Plant Trees Under Whose Shade You Do Not Expect to Sit

It all started with stand-up comedian Marc Maron.

Personally, I only find Maron occasionally funny, only sometimes as good as he wants to be. Mostly, his overblown ego and need for attention quash any shot at charm.

You may have dated someone like this in high school. Although painful at the time, it was for the best that you guys broke up the week before graduation while sitting on the hood of his Dodge Omni in the McDonald’s parking lot; had that relationship continued as a long-distance affair into the first semester of college, he absolutely would have cheated on you with a girl from Michigan named Heather and then called you to confess his misdeed right as you were walking out the door to take your final exam in Poli Sci 101. What’s worse, he would have made you feel that his straying was somehow your fault–because you were, selfishly, too far away, too not there for him, too busy studying the Swedish model of government to fulfill his needs.

Fortunately, although you would have sobbed your way up the hill as you walked to your final exam and then found yourself so distraught you could hardly write out even bare-bones responses about highly-developed individualism in socialistic countries (here’s a direct quote from your exam, as I recently pawed through your recycling bin in The Universe of Parallel Realities and retrieved that tear-blotched Blue Book from 1984: “It’s okay for there to be an I in the midst of a we; why is that so hard for the democracies of the world and asshat cheating bastards to get???”), being freed from that relationship would have meant you were able to move on and really commit to the joys of college life without constantly pining for the half of your heart you’d checked into a dorm at the state university. Post break-up, you would have reclaimed that half of your heart and then, years later, tried not to chuckle too evilly when your cheating ex and Heather got divorced because she’d been caught with lipstick on her collar as a result of steppin’ out with–gasp!–Sharon Garrison after a Pampered Chef party one night.

Other bonuses from this young-adultian angst would have been the fact that your abysmal score on the poli sci final exam helped to convince you that you didn’t actually want to major in politics or become a lawyer. Rather, you would have taken the memories of the nausea you felt when writing about Swedish socialism and wiping broken-heart snot onto the sleeve of your hoodie and decided to make it your life’s work to figure out why stomachs sometimes roil uncontrollably.

All of this is why you would have become a research scientist, specializing in the study of lipids, making three times the income of your cheating ex who, satisfyingly, would be living in a dark one-bedroom apartment with only a couch, a universal remote, and a stack of yearbooks in the living room to keep him company.

But none of this actually happened, Silly, since you guys broke up a week before graduation. That’s why you had your damn act together for your first final exam, and you rocked the poli sci and did become a lawyer. It took a decade, though, for you to realize wholly how propitious that break-up was; only as a fully-realized adult did you have the capacity to register rampant relief at not being yoked to a partner whose contributions to the relationship were limited to (1) ego and (2) need for attention. Your life’s edges had to harden before you could apprehend the exponential happinesses that derive from Not Being Romantically Partnered to A Petulant Child (or A Pampered Chef!), but along the way, you made yourself economically independent and met a good guy–the right guy–someone who doesn’t feel diminished by scrubbing toilets, who doesn’t call spending time with his own children “babysitting,” who watches you when you cry and admires the strength it takes to express emotion.

So now, some decades later, you’re a happy lawyer with an iPod, and you love to listen to Marc Maron’s podcast a few times a week. Every time Maron launches into one of his self-obsessed monologues, it’s not so much annoying as it is a welcome reminder of bullets dodged and final exams well written. You listen to the anger and the anxiety that he’s still trying to tame in his late forties, and hearing his biweekly rants makes you smile, makes you sigh with something resembling bliss, makes you think, “Praise the hood of that Dodge Omni that I’m not committed to life in which a voice like that sets the tone.”

The all-too-real phantom woman in this scenario is not me, incidentally, so save yourself the energy of trying to connect fictional dots into a profile of my face. Yes, I drove a Dodge Omni in the 1980s. Yes, we hung out in the McDonald’s parking lot in high school. Yes, I took political science my first semester of college, a class in which we studied the Swedish model (having only skimmed the course description in the catalog, I was stunned when I was the only student who showed up the first day toting a poster of catwalker Vendela Kirsebom). Let’s see, what else can I give you? I know a guy who’s a research scientist whose work focuses on lipids. Although I never asked him directly, I don’t think he’s ever bawled his way through a final exam. I feel pretty certain of this because he’s Algerian, and male college students in Algeria generally don’t come out the other side of their degree programs if they have a track record of public weeping. Oh, also: because I’d rocked the Original Oratory event and the odd Lincoln-Douglas debate during my forensics career in high school, I did want to be a lawyer when I started college, a dream that lasted approximately two weeks, until the night I found myself sitting in a fountain, clutching a half-drunk bottle of Peachy Riunite, wondering where my shoes had gone, and it occurred to me shortly before I dropped my flushed cheek onto the cool, cool stone of the fountain that I might do better to pursue a career not predicated on ration, logic or getting my mind from Point A to Point B without taking a U-turn at the letter K.

As well, I do listen to Marc Maron’s biweekly podcasts, and I do enjoy them heartily–but not because I successfully dodged a relationship with someone like him. Rather, I listen to his podcasts because Maron overcomes his personal limitations by being one helluvan interviewer, particularly when he manages to keep the conversation focused on the guest and not his own history of interpersonal tensions, eating issues, and parental resentment. That noted, I do have to say that when Maron interviewed Conan O’Brien, he received a valuable therapy session from the late-night host thanks to O’Brien’s skills as an active listener.

Then again, if you have Conan O’Brien sitting in your garage, letting you interview him, shouldn’t you maybe shut up about how you can’t stop gorging on ice cream and then reeling from the resultant self-loathing?

In his best moments, however, Maron achieves something wonderful with the comedians, actors, and writers he interviews: he connects; he illuminates; he creates moments that remind listeners that there is power in two voices bouncing back and forth against a backdrop of silence. Of course he’s able to do something wonderful–even self-obsessed egotists have appeal. Why do you think you hooked up with your high school boyfriend in the first place? Remember it? It happened the hour after that dramatic hair-flipper Mindy Fassenberger lobbed a pointed comment your direction, hissing “Cows shouldn’t be allowed in the schools.” Still oozing hurt, you were sitting in trigonometry class, attempting to staunch the flow of liquid pain, when the soon-to-be boyfriend applied balm to your savaged self-esteem by catching your gaze and rolling his eyes while Mr. Norak joked, “I wear glasses because it improves division.” As you and your soon-to-be boyfriend shuffled out of the room towards seventh period, he leaned over and whispered to you, “What a dork. We should call him Mr. Dork-ak,”

and in that moment you were that much less alone in a world churning with cruelty and sneak attacks.

Soon-to-be boyfriend had connected, illuminated, created a moment. Soon-to-be boyfriend had seen you, and that validation created an ingress to your pneuma (Ingress to Her Pneuma, coincidentally, was the working title of Freud’s book about his mother’s loss of virginity; ultimately, however, just before the proofs went to the printer, he changed his mind and went with She Had a Hole in More Than Her Heart).

Maron, at his best, achieves what your boyfriend did that day in trigonometry class: he sees people and helps them move their stories forward.

What’s more, Maron identifies with his guests because he is so conscious–obsessively conscious–of his own vulnerabilities. In addition to ice cream binges, for example, Maron often monologues about how (when his primary companion, Anger, is absent) he is given to weeping at life’s small moments,

such as those portrayed in the reality television cooking program called Chopped.

Each week on this show, four chefs compete in three rounds (appetizer, entree, dessert), submitting to judging after each round, until only one chef remains. Distilling as it does all the hopes and stresses of humanity, this simple cooking show brings Maron to tears.

Having heard of this show through Maron’s podcast, I was itching to see it. All my iPod-toting lawyer friends already watched it with regularity, thanks to earning salaries that could accommodate cable television. However, since I’d had my Peachy Riunite night in the fountain and subsequently decided not to become a lawyer, I had taken a different route, one that has led to the less-robust salary of an English teacher, a salary which cannot rationalize $65 a month just to have access to 150 television channels, only 3 of which are worth watching. If, though, when I was 18, I had realized Peachy Riunite was directing me to a life without cable television and therefore limiting future opportunities to watch Chopped, I might have steered myself towards the apple schnapps.

As you learned on the hood of the Dodge Omni in the McDonald’s parking lot, however, we can’t go back and undo our choices, nor should we care to.

For me, it’s a good thing that I became an English teacher and not a lawyer and, consequently, can’t afford cable. Not only does a cable-free life save me from staring frequently, aghast, at the hair of that guy who hosts Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, it also gives me ample free hours in which to run the trails of my city and nurture seeds into seedlings.

