December 6, 2010

Black & Blue

No, not the Stones album, actually.  

So I fell down a week ago. Like, fell down as in ate it. Munched it.  Kissed the sidewalk.  It was...epic, at least judging by my injuries.  A bleeding, fat lip where I bit myself. A black not-quite eye, more like a black cheekbone, where my sunglasses shoved into my face.  Another small, greenish lump of a bruise near my jawline. And that's just the stuff above my neck.   

It wasn't a trip, wasn't a stumble, but was some kind of careening, out of control, headlong rush into a metal gate.  I was running, because my son likes to race me home from school. I usually resist his requests to race, at least until we're much closer to our house, because, duh, I hate to run.  But that day, in my boots, my cute, low-heeled, up to  my knees brown leather boots with no traction on the soles I thought, "why not?"  

Reader, I was running fast.  It's clear from the location and sheer number of bruises on all four limbs that I bounced off that gate more than once. Else, how do I have bruises on both my inner and outer forearms? All I truly remember is the feeling of things turning sour and south very quickly, a sickening panic of feeling totally out of control and being unable to correct what was going wrong.  And then, my face hurt.

All week long I've been making jokes about my husband taking a swing at me, to explain the red and purple and now yellowish bruise on my cheek. Ha ha!  And someone I know, and generally like, came up to me and said, "oh, I remember doing something like that and how stupid I felt afterward!"  But the thing is -- I didn't feel stupid. It wasn't that kind of fall, where you trip, and go splat, and recover and tuck your hair behind your ear and off you go, hoping you didn't look quite as stupid as you know you just did.  

Not to sound all melodramatic, but it was some fall, and it shook me, and made me feel alternately shaky and weepy and just generally vulnerable for a solid few days early last week.  What a charmed life I have lived so far, to go four decades on the planet without a serious blow or injury. No broken bones, no lying in traction.  Not even a sprained ankle!  (Such is the physical life of a lazy bookworm.)  Maybe I need to start climbing more mountains? 

In related news (sorta, you'll see): I am writing a memoir.   Though not exactly climbing mountains or snowboarding in the High Sierras, this feels like dangerous work.  It's dicey, dredging up the past, remembering all that stuff that people (read: family) wanted you to just forget and shut up about, already.    I think that's the danger of growing up in a family where people (again, read: same family) want you, expect you, require you to shut up and just put one foot in front of the other.  Trouble is, the child becomes an adult, an adult who still feels the need to ponder and mull and rehash and relive and puzzle out: just what the hell happened here, folks?  

When I crashed into that metal gate last Monday, part of me later wondered  if somehow, some part of my psyche is still trying to get me to shut the hell up. I thought of Carolyn See, and how after the wrenching business of writing her terrific memoir, Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America, she came down with a bad case of meningitis, or some other nasty viral disease.  The brain is powerful.  It know what it wants to do, what it has been conditioned to do for decades on decades.  So, again with the melodrama, but it's true that for just a moment or two, I wondered if perhaps my brain was trying to shut me up.  For good! (Cue the dramatic music: duhn, Duhn, DUHN!).  

Well. I am on the mend.  The lip is nearly healed, the bruises are fading, and I'm almost ready to step back into my cute boots that are now sorely scuffed on one toe.  The writing is going...well, the writing is going slow. December is a bad month for somebody who is already lax on writing discipline.  Still, my yellow legal pad is slowly filling up.  Maybe in some not-so-distant week, I'll even need to move on into a brand new legal pad. 

That is, if my brain doesn't grab the wheel and send me hurtling over some cliff. 

October 29, 2010

Old and Older: At the L.A. County Fair

 I love old stuff.  Old places, old cars, old houses. Old trains. Earlier this month, we went to the L.A. County Fair on its final weekend.  One of the first exhibits we visited was a collection of old trains.  The exhibit itself was sort of off to one side, annexed off, a quiet and relatively lonely area, compared to the the glitz and screaming lights of the nearby carnival zone.
 The peeling old paint, the bare bulbs.  It gave me a thrill and a chill that I always get, visiting and seeping in the spirit of old stuff.
 As soon as I saw this, my brain immediately started playing Judy Garland, singing "on the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," from her movie, The Harvey Girls.  Because old movies, and old MGM musicals, are also things I love best.

What's that? You say you can't stand old musicals --- they're cheesy, corny and unrealistic, and in real life, people don't ever just break into song and start tap dancing on tables?   I would banish you from my world -- except that, as it turns out, the love of my life, my soul mate, my dear husband, feels the same as you.

Ah well. Such is life, such is love.  The ying and yang of it, and all that.  I'm a night owl, and he's up before the sun.  I like looking back to the dusty, forgotten past, and he gets all tingly imagining the future.
 But, he does like old trains, too. 
Even if, as I'm snapping pictures of bare light bulbs, he's admiring, like, the engineering marvel that made those trains move. And stuff.

Old and older: that's us. Quite a team!

October 12, 2010


 A bit abashed to admit this, but lo these many years after earning both bachelor and masters degrees in English, I've finally gotten around to reading Jane Austen.  I'm just a contemporary American Lit kind of girl at heart, which is my excuse. But really, for a bookish chick who claims to be a bluestocking at heart, is there really any excuse? No.

It took me me a few days to get into Pride and Prejudice, but once I fully committed, I was hooked.  I think what I enjoyed most was the (re) discovery that human nature hasn't really changed all that terribly much in the 200 years since the book was published. Kind of the same delight that I felt when reading Shakespeare. (At least I DID do that as a good English major.)

A favorite passage, spoken by Miss Elizabeth Bennett:

"There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well.  The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense." 
Amen, sister.

Next up, perhaps Emma, or Sense and Sensibility.   I would like to read Henry James, also.  However, a few months ago I checked out The Wings of the Dove (I liked the movie, with kooky dear Helena Bonham-Carter), and felt completely illiterate trying to plow through the dense prose.

