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Sunday, October 29, 2006

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First, the treat

Friends of ours had their annual Halloween party the other night. The usual suspects were there, and all of our six hundred kids. In a marital coup, I actually persuaded Patrick to wear a costume. We folded and pinned a tablecloth around him like a giant diaper and dropped a couple of onions down the back so it would sag appropriately (his touch, not mine). When we arrived at the party there was a brief game of charades while our friends caught on to the concept: PARTY POOPER.

He kept it on for about five minutes after that, during which time we were standing around with the kitchen crowd, exchanging small talk. One of the kids wandered in, carrying a plate of cookies.

"Hey," Patrick said, in that overly-bright tone of voice adults often use with children. "Do you know what I am?" To make it easier on the kid, I gestured gameshow hostess-style to my husband's rear end.

The child in question, seven years old with enormous brown eyes like the waifish kitties in those 1970s velvet posters, looked at me and then back at Patrick. "An ass?" he said.


Speaking of kitties, I wish I'd had the presence of mind to play it straight with the guy at the liquor store earlier that same evening, when he ventured, "Going to a party, huh?"

I could have just stared back blankly, my cat ears and blackened nose twitching. Or burst into tears, because he'd so cruelly mentioned... you know, (sob) my tail.


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Friday, October 27, 2006

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(shattered, shattered)
Work and work
for love and sex
Ain't you hungry for success
Does it matter?

I wish I had the tech-savvy and the licensing rights to open each blog entry with music. That Rolling Stones tune got in my brain as I was outside taking this photograph and thinking about the theme for today's post.

It could be the score for my week. I have been working like a demon. It's to do with writing, but too nascent to talk about. On a sort-of-completely unrelated front, I can tell you that Patrick and I will be in Ireland for two weeks in March, so if that's in your neighborhood, and you might like to come out and hear me read, please drop me a line and let me know. The hotel is paid for, so don't worry, you won't have to roll out the hide-a-bed. But you might have to buy me a drink.

I am in a supremely good humor. I have a real post coming down the pike (or is it pipe) about tonight's Halloween party and my son's meltdown last night, but I am so glad to have the week's work nearly done and out the door, I am not ready to buckle down and write with any focus just yet.

I was close enough to the finish line this morning to make the rounds. Here are some highlights:

Brandon's audio post of his recent speech to Americorps Volunteers is terrific. If you ever find yourself doubting that real writers blog, go listen to this.
LeahPeah and Laid-Off Dad are plugged in.
Holly is coming home.
Jen has gone on a Bloglines diet. Happily, my blog is so loaded with fiber, it is virtually calorie-free. Chewy, but satisfying. Like oatmeal.

There. That should keep you busy and out of trouble until I get back.
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Sunday, October 22, 2006

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Southern Signs of Fall

Growing up in the north, with its fleeting summers and epic winters, the first chilly days of autumn always ushered in a certain sense of melancholy, if not outright despair. It took years for my brain to quit associating the turning of the leaves with impending doom, but I am finally acclimated to epic summers (with heat as brutal as the deepest and most abiding snow) and fleeting winters (a bi- or even tri-annual occurance called "Snow-Day", triggering mass hysteria and looting in the supermarkets).

The last couple of years I have notice myself getting excited--exhilarated, even--at the first nip in the air. Autumn has become my favorite season. Mid-October to December is like one long festival here, building momentum with Halloween, peaking with Thanksgiving, sustained through Christmas and finally winding down on New Year's Day. The kick-off is the State Fair, to which I took my two older sons yesterday.

I heart the State Fair. To me, it is a microcosm of America. The lights. The crowds. The excess. The crassness. The sweetness. It's teenage farmboys in wrangler jeans and straw hats. It's a little goth family eating pink cotton candy from a bag. It's a fat black baby sucking on a bottle of coke. It's two Mexican guys in shearling coats lined up at the Old West photo booth. It's rednecks with mullets and white boys with dreadlocks. It's a middle-aged dad holding each of his teenage daughters under his arms as they fly in slow motion over the midway on a bungee cord and the P.A. system blasting Coldplay's "Yellow" and me getting choked up about it. It's the lemonade vendor who wants to charge me three bucks for an empty cup and it's the stranger who gives us a dozen ride tickets on her way out. It's a deep-fried twinkie and a staggering amount of pork.

