Saturday, December 31, 2011

all ready for 2012

Whatever 2012 brings, I'm ready.  I've got my new Moleskin all set to start the year bright and early tomorrow morning, ready to go with awesome semi-rad sticker occupying prime real estate on the front cover.  And yes, Eunice, I'm back to Moleskin, despite the Prop 65 warning that popped up on these notebooks on-line recently.  If my notebook gives me cancer, so freakin' be it.

Someone posted this L. M. Montgomery quote this morning -- L. M. Montgomery being the author of "Anne of Green Gables," which I'll be reading pronto:

Isn't it nice to think tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?

I'm feeling that way about the entire coming year, a whole new year with no mistakes in it yet, just 240 lined chlorine-free pages ready to soak up all the thoughts, all the adventures, rad and semi-rad.

This is the real rapture, this anticipation at the eve of something fresh and new.  A whole new year with no mistakes in it yet.

And that is full-on, not just semi-, rad.


maybe it's wrong

Maybe it's wrong, but:

- I can't help how much I fall in love with people when they use really good words easily in a sentence.  I am still thinking about the fabulous Nicole, working magic with my hair, discussing her favorite books of 2011, trotting out métier re Patti Smith and poetry. I didn't hear the two sentences after that, dizzy with delight, savoring the word. Delicious.

- I also can't help saying Thank You when Good Words Happen, so grateful to hear something unusual, so fresh and delightful on the ears! Probably this is because I spend so much time on dog-training in which positive reinforcement is everything... But naturally, instead of Good Girl or Boy in response to the wielding of excellent vocab (which I think would universally be taken wrong), my response is the unimaginative but oh-so happy, flexible and expressive Fuck Yeah! Fuck Yeah to good words and the people who use them!

- I can't help doing whatever it takes, despite my current injury, to spend an hour in the woods every day with puppy.  Mr Burns is just so much happier if he has time to run free, crash through the brush, jump over downed trees, sniff wild poops, be a little wolf in sable clothing.  And I, too, am so much genuinely happier, more at peace, if I've been in the trees for some part of the morning.  We dogs need this, so if it means I need to dose up on Advil and maybe a pain killer to make it possible to ramble up and down the trails, then so be it.

Maybe all that is wrong, but whatevs, I don't need to be right.  

Meanwhile, AC/DC is playing on Pandora, Mr Burns is sacked out on the big chair in the sun, I'm about to start final-day-of-the-year work for the business while Joe is out on his bike.  It's New Year's Eve, bitches, and all I want to do is sit around and think about what the last year has meant, but duty calls.  Fun is for later on -- right now, it's time to work.  

That's OK, though, honestly, because I am still coasting on métier and this morning's traipse in the forest with pup.  Fuck yeah!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

silly for special treatment

if only it read, AdvanceD Reader's...
A few weeks ago, I was invited to join to the From Left to Write book club as a contributor. By "invited to join" I mean that they accepted my application -- it's not as though I was discovered...  That would be sweet, but instead the truth is that I heard about them via a Martha Beck post on Facebook and, intrigued by what I read on their site, applied.  

Of course I applied: they are -- I mean, we are -- an online book club of over 100 bloggers who read books together and then, inspired by our reading, write and share our own stories on our own blogs.  Many of the titles we read are available to us before they appear in bookstores -- we get them in galley-form, something which thrills me.

Looking back as is my habit at year-end, it seems I've been trying on venues, trying to find a place to associate with writing-wise, to write for. It started with applying to be a blogger on YogaJournal (I was not selected, such a good thing).  Since then I've written for Elephant Journal, a local Anusara Yoga-focused site called Bay Shakti, had a piece on the More magazine website, and several pieces as a Local Voice on the San Rafael Patch news site.  In a weird way, somehow I've been looking for a home for my writing, someplace besides this-here my own blog.  It has been an interesting process at the end of which I had my Come-to-Kansas moment: there's no place like home.  It's enough, and probably better, to write my own blog.

And at precisely that moment, I discovered From Left to Write.

Yesterday I received my very first selection, which will be published on January 24, 2012.  Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking is already right up my alley.  I'm only on page 12 but am already super-inspired by the content, taking notes, getting ready for our club session with the author in January.  So great! 

Naturally, because I'm silly for special treatment -- for getting to stand in the VIP line, having the backstage pass, knowing the author -- I am delighted that this book is an Advance Reader's Edition, uncorrected proof.  I love the feel of its rough gray cover in my hands and knowing that I'm reading it first, before everyone else.

Except the other 100 bloggers in my book club.

Stay tuned: I'm feeling as though this match-up will work better than my other recent attempts to branch out and write for other venues.  This will still be my own blog, my own stories written for my own people, but connected to this larger group of passionate readers and writers.  I'm so looking forward to it.  

Meanwhile, I'm excited to dig into this first book, my first opportunity as a contributor to From Left to Write.  How not to love a book about introverts -- about people who'd rather skip the dinner party in favor of curling up with a book?  I'm feeling like I'm in the right place, reading those particular words, at exactly the right time.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Juxta Pose

That these two titles arrived on my doorstep in the same box makes me pretty happy.  Of course I am the one who placed the order, so it wasn't a surprise, rather something I've been looking forward to since last week.  Something about pushing back the cardboard flaps of their container and seeing them, tucked in together sweetly, harmoniously sharing an essential color scheme, really made me feel deeply glad.

Beautiful stories, yes.  Oppressive theology, no.

Having everything mixed up on one plate: delicious.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Among the things I do that my spouse finds incomprehensible, possibly reprehensible, is the purchasing, collecting and display of stuffed animals.  Animals skulls, that's OK, but toys are gross somehow.

For a while, my menagerie was lined up along the window seat in our room, next to my side of the bed, where I could look at them arrayed just so, otter next to hippo next to goat next to gorilla.  I also admit that there is one, Baby Dog, that has slept in the bed with me a LOT, especially in the interval between Jasper and Mr Burns.  He is missing a nose, thanks to Jas, and his fur is well-loved and matted.

One or two of my animals are hand-me-ups, toys of The Kid's that became mine somehow.  Others I did buy, on visits to aquaria or zoos or what-have-you.  Like the sloth purchased following a field trip with my Mammalogy class a year ago, after spending an incredulous 20 minutes watching a two-toed sloth hang around and eat.  The toy was too funny to pass up, too cute with its goofy three-toed paws.  I held it in my lap all the way home.

Now Sloth and the rest are all piled up in a basket on the shelf in my closet.  Mr Burns is unable to distinguish between my toys and his toys and it simply became too tiresome to be constantly vigilant lest I should find him, guilty, hippo between his teeth.  

But last night Sloth came down for a visit.  I found him a new spot, perched on top of my stack of 2011 Books, out of reach of inquisitive flesh-and-blood animals.

I had to take the risk.  We'd just watched an absolutely ridiculous show about a sloth sanctuary entitled, appropriately, "Too Cute, Baby Sloths."   Sloths are so weird and wonderful and adorable, I want to go straight to Costa Rica every time I see an image of one or think about the possibility of those funny claws holding on to me, long long arms draped around my neck.  In my way of thinking, you need your Grinch checked if you don't think this is cute:

And I'm feeling inspired by sloths this morning, thinking of their super slo-mo movements as I myself move around slowly, nursing this monstrous problem in my low back that makes sitting up in bed a twenty-minute operation.  I cry tears of pain but mostly of frustration, crying because it hurts but also out of an acute desperate mourning of my agile, rapid self, lost to me for now.  Instead I'm like Sloth, carefully extending one limb, pause, then the next, pause, trying to keep a goofy smile on my face.

