{real. hard.}

Petaluma Adobe 43

Sooo, as it turns out, what with one thing and another, my parents aren’t rich. Who knew, right? Other than me, on Year Twentysomething of paying off student loans.

We were ridiculously poor when I was growing up… though I didn’t always see that clearly. I had hints, from seeing one of my mother’s pay stubs back when I was in the fourth grade; she made a whopping four-thirty-six an hour. I looked back at that in horror when I was at my first post-college job, making just over nine dollars an hour. That was ludicrous, right? But it still didn’t seem right that I made more than my mother.

Of course, by then, they had raised her rate of pay, one would imagine. But, I have no idea. That sort of thing was Grown Folks’ Conversation, and little old me would have had no business knowing. What I didn’t know haunted me. I couldn’t be like a normal kid and think, “Oh, well, money. Mom, I want a Cabbage Patch, when you get around to it.” Nope. Knew there were some things I didn’t ask for, couldn’t have, so didn’t bother. I got second-hand Barbies and a lot of knock-off books from libraries and schools thinning their stock (thus supporting my parents’ dream of us reading only nonfiction forever, bless them). I got hand-me-down clothing from two older sisters plus a whole church full of people. That was my life, until I left home at sixteen, got my own work, made my own way, and married. But, I still didn’t feel like my family was brutally poor until about two weeks ago, when my mother said she was going back to work.

At sixty-eight.

I nodded quietly, all the while in my head I heard, Mayday! Mayday! Mission in Jeopardy! Klaxons sounding! Kidfail! Kidfail! Kidfail!

Oh, yes. I had a full Chianina, instead of the usual generic cow. I had to have a quiet lie down and weep a bit. Of course this feels like personal failure. Aren’t you supposed to, like, take care of your parents? Especially if you have no kids. Especially if your family unit is doing okay. And… we do the regular family things, like sharing Costco hauls and CSA boxes when they’re too big (or you really don’t think you can eat another eggplant and your vegan parents lap that stuff up with a spoon). But, it wasn’t enough. My Dad had to retire due to health reasons years ago (though he’s exploring driving for Lyft, I just discovered), and my mother had only stopped working at sixty-three, because she had a series of surgeries (and a really repugnantly ignorant boss). Now that she’s healthy – and broke – she’s going back to work.

Petaluma Adobe 42

I just…

It’s not that she wasn’t the director of the school where she’s returning to teach. It’s not like she has to be in charge, or is even working there full-time. It’s not like she doesn’t know everyone there, and see many of those selfsame kids every weekend at church where she does a program for the two-year-olds as she’s done for the last thirty-five years. It’s not like she’s going to not be greeted as a returning hero who knows the ropes and can mentor the others. It’s just… it’s just…

This sort of thing is apparently commonplace all over. The poor British officially have had their pension age raised, and it may rise all the way to 70. I don’t imagine people in less developed nations ever officially “retire;” no, they do what needs to be done, until they can’t. As everyone does.

I was comforted in knowing that a friend’s mother – who is older than mine – works happily at Costco as one of the food ladies who offers samples of this and that – and since she’s a vegetarian, they don’t have her handle samples which involve cooking meat. I know that older people retire and get bored of dandling the erstwhile grandchildren – or realize their Social Security is hardly enough to carry a teaspoon of water, and often go back to work part-time like my mother is, and it’s not the end of the flippin’ world. Hello, Harrison Old-Hoary Ford is in yet another movie, and he’s at least Noah’s age by now. (Okay, seventy-five. Whatever.) It just… feels like I got confused, looking at MY life against the backdrop of the largely white-collar, professional community in which I grew up. I got confused looking at MY world against the backdrop of what I consume in media, where I am given an idea of the life I’m “supposed” to have as I grow older. I grew confused as to what reality was vs. MY reality.

Petaluma Adobe 08

So. Mom’s going back to work. I was going to make it a fun thing where I made her a new craft smock and got her a new water bottle and a visor, because she’s going to be doing playground duty – which I didn’t love when I was teaching – but Tech Boy finally got a new post, and so we’re scrambling for the world’s fastest move, so all that – and all my private tears – will have to wait. Mom’s first day back at school in August is not going to have the fanfare I’d planned. But, maybe that’s just as well. This is just a part of life for hundreds of millions of people, not A Tragedy.

