Internet Explorer users may need to widen their browser windows to span all three columns. Or download Firefox.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

20,000 words*. An essay published in the Globe and Mail. A three hundred per cent increase in average daily readers. (My god, there's like three of you now!)

Thanks, Mrs. Kennedy, for dangling the carrot. Thanks, Leah, for telling me about it. Thanks to my readers old and new. Some of you wrote beautiful words of encouragement, and I choose to believe the rest of you were thinking them. Thanks to all the other participants. For a brief, shining moment, it felt like we were all part of something. I can't believe there won't be a balloon drop and champagne. (You'd tell me about it if there was, right? Guys?)

Here's to you. Now I must go collapse.

* (by traditional count; 14,000 by spellcheck)

Last night's post is below in case you missed it. (Hey, if I gotta write 'em everyday, you gotta read 'em.)
this post lives all by itself here

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

I see my light come shining

In the morning, I have to get on a plane. To prepare, I am following my husband around, saying things like, "You will have to be both a mother and a father to them," and "Listen carefully. I am about to give you the Netflix password." All of these statements are, of course, prefaced with the unspoken, "Should anything happen to me...".

This week, several of my favorite bloggers synchronistically gave voice to this condition; what Erma Bombeck described as the state of living with your heart walking around outside your body after you become a parent. When I had my first child I remember reeling between two waves that kept coming at me from opposite shores. One was the astonishment and joy of realizing how much I could love somebody. The other was the shock and terror of understanding how much I now had to lose. It has been my experience that deep truths always come in paradox.

The saving grace of life with kids is the grind of it. You can't just stand there paralyzed with love and fear; there are diapers to change, report cards to sign. So most of the time, the sea inside is relatively nagivable , if not exactly placid. Think small whitecaps. But then I have to go away somewhere for a weekend, or a car pulls out in front of me, or one of the boys decides its funny to hide under the clothing racks at Target for a second, and the surge takes me under.

Here is another pronouncement born of hard-won experience (and if you are over the age of thirty, you will have figured this out by now): it is in those moments that life is most vivid. Your heart moves into your throat, and you see differently, almost psychedelically. The winter sun comes streaming in to make a halo around the baby, and you think, never let me forget this. You see.

Okay, listen carefully. Should anything happen to me, you get the name of a certain literary agent in New York from my husband. You call her up with the news, hysterically wailing, "Are you happy now??? She never would have gotten on that plane if she had been having lunch with you!"

Haha. Actually, she was a very nice agent, so we will let her off the hook. Curiously, most of them (all two I have contacted so far) seem to be very kind and accommodating. Does that mean I am an exceptionally hopeless case? Maybe the kind words are secret agent code for, "your writing is so abysmal, I am moved to pity. Now go away."

I will, of course, post the last NaBloPoMo post tomorrow. Before I get on the plane.

p.s. Don't forget to put your name in the hat for a cd of my Christmas iMix by commenting on the the Christmas iMix post!

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Et tu, iTunes?

Update! Glad Tidings! Commenters to this post will be entered in a random drawing for three (legally licensed) cds of my Merry Christmas i-mix. Leave me a way to contact you to get your snail mail. Drawing will happen December 5. Bonus: enter the name and number of your nearest relative in the publishing industry, and I will send them a free book proposal! Hardly used!

So, what was going to be an "interlude" post (see below) has taken four hours of my evening, during which time my children have had to endure hunger and verbal abuse, because iTunes cannot publish my Christmas i-mix intact and I just CANNOT LET IT GO.

Fear not, my little Whos. Christmas will come, just the same. Here is the playlist.

    Christmastime Is Here (Vocal) by Vince Guaraldi Trio

    Linus' soliloquy gets me every single time.

    Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer by Raffi

    This one's for my boys. Just telling how it was that foggy Christmas night. I saw Raffi perform when I was a kid. They must just keep switching out Armenians to play him. There's probably a national lottery.

    You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch by Thurl Ravenscroft

    Because my soul is also sometimes an appalling dump heap mangled up in tangled up knots.

    Must be Santa (Polka) by Brave Combo

    Who doesn't love some polka at Christmas? This Austin band used to come through town a lot. They do a rollicking version of the Hokey Pokey too. I had a big crush on the lead singer.

    Happy Holiday by Bing Crosby

    Bing, polka, Armenian children's entertainers, it all spells Christmas.

    Baby it's Cold Outside by Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Armstrong

    Bringing sexy back.

    Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt

    Because I agree with Eartha that a gal deserves credit for all the fellas that she hasn't kissed.

    *Last Christmas by Wham!

    You knew there would be Wham! Go ahead and laugh. Next year, I'll give this to someone special.

    Silver Bells by Dean Martin

    For this, I like to brandish a martini glass and sing the echo parts. Ring-a-ling. (Ring-a-ling).

    Blue Christmas by Elvis

    Last year, I gave this mix to a co-worker who came back to me with a grim look a few days later, telling me how all he ever wants for Christmas is to get through the season without being subjected to this very song. Oops. Guess I better put a warning on the shrink wrap.

    Merry Christmas from the Family by Montgomery Gentry

    Patrick prefers the original by Robert Earl Keen, but I think these guys do a bang-up job. Possibly the funniest, truest Christmas song ever written.

    Christmas Time's a Comin' by Del McCoury

    Bluegrass Christmas. Banjos make a joyful noise. When they're not duelling, that is.

    Christmas in Prison by John Prine

    "It was Christmas in the big house, and the food was real good. We had turkey and pistols carved out of wood." Hands down, the most touching song about Christmas in prison, ever.

    The Rebel Jesus by Jackson Browne with the Chieftains

    "From a pagan and a heathen, on the side of the Rebel Jesus." Off my favorite Christmas album, Bells of Dublin.

    Away in a Manger by Dwight Yoakam

    I will save my Dwight obsession for another post. Hear this once, and you will never be able to sing "the cattle were lowing" without the sweet country harmony line. I have impure thoughts about Dwight even when he is singing about baby Jesus.

    Little Drummer Boy by DeSol

    I wanted this song for the kids and had a hard time finding a relatively straight-up rendition of it. This one has actual drumming, which is a nice touch. Can you believe they still air the stop-motion television special? I generally start crying by the end of the second verse.

    Mary Had a Baby by Bruce Cockburn

    "People keep a-comin' an' the train done gone." I don't know what this means, but if Bruce sings it, I'm sure there's an important message in it. Nice calypso vibe.

    *God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings by Barenaked Ladies
    I can never remember who the beautiful lady guest singer is. But when she sings Star of Wonder, all the hairs on my body stand up.

    O Holy Night by Rickie Lee Jones

    Fall on your knees when you hear this. Rickie sings like she knows a thing or two about the weary world. Also from Bells of Dublin.

    All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey

    Forty-two weeks of the year, I cannot stomach Mariah Carey. But I fell in love with this song when I saw the film Love Actually. I sing it loudly in my mini-van, attracting stares from strangers at stoplights. I defy you to drive around town while listening to this song and not start bouncing in your seat.

(* denotes the tracks that iTunes drops from the mix when I publish it on the music store. Do you suppose they are judging me?)

There you have it. Who needs iTunes anyway? Or an iPod? When you could just have me describe the music for you, in writing. I could be onto something big.

Technorati Tags:

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Seasonal Filler

For reasons that have to do with my or some programmers' tiny walnut brain, iTunes drops two songs off my mix whenever I try to publish it. See the official playlist for comparison.

This is not today's post. Unless I get too tired to post later tonight. In which case, you should be damn well satisfied with it. What more do you want from me anyway? Haven't I given enough?

