March 29, 2007

Deepest, Darkest





outsider stance:10~10%



In my class this week we are working on pie-chart representations of who we are. What are the things that shape us into the people we are becoming?

At the beginning of the class, we brainstorm a little to get the juices flowing... friends, family, and music are usually some of the first horses out of the gate. A little later on I am writing ambition, curiousity, and indecision on the board. Today one student matter-of-factly stated that she'd dedicated a 7% slice of her pie to "general freaking out," and a few minutes later I went to the board and wrote, "depression."

I don't know if anyone included this late-breaking addition in their chart. (I don't collect them, although we do walk around the room and take a quick look at what others have done.) But even writing it felt like some kind of righteous breaking of silence.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, someone I love deeply struggled with a bout of clinical depression that could quite easily have taken her from this world. Trying to be present for her through that time, and feeling close to helpless in the face of such crushing pain, has forever changed the way I think about healthcare, about hope, about suicide, about healing, about mental health, about compassion. I saw another human being at her deepest and darkest, and then I was blessed to witness the miracle of her re-emergence from that place. And although I would never wish either side of our journey on anyone, I am grateful to have lived through that experience. And I hope I make a little more room in the world for people to talk about mental health issues, because if the disease doesn't get you, the (completely unwarranted) shame just might.

(Thanks to the women of Sunday Scribbling
for their continuing inspiration.
And if you want to have fun with pie charts,
you can head on over here.)

March 28, 2007

Siren Song

Francesco Clemente's "Journey"

Siren Song

You need more sleep.
Today as you drove
your too-big-for-you car
to your small-for-you house
I had a gift for you.
The thrum of tires
and the warm spring sun...
I tried. But you refused.

So now, eating your rice,
you are too weary to enjoy it.
Too busy. But there is
such sweetness in the long descent
into sleep, such luxury!
Tonight I lie here remembering
the smell of just-cut limes
and the way sea turtles seem to smile.

You are still cleaning, working.
I lie in wait for you,
softly singing the old songs,
humming through forgotten verses.
Now you come upstairs,
undress and slip into bed,
propped up
on one elbow
reading this poem.

Only when you stop –
almost done now,
hear the slow surf of heartbeats
crashing in your ear? –

will I sleep,
my head on a pillow of sky.
So come, busy stranger, sleep.
Set no alarm.

(Thank you to the women of Poetry Thursday
for their continuing inspiration.
I have been fortunate enough to see two exhibits of
Francesco Clemente's work, and its staying power
in my heart has also been an inspiration to me.)

March 26, 2007

March Morning

(Thanks to the women of One Deep Breath
for challenging us all to write a one-line haiku.)

March 23, 2007

In the Kitchen

I blew it.

When I was in my early twenties, and living in a huge house in Germantown with a parade of boarders, I let my chances pass me by.

Sharing a kitchen with several folks who were more accomplished cooks, I cheerfully volunteered myself for cleanup duty, when what I should have been doing was looking over their shoulders and learning.

I am a decent cook now, but I regret not having taken advantage of opportunities earlier in life to build my recipe list and skill set.

Much of what I learned about cooking from my mother I learned through observation – she was shocked to discover that I didn't need to consult a recipe to make her lentil soup, which she had in turn learned from my grandmothers. I had just seen her do it so many times that I could replicate it from memory.

I'm still learning. Tried to make my friend S's mushroom risotto a few weeks back; it was okay, but not as good as hers. Will have to go back for a refresher.

And in the meantime, I'm trying to make sure that D is comfortable in the kitchen. He can already crack eggs and chop celery with the best of them. And yesterday, when I picked him up at school, he and a young friend were excitedly extolling the taste sensation they'd created from "all ingredients what we found in nature!" It was basically a bucket full of mud. ("And stones, like in stone soup!") I expressed skepticism. "You don't eat the MUD, Mommy... just try the water... it's from puddles!" He was so excited and proud of himself.

And you know, it wasn't half bad.

(Thanks to the women of Sunday Scribblings
for their continuing inspiration.
And don't worry...he hasn't cut himself yet,
which is more than I can say for myself.

