Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Young and the Combless

Bob Marley
John Butler Trio
Michael Franti
My sister, Tori
Sprint PictureMail
My Man and the peachy footed kitten

One of the most hurtful statements my grandmother ever made on a fairly continuous basis was, "Are you going to comb your hair?" And the thing that made it sting the most was, I had inevitably been in the bathroom combing my hair.

Let's just say my naturally curly hair didn't always cooperate. Sure, I went through an 80's phase where people coveted my hair. Others braided their hair and then combed it out. Or they crimped it. Or they spent $100+ on spiral perms to get my ringlets. But that was short-lived and haphazard at best. It definitely couldn't be counted on, and like some sort of mythical beast, it was only captured in perfection in my senior pictures. On any other given day, it was just a glimpse of Bigfoot or just the tail of Lochness. It was a fleeting measure of coolness often squelched by the seemingly always en vogue straight hair style.

To be honest, most days I looked more like Slash from Guns n' Roses or triangular perfection like Alice in the cartoon Dilbert. Combing didn't help. Add to that a propensity for knotting, and what you get is a girl who fantasized about just giving up on it. I considered starting a hat collection. But trying to conceal an abundance of curly hair with a hat is kind of like trying to hide an at-term pregnant belly with a bikini.

I also considered letting my hair go wild. Back then, I sort of envisioned the dreading process as a matter of giving one's self over to nature. I figured the hair formed itself into those glorious hanks of hair, much the same way that a blackberry bush was a tangled, dark, dangerous mass of delicate tendrils abuzz with life. They beckon with their fruit, but they say, if you pick this fruit, you might get hurt, which makes the fruit all the sweeter. And isn't that what teenage girls do anyway? Don't they emit hormonal come-hithers while at the same time with a jail bait, Lolita-esque risk?

Though I managed to unintentionally rock some pretty mean tangles which eventually I had to cut out, I never officially partook of the dreadlocks. I just admired them from afar. I remember falling for a man, not because he had dreadlocks, but because he had done his doctoral work in the mountains of Jamaica. Once finished with his studies, he found that he couldn't leave and so bought a cobalt blue house in the jungle. There he spent his days listening to reggae, smoking ganja, and counting as friends and mentors the old men who had dreadlocks down to their knees. He showed me photo after photo. The hair looked like tree roots. They look like cigars. It looked like a mop. It looked like bungee cord. It looked like Predator. They tied it with one strand. They piled it atop their heads like a geyser. They tucked it into a crocheted version of what looked like a cross between fishing net and cafeteria worker hair net.

It's not as if this boyfriend was the first to introduce me to dreadlocks, but I think he was the first to make me see their beauty. His admiration for the men helped me understand that the dreads are less a hairstyle and more a way of being. And so it goes without saying that I am an admirer of the dreadlocked ones: Bob Marley, John Butler Trio's lead singer, Michael Franti. My sister has them. My boyfriend has them.

I am compelled and repelled.
I am in awe and dubious.

I'll admit, my boyfriend's dreadlocks are the first I've touched or been in contact with on a daily basis. And I feel sometimes like Jane Goodall must have felt when studying the apes. Among my findings:

* Dreadlocks can be like a rosary or worry stone. He fiddles with them, sometimes absentmindedly and some times methodically. Sometimes he rolls them between his big palms in order to compact them and to make them more distinct.

* Do not ever expect to run your fingers through your lover's hair in the way made popular by movies and paperback novels. The result is less than romantic. You must be careful how your hands and fingers operate in the head vicinity. An errant finger can snag, catch, pull, or put pressure on them and cause pain, which makes for a grumpy macho man. It's kind of like a self-induced cock blocking. The lady goes in for a sweet or sexy gesture, accidentally causes pain or discomfort and is thus DENIED. Therefore, approach with caution.

* He uses a special shampoo that makes me feel like a koala in a grove of eucalyptus. The bottle has a picture of a cartoon black kid that looks very much like the main character in Boondocks. It is expensive and must be special ordered, so don't go using it like a hotel courtesy sample bottle of Prell. Above all, if you do snitch a little, under no circumstances should you put your hands near your eyes or your genitalia. If you disregard my friendly reminder, the unfriendly burn of the shampoo on those sensitive parts will be your punishment.

* It's an ordeal to wash them every day, so on days when he doesn't, he gets into the shower with a neon green shower cap. This is the least attractive he will ever look but also the most vulnerable and thus cutest.

* He doesn't dry them with a towel. Instead, he shakes his head like a dog or more accurately, like a heavy metal head banger. He does this outside, in the midst of winter even, and I find it sinfully sexy. Some day I expect him to come back inside looking as if he's returned from Everest expedition, with frost on his beard and icicles hanging from his....rock pick.

* When he scoops the cat up in his arms, the cat sees the locks as toys. Likewise, every once in awhile you'll find her playing animatedly with something. She'll bat an unidentified object about the kitchen linoleum until you take it away from her. Upon further inspection, you'll see it's a tuft of hair . I might lose a strand of hair, but he loses little knotty furballs.

* They come with presupposition and judgment. People naturally associate the hairstyle with other behaviors. Thus, when he travels through the airport, he'll be the one they "randomly" search. Likewise, they'll be the subject of awkward dinner conversation for old ladies who mistake them for cornrows. People will associate them with being dirty, no matter how many showers you take. The subject of bugs and critters will come up, both as joke and in all seriousness. When he travelled to meet with his conservative grandparents who live in Florida, he worried that his grandfather would disapprove.

* They are most beautiful
when he hovers, my night sky:
display of Peony, Chrysanthemum,
Dahlia, Willow, Horsehair, Spider, Palm.
A visible trail saying: This
is where we ascend. This
is the descent. This
is the spark, flash powder,
the stars, he, me long-burning
glowing, free-falling in the glitter
trail, named for the shape of its break.
It is a timed rain. A salute, nightly.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December Metamorphosis

I was an equal opportunity Scrooge. For several years, I banned Jesus, Santa, snowmen, trees, lights, blow-up polar bears, snowglobes, ugly sweaters and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." The year MY grandmother died, I thought, "Keep it." Keep the absence. Keep the sadness. Keep away the rift that developed in the remaining family members. Keep the loneliness. Keep it all.

But THIS Christmas is different. I feel a bit of a buzz. A high. I feel light-hearted and smiley and able to propel myself through crowds I'd normally shun. I dig deep in my pockets for change to give the Salvation Army bell ringer. I open doors for people whose arms are filled with consumerism. I don't automatically change the channel if I catch a whiff of Charlie Brown and his sad little tree or a little boy wanting a bb gun or some little twit talking about angels getting their wings.

It's the sort of thing that makes me want to wrap cardboard boxes with Christmas wrap and then fill those boxes with loads of homemade baked goods a la my grandmother's tradition. I won't go so far as to say that sugarplums are dancing in my head, but I'm teaching and grading and buried in paperwork, yet also salivating over the idea of peanut brittle and peanut butter fudge and pillowy clouds of divinity and sugar cookies and, and, and...hoping the notes I'm writing on students' papers won't look like recipes.

It's the sort of thing that makes me want to shop. It's the sort of thing that's making me MAKE my own goddamned wrapping paper. I bought a stocking for the cat, and I'm SEWING his stocking out of old jeans. A few times I've caught myself humming the normally annoying soundtrack to the season.

And when My Guy returned from his trip back East and admitted that he kind of hoped that I would have surprised him by decorating his apartment for the upcoming holiday, I realized I was a true Christmas sap because I had considered doing so, despite his self-labeled Atheist.

Don't judge. Atheists can have other reasons for the season. Perhaps he misses family Christmas. Or perhaps it's just another step in this thing called US. And I'm down with that. So there I was digging through my storage unit for a faux tree and decorations. Eventually, I found it: box warped with age, broken open at the bottom, cobwebby. Perfect.

And this is how Christmas threw up at Mike's (cue sitcom laugh track):

He held the cat (currently an escape artist because she's randy--due to be spayed and thus wanting to get out and get some tail--or get her tail gotten, I guess) while I maneuvered a 3 foot long box with its contents spilling out...inside his small apartment. And then it turned out that 2 of the 3 feet on the tree were missing. Apparently, they'd dropped somewhere between the storage unit and Moscow.

We had discussed the idea of a real tree but had "exnayed" the idea for two reasons: 1) I'm a semi-serious tree hugger who likes the smell of a real tree when the tree is planted in a forest but not the idea of killing and wasting a tree for a month of our own satisfaction and 2) we feared the aforementioned escape artist, crazy-with-sexual-energy kitty would climb it, chew it, topple it, etc.

