Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rambling: Talking Faster

Remember When Harry Met Sally? Of course you do. Marie, Carrie Fisher's character, was dating a married man and waiting for him to leave his wife. People kept telling Marie that that would never happen, and Marie kept groaning, "You're right, you're right, I know you're right."

I keep wanting to write about Mom. And I keep telling myself not to. Because I don't have the impulse to write about all the good things that they talked about at the funeral. What keeps coming back to me is the Mom who wasn't interested in me.

I want to write about the failed struggles to have even two minutes of conversation with Mom that was about me, instead of her. And the times that I talked about myself as fast as I possibly could, because if I let her get a word in edgewise, she'd change the subject to herself, and I just didn't want that to happen yet.

And the resolution that I wasn't going to try again. Just pick up the phone, let her talk about herself for five minutes, make an excuse, and hang up. What's so hard? She will never be interested in you. Got that? Never. Ever. Not gonna happen, no way no how. Are you listening?

"You're right, you're right, I know you're right."

But I could never do it. I complained. I argued. Somebody doesn't complain and argue unless they have hope for change. And when I complained about Mom's behavior with regard to me, that conversation was about Mom, so Mom participated in it. But it was also about me, just a little bit, and I guess that's why I couldn't stop starting those conversations. Mom would participate, and promise to take an interest in me, and I'd test the waters by talking about something about me that wasn't also tightly linked with her... and in thirty seconds we were talking about her.

She always insisted that we weren't. Stories about her childhood? "But he's your cousin, too! That's about you!" The latest thing that someone at church said to her? "But you used to go to that church! That's about you!" I'd try to shift to a movie I went to; that's really about the movie, not me, right? "Did I ever tell you about when I used to work as an usher at a movie theater?"


I don't mean that it was wrong for her to talk about herself. I mean that once in a while, even once in a long while, couldn't we talk about me? Y'know, for maybe three or four conversational exchanges? Two minutes? Ninety seconds? Couldn't we?

No. We couldn't.

I think back, remembering when I was a teenager and Mom and I used to sit at the kitchen table and eat Sunday pastries and margarine. I remember those conversations rather fondly. I remember Mom talking about her love for daffodils, and how her father used to have her deadhead his roses when he was out of town, and her fondness for marzipan, and her religious philosophy, and her opinions about mass transit.

I don't remember talking about my schoolwork. Or the latest book I was reading. Or the Doctor Who episode from last week. Or my friends. Well, I didn't have friends, but I don't think Mom knew that. It's not the kind of thing that she would have noticed.

You see why I shouldn't write about this? But apparently I am anyway.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Story: The Waiting Room

(Well, "story" may be an overstatement.)

"She's writing," said Henry.

"I know," said Emily.

"She's writing in this children's story style, all 'once upon a time'," said Henry.

"She's even saying the phrase. I mean, word for word," said Emily.

"And everybody's taking turns talking, like... wait a minute," said Henry.

"What?" asked Emily.

"We're taking turns. Back and forth. Forth and back. Blah and blah and then you say blah," said Henry.

"Yeah?" said Emily.

"So she's doing it with us, too," said Henry.

"Well, we do live in her head," said Emily. "That's how it works. It's probably just a phase, and anyway, she hasn't written about us in months; I'm pretty much happy just to be talking."

"I'm not," said Henry. "We were on our way to being a book. That was the plan, right? You and me and your aunt--well, it's too bad she had to die, but still--and the house and it was getting nicely surreal. And now we're all...meta. Breaking the fourth wall and all that. That's not good for a character's survival."

"Dave and Maddie started doing it a lot, toward the end of Moonlighting."

"Yeah. Toward the end. How does this not support my point?"

"I guess it does. You think there's any way to break out of it?"

"I don't know. She's started cutting those endless dialogue attributions, anyway. I mean, there's no 'said Henry' after this. Is that a good or bad sign?"

