Wednesday, June 03, 2015

freeze frame

Dear everyone,

Mildly complicated and gently momentous news! This is my last post in this space, here on Blogger. But The Gallivanting Monkey is now alive and well elsewhere in its new home on my proper new website, and there's a new post over there as we speak, and more new posts will keep appearing, and maybe I will keep up this blog in its new form forever.

It's a teeny bit bittersweet, leaving this old home. I started this blog just about exactly ten years ago, right before I married Dave. I was pregnant here, a new mom here, pregnant again here, miscarried here, was pregnant again here, and went through all kinds of transitions and ups and downs–as you do in a decade—all the while finding my voice and learning how to write.

Now that I'm getting paid actual human dollars to write for actual other places, I need a home on the web to represent me properly, and this lil' ol' Blogspot address doesn't cut it. I thought about making another website AND writing here anyway for the hell of it, but it felt wrong. Posting here now feels like working on a stack of old recycling. Stale chi, you know? Bad Feng Shui. This space no longer feels right to me.

This old blog will stay up, though, just because why destroy a thing? I had a great writing mentor, Jack, who always says, "Don't throw yourself away."  I shan't. So much of myself is in here. I'm going to let it sit here like a box of nice old letters.

Man, how dumb. I'm tearing up a little, and I'm stalling about wrapping this post up and directing you over to the new place. It's a WEB ADDRESS, Tina. Come on. But it's time.

Okay. Come over to the new place.

G'bye, you old horse.

Damn it.


Wednesday, March 04, 2015

the illuminated oscars

Welcome, traveler, and let me take you to a time so deep in your memory that we can only access it via hypnosis, which I am going to do to you now. Yes. I'm going to do hypnosis to you.

Let your eyelids become heavy.
They want to close.
They can't. Stop them. You're reading something.
Let them almost close.
Let it be so that someone on the ceiling would look down and wonder, "Are that person's eyes closed?"
Think of what you had for lunch yesterday.
You're going back in time.
Now, go farther.
Go back three days.
What sorts of clothes were you wearing?
Were the styles different?
What were hemlines like?
What sorts of cars did people drive?
It was an earlier time. You are there.
Now, go farther.
Three days farther back.
Don't be upset with yourself if you can't see much.
We are talking about a far back time.
Just feel what it was like back there. Feel the feelings of it.
Were you struggling?
What might you have been struggling against?
Might it have been the elements?
You may have been a farmer, or a sailor.
It's time to leave this time. Let go of the struggle.
We're going farther back now.
I don't know when you're reading this,
so I don't fucking know how far back this is going to have to be
so I'm calling it at three more days.

We're going back three more days.

The printing press.
The plague.
The Renaissance.
Genghis Khan.

Open your eyes.
Look around you.

It is February 22nd, 2015. You are there. Yes! Believe it! It is the 87th Annual Academy Awards, prior to the existence of photographers, probably, in such a long-ago news cycle. You see people dressed in the shiniest clothing of their time moving along what appears to be a river of blood, or juice, or nail polish. They are like gods and goddesses! Feast your eyes because you won't retain this because memory is fickle and you live in March 2015 or beyond. Let yourself feel sad because you don't know what good fortune brought you here to this Holy Red River of Celebrities, even though you know full well it was me and my amazing hypnotizing. In any case, you know that nothing lasts.

Except this! What you see before your eyes is—oh, shit, I have to bring you back to the present. BANG! 

I threw a brick on the floor to wake you up.

Except this! What you see before your eyes is The Illuminated Oscars, a hand-illuminated document hand-illuminated by an ancient artisan, because it is even fancier and older and farther back in time to illuminate than it is to illustrate. These pictures are now preserved forever. That ancient artisan, by the way, was I. Long did I toil, armed only with Paintbrush®™, anal-retentively hand-pixeling every pearl and tassel and square-inch of tulle, which, by the way, was the most fun I've nearly ever had. I have a passion for it! I have a passion for making dumb drawings of ladies, and I always have.

(Drawing men I find very difficult. When it comes time to draw men, I have to fight the instinct to just pile squares on top of rectangles and give them frowny eyebrows and call it a day. But I wrestled my weakness to honor one man today. My drawing does not look like this man! But none of these drawings necessarily look like anybody, so he's in good company.)

Enough! Let's go.

Normally, procedure would be to open a post like this with talk of Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne, but when you're illustrating the thing yourself,  you cut to the goddamn chase. There will be no spare people in this post. (Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne! You are not spare people to the people who love you. You are only spare here.) I've chosen only the people who spoke to me on some level, whether it was because I loved their outfits or I have strong feelings for them as individuals.

Except, uh, with this one. I'm opening with Meryl Streep because I had this idea that I was going to illustrate each of the female nominees, and I started down that line but then Laura Dern's dress was too metallic and complicated, so I changed course. But I'd already done Meryl Streep. She's also first here because hers was the first drawing I made and thus the clumsiest. It's only upward from here! Maybe. I'm sorry, Meryl Streep. You don't deserve to look like this. Anyway, there you are in exactly the kind of thing you would wear.

Greetings, Emma Stone! The color of your dress was so perplexing, somewhere between stomach acid and pee. This says a lot about your general beauty and seasonal color awareness, because there are probably four people in the world who can wear that shade and not have people run at them with a mop and bucket. (God, I was nervous to represent your knee. Who draws knees when you can draw pants and skirts that cover them? But that business kind of looks like a knee, right? This good knee luck will never happen again, as you will soon see.)

