Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On grieving

My dearest L--,

I hope you will forgive my delayed response. I wasn't sure what to say, or offer, or when. My inside guide told me to just breathe and wait for while. So, that's what I did.

But last night, I felt called to contact you. So, here I am.

I don't know anything about your relationship with your brother, but it sounds like it was challenging, painful, and complicated/lifelong.

I want only to tell you that I love you. And that I'm sorry for your loss--the loss of someone you were born into a relationship with, and for everything you lost through the experience of that relationship.

Grief is a strange and exotic animal. It has an acrid odor, an intense and disturbingly alluring coat of a something that is like nothing we have ever touched, it is fierce and slippery, with bright, intelligent, alien eyes that confuse us with their burn. We don't get enough knowledge or practice beforehand at how to experience it, how to engage with it or let it live in harmony with us. What do you feed this grief? Do you fight it, cage it, or take it for a ride?

I'm glad you were honest in your e-mail about your mixed emotions. Honesty heals.

I'm glad that you have S--, to feed you hold you, stand with you.

I'm glad you have a loving circle of friends.

And I'm so glad to know you. Glad to be with you in the world as your friend, understanding fully that it's a miracle you have become such a stable, giving, kind-hearted, soul-who-can-laugh and care.

I know that grief takes a long time. And that crying helps. and screaming. And yelling. I hope you get chances to do all of these things as often as you need to.

I am struggling through Thanksgiving, the worst day of the year in my opinion, and the four and a half days of vacation (read isolation) it provides.

I am still grieving the loss of Calvin and now am sad to have learned that Norman is ailing and entering his final stage of life as well...

So, as I breathe and meditate and cry and cope, my love is with you, and my empathy, for all that is lost and longed for and grieved in your life.

With much warm love and sustaining graces,

Your friend,

Naomi

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Men's March Madness: 2007

As you know, I missed my chance to get into any competitive pools. So, here are my lonely little stats, so far. It's hard to root for myself because if I do really well, it means I missed out on either a lot of money, or a little bragging rights:

1st Round: 23 games correct out of 32 (71% correct)

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Netflix Snapshot: March 16, 2007

Big Love: Season 1: Disc 3
The Awful Truth (1937)
Borat
Must Love Dogs
Ray
Big Love: Season 1, Disc 4
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Hustle & Flow
Big Love: Season 1, Disc 5
That 70s Show: Season 2, Disc 1

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Men's Tourney Picks, 2007

I used to be an avid women's college basketball fan. I was a feverish, devoted, team-colors-wearing jump-up-and-down in the bleachers sneak-into-the-good-seats Stanford fan. I used to go to all the games, socialize with the players on occasion, and I even made it to the Final Four once. But, since leaving San Francisco, I haven't followed the tournament much in recent years.

This year, I wanted back in the game. I got excited about doing a bracket. I even worked my way into a high stakes betting pool for the men's tournament. But then, oh yes--I missed the deadline to submit my bracket. I saved it til the last minute, lost track of the date (I thought I had one more day) and then overslept the morning of. I didn't even make it into the no-stakes just-for-fun pool my friend was doing. Sigh. As North Texas will soon be saying..."there's always next year..."

Since I couldn't get in on any competitive bracket action--which totally pisses me off, by the way--here are my men's picks, just for the record.

Grandma's Bracket:

To the Sweet Sixteen:

Florida over Arizona
Maryland over ODU
OR over Notre Dame
Wisconsin over UNLV
Kansas over Kentucky
Va Tech over Southern Ill.
Duke over Pitt
UCLA over Indy
UNC over Marquette
Texas over USC
WSU over GW
Georgetown over Texas Tech
Ohio over BYU
TN over VA
Louis. over T A&M
Memphis over Creighton

To the Elite Eight:
Florida over Maryland
Wisconsin over Oregon
Kansas over Va Tech
UCLA over Duke
Texas over UNC
Georgetown over WSU
Ohio over TN
Louis. over Memphis

To the Final Four:
Florida over Wisconsin
Kansas over UCLA
Texas over Georgetown
Ohio State over Louisville

Championship:
Texas over Florida

Let the games begin!

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Netflix Snapshot: February 22, 2007

Dream Jobs

When I grow up, I want to be a:

Wealthy Homemaker
Owner, (Any) Professional Sports Team
Supreme Court Justice
Actor
Television Network President
Book Author
TV Show Host

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God in Basketball Shoes

I love sports. I love athletes. These are my favorite athletes of all time:

Walter Peyton (#34; "Sweetness is knowing that you are loved for who you are, and not for what you've done.")
Larry Bird (#33)
Jamila Wideman (#10)
Andre Agassi
Michael Jordan (#23)
Doug Flutie (#2)
Teddy Bruschi (#54)
Tom Brady(#12)
Isiah Thomas (#11)
Martina Navratilova
Joan Benoit Samuelson

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Product Placement

Congratulations to NBC's Heroes for reaching a new level of ick factor with product placement in tonight's episode. Windows Vista "sponsored" the (annoyingly revealing) teaser scenes for next week. Ewwww. Vomit. Hurl.

Oh, and an iPod nano got a long, slow close-up while sitting in a pool of blood. But compared to the Vista thing, it was a nonevent.

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You know who's a good actor?

You know who's a good actor?

Mark Wahlberg.

You know who else?

Columbus Short.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Amanda Was the First One to Notice

Amanda was the first one to notice
I had arranged my books by color.

She spotted the purple ones first.
She admired them, silently.

A plum-colored family stacked by size.
A happy accident, she thought.


Then her eyes moved downward,
gaining momentum the way her bare legs would

if she threw out her arms, and let gravity
haul her down a steep and grassy slope,

Just on the crest of tipping over
And tumbling down instead.

Her eyes found the white, the blue, the red
the yellow-into-brown. And she got it.

"Your books are arranged by color," she said,
kissing the last syllable with a smile.

I stepped into her gaze the way
a cliff diver steps up to the edge.

And the world outside our eyes grew louder
As though we had parked beneath a waterfall

And finally, with that look, we had
opened the door,

so that nothing stood between us
and all that gorgeous noise.

"You're beautiful," we said,
kissing the last syllable with a smile,

but never actually speaking a word.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

A Word About "Herstory"

Below, an e-mail I wrote to a friend of mine today after he shared with me an e-mail from a local non-partisan organization called the Paradise City Forum, in which the term "herstory" was used in a way that irked me. As you can see, I had a word or two to say about it.

Hi, Daryl,

Thanks for forwarding this one, and congratulations on being part of such a successful alternative forum for dissemination of information--and dialog. I'm so glad the forum exists and that the advisory committee is so committed to its success.

I have a small concern I'd like to raise that has very little to do with the content of the e-mail, but which, nevertheless, is important to me. I was offended by the use of the term "herstory" in the Forum's e-mail, and I would like to make a case for its removal in future correspondence of this nature. Unfortunately, I don't have time to become involved in an extended debate about it; I am not seeking a formal response. But I would like to share with you the grounds of my objection, and perhaps, if you feel it's appropriate, you will take it up with the committee at the next opportunity.

I am offended by the term "herstory" in this context because it is inappropriate and misleading.
For starters, the word "herstory" is based on a false etymology. The word history (from the Ancient Greek στορία, or istoria, meaning "a learning or knowing by inquiry") is etymologically unrelated to the English possessive pronoun his. In French, for instance, histoire means "story," but has no association with men because the French pronoun is not spelled "h-i-s." It's a *coincidence* that in our language the letters h-i-s are a male possessive pronoun and also appear in the word we use for our record of things past. Just as the "m-a-n" in maniac does not imply a maleness to the condition of mania, for instance. (If one traces the etymology back far enough, one can find the word "histor" in Ancient Greek, which means "learned man," but which is connected more to the act of inquiry, which makes one learned than it is to what has become our possessive male pronoun "his.")

The original intent of this neologism ("herstory") was to draw attention to the sexism that was (and still frequently is) both intentionally and unintentionally present in the telling of history. It is appropriate to use it in situations when one is intentionally trying to mock or counteract a male-centric version of history, or when one is telling a particularly feminist version of events.

I am troubled by its appearance in the Forum e-mail, because, as far as I know, what was chronicled in that portion of the e-mail was the Forum's history, not its "herstory." Why insinuate that sexism is at hand?

In 1976, in Words and Women, the authors clarified the meaning of the newly coined term in this way, "When women in the movement use 'herstory,' their purpose is to emphasize that women's lives, deeds, and participation in human affairs have been neglected or undervalued in standard histories."

Is that what happened with the Forum? Is that the intended meaning of the word?

It is also considered a way to describe feminist efforts against a male-centered canon. But, again--is that what happened here?

I suppose that, put simply, I am trying say that the portion of the e-mail labeled "Forum Herstory" was really just the Forum History. It's not his story or her story; it's your group's history, presumably told in a non-sexist way. Why assert something else? Why alienate persons of any gender? Why imply that the story is only hers, or that some correction needs to be made to a sexist version already in existence? It's a step in the wrong direction, and the misuse of a term that is inflammatory and problematic.

Certainly, you wouldn't change "opinions on many quality of life issues" to "opinions on womany quality of life issues." Or change every use of the word "this" to "thers?"

As I said, I don't wish to become embroiled in a debate over the issue; I simply wish to make a note of my objection and to request that the committee give more thought to the use of the word "herstory" in its correspondence.

I would like to see "history" used in its proper context, particularly since what I believe has taken place here is what we all hope true accounts of history will be--a fair and balanced record of a process that was inclusive of all sexes (and classes, races, etc.)

If the term "history" is really not acceptable to the committee, perhaps you will at least consider using some non-gendered synonym in its place. (Forum Origins, Forum Record of Things Past, Forum Genesis?)

Thank you for your time and best wishes,

Naomi

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Must Watch/Must Not Watch List, 2007

Below, my recommendations for things you should definitely see--and things you should definitely NOT see this year. Check back often for updates.

Must Watch

LOST
--even though the black characters seem to have all disappeared completely (they weren't even mentioned in the show summary "Survival Guide" backgrounder that aired just before the premiere of this new batch of episodes), this is still one of the most watchable shows on television. Jack may be the best television hero ever. Kate is second only to another JJ Abrams creation, Sydney Bristow, in my all-time favorite tv heroines. The writing is strong. The acting fantastic. My one quibble is that they give too much away in the promos, and they air them CONSTANTLY, so it's hard to completely avoid them.

Who Killed the Electric Car--When you find yourself sobbing over the destruction of a car, you can assume that the filmmaker has done something right. Compelling without being heavy-handed; informative; a story we all should hear. It made me weep--and it made me yearn to own an electric car. Too bad there aren't any.

Six Feet Under Season 3 (DVD)--(warning: spoiler) Because I can't afford fancy cable, I'm just getting around to watching on DVD a lot of the shows that those of you with HBO and Showtime watched a long time ago. But since this is my list of what I watched and recommend this year, that's just the way the basic cable-fueled cookie crumbles. Unfortnately, Six Feet Under is losing its appeal. I can barely recommend season three to you, but I will. From the far too esoteric opening episode, to the drawn out drama surrounding Lisa's disappearance and demise, this season was unsatisfying. The reverse redemption of Nate's character as he loses all the ground he gained in the first two seasons and unravels into a neurotic, selfish, self-indulgent, fucked up bastard leaves me feeling unfulfilled. I liked it better when I could root for him. Now I just think he's a damaged prick. Perhaps season four will be better.

Little Miss Sunshine--I almost didn't watch this because it got so much attention. I had high expectations. But it turns out that my sense of the movie going in was completely wrong. I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. How original, how well-done. I loved it. It felt like a truly independent film in all the most refreshing ways. It reminded me of Transamerica and Napoleon Dynamite, in that regard. I love a good road trip movie, and I had no idea going in that that was what this was. Bravo. If you are the one remaining person in America who has not seen this film, I suggest you give in and rent it this weekend.

Must Not Watch

Hollywoodland-
-Props to the costume designer and, well, to props, but this film is a steaming pile of dookie. Unfortunately, it's not bad enough to be entertainingly mockable--it's no Gigli. Despite Adrian Brody's excellent portrayal of an ill-written detective, this script was a massive failure and the film an embarrassment to its top-notch cast. Poor Ben Affleck--he's so handsome, but he just can't act.

24--Dull, redundant, played, tedious, klunker of a show. Reject the hype. Watch Heroes instead. Or just go to bed. It will be more satisfying.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Netflix Snapshot: January 29, 2007

The first blush of my love affair with Netflix has worn off a bit, as they've disappointed me on so many levels. Slow turnaround times, intentional delays imposed on heavy users such as myself, cracked, scratched, and unplayable DVDs arriving a little too often...but still, I love my queue and the sweet satisfaction of a new red envelope arriving in my mailbox.

When I was dating Brian, he said to me once, "you like to document things." I had never noticed this about myself, but he was right. I do take pleasure in documenting things. In that spirit, here's a glimpse into my Netflix queue.

Current total movies in queue: 467 plus a bunch of saved ones that haven't been released yet

Currently at home: Who Killed the Electric Car?

