Tuesday, January 30, 2007

keeping a readable pulse

It's funny how things work. I started this blog on August 19, 2004 almost as a joke. I came up with the title in about five seconds while talking to a friend on the phone. Here I am, the working mom turned SAHM, trying to find a way to still publish my writing on a daily basis the way I used to when I was a reporter. How about....Adventures of a Domestic Engineer? That'll work as well as anything.

I sat right down and started writing a post about registering my second son for preschool:

I believe miracles can happen to anyone if the expectations are low.

A penny in the street is a miracle if you're willing to be grateful for the happenstance of cheap currency. These are the tenets on which I build my faith and hope in humanity. If I go to the grocery store and my youngest son doesn't do a strip tease in the canned goods aisle, throwing his tank top into the face of a random shopper, I find myself relieved and grateful.

I am a mom. I wasn't always a mother. I was once a creative, inspired person who slept in until 10 a.m. and radiated beatific peace and joy to all who knew me...

I got my first comment on my third post by a person who spoke English as a second language. I couldn't believe anyone was even reading it.

And thus was Adventures of A Domestic Engineer born.

I found that writing a blog is a lot like falling in love. For a while it's an exhilarating sense of connection. It consumes your attention and the excitement is almost enough to bounce upon when you walk down the street. You feel enraptured; liberated; you want to talk about anything, everything! It's as if doors open and the world gets even bigger.

It's fun. It's new and it's fun.

I found that writing a blog is frightening and painful. I started reading other blogs and re-examining my own with a twinge of awkward self-consciousness. I'd measure myself with a brutally unforgiving yardstick and come up far short of the ideal. The day I found Woulda Shoulda I had an overwhelming temptation to plunge into the dashboard and hit the Delete Blog button fast before I embarassed myself any further. Because I was totally intimidated by what was already out there. What did I think I was doing?

Who crawls into the new millenium without even knowing what blogs are, anyway?

I got hate mail, too. That was suprising. Not a lot of it, not a great amount, but just like in reporting, there is always that element of the population that will find you repulsive on every level. The praise was more palatable than the scorn and it was a bitter meal to sit down to, but after a while I had to remind myself that whether you're being paid for your opinion or not, all critical attention has the same flavor after a while. It comes along with putting yourself out there. Having a blog doesn't ensure any more immunity from that than the byline did.

So I had to get on with it.

The more you write the more you get a sense of what it is people want to read about really. Not that it should matter, but we all know it does. People want good writing, they want funny or entertaining writing, they want to laugh or at least think more about something or other.

They don't always want to hear about kids. If any thorn stuck in my side more than another, it was this:

People with children just don't seem to get that people without children aren't necessarily interested in hearing about them.

That came up a lot during the course of the blog, as might be expected for a site with the tagline, "The day-to-day travails of a sleep-deprived mother of three." It came up a whole lot. More than I'd even care to mention.

In fact, it came up once in conversation when I was out and about: someone said to me, "Your writing is so good that I actually find myself wanting to read about someone else's kids," and everyone around burst into appreciative, agreeable laughter, as if reading about someone else's kids is a task akin to measuring the daily fecal output of a tsetse fly.

And I didn't get that. It was like being complimented for injecting sodium pentathol without making anyone scream.

I found that writing a blog is like going into therapy. You start to examine things you'd forgotten all about. Sometimes in the middle of a post I'd chance upon an evident truth and feel like I just found my car keys at the bottom of the toy chest.

I found it a useful medium for scrying my own thoughts.

I made friends -- another unexpected benefit. I certainly didn't look for that going into it. I got to know my own friends and family better, too.

Still, there comes a point when the simple declaration I read your blog can fill the ribcage with inordinate alarm. Oh that. Really? Well? Do you hate it, or what? Why are you telling me this?

In walks paranoia, on high heels and carrying a stiletto with one of those little long brown cigarettes you always see the chic people smoking. I can say that's what paranoia looks like. Because I've seen it. Shook hands with it, even.

Oh, well, the blog. The blog, the blog, the blog blog blog. Then there comes a stage in blogging -- after so much scar tissue-- where you're just jaded and so over it all. You almost feel like you've said everything there is to say, you've met all the new people there are to meet, you don't really need anything more out of it. It's kind of, you know. Yawn. Been there, done that.

And yet, you keep doing it anyway. Just because. You started it. Now it seems cruel to end it, like there's a whole euthanasia issue that has to be addressed. Is this really the kind of person you are? Squeezing the juice out of it as if it's some kind of orange, and then tossing the dehydrated half-moon pulp into the trash can liner?

(You slut. You attention-seeking, egomaniac slut.)

So now I can't kill it. I can't even resign myself to leaving it lie there like an abandoned signpost pointing to the east side of Germany.

I'll just have to let it live. Even though I've started a spanky new blog with a freshly ironed sidebar and about 35 categories ranging from anesthesia to the pimple on my chin.

So you can find me here, or you can find me there. Either way, I'll be around. Older but wiser. Wiser but still blogging. Blogging but in more place than one. I don't die but replicate, like the Tribbles in episode #42.

Remember that.


Monday, January 29, 2007

soon to be relocating

The move is not entirely complete -- I'm still migrating posts (and images!) over -- but you can visit my new site now. Feel free to stop by and tell me what you think.

I haven't made up my mind what to do with Adventures of a Domestic Engineer. One doesn't like to envision the adventures coming to an end, exactly. I'll certainly leave it around, anyway. It's funny how something that started on a whim could end up being such a part of who and what I am.

Again, here's my new site.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Intentalo again within a little while.

Blogger finally did it. We were sitting around wondering when they'd arm-wrestle us into going to the New Version, and it seems they've finally done it.

I have another blog on Wordpress, and I may be migrating to it very, very soon. Just because. That'll show them.

You don't know the pain I've felt this evening transferring Adventures of a Domestic Engineer to the new Blogger version. This is because my Mozilla browser is out of whack and insists on reading all Blogger pages in Spanish. I haven't done anything about it because I'm like that. I sort of get used to it and try to convince myself it's a fun way to learn a new language.

It's not so cute when you're being strong-armed into changing your entire modus operandi, I promise you. When you think you've signed into Blogger using your new Google account and it tells you instead:

En estos momentos se está migrando este blog.
Se está migrando este blog a la nueva versión de Blogger. Inténtalo de nuevo dentro de un momento.

Or, as Alta Vista Babel Fish claims (and what would I have done without it?):

At the moment blog is migrating this. Blog to the new version of Blogger is migrating this. Inténtalo again within a little while.

Later Blogger told me, via Babel Fish:

It will be finished in a pair of minutes.

It was kind of like going through the Spanish Inquisition, only everyone is drunk and slightly confused about the general procedure.

Not to mention that I'd just taken two Darvocet to help me get through dinner without violent stomach pain. So I'm dopey, and transferring my blog, in Spanish.

For a perfect evening I really ought to go out now and operate some heavy machinery. In Spanish.


Friday, January 26, 2007

nine keys

I found a ring of nine keys this morning in the teenager's bedroom. I know these keys; I just haven't seen them for a while.