I may not always love watching Scarlett Johansson act, because it bugs me that the kind of husky voice she has is supposed to be the only kind of sexy voice in the world, HI OH WHOA I TALK LIKE SULTRY TURKISH COFFEE I'M GOING TO SAY SOMETHING ELSE IN AN EVEN LOWER REGISTER WHOOOA MUDSLIDE, but she sure does have a sick body. And her voice didn't bother me in Her. And she was pretty good in Don Jon. (We won't discuss Match Point.) (I HATED MATCH POINT.) (And that's all I'll say.) I don't have to feel one way about her. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Somebody said that once, probably in a normal voice like everybody normal has.

I'd like to just briefly give the finger, by the way, to whomever it was that caused this year's red carpet trend of actresses wearing their hair slicked back, or pulled back tight in buns. I began these drawings before the red carpet was underway since I wanted to save time and I had an idea who I was going to draw, and so I took some risks and guessed at some hairstyles. Obviously this was stupid, and I had to erase a lot of hair. Anyway, updos and slicked-back hair are hard to draw, you bastards. Anybody who wore it down this year,  I love you more than I love the others.

This is all to say that Scarlett Johansson is the sexiest green vegetable in the world here. The fit of the dress, the verdant bib-jewels, it's all so good. If she hadn't slicked back her hair, I would consider mailing her a twenty dollar bill.

What a very interesting summer picnic Keira Knightley went to at the Oscars. What a rustic, rustic picnic. Pregnancy is well known for  making people dress as though they're wandering about in a meadow, and Keira Knightley is cashing in that chip very hard. She has words on her dress. Perhaps the dress is like a literary Baby Mozart deal, nourishing her child in utero. Her dress appears to be made out of very natural paper towels. But I think it's probably cloth, because I don't know if you've ever tried to embroider your paper towels, but you give up in frustration after a couple of hours.

Here comes a game! See if you can see what part of the body I'm trying not to draw because they're hard.

I was this close to giving David Oyelowo a giant bubble of gum for him to blow that obscured most of his face because this doesn't look like him. Like, at all. Well, we knew this would happen. He's a man! But I had to draw him because he looked so thrilling in his cranberry finery. I spent approximately ninety hours trying to get his stubble right, and then I had to admit defeat and move on. Just be glad he's not a square on a rectangle.

La la la, hurray! Lady Gaga has absolutely everything going for her here as far as I'm concerned. One of the Three Musketeers lent her his dish gloves, and the ocean sent a starfish to her house to personally hand her The Little Mermaid's very best coral scrunchie to wear for the occasion. In a good way! Her dress is in a delightful new shape, and even though I cursed its texture as I drew it, it gave me Japanese fairy tale feelings.

Do you remember when she sang "The Sound of Music"? She opened her mouth and there it was, the sound of music. I kept waiting for something different to happen, but it didn't, and she just sang it, and while there was debate about how well she sang it, I don't know anything about special singing facts so she sounded like she was singing it great to me.

Sweet, adorable Lorelei Linklater from the real best movie of the year, which was of course Boyhood, I couldn't get your face right either. I really kind of fucked you up. I apologize.

Oh, Lorelei, your body language killed me with your little hunched-up shoulders, so beautifully not-red-carpet-practiced. And your slit up-to-there and your sheer bodice made me feel so maternal I almost got pregnant looking at you. Oh, heavens! My baby! Cover up! What's happening?! Are you using condoms? Is your boyfriend going to to be that party? Don't tell me! No, tell me! I'm not slut-shaming her, so don't start. She can do what she likes. But you can't stop my uterus from contracting about it.

Game time! If you guessed "hands", you guessed right. This is where I gave them one last go and then gave up. I let her flip me off with her wilting hand as one little parting gesture of protest about my poor hand-drawing skills.

 I loved Margot Robbie's look so much that—what do you know?—my heart flew out of my chest and got all convenient up there.

If you think there's something more difficult than doing justice to Lupita Nyong'o in Paintbrush when you're not even properly an artist, then you're wrong, unless you're talking about dealing with cancer or scaling Everest or being a single mom or a coal miner or a lot of other things. After this post, I expect there will be a law passed that you're not allowed to draw Lupita Nyong'o unless you get a special certificate. But, again, I had no choice. Lupita Nyong'o in a dress made of pearls? I'm supposed to pretend like that didn't happen? 

*Little known fact: the skirt portion of the dress was not a skirt but an actual basket full of pearls, which is of course why she's sticking her hands in there. There aren't any other reasons. 

You guys, if you could have SEEN the gestures Rosamund Pike was making all the way down the red carpet, you would have fainted. They were so obscene. I could not in good conscience show them here. Also, this is where my knee luck ran out. She looks like she fell down over and over in the weeks leading up to the Oscars. She may require surgery, even. 

Fuckin' Felicity Jones dress texture pearls in cups all over the fuckin' top, GOD. GOD, NOMINEES with your TEXTURES. She was born with triangles for hands, so that's sad. 

Well, so listen. Nobody bitches about the Venus de Milo. If Marion Cotillard wanted arms she should have worn a dress without a repeating pattern. 

It's bright here around Nicole Kidman. This "photograph" is "overexposed". You don't really know what's going on with her right hand, and her left hand, hey, if it grew into her dress and a flower grew out of it, are we going to be able to verify that?  

Some people thought her red belt ruined her outfit, but her red belt is WHY I'VE TAKEN THE TIME TO DRAW HER ASS IN THE FIRST PLACE so they're wrong. 

Congratulations to Julianne Moore for winning Best Actress and being wonderful all the time! Condolences to Julianne Moore about that super-localized raincloud and carnivorous plant that follow her around everywhere. And, finally, my thanks to Julianne Moore and Chanel for keeping the texture to a bit of a low roar. 

