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writing the night

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there is work
to be done
but I have not
the patience or
the focus for it

in my head
I retreat
to the days of
the music and the bic
and the spiral notebook

so many years
yellowed in candlelight
the words that gushed
and flowed to the old songs
with so much force

I could hardly capture them
now are choked
and stuttered
and micro-managed

I am that girl, but not
now a loose-skinned woman
decades beyond the words
and the heart and the need

but the heart still beats
the need remains
the words still come
more slowly
but not less urgently

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Whaddya think….?

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Remember the disastrous job experience I wrote about, right around this time last year? (Come to think of it, I only wrote about the job in “Coming to Terms…” I wrote about the disaster in “Brainsurfing”…  But, trust me; it was a disaster.) 


Well, guess what? The “scene of the crime” just went on the market. And yours truly happens to be IN the market…for a local restaurant opportunity. Okay…what do you think I should do?

The Old Paper Bag Trick….

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The Bush Administration’s disastrous Iraq War lies like a huge pile of shit on Washington’s sidewalks. They know it. They see it. And they’ve come up with an executive policy to take care of it. They load it into paper bags. Bags labeled “Social Security Reform” or “Immigration Policy” or “Moral Values”. When the hidden mess starts to seep through, they torch the bags. All eyes rivet on the leaping flames; all debate centers on how best to deal with the raging blaze.

There’s one problem with this practice that the Bush Administration hasn’t quite figured out yet. When someone finally wades in to stomp out the fire, the bag disintegrates and the shit flies everywhere. All over the sidewalk, all over the on-lookers, all over the debaters. Only now, it’s hot shit.

Just one more example of the Bush Administration’s execution of sound public policy…

Fear of….?

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I opened the front door this morning to the glorious, too-often-a-stranger sun, prepared to skip down my front steps and trot the half-block to my mailbox. In my neighborhood, our “car route” mailboxes are planted in groups of five or six along one side of the road, to make life easy for the local mail carrier, in her car with the steering wheel on the wrong side… Just as my foot was poised over the sidewalk, I looked up to see the neighbor from across the street heading down his driveway, apparently with the same postal objective in mind. Our mailboxes are right next to each other.

At the prospect of actually meeting and having to interact with another human being, I hit the brakes and veered left, to the gate that leads to my back yard. Surely I could find something with which to busy myself…until the coast was clear. Even as I chickened out and opted for solitude, I chided myself for being such an antisocial old fart.

But as I headed for my gate to refuge, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my neighbor suddenly make his own left turn, head for his car that was parked on the curb in front of his house, and appear to be very focused upon some aspect of his windshield. I slyly detected a kindred spirit. Once through the gate, from the vantage point of the step up into my back door, I could see over the fence just enough to catch Mr. Neighbor heading toward his mailbox as soon as I was safely otherwise occupied.

I was at first amused—that there was indeed at least one other person in the world as transparently allergic to casual social interaction as I am… And then, somewhat relieved—that maybe I am not quite the “old fart” I believe myself to be… But, in the end, disturbed—that the social reticence that I had until now taken as a personal quirk is, apparently, an increasingly common malady in middle class American neighborhoods.

It is sad, isn’t it?

Danger: Whining Ahead

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I have to admit, I don’t often think about being fifty years old. I don’t let myself go there. And when I do, I honestly can not believe it. There’s something about being middle aged and childless. Without an ensuing generation to put one’s age in perspective, one just does not accept that one has attained the age that one has. Fifty? C’mon…a couple of years ago, I was cringing as I inched toward the big 3-0. This coming October, I will have been married for the big 3-0. My oldest niece just turned 36. There is a cognitive dissonance here that surpasses all understanding.

But this…this is one of those nights that I’m really feeling my age. And then some. My knee joints feel like they’ve been injected with spray-foam insulation. If I bend over to pick up one more thing heavier than, say, a piece of kleenex, my spine will split in half just below my waist. My fingers, toes and ankles are snapping, crackling, and popping as energetically as any breakfast cereal. Much as I can’t believe it and I hate to admit it, my little business is beginning to outstrip my physical capabilities. To put it bluntly, I’m too old for this crap!

Today, husband and I dragged ourselves out of bed at sparrow fart (well, the sparrow was blowing bubbles in the liquid air, anyway…) to be hot dog/espresso/hot chocolate vendor at the county’s official Easter Egg Hunt. Easter. Doesn’t that holiday call forth images of daffodils swaying in warm breezes, blue and yellow sky, snuggly bunnies and downy yellow chickies cavorting in the soft green grass…? In Columbia County Oregon, Easter apparently means winter temperatures, sideways rain and hail pelting the pastel balloons attached to the canopy I had to erect over my service window to protect my erstwhile patrons from drowning. Which would, as the wind whipped the fabric of the canopy, occasionally vomit torrents of trapped water onto the heads of them as might be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. It took all our customers’ strength to force their clawlike fingers to hand me their soaked bills. The look of gratitude in their eyes when we pressed paper cups full of hot liquid into their frozen hands was painful to behold.

