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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

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

Belonging Here, and There

I mentioned at the beginning of the year that I was resolved to put more literary fibre in my diet. Part of this involves reading books, of course. I'm currently working my way through Miranda July's short fiction collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You. It's taking me a while, because her writing is so astonishing and other-worldly, I'm not able to take in more than one story in a sitting. At the end of each one, I have to turn out my bedside lamp and curl into its naked backside, murmuring thanks.

During the day I've discovered I can put driving time to good purpose with podcasts, downloaded to my little ipod shuffle. I've discovered Garrison Keillor's daily Writer's Almanac, the New Yorker fiction series, and every Fresh Air broadcast I've ever missed.

The other day in the carpool line, I heard Terry Gross's 1995 interview with the then-86 year-old writer William Maxwell, who also was fiction editor with the New Yorker for many years. Listening to the interview requires real concentration because he spoke very slowly and softly, with slight impediment. But I found his reflections on a long life and old age to be so enthralling, so inviting, it was no trouble at all.

Maxwell was born in the midwest, in 1908 (the same year as one of my own late grandparents, I am pretty sure). It was the world of the horse and buggy. His mother died during the flu epidemic of 1918. He lived through the whole psychotic episode that was the 20th century, and outlived many of his family members and friends, some of whom were literary giants.

A Jungian friend of mine says that as a person gets old, they begin to transcend linear time. They come to belong to the ages. I'm not sure I knew what that meant when I heard her say it in a lecture, but listening to Maxwell speak, I knew it was true, or at least, true for him. His perspective seemed to come from a place apart from the rushing current of life. He could look both up, and down, river.
I liked the world I came into as a child...It was a beautiful world. I loved the sound of the horses going past the house. It was unhurried. It left time for brooding and thought. It left time for being nice to other people. For making presents instead of buying them. It left time for telling stories.

Maxwell spoke with particular eloquence about how interior life becomes more vivid as exterior activity slows down, saying he could picture his mother more clearly in his old age, that many long-lost memories were being returned to him, to his delight and surprise.
I love so many things about getting old...the wonderful opening up of like having a marvelous novel...I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

I've always expected and hoped that I will live to a great old age. As long as body and mind stay reasonably sound, I figure it has to beat the alternative. But listening to Maxwell affirmed to me that not only is old age not a condition to dread, it could be something to look forward to.

The interview was rebroadcast on January 25, 2008, and you can hear it here, with or without an itunes player.


this post lives all by itself here

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

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

Malkovich, with a Twist of Farley

Remember that scene in Being John Malkovich, where John Malkovich is inside John Malkovich's head, and everyone he encounters is John Malkovich, and all anyone can say is, "Malkovich!"?

Remember that?

Some mornings, contemplating a new post for the blog feels just like that.

It's not so awesome.


this post lives all by itself here

Monday, January 28, 2008

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

While You're Here...

A personal creed of mine is to whom much is given, much is also expected. Your readership is a gift, and I'd like to pay a portion of it forward by drawing your attention to a worthy cause or message from time to time. It's always original content over outbound links here at Notes, but as long as I'm running commercial advertising over on the right, I may as well use my powers for good over on (where else?) the left.

The charter cause for the "While You're Here..." spot is Women For Women, an aid agency that some friends of mine in Little Rock are raising money for, as a way to reach out to rape victims in the Congo. When the basket came around last month, I didn't have more than a few dollars to throw in, but I emailed the agency and told them I had a few online friends who might also have a buck or two. And that those friends might even have a few friends.

So check it out, toss in what you can, and feel free to grab the badge and code for your own platform. Make it your internet good deed of the day, and then feel free to spend the rest of it being naughty.

Postscript: Okay, almost ALL of you are clicking out on "Naughty," and almost none of you on "Donate". Guess I know how to lure you to good deeds in the future...;-)


this post lives all by itself here

Thursday, January 24, 2008

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

By the way...