I won't lie: it does make me happy to open my eyes and see an array of silly stuffed animals placed just-so, reminding me of how amazing animals are in real life, how lucky we are to share this space with them.  The stuffed animals, and the animal skulls, and the books -- all of it in front of my eyes, standing in for everything I love most: the world around us and the creatures in it, our human capacity to take it in, interpret it, give it back in the form of toys and stories. How great is that?

If you have a moment, click through and watch a baby sloth video or two, pay a visit to the slothpital.  Seeing so much cuteness is bound to be good for you. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Santa your Self

Every December, as I stand and watch, jumping around, possibly clapping, Joe brings down the red and white Christmas box from the rafters in the garage.   Without a child in the house and now that I've decided for all time that I can't kill a tree for the holiday, the Christmas display is decidedly smaller, more compact, distilled to its very essence. Gone are the days of a 6-foot tree, draped in ornaments and lights.  The "tree" we have now is intended as a centerpiece, but its size is ideal for our circumstances.

And really, since the Christmas display is just my seasonal altar to Santa, the little LED lights in place of flickering votives, the tree doesn't need to take center stage.  Now the little centerpiece tree serves as a twinkling backdrop to what's really important to me: the little statue of St. Nick.

Every December, I pay tribute to the enduring sweetness that is Santa in my life.  Every year I trace how Santa has made me who I am, how he brings me back to what's essential, how he serves as a constant reason to be good and to keep track of being good.  There is no amount of cynicism, no Bad Santa, no snark that can tarnish my adoration of Santa. 

Santa is my only god.

No other god can hold a candle to Santa in my book.  He's the real deal.  I worship him with my whole heart, in a way I could never give it up for Jesus or even Shiva who is seriously kick-ass when it comes to mythical beings.  Nope, for me it's Team Santa until death do us part.  And it's not even about the presents.

It's so much more than that.  Santa is not just Father Christmas, but the Father of Lists.  From him did my life-long habit of writing things down, and checking them twice, derive.  As did my habit of using December to look back on the year and think about how I was good (and how I was not), and begin making plans for the coming year.  Santa sits at the head of this whole process for me, a benevolent goodness that cheers my own. My Santa is not a lump of coal Santa.  That's so Grinch.

There is also something for me about this annual conspiracy of goodness, of willful wishful belief in the big man in the red suit, that calls out the best in all of us, that makes us all wide-eyed hopeful children again.  All in the interest of dazzling some wide-eyed hopeful children.  Something about that makes me so glad every year, the way in which adults are willing to create magic for children, even just for a few years, to induct them into this beautiful vision so that they can, when it's their turn, create it for others.  I wish everyone to have this, regardless of religion.  Santa is such a rewarding myth for all people, all the time.

These days, since I don't have a child around anymore, I Santa my self.  I go shopping at the mall and get happy seeing the supremely well-appointed Santa outside the Macy's.  I make my lists and wrap presents, hiding them from puppy teeth.  I watch "Miracle on 34th Street" and "Elf "and make cookies.  Without a kid around, I write a letter to Santa in my head, knowing I'm writing just to me, and think about all the ways I was very, very good this year.  On Christmas morning, I wake up, before dawn, filled with excitement, remembering sitting at the top of the stairs with my sisters in our robes and slippers, waiting for our parents to be done with their interminable ablutions so that we could run downstairs, throw open the doors to the living room and see traces of the big guy's magic. Remembering The Kid's happy face, taking down the stocking, unwrapping the Santa surprises.

I don't need any other god but Santa, Santa of the reindeer and cookies and good cheer, wanting to know what we want, how we've been good.

Santa's coming. Jump around!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

glasses are for poseurs

I just had my annual eye exam on my one-year anniversary of needing and wearing glasses.  Everyone my family wears glasses; my kid wears glasses, but I thought I'd go through life without them, forever.  Not so.  Last year, motivated by my father's macular degeneration and my sudden inability to see the words I myself was writing on a Mammalogy final exam, I sat myself down at Lenscrafters, let them dilate my pupils, and wound up with smart new glasses.

The good news is that today's anniversary exam reveals no trace of any issues with my macula.  Nerves look good.  All is a-OK with the ojos.

Except that they continue to get old and my near-vision has gotten worse.  Which I knew was true going into the exam since I've felt the recent need to mess with my glasses, take them off, put them back on, squint, while reading.

READING is all that matters to me, honestly.  My poor father has lost the ability to read thanks to his degenerated macula.  Frankly, I wonder what point I would have in continuing to exist on this earth if I couldn't pick up a book and read it, sit in front of the computer and write and read, watch my hands make words with a pencil in my notebook.  I would die a little death, I think. I read something yesterday about Christopher Hitchens in which he defended his lifelong smoking and hard drinking by saying that for him all that mattered was WRITING, that anything that facilitated that process, that prolonged his ability to debate with people, he would gladly continue to do regardless of its effects on him.  [Note that in his final year of living dyingly, he did give both up.]  Anyway, I think I might be a little that way with the reading.


Because I just spent an absurd amount of money on a new pair of progressive specs, with a stronger prescription, even on the distance-vision now.  They're cute as hell -- important since they'll be on my face every day.  But god damn it, I feel like a bit of an asshole for spending so much money on them.

Here they are:

Here's another view, of a feature that I love:

Sweet details, right?  Better be.

Researching them now, in the cool quiet of my kitchen, does it make me feel better that the manufacturer describes the Seraphin line of frames as "vintage luxury," "the Romantic Hero for our time.  The Seraphin collection embodies the essence of nouveau-retro luxury while keeping its commitment to affordability."

Nouveau-retro: are you fucking kidding me?

Yes, they're perfect on me and I love them.  But this seals it for all time: I am such a poseur asshole.  But at least I'm a poseur asshole who can keep reading and THAT, besides looking cute, is all I care about.


Friday, December 16, 2011

i want cake: inquiry + bliss

A dear friend posted the following quote, which I adore, to commemorate the passing of Christopher Hitchens, formidable thinker and prolific writer:
We have the same job we always had: to say that there are no final solutions; there is no absolute truth; there is no supreme leader; there is no totalitarian solution that says if you would just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you would just give up, if you would simply abandon your critical faculties, the world of idiotic bliss can be yours.
He spoke those words in October 2011 while accepting the Freethinker of the Year Award from the Atheist Alliance of America.  He was dying of cancer, something which many thought would force a religious awakening in him, a turning toward god.

Nope.  Not a chance.

His words resonate deeply for me.  I love a man who writes a book called, "god is not great: How religion poisons everything."

But here's the thing about that quote.  As much as I know how true his words are -- how accurately they posit the choice that religion puts in front of people, think on your own or give up -- I also know they're not totally true, at least not for me.  I know that it's not necessary to give up bliss, even a bliss that can feel idiotic, for the sake of reason.  Inside me is a sense that we can have both, that we ARE both, consciousness AND bliss.  Even before I was a yogi, I felt this pull of satcitananda -- this point of all being: truth, consciousness and, yes, bliss.

The kind of bliss I'm talking about really and truly can sometimes feel idiotic.  I'm not kidding.  There are moments when I'm reading something or thinking about something or picking up a newt in the damp woods or seeing my husband's face first thing in the morning, moments in which I am unreasonably happy -- completely giddy at the marvel of the world around me, the people in it, the potential for greatness which so often finds expression all around, in big and tiny ways.  I am not setting my reason aside when I feel this sweep of joy.  That bright arc very often has its source in reason itself, in thinking deeply on my own, in examining the orderly and chaotic creative genius of evolution that has landed us right here right now in this remarkable life we lead.

