Now you've got the chance
You might as well just dance
Go skies and thrones and wings
And poetry and things.
--Neil Halstead

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Rose Gardens & Hills

Bob has no regrets. He does not regret waking us up at 4 am
to attempt an early breakfast. He does not regret breaking
that owl ornament last week. He definitely doesn't regret
trying to steal our bacon every weekend. Nope. No regrets.
This is because he is a jerk.
A colleague and I were talking a bit about regret the other day, about how the lessons we learn with time and experience are unfortunately not retroactive. As humans, anchored by our own choices into a particular timeline, we wonder always about the paths we didn't take.

I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in my cousin Liz Conces Spencer's exhibition The Drift of Stars last weekend. Several of her works were based on T. S. Eliot's "Burnt Norton," which speaks to the insistent tugging of time on our hearts:

"Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden." 
My colleague commented on how she would have liked to have known in her 20s what she knows now--in effect, imagining the echoes of another path she might well be on today, had she had that knowledge then, and the rose garden (whatever that looks like for her) behind that imaginary door.

Okay, I do regret that perm from 1981.
Even the dog is questioning my life choices. 
I get that. I have certainly said and done a lot of things in my life that make me cringe when I think about them, usually at 3 a.m. when I should be sleeping. But at that point, I always pause, because I like the life I have now, and I'm not sure I'd be who I am without all of the detours and dead ends of the past. I think the rose garden is already here, and is more real, with all its thorns and bugs and dirt, than the imaginary perfection behind the imaginary door.

One of my favorite songs at the moment is Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill." He wrote it to explain how a spiritual experience led him to reevaluate his life and ultimately leave Genesis. The song doesn't have a chorus so much as a refrain: the idea of going home. Home is the final word in each stanza, the place where the forward momentum of the 7/4 time signature comes to a rest. Home here is more than a zip code; it's T. S. Eliot's garden, the place of beauty where our real path has already brought us.

To me, the song is really about agency. There is magic all around us, whether it's the voice of God speaking through an eagle on Solsbury Hill, or that inner knowing that something is or isn't right, or the miracle of meeting the right person at the right time. Yet, all of that magic doesn't transform our lives without our own agency...we can't live off the echoes of imaginary footsteps. Ultimately, we have to take steps in the present without knowing where they will lead us. In the first two stanzas, Gabriel ends with someone else (God) sending the message that he's not yet ready to hear. At the end of the third stanza, he's heard the message and moves from "he said" to "I said," taking action that resonates with his truest self, his deepest sense of home. Pretty powerful stuff.

At the gallery, I had an interesting discussion with one of the artists. She asked me if writing was my profession, and I explained that, no, I had a job with the state and explained what that was, and that writing was my hobby. She corrected me, insisting that writing was my profession and work is just something else I do. I had to stop and think a moment, to try out that new perspective, to look at the garden from a new angle: what would my life be like if I looked at it like that? All my life, I've wanted to be a writer--what Eliot and Gabriel and the artist were all trying to tell me is that I already am.
Available on Amazon.
Coming in 2019


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Betty That Will Live in Infamy

Betty's birthday leopard print blanket cape,
which she wore to sleep last night over her
pajamas and then wore to school today.
Basically, one of us will have to pry it off
of her in about a month for cleaning and/or
hazardous waste disposal.
At the end-of-the-year conference a couple of years back, I was chatting with Betty's classroom teacher and dyslexia teacher. Somehow, as it does with any group of moms eventually, we got to talking about pregnancy and I mentioned that Betty's original due date was December 7 (Pearl Harbor, the Day That Will Live In Infamy) and I had always thought that was especially appropriate for Betty.

They, of course, were horrified, because Betty is the class sweetheart, who welcomes the new kids, befriends the kids other kids avoid, gives big hugs to the teachers, and generally walks around with a big smile on her face and a huge belly laugh always about to break out. Teachers love her. I love her (of course).

