Well, now, that explains a lot.

Existential crises call for desperate measures. So do two major moves in two months. At naptime today, therefore, I pulled out the Feng Shui book (yay for reclaiming my books and yay for Ohmega Salvage’s awesome collection of recycled craftsman built-in bookcases and yay for sixteen boxes of books unpacked and out of my freaking way) to see if it could fix my life.

Now, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to Feng Shui. Can’t even pronounce it, though I try hard. And I don’t know if it works. But I know it feels, in a desperate “clinging to guns and religion” way, like I have control of the uncontrollable if I have tall rectangles in the east and round metal accents in the west. It’s one of those “can’t hurt, might help, just don’t tell anyone you know or they’ll laugh at you then have you taken off their ‘call when in need of rational and logical help with personal dilemmas’ list” kind of things.

So today’s discoveries put into perspective a few, um, issues in my life. First, we keep finding houses where our money and romance are figuratively in the toilet. This is the third residence in which our bathroom sits squarely in the west, the tiny corner of our universe in which our income and lovin’ ought flow. Instead, there’s a steady stream of waste, dirt, crayons, and nonsense flowing down the drain. Explains mucho about the continued ease with which we lose what little money we have.  [Thanks financial sector a–holes. Like being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t detrimental enough to my future retirement. In 2054 I’m finally gonna have to break our Wal-Mart boycott so I can get a job as a greeter and support myself in the squalor to which I’ve become accustomed.

So my money and my marriage are in the crapper. (Sorry, Spouse. But you saw it coming in the wedding ring fungus, didn’t you? It was nice while it lasted. But the feng shui book says our love’s being flushed down the drain, dude. And you know that if I read it in a book, it’s the law. So plan on having dwindling affection and interest soon…oh, the ring around my finger under the ring around my finger already did that? You’re creeped out by a little rash on my third finger? Well, It’s you’re fault it’s there. Yes it is. Yes, it is. Yes. It is. Are you hearing me? Yes it is. Don’t pull out your logic with me, Mister. Fine, it’s your fault our money and marriage sector is in the bathroom. No I didn’t. No, I didn’t. No. I didn’t. True, but that’s because…I’m done with this. No, the garage isn’t in our marriage sector. Oh, ha ha. Yeah, maybe if you’re in there things WILL get better. Bah.)

Just after that eight direction, nine ki number pronouncement that we’re poor and nasty to each other because of the sewer placement, I found this lovely tidbit:

“Maybe, for example, you find that you are edgy, irritable, and tense quite a lot of the time….It would be wise to avoid spending a great deal of time in [the north-east and south] of your home. If possible, position your bedroom in the west where chi energy is more settled and contented.”

Hmmm. So I should stay out of the living room, dining room, and bedroom, and sleep in the shower? Makes perfect sense. My irritability doesn’t stem from 32 months of interrupted sleep and full daylight hours focus on a wild, strange, and often irrational creature. I’m not cranky because I’m having trouble adjusting to a reality where my life is not my own, my time is not my own, and six of my greatest hopes and dreams are on hold for the honor of raising a loving and caring human being. Nope. It’s ‘cuz I live in a house where the dining room makes me “feel on edge”  and “impatient,” the entryway makes me “tired from lack of rest,” and the bedroom leads to “slow progress in career.”  So I need a house without a north-east, east, south-east, south-west, and west. I’ll bet I can get a good rate on renting a piece of paper, because it’s the only two-dimensional structure I know that will eliminate those issues.

The bigger problem? The placement of my son’s room apparently makes me “overly controlling of others.” Oh, yeah, that‘s the problem. ‘Cuz I’ve existed on that plane since, well, since…oh, yeah. 1972. I don’t think there’s a crystal or mirror remedy for that one, feng shui friends. It would seem that I exist in a vortex where there is only northwest. Mmm. Maybe it’s good we didn’t pick Portland. I might have exploded from the vortex created between my need to control and my relative powerlessness. Or I would have had 17 cats. ‘Cuz they listen, right?

Tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna embrace my inner incomplete task, my perpetual on edge, my tiredness from lack of rest (I’m sorry, how is that not a cause and effect clause all unto itself? Do you really need a room in the wrong quadrant of the compass to be tired from lack of rest? Is there anyone who is revived from lack of rest? If so, will they take over nights at our house, with nightmare-y kid and attachment parenting central, and cats who yowl for people to come to them instead of seeking heat and food themselves? And, while you’re at it and up at 3am anyway, for all the other perfectly normal children in the world who don’t sleep well until they are three or four? ‘Cuz there are a bunch of them, and that one bastard who’s thriving on lack of rest really owes the rest of us.)

