Friday, December 11, 2009

Making the Baby Laugh

For some reason, Michael can make the baby laugh more than I can. I try and try. I mimic Michael. I come up with my own routines. I goose him, I zerbert him, I peekaboo him, I boo him, I tickle him ... and it works a little, but not like it works with Daddy. I guess I can handle this. I mean, we all know who the baby loves most, right? I say that facetiously because I need to comfort myself somehow.

Maybe it's not the worst thing in the world if my baby has my husband's sense of humor, but seriously, if this baby comes out speaking some fruity, fake French accent, there's going to be a problem.

His latest amusement is nose-biting or nose-sucking, depending on mood. Picture attached.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Reincarnated as a Mother

A few weeks back, I was at a pig roast with my 3-month old son when a woman asked me what one thing has changed the most since I had a baby? What happened to my brain the second she asked that could only be called mental paralysis. Every synapses misfired and I was left with just a blinding, twirling list of answers that refused to organize themselves into a cognizant response.

Cate Blanchett's answer to a similar question was that having children is close to being reincarnated. Your life is altered so fundamentally, you are very nearly a new human being. I like her answer. I want to steal it.

In the interest of elaboration, I want to explore this further. What has changed the most?

My life is unimportant beyond the needs of my child. There are plenty of magazines and talk shows and books that will tell you how important it is to make time for yourself when you have a young baby, which is supercute advice, but so unrealistic as to be laughable. While this state of self-negation is temporary, it is reality. I am not important beyond the well-being necessary to provide for Atticus. I wake when he wakes, I eat when he lets me, I sit when he allows it, I plan every moment of my life around him. That balance will slowly shift as he continues to grow and gain independence. But for now, I am in his service.

We now eat in shifts. I overheard a friend talking about some crazy, delicious meal meal she and her husband had eaten the other day and the thing that was the most intriguing to me about it was that they had eaten at the same time. I forgot people did that. My husband and I eat in shifts, usually me first because my husband is nice.

All things are scary. The fear for a child's life and well-being is so everpresent, the world becomes a monster full of teeth and snarls and claws. I have horrific dreams at least once a week in which terrible, terrible things happen to my baby. I wake from them sure that I will make some dreadful mistake with consequences I cannot live with.

Heart transplant. I don't have a sentence for that one. All I can say is that when you have a baby, your heart and center live outside of you and it's a terrifying way to live. The number of bad things that can happen to someone suddenly feel quite present and feasible. I know this is similar to my previous paragraph, but it's slightly different. I don't mean just physical danger here, though that falls into this as well. Example: my son was laying on his grandparents' bed and a number of his cousins were scrambling around him, playing, squealing, enjoying their little lives. One of them accidentally kneed my boy in the head mid-scramble. When Atticus started wailing, I wanted to change the infrastructure of the universe to make him stop. I didn't really want to hurt the cousin who did it, but the impulse toward protection was so strong that it scared me a little bit. That heart sits out there too clumsily. I cannot rein it in.

Time as an abstract becomes more abstract. Some weeks back, the time changed, but my son and I have no real concept of that. Sure, it changes the time I leave for the classes I teach on Tuesday and Thursday morning, but those few days are not enough of a marker to really signal for me that the world is altered. Again, I wake up when my son wakes up. I sleep when he sleeps (hopefully). That we have gained or lost an hour means nothing as we hold to his erratic sleeping schedule. There is no more or less daylight hours for us.

The stores I go to, oh, how they've changed. Much of these entries overlap; that cannot be helped. Furthering the idea that my life is unimportant (for now), I now find myself in Gymboree, the Children's Place, and Once Upon a Child far more often than the Gap or Banana Republic. I have become learned in the ways of considering a child's future size and weight and the price I am willing to pay for that swiftly-changing body.

The foreclosure of thinking. I love the line from White Oleander when the mother says of the experience of having a new baby: "I was used to having time to think." Not only did I have time to think, I had time to write, to ruminate, to malappropriate, to create, to wonder, to wallow, to brew, to listen, to fume, to submit, to conjoin, to divide, to conquer, and all other sorts of infinitive verbs. Now I am lucky if I can remember to refill the toilet paper roll in the bathroom.

I am that mother. While I try to retain a sense of self, my blog and my Facebook persona reflect nothing so strongly as my changed status in life as a mother. It is central to who I am now. It is the ever-present subject of my life and I am probably boring people with it. I know my Facebook picture should be of me and not always my son. And I know I should use my blog to remind myself that I more than just a milk-delivery system, but for now, this is who I am. For now, I am that mother.

The strongest arms you've ever done seen. Not only are my forearms and biceps unusually strong now, they are more adept at one-handed or one-armed acts. Formerly two-handed acts like making coffee, emptying the trash, and checking e-mail are now one-handed feats.

There are more, but my husband has been minding our littlest one this morning while I took the time to write this and he would probably like an opportunity to have his temporary independence this morning before we begin another day of sublimating our lives in the interest of our son's development. We do it completely, if not always cooperatively. And it's worth it. My sister-in-law calls motherhood "the best job there is." I'm not sure if I'd go that far, but I will say it's the most challenging and the most interesting even as there are days full of boredom. Would I reincarnate as a mother again? Some days, yes, some days, no. Today? Today, I don't even have time to consider it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Curse of the Bridesmaid Dress

I know all brides face it - the curse of the bridesmaid dress - that impossible quest for something that is neither too expensive nor too ugly. They are impossible things, really. On Project Runway, it's the kiss of death to have ones garment referred to as a "bridesmaid gown." And yet there is little out there to save one from it, and believe me, I looked and looked.

It has been fourteen months since the day I was married and I still cannot get over my disappointment in the bridesmaid dresses I chose for my beautiful attendants. You can ask my husband. I have a moment about once every two weeks when the anguish of it hits me. He wants me to get over it. I want to get over it. And yet it persists.

I had a lovely wedding. I really did. The person waiting at the end of the aisle for me was (and is) a lovely, lovely human being who is a tremendous partner and friend to me. My dress - a diamond white, strapless gown - was so gorgeous. I felt beautiful and nervous and loved and all those other overwhelming emotions that drown a wedding day. I wouldn't do any of it over again except one thing.

The bridesmaid dress. I so desperately wanted something my bridesmaids and groomsladies would feel beautiful in. I was not one of those brides who wanted or needed to outshine her attendants. In choosing their dresses, I wanted something that was not too expensive, and if not something they could wear again, then at least something they liked wearing for one day.

But here was my dilemma: I had to fit size 2 (really, less than 2) through size 22 - I think it was 22 - anyway, this was an enormously difficult task. I searched and searched and searched bridal stores, online stores, department stores. I had some of my attendants looking online and shopping with me. I asked for suggestions of websites and color choices.

I had an idea in my head of what I wanted: just a plain a-line dress, perhaps with a halter neckline that tends to flatter almost all shapes. And I wanted color.

I know it's the hip thing to do now to have all attendants in black, but it was an August wedding and I love color and I wanted my wedding to be a colorful affair. I also know it's the hip thing to just give your bridesmaids a color scheme they have to fit into rather than choosing their dresses. But sue me. I wanted a traditional line up. Let's just go ahead and call that my fatal flaw.

Along with one of my bridesmaids, I found a dress online for around $200 which still seemed wildly expensive to me. I know now this is on the low end which is just wrong in so many ways. We all know we're not going to wear that dress again. It should be more disposable financially. Alas.

I chose a sage green with rose trim which looked super lovely online. Was the dress sage green when it arrived? No. No, it was not. Instead, it was a mint color that is difficult for just about every skin tone to pull off. My poor bridesmaids. I tried so hard to do right by you!

Here are pictures from my wedding day with my lovely attendants who, let's face it, are beautiful no matter what you put them in. I don't hate these dresses. The thing I hate is that I don't think the women who wore them felt beautiful in them like I hoped they would. And I'm angry that there was not a better solution out there available to brides. There has to be. There just does, though I defy anyone to find one.