Current top twenty:

Six Feet Under: Season 3: Disc 4
Hollywoodland
Little Miss Sunshine
That '70s Show: Season 2: Disc 1
That '70s Show: Season 2: Disc 2
That '70s Show: Season 2: Disc 3
That '70s Show: Season 2: Disc 4
Six Feet Under: Season 3: Disc 5
The Longest Yard
Must Love Dogs
Sky High
Waiting...
Brokeback Mountain
I Shot Andy Warhol
Dark Angel: Season 1: Disc 1
A Far Off Place
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Masters of Poker: Vol. 1
Feng Shui for Dummies
Crash

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When the Sickness Comes

When the sickness comes, the world gets smaller. As days, then weeks pass, every dream, plan, desire, or project that isn't about survival is eventually shunted out to the periphery of my reality. I let them go like ballast in an attempt to stay afloat, and my world is as small as the one inside a basket, suspended beneath a balloon, drifting through cloudy climes. I have a clear destination in mind, but with no guaranteed method of propulsion or navigation, I curl up in my basket alone and drift, hoping the right winds will take me back to a place where I am well.

It's hard now, to remember what it's like not to be sick. But this is one of the rare times when hope is actually useful, when hope is not a false expectation that will lead to the devastation of a heart. In this case, my hope is pinned on something that can actually happen, a thought I refuse to let go of: there will be a day when I am not sick.

I understand that I may be wrong about this. I understand that it's possible I will never be well. I have lost two friends from college already to brain cancer and Lou Gehrig's disease. I know that some illnesses come, and they never leave, no matter how hard you fight. But I do not have those terrible things that they had. I have something else, something the doctors can't seem to name...or to cure. So, until someone officially tells me otherwise, I will believe in the possibility of wellness. I am stubborn and willful and ferocious when I have to be. And I am learning to be patient and balanced and compassionate with myself, as well.

Our friends in recovery are onto something when they say, "one day at a time."

Last night I laid in bed and coughed for eleven hours without a break. My chest burned, my throat ached, my mind and body were exhausted, but my lungs were impervious to every remedy I offered them. Prescription cough syrup with codeine; Vick's VapoRub; Theraflu; a Vick's VapoSteam humidifier, water...eventually, I drugged myself into oblivion with a double-dose of codeine cough syrup, combined with two puffs of an inhaler, a Xanex, and the moist camphor-scented air of the humidifier.

I slept for six hours, woke up after 4pm, just in time for a little daylight. My head ached, my throat and chest hurt just as much as when I was last conscious. I missed my first yoga class of the new year, my therapy appointment, and a deadline.

But I did not despair. I did one thing at a time. The world outside my basket was nothing but clouds, and in here, my priorities were basic. These days there is one question, and one question only: what can I do to help myself right now? Despair is never the answer.

So, I got up.

I put on clean, soft, warm clothes. This helps. It takes effort to change clothes when one is this sick, and has been for so long. But if I make it a clear priority, I can get it done. I took a moment to feel grateful that there were clean, soft, warm clothes to be had.

I turned up the heat. I don't get fevers. Instead, when I am sick, my core temperature drops. I'm down more than two degrees now, to 96.7. This is hard on a body, and it makes fighting infections even harder. So I turned up the thermostat to 69, then later, as the chill deepened, to 72.

I fed the cats and gave Cal his pill. I washed my face. I made decaf coffee. I took my homeopathic supplements. And I got to work. I tested one more device--angry at how difficult and exhausting it was to fight it out of its box--and I finished and filed my story.

I created and filed my invoice. I made something to eat and turned on the TV. I ate slowly because of the nausea, but I got through the whole meal and kept it down. That's important. That's a victory.

I've been sick now with this particular virus for nearly a month. The doctor says there's nothing he can do. Being sick has meant that I got less done than I would otherwise. But, in the moments when I found I had some energy, I did what I could. I pushed myself. I got groceries, got to the doctor, got my car inspected, made fresh soup, finished assignments, got out. I seized the days--the moments in the days--when I could seize them, and that has made getting through all the other times possible.

Last year, I interviewed Andy Skurka, a young man who was the first person ever to hike across the continent. He started in Quebec and ended in Washington state. It was a journey of more than 7,000 miles of mostly wilderness hiking. It took eleven months of walking a marathon a day to complete.

About halfway through the hike, he hit the bitterest portion of winter, and spent three months hiking through Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Temperatures got as low as 24 below zero and he snowshoed for 1400 miles. He said that during this time, he had to change his mindset.

"During the summer I didn’t care if I’d be on the trail in a few months," he told me. "But during the winter I wasn’t sure I’d make it. So, I took things one day at a time. I knew I could get through a day. I wasn’t thinking any longer term than that. It was a really desperate way to be living my life for three straight months, but I also found it very effective when the challenge was as great as it was."

I'm not going to win any awards for staying alive and getting my work done. There won't be a crowd of people to embrace me and share in the celebration when I beat this thing. There won't be any magazines calling to interview me. But I am taking the same approach Andy took to his winter hike in my life these days, and I have found it is very effective, when the challenge is as great as it is.

The one thing I really wish I could conjure up for myself is some companionship. Being sick and alone is so much more difficult to manage than just being sick. But for the time being, that's not something I have access to. Mostly, the people who live locally have said "no" or just ignored my calls. Like Andy, I am on this trail alone.

I suppose the biggest caveat is that Andy chose to hike alone; for me, it's a less voluntary circumstance. I've chosen to spend one year being intentionally single. It feels important to know that I can. But, since it's been more than a decade since anyone really wanted to be with me, there's no rational reason to believe that someone will arrive in July (or any time after that), when my year of being single is done, and want to share my life with me.

Just as Andy couldn't think about doing all 1400 winter miles at once, I can't think about doing another decade, or the rest of a lifetime, in the social winter that is my life. So, before I sink too far or get crushed beneath an avalanche of grief, I bring myself back, stubbornly, fiercely to the only question that really matters today: what can I do to help myself right now?

Despair is not the answer.

And the only thought worth hanging onto:

There will be a day when I am not sick.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

2007 Est Arrivee--Cough, Cough, Sniff, Sniff

2007 arrived on good terms, as far as I was concerned.

Heading into the end of 2006, I was healthier, happier, and more prosperous than I'd been in many years. I had intentionally let go of the pain of the year that had just passed at a magical Solstice ritual, and I welcomed the new year with open arms. It felt like a fresh start.

I had a lovely, if low-key, New Year's Eve. I got dressed up in a sparkly vintage cocktail dress and fishnet stockings. I put on high heels, did my hair, and shaved my legs. I went from a friend's lesbian cocktail and dance party to the Academy of Music, where I took the stage before a packed house of 800 as Elvis's lovely assistant. With a kiss and round of applause in your evening, how can you miss, right?

After the second show, I passed on joining Elvis as he switched personas and became Lord Russ at an led Aloha Steamtrain show at the Elevens, and went to a small party with new friends in Westhampton. I changed into something more comfortable once I was there, and had a blast drinking champagne and shots of Grey Goose, eating snacks, and playing a crazy German card game called "Rage." I even won. :-)

I got kissed at midnight by a cute boy, and when we got iced in by the freezing rain, I got to make out like a teenager on a futon beneath the Christmas lights. It was really very lovely. Things were looking up.

The next day, though, I was sleep-deprived and a little hungover. And from there, it was pretty much all downhill. Today is the 27th day of 2007--and my mother's 55th birthday--and I have been sick for all but four of those days.

I went to the doctor yesterday. He had nothing helpful to say unless you count "your face looks puffy. is that normal?" as helpful medical advice.

I don't have pneumonia or bronchitis, which is great, except it means there are no antibiotics that can help put a swift end to the coughing, laryngitis, running nose, fatigue and GI complications.

The Dr. prescribed an inhaler that would make me "jittery and light-headed" and would induce the coughing up of much yucky phlegm. I filled the prescription, but I have not used this thing since I can't for the life of me come up with a reason to feel more light-headed than I already do. And the coughing? Not a strong selling point either.

Instead, I bought myself a Vicks VapoSteam humidifier, so my little apartment smells of moist camphor, which I actually like very much.

While I've been sick, I've had a great deal of time to sit around thinking about things, and I'm happy to report that apart from one day (when I had PMS) I have not really felt very sorry for myself. The house was well-stocked with the things one needs when one is sick--tissues, soup, tea, DVDs, fresh ginger, cough syrup with codeine in it, Vick's VapoRub and assorted other cold comfort items--and this has helped. I'm taking good care of myself, and, while on my sickest days, I wished very much that someone else was taking care of me, I didn't go to the Bad Place, the place where I am a kid again, alone and sick and aching for care that won't come; the place where I want someone to love me and take care of me so much it breaks my heart and I drown in a panicky froth of depression.

I've done a good job of making my deadlines while also resting, feeding myself, and trying not to sink into a depressed, isolated pain-space as the days drag by without any human contact.

My best friend has talked to me every day, and made one emergency supply delivery when I was really in the thick of things. My landlord brought me Theraflu and soup. The cute boy from New Year's Eve stopped by to keep me company one afternoon. And another friend offered to bring me things if I needed them.

What I really want most of all is company, which has been in short supply, but I'm doing alright even without it. I finished a book--The Bourne Identity (I don't recommend it). I watched a documentary--This Film is Not Yet Rated (I recommend it). I'm reading a friend's novel manuscript and am halfway through. I got my car inspected and tried out a new hairstyle (I'm learning to do pin curls like they did in the 40s and 50s). I made soup. I watched a lot of TV shows that I had taped, but never gotten around to watching. I landed a new client. I installed a new showerhead. I took baths. I slept. A lot. I started a puzzle, although this was a mixed bag, because puzzles are more fun when you do them with a friend.

I cleaned my office and everything else I could find. I called friends, except on the days when I lost my voice. And I even went out to meet people for coffee--and once for dancing--on the days when I wasn't totally slammed by sick.

The days I was slammed, I did very little. I let it be okay that I just couldn't. And all I did was stay in bed.

I was all geared up for some serious productivity and some long-awaited fun when the new year arrived. Now, I'm sort of crawling along, just hoping to get upright again sometime before March.

On one of the days that I was in bed sick, I started thinking about the numbers, about the quantifiable amount of time I spend sick every year. I added it up, and on average, it's 26 weeks. 26 weeks! This is both horrifying and liberating.

It's horrifying, obviously, because it's just so freaking much; but liberating because it makes me feel like I'm actually kicking some serious ass by getting done what I've gotten done. It validates my feeling that everything is really hard--because it really is! If a person is sick for half the year, how can she be expected to make a good living? Knowing the actual number of days that I was immobilized by sickness helps me to release myself from the judgment that I'm just not doing well enough. And it re-enforces the commitment I've made to healing my body this year.

Now that I have a number, I can set a specific goal. If I can come in under 20 weeks of sickness this year, I will know that I am definitely moving in the right direction. I'm going to keep track and see how I've done.

Of course, these three weeks (and counting) don't set a great tone for 2007, but I am doing a lot of things right, and I believe that I can achieve wellness this year. I believe I can improve. And once I'm healthier, I'll be able to do the other things I dream about: pay off my debts, travel, go out to dinner, buy great presents, buy a house, and have a love life again.

So, here's to 2007. May we all be happy, healthy, and wise. Happy new year. (And happy birthday, mom.)

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Favorite That 70s Show Episodes

My favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows of all time, That 70s Show:

1. "Canada Road Trip," original air date: 05.08.01, Season 3, Episode 23. Eric, Kelso, Fez, and Leo go to Canada to buy beer, but are detained at the border when Fez loses his green card. Favorite line, "What are you doing in Canada?"

2. "Black Dog," original air date: 12.10.02, Season 5, Episode 9. Written by Mark Hurdis, directed by David Trainer. Jackie is disappointed when she turns to Hyde for comfort and support after her father is sent to prison, and Fez finds love during a fingerprinting lesson at the DMV.

3. 'Misty Mountain Hop," original air date: 1.22.03, Season 5; written by Dave Schiff. Directed by David Trainer. The Formans offer to help Jackie move her family's possessions out of their foreclosed ski cabin only to arrive to find Kelso, Fez, and Hyde partying it up.

4. "Water Tower," Teleplay by Jeff Filgo and Jackie Behan; Story by Linda Wallem. Directed by David Trainer. original air date: 6.14.99. Kelso ends up in the hospital after falling off the town's water tower, but Eric has an even worse scare after he accidentally walks in on his parents haviing sex.

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Quote: Maya Angelou

"I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights."

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You Can't Say No One Told You: Corporations

"Unless you become more watchful in your States and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges you will in the end find that the most important powers of Government have been given or bartered away, and the control of your dearest interests have been passed into the hands of corporations."

--President Andrew Jackson, Farewell Address, March 4, 1837

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Friday, January 19, 2007

"The Definitive Top 20 TV Shows from the 80s"

A disgusted friend recently forwarded a link to this list to me, because he knew I would be equally disgusted. "The Definitive Top 20 TV Shows from the 80s?" I beg to differ.

Its creators call their list "unarguable." I maintain that any such list that includes ALF, Perfect Strangers, and Mr. Belvedere over Hill Street Blues, The Facts of Life, and Cagney and Lacey is, in fact, more aptly classified as "unthinking" or maybe just "unsmart." (Of course, the "unsmart" is also supported by the fact that the listmaker grudgingly added M*A*S*H to the list at No. 4, even though he "didn’t catch too many episodes because I hate Koreans and I hate war.")

My best guess (and my hope) is that these guys were just too little during the 80s to know better. Perhaps they were born in the very late 70s, so that lame, inane television shows starring bad muppets with acronyms for names and an aversion to salad seemed clever or even entertaining.