So call me, rested person. We need to put you in my bedroom while I sleep off my marital fungus and controlling irritability in the bathroom.

In the midst of flipping through the book to find cheap solutions to increase tree energy and decrease me energy throughout the house, I found a lovely little gem: the chart of prevailing influences for the year and position of my nine ki number. And with a little math I realized that this year’s existential crisis is not due to an inbalance in my needs, nor an extended, yet normal transition mothers experience in which they new and different priorities smash violently into old happiness and self-actualization. No, no. I’m having a tumultuous year because it’s part of a universal cycle. Like the Fourth Turning, only on a personal level. So this is like another Strauss and Howe Crisis season and ancient Chinese centre year. Yeah. See, for people born Feb 5ish through the following Feb 4ish of 1918, 1927, 1936, 1945, 1954, 1963, 1972, 1981, 1990, and 1999, this is a uncomfortablly flux-y year. Like your chi has gas. One of those “put off decisions ‘cuz you’re in for a whirlwind of changes and nothing will be the same next year” kind of years. Oooooh. Yes. I see.

Next year is a year to plan and organize. No point in that now. 2010 is for romance (fungus gone, maybe?). 2011 is for ambition. 2012 is for passion. 2013 is for studying. 2014 is for progress. 2015 is for starting something new. 2016 is for more progress. See? in eight years I’ll be making some progress. Gee. That’s all I needed. To be reassured that it’ll only take a decade. Ah. All better.

Except that I’ll have a teenager in my house. Not sure that bodes well for progress, but we’ll see.

Thanks feng shui. For the new sleeping place and the new outlook. I’ll have several books published, a PhD, a new job, and some sex by 2016. All I needed was a plan mass-produced with absolutely no knowledge of my life other than my birthday. How wonderful to know that, like, 10% of us are having a crappy-ass year but have nine years to go before it happens again. Yay. Feng shui, you’re the best. Remind me to get a crystal to hang over my calendar. ‘Cuz we have another couple of months of Indecision 2008.

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Get off thy ass and get to work

You know, I could continue to waste naptime blogging, reading other people’s blogs, and unpacking the eight-freaking-thousand boxes walling me into this new place. But I blog schlock read by an average of 50 people a day; I read awesome blogs that make me regret not doing more academic work, not writing, and not getting my life in perspective; and unpacking boxes just makes me mad that we have so much crap (for the normal triumvirate of wasteful capitalism, depleted savings, and un-zen clutter).

So I’m off to work on one paragraph of a novel, and to find the list of academic articles that showed enough promise to warrant someone to scrawl “work on this and have it published” in the margins.

See you when I have something decent to show for my life.

[are you f@ck*ng kidding me? I was spellchecking and The Tiny Tyrant awoke. So all I have to show for today’s naptime is a clean sink and a resolution to do something productive tomorrow. Godd@mn it.]

Books I love, that nobody seems to read.

After our extravaganza about classics we loathe, the erudite blogosphere and I have undertaken another endeavor.

Books we love that nobody seems to know about or read:

(This is harder than I thought it would be, since all my books are in a POD storage facility, waiting for us to either buy or rent, hinging on the daily fluctuations of the market, interest rates, and my hair-trigger vascillations. That said, if I know these are true loves from memory, isn’t that more authentic? Let’s pretend so.)

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Walker Evans and James Agee. Oh, my. Gorgeous photos. Compelling journalism.

Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zola Neale Hurston. Dear, me, that woman can write down to a person’s bones. Passion, love, poverty, power, and above all, the indefatigable soul of fatigued women. Damn.

Silences. Tillie Olsen. Can’t do it justice with words. Which is the point, as its goal is to textualize the silent periods of authors’ lives.

Collected Works. Grace Paley. Choose your favorites.

One Hundred Years of Solitude. Gabriel Marquez Garcia. Maybe people are reading this and I don’t know. I did not find Love in the Time of Cholera enjoyable. Everyone who has ever read One Hundred Years, though, was touched to the core, by its magical realism and epic grasp on the human heart. Is this already on everyone’s list? Please go read it. The Nobel Prize announcement insisted that, in his writing, he creates: “a cosmos in which the human heart and the combined forces of history, time and again, burst the bounds of chaos – killing and procreation.” Who wouldn’t read all of his books after that?

