Saturday, January 29, 2011

the day after the night some asshole harassed my daughter in a public place

Jan. 29, 2011

The first time I remember a man harassing me in public, I was 17, living in Paris for my freshman year of college. It was a strange situation that I've never forgotten. One advantage of being a poet (however mediocre) is that I can make "art" out of life.


Metro Love


At seventeen,
I was too young
to wander the streets of Paris
unguarded. One Friday at rush hour,
in a crowded metro car,
a mob of passengers
pushed me into a grimy corner.
Bodies stale as molding bread
separated me from my friends.

A stranger locked his fingers
around my wrist as if to feel my pulse.
Unseeing eyes searched my face.
He sidled closer, moved in,
pressed, probed,
bumped me against a wall,
cane barring my escape whitely.
Malevolence in disability.

His eyes flittered and fretted
and tried to see what it was that he touched.

You are beautiful, si belle.

Flattened black curls
clung to his grits colored forehead.
His strong hand slid up my arm
to my shoulder, to my hair.
His fingers brushed my breast.
I tried to shake him off
like a spider.
His friends laughed
at the little American
who was afraid of a sightless man.

I stood paralyzed
as I felt the blind eyes pierce
my careful camouflage
to my secret differences.


Elizabeth Christy



That school year, 1975 to 1976, most of the harassment occurred on metros, on the metro platforms, at the mouth of the metro. Tunnels of terror? It's amazing I didn't become completely phobic of underground trams.

I was so shy, not as American as an American girl who had lived all her life in say, Columbus, Ohio. My father was an Army physician, so we moved around a bit, usually lived no more than two to four years (if we were lucky) in one spot. I graduated from high school in Germany. I could blend pretty well wherever I went, whether it was Den Hague, Frankfurt, Bruxelles, even Athens (Greek heritage). I was American enough that some parisiens could smell it on me. I was young, small, pretty (though I didn’t know this then), had long, long hair, an open, vulnerable face. I’m sure I came across as the perfect victim.

I faced my scariest episode that year at the metro station in the Thirteenth Arrondissement near the little flat where I rented a room from two septuagenarian sisters. A large, slouching man in his mid-30s or 40s entered the station from the opposite staircase from where I'd entered and began walking slowly toward me, staring at me as he came closer and closer as if he'd been looking for me. He muttered something over and over. He and I were the only ones on the platform. When he was about a yard away, he started talking directly to me, but his voice was so low, the words spilled out too quickly, my heart pounding in head kept me from understanding. What he finally said before I fled the station was couille toi, I think. It's what I remember. It took me years to track down a translation, but I think it comes out to be "asshole" or "balls" or most likely, "cunt." (He may have said, conne toi. Faulty memory.) Those two words twisted out of his mouth, aimed toward me like … well, knives.

And there was the late-night metro ride after a film. Two young men were harassing a pinch-faced, middle-aged woman who refused (wisely) to respond. They were actually quite hilarious, and I understood just enough to know that they'd had a bit of wine and a bit of hash, meant no harm to anyone. One of the things I found difficult in Europe was the Metro Face, you know, where you pretend you are made of marble, meet no one's eyes, pretend that you're in the train car all by yourself even if it's 5 p.m. and you're crushed up against a wad of five ripe and tired office workers. I burst out laughing at these guys at one point, couldn't contain my mirth. I'm sure the pinch-faced woman was grateful since the boys turned to me.

One of them wanted to follow me out of the metro car, but the other said, "No, no, don't bother her. She's sweet, douce," and they left me alone.

Two days before my parents drove to Paris to pick me up and take me home after the school year was done, I was heading down the station stairs to catch yet another metro. A beautiful young man stood at the entrance and asked me something I couldn't quite catch (I didn't have much French at all when I started the school year in October, but had a functional knowledge by June). I thought he was asking me the time, but said, "Comment? N'ai pas entendu."

"Je veux t'embrasser." And he did (kiss me). That one made me laugh. I shouted to the sky, "OK, Paris! I get it! You don't want me to live here any more. I'm leaving, I'm leaving!"

A list of incidents:

- in grad school, there was the photojournalism student who asked me out on a date but then drove me to his house after picking up a bottle of wine, trapped me in his house all night (but didn't rape me, though he threatened to hit me when I threatened to slap him for touching me in places I didn't want touched) and then didn't understand why I didn't want him to walk me safely to my car from the newsroom weeks later.

- in grad school, there was the foreign student who asked directions to the Registrar's office one afternoon, then showed up at my apartment door that night, though I had no idea he'd followed me (he was Iranian, he said, and he was sure that we were fated to be married).

- Houston, post graduate school - The tae kwon do instructor/school owner who showed up at my apartment with a bottle of wine and told me he sensed in class that I was anxious and wanted to teach me how to breathe through my anxiety (got my address from his class lists. Seriously, how does one prepare to defend oneself against a black belt in tae kwon do?).

- The former boyfriend who, unbeknownst to me, used to follow me around town, park across the street from my apartment complex so that he knew when I was home and could call or come by.

- A colleague who shut me in his office on the pretext of discussing the future of our magazine (I was leaving the company) who asked if he could kiss me (later blamed it on back pain medication)…

You know what? I'm tired of this listing. It goes on, ends only with the summer of 2009. I have been blessed in my life. It's never gone beyond a bit of following around and minor harassment.

What's infuriated me and terrified me now is that it's my beautiful daughter's turn to face public harassment.

Last night, we went to a play at the high school, met up with a great wad of her friends. When the play was over at 8:30, I went home, and the Girl went off to Bob Evans for a bite to eat with her gang, not as big a gang as I thought it would be, it turns out. You know, safety in numbers. Groups of teens are more terrifying to the public than the public is to groups of teens. But three teenage girls? Not so scary.