Sorry....two more days of NaBloPoMo to go. And then I am off to a retreat centre in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to recover for four days. Seriously. They will probably have to strap me into my bed at night to keep me from hurting myself trying to get to a computer: "Must post! Must post!"

What this is, is my "Merry Christmas from the Family" i-mix. It gets tweaked a little every year. Back in my salad days, I was the Queen of the Mixed Tape and later, the Mixed CD. I am exceedingly proud of this compliation. (Yeah, it's got Montgomery Gentry and Mariah Carey on it. No, I don't like them and you don't have to either them to dig these songs. It's a concept album. Just trust me.) There is something in it for everyone and it is G-rated, unlike my "Kick His Cheating Ass Out 'Cause I'm Here for You Girlfriend" i-mix, which is also some of my best work, but represents only the opinions of the i-mixer and not those of other members of my family. This mix, by contrast, reflects our combined musical tastes. If you download it, my only kickback will be a huge dose of the warm fuzzies. If you download it and like it, you could send me some wassail.

(It is a two page playlist, and some of my favorite tracks are on the second page. Also, feel free to share your own favorite Christmas songs: this, like me, is a work in progress.)

Fa la la.

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

The Evolution of Rejection

From this:

Dear Nameless Nobody,

This is an auto-reply. Thank you for your submission. If you do not hear from us sometime in the next five or six years, you may assume you suck.

To this:

Dear First Name,

Thank you for your submission. I liked reading it. Your writing is funny and honest. You, however, still suck.

Both hurt all over.

Technorati Tags:


this post lives all by itself here

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Pedal to the Metal

There are times I hate writing, days when I would sooner do just about anything than sit down and wrench forth one. more. word. Until recently, I thought this was my dark, terrible secret and if any of the Real Writers caught wind of it, they'd revoke my artistic license. I remember tagging along to a dinner with several of them at a literary festival years ago, and marvelling when one excused herself to go back to her hotel room and write. No deadline, no editor calling for pages, no compelling reason I could see for leaving a perfectly charming dinner party in full swing. She just felt like she would go write. I thought she was barking mad.

I was as envious as I was mystified. I wondered what it would be like to be so passionate about writing you'd race to your room to be alone with it as eagerly as you would your lover. My own work ethic was based on panic. If I didn't have a deadline looming, preferably a live audience waiting, forget it. I had a lot of shame about this for years, because I thought it meant I was lazy, as well as a fraud. I have matured a lot in my craft and in my person since then, but I am still more driven by the pleasure of delivering what I have written than the act of writing itself, which is exhausting for someone as extroverted as me. I'm all about closing the deal.

As Neil Young once said (in response to a producer's suggestion that his singing was a bit flat), "that's my style, man." I'm learning to work with it. I accept that I crave feedback. I'm no good at the long stretches of solitary confinement that more introverted writers thrive on. I'm a people-person and I do my best work when I feel connected with an audience, even if its an audience of one. I need deadlines to get going. I need external commitments to focus. Most of all, I need to keep going, even on days I hate it and am sick to death of my own voice, and the shame and doubt come back to tell me the jig is up. I keep going, because I know that if I stop, the goddamn bus will blow.

It's a wild ride. But so far I've managed to hang onto my license.

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Terra Nova

The future is curved like the horizon. Some of it is unavoidable, unalterable. Dead ahead, you might say. Some of it is plainly visible--on a clear day--but navigable. You can keep to the same course, and arrive straight where you are headed, or tack, and land elsewhere. There are maps and tools and eyewitness accounts to aid you if you are inclined to seek direction.

The greater swath of it lies outside our peripheral vision, and there are no instruments, no markers, no flashes of clarity by which to scry it. One day you are sailing along, the next you have run aground. You stumble around and wonder, "How did I get here?" You look behind, wondering how to get back.

But there is no way back, not for you or the place you have been cast upon, the paths you will have to clear, the people who were not expecting you.

It is a new world.

I never saw Arkansas on my own horizon line. Not in diary entries, doodles, or daydreams. Not in a train, not in a plane. Prior to 1992, I thought it was pronounced Ar-KANz-ass, and was adjunct to Kansas. Like North and South Dakota, or the Carolinas. Kansas and Ar-Kansas. If I had to come up with a mental image, it would have been borrowed straight from the Wizard of Oz. Tumbleweeds and twisters.

I was engaged to my first husband and living in his house in a nondescript suburb of St. John's, Newfoundland (ironically named Paradise) when Bill Clinton came out of nowhere into the world's consciousness. If this were a novel, it would be obvious foreshadowing that the first time I took notice of Arkansas, it was during a television interview about an extramarital affair. It would almost be overkill, and a good editor would tell me to give the reader a little more credit.

But at twenty-two years old, I was barely literate in life. If I cracked open the book at all, I was mostly interested in the pretty pictures. I certainly wasn't reading between the lines.

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,


While I'm worth
my room on this earth,
I will be with you.

The Proclaimers, Sunshine on Leith

I am too full of stuffing and sentiment to write well today. There is nothing for it but to let it settle. Perhaps by evening, I will have room to express myself without an excess of happy sighing or a overriding need to quote the lyrics of Scottish pop songs from the '80s, absent of the music that makes them seem so profound.

Thanks, everyone, for all the good wishes.


this post lives all by itself here

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

The Girl With the Most Cake

Happy Birthday to me and Happy Thanksgiving to you! Last night's post is below, for your reading pleasure. I have a turkey to stuff and presents to open.

The very best one--so far--is my byline on the Facts & Arguments feature of this morning's Globe and Mail, Canada's very respectable and beloved national newspaper. It is the section I would skip to first thing every day for years and years when it was somebody else's byline. I plan to spend the rest of the day beaming about it, even if they did change "premature ejaculation" to "gun-jump" and they didn't mention the blog in my bio. As I said, respectable. And Canadian.

My compatriots, go out and buy a copy. If you are disappointed, I will refund your two-ney. The editor tells me the art they commissioned for the piece is great. I won't be able to see it until my mom mails it to me, so feel free to email me your own renditions. That's kyranp(at)gmail(dot)com.

The rest of you, the article is online for this day only here. If you are titillated by the word "ejaculation" and would like to read the other stuff that didn't make prime time (like my casual aside that Newfoundland was sold up the St. Lawrence river by the British), here is the explicit, uncut version.

Have a wonderful day.


Thanks, Mom! Thanks, Don!


this post lives all by itself here

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

A Very Good Year

It is the eve of my thirty-seventh birthday. In my fervor to shovel a path through my house today and brine a turkey, I nearly forgot.

My mother likes to tease that I was born demanding a birthday party, and it can still be truly said of me that I tend to elevate certain occasions to the level of sacrament. But that is less and less true where my own birthday is concerned. It isn't that I don't want to celebrate. If someone else were to do all the planning and cleaning, I would happily plug in my hot rollers and wear something fabulous. But as this ship's social director, I have four other birthday celebrations to coordinate throughout the year, plus all the other high holidays. I don't need one more to do/to buy list, especially not during Thanksgiving week.

When my mother's flowers arrived, I remembered it would be my birthday, and then I remembered again when I was driving to the grocery and liquor store for kosher salt and a bottle of zinfandel. I was at a particular intersection that for some reason seems to trigger a-ha moments for me. It's a completely non-descript place: Kavanaugh and Cantrell. I have no idea why it seems to lie across my spiritual fault line, but every now and then I pull up to a red light there, and my soul opens wide. It's where I had my last conversation with my father, on my cell phone, before he died. It's where I finally realized I was tired to death of putting off being a writer. Bring it on, I said, as the light turned green. Let's do the deal.