Favorite Shirt

(Buried in the Slush Pile is having a contest and today is the last day to send in entries! She is giving away a copy of K. Pluta's new book There's a Yak in my Bed to the winner. All you have to do is write a short, short story (75 words or less) using mostly words from the Dolce Word List. If you're interested, you can get all the details here on her blog. Thanks to cloudscome for this tip!)

Here's mine (probably disqualified because of too many non-Dolce words, but who cares, I had fun):

Some days, I dress myself.

First I lie in my bed and watch the leaf shadows dance on my wall. And I think about which shirt I will wear.

The one from Nana with the funny blue birds is good.

Or the robot one that Sam gave me.

But my best one we got at a yard sale. It is so soft and fits just right.

I could wear it every day.

Can I, Daddy?

March 22, 2007

Reading the Signs

Reading the Signs

The first time I applied

for my driver's license,
I failed.
Rolling stop,
the official said,
and I could tell from the way
he put his pen down
that it was over.

On Canal Road, where everyone
has been detoured now that
South Middlebush is under construction
again, the road is slick with runoff
and narrow at the curves;
even the most harried and hurried
are forced to slow down.
It feels dangerous.

And there's this one
stop sign with a message
taped to the back of it.
Endless war is wrong.
It's true. But we forget.
And it's easier
to keep rolling
than to stop.

(Thanks to the women of Poetry Thursday
for their continuing inspiration.)

March 21, 2007


Here is
the end
of the day
and the start
of a new season.
The house is quiet.
It is past our bedtime.
But she is not home yet.
There is wax in my left ear.
Sleeping alone is a challenge.
Staying in the present is hard, too.
My library book is back at the library.
But the last thing I want is to complain.
Now the snow that we waited so long for is
melting and in its place we are left with – what?

Where is the poetry in this? This is listening.

Nowadays, none of my close friends lives
within easy walking distance, but there
was a time when that was the case.
We would sometimes, after dark,
start talking and then think we
were almost done, so offer to
walk the other one home,
but then find there was
more to say, and so
walk on back again,
and keep on like
that until finally
we came to a
good place
to stop.

(Thanks to the women of Poetry Thursday
for their continuing inspiration.
I managed to teeter-totter up and down
on the "is" fulcrum for the first stanza.
After that, the past felt like a luxury.
Thanks, too, to old friends.)

March 19, 2007

Haiku - Breath

Babies in their cribs,
or a wind that scrubs the air –
all breath is music.

(Thanks to the women of One Deep Breath
for their continuing inspiration.)

(Inspiration comes
from the Latin spirare.
To breathe – to create.)

March 17, 2007

Just Say Yes

Part I:

Tonight D was excited to re-discover some of his favorite swimming trunks, and asked if he could wear them for his bath. I paused for a moment. Any good reason to say no? Not really. Into the tub he went, trunks and all. The pirates didn't seem to mind a bit.

(Fun aside: please note that the pirates pictured above are clutching 1) a treasure chest and 2) a map. Nary a weapon in sight. In our house, pirates are REALLY smart, and they sweet-talk, trick, and scam their way around the globe rather than resorting to swords and cannons. You have no idea how hard it is to find pirate figures that aren't bloodthirsty. Are they realistic? Heck, no! When's the last time YOU saw a guy – pirate or no – holding a map?)

Part II:
Our boy's NEXT out-of-the-box idea for how to inject a little wild and crazy into our Saturday night started to take shape during his playdate today with good friend L. They spent almost an hour holed up in our giant walk-through closet, claiming that it was "cozy" and "a good hide out." After L left, D came up with the idea of sleeping in the closet tonight.

"No," I said, perhaps instinctively reacting to a long-ingrained "closet = pain, agony, and suffering" mindset common to openly gay people everywhere. "Why not?" he asked. "Because your Tama works super long hours this time of year and really needs her sleep; I think having you over there snoring in the closet would be a distraction to her."

"Okay, how about this," countered our little negotiator. "How about I START in the closet, and then after I'm asleep you bundle me and my blankets back to my bed?"

You gotta reward problem-solving like that!

Now I just have to make sure that T doesn't toss her shoes into the closet without looking when she finally does get home.

March 16, 2007

Sunday Scribblings - Inspiration

The prerequisite for inspiration is trust. Accepting inspiration is like looking out over a frozen lake and deciding to step out onto it. Sometimes I can feel it coming, like the flip side of a migraine.... "I feel a poem coming on." Those are really great days.

