Damian has become extremely aware of music lately. When we listen to The Rising in the car (his favorite CD, he used to call it Horizon), he tells me there are three quiet songs and exactly where they come on the album. He describes all the tempo and volume changes. He has a favorite song (Mary's Place). He wants to know the names of them all.
At night, he listens to lullaby CDs, a rotating set of three. He knows every song on each album. On the one Daddy compiled, Damian tells me, there are three animal songs in a row because Daddy knew Damian likes animals. On the Nicolette Larson (Sleep, Baby, Sleep), he sings along with Moon and Me and The Moment I Saw You, his two favorites. I think he loves the latter because I told him it makes me remember the day he was born. And tonight I found out he assigns emotions to the songs on the Tina Malia album.
Dan wasn't home from work, so I read to Damian, brushed his teeth, and then lay down with him to tell him a story. I lie with him for one additional song and then leave, that's our deal. But tonight he asked me if I could stay for one more song after that. Why? Because the next song (Jewish Lullaby) was a lonely one. As was the one we were listening to then (All Through The Night). He was right. I knew it as soon as I heard the melancholy intro in a minor chord. But I think there was another reason. Part of the lyrics (not exact): "Daddy left for work this morning and he'll be home soon." Daddy wasn't home. Daddy hasn't been home in time for Damian's bedtime for three nights running. We talked about that. We agreed that the songs feel lonelier when Daddy's not home.
Dan got home a few minutes after I got up. He went in to lie down with Damian for a song. A bonus track, as it were. Making up for the lonely minor chords lingering in Damian's head.
Have you read the rant by Jane Austen Doe in Salon, her lament of the midlist writer? It's not really what it purports to be; the large advance for her first book made her more than midlist and its dismal sales made a hash of her career. She's hardly the midlist author poster child. But that article has spawned a host of blog entries that make fascinating reading, and that are tutorials in the business of novel writing. My current favorite is this by SF writer Charles Stross. It's loaded with information about the realities of advances, sales, and royalties. The nuts and bolts.
I'd love to see a tutorial on how to grow a career -- how to turn a sale into a series of sales into a growing readership into longevity. Because I think this issue is at the heart of Jane Austen Doe's plaint: she didn't know how to do just that for herself. But I suspect the answer is different for every writer.
Danís working late tonight, so I did Damianís entire bedtime ritual myself tonight. Including the part where a parent lies down with him and tells him a story. Dan makes up the stories. Damian and I agree that I can just tell him real life stories. Hereís tonightís:
I didnít learn to read until I was six and in first grade. The summer before I started first grade, I asked my mom to play with me but she was too busy reading her book. I got mad and told her I would never learn to read. She laughed and said I needed to know how. So I said ďOkay, well, Iíll only read things like street signs and directions and stuff. Nothing for fun.Ē And ran off to play.
Well, then first grade started and I learned. We didnít have fun books to start with, just Run Spot Run and See Spot Run. I got tired of reading about Spot the Dog, so I started looking at our books at home. And I started reading them. Go Dog Go, the Seuss books, Maurice Sendak. And I loved it. I loved it so much I started reading all the time. When I was a little older, Iíd carry a book to school and read in between classes (and in class, too, Iíd secrete a book in my desk and read it while the teacher was talking, but I didnít tell Damian that). I brought books everywhere. On the subway. To the movie theater so I could read before the movie started. Walking down the street. I always had a book with me the way you (Damian) always have a frog. Reading was like becoming someone else, living their life and doing what they did. I felt like I was with Max, like I was King of all the Wild Things, or like I was the bunny in Goodnight Moon, looking around my room at night or like I was Dorothy in Oz, meeting the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion and falling asleep in the poppies. I loved having a story in my head. Thatís why I became a writer, so I could always have a story in my head, one I was telling. I still love reading and I still love books and now I love writing too. Itís all about stories.
I donít care if Damian becomes a writer like me. In many ways, Iíd rather he didnít. Itís a difficult road. But I do hope he takes after me in his love of books. I think he will. I think maybe he already does.
This week's Entertainment Weekly has a cover story: "Are Sitcoms Dead?" With the impending or already accomplished series finales of Frasier, Friends and Sex and the City, it's apparently time to ring the bell of doom. No, I haven't read the article yet. I don't need to. I know what it'll say and I'm amused. Because this happens in cycles. A few years ago, the one hour drama was doomed. Reality TV was going to demolish it. Then along came CSI and all its spinoffs and the excitement of various cutting edge HBO dramas and so on and so forth and lo! The drama is ascendant once more.
Actually, no, I think this goes back further, because I remember before Reality TV was a reality, reading doom-and-gloom articles about the death of drama because sitcoms were ascendant (a la Friends, etc.). Guess what? Drama didn't die. Sitcoms won't either. Maybe the networks will have to tweak their formulae. Maybe they'll have to make the new ones a smidge less idiotic to attract new viewers, though I wouldn't count on it. But someone will come up with a shiny new fun sitcom and it will be in the top ten, then the top five, then maybe even be number one in the ratings and the next spring, all the sitcom pilots will be picked up and lo! Sitcoms will be ascendant once more.
I love apocalyptic entertainment reportage.
The folk at Fractious Times have split off a lefty political blog. I'm glad. I generally avoid reading political blogs because I just get too upset. I hate Bush so much I find it difficult to read about him and impossible to hear his voice.
I hated Reagan. I wore a black armband the day after his election. I was shocked he was re-elected. I thought he'd snowed everyone, the Teflon president who could do no wrong despite the idiocies of his policies. I thought it couldn't get worse. Then Bush Senior was elected. Corruption is thy middle name. Who could be worse than him?
Then thankfully, Clinton was not only elected, but reelected and I thought the country had returned to sanity. Well, except for the whole sex-and-lies hooha, which frankly? Yawn.
But then Bush the Beyond Corrupt was not-exactly-elected. Now I know it can't get worse than this. He's such a horrible excuse for a president I can't even talk about it. Besides, if you want to read liberal rants, there are plenty of places you can go.
But when I followed the link to The Moat and read a bit, I realized there actually is reason for hope. Kerry might win this thing. If staunch Republicans can finally see past Bush's I'm The Man Against Terrorism smoke and mirrors to the love-your-corporate-cronies-and-laugh-at-everyone-else mentality lurking beneath a thin veneer of I'm-your-pal-bonhomie. He's not our pal. He's also not our best bet against terrorism. He may in fact be our worst.
Oops, there I go ranting. My point is, if intelligent Republicans can see the corruption and deceit and environmental (and human) mayhem the Bush administration is perpetrating, maybe we can pull together and get this horror behind us.
Thank you, Corina. You've given me hope.
And thank you, Melissa and Elizabeth and everyone. Now I feel unfrozen, able to read political blogs without being afraid I'll choke on my own disgust.
Tonight Damian wanted me to read him If The Dinosaurs Came Back, by Bernard Most. As we were settling in to look at it, he commented, "But the dinosaurs won't really come back because they're extinct." Indeed. "But maybe after the world ends, it will start all over again and there will be dinosaurs and then people."
Mmm. Kid been reading big bang theory books behind my back?
My mother's entry today has some resonance for me. I never went to grad school, never got that MFA that writing folk seem to consider so important. It's late in the game to do it now and anyway, that's besides the point. I don't want to. I would hate it. I hated college. I hate being told what to learn and how to write.
So the question really becomes: can you learn on your own? When it comes to writing and maybe art too, I think the answer is yes and no. You can but only if you know how to go about it and that you need to teach yourself the craft, that you can't just toss paint on the canvas or words on the page and consider yourself a professional.
