Thursday, December 31, 2009

Black Dog, Black Turning Eyes

Do you remember the fairy tale "The Tinderbox"? I read the story as a child. I had no idea what a Tinderbox was, but I imagined a wooden box full of twigs. In reality it was a box with a flint and some sort of slow-burning material – what they used before they had matches. (I can see some sort of examination of the rise of industrialization that then resulted in "Little Matchstick Girl," also written by Hans Christian Anderson. That is one sad story. When I was 7 or so our ballet recital was "The Little Matchstick Girl." I was an angel who danced around the dying girl. My costume was blue with itchy feathers around the bodice.)

If you don’t know "The Tinderbox," you should go read it, because ol’ Hans was a rather humorous writer, even when talking about lopping off a witch’s head. To summarize, a young soldier meets a witch who asks him to chimmy down into a hollow tree and fetch her tinderbox. While he’s there he’s free to help himself to all the copper, silver and gold coins, which are guarded by three dogs with enormous eyes. When he gets out, he wants to know why the witch is so keen to get an old tinderbox. She’s snippy and he responds by slicing her head off. Those were the days before anger management.

He’s got tons of gold, so he heads off to live large in town, until he’s broke and has to live in a garret (but doesn’t write poetry) and all his friends abandon him. He’s hanging out in the dark and remembers there’s a candle in the tinderbox. He strikes the flint and who should appear but one of the dogs, ready to do his bidding. Of course he sends him out after more gold. Then the story goes on to an unapproachable princess, a narrow escape from death and the destruction of all the pesky people standing in his way. Basically, we have a parable about corporate America.

Or not. Fairytales are wonderfully adaptable. One of my favorite books of poetry is Anne Sexton’s Transformations, reinterpretations of classic fairytales. And then there’s Angela Carter’s sinister The Bloody Chamber. They are chock o' block with sex, despair, brutality, misogyny, injustice, revenge, depravity. Fairy tales are dark and mean. Just tonight Firecracker woke up from a bad dream about getting lost and a witch locking her in a cage. The world of fairy tales is sicker than Saw. Well, I haven’t seen Saw, but you know what I mean.

I had forgotten about "The Tinderbox" until I ran across a Patrick Wolf (yes, I’m on about him again) song of that title. It’s perfectly done – if ever a song sounded like a fairy tale, this is it. His lyrics eventually land on the desire for lasting love and, I think, for some inner spark of vitality. Which is probably why I'm thinking about it. The flint has to be struck over and over.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Merry

1. We went to a candlelight service at an Episcopal church last night, and it was wonderful.

2. Dear Husband has been reading a book by Ann Rice and he says that after reading her descriptions of growing up Catholic, he gets why I find God in art and why I like liturgical services.

3. I have at least three Starbucks gift cards and a box of Starbucks Via, as well as two gift cards for bookstores. Sigh.

4. The girls each got Nintendo DSi consoles from grandparents. They have the cutest game I have ever seen - Nintendogs - with realistic dogs that you feed and play with. I sounded like I had been hitting the eggnog too much: Awww, that's so cute! Oh, that's just the cutest thing! Oh, look, he's rolling over! Oh, look at them eating!

5. Dear Husband made the most delicious ham I have ever had.

6. The girls and I each got Snuggies.

7. I got little black licorice scottie dogs.

8. The kugel turned out great even though I bought ricotta instead of cottage cheese. I have since found many many recipes from actual Jewish sources using ricotta rather than cottage cheese, so I know I'm not crazy. So there. There are as many variations of kugel as there are of "pasta with sauce." The MIL used rice noodles for Dear Husband, and I couldn't tell the difference. I suppose if you have enough cheese, sour cream and sugar, the noodles just have to sit there and be a bit chewy.

9. DramaQueen is determined to continue believing in Santa Clause. She was glued to NORAD watching his progress, and she decorated cookies, and put out crackers, carrots and water for the reindeer, as well as a message asking for a response. So of course I had to write a letter from Santa. This is the part of Christmas I will mourn passing. Nothing really expresses enchantment so much as a child awaiting Christmas.

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas. I'm always a little sad when it's over and all the ornaments have to be packed away for another year. As I get older I begin to consider the losses that could accumulate in the coming year, the possibility of mortal illness, the pangs at watching my girls get older and wanting to snuggle them before they decide that's childish and they've outgrown all the kisses and cuddles.

I also really dislike New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. I always have. There's something about the start of a new year that makes my spirit tired and forlorn. I don't like my birthday, either, not because of growing older but because acknowledging my birth also makes me feel tired and forlorn. I suppose I've never felt very celebratory about being born. Speaking of which, DramaQueen's birthday approaches in January and then Firecracker's in February. Birthday parties mean tracking down nonresponders and fretting that no one will show up and worrying that everyone will be bored. I usually try to opt for venues where someone else runs the show, but I guess I'll be doing it this year, at least for DramaQueen.

Thank the Dear Lord that we are not doing Girl Scouts this year.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Now, THIS is a Christmas Carol. Boy, it beats listening to Casting Crowns choke out O Come All Ye Faithful.

The sound is so beautiful and pure. It makes contemporary worship music sound like a drunken rattling of tin cans.

And perhaps I should next break out my collection of Gregorian Chants.

Sigh. They don't write 'em like that anymore.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Failure. Cummulative. Ontological. The details don’t matter. Only this matters. Failure traps my wrists in its cold hands and breathes ice into my mouth. My veins go numb, the blood sluggish. My eyes have fogged over. I am barely here. Then the slow glow of anger catches in my throat. The air vibrates. Imagine your lover brushing his lips across the skin of your inner arm, how it focuses your attention. I feel weak and urgent, the way you feel when you want to be kissed. I am in dissaray, my pulse struggling to find its voice. I have gripped rage hard and his response is swift. The flesh yields to the thin steel blade, and for a moment I’m giddy with relief and the sting of honest pain.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

More violins, oh, and a bit of keyboard and orchestra some rain and stuff

Final Fantasy's new album Heartland is due out in early January. I'm fairly dancing with anticipation. I happened across this amazing video of Owen Pallett performing one of the songs from Heartland with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Damn, it's amazing.

And then I found a much better version of Many Lives 49MP. This song never ceases to thrill me. He makes a mistake at the end, quite charmingly.

Finally, I thought this was great. He's playing in the rain and won't stop until he's finished his song. I think this song is also from the forthcoming album. I heard him play it at the Atlanta concert. I love the refrain "I'm never going to give it to you" - he sang it directly at the audience.

What 5 people living or dead would you want to have dinner with?

Buster Keaton, Patrick Wolf, Owen Pallett, Franz Kafka, Frida Kahlo. I'll stick with the famous, as I would like to dine with most of my friends anyway. The list could change at any moment. In fact, it's probably changing this very moment...

Ask me anything

Ask me anything

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


I saw this over at MadPriest's blog:

"Grouping the sexuality of people under the terms gay and straight is a false dichotomy. For a start there are plenty of straight gay people around - if there weren't then there would hardly be a right wing in the Church to fight against.

A true dichotomy would be kinky and straight. Descriptively it is far more accurate and puts people into likeminded groupings (imaginative, creative sexual creatures in one camp - boring killjoys who might as well be dead already as they obviously hate the idea of actually being alive).

From roads to fjords to human beings, things are always far more interesting if they contain kinks, have crinkly edges and are downright bendy."

This made me laugh. He states a truth with such flair and humor. Isn’t this a much better division - the creative sexual creatures and the boring killjoys? I’ve often thought about this division into gay and straight. I've found that both camps want you to be very clear about where you stand. Bisexual is uneasily tolerated as a term for the people who just won’t get off the fence, because of course you should be one way or the other or you’re just kidding yourself.

Human sexuality is amazingly flexible. Whatever your preference, you can always surprise yourself. Unless of course you’ve given up on surprise entirely.

In any case, if Zachary Quinto shows up at my house, I’m not leaving him and Dear Husband alone in the same room. You never know.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


I’ve been reading posts about Advent and wondering how to think about Christmas. I so dislike that little phrase “Jesus is the reason for the season.” If I am completely honest, I would not like Christmas nearly so much if there were not presents and trees, lights and decorations. Although I don’t like the relentless consumerism and marketing of the holidays, I really like many of the secular aspects of Christmas.

I’m not quite sure how to extract Christ from the sentimentalized narrative of events that I’m not sure even happened. Where I work, the thinking is that if the Virgin birth is not true, then Christianity falls apart. I don't know why. The story of a virgin birth really seems like something patched on later to explain how this man could be completely human and divine at the same time. But it’s a beautiful image – the soul of the world waiting for the divine to enter as one of its own, God binding himself in human flesh out of love for his creation, giving himself to his creation. Despite my prevarication, I don’t really feel hypocritical reciting the creed about Jesus being born of a virgin and that he died and rose again. I think so many things are true that aren’t literally true. Good fiction is true. Good poetry is true. And yet there may not be a single actual event in either. They transcend the literal and ascend to a world of – what? – archetypes? Platonic forms? The Christmas story is beautiful. It’s poetry, it may be fiction, it is a vision of what the world could be if we truly followed the law of love, it speaks of our greatest hope that humanity is good, because Jesus was a man and was good, because he championed the outcasts and afflicted, and we ourselves can nurture that goodness.

