Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Just When I Think I Can't Get Any "Grinch-ier,"...

The Season is usually the reason for me to get disgusted with all the consuming--too much of EVERYTHING.

I'm not judging. I do it too.

But then comes word of the do-gooders, those who dance to the beat of their inner drummers drumming. It compels them to toss something other than a random handful of coins in the Salvation Army donation kettle. They drop in gold coins and diamond rings. They include cryptic notes. Sometimes the heavy-handed donations are memorials. Other times, they seem to be odes to survival. They list off their bad luck, but they say something to the effect that, despite all that has befallen them, they know there's always someone who is more needy.

The gold coin trick isn't a new one. They've documented it for the last 25 years. And for as many years as I've been a spectator, these sweet little mysteries has been breaking my heart in a good way.

But here's the rub: I shouldn't remain a spectator--someone who gets all choked up when someone else does good.

I should be doing good.

I often tell myself the following lie: I'm poor. I'm broke. I have no insurance and medical bills. I have student loans.

Technically, those are truths, but the lie part has to do with a sensibility that, because I cannot donate BIG, I should not donate at all.


What I'm learning is a new math:

Big donations can create big change, but small donations can create...big change.

I also seem to operate under a double-Dutch mentality. I'm the kid watching the rope turn and am unsure when to jump in. I'm waiting for the RIGHT moment when, in fact, NOW or ANY TIME is the right moment.

Do you believe in omens? Signs?

In addition to the "treasure in the red kettle" signs, this week I witnessed two more Random Acts of Kindness (RAK):

1.) Yesterday, I made a trip to my local drive-thru coffee hut. I ordered my usual and then waited with my credit card and frequent drinker punch card. The barista handed me my coffee and motioned to a gentleman waiting at the other hut window. She said, "HE paid for your coffee." I was shocked. Puzzled. A bit uncomfortable, I thanked him. He shrugged and mouthed, "Have a nice day." I felt as if I was going to burst into tears. Seriously.

2.) In Spokane, the news has been covering the story of woman out walking her dog, when the dog was attacked by 2 pitbulls. Nightly, I've been subjected to graphic video of the attack, which includes the owner and her friend pummeling the pitbulls to get them to let go of the tiny dog. Eventually the dog did let go, but not before it killed the woman's dog. I wept. I wept for the woman and her trauma and loss. I wept for the pitbull, who didn't get that violent on its own. I wept for all the pitbulls in the world who will wear that Albatross around their necks and be subject to hatred and discrimination because of the actions of a handful of bad apples (or more likely, bad owners). I wept because my dog rested at my side, chewing mindlessly on a bone. That could have been me walking my dog. The epilogue, though, is that a woman whose Yorki just had a litter of puppies offered the victim dog owner one of the litter.

I cried.
I cried.
I cried.

And then I resolved:

Before December 25, I will pay it forward because progress isn't necessarily about quantity. It's about one. And one. And one. It's a simple math--that and momentum.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

In the Interim

After wine, the investigation begins.
I sit down at the table and work my way
over the Braille of a thousand X-acto cuts.
Precise: China has no place here, nor eating,
only kanji of canvas and the strokes
that bought his daily bread gone stale.
These, his tools for living, brushes askew,
some tips the width of a spatulate thumb,
mustache-like tufts of hair,
each tip makes a special mark
just as each sip of Moscato
has its own dumb warming in his absence.
The best I can do is to make what music I can.
She's with the band. Give that girl
a tambourine! Rolled beneath the palm,
there is the staccato of the brushes'
metal cuffs on the wooden table.
There is her wine glass beside the
murky glass he cleans his brushes in.
Earlier, the cat lapped at the tinted water
with a tongue not unlike a brush.
The cat is now a comma on his pillow.
The girl is pouring another glass of wine.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Full Disclosure

Wordle: star spangled banner

Snowqualmie is calling
in a voice disguised as
It's still dark, and leaves
come in russet waves
across rain-slicked
pavement. Two days ago,
the breeze blew you in.
I hosted the feast,
but you fed me.
Now silence has fallen.
I fear the starting over--
the dread of again
being an only child.
Sister, each visit is diving
for the first time
into the deep end.
Each meeting,
the steep descent
into who I am
and who I fear I'll never be:
not brave enough
to live the way you do:
fully entrenched,
the mind's eye gleaming
with the next big adventure:
you are Teton winters and Hawaii
on the horizon, and I am lost
in some Idaho mist, fitful,
fretting over how long
the trip is and counting
on borrowed fingers how many
firsts I haven't had.
My stories are always filled
with last year,
and how powerful a foe
the past is. You seem
to have no history,
or if you do, you've
written it in a glorious
blaze the first time.
To my no-regrets sister,
I love you. I love your accent,
mile-a-minute mind,
frenetic hands fluttering
at the ends of arms
attached to body
in constant motion.
I look to the hands folded
placidly in my lap and think
clods, heavy, jealousy.
I'm ashamed in my sleep--
bad dreams, but I tell
you over coffee about
nightmares that aren't even my own.
When we meet again, I want
to be less breeze and more blow.
I want to be the steady light
of high beams but
also welcome night.
I want to pack lightly
every once in awhile.
I want the jumble of
maps I can't ever
seem to fold and the luxury
of choosing not to look.
I want not the reflection
in the rearview mirror
but open roads and
the courage to travel them.
I want you to play North.
Next time, you be host.
Smile your bright smile
and hug me when, tired
exhilarated, I make it
to your door.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Life's Little Elections

In explaining how to write an argument, I tell my students about the Toulmin model of argumentation. I talk about the 3 most common claims: claims of fact, claims of value, and claims of policy. Given the fact that my students aren't supposed to use outside sources, I often steer them away from claims of fact. I also steer them away from claims of value. I tell them I don't want them trodding down the same path as those who are trying to argue evolution versus creationism or gun control or abortion or stem cell research or wolves...all those have been argued to death.

Additionally, I try to explain that it hardly ever works to try to argue a matter of personal taste. For instance, there will always be the die-hard Pepsi fans and Coke fans. There will always be those who wear Nike as opposed to Reebok or New Balance, and you won't convince them otherwise. There are truck fanatics out there who wear their preference. Surely you've seen the Calvin and Hobbes stickers in which Calvin is pissing upon some brand name he doesn't like.

The point is, it's hard to convince someone to dislike something they like. And vice versa.

So having laid this foundation in which I try to encourage my students to deal mainly in claims of policy, it was a bit disappointing to have a student turn in preparatory work for his essay, an essay arguing that Spring is the best of the seasons.


It's not that I disagree, and because he is a farm kid whose argument stems from an agricultural standpoint, I'm even more biased and preferential. Nonetheless, I had to ask the student to start over. I had to ask him to offer up another, less subjective argument.

I wonder what kind of a world it would be if we philosophized on the level of Montaigne. What if we were in the habit of starting essays on whatever happened to strike us at a particular moment?

That student had written a meditation on Spring. And despite the fact that I couldn't allow him to do so as a means of demonstrating that he'd learned anything about classical argumentation, I think everyone should at least internally take stock of their preferences, their values, their rights and wrongs, their vote in life's little elections.

Today was the sort of day where I might have cast my vote for winter. Cold clearly won. It kept me in bed until 11 a.m. It held me hostage in the kitchen most of the day where it became my goal to cook things that would warm the insides of those I care about. It was the sort of day where the cat laid on top of technology, which whirred beneath him and kept him warm. It included a neighborhood walk wherein I saw a gentleman performing all manner of ninja kick in order to rid the undercarriage of his car from icicles. It was a walk in which I shuffled along, alternately unsure of my footing on top of ice or plunged deep into a snowy park. I marveled at the ghost of activity--the footprints of man and dog and bird once here but now gone. I enjoyed the quickening of my heart, the chill not quite fended off by coat and gloves. And I was all in favor of my rosy cheeks and the opportunity some don't have--to come inside out of that cold.

Yes, winter. I stand whole-heartedly behind it. Today, anyway.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lions, Tigers, and Bears...Oh My

It is said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. And I'm pretty sure that the way to a girl's heart is via anything adorable, be it baby or furry, or if you're lucky, a furry baby.

