Monday, November 23, 2009

Travel Vignettes

Cows grazing on rollingly flat fields. Black and white, brown and white. A stream bed meanders through the landscape. Crows take flight in small flocks.

The sun slowly setting behind hills topped with winter-bare trees. Photographing knobby branches outlined by pale golden sunlight. Catching sight of the river.

Weathered out buildings. A barn with Mail Pouch Tobacco advertizement painted on. Old brick buildings, restored or boarded up.

Trucks thundering past on a winding narrow road. The SUV behind us tailgates, but where would they go? They couldn't pass those two tractortrailers either.

Over bridges with spans angled like Flying Geese triangles, brown, grey, green.

Baby tires of toys one after another and flings them to the side, over the car seat. There go the blocks, and the rattle. There goes the "sound machine." Still turned on, it gets stuck half way to the floor, a button pressed against the seat, - boingboingboingboing! and making us laugh until it's dislodged. There goes a burp rag too, and her blanket. Fling, flang, flung!

At gas stations, cars stuffed with families discharge to stop, stretch, recharge and refill.

A train passes in the distance, a homey, rolling sound with horns wailing and massive metal wheels rumbling on the tracks like a distant waterfall.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Good, The Bad, The Sleepless

So we survived the first night of our trip to enjoy the second.

The Sleepless:
Stayed up until nearly five am to prepare photographs of the baby for the grandparents photochip. Then after hours of singing to a non-sleeping baby in the car, found myself the following morning at four am, stepping in to put my daughter to sleep *again* after my husband had exhausted and exasperated himself on the same project. We had a very tired and very hungry little girl who was too tired to sleep or eat well. So that made three of us. I'm so tired, my eyes feel like they are about to shrivel up and fall out of my head.

The Bad:
We started the trip barely half an hour down the road with a suddenly fussy baby read: dirty diaper. We stopped at the best "travel center" we could find, and still had to change the little girl in a women's bathrooom in which the light bulbs were in imminent dancer of burning out, and NO changing station, necessitating using the tile floor (I have a cushioned changing mat, but still - Don't touch anything! I told her), AND enjoying the young ladies who came in and out in the dim light, washing hands, and using an incredibly loud and new-fangled "sheet of air" hand dryer, prompting the little girl to scream in terror. It was an inauspicious start.

At the end of the trip, after numerous misadventures and feeding-scheduling near-disasters, we found ourselves at our first stop - after midnight - in the worst "plush" hotel room I've ever had the misfortune to experience. The sufferings were slight but stinging. A nursing chair with no arms and too tall to put ones feet on the floor. What ergonomics? A heater that either ran continuously and noisily - when it wasn't putting out dry hot air, it was blowing cold breezes on us - or had to be turned completely off, which we did, preferring cold over noise. A bed that was ridiculously small for two people. Large, dark, fancy-ugly furnishings crammed into an already small room. Another interior designer's triumph over usability and common sense. A room that was not only NOT next to the lobby, but was located as far as one could possibly get from the lobby. Hellooo, end of hallway, fifth floor. Meanwhile, I haven't eaten in hours, and most of our travel food it too noisy to eat at night. I'm starving. And exhausted. Oh, a miserable night-day indeed.

The Good:
Hot showers that make me feel a little more alert and alive. Better feedings - several before noon - better nappings - little girl takes a nap on the bed for an hour before we leave. A modest travel day with good food, great weather and relaxed entertainments. Houston, we have a happy baby! The little girl entertains herself with red cylinders and teething links. I entertain myself by shooting scenery out the car windows with my snazzy new camera and feeding chocolate to Mr Sweetie. We eat lunch at our favorite reliably-decent-sushi-and-Asian-food-on-the-road, although I don't quite manage to stuff myself. Our next room is comfortable and convenient. The front desk offers to be of service and happily brings us more dental floss after we've run out. The duvet is plump and cozy. The pillows are poofy and self-re-fluffing, slowly rising up after each pressed hand. I set the little girl up on a bed with several pillows as bumpers, and she quickly learns the joys of sinking her face and arms into the fluffiness and Ummmming in delighted appreciation. I demonstrated how the pillows can be used to "bop" someone in the head, and she giggles wildly. We snack, we nap. We put the little girl on a soft play mat, and she "scootchs" off the mat and halfway across the room, adventuring at a snail's pace, looking back at us every so often for reassurance. Go, little girl! we say. I teach her how to call for Daddy and she practices calling for my attention, although she calls me Baba. She takes a one hour nap. I take a two hour nap. Mr. Sweetie troubleshoots dismantling a part of the travel bed. I read and write bloggy things. And then the little girl is down at a decent hour. I'm eating Nutella for dinner (hey, it's quiet!), my feet are going to sleep from kneeling in front of my husband's laptop on the floor, and it's still a good day. It's a good night for good sleep. Good night, all.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Packing Mania

When I was a youngster, all of our relatives lived between two to sixteen hours drive away, so we were always going on long car trips. And since we were five people in one car, and often camped to save money on hotels, this came to a lot of stuff to pack.

My father would start early that morning and spend several hours collecting all of our packed items, carefully assessing the relative volume and necessary accessibility, and fitting it all into our big blue Chevy Impala. Somehow, he made it all fit, although I remember a couple of years in which I had things packed in around my feet. It always did take hours to pack the car, and somehow I came to understand that this accommodated my father's packing method.

I don't need to take hours to pack it all in, fortunately, although that one year we drove across country with a Summer's worth of stuff came close. We really did have to analyze the layout like a jigsaw puzzle that year, and in the end, a few things didn't make the cut.

My husband, bless him, is good at packing without obsessing. That first trip we took out West together - two weeks in a pickup truck with backpacking gear - he quickly learned that I obsessed over packing. One morning I was trying to get my sunblock no, and he said, Let me pack while you do that. I promise I won't break anything. It took about half as long, and it all fit. He said, We're ready to go. Just don't look to closely at it! Over the years, I've retrained myself to trust him to get it done when I'm too stressed to think straight. And thank goodness for that.

Even when I am not traveling across the country, it does take me a while, my brain organizing as much as the physical items. I'm always running later than I'd like, and I almost always leave feeling I've forgotten something. Often at the last minute, I am making sandwiches or taking clean laundry out of the drier or changing kitty litter - any number of things that need to be done before one goes.

I invariably do leave with something unfinished. Oh, well! I have to say. Or, Aiigh! Damn it! That feeling of panic and terror is as much a part of my travels as anything else. But then once I am on the road, I am relieved that it's out of my hands.

One essential tool to keeping my sanity is the packing list. Whether I am going to a dance weekend, a backpacking trip, or an overnight calling gig, or up to visit relatives for a week, or staying in Arizona for a month, I have my system to kept keep my mind straight.

I have packing lists for backpacking, including food lists and weights down to the ounce for each item. I have a list of basic essentials for any dance weekend with and without camping. I have packing lists for Summer travel, packing lists for Winter travel, and sublists depending on what activities -swimming, stargazing, hiking, birdwatching - we might be doing while traveling.