I have my cake and I eat it, too.  It's not an either/or.  To eat it, you gots to have it.  If you have it, don't be stupid: eat it!

Hitchens ate cake to the very end, reveling in the glory of his critical faculties, resolute, fearless, honest.  A few months ago he said, "My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends."  Not Jesus.  Friends, yo.  Real ones.

That's cake, people.  That's recognizing reality with all the lights on AND savoring every smidge of sweetness on the plate we've been served.  That's satcitananda, baby, every single bite.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

up through the ground came a bubblin' crude

Oh my goodness. Goodness. Good. 

This is this morning's refrain, the words and sensations circulating through me as I reflect on yesterday's visit with my sister and her family. It was so much better than I expected, so good in so many ways, so simple and easy.

And oh my goodness, my niece Elizabeth is exactly like Carla was at her age: adorable, open, playful, affectionate, chatty, impish, sweet and smart. A little bubbling force of nature, happy happy happy.  It was so good to see her and to see, especially, how obviously The Kid was genuinely delighted by her. Truly, truly it was so good to see the next generation take to each other, his patience at Elizabeth's tiny-fingered attempts to pull his whiskers, his willing participation as human jungle-gym, his big and real smiles.

It's as though for two hours, we were all of us at our best, just like Elizabeth -- at our most human, our most open, our most good.

At our very goodest.

The three of us showed up around 1, as promised, with lunch. My stomach was in a knot as we waited outside the door of their apartment, hearing the sound of the locks turning. What awaited us? After so long and such recent bad news from the doctors, what would we see? Would we get along? Would there be any of the bitter, angry attacks on my parents from my brother-in-law that broke us up in the first place? Would we feel horribly uncomfortable with their religiosity, judged and mystified?

And then my sister opened the door, and all of that vanished completely. She was changed obviously, her movements tentative, her speech slurred, but she's still herself. For two hours we were in Elizabeth's world. At our goodest.

My sister and family live in a ground floor two-bedroom apartment with a little shared paved yard behind. A Christmas tree, too tall according to Elizabeth, occupies a corner by the front window. We used the four drinking glasses + two mugs of my sister's making for our lunch at the coffee table in front of the couch. A computer with a Madonna screensaver (the Virgin Mary, not Madonna Louise) dominates the kitchen table. A copy of Who's Who in the Bible sits on top of a guide to wine in a stack of books on a shelf. Rosaries and images of Jesus are all over. For most of our visit, my brother-in-law is on the phone, wrangling with insurance and doctor's office representatives to ensure that my sister's next round of chemo is covered.

We don't talk about it so much, the cancer. We eat burgers and drink Coke, laugh at Elizabeth, catch up on what we've missed. We watch my sister go through the album I've brought her, mostly pictures of herself when she was little, something I thought she would particularly love to share with her daughter.  Mostly we are entertained by Elizabeth herself, whose perpetual motion and good cheer keep us rooted in the present, stop us being swept up in any past or future concerns.  I am grateful for the opportunity to see my sister, to hear her voice, to hang around with Elizabeth, to be with their family. 

 It's good.

Everything is all at once so complicated and so simple, so painful and so beautiful.  But I realize that if I make like Elizabeth, remain in the right now right now, if I stop telling myself the story of what's happening (god damn it, my sister is dying), then everything stays simple and lovely and funny.

And good. Bubbling up through everything, goodness, like an effervescent Elizabeth, keeping us clear and present with what's right in front of us.  Good.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

the watch, the robot, the fuck-yeah early-early wake up time

thanks, new super-functional watch!
Last Friday I inaugurated a new personal practice, launched a bold new initiative which so far is yielding tremendous results: I started getting up on the weekdays at 4:30 am.  

This is not a huge change -- for years I've gotten up at 5:30 -- so for all you shaking your heads and groaning and feeling a little ill, I tell you that for me, a confirmed life-long cheerful little early bird, it's not a dramatic reduction in bed-time.  And hot damn, it's making me so happy that I'm even wondering if 4 am would be better.  Probably demented, but I'm all giddy with accomplishment, drunk on the quiet of my house in the early-early morning hours.

I've been trying to figure Time out for ages, but most especially since Mr Burns came home to live with us mid-September, trying to figure out how to load everything I want and need to do into each day.  Trying to engineer a schedule into which everything fits with less stress, now that there's dog-walks folded back into the mix, now that writing on a daily basis is the new normal.  And since I realized that I'm a total lazy sack of shit in the evenings, that by 7pm I am done with being in charge of my life and just want to do my equivalent of big fat nothing, starting earlier in the morning seemed like the logical way to go.

And it's completely awesome.

Indirectly, the robot vacuum is to thank for this.  A month or so ago, in her* ongoing campaign against inelegant old school appliances tethered to the wall for power, she unplugged the clock-radio in our room.  Thanks to her, I realized how much I prefer there to be absolutely zero light in my sleeping area.  I'd already placed the clock-radio as far from my eyes as possible, moving it from my side of the bed to across the room.  To see it, I'd have to sit up, or at least do a curl to see over the mountain of covers, and squint.  It's not like the light from that clock was bothering me, but a completely dark room just seemed right to me.  I just like it.  And really, that old clock radio wasn't delivering on most of its promises -- the radio was hard to tune, and we didn't even use it for wake-up purposes.  Instead we relied on Joe's Timex wristwatch, chirping its wake-up at us from very close by. The robot had it right.

That's how, after years of resistance to wearing a watch -- I find it difficult to commit to the look of the thing, I rely on my phone -- I got all excited about getting my own.  It didn't seem fair, really, to place all of the responsibility for wake-up onto Joe's wrist (even though I'd done so for years). So I got my own.  I have my own alarms set now: weekdays, weekends, special occasions, yay!  It's not the most beautiful watch on the planet, but it has so many features.  Hell, I might even start running since it can time things.

Which leads me back to getting up at 4:30.  Yes, it's completely awesome.  This is my third morning of this new experiment, and let me just say that it's the best idea I've had in a while.  I get to capitalize on the fact that Mr Burns is a slug-a-bed who will only get up when he hears the kibble hit the bowl, so I can control how long I have to just sit here, read and write, before the bundle of energy takes over the house.  I don't have to choose between what I want to do and interacting with the creatures I live with since they're asleep.  I don't have to choose. The best.

Strangely, it almost seems too short an interval of solitude.  And so 4:00 am beckons, whispering about even more time.  But for now I'm just going to keep checking out the 4:30 am, enjoying that little beep-beep-beep on my wrist under the covers, the way it pulls me gently from sleep and into robe and slippers and office and the quiet of my own mind. 

My new fuck-yeah early-early wake-up time is enough for now.  I know I can always set a new alarm if it gets to that point.  Thanks to the robot, I've got the power.  Thanks to the watch, I've got the time. 

* Please note that the gender of the robot was established by the men in my house, solely for the purpose of mocking me in my love for said-robot.  Fuck them.  She rules.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Number Nine

Carla and baby Elizabeth, 2008
Three years ago my little sister Carla took her place as Number Nine on the list of people with brain tumors on my mother's side, the Ortiz-Argumedo Karg side, of the family.  I scribbled down this list on my aunt Monina's birthday a month ago, a day spent with Monina and my parents, hanging around, asking questions, listening to them talk, pawing through boxes and boxes of family photos.  Such a lovely day.  So many great stories in my family, so many bold adventurers on both sides.  I felt wrapped in history, integrated in a way that I needed, essential to the telling of the story.