Or maybe that's just me. I'm a sucker for a good kitten or puppy YouTube video. In real life, I sense the presence of animals, honing in on them like a heat-seeking missile. And I can't leave them alone. I must 1) squeal with delight, 2) talk to the owner about every last detail of his/her pet, and 3) love up on the animal. Likewise, if I see an animal without a proper human guardian, then I'm all worried and can't stop thinking about it.

So Tobe scored mad boyfriend points for deciding that we should go on a date to Spokane, Washington's one and only zoo dedicated to big cats: Cattails. Located just off the Newport Highway, Cat Tails is tucked into a stand of pine trees, and it's about as far from the animals' typical habitat as you can get. The driveway is fence-lined with blown up pictures of the sorts of big cats housed in the zoo itself. There was also a banner announcing that you could spend Thanksgiving at Cat Tails, where they apparently have a turkey toss. I imagine that being initially fascinating for spectators and then becoming a bit too grisly for the young and the squeamish. It also brought out the first fascinating debate between my boyfriend and me: are the turkeys frozen? Do they literally toss them at the animals? If they're frozen might it not result in a concussion if mis-thrown? Most certainly it would be a Thanksgiving to remember.

For $8, visitors get to walk within 8 feet of the animals. Visitors can wander around on their own, or they can take a guided tour. We happened to arrive shortly after a group of children and their stroller-pushing Stepford mothers (the zoo's blog promotes that "infants that cannot possible escape from the stroller or infant seat" get in free). We could have broken away from the crowd of little ones, but we decided to tag along.

It was snowing, and I couldn't stop thinking that the majority of these animals weren't meant for snow. A tiger from India is not supposed to know cold like this. And the cold made for finicky cats. The tour guide called our attention to a bobcat. We all peered into the 10' x 10' enclosure and saw nothing. The tour guide remarked that it was cold outside and that this particular cat was old. Eventually the old girl came out and rubbed herself along the chain link. She struck me as stiff, humped up against the cold, and bored.

Over and over, we heard similar stories of origin from the tour guide. The key theme in most stories was hubris or God-Complex. Men thought they could have a wild animal as pet and then eventually realized they were in over their heads. The cute cougar or tiger cub later grew up and became harder to handle. Over and over, she told stories of human ineptitude. She told of animals confiscated from places where animals were in small, dirty, "excrement-filled" cages. I wondered how much of this the small children were taking in. I didn't hear any of them gasping in horror. I didn't see any of them looking for comfort from their mothers. In fact, I'm not sure how much the kids were taking in except that I could hear the words "cute" and "pretty" being tossed around liberally.

The children did notice some things. When the tour guide asked if there were questions, it seemed the children most often noticed physical troubles. One noted that a spotted leopard had a "ouchie" on the end of its tail. The tour guide explained that sometimes they get bored and worry the same area too much until they make a sore, or the hair falls off. There were too many stories about things falling off. None was more disturbing than the cougar with the stubbed tail. When one of the children pointed out how the cat seemed to be lacking in the tail department, the tour guide told the story of how it had gotten frost bite on the tip of its tail. The frost bite perhaps bothered the cat. The next morning, it had chewed of 8 inches of its tail.

Among the things I'll remember: wondering what it would be like to be a tour guide, my back turned to these beasts, feeding them chunks of chuck roast on what looked like a dull skewer. I wonder if I would be tempted to call them cutesy nicknames like she did. I wonder if I would be comfortable clanking my keys against their cage in order to get the animals to make an appearance.

I will remember the black bear whose nose seemed like an ant eater's. I couldn't get over its range of movement. They found him in the Spokane area in an orchard. I remember two boys having a snowball fight. I remember the white tiger taking everyone by surprise by sounding a growl that no one expected from cats gone docile in captivity. I remember 3 Siberian siblings pacing their cage in unison. It looked like Vegas showgirls or can-can girls, and I expected them to put their paws on each other's shoulders and kick and perhaps to don a top hat. I remember the flocks of birds in the tiger cages and wondered if the cats ever killed birds. I marveled at how the birds didn't seem nervous. I noticed the tiger sleeping who opened one amber eye to gaze at us. I will remember the huffing sound of the lion and how his mane reminded me of an 80's hair band. I will remember the dreadlocks hanging from his belly. I will remember Tobe's plan for his own zoo. He said he wouldn't have any animals at all. He would simply lead people through, and when they asked where the animals were, he'd make excuses...that they were sick or sleeping.

It's crazy, but it just might work.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Life Is Good

There's nothing like a visit to a nursing home to make you realize life is good.

Is that mean?

It's true. You are out here and not in there (for long). It's a locked facility. The keypad lets you in and keeps them from leaving.

Once inside, you note that it's the Cadillac model, not like where your mom worked. You'd walk there after school and wait for her in the TV room, where you'd sit on a scratchy plaid couch and twitch a bit when residents sat beside you and found no good reasons to touch your young skin. The selling points back then were the quarters in your pocket, the soda pop machine, and the potential for TV remote domination. You'd find Benji or Lassie and nurse your bottle of Orange Crush until your mom got off shift.

Then you'd walk down the waxed hallways and try not to stare at the grown ups gone the way of babies. They were all sitting out in the hallways in their wheelchairs, airing out, as it were. Those who couldn't sit upright laid in wheeled contraptions that reminded you of big city flower carts. There was all manner of moaning and drooling and palsied hands. When you left, the smell of overcooked vegetables and urine clung to your mother's polyester uniform--a smell it took you years to disassociate from her.

You're a grown up now, and supposedly mature--

It's a straight shot to his room, but it's also a gauntlet of sentimentality--touches meant to say this is home (now). Outside each room, there is a locked curio cabinet. A time capsule. When I teach my students how to write profiles, I teach them about dominant impression. I teach them to interview an individual and boil down all the data into a dominant impression--the one overarching characteristic of the individual. A stereotype. That's what the curio cabinet displays do. They are memorial to the person this person once WAS. What would my wall decoration look like? What will it all boil down to at the end of my days?

It boils down to a big screen TV that no one is watching, blaring. It is a single bed. It is a son-in-law remembering to trim the hair inside your ears. It is veal parmesan displayed beneath a glass dome outside the cafeteria and not remembering that's what you had for lunch. It is a dish of pumpkin pie with coconut sprinkled on top, uneaten and congealing. It is the lone man in the dining room still chewing. It is the dog you no longer own but who remembers you still. It is the woman with the barrettes in her hair, who scuttles along in a walker with tennis balls on the legs. The woman fears the dog and loves it. She says, "You love me, don't you?" to the dog, who cannot sit down and whimpers at the end of his leash.

It is a tour of the last resort, of sorts. Here is an empty movie theater that will play Top Gun at 6:30. Here is bingo. Here is the mailroom, the library, the vastly underutilized computer room. Here is arts and crafts. Here are photos of the Veteran's Day ceremony. It was beautiful. Here are the chairs gathered around a piano for singing. Here is an in-house coffee shop with a latte and popcorn machine. Here is the game room, with its ski poles and fishing nets tacked up just so. Here are the pool tables, poker tables, shuffleboard. Here is the place where only the family plays games. Grandkids play Wii casino games. Here is a self-serve ice cream shop, where the treats are for residents only, please. Here is an ice cream sandwich that someone unreels for you, and it feels awkward in your hands and sets you to worrying a napkin in your hand. Here is the place where your grandfather remembers you were once married and and not to this girl. You are the new girl he keeps trying to place. Here is where he says, "So it didn't work out, huh?"

All this, and then the long walk down that hallway with its locked door. This is where he wants to go along, and you say you'll be back tomorrow. Outside you've never seen anything as beautiful as a sky threatening snow. You are thankful for knowing November and all its idiosyncrasies, its balm and briskness, its temperamental leaves and sunshine. You give thanks for the giants on the hillside--windmills churning what isn't visible into precious energy.

Monday, September 12, 2011

There Shouldn't Be Any Sensation...

After all, I am not clay, and there'll be no laying on of hands. He is over there, in his stiff chair, and I am here beside the mirror image of a girl with too many flaws to be offering up her body for the sake of art.