I need that system so that I bring everything we need, but not more than we need. Every year it shifts around, yet gets a little more refined. Mr Sweetie is proud that we've pared down to what we really need.

Now that we have the little girl, though, I have whole new categories of items to list. Clothing, diapering, nursing, pumping, sleeping, entertainment. And we have to find time in which to not only assess and refine the current list, but to actually pack as well. Yesterday, it took me five different tries to have the time + attention span to consolidate two lists. In case you are wondering, I get a lot of things done in the middle of the night.

And now we on to a whole new race... leaving town within twenty-four hours of our original plan, with everything we need, with sanity still relatively intact, at just the right moment in the feeding cycle to make it at lest an hour down the road before we have to stop. We did it once this Summer; now to try it again...

Wish us luck. We have the lists. We have travel food and clean laundry, but a lot of things to pack and a lot of details to nail down. I want to be gone within twelve hours. I make no promises about my sanity.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Acquiring Satisfaction

I know I am trying to simplify my life and declutter and live in a financially responsibly manner, and all that, but still, sometimes, I just like acquiring things.

I admit it; acquiring new stuff is fun. Don't hate me because I tell the truth.

There is the fun of browsing (as long as it doesn't go on too long). There is the delight of having found a really cute or practical thing (as long as it's not too expensive). Finally, I found a small spatula that doesn't cost an arm and a leg! And another couple of Fiestaware pieces that go with my existing sets. There is the satisfaction of feeling prepared and ready for my life. Finally, I have a black sweater that fits, goes with anything, and doesn't itch.

This applies to food and other practicalities too. I have fresh spinach! And large paperclips (which I am always using a lot of). And toilet paper - yessss! I am set! There is also the thrill of a new design or color to delight the eye. I am a big fan of certain styles - like for instance, vintage salt shakers or retro coffee mugs. And there is the Wowzarino thrill of finding something really amazing, such as a 20's vintage dress that actually fits me. Oh, and there are the therapeutic benefits It's such a dreary and depressing day. I know - Let's go browse at the thrift store! and the mundane, too. Those retro-design magnets are just too cute to pass up.

It's a big weakness, I know. I try to not acquire more than I can actually use. I sometimes pass on old or new items to thin the herd occasionally. I've been guilty of giving some of my finds to friends as gifts. Is that so bad, though? I'm just sharing the wealth.

I sometimes get bored with things always the same things, so a little something new can be refreshing. But I am just as happy with a new box of filing folders or an old mixing bowl as I am with a pricey piece of electronic equipment.

Perhaps that's why I am such a fan of thrift shops and clothing exchanges. One can give away some things and discover new ones without much cash outlay. I am especially happy when I find something that fits into a gap in my life.

In my house, my found/exchanged and thrift store finds include:

-a big poofy couch with large pillows (replaced a hideous set of sectional chairs that probably came from a dorm lobby)
-a set of colonial-style hardwood dining room chairs (replaced a mismatched set of my husband's chairs that were falling apart)
-the big brown chest of drawers (replaces an especially hideous and awkwardly proportioned dresser)
-the big green chest of drawers (to store winter and specialized sport clothing)
-a dresser/changing table (used to store fabric until my baby came along)
-three different bookcases, two of them repainted
-a lovely cream-colored ceramic lamp
-several pairs of earrings
-an awesome, colorful, tapestry-fabric jacket
-that aforementioned vintage 20s dress. In acetate. With a hint of a train.
-a set of buttercup yellow dishes (matches and extends an existing set of dishes)
-plain glass plates (collected for use at my wedding reception)
-a cherry wood veneer china cabinet and hutch
-a pair of elegant brass candlesticks
-two different rocking chairs
-a steamer, a tea kettle, a set of silver dessert forks, and demitasse spoons I use for eating ice cream, and the list goes on.

Then there're items that have been passed on to me. An abridged list includes:

-a ten inch cast iron skillet (replaced an oversized skillet I could barely lift)
-the baby's crib
-hundreds of baby clothes items and other baby gear

I realize I am flirting with issues of hoarding and shopping, here, but I'm not too, too worried. I'm not running up debt. I'm not hoarding that toilet paper, although I've had to take a stern approach to my love for glass jars. I do need to throw more stuff away, but I've been passing on outgrown baby clothes as fast as I can. At least I am not collecting adverts and logos any more. See, I have some restraint!

One question I try to keep in mind is: Do I already have one like it that serves the same purpose? If so, tough patooties, unless the thing it would replace is hideous or dysfunctional.

The even bigger and better question I try to keep in mind is: Will I be trying to get rid of this later? If so, it can stay right where I found it.

And sometimes, the new thing is such a cheerful, cool, neato item that I can't resist. And if I get a lift every time I look at it or use it, what is the harm?

Every time I get out the vintage salt shakers or the set of stainless steel mixing bowls I bought twenty-five years ago for $19.99, I still get satisfaction from how perfectly they fit in my life. They were indulgences then, but now, they are an essential, happy part of my life.

No doubt I'll be complaining about all my stuff again soon enough. But meanwhile, I'll bring home a mini curtain rod for the baby's room and a new container of no-salt chili powder, thank you very much. And isn't that nice?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Baby Race

In the beginning, I didn't worry too much about how quickly or slowly our child was progressing. She had been born early enough that most things took more time. Meanwhile, the doctors assured us that when she was developmentally ready, she would accomplish those milestones.

This was vividly brought into illustrated relief as we tried to coax her into latching and nursing. After weeks of trying everything we could think of, and spending numerous sessions with a lactation consultant trying one strategy after another, the little girl woke up on her original due date with the sudden realization that sucking at the breast actually meant food! It was as if a switch had suddenly been turned on, and her latching and sucking found a new competency. After that, it wasn't easy, but it wasn't such a grueling slog to keep her fed.

After that, I took "developmentally ready" as a calming mantra. As in: when she was developmentally ready, she'd smile, eat solid food, sit up, etcetera. Other children would have been progressing at a mad pace or taking their own time, but this little girl took her own time with everything, moving along faster with some things and slower with others.

Then this month, I've been hit with more direct comparisons, and the results have been unexpectedly disconcerting.

We started a baby signing class, and I was very surprised that most of the other babies, most of them younger than my girl, were already crawling and exploring anything within reach.

Without meaning to, I start comparing my baby to everyone else's. She's bigger than most of the babies, except that one, who is younger than she is. Most of the babies are crawling while this little one is content to sit. One little girl comes up to her and reaches for the toy she's been chewing on. Some of the babies stare at our faces, others zone out. Some babies clap their hands together. My little girl stares as if she remembers that from somewhere.

My girl watches everybody, then reaches out with her elegant sense of balance and snags a toy duck to examine. She pokes an index finger into the mat material and runs her hands over the smooth plastic of a toy car, turning it over in her hands. Other babies cry and scream. My girl starts babbling to me as if to say, "Look at all of these babies!"

It's a study in variation.