They're the keys to our old apartment in San Francisco. To the place we lived in, my ex-husband and I, when we were all still a family together and our son just a winsome toddler with blond swinging hair and blue denim eyes, like a baby doll's.

The keys I used to palm nervously, walking down darkened streets with a gallon of milk from the grocer in my other hand, are now stacked neatly in front of me on the desk. My youngest child is wailing, crawling up onto my lap and wiping his tear-stained cheeks on my gray sweatshirt. He bumps the keys and they fall to the floor with a thud.

I look at them for a moment before leaning over to pick them up. I flick each one in turn around the large heavy silver ring, consideringly.

These are the keys to doors that no longer open.

Elliott Smith is singing "Miss Misery" in the background. It's a pretty song, it's a depressing song, and yet I like listening to it; it takes me to a place I couldn't get to, otherwise, just like the yellow taxis that darted in and out of lanes on Van Ness that I'd see but could never afford to ride in for very long.

Rick Lee is in San Francisco this week. He's started posting pictures from the trip on his site. I keep checking back to see what he's photographed, though at the same time I'm not sure what it is I'm looking for. I guess I want to know if other people see it the way I do. I'm thinking -- probably not.

As for me? It feels like I left so much behind (I lifted my arms one day to pick up my son, and ended up flying away instead) that there'd be something more to look at, even now -- something anyone else could see, as easily as you could, yourself. Nothing too esoteric, even: a signpost, or a tattered remnant of a sweater I used to wear, or maybe even a shadow self, walking around in my old Minnetonka moccasins, pushing a navy blue stroller down to Real Foods on Polk Street in the mornings, swinging a child in Lafayette Park round about 2 p.m.

It took some time to learn that a relationship is like any other kind of vessel: you can glue the pieces back together, but the seam is still there, all the same. It snakes down the side of the vase on your nightstand and every morning when you wake up you still can't help looking at it, tracing your finger lightly over the cracked ceramic and marveling how numb the glue feels to the touch. Like something forced and rubbery and forever after inflexibly altered.

There's that pieced-together place in the vase that's harder and crueler than anywhere else, where the flow of conversation is interrupted with a jagged break and then awkwardly rearranges itself around the shift, not quite working, and you feel like not only can you see it, but everyone else must be able to see it too, and they must talk amongst themselves, and comment privately when you're not in the room.

(Who is this person, with a life that's pieced together instead of whole?)

And then you have to choose whether this is what you want to think about every morning for the rest of your life, and close your eyes to before you sleep at night; or whether it's possible to get up and change it. One thing, something, maybe everything.

These are the keys I clutched in the pocket of my lynx coat when my son and I walked through San Francisco Airport at a quarter to midnight one May evening. I had a feeling I wouldn't be back, yet at the time, they still felt necessary.

And now they sit on my son's bureau, next to the rubble of compact discs and GBA game cartridges, all but eclipsed in the here and the now.

The same keys that closed doors behind me; somehow opened new ones, all on the sheer virtue of decision.


sepia and India ink on 11" x 15" watercolor paper.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

it's a meme

I got this high school meme from my best friend Heather. (Who won't believe I actually did a meme.)

You know I can't answer anything straightforwardly...

Fill this out about your YEARS of high school! The longer ago it was, the more fun the answers will be.

Who was your best friend?
I had friends. But mostly I seemed to just gravitate on the edge of other people's circles. Kind of like the school mascot.

What kind of car did you drive?
I think it was a Schwinn.

It’s Friday night, where were you?
At the football game. Or, reading in my room.

Were you a party animal?
No, that came later.

Were you considered a flirt?
Are you kidding? I wasn’t even considered a female.

Ever skip school?

Were you a nerd?

Did you get suspended/expelled?

Can you sing the fight song?
Sure. Da-da-da-DAH-DAH, Da-da-da-DAH-DAH, Da-da-da-DAH, DAH, DAH, DAH, DAH….

Who was your favorite teacher?
I liked them all, and even more importantly, they seemed to like me, which no doubt aided the dynamic somewhat.

Favorite class?
Truthfully? I enjoyed all of them. Yearbook, art, gifted English, chemistry, history, medieval tortures, 20th Century Dictators....

What was your school’s full name?
Charles Manson School of Charm.

School mascot?
A buzzard.

Did you go to Prom?
Yes. Alone.

If you could go back and do it over, would you?
I‘m not sure.

What do you remember most about graduation?
That my homemade tassel broke right before we started the march onto the grounds and the boy in front of me made fun of me for being so poor. Good times.

Who was your high school sweetheart?
I didn’t have one. That is, I did, but he wasn't at all aware of our engagement, so I'm not sure it really counts.

Where were you on senior skip day?
I saw “Secret of My Success” at the mall with my sister. The principal called before we left, checking up on me, and we assumed false voices and said Sharon is missing school today because she’s having a really heavy period. He backed off from it immediately, as expected, and then we went off merrily to watch another really bad Michael J. Fox movie.

Did you have a job your Senior year?
I worked for my dad at the roller rink. I got to chalk down the wooden floors so people wouldn't fall and kill themselves. Sometimes it was a temptation not to.

Where did you go most often for lunch?
Into the bowels of hell. The food is good but the atmosphere is a bit stifling.

Have you gained weight since then?
To a most transformative degree.

What did you do after graduation?
Oh, I just haven’t got the strength. Really.

When did you graduate?

Who was your Senior prom date?
A six-foot invisible rabbit named Harvey. Only male I met who didn't mind dancing in public.

Are you going to your 10yr class reunion?
I went. I served the beer.
No, I didn't.

Who was your home room teacher?
The typing teacher. Her name was Qwerty. Every desk had a typewriter on it. Something to hold my head up on in the mornings.

Who will repost this after you?
No one. It’s all lies. I was really home schooled in Greenland. And if I wasn't, maybe I should have been.

Proof we get better as we get older:


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

photo album

The aforementioned igloo. That's Jack Stone, Lego hero, issuing a directive before retiring inside the ice house for the night.

Me when I was ....old enough to stand up without falling over? Which could have been sometime after college, if we're going to be truthful about it at all. Shhh. I don't want to talk about it.

And because most of my family hasn't seen me for a while:

Me now:


Here's my dog Max, part Corgi, part mutt:

More to follow.

and so it goes

I couldn't eat anything at all yesterday. Not one thing. Not until last night when starvation got the better of me and I wolfed down a six-inch Italian sub on white bread (I picked off the banana peppers, because peppers bad). I also picked off the salami and fed it to the dog. And a little bit of the ham because the ham was sliced too thickly for my preference.

Then it seemed like there were too many chopped onions so I scraped most of those off too.

In other words, when I got done with my streamlining there wasn't much left except for the bread, three large coins of pepperoni, a slice of ham and lots of Italian dressing. It was pretty tasty, too.

When I finished that, I threw away the sandwich wrapper and the paper bag it came in, and in such a manner was kitchen cleanup accomplished.

