Friday, June 30, 2006

hi, guest post from the teenager

Hi, this is the teenager. I'm not going to use my name because my mom doesn't and...I...don't, um, really want to and stuff.

(I made this error message. I went here to make it. )

Uh..... my mom isn't writing because..... um.... she's busy taking care of my brother, who's sick.

What can I tell you about my mom. She broke the answering machine today. (like it was never fixed. Every time you used it this voice would say, "low battery"). but today, she broke broke it for good because she jammed the prong into the thing (outlet) too negative (hard). She said, "I neutered it".

She says stuff like that, like it's funny. Yeah, and I've heard better corny jokes from ACTUAL CORN!!!

Now you're saying....okay, ...? He talks to vegetables? They tell him jokes?

No. But you're close. Pineapples only, actually.

(And in case you didn't know, that was sarcasm.)

If you read this blog, you will be tossed into a never-ending void of darkness. No, you won't. Just kidding.

(And in case you didn't know, that was sarcasm.)

But if you read this blog, you might think you know my mom.
You don't.

This is what my mom is like:

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGH!"
"Dog! get offa da couch!"(from New Jersey she is not) (yoda talk) (and in case you didn't know, more sarcasm.)
"You're making me nuts!"


but mostly it's just,

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGHHHHH *gasp* cough cough ,kaff kaff, (clears throat) AAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGHHHHH!"


But wait. She stopped drinking coffee. So really this is what she sounds like now:

"aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagghhhhh"


Because when you drink coffee you speak in capital letters, everyone knows that.

Except for people in Burbank. I don't know why. Something to do with cell phones probably.

My mom has started to resort to drinking "decaf." and, "Caffeine free assorted soft drink types". I think she's reverting to her pre-mom mom days.

Anyway, she asked me to write because she's still tired and all poop-ed out because of the kiddie types and she thinks I'm a good writer. I don't know about that. but I am working on making her " The Non- Sad Sack Extraordinaire".

I don't know what she tells you about me because she doesn't really let me read her blog. I can write on it but not read it. Whatever. But these are the kind of things I think about:

  • "If I had a dollar for every time you didn't have a dollar, I'd have one dollar."
  • Why are soft drinks....soft?
  • Why don't waffle irons go digital?
You know, the usual.

Anyway, before I collapse into unimaginable ways, Quick! take these top secret links before the NWFA* finds me!

Strongbad and da Cheat Rules

uhhh... type stuff.

I think I might be posting for Mom when I'm on vacation next month. She gives me a cell phone but this might be a good way to talk too. So, you'll see me again.

Signed,
The Teenager

*National Wack Federation of America

Thursday, June 29, 2006

traveling in reverse

Sometimes I think I must have agreed to something before I came into this life -- that I'd have to learn how to continually let go. It seems to be a recurrent theme.

The older I get and the more I learn, the more I realize I know nothing at all. It's as if I'm traveling in reverse.

I have a teenage son. Since his fourth birthday his summers have been punctuated by a four-week vacation in July with his father, some of which is usually spent in California. I've come to look on the Fourth as a sobering anniversary of the leavetaking that is to come. When the fireworks go off in the sky after picnics and cheerful conversation, their brilliant rocket explosions seem to herald, to me, not independence but a secret, private sorrow.

I never get used to it when he goes away. It hurts, an almost physical pain that seems to stoop my shoulders and make my tongue heavier so that it's something of a burden to move and talk normally. And I know everyone says it's silly that I take it so hard -- shouldn't you be getting used to it by now? -- but truthfully, I never do get used to it. I don't know how anyone could.

After the initial acrimony of the divorce began to fade -- even the leakage of a dead battery must have a short half-life, a year or so -- the sting of separation from mother and child began to ease when my ex let us visit on his work days. He'd bring our son over to my house and we'd spend the day together until five and then my ex would come back and pick him up and take him home again. It was a buffer. It made the California trip a little easier to bear.

I got a phone call this afternoon from my ex. Though it's meant with no untoward intentions whatsoever, this year's vacation has been planned out a little differently -- which means I won't get to see our son on the in-between days this time. It's going to be a solid month of absence, just like it was right after the divorce.