I learned in the trenches, so to speak. I learned by showing script after script to agents and producers and other writers, by getting feedback and rewriting and getting more feedback and rewriting yet again. I also read a lot and saw a lot of movies and analyzed everything all the time. But most of all, I learned from two gentlemen who turned out to be cads but who taught me how to write cleanly and from the gut. A master class in writing from two highly paid writers who were trying the role of producer on for size, to my benefit and detriment both.
So yes, I absolutely believe that you can have a solid background and education without ever stepping foot in a classroom. Who came up with the idea that we have to all learn the same way, anyhow?
(And Mom, I bet you made that kid think for days after that. Shook his world.)
Today Cocoa, our black kitten, turned a year old. Itís hard to believe he hasnít been here forever, heís such a fixture. And in a way, maybe he has been here forever, or at least for years before he showed up.
You see, I had a dream. No, a series of dreams. It was shortly after our beloved cat Mithril died, seven years ago this May. Mith was a gray and white longhair with sleek fur, a long body, and a squirrelís bushy tail. I adored him. After he died, I had several dreams about him; lying in that half-asleep aware but drowsing state Iíd feel the imprint of his small body on my pillow or see him saunter down the hall, his tail rising straight up in that happy cat plume. Dan had similar dreams. We both felt deeply comforted, like the dreams were his way of touching base, saying hello and Iím still here, as if he was drifting away from us in stages.
Then there were the other dreams. I had two. The first started with Mithril walking past me. I followed. He disappeared in a tunnel, low to the ground, a kind of cat play structure. And when he came out Ė well, he didnít. Instead a black cat came out. Sleek long fur, a squirrelís bushy tail, an elongated body. Mithril transformed?
The other dream wasnít as distinct but Mithril either changed or ran alongside a black cat, his doppelganger.
Then a friend told me sheíd dreamed about my cat. Oh? I said, not really caring. ďYes, only he was black in the dream. It was strange.Ē
We began looking around for a cat a few months later. Dante the redheaded Turkish Angora was on his way, with periodic updates from his breeder. We wanted a rescue cat to be Danteís companion. One purebred, one mutt, that seemed about right to us. We stopped by all the cat rescue centers, scoured the cages set up in Petco on Saturdays -- every Petco in LA, I think. We even went to shelters, though we found them horribly depressing. Some cats tempted us. They were cute or sweet or so fragile you wanted to nurse them to full happiness. Some were even black longhairs. None were right. We never got that click and so we stopped looking. And then, of course, we had Damian and he was a lot of work as a baby so that was the end of that.
This past spring we started talking about a kitten. Dante's turned into a bit of a slug, tolerating Damianís ministrations but never wanting to play with him. We wanted a lively little creature who would respond to Damian and give him back affection and engagement in full measure. A kitten. It felt like the right time. We were going to start looking over the summer. We talked about it. Planned it. Never quite did it.
One sunny morning at the beginning of June, Dan and Damian came with me to the Sunday morning farmerís market. The cat rescue people were there at the eastern end of the market, just like always. And just like always we stopped by to say hi to the kitties. None of them had ever tugged at us. They mostly seemed like a morose lot. It can be a wonderful thing to rescue a sad cat but weíve spent enough time on our own rescue mission the last three years. We wanted a kitty who was emotionally healthy. So there was no chance weíd find one there.
You know how this ends, donít you? One of the cages had three kittens, siblings: a little gray girl was playing with her gray-and-white sister and pouncing on any human fingers that came her way. Their black hued brother stretched out long and lean, his belly exposed. Snoozing. He looked so relaxed. I asked to see him.
When the rescue lady handed him to me, he curved into my arm and burst into purrs.
We signed the adoption paper then and there.
He still purrs on contact. Heís friendly and funny and goofy and intelligent and completely engaged. He embarked on a win-Dante-over campaign and succeeded in creating an amusing wrestling partner. They sometimes meet in midair like the martial arts magicians in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Heís a bit of an alpha male, though, crowding Dante out of the food area or getting jealous of my attention and demanding equal (or better) space on my lap. He lies in the nest at the top of the cat tree at night and when we walk past, he hangs his head out of it with a clear ďpet me!Ē message. He speaks in chirps, trills and squeaks. He lets us pet his tender tummy and naps all stretched out, a content little hedonist. He's probably the least neurotic being I've ever encountered.
And yes, heís got luxurious long black fur and a long squirrelís tail. And heís exactly what our family needed right now. Someone happy and warm to make us laugh. Is he Mithril returned? Is he Mithís legacy to us, the inheritor of that love? I donít think Iíll ever know. But I do know with certainty that I dreamed him six years before we ever met.
John Scalzi has some very cogent advice for writers. Not so much about writing but rather about attitude. About jealousy and arrogance and not being an ass. He's dead-on. It's hard, though. Hubris usually masks a deep-seated insecurity. Jealousy comes from a gnawing feeling that you'll never get to be in that successful person's shoes. These are tough emotions to combat. But I think in order to become that successful writer (and how you define success is up to you), you need to get over that hangdog snap-and-growl. Get over yourself, you could say. And excising jealousy is a good start.
Oh, but the writing-in-coffeeshops thing? I agree and disagree. I do think a lot of posturing goes on and in most cases not much real writing. But when I drop Damian off at noon and have to loiter in Santa Monica until his three p.m. pickup, I head to the library or a local cafe where I write with my headphones on and try to block out the world. On those days, it's usually the only writing time I have. Use it or lose it. So I use it.
Would I rather be at home? Well, yeah. Then I wouldn't have to overhear annoying conversations full of hot air about the film business or contend with random wet-socks body odor or inhale secondhand smoke through the open door. But I've also grown to like this time. I can't get up to go to the kitchen, I can't find chores or errands to do. I have to sit in a chair and focus on the screen. Sometimes I amaze myself by what comes out.
You work hard to make your house nice. You tear out wallpaper, you scrub and scrape and paint, you refinish floors or put in new flooring, you swap out louvered windows for casement. You work hard. You do it partly to make it attractive to live in, so you can enjoy your surroundings but you do it partly to upgrade the place, remove cosmetic blemishes, create that ďAha! Eureka! Must buy!Ē moment for prospective house hunters in the hypothetical future.
Weíve done some but not all of that work here. Iíve removed wallpaper in Damianís room, the guest room, the living room, and half the dining room. Dan skim plastered the guest room and scraped acoustic popcorn off three ceilings. We paid to replace the louvers with double hung wood frame windows in Damianís room. We stripped years of horrible paint jobs off the kitchen cabinets and gave them a light colorwash to keep the wood grain intact. I stenciled art deco roses in the kitchen. Weíre not done. We have more awfulness to erase. Iím happy with what weíve done and I look forward to the end result of it all, too. But you know? Thereís no telling how much of it will stick in the end. And thatís strange and a little sad.
Damian had a play date today with a friend from school. He and his mom hadnít been over for several months. She loved the guest room, which had been in progress the last time she was here. And when she walked into the kitchen, she said ďOh, pretty.Ē That felt good. Later, after they left, Dan and I stood in the kitchen and looked around. It is pretty. The orange and purple and butcher block and stencilwork make for a cozy country kitchen feel. Weíre not done, it still needs a good floor (the vinyl flooring is chewed up from the demolition work) but thatís this summerís project. But it feels good to be in there, to be proud of our work.
And yet. Dan said, ďYou know, someoneís going to buy this place and put in fancy kitchen cabinetry and this house will lose something when they do.Ē Itíll become like every other fancy remodeled kitchen, he meant. Itíll lose that cozy originality.