I highly recommend it, if you're troubled and can't seem to fall asleep. Works like a charm! 

September 26, 2010

Pet Peeve

It was really hot here this weekend. Really hot. I think the high was 108 degrees today, according to the weather sites.

Okay: So it's hot, and it's the end of September. Turns out that typically, for Southern California, our hottest month of the year is October.


Some people seem surprised, even taken aback, by our heat this weekend.  And if you just moved here, from say...Idaho? New England? Canada?  It would be okay to be surprised at our Indian summer heatwave. But those of you who have lived in California all your life? Have lived specifically in SOUTHERN California all your lives?

Y'all need to get a grip, and like, get a longer memory, or keep a daybook or something.  Because, people! It gets this hot, at this time of year....every year!  And still, I have to hear: "Can you belieeeeeve this heat?  And it's FALL."  Yadda yadda. You can't really blame folks, what with Halloween costume catalogs arriving, and my magazines full of robust and hearty autumn stew recipes for those chilly September weekends in...Vermont?  Wisconsin? 

Tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter.  And then it will cool down later in the week, and probably return to a normal 83-ish degrees by next weekend.  And then, in a week or two, the Santa Ana winds will kick in, and it'll heat up again, and you'll all start talking about the end of the frickin' world again.  It's a CYCLE, people. It's what autumn looks like, in our part of the world.  Write it down. Remember it for next year.  All right, I'm done.

Peace out, homies.  (And no, the above pics weren't taken this weekend. Are you kidding me? It was HOT out.)

September 16, 2010

Paranoia (The Destroyer)

I could say lots about where I've been for the last eight weeks since the last post.  Detail my very real social anxieties and dread of other people, fill you in on all the charming anecdotes of the kids' first few weeks back at school (the cause of most of said social anxieties)  and how I internalize my utter failure to make relevant, chatty small talk as an utter failure at being a good ...mother,  citizen and human being. I'm not really quite that bad.  But some intense few hours can feel like that, sometimes. 

Instead, I'll summarize all that inner turmoil with this droll little poem, that I re-discovered the other night:

We who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting,
as a group,
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
discontent and
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift.

Your analyst is
in on it,
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband;
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us.
In announcing out
we realized we have
placed in your hands
a possible anecdote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves.
But since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community
of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center,
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your disastrous personality
then for the good of the collective.
HA. Poetry, a mighty good dousing of cold, fresh water on all my hand-wringing, head-banging self obsession of late.

The poem is by Philip Lopate, who also wrote the mighty words: "They fuck you up/Your mum and dad./They may not mean to/but they do."   Ah.  Truer words, and all that.  And (this time) I don't even mean me own dear mum and dad, but myself, as a parent, as a stay-at-home mom -- one who has volunteered herself way out onto new and scary precipices.  And so early in the school year! 

Ah well.  Here I am folks.  Been reading, been nesting, been thinking of the blog and then losing the train of thought, or the will.  That paranoia, it eats up the hours.  But if nothing else, it's gotta be a good omen to title the first post-dry spell post after a Kinks song.  Ray Davies rocks.
Which reminds me: barely three months left in the year, and we haven't seen a live show or concert.  How to fix that? 

July 29, 2010


I'm baaaack.  Actually, I've been back home for about a week and a half.  One thing I like about vacation is unplugging, literally. I logged onto the internet maybe once  in the 10 days that we were gone, and rejoiced in how Facebook completely fell off my personal radar. (I guess it goes without saying that a soul as conflicted as mine feels totally conflicted about the wonder evil that is Facebook.)  

So I've been lying low and being very lazy, living in both denial and increasing anticipation of the fact that the kids will start back to school in less than 2 weeks. Crazy!  A 9 week summer vacation isn't at all the 3-month season that I had as a kid.  We were out of school mid-June and didn't return until after Labor Day.   And we liked it that way, sonny! 

I took the photo above at a rinky-dink little amusement park called Oaks Park, located a little southeast of Portland, Oregon.  It's very retro, in a boardwalk/carnival sort of way. It even has a roller rink!  My children loved it.  I loved that my 5-year-old son, who can be a bit of a nervous nelly, mustered up the guts to ride on the kiddie roller-coaster with me -- and then rode another 4 times with his big sister. Such joy on his face! 

I also loved that when I was standing there, taking the above shot of the colorful "Rock & Roll" spinny ride, the PA system was blaring Manfred Mann's version of "Blinded By the Light." Something about that song just sorta screams 70s summertime to me, and it was a good moment. 

We were in the Portland area for 6 days, visiting my in-laws. My in-laws fled the arid high desert of Southern California for green, drippy rural Oregon about 20 years ago (before I was on the scene) and they seem to love it.  As for me, I like Portland plenty -- especially the miracle that is Powell's bookstore, where I got to spend a couple of glorious hours alone one evening -- but I doubt I could take the weather for too long.   I will probably always live in California, and if not, I would still opt to move somewhere in the southwest or south -- something in me just drifts that direction, as opposed to the chilly and bundled up north.  Give me my palm trees!  

This final week and a half before school will be a weird combo of lazy and ambitious: sometimes staying in our PJs until noon, sometimes me taking 2 kids alone to the beach, the local pool, the San Diego Wild Animal Park.  Double scoops of ice cream still need to be consumed!  Same for peanut butter sandwiches, eaten with grains of sand crunching in our mouths at a beach picnic.  

As for Cherry Icee induced brain freezes? 

July 8, 2010

The Unlikely Bonfire

The world is such a wonderful, weird place. Ditto that, for the internet.  Without this old world, and the still-new internet, I would not have found myself at Ocean Beach two weeks ago, with someone I'd assumed I would never meet. 