Dear Husband is frustrated at my lack of passion for Christ, as he puts it. He considers my sense of not fitting in to be of my own making. I do find it very difficult to engage. He loves our new pastor. I find his messages simplistic. Dear Husband thinks I'm antisocial. It's not that I don't think there are other people like me - I just don't think they're at our church. And, yes, I have my guard up based on what I hear people express. My husband fits comfortably into orthodoxy. He doesn't take issue with anything. When I hear our pastor say that doubt must be met with faith, I feel frustrated. It's like saying that hunger must be met with food, and yet the tables are bare. Dear Husband says I didn't really listen. Oh, but I did. I listened, hoping I would hear something startling. I am always hoping I will hear something that will touch me, stir me, invigorate me.

And that is why I am about to turn once again to a more formal style of worship. This next weekend I plan to visit an Episcopal church. I don't necessarily think that I feel completely comfortable there. I have so little experience with this style of worship. I've been to Episcopal/Anglican churches that were sadly out of touch. But I want to experience a little quiet veneration, a different rhythm, the Eucharist as a rite, ritual prayer. Dear Husband is beginning to think I'm a nonbeliever. In many people's opinion, I would be. Not in my own. I just feel tired.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Brief Intermission

This blogging break brought to you by a raging sinus infection and a lack of inspiration. We hope to be back to our regular programming shortly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Break Out Your Clove Cigarettes

This past weekend Dear Husband and I went to a concert. Much to my amazement I had discovered a musician before they came to town rather than after. It was like fate was whispering in my ear. Dear Husband went along because he’s a good sport. He and I do not usually share the same taste in music, so I considered this a loving sacrifice on his part. Kudos, sweetie. I owe you a basketball game.

When we drove into the parking lot I saw a young man hovering on the edge, talking into a cell phone. “Isn’t that - I mean, that looks just like him!” Dear Husband replied, “They all look like that.” And, indeed, a lot of young men there did have that sort of school-boyish look, with hair short in the back and floppy in the front. A lot of others looked like they spent their lives in comic book stores. When the show started, Dear Husband said, “Well, I guess that was him.” Oh well, not that I would have interrupted a cell phone call to ask for an autograph. I’m too well-bred.

Floppy Haired Guy was Final Fantasy (or Owen Pallett – they are one and the same). Owen Pallett is a talented violinist. He has done work for Arcade Fire and The Pet Shop Boys and some other people I’m not so familiar with. He’s also played onstage with my other favorite artist Patrick Wolf. His live performances are mesmerizing. In the studio he has a bunch of other musicians to support him. On stage he plays his violin into a loop pedal (ooo, new terminology), then replays and records over THAT, and then does some more (including creating percussion on his violin) and adds THAT to the mix, to create layers and layers of sound. Sometimes he sings into the violin. I was wiggly with amazement.

While he was playing I was almost certain of God's existence.

He wasn't the only act. There was also a singer who came on before him, with the unlikely name of Larkin Grimm. I haven’t found anything online that captures her voice live. It has an elemental force; perhaps she channels it directly from a volcanic fissure. My jaw might have hit the floor a few times. She moved seamlessly from normal singing into a sort of banshee wail. She was … unsettling. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she was a voodoo priestess or the tormented ghost of an Appalachian mountain woman, or, well, just about anything except for a normal, run of the mill, person.

The main band was the Mountain Goats. I guess they’ve been around forever and done a dozen or so records, all of which have some sort of loopy concept. They have the sort of solid fan base of vegetarians and semi-hippie slacker types. Seriously, there was an overabundance of Birkenstocks in the audience and the pervasive scent of clove cigarettes. Their latest album is The Life of the World to Come, and all the songs are based in some way on a piece of scripture. They aren’t a Christian band by any means, but it seems the singer really likes to read the Bible. For fun.
Here is a song from the Mountain Goats called Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace. Not sure what's going on in this song, but it involves tying someone up, and you can't go wrong with that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

Here's the story: In 19th century England, a young woman, a gypsy and outcast, falls in love with the son of the parish priest. They are forbidden to marry and she dies of a broken heart (i.e. jumps off a cliff, takes poison, or pines away). Very romantic. It seems that Patrick Wolf ran across this story when researching his family background and finding a cross with the name Damaris among his ancestors' graves.

The explanation I've read about the story is a little confusing. I think he means the Anglican Church and not the Catholic Church, since the man was the son of a priest. Catholic priests may have been procreating for centuries, but they didn't usually publicly recognize their children and worry who they married. Also, if she were Catholic and had killed herself or if she were completely outside the faith, she wouldn't have been buried on consecrated ground with the rest of the family. I don't know if Anglicans have consecrated ground. You tell me.

But anyway, who cares. This is such a beautiful song and I think of Heathcliff and Catherine or Tess and what's his name. Different part of England, but it really reminds me of Wuthering Heights - the man crying out for his dead beloved.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Oh yeah, those cookies are HOT

Well, it’s that time of year – the holidays – when women’s magazines go all out to make you feel like the crappiest housewife/mom in the world provide you with helpful tips and delicious recipes for your Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities.

I think Good Housekeeping has a lot in common with Playboy. We’ve been socialized to look with concupiscence at photographs of a fat turkey with all the sides on a tastefully decorated table. If you are well-off or have a post-graduate degree, you read Martha Stewart or Real Simple. The Proletariat get off on All You. Good Housekeeping is somewhere in between. Interlarded with the articles on How I Survived Cancer and Skin Care Products that Really Work (in Real Simple that would be Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Items and Decorating with Mercury Glass) are images of the Impossible. The Christmas edition of Good Housekeeping features a centerfold of elaborately decorated cutout cookies: snowflakes with royale icing, piping, and blue sugar that has somehow been coerced into sticking only to the piping; bells with silver dragees; candy canes with alternating bands of white frosting and red sugar. James McAvoy in a light dusting of powdered sugar. Oops - mind wandered a bit.

For some reason, the lower down the economic totem pole you go, the odder the projects, until you get confectionery constructed from white cake, fruit rollups, ice-cream cones, licorice laces, flattened gumdrops, rolls of Life Savers and toothpicks. Almost every “seasonal” dessert in All You reminds me of a Girl Scout Swap Meet – ingenuity devoted to the inconsequential.

Many glossy pages will cover holiday decorating and creating family traditions. You know, traditions such as Aunt Hester saying “Well, it’s an expensive gift” when your child does not display the appropriate enthusiasm and gratitude. The annual misbegotten children’s craft involving glitter. The cat throwing up after eating a roll of curly ribbon. Or, the traditional family greeting, “Where the hell is the tape?!”

I’ve found an article that describes how to create a lovely menorah from glass cylinders filled with blue glass pebbles and tapers. Do you know how many tapers you would go through in order to light these every night of Chanukah? Forty-four. Forty-four full-size tapers. You could buy out the entire candle section of your local Krogers.

Then there are the pages of gift suggestions – gifts under $50, gifts under $25 and so forth. Let me go snap up that little red-striped baby onesie so cunningly rolled into the shape of a lollipop - awwwww. This box of clever conversation starters! Nesting Christmas dolls! The newest children’s classic If You Give a Mouse an Assault Rifle! Vintage tampon cases! Stationary made by indigent Malaysian orphans from recycled candy wrappers! And you know, I’m not kidding about those tampon cases. They’re for real.

Meanwhile, the November edition of GQ features a chick with her boobs hanging out. Go figure.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hey, I wrote something, and so did a bunch of people

Folks, I've been such a creative little critter.

Click here to read my story Sheol, which is on Metazen. Then look around because there are all sorts of interesting stories and poems there.

A few writers I've been reading lately:

Flawnt: he always writes something intriguing and unsettling.

I Must Be Off, a blog by Christopher Allen. He has adventures and misadventures.

Cat Sitting, by Frank Hinton, the editor of Metazen. This story had me in stitches.

Doodles and Words. By Cyn doesn't post enough. Make her post more.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mental Music

I’ve been waking up with songs playing in my head. This is not the usual “I’ve got a song stuck in my head” sort of event. I’ve had that happen of course, sitting at my desk working and really annoyed that the tune of Poker Face keeps playing as background music and trying not to think of Lady GaGa, who makes me feel a little queasy.

I have never woken with a song cycling relentlessly through my head. Particularly not every bloody time I wake up, even if for just a moment in the middle of the night, or in response to a distress call from Firecracker. And it can’t be because I’m playing the same songs over and over. I played U2’s CD over and over for months and had peaceful nights. I ALWAYS play new music over and over. But now my sleep has a soundtrack.

