Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Life is just so... messy.

A synonym for messy might be... gray. But "messy" is just a tad... messier. And more poignant. More dead on.

Life is just so... messy.

A friend of mine who has three kids under the age of six -- AND who writes a blog -- was describing a very terrible, no good, perfectly awful day. My reaction, which was not much different than the reaction of other moms with kids as old as or older than hers, was: this is so NORMAL.


What the heck does THAT mean???

Normal = messy

How can "normal" POSSIBLY be the same as "messy"?

Because real life IS messy.

And real life IS... normal.

We do our best.

We get tired. We get cranky.

Our kids get tired and cranky. Harsh words are exchanged.

Orders are given. Retorts. Long periods of silence. Raw emotions.

By BOTH sides.

Hugs are given. Kisses. I love you's.

And they are all genuine. All heartfelt. All... real.

All... normal.

We get tired. We lose our patience. We yell. We say things we cannot believe we are even saying. Our kids, who seem to have inherited -- or absorbed by osmosis -- our smartass, sarcastic tendencies, give it all right back to us.

And we wonder...............................


Who we are?

What we are doing?

And aren't all other moms just like WAY more squared away and Martha Stewarty than we are????

It's normal.

It's freaking normal.

That's all I've got to say.

We have been there, done that. We are all just so incredibly...




Normally abnormal.

So incredibly normal in how "abnormal" we think we are.

Take your pick. It's all pretty much the same thing.

Messy isn't necessarily a bad place to be.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Road rage

Let me preface this by saying that I live near a city that really does not have massive traffic snarl messes and three hour commutes for those who live a mere twenty miles away. Whenever I complain about rush hour traffic to my sister, who lives in LA, she guffaws and gives me a look of utter derision (even if we are conversing on the phone, I can tell she is giving me “that look.”)

She would argue that I have no right to complain about rush hour traffic. That I have NO IDEA what rush hour traffic is like. And she would be right. But having driven through Chicago, another American metropolis renowned for its traffic jams, once in my adult life on a cross country drive, I vowed that as God was my witness, I would never drive through Chicago again!

So, no, veritably, this city where I live now does NOT have a huge rush hour traffic problem.

All the same, people around here drive like fricking idiots!

Normally I work from 10 to 6 and miss the worst of rush hour on both ends. That suits me just fine. I don’t need any more stress in my already stressful life. But right now I am working 9 to 5, and the drive in and out of the city is aging me more rapidly than Lancôme wrinkle resistant cream can compensate for. I am, I guess, a fragile flower when it comes to driving amongst throngs of aggressive, maniacal commuters. They are all Type A, high testosterone idiots, while I am more like Jesus turning the other cheek. I usually try to let other people merge in front of me, kind of that whole taking turns idea that we learned back in kindergarten, but that doesn’t mean I want EVERYONE to merge in front of me. And I hate it when people tailgate me in the slow lane, especially when I am already exceeding the posted speed limit. You want to go faster, buster, pass me! Their antagonistic behavior merely makes me want to slow down. (Passive-aggressiveness is my forte.)

It irks me when people merge onto the highway BEHIND me, even though the cars immediately in front of me and I have not even reached that part of the road where you are supposed to start merging. The only way to counter this annoying behavior is for me to merge even earlier than the jackasses behind me, which probably only serves to irritate those in front of me. So, I become part of the problem instead of part of the solution. This disturbs me to no end. In order to survive, I have to affect an aggressive and assholish persona that is the antithesis of my true self. Not good.

When I drive in to work at 10 in the morning, the commute is a relative breeze. Unless there has been an accident, I rarely even have to slow down once I hit the major highway, and it doesn’t matter if I start to daydream a wee bit, which I am wont to do, Walter Mitty and I having far more in common than I might want to admit. When I have to be at work at 9, however, I am surrounded by a throng of crazed Indy 500 nutcases and I have no idea where these speed demons think they are going to go, as invariably the highway ahead turns into a virtual parking lot, especially if there has been an accident, which there often is as high speed and stopped traffic usually don’t mix well.