I still hate it with the heat of four thousand suns, though. It’s not right. I’m supposed to have won the lottery by now, so she could have a mansion and a golf cart (why? Why would anyone want one; top speed is something like… eight miles an hour), and never have to work another day.

Reality is freaking hard… but like a bloom on a cactus, it has its unexpected beauty. If your Mom hustled so you could do all the things she thought would make you a stellar woman, don’t limit your gratitude to a single day in May. Okay? Okay.


Photos from Petaluma Adobe State Park; if you teach the 4th grade in Northern California, please take your kids; they’re talking about putting it on the park closures list and letting it rot, and it’s amazing. They do an overnight program and everything.

{poetry friday: macaroni}

New Lanark T 24

It always amuses me that whenever my Scottish friends speak of pies, they invariably mean… that which I do not mean at all. Say “pie” and they’ll say chicken-and-leek. Eel. Steak-and-kidney. Mince. Mutton, or something else in Scotch pie. Sweet pies are… um, puddings? So, it gets to be a little confusing.

In view of the fact that today is apparently National Mac & Cheese Day I will raise a …mug to Macaroni Pie. It’s better with fresh peas than baked beans from a tin, to be sure, but it’s one of those ubiquitous quick meal I had when out and about, visiting castles and historical places. I’ve never tried to make one – I truly can’t see the point of adding pastry to pasta when there are perfectly good pumpkins and peaches just sitting around – but macaroni pie was good fuel for a long day of walking in cold climes, so here’s to it.

Dodgy Dinners

When cravings for a piece of pie
Meet diet’s parsimony,
Forget the peach – your fork apply
To tasty macaroni!

A hand-pie makes a lot of sense:
Food without ceremony –
(And, in a pinch, it’s self-defense
And lessens acrimony).

Take my advice and make this meal
With peas and pepperoni,
Complete with pastry’s flaked appeal
A pie of macaroni.

This is a DREADFUL POEM of the worst sort of drivel and I’m well aware of that, but I’m also packing to move, so it is what it is. ☺ The rest of the ACTUAL poetry-ites are over at Tabatha’s blog today.

{pf: p7 in the style of “she walks in beauty”}

It’s the first Friday of the month, and it’s time for a bit of Byron!

For preference, “The Destruction of Sennacherib” will always be my favorite of the poetic stylings of Mr. “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” but “She Walks in Beauty” is gorgeous, too; a lovely example of the poetry of the Romantic era, and a personification of the Beauty that is Womanhood and all of that you learn in Sophomore English. As all Romantic poems do, it deals heavily in hyperbole and is a tiny bit on the ridiculous side, because I don’t know any women in whom all the best of anything meet anywhere, but your mileage may vary. When tasked to write in the style of Byron, I tried to gently capture that feel, going for the over-the-top flowery language and deathless symbolism while still writing something coherent (this may not have worked, but…). Instead of Beauty/Womanhood, I explored truth, via the story of Diogenes and Ma’at.

Calochortus amabilis 2.jpg
By Eric in SFOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Diogenes’s Daughters

Mere Beauty waits to take its bow
Beneath Cardinal Virtue’s gaze,
Seven, the Sisters make their vow
To Veritas, its arts to raise –
And to its Muse – her craft allow
To bright illuminate their days.

Their clear gaze focused on the Truth
Seven set forth their Lamps to raise.
These, undeterred by age or youth
Eschewing private gain or praise,
Sought but to find, by means more couth
Knowledge to set the world ablaze.

Astronomers’ celestial quest
Can no more match this thirst divine
‘Sapere aude!’ Know, and wrest,
From clamor’s call, an anodyne;
Against a world in sore distress –
One honest heart that’s genuine.

