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Thursday, May 31, 2007

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Life Insurance

At six months. Photo by Willie Allen.

Middle son had a sleepover tonight, so I took my firstborn out to see a movie. On the way home, he wanted to know where he would sleep in his bunkmate's absence.

"You wouldn't enjoy having your room all to yourself?" I asked.

"It sort of freaks me out," he responded.

"I understand," I said.

I do. I am thirty-seven years old, and sleeping alone sort of freaks me out too. I think it must be an inborn, not an acquired, trait that we share. Whereas he and his brothers are the products of infant co-sleeping (as if I was going to get out of bed and walk somewhere to nurse them six times a night), I am a graduate of cry-it-out boot camp, class of '70. But I also preferred to sleep with my sib at night when I was his age.

It's an age that carries special poignancy for me. I was eight years old the year my grandfather died. I didn't want him to die, and what was worse, I knew that he didn't want to die. He broke down and cried the last time I saw him, and I ran out of the room, terrified and overwhelmed.

I was eight years old when I began to dread nighttime, because it was when my parents would bring out the problems they were trying to protect us from by day. I would cover my ears and pray and pray, while my stomach ached and churned.

I was eight years old when I was terrorized by my third grade teacher, who singled myself and another child out on a regular basis for verbal abuse. She had a signature tactic of shaking your chin with her crooked finger while haranging you. I understood anecdotally that this was mild stuff compared to the standard-issue Catholic school discipline of my parent's generation, which is why I suppose I didn't feel like I had recourse with them. I guess I thought they knew what they had signed me up for, and that teachers were the bosses of everyone, including my Mom and Dad.

Eight years old was the end of innocence. The end of feeling safe.

What now pains me most about that time is how much I held to my chest. I knew I was loved by both my parents. I don't know why it was inconceivable to share what I was going through. It frightens me when I see evidence of that same streak of stoicism in my son. I think he still trusts life. I think he feels safe. But I can only see above the surface. I wonder how much I miss.

I still tend to hold things close to my chest. This afternoon I ran an errand that was difficult and emotional, because it involved friends who are going through a hard time. I wept all the way home. As I pulled into our driveway, I wondered what I would tell my son if he noticed I had been crying. I don't want to have to tell him that awful things happen to families like ours. I don't want him to know that people who aren't done with living, can die. I don't want him to find out that people who love each other, can stop. I don't want him to learn there are adults who would hurt him. I don't have answers for any of those whys.

In some ways, I am still that eight year old. If I don't speak about them, maybe painful things will be less real. If I don't cry about them, maybe I won't have to feel.

My son needs to be shown a different way.

"I had scary thoughts at night when I was a kid, too," I offered. "Sometimes I still do. It starts with one scary thought and then it gets hard to switch the channel in my head. If I can concentrate on a time I was really happy, or something I am really looking forward to, I can sometimes turn the scary thoughts off."

"I try that, but it's like my mind gets out of control," he said.

"Yeah," I said, "I know what you mean."

I wanted so much to tell him, don't worry, none of that stuff you fear will ever happen. But it isn't my job as his parent to insulate him from life. It's my job to equip him to deal with it. That means demonstrating that it's okay to talk about these things; that it's alright to feel them. And for me, it means something else.

"I pray," I told him. "I tell God that I'm really scared and I need to know that I am loved and taken care of. I remind myself that God is bigger than all of the things that scare me."

This is the best I've got, and it will have to do. I can't promise my children that they will always be safe and free from pain. I can't always be there to protect them. I won't always know what's going on with them. But I can teach them where to turn when there are no answers for the whys. I can pass on my faith — and my experience — that the one who brought them here will see them through. I can't prevent all the screwy ideas they will encounter and develop about God as they grow; it's their relationship, and they will have to work it out their whole lives like everybody else. But I hope I can teach them that while prayer doesn't bring us a lamp and a genie —or even always, illumination —they don't have to feel all alone in the dark.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

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"I just want to be repaired for when we are going swimming."

It is four minutes shy of eight o'clock, the morning of Memorial Day, the first day of my boys' summer break. My six year old is already suited up. My eight year old is trying to impress upon me the urgency with which he requires new swim goggles. Only the predawn hours of Christmas drag more slowly than the morning of opening day at the pool.