Aren't they pretty people? Hell yes, they are. But that dress, it could have been better. The groomladies are in black to distinguish them from the bridesmaids and they faired better, I think. They may have even gloated a little bit that day. Okay, maybe a lot.

I need absolution. I cannot deal with this any longer. I'm sorry attendants. I'm sorry you spent all that money on something that didn't serve your beauty the way I wanted it to. If I could do it over again, I would, though I don't know how. But damn it, I would find a way. I would. And I wish you better luck in your future bridesmaid stylings. I wish for dresses that are reasonably priced, rewearable, and complementary to all sizes and shapes. And I wish you the peace - fourteen months out from your wedding day - of knowing you did right by the women you love most in the world.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Slowly Tumping Baby

Video is one of those words that begins to sound funny when you say it several times in a row: video, video, video. By the third or fourth repetition, one cannot help but say it with a Spanish accent, changing the stress to the second syllable: vi-DAY-o, vi-DAY-o, vi-DAY-o. After that, it just becomes a mindless game only your mouth can participate in. 'Probably too much said there.

My in-laws got us a supercool digital camcorder that is the exact same size as my phone. Seriously, it is bad ass. Now I must post videos in celebration of the thing.

So this is a video that will probably be used in Atticus's future therapist's office to prove how mean we are as parents. He is trying very hard not to tump over onto his back here and we are inordinately amused. Notice near the end, I come around and blame Michael, though it is clearly my laugh heard the loudest here. I really must try harder to be a nicer mommy, though I am not as bad as some people who flutter their finger on their son's lips when he is crying to hear what it would sound like if Atticus were crying into a fan. Ahem.

As always, if you are on Facebook and want to view the video, go to I guess Facebook cannot support videos.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Magical Thinking and Long Distance Babies

I imagine every mother goes through this. There are many hours in my day when I magically believe if I stare at Atticus long enough, I can prevent him from growing any bigger. Of course I don't want a baby whose growth is stunted, but I have a tendency to feel nostalgia in advance and I want this time with him to last forever. At thirteen pounds, he is perfectly portable, perfectly lovely - just perfect in all things. He has come to a point where he sleeps well enough for me to feel like more of a human and he coos and his laugh develops more every day. It won't be long before his little hands won't want me to hold and caress his all the time as I do now. Then what will I do?

Over his crib, I watch his chest rise and fall and I know it's happening. No amount of magical thinking can change the fact that the inches are coming; his limbs lengthen, his torso, too, gets longer. He'll keep putting on weight and keep running through the clothes in his closet until I'll quite suddenly find myself looking at the toddler clothes at Target.

And in that time, he won't have had enough people fawning all over him. This is the greatest curse of living away from family and friends. I hate it so much. I hate it more than Atticus growing so quickly. He's such a beautiful baby, really, the sweetest person I have ever known. And the only people who fawn over him on a regular basis are me and Michael. There are no grandmothers and aunts fighting over whose turn it is to pick him up. There are no little cousins patting his soft little head. There are no little outfits lined up that a gaggle of neighborhood ladies is dying to see him in.

It's not fair. It's not fair to me and it's not fair to Atticus. He may not need to be fawned over, but he certainly deserves it. He's such a good baby, so flirtatious and good and sweet and social. He loves our mail lady and even the nurses who gave him his shots. He's so ready to love everyone and yet every day it's just mom and dad. And he loves us, of course, but I think he'd like a new audience. Sometimes I think I can hear him say, "Come on, people, I got all this charm to show off and you're not bringing in any new people I can try it out on."

We leave for Cleveland in a couple of weeks to see family. It's not soon enough.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Atticus in the Morning

I think there is nothing better than a baby in the morning.

(If you cannot view this on Facebook, go to my blog).

Great Baby Gifts

Because I'm in that place of heightened awareness regarding what is useful as a new mother, I thought I'd make a list of those things that were the coolest and best baby gifts I received. This is my first baby and I was an ignorant sap at my showers, opening presents, thanking people graciously, not knowing when the really truly great gifts were being opened and stacked with the rest. Don't get me wrong. All the gifts I received were wonderful, but certainly some are being used more than others. Here's that list. Feel free to add your own.

1. The Miracle Blanket: Seriously, this swaddling blanket is awesome. My husband calls it a baby straight jacket, but he will admit that our son loves it. For those opposed to it, remember, babies are not like us. As mentioned in a previous post, newborns are not particularly aware of their limbs just yet and they certainly don't mind their limbs being secured close to them. Two things babies like: Security and Closeness. The Miracle Blanket provides both of these. (

2. Baby Sling: I actually bought this for myself, but it still counts. My world is a better place because of this baby sling. I worried my child would be the only child in the history of slings to hate the sling, but this was an unnecessary worry. He loves it and falls asleep when he's in it almost immediately. The few times he's not asleep when he's in it give him an opportunity to look around at the world from my level while I shop for groceries, fold laundry, respond to e-mails -- you know, things that require free hands. Of this my husband says, "30,000 years of women using baby slings can't be wrong." We're Catholic so I don't know where he gets this 30,000 years thing, but you get the point. There are a zillion out there. Here's where I got mine:

3. Newborn-to-Toddler Bathtub: These nifty tubs are fitted with a padded netting for an infant that can be removed as your baby gets bigger. I don't know how I'd wash my baby without it.

4. Diaper Genie: You might think you don't need one, but trust me, you do.

5. Dutalier Nursing Chair and Ottoman: Okay, so this is a really expensive gift and not everyone needs this type of item, but it's worth mentioning, particularly to mothers who are going to nurse. This chair is amazingly comfortable and designed specifically for nursing a baby. It's one of our favorite pieces of furniture.

6. Medela Pump-in-Style Electric Breastpump: Again, a gift for the nursing mother and again, a pricey gift. One of my sisters-in-law actually gave me hers and I bought new tubing for it. While the manufacturer does not support this, I have found this to be a perfectly workable solution. And it saved me $300.

7. Louise Erdrich's The Birth Year: Loved this. It was one of the only things I read during my pregnancy about pregnancy that made any sense.

8. The Baby Book: By Dr. Sears, this book includes just about everything you'll ever need to know about your baby, from what to do when one of his eyes won't open (clogged duct: routinely massage duct over a couple of days) to how to get a toddler to eat more vegetables.

9. Burp Cloths and Diaper Cloths: Invaluable, necessary, washed almost daily. Even if you're using disposable diapers (like me), those old school diaper cloths will come in handy. They catch spit up like nobody's business.

10. Black-and-White Baby Books: This is not a brand. I mean black-and-white purely descriptively. Because my husband and I are what you might call "bookish," it's important to us that our baby learn to love books. Toward this end, I have been reading to him since he was around three or four weeks old. None of his books interest him just yet because 1) he's far too little, and 2) he cannot really see that well. This is true of all of his books except two books a friend gave us (an educated librarian who knows these things) that are in black and white. He actually looks at these pages. Sure, nothing is going to hold his attention for that long, but baby steps ...

11. Things the Daddy Likes: This is a generic posting that is meant to give people who do not know what to buy another avenue of gift considerations. Even in our modern era with modern fathers who are much more involved in childrearing, it's important to make them feel as connected with the baby as possible. I have found it interesting to note how many people innately just get this, telling my husband how much our baby looks like him when really our baby looks like nobody but himself. That drive to keep the father from leaving the tribe runs deep. So any gifts that include him -- say a onesie that says "I love Daddy" or pajamas with little dinosaurs in football gear that resembles Daddy's favorite football team -- are a good idea.

12. Keepsake Box: You'll want a place that is more roomy than an album to keep things like the baby's hospital wristband and the measuring tape they use to measure him when he or she is first born.

13. Baby Wash and Washclothes: You'll get a lot of these. You'll use all of them.

14. Handmade Things: I'm biased as a crafty person, but I love the handcrafted items given to our baby - a quilt, a teddy bear, a soft blanket - the love put into these things is invaluable.