Nightwood. Djuna Barnes. Some of the most compelling scenes I’ve ever read. Some of the most sadly endearing characters I’ve ever met. Some of the most confusing passages I’ve ever pushed through. Really, really brilliant work.

Wings. Shinsuke Tanaka. Gorgeously spun tale of joy and intolerance, difference, and love. As with all good stories, we have to fudge the ending a bit with our toddler, but it’s easy to change the story’s climax just a little to make sure everything turns out even more okay.

Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. Chris Ware. A poignant, gorgeous, thought provoking graphic novel. Especially tender about relationships of fathers and sons. The year I read it I gave it to everyone I knew for Chrismakkah.

Princess Bride. William Goldman. The cult following of the movie would imply a large fanbase for the book, which is (predictably, both for the track record of “the book was better” and for Goldman’s MASTERY of narration) ten thousand and three times better than the film.

Tender Buttons. Gertrude Stein. penelope said it first, but I second it. This is the work worth reading. There is molto there there.

Absolom, Absolom. William Faulkner. For some reason it’s neither read nor assigned as often as it should be. It’s the most compelling, for me, of his work because the female characters are the most poignantly drawn. As I Lay Dying is good, but not good enough to re-read a third time. The Sound and The Fury is remarkable, but harder reading. Light in August is brilliant and compelling but I can’t take the violence right now.

Poetical Dictionary. Lohren Green. Philosopher and History of Philosophy guy makes language visual and poetical. Very compelling intellectually.

An American Tragedy. Theodore Dreiser. I wrote my undergrad honors thesis on Sister Carrie, and I loved that book. And for a historical perspective on American industrialization and women, it still reigns supreme. But something about An American Tragedy just really floats my boat. No pun intended. Oh, dear, I should edit that out. No pun intended at all. Gross.

Not a Box. Antoinette Portis. Yes, it’s a children’s book, but it’s absolutely inspiring.

Infinite Jest. David Foster Wallace. Detailed and stream of consciousness and meticulous and hilarious and disturbing and prescient and nakedly raw. Delicious. Also Brief interviews with Hideous Men. Not so much The Girl with Curious Hair, only bits of which did I enjoy. Still working on Oblivion. I had taken a Wallace break to raise a child and write my own fiction, but now I’m tearfully relishing his every word. My God, I ache knowing that we’ll never get more.

The Yellow Wallpaper. Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I keep a copy in every room, and in my glove compartment. (Okay, not really, but I’m considering it this week.)

I couldn’t include many of my favorites here because most people have read them and still read them, which disqualifies them by definition. But I feel the need to show some lovin’ to some of the greatest books ever written: Catch-22, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, Joy Luck Club, Lord of the Flies, Green Eggs and Ham, The Color Purple, Their Eyes Were Watching God, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Grapes of Wrath.

Ten books other people love but I don’t

Oh, the web is wonderful. After reading the following:

http://capacioushandbag.blogspot.com/2008/09/meme-that-i-just-made-up.html
http://outsidevoice.wordpress.com/2008/10/09/unlovedbooks/
http://faemom.wordpress.com/2008/10/12/ten-books-people-love-but-i-dont/

I had to give it a go. Because the above posts made some EXCELLENT points re: the painful shittiness of Wuthering Heights, The Old Man and the Sea, and Heart of Darkness, I can simply agree wholeheartedly and move on to:

1. Billy Budd. The only thing more painful than social implications of his speech impediment is reading about it. Tragic? Aye. Dramatic? Aye. Now stick me in the eye so I don’t have to read it ever again. (My secret for those who loathe Moby Dick is: skip any chapter that begins with a whale or a boat. The dialogue and existential angst stuff is pretty darned good. Except that it’s Melville and I don’t much care. I’m just saying, if you have to read it, skip the whale and ship bits. Makes it a pretty quick read.)

2. Oliver Twist. B-uh-lech. Maybe it had soap-opera appeal as a subscription serial, but come on. Try Tale of Two Cities, instead. Still laborious in a “yup, clearly he was paid by the word” kind of way, but the final two pages make it all worth it. And I like a payoff. Which is why all the E.M. Forester-y British nineteenth century books that leave ends dangling, dripping with possibility and fraught with “if only” make me want to hurl them at the nearest open flame.

