Thursday, October 27, 2011

captain phillips rides again

When Dave was a kindergartener in Australia, he fell in love with a little blonde girl in his class. Her name was Cathy Phillips, but that's immaterial, because she was that girl. She didn't need a name. Dave never spoke to her, but he told anyone who'd listen that he was going to marry her. Those long, blonde, swaying pigtails....there's nothing else to say.

In a jaunty -- if slightly wack -- romantic tribute, he rechristened her Captain Phillips, after the first governor of New South Wales. (After some googling, it looks like he should have actually called her Admiral Phillip, but let's not nitpick.) I hope she caught wind of it and made it legal. "Captain Phillips" is clearly a thousand times cooler than "Cathy Phillips", and it would have cemented her femme fatale status forever, like a female James Bond.

In any case, she's still alive and she's still five, only she's changed form, switched hemispheres and enrolled at Finn's school. She has a beautiful name, every bit as cool as Captain Phillips, but I'm not going to use it here. I'm going to protect her privacy. We'll just call her the Admiral, since the title's free. It's high time she was promoted, anyway.

The Admiral caught Finn's eye on the first day of school, when she showed up wearing a pretty white cotton dress. Remember, Finn's a sucker for a good sartorial move. And the Admiral is a star sailor to her bones. (A star sailor isn't just someone in a good outfit. A star sailor has to drip with innate style and coolness. And then top it off with a good outfit.) One day after school, Finn and the Admiral hung around the playground together and became fast friends. They're both half-day kindergarteners, two of the only three in the whole school, and so they bonded over being sprung at 12:30.

For a time, they were inseparable. (I should say they were voluntarily inseparable, but I'll get to that.) Finn's always been adamant about remaining half-day, but when the Admiral mentioned to Finn that she might be going full-day in November, suddenly the wind changed direction. He mentioned it idly, played it cool. "Mom, I think I might go full-day in November." No reason, Mom. Just feel like it. Oh, and maybe the Admiral is doing that.

Whenever I asked him who he'd sat with at lunch, it was the Admiral. Whenever I asked him who he liked best at school, it was the Admiral. He used the same fervent tone for her name that he'd used early on when he was talking about R.J. (for whom the flame has faded, although they were playing together today on their first field trip - ! - to a pumpkin patch).

Oh, but the course of true love never did run smooth. I picked Finn up one day and his mood was stormy. He didn't want to talk about it at first, but then he burst out, "Sometimes she says she doesn't want to sit next to me, but I know she really does want to sit next to me, so I sit next to her even if she doesn't want me to!" I hesitated a little and then said that there is this thing called personal space. "What's personal space?" he asked. I didn't have the heart to tell him that his bold moves were backfiring, so I told him to ask his dad. (Passing the buck is one of the best things about being married.)

Some days it's terrific with the Admiral. But the Admiral is capricious. She invited Finn to be a part of her club, but then revoked his membership the next day. He said that she was being mean. I advised him to locate some friendly people and play with them, then. After all, did he still want to play with her anyway if she was mean? He responded wearily, as though I were the biggest moron ever to walk the earth. "YES." And I suppose that was a dumb question, considering everything I've ever learned about being alive.

Finn and the Admiral are still close, though the Admiral still holds most of the cards. I say most of them, because Finn has plenty of mojo with the young ladies. The class played "The Farmer in the Dell" one day, and Finn told me he'd taken the Admiral for his wife. Apparently there were some other girls who'd wanted the job. There's a group who rush to hug Finn goodbye every day, and you can practically see the cartoon hearts take over their pupils. One little lass grabbed his hand once and gave it a kiss as he barreled past her. The thought bubble is clearly visible over his head. What the hell is happening? Meanwhile, rows of girls go down like dominoes. Dave and I have both witnessed it. It's frankly remarkable.

He had a tough one with the Admiral yesterday. There was something he didn't know about how something worked at school, and the Admiral said he was ridiculous. And then another girl said "YOU'RE sitting with your GIRLFRIEND", referring, of course, to the Admiral. But Finn held his own. He said that he didn't like that bit about a girlfriend, and he told the Admiral that he wasn't ridiculous. He hasn't been to school before, is all, and he's just getting started.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

yar

I had the alarming realization lately that I’m going to be spending nine months of every year driving to and from Finn’s (and, someday, Fred’s) elementary school until I'm 51 years old.

Holy fuck.

First of all, that means I’m going to be 51 someday. It’s nine years off, but it’s more true than it ever was that this is going to happen. It's more true because I can visualize half an hour of each of these ensuing days perfectly. I’m tethered to the brick facade and royal blue railings of Sacajawea, and they’re pulling me closer and closer to my death.

I’m having a difficult time remembering that I’m not actually 51 now. GOOD CHRIST, I’M 51! Oh, wait, no.

Note to the 51-and-over crowd who may be reading this: It’s not you, it’s mortality.

That’s the thing. If our lives are a horizontal timeline that reads in classic Western style from left to right, I feel tucked over to the right a little more than before. I remember feeling myself on the left-hand side of that timeline. I had forever to figure out what I was going to do or be. I could blossom in my own sweet time. I didn’t have to nail it down. The right hand side of the timeline felt positively wide-open and breezy. Horizonless, almost. The map just faded off.

But now I can feel a wall over to my right. I’m not about to bump into it or anything, but I’m aware of its presence, kinesthetically. My body knows its there.

And that brings me to my topic. The body. My body. The ol’ vessel. I’m going to sail in this thing to the grave, and I’m realizing that I’m at some sort of turning point. Here’s a Philip Barry mash-up, from that old beauty, The Philadelphia Story:

My, she was yar...It means easy to handle, quick to the helm, fast, right. Everything a boat should be, until she develops dry rot.

I’m dedicated to the whole notion of yar, inside and out. It’s something to shoot for, that fineness and agility in all the domains that matter to you. But for most of my life, I’ve been focusing on my mental or emotional or spiritual yar. The inner yars.

A few years ago, after I had Finn, I made my first serious run at physical yar. I’d joined a nearby gym to drop the last bits of baby weight. When you joined this gym, you got two free sessions with a personal trainer to get you going. I remember looping away on an elliptical, waiting for my trainer to nab me for my first session. And then somebody tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned around and there was Niles.

(Niles, wherever you are, I salute you. Move back to Seattle so you can train me some more.)

Niles was -- as it can never hurt a trainer to be -- ridiculously handsome. His chiseled features were the stuff of Roman coins, truly. And as we embarked on what would turn out to be a year of thrice-weekly workouts, it became clear that Niles was also a deeply good, decent, searching person. We talked about all sorts of things as he made me stronger, enjoyed a shared philosophical bent. He was just a good dude.

And also, he was really, really good-looking. I got 2.5 times stronger than I would have with another trainer, because when your trainer is that attractive, you put out at least 2.5 times the effort. I should really say that I got 9 or 10 times stronger than I would have in other circumstances. It's instinctual. It's why birds have bright feathers.

It was frankly hilarious, how much I was fronting during our workouts. You see, when I was growing up, my family was engaged in a constant competition to see who could be the biggest wilting lily. Whoever was the sickest or faintest or most exhausted won the day’s sympathy prize. But we were lavish with sympathy for anybody’s pitiful old complaint. One of us would collapse in the front door after, I don’t know, going out to buy a stapler, and give the traditional extravagant Kunz family announcement/groan, “I’m HOME,” and then proceed to lay out the tiny physical indignities of the last hour and a half that had done us in. We expected -- nay, felt entitled to -- and received! -- three sets of rapt and understanding ears for our litanies.

We were lame.

But you’d never know it from my sessions with Niles. I gave the mythical 110% every step of the way. Niles would have me down in a plank, and he’d have his little timer out, and I’d hold that goddamn plank until my muscles were all screaming “WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?!” (Shh, muscles. Zip it. We’re somebody else right now.) And Niles would exclaim with real joy, “That’s great! That’s thirty seconds longer than you could do it before!” And I’d be giving off the vibe, pshaw, well, hey. That’s just me. I’m all heart. I never say die. I just don’t know how to do it another way.

Dave, of course, if he’s reading this, is snorting into his soup. I can’t escape my childhood completely. Every day, all day, I’m like “Oh, my finger” and “Ouch, my hip” and “I feel dizzy” and “The back of my neck is killing me” and “I have a little sore throat”. And the Rowleys are a different proposition altogether. Dave’s mom, Larraine, is the quintessential Rowley tough nut. She lives out her days in bona-fide screaming back agony from a botched surgery she underwent thirty-plus years ago. But she powers through it and does whatever she sets her mind to, and will never, never let on that she’s in pain unless she really can’t move any more. When you see some slightly pursed lips and she admits out loud that there’s a little pain, you can bet that anybody else alive would be screaming for an ambulance. So it’s safe to say that Dave is not impressed with my frequent bids for physical sympathy. Let’s say that he’s visibly unimpressed.

Me: “My finger!”
Dave: Blank look.
Me: Pregnant stare.
Dave: Eventual grudging nod. Not of acknowledgement. I-have-to-do-this-or-she-won’t-go-away. That nod.
Me (a vibe): That’s it?
Dave (a vibe): Oh, that’s it, all right.