But there is no denying she is intense, passionate, loud, and often surprising. Yes, she hugs you, but she doesn't just walk up and put her arms around you gently and give you a light squeeze. These are tackle hugs. She gets that look in her eye and I look for a wall to lean against, because she's going to run at me, full speed, often knocking me backwards if I don't see it coming, then squeezing the breath out of me. The last few months, I've had to remind her that I don't need the OTHER foot broken.

So, in honor of her 11th birthday, which happened just this Tuesday, here are a collection of Betty's Living Loud and Proud moments.

Betty has always been a fan of accessorizing. She's never outgrown the attraction of mismatched socks, crazy clashing tops and bottoms, and as much bling as she can get. Her style has never been subtle and she has a definite passion for leopard print...leopard print pants, leopard print blouses, TWO leopard print onesies (one of which was a RAINBOW leopard print and was once worn for four days straight over the Christmas holidays and had to be destroyed), and now a leopard print blanket cape. If it's leopard print, Betty will wear it.

Shortly after performing a freestyle dance to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" at the Fern Bluff Elementary school carnival. This was before she started school; we were there for Eleanor. All the elementary kids were milling around, getting pizza, playing carnival games...and Betty is dancing around the parking lot in front of the snowcone truck.


Here's Betty and Bruce. I have no idea what game they were playing., but they are clearly killing it in the fashion department. Although, technically, all Betty's wearing is the hat, goggles and a diaper. It's a bold statement.

Betty is a bit impulsive. So, whenever her bangs would get in her eyes, instead of telling me, or putting in a barrette, she would go find some scissors and chop them off. She wound up getting buzz cuts three times after butchering her hair. This is Episode #2. She has also done several rounds of temporary hair dye, teal being her favorite. She's an independent problem solver, for sure. I keep telling myself that one day it'll help her run her own empire.

One of my favorite pictures of Betty, swinging from the arch at the Dallas Arboretum. She also was the only child to climb out of her crib and fit her head between the stairway rails. 

On vacation at Port Aransas, a month before Hurricane Harvey. 

Another megawatt smile at the family reunion in Wallis. She's happy even BEFORE winning 10 lbs of candy at bingo.
For her birthday, her father got her a cell phone. She promptly called me and talked for half an hour, about everything from her birthday presents to the layout of her bedroom, to how to spell "available" (It's like, 'Ava, I lable,'). You'd think we hadn't talked in days, instead of just this morning. Five seconds after we hung up, I heard Mom's phone ring...I didn't even get a chance to warn her.

The loudest moments are still to come, though. Betty wants to play the trombone in junior high.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Haiku? Gesundheit!

I am a poet. I write dozens of poems a year, many of them clustered in August (for August Poetry Postcard Festival) and many clustered in the spring (for the Austin Poetry Society's annual contests). I've written sonnets, free verse, rhyme, and even a prize-winning villanelle and pantoum. But there is one form that I just don't understand.

I speak of the humble haiku. Haiku seem, on the surface to be super easy: three lines, 5-7-5 syllables. Some nature and a season. How hard could that be?


I like brevity. In fact, I have a whole collection of poems I'm working on that are seven lines or less. And I love to write about nature. So you'd think I'd be a natural at haiku. I certainly have tried. Faithfully. Every single year. Some of them I was quite proud of.

Bluebonnets growing
Alongside a picket fence:
Ancient settlers here.
(1993)
I mean, come on, poetry gods! There's 5-7-5. Nature. Implied season (because any self-respecting Texan knows bluebonnets are extremely rigidly seasonal). There's even one of those pivot things, sort of. But, no. No matter how many times I rewrite it, no matter where I send it...nope.

Despite dozens of efforts at haiku, I've had exactly two successes. In 2013, I won the adult category in the "Stand Up for Safe Families" child abuse prevention contest with the poem "After."

After

Screaming comes the flood,
He flings boulders from the cliff
Heedless of destruction.

Trapped in the log dam
Child of the river trembles
Hopeless of escape.

His wrath all but spent
Dark river slinks to the sea
Past debris unseen.

In emerging day
River's child finds wobbling legs
To seek out the light.