This has been a week when I've felt a number of sorrows and concerns mounting upon my head. I can take it that the part of the roof is covered with a tarp and people are coming to write down estimates and take pictures. I can take it that I've given up caffeine and I'm swelling up like a zeppelin.

But I'm losing my son all over again and the fact that he's a teenager by now lessens the sorrow not at all. When I think of all the dramas I've envisioned as I hovered over him anxiously, the tragedies that never occured; the one I forgot to prepare for is the one that hits me the hardest.

The one in which I realize my child is growing up.

I made a simple dinner tonight, butterflied chicken roasted with onions and potatoes. It's a straightforward meal; economical and homely, filling the kitchen with direct but friendly aromas of warming onion and buttery breast meat. The teenager wasn't there to eat it; he'd already left to spend the night with his father.

After dinner I took a walk; I stopped at the store to pick up a few odds and ends. It felt odd to walk through the aisles unescorted and unencumbered. It seemed disorienting, uneven. I lacked ballast.

I'm tired of having a blog and writing my heart and soul upon the condensation of a warm window that everyone else can see and read.

It's not just that my son is going away for a month. He always goes away for one month out of the year. And he has a great time, too. It's fun for him. I can't begrudge him that.

It's more that I'm thirty-seven and I feel so disconnected sometimes, like I've struggled and worked and sacrificed and for what? What lasts? No, I mean there's family, but there are just no guarantees in life. One of my classmates died of cancer in February and another one died last week (two weeks ago? see how quickly the time lapses into a nondescript blur?) in a car crash.

When I read it in the paper all I could see, in my mind, was not the woman herself, but the girl she used to be, the one who sat next to me in fifth grade and wore a green Porky Pig shirt with darker green rings around the collar and the sleeves.

Loss, loss! It's not fair, it's not even close to fair.

Sometimes I still have dreams about my friend who died in February. Then I wake up and can't go back to sleep and I sit in the easy chair downstairs watching the streetlights shine through the window art I've put up in the living room. I turn my head this way, and that. The colors are so brilliant. It's almost difficult to imagine, in such a mood, that I was the one who made them.

As I get older I realize the more I am inclined to hold on more tightly, the more it means I have to loosen my grip and let go.

Is that what it is I'm supposed to learn?

When I left the store tonight (one plastic bag dangling from my hand, my long skirt swirling around my ankles because I like wearing long skirts anymore, these days) it seemed to take an unusual amount of determination to keep my posture erect. To think I used to practice walking down the college hallways with a book on my head so as to gain perfect posture.

Which is how my ex-husband met me, come to think of it.

Across the street a young mother held up a very young blond-haired child in the air, aloft, like a prize. She stood there, arms braced, laughing upward into the child's face as the child grinned, and then she swung the child back down again to the pavement. The child was barefoot, wearing only a diaper, and the two of them turned and walked away together, hand in hand.

Watching them uninvited I felt so full of a memory myself -- when my teenager was that small (he was that blond, too), how quickly that baby-time evaporates, as a costly but impermanent perfume that, obviously, you couldn't afford to buy again.

Fourth of July next week, and I just don't have the heart to write for a while. I don't know when I'll be back. I'm just....tired.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

rubens, rubens, i barely knew ye

That Rubens. What a guy. Immortalizing plump flesh as beautiful and healthy. Of course, that's not all he did, but it's all anyone seems to remember.

I looked this afternoon at the Portrait of Susanne Lunden (La chapeau de paille). Maybe she had to take Florinef too. Looks like it.

Okay, now I feel better.

Florinef is a corticosteroid which, in my case, is an antihypotensive. It's made me, literally, swell, which is a dismaying turn of events unless you're a balloon and swelling is your sole function in life. I pointed this out at the doctor's office this afternoon during my checkup and she agreed with me, laughing.

Yeah, well, that's the way it is. Corticosteroids will do that to you.

My blood pressure was 100/60. She could hear the murmur. We discussed some medications and agreed I've had them added, removed, switched and tweaked quite a lot in the past few months, so it's best to just make any new changes slowly -- one at a time.

I had the kids with me. I gave the youngest my cell phone and told him to call his imaginary friend (he did, curled up in a chair, chatting on his cell, looking like a very tiny businessman). The middle child got to lay on the examining table (I perched at the end of it). The teenager sat by the desk, slouched, all arms and legs -- clearly bored.

