Wednesday, June 25, 2008


It is as simple as a conversation,
as the passing of language:
My words expelled into air.
His words expelled into air.
Enough pause between speech
for meaning to grow
into the spaces between us.

I am in mom’s chair,
wrapped inside her blanket.
He is in his chair,
back reclined and legs splayed before him,
great big barrel of man.

I might say:
I just don’t understand why you did it without telling us first.
He might explain
at length: His age. His loneliness. His fears.
I might say:
I understand. Do you understand why it was hurtful?
And he might answer: Yes. I understand.
He might offer: I’m sorry.

Anger is so heavy a weight
tied to your heart, dragging
the beats of your breath behind.

Old words he uttered: I have no purpose. No purpose.
Life steps. Steps. Forward marching.
Even in grief, there is joy to be found,
or purpose, at the very least.
My father, widowed, now remarried,
is alive. Living. Lives.

Forgiveness is as simple as
father and daughter speaking and listening,
each comprehending the other
as best as possible between the gaps-
generations and the divide of continents.

The desire for comprehension is greater
than all of space.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

things you do in an airport.

when you are delayed.

because your flight from Baton Rouge to Raleigh through Atlanta arrives late. Weather. You get to Atlanta and off of the plane just as your connecting flight is taking off...Blast off. That's what you think. Like this: Blast off. Fast-OFF! Shit. It's gone. Pissed off. And you sigh. Loudly. It is just so satisfying to sigh out loud.

1. Drink a Starf*cks grande vanilla latte, easy on the vanilla.
2. Listen to your itunes - Beck, Midnight Vultures.
3. Think about your went-to-bed-at-1 am, woke-up-at-5 am bleary, achy, stinging eyes.
4. Wish you'd been able to get presents for your nieces and nephews before you left the red stick. Great big fabulous one-of-a-kind STUFF.
5. Wish you hadn't wasted so much time agonizing over the "right" gifts so you could have arrived to Raleigh like Aunty-Santy-Claus instead of empty-handed, like, "I'm HERE! You lucky bastards. Now, LOVE me!" Ugh.
6. Wonder if your hair will hold up in all this traveling. (You're impressed with your 7 minute 5:35 a.m. blow-dry-in-the-dark.)
7. Think: I will not be mad at and an asshole to my dad when I see him. I will not be an asshole. I will not be an asshole.
8. Try to remember the last time you were home. You cannot remember it clearly to save your life. You think it may have been February 2007, and you were sorting through your mother's belongings with your sisters.
9. Wonder why the Asian family sitting beside you thinks it's okay to peel open and eat a rectangular tin full of stinky fish.
10. Wish you'd gone all the way with the vanilla in your latte. Maybe it would out-power the fish smell. Probably not.
11. Watch an old man sitting on the ground across from you pick his teeth. He is wearing a kelly green short sleeved Tommy Hilfiger button-down collared shirt, brown belt, khaki pants - cuffed, navy dress socks, shiny penniless penny loafers. You can tell these are his "casual travel clothes." White guy. Bald. Definitely a business traveler. Certainly a golfer.
12. Convince yourself: You will not act like an asshole. You will be loving. You will be forgiving. You will be kind. Kind and collected rather than cool and collected.
13. There is a semi-rehearsed conversation starter in your head. "Dad, do you know that I've been mad at you?" You wonder if you will use it. Or any related conversation starter for that matter.
14. Make funny faces at yourself in iphoto.

SONG: Nicotine & Gravy, Beck

Thursday, June 19, 2008

water in every form.

I will never forget my seventh grade creative writing teacher and eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. O'Roarke. When she taught us the major themes in literature (let's see if I can remember: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Self, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Animal, and I feel like there is a sixth, but I'm not recalling- could it be Man vs. God/Religion?), I remember feeling awed by how simple it was. That's it? I thought, as if life and writing were suddenly snapping into focus. That's all I have to do to write a story? Just pick a theme, and write about it? And my characters are just tools to help me explore the larger theme? It seemed so easy.

Now I'm sure there are more sophisticated ways to teach children about themes in literature. And I'm sure there are people who contest boiling literary themes down in this manner. I'm not an educator, but I've got a feeling. Regardless, when Mrs. O'Rourke presented these basic themes as the subject matter of all of the literature in the world throughout all of time, I got it.

Lately I am obsessed with the presence in everyday life of one particular theme: Man vs. Nature. Maybe I have always been obsessed with this theme, with how small I am as a human being against the great big landscape. In particular, it is Man vs. Water that is capturing my attention. I'm observing right now. And processing.