So it took her forever to roll over or sit up comfortably, but she was stringing together sounds and "talking" to us months earlier than many sources say to expect single-note babbling. I'm proud of her being "early" for some things, but I find myself envious that other babies younger than her are already eating finger food and toddling about, so it's an inevitable adjustment.

Talking to others can be fun, encouraging, commiserating. But it's so easy to let our less-comfortable feelings get pulled into the mix. Whenever I sense another parent getting pulled into comparative boasting, I find myself backing away. It's nice to hear how your child is doing well, but why make it a race? I also catch myself feeling badly that my baby is not doing some of these things that others already seem to take for granted, and I warn myself away from that as well.

Well, we are all inclined to be proud of our children, aren't we? We want to feel good about their progress and that they are achieving their potential appropriately.

Sometimes I've been so laid back about certain milestones that I hardly push her. Is that a good thing, either? I don't want her to feel under pressure, but a little frustration can be a great motivator! When I came home from the first class, I once again took her hands and clapped them together, saying See, Mommy claps her hands, baby can clap her hands. Before too long, there she was, slapping her hands together and occasionally making some noise.

Encouraged, I give her some finger food. No dice! I'll try again in a few weeks. And so it goes...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eyes Crossed For the Camera

Now is the 52 Weeks self-portraits equivelant of photographing oneself making bored or silly faces. I've exhausted my original favorite topics and energy for NaBloPoMo. The barrel of inspiration is low, so I am scraping the bottom of it. *kkrrittchh! kkrrittchh!*

Here are some things I deal with while writing:

The cats being annoying. They go into the corner to find some plastic to chew or cardboard to shred. They only do it to be obsessive and annoying. While I'm trying to think creatively, it wears on my brain and my nerves. It's almost as annoying as them whining for food several hours before dinner time or running back and forth and crying just as I'm trying to put the little girl down to sleep.

Trying to remember how to spell words correctly so the little red underlines go away. Case in point: equivilent. Or is that equivelant? equivilant? equivalent!

I can't decide on a topic. Or I have a cool topic and find myself bored by my own writing. Well, it happens.

I'm hungry and haven't eaten, but have no time to consider what I should eat. Or the little girl is hungry and I have to hack something out knowing that she's waiting for me.

I have to fend off giving up this whole writing project. Why am I doing this, again? Oh, right. Stretching my writing muscles.

I also get annoyed by my tendency towards pretentious writing. I roll my eyes in my general direction, although it doesn't encourage writing, which is the whole point of this project.

I start muttering curses under my breath. I swear at the cats, I swear at myself, I swear with weariness and disgust. I get back on the horse and write some more.

I lose interest in and energy for editing. I know I want a different shape for a given piece, maybe even a drastic haircut of a difference, but I can't make myself whack it back into a better shape. Or I have no time and energy or attention span to make it happen.

Then I'm back to being bored by my own writing. No wonder I have sooo many readers! :) Hi! I wave in your general direction!

Come back tomorrow or next week. I'm sure things will improve.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Powers Used For Good or Evil

I once heard a friend at church jokingly exhort his daughter, Remember Rachel, we want to use our powers for good and not for evil!

This phrase has stuck with me ever since. It's a delightful expression. It can be said seriously, it can be said facetiously. At the core of it is the idea that we can choose what to do with our talents, and that we can decide on the side of "Good" just as easily as the Ill.

So we have a quick wit. Do we want to merely entertain ourselves and our friends? Do we want to use our wit to put other people down and make people feel badly? Do we want to write poisonous essays? Or do we want to use our wit to diffuse an awkward or tense situation? Or maybe to help someone or ourselves past a difficult spot. If we have the skill, we can decide.

Maybe we are not using our skills for *evil* per se, but for dubious or self-serving purposes. Or maybe we allow other people to misuse our skills for their own dubious ends. Or maybe our skills are merely wasted, not serving much of a purpose at all.

Say we have a knack for capturing a scene. Do we use that for mockery or to show beauty? Maybe we just have to do our job, and we don't have the luxury of choosing for The Good.

What are some skills that we are allowing to be ill used or underused? What are other skills that we use to good effect, for The Good?

I can stand up for myself and for ideals I believe in. I once stood up to someone who was trying to run roughshod over the privacy of several hundred people. But I am aware that I am capable of shredding someone in the process. I have to be careful to dial back the assertiveness sometimes so I don't end up with people feeling ugly. Maybe someone is clueless and they need more gentleness, not me crashing in like an avenging angel.

I can be a good artist. I have a lot of skill (although some of it is out of practice), and a lot of background and skills. Many of those skills are out of practice because I've moved into new areas of creative expression. Some of those are a little underused. In a former life, I was sometimes asked to design things I wasn't sure of their validity. One has to make a living, yes. One does not gain respect by questioning clients on their motives for a project. Yet sometimes I had to ask myself - it this the best use of my talents and skills? Sometimes we move away from some careers and jobs because we feel our skills are being wasted. It can be hard to find the right fit.

I have a lot of knowledge about many unrelated concepts because I read a lot and am curious about the world. I can share that knowledge and spread that curiousity and enthusiasm. I can also look down on someone for being less informed than I am about a topic. (I've seen that from others - I think it's distressingly common.) I sometimes have to remind myself to use that knowledge for the good, not the evil.

Simply having a skill is not enough. We can nurture it and shape it, and use it as a tool for meaningful purpose. It's up to us whether that will be "for Good" or "for Evil."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

To Do is To Be

Just do it, the slogan says. So simple, it's a cliche. So simple, it's annoying.

However, sometimes one does not need to worry about "being" something as much as "doing" that thing.

In Buddhist thought, it does not matter what one professes or claims. There are no creeds to recite. Well, there are precepts, but my understanding is that if you follow Buddhist practice, that's all you need to do to be a Buddhist. No declarations necessary.

A writer does not need a book deal or an office to be a writer. Nobody hands out cards that will proclaim you or asks you for your credentials. To be a runner, you don't have to race or undertake a marathon, or if you do run a marathon, you are not required to show your time at the next meetup. To be a runner, you simply have to run.

To be an artist, one needs to create. One does not need an art degree, or the best materials, or a separate studio, or the approval of ones spouse (although most of that doesn't hurt, either). One shows up and does the work.

On the other hand, I myself did not always avail myself of opportunities and encouragement to become more. My professors encouraged me to apply for that grant, enter that show. It had not even occurred to me that I could do those things, much less should do those things. I didn't feel like a "real" artist, and therefor, what? So any little nudge was good. You could really do something with yourself. I didn't hear that one, or I didn't notice I had heard that. I was afraid to be ambitious.

But that's a different problem. When the idea of something intimidates one into doing nothing, that's a problem.

To be a thing is different than to be the person who does that thing. I'm thinking of writing, creating art, running. It's sometimes a bit like love. it is not enough to say "I love you," although of course, that is nice too! Some days, the feeling is not prominent, but it does not matter. What matters is that you act out of love, act in ways that express love, creating love out of your actions.