I’m not even a musical person. I can’t play an instrument. I was pathetic at piano. My singing voice is just sad. I have no intuitive feel for music. I have emotional reactions to certain bands and songs, but I couldn’t tell you what key and I probably wouldn’t be able to pick out influences or have the language to describe, well, pretty much anything about a song.

But now I've got my own personal jukebox, all songs by Patrick Wolf. His music is burrowing insistently into my psyche. I'm walking around in a world of blackberries and thickets, doomed romances, mythical characters (Hi Theseus), shape shifters (Hello Vultures), towers, gypsies, bluebells, constellations, and pig farmers (yes, even pig farmers). What would it be like to have all that spring forth from your imagination?

It would be the best.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Hello Kitty Walks to Emmaus

Dear Husband is on his way back from Walk to Emmaus, so I suspect I won't have any time to post anything substantial. Firecracker in particular is eager to see her daddy again. She's had a few teary moments over the weekend. So if you want something to read, go back to Coffee and Renaissance, if you haven't already.

BTW, it seems Dear Husband was the only guy at the retreat with Hello Kitty bedsheets.

Nope, no post happening here.


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Coffee (a little caffeinated fiction)

Another day of NaBloWriMo, which this late at night is starting to sound a bit obscene. I'm tired and I've been working on this fiction piece for too long.

So, post now, cringe later.


I hate walking into restaurants and cafes by myself to meet someone. I always feel awkward, as if no one will claim me. I’m hanging on the threshold now for an agonizing few moments scanning the room until I see my friend.

“Hi!” she says, waving her cup at me.


I’m always flustered. Why can’t I just be natural? Why does safety seem so fragile?

I order the first thing I can think of, because I get rattled when there are too many options.

“Have you heard from Lars?” she asks.

“Yes, he’s in London doing research at the British Museum. Then he’ll go to Cambridge. I get letters almost every day.”

And when there isn’t a letter I feel unmoored. I don’t believe he misses me really. He doesn’t need me, not the way I need him, to keep the world in place, to keep me from crashing.

“That’s sweet. Will you go over?”

“No money. He has a grant, but I don’t have enough saved, and no vacation.”

And I would be alone there, while he writes and researches with that single-mindedness I admire. It sucks to feel deficient. I would hate myself for not being bolder, for not setting my own course – Ireland, Scotland, the Hebrides, wherever. He would. He does. She has red hair, wavy red hair falling to her shoulders. I’ve always liked it, the way it glows in sunlight, how it springs against her cheek as she walks.

“How is Steve?” I ask.

Steve is a pill.

“We’re going on a trip this summer…”

Ah, matters have progressed. How…established. Serene, she always looks so serene. It’s hard to imagine her kissing Steve passionately, or undressing for him. The buttons on her blouse, would she undo them slowly, watching him, or

“That sounds great. I’m jealous.”

She always dresses modestly. She barely shows any skin at all, except where the neckline of her shirt collar opens slightly. Her skin is so pale, with just the faintest flush. She wears a delicate necklace, so delicate, light as breath, light as a feather or a soft kiss. A soft kiss there in the hollow of her throat.

“So how’s work?” I ask.

“Oh, I have a new project…”

She doesn’t use her hands much when she talks. She keeps them folded on the table, or touches the handle of her cup slightly, turning it in the saucer, or moves the salt shaker. It’s almost soothing. I imagine her hands are cool and that her touch is gentle.

“Do you want more?”

Shit. Idiot. You should have been listening.


“Do you want more coffee?” And now I notice the server hovering impatiently.

“Sure. I guess.”

But how many have I had now? My legs feel jumpy. She’s never jumpy, never ruffled, never taken by surprise. I would like to.

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to kick you. Um, what have you been reading?”

“I found this great novel…”

The third cup, or the tenth, I’ve lost count. Her eyes get very bright and lively when she talks about books. Green, with a ring of brown around the pupil. She has what I can only describe as a ladylike laugh, lips slightly parted, more a smile than a laugh. Lips slightly parted and I’m losing my way here

“You can borrow it when I’m done.”

“Absolutely, it sounds great. Thanks”

She slips off her jacket. It is getting warm, even with the overhead fans. Her arms are bare. She reaches up to tuck her bra strap back under the fabric. Black lingerie and yes, she sees you staring you complete idiot.

“Have, um, have you seen that new movie. Maybe we could go.”

“Sure, I’ll ask Steve.”

Goddam Steve to hell. Why did I drink so much coffee?

“You know, you should run away with me.”

She stops dead in the middle of whatever she was saying, and then laughs. “Lars wouldn’t like that very much.”

She is, after all, used to this, though I doubt she knows I am slowly unbuttoning her blouse, which is warm from her skin and I’m pulling her close so that her glorious red hair falls across my face when I kiss her, and then

“Thwarted again,” I say lightly.

I jump up so suddenly I bang my knee on the table and the cups rattle and several people turn around. “Ow. Sorry. I just need to go to the restroom. Too much coffee”

I stare at myself in the mirror. I look lifeless. I look futile. I feel flimsier than the airmail letters that Lars sends so regularly from England.

“I should go now. The stations near my place get sketchy at night.”

“Well it was great to see you.” She hugs me just long enough to demonstrate that she is open-minded yet inaccessible and smiles just a bit too much in her effort to be completely okay with me. If I were a man she would never speak to me again. Which just goes to show how insignificant a threat I am.

I walk off to catch the train. I turn the corner and as I pick up the pace I reach out my hand and drag my wrist across the rough brick wall. I can’t stop shaking. I really should have skipped that last cup.

Friday, November 06, 2009


I'm going to cheat a bit on this post something every day challenge. This is a poem written over two decades ago, inspired by a movie. I will be most impressed if you can guess which film.


The window frames her against a peaceful landscape,

then a flutter and her skirt trails down the stairs.

She walks through the city streets

past squawking birds, carts of fruit,

vegetables and herbs, through crowds

and noise and dirt into your studio.

She sits as he asks her to sit.

She is what he wants her to be –

Magdalen with her bottle of oil.

The artist says: “My life has been

one long orgiastic dismemberment.

I grind myself into the pigment. I leave

my fingerprints in the paint,

every moment of self-loss

countered with brutal control.

It’s perverted, this transubstantiation.

How can you compare flesh and blood

with oil and pigment? All art is against

lived experience.

Magdalen is dead, and her savior

died in stylized brutality

centuries ago if it happened at all.

My memories are a series of paintings,

every gesture balanced against another,

every dark with its seed of light.”

While he counts her fee,

she yawns and stretches after such long immobility.

Outside she pauses in the doorway,

hair blown against the peeling frame,

the steps into the street where

her skirt stirs little clouds of dust.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

It was a jolly good time, it was

Day two of this MoBlo or whatever it's called and I'm already scrambling. Inspiration or copier toner hit me this afternoon and I suddenly thought: "I wonder if I can find that old house I lived in back in the Summer of '89" So I tried. I think that the image below is what I knew as Brokengall Cottage, Widbury Hill, Ware, Hertforshire.

I have a very poor memory. All sorts of things are jumbled up - the little tudor building overhanging High Street (or was that in Hertford?), the pub that served elderberry wine, the canal that ran past the maltings, carrying with it a very distinctive fermenting smell. Actually, I thought it smelled a lot like cocaine, which just goes to show that I've always been adept at merging the old and the new.

I lived in Brockengall Cottage with my girlfriend, a fellow who epitomized the term "bloke" and a possibly malnourished Scottish lass. Only the bloke had a car, so every morning I got up and walked to my workplace through, I kid you not, a barley field. For the life of me I can't remember the name of the place where I worked - some council office. I processed student transport applications. The other folks there were involved in other aspects of transportation. There was the young Irishman who answered the transport information line. I'm not sure why they put someone who had no idea where he was in charge of advising callers on the best route between Ware and Much Haddam or St. Albans or wherever. But he had a charming accent. Also in the office were two old gents who drove double decker buses in London during the Blitz. I should have listened more carefully to their stories. They spent a lot of time fielding frantic questions from the Irishman, because they had all the routes memorized. The old guys were terribly worried that I wasn't seeing enough of England. I was young and had different ideas about entertainment, i.e. sex had a higher priority than the Tower of London.

During lunch I went to the little canteen, which was, for some reason, vegetarian. They served spaghetti on toast, beans on toast, cheese on toast. Pretty much anything on toast. I usually got an apple, walnut and honey sandwich.

Funny that I don't remember much about getting back and forth from the cottage to work, except for the mornings it rained and the barley field turned to sludge. I don't remember the walk back at all. How odd.

I think I drank most of what I earned. That seemed to be what everyone did. A pound a pint. I used to get something called a Snakebite (is it still called that?), half lager and half cider. Sometimes I had lager and lime instead. Then we would stagger along High Street. How we got home I can't imagine. Must have been the bloke. Anyway, the British take that designated driver stuff seriously.

