Category Archives: Friends

Encouraged

Can’t say it. Don’t know how. Ghosts float about the room, not dead yet. I imagine them, my readers, what they might look like, how they might sit beside me and reach out to touch me. They might stand back, and purse their lips. They might turn away. I want to bat them off, chase them out. I want to open the windows and send them off to mingle with the clouds. Here it is again, that embroilment, that fear of being seen.

Push-pull. To expose. Not to expose. I could tell you that making l*v* hurts, that it always has, that there is a physiological reason for it, that if I can hold tight and let it happen, then let go, relax into the pain, let it fill me, there’s a place beyond it where bliss waits. Pain and ecstasy are inextricably entwined.

I can tell you that my life is mostly mundane, and it’s OK. I wake and eat breakfast and let out the dogs while I water my flowers and my lone yellow plum tomato plant, and then I go to work and teach for three and a half hours, and spent some time prepping for the next day’s class and reading papers (I say “reading,” not “grading,” for a reason). And I come home and eat lunch with Nada, and sometimes we play chess. And I drive Zeke here and there (or rather she drives me, because she’s in driver’s ed and has a permit, so I sit in luxury while she finds ways to go the long way to her friends’ houses, gas prices be damned). And when it cools down I go to Nada’s and we kick a soccer ball around for a while because he quite smoking eight weeks ago and he needs something to distract him when the cravings hit. I thought, at first, I was doing it for him, that I would hate kicking a soccer ball around because I’m ball-challenged, with no coordination, but actually it’s fun. I bought soccer shoes, and he’s showing me some tricks and drills, and I can’t do any of it well, but we laugh a lot, and sweat drips into my eyes and I run under the sprinklers to rescue the ball when I send it sideways into his brother’s yard, and the cool water challenges the heat, sends it away into the rich blue dome above, and I feel like a kid again, as if I’ve found something I knew once but forgot — or maybe I never really knew it.

When we’re tired we go inside and read. He reads cognitive psychology books, his current intellectual interest, and I read papers for work or scribble all over a manuscript for a future developmental writing book that I’m reviewing. Sometimes, if there’s time, we’ll read together for a few minutes, these days from Chuang Tzu’s Inner Chapters, and he’ll be happy. So will I. I don’t mean to exclude myself. I was going to write “we,” but I realized that he in particular loves being read to, and I love to read aloud — but it gets tiring, and there’s never enough time. So we read a little from the Inner Chapters, and then I have to rush out to pick up Zeke, and cook her and her friends something. There are always kids sleeping here: right now her friend J is in her room with her, and B is on the couch downstairs, so I’m writing in my bedroom, with Sadie and Bridji snuggled up against me.

And then, finally, it’s night. I open the windows and the wind blows through, carrying cool from the mountains. I water the plants on the patio again, beneath stars, and listen to the world hum. The ghosts gather again, and they don’t purse lips or turn away. They are friends. I can write to them.

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Not working, but writing

My friend, who was the accountant for a publishing company in Ireland for many years, asked me if I was still writing today, when I called her. “Sometimes,” I said. And then she suggested I turn the heron stories into a book. And I started writing, and I wrote 3000 words, about my mother, and the heron, and her dying, and I am thinking of a kind of writing that is both fiction and memoir, where there are no boundaries between the two, where what is fact and what is my imagined reconstruction blur together. It will be fiction; it begins with fiction, but it is truth too. Oh, if only I had faith that I might finish it.

“You’re not working this summer,” my longest-time friend tells me. “You’re writing. I’ll be harassing you about it. You can expect it.”

I am working, but teaching only one class. I will write. I will set a word minimum number a day, and I will write.

Retrospective 6: 1968 — Days without Rain

Snapshots of the early days in Switzerland.

  • I was three for most of 1968. Rachel had diarrhea and exczema and I spent an afternoon running from the bathroom to my mother, carrying clean cotton nappies, and then from my mother to the bathroom with the dirty ones. We couldn’t keep her clean. It was a game for me, helping with Rachel’s nappies. Leah was little and compliant that day and didn’t cry much, and the sun made a square on the floor of the living room. I passed through it over and over again, and marveled.
  • I found a stuffed toy fox in the dumpster underneath the apartments. I climbed into the dumpster and pulled the ragged creature out. Where was my mother? Perhaps I was older than three or four. Time was meaningless in those years. I have only snapshot memories of that time anyway, and they are jumbled up. Still, they were happy times. I took the fox home and Mum sewed it up and washed it and it became mine. I still have it, 40 years later, sitting in my room with my other stuffed animal, a bear, this one 60 years old, my mother’s own childhood toy. None of my sisters wanted him. His button eyes were gone, and his nose, and he had brown coffee stains on his worn yellow pelt, and he wasn’t new and shiny. But I love(d) him, and he and the fox share space on my bedside table.
  • I don’t remember rain in those days.

