Thursday, May 24, 2012

10 Reasons I Love Being 37

1) I am a member of the largest money making/money spending demographic ergo most music played in stores, restaurants, and on radio stations is played precisely to appeal to me and others of my age. It makes me feel old, but then who doesn’t love a little Depeche Mode over a buffet dinner?

 2) The same applies to television programming and news media. For the first time in my life, I am (rather embarrassingly) content to view prime time programming.

 3) I am interested in topics that have previously seemed dull and irrelevant: stocks, elections, real estate- all good material.

 4) I am not wealthy, but I am established. I am educated with several years experience in my field. I have a job; I have mobility; I have a measure of security. I am a contributing member of my vocation.

 5) I know who I am. I like what I like and though what I like may be, at times, eccentric, it is what I like. No apologies.

 6) I am still healthy, young, and vital.

 7) I understand my limits and embrace them. My youthful insecurities have gradually been replaced with self assurance brought forth by experience. I can stand up for myself and my beliefs. I realize that my opinion and my place in existence are as substantial as anyone’s.

 8) I have four children and a husband of 10 years.

 9) I know a variety of people. Old friendships are still intact. New friendships await to be forged.

 10) Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and so many other of my favorite authors were most prolific in their late thirties, forties, and fifties. I now have the breadth of experience and discipline to savor their writings. Though I have always loved to read, I read with different eyes. Whitman was 37 when he penned “Song of Myself”. Welcome 37!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Thanatopsis

My first experience with death was the passing of my great-grandmother when I was six. I still remember visiting her, prior to her death, at my great aunts' house. Withered and paralyzed in her legs, she so little resembled me or even my parents that somehow she seemed hardly human. I remember her always sitting in the back bedroom in a blue velvet chair. When she died, I had a “Wizard of Oz” inspired dream that my aunts Barbara and Maureen had dropped her off in heaven in a hot air balloon. Maureen and Barbara had round trip tickets, of course. And though it was strange that my grandma was no longer perched in her chair the next time I visited my aunts, I felt at peace. It all made sense: Grandma was old and now she was in heaven. I could live with that.

In my life, I have had little experience with real grief or real death. I mean yes, my grandma (not great) has since passed and there are other people, too, but the people I have been close to who died were within the right window of time. I had it all figured out. You see, I imagine the future with the same certainty as the past: there is a time line when a life starts and then after it goes on long enough; it is OK with me for the time line to end. Don’t get me wrong, I miss grandma, but I can’t be too upset that she died. For me, she died within the acceptable window. As I have heard said, “it was her time.” OK I can live with that.

I, like most people when faced with adversity, blame modern American society; not because we have it so bad, but perhaps because we have it so good. We have managed to isolate ourselves from our common, inevitable end in every way we can. Death is ugly; however, thanks to contemporary scientific and technological break-throughs, it has all but disappeared. Even the meat we buy comes neatly packaged in Styrofoam and wrapped in plastic. It hardly resembles a living organism other than that little smear of blood found on an absorbent pad under each chuck roast. Or consider the profits of plastic surgeons slicing away what the hands of time have worked so long to alter. The unspoken modern syllogism: aging means dying and death is ugly, therefore aging is ugly. Let’s pretend a while longer that we are immortal. Like elephants, people have even kindly found a place to die conveniently located away from the rest of us. According to recent statistics, anywhere between 75-90% of all Americans die while in hospitals or nursing homes. The dying are nothing if not considerate. Need more proof that we are in denial about our final, collective outcome? Consider the body before it is interred. Generally, the undertaker has gone to great lengths to remove all traces of death in order to create a sort of a human tromp lo’iel effect: grandma is still here. She is just asleep. Either that, or the corpse is reduced to a few handfuls of ashes that resemble nothing.

And so, the result when faced with real, untimely death, we contemporary Americans are innocents; blind-sighted and unprepared to deal with the thought of anyone close gently slipping into that good night. Perhaps I generalize too much. Perhaps I mean me.

