Saturday, January 26, 2008

More on My Success, So Far

Just found out that my brother and his wife have purchased a 2008 Volvo for my mother.


In November, John and I cleaned out the gutters on her roof.

So there.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Nervous Tic

Several days ago, Merrick developed a new neurosis. Whenever he burps, the rest of the family is required to stand stock still with hands in 'namaste' or prayer position.

After he says, "Excuse me," we may unfreeze.

The most intriguing aspect of this particular behavioral compunction is that we are all somehow required to anticipate the burp so that its emission coincides exactly with the namaste-silence in one sublime moment. If this moment doesn't pan out as planned, well. Complete psychological collapse.


At least he'll repeat the burp so we have a second chance. We can't look at him in the car, either. And don't even think about sitting in his chair at dinner.

Mary, Revisited

Thanks to another Mary for reminding me about a beautiful poem about the name we share.

There's a nice story about how that poem came to me. In 2006, a friend of a friend, Gregory Watson, asked me to write the back jacket commentary for his new book of poetry, Things You Will Never See Again. After recovering from the request itself (which implied either that no other writer in Minneapolis and St. Paul was alive and available or that my words, in particular, mattered), I read the manuscript and fell in love.

I am sooo loose that way! Such a poetry sucker. Here's what I wrote for the book's jacket:

"Greg Watson is the rare treat: a poet who brings us to both grief and exaltation in a single line. His work is a map of human life: brief yet timeless. His perfect, perfect words will lodge in your soul and psyche--and you will be temporally, eternally grateful for their beauty and wisdom."

Not a bad plug! And I really felt that way.

Greg knew that I understood his work combined the Buddhist emphasis on life's fleeting nature with the endurance of humanity itself, with our collective impulse to be something larger than one's self. He felt it rare--precious--to find in me a perfect reader. Every writer wants at least one person to understand him or her entirely, he said. And I did.

He sent me this poem, as thanks:


If I had to choose
just one name
to give a girl child,
it would be Mary,
placing her at
the center of all sorrow
which is to say
where all hope waits.

-- Albert Huffstickler

Thank you, Greg! I love it.

The Economist In Me Is Puzzled

Okay -- there is no economist in me. When John and I first met, I routinely wept over the state of my checkbook: always a deficit!

But my bank statements kept coming back with a hefty amount in my account, at least hefty for my 29-year old graduate student self. The bank said I had about $3000. My checkbook told me I carried a deficit of $30.

Every time a statement arrived in the mail, anxiety rendered me helpless. I cried and fretted. Really, I was broke. Something was terribly wrong. I would get into trouble, pretending to have all that money. Make that evil bank go away!

John queried me on my accounting methods.

Me: "Well, if I write a check for $4.80, I record that check as $6.00 in my checkbook, just in case. And if I get a paycheck for something like $327., I record a deposit of $300 or maybe $290. Just in case."

I had been doing this for three years.

John had no adequate verbal response to that wickedly clever accounting system.

Instead, he sat down with three year's worth of bank statements and figured out -- surprise!! -- the bank was right and I was wrong. I was flush. Liquid with cash.

So take the following with a tremendous grain of salt. But I am puzzled by the economic 'stimulus' plan brought to us by both sides of the political aisle. Sure, there are tax credits and snip and small ticket items hidden therein.

But the main stage appears to be the "Rebate." Uh, rebate for what, exactly. What coupon did I clip and mail?

Taxes seem like such a black hole. And we're, what? Oh, only 9.13 trillion dollars in debt as a nation. Whew. Things could be worse! We could have an amoral bottomless money pit draining nearly $275 million dollars a day -- oh, wait! We do. What with the Presidential candidates shifting their focus to the economy, I forgot about that darn war. Maybe the "Rebate" is on the $4,100 of my tax dollars that went to fund the war.

And the trillion dollar question is: is $600 for a single person a transformative number? Or maybe just one extra bill paid or one crisis averted. Surely, there are more problems down that road that a small amount of cash can't fix.

Our family will get about $2100 -- hey, that's $300 bucks for each baby I pushed out! I knew there would be payout.