(This is not a post. This is a p.s.a. An actual post follows right below it, which I sweated out over two days, and then promptly slapped this press clipping right over it.)

Yours truly, along with Kristen Chase of Motherhood Uncensored, was the subject of a very kind and well-written feature on "Mommy Blogs" in yesterday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Kristen's recent move to the area prompted the story, as she is the prolific author/bosslady of several highly trafficked blogs, that run the gamut from her personal weblog, to shopping and sex advice blogs. Our mutual pal Isabel introduced us virtually, and I'm hoping to take her out and show her a good time in person very soon. Kristen's and my blogs could probably not be farther apart stylistically and thematically, which I love, not just because it made for a better story, but because it says a lot about camaderie and diversity among female bloggers. We come in many delicious flavors.

Here is a short excerpt of the whole, which was written by features writer Kyle Brazzle:
To draw maximum pleasure from Notes to Self, readers must be hip to Pittman’s casual references to Depeche Mode, Barbie as a latter-day Venus of Willendorf (“stylized, exaggerated and unable to stand,” she writes), the tragic Edies of Grey Gardens and marriage pronounced as “ mawwiage,” in the style of a Princess Bride speech impediment. Pittman’s sensibility casts her as a more somber version of the pop-culture-steeped cool-mom character from the defunct WB/CW television series Gilmore Girls.

This pleased me greatly, because it makes me sound much hipper than I feel. Patrick suggests that when I enter a public area from now on, I should pause at the threshold with feet and arms akimbo, fingers held up in Vs, and announce my presence with, "SUPERSTAH!"

I thought that might get rather tedious for the supermarket staff after my third daily trip there.

Regrettably, and archaically, you would have to pay 1.95 USD to read the entire feature online. Which I would not expect you to do unless you were a blood relative.

None the less, I'll go ahead and post the link to the archived story for the truly devoted

and the link to the photo gallery, where there is an especially lovely snap of my youngest son being read to.

or you can just email me at kyranp(at)yahoo(dot)com and I will describe the whole thing thoroughly to you.


this post lives all by itself here

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

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

Light from Darkness

Last night I went to a community food drive/get together at the neighbourhood oyster bar, initiated by these guys. It was a great idea. My kids loved it. Next time, I vote we move it to an outdoor site, preferably bounded by steep mountain slopes on three sides and a pack of border collies on the fourth. Then I could save my voice and finish my beer.

This oyster bar is home to the world's greatest jukebox. Or "juicebox," as my seven year old kept calling it, as he shook me down for more quarters. Fortunately I had a coin-purse full, and was able to fill the dozen or so little flashing hands that appeared as soon as word got out there was money for juiceboxes.

I've reminisced here before about my own jukebox memories:
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.

My boys belong to another century, but they were just as mesmerized. As our friend Courtney flipped through the catalogue with them, patiently reading each band name and track title, they pressed their earnest faces against the backlit display. Pilgrims at the neon altar of choice.

That's the appeal, isn't it? Deciding what you want, and getting exactly that. There's nothing random about it. The whole thing, from the swagger across the linoleum to the Wurlitzer, to the careful selection of numbers and letters is an exercise of deliberation. A triumph of will.

Watching my boys' faces in the green glow reminded me a little of penny candles, too. When I was a child, many Catholic churches had racks of votive candles in the back, or off to the side. For a penny, you could light a candle and say a prayer—a petition, the type of prayer where you are asking for something. Or at least that's how I understood it. Another kind of jukebox, but with an outcome that is much less certain. I never saw anyone swagger up to a penny candle, that's for sure.

Recently my life has been less like the Wurlitzer and more like a dim corner where I'm fumbling around with a match. As I was picking up a few items for the food drive, I was mindful of how tough things were for us the last six months of 2007. Miraculously, we never once had any services cut off, not even the non-essential ones, and our cupboards never got completely bare, but there were days when it seemed certain that they soon would be, and we felt powerless to do anything about it.

