Monday, October 17, 2011

•shh, shh, little kitty•

Well, shame on me. Nothing soothes the soul like actually voicing one's concerns--and having them put to rest. I spoke with the director of Penn's preschool, and not only are those offending un-foods *not* being served, they probably aren't even the property of the school. Ahem. < chagrin! >

This is a developing story... but I wanted to do a teeny post to make up for completely flying off the handle on Friday. So charged, these issues of food in our day and age. So available, these bloggish tools! (So, too, like a double-edged sword.) I am humbled by the kindness of others who, in spite of my hot-headedness, took the time to comment, to take my side, and to subtly tell me to stand down. xox

Friday, October 14, 2011

•poison apple•

They're baa-aack! And just in time for Halloween! To my utter dismay and horror, Otterpops and Skippy Peanut Butter have returned to Penn's preschool. So now, since I'm no longer on Prozac, do the gloves come off? Do I merely protest by making all of Penn's snacks again, or do I pull him from school? Do I get all the parents to sign a petition, entitled For The Love Of Common Sense, Please Don't Feed Our Children Poison And Tell Then It's Snack?

I asked an afternoon teacher today, point-blank: does she feed them Otterpops. Occasionally, she said. I clarified: Instead of snack? I mean, as snack? She hesitated. Yes... as a treat. When it's hot.

We live at the mouth of the Central Valley in California. It's hot. A lot. You're telling me when the temperature spikes, instead of the usual afternoon offering of water, milk, plus green beans or cheese, they're substituting a 25-calorie frozen stick of high fructose corn syrup and chemically-derived food coloring? What about vodka? Would they feed them vodka, if I put that in the snack-donation box?

I'm seriously heartsick over this. I don't know what to do. Are my only options to remove Penn from the school, or alienate him by Penn-only snacks, or take money I don't have and buy all the right snacks, crowding as best I can everyone else out of that damn snack-donation box? Just the idea of having to have another conversation with the director about why this is important, or even why I won't let Penn eat that garbage, makes me want to crawl into bed, cover my head, and sob for my son's future. How on earth is a child to learn healthy habits, if school teaches you that brightly-colored water is food? Unschooling should not be the only sane option. xox

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

•not your mama's apple•

Photos taken at Full Belly Farm on October 1, 2011.

A half-assed Happy-o-versary to us, to us! And to you lovely readers, thank you. Our first post was also about pomegranates... in a way... :) Thanks for making all of this possible.

Pomegranates. Not my native apple. A seedy, grainy, medieval French pain in your ass? Maybe. (I know a secret for opening these. Think water birth.) When I was growing up in New Hampshire* in the 80s, pomegranates were expensive and misunderstood. Now they grow like weeds on the walk to and from Penn's preschool.

What's weird to a native New Englander is that *apples* don't do well in Northern California. Macintosh at the grocer are bruised beyond recognition, and there are no real tart options beyond Granny Smith, and her tarted-up cousin, the (unbelievably hued, yes) Pink Pearl. Pomegranates, on the other hand, grow magnificently in the Mediterranean clime. They're everywhere, including hedgerows meant as boarders. Throw-aways. In the same way rosemary is grown as a landscape feature, pomegranates are low-maintenance shrubs. They don't like much water. They love sun. And pomegranates are ripest when they split (and look over-ripe). Kinda a cool signal: they flash their ruby jewels to the world. That means you need to live near a tree, for close monitoring. Lest you miss it. (All the poms in the pictures above are still ripening. Note the one with the hexagonal flower opened, vs. the closed-flower orbs...)

Now, a simple recipe:

Maple Pomegranate Cocktail

pomegranate juice
maple syrup (grade b works)
a lime
a few pomegranate arils, if you have the means

In a shaker, put 3 ice cubes. Cover with one ounce cognac, one ounce rum, about a half-cup of pomegranate juice, and 1-2 teaspoons Grade B maple syrup. Squeeze a quarter of a lime o'er top, and shake the beeejeeezus out of it for at least 7 seconds. Strain into an up-glass, with pomegranate seeds in the bottom. It is worth making one serving at a time, but I'm sure a pitchered approach would work.

