Prompted by http://www.writingprompts.us/water-magic/

Lauren tied the friendship bracelet onto Amy’s wrist. A little spark of static electricity jumped between the girls. Amy bit back a yelp.

“Try it now,” said Lauren.

Amy crouched down and held her hands under the running water, cupped, like Lauren had showed her. Like Lauren had done it before and had tried to teach her.

A drop of water hovered in between Amy’s hands. Not falling. The drop gathered up other drops, became a sphere of water. When the cool glassy surface touched her palms, she jerked away. The ball of water floated in place for a moment. Just a moment, then it collapsed and splashed over Amy’s leggings.

She shrieked. Lauren leaned towards her.

“I’m okay,” Amy said. “I’m fine. It’s okay.”

Amy took a deep breath and tried again, ignoring her wet legs. This time, when the ball of water touched her hands, she held fast. It filled her hands, with the excess running off the edges. She bit her lip. 

“Now let it go,” Lauren said.

Amy opened her hands, first one finger at a time, then letting her palms drift away from the shimmering ball. This time, instead of exploding, it stayed in place: a moment, then another. She stood, keeping her gaze on the water ball. It floated up with her.

“Now!” said Lauren.

“Eyes or hands?”


Amy pointed at the shed, keeping her eyes fixed on the ball, which remained right where it was.

“So eyes, I guess…or maybe both? I don’t know!”

With her hands and eyes coordinated, Amy threw the ball of water. It hit the shed wall, bursting like a water balloon. The girls beamed at each other.

Amy twisted the loose ends of the friendship bracelet in her fingers.

“So, fire….?” she asked.

bike poem

"In my late 20s I learned..."

    something I could have
                should have
                      might have wanted to learn
                      when I was a small child

except that Dad died.

The bike came the year
I stopped believing in Santa
which was because of the bike
which could not have possibly
fit down the chimney.

The bike: I couldn't quite
      get the hang of it
despite his efforts

and then he died.
He died and Mom couldn't
      help me learn either.

So the bike went in the garage
until it was too small.

Besides, no one bikes in LA in the 80s anyway.

All through my middle 20s
C. wanted me to learn
        how to ride a bicycle.

When we met he had the
         John Deere tractor green bike
that he rode on those steep
         Tacoma hills.

Except when 
         I came through the park
         to his apartment
         and we walked to work together.

That was how everyone knew
         we were a thing, us walking
together, him with the hand-painted green bike.

He tried to take me bike shopping.
I was terrified of being 
that far off the ground
         and of moving at a speed
          faster than walking.

Looking out the window
of my first office, first real 
grown-up profession,
and he's on the phone
explaining how, no -- really--
I have to see this bike
               it's totally different
       from all the other times --
       five -- six -- seven years of
               "you should get a bike."

But really -- it is different.

The bike is different,
        the shape of it isn't so scary
                and maybe by then
        I'm different too.

Because I get on and after
a wobbly how-do-I-start-this moment
I'm moving and pedaling
         and somehow the whole thing 
       stays up and is a sort of 
           miracle not unlike flying.

Would you ever get an e-book reader?

I’ve been thinking about that, actually, and I’m really interested. The Kindle is particularly tempting. It seems like they’ve got the form factor (mostly) worked out, and it ought to work for me most of the time.

Here’s the thing, though: 99% of the books I read now come from the library. I almost certainly wouldn’t buy as many books as I want to read. Most of the time, these days, I read a book just once and don’t see any particular need to have it around to read again. Of the (80+?) books I’ve read in the last year, I can see owning less than 10 of them, including cookbooks & how-to books. The library meets my needs perfectly that way.

Yes, my library has e-books. Unfortunately, they use @%&#*ing Overdrive, which has a meager selection and doesn’t support Kindle. (Or at least it didn’t the last time I checked, which was probably a month ago.)

So until I can check out library books (or there’s a good cheap rental solution), I just can’t justify it. Alas.