I’m sitting here trying to come up with words for how awful today’s event was… It cannot be described. All I can say is, all at once, I came to the realization that I am about two millimeters from the end of my rope with this thing. After nine hours of grueling, cold, slimy, grinding labor, we ended up making about $100. NOT worth the effort. Not anywhere close.

So far this season, we have been frozen, drowned, last-minuted, cancelled, mechanically challenged, and negative cash-flowed. I have about developed an ulcer worrying about my $20,000 “new” vehicle succumbing to a threatened $3000 break-down, or my five-year-old gigantic red elephant of a trailer dying a premature death, as oversized animals are wont to do. And taking me with it. If things do not change significantly, Café de la Rue will not survive past October of 2006.

Riding home next to the husband (whose eyes were glued to the side-view mirror because he swore he saw smoke coming from the back of the truck and/or the wheels of the trailer) I had the most overwhelming feeling of failure. I felt like, “…and this is what I have to show for the last four years.” A darkness settled in my mind…to match the somber clouds spitting needle-like rain onto the windshield.

I want a place of my own. Indoors. In a building. That I can go to every day. Like a real person, with a real job. Please, can I have just this one little slice of…what seems to come so easily to everyone else?

More Fun With Words

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Last week, when I wrote about how blogging has changed the way I write, some folks were probably wondering how someone could write to, well…no one, for more than three decades. Hard to say… I’ve always been a decent writer. A few wonderful teachers in high school recognized my talent and nurtured it. But I wasn’t used to being recognized or nurtured; ultimately, my life didn’t go in a direction where my literary talent was going to get a whole lot of exercise. Even so, I never outgrew feeling that it was easier for me to write what I meant than to say it. I got quite a rep as a note-scribbler. At my little bakery, my crew used to roll their eyes and sigh every time a two-page hand-written missive was posted on the bulletin board. It wasn’t a terribly effective means of business communication, but at least it was communication. Let’s just say, it met with mixed results.

As I said, though, blogging has been a whole different experience. It has been challenging, exhilarating, intimidating and liberating all at the same time. And what a stretching exercise! I’m sure I’m learning things about writing that I would have learned way back when, had I taken my talent to the next level of education. Here I am, fifty years old, discovering by trial and error things that a twenty-year-old college student got out of a textbook in Writing 101. So I’m a bit of a late bloomer…. What can I say?

But my writing isn’t the only thing that has been undergoing a metamorphosis. I have found that my increased attention to words, and how to put them together, has changed the way I talk. I’ll be having an intense discussion with my husband or one of my sisters, and something so creatively metaphorical will burst out of my mouth that I almost turn around to see who said it. Have you ever been watching your favorite TV drama, and a character will come out with some eloquent soliloquy, very emotive, very poetic…and you screw up your face and say, “Oh, come on…people don’t really talk like that!”

I don’t know…maybe they do. At least, maybe the guys who write the scripts do, so they think everybody else must, too. Because that fascination with language doesn’t seem to be something you can turn on and off at will. It just becomes part of you. Time was, I despaired that my vocabulary had dwindled to about a dozen favorite words. If someone told me a sad story, I was more than likely to emote, “Wow! That sucks!” or something equally juvenile. The other day, my sister was venting about her husband, and how he had dredged up some old wound in a fight they were having; and I said to her, I kid you not, “You live with someone long enough, and you learn a lot about them. You can either use that information to cherish them, or you can use it to push their buttons. Unfortunately, some people choose the latter.” Now, that’s not particularly eloquent or literarily significant, but it is about two dozen more words than my response would have been, say, three years ago. Earlier that same day, I was having a discussion with my husband, trying to describe the unbreakable connection I seem to have with my dysfunctional family. I blurted, “Sometimes it feels like a safety belt, and sometimes, like a garrote.” I actually said that. It came out of my mouth, I swear to God. Whoa.

Who knows where this will lead? Either I will soar to new heights of improved communication with my fellow human beings, or I’ll be branded a hopeless snob, intentionally unintelligible to the unwashed masses. I may find that my days of eloquent utterances are numbered; because in a very short time, no one will be speaking to me anymore. This should be an interesting ride…

About Writing…

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There’s one thing I have to say about blogging. It has so changed the way I write. When I first started doing this, back in September of ’03, there was an interesting constraint to the experience: the 2500 word limit imposed by AOL in the early days of “Journal Land.” There I was, the one who could churn out four or five single-spaced pages of stream-of-consciousness in a bored hour or two at work, reduced to trying to express myself in what amounted to about four paragraphs.

Eventually, we were freed from the word limit ball and chain. Going forward, I found I had learned a good lesson, and I carried it along with me into the world of the expanded blog. I had learned how to edit. How to distill my prose down to an almost poetic economy of words. And how to stick to making one point about one subject, and not indulge in my usual butterfly-flitting-from-thought-to-thought style of writing. The hyper-examination of every word has worn off some; but I have been bitten by the editing bug. And the computer makes it so easy! I hardly crank out one sentence without backspacing, “control-x-ing,” moving things around or just deleting large quantities of print altogether.