The Karg Cancer list begins in 1943 with Cordelia, who lived into her 60s, and includes La Gogi, baby Olga, who died in 1953 at age 3, aunt Monina (1989), her own daughter (1981).  And my mother (1997), whose incidental findings qualify her for the list although she scoffs.  After all, she says, even the doctors called them "incidental."

In fairness to the Ortiz-Argumedo Karg stock, Carla's cancer isn't genetic, has an altogether different origin.  But since she has 8 precedessors on this goddamn tumor road and she's family, she's Number Nine.

Clearly, it's not paranoia but more like pretty well-founded possibility, that makes me view every headache as a suspected tumor, every unreasonable change in weight as brain cancer.  Crap, am I talking complete nonsense?  That's a symptom, too, the thing that got my aunt diagnosed.  We are ever watchful, sensitive to the smallest change, especially since Carla's devastating glioblastoma diagnosis in 2008.

Yesterday I spoke to Carla, heard her voice, for the first time in at least two years.  Her husband texted could I please call.  When I did, he shared the bad news, the news Carla's doctors had given that morning, reading the results of her latest MRI.  Get your affairs in order, they said.  Doomsday words.  They're trying one last-ditch effort from the sound of things, but the cancer's gotten more aggressive lately, invading Carlita's corpus callosum, breaking down her cognitive abilities, impairing her judgment, eating her memory.  It won't be long now, they say.  It's time to consider quality of life, they say, balanced against the ravages of treatment.

And so the ban has been lifted.  After years of lock-out, we're suddenly allowed back in, and I'm so glad.  For so long I've worried that I'd read about my sister's death in a (poorly written) obituary with no opportunity to see her, be with her, say goodbye beforehand.  I think we've all wondered how we'd hear about it, since news has been so sporadic.  But now none of that matters.  I see her tomorrow.

I'm preparing myself, making her an album of family photos (photos culled from that month-ago visit and list-making), baking cookies, cutting roses, picking up lunch on the way.  Thinking about what I could bring her that would be Christmas-y and would delight not just her, but her almost five-year-old daughter.  I'm loading the car with boxes of kleenex for the ride home, knowing that seeing her will be sweet and also devastating.  You can hear the change in her voice, the way she forms her words as if her mouth cannot keep up with the forms it needs to make, like she's talking through a long-distance connection with delays and odd pauses.  

You never, never know what might happen, what you might lose, who you might lose, from one day to the next. None of us know who is next on the list. Don't wait.  Make the call.  Write the email.  Send the flowers.  Do it right now.

Love your people hard while you can.  The rest will take care of itself.  


Friday, December 9, 2011

15,000 little steps

This week I devoted around an hour, ignoring the complaints of my spouse, to watching "The Biggest Loser" on TiVo.  An ad for it must have come on while I was watching the evening news or something; intrigued and horrified, I set it to record.  And I'm so glad I did.  Look, sure: I could have done something possibly more "productive" with that hour of my life. I could have read a book, which I did immediately thereafter, or made a list, or put something away, or paid some bills.  Sure, I could have.

Instead I spent an hour stewing in a blend of compassion and inspiration, brought to me courtesy of my local cable provider.  As a confirmed fat-ist, I needed that.

I'm not saying I'm proud of being a fat-ist.  I could say I blame my mother and her constant dieting throughout my youth.  The bookcase next to the table in our kitchen growing up contained more diet books than cookbooks.  Name a whack 70s diet and she tried it: eating so many eggs that she broke out in a rash, surviving on pineapple, drinking cases of diet chocolate soda, going proto-vegan with Atkins.  There were boxes of Dexatrim in the junk drawer, boxes, open, no thought that curious kids might swallow them.  It's not her fault, of course.  I jest.  The culture contributed, as did my competitive running and my friends -- we thought nothing of running 7 miles in the morning, then counting our way through 500 calories for the rest of the day.  I would visualize roughly what a cup of food would look like on the plate and endeavor to serve myself and eat only that much -- just a cup, think of how small your stomach actually is.  It's a wonder I could walk around those days, let alone run, nutritionally-deprived teen zombie egghead.

It's probably because I come from that place of trying on every get-thin-quick fad, doing whatever it takes to stop the creep of the big ass, that I have such a terrible judgy thing about The Fat. Believe me, I know this is true because that terrible judgy thing gets turned on my own self the most, especially now that I'm perimenopausal and this body is responding in unexpected, novel ways.

I am not proud of it, but I admit it: I'm a fat-ist.  I'm always working on it.

So, "The Biggest Loser."  Such a funny American phenomenon, don't you agree: competitive weight loss.  And remarkable to see men who were over 400 pounds become healthy, strong shadows of their former physical selves, pumped up with excitement about what their remarkable bodies can do.  The exercise in compassion has been hearing the stories of how they ended up so big, how long they've been that way, all the ways in which it has impacted their lives and their health.  The opportunity for inspiration has been their re-discovery of their physical selves, their love affair with their muscles and strength and will.  That part makes me cry -- to see a formerly enormous unhealthy unhappy person yield way to a compact smiling dynamo ready to take on the world.  With all that extra stuff melted away, how clearly they radiate out their playful excitement!  It's like they're high on their own fitter selves, giddy, adorable.

It's a sad testimony to the epidemic of obesity in this country, too -- the prevalence of bad food choices, the ignorance of the self -- and yet holds up a mirror and the possibility.  Where these people go, so can you.

That hour did me good, I'm not kidding, even with Joe joking in the background that he wants to be on "The Smallest Loser."  In a way, it's one of the greatest things about tv, the way it drops into the middle of your life something you'd otherwise never see with your own eyes, some experience you yourself haven't personally had which, watching it, you take in. It becomes you.

Like the 15,000 steps, a little factoid that's been with me since the other night's viewing.  Did you know that we used to walk around 15,000 steps in a day and now we walk around 3,000?   This is a huge contributor to how unhealthy people are, this reduction in just basic human movement.  Since hearing that, I'm seriously thinking about all of my steps and particularly savoring the morning walk with Mr Burns which gets me a large way toward the daily goal.  But without being obsessy about it.

It really is constant work and care, having this body, and constant celebration, too.  Yeah, you can pooh-pooh me for my lowbrow tv intake, but whatevs, I know that actually, I'm better for that hour -- more in love with people and with the gift of this physical incarnation.  That's a really great feeling.

One I'll take with me out the door right now, as I head out for the first of many thousands of steps today, carrying in my mind the image of others and their suffering and triumphs.  Oh, it's so great to be alive.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

what a difference not eating for 40 hours makes...

Generally, I don't go 40 hours between meals. But in preparation for yesterday morning's combo-platter of endoscopy and colonoscopy, I went without food for a long time. And naturally, as anyone who's experienced this personally knows, I also had the fun of drinking 4 liters of purgative swill. It was a singularly disgusting experience, one I wouldn't wish on anyone else, friend or enemy. I had chills and slept only fitfully, wrapped around a hot water bottle. The worst part was the final liter at 4am the day of the procedures. Utterly disgusting.

In truth, I'd felt lousy all weekend. We went away Friday night with 15 friends to a rental house on the beach in Stinson. We had unbelievable weather -- 80 degrees on Friday, in December! Unfortunately, my insides weren't as sunny -- I felt physically off, sluggish. Four hours sleep Friday night set me up for a persistent, nagging headache all day Saturday, a sleeplessness hangover that lingered into Sunday because meds were off-limits as part of the prep.

