Life vs. the Living

I can’t write myself out of unhappiness. Trust me, I’ve tried, for I’ve believed happiness lies at the end of a sentence. So on the days that I didn’t write, couldn’t write, I berated myself for creating my gloom, believing that transformation – my transformation – lay in my words and my diligence and my follow through.

What I haven’t wanted to admit is that my happiness lies outside the words, or in parallel to them. My happiness lies in the living.

In the past few years as I’ve turned inward, away from external work and into the stories of my mind, the opinions in my heart, the look and feel of a sentence, my joy has walked away. Now I sit in tune with struggle and out of tune with pleasure, out of tune with the fun of life.

I need to turn it around.

I don’t fault the writing but the way in which I’ve lived the writing life, cloistered in my bedroom, laptop poised, determination scrawled on my face. But in this process, I’ve omitted the necessary step of being in life, of being outside that room. Others can’t see this. They see me on the go, in the world, living. But I can tell you I haven’t been, not in the true sense of participation.

I’ve put enormous weight on writing, how accomplishment in that area would give me the life I want, the one I need, a sense of purpose and belonging. But under all that weight falls the reality of life delayed, the proclamation that only when I get there, (there, of course, being a completely unattainable destination for it moves faster than you can chase it) will my life begin.

Life begins now. Declaration. Proclamation.

So I am accepting a job, a teeny tiny job of a week or so, a chance to be outside myself and in a project that has nothing to do with me except in the way I translate its goals. And I’m excited because it takes me out of the center, gives each day a destination beyond my choosing. I am racing towards what so very recently I ran from.

Curious how life works, eh?

And I’m hoping this dip into life will remind me how to be in the world, how to give to it and take from it. I’m hoping it will fill me with fuel to nourish my depleted projects, the ones running – no, slogging – on empty. I’m hoping I will have conversations with people I’ve yet to meet because the conversations with self and Chihuahua are circling back on themselves leading to the title of Boring.

But most of all, I’m hoping for hope, the commodity that when missing makes every day a challenge.


Calling Inspector Clouseau

My son lost his breakfast somewhere between the kitchen and the car this morning. We both assumed that as he piled up all the necessary belongings that accompany him to school, that the breakfast simply got left behind, neglected on the kitchen table. I pictured my dog salivating, wondering how he could leap three times his height to gain access to the luscious smelling toasted manchego upon everything bagel.

Imagine my surprise when I returned home hours later and saw no sign of my son’s breakfast. No abandoned bagel, no abandoned bagel plate, no signs of anything. My Chihuahua didn’t look guilty, so I know he didn’t pull off a Houdini stunt.

I march through the three rooms of our small home certain that teenaged brain syndrome transported breakfast to the most unlikely of locations like upon the toilet tank or adjacent to his toothbrush. But no. Nothing.


I’ve seen the times when straight out of a stop at Starbucks, motorists place freshly purchased brew atop car and speed away allowing coffee cup the most elegant of journeys through air only to land sad and forgotten upon oil-stained pavement. This could be us, I think. But when I returned to our garage, there was no breakfast strew upon the cement.

My only fear is finding the food weeks from now, when the stench provides the missing clue to the treasure hunt.



Today the wind blows wickedly as if to challenge my request for colder weather, and I think of the carrot danglers, those who make promises they don’t keep. The proclamations can be tiny, almost insignificant, like, “I’ll call you right back,” times when I smile broadly, make a note on the calendar, wait by the phone. And when follow-through doesn’t come, my trust wilts. After each disappointment I believe less and less in what people say.

“It’s about them, not you,” others tell me, and I say, “That doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if their intentions are real and pure. It makes me not believe their words and as a result I push these people away bit by bit.”

The cycle makes me feel ‘word literal,’ but I don’t know how else to process language. I don’t know how to live if words don’t have the meaning I’ve been taught they do.

Everyone these days is so overwhelmed, I hear, that promises now equal stated desires, intentions. Not following through is as much a disappointment to the promiser as the promised. But I don’t see it because, the thing is, I’m able to distinguish between “I’ll try” and “I will.” When I’m stretched, I know it.

The wind whistles down my chimney, joins me in my living room, moves the palm fronds. It creates a musical backdrop to my thoughts, offers an available deterrent to slipping into running shoes and taking a step outside.

I promised myself I would run first thing in the morning, and the clock already reads 11 a.m. with my running shoes still by the door. I promised myself I’d return to the shaky pages of my novel and push past doubt, but the novel file remains unopened.

So I do break promises, only they are promises I make to myself. And that’s terrible, tragic, because these are the promises I can control.

As I step away from judgment, I discover my greatest disappointment lies within, that I am no better than those who don’t honor words spoken to me. Through the years I’ve wallowed in pain by blaming those who haven’t come through, but the truth is that if I honored my pledges to self, I would care less about the broken promises of others. They would fall to the back of the line of things I’m waiting for.

As I walk towards my running shoes, I think of enduring the wind-whipping run, the action that tries to knock me over and push me back, the goal that challenges my resolve. This will become my touchstone, the way I will keep promises to myself.


Dollars and Sense

Because I’m superstitious, I tip better than custom dictates. I factor in how long I occupied the booth at my favorite diner and tack on a bonus for keeping others from sitting in my spot even if there was no one waiting. If the bill is particularly small, my baseline 20% has been known to bump up to 50%.

I come at this from all the woo woo proclamations of abundance, thinking if I give a little extra maybe I’m upping my chances for good karma. Yes, I know that’s contrary to the concept of giving without expecting return. Yes, I know. But still. It’s like all those people who attach disclaimers to the chain letters they forward. They know it’s wrong but they keep doing it. At least those who wait on me in restaurants benefit from my neurosis.

And then there's my guilt of not needing to stand in a breadline, which prompts further generosity. While I currently wear the label of ‘Increasingly Downwardly Mobile,’ I still have it better than most. I have options, the freedom to chase dreams, the knowledge that when push comes to shove, I can plunk down a credit card and deal with it later. Luckily, at this point, later is usually just when the credit card bill arrives. I really don’t live beyond my means.

But all the muttering of financial fear is chipping away at my notion of security. It helps when I think of friends living with enormous debt and rationalize that if they can stay afloat so can I. But that’s insensitive and naïve of me. We can all sink together. But to get philosophical, if everyone sinks, is it still sinking? How about, ‘Sinking is the new normal’?

Trying to live freelance in a panicked economy is comical. Can I really go forward and promote a new photography business designed to supplement my pittance of earnings as a writer? I don’t even believe my sales pitches of why it is critical that I take your holiday card photo. (Holiday cards…yeah, right. Have you seen the price of postage and ink and paper and pens??)

But I also must discuss those whining about the economy who have such an abundance of cash and resources that the only way their daily lives are being affected by this downturn is in their conversations and the fluctuation of their heart rate when they open their investment statements. They can still afford every dream they’ve ever had. They have not even come close to being knocked down to normal, but many of them are the ones complaining the loudest. Am I really to believe that those with millions in the bank can’t afford Christmas this year? I’m no economist (obviously) but I simply want to holler at those crying poor who are anything but.

