered cheek (because he's 99% Nordic Boy Wonder and 1% newborn mouse, faint whiskering is the most he can achieve).

The flopping, stroking hand is expressing appreciation. Were it in a bad mood, it would slap and flip off and plumb for ear wax.

But no.

Flopping, stroking hand loves Groom (and may very well express that sentiment more fully, after dark).

For, just as Flopping Hand is cramping from clutching the grading pen and wiping away tears of disappointment,

Groom has finished out his semester and has work to show for it.

Translation: I ain't be gottin' much time right now, but, because my husband took some art classes all term and made pretty pictures, I can hitch my blog to his star and post them here.

At the end of last Spring term, I went on at some length in a video about his work, but this time I'll be more brief (somewhat unattractively, your collective "whew" registers even here, miles and miles away). Groom took Painting I this semester and marveled at how long it takes to turn out a good piece, largely because one has to wait for the paint to dry before adding the next bit. Paint and wait; paint and wait; paint and wait. He also completed Art History, an online class that fully demonstrated any possible pitfall of online education (typed this mortified online instructor who canNOT believe the poor quality of "instruction" she has sometimes viewed over her husband's shoulder in the last year, O Holy Mothers of Slackers Who Still Collect Pay Cheques). Fortunately, he had the textbook, read the thing and, therefore, edjamicated himself. Lastly, he took Digital Painting and Drawing, a course that fully demonstrated the possible strengths of online education. In fact, he learned the software and techniques so well that many onlookers can't appreciate the hours upon hours of work he put into each piece.

However, as a kind and astute audience, I feel certain y'all will be just the right folks to see that talent can distinguish itself, even in digitized art. You are also the right crew to fathom how cool it is to have random pictures floating around the house when one is casting about for a picture to adorn, say, one's anniversary invitation:

As you can see, Groom's response to an assignment early in the term gave us fodder for our invite. While everyone enjoyed the image, some lost their breath upon reading the text. An astonishing number of people got all nervous and had to blurt out, "That business about 4 affairs? Really??? What happened? Is there something we should know?"

Yea. 'Cause when people are throwing a huge party for their 10th anniversary, and they are the most soppily in love couple you know, and they have evidenced in the past a sense of humor that tends to skid sideways,

generally the backstory is a whole lot of adultery that screams out for publicity.

Knowing there was some consternation in the ranks after we sent out our invitation, we prepared an answer to use during the party:

"Yes, Guido/Carla/Father O'McFlanniganahan, there have been 4 affairs. Neither of us had them alone. We always had them together, as we enjoy opening the marriage to the magic of a third. So, uh, the first affair was with Miss Silvia, our espresso maker. The second was with Tina Fey. We took turns licking the make-up off her face. The third was with late night television's Craig Ferguson; he brought puppets. And the fourth was with Omar from THE WIRE. Now, with that mystery cleared up, what did you think of the squash on the card?"

After the 85 wonderful guests (only 3 of whom remain bewildered--and hopeful--to this day with regards to the infidelity) trooped out after our party, Groom was ready for a little quiet time during which he could refocus on his art assignments. This past week, he spent hours and hours and then an hour plus 14 more minutes working on this (my favorite thing he's ever done):

Based on photos of the ice packs that jumble the shoreline of Lake Superior each winter, this was his final project for Digital Drawing and Painting.

This picture does for me what Groom himself does. It alters my heartbeat.

But here's the thing: he posted it to the online class, in the discussions area, amongst all the other messages containing digital paintings and drawings of unicorns, Captain Hook, and guitars sporting angel wings...and no one commented on it.

Later that night, Himself admitted to feeling a little hurt, as he'd been excited about what he'd created and hoping for feedback. But nothing.

The next day, he asked his instructor about it, and her take was that he had created an image that appears photographic. Everyone thinks he uploaded a photo and then clicked a few buttons on the computer, and voila (or, as my students write it, "Viola!").

Eventually, a couple of classmates did comment, ho-hum "that's neat" responses. Despite that, he feels proud of what he did, especially because he knows he opened a blank canvas on the screen, took the digital "brush" in hand, and drew, filling the blank white with just the right shadings of grey and charcoal to transport viewers to a cold February day on the shore of the world's largest surface of fresh water.

That's what real art does: it transports us, makes us catch our breath (sometimes with shock; sometimes with awe).

In this case, the art provides my cramped, flopping hand with a frigid respite,
a soothing patch of ice upon which to rest and recooperate

before I force my attentions back to the next essay on the stack.

(the end)

(except P.S.: at the art show on campus this week, Groom received bids on two of his pieces, one of them the squash from our invitation and one of them an oil painting. We's rich! We's rich! Daddy sold his squash so Mamma could get her some Grillz!)

Monday, December 07, 2009

"Recipe for a Headache"

My life policy of Don't Get Harried is inviolate.

Also, I lie a lot, especially on Mondays, when zipping around and feeling always eight minutes behind is the norm, and my life policy is brutally, repeatedly violated.

The policy of Don't Get Harried is predicated by the fact that doing lots isn't part of my self-definition. For me, racing around from commitment to commitment doesn't give life a sense of worth or purpose; on the contrary, it leaves me with a feeling that I've missed life's purpose altogether.

Honestly, I have no idea what life's purpose actually is, but intuition tells me it has something to do with sitting very still, pulling air into my lungs slowly, and staring at something the wind is blowing around.

Hey, if you take that description, plop a bag of Old Dutch bbq chips down next to me in the scenario, scatter about a few Little Debbie snack cakes, then suddenly I'm not so much seeking purpose as stoned.

Stupefied or meditating, either way I find myself sitting in a place, feeling a moment, being there. It feels right.

Contrast a relaxed Old Dutch day with my Mondays of late, and you'll be screaming for a toke of the Mary Jane. For some reason, even though I don't have classes on campus on Mondays, the start of the week has become crazy-mad-rip-roaring busy--as in, the day takes place in chunks of 24 minutes in 40 different places, and then the sun plummets, extinguishing exhaustedly.

Normally, this is just how it is. It just is. Last week, though, Monday took on an added pressure: it was my husband's birthday. And since he is the finest of souls, and his birthday last year was particularly The Suck (being born right after Thanksgiving means you're usually in a mini-van with crabby children, driving home up a grey highway, on your birthday; the highlight is stopping at the Chug 'N Munch for wasabi almonds), I had vowed it would be better this year.

Specifically, because he never got a Birthday Treat last year, he would get something this year. I would figure out the details of that when the time came. Like, on his birthday.

Thus, last Monday, the Gourmet cookbook and I had a date. Since Groom had no preference about his treat (high maintenance, that one is), I leafed through, looking for a recipe entitled "What Jocelyn Would Like to Have But Which She Can Pawn Off as Being For Her Husband."

