Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sunday ritual

Someone asked me about church, and "Well, what DO you do on Sundays, then?" the other day. This is what my answer ended up being.

In Apache Junction, throughout my formative years, I attended Mass every Sunday morning with my father and sister.

When it was time to sing, few besides the church choir participated. Indeed, the song selection seemed to be designed to prevent anyone without an extensive memory, and who had not faithfully learned nearly every song, from singing. Unfortunately, this did nothing to prevent us from singing.

My father was quite derisive of what he saw as an exclusionary attitude: "It looks like it's time for the CHOIR to sing," he'd say in the most disapproving, loud, projecting voice in existence. And then the choir, our friends in the pew in front of us, and we would sing. This was fine, obviously, for the choir. It was fine for my father's best friend, who was in possession of about half of his musical ear and devotion, but was approximately five million times better at singing. It was even fine for my sister and me, who would sing as well as we could, but still quietly enough to maintain some shred of dignity.

My dad, however, was quite unconcerned with dignity -- his or anyone else's. His talking voice -- deep, but not overly so; rising and falling in pitch unexpectedly; immensely carrying; animated -- was perfect for talking. It was ideal for telling funny stories, keeping a class full of sixth graders in rapt attention, coaching, emceeing the school talent show. Unfortunately, it was not ideal for singing hymns, and he didn't have a singing voice. He used this exact voice for singing, just sort of drawing out words here and there, bellowing them out.

My dad had excellent musical training and knowledge. He knew precisely how long to hold each note, how to open one's mouth for projection, how to read music. But the guy could not sing.

This did not stop him. What we ended up standing beside was a booming, six-and-a-half-foot-tall, extremely proud noise source that the entire assembly could hear quite distinctly. He would open his mouth approximately four feet wide, and seemed to especially belt out those first few or last few words of each verse during which the rest of the congregation had the good sense to trail off. Some songs elicited especially enthusiastic singing, and none more so than "Angels We Have Heard on High." The lyrics said (as I frequently reminded him) to draw out the refrain: "Glooo ... ooooor ... ooooor ... ooooria." He, however, insisted on enunciating each "O," with an added "H," which turned him into a booming, six-and-a-half-foot-tall, extremely proud, maniacal Santa Claus. And while I'm sure it only looked like this:

...which is quite embarrassing enough, it felt like this:

He was impervious to embarrassment, which I guess was OK, because my sister and I felt enough embarrassment for him, ourselves, and everyone who might attend Mass or even pass through the church that month.

Also, the sermons could be boring. I mean really spectacularly boring. I assume they occasionally had some nugget of a lesson to offer a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old, but we had long since tuned them out to the extent that we were unable to glean anything at all from them. Instead, we found ways to pass the time before the sermon wrapped up and we heard the telltale rustling of hymnals that told us it was time for the choir and my dad to sing again.

It was challenging, because we were not allowed to look like we were doing anything other than listening attentively. We were not allowed to write, draw pictures, read anything other than that day's missalette passages, fidget, talk to each other, or really even look at each other. (My dad usually sat between us.) So we found mental diversions. I knew exactly how many acoustic tiles there were to each length of the ceiling, and which ones looked mysteriously soggy. I knew how many steps led up to the altar, the exact designs on every robe the priest wore, just about everything about every altar boy and which ones could be counted upon to look like they were about to faint, and how many chairs fit in the old-person section of the church. I would compose poetry in my head, I would mentally recite poetry -- I was able to get about ten stanzas into The Raven and could recite the whole of "Jabberwocky" and Casey at the Bat -- and I remember spending several weeks one year, after I had learned rudimentary genetics in sixth grade, working out all the possible combinations of parental genetic contributions each person in Mass could have received at conception, based on their hair colors. I had to abandon the game once snowbird season began, as I was pretty sure "neon orange," "glowing blue-white," and "bald" were not the hair situations with which these folks were born.

There was more. The chairs made this pssssssht farting noise if you sat too roughly, but we nearly always got in trouble for making them do it, even the two times it was unintentional. The church was stifling year-round; since in the summer, it was an oven; and in the winter, there were about eight trillion people at each Mass. We'd stay longer than just about anyone else, watching everyone leave as my dad and his friend (also a teacher) held an impromptu school meeting. We got dragged to his mobile-trailer classroom on the way home every Sunday, and sat in the car, arguing and calculating how much, exactly, of the food in the car we could eat without his noticing (three slices of bread, one cookie, or any candy he'd forgotten).

I'm being facetious, but not much. He really was embarrassing. It really was boring. But here's the thing: I'd give anything, really just about anything in the world, to be sitting in the car after Mass with my sister and a dozen stinky basketballs, waiting for my dad to come out of his classroom so he could crank up the car radio and screech along to the Beach Boys on the way home. It was our Sunday ritual.

Now I'm the parent, but I don't embarrass my son at church. I don't do the "at church" part, that is. The "embarrass" part is coming along nicely.

We still have our Sunday ritual. The details are different. The car accompaniment is usually audio books, not Beach Boys. The destination is the Arboretum. But our devotion is the same, and like my childhood, we put our own spin on things.

When we come across something particularly photogenic but low to the ground or otherwise at an inconvenient angle, most passers-by do exactly that -- pass it by. Even some of my photographer friends make a few attempts at capturing it, but are sensible, reasonably cultured humans who would rather not sprawl on their bellies in the dirt/stick their asses in the air/lie in the middle of a clearing in front of anyone who might happen by. Not me. And while it looks about like this:

My son sees it like this:

I'm not sure if my devotion to the ritual has deepened, or if I'm worryingly close to losing all sense of dignity, or both. But I have to believe he'll look back on this, mostly, with a fond smile. It's our routine.

Besides, as foolish as I look, the dork bar has been set pretty high.

See you at the Arboretum Sunday. I'll be the one lying in the dirt beside the tarantula and the mortified eight-year-old.


I decided to do a separate post, devoted to our Arboretum adventures, next. In the meantime, share some of your rituals.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


It's our fourth anniversary. According to Google and People Who Know Such Things, that makes it our fruit and flowers anniversary. I'm not sure we'll pull it off, even though it's just about the only one whose symbols are exactly the same things we might get anyway. My husband and I are the least rebellious people in the world, but we just don't do tradition. I think that part of our brains is missing.

Four years ago today, my husband and I got married outdoors. I walked through the winding walkway at a school amphitheater, which isn't really traditional but made a gorgeous aisle. Our pictures were taken by my sister's then-boyfriend (now husband), who was a great sport about taking the shots and and even better sport about me bossing him around about taking the shots. (We did end up with a disproportionally large amount of shots of my sister, but that was pretty cute.) Again, not terribly traditional, but they all had the kind of perfect imperfection you get with being comfortable around the camera. Before the ceremony, I came downstairs to find my ex-boyfriend's father ironing my wedding dress in the kitchen.

Nothing was traditional about the wedding, really, other than the general structure of it and the vows (the preacher had repeatedly scorned people "who think they're being all funny with their vows," so we figured we'd better not). My brother gave me away in the rehearsal, and my mom filled in at the wedding. My son was "married" to us during the ceremony as well. During various parts of the wedding, the musical flow was maintained only by shooting death glares to a rather clueless friend on a boombox, who was mostly clueless because Aaron and I had only that morning decided on the music.

My point is, we don't really do tradition. We don't avoid it, really, we just don't seem to get it. But the thing is, we're not what anyone would consider unconventional. We're boring.

I sometimes start telling parts of it with something like "It's a long story..." The ex-boyfriend's dad in my kitchen. My son in the ceremony. The school setting. Something else I just started typing, then figured it's someone else's deal and I'd better not tell the whole world, but it's a "long story" story, trust me. But truly? The stories are just odd, not really long or complicated. It's just the way it is. At least most couples who don't do tradition are exciting or exotic. We don't even hold to that tradition.

