Wednesday, March 30, 2011

moment (just a bad poem)

feel a wash of sorrow
as I read an email
(about practical things)
that suggests, again,
that my belief in "re-creation"
is a fool's belief,

my inner cynic brays
that civility cloaks contempt.
words are like wind, she says,
they stir dead leaves
to a dead dance.
when the wind is gone,
the leaves lie still

(this new "scheme"
convinces me for one awful moment
that I have no value.)

I stop reading,
close my eyes,
inhale, say to myself,

“Breathe through the grief, girlie.
Something beautiful waits
on the other side of grief.”

(thank you Sally Gentle Drew (and Amy Oscar).)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I want to blast through the walls just to feel the dry wall embedded in my skin

It's March 29. Something about this date nags at me, but I don't have a clue what I'm missing. This week feels like it's rushing by already though it's only Tuesday. My daughter is at her dad's until Thursday after school, but I feel as if she is already here, her energy seeping into the walls. The walls need dusting. Her pure energy would feel much stronger if I dusted the walls.

I've been ticking things off my mental "to do" list today:

- ordered Black Swan for my girl's friend (a personal gift from me to her)
- paid mortgage
- paid phone bill
- delivered meatballs and sauce to the girl's father's refrigerator
- left him a piece of mail I got by mistake
- and a check
- for something
- I should have been covering for eight years
- or all along
- pet his cat
- shocked his cat when I pet him
- talked to his purring cat
- and told him he only looked fat to me
- because my cat is too scrawny
- left and locked up
- charged my cell phone in the car
- returned here and pet my own cat
- who now eats
- but will still be scrawny

I have to finish typing up the minutes from the last band booster meeting. I'm way behind. The next meeting is next Monday, earlier than usual because the band is leaving April 11 for Disney, where they will march and play at Epcot Center, then play and play and play (as in have fun) for most of the week. I took pages and pages and pages of notes (I should just put in the number of pages, but if I count them, I'll feel like going back to bed). I think I'm more than halfway through, but maybe not.

I'll finish up the minutes, send them off, fold some laundry, write a poem about writing application essays or write a poem that is an application essay as my friend Laura suggested I do (already started that)....

You know, there's nothing to see here.
Move along.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

more of what's real

Today, I put on a nice pair of slacks,
nice sweater, printed off my most recent resume,
typed up phone numbers and names
of people I knew wouldn't mind
giving me references,
went to the video store
holding those "open interviews"
from 4 to 6 p.m.

Got there at about 4:15.
The parking lot was full.
The store was full.
People stood waiting
for their turn
to try to sell themselves
into a job opening.

I eavesdropped only a little.
Had to fill out the requisite application,
knew a resume was beyond
what was needed.

I heard "layoff" "pottery" "Walmart"
"going to court" "restraining order"

No one smiled
or if they did
the smiles were uneasy.
Except mine.
Mine was easy,
friendly, designed to comfort,
really, though I had this sense
the urge to comfort
wasn't ... what? Mutual.

The manager
and assistant manager
took applicants toward the back of the store
for their two minutes
or 30 seconds
or five minutes if you could make them laugh
(I could).

I swear, lovely readers, I could smell
These people were hungry.

They didn't know how to dress
for an interview
or maybe didn't have interview clothes,
were used to working jobs
that required jeans
and calloused palms.

I had no business there.
I am not hungry
in the way these people
are hungry
(though I suppose
given the shifts in the world
and my world,
I could be hungry soon).

The manager
knows me
and wondered what the hell
I was even doing there
applying for a job
that starts off paying
only $7.50 an hour.

"I just want to work," I said.

He thought I had a job.

"Well, I do, but sometimes it pays,
sometimes it doesn't."

He was an honest man
who wanted honesty.

You know.

Before I left,
I rented a movie.

Tomorrow, I'll walk to the store,
return the film I rented today,
and rent another,
maybe tell the manager
or assistant manager
that an excellent paying freelance job
arrived in my email box
just that morning,
give someone hungrier than I
my slot.

Hungry town.
Hungry state.
Kind of heartbreaking, really.

Monday, March 21, 2011

what's real

I would like to stop
over thinking.
Lately, as in since early last month,
possibilities have fallen across my feet
as I've jogged in place,
panting with effort,
going nowhere.

(the jogging is metaphorical
I can't jog any more. Bad knee,
bad hips)

Learned about a not-that-far-away university
with a decent MFA program.
Then the administrator
of the program (not director)
came to our local writers group
to talk about poetry,
writing and publishing.

I know the program director's brother.
I know how to get to the school.

Did I apply?

Started to
then staggered
when I had to write
about self
but not in this flowing
self-indulgent way,
in a way that would sell me
as product
or team member.


Yesterday's youth play
led me to a flyer
about that improv class
just when I've been thinking
about how much I miss

Tonight, I went to the video store
to return some DVDs and rent one more,
a bad habit in which I indulge
(my word for the day appears to be "indulge")
when my Girl is off at her dad's.

A large poster in the window
advertised employment opportunities.
After a hilarious conversation
with one of the staff members
about her weeping through a film
while her exhausted husband snored
next to her on the sofa,
I said, "So, are you guys hiring?"