The sad thing is, heís right. Iíve talked before about the little house in Miracle Mile, a mile or so south of here, a house we saw when we first were house hunting. The owners had done such an exquisite job with the place I still remember it vividly after three and a half years, such striking and perfect design choices we were tempted to buy it even though it didnít fit any of our criteria. Well, that house was back on the market a few weeks ago. The MLS listing included a number of photos. The new owners had repainted the entire place, obliterating the beauty and replacing it with something much more mundane. Strong colors, yes, appropriate to the Spanish-Moorish style, yes, but odd choices that didnít work next to each other. It breaks my heart. What kind of person would buy that house, notable only for its specific design choices, and wipe out those very qualities that made it unique? I realize we all have different aesthetics and Iím sure the owners thought they were improving the place, but to me itís like they took a work of art and sprayed painted over it with graffiti. Not the artistic kind of graffiti either, but the ďIgor Was HereĒ ego-and-nothing-else kind.
It makes me wonder. Who will buy our house? How will they ďimproveĒ upon our decisions? And why? Is it just a case of stamping your personality on your home environment? Is it an instinctive marking your turf sort of thing? Is it unavoidable? Would we feel it too? We moved into a house with dingy, century-old wallpaper and peeling institutional green paint. It was kind of obvious that we needed to spruce the place up. But if we moved into a house already fixed up with pretty colored walls and pleasant gardens, would we feel the same need to make it ours or would we be happy with what our predecessors had achieved? I like to think weíd be grateful that the work was done and weíd settle in to enjoy it, but I wonder. Part of the fun of owning is to play with your new three dimensional palette. Would we be disappointed if that was already done for us? And what will this houseís next owners think of our work here? Will they think it's pretty? Will they change it anyway?
Damian started giggling at dinner. He was looking at his milk and eating his alphatots that not coincidentally spelled the word "milk." (After he read the word, he requested the drink.) He said, "I thought of something funny." When we asked what, he said, "I thought of a story about mice."
Here's his story:
Once some mice had a cup of milk and they went to the kitchen to get a wheel of cheese. But a cat was in the kitchen and saw the mice. So the mice ran away. They didnít even realize that they tilted the cup. The cup made a milk trail. The cat followed the milk trail and drank up the spilled milk and found the mice. The mice hid quickly. The cat wasnít able to catch those mice because the mice were too fast. The cat pounced on the mice and tried to eat them but all he got was nothing.
Okay, maybe this isn't that interesting to anyone but us. But the fact that he had no real props and no prior game pertaining to the story means something to us. And the fact that he was giggling, that too.
Tonight I picked up a book I got from the library on a whim. Itís called something like Money Makeover (itís not in front of me and Iím too lazy to get up); itís one of those books with highlights and exhortations, the written equivalent of a rabble rousing preacher man at church services. Everything is broken down into the simplest form, predigested and formulated to burn the Program into your brain. Money for Dummies, basically. You can skim a book like this and get the gist.
Not that itís wrong, mind you. Iím fairly certain from looking at the first two chapters that the premise is that debt is evil and living within your means Ė living on cash, not credit Ė is the only way to go. Which is commonsense, really. The siren call of the credit card, why pay today what you can put off till tomorrow, letís buy everything in sight, that will just get you deeper into the hole. Everyone knows that. Sometimes we do it anyway. I was talking to a sales guy yesterday, he was here to tell us how much his central air conditioning would cost. Which in itself is financially foolhardy but oh-my-god, our quality of life this summer? Infinitely better.
Anyway, he was talking about the insanity of our local housing market, guessing what our house was worth a few years ago and what itís worth now and only exaggerating a little. Heíd seen our refi paperwork, so I told him we were just refinancing to turn an adjustable rate into a fixed rate mortgage. Financially prudent, thatís us. (Well, not really, but we try.) He said he runs credit checks on people all the time for their six-months no-interest no-payment plan and often theyíve accumulated tons of equity and then refinanced and pulled all the money back out in the form of credit lines and second mortgages. But of course they now have to pay those huge monthly bills. Itís not free money. And what happens if and when the housing market crashes or even bobbles a little? These people will have debt with no collateral. If they sell their houses then, that wouldnít cover the note on it. Craziness. Living on borrowed time. Living in the now and saying to hell with the future.
This author is right, we canít live like that. Itís self-destructive. On the other hand, did you know how we got this house? The one that saved our financial asses and has given us boatloads of equity? With zero down and a horrible interest rate. We took a huge gamble, in other words. For a year we paid a vastly higher monthly note than we could afford, hoping weíd gain enough equity to refinance down to something reasonable. Guess what? It worked. If we hadnít tried, weíd still be renting. Weíd have no equity at all. And that equity helps me sleep at night. If Dan were to lose his job tomorrow and not get anything for a year or two, we could sell the house and go back to renting. Live on the profit until we get a foothold again. Thatís security. Thatís why we own.
So where do you draw the line? How do you know when itís okay to borrow and when itís not? When itís sane and when insane? Short of a crystal ball, you donít. Not really. You just have to learn as much as you can about what youíre getting into and then try to live prudently, wisely, but not necessarily risk-free. Just take careful risks.
Then there are other kinds of decisions. Quality of life ones like the central air, which combined with a new furnace may make sense because weíre buying cleaner air, no more subtle carbon monoxide poisoning, no more asbestos in the ducts, and lower heating bills. But there are also bigger kinds of quality of life ones. Like right now weíre paying more than we can afford for Damianís three-times-a-week private preschool. Idiotic if you look at it on paper. Heís in a non-public pre-K fifteen hours a week. (Non-public means it's technically private but the school district pays his tuition, not us.) Heís getting a great education there. But he needs this time with neurotypical children to learn how to interact with them and to build his confidence for kindergarten next year. As far as Iím concerned, itís money well spent. Itís a tangible intangible and weíre not willing to pare it out of our budget so we can save a few (thousand) bucks this year. Weíre investing in the future in this case too, just not the money kind.
Itís not like we can use this argument for everything that comes down the pike that sounds like fun. But sometimes when you want a thing badly enough, you can twist the logical centers in your brain into pretzels to make it sound reasonable. How can you tell when your arguments are sensible and when theyíre not? I think sometimes you do know. Your gut tells you. Other times you have to wing it.
Iím planning to read or at least skim the rest of the book. I might glean a few tips and I know itíll help me get into a saving-not-spending mindset, useful for Danís yearly work hiatus, which is coming up soon. But as with all simplistic fix-your-life concepts, there are shades of gray I know it wonít cover.
(warning: mild bodily function talk ahead)
Damian goes through short phases of interest in mechanics: creating lego towers and block walls, followed by long fallow periods. Right now he's into Kid Knex, which are like tinkertoys but plastic and easier as well as more expressive. He looks at the illustrations that came with the box and puts together his variants on the images. It's very cool.
Well, Monday morning while Damian was off at school Dan told me to come take a look at what Damian had done.
Here's the original illustration:
A simple stick figure person, right?
Here's what he did:
He added eyes, making it more human. He also added... um, what's that yellow thing sticking out? Hmm. He made the person male, didn't he?
We got a giggle out of it. It seemed like a developmentally appropriate interest. But what was that contraption below the guy? What did Damian have in mind?
When Damian got home that afternoon, he told me that he'd built something he wanted to show me. That it was a person peeing. The contraption? A toilet. See those blue wedges? Water splashing up. The yellow rods? Pee. The other rods? Well, he ran out of yellow.
This is even more developmentally appropriate. He's never gone through that poopyhead joke phase. I think this is his more inventive version thereof. I'm tickled pink. Or is that yellow?
Very tired. Eyes sting. Need to sleep. Brain hurts. Bed beckons. Body aches. Oh, those soft sheets. Mmm.
