Things That Are True About Florida (as reported by the Barnhill kids)

“In Florida,” Ella announced, “all alligators become human at night. Or mostly human. Everyone knows this. Their skin is too bumpy and they have too many teeth and they don’t like it at all. They’re in a terrible temper. All alligators are were-alligators. They’re werlligators.”

“In Florida,” Cordelia added, “they only have nice weather when relatives are visiting. As soon as they leave it snows. They only have good weather because they’re showing off.” 

“In Florida,” Leo explained, “swamp gas is just the smell of God farting.”

Ella: “And the shells are the remains of pirate gold. It was transformed into shells because of magic, and if you can just figure out the right incantation, you’ll be rich.”

Cordelia: “In Florida, bugs fly into your ears and crawl into your brain, and then you think buggy thoughts and dream buggy dreams.

Leo: “In Florida, the eels grow legs and slither out of the water and right into your bed and slime up your feet.”

Ella: “In Florida, there are more mermaids than people.”

Cordelia: “In Florida, dolphins can vote.”

Leo: “In Florida, the ghosts of dead pirates play cards on people’s porches and sometimes in the dining room. And they cheat.”

Ella: “In Florida, the cacti can talk. But you don’t want to actually talk to them because they are foul-mouthed and prickly tempered.”

Cordelia: “In Florida, the babies are raised by birds. They aren’t returned to their human mommies until the birds are absolutely sure that the babies can’t fly.”

Leo: “I love Florida.”

Ella and Cordelia: “Me too. Let’s never leave.”

 

Holiday madness continues.

Right now, I am here:

visiting my beloved mother-in-law and father-in-law and grandmother-in-law and…. whatever Uncle Charles is. The cousin, though practically a brother, to my father-in-law, who has no actual nieces or nephews of his own because he has no siblings, and who everyone calls “uncle”. Leo adores him.

I’ve been worn out by the holidays this year. Worn out and used up. I feel like the hideous mother in that horrible book by Franzen (and, pardon my french, but I fucking hate Franzen) (maybe I’m being unkind) (but, jesus, that book makes me want to gouge out my teeth with a rusty spoon) (though I’m sure his family thinks he’s very nice, so who am I to judge, really?) (she said, judgily).

Anyway, that mother? In that goddamn book? I was her. And it was killing me.

We are in Florida right now, and it’s been pretty great so far. No political fights (a miracle!). No tense silences. No misunderstandings. Leo has been spending the last few days knee deep in the sand, finding shells and attacking sand fleas.

(By the way, I’m eternally jealous of sand fleas. They are artists. They are perhaps the world’s only perfect souls. For no reason whatsoever they paint this in the waves as they move from crashing in to slinking away:

They are not paid; they are given no awards; they receive no movie deals. They just create. They make art for the sake of art and movement for the sake of movement, and I love them for it.)

For the last few days, I’ve gone for long runs in the sunshine, bare armed, bare legged, hair whipped by wind and salt.

For the last few days, I’ve waded into the ocean. It’s cold, and the salt bites the skin.

For the last few days, I’ve tried to undo what I’ve done to myself for the last month and a half.

There’s something beautiful about, every once in a while, getting the hell out of Dodge. My house is a mess, the Christmas tree is likely a desiccated mess, the dog poop in the back yard is surely a mass of reeking, rain-saturated goo.

But last night, I got a night off from the children, and wandered with my husband through the cobbled streets of Saint Augustine and reveled in the lights and the stars and the ancient buildings and the sleeping stones. We leaned in the dark against the old fort. It smelled of must and gunpowder and car exhaust and ancient urine and brine. That fort is the oldest continuously used structure in America. It’s coquina walls are soft, but they are dense, thick, and quietly gnarly. They have never fallen in battle. They swallowed cannon balls whole. They did not crack before the ram. Those walls kick ass.

Soon, I will have to return home and reclaibrate my brain. Soon I will write to the people I have not written to (they are many) and critique the pieces that need critiquing and write the stories that still need writing and finish the novels that, even now, scratch at the windows of my soul like starving children, and fix the things that I have not fixed and call the people I have not called.

Soon. But not today. Today, I’m on vacation.

 

Post-Christmas

There is a girl upstairs, with new knitting needles, twisting yarn into a hat.

There is a boy in the next room, peering at pages of pictoral instructions, assembling Legos into a ship.

There is another girl at the table across from me, painting stones with flowers and sunsets and ladybug spots.