I stirred up three tablespoons of sugar with three cups of water to make shaped ice cubes (I promised the kids I'd show them how to build an igloo). I put the ice trays in the freezer and then I read to them about the Inuits.

I explained how balmy and comfortable the inside of an igloo can be (30 degrees Farenheit). Warmer if the inside walls are lined with sealskin. And how the windows can be made with a block of ice, or a stretched flap of seal intestine. I'm not sure what point it is I'm trying to make here, except for one of my it-could-be-worse lectures (Don't complain when we keep the thermostat at 68).

Then I listened to my mp3 player and sewed up the torn seam in the teenager's overcoat. (Send me your tired, your weary, your mp3's. I'll listen.)

My gastroenterologist fired me, or I fired him. I can't remember; details get so blurry with time. He was always expecting me to show up and I was always disappointing him, so we decided the relationship wasn't working out for either of us and called it quits. You can do that when you're in remission and you're feeling all cocky and so forth.

It's not so conveinent, later, when the flare-up won't end and you have to schedule with a whole new doctor, someone who isn't at all familiar your charming perchant for tardiness or sheer absence in general.

As liberating as that might sound, the penalty is you have to start from scratch and go through the formalities of consults and baseline screenings and etc. all over again. All of which takes time, which is, needless to say, remarkably draining when you can't eat anything and your stomach refuses to be boiled into submission with a series of hot baths and extremely warm heating pads.

The moral to the story is: keep your appointments. Or something like that.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

good morning merry sunshine

To get the children out the door I have to focus on them each by each, like Noah sending the animals up into the Ark. Middle child goes first. He's also the dawdler and the conscientious objector to, oh, everything. So my reserves usually get spent on him before my day even really gets started.

He had this story to read for homework. He had this drawing he was supposed to do after reading the story. Only he forgot all about it until, I kid you not, one minute before the bus comes.

"This is your responsibility," I say angrily, really frustrated. That could have been a fantastic assignment for him -- he's very artistic -- and he blew it.

Then the oldest, the teenager, goes out the door. This is not a difficulty for either of us, but it emerges I didn't sew up a ripped seam in his overcoat and he has to wear another one.

I didn't mend the coat, I didn't supervise the homework; come to think of it, what was I doing with my time yesterday?

(I was fussing because yesterday afternoon my car became the phoenix. It was dead, it emerged from the ashes, it died again. Minus the burst of flame at the end, fortunately.)

Then the youngest one must be roused from his slumber upstairs. When I turn on the lights (all of them) and call his name in a series of attempts that range progressively from gentle to hysterical, he just burrows deeper into the pillows and says comfortably: "Mmm. Not going. You do it."

So. It starts. Already he's learned to delegate. I don't like this.

Of course he eventually rouses himself to a sitting position, but not kindly.

"You're annoying," he says darkly.

"Finally you come to it," I answer. "Good for you."

My father-in-law is driving him to school since my car is non-functional. I lean over the child as he settles himself, stony-faced and unwilling, in his grandfather's car.

"I love you," I say sweetly, even as he clenches his jaw and suffers himself to be kissed.

"I don't love you," he mutters.
"I know you don't, you're so sweet when you're maaaad at me!" I trill back, waggling my fingers at him as I close the door firmly and walk away.

The snow is crunchy under my feet from where it melted and hardened again overnight, and my feet are bare inside my mules because I didn't have time to hunt up a thick pair of socks before I rushed out the door.

My feelings aren't hurt. All my children have done this -- disavowed me in the rush of fury. I'm used to it. That's my gift to them, in fact: I don't take it seriously.

I slip off the mules just inside the door, shake my hair out of its ponytail, fix a fresh cup of decaf coffee. It might snow some more. I almost hope it does. I'd like some more snow to look at.

I was supposed to get my pacemaker interrogated this afternoon, but I can't do that now.

There's something comfortable about this situation. Can't go anywhere; don't need to, either. I'll do what I can and the rest will just have to wait. I like the sound of that.

Monday, January 22, 2007

what I've been working on today

acrylic on stretched canvas, 16" x 20"

watercolor on watercolor paper

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I know

Since Christmas my stomach has been swelling as if I'm entertaining some kind of bizarre, uterusless mini-pregnancy. And now we know why.

The CT scan showed in detail how much my ulcerative colitis has gotten worse.

My doctor prescribed antibiotics to combat any infection that might have taken hold there. I'd say it's working, but I still can't keep food down for long. In the morning I pat foundation under my eyes to hide the grey half-moons there.

At the same time, the family's learned that my grandma has colon cancer. Sort of has a tendency to appear to the females in this family, it seems. My grandma has it, my great-grandma Margaret Mary had it.

My grandma has ulcerative colitis too. I didn't know that until I was diagnosed with it myself in 1994. That's because sometimes being in a family is like attending a support group: someone else has to stand up first and speak before anyone else will second it.

Her husband, my grandfather, died of a heart attack when I was just a little kid. Like most of my childhood memories, I can't remember what grade I was in or how old I was. It was a primary grade, second or third at the outside. I don't remember it because that's not what mattered at the time.

What I remember is that I was riding home from school on the bus one winter afternoon and all of a sudden I had this bad, dark feeling that something was about to go very, very wrong. Something that couldn't be fixed. It was such a heavy uneasy feeling that I leapt to my feet before the bus even came to a complete stop and ran toward home half-crying already. I ran up the front steps and flung open the front door calling frantically for my mother.

She was already there, waiting for me, tears rolling down her face. I knew.

"Who?" in that empathic shorthand females use.
"My father," she cried, "He died this morning."
"I know," I said.

I threw my arms around her waist and sobbed in earnest. We cried together.

I've avoided going in through the front door ever after. I won't even do it in my own house if I can avoid it. I take the long way around and use the side door, if I can. Because taking the direct route would be irreversibly equated with profound sorrow and loss.

I'm 37 now, if that illustrates how much longer my grandma's had to go on without him. And also to point out just how long it's been that she's been my only grandparent on my mother's side.

I think of her and I think of her dark hair and Irish blue eyes, her hands floating over the old painted piano in her living room, the way she set her mouth sometimes when she was deciding about something, the dolls she sewed for me and my sister when we were little (my doll had black hair, my sister's, yellow).

I learned to play the piano from watching her and the morning I played "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue" for her, it was her turn to sit back in my grandfather's place by the window and nod mistily.

"Ed used to sing that to me when we were courting," she said.
"I know," I said.

My grandma cooked bacon on Sunday mornings and took me to Methodist church services later, nodding in approval as my cousin and I sang gleefully trying to outdo each other in tempo and volume:

I've got the joy, JOY, JOY, JOY, down in my heart. WHERE? Down in my heart...

I don't just love my grandmother; I get her. I understand her reserve and her thrifty nature and her way of saying "likely" when she means "Of course" ("Likely you'll want to spend the night, so you can start out fresh in the morning.")

So one of my aunts called me yesterday afternoon and we didn't talk too much about Grandma, because it was too close to the nerve almost, we were all too close to it, but she did ask me about my CT scan and what did it show and what are they going to do about it? Why don't they have you in the hospital so you can build up your strength again, Sharon? You need to keep an eye on that.

