Monday, August 31, 2009

The Farm Share Blues

Last spring in a fit of earth-loving-passion I bought a summer CSA share. I’d written a story about community supported agriculture for a local magazine and fallen in love with the idea of paying in advance for farm-fresh food. After all, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a farmer. This would be a little taste of that dream.

Here’s what I expected:
I’d support a local farm!
I would be inspired to cook gorgeous yummy meals!
It would be a good example for my chickens!
We would all eat healthier!

Here’s what I didn’t expect:
It would be a gigantic pain in the ass!

Within a month, just the sight every Tuesday of that hot pink tote bursting with green things I would be required to cart home, clean, store and cook filled me resentment. Followed by guilt, about the resentment. Followed by irritation, about the guilt.

But now as September looms and I pray for an early freeze, I am taking the whole thing as a lesson learned, or learned again. This isn’t the first time I’ve made the wrong decision by assuming it would transform me into someone else.

In this case, I overlooked the following:

I hate to cook.

I don’t have time to cook. (Well, that’s not exactly true. More accurately, I would rather spend my free time scrubbing mildew off of the shower tiles than cooking.)

We were out of town half of the summer, making it particularly difficult to cook at home. Even if I wanted to.

While I can appreciate that fresh-farm food would arrive at my home covered in soil, scrubbing two pounds of dirt off vegetables and then my kitchen takes an hour, results in two screaming children at my feet, and makes me grumpy.

I do not love searching out creative ways to prepare gooseberries. I can’t even identify gooseberries. Same goes for radicchio, bunching onions and broccoli raab.
I do not want to eat braised greens five nights in a row.

I am wracked with guilt if I have to throw away food, which is what happened when we didn’t eat braised greens five nights in a row and I didn’t find a creative way to prepare gooseberries.

A freezer crammed with squash just means there’s no room for Captain Daddy’s Häagen-Dazs.

The kind of dinner that makes me happy all over is take-out.

Next year, I am going to embrace my slovenly, planet-ruining nature and spend that $625 on pizza delivery. I suppose I should now abandon any plans related to the other thing I wanted to be when I grew up—a librarian.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bad Daddy, No Biscuit

Yesterday I took the chickens to the beach park. Because there are only a couple of places along the river that function like beaches, with sand and water access, this place is a city-population magnet. One of the things I love about it is that it makes for great people-watching. There is also the risk that my girls will be treated to cigarette smoke, the F-bomb, and playmates with blue Mohawks. I just figure it’s diversity training.

Yesterday, temperatures nearing 90, the beach park was packed. I selected a piece of real estate on the sand next to a group of 20-somethings. They had a boom box, beer poured not-so-surreptitiously into plastic cups and lots of cigarettes in plastic ziplocks (handy when one wants to go swimming with cigarettes, a popular local activity). The F-bomb was dropped almost immediately, and the smoke got old pretty fast. But I didn’t mind. I used to be 20, and it was refreshing to hear the music of contemporary artists I’ve up until now only read about in People (so that’s what Lady Gaga sounds like).

No, this post isn’t a rant about young slackers. It’s a rant about bad parents.

A little girl approached my chickens, honing in on their beach toys. I recognized her immediately. She’s at the local parks a lot, always with her dad—sort of. The guy believes in parenting from a distance. I’ve never seen him play with her, even though if she’s reached her third birthday it’s just barely. He’s usually nowhere near her. This time, I didn’t even spot him in the park.

“Where’s your dad?” I asked her after a minute. “Over there,” she nodded. Ah. Yes. 200 yards away, facing the other direction and lying on a towel. Sleeping? No, enjoying a little intimate face time with a woman in a bikini.

I try not to judge other parents. In the past, I’ve tried to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. But this is the river: The river that flows fast and unpredictable and drowns several people a year. And, dude: your daughter, the one there without a life jacket? She is a toddler. See—see how she wades out waist deep towards the current, barely keeping her balance? Oh, you didn’t see that? You are busy up there in the shade getting some? Gee, sorry to bother you.

Cut to half-an-hour later. The guy hasn’t even glanced up. His neglected child spies our bag of snacks, grabs it from Chicken Little and starts two-fisted shoving crackers in her mouth like a wild animal. So quickly I was actually startled, Pseudo-Dad is at my side. “Sorry, she’s eating your food.”

I shrugged, dumbstruck. So, let me get this straight. Her potential drowning doesn’t merit your attention, but her eating some mother’s Ritz does? Dude, I don’t care if she eats my snacks. But I do kind of resent doing your job for you.