Hoo boy. So. Patricia Arquette is somebody that I generally adore, and she deserved that Oscar, and I was thrilled along with everybody else when she spoke from the podium about the ERA, and then I'm in the camp that says she fucked it up in the backstage interviews. And then she fucked it up again with her response on Twitter afterwards, all "Don't tell me about privilege because I grew up poor." STOP SAYING THAT, FELLOW WHITE PEOPLE. JESUS. THERE'S ECONOMIC PRIVILEGE AND THERE'S RACIAL PRIVILEGE. THEY ARE DIFFERENT. IF YOU ARE WHITE, YOU HAVE ONE OF THEM EVEN IF YOU GREW UP EATING PEBBLES AND LIVING IN A BOOT. 



 She wore stuff, and I don't know. I'm done. 

Let's kick back with some Behati Prinsloo. She had the easiest pulled-back hair to draw of the night. And isn't it nice to get to erase Adam Levine from a thing? (I just said that to make friends. That was wrong. Everybody hates him a lot, but I have to really be me. I kind of like the guy. He makes me laugh. I watch him on the teevee with Blake Shelton. I wish Blake Shelton were at the Oscars. I'd draw that guy, if you know what I mean. I mean that he's very sexy and that I would have sex with him. Except his wife would shoot me and Dave would be mad. But maybe they wouldn't if I asked them not to! DON'T SHOOT ME AND BE MAD, I'M JUST GOING TO HAVE SEX WITH HIM REALLY QUICK AND THEN STOP!) 

I hold the super unusual opinion that the Victoria's Secret Angel known as Behati Prinsloo is very pretty. I love the ballerina-esque thing happening here, and even more so expressed in red and black like this, and I enjoy her Flintstones necklace. Somebody played a goof on Behati Prinsloo and Adam Levine, though, by putting glue at the bottom of their swag bags. Whoops! (I should have written "swag" on those but I wrote "loot" instead. At the Oscars, they give you a little paper bag on the red carpet just like you get at a kid's birthday party. It's got bouncy balls in it, and fake tattoos. You couldn't pay me to change those bags at this point, though. But you can make me some offers anyway.) 

Ol' Reese Witherspoon is over here blowing nobody's minds again in a neat, trim dress. Sun's setting in the same place tonight. Death, taxes. I should have angled the black trim at the top the other way, but guess what? I should have done a lot of things differently in this life. 

Flying saucer flew by. 

Hannah Bagshawe is who, and she's the beloved of Eddie Redmayne, who won Best Stephen Hawking. There is SO MUCH TEXTURE here but that's why I loved this dress! Feather awnings, what?! Great! I didn't begrudge one pixel here. 

Some of you younger people might not know about Soap-on-a-Rope. Now you do.  

Who turned down the klieglights or the sun or what have you on the red carpet near Gwyneth Paltrow? Her pale pink dress did, that's who. Like I'm going to change all the background colors in all the other pictures for just her one dress so she doesn't disappear in a wall of pink. Dream on, hosers. She can stand around in dim light for a second. It's probably good for her skin. She can bask in the bright glow of that probably very detoxifying lemon. 

Many people objected to this dress and the giant flower shoulder growth. Yeah, well, lots of people object to Goop but I've asked for that fucking thing to show up in my inbox every week. I've had the flu followed by bronchitis and I've been sick for a month, and all I ever want when I'm sick is to live in a world where Downton Abbey and Goop come together and I can ring for Carson and say, CARSON! Please make Gwyneth bring me one of those Moon Juice smoothies she talked about in the newsletter last Thursday, and I also want some of the Spirit Truffles and chocolate Sex Bark. I am peevish and unwell. She should bring me some bone broth, too. I'll take my dinner in my redesigned yoga gazebo.

I like the dress. I like it. You want to fight? Wait until I'm over this asthma and then we can fight. 

Oh, god. Fuck it, you know? Sometimes good enough is good enough. 

I'm a little bit sorry I made Cate Blanchett's hair look like Guy Fieri's hair, but not a lot bit sorry. 

"What the hell is Lena Dunham doing here?" you might ask, right after you ask, "Who the hell is that?" Well, listen, anybody can "be" at the "Oscars" when it's all happening in a fake cartoon. A dear friend of mine expressed the wish that Lena Dunham could have been at the Oscars so she could see what she wore when she read this post. So Lena Dunham WAS at the Oscars and she wore TRIANGLES.  

And who on earth is this? Since we've established that anything goes on this fakey-wakey red carpet, C'EST MOI, CLOWNS. Am I this pretty? No. Am I this tall? No. (Are my arms this long? YES.) But I'm at the Oscars for the only time ever so I'll look how I like. I'm wearing some fucking angel wings because I wore them to a costume party once and they felt amazing. And I'm wearing kind of a tutu because Behati Prinsloo did and nobody stopped her. And I'm wearing blue eyeshadow because I like it. I kept it real with some gray in my hair, though, due to integrity. 

I know what they say. They say to look in the mirror and take one accessory off. I did that already. I was going to give myself a beauty mark, but I changed my mind.

And if I get to go to the Oscars, my mom gets to go to the Oscars, too, and furthermore she's going to win. In advance. On the red carpet, before it even starts. My mom has always referred to herself as a "frustrated Helen Hayes", so now's the time to get some goddamn dreams coming true. 

I told her about this plan and asked her what she wanted to wear. She asked for a tiara or some pink roses (No need to choose here! Sky's the limit! You get both!) and then she told me about a school play she was in when she was a child in Finland. She played the sun, and her cousin Leena played a hurricane, and she sang this song to some pussy willow branches, all "Go to sleep, it's not spring yet, I'll shine later" and word on the street was that she nailed it shut. Nobody in Northern Finland was going to play the sun after that. She owned it. So she thought she'd like her outfit to tip the hat to that role, which she's getting this belated Oscar for. 