So with no option to go out and buy a real tree and with being too stubborn to consider my faux tree crippled with one of three legs, I went into engineering, make-do mode. I brought out My Guy's mop bucket, tossed in the tree, some books I'd gotten from the recycling bin to weight the tree down, and filled in the other areas with bubble wrap. I then covered the non-festive bucket with festive tablecloths.

Did I mention we decided to put the tree on the kitchen table? (SEE hormone-crazed cat section above)

Did I also mention that the faux tree is comprised of 3 sections, but we were only able to use 2 sections before the tip of the tree hit the ceiling?

Did I mention that tree section A didn't fit properly into tree section C and thus required some sort of security measure for which My Guy offered up SCOTCH TAPE? He did. And of course I had to tease my football-watching, chest pounding, macho man club member for not having any MAN TAPE i.e. duct tape. [Epilogue: he came home the next day with man tape, as I had immasculated him with my joking.]!

Did I mention that I have apparently entered into a new writing phase in which I (sometimes randomly) emphasize certain words by typing them all in uppercase letters? IT'S THE EQUIVALENT TO YELLING, YOU KNOW!

So I decorated the tree with a new set of LED lights, which My Guy pronounced as "trippy." And they are. They are piercing and annoying as the newer cars you meet on the highways who have the NEWER, BETTER headlights...the ones that blind you and make you sick to your stomach and trigger Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (or treat PTSD) with their white hot lights. And then I hung the blue balls, the balls with harbingers of peace (a.k.a doves), bears with log legs and pine cones for feet, a football, a panda bear with a basketball, a snowman just chillin, African American angels. You know. Standard Christmas Decorations. And then the moment came when I placed the topper on. The topper sort of resembles a gingerbread cookie star. And the whole thing nearly toppled under the weight. So no gingerbread cookie star.

My Guy came home later with a lighter topper, which he ceremoniously placed atop the tree. He turned off the lights and commanded me to do the honors of plugging the topper in.


His brand-new topper didn't work. He said a Christmas curse, which is like a Christmas carol, only with a different sound than Fa-la-la-la-la-la. I took out and replaced every bulb in the topper and then plugged it in. And it shone with all the pomp and circumstance of the star of Bethlehem. And there was no manger, no crib for a bed, but there we were in My Guy's crib, chillin', looking at this little tree.

And at that very moment, I looked down and I swear there was a puddle beneath my feet. Hello metaphor! Yes, this man has taken December and warmed it. He had thawed this heart...Shut up!

I can say it. If Frank Capra can have It's a Wonderful Life, I can too.

Well, maybe a Decent Life.

A Pretty Good Life.

A Partly-Cloudy Life with a Chance of Wonderful.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Thrift Store Christmas

It doubles as both decoration and fire wood.
I think this Santa is supposed to be winking, but he looks like Pirate Santa or as if he had an accident.
Drunk Santa?
Nutty Professor Santa? Love those crooked glasses.
This is what happens when you mix quilting and excess Christmas spirit.
Zombie Santa
Anything with felt and googly eyes has to win your heart, right? And I don't think they're missing eyes....I think the winking santa is a popular figure. It's all part of the jolly image, I guess.

And this one struck me as kind of sad. Did you notice that this cute little mouse is sitting atop a mouse trap!?!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reasonable and Prudent

I can remember when Montana had a non-numeric "reasonable and prudent" speed limit. Montana Code Annotated (MCA) Section 61-8-303 said "A person . . . shall drive the vehicle . . . at a rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions existing at the point of operation . . . so as not to unduly or unreasonably endanger the life, limb, property, or other rights of a person entitled to the use of the street or highway."

Of course, people wrung their hands with worry, assuming that no speed limit would mean unsafe roads and lots of accidents. I'm sure more than a few sighed in relief when the reasonable and prudent idea was challenged, and it was after a 50-year-old guy got stopped in midlife crisis in his Camaro doing 84 mph on Highway 200. He was given a ticket, which he appealed in supreme court. Basically, the court ruled that the limit was too vague and violated the Due Process Clause of the Montana Constitution. So by July of 1999, Montana roads had posted speed limits of 75. And I'm sure all the Nervous Nellie's emitted a sigh of collective relief. Whew! Thank God! We're safe! But you know what? The opposite was true. Research found that Montana roads were at their safest when there was no limits. Why would that be?

And you're also probably wondering, Wendy, why are you talking about something so boring?

I guess I think we all need to keep this "Reasonable and Prudent" idea in mind when walking down the street. No, I'm not talking about walking speed. I'm talking about living day to day. On a daily basis we have laws and rules to follow--rules issued by government, by work places, in schools, in our very homes, and most importantly, there are the rules that we self-impose and never question.

I'm not advocating a shrugging off of all rules. I'm not advocating anarchy. I'm advocating operating the human vehicle in a way that is the equivalent to the way things are currently stated in Montana law. Montana law still contains a section that says "a person shall operate a vehicle in a careful and prudent manner and at a reduced rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions existing at the point of operation, taking into account the amount and character of traffic, visibility, weather, and roadway conditions."

In other words, the way you operate day-to-day is very much a product of you being able to read and gauge what's going on around you. How's the mental traffic in your world? Is it mental rush hour? Bumper to bumper huh? Well, God damn it. It's your life. You've got choices. So maybe your first instinct is to get pissed, to pump your fist at the sky and curse your situation and those who seem to be responsible. Yeah, you can do that, but if there's one thing I've learned, cursing a traffic jam doesn't get it unjammed. So stay home. Or take a different route. Or meditate.

Sometimes the traffic isn't mental. Sometimes, it's literally those immovable clods around you or the ones who make poor decisions, the ones who ride your ass, the ones who leave their metaphorical blinkers on. You know the ones. There are all these people around you who don't do the right thing. Again, you've got choices. Are you going to road rage? Or can you see behind their windshield and know they've got their own things going on? Yes, they just sat for an hour at a green light. Yes, they waved for you to go at the 4-way stop when it's not your turn. Yes, they took up two parking spots. The point is, you've probably done some of those things yourself at one time or other. I'm not saying you have to be all nicey nicey or that the Golden Rule always works, but it's worth a shot.

I think the most important thing to keep track of is weather. It only makes sense to slow down in a blizzard. It makes sense to put the pedal to the metal when the sun shines. Some days the hazards won't be as obvious as a blizzard. Sometimes it's black ice. The black ice is a tough one. Of course you don't want to be too careful, too fearful because it might not be there at all. There are some risks. If we all drove every day according to what might happen, we'd be driving 5 miles per hour and in bubble-wrapped cars.

It recalls for me the scene last Thursday night as I drove my boyfriend home from the airport. It was raining hard. The rain made it impossible to see at times, and that was amplified by the steady serpentine of headlights coming in the other direction. Every time a car or truck would pass in the other direction, the windshield would be obscured for a brief and scary moment until the windshield wipers did their job. And perhaps scariest, the chances of hydroplaning were high because of the everyday condition of northwest roads. People use studded tires for traction in snow, and those tires leave deep ruts during other seasons--ruts that fill with rain. We drove home in silence, except for Mike pointing out my strategy: to keep up my speed by straddling those rain-filled ruts. He's a product of the East. He said he'd never thought of that. I don't think it's in any driver's ed manual; it's something I feel like I've grown up knowing. It the sort of reasonable and prudent decision that comes with age--it comes from driving the same roads all your life and knowing those curves by heart.

Of course the same roads you've driven all your life will look different on different days. And of course life dictates that we can't always take the roads we're familiar with. But the beauty of "reasonable and prudent" is that you deal with it as it comes. After all, you're the one in the driver's seat, the one with your foot on the gas. You're the one with so much potential, with so many places to go.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

11 Things I Don't Need

Reverb 10 is an annual event and online initiative to reflect on your year and manifest what’s next. The concept is to use the end of your year as an opportunity to reflect on what's happened, and to send out reverberations for the year ahead. The website provides 31 prompts to coincide with each day of December. I've been reading some pretty amazing blog entries based on Reverb 10 musings, so I decided I'd play along. Obviously, I'm several days late, so I'll get started with today's prompt:

"What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?"

1. I DON'T need boredom at work. It's partially my fault, as repetition is both comforting and safe. It's easy to use the same book, the same lesson plans, the same lectures, the same jokes inserted in those lectures until it begins to feel a bit like Groundhog Day. It's a matter of baby steps, though, in terms of getting rid of boredom. If I completely overhauled both classes, I'd be overwhelmed by a mountain of work (i.e. creating new lesson plans and all the accompanying paperwork). So I decided to change my English 101 class. I'm using Remix, a new book that spends less time explaining a type of essay and instead concentrates on modeling good writing.