It also gives me the opportunity to be over-the-moon excited when I am in the presence of cable. When I stay in a hotel for a conference, often times I scan the agenda of break-out sessions while muttering, “Okay, which of these can I skip? Because–HELLO, PEOPLE– THERE ARE HOUSES BEING FLIPPED AND BRIDESMAID DRESSES BEING CHOSEN INSIDE THE ELECTRONIC BOX THAT LIVES UP IN MY ROOM ON THE FIFTH FLOOR. PLUS, ALSO, THERE’S AN ICE MACHINE UP THERE, AND THAT’S SOMETHING ELSE I REALLY GET EXCITED ABOUT, AND DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THE WAY I CAN DROP MY TOWELS ON THE FLOOR, AND THEN THEY DISAPPEAR THE NEXT DAY.”

In addition to hotel rooms, I also encounter cable tv at my in-laws’ house. They aren’t huge television watchers, as a rule, but since they live in the country, they get no tv reception at all without a satellite boost. So they have cable.

And that means I get very little sleep when we visit the in-laws.

Especially when I discover at midnight that back-to-back episodes of Chopped are airing and I will, at long last, have the chance to see what’s been making Mark Maron snivel.

That’s what happened when we were visiting last month, and by the time 2 a.m. rolled around, I was sated and happy. I’d seen people cooking with caul fat, fer holy smashes! Even though I hadn’t cried, Chopped had delivered.

Not nearly enough hours later, my mood was distinctly less upbeat. Because we were having a family birthday party that day, my only chance to go for a run was before the party. As not-a-morning person in general, but particularly not-a-morning person when I’d watched cable and then read my book until after 3 a.m., my mood was dark.

Enter the anti-Maron, the not-your-high-school boyfriend: Byron.

The shorthand of our relationship allowed me to communicate that I was feeling vewy, vewy tiwed and that I feared that having to head out of the bedroom and play nice with his friendly parents might put me over the edge.

“I’ll be right back,” he said.

A minute later, he returned with a banana and a cup of coffee, doctored to perfection. “Once you’re done with these, you should slip out the basement door and not go upstairs at all. Just avoid the morning pleasantries altogether, and go run.”

As if he didn’t already own me.

While I was out running, he puttered around his parents’ kitchen and made all the food for the birthday party.

A few hours later, in the midst of the festivities, my semi-perkified head was starting to droop. “Crikey, but I need the mid-afternoon pick-me-up that is a huge cup of coffee,” I noted out loud.

“Me, too,” agreed Byron, which spurred on coffee orders from his uncle and dad.

We walked to the coffee pot, four mugs in hand,

and discovered a mere inch of coffee pooling in the bottom.

Laying my cheek on the kitchen counter, fleetingly imagining it was the stone of a fountain, I moaned, “How long will it take to make a new pot? I have a serious case of The Whinies today, and only coffee can drown them.”

Byron, a man who would never call time with his own children “babysitting,” a man who scrubs the toilet and admires my tears, lowered his voice and murmured, “You take this coffee now. I’ll make a new pot. The others can wait five minutes for theirs.”

Some time later, the party over, we were in the car driving the three hours back to Duluth when Byron announced, “Here’s my plan. When we pull over for a bathroom break, we’ll dump you at the Panera so that you can grab a quick hour of wireless access since my parents’ Internet was out all weekend. I know you’re frantic inside about all the student work that’s been submitted this weekend and itching to answer all the questions that have flooded the class and your email. So you sit and work, and the kids and I will drive around and figure out what we’re all having for dinner. I’ll also distract them at Target for a bit to buy you more time.”

An hour later, full of chicken and burritos, my work stress considerably attenuated, we were back on the road. Since the weather was looking forbidding the further North we got, Byron insisted on driving. His knuckles were white the last 90 miles, as high winds pushed the car towards the shoulder, and lashing rains obscured the road.

He got us home safely. Naturally.

As we unpacked that night, I looked ahead to the work week that would have me on campus, participating in job interviews for a new dean. Standing next to a huge pile of dirty laundry, I peered into my closet and wondered aloud, “What should I wear tomorrow? I have to look professional, but I just want to be comfy.”

Not missing a beat, Byron suggested, “You can never go wrong with jeggings tucked into boots.”

Fortunately, he survived my enthusiastic response to his suggestion (a full-body tackle punctuated by a firm smooch) and was functional enough a few hours later to crack a beer made by a brewery called 21st Amendment, pour it into a frosty glass, and hand it to me while explaining, “It’s called ‘Allies Win the War!’; it’s brewed with dates. Enjoy.”

We sat together on our Turkish kilim-covered couch, alternately sipping our beers and holding hands. When the bottom of the glass appeared, he began yawning. “I’m not even going to try to stay up longer. If I go to bed now, you can get to your Sunday night grading sooner, which means you can get to bed earlier, too. What with being kept up so late by Chopped last night, I know you’re whupped. That damn Maron.”

There is this thing about Byron.

Actually, there are about seven-eleventy things about him.

That day, though, the thing about him was that he was–as he always is–positively Wordsworthian. Although it was some two hundred years ago that Wordsworth observed “The best portion of a good man’s life [is] his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love,” Byron breathes new life into the sentiment.

Effortlessly, easily, happily–Byron carries out his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love. He discusses with the kids what foods might work best in their lunch bags. He helps nervous wannabe-gardeners at the green house where he works, directing them to low-maintenance plants that will lead them to feelings of success. He speaks to me of jeggings. He stops to chat with the lonely neighborhood dog-walker who spends hours each day trolling the alleys and sidewalks, looking for conversation. He offers our old patio chairs to the college students across the way. He sits down with our Girl and helps her prioritize her choices of volunteerism sites for a summer program. He reads the newspaper aloud on a radio station for the sight-impaired. He cuddles the hell out of Paco, our most-tactile resident. He retreats to the basement to draw, knowing that, to be capable of kindnesses to others, he must tend to his own needs.

Lacking the ego and passive/aggressiveness of your high school boyfriend, free of the anger and neediness of Mark Maron, Byron demonstrates a less-fraught way of moving through the world.

I like to think I meet him halfway in all he does: by providing endless occasions for his thoughtfulness.

Perhaps I do one other thing, too:

I take the Dodge Omni and political science final exam moments of my personal history–

in their many forms–

and turn them into the basis of an enduring gratitude.

I went through much before Byron, which makes it infinitely pleasurable now to note

and remember

his many unremembered acts of kindness and love.

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Gulp

It started with about one hundred applications from all over the country, even a few mailed in from other countries.

We on the committee read through the CVs and multi-page cover letters, winnowing down the pool of applicants to thirteen.

With those thirteen quarter finalists, we conducted telephone interviews.

From those thirteen, five semi-finalists were chosen, contacted, and asked to come to campus for face-to-face interviews.

Over the last few weeks, those five semi-finalists have had their days on campus–put through the paces of a schedule stacked with tour, formal interview, academic council luncheon, open forum with members of campus community, and meeting with the president.

As someone on the formal interview committee, I enjoyed, as ever, the opportunity to witness the structure and whimsy of a search process and to do some fierce people watching.

Over the course of five days, the semi-finalists came to campus; at the appointed hour, each one came into the huge conference room, a place anchored by a twenty-foot wooden table surrounded by high-backed chairs, and took a moment to register the fact that there were ten people on the interview committee. Smiling determinedly and throwing back his/her shoulders into a posture of “I can do this,” each candidate then took a seat and a sip of water and braced for the first question.

Every candidate, that is, except the last one.

On the fifth and final day, the candidate came into the room and, when she was informed we would be going around and introducing ourselves to her, she said, “Great. If I may, I’d like to come around and shake hands as part of the introductions. That just feels better to me.”

But of course. Shake away.

Moving from person to person, looking each committee member in the eye and taking note of job titles, the candidate worked her way down the long table, cresting the vice president’s corner and heading into the final stretch.

I was next.

Extending my hand, I said, “Hi, Candidate, I’m Jocelyn Surname. I’m an English instructor here on campus.”

Grasping my paw, the candidate replied, “Nice to meet you, Jocelyn. I read your blog.”

Whazzat now?

By the time she finished working the rest of the table, I’d managed to pull my jaw off the conference table and explain to several of my highly-curious fellow committee members that, yes, I do have a blog, but it’s not something I publicize at work.

