Thursday, February 25, 2010

"God It’s Such a Drag to Have to Live in the Past"

The other night I dreamt I was pregnant with my ex-boyfriend’s baby. This is impossible for many reasons, not the least of which is I haven’t laid eyes on him since 1996. (Oh, and my ten years of marriage, though I guess that doesn’t stop everybody from getting into this particular pickle).

No matter—in the dream, this situation was very real and posed many problems in my current life. Did I shun the boyfriend, stay with Captain Daddy and hope he’d agree to raise my love child? Did I ditch my family and go live with this baby’s father, to raise our illicit bundle of joy together? Maybe a baby was what we always needed. Maybe a baby would make him faithful, magically force him to appreciate me and love me as he never did all of those years ago. Maybe a baby would encourage us to put aside the self-destructive behavior towards which we’d been so prone.

In the dream, my boyfriend held me, spoke soothingly in my ear. He promised me everything. Of course we would raise this baby together. Of course there would be love, joy—all of my heart’s desires and more.

I awoke with Captain Daddy on my left and Chicken Little on my right in the bed I’ve slept in for well over a decade—far from Portland and the past. Far from pregnant, for that matter. I knew immediately the meaning behind the dream. The baby is my book. My ex-boyfriend makes a small but illustrious appearance in my story—the chapter he dominates marks the arc of the narrative. It was the lowest, most dangerous and chilling time of my life. And I do feel like, by writing about it, by publishing it, I am giving birth to it again. I am bringing events long-ago put to rest back to life. It’s unsettling, to say the least.
But as Chicken Little woke beside me in bed, threw an arm around me and kissed me a sloppy good morning, I knew the answer to the dream’s central question. Of course I would stay here. To write about the past, to unearth it, to put it on display is to bring it back from the dead. But I don’t have to go back and live with it. I can pull those things out of my personal history and still keep my feet firmly planted in the life I crafted from the Phoenix’s flames.
Still, for the better part of the morning, I couldn’t shake the image of my ex holding me so tenderly, gazing fondly into my eyes. Everything was going to be okay, he seemed to say. This time, there would be a happy ending.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Number Two

When you are four, poop is hilarious.

Last night, Noodle and I corrected an overtired meltdown (hers, though some nights it’s mine) by crawling into her bed and singing a few lullabies together. It was a lovely mother-and-child moment, the sort that seems more precious to me now that she’s only days away from five, and mere months from Kindergarten.

But soon enough, the grand total of three lullabies I know became boring to my dearheart daughter. She wanted to sing something a bit more upbeat. A tune with spirit. We shifted to this ditty, something I picked up way back in my preschool-teaching years (which were, if you are wondering, roughly fourteen lifetimes ago).

When you wake up in the morning it’s a quarter-to-four, your mind starts humming, you head for the door, you brush your teeth, ch ch-ch-ch ch-ch ch-ch-ch.

Right away, Noodle took this song right out of my hands and kicked it up a notch. Perhaps--you might think after reading her lyrics--to a place that some grownups actually visit should they be awoken at a quarter-to-four.

You wake up in the morning with a toilet on your head, your toothpaste is poop, there’s pee in your eyes, you brush your teeth poop poop-poop-poop poop-poop-poop.

She had a good hearty laugh at that one. But she could do better.

You wake up in the morning and go in the yard, it’s snowing and there’s ten people watching, you poop in the garden, it makes the flowers sick poop poop-poop-poop poop-poop-poop.

I cannot understate the hilarity that ensued. But she could bring it even stronger than that.

You wake up in the morning with the King and the Queen of Poop. The prince of poop kisses you, you pee on the queen. You poop your pants poop poop-poop-poop poop-poop-poop.

I’ve always loved Noodle’s giggle. It’s like an old coffee percolator, bubbling up and erupting. But she still wasn’t done.

You wake up in the morning with the Wizard of Poop, the King and the Queen of Poop Oz turn your eyeballs into poop, your poop turns green poop poop-poop-poop poop-poop-poop.

“Noodle,” I said, tears spilling down my cheeks. “You are killing me.”

“Mom,” she said after awhile, between giggles. We both took a deep breath and gathered ourselves for a moment, exhausted by so much laughing. It was nearly time for me to untangle myself from her arms, turn out the light, kiss her forehead and let her fall asleep. “I have an idea," Noodle said, as if it had just occured to her. "Now let’s sing something silly.”