3. War and Peace. Ugh. Oh, God, please, don’t. Crime and Punishment, yes. Anna Karenina if you really, really want to. But barring those masterpieces, why, really, wend your way through Russian lit? They have long winters, lots of vodka, and enough space to be alone. I would not begrudge them their need for torturously long reads. But we don’t need the literary distractions. I’m not arguing for short books. I wanted to write my Master’s thesis on Infinite Jest, for heaven’s sake. But Anna and War are like reading all the “who begat whom” sections of the Bible. Were those guys paid by the word, too?

4. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Um, no. Stop with your Catholic angst and your paternal angst and your filial angst. Too much boy desperate to be a man but held back by his country, religion, and extensive knowledge of classic literature for me. (Seriously? A whole novel about Icarus and Daedalus? The painting is genius. The story is okay. The Irish reinterpretation is laborious and self-congratulatory.) Stephen is the Irish Holden Caufield, only not as easy to read. (Ulysses is worth it, though, for those dissing Joyce. But read the The Odyssey first. Or get a guide. Or read the critical edition. Ulysses is brilliant as a call and response to The Odyssey like O, Brother Where Art Thou is brilliant as a call and response to both. All three are abstruse on their own.)

5. The Sun Also Rises. Aaaaack! Ernest Hemingway, you offend my literary sensibilities. Again. Do you actually read, or do you just write? Jesus, le mot juste was never so dry or so overwraught with self importance. Bombastic in his superiority, Hemingway makes me gag, especially when he’s so obsessed with male genitalia. Try his Nick Adams stories, instead. The only way to fix Hemingway is to make his male characters prepubescent.

6. Gone with the Wind. Makes me want to strangle Scarlet and Rhett—for the entirety of the text. Please. Shut up already. You’re boring. Makes me want to let them secede. Or force them to read all the books on this list, over and over.

7. Heart of Darkness. Heart of Darkness. Heart of Darkness. I know I said above that it was covered in the other anti-best-of lists, but I can’t not say it again and again. Poorly written, colonial racist eroticization of The Other, thinly veiled homoeroticism, and just plain uninteresting. More machismo-penis fiction, a la Hemingway. Assign it only as punishment for plagiarizers who will “do anything” to not fail your class.

8. On the Road. Holy Self-Absorbed Baby Boomers at Their Worst, Batman. Jeezus, why are we letting that generation run the world? They’re boring!

9. Confederacy of Dunces. ptooey! Did you not want to throttle Ignatious J. Reilly the whole way through? I’ve never met a more unsympathetic character in a novel. Why do people like this book? I felt like I was on the spinning wheel of fortune while a blindfolded knife thrower was on break waiting to maybe think about maybe making things interesting for me and the audience. After he made us all watch cubist films about paint drying.
Infuriating. Pulitzer? What? Try, instead, if you want funny yet tormented, self aware and philosophically important—Infinite Jest. And read the footnotes. Ten thousand times more worth your while than any of CoD.

11. The Great Gatsby. Okay, I said it. I know I’m the only one, and I’m willing to be alone on this one. Gatsby is full of horrible people doing horrible things, and not even in an important, changing the world kind of way. Give me biographies of dictators or famine or tracts about world poverty, but don’t make me pretend to be impressed, or even interested, in rich Americans who shat all over society. Yucky, icky self absorption, conspicuous consumption, devaluation of women’s bodies, and painfully obvious but unexamined divides between the many classes in American society. Plus, the narrator is way too Holden Caulfield for me, and you know how I feel about him. Entirely disagreeable and distasteful chap, that one.

12. Tuesdays with Morrie. SCHLOCK! Oh, my, schlockedy schlock schlock. Get your carpe diem elsewhere. This is schlock.

13. Angela’s Ashes. I’ve now been disowned for saying this, but what is the appeal? The writing is fair to middling, and it’s neither depressing enough nor uplifting enough. As memoirs go, it’s filed twice under “yeah, right” and “who the hell cares?” Maudlin expressions of intense poverty are fine by me. I love me some well written memoirs of intense powerlessness. Somehow, dotting the “i”s with little smiley faces makes the whole thing seem disingenuous, no? You want a book about finding hope in absolutely desolate conditions? Try What is the What? by Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng.

(Now that I’ve read the list here, I feel less original about On the Road and Catcher in the Rye, but I also feel vindicated…)

Yes, that was more than ten. Ask anyone who has ever met me if I can follow rules or self-edit.

