January 30, 2005

hell on wheels

I stopped at a light on Sunset Boulevard on this incredibly clear, crisp morning. Passing in front of me, heading up the perpendicular street to the foothills, a steady stream of cars. Blue, maroon, deep green, burnt to cinders�

What? Oh, yeah. That. Old model car, the big American type, black matte finish (ie: consistent with a burned out hulk), billowing a wide swath of smoke or steam behind it not unlike a child trailing a blanket on the floor except a whole lot more impressive.

Thing is, this car? Wasn't stopping. Wasn't trying to pull over to the side. Was just driving on. Oh, that smoke? Yeah, my car's on fire. But, y'know, got errands to run, places to go, can't stop now.

As the light changed and I hit the gas to incite my own combustion engine to action, I thought: maybe the driver doesn�t know his car is a coalmobile complete with smokestack because he's DEAD. Places to go, errands to run, the treadmill of modern life, who has time to stop even if you're DEAD? Maybe the bones of his hands were fused on the steering wheel, the long bones in his foot permanently pressed on the accelerator, maybe he's now doomed to drive through eternity or at least until his gas tank dries up. Fitting, really. A quintessentially Los Angeles way to go. Drive till you die and then drive some more.

(Dan thinks the car had a bad oil leak. I prefer my explanation.)

Posted by Tamar at 09:45 PM

January 27, 2005

a new balance

I read a fascinating article today written by Michael Lind in the Financial Times, then reposted in MyDD (and which I discovered via Daily Kos). It's about the dimunition of the USA as almighty world leader, with examples of how European and Asian nations are increasingly moving forward to form coalitions without the US.

He says, in part:

Europe, China, Russia, Latin America and other regions and nations are quietly taking measures whose effect if not sole purpose will be to cut America down to size.

Ironically, the US, having won the cold war, is adopting the strategy that led the Soviet Union to lose it: hoping that raw military power will be sufficient to intimidate other great powers alienated by its belligerence. To compound the irony, these other great powers are drafting the blueprints for new international institutions and alliances. That is what the US did during and after the second world war.

But that was a different America, led by wise and constructive statesmen like Dean Acheson, the secretary of state who wrote of being "present at the creation." The bullying approach of the Bush administration has ensured that the US will not be invited to take part in designing the international architecture of Europe and Asia in the 21st century. This time, the US is absent at the creation.

Kos calls this article sobering. I have the exact opposite reaction. It gives me tremendous hope. It's obvious BushCo is on a destructive rampage and will do little to nothing to further the wellbeing of the world at large. How wonderful that other countries are stepping in to fill the breech -- not only that, but that they're cutting the US down to size in the bargain. We no longer have any real balance of power in this country as we drift ever closer to tyranny. Thank god this kind of international balance of power has begun to blossom. The US does not need to be a major world power. At this point, it's better for the world if this country is not setting the agenda.

edited to add:

I followed a comment in MyDD and found an article in -- of all places -- International Newsweek that's even stronger in some ways in its analysis of the world turning away from the US model. I wish the US version of the magazine had the balls to print this cover story!

Posted by Tamar at 08:47 PM | Comments (2)

January 23, 2005

three unfinished stories

I got this idea from Tiny Coconut, who got it from Sundry (who I discovered as a result and really like). I love it, loved reading theirs and then digging in my own files for stories begun but abandoned.

Here are mine:




Story #1:

The problem wasn�t what she did that night. I can understand the impulse to steal pretty china in an elegant restaurant, as if somehow you�ll carry the luxury home with you along with whatever traces of chocolate truffle remain on the delicately tapered rim. No, the problem was how she did it: with a wide toothy smile, her eyes half slits and a gurgle in her voice as she insisted that no, this was right and this was fun and this was going to fit in my father�s pocket, �Here you go, honey, slip it on in there.�

Or maybe that wasn�t what made me squirm in my mahogany-backed Queen Anne chair and plead with her, �Stop, put it back, don�t do that.� After all, if you�re going to steal, you should do it with style and �lan and complete assurance. But there was a triumph in her eyes as she handed him the second custard cup and the third and then a miniature silver spoon, the kind they give babies for their first mouthful of rice cereal or, in this case, sugar to stir into a similarly miniature cappuccino cup with blue forget-me-nots painted on the white porcelain. Which also went into my father�s voluminous suit pocket.