15. A WORD ON CLOTHES: There are more gifts that we have loved that I'm forgetting, but I would be remiss if I did not make one suggestion here and that is this - if you buy someone baby clothes, which everyone loves to do because man, is it ever fun to shop for a baby, always give the mom the receipt. This is not because she hates what you buy and wants to replace everything with her own taste. The reality is that babies must dress seasonally just like the rest of us and that has not always been taken into consideration judging from the closet full of warm clothes my Tennessee baby has available to him during his summer months.

Plus, the rate at which babies grow cannot always be predicted. There are plenty of adorable, sweet items with tags dangling from them that my son will not be able to wear and without receipts, I will just have to give them away to someone else in the hopes that they will work for them. Receipts are just a good idea when it comes to children's clothing. No one knows what a child can fit into but their mother (or father). I have actually returned a cute item for the exact same item in a bigger size, so fear not - your cute choice will be honored!

What am I missing? Any other suggestions, mamas?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Encounters with Stuffed Lions

Two things of note this week: 1) Atticus got huge quite suddenly resulting in me becoming one of those people who cannot help but marvel at the speed of life once a baby enters into it, and 2) Atticus is noticing things around him. Regarding the first item of note, I am terrified of life moving quickly.

I've always blamed this thorough and sickening dread of life's heavy and quick rotation on having read that Thoreau "suck the marrow out of life" thing too young. No matter the reason for it, Atticus leaping from Newborn clothes to 3-month clothes in less than a week is really not helping the situation. I am now a part of the cliched and hackneyed people who have been repeating the following expression ad nauseum over the last many weeks: "They grow up so fast." Not only am I a part of it, I am kneedeep in it, clawing my way back to three weeks ago when my baby was more baby than he is today.

The second thing: Newborns are rather oblivious to the fact that they exist, stunned as they are, I think, to be out of the cocoon they've been secluded in for so many months. And then out into the world of hands and voices and sounds and lights and colors they rush, not quite prepared for all that stimuli. And physically, of course, they are truly not ready for all that stimuli. Their eyes cannot focus much beyond eight to fourteen inches. They cannot see colors. While their hearing is well-developed, the world is still just cacophony beyond the comforting familiarity of the mother's and father's voices.

It's only in the last week or so, at five or six weeks old, that Atticus is starting to track us as we cross a room. He's still not completely aware that his hands are his and that they can affect change, unlike his voice that he somehow intuits the power of.

Today he first noticed a toy - a little yellow and orange lion which lights up and plays "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" when its belly is pressed. Atticus was stunned into silence and stillness when he saw it before him. And I mean, really saw it. Below is Atticus and the Lion's first encounter. (If you can't see this video on Facebook, go to the original posting at

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Language Class on the Crying Baby

On my way to my second class this morning, I walked down the hallway of the languages department. There were signs on the door for all sorts of language classes, including sign language. In particular, there was a mildly clever sign that said "End noise pollution - learn to sign."

A little more than a month ago, our house could hardly be accused of noise pollution. My husband and I are both quiet talkers who spend the bulk of our days in our heads. Now, our newest little roommate has made our once quiet house a house of rampant noise pollution. Newborns cry. A lot.

I cannot quite describe the first month with Atticus mostly because I was too tired to really experience it in any cognitive way. But every day, Atticus grows and changes and develops and we grow and change and develop with him. I am finally starting to understand the language of his crying, little by little.

His short little stunted cry, the "eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh" cry where it sounds like he's revving up for his next breath is my favorite. It's so desperate and passionate and fully committed. I love it.

He has a little pathetic cry that matches his sweetly sympathetic eyes perfectly. That cry makes me want to hold him forever and just kiss away every imperfection in life. It's a quiet cry, usually murmurred into my shoulder.

It's the open volcano of a cry that I still cannot always interpret. Sometimes it's a cry for hunger, sometimes for sleep, sometimes for belly aching. But sometimes, there's that loud pissed off wail of a cry that cannot be comforted away or translated in any productive way. It just needs to storm thunderously out of him and there's no amount of walking or back patting we can do to relax his rigid body as the cry tornadoes its way forth.

The only cry I hate is the random, quick shreik that jolts him from sleep sometimes. The first time we heard it, my husband said it sounded like night terrors. It's so sudden and high-pitched and terrible that I don't want it to belong to Atticus. There's just something prescient and unkind and knowing about it. It doesn't belong to a baby. I don't want it to belong to my baby.

I want him to have different cries that have meanings and declensions - cries that can be discussed for their past participability and contribution to the greater vocabulary of crying. I want to break down his cries like language and hear them for what they are. I want to know what they mean so I can have a conversation with him that shows I am listening and that I want to respond to him in an appropriate kind of way. I am learning little by little Atticus's language and as sweet as some of his little cries are, I cannot wait until the cries are replaced by words.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Atticus's Next Dance Crew

My husband and I have a new guilty pleasure: Randy Jackson's America's Best Dance Crew. It has nothing to do with Mario Lopez's abs, the ghetto fabulousness of Lil' Mama, or the questionable charisma of JC Chasez. We just like to watch the bizarre athleticism and weird quick twitch muscles of the male dance crews mainly. How they get their bodies to polarize and stop motion in such inhuman positions is a source of constant wonder for us.

Here we submit our son for the next show. We're not sure yet, but we're thinking of calling Atticus's crew "Polska Baby." We're looking for other talented Poles to join him, but only the best need send audition tapes. Age not a consideration.

(If you can't view this on Facebook, go to for the original posting).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Why I Love 80s Movies

I know my first official post as a mother should have more import than this, but this is what I'm thinking about this morning.

1. Fat and/or Unattractive Dudes Wearing Sweatshirts: Seriously, check out any movie from the 80s and you'll find a lead dude who could never make it into any other decade of film. What was it about the 80s that allowed us so much aesthetic generosity? Is John Belushi responsible for this? Or Bill Murray who was attractive for reasons that had nothing to do with his looks? No matter the motivation, all hail the 80s film and its acceptance of the fat dude in ugly clothes.

2. Ugly Clothes: No one cared what they were wearing. They really didn't. Sure, there's the occasional Valley Girl film with a whole lot of bracelets and taffeta and pink lipstick, but very few 80s films had fashion as a main character. Oh, well, I do have to give props to Pretty in Pink where fashion was central, but a majority of the films featured jeans, ugly tennis shoes, and those sweatshirts - usually dark green sweatshirts for some reason that I'm pretty sure were made by Hanes.

3. Delayed Adolescence: Nowhere is there a greater commitment to the childish man than in 80s films. How old was Bill Murray in all those films? There was no celebration of the teen as evidenced in just about every popular television show and film in modern "culture." Instead, men in their late 20s and early 30s reflected the apparent 80s fascination with tee-peeing and scavenger hunts.

4. The Scavenger Hunt, Summer Camp, and Fraternities Situation: The ubiquitous nature of the scavenger hunt, the summer camp scenario, and nerdy, social outcast fraternities in 80s films suggests a commitment to play that is lost in current cinema. Instead we have a bunch of shows and films where teenagers act like adults instead of the other way around. (See: Beverly Hills 90210 and Gossip Girl).

5. Molly Ringwald and the Charming Life of the Poor: We were concerned about nothing so much as which side of the tracks we lived on. It was our major crisis in the 80s as evidenced by every Molly Ringwald film. Whether she was the rich, snobby Clare in The Breakfast Club or the poor Andie in Pretty in Pink, Molly Ringwald represented the social strata of the 80s in a way that no documentarian has been able to capture since.

6. Nerds: See Goonies, Revenge of the Nerds, Animal House, Lucas, etc ...

7. Simplicity: Life was easier in the 80s. It must have been. Film was not interested just yet in unusual narrative development or untrustworthy narrators. We knew Jennifer Grey would learn how to dance. We knew no children would die on Elizabeth Shue's watch. We knew Duckie and Andy would be friends forever.

8. 80s Music: Oh, you synthesized heaven, you. Bring on those dancing horses. John Hughes, recently deceased king of 80s cinema and ruler of Molly Ringwald's career was the Wes Anderson of his day, pairing music with film in a way that can only be described as genius. I remember reading an article in Jane magazine (yes, Jane magazine!) where Molly Ringwald claimed some responsiblity for the music choices, which makes her even cooler which hardly seems possible.