Today's awareness wasn't quite so dramatic. Perhaps because I already had the green light and was able to keep moving. But what came to me as I whizzed through was that 37 is a prime number.

(Wait for it.)

What I mean is that I was unable to divide my life into a slideshow of even installments, like I could with 36, or 35. So I reviewed instead all the ages I've been that end in seven, to see if I could discern a pattern. (I can't help it--I 'm a poet. My mind is a theme-seeking missile.)

What I noticed was that years that end in seven have been good ones for me, if not pivotal. They always find me leeward of life's mighty storms. Ten years ago, I was newly married for the second time. After setting myself and my old life on fire, I felt I had regenerated enough to take another stab at the white picket fence. Ten years before that, I was a senior in high school. Having had the kind of miserable adolescent experience that seems to be a prerequisite to becoming a writer, I got to top it off with one mostly fun and frivolous year. I had wonderful girlfriends, sexy boyfriends, and if it wasn't quite all Sweet Valley High, it at least wasn't insufferable.

Ten years before that, I was the age my eldest child is now. It was the year after we moved back to my father's hometown, the year before the neighbor's girl told me about Santa, the year before I knew the words cancer or divorce. It was the year before my grandfather would die. It was the last year I remember life being more or less safe and uncomplicated. I concluded that ages ending in seven have been times spent with my head mostly above water, catching my breath in between waves.

From making poems, I know that if you can gaze into the middle distance long enough, neither too close or too far, the order of a thing eventually reveals itself. Life wants to be read. It is jumping up and down with a megaphone, wearing a posterboard, hurling things at your head to get your attention. It is waiting for you, day after day, at the same intersection.

I think it will be a very good year.


this post lives all by itself here

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

NaBloPoMo 2006: Who Will Survive?

As I made my daily rounds this week, I couldn't help but feel that some of us are beginning to crack under the pressure of the November post-a-day challenge.

Laid Off Dad has done gone and opened a can of whup-ass, and although I swear I was nowhere near the incident, just reading about it made me feel like I should issue a formal apology, obtain legal counsel and possibly enter rehab.

Then today I wandered over to OCLB to read what I thought would be the latest installment in Brandon's recounting of his Eastern European grand tour back in the nineties. It really puts the od back in odyssey, and I have been quite riveted. Imagine "On the Road" as re-imagined by Borat (Mom, you are forbidden to read it). Anyway, for whatever reason, there was an interlude post up instead. I can't really even describe to you what was going on over there in the comments section this afternoon. They had gotten a whiff of good storytelling and now they are thrashing around the pool like blood-crazed sharks. I just hope Brandon got out okay.

As for me, well, yesterday I wrote about Wham! and tonight I am hoping to divert you with a beer in a shiny aluminum bottle. Shine-y, candy-like aluminum bottle. Isn't it cute? I figured if the beer wasn't any good, I could hang them on the Christmas tree this year.

I haven't checked on Mme. Kennedy, who unleashed all this madness, to see what's going on over there today. Probably a lot of maniacal cackling and brisk rubbing of hands as she gazes into her google reader, shrieking, "Dance, my little puppets! Dance!"

It seems like there are lots more tribe members I am watching with concern. But I can't think of them right now, because I have only so many minutes until midnight to wrap this up. But please, consider my comments section this week's tribal council. If you or someone you love suffers with NaBloPoMo, let us know if the torch still burns.

Technorati Tags:


this post lives all by itself here

Monday, November 20, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

The List is Life

Okay, I have been working furiously to deliver the promised commentary on the list from VH1 series Greatest 100 Songs of the Eighties, because we may have some new visitors coming through later this week, and I'll not be wanting any of this kind of fluff and drivel left lying about (you regulars, try and straighten up a bit, will you?). More I cannot say, but Canadians, be watching your national newspaper, particularly around Thursday.
(left: yours truly, 1985)

A couple of general complaints to begin with. First off, how can you have any kind of list from the eighties that does not include Bryan Adams somewhere on it? That's the sort of snub from America that Canadians have had just about enough of, and we're going to send you a sternly worded letter about it someday if you keep pushing it.

Second, word to VH1: don't have historical context lines like, "that song changed everything" delivered by people who were obviously not born until after 1980 and whose agents or relatives obviously pulled strings to get them on the show. That, on top of the Bryan Adams shutout, totally undermines the list's authority.

Flawed as it may be, however, the list is a departure point. And more importantly, in a month of daily posting, it is a writing prompt. Back to the eighties.

Conspicuously Absent From the List

Mike Reno & Ann Wilson/Almost Paradise
Chicago/anything by Chicago
Air Supply/anything by Air Supply
Kenny Loggins/anything by Kenny Loggins
Bryan Adams/anything by Bryan Adams (wtf??)
Journey/Oh Cherie
Jack Wagner/All I Need

Hold me now. It’s hard for me to tell you I’m sorry. Yeah, you deny him now, but Peter Cetera got you to third base.

Am I the Only One to Remember these as huge hits?

Musical Youth/Pass the Dutchie
Eddy Grant/Electric Avenue

Where in the Caribbean are they now? How does it feel when you got no food?

Do I detect an anti-Brit bias as well? What about…

Red, Red Wine/UB40
Everytime you Go Away/Paul Young
Everyday I Write the Book/Elvis Costello
Feed the World/Band-Aid

Mem’ries won’t go. No, mem’ries won’t go. Did we ever get some snow to Africa in time for Christmas, by the way?

The list is life. Working off the list:

Songs I would cover if I had a punk chick band:

2. Def Leppard / "Pour Some Sugar On Me"
55. A Flock of Seagulls / "I Ran (So Far Away)"
73. Nena / "99 Luftbaloons"
94. The Rolling Stones / "Start Me Up"

Songs I would cover as a solo acoustic act:

20. Rick Springfield / "Jessie's Girl
46. The Police / "Every Breath You Take"
74. George Michael / "Faith"

Songs I have covered as a solo drunken karaoke act:

8. Madonna / "Like a Virgin"

Songs that will still make me leap up and sing while emoting to my partner:

10. AC/DC / "You Shook Me All Night Long"
31. Queen and David Bowie / "Under Pressure"

Songs that will make me leap up and pogo:

97. The Romantics / "What I Like About You"
22. The Cure / "Just Like Heaven"

Songs that will make me hump air:

54. Salt-N-Pepa / "Push It"

Songs that will make me wave my hand in the air, like I don’t care:

81. Cameo / "Word Up!"

Songs I would strip to in a fantasy world:

83. Prince / "Kiss"

Songs that put the boom-boom into your heart:

28. Wham! / "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"

Girls on this list who do it for me:

50. Eurythmics / "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"
78. Blondie / "Call Me"
89. The Pretenders / "Brass in Pocket"
70. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/ "I Love Rock N' Roll"

Boys on this list who do it for me:

Um. None, actually.

Songs sung by men whose hairstyles I emulated:

3. Duran Duran / "Hungry Like the Wolf"

Songs I wouldn’t discover until after the eighties:

42. The Clash / "London Calling"
63. Devo / "Whip It"
66. Depeche Mode / "Just Can't Get Enough"

Songs by bands that I will never be ashamed of:

13. U2 / "With Or Without You"
38. U2 / "Pride (In the Name of Love)"

Songs I would be ashamed to tell you I know all the words to:

67. REO Speedwagon / "Keep On Loving You"

It's the only thing I want to do. I don't want to sleep. I just want to keep on...

But I have to get back to the future. You guys take it from here.

Technorati Tags:

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Don't You Want Me, Baby?