2. I DON'T need inactivity. Every year, I struggle with "medicating" my stress by eating. And surprise! I gain weight. I need to get back to that feeling of exhileration I felt when I ran, lifted, and practiced yoga daily. Some of the people I admire the most make no excuses. Yes, they lead busy lives. They have jobs, families, an art practice, yet they manage to work exercise into their lives. My plan for correcting the activity is much the same that it is every year: start small. Make sure you walk the dog twice daily. Work on your abs and do pushups and basic stretching because you know that leads you to want to do more. I'd like to add the series of Zumba videotapes or P90X into my life because I know two things about myself: 1) I like to shake that ass, and 2) I respond well to boot-camp style structure in a workout. Likewise, there's that sweet connection between exercising and eating better. After all, once you've committed to working out, you don't want to sully the temple. I love that!

3. I DON'T need to put my foot in my mouth. Case in point: this morning, my boyfriend was holding the cat in such a way that she looked like she was doing a yoga move. It triggered me to talk about a calendar I saw at a local bookstore. I went on and on about how I had seen a ghastly calendar featuring cats in yoga poses. I like yoga. I like cats. But I don't think the two should be one, if you know what I mean. Being a writer and a fan of lively description, I went into a full-length analysis of it. I think "cheesy" was the icing on the descriptive cake. Well, my boyfriend fell silent, and then said "There's something I need to tell you." I got a terrible feeling in my gut. I knew what he was going to say. I had made fun of a Christmas present he had bought me. How terrible is that? He was totally thoughtful, having bought me something that incorporated two of my passions, and I had squashed it. In 2011, I want to minimize that feeling. I don't want to be the inflictor of wounds that need to be licked. I have some major making up to do, especially if I don't want coal in my stocking, or nothing at all--I wouldn't blame him.

4. I DON'T need to be such a consumer. Even though I don't shop in the conventional ways, even though I don't inhabit malls, I do make rounds at thrift stores and collect art supplies that never seem to get used. I have too much and get frustrated at not being able to find things. I need to resist the temptation of haunting those favorite places and recognize that it's as much about the social experience as it is the actual purchase.

5. I DON'T need to be as disorganized. My boyfriend once looked into my car and said it looked like a homeless person lived there. I got all "butt hurt" as he would say, but I knew he was right. I mean, it was November, a full month after farmer's market, and yet my farmer's market booth display was still in my car. That's nonsense. Likewise, there are Cooking Lightly magazines that a friend had given me. I never even looked at them. They need to go to the recycling center, yet I never seem to make it over there. The trunk is full: books, sheet music, ledger paper, and other ephemera. You'd think, based on all those supplies, that I spontaneously create art wherever I'm at, kind of like the circus clown who produces a balloon and twists it into a weiner dog on command. It's nonsense, I tell you.

6. I DON'T need to keep obligations based on some sort of perceived indebtedness to others. Sometimes it is okay to be selfish. I can't take responsibility for this insight. Ever-wise Mike once again gets the credit. He reminds me, "It's business." This philosophy is much needed, as I enter into situations where my intentions are good and find they simply aren't working for me. Such was the case with a business where I had my cards on consignment. The business owner allows vendors to work in lieu of paying a booth fee or taking a percentage of your profit. You work 3 days per month. So I worked 24 hours per month. And don't get me wrong. It's not back-breaking work. There are really no responsibilities other than ringing up the few customers who shop there. Otherwise, I used the time to grade papers or to work on my art. The problem was, if I was working a minimum-wage job, getting paid $58 a day, I would earn a total of $174 pre-tax per month. And that would be fine if I sold a maximum of $20 per month and a minimum of $2. I bitched and moaned about the unfairness. I vowed to create more goods to sell. And then Mike calmly said, "Quit." Epiphany! I can cut the cord, with maximum benefit to me, AND no one will think any less of me. AND who cares if they do think less? Fuck 'em.

7. I DON'T need a lot of mediocre, half-ass, case-specific, fair-weather friends. I need a handful of kick-ass true friends.

8. I DON'T need to get down about a world that doesn't function in the way I'd like it to. I spent much of this year feeling Bah Humbug-ish about the disappearance of morality. Does no one want a relationship with ONE person anymore? Does everyone long to munch the more verdant grass in a yard other than their own? Is sex with a bunch of strangers more important than romance and the possibility of longevity and security and love of a particular person? I ended up feeling much like Mr. Hand in Fast Times at Ridgmont High: "Everyone is on drugs!" And I don't mean that literally. Yes, I'm aware humans are the only species to choose monogamy. I'm aware that men have longings. I'm aware that spontaneity and newness trump the" same ol' same ol'," but I also think there are ways to keep a relationship fresh and exciting. I don't think straying has to be a given. It's a choice with consequences that reverberate in so many directions and that hurts more than the main players. It's okay for me to be old-fashioned. It doesn't make me square or lame. It makes me a solid choice for the kind of man who sees loyalty as a virtue and not a character flaw.

9. I DON'T need to be so sensitive. Sometimes I feel like a live wire. A casual comment is not a diss. It's not criticism. It's just an observation. I also needn't think that everyone is articulate or a poet. I'll give it to you hypothetically. Let's say a certain teacher normally wears perfume and make-up and typically wears a dress to teach, and she does on THIS particular day, but she spends EXTRA time getting ready one morning because she plans on going straight to the airport after her class to get her lover. She hasn't seen him in three weeks. She hasn't had sex in 3 weeks. She's abuzz with knowing the famine will soon be over. Soon she'll be satiated in every possible way. Full. She envisions one of those scenes they show in movies where separated lovers are reunited. It involves the two running open-armed to each other. It possibly involves being twirled in someone's arms, kissed, maybe a few tears shed. But the reality is an oxymoron--a mind-blowing combination of lovely and ouch. He says, "You look good....kind of like a snobby bum." Your cheeks grow hot, and you feel like you could bawl, but you say, "Thanks," This change will take time. It's all about context. He's a DUDE. He's tired. He's got an excruciating headache. Ninety-nine percent of the time, he speaks positively about you. His tongue is usually golden. Let it go. Chalk it up. It's an anomaly. Don't linger on it. Don't fret. Don't let it distract you from the truth: he's home, and you are what he wants. His kiss means more than a few misplaced words, when your fingers retrace the Braille of his body, they'll erase the sting of your insecurities.

10. I DON'T need let the behaviors of past lovers affect the fantastic thing I have going. I need to put the fears away. They hurt me, but he hasn't. I wasn't good enough for them, but he thinks I'm wonderful. Thankfully, I am a living video of this song by Orianthi.

11. I DON'T need to follow the rules. If Reverb 10 requests that I write 11 things I don't need, I can choose not to waste another hour of my day on this blog post and to write 10 instead.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Everyday Expedition

More and more, it strikes me that the best guides are the ones who feel they've lost their way. Those guides make sounds of incredulity when you tell them they have worth. They say don't follow me. They are the fallen athletes who warn you "I'm no rolemodel." True enough, there are paths you wouldn't want them to lead you down, and you wish for them their own sherpa at times--a beast of burden who can help them shoulder the load as they make their breathless way up personal Everests that seem, at times, insurmountable. The air gets thin up there, but damned if their cheeks don't manage to still glow. And isn't that how it is? It can be cold--the sort of cold that makes you brittle, the sort of cold that threatens to numb your very soul. Yet, if you look out across those berms, it looks like a diamond field.

My friend, Shanda, is that way. A diamond. Borne of the same sort of coal as anyone else, but squeezed, pressured, shaped, configured until a stone. The diamond wears a diamond. She glints, and so does that ring on her left finger. I'm no jeweler. I have no idea how many carats, but that ring is heavy. When I met her, I was jealous of that ring. I thought, "She has EVERYTHING."

Now I know that everything can be too much sometimes. Sometimes I see her give it away. The shrugging off of wealth, on the surface, reminds me of a college friend of mine, Sara. Sara was so deep into her Buddhist study that the idea of impermanence had its own pulse--a complusion to not be of the world that manifested in constantly giving herself away. If you said, "Sara, I like that necklace," her hands would contort behind her back as she unclasped that necklace and presented it to you as if she'd never wanted beauty.

Shanda's charity has nothing to do with impermanence. In fact, it feels the opposite: she's trying hard not be erased. Maybe it's like another friend of mine who daily submits to the gym's hamster wheel to "fight entropy." He know's he is going to die, and he wants all he can get from this life before he has no more.

Her giving is not what compels some to box up the so-called unneeded things in our lives and take them to a thrift store. It is not meant to save the unfortunate around her but herself. And quite honestly, I think she's onto something. We all need to stop stuffing coins into the metaphorical bell ringer's kettle. We need to stop thinking that focusing on charity will save the world when our own private worlds are in need. It's all about triage, caring for gun shots before paper cuts. The Dalai Lama and all manner of enlightened people will disagree with me on this point. They would say we should focus on others as a means of helping ourselves, but I often think it's shell game, slight of hand, trickery.