Perhaps my first short story collection will have, as it's common thread, water. Maybe each piece will have Man vs. Water as it's underlying theme - or at least some interpretation or abstraction of that theme.

I saw in The New York Times today an article called "A Hand to Hand Struggle with a Raging River." I read it and recalled immediately the themes of literature as taught by Mrs. O'Roarke. Not a second later, I thought to myself, raging river, rising river. What trouble are we in for, Louisiana? Of course, it's the whole nation's trouble, isn't it, and we're already feeling it. I wonder how often it occurs to us that the spine of the United States is not hard bone set in place, but instead a thread of muscular liquid expanding, contracting and shifting at will?

Below is the article's text, but if you link to it, you'll see images in a slideshow.

A Hand to Hand Struggle with a Raging River by Dan Barry
The New York Times, June 19, 2008

They sandbag by moonlight. The school superintendent and the judge, the police sergeant and the mechanic, the Amish man in a straw hat and the young man in a Budweiser T-shirt, they lay down sandbags as if making peace offerings to a vexed god called the Mississippi.

The only sounds on Tuesday night: the whine of all-terrain vehicles climbing up the levee to deliver more sandbags; the rustle of bags being lifted; the calling mmmf! of those tossing bags into the air and the answering ooof! of those catching them in the chest; the thump of bags dropped into strategic place; and, ever so faintly, a distant aaahhh of rushing, roiling water.

“You sit here and listen,” Jim Crenshaw, a local emergency management official says with an awe just inches short of horror. “Normally you never hear it like that.”

Behind him, the swollen moon sends a charged lightness skimming across the river’s black surface and onto the white sandbags. Each bag tossed and each bag laid seems now to glow, as if containing something more than mere river sand. Mmmf! Ooof! Aaahhh...

And here, along the lip of the town’s levee, remain the torn, whitish remnants of sandbags lifted, tossed and stacked before the disastrous flood of 1993, when the people of Canton somehow managed, almost against the odds, to hold back the river.

The men and boys catching the sandbags of 2008, then, are standing on the successful offerings of the past.

There is something almost too simple, even primitive, about sandbagging. In an age when anyone can receive a satellite photograph of where they’re standing with the click of an iPhone, and when the river’s southward swell can be tracked like a tagged animal lumbering along a worn path, we still heavily depend on a basic, communal practice: shovel sand in bag, place bag on ground, pray it works, as it often does.

The Army Corps of Engineers offers an appreciation for sandbags on its Web site; sandbags, it says, are “a steadfast tool for flood fighting.” And by now, people along the Mississippi know the very specific instructions — fill bags to little more than half-way; start downstream and work up; layer bags just so — as well as the irony that their bags are often filled with sand dredged from the very river they are fending off.

But there is an ingredient just as necessary as sand: people. In the small towns along Highway 79, which meanders for dozens of miles alongside the river, people gather at firehouses, garages and street corners to participate in a ritual that combines hope and earth.

In Clarksville, for example, some inmates from the women’s prison in Vandalia spend these days shoveling and packing while under the gaze of corrections officers in sunglasses. In white shirts stamped with “WR” — for work release — they form an assembly line that snakes away from a diminishing mound of sand toward the growing river, whose threat unites them with all those who will not be traveling 40 miles by van back to a prison.

Here are Sandra Miller, 48, and Thalisia Ervin, 40, basking in sweat and in the appreciation of Clarksville. Ms. Miller, who has already served 13 years for “being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” as she puts it, says the weight of another bag caught sometimes knocks the wind out of her, but then she thinks to herself:

“This is for the good. This is for our good.”

Still, Ms. Miller looks around, sees the water higher and closer than it was the day before, and she questions that good. “It makes me wonder,” she says. “Does it help?”

“It does, it does,” her sister inmate reassures her. “It’s slowing it down.”

The story is the same in other communities. Inmates and Mennonites, children who should be playing and retirees who should be resting, all answering the mayday calls, all racing against the lowering sun and the rising water. All sandbagging.

Tuesday had begun with the rise of another deceptive sun over Canton, a farming and college town of 2,500. The halcyon days of mere weeks ago, when the Mississippi River was content to be a vehicle of commerce and recreation, were gone; now its greedy waters had consumed the riverside park and a good chunk of the active rail line, and were still agitating for more, rapping against the town’s three-mile-long levee.

The town’s emergency management director, Jeff McReynolds, had issued a statement “highly, highly” recommending that residents east of Seventh Street sleep somewhere other than their homes until further notice. He had also called for all able-bodied men to report for sandbagging and levee duties.