Between 9:15 and 9:30, something made me go into the kitchen to look out the window toward my garage. Our friend Senior Girl's car was parked in my driveway, and I saw my daughter and Senior Girl coming up my walkway, I opened the door. My Girl tumbled into the house, practically bent double with sobbing, had been crying so hard her mascara ran into her mouth. She was more upset than I'd seen her since she was little, and never like this.

There was some guy at the bar at Bob Evans who was staring toward their table, specifically staring at my Girl. Her friends sat across from her and had their backs to the bar area.

The man approached their booth, she said and he kept looking at her, just her. He leaned his elbows on the back of the seat where her two friends sat, stared into her face as he tried to talk to them.

"His face!" my daughter cried. "I kept trying not to look! But he was... he was ... right there! And I couldn't look away. He was too close, and he was looking... he was looking only at me!"

He said something to the girls about his friend's tricked out car or something funny written on the car.

"Why don't you come outside and look at his tricked out car. See the pictures on it..." or maybe it was... "take pictures of it and put them on Facebook."

Senior Girl told me the guy tried to pay his check quickly when he saw that the girls were leaving. She and the other friend seemed unaware that he was threatening. But she believed my Girl when my Girl broke down in the car, made sure the other friend was safe in her car, brought my Girl home to me.

I don't know what my daughter saw in that man's face, but whatever it was was so awful that she nearly threw up.

She slept last night on the living room floor on a pile of pillows, sleeping bags, blankets instead of up in her bedroom (she doesn't have a television in her room here, though she has one at her dad's), television played Nickleodeon all night, cat kept watch over her until he came into my room to sleep on my feet.

She's better today.

Her father is livid and called the police, stopped by this afternoon to make sure she was OK, tried to get a description out of her.

"No hair, or buzz cut, skinny, 30s, black clothes. I don't remember! I don't want to remember what he looked like!"

I could feel her starting to shake again.

My daughter's father tells me no one at Bob Evans noticed any guy approaching the booth where my Girl and her friends sat. They say the manager was out front the whole time, that the girls could have said something to him/her.

But… they are children, you see, and they don't know yet what to do with these kinds of experiences. My child reacted from her gut out.

The man didn't touch her, but something in this guy scared my child so badly that she fled the restaurant with her friends and broke down.

I'm forever grateful to Senior Girl who told me that she wanted to break down, too, remembered her own bad encounters from the past, but she called on her inner soldier and got my kid home (she'll be a private in the Army come July).

I don't know what to do with this. When I saw my daughter folded up on herself last night crying so hard she couldn't breathe or talk, all I could think of was that someone had hurt her. Although he didn't, didn't touch, wasn't fast enough to follow, that stupid man made my child afraid. It's a form of terrorism. She'll be less likely to want to go out now.

He took away a little bit of her power, and I really want to get even.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

state of the union, states of mind

(Blogger says I wrote this post on Tuesday, probably because I started drafting something that day and recycled the space? But, no, no, I didn't finally post this until this afternoon)


I watched the State of the Union address Wednesday night with my daughter. She was curled up on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, shivering and sweating, aching and thirsting. The cat sat on her feet. (She took the day off from school yesterday, slept, slept, slept, then woke to finish up a French project that was due today.)

"I can watch the speech online if you can't stand it," I said. "Look, whitehouse.gov is live streaming it." I tilted my laptop screen toward her.

I expected her to want to doze through reruns of Family Guy, but she said, "I don't mind watching it. I like the sound of politics. It's soothing."

So I turned the channel from Music Choice to Cspan, and off we went.

My daughter is a great judge of character. She can look at a person and tell within minutes whether she trusts that person or needs to take a step away and increase the span of her "personal bubble." Even when our experiences of people are different, opposite, I tend to trust her and listen whether she expresses suspicion or complete trust.

She likes Obama. I'm sure my support of Mr. Obama during both the primaries and the general election in '08 influenced her a bit the way her friends' who have conservative parents tend to support Republican or conservative candidates. But she's also old enough, smart enough, analytical enough to make up her own mind about people. When I started to lose faith over some decisions Obama was making not long into his term, she would say, "I still like him. I don't know what he's done wrong that upsets you, but it doesn't matter. I just like him."

"So many of the kids at my school just hate him. They think he's evil. I don't understand it," she said as we watched and listened. "It seems to me all he wants to do is help us to become a better country."

She often tells me she's not interested in politics at all, doesn't pay attention to current events that much. I don't watch broadcast news any more, though I think her father might. Some things, she doesn't want to know, the hard things, shootings, suicide bombers, murder-suicides.

"I don't want to know about current politics," she said just as the President began to speak. "I like knowing about politics of the past. It always makes me feel that we're doing better than they did in the past."

I snorted. "Our country's a mess, kid," I said. "We haven't learned from our mistakes, not yet."

"Bummer."

She listened a little more, eyes squinted since she'd plucked out contacts hours earlier, was too tired to reach for her glasses, commented now and then on the things she heard:

"I don't like that the President just mentioned Facebook in a speech. What has our country come to?" my kid said. But she laughed.

Technology could be used for more important things than social networking, she said, "Like saving lives or making robots."

"The U.S. is kind of doomed," she said. "It just keeps getting worse. There's not much we can do."

Then Obama said, "At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars," and my daughter said, "Well, that sounds good!"

After Obama stated one of his favorite lines on education, "If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child – become a teacher. Your country needs you," my Girl answered him:

"No thank you! I'd rather not. I know how kids can be and I'd rather not have the responsibility."

This has turned into a more random and less composed post than I intended. I started writing it yesterday, but the day devolved into an indefinable, inexplicable abyss of forgetting. Or something.

