Monday, April 28, 2008

The Bear Suit

Oh sure, sometimes it was fun at birthday parties and family gatherings. Inevitably, someone would nudge Nella on the arm, and say, "Hey, why don't you go put on the bear suit!" This had been going on for as long as Nella could remember, and before that, even. After several promptings, she would go and dig into the dark corner of the hall closet, behind the coats and the grey suitcases, until her hand felt the familiar dark brown fur. First she'd push her feet into the bottom paws, then she'd slip her arms into the sleeves and pull the shoulders up over her own before reaching down for the long zipper. The head piece was always a little tricky, and when she was very young, she'd need help hoisting it up, but after awhile she became inured and it was quite automatic.

Nella would walk out into the living room, or out onto the back porch--wherever the family was gathered. She'd raise up her arms inside the furry claws, and she'd raise her knees to make her steps larger. Then the game would begin. Nella would say something quite ordinary, like, for example, "I'd like a cup of lemonade," or "Could I trouble you to pick me up today after school?" and her entire family would do their best imitation of horror. They'd open their mouths wide, gasping, and either run or make a mock screaming sound. After a minute or two, they'd all break out into laughter, after which they'd ask her to do it again.

Nella could not even remember where the bear suit came from. She vaguely recalled that it had belonged to someone in her father's family. She couldn't even say why it was she who was always asked to put it on. That's just the way it had always been, and Nella knew that her being a good sport was part of the game. One day, as her family once again prepared for a celebration, while the food was cooking and Nella set the table, just as the excited murmurs that always preceded such gatherings began to mount, Nella felt the strangest sensation in her chest. It was a tightness, accompanied by the cold, dry feeling she got in her trachea when she sucked on a Wintergreen Life Saver. The step of her heartbeat felt a little stronger. She felt just a twinge of nausea.

For several moments, she just busied herself with preparations and tuned out these feelings, until the tightness also moved behind her neck and into the tops of her shoulders. After she finished placing all of the flatware, Nella went to get a drink of cold water and sat down. She began to think, with dread, about the bear suit: it never truly fit. It was hot. Without even having it on, she remembered the sweaty rivulets she always felt tickling down her back, even on a cool day. She would always have to juggle the bear's head atop her own, tilting one way and then another so the bear's eye holes and her own would align and she could see where she was walking. Her sight was so obscured that even when she could hear the muffled peals of her family's laughter, she couldn't really understand what all the fun was about. And the zipper stuck, so when she was ready to remove the suit and rejoin the festivities, there were always several minutes of struggle.

Right there, Nella decided: she would not put on the bear suit today. Her voice echoed inside her head, as her breath quickened.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

For the Love of God

I just got an e-mail from Eli Pariser, of I had to go and eat a cupcake afterward because it made me feel so confused and cranky. Here's what Eli asked of me:
"Right-wing pastor John Hagee says Katrina was New Orleans' fault. John McCain sought out, and embraces, Hagee's support. MoveOn members are trying to deliver a petition to McCain in New Orleans just a few hours from now: will you sign?"
No Eli, I won't sign. I don't know about you, but I am getting so sick of all of this business about presidential candidates' pastors and preachers. Who cares?

For the record:
  1. I do not care that Barak Obama's pastor said a bunch of inflammatory things about being black in America, nor that Michelle Obama said that she has only very recently been proud to be an American.
  2. I do not care that John McCain's pastor said that the people of New Orleans were being punished by God.
Could we please get back to talking about the economy, the crappy public schools, health care, and how we're going to straighten out the mess we've made in Iraq? Please?

I thought that you had to be a U.S. citizen over the age of 35 to be a presidential candidate. I never knew that the following were also required:
  1. You must never, ever have made a judgment about someone or used a stereotype.
  2. You must not know or associate with anyone who has judged or used a stereotype.
  3. You must never have said something stupid, nor known anyone who has said something stupid.
  4. You can't go to a church if people there believe or say stupid things or even just things that some other people disagree with.
Hello! We are human beings, and we live on the planet Earth. If we have to find someone who meets these criteria, we will never have qualified candidates for the job. And it's already a hard enough job as it is.

