Monday, June 3, 2013

Don Skixote

Sure it's summertime now.  But let's take a moment to enjoy the evergreen material that is laughing at all my wintertime mishaps.  Whenever/wherever you're reading this, have an active day!

It takes a certain kind of person to snap one of her ski poles in half just getting on a chairlift.  It was my first ride up of the day—my second of the season—and I was trying to feel good about it, and then I somehow planted my pole between my feet just as the chair was coming around. I figured I would sit down anyway—things would work out fine—but the chair and the ground and the pole all formed a bizarre love triangle that creaked and groaned and ground everything to a halt before the chair finally lurched forward.  I looked over my shoulder to shout “Sorry!” at the lift operator and saw the sea of polar fleece hats in the lift line duck, taking cover at the noise of the metal and plastic and who knows what other kinds of space-aged materials fought the turning gears of that great machine. 

“Great,” I said to my date, looking at the handle of my pole, “now what am I going to do?” 

“It’s not like you need your poles,” he said, “you don’t use them right anyway.”  He was pulling his neck gator over his face, either to protect himself from the wind that had kicked up, or from being recognized.  Later, he imagined out loud that those who had witnessed my own special brand of clumsiness were turning to each other, reverently saying things like, “Wasn’t it nice of that girl’s brother to pick her up from the institution and take her outside like that?” He told me, with flagrant disregard for my feelings and everything else, that I was a skitard.

In my defense, the day that my trusty ski pole and I unknowingly jousted a giant, I’d already been through a lot with the sport of skiing. As someone who’s done nothing but watch TV since she was born, the concept of skiing as a nice, enjoyable, attainable sport didn’t jibe with the “agony of defeat” scene from the opening sequence of Wide World of Sports. My parents were never athletic or outdoorsy, and the thought of driving an hour each way over mountain passes and black ice in a 1975 Ford LTD was a little too much for people who eventually sold their season tickets to the Broncos because they refused to brave the traffic or sit outside in winter weather.  Like the clich├ęd character in sitcoms and movies who’s terrified she will die a virgin, I vowed to ski, in a half-assed attempt at finding something—anything—that could whisk me away from our house on the weekends. I lived in a shrine to the NFL, where worshippers came in their Sunday best jersey knockoffs to baptize themselves in Velveeta and chili, and where “the host” referred not to the body of Christ, but to Howard Cosell.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wednesday with Glenda

I had lunch the other day with my friend Glenda, whom I haven't seen in at least five years.  That's too bad, because I like hanging out with her. She laughs in such a way that you get a clear-as-a-bell view of her tonsils, and I appreciate being able to tell if a person has strep every time she laughs.

Near the end of lunch, she asked me about my writing. "Did you ever finish that book you were working on?" she asked.  The book she's referring to, of course, was the memoir I never figured out how to write--and may never figure out how to write. It was that same non-book that taught me the most valuable lesson I've learned to date about what my relationship with writing is, and it's also the book that almost ended it.  I guess really good books teach lessons like that; even the books that don't exist.  I told her that after a years-long night of the soul, complete with childbirth, a broken thyroid, and moving three times, that I gave up and returned to writing essays, which was the only thing I've ever been good at anyway.  I sell one to a literary magazine once in a while and have won a few small contests, but mostly I let them be.

Because nobody really buys essay collections written by people who aren't already famous, I can just write them because I love them. It's like knitting or cooking or cock fighting--it's a meditative hobby that helps me make sense of the world inside my head.  If there was ever a show about people who only love doing the things that don't generate income, I'd like to host. (TLC, call me!)

"Do you still blog?" she asked.

"Oh yeah," I lied, "yes, of course I blog," knowing that it had been months since I'd posted anything--longer since I'd posted anything that didn't make people wonder if I had decided to turn on my oven and then give it a really good scrubbing.  If you've been wondering about that, I'm still here, not-blogging. And for the record, I would never give myself the Sylvia Plath treatment--our stove is electric.  So here I am. A post--a miracle! That's how Glenda makes an honest woman out of you.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Of Shirts and Sand

After a trip to the beach, I spare one tee shirt from the laundry and seal it up in a Ziploc bag. Each day after work, I open it up and mash my face into the cloth, smelling the sand and sea and sun.  I do this until the poor thing is devoid of any kind of olfactory beachiness.