I have this reminder of those days, a poem I wrote after I returned to New York:

Brokengall Cottage

I hear rain. No, it’s the farmer burning
his field. Smoke drags
along the ground, snagging
like wool in the stubble.
The horse’s hooves explode
against the gate. Nothing happens.
The fence is sturdy.
He snorts and butts all morning.
Locked in their pens
the dogs yelp and stumble.

Night moths fly through open
windows and drown in glass of water.
In darkness I hold
the glass to the moonlight.
Half-awake I once swallowed a moth.
But it stayed down. It stayed put.

In the days of the plague
corpses from London were dumped in the marsh
between this town and the next.
A tangle of bones
braced against a weight of mud.
Above, the smooth slates
of water spread undisturbed.

I saw the Lady of Shallot pinioned
in hyper-reality, menaced by detail –
the jeweled flowers, the chiseled leaves,
her revelation somewhere to my right.
As always the point of focus
was outside my field of vision.

I think of her when I stand by the canal.
Underwater weeds splay
like a drowned woman’s hair.

New York uncoils in the dream, knives
and teeth tear at the wildflowers
in the hearth.
The floorboards creak
with an unknown weight.
The restless dogs nip and worry
something that squeals.
Outside the door I find a rabbit’s foot
and, further toward the road,
the deflated carcass.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Art of Boxing

So I guess the idea of this blogging month is to post something every day about something that interests you. My first thought is, Do I have any interests? Or, have I already bored everyone at the cocktail party? I've talked at length about German soaps (an interest that has now expanded to Spanish, Dutch, South American, British, Romanian and Israeli soaps). I've posted my musical obsessions (Patrick Wolf still reigns at the moment, followed closely by The Editors). In fact, there aren't many obsessions I haven't culled. Now I'm left with the more muted "interests."

So, boxes. I'm fond of decorative and unusual boxes. I have nowhere to put them, so I have very few. But when I walk into Cost Plus or Pier One, I am attuned to the boxes. Carved wood boxes, small boxes of soapstone, boxes with mosaic inlay, boxes with cunning little drawers and velvet lining. A box is, well, a boxfull of potential, a mystery waiting to be tucked away.

Which brings me to Joseph Cornell. Can you imagine my delight when I discovered Joseph Cornell, the master artist of surrealist boxes?

I don't want someone tracking me down for copyright infringement, so just click here to see an example, and here to see a whole bunch of them. The Art Institute of Chicago has a big collection of Cornell boxes, and I've spent some happy times there soaking in their magic. One of my favorite poets, Charles Simic, wrote a volume of short essays about Cornell. The book is called Dime-store Alchemy, and I think that is a perfect description for Cornell's art.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Blah di blah

I guess there's some sort of bloggy challenge this month, to post every day. I've already missed the first of the month, but then it's typical for me to be late out of the gate. Actually, I'm stalled. Just sort of hanging out. I was working on writing two different things, and then I had one of those dreadful situations. I looked over them and they felt false, and not in a good way. And then I thought perhaps they were a bit too revealing, but also not in a good way. You know when you're cornered by someone who wants to tell you about their suppurating wound, you don't really relish their gift for vivid description.

So, really, there's partly a question of courage, because I'm avoiding looking at them, because they seem rather silly, and I have to carve out the bits that struck me as false without completely whitewashing everything. So that I look presentable.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Random thoughts with string accompaniment

I get restless when I don’t post anything. That means I’m writing this without there necessarily being anything worth saying. But it relieves my mind and by golly why else did I start this blog anyway?
  1. Last night the second graders put on a little musical. Firecracker was so excited because she had a speaking role, delivering a line about “strng and compassion.” Yes, that’s what it sounded like. I showed up with a nearly dead cell phone and a nearly dead camera. Of course all the other parents had whipped out their camcorders. I’m the mom who still has all her photos in boxes instead of albums. I can’t concentrate on watching and recording so I thought “screw it.” The kids sang about recycling and diversity. It was almost like being back in the 70s. They all wore virulent yellow T-shirts, which Firecracker insisted on wearing again today.
  2. Firecracker now has a cape and some fake blood so that she can be a vampire for Halloween. DramaQueen will be a vampire slayer. We have still to fashion a stake and find some way for her to carry that along with her “holy water” (a spray bottle which we will label and she can use to annoy her fellow trick or treaters). DramaQueen is into verisimilitude, but she told me that it “doesn’t have to be real holy water.” Thanks, sweetie. Firecracker told me quite firmly that she doesn’t want fake blood on her face, which kinda defeats the purpose of buying it. Perhaps I should just have her carry around a little faux juice pouch of blood. The new generation of vampires knows how impossible it is to get blood out of a good white shirt.
  3. The Halloween store had some truly disgusting set pieces, including one of a man being eaten alive by rats. The contrast between that and the toddler ladybug costumes was disconcerting. It made me want to shake some sense into someone.
  4. My therapist thinks I should try something called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Instead of struggling with negative feelings and trying to fix my various problems, I am to observe them with a sort of Zen-like detachment and get on with whatever needs doing. I’m not great at letting my feelings float by like debris in a stream (they tends to swim around in me as if I were an aquarium), but I was struck by the novelty of simply giving up on trying to control depression and anxiety. Easier said than done. Right now I feel anxiety smoking out the long-suffering residents of my internal world. I did try to visualize my anxiety, which for some reason appeared to me as a green lima-bean shaped velvet cushion.
  5. One problem is that I really don’t know what needs to be done at the moment. I have a lull in my workload. That makes me feel guilty, as if I should find some envelopes to lick. So I’m listening to a very odd CD by Final Fantasy, who is actually a violinist named Owen Pallett, who I gather did the string arrangement for one of Arcade Fire’s albums. In live performances he plays his violin into a sampler and then plays over that. I love hearing the violin, so I’m enjoying this. That’s one of the reasons I like Patrick Wolf, too, as he uses a violin so frequently. Anyway, here is Owen Pallett of Final Fantasy doing strange things with a violin.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Music Is the Food of Life

I think Patrick Wolf is nine kinds of brilliant, so since I'm bored and depressed, I'm just going to amuse myself by promoting him.

(but you can hear the lyrics better here)

Monday, October 05, 2009

I am small, and needy

Gray in several ways

It’s the right sort of weather to be melancholy, and I am. I am definitely at low tide. You can go pick up the dead fish and seashells, if you like. This morning I finally filled out a questionnaire I’ve been putting off. As part of my reconstructive surgery I have a silicone implant, which the manufacturer is following quite closely to make sure no one gets sick. Of course, this reminds me that I have an implant. Not that it’s all that easy to forget, but I definitely play an evasive game with it. Of course I’m grateful for the vast strides in plastic surgery and would much rather this than say, being dead, but I have my moments when I feel a bit sorry for myself. Or maybe it’s just the residue of the experience. When I visited my brother in the hospital recently, I was uncomfortably reminded of my many visits – the circular drive in front of the main entrance, the color of the carpet and walls, the smell of the soap. . Actually, I get a little quaky just thinking about it now. Dear Husband would say that I never really dealt with it. That could be right, or maybe I just never knew what it would mean to deal with it. I was pretty fraggin happy that I didn’t have to have chemo or radiation at the same time that I was astounded that you could need a mastectomy for grade 0 cancer and someone with a grade 2 could get away with a lumpectomy. I had no lump – just widespread tissue change. On the scale of catastrophe, I thought it was pretty small. Even on the scale of familial catastrophe it seems small next to Firecracker’s preterm birth, her Tuberous Sclerosis, her brain surgery and Dear Husband’s chronic illness. Yes, a walk in the park compared to Firecracker having her skull sawed off, electrodes stuck in her brain and her skull stuck back on temporarily with wires snaking out for a week of videotaping and testing only to find out that it was a big friggin waste of time. I wish I hadn’t thought of that.

I’m also looking at my gray hair. I feel ambivalent about it. Is it really so dowdy as people seem to think. It looks sort of pretty to me. I’m ticked off that the world and pretty much everyone I know covers their gray. Dear Husband is definitely in favor of hair dye, which I usually do. I often feel like I would just like to be gray, dammit. Let it be. But then part of me is holding on to youth, because I still feel as gauche and unformed as a 20 year old. There’s a woman at my church who has beautiful silver hair. She also has an impeccable figure and good bones. She makes gray hair look like something you could flaunt saucily. I don’t have sauce, unfortunately.

I googled “going gray gracefully.” Gracefully means that you have your hairstylist do lowlights and highlights and generally fuss about so that your gray grows in prettily. In the past 10 years I’ve had my hair dyed professionally perhaps twice. Not a big fan of dropping $100 at a salon. Dear Husband thinks I lack some female gene because I don’t labor over makeup and my hair and nails. Seriously, screw it. The only time I was interested in such stuff I wore black nail polish, blue lipstick and dyed my hair pink. THAT’S fun. Manicures, eyebrow waxing – give me the money and I’ll go buy a book, thank you very much.