Our next assignment, overeducated blogosphere, is a list of books we love that nobody else is reading.

Talk of the town

I’m not a people watcher. Couldn’t care less. Can sit in an airport or train station and never see the people around me. But I am a people listener. I hear the conversations behind me, in the stall next to me, at the table down the aisle. I listen, picturing how the people speaking could be in a novel, a play, a movie–what their whole story is and what moves them. I’m listening, empathizing with their plights, cheering their successes. I listen to people when I run, loving our new (if temporary) digs along the waterfront because I run and listen in on dozens of conversations from walkers, cyclists, and joggers.

And I have never, in decades of listening, experienced anything like this week.

Every single voice I heard, amongst those explicitly not talking to me, was talking about the economy. Every one. The ladies walking on the levee, the businessmen at the cafe, the family at Fleet Week, the couples holding hands at the library. Every, single non-me-focused voice is talking about the shitstorm that is our economy. How did we get here (that one I know…traunches); what is happening next (that one I know…massive recession); what is the government going to do (that one I don’t know…depends on the election, and neither option will fix things economically). And the people on whom I’m eavesdropping aren’t even in New York, looking at this.

It’s amazing to hear, for the first time, an eerily similar conversation from EVERYONE. (And really good for my novels, because people walking around just paralyzed with fear make for really good characters. I’m sorry we’re all hurting and scared. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s a major boon for my fiction.)

Check with The Fourth Turning, btw. This, even more than Sept. 11, puts us in another Crisis period; which puts me, as I’ve always suspected, with the Lost expat writers of the 20s. Our current generation of Hemingways and Steins and Fitzgeralds and Nins is working right now. And watch out–they’re listening when you go Rollerblading on the levee.

David Foster Wallace

In grad school, the professors wouldn’t let me write my thesis on Infinite Jest because none of them had read it, and when they saw that it topped 1100 pages (I don’t have my copy to give you precise numbers, I just moved and don’t have anything in the fridge and need to go shopping but can’t get past a long day of running around after a toddler with a heart heavy from the pain of DFW’s death thudding around in my stomach, and am not in the best mood, so bear with me on estimates) of densely packed text and endnotes sheer rambling genius, they balked at the workload reading both his novel and my thesis would bring to their carefully balanced lives.

I resented their laziness. Then I changed topics and vowed one day to write an erudite lit-crit analysis of the text. Especially because Wallace excelled at but distrusted literary criticism. But shite happened and I haven’t gotten around to it.

I blogged about a month ago that I felt disconnected from the world when I realized Kurt Vonnegut Jr. had been dead for three days before I knew. It was as though my sadness didn’t count any more because I had missed the window.

This time, the world rotated twice before I knew DFW died. The announcement rocked me to the core but didn’t change my day. And that, itself, saddens me because it means my life is so shifted off its base that the shockingly early death of one of my top five creative inspirations doesn’t even rate a schedule change. The rest of my week, though, shuddered and sputtered as the implications of his death sunk in.

And I don’t know what to say. I’ve known for two days and I don’t know what to say. (Updating this weeks later, I’m still not done processing my grief.) His writing changed me. I saw him speak once (thanks MPB and SBB) and his speaking did not change me. The creepy cult curiously smarmy cadre of followers did not change me. I was rarely tempted to quit my job and run off to Pomona to be his student, because I didn’t feel any need to be connected with him personally. I didn’t want to be taught by him or to talk with him or to write for him. I wanted to read his work.

And now there won’t be more.

I may be silly to feel his death as a weighty presence in my life. The man himself had no presence in my life. His characters, their actions, their idiosyncrasies, their seismically surreal lives had a transient presence in my life. But all I have to do is recall the cover of his weighty novel and I can again touch the intellectual dance of reading it. I can feel my hunger for more as I read myself bleary-eyed for the entire summer of 1997 (I was busy in the summer of 1996. I didn’t pick up IJ because of the grant. I picked it up because I wanted a book that would ensure nobody would talk to me on BART, a la The Accidental Tourist. But I loved it intensely then, and would love to reread it now.) I can feel my connection and revulsion and confusion at Wallace’s characters every time someone says his name.

And I want more. I’m angry and disappointed that there won’t be more.

I loved his lobster piece for Gourmet magazine. I love that he took the job, puzzled at the pop cultural status that brought him such tangential work, and I loved his rambling thoroughness. I loved that he came to the conclusion that it’s just not okay to boil creatures alive.