A few weeks ago, while I was on my normal 10-6 shift, I was trying to pass a slow-moving truck (who, truth be told, was really not all that slow as he was going at least the posted speed limit). No one was approaching behind me in the fast lane, so I moved into the passing lane. All of a sudden – and I still have no idea where this person came from, but he scared the bejesus out of me – there was a car RIGHT behind me and he slammed on his brakes, gave me the finger, and cursed up a blue storm. (I don’t actually know what he was saying, but I could see him in my rear view mirror and he was PISSED.) Never mind that I was already exceeding the speed limit, and HE had sneaked up on me at 85-90 miles per hour from the SLOW lane. He had most definitely NOT been in the fast lane.

I saw my life flash before my eyes. Literally. This near death experience prompted me to go out the very next day and buy a fireproof safe that was on sale at Target in which to put my will. I was certain this guy was going to hit me. I floored my Subaru, which doesn’t really amount to doing much of anything, and swerved as far to the left as I could while he swerved as far to the right as he could. He was super duper annoyed that I had “gotten in his way.” Silly me, I don’t usually monitor the traffic behind me in the slow lane when I am going to pass someone in front of me, except to see if there are people already moving over or have a blinker on indicating they are moving over. I AM focusing on who or what is approaching in the fast lane behind me. When I see NOTHING in the fast lane and a car behind me in the slow lane going slower than I am, I do not often think – Gee, I wonder if there is some asshole maniac speeding up behind THAT car in the slow lane and he is going to swerve back into the fast lane to go around ALL of us right when I decide to pass this slow moving vehicle in front of me. The asshole maniac, of course, thinks HE is the only one on the road and that it is his prerogative to drive wherever the hell he wants to whenever the hell he wants to at whatever the hell speed he wants to.

He is one of that breed who thinks the highway at rush hour is a race track and he is Mario Andretti. He weaves in and out of traffic like the other cars are orange cones. He thinks nothing of driving 85 miles in the slow lane in order to pass people in the fast lane, and he often takes advantage of exit lanes to swerve around traffic in the slow lane on the right side, as opposed to using the fast lane on the left.

You may notice that I have wielded a lot of HEs. I do not wish to sound sexist, but I do have to say that usually the people I have seen driving like this are men. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of maniacal asshole women drivers, too, but they tend to be the ones talking on their cells phones whilst applying makeup and just changing lanes whenever they feel like it. They don’t seem to be the ones who fantasize they are NASCAR drivers playing Grand Theft Auto.

I find this aggressive speed demon boneheaded behavior not only scary, but downright puzzling. It doesn’t make any sense to me. WHY are these men driving this way when two or three miles down the road they are going to have to come to a near standstill???? And WHY do they think they have the god-given right to drive as fast as they want to and endanger everyone else on the road??? I just couldn’t figure it out.

Then… I heard this great observation on NPR’s Car Talk. The Clackett brothers were saying, partly tongue in cheek, of course, as they are men, that men think rules apply to everyone else and not to them. Rules are designed for OTHER people. In particular, speed limits are designed for other drivers, all those bad, slow, old lady incompetent drivers. They, on the other hand, KNOW how to handle a car, KNOW how to drive fast and furious, and thus it is their RIGHT to drive this way and everyone else on the road be damned and get out of their way RIGHT NOW!!!

It was like a light bulb went on in my head. That was EXACTLY how these speed demon drivers behaved.

While that certainly explained this arrogant, dangerous breed of driver, it did nothing whatsoever to get rid of them. They are everywhere, especially on the major highways. When I complained of this to a co-worker, she suggested I try an alternate route into the city, one that paralleled the river on a smaller road that went through towns and had numerous stop lights. I didn’t like this road for that very reason; plus, it was plagued by a plethora of potholes. I preferred the smoother, wider highway that reminded me – and obviously everyone else on it -- of the Autobahn. Nonetheless, I decided to try her suggested route the next morning, just so I could compare it with the Testosterone Thruway. Of course, it would be the day that there was a major accident on one of the bridges leading into the city, and traffic was slowed down and backed up for miles. Plus, when it was moving, people were skirting in front of me and changing lanes without using turning signals and pretty much being pushy assholes. A car behind me actually honked at me to move up – into the middle of a busy intersection when the light was red in my direction so that she (yes, women are asshole drivers, too) could go around me and turn right, even though it said “No Turn on Red.” Yet, somehow it was I who was the asshole!