Well, this all reminds me that I need to get my anti-depressant refilled, play with my kids more and give Dear Husband more kisses.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


(a little creative writing)

This particular night I’m at a dance club with my friend Evan. We spend a lot of weekends here, sometimes not getting back to campus until sunrise. This is our favorite club, the one with the best music and the most colorful people. The dance floor is tiny. One wall is covered with mirrors to make it look larger. Most people can’t help checking themselves out as they dance. Most people here are very interested in themselves.

Evan is fun to be around. He has a lot of charm – he knows everyone and everyone loves him. People usually ignore me. I’m not sociable. I hate trying to make small talk in loud clubs. I am shy and tend to glower. But I like dancing. It doesn’t matter how you dance here. In fact, it’s best to be a bit extravagant and odd. And you don’t need a partner. There’s no couples dancing. If you want to get up close and personal, that’s what the bathrooms are for.

Evan catches sight of someone he knows. He smiles his potent smile and soon I’m half heartedly trying to follow a half-heard conversation with someone whose name I’ve already forgotten. Not that it matters. They’ve forgotten mine, too. I think it’s exhausting I’m a little jealous. I’d rather have Evan all to myself, not because I have romantic designs on him, but because that’s the way I feel about my friends. I’m possessive.

He says, “I want you to meet someone.” I’m looking at a girl with short black hair and dark eyes with dramatic black eye liner . She looks like Siouxie Sioux from Siouxie and the Banshees. She looks like Louise Brooks gone goth. She looks like…the only thing worth looking at. She has a friend with her that I don’t really notice. Someone inconsequential.

“Hey,” I say, “weren’t you at that party at Ella’s place? You tried to transfer an entry stamp on to the back of my hand so I could get into a club.”

“Oh yeah, I remember.” she says, then she smiles and I don’t catch what she says next. “What?” I say. I can barely hear anything. She leans in until I feel her hair against my cheek and whispers in my ear, “Fate.” She leans over the bar and says something to the bartender. He gives her a pen and a matchbook. She flips up the cover and scribbles. Then she takes my hand and gently closes my fingers around the matches. “Call me.”

It’s several days later, now. I’m sitting by the phone with this matchbook in one hand, and I’m considering. When fate deals you a card, you should walk away from the table. But I don’t.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I am bored, so very bored. My mind is flopping about like a fish on deck of a ship. The best I can look forward to is a grill.

When I’m bored, the future seems as endless as a bad dream, moment by moment laboriously lifted and dropped. I don’t dare look ahead, because there are yards and yards of moments strung end to end. I’m looking out at the parking lot. The light is lovely, winking off the cars. The chill of autumn is slowly wiggling in. But I can’t work up any enthusiasm for anything. Why do people drive here each day and park their cars and get out and go to work and actually feel alive? And everything is God here. God god god. We need more churches to let more people know about God We all have Bibles at our desks. I guarantee you I am the only one here who doubts so ferociously.

I am bored with the whole faith issue. I’m tired of thinking about it. I dread devotions here. I feel awkward. I feel false. I feel like contradicting everything. I feel like being late so I miss them. I feel like not being nice. I feel like sneering when someone says “God has it under control.” These people have faith and I’m the viper in their midst.

I am supposed to appreciate the here and no and not always wish to escape, but this nowness is so dull and I am so restless and cantankerous.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I am at loose ends it seems, a very uncomfortable feeling. A which way do I turn feeling. A stare into the abyss feeling.

These are two of my all-time favorite songs, part of my soundtrack for staring into the abyss.

Isolation, by Joy Division

How Soon Is Now? by The Smiths

(that video is useless but the original one can't be embedded)

Friday, September 18, 2009

I ditched the meaning and now I have nothing to wear

Suicidal ideation without intention. Just one more thing I think about and never do.

And wouldn’t, so don’t freak out.

That was one of a list of characteristics my therapist derived from the TAT (Thematic Apperception Test). When you take the TAT, you view a series of pictures (drawings, photos, prints) and talk about what is happening in the picture, what happened before, and what will happen after. These are my traits:

Lack of motivation
Suicidal ideation without intention
Desire to escape reality

Well, that’s encouraging. At least I’ve always been correct in my self-assessment.

Boredom: I’ve been complaining about this from 5 years of age on. I remember my childhood as a lunar landscape of boredom, empty time unrelenting and blank, tense with restraint because movement was futile. In college I discovered hyperstimulation: late nights, clubs, drink, drugs –the quest for elation. Now I just tend to drift when I’m bored, or to seek distraction in the ever shifting world of popular culture.

Distractibility: Ooo, it’s shiny, it’s new, and there’s more here, and more there, and wow, there are just lots and lots of things/music/books/websites and I can look up anything anytime, skipping stone to stone with a pocket full of baubles.

Morbidity: The worst will happen. The other shoe will drop. Yang needs its Yin. Karma will bite back. Car accidents, abductions, murders, torture, assault, hurricanes, tornadoes, terminal disease, sudden death.

Lack of motivation: I never met a goal that grabbed my attention. I am consistent in bobbing along, drifting past the scenery, uncertain, baffled and envious of those with definable ambitions. I feel sleepy.

Suicidal ideation without intention: From the moment I understood what it was, standing in the bathroom at 16 with a razor blade wondering if I could in fact nerve myself to cut deeply enough, the possibility of slipping out of life has had its allure. But not enough to try it. I’ve talked about it and mulled it over and compared possible departure routes with equally morbid friends, and read enough Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton to induce major depression. But I’ve never collected the pills, walked into the ocean, slit my wrists, tied a noose. I want transition, but not that transition. My card is the Tower – the destruction before rebuilding, the slate wiped down and a nice new pencil, the old self burned away and the new one in the ashes.

Desire to escape reality: Fiction, fantasy, cinema, TV (all those foreign soap operas!). If you’re bored silly with what you have to do and feel trapped and hemmed in by necessity, duty and responsibility, and/or you don’t feel confident in any of these, where do you go? I am never just here, in this one place at this one time. I am not “present” as I so often hear. I am wandering over 10 or so different landscapes at once, and often not as myself.

After looking at the pictures I thought of how we filter all art this way, through our own temperament and idiosyncrasies, so that even the most objective aspects – narrative sequence, the paint and the object painted are transformed by our projected fears and desires. This is why I can’t imagine the Bible as inerrant rather than a mysterious hallway of mirrors.

In college I had to read The Possessed by Dostoevsky. The professor, it was clear, found the nihilism of the radicals repulsive. He had, after all, escaped from Communist Russia. Although I disliked political nihilism (as I like civic order), I found the idea of nihilism liberating. I thought of clearing the land for the new crop, burning the forest to encourage the trees. Everyone was so certain of what everything meant – morality is this, purpose is this, you must behave like this because of that because that is what is right because that is what everyone knows, the great immutable meaning of rightness. Useless, stagnant meaning seemed to have a stranglehold on everything. How lovely to discard the meaning and construct something more suitable.

Only, I am good at cutting away the meaning and not so good at constructing something more suitable.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

And here is more of it

1. In the ongoing situation with my brother and his wife, it seems there are really no particularly good options. There is not enough money for assisted living, yet they aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. No one has the ability to take them into their home, and I think they would protest that quite strongly. We certainly can’t give her the 24/7 care the hospital thinks she needs, and I sincerely doubt that my autistic (or whatever he is) brother knows jack about testing blood sugar levels and how to judge the amount of insulin needed and probably won’t do much better with training. I could be wrong. He’s good with numbers and data. I don’t think he’s ever paid a bill late. Perhaps we can get a nurse to check in periodically – something that is quite expensive. I’ll have to hope that my brother has enough prescience to keep the house from burning down (although this is debatable – my family cleaned up their house last weekend and found a dead animal and threw out 20+ bags of trash, including stacks of paper filled with chess moves – at least I think they are chess moves and not some more arcane code). They don’t live close enough for us to check in on them frequently. This remains a puzzle. It’s sad that my brother has never been evaluated for learning or cognitive disabilities. Talking to him is an exercise in frustration. I think we’ve all just assumed that he was really neurotic from our screwy upbringing, but watching him now, I can tell there is a neurological problem. I don’t know that searching out a diagnosis in your 60s would be all that helpful. In any case, he isn’t so far gone as to need guardianship, so he has the right to do what he wants with regard to their wellbeing. It seems that the county will pay for a nurse to visit three times a week.

2. I wish this show - RAW - aired in the US, but I doubt it ever will. I’ve seen selections from it on YouTube, but they are all for just one story line, and the Irish network doesn’t have full episodes online. The show is set in Ireland, in the kitchen of a restaurant, with temperamental chefs and a motley crew of kitchen help and wait staff, all yelling at each other, having affairs, angling for power, and getting into all sorts of mischief. The episodes have great soundtracks, and the Australian chef is a bit of alright, too.

