Monday, December 8, 2014

a book in a day plus some other reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except that it's deeper than pizza.

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

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

Magic cat.

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

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A non-confrontational wimp decides she has to speak

Dear Ones,

A free write in a moment of despair:

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

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

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

Kill the color? Kill the color black?

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

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


Wednesday, December 3, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A book response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read this book.

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

Friday, November 28, 2014

alchemy and gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We kind of suck when it comes to family gatherings.

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

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

"Really? Are you sure?"

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

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

And it was fine and fair and good and holy.

But I'm so relieved.

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

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

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

I'm a little slow.

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

transition, transformation, transubstantiation (except, not)

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

There. Do not fucking care what anyone thinks.

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

will fix later.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

the one where I write a sappy Mother's Day post about my dead mother

(wrote this last night but was too tired to post until now)

Many of my favorite friends who happen to be on Facebook changed their profile pictures to pictures of their mothers, living and not-so-living. I pulled up one of my rare pictures of my mother, a favorite picture I didn’t even have until her family reconnected to us fourteen or fifteen years after her December 1993 death.

In this image, my mother leans on the hood of a red Olds Cutlass Cierra. I think I drove that car for a few months when I was a young editor on a newspaper. Mountains in the background make me guess she and my father were on one of their many road trips during his time as a locum tenums physician. She’s casual, wears a navy blue sweatshirt and holds her sunglasses in her hands. Already in 1984ish, you can see the rheumatoid arthritis was bending her fingers at odd angles. She looks younger than almost 60, younger than I look now at 55 going on 56. Her hair is salt and pepper, wind blown, skin flawless except for grooves between her eyes that are a perfect contrast to the lips that seem to curl up despite her distaste for having her picture taken.

She is beautiful, and I’ve been studying this picture off and on for a couple of hours as I’ve tried to get some writing done.

I’m not going to post it on Facebook, though. I feel protective of her tonight. She was a private person, though she could get anyone to tell her his/her Story with a capital “s.” Like me, she wasn’t good at small talk, but she was friendly and interested in people, so somehow she would manage to get cashiers, servers, flight attendants, cab drivers, hotel concierges, shop owners and beauticians to tell her their deepest secrets without them realizing that what they were doing was unusual.

Her openness to strangers was one of my favorite things about the public side of my mother.

This is my 20th Mother’s Day without her, my three siblings 20th Mother’s Day without her. The stories we tell about her to each other and to our spouses and kids are mostly funny, lighthearted stories. My younger sister-in-law once asked me for “real” stories, for information about our mother that showed who she truly was other than the punch line of our terrible jokes. I don’t remember what I told her.

But here are a few random things I hope I shared and that I should share with my daughter if I haven't already:

- She was a child of the Depression but never talked about it.
- After one particularly grueling week at the all-girls’ high school I attended as a 13-year-old freshman, she listened patiently to me whining about some incident where schoolmates mocked me at a candy machine, and when I was finished talking, suggested I write down my experiences but write them to come out the way I wished they’d happened (birth of a fiction writer).
- When I was about 5 or 6, my younger brother about 3 or 4, she used to write on our family chalkboard with her left hand (she was slightly ambidextrous), "THE LEFT HANDER WAS HERE!" and then hide from us somewhere in the house until we got close enough for her to pop out and scare us in a delicious way.
- When we went shopping for interview suits for me after I graduated college, she sped through the mall on her short, arthritic legs, and I couldn’t keep up.
- On one of my visits home from college, she and I went on Post and were in one of the “extra” shops near the PX, maybe a dry cleaners. The man who waited on us watched us laughing with each other for a minute then said, “You two act more like sisters than mother and daughter.”
- The last time I spoke with, after her stroke but before the pneumonia struck, she told me it was all right that my husband and I hadn’t yet had a child, that she thought he and I would be happy either way, that all she ever wanted was for me to be happy.

My daughter was due on the first anniversary of my mother’s death but came three weeks early. I wrote a bad poem once about a visit my then 2-year-old daughter and I made to the cemetery to visit my mother. My child was aware she was in a place where people were “resting,” that these people were not here with us anymore. I don’t think she yet understood the concept of death (though she did less than two years later as she watched her beloved granddaddy succumb to lung cancer). She flitted between the polished, military headstones while I had a quiet chat with my mother. Then my Girl joined me, looked up at me, down at the words she couldn't yet read on the stone. She approached it as if she were approaching a favorite aunt, patted the smooth top, said, “Hi, Grandmother!” and dashed off again to weave her way between the headstones.