Okay. Okay, but if I die of possible minor floating arthritis in the next few minutes, you’re going to feel like a real heel. Play “Little Wing” at my funeral, by the way.

Anyway. Working with Niles for that year -- up until I got pregnant and then miscarried and then got pregnant again with Fred -- transformed my body, for certain. I was as slender as I’d ever been, but this time I had muscles, and all kinds of physical verve and confidence. And I became one of his favorite clients, one of his real success stories. But, most happily, for the first time in my life I felt that my exterior matched the best of my interior.

When I was growing up and going through my young adult life, I always had this feeling that my forties were going to be a really excellent time for me. 40 was my target age. Things were going to start to get good. The right side of the timeline may have been amorphous and foggy, but I felt something glowing waiting for me right around that age range. I pictured myself like some sort of warrior elf queen, strong and bright and agile. Maybe carrying a spear of some kind. Wearing some kind of killer boots, invariably.

After I had Fred, all my work with Niles was lost. My fraught pregnancy had me tethered to bedrest, and I kissed all of those core muscles -- as you do -- goodbye. And then last year I had surgery, and it’s been a long road to recovery from there. Eight weeks stuck in bed watching Netflix and eating vanilla wafer and Scharffen Berger sandwiches is not a recipe for vitality. It’s a recipe for a super fat ass, is what it’s a recipe for.

But forces are at work now, finally, pulling me back towards yar. One, there’s that wall over to my right that keeps whispering to me, “Now or never.” This is when I’m forging the body that’s going to contain me for the rest of the ride. I can extend the ride, I can make it more fun, I can give myself more energy, I can give myself a prettier vessel. I can make an elf queen suit.

And two, two is mysterious. Let me give a foundation for this. Eight years ago, I met Dave on a yoga retreat on Maui, and within five days we were practically engaged. One night at dinner, there under the stars with Dave and all our fellow students, I couldn’t eat a thing. I couldn’t even speak. I felt like my body was being filled with light, like my being at the deepest level was being refined by some force I felt but couldn’t comprehend. I felt something humming in me, transforming me, right there in front of my untouched plate. Like something wanted a better life for me, and was cooking me right there in order for me to receive it.

In a much quieter and less dramatic way, I feel like the same thing is happening right now. My diet has spontaneously changed. My sweet tooth, a powerful thing, has all but dissolved. My attraction to crappy food of every stripe has vamoosed. The leftover Fred/vanilla wafer weight is coming off. I’ve begun making these smoothies for myself, gulping down mountains of greens. I can’t recommend this enough, my friends. I’m even going to give you the recipe for this insanely good thing. It feels like the most magical elixir. A cup and a half of greens, packed tight. A banana. A kiwi. Some mango. 2 tablespoons of protein powder. (The hemp sort is really good, not chalky at all.) 2 tablespoons of coconut butter. 2 cups of water. Blend away. Drink it on an empty stomach, otherwise it won’t feel good. (Do believe me about that.) On the one hand, it's a smoothie. It's just a smoothie. But on the other hand, it's a message to my body, a message to my life. I don't even want to articulate it and cheapen it. It's precious, whatever it is.

I really do think there’s some kind of quickening going on. I feel it personally, and I’m seeing it everywhere. Something’s turning up the heat under us all, I think, cooking us a little faster. And I’m feeling those two forces so keenly. The increasing nearness of death and some insistent life force in reply. There’s a call, and I can’t resist trying to answer it, and now I’m trying to answer it with everything I have, even this old shell.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

the star sailors of sacajawea

Finn likes to relax with the latest issue of Vogue when I'm tucking him in bed at night. We flip through, working at a quick pace. We know what we don't have to waste time on, and we know just where we like to linger. His taste is sure, and when he sees a spread that pleases it, he shouts "STAR SAILOR!", pointing extravagantly at the page -- sometimes so extravagantly that I accidentally get knocked in the face.

Up with bright color and flowing, feminine, ruffly shapes. Up with glossy red lipstick, up with perfume samples. Up with Drew Barrymore and her lush features, her pearlescent, peacock-toned Cover Girl eye shadow.

Down with/boo to/spit on neutrals and all black-and-white photography. Down with boring, business-y shapes. Down with severe tailoring. Down with plain handbags. Down with minimalism. Execute minimalism, gangland-style. Toss the gun and stroll out into the street, cape fluttering behind you, never looking back.

Finn is the love child of Martha Stewart and Ziggy Stardust, the love child of Lord Byron and Kramer. He's the Black Stallion, he's a hothouse orchid. Brains coming out of his ears, and an almost wasteful amount of physical beauty. And I don't want to talk about the sensitivity, lest I disturb it from all the way over here in the other room. He's a one-off, I'm trying to tell you. I rarely talk about him here because he taxes my descriptive powers too much. You can see how much I'm revving the engine already. I promise you that these are the most accurate, least over-the-top descriptions available to me.

All children are totally special. I know it. I know. I really do. No "but" here.

But* I'm just watching my now-very-heavily-described, indescribable firstborn go out and interact for the first time in a big way with a world that is not exactly tailored for his...do I call it a type?

*because it's down here

Anyway.

Kindergarten!

Today was day seven, and it was the first day that Finn went into class without crying and clinging to us. To Dave, I should say. After the first three days, it became abundantly clear that I shouldn't be anywhere near his classroom entry. I was already taking a quarter of a Xanax in the morning to try not to cry when he cried, and that dose was starting to look too small. (You're probably like, right, because: a quarter of a Xanax. I'm small, see? And, uh...sensitive.)

Finn would be fine first thing in the morning. No problem getting ready for school. We have a mixed CD in the car that's all Finn's favorite songs, and we'd listen to it on the way there. No problem during "Chicken Grabber". Looking good through "Staying Alive", especially while Fred bobs his head to the music. ("Staying Alive" is Fred's signature tune, has been from the first minute he heard it and began rocking out, and holy shit, does it suit him. Fred, my little man, you're a story for another day.) Not bad even through Booker T. Jones, as we're pulling up to the school. Things would start wobbling up on the playground as we waited for the school bell -- though he'd be maintaining -- and then as soon as that SUPER FUCKING LOUD STARTLING AIR RAID SIREN* of a bell rang, he'd shoot into misery.

*none of this aided by the fact that whenever the bell rings, all the children instantly scream.

When the bell blasts, all the kids line up outside their classroom and get ready for their teachers to throw open the doors for another day of totally! fun! learning! -- and for the other kids, that's exactly what it seems like. They're grinning and bobbing around and ignoring their moms and dads because they have all been to preschool. But, as I said in an earlier post, Finn only went to preschool for three days. (Topic for another day, if ever. To sum up: Hey, moms and dads! Send your kids to preschool!)

Bell rings. Finn crumples fast and hard. He's crying, grabbing on to me. I'm patting his head and rubbing his back and talking brightly to him while invisible gangs of thugs kick the shit out of my heart. I gesture for Dave to take over, since Mama is a more primal pull -- I've got that womb, see? -- than Pops. I stand a few feet away with Fred, blowing kisses and making little thumbs-up and tough-fist "You can do it!" gestures as the line moves forward -- forcibly, for Finn. Dave is moving him toward the classroom. Finn is trying everything he can. He's digging his feet into the asphalt and pulling backwards, and when that doesn't work, he's hanging off of Dad's hand with his feet off the ground, getting airlifted to his doom. It would be hilarious if it weren't so heartwrenching.

As soon as Dave has him in the classroom, I squeeze Fred in my arms and the tears come flying. Other moms hover sympathetically nearby, offering encouragement. I laugh-cry-talk with them, and pretty soon they're welling up, too.

I've never, with either of my babies, been drawn to do anything like a parent's group. That always seemed like far too broad a stroke. Parent's group? Mom's group? It felt like it was casting the net way too wide. "Hey, honey, I'm off to people group!" But in the last week and a half, I've changed. If you are the mother or father of a kindergartener, we are bosom buddies, a priori. I don't need to know one more thing. If your child has been in kindergarten for seven days like mine has, we might as well be buried together, you and I. We are that close.

And I have to say that this group of parents seems particularly delightful. I'm starting to get school spirit, frankly. Sacajawea Elementary and all associated with it kick ass as far as I'm concerned. Finn told me excitedly today that the principal, Barry Dorsey, stands on the playground and yells "Laaaaaaaaadeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez and......" and all the kids scream out "GENTLEMEN!!!!!!" And then...something? Finn didn't feel like telling me anything else, so I don't know what comes next. But just that nugget of information is perfect.

Where are we? Right, Finn's inside. And this little illustration stands for five out of the seven days he's been to school. He's in the Peace Corner. The other kids are patting his back, holding his hand. (I die at the sweetness.) A pretty little girl named Trinity who sits at his desk is telling him, "You don't have to cry EVERY day!" (Dave reported happily that yesterday Trinity began her wifely ministrations with Finn, telling him all about the good things they would get to do that day, even going so far as to reach over and adjust the zipper at the top of his jacket like she was straightening his tie. Finn, all what is this girl doing? -- and ever the smoothie -- kicked her lightly in the foot. Trinity said to Dave, "He kicked me!" but it was clear that she didn't mind and this wouldn't stop her.) (Oh, Trinity. Be safe out there.)