I haven’t read the obits. I don’t even know how he died. (I found out later and wrote a horrible post on this blog, of which I am embarrassed but which I will not erase.) I don’t care how he died. This is not a Jeff Buckley story or a Kurt Cobain story or a River Phoenix story. I wish I knew what kind of story this is. All I know is that the woot from Sept. 16 made me feel all too keenly that nobody will take DFW’s place.

And now all I can think is, I hope all you bastard literary canon snobs will read his work, because you missed the boat the first time. When I write my PhD dissertation on his work and one of you lazy self preserving pricks says you haven’t read it, I will produce all the contemporary fiction on the shelves and say, “well, it’s better than and worse than and different than this….And it’s all we have left.”

The Macarthur grant bit always forces the genius label. I don’t know that he was genius. I just know I really love reading his writing. I don’t even know that I love his writing itself. I love the experience of reading it. And that is the ultimate compliment for an author. I don’t even love your work, man. I just love what it does to my head.

We’re all going to miss you, and our minds are poorer now that yours is silent. I hope, at least, that the pain is gone.

Rescue Remedy by the quart

I’m realizing just how many of my posts are angry, bitter rants. I’m trying not to feel guilty about that, because that’s the stuff I need to get out. I bottle it up all day because I don’t think it’s appropriate to be snippy in front of my son. And lucky for Spouse he’s 400 miles away or he’d take the brunt. So blogging has really helped get the vitriol flowing and out. I store up every ounce of courage I have and project peace and thoughtfulness and patience (mostly) during the day. But I’ve got to let the rants out. Leaving them inside blocks up all my mental pores and gives me angry, bitter, negative acne on my brain and in my heart.

So if you’re put off by my anger, please, scan down the archives. There are some lovely, life-affirming bits in here if you dig.

But I am trying to navigate the parenting roller coaster, and just haven’t find the right balance. When it’s good, it’s so eye-closingly, deep sigh infusingy, happy little sigh eruptingly, perma-smile grantingly good. When it’s hard, it’s so white-knuckle infuriatingly, self-esteem wrenchingly, bad-side revealingly, regret inspiringly, soul-leechingly hard that it takes my breath away. I really do, sometimes, wish I could find Rescue Remedy by the quart. The blister packs haven’t worked for me yet, and, in fact, make me a little less grounded because the solvent is alcohol and it just makes me want a pint of liquor.

Talking to working moms, stay-at-home-moms, stay-at-home-dads, and the childfree, I realize that the biggest issue for me about parenting is that the day’s rhythm is not my own. I don’t own one piece of the day, and I don’t control any of it rhythms. As an academic, I wrote when I percolated ideas, I read when I felt responsive to ideas, I rested when I needed rest, and I exercised when I needed a mental escape valve. As a professional, I went to meetings where everyone was ready to jump into one of a few appropriate energies to talk about a specific thing. When I worked independently I drifted into one of a few appropriate energies to think or write or create. When I needed to pee, I did. When I needed to eat, I usually did. Now the day’s schedules and energies and milestones and needs have nothing to do with what my mind or body needs, and it’s very destabilizing. Isolating. Frustrating. Sad.

Because with a child, my needs are subsumed by his. My rhythm is supplanted by his. When he needs to run around, we have to. Not because I feel children should be the center of the universe. I don’t. Because I live with this child and his needs are valid. I understand this child, and when he makes his physical or emotional needs known, I respect them (within reason). And if he is metaphorically swaddled when he needs to wiggle, or is forced to engage when he needs cuddling, all systems fail. He melts down (I still refuse to call this volitilty terrible twos. He’s not terrible. My life is not terrible. Our family is not terrible. He is struggling to control things and get some independence and he’s terrified and frustrated by his incompetence. But almost every vascillation is understandable, predictable, and reasonable. I wouldn’t do the things he does, but putting myself into his shoes and his experience, I know exactly why he does what he does. I sometimes marvel, sometimes balk, sometimes well up with anger, but I understand. And I can anticipate it when I’ve slept and eaten, both of which are rare, since, did I mention, my day is not my own, my timing is not the primary Blackberry by which we run our day, and my needs are secondary because I can meet them all by myself. He can’t, so his needs come first.)

I’m a tired, hungry, cranky parent. Hence, again, the need to spew nastiness into my blog. And I’m not sorry. I’m coping.

