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!
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