I was working as a waitress. In a cocktail bar.

Okay, I was fifteen and I couldn't get into a cocktail bar. In another couple of years, I'd be "dating" a bartender and spending most of my senior year in one. But here it is the spring of 1985, I am in grade ten, and my totally awesome boyfriend and I have matching hair and upright shirt collars. The trouble with my bitchin' upright collar is that the inch-deep layer of cover girl foundation tends to rub off on it. Fortunately, my strand of pearls is manufactured of unabsorbent plastic. I think they add just the right touch of class to my shaker knit sweater and harem pants. Virginal, yet material.

I have just finished supper and am about to walk down the main drag to loiter outside the brand spanking new coffee and donut shop and smoke cigarettes with twenty or thirty of my peers. From there we will perhaps adjourn to a dance at the protestant high school, where adult chaperones cast a blind eye to sin, and where we will dance in parallel rows, facing each other, shuffling from one foot to the next in time with the beat. Su-su-su-dio. For the last dance, couples will lock arms around each others necks and rock in place to Jack Wagner crooning that all he needs is a little more time. To be sure. What he feels. Isn't only his mind. Jack Wagner has hair just like me and my boyfriend. He came to the mall last summer. That's when I was hanging out around with the break dancing group, Le Crue. With the two little dots over the U. They were so wicked, with the fingerless gloves and all, and one of them could really moonwalk. They were all white guys, of course, except two guys who were half asian. There is a black guy at school, though. He's Irish.

In between dancing, we loiter outside the gymnasium, smoking. The boys are drinking Molsons in the parking lot, which is mostly empty, as few of us have cars. The girls are drinking sparkling rose wine from raffia-wrapped bottles and later, when we vomit, it is pale pink, like Love's Baby Soft.


Patrick and I watched back to back episodes of VH1's Greatest 100 Songs of the Eighties last night. I want to actually parse the list later, but thought I'd establish my cred first.

I was there. Totally.

Technorati Tags:

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Hypno saves the day

"His name is Hypno. He does have hypnotize attack. And he's a nighttime pokemon. I think he has another attack. Change weather attack."

I have posted daily for seventeen consecutive days. My back up file for the month to date has a word count of over 8,000. I am not ashamed of stealing material from my five year old.

Look deep into his eyes. You are getting sleepy...

When you exit this page you will remember nothing; just the vague sense that you have brushed up against Genius. Outside, the wind shifts, an unexpected front moves in, and the weather changes.


this post lives all by itself here

Friday, November 17, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Know when to hold 'em

Early this evening, we had friends over for pizza. Good friends. The kind with whom the conversation never really comes to an end; we just pick up where we last left off. It takes me by surprise sometimes, how long we've known each other. Long enough to feel like surrogate relatives to each other's children. Long enough to have celebrated plenty of good times and to have seen each other weather some not-so-good times. Long enough to expect we will all be around for more of both.

Patrick is an orphan. My surviving parent and one sibling live half a world away. In the absence of extended family, we have had to create one for ourselves. My involvement with institutional religion is in no small way a partial substitute for it. Our tribe of marrieds-with-children fills in as well. Within those broad circles, however, there are a very few, very special relationships that really feel like family. Our company tonight is one of those.

After pizza and getting caught up, I got out a board game for us to play with the kids. No one ever wants to play. Patrick groaned and protested audibly, but our guests were my prisoners. We set it up and played for as long as the kids attention spans would let us. I'm not saying it was the most exciting Friday night of my life, but we sat around the table with our kids in various configurations and had us a few laughs. It was the kind of low-fi moment that, track by track, lays down the overall temperature and tone of childhood memory. It was a good thing for us to do.

Sometimes you've got to lean on people a little. I have to be careful with this, because I have control issues, and a little can soon give way to a lot. But I remember hearing it said once that if everybody is always respecting each other's little line in the sand, nobody grows. I think knowing how far to stick your big toe over the line (and when to pull it back) is the trick both in marriage and in deep friendships.

It is no secret that my husband dislikes camping. Several weeks ago our resident cub scout had a pack camp-out on the calendar and I couldn't swing it. I mentioned it to Patrick, as in, "I don't suppose there is any way in hell....". I got the expected reaction and decided I might as well drop it then and there. Nine times out of ten this is the appropriate tack to take. Then I decided this was number ten.

I re-approached the issue a few days later. "I'm not telling you what to do," I said, "just hear me out." He wheeled himself back from his desk and looked at me with bemused wariness. I stuck my toe out, carefully, over the line.

"All I'm saying is, we only have a little window of time to make these memories. And you won't be able to go back and put them in if you have regrets about it later."

He sighed the sigh of the cornered. I retracted my toe quickly.

"Just think about it, is all. Whatever you decide, I'll be fine."

And then I really did drop it. It has taken me a long time, but I have finally started to clue into the value of just coming out and stating what you want. Sometimes, you even get it. Or at least what you need.

A couple of days after that, I was kissing them both goodbye as they pulled out of our driveway. No, Patrick did not have a wonderful, magical time. It was cold as hell and his back was out for a week. But I believe he would tell you it was worth it, and our son will never forget it.

Tonight's board game wasn't nearly as memorable. We might not remember the specifics of what we played or who won four weeks from now. But atmosphere lingers. When my little boys are men, I hope their childhood memories, however vague, will affirm that they grew up in the midst of people who loved them and each other enough to lean not just on, but sometimes against one another.

Labels: , ,

this post lives all by itself here

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Crash into me

This afternoon I took the baby to a new pay-and-play facility here in town. It was a rare outing for just the two of us. No big brothers to chase around, no girlfriends to talk to; just me and Crash.

I call him that sometimes, because that's his style. My older sons are mild and gentle as little boys go (recent biting episodes aside), but this one is belligerent. He swaggers. He bellows. He punches and throws things. He's got an arm on him a Howitzer. He likes to stay up for hours past his brothers' bedtime, singing and staggering around like the last drunk at a party. He sticks his hand up my shirt and slaps me if I try to move it. If he were my boyfriend, we'd have broken up long ago.

I tell him that to his face, and worse besides. "You're wearing me out," I say to him. "Do you think you could stop following me for just five seconds?" I turn on the television and I sneak away to my coffee and the computer.

I feel bad for not being more gracious, but he just showed up here uninvited. That's the other reason I call him Crash.

I remember vividly the moment I decided that two children were enough for us. It was New Year's Day, and the two I had already were four and two years old. The three of us were taking a little nature walk behind the hotel, letting Patrick watch his football game. The four year old wanted to explore further, but it was too hard to manage the trail with the toddler. I had been lugging babies around, inside and out, for nearly five years. I was exhausted. I looked at my boys and thought how ready I was to be emancipated from the carrying, wiping, changing and nursing so we could move on to the fun stuff. I loved my babies wildly, but babies are work. Kids are too, but there is more give-and-take, more companionship as they become more physically independent and capable. I was ready for the long hikes, the campfire songs and the board games. The bouquets of dandelions and the mother's day breakfasts in bed.

I was 98 per cent sure. So I went with a birth control that had 98 per cent effectiveness. Ever wonder about that other two percent? Wonder no further. That would be me. The odds were even more fantastic, considering that I was still nursing the two year old, both kids were with us in the bed on most nights, and we were going through a rough patch. I was astounded to learn I was pregnant a third time. I still haven't completely gotten over it.

I remember telling my mom and her crying, remembering that she was also a surprise baby, the uninvited guest in her family.
She told me what her mother had told her, that there would come a time I would never be able to imagine my life without this baby. She was right. I weaned the toddler, bought bunk beds, and fell in love all over again. And then again, with Crash.

