Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve in Teenlandia

I hesitate to write about my child these days. She is her own person with her own thoughts, style, (secret) blog (and, no, I haven't found or tried to find her secret blog, and if I stumbled across it, I wouldn't read it unless she asked me to or gave me permission). But it's New Year's Eve, and once she and her friend leave the house this evening, I will be alone and quiet until sometime tomorrow late morning or early afternoon, and she is my heart and center, and I can't not write about her.

My daughter is 17 now, edging on adulthood but still goofy as hell. I love it all, love every phase more than the last phase. This phase is more difficult for me, though. She's not pushing me away or running away or turning away. But away she is going.

Here is how I see it: She is growing away.

A few weeks before she turned 17, I could sense the grownup shift in her. I will never be able to explain it unless I write it in poem.

I believe poetry gives us the ability to write the things we cannot say. I stole that from some other poet or several other poets, but I heard it so many times in so many different ways during my residency last summer and during this past semester that it has become my own belief. Also, I was able to write poems that said things I can't say. So there.

So, tonight.

My daughter has been invited to a "black tie" New Year's Eve party at a good friend's house. His parents, too, are having a party for their adult friends (and it absofuckinglutely does NOT bother me that I am not on the invite list because, well, yeah. Me and parties. Not such a good combination. Plus, champagne gives me a massive headache). But my Girl is thrilled to get to dress up.

Being my Girl, she took "black tie" literally because she wanted to, bought herself a bow tie and sent me on a search (well, I volunteered) for a button up shirt. So, hey howdy, I hit Walmart at 4:30 on New Year's Eve and found one women's white shirt and one small, periwinkle blue man's shirt.

Walmart wasn't horrible. Or maybe because I'm in a good mood, I didn't mind the horrible bits.

Now her friend is here, and they are getting ready, started getting ready before 5 though the party doesn't start until 8. They have a ride there so they won't be driving the mad, alcoholic streets of Zanesville, Ohio, at 1 a.m., and they are staying over with a friend who lives close to the host's house. Also, my Girl told me I can text her all night if I want to.

God. I love teens. Someone tried to tell me that I probably love teens because my daughter is a teen, and that probably I'll love college kids when my kid is a college kid. And probably I will love college kids. But I'll still love teens. I simply adore them because they are so on the edge of greatness or disaster, because they are brilliant but make THE worst choices (some of which are life-altering/ruining). They are magic, both white and black magic.

Yesterday, a gaggle of teens helped the young host set up the teen area of the party complete with a "bar" they constructed, a black board with "cocktail" names listed (they are all wildly inappropriate and contain obscenities, are named after the kids, are hilarious).

I've missed this, having manic teens in my house who are about to go off to experience something new. They've all been to New Year's Eve parties before (we hosted one last year). But not "fancy dress."

Pencil skirts and curled hair.
Glittery eye shadow.
Leggings with a fancy pattern.
Three-inch heels (GAH!).

(note: I'll be returning the man's shirt. It was huge on her, as I thought it would be. I think the neck size is probably my kid's waist size. The white shirt also may not work, but she's wearing the bow tie anyway)

I have a feeling the girls will have more fun at the sleepover later. The boys aren't quite as on the edge of adulthood as the girls (or at least as on the edge as my kid seems to be). My Girl finds high school boys hilarious but lately really icky. She's had her share of boyfriends, but lately? Just icky. Also, because she is small, the boys like to manhandle her, not "molest," just pick her up a lot, haul her around, toss her back and forth.

Sounds worse than it is. It's a kind of Shiloh Shepherd puppy sort of behavior. They are overly affectionate and don't realize how big they are.

Oh, I have lost my blogging edge. Still, I'll post this now and maybe return later to clean it up or rewrite it.

While I am alone tonight, I may write. Or maybe I'll risk dashing to the video store for a stack of movies. Or maybe I'll use a gift card or two and rent something from Amazon or iTunes. Or maybe I'll read. Or maybe I'll make something with my hands.

Which reminds me, I posted but never published my experience of creating a hollow book as a gift for my child. I think I'll publish the post. I just forgot to. It's just post back. Lots and lots of pictures.

Never mind. Blogger has changed or something, and the formatting is all messed up now when I post pictures. I'll redo it another day and size the photos smaller.

Happy 2012. My 2011 surprised the shit out of me. I have no expectations for 2012 though I have expectations for myself (don't flunk out of grad school. Don't run out of money. Don't get too fat. Don't let the house dust eat my cat. only say "no" to every other social invitation. get paid to teach).

I know the world is messed up and ugly, but only in those places where it is messed up and ugly. I find so much humor, beauty, joy, creativity, art, music all over the place that I can't focus for too long on the nasty stuff. I can't stand the thought of missing all the good stuff because I'm obsessing over the ugly messes.

Monday, December 19, 2011

book hollowing photo essay (2 dozen + images)

Credit goes to Heather Rivers. Her post, How to Hollow out a Book in 80 Easy Steps, is the one I followed most closely.



Photobucket

Instructions


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Supplies!


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The book I chose to desecrate.


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Slicing out an extra page just in case (didn't use it).


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Wrapping the covers.



Monday, October 3, 2011

it's been a while

My daughter stopped by to pick up a few things a little while ago. She's with her dad this week. She drooped with fatigue, was famished but said she'd wait until she got home with her daddy, would make him feed her dinner. She has a big anatomy test tomorrow, just finished marching band rehearsal. She was wearing my old, red flannel shirt over a T-shirt and over those, my old jeans jacket. I wear my father's jeans jacket now, and I don't need two.

I was thinking about how I used to wear my mother's socks under slacks sometimes, socks my father gave to me when he was cleaning out his bathroom just before he sold his house a year before he died, about five years after my mother died.

I wrote a new poem this morning, but it was just for fun. I have been experimenting with writing poems beginning with lines by famous poets, an exercise my MFA mentor gave our class. The ones I've been trying to write seriously suck ass and make me unhappy. This one starts with a Frank O'Hara line, and I don't want to share it with the group (or anyone, really) because we will end up revising the heat out of it. Craft is all well and good, but I feel like I'm beginning to squeeze my charm out of my poems. I like this bad poem, so I don't think I want to share it with real poets.

Our mentor posted to the discussion board a revision of a poem I've been working on since the summer residency. He likes the revision, though I know he doesn't think it's quite finished.

I don't like the revision, though it has its moments. As my good friend Laura says, she can tell it's a carefully crafted poem, but she agrees that something is missing from it. I think what's missing is some kind of heat or smelly flesh or pain that was in the original. It's too cold now, at least for me. It doesn't feel like my poem. I'm not sorry that I took out most of the speaker, turned her into witness, but removing her (removing me), excising the messy relationship crap between mothers and daughters, makes the poem feel sterile to me now.

I liked the chaos of the original.

But that's not what will go into a thesis.

A thesis can't be chaotic unless I figure out a way to sell "chaos poems."

I think I may end up needing to fight for my tendency to throw everything into the same drawer, to mix silverware with cough drops and eyebrow tweezers.

I'm not saying this program isn't working for me. It is. I'm paying a great of attention to craft, and I'm writing poems that are, maybe, more layered than what I was writing without the classes.

But I don't like them. I would not pick up a book of poems by the poet who has been writing the poems I've been writing.

She bores me.

But Lizzie is still here, lurking and waiting, wondering if I can hold onto myself and fight for my true poems or maybe if just need to wait until I'm finished, until I defend my thesis, which will be full of poems I won't like much, so I'll have to fake the defense. In the end, I'll have a masters degree, will have learned a great deal about craft that I can apply not just to poem but to fiction, to story, will be able to use what I learn to teach and to live.

Right now, I know I'm doing "good work." I'm thinking, posting regularly to the message board, revising in ways that seem to please my professor.

But it feels ... fake to me. I am not writing authentic poems. This bothers me, but I'll figure out a way through it.

Ah well. I won't think about transforming into something colder and more delicate than I want to be. I'll try to hold onto myself through this process. I rather like it when I overwrite, you know? I like breaking the line at the breath rather than always wondering if the line should be enjambed.

When someone else enjambs my lines, and I read them back to myself, I find that I hiccup on them. It's unnatural and has made me develop a sort of stutter when I read my work back to myself aloud.

Odd.

Things I want to include in poems:

- the cashier at the grocery store carded me today. I think they are supposed to card customers who appear to be under 40 when they buy alcohol (I bought wine). I thought she was just being nice because sometimes the cashiers do that just to make me feel young because I'm always pleasant to them. But she meant it, meant that she didn't believe I was as old as I am. She studied my driver's license like I'd had Charlie Bartlett make me a fake one and then said, "I don't care that your hair is white. I know plenty of people who went gray prematurely. And you sure don't look like you're older than me." Makes me smile.

- the plumbing disaster (I have actually started this poem, but it's not going well, so I am going to start over and let it be what it wants to be instead of something I think my professor will like).

- the boy in the band who needs help shoving his hair up under his uniform hat but makes it so difficult that I never want to help him though I know he needs extra love

- the marching band

- making waffle batter for the waffles the boosters sell to raise funds for the band

(I know, I know, there is a lot about the band here)

- the pregnant band freshman

- the former clarinet star who had a baby over the summer

- that junior high sleepover, circa 1970, involving raw eggs, a neighbor's Cadillac, cold, October air, and seven girls who disliked me

- my husband

- A Wrinkle in Time

- Psalm 102:7

*

I thought I lost one of my checkbooks, but it was tucked between the pages of one of three tiny notebooks I carry in my purse. I guess I should cut back on the number of notebooks I carry.

I think it's time to get back to writing. My professor advised me to watch The Thin Red Line to help with the revision of a poem I wrote related to a young friend's graduation from boot camp. The DVD is due back at the library tomorrow. I've tried to watch. It's agonizing for me to watch war films, especially those made after the 1960s or so. I refuse to watch The Deer Hunter, nearly had a panic attack when I watched Full Metal Jacket, walked out of Platoon. A boyfriend took me as a date, though I'd told him I didn't want to see it, that I knew I wouldn't be able to handle it.

