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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

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Wild, wild life

The sleeping bags are rolled. The provisions — carefully selected according to metabolic type — are packed. Some of us are going camping overnight with friends.

If you don't already know how excited I am, and can't guess which of us are staying behind with the cats, the rottschund, and hermit crabs, here are some campfire tales from previous outdoor adventures to fill in the backstory. (Friday night: apparently, the link is buggy...and I need a shower before I can fix it; see en plein air label below for same effect.)

Back in a few.


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Monday, March 26, 2007

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My Yard is a Wonderland

Spring break is upon us. I was starting to feel somewhat sorry that my boys weren't building castles in the white Gulf sand or hugging Mickey at Disney World or riding dolphins on Paradise Island, like so many of their classmates.

Then I stepped outside to all of this.

Poor, poor babies.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

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My generation?

One of Patrick's clients gave us tickets to the Who concert at Alltel Arena last night. I saw them in Toronto in the late eighties, back when they were first retiring. Talk about the long goodbye.

Stadium rock is not, and has never been, my thing. Whereas Patrick, child of the seventies, was there for all the great arena shows of his era, I could stick my souvenier tickets between the fingers of one hand. I much prefer concert hall, or club, gigs to shelling out a hundred bucks to watch someone play on a giant video screen.

But the tickets were free, and Georgia offered to babysit, and who can argue with that?

As we were getting ready to leave, I was thinking how strange is this post-modern era. The Who is from my parents' generation. Mom and Dad weren't going to Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby concerts when I was a kid. The overture to this new millenium is so very ouborous. It is as if all of twentieth century pop culture got jammed up against the exit in the rush to leave the building.

Consequently, for my generation nothing is relative. We listen to our parents music. We buy our kids replicas from our own childhood. Maybe we recyle everything in an effort to slow the process of digestion down. Maybe our collective consciousness has four stomachs.Maybe our own cultural maturation is delayed by the logjam of babyboomers down river.

Last night's show night reflected this pileup, both on stage and off. In all spectator events, for me, the spectacle lies in the spectators. I watched the crowd more than I watched the band. It was a weird split between snaggle-tooth hippies and people who looked like they just came from a Jimmy Buffet concert. You know, middle aged guys who have gone cyborg with their bluetooth earpiece. I estimate that less than three per cent of the audience was under forty-five.

The band (or the corporate production that encompasses the band) got this, and played to it, in a way that was ironic without being cynical. The performers were backlit by stop-motion film clips on hanging screens; a repeat montage of sixties icons like Twiggy, Peter Sellers, and flowers. Every ten seconds the band's emblem and THE WHO would pop up. I got the giggles, thinking of the display as flash cards to help the aging stoners figure out where they were. A sort of multimedia "Who's on First":
"Where am I? Who are they?"
"Yeah, man, WHO?"

The band was in good form, if not exactly mint. Their new, operatic material was interesting enough for me to probably check some of it out on iTunes. Townshend was charming, disarming and sincere. I remembered how much I enjoyed his White City album, and made a mental note to go see what else he's been up to since. Zak Starkey, on drums, was yummy. There was more of a celebratory spirit coming from the band than I remember eighteen years ago. When they sang "My Generation", it was without apology. They were still talking about their generation. Only now they are defending it to their juniors, not their elders; people my age and younger who might question whether millioniares in their sixties have any credibility as rockers.

To which, they answered, I could just f-f-f-f....

Postscript: Pete Townshend has a blog! Just like me. Maybe we could be friends. It appears to be personally written by him. I wonder if he'll post anything about me last night?

"...played Little Rock last night to a strange looking audience. One, a thirty-something brunette in the stands, needs to be told she is way past it for going sleeveless. --P.T."


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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

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Half mom, half wolf

This is me in my cub scout den leader uniform. Sort of.

I only realized the day before yesterday, by glancing over the agenda for the cub scout pack meeting, that I was scheduled to be "inducted" as a den leader. I was caught off guard, as I have been thinking of myself as more of an understudy than a den mom. There is one other wolf cub in our den besides my son. No, don't feel bad. For the other kid, this represents a hundred per cent increase in recruitment over last year's tiger cub den.