Hardly a day goes by when I don't look at him and say, "Where did you come from?" With the other two, we knew right away we'd conceived. This one got by us somehow, without either of our permission or consent.

I'm so glad he did. Sitting on the floor today playing with him, I felt it had already been a hundred years since I used to get to do that with my firstborn. The longed-for time of campfires and board games has arrived, but so has the time of weekend sleepovers and all-day school. It goes by so fast, and I am always rushing to the next thing. Sometimes nothing short of a full-on collision can get me to slow down.

You wreck me, baby. I love you.

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,


Blog-sistah Jen Lemen caught up with me on ichat last night as I was wrapping up my post. Jen is one of those people who radiates sincere interest, concern and curiousity about others. We haven't met in person (yet) but I know already how she looks when she talks to me: all systems engaged, perched forward with her pretty brown eyes sparkling and intently focussed. I gain at least three inches in height around people like that, don't you?

Because the 'N' on my internal compass stands for Needy, Neurotic, and Narcissistic, there are two groups of people I tend to gravitate toward on the internet. There are the demented and chemically-assisted people with horns on their heads that match up perfectly with the holes in my mine, and with whom a weekend escapade would seem like a swell idea until we got about fifteen miles over the state line. I'm not naming names. But don't be looking for me at TEQUILACONPACNW07. Y'all just go right on ahead.

Then there are the den-moms. These are the people on whose shoulders I instinctively want to lean my head and let them pet my hair. Jen, Leah,Karen are in this category. They have a generousity of spirit. Their blogs don't feel like high school cliques or link brokerages. Their own fabulousity is in no way threatened by anybody else's light shining. They don't act like there's only so much talent, recognition and love to go around. I want them all to be my big sisters.

Where was I going with this? Oh, yeah, Jen. So, Jen in her inquisitive, esteem-boosting way asks me about the rationale behind not posting my face on the blog, beyond the little peek-a-boo shot on the sidebar, which was a big and recent step for me. I told her when I started blogging, I decided to err on the side of caution as far as privacy goes. I figured it would be easier to open the gate later and let the horse? cow? out of the barn than to try and get it back in after it was already out. So, as I have grown more comfortable here, I have eased certain boundaries. Like going from an initial to my full name and posting pictures of my kids (although this one is subject to retraction at any time after hearing Laid Off Dad's and Little Bird's experience).

Jen pointed out that a face can help your audience connect to you. I know this is true. It heightens the sense of connection I feel when I see her or Karen's smiling faces on their own pages. It's also true that other things help attract a following. Like a level of transparency that would send me into a chronic state of nervous breakdown if I were to attempt it for even one day. I figure it's good to hold back, to keep something for oneself.

Also--and there is no way to say this without it sounding corny and lame--I want to be liked for me. I am insecure that way. My husband fell in love with me sight unseen, did I ever tell you that? So I don't worry that he won't love me when I'm old and gray. Because he loved me when he secretly feared my ass was three feet wide.

I'm not saying, never. I could change my mind about it all next week. Especially if I run out of things to blog about this month, which obviously, is right on the verge of happening. Then we will just have a nude portrait a day.

Of course if it is just driving you crazy, there are at least two photos accessible from this site if you dig deeply enough. But just remember how disappointing it was after Kiss took their makeup off. Don't say you weren't warned.

Oh, what the hell. You want the truth? Here it is:

The truth is, I don't know how to work the auto-timer on my camera.

The truth is, I am a secret operative in a mandolin-wielding militia outfit.

The truth is, I was born with four eyes and three nostrils.

The truth is, I was bitten by a radioactive spider.

You can't handle the truth.

Technorati Tags:


this post lives all by itself here

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

That which did not kill me

...has only deepened my delusions.

It takes more than a rabid kindergartner, urine-sprayed toys, forty-five-cent-a-minute cell phone overages and the vagaries of fame and fortune to keep this irrepressible female protagonist down, by God. Probably not much more. But I had the sense to refrain from leaving the house or answering the telephone for what remained of the day, and so avoided further cosmic sewage.

I admit, yesterday I got a little desperate. I did feel quite certain that there had been a screw-up in Central Casting. Today, I still believe this is likely the case, but I am confident it will get straightened out eventually. I won't even have to lie, cheat, steal or kill. Unless we go over anytime minutes on next month's bill.

I know this reveals the extent to which I am psychologically unstable, but as long as I can remember I have had this feeling of being destined for Something More. It's embarrassing to confess this. I don't mean, Saviour of the World More or Household Word More. I'm neurotic, not psychotic. I've just always had this sense that something large and wonderful is in store, that life was to be painted in broad brush strokes. It's crazy, because life has already been plenty less ordinary. And it's probably sick, because I'm turning 37 this month, and at some point you've got to stop scanning the horizon and lean into what you've got.

Today I gave myself a serious talking to. I tried telling myself to be sensible. To adjust my expectations to reality. To be grateful and content with all I have been given. To live in the now. To pay closer attention to the details, like the Cingular billing cycle. What happened was, as I was lecturing myself, I found myself humming the theme song from Mary Tyler Moore (remember the great Husker Du version?). "You're gonna make it after aaaaaallllllll....."

How are you supposed to get anywhere spiritually with a totally unteachable ego like that? I'm going to be stuck in Karmic Comp I for the next thousand years.


this post lives all by itself here

Monday, November 13, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

4 things I did not need to hear today:

"I'm afraid there's been another biting incident."

"It says eight hundred dollars because you went seven hundred and fifty minutes over your plan."

"Isn't she* great? A blog and a two-book deal!"

"Mom, ______ peed on the floor!!"

Somewhere else, other people are succeeding in life. Their children are using their words to defend their personal space, relieving themselves in toilets. They live comfortably within the bounds of their anytime minutes. They get their hair and makeup done by television and magazine stylists. They got showers this morning. They blog only if they have something incredibly worthwhile to say.

They always have something incredibly worthwhile to say.

*Yes, dammit, she is. And beautiful and funny. And I bet her hair just looks that good anyway.


this post lives all by itself here

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Tulips and Poppies, with Narcissis

Daily blogging is turning me into the Will Ferrell character in Stranger than Fiction. You know, the guy who wakes up one morning to hear his life being narrarated. Everything menial thing I do, I can hear myself blogging it--the yard work, the juice glass of beaujolais, listening to Joni Mitchell, peeling some potatoes--it's all fair game.

Perhaps it's to make me seem more interesting to myself. Peeling the potatoes doesn't seem so mundane if one can pretend it is an element of a much vaster montage. Not just peeling potatoes but introducing a note of earthiness and authenticity to the overall narrative.

Like I wasn't self-conscious enough to begin with.

What I miss about being able to go quiet for several days in a row is the fallow time. Being able to let the events and thoughts of the day break down, compost a bit, before sending up a shoot. Being on a 24-hour clock feels forced, like putting tulip bulbs in the refrigerator to trick them into thinking it is spring. They come through with the show, but you miss the context. It's rather sterile.

Also, (and I know I'm whining now) I'm constantly on the spot. Usually by the time I sit down to write a post, I have a pretty good idea of where I want to begin, if not a burning desire to make a point. I am three paragraphs into this entry, and I still haven't got the slightest idea what to write about.

I said yesterday I would write about Rembrance Day (Veteran's Day in the U.S). My mother sent me photographs of she and my sister's family attending the wreath-laying at the memorial in my hometown. I remember those ceremonies so vividly. I should. I attended them, along with every other able-bodied resident, every November 11 until I left home. My cousin wrote that there are three WW I vets left in Canada. The youngest is 105. I remember the few Great War soldiers from my childhood Rembrance Day observances. I'm sure I thought they were a hundred years old then, but they must have been in their seventies and eighties. The World War II veterans were still pre-retirement age. My best friend's father had served during that war.