This would explain, then, why a visitor driving through the high ground of Canton at evening time finds tidy homes, the tidy campus of Culver-Stockton College — and almost no people. That is because many of them are downtown, near the river, sandbagging: able-bodied and otherwise; men, women and children, including Dalton, an 11-year-old boy with a dirt-smeared face who keeps pestering local officials with, “What can I do now, huh? What can I do?”

They smile and point him back to the sandbags.

With the moon rising, getting brighter, Mr. Crenshaw, one of the local officials, patrols the levee, swatting away bugs, overseeing the sandbagging operation he helped put together. One night last week he and another man drove about six hours round-trip to Davenport, Iowa, to collect 250,000 empty bags from the Corps of Engineers. They arrived at 5:15 in the morning; by 7, sand-filled bags were being stacked.

First, he says, workers dug a shallow trench along the levee, hammered in stakes, put up a short wooden wall called a “batter board,” laid some plastic sheeting — at this point Mr. Crenshaw is interrupted by the boy named Dalton, looking again for something to do.

“Hang tight, little buddy,” the man says to the boy. Pointing to a cluster of young Mennonite women filling bags at a large sand pile, he says, “Can you help them load over there?”

The boy runs to the pile, and Mr. Crenshaw picks up where he left off, saying that Canton has gone through about 850,000 bags. And they need more in this battle of inches, of guessing how far above 27 feet or so the river will rise.

The absence of the sun lends menace to the river. The sandbagging normally stops at 9 at night, for safety reasons. But few sandbaggers stop; few think they have the time. They’re still there — the civic leaders and local nobodies, those young Amish and Mennonite men tossing 50-pound bags around like pillows, that boy named Dalton.

In the hours to come, well into early morning, workers will race from wet spot to wet spot along the northern stretch of the levee, laying down sandbags to shore up what little separates a river from a people. The shoosh of shovel blade into sand, the rustle of bags, the exhalations of breath, under bright moonlight.

Another day will dawn with disaster averted, and by Wednesday afternoon there will be 50,000 sandbags. “Idle and waiting to be used,” Mr. Crenshaw says, as if confirming that each bag contained more than river sand.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

the writing bug.

On Sunday, some girlfriends and I had a great big brunch together. Heuvos Rancheros, Shrimp and Grits, Crab Cakes, poached eggs and warm corn pudding – all these plates of heavenly-breakfast-manna being passed from mouth to mouth. After we placed our order, I had the pleasure of telling the young waiter, “We’re all going to see Sex and the City after this,” just to see his reaction. He got a little embarrassed and stuttered out, “Really?” I blurted, “Just kidding.” We all busted out laughing.

What the five of us did do after brunch is head over to a.’s house for a mini-marathon writing workshop. We each shared a work-in-progress. The person sharing would read her piece aloud. Then we each took time to review it silently. After, we let the person know what had grabbed us in the work, what we felt its strengths were, and how we thought it could be made stronger, clearer, etc.

I shared a short story, and the feedback was so useful that I spent the whole day yesterday revising like a mad woman. I’ve been feeling a fair amount of school angst, so the usefulness of people’s comments eased my anxiety. It’s going to be a really wonderful gift to receive much-needed feedback and to critically read others’ work for the sake of offering feedback.

One of my favorite books is The Palace Thief, a collection of four long short stories by Ethan Canin. Lately my own short stories have been on the long side, which is an indicator that perhaps I am ready to tackle a novel. But in the meantime, I’m hoping to put together a collection that I can model, in part, after The Palace Thief. Maybe it will also have just four stories that work well together.

I am also brainstorming for the two freelance pieces I have going on. I’m so very conscious of my upcoming move that I am obsessed with the idea of writing one piece that feels like it is a quintessential Louisiana story, and one piece that is a quintessential Baton Rouge story. I guess I love this place.

The strands floating around in my head. One piece will be about the way that we live in Louisiana, intrinsically, with the water. The flooding in Iowa City has reminded me that, while we felt stunned by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, we also owned a degree of understanding toward the fact that we consciously coexist with this particular natural threat. The nation seemed so perplexed and disturbed by this conscious coexistence that it was interpreted as reckless nonchalance. We all become nonchalant toward those things we become used to. It’s not always the healthiest or most effective attitude, but it is human.

Fast forward to today. Iowa is just demonstration that no place is exempt from how massive and powerful nature is. We have chosen, in Louisiana, to inhabit the water, to adapt our lives to coastal marsh and bayou swamps, to the Mississippi and the great big Gulf of Mexico. There is a whole slew of historical circumstance that led to that decision and the ensuing culture. I’m interested in writing about what it means today, in the here and now, to live with the water. We still do it everyday.

