Location, Location, Location

The best kind of subliminal messaging. (via cakeboule.wordpress.com–go there! It’s British, it’s great!)

So today Aunt Susan and I were at Fashion Square in Scottsdale. By Square, they mean a square mile (or more) of indoor zero-lot-line retail establishments designed to strip you of your disposable income in exchange for Really Cute Shoes. Or a Really Cute Watch. Or a Really Cute Espresso Maker. Or maybe an after-shift meetup with the Really Cute eighteen-year-old server behind the counter at the Nordstrom Cafe. A high point of the day: seeing two men taking a break from shopping. One old, the other older. At each set of thin white ankles sat a Hollister bag like the ones pictured above. A lovely juxtaposition. A study of our time. Of our culture. Of human nature. Maybe the men had bought polo shirts for their grandsons. I doubt it.

I bought a garlic press. Over a pair of 5″-heeled $790 Prada suede sandals, I discussed the possibility that I may be being colonized by an embryonic bunion among the metatarsels of my right foot. Entering the Tahari department of Macy’s, Aunt Susan (not MY aunt, the bots’ aunt. My sister, in town briefly for a conference) observed that distribution of body fat seemed to make a very big difference. “Location, location, location,” we both intoned together, and then laughed hysterically.

Awkward moment of the day: After dessert at the Nordstrom cafe (having NOT picked up the eighteen-year-old in charge of Salad Orders), our server, Xavier, who could have been in the Cirque du Soleil for all the cartwheeling he was doing to make sure our every dining need was met, finally asked if there was anything else he could do. “Now that you mention it,” I said, “A massage?” Then I quickly added, “A shoulder massage?” I mean, he was so eager to serve, and our shoulders were a little sore from carrying our shopping bags. Across the table, Aunt Susan was again in hysterics. Let the girls out of the zoo for six hours and they go wild.

Poor Xavier laughed, sincerely, not dutifully, but there was a note of nervousness that led me to believe I wasn’t the first mall matron that had suggested he might be able to provide something more than an apres-meal mint.

“Whoops,” I said to Aunt Susan.

We found our car, I dropped her at her nearby hotel, and I drove across town toward home, wondering: Is everything at the mall–from shopping bags to salads–pregnant with sexual innuendo? Thinking about how much a part sex plays in our consumer society, and how distanced I am from it, due to, well, the consequences of having sex.



Shelve the Guilt, Girl, and Go

Girl’s Night Out: Not only increasing your own health and happiness, but giving your bots the best possible chances of survival. (examiner.com)

Husbot returned Thursday night from two days on the road (work), and when he asked about weekend plans, I reminded him that I was flying to Denver for forty-three hours to attend a party celebrating the thirty-fifth wedding anniversary of dear friends whom I hadn’t seen in ten years..

“Oh,” he said. “I forgot.”

He was stressed out from work, the dog had been peeing twelve times a day, not always outside, and I know he’d been looking forward to a respite. “It’s okay,” he assured me, sincerely, but after a moment of silence. “I just forgot it was this weekend.”

Although he spends hours each day and most of every weekend with the bots, it’s an entirely different gig if you’re playing solo.

“Ginger’s coming for fours Saturday and again on Sunday,” I added. “And Grandma wants a couple of hours each day with them, one at a time. And I’ll be back at 9:30 Monday morning.” The heavy silence told me he was trying to remember the last time he had taken a vacation, but was probably too tired to recall.

I am fortunate that he recognizes the value of vacations. But I wanted to explain to him that, although I am thrilled to be going, although I will have a splendid time because I love these people and I will get to sleep in on Sunday morning and none of this will feel like work, this isn’t a vacation: It’s part of my job.

When I gave birth to Mbot, I was teaching a college writing course, nursing and pumping a combined ten hours a day, and patchworking together an average of five hours of sleep in every twenty-four. Every single second of every day was accounted for. Every moment I spent lying down, nursing, pumping, teaching, reading, writing, errand-running, laundering, cooking, showering, emailing, talking on the phone with sister, brother, friends, I asked myself, “Am I using this moment to its greatest efficiency? Does this really need to be done?”

I found myself justifying the time I spent emailing and on the phone (let me tell you, not much) and at the same time it was daawning on me that I was the one upon which responsibility wordlessly fell to create and send out birth announcements, bot pictures, updates, birthday cards. To respond to offers to help and invitations to dinner. To take bots to visit friends and out-of-state relatives. These last few things fell under the umbrella of social secretary—not social-ite.

And I found that no one took seriously the time or energy necessary to maintain our connections with family and friends. It’s the sort of thing that men, I think, consider an extracurricular activity that women do because we’re just gabby girls and like to do it. And I do enjoy much of it. I also find much of it a pain in the ass: (summoning patience during my mother-in-law’s sililoquies, updating my (woefully unupdated) Facebook page).

It’s probably taught in Sociology 101, but it took motherhood for me to figure this out: what might be labeled by society as mindless, frivolous socialilzing serves a very specific purpose: the maintenance of a community that will not only support and nurture the bots as they grow, but will support them and nurture them in the event of my absence.

By spending precious time and energy (and Husbot’s time and energy in the form of American Express), I’m strengthening bonds that will very likely help my children survive and thrive. I’m sending out the message: I care about you. I’m there for you. And please don’t forget about us.

Mahjong Dream Club: Playstation hopes to attract men to this traditionally all-women table game. (www.siliconera.com)

This responsibility—the keeper of connections–falls, traditionally, on the woman. And judging from Husbot’s nonexistent social schedule, if I counted on him to do it, people would start thinking the earth really is flat and that we’d fallen off the edge of it.