Clearly, chocolate and profiteroles were in our near future.

The choice made, I scanned the list of ingredients, went through the kitchen cabinets and was able to whoop, "Yee-haw! We have sugar! This thing has legs!!" Then I wrote the rest of the ingredients down onto a shopping list and sent Groom off to buy his own damn heavy and ice creams.

What I realized, as the day went on, was that the Gourmet recipe was incredibly unrealistic. As if a person--on a Monday--can just take out the ingredients, stand in front of the stove, and make profiteroles and hot fudge.

Recipe, O Recipe, where is the section that has the cook crawling around on all fours in her basement pantry, spending 24 minutes trying to find the missing pastry bag?

Recipe, O Recipe, you mention 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, but why do you not mention 6 loads of laundry?

Recipe, O Recipe, why do you not mention the 24 minutes the cook will need to spend pulling together materials for the Girls' Book Club she's leading each week in her daughter's 4th grade class?
Why, O Short-Sighted Recipe, do you not list "24 minutes of driving to the elementary school" or "31 minutes of deconstructing the plot of Island of the Blue Dolphins with 12 girls" as necessary ingredients to your hot fudge? Why do you not acknowledge the emotional energy the cook will have to expend in explaining to a group of preadolescent girls that sometimes, as in the book, members of our families will die (albeit not at the hands of otter-pelt-hunting Aleuts)?

Recipe, O Recipe, why do you fail to mention the post-Book Club dash to first grade, wherein the cook will grab her 6-year-old, drive him 24 minutes to the Martial Arts studio, and--with no whisk in hand--help him strip in the backseat of a Toyota Camry and change into his karate kit?

Dear Recipe, you also neglect to mention the late afternoon latte the cook will need to make, after she whizzes home from the karate studio. By the time she has made her espresso, transferred the laundry, and found a saucepan, it's time to go pick up Paco. Amazingly, during class, he's managed to stain his uniform (with what??? blood???), entailing a double trip through the wash and the application of a bleach pen. Where is "bleach pen" on your list of ingredients, Ressy-pee-pee?

O Negligent Recipe, you also fizzle in the Homework Section of the baking, overlooking the fact that the chef's daughter might have been asked, for Social Studies, to make a timeline (complete with photos) of the seven Biggest Events of Her Life. Due the next day.

As it turns out, Dear, Blindered Recipe, 4th graders aren't completely certain what the Biggest Events of Their Lives have been. Fortunately, cooks who are chopping 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate are able to multi-task and suggest things like, "How about when you learned to ride a two-wheeler?" and light the burner simultaneously.

Speaking of simultaneously, O Recipe of Restricted Focus, you fail to lay out the moments when the cook will make her lunch for the next day, pack her gym bag, and ready her work satchel. Why do you not mention "ready work satchel" in your list of instructions, Small-Visioned Recipe?

Moreover, as your cook peels carrots that appear nowhere on your list of ingredients, she also muses that you underestimated the amount of homework 4th grade teachers like to give on Mondays. Dumb Recipe, you haven't done the math.

Specifically, Challenged Recipe, you have not allotted for the fact that a boy named Benito dropped a pocketful of change along a maze-like path, and my daughter--some sort of good Samaritan on a two-wheeler--needs to help him recollect it all, adding up his potential loss along the way.

Speaking of being lost, did I add the vanilla yet to you, Precious Recipe? I'm no longer certain, but assuage my feelings of confusion with the knowledge that Benito has regained his lost change and now has enough to go buy wasabi almonds at the Chug 'N Munch.

Oh, and Benito? When you're done, feel free to toss your wrapper into the trash. While the chocolate melts for the hot fudge sauce, I'm emptying garbage cans from around the house and compiling the recycling for its Tuesday pick-up.

The baking soda only went missing for a few minutes during the Recycling Phase of you, O Recipe.

Ultimately, once my salad was made, and Benito had a full tummy, and the karate uniform was again pristine,

Hot Fudge was born.

The labor had been long and difficult, but the fudge was dark;

the pastries were puffy.

Ultimately, it all came together like a dream. Groom felt properly honored, and we all needed napkins.

Of course, the real celebrating began after we'd put you to bed, Loyal Recipe,

and we took considerably less than 24 minutes to suck down your Urban Cousin: Surly Darkness, an imperial stout without compare.

When it hit our bellies, we sat


pulling the air into our lungs slowly

gazing out the window into the night

watching things blow in the wind.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

"Juicy Fruit"

Scroogey McSkinTheReindeer here.

It's that time of the year again. Sumpin' about jolly and holly.

Not this grouch's vibe. Nor is Kill The Turkeys day.

In trying to put a finger on why the holidays make me want to carve a cave into the side of Wal-Mart using my bare hands and then climb inside toting a headlamp, a Scrabble board, and a machete before rolling an SUV in front of the opening, I can come up with a few reasons:

--it's the end of the semester, which means it's all I can do to peel students off the walls and grade their lackluster work (why can't they pour all that adrenaline into their writing?); by this time next week, when cultural pressures are smashing me into an undecorated pine tree, telling me to crank out some homemade gifts, and urging me to create a sense of tradition that will one day inspire nostalgia in my children, I'll be facing a whole new stack of 100 essays that need grading before the next stack comes in the following week. I tell you: before I started the college teaching gig, it never had occurred to me that the end of the semester makes teachers completely whack, just as it does students;

--I already want to add three additional hours to each day, just so I can sit down more and read or write or talk to someone. The time crunch makes me NOT want to spend hours using Scotch tape and wrapping paper to "hide" presents when I know that same paper and tape will be ripped off in 5 seconds flat and crumpled into a ball that I later have to retrieve in its wadded form from under the couch. A week after that, I'll still be scraping tape remnants out of the carpet. Three weeks after that, I'll be crawling around the floor, picking up pine needles. Four weeks after that, I'll carry the damn ornaments back down to the basement. Sometimes people have mentioned that I don't really seem to make phone calls. Let's thank Christmas for that;

--Any of the time or money that is put into holiday efforts--from shopping to washing up after a big meal to laundering the dirty table cloth--would feel better spent on a family trip somewhere, preferably a trip that sees me looking at art, running on a trail, and reading;

--I realize now, more and more, that I never much enjoyed holidays as a kid. Something there was always hollow. Flat. Contrived. (kind of like my parents' marriage, which took thirty more years to come clean!).

Clearly, I am a holiday pisser of the highest order.

