Friday, December 31, 2010

Reverb 10, the one where I give in to myself

It's 11:01 a.m. on New Year's Eve. Since before my daughter returned from her dad's to my house on Wednesday, we've been discussing where she would be and what she/we would be doing tonight. She was going to a sleepover party at a friend's. No, the friend canceled the party. Wait, the party is on. No, my Girl decided to have her own party. No, she's tired of hosting the parties (plus, we don't have a gaming system, and the television in the basement rec room where the kids hang out when they come over is smaller than my head. OK. an exaggeration, but you know. It's tiny). But no one else is having a party, so maybe it would be all right.

She returned here, and we started cleaning.

But, no, it seemed no one could come.

"But maybe he and she and they and the others, but definitely not that one and even though we [she and her best friend] didn't invite her because we were experimenting to see if we could invite one of those two to separate events without them expecting the other to be invited, she thinks she's invited because her friend is invited, and, well, she is invited, so she's coming.

(I seriously love my kid and my life, but that was how our conversations felt yesterday. No wonder I had a headache all day.)

So, yes, we are having a little party. It's possible just my Girl's best friend will come, and she will most likely stay the night.

Could be quiet.

Could be rowdy, raucous, impossibly loud (I should probably warn my neighbor).

Whatever it is, I have a list of things to do that I'm not exactly in the mood to do.

I'd rather write.


On this last day of Reverb 10, I'm going to admit that even though I've been a brat about the whole thing, have been clawing my way out of boxes that are too small or running out of rooms where everyone is wearing white but me, and someone hands me a white jump suit and tries to get me to put it on, but I can't bring myself to because all I can think of is that time in high school chemistry class, 10th-grade, when I wore white jeans and no, I'm not going to share that (it ended badly) because I'm going to put that story into a poem, and I have lost the beginning of this sentence and can't seem to find my way to the end except to say that even though I've found somemost of the Reverb 10 prompts excruciating, they've set me to thinking about things, about myself. Honest thinking. Cruel and vicious thinking.

The beautiful girls who created Reverb 10 would most likely be appalled to know how I've been using the prompts to torture myself. But self-awareness is a good thing, and now that I've given myself a huge wallop of tough love (well, except there hasn't been much self-love involved), I'll settle down and start being kinder.

(Pardon me while I pour myself another cup of coffee.)

Today, between trips to the grocery store (pray for me. It's New Year's Eve. I hate crowds) and sessions with the vacuum, I'll write to more of the prompts that I skipped, out of order, but I'll write. I can't seem to quit Reverb 10, so oh well.


December 28 – Achieve. What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down. Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today.

(Author: Tara Sophia Mohr)

I want to finish.

I imagine when I finish, I will feel a combination of relief, pride, panic, sorrow, anticipation for the next thing I can complete, amusement that it’s taken me so long, frustration that it's taken me so long, a secret thrill that my internal critic is wrong, fear that no one will want what I finish.

Although I claim not to be able to predict or want to predict how I might feel or how things might be (anti-manifesting), I've experienced what it feels like to finish before. I finished a novel once before, a dreadful draft of a dreadful murder mystery. I wrote the novel when my daughter was a baby. Wrote when she napped or slept at night, when I found something on television to distract her, when her dad made time to play with her. I wrote late at night when her dad was sleeping, too. I finished the novel at 1 a.m. one weekend, typed the last word on an ancient Apple laptop. I took a breath, smiled, turned off the computer and went to bed.

I didn’t tell anyone for days. I carried "the finishing" around with me like it was a lemon drop tucked into my cheek, perfectly tart, perfectly sweet. It couldn’t dissolve.

I never revised the dreadful murder mystery into something I would be willing to submit or share. Life had other plans, I suppose. My father got ill and recovered (and years later got ill again and didn't recover). Freelance editing took up much of my "not-Girl" time. Marriage was challenging. As my daughter grew, it became easier to draft poems than to draft chapters.

All that said, I know I can finish because I've finished before.

The things to do or think aren't really new. I've been trying new things for a couple of years. Slow and steady.

- trust the work by sharing it.

- trust friends I ask to read the work to be honest.

- trust self to accept the honesty and use it to help me finish.

- continue to let my characters write "Letters to Lizzie" because, man, when my characters get going and tell me what they want to happen, it seems possible that I could finish within a couple of weeks (I know this letter business sounds a little crazy and maybe confusing, but I'm going to write this for me, again, because that's the point of Reverb 10, right? I'm going to stop trying to make this pretty).

- write the novel-in-progress "backward." That was working pretty well until I set it aside to participate in National Novel Writing Month.

(I'd say participating in NaNoWriMo was a bad idea, but it wasn't. The story that started spilling out in November is related to the long-time work-in-progress and is further proof that there is an ending, proof that I can and will finish.)

- keep my promise to myself to treat my writing the way my friends, acquaintances, family members treat their day jobs. For example, my husband would not answer a call while he was giving a lecture in jazz history class. I will no longer answer calls or emails when I am in the middle of writing or editing a scene. Writing is my job. I happen to love my job. I should do it more.

- will not let myself feel guilty about saying "no" when people ask me to give time to projects that will not only distract me from my work but will be sure to exhaust me and make me unhappy. (part of the letting go prompt. didn't post that one)

- pick one fiction project and see it through to the end. If two projects are related (and I know they are), I'll work on both at the same time until they meet at the end of one and the beginning of another, but otherwise, I will stop hopping about like a deranged cricket.

(The above doesn't preclude work on poetry. I'll let myself write as much poetry as I want and need to write when I need to write it.)

- submit more work, really I will. My lack of submission isn't that I'm afraid of rejection; I've been rejected plenty and survived (maybe it's the word "submission"). I'm too lazy to match poems with literary journals. Can't win if you don't enter, so I will enter more. This is one of those promises I've made to myself day after day, month after month, year after year. I don't know how to make it a new promise, a new thought. Maybe I need to turn it into some kind of creative game that will make the submitting more appealing, that will remind me that sharing the work is part of the process. I like and need to share my work, though I'd write it even if I didn't. I haven't yet figured out how to make this part of the process part of my process. Only I can figure this out. I don't work the way anyone else works.

- pull up manuscript files, read through, allow myself to make changes if I feel the urge to make changes,

- write more by hand. sometimes putting pen to paper pulls more work out of me. am less self-conscious about how things might sound. the story glues itself to page and belongs.

- share work with my sister (this is separate from sharing work with my friends. It's a more personal idea).


My daughter still sleeps. It's nearly noon. I've been working on this post for almost an hour. Please forgive the self-indulgent rambling if you happen by.

(12:47 p.m. - daughter is awake and has been for a while. she is going through drawers and letting go of things she no longer needs or wants.)


(I keep editing this post. It's shifting from one thing into another. silly.)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

the one where I can't think of a title

I am an ordinary woman of ordinary intelligence, ordinary looks, ordinary skills. I have led an ordinary life during which I am rarely bored, often amused, occasionally afraid, usually just peachy keen.

The one extraordinary thing I have done is to have birthed my daughter and raised her to this magical age of 16.

I know most parents (those who wanted and love their children, at least) think their children are extraordinary, are special, are different.

I often qualify my opinion of my daughter and her abilities with the phrase, "I'm biased because she's mine."

More and more, though, as she's out in the world more, sharing herself more with other people, teens and adults, I begin to see her through other people's eyes.

And I'm a little astonished.

My Girl began taking piano lessons when she was 5 and continued through seventh-grade. By eighth-grade, she, her teacher and her parents agreed that the lessons and practices were taking more time than she had, that her heart was no longer in the lessons. So after eight years, we stopped.

But she did not stop playing. She found sheet music she loved on the Internet and downloaded it, stole piano books from her father and sightread Bach and Beethoven, some jazz. She agreed to be part of a live band for the high school musical last year as the keyboardist, learned pages and pages of music, was the foundation of the band, accompanied the singers, played, played, played.

It's so much easier for me to accept compliments for my daughter than it is for me to accept compliments for myself. When people tell me she's amazing, I say, "Thank you! And isn't she just? I'm so lucky that she's mine!"

I don't have much to do with her abilities. She gets the music from her dad and the art skills from my mother.

A couple of days ago, I was in the library finally hunting down books that might appeal to my current, finicky reading taste. The art teacher from the Girl's high school traditionally submits work by her students to hang in December along the library balcony where everyone can see. My Girl didn't get into the drawing class she requested, so her work is, of course, not included, though my Girl won "Best in Show" for a juried show she entered in late October. I suppose Mrs. Art's class was too full of juniors and seniors for her to make room for a mere sophomore. Although some of the drawings the teacher hung at the library were quite nice, when I saw them, studied them all, I thought, "Mrs. Art is going to shit her pants when she finally gets the Girl in her classes." Drawing is all my Girl wants to do. Drawing is how she intends to earn a living when she is finally finished with school. She is self-taught.

As soon as my Girl was old enough to hold a crayon, a pencil, a pen, I started carrying what I called her drawing bag with us wherever we went, just in case we got stuck someplace for a while and she needed something to do. The bag always containe a little sketch pad, colored pencils, pens. My daddy tried to tell me that she is left handed because I always sat on her left side and handed her things into her left hand, but I just laughed at him then and laugh at him now.