The other kids' parents and I had a loose agreement that we would share the mantle of leadership. To my relief, they sort of took off running: they got a bunch of planning guides and attired themselves with proper leader uniforms and insignia. They were content to run the show until tax season hit, as they are both accountants, at which time I would take over. So far I have run exactly one meeting, and there are only a couple left in the year.

I did go to the scout shop and look at adult uniforms, but they cost a fortune. Who has forty bucks for a blouse?

Okay, also? They are a little on the frumpy side. Who has forty bucks for a frumpy blouse? It didn't seem necessary, for the sake of two kids and a couple of meetings. As far as I knew, there were no surprise uniform inspections by Boy Scouts of America.

But then I had to go and check the agenda, and saw that it was going to be all official-like at the pack meeting, when all the council dens come together. So yesterday afternoon, I ran down to the scout shop and looked at the gear again. Forty bucks for the blouse, more for the skorts.


No fucking way.

I went to the neighborhood thrift store and found clothes in a conforming color scheme: a tan button shirt and an army green sateen skirt (Banana Republic! 7 bucks!). I was thinking maybe I could sew the insignia on the shirt, but upon further investigation, my shirt lacked shoulder epaulets to which to attach the ribbon loops that signify something, as well as the embroidered "Boy Scouts of America" over the breast pocket. Also, the wrong color buttons. And it wasn't really the right shade of tan. But it was three o'clock in the afternoon and it was going to have to do.

I feel about the neck kerchief about the same way I feel about skorts. Which is to say, they are both perfectly appropriate for persons of grade school age. So I splurged a little on the metal bolero tie, figuring my son could wear it with future scouting ensembles. Because someone from BSA is bound to find this and read it and I won't be allowed to wear it ever again.

Once I got home and got dressed, I felt I could "pass", even without ribbons and badges.

"You look like the ranger girl in Open Season," Patrick said, as he snapped our picture.

"I think that's what we're going for," I said.

The ceremony came late in the program, after my guys led us in the Pledge of Allegiance (well, led them—I always stand there dumbly with my hands at my side, hoping my smile conveys, peace loving foreigner, don't kill me.) and delivered an outstanding address on the various types of clouds. Then there was a group activity in which the kids had to try to pop balloons tied to each other's ankles. We were in a gymnasium with lots of room to run and it was taking forever for anyone to stomp on a balloon.

"Didn't you have a pinata game like this one year?," I whispered to RedChuck. I thought I remembered him grimly taking up the baseball bat at his son's birthday party, saying, "look away, kids".

The boys had to be forced into smaller and smaller sparring rings, so they couldn't get away from each other. It was gladiator-like. "Hold hands and try to do it," the tiger den mother suggested in desperation as the last scouts kicked at each other within their 2' by 2' box. Eventually, someone was injured and there emerged a victor.

Then it was time for the induction. As I feared, I was called to stand. The leader of the pack made a poignant—and I thought, pointed— speech about the importance of badges and emblems. I was asked to make the scout sign and vow to "obey the law of the pack."

Which I did, with a little choking sound that hopefully only I could hear. Because vows of obedience fit me about as comfortably as skorts and neck kerchiefs. (It burns, precious, it burns.)

"What is the Law of the Pack, anyway?," Patrick asked, when I told him about it later.

I told him I didn't know, but it didn't matter.

I kept my other fingers crossed.
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Sunday, March 18, 2007

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O, to be in Arkansas, now that Spring is here.

Granted, people do not make my bed and change my towels for me here. When I speak with the mortgage company, they do not smile and say, I see your charges have been taken care of, Madam. When I stand up and clear my throat to speak, my children do not tilt their heads in rapt attention, or even offer to buy me a drink afterwards. Unbelievably, I have to drive my own car and tote my own bags in and out of it. Whenever I have had to wipe someone's bum since coming home from Ireland, I can't help but think, "don't you know who I am??"

But there are worse places to live, worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than a backyard crawdad boil with my bestest friends, a few beers and a trampoline filled with our several hundred children, a riot of angels springing up to heaven.

Even if they don't care who I am.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

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Star light, star bright.