Tonight, my Girl asked my permission to post to Instagram the picture of my mother leaning on the red car. 

“Sure, go ahead,” I said. “But your grandmother might haunt you in your dreams for doing that.”

“That’s fine with me,” she said.

She misses her, this woman she never had a chance to know.

So do I.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

wild dreams and fiction

For months now, my dreams have been insane, wild, hilarious, terrifying, shame-inducing, sad, full of characters from my past, strangers, composites, school, teaching, reading, running, grass, sky, car crashes, parties, ghosts, wild onion, my cat, some odd malevolent something that jolts me awake and convinces me I will die in 10 seconds if I don't cover my head with a pillow or my quilt.

It's been awesome. I've been trying to sketch them out soon after I wake up, but my life is a little busy right now. Time is short (this is also awesome, not that time is short, but that my life is full of things and people I love).

This morning's dream was so exhausting that I slept through my alarm and woke feeling drenched and heavy, not the kind of heaviness having to do with excess weight, but a sort of soul heaviness.

I realized that the dead friend who was in my dream seemed to have appeared to remind me to send some files I saved of his to the friend who asked me to save them after he died. I can't believe I forgot, though I suppose I can believe it since right after the saving of the files, I got really busy (that word. Busy. bizzy. bizzeeee) with freelance projects.

I have some time now, so I'm grateful for the reminder.

My father has been hanging around in my dreams, too. It may be because he's been dead nearly 15 years, and that's one of those strange number things that seem to affect me. Who knows. He's pissed at me about something, but I'm not sure what it is. It's all right. He can be pissed at me if he wants to be.

Some of the dreams involve former MFA schoolmates who appear to be older in the dreams than they are in reality, who crawl into my bed and curl themselves around me. These are not people I find particularly attractive, though they are nice enough. Maybe I'm lonelier than I think I am for romance. No. That's not it. In the dreams, the romantic attention annoys me. I want to get on with creative things, want not to be "nudged" at night, want to sleep so that I have energy to do whatever work it is I do in my dreams, which I suspect is richer and more important than the work I do when I'm awake.

Sometimes, I can't wait to go to sleep at night so that I can dive into these dreams. Sometimes, I nap afternoons when I've slept badly the night before (the dreams sometimes contribute to bad sleep), and those dreams are positively ferocious. I can't tell if my dreams are influencing the direction a novel in progress is taking or if the novel is creeping into my dreams. Maybe a little bit of both. I love this process.

I want to take better care of these dreams, these gifts. I could make them into stories or poems or even just weird little essays, but I too often don't bother writing them down.

I finally upgraded to a smartphone last week, and I've discovered that the Notes app that came with the phone will allow me to record my notes so that I don't have to type them on the tiny keyboard (but I don't have to listen to my terrible voice). The microphone sometimes doesn't hear me that clearly, or not yet, but it's wonderful that if I wake up in the middle of the night, I can tell myself my dreams before I lose the dreams to neglect. I can then email the note to myself and add it to this collection I've just now decided I'm going to start.

This makes me really happy.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

a list

1. The car is free from the monster ice that blocked my driveway.

2. This means I no longer have an excuse not to leave my house.

3. The urge not to leave my house has been so strong, that to avoid kind social invitations from friends, I turned off my cell phone.

4. Can't accept invitations I never receive

5. or return voice mails I haven't heard. (I'm a jerk)

6. I hear the cat's claws catching in the carpet.

7. Time for clipping.

8. Tomorrow, to prove to myself that I'm just a loner/introvert/recluse/hermit and not agoraphobic, I will pack up my laptop, my style book, my thesaurus, my notebooks, etc., and go to the library, where I will stay until I am only 10 pages away from finishing my current editing project.

9. Then I will come home and go for a walk if the sidewalks aren't too icy.

10. I need to walk.

11. I need to feel clear pavement or ground under my feet, not ice and snow.

12. I have been writing, writing, writing.

13. None of the writing is clear or coherent.

14. None of it yet has a place or a purpose

15. except that all writing is practice

16. and I've been going through something that needed processing.

17. The writing won't let me share what that something is.

18. My mother has been haunting me about my excessive self-disclosure lately.

19. That's fine. I like remembering the sound of her voice saying my name, no matter what comes after.

20. "Eeeee Li Zah Beth."

21. Each syllable enunciated. Crisp.

22. When I say my own name, the first syllable comes out sounding like I'm a lazy girl, "Uhhhhh."

23. The more I write, the more I want to write.

24. I'm trying to find at least 25 things for this list, but all I have for now are 24. And that's okay.