I'll leave this as it is with only this thought: Maybe our senators, representatives, governors, mayors, President, Vice-President, speakers, justices, all elected and appointed officials who are charged with running this country for the people, maybe they should all sit down with a few intelligent 16 year olds from across the country, pick their brains, get their take on the country, the world, the universe, life. What we do now, after all, is what these beautiful young people will inherit after we're all dust and doom.

Monday, January 24, 2011

the one where I dip into old files

I have been reading Mary Oliver again, checked out Thirst from the library last week. This book is about her faith, which I didn't know, but that's fine. I sometimes find it hard to express my own faith. When a poet has the ability to do this without making me cringe, I am grateful.

She really is like a poetry course in a single collection. Her work makes me want to write poems but convinces me I have so far to go that I'll die before I get there.

*

This winter we are having is a bit more cold than I can bear these days. Last year, I was "secretly" happy to be in the middle of winter. This year...well, it's felt like too much. Today the temperatures climbed back up into double digits, and we only had flurries.

Still, I feel frozen even though my typing hands are hot.

I feel old and unsettled these days. Mostly, I am tired, I suppose. Today, when I should have driven the 40 minutes to the good auto body shop for an estimate on the damage my garage did to my car's front fender when my 16-year-old misjudged distances as she backed out, I didn't. I stayed home, rested, prayed, wrote. I'll do it tomorrow.

*

I have been thinking about crows a lot. Murders of crows are plentiful in my little neighborhood. I find crows, fat crows big as my cat, making little dents in my yard with their fat beaks. They perch in my maple and fir and laugh at me.

I have a minor history with crows, slightly unhappy. I'm suspicious of crows. They are not a good omen in my experience.

Still, I have a ... what? A hook? I have a hook that will pull me back into more creative work.

*

I drafted the following poem in a poetry class I took with Roy B. more than a decade ago (the first draft was hideous and I'm sorry to say dear Roy mocked me until I stormed out of the classroom and drove home to hug my child. He told me it was an "alt delete." He was almost right. I rewrote it to prove him wrong).

I thought after writing this poem, I would be well shod of crows. Guess not. I think there's either another poem brewing in my bubbling brain or crows will make a symbolic appearance in a novel I'm writing.


Bliss


The afternoon the thug-like crows
invade my back yard, I have
a half hour reprieve while husband
and daughter go out for groceries.
It is two days before our anniversary.
Eleven years married.

I could pack my tote bag
with my journal, my three-inch high Buddha,
my little bronze Shiva, my blue and white
painted rock, a gift from a friend's child,
now a grown woman with man troubles of her own.
I could dash off a note, Gone fishing,
climb into my red Honda Accord
and run for it.

But I don't. Fear of flight, I suppose.
Instead, I sit on my patio
and pretend the faux naturel setting
of my back yard calms me. I listen
to the blue jay hatchlings chirp.
They are just old enough to hop
in their nest and flap their untried wings.

What have I done in eleven years?
Quit a job, lost a mother, borne a child,
moved cross country, lost a father, saved
a marriage. Eleven years.


When the adult jays begin to screech,
I look up into the tree where
they've left their chicks. A crow perches
about two feet from the nest. I push
out of the faded deck chair, a wedding
gift from my husband's brother,
and run to the tree, clapping my hands.

The crow looks down at me. It side-steps
toward the babies and dips its head
into the nest, as if bobbing for apples.
I holler at it in my asthma hoarse voice.
Up it comes with a tiny, twittering,
fluttering bird in its beak. I feel it crush
those delicate bones: snap, snap,
twig-like. Feathers drift down like angel hair.


Elizabeth Christy, 2000

Saturday, January 22, 2011

the one where I let teens stay over again

In my head, I compose posts about civil discourse, parenting teenagers, staying stalled, aging, poetry, death, death of a poet who was a friend, winter, my maniacal cat. None of the posts make it here. I suppose it's a matter of failing to embrace that damned word I chose when I started Reverb 10: "focus."

I don't care tonight, I really don't. I'll get to it. This phase I'm in is necessary. I can't scuttle around it. It's something I need to get through, you know, like the fucking Mines of Moria in The Lord of the Rings.

I am sad. I've been sad. It's most likely more than sad, but, eh, it will pass. The winter started early and has been a little more brutal than usual. It was -10 degrees this morning, so cold my car windows were frozen shut. You know, fucking cold.

It's not the cold. It's not even my friend's death (though, man, another mutual friend and I confess to each other that we have been weeping off and on since we heard about her death early this evening).

It's just ...

Well, it's what the post would have been about if my life hadn't taken one of those turns, you know the ones. The ones where you are sitting in front of your computer, fingers tapping impatiently on the keys, mind trying to compose a sentence, any sentence. Your cell phone rings, and your night swings about and faces a different moon.

At 8:30 or so (it always seems to be around 8), my cell phone rang. It was my daughter. My daughter never calls; she texts.

As planned, she and her friends were at Bob Evans waiting for their food after the basketball game. They are all band geeks, three in the group percussionists; one clarinet, one flute. Pep band duty.

"Can A and Eagle Scout and Senior Girl spend the night?"

"What? Eagle Scout?" I said. "No boys!"

"Hahahaha! I just thought I'd see if you were paying attention. Eagle made me say that. But can A and Senior Girl spend the night?"

"You have to be quieter tonight. I'm not feeling wonderful and am really tired."

"We'll be quiet, Mommy. And if we're not, you can come upstairs and yell at us. You can call us nasty names and scream at us like Senior Girl's mom. And you can make us cry."

"Um.... I don't think that's possible. But, OK, they can come."

The fourth member of the Girls Night Gang came along (so it's the usual four, which includes my Girl), and Eagle joined the girls in their yoga practice up in my Girl's room for a while. His parents picked him up at midnight.