And there am I, on the couch, a story on my lap, a mug of tea balancing on my knee. And there is only the sound of concentrated breathing, and the hum of the furnace, and the low howl of the winds across the fields.

And the blur of clouds. And the call of birds as they cut across the windows and sail overhead. And the spin of the world. And the patient whisper of the sky.

After all the noise, after all the hustle, after all the planning and cooking and wrapping and worry and clenched teeth and hitched shoulders and set brows. Now there is quietness. Now there is peace. And the world blesses itself once again.

Sometimes, the best holiday, is a not-holiday. Sometimes the best holiday is the pause between.

And so, to all of you, happy between, and a merry not-holiday to each and every one of you. In the meantime, I have a story to write and a mug of tea threatening to go cold. Cheers!

Things unmade, unbought, undone

Sometimes, I feel like this lady:

Bah. Who am I kidding? I feel like her every day.

There are six rounds of cookie dough in the freezer that I have not baked.

There are rooms in my house that I have not cleaned.

There are bags of gifts that I have purchased that I have not wrapped.

There are people on my list whose names I have not checked off, and yet I still have nothing.

There are meals that I have not planned.

There are stockings that I have not stuffed.

There are people that I have not visited.

There are cards that I have not sent. Or addressed. Or written.

There are decorations that I have not assembled.

There are parties that I have no intention of going to.

There are obligations that I have not met, and words I have not written, and tasks that I have not done, and orders that remain – and will remain – unfilled.

Sometimes, it’s all I can do to breathe. Sometimes, a moment of quiet reflection seems like a monumental task. Sometimes, we are in darkness, and we cannot find the light.

Sometimes, the tumult of the season blinds us to the season – that moment when the world held its breath. When the world’s darkness birthed its one, wild imagining, its assertion that hope persists, that love exists, and that divinity is indeed clothed in flesh every day.

That every child born is the breath of God.

And every mother that clutches that child to her breast is the heart of God.

That God is everywhere. And we are blessed.

Jedi Mom

It’s not very cold in Minnesota today. At least not for December. December in Minnesota. The world is windy and damp and the air smells like earth. And at 34 degrees, I figured why tear my house apart looking for my coat. The kids were waiting by the minivan – both mine and not-mine – and we were going to be late. I threw the hood of my sweater over my head and grabbed my keys.

I have this sweater – it’s cable knit and dark gray and longish with a hood. I got it for my birthday and I adore it. I’d adore it more if it had pockets – my hands get cold when I write. But still. It’s a good one. I clicked the button unlocking the car. Liam, the little boy in the car pool, stared at me open-mouthed.

“Up you get,” I said.

Leo,” Liam whispered. “Why does your mom look like a Jedi?”

Leo, god bless him forever, didn’t miss a beat. “Because my mom is a Jedi,” he whispered back.

No way,” Liam whispered to Leo.

Mind you, I was standing right there. And the both of them are loud whisperers.

All moms are Jedis,” I whispered. Loudly. (Have you noticed that whispering loudly is murder on the throat. I should have just said it.)

“Nu-uh,” both boys said.

“It’s true,” I said. “Ever heard of the Jedi Mind Trick? Moms invented it. When we become moms, we get our name added to the patent.”

“What’s a patent?” Leo asked.

“It’s a piece of paper saying that you invented something or thought of something. People will make a new idea for a robot and they’ll patent their idea so that everyone knows who thought of it. Or if you think of a new way to do a job. You think of it, you explain it, and then you can patent it. It’s kind of like owning an idea.”

“So,” Leo said, “if I think of a new game – like Predator and Prey – I can patent it?”

“I don’t think you invented Predator and Prey,” I said.

“We both invented it,” Liam said.

“Well, if that was true, then you would both put your names on the patent. And if anyone tried to sell it, they’d have to give you money.”

They thought about that.

“So,” Leo said, “Whenever anyone in the whole galaxy uses a Jedi Mind Trick, they have to give moms some money?”

“Well…” I said.

“Moms must be the RICHEST LADIES IN THE WORLD!”

“Well, you see…” I said.

“Hey mom – I mean Jedi Mom, can I have four hundred bucks? Because I really want a Lego Death Star.”

I made a motion in the air as though I was wiping it clean. “You will forget about the Lego Death Star,” I said in my Jedi voice. “You will only want playing cards for Christmas.”

The boys looked at me scathingly.

“You,” they said in unison, “are the worst Jedi ever.”

