Monday, December 8, 2014

an ordinary woman's response to current events

protestors ≠ rioters
sometimes rioters emerge
during protests
all that chaos, for looters and rioters,
might = anarchy
might = a free cell phone 
or might = the thrill of smashing glass for the satisfying tinkling and crashing, shards flying like a fairy godmother's glitter.

the footage I watched of protests at Berkeley showed a wall of blue, plastic face masks pulled down to avoid rocks and spittle, batons jabbing forward or pushing horizontal lines of skinny, foul-mouthed college students (don't get me wrong, "fuck" is one of my favorite words)
backward, backward, crushed into each other (and I remember a day when I was 17 and stuck in a crowd at an innocuous event - a concert - people pushed and smashed and elbowed, and I screamed, and watching this video makes me want to scream, "Stop! Let me out! I can't breathe!")

what else did I see in the blue wall of men and women? 
a whole wad of fear. the blue people shifting feet, dancing 
like boxers who faced an opponent they didn't understand 
that had moves they had never learned, 
words bounced against the plastic face masks 
and the blue wall flinched, shifted, danced shoved, dragged, yelled, "Move! Move! Move!"

they were not all white, the stones in that blue wall.
they were not all black, the terrifying specter of skinny college students.

Who threw the rocks and bottles?
Who smashed the business windows?
Who tried to set things on fire?

Those people need to stop it. If we don't protest the things that are wrong, eventually we'll accept them as normal. But if we allow protests to equal riots, we'll never get it right, and the definition of protest will begin to equal riot.

Oh, who am I to write about these things?

A frumpy, fattening, jaded, post-middle-aged woman sitting on my sagging sofa in my messy living room waiting around for motivation to leave the house, to DO something?

I suppose writing is a start. 


ps - I wrote this directly into the Blogger window. No careful pruning and rephrasing for me lately. Just raw response.

a book in a day plus some other reading

I have been oddly blue (I think it has to do with the despair that evoked my previous post and just the stupid season. bearing down on a bad anniversary), so I decided to read my way to "less blue." I checked books out of the library earlier in the week. Mark Strand's A Blizzard of Calm because he's gone but I can still sleep with him (I've probably mentioned, I sleep with books).

My bookmark is randomly stuck in the middle of this collection, page p. 22 of the hardback. The poem is "A Suite of Appearances," II, and the first lines are:

"No wonder—since things come into view and then drop from sight—
We clear a space for ourselves, a stillness where nothing
Is blurred: a common palm, an oasis in which to rest, to sit....."

I feel tired lately from not living up to promises I made to myself, so this shreds me a bit. Also, because he died, I am so, so sad. We lost a lot of writers this year. Dammit.

I also started to read Rabih Alameddine's An Unnecessary Woman, which I plucked off the new fiction shelves in the library, ecstatic that no one had taken it from me.

I adored the first 15 or so pages, maybe the first 20, possibly even 30. But I am shallow and couldn't continue. The protagonist, Aaliya, is smart, funny, older (please do NOT call her elderly. That word is pissing me off lately), loves literature, has survived lots of stuff. But I didn't like her. Her voice is so, so strong, and the author is amazing. The prose is wonderful. But, man, I just ... couldn't. I didn't care.

So I set the "long-listed for the National Book Award" novel aside and plunged into Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now, a young adult novel that continues the pseudo-dystopian themes that seem to appeal to me lately. Except that this novel, like Station Eleven, isn't like the other dystopian novels that I could barely tolerate. It's a novel completely about love. Love and hunger. And, of course, the stupidity of war (and how when adults are involved, children get totally screwed). I started it yesterday evening, set it aside to do other things, then read it this late afternoon and evening, finishing it off like it was my favorite kind of pizza.

Except that it's deeper than pizza.

I have to think about the ending a bit because it bugged me, but I think that's because at heart, I'm a complete "happily ever after" girl who pretends to like dark edges. It ended the way it needed to end. The character development was just on the mark. Daisy transforms from disillusioned, lonely cynic to girl-woman who loves more deeply than almost any character I've ever encountered.

It's awesome, and I'm not at all sorry that I avoided Facebook and texts and the news and other shit to read with my cat draped across my legs, purring, because that's what my cat does when he feels me investing myself emotionally in anything from books to my Girl to Eric Garner to poetry....

Magic cat.

Tomorrow, I have to emerge from my reader's cave to attend to important business (meaning, of course, money is involved), but I'm going to return the book I couldn't finish and the one I devoured, and I'll pluck something else luscious from the shelves.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A non-confrontational wimp decides she has to speak

Dear Ones,

A free write in a moment of despair:

let the whining begin.
let the winding begin.
Begin the world by winding up the toy clown who terrifies all the children who don't yet exist.
Let our peace keepers murder our duskiest children to keep the soot off the roofs of our mouths.