In college, there was a yearly competition to find these glorious early Spring flowers, called calochortus amibillis, commonly named Diogenes Lanterns. In the story, Diogenes walked about with a lit lamp because he was in search of one honest man. We never know if he found him, but he should have looked among the women, maybe…? Ma’at is old Egypt’s goddess of truth from which the personification of Justice as a woman holding a scale gets its basis. Though cuneiform tablets and old drawings do not depict her with a scale, her job was to weigh hearts and souls against the ostrich feather she wore in her hair. Only those souls lighter than her feather could go on to the afterlife.

Ma’at

She does her duty – what is right
In desert storms when high winds rise
When taloned carrion birds take flight
– and venturing out would be unwise.
When her gaze finds all clear and bright,
She still permits no compromise.

Though deeds obscure, though lies oppress
The Scales she scries do not displace
A feather’s weight of faithfulness –
True hearts will show their truest face.
No matter if our hearts transgress,
An honest scale’s our saving grace.

She walks ascendant, even now
Though clouds of lies disorient
Her staff in hand, her neck unbowed
Her feather weighs the soul’s intent.
So let it be: let us allow
This lightness, Love to represent.

Sapere aude is Latin for “dare to know.” Humanity has searched for and championed from antiquity various versions of The Truth. Do we dare to know? From myths and gods onward, the search continues…

Here’s Kelly, who started us off, telling us what that cousin really thinks. And Laura’s, which takes a decidedly glittery angle on things. In Sara’s, equine hoofbeats pound in iambic pentameter. Like most of us, Tricia found this challenge both fun and impossible to do while trying to do other things, and Liz skidded in at the finish line – with her usual grace. Andi continues to walk in beauty this month, and will catch us later. For more poetry, check out the Beyond Literacy Link blog.


BONUS ♦ BONUS ♦ BONUS ♦ ~ Next week, July 14th, is National Mac-and-Cheese Day. You know Poetry Friday Must Celebrate, right? Next week’s round-up is at Tabatha Yeats’ blog The Opposite of Indifference. Be there with cheese on – be it Gruyere or vegan cheddar.

{close your eyes and write}

It’s both easier and harder than you think.

Write. Just… write. Write without worrying who you will offend (Mom, Dad, God… Wait, are they all the same person?). Write without thinking about what you haven’t read, what you can’t do, where you haven’t been. (All Arthurian epics. Pretend to care about Arthurian epics. The Lake District or all the places in England where epic Arthurians are set.) Write without worrying your worldview will be criticized because it is wrong. (“But… you haven’t memorized Tolkien. How will you know how to write elves?”) Write without censoring yourself, because your worldview is snarky. Writing without using the tools others have used, because your own hands work best. (Scrivener? Who really has time to figure that out…?) Write without setting yourself outside your own work, without subjecting it to the critical, limiting, acidic gaze of Other. Write without holding yourself more accountable than anyone else.

Place your feet on the sill and jump. Believe that the air is the same for you as it is for everyone else; that is, that you have just as much chance of falling or flying as anyone else.

Let go and rise.

Close your eyes and look.

You will not fall.

{robin’s song: reprise}

robin’s song

“to the artist, to make the most of time”

a little bird once laid on me
intelligence in four short words
“be here right now.” philosophy
astonishing if not absurd –

we’re always Here. we’re always Now,
but humans linger in the past
endless Regretfuls we allow
to turn Today to overcast

so mindfulness in pithy phrase
may Zen-pretentiousness suppose,
but practice it – the mind’s malaise
will fade to nothing, decompose

friend Robin sang and told a True
I strive for all my waking days:
“take risks! make messes! and pursue
both Love and Art, without delay.”

I carry the card I received from Robin Smith at the end of April, and read it from time to time. “Are you writing?” she asked. That’s how she ended every note, email, or card. Am I writing? Yes. It’s hard some days, and I think, The market is so weird right now; I’m not going to sell this, no one wants to hear this type of life…, but that isn’t her question, is it?

Are you writing? Are you refusing to do anything but be in the moment, and put it on the page? Then, you’re doing the job.

Our Jules did Robin proud in a profoundly moving Horn Book tribute. Sometimes having the right words is itself a gift. ♥

{weepies}

This week, I’ve been unable to read a book without crying all over it. I am reading a lot of middle grade books in preparation for imitating-my-betters and trying to write some this summer, and …wow.