I do think that her left-handedness has something to do with this drawing ability.

She continues to work on the picture in progress that I've been posting over the past week or two. Last night, she must have stayed up until 3 working on it.

She stuns me, and I continue to think when I see her work, have conversations with her, watch her with her friends, listen to her play piano and drum, "Did I really make this?"

My answer is often, "No, not you. She just came to you and made herself."

It doesn't matter, really. She stuns me.

the one where my child sleeps past noon and I dawdle

(this entry is vaguely related to the Reverb 10 prompt from Dec. 24: Everything's OK. "What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?" (Author: Kate Inglis))

Last night when I drove off to pick up the pizza the Girl and I ordered for dinner, I wore my daddy's jeans jacket over a sweater over a long-sleeved gray, Hanes T-shirt over a gray sports bra (I am dressing like a boy these days). I was only a little bit cold. The temperature was above freezing, and the snow was vanishing, seeping into my ugly "not grass."

"Spring!" I thought, and little joyous feathers fluttered in my belly (and I think about how it felt when the Girl quickened when I was pregnant because I think about the Girl a lot).

Then, of course, being me and all, I panicked. "Oh, God! Spring! I'll have to do something about the yard in spring. And I'll have to get the house power-washed. I need to get things done in spring that I can't afford to do.

"God. I hate spring."


My husband is leasing another car. It's sort of what he does. He's been eyeing this pretty red convertible for more than a year, and the deal truly is amazing, too good to pass up. He's become friends with the salesman at the Infiniti lot near Columbus. The management at the car lot even offered my husband a job last year, though my husband is not a salesman; he's a professor. I met his Salesman friend last year when my husband took his current Infiniti (which has an IQ of 187, so I will never even attempt to drive it. I can't even figure out how to turn it on) in for service, and I rode up with him for a reason I can't remember now.

Salesman is beautiful. He's a good man, father of grown children. I don't know if he's still married, but he's so beautiful, with his coffee colored skin and long, thin hands, perfect shoulders shrugged into his perfectly cut suit. I stood there gawking at him thinking, "I'd do this man in the break room if he'd let me."

When my husband called this morning to try to get me to approve of his urge to lease the convertible ("Am I fucking crazy?" "Yes, you're fucking crazy." "You weren't supposed to say that. You were supposed to tell me it's a good idea," he said and laughed), I told him he should tell Salesman that he's the Devil. The Devil isn't some creepy, red dude with horns and a tail (I don't actually believe in The Devil). He's beautiful, charming, does good deeds, probably attends church and sings in the choir, makes a person laugh, convinces a person that it's right and good to lease yet another car. When this person leases another car, the Devil owns another little piece of his soul.

"As long as I have this car, he can have my soul," my husband said. "But I'm not going to tell him you called him the Devil. He's a really Christian fellow," my husband said.

"Oh, then he wouldn't laugh. He might be offended."

I don't know, though. I think he'd think it was funny. He might be offended if he knew I wanted to "do him" in the break room, though.

(* update at 6:16 p.m. - I guess the deal is off. Sounds like B (my husband) decided he was being foolish and decided he didn't need another car.)


I have lost my thread. It has something to do with the Reverb 10 prompt about things being OK. When I started drafting a response (I've drafted a response to all 30 of the prompts but haven't finished about a third of them), I started writing about a moment over the summer. It had to do with the Girl's trip to see my brother's family in Texas over the long July 4th weekend, the flight she took alone, her first flight alone.

And, yes, that was a good moment, seeing her independent and happy, laughing her way through security with her boarding pass clutched in her hand. We knew, or I knew, she'd be just fine.

The next step of the prompt puzzles me. I think Kate Inglis is encouraging us to apply that secure feeling of relief to the coming year, to tell ourselves ahead of time to feel "all right," make a kind of a declaration?

(Pardon me while I sneeze three times.)

Some things will be OK. Forever and ever OK. But I just don't know. I can't predict. I won't predict that I'll ever feel that sense of "OKness" again. I'm sure I will, but today, I am on edge, and even though I can write about the moment when I knew my daughter would be safe on her way to see her uncle, I don't feel a sense of safety today.

I feel ... anticipation, maybe, hope, maybe, anxiety and doubt.

Eh. Whatever. I guess I've failed again. But it's all right that I am unable to incorporate "OKness" into my future. I'm starting to feel like I'm taking a Trigonometry class. I want to enjoy learning, but my mind just can't grasp those mathematical concepts, and the attempt is hurting my head (literally. I have a headache) and makes me feel a little bit stupid.

And old. I feel very old.

Things will be what they will be (sorry. The song "Que Sera Sera" was played in a minor key on a show the Girl and I watched last night). They will be OK or they won't be OK.


I've spent a lot of time "raging" since Christmas, quiet anger born of fear and ancient grief, a little bit of habitual self-loathing. I don't know. I don't know. I need to get back to my work. Even though I write every day and have grand plans to focus and work hard to finish "real" projects, the holidays are always so distracting, more powerful than I am.

I feel better today, though. I feel drawn to a story/novel I started writing a few years ago. Dark, dark story. I love it. I love the characters. I love the setting (a Greyhound bus).

Maybe I'll print it out (if I haven't already), read through the bits that I have, see if I can juggle working on that story with my "main" novel in progress.

In this story, the characters are completely aware that things may not be OK, that they could be consumed by the hateful things chasing them at any time.

Funny how I love this story of fear and escape. (and battle. they will battle against the bad things eventually. And settle. They will settle and stop running).


bad excerpt (just a note: Sylvie is pregnant):

Sylvie leaned her head back against the high head rest of the bus seat and squeezed shut her eyes. She would not give in to nausea. She was just tired. She’d have some peanut butter crackers in a minute, sip some water.

Someone in the seat in front of her cleared his throat, so she opened her eyes to slits and looked into the pale face of what she guessed was a boy, slick black hair hanging in eyes so black they looked like a stalking cat’s. Gold stud pierced the lower lip, tiny gold hoops penetrated earlobes and nose. This boy was more full of holes than a colander. He rested his chin on the seat back and gazed down at her. He licked his black painted lips.

“Do you have the time?” he asked.

Sylvie opened her eyes all the way. “No, sorry, I don’t have a watch. But it can’t be much past 3.”

“So what do you think?” The boy’s face shone white, almost waxy.

“What do I think about what?” Sylvie asked. She thought she knew. She thought he wanted to know what she thought about him, if she thought he was a freak, if she was afraid, if she wished she could be so cool. But maybe not. She didn’t know much these days.

“What do you think about the bus? About this day? About life?”

“I think this is a pretty nice bus. Very roomy. I’ve had better days. And life is a huge surprise.”

“Good answers,” the boy said, but more to himself than to her. He got up and came to sit down in the empty seat next to her without asking her permission. He had to hand her the bag holding her laptop and other junk that she’d laid next to her.

“Oh!” Sylvie wasn’t prepared to have a conversation. “But, I’m not feeling…” The odor of stale wine rose off the boy’s skin. “Oh.” She held the bag on her lap for a moment where it had landed then slid it underneath the chair in front of her. He leaned his shoulder into hers. The fabric of his black rain coat was slick and slid easily against her sweater.

He held out his hand. His forehead almost touched hers. “I’m Armande Sortilege.”

No, that can’t be his real name, Sylvie thought.

“Sylvie.” She placed her small hand into his. His hand was huge and pale, the short nails painted black. She noticed the polish was chipping. His skin was as cold as she expected it to be, but clammy rather than dry. She suspected Armande would be disappointed if he realized that he was giving the impression of a geek in costume. She wondered where he was hiding his glasses and pocket protector.

the one where bedding dries

My kitty has a tendency to urp a lot when my daughter returns from her dad's. I'm not sure what this is about. He loves her, though he loves me more because I'm here more. He was hunkered down on my bed for much of the day, hidden behind a tall stack of clean clothes I'd dumped out of the laundry basket so that I could use the basket for the Girl's dirty clothes (really, Laundry has become Doom today). He looked so content.

I should have known.

Didn't discover the puke until I was about to turn off my light (at close to 1 a.m.).

I have been adding layers to my bed as winter drags on, so he just got the surface covers.

But, dammit, they included my old afghan that was a gift from my sister to my parents that somehow ended up with me. And my angel blanket, a gift a friend gave me the day my daughter was born.

Eh. That's life.

Once the afghan and angel blanket are dry, I'll toss them back on my bed, and kitty will curl himself up against my calves, somehow gaining weight as he falls asleep.

My Girl is awake, of course. She's on break; she's 16; she has drawings that she's been wanting to tackle for months and chats to finish with friends that could last months. I imagine she'll be awake long after I finally fade out.

She is my gift. She is the best gift. The question of gifts, most memorable gifts, emotional or otherwise, has no meaning unless you mean my daughter.

I know, I know, this is mushy. But it's truth. She is my reason, my sense, my sanity, my laughter, my joy, my breath. Every year. The same gift. The best gift.

So there.

