Jul 30, 2008

American Poor

You know that moment when you realize that you have exactly $100 left in your bank account, you have no health care, you have no savings, you're a month behind all your bills, you're thousands of dollars in debt to your credit cards, and your weariness is a thousand layers thick?


What can you say to someone who has arrived at this moment? I don't know. I really don't know. The best advice I can give to you, (who may encounter such a person), is that there are some things better left unsaid. Such as:

  • At least you don't have terminal cancer and six kids and no partner or teeth.

  • Well thank goodness you've stored up all that fat because you could live off of that for quite some time.

  • At least you have each other.

  • But aren't you glad you're not pregnant. (duh)

  • Isn't it wonderful how adversity can show us our strengths and make us shine like sweet little monkeys?

  • I would like to introduce you to my friend...Jesus Christ...

  • At least you aren't dead. (not a smart comment to make to a previously suicidal person)

  • Aren't you grateful that a mountain lion has never ripped your face off your head?

  • What are you complaining about?

  • You're not poor until you're "Angela's Ashes" poor.

  • Can't you just sell some more stuff? (SMACK GOES YOUR HEAD!)

  • Maybe you wouldn't be so poor if you had faith in our creator just a teensy bit more. (yeah, because religious people are NEVER poor)

  • Your life is like a beautiful film in which a family has to almost die before they get rescued by a rich uncle.

  • Don't complain until you have only five dollars left.

  • Wanna go shopping for shoes?

  • Money can't make you happy anyway.

  • I will eat all your frogs and then you'll see what it's really like to be bummed out!

Aha, I have hit upon a pleasantry that just might not piss me someone off who finds themselves at this moment in their lives that many of us have been in at some point in time or will be in eventually:

Random helpful commiserating commenter:

It's a little like having the hounds of hell nipping at your heels one thousand four hundred and forty minutes of every day, isn't it?

Person in bad situation:
Why, yes it is. It's exactly like that.

Random helpful commiserating commenter:
In fact, it's a lot like dying of exsanguination all alone in a field of itchy tall grasses full of ticks, wouldn't you say?

Person in bad situation:
You hit it right on the head with that one. But don't you think it's also a little like when you stub your toe and then it turns green and falls off and you realize that you can't become a foot model?
The Monastery Garden
Day 3: friends do hard labor

Getting down: A lot of the work of making a raised bed has to be done close to the ground. It may not look like it but this gravel is so sharp it's a punishment to sit on or make any skin contact with. You can't tell from my foot's stoic appearance but my whole leg is crying out for help. Is it fitting that to make a monastery style garden I must experience some pain? Will I be more sharply spiritually focused when I'm done?

Making friends work hard: Lisa B is using a circular saw for the first time. It's liberating to be able to saw wood down to size without someone else's help. Lisa also helped to screw some boards together and then she shoveled a shit-load of soil into my raised beds. I'm planning to do the same for her this week-end.

Taking Shape: It doesn't take long for the beds to start looking just like I drew them on the graph paper. This whole garden has strong western exposure so I'm also starting to fear that it's going to be a stupid spot for anything to grow in. However, it also gets late morning sun from the south and it should grow lots of things well. A person's got to try. Otherwise a spot like this can easily become a machine grease-heap or a place to lay down and die when Jeb Bush runs for president.

Filling it up: There are still four raised bed sections to build but the center piece is done! It's ready to plant. One thing I love about raised beds is they impose order on a garden. Even if you let the weeds flourish there is always an underlying order that is tamable. I find it much easier to plan crop rotations and seasonal plantings when I'm working with raised beds. I spent my whole evening surrounded by garden books and graph paper working out what will go in my new garden. I am putting an antique apple tree variety in the very center box- "Calville Blanc" which is a French variety from the 1500's that has a high vitamin C content, unusual for apples.

Planting it out: there is no time to lose getting vegetables in here. It is questionable whether or not I can still plant beet seeds and get any beets to mature in time for a winter harvest. The same story with carrots. From all the local information I have access to it seems that if they are planted by this weekend there is a fighting chance. There's plenty of time for greens: chard, kale, lettuce, spinach, and collards are all on my list. There's still time for turnips and kohlrabi. The end of September is the time to plant overwintering vegetables like fava beans and peas and alliums.

Someone asked what a "monastery garden" is. That is an excellent question because it really doesn't seem any different from a kitchen garden or potager. Monastery gardens of the medieval period (my inspiration) were planned and planted so that the monks who tended them could be self sufficient. They not only needed to be able to feed themselves they also needed to be able to medicate themselves and the communities that they served. So a monastery garden would include medicinal herbs which most kitchen gardens/potagers don't. Another feature quite common with monastery gardens is that they were planted within a protected enclosure such as one with stone walls.

When I imagine the ultimate garden I don't just imagine one that sustains myself and my family. I don't even just think of one that can heal our skin and provide tonics for our livers. What I think of is a place of both beauty and abundance. I think of a place that is quiet and peaceful where you can hear the insects sipping at summer nectar and listen to the plants stretching their roots when the cool water wicks down to the center of the soil. I think of a place that offers room for spiritual contemplation while performing routine tasks; like a church of earth.

The plan of a garden can lend itself to this sort of prayerful contemplation. The layout and the shapes employed can lead the mind into positive channels...or not. I think the formality and order of raised beds arranged in a thoughtful formation clear the mind of clutter and allow the gardener to walk the prescribed pathways as though in meditation while attending to the needs of the garden. Having a central focus creates a bed to walk around. Having a central bed from which the other beds radiate guides you to the center; it invites you to seek the middle.

So the only real difference between a kitchen garden/potager and a monastery style garden is the inclusion of medicinal herbs and its situation in an enclosure.

Jul 29, 2008

The Monastery Garden
Day Two: the building begins

The pieces: I used my trusty circular saw to cut most of the pieces I need for the center of my garden which is where I wanted to start. You can really start anywhere but I like starting at the center and working outward because it feels like a meditative flow. I wanted to finish cutting all of the pieces needed but I had a little problem with my circular saw cord getting cut up. Apparently this is a problem my saw has in general because it was given to me with a bandage of tape on the exact same spot that it got mangled yesterday.

I don't know where to get it fixed but I will. In the meantime I'm going to have to borrow someone else's saw. I know a lot of people with power tools but most of them have burlier tools than mine and I'm concerned that I won't be able to use one that is more complex than my simple little number.

Beginning Construction: building the beds is actually quite simple. I don't dig my posts into the ground. It is unnecessary since the boxes can't be shifted by anyone but the Incredible Hulk once they've been filled with dirt. The posts serve as a sturdy connector for all four sides of the beds. You don't actually have to use posts to build beds but it helps stabilize them and gives you a really great surface in which to sink a ton of screws to help prevent your boards from warping.

Helpful Hint: 2x12x12 planks of wood are really 2x11.5x12. Yep, they are no longer truly 12" tall which you need to account for when cutting your posts if you want everything flush. I constantly forget about this because I stubbornly think that if a label says 2x12x12 it should actually measure that.