Good night, all.
More substance tomorrow, I hope.
So they found Spalding Grayís body a week or so ago. In the East River. I canít speak to the suicidal impulse that overwhelms at an unexpected moment (heíd talked to his kids before boarding the Staten Island Ferry, telling them heíd see them in a few hours). I canít speak to what the man was feeling right then. I canít speak to anything really, except that it makes me sad.
I met him once. I didnít get to know him, at least not directly. It was at a wedding. He and his girlfriend (they later married) were close friends of the bride and groom. The bride was my boss at the time, a talented and outgoing film editor. I knew Spalding Grey from her descriptions of dinner parties and outings. He sounded sardonic and wry and fun in a dark New Yorker sort of way. I spoke to him briefly at the reception. I had nothing much to say and he had less. I respected that, partly because I had a sense of who he was.
I saw him perform once in person (I think it was Grayís Anatomy) and once on film (Swimming to Cambodia). I found his delivery oddly distant, a cognitive dissonance with the deeply personal, sometimes difficult subject matter. He was nevertheless a magnetic presence for all that. He wove a carpet of words, a tapestry, his voice modulation shaping the threads of the story as it built to a finale.
He had a small part in a TV movie I worked on. He was terrible, fumbling his line reading, his body language stiff and awkward. He couldnít make it real. Itís odd because he was an extremely good performer when he played himself. He was good at dredging up his discomfort and neurosis, he was extremely witty, he performed well sitting at a table with his glass of water and his mike, shaping the stories of his pain for our pleasure.
No more stories. Just silence in the winter-cold water. Fare thee well, Spalding. The world will miss you.
Damian emerged from his bath tonight clutching a small rubber frog named Emerald. When he got up on the bed beside me, he found an identical green rubber frog namedÖ Emerald. The following conversation ensued (bear in mind, Damian held a frog in each fist and voiced both of them):
ďWho are you?Ē
ďIím Emerald, who are you?Ē
ďNo youíre not!Ē
ďYes I am!Ē
ďNo youíre not, Iím Emerald!Ē
ďWell, Iím Emerald and youíre Emerald too because weíre both green and all frogs are green except some other frogs who are different colors.Ē
It degenerated quickly into a fight, the frogs making sorties across Damianís thighs, rolling around like our cats do when they wrestle. But the frogs, unlike the cats, were also talking. Their battle was also interrupted periodically for pajama-donning activities. When I offered a white sock to Damian, one of the frogs grabbed it.
ďI can smush you on the head with this flying sock,Ē exclaimed the apparel-bearing Emerald.
ďWell I can fly with the sock and geep you because Iím smart,Ē retorted the other Emerald, grabbing the sock away.
Dan declared tonightís lying-down story was going to be entitled Geep from the Deep. Damian decided I should write it because Iím a writer, that it should be a chapter book and that when I was done writing it, Daddy could read it to him as a bedtime story that very night.
He then began contemplating the life of a writer. ďYou have to be smart to be a writer because you have to remember things. Like the title of the book and what happened. You have to be smart like me.Ē
Indeed, kid. Indeed.
Iím tempted to write a chapter book for kids titled Geep from the Deep, complete with fighting frogs and flying socks. But I find I prefer the original, told in a childís voice.
I miss Sex and the City. I miss curling up on the couch with Dan, both of us nursing cups of warm tea while watching these four women get into trouble and quip about it and always survive.
We became involved somewhere in the middle of the run. When we got TiVO last year, we recorded the reruns of earlier seasons and caught up. It was fascinating. The show began probably much more like the source material: flip and ironic and annoyingly superficial. Carrie was the iconic Single Woman, her friends were all paper-thin stereotypes. Samantha the slut, Charlotte the romantic (yin to Samanthaís yang) and Miranda the cynic. They were all cynical, of course, except for Charlotte, but Miranda could go further with it, adding ironic commentary to everyone elseís lives. Carrie spoke to the camera at first, a device which worked in Ferris Buellerís Day Off, but not so much here. And all the men were horrors, dating war stories every one. Except Big, who was a charming ass and thus a hair more three dimensional.
Sounds dreadful, doesnít it? But it wasnít, it was catty fun. Like a good, malicious gossip session with a girlfriend. And it evolved, which was the surprising part. Most good shows start strong, hit their stride by the second half of the first season, and have maybe one more good season before they go downhill, usually because the showís creator leaves and the head writer who replaces him or her is copying someone elseís formula rather than writing from the original gut-level spark that fired up the first writer.
Sex and the City wasnít like that. It got stronger over time as they deepened the premise and let the characters feel more true emotions. Samantha fell in love. With a Donald Trump clone of cad, but still. Charlotte discovered her fairy tale true love wasnít all that after all. Carrie had her heart broken and lived and moved on, but gradually and in stages, the way we do. I still winced at the male portrayals (Charlotteís straightlaced WASP first husband Troy would be unbearably caricatured if it wasnít for Kyle McLachlanís nuanced acting) but the show became much more emotionally true overall. Also much less of a laugh fest. I recently read a quote from the showrunner that said it went from sitcom (all about the laughs) to comedy (as in comedy of life). This is true, I guess. But I think it was more about the way it hurts to be single. Also sometimes the misery of marriage, but mostly how you come close and then get shafted, but you long for a real connection, that elusive right fit. And how hard that is to find. So many nights when we watched the end credits, Dan and I ended up quiet. Holding hands. So glad to be together. Not out there, painfully alone like Carrie and her friends. Because the show made it seem painful indeed.
A lot has been written about how the showís true love affair was between the four women and yes, I loved that aspect even though it too was exaggerated and idealized. I often felt jealous that they had that, that they could get together for brunch every week and call each other to talk about anything and nothing and show up at each otherís doors when they each most needed it. I have some bits of that with friends but not all together. (Partly because we donít live close enough for a subway ride.) I loved, though, that the women had disagreements and hissy fits and cold silences too. That they had to deal with each other, not just lean on each other. And that was indeed a huge part of the show.
But letís be honest, it was really all about the men. How the men reflected the womenís desires, self-images, how they even charted the womenís growth. Samantha ended up with a man who, though not the brightest flashlight in the drawer, taught her how to love by accepting her protestations that she wouldnít and, well, accepting her completely. On her terms. Which changed as a result. How often does a cynical woman with a hard shell get unconditional love? And Charlotte accepted a man who fit none of her romantic requirements (he was almost the anti-Romantic) and in fact became Jewish to fit into his world better, thus metaphorically shedding her upper crust WASP skin. I admit, I had a problem with this part of her storyline from a feminist POV, but they handled it fairly well. Miranda, of course, ended up with Steve the bartender, physical to her intellectual, rough to her smooth, unread to her, well, read. And yet I believed that relationship and found it the most satisfying of all. Maybe because they came to it in stages through the course of the entire series.
Carrie I hate to discuss. I found the final supposed choice between Alec the rich self centered Russian and Big the rich formerly self centered American facile and not properly explored. I guess Carrie ends up true to herself by coming back to New York, but why should she or we believe Big has really changed? And why is he the one for her? And what does it mean that heís returned? And what does it mean for her? Has she grown at all or is she back at the beginning?
But in the end, if you leave Carrie out of the equation, the show was about finding true love and discovering it wasnít what youíd expected. That rings truest of all to me. Because every time I try to imagine the future, Iím wrong. Even if Iím right Iím wrong. Because thatís how it works. Iím glad Sex and the City got that (mostly) right.
I had an interesting dream last night. I donít remember much anymore, unfortunately, but I know I was in a large group of people Ė women, I think. And I was telling them something with a voice of authority because this particular something was a thing I knew a lot about. They liked what I had to say and it spawned a long conversation. Then I said I had to go.