"Yes," she said. "Tomorrow, in fact,
open interviews from 4 to 6. It would be
so good to find employees
who don't put keggers over coming to work,
who understand the definition
of responsibility."

That poster went up 10 days
after I learned
my "support" income
would be cut
by 60 percent.

I know the job
wouldn't pay much,
whatever job
it ended up being,
but my reality is
that I need work.
Even $200 a week,
for instance (a random number
I plucked out of the dusty air
because I like two hundred.
It matches my matronly figure)
would be $200 more
than I'm making now.

Thinking about work
makes me think about more work,
about actively seeking
freelance work,
more actively submitting
poetry and fiction,
makes me think
about entering contests
and applying for grants.

"Work" is a four-letter word
the way "love" is a four-letter word,
at least to me,
at least today.

It may not work out.
I may flake or talk too much
about my responsibilities
to my Girl, about getting her home from school,
to her drum lesson,
about chaperoning the band kids
during away games, working Bonanza of Bands
(wait. Never again).
I may need too much time off
if I do apply to school
and need to attend
the residency portion
of the program.

It's low-paying, mind-numbing work.
I could end up working to midnight some nights.
I could get confused when making change
(yeah. I'm an old fart who has forgotten how to add)
(just kidding).

They could decide
that hiring a 52-year-old poet/band booster mom
is a really bad idea.
And it's not like this is an awesome, world-changing,
people serving, career building kind of job.
It's simply work.

But you know what?

I can't win if I don't enter.

The damned doors are open.

I need to start walking through them.

Dear World,

I crack open a few windows
in my dirty, little house,
hear sounds of city living:
birdsong, children calling,
hammering, car engines,
splat of rain on pavement
and roof. Spring.

I am allergic to spring,
so my eyes burn, and I taste
asthma in the back of my throat.
Every spring, my yard foams
and billows with unconquered weeds,
with grass that is bushy in front
and mottled with clover in back.

I'm a bit afraid of spring.
Spring stands for things
I do badly: yard work,
exercise, letting go.
Every day I sow my new self
into my terrible yard
watch to see what will sprout:
dandelion or hyacinth?

Even when I feel stale and stuck,
I believe I am a new thing,
though I wonder
if growth is possible
in stasis.


Sunday, March 20, 2011


my girl
is on the phone
with a friend.
girl hates talking on the phone,
but this is an old, good, dear friend
who needs the comfort of voice
and not just connection through text
or online chat.

I don't want to intrude.
It's not my business.
I vanish into the basement
to run a small load of laundry
(preparation for the girl's shift
to her father's tomorrow
after eighteen days here,
longer than usual
because of Ohio Graduation Tests,
we were loathe
to make her stress over moving
from me to him).

I turn up the music
on my iTunes
to drown out the words
seeping through the wall
between living room where she is
and study where I am.

It's been a decent day.
I like decent days,
need them now and then.
I didn't feel any pangs of grief today,
managed to forget the crack in the world.
I needed a break from mourning.
We attended a musical comedy production
by a new theatre in our little town.
It was so good,
I felt surges of hope
exploding from my throat
as I laughed
and laughed.

God. I love teenagers.

The show inspired me.
Lately, I've been remembering
that one aspect of my life
that I let go after the girl was born:
performance or production
or being part of a play.
The show's director
starts teaching an adult improv/acting class
next Sunday.
Twenty-five dollars for six weeks
of class. Quite a bargain,
and if it's not, well, I can always do
what I do best
and quit. But I'm at least going to start
because, really, why not?

It's been so long
since I've put my voice and body
on the stage
doing anything other
than performing
my own poems
that I've grown shy again
(though you'd never know
how painful it is
for me to engage
with people
because I've learned
to hide
the excruciating nature
of timidity. Really. You'd never know).

I think my Girl has gone upstairs,
so it may be safe
for me to enter the kitchen,
turn on the water,
scrub the dinner dishes and wipe down
stove and counters
without worrying that I will overhear
or she will feel that I might overhear.

We watched Inception tonight
(my first time, her second).
I think little bits of my brain
cling to the sofa.
Hell of a film.
I'm going to be afraid
to dream. I tend
to be aware in my dreams
that I am dreaming
and used to have a knack
for rewinding the terrible dreams
in which I died
and undoing the thing
that caused my death.

The late Harry Wilmer,
former boss (founder of the Salado Institute for the Humanities)
and Jungian psychoanalyst,
found this ability of mine
wondered if it increased
that summer I was pregnant.
We walked to the yogurt store
every day
for a cup or cone, his treat,
and we talked
like peers,
not like boss and intimidated assistant/editor.
I loved him more that summer....

I never told him that I wasn't that fond
of frozen yogurt.

I miss him. He was complex and challenging,
but he opened people's souls
to different possibilities,
including mine. One of my many
beloved departed.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

let's try this again

The "extra" girls
have gone home,
though it took a while
for them to pull away in blue car, red car,
and they called goodbye to my girl for ages.
She stood at the back window of her bedroom
and said, "Get out of my yard!"
then laughed
and laughed.