Since coming home, I want to start over, everywhere. Were you to extract a biopsy of my mind this week, you might see:

  • start a diet

  • read more

  • quit blogging

  • start a novel

  • quit writing

  • leave the country

  • get a regular job

  • start homeschooling

  • relax more

  • work harder

You would probably close me back up at this point, shake your head, and say, "I'm sorry. There's nothing we can do."

Yesterday, Patrick said he missed me, and I realized I haven't had time or space to miss him back. Finally, the rhetorical question, what's wrong with this picture, is answered. It has no white spaces.

I almost resented him for even having time to miss me. Who knows what or who I am missing under the clamor of domesticity?

In the mi(d)st of my ambivalence, the baby comes blazing through, so happy to have me back, he sings "HAP-PY BIRTH-DAY MOM-MMY" at the top of his lungs, off and on all day. And when he does, it is my birthday, and Christmas, and Easter Morning, too. Sunshine piercing fog. Starshine through the dark of night.

At the end of each bellowed chorus, he holds a tiny finger up to my mouth, his pewter eyes twinkling.

"Wish," he says.

And I wish I knew what to wish for.
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Friday, March 09, 2007

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I walk the line

Last night my dear neighbour Julia welcomed us home with fresh salad greens and dark chocolate. It was the perfect complement to the meal I'd managed to cobble together from refrigerator remnants: frozen chicken and green beans revived with butter and garlic, and a curried soup from a past-prime bag of baby cut carrots. The only thing missing was wine, and something devoid of color and texture for my six-year old, who claims he is a vegetarian, as long as it doesn't involve eating vegetables. I grabbed the car keys and drove down the hill to the wine store, where I selected a chardonnay from the cooler, because it was the kind of early spring evening when the light is soft and buttery and the forsythia are in yellow bud and the only way to properly toast the forgetfullness and naievity of creation is with a cool and dewy glass of chardonnay.

Then I did something unusual. Instead of walking back to my van and driving the two and half blocks to the Chinese take-away, I tucked my bottle of wine under my arm and strolled there instead.

I used to walk everywhere. I used to call myself the last white pedestrian in America. Outside of the major cities—which are really not part of the American mainland at all, but cultural principalities— this is a drive-through society. I live in one of the few neighbourhoods in Little Rock where it is possible to walk to the supermarket or the liquor store or the coffee shop, and I used to do so without thinking twice about it, the way I never bothered with a bra, because to do otherwise seemed unnatural and unnecessary.

Believe it or not, the walking created the greater commotion. Drivers would stop and roll down their windows, concerned that I was lost, stranded or looking for sex. I wound up getting a dog to serve as my "beard", a visible justification for going around on my legs. I was defiant about it for a while, but eventually, as with the bralessness, I became self-conscious about it. Defending myself began to take up too much psychic energy and it became easier to do as the Romans do.

I had almost forgotten the freedom of being a stranger in a strange land. The immunity of anonymity. At the beginning, my love of being in America was uncomplicated, a passing fling. "It's like watching a train wreck," I wrote gleefully in a letter to my father during my first year.

Now my own children are travellers on that train. And many more people that I love. Now my heart heaves and rocks and shakes with every rumble of the track. Now I am tied to it, stretched across it. I am not the stranger. I am not free. This is the central paradox of my life, for that matter, of any life that tries to encompass motherhood and art simultaneously. It is what I am usually trying to work out in my writing here. The writer belongs to no one, while the mother and wife are willingly indentured. There is never equilibrium, because life is never static. Just a lurching kind of motion between one truth and the other. This stagger that is my life.

Returning to my car along the sidewalk last night, brown bags of wine and steamed rice in my arms, I felt a fleeting sense of balance. Like the first time swimming or riding bicycle. The sun was setting in front of me. I had the afterglow of Ireland behind me. I felt free but steady. Graceful, even. A writer and a mother. A stranger and a neighbour.

I felt like whispering, "Look! I'm doing it!" But as any grade school child knows, that's a jinx for sure. I got to the van and buckled myself in for the drive back up the hill to supper, bathtime and homework folders and all the things that tie me down and open me wide.


