Friday, November 13, 2015

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day Eight

Bookish Tales of Love and Hate

I love books; I love the smooth feel of the paper under my aging fingers, the rough edges of the pages, the excited squee of a brand new book opening for the first time, the creaky but familiar ache of a beloved book being called into action for another round.  They are like family members to me; selecting favorites and estranging the dysfunctional are as painful as gathering them into my lap with wine or tea are comforting.  It is rare for me to discard a book before completing it because I feel they all deserve their chance at a loving family; it is equally rare for me to reread books for a similar reason - the time I spend rereading a book is time I cannot spend getting to know another, whom I might want to welcome into my world.

Reluctantly, I will admit to a few weaknesses.  If pushed to select a single favorite book, I would choose John Green’s Looking for Alaska.  At the time I picked it up, I had read and enjoyed a lot of young adult fiction.  Nevertheless, Looking for Alaska affected me in ways I never expected from a young adult novel.  John Green’s characterization brought boarding school life and main characters alive with such clarity and force that when the climax occurred, I felt as if I had been struck by a train.  It is well known among Green fans that we don’t discuss plot in public forums in case we risk spoiling books for others so I can’t say too much, but it was nearly impossible to disconnect from the fictional world he had drawn me into and to remember that the characters were not, in fact, part of my real life.  Later, I would discover that every John Green book would have that effect.  His understanding and portrayal of the lives of adolescents is startlingly accurate.

I meant to select a young adult book and an adult book that I loved, but the old favorite who keeps nosing her way into my recollection is Little Women.  It is a book I return to when life is difficult or celebratory. I remember being heartbroken at my grandmother’s death; my mother told me find a book I really liked and read it.  Since then, I have reread Little Women at least a dozen times, variously relating to the strengths and weaknesses, loves and losses, interests and foibles of Amy, Meg, Jo, and Beth.  At least one of their lives always brings me comfort and has a lesson to teach me about what is happening in my own life.  They have traveled far with me in my 50 years, and their pages feel like fine Irish linen.

Among my adult favorites are almost anything ever written by John Irving - until he began to recycle his characters and plots into new forms that are interesting but not anywhere as engaging as their great grandparents.  The Fourth Hand, for example, is the great grandchild whose eyes are the spitting image of great grandpa John.  Even though his writing skills develop as you travel from The World According to Garp to A Prayer for Owen Meany, he becomes a little too comfortable when he reaches a certain age, round about A Widow for One Year.  It doesn’t seem to matter though.  Unconditional love is unconditional, and every single book he writes is welcome at my Thanksgiving table.

Similarly, Wally Lamb won me over with his ability to describe the painful but uplifting challenges of Delores Price, who has no reason to hope and every reason to give up but is bestowed with an unexpected, undeniable, lifesaving, spunkiness.  Every book he writes is that best friend who becomes family, not because you share the same blood, but because you choose each other.  It takes Lamb forever to write a novel so our visits are infrequent, but when you do meet up for coffee, it is as if you never spent time apart.  Every.  Single.  Book.  Genius.

The most memorable book I was forced to let go was American Psycho.  Early on, not as a young adult but as a Young Adult, I enjoyed Bret Easton Ellis’ descriptions of the beginnings of adulthood, of how we make the transition to being semi-responsible people who live without our parents, hold down jobs, take on new roles, and experiment with our places in the world.  But American Psycho?  I just couldn’t.  I have been told that the story is a tongue-in-cheek look at a sociopath rather than gratuitous violence, blood, guts, and gore, but I found American Psycho so disturbing that I had to kick him out of the house.  I didn’t even try to find him a new home.  I threw him away, in the garbage; relegated him to a life of homelessness, later to be glorified in an equally disturbing movie, that I also could not embrace as one of my own.

So, there they are; the four I can’t live without and the one I can’t live with; I remember where and when I was when I encountered each of them; their comings and goings are etched into my memory like my first and last memories of my loved ones; some perfect and some painful, but I would not be who I am today without having spent time with each of them.

Monday, November 9, 2015

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day Seven

The Tattoo That Wasn't

We had talked about tattoos, my husband and I, in that way that people talk about random subjects when they are getting to know each other; the "have you ever's," and "my favorite_________ is," all the way to the serious ones, like "how many children would you want to have?"  We agreed about tattoos that were not against them, but neither of us would ever get one.  We just wouldn't; it wasn't who we "were."