The person I got to meet was sweet Jenn Mattern, of the blog Breed 'Em and Weep.  I've been reading Jenn for oh, around three years now, when I found her blog. I started reading her because at that time, she was writing a lot about the ghosts in her old house. Which I found both fun and creepy, and reading her late at night would sometimes give me the willies.  (I'm a big fan of the concept of ghosts and the paranormal from way, way back. Remember "In Search Of.." narrated by Leonard Nimoy? Like, almost the best. show. ever. Right up there with Emergency! And, as if right on genetic cue, the Monkey Girl is suddenly fascinated with ghosts and aliens and "weird stuff" too.) 

I digress. Anyway: I had just assumed I'd never meet Jenn, that she'd only ever exist for me as a voice out there in Blogland, because Jenn is from way back yonder over in Massachusets, and I'm way over here in Southern California.  Also, when Jenn writes about the places she imagines herself, it's clear that she fancies some cold, remote, windswept kind of life.  Iceland and Newfoundland? She's so there. 

However, thanks to the vagaries of life and the wonders of the internet, Jenn had the opportunity to spend her 40th birthday not in Iceland, as she'd long planned, but in a rather stunning turn of events, right down south in sunny, ever-pleasant San  Diego. Even more of stunner, she celebrated her actual birthday with a hot-air balloon tour right here in the wine country region of my own little 'burb. You can see her, here. Doesn't she look all happy and glowy? 

Suffice it to say, Jenn has had a bit of a rough time lately, lately being the last couple of years: divorce, dying pets, mental illness and mean commenters, to name just a few.  Much of her deepest and darkest emotions have been bravely and beautifully written about on her blog, and I admit that sometimes, during her most challenging, darkest days, I would click on her link and wince a little, afraid for her and her smart young girls, dreading some awful note from her mother, or some new twist of the knife dealt by the Fates.

So when Jenn sent out an open invitation for anyone in the San Diego area to join her at a celebratory Birthday Bonfire at Ocean Beach, I was quick to say: I'm so there!

And here we are:
How typical: West Coast in bright pink, East Coast in black.

There were s'mores, and contraband champagne drunk from the back of a car. There was much talk, talk, talking, and delight (on my part) to see Jenn in person, to see how lively and animated she is, and also, how very, very awed she was on this evening:  by the Pacific, by the concept of "the West," specifically SoCal, and  mostly so awed at the magical hands of fate, and our own industrious, creative hands out here on the interwebs, that made the whole night happen at all.  

Thank you, interwebs! And thanks to my friend Becky who was quick to agree to accompany me on an evening bonfire meet-up with a whole passle of strangers. Thanks to Jenn, and Ed, and all the other bloggers and friends who were gathered 'round the fire on that evening. 
I'm heading out myself for a while here. Back later in the month, with tales of summer adventures to share. 

July 6, 2010

F.U., Lakehouse!

If you spend enough time on the net  (which you DO, because you found ME) you've probably heard of the hilarious blog, F.U. Penguin (actually, Fuck You, Penguin), where the site host writes mean, taunting dispatches to adorable, fuzzy, and/or just weird-looking members of the animal kingdom.  (Or as the subtitle says: "A blog where I tell cute animals what's what.")  The blog seems to be on a bit of a hiatus, but the owner did get a book out of the whole enterprise. (I saw it on the table at B&N this holiday season and spent several minutes flipping through and giggling out loud.  Here is a primo sample post.

So anyhow, I was bumbling around the 'net in my usual parenting-avoidance state the other day, and stumbled on the first picture below, of that perfect bed.  And I clicked on it, which led to the Flickr set of a whole buncha related photos from this pristine, unbelievable lakehouse in the Adirondacks. The Adirondacks! A whole style of summer outdoor chair from a mountain range, which about sums up the history and mystique of the area.
Just look at that bed, that little nook of a room.  The quilt, the pillows, the white iron bed. The vintage mirror, the lighting sconces, the paned window. That yellow floral comforter that I love so much, I want to eat it.   When I saw the bed, I didn't know where or what that window might look out on, but poking around on the Flickr set led me to the whole house.

Which is where I encountered other pictures of the same house, with this kind of idyllic crap:
A hammock. In a sunporch.  Not just any hammock -- look at the sweet and vintage-y cover.  Not just any sunporch, for look at that 180-degree view of the lake.  I have never slept or spent any significant time in a sunporch.  Ditto for the concept of hanging out a hammock, with or without a juicy novel, or a cute boy, or a sweating glass of icy sun tea or whatever the hell you're supposed to have with you in a hammock. Two of my most favorite words, in one dreamy place. This was just about when The Uglies kicked in.  That's the only good name I have for the wash of vile green envy and pure, degrading lust that flows over me when I see certain houses, certain glimpses into a way of life that are real enough, but completely foreign and pretty much unattainable to the lowly likes of me.

Hence, my post title. Please take it in the same spirit of the more famous blog I'm copying.  This is too adorable, too perfect, too hard to believe that it exists alongside us all on God's green earth. In short: Fuck you, lakehouse!
Here's the exterior of the house.  Green, green trees, green water (me, green with envy).  Imagine waking in the fresh morning, walking down to the deck with a cup of hot coffee.  Listening to and watching the birds, the water lapping soft against the pilings. 
In the attic bedroom with the window view out to the lake, the children will sleep in late every single morning, exhausted by the sun and swimming and late nights. The girl Monkey gets the pink-painted bed on the left; Monkey boy gets the green.
The Monkeys especially won't be waking in the middle the night to disturb their 2 parents, especially since mom was up late again, reading one of the books conveniently shelved on her side of the bed.  (Also? Mom might well be sleeping alone in that Perfect Bedroom up top, hogging the bed all to herself.)

If I had found this house in a magazine, like Cottage Living or such, I don't think my envy would have kicked in so strongly. After all, one expects such perfection in a styled magazine spread. But to stumble upon it on Flickr, sitting there all innocent-like for anyone to find -- or not -- made it all the more unbelievable, at least for me.

