Prompt: Write about a time when you were really, really scared -- whether or not it was for a good reason.

A suburban St. Paul, MN living room, in the fall of 1967;
the ROAR of a school bus driving past.
A MOTHER sits on a couch, folding laundry; she has been watching her favorite soap operas on a small black and white television across the room: The Edge of Night, Secret Storm. Two toddlers babble as they roam about the room. The woman glances at the front door, then turns back to light a cigarette and fold clothing.

S.E., an impossibly tall, skeletally thin first-grader, enters the room and walks immediately and wordlessly to stand two inches from the television. MUSIC from a Gothic Soap Opera http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvO1b3f4DGs swells from the television.

As the camera pans around and in for a close-up, we see fear in S.E.’s eyes. She appears to be nothing but a gigantic pair of eyes, and the camerawork zooms in to emphasize this. The eyes seem to be repelled and fascinated at the same time by the show. They are haunted, full of dread, with dark shadows underneath, and thin blue veins showing through the taught skin of her temples. The eyes do not blink.

The camera pans out to take in the whole room.
(cheerily, while striding through the room
and snapping off the television)
How was school, hony? Let’s go have a snack. You don’t want
to watch this show, no wonder you can’t get to sleep at night!

Sonja doesn’t move, nor does she take her eyes off the blank television screen.
(softly, almost inaudibly)
No. No snack.

End Scene.


The kind of day I had today was not mentioned in even one holiday song.—Paula Poundstone

Yes, Paula my dear, that says it all! I discovered the order I had placed at Amazon went to Spanish Fork, Utah, instead of here--apparently the last time I placed an order, I had it shipped to M. at school. I asked the school to send it up here and it was supposed to arrive last night but it didn’t. That was half the stuff that was going to be under the tree. I decided to make cookie-cutter cookies, something I only attempt every several years after the horror of it all has worn off. And it was as difficult as always. Wanting non-artificially colored yellow sugar crystals to top them with, I discovered that yellow is the one color all stores are out of. The purchase of a used darkroom setup for the girls failed to spark any initiative in them—they are glad to have it, but…if it means actually cleaning up the special room we have for it, why, they’d rather not, thank you very much. Purchasing adorable little holiday cards through church proved to be a further complication—I ended up supporting not only the social justice works of my church, but also the U.S. Post Office. There is a 20 cent surcharge for mailing perfectly square envelopes, which I did not discover until after I had laboriously written, addressed, and sealed said cards. I would have used larger envelopes but having already addressed them I just couldn’t face the extra work, and paid an extra $9 in postage.
Well, it just goes on and on, this litany of crawling negativity. BUT I can always print photos of the items I ordered and put those under the tree. The cookies look ok and are delicious enough that my black thoughts fade quickly whenever I glance at them, and the cookie cutters are in the Goodwill bag. I went ahead and cleaned the darkroom and sent the girls off to transport all the items down there; hopefully they will linger and chat about where things should go. I don’t mind that my $9 went to the post office; they need it and really mailing things through it is still such bargain when you think about it. I emailed the Unitarian Universalist Association and asked them not to sell square cards next year. Now I will bake a ham and a potato casserole and green beans and socca (chickpea flatbread) and fill the stockings and then I will be finished.


Prompt: write for 15 minutes or so on the topic "I wish I knew more about ..."

I wish I knew more about the history of our species, from the first small primate that leafed out on evolution’s new branch, really super detailed knowledge, from then until right now today, without the guessing or conjecture or rose colored glasses or slant or bias or suppression. Every migration, displacement, mutation, epidemic, natural disaster, famine, drought, discovery: the light-bulb going off for each invention!, every celebration, every truce, every development.

The dirt, the what and where of the dirt, under the fingernails of the first human to…. plant a seed.

That first litter of orphaned wolf cubs: what gang of youngsters lugged them back to the tribe and insisted on raising them: puleeeze, they’re so cute, they can chew on bones and they won’t be any trouble we promise!!!!

By what river did the first frustrated, fed-up girl weave reeds into a sling so she could carry her burdensome toddler sibling and keep up with her friends to pick the ripest berries? Was it in the same millennia that another human used a stone tool to cut a hide into a sling shape to do the same?

And what about the invention of lying? And I would like to see unfolding the history of Woad, that blue body dye the Picts wore to frighten the Roman soldiers invading the British Isles. Would I have run like hell when I saw them too? Was all the incredible effort that went in to extracting it freely given? Who exactly was doing all that extracting?

Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, Richard Bessel’s Germany 1945: From War to Peace, Louis Dupree’s Afghanistan and everything by Ahmed Rashid on Central Asia, James Workman’s Heart of Dryness: How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought, Alison Gopnik’s The Philosophical Baby, Matt Ridley’s The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, biographies of Gandhi, Washington, Lincoln, Boudicca (the Celtic warrior queen), Julia Child…..

It just doesn’t matter how much reading I do, I can’t get close enough to satisfy my longing to know for myself the sum total of all human history. And don’t even get me started on the planet and the universe.


Spend, deeply.........

From a sales clerk ringing up a shopper's big, impulsive purchase at a jewelry shop: "I say money is like breathing! You can't keep inhaling forever, sometimes you have to exhale!"
This conversation I enjoyed very much...overhearing it. The two were having a ball cooing over the things this woman had picked out. Later on the sales clerk said that whenever she was in dire straits financially, she would give a little money to charity. And always always after that she would come into some money somehow; her financial situation would ease.
I keep saying to myself that the next time I go through a drive-thru I am going to pay for the order from the car behind me as well, because I read the Rant/Rave column in the Seattle Times, where there have been several raves about being on the receiving end of that gesture. But so far I have forgotten to do it every time, until after I drive away. I shall try to be more orderly and sytematic with my random act of kindness--maybe a post-it on my car window or car window button....