We survived those months one last minute reprieve after another. Disaster would loom, and a check would appear, the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour. The first month or so of this, I was able to spin it positively. It was a lesson in gratitude. An exercise in faith. An opportunity to live more simply. But as the freelance drought wore on, and we fell further behind, the platitudes came less easily. I was frustrated, fatigued and flat-out pissed off at the uncanny zero-sum-ness of it all. Always just enough. Always just in time. I was sick of just. I got it. Lesson learned. Let's move on.

I am wired to read meaning into things. Every situation is a fortune cookie waiting to be cracked open, a pan of mud to be sieved. It is mostly an interesting, rich way to live, even when the scroll inside is cryptic, even when the nugget is a speck. But if I am honest with myself, at least part of it is about control, about feeling that if I can just figure out how life works, I can make it work for me.

People have been repackaging that idea since time out of mind. It's in the Old Testament. It's in the Secret. It's in my kids' Lego Star Wars xbox game. Meet the challenge, learn the lesson, pat yourself on the back and move up a level.

The problem with approaching life this way is that sooner or later things go badly wrong for you or for somebody in a way that defies causality. A situation where the platitudes roll off your tongue and thud to the floor. Some people give up on meaning at that point, decide that it's all random. Others cling to the idea that someone, somewhere must be to blame—themselves, others, God, fate, whatever.

I've swung back and forth between both, these past six months. And I've decided I have to live as if both are true. That there is an underlying order, a pattern, a plan to much of life—times when you can pick your letter and number, feed your quarter in the slot and the universe plays back just what you expected it would. But I have to allow for pockets of chaos and randomness, too. Dim and drafty corners where flames are lit and burn out, and you never know what it meant or if it mattered, if you got your penny's worth.

Maybe the plan is still being rolled out. Those of us who believe in a genesis moment tend to think of creation as a point in time, fait d'accomplit. But maybe it's a process, unfolding right in front of us.

Maybe it's okay not to know.

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Saturday, January 19, 2008

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

That Far Shore

I've been releasing objects, purging our home.

"Why keep things that we don't use, or that aren't beautiful?" I declared this morning to Patrick. "If it doesn't make us happy when we look at it, it has to go. Period."

What then, am I to do with this bit of silver that just crossed my palm; tarnished and forgotten, an artifact from another life? Two portraits hinged together, each so small, it is like looking backward through a telescope, backward through the years, across an ocean so much wider than the one these two sweethearts pose beside.


this post lives all by itself here

Friday, January 18, 2008

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

Derby Day

Few events on our family calendar carry dramatic tension like the annual cub scout Pinewood Derby. Untangling the Christmas lights may run a close second, but that's more of a solo performance by my husband, whereas the derby is an ensemble piece.

This year, we had a new cub in the pit crew. Double the fun.

Here is Team Pittman just moments before the race.

Can you feel the anticipation? No? Can you hear my yelling at the children to SETTLE DOWN OR I SWEAR TO GOD WE'RE GOING HOME RIGHT NOW? That's why. This picture was snapped moments after a mob of running, shrieking derby contestants and their belligerent hanger-on formed a stampede in which one of them got run over.

Yes, three boys can be a mob. Next year, I am bringing a Taser.

Anyway, we all recovered our composure and team spirit, and managed to have a good time.

If you've never attended a Pinewood Derby, you have no idea how elaborate and high-tech a set up it is. There was a special aluminum track with photosensors at the finish line. There were serious looking officials with laptop computers tabulating results. There were sound effects. There was bad eighties music.

I almost flashed my breasts.

We raced honorably. Both boys' cars had consistent second place finishes throughout most rounds. To my Beta Male progeny, this was thrilling. "We're number two! We're number two!" we chanted.

I texted updates to Patrick, who was home catching up on work after spending the previous day in the traditional eleventh hour pinewood car assembly line.

I hope they get a trophy, he texted back. I had hoped so, too, but in the final tally we came home with participant medals. My eldest, slightly alpha son, plotted all the way home how to have a car next year that could compete in all four categories for speed, creativity, patriotism and most unusual.