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Friday, May 25, 2007

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Goin Up Country, Baby Don't You Wanna Go

I'm spending the weekend with a few girlfriends at a waterfront cottage. My husband likes to imagine the program looks something like this:

morning:lingerie fashion parade
afternoon:prancing, cavorting, frolicking

In fact, it looks more like this:

morning: sleeping
afternoon: carb loading
evening: E! tv marathon (suggested attire: sweats; b.y.o. Cheetos)

Photos on flickr (sorry, no ticklefights).

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

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Gone, Baby, Gone

There was a time when all that it took for me to drop five pounds was to think about it. Going to a party on the weekend? Swimsuit season coming up? Getting married in a half a yard of charmeuse and no panties ( a story I am saving for our tenth anniversary, this fall)? No problem. I would just decide to be thin, and electrical signals would run from my brain to my fat cells and zap them.

Then I went and had three children, and sometime while my back was turned to change one of 6,570 diapers, my metabolism went out for cigarettes and never came back.

I mentioned last month that I was going on my annual spring diet, in anticipation of swimsuit season. I also mentioned that I hate to bring up dieting, because a) is there anything more boring, and b) I don't want to insult people who have serious weight/food issues with my whining about five or ten pounds. No matter how much I insist I have more energy when I don't eat sugar, or affirm that I needed to eat more raw vegetables anyway, you and I both know the distinction between a size 4 and a size 6 is one of vanity, not health. (What if I point out that five extra pounds have nowhere to hide on a short-waisted, 5'4" frame? Crying me a river yet?)

I did the two-week, no-sugar, no-starch, no-joy, "purgation" phase of Dr. Arthur Agaston's South Beach diet, and quickly shed about half of the part of myself I was wanting to ditch. But then I hit a wall. And now I am leaning up against it defiantly, with a chocolate bar tucked under my rolled up t-shirt sleeve and a soft breadstick dangling from my lip. Bring it, Agaston.

It has dawned on me that watching what I eat is no longer something I only have to do in between having babies. It has been nine years since my first pregnancy began. My youngest and last child just turned three. I thought I had gotten over this, but guess there is residual part of me that still believes things will soon return to "normal," including my body. That indefatigable spirit watched me light the third candle on the baby's birthday cake a couple of weeks ago, turned around and said, "Whew. Okay, now where was I?", expecting to just pick up where she left off at 29. Like a coma patient who wakes up and learns her true love didn't wait around.

It isn't just the old metabolism that's gone MIA, either. It ran off with my sleep cycle, my hormones, and my sex drive, and before they all split, they stuffed their pockets with collagen and hair pigment.

If you see them, call me. I am offering a sizable reward for information leading to their capture and return:


In the meantime, I am contemplating my options. For a dire moment it was looking like I might have to pick up the pace on the elliptical trainer, which would make it hard to read magazines and talk on the phone, but then Lesley ran this item at Fashiontribes, which hails the revival of old-timey bathing suits (I want the kelly green one). Some of them have more coverage than my wedding dress did. And why tone your belly only to cover it with ruching? In fact, some of us can just wear our regular one-pieces and say that the ripples are ruching.

It's a positive trend, and I hope it's the beginning of a long one. Perhaps by the time I am forty, they will have rediscovered the allure of the Edwardian "bathing costume". Then I could dispense with sunscreen and waxing, as well as dieting. I'll want the one with really deep pockets for soft breadsticks and magazines.


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Sunday, May 20, 2007

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Because if it were all bliss, what would I write about?

In between amazing good news, roses, champagne and the usual idylls of spring, we spent the weekend being yarfed on by the baby (whom I undoubtedly will be calling "the baby" well into his fifties). All of which lead to this exchange in front of the washing machine this morning:
"I'm going to apply The Secret to my wish not to be vomited on."

"Okay, but leave the word 'vomit' out of your intention. The law of attraction doesn't distinguish between 'want' and 'don't want.'You'll just get more vomit."

"I wish that undigested food would not land on me."

"Too many negatives. And you're supposed to phrase it like your wish is already happening."

"I am so happy and grateful that food is fully digested by the people around me who ate it."


It will be later in the summer before I can share with you the part of my wish that is already happening. But after that, they can go ahead and sign me up for the mall tour of The Secret. Patrick, too, if it stops the vomit.

When he wasn't actually upchucking, the baby felt okay. But you can tell he is sick by the state of his hair. All the ringlets have frizzed out. Patrick said he looks like Nick Nolte's mugshot.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

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Secrets and Lies

I learned years ago that if I was going to dismiss out of hand every idea I found hard to swallow, my uptake of new information was going to be severely limited, and I would turn into the ideological equivalent of an orthorexic.