Hereís the interesting part: as I was saying goodbye, the main woman, the groupís leader or main speaker or something, said ďHow do you know this? What are your credentials?Ē
I replied: ďI donít have any. I lived it and thatís plenty.Ē Then I walked out.
I remember this moment vividly, almost as if it happened in my waking life. I was gloating and shaking at the same time. Proud that I knew my value, that I meant my words. Also astonished at myself.
It doesnít take a dream analyst to interpret this one.
For many years, I had real credentials. I attended a prestigious university where I didnít entirely goof off, then I worked as an assistant editor on highly respected TV shows and well known schlocky horror movies. It wasnít my work on display but it was a list and people could nod and say ďOh yes,Ē and it felt safe.
After that, I had what Iíd call fake credentials. I was trying to make it as a screenwriter and I always had something in the works. I could talk about options and promises and agents and hope. After a while, I could talk about competition placements and even a tiny bit of income. (Miniscule, trust me. My bank balance didnít even notice.) It was all air but it still sounded like something even though it wasn't. And that mattered to me, that it sounded like value.
And then? Well, I donít have any credentials at all now. I parent and I write. Someday Iíll be published, maybe even sooner than someday. And that will be important for the validation and the chance to get my words out there, but in the end it is not the main event. Itís the corollary to the main event. Which is living it. I know that now.
Tomorrow marks a week since I unofficially left Weight Watchers and stopped counting points. It feels so strange; I donít write down every bite anymore and yet I still consider myself on a weight loss plan. Just a more idiosyncratic one. I find myself running tallies in my head, toting up the overall value of dinner, and then realizing, duh, I donít have that little notebook in my everpresent backpack anymore. Iím free!
Donít get me wrong, I think journaling your food intake is a very good idea. Without weighing and measuring my food, constantly adding everything up, Iíd never have lost twenty three pounds. But the point is to give myself a little more breathing room now. To see if I can do this without quite the same obsessive worry, that feeling I was always about to go over my points allotment, the guilt when I did go over even if it was planned and I still had flex points left. That feeling of being trapped inside a box that said Target: Twenty Points A Day. Instead of all that, I want to listen to my body and see what Iíve learned from the past six months. See if I can make this work on my own terms.
How did I do this week? Well, itís been interesting. Ironically, I think Iíve stayed within my points allotment (including flex points, that is). Iíve learned new eating habits over the past months and theyíve stuck. I eat broccoli with a sprinkle of miso dressing or air-popped popcorn or goat cheese on a Wasa cracker (ie: edible cardboard) for a late afternoon snack now, and that feels natural. When I crave chocolate, I eat a Haagen Dazs chocolate sorbet bar (two points). I eat a chicken thigh for dinner instead of thigh plus drumstick. I havenít fallen off the wagon yet.
I do give myself some freedom, though. Yesterday I had eggs benedict with smoked salmon and a lemony homemade hollandaise sauce. It was yummy. It made me happy. I donít regret it. But I was doing that on Weight Watcherís too; flex points are great for that kind of occasional indulgence. So I think Iím still good to go. Which means Iíve learned the necessary lessons. Or so it seems right now, though I realize Week One off the WW plan is early days yet.
One thing is different, though. Iím hungry a lot more. Ravenously hungry. Eat a whole horse hungry. Every three hours. I had to go shopping today to have enough stuff so I wouldnít accidentally gulp down one of the cats in my frantic hunger. Itís like Iím back at the beginning of the diet and my body hasnít adjusted to the lower calorie intake yet.
This is very weird. Either Iím pregnant (god forbid) or my now-daily workout is paying off. Lifting weights every other day, aerobics on off days. Building muscle, burning fat. I can feel firm bulges in my lower back now, on either side of my spine. I donít think Iíve ever had muscles there. Iím not sure what theyíre supposed to do, but theyíre kind of cool. I just hope the hunger subsides. Oh yes, and that my scale shows some new numbers. Lower ones. And soon. Next week would be good.
I like this, though. I like being on my own. Well, not entirely on my own, since Dan is also working out more now and eating better; heís my fitness buddy. But Iím without that corporate stamp of approval in my official little passport. I liked Weight Watchers because I had felt so lost without it, groping for answers in the dark. How much to eat, what kind of food was best. How to handle the cravings. Now I know. And the truth is, Iím not a joining-the-club kind of person. Iíd rather do things on my own or with friends. Not within a larger structure. So this suits me fine.
As long as it works.
When Damian got home tonight, he ran up to me with a big grin and told me he wanted to go out to eat. He wanted to go to his favorite restaurant and it begins with a C. It also has a P and the last letter sounds like ďkkkĒ but isnít C. Itís K. So we went to California Pizza Kitchen. What can you do when a child smiles at you so winningly?
As we walked to our booth, I saw something strange: a man and a woman sitting across from each other, both talking on their cell phones instead of to each other. ďHow LA,Ē I thought, and slipped into the booth next to theirs. Where I shamelessly eavesdropped.
The manís voice was penetrating, it wasnít hard to hear most of his conversation. He was talking about someone having an MRI, about tests and diagnoses and prognoses as yet unknown. Thatís when I understood the womanís haggard face, the way they spoke, not to each other, but each into their phone, their lifeline, their way to communicate to the people who needed to know. Iím guessing that these two werenít close, that they were brought together by this crisis and their mutual feelings for the person in trouble.
It was a baby. He was talking about a newborn baby. The mom was spending her days back and forth between the hospital and the hotel across the street where she would catch a few moments of sleep. ďDonít try to stop a lactating woman!Ē the man said on the phone.
I remember photographs of Damianís cousin, born just two months after him but so fragile, with a damaged heart and lung. The only photos we saw were of him in the NICU crib, tubes running from every limb. Big eyes, tiny baby. He didnít survive, though they tried everything. At the time, with a little one of my own, I felt almost guilty but so grateful for his health and vigor, for his coos and cries.
And this baby, the one I heard about tonight, is in the very hospital where Damian was born. His birth was precarious, dangerous. Horrible, if you want to know. I havenít talked about it here. Even after nearly six years, itís still too raw. We were so lucky that he was healthy, that he had no meconium in his lungs, and that his heart was beating regularly after the stress of that birth. I feel sick to my stomach just thinking about it. Imagining life in the NICU for that unknown baby and his family.
The oddest thing, though, was the man in that booth. As Dan commented, the guy seemed relaxed. He had a healthy appetite. I think he was the father, Iím pretty sure he was. The way he talked, about the money issues involved with the hospital stay (ďMoneyís not important at a time like thisĒ) and about the mom, it sure seemed like it. But he was far more detached than I could have been or Dan could have been. I make no judgments. I know everyone responds differently to intense stress. It could be that heíll fall apart six months from now. It was just a singular moment, a glimpse into someone elseís crisis. You canít help imposing your own feelings onto them, like a mirrored reflection of your mental state and your memories. But though we can overhear all we want, we know nothing of the reality in the next booth.
This one about some of Damian's current issues. Well, one. But probably the central piece.
My dear friend Chris, who sometimes comments here, has done something brave and wonderful, along with her partner Rachel and eight other couples: they applied for marriage licenses in Orangeburg (coincidentally Dan's hometown) knowing they'd be turned down. They did it so they could form a plaintiff's suit instead of merely letting the officials performing the marriages become defendants. I'm proud as hell of them.
Oh, and happy seventh anniversary, guys. Seems like yesterday!