Now, this one makes no sense. It's not a haiku but a longish poem written in three-line stanzas. There's no pivot. No season. Not all of the lines are 5-7-5. Sure, there's some angry nature, but it's very clearly metaphorical nature, which, I am told, makes it a senryu. And yet, I got to tell my survivor story into a microphone at Lady Bird Lake and walk away with a very nice gift bag.

Then there's this one, which won 3rd place in the 2016 Austin Poetry Society awards.
No moon burns tonight
Stars smolder in dark blankets:
Tomorrow you leave.

So, we do have a rigid 5-7-5 pattern and some nature, plus, at least arguably, a pivot. No season. Just oodles and oodles of emo. Is it a haiku? A senryu? A senku? A haiyu? Free verse that's just pretending?

Clearly, there's something more to the humble haiku.

So, I attended the October meeting of the Austin Poetry Society, hoping for enlightenment from the guest speaker, Agnes Eva Savich, who has had hundreds of haiku published.

Agnes read dozens of her published haiku. And pointing out how many of them didn't follow 'the rules'...but somehow still worked. It turns out that 5-7-5 isn't required, unless it is. A seasonal reference and nature are generally required...unless they're not. A grouping of two lines and one line works, and a grouping of one line and two lines works, but three individual lines or a grouping of three lines does not...unless it does.

Agnes passed around dozens of haiku publications and I leafed through them, looking for clues. Some I liked. Many I just didn't get. Few of them followed all of 'the rules.' And then, at last, I got enlightenment. Not about the nature of haiku. I'm still completely flummoxed by that. No, I got enlightenment on why haiku give me a headache.

Eleanor and Bruce, 2009
He is a sequin-caped firefighting hunter under the authoritarian rule of a princess fairy,
and he is clearly questioning his life choices.
It's because I have children. And I have played with these children. If you haven't had the privilege of playing games with small children, this is how it goes:

Eleanor: ...so you have to touch the ball to your forehead and then run to the wall and drop it in the trashcan six times but you can't step on even numbered boards.

Me: okaaay?!#? 

I touch the ball to my forehead, run to wall, drop it in trashcan six times without stepping on even numbered boards.

Eleanor: I win!

Me: What? 

Eleanor: You swung your left arm.

Me: Was that a rule????

Eleanor: Yes. So I win.

Me: That's not fair. You swung your left arm, too.

Eleanor, patiently: Yes, but I'm the arm swinger. It's okay. You can't swing your arm except if you're on the right side and you're the arm swinger, which I am. So I win.

Me: But last time you were on the left side and you also swung your arm and you still won.

Eleanor, with an exasperated sigh: Look, Mom. On even numbered games the sides switch. Aren't you even listening?

And this is my experience with the haiku. It is exactly like listening to a seven-year-old explain a made up game with more rules and sub-clauses than the average iPhone privacy agreement. They are beautiful. They are creative. And I absolutely don't get them.

That's okay, because the poetry world is a wild, wide exciting place, full of strange and wonderful landscapes. It's big enough for form and free verse, for epics and haiku. I can visit Haiku Land and appreciate the scenery...and then go back to my familiar homeland and write poetry that makes me happy--or at the least, doesn't give me headaches.

Word.



Friday, October 19, 2018

What's in a name? Probably way too much.

No, it wasn't in relation to his markings. Clearly, he's
more of a colon cat, at least on this side. The other flank
is a period. If you must know, staff were confused by
the style guide rules on bulleted lists and asked for
clarification, which I provided via a series of statements
about my cat, in list form. It was highly educational;
everyone now knows when to use semi-colons and also
that Bob enjoys parkour.
So, yesterday one of my staff complimented me on Bob's name during a conversation on semi-colons.

Naming a cat is hard to get wrong, no matter how wrong you get it. They are ridiculous creatures, and can withstand names like Mr. Sparkles and Stalin with equal adorableness.

My first cat was named after the hero of my favorite novel at the time, A Tale of Two Cities. Sydney was noble, courageous, and loyal, sacrificing his own life for love in the most selfless manner possible. I am, of course, speaking of Syndey Carton the character. Sydney the cat was none of those things.