Then I tried to recall for a minute if I’ve ever written a post about my vagina.

Because if I had, that would color my tone when asking the interview questions.

Life rule: if someone has had a glimpse into your vagina, even through prose, you can ease up on the professionalism a notch and relax into a voice that acknowledges, “Hey, wassup? We all know my vagina, right? So how might that knowledge affect your budgetary choices if you were to get this job? Would you be willing to add in a line item for vaginal maintenance? Please explain and give specific examples of your work in this area in the past.”

Fortunately, my quick mental flipping through the Rolodex of posts past didn’t yield any with the tag “vagina.” Dickwad, however? Yes, and plenty of ’em.

Life rule: if someone knows you like to use the word dickwad in your writing, you are still obliged to maintain a veneer of professionalism, and you may not ask the candidate if she has ever adjusted her budget to accommodate dickwads.

That’s just asking for confessions of poor relationship choices, and there’s no Kleenex box in the conference room.

It was for the best, then, that my vagina-free blog allowed me to sit up straight, uncap my pen, and prepare to take notes

on everything else she knew.

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How Do You Wander In To That Room of Your Own?

Can we make this one more about the comments than the post?

I know many of you post something every day, and I know many of you simply post whenever you feel so moved. You post when and how you do, and you have your reasons for that.

So:

1) Why do you write blog posts? If you are reading this but aren’t a blogger, why do you sometimes write something and then share it with an audience, even if it’s just one other person?

2) When do you write? Is there a set time in your day? Also, is there a set place or ritual that surrounds your writing?

3) How do you find the time to write, either blog posts or any other kind of “words out of your head”? Is it scheduled in? Do you refuse other options so you can write?

4) Do you choose not to write about certain subjects–because you know who’s reading or because you have a sense of privacy that wants to keep certain things mum? What’s the riskiest subject you’ve ever shared with others? Do you wish you could share more than you do? Perhaps most importantly, if you choose not to write about certain subjects on your own blog, could you give us a sense here of who/what it is since–mwahahahaahahahaha–the people in question are more than likely nowhere near the comment page on the O Mighty Crisis blog?

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Personally, I know I did better with twice-a-week posts and leaving comments on others’ blogs back when I taught classes on campus and held office hours in a room with a door that closed. I could finish grading student work and then take a little blogging time for myself before heading home. However, now that I am teaching completely online and have given up my office space on campus, I find that I have to tuck blogging in around the edges.

I write usually because I feel an internal compulsion, a pounding sense of ideas wanting to get out. Most often, these pounding ideas have to do with my love of chocolate chip cookies and my belief that Jessica Simpson has GOT to be at least eighty-eleventy weeks pregnant by now. For me, the blog is a sandbox where I can play; in particular, I like doing mash-ups, where I take random junk and try to make it connect. Linear has its place, but nutty juxtaposition can reap its own rewards.

Most of my posts wriggle out over hours and hours of stolen minutes, usually when the kids are at school. When they’re on break, it’ s a rare day when I have any attention to give to a post or the blogosphere. I used to write late at night, but these days, I’m playing Scrabble and Words with Friends instead of pecking away. There’s also my exercise, piano playing, and puzzling that eat up the hours. Most of the time, I type up in our master bedroom on a desktop PC. Other times, I’m sitting in a rocking chair in front of the tv, trying to figure out what I want to say with my work laptop teetering on my fleece-clad legs. Every now and then, I type on my laptop while we drive the three hours down to the Twin Cities; the battery dies an hour in, but it’s better than no time at all.

Lastly, I do choose not to write about certain things simply because I do have some sense who’s reading. Sometimes I think about doing password-protected posts or starting up another blog all together, just so I can share all my innermosts with strangers only. It could happen. It might not. If only so I could blog more freely about the insanity of some students without fear of lawsuit reprisal, I consider the options.

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Anyhow, I’m curious. Many times, I visit blogs, and I wonder about the writing habits of the author. Some of us use this venue as a kind of daily diary, yet others of us use it as an outlet for storytelling. One thing is always true, though: when the writing is flowing–even in fits and starts–there is nothing that makes my spirit more zingy.

Well, maybe one or two things do, but I can’t blog about them here.

I know who’s reading, and the details would be too much for half of you.

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Quite Contrary, That’s How My Garden Grows

This time of year, whenever I hop about visiting blogs, I frequently am greeted with lovely garden tours: colors, growth, renewal, dirt, brightness after months of grey. Here, for example, are a few glimpses:


Lime‘s Daffodils

Green Girl‘s Forsythia

Friko’s Quince

Citizen’s Pansies

Usually, I view fellow bloggers’ garden photos enviously, even wistfully, knowing that Spring is still far off for those of us in more northerly climes. However, this year, with the freakishly early and warm Spring, I was stunned to see the first of my several hundred bulbs popping through the dirt–more than a month earlier than I had any right to expect them. Last week, three crocuses reached enough maturity to flower. In MARCH. Unprecedented. And oh-so-delightful in the eyes of this flower lover! No longer would I have to rely on weekly bouquets bought at the store and placed strategically around the house to fill my vision with color and texture and life.

Instead, I could just go outside and see the pretty:

Jocelyn’s Crocus

Then

Jocelyn’s Crocus the Next Day, After the Deer Came

I mean, I knew the deer would show up for the Bulb Buffet. They do it every year. But somehow this year’s munching of the very first purple felt like a very pointed indignity.

My strategy, in planting heaps of bulbs, was that the deer could have 2/3, but then they needed to leave me 1/3 to enjoy. Based on all evidence thus far, the paperwork outlining my terms and conditions got lost in the mail.

Fortunately, the deer eventually get their fill, and the gardens begin to thrive. Until that tipping point of “eventually” arrives, I’ll just enjoy what I’ve got.

I can fill my eyes with

the bright colors on the labeling cards of plantings past. O Tickseed, we hardly knew ye. Come again this July!

At the risk of inspiring covetousness in my garden-loving readers, I also have to point out that the creeping thyme shows every promise of one day not leading with full-on dead and brown:

In fact, the lush denseness of a Duluth garden this time of year once caused a Green Thumb in Georgia to remark, “Why, I’d like to have stuck a trowel in my eye if I had to live all the way up there in such a Godforsaken short growing season”:

Crafters worldwide fight for the opportunity to come to my back garden and practice their weaving on the remnant spokes of last year’s daisies:

Hark! There is color in the garden: it’s the store-bought bouquets from winter, dumped there to compost. Ain’t nothing lovelier than composting store boughts:

Even though my outdoor spaces are pretty much dirt and deadness, the beauty of Spring is that it’s a harbinger of summer fulfillment. For its sense of promise, of teetering on the edge of something beautiful, I love Spring.

Plus, as a crocus makes its way out of the earth, it looks rather like a sea monster, surfacing from the deep, and how is that not fun?

So the buds–backlit by a colorful canoe–are budding…

the daffodils and tulips are denying their fragility and playing strong…

the Bleeding Heart is casting its vote…

and the dandelions trump them all…

As an added measure, I spent some time today sprinkling coyote urine granules over the gardens. If that acrid scent doesn’t gag the deer, then the gentle beasts are entitled to a happy buffet.

As Nature tussles its way to balance, we can channel our outdoor impulses toward human-made delights:

Who needs flowers when we can be our own colorful characters and crazy poppies?

So there. All of you may have gorgeous gardens sproinging up around you,

but I’ve got the ability to fly, and Peter Panning about has proven the best way to cure Crocus Envy.

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Twelve Years Since the Blue Moon

Once again, I beg the forbearance of my long-time readers with this post, as it’s a re-run (but I’ve added new pictures at the end!). However, because it’s a personal favorite, I hope you’ll hang in there for a re-read…or perhaps for a first-time through.
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“Twelve Years Since the Blue Moon”

I got engaged and pregnant on the same day.

Even better, it was “Buck Night” at the local ball park, so I also got to drink eleventy dollars of watery beer on a humid July evening while feigning interest in an All-American sport.

You might be trying to forge a connection between all that cheap beer and my getting knocked up. Damn your clever mind. Does it never rest?

Suffice it to say, though, that pretty much all of my days since then have been anticlimactic. They’re all “go to work, read to the kids, sweat through a run, fold some laundry” and ever-so-rarely are they “get engaged, drink beer, get pregnant” kinds of days. I suppose, though, that a girl can only have so many splendid Whopper Days; otherwise, I’d have a whole lot of husbands, hangovers, and kids. And frankly, one or two of each is about all I can handle. Ask both my husbands. They’ll attest to my treating them with an air of benign neglect. Fortunately, they are a comfort to each other.