I don't know how to do it, but take my cue from the other thick figures in the fat stack of notebooks. Some--the notebooks and not the women--are so old they're held together with silver duct tape that, itself, is coming apart. Maybe the women, too.

Who were they? And where are they now? Where can I be? How long can I stay?

Heavy. If it weren't for these pillows, I might fall through the mattress. Vulnerable. I am thin as the skin on the inside of the wrist. You could daub perfume here, and the heat would set the scent on fire. I am a pulse with a voice who isn't using it right now. What would I say? There's discomfort in the draping over. I draw my knees up and am acutely aware that doing so will gather things I don't want gathered.

I am acutely aware.

I more than care about this man. That scary L word is a lozenge on my tongue. His black cat is settled into a sliver of light all magical-like. The windows are slightly parted, almost silent lips. The birds and lawnmowers that wake us have gone away, but there is the ganga cough of a neighbor and kids teaching themselves football while their parents play poker in kitchen chairs they've moved out on the fire escape.

The first time I took off my clothes, I tried to hide behind Bob Dylan. His grizzled mug stared up, and his nasal songs didn't sooth me. Today there will be no music, only the scratch of pencil across paper and the occasional sharpening. I think how delicate--those pencil shavings look like tiny skirts--petticoats edged in yellow. I'm trying too hard. They don't look like that at all. They are the remains. Or the beginning, depending on how you look at it.

How is he looking at me? I asked once, a stupid question, I know, and he talked about being more interested in negative space. He said he'd know just how to draw my proportions if he paid more attention to the painting behind me. It made sense.

If I had any talent at all, I'd draw him drawing me. I'd capture that question-mark eyebrow.

I'd incorporate the whole morning, with its coffee breath and hunger. Each day we spend together is a halo we wear above our heads. It's not that different from the cafe decorated with black and white portraits. We ate and looked each other in the eye and held hands across worn wood. Tab paid, we grabbed peppermints from a bowl beside the register, walked out into the noon glare with starbursts on our tongues, and that sweetness lingered, telling us all we needed to know.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Tell me a story..."

When he asks, it's as though the bedroom is a blank page. In the jungle damp sheets, we try to disentangle--return to our single selves. We grow shy, and he tucks an unruly hair strand behind my ear, which is all that is needed to clear my vision:

You are never so alive as you are when you are young and unsupervised. I was a ward of the neighborhood. You could find me outside, learning the fine art of the BMX bike from David, a teen who probably shouldn't have wanted to hang out with a little girl. Or I might be picking dandelions bouquets with Jody and selling them door to door to makes some quick candy money. Or maybe I was in Charlie's backyard, eating canned peaches on saltine crackers and pretending they were fancy sandwiches at an English tea.

I don't recall who I was with when the cemetery seemed like a good destination. A playground, really. I can only remember that the town was on edge that summer because women had gone missing. People were on the lookout for vans. Parents went on safety lesson rampages doling out stranger mistrust and curfews, which is probably exactly why we'd broken free and were exploring.

Where the cemetery butted up against saw mill and golf course, in some remote corner still free of marble grave markers, there was a knoll of grass and shade trees that seemed just right for resting after our child gang adventures. I don't remember who discovered the black garbage bag, and honestly, I'm not sure if I really looked inside or if I took someone else's account and made it mine. At that age, the blood one sees is contained to skinned knees and elbows or a steak your dad (if you have one) throws on the grill. This wasn't grocery store meat. There was too much of it. It was too messy and writhing with maggots. I don't think any of us were old enough to make excuses or meaning.

An adult would have a backlog of cruelty to draw from. In the file cabinet mind, they would pull the folder for poaching, reason that a hunter may have killed something out of season and dumped the innards where they wouldn't offend. An adult would know that sometimes household pets breed and are too many and too much to handle and so are dispensed with. This was no burlap bag of kittens thrown into a river or a box of puppies left roadside.

An adult might have thought to call the police. But we were children who squealed and dared each other to have a closer look. To touch 'it'. We were children who rode bikes with banana seats, tassles on the handlebars, playing cards tucked in the spokes. We could hear our mothers calling. I'd pretend to hear mine. Lunch was almost ready, and our hunger would erase what we had or had not found.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Man Next to the Best Man

I'm too far from sea for shipwrecks. Here, the yachts knot themselves in circles, so the party never ends. It's just a matter of stepping to the next vessel when company gets old or the alcohol runs low. Elsewhere, skiers trail behind small engines, drone during the most important part of the wedding ceremony. At a certain time of day, they seem to glide on sunshine instead of water. All eyes are on the bride and groom, but he--a groomsman and my date--looks out on the lake in the same way some fortune tellers look into a cup of tea to read the leaves.

Where is he?

The day before, I'd accompanied him to the tux store for the final fitting. I sat on a couch and waited. Frat boys with faux hawks spilled out of dressing rooms, already high on the idea of sowing their wild oats. I busied myself looking at the technicolor vests and posters of grooms serenading their brides on guitar. A little boy with bed hair ran around the room as him mom and dad got ready for their big day. He had red hair and skin so pale I thought I could see through it.

When he came out, the woman looked down at her clipboard. She noted his weight loss from the initial fitting. He required new pants, and the woman cinched his vest as tight as it would go. He paid the lady and left with a body bag draped over his arm. "Are you all right?" he kept asking.

He's the one who wasn't eating. And I kept thinking, I wish it was as easy to make him happy as it was for the mother of that pale-skinned boy. When he'd fallen and skinned his knee on the tux store carpet, all it had taken was a box of animal crackers in the shape of a cage.

I had nothing of the kind in the car. No remedies. I imagined feeding that hurt, that gauntness like we had fed the car earlier, stuffing it with backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, and a box full of booze that rattled and chinked when we took corners too quickly.

And it seemed the drive was all corners if that was possible.

When we arrived, he unpacked a bottle of tequila first. He took a pull and grimaced a bit until it turned smooth behind his lips. "Ready?" he asked. And we walked hand in hand down that gravel path to where it was all happening. The camp had been double booked, wedding party and bible camp. Activities were oddly parallel. In some cabin, foal-legged pre-teens were turning yarn into eyes of God, while the women were arranging sunflowers in blue vases.

Beneath a neon cross, children were pledging their love for God and their crushes on fellow campers. And we had our own neon. We called it the moon, and we swam beneath it the night of the wedding. He was no longer looking out across the water to avoid
it. He was wincing across sharp rocks until he'd reached the deep with me--the deep where the rocks turn smooth, where the water turns inexplicably warm, where the past is as distant as the shore, and in the arms of the right person, shipwrecks are the stuff of children's books: the pirates are on some page you've already turned, and treasure glints on some future page.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011



Temperatures low in the high country,
deer wintered here, still do
in the natural salt lick
of Warm Springs mound,
stepping over abandoned tracks
oozing tar in the Big Sky sun.
Once these rails would take you
to Chicago,Milwaukee, St. Paul--
I can still feel the pull of it and yet
they made a home of it.
The Cattle King and his million acres
whispered and some heard.
It wasn’t a hard life unless
you landed in the castle.
Sandstone ghosts still
adhere to the code of silence,
working in groups by day
and confined at night.
I don’t need to walk inside.
I know the soft brick and lack
of light,30 below, oil smoke, the rank
of too many bad men in one place.
Idleness bred insurrection,
so he made them build their own walls.
I can testify, fresh air changes a man.
I was falling asleep at the wheel,
so we pulled over at the edge of Deer Lodge,
where the horses seemed wilder
than they were. It is not a lie
that they ran in tandem
as we kissed. It wasn’t the sun
that caused the heat
that became unbearable. We fled,
got locked up next to a Volkswagon bug
with rust in the shape of starbursts.
And who knows how long
we would have stayed beneath that sun
if it had not been for the old man
returning from a stream that probably
always run clears. I swear he carried
his pole like a rifle. He’d had no luck.
Caught, we were shy. And I wish
we’d taken him at his word.
He’d said, “Don’t let me stop you.”
But damned if our separate homes
weren’t calling.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Yesterday's Lessons

There are 3 types of tears: 1) the type you produce constantly in order to keep the eyes moist and free of foreign bodies, 2) reflex tears, the type that occur when a foreign body (think eyelash or onion or pepper spray) enters your eye, and 3) what they call psychic tears, the tears produced when you are emotional (sadness, anger, humiliation, joy, etc). The last type of tear has a different makeup than the others. Psychic tears apparently contain a natural pain killer for the eye, since otherwise, all that crying might cause pain or damage your sight.