Perhaps there was something comforting to them about Mr. Belevedere, and so the fact that the show is drivel escaped them. Their choices imply a penchant for shows that were on before their mommies enforced an early bedtime, and shows that didn't include much probing dialogue or penetrating plot lines or character development. Who killed J.R.? "Who cares," they'd say. "Who's the Boss is on."

You can see the list (with video clips) in question here, but I will also summarize below.

Their list:

20. Mr. Belvedere
19. The Dukes of Hazzard
18. Knight Rider
17. Night Court
16. ALF
15. Perfect Strangers
14. Golden Girls
13. Growing Pains
12. Married...With Children
11. Who's the Boss?
10. Magnum P.I.
9. Doogie Howser, M.D.
8. The Cosby Show
7. The A-Team
6. Miami Vice
5. The Wonder Years
4. M*A*S*H
3. MacGuyver
2. Cheers
1. Star Trek: The Next Generation

It seems they would have been better served to simply say, "these are our favorite shows from the 80s. We're idiots. Live with it." Rather than to attempt to present them as the "definitive" top 20. Had they simply expressed a preference, one could leave it alone...but since they didn't, one must present an alternative.

Top 20 Shows That Are Better Than Half their List:
(in no particular order)
[Honorable Mention: The Smurfs (1981-1990)]
20. :20 Minute Workout (1982)
19. One Day At a Time (1975-1984)*
18. Real People (1979-1984)
17. St. Elsewhere (1982-1988)
16. Family Ties (1982-1989)
15. Diff'rent Strokes (1978-1986)
14. Hill Street Blues (1981-1987)
13. Bosom Buddies (1980-1982)
12. The Facts of Life (1979-1988)
11. That's Incredible! (1980-1984)
10. Fraggle Rock (1983-1987)
9. Mork and Mindy (1978-1982)*
8. thirtysomething (1987-1991)
7. L.A. Law (1986-1994)
6. Designing Women (1986-1993)
5. Square Pegs (1982-1983)
4. The White Shadow (1978-1981)*
3. 21 Jump Street (1987-1991)
2. Dallas (1978-1991)
1. Cagney and Lacey (1982-1988)

*best classified as a 70s show, but still running in the 80s and better than ALF for chrissakes.

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10 Favorite Movies of All Time

Terminator
Die Hard
The Sound of Music
Some Kind of Wonderful
Star Wars
Empire Strikes Back
Wonder Boys
Anne of Green Gables
Dead Poets Society
When Harry Met Sally

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The State of the Union, in Television, rebuttal, technobabble

Received this today from my dear friend (who I would like even more if he weren't a Buffy fan), Eric. I'm sharing it with his permission. For more of his TV rants--I mean, insights--check out his blog.

(My responses to Eric's remarks are italicized.)

>>You are correct in all things you say about the premiere of 24 this year.... except the bit about "attempting to blow something up", as the premiere ended with a nuclear suitcase bomb going off in Venice, CA. (and really, who would miss it)? Higher stakes as Jack avoids the nuclear snow-flakes, even though Jericho (which I've never seen) beat them to it. Plus, there was a fascinating discussion by two CTU agents about how angry they were about the formatting of a database ("I wanted columns, not comma delimited!" "I work best in comma delimited, you clod!"). You also forgot to mention "suburban family will be torn assunder by the works of a terrorists right in their midst" -- which also happened again. But the bad guy Kumar from "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle" so, you know, it was almost to be expected.

And none of that matters, because 24 is a roller-coaster ride rocking good time. Once they got rid of the dumb-ass daughter, it became a masterpiece of plotting on top of plotting on top of plotting. It's the only super-hero show left on the air. Jack Bauer is the nation's personal Batman/Buffy/Peter Parker/Punisher/and Don Johnson era Sonny Crocket all rolled up into one. Its also sadly more plausible than the other "roller-coaster" shows like Prison Break and LOST (tho I'm sure Jack would break out of the prison and I'm sure he'd knife Henry Gale in his cancerous spine if it meant saving the country.) >>

See--I knew "24" would be predictable. And for my money, dull. And yet, here's someone with relatively discerning taste ("Battlestar Gallactica" not withstanding) who calls it a "roller-coaster rid rocking good time." I do NOT get it. At least they got rid of the slutty but annoying daughter, Kim. Did they kill her, or what?

>>If you're going to hate technobabble on a show, Alias always had 24 beat. Marshall was full of shit. None compare to good 90's era Star Trek, of course. >>

The difference is that Alias, at least the first two seasons, was a GOOD show. And the technobabble was entertaining. Marshall was a quirky character inventing amazing gadgets like a bug that looks like a bug or a lipstick camera or a parabolic microphone that looks like a purse. The gadgets--like the disguises--made the show fun and exciting. Tab-delineated databases? NEVER fun or exciting. Never.

>>Best/worst technobabble on the air today: HOUSE. Plus, it's as formulaic as they come. Tho I did enjoy his recent jousting with the obsessed police officer. (Runner up: Numb3rs. Honorable mention: Law & Order.)>>

You've inspired me to add a new category: "Worst Formulaic Show on TV." See below.

>>also:
What about Brian is still on the air? Christ. I watched the first "season" of six episodes but couldn't come back for more. It's no Felicity, nor Thirtysomething. (I once got to personally yell at Bob Iger for canceling Thirtysomething in its prime. True story.) >>

Dude, seriously--it really is still on the air. My back-up VCR is set to tape it and I haven't bothered to tell it to stop, so I've still been watching it here and there. The hot but smart and totally together stripper girlfriend--I mean, "wife"--is nice to look at, at least. She has such pretty hair.

>>Show that should not be on the air : Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
And What About Jim.
And Two and a Half Men.
And Dancing with the Stars
And Til Death
And ER.>>

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip may have the worst name in television, but it deserves to be on the air. Certainly if Ghost Whisperer can be on the air, that can. Amanda Peet? Love it. And even though the show is basically The West Wing in a TV studio, it's well done.

As for those other shows, I don't have any explanation for shows as bad as What About Jim and Two and A Half Men. They are like JAG or Bob Sagat hosting America's Funniest Videos for all those years--I just don't understand how anyone can stand it. When I talk about television, I just don't even include those shows because I prefer to pretend they don't even exist.

As for ER, talk about beating a dead horse. NBC is desperate, but really--please, let it go already. When you killed Mark Green, you killed ER. It's time to bury it.

>>All shows suck compared The Shield and The Wire and Battlestar Galactica (which is almost completely technobabble free).>>

Yes, cable is where it's at. My new favorite is Weeds. But I don't get that in my TV. I have to wait for the DVDs.

>>Best boobs on TV: Katherine Heigl. >>

Definite oversight on my part, but in my defense, they're always hidden under scrubs.

>>Best shoulders: Evangaline Lilly>>

She's not only got the best shoulders, she's got the cutest face and is in the running for best hair. And I also nominate her for best action hero.



>>Stars most in need of a sandwich: Ellen Pompeo>>

Seriously, although Calista Flockhart is back on the air, you know.

>>The perfect woman: Jenna Fischer. Or, more specifically, Pam Beesly.>>

umm...I'm gonna have to disagree. That makes her all yours.


>>eric "tv addict" G.

PS: And remember, just about ALL TV -- even What about Brian -- is better than most movies these days. (but not What about Jim.) >>

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Monday, January 15, 2007

The State of the Union, in Television

Tonight, in honor of the Golden Globe Awards, (and because I have a deadline, so I'm procrastinating) I present to you...The State of the Union, in Television


Category: Most overrated show currently on the air

The Nominees: "24"; "Ugly Betty,"Two and a Half Men"

The Winner: "24"

The Why: The first season was fantastic television, definitely. It was original and compelling. I watched every episode practically on the edge of my seat. But then, it just got old. The fact that people are still watching this show baffles me. The fact that it's still getting so much praise from so many people—not just people who watched America's Funniest Videos with Bob Sagat and liked it, or people who are prone to enjoying stale plot lines and done-to-death stories, but discerning people--is almost beyond my comprehension.

Here's what I can say about this:

I haven't watched an episode of "24" since I gave up on the second season and that stupid presidential campaign plotline. [Once Nina's betrayal was revealed (a true shocker) and the wife axed, the show just stopped being interesting.] But, I'm willing to wager a fair sum that the much-touted season premiere will involve all of the following:

non-white terrorists attempting to blow something up, probably with a dirty bomb or stolen nuclear device; their plot will be discovered with barely enough time to stop the attack, and the only one on the planet who can possibly stop it is...Jack Bauer; a "twist" whereby some relatively minor but not totally insignificant character turns out to be working for the other side (the audience is expected to be shocked); lame dialogue vaguely referencing hardware, military equipment, or some sort of dull technology crucial to the detonation or transport of said bomb; an explosion; a gun fight; some painfully bad melodramatic acting on the part of victims and CTU staff; the frequent and urgent uploading of data; a constipated-looking hero, scruffy but undeniably handsome, grunting rapid instructions into a radio or cell phone to someone who has to do what he says or they'll die—wait, no, the whole world will die; tension between characters based on something from the past, that something is supposed to pique viewers' interests when it fact it's nearly impossible to care; poorly dressed CTU agents processing data as fast as they can in rooms that seem to be made entirely out of dark concrete and metal; men and women in navy blue clothes; Jack Bauer in a white tee-shirt.; a desperate middle-aged female; desert-like locations, such as scrubby California hillsides or "terrorist encampments" somewhere like Afghanistan; guns; sweat; blood; planes; SUVs; and a threat to the survival of the United States of America, which will somehow--in just one hour--be thwarted until next week, when all of these things will happen again. And again. Until someone finally takes the goddamned show off the air.

The Category: Best Boobs in a Sitcom or TV Drama

The Nominees: Jennifer Love Hewitt, "Ghost Whisperer"; Salma Hayek, "Ugly Betty,"; Felicity Huffman, "Desperate Housewives," Katherine Heigl, "Grey's Anatomy"

The Winner: Jennifer Love Hewitt, "Ghost Whisperer"

The Why: This show is sheer crap, but Jennifer Love Hewitt has the best rack in television.

The Category: Most Surprising to Still Be on the Air

The Nominees: "What About Brian," "Ghost Whisperer," "Ugly Betty," "Men in Trees"

The Winner: "What About Brian"

The Why: I began watching this show because JJ Abrams was attached to it. And it stars a single thirty-something person, surrounded by married or coupled friends, which I can relate to. I still watch it every week, but it should have been canceled a long time ago. It's like "thirtysomething," only duller.

The Category: Best New Show
The Nominees: "Brothers and Sisters," "Ugly Betty," "Heroes," "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"
The Winner: "Heroes"
The Why:
This is the best new show since "Lost."

The Category: Best Show in Syndication
The Nominees: "That 70s Show," "King of Queens," "Sex and the City," "Seinfeld," "Friends"
The Winner: "That 70s Show"
The Why:
Because I love it. Because I continue to enjoy episodes even after I've seen them three times. Because I'm nostalgic for the basement I spent my teenaged years in. Because its the perfect cast. Because Donna is so hot. Because the writing, acting, sets, costumes, and directing are brilliant. And because I miss having it be on the air.

The Category: Worst Formulaic Show on TV
The Nominees: "House," "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "Law & Order," "CSI: New York," "CSI: Miami," "Numb3rs," "Bones," "Crossing Jordan"
The Winner: "House"
The Why:
While other shows, such as "Bones" and "Crossing Jordan" just suck out loud, and CSI: NY is actually painful to watch, primarily due to a shitty casting job, "House" takes the cake because it is the most strict in its formulaic approach, and because it wastes so much great talent in the process. Give us a new approach: stat.









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Thursday, January 11, 2007

See Naomi on the Radio

Short video clip of Bread and Roses appearance.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

her dream was like an argument

Saturday, September 16, 2006

serpentine gray

moths fly

if the shoe doesn't fit

i'm not sad

Monday, July 10, 2006

Prom for a Good Cause



On June 24th, 2006, our (hopefully first annual) Prom for a Good Cause event raised approximately $1200 for Youth Action Coalition, an organization based in Amherst, Massachusetts, which teaches youth empowerment through art. Attendance was more than we hoped, the atmosphere was warm and festive, and everyone had a fantastic time.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Road Trip: Trixie Across America, 2001


Great lakes, great times--the sign says it all.

Road Trip: Trixie Across America, 2001


Trixie at the Colorado Gay Rodeo.

Road Trip: Trixie Across America, 2001

Road Trip: Trixie Across America, 2001


Teresa, the faithful companion, and Trixie the bad-ass mini-mascot.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Viral Spam: The Tick Removal E-mail

Dear xxxxxxx,

My mom forwarded me this e-mail that you sent her about the "tick removal" secret. I actually got a tick earlier this week while picking strawberries. It was my first one ever and totally creepy! Ick.

This e-mail is actually something called "viral spam." It won't infect your computer with a virus. It spreads, instead, the way human viruses do--contact with others and risky behavior.
It relies on humans to forward it in order to repopulate itself and fill up inboxes everywhere.

And, in this case, it is spreading medical information that could actually do harm. The truth is, this method isn't safe and doesn't work. Aggravating or attempting to suffocate a tick ususally causes regurgitation of the stomach contents into the victim's blood, which is the fastest way to get Lyme Disease.

This link gives you the details: http://themediadesk.com/newfiles4/ticking.htm

E-mails like this are almost always spam. The big clues are enthusiastic helping from a stranger. They usually also have lots of exclamation points and grammatical or spelling errors. If you suspect an e-mail is false, you can check by googling the keywords or by going to a site like this one: http://www.themediadesk.com/files/urban.htm.