In the meantime, here's this year's fleet:


this post lives all by itself here

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

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

Take My Advice; I'm Not Using It

So the reason I didn't post today is because I spent all afternoon writing a pitch for a paying blogging gig on a style site.

That's not a smudge on your computer screen. That's flour on my yoga pants. The yoga pants I am wearing with an equally pristine and sophisticated grey hooded sweatshirt. The Polartech heartrate monitor wristwatch with the broken vinyl strap is what pulls it all together, I think.

Why wouldn't you pay me to tell you how to achieve this look?

I'll let you know if they bite.

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Friday, January 11, 2008

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

Sweep for Phobias:
Vintage Hints from Heloise

Jennifer of The Word Cellar very sweetly sk-rted this post. If you want to help spread the old school Heloise gospel, go give it a nod.

One of my best friends has an unnatural fixation with the syndicated column, "Hints from Heloise". She will sit with her morning coffee, the newspaper, and come up with bizarre imaginary reader submissions to Heloise. I tell her frequently that God gave her that gift for blogging, but she comes from a good family and will have nothing to do with it.

Sometimes we'll marvel together over actual reader suggestions. Many of them are genuinely helpful and innovative. God knows, I need all the domestic wisdom I can get. But there's always a few that, well, I can see where the contributor might have thought—before their second cup of coffee in the morning, or after their second martini in the evening—that it was something the world needed to know. But I can't believe the conviction stayed with them all the way through the effort of writing it down, addressing an envelope and finding a stamp.

The contemporary Heloise, the beautiful silver-haired lady most of us recognize from the daily paper and womens' magazines, is actually the daughter of the original Heloise, who began publishing household hints in 1959. I am sure she was thoroughly delightful. The times must have been insane, as evidenced by the following gems excerpted from her 1961 booklet "Heloise's Housekeeping Hints," which I snapped up as a gift for my girlfriend when I found it in a used bookstore last week. The annotations are mine, but the quoted material is re-published verbatim.

I swear.

From the preface:

"Take all instructions in your stride. If you have a phobia or allergy...naturally sweep under your bed everyday."

A phobia of what? Monsters under the bed? Or it's a general phobia and you need to hide there?

"Keep in mind...the second wife ALWAYS has a maid!"

Note to self: ALWAYS be the second wife.

"Remember the paper sack, girls, it's used for so many things."

Like screaming into.

"May I remind you once again: that house will be there long after you are dead and buried. Funny, how houses outlive us!"

Ha-ha! Ha. Excuse me while I go sweep under my bed in an act of obsessive-compulsive self-soothing. And then crawl under it.

from "Dig into Closets":

"Wait until you are mad! This is the best time to clean. You will say to yoursef, 'I have kept this dress for two years thinking that I would remake it, but I am mad today so why not throw it out?'"

Stuff your anger (in paper sacks) to save for cleaning day.

once dug out of closets..."you will have this thought in your mind: 'Now I am ready in case I get sick or have a party, I will be prepared so that strange people in my kitchen won't talk about me.'"

Sweep for phobias; dust for paranoia.

on Laundry:

"DID YOU KNOW that table cloths can be bought now in pure dacron?"

Untainted by natural fiber.

The book includes a whole section on Heloise's innovative, labor-saving alternative to ironing: hanging the laundry on a line, then blasting the wrinkles out with the garden hose and letting it drip dry. It's unclear to me how this is more efficient than ironing, but she later notes that "A steam iron is worth its weight in gold," so perhaps hosing is a solution for first wives who's husbands won't buy them one.

Here is Heloise's hint for what then to do with the hosed, dry laundry:

"Put a sheet on the floor in front of the TV! This is Saturday night and the entire family will be there. Leave the clothes there...Psychologically, all the clothes that they have used during the week will be in front of their noses. Whether they are aware of it or not...they will absorb it. They are proud of that stack of clean clothes."

If not, next Saturday night, put all the dirty clothes in front of the TV. And the dishes, too. Psychologically, this is bound to have an impact.