I'd have dressed her in a big ball of shining white or yellow to be like the sun, but she's a Winter so she looks best in jewel tones. And I figured she didn't want to be shaped like a ball. I gave her some effulgence to make up for it. I also didn't mean to make her dress look like a bathrobe, but if a gold tiara and pink roses and some fucking effulgence isn't dressy enough for the red carpet, then good night. GOOD NIGHT. 

Thursday, January 01, 2015

feliz cumpleaños

Okay, now, sure. The title of this post doesn't mean what it would seem like I'd have something mean right about now. It means "happy birthday" and not "happy new year" — which, by the way, happy that, everybody. But my blog is going to have a very special birthday this year, and that birthday is going to mean some things around here, and I want to talk about those things right now. 

I'm going to be ten, you guys. ("I".) That's so big. In blog years, that's practically George Burns O'Clock. In lieu of booking myself into The Palladium, however, I'm going to take a step that I've put off for a long time for fear that everybody would think that I think I'm so fancy or something. I'm hiring somebody to make this blog look pretty and legit, and we're going to move it off Blogger, and I'm going to have a proper website as a writing person, and it'll be all bunched together in one place. Look what a big deal that isn't when I actually say it! What was I so freaked out about? None of you can possibly care. I know. I KNOW. It's only me. I'm the only one who cares. 

Anyway, yes. The Gallivanting Monkey will plow on, but it's going to do so in a nicer outfit. We deserve it. We're old. 

Also, though, another change is coming. You know how I've been writing here every Wednesday for the last year? Except for a very few of them? Well, listen. That's a-changing. Nobody's going to give a shit if I make the place look prettier, but some of you might care a little that there's not going to be a post every week any more. And if you do care, I appreciate that you do! I'm still going to post regularly, just not quiiite as regularly. It's for a good reason, I promise.  

I've loved posting every week here, by the way, even when my self-imposed deadline was looming a little heavy and I didn't know what I was going to say. I loved the deadline itself, the accountability to myself and to you guys. When a few bursts of big attention came to this blog early last year, I wanted to feel deserving of the new eyes on my writing here. I wanted to make it worth everybody's while. So I put a lot of love and care into writing my weekly posts. I got dedicated about it. 

And what do you know? Good things came of it! Opportunities came my way to write for other places, for not just good feelings but actual cash dollars. And more of those opportunities are on deck this year, which is very dreamy. I'll make more announcements along those lines when I have more concrete dates and places for you to go look, but I'm going to be writing for a different website on a weekly basis, and doing some other freelance stuff that makes me very excited. 

SO. The Gallivanting Monkey, like The Dude, shall abide. I couldn't abandon this place if I tried. It's brought me too much goodness. But it's going to abide a little more loosely, more like a couple of times a month, and not on a set schedule. Subscribe, maybe! You can do that, right? That's a thing, right? Don't I have a thing over there for that? Oh, lord, the savvy web people won't be getting here a moment too soon. 

Okay, so check back. I'm not leaving. I'm just slipping into something a little flashier and also more comfortable. A sequined Snuggie, if you will. (Just do.) This is a good decision. I can feel the freedom already and it makes me want to make even better things for you when I do post. 

Happy new year, you yous! Happy birthday to each of you, too, in advance, or today. You're all going to have birthdays this year. See, I know about you. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

national blogpoon's christmas vacation

Dear friends of this blog,

I'm taking a couple of weeks off to get my holiday on. Please pour yourself an eggnog and warm yourself by this hollow gif, and I'll be back to my normal Wednesday posts on December 31st.



Wednesday, December 03, 2014


There’s a card in the Tarot, the Six of Cups, that I have a special feeling for. Some cards play one clear emotional chord—boom, happy; boom, tormented—but the Six of Cups shifts around. It’s slippery, it refracts the light differently depending on how you look at it. Some decks attach one-word meanings to the face of the cards (which I hate because that sucks the nuance out) but in those decks the word for the Six of Cups varies in a strange and pleasing way. Innocence. Nostalgia. Goodwill. Sorrow. Pleasure. I like that there’s no consensus on whether this card plays a minor or a major chord. I love the Six of Cups in the same way I love Pachelbel’s Canon in D, which I think remains ridiculously beautiful no matter how overplayed and ground into our consciousness it is. They make the same sounds, they attack the same feeling.

While it can signify a few different things in a reading, the Six of Cups often references friendship. Sometimes it heralds the return of an old friend, sometimes it points to a feeling of loss. It’s tricky, like I say, this card. It’s soft on the outside, but it has something piercing at its core. 

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, and also not wanting to do it. 

Friendship has been on my mind. I’ve been thinking about it more frequently and with more fear and reverence than ever. I lost a major friendship last year, and another friendship may be in critical condition or worse, and…how do I want to say this? If friendship is a warm cabin you can shelter in from the elements, then my own cabin, the place in me where my friendships take place, has a door that feels like it’s come off its hinges. I feel the wind a little more in here these days, hear it blowing louder, think more frequently about the dark outside the cabin, and what might be out there. Anyway, it’s a vulnerable feeling and a protective feeling all at once. I sort of don’t want to let anybody else in until I make repairs, but I can’t make repairs if I don’t let anybody in.    


I have great friendships, beautiful friendships, current ones, very sturdy. Let me go on the record acknowledging that and giving thanks for that right away, and I’m going to talk about a couple of those ones more here in a bit. But I can see more clearly that these are treasures that, as with all things in the world, can be taken away, or wrecked, or can fade. This whole enterprise, this being alive thing, is precarious. Care must be taken, and even then, there are no guarantees.

I was talking to my mother-in-law* this morning about this vulnerable feeling, this instinct to protect myself, and she wisely pointed out that going around trying to protect yourself all the time is a bad move. You’re just going to miss everything. And then I think about those Buddhist monks who make sand mandalas, so laborious and intricate and beautiful, and then as soon as they’re done they sweep them away. They know the score. Yes, it’s going to go. That’s fine. Until then, build the shit out of it. 