And sometimes being an artist, a writer, a photographer, is like that too. It's not enough to say "I am an artist;" what matters is that you create art. Well, sure, it can be powerful to claim those labels and say (declare/admit, depending on your feelings about it) that you "are" a runner, a photographer, a writer. But the label is not as important as the doing. You create your state of being out of your actions.

Be (act) the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi said. To be the person you admire, it is not necessary to say "I am such-n-such." To be that person, act. To be that person, do. In the act of doing, one becomes the person who does.

Yes, I am an artist. I will occasionally admit to that. I am one who sees and creates, who conceives and creates. And so, I write. I photograph. I don't run; I hike. I used to paint, and shape clay; now I make dance programs and shape the flow of an evening. Yes, I have standards for myself, but that is not the point. I create the thing I want to be by doing. Or often, I do what speaks to me and the label finds me later.

Thus I write and find myself a writer. And for now, that is enough.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Forgot My Topic

No, no, I totally had an excellent topic to write about. Alas, it has flown from my head, along with time to do anything about it. Tomorrow.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Humor Inheritance

As I talk and sing to my daughter, bits of rhyme and song rise to the surface like long-buried treasure.

Walking rhymes: I left my wife and forty-eight children alone in the kitchen in starving condition without any gingerbread left! left! left!

And walking songs: Sing your way home at the close of the day/sing your way, home drive the shadows away...

Hand games: Johnny johnny johnny johnny Whoops-johnny! Whoops! Johnny Johnny johnny johnny

Songs for which I know no source: In the Vinter in the Vaudeville when the vind blows 'round the vindersills...

And humorous rhyming shtick from the 1940s: A Petunia is a flower like a begonia. A Begonia is a meat like a sausage. A sausage and battery is a crime. Monkeys crime trees. Trees a crowd. The cock crowed in the morning and made a noise. A noise is between your two eyes.... (it goes on from there ending with You go to bed with a colt and wake up in the morning with double petunia!),

Sweet old songs: Shine on, shine on harvest moon up in the sky. I ain't had no lovin' since January, February, June, or July...

And German ditties: Ein kleine Mann sitz im Butterfaß...

Or German jokes: Wie geht es? Wie ein Ganz, aber nicht so waklich. (How goes it? Like a goose, but not quite so waddly.)

Not to mention rhyming wordplay: Fuzzy wuzzy wuz a bear/Fuzzy wuzzy had no hair/ Fuzzy wuzzy wuzn't very fuzzy, wuz he?

Pieces of my childhood lie buried in my brain, planted there by my mother, who got them from her mother and father both. I unearth them and drape them around my daughter's neck like bright baubles of humor and culture. I also give her some of my current culture:

Monty Python quotes: I'm not dead yet! and It's only a flesh wound!

Quirky endearments Kuchelo-muchelo! Hunzy-batunzalonian!

And more silly songs: Little arrows in your clothing/ Little arrows in your hair/ When you're in love you'll find those little arrows everywhere/ Little arrows that will hit you once and hit you once again/ Little arrows that hit every-body/ Every now and then/ O! O! O! The pain!

My husband also contributes.

Mis-sung opera: Celeryyy, celeraaaah, celeryyy, celerah-hahahaha!

Punning exclamations: Geshnuggleheit!

Silly sings: You're my little potato. You come from under the ground.

And jokes to make her roll her eyes in about ten or fifteen years: What's high in the middle and round on the ends? O-hi-o!

We both sing Sesame Street tunes to her: Rubber ducky, you're the one/ Who makes bath time so much fun...

Every family has its in-jokes and common culture. Every family has its values and watchwords. These silly rhymes and songs are part of our bond, the things that collectively form a family culture, even a relationship culture, just as my husband and I have our common songs, jokes and catchphrases.

Somehow, remembering each quirky little detail from my own childhood culture feels intensely important. It's part of my inheritance, and it will be part of our daughter's. Already, we are exposing her to our finest stuff. Humor, musicality, light-heartedness, consideration, appreciation. I'll pass on how to make pie crust and some of my grandfather's really wonderfully bad jokes. Sure, some of it is an acquired taste, like Vegemite or British humor, but it's our responsibility to pass on as much quirky culture-art-knowledge as she can bear! Who knows what else she will pick up from us and store away in her own brain. It's a treasure trove, I tell ya.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Despite the Driving Rain

It's been raining for about three days straight now. The first day, I didn't have anywhere to go, so we stayed in and stayed cozy. The next day, though, I was scheduled to meet one of my friends for lunch. She called me that morning and asked it I wanted to reschedule because "the rain was really coming down." It's true that I don't often take the baby out in wet weather, and it's windy too. I considered, and looked at the radar, but it was still a good day to meet her, so we braved the rain. I thought I might as well try out some of my transporting-baby-in-downpour strategies before an occasion in which I absolutely had to. And so off we went to eat some delicious Persian soup, thick with noodles beans, and savory herbs, perfect for the wet weather.

Then today, I went over to my mother's house some quilting and visiting. This is a regular occasion for us, so I wasn't motivated to put it off. I did think the rain had tapered off, but as soon as I started driving, I discovered I had been mistaken! Thus ensued more shuffling of baby and gear and umbrella.

It would have been easy enough to put off my events, but why? It started me thinking about how sometimes one prefers to persevere to do the thing you'd like to do regardless of the conditions. A little discomfort or inconvenience doesn't necessarily get in the way of having a good time.

And it also gets me thinking that sometimes a little challenge can make the enjoyment that much sweeter. Why should we even expect that everything be comfortable? Granted, there are some types of discomfort I find more discouraging than others. We are still wearing fleece jackets to help keep us cozy. But still, a little challenge can hearten us for a larger effort. Hah! We did it! We went out despite the spitting, driving, chilling rain. And we liked it!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Weaving and Dodging

Hi, I'm erthsister, and I'm a judgmental driver.

Yes, I am, and so what? Is it too much to ask to keeping your attention on what you are doing?

You, the Packers fan in the small red Mercedes, did you think I didn't notice that you pulled right through that stop sign without stopping? Hello, honey, you in that grey SUV, you are being an idiot tailgating. I'm sure they'll move soooo much faster with you right on their tail. Oh you in the faded blue sedan, I know you are probably just lost. I know that feeling; take your time. But you over there in the silvery car? Stop that weaving about right now. Are you trying to tempt fate to deal you an accident? Both you and the other dark car need to cool it. And you in the Prius, puh-leese stop doing other things while you are driving, especially when I am in the car with you. You're weaving all over the road. Multitasking is not worth risking your life! Or mine, thank you. And while I'm at it, you and you and you need to put away the cell phone-palm pilots and drive. You do know that all that huffing and puffing and swearing won't get you there that much faster, don't you? Yes, the Universe is conspiring against you. Try to not take it out on other drivers. And pay attention because the woods are crawling with deer on this end of the county.

I need one of those zappers to issue citizen's tickets for obnoxious and unsafe driving. Okay, calm down, erthsister. You know you've had your moments.