It makes me feel somewhat better to know that this house isn't lived in full-time by one extremely lucky family. Instead, it's listed as a weekly rental  for anyone to have -- anyone who can ante up $1700 a week.  That price, plus the airfare it would cost my family of 4 to haul ourselves that far back east, probably makes this an unlikely destination for us.  Still, one can dream. 

And in the meantime? You there, lovely lake in the Adirondacks providing the perfect setting for the perfect lakehouse?
Yeah, fuck you, too. And just so you know? I have a lake in my town! And just because it's a man-made little pond surrounded by cheaply made, cookie-cutter faux-Cape Cods here in this arid suburban sprawl, and just because the city closes it down at dusk, doesn't make it any less.....
Wet. So there.

All photos courtesy of here, where you can also find rental information for your own Perfect Lakeside Summer. 

June 29, 2010

Doormats R Us

Why hello there, last day of June.  Summer is upon our household. There has been tent camping in Big Bear, splashing in our association pool, park days, free-movie-at-the-mall day and one theater day camp already completed.  Cookies baked, plenty of Wii time, signing up for the summer library program (one book a week, they suggest? Puh-lease! We are reading fools over here, me included).  What else? Ah! True Blood, thank you very much, Miss Sookie.  And, one beach bonfire with a good friend and plenty of nice strangers (more on that one, soon.)  One could get the impression that I've been too busy to be in a funk or to get myself into deep emotional waters. 

Well, one would be wrong. Wrong! Because there is always, always ample time to get myself swamped in dark & mucky emotional waters.  Duh. 

And really, what I want to do this summer is to keep it light on the blog, light and full of photos and brief, pithy, happy briefs from yours truly. But first, well...I just feel the need to purge a little, navel-gaze just a little bit (again).  The route to my present state is long and circuitous and involves characters from my past and most definitely my present.  But I'll speed us further along that road a bit and just say that, recently I felt moved to re-read some e-mails I'd written to an old friend, spurred by yet another round of weird, passive-aggressive e-mails from a current friend.

I sat here at my desk and felt appalled, chagrined and ashamed at myself, for the consistent use of one word, over and over: Sorry.  "I'm Sorry!" I found myself writing, so often, so frequently, that I wanted to slap both the past and present versions of myself.  Sorry, sorry, sorry...and, "I apologize..."

Good God. I must stop this. Stop it right now.  I know all the reasons why I'm such a doormat. I've never attended even an hour of therapy, but hell, I can watch Oprah and Dr. Phil with the best of them.  Co-Dependent, and I could list you all the reasons why I feel compelled to be such a Good Girl, Good Daughter, smoother-over-of-ruffled-feelings.  It's exhausting, this doormat life. And the flip side of the doormat, underneath all the bending over backwards and turning of other cheeks, is a deep and abiding anger.  
Anger at others, those others who allow me to grovel and simper and scrape my way out of whatever cul-de-sac of  missed cues and miscommunication we've found our way into (again). Anger at the way they can use silence or a turned shoulder to let me twist in the wind, flailing and flagellating and doubting.  But mostly, of course, I feel the deepest anger at myself, for letting myself become such a doormat in the first place.   

I should make clear that the last person I feel this way toward is my dear husband, that Tek Nynja of understanding and abiding calm.  Of course, he is the one person I trust most on this earth, the one whom I can share my honest and immediate reactions with, without having to soften them first in those suffocating quilts of apology.  (For not surprisingly, it is the ones whom I mistrust the most, in whom I most detect a chilly inner core, that I find myself apologizing to the most.) 

Well. It's the middle of the year, a long way away from New Years, but time for a resolution.  If you're reading this, and feel I owe you an apology for something? Dear ones, my conscience is clear. If there's a book I lost, some promise unkempt, or empty assurance from me that I'd deal with it..but I never quite did?  Oh well.  I'm just trying my best, best as I can. I'm an honest person, a mostly kind person, and, as I may have mentioned, always quite willing to find fault with myself first and let you off the hook.  "But, no more apologies", as Morrissey sings in an old and favorite song. No more easy apologies, unless they are truly deserved and earned.

I also need to take a long and hard look at some of the people I call "friend," and work my way through my general mistrust and loner tendencies to be able to forge new relationships, and make my peace with  the current ones, flawed though some may be.  It is hard to make new friends, good friends, at any age (at least for me). But here, on the other side of 40, it might be near-impossible.  But worth the effort.

Besides, I have a daughter to raise, and she watches me so closely.  I owe it to her to stand up for myself, and stop being so deeply angry and disappointed with the way I deal with conflicts.  She's confident and smart and a total goofball:
And I don't ever want her to apologize for any part of that. 

Now...onto summer!

June 10, 2010

Pin It Forward: What Home Means to Me

Hullo, June, and thanks for sweeping into my life like a darned March lion. It's been busy busy busy around my digs lately,  and as such, my mini-blogging break over the long Memorial Day weekend has stretched into 2 weeks.  Until today....

Today is my day to create a post on the "Pin it Forward" project, organized by creative uber-blogstress Victoria over on SFGirlbyBay.  Pin it Forward is a blogger's project to showcase and promote interest in Pinterest.
Pinterest, is a site where you can bookmark and store all the great images you find on the web, and sort them into your own personal boards.  I admit that the aforementioned household chaos (and attempts to wean off a BIT from my net-trawling habits) means that I've only in the past week really dug in and started using Pinterest. And you know what? It's fun, a little addictive, and a much-needed service for me, who is alway finding cool gotta-have-it stuff, or inspriational pictures, and then losing or forgetting them.

The theme of "Pin it Forward" is What Home Means to Me, and so I've been trying to find and pin images that reflects home, and our life inside these four walls.  Since I am about to start ("about" being relative, as in "sometime in the next few weeks") finally, finally embarking on my master bedroom re-do, I'm drawn to images of glamorous gray bedrooms. Because home to me is a place where I can curl up with a good book, preferably in pretty room with an upholsterd headboard.