*She’s not the mother-in-law of popular consciousness. Larraine is snuggly as any of my best girlfriends. I say that because I recognize that the phrase “I was talking to my mother-in-law about this vulnerable feeling” is just begging for one of those record-scratch sound cues. 


When I was a little girl living in New York, my best friend was Allison Pykett, as I’ve mentioned here before. Allison and I met in kindergarten and rode together until my family moved to Seattle at the end of third grade. We rode past that, too, writing letters and paying cross-country visits until I was 13 years old, and then we drifted apart in the purest way, time and distance melting the bond by themselves. No angst, no ouches, just a clean dissolve. 

She’s the first person I ever called on a telephone. I remember that maiden dialing voyage: standing in front of the old beige rotary phone, taking a deep breath, lifting the heavy receiver, sticking my finger in the “9” hole and—screw it, here goes! I’m a woman now—pulling the dial all the way around. Then I did that six more times with different holes, and it got realer with every number. I felt powerful and too wide-open all at once, the way I still do when I call a friend. Nothing is new. Allison’s mom answered, spoke to me sweetly, and put me on the phone to my friend. 

—Do you want to play?
—Yeah, come over.

Success. Nailed it. Phones are go. Friendship is working. Off to walk the four blocks to her house. 


Do I want to make new friendships? I think so? I don’t know? No? Maybe? Of course?

On the one hand, there’s nothing like being in the company of your great friend, loving/seeing and being seen/loved, warts out, unbuttoned, dishing it all out, hearing all the dish, plotting, snuggling up, railing, chilling, all of it. It’s some of the finest nourishment on the planet. It’s that stuff that the elves gave Frodo. It’s waybread, that company, it’s that little silvery drink. Your friend beefs you up when you’re low, brings you back from the edge of death. How do you even talk about the blessing that this is? In my worst moments, there it was, and I went on, lifted up.

On the other hand, what a roll of the dice. Jesus. Terrifying. You let somebody in past one layer, and that goes well, but then what about the next layer? That might go well, too, but what about the next one? You like me now, but wait. Just wait. Broom’s coming. 


Allison and I are sitting across from each other on my basement floor, humming The Mexican Hat Dance and passing back and forth a sombrero in rhythm. 

Ba-dada da-dat-da DUMP  

The idea is that the sombrero gets slapped onto one of our heads on every two-count. We’re ba-dump-ing fast, in a frantic rhythm. It’s hilarious. We’re dying. This is the most hilarious thing of my whole life to that point, all six years. And it’s stupid, we’re not doing anything but passing a hat, but it’s the best. We keep going and going and the humor is amazingly durable.  


Once, about a year ago, my friend Barbi and I went to the movies. We made a last-minute date and she picked me up at my house and we were both raggedy and undone in our sweatpants and general I'm-not-leaving-the-house clothes, but we were going to Mountlake Terrace where nobody would see us, to a movie theater where they bring you real live food to your seats, so we ate cheeseburgers and chocolate chip cookies and I drank a margarita because I wasn't driving and we snuggled up in our dumb clothes in public and watched The Wolf of Wall Street. I want us to have that same date again with a different movie. (Barbi, I'm asking you right now, right in front of the world and everything. This is like one of those proposals people do at sporting events over the Jumbotron. You'd probably hate that, but marry me for this date anyway.) 


Dicey news. I’m facing a demotion. This is what happened: Allison and Tracy Munz were playing outside Allison’s house, out on Woodland Drive, when a car drove by. Tracy thought that the car might hit Allison, so she pushed Allison out of the street, thereby apparently saving her life. So a code of honor that’s never come up before dictates that Tracy now be Allison’s best friend, since she saved her life. I’m going to have to be her second-best friend. It’s hoped that I’ll understand. I’ve just arrived at Allison’s after this close call with this car driving by, and we’re all standing out on the street, me and Allison and New Number One Tracy Munz, and I’m just hearing about this. 

Allison informs me of my new status in a kind and matter-of-fact way, and Tracy looks partially regretful and partially hopeful.  

Huh. Well. Wow. Okay. I guess I do, I guess I do understand. Tracy is usually kind of a mild, dare-I-say mushy presence, so it’s not like I’ve been hip-checked aside by some mean little cow. This is a good deed that’s just spun out of control. So, okay. Well, shit. 

(My demotion didn’t last long, but it introduced the notion of shakiness into my conception of friendship, just the way a tiny trembler lets you know you’re living in earthquake country.)


I don’t call people enough. I never have, but now with two children I really, really don’t. Some of it is that I’m talking all day. I live with five other people: my husband, our two children, my brother and my mother. I love these people, but that’s a lot of talking. And with children, talking isn’t always casual chatter. There’s a lot of urgent talking, the kind that requires projection. So at the end of the day, I’m usually talked out. I don’t want to use my voice any more. 

So I don’t call people enough, and then when you don’t call people or otherwise communicate frequently, you both have more to talk about when talking time comes, and so the phone call feels bigger. 

But more than anything I have a horror of imposing myself on someone who would rather be doing something else, and I assume that most other humans would rather be doing something else than answering a phone that I’ve made ring. 

Whatever. If reasons were wishes, cows would have wings or something. Having reasons why doesn't pay the friendship bills. 


I remember sitting on the couch at an old friend’s new place, and something was different. I’d taken my shoes off, as always, and curled up expecting to stay a while. This was a long-awaited visit, so we’d be snuggling on into it, I figured. We started talking, but the talk never settled. I mean, we talked about everything that was important, we talked about all the things you’d talk about with one of your best friends, but it all felt technical and phoned-in. It didn’t settle. We didn’t unbutton. I started to wish I’d left my shoes on. I even started to wonder if she'd prefer me to have left my coat on. I wondered when I’d made the transition from “best friend” to “kindly old aunt who could use a good visit now and again”. Everything looked right and sounded okay but something didn’t transfer. No nourishment. Sterile feeling, like a house staged for market, or a showroom. You can’t live there. 