I understood what she wanted to say. The roundabout is a pattern I've learned by heart, as an ice skater knows the figure eight.

So I just said, "I know."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

electricity and I don't mix

My car died yesterday. Cars and wristwatches always die an electrical death in my presence. I don't think it's coincidental that I have a pacemaker because it's the electrical pathways that are awry in my heart, either.

Electricity and I just don't mix.

There I was, driving down the road toward the preschool. Suddenly there's a click and a flash and then the dashboard is blinking crazily. Numbers flying up and down in kilometers and miles, alternately. A trip odometer sprung to life, a feature I've never seen before until that very minute. Of course, these are blips I can live with.

Then the anti-lock brake light came on, another click, and I lost the steering too. It's an odd feeling driving a car that's given up the ghost while still in motion. I put my whole body into grinding the wheel to the right so I could park it somewhere near a curb and out of the flow of traffic.

Meanwhile, people are driving up streets the wrong way and jumping out of cars and running in front of me, for no other apparent reason than to test my reflexes and driving skills in general. Like driving is something I'm so good at under the best of circumstances. Let alone with no brakes, no steering, no power, and no muscles to speak of.

Well, I thought, this isn't good.

I took the key out of the ignition and put it back in again and tried to restart it. Because sometimes you can fool the car into compliance.


Come on, turn over for me. Pretend you know who I am.


I really didn't feel like walking the rest of the way to the school to get my kid.
I didn't really feel like putting him in the car now, either, but first things first.

One more time.

This time, the engine turned over.

It was as if the car spontaenously had a psychotic episode.

I pointed that out to the mechanic after I coasted the car nervously into the service station. He didn't seem to accept my reasoning.

My little son wasn't terribly pleased with me when I told him we couldn't drive home in the car. Like the mechanic, he too seemed unwilling to accept my reasoning.

When his grandfather showed up to give us a ride, my son climbed in and thrust his arms out to bar my entrance. "You can't come. You're not allowed."

(I have given up being appreciated here on earth. If I were to seek only that, I would be no better than the chickens who drown themselves by looking up into the skies with their beaks open when it rains.)

I spoke with the mechanic today. He has not yet had a chance to look at the vehicle. But he feels certain it's something electrical.

So doubtless something expensive and time-consuming and electrical.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I've been knee-walkin' in words.

Writing this book is -- I'm finding -- not unlike putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The kind of puzzle where all the pieces are identically shaped; it's the minute splotches of color you have to match up instead.

I had a CT scan yesterday of my abdomen because it won't stop hurting and it's so difficult to eat. Yet when I get back to writing, I don't mind because I don't really need to eat, or drink, or even sleep. I just want to write and tell the story. And while I'm doing that, time leaks into some liquid place that evaporates far too quickly.

I've written the beginning and the end. The middle is already there but it needs shaping. In a good landscape, sometimes you have to leave some details out. The eye can only focus on so many at a time.

I'm still alive, is what I'm trying to say.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Because my stomach has been so unsettled, I'm making my way slowly through a bowl of homemade rice soup. I love my rice soup. It's full of healthful things like celery and carrots and almonds and onion diced up finely into the rich cream broth.

I've crumbled one of my homemade rolls over the bowl so the hearty crumbs can soften and soak into the soup.

Even though my right side aches sharply, I'm still very hungry. So I have to make foods that are tasty yet also soft and digestible. My rice soup would qualify here.

My physical discomfort makes me dwell more strongly on thoughts of hunger. Anyone who has ever been hungry knows it is not an experience ever forgotten. Not hungry in the sense that you've missed a meal, or have a craving for Thai cuisine tonight.

Hungry meaning: you truly don't know where the next meal is coming from. And even if you did, someone else must eat it first and you can have what's left over.

I hear people say this all the time: There's no starving in this country. No one in this room has ever gone hungry or wanted for food.

And that is simply not true.

I can say that because I have been hungry.

Not that you would know it to look at me now.
For that matter, not that you would have known it to look at me then. I was pretty good at keeping up appearances.

I was a young mother in California once, with an infant son, working full time, overtime, and still not making enough money for both food and rent. I often sold my books and clothes and compact discs to find the next meal.

I learned to look vague and disinterested as I slung my belongings across the counter, acting as if I couldn't care less if they bought my items or not. Shifting my backpack more noisily than necessary, to hide the growling in my stomach.

Sometimes I had no choice but to go to churches and ask for food.

A person compromised soon learns the difference between gifts of demonstration and gifts from the heart. Because your choices are few, you're glad to get either -- but the latter kind lasts longer. Their generosity, in turn, somehow magnifies your own view. I can't explain it.

I had to knock on their doors and remember not to slouch, even when the women sometimes wrinkled their noses at me distastefully as they handed me boxes of stale pastries from the supermarket and dry formula to let me know that they truly considered me as a failure -- as mother, citizen, and a Christian.

I will always praise the Roman Catholic women who put extra formula in my box without complaint, talking to me cheerfully about the weather. "I feel so guilty taking food from you," I blurted. "I'm not even Catholic."

"God gives," the woman said, kindly.

I remember answering a telephone survey one winter afternoon as my young son chortled and played with building blocks: the sunlight pouring through the big front room window, and me drinking in an almost liquid nourishment from the light and the joy on my child's face. The person on the telephone said: We're doing a survey on hunger in America. Can you answer some questions for us?

Of course, I said. Feeling most qualified.
Has anyone in your household ever had to miss a meal because there wasn't enough food?

Yes, I said, and my voice broke over the lumpy admission. I started crying into the phone: I have. I do, every day. Can't you do something about it? Do you realize how much diapers cost? Isn't there anywhere I can go?

His voice seemed to break in sympathy. Call the United Way, he said sadly. I don't know what else to tell you. I'm so sorry.

I was a young mother in California once, standing alone, starving, with empty pockets, blocks from my apartment. Standing on a curb in Chinatown with paycheck stubs in hand to claim government food rations from the United Way. A harsh-faced man threw six or seven cardboard boxes full of cans and dried staples out of a truck and told me to get them off the sidewalk now or he'd have me arrested for abandoning government property.

I stacked them up vertically and tried to carry them all, sweating and staggering up San Francisco's fantastically angled streets, while the Chinese grandmas sniggered and pointed. I made it two blocks before I tripped and crashed to the dirty sidewalk.

The boxes fell on top of me. I knew my cheek was scraped and that I was probably hurt, but the weakness and the exhaustion had a kind of numbing effect. I simply couldn't move, not even enough to budge the boxes away from me.

I watched feet walking past me, not slowing, not stopping. I had the hysterical thought: this is how I'm going to die.

Dear God, I can't die like this.
But there's no one to help.
I'm all alone.

Someone did stop. Someone carefully picked the boxes off of me and extended a calloused black hand to help me to my feet. I don't know who he was. He appeared out of nowhere and had three pairs of pants tied in a knot in his hand. He told me that if I carried his clothes, he'd carry my boxes. A deal was struck and we traveled together.