Shortly after my son was born, my husband announced that to honor the nine months I carried our child and the pain I went through in childbirth to bring Duncan into the world, he was going to get a small tattoo of a Keith Haring crawling baby on his ankle.  And I, in that way that people who are women who happen to be ragingly full of hormones and also sleep deprived can do, completely lost my composure.  In fact, I either threatened to leave or may actually have stormed out of the house, keys in hand, and gone for a drive, leaving Jamie with the infant son.  There was screaming; there was yelling; there were floods of tears.  Because...this was not who we "were."  All I could see was that "we" had changed - that Jamie was now a person who got tattoos, and I was not - and that we had no future together.  I was now a dumpy, boring, mother with no edge left to her, and my husband was a biker who was going to seek out the kind of woman who DOES get a tattoo; yes, I went to those extremes.

Afterward, when I had calmed down, I explained all this to him.  I assured him that I would be fine with his Keith Haring crawling baby tattoo, but I still would not get one.  He assured me that he would NOT be tattooing anything if I felt that strongly.  Despite all our affirmations, we remain completely untattooed.  We do, however, remain married, and we are both just edgy enough for each other.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day Six

Accidental Farmers

I find all people fascinating really.  If I channeled the time I spend each day examining people and trying to understand how and why they do the things they do, I could probably hold down a part time job.  However, this is only a 30 Day Writing Challenge so I have to limit myself.  For a number of years now, I have been fascinated by Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Dr. Brent Ridge, the Fabulous Beekman Boys.  I first learned about the Beekman Boys in 2009 when I watched their show on Planet Green.  The premise of the reality show was that Dr. Brent Ridge and his writer husband Josh Kilmer-Purcell, both New York City residents, bought a farm in Sharon Springs, New York.  While Brent stayed on the farm trying to make it financially successful, Josh commuted from the city for weekends.  They are a charming couple of gentleman farmers whose early struggles with farm life and trying to hold together a long distance relationship provided good entertainment.  Eventually, their efforts made the farm self-sustaining, probably through Josh's experience with public relations and Brent's brilliant ideas for producing and marketing goods manufactured with goods from their farm at Beekman 1802.  It didn't hurt that they won The Amazing Race...and that they have a good relationship with Martha Stewart.

I WAS easily drawn in by their reality TV show, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, but what really caught my interest was the idea of contemporary, small town farming.  Having read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, I was already interested in the idea of living more closely to the land.  I read Josh and Brent's books and watched all the episodes of The Fabulous Beekman Boys and then set out to read everything I could find about small time farmers.  I devoured books about urban farming:  Farm City, by Novella Carpenter, who went so far as to raise pigs in downtown Oakland; My Empire of Dirt, by Manny Howard, who attempted to raise chickens and meat rabbits in his backyard in Flatbush; and The Accidental Farmers, by Tim Young. 

Although I am far from owning a farm or living off the land, I am proud that these investigations have led me to be more thoughtful about the food I feed my family.  I've certainly written a lot in this blog about our CSA adventures, my attempts to reduce the processed food my family eats, my dedication to reducing the amount of meat we consume, and my passion for investing my money whenever possible in local farms.  Recently, I enjoyed a heartfelt conversation with "my" farmer, a mile down the road from my house, about her mixed feelings about her new baby piglets.  Although they were cute as a button, she was torn because she knew that they would soon be orphans.  We talked about the ethical burden of choosing to eat meat, but how important it is to know that it has been raised kindly and gently and lived a nice life.  We were both close to tears about the piglets, but we're not ready to stop eating bacon.  I stop in at Sport Hill Farm at least once a week to buy as much of my produce as I can before I hit Stop and Shop; almost everything Patti sells is grown on her farm.  She sells some products that are grown elsewhere, but she only sells products from farmers whose practices she knows she can stand behind.  This food consciousness makes me feel secure about what I am feeding my family and myself.  I love investing my money in a small, local farm rather than factory agriculture.

It seems silly to attribute this journey to a reality TV show, but Josh and Brent's engaging and humorous portrayal of farm life helped me recognize that there are other ways to live, that a simpler life, closer to the land, is a possibility for any of us.  I haven't followed their post-Amazing Race adventures as closely, but from time to time I enjoy seeing what's new in the lives of the gentlemen farmers of Sharon Springs. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day Five

A place where I would live but have never visited...Alaska

Alaska knows that it challenges me.  The long winters and the prospect of days where the sun never makes an appearance are formidable.  I once read a book about basketball in Alaska (not my sort of book at all but it was well recommended for young adults) that depicted the difficult lives of adolescents and their struggles to participate in competitive sport in a world where roads close for months, and teams are forced to travel to their competitors by plane.  I once watched a reality television program about Alaska that focused on a family-owned plane company that transported people to and from areas where roads become impassable.  These possibilities - the perpetual night, the roads that close for months on end, the foods that are unavailable for months at a time - should be warning signs; however, they intrigue me.  They describe a way of life completely foreign to me, where life is forced by the cold to grind to an almost imperceptible stop, because wouldn't life be simpler in Alaska anyway?