Well, Nancy Pelosi and dear old George-- I'd rather have health insurance.

The $2100 we'll get doesn't even begin to touch our $5600. deductible or make much more than a nick in the $580 monthly premiums.

I heard one commentator say that the governmental powers that be hope we all head straight to a mall when those rebate checks come. Jump start that economy: spend, spend, spend.

But wasn't that the problem in the first place, on a national and individual level?

The entire situation seems uniquely American and irrationally exuberant, to boot.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Which One of These Things Is Not Like the Other?

Even the Matron has her limits. When the wind chill is deemed dangerous and the temperature decidedly post-zero, she skips the run and sleeps in. Well. Till 7:00. The children don't have to be at school until 9:10. That's a lot of time--an expanse. Oceanic. Plenty of room for basic hygiene, breakfast, and the backpack shuffle. Why, we could even proceed at a leisurely pace, with room for decorum and pleasantries!

Except for socks. And tags, seams, jackets, gloves and hats. Which we don't need when the view from my office beckons and sings.

What a difference a few dozen degrees make. One cannot go naked into storm and ice. Unless you are four years old--nearly five--and cannot tolerate texture of any kind.

Merrick spent a solid 45 minutes on just one aspect of a full-fledged onslaught against Material That Might Touch My Skin. After much anguish, he finally selected the least evil-looking socks in his drawer. And there was much evil to sort through and fear. He held up offending pair after pair, edifying the matron on the dangers therein.

Then he sloooowly put on a sock. He attempted to identify the precise angle at which the seam touched his toe and sparked unendurable agony. Took off the sock to meticulously cut just the right amount of seam away. Holes will also kill so he must be exact. Then he put the sock back on. Peered at his foot, took one ginger step and grimaced before removing the sock and returning to the scissors.

His look of genuine relief when the job's done is the only thing that keeps me from screaming and throwing myself down the stairs (most days).

Merrick spent most of the summer naked. Once he played fire man in the front yard, wielding the garden hose while wearing just big black boots and a fire hat. Our neighbor, Q, who happens to be gay, called out from his kitchen window: "Where can I get one of those outfits?"

In A Mind Apart: Travels in Neurodiversity, Susanne Antonetta says we're all just sailing together on the same neurological spectrum and many of us--organically and without diagnosis--exhibit traits that, in other people, become part of autism or bipolar disorder or anything other set of neurological traits to which we've been given a label.

When I read about autistic children ripping off their clothes in sensory horror, I see Merrick.

After the socks had been defeated, he still had a tag on his shirt to cut. To no avail. The sleeve emerged, insidious: the thing wrapped around his arm like a clamp. More tags and shirts and eventually we worked our way through the coat. Sweat and tears were flowing and from more than two people in the house. As the minutes ticked and Merrick's pace continued, tedious and thick, hysteria grew in the older children: "We're going to be late for school!"

This was my guy on his first day of preschool in September, the pensive one in stripes. Note how perfectly those shorts stream from the waistband. Those are singular pants and none other will do. Ever.

The darkest moment of the day came when Merrick realized that his beloved gloves and hat--the team that not only didn't offend, but delighted and soothed--were still lost. As in maybe forever, now that it's been a week. Of course, the matron purchased replacements and pulled fuzzy possibilities out of storage. That wreckage now sits in a bag, radiating danger.

He cried all the way to school over what he lost and that wasn't just the gloves. Largely, the entire family was patient and kind. But there were also darts of impatience, a push toward the hurry-up, rolled eyebrows and irritation. Stryker and Scarlett--at 11 and 9--struggle to tolerate dawdle and delay in general, and are baffled and annoyed in the face of their brother's sensory dilemma.

So the matron has more reasons than the rest to pine for summer (although at -10 this morning, the entire state had plenty). She longs for the day without schedule, the Thursday morning that Merrick can claim victory over all those seams and snaps that torment and run naked into the backyard, a fireman or sheriff or superhero. She considers her many home or unschooling friends, whose children dive into their intellectual days wearing anything they please -- or not.