I've known Aaron since we were eleven. We were best friends for a summer, and he tried to flirt with me, though I didn't speak boy back then.

Then, we fell out of touch several years. We met again. I dated his best friend. Then Aaron and I dated, for four or five years. (See what I mean? I don't know even how long it was. I never kept track of our "dating anniversary.") We were engaged. Then we weren't.

I lived life. Made some good decisions, and a bunch of not-so-good ones. Worked with Aaron's mom, which was pretty darn awkward. I had a kid.

He dated my sister. I dated his best friend (the same one) again. I don't really remember the timing on all of that, but later, we just started being together all the time, and it was pretty nice. My son loved him, and I guess I figured out I did too. Finally on New Year's Eve in a parking lot, we admitted we were dating. My mom already knew. She was quite smug about it.

And then, four years ago, we married. Now we're really happy.

That's really the whole story. I've always wondered why it never feels quite as adventurous to me as people seem to think it must have been. Like I'm leaving out some hugely tumultuous time of wild indiscretion, hi-jinks, and hard-learned lessons. We have adventure stories along the way, but Our Story is really pretty boring, if unconventional.

We have fun talking about how he melodramatically pawned the first engagement ring (angrily fist-squashed into an oval), how he "dated both sisters" (a sure-fire way to gross out my brother), or how my growing illegitimate pregnancy alarmed the church ladies, but we never seem to get beyond that. We're not particularly good at avoiding it, but we're Teflon-coated or something when it comes to drama. It happens to us, but never seems to define us.

I sometimes think something's wrong with us -- shouldn't we have at least the occasional emotional-rage-turned-sweet-passion? He responds to this contention as though I've asked shouldn't we have the occasional unnecessary amputation, so I've quit voicing the concern. I think I've even quit feeling it. It's not really about settling for comfort over excitement. Really feeling comfortable with someone, enough to be wholly oneself. Freedom. Security. Release. Isn't that what people are really after when they're doing all the exciting stuff? Drunken philosophizing, spectacularly bad relationships, elaborately planned adventures that turn sour. It's all done in pursuit of the prize I already have.

I'm the most boring rebel in the world. I married the runner up.

I'm pretty damn lucky.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In defense of bragging

My son's photos were on display this weekend, and I'm bragging to everyone who'll listen.

One of the coolest side effects I've seen as a peripheral member of the parenting blogging community is the near death of parenting perfectionism. It is not necessary to have every hair or child in the proper place to be proud of one's role as a parent. In fact, it's dishonest, because we all know better. Embrace your imperfections. Make a microwave meal and camp out in front of the television once in a while. Laugh about how long it's been since your kid's had a bath. (Swimming counts, right?) It's cool. No one's perfect, and it's beautiful.

However, one of the crappy side effects of this side effect seems to be that you can't brag about your kid, or your skills at parenting, or your kid's skills at anything, without ample justification. I find myself resisting gush and pride and sentimentality every time I talk about my son, and I'm not so good at it. I ran into the superintendent of my son's school district the other day -- who's known me since he was the principal at my junior high, and thus insists on calling me "Kimbo," much to my son's amusement -- and aside from thinking it figured that I was wearing my holey ASU shirt and my hair in a pencil, I was stumped when he asked "What's your son been up to?" It wasn't that I didn't have an answer. I had too much answer. I didn't want to look like I was bragging.

Why the heck not? I have concise, modest, won't-take-much-of-your-time answers for most everything else in my life: job (I write. You've probably read some stuff, if you're in Arizona), life passions (Spiders. Photography. My kid. Writing. Not necessarily in that order), marriage (We watch nerdy sci-fi shows. We eat Panda Express. We suck at flirting), hobbies (same as passions). Why can't I have one thing that I don't rein in? What's wrong with that thing being my kid?

I guess I really don't think it's sentimentality. I won't put it all out there at once (and find tomorrow's "blog followers" at zero, no doubt, and justifiably), but I don't want to rein it in.

So, his photos. A couple of months ago at "Bye Bye Buzzards" day at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, my son followed up on a request to volunteer with Adobe Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, quite on his own. He'd made the request six months previously and had researched, carefully considered, and planned for it in in the intervening time. He's so much more than someone who thinks animals are kind of cool. He's in it for the long haul, and this is a kid who isn't always in a SpongeBob episode for the long haul. He asked about turning in an official application, and in the mean time, wanted to know what he could do. After watching him patiently take pictures for at least half an hour, he was invited to donate some of his work to raffle off to support the center. We used the shots seen throughout this post (all of which link to beautifully embiggened versions). They all printed beautifully at 8 x 10.

He beamed. He was introduced around, met Adobe volunteers and the coordinator, gave eloquent descriptions of his photos. ("I was five when I took this. I was focusing on the cactus but I wanted to get the thunderstorm in the background. I was eight when I took that one. The pond looks like a purple mirror, and I liked the effect.") At least a dozen times he was asked to meet this coordinator or that photographer, always with the introduction: "Those nature photos? Guess who took them? Guess how old he was?"

His talent was recognized, and I don't see why I shouldn't be telling everyone. He knows his way around a camera, but what's more is his eye. He has an incredible eye for things.

There should be a bumper sticker. I'm proud of my photographer. My kid could photograph your star athlete. Something. I'm bragging.

What's your kid's talent? Or one of yours? Or two of 'em, or ten. C'mon. Do some bragging.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eat prey, love

We have grooves in our knees and the heels of our hands from propping ourselves so long in this position on the back porch. We watch the mantis as it dances left and right, makes a feint, sort of jigs back and forth. Finally, it flings its arms out, snatches the carcass. Stretchy goop (entrails? Do spiders have those?) dangles from its mouth as it slurps in half of an arachnid I'd saved for just this purpose. One bristly leg is the last to disappear, going in almost exactly like spaghetti. I impale the remaining portion of the body on a thin stick, using the oozing viscera to glue it to the utensil, and hand it to my son, who offers the mantis a second bite.

We're the most fascinated spectators -- at times the only spectators -- in the clearing, watching the raptors. We watch for at least an hour. Most people pass by, snap a shot or two, identify the birds for their kids (occasionally even getting the names right), and steer them away before the hawk can tear apart its mouse or the vulture can crack the skull in her rodent. We keep watching. I think we were the only ones who didn't miss it: the sinuous lines in the smooth pink rodent muscle (the hawk had already neatly skinned her meal) as it was pulled taut, the gentle, beautiful silence of the clearish white fibers parting -- not tearing, exactly -- the soft ripping ssshk and yank of her head as she freed a chunk, the satisfied look as she tossed it down.

For a would-be vegetarian mom and a full-blown vegetarian kid, we love carnage around here.

We admire them, is what it is. Predators are awesome, and fascinating, and I have to admit a certain amount of smugness in seeing the beauty in things that gross out most folks. However, lately I really find myself just admiring their approach to life. *

I'm currently a prey animal. Life happens to me. I very much want to be a predator.

Prey animals sort of have to be pessimists. They monitor for an attack; they expect (and inevitably receive) calamity. Their entire being is adapted for withstanding an onslaught: sideways-glancing eyes, speed for flight, sheer numbers to account for replacements in the event of their probable failure.

Predators are optimists. They plan for the next windfall to be right around the bend. Talons and muscles built for seizing, forward-looking gazes, amazing ability to focus. A hawk has to know a mouse or rabbit will come along soon. A mantis has to wait, focused, on a wall ledge until a fat fly or spider presents itself, and then must grab it immediately. A bald eagle won't build a nest in an area unless the habitat is just right. Predators count on things being good, and they act on that assumption.

I know we're a bit of both, as humans. Prey and predator are both special and beautiful, and they both inspire conservation in their ways: the first is all about the fragility of nature, and the second, I think, inspires us to make the world the animals seem to see. And I really do want to be a vegetarian one day, I think. But everyone loves bunnies. On a purely how-fascinating-is-this level, predation rocks. Scavenging rocks. I can't understand why there isn't more about it out there. Maybe I'll fix that. And if I had to model a worldview after one or the other? I'm going with the predators.