He told me that I had to take care of myself if I was to take care of my son. (I hadn't told him I had a son. We'd just met.) He said I'd been taking on too much and couldn't continue the way I had been. That the most important thing, right now, was to take care of myself and then I could set things in order.

Then we were on the corner by my apartment and he said, "You should be all right now; this is where I stop. You can make it from here." He asked me if I'd remember what he'd told me. I said I was, thank you, and I would.

But before I remembered to thank him, I turned back and he was gone. Just plain vanished, as abruptly as he'd appeared.

I am somewhere else now. I am very fortunate and blessed with a family and a home that's full to bursting with food and comfort. But there will always be that part of me that remembers what it was to starve.

I went out that day looking only for food for my son. I came home with nourishment for my soul -- nourishment that feeds me to this day, when I'm in pain yet still hungry.

God gives.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Another street in Thun, Switzerland

I started this out with the lightest of watercolor washes:

And then, layer by layer, it gradually got heavier and deeper until I reached this effect:

watercolor on Arches watercolor paper, 18" x 24".

Why is it that I do this? I push the image too far and then it loses its translucence and delicacy. I liked it better, in a way, when the washes were still trembly and somewhat unrealized. Now all the mystery is lost.

I have two bottles of barium sitting in the refrigerator this weekend: I've succumbed to that old tormentor, the abdominal cramp, and am going in for a CT scan Tuesday morning. I've had this pain in my side for a while. I just don't like talking about it. Because I treat my gastroenterologist like the undertaker.

And also because I believe in the power of positive thinking. Though at this point I don't think even Gandhi could help me.

I'm supposed to be on the BRAT diet right now: bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Only I can't stand bananas, ever since I broke my leg in the first grade and someone gave me sliced bananas before we went to the ER. I threw up the bananas on the X-ray table.

Therefore, bananas remind me of broken legs.

So, it's the RAT diet.


Ordinarily I'd want to write about someone I saw in the lobby, or something I noticed while waiting for the doctor this afternoon, but found that, in the dismal gray rain of Friday and the sharp nagging pain in my right side, I'm all out of perception. I just sat there pushing my right hand into my side and holding it there with my left (because that helps) thinking doggedly that patience is a virtue. And so is silence. No one likes a whiner.

Some guy was ahead of me in the queue filling out forms and talking in a voice I found much too loud about how he broke both legs and still got in his bulldozer a month later, to work. He just got comfortable and kept his feet up, he said proudly. Didn't have to use his feet to drive the dozer. And it was good for him, too, because he was up and moving around that much faster.

Good for you, I wanted to say wearily. You're the American work ethic. We're all grateful. Now shut up and sign your forms so I can be next.

He needed a shower, too. His jeans looked smoky-saggy and his flannel shirt gave off this sort of harsh dirt smell when he shifted from foot to foot. Guess showering requires the use of both feet. Maybe that explains it.

Snarky. (I know. I'm sorry. I hurt.) But he kept interrupting my progress toward the cessation of all pain. It was difficult not to harbor a resentment against him. Even when he showed up again, later, and started pestering the nurse outside in the hall as she was making her way back to my room to give me my lab orders.

He kept pulling on her hair and saying in a jokey way, "Working hard or hardly working? Huh?" (They must know each other outside the office).

I just glared at him coldly as I lay curled up in a C shape on the exam table, still holding my side and watching them, thinking dark thoughts.

The doctor prescribed antibiotics and made me promise I'd go to the ER if my fever got higher or the pain got worse.

I'm looking forward to sleep. It's easy to sleep when it rains like this. It might be just a weekend of rest and relaxation -- and drawing streets in Switzerland.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

a street in Thun, Switzerland

sepia ink on Arches paper, 12" x 18".

I put a sunspot in it with the computer. Just to figure out if I want it on the original as well.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

the storytellers

At the beginning of the school year, my mother would buy me two or three spiral notebooks. By the end of the first week I'd have used up the first one with drawings of girls. I always drew girls. I refused to draw boys. Wouldn't even try. Apparently, they didn't exist.

I drew all the girls the same way. I'd draw a U for the face and a J in the middle for the nose. Their hair would always be long and they'd smile in a closed kind of way, as if they knew secrets but wouldn't tell them.

I filled those notebooks with crowds and crowds of beautiful women, serene but silent. I drew them incessantly. It was sort of a mania with me. I left them everywhere, even in the backs of books I'd read. I'd imagine they were my friends, people I'd meet now and again along my travels.

When I didn't draw girls, I imagined myself the star in a feature film. I practiced walking up and down the front staircase with my right hand trailing behind me grandly, my chin bravely aloft. I'd imagine the cameramen cueing me from right and left.

Someone with a deep, strong voice would be narrating my life in a knowing, understanding way, illuminating at last with complete and total empathy my heartfelt feeling and touching courage.

"She looked out the window, grim with determination," the narrator would explain.

I'd blink bravely and draw the curtain back, eyes shimmering with emotion.

I lived in an imaginary world.

If something lacked I embellished to make it fit, as manicurists will add filler to make a fingernail look smoother and longer.

I told my classmates that my house was not haunted -- as was rumored -- but enchanted. I told them that the mirror in my bedroom not only showed my reflection, but took me into the future and showed me what I'd look like when I grew up.

(In the future, I assured them, I wasn't so skinny that a notched bone showed through my skin in the middle of my ribcage. My hair was long and beautiful, and my eyes were long-lashed and luminous.)

Well, the not-skinny part came out true, at least.

Most of all I loved telling stories to make people laugh. When we huddled together on class projects and someone told something funny that happened to them, I had to think up one that would be twice as good.

After I said my prayers and crawled into bed that night, I'd feel a spreading rush of guilt for my lies -- the heavy, sinking aftertaste of boasting. But I meant well, I'd whisper as a postscript to God. I just wanted them to laugh. It's not really a lie if it's entertainment.

When I meet other storytellers I feel both a spark of empathy and a twinge of sadness. I wonder if they ever made up worlds to live in when the real one got too wearing, like I did. And if they ever felt ashamed, like me, for getting lost there sometimes when the allure of kinship became irresistible.

But I never ask.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

random thoughts

It's snowing here, snow like granulated sugar that packs easily into balls and crunches when you walk on it. It doesn't quite stick, melting and accumulating, advancing and receding, a hesitant tide that nonetheless leaves a film, as milk will coat a glass long after it's been drunk.

(January is such a flurry of to-do's. Collecting W-2's and making appointments with the accountant and organizing for the year ahead.)

There's something about watching a gentle snowfall that makes a person feel safe. I don't know what that is.

Last weekend the bank teller at the drive-thru handed us yellow lollipops after I'd cashed my check. As the boys bit into them the smell of Pine-Sol unexpectedly flooded the inside of the car. Yellow lollipops smell like Pine-Sol. I hadn't noticed before. What memory is stored in our DNA to associate lemon with clean, I wonder.

Once you're grown, you can no longer blame your irritability on teething. Pity.