And then we went to school.

Wine, Women, and Song

I was a singer when I was young. I sang in a girls’ choir that traveled the world – we sang in China and Japan, Scandinavia and Canada and around the United States. The choir even went to the South Pacific, but I was too young to go (I’m still bitter about it). After that, I sang with a quartet in college, doing the occasional wedding and funeral – mostly funerals. And when I studied at the University of Sevilla, I made money singing show tunes to old men in a local bar with a ludicrously old piano player. They loved my performance of “Hello Dolly”, for example. Also, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”, which, of course is not a show tune at all, but I like singing it, so there. For that, I got paid in tips and cigarettes and free drinks, which unfortunately, fed my addiction to cigarettes. Smoking is murder on the voice. Don’t ever start. I haven’t smoked in over twelve years now, thank god, but there are…. lingering effects. For example: I now, alas, I kinda suck at singing.

I only sing to my kids. (They hate it.) And to drunken strangers at karaoke. (They may also hate it, but it’s hard to tell.) And, once a year, to a bunch of my neighbors and friends at our yearly holiday party.

The holidays are stressful, they really are. Especially for moms. We perpetuate the Santa Ruse, even when it’s killing us. We fuss over who is getting what. We strive for balance. We look at our check registers and weep. We keep the tree watered and plan for our kids’ teachers’ gifts and try to minimize expectations while inexplicably heightening them. We run ourselves ragged.

I do the same. I tell myself every year that it will be different. I always lie.

But one day, in the run-up towards the holidays, we sing. Actually, I am super bossy when it comes to the singing, making sure that everyone participates. I have a zero-tolerance policy for non-singers.

And here’s the thing: I’m a sucker for holiday music. Actually, no, scratch that: I’m a sucker for music in general. Get a bunch of people in a room singing together, and I get all misty. Get a bunch of people who all love each other in a room and have them sing? I cry like a friggin’ baby. And holiday music is unique. When we sing the songs that we sang when we were young, I think we’re actually singing to our younger selves. And in the case of holiday music, we are singing to our hopeful selves, our wondering selves, and yes, sometimes our grabby, selfish selves too. But it’s the wonder that’s delighting me now. It’s the wonder that stays.

And so we sing. We throw back our heads and close our eyes and forget the words and make new ones up. We shove food into our mouths and lubricate our inhibitions with wine and curl our arms around eachother’s waists and sing of cold nights and crying infants and deep snow. We sing of sparks of light in a dark, dark world. We sing of bullied reindeer and wandering magi and ill-planned sleigh rides and tiny gifts hidden in the house, as proof that the world still cares about us. That we are worth caring about. That the world can, and is, and will be, saved.

Tonight, I will sing to the cold. I will sing to the warm hearts gathered. I will sing to the wounded world. And I will sing to you. Sit very, very still, and you might hear it.

I’ll be the one singing off-key.

Rudolph the Farting Reindeer

This morning, the power went out to about 4,000 homes in Minneapolis – mine included.

And it was a lovely morning – gray and damp, with the yellow glow of candles and a fire in the hearth. It was beautiful. And amazingly, though I’m normally hollering to high heaven trying to get these kids organized in the morning, this morning they were dressed, washed, brushed and minty fresh a good thirty minutes early. Leo and Cordelia nestled together by the fire with A Diary of A Wimpy Kid open on their laps, Cordelia reading to her brother.

And, I admit it, I got a little misty.

But the lack of power has consequences – mine being a car packed to the ceiling with kids. Here’s what happened: Because I drive a minivan, and because there were other folks in the neighborhood who couldn’t get into their garages to open their garage door since they only had one door to the garage and, without electricity, it only opens from the inside (D’OH!), my neighbors were desperate. So we shoved a bunch of kids into my car and trundled on into the road.

More kids than seatbelts? I’m not telling.

Anyway, it didn’t take long, in that crush of kids and backpacks and salt-crusted coats, that someone started to sing.

Jingle bells, Batman smells,

Robin laid an egg.

“Oh that is BORING,” one kid said. “Sing this instead:

Joy to the world!

Barney’s dead!

We barbecued his head!

The boys (they were, aside from Cordelia, all boys. It was a mountain of boys, a sea of boys, universes upon universes upon universes of boys) laughed until they drooled.

One boy – a redhead – said: “Do you guys know the Dreidel song?”

I have a little dreidel

I made it out of snow

I put it in the oven

HEY DREIDEL WHERE’D YOU GO?