One of the girls has been so sad over a relationship issue. As soon as she got here, she went up to my Girl's room, crawled into my Girl's bed and curled up like a kitten. But I hear her laughing now. And talking. They are balm to each other. My Girl's dreadful week won't evaporate, but it becomes a funny story instead of a list of calamities that had her freaking out this evening before the game.

I am trying to write through to a point, but I'm unable to reach the point tonight. I love these kids even though their being here makes me more tired tonight. I don't mind that they are here. It's like I need them here, as if they were supposed to come, though I was unprepared and not in the mood.

Magical spontaneity.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

the one where I avoid profundity

1. The printer box that I struggled to pull out of its spot on the metal shelves in the basement doesn't fit the dreadful HP Photosmart I will give to my Girl's dad. It's for an older HP, also dreadful, also stuck in a mound of dust on a lower shelf of the computer desk in the basement rec room.

2. The dust swirls up in a cloud, becomes a man, no, a woman, no, an elephant.

3. I cough elephant turds.

4. I walk outside, taste snow on the air.

5. I walk outside, take a breath, breathe in a stagnant lake.

6. New printer still in box in basement, waiting. Too. Much. Money.

7. In the parking lot at the high school, I backed into a slanted spot, nose out, shut down engine, flipped open the library book that soothes me. Dashiell Hammett.

8. My cell phone buzzed in my pocket, bruised my hip. I'm grateful that I'm not too fat for vibrating cell phones to bruise my hip.

9. My Girl is staying for Quiz Team, something a friend has been nagging her to join for months. The thought of putting herself out there on stage, answering questions incorrectly, just sitting there silently wasting space, stupefied by fear of audience judging, has kept her from joining.

10. A girlfriend must have convinced her that she's smart enough, retains enough knowledge.

11. I tried to feel annoyed that I'd driven all the way to the school, sat in my cold car for 25 minutes reading The Thin Man, but my truth is that the inconviences my daughter rains on me when she is here are worth her being here.

12. The dusty creature spat a mouthful of dust piss into my ear, reminded me that the true box for the dreadful HP Photosmart is probably up in one of the crawlspaces in the Girl's room.

13. I wish I would dream about feathers again.

14. Everywhere I go, I see the shimmering shimmying lips of Sarah Palin, speaking words in a twisting road, like those roads in Spain along the Costa Brava that my daddy drove too fast our first summer in Europe. I got car sick and hung my head out the window, with the dog, to keep my 5-year-old self from throwing up on my little brother.

15. done.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

the one that takes all day

(this is a journal entry. this is not a blog post. I read blog posts about what not to do if I want my blog to be successful. I don't even know what this means. This place is a log of thoughts and things. I have no special knowledge I mean to share. I have only my experiences, my process. I suppose I don't really care if anyone finds any of this valuable. It's of value to me.)



*

morning:

We write emails, back and forth, back and forth, gentle, just foam touching beach then backing off again.

He invites me to lunch.

I am not hungry, so we put it off for another day.

"I'll come with the Girl's things at 11:30," he writes.

"Perfect," I write.

I do things in the house, write a little, read some news pages online (try to watch Sean Hannity's interview with Sarah Palin because I keep thinking I need to be aware or something, but I can't stomach it. I'm sorry. I'm sorry), take a shower, haul out the Sharp vacuum.

I have just enough time after my shower to vacuum the living room before he is supposed to arrive, before the Girl's things begin to multiply on the dusty carpet.

Seven minutes.

I am tying my left shoe when he knocks on the door, early.

No time to vacuum.

"Hold on! Hold on!" I holler toward the locked back door. "I'm coming!" I pull the laces tight and stumble to my feet.

"You're early," I say when I open the door. "I guess I can't train you not to be early." I smile.

He wears his warmest winter coat. I step outside without even a sweater. He has already hauled everything out of his car trunk. The bags, totes, camera case, suitcase rest against each other, against my house.

"Am I that early?" he asks.

"Seven minutes makes a big difference when you're me," I say.

*

later

I chop the tiny onion fine, sauté in olive oil, add minced garlic, add ground beef, brown, drain, break apart the whole tomatoes from the can between my fingers, add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce. The paste is funky. Has a thin, brown liquid layer over red. Have never seen paste react this way to air. I sniff. Smells ... off. So I dump it down the drain, grateful to the universe that tomato paste was on sale a couple of days ago, so I bought extras, add the new can of paste, bay leaves, basil, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, a cup of red wine (a pinot noir).

Sauce begins to simmer. I shift things around in the living room, shake carpet deodorizer on the rug, vacuum. Take couch apart. Vacuum, spray Febreze onto cushions. Decide a little too late that I don't like the smell of Febreze today. Oh well.

I come in here to my study, find a text from my daughter. She has a 3:30 drum lesson, must be at school at 6:15 to clean her bass drum, which she will play in the pep band during the basketball game tonight. She and her best friend want to go to Bob Evans for dinner.

I sigh.

The sauce will save. It's better frozen and then thawed and reheated, I tell myself.

*

The Girl's best friend was hoping her boyfriend would join them for dinner tonight. He doesn't want to go to Bob Evans, wants to go to Chipolte. There is minor contradiction, conflict, confusion. Plans shift. My Girl may just eat here, she says when she comes into the house after I retrieve her from school.

"I love the way it smells in here, like clean house and spaghetti sauce," she says.

*

The Girl and I eat at 5 p.m. At 5:50, I drop her off at Chipolte. Contradiction and confusion shifted to compromise. A whole batch of my Girl's friends, all in pep band, sits at a table together, laughing. My Girl doesn't eat Chipolte food but loves these kids.

"I don't like real Mexican food. I like refried beans! I like ... heck, I admit it. I like Taco Bell's kind of Mexican food."