Let's be real. Sometimes the path is exhausting, and the lack of oxygen makes you light-headed. All you can do is seek out a resting spot. Make a temporary shelter until you catch sight of base camp. Some days, seeking shelter looks a lot like dumpster diving. She goes to the recycle center, bends over the book bin, gathers raw material for her art. Other days, it looks like a natural distaster. A stranger looking in the window might see the victim trapped in the rubble, but in this case, the victim is not a victim at all. This is not destruction but construction. She sits surrounded by bits of paper, metal charms, inks, glues. She is at peace here. And lately, she is a version of Alice's Mad Hatter. She can breathe easier when the sewing machine hums and makes whole what others see as scraps.
She shared her make-shift shelter with me the other day. It involved a camera and a few precious kid-free hours. To an untrained eye, we were just two women having hot chocolate with no problems or worries. But one just happened to be taking photos of the shadows the handle casts down on the saucer and the faintest hint of lipstick on the rim. We drove deserted backroads, so she could take pictures of startling red barns that slashed out against snow and a sky so faded that it might as well be snow. She put her car in reverse, backtracked in order to take a photo of the most beautiful turquoise door. The shack on which it hung looks like it will blow down with the next big storm. But in my mind, it holds. It holds because she has it in her to recognize its beauty. But the part of the mission I remember most is her standing with her back to a busy street. The traffic rushed behind her, but she was still. Her mouth was open as she looked into the lens. She saw the irony of an alley corner where two one-way signs seemed to point in opposite directions.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

12 Tags of Christmas - Day 3

My tag (see blurry photo above)

Tim Holtz tag (see music-backed tag above)
In my version of Tim Holtz's 12 Days of Christmas challenge, Day 3, I used a $1.99 ArtWorX box (markers, colored pencils, watercolors, oil pastels) I got at Goodwill to make the green color on some script paper. I didn't have any of his tissue tape, so I cut up some old sheet music and applied adhesive tape to the back side. I created white speckles with the white acrylic paint included in the ArtWorX kit.

I used part of a zipper (50 cents), some green netting (50 cents for many yards), some crimped metal ribbon (24 cents for multiple yards), and a bird ornament (47 cents)I got at the Hope Center thrift store. The nest is a Tim Holtz clock sticker I cut in half. Likewise, the December calendar beyhind the bird and the photo in the left-hand corner is a sticker from Tim Holtz.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tim Holtz 12 Tags of Christmas: Day 2

So Tim Holtz is on to Day 2 of his 12 Tags of Christmas project, and so am I. I have two things to say about it:

1.) This one frustrated me. It frustrated me so much that, several times in the isolation of my "studio," I invoked the advice of bad-ass comedian, Daniel Tosh, who suggested that you should try to find ways to sneak in the phrase, "Suck It!" Well, several times, I found myself saying, "Suck Tim Holtz!" But I didn't mean it. Holtz is a good and talented fellow, even if there is some weird thing going on with his name, and his fans spell it "T!m"--oh no he didn't!?! I digress.

2.) My frustration is my own fault. Tim's tag has a music stamp on it, and boohoo, I don't have one. So I found myself some real sheet music. Then I thought the music was too bold to be able to stamp on it, so I cover it with some favorite shiny irridescent paint. Trouble! Both old paper and the shiny new surface did not take to inking. Gah! This resulted in a mussy, smudged "Seasons Greetings." I had to re-stamp it in black with the only permanent ink I had. Staz-on is my savior (tis the season....ahem).

Hmm...what else didn't work out? Well, I didn't have a metal bird. I have about a bazillion bird stamps, but none of them fit in the space, or they covered the sentiments....just didn't work. So I went back to my Re-Used Muse sensibilities and added a photo of two girls who look sassy and seem to fit the title of the musical piece, "Free Spirit."

But I STILL wasn't satisfied with my copy. I wanted a bird in there somewhere, damn it. So I got out my collection of cancelled stamps and added a couple stamps. One was an Alabama stamp with a flower and a bird, which I liked because then these two girls seemed to have a story, a background. They're Southern belles now, and they're trying to make their way home for Christmas, or perhaps they've gone away from Alabama and are having to make their own Christmas in some new place. Whatever. The other stamp just suggests travel.

And I wanted to use metal, but no bird. So I used an earring that had lost its back and was missing a strand of beads. It used to have 3 strands of beads, but only has two. I thought the 2 strands kind of echoed the two girls. I pounded out the top circle so it would be flat, and then I added a green button to lighten things up.

Anyhoo. This is what you do when you wake up at 4 a.m., and if you don't like it, you can "Suck it!"


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Imitation: The Sincerest Form of Flattery

So Tim Holtz began his annual 12 Tags of Christmas (see first image above)

Not to sound snarky, but I've never seen the point of tags. I mean, it's not like people are going to go through all this trouble in order to make such beautiful and intricate tags for the typical purpose of tying on a package for the purpose of identifying the sender and the recipient.

So I've decided to play along, but my plan is to attach the tag to something I see as more practical. In other words, I'll make the tag and attach it as a card front for a card I intend to give this season. Or, I'll find a way to incorporate the design into a home decor item, with the hope that the result might end up being a Christmas decoration for years to come.

My other gripe is that I don't have all the supplies, and frankly I don't want to buy a bunch of stuff. You can see that I incorporated old dictionary pages as a background for the tag. The definitions are season and holiday appropriate. I made my wreath out of buttons. I didn't have wire to fashion into a tree, so I used a Holtz tree stamp. I didn't have a die cutting machine or the die that cuts that particular house, but I did use two of his stamps (a notebook paper stamp and a texture stamp) in order to fashion a paper house. He used some sort of flocking to indicate snow on the house, the tree, etc. I used glass glitter. He used a rubber stamp to make the admission ticket. I used some of his ephemera stickers.

And the fence....

The fence is pure Wendy. It's pure Re-Used Muse. It's actually an aged book binding. It's the stuff behind the spine in really old looks like some sort of gauze or mesh adhered to thick cardboard.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Fucked-Up Winter's Tale

Leave it. The shovel stands against the door, dripping. The cat licks at it, though her water bowl is only feet away. Kick off your soggy shoes. Resolve to find your winter boots. For no particular audience, begin.

The unsexy strip-tease. Peel the gloves off with your teeth but note that this only leaves little black wool balls on your tongue. The houndstooth coat, hat, and scarf get hung on the vacuum. You look back and realize it's a bit like a scarecrow....a half-stuffed scarecrow, and the vacuum looked better than you did.

The cold huffs against the glass. Steamylike. Truthfully, it weeps. Condensation. Dense. Problematic as the upstairs neighbor who took a liking to you. At first you talked to him because you hadn't talked to anyone all day. You were scared you were going to start talking to the cat. You made small talk. You found yourself saying your boyfriend wouldn't be home for another two weeks and then scared that you did so. He said he was a student taking journalism classes, and having nothing better to say, you said you were an English teacher. You could see his eyes light up. He asked if you'd published. A poetry book. Does that count? He said he wrote Romantic Sci-Fi, and he emphasized Romantic, and you felt a little nauseous, though it could have been the peanut butter and cranberry sauce sandwich you ate before you went out to shovel.

You are polite, and say, "Well, publishing is publishing." And before you know it, he's taken the stairs by two or three, has disappeared into his surely dungeonous apartment, and is back just as quickly with a copy of The Book. He suggests that he shovel while you read his book. You say, "No, I'll keep shoveling." So he opens it and reads about human slavery. He skips a part and mumbles something. You are sure he said the word "sexy," and you know one of two things is true:
1) He stopped reading because he'd reached a part he thought was too sexy or
2) He thought reading aloud to you was sexy.

You dig deep, putting more into the shovel than your back would like you to. You are fat, and your body likes you to take things slowly, if at all, when it comes to exercise. He asks if you are in a writing group, and without waiting, he tells you that HE is in a writing group that meets Saturdays at a local coffee shop. You keep shoveling and remark that writing groups are like book groups...that they end before they start because no one can commit. And then you think you just said something that sounds like you're talking about a relationship.

You are now at least 20 feet away from him. You're shoveling like you've never shoveled before: head down, shoulder literally to some sort of grindstone. You are moving that snow, by God. You think you might be bent in half. You are a woman warrior. Bad Ass. If he touched you right now, you'd rip off his head and shit down his sci-fi writing neck. You know that you should feel sorry for him because he's wearing a jean jacket, and the bottoms of his jeans are flannel like a jean/pajama combo, but instead you feel creeped out. Invaded.