Progress: it's beginning to look like something interesting. I have a lot left to do. Unfortunately it's raining* so I may not get to work on it right now. The blessing in the rain is that I also need to do some cooking and clean my house. This may be the universe giving me a nudge.

*It's a rare moment when I wish it wasn't raining. I love rain. Especially after lots of warm summer days. It smells so good outside right now! But after working on this building project under the skin-burning rays of the sun yesterday I was hoping for a cool overcast day without rain to work in...ah well.

Jul 28, 2008

The Monastery Garden

The plans: I have finally mapped out plans for a monastery garden in my new yard. The yard is big but a lot of it wraps around the house and is long and too narrow to really lend itself neatly to a symmetrical design. You can't force design to fit spaces it doesn't belong in. There is one spot in the yard that is perfect for this style of garden. It gets tons of light, is empty aside from weeds and if I don't put something in it will attract things like broken down rusty buses.

I measured the space and using graph paper I planned raised beds to scale. !! Yes, to scale.* I planned the design to have a focal point in the center- a dwarf fruit tree. Because the soil sucks in this spot I decided to make a 2' raised bed for the tree. This will also give the beds a more formal appearance with the inner beds being taller than the outer beds.

The location: the gravel pit. You can't walk on this ground without making your feet bleed which is unfortunate. But for the purpose to which I'm going to put it, gravel is a good weed suppressant. It can eventually be replaced with pea-gravel or crushed granite* I personally like to be able to walk barefoot in my garden. Wouldn't slate pathways be gorgeous, with creeping thyme growing in the cracks? This is the official before picture.

The materials: all told this project will cost a few hundred dollars. We don't have cash for it so it's a credit transaction. Not our favorite way to finance anything but if we don't get this established now we will regret it. We got the wood yesterday. I have all week to work on this. I have an interview this morning and then I'm free. Provided my back doesn't go out on me (I will stretch!) and it doesn't get overly hot, and I can muster up the energy to work on it...(that's a lot of "ifs") I hope to have this space built and filled by this coming week-end. I want it planted with winter vegetables.

Work in progress: we always have works in progress. This is our pile of dirt. We have access to some more topsoil for free. I don't know if it will be enough but if not we will buy what we need to. Our poor neighbors always have to see our piles and our messes and these new neighbors don't know yet that we really do eventually make good with a pretty yard. Never a tidy yard, but it will be quite pretty in a couple of years. We certainly do take our time.

Alright, I'm off!

*I know, I'm impressed with me too.
**Yeah. In my dreams. Apparently we can't get it here. Dang it!

Jul 27, 2008

It Takes a Bee to See a Flower

Sometimes you can't see what's right in front of you until someone else sees it first. I'm not sure I would have noticed these amazing spiky purple globes if they hadn't been swarming with bees. I noticed the heavy bee activity and then saw these incredible perennial flowers whose name I don't yet know. This is my friend Lisa E's garden and she's going to search for the tag and tell me who this enchantress is.

I am going to have to plant enough of them to be able to pick some for arrangements yet still leave plenty for the fauna of the garden to sip at. How I want my garden to shape up is beginning to be clear. It takes time in a new garden to learn how it should unfold. You can't force ideas onto a space, you have to try out ideas based on what you have. Garden spaces, the light they get, the soil they already have, their orientation to the house, and what you need from them will ultimately reveal what your options are.

This is another flower that has grabbed my attention in Lisa's garden. She told me what it is and I will need to look it up. It cast a spell over me and now I can't imagine having a garden without it. I must find some to add to mine.

This is Lisa's vegetable garden. She has the magic touch. Everything she plants here becomes lush and fruitful. She doesn't know if she agrees with me because she has in her mind the things she's tried to grow that haven't done as well as hoped. All gardeners have those things in their heads but what I see is a dense planting of beets and carrots that, while they could have used a thinning, are bulbing up very well and I can attest that they taste superb.

She made a dinner whose produce came almost entirely from her own garden. That is such a wonderful achievement. She made a salad of greens with beets (and pine nuts and feta), polenta with sauteed beet greens, and a spicy zucchini soup. My favorite was the beet salad but the polenta was amazing too because beet greens are so tender and melt in your mouth.

These are her girls.

I spent yesterday planning my garden spaces. I want to figure out what I'm going to do with some of them now. I want to get my winter garden planted. I missed a lot of summer planting because of our move and then my trip to Scotland.

I saw that one of my local nurseries had a couple of the fruit trees I want to get and I would love to get them settled in now instead of waiting until next winter. So I might do that. Before planting trees you really need to have a solid idea of how all your garden spaces will work together and where the light is coming from. I think I've got that down now.

Today I have to work on my canning talk but this week is largely free for garden work. I hope I can muster up the physical energy it will take to do it and I also hope it isn't hot as hades. I don't have a lot of money to work with but as I mentioned yesterday I already have a lot of dirt, some wood, and lots of seeds. That's quite a bit to work with!

What is everyone else doing in their gardens right now? Is anyone else planning a winter garden?

Jul 26, 2008

Garden Planning Starts Now

First of all, for anyone who is planning to have a winter garden, now is the time to get the seeds in the ground. Yes, right now. Plant: kale, spinach, chard, beets, potatoes, carrots, brassicas, and turnips. You need to get the plants well established before the cold season returns.

Secondly, now is the perfect time to plan out what bare root plants you will want to establish this coming winter. Why now? Because you can see where the hottest spots are in your garden, you can see which spots really need filling in. If you know you are going to be buying a bare root fruit tree you can make sure that the spot is prepared now, while the ground isn't soggy. It will make your winter plantings much easier.

I have wood, a lot of dirt, and plenty of space...it's time to build a few more beds and get my winter seeds in the dirt. Why haven't I done it already? Good question. Very valid question indeed. The job hunt and financial stress we've been under has caused a lot of mind muddle which prevents me from doing anything useful at all. Then I went and (with very good intentions) read a book that ground me down for a full three days (all of last weekend). I have once again learned my lesson in triplicate: read only books that will not rip away my fragile shell of denial.

So here we are again. Not feeling bad at all. Excited by the fortune that has given me an interview in the one place I've secretly been wanting to work my whole life. A place I would have studied to work if I wasn't already on a different path by the time I realized it was a career option. This interview may not result in a job, but I am never the less grateful for the opportunity to try for it. I am buoyed by this sweet brush of luck.

The only real mar on my ability to achieve total kick ass results in the garden right now is my need to work on the talk that Nicole and I are giving at the library on food preserving. I'm pretty excited about it. Sharing my passions with others is something I constantly do whether or not anyone wants me to. Public speaking, though, is one of those things I tend to view as an enemy TO MY LIFE. Yes, I shake, I quiver, I sweat, my mind delivers complete emptiness, the palpitations start, and before you know I am passed out on the floor.