My darlings, don't you know that his windpipe breaks as easily as yours?

And now, not only is he dead, but he won't get justice.
Because cops  are responsible when they kill black men, black teens, black boys who haven't yet had a chance to go to high school, black men who wander Walmart toy aisles talking on cell phones and don't hear cops’ orders to drop the toy gun.

Kill the color? Kill the color black?

you might as well kill the moonless night.
you might as well kill the Mediterranean at night.
you might as well kill my favorite sautéing spoon, the pupils of our eyes, tar, brownies, coffee, charcoal, black ink, newsprint, mulch and fertilizer, the center of sunflowers, pepper, nutmeg and allspice, poppy seeds, your television when its power is off, the black keys on the piano, the black frame around your mother's picture or your grandparents' wedding portrait, the black smudge on your cat's back, the tires on your car, that one lamp stand, your favorite Sharpie, the binder containing your unfinished novel, the Friday after Thanksgiving, ledgers that show a profit, the pirate's eye patch and maybe his hat and while you're at it, kill the pirate since his soul is probably as black as that black man you choked and those boys you shot.

Hell, kill the guns because they are black.
Please, kill all the guns.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Today, my daughter turned 20. I know it's ridiculous, but I'm always a bit melancholy on my daughter's birthday. My excuse this year and last year is/was that she is/was away from home at college. But we celebrated while she was here for Thanksgiving break, and I've been in contact with her steadily since last night.

I don't mind my daughter's getting older. I don't even mind the reminder that her getting older means I'm really getting older. I love who she is becoming, adore who she was, can't wait to meet the new Girl who will come home for Christmas break in two weeks.

When I examine the "why" of the melancholy, its source, I know it has to do with my mother, more specifically with my mother's death, with her absence from my life.

Here's a tangent, though, related to birth. A dear poet friend had her twins this morning. They were full term at 38 weeks, and I have no idea how her tiny body housed these giant boys because they are GIANT. Everyone is healthy and happy, and she and her husband, she said, spent all morning staring at them and holding them.

I was "stalking" this friend online throughout the night because I knew she had schedule a C-section for this morning, but I thought she might go into labor before the surgery hit. She did not.

All night I dreamed about her babies, about her, about her house filling up with people, mostly, of course, people I know since she is a friend in another state and I know her through school and not as a neighbor. In the dream, her boys were bigger than newborns, and I joked that they must have gained some "traction" and knowledge during that extra time they had to be cradled in my friend's body. During the dream, they escaped their bassinets and learned to walk and started to sing.

And all the adults multiplied, the house grew more and more crowded. Some of the women cooked and baked. Two old friends of mine who are about 15 years my senior were with me in the kitchen, ordering me about, telling me I wasn't peeling the carrots properly, that I needed to wash the roasting pan twice.

My mother stood next to me. Small and smiling, shaking her head at these women. She took the carrots from one of my friends' hands and shook off the water then started peeling them backwards, pulling the blade of the paring knife toward her the way I remember she peeled potatoes.


It occurs to me as I'm typing this (directly into the window so I can't not post it later) that my friend's sons met my mother in my dream. My mother died a year before my daughter was born, so my daughter only got to meet my mother's headstone. But these tiny boys (who are actually GIANT babies) in my dream had a glimpse.

Not that my mother was ever particularly small or quiet. But the essence of my mother was there, peeling carrots and smiling.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A book response

9:28 p.m. – I just finished reading Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. Wow. What a beautiful book. I should have read it all in one gulp the day I checked it out of the new fiction section of the library, but I knew the minute I read the first chapter that if I didn't set it down and hide it from myself, keep it in places where I could only read in snatches, then I wouldn't have made it through the flurry and scurry of the second half of November. All I would have done is read. No writing, no baking, no visiting, no hanging out with daughter home from college

The book is due tomorrow, and my library kindly sent a notice reminding me that it's due, so I read the last hundred pages this evening. 

This book. I think I will return it and wait until the circulation desk checks it in and check it out again if there are no holds on it (since it's new fiction, I couldn't renew). 

I want to live inside this book. I want to dream it, eat it, bathe in it. I’d say that I wish I’d written this book, but I’m not that kind of storyteller. I'm a small writer who works in small increments: a single family, a year at the most, one town. But I adore reading large, grand-scale novels that pass through time and place, that go backward and forward, that introduce a lot of characters but never too many at once so I don’t get confused.

I love Mandel's language, the lyricism of her prose, the characters who each have distinct voices, so distinct that I could hear the timbres in my head as I read.

I love the remembering and the forgetting. I love the love, the community, the losses. I love even the way we were with some people as they died, their dying like adventure, not fearful, maybe something like what happened to my father when he died.