I snorted to that one.

Leo piped in:

Silent farts,

Holy farts,

What’s that smell?

I can’t tell.

“MOM!” Cordelia roared. “THERE ARE TOO MANY BOYS IN THIS CAR!”

“I agree, darling,” I said. “Boys! No more fart songs.”

Apparently, a gauntlet had been thrown. The boys, opened their mouths and sang in unison. They already knew the words. It was as though they had tapped into a fart-joke-hive-mind.

Away in a butt-crack

A baby did fart,

They sang lustily, greedily, with wild abandon.
“That didn’t even make any sense,” I said.

“Yes it did,” they assured me in unison. Even their inflection matched. Then they began to sing again.

Rudolph the farting reindeer

had some very noxious gas.

And if you ever smelled it

You would…..

They stopped.

“We need a word that rhymes with ‘gas’,” one boy said.

“And it should have something to do with farting,” another boy said.

“What rhymes with gas?” still another queried. “Mass, lass….. think of words that have an ‘ass’ in it.”

There was a terrible pause. A car full of naughty minds all turned at once.

I had to think fast.

Up on the housetop, I sang at the top of my lungs.

Yellow snow.

Santa’s reindeer had to go.

The car erupted. And the boys joined in. And nobody swore on purpose. The boys, though potty-mouthed, remained relatively pure.

For now.

It was a Christmas Miracle!

 

 

 

LEGO CAKES!

I made them myself. And they are horrible! NO JUDGIES!

Still, as my husband worked his poor little soul to teeny tiny pieces in his efforts to coordinate and coach the Lego Robotics team (with, I have to say, very little support from the school. More on that when I can write about it without spitting on my computer), and as the kids both kicked ass and took names at the competition yesterday (and proud we are of all of them), I have spent the last two days baking Lego cakes.

And you know what, those kids deserve cake. Their school is a small, fairly new charter school, and this is the very first trophy that the school has won. The very first one. And I am proud to the teeth of these children.

I am not, however, proud of these cakes.

The cakes are, by every estimation, a miserable effort.

I swear to god, I’m an excellent cook, but I am baking-challenged. I am baking-deficient. I am the anti-baker. Oh, Julia Child! I have failed you! An entire childhood spent watching your show on public television, and so very little to show for it! Only this:

Mmmmmm....... Food coloring......

Here they are in all their gloppy glory. Do not laugh. I shed tears for these. Sweat too, but not blood. At least, I’m pretty sure.

Really, I blame my husband for this. For giving me the idea. For working so hard that I felt that I needed to increase my contribution. I needed to match. I needed to justify myself. I blame my husband for the fact that, when one fell and exploded on the floor with a sickening schllllllurlp, I honestly thought that I could fix it. “I’m sure it’s salvageable,” my Betty-Crockered brain whispered as I gazed at the crumbly goo on the ground.

And I believed it.

This is Ted’s fault.

Ted, my darling husband (god bless his infernal self) who came up with the idea.

“It’ll be fun,” he said.

“The kids’ll love it,” he said.

“Look! Here’s a website! It looks easy!”

He did not, I found out later watch the helpful video that was on the website:

Still I did it. I even have photographic evidence. Look:

Here I am, looking oddly crazy-eyed.

 

 

 

And now they exist. And they are messy. And lopsided. And gloppy. And honestly, not that good. But the kids will like them.

 

Or, they better like them, anyway.

Congratulations Team Lego Pandemonium and Team Sonic! You guys are AWESOME!

(have some cake!)

The Beautiful and the Strange

"Reading Chaucer" by Phillip Jackson

I may not be posting much this week. We’ll see. I’ve encountered a bit of a dark place in my work. Not dark insomuch as the subject matter is concerned (though, truth be told, I am prone to darkness) (Wasn’t it Kate DiCamillo who told us that “the world is light and dark and precious”?) (Kate DiCamillo is my hero). It is not my work that is dark. My work, right now, is nonexistant. My work eludes me.

I am in darkness. I cannot see the path.

So I need to unplug for a bit. Get back to working longhand (why do I ever think that I can switch to typewritten first drafts? It is always a mistake!). I also need to fill my brain with art.

Right now, I have two novels that have ground to a heartbreaking halt, each about four chapters shy of finishing. I cannot move forward. The way forward is blocked, obscured, washed away. I have another novel that is done, but is so broken that I don’t think I can repair it. And a fourth that is itching to go, but I’m afraid to work on it before the two stuck novels get unstuck, lest it suffer the same fate. I’m not sure what my problem is. I’ve been ignoring the problem for months, pretending to write.