It is the charities that these often generous folks give to that I pity. They’re the real losers as philanthropists see their resources shrink and thus must pull back on giving. And of course I think of the trickle down effect, of the employees of struggling corporations, those facing all the layoffs.

But if you’re one of the ones with excess money in the bank (my definition of ‘excess,’ not yours; my blog, my rules) go out and do some spending. Help that small business or even that large one with a long list of employees. Fuel this ailing economy. Consider it your call to duty.

And if you need some photos…

‘Nough said.


In the Quiet

The quiet. I am thinking of the quiet, of the writing in the writing, the wondering when I’ll find my way back to the writing, the wordplay I enjoy, the thoughts expressed, the desire to communicate.

I am thinking of the quiet that has taken my voice, the quiet that has become me as I’ve ceased to want to speak, the voice that has left, gone on the road like a young runaway boy of a storybook era, clothing bundled up and tied at the end of a stick, held high above a shoulder.

The voice craves liberty from obligation, but if I let the voice leave, watch it walk down a dirt path, say, “I understand. All has not gone as we thought,” what am I left with?

I’m left with a pile of debris, the words swirling around in my computer, attached to files, residing in documents. Words that want to leap and flee, to find new options of expression. I want to let them go because I don’t want to hold them hostage in my virtual computer world. The words deserve escape.

Each day I wonder if I’ll want to speak again, and each day slides into the next and the next and the next.

And I want to believe this is a glitch in my system, the barrier I must push through to prove my worthiness.

My worthiness. I’m always aiming to prove my worthiness, for somehow, somewhere deep inside, I don’t feel worthy. And no matter how I phrase the question, I don’t receive the answer as to why. I don’t know from where crept in undeserving, but now it is my roommate, the companion that follows me, through my life, through my day, whispering in my ear, taunting. It accuses me of grandiosity when I strive to make change and chase a dream. It tells me I’m not special enough or have not paid off an unknown debt.

I’ll pay. I swear I will. Tell me when and how, and I’ll cross off that burden to allow me to reach the heights I crave, to become the someone that I know is huddled inside of me eager to see light and life.

Those who snarl at doubt and push through, how do they do it? How? My youthful confidence has stepped aside to make room for doubt born of experience, the experience that has humbled me, made me shier, more timid, more unbelieving.

This is not the me of my birth, the one who eagerly reinvented the wheel if it didn’t turn the way I wanted.

A glitch, I say. Just a glitch, a temporary station to allow me the vision to see how others struggle and overcome because, really, truthfully, I was spared struggle in earlier days. I grew confident and certain. Cocky even. Yes, cocky.

Cocky enough to dismiss a secure path to vault into the unknown. Cocky enough to believe that perseverance would reward.

And maybe it still will. Maybe I’m closer to the beginning of the journey than I know, even though I feel so far in. Maybe I haven’t hit the real heart of struggle.

You see, I don’t do well with patience. I want it yesterday. I want the guarantee, the promise. The hard work doesn’t scare me, but the mystery does, the ‘maybe it will never happen.’

Someone asked me if I wanted to go back, back to the past of safety. And even the question robbed me of my breath, the thought of living the life that felt so very wrong. No, I can’t go there. But can I really be here? Can I?

Can I not?

I will give it today. And tomorrow. Okay, another week. Or a month. Till the end of the year. Okay, a bit longer. Yes, a bit longer. I got here for a reason. I just must trust enough to stay.



I suspected it, but I couldn’t have known for sure, not until the veil lifted, not until the deed was done, not until the declaration of President-elect was announced.

I’d felt this election was holding me hostage, sucking up all my energy and setting my imagination to inert, but only upon waking the day after can I confirm my suspicions.

For the first time in months my mind slipped into creative meditation leaving the gnawing realities to wait patiently for my more wakened state. I saw images of fairy tale walks, heard characters telling me their stories revealing where I must take them and why. I stopped despairing over all that hasn’t been working and set a plan for the next step forward, how one foot in front of the other can be enough.

The part of my brain conditioned to worry is still frightened, untrusting, uncertain. It doesn’t believe that I’ll hold this energized view for longer than it takes to type this sentence. It has a bit of experience with how these moods can come and go.

But I’m tired of how I’ve been living, how I’ve not been living but simply staying alive. And I figure if Obama can rise up to become president, I can manage to type a few words upon the page each day, can line up a photo job here and there, can plan a dinner party to gather friends who will want to insist that the traffic to cross town is too heavy, that there’s work to be done or sleep to be had.

But I will insist.

If nothing else, hosting a small election party reminded me of the power of shared experience, how we can all get by in singularity, but that the quality of certain moments can be so very heightened when in the company of others.

Of course the right others, not just any others.

By the way, I’m looking to line up a few more right others.

I’m done with shallow breaths, wanting once again to fill my lungs to their fullest. And I want others to do the same, because there’s been too much aching occupying our days, too much focus on what we can’t control over what we can, too much hopelessness. I’ve been the guiltiest of all. I know it. But it’s time to embrace the new chapter. Please come along.



Today I woke with optimism, optimism that has been missing for so long, optimism that had vanished like a friend who goes on a roadtrip promising to call upon return only return never happens and instead silence and alone becomes your companion.

And waiting. There’s all that waiting.

I’ve been waiting for optimism because it’s been so lonely without it.

Without optimism my days have felt long and tedious and repetitive. 
Without optimism I haven’t felt like seeking companionship because my words were too quiet and thin, uninspiring, on the brink of bitter at all times.
Without optimism I couldn’t imagine a future any different from today, and with today reeking of dissatisfaction that just wasn’t a place I wanted to consider.
Without optimism I lost faith in myself, in my ability to change and progress, to become, to inhabit, to embody any feeling beside disinterest.

So of course I feel joyous upon optimism’s return, because with it comes the sensation of a grand shift, of a day packed with full thoughts, richer thoughts, of possibility.

As I stood in line to vote, in the first line I’ve ever encountered at my polling place, I joined the conversation around me. I met neighbors I’ve never seen, people who live within a block of my front door. And I looked to the lunch tables at my side and wished I’d anticipated this moment, had brought cookies and pastries and treats for a post-vote slice of community. And I said, “We should have a block party,” and I meant it.

And maybe we will, and maybe I’ll be the organizer, my first act of optimism after voting.


A Dog’s Life

The vegan man, the ‘Meat is Murder’ guy on the boardwalk, scoffed when I let my dog pee on a lamppost. Under his breath he mumbled, “People used to be able to sit there.” And I wanted to ask, “Really? When? When did dogs not pee in Venice?” At the same time, I understood. I now look at all patches of grass as suspect, not as a place to roll around and allow the blades to tickle the undersides of your legs like I did as a child in blissful naiveté.

But what am I to do? Our condo association recently requested that residents not let their dogs pee in the front yard. As a dog owner I acknowledged that I couldn’t vote fairly on the matter. I like the convenience of strolling out the front door, dog off leash, and allowing him to use the front yard as his own. Yes, I come with baggie in hand and clean up, but I also understand that this doesn’t leave the grounds sanitary enough to allow for a barefoot journey over the small patch of grass.