The Girl will have a meal tonight
with her father,
something meaty (ribs?).
I wish I could explain to him
that her reluctance to schedule him in
is nothing personal,
but that's not my job.
I have been letting go,
no longer buffer,
stripped down
to the new role
I should have taken on
eight years ago?

No, no, it shifts
as child ages
and I age
and we redefine
the shards of us.


Today I am bull,
skin glossy and black,
the gloss fades
as I kick up arena dust.
I feel like charging down the matador
who pricks my hide with a barbed harpoon,
though when I look up bullfighting terminology,
I see that bulls now wear Velcro pads on their backs,
and bullfighters use Velcro tipped staffs
instead of swords.

When I was 5, my family went to Spain on vacation
(not that far since we were stationed near Paris),
and we attended a bullfight.
The sight of the bull running, frantic with pain,
the barbed harpoons waving from his hide,
so bright, each color signifying how much closer
the bull was to death,
I was horrified. I rooted for the bull,
wanted to hide my face in my hands
but couldn't look away.

I suppose if I am the bull,
I'm still rooting for the bull.

Silly woman. I am my own matador.
This metaphor fails to work,
but that's all right.

a weak post that may vanish with my coffee

I have been trying to write a grad school application essay about my development as a writer for weeks now. I realized this morning I've been writing the same paragraph about a long-distance conversation I started with my father when I was 9 over and over and over again for weeks. I've written it in present tense, in past tense, as a story, as an autobiography, as a poem (that's the best version). I've written about the cassette recorder my mother would get out once a month that year our dad was stationed in Korea, how the four of us kids dreaded and looked forward to the tapes we would send our father, have written about the letters I wrote him, the postcards he sent back, about my mother's arthritis flare up (though I spelled "flare" as "flair" and when I realized that I'm an ass who wasn't paying attention, I kind of freaked myself out. God. What a self-absorbed, self-conscious ass).

I've pulled out the bad essay I wrote in 1998 when I applied to Ohio State University's MFA program, read through it, nodded to myself and said, "Wow. No wonder they didn't accept me!" And then I've reread that essay and said, "Thank God they didn't accept me. That was the year Daddy was dying."

A good friend tells me that my inability to write the essay may be a sign that I don't want to go to grad school.

I think it's a sign that I want it too badly (I am hearing Smeogol's voice again - "We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false!" And for some reason, the tricksy hobbits are part of that desire to return to school. Yes, yes, it's possible I'm rather nuts).

I may hold myself accountable to myself and give myself a Monday absolute final deadline for the first essay. If I finish it, I'll continue the application process; if I don't, I'll let it go until 2013 when my daughter is about to graduate from high school. The actual deadlines for the schools I've chosen are flexible, so I'm not out of time yet.

Poor Goddard. I keep sending you my transcripts over and over again, huh?




This past week, Ohio sophomores took the OGTs, Ohio Graduation Tests. It was a brutal week. Every morning, the kids sat down for two and a half hours of testing in each of the five core subjects: reading, math, writing, science, social studies. By yesterday afternoon, every 10th-grader in the state was so wrung out you could feel the universal exhaustion in the asphalt on the roads between wherever you were and the high schools. After the proctors gathered the last test booklets, the teachers stopped taking attendance, and most of the high school kids fled the campus.

My own Girl and two of her best friends drove to a nearby town for a celebratory lunch, returned in the afternoon (but she kind of didn't bother telling me she was back in town), ended up at another friend's house where they hung out in his basement for hours watching movies. At about 10 p.m., she finally came home but brought two of her friends with her (with permission).

They didn't stay awake all night like they usually do. In fact, I think the three of them fell asleep before 1 a.m.




My Girl was really supposed to go to her dad's this past Monday, but that shift was going to add to the stress of the week, so she's going to him Monday, March 21.

He misses her.

I've been quiet, which I think makes him miss her more,
but what do I know about what he misses?
Even after 23 years of knowing him,
I don't know him.


I've been writing myself letters:

Dear Lizzie,

I'm sorry today was such a bust. I'm sorry you feel like you're wasting your life. I'm sorry you don't know how to proceed or end things that need ending from essays to band booster minutes to novels to your marriage. Please don't give up. Please move forward. You're an excellent woman. You deserve more than you're giving yourself.

Give yourself work.

Give yourself an education.

Give yourself creative moments that make you feel that you're giving something to the world.

I want you to stop worrying about the future so much because not only are you worrying about
your future and your Girl's future, you're also worrying about the future of the Earth. Quakes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns, war, revolution, dictators killing their own people, Gov. Kasich, angry conservatives, angry liberals, your yellow grass....

You can be aware of these things and pray about these things, but I want you to stop worrying. Let it all go. Allow yourself to focus. Worry is an indulgence you can't afford any more.


My daughter is upstairs singing My Chemical Romance's "Teenagers Scare the Living Shit out of Me." The girls are not going to Winter Percussion this morning. I'm guessing a lot of the kids will have chosen to sleep in or at least relax this morning.


They have mostly spilled down the stairs, floated back up the stairs. Doughnut run in their future. I am drinking my second cup of coffee and thinking about toast. This post fizzles out as all of my posts seem to do.