Gone are the days when I could jump on my train of thought and shovel whatever came into my mind into the boiler. Suddenly, it has to make sense. It has to communicate. It has to be more than bile, or tears, or hysteria. It has to say something. Writing has gone from the smooth flowing fun with words it once was for me, to being a stutter-step, start and stop process that decidedly does not flow. But I can’t blame it all on editing fever. What’s really to blame is that pesky thing called an audience.

Readers. Nobody ever read my writing. For years. Not since high school, anyway. That would be many, many years. Until now. Readership is a powerful drug. It changes everything. Everything. It has kept me coming back here, even when my heart was sore, when I felt I’d been rejected or misunderstood, when I was afraid I had alienated the world, when I thought I had run out of things to say. Even though my audience includes almost none of the people I started out with. Even though I don’t feel the same “relationship” I did with the first half dozen friends who fell into stopping by and seeing what I had to say. There is a relationship, nonetheless. And for a writer, it’s the only relationship that matters. Someone reads.

Now, I wish I commanded the audience of a Dave Barry, or even a Margie Boulet (“women’s viewpoint” columnist for the Oregonian.) Or maybe I don’t. Because I have a hard enough time trying to write things that are true, meaningful to me, topical, and engaging to the six people who read my journal. I work for literally hours on a 3500-word post. Editing, revising, re-reading, trying to make sure I’m really communicating. I think about people who write for a living…who have to crank out something good, concise, and interesting five days a week. Oh, my god….the impossible dream. Or writing a novel. At the rate I obsess for my handful of readers, it would take me 200 years to write a book.

It’s unfortunate that even a small taste of very limited success makes one crave more. I’m pretty sure I don’t have what it takes to ever get to the point where I might actually be paid for what I write. And, you know…I’m not sure that’s my goal. I write stuff here, and some of it is good. And I know that there is such a thing as making a living as a writer. But I don’t look at writing in those terms. For me, the reward is all about the communication; the connection to at least one other soul on the planet. Having readers is still new enough for me that I haven’t yet reached the point of wondering how I might profit from the experience. But then, how cool would it be to make a living doing the one thing that you have always felt the call on your heart to do?

The world is full of people answering calls on their lives not even remotely connected to their highest calling, to their native talent. We all make do. We all find our lives more influenced by who we know, where we grew up, what our families did, the expectations put on us by others, rather than the true voices of our souls. I feel fortunate that, as one of the misdirected masses, I have stumbled across the world of the blog…this microcosm of what I should be, what I would love to be. I can get the tiniest taste of what it is like to do what I am meant to do. Many people are not that lucky.

Where I’m From

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Cynthia, Wil, and Mary all partook of this wonderful writing exercise. Their resulting pieces were beautiful, magical, deep… And, well…this is what I ended up with:

I am from station wagons, from Kool-aid and Turf-builder.
I am from the three bedroom, one bath ticky tacky box
with the swath of weedy lawn; from lightning bugs, june bugs,
and mosquitoes the size of small birds.
From nights near as hot as the days, spread-eagled on sticky sheets, crickets creaking, horns honking,
trains rumbling and whistling in the distance…
I am from Snow to the eaves, jewel-studded ice storms,
and green-black thunderstorms with sideways rain

I am from bright red tulips, honeysuckle berries,
and worms on the driveway after a cloudburst;
From daisies, tiny wild strawberries, “Queen Anne’s Lace”
and crashing the kite into power lines.

I am from “look what followed me home from school”
and never having too many animals; from Taffy, and Rusty,
and Sunny, the yellow-headed parakeet, who could say
“Happy Birthday” but only when he thought no one was listening….

I am from the women who shuttle the carpool, punch the clock,
scrub the toilet, then climb into the bottle, the herb,
or the fantasy to quiet the noise in their heads
and the men they choose to rescue, or who choose to rescue them

From “when you meet the right one, you’ll just know”
and “Your dad was a virgin when we were married…”
I am from the dutiful eldest daughter who paired off,
home made and pro-created at the appointed time,
and the other four who didn’t.

I am from the tearful Catholic and the stoic agnostic;
the rope stretched taut between belief and unbelief,
pulled one direction, then the other…the eternal tug-of-war never won.

I’m from pioneers of urban exile; before the country clubs,
the soccer, and the rolls royces.
I’m from the first McDonald’s and the last Tastee Freeze.

I am from the great mouldering box in the upstairs closet,
roaring twenties studio sepias stacked on
shiny square instamatic shots discoloring with age.
I am from the five stair-steps, the Christmas trees, the campfires,
and the blurred mountains captured from a moving car.

I am from the unlikely union of a country boy and a city girl,
brought together by Hitler and Hirohito,
and the neighborhood of compromise that kept them both sane…almost.