As for Baton Rouge, my favorite and only red stick, I’m sad to say that I’m writing less romantically and more critically about a self-perpetuating predicament she is in. So close and yet so far. It’s the best way I can describe all of Baton Rouge’s potential, and all of the missed opportunities that result from poorly executing good ideas. Baton Rouge is like a thoroughly fabulous and unique piece of fabric, and Baton Rouge’s decision makers are like absolutely terrible designers and terrible seamstresses.

And now. I am off to write all about City Park in New Orleans.

It’s good to be in a writing frame of mind.

SONGS: Hey, Where is My Mind, La La Love You; The Pixies (I saw that I referenced them in the story I just revised. I took the reference out because it seemed so contrived. But I’ve been playing them ever since.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

a week of summer scars.

Running at 7:30 a.m. around the LSU lakes. As I am rounding a curve in the lake, a gigantic gold SUV plows around the same curve, but he's headed toward me. Thinking he does not see me and because he is SPEEDING, I get over into the wet grass to run, slip, fall, scrape up the palms of both hands, my right shoulder, both knees, my right shin, get a bruise on my right hip, and there's blood. Thanks, asshole.

Has this guy not heard about the triathlete who was just killed while riding his bike on River Road? Why is he speeding around the lakes - on a residential street where ALL DAY LONG people run, walk, bike??? I get a lot of adrenalin after the fall, and I run while working out my anger. I decide that rather than stay mad at the individual SUV-driving-speed-demon, I really should be angry at the institution that is Louisiana State University. If you're going to tout your nice campus and lakes, you should provide a decent running/walking/biking path. What? You can't dedicate like .3% of your athletic funds to a path??

I go home, put the dogs in the car to take to the vet, and Ruby gets so excited she cannot contain herself. She shits in the passenger seat. I pull over, clean it all up. We get back in the car, get to the vet, and. Drum roll. The vet's office is closed.

Choking child at kickball game. I give a three-year-old the Heimlich maneuver. I am so disturbed that I have insomnia all night.

I go to a spinning class at the Y downtown. I get so excited about finding a parking spot so fast that I bolt out of the car and to the Y, forgetting to load quarters into the meter. And I had specifically put change into my purse before heading to the Y. I get a parking ticket.

Later, c. and I load his truck with boxes we have packed up for the move. We take them over to his parents' house to store until the actual move. On the drive to his parents, I think back to the music that played during my spin class. I wonder aloud what ever happened to Ricky Martin. c. is having trouble remembering the song "La Vida Loca." I remind him of the lyrics, and he interrupts abruptly to command: "Never sing that song to me again." I laugh and tell him, "Girls like that song." "I am not a girl," he answers.

When we finish unloading boxes, we go eat some dinner. When we get home, our neighbor bolts out of his house to tell us that two thirteen-year-olds (or that's how old they looked according to the neighbor) broke into our backyard in perfect daylight not five minutes after we'd driven off. They tried to steal the scooter c. borrowed from a friend. He's been driving it to work to save on gas money.

(According to the cops, and conveyed to us by our neighbor, dealers are paying kids twenty bucks a pop to steal scooters because it's an easier way to deal. They load up the seats, deal and then discard the scooters.)

The kids have screwed up the ignition switch and kick stand pretty badly. Apparently, it happened sort of like this: One neighbor sees two kids park their bikes outside of our fence and sees them get into the yard. She sees another neighbor across the street and alerts him. One of them calls the police. Then a third neighbor starts yelling, "GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE!" and scares the kids who bolt out of the yard. One takes off on his bike; the other takes off on foot. The husband of the woman who first saw the kids gets home. He and the shouting neighbor get in their trucks and CHASE the two kids down over many blocks. One kid gets away, and the other, they follow home. He runs right into the lap of his mother.

I think the neighbors get some sick thrill out of scaring "these two black kids." Because, they just turn around and drive home. If I had chased two kids down and saw one land in his mother's arms, I would have walked right up to her and said, "DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR CHILD HAS BEEN DOING THIS EVENING?" Otherwise, what's the point? Hell hath no fury like a pissed off mother.

The neighbor also reports that the cops show up with another "little black kid" and ask if he is one of the kids. "No," they have to disappoint. He's not one of them. The neighbor then explains how the cop scares the shit out of the kid they'd picked up many blocks away and when they let him go, they don't bother taking him back to where they found him. The neighbor has some demonic delight twirling around in his eyes as he relays this all. Great, I think. If he wasn't a punk-ass-thief before, he will be now. He gets to go tell his friends how the asshole cops picked him up and shouted, "WE SAW YOU DO IT. YOU SEE THAT," (cop points up to roof of house) "THAT'S A VIDEO CAMERA." I mean, why not get into trouble if you're going to be accused no matter what?