So… in the end, neither route did much for my blood pressure or ensuing angina problems. It was six of one, half dozen of another. Personally, I can hardly wait til my schedule reverts to its normal 10 to 6, so most of the speed demon maniacal aggressive morons are out of the way, or at least have WAY more Lebensraum to conduct their silly, death-defying antics. I realize that all of these people must have far, far more important lives than I do and their getting to work five minutes before I do or home five minutes before I do is a vital part of their all-important days.

I, meanwhile, will have to start practicing my yoga breathing again and continue to fantasize about getting a job on a desert island… albeit NOT whilst driving to and from work.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Mein Kampf

OK. It is official. I am Hitler.

My children were goose stepping around the room, extending their arms over and over, and chanting “Heil Hitler!” in authentic German accents.

Why? you may ask.

Well… because I told them, in no uncertain terms, that as long as they were living in my house, they would have to make their beds and brush their teeth. Every day. I know, I know, cruel and unusual punishment at its most extreme.

Life in the fascist regime gets even worse, though, because I also told them that, in addition to making their beds and brushing their teeth, they would have to… (gasp!) clean their rooms.

I know. I am anxiously awaiting the call from Child and Youth Services.

While I may be Hitler, I am also a Hitler who believes in leading by example. Thus, I make my own bed every day and brush my teeth (multiple times a day) and try to keep my bedroom in relative order. This last task is somewhat complicated by the fact that my children persist in dumping their crap in my room, just as they deposit it all over the entire house. Nonetheless, I went on to assist my children in the actual cleaning of their rooms by giving them Hefty trash bags, clean sheets, and repetitive, specific instructions.

Did I mention that it would be an understatement to say that their rooms looked like the lost luggage hall at the airport after a bomb had gone off? I mean, if you physically cannot walk across a room, or even see the carpet, because there is so much crap all over the place, that is kind of an indicator that something needs to be done. At least, that is what Hitler thinks. Not so tween/teens!

I informed my children that I would not need to become “Hitlerish” (their term of endearment) if they would simply do what they were supposed to do and not let their rooms become giant pig sty messes. They were not buying any of my Aryan logic, however. No matter. They still spent several hours learning that “Arbeit Macht Frei.”

They did what they needed to do, went on about their day, asked for hugs, helped unload groceries from the car, and cleared the table after dinner.

Beds are made, teeth are cleaned, and I can at least see what color the carpets are in their rooms.

The Hitler Jugend are alive and well in this household!

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Last night I finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and it was an amazing book. I must have cried for about twenty minutes after I finished the book. I mean, really, truly, genuinely cried my heart out. I was so deeply moved by the ending of this book. And the crying was very cathartic. I probably don’t cry enough in real life, so I have to take advantage of emotive fiction.

Yes. I know that I cry at Hallmark Card commercials. And almost every single movie I go to. My kids always make fun of me. They don’t understand how I can possibly cry at a movie. I don’t understand how people can possibly NOT cry, when a movie is sad, poignant, emotional, or even happy. I cried when Mufasa died in The Lion King. My older son, who was then three, was horrified. “It’s a movie, Mom,” he said. “Not only is it a movie, it’s a cartoon. Mufasa isn’t real.” So? Why does something have to be “real” before it can be moving? To me, the beauty of good fiction is that it can move us so deeply. Well-written fiction captures the human condition in ways that literal truth often cannot.

While I cry often at movies, I rarely cry after reading books. It takes a powerful book to make me cry. There are some books that have made me cry a lot, however. The ones that come to mind are: books that deal with war and painful loss. The most recent book that moved me enough to make me cry was The Woman at the Washington Zoo. That book, however, was nonfiction, and I was crying at the loss of its wonderful author Marjorie Williams. I rejoiced in the beauty of her writing but mourned her early death from cancer. It was painful to read her final essays, knowing that she was already dead. At the same time, I thought: she is talking about mortality and death from cancer at far too early an age for people to die. Most of us do not even want to THINK about such things. This woman was living it and writing about it. And she wrote so honestly and so beautifully. I was glad that her husband chose to share her writing with the rest of us in this way.

The Book Thief moved me so deeply because I had grown so attached to its characters and was thoroughly engrossed in their lives. I cared about them and what happened to them. The narrator of the book is Death, or the Grim Reaper. I know that sounds gimmicky, but in this instance, it worked. The book is set in WWII Germany and involves everyday life in a small town, coming of age, the Hitler Youth, the war, the persecution of German Jews, concentration camps, love of reading and books, friendship, and families. The author is Australian, but I think his parents, who grew up in Nazi Germany, moved there after the war. He had a thorough knowledge of Germany and German life, and his insight into what it was like for “typical” Germans during the war years was fascinating. As someone who lived in Germany for four years, I found the descriptions and details to be very accurate and in line with what I had experienced. I have no idea what Germany was like during WWII, but Zusak definitely captured the Germanness of the people. I would like to know if the book is available in Germany and if so, what German readers think of it.