But let me cut to the chase. He's doing better! When I pick him up every day, he does not look remotely like a guy who's been to hell. I ask him about his day in the car on the way home.

I ask:

"What stories did you read this morning?"

and he answers:

"The Napping House. It was something about a Grandma and some animals and a boy."

or he answers:

"A very important story about little kids." "What happens to the kids in the story?" "I don't know."

or he answers:

"STAR WARS. I HATE STAR WARS. I don't like all the fighting." "Who was fighting?" "Nobody. It's Star Wars Alphabet."

or he says:

"Some story about a bear whose name begins with a C."

I think he's making friends? Maybe? I'm not sure. In any case, a lovely thing happened. I was asking him about the kids in class, and it came out that there was a boy he hadn't talked to yet that appealed to him. R.J. is his name. He murmured it fervently to me, hiding his face in my arm. "R.J.!" That's who he wanted to be friends with. I didn't know who R.J. was, but then Dave told me he's a little guy with a limp and a withered hand. And then Finn told me a couple of days ago that he'd become friends with R.J. at lunchtime. R.J. sat with him and point-blank asked him if he wanted to be friends, and Finn said "sure". I yelled the story to Dave as Finn relayed it to me, and when I got to the part where Finn accepts, I fucked up the story (of course) and said that Finn had said yes. Finn set me straight. "No," came the adjustment, "I said SURE."

Now, I have no idea if Finn has spoken to or hung out with R.J. since then. I asked him who he played with at morning recess today, and the answer was "A jump rope." He just ran around the playground by himself, dragging a jump rope. And that's what he was doing when I picked him up later in the day. Just playing by himself, as he always is when I pick him up, dragging a jump rope around. He's not with the other kids, he hasn't fallen into a game with anybody, and I can't see R.J. anywhere, or Ian, who seems to have made some tighter friends. But he doesn't seem distressed about it. He's just playing. It's cool. It's at least cool enough.

He told me this morning -- before his triumphant, not-traumatized entry into the classroom on his own steam (!) -- as we were getting him ready for school, "You know, by morning recess I'm usually fine." And he asked me how long it took me to get used to kindergarten. I have no idea how long it took me to get used to kindergarten, but that's totally beside the point, which was that it was time to begin bullshitting. "Let's see. What day of kindergarten is this for you? Day seven? I think it was...yeah. Right around seven days into it." He was satisfied, and breezily continued getting ready.

Tonight we looked at Vogue briefly before bed, and as I sailed past a page, he asked me to go back. I circled back a few pages, and asked what he was looking for. He said, "I thought I saw somebody who looked like R.J." When we determined that R.J. was not featured in this month's Vogue, we turned off the lights and I sang him to sleep.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

live from the peace corner

It's begun. My oldest, Finn, has entered kindergarten. We dropped him off for day two approximately an hour ago.

"Dropped him off." My, that sounds breezy. Peeled him, struggling, off our legs? Wrenched ourselves from his grip and airlifted ourselves out of the classroom as soon as his teacher, Mr. Norman, swung in to relieve us? Whatever it was, it was fucking difficult.

Let me back up a little. We put in a bid last spring for Finn to go to an alternative school that we fell in love with, but came up goose eggs. On our list of preferences we'd put approximately one zillion schools ahead of the one to which he'd have naturally been assigned, because I happened to go to that particular school in 4th grade when we first moved to Seattle from New York, and it was the worst year of my schooling life. Holy smokes, it was shitty. Abysmal educationally, barely livable socially. And even if it had improved bunches in 30 years (whiiiiich...we'll find out that it hadn't), the sense memory of walking into that place every morning would have made me queasy.

But we didn't get assigned to any of those zillion schools, and Finn was headed to Olympic Hills. Aaa! We were ready to make the best of it. We were going to embrace the "local is good" paradigm, get involved, shine it up as much as we could. But aaa!

And then three weeks before school was set to start, we got a letter from the principal of Olympic Hills saying that since they didn't meet testing standards, they were legally obligated to give us the option to send our child to another school that did. We were given a list of three alternatives, and on that list was our #2 choice.

Sacajawea! Sweet little Sacajawea Elementary. Seattle public schools are going to hell in a handcart, but Sacajawea is one of the few in town that keeps getting better and better. "A gem in the rubble", said the Seattle Times. A gem! In the rubble, sure, but a gem! We'll take it.

I took Finn to check it out a few days before school began. They'd posted class lists on the door, so we'd find out which kindergarten teacher he'd be assigned. Kit Norman, Room 3. I imagined Kit Norman to be a sweet old lady, but then a fifth-grader and his mom rolled up to the door and we fell into conversation. The boy, Ari, said to Finn, "You got Mr. Norman! He's the best."

Finn got a letter in the mail that day from Mr. Norman, welcoming him to school, and telling him about all the cool stuff they were going to do that year. They'd learn to read and write, they'd learn about animals and dinosaurs and insects, they'd play math games, they'd learn about Asia, and collect pennies to help their communities, and go roller-skating and go to the theater, and on and on. I didn't even notice the letter in the pile of mail until late that evening, after everyone had gone to bed. I read it and my heart swelled. The good vibes of Mr. Norman practically flew off the page. There was also a little form for Finn to fill out - "All About Me" - which we worked on together the next day. Now Mr. Norman knows that Finn likes gardening and watering plants and he wants to learn about all sorts of different trees. Big leaf maples and Norway maples, specifically, if we could be so bold. Mr. Norman knows that Finn likes baking buttermilk biscuits and blueberry muffins, and that he likes to play both hide and seek and "running hide and seek". ("It's easy to make up a new game," explains Finn. "You just take one game, like running, and put it together with another game." Polo Monopoly! Synchronized Twister! Pin the Tail on Kevin Bacon! He's right, this is easy.)

Finn wanted to wear two different plaid shirts and a pair of plaid shorts to orientation. He wouldn't budge on the shirts, but I convinced him to go slightly subtler on the pants. A neutral windowpane plaid, at least. And he had me draw two hearts for Mr. Norman - a large one containing a smaller, smiling one. And then he drew an arm and a hand coming off the smaller heart, offering a spiky flower. Then he went into the garden and picked some clover for Mr. Norman, which we wrapped in a small jewelry box.

Finn's never been to school. No, wait, not true. He went to preschool for three days. There are a few reasons behind this, but this post is already fixing to be ten miles long. Things conspired against, let's just say. So kindergarten, which is already momentous for all parents and kids, is a little closer to jumping out of an airplane than it is to jumping off a high dive for Finn.

Orientation went okay, as well as can be expected. It's just an hour, and you're with your mom and dad, so how bad can it be? Finn was a little nervous and weirded-out, but he handled it, and eventually he befriended a little boy out on the playground, a great little guy named Ian. (Before then, he just wasn't quite connecting with any of the kids out there, and so he kept pasting a cheerful smile on his face and coming back to play with steady old Fred, who's Sancho Panza to Finn's Don Quixote. Meanwhile, I was thankful I'd brought enormous sunglasses, because seeing him out there tentatively approaching kids and then thinking better of it - and then standing there awkwardly, and then playing with forced wildness with Fred - made tears shoot to my eyes over and over.)

Mr. Norman wasn't what I expected. I'd pictured a gentle bear, some kind of cuddly nerd all grown up. Unsurprisingly, that wasn't the actuality. Mr. Norman is more the golden-boy type, like a camp counselor or tennis star or student body president. He's blond and grinning and brisk. And he's great. He announced to us all that he adores his job, he could never imagine himself doing anything else, and that he wants to give kids the best possible first impression of school, to make it as fun as possible. It's rare to get a male kindergarten teacher, and even rarer to get one like Mr. Norman, who really does give off terrific light.

When the first day came, we walked Finn into the class and saw that - miracle of miracles - his assigned seat was right next to Ian, his new friend. (I'll tell you right now that I am giving credit for this miracle to my dear departed dad and father-in-law. As soon as I saw their names next to each other at their little desk, I knew that the grandpas had a hand in this. It's just like them. And furthermore, I think there was some heavenly string-pulling for Finn to end up at Sacajawea, since when I went down to public school headquarters to enroll him there, they were puzzled in the extreme. Olympic Hills was not, in fact, on their list of schools that was required to give kids the chance to opt out. But since I'd shown up, they'd see what they could do. Strangeness.) (I love fairy tales and I'll love them until the end. I don't like to embrace a prosaic explanation if I can find one that gives me goose bumps.)

The wall was lined with smiling parents, and the kids all seemed bubbly and ready to go. As the time came for us to leave, Finn got more and more nervous and then began to cry. I signaled for Dave to take over, and then grabbed Fred (who was ready to enter kindergarten that very day, judging by his enthusiasm for the space) and ran. I made it out the door to the playground and out of view of the classroom window before I burst into tears. Holy fuck. I laughed while I cried, because there I was, the living cliche, the brand-new kindergarten mom beside herself. Dave followed in a couple of minutes, and reported that Mr. Norman had swooped in to comfort Finn and to show him to the "Peace Corner", a groovy little spot in the classroom with a tiny couch and books and a big peace sign hanging on the wall above a basket of stuffed animals. Ian had asked, "Is he crying?" and Mr. Norman responded sweetly, "Yeah, sure he is. It's his first time going to school, so it's a big thing for him."