In a way it was a relief to start the purge at 4pm on Sunday, to hand myself over 100%, surrender to feeling as crappy (ha ha ha) as I felt, for 4 hours. Throughout, I thought about people who never get enough to eat, about how much I probably generally over-eat, about how mostly easy it was to skip meals, how much more time and brain-space I felt like I had when I didn't have to worry about what and when we would eat next. The lack of food and mostly dehydration were definitely affecting me by Monday morning. I had to put my head down before leaving for the hospital, so dizzy and faint.

As soon as I got there, though, I relaxed. The staff at Kaiser were ridiculously good and funny as usual, making me feel well taken care of in every way. They talked to me about my tattoos, naturally, and asked me about what I planned on eating first, when the procedures were over and I was free to eat again. [Toast and coffee, if you must know.] I appreciated their goofy jokes, and also really appreciated them starting the IV right away, as they put it, to take the edge off. It was conscious sedation, but that was no kinda consciousness I generally operate in. All I know is that I woke up feeling so refreshed, like I'd had the best night's sleep I'd had in months. Ok, I do recall one weird dream-like experience of the endoscope coming back up, but really I slept so deeply and well.

What's crazy is that ever since the procedures were done, I have felt GREAT. I don't think it could possibly be residual drugs in my system. I feel clearer than I have in ages, which is literally true thanks to those 4 liters of bilge. My head feels good and I just feel completely comfortable. How weird: did I need that?

It's like I hit the re-set button and am starting fresh.

I've followed friends who've done cleanses of one kind or another, read about them, considered doing them, and yet have never taken the plunge. I did juice-fasts in the early 80s (yes, before you were born), but they haven't held much appeal for me since. But now that I've had my own brutal high-speed cleanse on doctor's orders and I feel fantastic, I kind of get it, what everyone's so excited about with these crackpot lemon juice and cayenne pepper regimens. Assuming they have the same (just more gradual) effect.

Whatever, I'm certainly being super conscious of what I put in my mouth, really thinking about every food choice. I am just relishing feeling SO good right now and wanting it to last and last as long as possible. After forty hours and four liters, I think I earned it.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Preach it, Louis CK

Honestly, I adore Louis CK.  So funny and so consistently on the mark.  He's so right: everything's amazing, nobody's happy.

Next time you're on an airplane, consider that you're sitting in a chair IN THE SKY.  Amazing!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

strangers sometimes make me cry

When I first moved to the suburbs all those years ago, I had some difficulty adjusting to strangers talking to me in the supermarket.  I'm not saying I had such a hard-ass urban upbringing, but really, it wasn't something I was used to, this total strangers saying things to me, things like Good Morning or Can you believe this heat we're having?  My initial reaction was bristly, my hedgehog spines inclining ever so slightly.  Why are you talking to me?  Do I know you?

Over time, of course, I adapted.  I relaxed, let my guard down, set aside this trueism of urban fauna that eye contact is an invitation to trouble.  I became one of those people who chats with the person in line behind me, the person making conversation to break down the stranger-barrier.

An even more unexpected thing happened, which is that random people now tell me their funny little stories pretty much everywhere I go, unsolicited.  I must have cultivated, unbeknownst even to my own self, some kind of look which says, please, tell me your truth.  Somehow people know I want to know, that I need to scribble down their strange tale of the 1,700 pieces of Beatles memorabilia in their apartment in Terra Linda and how they stashed the collector edition Beatles book behind some boxes in the cereal aisle so that they can come back in a few weeks and buy it.   And did you know this checker is my personal favorite?  She's amazing.

Somewhere along the way I became approachable.

To look at me, of course, you'd probably never even formulate the thought that I was ever unapproachable.  How much effort did I expend in earlier stages erecting tall battlements of ferocity around my innate chattiness and curiosity.  What a waste!  I've heard such amazing stories from total strangers now that I'm this kind of person who calls out Good Morning first in a clear, ringing voice, owning my piece of the community I live in, inviting connection.

So it is that this morning a man I've seen for years on my almost daily walks around the neighborhood, a man I haven't bumped into in 8 months, totally made me cry.

He saw me walking with Mr Burns and called out, from his front yard, "Did you get a new one?"  When I answered Yes, he responded, "What happened to the old one?"  I let him know our Jasper had died, and he cried out, full-throated, "Oh, I am so sorry he has moved on.  He was a magnificent animal." He then rushed across the street to meet the puppy, to comment on how great Burns's friendliness is, how he adopted a dog from a shelter and it took her two years not to be afraid of every little sound. He wished me a good day and then was off, and tears poured down my face for the next few blocks.

This guy, this neighbor of mine, I don't know his name. I know where he lives, naturally, in a corner house a few streets over, with a tangled overgrown yard and shabby curtains in the windows. When passing his place, I am generally engaged in mental pruning, trimming back the weeds that climb as high as the front windows, wondering about how some of us are yard-keepers and others are not. Do they just not see it?

For all the years he saw me with Jasper, he would go out of his way to greet him. Sometimes he'd be striding toward us, purposefully, very early in the morning with a plastic bag containing who knows what in his hand. I'd wonder where he was coming from or going to at that hour and what he was carrying. He'd call out that Jasper was the very definition of Dog, just beautiful. I was a little uncomfortable with his effusion, at the same time that I deeply appreciated his appreciation. He was right, after all: Jasper was a magnificent animal.

Walking home this morning, Mr Burns prancing and sniffing at the end of the leash, I had time to really consider how much better it is to now be the kind of person that strangers can make cry. Most of the time, they delight me - they regale me with their little stories, make me laugh with their choice of words, with how they see things. Most of the time, I'm laughing, but then there are times, like today, when I cry. I cry and truly celebrate how precious it is to have that exchange with someone whose name I don't know, whose name I will probably never know. A reaching-across the strangerness, into something companionable that doesn't require that we know each other's names.

The names don't matter. All that matters is that we're here in the same place at the same time, witnessing the remarkable unfolding of our lives around us. Telling our stories. Some days making strangers cry.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

dreams are like that

We have a rule in our house. Actually, it's more accurate to say I have a rule in our house, a personal rule that I've imposed, making it a defacto house rule: if you absolutely must talk about a dream you had, then you have 15 seconds, no more no less, in which to do so. Fifteen seconds, I'm not kidding.  The clock is ticking. Go.

This forces the speaker to drop all superfluous "it was our house but it wasn't our house," "woah, it was so weird, it was my childhood street but the houses were all different" description that doesn't contribute to the point of the dream.  Fifteen seconds forces the speaker to cut to the chase.  It's simply a waste of words and valuable time to talk about how the dream was different from real life. That's a given.  As Marianne once famously said, "Dreams are like that.  They're not real."

This wonderful rule has imposed a discipline that we adhere to now.  No longer do I cringe when Joe says, "I had the weirdest dream last night," not knowing how long the tale will take, how long I will spend waiting for something to come across in words which allows me to form a picture, any picture, of what he's talking about. Maybe this makes me a horrible person.  I think it just makes me efficient.

Today was one of those rare mornings on which we both had fifteen-second narratives to exchange.

Courtesy of my dream, I woke up angry at Joe at 4:28 am.  I was also cold and uncomfortable.  Even though we'd left Mr Burns sacked out on the couch when we went to bed, he had found his way to us, homing his way in between us and doing his usual expansion-to-three-times-normal-size trick in the dark of the night.  The snuggling is very cute, but also something we are going to have to deal with stat, unless we want another 14 years of interrupted sleep.