We’re at Allison’s. Allison has found a coral lipstick that used to belong to her grandmother. The lipstick is ancient and waxy and has that broken-down old powdery floral smell, but it’s lipstick, so it’s a priori going to work. We smear it on. We’re wearing leotards—Allison’s is black and mine is dark green—and long fringed leather vests. 

The concert is about to start. We’re ABBA, the blonde and the brunette lady thereof. Tickets are sold out. The concert will take place in the mirror. We’re either performing or watching or both.


*I only know that one lyric—“Waterloo!”—because I doesn’t have the album at home, but Allison doesn’t care if I fudge. It’s about the vibe of the thing.

We look sexy as shit. We should dress like this every day. Later, in other news, we agree that we have both seen Santa in real life. He was on Allison’s roof, and I offer that he was on mine, too—I figure, why not? What can it hurt?—so she’s probably right that it was him on her roof. Two roofs. It confirms it. 


My youngest son, Fred, came home from school yesterday with a picture he’d made of how he’d spent his Thanksgiving. In the picture was the frame of our house with sky above/grass below, and in the frame was our dining room table and chairs, and my friend Morgan and her dog Maisie, who in fact had come over for Thanksgiving. The rest of us were AWOL. We must have all been in the bathroom or something.

Maisie, who’s a tiny little schnauzer-y mutt, looked like a giant fluffy friendly ram, and Morgan was a red-lipped siren wearing yet more red, standing with her arms wide out for a hug. 

I love this picture. Morgan’s our girl, all of our girl, and if my children draw her likeness unbidden, that tells you how far she’s inside the bullseye. 

Year 2000. This was our first date, our first friendship date. We’d known each other peripherally for a few years, Morgan and I, but one night we ended up next to each other at a bar and we had the classic forehead-slapping, I-could-have-had-a-V-8! realization that this is a hot one right here, this is a kindred spirit. So we made a date.

We arrive at Cafe Flora early on a June evening, with sheaves of our favorite poems all bundled up for each other. We were going to do it right from the beginning. Here, a me packet: I’m this, and this lights me up, and this. A little Rilke, a little Wislawa Szymborska, a little Edna St. Vincent Millay, some Hafiz. Oh, man, a you packet. Give it. 

Dinner is great, but Cafe Flora’s not enough, not even close. We’re not done. We have to go somewhere else. It’s still light. Woodland Park. We’ll go to Woodland Park. -How the hell did we choose Woodland Park? That’s not near anywhere we were. But we go to Woodland Park and sit in that never-say-die midsummer dusk, and we talk, and peel that onion deeper and deeper, and we both confirm the feeling that we’ve kind of left the normal planet and we’ve traveled to some timeless in-between place, like we’re hanging out somewhere eternal that only happens to look like Woodland Park, like we’re old friends meeting, beings who have never not been friends. 


I don't know what it is with me and my bathroom, but I can't take a shower or wash my face or do anything in there without thinking about the friendships I've lost. All the dark feelings and cranky thoughts that leave me alone all through the rest of the house swarm me when I go in, and I'm constantly having daydream summits with these lost ones, telling them how it was, asking them why it was, lecturing them, having imaginary encounters where I act like it's no big that they're gone. It's like a friendship graveyard wifi hotspot in there. I'd like to heal these things because it's good for you to do that, but I'd also like to heal them so I could have a plain old shower once in a while. 

I’m working on this post tonight and I get a friend request on Facebook. I don’t recognize the name immediately, and we don’t have mutual friends, but glancing at her page I see that she looks like a cool person, so I confirm it. A minute later I get a note in my inbox; this is an old friend from 4th grade, with whom I used to play dress-up in my yard. I remember her. Yes. We were only in school for one year together, so we didn’t hang for very long, but her mom had just found a certificate from me in her childhood stuff, a certificate in which I’d honored her as The World’s Greatest Friend. 



When we move away from New York, shortly before my ninth birthday, I go visit Allison one last time. I’m wearing a dark red and white pinafore and dark red sandals, and she wraps a lei around my neck and prepares to take a picture of me. So I do the hula, both arms to one side making a wave. I’m smiling in the photograph, but it’s a sad hula. I don’t want to leave her. 


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

on black lives mattering

None of these words I’m about to write are the best words. If I wait until I can write those, I’m going to be waiting too long. There are better things to say, and people saying those better things better than I’m going to be saying anything today. But there’s no time to waste. There’s too much wrong. It’s time to move. 

I have two white sons, ages 8 and 5, that I love with everything I've got. Like a normal mother, I worry about my children, and some days that worry ramps up to straight fear. My kids have both been hospitalized for severe asthma—my littlest was nearly admitted to the ICU a couple of months ago—and watching them struggle for breath makes my heart do things I don’t like it to do. Those are my worst days as a parent, the days when my children are in jeopardy. 

I don’t have those days very often. Most days the standard-issue mother worry shows up as a sort of light vigilance. I know where they are, I have an ear out for them, I have a readiness to leap when necessary, but I can go about my business. 

When my kids are sick, too, they’re up against a neutral force; they’re up against their own malfunctioning bodies.  And there are benevolent forces in place to protect my kids. They have doctors, they have hospitals, they have medicine. When they’re struggling, kind faces greet them every step of the way, and we as worried parents are also met with kindness.

There are other things in the world I worry about, of course. There are threats to my children that threaten all children, and all humans: gun violence, climate change, etc. But those things are not targeting my children especially. 