So, yes, from that sticky July day came good things. I still dote on my groom, and the issue of that pregnancy is just cresting twelve years old (since I, personally, remember a lot from Age 12, this implies to me that I should start being nicer to Girl, now that the threat of lifetime recall is firmly in place).

It’s all good now, but the growth and arrival of our Girl weren’t as straightforward as her conception. In fact, Girl started out as two.

All I knew was that I was pregnant, and the hospital in our town would confirm that but would not have me see a doctor or midwife until the end of the first trimester. So I took some vitamins, ate a lot of Ben and Jerry’s, exercised, and dreamed an entire life for the child inside of me.

Until one night–the last night of that first trimester–when I got off the couch after watching some bad reality tv and went to the bathroom. After pulling down my shorts, I discovered the pregnant woman’s nightmare: blood. Lots of it. And when I sat down on the toilet, there was an explosion of more blood, along with many miscellaneous floating bits…of tissue.

My brain reeled, of course, and all I could think was, “This can’t be good. I’m pregnant, so this should stop.” At the time, Groom and I weren’t yet married, and he lived almost six hours away. I called him; he lurched out the door and into his car; then I called a Best Girlfriend, and she was at my house in minutes.

We went to the emergency room, where I spent a long, long time with my feet in stirrups. I heard words like “she’s dilated” and “tissue in the cervix” and “no heartbeat.” My friend stood by my side, crying quietly into a Kleenex. My own tears ran down my cheeks into my ears.

After some time, I was told that it looked as though I’d miscarried. But, they told me, I was young, so future pregnancy could happen. And, they told me, a miscarriage is Nature’s way of ending a non-viable pregnancy. It happened, they told me, all the time.

But here’s the thing: it hadn’t happened to me before, and so I was ill-equipped to handle the absolute, immediate grief of losing a life I had already planned. Sure, I’d heard of women having miscarriages, but no one had actually ever brought that experience alive for me; no one had shared their experience publicly–and if there’s one thing I do, it’s find ways to process the world by touching the experiences of others. Yet miscarriage proved to be one of those last female taboos, one of the hidden subjects that no one acknowledged. So all I really knew was that I was in significant physical pain (I didn’t even know enough to realize a miscarriage is actually a mini-labor, with a contracting uterus and everything) and in even more profound emotional pain.

When, at 4 a.m., Groom finally got to me, we just cried. And the next day, and the day after that, we cried. A baby isn’t real to the world until it’s born, but it had become real to us from the minute that stick turned pink.  Even more, the promise of a life we’d made together confirmed our rightness of being.

Some days later, we went to see the midwife at the hospital, to have her check my uterus to see if all the tissue had been expelled that night in the emergency room, or if I’d need to undergo a D & C, to “clean things up.”

As I lay there, again on a table, she palpated my uterus, noting, “There’s still a fair amount of tissue in here. If you don’t mind, I’m going to roll over the mobile ultrasound machine to see how much we’re dealing with.”

I didn’t want to see the remains of the babe, so I stared at the wall as she worked, not registering her words of, “Hmmm. I see a heartbeat here.”

How cruel, I thought. Why is she taunting me?

But. Then. It. Sunk. In. A heartbeat?

My head whipped to look at the monitor, where I saw a most-contented-looking little figure, reclining in the tub of my belly, a strong and regular heartbeat emanating from its chest.

My memory of the next few minutes is the feeling of Groom’s tears hitting my face, as he stood above me, and the midwife exiting the room, saying, “I’m just going to give you guys a few minutes.”

So my grief had prayed for a miracle–for the miscarriage not to have been real, for that pregnancy to still be happening. Suddenly, it was. Gradually, we pieced together that I had been carrying twins, and one of them had not made it. This, according to one nurse, happens more frequently than we know, but it is still a “once in a blue moon” event.

For the rest of my pregnancy, we called the kid inside of me The Little Gripper; I pictured it hanging resolutely onto the walls of my uterus by its tiny, soft fingernails while its twin fell out of me. Assuredly, I will never stop missing The Kid Who Fell, but mostly I can only marvel at the child who hung in there.

Today, March 31st, it has been twelve years since The Little Gripper became our Girl, twelve years during which she has emerged as reserved, smart, sweet, wry, amiable to a fault, Love Incarnate.


The Birth Day: Groom cries some more, as Girl greets the midwife. Under the white sheets, once again relegated to laying on a table, I wonder how long it will be before I can have a bowl of Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.


Girl Was One


And Then She Was Two


Same Dress at Age Three, But the Wheels Were New

Four Was Fun


Five Became Her



She Grew to Six (Plus Two on the Lap)


Then She Was Seven, Feeling Crafty


Eight Flowed Easily


Nine Popped with Color


Ten Took Her Places

At Eleven, Ancient Landscapes Broadened Her



Twelve Promises More of the Same and the Start of Much That Is New

——————————-
As the years tick by, I love her purity of character above all else.

Even she was six, a wee first grader, her unalloyed caliber was evident. One night, at bedtime, her overtired Brother Wee Niblet (now Paco) cried in his bed, sobbing: “I don’t want to go to sleep, ever. I wake up in the night, and I am alone. I’m always alone. I’m never going to close my eyes because sleep is too lonely.”

We had already pushed the kids’ beds next to each other, strung the room with lights, played music on a CD player through the night, and tried everything to get him to appreciate sleep as an opportunity, not a burden. But no matter what I suggested that night, he cried even harder.

Then an almost-seven-year-old hand snaked its way across his bed and extended itself onto his torso. With all the compassion of two souls, Girl said, “Here, buddy. Just hold my hand while we fall asleep. And when you’re asleep, I’ll just keep holding on to you. You know I won’t ever leave you all alone.”

Happy birthday, Toots. Every single day for twelve years now, I have thanked the sky above for that blue moon.

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Drag Your Feet to Slow the Circles Down

If your browser allows it, click Play:

[audio:http://omightycrisis.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/12-The-Circle-Game.mp3|titles=12 – The Circle Game] ——————————————-

One year, when my dad’s birthday rolled around, my mom didn’t know what to buy him for a gift–he already lived under Montana’s Big Sky and possessed a lovely tenor voice, both of which made the case for him as A Man Who Had Everything. So she did as many a clever gift giver had in the past: she made his present.

She made him a baby, and that baby was me.

I was wrapped in a soft blanket and presented to my dad on March 25th, 1967. That day, I was zero; he was thirty-two. The day before, his own mother–born in a dugout sod house forty miles away from the hospital where I was delivered–had celebrated turning fifty-two. Thirty-three years and six days later, Baby Jocelyn would give birth to her first child, a Girl. From March 24th to March 25th to March 31st, the last week of March has always been loaded with birthdays in my family.

One of the many beauties of my life has been my status as Baby of the Family. As the third of three kids, I enjoyed the best of everybody: I was Mamma’s Girl, Sister’s Girl, Brother’s Girl…and, of course, as his special present in 1967, Daddy’s Girl.

As the years passed, we always enjoyed sharing a birthday. Naturally, Dad didn’t get feted the same way I, a kid, did. For me, there were party hats and friends gathered ’round and much-observed blowing out of candles.

But for adults, life is just life, including birthdays. I blew out candles; my dad went to work. Then the next day would come, and then the next week would roll around, and then it was April, and then it was summer, and then there was gardening.

Mixed in to every year were the birthdays of others, such as my sister below, turning twelve, much to my delight (CAKE!).

Then the summer would end, school would begin, and it would be fall, then winter, then a new year, more holidays, more birthdays, more life.

Always, my mom was there, my brother was there, my sister was there. My dad was there. We took road trips; we ate chili; we watched tv; we dusted the knicknacks.

Eventually, it was our birthday again. Eventually, I turned sixteen.

All words–all possible apologies–fail me as I try to make amends for the hair on that sixteenth birthday. Chalk it up to 1983 and the exuberance of youth.

I blew out the candles. I opened gifts. I wished my dad a mutual happy, happy day.

Cake demolished, we carried on. Back to life. Back to studying and practicing and visiting. Always back to music.

Here, Dad is all tarted up for his role in The Magic Flute. Is there really a dinosaur-lizard creature in Mozart? I was too busy frizzing up the back of my hair to pay proper attention.

A few more years passed, and I went off to college, where I was surrounded by new friends, foregoing even silverware on my 19th birthday.