And the dryer has buzzed, so I'm finished with this post and off to bed now.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

(not) Reverb 10, the one where I remember who I am

Yesterday afternoon, I chatted with one of my best friends on iChat. She lives in Seattle; I live in Ohio. We became friends over the Internet but she's a "real life" friend now. I met her and her husband for the first time more than eight years ago. Her husband is my "fake brother" the way my daughter has a fake brother. I have lovely brothers, but one can always use more siblings.

I've been giving myself a rough time the past few days. I'm failing at Reverb 10. (I'm now repeating myself regarding this failure. I say the same thing every post. Redundant crap.) My reflections have become denouncement against my "passivity." I've been lurking in corners of my life since I started the challenge, shaking my finger at myself.

I've been disappointed in myself for not meeting expectations.

Here's the part that makes me laugh, the part my friend reminded me is true. I can't figure out whose expectations I haven't met. Mine? I expect myself to slack when I need to slack, to burrow, to stall out, to fret and worry, to write when I need to write, to submit my work when it's ready or even if I don't think it's ready but I'm ready to let it go. I expect myself to be kind, to pay my bills on time, to be good to my friends, to give my child everything she needs plus some.

I keep calling myself a failure because I haven't pushed myself to get "Out There," because I'm taking my time, allowing spontaneous teen parties to happen in my house even when I have work I want to be finishing.

I call myself a failure when, during those weeks when my daughter is with her dad, I crawl under the covers and sleep with the cat lying heavy against my legs.

For me, reflecting has been more like dissecting before the creature on the dissection tray is dead (I'm the creature, of course). Pins in palms of hands, scalpel slitting open fat belly pulsing with too many carbs. Look at the ugly innards! Look at the waste.

Well, fuck that. I mean really. I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing for now. This is my current phase of life. I'm "support staff." My choice, my love, my joy.

I have let myself slip and started to believe that "manifesting" was like trying to predict the future. I think I'm too old to manifest a future. I'm not even calling myself "old." But at 52, I've got at least 20 years on most of the writers who created the prompts for Reverb 10. There's a language barrier, heart language maybe. I'm a Baby Boomer. My generation is approaching retirement. I think we all feel a little bit doomed. It's a part of our nature we can't escape.

We grew up with free love and free drugs, Vietnam, Kent State, long hair, bell bottoms (now known as "flared legs), hip huggers, minis, midis, Johnson, Nixon. At some point, we all got a little bit lost.

Sometimes I forget that I made a decision about how I would live my life until it was time for my daughter to graduate from high school and leave me for college or art school. It's all right to wait even if I sometimes think that waiting will give me less time, that it may be too late to wait. What I'm doing is perfectly legitimate. It works for me unless I look at my life through someone else's eyes. Then I begin to panic about the "haven't dones."

I've never been a super mom or super woman or anything even vaguely attractive in our current culture, which admires women/people who juggle it all and succeed at it all. I can't juggle. I am a klutz. I spill things, walk into walls when I'm distracted, burn my forearms on oven racks because I'm not paying attention to how close I am to the heat, trip on sidewalk cracks when I go for long walks.

So I focus on this one thing for now, do it as well as I can while I have the chance, before she's gone, before she bursts out into the world on her own.

On the side, I'll continue to write, to look for work, to learn how to be a better poet, better writer. But she is my priority. It's almost involuntary.

If I have to consider myself a failure for now because I'm moving too slowly, because I'm not finishing, because my income is non-existent, because no one knows who I am or what I can do, because no one will pay me for what I can teach their children, well, then, I am a Failure.

I am the Queen of Failure. I own it. I'm a beautiful failure.

Next year, I could finish at least one novel, submit more poems, find paid work, apply to school, run away from home. I may do all or any of those things. I may do none. I'm not holding myself to anything because I am old enough and experienced enough to know that the universe sometimes has ways of dropping boulders on our arms just when we're about to commit to That One Thing We've Always Wanted to Do.

I'm not talking about self-created obstacles. I'm talking external obstacles we can't avoid or control.

I feel like I'm debating with myself about why I'm not writing to the Reverb 10 prompts. The debate is a little bit ridiculous. I'll pretend that I am experimenting with this blog, this new space, this nothingness that can eventually become something.

As for moments or series of events Kathryn Fitzmaurice asks us to write about in her Dec. 29 prompt ("Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year."), mine all involve my daughter, marching band, her friends, teenagers. The moments that defined my 2010 had nothing to do with me and everything to do with them, these children who are almost not children. I suspect my 2011 will continue in this way. And 2012. And 2013 until it's time for my daughter to graduate, to pack up, to leave.

The following is an example of one of those defining moments:

note: deleted the poem. sorry about that.

The one where I reflect about reflecting

Since the end of October, on what would have been my mother's 80th birthday, I've been trying to bully myself out of my seasonal blues. I told myself, "You're no better than Pavlov's dog. You think because you've always been sad at Christmas time (or at least since 1993) that you should be sad at Christmas time this year, too. But I'm not going to let you! Just stop it! Be happy!"

Well, I'm a dog all right. Despite my terrible nagging, I caught up with my sad self.

My life is more filled with joy than sorrow. But the two do stand side by side, each one creates its own portal to those "thin places" where we or I feel closer to whatever Deity I believe exists. Denying the sorrow just made me crazy. It's crazy to feel ashamed because one feels sorrow.

(note to self: remember the phrase "Pavlovian sorrow." You think it's hilarious and quite accurate)

(la de da)

All this reflection I've been attempting for Reverb 10 revealed some stark truths I already knew that seem uglier when I shine a spotlight on them.

I don't know if that makes any sense. It doesn't really matter, I suppose. I'll just write this like I'm writing it for myself. Ultimately, it's all self-indulgent anyway even if I share it.

I'm not sorry for the reflection. I needed the focus. I needed to pay attention to where and how I seemed to have failed. Although the Reverb 10 prompts have been all about joy, comfort, wondrous moments, achievements, healing, doing, things being OK, lessons, friendship, all these good things that make life beautiful, what I've discovered inside the prompts, because I'm a Warped and Negative Witch, is another avenue for self-criticism. It's just the way I am. You telling me (or me telling me) to stop it doesn't help.

Normally, I criticize and move on, get stuff done, live, laugh, laugh, laugh.

This month, I feel like someone dropped a boulder on my arm and I'm too cowardly to saw it off (sorry. I haven't seen that film and won't because I can't stand to go through that hell with that lovely man (127 Hours)) so I can stagger to safety.

I suppose it's all right to accept that I'm ending my year "stalled" as long as I focus Saturday again. (my "one words" were "stalled" and "focused")

I'm a little bit superstitious when it comes to New Year's Day. This is another of those traits I inherited from my mother. I believe if I make sure to write on New Year's Day, I'll write all year (there's no question of writing. I always write. It's more a question of finishing and than sharing). Of course the teen New Year's Eve party my daughter was going to attend elsewhere has moved to our house, which means concentration will be impossible at 12:01 a.m., Jan. 1, 2011. Good God! Why did I say yes?

I said yes because I can't think of anything more joyful that having a house full of teenagers the moment 2010 becomes 2011, that's why.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Reverb 10: the one I write directly into the window on Boxing Day

I'm alone this afternoon except for the cat, who sleeps on my sofa and ignores me. This solitude is welcome and needed.

I have been writing to all of the Reverb 10 prompts but not publishing my responses. I haven't had the time or the heart to polish them.

I love Boxing Day. On Boxing Day, I stop holding my breath waiting for myself to explode. This breath-holding is an involuntary response to that ancient seasonal wound.

Here are abbreviated versions of my Reverb 10 responses to the prompts for Dec. 22 and 23:

December 22 – Travel. How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

(Author: Tara Hunt)

I didn't travel in 2010 because I couldn't afford to and didn't have the time. (this is a great over-simplification of why I didn't travel, but it's all I'm giving today)

I probably won't travel in 2011 because I don't think I'll be able to afford to travel and may not have the time.

I love to travel.

December 23 – New Name. Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?

(Author: Becca Wilcott)

When I was young, I thought of myself as the Largest Elizabeth in the World though I was tiny, too thin, smaller and younger than my classmates (skipped a grade in elementary school). Elizabeth was too big a name for me to pull off. I found it hard to hide a name like that.

My mother wouldn't call me anything but Elizabeth and was offended when other people did. She had a certain way of enunciating every letter in my name as if each syllable was a crystal figurine.

I don't need a new name, not even for a day. Elizabeth is the kind of name that easily becomes other names. I can keep my name and still call myself something new. I could (and have been) Elizabeth, Liz, Betty, Beth, Lizzie, Elspeth, Elsie, Tin Lizzy (the years of braces), Lizard Breath, Lizbeth, e'beth and EJ.

Lately, I think of myself as "Lizzie," though I'm the only one I know who actually calls me Lizzie.

I am also Dear, Mom, Mommy, Beautiful Sister, Mumsy, The Girl's Mom, Mama and Auntie E.

Today, I am Elizabeth Marie, my full name, a name I love. I think I'm big enough to wear it now.

reverb 10, the one with the picture(s)

December 25 – Photo – a present to yourself.

Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

I reiterate, I am not photogenic.

I'm going to let the pictures mostly speak for themselves. I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day with my Girl and her father. Christmas Eve, we created much hilarity. My Girl wanted pictures with each of us and is particular about how we compose them. Her daddy kept that shutter clicking, and it made her nuts.

