Standing on the East Coast, pointed toward California, and clicking my heels three times

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The NaNoWriMo That Wasn't

So much for grand aspirations. Even when I set UN-lofty goals for myself, sometimes I still come up short. I wrote on exactly one occasion, a few paltry paragraphs that did little to bring the piece towards anything resembling completion.

But that is perfectly okay :). I am absolutely fine with it. Because some things happened during November, things that make me not mind at all that I didn't write. These are good things; in a way, miraculous things.

I started walking regularly. Like, almost every week day. It may seem strange to have started walking as the weather took a major mercury nose-dive, but the reason it's so perfect is that it's mall walking. I know it sounds odd, to prefer going around and around in circles on the top floor of a mall before the stores are open to being outside in the nice fresh air, but I really do. Walking outside here (as opposed to hiking, which I do enjoy in a totally different way, but it takes a LOT more effort to drive to a place in which it's possible) means walking in the street, since there are no sidewalks in most parts of residential areas here (a thing I HATE). So you have to worry about dodging cars, and the "terrain" is littered with piles of leaves and trash cans and parked cars. The ground can be uneven and I sometimes have trouble getting a rhythm going. In a mall the ground is even and the only things to dodge are the elderly ladies who are basically the only ones there in the morning. The county health department set up a mall walking program (obviously with the seniors in mind) at the two malls here in town, both five minutes or less from my house. At the fancy mall, parking for members of the walking club is free till noon, so I can even shop a bit if I like after walking. Already I feel like I'm getting in much better shape, after only a month. I got some of those ugly toning Skechers, which surprised me by how much I like them.

And here's the real kicker: I'm walking with friends. There's a group of four "pick up moms" that I've known for awhile (meaning they also go to school to pick up their kids in the afternoon, as opposed to those whose kids ride the bus home), and I've been getting increasingly friendly with them. Now that we walk together almost every week day after we drop our kids off at school, and talk non-stop during the walking, we've crossed over from being friendly to being friends. We're even having a holiday party together on the Dec. 20, and there's talk of trying to go away on an overnight trip together. It's been a revelation, after six and a half years of not having a real, "everyday" friend here, to have people to talk to and laugh with and walk around with, in mall circles. They're all very different, but all wonderful women who understand the frustrations and joys of suburban motherhood. Two of them have special needs kids; one has a girl Tessa's age.

Struggling with loneliness and lack of friendship seems like a tween problem, so I didn't fully recognize how much I was suffering till now. It took a while to emerge, but I feel like I passed some threshold. You really can, at the ripe old age of 44, find someone to play with.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fourth Grade Morning

We have once again come to National Education Week, which at our elementary school signals the day that parents are invited to come into their children's classrooms to observe what they are learning (for a whole hour). So this morning I found my way to the classroom of the fabulous Mr. Russo, Tessa's fourth grade teacher (he really is fabulous: one of those teachers who was born to teach; who after decades of teaching is still so enthusiastic and energetic and obviously in love with teaching).

I let him know as I entered that I was going to have to leave a little earlier than our alloted time (since I had my weekly appointment with Matthew and his therapist). I sat down, and realized that Tessa was nowhere to be seen. As other parents filtered in, I figured that she'd gone to the bathroom or something, but after several minutes she hadn't shown up yet. Mr. Russo explained that we were going to observe the students in a listening/note taking exercise that will prepare them for the state ELA exams. This is exactly the exercise that Matthew's class was doing during my visit to his disastrous fourth grade year. Finally, Tessa showed up and took her seat, and we all started the exercise (parents were given a worksheet and expected to take notes on the passage as well).

After listening to the passage once, we listened again and took our notes, then we went on to writing exercises. The first was to list four significant elements of one of the story's main plot points. After a few minutes, Mr. Russo called on children to share what they'd written. Most of the responses were sort of vague, though he consistently tried to bring each comment around to a coherent idea and praised each child. Then he called on Tessa and she *nailed* the most pertinent, significant element of the reading. As always, I am dazzled by my child :).