Wait! Before you send out your holiday cards…

Dear friends,

I know this is a busy time of year for you. From the looks of last year’s holiday card, you start around now with the drafting of your family’s newsletter and photo-taking. I do love the updates. And the pictures. Whew! I can’t believe it’s been another year, but there’s the proof: pictures of kids I’ve never met and never agreed to be friends with, and not so much as the hint of your presence anywhere in your own family. Keep ’em coming!

Anyway, here’s the reason I’m writing: I can tell from the obvious time and energy that goes into your holiday extravaganza of correspondence that you send cards to a lot of people. And in so doing, you’re perpetuating a bit of a linguistic problem. So many look up to you that I’m hoping you can help me turn the tide back in favor of correct and precise language.

The thing is, your name and your family’s name fall into a certain category of words–those that take an “s” to become plural. And they take an apostrophe-ess when the singular becomes possessive. But, and here’s the kicker, when the plural of your name becomes a possessive, it takes an ess-apostrophe. I know that sounds like silly book-learnin’ talk, so let me break it down for you. I won’t use those pesky Smiths as an example. We’ve all had enough of them. They are just trying to keep up with the Joneses. But that’s another letter.

If your name, for the sake of argument, were Harkin, then you would be Sally Harkin. You know that, I know. Here’s where it gets trickier. If you owned a pencil, it would be Sally Harkin’s pencil. If, let’s be bold here, you had a family tailing behind you at some or most occasions, they would be Sally Harkin’s family. But if we’re talking about the whole family, you are The Harkins. And if your whole family has something tailing behind you at some or most occasions, like maybe a dog or a car or a genuinely wrong-headed political view, it would be the Harkins’ dog, Harkins’ car, and Harkins’ political ignorance.

So your holiday cards should not say The Harkin’s. Or From the Harkins’. They should say The Harkins. From The Harkins. Apostrophes are just not necessary. In fact, they’re kind of out of place in a family as full as yours. You have enough creatures roaming around within the confines of your family home that you don’t need extra apostrophes cluttering things up.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t as egregious as “10 items or fewer,” which none of the markets in my area seems to choose, favoring instead the “10 items or less” that is ruining our society. No, no. Your extra apostrophe is only problematic because, as I mentioned before, so many look up to you as an example. They, to be more like you, are adding apostrophes to their names, too. It’s similar to the phenomenon where someone, somewhere, saw CDs and DVDs and thought they looked too bare without punctuation. So every company and catalog starts listing CD’s and DVD’s, neither of which is really what they mean. Unless they are speaking of the CD’s songs and the DVD’s menus. Then, sure, bring on the apostrophe. But a spindle of CDs and a collection of DVDs? Plain, please, without the apostrophe a la mode.

Please forgive my trespass on this one. But if you don’t mind, please, let your friends the Traxes know about that whole superfluous and really rather appallingly incorrect apostrophe thing, too. Because Annie Trax thinks that when her family gets together they are The Trax’s. And I just know I can’t send her this letter. She’s not as evolved as you. She couldn’t bear to know that The Traxes’ winter mailings are taxing our circle’s good nature. For that matter, she couldn’t bear to know that her family’s good qualities, fine china, and dreadful children, should be labeled Traxes’. I’m sure you can convey it, with your usual wit and charm. Maybe something in your massive December 1 mailing?

Have a great week, dearie. I’ll let you go, for I’m sure you have to pick out your Thanksgiving decor AND start making the New Year’s favors this month. All my best!

Your friend,

Millicent Fussbudget

Please proofread your mailbox

Dear Neighbor,

Please excuse the intrusion into your personal life, but the sign outside your home beckoned. It made me feel at home, if not in a literal sense, at least comfortable enough to be honest with you.

I just want to let you know that the education system has failed you. I’m not sure whom to blame, but someone, surely, should have told you that, if your last name is Jones, then your family is The Joneses. And if you own a house all by yourself, and people call you Jones, then you can put a sign outside that says Jones’s. Otherwise, if more than one of you resides in your house, please, for the name of all that is sacred in the English language, if you must put out a sign, make sure it says, Joneses’. Now that you see how silly it looks, maybe you’ll flashback to the day you actually paid someone to burn Jones’ on that scrap of redwood burl

Better yet, please don’t decorate your home with your name. Or that tacky, glittery flag you put out every month. Nobody needs a flag to know it’s leaf season.