But if not,

"A child's little wagon is a wonderful aid if you have no one to help you."

from "Paint Your Kitchen:"

"This is best done when your husband is home. Why? If he won't help you at least he can see how hard you have worked!"

Passive-aggressive tactics are marvelous for producing anger to stuff for future closet cleaning sessions.

on "Cleaning the Bathroom:"

"...but to save money and energy and get the best shine possible use an old washcloth slightly saturated with kerosene...the kerosene odor leaves in a few minutes."

Best not to do this while smoking.

"Alcohol is cheap, it removes soap film and leaves no water spots. But best of all, it is usually kept in the bathroom cabinet."

The laundry hamper is also a good place to hide it.

from "Mending Made Easy:"

"THE HOUSES will be here long after we wives are dead. Why kill yourself over them? I can think of lots better ways to die!"

The house is against you. The house is trying to kill you. The walls are whispering, "get out...get out..."

"Have you ever noticed how rested you feel after dinner when the dishes are done? This is the time to do some of your hard, time consuming chores."

Why, no! I hadn't! But why waste precious daytime hours on the tough stuff?

"Now is the time, if you have a daughter, to teach her how to sew her own buttons on! She will love it. Why! Because daddy is there to see her show off."

Best to have her stand in front of the TV, on the middle of the sheet piled with the laundry and the dishes.

"Red Dot Method:"

This section is a discourse on the discovery that a dot of red fingernail polish ("Every household woman's standby") is useful as a visual cue for a multitude of applications, such as marking the 450 degree setting on your oven, or

"TV channels! Another sourse of disgust. Just touch a small dot of fingernail polish on your favorite channel!"

I think it would be more fun to marry this technique with Amy Sedaris' prediliction for affixing google eyes to household items. Unless digging out your closet didn't alleviate your paranoia.

"How to Have a Whiter Wash:"

"...add your bleach and you detergent to your hot water. If you have Pine Sol in the house, add some of that...Lysol is just as good."

Lighter fluid, anti-freeze...anything that has a skull and cross bones on the bottle. Just toss it all in. Then,

"Have another cup of coffee, little laundress, and let's get something done."

Because everything until now was just a warm-up.

"Care of Blue Jeans:"

"Anyone who has a child, boy or girl, probably has blue jeans to launder."

It was a primitive era, before the dawn of Sevens. On the up side, no Mom jeans.

There is a great deal more exposition on the garden hose method of ironing here. And this comforting aside:

"And don't feel bad about not ironing underwear. It is an accepted fact today that not one man in a hundred whose wife has children wears ironed underwear."

The second wife does it. With the steam iron he bought her. Tramp.

Heloise suggests that if you must, you can remove wrinkles from your husbands boxers with the garden hose set to a light sprinkle. For futher time saving, I suggest you do this while he is wearing them.

The section ends with this non-sequitur:

"A funny thought just struck me. I wonder if Napoleon's underwear was ever ironed? But I bet you one thing, if he were living in this modern age, his modern housewife would use this method!"

In the final section of the book, a miscellany of household hints, Heloise also absolves you from the sin of not making the bed perfectly:

"Besides, when a wife pulls down the covers at night, she usually gives the bottom sheet a 'whack and a brush.'"

You could give your husband the same, while you're at it.

Folding and rolling instructions for jeans: "When you get to the crotch, stop."

This doubled as early sixties birth control.

Before there was Woolite, there was this method of hand washing:

Use a toilet plunger to "wash mens socks and all sorts of hand washing in the kitchen sink!"

Do it in the toilet bowl! Let your flush box do the rinsing!

"Rubbing alchohol is the most wonderful thing invented since tranquilizers."

even more wonderful than...

"Dishwashers. These are fabulous gadgets."

Finally, here is a bonus, free pattern for

Heloise Sack Blouse:

"For cleaning house, make a Heloise Sack Blouse from an old bath towel. Fold towel in half, sew up sides, leave opening for arms, make opening for neck. Don't forget the pockets! Grand for housework. Needs no ironing. Cool in summer, doesn't show water spots, etc. Towels make good shorts, too."