I once went to a fantastic reading by William Stafford – one of my favorite poets – and during the Q&A afterwards someone asked him what he did about writer's block.

He paused for a moment, and then said, "I lower my standards."

The entire room erupted into laughter, and he smiled along with us, but then said, "I'm quite serious. If I can't write a poem I really love, I try to write one I like. If I can't write a poem I like, I try to write a great line. If I can't come up with a great line, I think about words that I really love. And if I can't even manage that, I try to write a really amazing shopping list."

This attitude, coupled with Anne Lamott's advice about the need to give yourself permission to write "shitty first drafts," is an important underpinning of my life as a writer.

Because I believe that you have to be prepared (I was a Girl Scout, after all), I try to write every day. Whether inspired or not.

But inspiration does exist in my life, and for that I am deeply grateful. I am inspired by the natural world (which for me includes gratitude for God's bounty). I am inspired by other artists and activists. I am inspired by other people's journeys and by my own journeys as a parent and life partner. I am inspired by the people I love.

The most inspired writing I've done this year was in response to a direct request from my niece, T, who asked me could I please write her a story about "a tomboy witch." And although I don't naturally gravitate towards fiction, the energy that started to form up around that "commission" was an incredibly powerful engine; I literally couldn't keep from working on it. That intensity of engagement, that feeling of "flow," is what characterizes inspiration for me.

And what I've discovered, through this blog, is that the imagined presence of a waiting audience (that's you, folks!) seems to increase the odds that I will feel inspired at any given moment. So yes, I write for myself. But at the same time I write in community. Thank you for being here. Even those of you who are purely imaginary.

(Thanks as always to the women of
Sunday Scribblings
for their continuing inspiration.)


I am feeling particularly glad that this week is coming to an end. It's been kind of tiring, what with the time change and the accidental denting of my parked car and all...

Body shop, here I come...

March 15, 2007

Ides - Poetry Thursday

The Ides

Beware this day.
On this day, halfway point,
the pointlessness of turning back
will be stark and unavoidable.

The moon's light
will be beautiful, cold, and merciless;
so bright that you can't
keep yourself from reading the signs.

And though you sit
pulling your knees to your chest
in a quest for smallness, stillness,

your drumming heart
will rock you
leaving you no choice
but to be aware.

(Thanks to the women of Poetry Thursday
for their continuing inspiration.
The ides have been a part of my language
since Julius Caesar, but I never knew
what they really meant. The image above of the moon
is how it will appear tonight, not as it would have appeared (full)
under the old Roman calendar.)

Bonus poetry: here are some lines that I have loved for over half my life (Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II):

Be not deceived: if I have veil'd my look,
I turn the trouble of my countenance
Merely upon myself. Vexed I am
Of late with passions of some difference,
Conceptions only proper to myself,
Which give some soil perhaps to my behaviors;
But let not therefore my good friends be grieved--
Among which number, Cassius, be you one--
Nor construe any further my neglect,
Than that poor Brutus, with himself at war,
Forgets the shows of love to other men.

March 12, 2007

Stillness Haiku

A stillness in each
moment, and together...
a river of quiet.

The building is the Meetinghouse of the Quakers at Stonybrook (Princeton),
the first building built for wholly public purposes in the area,
used as a field hospital during the Revolutionary War battles in Princeton,
and a house of worship, now as then.

(Thank you to the women of One Deep Breath
for their continuing inspiration.)

March 09, 2007

Sunday Scribblings - Dream Journeys

I rarely remember my dreams.

But this week's prompt has got me thinking about a dream that was so powerful it stayed with me past the point of waking. The dream took place in some indeterminate point in the future, when I had sadly learned that I had an illness that was going to kill me.

I had made my peace with this reality, but was finding it tiring to deal with everyone else's grief and stress around it.

Then I had an epiphany that I didn't need to do that work, that it was theirs to do, and this in turn meant that I could turn my waning energy to reading and writing.

In the dream, I was elated by this realization. My illness became my ally. My life's journey was conspiring to offer me this incredible opportunity to push away any and all distractions and focus on only the essential. There was a room, bright with sun, and a comfortable chair, and my favorite pen, and the kind of yellow narrow-lined paper I love, and walls and walls of books... it felt like heaven, and I wasn't even dead yet.