The grief that I felt at the end of this book was very real and very deep. I was surprised by how much the ending moved me and by how hard I was crying. It wasn’t like a tear or two was rolling down my cheek. My body was wracked with grief; I was sobbing uncontrollably. I don’t often cry this hard, and it was very unnerving -- yet also, in a way, very cathartic.

The Book Thief was fiction, and none of the characters real. None of them ever existed on this planet. That I could be moved so deeply by people who are not real startles me on the one hand, and makes me appreciate fiction and the power of art on the other. I am not ashamed that I cried. I only wish that I could write prose that moved others as deeply as this book moved me.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Summer Reading

My kids are not toddlers or preschoolers anymore. One is a Middle School tween, the other a high school freshman.

I cannot believe I have a child going into high school! It does not seem so long ago that I was pushing him on the swings and he needed to stand on his tippy-toes on a step stool to brush his teeth. With his Batman toothbrush. Now he is six feet tall, weighs well over 200 pounds, and plays high school football.

As summer winds to an end, both boys have to face that age old bugaboo – required summer reading. Each has to read a required book and complete a project before school starts. Plus, they each have to read one additional novel (of their choice) from some pre-approved list. Doesn’t sound too hard, right? Well, school starts in two weeks and neither, of course, has read his required book. They did read books over the summer, even the “novel of their choice,” but those required suckers are still hanging over their heads.

It doesn’t bother me too much. Yet. I think kids need summer to relax and play and have fun. Plus, my kids DO read books in general. And I really didn’t want them to read their required books too early in the summer, because then I would be afraid they would forget everything. I know I would have.

Both boys are dragging their feet about reading their required books, however. They don’t dislike reading. Just the fact that they have to read a specific book that they are sure they are going to hate.

And I can relate totally to their dread. I always hated summer reading, too. As a teen, I read voraciously, but there was always something loathsome about the concept of required summer reading.

For one thing, just making a book “required” pretty much ruined it for me in general. Not so much during the school year, but definitely over the summer. I could never read summer reading books the way I read other books. It was like they were tainted somehow. I was always too self-conscious during the reading, trying to remember the characters’ names and the plot twists and themes and underlining vocabulary words like we were supposed to do. Why couldn’t we just read the damned books?

I couldn’t enjoy a book when I had to read it like that. Which was a shame. Because sometimes we read good books, or at least books by good writers. Sometimes, though, we read really shitty books. At least from the perspective of a cynical, disillusioned teen.

Sometimes I grew to HATE my summer reading books. With a passion. Like The Pearl by John Steinbeck. Absolutely LOATHED it. Thought it was stupid, dumb, and depressing. Its only redeeming feature was that it was really short.

My favorite summer reading book of all time was A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I had to read it the summer before ninth grade, and I absolutely, totally LOVED it. It may, in fact, be the only summer reading book I ever truly liked.

My older son has to read A Separate Peace for his ninth grade summer reading as well. I imagine it is just a fluke. Then again, for all I know, it could be that eighty percent of ninth graders in the country have to read this book for summer reading.

I just know my son is going to HATE this book. He will dislike everything about it that I loved so much. And that kind of makes me sad. I hold a real fondness in my heart for A Separate Peace -- and for my ninth grade English class and teacher in general.

My older son likes action-packed science fiction and fantasy, like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and Eragon. He loves to read about Greek mythology. And he, of course, loves video games, especially role-playing ones that revolve around journeys and quests. This past spring he read Dante’s Inferno – and LOVED it. A Separate Peace is going to be like warm milk toast. Sigh….

My younger son is resisting his summer reading, too. He has already read Friday Night Lights and several football player biographies and autobiographies over the course of the summer. He doesn’t understand why he has to read some “dumb fiction book” he’s “never heard of.” His required summer reading book is Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. The protagonist is… ewww!...a girl. There is no gore, no violence, no action. The book is going to be BORING, he says.