You, sir, can put your own
neck under the guillotine.
After you put out some kibble.
Sydney the cat was an arrogant warlord. He attacked toes with ferocity and, while neutered, took an unhealthily aggressive sexual interest in our other male cat, Pericles. He expressed his loyalty by running away for three months in protest of my marriage. (To be fair, he was probably right about that.) And unlike that other Sydney, he lived to the ripe old age of 21.

In short, Sydney Catton did not remotely live up to his namesake--but in an odd way, he did live up to his name. He just looked like a Sydney--fluffy, elegant fur, stylish, debonair. Even when viciously sinking his teeth into your hand.

Oddly enough, his name in the animal shelter was Romeo, which given his behaviors, is a little creepy. Sydney was a much better choice.

I have wide, staring eyes.
It is possible I have hypnotized myself with them.
 Pericles was another aspirationally named cat. My ex was taking a class called "Greek Political Thought," in which he learned about Pericles, the hero of the Peloponnesian Wars. Human Pericles was a wise statesman and eloquent leader, clear thinking and strategic. Why we thought that a runty little stray tabby cat would be an ancient hero is a bit of a mystery.

Pericles was the sweetest cat you could imagine. Gentle, docile, completely incapable of leading an army of Greeks to victory, his preferred military strategy was hiding, followed closely by sleeping. When he ruptured his eardrum, the vet asked me accusingly why I hadn't noticed any changes in behavior. I told her this cat had no behaviors. He sat. He slept. He may have sat and slept in different places in the days leading up to the rupture. Or not. It really was hard to tell. When we got the parakeets, he would just sit and stare at them. You could practically see the steam coming out of his ears as his lone brain cell tried to figure them out. It was like he knew he was supposed to do something with them, but he never could remember what, and eventually he'd just turn around and walk away and go find somewhere to sit and/or sleep. He was a good cat and a good friend, and while he was in no way a charismatic Greek statesman, his gentle ways made me look at the concept of wisdom in a whole new light. There is a wisdom to patience and serenity, even to sitting and staring. In his 18 years, Pericles came to suit him.

With Daisy, the kids were finally old enough to insist on naming the new pet. I was not excited by the idea. Eleanor was obsessed with a series of books by Erin Hunter called "Warriors." It was about the epic battles of feral cat colonies. The cats in these books were named things like Sandypaws and Riverstar and Firestar. Bruce was into Nintendo, and I was also not keen on having a cat named Princess Peach or Kirby.  Betty, of course, was Betty, and was at the time naming her Barbies unpronounceable names like Denathalia and Kynessiahlala, and if I let her name the cat, none of us (including Betty) would have remembered the name five minutes later.

One of her favorite places to be is hugging my thigh.
So weird. So clingy.
So, much like the character in any story who gets to make a wish to a genie, I thought it over very carefully and posed several conditions that I thought were loophole free, thus proving that I failed to learn the important life lessons from Aladdin. (1) The name must be normal and pronounceable and spellable. (2) The name must not be a video game or book based name. They looked at me solemnly, nodded, and (the lying little liars) agreed. Eleanor thought a minute (she's the instigator) and said, "How about Daisy?" Bruce nodded. Betty ran around picking up random objects out of the front yard and said nothing recognizable.

I never read enough Warriors books to determine whether Daisy resembles her Eleanor-namesake. She's not a perky little animated princess in need of rescue, for sure. She is 16 lbs of pure muscle, a solid fighter when needed (Mom calls her Soldier Girl) and more than capable of keeping Bob in his place. She is by no means a delicate flower, but in an odd way, she is prim, respectable, and a rule follower, so the old fashioned name really suits her. Unlike Pericles, she knew exactly what you're supposed to do with birds, but she never did it because it was Against the Rules. She's the sort of cat you say "Yes, ma'am" to. 