Shout it out

I keep thinking about my daughter’s friend, Dee. She’s funky, dyed red hair and piercings and crazy mismatched clothes: short plaid skirt over black fishnet stockings, tight tweed jacket on top and lace-up boots below. Always odd combinations, purple and red and orange together, brown and yellow, a splash of black. When she shows up in an Abercrombie sweatshirt one day, my daughter, who likes her brand names, is disappointed. “Don’t go preppy on us, Dee,” she says. “I love your outfits.”

We picked Dee up for a VM sleepover on Friday. When we arrived she had finished making dinner for her mother, her stepfather and her baby brother, and had just started in on the dishes. “Come in,” she said. “Want some stir fry?” She served it in plastic bowls, and we sat at the table while Zeke played airplane with the two-year-old’s food and Dee washed the dishes.

“Open up,” Zeke purred. “Down the hatch.” She made airplane noises and waved the spoon around extravagantly in front of the boy’s nose, and he giggled and squealed.

Dee’s mother sat at the computer, her back to us. She didn’t look up when we walked in. When I passed her to go to the bathroom, she looked sideways at me, not meeting my eye. On the way out from the bathroom, I introduced myself.

“Oh yeah,” Dee said. “Zeke’s mom, this is my mom. Mom, this is Zeke’s mom. Isn’t my mom amazing,” she added brightly. Her mother shook my hand when I held offered it, a limp, damp shake. She was a big round woman who balanced on two tiny feet, her legs short and surprisingly thin. I found out later she was pregnant.

We played with the boy some more while Dee finished up. The house was filled with Christmas ornaments on shelves and in various hutches. Oversized photographs of Dee as a child and the little boy hung on the walls.

When we left, I said goodbye to Dee’s mom. She didn’t respond. Her finger clicked on the mouse button, and the computer screen flashed.

Usually Dee can’t hang out much. She spends too much time watching the little boy. He adores her, and she him. When we left he wailed after her, and his mother ignored him.

Dee, Zeke says, sleeps around. She smokes pot and cigarettes. She speaks of herself in the third person, in a high voice. “Dee loves this,” she says, pointing at a Sobee tea when we go grocery shopping. I put it in the cart. “Oh,” she says.”Dee thanks you.”

At home, she practices her part for the Monologues. “Shout it out,” I say. “Sound mad. Sound sorry when the words get softer. Imagine you’re her.”

She doesn’t take much coaching.

White people don’t help people like us…

Maria, my friend whom I helped when she drove over something spiky on the freeway and blew out two tires, was relaying a conversation she had a few days after the car was stranded. I had taken her to work the next morning, then called tire places for bids, then met the tow-truck operator and followed him to the low-bidder tire place, then picked up Maria to take her to her car. Someone she worked with saw her leave with me.

“Who was that white lady who picked you up?” that someone asked Maria a day or two later.

“My friend. She helped me with my car.”

“But she’s white. White people don’t help people like us.”

Maria relayed this conversation to me a week ago. It’s haunted me ever since. Imagine living in a culture where you spend your days on guard against those in power, the white people. My city is filled with immigrants. They come to pick the fruit in the valley, to sort it in the warehouses, to pack it and ship it. They stay to try to make lives for their children. They live in tiny rented houses (sometimes shacks), sleep crammed together on mattresses in overcrowded rooms. They work hard, and if they’re lucky, they find a way to go to college. Sometimes they end up in my classes. Maria was one such woman. Her four girls are beautiful and smart. Two of them are good friends of my daughter’s (Zeke was a damas in the youngest’s quinceneara the night Sadie got so sick). Maria has no bone to pick with white people. “People are people,” she says. “What’s color got to do with it?” Being Chinese, Thai and Mexican herself, she is well used to the challenges of being a minority, but she lives as though those categories do not exist, refusing to let divisions exercise power over her. Many of the people in the nursing home where she works, though, are minorities too, underpaid, struggling to send money home to Mexico, and perennially suspicious of the white people who question their citizenship and their loyalty. It makes me sad. All week, I’ve been thinking of it, of how I am just a “white person,” to those who have been hurt by those in power.