After a minute, he wandered away to his hottie Latina. I went back to eavesdropping on the 20-somethings, inhaling second-hand smoke and, oh yeah, parenting.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Essayer: to try, to attempt (French)

During the long weekend writing retreat of week-before-last, I dove into my work-in-progress essay collection (see Plot Twist). The challenges and joys of writing memoir reliably reared their little heads, leaving me somewhat dumbstruck for the first 24 hours. Some things you have to learn over and over.

Essay is my very favorite genre, and yet there is no getting around the fact that it can be heart-wrenching, soul-searching, scratch-around-in-your-past-and-see-what-leaps-out kind of work. Writing essays has brought me great pleasure and deep frustration. Kind of like motherhood, but with rejection letters.

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far about writing narrative non-fiction/memoir/essay successfully:
  • You’ve got to be completely honest.
  • Completely honest does not mean you must reveal every last detail of your life (i.e., humiliate yourself and/or bore people to tears).
  • Essay is all about voice. Find it, work it.
  • Don’t think too much about the audience. Write what you write. If they like it, great. If they don’t, they aren’t your people and you must not worry about pleasing them.
  • Definitely don’t think about the (potential) publisher, unless you are on assignment. You can’t read their minds and trying to will only cramp your style.
  • Make ‘em laugh or make ‘em cry. If you can do both in one piece, all the better.
  • Concrete anecdotes, not general memories.
  • Trying to write something that everyone will relate to is the kiss of death. Precision, not inclusion.
  • Essay is personal. Reveal yourself. Be willing to learn things about yourself.
  • Even a powerful story needs literary quality to become a work of art.
  • Every essay must be about two things: something obvious and something deep and subtle.
  • Conclusions are necessary but must be understated. Never preach.
  • Search for the fun. If it isn’t just a little bit fun to write, it probably won’t be fun to read, either.
  • Do not expect to write anything truly fabulous when you are a) in charge of the children b) in charge of the gigantic child masquerading as your husband C) drunk. Okay, this trio of advice actually applies to all writing. But holing up alone is especially important in essay, because essay is about you and you gets swallowed alive by all of the things other people need from you (at least in my experience).
  • Proceed without fear! (In essay and in life)

I have about 25,000 of the 45,000 words I need for an adequate draft. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I returned on Monday from a long weekend writing retreat to a kind-but-definitive email releasing me from the duties of one of my regular paid writing gigs. Nothing to do with my performance, etc., etc., it’s just that they found someone cheaper and more geographically convenient to do the work.

This sort of thing used to completely freak me out. I’d spin off into anxious hyperbole, convinced that this writing thing was never going to work out and I should give up now and get a job cleaning motel rooms or being someone’s secretary.

As is always the case, anxious hyperbole was a waste of time. Something new would always pop up.

That might happen this time. Or it might not. Ever since the first of the year, my clients have been evaporating.

But I refuse to I slit my wrists over it. Okay, so my income is starting to resemble that of a sweatshop worker in the Philippines. All right, so I just put the Chickens’ gymnastic classes on my credit card. But what’s money in the grand scheme of things (she says confidently, knowing full well that Captain Daddy will buy her toothpaste and wine)?

My goal is to remain calm and see this shift of fortune as an opportunity.

I have two big, potentially cool writing projects in the works (see A Puzzled Thanks and Plot Twist). Yes, these projects are speculative. Yes, I may never make a dime off of them. But by removing more remunerative projects from my path, the universe seems to be telling me to devote myself to my own stuff.

Or maybe it’s just the economy telling me it sucks. But I prefer to think it’s the universe, telling me that this slack time isn’t for whining, it’s for writing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Lost Weekend

Put 110 people with intermingled pasts and pending mid-life crises in one room, add high expectations, a few cocktails and the pressure to connect in a short amount of time and what happens? Everyone loses their minds. Or at least I do.

I would love to report on my 20th high school reunion, but since it seems that not all of me actually made it there, it may be a bit difficult. I will try anyway.

Here’s a dialogue smidgen:
Overwhelmed blonde girl: “I have…memories.”
Cute tall guy: “Me, too.”
OBG: “The fourth grade.”
CTG: “Yep.”
OBG: “Such a crush.”
CTG: “And English, senior year…there was…something.”
OBG: “Oh, I am sure there was something.”

That’s pretty much how the weekend went. I had many semi-coherent, almost-meaningful exchanges with people who, sadly, I realize are a part of my ongoing existence only in foggy memories. I expected some sort of special bonding only possible between polliwogs from the same pond. I expected a fabulous party, an escape from my grown-up life, the chance to pretend to be 18 again. Instead I got a three-day out-of-body experience, lots of hugs, missed connections, a hangover and a bundle of sadness.