He did not come after me when I ran out of the theater. I didn't expect him to.

We didn't last.

(this isn't about a pacifist chick watching war movies any more, can you tell?)

I haven't lasted with anyone, though, so that's no shock.

Oct. 10 is National Coming Out Day. I think I will come out as a Celibate Crone.

I'll tease my silver hair out to California and rouge my cheeks and wear something long and dark and baggy that day. But I'll rub glitter into the fabric so I twinkle when I move.

Monday, August 29, 2011

first day

It's the first day of school for our district. Since my child is at her dad's this week, I missed the first morning flurry of activity (and possible panic). Sent my lovely Girl a few texts, though, well before 7 a.m.

things/lessons/commands/orders/demands (to the You of mySelf):

- stop posting so much on the MFA discussion boards. no one is reading your posts. you can write them up for yourself because studying the poems is helping you, but it's not necessary for you to share all of your thoughts with everyone. pretend you are a shy underclassman again.

- it's all right that your mentor can't remember your first name. he remembers your poems and complimented you about them in his latest post and in his summer residency evaluation. in this relationship, you don't matter; your work matters. He sees the work. That's what matters.

- it's OK that you "broke protocol." you're fucking helping to pay his salary. just pretend he's not a semi-famous poet and force him to be more accessible. be assertive for the first time in your life. you're paying for the right.

- stop trying to write poems and write poems.

- don't let the drama surrounding that private situation distract you from your work.

- don't forget to prepare for the workshops you're teaching that start on Sept. 19. They should be great fun if you can get any kids to sign up .

- really, you must start going to bed earlier even if you can't sleep. really.

- let yourself write poems that may not fall into the categories that your mentor requires for the first packet. even if you weren't in this program, you would be writing poems.

- take advantage of your invisibility and use it as a powerful tool to learn.

- breathe.

- when you need a break from writing, clean the house; get rid of all the dust. It's going to be a hard autumn when it comes to allergies. you've already spent way more time wheezing than you expected. It's been a long time since asthma has been a problem.

- know that the wacky Walmart poem you've been spending so much time drafting is not a bad poem. it's simply rough.

- go pet the kitty. he'll reduce your heart rate and help you to focus.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

the one where I write about my process

I am a long-haired, long-winded hag. I sometimes wonder if the reason I write so much in emails or letters or posts or my journal is that when I was young, I was so shy that I rarely spoke. I had a lot of words saved up.

In poetry, compression seems to be key or one of the key elements. The people who are now reading my work really have no. idea. how long it's taken me even to compress as much as I have. They haven't been on my journey, don't know how long it's taken me to write poems that are poems rather than mini-short stories (again, I am a terrible short story writer). But it's OK. I know I'm long-winded, and I know I need to be less ... ordinary.

I can't completely change my writing process, though. It was born when I was a journalist (probably before). When I drafted an article, I included everything I learned through research and interviews, then began the process of shifting things around to make the most sense, then began cutting to fit the page (and to make sure I didn't lose the reader).

God how I love to cut. Really. I don't even mind cutting favorite lines if they don't work inside a poem.

I have to let myself write terrible drafts, though, and terrible in my case will mean long (and not pages, but stanzas. heh). Too many details, I know, too much stuff that will obscure the ...

what?

I don't know.

Today is the first official day of the semester, and three of the four people in my little class have posted (including me - ha!). We're discussing diction and use of words in both infinite and finite ways in particular poems.

It's kind of fun.

I feel really stupid, though. I don't have the terminology. I have an intuitive sense of what works, but when people toss out words like "logopoeia" and "phanopoeia," I start to shrivel up, to dry up, to blow away. I don't know what they mean, and feel obliged to spend time looking them up and then trying to keep the definitions in my head ("phanopoeia, melopoeia, and logopoeia – the play of image, music, and meaning." Pound created these little nuggets. No wonder I don't quite understand them. I used to hide from Pound in college. Well, not literally, but his work always seemed so aggressive and active, made me feel like running away from my own inability to "get" him).

It's all right, though. I'm owning my ignorance. Just means I might have more to learn than some of the other poets, even though I am older.

Old
older
old
older

This post sucks. It's not very well written, but I don't care. We'll just call it what it is: a bad public journal entry.

*

My daughter left for her dad's about 30 minutes ago. She was with me for a long time, for more than two weeks. I was so terrified and insecure about this grad school thing that I can't believe she stayed around so long. I wasn't very good company.

It wasn't because of me that she stayed. She's missed her daddy. She was just too busy and too tired to make the shift. She'll be at her dad's place for a while now, at least through the first two weeks of school.

I will miss her so much.

I wonder how many times I've written the above bits, "My daughter is at her dad's I miss her so much," bits. 52,086 times? More?

There is nothing wrong with accepting that your best role, your favorite role, is being her mother. Nothing at all. You can be other things around that, but you love that she is your child, that she is your child.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

pre-midnight quickie

My Girl is back from a shift in the waffle wagon at the county fair, late shift. (Band boosters sell waffles as a major fundraiser throughout the year. The fair earns us an amazing amount of money. I work on the batter crew rather than in the wagon for various personal reasons, first being that I don't WANT to work in the wagon, would rather wash dishes and mix up batter). I stood for a while on a street corner so that the my daughter and the friends I was picking up from the fair could see me when they left, but we got signals crossed and timing off, and I stood for way too long waiting. I'm glad the kids didn't drive themselves; it's a little scary down there.

Why wasn't I scared standing on the corner by myself like an old hooker? I don't know. I was wary and aware, but not scared.

I've been reading poetry almost all day (and writing a little bit, too, but nothing related to anything I learned during the MFA residency - hee).

Things I'm learning about myself and poetry:

I don't love (and barely like) W.S. Merwin's poetry. There. I stated this out loud in a public place where my mentor can read it, and the director of the program can read it and my classmates can read it. Maybe Merwin will grow on me. I recognize his mastery, but his poems do not reach me on any kind of emotional level, spiritual level, human level. I feel like I'm running my hand along a brick wall. The texture is interesting and the color of the bricks is beautiful, but when my hand leaves the wall, I've forgotten that I read the poem.

I thought I wasn't ever going to love Louise Glück, but I was wrong.
I was determined not to like Jorie Graham, but she's bewitched me.
I'm terrified to crack open the John Ashbery book, and the Charles Wright book is mocking me.
But I've been read Cummings and Li-Young Lee and Belle Waring (LOVE) and Mary Jo Bang and Peter Campion. I'm going to pull David Citino off my shelf and mourn him. I've been reading Tess Gallagher, Elizabeth Bishop, a little Lowell (Robert, not Amy, though I should read Amy, too), some Plath (only a couple, "The Eye-Mote" for a friend who is in pain after eye surgery).

I'm suddenly so tired I can't see.

My lower back hurts from last night's dish washing. I feel as if I pulled something. Bought myself some Aleve, but keep forgetting to take it. Maybe it's time?

My Girl is ready for bed, stripped off her powder sugar sticky waffle wagon clothes. She says she's going to stay up all night working on English summer reading notes, but I have a sense she's going to crash pretty quickly. She sugared waffles for four hours.

I have towels in the dryer that should soon be finished, and then I want to stay up late and listen to the cicadas while I sip a glass of wine or down a bottle of water.

I need to let myself fill in the empty spaces on that poem I started writing yesterday. Have a lot more to write and can then begin to revise/cut/structure/figure out what it's about (because it's about more than it appears to be about).

My kid smells like waffles.

"You smell like waffles," I say quietly.

"YOU SMELL LIKE WAFFLES!" she shouts then says, "sorry," in a whisper.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

the one where I start to revise

Lay in bed this morning, late, cooing at the cat, thinking about the book I am reading (not poetry), about the novel I haven't worked on in a while (one of the ones I'm writing, not reading). Thought about why I feel intimidated or blocked or fearful about The Work now that I'm home from the first MFA residency.

Stopped thinking about that and began revising the most difficult poem (because of the content) in my head. It needs a bigger ending, something less "precious," as Mark called it, less to do with the relationship between mother and daughter and more to do with the daughter's light, the mother's hunger for the light that is beyond motherhood, if that makes sense.

(I wonder if my poems are about the struggle of finding my own light in motherhood. I love being my child's mother, but sometimes ... sometimes the fact that I am only a mother makes me feel like a dull, small little thing.)

The poem's literal content is about an adult friend's suicide, or is about the aftermath for people who knew her. Or, no, is just about this one woman's reaction, her daughter's reaction, no, not really even the daughter's reaction so much as how much life is in the daughter even while the mother is mourning a friend's death. Life and light despite death and dark.

Or something like that.

When I first drafted the poem, I wrote pages and pages of ... things. That's my process. Poems that ultimately should be a single 10-line stanza take me eight stanzas to get there, are written like essays or short stories (I'm a dreadful short story writer).

Better to cut. I'm better at cutting than adding material.

Endings. Terrible at endings. I can't seem to get to them or want to finish or be finished. I simply stop writing well.

Spare. Bony. Bony and spare.

I need to be careful that during this MFA I don't become someone else, don't start writing like some other woman. I am, already, a good writer with a strong voice (you just keep telling yourself that, ej). It would be a pity to lose myself in other people's views of where I should go next in a poem. I want to get better, but I don't want to get lost.

So I just won't let that happen, am too old to let that happen, old not really in the "too old" sense as in ....

I don't know what I mean exactly.

What if I never write another poem?

What if that's the poem?

Before day's end, I'll write a semi-satisfying revision that will get me closer to a final revision. I'll finish the "illuminate" stanza (what to do about attribution? What to do?), decide where to put the "teen network" stanza (on the cutting room floor possibly. It's not that lovely a stanza. I can lose it easily).

And I'll write more toward the end, something more ferocious than "precious," something with the word "devour" in it, something like "erupt," but not "erupt" since that belongs in that other poem (the one that went from eight stanzas to one, but should have, though I haven't really looked at it since that class period).