As with the full-scale version of this country, I am more of a gawker than a participant. I am too timid to ride anything but the merry-go-round or ferris wheel. I am too carb-conscious to eat the twinkie, too skeptical to shoot the cans. My pleasure is entirely vicarious. I'm strictly in in it for the people-watching. And the people I love to watch best of all are my boys. They were beside themselves the whole time. My five-year-old, coming down the Super Slide, looked like one of those old Life magazine photos of pilots doing Mach-3. His eyes were popping out of his head and his mouth was set in a wrap-around grimace. Oh shit, I thought. Then he hit the bottom, and screamed, "That was WICKED!!" My seven-year-old could not be deflected from the games this year, as in past years. I finally relented and let him pick a floating duck, for which he "won" a cheap plastic sword. He pulled it out of the plastic wrapper like it was Excalibur in the anvil, he was so pleased with it.

I did join them on the Monkey Maze, which had a maze of mirrors to get through. No way were they going in there alone. One thing that characterizes our annual excursions to the fair is the relentless drilling I give the boys on stranger safety. I make them memorize my cell phone number. I quiz them on who to approach for help if they get lost. The first thing we do inside the gates is fill out i.d. bands and I point out all the police officers. It's a wonder they are able to have fun at all after I get through with the briefing.

Anyway, there we were running like hamsters through the Monkey Maze, banging into mirrors, and although there was a stampede of children ahead and behind us, I had each of mine firmly by the hand. My eldest, behind me, seemed to be hanging back a little. "Come on!," I shouted. "Stay together!"

"HEY!" I heard finally. "HEY!" "LADY! You've got the WRONG HAND!"

Poor kid. Now I have to expand my drill to warn my children about people like me.

Another rite of the season I get a kick out of observing is football. In the south, that means principally college ball, and in this state, it means the Southeastern Conference and the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, a.k.a. the Hogs. My husband is a Hogs fanatic. I have never seen an American football game of any stripe outside of television. I would like to go to one, but not to watch the game. As with the state fair, it's the cultural trappings that fascinate me. I especially like the food. I would probably be perfectly happy to attend the tailgate parties without ever entering the stadium.

I try to follow the game, but I'm just not wired for it. There's too many things happening on the field at once, and so many interruptions. It's not a patriotic bias; I'm the same with hockey. Baseball, I can grasp, because it's very linear. Man throws ball, man hits ball, man runs, team scores. Football seems to be all over the damn place.

I do enjoy listening in on the post-game commentary, however, much to my husband's irritation. I find their earnestness amusing, and I like to interject my own take on things.

"What happened out there today, Coach?"

"Well, Bob, there was a football game. There were a lot of guys chasing a ball on a field. One guy would get the ball, and the other guys would all jump on him. Then there'd be a commercial break."

"Describe the scene in the locker room, Jim."

"Rampant homoeroticism, Bob. Flagrant ass-slapping."

Curiously, my husband has yet to invite me to accompany him to a live game.


(Calling the faithful: today's post at Finslippy is soliciting recommendations of good, underexposed blogs. Just so you know. Because I'd hate any really good bloggers to go unmentioned.)

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

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Happy, Campers?

We are just back from a prematurely terminated camping weekend. I am disappointed we are home a day early. Considering it takes nearly a full day just to pack and unpack, an overnight expedition is hardly worth the effort. But I am not all that surprised things didn't go according to plan. The portents were ominous from the start, such as the flock of vultures who took up residence in the tree above our site as we were raising the tent and remained there with an indiscreet air of expectation for the duration of our stay. Then it began to rain first thing this morning, and didn't let up until the exact moment the bumper of our fully loaded minivan crossed the campground exit gate. Between those parenthesized dramatic devices, I was in overdrive as camp counsellor, cook, housekeeper and activities coordinator, trying to make it all work. The buzzards no doubt smelled my desperation from the get-go.

The process of roping my husband into accompanying me on a camping trip is the story of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. Patrick is a self-described "beta male". By his own admission, he is perfectly content to let the alphas ride off to the battle, or hunt, or live sporting event, while he stays behind to hold down the fort and--ostensibly--to comfort the women and children. While he is in many ways a guy's guy (meat and potatoes palate, an unhealthy obsession with college football, and a near-sexual excitement over power tools), outdoorsy he is not.

(Here we see the beta male father, smoking a cigarette and directing our eager alphling in the fetching of firewood.)