I stop at the store for a few things I keep leaving off my list. It rains. It feels warm out there, and the rain is the kind of rain that oozes out of the sidewalk cracks as if it's raining from below as well as above.

Temperatures will drop again tonight.

*

I feel like I'm casting runes every time I type a new sentence. Will this sentence tell me some secret about myself that I've forgotten? No, no, not this one.

Not the next one, either.

*

I write dialogue for the young adult novel that is the sequel to my "Lily" novel. It satisfies me.

Once the pasta sauce has cooled, I will fish out the bay leaves, ladle sauce into storage containers for freezing.

I will toss one small load of laundry into the wash, then I will keep writing dialogue. The teen characters tell me things I didn't know about them, about their mothers, about me.

Later, I will go back out into the rain to pick my daughter up from behind the band room. She finished her homework but has three tests tomorrow. Life of an honors student.

Even though this could be a long, long night, everything makes more sense now that she's home.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

the one where I start the conversation in the middle

So, this novel I'm writing, one of several. This novel isn't just like a mountain I can't climb, it's like a mountain range. I read the beginning and roll my eyes, curse my clichés, my sentence fragments, how I ramble on and on and on.

I've started it in the wrong place, I think.
I should cut out all the Dear Jinks letters though they are my favorite part.
I should start with the snakes in the shower scene, the groceries out of the trunk scene (no, no, that's desperately dull).
I should start with a run through a college campus. Oh, wait, I haven't written that scene, didn't know I intended to write it until just this second.
I should write the car crash scene. The only way I will know if anyone dies in the crash is if I write it.
I should write the tattoo scene, finish the entryway scene, the exploding spiders scene, the "girlfriends make up and forgive each other the betrayals, become allies against the demon" scene.

I should do all these things, though maybe I shouldn't write "should" and should write "could" instead.

I could do all these things.

My question to myself is, "Will you, Elizabeth? Will you? If you do, brava. If you don't why won't you? Do you hate it that much? Has this novel become your personal, creative demon? Has it stolen you writer's soul?"

Oh, heck, I don't know.

The good part about today is that I have been working. I've also been laundering sheets, folding towels, fixing myself real food.

I want to walk, but it's too cold out.

I don't want to walk in the mall where people smell like old winter and dirty snow, where people see people, walking.

I want to walk in my neighborhood, trip on sidewalk cracks or tufts of grass growing up between slabs of concrete. Grass that grows even in winter.

I could probably write that sneaky "demons growing out of the cracks along the driveway and snagging the woman who is weeding" scene that I thought about writing years ago.

So many scenes that I could write. Or have I written them all?

I sometimes think that what I need to do is gather up all the bits and pieces of this novel, not just the first half, but all of the bits and pieces, find someone who won't charge me more money than I have (I have no true income right now), beg them to look through it, to help me figure out how to piece it all together before I, well, die or lose interest in myself.

Or the story.

This story.

It's a metaphor, this story, a symbol of my greatest failure.

It's also supposed to be a shitload of fun.

I am no literary writer.

If anyone aside from the few friends who have peeked at the first half reads this novel, I only mean for them to be entertained.

Great literature changes us.

I don't mean to change anyone.

What I do is selfish. I write because not writing (as I've written before) would mean a kind of death, like not breathing.

I take a deep, deep breath as I write the above sentence, furrow my brow. Could I live without breathing?

Friday, January 14, 2011

just

I come in the back door as usual, step on the old towel on the kitchen floor and shimmy my boot soles dry. Set pizza and salad down on counter. It's the first take out I've ordered since the Girl went to her dad's last Sunday. I didn't earn it, but I wanted it.

I pull off one boot.

The other is stubborn. Left foot arch too high for boots. Hop into dining nook, fall onto floor, loosen the laces more, tug off the boot and drop it. One boot stays in the kitchen; the other stays in the dining room.

I needed to leave my house today, wish I had walked in the cold, cold air with my coat unzipped, but that wouldn't have been smart. I went to the library, found my favorite table in the upstairs stacks vacant, danced a little with mild joy.

I wrote through the library sounds and my own self-consciousness and fake writers block (because I don't really believe in writers block) for an hour, pages and pages. Fast, fast. Didn't stop. Wrote dialogue, character notes, notes to self about the couple who came upstairs to look for some book on some historical era. I liked the way she sighed. Her sigh matched the brown leather of her jacket.

My hand cramped, so I clicked my pen shut, tucked notebooks in bag, wandered down to the poetry section, found Mary Oliver's Thirst, climbed back up the stairs to fiction and found a collection of Dashiell Hammett novels.

I am in need of mental healing. These are the kinds of things that heal me.

Ice in my water
a good salad
thin crust, individual pizza,
cat in the corner of the sofa.

The writing had nothing to do with the distress I've been feeling for a week. But the writing let me work my way back into a world I started creating in November.

I discovered some things, reassured myself that I could, maybe, possibly, write a bad draft of the young adult sequel of my possibly never-to-be-finished Lily novel by mid-February.

I guess I might have promised a young friend I would finish, though I'm not sure she knows what I promised.

She will be my "first reader."

She may not love the book I am writing, but she'll love being "first reader."

It's time to stop typing, massage my right hand, hard, pick up pen, flip open notebook, keep going.

the one where I write like no one is reading

This despicable week,
I floated
face down
under waves of blue blankets
and machine-made quilts.

My forbidden forest
teems with maggot-like creatures
who crawl up my dream legs
burrow into my fat belly
and swarm my ...

what?

My nothing.

I find a new name for myself
under the old electric blanket
- controls long lost,
still warm with my natural, old woman stink.

I confirm my new name
inside discussions
about civil discourse,
gut reactions to horror:

"Ordinary Nobody."