If I get stuck, I'll let it go, write a bad poem with Mark's four current favorite words (and a fifth of my own as instructed). Chrome, blood, Ziplock, god. And something else, something small, he suggested, something with that open-mouthed vowel sound in its center.

*

My daughter was hilarious last night. She went out with friends, but the "going out" didn't end up becoming what she expected, so she was home by 10:30, annoyed and beautiful. She didn't mind my laughing ...

Oh. I wasn't going to write about her here any more, that's right. Well, this blog will become faded and dull if I don't allow myself to write about my child.

Back to work with me. Might rewrite the poem completely (well, not really). Will type it in from a printed copy, line by line, to see if something comes while I'm inputting words.

(open mouth like a manuscript. burst of brilliant livid light)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

today I sift

I have two sifters. One is the kind where you squeeze the handle repeatedly to sift flour or powdered sugar; the other has a crank, that you turn. I like the second one better, though when I bought it, I'd forgotten I already had a sifter.

Usually, I'm too lazy to sift, just dump flour or sugar or whatever into the bowl before I begin mixing. Sometimes, though, I find I want to follow the rules, find I believe in the magic of sifting or adding the ingredients in a certain order (sometimes an order I make up).

I smell my daughter's hair spray, Suave Max Hold No. 8. She is off to see a movie with a friend soon, and I will struggle to sift through the notes I took during the two weeks of the MFA residency.

It was such an amazing experience, the residency. Everyone there (except for maybe two people) was thrilled to be there. Immersion learning. All poetry (or creative nonfiction) all day.

Now that I'm back home, I'm drowning in my own insecurity, and I worry that I'll never write another poem, that I'll fail yet another master's program.

It will be fine. I'm inputting notes, and as I input, I pull out lines of poetry I scrawled down while I was supposed to be listening. I need to shake off my sudden need to follow every bit of advice I heard during the residency. I just need to write. I can follow the advice during revision, you know?

I am a good poet, a good writer. I'm not the best, and I have a ton to learn, many ways in which I can improve.

But I feel as if I've stopped Being Open and Being Brave since I got home. Maybe it's just harder for me to be a student around being a mother than I thought it would be.

Maybe I'm still just tired. (and there has been a little drama that distracted me from work)

Today after my daughter leaves for the movie (and then goes to another friend's to play badminton with the friend and the friend's aunt), I'll pick up my house a bit, fold a little laundry, sit myself down in this chair and let myself write bad, bad poetry.

Once I get all the bad poetry out, I should start finding the good poetry. Right? I'll just dump the poems out instead of sifting them.

Oh. Ha. I made it work. I didn't think I'd be able to make the sifting image work. It's bad, though, portent of bad poems to come.

I'm kind of excited about letting myself write bad poems. Bad poems are healthy and healing. Bad poems are the beginnings of good poems.

Or so I'll keep telling myself.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It is still somewhat morning

My daughter is at marching band rehearsal for another 20 minutes or so. Because she is percussion, she will have to haul her drum up to the band room from the field, store it, store the harness. I write here and remember that I need to call her band director to say yes or no to the waffle wagon shift with him. I need to call my friend in charge of uniforms to see if it's too late to order a new pair of marching shoes since the Girl just discovered during camp that hers are falling apart, uppers detaching from sole (there is probably a poem in that. Hm. There's definitely a poem in that).

I'm reading Jorie Graham and Mary Jo Bang, the girls, the girls. I have Merwin's fat book and Ashbery's less fat but more daunting book here in the living room with me. I went to bed with the girls last night. The boys...I don't know. I want to understand why they are so good, and I do! I do! But I don't feel their heat when I read them. I want to feel their heat when I read them. I think I will. I hope I will. I already do love some Merwin, though he is "dense" and for my puny brain is like eating Greek food that is too heavy on the garlic (had Greek food for my birthday, which is why it is on my brain. Love Greek food, partly because I am Greek, or half Greek, but sometimes it's too much for me the way some poetry is too much for me though I am (kind of) a poet).

It feels sacrilegious to write this. In two years, lovely Merwin will have won me over completely with lines like (random flipping through pages): I heard the sparrows shouting, "Eat, eat,"/And then the day dragged its carcass in back of the hill./Slowly the tracks darkened.

The poets will teach me what I'm doing wrong.

Or right.

Or simply will teach me another way of seeing.

During the two-week residency, I did begin to learn another way of seeing.

My brother called me yesterday to wish me a belated happy birthday. He was in an airport returning home from somewhere (he is always returning from somewhere). His daughter is coming home from a New York internship soon, but he may miss her arrival since he has to leave for Brazil then goes to Australia then to Amsterdam. I'm grateful he is not going to London.

He is so happy for me, knowing that I'm finally allowing myself to study this thing that I love so much, this Poetry. He talked about how his children are doing what they love, how he is so grateful to see them following their passions.

Oh, eh. This is stupid. There, there.

I have six minutes until the morning is over. I want to keep this a morning post.

Later, I will go to the library to see if I can find a Louise Glück collection that appeals to me. I'd rather read her essays than her poems.

Before I go to bed, I want to finish one bad draft of a short poem, find all the elements of another poem I need to finish by Aug. 24, start a poem just for me that I want to write that has nothing to do with exercises or new ways of seeing.

I just want to write.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

the one where half of my books arrive

Finally, UPS showed up with four of the seven books I ordered. Two of the books are "just because I want them" (and I had gift cards): Elizabeth Bishop and Belle Waring. Tomorrow I should get those two and Charles Wright. This evening, I have Merwin, Ashberry, Bang and Graham.

Mary Jo Bang came in her own separate box. I'd been stalking her online much of today. Wasn't sure I'd like her, thought maybe I was too stupid to get her.

I may be too stupid, but oh honey! What the girl can do with a phrase or three! I am smitten and broken hearted for what she experienced, how she wrote it, my fear of what I could experience if the world chooses to ...

no. I can't say it out loud.

I am doing mundane things while I think about these books of poetry that are my textbooks for next semester. I wash my girl's bras in the sink, dip into my bedroom to fold that wad of clean laundry I crammed into the basket Saturday when I got back home from the residency. I made a run to the much-loathed Walmart while the Girl was at a film (the planet of the apes remake) for a razor and shampoo for her. She is now ... somewhere? Up at the playground with friends? She is nearby. I can feel her.

This week is hard on her. The band director works the kids hard this week after band camp. (She tells me he is begging me to work a waffle wagon shift with him since he is the only adult staff that day. I don't usually work waffle wagon (we sell waffles as a major fund raiser for the marching band), though I sometimes help mix up the batter, but I find it hard to say "no" to Mr. R.)

I napped late this afternoon, cat pressed against my leg purring so hard I felt like I was riding around in the bed of that pick up truck I remember from a visit we made to my sister who was in college at UT when I was 12 or 13, just before we left for Daddy's Germany "tour." I don't remember if I rode in the bed for a little bit. What I do remember is late that night being crammed (like the clean laundry) into the truck's front bench seat, on my sister's lap, crushed next to her boyfriend (now husband) and some other college boy. I slept on her dorm room floor during the visit, didn't I? Didn't I, Michele? Do you remember that? You were so beautiful. I remember a hilarious conversation about bust size, yours and your roommate's, not mine since I had no bust to speak of when I was 12 and 13 (still don't).

I miss the dust the truck raised on those back roads toward wherever we were going. Somewhere just outside of Austin? I don't remember the specifics. I remember feeling sleepy, feeling like a younger child than I was, feeling lucky that you let me hang out with you, that Mommy and Daddy trusted you with me.

Somewhere in these paragraphs is the first line of that 10-line poem I should have started yesterday. I'll uncover it later, late, later, deep night, dark, dark.

Monday, August 8, 2011

8/8

Rewrite:

birthday yesterday
done
today is an odd, crampy day. not literally

Girl is off to marching band rehearsal. "I'm going on a scavenger hunt for my harness," she said.

I shouldn't quote her any more here. Had a conversation during dinner at the MFA residency one of the first nights that made me think hard about ever quoting my kid here. I can't remember the content of the discussion, but the other person misunderstood something I said about this blog and was really upset that I would put my child's words here like ... whatever.

The residency was glorious.

I'm so tired, still, though not as tired today as I was yesterday and not as tired yesterday as I was Sunday.

My books should begin arriving today.

I'm going to start the "10-week poem" today. Should have started it yesterday. (It's a secret process)

Also going to work on another poetry assignment that is due the first week of class.

Need to make sure I am not leading a discussion the week the Girl and I go to Fort Leonard Wood to watch our beloved K graduate from basic training. I think it will be all right. I'll just let Mark know as soon as possible that although I'll be participating, of course (since it's required), I will also be driving cross-country at odd hours.....

etc.

I think my good friend Laura Moe is taking me to lunch for a belated birthday celebration today. It will be nice, though we won't have as much time to talk as we need. I need to hear about her trip to Arizona, want to share things I learned during the residency.

Even deleting the previous words and rewriting isn't going to make this post come out right or interesting.

So I'll stop.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

don't, now, don't...

let's write a list:

1. I hear someone's music in this dorm. Not loud. Kind of pleasant. First time since I arrived July 23.

2. I was hungry after dinner. Rice, green beans, salad and bread are just not satisfying. Eating fairly healthy while I'm here (except for the 100-cal pack of Milanos I just ate), but I feel famished and full. I see a pizza in my future.

3. The readings tonight were a pleasant surprise. Wasn't going to attend ....

PAUSE:

If none of the above makes sense, it might help to know that I'm still at the Ashland University MFA residency. Friday is our last day. It started July 23. I'm a poet, in case you didn't know, or at least I'm studying poetry. Whether I actually am a poet is something I'm still trying to figure out. Could be I'm just a schlub who writes pretty prose in line breaks.