You should send an e-mail to anyone you forwarded this to and let them know not to forward it on, and not to try suffocating ticks with liquid soap.

I hope you both are well. I won't be home for the Fourth, but I'm sending my love.
xxoo
Naomi

Subject: Ticks > > This is good to remember for anyone who frequents the outdoors, also for> your children and those with grandchildren. A School Nurse has written the> info below -- good enough to share -- > > I had a pediatrician tell me what she believes is the best way to remove a> tick. This is great , because it works in those places where it's sometimes> difficult to get to with tweezers: between toes, in the middle of a head> full of dark hair, etc. Apply a glob of liquid soap to a cotton ball. Cover> the tick with the soap-soaked cotton ball and swab it for a few seconds> (15-20), the tick will come out on it's own and be stuck to the cotton ball> when you lift it away. This technique has worked every time I've used it> (and in KY, that was frequently), and it's much less traumatic for the> patient and easier for me. Unless someone is allergic to soap, I can't see> that this would be damaging in any way. I even had my doctor's wife call me> for advice because she had one stuck to her back and she couldn't reach it> with tweezers. She used this method and immediately called me back to say,> "It worked!" > >

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Priceless

This is what happens to poor people:

I got sick. And didn't make as much as I needed. So I used my savings to pay my rent. It was exactly enough.

The next month, I was still sick, but I worked as much as I could. I earned just barely enough. Only my client didn't pay me on time. Some mix up with the contracts, they said.

So for a month, I didn't get paid. And I ran out of money. I used my last two dollars to buy six watermelon plants at the farmers' market so I could grow some fruit of my own.

When the money was gone, I paid for things--like groceries and the phone and doctor's visits--with my credit card, which means I borrowed the money at 17%. And I waited and I waited for the checks to come. But each day, they didn't. My client's records showed that they had paid me, but they hadn't.

After a few weeks, my truck needed gas. At first, I walked a lot. Or put things off. But my knee was injured, so I couldn't walk much. The limp was getting worse, so I had a choice: charge gas on a credit card or create more pain and swelling, which would cost money and time to treat, and which also makes basic life things, like standing on my feet to do dishes, very difficult.

What would you do?

I bought the gas.

But I waited too long. The tank had gotten so low that a bunch of junk got sucked into the fuel line, and clogged the fuel pump. And my truck stopped working. So I was stranded for a while. And I got rides places. And I tried to fix it myself, with Techron. But after a week, I took the truck to the garage.

The bill was $373.75. The fuel pump had to be replaced. It was only two years old.

I also took $20 from the ATM, because I thought I had enough--my balance showed I did--and because I thought the checks would come. It turns out that even though the ATM said I had enough, my actual balance was $4.35. So I was overdrawn by about $16. The bank charged me $28.

I'm wondering why they let me have the money at all, if it wasn't there, why they didn't warn me. Can that be legal?

But I'm still sick, and tired, and one of the checks still hasn't come. So I haven't called the bank to try to fix the fee. And I don't know how I'll pay my rent on time if that check doesn't come. They say it'll be direct-deposited friday, but that's the last day of the month...that's cutting it awfully close, especially since it's more than 30 days overdue. But they say it's the best they can do. They say they are sorry.

In December 1999, in my capacity as an e-commerce expert, I was the holiday spokesperson for MasterCard International. I wonder what they would think of this ad?

New fuel pump and oil pressure gauge, plus labor: $373.75
Overdraft charges: $28
Interest accruing on living expenses charged to VISA: 17%
Ability to put gas in your car and food in your mouth when you need it? Priceless.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Road Trip: Trixie Across America, 2001


Eleanor, the trusty steed.

Road Trip: Trixie Across America, 2001


Long delays are so much better when you expect them.

in her mind

in her mind,
she's a superhero supermodel
she believes in magic—
not rabbits out of hats,
but love out of disaster
and healing out of disease
she
has edges
made of razors
and flesh
as tender as a lamb's
you could knock her over with a feather
but not
a battering ram
there are walls of glass inside her,
framing complex, gentle grace,
after thirty
years of living
she is taking
up some space
she could not
run off
to the circus
so she brought the circus
to herself
now she glitters
like a garden
like she's loved
by someone else
and she's rolling
like an ocean
only known by
distant shores
oh! this woman
knows her lovers
by their footsteps
out
the door
so
she goes
about her business
solving crimes
like she can fly
she is dancing
at the circus
all alone
and kicking high

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ch. 2: Fields of Lupine

if you don’t ask the right question/every answer seems wrong.—ani difranco

The best meal I’ve ever eaten was served to me in a gently lit basement restaurant, in a room that achieved a crowded elegance that was both comforting and uplifting. It made me feel both fancy and relaxed, something not easy to achieve. It was romantic in the way that Lady and The Tramp’s back alley pasta dinner was romantic. I think there may even have been straw-bottomed bottles of Chianti hanging from the low ceiling near the fireplace. Our menu was more complicated and the wine list more extravagant than Tramp and Lady’s, but the lighting and the mood were exactly the same. If our lips had met in the middle of a shared spaghetti strand, the other couples in the restaurant would only have smiled pleasantly and listened for the violins that should rightly have followed.

I had come to the restaurant with my girlfriend at the time, because it was her favorite place, and she wanted to share it with me. We had sublet our San Francisco apartment and were spending the summer together, living with her sister’s family on a beautiful cove in her hometown on Cape Cod. She was painting houses and I was writing and recuperating from the two years of constant illness I’d endured in San Francisco. I remember this meal because everything about it was so absolutely perfect. The company was right, the setting was divine, and the swordfish I ordered was absolutely sublime. My salivary glands still gush and I drift off into a reverie whenever I think of it.

I savored every bite of that meal, moaning softly when the sumptuous flavor was too much to bear in silence. I felt spoiled—but like I deserved it, which was a wonderful sensation--and stimulated. Like really great sex, I didn’t want it to end. That swordfish in its special lemony sauce served over pasta was so delicious it made my whole life seem satisfying and worthwhile. What’s amazing to me is that even after seven years, when I want to feel that feeling again, I can reach back to the memory of that meal, and feel for as long as I can hold it in my mind, I am thoroughly protected, indulged, adored, and satisfied. It’s not just the taste of the fish that made that meal so great, it was everything. And when I re-visit it, I am given everything again.

As a child, I had a few special places where I’d go to feel peaceful and be alone. My favorite was a giant field of lupine where hundreds, maybe thousands, of lavender-, pink-, and white-blossomed plants stood three feet high and smelled of peppery goodness. The field was at the end of a long dirt road on private property at the tip of a grassy point that reaches out into the Orland River. It was a long bike ride for a seven-year-old from where I lived—a couple of miles, mostly unpaved—but it was just a few hundred feet from my best friend’s house, and she had free reign over it, so I felt it belonged to me, too. Sometimes, I would lie to my father, tell him I was going to my friend’s, but sneak off to the field instead.

I would go there alone as often as I could in summer. I would drop my bike at the edge, hopefully out of sight, and then I would walk out into the gentle stalks until I found a place that felt just right to lie down in. From down there, on my back, the whole world was heaven-scented. The grass beneath me was cool and itched my bare arms and legs just enough to remind me that I was human, and not actually part of the wildflower field I had immersed myself in. I felt the tilting of the planet beneath me, and sometimes I laced my fingers through the grass and gripped it tightly, hanging on. I looked up into the sky, my vision framed by green stalks and soothing pastel-colored flowers, and I watched the clean white clouds swim across the sky. I came to think of the lupine as my friends and my protectors, always rooted there around me, dancing slightly in the salty mud-scented breezes of the tidal river and its mud flats. They were androgynous sentries keeping out the ugliness of the world and providing me with comfort, safety, privacy, and the nourishment that came from fresh air in my nostrils.

One of the two best books I’ve ever read was given to me when I was nine years old. At the time, I was living with my mother and my little brother in a camp on a large pond in rural Maine. It was a year of great hardship, no plumbing, no central heat, and long walks through the snow every day in winter to get to the car and to school. My mother was keeping us alive all on her own, working full-time and pursuing a degree in electronics. I was cold, hungry, isolated. I even got scabies. I remember feeling angry and morose, overwhelmed. A new girl moved to school and became my best friend. One night that winter, her next door neighbor’s house burnt down, and the next day she told me how she listened to the mother and two children scream until they died inside, while the father stood naked in the snow, helpless and frantic. I pictured the mother, trapped and burning, blistering until she melted, unable to reach her children, unable to get outside. It was that kind of winter.

The book was given to me by my mother’s boyfriend at the time. He was an intense artist, a large man, not fat, but large, with hands that seemed like catcher’s mitts, and a head with a pelt of thick, black, bear-like hair that shone in any light. His presence filled up rooms and, quite often, my mother. He sketched images that should have been beyond me--like “Leda and the Swan”--which he would then craft into sculptures. His work had sexual themes so potent that even as a pre-pubescent nine-year-old, it made the blood rush down between my legs, and induced a strange combination of nausea, anger, and fascination in me. He had a teenaged daughter with fine hair and wool sweaters, who intrigued me. And he kept a giant, violent turkey in a pen next to his house, a turkey that had angrily tried more than once to snatch off the ends of my fingers with its beak.

I hated this man--he specialized in cruel pranks, designed to teach me a lesson. Once he tipped over a canoe I was terrified to be in, in order to show me I had “nothing to fear” from falling in. It was October, and I was dressed in thick layers. When I hit the icy water, it was like a thousand knives plunged into my body. I could hardly move my limbs from the soggy clothes and the grown-up-sized life preserver I was wearing. I kicked and thrashed frantically, screaming, trying to reach the shore. And the boyfriend just stood there, laughing, holding on to the overturned canoe. Finally, he told me to stand up. The water wasn’t over my head. He said I could walk to shore. To him, this was a valuable lesson to learn. For me, it was just another horrifying example of how unsafe the world was, especially when he was around.

I don’t remember when he gave me the book--if it was before or after the canoe--but I do remember it made me feel special. I owned almost nothing I could call my own, and a brand new paperback book was a treasure. I received the book at a time in my life when I desperately needed comfort, distraction, and guidance, and in the pages of that book—despite the fact that it was given to me by a tormentor—I found those things. I curled up in bed with it the night I got it, and read until my eyelids were too heavy to hold up. I awoke the next day and as soon as I was conscious, my small fingers parted the soft pages where I left off, and I began to read again.
I still have it now, twenty-four years later, that same copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It lives now with a few other precious books on a shelf in my office. And, just like the meal on the Cape and the field of lupine, I have returned to it often, when I needed the special feeling it provides. That book was a safe place for me to be when the rest of the world was not. My dog-eared copy is as smooth now as beach glass. Its soft cover as flimsy as a favorite deck of cards after a thousand games of hearts and rummy.

I’ve read A Wrinkle in Time at least a dozen times throughout the years, and each time I do, I am warmed by its familiarity while at the same time, I find something completely new. At times when I have writer’s block, if I think of the first line, It was a dark and stormy night..., I can often un-stick myself and begin to ride the river of words and thoughts that it releases.

Throughout my childhood, my adolescence, and even as an adult, this book has been my companion, my solace. Inside its cover, in 1991, Madeleine L’Engle wrote an inscription, For Naomi: Tesser well. This added blessing has given the book magical, mystical qualities beyond its original creative power. At times of great loneliness or despair, I have reached for A Wrinkle in Time and turned to the chapter called Aunt Beast. I feel comforted, loved, and understood by the characters L’Engle created, and, especially as a teenager, when I lacked a nurturing presence in my own life, I found one in the pages of a book, in the loving arms of an imagined creature on a planet far, far away.

What amazes me is that A Wrinkle in Time almost wasn’t published. Its author was rejected many, many times. No one wanted to read about a girl heroine in a science fiction novel, the rejection letters said. Publishers wondered, who could relate? But L’Engle stuck with it, and in 1962 her novel was published. It went on to win the Newbery Award, and most importantly to me, in 1981, it found its way into my nine-year old hands.

Although I know how it ends, each reading of Wrinkle grips me with such power that I cannot put it down. I read, just as I did that first time, long into the night. Bleary-eyed and wired in my bed, feeling caffeinated by the plot, I keep going until the last page is turned and I have reached the end again. I have learned many things from this book, and each time I read it, I learn even more.

The same is true of To Kill a Mockingbird, the other best book I’ve ever read. It has been said that its author, Harper Lee, had just one story to tell—and what a story it is. I re-read her novel nearly every summer. Not out of habit, but because I am drawn to it again and again. I yearn to spend time with the characters, to marvel at Lee’s gift of storytelling, to discover something new about myself and about life in the process.

Several summers ago, I came to Mockingbird on a particularly difficult day. Things had been troubling in every aspect of my life for some time and no clear relief was in sight. I was really struggling with being in this world and I needed some comfort, some insight, some answers. I wanted to be in the sun, warm and safe, with this book. Because of a conflict with my roommate, I felt I couldn’t go to my apartment to retrieve my own precious copy, so I went to the library, checked out the book, and drove north over the Golden Gate bridge, until I found some sunshine.