Don't discount Ordinary Nobodies.
We are everywhere,
watching, listening,
discerning,
turning the dial,
turning off the television,
reading,
writing,
voting.

We don't stay lost
in our forbidden forests
or underneath our old blankets,
not for long.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

the one where I stagger through

(started on 1/8/11 at about 4 p.m.)

This shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tuscon, the death of a 9 year old, five others, thirteen injured ... consumes me today.

I listen to the sounds of my daughter and her two friends in my basement. Comfort even when my daughter screeches at one friend to "Stop!"

My fingers pause.

I think it's dangerous at this point to blame ...

No. The words won't come.

*

1/9/11

Today we will shift my child from me to him, unless we just ... can't. A movie with a friend later this afternoon. A healthy meal.

Normalcy?

I find that my plans change depending on whether my child is here. Subsume self? No. I am more myself when my child is around than I was before I had a child.

*

A sweater tosses in the dryer. My sweater. My Girl "usurped" this sweater months ago. It is hers now.

*

There's no flow today. Feeling scorched though it's cold out, snow on the ground.

*

The buzzing dryer gives me a chore to do. I'll retrieve the sweater, fold it, continue folding T-shirts, matching socks.

Push through.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

the one where I change directions in the middle of the creek

Weekdays when my daughter is here, my alarm goes off at "sixohthree, it's three past six." Classic rock mixed with current stuff. CNN news' musical theme blares into my face (because I sleep facing my clock radio most of the time), and Bill Caiaccio tells me what the "top stories" are for this news hour.

I will not rant/whine/bellow about the politics that Bill Caiaccio (what a cool name!) led off announcing this morning (the new face of Congress and what the members intend to do and undo). I go through phases where I over-educate myself on various topics related to our government, to politics. In 2007 and 2008, for instance, I read everything I could about every candidate out there, read up on the issues, tried to educate myself, even read essays on economics that were so complicated and so terrifying (CORPORATE OLIGARCHY!), they made my eyes bleed. I've been boycotting broadcast news for more than three years, specifically television news.

(In case you're wondering, I'm a pansy, pinko, pacifist, leftist (sort of) poet. And from now on, after that debacle that was the mid-term elections, I'm voting my conscience rather than voting for Democrats simply to try to make sure Republicans don't get elected.)

Usually, I'm somewhat relieved when Mary Burkhart's soothing voice announces local and state news stories. But this morning, Dear God, the top story was about a 10-year-old boy from Holmes County (Ohio) who shot and killed his 46-year-old mother after an argument.

All I really want to do is remind myself that I need to consider waking up to something less diabolical than morning news blips.

*

shift

*

I need to get back to my Work. Sunday, I had great plans to focus on specific aspects of specific projects yesterday (Monday). But I woke up feeling kind of dreadful, so after I took my daughter to school, I returned home and did absolutely nothing, darling, nothing at all.

I think if I sit down with that big, fat, spiral bound notebook where I hide story and "self-therapy," if I find a favorite pen, suck the tip to remind myself of the magical flavor of ink, put pen to paper and scrawl out the first line that is my next line, I will be able to get going.

I can even start on a scene I haven't reached yet, if I want to. Who says I have to write my stories in chronological order? Not me, no sir.

*

I see him so clearly, this character. He's so clear, I worry that I stole him from a film or someone else's story. But I know the truth is that I've dreamed about him. I see his glossy skin with its orange tint, the slight jowls, the chest that might once have been hard and toned but is now soft, hairless. He twitches his shoulders.....

sheds black feathers.

*

Todotoday:

- pay that
- write this
- write the other
- find birthday card for brother (he turns 60 Thursday!!)
- pick up girl from school
- take girl to drum lesson (write check for January lessons - ouch)
- while girl is at lesson, go to library
- return DVDs
- write in paper journal
- pick girl up from drum lesson.........
- etc.
- etc.
- yada
- blah


*

Speaking of diabolical, my cat was determined to wake me up last night and again early this morning. He jumped up to the top of the refrigerator where my daughter had stored a tub of tiny, boy- and girl-shaped sugar cookies, knocked the tub to the floor, pried off the lid and was about to start gnoshing on the little delights. 2 a.m. 2 a.m.! I nipped that dastardly plot in the bud.

At 5:40 a.m., he decided he needed to make sure I was alive (I was; I was also awake), leaped up onto my bed, purred like mad as he sniffed my face, jumped off the bed and spent the next 20 minutes alternating between trying to claw open my closet door and jumping back up onto the bed to either stare at me or paw at the notebook I'd left lying next to me.

Seriously. He's diabolical.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

the one where I live blog the invasion of more teens

(note: I thought I was going to let go of the last Reverb 10 prompt. For me, it is a complicated question, and though I admire the question's depth, I didn't want to hash it out in public. But I think I've found a way to make it work for me, to be honest without excessive self-disclosure. This is definitely more light-hearted than I would have managed if I'd played by the "rules," if there are any. Maybe what I'm doing here, though great fun, is bad, bad, bad. I don't know. I'll figure it out later. Maybe this isn't a genuine response to the prompt, but this post is an example of part of my story-building process, and my "core" these days is completely made of my daughter. So. That's what I'm offering.

The prompt:

December 31 – Core Story. What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world? (Bonus: Consider your reflections from this month. Look through them to discover a thread you may not have noticed until today.)

(Author: Molly O’Neill))



*
8:25 p.m.

My daughter and I both did shed our pajamas for "real" clothes, she went out to dinner with two friends. Later they gathered the fourth member of their "Girls Night Gang," drove around for a bit
and now
are back here
again.

ha.

I'd sent my girl a text at about 8:10 just asking where they were.

"Driving around. lol," she wrote back.

Five minutes later, the four of them (I think it's four, though it could be three or 17. Hard to tell. They moved too quickly and are now quite loud) spilled into the house through the back door.