Anyway, in the dream Joe had left the front gate open while putting stuff in his truck and, in a moment of inattention, had allowed Mr Burns not only to scamper out but to dart across our busy street.  From where I stood frozen in the dream, I could make out Burns's legs across traffic, the rest of him obscured by the cars whizzing by, across the street where he'd gone to greet another dog.  I felt both scared and angry, since angry is my go-to emotion, the way most of my not-happy emotions come out, whether I've started out angry or not.  That's a whole other story though...

Probably I had this dream because Joe had told me just the day before that Mr Burns had actually darted out of the shop and across the street IN REAL LIFE.  With this puppy, in a way I don't remember experiencing with Jasper, both Joe and I are incredible worriers.  Maybe because the heartbreak of our loss of Jas is still keen, we are both delighted by every Burnsy detail but also nutty with fear about anything being wrong with him, hurting him, killing him.  Seriously, we're like new and nervous parents constantly checking: is he still breathing?

Joe's dream was that he saved me from drowning.  I jumped off a dock into clear water in an uninflated snorkeling vest and sank as he watched.  I was blowing into it, trying to inflate it, as I sank.  Managed to almost break the surface but then sank again, my hands in frustrated fists.  At which point he jumped in to get me and woke up.

Maybe this dream harks back to his memories of my night-dive vertigo experience in which I really did sink like a stone out of sight in the darkness, plummeting toward the bottom of that little bay in the Channel Islands.  Then too Joe went after me, though ultimately it was our dive instructor who grabbed me, understanding what had happened, why I was completely freaked out, feeling like I was spinning when I was absolutely still, sucking air, panicked eyes popping out of my head.  Or maybe the dream was just, as one of my Russian professors used to say in his thickly-accented English, "mental garrrrbage." Or maybe it really has to do with me sinking, being pissed off about my efforts to save myself not working, and sinking again.

Or not.

That's the thing.  Dreams are like that, they're not real.  It takes me a while to shake off their influence some days, when they're particularly weird.  This morning I'm stewing in them a little bit for what they reveal about our inner states.

Or not.

Monday, November 28, 2011

totem du mois

I am going to do everything possible to keep these words right in front of my eyes for the next few weeks, keep the image in my pocket like a rabbit's foot and pet it periodically,  its furry comfort at my fingertips.

Even if you think horoscopes are crap, right now this is so working for me.  Really, really just SO on the money.

gnats, not elephants

It's not the elephants that'll kill you. It's the gnats.

So goes the punchline of a story I carry around inside me, a story told to me by someone to whom it was told. I don't think I read it somewhere, but honestly, after all this time I don't even know any more. A friend returns from safari in Africa and, asked about the dangers of the wild, responds, "it's not the elephants that'll kill you.  It's the gnats."

If I've been quiet for a while, it's because I have been engulfed in a maelstrom of gnats, unable to see, do or think anything beyond the very immediate task of meeting sequential utterly insane deadlines at work.  The November holidays -- Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and the day following -- are theoretically lovely; unfortunately, the deadlines I labor under have no care for holidays.  They piss on holidays, in fact.  So I've wound up in my office the last two Sundays, in my desperate quest for gnat-free air.

The job is gnats right now.  Pesky. In my face. Inescapable but for moments.  Its real value to me right now -- other than supporting us in the reduced style to which we have become accustomed -- is that it is such a constant reminder of how much this is not the end-all for me. It keeps my determination, when I'm not exhausted, clearly focused on something else.

The gnats have been eating my brain lately, it's true, sucking every ounce of my energy.  Which makes me pretty boring.

So I've been reading, trying to fill my head with some sound other than the buzzing, pretty words on the 925 pages of 1Q84 and now The Phantom Tollbooth.

I feel a wind coming, a wind that will blast the bugs away.  In the meantime, I'm sitting here, resisting the temptation to swat wildly at them, conserving forces, making plans.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

"it's my job to write everything down, to take obsessive notes..."

As anyone with kids can attest, they are somehow magically their very neediest in the morning if you have a hang-over. Or morning sickness. It's like some kind of irritating prescience they have. At the point at which you are your weakest, your very own neediest, there they go with their pain-in-the-ass demands for attention and breakfast.

So it was this morning with Puppy. Normally he gets up, he eats, he does the business, he plays a smidge, we walk, then he curls up fast asleep and I write and stare and do my own morning stuff. This morning, because I was tired from being out on a school night to see David Sedaris in a packed house at the Marin Veterans Auditorium, Puppy didn't sleep even one wink. We went for a walk, we played, he bit the shit out of everything in sight. Finally, I had to bribe him into his crate with a peanut-butter smeared toy so I could have a moment's respite and peace, head in hands.

Admittedly, going to see someone read their stories on a school night does for most people a wild late-night make. But I remind me that we also had to go to Safeway afterward to pick up our respective breakfasts for today (since, typically, we were out of food). Adding that errand for cereal, milk, half and half and bread means I got to bed two hours past my bedtime. And completely amped and wound up at that, mind racing, replaying the sounds.

Because seeing Sedaris read was really and truly great. So inspiring. I didn't know what to expect, never having seen him read before, having only heard him on the radio or read his words at my leisure on the page. So when he strode out, papers in hand, blue keds on feet and opened his mouth, for a moment I was a little stunned by the sound of his voice. And then I started laughing.

And laughing.

I was happily aware of three things for the next two hours:1) that I was probably laughing too loud (and long and lingeringly and anticipatorily), 2) that, man, that Sedaris can put a story together, and 3) that damn, wouldn't he be just the kind of person I could hang out with forever?

He started with a story called, "I'm not running for President," written last summer. He also read, "Atta Boy," which I think I also read in The New Yorker. He read, "You're Trash. You're Trash. You're Family's Trash." He read entries from his diary, jokes he'd heard at book-signings, adventures in airports. There was more, but I can't remember it all right now, all blurred up as it is by the tears running down my face, their droplets all over the inside of my glasses. There were times I wished for Pause, Replay, because a sentence was so delightful. I wished for the lights to be on so I could scribble. But instead I just listened and laughed and laughed, swept up in the communal laughter of 300 or so people packing the house.

And only a little distracted by the woman sitting to our right who felt it necessary to explain exactly who Monica Lewinsky was to her 12-year-old daughter, right in the middle of the joke. Really, that can wait. Given the enormous cock also featured in that joke, and Lorena Bobbitt, and the knife, Monica’s the least of your issues.

Sedaris took a few questions at the end of his reading. My favorite thing he said was in response to a question about whether he ever exaggerated in his stories. He responded that the things he wrote were true even if people don't believe that they happened the way he said they did or that so-and-so said what's in the story. It's his job, he said, to be observant, to write everything down, to take obsessive notes on what happens every day. When you write every single day and you write down the crazy things that happen to you, that you overhear, that people say to you, well, there it is: who needs exaggeration? I’m paraphrasing, but that's what I took away. I mean, that’s what I wrote down, since that’s the precise point at which I started scribbling. I basically scribbled all night in my head, his reading just setting me off. It’s self-serving, really, to remember that part of what he said, but I selfishly need and want that reinforcement of my own tendency to scribble. For whatever it's worth.

Interesting that he chose to recommend a book about China as he was closing his remarks, interesting only because of the flack he got recently about what he’d written about China. People were unhappy with his descriptions, with what seemed to be a basic derision. Interesting.

I also loved something he read, a line in one of his diaries, about how what if the people we are at the airport is really who we are? That cracks me up so much.

I want to read and re-read everything he's ever written. His stories are so well-crafted, their arc so elegant. So much to learn there. And so much funny.