Less than two weeks ago, there was an untimely death that took place in my own back yard. Not my husband or my children, but a dog. A coyote got over the wall and saw, not the beloved family shih tzu, Sadie, but an early morning meal. My other dog, a wizened Jack Russell terrier, sounded the alarm and my husband responded. We were all too late. Sadie was dead.

I feel childish comparing the death of a pet to that of human beings, but her absence has been a bit of a tragedy to me, starting with having to tell my children, one by one, as they awoke that Sadie was killed. My four-year-old, Scott, responded that I was wrong and went looking through all of the rooms in the house, certain that Sadie was right there; ready as always to greet him. It took only just a minute for him to realize that Sadie was gone, permanently. So my oldest three children and I wept in intermittent waves all day. We talked about Sadie and how she warmed us as she curled at the foot of our beds. We said how sad we all were that she would not greet us at the door any more with her riot of unbridled gratitude that we had, once more, returned to her. We even pulled out the pictures that Megan, had colored in her first grade class when hospice had visited the school. I found myself grateful for the coloring book titled “Life Losses” that had seemed inappropriate and macabre in the hands of my six-year-old just a week before. We cried again when we came home and my two-year-old announced, “Sadie’s not here. Only Jax. Sadie is in the box.” I cried again late that night when Scott woke up, drowsily crawled into my bed and wept silently with no affectation, for his lost friend.

Less than two weeks have passed and the kids have moved on. They can mention Sadie without tears and remember her happily. I no longer hear in thin, pleading voices, “Mom, I miss, Sadie.” My eight year old has even mentioned that it is kind of nice not worrying that the dog will chew her toys if she leaves them on the floor.

I still miss Sadie, but I don’t tell my children. I am glad they can live with that. Even so, with Halloween approaching my daughters are, for the first time, afraid of the plastic skulls and funereal decor. For the first time they want to know if I think ghosts are real. I approach the question mythologically, logically, theologically trying to vanquish their fears. For all of my efforts, Megan won’t brush her teeth in the bathroom by herself. In the end, Sadie’s untimely death has left none of us unscathed. My children are now left to contemplate how drastically ones life can change, even while asleep.

As for me, I wonder that I still grieve the passing of my pet, more so perhaps than that of some people. But, Sadie threw off my timeline. She was young; Jax was old. Jax would die and there would still be many good years with Sadie and she would sleep at the foot of Scott’s bed and be there, waiting to jump all over me at the door. And so, the inevitable truth that I have come to recognize as I look at the downhill side of my thirties: that between my husband of ten years and our four children, I have a lot invested in the certainty of my life and that fixed timeline of my future, that now seems less indelible than I once thought. I understand it is not death that I fear. It is grief.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dear Banksy,

I think you should send me a piece of original art. Here is why: after my recent viewing of your film, "Exit Through the Gift Shop" I have gained an abiding appreciation for your work as well as for the entire street art movement. I love the subversive irony associated with what you do. Additionally, your work encompasses all that I understand about contemporary art: that it is as much process as outcome.

You see, I have long appreciated visual art. One of my most vivid memories is stumbling upon Dali’s “The Last Supper” at the National Gallery where I stood transfixed for several minutes staring up from the middle of a stair case- immobilized by the proximity of myself to great art. I had seen prints, but was unprepared to process and internalize the beauty of the original. Art has moved me similarly since and I have longed to surround myself with it.

Regrettably, I have no real propensity for creating original art work, however, I am satisfied that I know how and what to enjoy: I know what speaks to me. It brought me joy, for instance, to see with what skill you sculpted shapes from paper with an X-acto blade and with what delft movement you could fold and unfold a giant stencil: an artist’s hands in action are as much art as the work itself.

And so, my proposal: please send art. One tiny piece would suffice- a stencil on the back of a 3x5 card, or a rendering of a rat small enough to fit on a postage stamp. Here is why I think you should: I know that you are paid grand commissions by the affluent of the world. I am glad they recognize your talent and sponsor your craft. However, I believe we can both see the irony in this. I read that Christina Aguilera owns an original. Surely, you and she both understand that she represents all you despise. Her work is cheap and will expire with the generation that exalted her. Therein lies the irony and the sting of compromise that all artists must tolerate when faced with patronage.