As ever, March 25th was followed by March 26th, which then spun back into studying and dancing and lolling.

At home, in Montana, the music continued.

At some point during college, I became enough of an adult that Dad and I could share a cake on our shared day. I’d started from him, gone off onto my own, and come back to rejoin him with more deliberation.

Of course, as children do, I then hopped back in my car and drove away. For Dad, there was gardening, music, tv. Life.

I graduated and began my own career. And then my grandma, born on March 24th in that sod dugout on the prairie, died.

I sat next to my dad at the memorial service and pressed my leg against his, absorbing the shudders of his body as he wept. Later, in both the hollowest and most meaningful of gestures, I put my hand on his knee.

Then I got in my car and drove away. He taught. Gardened. Sang. Observed.

As the seasons went ’round and ’round, my brother got married and became a father. I became an aunt. My dad became–most joyful of things!–a grandfather.

With a few more spins of Earth’s axis, I, too, married and had a child. My parents’ joy grew.

But then we all would get in the car and drive away. He would dig in the dirt, watch his shows, look for coupons. Always and ever, there was music.

Sometimes, he and my mom would get in the car and come to us. His thousand-watt smile never beamed more brightly than when we was with his grandchildren.

My father has four grandchildren, but he only ever met two of them. He was in his final decline in the hospital as I gave birth to Paco. Fifteen days after that emergency C-section, Dad died, alone, still hopeful of a recovery, his heart and lungs finally giving out after years of chronic ailment. Two months later, his fourth grandchild was born.

It’s his not knowing his grandchildren as they grow up that slices me most. Now, a decade later, they are, to a one, intelligent and creative and funny and poised. His death at age sixty-seven means his most amazing legacy will never know what they missed.

Now it’s March 25th again, and he would be seventy-seven. This is my tenth birthday without my father. I am not maudlin or overly-sentimental about his passing. His death means he was alive.

That he was alive means I’m alive

and that Girl can spend all day holed up in her room with a book

and Paco can ask to play baseball at dusk.

Birthdays are, of course, our way of marking time, of slowing down long enough to take stock, of noting where we are in the arc of our lives, of taking a guess as to how much more we might still have in front of us.

Dad and I won’t share a cake this year. We won’t wish each other “insider” birthday greetings. I won’t put my hand on his knee ever again, nor will he ever again slide into the driver’s seat, snap into his seat belt, and put me at the center of everything by asking, “Where do you want to go?”

I was his most-original birthday present.

He was my gift of a lifetime.

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Revisiting Narnia: Wait, I Never Got This As a Kid…Aslan Is Jesus?

One day back in 1700, when we were classmates at Cautionary Epistle school, my chum Samuel Richardson and I took a break from hunching over our Remonstrance Homework long enough to survey a coterie of our cohorts kicking a rotten cabbage around the schoolyard. Abruptly, their play was interrupted by a crotchety crone who limped into the game and snatched up the cabbage, chiding, “This be no toy, you unlicked cubs! It’s belly timber, and it wants handling by a cook such as I. Don’t be muckworms; I must needs rustle it to my shanty and pop it into my stew.”

Hearing the groans of disappointment from the pack of youths–and not completely able to resist the lure of a good time herself–the crone conceded, “All right then, the rout of you. Let’s play cabbage ball. Score starts one-nil, though, and I’m captain of the Plaguers.” With that, she tossed the battered head of leaves to the ground, hoisted her skirts, and gave a kick that landed the ball in a still-warm pile of horse apples. “GOOOOOOOAAAAAAL!” she screeched, elbowing her teammates ebulliently. “Who’s got home, hearth, and spinning on the wheel? Who needs to sup when there’s such gladdening diversion to be had? Not I!” she cried.

Ensconced on the sidelines, having cataloged the vignette of the crone and stored it away for future use, Samuel turned to me and, scratching under his wig with a quill, noted dryly,

“All our pursuits, from childhood to manhood, are only trifles of different sorts and sizes, proportioned to our years and views.”

Then, dropping the quill to a point significantly lower on his body, he turned his hand to a less absent-minded scratching and asked me, as his eyes glazed over, “May I call you Pamela? Or, if you prefer, Clarissa?”

With a long-suffering sigh, I thunked his forehead, admonishing, “Get the quill out of your pants, Sammy, and no, you can’t call me Pamela. Or Clarissa. I’m Jocelyn, and it will take more than a feather in your trousers to get a name change out of me. Now: back to the subject at hand. You were saying…?”

While my sigh had been long suffering, his was exasperated. “I was saying, Jocelyn, that everything we do is ultimately fluff, but the kind of fluff with which we amuse ourselves and how we perceive and process that fluff vary according to age and experience. I would also posit, moreover, that some versions of fluff actually get more agreeable as life ripens, and when the fluffy larks of youth intrude into the later years of life, older folk enjoy them deeply and feelingly–in ways that are beyond the capacity of a child.”

Ever curious, I queried, “Does a quill down the pants constitute ‘fluff,’ Sammy? If so, do you hope to enjoy that increasingly ‘feelingly’ as you age?”

“Call it what you like, fair Pamela–oops! Jocelyn. But indubitably, if a quill down the pants results in such gratification during the early years of grammar school, one can fairly anticipate the myriad and complex pleasures ‘A Quill Down the Pants’ will afford as one gains in years. Beyond the quill in my pants, ma chère Clarissa, er, Jocelyn, I presume you take my point?”

“Yea, you’d like me to take your point, wouldn’t you?” I snorted. “Your general lasciviousness aside, yes, I take your point: babies play with their toes and call it fun; school boys kick around a cabbage and call it a game; adolescents mope about the injustice of their cushy lives and call that a day; adults cook, read, clean, drink, make laws, make love, kill things, pay bills, marry, divorce, reflect and call it a life. Such are our generational pursuits. What intrigues me most, however, is the notion of cross-generational ‘trifles.’ Certainly, I’m well acquainted with youngsters wanting to act like adults–some time in the future, a nine-year-old named Willow Smith will don thigh-high boots and, in her accompanying leopard-print coat, prove this point stunningly. While I wince when kids perversely toss away their childhoods, I thrill to the idea of adults acting like kids. I refer not, in this context, to people like future celebrity Alec Baldwin and his penchant for fit throwing when he’s asked to put his games away. Rather, I am beguiled when adults rediscover the pastimes of youth and apprehend, the second time around, nuances and nooks of delectation to which they were incommensurate during their callow years. Some centuries hence, during the era of Queen Willow and King Alex, the masses will rely upon a cliché to express this sentiment: ‘Youth is wasted on the young.’ So, yes, Sammy, although my skirts aren’t up around my ears, I have fully absorbed your point.”

“You are deft with summary and expansion of my comments, Shouty Jocelyn, and I daresay that, were this Willow a bit older, I’d rather like to meet her at the baths and make her hair whip back and forth.”

Suddenly extremely tired of Samuel’s seedy predilections, I tossed my homework his direction with a determined, “Hand that to the schoolmaster, if you will, and assure him I’ve learned everything I need to with regards to leveling moral judgement and harnessing the impulse to chastise. And thank you for the inspirational chat, Dear Fellow; you’ve given me plenty of food–forcemeat balls, anyone?–for thought. But one small caution before I hop into my Thaumaturgical Time Machine to head into a more convenient and vaccination-filled future: when you grow up and become a quill-wielding husband, try to rein in your habit of naming your sons after yourself. It’s like a curse, that name of yours. How about slapping ‘Channing’ or ‘Justin’ on those babies instead and giving them a chance at life?”

With that, I stomped over to my Temporal Transit Toboggan™, slipped on a pair of protective goggles, genuflected, and whispered, “Sweet God of Topologically Nontrivial Spacetimes, please forward me to 2012, a year when only black women and Elton John wear wigs.”

A loud “WHEEEEE” issued forth from my gut as the sled sped into the fourth dimension to exploit the vagaries of the space-time continuum. What seemed like seconds–but, in fact, was more than three hundred years–later, the tobaggan cruised to a stop in a park near my house.

“Crikey,” I thought, brushing shattered moonbeams and handfuls of stardust off my shoulders before plucking a baffling green blob of skin out from my central incisors, “I may be almost 45, but sledding is still dang fun. Who says it’s the sport of children?”

Hey. Wait. A. Minute.