Wow, it was good to laugh last night, to listen to someone's brilliance in his own voice. Completely worth the pain-in-the-ass neediness this morning. Completely.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Panchito preciosito

me and my brother
Not so long ago I got this idea to have my chart read. I'm of mixed emotions about this -- on the one hand, it's funny to live here and not have had it done, since it's the sort of thing one hears mentioned in normal, everyday conversation fairly regularly (I know, a function of my particular environment); on the other, while I am sure there is something to be gained from it even if it’s just blog-fodder, I still maintain a dose of skepticism. To know what was happening in the universe at the precise moment of my entry will certainly be interesting, and not at all like the time I went to the Dickens Fair and had my palm read. It will tell me things about myself that could be very helpful.  Regardless, I’m just a little reticent. But still curious.

To have your chart done, you need to know your exact time of birth. Which meant that I had to send my parents digging, since all those years later they couldn't remember what time of day I was born. Which meant my father had to carry to ladder up to the second floor, climb up into the storage space above the closet in the tv room, bring down box after box of family photos and memorabilia, searching for the one baby photo, taken minutes after birth, that includes the details that the birth certificate omits.

So now we know that I was born at 2:18pm, 6 lbs 6 oz, 17 1/2 inches.

While you're digging around in the photos, I asked my mother, could you see if you have any photos of Pancho? Since losing Jasper in March, I'd often thought about Panchito, my first dog, the brother my parents got me when pregnant with me. For four years it was just the two of us, no little sisters, just me and gentle and sweet Pancho who knew all of his commands in Spanish. I loved him so much, speaking long rolling endearments for him, Panchito preciosito, amorcito, that still roll through my memory when I see a certain kind of dog or even when murmuring to Mr Burns. Panchito disappointed me only once and not for long, when he refused to perform even one trick years later when we put on a circus on the Kanights' deck on Liberty Street. I left the stage, head down, in time for the Three Ms to start their act, surprised and disappointed. But for the rest, for long childhood years, he was the very model of a good dog, a perfect brother: gentle, sweet, loving.

It's amazing that when I finally found pictures of him, after hours of digging through those same boxes at my parents, he is so much smaller than I remember. And brindle! I remembered the warmth of his brown coat, but brindle? I didn’t know it. But those eyes, those I knew so well: always so warm, looking at me with so much tenderness. It's such a pleasure to see him again, to add the image, refreshed, to the load of sensory memory I carry around inside.

wow, Sari, my mother: gorgeous! but i only have eyes for panchito
later, older: so cute!
I still haven’t had my chart done, even though the exact time of birth went off, by email, to the astrologer in question. I may still do it, but really looking at Panchito, holding the treasure of these photos in my hands, I feel like I already know everything I need to about how the circumstances of my birth made me who I am and how the path will unfold.

Ay, perrito preciosito: so much love to you, even now.


Friday, November 11, 2011


photo credit: The Baltimore Chop
I was going to write a whole thing about 11/11/11 11:11 since it's apparently de rigueur, but then, as things go when I'm awake in the middle of the night and reading and eating toast, stumbled on something that I think is more interesting. Related and more interesting.

So today is supposed to be a super-auspicious and romantic day. Tons of people apparently are marrying today to take advantage of the good luck (or so I'm told) connected with this date. In Chinese apparently, "The numbers rhyme with one husband, one wife and one soul ... and signifies a marriage that would last a lifetime." If nothing else, marrying on 11/11/11 guarantees an anniversary date that's easy to remember.

Personally I will be marking the date by initiating a new habit of taking Elevenses -- taking on some refreshment late-morning, between breakfast and lunch. If I were a hobbit, naturally Elevenses would come between second breakfast and luncheon.  I'll skip second breakfast.

While thinking about all this -- that is, during first breakfast -- I'm reading the NY Times on-line, after a quick scan of the SF Chronicle.  That's always the sequence: check email and Facebook, check SF Gate for local "news" and celebrity gossip, check NY Times for what's really going on and for inspiration.  Insomnia and getting up really early are what make it possible for me to do this -- buy me the time to let my mind run, to just drift and click from one idea to the next, see what turns up.

Because I was already thinking about all the 11/11 marriages, of course I could not resist the attraction of "Bound by Love and Disability, and Keeping a Vow Until the End,"  the sweet love story of a couple with cerebral palsy who met at 7, eloped at 37, and were together until the wife Noemi's death this week at 53.  Edwin, her husband, took care of her until the end, to the best of his abilities, with a lot of help naturally, as we all do.  Everybody wants this -- to love and be loved, to be with the beloved and care for him or her.  It's fundamental to who we are, I think.  No matter what day of the man-made calendar we tie the knot, there it is: we're knot-tiers.

Edwin and Noemi reminded me that in the mid-80s I worked for a couple with cerebral palsy, when I was a graduate student in Russian Language and Literature at SF State.  Stephen and Ethel Dunn were brilliant scholars who'd set up their own research non-profit and operated out of their gorgeous house in Kensington.  I'd ride the BART, then the bus, to their place from my flat in the grimy pre-gentrified Mission, disembarking finally in the Berkeley hills, in trees and green and quiet, and walk the remaining mile to their house.  I did mostly word processing for the for-profit side of their business, and transcription of Stephen's translations from audio tapes for the non-profit side.  Both Stephen and Ethel had this huge range of expertise and creativity, their minds completely unbound by the wheelchairs their bodies lived in.  They were smart and funny and sweet - I was always inspired by the steel-trap of their two minds and their love for each other.

And, I digress, they also had one of those libraries with the rolling shelves, just stocked with reference books in Russian and English.  Poetry, too.  I'd turn the little steering wheel to open the shelves and fetch whatever was needed.  So covet(ed) that shelving!

Naturally, because it's Let Your Mind Roam Free time, I Googled Stephen and Ethel.  Stephen passed away in 1999 I was sorry to read in Ethel's lovely memorial piece.  I emailed Ethel immediately after reading this news -- it's disconcerting that my message bounced back a minute later, the victim of a "permanent fatal error."

Those two, Stephen and Ethel, loved each other madly.  Edwin and Noemi, too, loved each other madly.  Who could ask for anything more?  Surely to find each other and love each other: that's the best luck there is, right?

On 11/11/11, may we take a little tea and a savory snack between breakfast and luncheon and use the time to think about love, to appreciate the love we have, to scheme ways to make more.  At 11:11 as I lift a cup to my lips, I will be doing just that, grateful and inspired to consider how my own love story will live on after me.  


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Twenty Four

Twenty four years ago, when I myself was 24, I was in my last days of being extremely pregnant. I was absolutely side-show enormous, pushing past the very outer limits of maternity wear. By then, I think I lived in one of my Uncle Ben's large plaid shirts, an XL long-sleeve thermal top and black leggings with a forgiving waistband. I also lived in my Uncle Ben's former house near San Francisco State University, thanks to my parents, so it was always gray and cool, perfect weather for me when insulated by an extra 25 pounds, 9 of which, though I didn't know it at the time, were all baby.

It pleases me to count the days, to know that in just a couple, I will cross a big boundary: I will have been someone's mother for half my life. And then, every day after that, for MORE than half my life.

Other than breathing perhaps, I can't think of many other things I've done for 24 years straight, for half my life or more. OK, drinking coffee: sure, that's true. And reading books and being friends with people I've known since 8th grade (Scott, that's you) and high school (Old Joe, Frances, Lisa and more): OK, those are true, too. But still, half a life is a long, long time to be one thing, to be someone's mom, to know that that creature over there is half me, half someone-else, connected and also free, of the same cloth and yet completely individual.