My first experience with consciously supressing my mental gag reflex was with Artist's Way. I had taken a stab at reading the book on my own and tried to absorb its principles in theory. In other words, talk the talk without walking the walk. Of course, I got nowhere with it, but instead of tossing it aside like I'd done with a hundred books before, something (desperation) pushed me to take another stab at this one. I recruited a handful of friends and we committed to meeting weekly and doing—not just talking about—the exercises. Even though some of them made me roll my eyes and retch, I decided to look at it as an experiment in suspending disbelief, a kind of yoga. Some of it was going to be a real stretch for me. But it wouldn't kill me.

It didn't kill me. It changed my life.

Since then, I have tried to keep my mind and spirit limber. I try to balance critical thinking with leaps of faith. I shoot for a belief system that is baked halfway between calcified and jell-o. And I have learned that ideas of real wisdom and value can come in the most annoying packages, from the mouths and hands of the most broken people, in spite of the most cynical of intentions. Real wisdom has a nonstick coating. It shines through all the shit. just look at the Bible. Talk about some screwed up people. Talk about some spin. But there are diamonds in there that the muck of ages can't obscure.

What all of this is leading up to is the disclosure that I watched The Secret yesterday, and although it made me roll my eyes and retch so much that I had to take an eight-hour intermission halfway through, there is some good stuff in it. Stuff I needed to hear and be reminded of, and that you could probably use too. But I suggest you put on rubber boots and gloves before you go wading into it.

The presentation is a low-budget fusion of The Da Vinci Code and What the Bleep Do We Know!? (several of the Bleep "scientists" are on board for the Secret as well). Like both those productions, it plays fast and loose with science and history to sell its point. But just as Davinci did with the supresssion of the feminine aspect of Christianity, and Bleep did with the power of mind over matter, it nonetheless raises worthwhile questions and points to underlying truths. None of which are really new.

Or even much of a secret. In a nutshell, The Secret is simply a rehash of the power of positive thinking. In this incarnation, it is called the law of attraction. Whatever you call it, the central idea is as old as time. I am currently reading The Sermon on the Mount: The Key to Success in Life by Emmet Fox, an advocate for "scientific prayer" (not Scientology). It was the must-read of 1934. The language is archaic, and it has an overtly Christian bias (although Fox's interpretations of Christianity would make most churches extremely nervous), but it is basically the same message as The Secret: what is going on outside of you is determined by what is going on inside. Thoughts manifest reality.

But Emmet Fox places this assertion in a higher context than The Secret does. The Secret spends so much time talking about attracting money that I kept expecting the infommerical guy in the question mark suit to pop up among all the other talking heads. Fox, on the other hand, doesn't assume that the highest good you or I can concieve of is a sports car. The Secret's emphasis on material gratification seems stunted and immature. Like the sort of thing you might expect from an unimaginative child who has been granted three wishes. In fact, it veers dangerously over the line in places into magical thinking, where people bring everything onto themselves by virtue of their thoughts. This really is dangerous, and irresponsible. I got angry (oops) at one point where they talk about how hazardous it is to "feel bad", and that, at all costs, you must strive at all times to "feel good". Because thoughts and feelings aren't something you can, or should, supress. Even, and maybe especially, the icky ones. We do have a choice as to whether we let negative thoughts and feelings move on, or whether we nurse them at our bosom. But to listen to The Secret, you need to do whatever it takes to filter out "negative vibrations". You know, maybe if you have the will and the single-mindedness to do that, you do win the big house and the fancy car. But what have you shut out of your experience in the process? Are we really here for the cash reward? Is the universe really, as the film says, "our catalog?" How disappointing if so. It sounds like the "sell seeds for prizes" ad in the back of a comic book. I thought it would be something more.

The Secret's chief flaw is in its overarching fervor. Like people tend to do with spiritual truth, they get evangelical, dogmatic and overly-simplistic in the effort to carry the message forward. I believe that thoughts do influence matter. Powerfully. And I need to be reminded to notice where my thoughts and feelings are taking me; where my attention is. The truth that "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" is an equation. Invert it and it remains true. Where your heart is, there is your treasure. But I don't believe that the law of attraction is the only force at work in the universe. I believe there is a unifying law that binds them all, and I for one, am glad, because I don't always know or want what is best in the big picture. If my will were left completely in charge of my destiny...well, talk about a monkey with a revolver.