And so, Master of Irony through Juxtaposition, I would think you could see that I am the ideal consumer for your work. I am only a stay-at-home mother of four who teaches on-line high school English. I have literary aspirations, but never hope to be wealthy enough to collect art. I don’t really long for wealth, but I find it deply aggravating that the only people who can afford art work are often the cheap, celebrity sell-outs who want to possess it only for status and then buy and sell the way they would an estate or an automobile.

If you decide to send me a piece, I promise not to sell or charge admission. I will hang it on my wall, or set it on my mantle piece, or display it in my yard. I will admire the craft of it. To me it will develop and evolve in meaning as my own life evolves. I will consider, daily, the skill with which it has been crafted. Really, what greater commission could any artist hope for? So if you ever want to tag a blank stucco wall in a remote town in Arizona, I have just the one for you. Your work may not be viewed by more than the seasonal visitors or a rogue coyote, but it will mark the residence of an appreciative art connoisseur. Also, I promise not to let the dogs out into the yard while you are working.


P.S. How do you feel about the London Bridge?

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I am fortunate to come from a family with members possessed of various and significant talents. I could ennumerate the accomplishments of my six siblings, but then I would risk bragging while simultaneously making apparent my own lack of skill. The wonderful perk of being a member of such a family is that, someone is bound to be talented in an area where I lack. If nothing else, I am skilled at employing my siblings' gifts to compensate where my own fall short. My sisters, generous by nature, are at particular risk to be roped into my latest scheme. So my message to you, dear family, is; if ever you need a paper proofread or the insertion of a snide, sideways remark, I am your woman. I owe you, big time.

The above is a collaboration between me and my graphic design artist sister, Laura Barlow. It is true to my life. Many thanks to Laura for helping me laugh at a time when all I wanted to do was pound my head on the nearest wall.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mother Colors

Rumor has it that I have given up on my blog altogether. OK that's just me being optomistic. No one is actually talking about this blog at all. Anyhow, I have written a few odd things that I am going to indulge myself by sharing with you here.

The following is a satirical piece I wrote and actually submitted to one of my favorite magazines Brain, Child. I was solidly rejected, however, those who can get published. Those who can't self publish. OK so I'm not Erma Bombeck, but here it is:

What’s Your Mother Color?

Have you ever wondered what your mommy style is? With this simple quiz, you can determine the color that fits your unique parenting profile. Circle one for each item.
1. When describing my children to my friends, the word one would most often hear me say would be
a. “cute”
b. “genius”
c. “brats”
d. “gin and tonic”

2. The meal most likely to be served at my house would be:
a. vegetarian stir fry with organic tofu and bok choy served on a bed of brown rice.
b. a tasty, original casserole pulled together from last night’s meat loaf and Tuesday’s mashed potatoes.
c. only the touch of a button away. I have the number for the nearest pizza joint programmed on speed dial.
d. mostly comprised of condiments.

3. My underwear drawer contains:
a. hot lingerie for alone-time with daddy.
b. hot lingerie with maternity panels and nursing accessible cups for “alone-time” with daddy.
c. only items marketed as “control top”.
d. nothing. I usually get my panties direct from the dryer.

4. The reading material I provide for my children is:
a. the “Wall-Street Journal.” After all, you can never start them too soon.
b. Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia. Nothing feeds young minds like fantasy books in a series.
c. the closed captioning option during “Dora the Explorer”: entertaining and literarily bilingual!
d. the back of the cereal box. Whose first words weren’t “free toy inside” and “high fructose corn syrup?”

5. The contents of my vacuum dust bag are usually:
a. non-existent. I promptly empty my vacuum after each use.
b. pony beads, silly bands, and crayon pieces.
c. cheese puffs mingled with dirt and pet hair.
d. non-existent. Let’s hear it for free-range dust bunnies!