OK, I've never actually passed out from speaking to groups. I've only passed out from severe panic attacks or seeing so much blood come out of my son's nose that I'm sure we could float away on his river of blood.

I will keep reminding myself that the purpose of the talk is to get other people excited about doing some food preserving. The more people who preserve their own food the more people I'll get to geek out with over it.

Back to garden planning: I am thinking about what fruit trees to plant. There is a lot of thought that has to go into this. It's not simple. For one thing I have to narrow my choices down to those that do well in my climate. We have some serious issues to consider here when choosing apples- apple scab is a big problem. Another one is leaf curl which plagues stone fruits such as peaches and plums. Cherries are prone to cracking here where it rains so much in the spring. Then there's the question of what you actually want to eat and how you will process the excess. If you plant a fruit tree there will eventually be excess. Maybe not for several years, but if the tree lives and is relatively healthy it will give you fruit.

You also have to consider pollinators. Not all fruit trees require a pollinator but many of them do. Sour cherries don't need any company in the orchard to give you fruit. Many peaches are self fertile as well, though not all of them.

I have a large city lot with no established trees on it so I can plant a couple of trees that I can allow to grow large. What kind of fruit do I most want to be able to pick from my own garden and not have to buy at all in a few years? Oh, that's such a problem because my answer is: I want it all!!!! The OSU extension service has some very good publications about fruit trees for the Willamette Valley. For those who don't live here in my area, be sure to check your own extension office. Most counties have one or there may be one in the next county over from you. They are a great resource for local gardening and pest information. Plus, most of their information is free.

I want a peach tree. I would really like two of them so I have enough to can a lot against the winter. Peaches are often over two dollars a pound at the farmer's market. You can get them much more cheaply at big grocery stores but often they aren't reliably good. I can get good peaches from the u-pick operations in my area but I may not be able to depend on them over time. Their prices will surely (of necessity) rise, and they may not exist in a few more years. I love canned peaches even more than canned pears. Fresh peaches are certainly one of summer's most precious gifts. It is difficult to choose them. So far the only one I'm certain I want is "Suncrest" which may not be easy to find. Honestly, one tree just might be enough.

Sweet cherries. Although my friends Ericka and Jim have a delicious yellow cherry tree in their yard (they don't know what kind it is) I don't generally prefer the yellow ones. So I want "Bing" cherries. Unfortunately "Bing" cherries are especially prone to cracking here in my area. So I need to choose a variety that does well here but is like a "Bing". I have narrowed it down to three choices: "Lambert", "Stella", or "Lapin". If anyone has personal tasting or growing experience with these, would you please step up the the mike and tell me what you think?

Sour Cherries: for me it will have to be "Morello". I know the general vote goes to "Montmorency" but I'm going to have to stick with "Morellos" which have a deeper red color and redder flesh. "Morello" is a favorite old English variety. It is a naturally dwarfing tree.

My mother has just arrived so I will continue this post later.

Jul 24, 2008


The first thing I would like to do this evening is send PKM the hugest unlecherous hug from me for drawing my name for her fabric gift certificate! I could not have been more surprised or pleased! So many delicious treasures have made their way to me from Pam. Pam is like the best tree ripened sweet red summer cherries that come to you with the morning dew still on them and just when you think you can't stand so much sweetness she blurts out something tangy-fresh like "Fuck them all!!!".

I heard today that one of my favorite bloggers is going to take a little break from blogging for the rest of the summer. Then I read another blog I love and heard grumblings about blogging and how perhaps she'll drift away from it too. I have seen other blogs I love shut down and I am beginning to think that perhaps this is part of an occupational condition. Blog Fatigue. Do you feel it? Are you about to let your blog fade away? Some common complaints about the blogging world right now is how commercial it's gotten. Ads everywhere and everyone selling something. There's also the same dynamics present socially that plagued some of us in grade school: the popular girls club and how we'll never belong to it...who wants to relive that?

I admit that I feel a little betrayed every time a favorite blog rolls up and blows away. I invest something of myself into my favorite ones and so when they fade into obscurity it's like a part of me is gone with it. Was it me? Am I the reason blogs are disappearing? Did I look too long or ask too many personal questions? At the same time I understand. I really do.

I posted my 7ooth post today. I have been blogging just over two years. What have I gotten from the experience? Well, I certainly didn't make much money in spite of my ads. I haven't managed to keep myself at home. Nor have I become famous and beloved by all. I am not sought after, courted, included in the inner circles of the elite, and I still post way more often than is considered cool. Still, what I've gotten from blogging is something I can't get from my real life community alone. I love my friends in "real life" but they can't give me all that I need. Having this blog has allowed me to connect with people who share a lot of specific things in common with me. It makes it easy to find the people you share a spirit with.

I have, for twenty eight years (with very few breaks), written every day. In secret journals. In serious notebooks. On my old cranky typewriter. On soup labels and on stationary. And on my computer. I write. Beneath all else in life that I do (and I do a lot!) I am first of all a writer. Maybe I'm a shitty one, maybe I'm obscure, scary, funny, bland, erratic...you can describe me in any way you think fits but it won't change the fact that writing is what I do nearly every single day of my life. Keeping a public blog has forced my writing to improve. So if you think my writing here is shitty, you should see what it was like two years ago!!! Writing publicly has given me guidance and consistency.

Writing here allows me to say what I need to and know that there's a good chance that someone else out there who happens to read my blog needs to feel less alone with themselves too. Writing here has given me the gift of finding kindred spirits and also the chance to support others in their hour(s) of need. Some of us have secret selves that cause us pain and vast loneliness. We can't sit down with our family and friends casually and say (by way of dinner conversation) something like "I thought about how nice it would be to be dead today. Wow, it's been a long time since I had that thought. Would you pass the salt please?"

Support. Laughter. Inspiration. These are things I have gotten from this strange place called the "blogosphere".

I can see how it can get overwhelming. There are a lot of voices out there. When you're plugged into the computer you will hear a lot more of them than when you aren't. Perhaps we'll all get to a point where we need to disconnect and drift away with the growing hunger for silence. Take it. I am sad when a blogger I love drifts off but if I have learned anything it's that this is a place of support and so I support the drift. Besides, I've noticed that blogs often spring back to life like favorite dead characters on soap operas. It only took Luke and Laura, like, ten years to come back from the dead, right?

I have started to put my very very dark content into a private online journal because I really don't think any of you are prepared for that content. Believe it or not I have censored myself quite a bit and it has started to really leak into my work here. There's a time and a place for everything. This mental journey of mine is raw, frightening, pervasive, and in need of airing but not now. Not here. I cannot share it with people who don't understand that journey. I have to protect myself.

That doesn't mean there won't be any dark content here or philosophical crap, it just won't be the really tough stuff. I would like to focus now on more of the light. The food. The garden. And the crafts. The things so many people visited Dustpan Alley for in the first place. If I do well in my upcoming interview and find myself fully employed I will be entering a new chapter.