That's all right.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

the one where I can't seem to get to a point to save the cat

I'm over-thinking things today (I wish I were "over" as in "done" thinking, but that's not the case). I'm thinking too hard about the mess in my kitchen, the mound of clean clothes in the laundry basket that I can't seem to get folded and put away, the scrapings of mud on the kitchen floor, left over from the week's rain and snow.

Over-thinking my marriage, my past, the definition of grief, my own relevance, how the fuck I managed to raise such a powerful, compassionate, beautiful child while being this asshole of a nonentity (pardon me. That's my inner critic peeking out her ugly head. My (late) mother keeps trying to smack her back into the briefcase I've saved all these years that holds the family trust documents, which I may need to pull out so that I can find some statements I need to do some business that I've been trying to do for years with my financial adviser who hasn't exactly been on top of things for me, but then, I'm not exactly easy to reach when one wants to talk to me about money. The shame of money. Why? I've always wondered about myself and shame of money).

My Girl and her senior friend are at another friend's house for the night. I'm a little lost. I'm so used the sleepovers being here. They aren't very far, about a 10 minute walk, less if you speed walk or jog. The friend they're with is one of my girl's dearest and oldest friends from elementary school, though they haven't been as close since the beginning of high school. I think of A as a "motherless mongrel." I adore this kid. She's the girl whose mother died a few days after my Texas friend's funeral a couple of years ago.

A is having a terrible time this year, and my Girl and Senior Girl are, at A's request, staging a sort of rescue mission, teaching A that she does have friends, support, is beloved by more than just one person (another friend). Emotional work. Healing work.

When my Girl bounced in here (after struggling with the malicious and sentient wind, which was trying to wrap the screen door around her) to grab a couple of DVDs, she was positively shimmering and shivering with joy. "This is so good," she said. "We're having such a good time. We've talked and talked about so many important things...."

And I think, Maybe I should go to brunch tomorrow with my girlfriends, talk and talk about important things.

"You caught me sleeping," I said. "I"m sorry. I just seem to need to sleep a lot lately."

"You need a hug," she said. "Let me give you a hug, Mommy."

(God. Really. Have you EVER seen anything more beautiful than a 16-year-old girl insisting on hugging her mother? WHERE THE HELL DID SHE COME FROM?)

We need our girlfriends. We need to say things out loud to each other. I do, anyway. When I do, it clears up my muddles and helps me to know that I'm actually not crazy or a drama queen or even totally wrong.

I've been shining a harsh light on my own "difficult" week, viewing it through yet another kind of filter, one where I huff at myself and say, "Good God, you brat! What's wrong with you? Think about your friend whose mother died Thursday night! Think about Japan, Libya, Mexico, Yemen, Wisconsin, your art teacher friend who now has no job because of district reshuffling, your preschool teachers aid friend who now has no job because of district reshuffling. Your life is golden."

It is, it is.

I wanted to continue to think and process this conversation Julie Daily began on her blog, but "muddled" has turned today to "riddled," as in "riddled with cliché" or "riddled with confusion" or "riddled with grief." So I'm having a hard time connecting all the things glomping up in my brain with the conversation, with the life situation I am trying to process, with my grad school applications, my desire to write on my novel, to write poems, to connect, connect, connect.

I have no transition for this next part. In my mind it's connected with everything above, but when I read through what I've written, I don't see how anyone who isn't me would get that.

Last night, I ended up riding one of the buses as a chaperon for our high school Wind Ensemble, which headed to that District IX OMEA large-group adjudicated event I mentioned (our kids were robbed, but that's another story, though maybe not. Our school district is seen in the area as "ghetto" and not well respected, though the children who represent the school in sports, arts, music are stunning creatures). I have a "bus partner," a mother I've been getting to know better since the beginning of the school year.

We come from completely different worlds, R. and I. I suspect we hold different views of most things from God to parenting to marriage to politics. Yet we find each other comforting, and I tend to make her laugh so hard she finds that she needs to lean against a wall if we are waiting in a school hallway for events to begin.

I just do that to this group of band booster parents in general, drop these tiny, inoffensive one-liners.

R and I found a restroom on a different floor from where the kids were warming up. I slammed shut my stall door, and while I did my business, read the graffiti on the back of the door.

Yew you should shove a broom handle up your ass, read the first sentence, and the conversation on the door went downhill (pardon the pun. the words really did drift down the door) from there.

"Oh, my!" I said to the others. "There's real graffiti in here! I'm so excited! I haven't seen real graffiti in a long time."

"There's some in here, too," one of the girls who had accompanied the adults said. "It has something to do with God."

"Well, mine doesn't have anything to do with God," I said, and later told them it had something to do with someone sticking a broom handle in a place where broom handles shouldn't ever go.

This offended no one, and they all thought it was hilarious that I got excited about obscene graffiti.

I know they think I'm a bit eccentric, but they like me, which sometimes puzzles me since the truth is that we have nothing in common.

Later, much later, after we had just found out the score (not a superior rating. no trip to the state contest despite a performance that was so stunning the kids told me they could feel the audience responding to them), one of the other band moms looked at me and said, "Elizabeth, have you been to Florida or something? You look so tan!"

"Um. No. I've barely been outside, and there hasn't been any sun around here, as you know, for a while. This is just the color of my skin."

"Are you sure?"

