Friday, July 27, 2007

The Workbook of My Life (Second Ed.)

In this year's workbook, we have the following subjects:

fondue; cardiovascular exercise, maintenance and care of hardwood floors; finding a telephone that doesn't crackle; the surreptitious ductwork crawl at the International Spy Museum; alma mater tchotchke investment (i.e. baseball caps, travel mugs, and key chains), blog drama; maintenance and care of newfound assertiveness, De Kooning, Sims 2 home building challenges; celebrating the uses of Velcro, perfecting the dog paddle swim and jellyfish float, maintenance and care of funky new countertops, health benefits of constant coffee consumption, long term effects of teeth bleaching, organiziation 101 (failed from last semester); eating at home; and the development of hypergraphia.

Supply List:
pen; notebook; fondue set; television stationed on Food Network; xanax; computer; and thick biographies purchased from Amazon

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Hair

It's a country place in the South--an old Victorian transformed into an "establishment." There is bead board on the walls and a creaky swing on the porch. The floor is pine, and the ceiling is framed with crown molding.

But for all its adornments, this shop, appendaged in patterned wall paper and gingerbread trim, would be nothing without its heart: "the girls" who bustle inside.

No old fashioned women drinking mint juleps or prone to the vapors. These Southern women are the hardiest stitches in a quilt, on their feet from 9 in the morning until 8 at night. They have calmed the frizzies and the nerves of weepy brides, built beehives of sophistication in wannabe prom queens, and gently administered weekly sets to stoop-shouldered, eighty somethings who leave on rainy days wearing plastic bonnets.

The girls bustle around in black smocks and fill the air with husky, cigarette voices, accordion laughter, and the smell of coconut conditioner. Their fingers shampoo the way a sea anemone moves, reaching forward then pulling back. They examine spit ends and stir a swirling palette of color. Painting sunlight and restoring youth. Scissors flash, razors hum. Hair falls like golden, auburn, and chestnut leaves on an October afternoon.

I have been going to the same beauty saloon for 11 years. Although they are in the business of transformation, I have watched "the girls" transform themselves--into butterflies--and they have witnessed the same of me. We have become, among other things, wives, mothers, professionals, thinkers, drinkers, activists, volunteers, risk takers, recluses. We have talked about ex-boyfriends going to jail, what the hell happened to Britney Spears, Mexican restaurants, and recurrent bladder infections. We have shared "cures" for morning sickness and hangovers. We have cried over diagnoses and losses, and celebrated accomplishments and additions.

Once every five weeks for eleven years.

Skinny after weight loss, four days before the baby was born.

Long curls. Bobbed hair. Let's shag. Pixie.

Blonde. Red. Dark brown.

Rene Russo, Selma Blair, Meg Ryan, Winona Ryder and Isabella Rossellini pictures folded into my purse.

Sunny days. Gale force winds. As cold as five below zero.

Always warm on the inside, and I am always warm when I leave.

For more Sunday Scribblings about "hair," click here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I Am a Sock, Knit in the Dark

I've been a bit breathless lately--maybe winded from a sudden, unexpected sprint of obligation, or maybe, breathless like a panic attack. The less that I feel I can breathe, the worse the struggle becomes . . . and the less I feel I can breathe. It's a round trip ticket.

I try very hard to accept that life has this jigsaw puzzle quality--that the pieces are scattered, some are missing. That no matter how you twist a piece, you aren't always able to see the fit. You aren't even always able to see the big picture. Right now, the clues to my big picture consist of a couple of blue "sky" pieces and a corner piece that might be flowers (or a pair of harem pants).

I don't even have a box to consult.

I didn't anticipate two classes this summer. I anticipated one class, then the remainder of my summer spent, organizing materials and files for my new job, playing "T-Rex attacks caveman mountain" with my boys, scribbling in my notebook in a lawn chair beside our 2 foot pool (just one step above rinky-dink, but ass on bottom, I'm able to submerge myself, nonetheless), lunching with my man at swanky downtown joints (the kind that don't advertise that children are allowed--the high chairs are hidden in the back), occasional afternoon delight . . .

Instead, one class became two (I cannot take the chance that I will get my current professor again, so I have to take the second class in August . . . when he's not teaching it), and my August will involve required reading, quizzes, assignments, group projects, and a twice a week commute in DC rush hour traffic. I return to work the same day as the last class. When I think about this, more often than not, I feel like hurling my coffee cup against the wall, or drinking a lot of beer, then lining the bottles up like they are members of a small family. I am greedy about my time, and terrified that without the opportunity to organize my life and my approach and my psyche, I will become unraveled, like a sock knit in the dark.

But I will work through this.

The brown paper bag that's keeping me from suffocating involves a trip to see my parents in Pennsylvania (tomorrow), grateful lists, "What Fresh Hell is This? The Biography of Dorothy Parker" by Marion Meade (who wrote a fun and uncomfortable-for-him biography of Woody Allen), daily exercise (I've substituted this for hurling coffee/the beer family reunion), purging (getting rid of the unnecessary is like providing me with an oxygen mask), and Poetry magazine (ony 3.95!).

I keep reminding myself to go easy. Go easy on expectations and accept that when unpredictable crops up, I just have to add those ingredients to the recipe of my life and try to make something tasty from them.

Stone soup.

In the meantime, it's hot and I'm breathless and I need an oxygen mask . . . stat!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Keep and Toss

On my Toss list:

the commute to my class; drivers who believe that the safety space that you leave between your car and the next on the expressway was reserved especially for them to jockey into; a friend who only calls when her husband or her family are not available; my own homemade guacamole (it helps to understand what a ripe avocado looks like); my contradictory, unstable, wannabe philosopher professor, who just keeps getting worse; carbonated beverages which sabotage my waistline; long fingernails (there is something so clean and polished about trimmed ones); eating out (speaking of long fingernails, we ate out on Saturday night and our server--an otherwise lovely man--had nails about as long and thick as a parrot's, except his pointer nail had a split across the top edge, in which there was wedged a long, crinkly hair).