*No accidents were actually witnessed during the writing of this post. Erthsister is not actually agitated, but she is rolling her eyes at the little red Mercedes.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Vignettes: Rain-Kale-Nursing

The rain patters, drips, drops, runs down the gutters with gurgles and rattling, flows shushingly down the streets, hissed by passing tires, roars through leaves and branches, sweeps across the landscape in waves of wind gusts, flurries and taps across the roof tiles, splats on the pavement, rustles the grass, slaps against other wet, streams and pours and sluices and dapples.

The leaves of green kale froth in a profusion of branchings, sharp edges, greens crenelated, shiny front and matte back, articulated veins, curls run riot, bound, spilling, escaping, rustling, pungent, releasing bitter sharp scents, promising a meal, carotenes glistening.

Suckling, sighing, the baby nurses, pulling, compelling, chewing, demanding, nestled snug, remarking, groaning, satisfaction of a belly filling, warm and contented, mother's scented, drowsing, lazy, then alert, searching and finding, fitting, reclining, earliest memories wrapped in warmth, contented, relenting, sleep descending.

Monday, November 9, 2009

And The Wall Came Down

I saw the Wall some twenty-four years ago, riding on the train between Frankfurt and Goettingen, en route to a Summer spent soaking up German culture and language. Off in the distance, I saw the pale gray line, peeking in and out of the hills. I didn't have to ask anybody; I knew it had to be the Wall. I wondered what it was like, living near the Wall. And how the forest felt with the Wall wending through it.

I saw the Wall at a little village near Wolfsburg, the pavement cut in two, even a house walled off at the back. The Wall cut through people's lives. And the village looked just as sweet and quaint as any with brick and cobblestone streets, neat houses with white and red and dark green cutely arranged, flowers in the petite shoebox gardens, as if it didn't have a scar marking across its face. We drove to where the road ended and sat on a bench in front of the Wall to take pictures. My friend mugged for the camera; he wasn't about to take this seriously in front of a foreigner. I could see the glint of guards moving inside the tower directly across. I wonder if they tired of tourists gawking at them, if they thought their job was a worthy one.

I saw the Wall in Berlin extending past the Reichstag to either side, covered in graffiti and paint. The paint ended at the ground. The green grass and neat pavement came right up to the wall on the West side. The base of the wall on the East side was a barren no-mans land of raked earth and barbed wire. The wall seemed like a piece of modern art, bending and angling seemingly at random. Who decided it would bend *there* and angle *there*? On that lovely Summer's day, we walked under the shady trees and out onto the plaza, into the museum that occupied the Reichstag building. My friends treated me to some ice cream in the cafe. No laws or debate in those halls those days, just velvet ropes and lump-sugar packets. They had seen it all before.

I saw the border where the lines of cars met the checkpoint booth, where lines of barriers threaded pedestrians through a convoluted path across stark concrete, which lead us through a prefab building where we presented our passports and told our story. I was going to visit as a tourist, yes, just for today, a few hours. Then I could go, and I wondered at the lack of ceremony. I was going behind the Wall, das Mauer. My West Berlin friends would pick me up in a couple of hours. They couldn't understand why I couldn't just take a tour bus.

I saw the divide when I went into East Berlin shops to look for books, children's toys, postcards, candy. The pages were slick and the ink was muddy and dark, the illustrations forbidding, the humor, dark. I casually said goodbye to the woman in a shop, and she stared at me oddly as if to wonder why I was so friendly and cheerful. I walked down sidewalks trying to find an art museum that was, of course, closed the exact day of the week I was there. Trying to find another bookshop, I strolled past a university and concrete bridges over a coffee au lait-colored river, and stumbled on a burnt-out synagogue with a plaque afixed to an ironwork fence: Vergiss es nie! I found the bookshop but they were inexplicably closed with an official paperwork fluttering on the door. I took a wrong turn trying to find my way back to the Centrum plaza and found myself on the greyest street, buildings crumbling and pocked with mortar wounds and time. I felt lost in this grey and dismal place. I glimpsed a small courtyard with laundry and bicycles parked inside, but there were few people about about to wonder who I was or what I was doing. Off in the distance, the radio tower "Alex" gleamed gold and silver. I stumbled back across the neighborhood into the comparative glitz of the central plaza and passed a man in military uniform, shyly averting my eyes hoping he wouldn't wonder too much about this young tourist wearing jeans and sneakers. I never did find the avenue of Linden trees before I ran out of time.

And then I asked where I could exchange the remains of my East German money. The lady at the bland border bank was a little stunned at the question, and tried to explain to me that I was not allowed to exchange money back to West German Marks.

I don't remember when the Wall came down. I'm sure I watched it on television back home from my own isolation of a remote corner of the state. I'm sure I rejoiced and cried tears to see people jubilant and emotional, hefting sledgehammers and shouting and crying. I'm sure I felt an oppressive cloud lift as the earth under the Wall groaned from the release. I'm sure I did not know how challenging the long divide would continue to be.

I see a footprint of the former wall cutting across cobblestones, delineated with brick and brass. The Wall says: I was here. I remain here a ghost. I am gone, but you cannot erase me.

On the twenty-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Autumn Afternoon Walk About

Lately we've been taking excursions in the afternoon. Sometimes it's grocery shopping, or to the library and then grocery shopping. Or a walk in the neighborhood. Last week we managed to combine several things by taking a walk down the road to go shopping.

That day, the air was perfect - a slight nip in the late afternoon - and the sun was shining golden and warm as we set out. Down the street, over the bridge with its very scary traffic passing underneath at top speeds, down the block, and around the corner. The area is not a walker's paradise, although there are nice sidewalks the length of our route. But most people who have cars, use them. The only people out walking are those without transportation of which there are many, and a few, like me, who would rather use this an excuse to walk. Still, it is a bustling area, where several neighborhoods and commercial development intersect.

The little girl's pink hat stands out like a beacon, announcing: Small Cute Person Here. Several neighbors and random passing strangers beam at her as we pass. Nice day for a walk, one woman notes with a smile. One driver waiting to turn magnanimously waves us across the street, refusing my offer for him to go first. I wryly mime that we will have to walk slowly across the wider intersection, and he just grins and waits for us to pass.

We make our way down the sidewalk and the wheels of the stroller click along with each seam of concrete, bump ity bump ity bump with the occasional hiss and scratch of an autumn leaf caught in the wheels. I pause at another corner and bend down to check on the little girl. She is quiescent, taking it all in, snug in her cozy hat and fleece jacket tucked around her legs. Pink, pink and more shades and patterns of pink war with each other. Even her cheeks are pink out in the air.

We angle in across a parking lot into the grocery store, then make our way inside. I don't shop much here any more, but I know they have anise extract, unlike any other store I would rather shop. Having found that, I buy two, enough to make pizelles and other Christmas goodies for a few more years. I look for chili powder, but am disgusted that none among the seven varieties available leave out salt. The little girl looks at displays and listens to me mutter about food additives. I take a little walk down the seasonal aisle with its cans of pumpkin pie filling and Christmas ornaments and candy, telling her about what we are seeing.