It was particularly impressive because she was not feeling well at all. This morning she started to feel ill before school, but she didn't want to stay home. I told her that since I was coming to school anyway, if she felt badly I could take her home with me and cancel my appointments at Matthew's school. Later I found out that the reason she had not been in the classroom when I arrived was that she'd been in the nurse's office. Since she hadn't had a fever, the nurse gave her some water and some crackers to settle her stomach and she came back to class. I kept mouthing to her from across the room, asking if she was okay, if she wanted to leave. She kept making sad frowny faces and shrugging that she didn't know. Finally it got to the point that I had to leave, so during a break in the exercise, I signaled to the teacher and explained to him that Tessa hadn't felt well that morning and she wasn't sure if she should stay or go home with me. He assured me that she'd be fine, since the day was half over already, so I got up to leave. As I passed Tessa's seat, I told her that if she felt really sick, she could tell Mr. Russo and go to the nurse again and I would come get her. Her eyes filled with tears and she clung to me for a second, but then she let go and went to blow her nose. I left feeling perfectly awful.

All of this worry over Tessa being sick and miserable compounded how I had felt even before I had arrived at school, which was heartsick, emotionally exhausted, and utterly drained. Last night, just after the kids went to bed, I was on FB and saw a picture of our friend Mike tagged by someone we didn't know. The message attached to the photo said that Mike had passed away over the weekend. I was struck to the core.

He was our friend from Ross' grad school days at UCLA; they were in the same cohort. Over the years, we became very close, and by the time Matthew was born, he was one of our closest friends. He was so funny and kind, right down to the soul. He rubbed some people the wrong way, because he never held back from saying just what he thought, and he had a low tolerance for bullshit. He did so much for so many people, whether it was helping someone move or offering up his incredible garden for parties or driving people home when they'd had too much to drink. He loved to barbeque (he's the one who taught Ross how to properly cook really good pork tenderloin) and to tailgate at UCLA football games.

Matthew loved him when he was a baby. After me and Ross and Grandma, Mike was the first person Matthew loved. We thought that was funny at the time, because Mike had been an only child, had never had children, and hadn't spent a whole lot of time around babies. But he was enamored with Matthew and was endlessly gentle and sweet and patient with him.

I wanted to write more here about Mike, about some of my favorite memories of him, but as I said, I'm absolutely emotionally exhausted. I'm also still in shock and utter disbelief that he is gone. We last saw him and his wife Janet four years ago. He moved to Tucson to go to law school back in 2001 and had stayed there, so the only times we saw him after that were when he and Janet were in CA visiting her family. Ross had emailed him a couple of times in the past few years to let him know we were coming to CA, and got no reply, but he didn't pursue the matter very strenuously. I was FB friends with Mike, but he wasn't on much so we didn't have much interaction there. I missed wishing a happy birthday back in August, since his birthday was the day we left for CA for our summer trip and I missed the notification. I thought several times since then of writing to him to see how they were going, but I didn't.

We always think we have more time. We rush through our days bogged down by minutiae, necessary tasks and preoccupations that prevent us from doing those things that we think about, but neglect to actually do. We think there will time in the future to do them. Who on earth would expect that a friend who was a contemporary could lie down to take a nap during the weekend and never wake up? We should have told that person that despite the intervening years and the recent lack of contact, he was a cherished part of our lives and we love and appreciate him more than we can say.

Seize the day, and tell the ones you care about how you care for them.

I love you all.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?
(The original Van Morrison version, NOT the Rod Stewart cover :D)

For some reason, I can't log in to my own Comments as myself. Or rather, when I log in to Comments, it comes up with the avatar and screen name that I use to comment on the AMC TV message boards. I guess they all use the same service, so you can log in under your Google, Blogger, Yahoo, Twitter, etc. accounts.

So I can't comment back to the lovely comments I've received to the posts made since my triumphant (J/K) return. I tend to be a negligent comment-backer anyway, which is a failing on my part, since I always enjoy getting comments back from the comments I leave other people. I should reciprocate more. But now I can't figure out how to do that on here.

And that's a shame, since I would like to reply to the comments I've gotten. It made me feel so good, so loved and so...worthwhile :). That you were actually happy to see me post again, were looking forward to reading what I had to say.

So I don't say it often enough, but I love you, my dear friends :).

Thursday, November 04, 2010

It was Worse than I Thought

No, not the election, which I've been trying to block out of my consciousness :p.

When I decided to finish the short story I had started (over three years ago), from an old idea I had (over seven years ago), I thought I had written about a page and a half. Well, today I actually looked at the file, and I had written exactly 206 words. Three short paragraphs. Heh, as Leila would say :D.