I think today is the day I surrender our last trip's tee shirt to the washer. If I weren't so sad, I'd think it comical that I'm about to wash out any hint of the ocean smell with a product called Tide.

We went to Hawaii for our beach vacation this year, the place where all of my most romantic notions about geography were set. The place where I've always felt the most like me. It's where my family and I traveled during my formative years. And now, during what I'm calling my transformative years, it's where I try to travel most all over again; consequently, it's where we're indoctrinating Sophie into the Hawaii habit, too.

I'll go out on a limb and say that I hope she takes it for granted. I hope she finishes her childhood assuming that she can expect these kinds of experiences to find her, instead of wondering, like so many people do, how she can deserve them. Because frankly, there's nothing a mere mortal can do (short of saving the world from the Kardashians) that would warrant a reward like a week or more with the 50th state.

If you're a Hawaii junkie like me, tell me your favorite island hang. And if you've been there recently, I'll buy your bagged tee shirt for ten bucks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dear Papa

One night, long after bedtime, Sophie begged me to write a letter to my dad, her late grandfather. "You promised we could do it tonight," she said. I watched her take scissors to paper and tape the little pieces together to very meticulously make a pair of butterfly wings. "It's too small for me to write the words," she said, holding up her invention. "You write it for me, Mama." That first night, she instructed me to write in block capital letters, not cursive, so that Papa would know it was really from her, even though I wrote it. "From your grandaughter, Sophie," she dictated. "I'm in first grade now. I'm almost six. Grandma misses you very much. Write me back."
She's been writing about a letter a day to the man she called Papa, the man she's been speaking to daily since before she took command of the English language.  Not knowing how to send a letter to someone beyond the physical, she held her letter up that first night and asked how we would send it. What was Papa's address? Where was his mailbox, anyway?  I was confused about sending the letters myself, and so I suggested burning the letter outside. "The smoke will send him your message," I said as convincingly as I could, and then heaved a giant sigh when she agreed.

Last night she wrote the letter herself: Papa, I don't know what heaven is like. Do you have information? I've lost two teeth. Love, Sophie. She decorated and clipped the tar out of her missive and handed it over.  "It's really hard to ruin it after spending so much time making it," she said. "It makes me sad at first, but I really want to send it." So under a twilight sky, the two of us watched the letter take a flame, and then take flight to wherever it went next.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Today is Sophie's first day of first grade.  We've come a long way, baby! Last year at this time, I was rounding up our friends from across the street to see Sophie off on her first school bus ride. I video taped her with my Flip Mino (that has since been stolen during our basement remodeling), made a little movie for the relatives, put her on the bus and spent the rest of the day trying not to throw up. When she got off the bus, I heaved the huge sigh I had held in all day while I fretted and wept and gagged.

This year, we barely made it to the bus on time, and I did a half-assed job taking a few shots of her with my phone while she boarded the big yellow bus. No nausea, just some asthma, and I just now noticed that it's about time for her to step off the bus. Next year, I'll probably had her a soggy waffle on her way out the door, and watch her walk down the middle of the street. I'll say to her in the evening, "When did you get home?" 


When I went back to work last December, very unexpectedly and after working at home for what seemed like a millennium, Sophie and I were forced to do the thing we hate the most: Change.  I have to give the both of us considerable credit for molding ourselves into the people we need to be to maintain our dynamic duo-style relationship during these strange times. During periods of feeling like someone left our cake out in the rain, it's true that we do fall apart every now and then.  You might notice the conspicuous absence of Alex in all this. It's only because he's a complete nutjob no matter the weather.