Hello! Religious leaders aren't politicians! Their job is to deal with issues concerning life, death, and morality. And so they make statements about how people should live, about "right" and "wrong," about how our behavior relates to God. That's what people look to them for. They're not trying to make friends, they're trying to make determinations about how to live. Inevitably, such determinations will upset people. If you don't like what they say, if it's stupid, if you disagree, that's OK. You can leave their church, or not invite them to dinner, or not. Their stupidity doesn't make you stupid, too.

One of the things I like about John McCain is that he can work with people with whom he does not agree. That's something the American people should encourage and demand from their leaders.

One of the things I like about Barak Obama is that he can stand with a foot on each side of the vast chasm that is Race in America.

One of the things I like about America is that we can handle the tension of complexity when it comes to living amidst people who are not like us. We're the Melting Pot--we do it better than anyone in the world. That ability is our greatest asset, and it needs to be our chief export. We need leaders with demonstrated proficiency in this trait.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Hate Cats

Well, just one cat, really. He belongs to my neighbor. I met him last week, on my big kid's birthday, just as I was frosting cupcakes. I heard a big scuffle out on the porch, where our mailbox is, inside of which was a nest full of baby birds. For the past three years, the birds (at least I assume they're the same birds) have built a nest in our box.

The first year, we put up a big sign on the mailbox, warning folks that there was a nest inside. We also put a big box on the porch so the mail carrier could use it instead of our mailbox for awhile. All of this was very exciting, as well as educational, for my big kid. The problem that first year was that the sign on the mailbox was too exciting. People would read the sign and the next thing we knew, they'd feel compelled to look inside the box. A few people almost got whapped in the face by the startled bird as she flew out. But after the babies came, the peeking in was too much for the mama. She abandoned her babies and they all died. That was not exciting, yet it was educational for Big Kid, when we had to bury the nest and babies.

The second year was our most successful yet. The second sign said "STOP!" at the top, followed by some warning language. This sign was more effective than the first, as was my story of woe about what happened the previous year. The babies hatched and we got to enjoy their little chirps and watch the big birds care for them until they learned to fly. One day, imperceptibly, one of the babies flew into our house! He/she was so tiny I probably would never have noticed, only I heard the "cheep! cheep!" and it was louder than normal, so I followed it until I discovered it was coming from under a desk in the living room. Big Kid and I carefully opened the door, and away the bird went.

This year, at the first sign of construction, we put up the sign and put out the box. Over the next month, the birds came and went. For awhile I wouldn't see or hear them, and I wondered if this was one of several potential nests--like a construction contractor who takes on a new job and then doesn't come back for several weeks because he has other projects to work on. But lo! The other day we heard the "cheep! cheep!" in the box, and we saw the big birds coming and going.

So anyway, on Big Kid's birthday, I heard a ton of noise out there, and it took awhile to register because I was so distracted with the festivities. When I finally went out to look, I saw a scrawny orange cat, wearing a collar, who was involved in an altercation with the birds. Two big birds flew around screaming at him. A squirrel on a nearby tree joined in the hollering. As I looked out my front window, the cat darted back toward the house, picked up a bird in his mouth, and skulked away. I ran for the broom, thinking I could scare the cat and free the bird, but I was too slow.

So then I put a post on my street's listserv, asking if any of the neighbors owned the cat and could possibly do something to help keep him away from the babies. A day or so later, after a couple of other sympathetic responses, the cat's owner posted. He gave me a condescending lecture about how cat kill birds, but that he didn't blame the cat. He told me that I should not let birds set up a nest in my mailbox, for the sake of both the birds and the mailman. (He didn't even say "mail carrier," he said "mailman," despite the fact that sometimes the "mailman" is a woman." grrrrr...).

I wanted to write back so many things to my neighbor, but I didn't. I thought of everyone else on the list who just didn't need to be involved in my ire. Instead, I said, "I will give that some thought." This is my standard response when someone is saying something to me which a) I think is completely retarded, b) I intend to ignore, and/or c) I would be wasting my breath to give an honest answer to.