Also, we all know people of fantastic mental disposition on whom perfectly horrific things have befallen. I do not believe that the fault was in their thinking. This bit of dogma reminds me of original sin doctrine. What does The Secret have to say about all the bright and hope-filled children in the world who suffer? Maybe it makes some people feel better to imagine that that sufficient mental discipline can spare you from suffering, but as my father used to say, "the mortality rate is still at 100 per cent". There are shades of gnosticism in it as well, as if a physical body that is vulnerable to age, hunger, disease and accident is somehow profane and beneath our true nature.

In spite of its flawed claims, and its wild-eyed peddlers—some of whom sound like they could just as easily be hawking kitchen applicances or timeshares at the flea market— I think The Secret has merit. It has very solid things to say about the problems of a scarcity mindset and about taking responsibiity for yourself in relationships. I incorporated some of its attraction principles into my day yesterday morning, and had three totally unexpected developments in the areas of my focus. Small, but enough to start the dough leavening. One more ingredient to add to the mix.

Or it could be the ja-ja weed. Thanks, Tom, for putting me onto this SNL sketch. Perfect.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

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She hangs chairs on the wall

So, anyway, I just came back from lunch with Mary Steenburgen. Well, near Mary Steenburgen. Okay, I walked past Mary Steenburgen in the cafe, on my way to the deck. I just opened the front door to our neighborhood coffee shop and there was Mary Steenburgen.

Mary Steenburgen!, I thought. Act natural!

I played it cool, but I'm pretty sure she was checking me out. I felt the heat of her hot celebrity gaze burning a hole in my back.

I couldn't wait to tell Patrick when I got home. Goin' South is one of our top five favorite movies, and we quote the Jack Nicholson and Mary Steenburgen lines to each other all the time. Well, Patrick quotes Jack's lines and I purse my lips and roll my eyes. Which is what Mary's character mostly does in the film anyway.

"Did you talk to her?" he asked.


"Did you get an autograph?"


"A picture?"

"Nope!" (Although I had my camera in my purse).

"Why not?"

"She was eating lunch."

Patrick shrugged in agreement. I'm not much of a celebrity hound. For starters, the famous people I do tend to meet are only famous among graduate students of creative writing programs. The average cocktail party guest is not exactly bowled over by my story about the time I found myself all alone with Gary Snyder in a bedroom at a house party, and instead of throwing him down on the furcoat-covered bed, sitting naked on his chest and reading him my poems like Anne Sexton would have done, I was a tongue-tied stammering idiot who could barely give him clear directions to the bathroom. Dinner hosts don't beg me to tell about the time Georgia and I lay in wait all weekend for Billy Collins at his hotel, only to finally track him down Sunday morning and spend breakfast kicking each other's ankles under the table and cocking our heads and hissing. I'm sure if he noticed us at all, he assumed we had some sort of neuro-muscular disorder.

I did almost bump into Jeff Bridges once. Which would have been cool, because The Fisher King is also in that top five movie list. I was browsing through a vintage clothing rack and a woman was taking photographs of a couple of other shoppers. I was annoyed.

"You're not taking my picture, are you"? I asked coldly, assuming the dress shop was putting together some sort of promotional flyer and trying to get away with free talent. Hah! Not without a signed waiver!

The photographer looked at me like I was a hatrack that had just tipped over. "Uh. No."

When I got to the cash register, the check out girl gushed, "I can't believe they were in here."


"You didn't see? Jeff Bridges and his girlfriend. His personal assistant, too."


It didn't really matter, because had I seen and recognized them, what would I do or say? It must be so strange to be famous, to be on the receiving end of that sense of urgency people feel when they run into you. To meet people all the time whom you know nothing about, yet they feel connected to you, perhaps significantly. You might have been part of their first date, the naming of their child, their Mom's funeral, but the current doesn't flow both ways. The imbalance of it must be perpetually unsettling. I would imagine it is a kind of constant energy drain.

Or not. Mary Steenburgen didn't look drained in the slightest. She looked damn hot. For the record, she is far sexier and younger looking in person than I have ever seen her on film. True, "hot and sexy", like "famous", often means something different to me than it does to most other people (just last night I was thinking that John Turturro is hot and sexy). But I think if you were to run down to the coffee shop right now and catch her, you'd agree with me that girlfriend is fine.

But for God's sake, act natural.