"It might mean that we don't fit in the fairy tale format. But if she's writing fairy tales, that's not a good thing."

Henry said, "I'm going to find a comfortable chair. It may be a while."

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rambling: Back home

So, I'm back from the funeral.

I'm tired. I'm stupid. I'm having occasional inexplicable moments of murderous rage at trivial things. (OK, not that I'd actually murder anyone. Or even yell at them. But, you know.) I ate chicken and ice cream that Himself got for me while I was gone. Himself is not the target of the murderous rage. I like Himself.

OK, that's not much of a post. But I was getting all writers-blocky. So here it is.

Image: By Sfeol. Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Rambling: Road Trip

So, this isn't a story. I mean, it isn't fiction.

There's a picture of my late father, taken probably early in my parents' marriage. To me, he looks young and glamorous and amused and, most of all, angry. I call it the "ya wanna make something of it?" picture. At some point, I learned that it was taken by his mother-in-law. While I was very fond of my grandmother, I remember my father's feelings about his inlaws, and therefore I understand the expression on his face.

There's a picture of my mother, too, the engagement glamor shot that was in the newspaper. She's beautiful, but when I look at that picture I don't feel that I know her. It doesn't have the burst of life that I get from my father's picture. I find myself wanting older pictures, from when she was in high school, or grade school. I find myself wondering if perhaps only a picture of my mother as a toddler would show her as a person that I feel that I could know. There's always been a distance about Mom, a facade that kept me from seeing her and, I think, kept her from seeing me. She went behind that wall long, long ago, and she never came out again.

Last night I dreamed about my father. He had dark hair and wore a fine Gatsbyish summer suit, and he had the youth and confidence of that old photo. Except he wasn't angry in the dream; he was amused and exuberant in a way that I never remember seeing him in life. He was performing some task, some duty that he was happy to do. And he was driving; the duty involved a car journey.

Mom's been sick, very sick, and I remember waking up and thinking, "If she died last night, a sentimental person would think that he was coming to pick her up." Not, no, in the sense of a reunion of true love; they never got along, at least not in my memory. But she never could take big steps without somebody's help, and he was always driving her places. If there's somewhere to go after you die, I can certainly imagine him giving her a ride there.

And then I learned that, yes, Mom died last night. I'm writing this on the plane. It's sentimental, and I hate it when I'm sentimental, but I'm imagining the two of them on their way somewhere. He'll drop her off and get her settled, and someone will take care of her and comfort her like the frightened child that she's always been. She'll have her chance to fix whatever it was that kept her from fully inhabiting her life or knowing the people in it, to wash out the anger and to ease the relentless emotional hunger that never seemed to leave her any peace.

Well, I claimed that this wasn't fiction. Does that mean that I believe that ending to this story? I don't know. But I like it.

Photos: Mom and Dad

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Story: Caveat Emptor

(StoryADay continues, and gets weirder. This one feels unfinished, but its day is over!)

Once upon a time there was a boy who wanted a pink flamingo in the garden.

"What will the neighbors say?" asked his mother.

"It's an HOA violation," said his father.

"Pink?" asked his brother.

The boy went on eBay and bought a used pink flamingo as part of a package deal that included a plastic gnome and a bag of hose guides.

"It's dirty," said his mother.

"It'll get in the way of the mower," said his father.

"At least the gnome isn't pink," said his brother, and he took the gnome away to be a practice target for Archery Club.

The boy didn't care about the gnome. He didn't want to get in the way of the mower, so he filled a bucket with dirt and put it in his room and stuck the flamingo's legs in it to make it stand up and pointed his desk lamp at it for sunshine. He played music from the eighties for it because that was what his mother had and his father only liked classical and there was a skull and crossbones on the door of his brother's room and his brother meant it.

One night the boy had a dream. He was playing Devo, and the pink flamingo got out of the bucket and started to tapdance out of time in the spotlight of the desk lamp.