The snow is starting to fall in thicker clumps. The empty glass is refilling after all. But then, it always does. I can't think why I doubt it.

Monday, January 08, 2007

que pasa?

Either that tequila I drank in 1990 has a very long half life; or I've erred egregiously with the powers that be.

Every Blogger page I read is now in Spanish. I checked Blogger's Known Issues page and got this:

Problemas conocidos

A continuación le ofrecemos la lista de problemas y errores del sistema conocidos de Blogger con las soluciones correspondientes, si las hay. Nuestro deseo es corregirlos puntualmente. Gracias por su paciencia.

Errores de Blogger:

  • La funcionalidad de recopilación de estadísticas se ha desactivado temporalmente, por lo que no verá su recuento de entradas ni las últimas entradas en el escritorio o perfil. Esperamos poder restaurarla en breve, pero por el momento debemos mantenerla desactivada para estabilizar los servidores de nuestra base de datos. Cuando el problema esté resuelto, estos elementos se actualizarán con normalidad de forma automática.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

something special*

*this is a sample from a chapter of the book I've been working on.

My sister was the dancer. I was the musician.

When she tried on her recital costumes -- lime green satin numbers with silver spangles, purple unitards with fringes sewn in -- I watched on propped elbows, admiring. Her delicate feet knew instinctive rhythms I could never imitate.

After her recitals we ate at a restaurant to celebrate, a treat. Her father smoked and smiled, all teeth and congeniality, tapping the cigarette into a small black plastic ashtray to punctuate the ends of his sentences.

After her recitals she let me hold the costumes she'd worn. I'd lay them across my lap, stroking them lovingly -- as if they were something alive.

I'd crawl into her bed at night when I had bad dreams and lie awake, still watching her. How did she go to sleep so easily? How did she go through life so...unruffled? How could I learn to be more like her and less like....well...me?

When I could get away with it, I'd push toilet paper into the toes of her ballerina flats and arch my feet pointedly, feeling my way however blunted into her world of grace and glitter.

Sometimes it seems other people get to live in a world that's full of something special. The rest of us have to go look for it. If it meant wearing her shoes stuffed with Charmin, I'd do it.

I had no recitals, having no private lessons in anything at all. I would instead play the boxy blue electric chord organ on my knees on the floor of my bedroom. It bellowed and pumped wheezily, a reedy facsimile of much greater instruments.

There came a day when someone kicked in one side of the plastic organ in a rage; though the culprit taped the hole shut again, the music was, after that, forever weaker -- asthmatic, failing.

We had no money for a piano. We made do with the octave and a half, or whatever it was. My mother wrote the names of each note on the white plastic keys with Magic Marker so she couldn't forget them.

Somewhere she'd found Easy-Play sheet music with the notes interpreted. Hymns, mostly -- Bringing in the Sheaves, Whispering Hope.

She'd play them, and then I would, and she'd listen, humming along under her breath. I knew I'd played well when I made her sing. It lifted my heart to make her sing.

She'd once been a beautiful singer until a terrible car wreck destroyed her one of her vocal cords. She always apologized her voice away when she spoke to someone for the first time, assuring them she hadn't always sounded this way.

I loved her voice (husky, throaty). I wanted to make her forget it, so she would let me hear it more often.

"You're so much better than me," she'd assure me every time I played for her. "It's so much easier for you." And I'd almost believe it.

When the music teacher asked us one day to play an instrument for the class, I carried the organ to school, desperate to show everyone my own specialness. I couldn't tap dance, I couldn't sing. But I could play a chord organ -- see?

It made an awkward bundle in my arms, on the bus. The fat black electric cord kept uncoiling and falling to the side in an ungainly sprawl, and that was tiring. Setup in the classroom proved problematic; the cord wasn't long enough to reach and I had to perch the organ carefully on the teacher's desk, as if it were a bird.

My fingers shook with self-consciousness as I pushed the frail accordion-like keys into some semblance of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic".

I knew, when I finished, that I'd misstepped. The music sounded so elderly in the classroom, for one. This was not dancing. People do not come in droves to listen to a girl play hymns on a chord organ. Especially an ancient plastic chord organ with the notes scrawled on the keys and one side of the box busted out. It may have been special, but it was only special to me. I hadn't a hope in this world of expecting anyone else to get it.

"That's kind of dorky, you know," someone said as I took my seat. I just nodded. I couldn't argue it.

I took so long managing the chord organ and my books, at the end of the day, that I missed my bus. I left the books and carried the organ with me to the home of a woman I'd known my mother to visit, now and then. I knocked on her door, shaking with exhaustion and fear. (This was something unexpected. I didn't know where else to go.)

She was kind, the lady. She fed me baked beans while she called my mother. Though I was hungry, the baked beans tasted terrible. They weren't cooked with mustard and ketchup and a little bit of brown sugar, the way my mother made them.

Later, when I mentioned this to my mother, she laughed and explained that her friend must have cooked them straight out of the can. I couldn't for the life of me imagine anyone voluntarily eating baked beans that way.

My father had to pick me up after he got home from work. He picked me up after he ate his dinner, and I rode home in his great jostling truck holding on to the chord organ wearily. All this seemed like far too much work.

"How'd it go?" he asked me in his big, jovial voice. "Did you make a big hit?"

I told him yes as I looked away, out the window, at mud-caked roads and a trembly, meandering creek snaking persistently alongside.

I didn't want to explain; I didn't want to tell the truth. I just wanted to believe, for one day, that I too knew how to do something special.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

I'm a writer

Twenty-seven years ago. Fifth grade, 1980. Sweaty, panting schoolchildren shuffled into their seats after recess for the high discipline of fifth grade math class. My beloved teacher (I loved him, we all did) opened a folder and began roll call. Name, assignment. Check. Check.

"Sharon, your math homework?"

"I didn't do it," I said airily. Boldly, even. My heart beat faster in my throat.

"But I saw you working on something all through recess."

"Oh! I've been writing a book instead." I looked around the room at blank, uncomprehending faces: this announcement didn't seem to have the impact I'd anticipated.

"I'm going to be a writer," I explained. "I don't need math."

"In my class you do." His dark brown eyes flicked at me gravely as he penciled in a zero next to my name in the grade book. "You'll get out your math book and join the rest of us. Now."

"I'm disappointed in you," he said. The death knell of pronouncements.

You won't be when I'm famous, I whispered darkly, chin tucked into my chest, opening the math book with resolute dignity.

Ah, rebellion tastes so bitter. It's not as if I'd truly expected a different outcome. I didn't really believe I'd chanced upon the hidden escape clause that all the teachers already knew but couldn't by law tell us about: just publicly renounce math for fame and all will be forgiven.

I knew I'd shirked my responsibility. Okay, I was wrong! It's just that thirty minutes before I'd been seized with this idea: the idea of a story about a man foundering in depression, a man who seizes upon a hope -- "as a man adrift clings to flotsam," I scribbled in the margin feverishly.