(I am terribly good at pretending to write. Indeed, if pretending to write was a paying job, I’d keep my family fed for decades.)

"Flying Bottle", by Sergey Tyukanov

I’m intending to spend this week working at the Minnesota Arts Institute and the Walker Arts Center. Wandering. Sketching. Scribbling. I don’t think I’ll work on the books – I think they need to sit for a bit. I think I need to spend some time touching paper, smelling woodshavings and graphite, listening to the scritch of word against the page. I think I need to feed myself.

I’m sure I’m not the first writer who has found themselves halted in the process, staring – mouth open and eyes unblinking – into the glare of social media and market places and the alligator pit of buying and selling in which our little books are tossed, torn and devoured. And then they are gone.

I have spent so much time staring after a book that has left me, that I have allowed the books still here to drift from my fingertips, dry on the vine, and float away. And I am quite alone.

I am not a visual artist – indeed, if you were to see my drawings, you might laugh at me as small children can likely do better. But I like drawing all the same. And I like looking at art. Phillip Jackson (the guy who made the sculpture above) has been haunting my dreams as of late. And Sergey Tyukanov. And I’ve been collecting 15th and 16th century woodcuts and sticking them on the background of my computer, or cutting them out and taping them in my notebook, or tracing them on vellum paper and folding them into paper airplanes and launching them into the sky. Like this one, for example:

And this: 

I’m not sure why, but since the inclination is there, and since the inclination refuses to subside, I think my subconscious is trying to tell me something.

So that’s how I will be feeding my creative self this week. I will be seeking out the beautiful and the strange; I will be devouring bits of fantasy and surrealism, and licking the juices off of my fingertips. I will be ink smudged and paper sliced and leaving dusty graphite footprints wherever I go. I shall fill the room with my sawdust smell.

And how about the rest of you. What do you do to unblock the things that block your work? How do you restore the flow? What is it, for each of you, that feeds your sweet, sweet souls?

Sometimes I dream coyote dreams

Coyote in grass

Image via Wikipedia

I heard the coyote again last night. I am still hearing it in the ears of my mind. It is a cold, lonely sound. It is made of hard, crusted snow.

I live on a dead-end street; it teems with life. Little kids on wagons and skateboards and bikes hollering at each other; parents hollering at their kids; adults hollering their hellos as they haul their groceries into the house, or their garden supplies into the back yard, or their snow shovels into the garage.

The street ends at a footpath that leads to a small, wooden bridge that goes over a creek. The creek swells every spring, foaming and tumbling to the ocean (and from the ocean to the sky). In the summer, it becomes lazy and slow. In the winter, it is ice. We pour onto the hardened water, peering into the cold, looking for the crystallized remains of perch and sunnies and crayfish. Their eyes are slick and wide and aghast.

The creek bends back around the back of the houses and snakes towards the waterfall a mile away. My back yard ends at a field that slopes toward the water. Every day, I walk down to the edge of the creek and sit for a while. In the summer, I am accosted by bugs; in the winter, I am numb with cold. I watch for herons and foxes and neighborhood cats. I listen to the frogs perform their randy songs of love. I am a nature voyeur.

Lately, there have been coyote tracks. And scat. And every once in a while, it’s high, brittle voice. I have not seen it, though I long to.

Yesterday, the moon rose wild in a violet sky. I was driving my daughter from one friend’s house to another’s. I saw the moon and gasped and swerved. I pulled the car to the side of the road and stepped out.

“Not again,” my daughter said.

“Let’s howl at the moon,” I said.

“Let’s not,” she said. “People are watching.”

I tipped back my head and howled. People stared, but I didn’t care. My daughter slunk deeper into her seat. “Mommmmm,” she hissed.

I howled again – a wild cry. I wanted someone to howl back. I wanted something to howl back. I wanted the moon to reply. My howl was a coyote howl – cold, brittle, and terribly alone. The world was filled with the sound of engines and wheels and concrete and steel – the sounds of dead things and dead ends. There was no sound of living. I got back into the car and drove.

Last night, in my house of silent eyes and wet breathing, I woke suddenly in the dark. The moon had already slid away from my east-facing windows, and the sky was heavily black. I walked to the window. The room was cold; it bit my bare skin. I didn’t shiver. I pressed my hands against the glass.