But your only violence is verbal. You will stop this flirting he's doing by mentioning your boyfriend approximately 30 times in the space of 30 seconds. You're not quite sure how you managed to cram in all those mentions. You said something like, "Mike is in Connecticut, but boy he calls me day and night. Mike will be home soon. Mike loves the snow. Mike hates to shovel. Mike will be glad to get home to US--the kitty and me. Mike sure is a big bruiser. I will be glad to be in Mike's big muscular arms--I think Mike said he killed a man just for looking at him wrong. I think Mike said that once. "

But this guy's is MORE verbally violent. He says, "Isn't he like TWENTY-FIVE?" And he sort of hisses it, and it wriggles up my pant leg and bites me on my ass.

"Yesssssss," I hiss back, but it's not a comeback.

"So you're a cougar?"

And before I can say anything, Creepy Upstairs Neighbor Sci-Fi writer goes upstairs, and I'm left in the cold, with another half of the driveway to shovel. So what's a girl to do? She comes inside and takes the only antidote she can. She turns on some Black Keys. She peels down to nothing but skin. She's not a bubble bath kind of girl. She's a water-so-hot-it-nearly-scalds-you kind of girl. She's a get-in-before-the-water's-finished-running kind of girl. She's a fuck-you-age-doesn't-matter girl.

Okay, as pointed out earlier, she's not a girl at all. She's 100% all-natural, "bring home the bacon, fry it in the pan....I'm gonna show you how to be a man" woman. And this woman is slippery when wet and washing away winter. A bath a day keeps the rude neighbor away, and hopefully it will speed the clock until her "boy" is home.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Phoenix Pair

The prompt for Sunday Scribblings is "What a Difference a Day Makes," which of course makes me think of the song lyrics to the song they're referring to:

"It's Heaven when you find romance on your menu."

It's not hard hard to find romance, though it's not as easy as the song lyrics make it seem. I found it early this week while on a thrift store shopping adventure. I found a 1985 daybook, planner, organizer, whatever you want to call it. I don't know much about the previous owner. In the first 3 pages, there are lines reserved for the owner of the daybook to write bank account information, the names of credit cards and numbers, health insurance records, etc--the sort of data that none of us in our right minds would record in the front of a book. We might as well write the information on our foreheads right after the salutation, "Dear Identity Thief:"

She wasn't worried about this, though. Apparently, 1984 was a gentler time. It was a time when we we could leave doors unlocked, and identity theft was the stuff of futuristic TV movies of the week. She had a savings account (last 4 numbers of her account number are 2887). Likewise, I know she had a J.C. Penney's credit card, and she wrote that number dutifully in the space provided. She began her entries on December 8:

"Debbie Peterson had a house warming party at her new appartment. Shawn T. was there. Party wasn't fun. Deb and I went to T.J.'s and talked."

This, of course, makes me curious who Shawn T. is, and I wonder why the party wasn't fun or if the owner of the diary was simply being bitchy. Later, we'll find that, while Deb seems like a confidante, she's got a dark side.

Another clue as to the identity of the planner owner comes in the next entry (12/10/84): "Got my name in the Idahonian's newspaper. It was about Campus Mail Room."

I think that must have been a really boring newspaper article. Maybe she was employed there. Maybe she was a student, and they asked her opinion on the mail room, reporter-on-the-street style.

I won't lie. Things are pretty boring for awhile. A week passes, with an entry on 12/16/84 in which she apparently attends an auction. Or so it seems. You see, the auction is identified as Dave Mattoon and Ed Mclam's. That Monday, there's a mention of a Dave, so perhaps the auction was the beginning of romance:

"Dave came over to my house. We went up to my room and talked. I showed him my art pictures."

Hmm. It appears she took home more than merchandise from the auction. The naughty minx in me partially wants for that last sentence to be purely euphemism. You know. It's where I'd make air quotes by making peace signs with two fingers on each hand and then bending those peace signs. I'd be implying that, if this was a mathematical equation, art pictures is equal to NAUGHTY BITS.

This is a romantic girl for sure. Her next entry (12/19/84) explains that her mother and father celebrated their 20th anniversary. She gave them her two favorite pictures (pieces of her artwork or photos?) and her father gave her mom a diamond ring: "One with 4 diamonds."

Thursday, December 20, all hell apparently broke loose in the Campus Mail Room: "Joanna got put down. Debbie and Mike railroaded her. Debbie's a low down Bitch! She's a big trouble maker and loose with different guys. The 24th of November she hit up on my boyfriend. Dave told her I'm not interested."

Woo-whee! But this complicates things. If Dave is her boyfriend, why did earlier entries make her seem as though they were fresh and new? Perhaps having just met? Is there more than one Dave?

Friday 21, 1984: "Christmas party in the Mail room. There was a lot of food. Dave and I went to the Moscow Motel to drink. Dale and Ed was there. Then we went to that new place by toco-time. Too many frat rats. Ugh! Then to the Capricorn. Dave and Ed were there. Ed was drunk. I put ice cubes down his shirt and pants. He put them down mine. The twit! Had a lot of fun. Dave and I made love in his car in front of my house."

The plot thickens. So the owner of the journal is obviously old enough to drink, but she's living at home. She is dating Dave, but she seems to be tracking two other guys. And she did a guy in front of her house! Saucy!

On the 22nd through Christmas Day, she doesn't write a lot. Sure, she went to her grandparent's house , opened presents, had a nice time, ate a lot, but she doesn't have a lot to say.

She writes again on Thursday, December 27. In a lined journal, it's the only wonky entry. She doesn't write on the lines but instead scrawls her entry diagonally in crimped fashion: "I really liked Dave. I really never told him. I'm glad I didn't cause that would probably be the end of the relationship. He taught me how to love lovemaking. I never got so excited like that with any other guy. Well, he's gone now so I have to find another guy that will make me feel good."

Hold the phone! Wait one cotton-pickin' minute! What happened? And if he meant so much and was so good in the sack, then why not hang on to him? Instead, she's on to the next!

Before you get too sad, she mentions Dave again on the 28th: "$165.31 left to pay on my car. Dave and I went to the shop and talked and made love many times in the camper. We had a very nice time. Dave gave me phone numbers of some of his friends that I have met."

I'm so confused! Exactly how many is many? Oooheh. And you'd think that if it was MANY times, it would be described as more than a "nice time" (true. she does use the qualifier, very...but we all know that very is a lazy writer's best friend. It doesn't add much to the description, and you're better off choosing a stronger noun, etc.). And if they had such a nice time, why did Dave give her his friends' numbers? Guy friends? Was he brushing her off? Playing wing man to his friends?

And it gets even more confusing. The next day, she writes: "Dave and I went to Club Troy in Troy and ate breakfast. He took me home. On the way, he got stuck at the beginning of the road going to my house in the driveway. Mom helped push. Gave him one last kiss. Never will see him again. Debbie Peterson's Birthday party. Didn't go."

The final entry takes place on Sunday, December 30: "Debbie Peterson's Birthday, her big 19th."

I read these journal entries, and I wonder how things turned out. I wonder if those two weeks matter to her anymore. I wonder if Dave does. I wonder if she continued her writing in another book, or if the incident ended her journaling tendency. I wonder how this time in her life reflected on her later in life. Did Dave's awesome lovemaking pave the way to other great lovers? Or did he ruin her for any future lovers? I wonder if she works in a better place, a place free of put downs and and railroading and low-down bitches. I wonder if she broke free of her love/hate relationship with Debbie. I wonder if she comes home to visit her parents if still alive. I wonder if she looks up Debbie or Dale or Ed when she comes back into town. I wonder if she came home for Thanksgiving and what she's thankful for. I wonder why I assume she left town.
I wonder how the day planner made its way to a thrift store. Did she die? Most people who give away diaries or journals tear out incriminating pages before they give them away. O wonder what she'd think knowing that someone read (and later wrote about) the two weeks of her life she deemed important enough to write about.

I wonder why I read notes I find in supermarket aisles, parking lots, and tucked into library books. I wonder why I care about people I don't know. I wonder what I would say to these people if I could track them down. I wonder what they'd look like. Sometimes I like to imagine they'd look an awful lot like me. And I bet we wouldn't have to say a thing. It would be a knowing glance, a look that said, "I know who you are. I've been there." It would be two phoenix's coming face to face, each having risen from their respective fire.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Lonely Apprentice

On Thanksgiving Day 2010, I miss my guru, my teacher, Sensei. The apprentice still has much to learn and frankly, is enjoying the lessons.