"You're getting dirt on the floor," said the boy.

"That's what your mother would say," said the flamingo.

"You don't tapdance to Devo," said the boy.

"That's what your brother would say," said the flamingo.

"What would my father say?" asked the boy.

"Your father would never dream about a pink flamingo," said the flamingo.

The next day at breakfast, the boy said "I dreamed that my flamingo tapdanced to Devo."

"Tapdancing is stupid," said his brother.

"Why are you listening to Devo?" asked his father.

His mother felt his forehead.

The next night the boy had another dream. His brother was sitting in a chair with an apple on his head, and the flamingo was loading a crossbow.

The next day at breakfast the boy said, "I dreamed that my flamingo shot Hugh."

"That's it; that flamingo's going to the dump," said his father.

"I'm calling the doctor," said his mother.

His brother left the breakfast table and went to the boy's room. He took the flamingo and carried it with him to school while the boy's mother was looking for the instant-read thermometer.

The boy didn't discover that his flamingo was gone until after he got home from the doctor and his mother had made him eat two bowls of soup. He was very upset.

"It's just as well," said his mother.

"It's probably home invaders," said his brother when he got home from school.

"Better get rid of that bucket of dirt," said his father when he got home from work.

The boy went to bed early without turning on the desk lamp.

The next day the boy woke up and the flamingo was back, standing in the bucket of dirt.

At breakfast, the boy asked, "Where's Hugh?"

"Hugh?" asked his mother.

"Who's Hugh?" asked his father.

"You know, Hugh. He sits there." The boy pointed at his brother's chair.

"Aren't you a little old for imaginary friends?" asked his father.

"If you invited someone to breakfast, you'd better leave some pancakes for them," said his mother.

The boy finished his pancakes and went to look at his brother's room. The skull and crossbones were gone and the room was painted yellow with white trim and there was a sewing machine and a quilt frame and his mother's autographed poster of Sting was on the wall.

That night the boy had another dream. This time the flamingo was hula dancing to Cindy Lauper.

"Do you give wishes?" asked the boy.

"Sometimes," said the flamingo.

"I didn't really want Hugh to go away forever," said the boy. "Mom would be upset if he never came back."

"She doesn't remember him," said the flamingo.

"What if I wished him back?" asked the boy.

"I don't like him," said the flamingo.

The boy didn't know what to say.

"I don't like your father either," said the flamingo. "And your mother is fussy."

The boy still didn't know what to say. The music stopped, and he put in a Pat Benatar CD.

The flamingo started to dance the hokey pokey. "Do you know what an HOA is?"

The boy said, "They make the rules about paint colors and shutters and trashcans and things."

The flamingo put his left foot in.

The boy said, "And lawn ornaments."

The flamingo put his left foot out.

The boy said, "I can't make the HOA change the rule about lawn ornaments."

The flamingo put his left foot in.

The boy said, "I guess I could try."

The flamingo shook his foot all about.

Image: By Forest & Kim Starr. Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Story: Recycling

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to make her mother happy.

On Monday, she made her mother a stack of silver-dollar pancakes with buckwheat flour.

"Were these made with Norwegian butter?" asked her mother.

"No," said the girl.

"Is the syrup from Maine?"

"No," said the girl.

"Oh," said the mother, and she read her paper.

On Tuesday, the girl brought her mother a bouquet of violets.

"Are these viola odorata? Only viola odorata have a scent."

"I don't know," said the girl.

"Well, why don't you find out, then?"

"I think they smell good," said the girl.

"There's a plant encyclopedia under the window seat," said her mother. And she read her paper.

On Wednesday, the girl made her mother's bed. She fluffed the pillows and sprinkled the sheets with lavender water.

"What is that smell?" asked her mother as she passed with her paper. "Maybe you should open a window."

On Thursday, the girl brought her mother a copy of the New York Times. "They say it's the best paper."

Her mother said, "That's Tuesday's paper."