But what kind of hope? A vain one? I'd had a half hour to go before the math assignment was due, but it seemed to me I'd read the phrase "Tis a hope, but a vain one" somewhere before. No, that wasn't original. I could do better.

I put aside the monochrome grey and white math page with watery blue lines ordering listless numbers on into infinity, and wrote furiously on a fresh sheet of paper, arms crooked and head bent to perpetuate a force field around me. Don't interrupt me, I'm hot right now.

So I had a good start on the story when math class started, but no assignment. I didn't mean to forsake my math assignment -- well, not exactly. The story I wanted to tell was just, somehow, so much more provocative than long division. (What truth can bring a man hope, what sorrows can pin him ever down?)

I began my math assignment over in earnest, covered in humility. But I couldn't help peering, piqued, at the teacher over the pages of my book.

Was it truly sorrow that deepened the corners of his eyes like that? Or was it....amusement?

I finished the story in Mrs. Dumars' reading class. I let the man drown. Strike a tally in the favor of public education's little hells, the most muscular being fifth-grade math and order above all things.


I woke up this morning and turned on my computer. Blinked and squinted into the sudden blue light a computer makes when it warms to a human.

Signed in to my email and read this message:

Your post earlier today seals it for me. Here's what needs to be done. Either you do it or I'm going to do it for you:

Copy out your longer blog entries and paste them into book form. Use Lulu or some other online publisher and get a book in print. Call it "Sharon's Life" or "Confessions of a Domestic Engineer" or something. It won't require much editing, just enough to make it read like a book instead of a blog. You can even illustrate it.

I will buy one. I'll buy two if that's what it takes to entice you forward.

No more delays. Your public is waiting.

I grinned.

I sat back in my desk chair and folded my hands across my stomach and just grinned.

I'll be thanking you, in my reply email, for waking me up with such an incredible compliment.
But I'm also thanking you now.

Friday, January 05, 2007

self portrait, this one in acrylic

Rick Lee took this photo of me at a CAB meeting in Taylor Books last May.

I made this painting from looking at that photo:

12" x 12", acrylic paint on stretched canvas

aren't we all in Appalachia?

A ball stretched with pink and blue and yellow streaks bounces in front of my car and I brake gently, a reflex.

Sure enough, a towheaded child with grimy cheeks scrambles after it as another little boy with swinging straight hair jams his fists into his jacket pockets, studying the ball's progress grimly.

I stop the car completely, shifting into Park and opening my door. My mules that look like cowboy boots at the toes make a clopping sound like horses as I unfold from the driver's seat and go after the ball.

I palm it easily, the ball. It's the kind of ball you buy for a dollar at the supermarket, the kind they stack in wire bins with a square hole at the bottom so shorter people can tease and dribble them out. Once extricated, it's difficult to return the bouncy balls back into the cage, and they only cost a dollar, so the parents usually buy them. Inventive marketing ploy. I'd do the same, if I could make my artwork flexible to movement and appealing to small children.

I walk the ball back across the street, rather than toss it genially, which was my first impulse. A tense and distracted woman rushes out with a telephone cradled between ear and chin; she grabs the arm of the child closest to the curb, and thanks me in an aside from the conversation already in progress.

The small boys roll their eyes up at me, consideringly.

I get back into my car. The radio is still playing, undistracted. A man has called in to complain about his next-door neighbor who wears a mullet and is probably from West Virginia.

"Now, we can't stereotype," the talk show host says plaintively. "We know that we could find people with mullets just about anywhere, say, California, and we can't judge people by a geographic location or we'll be flooded with emails after the show from people from West Virginia. So let's just say this now. Just because the man has a mullet doesn't mean he's from West Virginia."

"Well, it would certainly seem to indicate an Appalachian region," the caller insists stubbornly.

I'm tilting my head, listening intently. A few years ago a woman came to my door collecting funds for sundries to benefit disadvantaged Appalachian women.

I was digging through the bottom of my purse for change when it occurred to me: aren't we in Appalachia*? I asked the woman collecting the money.

She didn't know. We had to go look it up, in fact.
Appalachia is a false economic construct.

On the radio show, someone cues in the theme song to "O Brother, Where Art Thou" (Man of Constant Sorrows).

"Why don't you say, instead of West Virginia, why don't you say hillbilly," the host suggests.

Yes, that's so much better. Thanks.
I sigh, a little, flicking my turn signal left.

"Tell me what this man did to you," the host prompts.
"He has a rusted-out old Ford, and he parks it in my yard. Also he has a fishing boat that he's nailed down kitchen chairs into."

See, to me that's just funny. I mean the part about the boat.
But I turn off the radio. I don't want to hear any more. I love my state. We're not all like that. And if we are, so what?

The half-hearted rain starts to patter down harder and I turn the dial up on the wipers.

I'm looking for my dog. My dog ran away when I took him out for a walk. Something caught his attention and he bounded after it, snapping the leash instantly from the catch at his throat. He's a strong, sturdy dog. Stronger in body than he is long in leg. Something like a muscular daschund on steroids.

So instead of tracking him on foot, I just gave up and started driving my car around.

I find him in a trailer park. I stop the car again and get out with my arms open, calling brightly so as not to frighten Max away with my hopeful longing (get your filthy carcass in my car, right now).

And me without an Oscar Meyer hot dog, fresh out of the thin plastic wrapper, to lure him into it. Shoot.

Max is sniffing a pile in the narrow strip of barren land between a gray trailer and an orange and white one. To his right, a greyed old man is stooped over a pile of twigs in front of the orange and white trailer.

I know my dog hears me, but he's not going to approach. He's going to make me work for it. I want to walk up into the property, but I'm afraid to without permission.

I call to the old man: "Can I walk up into your yard to get my dog?"

The old man straightens, pushing his dark gray toboggan back from his forehead.

He spits on the ground and glares: "I don't give a rat's ass. It's not my yard."

I take a few more steps forward and whistle up the dog: this time, he comes. I open up the passenger door and he jumps into the car, doing a little muddy dance on the passenger seat. I close the door behind him and circle around the back to get in on my side. I know the dog won't run out the other door. He's had enough.

This is my home. Always has been. If you haven't been here, you don't know what it is and I'm not sure I feel like explaining it. Growing up, my sister and I -- transplanted West Virginians -- used to lie awake playing what-if games: what if we hadn't moved here, in 1972? What if we'd grown up somewhere else (and it could have happened so easily!)? What kind of people would we have become, then?

And we'd shudder at the very thought.

*There are several states included in Appalachia. West Virginia is just the one state completely within it is all.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

welcome to my webcam

Self portrait, manipulated photograph.

(when I say manipulated, I mean that I used the oil paint filter because I've just figured out what that is. I'm a slow learner. A slow mover, too.)

I took the picture with the webcam Heather sent me for Christmas. In the picture, I'm wearing the brilliant multicolored scarf that Melonie knitted me for Christmas. Melonie got a webcam from Heather, too (and Heather got a scarf from Melonie).

When Melonie got her present from Heather, she opened it right away. Then Melonie called me and urged me to open mine as well, though I kept insisting I had to wait -- no opening presents until Xmas, that's the rule.