Research suggests that tears might serve evolutionary purposes as well. For example, The Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel concluded that emotional tears from women have been found to reduce sexual arousal in men. From an evolutionary standpoint, it suggests that crying may have been a way to drop testosterone, thus reducing aggression, and potentially stopping a male from violence that may get him killed or that may interfere with mating and perpetuating a species. This effect also seems to hold true in animals. Blind mole rats rub tears all over their bodies as a strategy to keep aggressive mole rats away.

When we're born, we lack the ability to cry psychic tears for awhile. We don't yet have the brain and nerve wiring that allows it. Thus, you see the infant or child who wails and gets red faced, but there are no tears rolling. We expect infants to cry. We allow it through toddler stages, seeing temper tantrums and emotional meltdowns as par for the course. Even teenagers are given leeway, as tears are pegged as part of adolescent angst. Moodiness and emotional outbursts are expected and depicted often. Think James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

Adult crying is a different story. people fall into different camps. The stereotype that women are emotional seems to have a backbone of truth, and there still seems to be the mindset that men should not cry.

Some are uncomfortable with seeing people cry in public, and others are cheerleaders, encouraging tears as beneficial. Essentially, they assume once you've had a good cry, you'll feel better. Crying is therapeutic.

Is it? Frankly it makes me feel weak and out of control. And I can't control it. Trying to contain tears seems akin to those people who stifle sneezing. It seems...dangerous or bad for the body.

So they roll.

Crying makes you ugly: red face and nose, puffy eyes, saline streaks on the cheeks, makeup running. Come to think of it, those researchers in Israel might want to factor ugliness into their tears-reducing-testosterone theory.

In the last few days, I've conducted my own involuntary research about crying and the reactions to it.

* Tears aren't produced while industriously cleaning the pantry down to its intricate nooks and crannies. They don't come while alphabetizing your spices and rearranging rice grains.They aren't produced while pulling weeds. But the moment you stop working, and you have a moment to think and remember, there they are, and they seem to have brought friends.

* Tears infere with speech. You may be trying to communicate your sadness to others, but they haven't a clue what you're saying and will ask you to repeat yourself because your sobbing is basically a foreign language.

* Tears make others uncomfortable. They have no idea what to do or say. When they do speak, they will inevitably say things that are not helpful. This includes but is not limited to:
- there are plenty of fish in the sea
- name calling the person who caused your tears or attacking his looks or something not
remotely related and are comments which make you fierce and defensive because you love
- they remind you to do things that aren't possible like eating and sleeping
- they compliment you and tell you how awesome you are when you feel like a piece of shit
- they check in with you and trigger more tears with the simple question, "How are you
- they tell you each day will make you better, but they do so while out at a concert with their significant other or while playing with their children
Basically, they also are speaking a foreign language, and you can neither process nor apply their suggestions.

* Animals acknowledge sadness with an abundance of love. They follow you everywhere you go. They sit on your lap more. They look up at you with wet noses and big brown eyes and a wrinkle in the brow, and you suddenly become an animal behavioralist and think they KNOW. They understand, when really they want to ensure that you'll get your ass out of bed or off the couch and feed and walk them. It's survival of the fittest, and they know, in your condition, you are not fit.

* When there is a pause in your crying, you will hit Play by reviewing the final transcript of texts. Or you will look at photos or, God help you, you will play songs all of which are sad. Black Keys and Dan Auerbach will rip your heart partially out of your chest, and then fully when you remember Him imitating Dan Auerbach and singing a particular song.

* You will cry thinking about the day you won't cry over your loss anymore because that, too, is a scary day--that limbo day when you've healed your heart sufficiently to take the risk of opening it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Audrey's Army

Audrey Hepburn once said that she was born with an enormous need for affection and a terrible need to give it. I don't know the quote's context. I don't know whether she saw that as a positive or negative attribute. The word "terrible" suggests that she saw it as a flaw. And it is, especially in a world that may not provide that affection or welcome your "gift" of affection.

It seems disastrous to have an army of Audrey Hepburns out there seeking out affection and trying to strong-arm others into taking it. Hepburn said she was born that way. I buy that to a certain extent. After all, if you walk up to any hospital nursery, there will be some babies red-faced and screaming to be held, fed, changed. But you will also find the peace-faced babies fast asleep.

I believe its more nurture than nature. I believe our families establish how affectionate we'll be, how needy we'll be, how confident or insecure we'll be. Perhaps the families establish the mindset by example, or perhaps we choose to operate in polar opposites to what we witness growing up. Some have mothers who've married multiple times, and the children of those mothers decide marriage is to be avoided. Others have mothers who, beyond finding someone to conceive a child with, seem doomed to be single their entire lives. The child of that mother decides to chase love tirelessly.

Once we've left the nest and have gained independence, I would say that friends and lovers, past and present determine the extent to which we need affection or the measuring cup from which we pour (or dribble) affection on others.

We refer to those who need little and dribble out affection to others as independent. And usually we admire those people who have their emotions more in check than those who wear hearts on sleeves, those who can't keep their emotional germs to themselves.

Singer, Ani DiFranco, theorized, "People need something or someone to fasten themselves to in order to reassure themselves that they are real." I'm scared by the word, "fasten," and I'm worried about the word, "reassure." The first word carries with it the connotation of a singular action rather than a shared action. A leech fastens itself to a host, while the host would prefer leechlessness.

Then "reassure." Of course it means the person is not sure him or herself. The person has not arrived at a conclusion, is puzzled, is in the dark. I think I do what she's talking about, and that is only made clear when I am alone. When alone, I have the distinct feeling that I am ghostly, transparent, not of this world, invisible.

To be clear, that is not the opposite of independent, as some might quickly conclude. Co-dependent? No. I simply think one light shines better and brighter when another light joins it. That why we have two headlights on our car. Yes, we can see with one, but it's a clearer and safer drive with two.

Ani DiFranco talks about forming attachments so we feel real, which isn't that different from Margaret Mead, who said, "One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don't come home at night."
I know every day people go about their lives alone: brushing their teeth, making their own breakfast, going to work, coming home from work, eating dinner, sleeping, shitting, masturbating, etc. Yes, it can all be done alone, and some welcome and cultivate that solitary life.

I'm not a fool. I know being alone is easier. There's certainly no drama, no sorting out of feelings, no negotiating, no examining one's own behavior, no trying to please someone, having to care about another's needs. In fact, there's barely a footprint. I don't want that. I want to care about others and celebrate their existence and let them know they matter and would be missed if gone from the world.

I don't want to be one of those people you read about on the news. You know the ones. The neighbors rarely saw the person. The person kept to herself. Then the cloying smell came, and they alerted the authorities. I don't want my life to go unnoticed by others.

Leo Buscaglia said, "We need others. We need others to love and we need to be loved by them. There is no doubt that without it, we too, like the infant left alone, would cease to grow, cease to develop, choose madness and even death."

When alone for large periods of time, I feel that--I feel stagnant, stunted. I feel like I wither. It's not that I neglect my development when alone. I read, I write, I make art. But the passion and emotion and thought process that goes into those outlets is stopped in its tracks. I want to share what I've read. I want to engage in the sort of relationships and life adventures that make me want to write. With art, I want someone who admires how hard I work, who appreciates the end product, even if he doesn't fully understand the method behind my madness, who encourages my artistic growth, and someone who is equally passionate about his own art, whatever that may be.

I can eat alone, but I love cooking for others and being cooked for. I can move my body on my own, but how sweet is it to share the air on Mica Mountain or to point out a landmark on a hike to someone else? Sexually, I can please myself, but it's the difference between a firefly and a bolt of lightening. One can accomplish the big O, but I cannot hold my hand, cannot massage my back, cannot spoon myself, cannot kiss myself 3 times before I go to sleep.

To be clear, I HAD that. And once one has that, being alone is devastating.