I've done lots of learning in my 35 years, most of it conventional book learning. I took the expected path: high school, college, and grad school. Well, maybe I shouldn't say it was the expected path. I grew up in a small town, and the expected path for small-town girls is wife and stay-at-home mom, hopefully in that order. I never got that degree. I failed those courses. Every time I'd go home for holidays, I'd run into classmates, and they'd ask what I'd been up to. I'd say, " I'm getting my [fill in the blank] degree." They'd say, "Oh...but are you married?" I'd say no. They'd look down at the kids in their grocery cart, tussle the hair of the child clinging to a leg, and nod politely with that tight-lipped, smug expression I've come to know as pity.

My uterus only twinged occasionally, usually upon notification that another friend had become part of the sorority of motherhood. Mainly, though, those twinges could be numbed by spending an afternoon with a friend and her kids. It was partially like an innoculation: getting a mix of sugar and spice, with enough poison that it didn't kill me but enough to make me careful. Or maybe it was more like the driver's ed Blood on the Highway films: a scare-me-straight tactic that ensured that I'd keep my eyes on the education prize and so be methodically accurate in all matters of sex and birth control.

It wasn't that I wasn't focused, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd never sit at the table with the grown-ups. I was the kid set up with the cardtable lemonade stand outside the Starbucks selling it's green tea lemonades for $5. I was the one playing catch-up when I'd go home to my apartment, researching all the philosophers and literary critics classmates tossed casually about in classroom conversation. I just couldn't cut it.

And I was okay with that. I watched friends exit academia with their Ph.D.'s in hand, only to embark on rounds of unsuccessful job hunting that made speed dating look like a walk in the park. Or occasionally, you'd see the Ph.D. put to total non-use: a brilliant woman who was working in public transportation. To quote from the famous Mike Myers, I said, "Someone get me off this crazy thing called love." I loved learning but loved my sanity more.

I won't lie. It's an uncomfortable exit, and those who spend their lives in school know the skin-crawling feeling of non-academia. You feel like the knowledge you have will drain out your ears or emit from your pores like garlic, and you worry that you'll suddenly turn instantly dumb. But the truth is, you still learn, just not in the most structured of ways. You're no longer paying to learn, and so all the pressure's on you to get out of life whatever you can. I read copiously. I surf the Net. The poet and writer in me is the opposite of those See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil monkeys. Contrary, I see everything, hear everything, and say whatever I feel. Likewise, catlike, I rub up along all the wonderful people I can. There's knowledge everywhere and in everyone, especially in those who don't consider themselves knowledgeable.

Of course, you downplay an English degree around some. You know their inadequacies will squirm around in them until they blurt out things about poor spelling skills or having failed English classes--things you basically don't give a shit about. Thankfully, there are the brazen few who don't give a shit whether you have a degree. They consider a degree a piece of paper, but toilet paper also an important piece of paper and infinitely more useful. I love those people. My grandmother was one. My Uncle Dick was another. And my boyfriend is of this kind. Yet these 3 people are among the most influential in my life. They share teacher status.

My uncle and grandmother are gone, lost to cancer, and so my main teacher is my boyfriend. He is his own University, and I'm working at a degree. This semester, I've got a full load:

*I'm taking wrestling, with an emphasis on forehead slaps. If I am lucky, I will avoid an archaic torture form that involves "mushroom stamping," an archaic form of humilation that works well as a verbal threat.

*I'm enrolled in Baconology 101. This is an in-depth study of how many dishes can include bacon, even if the student has expressed a vow to avoid eating meat.

*I'm auditing History of Xbox. I'm noticing it is a bit like religion...with a box shrine-like and occupying a sacred space next to the professor's bed. It seems to involve lots of talking to the TV screen and writing notes about recruits in a special notebook.

*There are several classes on football. I'm struggling with calling the professor's beloved team The Saints even when it's the Patriots. When I'm quizzed about the colors, I say white, blue, and red...and I get one wrong: it's silver, not white. There are pop quizzes on first down, second down, etc. And the teacher insists that I choose a favorite player (Woodhead!), and we take field trips wherein I'm immersed in real-life scenarios of watching a game with real football fans.

*There's Masculinity 240: farting, being able to pop knuckles, packing a good chew, watching South Park, and selective listening when around girlfriends. Strangely, this class also includes sensitivity training: how to hold a kitty like a baby, how to make your girlfriend feel like the most beautiful, special girl in the world, and an addendum to selective listening: listening and remembering what really matters to your girlfriend.

* There's Musicology: how to mix NIN, Eminem, ICP, Led Zeppelin, and The Black Keys without losing your mind. There's a seminar class on how to desensitize your girlfriend to the lyrics that feature violent acts to women and cats. Additionally, there's a lecture on weird times to play Johnny Cash and how to sing silly and wonderful songs to your girlfriend in the darkness, just before you both drift off to dream.

* Lovemaking 400. This is a Master's Level class. A lab and many practicum hours are required. There are infinite opportunities for extra credit.

This is the sort of class that makes the student wish there was no Thanksgiving break. A week is too long, and 3 weeks is torture. This student is eager to get back to the classroom. She misses it very much.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fortune Teller Barbie

The kitchen table is a Barbie-scape: partitioned microcosms of activity of the plastic goddess variety. It's a feminist world, with only 1 Ken per at least 20 ladies. In all honesty, it reminds me of a conversation that once took place while on a dog walk with the Missoula Human Society ladies. They joked that there needed to be an all-woman commune: a city block of houses owned by women and only visited by men when in need of repair or when the libido was in need of repair (wink wink).

This Ken in the middle of the table, however, doesn't look as if he could repair anything. Sure he's smiling, but I don't get the sense that he's handy or that he's getting lucky. Don't get me wrong. He's handsome, but there's something offputting about those mitten-like hands and the eunich state of his crotch.

No Ken. This world is for the ladies, and they seem to have it under control. In one sphere, a svelte hottie on tippy toes is being gawked at by her two labs, and the little girl nearby (her daughter, though adopted judging by the different facial features and hair coloring) is playing with two lab puppies.

In another picnic-type area, there's a woman in an evening gown lying down, a child doing a handstand, and another woman propped up. She can't stand on her own two feet in the most literal sense. This is an equal-opportunity world. This woman is severely disfigured and disabled, yet smokin' hot. She is stylish, also apparently later attending a black tie affair, regardless of the Band-aid on her foot and her left hand. The damage is already done on the right hand, which appears to have been slashed. I've never known whether it's appropriate to ask how someone became disabled, but curiosity got the best of me. I was informed that Luna, the dog they had a long time ago caused the wounds to Courtney. And Courtney is special because she was given to Sydney when Sydney had to go to the hospital for breathing problems.

All the world is a stage, and these particular stages are built out of the styrofoam packing materials computers come in. On one stage, there's a girl in a prom dress, apparently either waiting for her prom date or having gone stag. On the other stage, there's a woman clearly still trying to bring the 80's back. Her hair is crimped. She's wearing a jean jacket and leggings. And she's a single mother, as evidenced by the toddler playing in her lap and the two infants curled fetal beside her.

There's also a nod to nature. A floor lamp serves as a tree on which there are swings and gymnastic devices. One little girl is suspended from what appears to be parachute line or bungee cord. Below her, a girl has fallen on her scooter. She's on her back and looking up at the tree branch, perhaps envious of the girl who is doing flips. I have a feeling she has fallen before, as she has a Band-aid on her leg, and her top is missing. Luckily, the park seems a safe, perv-free zone in which little girls can ride their scooters topless.

It's likely that she was riding her scooter over the bridge. Or maybe she was swimming in one of two clear above-ground pools. Or maybe she was visiting the Goop tourist attraction. It's a test tube of navy-colored blob. Hayley informs me that I can get my own Goop for $4. She takes it out and tosses it on the table. I move to touch it and quickly recoil from the wet-yet-not-wet oddity. I ask, "What do you do with it?" She nods at the blob on the table and says, "That's it." It has a smell. I put my hand up to my nose. She says, "Yeah. I try not to touch it." Oh.

Finally, there is the all-monkey zoo. It's a bowl resting atop a cooling rack. There are 3 monkeys in an atmosphere made up of a toy bed, cotton balls, rocks, and trees that look suspiciously like wilted celery tops. The monkeys wear bows in their hair--pink bows--and I come to understand that even the zoo in this Barbieland is woman-exclusive.

I survey the landscape and the two girls who built the landscape, and I find myself wondering what kind of women they'll be. If their play is any indication, they will be:
* animal lovers
* physically active
*nurturing mothers
*compassionate and inclusive to those who are different
* fashionistas (or nudist colony members)

I realize that one can't predict the future of a child in the same way that some can look into a cup of tea and read the swirling tea leaves, but as self-proclaimed Auntie, I can't wait to watch their lives unfold and to see if some of their future wasn't foretold by what would appear to many as simply a mess of dolls on a kitchen table.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Merry Easter, With Gratitude?