So now the birds are gone. My friend Cynthia thinks the big birds came and moved the babies away, and my husband thinks they learned to fly well enough to get to safety. In any case, I have Empty Nest Syndrome. Happy Trails, birdies!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Duct Tape

From the corner, behind the couch,
crouching, I watched you work.
First, you scrubbed the stainless steel surfaces
with a nonabrasive cleanser
and a blue toothbrush
taking care to sweep up any loose particles
with an antibacterial sponge
as you went.
Then, you carefully vacuumed
the floor, the baseboards, the door frames,
and the cobwebs in the places where
the cobwebs would take up residence if
they stood even half a chance.
I noticed you used almost all of the attachments
including the one for crevices
and the two with bristles.
Back and forth, back and forth,
before you turned the hose back on itself,
inhaling all over the attachments themselves,
cleaning the cleaner,
so that no lint, crumbs or dog hair remained.
Then the mop, slipping around to and fro
sending strong, fragrant wafts throughout the room
and the rest of the house
as it made the surface below your feet gleam.
Finally, you double checked your lists,
your schedule,
and your voice mail,
lining up ducks, nudging the ducks constantly,
keeping so many things balanced just so,
kids and husband,
groceries and errands,
things to pick up, prepare or put away, arrange or discard.
It was only then, at the very end,
as you were balancing the phone
between your shoulder and ear,
that I saw the tiny protruding corner,
grey and not quite shiny:
duct tape.
sticking out from underneath the top edge of your bra
Imperceptible, almost.
Hidden from the world,
beneath the thoughtfully selected blouse,
between the underthings,
and the skin, bone and muscle
that enclose your heart.
not at all attractive, not intended to be seen,
not something you'd show anyone,
and so, presumably, absolutely necessary.
I watched you take a second,
only one,
to breathe
before you grabbed your keys, purse, cell phone
and some snacks for the kids
and ran out the door.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Longing and Self-Doubt

In January, on our last night in Colorado, my mom and I caught Daniel Day Lewis' Screen Actors Guild Award acceptance speech. Lewis made headlines for dedicating his Best Actor award to his fellow actor, the late Heath Ledger, and that was, of course, great. But that wasn't my favorite part.

The part that got my attention was the intro to his tribute to Ledger, where he said,
"...for as long as I can remember, the thing that gave me a sense of wonderment, of renewal, the thing that teased me with a question, 'how is such a thing possible?' and then 'dare you go back into the arena one more time?'--with longing and self-doubt jostling in the balance--it's always been the work of other actors..."

Longing and self doubt? Daniel Day Lewis? The famous, handsome, talented, successful, acclaimed Daniel Day Lewis? Who was he kidding? This admission was such a gift to me. Because if Daniel Day Lewis feels longing and self doubt when he begins a new project, then maybe there really is hope for me.

I thought of Lewis today when I got together with my friend Terri to write. She is a new friend, and this was our first time to try to work together. I think Terri is really cool, and I wanted to make it a productive time for both of us. So I jumped in with both feet, and we accomplished a lot. Even if we didn't finish anything, we made some good headway on two ideas. And we got to learn about each others' thought processes, which was fun and inspiring. But you know who else came to the session? Longing and self-doubt. I even had to calm myself down a bit afterward, because I have such yucky critical voices that come out when I'm writing, when I have the idea but I just can't find the right way to say it, when it's not happening quickly enough, when my best effort just isn't coming together. I want to be so great, and I'm just not there (yet?).

I need to be patient. I need to stay in the tension of the effort. Wait for the ideas to grow a bit on their own. Stay at it, slow and steady, until the quiet voice inside gives me the song. Trust the mystery of creativity. Allow myself to be teased with the question, 'how is such a thing possible?'

So DDL, since I know you're a faithful reader of my blog, thanks for sharing that business about the longing and self doubt! If you can walk through those feelings, and live to tell the world, it gives me courage to try, too. I'm working on my next crop of songs, and I'm going to think of you each time I walk into that space of wonder. I promise I'll let you know what I find there.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My New Persona

OK, I'm exhausted. This whole week of planning my big kid's birthday party has worn me down to a frazzle. So tonight, devoted blog readers, you get ONLY 15 minutes. And don't even try to start crying when that runs out. It will get you nowhere.