Since the day my daughter was born in 1994, I have spent a great deal of my time sitting near her, laughing.

On Christmas day, there was less hilarity, more exhaustion, maybe a little holiday stress mixed with a few blues.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

the one about aging beautiful

(I seem to have let go of keeping up with Reverb 10 prompts. I'll get to them when I get to them if I get to them. I'm busy. I'm distracted with (creative) work and Christmas (I have inconvenient amounts of cooking and baking to do tomorrow). This post has nothing to do with Reverb 10.)

My daughter documents her life through photographs. Digital photography makes it so easy for her to take dozens of pictures every time she goes out with her friends or works on a new drawing or sees an orange sunset. She takes pictures of herself getting ready to go out to the movies, of herself doing homework or drawing. She takes pictures of meals in progress, her mother squishing tomatoes for pasta sauce or kneading dough for bread.

She takes pictures of one of her eyes made up, the other bare, pictures of the cat sleeping on the sofa or crawling into a reusable grocery sack.

She takes pictures of her mother.

I have always disliked having my picture taken. I’m always uglier in photos than I expect myself to be. When I was a child, I thought I was hideous, though I wasn’t. I was a pretty, little thing. Never photogenic. My mother, too, thought she was ugly. I must have inherited that gene from her.

Since my daughter started taking photographs, whether it was with my little Fuji camera, my newer but not new Canon Powershot or her spiffy Nikon SLR that was a gift from her father, I’ve always been one of her subjects.

She takes pictures of me playing with the cat, cooking, just standing there looking at her begging her not to take that shot. She takes pictures of us together, me with her father as if we are still a couple, me working (writing).

She posts everything on Facebook, pictures of herself looking tired, of the cat looking pissed, of me looking … well, old.

When she colored that strand of my hair pink, she took a picture and posted it on Facebook, of course.

I found it today, not that it was a secret. I just haven’t been on Facebook much. I have to get used to this new self, this self who, from the side, has her father’s jowls. I want to hate this self for betraying me, for sagging. But I can’t. Aging me still has beautiful hair and a thin neck. But that jaw line is undeniably my father’s.

And my father is dead.

How do we reconcile how young we feel with visible proof of our age?

I rarely look at pictures of myself unless someone else is in them. I don’t even look in the mirror all that often unless I’m plucking my eyebrows or trying to wash off a rarely applied masque.

This picture that my daughter took… I don’t know. Maybe it's this fuchsia strand lying there again my black sweater mixed in with all that gray. It’s startling. The pink strand is the first thing I see when I look at this picture, this picture of a stranger. Then I see the white curl in front of my ear, the enormous ear, the not-so-great skin, the loose cheek and jaw.

There’s nothing wrong with growing old. Nothing.

It just startles me when I have proof.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

just bragging about my kid

(note: wrote and posted this yesterday, edited it, saved it as a draft and accidentally hid it. Oops. Still not used to Blogger.)

If I were to write this blog the way I've been writing my online diary for more than a decade, you would get a bit of an earful. But I'm not sure exactly what this place will become. Everything is experimental. The Reverb 10 project has been a good way for me to get started.

I'm short on time, but I've been spying on my daughter, who is at her dad's. The only way I can "spy" on her is by visiting her Facebook page. The option to visit her Facebook page is really the only reason I even have a Facebook page (also, many years ago, some student who happened to experience one of my poetry workshops (that I sometimes give for free because I'm a MORON!) invited me to join Facebook. This was in the days when you could only join Facebook if you were a student or a student invited you. So, hey, I'm special).

Now that she is officially on Christmas break, my Girl has time to draw. She's copying one of her friends' baby pictures:

"I can't for the life of me get a good picture of this drawing," she writes.

Better picture of it," she writes.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reverb 10, the one with the letters

December 21 – Future Self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

(Author: Jenny Blake)

(note: I believe in the positive power of negative thinking, in defensive pessimism (it's a legitimate approach - there are books). This may not be what Jenny Blake had in mind, but I'm not sure that matters.)

Dear Lizzie Now,

I’m writing this from the Super 8 Motel on “Historic Route 66” in Gallup, N.M. It’s 2 a.m. Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, Winter Solstice. This is one of the dates connected to prophecies about the Apocalypse, but we’re still here, so that’s one less thing to worry you.

The sixth train since midnight has just rattled down the tracks, shrieking. Even noise canceling headphones are no match for these trains. I write in the night and sleep during the day except for a couple of hours when I leave my room and drive around so that housekeeping can scrub out the sink and bathtub, run a brush around the toilet’s rim. I like how that sharp "clean room" scent stings my nostrils when I return, like that underneath the sterility, I catch the faint perfume of someone else’s hair product.

I live here in this hotel, at least for now. I rent the room by the week, and the management doesn’t seem to mind. I live alone except that you will acquire a dog sometime after your daughter leaves for college, sometime in the fall of 2013, maybe, a poodle mix who reminds you of the standard-sized poodle you had as a kid. You name her Claudia after a character in one of those many novels-in-progress you wrote between 2000 and 2015. Sometimes I call her Clyde. She’s a good dog.

I’m not sure how or why I ended up here except Gallup is where Past Lizzie went the summer of 1998, the summer you turned 40. You needed to escape our responsible self, the one who was trying to juggle dying father with preschooler with ailing marriage. You attended the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, an event no one else in your life was interested in experiencing, which was exactly what you wanted. You flirted with a Navajo artist or he flirted with you. Remember how discouraged you were to realize he thought he was the pretty one, realized he truly was prettier than you? That was when you began to feel like it was “too late.” You were disappointed in yourself for caring that you were losing your looks.

I’m going to say that I return here to Gallup in the future to seek some kind of stark, alien comfort, to face myself stripped of the familiar distractions and stresses.

I’m sorry to tell you that we’re nearly out of money. You do get better at focusing on your work, and your work gets better and better. But the world economy continues to tank. You will use a great chunk of your retirement and savings to a) help put your daughter through art school, and b) to pay your mortgage. You will sell the terrible, little house in early 2014 and become a renter.

Your husband has found a nice woman to love, so you won’t have to worry about his loneliness when you reach this year. You can stop worrying now, in fact. Trust me. He finds someone. He hasn't divorced you yet in 2015, and they haven’t married yet. But they live together in his dear, little condo. She is as funny as he is, and less tightly wound. She knits your daughter wildly colored scarves to keep her warm when she visits Ohio from Georgia where your daughter attends school.

Here in 2015, fewer and fewer people read books. This trend is no surprise. Reality television continues to be the preferred entertainment. There is even a show called "Coupon Madness" where each week, smart shoppers try to find the best deals on cantaloupe and whole grain linguine.

No one wants what we have to offer, you and I. Continue writing, anyway. It doesn’t matter who wants what. Only the writing matters, the effort to connect through words. It's still breath. It still keeps you alive.

I know it sounds like I have a lonely life, a transient, uncomfortable life now. It’s temporary. Everything is temporary. I’m as happy as ever, which means you will be as happy as ever.

Lizzie Yet to Come

Bonus letter to my 42-year-old self:

Dear Lizzie Then,

I don’t mean to frighten you, but things are going to start sucking even more than they have in the past couple of years. Those things you feared? Yeah, they come to pass.

You will get through this. It will not kill you. Yes, you will find yourself weeping in your bed instead of rising to start your day those weeks when your daughter is with her father. Yes, you will drink endless bottles of cabernet as you paint a wall or a mantel piece with the wrong kind of paint. Yes, you will scream into the carpet when yet another thing goes wrong with the plumbing in the dreadful little house you will buy.

But you will survive. You will work in a school for a year and in a coffee shop for a month (I know that sounds impossible, but you will be the sandwich maker); you will write the beginnings of eight novels, dozens and dozens of poems. You will give writing workshops to children and teens, and they will love you.

It really will be all right, I promise. Impossible though it will seem, the rage and fear you will face in the next three or four years will pass. And look! Look at what your daughter can do! You made her.

Lizzie Now

One of my daughter's in-progress pieces in colored pencil copied from a photograph.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Reverb 10, the one where I avoid the prompt

December 20 – Beyond Avoidance. What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

(Author: Jake Nickell)


I cut up the words from Jake Nickell's prompt and tried to make a poem out of them, but all I could think of was a poem I’d already written. I attempted to answer the heart of this question a few prompts ago. I’ve already admitted that I am a monumental slacker. Haven’t I? Well, if I haven’t, I’m admitting that now.

I could vow to stop being a slacker, to finish the novel, to send out a poem a week, to go to more open mics, to attend writers group meetings, etc., etc., etc. These are all things I “should” have done in 2010 but didn’t do enough. Will I do them next year? If I write here that I will, I probably won’t.

This is part of my perverse response to nagging. When I was a kid and I was about to tackle some chore or bit of homework that I’d been saving, literally about to put pencil to paper or pull open dishwasher door, my father always had a way of saying just at the moment when I was about to begin, “Have you started that geometry homework yet? Are you ever going to empty the dishwasher?”

Guess what I did. Right. I avoided the dishwasher and put off the geometry homework until midnight.