I suppose that is what draws me to Alaska - the open simplicity; humanity is forced to accept that nature is bigger and bolder than anything we can dream up.  The glaciers, the Northern Lights, the Grizzlies...they are spectacularly not man made, yet they are astoundingly foreign.  The wide open spaces call to my introvert soul and whisper dreams about solitude and silence that can be found nowhere else.  There is a life in Alaska where I would be myself out of necessity because my nearest neighbors would be miles and miles and miles away.  The colors would be richer and the smells crisper, their edges tinged by frost.  One day would fade slowly into the next, and time would stand still.  I would learn to do without.  My impulsivity would be forced into inaction.  There would be nothing left but to be.

Not Day Five

All this writing has me thinking about writing.  I guess that's the point, but it's also making me think a little about writing poetry.  I wrote this one as a sample for a presentation about using poetry in multisensory structured language lessons.  It's a list poem, but somehow, despite my intervention, it turned itself from a list into a poem.

What’s in my book bag?
One flat cereal bar from Trader Joe’s; A Pumpkin Walked Into a Bar,
it calls itself.
Four dead batteries, 3 rechargeable and 1 that isn’t.
A highlighter cap, mysteriously alone.
17 scattered paper clips.
Two folded and grubby dollar bills.
Adaptors for 3 different MacBook Pros.
Father’s Day cards never mailed; lost, replaced, found, and lost again.
A photograph of my 3 year old framed in a heart.
A guardian angel that carried me through devastating loss.

One key to a new life, gently used.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day Four

10 Interesting Facts About Myself

I was born in Columbus, Georgia, but as a military child, I lived in many places.

I always wanted to be a writer, until I wanted to be an architect, and then a computer programmer, and then a psychologist, and then a teacher/teacher trainer.  But maybe later?  A counselor or psychologist...or a writer.  Probably not an architect.

I spent 3 years living in Japan.

I don't like bananas, but I love artificial banana flavor.

I have an embarrassing passion for Hello Kitty.  Probably that Japan thing.

I own a lot of yarn.  I don't knit nearly enough to justify all this yarn.

I was named after a street, which was the first thing my mother remembered reading.

I once touched Kevin Bacon on a dance floor in a small town in New York.  1 degree of Kevin Bacon;-)
I named my son after a Shakespeare character as well as all my pets.  After Daniel the Striped Tiger and before Yeager the Mini Panther (who I didn't name), there were Juliet, Rosalind, Ariel, and Sebastian.

I was born on Valentine's Day, and my initials are TLC.  I used to hate these two facts, but now I love them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day Three

My first love and my first kiss?

There were moments when I thought they were the same.  At the time of the kiss, I didn't even try to convince myself that I loved him.  I barely knew him.  I was the embarrassingly old age of 16, and he was a worldly 18.  I was star struck, and the things he liked about me were things that I didn't know yet how to like about myself.  The kiss lured me in like a siren's song, but I never really loved him.  I tried to love him; I tried more times than was fair, and in the end, when I tried to make him hate me so that I could walk away, I had to do the breaking.  The kiss was not that great in retrospect, but it was at night, in a car, with a boy who was older than me, and I was overwhelmed by the discovery that the world was so much bigger than I expected.

My first love took me by surprise.  I didn't want to love him.  I was too complicated.  There were other men I wanted to love me, but none of that was worth the effort.  I didn't know how to be that woman who would go out and make that happen.  But this one cleaned my car off in a blizzard.  He made me art work.  He shared music that made my heart want explode out of my body.  I could NOT.  I would NOT.  Love him.  I was the embarrassingly old age of 31, and he than that.  And I was too complicated.  I was just too.  I did my best to scare him so that he could walk away.  I would NOT love him.  And then I did.  The things he loved about me were things that I didn't know yet how to love about myself, and that faith lured me in like a siren's song.  Then he walked away because we both wanted different things.  But we didn't.  And then we did.  By that point, we knew of no other way to be than together.  We liked each other too much not to be friends, and as friends, we had to do the right thing by each other.  So we did.  And now he cleans my car off in the snow, puts air in my tires, and packs lunch for our son.  The things he loves about me are things I'm still learning to love about myself, but each day I am overwhelmed by the discovery that my heart is so much bigger than I ever expected.

