Tuesday, May 29, 2007

not quite dead yet

Here’s the deal.

I didn’t intend to take a vacation from my blog. I got busy and missed a few days. Then a few more. I thought about writing, really I did. I composed the opening lines to several posts in my head. But whenever I found a few spare moments, I just didn’t feel like writing because I knew that I should write. The thought of it hung over me like a chore. And who needs another chore? Honestly. I have enough of those already.

When I first started my blog, I wrote out of a powerful need to hear myself think and write my thoughts down. I never anticipated that people would want to read what I had to say. That aspect of the blogosphere took me by surprise. And a pleasant surprise it has been. I feel like I’ve found a small band of friends who support me and feed my hungry ego yummy chocolate-coated compliments . Some days, when the frustrations and tedium of my life seem (in my melodramatic mind anyway) too much to bear, I have gotten by purely on the adrenalin rush of a new post and the comments that follow. Thank you.

But the problem with having an audience is that I worry about disappointing them. Some days I wish this blog were more of a soliloquy and less of a big, dramatic, must hire Kenneth Branagh to play me in the movie version monologue.

Occasionally, out of habit in the past few weeks, I have checked my stats on sitemeter and discovered I had only slightly fewer hits on the days I didn’t post than the days I did. This was quite a liberating discovery, actually. Perhaps my fears of disappointing too many readers are a bit overblown. I suspect that with anything I do or don’t write I’ll disappoint the majority of my visitors, who appear to be accidental tourists stumbling upon my domain. Whether or not I labor and deliver (and believe me, sometimes the painful child-birth metaphor fits) thought-provoking and original prose or not, some dude in Singapore with the Google query “what does a goiter feel like?” is going to find my website less than informative.

Then one day my laptop began to show symptoms of a terminal illness (graciously breaking the secret oath of all electronics and appliances by doing so two weeks BEFORE the extended warranty expired) and had to be sent in for repairs. I hope to never relive the moment when I was forced to put my brain into a box with only two pieces of Styrofoam to protect it, seal it up with tape and a note that said “please be kind to my brain as I am rather stupid without it” and leave it out on the porch for the UPS man to collect. Perhaps I should have paid the extra fee for the ice-pack, cooler, and medical life-flight service.

Anyway, the longer I went without writing, the more I dreaded catching up and making excuses for my absence. How silly is that? It’s MY BLOG isn’t it? Why should I feel obligated to write or even compelled to say anything in particular? So today, I declare myself free from the need to be interesting. Or funny. Or meaningful in any way. Some days I hope the muse inspires me to craft lovely little nuggets. Other days, be forewarned, I may post doggy turds.

Please forgive me if some days I have lots of time to write and on other days, I have the length of Elmo’s World to mention a random thought that just occurred to me.

Today, for example, I’m wondering why our mailman, who drives 5 miles an hour on the wrong side of the street and has to park at a new mailbox every 50 feet, fastidiously buckles and unbuckles his seatbelt with every stop. This strikes me as rather odd.

That’s it. Nothing more or less blogworthy than that.

I’m now going to sit on my hands and post this thing with my nose to avoid trying to make something more fragrant out of this particular turd.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Why librarians hide the Armageddon books when they see us coming

Arcimboldo, The Librarian
I got a call from the library today. The book Snails and Slugs that we returned this week was apparently damaged while in our possession – the tip of the right corner has little bite marks all over it. The librarian asked me if we have a puppy. “Nope,” I replied, “but apparently we have snails or slugs.”

She was not amused. I confessed that we do have a teething baby who takes to gnawing on anything with fiber content. "Just put it on our tab please. We aim to single-handedly keep the library running through our generous donations of late fees and damaged book costs."

Too bad the librarian had no sense of humor. She might have gotten a kick out of the other abused books on our record. Along with the chewed slug book, she’d note a rather surreal pattern that includes 1) a book about the Bermuda Triangle that inexplicably vanished while in our home and then (after we had paid for it) reappeared months later on the library shelf, 2) a book about the Titanic that suffered water damage, and 3) the Curious George book – the one where George gets into trouble for ripping pages out of his books – with (you guessed it) torn pages. Apparently I run the worst kind of negligent bookophile household, but in my defense, the last one's really not my fault. Everyone knows that stupid monkey is a bad influence.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Birthday impressions

One year ago this morning, I sat with my mother at a table at Denny’s and ate a “last supper” of French toast and orange juice. I knew I would be going in for a c-section that evening (my first planned one; the others were emergencies) and I wouldn’t be able to eat for a while. I don’t remember what we talked about. Most likely ME since that’s my favorite topic of discussion. Or perhaps my wonderful kids and husband – my second through fifth favorite topics.

It was my mom’s birthday too and just the fact that she spent the whole day with me (and later with my kids while Ken and I went to the hospital) tells you something about the generous kind of person she is. She shared her birthday with all of us and now she gets to share it every year with her granddaughter. We thought it fitting to give Nora her grandmother’s name. As soon as she gets old enough to understand its significance, I plan to begin telling Nora daily that she’s got quite a name to live up to. “No pressure or anything honey, but your grandma is a saint.”