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A gracious gesture

In March 1997, my job at the Children’s Museum was going to end; for whatever reason, there just wasn’t the money there to fund it. I’d been doing some job-hunting, but nothing had turned up yet. I was about to go on vacation*, and before I left, I decided to apply to the temp agency up the hill.

It was raining. I didn’t own an umbrella or a rainhat; if I remember it right, all I had was a long London Fog raincoat that had once belonged to my father, and that looked a bit Colombo-esque. Back then, I just didn’t care that much about getting wet. I often showed up at work looking a bit drowned-rat, but I always dried off pretty quickly, so it didn’t matter.

But I was going for an interview, so I was a little nervous, hoping for a break in the rain for those few blocks uphill.

Instead, a guy who had just started working there, doing something with the point of sale system, came over and offered his umbrella. It was a plain little black folding umbrella, and it kept me dry going up the hill to my interview and testing. (I typed hella fast. I still type pretty fast.) Back down again, too, where I gave it back to him, and thought, “how sweet.” It was the first time I really noticed him.

When I came back from my vacation, it was to the very good news that my job had been extended a few more months. I would end up working until the end of June, which meant I got to spend more time around that sweet guy. We started dating in late March, with an outing to see Hamlet, and that was basically that.

So yeah, the first time I noticed C, he loaned me an umbrella, and I always smile when I think of that little gesture.

* The vacation itself turned out to be a pivotal moment. I’d originally planned on a week in Austin and a week in SF, and cancelled the Austin leg at the very last minute for complicated emotional reasons. (It was almost a decade before I finally went there, under radically different circumstances, but still visiting the same person!) Ended up spending a few days at a cabin near Mt Rainier, which had its own strangeness. SF, on the other hand, was glorious. Also, for some reason I’d gotten the impression that my boss had finagled a way to get me a paid vacation…and that wasn’t so…and that was the beginning of some really hairy experiences with that job….

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Don’t go changing

When I was a teenager, I thought about this often. My father died when I was eight, and so in the chaos of my home life after that, I would daydream about what things would have been like. I’ve mused about that one often, turning it over in my head, especially as I’ve gotten older and learned more about my father and more about the world in general.

And then later, I was full of regrets about dumb things I had done, ways I had behaved poorly to others, and so forth.

I’m trying to remember what specific event triggered it, but at some point in college I decided that it was worthless to regret past choices. I want to say that it was related to the long-term drama of my friendship with K. Something about realizing that even really shitty times contributed to things that turned out pretty good, considering. (Oh, that’s not vague AT ALL.) And in fact, that long-term drama is probably my personal touchstone for “that thing that you thought you understood? nope, it’s going to be different than that.” (Which reminds me that I need to figure out a present for a great kid’s 13th (!!!!) birthday.)

With that went a decision that trying to work out alternate personal histories was an exercise in futility. Not that it’s not entertaining sometimes: I’m firmly convinced that there’s an alternate reality in which I am an adjunct English prof in Arizona or something. But it can also be wrenchingly painful, and quite possibly wrong.

Curiously enough, I tend to tie myself up in knots thinking about my personal politics of all things, when musing about “if Dad hadn’t died.” I’m pretty lefty, and not just with my handwriting. Dad, on the other hand, was not just 20 years Air Force, but according to other family members, fairly conservative. (He converted TO Catholicism, although I’m not entirely sure of the circumstances. And an uncle told me several years ago that he was passionate about utility deregulation. I’ve occasionally wondered what he would have thought of Enron.) On top of that, he and Mom always disagreed about politics, to the point that they had an agreement not to talk about politics at all.

Whereas when I was a teen and preteen, Mom watched the Sunday morning politics shows, and argued loudly with the TV, and we watched a lot of news, read the paper, etc. I registered voters for the Dukakis campaign when I was only 13. I was passionate about nuclear disarmament at about the same age, and a little earlier. Would I have had those opinions then — or my current ones now — if he’d been around as an influence? If so, would we have fought about it? Because my memories of Dad don’t include the struggles for independence that I fought with Mom later — and there were some doozies — so they’ve got a bit of rose-tinting to them. That’s the dark side of the alternate personal history: not just good things that might never have been, but bad things that might have happened.