There are no medals of honor or commendations for wanting to be loved or giving out love. There are usually only scars and sometimes casualties. So why do it? A friend told me, "It will burn and hurt like a motherfucker, and then you will feel shitty and tinny for awhile, and then you will be okay. Hold fast." How funny is it that he could just as easily be talking about walking on hot coals or getting a tattoo or having a child, but instead he is talking about heartbreak?

Again, so why do it? Why sign on for another tour of duty? Why march purposefully through territory fraught with landmines and booby traps?

Actually, the metaphor isn't right, is it? Love isn't war. And there shouldn't be marching but spontaneity or serendipity--realizing that what you may find is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for. It happened once upon a time (a.k.a July 11, 2010). I didn't seek it out, but there it was: bright as tie dyes flapping in the summer sun. Love was unmistakeable. My world was tie dye bright for one year, and now it's not. And the Audrey in me is half-heartedly wishing she was colorblind because the absence of brightness now brings a harvest of tears, sleeplessness, and a mind mired in memories.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mona Lisa in a Different Light

I'm participating in Marion Bockelmann's annual blog swap. The challenge is "Altered Mona," which is to say that she'd like participants to create ATCs re-envisioning the work of Renaissance artists. Participants send 3 ATCs to Bockelmann in Germany by mid-July and will get 3 ATCs in return.

I worked with Botticelli, turning the rather prim woman sitting in front of a window into a streetwise, tattooed woman in front of a brick wall covered with graffiti.

Next I worked with Raphael. I replaced the pastoral scene in the original with a Route 66, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives kind of feel.

Finally, I worked with a famous reclining nude. In this case I gave her a contemporary (or maybe timeless) concern: her weight. I included an illustration from an old text, Refashion Your Figure, as well as text that suggests that extra weight makes you socially inept.

Friday, May 27, 2011

She's Crafty Like That...

Ever watch MacGuyver? The TV show, which ran 7 seasons, from 1985 to 1992, followed the ever-resourceful secret government agent MacGyver. This guy is a hottie scientist (is that an oxymoron?), a bomb technician, and a Vietnam vet. He's constantly in situations where he has to solve complex problems--problems which often could kill himself or others if not solved IMMEDIATELY--with everyday materials he finds around him. He can use chewing gum, duct tape, and a Swiss Army knife to get himself out of pretty much any situation. He fights the bad guys without a gun. He fights them with his mad intelligence. He's calm, cool, and collected, never breaking a sweat or mussing his awesome mullet.

About now, you're wondering why I'm sharing this. Well, I fancy myself a modern-day MacGyver, only instead of duct tape and a Swiss Army knife, my tools of trade are the sorts of things you find around your house or, at the very least, at your local thrift store or yard sale.
Over the years, I've honed my squirreling skills. I squirrel away items I think will be useful in my art. To the untrained eye, these items might seem useless in that capacity:

Here we have a spaghetti measurer (for those people who actually concern themselves with carbohydrate portion control)

And here we have a plastic doily--the type most of your grandma's have covering up any and all surfaces.

Any game players here? Brand new games often have pieces which need to be punched out. I save the pieces of cardboard after punching out the pieces. Or I ask friends to save them for me. These are special friends who probably secretly roll their eyes or think I'm crazy, but they do what I ask anyway, which is the best kind of friend...don't you think?

This is a 49-cent metal star. I'm not sure what its intended purpose is. It's really too small to hold anything.

This is a paper plate holder. It was 20 cents.

This is a beheaded fly swatter.

Sometimes my dog helps the artistic process. He found this badminton shuttlecock while out on one of our walks.

So aside from sounding like a candidate for Hoarders, what do these things have in common? Awesome patterns! I use them to stencil. I use Glimmermist or make my own colored mists using reinkers and perfect pearls. Or if I'm in a graffiti mood, I take the whole operation outside and use spraypaint.

Have I mentioned that I save everything? This is the paper towel I used to dry off my stencils after each application. I later stamped the paper towel with a foam butterfly stamp and acrylic paint, which yielded a Batik-y look.

And what was I working on in the first place? Well, I'm in a collage group, and each time I send off a collage, I like to send it in style--with colorful envelope art. I'd like to think I'm momentarily making the post office workers happy. If this was a TV series, I'd be using my art to bring those workers down from the metaphorical edge. I'd be stenciling to prevent them from "going postal."

Even if you can't imagine yourself sending out mail in decorated envelopes, can you imagine the money you'd save on wrapping paper if you created your own? Or if you're at a loss for a project for the kiddos, why not let them lose with some household stencils and a large sheet of newsprint out in the backyard?

So what household items are you ignoring? What new tools can you add to your studio?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Several months ago, I happened upon an interesting Facebook page, The Collage Collaborative. The group is the brainchild of Ohio-based artist, Nikki Soppsela. Group members live all around the world. For instance, the other collage I feature in this blog entry originated in Western Australia, went on to the Phillippines, then to the U.S. (Ohio), to Wales, and finally back to the U.S.A where it landed in my mailbox!

Participating members create a 5 x 7" collage--a skeleton really. The original collage gets sent on to four other members who each flesh out the original skeleton by adding an element or two. The fourth member then sends the finished collage back to its originator. The group documents each step of the process on its Facebook page. I was mesmerized by the metamorphosis. And who could resist the ability to travel the world for the price of postage? So I requested to join.

Since joining, I've created my own collage as well as helped four collages on their journey to completion. Yesterday's mail yielded 2 collages. Not even envelopes are safe from crazy collage artists. Each member decorates the outside envelope, and often they include some sort of art for the next member to keep. You wouldn't believe how getting one of those envelopes amongst bills and junk mail can change the course of an entire day. Well, that might be overly dramatic. At the very least, your soul smiles for a second before you race home to see what the next creative challenge will be. I'm kind of a nut, so I generally add to the collage on the same day I receive it.

The first collage originated from Ma.nimfa Maligaya Ursabia, who studied fine art at the Phillipine Women's University. Three others added to it. When it got to me, it looked like this:

I added a haunting set of eyes. The eyes are a stamp from B Line Designs. I did a packing tape transfer, so the beautiful handmade paper would show beneath. I colored in the irises with alcohol ink. The result:

Australian's Sue Byrne was the mother to the next collage I worked on. The "baby" then went to visit 3 "aunties," until finally the stork brought her to my doorstep. When I opened the envelope, this is what I saw:

Well the creative process for me always goes something like this: "flowers, a set of female hands pulling back a curtain, a bird, butterflies, flowers, and NOW the Queen of England?! Oy!" The mind sort of explodes for a moment, and then you act. I found that I was most inspired by the element I was initially most flustered by. Then it becomes, for me at least, a game of association: "Queen" leads to queen of hearts card, which creates a problem with color. The playing card was simply too bright and brought in a yellow I didn't like, so I sanded the yellow parts of the card and colored them in with Faber-Castell PITT pen in a shade that complimented the butterflies and flowers. Then the phrase, "Queen for a Day" popped into my head. I followed that imaginative trail by looking for rubber stamps that might suggest royalty: a crown, which I whimsically put on the bird and the number 4. Finally, I was uncomfortable with some open spaces to the left and right of the butterflies, so I decided to add a couple more. I didn't want to cut out the image of a butterfly, so I added a couple using some face-painting stencils I recently purchased. I traced the outlines with Permaball pens and finally colored them with watercolor pastel. Was I done? It's my feeling that a piece of artwork will always let you know when it's done with you and not the other way around. As a finishing touch, I added some clear glitter glue to the bird's crown and to the stenciled butterflies.

I will be sad when this project comes to an end. I hope to wriggle into the good graces of group leader and collage goddess, Nikki. I hope to plead my case that I deserve a seat on her next creative train.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

She Art

She Art - page 1

I signed up for Christy Tomlinson's She Art class. You can read more about it HERE. Or go see the art pieces her students are creating in the She Art Flickr group HERE. You can find her blog HERE.

Students create layered, collaged canvas backgrounds comprised of scrapbook papers, personal ephemera, stamping, painting, stenciling, and more. While I don't know that the girls are my thang, I AM excited about the techniques Tomlinson teaches. Though I often refer to myself as someone who employs mixed-media techiques, I realized after taking this course, I've been lying to myself. I rarely venture beyond a straight-forward collage technique and, if anything, I only dabble in terms of adding sewing notions or sewing on my work.