"Yep. This me." I suddenly felt I needed to explain. "I'm half Greek. My mom was Greek."

"Oh! So that's where you get your olive skin!"

Understand, there was no malice in the band mom's comments. But it kind of startled me. I don't even know why.

Oh. I have worn out. I will never get to my point. I might if I stopped writing directly into the window, but then I'd never post anything at all.

This is very long. I won't worry about it too much. I should eat some dinner, but I find since I broke wide open on Wednesday that I don't have much of an appetite. I'll make myself a salad maybe, drink some cold, cold water.

Then I'll go back to bed until my Girl and her friends need to stop back by here for something else (though they probably won't at this point since it's after 8).

Friday, March 11, 2011

gratitude. I think.

note: this is, perhaps, dishonest, but I needed to remove my previous post.

In about an hour, my Girl and I will return to the high school where she will climb into her band uniform and we will all board buses to ride to New Concord for the District IX OMEA large-group adjudicated contest.

The concert last night proved the kids are ready and will do well. Whether they receive a superior rating and qualify for state is of course in the future, a few hours in the future.

Girl's framed painting is in her teacher's hands.

I will take work with me to do while we wait for the kids to perform and then for the judges' decision.


A deep and open conversation today with my husband changed my life a little bit as deep and open conversations do.

I'm grateful.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

the one where I muddle it a bit

I've chosen to write directly into the window because I won't post anything if I write it offline and then cut and paste today. I suppose I want to feel as if I'm living out loud IN THE MOMENT or something.

I'm pretty sure everyone I know (or, well, probably not) knows that today is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. (here's a link to a wonderful post by a favorite blogging woman about today, about how important today is for her daughters: Determined Women)

I've been thinking a lot about women's rights lately, about Planned Parenthood, teachers and collective bargaining, wage inequality, my daughter on the drum line, the debates in which I've engaged about various political issues.

Julie Daley has been writing a series of blog posts, the third of which she calls "So Many Silences." She's....

I'm sorry I have to pause to laugh at my daughter who is trying to suck up a strawberry through a straw. Fast food. Strawberry "Frutista." She makes me laugh.

Back to Julie, who deserves my full attention, but since I'm writing this as I live (and still laughing at the slurping noises next to me), I'll just have to bear with myself when I get a little distracted. Julie's series covers the extremely difficult topic of oppression - "Silence, privilege and oppression."

I've been reading the posts and comments carefully. I hesitate to get involved in the conversation because I am one of those women who has been fortunate. I'm a 50something white woman who had an upper middle class childhood, had the opportunity to get a college degree, did some graduate level work, etc., etc. I'm one of the privileged. I have no idea what it feels like to be oppressed except from the outside in.

And yet somehow I feel like muzzling myself isn't the right course of action. It's a non-action. Muzzling myself could contribute to the oppression of young women I love, in a small way. It feels wrong to feel that the conversation should be restricted, that I should keep myself out because of who and what I think I am.

I have experienced sexism, sexual harassment, a near rape, inequitable pay, all because I'm female. Not oppression, though. Just life. Now that I am in my 50s, I'm less visible in some ways, not just to men, but to younger women, too. It's as if once the grays started to show (and, honey, I have a LOT of grays), I began to lose my relevance.

Not true, which is why I write "as if." As if isn't truth. As if is an assumption. I don't have to become irrelevant just because I have white hair. I don't have to be quiet just because I'm a woman.

I've always been a self-effacing woman (which is part of why I hesitate(D) to get involved in the conversation, or ANY public dialogue). I've had friends throughout my life who have loathed that personality trait in me. I loathe it in myself. Lately, however, though I am still as self-deprecating as ever, that self-effacement business doesn't seem to apply. Hard though it is for shy me to sputter out my opinions, emotions, beliefs and, yes, even knowledge, I'm doing it. More and more. One of the "privileges" of being a woman of a certain age. Maybe that's more evolution than privilege, though.

I know this is all over the place, but International Women's Day (I keep hearing this in my head as "The International Day of the Woman." Sounds more poetic or something), the idea of oppression, even the conversations I'm having with my daughter as I write and she has a snack before plunging into her studies are all connected.

On Julie's posts, I've read a lot of difficult, brave, open comments from women who truly have been oppressed. I think, "I have no business getting involved in this discussion. I have no experience of this." My guilt begins to weigh down my tongue, and I find that I cannot speak.

A little bit ironic maybe?

My daughter tells me that for the writing portion of the quarterly assessment in her English class, the teacher asked the students to write about an event that affected their lives greatly. One friend wrote about her mother's death; another friend, my girl suspects, was writing about being 16 and pregnant. The essays are confidential. Mrs. W. will not share them.

"What did you write about?" I asked.

"I wrote about you and Dad splitting up. It was the only thing I could think of that changed my life. I almost wrote about Granddad's death, but that didn't really change my life the way you guys splitting up did." She laughed. "I think almost everyone wrote about that. Everyone's parents are divorced."

My daughter tells me she is quiet in class, though she speaks up when it matters. She speaks up for friends. A friend of hers tells me that my little doll of a child is getting an amusing reputation among her classmates and friends for saying, when someone is bothering her, "I'm going to kick your ass!" If you could see her, you would know how funny that is.