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Sunday, May 13, 2007

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Queen of the World

Happy Mother's Day, especially to my own sweet mumma. I wish I could be there to make her my special burnt toast and tap-water tea. For old time's sake.

To all the other Moms I decree a day of peace, in mind, body and soul. Surrender the agenda. Take the path of least resistance. Experiment with being, not doing. See if the world still goes around.

To all the Dads, I invest you as honourary mothers for today. Surrender the agenda. Block off the path of least resistance. Go the distance. Abandon hope of reading the Sunday paper, catching up on work, hearing the score. Answer tenderly at the first cry, serve vegetables with lunch, take the kids all by yourself somewhere you've never gone with them before. It might be a corner of your own backyard. Don't expect to be able to keep this up for very long. But go ahead and feel guilty that you can't.

To every mother's child, I command (if you don't know it and love it already) you to go read the poem The Lanyard by Billy Collins. And remind me to tell you sometime about the weekend my girlfriend and I spent stalking him.

Have a wonderful Mother's Day for Peace.


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Saturday, May 12, 2007

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Everybody Happy

Time really is relative. Why are some weekends frenzied and stressed, and others—like this one— are delicious? Nothing's substantially different in the details. The domestic and social commitments break down about the same. There are the same resources to work with. The same ratio of adults:children, muscle:chores, money:wants/needs, and hours:ground to cover.

But it doesn't come out the same everytime. There's a mysterious variable that enters, or disappears from, the equation and makes all the difference, and I've yet to name it, much less learn to control it.

The baby took a late afternoon nap that let me settle long enough to write a poem I've been meaning to get to for a while. The big boys have been dressing up in costumes, painting pictures and are now playing their new Haba Dancing Eggs game outside in the the twilight. An hour or so ago, the three of us walked slowly around the neighbourhood, me with my mug of tea, as they called out the names of things. "That's a Pine! That's an Oak! And that's a Hedge!" They've learned well. I teach them the words for living things as mothers used to teach the Bible. I point as we walk. "Yucca. Magnolia. Periwinkle. Jasmine." Chapter, line and verse.

Last night I went solo to an art opening where I grazed on sculpture, music and hors d'ouvres and feasted on some really satisfying conversation. This morning, Patrick made a beautiful website for a friend of ours and took out the trash without being asked. The littlest Who came with me to run errands and got a lollipop at the same drive up window where I got a very nice bottle of Zinfandel Cellar No. 8 on sale for a song. Eight-year-old boy got to go to a birthday party, and six-year-old got to wear his flight suit to the grocery store. Heartworn Highways came in the mail after being in my Netflix queue for a year. And, to stray just a little beyond this wonderful present moment, I have been given every reason to expect that I will wake up to coffee brewing and breakfast in bed.

When Mama is happy...


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Thursday, May 10, 2007

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Just in

This is the kind of breaking news the world is missing out on by my conscientious objection to Twitter: I just came back from the library! My requests were in! (Yes, that is the DVD of The Secret. I know, I know.)

This Cheese Stands Alone

I am so far holding out on the Twitter front. It's not easy. All the cool kids are doing it. People I like and follow around bleatingly.

But in this, I just can't. Look, if things get to point where I am compelled to update you hourly on my comings and goings and you are compelled to keep track of them, well, we probably both need to start seeing other people. Like licensed therapists.

Besides, I like to think I have cornered the market for people who can follow blog posts that exceed 1,000 words. All five of you.

That's my stance today, anyhow. Considering that I recently did That Which I Said I Would Never Do, and consented to (alright, suggested) putting a television set in our bedroom, I'm not sure I can claim to be principled on any front.

And Now, Some Woo-Woo

So anyway, when I am not giving my husband a lapdance to Kellis at backyard Cinco de Mayo parties, or watching tv IN BED, I have been going around giving talks about dream interpretation as a spiritual practice. This is part of my life I have hitherto kept on the down-low around here, but Jungian-oriented dreamwork has been a big part of my life for nearly six years. It is part of my paid work, and I am enrolled in a certification program to lead dream groups, something I have been doing off and on for a while anyway.

I took a break from teaching about dreams for a little while, because as with anything spiritual, there's a time to talk about it and a time to shut up about it, but I guess my quiet time is up, because I am suddenly getting invitations to teach again. It's good, because it forces me to work with my own dreams in a more focussed and disciplined way than I have been doing. It's putting me in touch with some internal conflicts that are lately heating up. A dream of a few nights ago epitomizes this:
A friend of mine who I think of as a very protective and devoted mother calls me up to say I can't be around her child anymore unless I cut off my hair. I am very upset, as the child and mother are very dear to me, but I don't understand why I should have to cut my hair.