Wednesday, I was listening to Terry Gross interview Daniel Mendelsohn on the book he wrote about tracing the last days of his Ukrainian Jewish relatives, victims of the Holocaust. As they were talking, it struck me anew that these events happened in my own parent's lifetime. In modern times. They happened to modern people. It's not like looking back at the Black Death, and be able to say, whew, thank goodness we know something about germs now. There is nothing--not one fundamental thing--we know now in our time that the world didn't know then. They had vaccination and psychoanalysis and the theory of relativity and existentialism and religious reformation, and most of that century's greatest minds had already weighed in. Arguably, the only thing that sets us apart from humanity then is that we have the benefit of hindsight. We know it could happen, because it did. Does that translate into a course for prevention? I think about Rwanda and Darfur, and I wonder.

Lest we forget. That was the Veteran's motto. We wore felted plastic poppies all week to show that we wouldn't. I wonder if they are still as widely worn at home. I never see one here. I never hear about wreath-laying ceremonies here. The only way I know it is Veterans' or Memorial Day is when SALE! appears after those words in a flyer that comes in the morning paper. When it comes to the gravitas of war, Americans seem to be either deeply uneasy or totally cavalier. It is always macho bluster with them, whether they are pro- or anti-. I almost never see or hear anyone discuss war without being, themselves, aggressive.

To acknowledge--to feel-- the grief and solemnity of war is to acknowledge vulnerability. It is to give voice to our collective regret. It admits human failing. Those are the messages I got as a child from those dignified and ancient-seeming warriors who used to come and salute their fallen comrades around the town square. That was what was transmitted in the long moment of silence. Those were my heros.

Technorati Tags:


this post lives all by itself here

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,


This is a photograph of a Memorial Day procession in St. John's, taken two years ago. It accompanied my proto-blog, a travel journal I kept of that trip. In the entry for that day, I mused about the disparity (and irony) between the way war is remembered in the U.S. and at home.

I have more to say about that later. For now, here is the link to that entry, and my training blog. Because I think we are at the point in our relationship where I'm
ready to take you home. :)

(oh, and if you feel so moved, please come back here to comment--I rarely if ever go back to that blog)

I'm off to estate sail. Check in with me later.


this post lives all by itself here

Friday, November 10, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Party Central

Welcome to Friday night at my house. You'd think if the place was going to look this trashed, I would be having more fun. As it is, I am sitting by myself at the dining room table listening to the rain and wind and staring numbly at the day's wreckage. Patrick is in his cave office, listening to college basketball on the radio, in the dark. The boys are hanging upside down over the edge of the couch, watching Spongebob. I seem to have a family of bats.

Even the pets are all off doing their own thing. Here is one of our four hermit crabs, pretending not to be able to hear me.

Fine. I didn't want to be invited inside your stupid coconut hut anyway.


this post lives all by itself here

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

The Witness

I slipped out the other night to go and watch our friend Chuck play piano at his annual gig here in the big city. When Chuck isn't playing amazing jazz on the piano, he runs a gallery-slash-halfway home for artists, makes films and writes poetry. Next to Chuck, David Byrne looks like a one-trick pony. He is one of our friends from Before Children. We met him the week before our wedding in 1997 and immediately adopted him as our new best friend. I think he was our practice kid.

It was great to see him. After his set, we got to reminiscing. Patrick and I had some real knock 'em down, drag 'em outs in those days. Frequently in Chuck's company. We had ourselves a chuckle over that. He suggested it may have had something to do with the volatile combination of too much alcohol with excessively short skirts.I think we were literally crazy in love. One time I remember we got into a terrible shouting match in the parking lot outside a roadhouse, and Patrick stormed off furiously into the night. Chuck, ever-loyal to us both, followed him in his car for blocks, imploring him to get in and come back. He described Patrick as walking at breakneck speed, hands plunged into his pockets and shoulders hunched as if headed into a gale-force wind although there wasn't so much as a whisper of a breeze. I can't remember whether he eventually got in the car or not. I seem to remember we spent most of the night on the hotel fire escape fighting about whatever on earth it was.

It seems so long ago. I love that we have been together long enough for parts of our history to fade around the edges, to take on the patina of Story. And I love that it is cross-referenced with the lives of other people I love. It's corny, but true: this thing is so much bigger than the both of us, baby.

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Carry me back to the days I knew then

So, after cub scouts tonight, my son and I hit the bar.

I was planning to drop him at the house, put the younger kids to bed, put some lipstick on and join my friends at the Rod Bryan campaign party in the backroom of a local pizza joint. But then an impulse just swept over me, as impulses are prone to do, and instead of dropping him off, I told my second grader wolf cub to run inside and grab his homework so he could come downtown with me.

I am so glad I did. You know, in some ways I overcompensate for my unconventional upbringing. We do scouts. We do soccer. We do church on Sundays. We have regular bedtimes. And I never, ever take my children to bars.

My father's last years were dark, and they cast a long shadow. Being with my son tonight reminded me it wasn't always so. As I was turning my wallet inside out for quarters for the pinball machine, I remembered afternoons at the hotel pub with Dad, holding out my hand to receive quarters for the jukebox in the back. Play Mull of Kintyre, he'd say, and I'd skip back through the dark, smoky room and flip the 45s all the way through until I found it, and then come back to rest my head on his shoulder while he held court from his captain's chair.

I remembered the thrill of being privy to the adult conversation around the table. I didn't understand all of it, but I grasped the largesse of it. These were often faculty colleagues from the university, or visiting artists and musicians. They were excited about things. They had ideas.

I never had the sense that they talked any differently just because I was around. They never talked down to me. Neither were they indifferent to my presence. They seemed to regard me as a Person. They seemed to feel that I belonged.

This flashed through my mind tonight as Lennie and I were engaged in one of our typically passionate and intense discussions. You know, you have those friendships where you dispense with the small talk. You see each other, and you just Get Into It. I hope you do, anyway, because Lennie and I have that. At one point, I became aware that my son was raptly listening, and I had to pause and consider whether I was okay with that. I decided that I was. There was nothing harmful to him in our conversation, and probably nothing that he could retain from it come morning. But he was immersed in the energy that was flowing from it, the energy of his mother's Person. It's strong tonic. I am my father's daughter. But then, he is his mother's son. Maybe he came to me because there is something in me that he needs, something more essential and less manageable than cub scouts and an 8 o'clock bedtime.

I believe our parents are chosen for us. The people we are set up to love the best are themselves set up to wield the blade. To have a child is to consent to inflict our own woundedness on the innocent, to pile the sticks--knowingly, sorrowfully--upon the pyre. Mother and son. Father and daughter. Bound up together, counting on love to reprieve us, to be the hand that stays.

Far have I travelled, and much have I seen
Dark distant mountains with valleys of green
Past painted deserts, the sun sets on fire
As he carries me home to, the Mull of Kintyre

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Monday, November 06, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

And now for a public service announcement.

This is Rod. Lennie and her spectacular cheekbones are partially visible on his right hand side. No, my friends do not normally wear embroidered holiday sweaters. It was a theme party. The guy on the left is Mick. He's Dutch, and like me, can't vote. But if he could, I am certain he would vote for Rod.

My friend Rod Bryan is on the Arkansas ballot as an independent candidate for governor.

Rod and his wife Lennie are two of the most interesting, genuine and principled people that I know. They are also extremely good-looking.