If only I could get my vision to clear and my talons to work.

*My anthropomorphized version of their "approach" to life.

But wait, I'm including useful stuff now! Related real-life info:

Now is a great time to see red-tailed hawks in Arizona. Look up. They're on practically every other phone poll around here. Also, you know that REEEEEE! sound every raptor ever makes in movies? Well, most birds don't make that noise. But red-tailed hawks do. If you hear that, that's what probably made it.

If you're in the Phoenix area this weekend, check out the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center open house! (That's a link to the event listing, where you can download a pdf flyer. I hate linking pdfs.) I'll be there Saturday, and my son's photographs will be up for auction.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A peek inside my head

I've been mapping out a blog schedule of sorts, and also dealing with a host of non-blog issues. Today I sat down to finish a post. These were all the notes I found on my desk -- on little slips of paper, scribbled on the backs of envelopes, and in one case, on the inside cardboard surface of a pizza box. I thought all of these things were important enough to write down. It's not helpful in the least for my post, or the article I also need to write, but if you're wanting something to tide you over, these notes probably tell you all that you need to know about what goes on inside my head. Which is cluttered. And likes to start ideas that may or may not have legs. And likes cheese of "all kinds," apparently.

Ways my life = South Park

Eat prey, love
predation = optimism

traumatic insemination


Clowns and stupid Aaron

On raising black widows

Address! Mail TODAY

David mating quote

mantis vs. mantis

Send invoice, again?

Orng chk x 2, chow mn
BJ beef, or chk, msh chk, chow mn

print/frame photos

cat litter
cat food
cheese (all kinds)
kid pizzas

spontaneity story - bear encounter/dancing/braless fever

some sort of alchemy to it

post mortem photography

the idea of transformation

Call DMV

You can expect to see a few of these fleshed out in the future. Probably not the Panda Express or shopping list ones.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A face everyone could (or should) love

I don't think they're "pretty for something so ugly." Nor do they have "faces only a mother could love." They're not "necessary, but hideous." Not merely "fascinating." And though I will gladly take the props (seriously, make with more props; I have a huge ego and it's hungry), my photos aren't "gorgeous, especially for pictures of a vulture."

I think turkey vultures are gorgeous. Like, actually gorgeous. Photogenic. As in pretty.

I especially love this turkey vulture. Meet Ed (or meet her again, if you've already seen the several shots of her on my Flickr stream). She's a rescued turkey vulture, cared for by volunteers from the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center. There seems to be some debate as to whether "Ed" stands for Edna or Edwina (in addition to "Education"), but she is definitely female. Everyone always assumes she's male, but I feel like I can see it in her eyes. I am, of course, imagining this. I know because they told me. Still, I feel it.

My son loves her too, as well as all turkey vultures. Vultures were one of the first animals about which he learned real facts, thanks to Ed and Boyce Thompson Arboretum's annual "Bye-Bye Buzzards" event in September each year (when turkey vultures prepare to migrate to Mexico) and the "Welcome Back Buzzards" get-together in March. Every kid loves animals, but this kid is different. I think I can trace it back to a few animal encounters, one of the earliest being turkey vultures. Ever since the first one he saw one up-close, he's wanted to really know them.

I could tell him quite a bit about turkey vultures, though he knows half of it already. Their ecological role ("nature's cleanup crew," as the saying goes). Their lineage. (Turkey vultures; commonly called buzzards after the name was given to them by European settlers, who thought the birds looked like their common buzzards; are actually more closely related to storks and ibises than raptors.)

I could describe the way morning light bleeds through a vulture's wings as it spreads them up to six feet wide; in a gesture said to warm the wings, dry morning dew and bake away bacteria while vultures wait to glide.

I could describe their food-hunting prowess. Turkey vultures, possessing some of the best eyes of any land animal, rely as well on their ability to sniff out ethyl mercaptan in decaying carcasses. We could relive the story about my son trying to fart to attract turkey vultures. (Ethyl mercaptan being the pungent component in flatulance -- see how fun it is to be a sciencey family?)

I could go on about their built in swamp-cooling system, which really just involves peeing on their own legs but has a fancy scientific name, urohydrosis. Their courting ritual, which involves the male and female nibbling each other's wrinkly red heads. The proper name for a group of them (a venue, or a kettle when circling -- never a flock), their migration patterns, the way they ride air currents, their lack of a nasal septum, their cool vomiting defense, or any of a million other things. I really love these birds.

However, the thing that most gets me is their bad rap.

Of all animals to get an unfair shake in popular opinion, vultures have to top the list. The other usual suspects -- spiders, snakes, ants -- have their superheroes, smitten celebrity advocates and Disney popularizers. But even Edgar Allen Poe, whose take on the oft-vilified raven had it as "stately" and "of the saintly days of yore," harbored no love for vultures. His protagonist in "The Tell-Tale Heart" murders a man for the sole reason that "he had the eye of a vulture." The heinous eye, Poe's hero held, was "a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones." Which isn't even accurate, as far as vulture eyes go. Who ever heard of a vulture with blue eyes? Who looks close enough to know better?

Charles Darwin called our poor turkey vulture "a disgusting bird, with its bald scarlet head formed to wallow in putridity." When reporters are said to "swoop in" on death and misfortune, we know exactly what is meant by the phrase "a bunch of vultures." Even the Bible gives the birds a short shrift, calling them "an abomination."

In comics, arachnids get Spider-Man. Vultures get his rangy beanpole of a foe The Vulture, a nefarious bald villain and remorseless killer who exploits even his allies. In movies, the good-guy-harassing angular ships in Star Wars became known as vulture droids. Even Disney makes its vultures look considerably less cuddly than its ants, depicting them as ungainly, indecisive nerds perching on a rotted, gnarled branch. Businesses that prey on destitute countries, snatching up financial shares at low prices, are known as vulture funds. Dishonest lawyers are called vultures. Virtually nowhere in the western world is calling someone a vulture considered a compliment. And though I've never heard anyone called a turkey vulture, calling one a turkey is hardly considered high praise, and I'm fairly sure no one save turkey-advocate Ben Franklin would consider adding "turkey" to "vulture" a flattering amendment.

It hasn't always been this way. In ancient Egypt, the vulture was associated with the goddess Nekhbet and was the symbol of the upper kingdom. In India, vultures guarded the gates to the underworld. In times past in North America, the vulture was revered; it was the California condor, of the vulture family, that gave shape and form to the legendary Thunderbird. The turkey vulture's Latin name, Cathartes aura means air purifier, or just purifier, and indeed several cultures have seen it as a symbol of purification. Some Native American myths have it saving the world, using its head to push the sun to an optimal distance, becoming bald in the process. Wilbur Wright called turkey vultures "the most perfectly trained gymnasts in the world and are specially well fitted for their work, and it may be that man will never equal them."

Invariably at the "Bye-Bye Buzzards" and "Welcome Back Buzzards" events someone suggests, in conciliatory tones, that we love vultures for their janitorial services. You know, even though they're so ugly. I guess that's enough for some. I'm glad the birds provide the service, of course. Circle of life, and all that.

But I don't love the birds because they clean our shared environment. It has an uncomfortable feel of loving something only insofar as it's useful to me. Their personality, I think. Maybe that's getting a little closer. They're primal, with a dash of latent cleverness. People might be partial to the hawks and eagles, the emblematic hunters. But turkey vultures wait. They're patient, almost as if respectful of the death upon which they feed.

But that's unfair too, of course. Turkey vultures aren't philosophers. They aren't people.

David's conclusion is to like them "because they're cool" -- just to like them because they are.

I think that's pretty darn close. Also? I really do think she's beautiful.