4. I have my Eagle card! (student card) Opens lots of cool data type doors.

5. Can't seem to write while I'm here. Totally stuck. Probably simply have too much shit in my head.

6. I'm so tired I can't stop blinking or thinking, and I look like hell.

7. I love the people here. I love the director, the administrator, the faculty, the guests, the other students, the custodian who cleans our dorm, the woman who took my picture for my ID card, the woman who slides my meal card through her scanner at lunch, the student interns, the people I left at home (or at band camp), my cat, my parents..... (sound like I'm making an Oscar speech).

8. I want to go home so badly my hands are aching to toss all my clothes, books, toiletries into my suitcase. i would creep down the back stairs and sneak out through the men's lounge to the little parking area where my car sits. I want to go home. I want to go home now.

9. If I go home, I will miss tomorrow's workshop. I'm dreading tomorrow's workshop. I fear that someone will say something that will make me look into the face of my bad poems (which I brought on purpose, poems that matter to me but that need fixing) and say, "Why fuck me you're right. I'm not any kind of poet at all."

10. If I sleep in the right way (or don't), I will bypass this self-deprecating toxicity and go into the classroom being Open and Brave, Open and Brave.

11. If I don't, I will cry later, but I hope in private.

12. I might skip lunch tomorrow. I'm tired of salad and sandwiches. I think I'll have packet of cheese crackers and an apple.

13. If I haven't lost a little weight these past two weeks, I should get my thyroid checked because I'm not eating enough and am walking a lot.

14. My new "fat" pants are falling down.

15. I want to go home.

16. Please don't let me hear someone say something (that they won't have said at all) that I hear to mean, "Go back to your bad novel and stop killing poetry, already."

17. Visit from one of the other poetry students who "lives" on my dorm floor. She is worried about the mama cat (almost a kitten) who has been hanging around. Someone started feeding her, but after we leave, no one will be here for her, so we are trying to come up with a plot to save her life and her babies. An endowment of some kind. We'll take up a collection before we take her to the local shelter.

18. I want to go home. I want to drive fast in my little blue car with the windows down on this hot, hot Saturday, try not to run into an Amish buggy, pull into my crappy driveway and buckling garage, shove through back door. "Hi baby! Hi kitty!" dump junk in the middle of the living room floor.

19. I want to fall onto my living room floor, blue carpet, ugly carpet, floor, fall, tired, breathe in carpet dust, fumes, dust, dust, motes, mites, fall, rest.

20. Pizza.

21. A full pot of French roast with Truvia.

22. Poetry inside my silent house.

23. My daughter in the same town.

24. A birthday Monday (53rd).

25. sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.

26. We have not had a meeting with next semester's mentor, not really, not the 30-minute meeting I'm thinking we should have had. But oh well. I'll ask if last week's lunch discussion was it. Probably so. He's a good guy and reminds me of my old boss, Harry Wilmer, just the mind, not the body.

27. Miss my kid.

28. Miss my kid.

29. Miss my kid.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

the one where I think, "Crunch time," and then laugh because that sounds so dumb

Laundry spins in my washer. I'm tempted to hang the clothes out to dry on my back patio instead of using the dryer since our electrical grid is likely to be strained over the next 36 hours or so. I don't think my neighbor is home, so she shouldn't mind.

Not that she would mind, anyway.

I wonder, though, if the smell of her cigarette smoke would infest my daughter's jeans should my neighbor step out onto her back porch for a hot cigarette while the clothes were swaying.

I leave Saturday for the MFA residency. I'm not even kind of ready though I have pulled out my suitcases and have been organizing the clothes I will bring.

Two weeks is a long time to be gone, and I'm worried about my house and my cat, though people will be looking in regularly, and I plan to come home in the middle for a night. I hope my daughter feels free to be here next week as much as she needs to be during the day, though she's to go to her father's this afternoon or whenever she wakes up. I don't even mean just to pack up for band camp; I mean just to be here in her house alone, her house.

I must clean my house a little bit so that I don't faint when I return.

Because of the scorching heat, I've a feeling I'll regret choosing solitude in the dorms over air conditioning in the shared apartments. I have fans, though, and may bring a cooler, just fill it with ice and dip my face in it now and then, you know, because I'm cool like that.

I am trying to gather up things for my daughter to take to band camp, too, that first week in August. I worry that she will not be able to find things she needs in my messy house. I don't want her to stress.

Some kinds of stress are good for her, but not the ones I cause because I'm messy and disorganized.

*

My little city is a mess over the loss of the 14-year-old boy. I wonder if things would be less contentious if we didn't have such immediate access to each other, if we couldn't express our opinions instantly and sometimes anonymously. People point and blame and holler, don't take that deep breath designed to stop us from saying things we might regret.

Others simply keen with grief.

The school year will start on a dissonant note, and I feel so sad for the student body.

*

I think it is going to be so good for me to immerse myself completely in poetry for the next two weeks, to avoid the news and friends' Facebook pages and all the distractions of the Web. I will be frightened and awkward and sky and ugly and thrilled and tired and energized and focused.

I plan to be friendly and kind and open. I'm assuming everyone else plans to be friendly and kind and open, too.

I hope my brain doesn't explode from all the learning. I'm unaccustomed to learning in a formal setting. Self-taught poet. Self-taught teacher.

I nod.

I think I'm ready to be a manic packer/organizer/cleaner now.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

the one where I try to make sense of a death**(an edit)

I didn't know the boy who died, though in the pictures I've seen of him on Facebook, he looks familiar, and I may have checked out books for him when he was in sixth-grade (2008-2009), and I volunteered in the middle school library. My daughter only knew the boy by name and sight since she's two years ahead in school. The boy who died was about to be a freshman, a new member of the 2011-2012 high school football team.

It's so strange living in this technological explosion. People visit his Facebook page, the dead boy's page, and write to him, people who knew him well, like best friends and girlfriends, people who skated with him, ran with him, played sports with him. People who only knew him by sight write to him as if they could make up for time disconnected.


My daughter understands that this sort of thing will make me weep. She is off with a good friend now, hanging out, doing Lord knows what. (I trust my Girl, but it's really, really hard to let her go sometimes. Really hard.)

On July 8, our school board adopted an Extracurricular Code of Conduct. All school athletes and others in certain activities (though oddly enough marching band is not mentioned though drama is, quiz team is) are required to attend a meeting to learn about the code, are required to sign a document certifying they have read the code and will abide by it. If they violate the code, they will face consequences. This code is new, and I'm not sure what triggered it. Maybe some school board members began hearing about the parties some of their athletes threw involving underage drinking. Maybe a parent complained when a young son or daughter came stumbling into the house after a party, drunk as the proverbial skunk. Whatever triggered the code, it's too late for the boy who died last night.

The rumor we've been reading is that he died of alcohol poisoning. Part of the story is that he was attending a football party the way my daughter attended a percussion party last night but without the drinking (they stuck to Mountain Dew and Flaming Hot Cheetos. This is not to say that all of the bandies abstain. I've gotten so I can tell which ones are high or hungover just by the tone of their skin).

Oh, God. I can't tell you ... I'm ... Oh...

I can't imagine how this boy's family must feel. It's all so confusing. How could anyone let a 14 year old get so drunk that he died? Fourteen year olds are still children and don't have the experience to know what it feels like when they've gone from tipsy to drunk to way too much to "fuck I think I'm about to aspirate my own vomit."

Or whatever happened.

I don't know. Maybe this is all just conjecture, but the thought that our children find it so easy to obtain alcohol makes me crazy. It just makes me crazy.

People keeping writing to him, "I miss you already, but you're in a better place now."

Most of the writers of that phrase are children/teens. A better place would be home with his family, being grounded until Christmas.

I'm all over the place, but I can't not post this. I have to post this. I don't want to offend anyone, not the boy's parents or friends or acquaintances or our city or the school board or my friend who had to post the message on the school's Facebook page letting people know there would be grief counselors available at the high school tonight for anyone who needed to talk through this.

I didn't know the boy, but I'm just heart broken.

It's hard enough when we learn that one of our retired coaches has died or a teacher has succumbed to cancer or a much loved parent dies of a heart attack.

But when one of our students dies, it's impossible to process it.

So. If any teenagers I know and love happen by here, I hope you are not upset by this, by me. Please, children, don't drink until you're 21. Please. Your bodies aren't designed for such abuse (not that an adult's body is, either). I know it's too late for some of you, that you already have your routine of weekend binges. I wish you would stop.

From now on if I hear anything specific about a specific kid related to underage drinking, I'm going to have to rat you out to your parents or directors (or coaches). I'd rather you hate me forever than die too young.


*

9:45 p.m. I think I wrote the above at around 6 p.m. I had things to do. As I left to do my things, I saw my neighbor in her yard, hauling a little grill from her garage. We talk now, she and I.

It's lovely.

Her son is going into eighth-grade. He and the boy who died were friends, and she told me how numb the boys were, that a girlfriend of hers, another single mother, who had been with them all day said they were like clingy zombies.

My neighbor and I had to get to our chores but promised each other we would reconnect if we saw each other in our yards.

We did.

She and I talked and talked. She cried. I cried. We hugged. I think part of what made us weep is that fear that this could happen to our babies.

It was good to talk, to love, to share kindness and heart, to be open, to share with her the thing I couldn't write here that one of my young friends said about the boy who died that I didn't hear but someone else heard and said

we hear
and say
and weep
and growl

my child is still
with her friends,
not at the high school
where the counselors talk,
but at the middle school,
probably on the hill
sitting in the grass
that will raise welts
on her allergic skin

unless that's her I hear
pulling up alongside my yard

It would be good
if she would come home
but only because I am a mother
who fears
losing my child

the world
in which our teens live
is so treacherous

what can we do but teach
and talk
and listen
and say, "I'm here,"
and then let go?

what can we do?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

If you love spoken word poetry, go here! Watch this!




Through another spoken word poet (Scott Woods, a hilarious, gifted generous man and poet), I discovered Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, and through her, I discovered this wonderful project in Philadelphia called the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, and through this project, I discovered Sarah Kay, who presents the above TED talk.