We went upstairs to the welcome brunch for new parents, but I didn't see one single Bloody Mary available anywhere, so that was a wash.

Oh, man. This will have to be a two-parter. You might think, "Hey, Tina. We're fine with just this one part. You're really more his mom than any of us are, let's remember." But you'll have to bear with me. There's more to report. The rest of the first day, the overwhelming kindness of the other parents, and Mama Crying In the Playground, Round Two. I promise I won't go on and on about this forever. It's just that the first time you jump out of an airplane, your diary entry that night is a little longer than normal.

Okay, then. Off to pick him up from day two. Blow on the dice with me for day three, readers.

P.S. I thought of a solution for this whole thing. I think all of us Rowleys should become huge stoners starting right now. We'll just all smoke weed right before school. Finn, too. All of us. Fred, everybody. We'll just get wicked stoned first thing in the morning. (A Great Toking Sound.) "Heeeeey, Sacajawea. What's the word?" Roll into school, drop him off, roll out of there, no problem. Learning will be fun! Shh, I think this is a no-fail plan.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

midnight sun

When I was at the farthest end of 21, I went to Finland with my mom. She was born there, and moved to America when she was a teenager. I’d been there once before with my family, when I was three. I only remember two things: sitting in a blow-up canoe in a living room playing with dolls, and wigging out when my aunt and uncle’s ugly old boxer dog, Pondi, pinned me on the kitchen floor. Now my mom and I were making a girls-only pilgrimage. We were there for six disorientingly bright weeks, right around midsummer, when the sun never abandons its post.

Traveling with your mother at 21 feels old-fashioned. It’s awkward and sweet and a little frustrating, like you’re going to a church luncheon for six weeks straight when what you most like to do at the moment is flash your driver’s license to bouncers and act nonchalant in bars, as though you’d been going to them for years.

We’ll fly on Scandinavian Airlines to Copenhagen, and then we’ll take a smaller plane to Helsinki, and then we’ll take a couple of trains to Savonlinna, where my Aunt Aune and Uncle Jorma will meet us.

On the flight from Seattle to Copenhagen, we order the vegetarian meals. When our trays are set down in front of us, it’s clear that vegetarianism has not made it to Scandinavia. In the biggest compartment of the tray, where the main course goes, there’s a bright white oval sponge. In the smaller compartment, where the side dish lives, there’s a tiny bunch of red grapes. People who’ve ordered the standard breakfast are eating croissandwiches stuffed with eggs and cheese. We’re not vegans. We could eat that. We feel jealous and sad. We taste our sponges. They don’t taste like anything. They taste like texture.

When we get to Helsinki, everything smells like apricots and freshly cut wood. We check into the Hotel Helka and fall asleep in our tiny room. When we wake up, it’s 4 o’clock, but here’s the trick about arriving in Finland in the summertime and waking up with jet lag; you have no idea which 4 o’clock it is, because it’s always light. And it’s rainy that day, so we can’t even try to hazard a guess from the sun’s angle. My mom and I bat theories back and forth about whether it’s early morning or late afternoon. We finally shower and get dressed and go down to the restaurant and see if we can pick up any clues. There’s a buffet in the dark little restaurant with platters of cheese, cheese, cheese, and some rye bread and some more cheese. Fuck if I have any new idea what time it is, but my mom announces confidently that this is breakfast.

We take the train to Savonlinna. Aune and Jorma pick us up and take us to their house, and then the six weeks quickly compact themselves into a routine that looks like this:

1) My mom and I wake up six inches from each other. We’re sharing a fold-out couch. It’s weird, but kind of nice. We grin at each other first thing every day, always surprised by our proximity.

2) We have breakfast. Our first breakfast, I should say. My aunt stuffs us with food all day long. Breakfast is always at 7:00. Rice porridge, rye pastries, cheese, bread, fruit. We noodle around the house for a couple of hours, planning the day, taking showers. By 10 am, my aunt figures that we’re probably starving and she makes a fresh batch of rice porridge, and though we’re not even remotely hungry, we eat big bowls of it with butter and cinnamon and sugar just because she went to the trouble.

3. We drive somewhere to see something. Aune always brings a bag of Fazer candy. This is the best hard candy in the world, because it’s not really hard. It’s slightly crispy on the outside, but then it gives way to a soft, oozy chewiness. There are fruit, coffee, chocolate, and some delicious mystery flavors. I gaze out the back seat windows at the birch trees passing by, my candy supply constantly replenished. Birches look to me like people who’ve had a spell cast on them to make them trees. The black markings on their trunks look like eyes and mouths. They seem romantic and sad, exiled into treedom. They’re my favorite tree in all the world, and Finland is blanketed with them. We sightsee or visit relatives, and stop for lunch and then for cake and pastries.

4. We come home and sit in the back yard and read novels, and I smoke cigarettes. My aunt and uncle smoke, so they don’t mind if I do, too, so my mom’s disapproval is overruled. There’s a porcupine that comes and visits the back yard every day. My aunt calls out in her somewhat broken English, “Porky pie!” I’m reading The Three Musketeers, and demolishing Camel after Camel. If it’s raining, I disappear into the RV parked in front of the house and sit at the tiny table painting watercolor after watercolor of birches that look and act like people. I paint a picture of a birch playing itself like a violin, and my aunt has it framed and hangs it on their wall.

5. Dinner is enormous. Then my aunt and uncle and mom watch Matlock in Finnish, while I read some more or listen to Elvis Costello or The Pretenders on my Walkman. When it’s bedtime, we pull thick window shades down to block that crazy, endless sun.

The days run into each other, maximally boring and very cozy. My mom and aunt and I sit at her dining room table, and they gossip in Finnish while I sit there, glazed. My mom is a neglectful translator. They’ll chatter on for a while, and then my mom will remember I’m there and throw me a non-sequitur bone - “Cabbage casserole of some sort.” “The Santa Claus was drunk.” - and I’ll muse on that for a while until the next nonsense phrase floats my way.

Once we go to some sort of picnic in a gazebo in the woods with a lot of other older Finnish people. We eat stew that’s filled with tiny fish that you’re supposed to eat whole. I crunch into one and gag wildly, my eyes watering, my mouth and throat filled with what feels like thousands of tiny, sharp bones. I’m having a full-blown fish bone crisis, and all the old Finns are staring at me while I choke and make inelegant noises for what feels like forever. Another time we go to a wedding, and I find out I have two distant male cousins about my age, and they’re impossibly good-looking and friendly. Antti-Jussi and Olli-Pekka. I have a wicked temporary crush on both of them, but nothing could be more pointless than sexual feelings at an afternoon wedding in Finland with your mom and aunt and uncle. Another time, my mom and I go to a gallery in Helsinki, where a Polish painter named Jan Jagielski is having a show. He’s there that day. His paintings are beautiful, all these wistful grey-green figures. The artist is also beautiful. He’s in his early 40’s, with shaggy dark hair and baggy, elegant clothing. My mom and I simultaneously fall in love with him, and she tells him that I’m an artist, too. He responds very warmly, and the two of us wander around the empty gallery together and he tells me all about his paintings. On the train back to the hotel, my mom and I fantasize about me marrying the artist. She considers the twenty-year age difference between us and dismisses it as an obstacle. “Papa was sixteen years older than Granny. And your dad is eight years older than I am. It doesn’t matter. He seemed smitten with you.” When I come back from Finland, I will buy a textbook and try to teach myself Polish.

On midsummer night we take a boat down through several connecting lakes to a cousin’s house in the woods. We stay up all night and eat cold cucumber soup and cloudberry cake, and I wander in the forest next to the lake. Everything is golden. Three a.m. sunshine is the most golden thing you’ve ever seen, especially bouncing off a lake onto birch trees. The sun goes down for about one minute, and then bounces right back up like it was just playing peekaboo.

We’re going to travel back to Seattle the day before I turn 22. The sun has just started to give way to a couple of hours of a night/evening hybrid, which feels disappointing. The sun is capitulating and I don’t want it to. I stay up the night before we leave, sitting in the window seat of our fancy Helsinki hotel, looking at the dark creeping at the edges of the sky. I’m going to be really glad to get home to see the proper moon and stars, and to pretend to be an adult and drink in bars again, but when I look over at my mom asleep in that big white fluffy bed, I feel a kick in my chest: the preliminary pang of separation.

Monday, July 04, 2011

usa: a messy ode

I would have been born on the 4th of July, but I exited my mom a touch too fast. She had what she thought was indigestion at 10pm on the 3rd, and at 11:34pm I shot out. Sort of wish I could have held out for twenty-six more minutes. It's not like I was going to get any real work done in that first half an hour. Oh, well. The first time I saw fireworks, I thought, "Are these for me? Are we still celebrating?!"

Happy Birthday, you old horse! 235. You don't look a day over a hundred and eleven.