Off we go again. On the way home, we cruise into the local pet supply store. I don't need to buy anything, but it's my best source for showing the little girl live animals. We look at colorful finches and budgies, then at some mice, though the mice are all snoozing. The hamsters make her exclaim in astonishment. One brown and white female busily chews down a long stalk of hay. There are no bunnies today, but plenty of fish in various sizes and colors. The little girl seems to take note. As a bonus, a couple of small puppies pass closely by as we leave.

Off we go into the near sunset. The shadows are lower than I expected, the return sidewalk now in shade where I expected us to face full sun. Leaves skitter and dance as cars pass by, and the traffic below the bridge is even heavier. I briskly pass down our long, quiet street, finally, worried that it is getting too chilly for the baby, although when I tuck her hands into her fuzzy sleeves, they don't feel cold. The woman who knitted the pink hat isn't home yet, so I can't show her how well the little girl wears it, but I make a note to check back later.

At last, home is in sight beneath the slowly turning colors. Our neighbor's children stand off in the distance wheeling their scooters through the leaves on the street until they recognize us coming, and all five of them come streaming towards us.

I recite their names and they wiggle and smile in pleasure when I remember them, each one. How cute she is! Lily cries. She has your cheeks, Henri says. I know he means it as a compliment! Marisol notes, Aww, look at the hat!, and I tell them that one of our neighbors down the street knitted it for her. We discuss who she is and they recognize that she is the small woman who walks with the taller woman who has the big white dog. This is how we know our neighbors.

How old is she now? they want to know again. The littlest child, Joseph, leans forward as if to kiss her, and I caution him that he has not washed his hands. You know how they tell you in school to wash your hands, I appeal to the group. I don't know this for a fact, but I guess that the schools are being very cautious with the flu this year. Yes! another neighborhood boy affirms. And babies can get sick!
Yes, and you can you, too, I confirm, so it's good to be extra careful. In fact the little girl has been sniffly all week, but it appears to be a little allergy from the changing weather. Then she starts starting to whimper and cry from the press of faces around her, and we take our leave and go in to have some dinner.

How pleasant it is to not only walk but to enjoy interactions with neighbors and strangers on a fine Fall afternoon. We come inside flushed and alert from the walk into the house that now feels excessively cozy. I pull off the pink hat and the little girl's hair springs up from the static.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

No Time, No Time

Oooo, no time today! Maybe I'll add on some later, but in a couple of hours, I need to be presentable and alert and prepared, and right now I am none of those things. I'm working on the presentable and prepared in hopes the alert will follow.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight

My best friend from childhood lived just down the street from me in a brown and gray stone house with a large basement. Her birthday came in the first week of September, which meant that, at that time in our lives, it more often than not fell on Labor Day weekend. She would have large birthday sleepovers which always found a number of us sprawled on our sleeping bags on the basement carpet late at night, still talking despite exhausting our usual topics, talking, talking, despite the struggle to stay awake.

Of course, Labor Day weekend was always the Jerry Lewis telethon. Even at two o'clock in the morning, the teevee was still on, with Jerry pushing himself to continue, half asleep, to make funny, or when he ran out to comic energy, exhort and beg people to call in with pledges. At the same time, a fifties retro doo-wop singing group* was on tour, and the commercial breaks came around regularly even during the telethon. The commercials I remember from that time were always about the greatest hits album of somebody, and this group, asking you to *call now* to get tickets for the concert.

*Sha Na Na

The commercial always started the same way. A guy in greased back hair complete with ducktail and muscle shirt, shown from the waist up and backed by colorful lights, would intone the opening bass lyric a cappella:
Duh DOO-ah, duh DOO-ah, duh DOO-ah, duh DOE

and swiveling smoothly to show off his muscled arm from various angles, whereupon the camera would start to pan across one singer after another - greasers and boppers - as they soulfully kicked in with all harmony:
Goodnight Sweetheart, it's time to go.
Goodnight Sweetheart, it's time to go.
Goodnight Sweetheart, it's time to go.
I hate to leave you,
But I really must say,
Goodnight, Sweetheart, goodnight.

Even after seeing and hearing that same commercial for months, it seemed as if the singers didn't belong up that late, even though the lyrics clearly said it was three o'clock in the morning. It was incongruous to see them singing their hearts out, wooing the camera with each hair flip and sigh, and the announcer telling you to *call now* to order tickets - show times extended. It was as if they were begging us to buy tickets, as if when we saw the commercial one more time, we would be convinced to come to the show.

I almost felt sorry for them, all dolled up in their retro costumes, reduced to hawking themselves to the uncaring late night viewers. Didn't they get to rest? Didn't they get to perform their concert and go home? It seemed like I had been seeing them for months, and here they still were, brightly vamping, with the pale light from the teevee washing over the drowsing lumps of preteen girls and the insistent announcer with what felt like an unseemly loud voice for that hour.

That night, the lyrics dug themselves into my brain, and some thirty-some years later, I've never been able to extract them.

And also the sadness, and the polish of the irresistible tune stays with me. It's wistful but sincere, optimistic, even promising. There will be more times. We will always croon and sway and sing goodnight, Sweetheart, goodnight.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Time Whips By

It's going to be one of those days. Writing something for the deadline.

Grappling again with where the time goes.

I turn around, and I am technically middle-aged. What? When did this happen? Where did that last decade go, anyway? I know where it went - living and having adventures with my husband, but you know, it's been a long time! I started the relationship as a young person. Okay, youngish.

It's as if I am standing still (or moving leisurely) while the world whips by me at tremendous speed. Not so much the people and events close to me. I see my friends and sisters and parents age, gradually. I've watched my husband grow progressively more silver. He had dark hair when I met, and more of it. He actually had a hairline then. It's not like a surprise when I turn around and he's looking so distinguished.

The small changes are perhaps too small to notice daily. It's when people and places/events are farther away from my primary circle that I really notice how things have changed because I don't see them every day. Going back to my childhood city at first was a shock; now I've gotten used to the changes. I'm getting used to the present-day faces of classmates I knew twenty or thirty years ago. Clearly, they must have changed in that time. They are who they are NOW. I just missed the transformation.

Maybe Einstein would have had something to say about relative time according to distance or proximity. Where's my diagram?

We are not so much attuned to the small and subtle shifts. Maybe I notice the time passing only when I am far enough away to really notice when things have changed, or when I am right there to see it with my own eyes? But even then, how do you really pay attention?

My little girl is not an infant any more. Those first three months passed by in a blur. And now that I can see the holidays approaching, I know that after that comes... *gasp* the first birthday. And I will be both thrilled and sad that my little girl is growing up, up, and up. I will turn around, and she'll be heading off to primary school, high school, college, the other side of the country or world, going on adventures. I think if I watch over her and take enough pictures, I will not miss her childhood, this dear heart, my child. Although I doubt I will be able to hold on to it. Life is always changing, new things arising, other things fading away.