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Back in the U.S.A., but it's taking a few days for my soul to catch up to my body. I go through this anytime I leave this country and come back. It feels like everything is up for grabs. I don't just pick up where ever I left off, but walk around in a detached state for a while, observing the details of my life here as if they belonged to some other person. Whose house is this? Whose street? Whose friends? Whose family? Whose culture? Are they mine? Do I want them back?

Call it a form of dislocation. It takes a little while for my parts to reconnect and start moving together in one direction again.
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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

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Not Dead to Me

Everytime my girlfriend Georgia goes home to Australia for a visit; I hold my breath and cross my fingers and hope and pray she doesn't decide to stay. When she does come back, and is quiet and confused and a little angry for a few days, I understand exactly how she feels. When I am having a "moment" and am asking myself how the hell I got here, and exactly how much longer do I intend to give this mad experiment, I ring Georgia up, and she makes me tea. She is my consulate, my embassy, my foreign attache, my commonwealth partner, my writing partner, my stylist and my compatriot in expatriotism. Here she is:


The reason I am still in America is the west.
The wide open skies which Indians read as they fished in the churning rivers,
after riding through mountains and into chartreuse valleys dotted with wild flowers.
The reason I am still in America is that cities like New York and Chicago exist and
house art by Franz Kline and Twombly and Rothenberg.
There is music in these cities, music that swells my heart.
Jazz is in America.
Zydeco is in America.
The reason I am still in America is because I like anonymity.
“You can be anyone and anything in America,” my father said, “People give you a go.”
I like black people.
I like their bodies and their walks. I like their attitudes.
I feel privileged and alive when they speak to me.
Sometimes I am scared of them, like in Baltimore when I walked downtown, and they are on their stoops, smoking and staring, and watching me pass.
“You better slow down or you might take off!” They slap their thighs and laugh.
Even that I liked. Later not at the time.
The reason I am still in America is because bears are in America.
I like moose.
Sometimes I miss Kangaroos but not after sighting an elk herd.
The reason I am still in America is because I have to learn to two step and salsa and because my favorite song was, Springsteen’s, The River (after which I named my child.)
Al Green lives in America.
I like the fact that no one calls me mate or Sheila or says, “good-on-ya.”
I even like y’all.
The reason I am still in America is because all my favorite writers are American.
How could I live without knowing where Carson McCuller’s heart got lonely or where Fitzgerald dined or was depressed for that matter.
I had to eat sardines on saltines like Faulkner had Lena do in the haze of the humid south.
I had to drink mint juleps in Kentucky on Derby day.
I had to be in a band that let me play the Banjo and were besotted with Harry Smith’s folk album.
You can not cry when you play the banjo.
The reason I am still in America is because I don’t like pessimism or the tall poppy syndrome that people are ill with back home.
I do not like men who think that surfing is all there is and women should bring them beer.
I am still here because I am hoping to become Hispanic by osmosis.
I want to be called Juanita and have long dark hair and olive skin.
I want to make tamales from corn that I grow.
I need to cross the Tallahatchie Bridge. I need to eat oyster po-boys near a Bayou.
I am in America because I believe that the people can still be heard here.
That democracy will triumph once more.
The reason I am still in America is because you are here.


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Monday, March 05, 2007

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Alive, alive-oh

Hi! This post is costing me 40,000 euros! Or something like that. It would cost me even more to take the time to send threatening emails to the people (besides Brandon) who were going to do guest posts for me. Which they probably knew when they said "Sure, no problem, go ahead, we'll take care of the place for you."

You are all off my petsitting list.

Anyway, here I am back in Dublin. This photo is taken in front of the bronze statue of Molly Malone on Grafton Street. We were on our way to supper yesterday evening, which we found at a place called Apache Pizza (I just couldn't take one more pub meal of "roast joint"). Patrick described it as American Indian themed Italian American food cooked by Irish Southeast Asians. Which pretty much sums up Dublin.

I wanted to pop in and let those of you who haven't figured it out know that the trip diary is over over here. Pop in. Say hi. Send money.

Here is what I ran into the other morning on the square in Waterford City. It was possibly the happiest moment of my life.

Couldn't escape if I wanted to. Having a wonderful time. See you back on the other side later this week.


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