They're up in my Girl's room now, hollering and laughing, stomping around.

An impromptu sleepover could break out at any moment.

You know what's so thrilling about this?

(and you know I love this, right?)

I don't have to do anything. This requires no effort from me. I tell my Girl, "They're welcome to come here," and so they do.

"Are you staying the night?" my Girl asked her friends.

"Sure, I'm staying. Can we stay?" Senior friend said.

"You're always welcome to stay. I'm lonely. I have this big room and this extra bed...."

I shouted up the stairs, "Girl, you're pathetic!"

"Shut up!" she hollered down.

"Did you tell your mother to shut up?" one girl asked.

"She called me pathetic," Girl said.

I hear drumsticks clicking against themselves, more thumping and stomping.

I must be insane. I will be so exhausted by 6 a.m. Monday morning when my alarm goes off for the beginning of our regular school week routine.

I don't care.

The girls are planning to go see Little Fockers. I can't imagine ever wanting to see that film, but it's made especially for teenagers, so I suppose it's perfect.

Black Swan has finally landed in our theater. Although I was hoping for this, I didn't expect that it would ever get here, and doubt it will last here in our little city for more than a week.

"I'm going to see that with you," my Girl said during the manic waiting while one of the girls shoved her feet into her boots (the others accused her of putting them on the wrong feet. "Look! See how it's curved inward on the outside? That's just not right."). My Girl is a year away from being able to get into R-rated films on her own. Apparently going with a friend who is over 17 and can buy the tickets for her or himself doesn't work. One must attend such things with one's mother. (yay!)

The girls are gone now after three minutes of exquisitely wild chatter in my little dining nook. Since the three extra are all spending the night, they needed to stop off for overnight bags at three different houses, quickly, so that they can make the 9:30 showing of the terrible film.

The oldest (she's a senior, the others are sophomores) is the chauffeur. I trust her with my daughter's life.

We have the tattoo design I want to get on my left wrist stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet. My daughter drew the design. I love the concept of wearing my daughter's art on my skin. I think I'll treat myself to the tattoo the next time I get a paycheck of some kind.

"I want to come when you get this done!" Senior friend bellowed, pointed first at the drawing, then at me.

"Of course!" I said.

The house is now silent again and will be silent until around midnight when they return from the film.

I should probably take a nap, huh? Or brew a pot of coffee?

*

I may come back to add to this post if things get interesting. Whatever happens, it will most likely end up in a story some time in the future.

(10:47 p.m. - I doubt I'll return to this. Am tempted to strike through. Live blogging, however, is not good writing, so I'll leave it. tra la.)


*

12:03 a.m.

The girls returned about 20 or 25 minutes ago with bags of food (except my Girl who seems to be over Wendy's). They help themselves to sodas, run upstairs to set up a picnic area in my Girl's room. She comes down for paper plates, plastic cups, napkins, Oreos and Flaming Hot Cheetos. I am not listening to their buoyant chat. I've been geeking out on the first season of a geeky television show. But I'm tired and may retire to my messy room with laptop, book, cat. I won't sleep well because the way my house is built, the sound from upstairs rains down into my bedroom.

It's a beautiful noise, though.

2010 was a year of drama for these kids, a difficult year. I'm starting to lose track now of the number of "GNGs" we've had here..... (this combination of four girls ... they heal each other's emotional wounds with laughter and conversation.)

My Girl and Senior just came down with used cups, paper plates, soda cans, the Oreos and Cheetos, tossed out the trash, put away the food. They are in pajamas.

Senior friend is an Army recruit and is excited about getting "buff." She wants to share what she's learning in the physical training she's getting twice a week.

"We're going to do mad crunches," she says. I stand up and walk to my stepper where my little 2-pound weights sit. My hip cracks (ow), and I limp and mention the cracking hip.

She tells me a horrifying story about an injury she received as an infant that caused a lot of suffering. But her delivery makes it seem like she's telling a funny story. When she gets to the punch line, she raises both her arms, a weight in each hand and says, "I had to go through physical therapy for a long time. It was HELL! But I'm all better now, though my back doesn't line up quite right."

My Girl stands in the hallway at the foot of the stairs leading up to her room, watching, listening. The look on her face ... she is appalled at the things her friend has suffered.

(We are so lucky.)

Oh, the noise, the beautiful noise! If I do retire to my room with book and laptop and cat, I'll be taking my headphones with me.

("That doesn't help my abs at all!" the Elfin girl says. "That hurts my back! Badly!" Oh. Dear.)


*

1:44 a.m. I was all tucked up in my bed watching my geeky television show on my laptop, sound flowing through my wonderful headphones. The episode ended, and I looked up toward my door because I caught a movement. My Girl and Senior friend were standing in the doorway to this horrible messy bedroom yelling at me.

"MOM!"

"Girl's MOM!"

"MOM!"

"GIRL'S MOM!"

They just wanted to see how long it would take to get my attention, they said.

But really, they wanted to take some movies upstairs and get food.

The queso the other group of kids didn't eat last night (Friday night. Seriously, I feel like Friday will continue until I drop her off at school on Monday) was in its pristine jar, never opened, in the cabinet. Girl found it.

"That needs to be microwaved to be edible," I said.

"I love you mom! You're the nicest person. You're so nice. The nicest, really. You're NICE!"

"When you say that," I said, "all I hear is, 'you're a CHUMP!'"

"I don't know what a chump is," she said. (Ah, the language barrier between baby boomers and whatever generation she is).

(another girl just stuck her head around the corner of my (messy) bedroom door and waved on her way into the bathroom. God. I really need to put away these stacks of clean clothes. Stacks and stacks (not just mine).)