Maybe I should be appalled that my beautiful girl says things like that, but I know that humor bubbles up out of her with the words. I worried so when she entered high school that someone, some group, some class, administrator, teacher, friend, boyfriend, whatever, would extinguish her bright light. Hasn't happened. She burns as strong as ever. A young woman. So female. So strong. Power from the soles of her feet to the tips of her long, long hair.

I'm often so stunned that she is mine, but I know that she wouldn't be who and what she is if I were not her mother (if her father were not her father). I sometimes feel that I do her a disservice by being so self-deprecating, by EVER holding back when I know speaking out is the right thing to do. Despite me, she'll always be truly herself.

She's a girl who is winning because she believes in herself. She's what I wish every girl in the world had the opportunity to become. Not going to happen in my lifetime, that's for sure, maybe not even in hers. Poor world. Such a mess it is.

I suppose my daughter is my gift to the world of women today.

And that's enough for now of this writing directly into the window and muddling through.

This is the painting my daughter did in her art class that her teacher asked her to enter in Ohio Governor's Youth Art Exhibition.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What I really want to do

(note: using this space as a "public journal" lately. Working through thoughts, recording bits of life, sharing my odd process.)

What I really want to do is spend most of my time here in my house, writing, just writing, writing anything for no one but me. Don't want to care if I connect. Don't want to care if it's any good. Don't want to finish or fix or flesh out. Just want to write nonsense, just to write it, like pacing in a circle in the crowded living room, no true destination, just pacing for the sake of pacing.

No, wait, what I really want to do is finish up Lily's novel then finish the "sequel" that tells Zoë's story about the search for her father, Lily's first ex. Then I want to finish writing "The Invisibles," go back to "Spattered" or maybe first finish the dark, dark novel I started in whatever year that was, the one with the goth boy who was drunk on the Greyhound bus.

Finish "Paper Bridges."

Finish "Woman Running."

Rewrite the Mercury mystery (determine if it really is a mystery).

Wait, no, what I really want to do is write a poem every other day for a year, and while I'm writing new poems, I want to revise the old poems, send them out, revise them again when they return to me, rejected, send them out, write new, send, receive, revise, write, collect them up into chapbooks or full-length manuscripts, determine my themes, perform my poems somewhere, study other poets while I am writing my poems (possibly in an MFA program), focus on my work and on me.

No, that's not what I really to do, either. I bore myself silly when I focus only on myself. What I really want to do is find a way to make a living teaching poetry to young people, ages 8 to 19, or to grown ups, ages 20 to 106, to families, Girl Scout Troops, Boy Scout Troops. I want to spend a week with each group, not 40 minutes on a random Wednesday as a "surprise guest" who isn't really as much of a treat as the classroom teacher had hoped. I want consistency and momentum. I want to help them (whichever students I manage to get) build skills on top of skills that rest on top of experience, on top of personal history, on top of personality, through, around, over, under........

Wait, no, that's not what I really want to do. What I really want to do is start a youth slam poetry group, have weekly or monthly bouts, have weekend workshops to bring in presenters who could teach kids how to "slam" one Saturday, teach them how to write a performance poem another Saturday, have an annual region-wide youth poetry slam competition.......

No, no, wait, what I really want to do is create a kind of an online poetry/memoir workshop for women who are over 40 (or over 45), put up prompts, have conversations, encourage collaboration.... (this has been done to death. I am late to the game).

What do I really want to do? Heck if know.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

still life on a Sunday

My belly aches from the leftover pasta I had for “lunch” a little bit ago. My back aches from the way I hunch on the sofa over my MacBook. My Girl works on the Beethoven (the Pathetique, Op. 13). I read through my NaNo from November, which isn’t nearly as awful as I remember (the teen characters are well drawn, at least), then switch over and try to write MFA application essays. (I fail.) Pickles’ (the cat's) ear twitches; he shakes his head and stands up to walk in that incessant circle that redistributes him on the sofa.

I love listening to the Girl work through a difficult piece of music even if she’s messing up parts of it right now. Who cares? The attempt makes her smarter. "I'm just going to keep playing this bit until I get it," she says.

I feel better today, more open and “lyrical,” probably from hearing all the music spilling from my daughter's fingers, her laptop, her throat.

My head is in the "wrong" place still. I’ve lost myself. I want to be in school by this summer, but I can’t make myself do the work to apply. How will I manage to do the work to get through a program if I can’t do the work to apply?

Well, here’s an interesting truth. I am doing the work to apply. It’s just taking me along some kind of hazardous and circuitous routes that I don’t recognize.

What I really don’t recognize is myself.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

a list



quick, before the basement leaks or a teen needs feeding

10:10 a.m.

The usual, small gang of teen girls crowded into my house last night. Two of them, mine and Senior Girl, are off this morning to Winter Percussion (a "club" the talented band booster president mentors. Kids gather to improve their drumming skills, some band members, some not), though none of them slept much last night. The other two, the ones I thought might not be able to come, are still sleeping up in my Girl's room, welcome here until my girl returns.

"Stay," she said to the one who was actually awake, though sleepy, only upright because she leaned against the wall. "I'll... I'll make you breakfast! And massage your feet...."