And my own youth, mostly misspent? Gone. Gone! I still feel like a youngster. Well, except for my knees and feet, and heavier body, and those awful, awful chin hairs. Yeah. Even if somebody tells you when you are younger to appreciate where you are, who believes that? As my mother recently said, I can't believe I'm seventy!

The time just keeps whipping by as if I am not looking. Am I not looking? Maybe I need to be more aware? I will turn around and wonder why I didn't save more for retirement or maybe I'll be getting ready for my own death. Will I ever be a grandparent? There ought to be a theorem for how time seems to slip away faster and faster, the farther you go into life.

I can't grab onto anything. I think to myself: I must pay attention. Like a Thich Nhat Hanh devotee, I should savor the orange of my childhood, or was that the cookie? I must remind myself that every moment is like that orange or cookie. Sweet and quickly devoured, so fast that we barely taste it.

Thay's poetry reminds me I am of the nature to grow old. If we didn't age or see changes, how would we ever know that time had passed?

A shift of the light, a shift of the season, a sprinkling of white hair that was not there before.

We are in the thick of Autumn now, coming up fast on the end of the year with its holidays and family gatherings. I think I must make the most of my moments, quiet or jovial.

I can't grab time, and there's no point in watching it, but I suppose I should look at its passing out of the corners of my eyes, smiling when my daughter finds each new accomplishment. She revels in making silly sounds and faces and waiting for her mother to laugh and smile back. I brush back her hair which has suddenly, it seems, become thicker and blonder.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NaBloPoMo - Coffee, the Enticer

Coffee, thou lovely, is not my best friend.

I love coffee/ I love tea/ I love the java jive/ and it loves me.

And I love to sing that song, obviously. In 5 part harmony. Ask me nicely and I'll sing it for you. Ooo-ah! Ooo-ah!

But coffee, the eternal symbol of what you need to stay awake and get things done, is not all it's cracked up to be. In fact, one of my old graphic design resources calls it "nerve poison."

And when I was back in school, I discovered that, indeed, coffee was *counter* productive to my creative output.

The second year, I had so many projects going at once that I literally had no time to fart around. Any time I had any small space of time, I had to decided which project I was going to neglect next in favor of another.

So there I went to the coffee dispenser for a little mocha latte-something to keep me awake and jumpstart my energy.

I discovered to my chagrin that the coffee was making it harder to concentrate.

When I had those bits of time when I needed to be accomplishing *some*thing on my overwhelming list, I could not concentrate. I could not get started. When I did get started, I shook and buzzed. My mind scampered about. My hands didn't know what to do with themselves. Lines were drawn crookedly and needed to be redrawn, mistakes were made. At the end of my afternoon or evening I had accomplished very little, and I was so frustrated I could have cried at the time wasted.

But after I got over my shock and dismay at coffee's negative effects, I swore off it for the rest of the year.

I drank water. I munched on trail mix. I took deep breathes and short walks. I spent timed bursts working on each thing on my plate. I got more done. Coffee got me home after fourteen hour days without running off the road, yes, but for anything productive, it was useless.

These days, I don't drink much of anything caffienated. It gives me nightmares. Bad ones. I don't miss the shaky hands, the heart palpitations. I do miss coffee, thou lovely. The bitter bite behind the sweetest drink. But I had to wake up and simply smell the coffee.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

NaBloPoMo - Wait for the Tides of Clothing

My proportions have shifted and the terrain is all new. The shape of my wardrobe has shifted too.

Last week I was making a sweep through my drawers and closets, looking for clothes to pass on and clothes I could actually wear.

I passed by my stash of pre-pregnancy jeans and thermal underwear that I will wear again some day. I looked over my collection of relatively new tops, rediscovering cuts, colors and patterns that I acquired mere months before I got pregnant. All those hip, dressy blouses make me happy, but most of them won't fit my nursing bosom! Who'da thunk it?

A sleek line of lovely, stylish slacks in browns and blacks takes up a fifth of the space. I tried one on just in case I had shed enough. Nope. Can't even get them over my hips. I didn't even look at the pile of dance dresses that I can't even think about wearing for some time. They are too tight, too slender, too short, too uncomfortable right now, but I'm not getting rid of any of them.

I have too many curves to stuff them into most of my old clothes, and not enough to continue wearing my pregnancy pants. Thank goodness I had the foresight to snag some women's XL comfy capaline thermal leggings. Thank goodness because it feels like it's freezing now, and it's not even winter yet, and I certainly can't wear my old ones.

So now I have this one pair of thermal leggings, two pairs of snuggly pajama pants, and two, two! pairs of pants I can wear out in public, not counting the loose black pants I often wear dancing or the baggy hiking pants that catch at my heels. Only one of those has pockets. It's the jeans I bought on sale whose size I guestimated. That's my new size, at least for the time being.

Then back in the closet, I notice as I'm going through the pants that one of them is... bigger than the others. It's, it's... my new current new size! I'm astonished. When did I buy that? I never wore it when I was pregnant, but somehow it fits me now. Make that *three* pairs of pants I can wear out in public, one of them stylishly cut in a chocolate brown winter fabric. Whoo! I feel like I've won the lottery. Except these pants also fall a little long on my heels.... which means that... I am losing weight?? I can't decide if I'm happy about being slightly smaller than before or sad that I don't quite fit this lovely pair of pants.

I assess my stores and judge I can make it through the Winter. Of my tops, most of my Tshirts are uncomfortably tight, and I can barely fit those dressy tops. I snagged some jewel-tone v-neck Ts on sale a couple months back, women's XL again, and I happily live in those. But for the winter months? I may have to rely on my stash of large, stretchy turtlenecks and accompanying sweaters.

And still I find things to pass on. That dress with over- and under-layers that I'll never wear. Those nursing bras that are just too damn tight. Other clothes I have already forgotten. I am tired of drawers full of clothing that doesn't fit, but I don't see being this curvy forever.

Then my friend emails me about her next women's clothing exchange. Oh, yes!!

In previous years, I've found comfy jeans and sweet jackets at her clothing exchanges, things that call your name even if you weren't looking. Maybe I'll find some clothes to fit my new shape without a large cash outlay. After all, the clothing exchange philosophy is: bring what you have, take home what you want.

I decide now is the time to let go of that Spring suit that I last wore at my best friend's bridal shower, and I haul myself over.

The house is apportioned by room. The front hall is littered with pairs of shoes and sandals. An upstairs bedroom is a safe zone to stash your own clothes. The front living room/library is children's and men's clothing. The back family room is awash in tops and jackets. The front bedroom is bottoms - pants and skirts, and suits, and the dining room has lingere and jewelry with some spare toiletries thrown in. The kitchen is munchies and baked goods to sustain us while we dig through the piles. The front bedroom, especially, is busy with women trying on item after item, searching through piles and modeling for each other. My friend Julie sits half collapsed in a chair after collecting her own piles of acquisitions.

