Sunday, August 31, 2008


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Two years ago, on August 28, 2006, I was in an airport flying home. My mother had died. I was numb and shocked.

In the airport, news channels flashed stories about the one-year anniversary of Katrina. The footage, the mere mention of Katrina, gave me a stomachache. At home, at work for the past year, I had been immersed in post-Katrina and post-Rita. To see and hear mention of it all around me on this day after my mother’s death, it created a kind of muddy, toxic emotion.

Last year, we’d been spared. No major hurricane activity. But we held our breath for the entire season. This year we're reminded we worried for a reason.

My mother’s death and hurricane season will always be the one and the same now. Season of grieving, death, water, fear, chaos, ghosts. I realized this the other day.

Baton Rouge, on the east side of Gustav, waits, according to my husband, for winds and rain. We hope nothing will damage our house. This timing. This terrible timing.

Yesterday morning he drove down to Cocodrie to help prepare his parents’ camp. But what can one do? The camp is six feet above water, and the surge is expected to be twenty feet. It could be a total wash, he told me. Literally.

In my life, I have loved hurricane season. Gustav is the first event that has made me feel like a foreigner away from home. I keep thinking, I should be in Baton Rouge now, with everyone else, not here, in Texas, watching what’s happening like a spectator. I should be home – getting fatty Doritos and gallons of water and bottles of whiskey and a deck of playing cards, trying to convince c. to play with me – that this is the one time of the year he has to indulge my desire to play cards (he won't, but I'll have the cards anyway). I should be on my porch swing watching the wind, or lying on the couch because I’m afraid of lying in my bed and having a tree branch come crashing down through the ceiling into the bedroom, believing that that is no way to die. What the hell am I doing in Texas, anyway?

If I was home, I would make basil juleps instead of mint. I'd miss my mom while the wind blows crazy under a dark sky. I'd experience the eerie adrenaline frenzy (a concoction of anxiety and excitement) with everyone else. Dude, I’m a Baton Rougean. Not a Texan.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Sitting on a tall wooden stool, I watched my mother across the kitchen counter. My legs dangling and wiggling impatiently. Her giving the pan time to get hot. She held her fingers under cold running water, then clasped fingertips together before thrusting them apart once, a few drops sprinkled over the pan. Water sizzled at first contact, and the oil was ready for frying onions. Me, for all the minutes before, asking endlessly, Is it ready yet? Can you fry them yet?

No. Not yet.


You'll see. I'll show you.
Poof with the hand, like it was a magic trick. My eyes growing big and happy each time.

I can smell the smell of frying yellow onions. Like caramel if it was savory and not sweet. I can conjure it at any moment the way I think sometimes I can conjure her. Or the smell of lily of the valley perfume, which is as good as her, if it isn't the same.

Day of beginnings. This is the day, two years ago, on which she died. Shifted our lives. Lives of the family that I love. Into new roles. New ways of seeing one another. New ways of comforting and loving and missing and sharing and remembering.

This is the day on which my life turns a new path, both feet marching in one direction. A shuttle ride onto campus. My first time standing before a classroom of 200 college sophomores to be their professor's assistant. Tomorrow, my own classes. Life of a writer commences. Or had it already? It is my mother's mandate, is what I think, to reorder my life.

All those evenings working over a hot stove. Telling her talents with the flick of her fingers. Occasionally wishing, tired from the day as she cooked, God, please let this child learn my example of quiet. Years later, maybe wishing the reverse, that I was still that tiny chattering girl asking question after question after question, impressed by small wonders and the magic bigness that was my mother.

I've been remembering her. Feeling grateful that I sense her presence in my life at every turn. Today is not a day for sadness, though I cannot help feeling sad for her absence - for the way, when I want to touch her skin, I feel the air. But here is the day to remember and begin and remember and begin, remember and begin.

We loved. Still we love her.

SONG: Country Roads, John Denver

Saturday, August 23, 2008

can ya dig?

turn up the volume. unless you're working or take offense easily. otherwise, enjoy.

dare ya not to dance.

SONGS: My Dick & Jane Fonda, Mickey Avalon

Friday, August 22, 2008

what i like about you.