Allison has the most original pregnancy announcement I think I've ever read. Jessamyn hasn't updated yet (I imagine she's still recovering from the no-doubt intense experience) but is now mom to a baby girl. Congratulations to both of you! I remember when such announcements made me insanely jealous because I couldn't seem to get pregnant myself. I remember, too, being pregnant. Oh, so well. The solid mass inside my abdomen like an iron box filled with the most unusual treasure. The first tiny twitters like a tentative butterfly. The roiling mass as he grew under my skin, a dolphin rolling up near the surface and then submerging again. And then the baby. That tiny red face, that curved body, still shaped for a cramped space, those impossibly small fingernails. Late night nursing sessions. Midday nursing sessions. Pretty much wall to wall nursing sessions. But the growing awareness that this was a person, his character emerging week by week. The first smile, the first laugh, the first roll-over, the first bit of locomotion as my infant crawled to become a baby who walked and became a toddler who ran and became a child.
We always thought we'd have two children. We always thought at some point it would be time to try, that we'd know. It never was. It never felt right. In fact, it felt dead wrong. I deeply, sometimes painfully regret that child that isn't. But I also relish and even need my growing freedom. Life is complicated. So I live vicariously now, through other mothers' babies. Write about yours lots, okay guys? (And Jessie, does your pregnancy journal become a baby journal now?)
Iím leaving Weight Watchers. Why does it feel so much like breaking up with a needy boyfriend? I know theyíll try to woo me back with cards and letters, guilt inducing ďyou canít go it alone, weíre meant for each otherĒ messages. Theyíd call and leave pathetic voice mail, Iím sure, complete with sniffles and forlorn tones, but they donít have my phone number. Thank god for that.
Iím leaving Weight Watchers and Iím a little nervous about it. Not sure if itís the right thing to do. Itís been a kind of security blanket, a weekly reminder that Iím so serious about this, Iím paying money so someone else can write down my weight. And itís been good to me. Very good. Itís gotten me past that ten-pounds-down stuff-your-face-now wall Iíve faced too many times in the past. The ritual of the meetings, the discipline involved in weighing and measuring every bite, writing it all down in a little book and toting up the totals, all of that has been crucial, I think.
But Iíve been spinning my wheels since early November. I cycled up and down (and up and down) through the same two pounds for the two last months of 2003, then managed to slip down two for real in January/February and now am cycling through that new set of numbers, seeing them repeat and repeat and repeat on the scale. And I'm staying on the program, writing down my points and staying within the range and exercising regularly. And yet. Hello scale, my dearest enemy.
Somethingís off. I know weight loss slows as you get closer to your goal, and right now Iím around fifteen pounds or so from mine but still. This is unbelievably frustrating. I go to weigh-ins and lo! Iíve lost an ounce! (And they reassure me, ďhey, at least youíre maintainingĒ Ė gee, thanks.) Or I go and Iím down a whole pound and a half (last week Ė and woo fucking hoo, half of that was weight Iíd lost the previous week that simply didnít show up on that morning and the other half was dehydration). Or I go and Iím up a pound (yesterday, and the woman gave me a sad sort of look as I shrugged and tried to look nonchalant) but I know because I weigh myself every morning that the up-a-pound is as false as the down-a-pound-and-a-half.
And then if I stay for the meeting, people are saying the same things that were interesting six months ago but not so much now, and the topics are the same as they were back then, and I recognize only a few people in the room now, and I no longer feel part of that isn't-this-great? community.
Donít get me wrong. I think Weight Watchers rocks. I just think itís time for a break. Maybe a permanent break, but I donít know that for sure.
What I do know is that I donít want to take a break from losing weight. This is too important to me for a myriad of reasons, emotional and health-related. But Iíve been able to lose ten pounds at a time in the past without any outside help, no specific structure. I was never as rigorous about the dieting part but I was more intensive with the workouts. So this month Iíll try my damnedest to exercise six times a week (three times cardio, ie: Nordic Track and three times weightlifting/ab crunches/pushups) and work to maintain my smaller portion sizes and healthy/lowfat snacking habits and also make a point of, yíknow, COOKING. From Weight Watchers cookbooks (and any others I can dig up Ė feel free to recommend some). Healthy, low calorie/fat/points food. I haven't been so good about that. Eating low points, yes, but cooking real meals? Not so much. Who has time? But if it's important enough, I can find the time. And it's important enough. If I feel well fed, I can stick with this.
Yes, Iím nervous about this change. Oh yes. But itís not like it's a forever commitment. If Iíve gained even as much as two pounds by the end of March, back I go to the weigh ins and the half hour meetings. But maybe Ė just maybe Ė I need to do this, to shake things up and try this on my own and see whether it still works. Or even works better.
I read this article in the LA Times today and immediately got depressed. Well, more depressed. Yesterdayís bill-paying stint led to last nightís entry. This, however, sucks more. Not that itís exactly news. Middle class families cannot buy houses in our local real estate market. For example:
Kristin and Jayce Murphy, after looking for a year and bidding on four homes, have decided to stay in their Fairfax area rental and wait it out.
The coupleís household income of about $100,000 annually is too high for them to receive FHA help but not high enough for them to buy a satisfactory home at today's prices. Their decision to give up came after realizing they were putting offers on homes they felt were subpar.
"We were really settling," said Kristin Murphy, 38, nonprofit project manager at KCRW-FM. "We would say to ourselves, 'Gee that house is only $350,000 for 700 square feet and one bedroom and one bath.' "
Such luxury, huh?
It's insane. Houses are getting ten, twenty, even thirty bids the second they hit the market. Buyers canít complain about basic problems, like cracks in the foundation or they'll lose the house. And the only buyers who are winning this race are the ones who can plunk down hard cash with no contingencies, which means if you already own a house you have to sell it before you even look for a new one, which is an enormous gamble because the housing prices are going up 25% per year. And with so few houses on the market, it can take a long time to find the right one. At which point the selfsame house is worth more but your down payment is the same because you already sold your place. Which means youíre priced out of the market because you sold your house so you could get into the market. A real catch 22, no? Starter homes, according to this article Ė and I would concur based on my own research Ė will cost you $700K to 800K, and thatís today. Next year? $900K to a cool million if this keeps up.
Conventional wisdom says wait until the market cools down because it always does. But thereís no reason to think this is a bubble. There are more people immigrating to California every year (definitely including this gridlocked city), and how can you build new houses without tearing down buildings? You canít. So itís a simple equation. A flood of buyers, too few houses available, prices go up. And up. And up.
All of which should be fine with me. I mean, we own our house. And thank god for that. We bought it three years ago, in the proverbial nick of time. As it was, we had to compromise. If weíd waited another year, we couldnít have found a compromise we could live with. Three years later, our humble house wedged between ugly-ass apartment buildings in an up-and-coming but convenient neighborhood with nearby restaurants and malls and such? Has doubled in value. In three years. What kind of investment does that? But we canít cash out because we still have to live in this city. When we bought the place, we expected to stay here, oh, three years and then move on. Well, guess what? We canít move on. Because the market is so insane, weíd need an extra hundred thou or maybe two or we end up with something thatís an equal compromise. Another starter home. And whatís the point of that?
So Iím looking around me tonight and liking my house. Itís not everything we want. Well, the neighbors arenít everything weíd want. The house, though smallish, is awfully pretty. And thereís a Whole Foods nearby. And oh, hell, itís not that bad. Could be worse. Itís justÖ itís a good first house. I donít want it to also be a last house. Not unless we buy land somewhere better and put the house on a truck, cart it to a more desirable block. And weíd have to be able to afford the land. Not gonna happen, not unless something changes.