She thinks that tonight--when she retires, long after the children have been asleep--she will carry her exhausted, coughy, sniffly and spent little guy into the parental bed so he can do what he loves best: sleep with a handful of his mama's hair in his hand.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Emory Frances Or Names I Never Used

The phrase 'lost in a book' does not do my life justice. You can eat, bathe, walk, talk, watch television, set a dinner table, load laundry, stand in a line and stir the soup while reading. If I find myself in line or in-between in any which way without a book--well, I would be somebody else. There's always something seductive in my purse and its fetching back-up in the van. Once during rush hour on the freeway, I looked over and noticed that the driver next to me had a book propped on the steering wheel: reading while driving. This seemed too good to be true! Of course.

When I was about 9, I determined that running an orphanage would be the World's Greatest Occupation because I would name all those babies. See, I had a long long list of luscious names and my dolls just weren't making the number: I needed legions. I loved Charlotte, Jo, Amy, Fern, Rhett, Scarlett, Blair, Margaret. Notice that theme?

The summer before I turned 10, I read The Exorcist and Gone With The Wind, in that order. In secret. For better or worse, those narratives shaped my world view. I named my one and only daughter Scarlett. Her middle name is a big kiss to John's mother, Sophie. And yes, the summer before I turned 10 I had nightmares and felt the value of a rosary in a way that all those years of Sunday school couldn't quite engender.

My own name has been a solid and enduring disappointment. Not only did Mary droop and sputter next to the ethereal Heathers and melodic Melanies of my youth, I had to share with everyone: my great-grandmother and my mother were both Mary as was every third girl on the block and in the pew. I have since learned that Mary and its derivatives form the most common female name on the PLANET.

John and I named our first dog Thurston. At the time, I was a graduate student in English. One of my professors queried: "How lovely. After Thurston Moore, the 16th century eligist?"


Gilligan's Island, of course. Can you begin to comprehend my pain over Scruffy, the unfortunate selection our latest family member arrived with?

Doesn't he look like a Caspian? I pitched that name like a pro. Pretended he had somehow mysteriously been christianed thus and dropped fascinating observations about Caspians throughout time and planet. But the children morphed into small brick walls, boxed and impenetrable. Scruffy came with his name and they both stayed.

Stryker was a whim. Exactly nine months before our oldest child was born, John and I drank a bottle of wine and decided not to use the diaphragm just this once. If it was meant to be and all that. There was some degree of sobbing and shock about three weeks later. We selected a name with similar protracted debate. Our (old) address? 978 Stryker Avenue. The deal was done. John said, Stryker, boy or girl. I knew better. Scarlett was in my blood.

Our third child went a week without a name because I chose Elvis. John dug in his heels in horror. If the baby had been a girl, she would have been Emory Frances. Reader, you may use that name. It gives me physical pleasure: Emory Frances. I whisper this in my children's ears every night as guerrilla war fare for grandchildren, even though none of my three have hit puberty. This is serious.

Finally, we gave Stryker and Scarlett a short list of possibilities and let them choose: Merrick, Evan, Merritt, Emory, or Ellory. They chose Merrick.

Two weeks later, I introduced our new baby to a neighbor. He said (soberly), "Oh. After Merrick on the Yu-Gi-Oh show?"

Turns out, yes. It's spelled differently, but that's exactly who the two had in mind when they named their baby brother. I had picked names from the Social Security Administration's list of baby names for 1915. That seemed like a good year, before things got too crazy.

Trumped by Japanese animation.

No woman could have enough children to satisfy my lust. Evan (for a girl, especially), Deirdre, Christian, Ellis, Louis, Drew and Adele. Renate (German), Ginger, Alan, Theodore, Jed. That's the preface to the introduction to the list of names I love.


There will always be the one(s) that got away.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Run, Jane, Run

No, you are not being held up or stalked. You are not victim of, or witness to, nuclear fallout.

This is the Matron -- Addict -- on a frigid Minnesota run. Note black of night? That would be 6:30 am.