The coyote was back there. I could feel it. If the moon had been on the field, I would have seen it. Instead, there was only the shape of the garage, and behind that, the shadows of the trees, and beyond that the thick gray of nighttime snow.

It howled. I felt it before I heard it. That desperate wail. It shattered the windows, shattered the floor, shattered my crystallized skin.

And then it was gone.

My voice was scratchy with sleep, but there, in my house, with my husband sleeping nearby, with my children dreaming, deep in their beds, I closed my eyes, tipped back my head, and howled back.

I wasn’t the moon, I wasn’t the sky, but that coyote was howling at something, and was getting nothing back. And everyone deserves to be listened to.

I slid back in bed, and dreamed of the pricks of my nails against the skittering snow. I dreamed of the smell of animal, the resistance of meat in the teeth, the thrill of motion and speed, the glittering of a dark, icy world, reflecting stars.

The sky poured in my head and the world rang blue

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”  Hamlet

The world I see is not the world I know.

The world I see is dead. It ceased from the moment it shed its light like a snake shedding its skin, sending image after irrelevant image towards my eyes. The moment we see a thing, the thing in the state in which we saw it does not exist. It has changed. We are time travelers, looking ever backward. This is the limitation of seeing.

The world I know is a living place. It exists both before and after I perceive it. There are no befores and afters in Time. Time simply is. Any linearity is simply a construct.

For example:

Two of my children are home today. I haven’t seen them for most of the morning, but my living room is so messy that they may be within the reach of my arms and I would not know it. Anyone could be here right now – small animals, extra children, exiled world leaders. This is how we build kingdoms of limitless space: we allow the debris from the excesses of the world to spill around us, to loop around our feet again and again. We allow the universe to dimple and gather and fold. My messy house is not a result of my laziness: I am expanding space.

Yesterday, on my run, I slipped on a patch of ice, and flew. Time, of course is relative. Under the tyranny of a stopwatch, the time from step to wobble to launch to landing was, doubtless, less than a second. But really – really - it was longer than that. Time bent, looped and lengthened. Time ceased. There was only the sky. There was only the air. There was only a woman in flight.

My dog is alive, though part of her is dead. She has a benign tumor above her leg, the size of a large orange. It doesn’t hurt her, doesn’t slow her down, but it is dead at the center. It is a zombie tumor. The vet says, at her age, surgery would open up more problems than it will cause. The dead tissue has been, we believe, walled off inside of the tumor, and will likely not be the cause of her expiration. Indeed, at the ripe old age of almost-seventeen, she could be killed by any number of things. And so, she carries on her body, a talisman of death. It wobbles and quivers with each step. It draws the eye. It grins through her fur. “I am coming,” Death says. “I am coming. Indeed, I am already here.”

Yesterday, for my birthday, we put up the tree. My house smells of sap and snow and wood. We pressed the lights deep into the branches and they shine like stars. My daughter made an angel for the top. She curled a brightly printed paper into a cone for the dress, and carefully attached a serene, hand-drawn face with yellow braids.

“That angel looks like you,” I said.

“Of course it does,” she said.

“But she has no wings,” I said.

“Her wings are invisible,” she said. “Everyone’s wings are invisible. They are secret and no one knows they have them. Everyone is sad because they don’t know how to use their wings.”

“Do I have wings?” I asked.

“Of course,” she said. “But you use yours all the time.”

“What are they made of?” I asked. “Skin? Hair? Feathers?”

“No,” she said. “You’d be able to see them if they were. Your wings are made of sky. Everyone’s wings are made of sky.” She looked at me as if I was the silliest person she’d ever met. “It’s obvious, really.”

On Birthdays: mine, specifically

Confession: I tell lies sometimes.

For example: I have, for the past six years, been telling people that I am forty. I am not. I haven’t been this whole time. But when I turned thirty-two, six years ago, (oooo! math!)  I figured that when people heard thirty-two, they were just thinking forty anyway, so why not just skip all the cognitive dissonance between what is and what is believed – the true vibrating painfully against the what just as easily may have been true - and just tell the damn lie. So for the last six years in my head I have been forty, in my mouth I have been forty and in the minds of others I have been forty as well.

Now, my break from my life of lies has always been on my birthday. On my birthday I own up, tell the truth, lay it on the table. On birthdays we remove pretense, we remove guile, we are laid bare for all to see.