I go into a diner, where I am seated across from a funky artist woman. She is with a male partner. I tell her about the ultimatum and she gives me a look like, "that's bullshit" and tells me I don't need to cut my hair. I like her energy. She seems carefree and confident.

That, in a nutshell, reflects the war within. The creative part of me that wants to let her hair down, and the mothering part of me that worries it's not good for the children. Annette Bening gave an interview with Teri Gross a few years ago where she articulated this divide beautifully: the mother needs things to be safe and stable; the artist needs risk and change. My dreams show that this is never going to be a winner-take-all proposition— both aspects are too vital and too strong. It's more like an ongoing set of negotiations, at times more intense than others. I'm just glad both sides are talking.

Other dreams are hinting at conflict about where my creative focus is. This blog is fun, and freeing, but it is getting the biggest piece of the pie right now, and I have nagging doubts about how it fits into the whole picture. It's not clear yet to me whether the dreams are saying, go with it for now and don't overthink it, or if I'm being nudged toward something less instantly gratifying. More will be revealed.

If you haven't fallen asleep, and are actually interested in learning about working with your own dreams, from either a spiritual or a psychological angle, here are some books and websites I recommend as starting points:

In the words of my mentor, Dr. Lucy Van Pelt, Thank you. That will be five cents.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

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Great Big Vats of Purple Kool-Aid

Some days, I can almost convince myself that this medium is more than just a re-enactment of teenage diary scribblings and yearbook autographs. Sometimes, I think there is a place for adults on the internet that doesn't involve live webcams. Yea, I have dared to dream that this technology can support deep thoughts and complete sentences.

And now, this.



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The Hoard

The mother of all estate sales took place last week. Everyone's been talking about it. Everybody's been there. I didn't make it until yesterday afternoon, the final day, but some of my friends were queued up for the early bird showing last week. One, a vintage clothing afficiando, told me that when they opened the doors, she almost started to hyperventilate. By all accounts it was a treasure trove. If the sale were a movie, the tag line would be, "and they never got rid of anything."

After seeing some of the gorgeous clothing on display at the Cinco de Mayo party and hearing all the breathless accounts, I decided that a lack of spending money was no excuse. It was a cultural event, not to be missed. I promised myself a ceiling of twenty bucks and one hour, and went in.

It was staggering. There must have been twenty rooms in the house, and every one was brimful of stuff. There must have been fifty closets. Also full of stuff. People were coming and going like ants, up and down the street, arms and cars full of stuff.

And this was after being picked over for four days.

Most of it was good stuff. There was room after room of shoes and dresses, that had kept one woman at the height of fashion for forty years or more. She must have "kept herself up", as they say. The tag sizes never got higher than a 10. In the early sixties, she must have been a sparrow. I feel in love with an orange and pink sheath, but couldn't make the zipper meet around my ribcage. There were dozens of hats, hundreds of scarves.

The hallway closets were stuffed with linens, many still in plastic wrap from twenty or thirty years ago. It was impossible not to be struck by how many of the items had apparently gone unused. The things that had been used were mostly in very good condition. Clearly, these were people who took care of their things, which is something I notice, because I don't take very good care of my own things. There is a year-old pile of dry-clean only clothing on the corner of my dressing room floor right now. I guess I am hoping it will pull itself together and walk itself to the cleaners.

There were dishes for every conceivable configuration of food and diners. If they wanted to serve french onion soup at a casual luncheon, there was a set of earthenware dishes for that. If they wanted to serve sorbet in between courses at a formal dinner for twelve, there were several sets of stemware to choose from for that. If they wanted to crush ice, swizzle a tallboy, sip an espresso, eat salmon, nosh on canapes, toss a salad, butter some toast, there were specialized implements for each course, in an array of materials and patterns.

For some reason, it was the wrapping paper room that made the deepest impression on me. It was an entire room full of gift wrap and trim. Most of it, but not all, was Christmas-themed. There was some seasonal decor as well. But box after box, roll after roll, of wrapping paper. I stood in that room a long time. I couldn't fathom a private individual having to do that much gift wrapping. Macy's probably doesn't keep that wide a selection or large a stock in its gift-wrapping department. Like so many of the other items in the house, much of the paper had gone from the store into storage without ever seeing active duty. But it was neatly stacked and organized by theme and season. Bows in one box, paper in another, collapsible gift boxes of every imaginable size, some already assembled and the lids carefully wrapped by hand, ready to go.