I love the character names, the town names, the movement, the music, the rhythm, the hope, the hope, the hope.

And this is why I don’t write book reviews. I can’t review books, especially not ones I love. All I can do is respond.

Read this book.

(note: as I said, I don't review books, so no "recaps" from me.)

Friday, November 28, 2014

alchemy and gratitude

Today, my tiny, immediate family plus one are celebrating Thanksgiving slightly late with a semi-traditional feast around 6 p.m. Four large potatoes bake in my oven, and the nutty scent of them makes me hungry for what they'll become after I slice, empty, beat, "doctor," refill and re-bake. I'll load them into my car, along with the pumpkin pie I baked yesterday, a container of feta cheese for Greek salad and something I can't remember right now. Then, I'll drive to the north of town where my husband lives, where our daughter is staying for the Thanksgiving break.

At the end of October, I rediscovered my love of baking when I baked a batch of Toll House cookies for my husband's birthday, a simple enough recipe that I've made a zillion times. The Wednesday before I left for Patti Digh's Life is a Verb camp Nov. 6, I baked him from-scratch banana nut bread as a thank you for watching my crazy kitty.

Last week, I made a batch of snickerdoodles; on Wednesday when my furnace died, I baked a batch of peanut butter cookies while the sweet repairboy fixed what ailed my now warm mechanical beast. Later Wednesday night, after dinner with my daughter and her papa, I baked Kourabiedes - a Greek butter cookie that my mother used to make at Christmas - as a gift for my Girl's girlfriend's family for their feast yesterday.

My Girl brought most of the tin of these powdered sugared delights back home last night, and I was sad that the other family didn't gobble them up the way my siblings and I and my parents used to devour them every holiday.

But it's all right. Now my Girl can take them back to school with her to help get her through the next couple of weeks, final projects and papers, final critiques of her work and her schoolmates' work. Art school isn't for the lazy or faint of heart (terrible cliche).

I was feeling sorry for myself earlier because I missed an opportunity to pop by her papa's house to visit late this morning, and by the time I was ready to leave the house, she was already off to hang out with her other family, where there are a couple more kids, where cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents are likely to show up at this time of year. She loves them all and they love her, consider her part of the family.

And I understand her wanting to be with this large batch of rowdy people. I am so quiet and reserved, all my siblings in Texas, both sets of her grandparents dead (her papa's mama died over the summer at the age of 97), her dad's siblings scattered.

We kind of suck when it comes to family gatherings.

I miss her, but I don't want to hold onto her when she can go off to experience this world of chaotic love and mayhem that we can't give her because it's just us.

Her father has made what I think of as an extremely generous offer. "She can stay with you over Christmas," he said today when I dropped off some groceries and a brown bag in which he is baking his chicken (incredible recipe, though I don't eat chicken or any kind of fowl).

"Really? Are you sure?"

"Yeah. And she can come spend a couple of days here with me while she's home if she wants to."

I'm so relieved. Because I had her all summer, I had told both of them that it was fine and fair and good and holy that she spend both Thanksgiving break and Christmas break with her papa.

And it was fine and fair and good and holy.

But I'm so relieved.

She won't really be here that much, but there's something about having her here even when she's mostly gone that fills my heart. She imbues the walls of my house with joy and her incredible spirit and lawdy is this mushy. Everything I write here has been mushy lately.

Also, I rather lost the thread of this post, which related to the alchemy of baking, how magical it is when all these different ingredients I slap together turn into these delicious morsels.

So there's a link missing from the post title to my ache when my kid isn't around that I'll figure out another day. I'm still suffering from my empty nest, still having a hard time finding out my next purpose in life now that my Girl is out bouncing through school, plotting her future.

I'm a little slow.

In the meantime, I'll continue writing (fiction and poetry), editing (freelance) and baking because baking makes me happy.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

transition, transformation, transubstantiation (except, not)

Went to Patti Digh's Life is a Verb Camp (if you can afford it, try to go next year in September. Want the dates? Ask. I can't afford it unless someone pays me a lot of money to do stuff. Not willing to take a scholarship away from someone needier than I am), learned a lot. Laughed, cried, loved a lot. Wrote stuff. Made really bad art that made me honor that visual art is my kid's thing, not mine (she's in art school). Living is life, but if you're not living, it's not life. Pick up your flabby boney ass and do shit, woman! (This is addressed to me, not the general public, not that the general public reads my bad shit.) That's what I learned. Also, love. Love is good. Even loving people you don't know that well and aren't sure you trust that much is good. Always. Love = good.

There. Do not fucking care what anyone thinks.

It's been so long since I've written here that I can't remember how to post links. So. Damned Pathetic.

will fix later.