The girl said, "They don't print it here. I had it shipped from Pittsburgh."

"Oh," said her mother, and she turned back to the local paper.

On Friday the girl made a papier mache bowl from the New York Times and painted the outside with red and green fish.

"Are those non-toxic paints?" asked her mother.

The girl didn't answer.

Her mother shrugged and went to read her paper in the garden.

On Saturday the girl baked a casserole of goose livers in the oven.

"Did you use grey French shallots when you browned the meat?" asked her mother.

The girl didn't answer.

On Sunday the girl chopped the livers and piled them in the papier mache bowl. She sprinkled them with parsley and put the bowl on the floor.

The cat was happy.

"What about me?" asked her mother.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Story: Bitter Oranges

Once upon a time there was a cat that was hungry. All the time.

He ate his Friskies, but he was still hungry.

He ate his kibble, but he was still hungry.

When his people were gone after breakfast, he jumped up on the kitchen counter and ate the leftover eggs and bacon and syrup-soaked pancakes and everything but the marmalade, but he was still hungry.

He came back later and ate the marmalade. He was still hungry.

He walked around the house with sticky-marmalade paws, and howled.

The neighbors complained and his people cleaned up the marmalade and took him to the cat doctor and the cat doctor said, "He's fine. Put him on a diet."

The cat was given no Friskies and half as much kibble and the breakfast dishes were washed clean and shining every morning, and the cat ate all his kibble and howled.

The neighbors complained and the cat's people locked the cat in the basement laundry room with clean water and half a cup of kibble and a soft throw rug and three cushions and the heat on just the way the cat liked it and two catnip mice and a bouncy-spring cat toy and NPR on the radio so the cat could hear voices. They petted him and told him stories every day before they went to work. And the cat ate all his kibble and the insides of both catnip mice and lay down against the bouncy-spring cat toy and howled. But no one could hear him, so the neighbors were happy.

On a Thursday, during Talk Of The Nation, the cat smelled something better than kibble or even Friskies. He looked up and he saw a mouse sniffing at the kibble bowl. And the mouse was what smelled better than Friskies.

The cat had never seen Friskies or kibble or eggs or even marmalade move. He felt a twitching in his paws and his stomach growled and his legs wanted to spring, and he watched the good-smelling mouse as it circled the kibble bowl and sniffed at the catnip-mouse carcasses and peered over the water bowl and took a lap of water. And then the mouse scurried to a crack under the baseboard and squeezed his head and his hindquarters and his tail underneath and the mouse disappeared.

And the cat sprang and scrabbled at the crack under the baseboard and sniffed the better-than-Friskies smell. And the cat howled.

It wasn't until the next Tuesday, during Fresh Air, that the cat smelled the better-than-Friskies smell again. The cat hid behind the Tide box and held very still and watched the good-smelling mouse snatch a crumb of kibble from under the dryer where the cat had been unable to reach it. The mouse ran with the crumb to the crack under the baseboard and squeezed his head and his hindquarters and his tail underneath and disappeared. And the cat twitched, but he did not spring or scrabble or howl.

And on Wednesday, the cat left one piece of kibble in his bowl, and all morning he watched the kibble, and watched the crack, and watched the kibble, and sniffed the kibble, and prowled around the bowl. And after Fresh Air he ate the piece of kibble and he lay down against the bouncy-spring cat toy and he howled.

On Thursday, the cat didn't eat the piece of kibble until Echoes came on. And then he attacked the bouncy-spring cat toy and tore its feathery head to pieces and lay down on the feathers and howled.

On Friday the cat was watching the piece of kibble during a pledge break when he smelled the better-than-Friskies smell. He hid behind the dryer and watched as the mouse squeezed under the crack into the laundry room. The mouse sat by the crack, and sniffed the air, and groomed his tail, and sat some more. And finally the mouse ran to the kibble bowl and scrabbled up its outside and down its inside and snatched the piece of kibble and tried to scrabble back up the inside and slid down and tried again and then he saw the cat above him and he squeaked and tried to hide under the piece of kibble.