Yes, it was the triumph that bothered me the most. Nobody should enjoy stealing quite that much.




Story #2:

Prickling, tingling, warm. . . itchy. I lie on a soft, cushioned table. Alone in a small room. Trying not to scratch my belly. Millimeter-thin needles stick out of my abdomen. White balls on top bounce lightly as I breathe. I'm glad there's no mirror on the ceiling, I'd run out of the room screaming. Instead I gaze at a painting, very Chinese, two pandas munching on -- whatever they munch on. Something green and feathery.

Focus. My belly. Warm. Red flower, no, red is blood, blood is what we don't want here -- white flower unfurling, opening, blossoming inside my womb. Healing, cleansing, pure and loving. I hold the thought for five long seconds and then drift back to those needles. Itchy. Don't scratch. Oh man, how do I not scratch? Didn't they do this in the Spanish Inquisition -- tie you up, take your clothes off, and tickle you with a feather until you cried and told them anything they wanted to know, anything at all, as long as they let you SCRATCH?? Don't scratch. Can't scratch.

I scratch. Not the needles, around the needles. They sway and sting as I brush my fingers past them. They're like stalks of wheat. I�m growing a field of needles on my infertile abdomen.




Story #3:

The tail end of winter. The snow on the ground has turned to slush. The radiator gurgles to itself and occasionally hisses in a burst of passion. The dawn creeps into the room past the heavy curtain. I lie in bed, asleep and dreaming. I dream of a hospital bed with the metal bars up. My grandfather lies there. Is he asleep? I don't know, but then, I'm asleep, so how can I judge? I'm lying in bed with him now, in my dream. I wear a heavy flannel nightgown, he's in a flimsy hospital gown. I hold him close until he stops shaking. He falls asleep and I drift off too, or maybe I start dreaming another dream.

A week later I'm on the phone with my mother. I only talk to her once a month, she lives in Canada, and neither of us can afford the long distance call. She tells me my grandfather got through the surgery okay.

"What surgery?"

He has hardening of the arteries. He is, after all, eighty five years old. They had to clear the blood vessels. I picture surgeons armed with pipe cleaners.

I ask when the surgery occurred. She tells me.

It was the very morning I dreamed that I held him in my arms, hugging him and willing my energy into him.

The strange thing is that I've never been that close to my grandfather.

Posted by Tamar at 08:21 PM

January 22, 2005

parsing the phrases

I've been wanting to write here, not let this site go fallow. But it'll have to be in bits and bites for a time. Most of what I want to write is meaty and I don't have time for meat. No, I'm in novel rewrite mode, heavy duty. A five hundred forty nine page document entails a whole lotta words to examine, scenes to parse, interactions to measure. Yup. Rewrite heaven, that's where I'll be. It's not unlike picking fleas out of a long haired cat's belly. Takes concentration and focus and the little suckers keep jumping away before you can squish them.

When you look at anything under a microscope (yes, even a flea), you discover all kinds of unexpected facets. For instance: I use of course an awful lot. Sometimes in dialogue, but mostly in the narrative. And sometimes it works better than anything else could in that particular spot and so I leave it alone. But it's a writing tic, that kind of repetition. It's not thematic, it's not tonal, it's just habit. So I pick out all the of courses and prepare the slide for close examination. Does this one pass muster? Yes? Good. No? What else gives the mood I want right there? Hmm And on it goes. I use gerunds a bit more than the style manuals suggest, and even run-on sentences and fragments. When should I fix them? When do they serve to convey emotion in a breathless endless monologue or staccato short beats? When do they just annoy and interrupt the flow of the read? What is bad writing and what is my voice, not only acceptable but even, dare I say, desirable, even though it may not be the way your English teacher taught? The simple little stuff, it turns out, is not so simple after all.