I could give you a long-winded defense of movement-based politics. I could make you suffer through an impassioned speech about how important it is that we defend a space for alternative voices in American democracy. I could fall to my knees and implore you to think expansively and not fearfully about a real marketplace of ideas, not just a franchise operation.

Instead, how about this:

Rod's a good guy. He's worked really hard. Lennie too.

Where ever you are, however you vote, please send them some money. There have been real expenses associated with this campaign, and Rod and Lennie live simply. Their house would fit in the garage of the other candidates.

Here's the link to Rod's campaign address and PAYPAL site. You can use your credit or check card or checkbook. No donation is too small. Canadians, and other international readers, consider this your opportunity to express yourself in the U.S. mid-term elections. Americans, consider it a vote for a healthy and lively democracy, no matter who your candidate is.

Thanks. Now get out of here and go vote!


this post lives all by itself here

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

That Which is Good and Right About America

My husband would say it's "John-by-god-Wayne", just to get a rise out of me, but the indisputable truth is that cheese dip best represents all that is good and right, noble and true about this great and demented country of his.

And not just any cheese dip. I'm talking Ro-tel & Velveeta cheese dip. Manna of the trailer park. Do not--I mean, don't even--email me from anywhere outside the USA to tell me that the dip your local Mexican eatery serves up is more authentic than this, like I don't know what real queso is. In the first place, unless you are emailing from Mexico, the menu at your local eatery bears little resemblance to anything really Mexican, no matter how many little painted skeletons are adorning the place. In the second place, I'm not talking about Mexican cheese dip or, more properly, Tex-Mex cheese dip (going to Mexico and asking for cheese dip will get you the same look I imagine you'd get for requesting sweet and sour chicken balls in Beijing). I am sorry to get testy, but a few months ago I posted how there's nothing like a southern peach, and y'all got all defensive on my ass, like I was turning my back on all the other fruits and nations of the world. Let us not compare peaches and apples, people. I stand by my words: there is nothing like a southern peach. Or Ro-tel cheese dip. Deal with it.

I have been scouring the blogosphere for good Irish blogs, in anticipation of our trip in the new year. The other day, I came across Cashmere Boots, a Southern Californian living in Dublin. She was cringing over a news report that Texans were experimenting with fried coke. I say, power to them. This is the kind of envelope-pushing that both put a man on the moon and brought us pancake-on-a-stick and it needs to be celebrated.

I don't have the cringe factor. Americans don't embarass me in the world way that they can other Americans. And they don't frighten me, the way they do everyone else in the world, because living here among them, instead of being on the outside looking in, gives a more nuanced perspective than one gets from the media. I learned in very short order that the country and the nation are two very separate entities, and usually it is the latter that gets projected onto the global village tv screen.

My husband would like me to demonstrate just a little more apprehension. He will rattle off conspiracy theories and civil rights violations and gets frustrated that I am not more visibly upset. It' s not that I am unconcerned about these things, it's just that I grew up in a culture that was virulently anti-american, and George W. Bush notwithstanding, I have yet to see anything as bad or as shocking as what I was brought up to believe about the place. Patrick acts like it's news that the American military-industrial complex is inclined toward facism. That power corrupts is not exactly earthshattering to me. I am still marvelling, ten years later, at how much works in this country, in spite of it.

Cheese dip, for instance. In cheese dip, I trust.

Now, in case you skipped the link above, go and watch Jon-by-god-Stewart discuss pancake-on-a-stick. Also deserving of the title of this post. Jon Stewart, too.

Filed under: america

Technorati Tags:

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

A Pilgrim's Progress

Thanksgiving is coming. I can tell, because I am spending hours and hours on ebay shopping for a new me. This new me is the sort of person whose home will not only be clean and sparkling come the 23rd of November, but whose table will be so splendidly adorned with just the right vintage set of dishes--won at the last minute for a mere 1.99--as to draw the eye completely away from the unpainted trim, the ratty second-hand furnishings, the scribbled-on walls, the overhead lighting fixture with its several burnt out bulbs, and the ballpoint pen jammed under the dimmer switch to keep the rest lit.

Another reliable harbinger of the season is the proliferation of glossy four-color sales flyers in my mailbox, assuring me it will take much, much more than a few pieces of Franciscan or Stangl pottery to make me suitably thankful this year. It will take a moving truck of new furniture, stainless steel appliances, embroidered sweaters for all of us, and --this was in the Sam's Club flyer today--a Cessna Citation jet for $2,734,000 (I bet I can get it $500,000 cheaper on ebay).

This uniquely American holiday serves as a measure of my own assimilation into this culture. What I knew about it from growing up in Newfoundland was that it comes a month or so after the Canadian thanksgiving weekend, and that it often falls on my birthday, as it will this year. I didn't know then that the Canadian version (note my usage of the "small t") is quite a pallid imitation of the original. I guess someone noticed that our neighbors to the south were getting to feast on turkey and pies and thought we ought to follow suit, only, let's do it in October, so that we will have room for turkey and pies again on Christmas. Anything for a long weekend. I believe this is what keeps Canada in the Commonwealth. Hate to lose the Queen's birthday.

Without getting into a long exegesis of British colonialism and its aftermath, I will just point out the pointlessness of a Newfoundlander adopting a American custom adopted by Canada, our reluctantly adopted government. Take my word for it, a lot was lost in translation.

My first impression of the real thing was, that's a hell of a lot of food. That was a common refrain from me that first year, going right back to my very first meal on American soil, in a Wendy's in Laredo. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I'd had six months of supersizing, but I was still shocked. The turkey, gravy and pumpkin pie were familiar, but I was out of my depth after that. In addition to pumpkin, there was apple, chocolate and pecan pie. Instead of stuffing, there was an enormous pan of cornbread dressing, which had chicken baked into it, and made a main dish by itself. There was the marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole and the french-fried onion-topped green bean casserole, both of which were totally alien to me. It seemed excessive, and redundant. Why the big feast and get-together, only to have to pull off a reprise at Christmas?

I didn't get it.

I was so focussed on the food, it took me a couple more years to become aware of the sentiment attached to Thanksgiving. This doesn't come over in the Canadian translation at all. Here in America, people practically kill themselves trying to get home for the holiday. In Canada, you have a big dinner with whoever happens to be around, and since it is a long weekend, your plans might involve travel, but it's not the emotional imperative it is in the States.

About five or six years into my residency, I became initiated in the day-after-Thanksgiving shopping custom, where people practically kill themselves and each other trying to get into Target before dawn, to catch the earlybird special. One thing I have particularly come to like about Thanksgiving is that it is, in and of itself, singularly uncommercial. Nobody gives gifts, or even cards. It is, I believe, the only day on which shops do not open. It is the one pause in the otherwise relentless carousel of commercialism in this country. And if you happen to be at Target at six the next morning, you will experience first hand the release of 24 hours worth of pent-up American consumerism. It is not for the faint of heart. Still, there is a carnival vibe to it that I dig, in the same way I wrote about taking in the state fair a couple of weeks back. I do most of my Christmas shopping online or at a neigborhood toy store these days, but for several years running I had fun hitting the stores with the rest of the mob, flyers and list in hand.

I was enjoying the spectacle, but I was still looking down my nose at the silly, unrestrained Americans who were putting up Christmas decorations and wrapping presents a whole month too soon.