We got the same thing, Melonie said. But now I can't talk to you about what I got. So just open it already so you can play with it!

I had no idea what she was on about.

So then Melonie told me all manner of inventive advice to throw me off the scent. "If you're going to wait that long, you'd better put that in the refrigerator. Seriously."
And: "It's a particular kind of mammal."
"What kind of mammal lives in the refrigerator?"
"Never mind, Sharon."

Then I finally gave in and opened it and we were all beside ourselves. We can video conference! We can stay connected! The interstate time differential now means nothing -- and all thanks to Heather. Woot!

I have fantastic friends.

Melonie, despite a crunching schedule and raising six children, pulled off another dang-near-perfect GPA last semester. She's already got a degree and she's going back for another one in education so she can teach. You won't hear her talking about it -- how demanding it is or how well she's done, either one. But I'm saying it -- as usual, she did a tremendous job.

And Heather? Heather is the answer to my prayers. We've laughed more than once over the fact that we've apparently been separated at birth. Heather is like my fraternal twin. Okay, maybe a twin born seven years later, but a twin nonetheless. Only sometimes I imagine that Heather is who I could have been, if I'd been confident enough to study medicine too.

What I wouldn't give to be able to fix people the way Heather can! But instead I mope around hardware stores waxing poetic about how there's a practical solution for every problem - I just don't know what it is. Because that's the kind of wacky, goofball thing I do. (I worry about myself sometimes.)

So sometimes I envy Heather a little bit.

And Laura, when I saw her before New Year's Eve, came over and kissed the top of my head lightly before taking her seat at the table with me and Melonie (we had Heather on the phone). It was such a tactful gesture -- considering how much distance I seem to put between myself and everyone else. (I don't hug. I don't do the social kissing of cheeks. I'd prefer to not even shake hands, but merely nod formally from across the room.) I wanted to say thank you for that, but instead just gulped and looked down at the table.

I don't know what kind of friend I am for them. Probably something on the order of Ralph Kramden, I'm guessing.

I'm spending the morning working at home today -- uploading artwork on my art gallery (not my online store; this is something entirely different) and figuring out how to register my new online gallery for tax purposes. (This is still very confusing for me.)

So naturally I was looking at my webcam instead, and wrapping and re-wrapping the scarf around my neck and thinking about what good friends I have. And how grateful I am to have them.

Given the long-distance between us all, I'm sure Verizon is grateful, too -- but not as much as I am.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

stage fright

Before the faceless darkened sea
Equilibrium is only a balance
Between the mirror
And the stage

11" x 14", watercolor and watercolor pencils on cold press

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

it ain't me, babe

It's not as if I've never been confused for someone else. There was that one day in the late Eighties when I walked out of a Charleston Fas-Chek and someone screamed, "Oh my gosh! It's her! It's her!"

I didn't know what to say. I didn't see the resemblance. I couldn't guess, first off, what Molly Ringwald would be doing shopping at a Fas-Chek.

This morning I ran into an old high school classmate in the sewing aisle at Wal-Mart. She stopped me and said, "Can I ask you a question?"

"Always," I say, bracing myself for the worst.

"Are you the girl on the WVAccess page?"

"I certainly hope not," I said, laughing.

It's true I've done a few endorsements. I saw my own Stern Man boxers on Yahoo! Mail for a day (with the message: Need a Place to Store That Intergalactic Mail?) and I've been an enthusiastic spokesperson for Guidant.

Yet I can't imagine my marketing campaign has spread quite that far. I mean to have a supply of stock images out there in the public domain that just anyone could use (as if they'd want to).

"Every time I go to this website ," she continued, "I see this picture of a girl typing at a computer and I'm almost positive it's you."

So of course I had to go home and look it up. And though I guess maybe I see a resemblance, the primary response for me was one of delight: because that girl, whoever she is, is really skinny.

I know this is bad to admit, but it completely made my day.

leftover Christmas pix

The cover of my first album.

And here, I was just playing around with the special effects on the camera I'm still learning how to use.

I'm at my desk, transcribing meeting notes this morning. They're two weeks late and I'm still not finished with them. I just put them away somewhere and today they floated rudely back into the parameters of my consciousness. Hello. Remember us? We're still due.


The kids went back to school today. Not gladly, not willingly, but they went. Suprisingly enough, after nearly three weeks at home with them (they were sick the week before Christmas), I felt a pang of sorrow watching them go.

When I'd safely deposited the youngest at his preschool I walked away feeling a touch of the melancholy -- with a sense of something missing. Even though he'd barred the gate just ten minutes before, when I had to almost drag him out the back door of the house to get him into the car. Even though he'd kept swatting me about the head with his mittened hands, singing, "Silly, silly, you're a sillyhead."

They (often) make me nuts. I had to go into whole other rooms sometimes over the vacation to get five minutes breathing space from them. And then I miss them like anything when they're gone. They're so lively and so funny.

I know probably every parent feels that about their offspring. But I just admire them so much. Their cleverness, their strong wills, their keen sense of justice. Sometimes I scold them and then I have to leave the room so I can laugh -- they can amuse me so much, even in their mischief.

Well, this isn't getting my work done.

I was just feeling a rush of gratitude for them. I had to write it out.

Now, back to work.

Monday, January 01, 2007

the light bearer

9" x 12", watercolor pencils on cold press.

I saw an advertisement in a magazine that showed a little girl carrying a lantern. I very much liked the pose, so I drew it -- altering it, of course, to suit.

I've long been ashamed that I can't invent images from my head, any more than I can compose my own music when I play it. There are moments when I feel no better than a sponge -- absorbing what's around me, and feeding something back out again.

Example. I can read music; I took private lessons to learn how. But truly, no matter how diligently I might practice it feels mechanical and stilted until I hear someone else play the same score. Only then do I have a feel of how it should really be, and I can intuit the rest, imbuing the rhythm and the accentation where I trust it to sound best.

Some might say this is a gift. I tend to just feel like a mime, instead.

Writing has a rhythm too. Writing is like playing the piano for me. When I read someone else's writing I'm feeling it out for cadence. Not the words. I don't mean the words. I mean the flow of it -- storytellers and musicians are very nearly the same to me. When it's good, you grow alert and start humming along.

The editors would call it suspension of disbelief.
I would call it synchronization of minds.

With my art, it works like this: when I find an image that's particularly arresting, when I find a color I'm taken with, I save it. I'm one to tear pages from magazines in doctor's offices, or ask clerks for fabric samples to take home. I lie and say I have to match it up with my decor and see if it works. Really I just want the color. The color, or the texture.

And I use my camera shamelessly to save the visions I can't preserve any other way.

"Go ahead. Live in your rose-colored world," someone said to me last week. I almost said: It isn't rose-colored at all. It's tacked up with scraps of other people's lives. It's a kaleidoscope of a world I live in.

I can't imagine up a better world than the one that already exists. It just happens to exist in pieces.

It doesn't mean my interpretation of the world will necessarily be the right one.
But it will mean the possibilities are going to be endless.