Oakland Museum of California 28

If you read a certain kind of middle grade books (READ: Old School), there seem to be a lot of Adventures, a lot of Doing Things and running around here and there and maybe seeing a ghost or finding a witch (and discovering she isn’t one). It’s about misunderstandings and opportunities – and all those growing up things that you do. However, I don’t remember most of the middle grade books I read hitting me like this. There was a metric ton of historical fiction, all Arthurian and Eurocentric history, and then there were the classroom books – the DEAR MR. HENSHAW/Beezus-and-Ramona/ Judy Blume types of books, including stuff like THE CAT ATE MY GYMSUIT or THE GREAT BRAIN – zany, funny, weird, slice-of-life middle school. Add to that ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY and A BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and there you find books that are emotional, but in the accepted way of the-teacher-assigned-this-and-I-know-the-dog-dies (Yeah, and I’m looking at you, SOUNDER and WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS). Betsy Byars’ SUMMER OF THE SWANS did hit me emotionally – but I mostly remember reading wonderingly about the little brother character in the book, because he was developmentally disabled, and we just didn’t see a lot of books about kids with differences. (Until high school, and then there was that one dude in GRAPES OF WRATH, and that other dude in FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, and don’t get me started on LORD OF THE FLIES or that bunch of books written by social workers, like A CHILD CALLED ‘IT’ which, honestly, what was THAT all about???)

I think if I’d read the books as a child which I’ve read this week, they would have been incredibly comforting to me. Perhaps rather than middle grade books being different these days, maybe the level of genuineness and frankness of writers is more acceptable now. Rita Williams-Garcia’s ONE CRAZY SUMMER trilogy set in 1960’s Oakland, Brooklyn and Alabama touch on themes like being responsible for siblings when you oughtn’t be, and the horrific unfairness of some adults. Shannon Hale’s REAL FRIENDS broke my heart with its depiction of anxiety and loneliness. There’s a silver lining, of course – bad times don’t last, but I think I was a kid who really needed to be reminded of that.

I haven’t quite connected the dots just yet as to how one becomes brave enough to put that much of themselves just out there, on the page, but I’m working at it. On this rainy June afternoon, it feels like it just might be within reach.

So, that’s me just now; how are you?

{poetry friday: the p7 shovel gold}

When they invented the sestina, indeed, the resultant yowling by Aquitanian poets throughout Europe was no doubt noteworthy… but that was before they invented the Golden Shovel…


The Golden Shovel’s title enlarges the idea of tribute, of “shoveling” the golden bits of another poem for reuse. First, a poet takes an admired line, then, keeping the words in order, uses the words from this line as line endings in a new poem of their own creation. Finally, the poem reveals their new creation, and credits the old.

We chose the hardest poem to work with, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty.” You remember the tongue-twister that you utterly failed to memorize in the seventh grade for speech class?

Yeah, that one. (What? Was it only me?):

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
        For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
        And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
        With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                Praise him.

~ Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877

Once I got over the shrieking horror of How am I supposed to work with compounds like ‘chestnut-falls’??? Is that one word, or two???, I began to figure out what this poem was – and what it was not. Foremost, it was not a rewrite of Hopkins’ original. In Terrence Hayes’ original poem, “Golden Shovel,” based on Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” (1959) he took her words and whipped them into a whole new dish. The poignancy and bravado of a nameless black boy cresting the hill of adulthood is certainly there, but he’s not leaning heavily on the bravado of school-skipping adolescents hanging out at a pool hall. Once I stopped trying to rewrite “Pied Beauty,” my process cleaned up a whole lot… though I was still tempted by it. As you can see, I took for use the first line of Hopkins’ exultant poem:

Photos via Wikipedia

lilium fatale

there blooms the lady, gaudy in her glory
as a trumpet blast. Bright freckles massed might be
music, presaging summer’s solo. Oh, to
grace a garden, now that spring is here. Does God
dream in stargazers? Let no beauty be for
gotten: strumpet striped, dewy, sunlight dappled;
dizzy, drenched, these senses! delight in all things.