I, on the other hand, love to camp. I love everything about it. The list-making (3X5 index cards do for me what the idea of a tablesaw/planer does for my husband). The site-surveying. The menu-planning. The precision-loading of the van, like life-size Tetris. I love setting up camp, making the beds, unfolding the chairs, hoisting the tarp. From the time the back door of the van opens, I am six years old and playing house, or fort. It is, as many things are with me, a Big Production (See my packing list, a few months back).

(And here we have a partial view of the campsite in all its tarpaulined splendor. Note the string of Halloween lights, my little nod to the season.)

Patrick is exhausted at first sight of the index cards. This man, who started his freelance business on a wing and a prayer a year ago and has so far kept the lights on and the kids in Land's End by the by the sweat of his brow. This man, who once spent the better part of a month on Greyhounds and chicken buses between Mexico and Newfoundland, during the worst nor'easter of the last century, just to try and save my life from me. This hard-working, undauntable, manly man would sooner eat dirt than sleep on it, under the stars, with me, his hard-won bride. Replace "stars" with rainclouds and vultures, and we cross over from "willing sacrifice" to "dark night of the soul" territory. It's a wonder I didn't find myself on a chicken bus this morning. With a note pinned to my rain poncho.

Bless him, he was a good sport, even with a full bladder and the baby kicking him repeatedly in the kidneys (and by "good sport," I mean, I do not think money needs to be set aside for extra therapy time for the children once they are old enough to seek it out. Not over this trip anyway).

I did have one trump in my hand, and that was the whiff of trout. No, I am not speaking euphemistically. I mean actual trout. I chose a campground that borders a world-famous trout river, so he was able to give his new birthday suit and rubbers a whirl. Okay, that was euphemistic. I mean the hip-waders and boots I gave him. He didn't catch much, but he looked darned spiffy. And sort of alpha.

I'd bite.

Filed under: domestic, marriage, goodtimes
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Thursday, October 12, 2006

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I am such a neophyte around the blogosphere, it's embarrassing. Sometimes I feel like the nerdy latecomer to the party. I just got here, and all the cool kids have already hooked up and left, or else they are in the corner throwing up. Meantime, I am sitting by myself on the couch, exclaiming, "Gee, this is great!" I'm like the Joan Cusack character in Sixteen Candles. Before she gets trapped under the coffee table, although I'm sure that's where this thing is heading.

I hate to blog much about blogging, because it feels a little like chasing my own tail, and intimates that I have no life (I have one; I just choose to ignore it sometimes). But my spidey sense has been all a-tingle this week with a convergence of developments in the careers of some of the bloggers I follow. It's as if all the seniors are graduating, getting married or dropping out.

For instance:

  • Brandon has given his six months notice.
  • Heather has been sued (and near mortally wounded).
  • Karen got a job.
  • Sarah got a tv show.

I could go on. I spent some time recently trolling around Leah's wonderful archive of interviews with assorted bloggers and other writers. I have decided Leah is the Terry Gross of blogging. She gives great interview. I now spend my time in the shower formulating complex and witty answers to her provocative and original questions. Anyway, in a number of instances, I was sufficiently hooked by the Q&A to go pay a visit to the A's website, only to learn they have either retired or drastically pulled back from official duties.

What gives, people? Is there a natural life cycle to this thing? Have you all moved on to the next difficulty level?

Does everybody have a book deal but me?

I suppose it is inevitable that the good ones will move on. All of the above are genuinely talented individuals, and I would be dismayed for them if the blogs were the terminal destination, and not the launchpad, for their creative gifts. Also, I don't want to indict the wrong people in this statement, but the phrase "pearls before swine" sometimes comes to mind when I read the more banal and occasionally hostile comments their posts attract. The law of averages dictates a certain percentage of freaks, I guess.

I don't have that problem. No freaks here. Although it is kind of freaky how many of my readers are named Jen. As noted in my brand spankin' new banner, up top. My husband designed it, in exchange for sexual favors that I shall surely renege. I am inordinately proud of it, and have admired it pretty much without interruption for going on 48 hours now.

I may be late to the party, but at least I am dressed for it.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

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Meet Fanny.

I know. You are staring aghast through the droplets of coffee you just sputtered all over your computer screen, whispering, "Dear God, what is it?" It's okay. Take a minute. Get a paper towel. Collect yourself.

Then meet Fanny, the hound from hell. No, don't shakey-paw. She bites.

I just thought you should know, mine is not the only face that I've kept hidden from you. (Incidentally, I also have glossy dark hair and an eager, forceful way of jumping up on people. A firm knee to the chest works well for us both).

Fanny is a Daschund-Rottweiler mix. I kid you not. We call her the dauttweiler. Or rottschund.