In compliance with the new mandate of my neighbors, I now escort Speck down to the boardwalk for more than the midday walk. This pleases my neighbor, Mike, who assumed those of us who used the front yard were just lazy. I like Mike, so I concede to ‘occasionally lazy,’ but won’t wear the lazy hat for when I return home after 11:00 p.m. and don’t feel up for a walk in the less than tame parts of my neighborhood. And then there’s the early morning, before-school rush that falls on my son’s shoulders. Maybe a little lazy, but mostly just overextended.

But now the Meat is Murder guy, who puts up animal torture posters that force me to look away, gives me the evil eye, and I want to declare my vegetarian status, but I also want to say something about my questioning of how much he loves the animals. It’s kind of like anti-abortionists who drop the ball once the kid is born. You can’t have it both ways.

At the same time, he does force me to think. I wonder where we should allow our dogs to go, those of us who don’t have private yards to defile. In typical suburban neighborhoods you have that no man’s land patch of grass between sidewalk and curb, a stretch that could easily be renamed ‘public dog toilet.’ But my slice of Venice doesn’t have that. We have cement walkstreets where the dogs mark every wall announcing their daily walk to their peers, leaving little patchy stains on gates and entryways. I try to deter my dog from this practice and move him towards the generic lamppost, but it gets hard. I want him to be able to communicate with his friends.

But I also want to be a good neighbor and responsible pet owner, and I’m left not knowing how. When I lived in London for a spell for an editing job, I frequented Holland Park. There, amidst the loveliness of peacocks and sculptured landscapes, the city offered a patch of dirt officially labeled “Dog Toilet.” Taken by this act of civility, I snapped several photos to share with friends back home, and I would have had I not been mugged weeks before the end of the job resulting in the loss of not only my camera but a healthy chunk of change. So much for civility.

Perhaps I should have boldly asked Meat is Murder what I should do. I suspect he may have an opinion or two.


Above the Earth

The jagged edges of a scene, those who can leave and those trapped inside. You escape on horseback, and enter the desert, but looking back you see the others trapped, the perimeter of town like torn paper, jagged and irregular. The inhabitants gather at the edge, their eyes fixed on you far away. The proportions are unreal, you large and grown into giant status, the town shrunken like a playset upon a table.

And that becomes the perspective, the playset life, the stepping out of a scene undesirable.

You always run. The first hint of trouble, you run. You wonder if you should have run earlier, thinking of the times you didn’t escape soon enough, of the times when you were warned but didn’t pay attention. You shoulder it all beneath the weight of blame, believing you should have known. You see the root of ‘should’ in shoulder and wonder why you never saw that before, how the difference in sound masked this reality.

You can’t help thinking of how early influences are poisoning your life, and when you hear the words, “Maybe you should complain more,” you consider what that would be like. But you say nothing, only that you don’t like to complain. You remember your sister’s words about how there was no one to hear your complaints and you wonder if complaining has been bred out of you.

Your friend tells you you appear too strong, and you realize you’ve lost your voice of connection, how you can no longer speak of your reality, and how you’re drifting further and further away, that solitude has become the only place that feels familiar.

You tell no one.

You change your bed linens to pure white and start living in the world of no color. This is the land where your dreams are born, but you can’t be certain because none are remembered. You don’t know how to answer the question of how you spent your day because saying you floated above it would scare the questioner.

But you are floating because you can’t anchor in the world of hatred, in the world of divisions and rush rush rush. You float above because your perspective doesn’t allow you to be within, and you wonder when this shift happened, when you began to live above the earth, when parties and dinners and common interactions started to feel so foreign.

You remember once living with someone, only you don’t. It appears in your memory like a book you once read but that didn’t touch you deeply. All of life feels unfamiliar and that’s why you grow quiet because you know no ears could understand these words. You know you can’t explain what it means to be an alien in your native land.

Others smile, see your state as a phase, but you know it’s bigger than that. You know your idealism has been massacred by the news that seeps under your front door, through the little crack that allows outside in, the place where you forgot to lay down protection. You want to say that no matter what happens a week from Tuesday you will no longer be who you once were because you’ve been saddened beyond a place of redemption, that you’ve seen ugly where you never knew ugly existed in a way you never allowed to be imagined, in a form so disheartening that even if your candidate wins you know that you can never feel as you once did.

You want these ten days to pass because you hope that you’ll be able to breathe again with a gap in the airwaves, when news anchors and campaign leaders crawl home in exhaustion wondering how they weathered it all.

But then there’s the other half of you, the half that believes this will never be over because some story will linger. A dispute or thievery or something odd and unimaginable. The noise in your head has grown so loud that you no longer believe it can go away. You no longer can imagine calm and silence and a collective sigh of relief because, you see, you already fear the infighting.

You have been poisoned and you wonder what kind of purging can clean the soul. You wish a wave of burning sage could smudge your psyche, your heart, and reset both on the dial of idealism, of optimism, of hope.

Your trust in decency and good has been shattered and only a time machine can take you back to you.

The getting away. That is the consistent fantasy. A quiet life on a quiet island where no news matters, where society can only progress in teeny tiny increments, where slow is really slow. No alarm clock, no schedule, no questioning of why. Simple.

You’ve lost simple and only this fantasy gives you its glimpse.

Your life has been on the run ever since you had the ability to power your own two-wheeler. You hear tales of your early independence and you suspect all you were doing was trying to get away, trying to put a wall between you and the house you were born into. You seek to create family with friends so that you can learn what for others was a given, but with all the motion of life, without bloodlines it doesn’t work.

You go back to your room of white sheets and tan walls and wonder what color would do to the experience. You wonder if it could reintroduce feeling into your life, trump numb, and make you step outside for sunsets once again.

You start with a captured image and the link to a printer. And one by one you place two-dimensional replications of a moment in time on your walls, arranged and organized beside one another until you have a jigsaw puzzle of mismatched pieces. You see that red and blue are the dominant colors of your images and you wonder how that happened, how the colors of an election could become the colors of your memories. You select the image of the lemon to add yellow to the scene, but once on the wall you realize the background is a deep hue of red.

Finally you laugh. Finally.

Last year you bought a bracelet that said LAUGH as a mandate and to be a reminder to ride on your wrist, only it hasn’t worked, and now you want to trade it for another word, a word you could possibly access for real because wearing the bracelet and not laughing mocks your efforts. You want to feel successful.

Yes, that’s what it’s all about – wanting to feel successful in every version of what that word can mean. Successful in joy, in love, in honoring self and truth and dedication and feeling. And that’s what drifted away on the raft out to sea, bobbing over waves. Success. The ability to feel in your life rather than floating above it. It drifted away when you weren’t paying attention, and now you don’t know how to get it back, how to find satisfied and content in a world gone crazy, in a world gone ugly. Except when you’re on that island and the water taps the shore leaving little arches of wetness. That’s where you feel calm. That’s where all the madness falls away. That’s where you find quiet. Only you don’t know where the island is. You don’t know how to get there. You don’t know.

‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡

Earlier today a friend told me to write about how this election is making me insane, how I’ve shut down, grown unable to speak. I said I didn’t want to go there, that all the rants have been written, that the smartest minds with the loudest voices are being ignored. I said I just want it all to be over. What I didn’t say is that I don’t know if it will get better.

And as I write this it sounds as if I don’t believe things can ever be good again, but what I mean to say is that even if things do get good, a part of me may remain sad. A part of me will never get over what it’s seen.


Existential crisis

[From a folder of pieces started and abandoned. I bring them forth now.]

My son climbed into my car yesterday, a look of sadness on his face. He said nothing was wrong, but I prodded him, clear that something was on his mind.

And he starts describing how he sees his life, how he doesn’t dislike school – he has no complaints against it – but he doesn’t exactly like it either. He just sees the days passing by, the time barely noticed. He says he doesn’t know why he’s learning what he’s learning.

I offer words about the complexity of the unforeseeable value in it all, but that isn’t the problem for him. He gets that.

“Let’s say I use what I learn in school, that I become a successful cartoonist, get married, have kids, everything. What’s the point?”

At thirteen, his existential crisis is a bit ahead of schedule.

I explain to my son that I struggle with how childhood is structured as a training ground for adulthood, that childhood should be enjoyed and appreciated as a unique and equally valuable phase of life, but that at the same time, we do need to learn and prepare for the future, that it comes down to balance. And he says that he understands and has been thinking about all that, but he then returns to his view of life overall, the existential crisis part.

I tell him that I completely understand his feelings, that I share them and even as an adult still think about all the things he has expressed. I explain that some people are wired to examine life in this way while others just march on with little thought to it all.

He and I fall into the first category.

And I can’t exactly answer his questions about the meaning of life since I have the same ones, but I tell him our discussion alone is important, that simply sharing the examination matters.

But it also pains me that he doesn’t just feel joy.

He asks if life is about being as happy as you can or about what you do. He believes in helping others, and sounds as if he feels guilty about seeking happiness. I answer by saying pursuing a happy life is an excellent goal, especially if you help others in the process.

I realize how much his questions are the ones I ask myself and wonder if that reveals how much alike we are or whether it reveals how much I’ve influenced him. And I wonder if he’s come to this place as a normal act of questioning or whether his life needs a shift, whether he would connect with more happiness at a less conventional school.

And I look to myself to see if I can inject more joy into our days, if I can focus less on where we’re headed, how we will get there, and what the impact of today will be on tomorrow. I think of ways to look for more frivolous fun. I don’t want to teach my son to be irresponsible, but I do want to allow him more laughter. And if I look for it for him, I suspect that along the way I’ll find it for myself.

It’s as if my son’s thoughts and questions have poked me in the ribs, stirred up the pot within, and forced me to reexamine my methods. It’s as if he is my wakeup call, and now I must aim to parent in a more joyous way. I must trust that I have already sufficiently grounded him and now it’s time to teach him to soar. It’s time to teach myself. My accomplishments will mean little if I can’t look upon them with a celebratory heart.

Be mindful of the future, but don’t live for it. Don’t count on your expectations and hopes coming true. Be open to the serendipity and the detours. Trust.


In Empty Spaces

I’m not sure who I am right now, whether words will return to me, whether I’ll find the desire to speak. So I dig down to what I’ve known before, the capturing, the offering of service, the one foot in front of the other.

This takes me to the dogs, the ones abandoned and homeless, the ones with large eyes of hope. I see myself in those eyes. I relate to the feelings of lost.

Or I project. Whatever it is doesn’t matter. I show up.

I take their photos trying to make them look as desirable as possible, to capture their essence in a tiny frame. I think of online dating and see the overlap from dog needing a home to person needing love. Neither wants to look desperate. Neither wants to seem needy. Both want to appear as an offering.

The dogs quickly grow tired of my prodding to look this way, to move left, to move right, to respond, to bend their faces into a smile. They realize I am not there to take them home. Their attention drifts off, their disinterest unmistakable.

I process and edit the photos, send them off, and eagerly await their posting online. My imagination decides a simple, happy photo will earn these dogs a home. Of course I know better. Of course I know how complicated it is.

Like online dating. Appearance counts for a moment, but then the other conditions fall into play. Size. Temperament. Style. Behavior. Plays well with others.

I have more in common with these dogs than I care to admit. I, too, feign initial enthusiasm only to quickly let my attention drift. I, too, give up hope when the wrong words are directed my way. I, too, wonder when I will find home.

For the dogs, I maintain hope.

For myself, I put one foot in front of the other. I wait to see if words will return to remind me why I’m here. I prod myself forward and think about home.

to find a pet, visit
petfinder.com. these dogs currently reside with Bill Foundation.

Filed in:


Modern Convenience

I find it extremely ironic that the only page that won't load on my iPod Touch via the NY Times app is the technology page.



The teen years and silence. So much is said about how our children retreat, pull inward, keep thoughts to self.

That is yet to be my reality, but silence has descended upon the scene. Silence. My silence.

When my son shares with me the gritty details of teen living, of feelings, friends’ behavior, risks and calamities avoided, I grow more silent. I let him speak and don’t leap in with my words. I wait for the pause in the conversation, read his eyes, see if he wants me to comment. I tread carefully knowing that an unwelcome response can shut the door on future disclosures. And I often misstep, speak against a friend he just railed on only to see him do an about-face and defend the same person. It’s like chiming in to criticize someone’s boyfriend only to see loyalty and love rear up and come charging back at you. It all requires a light touch.

But there’s another silence that enters the teen years: my (un)willingness to share specifics here upon the page of the discussions I have with my son. The cute quotes get tucked away. The overwhelming concerns hide in my conscience. His pain, it all gets more private. Because there really is something unique about this phase, and number one for me is respecting my child. Number one is keeping him coming back to me for as long as he’s willing.

Trust. It is so tender at this age, so easily damaged, such a precious commodity.

“We are a village,” other parents say as they beg to exchange details of our children’s teen behavior, details of what our children are doing when out of sight.

I have some knowledge that I don’t share, a fine line to walk, for this knowledge comes to me from my son, and my primarily responsibility is to keep that line of communication open and flowing. If I witness something first hand, I have every right to report – and I will if a child is at risk – but if the information comes to me via my teen, I must respect his disclosure.

Is this easy? Absolutely not. Were I to hear of escalated dangerous behavior from my son, would I go to the child’s parents? This is the struggle, for I may help one family and never hear another word from my son. I could lose contact with all future disclosures, disclosures that could prove more critical, disclosures of my son’s own behavior that I must be there to hear.

Were my son to share something that required immediate intervention, I would assert the need to share this information. My son and I have talked about this, but it’s dicey. It would be a negotiation, but I would hope to prevail in stressing the need to speak up, in receiving my child’s blessing to help a friend.

Other parents may scream in hearing my reticence to break my son’s trust, but may I ask, “Would you risk shutting down your child’s voice in order to call another parent to report pot smoking?”

But then I ask myself, “What if the drug use is more serious, what do we do? What if I hear about risky sex or other disquieting behavior?”