I've been visiting Ed for the past four years, and watching her kin for ages before that. They ride thermals, roll and twist, seeming to scrape the clouds with their silvery wingtips. They make life out of death, utility out of garbage, and they make it look good. If I feel crappy and I take a drive and watch the vultures, I feel better.

It's pure. It's my catharsis.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The night I wore a hundred black widows

I posted the following the other day:

...and, while five of you "liked" it (I will assume you like my hilariously witty status-update writing, not my misfortune), more of you requested pictures, via Facebook and other means. I must really be getting a reputation for ALWAYS having a camera on hand. But no. Sorry. The following is the best I could do.

I intended to go to bed. Waylaid by incessant meowing and chomping of my appendages, I detoured to feed the cats instead. A few minutes later I was sprinting about my backyard, shirtless, at 1 a.m., covered in spiders and ripping my hair out.

The fact that when I told this to my husband all he did was shrug and say "Well, if you were going to be tearing your clothes off in the dark, you could at least have invited me;" with no comment as to the late hour, my outdoor indecency, or the spider-infested condition of my half-clothed form; speaks volumes about the extreme nature of my spider-related activities. However, everyone has a limit. I reached mine this week.

Let me back up. I really was on my way to bed. I had stayed up once again pissing away time on Facebook working, and it was much later than I realized. I dragged myself from the office chair to the stairs, only to be ambushed by both cats. I knew their dishes were full, so I picked them up, plunked them before the dishes, and returned to the stairs. They chased me down again, so I followed them back to the dishes, again, telling them that they're fine; there's a ton of food right there. They favored me With what is wrong with you? looks, so I switched the kitchen light on ... to see the dishes pulsating with about ten zillion ants. They were methodically carrying away morsels of cat food in a procession stretching across the kitchen and dining room.

Bedtime was definitely off. First, the cats were now quite sure I was trying to kill them; and second, even the most passing contact with ants invariably leaves me a lumpy, swollen, itchy mass of ... well, I'm not sure what, exactly, but it's not attractive.
Inspired by Hyperbole and a Half's spider equation, even though I usually love arachnids. 
I scooped up both cats -- who were pretty ticked by now -- tossed them in the office, and set to work eradicating the ants. So far, so good. Pain in the ass, but I was dealing like a champ.

Then I got the bright idea to go check for the ants' trail outside. I'm a huge advocate of "live and let live" but with cats/kids/food/living and still looking human at stake, I had to keep these ants out of the house. I figured I'd stop it at the source. My shoes were closed in the office with the cats, but my husband's super-ugly humongous Crocs were available. They flopped around on my feet, but who cares, I thought. It's not like I'm going to be running around in them.

Hideous clown shoes on feet, flashlight in one hand and poison in the other, I crept outside. No ants anywhere. I did, however, notice several giant black widows.

They seemed to be converting our stepladder into a quickly filling apartment complex. I decided that while I had the poison ready, it was eviction day (again, proximity issue - most spiders, black widows included, are highly respected in this house). I walked forward to get a good angle at the first one. When I did, for some reason, my hair kept getting in my face. I brushed it away, but there were a whole bunch of hairs in my face.

I kept brushing them off, but the hair was really sticky. And stretchy. And my hair was still getting in my face, especially from in front of me and also from above ... wait. What?

That's when I noticed that I had also walked into a giant clump of hair, and there were still pieces floating in the air. I aimed the flashlight toward the nuisance, and noticed that every "hair" floating -- and landing on my face and head -- looked like this:

...and that the giant swath on my chest looked like this:

By this point, I was quite unsurprised to find a spent egg sac beside one of the females. It looked quite innocuous -- like a flimsy, hollowed out piece of Kix cereal. It had hatched, and a hundred or so black widow spiderlings had moved to the top rung of the ladder, where I hadn't even looked since black widows tend to prefer low corners. They had attached their temporary home to some anchor -- I never figured out what, exactly, after blundering through it -- where dozens and dozens were just hanging out. The rest were dispersing on tiny bits of web they let out, no doubt to take over the small fraction of my yard that is not yet occupied by their sisters.

I saw and noticed all this -- the egg sac; the dispersal method; even the Kix cereal analogy, which I've used for years -- in a fraction of a second. I love black widows. I really do. I'm intimately familar with them. I can promise you I wouldn't be recounting that part otherwise, because I certainly didn't take time to put it together at that moment. There is such a thing as being TOO intimately familiar with an animal, and I would say the line is definitely crossed when hundreds of offspring of an extremely venomous spider are currently landing in one's hair, face, boobs. Eyes. MOUTH.

Upon realizing I was wearing a spider hair mask, a spider face mask, and a spider vest, I remained supremely calm and rational.

In the interest of optimal spider removal, I decided to go after their stronghold, which was now my torso. I tore their new base from my body.

...but somehow, this did little to make me look collected and dignified. I'm not sure why.

After sprinting several shirtless laps around the yard while shrieking calmly removing the remaining spiders and web, I tracked down one of the Crocs, which had flown across the yard at some point. I recovered the poison and flashlight. I couldn't find the shirt. I went inside.

There were more ants. Tons more.

I didn't have time to find another shirt, because now the ants were dispersing. I had to drop down and get them right now. I thought all the spiders were out of my hair. Besides, it's not like the babies are harmful anyway. But what if they were still in my hair? I thought. What if they hitchhike on my head, drop off in corners, and become giant, venomous adults? And this time it would be INDOORS. I had to find some way to contain them until I was sure. I had to quarantine my head.

Hats were out. They have holes, and besides, my husband would totally freak if I defiled his Sun Devils hat in such a manner.

We have lots of bags. They're sort of head sized.

Imagine you're my husband. You get home from work late. You might picture your wife snuggled in a cozy shirt, if it's warm, or more likely (in Arizona) sweating it out in some flirty camisole and pajama shorts. You might imagine that, after a calm, sane evening, she's tucked your son in, cleaned up the house, and is either serenely awaiting your arrival or already asleep in bed, waiting to cuddle contentedly up to you.

Instead, you get this:

I'd just like to point out one thing. The Crocs are still the stupidest-looking part of that ensemble.

Read some less-insane stuff about black widows, and see some pretty (real) pictures, here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Go read my article, and other updates

Was my last post really that long ago? And was it really the goofy MS Paint faces post? Sorry, all.

I've been at least semi-busy. An article of mine is up right now (read it here; more on that in a second). I've had family business. Since my family is not entirely composed of chronic over-sharers, it will remain private, but obviously, family comes before my egocentric chronicling (usually). My husband's birthday just passed, but we didn't really get to celebrate it. I've been doing bit of growing up, a bit of walking outside, quite a bit of writing, a lot of to-be-processed photography, and a lot of doughnut-eating-while-driving. On a related note, paranoid rearview-mirror-monitoring is easier to do without a giant apple fritter hanging from one's mouth, and one only feels more incompetent, freakish, and paranoid when the police car pulls along side one's car and watches the spectacle of extricating the giant pastry with glaze-varnished hands. Just saying.

So, the article. Go read it, if you're so inclined. It's about Darrell Ankarlo. Until recently, he was the host of "Ankarlo Mornings” on 92.3 FM KTAR. The reason this is no longer the case is what my story explores, but it's really only part of the story.

Most of what you might have read about him online, approving or disapproving, has to do with his political and ideological views. I don't talk about that. If you pay attention, or if you've read my one or two pertinent posts, you probably can ferret out my approximate political views. However, I'm not a political writer. I never will be. (I will, however, argue with you in person. Just ask my husband.)

What I am is a people writer. A storyteller. Darrell and his wife Laurie have a story.