When I was traveling in Europe back in 1992, Nirvana had recently burst onto the global scene. Lord, it was nice moving around in their glowing wake as a Seattleite. When you travel the world as an American, you frequently get that "Hello, NEWman" vibe from the natives. We've done plenty to bring that on, but it was a relief to be welcomed as a friend. "You're from Seattle? Fantastic! What is it like?!" Oh, it's magic. Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell and all of us young kids, we all live on the same block, and, well, we all go out onto our stoops and make meaningful, discordant noises in our flannel shirts. It's like Swinging London, or riding on Ken Kesey's bus through Haight-Ashbury. It's a constant wonder. Let us hold hands and accept this vision, for both of our sakes.

No, most of the time when you travel as an American, you can see the eyes begin to roll back in people's heads as soon as your origins are revealed. Many times I've seen people assume that I'd have no sense of humor, and when it came out that I do, they were visibly amazed, like I'd unfurled a giant set of wings or grown a couple of extra heads. (I'll address this phenomenon later, but for now let me just say regarding America and comedy: people, please.)

(Oh: speaking of. I haven't been able to contribute lately, but here are some pieces I've written for this fine site right here. I've been meaning to link and forgotten to. They are humor-style pieces, see? That's why I bring it up. That's why I bring it up, ENGLAND*.)

*Oh, England. You were the most suspicious of all. Sigh.

It's never nice to feel embarrassed to inhabit your nationality, and while I completely get America Fatigue, it's the fucking 4th of July, motherfuckers! Yes, we're arrogant. Sure, we're dumb. Totally, we're fat. Yes, we know. But I'm here to talk about some of the things that make me feel proud and glad to be riding around in an American suit in this lifetime.

THE LIST.

1. The Movies/The Movie Stars.

We don't make the only movies, and we do make a million shitty movies, too, but we make the fucking movies. You are welcome for Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, and you're welcome for DeNiro and Pacino and Hoffman in the 70's, and you're welcome for Star Wars and Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Motherfucking Ark and...and...Casablanca and....what were the good recent movies? Who cares! There were some. You're welcome for those!

2. Jazz, Blues, and Rock and Roll.

I think about when these musical forms were new, and what it said about the people who had the temperament to make way and let them through. Tight and loose, earthy and light, rough and humorous. That music was born here for a reason.

3. The American landscapes

The craggy, hollowed-out, furious pastels of the Southwest. The dripping, serene gloom of the Northwest. The lush and swampy bayou. New England foliage on fire in the autumn. Big Sur. The Rockies like giant, jagged Orca whales. Endless, flat, madness-inducing, character-building prairies. American wildlife. Mountain lions and rattlesnakes and bears and squirrels. (I'm just riffing now, and it's sloppy, but sloppy riffing is some of what makes us who we are!)

4. American Humor

Mark Twain and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Bill Hicks and Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David and Groucho Marx and Maria Bamford and Bob Newhart and Kathy Griffin and Animal House and Spinal Tap and Rushmore and Caddyshack and the opening twenty minutes of Elf and The Onion and McSweeney's Internet Tendency and The Hairpin and I haven't even scratched the surface. People, PLEASE.

No more categories. Walt Whitman. The Beat Generation. Jack Kerouac. New York through all of it. Boomboxes on shoulders. Hair metal. Patsy Cline. The cheeseburger. Converse All-Stars. Basketball. Southern drawl. Bronx cheer. Austin, Texas. Cambridge, Mass. Berkeley, CA. Irreverence and earnestness and naivete and book smarts and street smarts. Nonconformity. Tradition. Friendliness. "Bring it on."

And I haven't even touched on the larger movements, the social and political highlights. We have had a few. I'm running out of time so I'm not going to try and do them justice. But the night of November 4th, 2008 - no matter what you think about Barack Obama and his politics and how his term is going - that night gave me an injection of pride so deep and full that I'll be feeling it for the rest of my life.

I'm in a hurry, but if I don't say it today, I'll never say it, and if I don't say it now, I won't say it today. Quality Control has gone to a barbecue, so this is going to have to do. I didn't do anything justice, I didn't come anywhere close, but I tried. If the high-five missed the hand, oh, well. You saw where my hand was going. You got the point. It's a quick sketch.

This is a celebration, my friends. Everything else will be there waiting for us in the morning.

Friday, July 01, 2011

the tarot eskimos have twelve different words for snow

I've been gone awhile, haven't I? If you go back in the archives, back in the earliest days of this blog in 2005 (before I was married, before babies, in the halcyon days of total unemployment), you'll see that I used to post at least once a day. Sometimes twice, sometimes thrice! (Don't go back and look, though. Just take my word for it. They weren't all gems, you know what I mean?) Now I'm lucky if I post three times in a season. I don't want it to be like that. And soon, it won't be like that.

I'll explain. I'll tell you where I've been and where I'm going. (Not that I'm leaving here. I'll be posting here as consistently erratically as ever, I promise.) Maybe you'll go with me, and maybe you'll just stick around here, frowning and waiting for posts. Or maybe you're just going to go do your nails or go wash the car or have a bake sale or whatever it is you do when you run off and leave me here all by myself. (Even if I'm not posting, I just sit here quietly at my blog all day and night, watching you come and go. My family begs me to come out into the sunlight with them, but I shoo them away. NO. No, I can't. Someone I don't know know has logged on from Transylvania. I can't just leave him here by himself. He'll get lost, or break something.)

Where I've been:

*Working on Elizabeth's play, which closed last weekend and was an intensely wonderful experience. Strange to move on, after working on this piece with Elizabeth and John on and off for more than a year. It's a post in and of itself, which will have to happen later.

*Working, stop-and-start-ingly, on my book. Those things, whew. They're...mercy. Daunting. And this first draft keeps shifting on me, conceptually, and all kinds of fears muscle up to get faced, and wow. My word. I had this idea that I was going to have half of my first draft finished by August. What I'll have in August is a little more than half of twice what I have now, which is certainly not nothing, but it's not HALF of anything, see? Holy hell. But I'm dragging it along with me into the future, slowly.

*Finally, and most importantly, I've been immersing myself in a course of study. Ladies and gentlemen, after years of casual study and several months of intensive study and then one very successful, jam-packed month of on-my-feet practice with real, living people, I'm getting ready to pop out of my cocoon as a bona-fide, honest-to-goodness, plying-a-trade tarot reader.

Oh, Tarot, you glorious thing. Let me sing your praises here for everybody. I've fallen head-over-heels in love with you, and we're at the beginning of what's sure to be the proverbial beautiful friendship.

Seventy-eight cards of you, rendered a zillion different ways by all kinds of artists over the last several hundred years (at least). I love your aesthetics, I love the humming resonance of your old, old archetypes. There's the Major Arcana, or "Big Secrets", your thematic heavyweights. They're like the oceanic undertow in a reading, or the pull of the stars. Then there's the Minor Arcana, or "Little Secrets", which catalog in detail all of the streams of daily life, the practicalities and heartbreaks and thought patterns and variously shaped rushes of energy. You take concepts like sorrow or triumph or malaise, and you serve each of them up in several different nuanced preparations. Each card has a little symphony of meanings, and in one reading the clarinet rises to the top, and in another reading with the same card, the clarinet will recede to inaudibility and the strings will take over, or the bass drum, or, or, or.

So there you are, and then here I am, and to serve you up properly I have to be in the very best intuitive shape. I have to be meditating regularly, and I have to approach you with humility, and I have to have my heart organized in real service to the people who entrust me with their concerns. And then when the reading begins, I have to be bold enough to play some real jazz with you. I'm on stage, I'm listening, I'm improvising. I can't hesitate. I have to see and hear acutely and offer out loud what I'm getting as it comes in, but I have to guess its ideal form and shape it lightning-quick. Does this note come in soft or strong? Make a choice, give it up. But then I have to know when I need to be quiet for a second to understand what the shot is, when the reading is delivering something particularly subtle. A card pops up that doesn't make immediate sense. I start talking, stop talking and listen, start talking again...and there it goes. It starts taking off its clothes, reveals its purpose for being there. A moment of doubt comes in every reading, a little nervous thrill when the screen goes dark a second, a split-second or few spent sitting smack on the lap of risk, and then I jump into the blackness and freefall. And don't you know that something always catches me just in time? But who knows if it will next time! You can see why I'm in love.

So that's what I've been doing. I'm new at this, but it looks like I might have a knack. (Oh! And I can do these readings over the phone. So YOU, yes, YOU will be able to have one if you like. Details will come soon.) And it feels nice to be sort of going into the family business. (Not that tarot is precisely the family business.) I mentioned in a previous post that there's some clairvoyance that's run down through the female line on my father's side of the family. It travels as far back as our family is recorded, in fact. Grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great, great-great-great, et cetera. They all had it. And now I'm just beginning to see mine light up. Hello, family heirloom. You're getting polished up and going straight into use. I don't want any grumpy ancestors complaining about cobwebs/ungrateful descendents. No, no. No worries, ladies. I'm not a fool. You left me a pretty fine resource. I'm not going to squander this one.

As always, I have so much more I'd actually like to tell you, but there's no time. But a friend of mine is going to be building me a new website, and there will be a new blog attached that focuses entirely on the thing which lights me up more than anything else, which is the conscious cultivation of our inner lives. That's really what I'm emerging from the cocoon to do. I want to be in a lifelong conversation about the thing that matters most to me, and so...there. That. So I will. Please come with me when it's all ready.