But I've also got many other images on my "What Home Means..." board. Such as the one below, which is from an artist who designs chalk-board style labels: 
As I say on my Pinboard, "how can I dare to be sad, when I get to hear this every day?"  My little Monkey-Boy, who graduated from preschool today, tells me this as he squeezes me tight around the neck.  Not to mention, we all feel this way about each other, here in our house. Which is a very cozy feeling of home to carry around, always. 
I invite you to head over to my Pinterest board and check out the other images I've selected so far. While there, check out Pinterest in general, see how others are utilizing the site, and ask for your own invite to join, if you'd like.  And then tomorrow, move on along to the next participant in the "Pin it Forward" project, over at the Inspired Designer blog, and Chalk & Talk 
 My retro/vintage leanings + his geeked-out high-tech self = exactly what this home means to me. 

May 27, 2010

Too Much With Me

Escapism.  Not a new concept for me, as one could argue I've practiced it all my life, being a major bookworm since about age four.  Still, I've never ever felt guilty for reading too much -- maybe a little bit, when I knew I was avoiding homework in high school or college. But lately, I've been spending a lot of time out here on the internet. A. Lot. of. Time. On. The. Internet.  Doing what? 

Looking at pretty pictures, mostly.  I'm pretty addicted to a lot of design and decor blogs, all the famous ones, and some obscure ones, too. Every day, doses and doses of photos of lovely homes and knick-knacks and cute art prints and on and on.  I read "narrative" blogs too, blogs of women, mostly, just struggling with and documenting the everyday, a lot like I do here.  When I can be bothered to actually type up a post for y'all.   Oh, and don't forget Facebook. But good lord, let's not even go there right now. 

Another of my escapist hobbies is watching House Hunters on HGTV. I've been watching it for what feels like forever, and I miss host Suzanne Wong a bunch and wonder where she went, but I still tape it on my DVR.  I skip just about every single reality show out there, and don't feel any loss, but damn I would miss my House Hunters, if it ever went away. .  Last night's episode was a House Hunters International, with a family who lives on tiny Harbour Island in the Bahamas, needing to upgrade to slightly bigger home.  

Their budge was a million dollars, and let me say, a million won't get you much on Harbour Island. Except, of course, a home and life on Harbour Island.  You can picture it right? The palm trees, the sea, the charming pastel cottages in every Easter egg color imaginable.  Anyway, this family had 4 children, 3 at home, and the wife was just so warm and lovely and had such a cool, clipped accent. She reminded me of a curvier Sonia Braga. Remember her? Sort of Latin and warm and effortlessly sensual and sexy. 

And it occured to me, curled up on my sectional: this woman? This woman is not spinning away the hours of her life in front of the internet.   I'm not sure just what one does to fill up the hours and days of life in the Bahamas, but trolling for decor porn is probably not it.  

All of which is to say, I'm hitting a bit of  sensory overload these days.  The world is too much with me, to parapharse old Wordsworth:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not......
So, this long Memorial weekend, I have plans. We have plans, as a family. To visit family, see friends, maybe see the ocean.  In between, I have plans to not be sitting here, before my monitor, looking, looking, looking for some version of the life I want to live.

I want to be out there, living it.  So, enjoy your own weekend. Mine starts tomorrow, because of a teacher furlough day in our district. Me and the 2nd grader have plans to go here.

So peace out and enjoy these lovely Bahamas pics.
And don't forget to stop and smell the hibiscus.

May 18, 2010

Off Into the Weeds

I was on Etsy the other day, checking out the shop of artist Leah Giberson.  I already own one of her prints, all of which have a certain lonely and sun-dazzled atmosphere. Since I have plans to re-arrange some artwork around the house soon, I'm in the market for a similar piece.  I think I may need this shiny Airstream (since it's probably the closest I'll ever get to owning a real one):
Leah Giberson print, "Avion" available here.

But another of her prints also caught my eye.  This print of a solitary little house, along with its title, put me in mind of something I wrote some years ago:

Leah Giberson print, "Roadside," available here.
"As the minivan rolled up to a faded stop sign, Molly raised her eyes from the Trixie Belden mystery in her lap and looked out at the white frame house across the street. The paint was peeling off in large, blistered swatches, the screen door was listing wide open, and the tiny yard was overgrown with tall purple flowers. The house seemed abandoned, except for the filthy compact car in the driveway and a box fan propped in an open window, blowing air into the dark interior. Molly cupped her chin in her hand and wondered about the people who lived in such a place. For a moment she wished that she could be the girl who lived there. She would be poor and have to wear clothes from the Salvation Army, but on the other hand, she’d be able to open the front door and count license plates from every part of the country stopping in front of her house on their way to Dairy Queen or Taco Bell. Then she imagined she was Trixie herself, stepping between the flowers and peeking into the windows to solve the mystery of a haunted house with eerie lights seen in the windows after midnight."
"In another small town nearly five hundred miles further west, another box fan shoved into an open window sucked hot dusty air from a backyard seeded with beer cans and broken bottles. The litter was the remnants of the parties attended only by Christa and her oldest brother, Rick. Once they’d had another brother between them named Daniel, but Daniel had gone and died, and then not a year later so had their mother, and their father had long ago disappeared to who-knows-where with who-knows-whom and so they were alone, Christa and Rick, but together for the first time in almost three years. Every weekend they celebrated their reunion anew, beginning on Friday evenings when Rick came home from the shop. They turned the stereo up very loud, loud enough to rattle the dirty plates and forks in the chipped porcelain sink, and shouted jokes and memories to each other while drinking through a case of Heinekens or a fifth of vodka until they were smashed and lay giggly and dizzy on the carousel of the living room floor.
The box fan was covered in grime, a long summer’s worth of dirt drawn in from the bare and burnt lawn clung to the spinning blades and coated each square with a layer of grit. Its breeze was welcome though, and ruffled the glossy pages of Christa’s magazines, scattered the piled ashes of her cigarettes, billowed the homemade curtains that came with the house, their cotton sun-bleached thin as dainty hankies flapping into the room. With their faded blue rickrack edging the hems, they seemed the only clean things in the place..."
The above is from my short story, "A Patch of Weeds."  When I was working on it, I workshopped it at the Squaw Valley Writers Conference and it drew a definite response. I remember one guy, a doctor writing a medical thriller, seemed genuinely angered  by it. (I think mostly because he hadn't read much short fiction and wasn't used to the dense, metaphor-jammed style).  Another woman came up to me a few days later and said that she'd had a vivid dream about my characters, Christa and Rick.