As Scott said, these discoveries that link us to each other are "The Circle of Life." (understand, he is one of the funniest people I've ever met. He's so lovely and funny, so irreverent and gifted that he rekindled my (teen) daughter's love for poetry a couple of weeks ago when we attended one of the Writers Block Poetry Night weekly open mics and occasional slam contests. I owe him. Big time.).

I don't regret that I've spent a great chunk of my afternoon watching spoken word videos and following links to other links to other links.

I would love to found something like this in this little city. Some day, after I finish the MFA and find a little paid work. That's not a "maybe." That's an "I'm fucking well going to do this."

Friday, July 8, 2011

write free

Daughter still sleeps, though it's five pass noon. Cat lies curled on the edge of this bed where I sit reading poetry and essays about poetry, where I begin the process of

freaking
the fuck
out.

no, no, it will be fine, I promise, Elizabeth. You'll be fine. Take this self out of the equation, and follow the crumbs to the center, you know, labyrinth style (not "Hansel and Gretel" style). It will be fine.

I have poetry packets for both MFA residency sections. I see my own poems in the packets and cringe. Why is that?

Take this self out of the equation. Move aside. We have things to do and no time for the ego of self-loathing. It's time to work, now. You don't matter. The work matters.

My head aches a bit and I remember that I haven't eaten yet today. A bad habit. My girl and I didn't eat until 3 p.m. yesterday when we picked up a friend and had a late lunch at Cracker Barrel.


My daughter drove us to the restaurant and then drove us to the music store where she bought a set of sticks for her tenor toms and her friend bought slide oil for her trombone. My daughter drove us back to my house and dropped me off. My daughter is driving (like everyone's daughter eventually drives). She leaves me more and more, but when she returns after a day with her friend, returns at midnight, we talk as much as we can around texts that flood her phone. She is an amazing young woman and works to repair a snag in connection between two friends.

I read an essay by Mark Irwin on the nature or definition or philosophy of truth. Loved reading it. Fed my head. Belly filled with stone. No wonder I forget to eat. I worry that I am too stupid to be a graduate student.

I was too stupid the first time I tried it.

No, no, that's not true. You were too shy the first time. You didn't have an advocate. You wouldn't advocate for yourself. You lost your heart. You have no time and no room for this narcissistic self-deprecation. No room.

I don't know what this is. It doesn't matter. Does it?

No, no, don't question this. It's fingers on laptop keys and ceiling fan breathing cool air onto your face and cat purring and memory weaving. No need for definitions. Just let it be.

All right.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

the one where I shake off this madness*

Title has no meaning here.
Today: My daughter passed her driving test, has her license, doubled my car insurance, plans now to stay in for the rest of the day.*

Rite
of
passage

She took her time getting this license, in fact, had to renew her permit because it expired before she got around to taking the test.

She's a good driver.

Friends nagged her. "Just go take the damned test! Why don't you just take it? You need to get your license!"

Why?

Sixteen
still my baby
sixteen
full-grown
sixteen
complicated and rich
sixteen
for five more months...

I feel like waging war on time.

I feel like sleeping.

I have lost some important documents, though the losing of them isn't nearly as serious as my middle-of-the-night self thought.

They'll turn up.

In the meantime, I have the account number and can handle business.

My stomach growls.
My fat stomach growls.
The soft roll of it
should be familiar to me now.
Soft
roll
like the grassy hill
my brother and I rolled down
in summer behind our Maryland house
just at dusk
just before our mother called us
to come in for our baths,
all red eyed and itchy skinned
from green allergies.

I feel no motion
in fingers rushing across keys.

I received the session one packet
for my MFA residency.
Only three other students
are in my group.
Love their pieces,
which, I tell myself,
means they will not love mine.

I don't know why I think this.
I do know why.
I don't trust
....

in what?

Oh.
Whatever.

I wonder if I am the only skeptic
when it comes to God.

(I stalk the other poets, see that I may not be the oldest, see that I may be the most mundane. Why does the word "prosaic" pop into my head? Because it does. It just does.)

In the mail, my daughter receives two letters from Pvt. Buddy. No return address yet. She must have sent them last week before she knew how we could reach her. We have letters ready to go out as soon as we know where to send them.

Boot
camp.

I received a legal notification about some Honda lawsuit. I'm going to exclude myself. It all sounds wonky. Wonky makes my stomach grumble more than growl.

Complain, complain, complain.

Now that I have the other poets' poems, I'm not sure what to do with them. Study them? Critique them? Try to see inside the writers' heads? Make a collage? Collect my whimsical eyelashes and paste them to the computer screen?

The cat makes pudding on a blanket. He wants me to sleep, and I could since I had a bit of insomnia last night.

But I'd rather find those missing documents and maybe buy my Girl a berry cobbler.

...

*I was wrong about my Girl staying in all day. I took her to a friend's (because she didn't think she needed the car). But she needed some things - her sunglasses, tennis shoes and socks, a sandwich... . After I fed her and she changed shoes, she took the car, her first time ever driving alone. She has 5 p.m. plans with another friend, so why not?

I rarely leave my house anyway, right?

Monday, July 4, 2011

two on the fourth

Living room now. My Girl has her quads practice pad out. "I love the bounce on this. So much better than the real drums," she says.

While she practices, I will shower.

After I shower, she will shower.

After she showers, we'll go driving (practice for tomorrow's driving test).

It's cloudy.

I started watching Howl last night but wore out (it was 2:30 a.m. when I finally shut off the DVD player and crawled into bed). It's not what I expected it to be. It's more about the words, about the poetry, than about the "lurid" details of Allen Ginsberg's life. It makes me happy.

I am obsessed with poetry
but haven't written a new poem
since June.

And now, I have this novel premise I dreamed that keeps nudging my hand when I try to write stanzas instead of paragraphs.

Do me! Look at me! I know I'm not high art or even vaguely literary. I know I'm just entertainment and weirdness. But you know you want me. You know I intrigue you. You're hungry for me the way I'm hungry for you to write me.

The plan has shifted. The Girl hit a snag on one of the pieces, doesn't know how to play it so she'll have to wait until Boss Boy returns from Vegas where his mom lives (he spends summers with her and the school year here with his dad and step-mom, but that's not really part of this post). She will shower and then I will shower
and then we'll go driving.

on the fourth

Cat walks back and forth along the west edge on my bed. He seems to be avoiding sitting on things. I sleep with books on my bed, with headphones, an iPod classic, a journal, sometimes a stray clean sock with no mate.

My Girl sleeps. I'm pretty sure she was up chatting or texting with a friend much of the night. Their lives are complicated. I'm glad I've forgotten what it's like to be 16, though I write 16-year-old characters, so maybe I should let myself remember.

This is a slow way into a post I haven't composed yet. I will, as usual, compose in this window. I want to write a love letter to our politicians. I can't, though. I can't love them. I want to write a love letter to our Constitution. That makes more sense. I'm not as familiar with the Constitution as I'd like to be. It's one of those things I read periodically but can't retain. Sort of like instructions on how to program my phone. (I know that is a trite comparison.)

Maybe one of the things every American should do on July 4 is read the Constitution. I just paused while writing this to reread it, well, skim it. It's a pretty brilliant piece of work, really. I have to wonder how our Founding Fathers knew what we would be up against.

I have lost my train of thought because I started researching "corporate personhood" as I wrote. When I think about politics, about our government, about Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative, people vs. corporations, I feel all deflated and sad.

Deflated is not so bad because then maybe my fattening belly will unfatten. But sad is not good. I feel impotent and discouraged for my child and all the kids I think of as my "fake children."

When we moved to Ohio in 1995 (from Texas. Red state to semi-red state, though glory hallelujah, she was a bit blue in 2008), I started paying attention to who was running for what, what they believed, what they promised, how they planned to implement their promises. Then I watched everything unravel when they got into office.

Our mayor is not running for office again (don't blame him. People around here are vicious, and when things in their lives go wrong, they blame people in supposed power. I love running into our mayor at the grocery store or library. He knows people know him but always looks so confused when I say hello to him as if he's an old friend or a neighbor I haven't seen in a while). One of the candidates who is running for mayor (I won't name names) is someone several of my friends have friended on Facebook. I suppose they will be supporting him (he is a Republican, but even some of my Democrat friends are supporting him. I suppose party, at first, means less at a local level, but I think that's deceptive. Not that I trust anyone of either party to stand for anything that matters any more except power and control and fucking partisan divisiveness). I've read his Facebook page and watched interviews with him.

I have absolutely no idea what he hopes to do for our little city, what he believes, who he is barring the bare facts of occupation, hair color, family, etc. In interviews, he is enthusiastic about the support he is receiving from the community, but he never says why I should support him. He talks about how well his fund-raising is going, how he plans to go door-to-door to encourage people to vote for him.

But why should I vote for you? I think. Why? Why should I vote at all any more? My vote rarely counts in my county. I'm such a socialist, you know. And, hey, from now on, I'm voting my conscience rather than voting against a candidate or for a party against another party. If that means I end up voting for the socialist candidate whose policies and belief system line up better with mine than the blue dog Democrat's, that's what I'll do even if I know he'll lose.

Oh, good gravy this is dull. A political post on Independence Day. I don't feel particularly independent.

The cat has settled. He's happy, head turned upside down. I pet his belly and he flexes his claws (which need clipping). I feel him purring.

I doubt I'll bother to find fireworks to watch, though my Girl has tentative plans to watch with a friend from the friend's car somewhere on the north side of town near the Starbucks. I don't have a cookout planned, don't even know what we'll have for dinner (maybe fruit salad and a deli tray, anti-meat, yo).

I was going to try to compose a post before I came to my blog, to write something of higher quality. But when I write offline, I have other things to write - poems, bits of novel (and dammit, a new premise arrived as a dream, and I feel pulled to write it before the MFA residency starts on July 23, or at least to sketch it out), letters to my young friend in boot camp, lists...

I like writing lists. They keep me sane.

To do today:

- whatever I feel like doing

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

the one where the revving engine distracts me from reality

Across the street from my house,
a small black pickup truck idles.
I can't remember what I want to write
or do next
or if I've finished revising any
of the poems I pulled up this morning.