So--Bob. The Pawsitive Karma folks named him Tut because of his natural eyeliner. Actually, that name would have suited him. He's a spoiled rotten little prince who wants to lord it over the household. All powerful in his own home, he demands meals on his own schedule, refuses to eat pure kibble, breaks things just for fun, and generally throws tantrums until he gets his way. There is nothing ordinary about him, from his long white fur to his weird eye-shaped spots.
Yep, that's him. Bob. Prince of Darkness. Mr. Sparkles. El Bob. Captain BadCatt. Mr. Fluffy Butt. Bibbity. Bubba. Fluffernutter. Furry Demon. 
When he's in trouble: Robert.
Betty was all in favor of keeping his name as Tut, but she was outvoted. Eleanor had long since moved on from Warriors and was now deeply into the Percy Jackson series. In this series, Percy convinces a titan who has stepped into the River Lethe that his name is Bob and that he's a nice titan, so Bob and Percy become friends. Later on, Bob adopts a stray zombie saber tooth kitten and names him Little Bob. In this sense, the name fits perfectly, because Bob is very mouthy. He gnaws on his hairbrush, Bruce's music stand, a letter opener, my scooter handlebars, Daisy, and pretty much all of the family. He's also prone to random fits of frantic activity and is really quite athletic. He'll run up the side of a wall or touch all four paws on a door in passing, and he used to do some amazing back flips and 360s. I've always thought he was a world-famous South American soccer player in a former life. His footwork with Christmas ornaments is impressive.
Dignity. Elegance.
And super clean privates.

But for all that, he is a Bob. It's somehow adorable that this would-be tyrant (who hides under the bed if a strange child comes to play and who escapes every day but never makes it past the front doorstep before running back inside) has a simple, human name. It helps us remind him that he's no king (although we still do his bidding).

While none of our cat names have turned out the way we intended, in every case the cat in question has made the name their own. Cats may have no use for literature or video games or ancient history, but they prove that with enough dignity, you can carry any name well--as long as you're cute and fluffy.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Bye, Bye Cast!

So today was my two-month checkup with the podiatrist. I was nervous, but hopeful. Hopeful because last month the good doctor had seemed cautiously optimistic that I might be get to graduate from the cast to the boot today. Hopeful enough that I brought the boot with me, along with a sock.

Nervous because, well, you can't exactly see inside a cast (not that you'd want to) and I was less 0% and more like 3% of the time weight bearing by the last week. Okay, 5%. Still. I wondered whether Nurse Lonnie would cut open the cast and I'd find bones sticking out places or giant festering sores I somehow hadn't felt or smelt or basically any especially horrible thing that would lead them to put me back in a cast. So, nervous enough that I left the boot in the car because I didn't want to seem too presumptuous. Also because I couldn't carry it and steer at the same time.

Then Nurse Lonnie said the words that struck terror into my heart: "I hope you get out of the cast, too, because I'm all out of purple plaster. In fact, I'm out of everything but white today!"

So that pretty much settled it. I frantically scrubbed my naked, stinky foot with a couple of wet wipes and settled in to pray that my 8% weight bearing hadn't done too much damage. Because, (a) you can't wear a white cast after Labor Day, everybody knows that, and (b) white shows dirt and nothing collects dirt, sweat, and dead skin like a white cast you can't take off for another month.  <shudder>

Fortunately, my 10% weight bearing didn't seem to have done any harm. In fact, the good doctor was quite impressed with the excellent bone position and spacing, and excitedly contrasted last month's x-ray with this month's x-ray ("See! Look how much more consolidation there is!"). To be perfectly honest, I couldn't tell one x-ray from the other or really how the concept of consolidation applies to either picture, nor could I see the new bone growth he was allegedly pointing at, but believe me, I didn't argue. Had the man told me there was a miniature three-piece giraffe jazz band performing in there, I would have nodded seriously and said, "Oh, yes, DEFINITELY. I see the saxophone." Because whatever he saw was fabulous enough that he was going to let me leave the office without a cast.

I *never* push myself beyond my limits.
<cough...breakneck stairs...cough>
Nope, never. Not at all. I'd never
climb down 59 steps with a swollen,
fractured foot.
He did caution me to build up my strength gradually. I asked him when I could start going back to the gym again, and once we established that my equipment of choice was the recumbent exercise bike, he was like, "I don't care if you go ride a bike today--just don't get on a treadmill or run." I think we are safe on both of those, pretty much indefinitely. I still have the scooter for long distances (such as the trek in from the parking lot at work and shopping), but I can gradually wean off of that and hopefully at my next check-up (one month), I can get rid of the boot and transition to SHOES.