David Hooper, a guy I like to read, sent out a list of "Top 10 Mistakes Bands and Musicians Make." Who doesn't love Top 10 lists?

Here's the one that really cracked me up: Mistake #5, "Laying Everything On the Table"

You're a rockstar. Keep that fantasy. Don't tell people how broke you are, that you're still living with your mother, or anything else that breaks the image of you fans have in their minds.

One of the reasons people like music is because they have the opportunity to live vicariously through the people they are listening to. When you are on stage, they're up there with you. When you're on the road in your tour bus, they're riding shotgun. Don't take that away.

Give them insight into your life and what it's like in your world. However, be selective with the details. Always remember, you're selling music, but you're also selling a persona.


What the hell am I supposed to do with that one? Not let anyone know that I have two kids, that I spend a lot of time folding laundry, that I have virtually hundreds of CDs in my closet that I have no compunction about begging folks to buy? Although if Hooper says it, it must be true, so I've decided to create a new persona for myself. Instead of the sleep-deprived mom, I'm going to go for a more classic rock star path, the road-worn drug addict.

Help me out, willya?

Anyone wondering why I don't play out much around town? It's because I've been in rehab.

Want to know why I haven't gotten the attention I deserve from the industry? It's because my personal recklessness has made me too risky for the pros to deal with.

If anyone needs a reason to tell all of their friends about me and why I'm deserve a cult following, just pass on the lore about my wild side, the glam parties, the debauchery, the lengthy binges. It wouldn't be stretching the truth too much to talk about my house being trashed (don't mention the toys and Cheerios, of course), the high drama environment (spilt sippy cups and all), all-nighters (did someone say "breastmilk"?!!), and too much time on the road. It's all me. Forget about attachment parenting, trying to sneak pureed veggies into my kids' food, and spending an entire year shopping for the right Kindergarten--please just make up something negligent involving my kids, like dangling them over a balcony rail or driving around with no car seats. Better yet, say that I have four nannies and haven't even seen my kids since they were born. The fans LOVE that stuff!

Then, please send anyone you can find to CDBaby to buy my CD. Rehab's expensive!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Tomorrow is my big kid's 5th birthday. Ever since I was pregnant with him, people--strangers, acquaintances, relatives, friends--have told me how quickly children grow up. They say things like, "Savor every moment!" Well, there have been a lot of moments in five years, and I sure didn't savor every one of them. But I know I have done my absolute best to be present, engaged, and responsive as much as I possibly could.

All at once, it both feels like every bit of five years have gone by (maybe even longer?), and like all of sudden, my baby is a big kid. Of course it wasn't sudden. Of course I somehow survived and managed through each stage of his infancy, toddlerhood, and preschooler-ness. There are moments when motherhood feels like it is sucking the very marrow out of my being. I have, somehow, endured the powerful tension of allowing my identity to be consumed, for a time, by my small child. I have sacrificed income and some amount of external reward. I have read enough about child development over the past five years to have earned at least the equivalent of a Master's degree, and yet I'm not checking my mailbox for a diploma, because there won't be one. I have sought out experts and amateurs alike who offered me support for the very labor intensive brand of parenting to which I have been called. And as I result, I have learned to let roll off my back, like a duck, the comments of people who "compliment" me on my "patience" in a way that smacks of criticism. I have waited out the rough stages of my son's development, holding my tongue much of the time--instead, watching and listening for clues as to what he might possibly be trying to tell me with his sometimes infuriating behavior, and searching for the right moment to attempt to influence him.

And now, it feels like a storm has passed. I see glimpses of a big kid--a kid who can, at least for short spells, delay gratification, who can at least approximate empathy, who can be thoughtful and helpful. I see a child who described to me, after a half-day solo visit to a potential Kindergarten, what it felt like to almost start to cry when the reality of my absence first set in: "It started in my stomach and went up into my throat...I just kept it inside." This one comment, to me, was the blossom of my endless efforts to teach him to name and feel his feelings, something that is my biggest goal as a parent and, I believe, the cornerstone of his future as a person who can flow with life's challenges.