There's a lot of delight in that.

Twenty four years ago I thought I was prepared for what is, essentially, something for which nothing can prepare you. I thought I knew; I didn't know shit. And yet, everything turned out great. Knowing is not essential. Preparation is helpful, but also not essential. I'm still learning to be unprepared, to leave room to be stunned, left wordless and breathless, by all that I don't know, that I can't know.

On Monday night I'll go through my annual ritual of reliving the whole experience: the slow start to the contractions, their insistence throughout the night, the early morning ride in my parents' VW camper to the hospital, The Kid's sunny birth at 2:16pm. I'll re-feel echoes of that long-ago pain, and celebrate the moment I first saw my boy with my own eyes, all 22" of him, all 9 pounds, purple feet and hands in fists, drawing that first long breath and wailing his arrival.

Happy 24th to my sweet child. Happy 24 years of motherhood to me.

It's good to be here, half a life later. So good.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

a little something i love...

This week's assignment from writing class is to write about little things we love. We were asked, on our call on Monday, to make a list of tiny objects we love. Strangely, I got a little hung up after Jasper's tag, my blue lotus earrings, my notebook, the photo of The Kid at a May Day celebration at Waldorf School, his grinning baby face wreathed in flowers. This morning the little thing I am particularly loving is The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith, latest in the series of Isabel Dalhousie novels.

For my birthday a few years ago, my mother sent me a package. No doubt she was impatient with how difficult it is to make plans with us, always so busy, but also what a delightful impulse. Who doesn't love the prospect of a surprise, the receipt of a box containing who knows what? She sent me all of the Dalhousie books, the first 4 in paperback, the last hardback. I knew McCall Smith from the Ladies Detective Agency books, but didn't know anything about these stories. I read the five books in a week. They're lovely little things, light, delightful. They make me dream of Scotland.

After a workshop in a bookstore on Sunday past, I allowed myself one purchase and one only. A bookstore is a place of huge temptation for me -- so easy for me to spend hours and dollars, leave with bags and bags of books, more books than I can possibly accomodate either physically or in space and time, feeding my greedy little inner collector as much as my voracious reader. From the sale table, I selected the latest Dalhousie, on remainder for $6.99.

I started it yesterday, loathe to drag the Murakami to the chair. Although I'm on page 224 of 1Q84 and loving it, I am still a little oppressed by its heft. Finding a comfortable supine position in which to hold it is a bit challenging.

So instead I grabbed the Dalhousie, headed for the big chair, dog in lap, and started in.

It's wonderful. There are moments, phrases, that make me laugh out loud. There has been, also, at least one occasion on which I've audibly gasped, causing Joe to look up and over from whatever he was reading (the paper, I think). It's written in such a smooth, engaging manner, so old-fashioned in just the right way.

Nowadays while reading, I am super conscious of how stories are put together. Well, to be fair, that's something I am always aware of, something that I'm tracking even as I'm engrossed in the story. I spent too many years studying literature to be able to just read without marveling at the artistry required to build the structure. But now, really, I'm reading more keenly, knowing that it's coming, the time when I will be putting together the book. This makes me super conscious of the skeleton beneath the fur.

How wonderful that just now I was on McCall Smith's website and discovered that this book I'm reading now is not the last in the series. There are two more for me to devour in short order as soon as possible, sitting curled up in the big chair, indulging myself in the name of research!

Truly, truly: a good little story is something I really love.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pap de Q

If there's one thing I hate to shop for, it's definitely toilet paper. I tend to avoid it, but this past weekend was so proud of myself that I managed to buy more *before* we ran out, something which probably doesn't seem like it should rank as any kind of achievement when you're nearing 50 years of age, but in my case, unfortunately, does. There's just something about standing in that row in the supermarket, all those shelves stocked with variations on thickness, softness, ply, scent, that I strongly dislike.

It has nothing to do with any kind of prudery re bodily functions. Raised in a family of 5 with one bathroom, through which my parents regularly paraded and hung out at the double-sinks naked and in which the very desire for privacy was considered an act of insubordination, I don't think I ever developed any kind of squeamishness about these matters. I'm an animal that way, I suppose.

No, the thing that gets me every time I'm facing those plastic wrapped packages of ass-wipe, is how much I feel I SHOULD buy the recycled paper and yet how much I DESPISE the recycled paper. Seriously, I realize it's made with post-consumer waste-paper, but does it have to universally just suck?

There was the one day, such a giant relief, when I couldn't put off the ass-paper purchase any longer, went to the store and found the shelves mysteriously empty of the crappy recycled crap-paper. I was delightfully off the hook and free to buy whatever was on sale or struck my fancy.

This was after the time when I used to order recycled toilet paper, before it was available at places like Safeway, direct from a catalog. Huge cardboard boxes would show up on our porch, containing nothing more exciting than individually-wrapped rolls of that grayish, miserable, fall-apart paper. In those days, I was more hell-bent, and also the mail-order saved me from even entering that aisle, from having to imagine what it might be like to get a satisfying, absorbent wipe out of a handful of the "real," not recycled ass paper. I was also strongly influenced -- and indeed still think about -- an article I read in some eco-warrior 'zine in the early 90s, about how grotesque it is that we cut down trees in order to have something with which to clean our bottoms. I will say that I never did, never would, go as far as the author, who advocated the use and re-use of cloth for this purpose. That is truly vile.

A note on ass paper: in my family we always refer to toilet paper as "papier cul," which translates as ass paper, paper for the ass, what-have-you. Joe translates this phonetically, in his form of French, as Pap de Q, hence the title of our elevating post today.

So, standing in the toilet paper aisle always brings me back to this essential conundrum of my middle-aged being: how much I care about the environment and yet how much I enjoy simple things like the satisfaction of an effective wipe. There's a part of me that can get really wound up about this, pissed even, like god damn it, I've been doing my part for so long, can someone take over being all self-righteous and shit, so I can just sit down and have some comfort in my old age? I know: kind of ridiculous.

But there it is. I do really feel this way, like we've carried this torch for so long, have been so committed for such long stretches of time, like being vegan (yes, seriously) for about 7 years from 1988 to 1997-ish when there was nothing out there, the eating landscape a wasteland (going to Disneyland with The Kid and ordering hamburgers without the meat, subsisting on what was available, french fries and bread with lettuce and tomato). We were eco-warriors for ages, riding our bikes, pulling said-Kid in the trailer to school, Joe once even banishing someone in his band from eating his dinner of hot dog in our house. Oh, crazy, ridiculous, eco-fascist days of youth. Still, to this day, so many practices are integrated into our life, things I love like composting, things that are total reflex like avoiding plastic whenever possible.

I used to imagine it like shark-teeth. You know how they say that sharks have these rows and rows of teeth in their cartilaginous jaws -- one falls out and another moves up to take its place. I'd like to be that shark-tooth that delicately steps aside, letting other sharper teeth come take my place, please. Sometimes I'm just too tired and small to carry the whole burden of whether the polar bears live or die. Sometimes I just want to take a ride in a fan-boat and really, truly enjoy it without stressing about the consequences.

Not so long ago, I declared an end to my recycled ass-paper buying ways. The first time, the good stuff was on super-sale and we were on a tight budget, or so I rationalized the purchase. But now I just buy what I want, and know that I do what I can where I can and try to banish the Should. I'm a whole lot happier that way. I still feel the struggle in the toilet paper aisle, but now I reach for what I want and try to let go of the rest. So much happier that way.