6. My greatest consideration when planning a family vacation is
a. its potential to be simultaneously entertaining and educational.
b. maximizing family togetherness (i.e. small tents, single bed hotel rooms, compact cars).
c. affordability.
d. the availability of convenience stores between “point A” and “point B.”

7. My favorite disciplinary threats
a. are seldom employed. I rarely have to resort to them with my little darlings.
b. often lead to the confiscation of one or more video game consoles.
c. usually result in me turning the car around and/or pulling over.
d. involve hypothetical clones of the offending child.

8. My biggest fear as a mother is that:
a. phenylketonurics are, in fact, carcinogenic.
b. that my mother’s curse will come true and I will have a child exactly like myself.
c. that some children never will potty train.
that my grandmother’s curse on my mother has come true and that my mother did have a child exactly like herself.

9. When seeking parenting advice, my best resource is:
a. the experts. I study up on what published psychologists and doctors have said.
b. people I know. I like to consult my friends and family first.
c. my mystical eight-ball. It always gives me a clear and immediate answer.
d. Oprah.

10. I usually cope with day-to-day stress by:
a. taking time out to relax and enjoy the company of my children.
b. exercising or doing yoga, especially focusing on deep breathing techniques.
c. smiling. It’s amazing how perfectly natural I look even while gritting my teeth.
d. gin and tonic.

Scoring: For each “A” answer score yourself 2,000 points. For every “B” answer score yourself with 500 points. For every “C” answer give yourself 100 points. For every “D” answer give yourself 2 points.

20,000-12,000 points: Your color is magenta.
Buoyant and sparkly, you are the mom everyone wants to be. Someday there will be a bronze statue erected in your honor. Not even the pigeons will dare poop on your likeness. You go, girl!

11,999-4,000 points: Your color is burgundy.
Intelligent and efficient, you can pull off anything. Your neighbors come to you for your sound advice. No one ever needs to know that you caught your son lapping rain water off the back patio during his “puppy” stage. You deserve a pat on the back for all you do. You go, girl!

3,999-300 points: Your color is vermillion.
Eclectic and energetic, you are a mother with a talent for flexibility. You know how to survive all conditions. So what if your kid had lasts night’s leftover carpet popcorn for a snack? Whether they’re admitting it or not, everyone else’s did too. You go, girl!

299-20 points: Your color is puce.
(Who has the time to add up the points for these stupid quizzes anyway?) Savvy and fun, your unique parenting style sets you apart from the rest of the crowd. Besides, your kids aren’t mismatched. They wear different colored socks on purpose and they pull it off, too. Your children are generally happy and so are you. Gin and tonic! You go, girl!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

This I Believe

I believe in quitting. I believe in the power of throwing in the towel and saying, “enough is enough. I’m done.” I believe that walking away can pay just as high a wage as persistence.

I have always chuckled to myself at the bumper sticker that glibly states “Rehab is for quitters.” I enjoy the play on the connotations of the word “quit.” But as every addict knows, quitting ultimately requires personal conviction and courage. The same is true for the pathologically persistent.

I didn’t realize that I was pathologically persistent or that I was even a persistent person at all until my battle to breastfeed a baby who came into this world seemingly unequipped with even the most basic of human survival instincts: the child didn't know how to suck. Sometimes, I would work with her for hours at a time to achieve a good feeding. 14 months later, my daughter was a chubby, newly weaned toddler and I had bragging rights: my baby had been exclusively breastfed. Yes, persistence did pay off. I had something to show for the sleepless nights, the soreness, the sobbing baby. In the end, the battle was fought and won and all had come round right. I, the triumphant mother.

The same persistence was what got me through college with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a teaching certificate, despite my insecurities and throbbing self doubt. Persistence is the reason I currently have a career that allows me to stay at home with my family.

However, this same persistence is the reason I stayed in a six year relationship with a guy who didn’t really want me. It is the reason that I have stuck through bad jobs and have sometimes remained friends with people who were not really friends at all: as if all of my self worth relied on enduring through this one excrutiating act.