But thatís just me and us and our myopic view of the world. The bigger picture is worse. I realize that home owning isnít the be-all and end-all, and I have plenty of friends who donít own. Hell, I grew up in a rambling, sunny rent controlled apartment on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and nobody owned back then. But itís very difficult to create a nest egg without property of your own. With a house, youíre paying in every year for thirty years and then youíre done and you have a place to live as you grow old or you can cash out and have a real source of income for your last years (my grandmother did this and itís supporting her in a nursing home right now). Itís a security blanket. Itís a safety net. Itís your house.
Itís bad enough that working class folk canít do this. Now middle class folk canít. You rent, you have nothing. When a hundred thousand a year isnít a big enough income to buy more than a closet, thereís something seriously wrong. Worse, when the housing prices go up and up like this, rental prices follow suit. If youíre not lucky enough to have rent control, you might be priced out of your own home in a few years. Thatís scary. The gap between rich and poor is now a gap between rich and middle class. Itís a strange world. A mad, sad, bad world.
The problem with money is that it sits there mocking you with what you canít have and canít do.
The problem with credit cards is that they let you buy and do all those things because oh, youíll just pay later.
I want a candlelit dinner at the French Laundry.
I want to stay at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego.
I want to fly east for a month this summer, see family and spend money hand over fist.
I want to visit Hawaii, Greece, Japan, Denmark, Morocco, Kenya, Brazil. At least. And go back to everywhere I've been except maybe Detroit.
I want central air.
I want to pay someone else to tile our kitchen floor.
I want to buy fancy tiles, too.
I want new shoes. Lots of new shoes. Snazzy and not so snazzy. Walking shoes, mostly. Also pretty ones.
I want new jeans. I want them in every color The Gap has. I want to toss them out and buy new ones when I lose more weight (if I ever get past this semi-plateau).
I want a digital Rebel camera; Iím saving my pennies for that anyway but I want it now, if not sooner.
I want to buy books in hardcover, not wait till paperback or take them out of the library, which ends up often costing more money anyway because of the dratted fines.
I want to try Kobe beef. And Beluga caviar. And black truffles, the kind the pigs dig out. By the plateful.
I want a Jacuzzi on our back deck. Of our new house. On a tree lined street. Which I want to buy too.
I want to pay a babysitter twelve bucks an hour and not flinch, then go out and dance till dawn or at least enjoy dinner and a movie. Both in the same night, to boot.
I want to try a weekend at an upscale spa, mud baths and herbal masks and beautiful scenery and massages and incredible meals.
I want a horse. Well, maybe not. But maybe, what the hell.
And a helicopter, for that matter.
And a tree. Tall and strong and leafy, to lean against on a hot summer day and read a book. And build a tree house in its branches. And put a swing hanging down from the thickest branch. A kind that turns deep red-gold in the fall.
Also a chauffer.
And a hybrid Lexus. Hey, theyíre coming out next year, right?
And a cook. Or at least lots of free time to cook my own gourmet meals.
Maybe Iíll just pay for a ride on a helicopter, come to think of it. Just one ride. That wouldnít rack up too much visa debt.
Did I mention I want a new house? On an acre of land but easily accessible to everything. And beautiful, with lots of character, either old but in perfect condition or new and wonderfully interesting, not a McMansion.
Can I buy some close friends that live nearby? Or should I just buy my close friends houses nearby so they can move here?
I want to buy a new president, one who makes sense and has a heart that beats with real blood that he hasnít already sold to big corporations. How much would that cost, do you think?
I want to buy floor time therapy for every child compromised by autism. Ten hours a week with a skilled therapist.
I want to buy freedom for the overworked and overwhelmed. I want to buy fair wages for all.
I want to buy clean water, air, and land. More frogs, their thin permeable skins unpolluted and healthy.
Okay, back to me. I want to buy velvet and silk and gold and Maryland blue crab and fresh raspberries and pear jam to eat while wrapped in my silks and bread pudding flown in from New Orleans to eat after and a huge bubbly clawfoot bathtub and a deep but firm king sized bed and 1020 thread count sheets and sheer curtains that blow in the gentle breeze which Iíll buy too. And sunshine and good times and laughter. I want to buy lots of laughter.
I think I need to cut up my credit cards. I can barter for the laughter and save up for the rest.
In the car on the way home:
"Mommy, my juice is squeaking!" (Damian was drinking watered down juice from a covered cup with a straw.)
"I can hear it." (It was in fact squeaking. Most likely the straw wasn't attached firmly enough and was letting in air.)
"Next time you go to the grocery store, you need to buy edible oil to make it stop squeaking."
He reminded me again as we left the car half an hour later. I'll have to put it on my list. Juice bottle lubricator, a/k/a edible oil. (Or maybe I'll just fasten the straw on more securely next time. But shhh, don't tell Damian.)
Is this interesting to anyone besides me? Not that itíll affect what I write here Ė I need to record this absurd process Ė- but Iím curious.
So. The new chapter in the school search saga. Yesterday morning I got up ridiculously early to trek across town for a school tour. It took even longer than Iíd feared. Forty five minutes on clear roads. God knows what it would be like in heavy traffic with stops to let kids off the bus. Damian would get home after dark. No thanks.
Still, I mused as I drove on curvy roads through winter-watered green hills, itís so peaceful up here. Like a different world. We could move up here. Not to a house, we couldnít afford a one room bungalow in that part of town, but maybe a condo. It might be a pleasant change of pace. Sure is pretty up here.
Then I went on the tour. Well. The school looks fairly good. Pleasant grounds, attentive kids, colorful classrooms, though I had some hesitations. For reasons I canít articulate, it doesnít feel like the best fit. But the people on the tour, including the woman giving the tour Ė well, they were all very much of that part of town. The parent giving the tour was gaunt, her skin stretched taut across her skull. Her hair perfectly coiffed, sprayed and airbrushed, her clothes ultrafashionable. She was sleek like a ferret. Super nice and friendly in that California way. Pleasant enough, yes, but a school filled with parents like that? Arranging play dates with their children? The only person on the tour I related to turned out to be the only other one from outside the local area. Tells you something, doesnít it?
An interesting tidbit: the kindergarten classes there are crowded with local kids. They attend the school for a year and then switch to private school Ė and repeat the same grade. Their parents plan it this way ahead of time. Why not just stay in preschool an extra year? Is it just so their kids can shine academically in the private school after having gotten an actual kindergarten experience ahead of time? So they can seem gifted, ahead of the curve? Is this a form of stacking the deck?
Iím glad I went, though. I picked up an application. We need to choose one of the five charter schools in this particular area. They have a compact. One of the five is also in an upscale area, but itís closer to home and also closer to where we want to move. They accept roughly half the out-of-area applicants. Iíll check the place out, probably apply. The head of Damianís current school says itís a good place. I have still have some hesitation. The woman on the phone assumed I was in the local district. Which means most kids who go there are. Which means Damian will be an outsider. Which is not good. Maybe we should be looking at townhouses and condos there? I like the neighborhood. The people seem a little less tightly wound than the other place.
Or maybe itíd be fine for him to commute. Itís probably half an hour from here. Weíd have to see if he gets in. If we decide to send him. If itís the best choice. If if if.
Thereís another issue, a big one. This may be a concern in every school around here, I donít yet know. But I donít like it. In fact, it infuriates me. Iíve heard before that some (a lot of?) schools try to block children with special needs from enrolling. Now I know how. The charter school application I picked up yesterday asked for a bunch of relevant information: does your child have a sibling in the school, how old is your child, how can we contact you? That sort of thing. It also asked something else. Now, remember, this application will be tossed into a box and pulled out in a completely random lottery. If your slip of paper is pulled, you then fill out an enrollment form with more useful information.