In a park on the Bay in Mill Valley, which is dedicated to a dear, departed horse named Blackie who used to call this pasture home, I spread out a blanket. I opened the book and read voraciously, the way one drinks a cold glass of iced tea in August, and those words were as comforting as a visit from a trusted friend. This time, after nearly a dozen readings, when I was mid-way through the book, I noticed a sentence, a message that I had never noticed before. Good people are the ones who do the best they can with what they’ve got, wrote Lee.

So simple and so true, it was exactly what I needed to hear. It didn’t matter if I was broke or without a real home or sick or lonely or anything else. As long as I did the best I could with what I had, I was going to be okay. I didn’t need to beat myself up for being in this mess. I’m a good person--I do the best I can with what I’ve got.

I put the book down. I didn’t need to read it any more. It had told me what I needed to hear. I closed my eyes. And, for the first time in ages, I slept.

Not long after that day, things began to turn around. I found the perfect home with the perfect roommates in exactly the location I had wanted. Profitable work rolled in so quickly I had to turn some of it away for the first time in my young freelance career. I felt healthy, loved, cared-for and supported by friends and family. I met interesting people, made valuable contacts, got positive feedback on my work. I danced. I gave gifts. I paid off debts. I had a party. All of the things that had been wrong were turning right again.

Despite the power of my memory, I can never physically return again to that meal on Cape Cod. The girlfriend I shared it with broke up with me, and the swordfish dish was a special item, not on the menu on either of my two visits back. What I have is a powerful memory, but not an event I can actually re-live or share with anyone else.

That field of lupine may still exist, but it’s far away from me now. Even if I were to find my way back, can a grown-up wander onto private property and lie down in someone else’s field without fear of retribution? I can never be seven again, small and safe inside that great expanse of what felt like my own private world of lupine.

I will never be able to put those experiences on again and walk around in them, or pass them on to my niece and my nephew, or to my own children, if I have them. But, I can pass on to them these books. When they are old enough, I will give the children in my life A Wrinkle in Time and To Kill A Mockingbird, and I will hope that they will fall in love with the special places they’ll find there. We all need a way to find the comfort that a perfect meal and a field of lupine offered me on the dark and stormy nights of my childhood and beyond. And we all need the chance to learn what we can make of our lives, if we do the best we can with what we’ve got.

[draft, Chapter 2, The Long-Awaited Time of Joy and other True Stories]

Looks Aren't Everything

I have been waiting, dragging the minutes uphill against a fierce headwind, like wreckage that must be cleared before I can flee from the storm; it takes forever to move just one out of my way. I rest my palm gently against my stomach, which has been trying all morning to jump out of my torso and run away. I picture it escaping through my belly button, all sloppy and legless, hopped up on adrenaline and running down the sterile corridors like a cartoon germ. With the other hand, I grip the hard plastic edge of the chair. When I start to see spots, I duck my head down between my knees and force myself to breathe. My insides have scattered, run for cover as though someone has just dropped a bomb.

I have decided that I will try something new. I am telling the truth, about everything, even to myself. This means I must not try to hide the fear that is blazing like an asteroid trapped inside me, bouncing off the walls, occasionally getting trapped and sizzling somewhere behind my stomach before it burns itself free. It means I can no longer act like it's not there.

She knocks once quickly and before I can make a sound, she has entered the examination room. I am sitting down and I am frightened, so she seems much larger than she ever has before. And soft. She wears layers of summer linens in muted colors, quiet shoes, and hair that is tempered by gray.

She puts down my chart and opens her arms. I am confused by the gesture, it seems so incongruously humane for the room we are in. And because this has happened so rarely to me in life, I feel befuddled, the way I might if I arrived in a culture where gift-giving or bowing were the customary greeting. But I do understand that the arms are opening for me, and that I am supposed to move into them. So I do.

Once I am there, I feel like a guest in a predicament. I am being offered the largest piece of cake and do not know if it is rude to accept it-—or refuse it? I want to do the right thing, but I can only guess at what it is. I am aware of her limited time. But she hangs on to me while I think these thoughts. She presses me to her full, mother-chest, and she is warm. She holds me longer than is obligatory when one wants to be kind. She holds me long enough to let her comfort begin to sink in, and this sends sparks of grief and gratitude up into my eyes, and I feel the sting behind my lids that means I am going to cry.

“Thank you,” I whisper into her shoulder. And I hold very still. After a few moments longer, she gives me a squeeze, and then lets me go. She sits on her stool and I sit in my chair and we talk about what’s happening to me. Succinctly, rapidly, with hand gestures and much searching of the ceiling and the floor, I tell her everything.

"I'm sorry," she says. And she means it. I feel shy and also grateful. “I’m sorry I didn’t get your e-mail sooner. And I’m sorry that I treated you with hormones instead of looking into this.”

She is genuine and kind. I used the words that should have alarmed her, but she just didn’t think to ask the questions that would have revealed the real problem, when I came to her last year.

“It’s just that you look so good,” she says.

**

“How have you been?” asks my physical therapist.

“Not great,” I say. “I had ten days of migraines and then a terrible cold and now on top of the cold, I have allergies. And today my back went into a spasm so intense I had to call a neighbor to come and pick me up off the floor. Also, today is the first day in almost a week that I haven’t coughed until I threw up.”

“Wow,” he says. “Well--you look great.”

**

I called xxx at 5:30 on a Sunday morning and left a message virtually begging him to make some time for me. 12 hours later, I sat on his couch and said, "Since the day after our fight I have had a migraine almost constantly. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I’m throwing up. And for two days I couldn’t even use my eyes. It has to stop. I have to get my work done. I have to be able to live. I think that it has something to do with not seeing you or talking to you. I think if you and I can be okay, if we could start communicating and be in each other’s lives again, I would feel better. I think my headaches would go away. I can’t go on like this anymore.”

I was exhausted and desperate. I gritted my teeth, shook my head like a dog shaking out the rain, lifted my chin, but the tears were unstoppable.

“You don’t look sick,” he said from his perch in his easy chair. He narrowed his eyes a bit, “You don’t look like someone who’s been through all that.”

**

“I have so much pain inside,” I say. “I feel crazy with hurt. I can’t stop it, can’t solve it, I’m always alone with it, even right now, while we’re here together in this restaurant.”

“Well, you look great!” she says. “You look beautiful. You know you could get any man you want. You’re gorgeous.”

**

“I’m sad,” I say. “I’m having a very hard time. A lot of physical and emotional pain. It’s very difficult.”

“Well, you look incredible,” she says. “You look amazing! I can’t believe you are going through this.”

**
“Yeah,” I say. “I get that a lot.”

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

**Special Order** Casket Receipt

May 30, 2006

Found Magazine
3455 Charing Cross Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48108

Dear Found:

I found this casket receipt today stuck in my flower beds. I was returning home from a walk and saw this piece of white paper lying in my Irises. I picked it up, unfolded it, and then sort of jumped, chirped, and recoiled as though I had just discovered there was a dead mouse inside or something. (The chirp I can’t explain, other than I’m sick and it was the only noise of surprise my throat could create under the circumstances.)

I held it by its corner, like you would a really smelly diaper, and carried it in the house. I thought for a minute that maybe I should call someone—I mean, this receipt says that the receipt should be duplicated and the casket delivered as soon as possible. How horrible if your casket order got lost??

But, since it’s been ten days since the receipt was dated, I have to guess that the casket showed up, one way or the other.

It’s funny how creepy a casket receipt feels. I didn’t even notice the dead bugs stuck to the tape until much later.

Anyway, here you go, “**Special Order** Casket Receipt” enclosed.


Cheers,


Naomi Graychase
PO Box 787
Northampton, MA 01061
Graychase@gmail.com

body language


and my body screamed
touch me
but his hands did not hear

and my heart screamed
take me
but he did not speak my language.




[northampton, circa 2002]

morning


there is this time
in my mornings here
when the sadness knocks to come in.
it shows up at the door
to see if I want it
but each day,
i turn it away.
not today. no thanks.
and it leaves. no questions asked.
there is nothing for me to feed it, so it flies away.
trick or treat elsewhere. find another friend.
it's nice for me not to feel sad.

[Northampton, circa 2002]

so far gone

there is a difference
between gone
and
so far gone.
it is the difference
between
walking away,
and never coming back.

[circa 2001]

i gave at the door

he didn't ask me for it

but before we knew it
we were through it
and the door was just another thing
we'd left behind.

hotel beds, a meeting of the minds,
our bodies,
unrelenting in their quest,
their desire for one another

i have been unable to think
of letting it all go

so, i gave at the door
and then again on the couch

in the kitchen, my bedroom,
and if he'd had one, in his.

i gave until i bled
and we lapped it up, together
from sweaty fingers,
with dripping tongues,
vampires and cannibals

on the beach, the balcony, my car.

we think our diet is enough,
we binge and we purge,
cut calories and corners
until at last,
there will be nothing left of us

our vision will be spotty
we'll walk light-headed and slow
romantic anorectics
too caught up in the
necessity of starvation
to know
that carving off the flesh of a relationship
leaves only the bones

which are not enough for any one to live on,
let alone two.

we are headed down a street where
you turns are forbidden

we are building a house of straw
because we don't dare to use bricks

we are drinking diet shakes
thinking it will be enough,
but our bodies are getting desperate
our hearts are getting tired
of all this work
designed to keep them safe
from one another.

our words spill out of us
letters and lips
we gush and we moan

we thrive on the lushness
of the valley between us
of the peaks we arrive at
dizzy and panting
and living for now.
just now.

it breaks his heart to think
of breaking mine

he never asked for it,
but before we knew it
we were through it

and the door was just another thing
we'd left behind.

[Provincetown, 2001]

inkpens

i don't use inkpens
anymore
because they are so
likely to bleed,
like that letter
in his back pocket
and those notepads
that were caught with me
in that late night
summer rain.
all those words
washed away
not erased,
but blurred, melted.
irretrievable.
interviews and poems,
observations and stories
that came out of me
with shape and power
and an illusion of substance,
but bled away
on contact
with his sweat
and my rain.

[northampton, circa 2003]

after

kissing her was okay/
it was something/
human contact/
but hollow/
like elevator music/
--music, but not/
songs minus their substance/
i felt nothing for her/
we were two sticks rubbing/
that could never spark a flame.

[san francisco, 2002]

light

in darkness once
i saw the light
and this is what sustains me.
a tremorous hope
a fervent wish
and greater than that—
it is knowledge—

[san francisco, 2002]

Letter to Brian, One Year After He'd Gone

i thought of you today.

it was a damp day
gray and rainy
with a sky thick and low
and puddles built up
in every dip in the asphalt.
it was the kind of day
that would have been bad
with its soaked heads
and no parking
but, it wasn't bad;
it was beautiful.

i didn't mind my wet sneakers
or the way the cold air
made my fingers stiffen
because today belonged to me.
no one else had any claim
to any minute of it
it was mine,
so it was beautiful.

i thought of you
when i was leaving the café.
I walked out into the parking lot
and all the sounds
of the world
were muffled
by the low ceiling
of smoky gray clouds
and the constant
swishing and splashing
of tires on wet pavement.

there was just this white noise
cars…feet…water

then drums.

As I walked to my car
someone three stories up
amidst the bricks and open windows
was playing drums
loud and a little messy
cymbals crashing
wooden sticks meeting taut drumheads
it was music

and i thought of you
up there
amidst the bricks and open windows
making music in the rain on a Friday afternoon

and i wondered where you are—
they say you're in Brooklyn—

and I wondered if you're playing still
somewhere every day

or not?

i called you last night
but there was no answer
and no voice mail
just a phone ringing
somewhere in New York.

and that's how those drums
sounded to me today
like a phone
ringing in someone else's apartment
a rainy afternoon
when the light is shifting to darkness
and the telephone
rings and rings
in the place next door.

[September 2002]

Fish Drowned in Water

I am a mother without a child,

a Writer without words.

I am swimming in grief,
        a fresh water fish
         dumped into an ocean,
fighting against inevitable
suffocation and demise
struggling to find air
amidst the saline
        and the unfamiliar tides
exhausted by currents,
        so natural
and so bizarre.

I am working
with all my muscles
         and all my might
        twisting, thrusting, panting
for the wings
       that will sprout from my scales
       to save me.

[January 2004]

Ch. 17: How I Know My Mother Loves Me

We can never go back. We can go forward. We can find the love our hearts long for, but not until we let go grief about the love we lost long ago, when we were little and had no voice to speak the heart’s longing.—bell hooks


I was kneeling in the dirt when she told me. I was elbow deep in green, exercising my right to choose which plants were pulled as weeds. My flowerbed was overgrown, and the unwanted things were about to outmatch the ones I had so lovingly planted in the spring. It was a slow and gentle process done in stages over days. It took careful hands to identify and pull out the thriving weeds without damaging the fledgling flowers and herbs, which were being trampled by a riot of uninvited guests.

I remember focusing on the sherbet-orange glow of my nasturtiums and the candy-apple blossoms of my impatiens as I dug my fingers in and tugged. The air was warm—it was July—and a soft breeze left my bare thighs and shoulders feeling caressed. I smelled of coconut-scented sunscreen, damp earth, and coffee. Pressed between my left ear and my shoulder was my phone. As I sorted through the growth, both intentional and spontaneous, I listened to my mother. As we talked, I made steady progress with my weeds, shifting now and again to spare my knees, my neck, or my shoulder.