Christy has opened up new possibilities and a new-found confidence in playing, in getting messy, in creating with a pure heart and reckless abandon. Future work will, no doubt, be affected by this 3 months in the online classroom.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


It began with little changes. At first, I noticed his cat seemed to be outside more often. Then the strange cars began to appear. I assumed family was visiting. Yesterday an oxygen vendor made a stop there. Today, another car was there. Its license plate holder bore the word, "Hospice." Now it makes sense. My neighbor is sick. Leaving-the-world-soon sick. I feel guilty. I've never talked to him. All I know is not much. One should not live feet away from another human and know so little. Observation shouldn't be the lifeblood of my memories of a man making ready to die. Goodbye to the man who lives in the house with its bright turquoise trim. Goodbye to the lawn mowed in perfectly straight rows. Goodbye to front-porch whirlygigs glinting in the sun. Frost said, "Good fences make good neighbors." Why, then, do I feel so bad?

Monday, April 18, 2011


Design says
is bestowed upon
the male while
the female
perfects the pheasant art
of blending in.

Design says
if any root remains,
the fallen tree will
grow sideways,
curve sensuously
around the standing.

Design says
wind can be seen
and swaying
is the loudest sound
in the forest--proof
that strong doesn't mean
not bending.

Design says
nothing is immune
from dying,
even a little at a time
whether lightning struck
or riddled
from the inside.

Design says
that mushrooms
are hard like mussel shells
or shingles hanging
and so hard--a house
and a door
you can knock on
but you'll never be
let in.

Design says
there is no such thing as
too muddy, for
you can always
cross over
the bridge you make
of what's fallen.

Design says
soft hair of moss
you held in your hands
stays green long after
it's stopped living.

Design says
you've strayed too far
from the country
because you can no longer
name what needs naming.
Each pussy willow
is merely a bud.

Design says
it doesn't matter
who made the poop.
The pile is wildness
come and gone before you,
maybe still in your midst.

Design says
lungs will burn
you winter clean, free
the cobwebs from
summer memory
remind you
are alive and dying.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When Your Mother Goes Square Dancing

What does age do to the wallflower?
Does it make it any easier?
She leaves in her elastic-waist jeans
and orthotic shoes, having stood before
the mirror for only a minute--
long enough to draw on lips and to
run a brush through her silver hair.

Every Thursday I consider playing chauffeur
because I fear she won't get there safely.
Not long ago, our cars passed, I waved
and she seemed oblivious. I was traffic
and not the familiar, her daughter.
Does she notice the sliver moon and
the clatter of stars above her? Does she

sing along to the radio? At 64, does
she sit in her car, steaming up windows
until courage is a corsage she can wrap
around her wrist? Does she mingle
or sit in some dark corner alone?
She tells me she is one of the young ones,
the swinging single surrounded by

wedding bands sunk into skin. These are
swans who mate for life, and she
sashays left or do se dos
and someone swings her only
when the caller says so. It's hard to recall
a time she truly had a partner.
I wonder what cruel luck allows some

to dance all their lives, over so many
waxed wooden floors and what sweet sadness
must she suppress in order to keep flying solo
knowing each outstretched hand is artifice,
offered for these few fun hours.She never sours
of trying and told me once that I should come with her.
She said, "You'd like it. There are people your age."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Everything, it Seems, Is Pink

my recovering lungs,

this Lewiston sunrise after rain,

the 2 lopsided apples sitting

at my desk, the lips

I painted this morning,

and after having found

the Audubon calendar

stuck on March, I turned

the page to find

the outstretched wings

of the roseate spoonbill,

whose legs, even in flight,

seem grounded, whose face

only her hungry child

could love, and whose nest,

for all intents and purposes,

must look as if it's blushing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Meditation on Brown

It's April brown. It's cabin-crazy, Sunday brown

and we haven't seen the sun

for seasons. We'd rather see brown

than be blue, and so we are driving

the gravel-sparse county, not knowing

where we're going. We feel the pull of it.

It's caution that turns our music down

and makes us realize our stories

have no end or beginning.

It surrounds us: ditch and patchwork fields:

the straw and the clod, the fissure and crack

of a wet wound healed and reopened. We ride

parallel the slope and climb. We tic off time

in terms of sand and loam and clay unbaked.

We witness slide, the silt, and off-kilter hills.

Run off makes for unplanned ponds.

The feathers of ducks are the only green thing.

Otherwise, it's dead grass

in the unfenced yards of people who

know no neighbors. If they planted flowers,

they planted them long ago. Wild bulbs

make their maybe promises of crocus,

hyacinth, daffodil. The house on the hill

is a fortress, whose fence opens out to field.

This dirt is machine worked

or hand sifted by winter that knew no

letting up. Don't shoot the messenger.

Winter is a precursor to that thing

we've been waiting for. I'm sure Spring

is tucked somewhere out here

past the city limits signs. Bless its softness.

Bless the sometimes disappearance of snowflakes.

Bless the impressionistic tracks

and the roads still closed to traffic

that doesn't exist. Bless the paw print

and the hoof beaten sod, the dust we grind

into the welcome mat. Bless the boots

drying outside the door, bless the cat

who chatters at squirrels. Bless the cold

linoleum. Bless the steeping cup of tea,

and the hands making prayer hands around it.

Bless the returned lovers trading heat

and hoping winter will soon be over

under this familiar white blanket.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Isn't every kitchen yellow? And doesn't everyone have a radio sitting on that room's version of a mantle? It was there like clockwork, like whatever saying explains reliability. The day began and ended with that leather box. KRLC 1350 and coffee, call-in classifieds while sitting around the table eating weekday Shredded Wheat and toast more butter than bread or weekend feasts of meat and eggs served sunny side up and dark with the grease she cooked them in.We were unapologetically country. She whistled mainly, but occasionally I heard the rasp of her voice working its way over a choice line. Hank and Waylon and Willie offered advice for living, and I took it. You can't be a daddy's girl with no daddy, but thankfully there was always grandma and the country. Then cancer and its own gravel roads: radiation with its tattoo scars and peeled skin, the pain pump, hospice and that final January day. I'm not sure if music was playing when I cooked the food she couldn't eat. Grease was its own medicine we'd pretend and she'd move it around on the plate as if spreading it out was taking it into her body. There was no sound at all those nights I watched as she moved her lips, speaking to no one I could see. When she could no longer drink, I learned to wet her tongue with the sponges they gave me which reminded me of childhood lollipops. There was no soundtrack then, only my dog sleeping beneath her bed and crying coming from other rooms. I can remember when I thought it morbid that she had it all planned out: flying over the farm, my uncle and her friend tend to her land once more in this different way. But things don't always go as planned. Sometimes young die before old, friendships grow cold, and a plane becomes a hand. Sky becomes the distance from hip to winter-killed grass. What songs were humming through my head then, holding ashes with more bone than I'd imagined? What songs were echoing through a house being emptied of all she'd ever owned? What songs were contained in that tough leather that I took when told I could pick 3 things to remember her by?