Hair Topiary

I have slowly grown to love waking up and seeing what my hair looks like in the mirror first thing—every day is a different goofy silhouette. Last week it was a rooster's comb; no kidding, that is exactly what it looked like. This morning Pippi Longstocking (a ski jump on each side of my head!). I really do find it humorous, which may surprise those who know me well and know that my hair is on my top 100 list of things I love. Perhaps I will start a regular feature here, posting whenever my morning hair is particularly eye-popping. I would like to set it up as a sidebar thingy if I can figure that out. Any instructions? And no, there wouldn't be photos. I've not gotten quite THAT comfortable with myself.


Life Every Day

Very early on in our marriage, even before we had kids for heaven's sake, I made the following sullen statement to my husband: "I am sick and tired of the tedium of everyday life." For some reason he found this priceless, hilarious, morose, so essence-of-my-wife, that he wrote it down on a piece of paper and put it in his sock drawer. I don't know if he still has it 20 years later, but I am sure he remembers it.

"Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale
Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man."

Boy that just says it all. It astounds me how so much of what absolutely must get done every day is so stultifying. I know there is some sort of Buddhist/meditative concept around being present in the moment and being attentive, but I would prefer a three-ring circus to entertain me while I brush my teeth.


For tonight's reading at the Coffee House

I am currently calling this work in progress
I just received an email, forwarded from a relative, with the subject line in caps “JUST FOR YOU” which I see she has forwarded to everybody in her address book. It is some blandishment in which I am instructed to blandish as many people as possible by forwarding.
I search for irony, and usually love when I recognize it, especially the subtle stuff. I suppose this gives me a little sense of superiority, a nasty part of my dark side. Ironically I don’t always get the irony of someone’s statements—I’m kind of gullible and naive. Paraphrasing Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage: Irony postulates a double audience:
  • one audience that isn’t getting it,
  • and the other audience that is aware when more is meant than meets the ear, both of that "more" and of the other audience’s incomprehension of the “more”.
Some of the tiny ironies ahead may not be comprehended!
I’ve recently been asked to ghostwrite a book for a sales motivational speaker, the topic of which is branding yourself, i.e., developing your own personal brand and publicizing yourself through all available outlets.
After my mother died of lung cancer a few years ago, we were going through her papers and came across a few loose-leaf notes, written when I was a teen, in which she relayed the hurt of having me tell her I wished she would hurry up and die from lung cancer so I wouldn’t have to put up with the smell of her cigarettes. I don’t remember saying that to her but, sadly, I have to admit it sounds like something I would have said at that age.
Last month I was slaving alongside my husband like a Polish prisoner in a Russian gulag, helping him terrace our sloped garden, until I tumbled down the slope and seriously exacerbated a torn tendon and haven’t done hardly a thing since. I feel terribly guilty because he is doing this mostly for me because I was always tumbling down the slope and hurting myself while gardening.
For many years now my husband and I have had this thing where when we each get our hair cut we don’t say anything and wait until the other notices. Dan usually doesn’t notice mine for quite some time, and he defends himself saying I get so little cut off that it isn’t noticeable. In the past, Dan would wait until his head looked quite bulbous before going in, then getting it buzzed marine-style, and I could spot the difference from a satellite photo, but in recent years he tends more and more toward frequent haircuts with beard trims and a self-beard-trim midway between cuts (perhaps he is developing some well-deserved vanity as he does that male getting-handsomer-as-he-ages thing), and now I’m the one not noticing, often until halfway through the evening meal.
In college, I was in the habit of shucking off my bluejeans at bedtime and throwing them aside, to be retrieved the next morning and slipped on, still formed to my body, about 5 minutes before class. One friend snickered that she didn’t wash hers until they stood on their own after she took them off. Sloppy, grubby, naturally aged and frayed bluejeans were de rigueur* for us in 1981.
One morning, as usual, I plunged into last night’s sturdy Levis, and hurried off to a full morning of classes, scattered all over campus. Later, I met up with my boyfriend and his sidekick. We had a sort of a Mod Squad thing going. (Parenthetically, this was my second college boyfriend, but the sidekick was the same sidekick of the first boyfriend. Odd, but, not ironic.)
We went to the cafeteria for lunch, passing through the long line, eating at long tables, and then they followed me to my dorm where I could carefully languish casually and decoratively in the common room. As we passed through the foyer, sidekick told me I had a piece of toilet paper stuck to my shoe….when I looked down, said “oh yeah,” and reached to grab it, the three of us realized at the same time what it really was---my underpants—from the day before—that had hitched a ride with me all day, slowly slowly working down my leg to peek out from my hem. The story of how I survived that particular landmine is another reading for another time.
Footnote: I went to pronunciation.com to get the correct pronunciation for de rigueur and futilely but the site doesn’t exist--a shock!-- so I googled “online pronunciation tool” and got a site that pronounces out loud what you type in—totally cool! And available for other languages. The URL is http://www.howjsay.com/ .
Second footnote: googled is labeled as a misspelled word by Microsoft Word 2007. When will this word hit the dictionaries?


Sun Magazine prompt: pretending

Patiently sitting with the girls I
Recognize their make-believe beliefs with an inward smile
Each transfer of
Tiny toys from hand to hand to sister
Elephants and zebras of plastic
Never a fight or argument between girls OR toys
During these parallel universes
Inventive action sequences play out as
Nearly ballet, and choreography is nimble; they
Get up and expand the loop of time/space out, out to the sandbox.