What became again apparent to me last week, however, was this:

I can't blame my dislike of the holidays on family. While some dread get togethers because of tensions, fighting, drinking, passive/aggressive-ing,

I have lucked out. Because my husband's family lives in our state, and none of my family immediate members does, we see my in-laws the most. And they are awesome. Seriously, if you offered me a thousand bucks to come up with a single complaint about my mother-in-law, I'd have to congratulate you on your good fortune at keeping that thousand bucks in your tight little wallet.

My husband's parents, sister and her partner, grandparents, aunt and uncle, and cousins all live in the same town. To a number, they are the best people I've ever known.

They are so engaged and attentive and deliberate and thoughtful that I almost feel bad about wanting to go scratch out my Wal-Mart cave. In fact, I'm so near to feeling bad about it that I'd be glad to write them a card detailing my regrets as I squat there in Ye Olde Wal-Mart cave, if only the postal service would grant me a zip code and thereby allow me the return address required on mailings.

What I would tell them is this: if all the fuss and bother would go away, and only they were left behind, that would feel like a celebration, and no one would have to do dishes for an hour afterwards.

This photo sums up perfectly how killer In-Law Family is:

That's Ben, my sister-in-law's partner. They have an organic farm, which supplies kale and beets to locals in the form of CSA (community-supported agriculture) shares, supplies the co-op in town with cabbages and squash, supplies the residential colleges with tomatoes and spinach. In this photo, Ben (who's also a trained yoga instructor) is doing a headstand amongst the seedlings in their hoop house.

I could stop right there, as I'm certain you have already grasped how un-hate-able this family is.

'Cause a headstand in a hoop house is my idea of a party trick (much better than the time when I tried sticking a little pinch of chew between my cheek and gum while having cocktails and then swallowed a gullet-full of the Skoal and had to go puke in the lilacs. I'm a whole different kind of charmer than Headstanding Ben).

In case your jury is still out, I next submit this photo, in which my father-in-law pushes Paco on a swing they made out in the woods. Like his mother, Paco can be a little crabby sometimes...but never on a homemade swing in the woods with Grandpa pushing him.

Maybe I need a holiday swing in the woods, and then I'd be able to hesh up.

But wait: I've got more evidence of this Crew of In-Laws' excellence. Last week, a couple of days after Thanksgiving, Ben and Erin (my sister-in-law) hauled their cider press from the farm out to my in-laws' house, so we could pitch together our Northern apples with their Southern-er apples and make cider.

Cider pressing is a process of control and violence, and seeing those apples get decimated whittled the edges off my sulkies.

Even when Paco doesn't have an ear infection, he likes a Pajama Day. But for SURE he needs to go commando and sport an elastic waistband when he's running a fever. And for SURE pajamas are required when he gets to crank fruit into pulp (although one does worry about going commando around the masher; Boy Bits could flop in by mistake). Alternate cranking uniform: a vigorously polka-dotted hat.

Bye-bye, crabbies (both the apples and my mood).

Paco and Girl, rockin' the juice.

The man in the hairy sweater is Groom. I look at this photo and think, "GAWD, I canNOT even believe I have a crush on a man in a hairy sweater." Then I remember I brought him that hairy sweater from Iceland, a trip that took place in midsummer, during 24-hours of light, which consequently messed up my biological clock and resulted--surprise!--in the girl in the polka-dot hat. So hell yea, he should wear that sweater. Without it, I'd still be a virgin.

Or whatever.

The Result of My Trip to Iceland and the Pajama Kid have taken to making up choreographed dances that they can trot out at any moment. I appreciate this a great deal, as Groom has always maintained that musicals are silly because people don't just randomly break into song and dance in the real world.

In. your. face. Groom. Lighten up and sing "I Feel Pretty" already. Give us a twirl.

Ultimately, crabbies turn to mash turn to pulp turn to juice

and the press lets loose its bladder.

Rallying in the face of such incontinence, I concede that holidays have their moments. As far as what my children will take into the future with them when they wax nostalgic, I can only hope their memories include the phrase,

"Remember the year we drank apple pee?"

Monday, November 30, 2009

"Husband as Muse"

A few weeks ago, I danced over to Jazz's blog and enjoyed a welcome surprise: her post that day had been hand-written. It startled me how much I liked seeing her handwriting and not just her typing; it reminded me of the individual behind the blog; it gave me a glimpse into her Herishness.

Hence, I've co-opted that idea, as you can see below (click on the image to enlarge it--and then zoom in even more!). While my handwriting has never been stellar, it has seen a marked degeneration in the last two decades, as I've graded thousands of student essays. As well, I wrote the page below as we drove 70 mph on the highway last night, after dark, heading home from a holiday weekend away. All that in mind, you can still accuse me of being illegible, and I'll have to nod in agreement.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Ridding the Planet of the Scourge That Is Breathing and Upright Turkeys"

Sometimes I get all ranty on my students. This happens, in particular, when they kvetch about having to take classes "that don't have anything to do with what I'm going into"--although, were they at the keyboard, that sentiment would read more like "taht dont have any thing to with WHat im goin in to."

Whenever they act all put out at having to take a range of classes, at having to study things they have no interest in, at wasting their time in classes like history, political science, and psychology when they just want to be nurses,

I have to clench my slapping hands firmly to my sides.

Every now and then, if I'm able to temper my reaction, I attempt thought correction (which is the agenda of every leftist Ivory Towered college professor, according to the Fox Newsian segment of the population). Calming my voice, I venture a, "You know, I viewed every class I ever took as an opportunity more than a burden. I always really try to remember that education, in any setting, on any subject, for any reason, is to be treasured. Specifically, if you are lucky enough to be in college, you shouldn't start complaining that you are asked to take college classes. Of course, all of this is hard to see when you're in the midst of it, so let me put it in more practical terms. Studies show that most people end up changing careers 5-7 times in their working lives. Thus, it is in your best interest to get the broadest base of education possible, so that you leave college equipped to take on any possible type of job that might put itself in front of you in the next 35 years. Certainly, you need very specific classes to become a nurse/phlebotomist/massage therapist/auto mechanic/firefighter. But what happens when your body gives out, or the economy becomes bad, and suddenly you are face with a change in career? What if you've only ever had phlebotomy-related classes? How are you going to sell books/dig graves/start a company/substitute teach/manage an office? More than knowing how to draw blood for the rest of your life, you need to know how to talk to people, how to communicate, how to think critically, how to analyze possibilities and pitfalls. See, the whole point here, with this college gig, is to lay down a foundation that can support you through all of life's vagaries."

And then I slap them.

With very small, gentle, invisible hands.