9. Horribly Problematic Racial and Sexual Characterizations: I know this shouldn't fall under why I love 80s movies, but the lack of attention to political correctness is refreshing even as I recognize how awful it is. Think: C. Thomas Howell in Soul Man ("This is the Cosby decade. Everybody loves black people"), Data in Goonies ("Booby traps!"), Fisher Stevens playing an Indian in Short Circuit ("Who is knowing how to read the mind of a robot?"), Meshach Taylor in Mannequin ("Two things I love to do is fight and kiss boys"), etc ... Think on these things and let yourself laugh about it.

10. Fagabeefe and the Miracle that is Midnight Madness Which Embodies Pretty Much Everything in This List:

Friday, July 10, 2009

Thrashers and Goats and Accents, Oh My

I went to the Fruit and Berry Patch yesterday in search of good things to eat. While the excursion warranted ample opportunity for severely lame punning as it was slim pickings and unfruitful, I did get to see some cool birds and a goat that scared me a little. What? Goats can do some damage.

I do believe this bird is a Brown Thrasher, contrary to the opinion of the woman who pointed it out. (She thought it was a pair of mockingbirds).

Her partner in berry picking called out to us at one point and said, "You sound like home. Where are you from?" And indeed, I could hear the familiar o's and flatness in her speech that is common to us northerners, but I wasn't exactly sure she was talking to me or my friend. I leaned around a blackberry bush to identify the direction of her question.

"Oh, me?" I asked. "Michigan."

"And you," she asked of the friend who was with me.

"I'm from Tajikistan," said Kat. Which is just an awesome answer, and the only true one.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The sounds houses make

The toilet is gurgling in the hall bathroom and from the vent in there comes a persistent scratching. I cannot identify the source of these noises and find them disturbing. What lives under the house in the spaces behind our deck? There is a small door accessible from the outside that leads into this underworld which my landlord tells us is an excellent place for storage. And yet, I am certain something else has dibs on the area and I prefer to cede it to them.

I don't know if it's because we live in a sparsely populated area or if our house is just one of those quirky houses with habits; It breathes, and groans, and speaks in languages I cannot interpret. It makes me feel like a foreigner here. At night, I wake to a rustling outside my bedroom window, what I believe is a not disagreeable animal sound which sounds like something small - maybe the size of a breadbox. It sounds against the siding of the house as though it brushes its matted fur directly against the house and over the milky quartz and other rocks tapered in by railroad ties in the frontyard. I am comforted by its presence because it is less foggy than the sounds the registers and vents make. I know it is some animal and I suspect it is a skunk whose fertile odor woke us all up in confusion some weeks ago.

It is an odd thing to be woken up by the sense of smell. Disorienting. It takes a few minutes to realize it is neither sound nor light that has jarred us from our sleep. Instead, on the night of the skunk, it was the rich, overpowering odor, the likes of which I had never smelled so impactfully as on this night, sitting up in bed certain that something had just struck me in a tangible way that odors do not often achieve.

But the sounds. Even if I can identify the general vicinity they come from, I cannot usually determine anything else. They remain hidden from me, the gurgling, scratching, tump-tump-tumping of a new house where I am clearly the intruder, adding to the mysterious, dense cacophony. Maybe there is a badger somewhere wondering what all this keyboarding tapping is about. Maybe he waits with his eyes open, sense alert, caught in between wonder, fear, permanence.

Addendum: Scratching from vent identified - a squirrel is gnawing at our deck. Interestingly enough, this is often done by female squirrels about to give birth. They can't eat much, but they do like to gnaw. This is the second pregnant animal (see post about the robin hatching her eggs) I've encountered during my pregnancy. I like these coincidences. I think my environment senses my own pregnancy and is harmonizing with it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Top 5 Moments in Television History (According to Me)

1. The Cosby Show - The Cosby family performs Ray Charles' "Night and Day" for the grandparents' anniversary:


2. The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson - The Tomahawk Incident (this moment created the longest sustained laugh in televisin history and gave Carson the opportunity for the classic line "I didn't even know you were Jewish.")

3. The Carol Burnett Show - Gone With the Wind:

4. Late Night with Conan O'Brien - Triumph the Insult Dog at the opening of a Star Wars film:

Triumph at the Opening of Star Wars Ii - The funniest videos clips are here

5. Saturday Night Live - Gilda Radner's "Judy Miller Show":

Friday, June 19, 2009

Summer and Waiting

I get that I'm lucky to so frequently have summers off and since everyone keeps reminding me how lucky I am in that "geez-you're-goddamn-lazy-and-worthless-and-not-at-all-contributing-to-society-the-way-I-am-with-my-40-hour-a-week-job" way, I try to make my days feel useful in some way. Alas, I am failing miserably.

I wake up early, which cannot be helped on account of the fact that I am just naturally an early riser. I wake up between 7:05 and 7:20am every morning for reasons I cannot explain. It also cannot be helped as I am nine months pregnant and sleeping for long stretches is simply out of the question.

So I'm up around 7am which leaves me with at 15 hours of a day to fill and I just can't do it. I get up, check e-mail, have some breakfast, maybe send out some bills, catch up on correspondence and if I'm lucky, this will take me to 9am. Then the dark veil of uselessness falls upon me. What can I do?

Work on my quilt?
Watch last night's late night shows my husband taped for me?
Cook something?
Reorder the already well-ordered nursery?
Clean a house that remains pretty immaculate as a rule?
Draw? Paint?
Start a rock band?
Go for a walk?
Attempt some very awkward lawn maintenance in 90+ degree weather?

I do all these things (except the rock band part) and then it's maybe 11am. My husband is likely still sleeping and then I get hostile with this stagnant life. I know there are zillions of people who would like all this time off. I get that. I respect it. I sympathize with their plight. But boredom and lack of utility is a plight as well and I'm sick of hearing things like, "boy, you must have a lot of time on your hands" in that tone. It's not all it's cracked up to be.

I'm slowly working my way through my husband's Souther Lit reading list for fall, but even that, because it is not required of me, feels purposeless.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Taking Up Serpents

Snakes and human are not wonderful companions. Nobody would call a snake "man's best friend." Don't get me wrong. I'm no snake hater and I'm not even particularly herpetologically-phobic. I just think snakes belong where they belong and I belong somewhere else. So imagine my displeasure when the following sibilant creature showed up in my dining room this week:

Yes, displeasure. That's what I'm going to call it now that the event is a few days past. Who would not be displeased to find a three-foot snake in their home, a snake that was foreign to a girl from Michigan who can only identify the common garter snake or the occasional harmless corn snake? So, yes, I was displeased, and I calmly called to my husband to let him know there was a freaking enormous snake IN OUR HOUSE! And yes, would he please remove it. Thankfully, my father-in-law was visiting and between these two brave, brave men, the snake was removed and sent back away where it belongs, away from my house. I took a picture beforehand (as evidenced, of course, by the above photo), and calmly (read: in a panic, fingers trembling, breathing shallow, mindful of potential snakes slithering across my feet) got online to send the picture to any person who could assure me I did not just have one of Tennessee's four venemous snakes in my house. A very, very, very kind man - the director of the herpetology department at the university - responded quickly.

Black Rat Snake, he said. Not venemous, but liable to attack if cornered. Thankfully, while the snake threateningly showed its fangs, no attack occurred.

And here are other comments I received from those I sent the image to:

"Great photo, btw!"
"Nice photo"

Yes, who doesn't want to be complimented on their photographic skills when the fear of death by snake is upon them? But this is Appalachia and silly me for finding these responses inappropriate.

This is snake-handling country which is no sideshow but a religious tradition of proving ones faith in accordance with the following bible verse from Mark 16:17-18:

"And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."

This is it - the justification for taking up snakes and drinking strychnine (which is a fabulous word, onomotopaedic with its hard k and somber n's).