Friday, April 1, 2011


Andrew Wyeth, Eat Your Heart Out It's perfect timing that the little stranger has accompanied her daddy to class this day when I introduce ethnography. It's about why do we do the things we do. We'll study one bird to have something to say about the flock. Earlier, this little bird piped up. As I turned my back to write on the board, I heard, "Are you the wicked witch of the West? 'Cause that's what my daddy says." Her honesty is perfect and my cheeks burn beneath it. Her father dances a jig. He's danced before in a discussion about the power of words. We'd read an essay encouraging women to think themselves queens in a world where rappers pronounce them ho's and bitches. He compared those words to nigger at which point the static roared and I couldn't hear. When he was done, he apologized to the one black student in the room and the discussion resumed as if they were collectively trying to bury a body. There are days when they say what I could never teach, when the lesson isn't written in the plans. Then and now, I feel helpless. I want to erase it from the air, where it hangs long after they've left. I think witch stings a little but it doesn't burn like nigger must. It's not skin. I go on: Susan Orlean brought us "The American Man at Age 10," and I model technique on his daughter who has spent the hour doodling. She is 6. She likes 'ghetti best for dinner. Yellow is her favorite color. I ask, "Who is your favorite person in the world?" thinking she will say it's her dad, but she says "dog" instead and the students laugh and soon the air is lighter. At the end of the hour, the students leave with whatever they gather. I'm erasing when I feel the smallest pressure around my thigh. She is hugging me. She says, "You aren't really a witch at all."I'm left spinning, circling the way my dog does when he's trying to find the soft spot of a hard floor. My dog is, indeed, the world's best person because he doesn't speak but knows the certain number of rotations that makes the slumber easier. Whether my lesson plans hit or miss escapes him. He doesn't have time. He lives even in sleep: running limbs, the whimper, the always satisfied sigh.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Idaho Springtime

Partially bragging, I tell him three decades
might as well be a lifetime. I say I know
these roads like the back of my hand.
The truth is, I never get used to
not knowing margin from text. Where
does the road end and ditch begin?
And what about this wildness
that earlier said "Spring," yet the fields
aren't made of soil but sky,
and there's no horizon. Earlier,
I might have pointed to a hawk
atop a speed limit sign
or the farmhouse where border collie
runs herd, nipping at the heels of
his two horses who run like there's no
fence line to be pressed against. These
are my mile markers those mornings
after coffee disappears and the daily bread
is packed in a cooler. I bless his day,
kiss him clean of the sins we practice nightly,
this fine art of loving without saying
that word. This language of snow is so
fickle. He's wearing shorts
because the sun was shining earlier.
Now, the heater hums, and we bask
while forging the tracks that say we are
here, and thankfully, nearly there.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Big Ups

Lately, there have been glimpses of summer. I swear I'm not imagining it. I wore a t-shirt today...and a long-sleeved shirt...and a fleece vest...and a coat. And even though the wind fingered its way down through each and every layer like some handsy pervert, I felt the pleasure of the sun on my cheeks. My inner Veruca Salt was saying, "But Daddy, I WANT it!"

The trouble is, nicer weather brings anxiety. I rue my hibernate-in-winter tendencies. Sure, at the time, it feels good to hole up in a warm place. At the time, I feel no shame huddling under blankets like a grandma.

Add to that, my boyfriend perfected the art of hot chocolate. We've become, in fact, hot chocolate connoisseurs. Over the winter months, he has served up cocoa in all its sexy variations. It's been a kama sutra of chocolate hotness, as it were. Never was it made up of water. Once it was made with chocolate soy milk. Mainly it was made with cow milk, which I remembered, after a long stint of vegetarianism and anti-dairy, was good, even though I sometimes had to fight the mental thought of it tasting "cow-y," as if I was sucking at the cow's udder. I shuddered at the very thought of it, but that thought was fleeting.

I think I lost all judgment because of the accoutrements: the powdery marshmallows (much like the blue diamonds, yellow moons, green clovers, and red hearts in a box of Lucky Charms), the real marshmallows, the marshmallow fluff. This was the boxed, packet-o-cocoa but elevated to elixir status. Food of the Gods status. Youth serum.

Those were halcyon days. Alas, most good things cannot last. It began to unravel (as did I) as my boyfriend and I traveled back home after our weekly grocery shopping trip. The drive runs parallel to a path where people RUN and BIKE and wear tank tops and short shorts, and their arms aren't flappy like mine. Their thighs would not best be described as thunderous. In short, they are fit. I found myself thinking out loud about riding my bike along that path. This led to my boyfriend talking about joining the gym.

Before I knew it, I was crying. I was crying for the devil-may-care winter days when it's okay to carb load when there's no marathon in sight. I was crying for the formerly fit self who used to run five miles a day. I was crying because I have been paying for a year for a gym membership I've rarely used (I considered it a fat tax). I was crying because I knew the party was over. The fat lady had sung. I was crying because the fat lady (a.k.a. Aretha Franklin) is no longer fat.

As my poor befuddled boyfriend groped for the origin of my sadness, I found myself saying that it had to stop. It was a funeral of sorts. I was crying and unpacking the groceries we'd bought and mourning the purchases. Bye bye pesto and smoked mozarella potato chips. Bye bye deli cheese. Bye bye grease. Bye bye delicious coffee creamer that has absolutely no cream in it.

We didn't have our cocoa night cap that evening. The mood was somber. In the same manner that the Zen master wonders if one can hear the sound of one hand clapping, I wondered if I could cook and still eat.

So it begins. Soon, one cocoa-less night will lead to another, and before I know it, I won't miss it. Maybe. Let's not get crazy. I'm aiming for baby steps. I just have to keep reminding myself that eating healthier always leads to exercising, and those things lead to sleeker Wendy. And sleeker Wendy is sexier Wendy, the Wendy who seems to build herself up each winter only to whittle away at herself in Spring. I wouldn't say it's like the phoenix who rises out of the ashes--it's more psychosis than symbolic.

But oh I do love the rising. The rising is incremental. In so rising, there will be many days when I am not enough: not thin, no model, not statuesque. But then it happens. The curves begin to disappear from where they shouldn't be, thus emphasizing the curves in the correct places. The sun whispers to my skin, and my skin listens. I burn. I bronze, which is kind of statuesque. I shed my clothing like a snake sheds its skin. Mentally, of course. Mentally.

Mentally, I am the woman who walks past constructions sites and brings about wolf whistles and non-politically correct sexist pig commentary, which I, in fact, dig. In actuality, I really only want one construction worker thinking I'm hot, and so I'll shed winter mindset, one day at a time, sweet Jesus (or because my boyfriend is an atheist who does not want people to say, "God bless you" when he sneezes, he should insert "Good luck" here).

Tomorrow I'm taking up a friend on her offer. She teaches kick-boxing. On my second official day of spring break, when there's no earthly reason to get up early, I will be clearing the dancing sugar plums from my head by playing kicky punchy. And I will walk my dog which will hopefully turn to running with my dog.

The Ipod is ready. Fresh batteries? Check. Motivational music? Check. And I won't be alone. Black Keys are coming along. Michael Franti will be there. Shaggy will be there, singing "my" praises:

Now this one dedicates to all the women that I please just big up for themself
Them the man them know say that the flush a bomb extra buff and rough
Shagsman and Rayvon is one new brand 'bout to become number one
Watch this

And you fi
Big up, big up
All of the women them big up, big up
All of the girl them big up, big up
All of the women them big up, big up

See me go
Watch it go cop
Teaching it please stand up, please
Viva Apache full of pure make-up
When she walk pon street a whole heap of man big them up
Big up, big up
Gal you're fat and you're buff

Gal you're fat and you're buff, expensive and rough
A put your hand inna the air and just big up
Gal if you're fat and you're buff, I know your comfort
Put your hand inna the air and just big up
Gal if you're fat and you're buff, another virgin bluff
Well put your hand inna the air and just big up
Gal if you're fat and you're buff and you're buffer or dapper
Put your hand inna the air and just big up

Say wa
Jump and skin out 'cause you know I say a sexy
Shout it out 'cause a you have the vinery
Bawl it out you big thing and healthy
We brought you up a man we called so leave I man me
Your hair style man it look well fancy
Tell the all of them say you have your man a ready
Your face a look like fi vow a night monkey
Hid no pain, top just like Apache
Come, come take it from the one named Shaggy
Tell the world you big thing and healthy

Fat and you're buff, expensive and rough
Well put your hand inna the air and just big up
Gal if you're fat and you're buff, I know your comfort
Put your hand inna the air and just big up
Gal if you're fat and you're buff and you're buffer or dapper
Put your hand inna the air and just big up

Well I don't want no man tell me woman no nice, ey
And I don't want no man tell me woman no sweet, eey
Don't want no man tell me woman no nice, woman no nice
Don't want no man tell me woman no sweet, ey

Well you fi
Big up, big up, now your poom-poom shorts
Big up, big up, now your body lick shirt
Big up, big up, now your catwoman-suit
Big up, big up, mini-skirt look cute

So me say Brooklyn man helped me big them up
And a Manville man helped me big them up
And a New York man helped me big them up
And Flatbush man say helped me big them up