Here is the truth:

  • I am thirty-eight today. It is a good age to be.
  • I have three kids who make me crazy and keep me sane at the same time. They do this, I’m pretty sure with magical powers. I’m also pretty sure that’s not a lie.
  • I have a husband who carries me on his back, while I simultaneously carry him on mine. This is also not a lie. We also have magical powers. Magical powers are an essential tool of the long-married. This is well-known. Ask anyone you like.
  • I have, by my daughter’s count, eleven gray hairs on the top of my head. They are short and stick straight out from my scalp. I am convinced that, if I concentrate hard enough, I will be able to use them as supernatural antennae. I will catch messages from other planets. Or from fairies. Or from the dead.
  • I can run long distances and carry heavy things and do a back bend without breaking something, though really I shouldn’t be doing any of those things. I have arthritis and I know what happens to arthritic joints. One day, they will have to replace my knee with something ….else. I secretly hope it will be robotic. I have Cylonic aspirations.  (If Cylonic is not a real word, I suggest it should be. Let’s start a petition.)
  • I have stretch marks on my belly from my pregnancies, so deep that I can hide crayons inside them.
  • I have nineteen scars on my legs, four on my arms, one inside my belly button, and two on my forehead.
  • My blue eyes are crinkled from excessive joy.


So there you go. Truthiness. Live it up.

Yesterday, I told people I was forty, and I will do so again tomorrow. But today, I celebrate the age I am. And while I loved being thirty-seven (prime! a singularity! a typographical dissonance – all curves and edges, all flesh and blade, all cushion and sting!) thirty-eight has a certain stability to it. It has feet firmly planted. It has strong arms, strong hips, a strong back. It is clear eyed and loud mouthed and laughs too long.

And I think I shall enjoy it very much.

A Mighty Fortress Is My Butt….

This morning Leo decided to sing some songs.

Cordelia was not amused.

“Jingle butts, jingle butts,” he sang as I handed him his hot cider. “Snow got on….my butt!”

“MOM!” Cordelia said. “Make him stop singing.”

I hadn’t had any caffeine at that point, and was only vaguely aware that I even had children. I struggled to find a gap in the press of clouds.

“Cordelia,” I said. “Your brother is just singing Christmas songs. Lighten up.” She stomped away. “Leo, I said, resting my forehead on my fingertips and waiting for the kettle to boil. “We’re having Silent Breakfast today. The quietest kid wins a million dollars.”

Leo, knowing full well that I am, was, and always will be, full of shit, began to sing. (though, bless him, quietly. In his sweetest voice.) “Silent farts. Holy farts.”

“MOM!” Cordelia said.

“Leo,” I said. “There’s no such thing as holy farts.”

“Anyone who’s holy farts holy farts,” Leo said in an infuriating holier-than-thou voice. “That’s what holy means.”

“Well, I’ve had enough of it,” I said. “Move on.”

The kettle boiled. A miracle! I poured the water over my tea bag and set the timer.

The timer in my head rattled against my skull. Which would come first, I wondered? Tea? Or an exploding brain.

“A MIGHTY FO-ORTRESS I-IS MY BUTT,” Leo bellowed. “MY BUTT IS SU-PER A-A-AWE-SOME.”

Cordelia erupted in a sound that was curiously similar to the sound that cartoon characters made when their faces turned red and their ears erupted with steam. In fact, I can’t say for sure where the sound came from. It might have actually been from her ears. Indeed, it might have been steam.

“MOM,” she said. “Punish him. Please.”

“I’m not punishing anybody,” I said. I poured the whole milk into the tea. Tea! I am saved!

Leo,” I said. “One more song and you’re sleeping in the garage tonight. And I’m giving all your toys to the neighbors.”

He didn’t hear the second part.

“Wait, really?” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Really.”

“And you’re not going to change your mind.”

“Not at all.” I said. Should I have been curious about his sudden enthusiasm? Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Yes I should have.

“YESYESYESYESYESYESYES!” Leo shouted, jumping out of his chair and punching his fists in and out.

“What?” I said.

“I GET TO SLEEP IN THE GARAGE?? AWESOME!!!!!!”

“But–“

“THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!”

And he ran upstairs to pack a backpack and find his sleeping bag. Cordelia watched him run up the stairs.

“Oh sure,” she said. “Just reward him, mom! FINE!”

“But-” I said.

And she stomped up to her room and slammed the door. I could hear her rustling around. I assume she too was packing a bag. I decided not to notice.