Why the sadness? Middle-aged angst. So many years passed, so many doors closed, so many opportunities missed, so many traumas and joys tucked away, so many permanent decisions made, so much living already lived. Given the dazed expressions on half of the faces in the room, I don’t think I was the only one suffering from this strange sensation.

I underestimated the impact of going back to my hometown and rooting around in my never-to-be-heard-from-again adolescence. Or maybe it’s just that a weekend spent subsisting on vodka, double espressos and Safeway deli is a sure ticket to misplaced self.

In any case, it was surreal. The prom queen’s husband kept bringing me drinks and telling me he loved me. A guy I’ve known since Kindergarten pointed over and over again at my face, repeating, “You were always so nice to me,” like this was atypical. I took the chickens to my favorite childhood beach and kept tripping over the fact that I was the mother, not the child. Some guy told me he spent high school mad at the guy who came between us in the alphabet. One of the few women who has remained my good friend told a classmate who couldn’t remember my name that if he could, she and I would make out. (He couldn't). Oh, and there was a bomb scare. Someone tried to blow up the grocery store next to my motel.

Perhaps it was one of us, we group of nearly 40s reeling from the realization that sometime in the recent past, the last breath of youth passed us by and we missed it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hello, History

This year I found myself neck-deep in my own past. It began with Facebook, which delivered to me everyone I’ve ever known, loved, despised and/or kissed; most recently came a request to write essays about my childhood, which sent me diving into old journals and quickly concluding with a shudder that perhaps the past is meant to stay firmly put.

But the piece de resistance is this weekend—my 20 year high school reunion.

To distract myself from freaking out, I re-watched the hilarious movie Grosse Point Blank. Here are a few of my favorite lines to tide you over until next week when perhaps I’ll have some gems of my own to report. (Oh, yes, I am definitely taking a notebook.)

Marcella: You know, when you start getting invited to your ten year high school reunion, time is catching up. Martin Q. Blank: Are you talking about a sense of my own mortality or a fear of death? Marcella: Well, I never really thought about it quite like that. Martin Q. Blank: Did you go to yours? Marcella: Yes, I did. It was just as if everyone had swelled.
Paul: Okay, well, I'll see you at the "I've peaked and I'm kidding myself" party.
Amy: Where ya been these last ten years? Debi: Yeah, where ya been, "Marv"? Amy: Ya look great! Martin Q. Blank: Thanks. I work at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Amy: Ya do not! Martin Q. Blank: I do! I sell biscuits and gravy all over the Southland.
Martin Q. Blank: Do you *really* believe that there's some stored up conflict that exists between us? There *is* no us. *We* don't exist. So who do you wanna hit, man? It's not me. Now whaddya wanna do here, man? Bob: [Pulls out a folded up piece of paper] Martin Q. Blank: I don't know what that is. Bob: These are my words. Martin Q. Blank: It's a poem? See, that's the problem... express yourself, Bob! Go for it. Bob: "When I feel... quiet... when... I feel... blue..." Martin Q. Blank: You know, I think that is *terrific*, what you have right there. Really, I liked it, a lot. I wouldn't sell the dealership or anything but, I'm tellin' ya... it's intense! Bob: There's... more. Martin Q. Blank: Okay, would ya mind, just skip to the end. Bob: To... the very end? "For a while." Martin Q. Blank: Whew. That's good man. Bob: "For a while." Martin Q. Blank: That's excellent! Bob: You wanna do some blow? Martin Q. Blank: No I don't. Bob: [Hugs Martin]

Okay, enough of that. Off I go!

Monday, August 3, 2009

New Digs

For part of June and the entirety of July, Chicken Little’s bedroom and my office were one in the same.

This caused much confusion. I would tell Little it was time for bed and she would amble towards her “old” bedroom, only to find it gutted. She would look around with consternation and begin to cry when I wouldn’t let her sleep on the naked floor boards. I’d lead her gently to her “new” room, and she would point at my desk and computer and say “Mommy’s office?” Which of course it was, only now with her bed in it.

Other times, I would go to check my e-mail and discover that there was a small person asleep in my office. I would pace and fret that the hard drive, left on, was sending cancer-causing electronic monsters into her gorgeous pudgy person.

Fast forward through the remodel (really, no one should have to live through a remodel except the residents who shall benefit from said remodel)—ZOOM!

Voila! Chicken Little has a new room decorated appropriately with butterflies and bunnies instead of a fax machine and scanner, and I have (as Chicken Noodle says) a fresh new office.

This was a move of necessity and functionality (now that Chicken Little is no baby no more, kids are relegated to one side of the house and grownups to the other) more than an upgrade for me, but I must say, I love my new digs more than I thought I would.

Now, if someone would just close the door…yeah…that’s right…go love Daddy…leave Mommy in her nice peaceful personal space…Ahh...