A few things about my conversation with them: Darrell got injured - badly - on the way home from a good deed in a long list of good deeds he's done. He has a super-close relationship with his wife. Watching them talk, when Darrell's really going, is like watching a verbal tennis match with lots of laughter, eye-rolling, and wifely tsk-ing. When he's not really going, his wife picks up the slack, but it's so natural that you don't realize it. Darrell has high expectations, of himself and others, and he'll let you know. He does his best to meet them and help others to do the same. Darrell gets very annoyed when Starbucks decides to rearrange the furniture in the middle of our interview, and partly owing to his injury, he lacks the mental filter that reminds most of us to not loudly voice such annoyance. His lack of a filter causes much hand wringing for his wife, and must cause some problems, but it's actually pretty refreshing to witness. Laurie is one heck of a strong woman. They both checked me out online before agreeing to meet with me. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Read about the rest in the story.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Keep going

This morning, by 8 a.m., I had uttered the phrase "Keep going" no less than twenty times. Close runners-up included "Please, please keep going," "Just finish your freaking vocab; no one cares if your Os look funny," "Why are you still wearing your pajamas?!" and "No; I'm NOT going to make a less-angry voice. I'm angry!"

Keep going. I've mentioned that in addition to intelligence, stubbornness and an unhealthy fondness for cheese; attention deficit disorder runs in our family; or at very least, in my son and me. Perhaps the most insidious manifestation of it is the impulse that cloaks itself in perfectionism.

The thing about our brains is that they're unpredictable. Quite aside from the Herculean effort it takes to finish even the simplest of tasks, I find myself afraid of how I'll do them, of the outcome. Our brains make messes. One minute, my mind is flying a mile a second, surveying terrain no one else sees and making connections no one else has considered. The next, my mind is on standby and won't boot back up no matter how much I wiggle the mouse. One minute, my mind's enthusiasm and refusal to conform is solving a friend's dilemma with ease. The next minute, the enthusiasm gets a bit too impulsive and I choose the most uniquely detrimental thing to say at the moment, and say that. One minute I'm winning an essay contest; the next my editor's furious that the article (due Monday) may or may not be in by 5 (on Wednesday). One minute I've made the perfect dessert and blitzed the house in a rampage of maniacal panic-cleaning; the next, I'm an absolute parenting failure, and my house looks like I'm auditioning for Hoarders.

Yes, yes; I know. We all go through these things. I am sure you all do. But if I remember my freshman psychology DSM-IV-skimming properly, the difference is that someone with a particular disorder does/has these things to the extent that they consistently screw with that person's personal and/or professional life. My husband, for example, blurted out that the cat "was being an asshole" to our son, but I am skeptical of his claims of temporary Tourette's.

Let me tell you, it screws with our lives.

We are afraid of the mess our brains will make, so we don't do anything. As it happens, this dovetails quite nicely with our other ADD impulses, which all result in lots of talk, rampant obsessing, and not much doing.

We say we're holding out for perfect, but perfect doesn't exist, so we're really just being cowards.

Keep going. I hadn't remembered it for a few months, but I was telling my son this morning: My mentor and one of my thesis readers for my MFA, Thomas French, must have said it to me at least as often as I say it to my son. We'd begin nearly every conversation thus:

Him: "What am I going to say?"
Me: "I know. I know. 'Keep going.'"
Him: "Well?"
Me: "It'll be done tomorrow. Promise."

(Sometimes, it even was.)

It was pathetic, really. A grown-ass adult being told, basically, to turn in her homework. I was afraid. I was afraid of turning it in. What kind of mess did I make? What if the allegory I used this time fell as flat as that other one I thought was so awesome? How could I turn in something so second-rate, so rough, so imperfect? Anything's better than this pile of shit. Nothing. Even nothing is better.

Tom French is on The Colbert Report tonight. Everyone, if you haven't already, ignore me and go watch it right now. I'm positive he has cooler, more insightful things to say than I, and that's not self deprecation. It's a fact. He's very cool. He goes to very cool places and writes, very well, about very cool things. Also, he likes the same music, comedy, and books as me; so clearly, he's a genius. Still, the single biggest thing I'll carry with me is the mantra to keep going.

We practiced something in the program that we liked to call the "shitty first draft." I don't think Tom invented it or even said it much, but it's the same concept. Turn in your shitty first draft. Don't hold on to it. Don't withhold your ideas because you ramble when you talk about them.

Sometimes, my stuff was crappy. My favorite lines got axed. And you know what? I survived.

Keeping it in robs me of the one thing that can kick-start me out of my ridiculous spirals -- the input of others. Writing, and living, is a dialogue, even when I contribute most or all of it. Especially then. It's change, ideas, people, feedback. It's how most people ignored my essay about black widows and my reference to Queen's "Fat-Bottomed Girls" (except for a constant stream of disturbing traffic that seems to interpret the song title in ways that have little to do with Queen's intended meaning and even less to do with arachnids). It's how a throw-out essay gets a hundred hits in the first few minutes. Writing is failure, sometimes, but that's OK.

I told my son to write his funny Os and his weird vocabulary sentences that always seem to involve me, wizards, and flatulence. I hollered at the top of my voice last night that Your writing is better if you just speed up, if you just KEEP GOING. It was only then that my brain booted up out of standby mode and made the connection. Hello kettle; my name is Kim. You're black.

This essay is a shitty first draft, and I'm posting it anyway.

I want to do things. I want to do a collaborative mother/son children's book, with art by him and words by me. I want to look into displaying my photos. I have an idea about the insect-human relationship that I want to write. I have other ideas. I haven't developed or looked into any of these things, because I'm afraid to put something out there if it turns out to be lame. But I'm saying right now, I'm going to do these specific things, or at least try. So if you can help me with these goals, by all means, feel free. Even more than that, however, nag me. I need to keep going.

Life is a shitty first draft. You're not really living if you're afraid of that fact. Besides, sometimes, it's not so shitty. It's pretty great.

Friday, August 13, 2010

It's all a game: Pass it on

(Essay by me. Pictures, not necessarily related, by him. So this sort of counts as Snapshots.)

Have you ever played that old reading game "Apple Butter?" It's supposed to go like this: You're reading aloud, two or more of you, in class or at home (because all families worth the name read together at home), and when you want to pass the turn on to the next reader, you say "apple butter," as in "I do not like green eggs and apple butter." You get to name the next victim person to read.

My dad introduced me to the game, along with everyone else who was a fifth- or sixth-grader with me. We mostly played it at school. I never had him as my "main" teacher, but we split up for a few specialized subjects. I had him for mythology and health. And detention, sometimes.

I always wondered why the game was dubbed Apple Butter. I didn't know what apple butter was -- I always had this rich, buttery, sugary, appley confection-condiment in mind -- but I imagined it had very little to do with Madeline L'Engle, the American Revolution, Poseidon, or health class. Still, the game rocked. (To be fair, "quiet ball" rocked in sixth grade, so we may have been an easy audience.) It always became a bizarre hybrid of bonding, learning, connecting, and tormenting one another. A game of pass it on.

I've since asked around, and almost no one remembers the game by this name. Maybe you called it "popcorn" or "the game that means, thank god, that I don't have to read for very long." Who knows. Memory is a funny thing.

In his class, it wasn't called anything. Instead of saying "apple butter," we'd call out the next person's name, as in "There was the brain, there was IT, lying pulsing and quivering on the dais, soft and exposed and KIM!"

Or "The digestive system is made up of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, the rectum, and the DAD! I mean ... oops. The rectum, and the Mr. Hosey."

(Much class laughter. The dad-as-teacher thing never quite got old.)

The game was lame, sure, but you should've seen it. Pass it on. It's a great game.

Have you seen a kid who can barely read squirm and fidget and physically ache for his turn to read aloud? I have. (His turn ended with "Athena burst forth from the head of Travis.") Pass it on.

Have you seen sworn enemies (at least, it was sworn before morning recess) make up over the personal grooming unit? I have. ("Make sure to clean your ... Melissa! Heeheehee.") Pass it on.