How is that even possible, you say? One can only hope the sire was an especially scrappy daschund and the dam was the rottie, and not the other way around. Extensive google searches have yielded a mere handful of such matings. This one, in England, merited an article in the local newspaper. Note how they quote a dog expert, like the obligatory scene in every monster movie where they bring in the wise old priest or professor, who gravely says, "it should never have been allowed to happen."

The other day I made an appointment for Fanny at the neighborhood doggie salon. The guy on the telephone asked what breed she was. I told him.

"Good god," he said. "Sounds like an alligator."

"Kind of," I said. "More like a monitor lizard, crossed with a badger."

I bet you are intriegued now; strangely fascinated. Where can I get a rottshchund? You are thinking. And can I get one in time for Halloween? Stop right there. Before you entertain that thought a moment further, I want you to consider the daschund. Get a really clear picture in your mind. Now, do the same with the rottweiller. Think about the very worst traits of both those breeds. Now imagine a 40-pound beast with the brute strength and aggression of a rottweiler, combined with the hyperactivity and non-stop barking of a daschund. Imagine it growling and snapping at small children, including your own. Imagine incessant barking. Imagine a neck too thick and a head too pointy to fit into any conventional restraint. Imagine fangs sharp enough to cut through every single retractable leash you ever buy the first second your attention is diverted. Imagine a problem that you couldn't feel good about foisting off on your worst enemy, let alone the wheelchair-bound strangers who respond to your ad on the animal rescue site.

Tintin had Snowy. Dorothy had Toto. Dooce has Chuck.

Me? I have Fanny.

Now you know. It's too late for me, but you go warn the others. Fix those weiners.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

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Back from the brink

The writer's life has several serious occupational hazards. Some are obvious to anyone casually familiar with literary biography: addiction, infidelity, maniacal self-centeredness, throbbing, gaping insecurity, are just a few that gaily spring to mind. Others are less well-charted, and it doesn't occur to you to be on the look-out for them until you run aground. One of these subtle-but-deadly perils is our tendency as writers to, well, put things in writing. We put our little mark in the concrete only to find our feet encased in it.

Those of you who have been with me for a while might remember my Dandelion Life post from earlier this year, where I talked about being at peace with with the weedy-ness and general disarray of my existence. And some of my local readers might have caught the cover story in our alternative weekly last month where Patrick and I shared with evangelical zeal the bliss of the freelance lifestyle; preaching the gospel of economic self-determination and voluntary simplicity.

Of which I say to you now, fooey.

Or I would have said it most any day this week, during which I have been suffering an emotional hangover from being beamed abruptly to Newfoundland for champagne and jazz and pounding surf and dropped just as abruptly back to Arkansas for past due bills and dirty diapers and sweltering humidity, all in the space of four days. The so-called simplicity of our lifestyle has felt more conscripted than voluntary, more complicated than simple. Screw the dandelions, I would have said to you Wednesday--if I could have lifted myself up out of my trough long enough--I want a life of astro-turf.

I have been restless, irritable and discontent.

There is a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous that there is no misery like a bellyful of whisky and a headful of AA. Meaning, you can't un-know what you know once you know it. This truism perfectly describes how my own misery was made more miserable this week by "knowing better". I knew I should be grateful I got to be whisked 3000 miles away for a weekend. I knew that my happiness shouldn't be predicated on the state of my checkbook. I knew that I was damn lucky to not spend my life Monday to Friday on autopilot in a cubicle or married to someone who does. I knew that I had choices that others do not. I knew all that, and knowing it only compounded the misery, because in addition to being financially insecure, jet-lagged, and emotionally drained, I was now ungrateful, unenlightened, and generally pathetic.

Before going to bed Wednesday night, I prayed for a dream that would give me some reassurance, a little beacon of hope and understanding. A sign. A wink. Anything. I fell asleep and promptly dreamt I was wading through shit as far as the eye can see. I woke up and looked at the clock. It was 12:14.

"Really," I said. "Is that the best you've got?"

Like it was news to me that I was up to my knees in it.

In the dream I did at least have a trowel and a bucket of lime (lime, for those of you with no experience of rural outhouses, is calcium oxide, and it is used in masking odor and breaking down organic matter). And whether that image suggested it, or I was just fed up with wallowing, the next morning I found myself rolling up my shirtsleeves and cleaning house.