This is an ongoing conversation, a conversation with self that takes place in my head, in a room of silence. Meanwhile my son’s voice returns home everyday at 3:00.



The road that took me away brought me back. Forget jet lag. There’s road jag, the brain trailing behind the speeding vehicle, reaching out to catch the bumper and be pulled along, to climb inside, to relax as a backseat passenger. But even then, the mind – maybe the soul – lingers behind, not able to keep up with the speed.

I’m back and suddenly not sure I left. From tall trees to countless waterfalls, the sights pile upon each other until no longer noteworthy, like when you visit too many cathedrals or museums in Europe, when the impressive ceases to impress, when you hit a default setting of enough and crawl back to that which is familiar.

You think you wanted to get away until you no longer remain in away. Nothing welcomes like your own bed and your dog’s greeting. The memory of away fades so quickly that you want to carve a city sign, etch the word Away capitalized, and name the town. You look at the sign when you need to be there, when you want to be taken again, when familiarity drowns you, and to Away is all you want.

In Away you need so little. Food. Water. Sleep. A shower. You may crave a bath, but you settle for a shower. In Away you have no ambition and you picture yourself holding that job behind the counter, both hotel clerk and cashier for the convenient in-house grocery. True one stop shopping.

You picture the friends you’d make and the conversations you’d have. And while in Away, it all seems like enough, no phones to ring, no newspapers to read, no deadlines. Money only flows out in Away. That’s how it is. You don’t bother thinking of earning, for as a guest in Away it’s not an option. To live in Away, the clerk job would be sufficient because you’d stop thinking of Europe and buying anything more than a new pair of hiking boots.

You’re skinnier in Away because it’s not L.A. You care about so much less in Away, and you wonder how to capture that feeling and bring it home with you, better than any souvenir, better than anything that can be bought.

But the feeling was bought, bought with gas money and hotel fees. The feeling of Away is not free. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Away comes at a price. Namely, you must leave, for if you stay, it is no longer Away. It is Here. Here and Away are not the same place. One who moves discovers this quickly.

But the feeling. To capture the feeling.

You take photos hoping to remember, even the non-artsy one of the parking lot featuring trash bins and your car with the bug-plastered windshield. You snap to aid memory because no one remembers what we think we’ll remember. No, something else is always remembered. Not the beautifully received gift, but the small, tiny slight. Not the most glorious vista, but the kind words of the clerk who drew the makeshift map, the one who will remain for six months at that job before hitting the road for another, and another after that, and again and again.

You want to ask him about a life lived in six month increments. It sounds fantastical, sounds timeless. How can one age when moving at that pace? He will never wake up old, or so it seems in that one conversation. That’s the thing about Away, you ask more questions of strangers. It never feels like prying but rather what is expected and appropriate.

How can you not ask the cave guide how long he’s had his job and how he got it? How can you not ask about the network that lives within the national park walls? The cave guide tells you he will leave when the season ends. He punctuates the thought with the words “Peace Corps,” and you remember when you thought Peace Corps more than twenty years ago but never went, though those two friends did – the couple. And instead of keeping journals, they pledged to write detailed letters to each other daily, having been placed in different countries, to bridge the distance between them. At the end of two years, they would exchange the letters and have them as journals. You remember this detailed plan for their time apart but you have no idea of what their names were and you can’t picture their faces either. All you have held onto is their story, and until the cave guide mentioned Peace Corps you didn’t even know you had that.

That’s how it happens, the triggers, the sparks. And now you can’t stop thinking of that couple, of wondering how the two years went, where they are, who they are, did it work, did they work?

The couples who work.

You want to line them up in a row and fire questions at them, to ask how, when, and why. You see it like a stage play. They stand in the illumination of bright lights and you fire questions from the darkened audience, kind of like A Chorus Line without the music or dance. Just the inquisition.

Weddings can do that. Make you think about couples, about the matching up, the chance of it all, the amazement of believing in the life commitment. When I left home for the wedding, I thought I was just heading off to attend an event, a family gathering, a time of celebration. But hitting the road is always more, is always an opening to something unexpected, to free-flowing thoughts and discovery. Like finding Away, and how it hit me this time as opposed to last time, how it’s getting harder to come home because I don’t know what this life is right now, not with all the changes and transitions and the absence of anchors and definition, without precise direction other than “Wake up and do it again.”

It. Discovering it. Defining it. Finding the label I can attach to my life and mean it. I try not to glorify Away, for that is naïve. But some days that is all I have, my longing for Away.


I've Been Spotted Elsewhere

Please come say hi, but don't blow my cover.

Tattoo Highway - issue 17
(500 word fiction contest)

(and if you need more info to locate me, please send me an email.)


Images Before Words

I spent the weekend in memory. Memory, as if it were a place. A passerby, had there been one, pausing long enough to peek into my bedroom would have seen me deep in a task. Surrounded by trays of slides, a scanner propped before me, laptop tethered, I loaded and scanned, loaded and scanned. The buzz of equipment musically augmented the scene. I was in the room and so very far away at the same time.

I am coming up on twenty years or twenty years are coming up on me. You pick. This mark of time prompted action, forced me to tick a chore off a list. Rent scanner. Scan slides. One weekend. Seven hours of immobility. Images and memories and colors and emotion.

1988. The Soviet Union. 500 participants. Multiple nationalities walking under the banner of Soviet-American Peace Walk. Odessa to Kiev with three capping days in Moscow. Tents and sleeping bags and bureaucracy and new friendships. Frustration and final tears. So much, so very much.

I pore through the images. The stories return. The need to capture knocking at my mind. This is just a beginning, a nod to maybe. How much will I present? How much will I revisit? I can’t say. I won’t say. I will show. Image by image. A start. A nudge. A beginning. We shall see…



“You grew up here. You played tennis.” She says it both as a statement and a question.

The new dermatologist looks over my body like a surveyor. From mid thigh to ankle the spots loom. Upper chest. Arms. The rest is pristine having lived beneath clothes sheltered from the skin-damaging sun. We didn’t know. We thought tans looked healthy. We liked how we looked when we edged to darker shades. We still do.

But now. Thirty years later. The glow is remembered in sunspots. In damage. Call them freckles, call them aging, they are the map to where we lived, to how we lived. The other skin, the skin rarely on display, is smooth and beautiful. It hints to me of what could have been. I look at my stomach to feel young. Evenly hued, soft. No blemishes, no scarring. It invites touch. It’s ready for its close up. The legs look battered, warriors of service. Speckled white, speckled brown, the dueling effects of five to eight hours a day under Southern California sun.

“I can recognize all of you. Your skin all looks this way,” the dermatologist says.

I’m part of a group, a class. The label makes me sound like a survivor. We pursued our sport for fun, for camaraderie, for achievement and ambition. We thought to the future but were also very in the moment, refining our motions and our focus and our competitiveness. We took breaks on the hottest of days and stripped off our shoes to dip our feet in the pool, the glaring tan lines revealing our dedication. When I dressed for nice occasions out with the family and slipped into sandals, I looked a joke, as if I were still wearing socks. A trip to the drugstore to acquire rub-on color turned my feet a more acceptable shade of orange-tinted tan. It was the best available.