I have been in Austin for two full weeks now. A friend asked me what my three favorite things about Austin are so far, and in that spirit, I decided to make a list. But I can sum up my impression in a couple of sentences. I've noticed that pervasive in the culture here is an overall creative spirit, a general friendliness and a laid back attitude. I've been excited to come across so many people in Austin who have successfully made their way by pursuing their own passions and arts - after all, it's still Texas, and that means there is an "I can kick your ass and make my own way" attitude.

If that doesn't say enough about the city, here are a few particulars I've picked up on.

1. Dog friendliness. This city is swarming with cafes and shops that welcome pet owners and their hounds of all sizes. Most rental listings for houses, apartments and condos, explicitly announce, “Pets welcome.”

2. Swimming holes. It’s true that I haven’t been swimming yet. But I am excited just knowing that I have countless options – Barton Springs, Stacy Pool, Lake Travis. I know there are even more, and most of these are spring fed water wonders.

3. The radio. Austin touts itself as the “live music capital of the world.” But what I’m noticing is this: Shops, restaurants and coffee shops all pipe in astoundingly better music than any place I frequented in Baton Rouge. It makes the whole experience of being in a place so much better. Even the local NPR affiliate plays good music. Not that smooth jazz crap you hear in BR on NPR.

4. The presence of sidewalks, crosswalks, cross signals and bike lanes go to good use – it pays to be bike and pedestrian friendly. There are cyclists everywhere and pedestrians all over.

5. Local retail. I can barely stop myself from stumbling across locally owned and operated restaurants and boutiques and groceries. I’ll let you know how the farmers market is after I’ve visited.

6. Cowboy boots. On people’s feet. People’s feet of all ages and sexes and fashion sensibilities.

7. Good vintage and thrift stores selling some really well cared for, well-presented stuff, including great clothes and furniture.

8. Live music. So I haven’t been out to hear any music, but I already know from looking online, at the local free weekly and from listening to the NPR affiliate that when I do have a night out, all I have to do is throw a stone, and I’ll find a good to decent band playing.

9. A new topography. There are hills. Very pretty hills. And even though the two times I’ve been out running and the one time I had to trek to San Marcos’s campus, I was cursing the hills, I’m pretty ecstatic about the change.

10. Mass transit. I won’t have to drive 30 miles south to San Marcos. I’m taking the shuttle down. It’s got wi-fi.

11. Amy's ice cream. Because it tastes so ridiculously fattening, and because I don't get overwhelmed trying to choose from a million different flavors. There are just 10 or so, and that works much better for me.

12. Style. People in Austin wear their personalities. I've seen such a vast array of styles - some I like, others I don't. But it makes me feel like I've stepped out of a black and white movie into a color flick. I'm excited about dressing myself in the coming years.

13. Even though I’m not in Baton Rouge, and even though I’m told that the summer has been particularly hot and dry, I’ve experienced some really wonderful rainstorms. I’m watching one out of my window at this very moment. And, maybe that is what I’m most thankful for just now.

I'm happy to be here in Austin, TX.

SONG: What I Like About You, The Romantics

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

documenting change: fifteen.

things i loose sleep over.

I’ve been experiencing insomnia lately. It feels as if there are a lot of moving parts at play, and I have little control over them; I know this is causing me anxiety.

I cannot control when our house will sell, or when we’ll get another offer, and if that offer will be anywhere in the range we hope for. But I visualize at night. I visualize a SOLD sign in our front yard. I visualize the kind of people who will purchase our house. I visualize the calendar dates during which I hope to wrap up the sale. I say prayers about selling the house, even though I know that there are more important things in the world to pray about.

I cannot control when c. will find a job, if the next firm he works for will treat him better than the last, if his salary will be adequate. But again, I visualize. I envision him in the kind of work environment I think he would love and thrive in.

Life is both too short and too long to dwell on negatives and the lack of potential, lack of likelihood, lack of possibility. Life is too short and too long to not believe that some greater being is watching over me, to not believe my life is guided and protected. It is too short and too long to not believe that miracles are an ever present possibility.

I am an optimist. So when my eyes snap open at 3 a.m., and I am wide-awake, I choose to fixate on the vast, exciting and wonderful possibilities ahead. In those dark hours when the world sleeps and my mind buzzes, life looks really good.