   ~ after Gerard Manley Hopkins

Moving past my usual squeamishness about blank verse, with its resultant no-rules/no-brakes feeling, I wondered, next, if it was possible to add a little lightness to these poems. Oddly for a tribute form, most I’ve seen are quite serious in content. While the rules in a Golden Shovel freed me from the tyranny of end-line rhyme, I found that thematically, with this poem specifically, thematic variance was nearly impossible. (I’ll be interested in seeing how my other Sisters managed this — I could not.) I’m just not sure how else I could have used these particular lines, although the second half of the poem might have .

star talk

“we’re made of star-stuff.” this, a dazzling sendup of us all;
humanity made luminosity. great, glowy things
reactive (con)fusions, ticking like a Geiger counter,
our radiance cosmic, scintillating & original
yes, we’re stars… but, mostly quarks: odd parts in a box marked ‘spare;’
we broke the mold. we’re distinct, authentic, genuine… strange.

   ~ with genuine affection for the brilliantly strange Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

My one regret is running out of time to try for the last two lines (despite what Laura was told, the last two words constitute no challenge at all, thank you) – but maybe someday!


With such a busy month, we had zero time for collaboration, so like me, I know you’re dying to see what Sara (who is in NM with her kids just now, so may post later next week), Tricia, Laura, Kelly, & Liz are shoveling up this week between commencement, travel, and other ceremonies. Andi’s not with us this month, but we know she is reading and being filled. She will be back. More Poetry Friday goodness to dig your teeth into is found at Buffy’s Blog.

{pfft, may}

*tap tap*

This thing still on?

Och, this month. This month, in my circle, brought unseasonable weather, flat tires, abrupt job losses, cancers, heart weirdness, travel, ocular migraines, suicide, allergies, a major anniversary, and a whole lot of book rejections. In the larger world, it brought such politics as to set one’s teeth on edge, a redefinition of the word “sanity” and moments to check in with each other, as incidents in the news brought us to bought nausea and tears. Definitely a month wherein one takes stock of one’s mental health.

How you doin’?

I’m reevaluating my religion/faith/denomination, re-examining my abilities to write contemporary fiction, and contemplating my potential to say anything of worth. It’s, in many ways, just another day on the farm, but each round of this kind of thinking moves me… some direction.

How about you?

We learn things, through these revelatory moments in our lives. Trees age in circles, tides push us out, and draw us in again, moment by moment, step by step, always moving somewhere both familiar and new. I feel like I am moving both closer to my real self, and further out into the sea.

I don’t practice Judaism, but follow author and Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg on Twitter because she is deep, and we all need a rabbi occasionally, for our mental health (I’d say a priest, except you don’t get girl priests, do you, so… *shrug*). She said something the other day, referencing counting off the days (roughly forty-nine of them, I believe, between the second day of Passover and Shavuot) before the celebration of the giving of the Law (from Moses at Sinai, just to catch everybody up) that resonated with me about Revelation – about things being revealed in due time. About our process, about waiting and being. About, as will always make me think of my buddy Robin, being here NOW.

All these days of counting–the journey from the Red Sea to Sinai–have been to help prepare us for Revelation. Insofar as we can ever be prepared. (Spoiler alert: we can’t.) All we can do is wait in anticipation and hope of being in a place where we’re capable of hearing the voice of God. Maybe that’s a still small whisper inside our intuition. Maybe it’s big and dramatic. But we have to be in a space where we can hear it. Maybe that’s a space of readiness from spiritual discipline. Maybe you’re torn open by grief and able to hear stuff that you usually don’t. Maybe you’re able to love or forgive in a new way and that accidentally opens up this other thing that is actually the same thing. That is, love and forgiveness and God or the divine or the holy or sacred or whatever? All kinda the same stuff. Imho. Ymmv.

Anyway. Tomorrow night is a time of exquisite openness. Attunement. Listening. Receiving. A time to hear what you need to do–which may be (often is–sorry) very different from what you *want*. Needs are inconvenient. The place God is calling you to might not be the fantasy script you’ve been playing out in your head. It might require sacrifice, loss, growth, and deep discomfort in the process of becoming the holiest version of yourself. (Spoiler alert: it’s always process.)