So I emailed and texted everyone the good news. For some reason, no fewer than three people immediately responded with admonitions to celebrate cautiously and not overdo it, including my own mother, which is ridiculous considering that I stayed to no more than 12% weight bearing the vast majority of the time, so it's not as though I'm the sort of person who overdoes things. It's like they don't even know me.

Meanwhile, somebody at home *was* preparing a lovely celebration for me. I came home, sat down, and put my hand in a lovingly prepared, freshly made hairball, comprised mostly of white fur, left thoughtfully at the foot of my bed.

While the culprit hasn't confessed, I think there is sufficient evidence to establish guilt or innocence, at least to the same standard as your average Senate judiciary hearing.
Bold, confident stare. Expression of defiant interest. Vividly colored fur.
The very face of innocence, with a twinge of recrimination for casting aspersions on her character.
Verdict? Innocent of all hairball hacking charges, and the court apologizes for even considering it, your majesty!

Expression of startled defensiveness. Immaculately groomed long, white fur. Wide staring eyes.
Ears pointed in opposite directions, as though looking for the opportunity to flee the jurisdiction.
Guilty! Guilty of all charges. 
So, there you have it--the cast is gone and I'm continuing my transition to healing. And tonight? Well, tonight, I bathe!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fantasy Travel and Other Occupational Hazards of Boredom

So, here we are. Shark Week VIII: The Shark Flops Around Pitifully and Whines a Lot Before Sinking to the Ocean Floor in Boredom (also known as, Shark Week Meh).

This *could* be the last week of the cast; I'll find out later in the week when I return to the podiatrist for a second x-ray. Of course, he still cautions me that even if Shark Week is in remission, I will have a slow transition to full mobility, but frankly I'm just ready for progress at whatever speed it comes.

This sad  bottle of Kahlua,
hiding in shame and shadow
behind the frozen pizza,
moved here with me in April
2016 and has been here,
untouched, ever since.It may
have moved from the old
apartment in 2013. I am pretty
exclusively a social drinker. 
With the end of the cast and Death Scooter potentially looming nearer, I've been spending my copious free time thinking about what I'm going to do when I am past this nonsense. First and foremost, and if you've ever had a cast in Texas in the summer, I know you feel me, is a bath. A long, long bath. I've mail ordered some fancy bath salts and even a matching fancy bath candle. There's wine in the fridge chilling. (Of course, it's a bottle I opened 3+ months ago...I am the world's most indifferent alcohol consumer. But still. It's waiting.) It's going to be a bath. Definitely hours. I'm not ruling out days.

Next up is a party. My original book launch plans involved some lovely readings, potentially in several cities, at some lovely bookstores. Since I can't even get a box of books in the front door, let alone schlep them all over Texas, those plans were shelved. But now... I still want to do that, but I'm in the mood for a party. I think a victory over Shark Week AND publication of my first novel together call for a celebration. I found out yesterday that one of my staff has parents who run a chocolate fountain business. In this, I can almost see the gooey, rich, dripping skewer of destiny. Coming up with a plan (beyond a party with a chocolate fountain, which is not so much a plan as a craving) is going to keep me motivated throughout physical therapy.

So what else have I been doing?

Knitting. Lots of knitting. Some beadwork. Halloween decor projects from Pinterest (I'll post pics when they get completely done, probably tomorrow). And planning my dream vacations. So, where would I go, if money were no object and Shark Week was no more?


    I spent a few hours planning a very realistic trip to Idaho. That may actually happen next year. We are not beach people. We are cool, mountain people. There's a place in northern Idaho where you can rent a bicycle and coast it down a mountain trail for 15 miles of fabulous scenery. There's a creepy prison that offers tours of its old gallows. There are B&Bs with their own hot springs. I think this needs to happen, but...