I'm also finding some dialogue, some inner monologue, that worked well when I wrote it, doesn't work so well in the rewrite. Not because it's bad (though inevitably some is), but because it doesnt fit what comes later. An example: A man speaking with his employee. He reveals an emotion. A bit out of character, but he's feeling something pretty strong, so okay. That's even kind of interesting, that he'd do that right there. Only thing? A few scenes later he reveals the same emotion to someone else. And it works much better in that context. The first revelation? Gone. He's all business in this draft. When I wrote the first scene, I obviously had no idea he'd do that later.

This is actually the most intriguing part of this process for me. I remember at least some of how this evolved into a manscript, I remember being in the dark about how I'd get from prologue to finis, but now that it's complete? It feels, even to me, as if it were always thus. Always this particular form, this specific ride. And so it almost surprises me to find these out of place moments that are there not because of sloppy writing (though, did I mention? that too, in other spots) but because I wrote forward into the dark and now it's all brightly lit.

I'm enjoying it more than I expected.

Posted by Tamar at 06:54 PM

January 19, 2005

which mom am I today?

Sometimes, I think, parenting involves one simple decision. Whether to get angry or not. Sometimes, if you so choose, you can respond to obstinate obstreperousness with teasing, giggles, and shrugs. You can choose to join instead of tower over your child. You can play. You can be silly. You can defuse. And it can be a wonderful thing and make you feel like more of a real parent, with the tools to teach warmth and compassion and fun and connectedness.

Other times there is no decision. Someone's got to be the boss and you're it. He can run but he can't hide. He can yell but he can't win. He may be an irresistible (and loud) force but you're a brick wall. It's not fun, but it too is needed. It doesnt make you feel very good about yourself as a parent, especially when he starts talking about trading you in for a mom who will let him do whatever he wants whenever he wants, but you're teaching that some things matter. Some things are non-negotiable. Some rules are too important to bend or break. Ethics, morals, boundaries.

Sometimes, I think, parenting involves knowing which approach to take. Simple but not.

Posted by Tamar at 04:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 16, 2005

swimming in the rewrite

I just hit page 200 in my rewrite. How long did it take me in the first draft? A year? I reread and relive, sometimes I can even smell the scent of what I had for lunch that day or the kiss of ocean breeze on my face as I walked from the Santa Monica Library to the car to go get Damian the day I wrote that particular paragraph.

Reading a novel can be a full body immersion, submerging deep into the prose and world of the book. It's so different reading a novel when you've written it. You're inside as a reader but also outside as a writer. You go to bed thinking about it, wake up wondering if you should go back and fix that bit where he thinks about the future, add more to the s&x bit, what about the phrasing of that other part, was it too cliche? And yet you find yourself immersed nevertheless, waterlogged, swimming in that world, but a world you yourself have created.

It's an interesting feeling.

(And before you say, "Wait, you're moving too fast!" you should know: I rewrote much of this first half once already, skipping only a few larger issues I'm tackling now, along with word choice and cadence. I'm working micro and macro at once here.)

Posted by Tamar at 11:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 13, 2005

kid metaphor

Damian and I were talking tonight over dinner about how it's harder to eat standing up than sitting down. He then sat down and commented, "It's nice to sit in the lap of the chair." I thought that was wonderfully poetic, and something only a child would come up with. We grownups are past the age where we curl into the lap of someone bigger than us and so the analogy doesn't come to mind. But I like sitting in the lap of my chair. It feels cozy.

**********************************

Another kid-related bit that has me smiling today: I spoke with one of the administrators at Damian's school, touching base about a change in services. He told me the teacher is very pleased with Damian and happy to have him in her class. This is good, but what tickled me was how he then segued into talking about first grade. As I walked away, I realized: He was asking if we planned to stay next year. Wanted us to. Wanted Damian. I'd been talking with another mom about a charter school the day before; he may well have heard us and wanted to let me know we're welcome at his school.

We've come a long way since May and the hostile vice principal at our home school, the one who didn't want my child's special ed cooties in her regular kindergarten class. The folk here want my son and are concerned that we might go elsewhere.