Obviously my distress over recent weight gain didn't curb my appetite any; I took them to Dairy Queen, after. I ordered hot dogs and chicken sandwiches and fries for the kids and a Butterfinger Blizzard for me. I saw myself in the reflection of the drive-thru window and involuntarily thought of Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones' Diary.

Later, back at the ranch, my four-year-old sat on my lap and drew squiggles with a Sharpie marker all over the right leg of my denim capri pants. This was while I was lying flat on the couch with one hand over my forehead contemplating the meaning of my existence.

It's not advisable to contemplate one's existence in a state of semi-consciousness. You may awaken with graffiti all over you.

Monday, June 26, 2006

harumph, harumph

My computer is dying. No really. It sometimes takes almost an hour to get it up and running and even then there's no guarantee.

It doesn't irritate me that it's slow to load at the start-up. It irritates me that I only have x amount of time to indulge in the luxuries of reading and answering e-mail and surfing my favorite blogs and toying with the next idea for a post, and instead of doing any of those things I'm spending the early morning hours restarting the computer over and over and resisting the urge to smack it savagely upside the monitor, like that would help.

The IT people might have suggestions, but truthfully there are no fixes. I've tried them all. It's just an aging computer and I've pounded every last microchip out of it since I lucked onto it a couple of years ago.

It does at least open up a space in which I contemplate my navel why it is I keep blogging. I need the computer for my art shop, but beyond that -- I mean sometimes I cringe when I think of what I've written; I can't stand to read the past posts. That's why I refer to them as prior offenses.

All I can see when I look back is the mistakes. It's like when I meet up with an old friend or acquaintance and they say, "I was just thinking about you the other day," or "I remember when you were still in school" and I always have to curb the itchy, self-absorbed urge to ask: What was it you were you thinking? What is it you remember? Please tell me it's a pleasant memory and not one where I was behaving ridiculously.

So I don't do too much retrospecting, if I can help it.

I guess I'm just feeling tired and philosophical right now. I'm just thinking that the computer could crash irretrievably, the mike could short out, and if that happened and I evaporated into cybermist, no harm would really come of it. Or maybe everyone who blogs feels like that now and then.

Anyway, now the computer is up, but so are the kids, so I'm just going to have my DECAF coffee and try to pretend it's still the real deal. Harumph, harumph.

rain, rain, go away

By the time I get to the checkout line in the grocery store my kids are practically doing cartwheels. I have a massive headache. It's raining. No one's showed up yet to come look at the roof. There's a big blue tarp over part of it and yet, it still rains steadily. I'm buying my first carton of caffeine-free Coke. I feel like an ad for certain migraine medications.

When you have part of your roof missing you start paying a lot more attention to other people's is what I've learned in the past four or five days. I've never realized what varieties there are in roofing. In tin or metal roofing alone the color spectrum is awesome. I've seen white roofs, green roofs, barn red roofs, even (yesterday) a yellow roof. Very nice.

The clerk interrupts my reverie (and the din of two screeching children) to inform me of the purchase total. I realize I have no pen.

"Do you have a pen* I can borrow," I ask very formally.

"Of course," she says, rummaging around the register.

"Because I need to stab myself through the ears with it," I finish.

Behind me I hear two women laugh in a startled kind of way.

Interestingly enough, she still hands it over.

(It was a blue PaperMate, medium point.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

taming the dangerous animal

No, the dangerous animal isn't a bunny. Unless it's on the set of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I just sketched it out and enjoyed its childlike appeal, so it gets tacked into the post.

For years now, I've wanted to write a book. I always get so far and then something stops me. I can never write the ending.

Most of us don't ever live in a beginning or an ending is why; we're always somewhere in the middle. I kind of like that about life. Even when painting or writing entirely out of my imagination, I still can't seem to close doors. There has to be that room for possibility.

Dreams need air to breathe.

I can't write entirely about what I've lived, though the life I've lived has been interesting, at least, it's been interesting to me. I learned in middle school when some girls stole my English journal and shared it with the rest of the class that using words is a dangerous venture.