And then I woke up.

I think I will never forget the confusing and conflicting swirl of emotions that washed through me in those first few waking moments. I'm not going to die. Well, I am going to die. But I'm not sick. And I don't need to push my loved ones away. But that room, with its light and peace, was a dream.

The other dream journey I'm thinking of is one I'm in the midst of, the one that everyone talks about but no one can quite prepare you for, that of being a parent.

When D was tiny, I remember feeling that my "job" consisted largely of interpreting. I was so attuned to him, and he was so small and powerless; until he could speak for himself, the work of figuring out what he needed and then translating that to action fell to me.

Now that he talks (sometimes enough for all of us!), my interpreting has shifted in the other direction. Instead of explaining him to the world, I'm explaining the world to him. The catch is that I feel perpetually unprepared and underqualified. Why are your privates private? Why do some people leave their sweeties and other people stay? Why is peace so much harder than war? How does a squirrel get killed by just a bonk on the head? Why do great teachers like Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. get killed? How did the guy who thought of plate tectonics think of it? Why do most people want to fly to Australia instead of taking a boat?

When I was in college, one of my roommates (hi, S!), who had grown up in New York City, arrived having never learned to swim. She took advantage of the campus pool and learned. It was sweet to watch her progression; she had this childlike wonder, just barely filtered by her near-adult experience. "I floated on my back today!"

That's one of the great gifts of parenting, for me. Childhood wonder, every day, filtered by your own adult perspective. Life's journey, hand-in-hand... a dream coming true.

(Thanks to the women of Sunday Scribblings
for their continuing inspirations.)


D has a bowl on his dresser that's full of "wearables." Most days he opts not to dip into it. But one day a little while back he suddenly got the urge, and everything in the entire bowl found its way into his outfit. For those of you playing along at home, that's one shark tooth necklace (from California), one "power bead" necklace (from Egypt!), two space buttons, an "I gave blood" pin (he didn't; I did), and, just for good measure, a Harry Potter forehead scar tattoo and a puppy dog arm tattoo.

Thank goodness for schools that support this kind of personal expression!

March 08, 2007


At the last ultrasound we delighted
in the clarity with which we could see
tiny fingers. And the miraculous spine,
with its successively smaller bones,
each in its place, lined up in perfect formation.
Dizzy with relief and anticipation,
we decided to go ahead and hear the news
and the news was, "It's a boy."
My next thought was less a thought
than a seizure, a rearranging at the cellular level:
someone will want to send him to fight.
It was a kind of crossing over.

Our sons are four and five now,
we mothers who nursed with our backs
to the television, trying in vain
to keep those towers upright
through an act of willful denial.
We used to listen to the news
on the kitchen radio in the morning,
but now, if we have it on at all, we hover,
ready to spin that dial down to zero
as the telltale phrases begin:
Today in Fallujah. This morning on the outskirts
of Najaf. Yesterday, in the northern city of Mosul...
Roadside. Suicide. The bombs are everywhere.
Only our quick wrists save us.

No escape is possible, of course.
A friend's ex gives her boy camouflage pajamas.
My boy wants to save his money to buy a toy
that transforms into a battle station.
They thunder overhead, our red-blooded
American boys, feeling the pull of power.
We mothers sit downstairs and talk,
all the while keeping an ear out
for the moment when the game goes awry.
When the cry of real pain comes,
you may experience shortness of breath,
or a tightening in the chest.

(Thanks to the women of Poetry Thursday
for their continuing inspiration.
I don't always participate in the Poetry Thursday prompt,
but when I do, I am often an early contributor. Not so today.)

Euclidean Geometry

One recent day on the way home from school D and I had a conversation that went like this:

S: So, how was your day?
D: Pretty good, except for I had to take a lot of time to explain to Zachary about how the lines at the top point of a triangle have a little bit of flatness.
S (confused): They do?
D: Yes! See, if you think about it in your brain, and look at those lines, you can see that at the TOP of the lines where they come together there is the little flat space that is the end of the line, because the line is really like a skinny skinny rectangle.
S: Oh, okay, I understand now. But I can see why it would take some convincing.
D: Yes, I had to tell him and tell him. That point would always have some flatness. Unless you had a robot, maybe.
S: Now I don’t understand again. How would a robot change things?
D: Well, it might. If it was big enough, and you could get inside and make it do what you wanted, and the robot could draw a very very very very super skinny line, then it would maybe really be a point.
S: Yes, that might work, I think you’re right.