Now, put on your bath towel outfit, pile all the hosed laundry onto a sheet on the living room floor, pour kerosene, rubbing alcohol, bleach, and lysol into the washing machine. Add your pure dacron table cloths, and run.


Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Thursday, January 10, 2008

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

Grain of Salt

I'm not sure I've ever posted a link and called it a day, but there's really nothing to add to this perfect set of field notes on the process of writing, and poetry writing, in particular. It's from the blog of an independent publishing house called Salt, and I was lead to it by way of the online edition of the Guardian.

It was written on my birthday. An apt horoscope.


this post lives all by itself here

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

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


I haven't seen Juno yet, but it tickles me how references to scriptwriter Diablo Cody in traditional media are being breathlessly preceded by the descriptor, "blogger/ex-stripper." As if it's sort of incredible that either one could turn out to be a person of intelligence and wit.

And as if they are virtually THE SAME THING.

The shoe is mine. Comes with the gig.

Hey, Leah had lunch with Cody this week. Leah couldn't be any more special in my eyes no matter who she passes the salt to, but Cody wins points with me just for smiling so warmly at someone so dear.

Labels: ,

this post lives all by itself here

Monday, January 07, 2008

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

A Cup of Kindness Yet

My mother returned to the frozen north yesterday. And immediately the temperature here shot up to the mid-seventies, after two weeks of mostly just above and just below freezing temperatures. It's always that way. Cold fronts seem to stowaway in her luggage when she comes.

Still, her visit was lovely in every way except that it flew by much too fast, and that she had to leave without knowing when we will see each other again. Maybe my ship will come sailing in this year and float us all to Newfoundland for next Christmas.

Her time with us confirmed what I've long suspected: it takes three pairs of grown up hands to keep a household with three children running smoothly. And that laundry is the centrifugal force by which it all spins. Mom began folding clothes before her first cup of tea had steeped. It delivered some kind of heimlich maneuver to the domestic chi. Things have been flowing smoothly ever since, and I am hoping to keep it that way. Whereas normally I would be writing this still in my robe, surrounded by breakfast dishes, this midmorning finds me fully dressed, seated at a clean table, ohm-ing to the transcendental vibration of my kitchen appliances. I don't know if I can actually write under these conditions, but we'll see.

I came out of the Old Year happy just to have survived. 2007 knocked me around in ways I haven't been ready to share, and I'm not feeling up to making big resolutions. In fact, I think the New Year needs to make some resolutions to me. Be sweet to me, 2008. Sweep me off my feet. Make me feel like it's okay to dream big dreams again. Then maybe I can declare some grand intentions of my own.

Until then, I'm keeping it very simple. Just four little things.
  • One, I'd like to write in a more disciplined way this year. Like fully dressed, and mostly when the kids are in school, so that don't grow up with an aversion to the creative arts, borne of me snapping at them to make their own damn breakfasts.
  • Two, I'd like to move my body more. I've gotten very sedentary in direct proportion to the energy I've put into writing, and it shows.
  • Three, I want to get to know my readers a little better. I plan to begin going back through comments and email of the past couple of years and clicking through to the pages of those who keep blogs themselves. This is arguably in conflict with mini-resolution 3.(b), which is to spend less non-productive time online in general, but as long as I am indulging, better to do it with friends.
  • Four, to recover book reading for pleasure. This is harder than you'd think for a writer, because if it's any good, it has to make you a little (or a lot) jealous, and if it's crap, it makes you cynical. But good literature is an essential nutrient in the synthesis of good writing, and I've noticed recently a feeling of ketosis setting in. I can't run on empty much longer. I've started with a book of short stories by Ellen Gilchrist and it's good, satisfying stuff.

That's it, really. It's good to be back here. I'm glad you're here, too. More very soon.


this post lives all by itself here