You may mean well when you write, but people will still misunderstand, even deliberately misconstrue your original intent. It's what makes precision so important, and so wearisome. The agonizing caution over each inflection, tone, implication, connotation: it's constipating. And even that is not enough. People can still hate it or be hurt (which is worse!) despite your best efforts to the contrary. So part of you has to be invulnerable and even a little careless. And that's a tightrope I've never found balance upon.

I know what I want to say but I'm never sure how to go about saying it. I feel sometimes (as I struggle over the latest manuscript) like a translator instead of a writer. I'm taking one string of thought and parsing it into something else entirely.

So then something is lost and the voice seems a little less honest.

It's best when I just sit down and write and it comes out and I don't think about it too much. But then I read over it when I'm finished and I'm swept away in a rush of emotions: it's strong, but it's also (in places) very sad and quite a lot darker than the lighter prisms I cast on Perspectacles.

Which is not quite the effect I sought. But the story keeps telling itself anyway, with the desperate urgency of a big dog on a tie-out yanking impatiently toward freedom until the spike in the ground is uprooted and the dog runs away, chain and spike clattering behind messily.

Truth is a dangerous animal.

Example: When my heart got broken for the first time, I acted so....muted. I didn't fight back, or rail against it, or cry or even argue. I went home and sat up staring at the wall feeling so mixed and furious and still I couldn't even force a tear to fall; it was as if everything inside me just sort of...stopped. I might as well have walked out into oncoming traffic; I just let myself go ahead and be demolished.

How I disparaged myself for that, even while it was happening and I went on watching it happening, like an eyewitness to an automotive accident or a house fire. Detached, even. Emotionless.

(Where was my sensitivity and my careful eye for observation then, I asked myself? First crisis forced to a point and all my empathy and kindness disappears. I just turn cold and indifferent, apparently, even to myself.)

My sensitivities reappeared in odd manifestations: I'd take a sip of water from a thin blue goblet and suddenly be acutely aware of the cold remove of the glass. I'd bite down on the glass suddenly, impulsively, willing it to break and shatter in my mouth so I could bleed and start feeling something, anything other than this numb emptiness.

No, I wasn't well.
But I didn't know anything about anything, back then. The glass never broke. I just kept pushing doggedly on until my senses slowly, gradually, regained most of their function.

The reason I admit this is because the story I am writing now is the story I wish I'd had around to read, when all that was happening. Truths and dangers, moments of kindnesses that spur a person on.

How we don't ever get beginnings or endings; how it's always the middle we're in no matter where we happen to be at, and most of all, the truth, or what's seemed to be my training: as long as there's air to breathe, there's still a possibility, always possibility and something maybe better than what came before.

So, back to the manuscript.
I always had very short hair as a child. One of the main reasons being: when I'm nervous (and I was a very nervous child) I wind strands of hair around my index finger and sort of weave it back and forth until I've tatted it into a sort of uncombable, snarly lace. Hairdressers would give up and just cut out the knots in despair.

Now I have long hair and I resist the urge to tat it when I'm stressed.
Having said that: it must be a sign of my recently anxious state that I've braided over a dozen teeny, tiny little plaits in the underlengths of my hair. They aren't corded with elastic; I just have to braid them and then move on. I don't know why.

I need to calm down. I tried eating ice cream instead, but braiding is more relaxing.

Friday, June 23, 2006

there's storms, and then there's storms.

When you live anywhere a certain length of time (or maybe this is just me because I'm phobic about tornadoes) you tend to notice which direction the thunderstorms come from. Here the storms invariably travel from the west. So when the skies are darker in the west, I'm paying attention.

I learned something yesterday. Winds can come from other directions, and when they do, it's trouble.

This storm blew in from the north. Kids were outside swinging on the porch, kicking their legs and singing. Skies growing more ominous and a sharp breeze picking up, so I stuck my head out the door and called: Come on in here, now.

Aw, c'mon. It's not raining yet.

I don't care. Get on in the house. When I tell you to do something I mean do it.
.
In they come, in a tangle of discarded shoes and baseball caps. You're no fun. We weren't hurting anything. Sheesh.

As if on cue, the rain and the wind picked up. My youngest started screeching; he went supersonic.

The tent, the tent. The tent's flying away. Do something.