Have you seen weird kid -- the only kid whose presence still made his classmates want to pantomime "sanitize" a chair before sitting, the one who smelled kind of like waffles and always wore the same dingy Bart Simpson shirt and didn't talk, just chewed his knuckle; the kid you didn't want to offend but, by God, you weren't going to be seen liking -- have you seen that kid get picked by the cool one, and get his moment in the sun? I have. (His gem: "Mucus is secreted by Mr. Hosey." Heaven only knows where the reproductive unit would have taken us.)

We pass a lot of things on around here, and I don't just mean my chinless profile, pale skin and nasally voice. Sarcasm -- from my father's every-ready remarks to my own sardonic take to my son's emerging wit, which would make me strangle him if it didn't make me burst with pride. Reading -- from my father's love of the classics, mythology, L'Engle, and baseball stories and my mom's obsession with Stephen King (no one ever sees that coming, somehow), to my and my son's devouring of anything written.

We pass on compassion -- my mom for the environment and cats, my dad for an entire community that somehow became his family, my son's almost-painful concern for all animals. He cried when a cricket died on his thumbnail tonight.

Sometimes, though, I think we mostly pass on plain old passion -- for learning most of all -- and the deeply rooted conviction that for anything to be worth doing, you should be learning something, and if you're learning anything, it is by definition fun.

I was discussing my son's progress so far this year. He's got 99s and 100s on nearly every assignment, but he's dragging. He's bummed.

If he's not learning something new, he can't really see the point. It should be exciting.

"I wouldn't worry," someone told me, "It happens all the time. If it's not too awful, I wouldn't worry."

What? What kind of a half-assed standard is that? If it's not bad, it's fine? No. Sorry. And why would it happening "all the time" make me happy?

If it's wonderful, great. If it's provocative, fine. If it's difficult and infuriating and frustrating; if we cry and yell every day for a week, great. Well, not great. But maybe necessary, definitely important. The fun always comes after those times. It's certainly better than "not too awful." "Not too awful" is stagnation. It's self-centered I-don't-have-to-learn-ism. It's getting by. It's less than your best, which is never even close to OK. I don't want my son to get by.

My son loves learning. He writes, reads at least a few levels above his grade, sees things in ways no one else does, and has an imagination like you wouldn't believe. He created an entire fantasy universe -- completely original, not a riff on an existing one -- when he was four. He's amazing. I'm going to go out on a limb (we pass that on too) and say he got it from me.

He's also pathologically inattentive, impulsive, and stubborn like you really wouldn't believe. It's like arguing with an eight-year-old male version of myself. Which makes me realize: Damn, I'm an asshole. I'm going to stand on firm, well-trodden ground and say he got that from me.

It's easier to leave well enough alone. Just do your dang work. Get it freaking over with. Get by.

This morning he was gasping, writing, gasping, writing, and gasping. GASP. Writewritescribblewrite. GASP. Writewritescribble. GASP.

"What on Earth are you doing?" I asked.

"I made a game out of it," he told me. "I can do three of them before I have to take another breath. It's fun."

Oh. Right.

"Hey, Mom? Can we read out loud tonight? Can we take turns? And then, can we take the camera you passed on to me ... can we take it out before the sun sets?"

Later, he happened to ask for the "old kind" of sandwich, and I remembered: the first food he "made" himself was a peanut butter and apple butter sandwich, ages ago.

Turns out, apple butter is this cinnamony applesauce-type spread thing. It's really pretty gross. Somehow, I still imagine it as the best treat in the world.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

This totally counts as Wordless. It's me, after all.

First off, thank you times a whole bunch to everyone who sent me blog comments, Flickr comments, Facebook comments and private e-mails after yesterday's parental whining. It helps. At first, I didn't like it -- everyone was all "Yeah; it happens to everyone," and my brain was all "NO! It doesn't happen to everyone! Boo! They don't understand!" A few minutes' of deep breathing and junk-food-eating later, however, let me gain a tiny bit of perspective. Which was all I really needed. So thanks. Much love to you all. You totally do understand.

And now, I'm shutting up. Because it's Wordless Wednesday, and I'm not being very wordless. That part above doesn't count.

OK. Shutting up for real now.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Really. How DO you do it?

My son hates me.

Well, no. That's overly dramatic. (Surprise!) My son doesn't hate me; in fact, he tells me every day how much he loves me. I still get to tuck him in. We have "No, I love YOU more" contests in the car.

(Here's where you're nauseated, if you're not a parent yourself or in some way invested in me/my son.)

Rather, in between these things -- and by that I mean for huge, tedious chunks of each day -- he acts like he hates me. It really sucks. Homework is a chore. Bedtime is a chore. Not wiping one's nose on one's shirt is a chore. Why we can't rescue every cricket on the planet is a major issue. Chores are really a chore.

I don't mean the usual "Oh, you know how it is; he never wants to do his homework" chore. I mean ridiculous. Epic battles. Beyond the bounds of reason. To the point where I have to completely abandon, at least for a moment, being his friend; where I have to turn all medieval and tell him, at the top of my lungs, where the rubber meets the road/how the cow eats the cabbage/how the third grader better do the freaking homework right freaking now if he wants to live to see fourth grade.

Naturally, I want him to develop his own identity. In a way, maybe it's my fault. I encourage talking about everything. I love explaining. I love being asked for explanations. I love receiving explanations. I'll talk all night long. I really kind of abhor the "because I'm the parent" conversation ender.

David is EXACTLY like me, in way too many ways. Meaning, he wants to talk and talk and talk, and if he hasn't seen the wisdom of a particular course of action, he wants to talk (read: argue) some more. Which would be fine, I really think it would, in an adult. I'm coming to realize, however, that this isn't so fine in an eight-year-old who simply doesn't always possess the faculties to understand the consequences of his actions. We reach an impasse every single night. He cries. I get aggravated. He argues. Digs his heels in. I yell. I feel awful. He says something -- usually some little, totally dumb kid thing -- and my feelings actually get hurt.

I know how to love my kid. I know how to keep him safe. I know how to set down the rules, and usually he follows them. He's brilliant, and funny, and kind. I know how to nurture all those things.

But I think I'm supposed to know how to fight with my kid. And win. And have him, at least sometimes, acquiesce cheerfully. I hate that he doesn't right now. HE hates that he doesn't.

I'm good at this. I'm a natural mom, at least until this thing. I'm not being facetious in the least when I say I totally suck at this part. How do you do it?

Please tell me this is just a phase. Please tell me there are more tranquil phases to come.

I'm supposed to be the one making this go the right way.

Because I'm the parent; that's why.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Phases of my life (this post has nothing to do with sunsets)

I became who I am in chapters. Everything happens gradually, of course, but there are phases in my life in which I've really become, when the real scaffolding of who I am was erected. It doesn't have to be anything glamorous. Peanut butter M & Ms first taught me about fleeting popularity.

I was thinking about this because my son -- who has recently been infuriating, confusing, and inspiring in equal measure -- has entered what I consider to be my own first big becoming phase. I came to be rooted in who I was, and who I would, in many ways, return to being, between the ages of 8 and 12. This was when someone other than my teacher, mom, or dad read my stuff, and I decided I wanted to be a writer. This was when I really got into animals, even after my gerbil tried to maul me and also seemed to interpret competent mothering to include cannibalizing one's young. It was when I first hiked the Grand Canyon, hiked to the top of the Superstitions, and ate leeches (the last one, unintentionally). It was when I saw someone's house burn down. It was the time during which, after a very unfortunate incident with an evil yo-yo and my face, I realized "coordination" for my body most closely resembled "OK, limbs, everyone do your own thing!" It was when I was first bullied, when I first stuck up for someone, when I had my first crush, when I discovered the word "fuck," when I developed acne, and when I realized, to my great personal anguish, that certain things about me were abnormal, some OK and some not.