The level of fear I have on my worst day as a parent of white children, that’s the daily dose for the parent of a black child. If you have a black son, you know he’s going to be considered a threat just by being alive. If you have a black daughter, you know she’s going to face the double dangers of racism and sexism. 

Like so many other people in the country/the world, I’ve been glued to the television and the internet since word came down that Darren Wilson wouldn’t be indicted for his killing of Michael Brown. I’ve been on Twitter listening to the anguish and outrage of the brilliant black women and men I follow there, I’ve been reading all the articles posted by my friends of all races. 

You know how you wake up some mornings with a pit in your stomach because you have something on your to-do list that’s overwhelming? You have some task that feels a little or a lot past your comfort zone, a little or a lot beyond your capabilities. And you can’t pass it off to someone else, you can’t delegate it. It has your name on it. You can’t sleep through it, either, or hit the snooze alarm. It’s on deck right now. 

I have that pit in my stomach, writ large. I’ve had it there for a while, and I’ve been putting off getting up and facing it properly. But what’s dragging me the hell out of my bed now, what I can’t wipe away and I won’t wipe away is the image of all the mothers, the mothers who have to tell their black children the truth, the truth that they’re not safe in this world, not how it is now. And worst of all, of course, but it can’t go without saying, is the image of the mothers who lost their babies to this kind of brutality. That’s the abyss. 

I read Keesha’s post this afternoon, addressing white moms like me. 

 This is what I need, dear friend. I need to know that you are not merely worried about this most tragic of worst case scenarios befalling my son; I need to know that you are out there changing the ethos that puts it in place. That you see this as something that unites us as mothers, friends and human beings. 

 I don’t know Keesha, but I hear her, and I care about her, and every woman out there like her. She’s in pain, she’s in The Pain, and she needs more than talk, more than our tears and our head-shaking and handwringing. I don’t want to paraphrase her words. I want you to read them yourself. (Go, read, click the link.) But she needs us to read up, and to speak up, and to take action. 

So it’s up now. It’s on us. If you’re white like I am, then no matter what your other challenges are, you are the lucky, inadvertent recipient of white privilege. If you bristle at the term “privilege”, then I want you to read Karla McLaren’s piece, How to Be a Privilege Traitor, which helps suck the shame out of the word and leaves it like it is, a plain fact, and furthermore, something to work with. We have to use our privilege to dismantle this fucked-up, unjust system, and we have to dismantle the racism that lives in us. Don’t get excited and think you don’t have any lurking in you, either. I know I have some lurking in me, and it’s not because I’m a shitty person. It’s because I’m a product of a racist society, and so are you. So we better get our eyes working properly and find that racism in us and admit it and root it out. 

I haven’t been speaking up on this like I should. For one, I’ve been afraid of conflict. I don’t dig it. I’m not a natural at it. But I’m going to have to get natural at it, and get good at taking deep breaths and summoning patience and getting in there and mixing it up. The other thing that stopped me from speaking up was the false idea that I needed to have something really good to say, something original, something newly helpful. But who is that for? That’s for me, that’s for my own ego. Who needs to play the freshest instrument in the orchestra? We need to help that sound get loud, and that’s all. I can beat a plain drum plainly, if that’s all I have. So if you’re holding back from speaking out on the subject of race and racism because you think you don't have something great to say, good news! We can say simple things with feeling, and we can amplify the voices of the people who’ve been on the front lines since forever. And then we can read and learn and listen and get out there and up our game. 

I don’t know how to do this, I don’t have a great game plan, and I don’t have great words. But other people have done a lot of thinking about this, and advice is out there. Like so, from Janee Woods:

Becoming a White Ally to Black People in the Aftermath of the Michael Brown Murder 

 Time to fly that plane, even if we’re not that confident in our flying abilities. We’re out of time. Somebody else is going to get killed. 

More later. In the meanwhile, #BlackLivesMatter. It needs saying until it sinks in. 

P.S. If you're white and you have criticism about how black people are responding to the latest news, I say this: keep your eyes on your own work. That's not your business. You have more than enough of your own work to keep you busy. And if you're having trouble comprehending black rage, The Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is required reading. (Oh, screw it, it's required reading for everyone.) If you're not feeling it after that, I don't know what to say except you're going to be a lot of work for the rest of us

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

sunday school

The first time I took communion, I was six years old. I was not a Catholic, or any other type of communion-taking Christian, it's important to note. This was my first time in a church. I was just a plus-one visiting the Lord's house for breakfast. 

I didn't grow up going to church. My parents and grandparents were Theosophists, and Theosophy isn’t exactly a religion. Some Wednesday evenings my mom and dad would go to Lodge, which was a Theosophical discussion group that batted around different topics week after week, but there was nothing on the books for kids. My spiritual education was whatever I picked up around the dining room table.  

My best friend, Allison Pykett, had invited me over for a sleepover at her house the night before, and we’d planned that I’d tag along to church in the morning to keep the party going. The Pyketts were Catholic, and their church was gorgeous and cavernous, with dark wood pews and elaborate stonework. The mass itself was confusing, and I was amazed by how smoothly Allison and her family knelt and rose and sang and sat and thumbed to this and that page in the hymnal. Trying to keep up with them felt like following along with some elaborate aerobic dance video while doing silent karaoke to a song I’d never heard before. 

And then it was time for communion. Allison had warned me that this was big shit, and we’d agreed that when the time came, I’d stay in my seat. I wasn’t a Catholic so I wasn’t supposed to have any. But when everybody got up and scooted over to get in line, Allison switched plans on me and told me to get up and follow her. 

I was seized by dread. What about the thing we’d talked about before? I was busting a taboo! I wasn’t supposed to be up there! What would happen when you did something wrong like that in a church?? I hadn’t been apprised of the consequences so I was picturing every kind of bad thing. But Allison pulled me into line and no adult stopped me, so I was swept trembling into the waiting-for-communion river. 