And there are plenty of dangerous snakes to choose from here - four venemous snakes in all: the northern and southern copperhead, the timber rattlesnake, the western cottonmouth, and the western pygmy rattlesnake. Want to take up a serpent? Take your pick! Behold the wondrous variety available to you!

Michigan has one venemous snake, the Eastern Massasagua Rattlesnake, an increasingly rare breed only found in the lower peninsula of Michigan. 'Just the one and there are no holiness churches calling for its members to pick it up. No sir. We Michiganders leave that snake alone. It likes it that way. We like it that way.

But I'm stuck in Tennessee for a couple more years where snakes forget their rightful place, or maybe it's us humans who have. Either way, I move around my house differently now. I have no desire to prove my faith with any snake-handling encounters, but I will say, with all the prayers of protection I've got going up, that snake may have done its work in bringing me a little closer to God.

(Sidenote: "Salvation on Sand Mountain" by Denis Covington - a smart, personalized, journalistic foray into snake-handling. Read it. Damn. It's good.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Myth of Rain and Pregnancy

There are some things so socially accepted as to be indisputable and yet, I dispute.

Here are two widely propagated myths that need dispelling:

Fact or Myth?

Myth: Pregnancy is nine months.

Fact: Pregnancy is actually ten months.

Fact or Myth?

Myth: Seattle gets more rain than any other city in the U.S.

Fact: Seattle receives a mere 37.1 inches of rain annually on average. Knoxville, Tennessee, on the other hand, receives 47.29 inches of rain annually on average. That's more than ten inches over Seattle.

Why are these fallacies continually reinforced? I'm thinking about looking into the origins of hot dogs. Maybe they're really quite good for us and made of vegetables.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Yet another day at Fellini Kroger

Earlier blogging has illuminated the finer Knoxville shopping experience that is Fellini Kroger. A short recap: Fellini Kroger is the Kroger Grocery store on Broadway in North Knoxville, so called because its weirdness and its most frequent inhabitants. When Michael and I lived in North Knoxville, it was our main grocery store despite the fact that a student of mine decided to write about it as though it was an dizzying adventure through something akin to a crackhouse. Really, it's a nice place to be, very colorful, and it's really difficult to leave Fellini Kroger without having a casual conversation with someone that somehow has great significance. I've seen an old man repeatedly wet his pants there. I've learned from an old Knoxville lady how to buy the right celery just as though I had asked her.

And so it should come as no surprise to me that when I tried to return my recycling - oh, I should mention that - in Knoxville, the Kroger parking lots are where residents bring in all their recyclables - so just as I began to sort through my cardboard, mixed paper, aluminum cans, and assorted colored bottles, a police officer approached me. This immediately made me nervous as I had done an illegal u-turn about two miles back and I thought for a split second that he had followed me. I was prepared to play the "but-I'm-a-helpless-pregnant-lady" card.

Great alas, it was not my u-turn that caused his approach.

"Uh, Miss, do you think you could do that later," he asked.

"My recyling?" I was flummoxed. What an odd request.

"Yes, we sort of have a situation here," says strapping Tennessee police guy.

"Oh," I stammer. "Of course," I respond, shoving my burgeoning car full of a month's worth of smelly recycling back in my car, thinking how easily whoever this policeman is after could have taken my car and purse while I was running away from the bees in the smelly glass bottles portion of the recycling.

And so I left, responding dutifully to the policeman's request as quickly as possible. I returned hours later to find a girl I will just call a hippie for lack of a better, more encompassing word, halfway bent over one of the large green bins searching for something amid the smell of hot trash.

"Did you lose something," I ask.

"Uh, no." She is slightly, but not entirely, embarrassed. She sizes me up and asks, "Have you ever heard of Found magazine?"

I'm from Michigan, I tell her, so yes, I've heard of Found magazine, which collects and prints odd items found in miscellaneous places by people all over and which is run out of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

"I'm looking for stuff for Found," she says by way of explanation, dipping once again into the filth that I am never entirely able of disinfecting my hands from.

And that's that. Fellini Kroger, ladies and gentlemen. A tour of Knoxville's finest.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Are you my mother?

They hatched! Here are the wee ones referred to in my previous post straight out of P.D. Eastman's "Are You My Mother?" If you haven't read that book recently, you should. If you want, I can have one of my nieces call you and read it. She's really good at the Snort part.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Bird and the Bee

A frequent go round on my cd player of late has been a band called "The Bird and the Bee," which seems particularly ironic as a particularly bird and bee have been the bane of my existence for the past several weeks.

My current home has a lovely deck where I have a lovely patio set that I very much like to sit at in the mornings or in the evenings - never during the day when the white hot Tennessee sun threatens immediate cancer of all cells. Unfortunately, my deck has some angry squatters on it who are absolutely bent on taking over my deck. The first is a robin, that lovely bird I am wont to speak highly of in all other instances as it is my home state bird and I have never had any reason to speak negatively of it before this time. When she nipped the top off of one of my basil plants to make a nest, I was annoyed. But she was a building a nest on my porch! How wonderful! She would roost over her brood as I was brooding over mine! What wonderful serendipity, I thought! I moved the basil plants to the front where she could no longer pluck from them and watched her from afar as she continued to build her home from dry grass and twigs around the yard.

But serendipity, alas, is a temporary, unstable state at best. Any time I have since walked out the door to my deck, whether it be to get to the yard below or to take my rightful place at my patio set, the robin alights angrily, fussing back and forth between roof and telephone wire, bickering and hollering at me in what can only be called a southern squawking. I try to reassure her, tell her to look at me, won't you? I have a baby of my own to protect and there is no way I am going to upset your's. Some days it works. She remains on the telephone wire, eyeing me watchfully, but seemingly comforted by my lack of movement toward her nest. Most days it doesn't work and as her babies come closer to cracking through their shells, she is more wild in her protectiveness, dive bombing me the minute I open the door. No amount of soothing assurances or angry words of defense back to her can calm her down.

And she has an accomplice, a big fat old bumblebee, a male - though I don't have any assurance he is male other than instinct - has also started dive bombing me more ferociously than the robin before him. The minute the door leading out to the deck creaks, he strikes and is relentless. I asked Michael to go out and kill him for me and he complied, swatting and swatting, but he never got anywhere. I've watched from below the deck to see if the bee has his own brood to protect, but there are no signs of his home or any mates anywhere near the door he guards like a Guantanamo cell.

I fear the bee the most. I watch him through the glass window and he appears to float in mid-air, watching me with those compound eyes, seeing hundreds of me yet unafraid to defend his territory. I hate him. I run from him. I drop things and scramble away from his fat buzzing and crazy, unpredicatable dashes and darts.

There is only one solution: I have to give up the deck. There is no beating them and soon, we will be moving anyway. The next tenant will have to take up the fight. I hope the robin will be left alone, but that bee, I am comfortable with any fatal fate that may fall upon him.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Starling and Planting and Naming

Birds are like flowers, magically named and reminders to look up from what it is that I'm grading or watching on television and remember that mercifully, life is not all humanity and computer-driven. It is spring in Tennessee and I am on a mission to make my Sibley Guide to Birds my constant companion, along with a book about trees and shrubbery in Knoxville that I haven't looked for yet in the library. Identifying birds I am unfamiliar with is challenging. I can narrow things down somewhat, but the Sibley Guide, for all its richness, needs a section for bird-ignorant people like me that says things like "Can often be found in your yard, pulling worms from the ground until their guts are full of the slithery stuff." Then I would know, hey that gasoline-feathered bird is a starling! It is clear as I write this that a starling poem is nesting in my head. I will go sit on that soon.

There are plenty of robins in Knoxville, which makes me feel more at home as the state bird of Michigan is the robin. Also of Michigan is the state motto, circumspice, meaning "look about you." And since I miss my beautiful state that is calling for me from my Tennessee television with travel ads filled with water and fishtowns and deep sunsets, I'll do the next best thing: I'll look about Tennessee and try to make this place more familiar by learning that starlings are nuisances here and are warned off by cannons in the summer and the Bradford Pear tree, the first flowering tree of spring with its acrid, lovely aroma and appearance of snow falling everywhere, is a fast friend with that starling, made for each other, attracted by the very nature of their nature. Soon Tennessee will not seem so foreign. I hardly recognize the accents anymore.