It's been three years since we've had any kind of financial stability. Three years of constant financial tension. If I am fully employed (particularly with jobs that I can look forward to every day) then I just might be able to put polka dots in the windows again. I just might be free enough to breath again.

Free enough to not give a shit if my blog makes a single penny. Free enough to not care if the popular girls spit on my locker or not. I cursed the coffee drinks I served them when I worked in cafes. I just might be free enough to play for playing's sake.

For the record I would like to say that I am not one of those people who is bothered by people making money from their blogs. Writers of newspaper columns make a living and that living is made by the ads and subscriptions their publication gets. What's the difference? If the writing is good I see no reason why the writer shouldn't get paid to write. Writing well is work. It takes skill, talent, and time.

This is my blog. Like a second home. A sanctuary. A sounding board.

I can't pretend I don't care if you're here. I do care. I prefer your company. I need to hear from other people. Your voices have comforted, supported, laughed with me, (uh, and at me, but I won't hold it against you), and made me laugh too. Your voices have been shining something beautiful and I feel more full when you speak up for yourselves and are heard. You've made me better than I was before.

So I will strive to improve still more. For whoever is left standing at the end of this Blog-A-pocalypse.

Kids In The Woods

One of the things I love about kids is that they don't pretend to be shocked by things. A group of kids finds a dead bird in the woods and it's a curiosity to them. They would like to touch it and talk about it. They find death fascinating and fly into action when we (the parents) suggest that the proper and kind thing to do would be to bury the poor dead bird. Sophie shrieks "I know where the shovel is and I will save the day!" and flies off to get the shovel.

The digging is rough going and Sam investigates Sophie's progress with a stoic eye. Watching the kids is like reading a surreal Carson McCullers book about some cobwebby town filled exclusively with crippled dwarfs. Except not depressing.

Sophie gets about an inch dug up when Ben and his brother Finn decide to help out. Digging graves is pretty entertaining, as it turns out. They manage to get a dubiously shallow grave dug and put the bird in it and cover it with loose dry soil. Immediately they start playing and forget the bird. They run across the grave dislodging their handy work and must be reminded not to unearth the dead thing. I suggest they put a big rock on the spot so they'll remember where it is. A smallish rock is placed on top.

The kids have put death to rest by donning a gravediggers shoes. The moment for them is ephemeral, just another interesting but soon forgotten activity in their day. They may mention it later while taking their evening bath, or dredge it up to impress people later on, but mostly they just took it in stride.

Quite a lot of adults believe that young kids just don't get death. That they don't really understand the gravity of it. The seriousness and finality of it. Maybe not all kids do, but I believe that most of them get it pretty well the first time they see a bug die; that the bug is not going to become reanimated. I think that as we grow up we learn to not handle death well from other adults. We are not supposed to take it in stride because it is the single worst thing that can happen to being. Right? I happen to disagree but that is neither here nor there. I just love how kids can process information and experiences of living and dying with complete sangfroid.

Obviously there are all kinds of things that can happen to kids to frighten them and scar them emotionally. They aren't indestructible. They need care and love and a certain amount of protection. But as long as they have a healthy home and caring parents it's amazing how resilient they can be.

Jul 23, 2008

Sweet Denial

I have a flood of things to say but nowhere to say them and no one to say them to. I keep writing posts and having to delete them because censorship forbids me to print straight from my head. Truths and revelations keep leaking onto the "pages" like fat ink being wicked into wet paper; feathering out until all the paper is covered in dark eerie cross-hatched lines. Although denial has been largely discredited as a positive method of dealing with anything, I think that sometimes denial is the ONLY way to deal with impossible circumstances. I was brought out of denial briefly over this past few days and it was excessively icky. So I'm going to carefully rebuild a protective shell of denial around myself and also not read anything serious.

This is one of my favorite discoveries at Dave and Doe's house. So creepy and so cool I am full of envy that I never think of things like this! Philip does which is probably why he is such good friends with Dave. Talk about a creative re-use of something that would otherwise be in a landfill or in a hoarder's house!

My dog's sister Lulu is the sweetest girl and so cute! One of the biggest transformations I've personally experienced is going from being frightened of dogs for twenty five years and then learning to appreciate and even like dogs, to becoming a person who understands what it feels like to love a dog. I get it now, I really do! Dogs are very cool animals. I can no longer imagine life without them.

Succulents are another thing I used to disregard and even, to some degree, dislike. Why? I see it now! Succulents have been grabbing my attention lately and I find myself getting tangled up in their enchantment. They have secret lives, I'm quite sure.

I love this little succulent garden and I believe I'm going to have to create my own version of it. I have a sunken container full of hens and chicks and another (as yet) unidentified strange beast of a succulent that both need company.

The best thing that's happened to me in a very long time is that I have an interview for the part time job I covet the most. I get the chance I've been hoping for this coming Monday. Let's just all hope I don't go mess up my chance at this dream job by being a spazzy dork beyond the pale.

Hope you all have a great Wednesday!

Jul 22, 2008

A Tribute To Home Cooking

I don't know what other secrets our friend Sharon has up her sleeve but she is quietly the best sour cherry pie baker in the world. It was sweet enough but not too sweet so that the flavor of the cherries- as intense as fake cherry candy flavor- could be bright and loud. The crust was flaky and tender and had no dairy in it so I don't want to know what she used for fat, but whatever it was made the perfect crust. It was the best pie I have ever eaten. It also happened to be the prettiest.

This pesto gnocchi made by our friend Mark is the only gnocchi I have ever enjoyed. It was a great revelation to me- the dumplings (made from potatoes and flour, usually) were tender and melted in our mouths. The pesto was creamy and rich without being too rich. (One must bear in mind that there is no such thing as "too rich" in my food vocabulary.)

I splurged on cheeses for our pot luck at my friend Chelsea's house. Seriously splurged. I fell for the colors and also for the tiny pert older French woman who was making me try every cheese she had that wasn't goat or sheep and it was amusing to watch her struggle with the fact that I could be such a difficult human being by not liking ALL her cheeses. She did make me taste a nasty olive. Chelsea liked it but I didn't. It was an olive that had little or not salt or vinegar in the curing so it was sweet. I don't eat olives for the sweet. Ick. However, do observe the gorgeousness of this cheese board and note that we ate some of them spread with a small amount of grape musk jam, a pleasant first for both of us.

These blueberry muffins are the best in the entire world. I'm not kidding. Nigella couldn't make them better. Neither could Julia Child. NO ONE MAKES BETTER BLUEBERRY MUFFINS THAN CHELSEA. I will get the recipe for them but we must all be warned that even with the recipe they will not be as good because Chelsea is magic and so is her food. If you eat one of these you will be spoiled for life because afterwards the gluey dense oily things you can buy in bakeries and cafes that call themselves "blueberry muffins" are really just fat blimps that stick in your throat and clog your spirit.