SONG: Dreamaniacs, Bettie Serveert

Saturday, August 16, 2008

maybe, sparrow.

My cousin’s husband is talking about his volleyball league, and how he started his team. How it keeps him in shape because he’s gotta take his shirt off in front of people. The joke doesn’t come off obnoxious; it comes off funny the way he means it to. He says he wants to get my cousin and his daughter playing, start a family team. You should start a family league, I offer.

My cousin leaves the room, and he asks me if we’re planning a family any time soon (Their three kids are also in the room. And they’re pretty adorable. Even the fourteen year old.). It makes me want to crawl under the dirt and curl up in a ball like a roly-poly, this question.

Is sort of an answer? Maybe?

It’s the second time I’ve been asked in one day. An old high school friend says, via internet, I see you’re married, so do you have any kids yet?

The question doesn’t make me mad. It doesn’t offend me. Just makes me want to curl up into a ball. Under the dirt. Because I don’t know the answer, and I’m thirty-three.

I committed to a relationship early in life. Twenty-two. Married the commitment at twenty-seven. I wouldn’t change it. But there are enough compromises and there is enough negotiating of wants, needs, desires, practicalities, without bringing into the bargaining a third and a fourth person’s needs and wants.

I remember my cousin when she was two – not the cousin from last night. One of the cutest kids ever. I need that, she used to say, about everything. Sitting on a stool at our kitchen counter, my mom on the other side asking, Do you want chocolate or vanilla?

I need that, she responds. We all laugh.

Chocolate or vanilla? mom repeats while the ice cream goes soft.

Yes. my little cousin answers definitively. We laugh again.

c. and I need a lot of things. Staring at the choices in front of us, we'd probably answer, Yes. Thirty-three and selfish. But we know it. And we're both too responsible to actually be selfish if there was a kid. Which makes it harder to commit to having one.

I like kids. I never wanted one growing inside my body. I still don’t care for the idea of it. When Angelina Jolie started adopting babies from all over, c. joked, Pretty soon they’re gonna have babies for sale at the World Market.

Are you planning a family soon, or do you not want kids?



Last night it went like this: My cousin leaves the room. Her husband asks, Are you planning a family anytime soon? I fumble over my words. Not just yet. Maybe eventually, as if I don’t know how old I am. As if "maybe eventually" isn't the vaguest answer in the world.

But answering a straight forward yes to this question always feels forced and unnatural. I make a lame joke. I’ve got lots of nieces and nephews. My cousin’s husband and oldest daughter laugh, and my cousin walks back into the laughter.

What are you talking about? she asks.

Volleyball. I tell her wryly.

About starting a volleyball team. Her husband elaborates metaphorically. I decide I like this guy. I have that epiphany at some point every time I meet him, which has only been a handful of times.

But we tell my cousin the truth, the literal truth. I tell her, s. was asking if we’re planning a family.

She lights up. Are you?

The conversation is full circle now. Put a plane or a baby in front of me at this particular moment in time, and I would step on the plane. That’s how I wish I would answer the question. But I don’t know if people really want to hear the truth, or if they might understand that the truth is not static.

SONGS: Maybe, Sparrow, Neko Case; Our Way to Fall-Little Eyes-Take it Baby, Yo La Tengo

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

ways we say hello and goodbye. three.

February 17, 2008

Just after Valentine's Day, I was at an art opening in Baton Rouge. I decided to snap photos of people’s shoes. I thought I was merely interested in what shoes show up at these kinds of events. Particularly, I believed I was interested in the breadth of people, or at least the breadth of moods that evening, that shoes would elaborate upon.

We often think of body language as it happens from the waist up, though it begins at the ground level. I was snapping shoe pictures on a tiny, unimpressive digital camera (other than its semi-hot-pink color) when I realized that the shoes, and primarily the moving feet inside of the shoes, were speaking to one another. I witnessed flirtation, stand-offishness, friendship and entire conversations unfold through the shuffling of feet. A few conversations below.

one. d'lemma & future boy: i like you.

two. bird and mathematician: my husband's over there, mingling.

three. strangers: i saw you across the room that night.