In a moment of rare brilliance, I ask my 12-year old if he would like to read the book aloud to me, a chapter or two or three (they are very short) at a time.

“You mean we could lie in bed together and I could read to you?” he asks hesitantly, not sure if I am being serious or not. I can tell the idea of reading aloud to me appeals to him, but he is shy, almost afraid to show any interest.

I used to read to both my children all the time when they were younger. Stacks and stacks of books and then, of course, their favorites that they would want to hear over and over again (and Lord help you if you tried to skip any words!). Usually the three of us would snuggle together on the couch or crowd together onto the same bed, with me in the middle so they could both see the pictures.

When they started to learn how to read, they would read aloud to me, or to each other. As they grew still older, we would read entire chapter books by taking turns reading aloud. Sometimes we would even use voices and almost act out the books. It was a lot of fun.

It’s been a long time since we read together out loud, though.

Still, I could tell my younger son LIKED the idea of the two of us snuggling together on the bed, him reading aloud, the two of us sharing private alone time together. I don’t think he would be very thrilled to know I am sharing this fact with others, and I am sure he would be horrified if any of his friends ever found out.

But secretly, genuinely he loves this quiet one-on-one time. Maybe even more than I do.

As we start reading his required summer reading book, he begins to take on voices and accents for the different characters and really brings the story to life. He actually looks forward to our nighttime reading, although if there is a football game on TV, he usually asks to postpone our reading to another time.

Somehow I can’t imagine my gentle giant fourteen year old reading A Separate Peace aloud to me. When kids get to be teenagers and boys get bigger than their moms, it is sometimes hard to figure out the whole affection and intimacy thing. Oh, my son still kisses me goodbye and gives me giant bear hugs (where he usually picks me up off the ground), but I can’t envision the two of us lying side by side in bed. In fact, I daresay we wouldn’t both FIT on the same single bed any longer.

We do take long walks together where he will tell me about things and we will talk. About girls. About life. About sex, politics, and rock and roll. Well, alternative heavy metal, anyway. And video games. Maybe if I re-read A Separate Peace, he might want to talk about the book with me as he reads it.

I just imagine him being full of derision and teenaged sarcasm as he describes the tragedy of Phineas and the teenaged angst of poor Gene. I worry he is going to find the book “dumb.” As so many things are “dumb” to teenagers.

But who knows? Maybe not. Maybe I will be surprised. Maybe he will be surprised. If not, I will be content to listen to my son tell me how dumb his required stupid summer reading is.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Often I think I learned far more about life and the meaning of life from my children when they were toddlers and preschoolers than I ever did from religion, philosophy, or even my own life experiences (save those as a mom to toddlers and preschoolers).

Young children live in the moment. Everything is new to them, and the world is a giant adventure. They notice all of God’s little creatures (often when you are in a hurry) and they see beauty and the extraordinary in what we consider to be the vast, overwhelming ordinary.

If only we could stay as smart as we were when we were young children….

When my kids were little, a walk around the neighborhood or to the local playground could take hours. Or so it seemed. Until it dawned on me that these excursions were not about the destination but rather the journey. Playing at the playground was all well and good, but getting there was just as exciting and interesting. If not more.

We had to stop and look at every little ant that crossed our path; study spider webs glistening with dew; listen to the bullfrogs croaking down in the drainage pipe; watch a squirrel nibbling on an acorn; follow cracks in the sidewalk; and say hi to each and every doggie and kitty. And Lord help us if we happened to come across any construction vehicles in operation! We might never even make it to the playground.

My sons merrily picked up rocks and sticks and leaves and chestnuts and either shoved them in their pockets, if they happened to have pockets (where I would find them days later when I did the laundry), or gave them to me.

All of the sights and sounds and activity prompted incessant questions, most of which revolved around the word WHY and sprang from the firm belief that I would be able to answer them all. (Parents of current toddlers and preschoolers, take heed! Teenagers ask why [or more likely, why not?] all the time, too, but they don’t think you know ANYTHING. In fact, they are certain that you don’t know anything.)

Although being a full-time, stay-at-home parent to small children is very challenging and exhausting, it is also very rewarding. (You often don’t realize this until years later, but it is true.) Quiet moments spent with a young child who finds awe in just about everything can give you a totally new perspective on life and the world around you.