In other words, if I think about this prompt too much, I’ll feel nagged and go back to bed until 2012. If I write to this prompt, my answers would be like the 11 things prompt (I didn’t share my 11 things, which were really 23) or like the aspirations vs. actions prompt, the trying prompt, the making prompt, the writing prompt. I think Jake Nickell’s clothing company is a pretty cool concept. In other words, he has the credibility to nag me, but I’m not going to listen to him.

Instead, I’m going to share the poem the words in his prompt reminded me of (pardon my bad grammar). Never bothered submitting it. I wrote it many years ago when my daughter would still be considered a little girl. We were very close. We still are, but it’s different now. She had an uncanny way of reading the emotions I tried to hide under my skin so that even when I was trying to be cheerful, she could feel my sorrow.

I was putting her to bed one night. I think she was 5. We had a set routine that I shared with her daddy. We’d read and read and read, then I’d turn out the light and talk to her about her day, sometimes sing to her, sometimes I’d crawl into bed and pretend to fall asleep and she’d nudge me after a few minutes and say delightedly, “Mommy! You forgot to go!”

But this one night, I was sitting on the edge of her bed, stroking her forehead, reluctant to leave but maybe too busy to play the “forgot to go” game.

“Mommy, you look sad,” she said. “You feel sad.”

“Do I?” I said. “I’m all right.”

“Do you miss someone?” she asked.

“Oh, maybe I miss your granddaddy, but I always miss him.” My father had been gone about a year and a half, I think.

“No, it’s not granddaddy. I know you miss granddaddy. I do, too. I think you miss yourself, Mommy.”

And, oh, hellfire and fuck did my heart explode in that moment. I’d been struggling to keep hold of myself for about four years at that point, struggling with all the roles I was playing – wife, mother, daughter, sister, writer, editor. I did get lost.

When I was “lost,” my child had nightmares about being unable to reach me or about me turning into someone unlike myself, an Evil Mommy, Witch Mommy. I rarely shouted at her and was never mean, so she was seeing something that was buried far, far, far beneath the surface. She may have been seeing what Evil Mommy was doing to Nice Mommy.

Scary kid.

The poem came from a “seed” my poetry teacher gave us during an online workshop I took in 2005. I can’t share the prompt because Diane's lessons are copyrighted material. But I can share the poem because it’s mine.

Also, I seem to be revising it today. Boy does it need work (passive much?). The bits are there; they just need some polishing. I suppose we’ll just call this a poem in progress, five years to complete? Wow. I really ought to go back through all my files and finish this stuff.

sorry. had to delete poem.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

the one about wounds

On credibility. I know that the prompt authors for Reverb 10 are giving their prompts for nothing. Sort of. We follow links to their websites to see who they are and possibly what they have to offer.

I can’t afford to buy much these days. I’ve been living off savings to feed my writing addiction, you see. When the Reverb 10 site links me to Amazon, I get annoyed. I don’t want to buy another book to support another writer, especially a writer whose work is, in my head, at least, bollocks. I can’t even support the writer that I want to be right now. Understand?

I do respect some of the prompt authors.

But holy Jesus on toast! The Goddess? I’m sorry, but I'm fucking offended.

Life is not all rainbows and butterflies. Just because you think you’ve managed to get all the things you WANT to get before you’re 25 doesn’t mean that you’ll keep those things or continue to get other things you want when you’re 35 or 47 or 52 or 68 (you could die at 68, like my parents, or at 33, like my friend Kevin, or at 60, like my friend Karen, 27, like my friend Bob).

Life stinks. That’s one of the things that makes it so rich. It’s like my daddy’s favorite soft French cheese – camembert.

Life isn’t always lived in Happy Camp.

That’s another thing that makes it rich.

I am wounded.

You are damaged.

Someone hurt us.

We live, anyway.

Some of us carry oozing, open wounds all our lives. That’s OK. We function anyway. Healing? Drip-by-drip? What is this, chemotherapy?

My father decided against chemo but accepted a little radiation so that he could continue to read his beloved books after the brain mets.

My mother took some chemo by mouth in pill form when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She only lost a little hair.

I have friends who are trying to survive drip-by-drip, but I don’t think they’ll ever truly heal. I don’t know. Are we supposed to heal? Fully?

I think my emotional wounds ache most deliciously when I encounter someone else who is wounded. I find myself wanting to touch them, to talk to them, to listen to them. Maybe we should let ourselves stay damaged, just a little bit, so that we can recognize each other as the walking wounded, talk to each other about what happened, see.

There is no shame in being wounded, perpetually, forever wounded. I will not feel shame for being unable to heal completely. That’s madness.

I can’t think about healing in 2011. This next year will continue much in the same way that 2010 did. I will raise my child, negotiate with her father, try not to go broke, continue learning to say “no” until someone can pay me when I say “yes.” I’ll write, I’ll submit my work, I’ll be with friends, learn things, do things, live.

But I’ll always be wounded. And that’s all right. The wounds keep me spicy.

Reverb 10, the one where I take a risk

December 19 – Healing. What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?

(Author: Leoni Allan)

I'm going to play make believe and pretend that this post has something to do with the Reverb 10 prompt for today. Really, I'm just writing.


Slowly, so slowly that it's like dragging a bare, flogged ass through salt, I am trusting in my work, making the time and finding the courage, to send poems out into the world, to share fiction excerpts with friends for feedback. Last summer (I've already written about this), I submitted a couple of sample poems to Scott Woods, who was the poetry juror for the German Arts League's annual The Language of Art exhibition in Columbus, Ohio:

This year the Language of Art's poetry portion of the exhibit will feature work based on the visual art that is juried and selected for exhibition...ekphrastic poetry! Poets who are chosen to participate will be randomly matched with a piece of art from the show. Poets may write in any style as long as it is not offensive and as long as the poem is no longer than one page in length. The poems will be placed next to each of the assigned artwork for the duration of the option of the exhibit. Poets have the option to read their piece during the opening reception but it is not mandatory.

I sent my poems out well before the June 30 deadline and promptly forgot about the whole thing since my daughter's active and creative summer life made it hard to remember I even had a self.

The week leading up to the Sunday, Aug. 1, opening day of high school marching band camp, my daughter, her dad and I were consumed with preparations. The right shorts, shoes, snacks, sunscreen, hats, bandanas, socks, anything to help her get through the week without falling over from exhaustion and heat stroke, her music, drum sticks, section T-shirt, all needed gathering or purchasing.

I had also agreed to bake 3,000 cookies (OK, that's an exaggeration - I baked something like 12 dozen), drive up one day to help on the field or at the front desk in the dorms, another day to gather donated food and drive it up in time for the traditional Thursday night band camp dance, had agreed go up the day of the dance to help decorate, etc., etc.

In other words, the week of band camp, I belonged to the high school marching band boosters (I was grateful no one tricked me into organizing band camp).

At about 11 p.m. the night before the Girl's dad and I drove her and her friend A to Kenyon College, I received an email from Scott Woods.

I was "in" for The Language of Arts juried show. Congratulations, he wrote. My random artwork, no name included, was attached (but I'm a creeper and found him, anyway). Scott included the rules. No asking for another image, must be family appropriate, no more than a page, if we don't like it, we get to reject it, turn it in by Aug. 15.

Aug. 15. Two weeks to write a poem that would hang next to a beautiful piece of art. Shit, I thought. I really only had one week since I was committed to donating from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7 or 8 to the band.

I started laughing hysterically as I gazed at the email, looked at the beautiful photograph that was my random trigger for the ekphrastic poem I was now assigned to write, danced into the living room and told my kid.

"Go you!" she said. She really does love that I'm a poet, loves having an eccentric mother.

"But...oh dear! I have no time!" I squealed. "When am I going to write this thing? I'm busy every day this next week even though you'll be gone."

"You'll get it done," she said, wiser than wise. "You always do."

I wrote the poem the week after band camp, shared my original draft with the Girl's father (who made the suggestion that saved me). It was not my best piece, but it also wasn't my worst. Scott accepted the poem (if I had written a piece of crap, it would not have been in the show), called it awesome, gave me information about the opening reception and the reading.

I took my lovely friend Laura with me. I had my poem memorized because I am a shy girl, but if I let the words take over, I do all right performing my work.

When we got there and began viewing the art and the other poems that went with the paintings, photographs, sketches, I got chills.

"Oh my God, Laura. I'm in such good company! Compared to these people I suck!"

This is, of course, part of my process. I don't really get it, either, but I just have to accept myself as I am.

The talent in that little gallery was astounding, the written and the visual. My photographer (Tim Morbitzer) was not there, unfortunately. He was out of town. I wrote him to thank him for inspiring me, for letting me stretch my wings.

I'm not sure what's appropriate as far as linking and copyright, etc., etc. I'll risk posting both picture and poem since my written work is connected with the visual piece. You can find Tim's work here, but I have "stolen" the photograph on which I based my poem from my own hard drive:


sorry. had to delete poem.

(oh, man. this feels like self-promotion. I HATE self-promotion! My apologies. I'll be back to randomness tomorrow.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reverb 10, the one where I write a bunch of stuff, admit I misunderstood and write more stuff

We sleep in this morning after the long, long week of too many tests for my child, too much introspection and too little real work for me. I plan to rise at 9, but instead, lie in bed on my back staring at the swirls in the ceiling paint, thinking I really should conquer the small cobweb in the corner over my lingerie chest (which holds T-shirts and cotton underwear. Pretty much tossed out anything even remotely resembling lingerie years ago).