I looked out the window and sure enough, the play tent we bought them at the end of the school year is nearly aloft, whipping upright from the porch, where we left it, like a wind socket. Darts of white light are dashing this way and that and thunder is rumbling with terrific force, but given the choice between suffering the kid's meltdown or death by electrocution I'll pick electrocution any day.

So I'm out on the porch wrestling this semi-foldable tent around in a typhoon. Uneasily aware of the storm's increasing tempo and the rapidity of lightning flashes sparking around me. I must be crazy, I thought, out here in a storm just to bring in a tent for a four-year-old.

Even the dog looked at me quizzically when I finally dragged the whole thing in: like -- and you think it's funny when I chase my tail? C'mon, woman.

So. Here we are, playing with a kid's tent in the middle of the living room while the storm rages on around us. Then there's this terrific bang and I say, "Wow, that was close." And the teenager runs downstairs with his GameBoy in hand and exclaims, "This just shorted out and restarted while I was playing it upstairs! What's that mean?"

I'm turning this information over in my mind and it's slowly, darkly equating to something not very good. Actually I'm thinking of a passage of text I read once about how you can tell if a lightning bolt is about to strike: if you start to tingle all over and electrical appliances start behaving oddly, kneel down to the ground and pray for mercy, because the jolt, it's a-comin'.

"Go to the basement, go, go, go," I said. And all of them, en masse, actually did it without any backtalk whatsoever. They even took the dog on the way (though the dog scritched his nails and splayed all fours in protest). Then they immediately formed a semicircle chanting, "We're doomed, we're doomed, we're doomed."

This is my idea of being a comforting, reassuring parent: "Shut up, we're nothing like. Now let's sing something."

As hail pounds down outside, hail as big as ice cubes falling with a very audible thunk-thunk-thunk.

It was after the storm ended that we learned the roof got blown off the house. The tin roof looked like a hastily opened Christmas present. The roof is sort of like a bad wig at this point.

The fire department had to come. They didn't have a tarp to cover the roof with but they thought they knew a few people who might and people kept stopping as they drove by and checking to make sure everything was all right and sooner or later it came to pass someone knew somebody who had a tarp and that person came over and other people showed up out of nowhere to help put it on.

One of those people who showed up out of nowhere to help quietly admitted to me (while my husband went inside the house to hunt up some tinsnips) that he's terrified of heights. ("Someone better be ready to catch me when I fall," he joked.) Yet not an hour later I came out of the house and saw that same person standing on the apex of the roof, hammer in hand, looking jaunty and unconcerned like it was no never mind to him.

That's a kindness, I realized. To get up on top of a roof like that even though you hate heights, just to help another human being who needs it. Not everyone would; certainly not everyone did. (Lots of people just kept on driving.)

I stood there with my mother-in-law and the kids watching the next storm come up*, the clouds scudding very, very swiftly toward us in ugly gray and greenish white colors and all these people parked around the house, climbing up on the roof, everyone working so busily to shelter us from the rain and instead of feeling scared or upset or stressed out (at least, for that split second in time) all I felt was this overwhelming gratitude. I just loved everything and everybody and felt so glad to be here, to live in a town where people take care of each other like this.

In the middle of something horrible people can be so incredibly nice. Makes you think the world's not really such a bad place to live in, after all.

*we're still in the red zone and more storms are predicted for the next day or so, especially tonight. So we may not be through it yet, but we're holding up well.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Big problem in seeing any movie with Meg Ryan in it: you start thinking you could get your hair cut like that and it would look just as cute.*





*No
, I didn't get my hair cut. When it gets hot and muggy like this I start thinking about it, though.

don't forget the jet dry

Some years ago I ordered satellite network service for our television and the man they sent to install it showed up not only maddeningly late, but knee-walkin' drunk. His partner parked the van in the yard, a side door slid open and a man tumbled out of it face-first into the grass. He remembered to take off his muddy boots in the kitchen doorway, but then slid across the (newly waxed) floor in his socks, dumped a pile of instructions and papers on the living room floor, hung the dish outside upside down and went home.

He seems to have set a precedent. Or maybe I just have bad luck with service repairmen.

The new dishwasher arrived this week. It's a Bosch. We've all been very excited about this. Reputable brand name, but most of all, a working appliance that spares me the agony of looking upon an ever-replenshing stockpile of sullied dishes each time I enter the kitchen.