Nice.

Posted by Tamar at 07:57 PM

January 10, 2005

American roots

I've been reading a fascinating book recently, called Fire and Ice, by Michael Adams; it was a Christmas present from my brother. It's a national bestseller in Canada, and I can understand why. The author is a pollster; he uses extensive polls taken in the US and Canada over a period of eight years to paint a picture of the social values of citizens of each country. Here's a good distillation of the book's central thesis. There's this myth that Canada is America Lite, America on ice. It's not. If it were, we wouldn't be looking to move there.

But what fascinates me is something Adams says toward the beginning, that

Ron Inglehart's World Values Survey Team concluded that societies generally exhibit similar kinds of socio-cultural change as they proceed along the path of industrialization and post-industrialization. People in pre-industrial societies hold traditional values, which include extreme deference to authority, especially religious authority, and a general wariness of change, including an aversion to social mobility. Industrial societies manifest more modern values, replacing deference to religious authority with adherence to rational-legal authority and demonstrating increased achievement motivation and a strong commitment to economic growth. Modernity values money and all the things (material status symbols) that money can buy. Post-industrial societies exhibit postmodern values, which implies that people in them are more autonomous and less deferential to all kinds of authority and that their commitment to rapid economic growth is supplanted by subjective human concerns relating to quality of life. Postmodern values also include flexibility and an increasing tolerance for diversity of all kinds.

Canadians, along with Western Europeans, fit the profile, holding post-modern values. During the years of the study, Canadians have moved further along the trajectory toward what he calls the Idealism and Autonomy quadrant of social belief systems. Americans? Not so much. They're (we're?) moving toward the Exclusion and Intensity quadrant. This quadrant includes hedonistic, pleasure-and thrill seeking values, a tremendous materialism, but also nihilism, acceptance of violence and anomie.

Scary, huh? It makes sense to me, it fits what I see. Americans are probably the most materialistic nation on earth. Conspicuous consumption, living on credit, working too many hours and thereby destroying your quality of life and connection to community so you can get ahead, be the best, follow the American Dream, so you can buy what your neighbors have, everything bigger and better (SUVs, big screen TVs, McMansions) but also the flip side everything costs more, the poor have less of a safety net, and with no way out of the hole, they feel an impotent rage. Violence, anomie, yes. And then the backlash, the religiosity which tries to force one group's moral values on everyone else in a vain attempt to make things look okay, seem contained, because it's getting ugly out there.

It all makes sense. But I find myself wondering, how did this happen? Why is America so different from the rest of the post-industrial so-called First World? I have a sense of what Adams thinks from that article I linked to up top (and will discover more as I read on in the book, I'm sure). He makes some excellent points, but I have my own theory.

Most nations didn't so much start as evolve. Italy was a group of city-states during the Renaissance, one fought another and gobbled it up, they merged and split and merged again. Same with most of Europe, more or less. Boundaries were fluid, national identities are still sometimes bitterly questioned, but people have been living there for hundreds of years and in a sense belong to the land. Canada is different, a nation like the US made up of immigrants, but to my knowledge nobody came over and said "We Shall Make a Country Here For Ourselves," it was much more organic and evolutionary a process. Fur traders, settlers, cities, oh hi Queen Elizabeth, nice of you to stop by. (And yes, I plan to delve into Canadian history soon to rectify the huge holes in my knowledge.)

But America was formed by two distinct groups. In New England, of course, we had the Puritans. They fled religious persecution, but were they therefore open to others' religious beliefs? Not to my knowledge. They were a prissy bunch. Much like, dare I say? Modern fundamentalist Christians. Only difference is that they meant it. The current crop of Evangelical leaders? Mmm, not so much. They're in it for the money and power, far as I can see.

Which leads right into the other group that founded our (cough) great nation. Spreading out from Virginia, the tobacco farmers. Slave owners, of course, also masters of countless indentured servants from England. They were very much in it for the money. A greedy bunch, from what I remember of my college history classes. Not exactly ethical, not exactly tolerant, not exactly egalitarian. Far from it, they were practically feudal.