3. My amusement with foreign soap operas knows no end. I’ve now found a Welsh one and a couple of Spanish ones, a Dutch one and an Israeli one. The Dutch one is partly in Dutch and part in English, and there’s an American actress who looks just like Luke’s grandmother on As the World Turns. Yes, I’ve watched a little of that, too, just for Luke and Noah, but the plots are so wacked it’s irritating.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m following the gay story lines (and it seems to be all guys, for some reason), because that’s what everyone seems to upload. They are all pretty similar – two guys fall for each other but don’t want to admit they’re gay and spend as many episodes as possible struggling with it, angst-ridden and creating chaos and misunderstanding until the writers have worn them to bits and eroded everyone’s patience and they finally (1) declare their love and settle into domestic bliss, dooming themselves to a minor story line from then on; (2) declare their love and one of them gets beat up/is abducted/narrowly evades assassination by crazed homophobic relative; (3) declare their love and spend twelve episodes trying to bring their family round; (4) declare their love but one of them ends up running off with a girl for a while until he comes to his senses and spends twelve episodes trying to win back his true love, who is going to make him walk on hot coals first. The Welsh soap opera seems to be departing from formulas, as the kid is perfectly happy and comfortable with himself and his Dad’s attitude can be summed up as “Nobody in this village better discriminate against my son.” And they don’t. You might wonder where the dramatic tension is in that. So do I. I just like listening to Welsh.

Sigh. I just can’t resist posting videos, particularly if they’re over the top. (At least I hope this is over the top. No one has actually behaved like this, have they?). Here you see two young fellows struggling – literally - with the “coming to terms with it” stage. It’s not going too well. I happen to like the music in the opening sequence – so menacing and ritualistic. Ah, young love. I think the blond guy is kinda scary. I mean, look at his eyes. They say "I'm a National Front serial killer."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

This is what it is

1. So I've mentioned in some places the absolute craptastic issues facing my family. My brother Mitch and his wife both ended up in the hospital and they won't let her go because the docs have deemed her unfit to take care of herself and my brother (who has, I think, undiagnosed autism) unfit to take care of her. They have no money. She needs assisted living, not a nursing home. Assisted living costs a fortune. We have to sort something out. I don't know what. I think my other brothers are just kind of hoping a new psych eval will show her to be okay, despite a family history of dementia. Frak me.

2. The girls have been running fevers since Friday. Tomorrow, back to the doctors. Did I say "frack me" yet?

3. The toilet clogged this morning. The only upside was that the guy who came to fix it was, um, pretty dishy.

4. I think I am following every soap with a gay story line. No, wait, I can't - because there are TOO DAMN MANY. Germany's All That Matters has become a new favorite because it's hard not to like a show with two men having such enthusiastic fun in a shower.

5. I am really ticked off to learn that we NEVER find out who killed Jenny Schecter. WTF? I was SO ready for that whiny little witch to get her comeuppance and now I don't even know who to thank.

6. Isn't the first time you have sex supposed to be one of those events you remember forever? You know, at least if you weren't drunk or high? I've got a place and a person and then it gets fuzzy.

7. A friend recently reminded me that we used to go to the mall during free period to watch As the World Turns (or was it Days of Our Lives?), something I don't remember at all. It seems we had pet names for the main characters: Ugh and Goolie. Who the hell were they? But that in turn brought back the memory of following Raven and Skyler on the Edge of Night. Did I not have a life? No. No I didn't.

8. Dear Husband and I are watching Battlestar Gallatica, which is awesome on so may levels. On my level, I have a crush on Cylon Number Six, who can plant a chip in my brain anytime.

9. As I realize how much I don't remember, I'm wondering how much I fabricate out of a need for narrative continuity.

10. Speaking of narrative, I wrote a story that you can find here, on Metazen. Some of it is based on memory -- mine, I think.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Verbotene Liebe

In my ongoing quest to do anything except what I’m supposed to be doing, I have discovered .... a German soap opera! Or rather, bits of a German soap opera. I can’t find full episodes, not in English anyway. Instead, fans of particular characters pull out those story lines and post them on YouTube. They’ve even provided subtitles, bless their obsessive little hearts.

The soap opera is called Verbotene Liebe. It seems pretty much like an American soap opera, but because everyone is speaking German, it sounds sophisticated and poetic, like Rilke. It almost makes me want to learn German. Oh wait, I tried that in college under the influence of Wings of Desire. One semester made me grateful that most Germans learn English so they can communicate with idiots like me. I haven’t watched a soap opera since high school, when I used to moon over Robert Scorpio on General Hospital. He had an Australian accent, you see. Which just goes to show you that an accent will go a long way with me.

Verbotene has a gazillian storylines, I gather, but so far I’ve investigated just two: Oliver and Christian, and Carla and Hanna/Vanessa/Stella/Susanne. Carla seems to get around, the minx. I last saw a portion of the story about Carla and Suzanne, the smitten taxi driver. Suzanne’s love for Carla was unrequited. It was unrequited for a whole lot of episodes, which was getting really tedious, until the plot finally propelled Carla into Susanne’s arms, knocking her lunch to the ground and startling the passersby. They go on to get married, have a baby, invite a viper into their home, and, well, I haven’t gone further. Carla and Susanne are both kind of insipid and have a phenomenal lack of chemistry. Honestly, any couple that kisses like that is doomed to a life of flannel nighties and Ovaltine. The L Word definitely does it better.

The Olli and Christian story has been much more enjoyable because they are most definitely not doomed to flannel and Ovaltine and yet they are so adorable you wish they were available as plush toys.

Their story goes something like this:
  • Olli and Christian don’t like each other
  • Olli and Christian are friends, sort of
  • Olli begins to like Christian a LOT
  • Olli kisses Christian’s girlfriend
  • Olli kisses Christian
  • Christian freaks out and gets confused
  • Olli tries to be a good friend.
  • Christian continues to freak out.
  • For several more episodes Christian freaks out
  • Olli continues to be really nice to the jerk
  • Olli and Christian hook up
  • Christian freaks way the hell out
  • Olli (who was already exhibiting signs of emotional masochism a few steps back) tries to be understanding and supportive
  • Christian finds nearest girl to date
  • Olli decides to screw understanding and support, and maybe the hot guy he meets at the club
  • Christian is madly jealous
  • Olli is ever so slightly impatient
  • Christian has a revelation: I’m gay!
  • Tender love scene to “Breathe Me” by Sia
  • Everyone’s happy.
  • Until formerly uptight Christian comes out in the most dramatic way possible. After a boxing competition. In the boxing ring. By kissing Olli. For a very long time. Audience looks stunned at this unexpected entertainment, which is only supposed to happen in Bruno.
  • Olli gets beat up by – you’ll never guess – a homophobic boxer
  • Olli lies in hospital at death’s door
  • The non-homicidal boxers rally round Christian and even hug him without worrying about cooties
  • Olli survives
  • Olli and Christian live happily ever after in abiding adorableness
  • Awwwwww
Except, it’s in my nature to skip ahead, so I know that somewhere along the line Christian has to give up boxing due to a heart defect and Olli opens his own bar and starts wearing one of those Israeli scarves that I associate with the smell of clove cigarettes and earnest discourse.

(Note: Good gravy, the official Verbotene Liebe website actually has a Christian and Olli blog. I found it by locating the words “blog” and “English” on the all German site. It's so nice they've made accommodation for us language slobs. Oh, lordy, I think this may be almost too cute.)

This being a soap opera, I imagine there will have to be a terminal illness, a death, an affair, a double-crossing intruder, a dark secret from the past, embezzlement, a long-lost twin, amnesia, a baby, or perhaps all of those to keep the story going.

By that time I will have moved on to something else. I hear Hollyoaks has its merits…

Monday, August 31, 2009

Monastery of the Holy Spirit

This is where Dear Husband and I went on Saturday for our anniversary. It was wonderfully peaceful. We saw a video about the history of the monastery. I couldn’t hear it very well. Someone behind me seemed to be slowly working their way through a roll of candies, slowly tearing the paper wrapper. The brother who was there to answer questions couldn’t hear a word anyone was saying. Seems his hearing aid wasn’t working so well. I don’t think anyone minded – he seemed such a nice fellow. There was a group there from Mars Hill (which one I don’t know) led by a man with a booming voice. He already seemed to know so much about the community that the brother sent him off as the tour guide for his group. It’s amazing how noisy people who don’t mean to be noisy can be.

The church is beautiful, quite simple but with lovely gothic arches and stained glass made at the monastery. I love chapels and cathedrals. They calm me the moment I walk in. Perhaps it’s the influence of years of prayers. The only cathedral I’ve been in that didn’t affect me that way was Trinity Cathedral in New York City, which has so many tourists going through it’s like a ride at Six Flags.

Later we went to the noonday prayers. I was keen to be there, because I’ve never sent that sort of service. Guests who were there on retreat could sit in the pews across from the brothers, but we had to stay way back. I’m not sure what scripture text they read from and I’ve no idea what they were chanting, but it was able to quiet my soul.

We had a little picnic under one of the trees on the grounds. The weather was perfect – mellow blue sky with soft clouds. A good day to rest and talk.