A few things happened between 12 and 15. Not much. I got my period, way after everyone else. (I was thrilled. Why would you want it earlier? No, I don't "feel like a woman" now. I feel like shit. Now quit looking at me.) I read the collected works of Christopher Pike. This was not a defining time.

Phase Two was, I would say, between 15 and 18. This was the first time I suffered a great personal loss. It was when I decided to rebel, learned I really sucked at rebelling, my boyfriend and I ran for our lives from a bear (which may actually have been a squirrel), I barfed lettuce out of my nose, I got religious, I began to get nonreligious, I got engaged, and I decided to get unengaged.

Later, I got popular for a few minutes. I got pregnant. But that wasn't really a phase. It wasn't even particularly life changing.

Having my son was certainly life changing. I became a mom, and that is and forever shall be my most defining charcteristic; and screw you, everyone who says that means I'm giving up some part of my identity. I'm certainly no perfect homemaker, as anyone who knows me can attest. For one, I spend WAY more time reading science fiction fan forums than I do cleaning my own house; and also, I had a cookie for breakfast this morning because I was too busy doing other stuff -- which, now that I typed it, doesn't look like something that should make me proud, but, well, so THERE.

Wait, what was I saying? Oh, yeah. Phases.

Anyway, after that, there have been plenty of big things, but they tend to fall back to parameters set in place in Phase One or Phase Two. And you know what? I don't talk much about those times.

So now, to fill up my blog posts, I shall bore you with the entirety of my childhood.

No. Kidding. KIDDING! Please don't go away. You'll make me cry, and then I'll eat a whole pie, and then I'll feel sick so I'll look for something to drink only all we have is sugary soda because I'm too crappy of a homemaker to go buy diet soda even though I want it and my husband's diabetic so he needs it; and THEN I'll enter into a Phase Three, which will be comprised entirely of weight gain and visits to my husband's doctor, and you don't want that on your conscious, do you?

I will share brief snippets from those times. They're actually all pretty short, but they're the things that drive me. Some are sad. Some are funny. Even if they're not particularly life-shattering, they're the stories that live in my head, and thus, who I am. I'm thinking of starting with the rabid squirrel-bear. What do you think?

**I'm still doing snapshots, or going back to them, I guess. You seemed to like them, and David's got a TON of shots I need to share.

**I'm thinking of making some kind of schedule, you know, themed posts of one type or another on certain days. What do you think? (I'm thinking Snapshots, Things I love/hate, critter day, maybe even Wordless Wednesday. I can be wordless. You know, mostly. Sometimes.)

**I'm throwing in pretty sunset pictures because you all seem to like that. This post has nothing to do with sunsets. I could draw again, I guess, but I'm not sure if the kudos on that was because you were humoring me, or what. Or maybe you think my family really does have Jack-o-lantern heads, so the drawings were accurate. I did kind of like drawing, though. It captured how correct I was, right?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Things I Hate-with-murderous-rage-for-no-good-reason Thursday

I wrote this Thursday, but now it's the wee hours of Friday. Bah. It's not a Things I Love anyway.

The thing about me is I'm really pretty good at bad stuff. Like, actual bad stuff. I'm sad/angry/scared/whatever just like the next person, but I go into action. I react later, if ever. In an emergency, I'm your lady. Well; if there are no paramedics, police officers, firefighters, emergency-trained civilians, or my mom available; then I'm your lady.

But little stuff drives me INSANE. This leads to a curious contradiction in my personality, and I'll say things like "No; he's not going into a coma. Let's just keep an eye on him and if he's not better by 6, we'll go to the hospital ... HOLY CRAP; I RAN INTO THE DOORKNOB! AGAIN!!!! AND NOW MY HAIR'S IN MY FACE! THE WORLD HATES ME!" (Actual example.)

So this is more of a Stupid-crap-that-shouldn't-bother-me-but-does post. Enjoy my impotent rage.

• I was woke up with a HUGE headache, like worse than my usual ones, like my brain was trying to punch my skull and poke out my right eye from the inside. Naturally, my husband saw fit to remedy this by flopping over on top of me, before shoving me out of bed entirely. He didn't even have the courtesy to wake up and see my death glare.

• The door burst open.
"Mom! Mom! Mom?"
"Meow. Meow Meow! MEOWWWW!"
"MOM!" [I was grabbed.]
"MEOW!!" [I was bitten. Scratched. Generally assaulted.]

• The toaster burned my toast. It also burned my fingers, because I don't stick utensils in the toaster because you're not supposed to, but I can't help thinking sticking my hand into burning metal isn't much better. The toaster's a bastard. Also, I can't ever clean it completely. What the hell, toaster.

• My son was behind on his homework ALREADY. On the second day. It was only because he hadn't brought home the ridiculously easy worksheet the first day, and when I told him "Just think to yourself, 'What is it that I need to bring home?' before you leave each day," he looked at me as though this had never ONCE occurred to him.

So the next day he had double homework. But this is double easy-beginning-of-third-grade-BS homework. I reasoned with him. I told him it was only a few minutes of work, then playing and frolicking fun-time.

(Because another fun part of my day was receiving a scammy phone call that made me paranoid that I owed my student loan people tons of money, I called the real company and was on hold for a bazillion hours. In this time, I drew a depiction of my reasoning with my son. Few minutes of work, blissful kid-type hi-jinks):

He opted for a different approach:

He decided to do this FOR THREE HOURS.

• I had to retrieve the trash can, naturally, in the swelteringly-miserablest part of the day. By the time I got out to the curb, I was sweating. By the time I grabbed the trash can, I was playing reluctant host to a curious wasp. Also, the can lid fell apart. By the time I had properly abused, cursed, and reassembled the can and was hitching it back to the yard, I realized I'd been standing in an anthill this whole time and was now the proud owner of two living socks. Much leaping about and shrieked obscenities ensued.

• As I headed upstairs my husband asked, in a funny voice, "Do you want some company?"
Me: "What? Are you offering?"
Him: "Huh?"
Me: "I said, are you offering? Are you trying to hit on me?"
Him: "Uh, no, not exactly."
Me: "Oh. OK then." [I turn to walk away.]
Him: "Where are you going?"
Me: "Oh, so you ARE trying to. OK, then! It was just off-putting when you said no."
Him: "Never MIND, then!"
Me (crying): "What? Why? I was happy about it!"
Him: "You said you were turned off!"
Me: "I did not! I said put off! Actually, I said YOU were off-putting! Totally different!"
Him: "Not to me!"

It devolved from there. I have a depiction of that one too (I was on hold for a while):

I tried to make it better by explaining the difference. Somehow, this didn't help:

• Later, someone with whom I've been trying to meet rescheduled his already re-re-rescheduled appointment, then e-mailed later and canceled that one.

• I needed to finish a query, but I couldn't find my latest document because, like a fucking genius, I named the last three documents "Document1," "Document2," and the super-specific "Article."

• The computer erased all my work (all 45 consecutive minutes of it!) and informed me that I had "chosen" to do something that made it crash. (Apparently, making something italic is verboten.) Which, by now, the computer might as well have grown a giant middle finger. I get it, computer. F me.

• The cats both did their best to help me concentrate: "Meow. Meow. Meow. [Second cat joining.] Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow. [Cats beginning to fight. Murderous yowling.] MeowMeowMeowMeowMeowMeowMeowMeowMeow Meooooow. MEOW. MEOWWW!"

• I craned my body around the bend in our stairs to look at the front door, and bashed my head on the ceiling. This happens often. It is, of course, the ceiling's fault.

• My husband tried to proposition me again, more directly this time. Unfortunately for him, verbal repartee is not his strong suit. He used the word "boobies." He tried to make up for it by telling me how nice I smelled, how I smell unnaturally great for so long even between showers (kind of odd, but good so far), and that it stays wonderful "after you shower, for like a week and a half!"
Me: "Wait. A week and a half? You think that's how often I shower?"
Him: "No! I just meant..."
[Crickets chirping]
Him: "I mean, not that you don't..."
[Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.]
Him: "I only meant that you smell SO nice..."
[Chirp. Chirp. ChirpChirpChirpChirpChirp ChirpChirpChirpChirpChirp ChirpChirpChirpChirp.]
Him: "You're sexy?"