SONG: Our Way to Fall, Sugarcube- Yo La Tengo


I revert to narrative lists when I’m feeling like my ability to blog is lackluster. Right now, looking back at some of my recent entries, that’s how I’m feeling. So here goes.

1. Maybe Liquid Assets is the only exception to this lacklusterness. A friend of mine asked me if I was going to do a farewell to Baton Rouge entry, but for now, I think Liquid Assets is that story – my own kind of love poem to South Louisiana.

2. Today I am meeting an internet friend who I tracked down back when I was waiting to hear from grad schools. At the time, it probably seemed pretty stalker-ish, but I came upon her accidentally when I was googling stuff about San Marcos. I discovered that she’d also been accepted to San Marcos, and I began reading her blog. I could see right away what a good writer she is, and I’d hoped she would choose to go to San Marcos so I would know that I was among strong writers. But she got a better opportunity, which she would have been crazy to turn down – Michener Center at UT. So today, we meet. I’m mildly envious of all of the four fiction writers who were accepted to the Michener Center. But if she hadn't gotten into Michener, we probably wouldn’t be meeting. She was going to turn down the offer from San Marcos. So more than envious, I’m really happy about meeting this girl. Who knows if we’ll hit it off or not? But I admire what I’ve seen of her writing, and I think maybe our fiction would hit it off.

3. I am insecure about a few semi-school and school related things.

a. I wish I was a more-traveled person. My little jaunts to Mexico and Costa Rica aren’t the kind of experiences I always thought I’d have. All of my female classmates that I’ve met so far have worked in other countries, Malaysia, Australia, France. A friend reminded me that I have a lot of other experiences that my classmates don’t, and she reminded me that I have grand plans to travel next summer. I am really hoping that those plans don’t find a way to turn into smoke. I used to have friends who were in a band called Plans that Fail. And I think about that band everytime I think about whether I’ll ever do some real traveling. This desire to travel is my last hold-out for having a baby. That and my fear that I'm not fit to mother another person. I wish time would just stand still for a moment. A year. Two at the most.

b. My grammar is terrible. It’s better than what it appears to be on this blog – which I treat as a sort of shirt-untucked version of writing. But it’s worse than the grammar of a girl who majored in English ought to be. Once, I mentioned to a friend how oblivious I am to grammatical rules, and she said that it’s not that uncommon. That sometimes people who write well pick up on how to write because they’re big readers and they intuitively grasp the flow of language. She was a high school English teacher at the time, so I took her word for it.

c. I’m nervous because I don’t have a strong canonical literary background. This is the concern that seems particularly absurd to me, because I don’t really believe this is a necessity in the life of a writer, or really of a human being. The insecurity is mostly because I’m afraid my classmates will judge me for my lack of knowledge in this area. What can I say? I studied far more contemporary fiction, women, writers of color… It suited me well.

d. I’m anxious about my ability to manage my time well. I tend to get overwhelmed when I’ve got too many major projects happening. By too many, I mean two. The way I see it, I’ve got four to juggle: writing; submitting work regularly; keeping up with school readings/paper writing; and doing a good job with my assistantship (which also requires reading the texts the students will read).

4. Last night I worked on revisions to a story that I would really like to workshop. I think it’s a good story, but I also think it has a long way to go. At first, I thought, I can’t share this with people; they will tear it apart. But then I remembered that whatever criticism I receive, it will all be given with the intent of helping me improve a piece that I really want to improve.

5. The thing that I reminded myself of the other day is this: I’m not really in school to make friends, though I’m hopeful that I will make connections with some fine writers and that we will become helpful critics for one another. I’m not getting an MFA because I want to become a teacher, although that is certainly a possibility, and I think I’ll enjoy the experience of teaching college freshmen and sophomores, especially students from this landscape. I am getting an MFA because I want to carve out the time to write and to improve my writing, to submit regularly, to complete a manuscript worthy of shopping around to agents. In short, I’m getting this MFA because I want to make a concerted effort at being what I have always hoped to be, a writer. The kind of writer who makes a living as a writer. I’m aware that failure is a possibility. But right now, I’ve got to concentrate on the discipline and rigor I will need to enact upon myself, and the fact that success is also a possibility.

SONG: Changes, David Bowie

Monday, August 11, 2008

surreal life.