I’m not sure if I can remember what prompted it--we were talking about healing, I think--but my mother began to describe her most recent visit to her craniosacral practitioner. I knew that my mother had been seeing this woman who specialized in correcting the effects of trauma, and that she had benefited greatly from the treatments. It was life-altering care, and I liked hearing about it. A few months earlier, she had told me about re-negotiating her birth in a series of craniosacral treatments. I wasn’t sure exactly how it all happened, but I knew that it had been important to my mother and that its effects had been liberating, curative, and invigorating for her.

In order for you to understand what happened next, you must know what I believed about my own birth--and about my relationship with my mother--up until this day. Put simply, I believed that my mother had always hated me, that I was an unwanted and disappointing child, unwelcome in the world or in her life. I believed she had fought hard to keep me alive only because she was the kind of woman who took responsibility for things. I believed that she felt an obligation to get me to adulthood since she had, in fact, created me. I also knew, in terms of more factual details, that mine was a vaginal birth, that I arrived healthy, but a few weeks premature--narrowly missing the name July Morning by arriving late in June instead of in mid-July--and that, because it was 1972, my father was not allowed into the birthing room when I was delivered.

I had, as an adult, intuited that something went wrong that morning, but I was never clear about what. I simply identified the wrongness as a sad truth: that my mother hadn’t wanted me, and my father wasn’t able to compensate for that rejection. It was a truth that informed every event in my childhood and my adult life, and caused me to form a sense of self that was tragically lacking in self-worth.

A couple of years ago, I wrote an account of my birth. It was based only on my memory of photographs, stories, and details I could easily confirm by looking at my birth certificate. I did not ask either of my parents what that day was like before I wrote this:

At some point, during the winter of 1971, my parents surrendered to their teenaged urges on what must have been a mattress on a dusty floor or a blanket near the woodstove, and nine months later I was forced to leave the cozy comfort of my mother’s womb for the harsh whiteness of a delivery room. I have long suspected that my depression started on the morning of my birth, when I felt for the first time the shock and abandonment, the aching fright and isolation, the exhaustion of being forced out of the only home I’d ever known and into the world.

I suspect there must have been some special words from God before I left and was squished down that birth canal, some whispered promise in a language only babies can hear, in the thump of my mother’s heartbeat and the swish-swish-swish of her body’s fluids through my fingers while I kicked and swam, suspended there and dreaming. Whatever it was that was said to me in that womb, it made me expect love and greatness. It filled me with anticipation about the wonders on the other side, and it fortified me, allowed me to go willingly—three weeks early—through that tight and darkened passageway of muscle and into the light.

To this day, tunnels fill me with an incredible sense of power and optimism. I feel like a Super Bowl quarterback emerging into a stadium full of fans, confident in my ability to play and to win. I feel that sense of promise. I feel my power, my strength and my glory. But it always passes once I’m through the opening and I find myself again, blinking in the light, lost and sore, inside and out.

Each of us, at some point, wonders about the narrative of our birth. Where did I come from, we all want to know, and why am I here? In the question, there is so much more than a curiosity about where babies come from. We want to know our story. We want to know where and when, to whom and why we entered the world the way we did.

Most of us got our answer from whichever grown-up or older child we asked when it occurred to us as children. But we also pieced together our story from the clues we found all around us, the little bits of history that were dropped in conversations, found in photographs, and taught to us with insidious subtlety in other ways. This knowledge, these answers, become part of our personal mythology, absorbed and cemented into our psyches, the foundation upon which all other growth is mounted. What we believe to be true about ourselves, our beginnings, becomes an essential truth for us—even if we’re wrong about the facts. And at the very heart of it all, is the real question: was I wanted?

If you had asked me before--at any age--I would have told you that I wasn’t wanted. That my mother had wanted a baby, but that for some reason she didn’t want me. My childhood was spent gathering evidence of this--there was no shortage of proof--and then I spent my adult life trying to find a way to come to terms with and counteract the damage of that gigantic mother rejection. In my twenties, my longing for mothering triggered in me a desire to bear my own children that was so titanic it dominated all other thoughts. My failure to find anyone willing to love and partner with me to form a family, and my failure to earn enough money to do it alone, sent me to the brink more than once. I was constantly engaged in a wrestling match--always simultaneously trying to find ways to become a parent, and ways to cope with the fact that I probably never would be. Anyone I dated--or probably even met--during the last ten years could attest to the intensity of my desire to mother. I was so desperate to have a healthy mother-daughter relationship, to heal my broken child-heart, that I sought to play the role of mother as though my very life depended on it. And, perhaps, in some ways, it did.

But this summer, something changed. I traveled home to Maine as usual to celebrate my birthday with my family. My niece had just turned one-year-old, my nephew turned eight, and as I played games with, snuggled, and watched over these beautiful children, I felt as usual the unconditional, all-encompassing love they stir in me. But by the end of the weekend—by the end of my 32nd birthday--I realized I didn’t need children of my own. It was an odd liberation. It wasn’t that I had changed my mind about wanting to parent, but somehow, after a decade spent pursuing that holy goal, I just let it go--or, actually, it let go of me. It was as though I’d been trapped in a storm or a fever, and finally it had passed. My life no longer felt as though it depended on creating children. My close friend, Jon, had traveled home to Maine with me, and I shared this revelation with him on the drive back to Northampton, unsure of its source, but glad for its arrival.

It was about two weeks later that I was kneeling in the dirt, pulling weeds and listening to my mother. She was talking about her craniosacral treatment—telling me again how she had renegotiated her own birth earlier that year. And then, she told me, she had decided to re-negotiate mine. I stopped weeding for a second, and leaned back onto my heels. My mother told me, then, something I had never known. My birth, for her, had been a terrible trauma. Not because she didn’t want me--in fact, she said she wanted me very much--but because of what the doctors did to her.

Just as I was about to be born, they strapped her down. My twenty-year-old mother, all alone in that delivery room, giving birth to her first child in a room full of strangers--they strapped her down. My claustrophobic mother, who can’t even ride in elevators because they make her feel panicked and confined, was restrained, terrified, and then anesthetized against her will. She was filled with anger, horror, fright. And the last thing she remembers before I arrived, is screaming, NO!

It was a NO! that came from the core of her being. A mother’s rage, summoned up from all the pain of contractions and all the heat of her swollen body and her urge to protect my swimming self inside her, it screamed through every cell of her body and mine, NO! Her scream went into my umbilical cord, reverberated into my tender aquatic ears. There was the rapid thumping of her heartbeat, and my fetal self, poised to part the curtains and jump on stage with a grand arrival greeted by applause, was instead smacked down in a fat thunder clap of rejection, deafening me with its howling rage, NO! before sending me through that painful chute and out into the cold alone.

I had not imagined my mother’s intense feeling of rejection--she did scream No! that day--but not to me; I had, for all these years, tragically misunderstood it. She was screaming No! on that day to the doctors and the nurses who held her down and denied her everything she wanted in that moment. Because of them she was not able to feel my body passing through her strong cervix and out into the world. And after I was born, she was not able to hold my little self to her chest. They took me away, immediately, refused to let her see me for hours. They wheeled her, dazed, angry, confused, to a room with other new mothers. And they wheeled me tired, disoriented, abandoned to a room with other babies.

They told her to sleep. She felt powerless and alone. For days this went on. I want my baby, she told them. I want my baby. But they told her, no. They let her nurse me, but then they’d take me away. But my mother kept on fighting. She fought with every nurse who entered the room. She fought with every doctor. She mounted a rebellion. She got all the other mothers riled up. We want our babies, they said. We want our babies--now. So they sent my mother home. Three days early. She took her baby girl and she went home.

By then, of course, the damage was done. In those first few minutes and days, I learned that I was not welcome here on earth. It led me down a road to agoraphobia and depression. To suicidal depression and years where I struggled to leave my house because the world seemed like a place where I didn’t belong. When I tried to open my door on the world, all I heard was, No! At the heart of all my pain was my broken-hearted knowledge that my mother did not love me, and because I thought that No was directed at my very existence, I thought she wanted me to die.

My mother did everything she could to win me back when I was little, to protect and to provide for me--but I rejected her. I turned only to my father, only to a man who would always love me, but who almost always let me down when I was little. I clung to him as though my life depended on it. My mother--the reliable one--became the enemy. Neither of us understood why, until now.

My mother, in her unflagging quest for healing, had the courage and the awareness to fix, three decades later, what had gone wrong on that late June day. Just before my 32nd birthday, she and her craniosacral therapist re-negotiated my birth. At the age of 52, she went through it all again--only this time, she wasn’t strapped down to a table. She wasn’t injected with any drugs against her will. She felt her baby pass down through her cervix and out into the world. She felt every contraction, every tear and push. She breathed through the pain, owned it, made it hers. And her daughter was greeted with strength and love, comfort and celebration. Her daughter was welcomed with joy, triumph and grace. And when the birth was through, my mother was given her baby. She opened her gown and pressed me to her warm, bare chest and held me there for a long time, so that I could hear the heartbeat that meant that I was home.

It was this act that caused the stormy fever of my desire to mother to mysteriously pass away. I felt it happen, even before she told me what she’d done. And once I heard the story, once I heard the words out there in the sunshine in my garden, I knew that I would be healed. It was so hard to believe--I had a lifetime of evidence to the contrary--but just as the sun cracks over the horizon and eventually lights up a whole day, I felt a new awareness dawning, a transfusion of warm love which would take the place of that cold and lonely rejection that coursed through my veins since day one. Because I was afraid that when I hung up the phone I would doubt my memory of what she had said, I asked my mother if she would write it down for me, write down that I was wanted and welcome so that I could see it there, and read it to myself over and over again, until I was sure that it was true.

Later that night, I was cooking in the kitchen with my friend Heather when I felt a sort of pressure, a deep and subtle cramping just beneath my belly button, where, I imagine, my umbilical cord had been. I left Heather alone and I laid down and let it come. Curled up in the darkness like a wise young fetus poised for a grand arrival, I let myself feel loved and welcomed by my mother. I let myself begin. There was cramping, then comfort, then joy.
Two days later, a card arrived in the mail.

Naomi--Just a note to remind you that you were welcome and fiercely loved at birth. You are welcome and loved today. In your own depths this experience of these energies waits to be remembered. Love, Mom.

I’m angry with those doctors who terrorized my mother. And I’m sad for all the terrible years of suffering she and I endured, when we didn’t recognize each other as allies, and we didn’t know why. But mostly, I am celebrating what we have now. We set the record straight, my mom and I. It’s so much easier to know her now, and to know myself. It took 32 years, but it might never have happened at all.

I am a treasured daughter. I am a woman who is wanted, who my mother fought for. My mother loves me--I never really knew this before. My mama loves me, I say out loud, when I’m working in my yard or driving in my car. I say it with the pride and certainty of a bragging five-year old: my mama loves me. And I use this knowledge like a sword and a shield--when lovers reject me, when friends disappoint, when I feel all alone--I can come home to something, for the first time ever, and I can fight for myself, channel my mother’s warrior soul, and fight for my right to belong in this world, to be held, to be known--and to be healed.

[draft, chapter 17, The Long-Awaited Time of Joy]

Friday, May 26, 2006

Nuts and Bolts, Nuts and Bolts, We Got Screwed!

Recent studies have shown that for women and men in this country, with exactly the same qualifications and exactly the same jobs, the following salary discrepancies still exist:

  • For women with a high school diploma, lifetime earnings will be $700,000 less than for men in the exact same jobs.
  • For women with a bachelor's degree, the difference is $1.2 million.
  • For women with advanced/professional degrees, the difference is $2 million.
These are apples to apples comparisons. Not women who dropped out of the workforce to be full-time mothers for a portion of years. These are men and women doing equal work for unequal pay.

For sources, studies, and more information, visit the WAGE Project.

Of Lice and Men

hey,

so xxxxxx got lice from his little league helmet and then passed it to
xxxxxx, and xxxxx got bitten by some crazy insect in an air duct in a
hospital and his whole forearm swelled up and got covered by some
unbearbly crazy itchy rash that the doctors are mystified by. plus,
it's snowing there today, and the kids have colds.

but, they are still willing to come. if they are lice-free on
thursday, they'll head down on friday. good lord. also, i've been
informed that xxxxxx wakes up at 5:30 a.m. every day.

this is going to be a great five days! i should be very chipper and
energetic.

(my head is already itching!)

Our conversation last night made me feel like i wanted to share
something with you. I wrote it to xxxxxx, not intending for you to see
it, but I'd like for you to know this, so i've pasted it below. She
had written me to say, basically, she didn't understand why you'd be
so awesome to her (her word) and that she felt like she needed to do
something, buy you a car, send you on vacation, give you some
fantastic gift in exchange.

this is what I replied:

>>listen, the only thing you can ever do to thank xxx for his support,
is to live your life as best you can. and to not take him for granted.

i mean it.

the only thing he would want for you or from you is a life lived with
courage, honesty, passion, and a refusal to quit. and that's what
you're doing, so consider him aptly thanked.

doing your work, being strong, looking at yourself, knowing yourself
better today than you did last year--these are the things xxx xxxx
looks for in a girl.

your crazygirlways seem like madness and mayhem to an amateur viewer,
but to xxx xxxx, they represent beauty--potential.

the struggle you're going through is not a sign of weakness, but a
sign that you are living big, doing the hard things, looking into the
dark places and facing up to what you see. this takes guts. feeling
crazy and weak while you do it is normal.

i suspect you have some idea how beautiful xxx is--and this, in
itself, is evidence of your own beauty. it's like this: in order to
see how great xxx is, you must first be able to see that such
greatness exists at all. to be able to see that greatness, is to
realize your own potential for it--to see it, at least a little, in
yourself.

without that vision, you can't see xxx. so, just being able to see
him, to know him as you do, is an indication of how well you are doing
in your life. did that make sense to you?

it's like, for people who can't conceive of the incredible depth and
grace of xxx, he is invisible. but you can see him, which means that
you have some of that in yourself. you know?

and know this: he chooses carefully, and he gives completely. when he
graces your life, you have the opportunity to never be the same.

don't ever feel as though you are not his equal, or as though you are
not worthy of his care. he knows best--and he has chosen to care about
you. trust this, always. he is never wrong. not about this. if he
cares about you, then you are worth it. you cannot trick xxx. he Sees
you, and he cares. and that's that. be honest. be good to him. be good
to yourself. and remember you are lucky to have him.