But the moments that really thrill me are those in which I see a child whose face absolutely lights up with joy. Mind you, he may be lighting up about saying, "Bot-tom, bot-tom, bot-tom!!" in a loud voice--he's five, after all--but still. When parents say, "but it's all worth it," they're talking about those kinds of moments. I see my big kid laughing, or being inquisitive, or trying to figure something out--in essence, being as robust and engaged in life as I have endeavored to be with him--and I allow myself an inner celebratory "Woo Hoo!" As if some of my words and gestures have actually sunk in. In which case all of the hassle and sacrifice has truly been worth it.

His turning five is whetting my appetite for a chance to regain some things for myself: to be the mom who sits and reads a book while her kids swim at the pool; to be like my neighbor who has a few girlfriends over for wine and chatter in the evening; to see my kids become more and more self-sufficient and less like tiny cyclones who scatter toys and books in their wake. When I allow myself to look forward to those days, I realize how much I have really surrendered to these ones. Who knew? In my own way, I suppose, I have savored every moment.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ten Alternatives to Road Rage

As a mom of two, with a minivan, I spend quite a bit of time on the road. I have developed some techniques for managing the boredom and irritation that can sometimes come with driving. Most of these tips will help you when you're sitting in traffic, waiting at a light, or parked for a brief time, for example, if you work part-time for your husband and part of your job is going to the bank a lot.

Don't be like those nutsies you read about in the newspaper, who lose their top while in the car! These tips will help you stay calm, fit and well groomed.

Things To Do During a Brief Stop (traffic light)
1. Read a book! I always take a book with me, and if I have to sit a bit, I read a paragraph or so. Then, when it's time to take my foot off the brake and begin moving again, I think about what I read. "Hmmmmm.... that's so interesting/funny/poignant!"

2. Pluck your eyebrows! The natural light of my minivan is SO much better than in my bathroom at home, and whenever I pull down the visor mirror, I see so many more little stragglies. So hey, be efficient on the road, and just whip out the tweezers! I have had to experiment with places to put the tweezers when they are not in use, however, so as to keep them away from the curious toddler. And if you attempt this one in your own vehicle, you have to pull up to just the right spot so the folks in the cars next to you don't see you. Unless you don't mind them seeing you, of course. In which case, you should just go for it!

3. Make a list! Groceries to buy, errands to run, phone calls to return, bills to pay, old friends to "Google."

4. Kegels! I don't care who you are, young or old, male or female, you can benefit from having a well-toned pelvic floor. If you're waiting at a light, do the slower, sustained variety.

5. Take some deep breaths. Check in with your body. Identify areas of tension and try to relax them. If you're at a light, keep your eyes open. If you're in line at the bank drive-through, you can close your eyes until the teller says "Have a nice day!" through the intercom.

Things To Do While Moving:
6. Listen to the radio! It's your choice--music, Terri Gross, right wing talk radio (my personal fave--don't ask, I can't explain it).

7. More Kegels! If you're zooming along on the road, try the quicker, pulsing ones. This is particularly effective if you're actually getting upset while driving. You'll distract yourself! I absolutely defy you to try to flip the rod at someone while you're doing Kegels.

8. Try to remember what it was like to be 16 years old and learning to drive. The thrills! The excitement! The absolute oblivion to the irritation of sitting in traffic. Try to re-capture what it was like to just marvel at how wonderful it was to drive at all!

9. Be patient! Practice being a nice guy on the road. Remember that being behind the wheel of a car doesn't change the fact that drivers are human--they get confused, lost, don't know where their turn is, they pull out too far in to the intersection, they underestimate how much space they need to turn around. Try taking the high road and being kind.