And do the tomatoes here grow slower and speak liltingly like all other southern things? Soon I will know as I will be planting tomatoes, green beans (with their delicate white flowers), basil, mint, and whatever else looks nice and like something I would like to eat. Since Michael and I are committing to Tennessee and to one house for the next three years, I can finally plant something and watch it come out of the ground anxiously, impatiently, fearful for its strength and liveliness.

Not unlike I am waiting for this baby, anxiously, impatiently, fearful. It is that time in the pregnancy where bargains are struck with God. Let my baby be healthy and smart and I will go to Mass every Sunday. Let my baby love the outdoors and be friendly to strangers and I will teach him the importance of the rosary and daily prayer.

We must name him, a task far too big even for us whose vocabularies and student rosters are full of minglings of letters and vowel sounds and alliterations. We cannot name him wrong. We will never have a dog and we might not have another child so this one has to count. His naming cannot be the first pancake. My husband and I are stubborn, he far more than me. For us to agree on something that is perfect and whole and right will be quite a task.

The naming has to be like a bird's or a flower's, just right, individual, not silly, not too strange, not susceptible to shorthands we do not like. It has to be a series of letters flying through the sky that speak to who and what our baby is. Maybe we should wait until he's five to name him. Maybe then we'll know him better after I've learned his birds and his flowers and when his seasons come - when his accent to me is as familiar as Michigan.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

On Unsettledness

I hate being unsettled. I often quote the Nelly McKay line, "God, I'm so German, 'have to have a plan," and man, is that ever me. So imagine my fitfulnes as a six-month pregnant lady who was not sure what house, let alone what state, she was going to live in in a few months.

Well, now we have something settled. Michael and I made the monumental decision to a) stay in Tennessee until he's done with his PhD, and b) move to a different house within Knoxville. We found a house on our first day of looking, which is a little unsettling. There should be more of a struggle. There should be endless phonecalls to landlords and frantic e-mails back and forth and mapquesting all over town going on, but no. Instead, we made three viewing appointments today and were certain that the very first one we looked at was the one for us.

As a funny sort of sidenote for the day, the second house we looked at was HILARIOUS! Seriously, Michael and I will be laughing about this place for years to come. This hairy-backed, delusional landlord is looking to rent this house for $850/month. It was the most rundown shackety-shack I have ever seen and it had ZERO appliances in it. Imagine: wood paneled walls, disgustingly dirty carpet, holes in walls, doorless closets, and nary a single kitchen appliance in the dump. And this dude wants to rent it for $850 big ones! Normally, I'm very forthcoming with landlords about disliking a place if it does not suit me, however, I had this horribly creepy feeling walking into the place as the landlord shut the door behind us. If Michael were not with me, I would have felt like I had just entered a bad Lifetime movie wherein I was about to be sexually assaulted. So with that feeling sending a chill through me, I kept my mouth closed other than to say to said hairy-backed landlord that we had other places to look at before making a decision.

That was a long sidenote. Apologies. Anyway, all these changes make me feel uncomfortably unsettled, which is a terrible state to be in as it tangles up loneliness, self-doubt, fear, and melancholy inside of it. So I've got all of those emotions raging through my hormonally-charged pregnant body.

We are signing a new lease tomorrow and hoping, praying, counting on our landlord being able to rent our current home before our lease is up. All this up in the air-edness is not doing anything awesome for my German self. Sometimes even having a plan is not enough.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My New Blog about the Joy of Pregnancy

Hey, I started a new blog. Check it out:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Because There Are Apparently Only Little Boys in the World

It doesn't help that I'm pregnant, but still, I'm officially pissed off. Occasionally, I do Google searches to see where I am in my pregnancy, what I can expect, how the baby is developing, etc ...

And here's an interesting, unforgivable, egregious, not to mention INFURIATING position every damn website I have gone to has taken. Every time the baby is mentioned, the pronoun used is "he" or "him" or some other masculine attributive tag. Seriously, I'm pissed. Who the hell do they think their readership is at or How many men do they think are out there looking for cures for the heartburn and indigestion that accompanies the six month of pregnancy?

It's all a conspiracy. This whole damn pregnancy thing is a conspiracy. I hate it and I hate the writers of all those damn websites who are abusing gender-specific pronouns at the expense of the actual gender who is doing all the damn work.

Screw you, Similac and all your female-hating cohorts. You and all your "he" and "his" and "him" can go suck it.

Addendum: After reading my sister-in-law's note about the changing of gender pronouns used on a day-by-day basis, I looked again at Similac's site today to see if the world was full of little girls for the day. Alas, this is not the case. The world still belongs to "he" and "him" and "his." I nearly sent a scathing e-mail to Similac and similar sites, but then I thought why bother? My energies are probably better spent elsewhere. Like, you know, eating the leftover pizza in the fridge and trying not to barf. Ah, pregnancy. Such, such were the joys.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Running Hot and Cold

In Michigan, you can count on a couple of things: in September, apple season will begin and there will be lots of pie and cider and hayrides through orchards to make one feel like the season is new and different from the one before it that was all lakes and bathing suits and the smell of sunblock. Another thing you can count on is that come October, early November, there will be snow and it will stay through March and really, often through April. It will stay cold, rarely reaching beyond the height of the 50s over this period of time. (Okay, sure, there's an occasional 60 degree day, but this wildly rare and confusing.)

Which brings me to Tennessee where hot and cold days switch faster than my shower faucets are capable of. Tuesday, March 10, it was upwards of 80 degrees here. I liked it. I wore shorts and sandals and opened up the few windows I do not have weather-stripped. It felt good to be alive again and I started to think about all the lovely things our lives would become once this baby gets here. Warm weather, walks, picnics, evenings around the fire pit.

And then today happens, which at this point should not be a terrible surprise to me. We woke to 40 degree weather, which is how it will remain for the weekend before it moves back up to the 70s next week. There's a lot of this here: little pockets of cold days, or little pockets of hot days, depending on which season is the frame of reference point. When I first starting teacher here and "winter" came along, I could not understand why my students stubbornly wore their sandals all through December and January. Now I have come to believe that this weather makes them optimists who trust the warm to return any day now, because it does even though it leaves again quickly.

In Michigan, despite a steadfast cycle of cold winter, hot summer, cold winter, hot summer, it's hard to trust that return. We know Spring will come again, but at some point, the cold and snow become unreasonable and mean, even uncharitable. I know it is that time of the year for my Northern friends. They are cursing the snow and the gray, cursing the climate that forces them into a crankiness they would like to throw off into a bright summer sky. It will come. The hot and cold may be farther apart than it is in the spotty Tennessee climate, but it will come.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Photo Essay for a 65 Degree Day

Birds on a wire at the end of my street. Can you see their pretty, red-painted throats?
This is what we call a Tennessee yard dog. Sure, she looks sweet, but she's protective as hell. I have jumped many a time when passing by her.
This is no joke. A Tennessee yard dog is not something you want to mess with. Believe you me.
The street where I live.
Seriously, I can't get enough of these doves.
These pretty yellow flowers are in my backyard. I daresay they are crocuses, though I am not certain of this. Isn't it weird how sometimes we think we know the names of things, though we are not sure why?
This is the infrequently blooming bloom from the pond lilies my Aunt Sharon bought for me many, many years ago. I just keep cutting them over and over again and they grow like crazy. I love them.
Ain't this an ugly bush? My landlord encourages me to kill it by any means necessary. Any suggestions?
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I would like to know the name of this tree. My students cannot tell me which I think makes them very poor Tennesseeans.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Because I've been thinking about Frank Stanford again ...