The cat leaps up onto the bed, walks around in his dainty circles, finally curls up tight against my legs, trapping me with the weight of feline sleep. He probably weighs no more than 8 pounds, 6 on a bad day, but he feels heavy enough to trap me there. I’m the contents of a bed burrito, fall asleep again because of the purring.

After my daughter and I both finally surface to consciousness, we have the usual sorts of exchanges mothers and daughters have late Saturday mornings.

“Are you hungry? Do you want me to make you some breakfast?” I ask.

“I don’t know! I don’t know if I’m hungry.”

“You want some eggs and sausage?”

She glares at me. She has finally hit 100 pounds and is afraid that now she that she weighs in the triple digits, she will be more inclined to become obese. Eggs and sausage are not on her list of healthy foods.

“I want something sweet,” she says, ignoring the irony. “But I don’t know what yet.”

“OK,” I say. “Let me know if you want help. I’m in my study being all introspective.”

I know she doesn’t know what “introspective” means. I don’t bother to define it. It will slip out of her overstuffed brain, anyway.

This introspection exhausts me. I ordinarily spend a lot of my time thinking about stuff. Kind of goes with the territory when one writes. But this, this Reverb 10 business. It’s a little overwhelming. I like my own company just fine, but I don’t really like thinking about myself this much. I’m not that interesting, not to me, anyway. I’ve been with myself for too long. The romance has worn off.

I frankly don’t know how to write an interesting response to either yesterday’s or today’s prompts.

December 17 – Lesson Learned. What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?

(Author: Tara Weaver)

December 18 – Try. What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it?

(Author: Kaileen Elise)

Yesterday’s prompt inspired me to create my own prompt, which tanked, of course, because I let myself wallow in morose memories. Today’s just makes me feel like turning up the music on my Pandora station to drown out the words “try,” no, “do,” but “try,” before, “do,” “try,” “do,” try do trydotrydotrydotrytrytrydododododo.

I admit that when I signed up for Reverb 10, I didn’t read the “fine print” too closely. I glossed over the part that stated, “It’s an opportunity to retreat and consider the reverberations of your year past, and those that you’d like to create in the year ahead.” All I could see was, “Prompts! Daily! December!” When I realized I would feel obliged to be all "I'm going manifest things in a positive way for myself in 2011 after I consume my liver by analyzing my successes and failures for 2010," I sort of freaked out. But, but, but, it doesn't have to be that way. The creators of Reverb 10 are trying to inspire, not nauseate. Today, I read The Story and have found what I needed to find:

"We’re connected by the belief that sharing our stories has the power to change us. We look forward to reading yours."

That's more like it. One of the reasons I write, despite my assertion that I will write even if no one reads (because I'm really bad about submitting), is that I want to share my Story, whether the story hides in a poem, an essay, a blog post or a novel.

Some story:

I have not had happy experiences with New Age philosophies. I don’t know what else to call things like “letting go of negative ‘self talk’,” or “manifesting what’s next.” A friend of mine once scolded me when I began to succumb to an asthma attack after encountering a plant to which I was allergic. “You know how to take care of that, don’t you? You just stop letting yourself have asthma.”


For a brief time, I attended a church where the members practiced a kind of “metaphysical Christianity.” I still have my Metaphysical Bible Dictionary but haven’t looked at it in a decade and a half (yes, it’s possible having a kid makes everything a little more literal and less metaphysical). Meditation was our prayer. I suck at meditation. I always end up writing poetry in my head or making to do lists or grocery lists or writing letters to people I’ve let humiliate me.

We had a guest speaker one Sunday, and I was talking to him after the service. Boy. It’s been so long I can’t remember the topic, but at the time, it was kind of cool sounding. Anyway, it was all about making the best of one’s moments. I’d had yet another issue with asthma the previous night, but being awake most of the night had allowed me to get to know a kitten I’d just adopted. She curled up on my chest (probably exacerbating the asthma since I’m allergic to cats) and purred for hours while I stroked her head. I was trying to tell this dude this, but he interrupted me and said, “You know, asthma is merely a manifestation of your anger at your parents.”


People at that church began over-emphasizing the notion that each of us chooses our own predicaments, including our diseases, that we choose these things because there is some lesson we need to learn about ourselves.

I gave up on them at that point, never went back. I had just lost one of my best friends to AIDS, which he had contracted through a blood transfusion he received in the mid-1980s during a surgery that was meant to correct another, serious health issue from which he had suffered since he was about 3. My friend was an incredible human being. The world is worse off without his brilliant mind and unquenchable thirst for knowledge. He wanted so badly to live. I couldn’t ever accept that he chose to contract a virus that would kill him quickly in such a horrible way after being born with a condition that made him suffer in other horrible ways before he was old enough to know what kinds of lessons he wanted to learn.

So I’m struggling with the tenor of some of these Reverb Prompts.

Today's... I keep forgetting what it is. Oh. Yes. The one about trying. Maybe I gave up trying for Lent last year. I consider, I decide, I do, I quit, I succeed, I fail. I might say, “I’ll try to do that for you,” or “I’ll try to get that novel finished by January,” but I don’t mean “try.” I mean do or don’t do.

That is all.

As for yesterday's lesson prompt? I suppose the above story about that wacky church might explain why I haven’t tackled it.

That’s enough now. This is WAY too fucking long.

Friday, December 17, 2010

the one where I take it back

(EDIT on Saturday, Dec. 18: I took this post down yesterday because it annoyed me. By doing that, I broke a promise to myself to be as "transparent" (don't you just HATE that word these days?) as possible in this blogging effort I've started. So. Here it is again in all it's hideousness and glorious morose blechedness. I am a different Lizzie today, and I can stand to look at yesterday's sad, bad Lizzie. Oh, I also took down the post before this post because I am a brat. There is no prompt to replace the "lesson" prompt, which I haven't tackled for personal reasons.)

I have hit an emotional bump in my holiday road.


I don't know that I'll ever finish writing the piece I started based on the prompt I created on the previous post. (or on which the prompt is based?)

Follow through is not my strong suit.

"Strong suit."

I wish my strong suit were hearts.
Then I would be lucky in love.
Or diamonds.
Then I would be prosperous with fat bank accounts
that grew
instead of diminished
because I work for nothing.



Must cheer self up.


this is a freaky and stupid thing to notice, but sometimes, those "bad dates" (as in anniversaries, not times when one goes out with some schlub who flosses his teeth at the restaurant table or tells you all about his gastrointestinal issues as you slurp down spaghetti) fall on the days of the week when the bad/sad/traumatic thing happened.

You know what I mean.

For instance, my mother died Monday, Dec. 20, 1993.

I'm going to spare you what I'd written here. It's too maudlin and depressing, and I can't get it quite right. It's "old news," though it's feeling rather fresh today.

When I look at the calendar and see the days and dates, I kind of want to stab a pencil in my eye.

Oh, GAH! This is not the kind of thing I mean to write here on this blog, not now, and not after Reverb 10 is over. I was going to start a series of "How To Not ..." posts. (what I'm affectionately referring to as The Split Infinitive Posts.) You know, "How to Not Finish a Novel," "How to Not Get Paid for Working Your Ass Off," "How to Not Divorce Your Not Husband."

I seem more inclined to write depressing and intimate things these days, things that are no one's business, things that might make a reader uncomfortable and feeling squirmy and sick to his stomach.

Oh well. I guess once I get going on the series (but I won't - see "follow through" comment above), I could write a post called, "How to Not Attract Blog Readers."


Here is a lesson on "How to Distract Readers from the Dreadful Content of a Post without Actually Deleting the Entire Post" (though I did delete most of it, you lucky sots):

My Girl uses everything as a canvas, including her face.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reverb 10, the one about the friendship

December 16 – Friendship. How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst?

(Author: Martha Mihalick)

The following was not at all what I expected to write from today’s prompt. I was going to write about some new friendships I’ve been cultivating in this little Ohio town, about how the truth is just underneath people’s skin, how it’s almost always a shock to know what’s going on behind someone else’s closed front door, about how it just takes one moment of stillness, two of listening and the right question to find out way more than you ever wanted to know about someone else’s struggle, how it's an honor to be trusted enough to learn those hard things. I was going to write this post like a poem.

But when I sat down to focus, this is what came out. I'm sorry it's so long:

It’s been seven years plus four months (to the day) since my husband and I agreed to start living separately. It’s a long story born in 1988 on his ugly plaid sofa in his apartment in the little Central Texas city where we met. We were smooching (as my mother would have called it). He had the most gentle mouth I’d ever encountered in anyone who had kissed me. I didn’t actually see his full mouth, his upper lip, until July 2003, though, because when I met him and for the 14 years of our “together” marriage, he had a mustache, usually a beard, too. I should have known he was about to leave me when he shaved off his mustache.

Gentle man. Beautiful mouth. Our daughter has his beautiful mouth.