Regardless of all the details, and the weird excited way our neighbor talks about chasing the "two little black kids down" just after he tells his wife, "Get your pregnant ass inside!" (so romantic), I do feel violated and frustrated. I see these kids walking up and down the street all day when I'm working at home. Teenagers with not an ounce to do during summer vacation except to scope out houses they can rob. What are you supposed to do? Tell them to piss off and stop staring into people's yards? Tell them, "You're not welcome here. Go home." Tell them, "Go find something productive to do in this god-forsaken-town where there is nothing available to do if you're not of a particular income level?" I mean, where are the public pools? I don't know. Maybe I am totally naive.

I just thought of what to tell them: Go shoplift at the mall. Steal from the man if you're gonna steal. Maybe not. They'd need adequate public transportation to get to the mall in the first place.

Nothing terrible has happened today. In fact, c.'s Puerto Rican friend from grad school is getting into town today for a wedding, and I can't wait to see him.

I also met with the editors of Country Roads today. I decided that, no matter how busy and unfocused moving is making me, I should get in a few last freelance articles before I head off to Austin. So I'm doing one for Country Roads and one for Sweet Tooth too.


I've heard this notion that just before you go to bed you should remind yourself of three good things that happened to you during the day. It's supposed to dramatically improve your mental health, and there's some scientific study behind it. Since all I did is whine in this entry, I'll think of three good things that have happened this week.

1. The Country Roads editors liked both of the story ideas I pitched, and I realized, to my delight, how much pitching a story is about the art of bullshitting.

2. I started working with a trainer again, and in the place I am training there is a trainer who looks like Iron Chef Michael Symon and also like he could have once been a bouncer at a circa 1982 punk bar. The trainer I am working with, a young guy, was telling a story about how, four or five years ago, he accidentally got caught up in a mosh pit when he saw some girl get punched and went to help her. The Michael Symon trainer commented, in all seriousness, "Mosh pits are a dead art." He is probably between 38-40, and when he said it, I thought: That dude knows exactly what he is talking about. He is so outside of my stereotype of what a trainer should be that my day was completely made

3. While I was packing up my office, I started reading old high school notes. In one, a friend asked, "Have you ever melted gum on the radiator?" She described picking old gum stuck to the bottom of desks, putting it onto the radiator and how it gets gooey in a matter of seconds. She ended the note with, "I can't really think of anything else to say." Reading these notes made me remember how bored I always felt in high school and how bored all of my friends seemed to be. And today, I think they are some of the most interesting people I know. The girl who wrote about the gum is an artist, a painter. Another friend is an actress. Two friends are producers. I guess I am a writer. Those are some pretty interesting paths to take considering how bored everyone used to be. No? I guess bored people learn how to make their own fun in the world.

Oh. A fourth good thing worth mentioning:
4. I am really glad that my neighbors were all so on the ball and observant about the little thieves. It might not seem so, but I am really appreciative.

SONGS: Cruel Summer, Bananarama and La Vida Loca, Ricky Martin

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

friend files-two: big ice, little tyke, and one terrific mom.

If I’m ever a mom, I want to be a mom like my friend and neighbor C. She is calm, cool and collected. She makes her kids laugh all the time. She doesn’t sensor herself too much, but manages to mask the rawness of her humor for now with full understanding that any day her kids are going to get what she’s been talking about. She is an expert cake-maker. When it’s Mardi Gras, she is confident and together enough to tote all three of her kids to the Spanish Town parade and our friend's after party – one eye always looking out from afar, but never hovering insecurely over her kids.

She is the sort of person who gets worked up over the utter laziness and incompetence of our police department, Metro Council, planning commission, and every other local body that holds an ounce of power. She will rant and rave about a call she made to our Metro Council member’s office. She is also one of the last people on earth who doesn’t use email. C. is a letter writer. In fact, when she gets really angry about some asinine happening in BR, she’ll spend days composing a letter to the editor. Then, if we’re ranting over the same issue, she’ll read her letter aloud to me, and ask, "How's that? Do I need to soften the tone?" She confesses to writing notes and leaving them at our neighbors' houses: “It works this way: You put your can out on Monday, bring it IN on Monday afternoon. Out again on Thursday. IN again same day. Garbage collection is a cycle. Get it?”