So then why did this half-sized piece of paper have a section in it asking if your child has been assessed for and qualifies for any of the following special services and instructing you in that case to attach said childís IEP? The acronyms that followed included things like OHI (Other Health Impaired) and SED (Severe Emotional Disturbance). These are not services, these are diagnoses. Interestingly, it left off ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and AUT (Autism). Also interestingly, I have decided not to fill out that portion of the form. I have no problems saying this in my public blog. I have a huge problem with the question on the form. If they need it before the lottery, that means they use it before the lottery and the only way this would happen is if they remove certain applications from the pool.
This is discrimination, pure and simple. Itís also a clear violation of my sonís right to a free and appropriate education. He has the same right to attend a charter school as any other child in this district. I refuse to fill out a form that could abrogate this right. If they accept him and then say he canít come because I didnít fill out the form correctly, I am willing to take them to court. These are not independent charters like the one that may not have enough money for services for Damian. These are fully funded district schools with a charter component. They already have services in place. Speech and OT. Shadow aides in most of the classrooms at the one I saw yesterday. They have to have all this for the local kids. They just donít want non-local kids with the same issues. Screw that.
Anyway, thereís no AUT checkbox. What was I supposed to do?
Two more charter schools to check out. At least four local schools I can consider for open enrollment. If, that is, they will consider my child. Iíve been told by one parent at the highest-rated of these schools that if you have a child with an IEP, you have to volunteer at the school starting right now, make yourself indispensable. Offset your childís negative with your own positive, in other words. Other kids, ones without IEPs? They get in no problem. No volunteering needed. Iím not that interested in this particular school for other reasons; I donít think itís the best choice for Damian. But is that what I have to do to get Damian into a decent public school? Prove that heís worthy by licking their boots? It disgusts me. Heís worthy because heís a cool kid. Look beyond the diagnosis, people.
I hate this.
Dan has been working extremely late the last couple of nights, just as he did last week. This means, among other things, that Iím reading Damian his books at night; the bedtime ritual is normally something we split up but now Iím doing all of it. (Who else is going to? The cats?) Last night I picked up Green Eggs and Ham. Itís familiar and comforting and Seuss is always fun to read aloud. I love his cadences. Chapter books are great but sometimes what you really need is a good short picture book. A single gulp of story.
This time, just for grins, I had Damian read some words. Iíd say ďI will not eat them in aĒ and wait for him to parse out ďbox.Ē Which heíd do. There are some long diatribes in that book, the large guy ranting about how many places and with how many beings he will not ingest the green food. I let Damian read every single one of the places, objects, and animals. Box, fox, house, mouse, boat, goat, train, rain. Of course, he could easily have memorized it from the ten million and thirty times weíve read the book. And there was one he got wrong: he said rain when it was actually dark. I asked him to take another look and then he correctly identified (ie: actually read) the word. After that, I know he started reading instead of remembering. And that was very cool.
Tonight he brought Click Clack Moo out from his room, wanted me to read that. He asked me what the subtitle said. I asked him to read it. "Cows" he got right away. "That" he didnít. "Type" he did. Yep. Heís reading. I didnít ask him to read much in that book, just various repetitions of Cows and Hens, Milk and Eggs. Then we read Froggy Goes to Bed, which is great for repetition. He read each ďflop flop flopĒ with great relish, also the many iterations of FROGGGY! and ďWha-a-a-t?Ē Iím realizing the most important part of getting him invested in reading is to make it rewarding in and of itself. After having been read to for so long, he can now participate in the process but without ever being on the spot. Iím throwing him soft pitches, building his confidence.
But still. Heís really doing it. Reading words. And thatís absolutely thrilling. Today he asked me to read him a sign. I asked him to read it to me. I pointed to the first word. ďNo,Ē he said. I assented, then read ďbicycleĒ aloud (donít want to throw him in too deep too quickly) and then showed him the final word by covering the ďing.Ē He stared at it quietly. I didnít push. I also lowered my hand. A moment later, he said ďIt says ĎNo bicycle parking.íĒ So pleased with himself.
Donít misunderstand me, Iím not bragging here. Itís normal to start reading around this age. I briefly thought he might learn to read at age three; a couple of professionals thought he could be hyperlexic, learn to read as he learned to talk. That wasnít the case, and I frankly donít care. Early reader, late reader, right on schedule. Whatever. As long as heís reading with relish, and for life.
Itís such a miraculous thing, the process by which squiggly black lines on white paper turn into expressive words in a childís mind. Iím watching it up close and still I donít know how it happens. Itís like learning a foreign language, I think. For a long time you painfully parse out each carefully memorized bit of knowledge and then it starts to click and before you even know how it happened, youíre thinking in Spanish. Right now he's still deciphering text, but I can see his delight in that. Words surround us: on signs, in books, on bits of paper, on the computer, even on TV and on toy boxes. It has to be a kind of victory when that all begins to turn from gibberish into sense.
Iím on page 332 of my novel and I just skidded to a halt. Iím not worried; itís happened before and may even happen again, though I now have something like one hundred pages left to write, so maybe not.
One of the ways I know I need to take a break from the headlong rush forward is whatís been spilling out of my fingers onto the screen. I can see myself using tricks I learned from screenwriting. Have the characters do something with their hands or even their whole bodies. Have them fiddle. People donít just stand there and talk, after all. And then have that action, whatever it is, inform the scene. Which is fine, and Iíve done it in scenes and sequences that have come out the better for it.
But when I start writing scenes where a character who normally has tremendous dignity leans back in his chair and almost topples over, when a scene or two later, I have another character step on a glossy magazine cover and go splat on her ass, I know Iím letting myself get sloppy. Itís not necessarily terrible writing. For a romantic comedy. But that kind of near-slapstick has no place in the world of this novel. And the fact that Iím sticking it in there means my brain is getting tired and Iím stepping a little too far outside the minds of my characters. Iím writing from the outside in. Iím losing my sureness, my sense of truth. So Iím stepping back further. Iím going back sixty-some pages to the last point I left off in my first tweaking pass.
I generally try to avoid intensive rewrites during the first draft. I think you can get into perfectionist mode and stifle yourself, rewriting the same chapters obsessively instead of moving forward. But that doesnít mean Iím waiting until Iím all done to go back through the so-raw material. I do, after all, want my select few readers to give feedback, let me know Iím still on the right path. Their input has helped me find my way through this. I want that. I want it soon, actually. But if I show them the pages the way they come out of my head the first go-round, I know those pages will come back to me with lots of ď????Ē and ďI donít understandĒ notations. Because it doesnít always make sense, what I write. I mean, it does to me and it will to other people too once I clean the prose up a bit.
Today, for instance, I deleted a paragraph that spelled to much out (also known as hitting you over the head with the idea), dumped a couple of sentences that sounded like they said something but actually didnít, and altered a whole bunch of wording. Sometimes not necessarily because it was bad, either. I changed ďbright rhinestone sparkle of herĒ to ďrhinestone shine of her,Ē not because I hated the first phrase but because it evoked something beautiful and magical and what I wanted was an implicit tawdriness in this woman as seen through anotherís eyes. Something as seemingly benign as that small phrase can give the wrong message about an entire relationship. Later Iíll rewrite for the bigger issues and still later Iíll pay attention to cadence and rhythm, but this rewrite is for sense and story flow. Does it parse? Does it say what I want it to say? Does that emotion, that thought, that action work in that spot? If yes, then move on. If no, then tweak until it does.
Iím doing it because I need the breather and because I want my readers to have something to read. But this rewrite, smoothing out the rough edges, tracking the story throughlines, also does something important for me. Because by the time I get to where I left off, Iíll be back inside the action. Exactly where I need to be.