In any case, the story was later published at the journal New Millenium Writings  (which is not at all as New Age-y as it may sound).  You can even scroll down on this page here and see my little author bio.  Cripes.  That sure feels like a long time ago ('cuz it is).  

So, like my story title, I feel like I'm sort of running off into the weeds here myself, musing on my writing.  Back in early March, I was making a solid effort at starting work on a new writing project.  "Baby steps, baby steps," I kept trying to remind myself.  That and "let yourself play on the page."  And I was doing okay, writing longhand on a yellow tablet with a pencil, filling up lines and pages, one after another, slow but steady.  

And then? I took my cute and tentative little baby steps and tried to force them into a big, scary grown up sprint.  Started beating myself up on lack of productivity, commitment, talent.  You know the drone.  Mostly, it was because I'd set the dubious goal, at the start of the year, of having something substantial  to submit to the writing workshops sponsored by Tin House magazine every summer up in Portland.  Never mind that I personally wasn't ready, never mind that my work especially was no-way no-where no-how ready for outside scrutiny or workshopping.  I just wanted to be in that place again, I think. Out with my peers, swapping our work, putting those little check marks next to the scenes or metaphors that ring especially true. Talking craft and noshing on crackers and white wine. 

After the deadline for submitting to the workshop came and went, I beat myself up, stopped writing, stopped exercising, gained five pounds and have been in a general low-grade funk since.  I need to climb back on that horse (or is it a bike?) and keep on going.

When I was digging around in my computer files this week, looking again at "A Patch of Weeds," I found another, unfinished story.  I'm not even sure of its title, but good lord -- it was good. Really, really good -- and the damn thing is, I don't even remember writing it -- certainly not revising and beating it to death, like most of my other stories.  

So. Finish the story? Keep going with my little project memoir noodling? I'm not sure.  But for now: Baby steps, baby steps, all the way up that steep and scary hill.

May 12, 2010

Just (Epic) Kids

This was an amazing read.  I don't have a lot to say, because, well...just, wow.  I knew from what I'd already heard about this book that I'd love it and find it inspirational, even though I wasn't too very familiar with its subjects.

I knew that Robert Mapplethorpe was a controversial, gay photographer who had died of AIDS.  I knew of Patti Smith from "Dancing Barefoot," and "Because the Night," and that Gilda Radner character satirizing her, back in the late '70s.  I knew that in the realm of punk, she was the goddess, much like Joni Mitchell is with the L.A. songwriting scene. 

What I didn't know was that Patti & Robert were best friends, lovers, instigators, inspiration and muse for each other.

So, contained within: Arthur Rimbaud. Baudelaire. Warhol.  Allen Ginsburg.  Jim Carroll. Sam Shepard.  Encounters with Jimi and Janis and an early visit to Morrison's grave. Gerard Malanga.  Burroughs.  Blue Oyster Cult (!) The Chelsea Hotel, CBGBs. Art as lifestyle, art as life.
This memoir drips New York City, and the city is the other major character here. I've mentioned before that I've never been to New York, never travelled further east than the Deep South.  Geez.  I feel like such a rube.  Suburban hick with a graduate degee and I don't know nuthin' about nuthin', much.

Visit Patti here. Still vital, still a poet, still so much to say.  More about the book, below:

May 6, 2010

Gonna Have Us A Time

 So I've gotta write this one quickly -- it's 10:45 at night and too late really for me to be sitting at my desk, crafting a post. I was up late  on Monday night writing the last entry, and got my brain so fired up that I gave myself a terrible case of insomnia. I didn't fall asleep until around 4:30 in the morning, and was up at 7 again to start the day.

But my insomnia is what prompted this post.  It wasn't a typical bout of tossing and turning -- instead, I was even more tense and wired than usual. Just too much on my mind: the play date I was hosting at my house the next morning for several kids and their moms, what to buy my own mom for Mother's Day, my son's  doctor appointment so that I could turn in the paperwork for his kindergarten registration, remembering a check to write for a Brownie event.... and yadda yadda you get the idea.

And in the middle of all that, I thought, WTF? Or actually, I thought What the fuck, since (so far) I don't actually think in web-speak.  And I thought, "Where is the fun?" because dammit, isn't being a grown-up supposed to be fun, at least some of the time?  My husband is working extra hard again, work work work for easily 60 and sometimes 75 hours each week and if  you tell me, "well at least he's got a job," I'm gonna hafta kick you in the shins.

Listen, I know we've got it good. Better than many many people, I understand that.

Still.  Life is kinda just a lot of hard work right now. Very grown up work, lots of thinking about money,  and and trying to be  good citizens, and recycling plastics and carefully cutting out our Box Tops so our school can get extra dimes and yadda yadda you get the idea, again.  I think the official label is: a grind.

And then I thought of James McMurtry's song, "Choctaw Bingo" and it's long, long rambling description of a certain class of white folk who are going off to HAVE US A TIME.  And I thought, YES.  I need a rumbling old beater car with a missing headlight and a long drive to nowhere.  A pint of rot-gut bourbon on the bench seat. Maybe a snort of bad crank cut with Drain-O on the side. 