The Singing Knives

The dogs woke me up
I looked out the window

Jimmy ran down the road
With the knife in his mouth
He was naked
And the moon
Was a dead man floating down the river

He jumped on the gypsy’s pony
He rode through camp
I could see the dust

There was the saddlebag full of knives
He was crazy

When Jimmy cut a throat
The eyes rolled back in the head
Like they was baptized
I tell you
When he cut a throat
It was like Abednego’s guitar
And the blood
Flew out like a quail

He had the red hand
He poked the eyes out

I dreamed I stepped over a log
And there was fire in my foot
I dreamed I saw a turkey and two wildcats
Jumped on me at the same time
I dreamed jimmy was pouring ice water
Over my head at noon
I dreamed I heard somebody
Singing in the outhouse
I dreamed the mad dog bit the Gypsy
And they tied him to a tree
I dreamed I was buried in the Indian mound
And moon lake rose up
I dreamed my father was wading the river of death
With his heart in his hand
I dreamed Jimmy rowed out the front door
With a hawk on his shoulder
And I was in the bow kneeling down
I dreamed the blacksnake rode the guitar
Down the river
I dreamed the clouds went by
The moon like dead fish
I dreamed I was dragging
A cotton sack with a dead man in it
I dreamed the fish bandits stole the hogs
Off my lines
And one of them was hunchback
I dreamed the night was a horse
With its eyes shut
I dreamed I had to fight
the good man with the bad arm
And he had the dynamite
I dreamed I trailed a buck from Panther Brake to Panther Burn
I dreamed the Chickasaw slit his throat in the papaw
I dreamed that rising sun was smoking blood
You could pick up and throw
I dreamed the Chinaman’s peg leg
I dreamed I was fishing in heaven with Sho Nuff
and Jesus cleaned the fish
I dreamed a man flies wouldn’t bite
I dreamed I was riding through Leland in a dragline bucket
And the cotton making everyday
I dreamed we got the bootlegger’s truck out of the mud
I dreamed the levee broke

I dreamed the Gypsy was laughing under the water
And the minnows were swimming though his eyes
I dreamed I reached down in Moon Lake
And untied his arms and one hand
Floated up the way it did
When he threw those knives
I dreamed the pony that fights in the water
And the boat that towed the dead man
I dreamed I felt the knife singing in Abednego’s back
I dreamed I pulled the ring out of his ear
And Jimmy put it on his finger
And swam through the water
I dreamed he was looking for Abednego’s boot
And when he came up
He had the jackknife between his teeth
I dreamed he was so beautiful
He had to die someday
I dreamed a knife like a song you can’t whistle

“Let’s go, I got to throw tonight” he says

He had the bandanna around his neck
And the pilot’s cap on
He played the harp in the moonlight

I led the horse out back
I tied him to a Chinaberry tree

“What you want” I says
But I knew he wanted me
Standing at the back of that outhouse
“Shut up” he says “don’t move”
The dirt dobbers flew around my head

He threw Boo Kay Jack at me
He threw Django at me

The mosquitoes drew blood
I looked on the ground
I saw the shadows coming like gars
swimming under me at night
I saw the red moon too
I wished I was running a trot line
I wished I was in a fight
I wished I was fanning myself in church
But there was a heart on the fan
With a switchblade through it

And the knives came by

The bone handled one
The hawk handled one
The one with a blade like a skiff
Out of his boot
Behind his back
Mexican style
The way Abednego showed him
Singing in the outhouse
Like a horse breaking wind

He took the knife and ran it
Across his arm
The he ran it across mine

Blood came out like hot soda

He tied our arms together
With the blue bandanna
And we laid down in the cotton

I wished I was riding a mule somewhere
Blowing a jug
With a string full of crappie
And the cotton making everyday

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Post Antony and the Johnsons Show

I cannot say enough words, or at least, I cannot find the right ones to contain last night's Antony and the Johnsons show at the Bijou Theatre here in Knoxville. Friends from Kalamazoo will understand this reference when I say the venue was very similar to the Little Theatre, only it was smaller. It was by far the most intimate and artistic performance I have ever seen and I left feeling like my soul had been carved just a little deeper - also, happy that there was room in the world for someone with such a cavernous soul and matching cavernous vulnerability as Antony Hegarty.

Have you ever come back from a performance, whether it be a reading, a concert, or a play, and just felt like it righted everything again? Yeah. It was like that.

Here's a couple clips from other concerts:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Us v. Knoxville

It's good to try to make a go of things. It really is. I think it's safe to say I'm a "give it the ol' college try" kind of girl, fairly positive, with not a small amount of workitivity in me. But this Tennessee thing - well, we can just not take a shining to this place. My husband and I were driving home from yet another so-so Knoxville restaurant last night and we played our usual roles: me as the positive one suggesting it's not so bad here and my husband playing cynical man. (In his defense, he's very positive and forward-thinking when he needs to be, but he has been broken down, abused, trampled on). His rant last night could not be argued against, unfortunately. It's true - there's nothing here we would look back on and say, "Oh, don't you wish we could go there again? To that bookstore? To that shop? To that festival? To that restaurant?" Not a thing.

What confounds us is how such a big college town could be so lacking in anything resembling individuality or spark? Where are the great independent cd stores? Where are the awesome used bookstores? Where's that one bar that faithfully serves us cheap pitchers of beer every Thursday night? Where's that coffeehouse that can be depended on to play the right background music while we grade student papers?

But hope - that light through yonder window breaking - a friend of mine just got a job at the school where I wanted to get a job and something about his news made me a) overwhelmingly joyful for him, and b) hopeful we too could return to Grand Rapids, that place I love so much despite its dark, long winters.

So with fingers crossed, we plow through another Knoxville week, going without the meat and cursing the bread, hoping we get out of here before a bullet goes through our head. Hope. Hope ...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Teaching Dilemmas

The greatest affront a teacher can face is a student's bold assertion that they do not care to be any smarter (or more accurately, any less stupid) than they currently are. They don't care. Nothing I can say is ever going to stimulate or interest them in any way. It's to those students I have the most hostility. Here is something I found online which addresses this accurately, and to it, I say AMEN (from Vicky Newman's "Misreading the kiss: Teaching Manuel Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman"):

Students will not indict the exigencies of capitalism. For the pervading view is the cool consumer perspective, where passion and strong admiration are forbidden.... Is it a surprise, then, that this generation of students steeped in consumer culture before going off to school, treated as potent customers by the university well before their date of arrival, then pandered to from day one until the morning of the final kiss-off from Kermit or one of his kin-are inclined to see the books they read as a string of entertainments to be placidly enjoyed or languidly cast down? Given the way universities are now administered (which is more and more to say, given the way they are currently marketed), is it a shock that the kids don't come to school hot to learn, unable to bear their own ignorance? (Edmundson 47)

Call for Kiss of the Spider Woman Critical Essays

Hi smart friends,

Can anyone lead me to particularly good critical evaluations of Manuel Puig's, "Kiss of the Spider Woman"? I'm finding a lot of junk online and am wondering if anyone can lead me to higher sources of discussion.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Weird Shows From My Past

I just want to put this out there. I think the following three shows are just about the weirdest television shows one could ever watch, not just for their unlikely storylines, but also for the bizarre, meager production value that I apparently was completely oblivious to as a young viewer. For your nostalgic viewing pleasure:

1. Small Wonder (1985)

You might remember this bizarre show from 1985 with a central character named Vicki, a young girl who just happened to be a robot. This was the era of ALF, after all, but ALF premiered a year after Small Wonder, so one could really consider this "alien entity invading a typical suburban white household" storyline as the progenitor to ALF, though certainly ALF exceeded Small Wonder in popularity. Still, I remember you, Vicki, with your odd doll-like clothes and monotone voice. I found you far more charming than ALF and would rather hang out with dad Ted Lawson than dad Willie Tanner any old day.

2. SuperFriends (1978)

If you want to quickly identity how many people in any given room were doing the same thing you were doing on Saturday morning in the late seventies/early eighties, shout out, "Wonder Twin powers activate - form of an ice bucket!" If anyone gets that reference, they too watched what was really a very crappy show that, when viewed as an adult, will make you seriously question your aesthetic prowess for all time. The original SuperFriends began in 1973 and did not include the Wonder Twins, which, as far as I'm concerned, really defeats the whole point of the show.