A man in silky red running shorts
and black T-shirt
peers under the open hood, fiddles with

something.

I'd be more specific,
give you a "telling detail,"
but I know nothing about pickup truck engines
or men in silky red running shorts.

I need to run errands this afternoon:

- return books to the library
- pay my water bill
- gas up the car
- wash the car

By tomorrow morning
or maybe afternoon,
I hope I have 10 to 15 pages
of not horrible poetry
to schlepp to the MFA office
for the upcoming residency,
poems that aren't quite finished
but won't make the other poets barf.

I'm getting there.

I can't think why
I didn't revise some of these poems
right after I wrote them.
If I had, I wonder
if I would have sent them out
to journals or contests.

Next step.

My daughter is at her dad's for a while
except for Saturday
when she'll spend the night here
to make access to her friend who leaves Monday
for basic training
easier.
Good enough reason to finish
the manuscript before Friday.

Once I'm done with hard focus
on unfinished poems,
I will climb all the stacks
in my house
and chisel them down
into manageable mounds.

Cleaning
(I can't think of a word to go with cleaning
so I will let it sit there
alone).

In the next few weeks,
I must organize house
find people to look in on my cat during the MFA residency
find financial files
borrow money from myself
confirm that I am teaching those poetry workshops in September
decide if I will take another improv class though two of the six sessions fall during the residency
maybe find time to work on some fiction before poetry consumes me
make sure the girl gets her drivers license
try to talk her dad into splitting the cost of a "piece of junk but safe" car for her
(I'd cover the insurance)
buy mulch
lose five pounds (or 10 if I fast and move)
renew drivers license

I will be busy.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

a day of fathers

My father has been gone
twelve years plus some days,
but can I hear his voice,
which I described in a poem once
as "smoke ruined."
Those Dutch Master cigars
and ivory bowled pipes
are what killed him.

I hear him teasing me
about my "strange kid,"
whom he loved more than breath,
which is saying a lot
because breath was a high-priced commodity
for him in the end.

I miss him.

His voice is like a tattoo
in my head, permanent,
a little faded now
but still exactly his.

My Girl and I took her daddy out
for gnocchi and wine and dessert
at the local Olive Garden.
I spent too much money
but didn't mind.
Her daddy is a good father
and loves his child more than breath.

My father was a good father, too,
and I listen closely to his tattoo voice,
maybe put my words in his mouth
to convince myself I'm doing the right things
these days
for self and child.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

the one where I let myself flow

Sound of the tenor toms (quads) stitched a rhythm in my head that I rather like. I'm glad my Girl switched from bass drum to this gorgeous instrument.

She is off again in a few minutes to go to a special lunch with friends. In eight days, her dear friend leaves for Basic Training, and everyone who loves the friend is cramming in as much time with her as possible. It's exhausting but right.

I am struggling to let myself write without judging what I'm writing while I write it. I'll get over this bad habit by July 23.

I've got 14 pages of poetry gathered so far for the residency workshops (10 to 15 pages required). I'm going to remove and replace, revise a bit, second guess myself, divide the manuscript in two for the two separate weeks with two different poetry teachers. When I think about the actual, real life process, the sitting in a room with six other poets focusing only on poetry, understanding that poetry is breath and blood and laughter, I smile hugely, can't help it. I'm so dreadfully excited that even the nightmares I've been having about money and my not-quite-husband giving me bad financial advice, dreams in which I forget not only my iPod when I leave for the two-week residency, but all of my clothes, waking fears that my work is too personal, not academic enough, not well enough crafted, none of these things can tamp me down.

I'm a fucking trick birthday candle, people, the kind you can't blow out.

So there.

I've discovered a small mound of poems that I never revised, never submitted. I'm disappointed that I didn't give them the attention they deserved. One in particular that I used to despise I realize I only despised because of its title.

It's a good poem worth salvaging (especially since it mentions Thomas Merton).

My focus is split in too many parts lately, and I'm desperate for three solid days of me + poetry time, but my current life is what it needs to be, and I love it.

On Twitter, a young man advised me to take up yoga to help with focus. I didn't laugh at him because he's sweet. But yoga doesn't help with the fatal condition of raising a teenager who now strides into my study, sighs, says, "Excited for today."

Good place to end this
journal entry.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

blink (journal entry in line breaks)

I sit on the floor,
my back against the sofa,
taste of Ramen on my tongue.
An ant crawls onto my right forearm
from some mysterious crumb cave
that's been forming
under the furniture
for the seven years
I've lived here.
He is an outdoor ant, though.
His queen probably sent him in
as a scout
on the hem of my jeans
as I crossed the back threshold.

After I crush him
into two crunchy black pieces,
I fling him into an empty box.

A New York congressman resigns
over a new breed of scandal:
sexting.
I don't want to care.

I should have known
that he would go down
since his words and charisma (and arrogance and ego)
built hope in my chest
(like those crumb caves under my furniture)
when I heard him debate
reactionary leaders.

I'm tired of the media
creating the news,
stampede of bare-chested images
that have nothing to do
with tomorrow.
fuck it all.

Ah well.
I am done with you, Politics.
I'll eat Poetry, instead,
like Mark Strand. I'll grow fat on strophes
and find my hope in alliteration.

In 30 minutes,
I'll leave my house again
to gather my daughter again
from an activity.

Our plans are "soft"
(like my belly).
Her friend who leaves us soon
for boot camp
may or may not
come over
to visit and watch films
with us both.

I have work
that wants doing,
stanzas to build
(like those crumb caves under my furniture).

Writing lately
is like army crawling
through my carpet.
The weave of the words
scratches my chin
and the exposed portion of my chest.
I'm raw from trying too hard.

Maybe I can get a random ant
to whisper a line or two
into the ear that isn't going deaf.

Friday, June 10, 2011

storms, deadlines, teens

I think the storm is passing. A friend spent the night and was actually supposed to leave at 11, but when the sky cracked open and roared, she decided whatever she needed to do could wait until the grumbles and shouts stopped.

I am stretched out on my bed, kitty is nearby, head flipped upside down, a sign he is happy. I have a couple of forms I need to send to the MFA office. Can't think why I didn't ship them off Wednesday. They're simple forms, accommodation selection, mentor preference. All of the poets who teach in this program have something wonderful to offer. I'm selecting based on whether they are likely to hate my work or like it all right.

What is that about?

I read their poems and think, "They really are going to hate my shit."

I don't think it's true that any of them will hate my work. Maybe I don't write poetry that's connected to mythology or William Blake or Kafka. Maybe I write closer to home both geographically (as in my living room or the high school) and intellectually. That doesn't mean my work doesn't connect or count.

I want to write poems that connect, communicate, touch, reach, mean something, implore, explain, open, crack, weep, laugh, dance.

Lately, I've been wanting to write more and more poems about the teens I know, though it's difficult because I know too many of their secrets, and I place those secrets in my imaginary vault.

But a conversation (email) that I had with one of my oldest and dearest friends, a woman who loves me and loves my child because my child is mine, made me wonder about something related to adults and teens, maybe to adults who don't have teens or don't have kids or who don't remember what their own children were like when their children were teens.

What I'm about to write is a terrible generalization, and I should be slapped for it. But it feels like many people lump teenagers, all teenagers, into this giant box labeled, "Rude, untrustworthy snot. Set aside until ripe."

Teenagers aren't their ages. My daughter, who is 16, is more mature than an acquaintance of mine who is 53. Because she is experiencing everything for the first time, her reactions are more intense than an adult's might be. But her thoughts, emotions, ideas, reactions are just as valid as mine. She is wise not beyond her years; she is just wise.

So are some of her friends.

I often write, "I love teens!" It's not really teens that I love; it's a specific group of young people I've gotten to know through volunteering with the marching band or giving (free) poetry workshops in the schools. It's not even their potential to become amazing adults that I see when I work with them. It's who they are now that charms me, even the boys who don't know what to do with their growing bodies that control so many of the boys' actions (who sometimes harass my beautiful, little daughter. She can handle herself, though. Some of her friends who are boys are extremely protective, so I don't worry as much. Also, those tenor toms she'll be hauling about this next marching season are going to help her build muscle. She'll be strong and able. Well, she already is strong and able).

The storm has passed, darn it. I've lost the thread of this post. Did it have a thread? A theme? I think I'm mixing up my grad school stuff with mothering. This week has been intense and too busy. I've been carting my child and her friends all over the place, happily, but it breaks up my day and exhausts me a bit. I find I can't focus much right now.

But I have to. I need to dash off those forms then build a workshop manuscript of poems I don't mind sharing for comment (see, I also think the other students are going to hate my shit).

Tomorrow, my Girl takes the ACTs for a second time. She thinks she'll do better on the science since the last time she took it, she hadn't actually learned all the things that were on the test in her classes yet. A disadvantage of taking the ACTs when you're still in 10th-grade. She'd already done fairly well on the language portion and will do better on the math, too. She's aiming for a 29 this time. We'll see. She's got time to improve.

Next week, she wants to try to get her drivers license since her permit expires Thursday. She needs to practice maneuverability and night driving more, though. If she doesn't pass, she doesn't pass. We'll just get her another permit, practice another week, take it again.

Hell, there's probably a poem in her putting off this rite of passage.

I suppose I could find a poem in almost anything, even this hour of sitting on my bed writing a bad post, texting with my daughter (who is just upstairs), and petting the cat. I could call it "Hungry Minutes under the Angel Blanket."

heh.


*

Just a note. I am listening to some Zoe Keating right now. Twitter is not my favorite place to hang out because it feels like a time black hole. But when I first started lurking there, I discovered Zoe through a good friend (who is one of the most delightful people I know, so delightful that my daughter gave him the precious nickname of "Weird Guy" and remembers him best for his deep, cello voice. We've only met him once in person, and that's just not enough).