First few stanzas of the song:

Strap them kids in
Give em a lil bit of vodka in a cherry coke
were goin to Oklahoma, to the family reunion
for the first time in years
its up at uncle Slaytons,
cuz hes gettin on in years
He no longer travels, but he's still pretty spry
he's not much on talkin', and he's too mean to die
and they'll be comin' down from Kansas and west Arkansas
it'll be one great big old party
like you've never saw

Uncle Slayton's got his Texan pride
back in the thickets with his Asian bride
He's got an Airstream trailer and a holstein cow,
Still makes whiskey, cuz he still knows how
He plays that Choctaw bingo every Friday night,
you know he had to leave Texas but he won't say why

He owns a quarter section up by Lake Eufalla,
caught a great big 'ol bluecat on a driftin jugline.
Sells his hardwood timber to the chippin mill
He cooks that crystal meth cuz his shine don't sell
He cooks that crystal meth, cuz his shine don't sell
You know he likes that money, he don't mind the smell

and ends again with:

Yeah, we're gonna strap them kids in 
and give 'em a little bit of  Benadryl 
We're gonna have us a time
We're gonna have us a time.

Here in my house, we're taking it all just a little too seriously. I can recognize it, see it, feel it...but don't know how to stop it, really.  Maybe the whole damn country feels the same. We all seem so tense, so serious, so very earnest these days about every single mother-effin' detail.  Maybe a swing of the pendulum is coming.  Maybe soon the grown-ups will go back to jumping into jacuzzis and filching their teenagers drugs and even hosting key parties.  Maybe. (Maybe the '70s weren't exactly like The Ice Storm?)

Anyway.  Well, goddamn I like this song.  And that part about Lake Eufalla makes me smile, since my daddy's daddy was not from Oklahoma, but lived there the last thirty years of his life with his Cherokee second wife. Somewhere I have a picture of Myk and myself at Lake Eufalla on a visit there, standing in front of a huge fake bass.  

Here is Mr. McMurtry's song.  It is long. But worth the ride.

As for me, it's 11:30 and I best shut it down pronto, if I want to have a good Friday. But first, I just may go out to the mom-wagon and filch one of my own stashed Marlboro 100s from the glovebox.

May 4, 2010

Six Years

Six years of these things flying over our house and sometimes landing almost right in our back yard. And every time, we still grab the camera.

This past weekend marked our sixth anniversary of moving to this house and this town. Both felt pretty foreign and strange, both the town & the house, back in May of 2004.  And now both feel like home. Home.  

Recently a local friend said, "if not for the kids, I probably wouldn't live here," and I was quick to agree. In fact, I'm usually the one to start conversations with that line myself.  But following that train of thought leads to a lot of confusion, begging the question, "well, then where WOULD you go?"  For all of its insular claustrophobia, this town offers clean air, strong breezes in the late afternoon, excellent schools and a sense of community that is often occasionally suffocating to me personally, but truly remarkable in this day and age, in the context of the big picture. 

Do I sound a little conflicted? Six years in, I still am, fer shur.  Growing up in several towns around L.A. and Orange counties, I felt like I knew what "suburban" meant, for isn't L.A. just one big sprawl of suburban communities, after all?  Then I moved here, and understood that THIS is the Suburbs, with a big 'ol honkin' capital letter.  Most days here are good. Many are great.  And in the end, I'm still mighty grateful that more urban areas such as Long Beach, San Diego, and greater O.C. are only about an hour away.

A little slideshow of the family room, to mark the course of the years: 
I took this picture on one of our walk-throughs of the house, when it still belonged to the original owners.  Our house is about 10 years old this year. This is all their stuff, and that's not the lighting --  that's peach paint on the walls.

And here's my first take on painting the room,  a neutral cream, and this reddish cinnabar color.
Another view. Note the slipcoverd sofas. Urgh, they usually looked like unmade beds. I guess I never learned how to properly tuck them.

A new sectional, and a new paint color. Very warm! Especially when it was 97 degrees outside, which it pretty much stays from July through October.  I liked this color during the day -- but at night, it became Bright Yellow School Bus.  I hated looking at it every night. 
Which bring us to here, pretty much. (There is more art keeping that lonely one company now.) As I've said before, it's really difficult to take an accurate shot of this color. It fades out in pictures, but I love it -- a bright, warm, modern green. Note how much more lumpy broken in the sectional looks now. 

But here are a couple of shots that truly gauge how much things have changed around here since we moved in.  Back then, it was just me and the mister and this cute little thing: 
And now we are this: 

But as long as we're together, it's always Home.  (Awww.) 
(But true.) (And another shot of the green paint.) 

And hey, check it out up there on top: I got my very own URL!

April 26, 2010

Weekend ReCap: UCLA Book Festival

Photo found here.

Officially known as the "L.A. Times Festival of the Book," this is billed as (and is) the largest literary event on the west coast.  I've been attending the festival off and on since it began, about 15 (!) years running now. Except that when I first began going, I didn't have to drive over 100 miles to get there. (At least traffic was not an issue, this year.)

Some years I take Myk, some years I drive in with friends, meet friends, etc. This year was a first, in that I brought someone with me from here in town, whom I just recently discovered also has writing and literary interests of her own.  This was her first time going ever, and she wasn't too forthcoming, but I'm pretty sure she had a good time.  We also met my good friend Becky and two of her buds, all of us invested in the written word, in one form or another.

Held on the beautiful UCLA campus, it's inspiring to walk around and see so many thousands of people there, drawn solely by the promise of books and authors. And maybe their authors aren't too highbrow --- being in L.A., there are lots of celebrity authors and cookbook/celeb chefs -- but hey -- a book is a book. 