The cat leaned into the bowl and licked the mouse's good-smelling fur until the mouse was neat and smooth, and then he lifted his head and admired the mouse.

And the damp mouse lay on the bottom of the bowl and pretended to be dead. His fur dried and the cat didn't go away and the mouse finally got up and ate his piece of kibble and the cat's legs twitched but the cat didn't spring. And the cat watched as the mouse ran at the side of the bowl and slid down, and ran at it again and scrambled over the edge, and ran to the crack under the baseboard and squeezed his head and his hindquarters and his tail underneath and disappeared.

And the cat lay down on the three cushions and he had a nap.

And the next day the cat left three pieces of kibble in the bowl, and during the weather report the mouse squeezed under the crack into the room and sat and sat, and groomed his tail, and finally ran to the bowl and climbed in and ate the kibble as fast as he could. And the cat groomed the mouse again and the mouse scrambled out of the bowl and went home.

From then on the mouse came every day. Sometimes he would stay and play until the end of All Songs Considered. And the mouse got fatter and the cat stopped howling and his people opened the laundry room door, and the mouse had children and his children had children, and the cat hardly ever ate any of them. And the rest of them lived happily ever after.

Image: By Amanda Slater. Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Story: The Princess and the Caffeine

So I saw this StoryADay thing, where you're supposed to write and complete a story every day in the month of May, no matter how bad it is. I can tell that I'm not going to do it every day this year, but I wrote one. And here it is.

Once upon a time there was a princess who worked as a barista. (The King believed in a work ethic. Also, he scooped the tip jar every day.) All day every day, knights and peasants and bootmakers and jesters and pin-and-bead-and-shoelace salesmen demanded coffee and croissants and coconut dream bars and legs of mutton. They were all very badly behaved, throwing their cups and bones in the moat and telling ominous stories about the princess-eating dragon who lived three counties over. Sometimes after a few too many double espressos, they would flick damp sugar cubes at the princess's tall pointy hat.

The princess got rather tired of this, and complained to her father, who explained the principles of customer service before riding off to negotiate with the dragon. While he was gone and therefore unable to enforce any dress codes, the princess abandoned the pointy hat. She got tired of her blond curls collapsing in coffee steam and chopped them off in favor of a nice pageboy cut. She arranged for the long silken train of her gown to get caught in the dishwasher, forcing her to change into a pair of dragon-bedecked silk pajamas.

Word spread about the the short-haired princess in the shiny green pajamas. One day the dragon, lounging in his treasure hoard, caught sight of a picture of her in the Business section of the newspaper that was wrapping the panko-crusted fish dinner brought to him, as was usual on Saturday nights, by the King. For once, the dragon declined to bicker about the King's latest proposal, which tonight was an offer of the princess, the King's second-best horse, and a nearly-complete set of gold-edged china in exchange for three wheelbarrows of treasure of the King's choice.

Instead, the dragon looked up, dropping his fish, and accepted. Three wheelbarrows. Pick your treasure, park it in in the loading zone, fill out a shipping label, and get out. Shipment will commence when the princess is received. Scat.

The King, having expected a long comfortable autumn negotiating the sale of the princess and fishing in the dragon's swamp, rode home in a disgruntled mood that worsened at the sight of his short-haired trousers-wearing daughter. He complained all through her packing about the cost of the long blond wig that he'd had to buy for her for fear of a "not as represented" claim by the dragon. Off she went, after training the next sister to operate the milk steamer.

But unbeknownst to her father, the princess took away with her not only the key to the espresso machine, but the thermostat for the coffee roaster and the recipe for the King's favorite macciato. Worse, she changed the WiFi password, and so the populace streamed out of the coffeehouse, never to return.