"Ew!" the half awake friend said.

"Well, OK, maybe not that," my girl said. "I just wanted to make staying sound, you know, sexy."

This burst of life in my house after 10 days of solitude is a shock to my reclusive system, but it's awfully good for me. This group of girls will probably only have another five or six such gatherings left before Senior Girl is off to boot camp. Then their world shifts again, as it does every year when friends graduate, and they'll have to figure out a way to realign their social stars.

After the girls first gather at my house, they don't stay long. They negotiate the activities (my girl calls this the "main entertainment"), the menu, the other kids they will visit. I am not the only parent among this group who lets kids hang out as often as they want. Not much for teens to do in this little city, though a few people are organizing a few things. We open our houses, provide places for the kids to be together safely.

At about 7:45, after more than an hour of debate, the girls left me, and went off to play Rock Band at a guy friend's house (I do know the kid, know his parents). My Girl understood that I would be texting during the night, about once an hour, just to connect.

If I were one of the girls, I'd tell you everything that happened because it's all so hilarious. But the stories are not mine to tell. The evening was slightly edgy. It always feels like the teenagers I know, even the well-adjusted, striving, bright, hard-working, kind, much loved by parents teens, are on the edge of some catastrophe. Boy trouble, the urge to egg a house, girl trouble, overwhelming school stress, parties where peers who aren't as practical break into their parents' booze (no such luck for the kids here).

The kids seem drawn to that edge, and will talk about the almost catastrophes for years. Last night will become legend.

At about 12:15 a.m., the four of them piled back into my tiny house. My girl shooed me out of the kitchen (after I'd dug out the loaf pan she was never going to find). They baked pumpkin bread and a mixed up a no-bake strawberry cheesecake, sprawled on the floor of my little dining nook while the bread baked. They talked. I don't know that they ever stopped talking, even after they went up to my girl's room to "sleep."

I so badly wanted to press my ear up against the wall so that I could here more than, "He... can't's really awful...he did it again...." But these are not my stories to know, though sometimes the girls hand them to me without worrying about what I'll do with them.

I feel like I am two people, live two lives. No, I don't feel this way. "Feel" is a weak verb. I live two different lives - one with my daughter, one without. Of course I love the one with better. But I need the one without to rest, it's true.

I have no way of ending this since it's ongoing, since the experience is so lovely, I don't want it to end.


12:19 p.m. My Girl is back from Winter Percussion, but Army Girl had to go home, had things to accomplish this morning. Upstairs, my daughter was planning to close her eyes for a while, but her other two friends are still here, and around the shooshing of the space heater, I hear them talking again.

Later, a different group will gather at another boy's house (a boy who is my fake son; his father tells me my girl is his fake daughter).

Oh, you know? I just caught something out of the air and clenched my fist around it. It's a beautiful, almost unfamiliar. Here, in this dreadful little southeast Ohio city where my politics would make me a pariah if I spoke out more (I should, anyway), I am part of a community. It's one of those accidental communities or maybe more an "organic" community. The only thing I have in common with most of the adults I know (except my writer friends) is that we have teenagers.

Lost the thought. Another of the girls is drifting down the stairs.


12:36 p.m. - All of the extra girls have left. My Girl is curled up in her bed, fully dressed.

"Do you want me to wake you up at a certain time?" I asked.

"No. I don't know if I'll even sleep. I might just ... lie here for a while."

I think I'll go do the same in my own comfy bed, maybe read on a book, work through a dreaded application on paper.

Later, it all begins again. But somewhere else.

Friday, March 4, 2011

girls night gang to gather

It's one of my Fridays with my Girl, so we're opening the house to the regular members of the "Girls Night Gang," though it sounds like two of the four might have conflicts. I can't wait, really. The week has been a bit of a disaster. I've been writing through it (despite my block). The rain has eased just long enough for me to run to my detached garage, climb into the car, drive to the back of the school to meet my girl.

Her art teacher is entering one of her paintings in the Ohio Governor's Youth Art Exhibition. Deadline for the regional judging is tomorrow, of course. I have to sign a paper.

(Part of me wonders if our current governor is even aware of this contest. OK. Sorry. I'm being unfair now.)

The house is almost reasonably clean. I have yet to vacuum upstairs where the girls will either create a nest of sleeping bags, comforters and pillows on the floor, or they will squish together in my daughter's bed with one stray visitor taking the single.

They're like puppies when they finally crash.

Time is up.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

the one where I ask the universe a stupid question

What if...

what if all you want to do is this one thing, and you've been able to do it in the past, do it well, but you haven't taken it "to the next level" for a variety of personal reasons, like, you've been raising a child, your husband left and you haven't recovered, even further back, you father died (really far back, more than a decade)? Now, you think it's time to go higher, to trust self, to trust the work, to give all of yourself to this thing that is all you've ever wanted to do.

What if, suddenly, you can't do it any more or think you can't, and the thinking you can't is so powerful that you actually can't? Mighty monster.

What then? Do you get a job at the local video store? Except, no, they aren't hiring. No one is hiring.