I swear I’ve written about this before, because it’s something I’ve definitely (obviously!) thought about, but I have no idea when or what keywords to go searching with.

Other alternative history turning points that I’ve mused on: going to UPS. not going to library school. dating Raul (or yes, C). not going to Austin in ’97 to visit HA, and a few other things in relation to her. learning to bike later in life. All of which reinforces the idea that it’s all interconnected in really complicated ways. (Cue It’s a Wonderful Life.)

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Scars of childhood, the non-figurative kind

I have two scars of note, both of which involve being somewhat more adventurous than I think my parents appreciated.

The first I don’t remember getting. The way I understand it, I was a toddler, and rather curious in the way that toddlers are. And somehow I managed to get into the garage, which in that house my father used as a shop, and it had a great many sharp or powered tools. I can visualize the little ranch house, that we lived in until I was seven, and the pressboard door between the main house and the garage. I don’t know if I’m making this up, but I swear I remember it being kept closed with a hook high up on the door. I imagine that the hook was a new innovation after I got into the garage.

According to mom, I went directly from dragging myself around on my belly like a seal to walking, without a crawling phase in the middle. So I would have been walking by then, and I was always a tall kid. Perhaps even tall enough to open the door by myself. But I don’t remember any of this, so I couldn’t have been much older than three, maybe three and a half? (My very first memory is of being at preschool with my “boyfriend.”)

In any case, somehow I got into the shop, and wandered about, and somehow (oh, somehow!) turned on a saw? I think mom said once that it was a band saw. How the hell I got high up enough to turn on a band saw boggles the mind. The toddler mind sees “ooh, moving stuff!” and reaches out to touch….

Did I scream? Considering the second story, I’m really wondering if I did. I definitely sliced my finger, maybe two fingers. The doctor told mom and dad that I was lucky: if I’d cut my finger slightly differently, I’d have completely lost the tip. How’s that for scary? Mom says she can never remember exactly which finger, but when I look at my right hand, two of the fingers have odd divots/lines on them, nearly perpendicular to the rest of the lines, one more than the other. So when I look at those fingers, I can almost visualize the angle at which I grabbed the blade.

It seems strange to me that I should have very nearly lost a fingertip, and yet I can’t remember it. (This is also true for another toddler-era accident, one that didn’t leave a scar: allegedly I jumped off of the sofa right into the coffeetable, and broke one of my front teeth. I had a silver tooth until I was seven years old.)

I do remember getting the other scar: we were still living in that house, and I was seven years old, so it must have been sometime between September 1981 and February 1982. My bedroom in that house was tiny, just barely big enough for my bed and my toy chest. “Chest” is a misnomer: it was a shelving unit which I think must have previously been some sort of store display: dark wood, just a bit taller than the bed. I wish I could remember what the painting on the back of the top shelf said, as that would probably explain what it was before it was my toy chest. All my dolls sat leaning up against each other, both the handmade dolls and my beloved plastic-headed Mandy, whose clothes were folded (or piled) in the shelves below. (I imagine, although I’m not sure, along with stacks of books.)

The fun thing about the shelf was that bit about being just a bit taller than the bed, and its position right at the foot of the bed, with just enough space between the two for a tall skinny 7-year-old to slip between to get out toys or books. That also being enough space, or rather distance, for jumping off of onto the bouncy bed.

Of course I was not supposed to jump from the shelf onto the bed. I had been warned about that, more than once. But I loved the springy bouncy flying feeling of that jump, so I kept doing it when I didn’t think anyone would see me.