What struck me was how much energy had to be locked up in that room. Granted, I am no whiz at domestic management, but I figure that even with hired help and plenty of space, it must have taken an enormous amount of time, money and effort to acquire, store, maintain and use that much inventory. I realized, as I lifted the lid off an empty box, prettily and meticulously wrapped in striped paper from the sixties, that I was looking at someone's life's work.

Maybe it was a good life. Maybe keeping a beautiful home, and dressing well, and giving lots of presents brought pleasure and fulfillment to this woman. Maybe people were blessed by her style and graciousness. Quite possibly those were her gifts.

Or maybe it diverted and diffused a creative urge that must have been huge.

I know something about using stuff to create a diversion. My stuff isn't as nice, and it sure isn't put away neatly. But that pile of clothes on the floor, those bags of things that can never get closer to the goodwill than the top of the stairs, the dishes I don't feel like putting away, and the piles of unread books on my bedside table, all serve as excellent excuses as to why I can't get down to what is really important. Not with stuff to be cleaned or moved or avoided or moaned over. Like spoiled needy children, the stuff demands to come first and its demands are endless. The past two Sundays in a row I have let myself become exhausted and angry, attending to stuff. Is the stuff satisfied? Does the stuff say, that's enough, now go write a poem, take a walk? No! It has to be dusted and wiped and sorted and put away all over again the next day!

I don't want stuff to be my life's work.

I brought home a couple of sheets of vintage wrapping paper, sealed in cellophane, to remind me of that. I also bought two darling little owls--one brass, one painted wood--to remind me that I want the objects that I do keep and acquire to meet at least one of three criteria: usefulness, beauty, or meaning. There are too many things in my house that don't make me happy when I look at them, and those little owls made my heart give a little hoot at first sight. I also got a couple of bedspreads that will nicely cover some of our ratty second-hand armchairs. I put the owls on my shelf and the bedspreads in the wash, and then I carrried those bags and boxes from the top of the stairs to my van and dropped them at the thrift store this morning.

For ten dollars, I think I got quite a lot.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

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Fiesta Devolution:
Cinco de Mayo Party

It started genteelly enough.


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Friday, May 04, 2007

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Photo essay by a 3-year old boob man, and other Oedipal moments

And he's been weaned a whole year. (No, that is not me unbuttoning. That is me taking evasive measures. And the answer to your other question is foundation undergarments. Our grandmothers knew how to deal with life's wear and tear.)

Funnier than that, is this photo and caption from new mama Maggie Mason. Not strictly factual as she confesses in her flickr set, but no less true.

I nursed all three of my children for a running total of something like six years. When I weaned the youngest this time last year, I thought that I at least ought to get a gold pen.

The first two got booted off the milk train each time I got pregnant. I didn't know where I was going to find the moral authority to cut off the third, but Patrick intervened and sent me away for a weekend with the girls last spring, and ran the breastfeeding equivalent of a methadone clinic. The kid kicked much easier than expected, but it just goes to show that it was no longer about the milk, because he remains as intensely obsessed with my bosoms as the day he was born. He grabs them any chance he gets. When I am getting dressed, he stares at them. He talks to them.

"Hi, nursies!" he'll chirp brightly as I get out of the shower, holding out both hands eagerly as I reach for a towel.

Apart from those early postpartum days of pornstar boobs (offset as they are by the postpartum abs), I am not particularly gifted, chestwise. So I've never really had the experience of guys not looking me in the eyes during a conversation. Except with my guys. The forty-two year old and the three year old are unanimous that my breasts are at the horizon line, if not the center of the known universe, whereas my eldest and middle son are definitely over it. At eight, I notice my firstborn has begun to avert his eyes when he runs into my dressing room and finds me dressing. As a matter of fact, he looks a little grossed-out. The kindergartener doesn't notice one way or the other, and thinks nothing of having a conversation with me while I am bathing or getting dressed.

I guess he doesn't remember the last bath we took together, when he was two years old and I was hugely pregnant with his brother. He was sitting in front of me, and backed up against my reclining form into something that didn't feel like a knee.

He turned around, aghast, finger pointing. "What's THAT?"