Well, I won't think about it. I'll start a load of laundry, wash a few dishes, leave for the high school to pick up my daughter whose friend left me a note on my Facebook wall telling me another friend liked my snickerdoodles, the ones I had such difficulty (the dough died, so I started all over again, and the dough lived, flourished to scrumptiousness ) baking Saturday morning, a donation to the dessert table at the Blue Knights Ball, requested. The organizers never put out my cookies, though everyone else's donations made it to the table. "We ran out of dessert plates," and they had no way to serve them, "But you can freeze them for our next event!" But I didn't, instead, I gave them to the Girl and her father, fresh cookies baked with love. And honey, my cookies are magic. They don't deserve to sit in the back room because the volunteer food coordinator ran out of plates. I don't trust that the next time I bake, my baked goods will make it to the table with the others. This isn't the first time she's held my food back. Hours of work. Expensive. Next time, I'll give you $5 instead. You can go buy the cookies at Kroger. They won't be as good as mine, though.

And, wow, what a digression, a distraction from pondering this huge dilemma I'm facing, a bit of self-pity? A bit? Ahahahahahaha.

I'll think about the thing I can no longer do later. I'll think about it tonight when I'm not sleeping. I'll write about it, write through it.

Except, that's right, I can't.

3:03 a.m., long and ridiculous and real

I will write raw.

Was so tired in the evening despite a nap (maybe because of the nap), despite decision not to drive to Columbus for open mic poetry or even to go to church. stayed home and tried to watch a movie.

Went to bed by 11. Knew I'd wake up now, middle of night, sound of pissed off engine roaring up street makes me feel lonely. Cat annoyed because I keep getting out of bed, which means he can't sleep on my legs.


I cannot seem to write essays for grad school applications. So. When I wrote ages ago that I don't believe in writer's block, I was being arrogant.

I've got writer's block.

It's really stupid. I've just psyched myself into thinking nothing I write about me can entice a program to want me though I believe the work (poems) I will include in my portfolio would entice admissions committee members. It's the writing about self that trips me up. I feel like Smeagol, grad school is my "precious." "We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious."

Ah. Well.


Ohio Senate Bill 5. We are in so much trouble. I watch the Ohio Republican senators shove this bill through, call senator, Jimmy Stewart, and leave a message expressing my concern, ask for a call back, express to the woman who answers the phone my (polite) opposition to the bill.

I am biased. My husband is a public employee (though his campus does not have a union). My best local friend is a teacher/public school librarian. That friend and that friend and that friend work in the public sector - teachers, nurses, policemen. The teachers I know are all good people who work their asses off, use their own money for professional development (in other words, when they aren't teaching in the summer, they are often working toward master's degrees or other continuing education programs that help them to improve their teaching. They are not sitting around pools sipping mint juleps).

Sen. Stewart did not return my phone call though I know he returned a friend's phone call. Friend is as liberal as I am. Is a man. Does this make a difference? Another male friend also said he's had good luck getting personal responses to calls and letters from the politicians who represent us (only Zack Space has ever replied to me personally). I wrote Sen. Stewart a passionate but civil letter, sent it through email, received back a form letter from staff with his signature attached as a scan. It was obvious that the person who responded to me hadn't read my letter. They could have been writing to someone who believed in union busting or someone (like me) who believes in the good of collective bargaining or someone who was asking a question about how Sen. Stewart feels about picket fences.

I believe contacting my representatives is part of my right as a citizen of Ohio, of the United States. I believe that my representatives should know how I feel or you feel or my neighbor feels about important issues. If I stop attempting to connect, I give them even more power over my world than they already have. I can't assume they know what I want. How can they know if I don't tell them?

But how can they know if they don't listen? What good are my words when they don't actually read them? And I know, I know they're busy, and I'm one small woman who doesn't really matter. I wonder, too, if the senators have actually read SB 5. I have. This stuff is a tough read, plot as mixed up as a James Joyce novel. I think I lost some eyelashes trying to decipher it all, and I'm not stupid.

I sit in my desk chair, rocking. It's dark except for the light from my laptop screen. I'm finally cooling off. Bare feet, no bathrobe, just pajamas (that are really a pair of sweats and a long-sleeved T-shirt. Sometimes it's easier to go to bed in whatever I'm wearing when I get sleepy).

I want to pay attention to what's happening in my state house. I want to understand why it feels like Them against Us, what I'm missing when I try to understand the "other side."

Sometimes I think celebrities like Charlie Sheen are part of a conspiracy to distract us from things that really matter. Maybe that seems like a non sequitur, but it's not. Because of the way news is presented on the Internet, the likes of Charlie Sheen "trend" as high as stories about Wisconsin and Ohio, as high as Egypt and Libya. "Ooh! Look! Shiiiiiny!" And off we go watching video of a babbling, spoiled actor who has nothing to do with the quality of our lives (well, I suppose if you watch his show, he might matter to you, but I can't even remember what it's called right now).

I'm babbling. It's 3:23 a.m. I think my toes are cold enough for me to crawl back under the covers.

Daughter returns from her dad's tomorrow. The weekend will be full of teenage girls, I suspect. Maybe. I hope I'm not too exhausted to manage it all.

application essays.

What the hell is wrong with me?

That's a rhetorical question. Or one only I can answer.