The monastery has a green cemetery, where people are buried without embalming, in biodegradable caskets, or in a simple shroud. That’s how I would like to be buried. I’ve never really understood embalming people and sticking their bodies in an airtight casket, where I assume it liquefies or something disgusting like that. Seems to negate “ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” After all, we aren’t ancient Egyptians who need our preserved bodies to march into the afterlife. Actually returning to the earth seems like a good idea. I only saw photos, but their cemetery seems to look like a natural habitat. The markers are not elaborate, and some people choose not to have them at all.

I, of course, was very interested in the bookstore. Poor Dear Husband had to drag me away. I did get a CD of songs from Taize, but I had to write down the titles of the books for another time. The CD is beautiful. Some of the churches in Atlanta have Taize services, but I haven’t tried to get to one. Can’t take the kids since they offer no childcare and Dear Husband’s work hours are difficult. Someday. After the experience of sitting in the monastery church, I found the service at our own church particularly jarring and the music flat and banal. Since all the worship is contemporary, with video screens, there are no windows, no natural light. The loss of natural light seems sad to me, as if we were in God’s nightclub. I complain about these things far too much, I know. There’s no reason I shouldn’t worship amidst the clamor and music, except that I find it makes me feel overstimulated and distracted, which is not how I want to be in church.
Enough about that. We had a lovely time together. Someday perhaps we will be able to go on an overnight retreat there.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Marry Me a Little - Marry Me a Lot

Dear Husband and I are celebrating our 10 year anniversary today. I am very blessed to have him with me on the journey. He puts up with a lot (he will say I do, too, but I have to say that my faults loom larger to me) and he is always thoughtful, always looking out for us. This morning he came by my workplace with coffee and bagels to surprise me. Those sorts of gestures come naturally to him. I am not nearly so thoughtful or intentional, even though I love him dearly.

I did not have a good model for marriage. My parents really sucked at it. In fact, when I was in my teens and 20s I was pretty forceful in expressing my disdain for marriage. I was positive I was not going to get married, that the whole institution of marriage was a farce. I wasn’t interested in any potential spiritual aspects. Given this, I don’t think it’s any surprise that my first marriage failed. We married as an expedient. We loved each other, but what we really needed was a green card for him. That’s how I made my peace with a trip to Manhattan City Hall. From the outside we seemed a perfect match. We had the same leftist political opinions, the same love of literature and art, the same educational background. I have not much memory of those years, because I did not develop in any way. I was happy to be in agreement. Marriage seemed so effortless I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. This was nothing like my parent’s angry, vitriolic marriage. He was a very forceful personality, very ambitious, and it was easy to simply stand in the shadows. Until, of course, I started to think that I needed a bit more light. Actually, “think” is a bit too strong. I would never have admitted that I wanted out because the fear of being alone was so deep, but I took a way out, a very messy and hurtful one.

I learned a lot from that marriage and from being married to Dear Husband. We began on somewhat shaky ground, with me pregnant after only a few months of dating, so we had to learn a lot about each other as we went along. We have different political views, different educational backgrounds, different tastes, different approaches to religion. I’ve found it necessary to actually articulate my own opinions and pursue my own interests. I’ve had to work at understanding his point of view. Marriage no longer seems effortless, that’s for sure. Sometimes I still coast along. That’s one of my big weaknesses. My desire to avoid conflict is strong. Retreat and isolation are top of my list for self defense. Not possible to maintain that in our household. I often feel that Dear Husband carries the majority of the burden – where I’m scattered and disorganized, he does the budget and pays the bills and remembers to take the cars into the shop and get the grass cut. I have trouble planning and estimating time. He’s great at that. Sometimes I wonder what on earth I DO contribute (you can find his thoughts here). I’m thankful he thinks I’m an asset.

Now, if only marriage were available to everyone. England at least recognizes civil partnership, and we haven’t even managed that. Churches are roiling with conflicts over marrying gay and lesbian couples, and with the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy. I have never understood, will never understand the opposition. I reject any biblical claims (which I think have been misrepresented, exaggerated, and often flat-out fabricated) on the matter and am simply dumbfounded that anyone who knows how scripture was used to advocate slavery would dare to use it to advocate another kind of oppression.

But let me get off my soapbox. I will leave you with a song that I like very much. And much to Dear Husband’s chagrin, no doubt, the version I found on YouTube is sung by John Barrowman (Torchwood again!), who in 2006 entered into a civil partnership with his boyfriend. Way to go, John Barrowman. “Marry Me a Little” (by Stephen Sondheim) pretty much sums up the wrong way to look at marriage and is pretty close to what I used to think.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Anything Goes

Indulge me. I’m having a theatrical moment. I don’t often listen to show tunes. Actually, I don’t usually listen to much of anything. I enjoy music but hearing music I like doesn’t happen very often. DramaQueen is convinced everything I listen to is as dull as a nursing home corridor. I have hundreds of classical, jazz and opera records that I never hear, because if I try to play them a mutiny ensues. It's difficult to convince a 7yr old and a 9yr old that Mahler's symphonies are wonderful and Frank Sinatra singing Paper Moon is brilliant.

Anyway, this is getting around to Cole Porter. I’m not sure how anyone could not like Cole Porter. His lyrics are so clever and witty and often naughty in that urbane way people used to be naughty before raunchiness was mistaken for honesty. I feel positively squiggly with delight when I hear his songs.

Imagine how heartened I was to come across John Barrowman singing "Anything Goes." He’s performing on the set from one of the Torchwood episodes. I think he has a beautiful voice.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cough cough cough sniffle

I feel horrid. I don't have anything useful to say. I have no energy to be amusing. I just feel awful and tired and yet can't seem to rest. For the last two nights I have to sleep on the sofa in a semi-upright position. In other words, not much sleep going on.

1. I can't seem to read books anymore. Or rather I read them by starting at the beginning, skipping almost to the end, going back to where I left off near the start and working through a bit more, then skipping to the end. The bulk of the book never actually gets read.

2. I hate laundry. We live in mutual antagonism.

3. I burned myself with the iron in a mad rush to press Dear Husband's shirt one morning. You're welcome, sweetie.

4. DramaQueen is obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an obsession I'm indulging a bit too eagerly. I tell myself that a kick-ass female protagonist is good for a girl. Also, I'm really tired of Demi Lovato.

5. We're renting out a number of cubicles in our office to a call center. We have been a very quiet office up until now. I've been snuggled in a little cocoon of silence for months now.

6. Dear Husband thought Children of Earth rocked. He's probably the only person I know whose response to the deaths of Owen, Tosh and Ianto was, "Finally!" I think I heard him breathe a sigh of relief when Ianto collapsed. Sometimes he is a Bad Man.

7. Dear Husband is eagerly awaiting Battlestar Gallactica. I thought it was fair play for him to have someone he could oggle for a while, namely:

Thing is, I'm happy to oggle her, too. I think this annoys him. It makes payback more difficult. But it's not my fault I'm so versatile.

8. I'm convinced I will never have another original thought and will never write anything interesting ever again. It's all gone. Kaput. Thpppt. I will have to curl up in the fetal position and bemoan my fate.

Nothing more. I'm going to go rest. Either that or investigate Warehouse 13. Full episodes available online.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Holding a Wake for Fictional Characters

We finished watching Torchwood: Children of Earth last night, and I cried my eyes out. I'm mourning the death of fictional characters, folks. A bit of text, some light and dark on a screen, and blammo, I'm a blubbering mess.

In fact, I couldn't sleep last night because I was so upset.

About the death of people who don't exist.

I haven't cried like that since Beth died in Little Women.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Scorched Earth

I’ve just started watching Torchwood: Children of Earth.

And I’m having bad dreams.

I thought of Torchwood as a great lark of a show – a little edgy but leavened with frolic and ridiculous aliens and silly props and sets. It was getting darker by the end of season 2, but it was a sort of noble, heroic finale. COE is a different beast.

With regard to narrative, special effects, cinematography and acting, COE is light years beyond the first two seasons. It’s also far more grim and disturbing. Although I admire the advance in overall quality, I miss the playfulness and snarkiness of the previous episodes. They always seemed to say, even when touching on serious topics, “We’re having a jolly good romp here. Don’t worry, it’s just a game.” The atmosphere of COE is sinister and oppressive, and there’s no “we always pull through” optimism or swashbuckling “we’re here to save the day” action. I think that’s because this alien 456 isn’t nearly as scary as the government. The government in COE is ugly, self-serving, and vicious, happy to cover up past problems with assassinations, run by leaders who evade responsibility and blame by hiding behind civil servant scapegoats. All too real, in other words. I was more confident in Captain Jack Harkness when he was fighting creatures from outer space.

And the hub, that little sanctuary, the crazy repository of gadgets and artifacts, the center of Torchwood action, has been blown to smithereens, along with, I assume, all the aliens, former employees, and Jack’s homicidal brother who were cryogenically frozen in the morgue. I suppose the pterodactyl died, too. That’s like ripping the heart out of the show. That’s like a big flashing sign announcing “Fun’s over, folks!”