I think it's curious how we have only friends with food obsessions. I don't believe we have a single friend who are indifferent about what goes on their plates. Nearly all of them are excellent cooks or at the very least have one dish they make better than anyone else. We had better food at our friends' tables than we had out. Even when we went to D'Angelos in Mill Valley.

One meal I didn't get a picture of (and wish I had) was the pasta dish made by our friends Sid and Dennis. They made a pasta with sage from their garden that was superb. I am reminded of this because the pasta we had at D'Angelos (a winter squash ravioli with sage and butter sauce) pales in comparison to the pasta Sid and Dennis served which wasn't at all fancy or pretentious and was so good I can still taste it in my mouth now. It achieved, with half the ingredients, a purity and richness of flavor that was (I believe) the intention of the chefs at D'Angelos who ought to be taking lessons from my friends.

If I could open a restaurant (not a dream of mine, by the way) that served only food made from my friends' recipes it would be the best restaurant in the world. It pleases me that so many of the people I love take such great care and have such a passion for making food that goes beyond ordinary expectations. It is a constant inspiration to me in my own kitchen.

Jul 21, 2008

In The Cantina

Otherwise known as Dave and Doe's house where every possible surface has had a rich patina of color and art applied to it. Dave and Doe are both artists and being in their house is like walking into the most vibrant playground of texture and surprises. The most prominent style is a Mexican folk art mixed with comics.

I could sit in their kitchen (referred to as the "cantina") for hours just to bask in the cool religious iconography and skeletons. Hanging out in their house reminded me of the great potential for a home to become a reflection and a joyful funny monument to what makes us most happy. Why play it safe in the one place that is yours? So often we view our home as the place to create "peacefulness" and often we choose colors that are soothing and calm so that our house is a get away from the rest of the world.

But when I'm sitting in Dave and Doe's vibrant kitchen I want to know how come so few of us think of our home as the ultimate playground? Or a place to seek inspiration the kind of inspiration we get from travel and museums? Or why so few of us decorate our homes in a way that offers amusement and thought provoking conversation? Why should we play it safe at home in our decorating? The one place we can do what we want to in.

In my mad scurry to find employment when we returned from our trip I almost forgot my new resolve to start planning the transformation of my personal space into a completely personal space. Not something likely to end up in Sunset magazine but something likely to make me feel alive and energized.

Lord knows we have a tough road ahead of us for both obvious reasons and reasons you don't even want to know about. Life is ever shifting and rearranging itself. My house should be a place not just of peace and rest, because after a certain point that just sounds funereal, but a place of fun and vibrancy, a place to wake up and feel alive in.

Thank you Dave and Doe for the huge nudge in my fat ass- I intend that when we finally drag your bones up here for a visit you will feel equally good in my home as I did in yours.

Jul 20, 2008

Just You And Me Now

You lay there like a salty bride in tulle froth, waiting for your wintry groom to come and take you away. Away from this perch. From this cold beach. From these sharp cold waters. From this smoothing sand. You lay there like a salty bride smelling of almonds and oranges. Milky sweet tangy; catching on thorns. You've gone where I can only watch. And wait. You've gone untouchable. What groom takes a bride he cannot touch with corporeal hands? What groom takes a bride who has no earthly lusts?

Jul 19, 2008

Spirit of Glass

Life is a circle and my spirit is glass as thin as breath.

"I am at one of the tables sitting with my wrists facing up, my hands are passive as I wait for something. Another set of hands, which belong to another girl whose face I don't see, are opening a delicate bottle of scent next to mine on the table. It is a special scent that someone has gone to a lot of trouble to find. The bottle is opaque and somewhere between the color of moonlight in a smoky sky and summery blushed peaches. Maybe it even resembles the skin of an infant. It is the most impossible color I've ever seen and the scent is exactly the same: somewhere between the smell of smoky moonlight and night blossoms with the blush of peaches to keep it from total darkness. It is the smell of me."

Dudes. This was part of my dream last night and I actually never wanted to wake up again. Not out of a disdain for living, which I love, but because the dream was so rich, amazing, and better than life. My dreams, as I have said before, are rarely good. I am a person who is plagued by very bad nightmares or at best a whole lot of stupid anxiety dreams about missing classes. But this one was like something unfinished, something freeing, something important and it makes me wonder if most of my healing has been done during the rare nights when I dream like this: dream better safer things than I have lived.

Serious Subject Ahead

I went to the library today. I am going to try to power through my impossible four year stretch of difficulty reading a book without losing focus, feeling itchy, and needing the constant comfort of watching gross medical shows in order to calm myself enough to face every single next day of my life. I used to read a book almost every two days. Until I quit smoking a few years ago. I have not been the same since. Healthier, yes. And no. My mental illness has also reached a point over the last few years that it is hard to take a chance on new books. New stories. I have to manage my moods to such a degree that a book which creeps me out or depresses me could knock my mood down for days.

And that's WITH medication.

So, for example, no Carson McCullers for me. Ever again.

It's very hard for many people to understand but I need to know ahead of time (as much as possible) how any event or "entertainment" is going to impact my head and my capacity to deal with the aftermath. Surprises impact not just me but also my kid and my husband. I have to do risk management equations on myself all day long just so other people can see me as pretty much "normal". It's a lot of work.

I checked out two Mary Stewart novels (not from her Merlin series but from her mystery/suspense series she wrote mostly in the nineteen fifties) which I have already read (but not for a very long time) and adore because the suspense is page turning but I know how they end and I always want to be one of her heroines. I also checked out some books from the psychology section. And I'm a little worried. However, I need to reconnect to what's being written these days from inside the mentally ill mind. I need to connect with my kind, hear their stories in order to figure out which stories still need telling.

In particular I am anxious to read the book called "Cutting" by Steven Levenkron. People like me are called "cutters". I don't call myself that. Until I saw an episode of Maury Povich (many many years ago) about "cutters" I didn't know we had a name. I didn't know we were a group. I didn't know there were enough of us to be our own special thing. I am many special things so I suppose it never hurts to add something to the list. I was worried that it ended up on Maury's show before I got whiff of it in some more legitimate forum. I mean, to see the really cheap low down version of something you've been and loathed and feared end up on a really bad talk show is extremely depressing. Maury was a complete ass about it too.

I need to know, finally, what others are saying about me and my kind. I need to know if I am being properly represented. I have tried writing about the subject and read it out loud to friends which I think is a mistake. It has helped to highlight my non-normalcy almost better than any other single action I've taken in my life. Doing it was bad enough, saying it out loud makes me feel like a very sick and battered human being. Feeling that sick and battered triggers a ferocity in me that is not healthy.

So. I checked books out that I need to read. Will I be able to turn off the shows that calm me like giant shots of Thorazine do for others? Will I be able to concentrate without smoking?* Will I discover what words are missing from this world that I need to add to it? Will I find my place? Will I need a lot of time to recover?

All these questions, and more, may never be answered.

Oh yeah, and I ran out of Paxil and I don't have any refills and I neglected to beg for some tide-over pills for the week-end so my head is doing that twinge-y thing I LOVE so much and by tomorrow I should be well into worrying that I'm going to stroke out or that my head has a bomb lodged in it and will explode before Monday.