And then, as I said, I'll always be over here posting about flotsam and jetsam and Oscar dresses and Finn and Fred and whatever takes hold of me. Same old this and that, on as loose a non-schedule as ever. Blibbity blobbity bloo.

If you've made it this far, come here and let me give you a kiss for being a big patient hero. You're all forbearance. You're like Mother Theresa. You're like Mother Theresa in the body of a movie star. I should tell you that more often.

P.S. Please meet my newest sponsor and member of my Sidebar Pantheon, the Queen of Wands. When I play spiritual dress-up, she's who I traipse around in. May her dress fit me snugly over time. (But not too snugly. You know. Gotta watch the figure.)


Saturday, May 21, 2011

a little rapture

So I've been working on this memoir, and thinking about my relationship to God and the divine. That's the nut of the thing: how my ideas got formed and how they're shifting, and everything I've done to try and find...well, usually I use the word "it", but today I feel like saying "him". Which is new.

Anyway.

Jesus is on a lot of people's minds today, and mine, too, as he has been for a while here with this book. I was remembering my childhood relationship to him, which, since I wasn't brought up as a Christian, was friendly but distant. I always thought, "That guy seems cool. They've got a cool guy over there." And at one point, when I was around ten, I figured that he's probably open to being buddies with anybody. You don't have to go to one of the churches where they've got a big picture of him. If you sidle up to shake hands, he's going to be all the way down with that, maybe spin the handshake into one of those long, complicated, reunited-with-a-great-old-friend, what-it-was numbers. (I feel like I'm supposed to be capitalizing those Hims and Hes but I tell you I just can't do it. Feels funny. I'm positive he doesn't mind.)

So I've been thinking about him of late, and sort of trying him on for size. I haven't done that since childhood. You can see all of the Hindu flags I've got flying on my blog here, so you know I have a tent informally set up east of the sun. But I'm not - and I make it a point not to be - exclusive with any one way to God. I'm curious about them all, and think that any one of them followed with a full heart will get you there, and that none of them are the point. I'm pretty sure anybody can take the elevator in and up right from where they are with no middleman.

And that brings me back to the Rapture.

I was meeting with my mentor the other day. (I have the world's most wonderful mentor. I meet with her twice a month, and I tell you it's like being launched 500 extra yards down my path every other Thursday. Magic.) And I'd been telling her that I'd been thinking about Jesus as a result of my writing, and she said that was funny, because she'd been thinking a lot about him, too, of late. And no kidding, he's certainly floating in the common consciousness with all of this Rapture talk.

But as I drove away from my appointment with her, driving to see my chiropractor *, I had the most fantastic sort of weirdly holy experience. Every person I saw on the way - riding bikes, driving cars, standing around on the sidewalk - was visibly...how do I put this? They were magnificent. Every single person appeared to be the secretly radiant star of some great epic. It was like The Return of the King, only every damn person alive was the king. Everybody was Frodo, Harry Potter, Aragorn, you name it. Everybody was The Chosen One. I knew for sure that the skinny young Asian man on his bike was possessed of amazing wizardly powers that he will get to put to the test eventually. That the old, rumply, unassuming man in a windbreaker ambling down the sidewalk was as Dumbledore as Dumbledore himself. And it was pretty rapturous, let me tell you. I wanted to see as many people as I could. It was like the world was some kind of divine Hollywood, and everybody was the most famous person in it, and I was the the most avid stargazer alive. Joy.

*Oh my god, that car accident was kind of the best thing that ever happened. Now I get to have chiropractic and massage three times a week! A WEEK! A shot of both every time. I can't wait to tell you about the guy who's giving me massage, either. It's too delightful. Next time.

And this morning, I woke up to a feeling of deeper peace than I've felt in years. I had the feeling that all of my problems - even if they're not visibly solved - are solved already in some way that just hasn't had time to manifest in the physical world. I felt whole and happy, that All is Right with the World, that I lack nothing. I feel it through every inch of me this morning. It's just true.

So, here's to you, Harold Camping, you crazy diamond. And here's to you, too, Jesus, my new old distant friend. I don't know about anybody else, but I think this has been a fine Rapture so far.

Monday, May 02, 2011

on bin laden and being human

Do I feel like dancing about it? No. The feeling is quieter and darker and grander. Profound grim visceral satisfaction, and something like awe. My reaction may not be coming from the finest part of my nature, but I'm not concerned about that at the moment. It's story, writ large. The shock and grief and fallout of the plot point on 9/11, and the felt weight of an answer on 5/1. Not the answer. An answer. Something direct, finally, that spoke right to the wound.

The rightness of a full circle. The narrative isn't left dangling, the story feels - rationally or not - less senseless. The physics is right, too. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Yes. YES. Gratitude for when that looks or feels true.

Whatever this gives to the families who lost loved ones that day, I endorse wholeheartedly. Some kind of dark, deserved exultation.

And there's the feeling of connectedness - all of our enormous combined attention moving to the same place - that happens when something truly historic takes place. The grand feeling might have something to do with all of our consciousnesses linking up for a moment. That we're all forever located in time together in some concentrated way.

And there's the pure, mind-boggling appreciation for the execution of an incredibly difficult task. The ferocity and elegance of the maneuver. Hot damn.

I know that this feeling isn't the best we can do. I know that exulting over a death isn't what some people might call God consciousness. I grant that, I agree with that. But this is human with a capital H. It's dark, light, high, low, sorrow, glee, anger. The most eternally human mix. There's something right in not disavowing this other part of ourselves, the part that creates all the story in the world. There is no resolution without conflict.

So in a reverse "Namaste", the human in me salutes the human in us all, and I'm savoring this feeling while it lasts.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

hello, peanuts, the play

Two things:

1) I just want to say hello and welcome to the people who have come here recently and begun reading regularly. I'm looking at my stats and it's so nice to see that the place is getting bookmarked, and people are making themselves cozy in the archives. That's just so grand. I hope you'll pipe up in the comments and tell me about yourselves a little bit. So glad you're here.

2) So I'd mentioned in my last post that I've been rehearsing a play, and I said I was going to talk about it before it opened, but then I didn't. Life intervened in the form of another trip to the hospital for ol' Fred. Goddamn. This time: peanut allergy. He has a peanut allergy, it turns out. Awful. He's fine, but really? Is this necessary? I remember when I was pregnant with Fred and was stuck on bedrest, I'd log on to babycenter.com and read the message boards to kill time. There was one area called something like "Controversies". This was where all the smackdowns occurred. Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding. Attachment Parenting vs. Whatever It's Called When You're Not Doing That. Et cetera. And I remember getting sucked into a swirling....can it really have been a debate?...about peanut allergies, and what measures are appropriate and inappropriate to protect the people who have them. Now, I didn't know I had a peanut dog in this fight yet, but I remember being amazed by the contingent that was all, "Waah waah with your fatal allergies. We love peanuts and we should get to eat them everywhere and you should just never leave the house!" I'm pretty sure I piped up, which is always a dumb thing to do when you're pregnant - to enter the fray and voluntarily get all worked up over a message board. But now I do have a dog in this fight. Oh, yes. I do. And that's all I have to say about that.

I digressed again. Damn it. I was going to tell you about the play again, but I don't have time to do it justice. I'm off to go shower and get ready to perform. So here are some links which will have to do the talking for me. And then, then I'll come back and tell you about the process, which is really, really cool.

Here's a preview from The Stranger: Medicated Into Madness.

I'll come back and post reviews later. They've all been great. I'm really proud to be a part of this. Elizabeth is one of my dearest friends and I was there when all of this went down. She's turned that nightmare into artistic gold, and I think it ought to be required viewing for all humans. If you're a health care professional, or someone who ever goes to vist a health care professional, this is for you.

Okay. Off I go.

(I guess that was really three things.)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

hodgepod

In the old days of this blog, before I knew what I was doing (because now I know what I'm doing at all times), I used to just come on here and talk. Didn't always have a plan or a focus. Just came on the air and started rambling.

Going old-school today.

First of all, CAR ACCIDENT. (Apologies to those who have already heard about this ad nauseum on Facebook. I can think of at least 100 people who will read this and be like OH MY GOD WE KNOW. WE KNOW.) You guys can skip this one.

For the rest of you: car accident! Oh, I'm fine. But I got rear-ended last Friday...can I just pause to say that I don't enjoy the term "rear-ended"? Whenever I say it, I imagine somebody's old drunk uncle is going to come stumbling in from outside, "D'somebody say rear end?! My wife, lemme tell you, she's got a...oh. Car accident. Well, anyway, god bless her. She's got some caboose on her." There are just too many unavoidable jokes. Rear-ended! Slammed into from behind! Shhh. SHHH.

But let's get back to the horrible thing that happened to me. Yes! Very bad! Sitting there waiting to turn onto the freeway and then an unholy BANG! A Bang/Ouch combo, in fact. The driver was cooking along pretty fucking quick, judging by her crumpled car and my jolted neck.

And it was pouring rain, too!

Let me give you a moment to locate your violin.

Tune up a little. There you go.