Revelation is terrifying, every single time. Ever read Exodus 19-20? Go look again. That’s some scary shizz there. Revelation is not for lightweights, y’all. You have to be brave enough to hear what God is telling you. The truth of your life. What the cost is to become the person you need to be. (Obligatory gif: “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”) People tune out all the time because they don’t want to hear. Our phones are extra popular for that now, but it’s been true forever. Shavuot is the holiday of tuning in. Shutting up and listening and getting your instructions. You can figure out what to do with them later. (Once you hear them, you can’t un-hear them, tho. No amount of drink or drugs or sex or Candy Crush in the world can fix that, really.)

Are you ready? Are you scared? Are you willing? Are you open?”

I hate this treading water bit of life, this sense of standing in a boat while it’s being sloshed from stem to stern, and we’re just trying to keep our balance. And yet – it’s been a month of unpacking some things, in between bouts of flailing about and wondering if I’m doing anything right at all. I sense the answers may be just around the corner.

Until then, we wait. We listen.

Ready, though scared. Willing. Open.

{pf: p7 attempts instruction poems}

Offensive Mugs 2

Ah, welcome, beautiful May! Now, let us go back to bed.

Another month, another Poetry Project assignment. Laura’s assignments are always bound to be a challenge, as she is a poetry teacher, and can back up her suggestions with lesson plans. This month, we were tasked with writing instruction poems relating to springtime. From my observation, ‘Things To Do’ poems are typically unrhymed lists with at most some internal rhythm, but mostly descriptive turns of phrase. They’re close enough to blank verse for me to get twitchy, so I, of course, quickly imposed some rules.

I am not the only flouter of custom, I hasten to point out. Tricia uses rhymed couplets to weave a perfect poetic circle. Sara’s stunning beauty just goes its own way entirely. October is organized by Kel, while Laura gives summer that style it so clearly lacks (swanning in at half-past July, draped in spidersilk). Liz joins in to celebrate May, while Tricia’s take is beautifully bittersweet. This month, Andi joins us in spirit.

This week, I tried to enter my Zen and not murder-flail any poor creatures to death, because the moths and mayflies, they are thick just now. Unfortunately, the first being my Zen met was a black widow which somehow joined me on the front room couch. Tech Boy dispatched this whilst giving a brief biology lecture on how to recognize venomous spiders. Right. Back to the murder-flailing.

what to do if you’re a house desirous of spring cleaning

Settle in, so doors scrape open oddly,
& windows stick. Array awkward angles
– ceiling, sills – in webs. S c a t t e r c l u t t e r b r o a d l y.
Jam junk drawers. Stir cables into tangles.

Beneath the beds, bale downy puffs of dust.
Cultivate, in corners, the crisp carapace
of beetles, long expired. Mice are a must –
a nest works best. (Tuck in two, just in case.)

Spatter grimy glass with fingerprint stamps,
& construct shapes – like clouds – in carpet stains.
Attracting arachnids, or mildew from damp
Counts as a coup in a cleaning campaign.

Today’s Poetry Friday is hosted at the heart-lifting alphabetical blog of Jama-jams Rattigan, home of the cute, and the cookie. Beware of her Tuesday posts; she will bankrupt us all.

{#npm’17: still babbling & strewing flowers}

It has been weeks since we’ve gone a week without moisture. An afternoon shower. An overnight sprinkle. A heavy mist which turns into precipitation. We drove through the much talked-reported on desert bloom. This picture was taken on the Grapevine, which was colored up and gorgeous. April showers bring May flowers, mayflies, and allergies. Not complaining though. Just shaking my head that they forecast a return of this in autumn. Wow.

Central California Driving 46

parting gifts

an ill-behaved child
el niño, with moods fractious
leaves scattered blossoms

making a play for the golden state

rain-kisses valleys
’til her hills sport team colors
poppy gold and green

A good way to close out Arbor Day weekend as well as National Poetry Month. Check in next Friday for the Poetry Seven attempting yet another assignment poem… so far it’s going… interestingly!