Ah well. At least then I won't have to worry about getting that second job, huh? Always look for the silver lining.

*No worries. I won't start smoking. I'll just stop reading if it comes to that.

Jul 18, 2008

In My Other Life

I live two lives, one is my waking life, the other is my sleeping life. I cannot tell you how many times this mailbox has featured in my good dreams. I don't actually have very many good dreams but I'd say that about fifty percent of the good ones feature this mailbox. I want to say this very mailbox but I can't because time marches forward with entropy and at some point in the past twenty five years that I have not lived at 360 Scenic Drive, the original mailboxes were replaced.

It used to be the classic metal kind with the round top and it has continued to receive my mail since I abruptly left this address in the summer of eighty five in a dramatic and swift race between my parents to file for divorce first. I come to this mailbox in my good dreams and I have a thousand letters from lost friendships and ghosts of the past. This little spot on earth is one of my biggest happy places even though in my waking life it belongs to someone else.

Maybe most people think of their dreams as being not real. The things we dream about don't really happen to us. Except that they do happen to me because I carry the memories of my dream events around in my head and my body in exactly the same way that I carry the "real" memories.

Last night I was on vacation with a large group of people and we were supposed to go to some fancy event right before packing up to leave so I was putting on makeup but couldn't get it right and then I put some product in my hair that turned out to be tinted brown an dripped down my neck. I tried to fix it and was in a department store with my luggage...trying to find the event while wiping the stuff off of my ears and then found the event which turned out to be ball room dancing in a high school gym and the bleachers were so steep and reached almost to the ceiling and I didn't want to dance and there were so many people not dancing...arranging themselves in the bleachers like fancy dolls at a stale tea party.

I resented having come. Then it wasn't dancing anymore. It was a convention and someone was shoving a microphone into my face asking me to give a talk...blank panic...I tried talking to all the faces turned to me but had nothing to say and slinked off to get on my scooter and ride the two day twenty four hour trip home with my two pieces of luggage uncomfortably arranged on it. I got spotted by some young pimply person who was there specifically to pick my brain. More literally than was comfortable. Guns came out when I demurred and said I had no time. I ran as the whole place went up in the chase with gunfire. Suddenly there were twenty floors to get down to where my scooter was. Luggage all gone.

Can't get down the stairs. Am always two seconds too slow to get away. Classic resistance dream in which I can only move by grabbing things and pulling myself forward. Legs don't work properly or air is holding me in place...anxiety is permeating my dream. Can't move can't move...why doesn't the dream release me so I can get away? I know at this moment that the whole dream is going to continue in this fashion and yet I don't wake myself. It's not bad enough yet. I finally get to my scooter but by this time I know that a very magnetic dangerous person is gathering forces all around me and I will be lucky to get away. The person in question is there in the crowds of people and the crowds know he wants to get to me so they try to be his arms.

At some point I rush past Anthony Hopkins dressed in colorful motorcycle gear and I engage in some on-the-fly conversation in which I am amusing myself and then realize who he is and tell him that we will probably be seeing each other on the road, passing each other, and waving and then tell him that actually he probably won't be waving to me or noticing me because he's so famous and doesn't have to notice anyone and this little interlude has distracted me but the danger is now overwhelming and I say a breezy goodbye.

On my scooter trying to cram what belongings I have left but everything is falling all over the ground and I find out that the magnetic person has hidden one of my boxes of belongings under a table and I dive for it even as a ton of people try to stop me. I know now that I am running so late. Everyone else is going to get there before me. To the other end of our destination.

I got the box crammed on my scooter and put the keys in and the keys wouldn't go in and then the magnetic person is enjoying the spectacle and laughing and telling me how he will be seeing me on the road. Watching and following and how I will never be far and I will always be in his reach. He's playing now, so sure that I will be like molasses. Somehow the scooter starts and I get up a huge mountain and think I'm safe.

But as dreams do, something changes slightly and I'm now staying in the house of one of Max's friend's mom. On this mountain. But that's the only thing that's changed really because I'm still trying to make time on the road to get to a destination on my scooter instead of by plane and this time I'm suppose to be meeting Max at the other destination only I won't be there and I have failed to book him a flight so he won't be wherever we're meeting either. I am still packing. Always trying to finish packing and I'm still being pursued. S has three tigers on her property that she's quite sanguine about. But I know that I won't get past them.

I never get past the big cats in my dreams. I grab a few of Max's things feeling a pang that he will be so neglected and deprived and try cramming it all on my scooter again and try to leave but all the paths lead to where the tigers are and I'm in slow motion all the time. One path narrows and becomes an impossible bridge over water and I fling my vehicle forward by accident but it isn't a scooter it's a toy car. I go back to beg S to get it out for me only she isn't S anymore she's Philip. He gets it out and I'm on my scooter again. He's gone. Like smoke.

S is trying to tell me how to get on the upper road that will be safe from the tigers and get me going in the right direction but I don't understand what she's saying. Over and over I don't understand and I try to get out but I can't because the big cats are circling me like they always do. Finally I take some path right around her house that leads to the next house and it seems OK until suddenly the cats are right there and there's nowhere to go. I'm in the next person's house and they are freaked about the tigers that came with me and are now nostril close. The neighbor calls for S who ambles up a dirt road and calls the tigers who don't come. One swipes at me and I know it's only playing because I'm only hurting a little bit but will be dead soon.

Something distracts the tigers and I get past them to a road. But now I'm hopelessly late and I have no belonging left. And then Max crawls into bed with us and I'm pulled back to my waking life. Still feeling that sluggish pull of slow motion dreams that freak me out so much. Still feeling the magnetic one next to me. A step behind me. He may even be in bed with us all. He's still around as I write this because we're tied together inexorably. Always.

The only time I'm not running in that anxious slow-motion-body impossible way trying to lose death is when I arrive in my dreams at the mailbox at 360 Scenic Drive and get my letters. Time stops. I stop. I'm calm. I'm happy. I'm home.

What I'd like to know is what does it mean to have the following elements make frequent appearances in my dreams:

Big wild cats (always lions or tigers)
public bathrooms with no stall doors and broken overflowing toilets
inability to move my body (legs) so have to pull myself forward using other objects
being chased
being killed
finding dead bodies
getting mail at my old address
trouble packing luggage
chivalry extended to me
driving cars

Anyone have any ideas? I think I'll look some dream symbolism up.

Jul 17, 2008

Shelling Peas
is the new karaoke

Cooking for a lot of people is exhilarating when you don't have to do it every day. If I had been a farm wife in the thirties with thirteen (or two?) children I would have constantly had a "headache" and made the family eat cold oatmeal for dinner with bacon lard. My husband would have beat me all the time because I would have been useless. The only time in my life that I have been a great housekeeper was when I was a childless housewife: when it was, in fact, my only job.