• And now I can't go to freaking sleep.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Things I love, summer edition

Did I mention I was taking a break? Sorry. Break over.

It is Thursday, so here's what I love today:

Vacation. Family. How traveling to another place, carrying all your stuff in a sack, and being disconnected from most of your everyday life reminds you that really, you've brought the best parts with you.

The ocean. The ocean frickin' rocks, especially to a desert dweller.

French silk pies. I've eaten at least three this summer. The guys might have helped, but not much.

Arizona insects. What, you mean you don't brave 115-degree weather to tote around a heavy lens for hours and muck around for giant-mandibled arthropods to hold? Your loss, I suppose.

Parenting. I do it right every once in a while. I only hope it makes up for the 90 percent of the time I seem to screw up royally, and also for my complete inability to pretend that I enjoy tickling or video games. But the incident with the cat, the spoiled milk, and the plastic planets? Nailed it. The question -- "Is God really really real? How can we know if he's real or fake?" -- posed while we were covered in sweat, dirt, camera gear, and the aforementioned giant-mandibled arthropod? Postponed thirty seconds, then nailed, I think. The extended middle finger behind my back? Happened to "miss" that one, which I think is nailing it, given the apology/hug that quickly followed.


Tom French. He was one of my MFA mentors, and I believe I've rhapsodized about the guy before, on other blogs if not this one. He's got a new book out, and you really have to read it. If you like animals, if you like zoos, if you hate zoos, if you're not sure. Whatever. Just go read it. I remember Tom telling a story during residency about when he was a kid -- he would climb trees, hide up there for hours, snoop on his neighbors, and become simply enthralled by their lives and their stories. ALL their stories. I think that's the thing. He doesn't take sides, or rather, he takes all sides. I don't know anyone better at getting to the heart of a story.

Finally sort of getting this marriage thing right. We're keeping the house clean! Without fighting! PLUS we kiss passionately enough each day to gross out any 8-year-olds in the vicinity.

Octopuses. For everyone who booed my booing of Paul the Psychic/Prescient/Whatever Octopus, I really really love cephalopods, kind of more than is normal. So there. P.S. It's "octopuses," not "octopi." The "i" is only used to pluralize an "us" if it's a Latin word; whereas "octopus" is more of a Latinized Greek word. I'll accept "octopodes," in a pinch. (See; you can be sure it's still me. Who else is so pedantic about these things? Well, half of you, probably. But my husband and his friends the other half likes to make fun of me.)

I love lots of other things, but I'll want to be even longer-winded about each of them. Also, snapshots to come. How's everyone's summer going?

Friday, June 4, 2010


I'm not saying that this necessarily applies to me in any way, but I happen to find the concept of a modern woman on her thirtieth birthday -- maybe, say, one who is a mother, is in an unlikely but very happy marriage, and is underemployed -- intriguing. Say this particular woman -- just to pick a location at random -- lives in a suburban development, in a reasonably kept house and wholly unkempt yard, somewhere southeast of Phoenix, Arizona.

1. Learn astrophotography.

Now, how does our modern woman -- and say, just for the sake of argument, that she holds a couple of college degrees and a bazillion dollars in student loan debt -- how does she take stock, on birthday No. 30?

2. Revisit the Grand Canyon. Take someone.

Let's say this is a particularly self-absorbed self-aware thirty-year-old woman, and let's say she dug up a lame-ass "30 things to do before I'm 30" list that she wrote in/after college eons ago. Let's say most of those things are still undone. The list itself wasn't even finished, perhaps.

3. Learn to cook better.
4. Buy a house.

And let's assume -- not that I can identify -- that our woman is pathologically introverted except for via keyboard; that she's fiercely opinionated but too chicken to voice her opinions; and that she's the type to, I don't know, cry at school talent shows and talking-dog movies.

5. Get better at origami.
6. Teach son about the desert/wildlife.

Suppose this woman really hasn't learned much these thirty years. Can't cook, save maybe a dozen dishes. Can't drive in strange neighborhoods. Can't balance her checkbook.

7. Try several types of sushi.
8. Teach a college course.

Suppose our lady isn't even sure about the things she has learned. Raised hard right, now she leans left. Used to attend religious services; isn't too fond of them anymore. Used to selfishly adore being adored by certain individuals; now avoids their Facebook friend requests. Doesn't want to be called "girl" but isn't "yea woman!" enough to say anything about it. Thinks she's a better mom than you but won't say so. Thinks she's smarter than you, and will say so, but will probably pretend it was a cough if you get mad.

9. Learn to drive stick
10. Skydive/parasail/bungee jump.
11. Scuba dive.

However, we can figure she's learned at least a few things in her three decades. At four, maybe she learned Sit -N- Spin = barfing. At six, maybe she learned the boy who tricked her into taking the wings off a ladybug was a sadistic douche, and perhaps she acquired a lifelong passion for animals. Somewhere around nine, she learned she had something or other called ADD, and it made her brain both better and worse than other people's. At twelve, she learned she was smarter than most everyone, which was not a social boon. Somewhere in there, she learned to hate the desert, and then to love it; she learned to love baseball and poker, and she spent a few straight years turning over rocks to watch what scurried out.

12. Dance in public and not be embarrassed.
13. Volunteer at an animal place.
14. Get Master's degree.

At fourteen, she discovered she was pretty good at writing, and decided to be a writer, probably a journalist. At fifteen, she met a guy she figured she'd someday marry. Between fifteen and twenty-one, let's say she did a bunch of stupid shit that was largely forgettable, save for learning that Jell-O shooters are not the same thing as Jell-O Jigglers, and deciding she would not, after all, be a writer or marry that guy.

15. Make new friends.
16. Visit a volcano.

Perhaps this is a woman who, stupidly, like a million other women, sealed the deal with a new guy before there was a deal; and who, like at least thousands of other women, had a whole new deal a couple of months later.

17. Shark cage!
18. Get in the best shape of my life.
19. Get organized.

And let's say this woman decided, right then and there, that her life had entered a whole new chapter. At twenty-two. Not that I would know anything about that.

20. Publish photography.

Of course, after the deal changer, she dated a bit, and eventually decided to get to know that first guy again, who was really pretty great after all. We can assume she's married to him today. Let's say she became a writer after all. Sometimes she's good at it. Let's figure once in a while she even gets paid for it.

21. Publish a book.
22. Run a 5K/10K/marathon.

It's safe to assume, hypothetically, that our woman doesn't get out much. Not many ticks on the life list. But maybe she knows all the desert's critters by sight and sound. Maybe she's passed on this knowledge to another generation. Maybe she sat on her thirtieth birthday and watched her son reading chapter after chapter, reclined on the couch, in camouflage shorts and a superhero t-shirt. Maybe she just got a whole host of handmade birthday presents, encased in rainbow-paper-and-scotch-tape cocoons. Maybe she figures that's at least as good as a bungee jump.

23. Kayak in the ocean.
24. Plant a garden.

Maybe this thirty-year-old has a wandering mind and she thinks, out of the blue, of that fishless fishing-hole scene at the end of The Last Picture Show ("Is bein' married always so miserable?" / "Naw; not really. About eighty percent of the time, I guess."), and how it reminds her of that one fishless fishing-hole scene in an episode of Stargate SG1, and she knows her husband would know exactly which scene she means, and that's gotta count for something, even if she'll never learn to dance.

25. Be fluent in Spanish.
26. Become a good mom.

I wish I had a satisfying conclusion. But it's just an intellectual exercise.

Suppose our intrepid woman still doesn't really know anything. Doesn't have a clue, really. What's next?

Yeah. I don't know either.