Now we can hide the dirty dishes in the dishwasher again, like everyone else does, and wash them only when we can't cram any more of them in there.

The repairman was tidily attired: clean pressed blue jeans and an ironed purple shirt. I towered over him when I answered the door. He made up for his small stature with a steady stream of complaints, putting me in mind of an extremely yappy little dog.

"This dishwasher looks tall. It might not fit. The water line is short, too. It doesn't look like it's going to reach all the way. Okay, it's going to go in maybe, but I still have to put it up on the risers to hook everything up. No, this might not work at all."

I went on watching him, silently (if there was a cue I was supposed to pick up, I didn't recognize it) and he amended, finally (a note of resignation in his voice), "....But I guess we'll figure something out."

I guess we will.

He wanted to know if I knew what breaker shuts off the electricity in the kitchen. How would I know? I do not look at, go near, or broach the breaker boxes. That's a Man Item.

I asked him to wait until my father-in-law could come over (because he knows) and instead the repairman just scuttled downstairs to the basement and shut down everything, en masse, before I could stop him.

He not only turned off the power to everything in the entire house, he disabled the water supply and even shut off the water to the garage and the little hookup with the hose outside that we use to water the flowers with. I felt as if we were on a hot air balloon (or a sinking ship), he jettisoning everything aboard not entirely necessary or carrying superfluous ballast.

Then he had to lecture me needlessly about care and maintenance of the dishwasher, while taking great pains to point out what a mediocre and flawed device we'd chosen. "It has no drying cycle. Some dishwashers have one, but this one doesn't." It sounded like he was slighting its character.

"You'll have to use JetDry to get your dishes to dry faster. Always keep your JetDry compartment completely full. Never let it run low. It needs the JetDry to work efficiently."

So I have an appliance with a substance addiction problem. Charming.

"You'll want to run your hot water faucet in the sink before you start the dishwasher every time."
"Why?"
"So the water comes into the dishwasher already hot."

I frowned. (Suddenly, I had this image of warming a bottle for a baby.)

"Run your food disposal before you start the dishwasher, too."

"Why don't I just make all the other appliances in the room leave when the dishwasher starts a cycle so it won't have to feel self-conscious," I suggested.
"What?"
"Nothing. Continue."

"Don't forget that JetDry," he continued. "Wife and I, we have to replace it, oh, I'd like to say, once a month. Dishwasher can't run without it. So don't forget the JetDry."

I assured him solemnly that I wouldn't.

I've run the dishwasher about half a dozen times since then, sans JetDry, sans prewarmed water. I've had no complaints. It seems a docile appliance, quiet, well-behaved, adaptable.

So much for domestic engineering. Or service repairmen: short, drunk, or otherwise.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

TEDS thigh-highs, oh the humanity

I had to get my legs measured today for my TEDS thigh-high stockings.

I suppose the Rockettes suffer similiar indiginities, which does ease the sting a bit.

Those medically prescribed stockings are just wicked attractive, aren't they? And they only come in a blinding, glaring white. Which works out well for me, since a bathroom toilet has more pigmentation than I do. Quite frankly, given my albino tendencies, I think no one will even know I've got them on.

I wonder if I can wear a black maillot with them, like the model in the photograph. I could start a trend. Or be committed. One or the other.

It's not like I have to wear a scuba suit, which I actually might have preferred (better than the girdle pants my mother gave me as a gift three years ago). Covers more square footage, and much more disciplinary in general.

I asked the young lady who had to measure my legs with yellow tape if this was actually written in her job description. (Must measure the calves of aging housewife without comment.)

She laughed and said, No, but that's okay.

Why do I have to wear them, again? Because my circulation is poor (though I already knew that, based on my Site Meter stats) and when I stand the blood tends to pool in my legs and then every danger signal in my body starts flashing: go horizontal! Horizontal! She's a-gonna capsize, Sonny Jim!

Oh! And did I mention I also have to drink lots and lots of water, all the time, because I dehydrate easily? Sort of like SpongeBob SquarePants. I step outside and immediately begin to sort of shrivel.

But I'm not as frail as I look. I could still kick your butt if you cross me. So don't get any ideas. In fact, the stockings have superpowers. Be afraid.

Be very afraid.