I come home with another pair of comfy pants, some stretch jeans that actually fit and feel wonderful, another pair of lovely dress pants in the next size down, and nine tops in various colors and styles, including a slightly garish top I can wear calling and a Travel City top which is apparently an expensive brand of very nice travel fabric. Also, several men's jeans and dress pants in my husband's size, three snazzy shirts, a small pile of children's tights, socks and pants, and a small toy piano-xylaphone, just the right size for the little Wookie to bang on, which she does with enthusiasm. A good haul.

The clothes go out, the clothes come in. Sometimes the universe gives you just what you ordered. Sometimes you get something different but even better. Make that *five* pairs of fit-for-public pants. I'm definitely making it until Spring.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NaBloPoMo - Sanitizing Halloween

Halloween is over and done with for the year, but the pictures and stories continue.

I saw a couple of spectacular monarch butterflies - both on an adult and and infant. Another pair of favorites was a friend and her ten-year-old brother dressing up as Sarah P@lin and Joe the Plumber. P@lin had a stuffed moose afixed to her shoulder and a rifle over the other arm, a preppy look with sweater over white shirt, upsweep and glasses. Joe had various plumber accoutrements and a great, goofy smile. One young relative was going as gum on a shoe - wearing a sneaker on her head and wearing all pink. Haha! Another friend dressed as a LolCat, speaking only in LolCat-ese. It made me twitch, but it was funny! And then there are the suave dancing men who alway cross-dress with aplomb, or come up with alternative scary fairy godmothers we'd never dreamed of! I love how creative people get with their concepts.

One disturbing trend, though, is to forceably tone down the scary or "unacceptable" parts of the holiday for children, especially their costumes. There's an article from The New York Times talking about this very trend. My local paper also spent some space arguing for and against restrictions on how children be "allowed" to dress up. This seems to be a protective measure gone horribly awry.

I can understand the protective impulse myself - I would not want my child to have nightmares or feel threatened. However, I oppose sanitizing our culture on principle. I'm not talking about something like hate speech; I'm talking about freedom of personal expression. Why would we want to curb that expression as long as a person is not being destructive or breaking any laws? Thou shalt not make fun of a public figure? Ha! A time-honored tradition. We'd need more of a reason than that.

There's a fallacy that we can clean up and prettify everything in our world. I'm not convinced we can. And certainly not prettify everyone else according to our own ideals - that's just petty and controlling.

Even if a scary or strange costume supposedly represents some dark aspect of our personalities, sanitizing seems to think that one could banish the distasteful bits out of existence. Hit 'em with some bleach, and it'll all be shiny and happy. Oh, were it that simple.

Sanitizing something means the less pretty aspects go somewhere else, out of our sight but not really gone. As anyone from a psychology background could tell you, an anxiety-ridden impulse repressed will, under pressure, come out somewhere else. I'm wondering if encouraging (forcing) children to make bland costume choices is a societal version of squeezing zits. Thou shalt not be an unsightly ghoul. Begone!

And more, I'm not convinced we should sanitize our costumes, much less allow anyone to dictate what is acceptable. It's disturbing that we feel the need to control other people to that degree.

Maybe we feel so out of control that, like a teen with an eating disorder, we find ourselves controlling one of the few things we can, even if it hurts us, even if it's deadly for our long-term health. Never mind the consequences, clamp down on that NOW. No, no free-thinking creatives around here!

Yes, maybe our world is pretty scary and getting scarier. Maybe we as parents, teachers, et al feel anxious about protecting our children. (Maybe we even want to shelter ourselves.) So banishing scary costumes is going to fix those anxieties? I don't think so. Yes, it's fun to dress up in a scary persona. It's fun to dress up as a professional or political figure. I like the bad-pun costumes and the clever interpretations. I'm not crazy about the horrifying or overly-sexy costumes, but children encouraged to dress up as *food*, as cheese?? Is that considered "safe" enough? Lord, child!

I think Halloween is actually beneficial to allow us to air some of the darker and weirder aspects in a safe, even fun, way. There's the scary parts - ghouls and flesh-eating zombies - and the strange and disturbing - the dirty old man - and also the playful - cross dressing and silly puns, and making fun of cultural icons. Some costumes compel us to marvel at their design or the perfection of an idea well-executed such as one woman who wore a stunning peacock costume or an engineering friend who turned spray-painted cardboard and LED lights into an amazing transformer costume.

We can also make jokes about our society, the strange everyday events that play out in the media and our collective consciousness. How many Mich@el J@cksons were there out there this year, either in homage or as satire? I saw at least one "B@lloon Boy" wearing a poofy, silver oval hat.

We can dress to play with another aspect of our personality, or to play with something completely opposite from our usual persona. The good girl can flirt with the bad witch. We can step into something so unlike ourselves that our friends wonder who we are, and marvel at how well we act our part. In fact, the MORE opposite our costume is from our usual selves, the more stunning it can be. Who was that SaturdayNightLive character who, when confronted with some awkward scene of his own design, would triumphantly proclaim, "Acting!"? Ha! I fooled you! We can also emulate something we have not reached such as the Roman leisure class. Toga, anyone?

Children role-play all the time, trying to make sense of their world. What does it mean to be this person? What does it mean when I act a certain way? Telling a child that they are not allowed to dress in any way outside of "safe" territory is telling them that this business is way too serious, much more dangerous than it actually is. Our own fear would foster unease. Yes, I have a list of offensive personas that I would not let my children employ, but one night of acting does not a person make.

Dressing in a disguise was a way for us to protect ourselves against evil spirits during this time of thinning boundaries between us and the spirit world, according to the lore of the time. But now, most of us don't worry about confusing evil spirits; we just want to dress up and collect candy.

The brilliant thing about modern Halloween costume-dressing is that we are all allowed that commentary, that play-acting. How far we can go outside ourselves? And why the h3ll does someone need to tell us what is acceptable or not? Bland city, no thank you. Maybe next year, I'll go as a "costume police" and wag my finger at people. Tsk tsk!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaBloPoMo Strategizing

NaBloPoMo, Day 1

The first thing on my mind as we start of this month of writing is, how am I going to get through the whole month? As with everything else I'm trying to do theses days, it doesn't happen without a lot of organized intent and strategic prep work.

Number one on my list is to brainstorm a list of topics. I worked on that while nursing this afternoon. I have about 39 things on my list, although how many of those I will be able to turn into something worth posting is another question!

Number two, pre-write while nursing. It helps to organize my thoughts to think about a topic, jotting down specific points or phrases or how they might relate to each other. Then when I start to write, my brain is a little more primed to the topic at hand.

Number three, write a little on a few different things each day. Sometimes it takes a while to collect my thoughts on a topic to do it justice. So always having a few things being worked on at once helps the odds of something being *finished* on a given day.

Number four, used timed writing. Rather than trying to write perfectly, just write. Set the topic and have at it!

Number five, finish up what I can on each day. If a piece is far enough along, I can do a little editing without too much pain and aggravation.

Number six, don't worry too much about editing! Sometimes, a no-edit post is the best way to get it done. Hack it out if necessary.

Number seven, go if I have to go or the baby needs me. Like now.