(I’m calling this story, “D’s spontaneous discovery of our inability to represent Euclidean space satisfactorily with the limited tools at our disposal.” Holy cow!)

March 06, 2007

Haiku - Earth

Lake, after a storm –
dark with earth, full of turtles
stirring in their mud.

(Thanks to
the women of
One Deep Breath
for their continuing inspiration.)

March 04, 2007

Robots = Fun!

Cousins C & T came up for a too-brief visit this weekend, and we made the absolute most of our time together. The highlight was probably our time watching the regional finals of the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robot competition, in which high school teams design, build, trouble-shoot, and then pilot robots which compete in a "game" whose new-every-year rules are specified by the annual competition guidelines. (Videos of this year's and past years' game guidelines are here.)

Our regional event hosted 59 teams (including one from Hawaii!) and they all brought what seemed like hordes of screaming supporters to the Sovereign Bank Arena yesterday:

After watching several elimination rounds leading up to the championship, we discovered that as long as we were wearing safety glasses, we could even go into the "backstage" area and watch the high school students in the "pits" working on their robots!

Here's D happily standing next to the victorious Raider Robotix robot, which especially impressed him with its surprising ability to "grow" to almost four times its original height.

"That's the team I want to be on when I get bigger," he confidently stated.

We came home happy and a little hoarse, and spent the rest of the day puttering with Lego, full of inspiration. Even as they prepared to leave, the girls still seemed to have robotic stars in their eyes:

And you know what? There's a junior league for 6-9 year olds that uses Lego! Watch me bookmark this site in a hurry!

March 02, 2007

Force of Habit

I don't think of myself as a superstitious person. But I am a creature of habit. And I'm wondering today if those two states of mind are just different points on a spectrum. For me, indulging in a habit is giving into a pattern that gives you comfort. Believing in a superstition adds the element of implied influence or control... if you do this thing, in this particular way, then this other thing will or will not happen.

So, here are some of my habits:

I wear three rings that I rarely take off.
A day without a morning shower feels incomplete to me.
I have a particular spoon with which I like to eat ice cream.
If a day seems to get off to a bad start, I will often "upgrade" my chosen wardrobe that day to something a little fancier.
When asked for feedback, I try to always start by saying something positive.
I answer the phone by stating my full name (thanks, Mom!).
I turn out the lights in any room I'm leaving.

And some superstitions that carry at least a little weight with me:

On the first day of the month, I like for the first thing I say out loud to be, "Rabbit, rabbit!" It's supposed to bring me good luck, but I almost never remember to do it and I feel like a pretty lucky person anyway. I don't even remember who told me about this one.

I consider finding stones with naturally occurring holes to be a little bit lucky. Ditto well-worn sea glass. I know that it's silly to think that, but apparently I don't care.

Talking about a perfect game in baseball as it's happening is absolutely asking for trouble.

Wearing your pajamas inside out increases the odds that you'll get a snow day the following day.

Commenting on a closer parking space once you've already parked is offensive to Asphalta (the goddess of parking).

If you touch a ceiling while the digital clock in that room reads 11:11, it brings you luck.

Best not to mention the Scottish play by name out loud, especially around other theater people.

Face-up pennies bring good luck; if you pick up a face-down penny, you can spin around to "fix" the luck.

Hmmm, looks like I'm more superstitious than I thought! :-)

(Thanks to the folks at Sunday Scribblings
for this fun prompt, and advance thanks
to commenters who confess their own illogical beliefs.)

March 01, 2007

Just Because

Wednesday was my last day of a self-imposed week-long "Get Outside" project (a subset of my month-long participation in the February Thing-A-Day challenge) and the weather seemed to reward my diligence.

I usually dash out of my office to pick up D as soon as possible, but with the warmer weather he enjoys being able to stay at school for a little pickup soccer or basketball action, so instead of bolting for my car I indulged in a brief walk along the section of the D&R canal that runs alongside my school. I also gave blood at school today, so I was more aware of the work that my heart was doing.

(One last "thank you" to the folks at Thing-A-Day
for their inspiration this month.)