If you run when the wind chill is below zero and regular old air temp hovering at that number (or below), you wear:

  • purple and red polyester leggings followed by
  • high-end REI ski pants, followed by
  • one more pair of high-end REI ski pants and on the top
  • poly t-shirt followed by
  • one more poly t-shirt and then
  • long sleeved cotten Columbia ski shirt
  • and REI (meaning really warm and insulated) long-sleeved shirt and then you put on
  • thermal vest and next it's the
  • jacket and then you find the walkman and
  • make sure it's on Public Radio of any Kind and once it's on, shove
  • the fleece neck warmer over that (and your ears) and put on one small pink hat followed by
  • the larger green one and finally, take
  • the thermal socks and tennis shoes from the radiator where they've been warming
  • overnight and put those on.

If there's ice, you strap rubber thingies with ice picks onto the bottom of your running shoes.

You will never fall, except the one time your entire family is standing at the front door to watch.

You will have no interest in marathons or 5 K's or (gasp) anything remotely communal regarding this ritual.

But you arrive home after the four miles--alone, uninterrupted, invincible, perhaps certifiable--spent and satisfied, able to smile in the midst of Need and Chaos that awaits.

2007: The Summary

I had a long day and didn't find the time to craft a very compelling post about names (babies, pets, dolls, you name it!). Look for that tomorrow. In the meantime, here's the Holiday Letter we sent to family and friends--using actual stamps and paper! If memory serves, my last Holiday Letter was a memo from Extreme Family Makeover denying our family a slot on their show. Poor us.


Year's End

It is time to return to the tale of Feminist and King Charming. Remember the unlikely union? He with decidedly Male Ways and thirst for music; she with motorcycle jacket, sneer and single response to Song, all sort. “Is that the Beatles?” But potion and charms have wrought magic: the union remains, lo these sixteen years, strong. King Charming gallantly shoulders responsibility for failing to mail last year’s forsaken Holiday Missive, which Feminist dutifully penned. A nod to Freud, as said Missive was actual scroll of Kingly Shortcomings.

The Kingdom stands strong. Houses exchanged hands and the Royal Coffers remain well-stocked. And music filled the castle! King purchased Incomprehensible Technology and began Original Composition once more. Indeed, King grappled with Community, composing Song for public radio program. Being King, he was featured on said radio show for unusual Artistic Flair. Against Feminist’s anguished cries for Professional, King gutted bathroom and took up Remodeling, proving Feminist to be of small faith and great panic. Transformed, the Castle now boasts Best Basement Bathroom in Kingdom.

Feminist continues Pursuit of Prose and can claim New York Times byline as pathetic Moment of Fame (so far). Thoroughly masochistic The Royal Astrological Chart encourages, so she persists in Creation, with new book underway. She now freelances and teaches writing full time—and portends that soon Adjunct Professor at Community College will be deemed Highly Desirable Status. No stranger to the Invisible Volunteer Cape, Feminist magically transforms into Hard Worker for schools and left-leaning causes, all sort.

Indeed, Feminist and King took on a variety of aliases. The King of Commerce dubbed the pair “Evil Roadblocks to Pleasure.” The Castle popped and sizzled, so full of Electronics, Gadgetry and Game. As antidote, The King of Commerce spent three weeks at Staggeringly Expensive Summer Camp in Wisconsin where he could run free through Nature, and generally commune. The heir apparent spun his way to one throne (First Place in Age Group) in National Yo-Yo Competition. He took up Hammer and created, while fondness for Thick Book endured. The “Evil Roadblocks to Pleasure” preened and plumped when The King of Commerce’s sixth-grade teacher, Despairing, offered the bored Royal Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as private reading project. Alas, now said Royal counters “Evil Roadblocks’” Restrictions and Counsel with: “Yea, but have either of you two read Einstein?”

No, but “Evil Roadblocks” can drive and aren’t afraid to go into the basement at night (mostly).

And when Diva became fatally infected with Audience and refused to leave Spotlight, our brave Feminist donned alias steeped in Stereotype and Angst: “Stage Mother.” The Royal Carriage wore thin with Eye-Popping Transportation Needs to auditions, rehearsals, and performances, including Late Night. Diva secured adult-like possessions, as in Head Shot, Resume, and Salary. “Stage Mother” learned to keep Mouth Shut when around others of this ilk and pretends she has Done the Deed She is Postponing when Diva asks (daily): “Is my agent a boy or a girl and when do I meet them?” Significantly (?) common thread of VERY low social status runs through Diva’s roles. She's pictured here as Shoeless Dirty Irish Waif in "The Home Place" at The Guthrie.