There are booths upon booths upon booths of independent, small book presses and publishers, booths upon booth of small and indie bookstores. But if you like to keep it corporate, Target and Borders and Barnes & Noble have their big booths, too.
These aren't my own pictures (forgot to pull out my camera until the end of the day), but we did walk up these steeps steps.
Photo from here.

This year I attended two of the (free!) author panels, one on the memoir, and one featuring three women writers, including Dylan Landis.  I bought her book, Normal People Don't Live Like This, a collection of linked short stories about teenage girls in NYC in the 70s.  Stunning, good stuff.
I always, always get a little bit of a case of vertigo and just plain queasiness when I attend the writing/author panels in the tiered classrooms and see row upon row of ambitious, bookish people like myself. And I think: all these people want to write books too.  All these people have the same ambitions and yearnings and yadda yadda too. Like I said: queasy. But then I get over myself and remember that the universe is abundant and there is room for us all. 

Uh-huh.  Right.

I also bought 2 books of poetry, by Frank O'Hara and Mary Oliver.  New York in the 1950s and awe of the natural world, respectively.  Recently I made a list of things I want to do more of (bake more. wear more skirts. try to like hot tea.) and reading more poetry again was on the list.  O'Hara is already a favorite of mine, and I keep encountering Mary Oliver and liking her a lot.  I'm not going to far from the known path here on my poetry choices but then, hello? It's poetry.  "Famous" poets are still just poor, struggling poets.

Anyway, it was fun to go again this year. A dose of inspiration and being among books and like-minded peeps is always a good thing.  If you're near enough to the Southern California area, you might want to give it a try yourself next year. 

April 21, 2010

Southern Comfort

Southern house on this awesome photo site.

Here's the thing:  I was born and raised here in Southern California. I've never lived anywhere else, except for about a year up in Bakersfield when I was 9 (and Bakersfield is just barely north enough of L.A. county  to not quite qualify for SoCal status itself).  Oh, and then those 2 semesters, spent down in the Old South at Ole Miss, when I was 25.  Thinking about this post, it's clear that my time in Oxford really deserves its own separate post, since that was a very sensory and emotional nine months of my life. A time when everything changed.

But the reasoning behind why I chose to go South in the first place is what this post is about.  Because, for a very, very long time, I have had this yearning, this yen, this connection with the south.  I don't even think it began when I was in 5th grade and saw Gone With the Wind for the first of many times.  It feels earlier than that to me.  (And, whenever I worry about my daughter and her flair for dramatic dorkiness, it helps to recall how I toted a huge faux-leather edition of Margaret Mitchell's epic tome to class every day for a week after my TV viewing, how I flounced around the classroom drawling "Fiddle-di-di!" to the baffled boys.)

It's such a subtle, hard-to-pin-down feeling. It's all sensory, and it's based on something in the breeze, some feel in the air. Once, long ago, I had a dream that I was sitting on the front porch of an old house. It was in the South.  There were bees droning in the bushes near the steps. There was laundry on the line, and a sound of a train in the distance. It was incredibly vivid, and I carry that memory of it always, always with the faint tug that somehow, that is where I belong.

 It has something to do with blue, blue skies that are seared with bright sunshine and white puffy clouds.  Perhaps it's based on my childhood visual memories of lying on the bench backseat of our  Ford LTD (back when kids could actually LIE DOWN in the back of cars), and watching the passing sky and telephone poles during our frequent weekend trips of backroads and byways.

Hearing Arlo Guthrie's "City of New Orleans" brings it on. So does much of the Allman Brothers, especially "Ramblin' Man" and "Blue Sky."  Speaking of ramblin', I feel that's what I'm pretty much doing here, trying to describe something is less wanderlust (which I also know well), but culturelust.  Is there such a thing?  Yes. At least in my head.

I am well-versed in the best of Southern lit: Ms. Flannery O'Connor, Ms. Carson McCullers, Mr. Peter Taylor, a great short story writer. Early Mr. Capote.  And don't even get me started on Mr. Tennesee Williams. 

Here are some pretty pictures that put me in mind of the feeling:
A sunporch with wooden floors, patchwork quilts, painted metal chairs and a stack of books to read.  From a Pottery Barn catalog last year.
(Really, just about any porch would do. I've had serious porch-lust my entire life, and have yet to live in a house with even a small one. The tiny seating area smack next to my front door does not count.)

The kitchen belonging to Suzie Stackhouse's Gran on True Blood.  Oh my gosh I love this picture. I see myself in here, dripping sweat on a hot and humid day, canning peaches.  I've never canned anything in my life and would probably hate the mess and fuss. No matter.  The set design pics such as this, and a link to the killer-awesome Southern Gothic show trailer is what convinced me I had to give True Blood a try. 
Blowsy roses on a silver tray. Something about this photo gives me the itch to go read some Faulkner. "Caddie -- she smelled like leaves..."
Summer Breeze. Found here.  I really disliked the movie Away We Go.  Smug and pretentious and cutesy-smart. But that house they got to move into at the end? TO DIE. What was all the hemming & hawing and cross-country searching about? 
This picture kinda reminds me of that house; it feels like there's a river very close by.
Clothesline, lush backyard.  
All right. So this is just the tip of a really, really big iceberg for me.  I could go on and on, showing you pictures, linking to music. I guess I'm just living in my own private Georgia.  Mississippi.  Whatever.  Were any of the above photos pictures even taken in the South? Does it matter?

Most days, I am drawn to contemporary, clean and colorful lines. Modern homes with lots of windows get me drooling. But some days, I think of my farmhouse dream, of a slowly twirling ceiling fan, and sweating glasses of sweet ice tea.  It's my second home, an escape from the everyday. And it's all up here, right in my little noggin.  Do you have your own private landscape? Have you ever been there, or is just a whisper of passing dappled sunlight, a memory of an old dream?
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