3. The Dukes of Hazzard (1979)

Okay, this show might really top this list of bizarre shows. That's right - it's more surreal than a little girl robot dressed up to look like a Raggedy Ann Doll. What made this show so bizarre? The production value, for starters, is seriously questionable. I don't remember it being as bad as it really is (and thanks to the Country Music Television, modern viewers can relive the reign of the Good Ol' Boys). Reviewing the show ought to really make one consider how such a show like this could have such a profound cultural impact in our country. What does that say about America? About our values? About the characters we most admire? All I know for sure is I've jumped through my share of passenger-side car windows in an attempt to be as cool as Bo and Luke, and if you wanted to play Dukes of Hazzard with me as a little girl, I always called Daisy. (And yes, we played that a lot in my childhood neighborhood).

Friday, January 23, 2009

No, seriously, we really are this dorky

These pictures were taken only a couple of days before things starting going downhill, but now that things are all better (I am Zofran pump free!), I figure I can put up these pictures showing our initial reactions to baby-ness.


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Yes, yes, we washed our hands afterwards. Don't be a sissy.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Visiting Normal

For me, normality is bliss. I'd like to take credit for having worked fastidiously to build the life that I get to live, but in no way do I think I get credit for it. I showed up. I turned things in on time. I can take that much credit alone. The rest is pure luck and don't I know it.

The past two months, a break in my usually golden-touched life only served to prove how golden my life is. Now that my pregnancy has become a pretty normal thing, I get my normal life back. For me, this means teaching and hanging out with my big lug of a husband, who's totally bad ass. Watching "Scrubs" the other night, he tackled me on the couch and just hung there like a giant, loving ape. I liked it.

But normalcy for me really lies in standing at the front of the classroom again. When I'm up there, even with my Zofran pump slung over my shoulder, I feel normal. My life is mine again. I'm teaching a new class that involves a lot of research and legwork on my part, but it's studying American history and current American politics - two things I find overwhelmingly interesting.

So, yeah, it's nice to have my sort of ridiculously charmed life back. I'm 3 and a half months pregnant so I'm trying to enjoy this version of normal as long as I can. Yes, my life will still be golden after the baby arrives, but I might not have as much time to dwell on it. Worse, it might come out in spurts of incoherent babble, because believe this: being pregnant makes you kind of stupid. My memory is being sucked away and from what my doctor tells me, that's only going to get worse once I start breastfeeding.

Awesome. But at least that new normal is slow in coming. Maybe not slow enough for my taste, but I've got some months to deal.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Not Exactly New Year's Resolutions

Here's a list of my goals for 2009. I'm not going to call them New Year's Resolutions because I sort of think those are dumb, though I couldn't rightly give you a strong distinguishing characteristic between that and what follows:

1. Finish the Pilgrimage manuscript and agent it.
2. Find a way to move back to Michigan.
3. Be a more loving and thoughtful wife.
4. Learn all I can about the great American documents.
5. Read Mrs. Dalloway and get Beth to discuss it with me in detail.
6. Go to Church every Sunday.
7. Volunteer at the hospital.
8. Get to a point where I don't hate being pregnant.
9. Buy a new TV.
10. Get to a point where I can eat real adult food and have friends over more frequently for dinner.
11. Set up my own website for both professional and personal updates.
12. Convince as many people as possible that Blackboard is clumsy and unusable.
13. Plant something (if we're staying in Tennessee).
14. Buy my husband a really, really good birthday present that even he would be impressed by.
15. Learn to pronounce more French words while Michael is studying for his French examination.
16. Get comfortable calling my in-laws some variation of the words mom and dad.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2008: The Final Countdown

I'm a fan of lists. It's sort of a problem of mine. But as I always say, better to be addicted to lists than Dilaudid. I don't really always say that. That's a sort of new expression I'm trying out.

Top 10 of 2008 (not ranked):

1. Spending loads of time with my mom planning a wedding

2. Taking dance lessons with my awesome dad in preparation for the father/daughter dance

3. Tiptoeing to the garage with my mom, hands full of glasses and champagne to celebrate Michael asking my dad for my hand in marriage, only to be shushed away by Michael because he didn't have the nerve to ask yet - then stumbling over each other in giggles to back away without my dad seeing us

4. The chocolate ice cream I ate the other day because it was the best thing I'd tasted in well over a month - really, one of the only things I'd tasted in well over a month

5. Running through the lovely, flat, cosmopolitan area of East Grand Rapids all summer long, listening to my music, feeling the pavement, nodding at pedestrians, loving the ability of my body to continue moving through it all

6. My bachelorette tubing party with my favorite people, the day lazy, lovely, liquid-filled

7. Celebrating my friends completion of their MFA, which includes all of the following: watching Beth get a giant lightbulb from Bill Olsen, hearing Michael read with his family present, getting to meet Cindy's mom for the first time, listening to Natalie's insanely lovely poetry and uber-feminine Texas voice, celebrating the wonder that is Benny, watching Turcotte get choked up before his reading, then hanging out boozing it up with Michael's sisters at the Roadhouse

8. Wearing the most stupidly gorgeous wedding dress in the universe and seeing Michael at the end of that long aisle

9. Long, leisurely days spent sewing

10. Teaching two of the smartest groups of students I've ever had the pleasure of working with - a particular highlight was a student identifying Morrissey's music as "happily melancholic"

The Bottom 10 of 2008 (not ranked):

1. The diaspora of the best group of friends a girl could ask for, with a particular hit being taken by both Nicole and Cindy's early exit from Michigan - You ladies suck for that

2. The black cloud that is severe sickness which shall thus forth go unnamed

3. Finding bridesmaids' dresses that weren't hideous, easily the most difficult part of the wedding

4. That really bad haircut I got in Knoxville that culminated in an unprecedented fit of hysteria and made me want to leave not only Knoxville but my new husband as well

5. Ruining the experience of shopping for a wedding dress for my mom by having a not-so-unprecedented (apparently) fit of weeping and desperation in a bridal shop, then calling Beth and freaking out about how I was ruining everything for my poor mother

6. Blood sugar testing pin pricks every six hours that left the tips of my finger purple and blue

7. Missing out on Christmas and New Year's

8. Helping my packing-skills deficient husband move

9. Having to give a ridiculously hardworking student a C because her English was just not strong enough yet

10. Struggling to teach one of the top three most challenging students of my seven-year teaching career this past spring

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Things you think you will never live through, in no particular order

1. Planning a wedding
2. Your first heartbreak at fifteen, realizing for the first time that you'll not marry that one
3. A policeman tapping on a dark, steamed-up car window
4. Your mother's cancer diagnosis, treatment, panicked eyes
5. Confronting your own mortality for the first time when your mother is diagnosed, treated, and panicked
6. People dying young, proving it could be over like the snap of a supple finger
7. A positive pregnancy test
8. Hyper-emesis Gravidarum *
9. Food poisoning from rotten garlic at one of your favorite restaurants **
10. A bad group of girlfriends who put you in a box that is uncomfortable, limiting, quietly cruel
11. Being booed at a basketball game, not realizing the camera was on you and you were supposed to kiss your husband on the Jumbo-tron
12. Hyper-emesis Gravidarum *
13. An egotistical (insert grawlix here) of a teacher who tells you to take a couple years off to spend time with basic grammar books before considering writing again ***
14. A broken engagement to be married after the church has already been booked
15. Lost sisters
16. Reading Madame Bovary
17. Yet another needle coming at you

* I beg you, do not write anything helpful or in a warning tone about Hyper-emesis Gravidarum. I beg you. I plead with you. A little knowledge is far too much right now.

** Let's call it karma. My then-boyfriend found a $50 bill on the ground and took us out for a fancy dinner. Proof positive there is no such thing as a free lunch. Or dinner.

*** Let's assume this teacher does not even know the word grawlix because he's a moronic, beefy asshole who really should retire all those karate outfits he wears to class.