Today is Monday. This means I've been in Austin for approximately 3 days. Early Sunday morning I wrote this:

I guess I am feeling a little displaced. Moving is especially strange because you spend the weeks prior seeing every last friend you have. Then you land in a foreign place and have few friends to call on.

I spent more time on facebook last night than I care to admit.

Then, there is the apartment/house. I am not quite at home here. Which, I suppose is how a guest apartment ought to make a person feel. I am comfortable, but not at home. I miss my bedroom, my backyard, my front porch. These are my favorite rooms in my house.

I think Ruby is feeling a bit confused too.

I guess I still feel that way. A bit. But I also got out of this little apartment and went down to San Marcos yesterday where I met a few of my classmates for the first time. In some ways it was an awkward meeting. My general first impression is that we're all pretty different. I guess I'm happy about that. I hit it off right away with the girl who picked me up (and who has lived in Austin for six years). On the ride home, she was pretty astounded to learn that I am 33. "You look so young!" she sqeauled. Equally, I was shocked to learn that she is only 23. I seem drawn to younguns' these days, so I am beginning to question my maturity level...

At the restaurant, one of my fellow students asked what kind of writing we do. I deflected and looked to my 23-year old ride to let her answer first. Smartly, she replied, "Well, I guess it's literary fiction. I mean, I don't think any of us here are doing genre, right?" My heart smiled. On the ride home, I said it was a strange question - that usually it's people who aren't writers who ask, "What kind of stuff do you write?" She agreed immediately. Anyway, I like her. She's seems sweet and spunky all at once.

Another fellow student (but a poetry dude) is from New York. And well, he is just SO a New Yorker, through and through. Loud, talkative, quick to offer his opinions. I guess I shouldn't be talking about these people, let alone judging too quickly, as I'm going to be getting to know them pretty well over the next few years. My impressions will shift, I am certain.

I'm glad I got down to San Marcos. It is really pretty breathtaking in its own way. The San Marcos river was high, and there were lots of people out swimming and tubing. Like most of the swimming spots in Austin, the San Marcos River is 68 degrees year round and it's spring fed. So many beautiful places to swim.

I've developed a nice morning ritual. I feed Ruby. I take my oatmeal and milk out to the big house to nuke it. I feed Clara-the-cat. I go sit out in the back yard and eat and drink my juice and enjoy the morning cool of Texas. (Yes, the dryness impacts what the morning temperature feels like. In a good way. But the dead of afternoon into the evening is pretty much a real bitch - dry or not.) While I'm in the yard eating, Ruby sits next to me, and Clara sits on the back steps of the house. They watch each other. Ruby is on a leash tied beside me so she can't go off and chase Clara up a tree.

C. thinks there is a children's story waiting to happen at this house. Clara-the-cat sits in a back window of the big house all day staring out into the backyard and out toward the garage apartment. When I leave the apartment to go to the house, and Ruby-the-dog is left alone, I see her little head with floppy ears pop into the window to stare out at me and across to Clara-the-cat. I let them both out in the yard at the same time a few times throughout the day. But Clara will only come out if Ruby is on her leash. And Ruby, of course, hasn't a clue that Clara would scratch her eyes out if she tried to approach her. Ruby's tail wags endlessly at Clara. She is probably in love.

Then there are the neighbor cats. I don't know their names, but the woman I'm house-sitting for has warned me that they've attacked Clara twice. So I'm not too fond of them. In my head, the neighbor cats are called Mona and Matilda. (But I'm trying to come up with a meaner name for Matilda, because Matilda is the name of a cat I think I'd like). Anyway, the neighbor cats, Mona and Matilda, are ALWAYS laying about in the yard. And I can't figure out why they won't go lay in their own great big yard. Clearly, they are trying to torture Clara, who I put inside whenever I see the neighbor cats. This morning, one of them had the audacity to walk up onto the steps and lay down. Right where Clara likes to lay in the morning. I went to shoo her away, but she just stared me down. She is a bully. I finally put Clara inside. Ruby watched the whole thing from across the yard where her leash was tied to the rope swing.

I suppose in the children's story, Ruby will chase down the neighbor cats, scare them off, and Clara will see that Ruby is really her friend.