We had the best courtship ever. It was full of humor, surprises, great meals, lots and lots of music. He was one of the funniest people I’d ever met and one of the smartest. My parents liked him because he was more educated than I was, because they thought he might be at least as smart as they thought I was.

So. There we were, sitting on that ugly sofa. He’d been boring me to yawns with a photo album he’d put together from a trip he took to Italy. His doctorate (that he never finished the way I never finished my masters in journalism) had something to do with architecture and music. I was so relieved that he was boring the shit out of me because I just knew there had to be something wrong with this lovely man. “This is it,” I thought. “He likes to talk about boring architecture!”

“I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with you,” I said when we came up for air after sucking face for a while. “There’s always something wrong with the guys I date. But so far, I’m coming up blank.”

“Well, I have a secret dark side, and when you find out what it is, you’ll leave me.”

“You? A dark side? No way. I’d smell it on you. And I’d never leave you.”

“Everyone has a dark side,” he said. “Even you.”

He was, of course, right, except that he officially left me because of his “dark side.” He only meant to leave temporarily, but I was tired of trying and wouldn’t let him come back home.

By all the Wisdom in the Great Books of Divorce How To, philosophies about moving on, reinventing yourselves after the death of a marriage, etc., yada, blah, he and I should have done it legal, been DONE with each other by summer of 2004 except for the part where we have a child together. I’m pretty sure we meant to do it legal. We both had attorneys. We both gathered paperwork from each other. We both snarled into the phone about the whys of the split (one of the worst things he said (or it felt like the worst to me in the moment) was that he left me because he couldn’t stand my messes and my raging procrastination).

I wept and wept and wept.

I’m pretty sure he did, too.

Somehow in the midst of selling a house, buying our separate abodes, quit claim deeds, trying to figure out how long the child should be with each of us, paying bills, work, not work, his father’s death one day, my great-niece’s birth the next, we lost sight of the idea of divorce.

So. Here we sit, seven years and four months (to the day) later, still married with, apparently, no plans to snip that frayed string still attaching us to each other legally.

It’s been an interesting seven years.

Here’s the thing, though. Something has shifted between us this year. It’s a subtle thing, this thing between us. It’s almost separately sentient, an entity of its own built out of our striving to be kind to each other. That’s sort of been the theme of this time apart – kindness. This year, we haven’t needed to try so hard. The kindness has just … come.

Until this year, there have been many moments when I’ve wanted to dip his head in cat piss and sprinkle him with rotting mulch. I’m sure he has felt the same way about me, though much of his behavior toward me has been tempered with great civility and gentleness (I have always wondered if this is because he feels guilty. Hope not. Hope he's let that go; I have).

We’ve changed this year. Maybe what we did was say aloud, “You know, I think you’re my best friend.” How weird is that? The guy who broke my heart is my best friend. Or I am at least his. He's said so. Recently.

This learned or grown or steeped, stewed, brewed ability to be such good friends with the man who should be my hated ex-husband has completely changed me, has changed how I see things, how I live, how I see myself. It’s been gradual, but the acceptance, or maybe realization, that we don’t need to get divorced or don’t need to stay married, that we will always be what we are whatever our legal relationship to each other is, seems to have landed on me within the past couple of months.

I mean, really, it’s amazing that I like him as much as I do because, dudes, things were not good when we lived together. The awkward sex, the lack of sex, the feeling judged (both), the arguing, the not arguing. It all came down to a need he had that I couldn’t fulfill that he tried to stop needing, and down to my need to stop twisting myself into knots trying to figure out what to do about this incompatibility, how to let him have what he needed without betraying myself.

Now that we’ve stopped trying either to be each other’s one and only or each other’s mortal enemy (I like to think we were striving to be each other’s Professor Moriarity), I think we have discovered (created) a new kind of true love.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reverb 10, the one in which I capture memories

December 15 – 5 Minutes. Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.

(Author: Patti Digh)

I like this prompt. It's difficult and has been making me insane since I first read it last night. It reminds me of the kinds of prompts my favorite poetry teacher gives in her online, (advanced, but don't let that fool you. I am forever a beginner) poetry classes. I carried the prompt with me in my skin from the living room where I first read it on my laptop last night to bed to the kitchen in the morning when I set up my coffee maker and sliced cheese for my daughter's lunch.

I thought it and ate it. I felt like I was cheating except that I didn't think about the memories I would list when I finally sat down with the set timer. I thought about the prompt itself, how it would make a really cool premise for a piece of speculative fiction.

I thought about the prompt in connection with my father's brain metastases in January 1999 (lung cancer to bone to brain), how he said the cancer was eating little moth holes in his brain, how he was losing things he used to know, how that was the one thing he couldn't stand, losing his vital, brilliant mind, his memories.

Oh dear. Today seems to be all about revisiting my parents' deaths. Nothing I can do about it. I just am what I am today.

I am going to share my messy list (will cheat and edit it a bit for clarity). I'll revisit the list another day to see if I can find a poem in it.

Mostly, what I captured was my daughter.

Deep breath. Exhale. Ready. Set......


- The color green.
- Prom.
- My Girl and her Dawg in their finery at the high school promenade before the dance, Dawg in his "shades" looking like a tiny rock star
- laughter
- Bass drum strapped to my tiny child during the first week in August. Band camp.
- Image of my daughter in her purple Star Wars T-shirt and purple shorts, a bandana wrapped around her head for a sweat band. She stood in line "off the field" with the rest of the bass drums. Smallest of them all. At attention. God. The most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.
- Scent of stale marching band uniforms.
- The gorgeous struggle of having only a week to write an ekphrastic poem for an exhibition.
- Reading that poem to a roomful of strangers.
- Impromptu parties in my basement rec room on Friday or Saturday nights.
- Screeching teens.
- Half full soda cans.
- Crushed cake.
- The cat kicking poop from his litter box onto the wall.
- The piano pieces my daughter taught herself. No time to list! (Coldplay. The Frey. Mad World. Beethoven's Pathetique)
- Conversations with her about how stupid she thinks it is when a sophomore girl lets herself get pregnant, how she plans to wait to have sex at least until she graduates from high school just to be sure it doesn't happen to her ("I don't understand why these girls are too stupid to use protection!").
- New Year's Eve with the Dawg.
- Diane's poetry workshop. (the beginnings of some difficult and important poems)
- All that writing I did through the year (fiction, poetry, online diary entries, blog posts, offline diary entries, emails, essays, lists).
- My siblings' voices.
- Watching my husband's kitty for him when he was away visiting his ancient mother for Thanksgiving.
- He took me to dinner to thank me. I remember the way his voice broke as he told me what my watching cat and house meant to him.
- Laughing at him for thinking my watching the cat was a big deal when it wasn't.
- Laughing at myself when I teared up as we talked about how amazing our girl is despite her parents' inability to remain a couple.


That is all I could get down. I wrote by hand in a big, fat, spiral bound notebook where I keep secret bits of myself.

I don't know. I wanted to think I rocked this bitch, but it looks like I might have failed to get to the point.

(quick notes:
1. my husband and I are "undivorced." We have lived separately for more than seven years. the bit about the cat might be too confusing if you don't know that.
2. the Dawg is my daughter's "ex"-boyfriend. They "broke up" over the summer because he was going off to college and they didn't want to tie each other down. He drives her crazy, but she can't make herself date anyone else, she says because she doesn't want that kind of commitment again (I say it's because there's no one else like him). Tomorrow, he'll be back in town for the holidays. Friday, he, my Girl and some other friends will be going on "adventures" in our little town (reminder to self - pick up the basement. another impromptu party might land there Friday night).)

the one that's merely a blip

Today's Reverb 10 prompt is rather delicious, but I am going to hold onto it until I can make the space in my head and body for that sometimes difficult place where I make poem. I love Patti Digh, anyway. She's not much younger than I am, and though I suppose you could class her with the other self-help gurus on the Reverb 10 prompt-writing list, there is something less self-conscious about her approach.

She simply is.

Until I can clear that space (and I may not be able to until tomorrow), I will continue doing non-Reverb 10 related things. The novel, clearing out that corner of the living room so that we can actually put up a little tree, laundry. I need to order a Christmas gift for my Girl that I totally forgot to order. I had to break into her laptop and steal the links she'd saved. She saved them for me, actually. Made me feel like a dirty mutt to sneak onto her laptop, though she doesn't mind. She knows my views on privacy between a child and parent, knows I will not read things she hasn't invited me to read.

That's probably why she tells me almost everything.

Right, kid?


I want to tell you
because you don't know me
about this time of year
this maudlin
wrapping paper encrusted time of year.

I hate it because it's the time of year
when my mother died.
I cannot get past the green and red and sometimes shiny gold ornaments
that surround the memories of her failing
so sudden
but not
that wave of ancient grief
washes me to the edge of her last hospital bed
every time I walk through any mall
at this time of year.



The first time my daughter got pneumonia,
she was 5. The second time, she was 11.
Despite the
flushed cheeks
she was never in danger of dying of pneumonia
the way my mother did.

My daughter was due
on the first anniversary of my mother's death
(came three weeks early).
The first time my daughter met my mother
in the physical sense,
we were in the cemetery where my mother lay buried
deep down in the earth,
space above her reserved for my father.