My mother deserves sainthood for the sheer fact that she raised 9 children and emerged with her sanity intact. Not only that but I think she did a fairly good job of it. We’re a creative, intelligent, ethical bunch if I do say so myself. The only thing I can hold against my mother is that she set a standard too high for me to reach. I can’t begin to list her many strengths and talents. Humility being one of them, she would probably be the first to say that she’s not a great cleaner or finisher of projects, but who really needs to eat off their kitchen floor anyway? (And Mom, even if you had gotten all those powder jackets sewn, they would still have gone out of style by the next year, right?) My mother taught me to make the most of the gifts God gave me and to work hard to make up for the weaknesses he gave me too. For years, she drove me back and forth to dance and gymnastics classes, never once suggesting that I lacked a graceful bone in my body.

My mother taught how to make killer peanut butter cookies. The trick, by the way, is to undercook them just enough that they stay soft as they cool. We had a smiling sun-shaped magnet on our fridge and instead of doing the standard criss-cross fork pattern on the tops of the cookies, we’d press the magnet into the dough balls before baking them and they’d come out of the oven with sun impressions still showing. I kid you not, they won awards at the county fair, these soft, smiley-faced cookies. My mom is the most creative person I know. She’s an artist through and through, never content with the ordinary, even when it came to a batch of cookies.

Maybe it’s stretching things, but I can’t get the metaphor of impressions out of my mind. In so many good ways, my mother has left her mark on me. She has molded me and given me standards (yes unattainable, but inspiring nonetheless) to live by. Her kindness, her grace in the face of stress, her unconditional love for her children: I hope these impressions stick with me as I develop as a mother myself. I don’t think a day goes by that I am not struck with wonder: how on earth did my mother do it???? (And I might add: how did she do it with 9 kids in tow and on a teacher’s salary and with cloth diapers and without Ibuprofen?) The process of canonization requires the candidate for sainthood to have performed at least two miracles. My mom worked several a day for 30 years.

I love you Mom. Happy Birthday. I hope Nora turns out half as cool as you.

Friday, May 04, 2007

At the feet of a giant

My blogging friend Allysha wrote a beautiful post this week about seeing Michelangelo’s Moses statue in person. Reading it sparked a memory of my own that I wanted to record.

When I was 9, my family lived in Spain for a year while my father directed a college study abroad program. That summer, we spent a month traveling around Europe during which time I’m positive I whined frequently about the profuse amounts of walking and the dark, damp cathedrals and the galleries filled with endless paintings of kings on horseback because I was but a silly child and had no idea I would someday be willing to sell any of my several appendages to tour Europe again. Naturally, one of our stops was Florence, Italy, where we visited the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s David.

I wish I could say I clearly remember seeing the David for the first time, but the truth is that I cannot separate my view of the Real Thing from the many many MANY times I have seen it since in reproductions. I doubt there is a more ubiquitous image in all of Western art. I do remember thinking that David was very tall – I had to crane my neck to see his face – something it’s hard to appreciate when you see the head-on photos in books. Although I didn’t realize this at the time, as an adult I find it richly ironic that the plucky young shepherd who fought against a terrifying Goliath has now become an 18-foot tall monument to muscular beauty and strength. Who’s the giant now?

There is one thing I do remember clearly from the experience: a museum guard noticed that one of the students in our group was blind. He asked Kathy if she’d like to “see” the sculpture and he led her past the ropes to touch it. Because David stands on a 4 foot base, Kathy could only reach one of his feet, but she felt it with her hands. She said later that she could feel the veins along the top of the foot – it was just like flesh only colder. In my mind, I’ve romanticized the moment to the point that I see Kathy crying as she caresses the polished marble and then I look around me and see that everyone else is crying too. I’m not sure how much of this is fact and how much I’ve imagined over time. (Memories, unlike statues, are not carved in stone. They’re more like quicksand.) But I do associate with the moment a flood of different emotions: jealousy (how I would love to touch the marble carved by Michelangelo!), sympathy (can you imagine standing BLIND in front of the David?), and gratitude (I will never take my sight for granted again). The last feeling stuck with me for the remainder of our European tour. Every stained glass window, every painting, every crumbling ruin became more vivid to me. I can trace my life-long love of art back to that summer.

I wish I could reach back through time and thank the museum guard for his kindness. I suspect he had no idea how much his bending of the rules would mean to Kathy and to the rest of us there that day. When people say they have been “touched” by art it’s usually only a trite metaphor. This time I think the phrase fits beautifully.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

today's quiz

I had hoped to get around to writing something thrilling today, but this will not be possible because....

a) my laptop is fritzing out
b) grades are due tomorrow and I haven't finished scoring the final exams yet
c) my next semester also starts tomorrow and I haven't even thought about preparing the syllabus yet
d) tonight I get to go with a group of neighborhood friends to an Impressionist exhibit at the museum (yeah!) but my friends also asked me to serve as a guide (blech!) which means I have to put on airs and act like an expert when what I really want to do is very very quietly LOOK AT THE ART.
e) I have spent the last hour trying to convince Gabie that even if he dresses up like a flower and holds a cup of sugar water in his hand and learns how to speak Hummingbird, he will not be able to convince a hummingbird to come live in our house and be his friend.
f) all of the above

If you picked "F" you are either a genius or I am getting too predictable.

Since I'm so busy, can I recommend another good read for today? This post by Michelle at Scribbit made me smile. It's about old-fashioned values and a search for ice skates. I liked it enough to award it a perfect post award for April.