I am mostly one color now excluding the spots of history. Though they tell where I’ve been I do wish I could erase them. I don’t like how they reveal the decay of my skin. I don’t like how they make me feel older than my spirit. I don’t like that I notice them or that I care about them because they link me to vanity I seldom feel.

I look to my son’s fresh skin and I remind him of sunscreen, telling him he doesn’t want to end up looking like I do. And sometimes he listens and sometimes he doesn’t. And I am reminded of all the warnings I ignored and all the ones I still do. I think ahead to when I will think back, to when I will wish I would have taken better care of my body. But we live as we live, and we can’t always aim to prevent, for the burden would be heavy with caution. Joy would succumb to weight. The years on the tennis court gave me much – identity, structure, perseverance, dreams. If only they hadn’t given me spots.


A Little Friendliness

Strange things are happening in my home. Very strange things. Three days ago I parked in front of the desktop computer, the one I’ve largely handed over to teenaged son. But I had to do some scanning, and this was the place to do it.

I’m a Mac enthusiastic, have been since 1985 when that cute little original Macintosh 512k (with no hard drive, thank you) was handed to me by a friend moving overseas. He’d be set up with a new computer when landing in Tokyo, and I was part of a 501c3 that had a mega grant proposal to write and was very much in need of a computer. All was good.

Major flash-forward. I sit before the sleek aluminum Intel iMac sorting through forms and such when I glance up and see an odd name displayed in my Leopard finder window under Shared. It starts with “mac” and then disintegrates into a series of numbers and letters that looks like a Mac traveling undercover.

“Sharing?!” I gasped. I imagine an uninvited hacker picking files off my desktop. I reach for the phone and call Apple Care, and successfully stump tech rep number one. He hands me off to product specialist, and we spend a lovely and lengthy time together. We succeed in banishing the unwelcome mystery computer after a series of comic mishaps that had me hopping between two laptops and the desktop to see which could successfully communicate with my suddenly nonfunctioning Airport Express. Bravo, the older and semi-retired iBook G4 running Tiger came to the rescue proving that newer isn’t always better.

With a more potent password protecting my wireless connection, I retire to my private space downstairs and disappear into laptop land. For a little intriguing sidebar information, my desktop had its airport card turned off and is hardwired to the internet. Does the fact that resetting the wireless device banished the mystery machine truly make sense then? Of course not, but can’t dispute successful results. And no, the phantom computer did not show up on my laptop on the same network. It’s a mystery appropriate for Ellery Queen if he weren’t a fictional character living in pre-computer times.

Yesterday. More scanning called for. I head upstairs. Phantom computer has returned, but I don’t have it in me to chat up tech support. “Tomorrow,” I think. “Tomorrow.”

Tomorrow is today. I head upstairs to retrieve papers from my file cabinet, and when I glance at desktop, the phantom computer taunts me. It struts across my desktop, and I reach for the phone.

An hour of friendly discourse with product specialist number two. We run some fascinating tests that I email to him which allows him to conclude that I have a good son.

“You call tell that from gathering info off my system?” I ask.

“Yeah, he doesn’t use any illegal downloading programs.”

I sit up straighter in case product specialist can see my posture via that freaky device, and smile proudly at how I’m raising my teen. But my exhausted scowl returns when product specialist number two reveals that nothing in the data explains the mystery computer. I only need hear the words ‘archive and install’ once over the phone line to tremble with fear. Setting up this computer and installing all my programs and updates took about two days. I am so not reinstalling my operating system and doing that again. Product specialist places me on hold to confer with other tech gurus. I’m proud that I’m stumping the best of the best.

“Well, everyone hear agrees that your computer is just searching for other computers on the network.”

“You mean I just have a really friendly computer?” He laughs. “Hadn’t thought of it that way,” he says. I clarify that there shouldn’t actually be anyone else accessible on my closed network, and he clarifies that no one is actually gaining access to my computer. We hang up after a few more laughs but not before my new tech friend sends me a picture of a cat, “just to check that your internet is working fine.” I haven’t received this much affection from a man in a long time.

Returned to the silence of me and my desktop, I think of its personality, how sitting alone in a loft for countless hours each day and night has appeared to leave it lonely. By means none of us completely understand, it’s reaching out to find other computers. And it’s succeeding. On a closed network. In fact during the final minutes of my phone call with product specialist number two, desktop found another potential friend. I now see two mystery names under Shared, one portrayed by an ancient box-type monitor icon and the other a proud, sleek iMac variety. My computer is nondiscriminating.

If our pets can start looking like us and us like them, can the same thing happen with our technology? Isolation and reaching out…I’ll leave it to your imagination. Mine’s already going wild.



(click on photo for clarity of question...)


Whims of Desire

Yesterday my son and I got lost in Los Angeles traffic. Not really lost, but delayed. Confined. Streets immobilized by what I later learned was a landslide that closed a major thoroughfare and had that trickledown effect of gridlocking a city already hovering beneath the strain of too many cars.

We aborted our plan, said ‘another time’ to karate, and turned the car towards home. As they say, “a blessing in disguise.” An afternoon ahead of us with unplanned extra time together, homework free, a chance to just be.

“Can we go to Europe again this summer?” my son blurts out out of nowhere.

“No, I don't think so,” I respond practically. “Why?”

“Well, it was fun when we went.”

That was three summers ago. Three weeks of travel with an eleven-year-old who felt homesick rather quickly, missing our dog, missing his bed. He opted for hours in a hotel room with Harry Potter over wandering the cities with me. I wondered if in some ways I'd brought him too soon, a trip wasted, before he could fully appreciate what was around him.

But here he is, longing for a return trip, wanting to go with me, asking with hopeful eyes.

“I wish we could go,” I say, his having activated the longing in me. “If we could, where would you want to?”

I’m playing with the fantasy as much for him as for me. For a while now, I’ve sidelined my travel bug. In abandoning a career with real paychecks to chase a dream of writer, I don’t know when the next paycheck will arrive. I don’t know when these free wandering trips will again be an option. I’m dipping into stockpiled resources on a regular basis these days. How long can that continue? Which impulses can I listen to?

“I’d like to see Scandinavia,” he says. “Sweden. Oh, and the Netherlands.”

Most of my travel has centered around what I might call the passionate countries: Italy, France, Greece. I speak Italian and French, though that may be a generous description of my current language skills, and I’ve always gravitated to places where I can slide into the native language and not arrive as the stereotypical, American tourist approaching everyone and simply speaking English.

I think of my son’s desires, his instincts to hit these northern countries, and I imagine my experiences expanding with his lead. I imagine us with backpacks hopping on and off of trains as I did for months post-college more than twenty years ago. I imagine our being able to share this experience before he decides being with his mom isn’t really that much fun, a time I thought had already arrived before he launched this conversation.

“I wish I was studying a real foreign language at school,” he continues. “Latin doesn’t count. You can’t really speak it.”

I’m treasuring this moment, the fourteen-year-old before me wanting to speak a foreign tongue, wanting to leave the comfort of the known, and venture out.