This really highlights how lousy I am at fiction. I get good ideas, but I just can't execute. I *really* can't write dialog that is not stilted and fake, except for when I use things people actually said, which I suppose is not really writing (other than the physical act of putting the words in written form :p). How many times have I written "really" in this paragraph? :p

I like to flagellate myself over this, because I think of myself as a writer. But what kind of shabby writer can't write more than 500 words without withering on the vine? The ability to write blog posts and Facebook status updates does not a writer make. I lack the endurance, the perseverance, the willingness to put in the hard work. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird was momentarily inspirational to me, until I realized that I *can't* go bird by bird. I do three birds and then I want to jump ahead to the last bird, the one I know about. I don't know those in-between birds. I get story ideas, and I know the beginning and the end, and the opening sentences, and perhaps some bits in the middle, but I just can't fill in the rest. I hate it. It's messy. I don't like messy. So like everything else in my life that I don't like and no one is pointing a gun to my head to do, I don't do it.

My poor, orphan ideas. They deserve a better mother.

PS: Speaking of Anne Lamott and birds, everyone MUST read her new book, Imperfect Birds. Dazzling and funny and heartbreaking and scary as all hell if you're a parent of a teenager or see your child's impending teenagerhood looming in the near future. She so perfectly captured both voices, that of the mother wanting to be the cool, hip mom who is liked by her child, but lives in utter terror that something bad will happen to her, and of the teen girl, who wants to be protected while simultaneously wanting to be left alone to do whatever the hell she wants, whose feelings of invincibility and entitlement lead her to do a lot of really stupid stuff. As they say in actual reviews, Highly Recommend.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Election Day at the Rat House

If that's not a metaphor, I don't know what is.

Today, Tessa was off from school, as she is every Election Day. She asked, weeks ago, if we could go to Chuck E. Cheese (aka The Rat House) on her day off, since Matthew was in school, and we can only go to CEC when Tessa is off and Matthew is not. I decided to ask her friend along, and it all morphed into a grand excursion with three moms and six girls. That was good, though, because they really had a fun time. I honestly don't mind CEC, but it was nice getting to chat with the other moms instead of watching Tessa play games.

It makes me ponder, and makes me feel quite guilty, that I let her social life languish for so long. If it wasn't for her friend Maya's mom, she wouldn't have much of a social life now either. I'm still more or less incapable of contacting other moms for playdates, so I'm so grateful that her mom has no problem calling me up and asking if Maya can come over to our house on such-and-such a day. She invites Tessa to their house all the time, also, and she was so helpful about having Tessa over several times at the beginning of the school year, when I was feeling really ill. I'm actually starting to have a bit of a social life myself, as I've become friends with some of these moms at school.

So the day was spent enjoying the company of our friends, which kept my mind off worrying about the outcome of this election, and the rats that will soon be infesting the House (and the Senate).

Monday, November 01, 2010


Remember the good old days, like back in 2008? When NaBloPoMo really was a Mo (I mean, month), and November was the month? When it meant something to post every day during November?

I'm still completely unsure how it changed, how NaBloPoMo became an all-year event, in which people seem at liberty to decide when they want to post every day for a month. I get these random emails from the organization, suggesting "themes" for the month, which I trash without even reading because I'm so perturbed that I finally got on the NaBloPoMo wagon (I registered and posted every single day for the first time in 2008) and the wagon morphed into some other type of vehicle.

NaNoWriMo is still alive and kicking, apparently. Last year I spent the month writing about my account of Matthew's life and our trials and tribulations in trying to help him navigate the world. I wrote every single day during the month of November, even if it was only for 10 minutes while Matthew was taking a shower (I didn't want to have him looking over my shoulder at an inopportune moment and ask what I was writing). I got up to the second grade, and frankly I think it is pretty damn good writing. Then I let it languish for several months. Last spring, I revisited the piece, and tweaked a bit here and there. Then for one single, solitary day, I wrote some more. And have not touched it again since.

There are a couple of reasons I haven't written any more. I think the main reason is that I've reached third and fourth grade, and those were the hardest, saddest, most gut-wrenching years. Perhaps I'm not up to the challenge of delving deeply into them again. Also, I think it was therapeutic for me to write what I did, but there's no way I could ever do anything with this. It could not be published, not any time soon (like I could really get it published anyway!). Matthew cannot bear anyone even talking about him, particularly about when he was younger, so how could he possibly accept a book, telling his story, being opened up to the world? Lastly, I just am not feeling motivated to continue right now. I get sad when I think about it, to too great a degree.