As I have shared, housekeeping is not my forte. Or my husband's. Even before we had our little band of Vikings running from room to room ransacking and looting, we were pretty well hapless. Our decorating style could best be described as first-year college dorm: crappy old furniture and broken mini-blinds and pictures hung randomly over nails that happened already to be sticking out of the walls. While it would sound noble to chalk it all up to our preference for spending time with our kids and each other and our computers over earning two big salaries and having a maid and new furniture, that wouldn't be the whole truth. It's true that we are short on money and time and energy, but it is also true that we simply aren't on the ball.

I would like to be better at managing life on the physical plane. It bothers me when our habitat goes all to hell. And I feel bad for our kids. I also grew up with creative, right-brain parents who couldn't seem to get it together domestically. The other night I finally got around to replacing the bulbs in the track lighting fixture above the dining room table, days after the last one had finally gone out. My seven-year-old son, who has to do homework on this table, was openly amazed at the difference a little electric light made. "Wow," he said, without even a trace of sarcasm, "I wonder why it took so long to change the lights."

"I don't know," I told him. "I don't know why." I was still standing on the table and he looked so small and wondrous, I wanted to fall to my knees and hold him and tell him I'm sorry, I wanted to be better for you. I thought I might have it together by now, but I don't, and I don't think I will before you figure it out, and can see for yourself, that other people seem to have the secret to life and we, your parents, don't have a clue.

At times the household "chi" flows more smoothly than others. Like in the springtime when I wrote lovingly about dandelions and it didn't seem to matter if things were shabby and worn if they were scrubbed and sunlit. I don't know if the heat of late summer or the effort of getting the kids back to school has immobilized us or what, but things really have been in a sorry state the past couple of months. A couple of weeks ago, I walked into Patrick's office, sat down and told him in all seriousness that I thought we should just sell the place and move. Then I realized I would still have to clean it, and I wept.

After getting the xray of the crappy state of my psyche, I bottomed out and got to work shoveling my way out. Low sensate, high intuitives like me are prone to paralysis in the face of the big picture. It is difficult for me to focus on the the task directly in front, particulary if it involves engaging my body. I had to really work at staying in motion with the vacuum and the bucket because if I stopped for a nanosecond to consider all 2,200 square feet, I was going to put a "for sale as is" sign on the lawn and take our losses.

Somewhere in the middle of scrubbing unspeakable things from the wall behind the couch, I could feel my energy start to shift. Whether it was an endorphin rush or chemical fumes, I can't say, but my attitude began to brighten slightly around the edges. Things began to seem possible again. The raw stinking stew of contempt and self-pity started to compost, and I was less inclined to sell the house and use the proceeds to take out a full page ad advising people to keep their day jobs.

A long-married friend of mine told me once that in order to work through a particular time of crisis in her marriage she found she had to balance total comittment to staying in the relationship with total willingness to let it go. I am finding this is the very knife edge I have to walk in relation to writing; to hold my words with lightness in one hand and conviction in the other. To get moving. Dig it up, turn it under. To just keep going.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

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Ooops, I dropped a name

Did I mention we have a real live rock star in the family? My brother-in-law's brother is Brian Byrne, former lead singer of I Mother Earth, and former precocious tyke who along with the rest of my baby sister's friends used to be perennially underfoot while I was coming from or going to way more exciting and cool things that i cannot now for the life of me remember. (See Flickr entry for Bershon.)

My sister eventually married Brian's brother, and Brian grew up to be famous and even more adorable. My mom sent me his new video today...and I have to post it like any proud big sister. Pass it on.

P.S. When you get to the end of the vid, be sure to go back to YouTube and watch his other single, "Far From Good", which I didn't post here because I so dig the "family life down on the commune" vibe of this one and because the other video makes me think of Brian in a way that is other than kid-brotherly. Go see what I mean.

Filed under: familyfriends, sexyyummy
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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

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And then I woke up...

Got a few things to take care of this morning, but briefly:

  • I am apparently Ativan-resistant. It takes three pills for the anxiety to even move over to the next seat and read its scary news headlines quietly to itself.

  • It should be an international law that any marriage is not legally binding until another couple from the same gathering has pledged their own troth and booked a dance hall for us all to get drunk in again next year.

  • Pans used to roast chicken need to be soaked and rinsed if not actually washed within four days of the roasting.

  • Hermit crabs can go long periods without new food or fresh water. Of course, I haven't done roll call this morning. We might be down to one fatty.

  • You are never too old to snuggle in bed with your mama early in the morning.

More later.
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