And it was quiet. And the tea eased its way inside of my skull, disabling the dynamite lodged in my frontal lobes. I pressed my fingers against the curve of warm ceramic.

Apparently, my children will sleep in the garage tonight. I hope Child Protective Services doesn’t mind. It was, after all, their idea. Well, really it was my idea, but I am, as I mentioned before, full of shit. I wasn’t gonna make him. But now he says it’s the best day of his life. So I’m stuck.

With these thoughts I drank my tea. I let it slip its way down my throat, into the solar plexus, into the heart, like a prayer.

“A mighty fortress is my butt,” I sang quietly to myself. “My butt is super awesome.”

And you know what? I really meant it.

The Side-Effects of Catholic School

As many of you know, I went to Catholic School as a child. Here is me, in my plaid uniform, gazing at the viewer as though looking INTO YOUR SOUL.

FEAR THE CATHOLIC SCHOOL GIRL IN PLAID!

 

 

Given the sheer amount of time I spent as a verifiable Catholic schoolgirl, it is not surprising that there would be……lingering effects. Character quirks, tendencies, odd patterning of behaviors – both for good and for ill – that would continue to shape my life even now at my ripe old age of thirty-seven.

(Though not for long! I’ll be thirty eight soon. And I enjoy chocolate.)

Anyway, after spending the formative years of my life going to church on both Fridays and Sundays, I spend most Fridays knocking around my day, feeling as though I’ve forgotten to do something. And the smell of incense puts me instantly to sleep. And the rhythm of Mass puts me in a childlike frame of mind, and sometimes I even weep like a baby. But the thing that lingers the most is the music. And today, it’s driving me mad.

There’s a song – “The King of Glory.” And it is stuck in my head. It’s spinning around and around and around, and I CANNOT GET IT OUT. It’s one of those continuous-loop sort of songs,  like the music that accompanies circle dances like the Hora or the Kolo, in which you have two or three distinct musical narrations and each one leads directly into the one following, looping over and over again so you never have a reasonable stopping place.

And once it gets stuck in your head, you’re done for.

There were a bunch of songs like this that were introduced into Catholic liturgy in the late sixties and early seventies when liturgical music writers were looking to Eastern European and Jewish folk songs to borrow from as a way to make their music seem more authentic or mystical or whatever. I don’t know if “The King Of Glory” is actually borrowed from some Yiddish grandma, but it’s certainly designed to sound as though it was. In any case, we were forced to sing that durn song every Friday at Mass.

(That might have been an exaggeration)

(But even if it is an exaggeration, it really isn’t. The fact is that memory, even when faulty, even when clearly wrong, is true. It is the information that frames and informs all new information. It is the table upon which we set our new dishes. So we believe a thing, and, as far as our brains are concerned, it is, and no amount of patient explantations can unbelive our believing.)

(Descartes said that we think and therefore we are, which was a thing that I rather liked, despite the fact that I think if I ever met a French Philosopher, I would likely detest him. Or her. Too many cigarettes. Too much white bread and cheese, which really is not very good for you and is terribly binding. Take Sartre, for example. No exit, MY EYE. There is an exit right over there! So screw you, Sartre! It even has a sign.)

(Of course, it doesn’t really have a sign. And it’s not even an exit. Just a door from my room into the hall. Still, in my mind there is an exit sign, and in my mind it is red, and in my mind it whispers kind things to me as I walk in and out and in and out. “Come back,” whispers my sign. “Welcome home,” it breathes. And who is to say it doesn’t exist? I thought of it, didn’t I? Which mean it clearly does exist on some realm – just not the realm that we can see with our bulbous, watery eyes. With our inside eyes, however, we can see that which is  and that which might. We can see multitudes.)

(This is why I write fictions. I’m like the Golux. I make things up, you know.)

I think I’ve gotten off-track.

Oh, yes. The King of Glory. For those of you who were not raised upon the velvet breast of Mama Church, I can offer you Stephen Colbert’s version of that song (with liturgical dance! And it is glorious!) as he not only was raised on it, but is likely singing it to his Sunday School students, thus infecting another generation of sparkly-eyed, plaid-wearing Catholic kids with that damn song.

In fact, maybe you shouldn’t watch it. Seriously, it will be stuck in your head all day.

DON’T PRESS PLAY!

 

Oh, dude. You did it, didn’t you? Oh well. Might I suggest a little bit of Lady Gaga as a palette cleanser?