"You really are the nicest," senior friend said. "My mom would... my mom wouldn't... "

So. I warmed up the queso, loaded up a tray with the dip, salsa, chips, napkins. The Girl poured four glasses of lemonade.

They are now set with a stack of DVDs, food, drink.

And I will watch another episode, I suppose, because there's still no way I can sleep with that beautiful noise raining down on my head.


*


2:05 a.m. - Senior friend came down to use the bathroom and then delivered a message.

"The Girl wants me to inform you that we're going running at 6 a.m. tomorrow."

I burst out laughing. "I think the only way my Girl will be conscious at 6 a.m. is if she doesn't go to sleep."

Senior friend is usually the last to fall asleep when these girls have their gatherings, so she has a bet going with my Girl about who will fall asleep first tonight. She doesn't like to be the last one awake.

(She did make fun of me for not hearing them when they stood in my doorway and yelled at me for five minutes straight. She's allowed. I love her.)

She went back upstairs to tell the girls what I said about the morning run.

"This is your mom's reaction," Senior friend said, "and I quote, 'aHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!'"

the one where we stay in our pajamas

2:38 p.m. on Jan. 1, 2011.

(random line from paper journal: I love that today is gray and depressing. It makes me feel less crazy.)

Today, this auspicious, potential-infested, audacious day, first day of a new decade, my daughter and I seem to have decided to live in our pajamas.

In the background (which really isn't the background. it is three feet away on my daughter's laptop. We both sit on the living room floor, backs against sofa), I hear Samantha Who, which my girl watches on Hulu.com.

Focus
impossible.

I miss poetry.

This morning, I received an email from Alan Cohen in response to my request to be added to his newsletter subscribers list. In my email to him, I told him I hadn't been able to attend his Hocking Hills Festival of Poetry in the past few years because of my daughter's busy schedule.

"Bring her along!" he wrote. "One of our 2011 presenters is a very handsome slam poet from L.A." (Andres Rivera)

I wish I could tell him that the idea of mingling with slam poets was on my daughter's "bucket list" (I really hate that term), but she laughed at me when I suggested it this afternoon.

She's a excellent writer, my girl, probably an innately better writer than I am. Every year when I start squealing with excitement about National Novel Writing Month, she gets this wistful look on her face. "I feel like writing, but no, no, I have too many other things...."

She is artist.
She is musician.
She seems to think it would be too much to be writer, too.

Really. Impossible to focus.

"I'm going to fall asleep with my face in the couch," my Girl says.

This post, this Jan. 1 post, is my love letter to myself. I don't make resolutions, though I have ideas of things I want to complete or start in the next months. Ongoing plans, not new plans. I don't feel obliged to make a fresh start today just because it's Jan. 1 of a new year. I give myself permission to sit here on the living room floor, back against sofa, close to my child who isn't going to fall asleep with her face in the couch after all; she's going to finish her Algebra 2 homework (while she continues to watch Samantha Who).

"I don't know where everyone is today," she says as she checks Facebook one more time. "Maybe they're all off doing things with their families, you know, since it's New Year's Day."

"That's what you're doing," I say. "Doing things with your family."

"Hey, it is what I'm doing. This is nice. We're bonding," she says, with only a tinge of sarcasm.

(and kill me now. she's asking me questions about the difference between "discrete functions and continuous functions," like I'd know. I'm a mathophobe. But holy crap, I think I helped her bullshit her way to a definition. Google, I love you.

"I don't know what I'm talking about," she says. "I don't know what any of this means. I'm just going to copy from the book." pause, read, scribble. "What's function notation? AAAAAAHHHHH! I don't know. I'm going to look it up." pause, read, pause. "Arrow???"

my girl claims none of the answers are in the book.

"What's a vertical line test?!? Uhhhhhh! Whup, I found it.")

just after midnight on Jan. 1, 2011

I'm going to let someone else speak for me. I don't have permission to post this poem, so I hope the gravelings don't come after me and sneeze graveling snot into my laptop keyboard to short it out or anything (Girl and I have been watching Dead Like Me the past couple of days).

A good friend receives a newsletter from Alan Cohen who runs the annual Power of Poetry festival in Hocking Hills in Logan, Ohio. Now and then, my friend forwards the newsletter when Alan includes a poem that "speaks" to her that she thinks might also speak to me.

The one she shared with me earlier this evening says what I want to say tonight, at 12:29 a.m., on Jan. 1, 2011.

I hope you can forgive me, David Wagoner, for posting your poem without asking. But I love it and love your work and love you.

Old Man, Old Man

Young men, not knowing what to remember,
Come to this hiding place of the moons and years,
To this Old Man. Old Man, they say, where should we go?
Where did you find what you remember? Was it perched in a tree?
Did it hover deep in the white water? Was it covered over
With dead stalks in the grass? Will we taste it
If our mouths have long lain empty?
Will we feel it between our eyes if we face the wind
All night, and turn the color of earth?
If we lie down in the rain, can we remember sunlight?

He answers, I have become the best and worst I dreamed.
When I move my feet, the ground moves under them.
When I lie down, I fit the earth too well.
Stones long underwater will burst in the fire, but stones
Long in the sun and under the dry night
Will ring when you strike them. Or break in two.
There were always many places to beg for answers:
Now the places themselves have come in close to be told.
I have called even my voice in close to whisper with it:
Every secret is as near as your fingers.
If your heart stutters with pain and hope,
Bend forward over it like a man at a small campfire.

- David Wagoner,
Traveling Light, University of Illinois Press
(May 25, 1999)

The line that makes me ache because I recognize it, the startling face of it, is "I have become the best and worst I dreamed." In his newsletter, Alan said that line grabbed him, too.

It's hard to be so serious, though, when the teenagers in my basement are screaming and laughing.

I forgot to warn my neighbors.

(the worst I dreamed.)