As grownups we are so busy rushing around all the time -- flitting from Activity A to Activity B, C, D, E, and F; acquiring ever more stuff; and processing emails -- that we forget about both the journey and the moment. It is all about destinations and accumulation and busy work. About being better, richer, faster, thinner, more important, righter, and happier. Instead of just…BEING.

When my children were two and three, we lived in a Virginia suburb of Washington, DC, in an area that only ten years before had been farmland and now harbored housing developments, townhouses, and congested shopping centers. One of our most favorite places to go was a walking trail that traversed a protected wetland just off the highway and between several housing areas. The boys called it the swamp park.

There was a well-worn path and a wooden boardwalk that crossed the marshy areas and pond, so you could take a stroller if you wanted to. The entire trail couldn’t have been more than one-third to one-half mile, tops, but every inch of it was studded with amazing wildlife and oh, such exciting treasures!

Every time we went, we saw different species of wildlife and plants: deer, squirrels, frogs, tadpoles, toads, snakes, fish, dragonflies, cranes, chipmunks, mice, earthworms, centipedes, butterflies, bees, beetles, raccoons, spiders, hawks, Baltimore orioles, wildflowers, trees, cattails, ferns, algae, and lichen. At different times of the day we saw different creatures; a morning stroll was far different from a late afternoon one. And every season was different as well.

Each time we visited the swamp park, it was like exploring a new and different unchartered continent. Each trek brought wonder and excitement to my boys’ faces and elicited endless oohs and aahs and whys.

Not surprisingly, it was as a young mother accompanying my small, purposeful sons on these simple forays that I glimpsed firsthand the meaning of life and of living.

Holding their small, warm, soft hands; following their gazes and pointing fingers; stooping or squatting down with them to examine some minute detail of Nature; listening to the symphony of beeps, tweets, croaks, whistles, swishes, buzzes, and kerplops.

Embracing them as they came towards me with half-wilted dandelions clutched in their pudgy hands, a present, pretty flowers, for Mommy i love you.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Free falling

I think I am suffering from “blog block.” I am not sure if that is a real term or not, but it seemed like the parallel to writer’s block. Well, maybe it should be “blogger’s block.”

Actually, the blockage part is somewhat relative. Yes, there is some “blockage,” but more of my problem is finding the time to sit down at the computer, write a meaningful entry, and post it.

I started this blog early in the summer, soon after my children left to visit their father for the summer. While I can intellectually appreciate my children wanting and needing to spend time with their father, I really don’t like it when they are gone. At all. I try all sorts of coping mechanisms to make it through the long summer months. First of all, I work full time, so that kind of fills my days. Secondly, I try to do things I don’t ordinarily get to do when my kids are here – like go to grownup movies, watch grownup videos, and meet friends for dinner. This summer I also started a blog. Which I enjoyed thoroughly. But when my kids were not here, I had WAY more time to devote to the blog. And I would think about entries and potential entries and write them out longhand and then type them up in Word and then edit them and then finally, post them. And, frankly, that worked for me. Because I am a slow thinker, or processor, and I like to take my time. I like things to have a purpose and be meaningful.

Well… THAT approach is certainly out the window!!!

For one thing, I no longer have the time or luxury of operating in that manner, even though that is the manner under which I operate best. But, in the end, we live in the real world. And my real world is one in which I am the single mother to two very active teen boys. Both are playing football this year, one is in band, one starts high school, and one is in middle school. I LOVE it that my boys are back. I LOVE to spend time with them, I LOVE it that they are active. At the same time, this means I spend much of my “non-working” time (a STUPID word, as I am WORKING all the time) carting my kids around, watching them practice or play, and then shopping, cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry to try to keep up with their never-ending food and clean clothes/uniform needs. It never ceases to amaze me how little shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry I have to do when my two sons are not here. Don’t get me wrong – I vastly prefer them being here. I am just always shocked upon their return by how much I have “gotten over” while they have been gone.

So…, I guess I am in a state of transition. I have never done my blog while they have been here.

I am sure I will figure it out. Find a way to fit it in. Get up earlier, stay up later, post far fewer entries. Whatever. It is just a change and one I am fully capable of dealing with.

The other part of my “blockage” has to do with the current world situation. Often I think I would do far better if I lived alone on a desert island. I realize that isn’t realistic. But the situations in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Israel distress me intensely. The foiled terrorist plot in Britain – although I am thrilled it was foiled! – distresses me. The oil situation distresses me. A lot of things distress me. None of which I can really do anything about.