Pardon me if I observe that you could stand to practice a little more. You've been playing how long? Oh, that's not long. That's not long at all. Why didn't you say something?

Let's enlist a professional.



Thanks for upstaging my very minor whiplash by walking out on stage on crutches, Perlman. You're supposed to be backing me up. Everything always has to be about Itzhak Perlman all the time. Well, I'm sick of it.

Anyway, that's nice. That's a nice song.

So, yes! Bang! And then instead of getting out of my car right there, I drive around the corner to pull over, hoping the driver will follow me. See, I didn't want to block the entrance to the freeway, you know? I was being considerate! Maybe that's not protocol, but hey! Plus I was confused, nay, shocked! But then the lady who hit me thought I was driving away. Thought I was pulling one of those "Get Hit and Run" moves that people who've been hurt in a car accident and aren't at fault so love to do. When I was stopped at the nearby light waiting to turn onto a safe street to pull over, she got out of her car and started yelling at me to stop. I yelled back and pointed to where I was pulling over.

So we pull over and we get out and she's berating me for not staying where we were. And I'm yelling at her "PARDON ME FOR NOT THINKING STRAIGHT AFTER YOU'D JUST SLAMMED INTO MY CAR!" And she keeps at it, "We should have stayed there!" And I'm yelling, "WELL I CAN'T EXACTLY TURN BACK TIME, NOW, CAN I?!" And really, really, really? You're scolding me?

Did I say it was raining? It was raining. The hems of my pants, they were all soaked. Is this the saddest thing you've ever read? This is like Old Yeller.

Police came. It's so nice to be the not-at-fault one. Medics came, but that was gilding the lily. But then I did drive myself to the hospital, due to escalating ouch. I'd packed coffee and breakfast for my rehearsal (to which I'd been headed) and lounged in the E.R. watching t.v. while I waited to get x-rayed. Sent home after a couple of hours with a prescription for Vicodin. Sweet.

And then it was a total free ride from there. Home safe, sore, medicated. Husband watching kids, pampering me. Drama queen goes on Facebook and gets petted by a thousand mommies and daddies. Spacing out on pain meds, watching Downton Abbey on Netflix. Yes, there's a little back pain, and a teeny bit of whiplash, but I don't have to wear one of those collars that makes you look like the cranky landlord on the 70's sitcom who's gotten his hilariously undignified comeuppance.

For a crappy car accident, it's all pretty first-class. I'd say I'm not complaining, but that's because I've already complained at exhaustive length, as Facebook can testify.

Let's see, what else? I want there to be something else. I don't want this to just be about that. I set up the expectation that there would be more.

Well, let's see. I'm writing a book. Good, that's good, I like this buried down here after everything else. Not too much with the fanfare. I thought about not saying anything, but I imagine this might take me a very long time, and maybe sometimes I want to talk about it.

The book's a memoir, with a family/philosophical angle. My dad's side of the family, particularly my grandmother's clan and ancestors, were some awfully unusual cats. There's some clairvoyance that runs through the female line, ostensibly down to me. I'm looking into this, as it were. And my parents/grandparents/great-grandparents were Theosophists, which is a very particular and peculiar thing to be. And so I'm reacting to that, as well. My granny, in particular, was a looming figure. Well-known clairvoyant. Difficult person. Super intimidating. And I'm learning about my great-grandmother, who was also clairvoyant, but went about things in a very different way from her daughter.

Anyway. Yes. It's nice to say this out loud, even if I'm very early on in the process. I think I need to invent some reason that I have to finish it in a timely manner. I think my own steam might not be steamy enough. I think I need an artificial deadline. Somebody give me one.

Is there anything else? Of course there is. My god. I'm alive, after all. That wasn't my whole autobiography. But is there anything else I feel like talking about today? No. This post was to be entitled "hodgepodge". However, two topics do not a hodgepodge make. Ergo, hodgepod. But I'll come back very soon and tell you about the play I'm rehearsing, which opens next Friday. How about I do that before next Friday? Yes. Good.

See you then. DRIVE SAFELY. (tiny violin)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

a message from fred rowley, age 21 months, who has pneumonia


(Fred enters, appearing to kickbox something.)

FUCK YOU. Yes, you. All of you. All of this.

(Fred swings his arms panoramically, culminating in a double bird-flip.)

Mom, Dad. Fuck you. Fuck you and your nebulizer. Yeah, you have me in a headlock today. But someday I'm coming for you fuckers, and it will be when you least expect it, and let me assure you my retribution will be swift and merciless. I will chop your fucking heads off.

Dad, I'm starting with you right now. I'm going to bite your goddamn shoulder early and often until your whole infrastructure falls to pieces.

Mom, YOU. YOU I don't even....et tu, Brute? I'm not even talking to you. You don't even get a "fuck you". I take back the earlier "fuck you" for you. I'll let you know when you're even a candidate. You have to exist to merit one of those.

New bottle full of Pedialyte instead of milk, fuck you. I don't even KNOW you. Okay, screw it. I will drink this bullshit once. Yes, okay. This is all right. No, wait. No, on second thought, fuck you. Fuck you in the ear. I'm going to slap you all the way into Idaho if you keep coming at me like that. Pedialyte. Can I get some fucking Pedialyte up in here? Who do I have to blow to get a bottle of goddamn Pedialyte? Oh, you mean THAT STUFF? Oh, fuck you.

Bananas, yogurt, Jello. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.

Children's Hospital, I don't know who you think you're fooling. Mom and Dad are all, oh, we're so glad we came, oh, they're so nice here. Well, fuck you. Fuck you and your cutesy purple dragon mask nebulizer. Do you think I'm a goddamn idiot? My parents are wrestling this bullshit on to me for a SOLID FUCKING HOUR and I'm supposed to submit because it looks like Barney? I don't even watch Barney, you fucking dweebs. And I'll submit when hell freezes over. You can swaddle me all you like. I'll break out of that shit and kill you all.

Yeah, I'm not done with you, Children's Hospital. Fuck your kangaroo mural, fuck your little "follow the rocket!" floor tiles, fuck your balloon motif, fuck your x-ray room koalas. Fuck that little glowing red thing you taped to my toe. Yeah, that's right. I'm gonna claw that tape off. Yeah, you better get out the duct tape. You want that glowing red thing on my toe, you're going to have to go maximum security on that shit.

Hey, there, Kids Clinic, with your stupid fucking logo with the backwards "s" on the end of "Kids", don't think I forgot who sent me to Children's Hospital. It was you cocksuckers and I will never forget. Look, I'll admit that I seemed cheerful when we were driving away from you. That's because I thought we were going HOME or somewhere OTHERWISE cool.

Home USED to be cool, at least.

Fuck you.

(Fred karate chops the air.)

Blackout.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

expired oscar fashion commentary

The Oscars were a week ago. The deadline to react to everyone's outfits was last Monday. So this is six days past everyone already not caring very much. And yet here I go, because this is a thing I used to do, and I enjoyed those carefree days spent blowing dandelion seeds into the breeze and critiquing passing eveningwear.

La la la.

Okay, Caesar, let's praise and bury and just wonder about you.



Helen Mirren! Oh, my heart. She's the most racktacular being ever. I'm a heterosexual woman and I just want to run up and shove my hands down the front of her dress. I could do some supreme quibbling and say that I like it when her hair is a teeny touch longer, but that'd be like sitting in a cafe in heaven and sending your milkshake back because you'd ordered Eternal Bliss flavor and were delivered Ceaseless Ecstasy by mistake.



Until last Sunday, I'd never really quite grasped the hype around Halle Berry's beauty. I never thought she was, you know, a mousy spinster, but I didn't think she was Woman Incarnate either. But then I saw her interviewed before the show in that cloud of fucking Ooh La La, and I got it. If there's ever an actual Miss Universe pageant, with "ladies" from other planets/solar systems/galaxies, we'd have to send Halle Berry. Freaky sexy elfin majesty.



Perfect slippery drizzle of silver. Gwyneth Paltrow, you know what? I even kind of like your newsletter. I said it. I like Goop. And I love that brooch on your hip. That's the kind of original, interesting Oscar jewelry I can get behind. Also, my friend Hilary met you at a play one night at the Flea Theater, and she said you were a real peach. And while I was laid up after my surgery, I watched you and Joaquin Phoenix in the film "Two Lovers", and holy cow, you were so good. Stand still while I stick a bunch of gold stars on your forehead.



Cate Blanchett. Lifetime Achievement award. Yes, those things look like warts, and yes, your torso looks like a puppet stage where a fancy little Punch and Judy show could begin at any moment, but you still look ridiculously cool. I love dresses that highlight an elegant back, too. A favorite phenomenon. And that's one of the best combinations of hairstyle and dress I've ever seen. It's kind of startling in its simplicity. Oh, whoops. Cliche. But sometimes simplicity is startling, damn it.



Speaking of startling simplicity, Mandy Moore! Normally, this is the kind of hairstyle I can't stand at the Oscars. So severe. And this dress trumpets out in a sort of stark angle. But she looks like this retro-futuristic, porcelain thing, and it is MAGIC.