10. If you get really irked, make up a song about it. Sing it to the other drivers.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Hope and Expectation

Here I am again! I am answering the call of my Inner Nudge, who is urging me to start up a more disciplined writing practice. Plus, my friends Donna Rich and Spike Gillespie have challenged me to write 15 minutes a day on this blog. I imagine these posts will be a bit disjointed for awhile, until I get my creative juices flowing (and/or small children aren't interrupting me as I write!).

Let's go!

I've had a lot of great stuff going on lately. First of all, it's Spring! And of course I can always go on and on about my beautiful kiddos, who inspire, amuse, confound, and challenge me daily. I've made a new songwriter friend, Terri Fann. I'm really seeing some results from my efforts to get more organized and de-cluttered in my office, after months and months of chipping away. I've been getting in more time to practice guitar and piano. And, on a quite superficial note, I have a new flat iron which allows me to super-hyper-shine and silkify my hair! Woo hoo! Isn't being a girl great? :)

So that's some of that. But isn't it funny how my mind just cogitates on discomfort instead of all of the goodness?

One thing that's been stuck in my craw over the past couple of days is about what it's like to try to be present--attentive, listening, willing, open--around people who are not. Keep in mind these are not folks I have a choice about spending time with. And also this question: when I hope that these absentees will somehow or someday "get me", is that just my ego talking? I asked my friend Cynthia, and she said, "yes, that's your ego wanting things to be different." But another friend made a distinction between "hope" and "expectation," and said that when we expect, yes, that's our ego, but hope is something different.

Now, here's some definitions of the word "hope".
Many of them actually contain the word "expectation," so that's not very helpful. I think this one is my favorite: "the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best."

For "expectation," I like: "the feeling that something is about to happen."

Here's the deal: I think we're all wired up to connect with one another, and when we're spending time with someone, we orient ourselves in relation to the feelings invoked by these attempts. We can either be very earnest and open, or aloof and distant, or light and humorous--there are so many different ways to be. The people who make me feel good are ones who, somehow, are open to a moment of connection, who seem to "get" me, or receive what I bring to the table. When I "hope" that one of these moments will occur, it means that on my end of the relationship, I have a certain amount of openness. Which is a good thing. But there are times, with certain people, when being open is disorienting and painful because of the energy it takes, the level of vulnerability, and the disappointment I go through when "it" doesn't happen.

What I am working on these days is to just be open because I'm an open person, to not close myself down because I'm not getting one of those wonderful connecting moments with someone. I have been ruminating on the ways in which I can psychically "walk out" on myself, and trying instead to stay connected with myself even if it's not really happening with the other person. If I stay present and connected with who I believe I came to the planet Earth to be, then there is hope in that. When I wish so hard for "the moment" that that it hurts a little bit, well, then I think I've moved into having a very specific picture I'm trying to fit the other person into, which is not what I want to do.

Monday, April 07, 2008

How To Accept Help

I wrote this for my sister:

  1. Take a deep breath.
  1. Acknowledge that things are a little rough, shaky, and/or exhausting right now.
  1. Imagine how nice it would be to have help. Help is so helpful!
  1. Take another deep breath.
  1. Identify and brainstorm about the toughest moments of your day or week. Write them down if you can find something to write with/on.
  1. Imagine very specific things that would help you—examples:

“It would help me to have somebody to tell how hard it is right now; or to tell the one good thing that gave me hope in a really hard day/week; or someone to help me lighten up; or someone to please, please, please not tell me to lighten up.”

Or very specific things that you could hand off—examples:

“I need someone to help me with housework, yardwork, cooking, groceries, paying my bills, getting organized, going to yoga, having time to play with my kid, playing with my kid for me so I can drink a glass of wine and stare into space.”

  1. Imagine that people, even people you’ve never set eyes on before, want to help you. Imagine that!
  1. Take another deep breath.
  1. Put your request out the world…use e-mail, phone, fax, carrier pigeon, sidewalk chalk.
  1. Behold what comes back to you, which never would have, if you hadn’t taken all of those breaths and JUST ASKED!
  1. Take another breath.
  1. RELAX for awhile.
  1. Profusely thank everyone.
  1. Find someone else to help!