Currently in the oven: granola with pomegranate pulp. There's a company based in Sacramento that makes granola using fruit juice in place of oil, and I've wanted to try that at home ever since I sampled the results. Pomegranate juice yeilds a lot of pulp: the chown up bits of aril and seed casings, plus bits of juice. What a perfect reason to stir with oats, maple syrup, vanilla and...?? I don't think I included anything else. Although pecans would have been nice. Stay tuned! Update: that granola was spectacular. Next time, I'll add unsweetened coconut!


Sunday, October 9, 2011

30th Street Station

30th St. Station
30th Street Station, by Kevin H. on Flickr

In my old city, I liked to sit in the train station. People rushed around, on their way to other neighborhoods, other cities, other states, even other countries. I sat cross-legged on the old wooden benches, their curves polished to glowing by decades of waiting bodies. I’d buy a cup of coffee and gaze at the impossibly high ceilings; the enormous bronze archangel cradling a soldier in his arms; the art deco light fixtures that look as if they’re a normal size, until you see them on the ground, slowly cranked down with winches to be cleaned, to have their bulbs changed. Then they’re shocking in their bigness, and lovely, their glass panes and bronze edges the facets of giant light-emitting jewels.

Often, I was waiting for a train. Sometimes it was late at night, the station more or less empty, announcements of departing and arriving trains echoing off the marble walls and floors. Maybe I’d just left, for the evening, a relationship that I didn’t really want, that was more a clue to something I wanted—something that had nothing to do with relationships. I’d stare around at the soaring space, feeling tiny and exhausted, filled with longing and yet somehow overwhelmed with joy at the way the building’s enormity underscored my own solidity, at the energy of people going places. The wooden bench anchored me; I could have sat there for hours.

But sometimes I would go to the station just to be there, anonymous in the busy crowd, but not alone. If I wanted to, I could buy a ticket, board a train, and be gone. There was freedom just in knowing that. More likely, I would choose a table amid the bakeries and food shops and schedule boards, the coffee stands and travelers and flower stalls, and I would write, just beginning to find my way on the page, just beginning to understand where the clue was leading me.

A soaring space with trains will inevitably leave you wanting to go. I left the city, and the station with it. There is nothing like it in my new city, in my new life, where I usually know what I want, where I am rarely anonymous, rarely tiny and exhausted.

Buying a train ticket doesn’t hold the same possibilities anymore. I crossed a bridge on my way out, and while I didn’t burn it, left unused, it decayed. If I visit, it’s by other routes—everything looks different. I can see a chasm where my bridge used to be, and the city hovers dreamlike on the far side, inaccessible, and I’m amazed that I was ever a part of it. I don’t want to return, really. But sometimes, just for a little while, I’d like to sit in that station, anonymous but not alone, and think of all the places I could go.

Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial
Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial
(Angel of the Resurrection), by Sameold2010 on Flickr

30th Street Station
30th Street Station, by MShades on Flickr

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Why Craiglist Furniture for Sale Listings are an Excellent Source of Entertainment

1) Posts that make me gasp with horror and then burst out laughing the moment they load. Seriously, I'd link to current posts, but it's mean to make fun of people's furniture on the Internet. Also, the links would only expire in a week anyway. (If they didn't, someone would have started a Regretsy-like blog for Craigslistings a long, long time ago.)

2) Posts that describe furniture as "shabby chic." Now, that description isn't really set to win my heart in any case. Having worked as a props designer and beat to crap tastefully distressed my share of stage furniture, I figure if I want something shabby chic, I'm more than capable of scratching at it with a rasp or putting dings in it with a screw driver. Furthermore, on Craigslist, "shabby chic" is often used to describe items that'd be better represented as "shredded by the cat" and/or "cabbage roses from the 1980s."

3) Here's a favorite: Posts that authoritatively describe furniture as "mid-century modern" when in reality it's "mid-'70s wood veneer." (Occasionally, mid-'70s schlock is mistakenly described as shabby chic--if it's been sufficiently shredded by the cat, that is.)

4) Posts that tell me--in great detail--exactly what the piece of furniture will be perfect for, or exactly where in my home it will look just fabulous.