Here’s the other half of the equation: a white wooden headboard, with a few stickers on it. That was where my forehead ended up, finally, when I jumped just a bit too vigorously. What I remember now is not the actual strike, but putting my hand to my head and feeling it wet. Then I snuck out of my room to the bathroom: for the better part of thirty years, I’ve described the image in the mirror as “like V8 dripping down the side of my face” — I’d put a gash in my forehead, just above my right eyebrow. I don’t remember any pain, just anxiety about getting in trouble, both because I’d been up past my bedtime and because I’d been doing something I wasn’t supposed to do.

There was an emergency room visit, and stitches, and both are just vague blurs of memory now. I still have a tiny scar, more like a dent; some of the glasses I’ve worn over the years hide it entirely, like the prescription sunglasses I have now. I sometimes rub at it when I’m thinking.

(While writing all this, I realized I have a third scar, on my left hand between the thumb and first finger, where I gashed it with a pruning saw a few years ago, getting a bit too vigorous trying to prune an apple tree that comes out over the fence into our yard. Wear your gloves.)

The thing that strikes me about both of these childhood accidents is an adventuresomeness (?!) that feels surprising and unfamiliar. Somewhere I became physically cautious, nervy about climbing or jumping, anxious about falling. It wasn’t very long after the bed incident: I was terrified learning how to rollerskate, for example, and remember Dad coming home from work one day, after we’d moved to the new house, and taking the stick I was using to balance with, so I’d do it on my own. Similarly with early attempts to learn to ride a bike, which I think I’ve written about before. I was often terrified of diving boards and of roller coasters.

What is it, exactly? A little bit the fear of hurting myself. A little bit the fear of UR DOIN IT RONG. Or that I’m doing something I oughtn’t. (Jumping off a log over the swimming hole at the river this last summer hit all those points something fearsome, and I never did manage it, though C said it was a lot of fun. Then the flow of the river changed, and it definitely wasn’t deep enough to be safe.) The getting in trouble bothered me more than the pain, when I hit my head.

There’s a separate thing about awkwardness and teasing, I think, but that may be something for another time.

And yet: every time I finally got up the nerve to do those things: to go on Space Mountain in junior high, to jump off the rocks in the Apostle Islands on vacation with C, and yes, to finally learn how to ride a bike, I’ve loved it, same as I always loved going on the swings. It’s getting up the nerve that’s the hard part. Maybe when I look at the scars on my fingers, or worry at the one on my forehead, I’ll try to think of the adventuresomeness, and how very small those scars are, really.

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Sailoresque, alas

“Some people love to swear. For others it makes them cringe. Where do you stand, and why?”

Oh, goodness. I don’t know at what point I started swearing; high school, maybe? But once I started swearing, I never really stopped.

I am sort of curious how that happened: all my life I’ve picked up on other people’s slang and absorbed it into my own. When I was close to a couple of Texans in college, “y’all” weaseled into my vocabulary, and that one stuck. I happen to like it as a concise second-person plural, which doesn’t have a distinct word in formal English. When I was friends with an English guy with an odd vocabulary, and we worked together, a lot of it slipped into my regular speech. And life with C: well, his group of friends has their own complex slang evolved over 25 years or so, and after more than a decade, it’s just part of how I talk now.

So who was it that I hung out with in my mid-teens who swore so much? My first thought is to blame my high school and college boyfriend, the guy who introduced me to a lot of interesting and shady experiences, whose weirdness shaped my persona in my late teens and early 20s. But I don’t remember him being much for swearing, so who knows.

Because I certainly didn’t pick it up at home. I don’t think I’ve ever heard my mother utter a curse word, and both of my sisters are much the same way. Me, on the other hand? I’ve been described as “swearing like a sailor.”

It amused me when Dylan said in the comments on the CSS Squirrel post that he’d never heard me swear. I guess he knows me better from my writing — in which I rarely swear, and when I do it’s a big deal — than in person. When I’m relaxed and in friendly company — or conversely when I’m upset — I swear a LOT. Like Dennis Leary quality a LOT.