Cooking for a large group of people I like/love is like giving them a piece of myself. This is why I love Thanksgiving. No gifts but nourishment and time spent together preparing what keeps us hale and hearty, or in bad years-just plain alive. I like a lack of set traditions so that everyone can make it up as they go along. I like things to be informal.

Not informal in a Martha Stewart fake informal way that is really just what formal looks like when it's wearing jeans. I mean truly informal. The kind of gathering where everyone is comfortable lounging around with their shoes on or off, however they please. Where they can help themselves to whatever is in the fridge. The kind where you feel comfortable rooting around in cupboards for glasses. The kind of gathering that doesn't concern itself with doing dishes until the next morning.

So I made my friends wash potatoes* and lettuce and shell peas. The meal was about 95% locally grown and produced. Plus it tasted great.

Here are some highlights of the gathering:

  • Lisa B's daughter Maddy's obsession with catching and releasing as many frogs as possible and the sideways discovery that Lisa isn't all that crazy for amphibians being up close and personal. Even baby ones the size of dimes.

  • Riana's daughter Amaya using dog and frog water for festive beverages. The following speculation concerning how likely it was that Amaya was hoping to eat an actual frog was pretty great too: it was decided that frogs the size of dimes would only be good fried like "popcorn" style appetizers and Riana's French husband Benji did point out that while French people do eat frogs, they only eat the legs.

  • Max stopping a bloody nose with an apple. It wasn't as effective as he hoped and resulted in a disgusting piece of fruit and blood all over his face. He was amused with the experiment and I went flying through the house to locate tissues. He's been getting more of them lately which I think is because of the heat.

  • Pat from here in McMinnville (who is very old friends with Riana's mom, also named Pat) making mojitos and filling the kitchen with the scent of mint. It was quite a process and makes it a beverage to sip, I think, not gulp. Pat was lovely in her pretty summery skirt and shiny smile.

  • Max blurring by with actual real cherries in his hands that he was actually EATING.** Yes, fresh local cherries. Did I dream that? Does that negate the awful blue Gatorade he was drinking earlier from the corner store? My kid ate cherries and I didn't have anything to do with it. It was a beautiful sight.

  • Enjoying Benji's imitation of hormonal teens. He's a teacher and we were discussing the French school system and I was asking how hard the age group is that he teaches (from 11 years old to, I think, 15?) and he was demonstrating the fun attitudes and postures of the different ages. You'd never guess from pictures of him how funny he is.

  • Finding out that French kids can be picky eaters too. It was also enjoyable finding out that a lot of French people don't even like cheese at all, or will only eat a couple of kinds of cheese. I always suspected these things but keep hearing people claim that picky eating is only an American phenomenon. Which I didn't believe.

How weird and modern is it that you can meet someone online and feel like you've known them a million years without having ever met them in person and then when you do meet them feel like they're family? As messed up as the world is right now, that's a pretty great experience. Thank you Riana (and family!) for taking the time to come and have dinner with us. Until next time we'll gather around pictures in Flickr and share each others' adventures through our blogs!

*My first potato harvest of the year!

**And then spitting the pits out at the girls. Boys!

Jul 15, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

At what point does a guilty pleasure cross the line into a compulsion or an obsession? How strange or dirty does a guilty pleasure have to be before it stops being a guilty pleasure and becomes pathological, illegal, or just plain antisocial? What makes a pleasure a guilty one surely depends on our level of embarrassment in our enjoyment of the pleasure. But, is a guilty pleasure only good because we are embarrassed and enjoy it in secret? Have you ever lost your inappropriate pleasure once you found out that lots of other people share it?

I think what makes a pleasure a guilty one depends on our expectations of how other people perceive us, on our expectations we cherish for ourselves, and how we each see ourselves fitting together in this mad world. Mostly I think it has to do with how we WANT other people to perceive us and how some of our pleasures are like a huge contradiction to everything we want other people to believe about who we are. Or maybe it's just that some of the things we find most delicious are embarrassing because we want to be someone we aren't.

Let's take a look at a few of mine:

I am a magazine whore- I mostly look at magazines for the images. The pictures-not the articles. The fact that I sometimes find excellent writing in fashion magazines is just a bonus. Magazines are a glossy view into other people's lives. You don't open up your life to me enough so I have to go and pry into the lives of people who are motivated to be seen, heard, and paid to be public. Magazines are like candy. They feed my body color and most important? Hope. Yep, hope. Hope that maybe life holds more than dirty socks for me. Hope that maybe I'm not the most idiotic stupid person alive. Hope that I'm not the fattest, ugliest, meanest, and that some day I will look around me and I will want for nothing. Intelligent people supposedly seek out only quality entertainment and don't indulge in such plebeian amusements. A lot is expected of smart people.

Peanut butter and honey-
on a spoon. But never just one spoonful. I can quietly consume half a jar of peanut butter. I fill a spoon half full of peanut butter and then pour the same amount of honey on the spoon and then I carefully attempt to take in equal portions of each in my mouth. I will do this until I feel kind of sick. I don't do this in front of people. Not even in front of Philip, though I'm pretty sure he's very aware that I do this. It's a little like sucking on a pacifier. Which I never did because my mom wouldn't give me one so instead I sucked my thumb until I was seven and apparently caused myself (according to my mom) to require a retainer to tame my wild overbite.

Imagining my oldest nemesis in various deflating scenarios-
It's been just about thirty years since I was pushed out of my chair, threatened constantly, teased, dissed, and shunned by the most popular girl in Briscoe Elementary during my time there. Let's just say that I have good reason to see her as a blousy aged blond single mom with six kids and very wrinkled flesh from all that sunbathing she used to do. I don't have to say why this is such a guilty pleasure. The underdog must entertain such fantasies. We all know she's probably a wildly successful and happy person who wouldn't hurt a fly now that she's seen the light of Jesus.

See's Candy-
Having such great appreciation for high quality food it is reasonable to expect me to like fancy quality chocolate better than the evil corporate See's. Well, what can I say? There's nothing quite like the experience of opening a box of See's and rooting around for the best flavors and leaving half of them bitten into and left behind. It is way too sweet, it makes me want to drink an ocean of water right about the moment it's too late to save myself...yet every time I come across a box of See's I feel excited.

Yellow Scrub Sponges- I believe they are made of artificial materials, which is bad. I like to use a new one every week or two. I've been trying to stretch it out as long as possible because I know that eventually my conscience will demand that I give them up altogether. I want to make good choices for this planet of ours. I want to help it heal not just for me and mine but also I think about the rest of you too and how all my choices impact ALL OF US. I'm so sorry. I just haven't been able to give them up yet. I love how they work. I love when they're new and don't smell or shred and they soak up that soap and I get this indescribable frisson of pleasure doing my dishes and working out the initial stiffness of the new sponge.