Here's the thing, though: while I believe all of the above rant quite vehemently these days, the truth is that when I was a college student, I could get all pissy about classes, too. In my defense, I will note I went to a liberal arts college, so the entire nature of my degree was broadly foundational. Moreover, it wasn't that I was averse to the information in the classes I was required to take; it was that my brain was too busy processing Long Island Iced Teas to be up to the task of calculatin' and hypothesizin'.

As a result, I still did my best to avoid classes in the maths and sciences--them mean classes that could hurt me.

However, the college hinged its degree awarding upon my having completed a variety of classes from all disciplines, so eventually, I had to sign up for numbers and theories and stuff, which seemed a shame when I still had Jane Austen to read.

Fortunately, I wasn't alone in my recoil from hardcore math and science; in fact, I was in such good company that the college had been forced to create and offer watered-down versions of some classes in these disciplines. I took Math 10 one semester...we connected dots and made stars and stuff, and at some point, we may have added up all our dots and stars, which, since we got to use our fingers, was a breeze, so long as the answer never exceeded ten. Hey! Math was fun!

Fulfilling the science requirement was infinitely more taxing. I thought I had it sussed when I discovered a class nicknamed "Physics for Poets" existed. Hell, yea, methunk. I could dig a class where "torque" and "vector" were part of the iambic pentameter making up a sonnet. So great was my excitement, I bought pencils, friends. I bought pencils.

But. Hmmm. How to put it?

One time John McEnroe hollered at a line judge that he was "the pits of the world." I would like to assert here that Nikola Tesla might have been a line judge. 'Cause physics was the pits of the world.

Now, I already knew physics blew the shutters right off my weathered Queen Anne of a brain. In high school, fast tracked in all subjects, I had taken honors physics. My teacher then had served as an artillery sergeant in Korea. As I sat in his classroom, holding my head in my hands, stifling a wail, he would march up and down the aisles, whacking desks and hollering about how only dummies couldn't get this stuff. Clearly a dummy, I started going in before school to have him work through the problems with me. It never helped. I remained a cringing, cowering mass of confusion. But he did smile once when I make a joke about my having "zero capacitance," so I called it a victory.

Woefully, the college physics experience bore out my college experience. While the professor was a good man, he lived on Planet Throbbing Brain, unaware that we peons down in the mines, attempting to extract his brilliance, were gasping for air.

Full disclosure requires that I also admit I took the class Pass/Fail, so all I needed was a "D" to get through. At first, I aimed for my "D" by skipping lots of classes, which did the trick quite neatly.

But then we had the first test, and its return marked the single time in my academic career that I held and beheld the letter "F."

Muttering a word that started with "F," I realized I had to start cranking, start going to class, start attending study groups, start reading the text book.

And I did. Even still, I was profoundly bewildered and lost. Fortunately, I became just enough less lost to randomly encounter a path labeled "D," and I made it through the class--a little closer to an ulcer, a little less buoyant, a little less certain I was a fan of this "take a wide range of classes" concept.

Leaving me faintly nauseous and listing slightly to the right, college physics was the worst experience of my educational life.

Until I took Statistics.

But I'm not telling that story here. It's only twenty years in the past, and I'm just not ready yet.

The upshot of my story is this: it's Thanksgiving time; I don't like holidays; and at some point someone will probably ask me what I'm grateful for this year. Since my attitude is bad, it's best to have an answer prepared. A prepared answer will get me off the hook, and, with words pre-packaged, ready to trip off my tongue, I can sidestep the family strife that would ensue from me hollering, "None of your damn business!" or "How come you never ask me this in April? Or September?"

So here's what I've got, in the off chance we all end up going 'round the table and forcing out statements of gratitude:

"I'm really, really thankful I'll never again have to take a college physics class. Now stuff that in your turkey and gobble it."

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Sweet Like Sugar"

I haven't seen the Spiderman, Iron Man, or Batman movies of recent years.

I don't applaud politicians who promise to change our lives.

I don't get all weepy over photos of my grandmother sitting in a big leather chair, doing her tatting.

I sometimes think members of the military are in it for the job--you know, so their families can eat--more than to sacrifice themselves defending their particular country's version of "values of freedom."

You see, I'm not much given to hero worship.

In fact, I chafe at the easy manner in which the word "hero" is thrown around, at the craving people have to laud something, no matter how vapid, at the compulsion to exhalt the world by slapping onto it such a label. People are people; sometimes they shine; sometimes they drain. We are all of us just us'ns, and to try to sort everyone onto tiers is exhausting, purposeless.

Flawed and full of smells, we are just us, we people.

That noted, I have to admit that often this is more of a principle than a reality for me. I do admire some others. I do look down on certain schmoes. I do vaunt others.

...but my rankings are not on a scale of heroic. That feels too cinematic and contrived. That feels like a one-armed Matt Damon on a zip line, whizzing through a jungle to retrieve a secret code before the bomb explodes in a lair where Cameron Diaz is being held by agitated guerillas. To tell you true, I'm equally put off by the Readers' Digestian notion of "everyday heroes"--those people who saved puppies and started foundations and knitted mittens. Misread me not: they have done good things. However, I don't think it's too much to ask that all people attempt, in their own ways, to be their best selves, to do the things they think they can in the world. If we keep the bar set at the point of Reasonable Expectations for Humanity, then these everyday heroes are actually just doing what they should be. Comedian Chris Rock has a riff on this idea wherein he rails at talk show audiences that clap wildly for any African-American man who sits on stage and announces proudly, "I work for my kids. We throw the ball around on weekends." Because expectatations have slid so low, the audience and the man greet his announcement with praise, with a feeling of "What a hero!" Chris Rock is quick to holler, however, "Don't. applaud. that. man. for. doing. exactly. what. he's. supposed. to. be. doing. Don't treat him like he saved the planet because he managed to show up."

At best, Us Good 'Uns display a certain integrity or follow the ordinates on a particular moral compass (which, notably for me, don't have to align with traditional views of "moral"; a person can be an admirable degenerate, so long as he or she is true to an impulse that remains essentially benign). At worst, the Us Bad 'Uns bring to life a desire to hurt weaker, smaller, younger, softer.

Everything in between is just people being us.

Therefore, as you have probably seen coming, I get particular gratification out of bumping into something special, someone who stops me short and makes me inhale sharply.

Surprise me, Sailor.

To wit:

In the midst of a stretch of trying days--and not in any overt way, wherein I feel granted the right to collapse and weep on the duvet, clutching Kleenex to clavicle, but more in an ongoing, grinding way where I try not to carve the words "Help me" into the living room wall with a bloody whisk--I have found soppy comfort in a thing. In the midst of a week when I rushed forward when I should have held steady, when I lost several nights' sleep with an agitated boychild, when I wonder if the family isn't maybe being slowly offed by a carbon monixide leak (or why else do we all feel this way?),

I touched a good thing.