Hey, Tina. Why did you include a picture of Julianne Moore at the Oscars that's from several years ago? Well, listen. I know. But this is one of my favorite looks of all time. And it's a segueway. Moore to Moore. And I bring it up because the effect Julianne Moore makes here is the kind I always hope to make when I get dressed up. Effortless, feminine, quietly original. I bring that up because....



...this, conversely, is how I fear I'll look. Oh, man. This look says to me, "It's what time?! We have to leave when?!?! No, no - no, I need another half an hour. This isn't - let me just do something with my hair, I'm....FUCK. Where are my other shoes? All I can find are...all I see are my orange shoes! What? Fuck you, Keith! Yes, this is the dress I'm wearing! Because...because I spilled Pinot Noir on the one I was gonna wear! Just shut up and help me find my silver shoes!"

Let's try this exercise again:



How one hopes to look. Oh, Michelle Williams, in your brilliant marigold Brokeback Oscar dress with that soft, dreamy hairdo. You should have just said, "World, forgive me. I know this is stone cold Grey Gardens crazy, but I'm not changing this outfit or hairstyle EVER. I'm going to walk around like this until I'm dead. Truly, get used to me. This is how I look forever and ever, amen."



But you did this instead. I don't even want to talk about it. And so many people loved this business. Death...well, not even warmed over. To do list: warm over death outfit before leaving house. Shit! And I even wrote it down! Hideous Valley of the Dead Dolls.



Hi, Sandra Bullock. I don't have a lot to say. I don't know why I included you. This is the picture of inoffensiveness. Tips to the pleasant. Thank you for not wearing an old-school, diamondy necklace. Hair's a little severe. But everything else checks out. Yes, this is me padding my Oscar paper for length.



Scarlett. Scarlett. Let me tell you what I like about your dress. I like the oval of lace around your back. I like the deep red color of the lace. Yes. I like that...let's call it a 10" x 22" region.



Otherwise, what the hell?! What is going on? Has the shock of fucking Sean Penn addled your brain? Can you just simply not think straight? "Oh, kids, it's true. Grandma nearly went bankrupt operating a bordello. And when she went to the Oscars that year, why, she just ripped down the drapes and made her own damn dress. Grandma's always been resourceful. You do what you have to do to get by. Watch your nickels, though, kids. They slip through your fingers faster than you think. Let's see, what else? Sean Penn always liked it best when I didn't wash my hair. Did I tell you kids about Sean Penn n' me?"



When I saw Mila Kunis in this dress, this is what I thought, in order:

1. Who the hell is that?
2. Oh, Mila Kunis. Whatever.
3. .........did Mila Kunis tattoo her areolas lavender for the Oscars??

Finn loved her dress, by the way. However, he loved everybody's dresses. Seriously. Everybody's. Zero discrimination. "BEAUTIFUL!" "I ADORE IT!" "I LOVE IT!" So, factor that in, Mila Kunis.



Amy Adams, it pains me to say what I'm going to say. So let me preface this by saying I thought you were ultra-brilliant in the Fighter. You and Mark Wahlberg were one of my favorite screen couples ever. This would have pained me less to say the year that Julie & Julia came out.

Amy.

No. I'm not going to say it. But I will say this: walk your makeup over to natural light before you leave the house. DO your makeup in natural light if you can.

You were so good in The Fighter.



Anne Hathaway, you wore a thousand gowns this year, but I think this one sums you up the best. Dork. Bubble.



Hilary Swank, goddamn it. Every year I beg you not to dress like you're going on a Golden Anniversary cruise with your fourth husband. (I realize that math is sketchy.) And the thing is, it's not the dress. It's that bun. It's that godforsaken bun that reappears year after year. So keep scooting over to the left because I'm tired of you, Hilary Swank. My left. Your right. About four more feet.



Hello, Melissa Leo. Everybody hated this dress, but I liked it. Okay, I didn't like the golden tin foil peeking out. And the shoulders were awfully blocky. But the concept of a plunging mandarin collar openwork lace dress like this, I like it. But maybe knee-length, for brunch. I don't know. When you began talking up there on the podium, for the first couple of minutes I was like, "Aw, that's so great. Sure, it must be overwhelming. Sure." And then after a bit I was like, "Welp. It's about time for the music." And then you yelled "FUCK". Lot going on, Melissa Leo.



zzzzzzzzzzwhat? Oh, it's just Natalie Portman, no need for me tozzzzzzzzzzzz



Doesn't Reese Witherspoon look like she could organize the shit out of your silverware drawer?



I generally have no reaction to the men at awards shows. Nobody goes to a wedding and freaks out about how nice the groom looks. So I only have things to say when things go wrong. I know. Did I expect everything to go right for Russell Brand? I know. But Russell Brand must grow back his beard. Some people are meant to have facial hair, and Russell Brand is one of them. Although I will say that his casting in "Arthur" is spot-on, because without the beard he looks just like Dudley Moore, only more debauched and stretched out on Silly Putty. However....



....yes. That's right. That's how you're supposed to look. Like the devil's big sexy poodle.



So, Oscars. James Franco and Anne Hathaway, huh? Well. Let's look to 2012, think about some fresh hosts. I submit for your consideration:



Thursday, February 03, 2011

objective/obstacle

It's the sixth anniversary of my dad's death tomorrow. Let's get right to it. On February 4th, 2005, the phone rang in the late morning. My mom's voice was contorted, and I don't know exactly what she said, other than "He's dying." We hung up quickly. I lived ten or fifteen minutes south.

There were split-second questions as we stumble-raced to get to the car and get up to my parents'...parent's house. Do I brush my teeth? God, fuck, of course not. Jesus. Shoes? Which are closest but which go on the fastest? Shoes become on. We fall headlong out the door, are in the car.

Which fucking way? Which route? I-5? 99? Just fucking pick one. I-5, obviously, just go!

I don't remember getting to the freeway but I remember driving up this freeway and suddenly being visited by none other than a fucking ACTING lesson. An acting lesson decided to reveal itself right at this moment. Simultaneously ridiculous and profound, irrelevant and breathtakingly relevant.

Objective and obstacle. I suddenly understood it with crystal clarity.

Objective: Get to my parent's house as fast as I can so I can see my father before he dies. This means drive fast, drive so fast, drive incredibly fucking fast. If you don't drive fast, you won't see him before he dies.

Obstacle: Don't get in an accident or pulled over. You must drive safely, respecting the laws of both physics and the road. Can you imagine? Talking to a policeman? Standing next to or sitting in a stopped car? Unthinkable. If you don't drive safely, you won't see him before he dies.

I felt sure and unstoppable, like an arrow shot from the bow of some Aztec god, the aim of me so straight, shooting to this death with the utmost force and velocity. I've never known what I needed to do so clearly, and executed it so surely. A feeling of extreme power. Objective, the Platonic ideal, in shocking technicolor.

And I felt furious and oppressed, like a horse who wants to run until its heart bursts, but is reined, somehow, in all directions, held down, held back. You have only one want in the world, and you can feel the answer coming from all existence, and it is a resounding, hysterically unacceptable NO. Supreme powerlessness. Obstacle: Like something wants to kill you, and appears to have the upper hand.

We turn onto my mom's street. (It's my mom's street now. God, though, let's give it back to him for a second.) We turn onto my dad's street. They live (I think they live. Is it they who live, still? Or just she?) just one block down, on the right. A giant red fire truck is parked outside. I park and burst out of the car, burst into the gate. A medic is walking away from the house, a blond woman. She smiles at me sorrowfully. She's walking slowly. That makes no sense. Why would a medic be walking slowly? Instinctively this is bad. But I'm running. I'm running into the house.

Initial impressions confuse. My mom is on the stairs. That makes no sense, and is a bad sign. If my dad were alive, she would be with him. But then she says over and over again, "It's all right," and so that's wonderful news! My face lights up, I can feel it light up, because this means I've made it! I try to ascertain where I should go - where is he?! But then she clarifies her statement, "It's all right. He's gone."

I'm turning around. There are medics in dark blue, looking at me kindly. No. No. The quality of NO briefly suffuses everything in existence. It's likely that I say the word a few times [A phrase that was certainly repeated: I didn't make it] but I remember the feeling of the word no suffusing my body more than anything. I make an essential, invisible, involuntary, internal gesture. I crumple. Not outwardly. I don't go down, drop to my knees or anything. It's like an implosion, like there's a black hole suddenly in my gut, and it pulls at the fabric of me, which makes a crumple. This is exact. This is exactly what happened. (I almost want you to find a piece of fabric, and lay it over your partially closed fist, over the circle of your thumb and forefinger, and then reach around with your other hand and pull the fabric through from underneath. I just want you see it and feel it, like a crude little diorama. Death at the second grade science fair.)

He's on the floor over there. That's where he is. Lying flat on his back ridiculously in the middle of the floor, in the middle of the living room. Head facing west, feet facing east. He's in a grey-green fleece robe. And he is dead. He looks like he's been dead for a thousand years, that's how inscrutably dead his face looks. I'm kneeling by him. I kiss his forehead, a dead forehead. A corpse's forehead.

He was very likely already dead when my mom made the phone call. It was a heart attack, or maybe a stroke. My brother tried CPR, but he probably went within 30 seconds. That's what they say. If only I'd known that, but then I wouldn't have learned anything on the way.