Whose BRIGHT IDEA was it to skip through seasons? It is November 19, and the turkey hasn't come out of the proverbial oven. No wishes have been fought over the wishbone. I haven't yet had a chance to count my blessings.
One expects the marketers to fast forward to Christmas quicker than you can whip up a batch of Paula Deen's Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake, but who knew that spring was so close behind? Yet, the catalog you're looking at proclaims "Everything you need for Spring is here!" By everything, the catalog means bunnies: stuffed bunnies, bunny wreaths, bunny ornaments, Crinkle-legged bunnies, long-legged bunnies, bunnies with room for candy in their bellies, sequin bunnies, bunnies made of dried lavender or grape vine, bunny finger puppets, cotton mache bunnies, bunny picture holders, stretchy chenille bunnies, knob hanger bunnies, bunnies with bunny slippers, big-foot bunnies, bunny pairs riding a see-saw, bunnies with bouquets of flowers, bunnies with carrots atop which graze ladybugs, bunnies wearing knickers, shirtless bunnies with beer bellies protruding over blue jeansand bunnies wearing no clothes. Would you like your bunny to sit in a wagon or to be pulled in a rolling carrot cart? Or maybe you prefer your rabbits to be workers who push wheelbarrows, or to garden with watering cans and shovels. You can step on bunny stepping stones. Depending on your bunny needs, you can buy your bunnies per each or get them by the dozen.
And don't forget the bunny accessories: metal carrots, easter eggs, pinwheels, and watering cans. The watering cans are ostensibly to water the many flowers blooming on adjacent pages: metal flowers, hanging flowers, and a sack of flowers whose purpose is only limited by your imagination. It's all associational. Where there are flowers, can butterflies be far behind? Nope. There are butterfly wall hangings, yard stakes, plant stakes, garden rocks, candle holders, magnets, and garland. Also flying the spring-friendly skies are dragonflies, hummingbirds, owls, and birds of undisclosed species whose bellies open to hold candy. There are country birds sporting bonnets or backwards baseball hats (kind of ghetto, if you ask me) and a country bird riding a bicycle. And I'm not sure whether they're country or city or perhaps suburban, but there are also resin birds bathing in a resin bird bath. Finally, there are those other winged creatures: angels. Angels, apparently don't take angel baths, and I'm not sure where they take on water.
If you can take your eyes off the skies for just a moment, you'll see the snails, turtles, and mushrooms afoot. And don't overlook the frogs, most of which seem to be"country" frogs sporting overalls and straw hats, because those in the country always wear overalls and straw hats, and they're of course chewing on a shaft of wheat.
The non-country frogs are tealight holders, rain gauges, key boxes, and strangely, frog houses. Can you imagine if we had human houses that looked like humans (naked or clothed)?
The catalog explains that Spring isn't the time to sit around daydreaming and watching the bunnies and frogs butterflies go by. According to the catalog, it's about time you got off your lazy ass and built a work ethic. You need to understand that "Flowers are not planted by sitting in the shade." Console yourself knowing that your hard work will pay off, though, because "God bless[es] the hands that work in the garden."
As if that's not enough work to do, the catalog wants you to do inner work....Dr. Phil-type work. Get your head straight, in other words. In the imperative, they command you to act (in groupings of four):
"hope, believe, enjoy, laugh"
"trust, love, dream, peace"
"believe, hope imagine, dream"
Spring must also be a depressing time because the catalog entreats you to "Do one thing in the garden that makes you happy." Can you feel the love? No? I bet you don't even know where to find love, but signs explain, "Love lives here" and if it doesn't live here (which is wherever YOU are, by implication), then you can grow it: "Love blooms where kindness is planted."
The catalog asks you to go deep. Self-assessment is key. Are you an ungrateful swine? Spring is the time, apparently, to remind yourself to "Count your blessings" and to become a better parent. Your child is NOT a pain in your ass but is, instead, one of "God's flower buds just waiting to open." Not a parent? Well, perhaps it's time to ring up your parents and remind them exactly how special you are. And who are they to argue? It's all there in pastel writing.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


When I was younger, I was a detective searching for signs of a woman who'd disappeared, which was interesting, considering that the woman lived at my address. My mother hadn't disappeared in the conventional sense. Her face hadn't appeared on the back of a milk carton. This was before the days of Amber Alert, and she was too old for that sort of all-points bulletin anyway. She'd gone to the land of men, which meant that she was gone mentally to that place where women go when they are single mothers and miss the touch of a man. She'd gone to Randy Land, which was like CandyLand, only without the sweets.

He was a co-worker, a white polyester-clad worker bee like her at the local nursing home. I don't remember them dating. I don't remember courtship. I remember him moving in all at once, as if the date and the co-habitation occurred on the same day, and instead of bringing candy and chocolates, he seemed to come bearing a car load of belongings. His belongings intermixed with our own, and just as quickly, his need for her began its competition with a child's need for her mother. It seemed that every time I was hungry, he was more hungry. Every time, I had a story, he had a better story. When I was hurting from a skinned knee or some unseeable inner wound, she gave her attention to an unwounded man.

So I often found myself looking for her in the strangest places. When I knew she was downstairs, cuddled up on the couch with him, I searched the neighborhood. When they were at Smitty's Tavern, I looked for her in the apartment. I searched for her in her loopy handwritten notes. I searched for her in the refrigerator in the carton of eggs that became the fried egg sandwich dinners I'd become an expert making. I searched for her by picking up the phone and pretending that she was calling me to tell me she was coming home. I searched for her in her bedroom, which had been my wonderland and was now strictly off limits.

Historical documents refer to B.C. (before Christ), and my mind often went to the time period I dubbed B.R.--Before Randy. The Bedroom B.R.was a place to come running early in the morning. I'd climb into bed beside my mother and revel in all that was woman: silky nighties or bare skin--breasts I wondered at, in awe of dark aureoles and black bush. If she had been out the night before, she might still have the residue of night about her: mascara and eyeliner migrated below lashes, cheeks and lips semi-rouged, perfume whispering come hither half-heartedly. Before Randy, she wasn't adverse to me trying on clothes or standing before her dresser and scooping up handfuls of pearls and gold chains and baubles that reminded me of cartoons--pirates, wenches, chests full of treasure, and walking planks.

Sparkling more than any jewel was my mother's porcelain Elvis. When you turned the base, it plinked out "Love Me Tender." My mom loved Elvis, and when you are a little girl, you love what your mother loves. In coming years, I would not love Elvis. I would make fun of this puffy-haired, sparkly jumpsuited man. I would say he couldn't act. I would condemn him for his sneer and for his suggestive swiveling. I would laugh at the thought that anyone could worship a fat, sweaty side-burned Elvis whose scarf alone could bring a girl to her knees. In coming years, I wouldn't even be able to say for sure if I loved a mother who chose a man over me; I would not be sure if I could forgive her for being the reason I went, at the age of 7 to live with my grandmother.

But in those B.R. Days, when forgiveness wasn't a word yet invented, I begged my mom to tell me about the time she went to see him in concert. She told me they sold vials of his sweat. The thought of it made my nose scrunch. Still, I asked her questions I already knew the answers to: "Did YOU buy sweat?" and "Did YOU catch his scarf?" The answer was always no, but I liked to imagine it anyway: Elvis singing only to my mother. And he did, sort of, as long as we kept that figurine tightly wound. The notes would wrap us both in nostalgia, and she would sing. She knew all the words by heart. I wanted to hold Elvis in my hands and watch him twirl in perfect circles. I wanted to present him to her. I wanted her, for once, to have something she wanted and for what she wanted never to leave. She'd warn me to be careful. "Put it down," she'd say. "It's not a toy." Reverent, as if setting up some holy altar, I would set The King back on his throne.

But during one of those nights when I was investigating a missing person's report, I found myself where I was not supposed to be. After Randy, the room wasn't sacred anymore, anyway. The door was always closed now. On those mornings when I wanted to pad across the cold linoleum and crawl into my mom's bed, I couldn't now because he was there. I couldn't see them, but I could hear them. And it was a confusing sound. It was a needy sound, the type when pups still blind try to find their mother's milk. It almost sounded like pain, and there were many times when I wanted to fling open the door and clobber him, but even then, I think I knew that pain sounds sometimes like pleasure.

On one of the last nights I'd live beneath that roof and before anyone had a chance to call the three of us that terrible word--family--I twisted Elvis until he could twist no more. And he played and played and played. And I sang the song like I knew the words. My world was topsy-turvy, but Elvis would always be constant: perfect pompadour, his bee-stung bottom lip, the guitar literally glued to his hands. And then I could hear the sound of keys jangling in a lock, the sound of laughter, the sound of a man and a woman's voice outside the front door. I had to make it right. I had to make like everything was in its proper place. I was her good girl, so I was going to set the still-turning bisque crooner onto the dresser, but an edge caught. My hands weren't big enough.