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day 2

"I called your mother.  She'll be here in 15 minutes."

I must have been six; I was in Kindergarten, the land of required naps, and it was nearing Easter.  I had thrown up at school, which would later become my litmus test for whether or not to miss work.  (No vomiting?  No fever?  Get over yourself.) She arrived in a yellow Checker taxi cab; my father had our single car at work.  It was early spring and drizzly though I remember a light coating of snow.  We arrived home at our house in either Texas or Illinois...and ate soup and grilled cheese in a kitchen that is one of the two rooms I remember from that house.  I watched the afternoon sunlight pour into my bedroom, where I lay unsleeping.  My most vivid memory is the realization that I would miss that day's art project, the decoupaging of tissue paper onto an egg shaped piece of construction paper for Easter.  I was heart broken and realized I would have done anything to be back in school.  My mother reassured me that we could do the project at home. But we never did.  I returned to school the next day.

Despite my disappointment about the art project I never completed, my memories of that first sick day are of warmth and security.  I still spend so much time trying to be all the things that everyone expects of me that it is impossible for me to choose self-care.  It is a struggle I have always faced, whether it dates back to early ADHD or anxiety or simply personality.  Yet, there is a complete calm that falls over me when I am finally forced to succumb to the illness and allow myself to be cared for.  On that day, curled up in bed in the middle of the day, watching the dust motes float in the sunlight, I knew that my mother would come to me; she would be there for me to ensure that I had everything I needed, even if she had to take a cab to get to me.

Ironically, Jamie's parents took care of Duncan last week while we were away at a conference.  Just hours after we had left the house, they were called to pick up Duncan from school because he complained of a stomach ache.  He didn't seem particularly sick when they brought him home, but they sent him to bed to rest after a lunch of soup and grilled cheese.  He was sad to have missed building a candy trebuchet in his engineering class that afternoon, and I reassured him that we can make one at home.  Jamie and I agreed with his parents that the far more important issue was Duncan testing whether or not the system would work.  He needed to know that the "Grandma and Grandpa unit" would pull through in case of an emergency, and as he proudly told us afterward, it did.  The school reached the right people through the right channels; Grandpa navigated the sick pickup process all the way to the nurse's office, and Duncan had the security he needed to get through the rest of the week without us.  

When I truly need it, I will crawl under the heavy blankets, in the middle of the day, and watch the dust motes dance in streams of sunlight, like fairies, and remind myself that if I let go, my loved one's will catch me.  Whatever I am forced to give up (these days it looks more like independence decoupaged onto control and self-reliance) is worth knowing how it feels to be completely cared for; they will come for me.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day One

I picked up this 30 Day Writing Challenge on Facebook.  I've been waiting for months for a good reason to restart this blog, and while this might not be the most exciting way to get writing again, it is at least a beginning.

So let's just jump in, shall we?

Day One:  Five Problems with Social Media

1.  Social media can be one huge time suck.  There are myriad benefits of social media, and I am sure I'll detail them later; however, it is remarkably easy to be drawn into a world that takes on greater importance than one's own life.  It's difficult to turn it off and walk away.  I often wonder what I would do with the time I waste on social media.  Knit more?  Read more books?  Write?  Enjoy my family?

2.  I've seen a lot written lately about how social media can contribute to depression because it is so easy for us to compare ourselves to others and leave ourselves lacking.  This is a tendency I already have - the propensity to be self-critical, and social media gives me yet another a mirror to hold in front of myself to criticize my every action.

3.  Social media makes it easier for people to say things to others that they would be unlikely to say in person.  It provides a sort of buffer between real life and fiction; it gives us a wall to hide behind.  I have fallen prey to such digital extroversion myself but have also seen it in others.  It distances us from our words so that we feel it is our right to say anything.

4.  We risk opening our lives to an invasion of privacy that we would otherwise guard against.

5.  It is increasingly well documented that too much screen time can negatively affect us in many ways, including disruptive sleep patterns, contributing to sensory overload, and preventing us from engaging in more mindful activities.  Although social media is certainly not the only culprit, it does provide us with yet another reason to spend time on a screen rather than interacting in our own real lives.