5) Related to number four: Posts that tell me just how beautiful I will find a piece of furniture, or how very, very special and/or set to become an heirloom it is. Or! Posts that tell me how very, very precious the piece is to the family that's selling it, but they have to sell it (by today) because their grandmother got sick and they're moving overseas to take care of her and, and, and... In other words, way TMI.

6) And related to number five: Posts that tell me what a great bargain someone's inflated asking price is and explain that if I look around on the Internet for the same item, I'll see that people are selling it for $200 more.

Okay. Anyone else want to play? I'm sure I'm missing classic Craigslist moves from this and other categories. (Though I could certainly go on at length about the housing category right about now. Sheesh. But I find that far less amusing and more irritating and misleading, at least in this town.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Small Confession and a Care Package

The confession is that I never did manage to see the small boy this week, and therefore, I finally just took it upon myself to choose a name for our little blog-o-versary game.

(Don't worry though--I adhered to the highest ethical and technical standards in making my choice.)

(Well, okay. The highest ethical standards.)

And the winner is...Gisele! With whom I've been in touch already. But thank you to all of you who left us comment love! What a lovely group of people this blog has helped to gather around us this year--it's so nice to know you're out there reading.

Off to make a care package! (Not really. Off to get some work done. But soon! Soon, we will make a care package.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Saturday, October 1, 2011

On Writers, Writing, and Generosity of Spirit

I just read this post, by the fabulous Alice, whose writing I’ve admired for years. I agree with her wholeheartedly, as have the majority of her commenters so far. But I was dismayed by a couple of commenters who disagreed with her, and I started to say as much in a comment. I quickly realized that my “comment” was about to turn into a full-on, very lengthy essay response, so I brought it over here. This really isn't meant as a direct response to any of the comments, but reading them brought up several hot button issues for me, and they're ones I've contemplated writing about for a while now. And this was the perfect opening for me to do so.

It seems to me that any person who takes on writing in a conscious way is a writer. I'm talking about the idea of practice—in both a technical and a spiritual sense. And I think it's nonsense to say that if someone only writes for themselves, or only blogs, or isn't publishing their work, or isn't getting paid to write, then they somehow don't meet some magical definition of the word "writer."

Whether I write for myself, in secret; or join a writing group; or start a blog; or start submitting my work to literary journals or magazines; or earn a paycheck from my writing is irrelevant to my right to define myself as a writer. I've done almost all of these things, in various stages of my writing life (I’m not literary journal girl…yet), and the timing and meaning of those activities have been much more about the level at which I was ready to join a conversation with other people through my writing than they have been about my level of legitimacy or how serious my practice has been.

I think the biggest problem with people so self-assuredly defining who "gets" to call themselves a writer is that it scares off those who are less confident, but who would absolutely be writers if they had just a little bit of encouragement to begin—or to continue—writing. I think making distinctions between "blogger" and "writer" is dangerous, not because I think everyone who blogs wants to or needs to or should define themselves as a writer, but because I think everyone who blogs (or keeps a journal, or writes poetry secretly) should most certainly have the right and the opportunity to define themselves that way if it's a title and a practice that calls to them.

There's nothing worse than feeling a genuine longing to try something—particularly in the creative world—and thinking, "But I can’t write; I’m not a writer,” or, "I'm not allowed to define myself as a writer, because I'm not published." Well, if you never try writing, then you’re not a writer. But when you follow that longing, and pick up a pen or open your computer and begin to explore the world by placing words together, when you take on writing as a practice in a conscious way, then you get to think of yourself a writer whether or not you publish anything.

Note that I keep saying “in a conscious way.” I don’t necessarily think that everyone who ever has to write something is a writer. We all have to write things here and there, for school, or work, or whatever. It’s a matter of intention, and it’s a matter of need. Writers need to write. When I was a child, my father used to say this to me all the time—that artists have to practice their art. Writers have to write. This was problematic, since as a child I took it quite literally. And because I clearly wouldn’t actually drop dead if I didn’t write, I assumed that I wasn’t a writer. And that assumption made me ache, although I didn’t understand that ache back then.