Okay, I made that note up, but it’s the kind of thing that gets her goat, and I wouldn’t put those words past her. I bet she’s contemplated leaving that very note on my door.

She's also a team member on my adult league kickball team, The #1 Teabaggers (we all have a #1 on the back of our shirts). And when C.’s then seven-year-old son h. (now eight) asked C. why we're called the “teabaggers,” she said, “You know. It’s like your baggin’ em. You’re gettin’ em good.” I think there was a fist-swinging-through-the-air motion that accompanied her explanation.

“Oh,” h. smiled and nodded with self-assured understanding. I doubt if h. has ever bothered to ask her about the saggy balls she bedazzled onto the front of her kickball shirt. I suspect he’s already on to her. But pseudo-explanation of team name in hand, in our five seasons as a team, h., his six-year-old sister l. and their three-year-old brother r. come to the games and cheer us on occasionally: “Go Teabaggers!” they’ll shout from the dugout – to everyone else’s amusement.

C.’s not really a church-goer, but she sent her kids to a Baptist preschool with a good reputation. (Maybe it's Presbyterian?) One day h. came home, and in exasperation he asked, “Who’s this Jesus guy everyone keeps talking about?”

C.’s dry response: “You better ask Miss So-and-So about that.”

Maybe a year later, when her daughter l. was three, C. told a story about how l. had woken disturbed in the middle of the night, charged into her parents' room and - signaling the teen angst-to-come - proclaimed, “I just don’t understand why god made us!”

Finally, little r. is obsessed with cars, trucks and anything with wheels. C. showed us a little trick when he was one. She sat him in her husband’s truck where he was happy as a clam, and when she pulled him out, he began crying erratically as if on command. He pointed and screamed, "Truck! Truck! Truck!"

“That boy loves being in the truck,” C. laughed. Apparently he hears my c.’s truck drive by his house in the mornings, and he pokes his head up to ask, “c.’s truck?” When he passes by our house and sees my car, he offers, “preet’scar?” If he sees me or c. in person, we’re greeted in the same manner. And C. will say, "Yes, r. That's Herpreet," or, "Yes. That's c."

I like those kids. A lot.

Last night during our kickball game, I gave r. the Heimlich maneuver. Ever had the pleasure of such panic?

He and h. and l. were in the dugout – little r. at one end playing with someone’s dog. His big brother and big sister were sitting on the bench a few feet away. Somehow I happened to be standing near h. and l. when r. walked up crying, moving his hands around his neck-region and gasping through tears. h. and l., calm and oblivious were asking, “You allright, r.? It’s okay." But they weren't really getting it. I turned to see what was happening, and I'm sure it was all of a few seconds, but it felt like several slow minutes.

I looked at him, and according to my husband, I said, “He’s choking. He’s choking.” Next thing my husband knew I was getting behind r. and wrapping my arms around his little waist. c. said he thought to himself: She doesn’t know the Heimlich maneuver. Admittedly, I was panicking silently: Do I know how to do the Heimlich maneuver? But I geuss I do, because two tiny pumps later I felt a chunk move in him, and an ice cube flew out of his mouth, upon which, he began crying out loud and hugging his big brother.

I wanted to go into hysterics, shouting, “r. are you OKAY?” But I remembered the way C. always responds. I said, soothing and cool as a cucumber, “It’s okay r. You’re all better.” Meanwhile I was entirely numb. Someone got his mom, and she walked over, asking, “You okay?” but not knowing exactly what had happened. She gave him a hug and that was the end. He settled down to mere dazed sniffling.

When I saw him playing and running around a few minutes later, I said to C., “So. I officially gave r. the Heimlich maneuver tonight.” Her eyes got big and startled, and she answered, “Well, THANK YOU. I missed all that going on.”

I spent the entire night tossing and turning and envisioning r.’s face, tears rolling down, but not much sound coming out while he tried to tell his siblings he was choking. Scared the hell out of me. At four a.m. I got up and took a shower to help me sleep, but first I looked on-line, and what I learned is that it’s recommended that you slap a person’s back 15-20 times to dislodge the object before you do the Heimlich.

I called C. this morning, paranoid that I’d bruised r.’s stomach or something, but he was just fine. She said he told her last night, “No more big ice.” And we laughed.

SONGS: Still obsessing over Neko Case. Sort of ALWAYS.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

i ain't no fashion icon, but.

I like nice threads. I don't own too many, but I have a good eye, and I notice details. In the last couple of years I've learned to forgo constant shopping for cheap thrills, and I've replaced it with less frequent shopping for nicer, perhaps pricier items. I've also been very careful to pick up duds I think will last over time. So my rule has become, if it's a fad, you can buy it cheap and less-well-made, because you won't be wearing it in a year.