Hm. We started watching Comedy Central when I was a teenager, and Edith and I loved his early stand-up. That would be weird (ironic?) if I picked up swearing from TV.

And it’s just casual and natural for me; I have to consciously think about it to NOT swear. The words just slip in between other words. When I exclaim, when I stub my toe or forget a semi-colon in my code, I exclaim with honest-to-god swear words, most of the time, rather than the fraks and darns that a more careful person might use.

I don’t know how I feel about it, really; or rather, I’m a bit conflicted. It’s not particularly classy, but on the other hand, it’s a tiny bit of unexpectedness in my personal presentation, and I cherish that. (Contrariness?) And my thoughts flip back and forth along that axis, with the occasional stop at what’s the big fucking deal? So I try to be a professional when that’s appropriate, and to not mortify C in public, and other than that: whatever is, is.

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My Favorite Comfort Food

A light and pointless (?) blog post from a prompt, while I muse on posting some other stuff….

It’s odd, the first thing I think of is something I haven’t eaten in many months, but it is THE comfort food for me: macaroni & cheese.

Not any old macaroni & cheese*, but precisely the one that we ate every single Friday (go Catholics!) of my childhood, my mother’s version of a Good Housekeeping recipe from 1963. That recipe book fell open to that page; that or the hamburger stroganoff recipe. It took me at least a year after I was living on my own before I figured out mom’s exact modifications, which involve making it even MORE mid-century American than it was to start with. Velveeta FTW!

As a food, it’s simple: fat and starch, creamy and hot, which makes it an ideal wintertime comfort food. It’s easy to make and is done reasonably fast, but has enough steps to feel like you’re actually cooking something. It doesn’t microwave especially well, and that gives it a certain immediacy that’s oddly comforting.

But beyond that, because of “every Friday” and “mom’s modifications,” it has all this resonance emotionally as well, of the good parts of childhood, eating together. The ritual of making mac & cheese has all these particular touchstones: the double-boiler in particular, since that was the only thing it was ever used for when I was growing up. (True story: when I moved out in college and relatives gave me dishes for Christmas, my sister gave me a double-boiler specifically so I could make myself mac & cheese.)

So there it is, the platonic ideal of a comfort food, at least for me.


* I did not eat the stuff in a box until I was in college, when (alas) I ate quite a bit of it: box mac & cheese was in the imagery of a poem I had published when I was younger.

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The oldest jacket

I’ve been thinking about a formspring question that Kelsey answered the other day: what’s the oldest piece of clothing that you still wear regularly?

Because lately I’ve been wearing that very thing: my old Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra Vienna trip jacket from the summer of 1989, when I was a teenage girl playing the viola.* The local youth orchestra was invited to perform at the Vienna youth and music festival (this one?), and we did a two week trip in Germany and Austria.

That trip was the farthest I’d ever traveled — and honestly, still the farthest to this day — I’d only left California to go to Arizona to visit my grandparents. For the first time I experienced forests, big rivers, lakes, mountains: all those things that I came to love about the northwest. I suppose I’d seen some of those things at Big Bear, or on vacation in the Gold Country, but not in that sort of moist temperate climate. Cool summer weather, too; I distinctly remember going on a boat tour under steely-grey skies. It was probably the first inkling of the kind of place where I really wanted to live.

Like any big event, the trip exists in my head as a kaleidoscope of images, sounds, smells, tastes: I got a taste for “fancy” mustard in Germany, I played Barber’s Adagio in the courtyard of Vienna City Hall at dusk, I watched Scarecrow & Mrs King dubbed in German. 🙂 The whole trip was one of those unforgettable experiences — not really immediately life-changing, but an expansion of my view.

I remember being overwhelmed by history in quite a few locations: standing outside of St Stephan’s cathedral in Vienna, and not even being able to fathom a single building being in a single place, used for the same thing, for all that time. “Old” in LA means before World War II, or at most the Spanish Missions: maybe 200 hundred years? Still astounding to me even now, the difference in scale of time.