Now at the end of Day 3 we find out that back in the 60s Jack sent off a group of children as a gift to alien 456 – to heaven knows what fate, but it can’t be good, given the thrashing, acid-vomiting, lives-in-a-poisonous-fog nature of 456. No doubt there was some sort of hard choice involved but, well, that just sucks. Of course we sacrifice children every day to war, poverty, illness, exploitation and abuse, which I suppose is part of the message, that we don’t face up to that savage truth about ourselves. The last thing I expected Torchwood to deliver was a nasty, unanswerable moral conundrum of epic scale.

I will see Days 4 and 5 in the next few days. I know Ianto dies and am not looking forward to it, and I know generally what happens in the rest of the series. Ianto’s death sent fans into a tizzy, I gather, and some are worried the show is about to be “de-gayed” for BBC 1. No idea about that (though I’m cynical enough to think that is exactly what they intend to do), but I’m not particularly convinced by creator Russell Davies’ argument that Ianto’s death was inevitable, that it would have somehow been unrealistic for them all to survive. I mean, hello, fantasy sci fi here. Did you really need to sell the show’s soul to the existentialist devil? A season 4 is planned, but I’m having trouble imagining it. You can’t go back to playing scary tigers after this.

On the upside, we got to see John Barrowman naked.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I Have Discovered a New Word. Let Us Celebrate.

“Heteroflexible.” How did I not know this word existed? From what I can tell it has been around for a number of years. I am appalled at my ignorance. It’s such a useful word. “Heteroflexible” is perfect for describing half the student population back in my college days. I had been making do with “experimental,” which you have to admit pales in comparison as a descriptor. (I wonder if the word “homoflexible” exists, for those you are usually gay but sometimes fall for a person of the opposite gender. Yes! I just looked it up and it does exist! The English language wins again.)

Heteroflexible is so much better than other recent neologisms such as, say, “metrosexual.” I am not entirely convinced this word is necessary. It seems to refer to a 21st century version of Beau Brummel. I admit that calling someone a “dandy” sounds quaint and completely out of touch with the world of contemporary male fashion. I suppose we need a way to say “he’s straight even though he wears Prada and gets a weekly manicure.” Another trendy and rather silly new word is “bromance,” which means a close relationship between two men that isn’t sexual, something we women call “friendship.”

And then there’s this word “omnisexual” that I keep running across. This seems to have replaced “bisexual,” perhaps because it sounds more inclusive. You know, in case you have sexual feelings for your iPod, your cell phone, your dog, your avatar, your breakfast cereal, and so forth. I cannot hear it without thinking of “omnivore,” thereby connecting sex with both dinosaurs and a wide-ranging gustatory palate.

Friday, August 07, 2009


In the waiting area an old woman places a different offering of food in front of each candle. These are the kind of candles I see in the market – candles in glass holders decorated with an image of a saint. I don’t know what gods these saints represent. I am vaguely curious, but I don’t want to ask the old woman. She is dressed all in black, like so many of the old women here, and her face is hard. No, I do not want to talk to her, but I wonder, how long is the food left before it is replaced? I imagine vermin, maggots, but there are none here. Everything is orderly and clean.

There are a few other people sitting in the worn sofas and chairs. One, a thin blond woman, hugs herself as if she is cold. We look out of place here, where everyone is Hispanic. She speaks with a German accent, which surprises me. I think, how did a German girl end up here? He is very helpful, she says. She looks desperate. Do I look desperate? Am I desperate?

The palero is a young man dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. He is a little heavy, with a pudgy face and wavy hair, jovial but not particularly charismatic. He reaches into a small cloth bag and tosses what look like shells on the table. You have a lot of anger, he says, from when you were a child. Someone has hexed you, someone from a long time ago. My mother will prepare a mixture with herbs. You must pour it over you when you bathe, to protect you. Hexed, I say. It may not have been intentional, he says, but the results are the same. Not intentional. Perhaps I hex people many times a day, I think.

What do you want me to do, he asks? I hand him a photo. I want her gone, I say. I hand him a second photo. I want him back.

He says, I have a servant, a spirit from among the dead who does my bidding. If you want this, my servant can break the bonds between these two.

I have the skull that belonged to this spirit in life, and he must stay there until I call. I ask a question. He hesitates. From a cemetery, he answers. You do not need to know the details. There is a ritual. The skull is placed in a cauldron and I call upon the spirit to act. This is not a ritual you are allowed to watch.

By my car in the dirt lot, I look around. I do not know this part of town at all. The desert sky is wide and emptied of color, but the air is still hot. I feel confused, then panicked. I can’t find the paper with my scribbled directions. I can’t remember the street names, the turns I need to make.

I am lost. I am so lost.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Jesus Is John Donne's Boyfriend

My mind has hopped on its little hamster wheel again. I’ve posted this before, sometime last fall. No one commented on it then, which either means it blows or no one came to visit that day. So I’m going to repeat it, with some alterations and additions. Actually, quite a bit of addition. And dammit I expect someone to say SOMETHING.

Jesus Is My Boyfriend, Jacobean Style

I love this poem. I love it so much I wish I could step back through history, find John Donne, and give him a jolly good time.

Batter My Heart, Three-Person'd God

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

I love his playful intellect, that double-edged sword. “Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend.” But it doesn’t of course; it keeps us captive. I relate so well to his frustration. You find out you're reason's love slave and there's damn all you can do about it except hope the Hero takes you by force.

How often do you hear someone talk about the peace that surpasses understanding? When we have serious problems, everyone prays for that. But exactly how do you find that peace—or put it another way—how do you let God establish that peace in you? I’m here God, ready to feel that peace. Bring it on, Jesus. Is that it? Sort of. Maybe. Wait, I don’t feel peaceful—all hell’s breaking loose. Am I missing something? I said I was happy to accept peace. More than ready. Sigh.

What does that peace look like? Serene? Calm? Stoic? Eye of the hurricane? How do you feel peace when your mind is always churning, synthesizing, analyzing. I take comfort that Jesus himself doesn’t seem all that calm to me. You don’t knock over tables and sweat blood because you have a serene nature, although he’s so often depicted as spouting wisdom with this sappy beneficent look on his face.

How are we supposed to feel God’s presence? Is it warm and fuzzy? Is it in the grass, the trees, our children, other people, the rocks, my computer, everything—or is that too pantheistic? And what about the shadow we see out of the corner of our eye—gone so fast maybe it wasn’t there at all. Frustratingly unknowable. Tantalizingly unknowable. We are always pushing out and reaching beyond and our hands close on air. We can’t stop thinking. We toss and turn, feel hemmed in and stifled, but don’t know how get out. And, if we can’t do it because it’s supposed to be all God’s work, well, we can turn that against ourselves, too. Gee, is that God now? Is He doing something? Am I feeling free? Wait, am I imagining all this? What if I’m imagining all this?

I love those last two lines “I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free/Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.” I wonder if Donne felt a bit daring writing that? Maybe it was a commonplace expression of religious piety at the time. Hah. Any commentary will be quick to point you to the bridegroom imagery in the Bible, which I think is a bit weird in itself. Oh, yeah, that’s right – it’s about “spiritual” union. When confronted with wedding bed imagery, Biblical literalists suddenly discover metaphor. Because, of course, God doesn’t have a body, except in Jesus. And don’t even THINK about going there. Jesus doesn’t have a penis, at least not one that’s supposed to be called into service at any time.

And yet, there are those naughty, naughty mystics with their suggestive imagery. Oh, how the mainline protestants distrust the mystics, who make union with God sound like a really great shag.

I think of the statue of St. Theresa in ecstasy, and St. John of the Cross’s delirious poetry:
Upon my flowered breast,
For him alone kept fair,
There he slept
There I caressed,
There the cedars gave us air.

I drank the turret's cool air
Spreading playfully his hair.
And his hand, so serene,
Cut my throat.

Sweet! The love of God is like having your throat slit…after you fool around a bit in a turret!

Or Rumi:
If anyone wants to know what "spirit" is,
or what "God’s fragrance" means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close.
Like this.

When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.

Like this.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.

Well okey dokey, then! Knowing God as erotic seduction. There’s an explanation of miracles I can live with. Yep, I’m ready to give that a go.

And in Donne’s poem: “ravish” – which can mean “overcome by emotion” or… “rape.” Donne is asking God to rape him. How often do you ask God to rape you? Of course, if you ask, it isn’t really rape, is it? More like a “give it to me rough, sailor” kind of plea.

I often hear complaints about (or contempt for) Jesus Is My Boyfriend songs or Jesus Is My Boyfriend sentiments, mentality, and so forth. It's too me-focused, or bad theology, or too romantic, or too eroticized. It is pretty sappy and sounds like some sad consolation prize. You've signed that abstinence-only pledge, but you can still date Jesus. He's safe. I think the real problem is this: God isn’t the gentle purity-ring wearing boyfriend who’s going to nervously hold your hand and shyly ask permission for a kiss. You’d better be prepared for something a little more forceful.