So if you know us--or if you don't--and you find us acting weird and rough around the edges, it's only because we're all trying to figure out how we will continue to make these kinds of steady strides toward remodeling ourselves without feeling like we've been robbed.  And if you know us--or if you don't--say a prayer for us.  I recommend sending up a few to RuPaul, patron saint of radical transformation.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

First Name, Second Chance

When Alex and I learned we were expecting Sophie, we had decided to surprise ourselves with the baby's gender. This of course was an invitation to anyone with a  penchant for predicting to guess what we were having.  "You have a fifty-fifty chance of being right," I told one stranger at a party. She looked at me very carefully from all angles and distances, and then said with bits of food flying from her mouth, "I definitely think boy."  This began a period of my life that seemed infinite, in which strangers felt comfortable sizing me up and then blurting out their answers based on scientific principles such as how "high" or "low" my belly was riding, or what kinds of foods I was craving.  "Really, you only have two choices, people," I told a group of German tourists outside of a Moe's Bagels in Denver.  By the end of my pregnancy, I had decided to bundle up in bulky clothing and claim that I was big-boned.

And then there was the "what are you naming it?" question.  At first, it was a question I enjoyed answering. Who wouldn't want to share such a thing, I wondered, until I figured out that there are people in the world intent on making sure that you don't screw everything up by naming your kid something stupid, like Rose.  "Rose?" Guffawed one woman, screwing up her face. "You can't name your baby Rose."

"It was my grandmother's name, and she was born during the late 1800s. If my great-grandmother was free to name a baby Rose before women could vote, I think I can probably do it now." 

Rose was the name I had picked if we were having a girl. At least that's what I thought Alex and I had agreed to. As I found out two weeks before my due date, Alex thought I had been joking.  "You can't name a baby Rose," he said.

"Actually," I said, searching the kitchen for something poisonous to put in his dinner, "I'm just big boned."

By the time I left work on maternity leave, I had stopped sharing names with people. It was too much; it was like asking for their permission, or advice, and I try never to do either of those.  But mostly I had stopped sharing names after one of my co-workers asked me, "What are you going to name the baby if it's a hermaphrodite?" 

Two weeks overdue, and overdone, we had a girl.  Alex and I both agreed--amicably--on Sophie.  We never spoke about the Rose debacle again.

Two weeks ago, Sophie and I were having one of our legendary talks about life.  She was wondering if she and I could ever take a trip together, just the two of us. "Of course," I said. "We could be in Vegas in three hours from now."  But she said she would rather go to New York City. Stay in a penthouse and take in a play. "It's too bad Winter Garden cut Cats," she said.

"Who are you?" I said, "And what have  you done with my five-year-old?"

"And also, Mom?" she paused.  "I want to change my name."

"OK," I said, "to what?"

"To Rose," she said. (I'll bet you saw that coming.)

"I love it," I said, feeling a little dizzy. We raised our cups of juice and made a toast to Roses everywhere.  We didn't ask permission, we didn't ask forgiveness. We just took our Sharpies to the labels of her clothing and made it so.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Taking Hopelessness to the Airport

Recently I heard the author/artist SARK talk about how it's a good idea to acknowledge the weaker parts of ourselves, and maybe even (gasp!) let them show more often than we do. She said she had gone so far as to  take the part of her that felt hopeless out for a walk. "We didn't make it very far," she said, "because she was very tired. So we sat down in a field of flowers."

I wanted to take SARK's advice, but instead of taking the part of myself that feels hopeless for a walk, I think I'd like to take her to the airport, and put her ass on a plane that's taking off for someplace where they need that kind of thing. Like Disneyland, or maybe the Church of Scientology headquarters. They definitely have too much hope over there.

Not that I have anything against hopelessness, but I think we've already spent plenty of time together.  I'd like to drive her down Pena Boulevard, laugh together about the gigantic, blue, satanic horse, and take the "departures" exit. "Well, take it easy," I'd like to say, popping the trunk. "Thanks for coming, but you're needed over at Apple, then I'm sending you to Canada for a while." They could use a little despair just to even things out a little, balance stuff up out there in the great white north. (Take off! It's a beauty way to go...)

I like to imagine that, while we hug, my hopelessness asks me, "Whatever will you do while I'm gone?"
"I guess the same thing I did while we were together all the time. Whatever I want."

I will want to worry about her when she starts a tour of the California state university system, but then she'll send me a postcard of herself standing in front of the Sigma Chi house at Berkeley, and I'll know I've done the right thing.