When not on Official Stage, Diva creates own. The first two annual Thompson Back Yard Productions have offered The Sound of Music and Annie to well over 100 parents who smiled (annually) in Uncomfortable Beating Sun as Offspring sang and scampered. Lest the countryside fail to appreciate, sound systems, deftly constructed Set, dozens of thespians and one week of Entire Family Devotion are involved.

The King of Commerce doth protest! His royal exploits garnered a single paragraph whereas Diva warranted two. Just more proof of Who Gets All the Attention and Nothing Is Ever Fair in This Castle.

Not to be outdone, Prince Charming took up Unpleasant Interest in Weaponry, all sort. Even Santa bears arms. Yet none outshine young Prince when he’s handing out swords or sacrificing Self for four-year old comrades: “No, Lachlan, you take the shot gun, really.” Whether due to Wisdom or Exhaustion, Arsenal grows in the Castle. Yes, Feminist and King Charming have become “The Oldest Experienced Parents” in Prince Charming’s social milieu, where offspring are still being created and Kindergarten (as opposed to junior high) is Topic at Hand. Yet “The Oldest Experienced Parents” pleasure in Prince Charming’s Penchant for Lap, Cuddle and Kiss. Of course, Prince Charming falls steady prey to the whims and wiles of Siblings, whose delight in Illicit Tutelage have afforded Prince Charming precocious mastery of Swear Words, all sort.

Alas, Tragedy, long foreseen, did strike the Castle. Beloved Royal Dog, Thurston, died in August, just shy of 15th year in the Kingdom. His regal life was long extended by Diligent Constant Care, especially by the King, who slept at Thurston’s side and tended to Difficult Bodily Needs. In October, The King of Commerce, always in Purchasing Mood, spotted peasant pup in need of good home. Thus, Scruffy The Knave was tapped as scourge to the Ancient Regal Jekyll (whose days are defined by Pursuit of Long Nap). But the Kingdom still mourns, changed

Although Feminist and King Charming would prefer new monikers in 2008, those touched by art, politics, career and financial gain, they understand their current Place on the Planet as Parents, with Categorization, that sort. They extend heartfelt Royal Wishes for Good Fortune for all Family and Friends in 2008, Sweeping Political Change and a lot more Peace on Earth.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Still Waiting for Wave Four

Bob Herbert's "Politics and Misogyny" succeeds on all levels. Its absolute accuracy is utterly disturbing.

Where are the 18 year old activists? This feminist is tired! I am so ready for the next wave in the gender revolution. Kids! Get busy.

Resolve, Revisited

How's that New Year's Resolution working out? Some psychologist quoted on MPR this morning has determined the third Monday in January to be the most depressing day of the year. Sorry, Martin. Why? Because it's a Monday. The holiday bills have begun to show up. And mostly because it's clear that your New Year's Resolution remains laying untouched on that shelf. No pounds shed, no budgets tightened, and all that.

It is a little depressing around here. Could be the cold. Our nightfall had that black, bracing beauty that hints at danger, that both seduces and warns away. There's something about a Minnesota night, deep freeze style. But my heavy mood relates to my own Resolution, yes, gathering dust on that shelf.

The short version is that three years ago, when my agent passed on the word that my novel was more appropriately Young Adult fare, I turned a deaf ear. After all, these were just editors at Houghton Mifflin, Random House, St. Martin's. What did they know!

Ahem. Humbled, my resolution is to turn Prairie Rat into a Young Adult novel. But I haven't even given the damn book one bit of thought since, let alone work on it.

The book has fourteen chapters. It's already written -- in fact, it is very nearly a Young Adult book already, which was the entire problem in the first place.

One chapter a week. Period.

And I'll be done in the spring, when the darkness is memory and the world shakes itself out and stretches up, new.