I'm not rich, so I spend a lot of time drooling over certain apparel. I have a very distinct memory of walking into Saks Fifth Avenue and staring at a hand embroidered silk-organza jacket. It was $5000 and in a glass case. I couldn't afford it obviously, but I am happy to say that I own at least a few items that I believe are well-constructed, striking and not in everyone else's closet. My closet only gets better with time.

I know there are women who don't like to shop. I am not one of them. Look. My mom was a seamstress. And she had a really great sense of what looked good on her. She could be a peacock at a party. And my dad. He is vain. And he transfered his vanity and attention to aesthetics to me. "Why aren't you wearing any earrings?" he might ask, as I was headed off to a party. "You should put some on. It looks nice," he would say with a degree of irritation that I hadn't thought of it myself. DECORATE yourself, is what he was really saying. Show yourself off! Be feminine! Your mother and I gave you looks, use them.

So yes. I like to shop. And the other day, I - a woman who appreciates texture, pattern, the particular weave of fabric, the way color can transform you, cuts and stitching - I felt totally thrown off of a horse and offended. And I need to get it off my chest. My girlfriends are tired of hearing me vent.

LADIES. This dress

IS HIDEOUSLY UGLY. It can't even be considered a fad.

I don't remember the last time I had such a violent reaction to a piece of clothing. The other day I'm driving, and I pass a Gap and notice in the display window THE UGLIEST DRESS EVER (see above - how could I miss it?). I nearly had to stop my car to catch my breath. Really? I wondered. The Gap is selling THAT dress; and they've really gone the next level and put it in their window display as one of the primo-must-have-for-summer items? It's fucking ugly. The ruffle at the bottom doesn't make it any more dainty or feminine. Neither does the tie at the chest.

So, girls, if you wander into a Gap and see this mustard yellow, rust red and khaki colored ankle-length sleeping-bag-liner/lumberjack-flannel-jacket of a dress spit in your eye, don't let it fool you. Don't let The Gap fool you. And, please, do your due diligence as good female friends and warn your lady-friends. Because I just do not want to run into some vulnerable and well-meaning woman while she is being blanketed by that hideous sack.

Dear people over at The Gap:

There is nothing basic or essential about that dress. Comfort is not an excuse. The dress is ugly (and how can one experience comfort knowing she looks like camping gear). That plaid bag stands to make women around America - busy moms and women who are afraid of shopping and don't want to have to think it through, or well-intended aunts shopping for teenage nieces - these women who believe The Gap is safe like vanilla ice cream (the brand you created for yourself)- this dress strands to make them look dumpy and 100% fashion-illiterate. Gap, is this some kind of sick joke?

Seeing that dress in your window was enough to make me boycott The Gap. I don't even want your t-shirts and underwear.

Pheeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwhhhhhhhhhhhh. feeling better.

SONG: I got nothin'. So I'm leaving you with the songs from yesterday's post.

Monday, June 2, 2008


Saturday it dawned on me that it was the one-year anniversary of my last day of work as a community planner. A few days earlier, May 27th, had been my mom’s birthday. She would have been seventy. On that day, I hadn’t felt like saying much about it. I thought of her all day. I skipped work and watched As the World Turns and Guiding Light, the soaps she watched faithfully. I contemplated how she would like the new semi-documentary style recording technique Guiding Light is using. I decided she wouldn't be a big fan, but that she'd adapt.

I wondered if it is morbid to think about the age she "would have been." Since, really, in the grand scheme of things, dying means she could not achieve seventy. The words running through my head: If she was still living, she would have been seventy. No. She would not have been seventy, because she is not still living, and would not have been still living. The self-inflicted one-way argument about pre-destiny. I guess I believe in the idea that there is some greater being that made it so (her death) because it was the right time. That in every circumstance possible, it was still intended that she would not live past 68. And therefore, she would not have been seventy. But that other voice is always there wondering what could have been done differently - how life could have been lived differently, been extended.

My mother was gorgeous. I have this picture framed and hung in my hallway:

I cannot count how many times this photo has lead me to stop in my tracks and astound at her beauty. Even as a child, I used to stare at this photo, trying to imagine my mother as that 30 year-old staring back - that woman who was preparing to journey to the US.