My relationship for instance: I knew it was just all me who was wrong. It couldn’t be him or even worse, us. It must be me. Well, I’m proactive and honest; I could fix me. And so I tried. He seemed to like witty women. I would crack more jokes! He liked beautiful girls. I could primp. He said he liked charismatic girls. Hmmm. Where could I get charisma? I felt like a gambler continuously feeding coins into a slot machine: one more quarter and I would hit the jackpot. One more act of forgiveness on my part and he would love me. Eventually, this thing had to pay off. The stakes were too high to let go (or so I told myself with every subsequent heartbreak.)

Flash forward 3 years: one brief conversation, a few intermittent tears, a couple of Indigo Girls songs later and I felt light. I was totally unattached and it felt great. Where was the expected dread and suffering that I had been so afraid of? I was afraid to feel good?

So, I affirm the wisdom and the dignity of Chief Joseph’s words spoken at the end of that hundred day march now known as the Trail of Tears. “I will fight no more forever.” And for me and others who are, likewise, pathologically persistent a new serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity to persist when my efforts will be appropriately rewarded;
the courage to quit when it is time to cut my loses
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Social Awareness

Sometimes it happens: a situation or a person calls me to sudden clarity and I realize that the "daily grind" I swear off and swear about and swear by is an altered state of reality. I am guilty of being obtuse. I am dutiful and hardworking. I worry that one misstep on my part can cause the whole of my personally constructed universe to fall apart. (Can you see it now, that solar system model made out of paper Mache falling off its wire hanger? Landing on the floor, all of its interplanetary strings a tangled disaster. Saturn's rings broken off. No biggie, nothing a little Elmer's glue can't fix.) But sometimes I can look beyond and realize that there are others out there and I, unsuspecting denizen of Planet Where-Ever, never saw them there. (Maybe being "spacey" isn't such a bad thing.)

Like many busy moms, I sometimes like to unwind by getting a pedicure. One Saturday morning I was looking forward to the relaxation and hour away from my kids this would afford me. As always, I have my iPhone nearby with its ready array of novels loaded to the Kindle app. I begin to read a novel set during an insurgence in Sri Lanka. Where is Sri Lanka? I can't even recall. I read about brutal war time deaths half a world away.

I pause from my reading a moment to glance at my manicurist. I notice that she is a slight woman, but her hands are strong as she massages lotion into my heels and the balls of my feet. The thought occurs to me that if ever I am to be a good writer, I will have to do what Ondatjee, Kingsolver, and Fadiman have already done. I must step outside of my natural, childish shyness and talk to strangers. I have to be aware that they exist. I have to become an interested, therefore interesting, person. A senseless resistant insecurity warns me that I am stepping onto unfamiliar territory, but a stronger force tells me that it is time to grow up.

"Where are you from?" I ask this middle-aged woman who is now tearing at my cuticles with clippers.

She looks up a bit startled, but with a pleasant smile.

"Vietnam." Her accent is thick.

"How long have you lived in Lake Havasu?"

"One year."

"Do you like it here?"

"Yes. I come here with my daughter." She gestures to the girl with the blunt cut bangs and perfect almond eyes crouched in front of the spa chair next to mine. "She is 20."

"She is very beautiful," I reply.

"And that is my brother." She gestures to the man across the salon who is filing a woman's nails. "He's been here nine year. I come here to work for him."

She continues to talk softly in broken English. It is hard to hear over the top of the classic rock station promo truck parked outside. I think she is describing her work day. I understand "5:00 AM exercise" and "9:30 Come to shop." Other than that her words are lost somewhere between my poor audio processing skills (I said I was obtuse) and "Dust in the Wind." She looks satisfied and proud.

As she paints my toenails a vibrant red, I try to imagine this woman leaving her home and traveling to a world every bit as foreign to her as Vietnam is to me. I think of what her first shy days at work must have been like, hunched over working scrupulously at a new trade, trying to pick up a new language. I imagine her avoiding conversations with cutomers- so difficult to understand or to reply in a different tongue. That is as far as I can try to fill in the blanks. And I am struck to think that this woman, crouched at my feet, finishing my nails with a careful filigree has done something much more courageous than will ever be required me.