    Somehow, perhaps as a side effect of Extreme Stir Craziness, I kept moving north on the map and wound up spending several hours planning a fantasy trip to the Northwest Territories of Canada. I want to drive the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyatkuk, see the aurora borealis from Yellowknife. There's a five day boat and camping trip to Herschel island; another that goes along the Canadian Arctic coast and ends in Greenland. Tuktut Nogait National Park in the summer is home to zillions of baby caribou and has no hiking trails...you just wander around, presumably with a compass. Most of the parks up there are only accessible by chartered plane. And, most critically, the summer daytime temperatures rarely rise above 77 degrees. Oh yes!
    The Hornaday Canyons in Tuktut Nogait National Park,
    Northwest Territories, Canada.
    It is possible my podiatrist wouldn't approve.

    At this point, I felt that perhaps I was giving a little too much love to the northern climes, so I packed my mental bags for New Zealand. I've always wanted to see Australia, but frankly it seemed too big and desert-y for a fantasy vacation. According to The Lord of the Rings, a reliable meteorological source, even in the summers hobbits can wear trousers and long sleeves and there are plenty of lush green forests, spectacular mountains, and elaborate dwarf-mined cave systems, although one has to watch out for balrogs. I didn't spend too long on my fantasy trip to New Zealand, however, after I read the part about driving on the left side of the road. I am way too easily confused for that kind of nonsense.
    My first thought was, That sign doesn't help!
    Which arrow am I?  The sign just shows a couple
    of lonely arrows, moving always in opposite
    directions, separated by a permeable barrier
    they can never cross, a sort of existential..
    oh, yeah. I'm the arrow on the left.
    This is why I can't drive in Australia.

    Also on my list, because New Zealand is probably too crowded what with all the Numenoreans running around singing lays and drinking mead, are the Orkney Islands. There are 70 of them, most accessible only by boat (which may be a problem with my reverse seasickness, but I'm willing to overlook it). You've got your standing stones, PUFFINS (squee!), and lots of rocky coastlines and remoteness. Oh, and summer highs are in the low 60's.  Also a plus--the islands are fairly small and I am quite confident I could go an entire vacation without getting lost!

    Of course, the granddaddy of fantasy vacations is Iceland. (Do you perhaps notice a theme?) I've wanted to visit Iceland since I was in college and read The Vinland Sagas in World Literature. In fact, for many years, I picked up medieval Icelandic sagas in translation any time I saw them in a Half Price Books. This was more often than you might think.
    I still have my Nordic legends bookshelf. I expanded beyond Iceland into Welsh, Irish, and other vaguely Viking-ish legends. There are a few interlopers (The Odyssey, for example), but it all started with The Vinland Sagas
    Someday, that trip will definitely happen. Iceland has volcanoes, hot springs, fjords, a matriarchal culture, and Bjork. I've read a few modern Icelandic novels as well (on Kindle)--The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning, by Hallgrimur Helgason, which was darkly humorously awesome, and On the Cold Coasts, by Vilborg Davidsdottir (I know, I have in certain company drawn a line in the sand and said I will not read historical fiction, but historical Icelandic fiction is an entirely separate subgenre and definitely allowed), as well as the beautiful The Greenhouse, by Audur Ava Olafsdottir, which is lovely even though it mostly takes place in France.

    So, while Shark Week is winding down, I'll be dreaming of cool, remote fjords, icy tundra, and walking freely without a cast, getting lost under the aurora borealis, and seeing all sorts of Arctic wildlife. And then--it's time to plan a party!


    Wednesday, September 12, 2018

    I remember

    Of course, the call to mindfulness
    may have been a government ploy
    to encourage people to drive
    politely and safely. If so, it worked.
    To remember is, literally, to call to mind, an act of supreme mindfulness. As we drove through Quebec this summer, Je me souviens (I remember), the province's official motto, flashed by on every license plate. Down here in Texas, we demand remembrance ("Remember the Alamo!") but putting remembrance in the first person softens it, personalizes it, brings with it a sense of inevitability. I choose to call to mind, to remember.