I stayed in North Carolina with my dad and sisters for a week after her death. It was late August of 2006. When I came home, I took three more days before I returned to work. I was still in touch with my landscape architecture thesis advisor (for whom I am now working on the City Park, NOLA project), and I remember that she emailed me to check in. I responded that what I really felt like doing more than anything in the world was quitting my job so that I could do nothing but write and teach myself how to garden. I added that I knew it was my grief speaking and of course I wouldn't do anything so drastic - but that, at the moment, this was my gut instinct:

Quit. Write. Grow a garden.

The instinct planted itself deep. Because six months later, I'd given a very advance 3-month notice to my boss. Those months passed quickly, and on May 31, 2007, I had my last day. I took a week to pretend I was on vacation, and I read the novel The History of Love. A co-worker had given it to me because it was, in part, about a man who took a long time to discover he was really a writer, that it was not merely his fantasy. It was a beautiful novel. And it motivated me to begin writing. I began with a daily journal. I began the journal by setting goals.

Here are some of the things I said to myself (with some degree of embarrassment, I'll share):

June 9, 2007

When people ask, “what do you do?” I will say, “I am a writer.” It is official. My husband, friends and family will now say, “she is a writer.”

What does my life as a new writer look like to me? I have been trying to visualize, trying to unveil this long-sought fantasy for myself. At this moment, it means these things:

I write every day at the same time each day (right now, just for the daily exercise of it – writing every detail I can muster of every memory I can muster and writing character vignettes of the many characters I’ve been exposed to in the past few years) .

Eventually, I write everyday toward the goal of completing a short-story collection (at the end of one year I would like to claim a full collection).

I read every day (for pleasure and inspiration and to absorb unconsciously the techniques of others’).

I exercise regularly (3 times/week? – for health of body and mind).

I eat well, which means I grocery shop once a week and cook regularly.

I keep my house clean and neat and in order (again for health of body and mind. For balance).

I read literary publications and at least two newspapers regularly (3 times/week) for education – story ideas, what editors are publishing, ideas of where to send what (which means I must subscribe to these).

I create a master list of publications and their reading/submission periods along with a master list of which of my work is ready to submit.

I teach myself how to garden (again, for health of body and mind, and simply because I’ve always wanted to say of myself, “I have a green thumb.” Also, there are quite a lot of metaphors in the act of gardening, and I would love to write about them.)

I am a good partner in life to my husband. A good wife and friend and collaborator of ideas and a collaborative initiator of these ideas.

I record my random thoughts regularly (be they dreams, insights, story ideas).

I edit regularly the work I have already written (for discipline and improvement and so when I am fully or nearly satisfied with what I write, I will know that I adequately scrutinized the work beforehand – that I tore it apart before I put it back together).

I fold all of these things into a routine during this first year as a writer. A steady, reliable, disciplined routine – this is what it means to me to be a writer right now, in the first year. The first year is one that I can see with all clarity.

In the near future – beginning in the end of my first year and into the 2nd year, it perhaps means these things:

Practically, I find a way to earn income through my writing (as a grant writer, a freelance writer, a freelance editor?)

Of course, I publish my fiction, short stories first. (Later, essays? Novellas? Novels? Articles? I have a goal of one to two stories being accepted in the first year.)

For my health, I begin training for a triathlon, because I have always wanted to do this.

Somewhere in the 2nd year and into the third and fourth year, it may mean these things:

Maybe I enter an MFA program. Maybe I do not.

I continue publishing my work.

I secure an agent to represent my work.

I travel and write about my travels.

I participate in a triathlon!!

I learn to speak fluently another language (French seems obvious, because I already know a small bit; Spanish seems practical because I’d like, someday, to live in Latin America; Punjabi seems appropriate, because it is part of my very own heritage and because I should never have unlearned it; and Portuguese is my fantasy, because there is no other language that sounds to my ears so passionate and soothing and musical at once.)

I learn to sew (both to honor my own eye for fabric and texture and pattern and simply for well constructed clothing, and to honor my mother’s artistry).

My husband and I live near water. This is imperative to my mental health.

These are the things I can see for my first four or five years as a writer.


Some of these make me laugh now - the attention to cooking and cleaning and eating well. But really, at the time, I'd been living in such poor health - working 50, 60, 70 hours - stopping to eat birthday cake in the office or cookies or other junk, surviving on coffee, gorging on a real dinner late at night, ten o'clock, maybe, packing on the pounds all the while. And my house was a wreck. Our clothes were never clean.

I haven't accomplished everything. And I'm shifting the order of things, but not consciously. Learning to be a writer has happened in a fairly natural manner. Learning to garden has come less naturally, but occasionally, along with some losses, it does come to me - the green thumb I've wanted.

There is myself, but here are other things I am growing.

SONG: That Teenage Feeling and Favorite, Neko Case