Replaying my conversation with Samuel in my mind, I thought further about how magical the activities of youth can feel to an adult. As my gaze wandered over to the playground at the park, I took in the slide and remembered how very, very much fun I had the first time I held my six-month-old daughter on my lap and scooched us over the precipice. At that point in my 30s, I hadn’t been on a slide for at least ten years–since the drunken nights in college when a pack of us would stop off at the middle school playground on our post-closing trek home from the bar. At least when I whizzed down the slide with my daughter all those years later, it was she–not I–doing the vomiting at the bottom.

The feeling of “Jinkies, but I’d forgotten how delightful this is” stirs up every time I hop on a slide or a sled or a swing or a scooter. Last summer, when Girl, no longer six months old, bought a trampoline with her savings, and we all started bouncing around on the thing like quarters on an obsessive-compulsive drill sergeant’s bed, the feeling of More Fun the Second Time around was profound. Every time I zip into the trampoline’s enclosure, the melded word “omigodthisissofreakingawesome” surges through my head. What’s more, I don’t recall trampolines being so transportingly enjoyable when I was a kid. Sure, jumping was a laugh when I was twelve, but now, as an adult, I’m fascinated by the structure of the thing: the tautness of the bounce mat, the power and resistance of the springs, the feeling of privacy provided by the enclosure. I was fascinated last autumn by the way fallen leaves crunched into a bounce mat carpet. I am fascinated by the rule setting and abiding the neighborhood children do so as to retain their privileges. I’m fascinated by the endless variety of doofy poses and tricks that jumpers can create. I’m fascinated by how high I can make my kids fly, if I time my bounce just right. I’m enchanted by the warmth of the sun on my body and the black mat when I crash down and lie prone, in search of breath.

As an adult, I find time on the trampoline much more than “a laugh.” I find it a sensory, full-body antidote to the grind of grading and paying and washing.

A similar thing has been happening these last few months since we bought a vintage Ivers & Pond piano from a smiley and hugely-cranially-endowed man named Dan. (Seriously, you could cut off his head and use it as an ottoman. Only do this if you don’t mind an ottoman that smells of decaying flesh and squishes slurpily every time you put your feet up.)

My foibles as a child pianist, previously detailed, were undeniable. I liked monkeying around at the keyboard, and I liked the fact that I could crank out “Nadia’s Theme,” but mostly I wanted to go next door to my friend Lisa’s house and watch Grease 2 for the fourteenth time on that whiz-bang new channel called HBO. Time at the piano was something to be endured–and unfortunately, as was proven a few decades later when, laboring to expel my first baby, I announced “Okay, I’m ready to be done now” on the 8th out of 98,000 contractions–enduring is not my forte.

But now that I’m a Big People? I could spend all day dallying with my beaux, Mr, Ivers and Mr. Pond. When I sit at the keyboard and try to figure out how to play a song, I feel my brain expanding and contracting. Often, I have to stop and talk to the music and ask it what it’s going on about. Sometimes, when I get to page 6 of “Quasi una fantasia” (aka “The Moonlight Sonata”), and my armpits are prickling with the perspiration that comes from carrying so much adagio weight for so long, I have to take a break to note, “Oh, Ludwig, what a complex man you were. Here, you force my hands to stretch across so many keys, but in ‘Fur Elise,’ you are all whimsical rondo that makes my plaque-ridden brain creak as it attempts to decipher the notes with more alacrity than it’s displayed in years. When I was a kid, all I knew was that I was assigned to play some sort of something by the famous guy named Beethoven, but my response to the notes I subsequently tapped out was distinctly less than emotional. Now, as an adult, I can hardly bear that we’ll never meet; all evidence holds that you would be a serious trip, and I would love to take you out to the trampoline to burn off some of those cheeky crankies.”

When I sit down at the piano these days, no one is teaching me, I’m not really very good, and there is no true purpose to my time on the bench. I’m not being trained to become “a pianist,” and with that release comes sheer beatific felicity. I may struggle to find the right notes, and I may blunder my way to the final fermata, but I am full of feeling during the hours I’m at the piano–feeling for dynamics and pacing and cleverness and composerial intent. When I sit down at the piano, my brain is all exposed brick, but by the time I decide it’s time to stop and make a latte, there’s an incredible mural of color rippling across my neurons.

In contrast, when I was a child and spake as a child, I would have described playing the piano as “like, spazzy and lame.” Puerile, I didn’t possess the depth or sensitivity to appreciate the lagniappes of musical practice.

Hearteningly, I am not alone when it comes to the limitations of youth.

Recently on the NPR program Fresh Air, actress Meryl Streep recalled studying opera at age 13 and training her coloratura voice. Patently, she hated it because she was asked to learn and perform material that was remote from her experience and sensibility; it was only years later that, as she noted to interviewer Terry Gross, “I learned that I was singing something that I didn’t feel and understand.”

Only with age, indeed, do we amass the tools–feeling, understanding, sensibility–that allow us to divine the fullness of beauty and experience.

This isn’t only true for trampolines and classical music, of course. A more prosaic example occurred when my husband was in his early thirties and became a newspaper delivery boy. Many people with degrees in anthropology and environmental science and a professional history in teaching environmental education would have registered newspaper delivery as a come-down in the world. Fortunately, Byron’s ego is immune to challenge and his personality is no nonsense. The facts were these: we had been carrying two mortages for two years, paying out 55% of our monthly income towards a house to live in and a house we couldn’t sell; I was working full time while he was staying at home with our toddler (she of 98,000 contractions); I couldn’t imagine working more, and he wanted to contribute to the coffers without having to shell out for daycare. A job with hours from 3:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. filled all the criteria.

Although we traditionally think of paper routes as “kid’s work,” these days–at least in my city–it’s nearly impossible for a youngster to sign on for a route without parental assistance. Paper delivery people start the day by heading to the newspaper building downtown, where they pick up their papers, spend some time inserting ads into them, and then roll them in preparation for drop-off. Once their papers are ready to go, deliverers get themselves to their assigned neighborhoods (usually a good distance from downtown and from where they live) and begin dumping their papers, one at a time.

For kids, the only upsides to a paper route are a paycheck and the perenially-clear sinuses that come from dramatic, put-upon sighing. For Byron, yes, there was the paycheck (massive!), but beyond the $1.53/hour he was making,

there was the peer watching he did during paper pick-up (FYI: a sack of pierced and tattooed human skin drops off your paper, if you’re one of the seventeen who still subscribe);

there was the particular peace that softens the air in the wee hours;

there were the glimpses through windows of insomniacs, driven exercisers, La-Z-Boy dozers and, on the morning of Black Friday, an uncommon hum of activity as shoppers-to-be amped up by hydrating their bodies and polishing their credit cards;

there was the routine of picking up, prepping papers, and sliding amongst private spaces;

there was the welcome warmth of activity, as Byron ran his route each day.

A twelve-year-old wouldn’t know how to be gratified by routine and peace. There hasn’t been enough stressful counterpoint yet in a twelve-year-old’s life to help develop appreciation for such low-level stuff. For a thirtysomething, however, a paper route was an unsullied blast.

Roused by the idea of a good blast, I shook myself from my musings and realized it was time to hop back onto the Temporal Transit Toboggan™ and make a jump backwards. If I steered just right, I could land 250 years in the past and snag the aging Samuel. I’d even let him bring his quill and call me Pamela. Although Sammy had never ridden a bike or played with Legos as a child, that didn’t matter. Such childish delights would have been wasted on him anyhow. With his advanced years, though, there was every possibility he had developed the maturity to see poetry in spinning spokes and snapped-together architecture–

because everything’s amazing once you’ve learned how to hold it up to the light

and turn it slowly, patiently, incrementally

until a slant of sun channels itself

into rainbows

that your twelve-year-old self didn’t know were possible.

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The Smell of Success…or Perhaps an Abundance of Broccoli

“Can I just go into the bathroom and take off my clothes and come back out for a redo?” I asked the Tidy Tiny sporting a delicious wool cardigan and a name tag letting me know she’d lost 24 pounds and kept it off for 12 years. “I’d actually go for a naked weigh-in this week, if it got me to that elusive -30 pound mark. I’m so close.”

Unequivocally, a naked weigh-in at a Midwestern Weight Watchers meeting would rain trauma on participants and onlookers alike, it being akin in desperate nonsensicalism to naked yoga–from the “Ewww” to the “Why would you?” to the “I sooo didn’t need to see that in a public place” to the consensus of “Slap a loincloth on it already, Mavis.”