My daughter was 2
and romped amongst the polished, military headstones,
tripping onto her chubby knees into the grass now and then.
She joined me at my mother's grave
and watched me trace the words
carved into marble
then patted the stone with a plump hand.
"Hello Grandmother!" she said.



My process is sharp today, ugly and awkward. It's like swallowing shards of china. Oh. Crap. There's another connection in the image of cracked china.

Once Jan. 1 arrives, I am always fine. I am better this year than I have been in the past. But when a loved one dies during the holidays (just before Christmas), there is no getting around the reminders even after all these years, so many years. So many.

Sometimes I think I'm a fool to need my mother still at the age of 52. But I do. I was wondering a few days ago why I seem to miss my father more at times.

I think it's because I can't replace him with myself. I am a mother, so I can be my mother sometimes, can mother myself. But I can't be a father no matter how many ways I try to mold that puppy.

Oh. This breaks down into incoherent shit. If I were writing this at that "other" site where I've been writing for nearly 11 years, someone would tell me in an unsolicited advice sort of way, "You can be both your mother AND your father, you know. They aren't really gone. You hold them both in your heart."

Of course, that giver of unsolicited advice would be kind of right. Except ...

... just "except."


I, er, seem to have written this bilge directly into the post window again without thought or planning. Probably not the best way to work a blog.

We'll just call me a middle-aged anarchist.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reverb 10, the one I don't appreciate

December 14 – Appreciate.

What's the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?

(Author: Victoria Klein)

Not feeling this prompt. I taste something (smug) behind it that makes me curl my lip and think the Prompt thinks it's better than I am. Probably the Prompt is better than I am, but, eh, who needs to feel inferior before they've had coffee?

I don't mean that the prompt author thinks she's better than I am. She seems lovely. And young. All of you prompt authors seem so young! Really (even if you happen to be over 40 or 50 or 60, you seem young). Maybe next year, I'll find a project (or create a project) developed by Women of a Certain Age, prompts designed to appeal to the insanely cynical and sarcastic middle-aged, menopausal woman who is most grateful that her womb has finally fucking dried up. Maybe someone like Nora Ephron could create something for those of us with a sly, slightly self-deprecating, funny, snarky approach toward our lovely lives. It's not that we don't appreciate what we have. We are blossoming, thriving, striving, creating, giving even as our boobs sag down to our ankles, even as we limp toward old age. Some of us just have a bit of an edge, need to spice things up with the occasional use of the word FUCK. I don't know. Maybe Reverb 10 makes me inclined to take myself too seriously. That won't do.

So. Yeah. I'm not going to play with this one today.


(OK. I'm going to write this next section in parentheses because it's an afterthought. I pulled up the file holding this year's National Novel Writing Month work and am skimming through the parts I'm probably going to "excise" and save for another story. I dunno. Maybe I'm a shitty writer, but I've been laughing like a fool as I've been reading through the first scene where we meet Ambrose, the "not-angel," and his friend and human mentor, Mr. Yeti. What was I thinking? Well, I suppose I wasn't thinking. That's one of the points of NaNoWriMo, to write without thinking. It's So. Much. Fun.

Below is a tiny excerpt that includes a note I wrote to myself about one of the characters. I am still laughing. Seriously (or not), I have THE best life. Ever.

Ambrose stood inside the ballon darts booth holding a wrench, feeling wretched. He'd been with the carnival for a couple of weeks, had helped assemble and disassemble game booths, rides, ticket booths, the tent where the "exotics" performed. But he couldn't ever get it right. The only reason the boss hadn't fired him was because he'd figured out that Ambrose was something like an angel, and the boss wasn't sure what the consequences of firing an angel would be.

"Ambrose, goddammit! What the fuck are you doing in there? Aren't you finished?"

"Almost, Mr. Yeti. I couldn't remember what to do with the wrench."

"Holy fucking Christ on a waffle! How many times do I have to show you?"

"I like waffles."

"If I didn't know better, kid, I'd say you were lacking in mental acuity."

[I know it seems strange for a carnival "boss" to use words like "acuity," but the truth is, Mr. Yeti has a PhD in Russian literature and a masters in the sociology of suburbs. This is why he chooses a life in which he moves around so much. The suburbs. They scared the shit out of him.]


also, there is always this to appreciate:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reverb 10, the one where I mix things up (make, wonder, let go)

Ah. Well.

Just so you know, as soon as I opened this window to begin typing yet another post, my daughter called me from the place where she and friends are sledding.

Give me 10 minutes...... (it's 4:44 p.m.). No, make that 20. I need to take her friend home, too.


It's 5:27 p.m. Took a while for my girl's best friend to bid her boyfriend goodbye ; we dropped off another friend so that he didn't have to walk through the bitter, angry wind, dropped off the best friend whose mother decided not to let her out again to visit yet another friend.

I am relieved that the strict parent ensured the second outing got canceled. The roads are slick; I am tired; winter wants me to stay in and warm my Texan bones.


Reverb Prompts 6, 5, 4 (kind of in that order, though I might move 4 closer to 6).

Dec. 6 – Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make but you need to clear the time for it? (Author: Gretchen Rubin)
Dec. 5 – Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder this year? (Author: Jeffrey Davis)
Dec. 4 – Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)

I am not a maker. I am a writer. I do not paint, sculpt, build. I don't make scrapbooks or photo albums. I don't cultivate plants, design gardens or clothes, knit, crochet, whittle. Because I make very little that is tangible, I sometimes question my worth. Don't go getting on me about this, especially since you don't know me. I'm fine. I have created a decent life for myself that is full of all those abstracts we seem to be covering ad nauseum during this lovely project. I'm really only typing this because I'm stalling (see Prompt One). Make? Make? What did I make?

I made pots of coffee and I made a few photographs. I made a couple dozen French braids for marching band girls who needed help stuffing their hair up under their hats and a few buns/ponytails for the long-haired boys. I made jokes when people got too stressed during band events. I made poems with words and blood (metaphorical) and memory. I made story woven out of the old color of my hair and my dastardly imagination.

But tangible things? I don't make things unless you count baked goods. I....

I am now making dinner for my daughter, leftover chili. The interruptions are part of what make my life what it is, part of why I am not quite finished with things that I feel should have been finished years ago.

The interruptions are beautiful, and though I sit here with my stupid brow furrowed (stop it, Lizzie! You're making the grooves worse!) in irritation, deep in the center of my gut, I am not irritated. It's an honor to live this life.

Oh, gah. That does NOT sound like me. But it is me.

Back to making things.

In 2010 (starting, really, at the end of 2009), I baked more than usual. I baked bread, cookies, pies, all from scratch. The last thing I baked, though, my daughter really baked. We made mini-blueberry pies for Thanksgiving....

(My girl Skypes with her friends who live less than three minutes from our house. The boy who invited her over to hang out (her "fake brother") is upset because she canceled on him. "I'm sorry!" she said. "You're makin' me feel bad." But she chuckled. I love eavesdropping on these kids. They are lyrical and disgusting, frightful and kind.)

We made the pies out of the usual - flour, oil, salt, labor, love, heart, blueberries, sugar, something else I can't remember.

Even the pies that burst and dripped blueberry guts all over the bottom of my oven were perfect (I forgot to put a protective sheet thingie under the muffin tin).

Everything my daughter touches turns into an art project. The pie crusts had to be perfect. She worked them until they were almost too dry, but she is magical, so they were successful, little pies.

When I watched her working on those crusts, this sense of wonder rose up in me, unquenchable. Every time I watch her make something, whether it's a pie or a friend's sketch or a power point presentation, even when she paints tiny designs on her chewed up nails, Wonder consumes me.

Who made her? How did she become so creative? Why haven't the schools dampened her desire to make art yet? How did we get so lucky?

I wonder all these things for a little while, and then I let go because this kind of wonder (in me, anyway) sometimes turns to worry (I'm afraid to lose her). I let go and let myself feel gratitude.

I did let go of other things this year, commitments, but if I let myself focus on writing about the letting go and the activities themselves, I won't actually feel that I've let them go. It's been several months since I've fretted about that decision. I've accepted it, and it was the right thing to do.

As I was writing this (it's taken me two hours), I realized that I'm going to let myself keep this blog messy (hey! That's another thing I made this year - Tons of Messes). This is how I work. I work around things, around snow days, my cat barfing, my daughter needing a ride home so that she can warm up after being brutalized by that Bitter Wind. I write around fixing dinner and doing laundry. This is part of my process.

I will have days next week after she goes to her father's when I will have the luxury to focus solely on me.

But, really, what fun is that?

The thing I let go of has allowed me more time to do my real work. If I can find time to do more than simply raise my kid, write creatively, find work that pays, I'd like to:

take more photographs
bake more
make my home into more of a home
make collages
create a regular teen poetry group/workshop (that won't happen in 2011. not quite ready for the commitment)

(it is now 7:49 p.m. We have started watching Iron Man. The Girl draws (she says she's going to bed at 9 though the school district has already announced a two-hour weather delay). The cat curls up close to her on a throw blanket. I write here. In this way. Around and through my days. I think it will work for me. And does it matter if it works for anyone else? Not much.)

The movie is over. It's 8:52 p.m. This post is over, too. Finally.