Gradually, I came to realize that Thanksgiving isn't some kind of premature cultural ejaculation. It's the beginning of Christmas, with the whole season culminating on Christmas Day. Where I grew up, Christmas doesn't get going until Christmas week, and then we keep it going through New Year's and--for the purists--until the Ephiphany on January 6th (or as we call it on the island, Old Christmas Day). Also, in my native tradition, Christmas Day is the Big Show. That's when you brave blizzards to get across the country to your family. That's when we do all the eating and making merry. Christmas Day in America is a celebration, to be sure, but it's more for the kids. Even the dinner menu is different. Whereas at home turkey or goose would be mandatory, here we are more likely to have prime rib. It's a completely different paradigm.

It's taken me a while to find a middle ground. It helps that I have become an Episcopalian (American for Anglican), because it means I try to observe Advent. For the benefit of the rest of you godless heathens, Advent is by definition a time of waiting; of holding back and staying quiet. It's roots, like those of Christmas, are in pre-Christian northern European traditions. It is about yielding to the darkest time of the year, and it is starkly at odds with the secular culture, which doesn't care much for darkness or quiet, and which has Christmas decorations on the store shelves the day after Halloween.

It creates an interesting tension. On the one hand, I like the waiting. On the other, I hate to miss out on the festivities. So I pick and choose between traditions. I have come to love Thanksgiving more than nearly any other holiday. And even though it is almost always just the five of us, I bake pies and cornbread chicken dressing and spread the table as best as I am able. Although the house is never clean and sparkling, and I never find that perfect homemaker-me, on ebay or anywhere else, my mother sends flowers and they cover a multitude of sins. We drive to a tree farm like everyone else on Thanksgiving weekend, and we tag a tree and pay for it, but it stays in the ground until we come back for it mid-December. Lights go up on December 1st, and the creche comes out, empty, to be populated gradually by sheep and cows and Mary and Joseph and everyone else but the baby, until Christmas. The advent wreath comes out, and I light candles and pray the prayers over it. We go to mass on Christmas Eve and stay in our pyjamas until dinnertime the next day. The tree comes down in time for our New Year's party, but I keep a bough to toss on the bonfire at the church on Ephiphany.

It has become a bit of this and a bit of that. Like my table setting. Like me.

Labels: , , ,

this post lives all by itself here

Friday, November 03, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

I'm their biggest fan

This post is dedicated to Jule Ann, who delurked today in the comments section because she rightly intuited that I am delicately constitutioned enough to need moral bolstering if I am going to post daily this month. Like the good Samaritans with paper cups of gatorade along the marathon route. Thank you, Jule Ann. We'll make a Jen of you yet.

(The rest of you better pass 'round the sign-up sheet. It's day three, and I'm already getting cramps.)

This is a photo of me (on the left) talking to Tracey, who delurked at my cousin Erika's wedding reception. I think this was the first time I met a reader in person of whom I had no prior knowledge. It was kind of freaky--I was aware she knew all kinds of things about me, whereas I knew that her name was Tracey. There was actually a whole contingent of people familiar with my blog at the wedding. There's a lesson in this. If building traffic is your goal, blog about someone else's life and let them promote it shamelessly.

As more and more of you come out of the closet, I am impressed with what a loyal and supportive bunch you are. Tiny, and quiet, to be sure. But true blue. Like smurfs.

Sometimes one of you gets outed by a third party. "So-and-so says she reads your blog," someone will mention in passing. Maybe they're just using your name as a cover. If so, you better go and put a stop to it right now. They are probably using your name and credit card to surf porn sites as well. But if it is true, welcome. No, no, don't get up. You don't have to delurk. Jule Ann and Tracey are probably wishing to hell they didn't.

But rest assured, it will make my day if you do.


this post lives all by itself here

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Band on the Run

Jesus Christ.

A post a day? Did I really say I would do that? Every day? Including this day?

What if I'm just not feeling it?


Well, seeing how I'm here now, I guess I will share that I booked our tickets to Dublin today. We are tremendously excited. In the eight years since the first baby came, we have had exactly two nights, three years apart, away from our beloved children. The last being three years ago this January. We aren't philosophically opposed to being away from them. It's just that we don't have nearby aunts or grannies we can drop them off with for weekend escapades to Acapulco. My mother, their sole surviving grandparent, has made a once-in-her-lifetime offer to keep them in her care at an undisclosed location the two weeks we will be abroad.

TWO weeks. Whatever shall we find to do?

And how will I ever wake up from all the Ativan it will take to get me there?

We are already boring the kids (and everyone else who feels like they have to pretend to listen to us) to tears with our plans. I am amassing a tidy stack of travel books and consulting with Patrick every five minutes as to whether he might prefer a day of salmon fishing to castle-touring, bed-and-breakfasts to chain hotels, the National Gallery to Trinity College, the west to the east. Actually, very little of our time will be our own, as I am part of a group of writers who are doing a reading tour around the country, and most days will be spent on the coach.

I don't care. My heart is literally? figuratively? (dammit, Karla, now you've got me all mixed up) racing at the thought of the two of us being on the road again. I figuratively (literally, I was on a bus) ran away with Patrick all those years ago, and underneath all the trappings of domestic life, I like to think there is still a trace of the fugitive lovers. Only now we are on the run from our kids. Less guilt, more fun.


this post lives all by itself here

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Happy Day of the Dead!

That's what I said to myself this morning after drinking three tall bourbon and cokes last night and eating fifteen packs of Whoppers, stolen from my children.

I also remembered it is day one of NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a derivative of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. During National Novel Writing Month, writers are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. In the blogging version, we are challenged to post daily through the month of November. Just to further drive home the point that bloggers are several steps below pulp fiction hacks in the literary food chain. We ride the short bus.

My initial reaction to NaBloPoMo was Na. But one by one the rest of the Sweathogs eagerly jumped off the bridge. I thought it would be cool and non-conformist of me to declare NoBloPoMo, a month of abstinence from posting. But truth be told, I have never been that cool or non-conforming. If all the rest of the kids are doing it, I'm in, baby.

What clinched it is that my perfectionism has been creeping into my blogging of late. The P-word is my creative block of choice, and before now, the blog has been a great antidote. Because, face it, it's hard to put on airs and use the word blog at the same time.

It's true that I do like to write meatier posts. And this is the petri dish for much of my "real" writing. But I stumbled into blogging in the first place precisely because of the lower expectations attached to it. I set up a travel blog the summer before last just as a means of keeping in touch with friends during a month-long trip to Newfoundland. I was amazed at how much I wanted to say once I started typing. I was amazed that I enjoyed it. Writing had always been a grind, a discipline, the thing I should be doing, "If only you would apply yourself." I got that speech from every teacher I ever had after grade school. Let's not even go into the stuff about my father being a writer. (If you care to, you can visit my poetry blog where I am in the process of excavating some of those abcesses.)

Baggage, laden down with Expectations. That's what I was lugging around the departures terminal. Somehow the blog set the conveyor belt in motion and I was able to put it down and catch my plane.

I don't want to lose that. I've been working real hard at the so-called real writing recently, and it's making me rather earnest and dull. I want to keep it loose, lighten up. I want to play.

So count me in. There's no way I can even pretend to write something really good or meaningful or smart every single day. This will be an exercise in letting go of good or meaningful or smart. I'm just playing scales here everyday in November, not composing symphonies.

As a first warm-up exercise, I will now let go of my need to finish with a nice, round closing paragraph that brings it all home. It's already killing me.

But I will jump instead to this non-sequitur.

Celebrated Halloween last night with my good friends Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, at a surprise Fleetwood Mac reunion gig. All the beautiful people were there. Check it out:

The rest of the photos, many of them in focus, are up on Flickr.
See you tomorrow.

Filed under: goodtimes, fluffdrivel, poetrywriting
Technorati Tags:


this post lives all by itself here