[e-mail; april, 2005]

Choice

Dear xxx,

...I have not been a good e-mailer-slash-potential-friend-slash-love-interest-slash-as-the-young-people-say-"whatever."
I'm sorry for that. I'm in the midst of one of those times in life when I feel tossed about in a storm. My boat is too small. My oar is cracked. And yet I'm too stubborn to settle for any port. I keep trying to get where I was going. Sigh. (Growl.)

I would be amused by myself if I weren't also so busy bailing and paddling and checking my charts to see if I'm anywhere near still on course.

Sigh again. (Growl again.)

Reproductive rights: this is one of the things in life I am deeply passionate about. Were I a senator, I could filibuster about it until my tongue dried up like a dream deferred.

Since I am not the junior senator from Massachusetts just yet I have to settle for passionate e-mailing, rousing dinner party conversations--preferably with people who agree with me--and the occasional public speaking engagement.

A couple of years ago, I had one of those moments of beautiful clarity, when the words all come out right and the light is shining on you and the audience is hanging on every word--no, not hanging, but rather something more uplifting. perhaps buoying under every word?--anyway, it was a room full of people who were mostly my age or older. And I reminded them that for most of us, our mothers did not get to choose. This stuns me every time I think about it. My mother is only 54. She's young. Her youth is not that far off from mine. And yet, she did not get to choose. It's stunning.

I know you know this--thank god, good for you, bravo, yay--but it's amazing to me how near those years are and yet how few of us really get what that means. us, being women. us, being men. us, being pretty much everyone alive in this country (for crying out loud).

Anyway, I was hosting this event, and said to the room that I would give up my life if it meant that my mother could go back to her 19th year and choose. And I meant it. I would. I feel that strongly about it.

I think, actually, that my mom wanted to be pregnant. That she wanted to have a baby, who turned out to be me. But I find the result of her choice to be irrelevant. The point, really, is that her right to choose supercedes my right to exist. And I will bare knuckle fight anyone who wants to convince me that this isn't true.

So, I told this to a bar full of 200 women (and a handful of others), and then I said that since I can't go back in time and give my mother options, i consider it my duty to live this life as fully, as bravely, as brilliantly as I possibly can, and to do all in my power to make sure that my daughters and their daughters and their daughters' daughters have the right to choose--to choose healthy birth control, to choose consensual sex, to choose when and how and what they will do with their bodies when it comes to sex and pregnancy and child bearing (and everything else). (Frankly, I don't even think the state should be able to tell adults that they should have to wear seatbelts or helmets, but that's a whole other rant.)

In retrospect, I think before I agree to give up my life in exchange for my mother's right to choose, I would want some sort of rider attached that said my giving up my life would give all women (at the very least in this country and in every country where we impose our fiscal and moral and military will) full access to reproductive rights til the end of time.

Since, like you, I abhor the exclamation mark--one of my favorite teachers/editors once told me that every person should be given only three exclamation marks to use in her/his lifetime and I *love* this idea--I hope you will understand the implied exclamation mark when I say I'm glad you're doing this work. And I look forward to hearing more about it...

[e-mail; 2006]

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Dire Straits

it's 11:06 PM eastern, and I'm listening to Normandie FM through my computer while I try to work on some proofreading I'm doing for a company based in Belarus.

Normandie FM is a radio station out of Alencon, France. I like it because I like to listen to people speaking French, and because the songs are almost always upbeat, and in between them there's often this cheesy little sing-song jingle, "nor-man-dee-eff-emmmmmm" that could just as easily be "dubble-yew-kay-arr-pee-in-sin-sin-aaahhhhhh-teeee." there's some cross-cultural/universal need for radio producers to create these jingles, and it makes me smile and feel like the world is small and that's okay. it's like seeing some African nation's president in traditional garb but with Reeboks on his feet. My point is, I find it charming, not disturbing--whereas the McDonald's inVersailles is disturbing.

So here's the thing: I'm sitting in Northampton, Massachusetts. I'm listening to a live radio broadcast from halfway around the world. Without a radio. And I'm writing to you in Salt Lake City, but this morning I wrote to you in San Francisco, and you wrote me back, from a restaurant and then from an airport. And when I click Send, all of these words will travel as bits of data out of the cable that comes up through the floor in my office, out of my house, through who knows how many little transfer stations--hop, hop, hop--and virtually instantly it will arrive in your inbox. and since you have this stunning ability to be online at all times thanks to the (now famous) KR1 router and your cell phone, you'll probably be reading this before I've even had time to listen to another song from France. Which, right now, is "money for nothin." It's almost 5:30 a.m. in Alencon, France and somewhere in that town, some late-night/early morning DJ decided to spin, of all things, the Dire Straits.

I remember this song vividly. It's inextricably connected to my memories of the summer I turned 13 (but most definitely not connected in any way to my ideas about France). It's not just the music--it's the video I so distinctly remember. I am having a *visual* memory of a *song.*

This is because I was the perfect age for the dawn of MTV. From 1981 on, I soaked up music videos like the little adolescent sponge that I was. And this Money For Nothin' video was on heavy rotation.

So now, here I am. It's twenty years later, and I'm listening to Norrr-maaann-dee eff-emm through my computer, where a song from 1985 is making its way back to me, in ways I never could have imagined possible back then. Ways I don't totally even understand right now.

When it first came on, I thought, isn't that bizarre (tres bizarre) and silly, that I went seeking relief from American radio and what I got from this obscure little French station in the middle of the night was not French pop, or folk, or even techno. What I got was a song practically synonymous with the concept "American pop phenomenon."It's even *about* one of the most significant pop phenomenons of our era--MTV.

That video, it turns out, was considered groundbreaking at the time, for its use of computer animation. And, it was the first song ever played on MTV Europe. Recorded by a British band (in the West Indies, London, and New York), it broke technological ground with its video, set international sales records as a single, and was performed most famously at Live Aid, that unforgettably giant concert attempt to end world hunger.

I can't help but enjoy the song as it plays. My foot is tapping and I'm singing along with guest-vocalist Sting, at every chorus: "I want my, I want my, I want my em-tee-vee." But when I think about where it's coming from, I am also reminded of the disappointment I felt when I fulfilled a lifelong dream and strolled down the Champs-Elysees for the very first time. I thought it would be a beautiful experience--a very French experience. But when I got there, I didn't even feel like I was in France. I felt like I was in America. Worse than that, I felt like I was in an American stripmall. Madonna T-shirts, Nikes, American brands abound--there was even a Ben & Jerry's.

American consumerism is like a virus that we're spreading across the so-called "free world." Our products are like invasive non-native species that, once introduced to a virgin landscape, will grow and spread and choke out everything else. I was nine when that little animated astronaut landed on that TV moon and planted his MTV flag, changing the world forever--so much more so, I might argue, than those actual, real life astronauts. Ask anyone from my generation who did the moonwalk, and i guaran-damn-tee you, they will not mention Neil Armstrong (or that unfortunate runner-up Buzz Aldrin). They will tell you, of course, that it was Michael Jackson, and that they first saw it on...MTV.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Ch. 18: The Long-Awaited Time of Joy

It’s March--or maybe April--and I am sitting on a riverbank alone.

Tomorrow, I will see a lawyer about filing bankruptcy. And right now, it’s bitter cold. Actually, the cold itself is not so bitter--on its own it should not bring me to my knees. It’s the context that gives the bitterness to today. This is the kind of late-winter freeze that kicks you when you’re down. It should be spring, but winter is still here, strutting around our springtime, running up the score.

The snow is gone, though, so I decided to go for a run on the trails down by the river, swollen from the melt. I wore my gloves and layers; I covered up my head. But the air still attacked my nostrils like I trespassed on its nest, punishing my eyes and nose with stingers and blasting fire into my lungs.

I had to run. I was feeling too panicked to sit at home alone. My winter body is more used to reclining with books and movies than dashing in the cold, so even fueled by my frustration, my legs and lungs convinced me quickly that I should do as I was told and sit down beside the water instead of pounding my feet against the frozen earth.

I was warmed up a bit from jogging, so I found a sandy spot and I sat down and looked around, hearing not the wind or water, but the sounds piped through my headphones, Jerree Small and her guitar.

I feel stoned on misery, dazed by all the failures in my life. I feel like I was stuck in a martini shaker and someone drank me over ice. I am pretty sure that things will never get better, that I have been running up a hill that has no peak and no plateau. I am a fool who will always be alone and lonely, broke and tired, paying rent instead of walking the lines of my own property each spring, praying to God and then ignoring all the answers.

I will never be a wife, an author, a mother. I will never be someone who swims instead of drowning on the land. I am sitting, pondering these things, feeling woeful--full of woe--when into my pathetic narration a feathered thought arrives and perches in the sagging branches of my soul. Maybe it’s the music or maybe there is something in the air, but this thought, it chirps, maybe this is it.

Maybe this is the long-awaited time of joy—this. Right here. Right now. A walk by the river, a seat in the grass, young lovers wrestling barefoot in the sand across the way, a bleached and knotted rope swing swaying above the slow-running icy water on a colorless March or April day, everything sepia-toned, except the misplaced sky, blue and white above me, out of place, like colorized eyes in a movie born black and white and altered to suit us later.

Maybe the women in pairs and the children with dogs and the couples jogging by—maybe they are all a part of my time of joy, if I decide to see it that way. Maybe joy is not about waiting for a mysterious package to arrive. Maybe joy is about just showing up—whether the package comes or not. Maybe joy is not in the hope of an arrival, but in my existence as a destination. Maybe this sand and that girl in the blue kerchief and the ache I felt as I passed that dancing family--maybe that is joy.

Maybe the tears I shed as I ran, maybe my healthy heart pounding into my ribs--maybe this is my joy. Maybe joy is something I can choose. Maybe that pink plastic trash bag dangling tragically from that branch, the only color here pollution--this--is joy?

It feels true for a second, that a girl can seize joy in anything, even trash hanging down from branches; that this is the gift we were given along with opposable thumbs and the ability to make fire. There is poetry in the notion that the secret to joy is in your freedom to choose it, like that caged bird who sings.

But then that second passes. And I am knee deep again in the icy confusion of my life, panning for gold against the current while the water rises, because what I’ve just found is not gold enough to get me through. Birds in cages are tragic, like road kill and animals caught in zoos. They are trapped, outmatched, outnumbered unfairly. Their worlds are shrunken and controlled, their wings clipped. Their singing is a prayer, I’m told, flung up to heaven. So--feeling trapped, outmatched, outnumbered--I fling one up there, too.

I pray for love and prosperity, for new beginnings and a happy heart.

A few days later, I will meet a man in a magical way, and he will fill me with so much joy, I will glow. This is not find-the-beauty-in-a-plastic-bag-stuck-in-a-tree-by-the-river-joy, this is actual, quantifiable, visible, incredible joy. Even strangers will notice it, comment on it every public place I go: sidewalks, restaurants, and bars. I will be loved, and nothing else will matter quite so much as this. After two and a half years of loneliness and isolation, a handsome man will come into my life and heal me like an elixir. He will bring adoration and affection, deliver passion like fruit from the harvest overflowing in my baskets. He will shower me with devotion as thick and as satisfying as monsoon rains in a dust bowl. He will awaken in me a sleeping giant of sexuality, a beautiful beast that I thought I had lost forever.

After the heartbreak I endured in 2001, and after the physical trauma of rape in 2003, I thought that my body and my sexual soul had been brought down like twin towers. But with the arrival of this man and his immediate, fearless, and boundless love, I will find myself feeling for the first time ever a sense of completeness and joy—unmitigated, untainted, undeniable joy. He will release in me the woman who had been held prisoner, who--I will rejoice to discover--had not been destroyed in the attacks. She had only been injured and buried all this time beneath the rubble. With him, my love will spring forth like flowers from the pavement, irrepressible, miraculous, and full of life.

I love you, he will say and I will protest at first, unwilling to trust his eager heart. But he will insist. He will string his declarations together into shimmering necklaces of grace. I love you, I love you, I love you. Everywhere I go I will hear him say, I love you. Even in his sleep he will reach for me half-conscious and say, I love you.

As I sit in the cold sand along the river, I don’t know this yet. Nor do I know that as quickly as he gave it, he will take it away. After just two months. After choosing names for children and making wedding plans, after a thousand promises of love, he will leave me without warning, one day in early June. He will tell me lies, choose not to mention the other woman. He will take from me not only money I couldn’t afford to lose, and time I should have spent on other things, he will take from me my joy, my long-awaited time of joy. And that will be the hardest thing of all.

But, you love me…, I will say that day, not recognizing the new, empty face he has brought to say goodbye with.