And a big up yourself because you're fat and you're buff, gal (Big up)
Tell them say that you're fat and you're buff, gal (Big up)
Tell them you are the god of buff, gal (Big up)
Tell them you're expensive and rough, gal (Big up)
Tell them say that a you confess, gal (Big up)
Tell them say you're the virgin bluff

Fat and you're buff, expensive and rough
Well put your hand inna the air and just big up
Gal if you're fat and you're buff, I know your comfort
Put your hand inna the air and just big up
Gal if you're fat and you're buff and you're buffer or dapper
Put your hand inna the air and just sight, aha

Watch it go cop
Teaching it please stand up, please
Viva Apache full of pure make-up
When she walk pon street a whole heap of man big them up
Big up, big up, big up
Because you're fat and you're buff

Shagsman girl man she fat and she buff
Rayvon gal man she fat and she buff

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, ey
And me don't want no man say I fi work Angela
Oooh, oooh
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, ey
And me don't know King Kong, what if she know him, ya

Big up, big up, now your poom-poom shorts
Big up, big up, now your body lick shirt
Big up, big up, now your catwoman-suit
Big up, big up, whooey

Monday, March 7, 2011

Raw Materials

1. crudo(a) (food, silk); sin refinar (sugar); en bruto (statistics)
  • to be raw -> estar crudo(a) (meat, vegetables)
  • raw materials -> materias (f pl) primas
  • raw recruit -> recluta (m) novato
2. agrietado(a) (skin)
  • to get a raw deal (sentido figurado) -> ser tratado(a) injustamente
  • to touch a raw nerve (sentido figurado) -> dar en lo más vivo
3. crudo(a) (weather, wind)

The Artist as a Young Woman

I'm talking about little Frida--she
of la casa azul she
of the unibrow she
of the disappearing leg she
before she was the "ribbon around the bomb."
She was once just a girl rubbing elbows
with revolutionaries she
pre"naive" art. She
not yet the eye of the storm she
not yet ground zero or the trailer house where
the most damage is done she
before she was Mrs. Diego i.e. shadow she
not yet his fuck you very much muse she
not yet a wife yet a lover to many. She
before she was an accident she
not yet the broken one she
when the womb might still hold she
pre bed ridden she
when mirrors weren't a friend she
who might have wielded a scalpel
instead of a brush she
who could swim in colorful skirts
not to hide her uneven legs but because
they were pretty. This was before she
parted her hair perfectly before she
sprouted flowers before she
courted parrots and black cats
of skulls and ripe fruit. This was before she
was the hunted the easy prey when she
wore her heart inside her blouse when she
hadn't yet cultivated a green thumb,
the ability to groomed jungles. I mean she
who painted monkeys which were not symbols
of lust but merely cute she
who drew stick trees and unicorns like
any other she. This was before the perpetual
self portrait before the ball and chain
before chasing the pain. This was youth
before she had five rings if we gauge a life
the way we measure a tree's growth. The she
not a half century, almost. She at life's entrance
and not in the end writing in a diary
hoping the exit was joyful. I mean she
who was too young to hope she'd never return.
I mean the she whose mouth
would be too small for too many pills.
I mean the she whose bed was messy
and filled with dreams still and not
whose death bed became
a tourist attraction.


Monday, February 28, 2011

My History of Fire

What qualifies me to talk about it? Perhaps it is the fear of it--a fear I have for no good reason. If only my fears were reasonable. There weren't any childhood fires. That's not exactly true. If memory serves, there were conflagrations, but they weren't of the actual sort. Let's just say, I never got burned.

Sure I played with it. Who wouldn't? It's so beautiful, burning like anger, burning like hunger. Burning like. Burning like.

Burning like a burning, if you know what I mean.

Sometimes I held the magnifying glass. Other times, I was the ant feeling the heat.

Most of the time, however, I played it safe. I kept it contained. In the stomach pit. In the fireplace. A letter charred and sifting to the sink's bottom.

But we don't always burn our letters in sinks. Sometimes you need a forest. Tender tinder of trees, swaying, and a breeze to help it along.

That's not my story.

In order, here's what I knew to be true: Pine pitch chews like gum. You can't wield the axe; you can only look at the axe. It's your job to stack. Don't bother a sliver; it will work its way out eventually. On the mantle, there's a starburst clock that radiates its own heat. The Sunday paper may be thick, but it's the daily doings that catch best. If it isn't old enough, it will smoke. Pull the damper out, or it will smoke. You can buy powder that teases a rainbow from fire. When the electricity goes out, the fire is the only God you pray to. Chimneys eat smoke and send it skyward, so long as it burns clean. The smoke will break from the house like an SOS. There are things that look like smoke but aren't, like the queen bee and her minions who abandoned their meadow boxes. The fire smelled like honey for awile. The volunteer fire department will burn the chicken coop down and then fight it for the practice.

And then you grow up.

Fires are few and inbetween. You live your days in front of a furnace. Forced air heat. Forced.
You romanticize it. In your mind, the campfire blazes, and every ember pop is an opportunity. You think you love the one who can build a good fire. The skies grow dark every summer. You can't breathe. You're told not to go outside. You are in a valley, and you are fully engulfed with the idea of being swept away by fire. But the fires are burning miles away. The lingo is acres, helicopters, buckets, retardant...and then it's gone.

The fires you know now are the stuff of 6 o'clock news. They are neat. The fires fit tidy between sports and weather. Hardly anyone ever dies. You light candles with an apparatus that may as well be a third arm. It keeps the flame far from you. Fire comes in a jar, sits obediantly on the wick, and sizzles out when you're sloppy with the bath water. You don't know when you felt a burn last, and because the mind likes it and knows it more than the skin, you fear it.

Your heart beats faster when something on the burner begins to smoke. The alarm sounds, and you beat it with your open palm and scream, "Shut it! Shut it! Shut it!" How do you extinguish it? Salt? Throw a towel over it? Water? Water and oil don't mix. Don't give it air. Yet it's over before you need to choose. It's always over before your knowledge is tested.

And what of that fear that makes you go back and check over and over the burner that is always
never on?


Maya Angelou said anger is fire.

Winston Churchill invoked fire when he said anything that attempted to fly should be set on fire.

Thomas Jefferson used fire as a means of talking about war and being tenacious about defending ourselves: "If our house be on fire, without inquiring whether it was fired from within or without, we must try to extinguish it."

Benjamin Franklin realized that what makes a home is "food and fire for the mind as well as the body."

He also found fire a necessity in terms of finding a life partner: "Never take a wife till thou hast a house (and a fire) to put her in."

"Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself," said Mark Twain.

"As soon go kindle fire with snow, as seek to quench the fire of love with words. " --William Shakespeare.

Mae West said, "A man can be short and dumpy and getting bald but if he has fire, women will like him. "

"Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice." --Robert Frost

George Washington said, "Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."

"Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience. " --George Washington

Napoleon knew of trial by fire. He said, "When soldiers have been baptized in the fire of a battle-field, they have all one rank in my eyes."

Emily Dickinson used fire as a means of describing poetry: "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.

T.S. Eliot knows that history and its ghosts speak louder than the living: "The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living."

"We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it. " --Tennessee Williams

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, "Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.

"To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark." --Victor Hugo

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. "

"Every idea is an incitement... Eloquence may set fire to reason. " --Oliver Wendell Holmes

"Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire. " Jorge Luis Borges

"Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house, you can never tell," said Joan Crawford

"So, like a forgotten fire, a childhood can always flare up again within us." --Gaston Bachelard
Gaston Bachelard

"To cause the face to appear in a mass of flame make use of the following: mix together thoroughly petroleum, lard, mutton tallow and quick lime. Distill this over a charcoal fire, and the liquid which results can be burned on the face without harm." --Harry Houdini

"Eating coals of fire has always been one of the sensational feats of the Fire Kings, as it is quite generally known that charcoal burns with an extremely intense heat." --Harry Houdini

"Fire has always been and, seemingly, will always remain, the most terrible of the elements." --Harry Houdini

"I'm cautious about using fire. It can become theatrical. I am interested in the heat, not the flames." --Andy Goldsworthy