"Um. That's Mommy's vagina," I said, trying to sound matter-of-fact.

His lip curled up and his voice frosted over.

"I think you need to get out of the bath," he said, with thin civility.

So I did.

Rebecca has a nice piece on Girls Gone Child today. If you are bored silly with Mommy Wars, one-downsmomship, and anybody telling you you're doing it wrong, you'll want to read it.


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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

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Quid ni?

You know how some things happen to you in life, and you realize that you kind of knew all along it would unfold that way? Like when I met Patrick, and I suddenly remembered being a little girl who stared into the flames of candles and saw a man with that same long yellow hair. Some stops along the road are well signed, even if you don't always look up to read them.

Others just aren't on the map.

The South sure wasn't on mine. This is my tenth spring here, and it still feels like I am dreaming sometimes. The surrealism is heightened in springtime, when the trees are snowing blossoms in steady drifts and I feel like I am walking across the opening credits of a Technicolor film. Sure, it's there at other times of the year, like when my toddler, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, stretches out his arms and says, "Mama, HAY-ULP-MUH-EE." But it is this time of year when the distance I've travelled is most pronounced.

I'm about to get in a huge amount of trouble with my compatriots. Watch the comments section either explode, or go icily silent.

Newfoundland is cold.

No, wait, that's not the whole truth.

Much of it is wet also.

As someone from St. John's recently observed to me, people there reminisce about the good weather days the way people in other places remember the bad ones. They are the exception, not the rule.

I didn't know what spring was until I moved here. I didn't know that in some places people had easter eggs hunts outside, in the green grass. (I also didn't know that other kids weren't leaving a glass of rum for Santa on Christmas Eve, but that's a story for another day). I didn't know that the concept of four distinct seasons of equal duration wasn't just a fairy tale you read about in books.

I can hear it all now. "It's not that cold." "It hardly ever snows in St. John's." "Corner Brook summers are hot." "We do too have a spring!"

Let me rush in to avow that my island home is an extraordinarily beautiful place. Like no other. But we are an obstinate race, as islanders often are. I think some of this has to be chalked up to natural selection. You know the people who threw their lot in with the place had to have worn out their welcome back home.

Our inheirited rebellious streak is compounded by an acquired defensiveness, borne of perpetually being picked on by the big kid next door. Canada has a nasty tendency to pinch and poke us, and call us names. And although we understand that they themselves have self-esteem issues arising from being more or less ignored by the even bigger kid down the block, it still hurts our feelings and causes us to make rude gestures behind their back.

What all this adds up to is that we are a little on the sensitive side. It is difficult, if not actually illegal, for a Newfoundlander to admit to an outsider that there is any downside at all to living on a remote outcropping of rock in the middle of the North Atlantic.

When I was in Ireland recently, many of my fellow Newfoundlanders expressed wonder that I would live away from the island for so long. There was a small, but earnest lobby effort to coax me out of exile, cunningly directed at my husband. And you know, I do pine for certain aspects of home. The ocean. The people. My family. The culture. The fish and chips.

Here, my friends and countrymen, is the deal-breaker:

These are photos taken last weekend of my sister, niece and nephew on what my mother calls "a beautiful spring day" in the Bay of Islands, Newfoundland:

And here we have my three-year-old, playing in the neighbourhood creek, on an actual spring day two days ago:

To lend balance to this comparison, in another month's time, the snow will be gone from all but the mountains across the bay from my mother's place, and here the creek bed will be bone dry. Here, it will be so hot and so humid that the walk from the front door to the driveway will be exhausting. When it is cold, you can always put on more clothes, but when it is hot, you can only get so naked. I have come to regard Arkansas summers the same way I did Newfoundland winters: as something to endure.

And as lovely and lush as it is here, there are few places on earth that can touch the beauty of the island on those fleeting summer days. It truly takes one's breath away. On those days, all else is forgotten.

I thought Patrick summed it up beautifully in his live narration of our vacation video from a few years back. We were pulling out of the ferry terminal on the southeast tip of the island. There is silence as the camera pans over the barren granite cliffs that thrust out of the sea like battlements.

" Look at that," you hear Patrick say, in a voice that is almost pained, forgetting for a moment that his comments are being captured for posterity, and that family vaction videos are generally G-rated. "Why would anyone live here, except that it's so... fucking beautiful."

I think it would make a great national motto. Anybody know the latin for "fucking?"

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