Sleeping alone- When sleeping alone was all I ever did I didn't particularly enjoy it. Once married I found myself missing the autonomy of the mattress. I love my husband more than I think it seemly to say publicly, but I don't like to snuggle when I sleep. Body heat against me when I'm trying to sleep is uncomfortable. I also can't sleep facing another face. I can't sleep when I'm being breathed on. I think the perfect set up is the Nick and Nora set up where they each sleep in their own bed and when feeling amorous they can get together as they please.

Happy Endings- I know that as a worldly woman who has razored her own skin, begged food from friends, been mistaken for a prostitute, abused, overlooked, lived with cockroaches the size of rats, watched people shoot up in alleyways out my window because I didn't have television, accidentally seen a guy named Ahmed get a blow job, befriended prostitute boys on Polk street, and peed on the last bus from San Francisco to Marin I shouldn't care about happy endings. I'm cosmopolitan. I'm sophisticated. I know what the real world is like. Right. I know what reality is and that's why I love a happy ending. It's nice when the happy ending isn't arrived at clumsily, but the truth is: I'll take happy endings however they come to me.

Romance- I've actually mentioned this one before. I've attempted to out it. In real life I dislike public displays of affection. Sex is sex is sex. Sex isn't romance. Sex is fun and satisfying and important and natural but romance is elusive and not particularly real for people like me. I'm devoid of that ability to act it out in real life. There is something (probably a malfunction) in me that will not allow me to be romantic. In real life it makes me uncomfortable and itchy. In real life I'm more like a man in the romance department. Grudging, inarticulate, and bumbling. I can only show my love in my fidelity and the life I plan with my man. But in secret I enjoy romance done well. Nothing tragic. Tragic love doesn't interest me in the least. I enjoy the following examples of romance in film and story: The Thin Man, North and South, Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca, My Brother Michael, and The Tennant of Wildfeld Hall.

I don't want the bodice rippers. It has nothing to do with sex. It's all in the communication between men and women, the flirting, and the manner in which love is discovered. I want the fade to black for the steamy bits. As a mature adult I'm supposed to want the passionate part, the mature content, the real hard edged stuff...right? Wrong. That's everywhere in real life. I want the other stuff, the stuff that isn't really real. I can't even use the real words that would apply here because it makes me so uncomfortable to reveal this. That's why I've written more on this one than any of the other ones.

Receiving Presents-
There is such an expectation that intelligent, earth conscious, quality minded people disapprove of gifts. Of giving them, of receiving them. I like them. I look forward to them. I love homemade ones, small ones, expensive ones, and thoughtful ones. I don't care what they cost. I love them all. That's not true, I once received a "Precious Moments" Christmas ornament that freaked the fuck out of me and I had to hide it and when we had a fire in our house it obligingly "burnt" up in the fire.

I have left out ones that might hurt the people I love but otherwise I have been completely candid. I think that what makes most of my guilty pleasures guilty is that they aren't the things I'm supposed to find pleasurable. I should have a shoe fetish or secretly have a crush on Regis Philbin or love to watch porn. Instead my guilty pleasures are PG-rated. Suitable for family viewing. Candy and romance. Which makes me wonder- who the hell am I anyway?

What are your guilty pleasures? Do you dare to tell? Will it offend me? Will it frighten your mother? (If it would put you in jail and cause injury to others then don't tell because I will want to maim you for life. Anything else is probably alright.) Go ahead...tell it here.

Jul 14, 2008

What I Learned From Gertrude Stein

There is no aphorism to describe how I'm feeling these days. There is no need to sum life up in abbreviated bits of wisdom. The way I see it- if you don't have time to follow all the circuitous routes that life and it's truths must take then you don't have time to breath. Sometimes you just have to get there when you get there. Sometimes you just have talk until you find the right words. Or walk until you find the right path.

There have been people in my life who didn't have time to wait. To wait for that epiphany of light to shake itself free from the convoluted way my brain sometimes arrives at the conjunction where language and my mind agree with each other. I have been known to interrupt myself a thousand times with parenthetical observations before finally getting there. There, where the meat is. Perhaps that's what attracts me to poetry; the challenge to get to the very core of elusive axis where human experience and emotion meet up in sharp clear points.

I'm going to interrupt myself here to say that one of the most shaping reading experiences in my life (and there have been many) was reading "Alice B. Toklas" when I was eleven years old which was right after I realized that I didn't believe in god as god was told in the bible. I didn't get everything I read in that book. What I remember the most was Gertrude Stein's unblushing use of incredibly rambling parentheticals that would string on for miles so that you completely forgot you were in one until it ended and you had to pick up her thread of conversation before she ran off with herself in her love of words and story. I loved how like real conversation her writing was. People interrupt themselves all the time in real life.

It freed me to write in a way that reflected how the mind is really moving and how refreshing it can be to follow streams of conversation that ramble and rush and turn and sometimes get very very quiet all at once in the middle of a cacophony of noise. I loved Gertrude Stein more for her use of parentheticals than I did for the interesting lesbian life she lived with Alice B. Toklas and all those painters they befriended.

Another thing that's floating around in my head (apparently desirous of being said out loud) is that I am allergic to the expression "making love". If ever you hear me refer to sex as "making love" then you will know that I am done with this mortal coil and am but a shell of myself, nothing but a vegetable with a brain. Ready to move on to where angels flap around with big feathery wings and naked asses saying things like "God Bless Us Every One"...my own personal version of hell in which all sweet and cuddly things make my skin itch uncontrollably for all eternity and I try to remove it but there's always more and there's always someone whispering in my ear "Isn't making loooooove beautiful?" and I want to claw my way out of myself.

Life is circuitous. Love is circuitous. Snaking in and out of focus. In and out of reach.

I often bite the hands that feed me. Like a feral person with narrow limits of social cognizance. No, you won't ever see it except in flashes when it comes like lightening and strikes your hand bringing the blood and the surprise. I described myself today as prickly. I was not lying. I am so prickly I constantly stab myself with my own thorns. I feel shame when I do it to those I love. I feel shame when I do it to those whom I like tremendously. I feel no shame when I do it to those who step on smaller creatures with their dirty shoes.

Reflexive actions. The stabbing of personal thorns. Reflexive actions. Turning inward to one's baby and flooding it with all the nutritive love the soul can bear to hold at once. Feeding and feeding and feeding the baby hunger. Reflexive actions. Healing wounds with light and quiet.

I am not bitter anymore. I'm done with bitter. I have come across some threshold like a bride enters into her new life. Like a reverend looks out at a new flock full of raised curious faces. "What have we here?" life is saying through my mended heart. "What will come of this thread and this needle you have sewn over the tears?" A new chapter. A new bend in the road. A new stream to cross.

I can hear you right now. In this minute I can hear you thinking, sighing, breathing, crying, living, drinking, knowing, laughing, criticizing, loving, and healing.

If I could breath for you I would give you my breath. If I could give you my needle and thread to mend your own wounds, I would. If I could say the precise words you need to hear right now to help you feel understood, loved, and connected I would shout them out across the distance.

We are all in this world together. I hope we dream together too.