Since that conversation, I can’t get the image out of my head of our traveling together, even though the last time was challenging. I check my accumulated frequent flier miles that I zapped down to zero last year, and see if they’ve built up enough to squeeze out two tickets to Europe if I could miraculously find any open flights during the peak travel season. Miles away from what I need, I turn to the internet to search for cheap fares to anywhere over there, to find just a place to land and begin. I start thinking of how I could possibly support this trip, if some magazine somewhere might want to hear of the tales of a single mom and a single son wandering cities and countrysides, discovering the land and each other.

And I decide to put that out there, to create the intent and the possibility, for when will I even again be presented with this opportunity with my son? How can I let it pass due to life’s practical decisions? Is it worth stretching, and borrowing from here to pay for there, all with the promise of an irreplaceable experience?

Most of me screams, “Yes! Don’t let this go!” Another part of me says, “It’s irresponsible.” I want to put both voices in a ring and let them duke it out. You know who I want to win.

I know I haven’t heard the end of this. Not from my son, but from myself.


I Saw Magic

You won’t believe me, but don’t file this under fiction.

Morning. Long awake. The enjoyment of a novel completed and set down, logged into my list of books read and books awaiting. A few more long minutes of rolling over onto my side to enjoy eyes closed and the quiet of Sunday morning, surprising quiet in my densely populated neighborhood of apartments atop apartments beside apartments.

I feel the pull to climb from bed. To start. To stand. Towards the bathroom I walk. Eyes to the bathtub. Turn the tap and close the drain. A brush of teeth as the tub fills. An unwrapping of a fresh toothbrush after I realize it’s already the second day of the month and my hygienist recommends fresh bristles on the flip of the calendar.

Task complete. I climb into the tub. A soak anticipated. A slow entry into the day. I see the large jar of sea salts sitting before me. I usually turn away, not a huge fan, not from a place of displeasure but from never having fully felt the tingle. Today I say, Yes, I will soak with you. I add a generous supply to the water below the tap, close the lid, and replace the jar. I lay back and relax.

My mind dances. It always does. Leaps from thought to idea and back again. Heads west and circles left. Constant motion. Constant exploration. I reach for bath gel, spill a little into my palm, and lather up. Rinse. No repeat. Moments pass. Mind still moving. And then I see it. I train my focus, for it can’t be real, can’t really be there, but it is.

Floating five feet above me to the right is the tiniest of soap bubbles, at most a quarter inch in diameter. How it got there, I can’t imagine. My eyes lock on, follow its descent, waiting to see where it will land. It magically avoids the shower curtain and darts towards the green-tiled wall. I await the collision, but no, the bubble changes direction, zooms towards free air and leaps skyward. A collision with the ceiling, I think. But no, the bubble reins itself in. Stops short. Chooses a new course.

This goes on for five minutes. I barely breathe. I refuse to move. I don’t want to create air currents to affect movement. I invite the bubble to land on me. It hovers above. I think of Glenda the Good Witch and her descent to earth. I watch and watch and move my mind away from impatience, away from wanting to know how it will end. I just keep watching.

The bubble circles the entire area above the bath. It never heads towards the more open area of the room. It travels perilously close to the walls, but always dodges away at the final moment. I think, No one will believe this.

The bubble comes dangerously close to my face, so close that my eyes can’t focus. I fear I will lose its story in my failing vision. I fear I won’t see its last moments. But then it moves away. I follow its path. It circles me twice again, and then moves across my body. Diagonally. Slowly. It dips. It dips more. And it lands. Of all the places, it lands upon me. An inch from where left arm meets body. It doesn’t break. The bubble bonds with my skin and sits there in its perfect form. I wait. I wonder. And then it’s gone. It didn’t really pop. It just ceased to be.

I sit up, release the drain, and reach for a towel. I climb from the bath, enter my bedroom, and head to the keyboard.


Zero Tolerance

There have been a lot of noteworthy shakeups lately at private schools in my city of Los Angeles. Expulsions for drugs. Expulsions for cheating. Many of the decisions to expel fall under the ‘zero tolerance’ clause accompanying life these days.

I roll zero tolerance around in my head and think, “Oh, how easy to educate our children when they’re behaving and following our rules, and oh, how quickly we discard them when they get out of line.”

I know the infractions of these assorted children are serious. I know the actions deserve consequences. But expulsion? Is that the best way to handle these matters? Shouldn’t school remain a key ingredient in realigning the child gone astray? And what kind of lesson is taught with a simple discarding of the misbehaving child?

I am not an educator, nor am I a psychologist, but I am a parent, and I believe there are lessons to be learned from being caught using drugs and cheating, lessons that go beyond, “Well, you blew it and you’re out of here.” Whatever happened to the punishment that fits the crime? There are lots of possibilities: extra schoolwork, real community service (as opposed to a lot of cushy experiences children select), maybe visiting juvenile programs for those who fell victim to bad circumstances and bad choices. Come on, administrators. Get creative. Isn’t that part of the job, educating the whole child and not just the part that always toes the line? And yes, of course, get the parents involved.

Expulsion is purely punitive. Naturally, there are times when it comes down to this, but the practice of zero tolerance is a dreadful lesson to impart of our youth, especially if we want them to learn about their actions and see how they can right a wrong. And is zero tolerance a phrase we really want circulating in society these days? I’m not for coddling – quite the opposite – but I think simply relocating a child to a new school places little burden on the child and teaches little responsibility. What it mostly does is remove the original school from the burden of dealing with the child and offers a public display that says, “We’re serious about this problem.” That may benefit the school, but it hardly benefits the child.



What if there is no right answer? Does that translate to mean there is no wrong answer?


Acts of Love

In an act of love, I ironed a shirt for my son. I despise ironing. When purchasing clothing, the item must pass two tests: Can it forego ironing and can it go into the washing machine? Hand wash? I don’t think so. Dry cleaning? Paying for the item over and over every time you wear it? No, thanks.

My son is old enough to learn to iron his own clothes, but we don’t own an ironing board. Initiating him into this undesirable practice while requiring him to navigate our awkwardly shaped and unwelcoming flat surfaces is cruel, kind of like forcing him to learn to drive on a stick shift, which by the way is only about a year away. Good luck, dear son. Just pretend you walked into a time machine and you have no choice, which of course you don’t since I’m not heading off to buy an automatic.

On the other hand, putting my son behind the wheel of a five speed with the worst blind spots of any car I’ve ever driven is foolish. A friend recently told me that the period of driving under a learner’s permit is mostly to get the parents used to the idea of the child driving. He said his son is already quite skilled behind the wheel, but he and his wife need the time to digest their son’s progression to adulthood. I don’t doubt it. When I look at my son and imagine his navigating a large moving vehicle through our traffic-crazed city I pretend it will never happen.

To fend off the inevitable, I come up with a set of preliminary tasks.

“You must first learn to iron. If you can’t drive an iron, you can’t drive a car.” Or cooking. “If you can’t find your way around a stationary stove, I’m certainly not setting you loose on the open highway.” Laundry will follow close behind, or maybe take the lead since it is the safest and easiest of the three.