The foundations of America: prudish religiosity and crass, often brutal materialism. You might say their legacy lives on.

Posted by Tamar at 11:57 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 09, 2005

rainy day blues

It's been raining practically nonstop for weeks. More rain than I can remember outside the month of April. Who said Los Angeles was the land of sun? Is this a contract dispute with God? Is this more prosaically and (horrifyingly) probably true part of the bizarre weather that comes with holes in the ozone and other atrocities? Is this Mad King George's fault? (Isn't everything?)

It's very disconcerting when you've grown to expect cloudless skies. It feels much like a scene from Bladerunner. Damian was spooked by the lightning and thunder the other night; we don't have thunderstorms here. Who'll stop the rain? Will it ever stop? What will the kids do when they go back to school tomorrow? Schools here are built on the assumption that you can have your snacks and lunches outside on picnic tables, that you can go out for recess every day, that you can walk across the school grounds from your classroom-sized bungalow to the bathroom (not true for the kindergarteners, thankfully). Damian doesnt even have rain boots, and when we went to Target today to get some, they were of course cleaned out. Empty shelves with a few toddler-sized (doll-sized) singlets. No more boot shipments till next fall, sorry. You should have thought ahead, realized that this was the year of the deluge. We drown our sorrows at the world's woes and the city weeps with us.

This is not a city that allows for the possibility of rain, which is ironic because it rains harder here than anywhere I've ever lived. The rains come infrequently, usually just once or twice a year (February and April, generally), but when they do, the sky opens up and the water sluices down in streams for days on end. I remember a few years ago driving through a river on Santa Monica Boulevard, watching cars sink tire-deep into the rushing water, the splash on either side of each vehicle like the Red Sea parting. I don't think it's gotten that bad this time the rain seems gentler but I've been mostly staying warm in our cozy house, watching the cats sleep and wanting to curl up like them on cushions and comforters, to snooze the rain away.

Posted by Tamar at 08:56 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 06, 2005

Holidailies: a fond farewell (and a Hidden Laughter entry)

Today is the last day of Holidailies. I thoroughly enjoyed it, more so this year because my mother was participating and I got to witness her enthusiasm as her delightful voice was introduced to new readers. I love the portal concept, loved dipping into other journals and blogs I'd forgotten about or never knew existed.

This online world is so much vaster than it was when I started posting online in 1999, so stunningly huge, an ocean of voices detailing their lives and thoughts. Sometimes I get lost, drown in it, want to stop adding my thoughts to the cacophony. But then something comes along like Holidailies: a smaller, more manageable chunk of humanity with little tastes offered beforehand, an appetizer plate of choices, and I appreciate the venue once more.

Really, there's something intrinsically wonderful about online journals and personal blogs the glimpse into other people's lives, the chance for ordinary Joes (or, more likely Josephines) invite you the reader into an otherwise opaque, unknown slice of life. Just as memoirs have taken off like crazy in the publishing world, accounts by non-celebrities who have something to say, something to recount, this kind of personal web writing has the chance to enchant, move, surprise and enrich us as readers. So what if there's an ocean of writers? There are plenty of people who want to swim in those waters. I know I do.

Thanks, Jette and Chip. I needed the reminder.

(But, um, writing every day? Why did I do that last year? What was I thinking? After a few months of three to four times a week, every day flattened me this month and in fact I didn't get all the way through. A whole year? Man.)

On another note and another front: I just posted a new entry in Hidden Laughter. Go and you shall find. (For Holidailies folk who don't know what I'm talking about, Hidden Laughter is my journal of my son's progress through autism and my thoughts around and about the topic.)

Posted by Tamar at 08:41 PM

January 04, 2005

rewrites are hard

The hardest part of rewriting an entire novel turns out not to be the work itself, not the decisions about what needs work and what doesn't. It's the shift, back and forth and back to the past too: I wrote this passage two years ago, how can I rewrite it? How can I stay true to the tone and tenor of the words when I'm not that person anymore, when my cells have shed and renewed themselves and my writing style has altered as my life has progressed? But I can, it seems. I do, it seems.