It was all a fantasy, he will say. And later, in a letter he will simply write, I lied.

My loneliness will go into remission while he is here, and a return to that illness will seem more than my heart can bear. In the past, always in the past, what would come to fill the gaping hole left by such a departure would be sadness, self-hatred, a suicidal grief. But this time, things will be different. At first, I will feel those old familiar feelings of dismay, dejection, and despair. I will blame myself. But this time, with some coaching from a friend, I will decide to take a new approach. I will decide that I can get mad.

Not since I was a girl have I unleashed a rage upon anyone. I have always swallowed it down, taken the blame, been polite, allowed my anger to poison my own good self instead of whomever had done me wrong. I have a friend who says that all depression is anger turned inward, and I think perhaps she’s right.

A few weeks after Rob leaves me, when I finally discover the truth of what he’s done, I will decide that it is time to try my anger on for size. I will tell myself that it can be ugly, that there doesn’t need to be poetry or grace in anything I do. I will give myself permission to rage.

It will be early summer then, and I will drive down to the fields that flank a much larger river than the one I visited today. The wheels of my red truck will kick up clouds of dust as I rumble to a stop at the end of the small airfield that is tucked away amidst the farmer’s fields. I will cut off my engine and step out into the heat. I will look around, make sure that I am alone, and then--I will scream.

I will kneel down, press my bare shins and ankles into the cool summer grass, and I will shout my anger into the earth, cupping my hands around my howling mouth so that my screams will not be diluted by the giant cauldron of air that surrounds me. I will scream over and over, for every lying I love you for every moment that he stole, No! Over and over, I will scream, No!

I will holler until my rage has been emptied out into that earth.

And then I will stand and I will scream it to the sky.

I will shout it to the corn, thousands of young witnesses growing one foot high, waving gently for acres in neat green rows, and I will scream it to them all. I will scream it at the dry, unsympathetic dirt between them, and I will scream into the sweet air up above.

Eventually, I will worry that the world will hear my screams—-farmers, pilots, strangers--they will want to know who it is that’s standing out here, screaming No! into the corn.

I will climb into my truck, then. Shut all my doors and scream it even more: No! into the windows, No! into the doors, No! into the silence, No! I want to roar.

Eventually, it will break, this tidal wave of rage. And something will wash over me, some other emotion will erupt and spill itself out, some truth held in secret will move through me and I will tell him what I’m worth. Tears will come to cleanse me and I will say to him out loud, What you did to me was wrong.

What you did to me was wrong.

Over and over I will say it, What you did to me was wrong.

And I will be talking to this man, but also to every other person who has used me, hurt me, left me, robbed me blind. Every bitter pill I’ve ever swallowed will come back up and be spit out of me that day. Every bully, every friend, every boss, every stranger, every institution who has ever insulted, hurt, or trampled me--I will fling their poison back at them. Spit, vomit, and volume--nothing pretty, nothing nice--I will stand and I throw it back up out of me, my rage.

What I do not know as I sit here by the river, cold and lonely, overwhelmed, is that the secret to my joy is not in picking little bits of beauty out of the trash heap of my life. The joy is not in swallowing down whatever disappointments or failures come my way and then pretending they taste good.

The joy is found in spitting out the rank and bitter judgments that my friends, my family, or my lovers serve up on gilded platters or slip into my drink. The joy is in knowing that I matter--and in punching out the lights of any man, woman, or law that says I don’t.

As I sit here, I do not yet know that I can never reach my joyfulness without surrendering the myth of my helplessness, or without saddling up my rage and riding it frothy-mouthed and fearless across the forts and beds and pathways claimed by the liars, fools, and charlatans who think that they can do me wrong.

I will believe, when he arrives, that this man has brought me joy—but when he leaves and nearly breaks me, I will finally come to understand that my long-awaited time of joy does not include him. And that it has only just begun.

[Draft; Chapter 18, The Long-Awaited Time of Joy]

The View From Your Shoulders

My mother was born in 1952. When she conceived the ball of cells that became me, she had no choice but to keep them. She was nineteen years old, and choice was a crime. The Roe v. Wade decision, which recognized my mother’s right to terminate her pregnancy, was not handed down by the Supreme Court until after I was out in the world and walking. I think my mother wanted me--I’ve never asked her--but I would give up my life if it meant that she could go back and choose. She had a right to life before I did.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Damn The Tall People

damn the tall people.
damn the men
but also,
all the women.
damn them
for their irresistibly
angular
shoulder blades
karate-chopping
through the backs
of their T-shirts.
damn them
for the way they rise up
from this hard,
lowly earth
and leave me here,
below the glory.
damn them
for their cocktail
of power and vulnerability
which intoxicates me
with optimism
and desire.
damn them
for the way their
clothes hang
and the way they
glide
or gallop
at twice my
little-legged speed.
damn them
for standing in line
at the coffee shop
or in the corner
of the bar,
riding
my peripheral vision
like it was the jet stream
damn them
for causing me
to jerk my head around,
hoping—
only to find
it's not him,
but some other
impossibly tall human
whose hip bones
I could cradle in my palms
if only he—
or she—
would let me.
damn the tall people,
for what they start in me,
and never finish.
damn the tall people.
damn. them. all.

For Her, in December

thank you for last night.
you are golden and delicious,
my prince.

my thighs,
they worship your tongue.

to my eyes
your shoulders are deified.

your skin pressed
against mine
is celestial, electric.

your lips make me drunk with their power
and their passion.

you kiss me
and I smile,
I swell
and I long
to give you everything,
to climb inside your head,
read your dreams
like a compass
and pull you towards North.

[December 2003]

Poets

Tony Hoagland
Michelle Tea
Ishle Yi Park
Sara Seinberg
Alix Olson
Letta Neely
ani difranco

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Great Ships

He's reading to me now, on a blanket in the shade, and I am struggling against grief to enjoy it.

If you knew when you stepped onto it that the Titanic was going to sink, how would you spend the ride? Would you enjoy it? Or would you cry and waste those last good hours?

Fine brandy and dancing, music, making love--would savoring those last few days make it all the more bitter when you went down beneath the waves? Or would it make it all the more sweet?

[little lined notebook; september 2005]

My Father's House

It was the house, I think, that saved my father--although, really, all the credit should go to him. If he hadn't been ready for that house when it came, then it would have missed him, or crushed him, like a witch.

[little lined notebook; december 2004]

Mother Considering Divorce

it's not that they won't be able to see it, to know it, to name and reckon with the memory. instead, it will be a feeling, a truth folded into them like batter for a cake.

[little lined notebook; possibly 2004]

Love Thy Neighbor

Our bedrooms are 50 paces apart. I know this, because the other night, in the rain, I measured it. I walked it off. As though I could pull her closer by covering this distance myself.

[little lined notebook; circa 2003?]

The Opposite of Getting Rich

a dime

of your time

when i want millions

[little lined notebook; circa 2003]

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Fucking Vineyard

all my faults come bubbling up
(into the daylight)
from wherever they hide, down below
shadowed and true
all my secret things, my mean and special agonies
rise up (with him) like vicious pixies
in a swamp-brewed stew
mossy fecund wraiths
armed like ancestors, defending their land
their legacy of bones and angry answers
growling hissing whispers learned
from birth ‘til this,
adept at survival, at eluding the sun
they lurk near trees
on the edges my forest,
blending into the bark, camouflaged
seeking cool and darkness, surviving
even the best of times
by feeding on the knowledge
that what they say is true--
unworthy, they speak from deep
in the inevitable darkness,
which is the consequence of light,
scowling, cowering, eyes averted from the sky
they are shy until you know them,
a gang of bony loners, each on its own
maybe nothing nearly
but now, formidable in numbers,
sensing the end is near
they burst toward the surface
as they feel the temperature rise
unrestrained
they show themselves in voice and body
tricksters, liars, villains all
a pelting rain storm of ugly...
and yet, he stays.
undeterred,
smiling into the maelstrom
blessing snake bites and mopping up my blood
he loves me
empty-handed, desperate fools
he loves me.


[May 29, 2004, at the (fucking) Vineyard.]

Loving Kansas

Today, the sky was impermeable—as though while we slept the world was wrapped inside a pussywillow. From horizon to horizon, a gentle silvery fluff covered our heads and all the light was filtered through it.

There were no shadows because the sun didn’t shine. I knew it was out there, lighting up our little edge of the universe, burning nuclear, dangerous, vital. But in here, this spring day, before the green and the heat and the brilliant sunshine of summer, came a pussywillow glow on brown lawns and bare trees.

You can pick any time of year to begin again. Every point comes round again and makes a new year, however you count. Mine, for now, is the vernal equinox, when day and night are even, and spring is on its way. This is my new year, my begin-again, my new moon, my fresh start. This is my breath of fresh air, my finish line and starting block—this—here and now.

It’s a part of the year that is fleeting and may seem inconsequential. The birds aren’t yet chirping, the colors haven’t yet arrived. In fact, there is almost no color at all. It’s like Dorothy’s Kansas, the place you begin and end from, the place you leave in search of something better, the place you return to after the storm.

[2004]

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Kiss

I hadn't thought of making love to you, until you mentioned the kiss.

[small, spiral bound notebook; possibly sometime in 2003.]

With a Love Song Stuck in My Throat


Upstairs, the room is packed and servers bustle around delivering beer and food to the tables, and the people standing at the back. Kris has traded in the faded blue T-shirt that she traveled in for a nicer, tighter, darker one, with a colorful phoenix-like creature embroidered on the front. I climb the stairs up and out of the belly of the Iron Horse and take my seat. A few minutes later, the band climbs up too, and takes the stage to rousing applause. And then the room is quiet.

The music begins and some members of her mostly female audience rock and nod and smile a little. Some close their eyes to listen, some sing along. This is no whiney, self-indulgent folk. She is bluegrass, banjos, and whiskey; vocals that can tear your heart out or soothe you like a lullaby. When she plays, it actually seems like she's playing, not working-—like this is what she does to relax.

She makes the men she plays with smile and laugh. She's charming, sweet, and genuine. She becomes completely absorbed in the music, but doesn't leave us out. Every now and then, she looks up and coyly smiles at the room so we'll know she hasn't forgotten us.

I sit in the darkness--flanked by her kind-hearted manager, Lisa, and her bandmate's roommate, Nolan--and look past the candle flickering next to my beer at Kris singing on stage. I watch the gold band on her right hand glint as her fingers strum those strings so confidently. I see her eyes close and her hips sway and I think to myself, she is the best of what's feminine. She's beautiful and soft, but strong, too. There is something about the equality, the mutual respect between Kris and her all-man band, which feels like the best kind of feminist victory. There she is, surrounded by four large, male musicians--her substantial 5'9" body looks so small next to them--but her presence is strongest. She's no diva. And despite her beauty, she's not using sex to control these men, or ego. What you can sense between them is respect and genuine affection.

One of her greatest gifts is collaboration; she is at her best, I think, when she is in the company of other musicians, and she has a reputation for never saying "no" when asked to play on other people's records. If you ask her what her favorite gig ever was, she'll mention the night she got to play solo for 10,000 people at the Telluride Festival, but then she'll tell you that her actual favorite show was the one she played at Sanders Theater in Boston with two other local independent artists, Lori McKenna and Jess Kline.

"We all had our bands, and we were booked into another place, but then that place closed, so at the last minute, we moved. It was 1,200 people and it was packed and I loved sharing it all with friends, playing together, sharing a really exciting show together," she says.

Her lyrics are evocative, and as they listen, her audience finds themselves transported to times and places when they felt exactly what she is singing about. In Damn Love Song, she sings, "How can I carve your name/in the trunk of a tree/that'll be here long after we're gone?/I can't even write it/in the steam on the mirror./And with nobody listening/not even myself/ it's as much as I can do/to whisper those words in your ear. /After all of these years/ look at me here/with a love song/stuck in my throat. /Got the weight of the world on my shoulders/I won't let it go... "

And I can't help but think of the love that I lost just a few months before. As the music fills the room, I rock slightly in my seat and I am there with him again...He holds me close, wraps me up in sweatered arms. I press my cheek against his chest, close my eyes, and smile. Knowing it couldn't last, hoping it would, doing it anyway. It comes in flashes as she sings: his muscular forearms, my hand brushing gently across his tattoo, his figure framed in a doorway.

The song is wrapping up, and I see his eyes looking so sad behind his glasses, hear him apologize and call me baby and then I watch him drive away again, into the darkness and the pouring rain…that turn to applause. I am clapping.

I'm shaken up, glad when it ends, but still…happy for the visit. I can tell, as I look out at the rapt audience, that mine are not the only heartstrings Kris's music and lyrics tug at. These singer-songwriters turn their hearts out for us; they bare themselves and invite us in. They do it with poetic and powerful lyrics, and by doing so, particularly from a stage in a darkened room or from a CD we can play when we're by ourselves, they let us know that we are not really alone. They help us to understand what it is that we are feeling, to name the thing that haunts us.

Sometimes the message is like the one scrawled downstairs in the green room mirror, "You're you. Deal with it."

And other times, a lyric will perfectly capture in a few simple words, an emotion that feels too complicated to explain.

"You are still a cliff, baby/and I still know how to fall," she sings.

And I think, "amen."

[ from an early draft of Naomi's unfinished, unpublished music book, "From The Mouths of Babes." Kris Delmhorst chapter. circa 2002; Photo credit: Cian Dalzell]