To be continued…

Blowout in the ice

Last night I came home from a long day of teaching and meetings and running my daughter around to the relief of my warm house. I walked in the door thinking This is it. I’m staying in tonight. Zeke was at a ball game at her school and was scheduled to be dropped off by her dad in a couple of hours, so I sat down with a big cup of tea to work on my Victorian literature class (I haven’t taught it in about a decade, so I’m a bit rusty!)

When my friend called to invite me over, I suggested he come visit me. “I’m not going out again tonight,” I told him. “It’s too bloody cold. And I’m tired.”

Right. Two hours later, Zeke arrived home and asked if her friend could spend the night. I said sure. I love that particular friend and it’s been a while since I’ve seen her. “I knew it,” Zeke said. “She’s already on her way.” (Typical Zeke move.)

Not more than three minutes later the phone rang. It was Biatris’s mother. She’d run over something on the freeway and blown out two tires. So off I went into the frigid night, despite all my promises to myself! I picked up the kids and brought them home, Biatris in her skimpy cheerleading uniform, her teeth chattering, and then went back to help Biatris’ mother figure out what to do with the car. In the end we left it and this morning I picked her up and took her to work at 5:00, then came home and when the tire shops opened I called them for estimates. Now I have to go meet the tow truck and get the car into the tire shop for new tires. Thank goodness it’s Saturday, and a light Saturday, and I was just planning on sitting around and relaxing for most of the day anyway. (Doesn’t happen often!)

Gifts and Resolutions

The last few days have bought me gifts that lift me a little, that strengthen me. I am filled always with deep-seated ambiguities: A desire to write battles with the conviction that I am — if not a terrible writer — at least little better than average. My journey into blogworld intensifies the latter conviction. So much beautiful writing, so many electronic pages of print in which the words disappear to be replaced by place and person, by delight and despair, by images that curl up in the corners of my mind like sleeping cats and awaken hours later, calling me back to admire them. And then I think, Dale wrote this, Paula did, Stella, Old Girl of the North Country, Loren, Patry, my very first blog-friend, Diana and many others, too numerous to name. They share their writing and photography and art with the world, and they say what I would say, but so much better. And I hesitate to write, sure I can never match up.

Stop fishing for compliments, my mother would say, but such is not my intention. I just want to say what ails me on those days I don’t write (apart from being too busy, too tired, too caught up in life, apart from having to make a choice between reading and blogging, or taking my daughter to a movie and writing). I am critical, deeply so, of everything I write.

But in the last few days, three moments of grace have dropped into my life. First, Esperanca loved her book. It’s not finished, really, because the story got too big to be captured in one volume, so I planned a sequel — or two or three. “Write the rest,” Esperanca said two nights ago. “Please!” So I will.

Second, I got an email from Patry of Simply Wait, asking for entry into the private area of my long-abandoned Blog-City blog. Patry’s been dealing with health issues the past few months, and I’ve followed her journey as she has blogged about it, amazed at the precise beauty of each entry, and the grace with which she withstands challenges. I have prayed for her every night, too, sent om manis as I do to all those who struggle, a silent well-wisher. Her email request to gain access to Blog-City lit up my day. I have admired her writing since I first started blogging, and that she asked to enter the site, to read my work, warmed me thoroughly.

And third, Dale of Mole commented a couple of blog entries ago, asking me where he could get a copy of Esperanca’s book. He’d looked on Lulu.com, he said, and couldn’t find it. I have a long list of blogs I read regularly, that I subscribe to on Bloglines. Dale doesn’t do Bloglines, so I get Blogarithm’s “Blogmail” instead, just for Dale, so that as soon as he updates, I can read him. I always want to comment, as with Patry, but find myself frozen too often because others have said what I might say better, and you can only leave so many (0)s on one person’s site!

His request for Esperanca’s book carried me through several days of delight — OK, is still carrying me! Someone who isn’t related to me — hmmmm, that doesn’t work, given that those who ARE related to me have no interest in my writing — let’s see, someone who isn’t obligated to me in some way actually went looking for my little children’s book, willing to spend money on it, and then asked me where to get it when he couldn’t find it. That’s amazing. Inspiring. Delightful. The best Christmas gift ever.

And so I decided on some New Year’s Resolutions. First, I’m going to keep working on the series. I have fun with it, and Esperanca likes it, and maybe others will too. Second, and perhaps more significantly, I’m going to release Esperanca’s book so people can find it and maybe even buy it. And third, I’m going to (try to) stop harassing myself about how terrible my writing is.

Before I release Esperanca’s book, though, I need to do just a little work with it. I was rushing to get it ready for her for Christmas, and I “published” it (just three copies) with some typos and a couple of confusing spots. I’m going to go back and fix those up. Last night I reread and fixed the first four chapters, and my goal is to work on it every day till it’s done, then open up the link on Lulu so that people can actually check it out and perhaps buy it if they want. (Thank you, Dale!)

