Wednesday, December 31, 2008

good snow, goodbye

So I thought it was good, the two weeks of snow. It’s good to have weird, big events in our lives, the kind of things that create befores and afters. Of course many big events, the kind that create a before and after, are terrible. And I don’t mean to overlook that aspects of the snow were terrible – what it cost to the city, the inconvenience, the car accidents, the bitter cold.

But all that aside, there was something to it. To being completely stopped for awhile and being stuck at home. Not thinking about what you need to buy or where you need to go. Not drumming up activity just for activity’s sake. The kid loved it. She’s not a big fan of gear switching these days and so it suited her just fine. Hunkering down on the couch with a pile of books. Glue and paper and paint at the dining room table. And I loved it too. It was restful. And, miraculously, I felt like I had space. A feeling which comes, apparently, from having lots of time and nowhere to go.

Back in my twenties I lived West Virginia for a while and I became friendly with the mailman. His wife was a hard working farm woman and they’d lived in Heaters their whole lives. They worked so hard, all the time, every day, despite the fact that they both must’ve been close to 70. When they’d tell a story it was almost always introduced by the year. And the year was always marked with the big event. “Back the year the barn caught on fire…” or “The year they built the church…”

When you grow up in the suburbs you don’t learn North from South. And when you grow up in the suburbs you don’t learn to tell time by years. It’s a matter of context, orientation. I feel like modern life, city life, whatever you want to call it, lacks context. It lacks places and events that clearly orient us. It lacks a tangible timeline.

So it’s good for a city to have a big snow. Because we’ll remember this year. Our memories of this Christmas will be, I’ll bet, more vivid and specific. Because we had a big weird event that pulled us out of our patterns, pulled us out the blur of days and double yellow lines and faces at the mall. When I think of this Christmas I’ll be oriented, grounded by gingerbread men, wet mittens, a handful of gifts and plenty of space.

Monday, December 22, 2008

what is with this weather?

snow angel

We've gotten, who knows, at least a foot of snow here in the last two days. Even by Michigan standards this is a pretty bad storm. We've been loving it...making gingerbread men, home made Christmas tree ornaments, watching the muppet show and generally just kicking back and having fun. They weather folks are calling for more snow so there is no end in sight.....

night walk snow

Friday, December 19, 2008


I avoid writing about losing my mother. Even as I sit here my mind battles me (“No one wants to hear about this. It’s such a downer.”) My fingers rebel -- reaching for the backspace button every time I get a sentence down. My eyes well up. I keep my neck tight. When I allow it, the grief is close to overwhelming. And now, here I sit, in my cube at work, dabbing my eyes with a tissue, my mind racing to locate a private place to cry place in this huge, over-populated building. (See. This is a downer. And can I say that it is inhumane to have a work place with no safe place to cry!)

But today is her birthday. And year after year I let days like these sail by. Her birthday, the day she died… Anniversaries that mark an absence. Anniversaries that measure time-away.

When my mother died I inherited her sewing machine. And it’s a beauty. A top of the line, for the times, Bernina that lived, most of my childhood, on the floor of the guest room closet, only coming out for a quick mend here and there. In the last twenty years I’ve hauled it from town to town, taught myself to sew on it, manhandled it, misused it, broken countless needles. But, such an excellent machine, it refuses to quit. And now I use it to bust out puppets, dolls, tiny pillows for teddy bear heads. The stuff of childhood. The creations of mothers.

The sewing machine has a little storage area and, ever since I’ve owned it, my mother’s “storks” have been tucked in the top drawer. I dug them out the other night and put them down on the table next to my “storks”. (My storks were snatched up, new and shiny, back in my estate sale shopping days in Michigan. I thought of my mother immediately, grabbed the scissors, and in the next moment felt grateful that I was raised to recognize a quality pair of indispensable scissors when I saw them)

When I saw the two pairs of scissors on the table, side by side I was floored. And, as it always seems to be with death, I was sad in a new way. Her scissors are old. They are fragile, no longer useful. They are rusting away. And, doing the math, I realized my mother would be turning eighty this year.

Most of my life I haven’t really understood the appeal of fairy tales. Or, honestly, the function. They’ve always seemed old fashioned. They seemed indulgent and hokey. If you listen to a professor I worked for at the University of Michigan, they are all Freudian and perverted. But something about my mom's storks seems so fairy-tale-ish to me. I feel like a little girl, frozen in time, desperately clinging to a pair of magical, disappearing scissors.

I've been wrangling with this last paragraph. I had something philosophical (mildly) and distant and melancholy. It was about death and myths and what the living are left with. But the truth here is a simple one. I miss my mom. Despite that fact that I have no idea what it is that I'm missing anymore. I just miss my mom.

still life

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

carl warner is a tom waits

Remember when you were in seventh grade and you called the radio station to make a request? Maybe it was "Hotel California" for that babe in your English Class. Maybe it was "Opposites Attract" because Paula Abdul was cute like a little crazy button. Anyways, now when you call a radio station it's called a suggestion. I'm shaking my head right now as I write that. A suggestion. How lame. Team Member. Store Associate. Flight Attendant. Climate Change.

So we've had a request. A dedication. A suggestion. No, no....a contribution. Yeah. A contribution to the tom waits pool. The artist Carl Warner. His art might make your stomach hurt. But there's no denying it. He's a tom waits. Go see. Thanks, Doug!

would someone please come hit me?


I’m serious. I feel like I need a nice, violent change in outlook. Best case scenario, you’d knock the neurosis out of me and I'd know what it feels like to be secure, to be where I want to be, to feel completely inside of my own mind. Worst case scenario is that my head would hurt and I’d quit whingeing about my existential problems. See, it’s win - win.

Here’s the problem: I’m a victim of the human condition. Or at least my human condition. I turned forty years old on August 16th. And it’s still bothering me. For so many reasons, some that make sense, some that don’t. And underneath it all I know that there is nothing I can do. Short of lying about my age. Which I’ve considered but rejected because I was raised Catholic and I’m a truly shitty liar.

It’s a battle between the material me and my higher self. There are things I want to be able to say about myself. There are achievements I’ve meant to, well, achieve. And I feel that I regularly stand in my own way. But on the other hand I know that life is a gift, that love and kindness are more important than anything. And I know that regret is a waste of energy. And there the argument splinters off into things like risk and courage and truth and gut instincts and(oh stop me! The more I re-read this paragraph the bigger it gets!)

Back in Grad School, I became friends with a tall, bright, and (it seemed like) fearless woman. She was a writer from New York, who stripped there and, during Grad School, stripped at the classier of two seedy clubs in Ypsilanti, MI. She wore stiletto heels in the middle of winter (in Michigan, mind you), she was a brilliant chef and she had a remarkable way of cutting through bullshit judgments – a skill that put me on edge but also thrilled me. Her existence in my life was an affirmation of the I-must-be-cool-if-she’s-my-friend kind.

We were walking to class one cold Michigan night and I was whingeing away about how who I was wasn’t who I thought I could be. That this was not my beautiful life. (Mind you this was years ago. At the wee age, let’s say, of 30)

She told me a story about a high-up professor at the University of Michigan. A Chairman of some or other department. A client of hers at the strip club. She told me that he paid for a lap dance and then, during, complained to her about his life, that he wasn’t where he’d expected to be. That there was more out there. That this was not his beautiful life.

“Everybody feels like that, Kate.” She told me. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve achieved. Everybody feels like that.”

For some reason that story has always stuck with me. I don’t know. Maybe I just need a lap dance.