    This has been a week of remembrance--appropriately so, since it is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, a time of remembering and questioning, bridging the past and the future. A lovely poet, biographer, and publisher, Devorah Winegarten, died September 10. Although I didn't know her well, she was one of those people whom you felt you did know well, because she wore her heart and her life on her sleeve and on the pages of Facebook and in book fairs, libraries and Rotary Club meetings all over the country. My favorite memory of her was at the Austin International Poetry Festival this year. She had lost her voice and wrote an amazing, beautiful, funny poem about the well-meaning (and annoying) responses of friends, colleagues, and strangers. She read that poem several times, in a hoarse whisper, pausing at the perfect moments with a gleam in her eyes, taking a mysterious affliction that had cost her her job and threatened her livelihood, and turning it into a smart, witty reflection on how as humans we get compassion so right--and so wrong. She was both sweet and fierce, in the way that truly great Texas women are, and she will be long remembered.

    Me, 2001
    Is there a statute of limitations on faking sick?
    I mean, the agency that replaced the agency I worked for
    then has been replaced by the agency I work for now. 
    Also, I've since replaced the person I worked for then.
    State government is confusing.
    Of course, for most Americans, a much larger, national remembrance has gone on this week, as we all call to mind September 11, 2001. Like many, I can tell you what I was doing as the planes hit the towers. I suppose that sufficient time has passed that I can safely admit I was playing hooky from work. I remember walking through the living room when my then-husband (who was watching CNN) called out, "Hey, there's been some sort of plane crash!"

    At the time, I worked more or less where I work now (give or take a dozen job changes and reorgs, so probably less rather than more), with the training department. I heard later that people panicked. Participants and trainers begged permission to leave class and go home, and staff at headquarters circled TVs for news.

    Judy, 2002.
    This is the photo I have in my office.
    PSA for people who refuse to let people take photos of them:
    Get over it. Someday, you'll  die and people who knew you
    for years will scramble around frantically for accidental
    photos of you and all they'll come up with is a picture of
    you in a depressing state conference room holding an award.
    The September 11 I most remember, though, is September 11, 2004. We were living in Pearland. A few days before, I was home sick (for real this time). The doorbell rang, and I opened the door to find my friend, Angie. She looked me up and down and said, less as a question than a statement,"You haven't heard, have you?" She then told me my best friend Judy Schober-Newman had had complications from a minor, outpatient surgical procedure and was in a coma in Austin. On September 11 her husband called to say she was taken off life support.

    Judy and my youngest daughter share a middle name with Hurricane Helene, and that makes me smile. Both Betty and her namesake are/were forces of nature: smart, quick-witted, sassy, determined, passionate, and headstrong. Betty is perhaps more destructive. Both are/were intensely, fabulously creative.

    Hurricane Betty age 5.
    Crazy hair, messy, adorably destructive:
    not much has changed. 
    Despite the decade and more of water under the bridge, I still think often of Judy, particularly since rejoining the training department four years ago. It's hard not to measure yourself up against someone you loved and admired so greatly, particularly when she's dead and you've gone on to attain the job she wanted when she was alive.

    At the time, I saw myself as the lesser half of "Judy and Diana," a sidekick--even before the survivor's guilt kicked in. And, I won't lie, I floundered a bit thereafter. Then, of course, I got up, dusted myself off, and started building a life I could be proud of, and, in the process, built a life that I think Judy would have been pretty proud of, too. So my remembering these days is perhaps more fond than sad.

    I remember hanging out in San Antonio hotel rooms and bingeing on junk food and talking half the night. I remember some of the absolutely insane things she'd send me through interoffice mail (which I returned IN PERSON because...yay, continued employment). I remember the email where she reminded me, in all caps, that I am NOT SUPERWOMAN. This is a lesson I've had to continue reminding myself over the years, many times (because--crazy Virgo perfectionist FTW!), and, whenever I do, the voice in my head always sounds exactly like Judy.

    No matter what our religious beliefs, the dead are never that far away, whether waiting patiently in the heavens or present in the scattered stardust of plants and trees. All it takes is a quiet moment, the right invocation, and we call them to mind.