The people I traveled with were for the most part people I’d known through junior high school, had been in orchestra with, gone to music camp with, and I went to school with probably a third or more. It was a visit to a new place, but embedded in something of my normal life. So I remember moments of feeling my social isolation very intensely, and moments of being in a groove hanging out with friends. More of the former, alas, although at the same time I remember really enjoying some times of wanted solitude. There was a castle we went to on a tour, and I skipped the tour to hang out in the gardens and forest. I may have missed the tour, but oh how I loved walking there by myself.

I got my hair cut in Vienna in my hotel room; I wish I could remember who started it, but it turned out to be at least a dozen people standing around, giving suggestions, or heckling. (The boy I’d had a crush on a few years earlier exclaimed in mocking tones that they were destroying my hair. Or something.) It was actually a pretty decent haircut, looking back at old photos, not terribly unlike the cut I had recently. When I got home, all Mom ever said was: “it’s hair. It grows.” I’ve taken that as my motto re: haircuts ever since.

I think it was also the beginning of growing out of a bad attitude towards the boy who’d had a crush on me in junior high. (Hey there, if you’re reading; tell me if I’m totally flubbing any of this!) I got a penpal through one of the other musical groups, and she thought said boy was dreamy. Which struck me as totally weird, as did her obsession with New Kids on the Block — why yes, it was 1989 — but in some corner of my brain it broke my hard-and-fast antipathy towards him.

As for the jacket itself, it’s white with a Tournament of Roses logo on the back, surrounded with lettering in maroon. It’s got a bit of an 80s flair to it, especially in the collar. The jacket was part of our informal concert uniform, which was completed with white pants and a maroon polo shirt. Who in the name of $DEITY thought that white pants & jackets on teenagers was a good idea?!

I hadn’t worn it since high school, but I kept it out of nostalgia, moving it from box to box over the years. It went out of fashion, or I thought it was dorky, and then I gained weight and it wouldn’t have fit anyway. A couple of years ago, after losing weight, I was cleaning out one of those boxes and started trying on some of the nostalgia clothes. Several things fit that hadn’t in a long time, and the jacket was one of them.

More curiously, it turned out to be just the thing for a particular situation, one which has been happening lately: bicycling in cool but not cold weather, when I’m not expecting any rain but need just a bit of an extra layer. So the last few weeks I’ve worn it with my bike clothes on my morning commutes. It’s comfortable, and I think the (still!) brilliant white makes me a bit more visible. I’m happy I never tossed it in my many moves and cleanouts.

* I played viola from 3rd grade through my freshman year of college. I was never particularly good, probably because I balked at practicing. But I enjoyed it, and paid for lessons out of my allowance in junior high and high school (several different great teachers), and got to go to music camp, and played at Disneyland, and, well, went to Europe. Good times.

Two quotes from my morning tea

One of the teas I really like has this incredibly pretentious flourish in their design: pithy quotes on the bag tags. Some of them are obvious or dull, but I do have one on my desk at work:

“Fortune favors the brave.” (Virgil, the Aeneid, 70BC – 19BC)

It’s one of those semi-cheesy quotes that just strikes a chord with me. Because I need to remember — often! — to be “brave” or bold or whatever. Also, that fortune is what we make of it, and that sometimes action, any action, can bend fate in the right direction.

There’s another one that I had on the fridge at home for a while, until it fell off and got lost, so I can only paraphrase: “it’s easier to stand up for your beliefs than it is to live them.” (or live up to them, can’t remember which.) It’s a fancy way of saying “talk is cheap” — I’m not entirely sure why it appealed to me so much, I suppose that it’s something of a hard-nosed alternative to most “inspirational” quotes.

Interesting: both quotes favor action over talking or planning. I think they’re both ways of reminding myself not to fall into my personal bad habit of dithering and over-planning.

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