Of course, if you’re Facebooking instead of feeding your bots breakfast, you might want to consider scaling down your social network. But otherwise—drop the guilt, moms. When you’re chatting on your cell with your best friend from college instead of folding minature pants? You’re just doing your job.

Gingerbread Cocktails and the Gloppy Bloppo

This is me, floating on a puff of whipped cream in an oasis of calm. (muchadoaboutfooding.com)

I have stepped out of the space-time continuum for sixty-eight hours and entered a world where the most madness occurs in a poorly-written knitting pattern and the most physical activity has been achieved by a monstrously fluffy kitty who murdered a bunny in the backyard.

No, I have not been institutionalized: my friend of thirty-seven years, Solveig, flew me to Colorado for an early forty-fifth birthday present. We have done little but sit and eat Pad See-Ewe and dark chocolate and she has knitted and plied me with cocktails, and I of course have been writing.

But it hasn’t been much fun. The writing part, I mean. I’m at a crossroads which is another way of saying I’m feeling a little lost. One thing I loved about writing for magazines was that I had a specific assignment. Another was that I had a deadline. Another was that I loved learning about the lives of the people I interviewed. I loved the certainty of publication, and that a large number of people would enjoy and/or learn from what I’d written. The downside was the small paycheck, which made it impossible for me to do full-time and also feed myself.

I am not currently writing for magazines or for anyone other than myself and my blogdience. I am considering a rewrite of the novel but must first weigh the value of the intensive time commitment. I am almost ready to pick up the thesis I completed last spring and turn it into a book–a memoir about fumbling my way through one bad relationship after another (The Gay Exfiance, The Sociopathic Candyman, The Congenial Excon, etc.

In the meantime, I have returned to my first literary love: picture books. In the nineties, I made several attempts, received several  extremely polite rejection letters and requests for more work, and then, due to youth and impatience, I think, quit trying. My early lack of persistence was astonishing.

But this blog reminded me of my love for combining words and images. And, I cleverly became a mother, thus creating my own captive audience–an audience that has no qualms about expressing boredom if a character is dull or a plotline is predictable or my verbal flourishes are self-indulgent. Really, it makes the learning curve MUCH shorter.

And so now I’ve recently finished a manuscript called Squeak and the Gloppy Bloppo. It’s eight hundred words, and with any luck, they are the right ones.

In the past two days, along with polishing off a gingerbread martini, an orange-jalapeno martini, and a pomegranate-elderflower martini, I polished my manuscript and the cover letter. According to Solveig’s handy breathalyzer, I was never legally drunk–when cocktails are stretched out over a twelve-hour period, you can have your drink and your relative sobriety, too. I would have renewed my efforts at researching agents, via the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which provides a wonderful network of writers, illustrators, agents, and editors), except that when I opened my notebook with my list of twenty targets, I found I’d brought Mbot’s field journal, instead. The crayon drawings of angry birds, one-eyed robots, creekbugs, and monsters made me miss the bots terribly and reflect on the dichotomies of passions, careers, quiet time, and motherhood.

It made me think about how one of the easy things about motherhood is that I have an assignment, I have deadlines, I learn every day about interesting people and situations and things, and others appreciate what I’m doing. The downside of course is the low paycheck. Also of course that a bath can be undone in three minutes in the sandbox, and a book is slightly less easy to destroy.

But a children’s book manuscript, by an unknown author, in today’s publishing environment, is not a sure thing. And even if it ever does, it is not helping to pay the Amex bill today. It makes me question whether I’m being realistically hopeful or simply self-indulgent. These are some of the things mothers ask themselves, too, about motherhood. Both writing and motherhood are exercises in persistence, patience, and faith.

But people are enjoying the story. I first told it nearly two months ago, and every few days, Mbot mentions the gloppy bloppo, or Magnolia, the heroine. He asks what I’d do if he turned into the gloppy bloppo, and I pretend to have forgotten the trick to turning a gloppy bloppo back into a little boy.

So we’ll see. Uncertainly is uncomfortable. And there is nothing like being surrounded by peace and calm, kitties and knitting, to give me  a chance to think about the uncertainties. A gingerbread cocktail is comforting, but sadly, it’s only a temporary solution. Learning to live comfortably with uncertainty is the answer.

Working on it.



It’s Just Like Suede!

Last year I bought a pair of soft leather baby shoes for a friend who had just given birth. Mbot and Gbot had gone through two pairs apiece of these shoes.

“Lola LOVES them,” raved my friend recently. “She won’t wear any other shoes.”

“I know,” I raved back. “They’re just like…they’re just like a second skin!”

“Um, they ARE a second skin,” she said.

And we laughed and laughed and laughed.

She’d been waiting ten years to say that. A decade ago, driving back together to my home from a spa vacation in the mountains of Idaho, we passed fields of cows, their sleek black hides gleaming in the autumn sun. “They’re so BEAUtiful,” exclaimed my city-slicker friend, practically tongue-tied. “They almost look like…like…like SUEDE!”

“Um,” I said, “They ARE suede.”

And we laughed and laughed and laughed.

A year ago, I send a professor in my MFA program an essay I’d written about me and my friend. It was mostly dialogue. It was hilarious. And poignant, and heartbreaking. And hilarious. My mentor, an accomplished poet/essayist/author, said, “It doesn’t work.”

“But why?” I asked, knowing she was right, but unable to understand.

“I’ve written things like this,” she told me. “About me and my girlfriends. And they’re wonderful. But what they really all just come down to is, ‘And then we laughed and laughed and laughed.'”

So it’s not good art. But it’s awfully good life. I’ll take it.

When’s the last time you laughed and laughed and laughed?