Ironing, cooking, laundry. Maybe this has nothing to do with priming my son to drive. Maybe I just want to lighten the load around the house.

My ex-husband was raised in a foreign rural village where his sisters taught him self-reliance. When we moved in together, he knew his way around the kitchen better than I did. Not only could he mend clothes but he could also create them from scratch. Mother of necessity, they say.

For the few years that my son saw his parents living together, he didn’t witness stereotypical gender roles. There wasn’t a go-to parent for certain tasks. House duties were spread around. But there is something in me that has ratcheted up the nurturing since the end of the marriage. I feel my son has taken on added responsibility in his role of ‘man of the house’, and I want him to still have a childhood, to feel cared for and not be rushed into adulthood. I don’t want him to feel that he never had a chance to just play and be. But I also don’t want him to sit back and wait to be catered to.

Sometimes after spending times at friends’ houses, he returns home and when I ask him to vacuum his room he replies, “Kids aren’t supposed to do that.” And I challenge him on the notion, ask him if he really believes that the mountain of cleaning duties should all fall to me. Faced with the accusation and shame I throw at him, he reaches for the vacuum or the scrub brush and gets to work on his room and bathroom. Part of me is really proud and part of me dreads his inner thoughts of how his friends have it easier, how he might shift to a moment of, “If only.”

I know that when he heads out on his own, he’ll inwardly thank me for his knowing his way around home maintenance, that he won’t feel robbed of a childhood but that he’ll feel a bit grateful that his apartment won’t make the first girl he brings home grimace. And I imagine that girl thinking that my son is something special beyond all the obvious traits and assets he puts forth, that she’s finally met a guy who can keep his own place clean.

And then I wake from my delicious fantasy and iron my son’s next shirt and try to figure out in which car he’ll learn to drive. Luckily I have a year to solve that problem.



It's Who You Know

I’m supposed to not worry that my son’s new school may not be teaching him anything. “Connections,” my friend says. “He’s making connections.” I’ve neglected to tell my son that middle school is about networking, that the power play of private school is setting up your future via who you know. Funny, I’d had other thoughts about middle school, but I’m naïve in that way. My friend makes her comment with humor, trying to ease my concern that I must solve this problem.

My son left a rigorous, academic middle school program to join a private school in September that equally favors the arts with the academics. At least that was the pitch. At least that’s what we hoped. As a dedicated artist, he was feeling underserved at the public school, hemmed in creatively. Each day felt repetitive and lacking in imagination. He grumbled constantly.

At his new school, his arts are thriving. But when your teen repeatedly comes home from eighth grade asking for his academics to be more challenging, you pay attention. After all, this is the phase where he’s supposed to be all about play and distraction.

So this past week I’ve felt anger boiling in me that I face this school dilemma again. I long for the era of no choice, when you shoved your kid in the neighborhood public school and met up with him again at graduation pleased he’d done enough to get into a good college. At least that’s how my parents did it. I don’t think they knew what I was up to for an entire decade.

Recently I heard a lecture on Ted.com by psychologist Barry Schwartz about the fact that we strive for choice because we think it improves happiness but in fact the opposite is true. Too much choice creates dissatisfaction. And as I heard the words, I felt my head nodding. There is comfort in making the best of what you have over analyzing if you should go for another option all together.

But I can’t unring the bell of school choice at this point. I know it’s out there. My son knows it’s out there. I can tell him to make the best of where he is, to point out that opportunity exists if you seek it. And trust me, we’ve had this conversation in exhaustive detail, but choice denied does not erase its existence. The question of whether he is in the right place will whine in the back of our minds.

I think back to my practical friend, the one who recommends the art of teenage networking. Maybe she’s right. Maybe I have to look at this humorously. Maybe my academic artist son will do just fine in the long run of life if he cozies up to future art buyers and the well-connected. After all, it certainly can’t hurt.


Public Service Announcement

Did you know that when your dishwasher is on, it is not full of water, that it is not exactly a washing machine for your dishes? I mean, it washes them, but it’s not an enormous tank of water filled from bottom to top.

You may have known this. You may not have overlooked the dishwasher’s design of a pull-down front door that certainly would have been a precarious way to hold water.

And if you knew this and your dishwasher started making a loud and suspicious sound upon hitting ‘start’ only to later leak water from the lower right corner, you may have done something different from thinking, “Ugh, the leak has returned,” and then call the dishwasher repair company that replaced a hose four months earlier.

No, you might have hit ‘cancel’ and opened the door to see if just maybe you hadn’t closed it sufficiently the first time around, because, you see, your dishwasher is not like your front-loading washing machine, the one that won’t even indicate power if the door is not fully closed. Had you known that only about an inch or two of water sits in the bottom of the dishwasher, you wouldn’t have envisioned a flood pouring across your kitchen floor and eventually seeping into your downstairs neighbor’s home.

My repairman, who arrived only to discover that my dishwasher was working perfectly, taught me all this. He told me that it’s safe to open your dishwasher during any phase of the cycle because the machine shuts off and drains within two minutes, and even if it isn’t drained, the water is so low that it can’t leave the dishwasher. We discussed barbeque forks that may just interfere with the dishwasher achieving a tight seal as they press their length against the door. I appreciated his desire to offer up this visual as an illustration to his lesson.

And unlike me, writing a $60 dollar check to the repairman who has just said, “Sorry, I have to charge you,” you wouldn’t be tempted to say, “Really? You do? That full amount?” given he was in your home for a maximum of ten minutes and the last time he’d come out you paid him $187 to pull out the machine and replace a drainage hose. You wouldn’t have thought any of that because you wouldn’t have called him in the first place.

Of course his time is worth something. And what it’s worth, I realize, goes beyond his fixing skills. I didn’t pay him to repair my dishwasher, but I did just pay him $60 to educate me about my dishwasher and to rewire the inner workings of my imagination, the same imagination that previously created images of dishes taking a soaking bath within my dishwasher rather than sitting and enjoying a spraying shower.

“Now I know,” I say to the repairman as he hands me my receipt. “Now I know.”


The Tree

She places the tree outside to experience weather, but the tree has never experienced weather so it does know how to process the move. Instead of seeing an opportunity, the tree feels cast outside in punishment, cold and scared, and slips into reliving its behavior to try to understand how by sitting in a window sill, quietly without bothering anyone, only asking for water on the occasional day and then only doing so by appearing parched and dry, did it deserve a trip to the porch, a third story balcony for precision, where the view is beautiful but the temperature cold.

The tree doesn’t know that its guardian thought it would enjoy the natural fall of rain that brings with it whatever nature intends. Well, that plus city pollutants riding along as stowaways.

The guardian, awaiting the promised rain, glimpses over her shoulder to spy on the potted tree and feels a small pang, knows what it’s like to be jolted into a new environment without warning, without explanation, without the proper tools for survival. But then the guardian remembers. Tools rise up from within, make the possessor stronger and better prepared for the unexpected future.

She glances to the tree again, and thinks, “I know it’s a bit cold, but when the rain comes, you will enjoy it.” At least she hopes so.