And if I ever forget to slow down and touch a good thing, may they box me up and put the casket on the pyre. Better yet: bypass the casket.

The good thing was a she, young and blue-eyed, with a charming bit of a lisp. She helped me refind a sense of possibility during a weekend where everything was dark and negative, a weekend when I was ready to go out and buy a VW van just so I could drive off into the sunset in it, cranking Neil Young and savoring the melancholy of dusk.

This girl is nine; she wants to be an actress; she likes to catch tadpoles; she is my daughter's good friend; she has Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes. Mostly, she's just a white kid growing up in a middle class family in the Midwest. She has seen High School Musical the requisite number of times.

While she's been in Girl's circle of friends for the last few years, and we've had her over for playdates and birthday parties, we'd never ventured with her into the larger commitment known as Preadolescent Sleepover. Because, er, you know, it's a little intimidating to be the adult in charge of someone who could potentially die if you're not paying attention.

However, now that Friend A is nine, nearing an age where a certain amount of self-care is a valid expectation, we decided to extend the invitation, something which, gratifyingly, was greeted with shrieks and hugs and statements that she had never been so excited in her whole life, about anything. It probably helped that we were also offering up pizza and a ride ON THE CITY BUS downtown to watch the yearly Christmas parade with us, before the actual sleeping over even commenced. Not only had Friend A never ridden on a city bus, she had never been to a live parade before. There was quivering.

Seriously, you can't help liking her a little bit already, can you?

When her mother (in a separate post, I could probably make a case for this woman--with four kids, an out-of-town husband, an oldest daughter down with daily migraines, unable to get an appointment at the Mayo Clinic due to villainous paperwork--as heroic) dropped her off, they gave me the training I would need: I met the meter and the whole kit used for bolus doses; I met the pocketful of carmel rice cakes; I met the Ziploc baggie of glucose tabs (most effective and dramatic in the case of plummeting numbers); I heard her numbers ("she's been at over 300 this week...running high because she's so excited for this sleepover...but today she has a new site for her pump and new insulin, so she's evening anytime...anytime"); I was told the schedule for blood tests (after dinner, right at bedtime, two or three hours after bedtime, and then we'd see). My head spinning a little, we were ready to chow and dig for bus fare.

So Friend A had a piece of pizza, got really big eyes during the bus ride (especially when a man in a wheelchair got on, and the huge mechanical ramp unfolded, and then the bus driver had to clip in his chair five different ways), and danced and jumped during the parade. At one point, when people on a float had tossed out candy, and all the other kids were unwrapping their suckers, Friend A turned to me, holding up a small mint, and asked, "Can I have this? It's less than one carb, so I won't need to dose." Jokingly, as I told her yes, I said, "Honey, I sooo don't have a grip on all this stuff; I have to believe anything you tell me." Her immediate, vehement response was, "I. take. it. very. seriously."

At that moment, it was all I could do not to hug the very breaf out of her body.

A few hours later, home, watching a movie, snacking, readying for bed, she checked her blood levels ("two-two-two," she told me), called her mom, dosed herself, and ran, giggling, up the stairs. As I tucked her in, I admitted to her that I was nervous to come in and wake her up in a few hours: "First off, we have a household policy never to wake a sleeping child, but also, since you're not my kid, and you're not used to me in the night, I worry that you're going to be scared when you wake up and think, 'Hey, whose big face is hovering above me?'"

Friend A nodded and admitted, "I'm probably going to be mad at you, actually. Because I'm tired, I'm pretty mean when I get woken up for a night time check."

"Hohboy," I sighed back at her. "Well, how about this: if you're really crabby when I wake you up, I'm going to start telling you things like how I'll buy you a pony in the morning and then we'll go get you some new roller blades and $500 worth of clothes at the mall, and then we'll go to the waterpark, if only you're nice to me?"

Having a complete bead on me, knowing I'm full of malarkey, Friend A grinned and said, "Deal."

Thus, once the rustling sounds in the girls' room ceased, the waiting began. Despite being outrageously tired from Paco's recent nights of no sleep, I decided to stay up and noodle around for a few hours instead of going to bed and then having to drag my own cranky self out of it a few hours later. 'Cause when you have to promise to buy yourself a pony, it doesn't feel special at all.

At almost one a.m., I crept in, ready for battle. Juggling her meter and kit, a tupperware full of rice cakes, and a bag of glucose tablets, I prepared to stroke her hair until her angry eyes opened.

However, Friend A, keyed up by the unfamiliar situation, woke immediately; she sat up, shivering, and rubbed her eyes. "Okay, honey, here's your stuff."

With unimaginable efficiency, she stabbed her finger, failed to draw blood, lanced it again, squeezed, put the resultant drop onto the slide, inserted it into the meter, licked her bleeding finger, and waited for the number.

A big 63 popped up.

Even I knew "low" when I saw it; only the next day did I look up the technical definition of "hypoglycemic." Immediately, Friend A said, "I have to eat something" and cracked into the rice cakes. Silent except for the crunching, we sat in the dark. "Now I need a tablet, too," she announced, and continued chewing.

When she was done, I asked, "Hey, girlie? That was kind of a low number. Do you think I should check you again in a few hours?"

And here's where she got me forever. The soft, sleepy, clinically-efficient nine-year-old in a sleeping bag responded, "I don't know. Maybe you should call my mom."

Certainly, the mom-to-mom phone call at 1 a.m. is no one's favorite duty. Fortunately, Friend A's mother is worthy of such a daughter and snapped to attention quickly. "Yes, that's low. She needs to eat." She did. "She needs to eat more. Do you have a granola bar? If you can get a granola bar into her, she'll be fine 'til morning. Was she really crabby with you? She gets like that when she's really low; her brain isn't firing right, you know. "

Yes, I had a granola bar. No, she hadn't been the slightest bit crabby. Oh, holy Richard Simmons, but her brain had been firing just fine.

We decided that, in the middle of the night, when you're nine and hypoglycemic, it's sometimes best to hear from Mom that you need to eat more. After a quick phone conversation and goodbye, Friend A and I sat again in the darkness, listening to her munch.

After the last swallow, she plopped back down onto her pillow and cashed out. Moments later, head plopped onto my own pillow, I took a few minutes to consider

how there is something heroic--something that qualifies as "above and beyond"--in a kid who lives stoically with chronic illness,

how jaw-dropping it is to see matter-of-factness in a little person who doesn't get to take her body for granted,

how much I respect that she doesn't inveigh against her blood, her pancreas, or the fact that her innards have a notion to defeat her,

how resolute she will have to be for the rest of her life--even during her college years, when she moves away from home, when everyone around her is engaged in a season of purposeful neglect of schedules and health and accountability--to even have a rest of her life,

how she gets to be her own best hero,

how I no longer needed a VW van at sunset

because I had a date to go buy a pony at sunrise.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"And People Say Kids Don't Pick Up After Themselves"

With the friendliest of intentions, one of our neighbors handed us a stack of magazines the other week.