When all of these massive world events are going on and innocent men, women, and children are being killed, I start to feel like the whole world is spiraling out of control. I am not sure why I think it is ever “in control.” But I start to lose whatever feeble grasp I have on “meaning,” and everything starts to seem meaningless.

How can I write about my own totally pointless life when people are being bombed out of their homes, losing loved ones, and seeing normal life as they know it obliterated? Who CARES what I do or don’t do, think or don’t think, say or don’t say? Who CARES what I did twenty-five years ago as a naïve, innocent new cadet going through Basic Training at West Point?

What can I possibly say that will have any meaning or relevance in this crazy world???

And I am rendered mute.

I got irritated with my eighty year old mother the other day because she was complaining at the dinner table about how she got her car washed and then parked it somewhere where a sprinkler turned on and got her car all wet. It was a waste, she said.

This really pissed me off, and I muttered something under my breath about how she was worried about her car being clean when innocent people were being bombed in Lebanon and Israel. Hard of hearing as she is, she still heard the gist of my comment. She was rather indignant. “Well,” she said, “if I could do anything about that situation, I would. But I can’t.”

My younger son said, “What!? You want to talk about people getting killed at the dinner table?”

“No,” I said. “You are missing my point. I just think we should be thankful for the things we have.”

“I AM thankful for the things I have,” my mother said. “In fact, when I try to express my thankfulness, people often don’t want to hear about it.”


That desert island thing seems more and more appealing all the time.

Not only is the world crazy, life meaningless, my day-to-day existence an exhausting blur of activity that involves everyone else in my life except me, but now I apparently don’t listen to my mother when she expresses how thankful she is for everything.

I mentioned later to my son how it annoyed me that his grandmother worried about stupid shit when people were dying all over the world. He looked at me like I was deranged and let out a long sigh of exasperation. “She was just trying to make dinner conversation,” he said.

I feel lost half the time. Like my feet are scrabbling at the edge of an unstable cliff. Sometimes I can feel solid ground underneath, but more often than not I just feel… air. This is a scary feeling. And one I don’t relish.

I read an interview with Katie Couric in “Parade” magazine this morning (which just reveals how totally banal my existence really is). Reading the Sunday paper, alone, with a mug of hot coffee, is one of the highlights of my week. Katie Couric was discussing with her interviewer, Jacquelyn Mitchard, how seeing pictures of our kids when they were little is sad or upsetting, not because it is a sign of time passing, but rather because it is a sign of life passing.

Every moment we breathe, every word we say or don’t say, every action we take or don’t take, that is life passing.

I want my life to have meaning. I want my presence here on this planet to make a difference. I don’t need to run a nation or discover the cure for cancer. But I want to feel like I am contributing in some positive, meaningful way.

Sometimes, when I am grounded, I find meaning in everyday ordinariness. I find meaning in family and friends, in interacting with others. At other times, my life seems so ordinary it drives me to distraction, and all my family and friends irritate the piss out of me. Of course, I have no doubt it goes both ways and that I irritate everyone else around me as well.

I feel there must be some happy medium in there somewhere. Eventually, maybe I will stumble upon it.

In the meantime, I have clothes that need to be taken out of the dryer before they wrinkle, wet clothes that need to go into the dryer, and my kids are clamoring for food. I have bills to pay, weeds to pull, and I want to go do something fun outside with my kids because it is a glorious summer day and shouldn’t we all just be fucking glad that we are alive and healthy and together?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Telling it like it is

I have to confess that I have never read any of Lynn Freed’s novels. In fact, I had never even heard of Lynn Freed before picking up her memoir from the new books shelf at my local public library. (I am sure this is more a factor of my own ignorance than of her lack of celebrity or talent.) I picked up the book because it was entitled Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home: Life on the Page, and that sounded right up my alley. Plus, there was a supportive blurb on the back from Anne LaMott: “Lynn Freed is a beautiful writer, dead-on brilliant, possessing a dark and comforting wisdom.” That was enough for me.

I liked the book, I guess, a series of autobiographical essays, but was not as taken by it as I thought I might be. Freed, originally from South Africa, white, and Jewish, seems to have based most of her novels on her exotic, somewhat dysfunctional family life, and thus has gotten a lot of flack from said family members and white South Africans in general.