The song fell to the floor and continued to play, though distorted among the wreckage. Solemn, I waited for them to find me. I waited for her to mete out my punishment. Surely, a spanking was in order. A grounding. Maybe she'd take away some toy I loved. She picked up the pieces--right guitar-playing hand in one of her hands and the rest in her other hand. She said something about super glue. She said something about tomorrow. She disappeared. She left me stinging with lack punishment. More stinging still: she hadn't even noticed the crime.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What's Essential?

It's that which we take for granted. It's the things we don't notice or value until those things are taken from us. I think of this every Sunday when I make the hour-long trek to Orofino. For an hour, I have the privilege of listening to the radio station of my choice, or when the distance takes that away from me, I have the choice to listen to silence or to pop in a cassette tape (a CD is not a choice in my 1995 Toyota Corolla). I have the choice to sing along, badly. I have the choice to brood about whatever is worrying me. I have the choice to cast my worries out and away, somewhere along a bend in the road or out over the Clearwater--my worries as thin as the filament the fishermen cast from their boats or their solitary spots on the shore.
I think of what's essential when I see the railroad cars and the blackberry brambles and the crooked path the patients at State Hospital North built. I think what's essential is the ability to travel by car, rail, plane or boat when I choose to, with my only concerns being destination and for how long I'll be gone. I think what a blessing it is to be able to walk any path I choose, whether it's that rick-rack sidewalk or Warner Avenue with my dog or across America to raise awareness for a cause. Even those blackberry brambles are essential. Not a month ago, I parked my car and walked along the railroad track and picked those blackberries. They were big as the end of my thumb and sweet, and I had every right to stain my hands with their juices, to scratch my skin with their briars, and to feel their weight on my tongue. I was free to sit and eat them as naturally as the bear or the deer. I was free to gather them and take them home to bake later into a pie.
Contrast this with the tall Americano with one shot of raspberry flavoring that's sitting in my car's cup holder. That's what the patient requested. In the past, what's essential to her has been anything she can get from the outside. I've brought her these coffees before. The first time, I brought the coffee and later found out the second-degree burns on her hands were from her pouring hot coffee on herself--intentionally. I've always known that safety is essential, but I rarely think about keeping one safe from one's self, which obviously is vital too.
I've brought banana nut muffins. I've brought cheese quesadillas and bags of chocolate and more recently a box of graham crackers and a jar of vanilla frosting. Food is essential, but comfort food, moreso. It isn't about nutrients or the food pyramid. They are fattening and not the best fuel, but they are essential to the preservation of one girl and the life she used to know outside the hospital.
The State Hospital North, however, begs to differ on these items being essential. As of October 1, I can no longer bring some of these foods and drinks. They cannot be homemade. They cannot be something wrapped in foil or covered over in a plastic coffee cup lid. They must be manufactured, sealed. When I motion to the coffee I brought (not knowing the new rule) and tell her they'll be confiscating it, she says what she has said before when the take away something she finds essential: "That's bullshit." I distract her from what she's lost by asking her what she'd like next time. Nacho cheese Doritos are essential.
Generally, they place us in a room with 3 locked doors. The room contains the essentials: a table, two chairs, a phone (which the worker instructs me in front of the patient that I can use to call in case I need help), a garbage can, and a clock. The clock ticks, and the red second hand reminds me how essential it is that a person can direct her own use of time. I think that clock must be vast as the ocean for her. I feel a certain sense of guilt that I waste time doing nothing, and yet if I was in here and had nothing to do, I'd feel the difference between my own ability to do nothing with time versus not having the option to fill the time with activities.
Sanity is essential, though I've known my share of writers, artists, and musicians who would not accept sanity as a gift because insanity is a gift that keeps on giving, inspiration-wise. I've had my own bouts with trying to figure out what is real and what is not. I've crawled under the dark quilt of depression and found it simultaneously smothering and comforting. I've taken my share of antidepressants and visted my share of green-sweatered nodders, the ones who say nothing but take copious notes. But it's always been situational, explainable. My sadness could be pinned on the death of my grandmother or the loss of a job or a boyfriend who drove me hard until he wrecked me. Bad times passed, and that quilt got folded and put away. I have never, though, known the sort of darkness that doesn't go away. Keeping the darkness away is essential.
When I started the project, I was told that regular visits and the ability to do art was essential to the patient's mental health. It's something I take for granted. I can do it any time I want to. And I'm not limited on projects. Only my imagination limits what I can do. like In here, patients can paint on a shirt with puffy paint or tool a belt or sew, and if you don't enjoy those activities, well, you're out of luck. In the 3 hours we spend together, we glue, paint, and rip. We rip because I'm not allowed to bring scissors. If we paint, we need to use the cheapest paintbrushes possible, the type without a metal ring that holds the bristles in place. The metal ring is considered dangerous. And with all these restrictions on materials, I realize what is essential. I realize there's no need for fancy products or tools. In some ways, it's the ultimate "fuck you" to the long list of rules, because god damn it, we made something beautiful anyway. Making beauty out of the ordinary is essential.
During my most recent visit, I watched her write messages in the cards we made, watched as she ran her tongue across the envelope flap, sealed it, and handed it to me. She asked me to mail what she'd made, and I realized that the most essential thing is having someone to send that letter to. Mail it, blog it, say it on Facebook, say it into the phone or say it to the face closest to yours. We all need a recipient, that someone who hears what you're saying--right or wrong, crazy or sane, boring or infinitely interesting--and is so glad you're around to say it because you are essential, and the world wouldn't be the same if you weren't in it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Sound of Sunshine, Saturday Morning

The Sound of Sunshine is arriving drowsy at 6:30 and greeting the other drowsy vendors--some stoking their fires for BBQ, or arranging produce in edible rainbows, setting out loaves of bread still warm from some distant oven, or hanging their tie-dyes to whip in a technicolor breeze.

Some days, they soldier in wind and rain. Other days they bask in summer's glow and come home with sun-kissed necks. They wait out a breeze, knowing it will pass. It always does. And if it doesn't, the day's money was that much more earned.

The sound of sunshine is the soft hush of money passing from the hand of someone who worked for his money to another who worked hard to make something worth that money. It is the sound of bills getting paid for some and the sound of pocket change for others. It's the sound of the free exchange that takes place among vendors at the end of the day: a plate of tacos for a loaf of bread, a bar of huckleberry soap for a pair of earrings. It is the sound of mutual respect. It sings, "I am just like you."

The sound of sunshine is what I can't see but hear while "manning" my booth: over in the Square, the man in the checkered shirt calling square dance moves to women shaking crinoline stuffed skirts. Or perhaps the old man who isn't a scheduled act but shows up anyway to crack open his case to reveal his set list, which always includes some Dylan.

The sound of sunshine is the sound of shoes of all sorts hitting pavement. They are frat boys and farmers. They are office execs, teachers, preachers, and whores. And all their shoes sound alike. There are babies being wheeled and babies being carried in the blossom of their mothers' bellies. There are women who make their own dresses, who keep their hair in kerchiefs with little girls trailing behind them who look Godly and purposely plain. There are leather-clad, the tattooed and dread-headed. There are motorcycle mamas and soccer moms. There are squeaky clean men and the moses man who seems wise just based on the curve of his spine, and you're sure his walking stick always points him in the right direction, whatever that is.

The sound of sunshine is the leather patter of dog feet. All types of dogs: Great Danes, guide dogs, puppies still learning the ropes. Dogs caught in the intoxicating stew of scent...a food booth wafting Mexican or Egyptian or Greek...the smell of the dogs walking in the opposite direction...the smell of sorority girls walking en perfumed masse.

The sound of sunshine lasts from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from May through October, until half past the return of the college kids. And then it moves on, carnival style or gets packed away or forgotten altogether in favor of "the real world" or a real job. Shorts morph into pants. Tanks and dresses divest themselves of warm bodies and get packed away. Mornings get crisper. There's dew on the windshield. Men blow into their hands to keep them warm when putting their tents up. The leaves fall from the trees, and the whole world seems wrapped in a sweater.

The sound of sunshine is a whisper in the ear of those who stroll the aisles. They know it won't be long before the sunshine is gone completely. There's only so long to savor the peach and how its juice drips down your arm. There's a time and place for huckleberry pie, and that time is closing in. Some try to preserve the sound of sunshine in Mason jars or in freezer bags. Some prefer to eat the sound of sunshine while it's ripe. Some know sunshine is best when we miss it most.