They were very good magazines, but the realities of life mean it would be three years before we would ever actually read them. Clearly, while some of them could be donated to the rack at the gym, many of them just needed to go to recycling.

As I made a stack of Get Rid of These Magazines, a curious little face popped up from under the counter. Holy hell, but that startled me! What was it? A monkey loose from the zoo? A Killer Bee? A Tse-Tse fly? An airborne blood pathogen? A magical sprite?

Yes, a sprite. Of sorts. Which I realized only after I took out my handy-dandy fly swatter/monkey catcher kit and starting whacking wildly at the curious face.

"MOOOOOOM! Stooopppp! You're hitting me," the face hollered.

What. the.

When had monkeys learned to holler? Evolution is so cool.

It was Paco. Sensing an opportunity, he had crawled into the room and been watching me mutter and stack and start heaving magazines into the recycling bin.

"Could I have a couple of those?" he asked.

"Do you have matches?" I countered.

An innocent "no" came my way.

No dummy, I then asked, "Do you have a Bic lighter?"

"You mean one of those clicky things that makes a flame?" the innocent voice queried. "No, I don't have one of those."

"Do you have gasoline or a scythe or low-level explosives?" I needed to confirm.

"Not right now," he conceded. "But I do have scissors. Can I use scissors?"

Yes. Scissors fall under The Parental Umbrella of Approved Tools to Use In Conjunction with Newsprint, Recipe Cards, and Magazines.

Quickly, however, the boy realized that, compared to the claws that grow naturally on the ends of his fingers, scissors are clunky and ineffective.

Bare-handed, he tore the stuff apart.

Then, after he shredded it beyond repair (and as a boyfriend once did to my heart), the boy--curiously--felt the need to cradle the remnants for a brief period.

A quiet moment to consider the damage...

...and then--Hand to Heave and Martha Stewart!--an unaccountable need to clean up struck.

Seriously. What 6-year-old boy wants to tidy up? (not coincidentally, did you happen to read a previous post about this kid called "My Fine, Gay Son"?)

Reassuringly, midway through the clean-up, Paco realized he was actually a trash compactor, one that used its head.

...and its feet. High-end trash compactors have feet these days, you see.

Spic and span. Tidy and tight.

But what to do with the bag of scraps?

Sighing in defeat, I handed over the Bic lighter.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Still At It"

Since I have stacks of papers this week--both revisions and new essays--I'm going to continue to milk the anniversary in this post.

Here are a couple of videos wherein I babble about our weekend. The first video has ice and gives you a spin of the kitchen.

This next video has a picture booklet and a quilt. Buckle up:

Friday, November 13, 2009


My dad was the person who taught me to be comfortable with silence. We could get in the car and drive for twenty minutes without a word being spoken. While his and my mother's relationship ultimately cracked under the weight of that silence, for me, the daughter, his quiet felt benign, reassuring, a safe place to be.

Even more, when he did speak, his words carried weight. A handful of my favorite memories, in fact, center around moments when he engaged in verbal expression. One time, after I'd won a forensics tournament out of town, returning from the meet late at night, I left my trophy on the dining room table. By the time I woke up later that day, my dad had left me a note, telling me he was so proud, he was "busting his buttons." Another time, after I'd behaved badly, he sat across from my hungover self and told me he was "deeply disappointed." Many years later, during the night when a bat flew into my house, and I had a fairly apeshit "I'm all alone, and the bat is trying to kill me" meltdown for three hours in my bathroom, I managed to grab my phone (with the bat only gnawing off one of my fingers above the knuckle as I reached for the receiver) and call my parents, over a thousand miles away. When I sobbed and sobbed that a killer beast was out there, and all I had were tampons for friends and nail files for weapons, my dad, casting about, counseled, "What you need to do is try to reach way down inside yourself now and find something you don't think you have. Dig deep, and you'll find something you need." He was right. We hung up, and I dug deep, finding inside myself the numbers 911, which I punched into the phone with great bravery.

Perhaps my fondest conversation with my dad occurred about a decade before his death. Chatting on the phone, we stumbled across the subject of my sister and me and our many differences. Trying to qualify the nature of the differences, my dad remarked that my sister took after his side of the family, where a certain dourness and pessimism sometimes manifested itself. “She reminds me of myself,” he noted, continuing, “and you don’t. You’re more, well, effervescent.”

There it was: one of those moments we hope for with our parents, those moments when they give us a word, an adjective, a feeling of being seen, and it signifies everything. It signifies that our parents see us as separate, as differentiated beings, that they have thought about us, that they have taken stock of us, that we are far enough away from them that the space has cleared everyone’s vision. Because such words, such adjectives, are born from the lifelong process of symbiosis to independence, they have power. Plus, anytime someone describes me to myself, I believe him.

It wasn’t even so much that I wanted to think of myself as “effervescent”—-although it was a welcome label—-but rather, it was more that I wanted to think of my dad thinking of me that way. Sometimes, from then on, I effervesced just for him.

It surprised me, then, to learn—-repeatedly--that a pipping personality didn’t reap greater rewards, in the larger scope of the world. Certainly, I didn’t expect to be voted into office on the Effervescence Platform, nor did I expect the medical field to approach me, asking me to donate to the Effervescence Transfusion Bank. But I did think being smiley and liking sunshine might have snagged me a boyfriend.

Fer damn crap smeared on a thrice-read Jane Austen novel.

Oh, all right.

I did date a guy through my 20’s, and then I truly, madly, deeply dated another guy—-one who left my two liters of effervescence out on the counter with the cap off and made all the bubbles go flat. He de-carbonated me in a way that no one ever had before, not even the boys on the high school bus who moo-ed at my sister and me.

He made my sizzle fizzle.

And then my grandma died, and the doc found a lump in my breast.

I was thirty-one.

Thirty-one wasn’t my favorite year.

Fortunately, I still had girlfriends who called, just when I was pacing the circle of my small kitchen for the 123rd time in an hour, gnawing on my cuticles, and they opened with, “Oh, honey. I just heard. Talk to me.” Even when I would have to set down the phone to grab another handful of Kleenex, they would stay on the line, shouting things like, “From the amount of snot you’re emitting, you do seem well-hydrated. And that’s something, right?” Also, I had family who knew how to circle ‘round gently and never look me straight in my teary eyes. Instead, they gave me food and invited me to participate in the yearly post-hunting butchering of the deer, and they talked at and around me.