But I was feeling desperate. And, as ever, nonsensical. Fortunately, Tidy Tiny and her delicious wool cardigan sitting there at the table, ready to record my weight, were willing to play along. You see, I was .2 of a pound away from hitting the mark of 30 pounds lost. POINT TWO.

Had I not just emptied my bladder and blown my nose, I would have tried that. Had Tidy Tiny been less tidy and her sweater less delicious, I might have conscripted her into spontaneous enema duty (once you make that friend, you keep her for life!). As it was, though, I was already pretty lean, if not in body then in bodily accoutrements.

To be blunt: I already wasn’t wearing a bra or underwear, so don’t even try to suggest their removal.

Yes, yes, now you’re starting to get a whiff of the mania that accompanies the weekly weigh-in.  Every week, I do a long and intense work-out before changing into my lightest clothing (leaving off all underwear) and heading to the weigh-in. Like Rocky hoping to make weight before taking on Apollo Creed, I hit my weekly meeting pumped and dehydrated, full only of The Eye of the Tiger.

If any of this strikes you as Hella Crazy, then I’d argue two things: 1) You’re very right; 2) Weight issues have not plagued you throughout your life.

So there I stood, panty free, wondering if there was any way to fool the scale into giving me  the psychological win of that round number: -30. My fingernails were already short, and I’d forgotten my collapsible pair of travel scissors, or I’d have begged TT to give me a sassy weight-diminishing haircut. The fact that she was working a one-inch-long ‘do herself indicated she was well acquainted with that game.

Eventually, TT and I agreed a naked weigh-in might have far-reaching negative ramifications for the organization and for Jennifer Hudson’s ability to appear in commercials that aired before 10 p.m.; at this point, however, Tidy Tiny (or, as I’d started to think of her: My Enema Buddy) leaned towards me conspiratorially and whispered, “Take off your glasses, and let’s try again.”

Seriously, you want her for your enema buddy, too, don’t you?

Stop coveting MEB. She’s mine. We have a thing.

Happily, I jumped back on the scale–this action did NOT break it, so shut up, Meanypants. Tossing my glasses onto the table, I looked down hopefully, expectantly.

Of course, I’m not only hefty; I’m also legally blind (this is where we make a case that Byron has no choice but to love me for my mind), so I couldn’t read the four-inch-high digits that indicated my weight. “What does it say? Did we do it? Am I there?” I panted, excitedly.

“Aw, hon. Nope. It didn’t change.” Looking mischievous, MEB asked, “Is there anything else you can take off?”

“Well, there’s my wedding ring, but it’s made from string, a gum wrapper, and spit, so I don’t think that would make a difference. I’m out of luck.” I sighed for dramatic effect before proclaiming, “Heck, it gives me something to shoot for next week. I’ll get there.”

Miming the call me gesture with pinky to mouth and thumb to ear, I departed MEB and joined the meeting, already in progress. As I enjoyed a quiet chortle about the weigh-in, I sucked down a 16-ounce bottle of water in under a minute and listened to my compatriots discuss stress eating. Luckily, rehydrating kept me from raising my hand and contributing, “I don’t actually eat from stress so much; mostly, I eat because I’m freaking hungry all the time and also because there’s something about eating really good food–and eating that food with abandon–that feels as though life is being lived with gusto, and I’m nothing if not a very gusto-tory person. GET IT? ‘Gusto-tory’ is wordplay on ‘gustatory,’ so I tied it back into food there at the end! Go, Me!!!”

Next week, I might need to bring a 64-ounce bottle of water, just to assure my mouth is too busy drinking to allow for meeting participation.

Fifteen minutes later, the Weight Watchers meeting ended, and those who weren’t milling around, chatting about knee pain or purchasing boxes of highly-processed “healthy foods”–only $6.00 for four protein bars!–began flowing up the stairs and out to the parking lot. Those wearing step-counting pedometers registered another 43 steps, just shifting from chair to car.

Because I harbor a stash of childhood memories set in church basements, memories that thrum with bass notes of power inequality and unexpressed discontent, I’m relieved, at the close of each WW meeting, to exit the undercroft and plunge into the cleansing night air. (Representative childhood recollection: gangs of wild children in Sunday best having to bide their time during coffee hour–usually amusing themselves by finding pencils in abandoned Sunday School rooms and attempting to hurl graphite projectiles at the ceiling until the lead stuck–while the men sat in relaxed and leisurely fashion on folding chairs, eating baked goods and sharing hunting stories as stressed-out women slapped on forced smiles and aprons and worked the kitchen. Nearer my God to Thee, not so much)

However, that evening as I climbed the stairs, making my exodus from The Lord’s Big Rec Room, a place where women come to wash dishes while men recover, cookies in hand, from the taxing effort of washing away sin,

all promise of cleansing night air was fouled.

Ahead of me on the stairs from the basement up to the narthex was a woman in her mid-sixties. Just as her posterior reached the height of my face, a loud “BLURP” emitted from her undercroft.

My first reaction was, “Did I just make a new enema buddy?”

My second reaction was, “Is it possible she just burped loudly, and I only thought she tooted with a vigor that has it still echoing all the way down at the transept?”

My third reaction was, “I duz believz ma brainz cain’t think no mo for becuz itz clouded by fuuuummmmes.”

Oh, yea, Bubbles had ripped one, right there in the narthex. Speaking of traumatic church memories.

To her credit, Bubbles laughed and said, “Oopsie! Sorry about that. These days that happens about once an hour.”

My first reaction was, “Only once an hour? You’re an object of delicacy and grace compared to me, Bubbles.”

My second reaction was, “Then again, I don’t provide evidence of my lack of delicacy and grace right in public and in people’s faces. Remember how I didn’t go take off all my clothes for the naked weigh-in? I also don’t poot big wafts of gas into the midst of strangers, either. I might be more of a tooter than you, Bubbles, but at least I have some control.”

My third reaction relaxed and conceded,”Well, yea, we’re all human, and I’m guessing the black beans and quinoa you’ve been eating under the Simply Filling PointsPlus plan are having their natural effect. The guts will do what the guts gots to do.”

By the time we reached the parking lot, Bubbles and her companion were comparing notes on local skiing conditions, mourning the lack of opportunities this snowless year. Agreeing to head home and check the website that gives reports and reviews of ski trails around the region, the ladies bid each other good night and hopped into their cars.

My first reaction was, “Those ladies know about skinnyski.com?”

My second reaction was, “Of course they do. The great thing about cross-country skiing is that it burns off more calories than anything, and it can be done by people of all ages, all throughout their lives.”

My third reaction was, “And what a blessing it will be for all of us to have Bubbles out skiing amongst the birches, sliding her body and tooting loudly, well away from strangers’ faces.”

My final reaction that night, as I sat in my car and stuck a piece of sugarless gum into my hungry maw,

was that maybe it’s fine–just fine–that I’ve got a bit more to go on the weight loss. I’m not sure I’m ready to bid adieu to MEB and Bubbles and the group leader who punctuates her most vehement statements with a clap of the hands and the words “Holy smashes!”

Every time I go see them all, it’s like My Crazy has found a new home.

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Delights

Usually, February is a dreary month, one that lasts for about nineteen years. I often find myself counting the minutes during the doldrums of February. Not this year. The days are flying by. I’m having a really, really good time, largely because:

1) Paco has decided he loves the Billy Joel song “Piano Man.” While that song has always rated moderately high on my cheeseball scale, I am now playing it for the lad on the piano fairly frequently–and in the process, I’m realizing what a great song it is. Paco even had to sit down next to me the other day on the piano bench and sing along. What’s more, Byron showed Paco videos of Billy Joel singing it in the 1970s and then singing it more recently. Time has not been kind to Mr. Joel’s voice. Between listening to Joel’s gravely choke and watching the charming Adele belt away in her triumphant post-polyp removal return to the stage, I am left missing my father, the opera singer, tremendously. My formative years were filled with his admonitions to voices on the radio that if they didn’t learn to sing right, they’d get nodes on the their vocal chords and lose their voices all together. He passed away nine years ago this month, but Dad is still right. He may be dead, but he wins.

So, anyhow, I’m playing a lot of “Piano Man,” occasionally leading a sing-along, and just loving that the third grader can usually be found making his Beyblades battle while humming that hit from the ’70s under his breath. A few days ago, when a few folks were in the kitchen, engaged in chat, they had to stop for a moment and listen to what was going on at the piano. Paco, fresh off his third-ever piano lesson, was figuring out the first few measures of “Piano Man” for himself.