Working on the book taught me something about myself as a writer. The first few chapters, written in Ireland three years ago, had to be significantly revamped to incorporate Esperanca as the hero of the story. The major revisions made the writing feel clunky to me. Too many glitches. The next few were written sporadically, often weeks or months apart. The last half of the book (or thereabouts) was written between September and December, on a fairly regular schedule most days, even if it was only 15 or 20 minutes a day. And the last half is way smoother. Once I got into the groove, the words flowed more fluently. Clearly I need a routine, discipline, and a goal. And that’s my final resolution: To work every day on writing, one way or another. To accept the gift given to me by recent quiet readers of my blog who have asked for entry to my password-protected posts, and by all those who read and comment, or read and don’t comment, and by two of my favorite bloggers, Patry and Dale. Thank you.

Happy New Year!

To my blogging friends, to loyal readers and commenters, to anyone else who drops in…. Happy New Year.

To Dale: Your last comment made my day. In the midst of your own pain, you think of others. What you asked has triggered a New Year’s resolution (I never make such things!), and as soon as I have a minute, I’ll tell you what it is.

Also, confessions… working on that! Thank you for St. Augustine.

Finished!

Finally, yesterday, I laid down the final words for the story I wrote for my friend Esperanza (I should spell her name Esperanca, with a funny little squiqqle under the C, because she is Portugues and that is the Portuguese spelling for the word for Hope. Having called the character Esperanza for years, I changed the spelling after an internet search gave me the Portuguese word. I was glad. I didn’t want to give up the word Hope, but I wanted it in Portuguese. The internet is a wondrous thing.)

I wrote the book as though I had joined that “Write a Novel in a Month” site with a name I can never remember. You’re supposed to write every day, and I did, pretty much. It’s not long, not even the length the site recommend (50,000 words), but it’s long enough for what it is. It’s a series, after all. If Esperanca likes it, I’ll start the next book.

Then I spent some time figuring out how to format it for Lulu.com. There’s some issue with the transfer of fonts, with “layering.” You’re supposed to “flatten” it. I have no idea what it all means. The site has a conversion tool that will take your document and convert it to a PDF file, but if you get too excited with the fonts weird things happen. In the end, I stuck to Time New Roman for everything. The final version, 6×9 pages, space and a half (27 lines a page), with page numbers and a header that’s different only on the first page because I couldn’t figure out how to make it different with every chapter heading, is 142 pages long. I think it’s exciting enough to keep a kid’s attention, what with a talking dog and mystical otter and strange glittering doorway in the middle of a river that leads you to God knows what crazy adventures. But it’s filled with references to mythology and religions from around the world, so it’s deeper than just fantasy. For example the dog is Bran, from Irish mythology, a dog belonging to the famous Finn MacCool (anglicized spelling to help you a little with pronunciation!), and I’ve already told you who the otter is.

I’ve added Blake’s words, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite,” to the dedication page, which is, of course, dedicated to Esperanca, “without whom this book would never have been written.”

I made a cover, added a picture of Esperanca, and gave it a title. It looks fancy on my page at Lulu.com. It could fool me into believing I’ve written a real book, that real people might search for it and plunk down money. That their kids might read and enjoy it, and that the parents might read it and say to each other, “Oh, and don’t you think Nd*ll*h represents….?”

But I know it won’t look professional. The PDF file shows some warping of a line or a word here and there. I couldn’t get it all crisp and clean and so I finally accepted what I’d been given. Too many hours searching the internet looking for solutions and being hit with phrases like

  1. Command = put exe filename here (e.g. C:\\gs\\bin\\gswin32c.exe)
  2. Arguments = put arguments here (e.g. -sOutputFile=”%1″ -c save pop -f -)

And references to ghostscript and and “CutePDFwriter.” (What is that?? Can I meet him?)

And as for flattening: Isn’t a piece of paper already pretty flat? How can I flatten it further? Oh, wait, it’s the transparencies that have to be flattened. Oh, it’s all clear now. Transparently clear.

I did find Don‘s site somewhat helpful, but not enough to decide I wanted to embed and flatten and otherwise shape my book-for-three-people into something mass marketable. So I stuck with Times New Roman, and accepted a little minor distortion here and there (still readable, if not always beautiful), and shut my computer with relief.

Still, I can’t wait to hold the finished product in my hand, to wrap it and put it under the tree, and to watch Esperanca’s face as she finally gets to see the book she’s been begging me to write for three years.