It took me until I was 25 to be able to keep a journal, much less write anything else. But when I did begin to keep that journal, my entire world shifted. I didn’t know where it would lead me, and I certainly didn’t have any big dreams of publishing anything. All I knew was that it kept me sane. It soothed the ache. Sure, I can not do it for a time, but it isn’t a healthy choice. And it turns out, that was what my father meant—though I suspect my father was a very unhappy, non-practicing writer, so I’m not even sure he fully understood what he meant.

When I first imagined starting a blog, my goal was to create a community to which I would be accountable for writing in some way. I have a wonderful real life writing community, with whom I meet and share work, and that community also keeps me writing. But a blog demands more regular work, more regular content. And in terms of putting pressure on myself to do the work I know that I need to do on a regular basis, that’s a very good thing. While I don’t believe that keeping a journal that no one else reads makes me any less of a writer, what I know about myself is that I stay on track better when someone is expecting the work from me.

Will I drop dead if I forsake my practice? Nope. But I also won’t be as grounded or as well or as happy, and I won’t be as effective in any other area of my life if I’m not doing the work of writing. Because I’m a writer. Of course, other writers' particular sense of need may be different from my own, but I believe a writer has a need of some kind. Frankly the work is often kind of a pain in the ass, difficult, and time consuming, so unless it speaks to someone, it's hard to imagine them wanting to do it.

There’s another element to this that bothers me. When people begin to make rules about who gets to call themselves a writer, or any other sort of artist, I always sense an air of cliquishness and unkindness. People say things like, “Well, that person isn’t a writer. They’ve never published anything. They only blog. They just keep a journal and never show their writing to anyone.” Frankly, statements like that are what keep fledgling writers feeling shy, less-than, self-deprecating, and locked out of the thing that they perhaps most want to do. And that limits what they will ever be able to do.

Just because I write all the time, work as a writer and an editor, participate in a writing group, publish my writing in various ways, and am lucky enough to have people other than me define me as a writer, does that give me the authority to say who is a writer and who isn’t? I don’t believe that it does.

What it does give me is a certain kind of power. Because people now think of me as a writer, beginning writers might be more than willing to believe me if I told them that they can’t call themselves writers. But who the hell am I to determine how people are permitted to define themselves? Who am I to say who is and who isn’t a writer?

If someone risks telling me that they’ve always wanted to write, I consider that a sacred moment. It may or may not be sacred to them, but it has to be to me. Because that’s the defining moment. That’s the moment when I potentially get to open a door for someone and invite them inside, or when I get to use my power to smash a small, fragile part of them. And make no mistake, it doesn’t matter if you literally have a potential writer standing in front of you allowing themselves to be vulnerable or not. When what you put into the world is the belief that certain kinds of writing are better or more legitimate than others, or that you are in any way better and more legitimate than others, you will inevitably be smashing a small, fragile part of someone somewhere.

My job is to do my own work, and to be the kindest, most generous person I can be. It’s my job (and I believe it’s everyone’s job) to encourage the small, fragile, beautiful parts of the people I encounter. My own incredibly kind, generous creative communities have enabled me to do work I don’t think would have been remotely possible without their encouragement. I believe it’s absolutely critical that people receive that kind of creative generosity of spirit in order to do their own best work. Just because they haven’t yet proven that they can do it, just because you can’t see what that work might be, that’s no excuse to be anything less than open-minded about what they might do in the future, or generous about helping them to define themselves in any way that opens that door for them.

It’s not my job to legislate what constitutes “real” writing. The only thing I can know for sure is that those who write—consciously and because they need to do so, for the love of the work, because there’s something in them that wants to come out on the page, or because they love other people’s writing and want to be a part of the community that generates such work—those are people who get to call themselves writers if they want to.

Writers write. For themselves, for others—it doesn’t matter. Well or badly—even that doesn’t matter.* The writing is what matters. The practice is what matters. The actions we take are what matter. And in writing, as in life, the actions we take are the things that define who we are. Writers write, and it’s the act of writing that makes them writers.

*For the record, while I don't believe quality of writing affects how one is allowed to define oneself, or whether one should continue to do the thing one loves, I absolutely agree with Alice that at the point when you begin sharing your work, it's part of the work to try to learn as much as you can and to make your work as readable, accessible, and high quality as possible for an audience by editing and refining it to the best of your ability. But that has nothing to do with how I or anyone else gets to define you.