The King received his three wheelbarrows of chosen treasure, achieving wealth beyond his dreams, but never again would he experience a hot beverage that tasted just right. He sank into a depression and spent his days polishing the dragon jewels and the rejected gold-edged china, while his remaining daughters quietly re-made the coffeehouse into an organic spa.

The princess? She threw away her wig outside the dragon's lair and marched in, short hair and silk pajamas and all, to scold him about the sins of consuming royalty, or for that matter women, or for that matter people, and, really, he oughtn't to eat the more intelligent mammals, like dogs and pigs and so on, either. But he'd read about her opinions in the Business section, and so she found him meekly eating fish and cheese. He mixed her a perfect chai latte with his own claws, and so started a beautiful friendship that continues to this day.

But he does eat bacon when she's out of town.

Image: By Joey Gannon. Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Rambling: Perfume and Other Stuff

Once again, It's Been Long Enough since I last posted, so I'm going to ramble. Randomly. Hopefully not entirely incoherently. Though you never know.

I've been wearing Girl Clothes lately. Linen shirts, skirts, little black flats. Even a piece of jewelry once or twice. (I bought myself a little green rhinestone-speckled frog, for example. Shopping morale.) So I accompanied them with Girl Perfume.

I wore Chanel Cristalle the other day. I always thought of it as a sweeter, lighter, laughing version of No. 19, but this time I could finally see why some people find it stern and hard to warm up to.  Not that I don't adore it, it's just that I can at least imagine that perception now.

A few days later, I wore Hermes Hiris. I didn't consciously smell it after I put it on, but it gave me that well-enveloped well-dressed grown-up feeling.

And day before yesterday, it was Balmain Ivoire, warm tangy very expensive soap. I think that the modern Ivoire, as purchased at discounters, may have the best quality-per-dollar quotient of any perfume. If I'd ever smelled the original I might not feel that way. But then again I found the modern Vent Vert to be merely blandly pleasing even before I smelled the vintage, so I think that Ivoire is indeed impressive. (I should note that I bought my Ivoire two to three years ago; I only hope that the current version is the same.)

For the past two years I've been participating in the 100+ Reading Challenge. This year I'm not, and I conclude that for me, the Challenge was counterproductive. When I'm participating, I feel a pressure to finish books, and to read the whole book, and that feels too much like a job. It makes me choose my books more carefully, and suppresses my usual strategy of picking up an old favorite for a chapter or three when a new book isn't quite what I want at that moment. The net result seems to be that I read less.

The down side is that when I'm not participating, I don't remember what I've read. If it's an eBook (see my guilty post here about those), of course I have a record, but if it's a paper book I tend to lose track. And then I sell the paper book, and I really lose track.

The sewing continues. As I sloooowly get patterns fitted, I find myself thinking more and more about buying a serger. Or an overlock machine. Or whatever it's most commonly called. I like the idea of having a sure-fire pattern that I can just cut and sew and press and wear without a lot of fuss and fitting. On the other hand, I strongly suspect that if it came down to it, I'd find that boring. So I'm waiting a little longer for the serger. Probably.

Remember The Farm? I didn't do a lot of weeding over the winter. OK, I didn't do any weeding over the winter. The good news is that an alfalfa-straw mulch does a startlingly good job of suppressing weeds. The bad news is that we only covered a tiny fraction of the garden space with alfalfa straw. Oh, and we covered some of it with black plastic, hoping to suppress Bermuda grass. But the rest of the garden is distinguishable from a lawn primarily by the fact that the "grass" is taller and has seed heads. There's going to be a lot of fork-and-shake-out-the-clods. Except in the perennials where forking is not an option; there I'll just pull weeds until my fingers fall off. Whee!

But the garlic and potato onions look healthy. Yay! And I'm preparing space to plant the next crop of Copra Onions, this time getting them in before the day that they're supposed to start bulbing. And the strawberries and blueberries are blooming, even if they are crowded by weeds. So we'll be eating.


That's all.