Freed did have some interesting things to say about reading, writing, and the teaching of writing. As to the last, I think I gleaned that I never, ever want to teach creative writing because I would be too inclined to tell people who obviously lacked any writing skills: “This sucks!”

There was one passage in particular in Freed’s book that moved me deeply. In fact, it moved me SO deeply and was so well-written that I want to pass it along intact. It is from an essay entitled “Taming the Gorgon” and is about the author’s mother and how Freed writes about her or incorporates aspects of her in her own writing. The passage is about telling the truth, or telling it like it is:

“We are living in a culture that seems to believe that by unloading blame – on the couch, on the page, or both – we can set ourselves free. Therapists are enriched, the page seldom justifies itself – guilt, blame, and analysis provide arid ground for literature – and life itself goes on much as it did before. Except that we grow older and come in for a deal of guilt or blame ourselves. Which can lead us to subscribe, like so many others, to the myth of self-improvement. Only to land us more confused than ever. Striving for maturity can be like surviving to be middle class – punishable by success.

“The danger for art in all this lies in what one might call the Forrest Gump school of literary endeavor – a cheery little rainbow lens that deems the good ‘safe’ and the bad ‘dysfunctional,’ all in a world in which we are surrounded by ‘choices’ if only we could open our eyes and see them. If we could – if those who came before us could themselves have understood things differently – we might now be reading The Ten Stupid Things Emma Did to Mess Up Her Life, by Gustave Flaubert; Women in Love and Their Bad, Bad Choices, by D.H. Lawrence; [and] How Happy Families Are Destroyed by Unhappy People, by Leo Tolstoy.

“In the face of all this, I would plead loudly for sticking to the trouble of life – or, rather, to the truth of the trouble of life. What other duty can a writer have? In a culture rendered terrifyingly glib by the rhetoric of lying, one must grasp on to the truth with both hands – embracing what cannot be solved, asking questions to which there can be no answers.” (Freed, 2005, pp. 183-184)

Writing this blog has been a very scary endeavor for me. I am not sure I want to share my take on my life with people I know. Especially my family. I am always worried I am going to piss someone off or hurt someone’s feelings. This is why I am not really a very good writer.

There is much I have to say about West Point and my experience there. I realize that a lot of people will find what I have to say offensive or somehow disloyal. Unpatriotic even. That is not my intent. My intent is simply to tell it like it is. Or rather, as I personally experienced it, witnessed it, and processed it. I am sure there could be thousands of blogs on West Point, and they would all be different. Because everyone’s experiences are different. And West Point changes – not always linearly in a positive, mature direction, but sometimes more cyclically. Overall, I think West Point has moved up a few notches on the bar chart, but in my humble estimation it has a long, long way to go.

I received an email out of the blue the other day from one of my male West Point classmates. He has actually been mentioned in this blog before as the open-minded, forward-looking, all-around good guy who was sitting with a group of women classmates and me on the bus ride up to West Point for our 20th reunion. He was telling us that a woman grad from an earlier class had told him she had been sexually harassed at West Point. He looked at all of us and asked, “That never happened to any of you, did it?” And, of course, we were all rendered speechless with incredulity.

My friend and I sent several emails back and forth in our most recent exchange, and he mentioned that he had met up with two of his former Beast squadmates, one of whom had been his Beast roommate. He then forwarded me the photo that his Beast squad had had taken in front of the Huey helicopter after their ride around West Point. It startled me that he would write to me out of the blue and mention Beast and Beast squad members and then send the Huey photo the day after I had written my “Beast Squad” posting. The coincidence seemed like way more than just a coincidence. I don’t think it was cosmic or supernatural or destined or anything wacky. I think it has more to do with the fact that this summer marks 25 years since our class went through Beast, and it was a significant landmark in our formative lives. And many of us, whether consciously or not, are thinking back on this time and reliving some of those moments and even re-connecting with some of the people we went through CBT with. West Point affects you deeply, whether you are a man or a woman. My friend and I had been thinking of Beast and the people we went through it with, and we had both selected that Huey squad photo (each squad, of course, having its own Huey photo) as a tangible symbol of our shared experience.

We all remember things differently.

We remember different things, and we “don’t remember” different things.

In the end, then, when we “tell it like it is,” we can only tell it as we perceived it and processed it. And that just adds to that big ole gray area out there.

And isn’t that grand?