So I'm going to try and write some fiction. I had an idea for a story back when Tessa was about two years old. A few years ago I started writing it; I have about two pages. Obviously there is room for further development. It's not going to be a novel, but I'll be fully thrilled if it ends up being novella length. I *am* going to finish though, even if it sucks :).

And I'm going to post more here, in the spirit of NaBloPoMo, the way it used to be.

Friday, October 29, 2010

It's the End of the World As We Know It
(And I'm Back, Baby!)

Well, that was quite the hiatus. And what topic brings me back to posting? Not the kids (who are doing well, thanks), or my health issues (which are much better, after a bout of badness that was truly not fun), or even the weather (which seems to be finally acting like fall, rather than yoyo-ing up and down insanely).

No, I'm here to talk about the end of the world. Or at least the end of our world, the one filled with electricity and intercontinental air travel and Facebook. I'm trying to figure out what my obsession with apocalypse is all about, because obsession is really not too strong a word.

I'm obviously not alone in thinking about this topic, because there are tons of book and movies and TV shows dealing with various forms of apocalypse or post-apocalypse. Is it an outlet for the fear that seems to be permeating modern life, fraught with climate change and oil spills and devastating natural disasters? Yet depiction of the end of the world is hardly new. There have been countless periods in history in which people have talked about the coming of the end times, with a real sense that it was right around the corner.

What I think is different is that during those periods, it seems that people expected God to lay down the apocalypse, in a spectacular Revelations kind of way. Today the stories all center around man-made destruction: wars or pollution or viruses mutated from experiments conducted in laboratories. In some of the stories, you don't even know what happened, what went down to cause world-wide devastation. Everything goes to hell, but there are survivors, who have to try and keep surviving.

That's the part that fascinates me (to an absolutely unhealthy degree). I'm drawn to questions of what happens to people when suddenly everything they know falls apart, when everyone they know could potentially become a threat. What happens to society? What happens to communities? What happens to individual families?

The stories that draw me in the most are those of pandemic, because I find that the most terrifying scenario of all. The randomness of who will fall ill and who will be spared is haunting. And the worst scenario of all is the (admittedly, highly unrealistic) pandemic in which people don't just die, but turn into something non-human. What greater uncertainty and terror could there be than when the people you love the most could suddenly turn into monsters who want to destroy you?

So here's where it gets dopey. Long before I developed this obsession with apocalypse, I had a phobia. Of zombies. Since I was a teenager, I've been absolutely fucking terrified of zombies. I used to have nightmares about being chased by zombies. I'd have nightmares about people I knew suddenly turning into zombies and trying to catch me. I've never seen Night of the Living Dead or any other zombie movie, because just looking at still photos is too much for me. Watching a whole movie would probably kill me. I did see I Am Legend, but only by watching it on cable and fast forwarding over the parts with the infected (and they aren't really zombies anyway, since they are not undead).

I've thought a lot about why zombies are such a popular, enduring theme (and they're more popular than ever now, and have really gone mainstream). Why are they (and vampires) so compelling? I think it's the whole undead thing, the idea that they're really hard to kill, since they're already dead, so that is a very scary plot point. And the whole relentless, unstoppable horde image is very frightening, as is the idea of becoming a zombie by being bitten by one. Plus, zombies EAT PEOPLE, so you get the huge gore factor that is necessary to that subgenre of horror movies, that I simply can't bear.

My recent problem has stemmed from a collision of my obsession and phobia. In other words: zombie apocalypse. It's been done in traditional horror films (which focus on the gore and terror, without the sociological issues) and in semi-comedic ways like Zombieland, but now there's a new series on AMC based on the comic book series The Walking Dead. This isn't a mindless gore fest, but a serious, thoughtful look at how human beings devolve under the pressures of survival under terrifying conditions. I've spent the last couple of weeks reading about the comic book series (lots of synopses, as I can't look too much at the actual comics, which are pretty horrifying). I tried my best to read about the TV series without actually having to look at depictions of the zombies themselves, but that ended up being impossible. I actually managed to read the articles that were prefaced with some zombies photos, so perhaps I've extinguished the phobia a bit. I even watched some interviews with the creators of the show that were interspersed with brief scenes from the show that featured zombies. The show looks brilliant, true character studies of people who find themselves transformed by the tragedies that have befallen their world.

But I can't watch it. It's just too much for me. So I keep thinking about it, about the story lines I read, about the images I saw. About the end of the world, only it doesn't really end.
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