We inched closer. I prepared for the priest to yell or smack me in the face or toss me out a window. And then we were up. Allison went first. The priest smiled down at her, she opened her mouth and he put a wafer on her tongue. 

Then it was my turn. The priest smiled down at me with the same smile he smiled at Allison, the same smile he smiled at everybody in front of us. He didn’t ask me to show my papers or identify myself. I scanned his eyes, trying to read his mind. I determined that he must know that I was a visitor. How could he not know? He knew, and he knew some loopholes in the rules that Allison didn’t know about that made it so this wasn’t a big deal. That had to be the situation. He was ready with the wafer. Nobody was calling the cops. 

So I opened my mouth, and tried to speak to him with my eyes—I hope you know what you’re doing—and then his big clean fingers were in my mouth (it was weird to have a man’s fingers in my mouth and have that man not be my dentist) and the disc was on my tongue. It had happened. I hoped this didn’t mean I’d converted to Catholicism. I knew that was a discussion my parents would have wanted to get in on.

Then we shuffled over to the right, and someone gave me a little pleated paper cup. Since I was already possibly up shit creek having swallowed the wafer as a pagan, I figured that a blood-of-Christ chaser couldn’t do that much additional damage, so I drank the dark, sweet liquid and put the implicit lie behind me. And if I didn’t tell anybody I was probably Catholic now, then I wouldn’t have to go to confession to tell anybody about it, so that was also a good deal. 


After popping my strange-holy-temple cherry with Allison, the post-sleepover church visit always gave me a voyeuristic thrill, no matter whose house I’d slept at and whose religion I would be invading in the morning. I crashed all kinds of churches: Catholic, Mormon, Lutheran, Christian Scientist. Most of my friends were churchgoers, and their parents either didn’t mind dragging me along with them or they were flat-out worried for the state of my churchless soul. Either way, I was jazzed to be along for the ride. I felt like Jacques Cousteau, gliding into brand-new spiritual-tropical waters, observing all the brightly dressed fish going about their religious customs. 

I don’t know what I was imagining would happen in church, what exactly I was so excited about. I guess I wanted some God. If God was such a huge deal that everybody interrupted their Sundays at home to dress up and get in the car and drive to some special building not on a weekday, then there must have been some supersweet action going on in there, and I wanted to feel it. The friend I’d be accompanying was invariably blasé, being subjected to this ritual weekly, but my heart would beat a little faster as the parents drove up and parked and we filed into the church. A little fear in the foyer—will they stare?—and then I’d be safely in the pew with my temporary adopted family and a man would start to talk. 

I was always rooting for the priest or pastor or reverend or minister to say something exciting—Bring it, sir! Make the lights flash around my head! There are lights, right? Holy lights? Let’s get ‘em going!—and I waited for the moment where the man would spill the good stuff. 

Welcome child. Prepare to have your mind blown. This is why I have this job. I’m Doug Henning, I’m David Copperfield Times One Million. I have God up my sleeve right here and I’m going to let him out…..NOW!


My expectations were possibly jacked up a touch past the point of fairness. But if God wasn’t going to crash through the ceiling and embrace us all, I was at least hoping for something like a spreading warmth, some kind of deep, Christmas-y good cheer to bloom in my heart as God’s representative held forth. I held out hope every time, and was disappointed every time. If PowerPoint presentations had existed back then and I’d known about them, I’d have said that church services pretty much felt like that. 

But hold on! Sunday school was next! We could still squeeze something rewarding out of the venture! 

I loved Sunday school. Like I said, there was no place and time in Theosophy for children to talk about the divine, but I was still interested. Too bad for me, though; Theosophy was for grownups, unless you were my older brother, who could participate in Theosophical discussion as fully informed and articulate as any adult, and often more so. But the discussions I listened in on at home were all a little over my head and nobody was bringing anything down to where my head was, so I was benched by default. 

Sunday school, on the other hand, was 100% kid-sized, and I was champing at the bit for some discourse. The teacher would slip us a brightly-colored book or comic and we’d read the day’s selection and talk about what we read. The regulars mostly slumped in their seats and didn’t bother raising their hands, as I’m sure I would have done if I had to participate week after week. But this happened for me maybe four or five times a year, so I felt like I’d been handed some kind of hot classified CIA document, and attacked the material with insane verve. My hand shot up constantly. 

Maybe Jesus was like this! And maybe he meant this! And given the dilemma you’re laying out, I think I might have done this! And I think this means this! 

That I kept any friends was a little miracle in itself.


I was a little bit envious of these kids, my friends whose churches had super-popular Jesus for a mascot. He was everywhere. He was the People’s Choice, the ratings juggernaut. Theosophists didn’t have anybody like that. We had people like Helen Petrovna Blavatsky and C.W. Leadbeater and Colonel Henry Olcott and Annie Besant. Have you heard of them? Probably not! And we had some obscure, off-brand Jesus-like spiritual masters: Master Kuthumi, Master Morya. I bet you haven’t heard of those guys either! All the kids are drinking Coke and we’re not even drinking Pepsi or R.C. We’re drinking, like, hemp soda. It gave me agitas. 


One Sunday morning when I was ten or so, I was home and flipping through the religious programming on all the different channels. They were talking about Jesus on every one. I thought, well, this isn’t fair. If Jesus is who everybody says he is, he’d be up for being friends with anybody. Surely you don’t need to go to one of his churches to get in on this. And I decided to test it out and befriend him on the spot. I mentally placed Jesus in the room with me, and aimed my friendship pledge into the air where I put him. Nothing happened, I didn’t feel any kind of glowing hand on my head, but I did feel good and satisfied in the way anybody does when they’ve bypassed the middleman.