Your presence in this neighborhood means so much, and it would be just lovely of you to correct the aforementioned sign. Thanks ever so much, and keep up the over-watered, pesticide- and herbicide-laden gardening. The local children, pets, and wildlife thank you.

Sincerely,

Your Neighbor

Arrested moment of reflection

The instant Peanut goes down for a nap, I fire up the computer. My goals are always to check email, to read the news, and to do some writing. Often I spend the whole time at amazon, but that’s an entry for another day.

Today the first thing I check is the CNN homepage. Staying at home with a small person makes me feel frighteningly isolated, and I often worry that nobody would tell me if the sky were falling, or there were a terrorist attack, or we’d finally gotten rid of the electoral college, or Kurt Vonnegut died (I’m still not over that I didn’t know for a few days about that one). Ten minutes into nap (not right away because I have to pee some time. When Peanut was a baby I never had time because I had to much to do. Now I don’t have time because..well, because I have too much to do. And because he barks at me, in two-year-old-ese, Mommy No Pee!! I don’t let him tell me what to do, of course, but I like to do what I need to do without someone hanging on me, whining at me, yelling at me, and watching me. Label that what you will.)

Anyway, ten minutes into nap, when I finally sit down, the lead story on CNN announces Randy Pausch’s death. I’m sure you’ve seen the lectures on YouTube , or the Oprah special, or something. If not, please do. I’m not generally a “live your life as though today was your last day” because I’m not that smaltzy and because even the people who believe that don’t really live that way all day. It’s a goal, fine. It’s a lovely sentiment. It’s just not me. But Dr. Pausch’s lecture was compelling in his message to his children. Well written, funny, warm. Parental. Not patriarchal. Not pedantic. Just darn parental.

And I’m sorry, so sorry, for his family that he’s gone.

As I read, I begin to think about the lecture, its meaning, my family, my life; and I get about 3 seconds into a life-affirming and potentially attitude-altering moment when my cats start going at it. Not just the afternoon wrestling, but serious, fur flying, yowling, painful fight about a foot from my ear. So much for thinking about what my family will mean to me when I’m dying—I’m deciding how to handle the little bastards’ intrusion into my hour of peace.

I coo at them, gently berating them to be nice to each other because, as I remind them, they’ll be dead some day and then they’ll regret treating each other so poorly. Not the best parenting, I know. But I use them as practice. I have to get out all the sarcasm, the clichés, and the detritus so I’ll get to the good stuff by the time Peanut needs perspective on why we don’t beat the tar out of each other while mommy is trying to freaking think about life and death.

If I was living the lessons of Sarah Napthali’s Buddhism for Mothers: a calm approach to caring for yourself and your children, I might have just observed the cats’ altercation, gently redirected them to more pleasant activities that respected their need to engage in physical activity, and guided my thoughts softly back to Randy Pausch, his family, his students, his life, my life, my family, my goals, my dreams, and my aspirations for making the world a better place. But I’ve only gotten a few pages into Napthali’s book and haven’t really internalized the whole “living each moment fully” central tenet of Buddhism. My moments for reading are few—during Peanut’s nap or nighttime slumbers, but only after I’ve tidied, washed and put away dishes, dragged Peanut’s bathwater out to the garden (screw you, Al Gore, Bono, and all the rich people who have “people” or technology to handle their grey water), swept, done a load of laundry, packed lunches for the next day, checked email, returned phone calls, paid bills, done client work, cleaned visible dirt, changed the litterbox, regretted not working on videos and photo albums, exercised, snacked, washed, brushed, and changed. So maybe in a few years, when I’ve read a few more pages, I can react more appropriately to the rude interruption during contemplation of Randy Pausch’s words.

Maybe I’ll think about how to live more fully tonight after I do a few things around the house. Or maybe I’ll save all the work for tomorrow, so I can spend all of Peanut’s waking hours doing chores instead of interacting. While I’m at it, I can regain my focus on writing, thinking, and being a whole person instead of being awash in the confusion, frustration, and giddiness of being a newish mom. I could push our toddler to the back burner and make some headway on my projects. But that would mean I hadn’t learned anything from Pausch’s lecture, and what kind of student would that make me?

(Okay, seriously, they’re going at it again. I can’t even wax semi-philosophical for a stinking blog without the cat bastards intruding into my otherwise tenuous grip on adult thought. Why, why, why didn’t I just adopt a newt?)