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Yin and Yang at the Pet Store

Recently I took the chickens to the pet store. I envisioned a fun activity with which to fill a foggy February morning. I imagined the chicken’s delight at my suggestion of a goldfish to bring home—maybe two, if I were feeling particularly magnanimous. What a good mother I am, I secretly self-congratulated.

Chicken Noodle had other ideas.

Once we got there:

“I want a kitty!”

“How about a fish?”

“No, a kitty!” She leapt around in front of the kitten cages.

“But look at these pretty fishies, aren’t they wonderful?”

“I want a kitty, I want a kitty!”

I steeled myself for battle. Put on my calm reasonable voice. “Oh, baby, a kitty is a really big decision. I don’t think we’re going to choose a kitty right now.”

“I want a big decision, I want a big decision! Please, Mommy, can I have a big decision?”

How many times have I asked for something small and cuddly like a kitten and instead found myself in possession of something clawed and unwieldy like a big decision? Asked for autonomy, got responsibility? Asked for romance, got marriage? Asked for maturity, got wrinkles? Asked for a published book, got the job of writing and editing it?

At the moment, actually, I am kind of digging it. No, not the wrinkles. The book writing. It is prickly and unwieldy, that’s for sure. Not to mention speculative. But as once went a wise quote in an otherwise horrible movie, the name of which I’ve forgotten—“The hard thing and the right thing are usually the same thing.”

And you know what? I have learned so much already in the process of writing this book. Just this six-month project has made me a much better writer. I have learned a lot about myself, too. Who knew there was so much left to learn, ten years into this little writing career of mine?

A decade ago, I asked for something small and cuddly—the right to live as an artist, and forge my own path. And got something prickly and unwieldy—the right to live as an artist, and forge my own path.

Isn’t it beautiful?

But no, we did not get a kitten.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

One-upping Mr. Nelson

Last week I was invited to a middle-school classroom to talk about being a writer. It was one of those moments that made me go “huh?” and look over my shoulder for the real grown-up/real writer who was surely standing behind me. “Oh, you mean me?” said my inner ego, who is nerdy, shy and still only 12 herself. She violently fears a room full of eyes on her, not to mention that she hasn’t a single thing to say.

But once I got there, perched on a red cane chair in front of twenty 7th and 8th graders, I surprised myself. I talked about writing, and kind of couldn’t shut up. I think my allotted time was ten minutes, and when I finally came to a sort of conclusion, thirty minutes had passed. The students were totally engaged, asking questions. One kid even tape recorded me. I can only hope that I was more entertaining and inspiring than the lawyer who’d launched this career series for them earlier in the week.

The kick of it was that it was really cool to talk about how I got here, and remind myself where “here” is. I worked my ass off, and it kind of even worked! It reminded me that talking about what you love is easy. I love talking about what I love. And I love writing. I even told them—with pride—that when I was a kid I used to spend every recess in the library. Even though at the time it made me a complete outcast, I see now that it was a crucial step in my developing identity. So there, Bangor Elementary.

But it wasn’t all about me. I told those kids they can be writers. All it takes is doing it, and doing it, and doing some more. Voila! You’re a writer. Unlike some things, like pro ball, which I could have done until I was brain damaged and still never excelled. I told them they didn’t even need to wait— starting today, they could be a writer. One kid said, “So I could submit an essay to a magazine right now?” I said, “You go for it. No one is going to ask how old you are. Just do it.”

Which got me thinking about Mr. Nelson. He was my 11th grade English teacher. He was a curmudgeonly sort who delivered fill-in-the-blank tests with questions like “How thick was the rope in The Old Man and the Sea?” He barely spoke a word to me all year long. Then on the last day of school, offhand, without smiling or even looking me in the eye, he said, “You’re the best writer in the junior class.” I was so stunned I just stood there like the dead fish in The Old Man and the Sea (was there a dead fish in The Old Man and the Sea? I don’t really remember. Surely there was. I am sure at one point I had to answer a test question about how long it was, and its species).

I’ve thought about that moment a lot, especially given that it took me another decade to decide to try to become a writer. Mr. Nelson, why not mention that little tasty tidbit of teacherly opinion a tiny bit earlier in the year? Why not encourage me? Why not point me in a direction that I totally wanted to go but hadn’t embraced yet? Why not be a mentor instead of just the giver of ridiculous tests?

That’s what I wanted to do for those kids. What I wish someone would have done for me. Why not? There’s always room for more of us.

I know, this is a long post. I told you I couldn’t shut up.