It’s become a household phenomenon, this song. Now Girl is playing it on her clarinet. However, Byron took her aside and firmly forbade any more of that nonsense, telling her the song is called “Piano Man,” so she, a girl on a clarinet, violates its essence and intent every time she plays it. She will be grounded and cut off from allowance if she ever attempts playing it again.

2) We had a house full of visitors this last weekend; my cousins stayed with us when the extended family converged to celebrate my aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary. On Sunday morning, the seventeen-year-old cousin who’d slept in the living room on the chaise longue came to her parents and Byron, bright-eyed and grinning. “You have to hear this!” she exclaimed. Turns out she’d been eavesdropping on Paco and his nine-year-old cousin, E, as they streamed some robot-based show off Netflix and engaged in the intersecting monologues that constitute boy talk, and this is what she overheard:

Paco: “I’ve already seen this episode since I’ve been watching this show for a long time, like, for ten thousand years.”

E-Cousin: “You weren’t even alive ten thousand years ago.”

Paco: “It’s hyperbole, E-Cousin. Hyperbole.”

3) Although Byron and I vowed to protest Valentine’s Day by going on love strike for the day, he did delight me when he left me a drawing on the kitchen counter. See, the day before, one of my Facebook friends in Turkey had posted a picture that enchanted me. Seems restorers of the Sehzadebasi Mosque in Istanbul were having some difficulties until they discovered a letter that Sinan the Architect had left buried in one of the walls explaining how he created the mosque.

Immediately upon seeing the picture, I asserted that I want to find a copy of it, bigger, and print and frame it. However, there doesn’t seem to be a larger copy available online. Dang.

Byron assuaged my disappointment by leaving me this on the kitchen counter:

Turns out remodelers at the neighborhood hardware store coincidentally found design plans in the wall just behind pipe wrenches.

—————————————————-

There you go. From “Piano Man” to hyperbole to lost architectural plans, I’m having a great February…although, admittedly, counting down the days until we can start some seeds out on the back porch and ready ourselves for gardening season.

In the interim, I’m going to work on mastering “We Didn’t Start the Fire” on piano. I might be able to cruise through March if Paco spends it singing

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray,

South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio,

Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television

North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe,

Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom

Brando, ‘The King and I’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’

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I Thought That I Should Never See/Poems So Stuffed With The Kiwi

The teacher thanked us all for coming, ending her welcoming speech with, “And I’ve told all the kids that the parents are here to enjoy their poetry, not to judge their poetry.”

“Aw, come on,” whispered the hipster rock star dad sitting behind me (no, really, he is a rock star; his band is opening for Death Cab for Cutie on tour this spring). His barely-audible joke made me stifle a snort, for I am ever a fan of those who enjoy with judgment.

As each middle schooler took a turn hopping up on the Reading Chair at the front of the room, snorts were stifled while judgment flowed freely, particularly when a boy sporting an unruly mop of hair hopped into the reader’s chair and began, “My brother likes to eat beaver…”

Had Rock Star Dad emitted an under-the-breath hiss at that point, concurring “So do I,” my day would have been perfect.

Despite being nervous, the language arts class of sixth grade poets comported themselves well, and while there were many predictable poems about snow, friends, and trees, there were equally many that contained flashes of surprise. Strangely, at least three poems referenced kiwi–making me think the teacher had tossed out a random example of that green fruit as something original or attention-getting in a sea of rhyming couplets about kitties and bicycles. Perhaps it is in seventh grade that students realize they can’t all grab the teacher’s example for their own poems and still call it “fresh.”

There were quatrains, free verse, haiku, limericks. There were several poems that leaned startlingly heavily on Jersey Shore references (I did find a place in my heart for one Star-Wars-leaning lad’s “From Wookie to Snooki,” however); there was a standout piece called “My Grandmother’s Fridge” that lamented, “Filthy/Stinky/A blight on mankind.” Well able to respect the guts it takes for a gangly, red-cheeked kid to get up in front of 40 parents and peers, I applied my clapping hands liberally.

Because so many of the kids read with soft voices–and because several wild siblings in attendance were using the occasion to hone their toddler versions of “Nessun Dorma”–I often couldn’t hear the poems. What’s a judging, snorting mom to do? I had to turn my attention to the humanity in the room.

Middle schoolers are fascinating creatures–so accomplished yet on the cusp of something; so complete yet unfinished; so smart but idiotic; their confidence wadded inside a tangle of insecurities. Any time I see pre-adolescent kids, I want to walk up to them and whisper, in a quick moment of assurance, “You are wondrous already. But still, it will only get better, so keep at it, Toots. There’s so much fun ahead of you, and only small bits of it will involve kiwis and Jersey Shore.”

Most heartening to me, as I scanned the mass of sixth graders, was the fact that my own child’s personal hygiene wasn’t the most execrable in the room; sometimes Girl comes out of the shower, lets her hair dry, and I’m left staring at the resulting ‘clean’ and thinking “Did she forget to use shampoo?”. Until we got to this stage as parents, I had forgotten what an unkempt lot twelve-year-olds can be. Too old to submit to parental ministrations, youngsters in this developmental stage of life are still figuring out how to apply soap to all the nooks and crannies of their bodies, still resisting the amount of scrubbing their oil-secreting hormones demand.

Fortunately, when Girl’s name was called, and she stood up, Byron and I had a quick moment of registering, “Why, she actually looks quite tidy. You know, relatively speaking. Seriously, Kids of Room A308, y’all might take a note here of what brushed hair looks like! And the part where she’s wearing a cardigan over her uniform polo? Yea, try that one out sometime, O Ye Ruffian Poets!”

Her poems were on par for, em, grade level. Because she stuck to the poems her teacher had circled as performance-worthy, Girl actually didn’t read my favorite:

“Clementine”

Yummy, orange, juicy, squishy, fruit
It is full of flavor and taste
Orange fruit is great, don’t throw down chute
It would hurt it to go to waste

Better, indeed (‘tho less my favorite), was the poem her teacher had circled:

“The Sky”

When I look up, I see clouds, and sky
There is so much life up there, and peace
This place is way up there, up so high
In my heart it holds a piece, small piece

Just as I was mulling over the idea of holding a piece of peace and gloating that my kid didn’t look like she’d been flattened and then fluffed by a peloton of inline skaters on her way to school that day,

the daughter of the rock stars walked up front. For five years now, I’ve delighted in the disheveled appearance of Rock Star Daughter. She delivered disheveled even in first grade, when the rest of the kids were still full of “My mommy braided my hair this morning and zipped me into these corduroy slacks.” Rock Star Daughter, from the start of her public appearances, has presented as recently rolled out of bed, somehow achieving quirky charm through bird’s nest hair and unwiped eye crust.

It was with great anticipation, then, that I regarded her back as she walked up to the Reading Chair. I mean, if she’d mastered a “I Refuse to Brush Anything” look so early on in life, I could only imagine what new levels she’d bumped it to in middle school. Would there be radishes growing out of her cheeks because one time someone pelted her with seeds, and then the stuff found purchase ‘neath the grit? Would she have dreads? Would she have teeth?

Plopping onto the Reader’s Chair, Rock Star Daughter lifted her head, looked at the audience, and announced her poem.

I didn’t hear what she read. I was too busy composing my own verse:

“Rock Star Daughter”

Despite Mom and Dad’s touring

You look wonderfully boring

Hair smooth in ponytail

Red glasses sharp and porcelain face pale

You no longer look like you’ve just been snoring

Rock Star Daughter was a veritable librarian: neat, clean, ready to discourse on Dewey.

Amazingly, even though her appearance was traitor to everything they stand for, Rock Star Daughter’s parents applauded enthusiastically at the end of her poem. So proud was Rock Star Dad that he pulled out his Bic lighter and, flicking it with a flourish, waved the tiny flame high: the apex of fatherly benediction.

Sadly, the flame–sensing a trough of ready fuel nearby–snatched at opportunity and leapt onto the greasy hair of a sixth grader one row over.

As flames danced on poor Nathan’s head, and the automatic sprinkler system kicked in, dousing many kids’ noggins for the first time in weeks, I rued the lack of Pantene in my purse; properly armed, I could have dabbed at follicles left and right before rinsing and repeating. Woefully Pantene-free, though, I merely grabbed my bag and dashed for the door,

composing one final couplet on my way to the parking lot. It elucidates my lesson of the day:

“Snarls and Gunk

Setting a middle schooler’s hair on fire

is the best way to cleanse it of muck and mire.

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