On my Keep list:

a recent conversation with a friend who is refreshingly real and honest in her outlook on life (and her mother-in-law); writing stories in my head as I drive to class; the new swimming pool (2 feet of chlorinated fun, I'm tellin' ya); a fourth of July with very little planned, other than time in a lawn chair in the backyard and navigation through a huge pile of recreational reading; blogging anonymously (I have a renewed enthusiasm for showing up--it's like starting all over again, and that is very exciting to me!); sea salt;; Rachel Ray (so fun and refreshing).

Items for the Toss List were much easier to come by than stuff to Keep (too bad that doesn't apply when I'm decluttering). It must be my current outlook (this class I'm taking just makes me feel weighted and edgy and mean).

I'm a work in progress. I'll try again tomorrow.

Monday, July 2, 2007


I wonder why I'm so afraid to be still.

I wonder if I believe that moss will grow along the arch of my heel or that I'll become a target.

When I force myself to be still, sometimes I feel like I am drowning in the quiet.

Even in the morning when I'm just out of bed, sitting at the kitchen table and drinking my coffee, I cannot be still. I tug at my hair, rub my shoulders. My right foot strokes the dog's ear. I check Bloglines, then MSNBC, then NOAA. Then, back to Bloglines. My email twice in the next three minutes. Back to Bloglines.

My mind is an oversized wallet spewing receipts and lists. In the middle of a project, I am convinced I need office supplies. I suddenly have to make guacamole. I must know the defnition of "topar" immediately.

I ramble when you ask me a question. If there is silence in a conversation, even good comfortable silence, I fight the urge to decorate that space.

Busy-ness that prevents intimacy. Busy-ness that masks fear that in those quiet, still moments,

Tricking myself to believe that somehow, if I'm a blur, I'm efficient. And successful. And accomplished.

But I know that being busy washing Spiderman sunglasses and untangling necklaces and searching for my purple Flair Tip pen is not the kind of busy-ness that yields a sense of accomplishment.

I am wasting time so that I don't have to be alone with myself, and I haven't figured out why that is, yet.

I'm taking a Pilates class tomorrow. I have no experience with this, but something suggests that it may be like Yoga? Either I will have a panic attack on my mat or I will progress in learning to be still and quiet and mindful.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Shiny, Happy Certificates

I'm a scribble right now, an angry and uncontrolled ballpoint rage across the college-ruled page of my life.

I'm taking a class this summer. It started yesterday, and I did not quite affiliate with the teacher. I'm a syllabus girl. Course descriptions are like cashmere to me--they are soft and luxurious and right. When a syllabus and a course description don't match, I feel snagged. I feel like I've been put through the spin cycle. I'm all rung out.

And it didn't help that my professor is a hobbiest philosopher. Within a four minute span, we were the recipients of 27 references (tallied across the margin of my notebook) to Machiavelli, Socrates, Martin Luther, Locke, and Mark Twain (?!!!). Don't get me wrong--my heart thumps over critical thinking, but it all just seemed a bit forced, a bit pompous. One second, the man is telling us that IQs are without merit, the next, he manages to fling his own into the discussion. When a woman shared the name of the facility where she worked (during the cursory introductions), our teacher pointedly asked if so-and-so was still in charge of the program. When the woman nodded, the man rolled his eyes, chuckled self-servingly, and muttered, "I'm not even gonna go there."

This is a drive-by class, meaning that it will be over in 6 more sessions. 6 more, 4 hour sessions. The readings (a compilation of the man's own writings, as well as chapters and chapters of fine print text from a multi-volume book on par with the Physician's Desk Reference) are generally over 100 pages/night, and each is the catalyst for a 2-4 page, APA style paper. So basically, I will be coming home, reading, writing, going to bed, getting up, and returning to class, and unlike most of the other folks taking the course, I don't even have a job to wedge into my schedule. And that doesn't even begin to address the 20 page research paper due in a week and a half.

So much for swimming pools and poetry.

I talked to Lou about dropping this class. He reminded me that it's required for the program. I railed about the silliness of the program. Then, I consulted with our own resident philosopher--5 year old, Mac--who has the gift of being able to approach most scenarios and decision making grids with a fresh eye and an unjudging outlook.

"I'm in this program, Mac," I said, "and I've taken three courses so far, but I have two more to go, and you know how I went to my class tonight? Well, I really don't like the teacher, so-"

"Is she mean?" he asked.

"It's a guy," I said, "and no, no, he's not mean . . . he's just a fool . . . and I don't think I'm going to be learning anything I'm supposed to be learning, but if I finish this class and then, the next one, I get a certificate-"

His face lit up, as it does when all things shiny or new are described (think trophies, treasure chests, jewels, and apparently now, certificates). I attempted to bring it back around.

"But I hate this class and I think I would rather quit it so I can do fun things and play."

A cloud over my boy's sunny face. "Don't do that, mom," he said.

"Why not?"

"Because then, you won't get your certificate."

"But shouldn't I do things that I love, like playing?"

"Go to school, mom. You can play when you're done."

And with that (and a sigh), I've resigned myself to finishing this course. I don't want my five year old to think I'm a quitter, and I believe that, in the long run, the lesson coming out of this class will be beyond the content described in the course description or syllabus:

1. There are pompous, asshole professors everywhere, and sometimes you are stuck with them;
2. Five years old are the smartest people on earth;
3. A test of something--character? integrity? drive?--is how you function when the situation isn't ideal or easy;
4. Work hard, then play;
5. Certificates are pretty.