Eventually, the molasses movement of seconds turned into minutes finally adding up into hours and days, and then months went by. My grandma was buried; the lump was benign; the former boyfriend had a new girl.

Just after the new year, one of my hunting cousins sent me an email, asking if I’d like to drive North to come visit them and, by the way, if I would be at all interested in letting him serve as my “agent in the field,” romantically.

Flattened, completely without zest or hope, my response was worthy of my father’s side of the family: “Go ahead, if you want to, but I won’t expect anything from it.”

Turns out my cousin already had someone in mind, a 28-year-old guy he worked with in a very small town of about 300. One day, sitting in the office, looking across at this 28-year-old, my cousin started musing, “How’s Guy ever going to find someone in this bohunk town?” A moment later, he thought back to Thanksgiving and the deer butchering and the conversations we’d had, which resulted in, “For that matter, how’s Jocelyn ever going to find someone in the bohunk town she’s living in?”

His head swiveled back and forth, and his thoughts rammed into each other. He approached Guy, who agreed, “Sure, you can be my agent in the field. But this cousin of yours, since she lives more than five hours away, she’d have to really knock my socks off for me to start seeing her.” Fair enough. Next, my cousin approached me.

It was agreed: I’d drive the five hours North and, while visiting my cousin’s family, meet Guy. In the past, imbued with effervescence, I’d greeted any opportunity to meet a potential partner with gusto and a knee-jerk, involuntary planning of our lives together. This time, I didn’t think much of the whole thing.

So we’d see.

That February, over Presidents' Day weekend, I visited. I got to hold my cousin’s baby a lot and watch his 4-year-old ice skate. One afternoon, we swung through the campus where Cousin worked. As we drove away, he said, casually, “Oh, that man back there who was leaning down, talking to people through their car window? The one in the red hat? That was Guy.”

Cousin, perhaps, didn’t understand that such information would have been welcome, say, two minutes earlier. Cousin is a man.

That night, the guy in the red hat strolled into Cousin's house, there for The Meeting, there for dinner. He carried a six-pack of homebrew.

I liked him already.

In short order, I learned that Guy not only wore a red hat and was quite tall. I also learned he really liked making bread, reading the Atlantic Monthly, and running on trails. I learned that he was an anthropology major who'd minored in Environmental Science. I learned that his Desert Island food would be cheese (dropped from a helicopter once a month, to supplement the fish and coconunts he would be living on otherwise); his Desert Island album would be Van Morrison's Moondance; his Desert Island book would be some sort of reference book, all the better if it contained maps.

I learned that, while the idea of him hadn't infused me with bubbles, the reality of him was creating a few tiny pops.

Dinner lasted five hours. As soon as he left, my previously-cool cousin and his wife, who had discreetly retired to the kitchen 8 feet away after dessert, were all nerves. They gave me all of thirty seconds after the door closed behind Guy before yelling, "SO? SO?????"

My response was positive, but guarded. He seemed nice. I would see more of him. If he wanted to.

But all the little broken pieces inside of me weren't quite realigned yet. I wasn't going to put myself forward this time. I couldn't take another dashing.

Fortunately, a few days later, Guy asked my cousin for my email address. It had been mutual. Apparently, his strongest first impression of me was that I had a lot of hair. He thought he "could get lost in it."

What ensued was a modern epistolary courtship. For three weeks, we sent messages back and forth, discovering that writing is an excellent way to get to know someone: the small talk is non-existent; the conversations get to meaty matters right away; there is no body language to read or misread, no annoying laugh to cringe from.

After three weeks, Guy announced he was ready to "jump off the comfortable dock" and into the potentially-frigid waters of face-to-face. Thus, during my Spring Break in March, I headed North again, for our first real date.

As we sat in a dingy bar, having burgers and beers, conversation flowed. Snow fell.

Like 14" of it.

When it came time to take Guy to his house before driving back to my cousin's place, my car got stuck. In the snow. At Guy's house. He didn't seem to mind. His roommates were friendly. I stayed over.

I had no choice.

What I learned in those days of my Spring Break was that Guy liked to listen to me read aloud--and if that's not an activity of the infatuated, I don't know what is. He also proved that he's very good at necking.

And, about three days in, after he'd had a bath one night, Guy came back into his bedroom, where I lounged. "Brrrrrr," he exclaimed. "My feet are cold!"

"Why are they so cold? You just got out of the bath tub," I noted.

"They're freezing because. you. knocked. my. socks. off" was the answer.

Suddenly, right then, right there: there it was. The effervescence was back, the flatness banished.

It was all going to be all right.

Not too long afterward, as I stared very hard at the ceiling, I admitted I had fallen in love. He had the right answer.

By the end of my Spring Break week, five days after our first date, we had talked about what kind of wedding we wanted.

Four months later, one July morning, as I slept on a futon on the floor, he crawled in with a plate of pancakes and a Betsy Bowen woodcut entitled "Fox on a Journey."

And he asked me to marry him.

In quick order, we planned a wedding for the following May.

In even quicker order, like, the night we got engaged, I got pregnant. Three months after that, I had a miscarriage. Four days after that, we found out I'd been carrying twins, and one was still hanging on.

We moved the wedding to that November 13th, not nine months after we first played the Desert Island game over dinner. Guy became Groom right there at the environmental learning center where I'd first not-quite-spotted-him in his red hat. The bleeding from the miscarriage had stopped three days earlier. I sobbed through the vows.

Four months later, Jocelyn and Groom became Jocelyn and Groom and Girl.

All of that wonder unfolded in 1999. Not given to dreaming about the future before then, I have since been granted beauties I couldn't possibly have imagined.

He likes to touch me. He likes me to touch him.
He cooks dinner every night.
He has been our stay-at-home parent since Girl was born.
At promptly 8:00 every night, he brings me a drink.
He is unfazed by my random bursts of tears.
He is whimsical. He is dry. He is perceptive.
He sees that my ability to talk to people is as valuable as his ability to do everything else.
He likes to play cribbage.
He knows how to give me directions that make sense, like "go straight until you see the big rock shaped like Richard Nixon's head."
He takes my ideas and makes them happen.
He just brewed a new batch of beer.

And, like my father, he is gentle. Like my father, he has a thousand-watt smile.

Like my father, he is given to quiet, most comfortable in stillness.

Thus, ten years in to the marriage, we often sit and watch the world flit by

holding hands in companionable silence.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Just Jam It All into the Inbox and Yell 'F*** It' A Lot"

There is a National Association of Professional Organizers.