Then there's the left brain/right brain dichotomy of it. I chug along on the surface, analyzing word choices and gerund overuse and abrupt sentence fragments and unintentional repetition and the clichs that inevitably slip in here and there (those sneaky little devils) (a clich in itself, no?) (see what I mean about sneaky?) and then I come across a section that needs an actual get-your-hands-dirty revamp and I stop. My brain? Switch to creative mode? Um, okay, but how? Once Im in line edit mode, it's not so easy to find my muse. She doesn't always come when called, especially when I haven't needed her for a few weeks. She's taken a well-deserved rest, my poor overworked muse. (Remember: 140 pages in two weeks. Muse got tired. So did I.)

I discovered last month that the first page or so is always the hardest, that I have to try extra hard to get past the self-conscious "I'm writing that? Is that the best choice here?" baloney that creates halting, unsteady prose. After two pages, I usually find a groove, though, and the words flow. But here? Two pages of new material is all I need to write (until I get to the next section that needs in-depth work). Not enough time to even begin to sense the beat, much less find the flow. Also, during the surface copyediting bits, I'm pretty much exclusively using the hyper-analytical part of my brain. The exact part of my brain I do NOT want to use when writing a new scene. Unless I want it to sound like a textbook and not a novel.

Tricky, this.

Posted by Tamar at 10:29 PM | Comments (4)

January 03, 2005

my father didn't call

My father didn't call on my birthday. I don't feel unloved; more people called this year than I think ever have. I feel surrounded and buoyed up by them all. I feel part of a community even though I'm not always the best at maintaining those ties myself. I feel good.

My father didn't call on my birthday. I shouldn't be surprised. I'm not surprised. And yet I am.

My father didn't call on my birthday. I feel a little sad. A door closed after all. A goodbye said silently.

We'd been estranged since December 2002, a year and a half, when he called this past May. On Mother's Day because I am, after all, a mother. He said he was reaching out, said he wanted to be in touch, said he missed me and that he'd call every two or three weeks and I didn't have to do a thing. I was warm to him, I said sure. I didn't bring up anything from the past. No reason. If he followed through and did call regularly (or at all), we'd have time to heal wounds. But that wasn't likely, was it? So why bother in a single phone conversation meant to soothe his own feelings of guilt and loneliness?

I called him on his birthday this year, November 11th. My family my real family was surprised. Why do that? He hadn't called again, not since that single phone conversation. True, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, assume he meant what he said or at least meant the surface sweetness of it, the assumption of a relationship even where one no longer exists. So I called him. He sounded surprised, as if he'd never made that reaching-out call in May. But pleased nevertheless. We talked. Friendly. Easy. I told him of things brewing in our lives. He said to please let him know if any happen. I realize now that he meant, "Because we won't be in touch, so otherwise I'd never know."

My father didn't call on my birthday. I'm almost relieved. I don't have any obligation to see him this summer while we're in New York. I dont have to deal with him. I'm done.

Sometimes it takes many years to let go of a habit that's bad for you. Cigarette smoking is supposed to be the hardest. I think that's wrong. I think love is. The emotional bond may wither away entirely but it takes a long time for the habit to die.

Posted by Tamar at 09:58 AM | Comments (5)

January 02, 2005

brunch

It's become an honest-to-god ritual. Three years running now, we've hosted a small gathering of online journallers and personal bloggers (as well as partners, spouses and kids thereof, plus a friend who is none of the above but counts as family nevertheless).

Some are people I consider good friends, some are people I only see once a year, but it's a good group and a good tradition. Scones with clotted cream, bagels and whitefish salad, fruit and pastry. (Pastry this year was a sourcream coffeecake supplied by Zingerman's via Diane & Darin and wow.) Food, I think, is an important ingredient of a good gathering. It helps if people feel like you care enough to take care of them. But I have a hunch with this group, all you really have to provide is a bunch of chairs and a warm house. Then conversation fills the room and the year is well begun. A good tradition. Think it'll migrate well to Toronto?

Posted by Tamar at 08:12 PM | Comments (1)