Living here doesn't feel real yet. For a lot of reasons. I'm not working. School hasn't begun. c. and Basil aren't here with me. I don't have my own place to live. Whenever Ruby walks up to the car door and I continue past it to the apartment door, I say, "Ruby, we're already home, girl. This is home." Then I mumble. "Sort of." Today, I actually said, "Half-way. This is half-way home." And I felt mildly amused. I looked at Ruby. "We're half-way home, Ruby. We're in a half-way home."

Hmmm. Such is my life in Austin. For now.

SONG: Rainbow Connection, Willie Nelson

Saturday, August 9, 2008

where i stay at.

My dog Ruby’s mind is totally blown. We are in Austin, and I think maybe my mind is blown too.

Yesterday I drove away from Baton Rouge, sedated Ruby in tow. The pre-departure festivities consisted of lots of lunches and dinners with old friends spread over the past two weeks, a great big raucous party at my house on Saturday night for which I cooked up heaps of Indian food, one last brunch at The Chimes on Sunday, a dinner at my in-laws’ house with the whole in-law family, drinks at Chelsea’s on Thursday night with a handful of my close friends, and finally, one last breakfast at Louie’s yesterday morning. I ate chocolate chip pancakes.

After breakfast, c. and I headed home, and we took our dog Basil to the vet where I had to leave her (we finally got her fixed after all these years). That’s when it first hit me that I was moving. We drove away from the vet’s office, and I couldn’t help but cry. It hit me that I was leaving my house for good. That when I come back to visit, I won’t be staying in my house. My lovely little house.

But I’m here now. And it feels a bit unreal. Last night, after I got settled into the apartment where I’m house sitting, I drove a few blocks to a Co-Op grocery where I bought oatmeal and juice and lunchtime things and dinnertime things. When I got back I ate some food, watched TV and then went to sleep.

Today, I didn’t know what to do with myself when I woke up, but then I realized I didn’t have dog food, so a task handed itself to me. Ruby and I walked to the Co-Op, and she was ecstatic. I tied her up to a handrail, and when I came out with the dog food and a bottle of juice I set my stuff down to untie her. My juice bottle fell over and busted, cranberry liquid and glass pouring out all over the cement. The guy at the store was nice enough to give me a whole new bottle for free. So then I felt ecstatic. Ruby ate some pretty fancy no-animal byproduct dog food today.

I checked in on Clara the cat who is staying in the big house that belongs to the garage apartment I’m in. Later I sat out in the backyard with Ruby and Clara wondering what the hell to do now that I’m here. Finally, I started searching on Craig’s list for apartments. I came across a little house that is in East Austin, and I packed Ruby into the car to go and take a look. She was very excited. Involuntary monkey sounds charged out of her throat. It’s a great location and a kind of crappy looking house.

I decided to drive through Travis Heights to daydream a little and then to check out Stacy Park. Ruby’s monkey sounds got higher and louder when she sensed that we were driving in park-like setting. I had to let her out to walk around because I was afraid she’d get so excited she'd pee in the car. She was pretty damn excited as she explored the park. I thought about taking her over to Barton Springs to the dog-friendly area for a swim, but I decided that might be too much excitement in one day. Instead, we drove on back to the place I’m house sitting. When we were back, I decided to walk Ruby to a taco place I saw, and she was, again, ecstatic. I can understand it. There’s no place you pass in Austin that you don’t see a park, pedestrians, cyclists.

I tied her up outside the taco place, ordered my shrimp tacos, and then we walked the five blocks home. It is very hot. Very, very hot. Ruby was exhausted when we were walking back, and I was getting worried that I’d give her heat stroke, but we made it. Every time we get back to the house we’re staying at, she walks up to the car and looks at me like, “Is it time to go home now?” When I walk to the apartment door, she follows suit and looks pretty happy to stay. "I guess we're still on vacation!" That's what I think she is thinking.

As I write, she is passed out on the floor. I fed her a little midday dog food today, as she’s not used to all this walking around in one day. Now I am about to take a nap, because I’m not used to it either.

I’m hoping c. and Basil get here soon, that our house sells soon, that c. gets a job soon. A lot of things to nap on.

SONG: Rainbow Connection, Willie Nelson