In the Denver area, a professional organizer makes $75/hour.

My sister, overwhelmed and anxious in the face of her stacks of belongings, uses a professional organizer. In fact, she's committed to drawing upon the inheritance from our dad's and grandmother's estates to pay this organizer until the job is done.

The thing about being overwhelmed by stacks of crap is that the feeling doesn't go away easily or for pay, necessarily. At the very least, we might need a great aunt to die in the next few years. See, my sister's garage holds her teaching materials. And she's taught for more than twenty years, at four different grade levels, in four different countries. Plus, she seriously loves her some kiddie lit.

Friends, there are milk crates and shelving units and big plastic tubs in my sister's garage. There is the intention of organization. But it ain't there yet.

In fact, we might need all remaining relations to kick off before Kirsten's garage is entirely inventoried and ordered. It would help if those relations could please get richer before they die.

Despite hiring a personal organizer, my sister has been needing further outside assistance. Cleverly, she did the math (carrying the one) and realized it would be cheaper to fly me to Denver than to pay her organizer for equivalent hours. With the plan that I'd come for a weekend and help her get organized, she bought me a ticket.

Just to double the oomph of the whole thing, though--and a clear sign of her desperation--she also booked her personal organizer for 4 hours one of the mornings of my visit. Even though we all worked with great diligence, I'm not sure my sister got her $500 worth.

And that amount doesn't even figure in the lateral filing cabinet she was instructed to get, nor the new bookshelf I told her she needed. Or the in and outboxes. Or the six new plastic tubs. Or the picture boxes.

Or the graduated metal desktop organizer.

We pretty much had to take a moment in Target and thank our dad for working so hard all his life and having the foresight to set up some paperwork that brought his leavin's to us, after he passed.

One day, Kirsten and I spent some time in the garage, going through her bins of books. She only had every Beverly Cleary book two times over. Ultimately, we got rid of four milk crates of kid books.

She only got a little teary twice during this process. Then she announced it was time to be done. We needed to watch some HGTV shows. We were people who were hunting for houses. Internationally.

The next day, the professional organizer came. She wore camouflage pants, which made me fear and respect her even more than her well-slicked hair did.

Professional Organizer is going through a divorce.

Apparently, some things can't be stored in a box with a lid, no matter how well labeled.

She had a plan for our morning. She and Kirsten set up a filing system for the new lateral filing cabinet, which Kirst and I had spent a few hours putting together the night before.

It helped that Kirsten knew where her three tools (flathead screwdriver, Phillips screwdriver, hammer) were. It also helped that we had a vast repertoire of cusses.

We only broke one of the two drawers during the process.

But you hardly notice the absence of the broken drawer (the glue was still drying), do you? That's what a Vanna White flourish will do for any situation: mask and distract.

The next morning, when the organizer came, the drawer was in place. We appeared, so long as one didn't probe or test the glue, competent.

Then Professional Organizer opened the drawers and noted that they were wrong--that this shelving was made for legal-sized documents, not 8 1/2 x 11" papers.

Kirsten called a handyman. He will come next week and saw some new slots into the drawers, at which time all the bins of newly-filed papers will be put into them. Until then, the whole desk area looks a little undone. A little disorganized.

But the papers are in file folders. And everything is labeled. Almost makes a person think Professional Organizer's marriage could work out after all.

While they worked on papers, I tackled the upstairs closet, which was full of All Kinds of Everything, including a broken cuckoo clock.

Everything came out, and I followed Professional Organizer's three-step process (she went to class for this, incidentally, so the information you're about to read is probably patented and trademarked):

1) Gather together like items (such as all photos) in a heap;

2) Go through and decide what you need to keep and what you need to get rid of;

3) Deposit things you need to keep into a containment system. Get rid of the rest.

I know.

So, after jotting down a few notes on my palm, I did just that. Actually having my sister go through things and get them into a system, however, would take weeks. So I regrouped stuff, asked her a few questions (only one of which made her cry), and made it tub ready. In the future, she should go through the tubs and make further decisions or do more detailed organizing.

That's probably not going to happen. The Amazing Race might be on that day.

There's also a lot of Bejeweled Blitz to play on Facebook.

Here's the final look of the closet, when I was done.

As I worked in the closet room, which houses my sister's books, I realized her book mania was spilling over. Every shelf had stacks of books with no home, stacks that obscured the books behind. I lobbied for a new bookshelf.

Worn down, powerless, amenable, my sister agreed. Two nice young men at Target hefted the thing into the car, sideways, across the front seat. I rode in the back and called Kirsten "Jeeves."

Once home, we had to turn to Flathead, Phillips, and Hammer one more time. We didn't break anything.

Of course, a few pieces went on backwards.

WHAT? The shelf still holds books, no matter how backasswardly it was assembled. Don't get all poncey and superior on me.

The back of the shelf was supposed to be attached with forty screws.

Kirsten decided eight would do.

These guys are just waiting to bust out the flimsy back door of their new home.

There were about ten more stacks, not seen in these photos. They were at Starbucks.

The end result. Please do not comment that there appears to be an unhung clock on the chair. I don't have time to write about how Kirst won't actually put nails in her walls, which leaves all pictures (and clocks) leaning against their intended place. She's lived there 2.5 years. One step at a time, my friends. One step. at. a. time.

Another end result, despite files remaining unfiled, the garage remaining unorganized, and my sister's wallet being seriously deflated,

is that I spent time with one of the two people on the planet who will know me cradle to grave.

We ate teriyaki bowls. She took me to Whole Foods and to its inbred cousin, Sprouts. She smiled tolerantly when I squealed over the quality of the napkins at the Whole Foods gelato counter, napkins that could serve as a night-time diaper on a three-month-old. She shared candy bars with me. She showed me how to use the remote. She burned me six CD's of songs out of her Itunes. She took me two Jazzercise (which is another twelve posts in itself) and to three running trails.

She gave me a big hug at the aiport and asked when she can fly me back out, to help with the garage.

As a result of this whole trip, now I have a friend in Austin, Texas, who's planning to give me a ticket to visit her.

Seems she still has the dress she wore when she graduated from college twenty years ago. It doesn't fit.

Also, her Christmas decorations are already out.

Because they were never put away after last year.

I am delighted by her tousled state of affairs, if it means I get to see her.

And I'm considering--seriously--doing some training and starting a side career as a professional organizer. We could use the money (especially if I precede my sister in death; if I've earned some supplemental income, I'll be able to bequeath her enough to hire Professional Organizer for the twelve hours it would take to go through her stacks of sweatshirts).

Before I can start this new career, though, I'm gonna need some camouflage pants.