*

I am also listening to my daughter and her friend laughing and whining at each other. I swear, there is nothing like my kid's laughter, nothing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

10:21 a.m. on a Tuesday

list:

1. This afternoon, I'm chauffeuring/chaperoning three 16-year-old girls to a Taylor Swift concert. That sentence sounds funny, but I'm in a hurry and don't feel like messing with syntax or grammar. I am the last-minute "compromise." I will say here since I know teens don't tend to read the blogs of 50something mommy/poets that I'm not a huge Taylor Swift fan. I am, however, a fan of teens.

2. MFA. Because I crept in late through the back door (sort of), I'm missing some bits of information that will get me from the Now to the residency, which starts July 23. Once I have the information I need (for instance, the workshop manuscript. Is there a "rubric" for this?), the thrilled Lizzie will maintain dominance over terrified, self-deprecating Lizzie. Although self-deprecation is one of my forms of self-defense, I think I need to shed that bad mama, at least internally. I believe in my work. Even when I read the poetry faculties' poems and think, "They're going to hate my shit," that thought is a lie. I believe in the power not just of poetry in general to conquer my bratty side, but in the power of my own poems. I write for a reason, many reasons. Although I adore writing fiction, poetry is my drug of choice. I'm not a bad poet. Strike that. I'm a good poet who can be a better poet. I will hold onto my self through these next two years, make sure I get what I want and need out of this program because I'm old enough to understand that I don't have time to get in my own way or to let anyone else get in my way. I know what I want to do, know the kinds of poems I want to write, have a vision, hazy maybe, but a vision.

3. This past weekend, I touched a "thin place." For me, thin places are more than actual geographic locations. They are spiritual moments when joy collides with sorrow, when the wall between me and God thins, and I understand (though I can't quite articulate) the meaning of grace.

4. In the fall, I am going to be too busy, but I can't wait. I will be putting in 25 to 30 hours a week on MFA work, teaching two poetry workshops a week at 90 minutes each session (with double that for preparation time), trying to get in some volunteer time with the high school marching band, raising my teen daughter (well, frankly, she's to the point where she is raising herself with practical support from her parents). It will be happy madness.

5. To ensure that I do not wear out in the fall, I have to improve my physical stamina. My old NordicTrack is still set up in the basement. She waits. If I can find time to read blogs and linger on Facebook, I can sneak in 20 minutes a day on Miss Piggy. I don't care if I drop weight. I just want to feel less tired, and I think moving my body will help.

6. I appear to be letting go of the online poetry workshop I've been taking. I haven't been able to connect with the lovely teacher to see if I can change the way I manage it. The new prompt is wonderful. I started two different poems for week six, but got so busy, I couldn't find the time to finish either. I'll jot prompt seven down in my journal and pretend I can write through the concert this evening, though I doubt that will happen. I don't have the time or energy to comment on the other poets' poems, though, so I will change the way I do the workshop myself.

7. I'm a little sorry that between now and July 23 I won't have time to work on any fiction. I wonder if I can sneak a little fiction writing for pleasure into my schedule.

8. Laughing at myself. I'm delusional if I think I can go from being "slacker poet" to super mom/writer/student/volunteer in two months.

9. I don't know, though, maybe delusional is the way to go.

10. I'm behind. I need to get through morning ablutions, return some things to the library, gas up my car and then retrieve my child from summer gym.

11. This will do for a bad post for now. I want to write my way through the summer, preparations for the MFA residency that will coincide with my daughter's preparations for band camp, the residency itself, the aftermath, how I will fall back into band booster volunteer work by being on the waffle batter crew in August (our band raises money by selling waffles at football games, the county fair and other events) and then riding buses to away games (and helping with uniforms, helping the kids to hide their hair under the uniform hats if they want).

12. Definitely a bad post, but a post nonetheless.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

write out loud

House is warm. Outside, it's in the 80s, and tomorrow, we will have a rare flash of 90 degree temperatures in May. Tomorrow, my father would have been 80, my dear friend who died in 1991 would have been 53. I'm too busy to feel melancholy this year.

Fifth week of the online poetry workshop I'm taking with Diane Frank. Well, the fifth week is nearly over, sixth starts tomorrow. I have not shared a poem. The seed/prompt was wonderful, was musical, was visual. I ran from it. Don't know why, exactly.

Yesterday, I crept onto Facebook, lurked on my daughter's page and saw that she had posted a photo of a new painting, slap, dash, quick, as if the painting flew out of her brush.

I'm writing a poem about her, about the painting, about another ... thing, a conversation we had that might seem funny but that is a symbol of what our children are experiencing the way we experienced "duck and cover" (that was a tiny bit before my time) or the seemingly never-ending Vietnam Conflict.

The poem is not going well, and I have a sense that I will give up and let go of writing a poem for the workshop this week, though now that I've said that maybe the poem will finally write itself, which isn't a true thing. Poems don't write themselves. I write the poems. I just need to get out of my own way (as I told myself in a text I sent to myself a few days ago) and write.

*

Here, part of the reason the poems are coming so slowly, are going badly, is that I am distracted. I seem to have tricked myself into applying to graduate school after all, though I had decided I would wait until my Girl herself was off to college. Doors opened in unexpected hallways, and the allure was impossible for me to ignore. Sent writing sample (that I pieced together far too quickly for my own comfort. It's a good thing I'm prolific. I had a lot of possibilities that could have made up those 10 to 15 pages of poetry), drove the hour to Columbus and met the MFA program's director during a reading and workshop he gave, received an email Monday morning after he read my writing sample with an unofficial acceptance, slapped an official application together (including about the most dreadful "description of development as writer" ever written), emailed the scanned bits, mailed the hard copy, received an official email from the graduate school accepting me....

Did any of that make any sense? The gist: unless I'm totally delusional and have misunderstood everything I've read, heard, done, said, sent, decided in the past week plus two days, I will be starting a low-residency MFA in poetry on July 23.

Wow. I smile just thinking about it, terrified though I am that I will a) run out of money, and b) completely blow it because I am sometimes an insecure idiot.

But, see, I may not always believe in me, in Lizzie, but I believe in the work, the process, in poetry, in my poetry. When I don't think of myself in my usual way, when I am able to see myself objectively as a person who loves to read and write (and teach and share) poetry, I know this is right, that I will not only be fine, but that I will have the best time of my life.

So, yeah, maybe I will be a little bit poorer, but I will also end up richer than I've ever been.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

breaking out

In the back of my mind,
I feel those little white spiders
crawling up and over each other,
spinning a wall of some kind,
good or bad? Don't quite know.

I used to find the little spiders everywhere
in the house on Fairmont,
considered them "friends."
To consider them enemies would have been to give them power.

I don't know if that sentence works.
I don't know if my fingers are typing truth
or nothing.

I am behind on a workshop poem.
I don't know if I'm stuck
or feeling reluctant.

I can't find my strong verbs.

Time for magnetic poetry?
Time to find a poem
on the Seventh Day Adventist Church sign
or in the Victoria's Secret catalogue
we started receiving
after I purchased tiny underwear
for my tiny daughter.

It's warm in the house.
My hair is heavy.
My stylist is back in her shop
after six months of working
a different job.

It's been a year since she last
cut my hair
and I tried to look like someone else.

white, downy, curls, waves, froth, frequent, undertow, belly up

No. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

continuing conversation

Yes, it's still raining
or raining again.
It stopped long enough
for me to go to the girl's father's house
to scrub down her bathroom
and make up her bed,
a favor to him, to her, to myself.

The right-hand flowerbed is a marsh.

(thunder sounds)
(no, it is an engine)

The pink and blue hyacinths
I didn't plant
seem about to float down the hill
of my yard, to fall into the storm sewer,
to travel to Malta
or Istanbul.

I remember now
why I'm thinking about my father.
It's nearing that time of year
when we took his last cruise.

(I am wrong. It isn't an engine. It is thunder.)

I'm filled with a beautiful melancholy
that feeds into a poem-in-progress.

Miles Davis plays on my iTunes.
Tone will shift in a minute.
Shuffle, shuffle.

It's nearly time to retrieve my tired teen
from the high school.
We should go for that ordered scan,
but fuck all, I just don't have the energy
to fight a waiting room
to get confirmation that her back is healthy.

Maybe tomorrow.
Maybe not.

I change my mind again
sort of
about school/not school/where school/why school/purpose.

It's all about the poetry. That's what I need to remember.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pocket poems & mulling over a grad school program

National Poetry Month celebrations continue all over the place. Today is Poem in Your Pocket day.

I'm carrying two poems today, one in my left back pocket (the Jane Kenyon), one in my right (the Naomi Nye):

Potato


In haste one evening while making dinner
I threw away a potato that was spoiled
on one end. The rest would have been

redeemable. In the yellow garbage pail
it became the consort of coffee grounds,
banana skins, carrot peelings.
I pitched it onto the compost
where steaming scraps and leaves
return, like bodies over time, to earth.

When I flipped the fetid layers with a hay
fork to air the pile, the potato turned up
unfailingly, as if to revile me –

looking plumper, firmer, resurrected
instead of disassembling. It seemed to grow
until I might have made shepherd’s pie
for a whole hamlet, people who pass the day
dropping trees, pumping gas, pinning
hand-me-down clothes on the line.


Jane Kenyon


Hidden


If you place a fern
under a stone
the next day it will be
nearly invisible
as if the stone has
swallowed it.

If you tuck the name of a loved one
under your tongue too long
without speaking it
it becomes blood
sigh
the little sucked in breath of air
hiding everywhere
beneath your words.

No one sees
the fuel that feeds you.


Naomi Shihab Nye
(from Fuel, BOA Editions Ltd., 1998)



*

Yesterday evening, I limped through a conference call with the director and the admissions counselor for Goddard College's master of arts in individualized studies. I've been considering an emphasis in Transformative Language Arts, one of several possible concentrations. I think eight of us, maybe nine, participated. I did ask a question that I've had since I first discovered this program. I already knew the answer it turns out. I'm drawn to this program, but I don't think I belong there, not yet, maybe not ever, but damn, there's just something about the place and the people who work/teach there.

Ruth Farmer is the program director, and she spoke to us about the residencies, shared some projects current students and alumni have produced (produced is the wrong word), answered questions. She has the most beautiful speaking voice, and I fell in love with her instantly.

I know what I want to do (sort of), but I don't know what I want to study. Three or four of the people participating seemed already to be working on projects and were looking for a program that would allow them to continue or expand or shift what they were doing while also getting that degree. They seemed so academic.

I'm so not academic.

I've been out of school for decades. I don't know how to research in the academic sense. I have no idea what theories I would be examining. Honestly, I don't really know what that means. (Epistemology is a beautiful word, and I do know what it means, but not what it means to me in connection to my life, to poetry, to my child, to our future, to ... whatever. Epistemology is a word Ruth Farmer spoke last night, a word I've read in so many of the posts connected with Goddard students, professors, graduates. Knowledge. I have so little, well, when it comes to academics. Life knowledge? Eh. I have what I have, and it's not like anyone else's knowledge.)

Must think.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

scatter

The wind is picking up again, gusting against the house.
I want to go for a walk, a quick one, to return some DVDs, to feel the terrible wind toss my terrible hair.
My Girl is off with friends relaxing. She has misplaced her wallet (it will turn up. these things always do). Her friend bounced into my house and said, "I want to plant flowers with you! I plant flowers every year."
My garden isn't a garden. It's three terrible beds, terrible as the terrible wind, not yet filled with weeds. But the weeds will happen.
I think I can finish those essays by Friday.
Correction: I know I can finish those essays by Friday.
Will I?
I won't know until Friday.
Friday, the Girl and I are going to a Teen Improv show.
Well, we are both going but not together.
Sitting through improv with one's mother is probably almost as bad as watching the sex scenes in Black Swan with one's mother.
I will detach myself from Girl and her friends and find my improv teacher.
(I love her. She's opening me up to a whole new me. This class is my secret gift to myself. I have told very few people who know me in person that I'm taking it.)
Saturday, the Girl will suffer through five hours of ACT testing.
Sunday, she will/we will pack for the band trip next week to Disney.
Her Daddy will come by to gather her suitcase to take to the school for storage and loading while I am off to make an ass of myself in the class I so love, so love, so love.
Monday she leaves us until Saturday.
I know I will fret.
She is glad I didn't want to chaperone. Freedom. She won't have time to miss us, and that pleases me.
I feel like I'm entering a new phase.
I will be able to enter it fully if I can shatter some bad patterns that don't do me any good.
I can shatter the patterns.
Will I?
There is lust in this wind. It hungers for something.
My body hungers for movement.
It's time to walk.

Monday, April 4, 2011

spoken word poetry

.

Tell me a story
about raindrops and thunder,
about Parmesan cheese and sandcastles.
While you are talking,
pour me a glass of something room temperature
and menstrual blood red,
something stomped out of mixed blood grapes.

I will eat your story
with a teaspoon,
bite by bite,
too quickly to remember
the protagonist’s name.

Was it Harry? Was it Sylvia?
Was he 47 or she 22?
Did Sylvia dance or did she whisper poetic monologues
to the back row of the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas?

My mother was once 5,
my father once 17.
She was older by five and a half years,
died five and a half years before he died.
They are the same age now.

Inside the raindrops and thunder story,
I wear a black vest with a sterling silver gecko pin
attached to the paisley lapel.

I used to be pretty
until I grew wise.
Now my silver hair shimmers
like that ridge-backed gecko.

I speak this poem that is not a poem
aloud as I type, watch black words
soil white screen. I’m a dismal drip
until you look into my small, brown eyes
and realize that I like nothing better
than deep, gut-busting laughter
even as the wind attacks my shingles.




(note: this is only "spoken word" poetry because I wrote this poem aloud, typed the words I was saying as I said them, composed it directly from mouth to screen. (no editing))

the one where I write about parenting

This morning, my Girl was looking over her history notes while she ate her cereal. She got an extra hour of sleep because she had a doctor's appointment, just a check up (A+ on the check up except for a tiny, possible curvature of her spine that the nurse practitioner said could be, but probably isn't, very mild scoliosis. We'll get her a scan later this week. It is not a big deal. Yeesh. What a digression), so she was looking particularly perky.

We talked about grades a little bit. I don't know her exact grade-point average, but but it's higher than a 4.0. Her good friend Little A has a 4.5 grade-point average.

"I tell her she's a genius," my Girl said, "and she says, 'It's not that hard. What's hard about getting all A's?'"

My Girl admits she's an overachiever and also admits that although her daddy and I love and encourage A's, she strives because she chooses to strive, works hard for her grades, wants to be the best, though she thinks she can't be the best because unlike her lovely friend Little A, she actually has to study.

Her history teacher is a great teacher. He tries to teach the kids the stories of history in a dynamic and interesting way. He's tough. He's a hard grader. On a recent quiz, he took a half point off my girl's score because he said she left out a word. "He said I didn't use enough adjectives to describe the situation. I mean, yeesh! It was one word. 'Half a point, Mr. M?' I said. 'Come on'!" In other words, she didn't get 100 percent. She got a 96.

"You kids are too worried about your grades," he told his students when they complained.

"It's the school's fault and the teachers' faults that we care so much about grades," my Girl said. "They've taught us to want all A's, especially the honors kids. What do they expect?"

I've heard my Girl admit that she loves Mr. M even when she's really angry with him for some ridiculous (in her eyes) assignment that forces her to learn a topic from hair to toenails. She admits that she likes to learn.

In French I, her classmates are not her usual peer group, not all honors kids. She doesn't know them very well so she is as quiet as the teacher allows her to be. Mr. French is hilarious. He's an out there sort of guy, and truly likes high school kids.

Last week, all week, my Girl said, "he didn't teach us anything." But she laughed. "He said there was a bat in his house, and he couldn't sleep. He had to call one of his friends to help him get it out. He said he screamed like a little girl and ran into things, like walls, while he was trying to get away from the bat."

I was howling with laughter at this point and wished I'd been in the classroom while Mr. French was describing his bat night.

"He said, 'I don't feel like teaching you anything today. I feel like crap. Just do whatever you want.' I hate it when he does that because I don't know those people and don't have anything to say to them. I just sit there and stare at the clock. That's why I hate school. It's a big waste of my time if he's not going to teach us. But I think he's funny, and he's usually a good teacher."

She told me her friends get on her in first period when they have a lull during Algebra II and she starts writing out her French vocabulary cards for the weekly quiz she'll have on Wednesday.

"They get really mad at me and say, 'Just stop, Girl, would you stop?' But I can't because I panic."

I promise you, I'm no Amy Chua, no "Tiger Mom." Little A's mom would be closer to that than I would be (Little A is half Chinese, half Vietnamese). There's proof on this blog that not only do I allow my Girl to go to sleepovers, we have them at my house weekly. Not only is she allowed extracurricular activities, but she spends seven extra hours each week in the fall rehearsing for marching band, which takes time away from studying, which means she gets a little less sleep.

I'm not a "Tiger Mom" hater, though. I think my own mother could have been that kind of mother if she'd had more energy, felt better physically, if we'd moved around less, if her children had been less, well, blatantly rebellious and what she called "fitty."

Even though I'm not a "Tiger Mom," I'm a raising a child who works her skinny little ass off (20th percentile in weight, 25th in height. I didn't know they still did the percentile thing for teenagers) because she wants to. I do know that part of her wanting this has to do with us, her parents. We want her to excel. We want her to get "A"s. We want her always to do her best.

We also want her to be happy, to learn to navigate social situations, to relax, to play.

I doubt Amy Chua would think much of my parenting, but suspect she would rather admire my kid.

Here's what I think about parenting: How one parents is a choice and is really only that parent's business, unless a parent is abusing her child (and I don't believe Ms. Chua is/was any more than I believe my mother and father abused me for refusing to let me join the cast of a local community theatre's production of Helen Keller when I was in eighth-grade - my mother was worried about my grades, which, truth be told, were slipping because I. just. didn't. give. a. shit.).

I guess Amy Chua did make her parenting our business when the excerpt from her book ran in the Washington Post. Still, the book is a memoir, not a anti-Dr. Spock sort of parenting guide. Maybe she would think she's a superior parent to me, but that's all right. I'm not interested in any kind of Mothering Olympics. I know I'm a good mother (except when I think my Girl's father thinks I'm a bad mother. He has never said out loud that he thinks I'm a bad mother. It's my projection of what I think he thinks of me oozing out sometimes).

(note: I have not read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I might be horrified at what the author writes when I do get around to reading it. It's overdue at the local public library, and I've forbidden myself from buying any more books until I manage to get paid for work I do.)

Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld (I think she's the older of the two daughters) recently received her Harvard acceptance, which is why she is in the news and why this is on my mind. Good for her! You know? She loves her mother and appreciates how her mother raised her.

I'm fairly sure that part of the reason I'm more easy going than my parents were is that I sometimes felt a little suffocated and wished that I could venture out into more activities. Ah, but here's another truth. I was shy and gawky and dorky and completely certain that I was idiot, ugly, untalented and not appealing enough to be welcome in any kind of "club."

I'm laughing very hard now. I don't think of myself that way now. Now? I'm attempting to turn from an underachiever into a post-middle-aged overachiever, and part of striving to become whatever the hell I want to become involves not. giving. a. shit. but in a completely different way from my childhood indifference. I no longer seem to care what people think. (or care less than I used to)

My Girl is raising herself almost as much as we are raising her. She knows exactly who she is, knows that sometimes she lets peer pressure dictate her behavior and activities, knows that ultimately, she'll become what she wants to become partly because we've allowed her to be what she already is.

I don't know if that made any sense.

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I wrote this directly into the window again without composing it ahead of time. It took forever (45 minutes?), but there are a lot of words here.

Now I'm going to try to write 500 words on a specific topic I keep avoiding.

*

Dang. I accidentally published this post before I proofed it. Ooh, baby alliteration! published post proof

(proof positive I'm positively, pathologically nuts)